Tag Archives: Ukraine

Will Tomorrow Ever Come?

Speaking of Ukraine…

A few days ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across a post directing me to a YouTube of Broadway entertainers gathered to sing in support of Ukraine. I’m embarrassed to admit I teared up. The large crowd sang outside despite the rain, and umbrellas partially hid the Ukrainian flags and the tee shirts with pro-Ukrainian sentiments.

The lyrics to the song–“Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Miserables–were eerily appropriate to the genocidal assault we are witnessing. I’m just going to share those lyrics and refrain from commenting further, except to say that what is happening in Ukraine to people who were just going about their lives–going to their jobs, sending their children to school, cooking dinner–is heartbreaking evidence that much of humanity hasn’t come very far on the road to actual civilization.

The resistance of these brave people is evidence that many other humans are fighting and dying for a better tomorrow–a tomorrow that–fingers crossed!– will be civilized.

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?

Then join in the fight
That will give you the right to be free!

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Click through and watch the YouTube.

Those Young Voters….

Anyone who has ever taught has recognized that the students who pay attention in class perform better than those who didn’t. (Those of you who just read that sentence can now say “duh”…)

As obvious as that point may be–i.e., people who pay attention know more– a lot of people fail to apply it in other contexts. A reader of this blog recently sent me a letter or column (I’m not sure which)  that had appeared in a Boston newspaper, decrying the fact that a recent poll had found roughly half of American respondents under 30 less sympathetic to  Ukraine than older Americans. The author linked that result to distrust of media, which has led to distrust of other social institutions.

The polling in question was fielded by the Economist and YouGov, both highly reputable pollsters. According to the report on its findings published by the Economist,

Ninety-two per cent of American respondents over the age of 64 said they sympathised more with Ukraine than with Russia. Yet just 56% of those aged 18-29 answered the same—a difference of 36 percentage points. In Europe the pattern looks similar. There was a 17-point difference between the shares of older and younger people in Britain who said they sympathise more with Ukraine, and a gap of 14 points in France. Young Americans were the most likely to say they sympathised more with Russia (10%), compared with 6% in France and just 1% in Britain.

One explanation for the difference was the fact that younger people tend to be less engaged in and knowledgable about politics.

Across all three countries, younger people who said that they were interested in politics were more sympathetic to Ukraine than their less-engaged peers. In Britain the gap between those aged under 30 and over 64 narrowed when factoring in that difference: from 17 points to 12.

In other words, those who were paying attention were more likely to sympathize with Ukraine.

Another likely reason for the difference between age cohorts, according to the Economist, was life experience.

 The gap between well-informed older Americans and well-informed younger Americans is still wide, at 28 percentage points. Russophobic sentiment among older adults may be more important. Those aged 65 and older came of age in the midst of the cold war. By comparison, those aged under 30 were born after 1992, a year after the fall of the Soviet Union. As Russia returns to battle, echoes of the cold war might ring louder for older generations. 

Although the Economist didn’t cite it (the letter to the newspaper did), I would attribute much of the gap to America’s very diminished levels of social trust overall. Skepticism of media and political and governmental institutions is a prominent feature of today’s America, and is understandably more prevalent among young people than among those who grew up in times when that trust–and arguably, official trustworthiness– was far greater.

A study by Pippa Norris, a noted scholar, suggests another difference between young and old: contrary to the thesis of youth apathy, Norris finds that young people are much more likely than their parents and grandparents to engage in cause-oriented political action, including humanitarian and environmental activism, rather than more traditional political activities.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that young activists who care about the environment, for example, have encountered ample reasons to distrust both business and government.

We are clearly in a time of major social change and upheaval, and how all this will shake out is anyone’s guess, but before we old folks engage in the time-honored  “dissing” of young people, I suggest we look at the numbers. Fifty-six percent of the youngest cohort sympathized with Ukraine, another 24% responded that they were “unsure.” Only ten percent sympathized with Russia. That is certainly a troubling number, but it’s fewer than the twenty-two percent of Americans (including 79% of Republicans) who have embraced “the Big Lie.”

