I am going to break two rules today. First, I am going to leave the friendly confines of Georgia and comment on world events. Second, I am going to talk about world events that may have changed drastically by the time you read this. That is because this column runs around the state in different places on different days but I have a finite deadline in which to get these thoughts to you. Unfortunately, world events don’t care about my deadlines.
That brings me to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As I write this, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has ordered troops into that country in an unprovoked attack while blithefully ignoring protestations from most of the rest of the world.
President Joe Biden and our European allies have responded with economic sanctions including freezing the overseas assets of wealthy Russian families, blocking international transactions by some Russian banks, suspending a gas pipeline project to Germany and threatening more sanctions to come. Somehow, I have a feeling Putin is not shaking in his shuba. Undoubtedly, he presumed this would happen. Reports say he is sitting on a large amount of cash, ready to ride out sanctions.
So, why the invasion and why should we care? The answer is that Putin thinks we are too weak to do anything about Ukraine or any other invasions he may choose to initiate in the future. Not militarily weak. We have plenty of bombs and missiles. We are perceived as weak people in a form of government that is waning.
As the New York Times observed recently, “Putin and his inner circle believe that liberal democracies are in decline, a view that (President of the People’s Republic of China) Xi Jinping and other top Chinese officials share.” That group also includes Iran, Venezuela and North Korea.
A study by the Economist Intelligence Union in Great Britain, shows that in 2020 only 8.4% of the world population lives in a full democracy, while 41% live in a flawed democracy, 15% live in a hybrid regime and 35.6% live in an authoritarian regime. In short, democracy is indeed in decline.
The U.S. is considered a “flawed democracy.” We enjoy the right to vote and basic civil liberties but, among other things, we have little trust in our institutions, including our government. There is also a troubling propensity to try and squelch freedom of expression, thanks to anonymous cowards who use social media in an attempt to intimidate and threaten those with whom they disagree.
We are a flawed democracy because we are a deeply-divided democracy, more concerned with our own self-interest than in the welfare of each other and with seemingly little interest in coming together. We are polarized by race, political philosophy, political correctness, age, sex, religion, income, rural vs. urban. The Economic Intelligence Union says the U.S. has “a degree of societal polarization that makes consensus almost impossible to achieve.” No wonder Putin, Xi Ping, Ali Khamenei and other assorted tinhorns think we are imploding in on ourselves.
They see a bunch of pubescent millionaires playing games that add no value to our society while making a big show of disrespecting our nation’s flag and our National Anthem. And they are treated as heroes by a segment of our population.
They see a group of out-of-control zealots storm the seat of our democracy like in some Third World country, vandalizing and looting and assaulting law enforcement officers because they didn’t like the outcome of the presidential election. And they are treated as heroes by a segment of our population.
They see a segment of our population obsessed with destroying our past like Taliban terrorists, forgetting President John F. Kennedy’s admonition, “Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”
They see hyphenated Americans, as if where we came from is more important than where we are. (When you see me hyphenate “American,” you will know an imposter got hold of this space. I submit we are all Americans, all the time. No hyphens. Period.)
Our democratic way of life is priceless and not to be taken for granted. An earlier president, John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
Disrespect our flag. Disrespect our Capitol. Disrespect our country. Disrespect each other. And watch our democracy commit suicide. The autocrats are waiting.
Georgia native Dick Yarbrough is an award-winning columnist. Reach him at dick@dickyarbrough.