Just when you say it can’t get any worse, it gets worse. After two years, we are still in the midst of a deadly pandemic resulting in the loss of over 900,000 American lives. Last year, we witnessed our fellow Americans attack the U.S. Capitol to overturn a presidential election. Now, due to Russia’s premeditated and unprovoked attack on its sovereign neighbor, the world is watching as war crimes are being carried out daily against innocent civilians. Russia’s unjust invasion of Ukraine is constantly compared to Adolf Hitler’s 1939 invasion of Poland. Governments have ways of shifting over time. In the past, two neighboring countries (Poland and Ukraine) were both ruled by Communist governments. Today, those governments are free democracies. Democracy in and of itself is not a flawed system of government, but many individuals who hold positions of authority within a democracy can be morally deficient. The principles of democracy can be weakened—internally and externally—at the hands of people with little or no respect for the rule of law, fair elections, or humanity. As a result, innocent people needlessly suffer or die with no just cause.
As refugees seek to leave Ukraine for safety, we are again reminded that the suffering met by people of color is often compounded in any negative situation. It’s a sad but proven truth. Many international students wanting to study medicine were drawn to Ukraine because of its strong reputation for medical schools. Now those same Indian and African nationals living in Ukraine are reporting discrimination and hostility while attempting to flee the country. As they reach the Polish-Ukrainian border, they are being turned away and not allowed to cross. Even during this vast humanitarian crisis, the color of a person’s skin remains a disqualifying criterion, which, in this case, puts human lives further at risk and in danger. While democracy is a form of unity, unity includes fundamental rules of empathy and compassion where “no one gets left behind.” Ukraine, like America, has its areas of moral strength and those of moral weakness.
But democracy requires moral leadership. Everyone who holds a leadership position is not a leader. Leaders who cannot inspire others often resort to manipulation. Whenever you manipulate and intimidate people, you are no longer a true leader–you have become a dictator. Vladimir Putin is a dictator who hates democracy. He also hates NATO because it represents a coalition of nations standing on the concept of freedom and unity. Unfortunately, there are those in America who are attracted to the authoritarian character of dictators. For that reason, we are seeing a growing number of pro-Russia Americans at levels never seen before. It symbolizes part of a global cultural war where many far-right extremists accept Russia as the last bastion of white purity. This is an image Moscow has deliberately shaped through its propaganda. And while others still have their guard up toward Russia and Putin, they, too, are drawn to the authoritarian manner by which bullies maintain political power, wealth, and control, even at the detriment of American democracy. As Poland and Ukraine went from being an authoritarian government to a free democracy, America appears to be doing the opposite.
The United States is still a nation of laws, and no one, not even elected presidents, is above the law. Democracy’s rule of law is seriously being threatened when Republican lawmakers warn that any Department of Justice prosecution of former President Trump will turn into a political war and be seen as politically motivated. Republicans have also warned that any federal prosecution of Trump would likely be answered by congressional investigations of Biden and his son, Hunter if Republicans take over the House and possibly the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. This is what a democracy headed toward a form of dictatorship looks like. Political bullying and intimidation while disregarding facts and legal evidence is what authoritarian rulers and their followers do. It takes a certain measure of courage to confront domestic and foreign authoritarianism. By no means is the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a coward when it comes to putting his life on the line when fighting strong for democracy and standing up against attacks and intimidation. Will Republican and Democratic officeholders exhibit the same type of courage in defending the rule of law, or will they fold under pressure from bullies? Will Republican and Democratic voters who claim to be American patriots speak out and demand accountability for the Jan. 6 insurrection by having the same courage as Russian citizens who publicly speak out against Putin concerning an unjust war?
Democracy also requires its leaders and citizens to be conscience-driven. In one week, the Ukrainian president survived three assassination attempts due to anti-war intelligence officers in Russia’s Federal Security Services giving Ukrainian forces tips that saved the president’s life. These Russian officers were conscience-driven individuals. Many people who worked in Trump’s administration and campaign are like those Russian officers. They have first-hand knowledge of both the past and future intentions. Can America depend on just a few of them to be conscience-driven public servants who will step up and stop the coming political madness?
David W. Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization TRB: The Reconciled Body and author of the book God Bless Our Divided America. He can be reached at www.davidwmarshallauthor.com.