The Invasion of Ukraine

The invasion of Ukraine on February 24th was the largest military assault on another nation since WWII. It was an act of naked aggression against a peaceful sovereign nation. This is a criminal act and should be made as costly as possible for the Russians. I speak for millions when I say I hope the Ukrainians, who’ve shown a lot of heroism so far, make this incursion so costly the Russian army and the Russian people decide they’ve had enough of the dictator and mafia boss in the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin’s demise and the growth of a genuine democracy in Russia would be the best outcome for the Russian people and the world. Of course the odds are clearly in Putin’s favor right now.

So far, though, from a lot of what I’ve read this morning it appears the Ukrainians aren’t going to just let the Russians walk right in. There are a lot of reports the Russian army is taking greater casualties than they probably anticipated. No doubt this is partially true because the United States and the European community had time to arm and equip and provide tactical advice. But it’s largely true because the Ukrainians are prepared to die to defend their democracy and their way of life against the Russian invaders. The support and the heroism of the Ukrainian army appears to be paying off for the moment. But autocrats like Putin don’t care about casualties either way, and now that Putin’s ego is committed he will flog his army forward regardless to avoid a humiliating defeat and the consequences that would likely follow a retreat.

Americans should care greatly about what happens in Ukraine because, like Ukraine, we’re a liberal democracy. If you are the least bit read in history you probably know democracy is the exception and autocracy the rule in human history. The world’s history is mostly the history of masters, through military rule and intimidation, dictating to the masses what life the masses will have and what freedoms, if any, they will enjoy. In large part this is the life of most Russians right now.

Like America, Ukraine is a liberal democracy. It’s ruled by its people and has a government of the people’s choosing. Ukrainians share our hopes and aspirations. We are united by the animating spirit of liberal democracy; by the need to keep its flame burning in the surrounding darkness of history. The people ruling themselves, and not being ruled by autocrats like Vladimir Putin, are what being a pro-democracy, rule of law, freedom loving people should ultimately stand ready to defend. The Ukrainians are doing this and we should support them in their fight against tyranny.

I believe America’s and Europe’s interest are in supporting the Ukrainian army with as much ammo, training, and weapons as possible. If the Russians succeed and the Ukrainians continue fighting with an insurgency the West must continue to provide support to the insurgent Ukrainian force. The use of American troops simply cannot be justified given all the implications at this time. European nations have the first obligation to defend their own sovereignty if the situation calls for it.

But Putin has put the Europeans on notice that defense spending will have to be increased. Authoritarianism, which had been on the rise in Europe and the United States recently, is on the march again militarily in Europe. America, critically, must provide support and leadership against this surge of authoritarianism. If Ukraine falls, then the West, led by the United States, must isolate Russia and starve its economy. NATO should immediately begin a military build up within NATO nations that border all Russian controlled territory. Only a completely uneducated fool believes Putin will be satisfied with just adding Ukraine to Russian control. The only message Putin will understand is simple, and that is strength and resolve.

Quality of Attention

Read the entire blog post by Priscilla Long, but I particularly like this part:

Quality of Attention. The internet provides quick information: In three seconds I ascertain the meaning of quiddity—the inherent nature or essence of someone or something. I ascertain that on this day, February 9, 2019 CE, there are snowstorm warnings across the state of Washington. I listen to a beautiful, sad story, “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury, sent to me instantly on email by a friend, read to me by Leonard Nimoy on YouTube. I go to Facebook to check up on my nieces and nephews.

All good. But the digitization of our lives is causing a rapid deterioration of the quality of our attention. This includes the quality of my attention. And although I am quite digitized, I am less digitized than many others. Persons in their twenties, according to a study by Time, Inc., check their cell phone on an average of 150 to 190 times per day. Reading online, we read as many words as we did before. But, according to Maryanne Wolf’s alarming book Reader, Come Home, we are reading by “skimming, skipping, and browsing” in an atmosphere of constant distraction. And, if we compose mainly online, this becomes the way we write—multitasking, skimming, skipping, browsing. Distraction is changing our brains, our very ability to read quietly, to read longer sentences, longer passages, to contemplate. The average memory span of many adults, Wolf reports, has diminished by 50 percent over the past decade.

The solution is not to eschew the digital world—a silly, impossible idea—but to reserve time daily to read quietly a printed book. And writers: A notebook made of paper cannot ding you or email you or provide you with an escape hatch into the morass of distraction and trivia that is the internet.

Our devotion to the underlying ideal

We like to curse “politics” and “politicians,” and no doubt some of the bastards deserve it. But the simple truth is we’re social beings, which means we’re political beings, and that means politics is always part of the equation. It’s just part of who we are; it’s part of how the world turns for humanity. So look in the mirror: politics and politicians are just reflections of us, of you, of me. As David Foster Wallace wrote: “Our leaders, our government is us, all of us, so if they’re venal and weak it’s because we are.”

The Founders of this country, especially Madison and Hamilton, were clear-eyed about our deeply flawed (i.e. pathetically self-interested) human nature and so they helped design a Constitutional Republic that’s institutions provided checks on individual and/or party ambition. Power was purposely diffused. This process encouraged coalition building, another word for bipartisanship, among legislators as they try to reach a deal. In a liberal democracy, like the United States, where individual rights and the rule of law are sacred, this is a critical element in successful democratic self-governance.

The underlying ideal of liberal democracy is that differences are settled by laws, by process, by ballots not bullets, by elections not war. The southern states broke faith with the ideal in 1861 and it cost the nation over 600,000 lives and the destruction of the southern economy and many southern cities. The underlying ideal, at its core, is the belief that after all the arguments and rhetoric and shouting and nonsense, in the end, we settle the contest by law, by process, by elections. There’s no appeal to the results of a free and fair election. The people have rendered their verdict…for now. Those who lost have the next election for an appeal to the voters.

The underlying ideal means if you want to enact a public policy or a change in public leadership you have to engage in the tough work of persuading the voters. That IS democracy in action. Intimidating and threatening election officials, lying about election results, enacting voter suppression laws, aren’t acts of people trying to persuade, but of those betraying the underlying ideal for their self-interested ideology, for raw power. These acts are anti-democratic and are meant to be so.

I’ve struggled with maintaining a positive attitude given incredible breach of faith in the underlying ideal by many on the political right these days. Nothing good can come of it for them, their constituents, or our democracy. And yet! I do believe there are enough people devoted—on all sides—to the underlying ideal that we’ll slowly work our way through these turbulent times, preserve our great democracy, and, I pray, our continued faith in the underlying ideal.

Bruce Catton has an excellent quote about politics and democracy that I think says it very well:

Politics works at a high price and operates at the lowest common denominator of what exists in the hearts of the people—which means the hearts of you and me. There is cowardice there, often enough, and meanness, and petty selfishness, and politics has to take them into account. Yet those same hearts contain courage and nobility and faith, and in the last analysis the good outweighs the bad. We live by politics. We do various hopelessly inefficient things, we waste enormous amounts of strength and energy, we compromise everything but the underlying ideal—but because at bottom there is an underlying devotion to that ideal, we keep on living.

Reinhold Niebuhr

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”

— Reinhold Niebuhr