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Biden heads an administration, not a “regime”

The murder of Alexei Navalny shows what a real tyranny looks like

A memorial to Alexi Navalny near the Russian Embassy in London Associated Press/Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth

Biden heads an administration, not a “regime”
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After years of persecution by the Russian state, dissident Alexei Navalny was found dead in a remote Siberian penal colony on Feb. 16. Officially, the cause of death remains murky; in practice, everyone knows that one way or another, Navalny was murdered by the man whose corruptions he dared to spend his life exposing: Vladimir Putin. The victim of repeated arrests on trumped-up charges, a poisoning attempt in 2020, imprisonment in brutal conditions without proper medical care, Navalny was not long for this world, and his death might seem like par for the course in Putin’s thuggish regime.

But that is precisely the point. At a time when many disgruntled Americans post angry memes about the “Biden regime,” Navalny’s life and death are a stark reminder of what a real “regime” is like—and why we should be grateful for the freedoms we enjoy.

The word “regime” technically denotes merely “a mode or system of government,” but its connotations are almost wholly negative, calling to mind totalitarian surveillance states or kleptocracies like North Korea. In recent years, however, it has become a popular term on the dissident right, comprising a kind of composite image of the “Deep State,” Anthony Fauci, DEI bureaucracies, and of course President Joe Biden. Evangelical leaders with the temerity to remind fellow believers of Biblical teaching on honoring civil authorities are dismissed as having capitulated to “the regime.” Such rhetoric goes hand-in-hand with murmurs about the need for resistance and revolution as the Biblical response to tyranny.

One might think that a moment’s attention to the standard news of Chinese censorship or Russian thuggery, of Uyghur camps and Siberian penal colonies, would puncture the illusions of such inflated melodrama. Biden is certainly no Putin, and Trump no Alexei Navalny—right? Think again. In reaction to Navalny’s death, one reaction has been to lean in to the comparison, portraying the various criminal trials against former President Trump as no different from the political persecution that dogged Navalny, up until his death. Writing for Real Clear Politics last week, for instance, J. Peder Zane says it is “mere sophistry” to dismiss the comparison, and warns that “in some ways, the situation in America may be more fraught than what is going on in Russia right now.”

There is no question that many Americans today, especially those with conservative or Christian convictions, can sometimes feel like the walls are closing in.

It's time for a reality check.

By Zane’s own admission, “Democrats lack Putin’s quick-strike capability. Their hope is that the politically charged lawsuits executed by party members in New York City, Georgia, and Washington, D.C., and their ballot disqualification case now before the Supreme Court will finish the job.” In other words, in this nation prosecutors have to work through our complex, decentralized legal system, in which people continue to show a heartening willingness to think for themselves. The tribunals that oversaw Navalny’s various trials were little better than kangaroo courts, and when Putin wanted, he could bypass them and deploy secret agents to lace Navalny’s drinking water with Novichok.

More generally, it’s worth taking a step back to consider the general state of civil liberties and political freedoms in the United States. By some measures, we’re not at the top of the global freedom hierarchy—in 2023, for instance, we ranked 45th in the “World Press Freedom Index” and scored an 83 out of 100 on Freedom House’s “Global Freedom Score.” Compare, however, to Russia’s scores near the bottom of the list and the difference is not hard to spot. But perhaps these are biased indices that value leftist concepts of liberty? Very well, how about the Cato Institute’s highly regarded Human Freedom Index? In 2023, the United States ranked 17th, with a Personal Freedom Score of 8.57. Russia ranked 121st. More strikingly, according to Cato, the United States actually improved four ranks since 2020—during the very period of the Biden “regime” that according to many conservatives represents our death spiral into dictatorship.

There is no question that many Americans today, especially those with conservative or Christian convictions, can sometimes feel like the walls are closing in. We live in the midst of seemingly ubiquitous censorship, where recently mainstream positions are dismissed as “far-right extremism” and any defiance of the rapidly evolving standards of political correctness is described as a bigoted “ism.” But it is crucial to note that, far from being passive victims of this regime, we have done this to ourselves. Unfortunately, such self-imposed unfreedom is not so easy to overthrow. It calls not for revolution but for bold witness to the truth. Are we up to that challenge?

Brad Littlejohn

Brad Littlejohn (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is a fellow in the Evangelicals and Civic Life program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He founded and served for ten years as president of The Davenant Institute, and has taught for several institutions, including Moody Bible Institute–Spokane, Bethlehem College and Seminary, and Patrick Henry College. He is recognized as a leading scholar of the English theologian Richard Hooker and has published and lectured extensively in the fields of Reformation history, Christian ethics, and political theology. He lives in Landrum, S.C., with his wife, Rachel, and four children.

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