The world appears to be snapping out of its complacency, shaking off its self-absorption.
With Russia’s brutality in Ukraine, we are witnessing what too many thought impossible: a nuclear dictatorship trying to wipe out a functioning democracy, committing daily atrocities, sparking a massive refugee crisis, and edging the planet closer to cataclysm than we’ve been in a very, very long time.
It’s a tragic, terrifying moment. And one of revelation.
Ukraine is showing us just how much the democracy too many of us take for granted is worth fighting for. It is a teachable moment, and Vladimir Putin is the rather forbidding and unlikely instructor. (Think of Donald Trump, with his own assaults on democracy here, as the teacher’s pet.)
To help him destroy democracy in Ukraine, Putin has set about erasing whatever remnants of it remained in Russia, too, shutting down independent reporting, cutting off access to social media, and now, threatening to imprison those who try to tell the truth about his carnage in Ukraine — even by just calling it a “war.”
We do something akin to this, though in milder form, here. All over this country, including in New Hampshire, Republicans are banning books and pushing laws designed to shut down discussions of inconvenient truths in classrooms. Putin’s American fans have been gaslighting millions for years, denying and distorting facts which are obvious to anyone with eyes and ears. The Russian dictator is showing us where all of that leads.
Even after Russian troops invaded, Trump continued to heap praise on Putin, and plenty of Trump enablers are still taking the Kremlin’s part, or at least blaming others — President Biden, NATO — for the brutality. But the invasion lays bare, once and for all, what a monster Putin is. And how dangerous Trump’s attempts to withhold aid from Ukraine, his willingness to quit NATO, and his admiration for Putin really are.
The Republican Party, from House minority leader Kevin McCarthy all the way down to this state’s party chair Jim Lyons and gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl, now face a choice: Stick with the man who defended and strengthened a monster, or choose their own country. There’s a third choice of course, and it comes right out of Putin’s playbook: Pretend that what we all saw, what Trump boasted about, never happened. But, after Ukraine — and Jan. 6 — more voters will see through that deception. One hopes.
Perhaps this will be the end, too, of the America First cult to which Trump and his defenders are so devoted. We are, and must be, members of a global community. While the COVID pandemic should have made that clear, the last two weeks have made it undeniable. President Biden has pulled together a remarkable partnership of nations, which has imposed crippling sanctions on Russia and delivered crucial aid to Ukraine.
We don’t yet know if it will be enough. But the international community is showing it’s still capable of the kind of coordination and common purpose — and the willingness to sacrifice — that can change the course of history. How much progress could we make if it brought that same strength and unified will to other conflicts, or to the cataclysm that is climate change?
We’re also seeing endless reserves of compassion for the 1.5 million Ukrainians who have fled the country. The scenes of mostly women and children crowding onto trains have been heartbreaking (while scenes of African, Arab, and South Asian residents of Ukraine being prevented from joining them are enraging). But they’ve been met with wide-open arms in Germany, Poland, and elsewhere. Europe has offered them three-year visas. And a few days ago, the United States gave some Ukrainians Temporary Protected Status, giving them permission to stay here for 18 months initially.
Now we see what this world is capable of when it comes to Ukrainian refugees, we ought to demand the same mobilization for others fleeing for their lives. Syrians and Yemenis, for example, and Afghans, who are still fighting for TPS here.
And if some Americans don’t feel the same urgency and heartbreak for them, don’t identify viscerally with those equally desperate groups, they ought to ask themselves why.
This is a moment of painful and necessary clarity.
Will it open our eyes?
Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.