The deal the Ukraine has offered the West is very simple, and for that we will owe the Ukrainians a debt of gratitude that will last decades. “You give us weapons, we sacrifice our lives, and the war is contained in Ukraine,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
Here it is on video.
As long as this arrangement is working (and it appears to be working), the butcher Vladimir Putin’s army will be engaged in destroying Ukraine and killing its people, and Europe can rest a bit easier as the Russian military grinds itself to dust. In truth, NATO can easily beat Russia with one hand tied behind its back. The trick is to do it without Putin nuking the world. Ukraine offers that option.
But let’s not deceive ourselves, lest we think of Ukraine’s existential crisis as something we must be made worthy of. George Packer wrote in The Atlantic, “Americans need to cure what ails our democracy, ridding ourselves of our incipient Russification.” He is worried “we’ll soon forget about Ukraine.”
Here are the stakes involved. Forgetting about Ukraine will bring about this:
In the U.S., a Russian victory will free Donald Trump, his clan, his followers in the Republican Party, and the right-wing media of any need to pretend that they ever objected to Putin’s war. Trump will strengthen his grip on the party, compelling other Republicans to go along or be tagged as accomplices of woke Democrats, weak Europeans, and corrupt Ukrainians.
What pretentious, elitist snobbery. Cast aside certain boarding school Fox News hosts and Putin aficionados, the public in America is not buying the “let Putin win” argument. In fact, the Biden administration has been a bulwark of restraint compared to the views of most Americans. A March Pew Research poll shows that only 7% of Americans think the U.S. is providing “too much” support to Ukraine.
There is a difference between partisan disapproval of Biden’s response, though even many Republicans agree with how Biden is handling the crisis, and why some people disapprove of the response. Most who disagree think that we’re not doing enough. The percentage of respondents who say we should do more is 3% higher than those who disapprove of Biden’s response.
So, no, it’s not likely that a Putin victory would enable some large, invisible pro-Putin wing of the Trumplican party to force the rest of America to come to Mother Russia. That is, unless nobody has any real views on anything at all, and everything is just a cult of personality. I think we know that Trump has a core following, and nothing in logic, science, physics, or politics will cause them to break from him. But that core has a ceiling, and it’s not getting any higher.
But let me pivot a bit here to “Russification.” See, I like Canada. I have relatives who are Canadian. I have worked for a Canadian company, and have visited our friendly northern neighbors many times. I have been to the outskirts of Montréal in the death of winter; to Winnipeg where they don’t plow the streets, they just hard pack the snow and you rent a Z-71 pickup with chains at the airport; to Toronto in the summer, which is very nice. Canada is a great place all around.
There is no closer people or government to Americans than the Canadians. But I don’t see America becoming “Canadified.” We don’t even know half the people we see on TV are Canadians. William Shatner, Jim Carrey, the late Peter Jennings, the late great Alex Trebek, and a host of other stars hail from the Great White North. For all the love we have for Canada, most Americans would not trade our government, as dysfunctional and stupid as it is, for Canada’s. We would not want to be ruled by Ottawa. And for the record, Canadians would rather live in Arctic snow caves than be ruled by Washington, D.C. England fought a war—and beat the snot out of us—to preserve Canadian independence in 1812.
Ukrainians are already “Russified” in the same sense that we are “Canadified.” Many Ukrainians have relatives in Russia. A large number of Ukrainians speak Russian, some as their primary language. It gives Ukrainians no joy to kill Russians, any more than it would give us joy to kill Canadians (the thought is so disgusting and repulsive to me).
What is terrible about this war is not just that an evil brutal dictator Putin is letting his troops rape, torture and kill Ukrainians, and those who aren’t willing to fight have to face the Chechen brigades whose job is to shoot deserters in the head. I mean, yes, that’s terrible on its own. Genocide is the worst thing—but we’ve seen it before and done little, like in Rwanda. What’s really terrible is that Ukrainians and Russians should be, culturally and politically, friends.
Vladimir Putin can’t stand having a fifth column that threatens his rule. He has suborned the Russian Orthodox Church, the entire economy, resources, and government of Russia, and a network of rich undeserving cronies to keep him in power as Tsar. Ukraine’s church split with the Russians; its military aligned with NATO; its politics moved toward democracy. Yet Ukraine has always been “Russified,” and its influence could easily spread over to Russia. It’s this threat that Putin hates. Ukraine doesn’t need to join NATO except for the explicit reason that it doesn’t want to be ruled by Moscow.
What in the world does this have to do with Making America Liberal Again? How is the tragedy of two culturally aligned nations, one ruled by a soulless despot and the other by a popularly elected Jew, somehow the tolling of a bell to bring Americans to “be worthy of Ukraine, we’ll need to start to cure what ails our democracy—to rid ourselves of our own incipient Russification”?
