Let's try another thought experiment:
Which nations on earth operate a stateless prison camp where due process and the Geneva Conventions don't apply?
Which nations on earth have military commanders that regularly order the assassination of individuals who receive no due process before their death?
Which nation has the highest number of prisoners, both in raw numbers and per capita?
In each of those answers, for the first time in her history, you'd have to say the answers include America.
These crimes are regularly committed by other nations, and they are rightfully called violations of human rights by US Citizens and the government. But when the United States engages in aggressive warfare, a suspension of basic human rights, and a campaign of persecution against individuals, including journalists, who dare to talk about these items, somehow the conversation turns to talking about another nation instead of our own.
Putin may be a despot, but he is, by all accounts, a superior despot to Stalin. Does that excuse his behavior? Should we wait until he's got a few hundred thousand dead under his belt before we start including him in criticism?
The abject hypocrisy, ignorance, and hollow patriotism that plagues what's left of American culture is nauseating. Not only is our citizenry unable to have an intelligent conversation about world affairs, but they can't be led by facts or argument to any truth that conflicts with their jingoist worldview.
But America, especially in this case, has no place for pride. We treat our dissidents as poorly as our culture will allow -- the same as every other nation on earth. It wasn't too long ago that we were putting dissidents to death, or simply murdering unionists in the street back in the 1920s and 1930s.
Ahh, but who wants to talk about actual history when we can discuss the faults of others? The true mark of any great nation is not how it actually behaves, but only the stories that placate the masses with our nobility and purpose. Our treatment of the powerless, the dissidents, and our enemies can always be justified, as long as we tell ourselves that responsibility and accountability can be abdicated by pointing our finger at a few dead despots.
Is that the extent of your patriotism? Excusing the nonsensical corporal punishment of a dissident to protect the broken, corrupted, and unjust institutions that run our country by stooping so low as to say it's justified since we kill and torture fewer people?
"My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one's country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to; institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death."