Survey researchers will confirm that people who respond to polls will often say they are “unsure” when they really don’t have sufficient knowledge to form an opinion.(Admitting ignorance is embarrassing; suggesting uncertainty is less so.) When we look at the possible reasons for the age gap on sympathy for Ukraine, I’d be willing to wager that lack of engagement–leading to lack of knowledge–is by far the largest factor.

And when you think about it, it is also the most troubling. Not paying attention–in class or in life–is never a good sign.

 

 

Embracing The Lies

As the GOP has steadily radicalized, its ardent base has embraced an alternate reality– a place where, among other things, Donald Trump won the 2020 election, Democrats engage in pedophilia, Jews operate space lasers, and public schools are teaching Critical Race Theory.

The number of Americans who appear to actually believe these things–the number who have adopted some or all of what has been called the “QAnonification” of the GOP– is staggering. The danger this mass psychosis poses for democratic (small-d) government has been obvious for some time; we are now beginning to see how disinformation–lies–shade into something akin to treason.

The Guardian recently reported on the embrace of Putin’s propaganda by the American Right.The article focused on the conspiratorial narratives being  pushed by radical American politicians and media figures who have echoed Russian lies about its invasion of Ukraine, and have “bolstered and created synergies with the Kremlin’s legendary disinformation machine, experts on information manipulation say.”

Led by Tucker Carlson at Fox News, a few Republican rightwingers in Congress, and some key conservative activists, a spate of comments that have disparaged Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and echoed other Russian war disinformation have been recycled by Moscow, say experts.

A feedback loop between the Kremlin and parts of the American right has been palpable since the war’s start in February, which Moscow falsely labeled as a “special military operation” aimed at stopping “genocide” of Russians in Ukraine and “denazification” – two patently bogus charges that drew widespread international criticism.

The fact that multiple credible sources have debunked Russian claims hasn’t kept Rightwing influencers like Tucker Carlson from pushing these false narratives to millions of Fox News viewers. The Guardian reports that Fox segments echoing Russian propaganda have been “eagerly embraced and recycled by Moscow and by parts of the American right.

On a separate front, two Republican congressional conservatives, Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Greene, delighted Moscow last month by condemning Zelenskiy without evidence in conspiracy-ridden terms that sparked some bipartisan criticism. Cawthorn called Zelenskiy a “thug” and his government “incredibly corrupt”, while Greene similarly charged that Zelenskiy was “corrupt”.

Further, the former congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, last month attempted to soften and spin Putin’s onerous crackdown on independent media in Russia, where reporters and other citizens now can face prison terms of 15 years for not toeing the Kremlin’s Orwellian war line and spreading what Moscow deems “fake” news about its Ukraine invasion. Gabbard made the wild claim that “what we’re seeing happening here [in America] is not so different from what we’re seeing happening in Russia”.

More recently, Russian state TV lauded Gabbard as “our friend Tulsi”, when it introduced a Carlson interview with her in which Gabbard accused Biden of “lying” about his true motives in Ukraine after Biden said in Warsaw that Putin “cannot remain in power”, which the White House quickly clarified was not a call for regime for change.

The Guardian article explores what it calls the “feedback loop” between Moscow and significant elements of the American right, and notes that when the same narratives are being repeated by influential political figures and pundits on news networks in Russia and the United States with large audiences, those narratives are reaching a lot of people. As one observer noted,

 “Given that many within those audiences have been primed to dismiss and distrust the ‘mainstream’ media and expertise writ large, there’s no amount of factchecking and objective reporting that is likely to change attitudes once certain falsehoods become adopted as facts.”