Let there be no doubt about what Packer thinks:
But the most immediate threat to Ukraine’s support in the U.S. is an American political party with a strong attraction to autocracy—even to Putin’s Russia. Because of the war, some Republican leaders might now hope, like Charles Lindbergh after Pearl Harbor, that the country will forget their recent romance with authoritarianism—their acquiescence in Trump’s Putinist dreams, including his campaign of blackmail to corrupt Ukrainian democracy for his own dirty ends. But the attraction remains. The U.S. will never be a worthy friend to Ukraine unless the Republican Party purges itself of the poisonous influence of its Tucker Carlsons and Marjorie Taylor Greenes, and above all of Trump. This work might be assisted by Democrats and independents who force the issue with voters, but only Republicans can do it.
This, plus the billionaires who believe in free speech, who would let the people decide what to listen to and what not to listen to. (Read the whole article, it’s in there.)
It’s pretentious, self-aggrandizing snobbery to think that we must limit speech to “deplatform” clowns like MTG, not to mention Madison Cawthorn, Matt Gaetz, and the like. The answer isn’t to spoon-feed “West Wing” ideals to pliant Americans. Honestly, that would make us just like the Russians.
Russians eat up anything Putin tells them, because he limits their access to real information. He spoon feeds them his “Z” story and they buy it. They know he’s corrupt. They know his oligarchs rule them like cattle and peasants in a medieval fiefdom. They are inured to it. When someone comes along and stirs them up, they revolt, like they did in 1917, then they settle in to more decades of black humor complaining about a Politburo instead of a Tsar. Now they have a Tsar again who came right out of the KGB.
If we want to “Russify” America, we should do exactly what Packer wants. Let’s remove the billionaires we don’t like, such as Elon Musk, because he would give people like Trump access to Twitter. Let’s leave billionaires like Jeff Bezos running The Washington Post, because “democracy dies in darkness.” Let’s make Google the arbiter what’s decent, and regulate Facebook from Washington to ossify its place in our lives. Let’s prevent another tech giant from rising and keep the ones we already like.
Let’s pre-digest all news so that the pliant American people will believe exactly what the government and its liberal mandarins want us to believe. Let’s outlaw the Republican Party, starting by removing the genuine clowns and idiots, but don’t let them be replaced by decent, common sense people. If the decent people run for the GOP, call the elections rigged because only Democrats are the true inheritors of “worthiness” because of Ukraine.
Never let a crisis go to waste.
I got news for Mr. Packer. It won’t work here. Americans are not Russians, or Ukrainians, or Canadians for that matter. We are skeptical, emotional, generous, and ready to fight for things we believe. Americans do not submit to fate or dark humor, with long treatises written over years in a gulag by intellectual dissidents. We know a tyrant when we see him, and we definitely see Vladimir Putin.
Maybe that’s a bit of “American exceptionalism.” I just call it our culture. For good or for ill, critical thinking is not the hallmark of the American polity. Yes, it’s bad we’re divided, and our obsession with cults of personality is bad for the country. But that’s true on both sides. As Susan Bagwell wrote, “if you cheered parents and teachers leading children in anthems to Obama, or any of the other gross displays of personality worship that the election of the first biracial president prompted, but you’re somehow repulsed by the cult of Trump, you are the problem. Your hypocrisy is duly noted.”
The American system thrives on free speech and openness. We are best when we are pushing hard against the government at all levels. We are best when we reject the Zeitgeist. When liberals force their own orthodoxy on the country, it causes a reactionary backlash. That doesn’t happen in Russia. There are worse things that can happen than political gridlock and hourly circuses of the stupid. We could be in a civil war. I don’t think that will happen, because plenty of people love to talk about it, but when a nutcase like Frank James takes it to the subway in New York, we deal with it.
Ukraine’s president Voloymyr Zelenskyy asked then-President Donald Trump for anti-tank weapons in 2019 not because we were unworthy. It’s because we are worthy. Trump’s threats notwithstanding (he’s an insufferable troll), Ukraine got its Javelins. If we were “Russified,” Trump could have stopped that, but ultimately we follow our laws, even if we rip up guardrails at times.
I’d rather deal with a gaggle of idiots in the Republican Party than have true believer neo-tyrants in the Democrat liberal order have full access to the tools of a police state that former President George W. Bush created in the wake of 9/11. That’s right, having FISA courts, secret warrants, the NSA’s giant data centers, the Intelligence Community whispering its “truth” into reporters’ ears, so the Washington Post and New York Times can dismiss Hunter Biden’s malfeasance as “Russian disinformation,” and all the other elements of our jackbooted transformation into a drop-a-dime society of cancel-bots, is proof we’ve already been “Russified.”
We do need to get rid of the idiots in the GOP. But that won’t make us worthy of Ukraine. We’re already worthy of Ukraine, because Ukraine made a bargain with the West, and the U.S. will eventually fully honor that. What we don’t need is to Make America Liberal Again. That’s the real danger of “Russification.”
Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.
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