The fog of war enshrouds Ukraine—smoke from bombs and fires, barrages of misinformation, mysteries around Vladimir Putin’s aims and how much he’s willing to destroy to achieve them.
But over here in the U.S., a lot has suddenly become clearer. People are seeing more plainly the monstrous truth about the Russian dictator who had become an object of admiration and allegiance among many American right-wingers. Clarifying light is cast on the trivialities and dangers of Trumpism’s grievances and conspiracies.
Ukraine might be what we needed to shock us out of our national psychoses and push us back to grown-up time.
It’s revealing that many Putin admirers are now forced to denounce him and his unconscionable assault on Ukraine. This extends all the way to Donald Trump, who initially praised Putin’s attack, and Tucker Carlson, who just two weeks ago was arguing on his Fox News show that his audience members had more beef with U.S. liberals than with the Russian dictator.
Congressional Republicans have shifted from a Putin-friendly anti-Ukraine stance to strong support for the beleaguered country and harsh consequences for dictator in Moscow. Finally, someone in a leadership role is forcefully declaring limits on what the supposedly conservative political party in this country is willing to tolerate when it comes to reckless rhetoric and position-taking that undermines our country.
“There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin,” former Vice President Mike Pence declared during a speech to top Republican donors, adding that the party must move on from the 2020 election and lies about fraud and election-rigging.
There’s much more that U.S. conservatives must shake off in light of the present crisis. That includes denigration of our European alliances and institutions that stabilize our world; over-hyped scare-mongering about trans rights and other culture war issues, “crying wolf” that trivializes the real threats we face; Christian nationalists’ longing for a Russian-style fusion of church and state, in which a favored church basks in a strongman’s support and protection—and surrenders its integrity in return.
How’s that church-state model looking now, Franklin Graham? Kirill, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, is supporting Putin and making the appalling claim that those resisting Russia’s conquest of Ukraine are “evil forces.”
To what degree did destructive game-playing and division in the U.S.—which Putin helped foment—contribute to the disaster in Ukraine? It seems clear that political strife in this country, combined with right-wingers’ Putin admiration and criticism of our European alliances, might have given the Russian dictator the wink and nod he was looking for, the sense that America was too distracted and divided, too lacking in seriousness, to do anything about his aggression.
So there’s something else the disaster in Eastern Europe has clarified. With a surprisingly strong and unified response against the invasion, the U.S. and Europe have demonstrated more unity and determination than many analysts knew existed.
“Vladimir Putin has attempted to crush Ukraine’s independence and ‘Westernness’ while also demonstrating NATO’s fecklessness and free countries’ unwillingness to shoulder economic burdens in defense of our values,” defense policy analyst Kori Schake writes in The Atlantic. “He has achieved the opposite of each. Endeavoring to destroy the liberal international order, he has been the architect of its revitalization.”
Ukraine—more specifically the Ukrainians themselves—have clarified something very important for an America that has back-slid on democracy and begun taking it for granted. With their sacrifice and bravery, they have shown us that democracy means everything and is worth fighting for.
The nonsense in American political culture is more clearly revealed as corrupt and absurd, such as the hyperbolic reactions against “tyrannical” mask mandates and the like during a pandemic. Want to know what tyranny is? Ask the Ukrainians who are facing the very real prospect of Putin taking over their country.
Whether we’re talking about Trump’s rigged-election lies or right-wing ax-grinding about things like “cancel culture,” the response must be the same: No more ridiculousness. Because we see more clearly now that the people playing these games are playing with fire.
The conflagration in Ukraine might “start to lift the fog of Trump and Trumpism,” says Alexander Vindman, the Ukrainian American whose whistle-blowing led to Trump’s first impeachment. “At least I hope that it’s the case. I think this is actually a turning point maybe for us.”
Nothing will redeem the destruction and death in Ukraine. It’s unseemly to talk about some good that might come out of it, or to make the crisis about us in any way.
We are allowed to learn, though. And from that standpoint it’s heartening to see signs that Ukraine is cutting through our domestic fog, casting a harsh light that is getting more people to wake up and grow up.
As Elvis Costello might put it, clowntime is over. No more indulging the charlatans and fools—the Pillow Guys and QAnon Shamans and Sandy Hook Never Happened delusionists. The world has become more serious, and we must too.