What is most mystifying–at least to me–is that this wholesale embrace of Russian propaganda is occurring primarily among the MAGA crowd, the “America First,” self-proclaimed patriots and believers in America’s Exceptionalism and historical purity. The threat Putin poses to the United States and the West is obvious; you would expect these particular figures to be first to rally around the flag, defend the myth of America’s glorious past, and agitate for an even stronger response.

Evidently, the allure of Putin’s strongman populism outweighs their asserted patriotism. Putin’s war on modernity–his defense of traditional (!) Christianity and efforts to stamp out “deviations” like homosexuality are presumably more appealing to the American Right than defense of that messy thing we call democracy and respect for other countries’ right to self-determination.

In another era, these weren’t the folks you’d expect to see giving aid and comfort to America’s enemies. But then, as I wrote in yesterday’s post, this isn’t your father’s GOP.

 

 

A Lesson From Ukraine?

I’m a longtime reader of the Hedgehog Review, and was reading  a review in the current issue of a book I’ve recently purchased but haven’t yet read: The Dawn of Everything. The review was  very positive–the reviewer was a longtime fan of  one of the co-authors, who recently died–but  the final paragraph of that review brought me up short.

[The authors’] one undeniable achievement, it seems to me, is to show what a dangerous tool common sense can be. As more than a few people have pointed out lately, no government in the history of the world—not even Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany—has ever had anywhere near the force needed to repress all of its people at once. States have always depended on their people to repress themselves. When most people—most anthropologists, even—deny that we can have iPhones and equal freedom at the same time, the chances of revolutionary change dwindle to zero, and glib cynicism becomes the new wisdom. “The moral basis of a society,” John Lanchester has written, “its sense of its own ethical identity, can’t just be: ‘This is the way the world is, deal with it.’” The Dawn of Everything says, in essence, “This isn’t the way the world has to be. There are literally thousands of other ways.” It’s high time we give some a try.

The “common sense” to which the reviewer alludes is the frequent, confident assertion that hierarchies are inevitable in a technologically-advanced society. (Evidently, the book includes a number of historical exceptions to that “common-sense” rule). More striking, however–and definitely more thought-provoking–is recognition of the undeniable  reality that no government can repress all of its people all at once.

We do, as the reviewer asserts, repress ourselves–and although the author didn’t elaborate on how or why we do that, it seems to me that there are a some rather obvious causes of that self-repression: propaganda that encourages beliefs grounded in falsehoods, tribalism that encourages conformity with “our” positions, and civic ignorance. They combine to reinforce the conviction that individual citizens are powerless. Even people who recognize that Fox News and its clones are promoting lies tend to believe there is little or nothing that can be done about it–or about the gerrymandering that they think makes an effort to cast a ballot worthless.

It’s just “common sense,”  that the forces that have distorted our democracy and impeded the passage of policies desired by large majorities of Americans–big money, big Pharma, the NRA, et al– are too powerful for mere citizens to vanquish.

Ukrainians are challenging that conviction.

After all, it was also “common sense” that the Russians would easily overpower Ukraine. Russian propaganda–quite probably even believed by Putin–assured its audiences that Ukraine was filled with Russian sympathizers who would greet invaders with flowers (a belief with some uncomfortable resonance with the U.S. invasion of Iraq.) Even if there were no flowers, however, most of the West shared the “common sense”  that Ukraine would quickly fall to Russia’s greater military power. 

The people who didn’t buy either form of that “common sense” propaganda were the Ukrainians. Thanks in part to their recent history, they knew better.

 I previously posted about a documentary chronicling the Ukrainian’s 2014 uprising against the Russian puppet President who had refused to sign an agreement tying Ukraine to the EU. Despite an unbelievably brutal response by the Russian-dominated government to initially-peaceful protests, they prevailed.

As I noted in that post, what was amazing to me was the Immense size of the Ukrainian protests, the enormous numbers of ordinary citizens–teenagers and grandparents, labor and management, men and women– who joined in the demand for change, took to the streets, and actively participated in the ensuing deadly combat with government forces.

