A Tyrant on the Loose

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A Tyrant on the Loose

Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine is a human tragedy. Thousands of the Ukrainians are living in rubble, many without shelter, food, water or medical care.  According to the Office for Human Rights at the United Nations, there have been more than 3,400 civilian casualties, with approximately 1,400 killed and 2,000 injured.  An estimated four million have left the country as refugees.

The continuing destruction of Ukraine is a heart-breaking catastrophe. But it is also a loud and clear warning to America and the entire free world. Russia’s invasion of a neighboring country is happening because of one thing: the relentless quest for power by one man, Vladimir Putin.  There are no limits to the death and destruction he will wreak in order to accomplish his goal of subjecting much of Eastern Europe to Russian control.

Unfortunately, Putin is not unique. His use of fear and violence to suppress opposition is a standard operating procedure for autocrats, and it is not limited to battle tactics. Launching  an aggressive war in which national resources will be depleted and soldiers will be coming home in body bags requires the lock-step support of the population. Putin has that: his approval rating among Russians is 83%, and support for the Ukrainian war is 81%.

How does he get those numbers?  By shutting down all outside information sources and replacing them with domestic propaganda.  He maintains that he is not the aggressor but is saving the nation.  He creates false narratives.  He jails or kills all domestic opposition leaders, particularly those who try to get the truth to the Russian people. In short, he creates a closed society in which he and he alone decides who gets information and who gets told lies.

This is the way autocrats work and Americans must understand that we, too, are confronted by an autocratic movement. It starts with attacks to discredit the media; it conducts a relentless campaign to convince people that the basic intuitions of government, such as voting, are corrupt; it discredits opposition by assigning labels such as socialist or enemy of the people to those who oppose. It sows doubts about the motives, integrity and ability of opposition leaders, educators, scientists, economists–– anyone or any institution that attempts to speak the truth. In fact, it rejects “truth” and replaces it with “alternative facts.”

You think it can’t happen here? Just listen to people like United States Senators Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Ron Johnson. Pay attention to the words of Congresspersons like Madison Cawthorn, Jim Jordon, Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and their ideological mates. Check out the bizarre theories from groups like QAnon that have become mantras for the Republican Party and are integrated into their campaign material.  As The Economist suggested in the March 26 edition, “Republicans in America are a threat to American leadership in the world…Their partisanship is a grave threat to America’s influence abroad.”

 A Flicker of Hope on the Environmental Front

German Lopez, writing in The New York Times, offered hope that there has been  “genuine progress” in the world’s effort to slow climate change. In much of the world, he reported, “solar and wind power are now cheaper than coal and gas. The cost of batteries has plummeted over the past few decades, making electric vehicles much more accessible. Governments and businesses are pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into clean energy.”

The progress is seen, Lopez wrote, in a “slowing growth of global warming…Before 2015, the world was expected to warm by about four degrees Celsius by 2100. Today we are on track for three degrees Celsius. And if the world’s leaders meet their current commitments, the planet would warm by around two degrees Celsius…This is not enough to declare victory, but every drop in degrees matters. One-tenth of a degree may sound like very little, but it could save lives ––by preventing more wildfires, droughts and floods.”

Daring Greatly

The following quotation was sent to me by one of my assistant directors many years ago. I had experienced a brutal day standing before a hostile legislative panel, and then barely surviving a 90-minute press conference. Kennon copied Roosevelt’s words  in calligraphy. I had it framed and mounted on the wall behind my desk.

Please forgive the gender-specific wording…

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” — President Theodore Roosevelt





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