Vladimir Putin may very well live in the darkness of a world that exists only in his mind—the world of some ethereal Mother Russia, where the vastness of a country with eleven time zones is license enough to subjugate, suppress, and even dominate the rest of the world.
With his darkness, outsiders waste their breath appealing to any moral principles: morality is not an issue when the sanctity of a nation—real or imagined—is at risk. And so those of us outside his bleak worldview look in astonished horror at pictures from Ukraine—the ruined businesses, crumbling hospitals, demolished schools, ravaged cities—and we note with revulsion that while Ukrainian soldiers are killing their Russian counterparts, Russian soldiers are killing Ukrainian civilians without regard for gender or age.
Sometimes we wonder how a man like Vladimir Putin can be allowed to perform on the world stage—why hasn't he been unceremoniously yanked off the boards by a long hook like an inferior vaudeville performer? When will his own apologists recognize the outrage of his actions and turn against him?
The cycle of history says it will happen, but rather than be reassured, we must recall the length of time Adolf Hitler held power in Germany and how difficult it is for good people to win out when democratic ideals are suppressed or eradicated—when, as in Russia, a popular vote is only a charade. We in America must not forget that our own system of free elections remains—and has been—under attack by elected officials with similar philosophies.
January 2001 was a test. Would we rescind the vote—the only factor that keeps us from lapsing into authoritarianism? We weren't ready for that challenge, but because we had elected enough conscientious and resolute officials, we somehow got through it.
Now many of those conscientious defenders of democracy are gone, voted out of office by an electorate that has been fed lies by Fox News, conspiracy theorists, Putin's lackeys working within social media, and a coterie of ill-informed and sometimes just plain stupid elected officials. And now the Supreme Court will decide if voting rights can be further diminished. (Americans have been able to work around the court's abortion decision to some degree, heinous as it is; but the fundamental right to vote, once diminished, will cripple our democracy.)
Remember Trump's envy of China's Xi Jinping, who could ostensibly rule for life. Trump made no secret of his desire to do the same and followed that up in 2020 with an attempted coup to effect it. That threat is not over. Already we see Trump's Congressional acolytes denigrating our involvement in preserving Ukraine's democracy. It's not anti-Ukraine sentiment; it's anti-democracy. A cadre of senators and representatives continues to work toward making voting more difficult while downplaying the January 6 insurrection. Their hope is that most of us won't recognize the fact that without the right to vote, we are Russia—just another totalitarian nation.
The Russian people cannot vote Putin out of office simply because he would never allow an election to reflect their will. And Americans who still believe that the Russian government was not instrumental in swaying the 2016 presidential election simply aren't paying attention. It's the method Putin uses at home and abroad. He will try it again.
Vladimir Putin has disgraced himself as a murderer of women and children. His legacy will endure in photos, video, and firsthand accounts. Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin, Pol Pot—Putin will fit nicely in that pantheon of tyranny and oppression.
But today, Ukraine is enduring a nightmarish existence, an embodiment of Richard Eberhart's powerful poem about war, "The Fury of Aerial Bombardment," a work he composed in 1944 while serving in the Navy. In the fourth stanza he asks the same questions we do when we see what is happening in that country:
Was man made stupid to see his own stupidity?
Is God by definition indifferent, beyond us all?
Is the eternal truth man's fighting soul
Wherein the Beast ravens in its own avidity?
We know the beast and we know the avidity. And we may even look at some of our elected officials and worry about the stupidity. But that right to choose those officials, even if our choices are harebrained, will ultimately save us. That's the right we cannot afford to lose,