In recent years we have experienced a decline in liberal democracy throughout the world. Nations ruled by autocrats have systematically undermined democracy by creating social and political dissonance, challenging the rule of law, and interfering in the election process in the U.S. and Europe.
Despite warnings and sanctions to deter further activity, threats were largely ignored by Putin who seemed determined to challenge opposition from the West. In recent years, failed policies have been feeding the monster of authoritarian rule, despite intelligence reports of the existential threat to our democracy.
In the U.S., we have been witnessing the slow and insidious decline of democratic freedoms and the rule of law, resulting in government dysfunction, a dangerous partisan divide, and the absence of unified American values and beliefs. Our elections have been maligned and invalidated, the tenets of our institutions called into question, and the rule of law regarded with disdain.
Our legislators have been held captive by the radical right and legislation has been passed in over 19 states to subvert the vote. Despite efforts to promote voter reform, prevent redistricting and other voter suppression measures, and to protect the vote in federal elections, the Freedom to Vote Act has not been able to get the 60 votes necessary to become law. Without these measures, American democracy is at grave risk.
As we witness the horrific events in Ukraine, we have an opportunity to understand the chilling outcome of tyrannical rule. Fueled by ego, a perverse bond with the past, and abuse of power, Putin has disrupted the lives of millions to resolve his decades old grievances and to achieve new geopolitical goals.
In response, President Volodymyr Zelensky has exhibited unflinching leadership, has the support of his nation, and is a profile in courage. In recent weeks he again asserted his desire for Ukraine to become part of NATO. Putin is clearly threatened by the eastward expansion of the 30 nation military alliance led by the U.S. which includes states from the former Soviet Union.
The threat of democracy on his borders has undoubtedly contributed to the recent invasion of Ukraine. Putin has been pushing back in recent years to the growing opposition to autocratic rule in Russia and it is clear from public protests in recent weeks that he does not have the full support of the Russian people for the war in Ukraine. Despite the myriad reasons for opposition to the war, the protests seem to confirm Putin’s prevailing fear: the desire for democratic freedom vs. authoritarianism.
As Americans, we can no longer deny that we are also in a battle between liberal democracy and authoritarian rule. The radical right has infiltrated every aspect of American life. They care more about the right to bear arms than freedom of speech, they have subverted the electoral process with state laws that nullify our votes, have challenged reproductive freedom with draconian state laws and the judicial process, are determined to restrict the books our children read, and are defying legal measures that hold them accountable for breaking the law.
In abdication of their Constitutional oath, elected officials have demonstrated more loyalty to extreme ideology than to healthy governance and upholding democratic values. Beholden to right-wing politics, they consistently undermine our democracy with lies and misinformation and obstruction of the legislative process.
And so, I ask, are the American people aware of how close we are to losing our democracy? If the January 6 Insurrection did not alert us to the growing threat of authoritarian rule, what will?
It seems that there is much to learn from the catastrophic events in Ukraine. The Ukrainian people have wedded themselves to the West in recent decades and have embraced democracy. Today, they flee their homes to protect their young, and send their husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers into the streets to fight for freedom.
Again and again, they assert a love for their country, rejection of tyrannical rule, and a yearning to live free and to self-govern. Their courage and determination remind us that freedom is not absolute, that there are those who are willing to give their lives to defend it.
Americans, take notice. There is much to learn from those who value their freedom and cherish democracy.
Claire Walsh of Killingworth is Chair of Democratic Women In Action,