Photography lesson

A lesson for Americans in the valiant fight for democracy in Ukraine

In recent years, we have seen a decline in liberal democracy around 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 electoral process in the United States and Europe.

Despite warnings and sanctions aimed at deterring further activity, the threats were largely ignored by Putin who seemed determined to defy opposition from the West. In recent years, failed policies have fueled the monster of authoritarian rule, despite intelligence reports of the existential threat to our democracy.

In the United States, we have witnessed the slow and insidious decline of democratic freedoms and the rule of law, leading to dysfunctional government, dangerous partisan division, and the absence of unified American values ​​and beliefs. Our elections have been slandered and invalidated, the principles of our institutions challenged and the rule of law viewed with contempt.

Our lawmakers were held captive by the radical right and laws were passed in more than 19 states to overturn the vote. Despite efforts to promote electoral reform, prevent redistricting and other voter suppression measures, and protect voting in federal elections, the Free Vote Act was unable to gain the 60 votes needed to become law. Without these measures, American democracy is seriously threatened.

As we witness the horrific events in Ukraine, we have the opportunity to understand the chilling result of a tyrannical regime. Fueled by ego, a perverse connection to the past, and abuse of power, Putin has disrupted the lives of millions to resolve his decades-old grievances and achieve new geopolitical goals.

In response, President Volodymyr Zelensky has shown unwavering leadership, the support of his nation, and courage. In recent weeks, he has again stated his wish for Ukraine to join NATO. Putin is clearly threatened by the eastward expansion of the US-led 30-nation military alliance, which includes states from the former Soviet Union.

The threat of democracy on its borders has undoubtedly contributed to the recent invasion of Ukraine. Putin has pushed back against growing opposition to autocratic rule in Russia in recent years, and it has been clear from public protests in recent weeks that he does not have the full support of the Russian people for war in Ukraine. Despite the myriad grounds for opposing the war, the protests seem to confirm Putin’s overriding fear: the desire for democratic freedom against 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 they care about free speech, they’ve overturned the electoral process with state laws that nullify our votes, challenged reproductive freedom with draconian state laws and the judicial process, are determined to restrict the books our children read, and challenge legal measures that hold them accountable for breaking the law.

By abdicating their constitutional oath, elected officials have shown more loyalty to an extreme ideology than to sound governance and respect for democratic values. Beholden to right-wing politics, they constantly undermine our democracy with lies, misinformation and obstruction of the legislative process.

And so, I ask, are the American people aware that we are about to lose our democracy? If the January 6 insurrection did not alert us to the growing threat of authoritarian rule, what will?

There seems to be a lot to learn from the catastrophic events in Ukraine. The Ukrainian people have married into the West over the past decades and embraced democracy. Today they flee their homes to protect their children and send their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers to the streets to fight for freedom.

Again and again they affirm the love of their country, the rejection of tyranny and the desire to live free and to govern themselves. Their courage and determination remind us that freedom is not absolute, that there are those who are ready to give their lives to defend it.

Americans, take note. There is much to learn from those who value their freedom and cherish democracy.

Claire Walsh of Killingworth is president of Democratic Women In Action,