The Ukrainians who are having surprising successes battling Putin’s army learned a great deal from that 2014 experience: that politics matters, that citizens have agency,  and that “common sense” opinion is often very wrong.

Those are lessons Americans (and especially Hoosiers) need to learn.

 

 

 

If This Is Even Partially True…

Everyone has his or her theory about the roots of Americans’ current political and cultural hostilities. Most of those theories are rooted in history or sociology, but I recently stumbled across a very different analysis, offered in a lengthy letter from a Finnish reader to Talking Points Memo

The writer linked the growth of America’s internal divisions to a very external culprit: Russia. In his view, Russia has used America as a “tool”–a Western backdoor to its goal of weakening Europe and NATO

Since Western Europe and the USA together (in the form of NATO and otherwise) has been too strong for Russia to expand, and since the USA is the greatest military backup fortress of NATO/Europe, they simply circumvented Europe and went to the core of the power using the kitchen door, the internal political structure of the USA.

I understand you would like to see your heroic country as the navel of the world and as the main focus of any operation, but I am sorry to inform that, in this case, you are only cheap tools. You had to be weakened (and Britain manipulated to Brexit etc) in order to facilitate invasions to Ukraine, Belarussia and a list of other neighboring pieces of land in Putin’s future Menu.

So, as a KGB officer would plan, they came exactly from the opposite direction than where they were expected. They professionally built an operation web among the rural redneck cowboys, evangelical christians, the NRA, the most republican of all republicans, your law enforcement, some military people, big business etc etc. They popped up to the surface from within the “core americans”, but their long dive before that was planned and had started from the Kremlin’s operation board.

The writer goes on to say that the Russian plot nearly succeeded on January 6th, one of several efforts to incite and coordinate  seemingly “spontaneous” protests and prop up  “corrupt politicians like a welding flame to the same point and to the same moment.” He then adds, ominously, that “They just barely failed – for the time being!”

Had Trump succeeded to keep in power, the march of Putin to various targets in the Eastern Europe would have been more like an easy summer parade. NATO would be partially paralyzed by his loyal friends in the White House (who likely would have got their personal share of the profits).

It was no coincidence that some crucial (and criminal) incidents of the Trump term had to do with the Ukraine. It was one of Putin’s main targets already then. Trump was because of Ukraine, not vice versa! GOP (short for “Girlfriends Of Putin”??) just blocked any consequences for him.

After laying out this theory of Putin’s/Russia’s strategy, the writer comes to his major concern about what he clearly (and maybe correctly) sees as the fecklessness of the United States. We have yet to hold Trump or any significant member of the GOP accountable–and meanwhile, “the GOP is working in three shifts to make the next election even more rigged than the previous one. And you are just going to let it happen.. Tralala!”

So, if you really want to do something for the Ukraine, for the Europe and to any other decent country or person, please also Do. Your. Own. Homework! Show to both your home audience and to the rest of the world that also the western flank of Putin’s army, the one located in your country, is kept accountable! No special treatment, just f**king enforce your old existing laws to ultra-rich/influential white dudes, as well! You are just tools, but you are very important tools for Putin also in the European front. Don’t let him use you.

The letter ends with a declaration that, by our collective inaction, we Americans are facilitating the bad things that are happening in the whole world.

My reaction to this analysis–this diatribe, actually–is mixed. Geopolitical events are almost never reducible to simple “cause and effect,” after all. But it is impossible to ignore the basic outlines of our Finnish friend’s accusations, because most of the grounds of those accusations have been confirmed by U.S. Intelligence, journalists, and the January 6th Committee. We know that Russian bots influenced the 2016 election; and we know that they have been effective in disseminating conspiracy theories and disinformation on social media.

We also know that it is very unlikely that Russian activities in cyberspace were undertaken independently–i.e., without Putin’s knowledge or direction.

There is one area where I am in total agreement with the gentleman from Finland: the pressing need to hold Trump and his enablers accountable–and soon.