Ukraine and the Rise of Autocracy – InsideSources
The recent praise of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin by former President Donald Trump has been a bit embarrassing for the Republican Party, but most leading Republicans have managed to avoid criticizing Trump for it. The popularity of the Ukrainian cause took Republicans by surprise. Even Fox News’ Tucker Carlson backtracks on his anti-Ukrainian remarks, but like his compatriots, he remains loyal to Trump.
This loyalty of the Republicans is one more sign of what can only be called a “cult of personality”, symbol of the transformation of the party from a traditional political party into an autocratic movement, which consists in undermining power judiciary, courting the military, promoting censorship, calling for the imprisonment of political opponents and attacking the press.
Democracy is on the decline in the world right now, with an increasing number of formerly democratic nations embracing autocracy. India’s Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, is undermining the freedom of religious minorities in the world’s most populous democracy. Brazil has now embraced autocracy under Jair Bolsonaro. And the Turk Recep Tayyip Erdogan regularly and systematically violates the rights of his citizens. More and more countries are substituting strong leaders for slow, laborious and often frustrating democratic institutions that often seem incapable of solving problems.
Autocracies are threatened by the idea of democracy, so they seek to undermine it wherever they can. Putin attacked Ukraine because it is a fledgling democracy – a country struggling to become democratic. If Ukraine succeeds, it is threatened. He cannot allow this to happen. As Anne Applebaum (the author of “Twilight of Democracy”) puts it, Putin “sees Ukraine as a threat. Not a military threat, but an ideological threat.
Putin may be interested in restoring the glory of the former Soviet empire, capturing important natural resources, or gaining new territory for Russian strategic advantage. But it is even more important for him to kill the idea of democracy in Ukraine and wherever he sees it succeeding. It is safer when democracy is weaker.
At the same time, belief in the viability of democracy is weakening in the United States. A growing number of people think our institutions don’t work — that Congress can’t do its job, that public schools should be designed to promote patriotism, that the courts are inherently biased, and that the free press is lying to us. Disillusionment with our democratic institutions has even led a number of states to consider calling for a new constitutional convention.
Another sign of growing frustration with democracy here is the anger replacing civility in public and private life. A 2021 report by William Galston and Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution describes growing frustration with our democratic institutions. According to this report, 30% of Republicans, 17% of Independents and 11% of Democrats support the idea of using violence to “save” America. Arms sales have exploded and informal militias are getting stronger. And on January 6, 2021, we saw the violence on Capitol Hill by people who thought they were saving us from the failure of democracy.
Will this growing frustration with what is perceived as a “broken” America lead to a call for a leader free from legal restraint to save us? Will Americans be tempted by autocracy into thinking it can solve the problems that democracy seems incapable of solving? Our democracy is more fragile than is often believed. It could be lost very easily.
The world is currently engaged in a war of ideas, and what happens in Ukraine is important in determining whether the world continues to embrace autocracy or whether it strengthens its commitment to democracy around the world and here at home. .
What we think on our democracy will determine whether our democracy will survive the current challenges. Ideas matter, and that’s why Ukraine matters. We must do everything to support the hope of democracy there in order to prevent the flame of democracy from going out here.
As Applebaum said, “Ukraine is now the front line – and our front line too.”