How our fight is and isn’t like Ukraine’s

I definitely think there are connections between Ukraine’s fight against Russian attacks, and liberal democracy’s fight against Republican attacks. I have written as much, a number of times.

There are direct links, for one thing; long before Trump began flaunting Putin as his own modern day ring-giver, the American right has had partnership with Russian oligarchs. The NRA is just one example among countless.

There are also the conceptual similarities which motivate that partnership. Not only are the politics of Putin and of Republicans oppressive, predatory and definitely antidemocratic, they point toward complete intolerance of anything which exists independent of their faction. (Putin is definitively there, but there’s no reason to think Republicans won’t catch up.) Not just me saying that, either.

But there are differences which are at least as important.

Looking at the surprisingly effective resistance by Ukraine and seeing an example for Democrats anxious about midterm elections really, badly, misunderstands a lot.

Let’s start with the main difference: Ukraine is an independent country, fighting (actually fighting) to maintain its independent existence in the face of violent attacks from a neighboring state. Ukraine is not a political faction fighting (in any sense) to attain or keep political suzerainty over a shared state which also includes the people who think Ukraine shouldn’t exist.

What Ukraine ultimately wants here is for its opponent to stay on its side of the line and leave Ukraine alone; mutually beneficial friendship might or might not be desirable but the requirement for which Ukraine fights is separate government; Ukraine’s left up to Ukraine, Russia’s left up to Russia.

That is not really like electoral politics in America.

Once upon a time, decades ago, American electoral politics were almost a game among a pretty mushy and continuous political elite; to the extent that the game had a serious object, at all, it was to shift negotiations this way or that among what was always and always accepted as a compromise national government in which both parties would always count.

For at least a dozen years, American electoral politics at the national level have been more of a zero-sum cold civil war between irreconcilable claimants to power, even if most of the participants (outside the Republican Party) still don’t realize this.

Ukrainians realize what they face, which is one reason they are much more united against it than non-fascist Americans are against Republicans. Of course, Russia essentially started actual war against Ukraine several years ago. I can see where Republicans are going, but average people who are shocked, shocked this weekend that Russia’s armies committed war crimes and atrocities are not going to believe that Republicans would ever do really unreasonable things until after it happens.

Meanwhile, again, while Putin’s Russia is trying to destroy Ukraine’s independent existence, Ukraine’s objectives do not at all mirror that. Ukraine is perfectly happy without what Russia had before the war started (years ago); Ukraine does not demand the whole ballgame.

America’s political factions are ultimately, whether everyone gets it or not, in a struggle for the whole ballgame. Moreover, I think that even a lot of people who would agree with that statement don’t really understand what it means.

We know what Putin’s and Republicans’ idea of winning the whole ballgame equals: oppressive oligarchy in which their power is total.

But what is d/Democrats’ idea of winning the whole ballgame?

Adults should not at this point imagine that clinging onto gavels after the midterms, or even gaining seats, would in any way reduce the large, organized anti-democracy faction within America. I say this again and again, but “the fever is about to break” and “Republicans are going to have an epiphany” are foolish denial at this point. How many elections in a row are you going to maintain a more-than-majority coalition for Democratic trifecta national government?

For some of the limited number of people who will even get this far, the answer is basically “however many it takes until they give up on illiberalism and choose being a responsible political party again as an alternative to losing over and over.” But, setting aside how unrealistic it is that this possibility is even explored, it doesn’t seem very realistic that it would work, either. Republicans have—reminder!—already crossed the line into declaring election defeats illegitimate and attempting to secure power for themselves through not just cheating but violence. I don’t think you can put the genie back into the bottle, here, and undo a political party’s conversion into an intolerant faction which does not respect any authority—democratically assigned or otherwise—besides its own.

One can make the accurate point that Democrats do not want to oppress and steal from Republicans and make it impossible for them to attain power at all; Democrats want competitive democratic elections and peaceful transfers of power but that is beside the point, here because you can’t get that in America without Republicans’ acceptance and they aren’t going to accept.

Ohio has demonstrated the reality that personnel is policy, and a system—even one to which Republicans agreed just four years ago—where Republicans get authority but have to be fair and follow the rules ends up being a system where Republicans get authority and ignore the rest.

These appear to be the options to keep Republicans from ending liberal democracy: End the Republican Party as a viable national party, through 1) massive and lasting voter realignment, or through 2) suspending democracy and decertifying the party. Neither is even close to happening right now, and even if one did happen, there would still be too large and fanatical a faction to accept second place (or decertification).

The main alternatives as-such looks to be:

3) A whole new political system which by one means or another divides up authority so that Republicans can have exclusively Republican authorities, and the rest of us don’t need to worry about a permanent large voting bloc in favor of foreclosing democracy if it wins.

Or, 4) “keep on muddling” and Republicans take power sooner or later and foreclose democracy, and liberalism’s leaders complain that it isn’t right or fair, but they don’t do anything because rule of law or something.

Right now only the last of these options looks realistic, in part because no one will talk about any of the others besides the first, and no one even has any ideas for attempting that except doing the same things as always and hoping for radically different results.

In a big sense, it feels more and more like the nation state model doesn’t work very well, and really doesn’t work period with the permanently frozen borders which (for understandable reasons) became a prime directive after World War I.

The United States, which has been as important an enforcer of that directive as any, nonetheless began its own existence with recognition that at times “in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.” Maybe we would be better off if we hadn’t mostly forgotten this part of the story. Oh well.

One Thought on “How our fight is and isn’t like Ukraine’s

  1. You and I have largely been on the same page here for a while now, so I’ve got nothing to add to your broader point. I’m mostly just taking a moment to note that I was actually taken a bit aback that anyone might make a comparison at any level between the fight Ukrainians are having, and what’s going on in the US. You’d have to have a completely fabricated from whole cloth understanding of at least one of those to even try to make a comparison, and I honestly don’t think even Fox is distorting things that much!

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