Gary Horton | Ukraine Jars U.S. Democracy Morass to Clarity

Gary Horton

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” 

We read John F. Kennedy’s famous remark and may feel weak and ashamed while witnessing the true heroics in Ukraine, up front and personal, on every phone, computer and TV screen. Everyday Ukrainians — moms, dads, grandfathers, grandmothers, famous stars, actors, athletes — have joined all-in for the bloody fight ahead for freedom and liberty. 

These are folks who didn’t necessarily always get along so well. Like America, Ukraine has right wingers, nationalists, mainstreamers, anti-this and anti-that. Not so much anymore. Unlike America today, Ukrainians have unexpectedly united like a solid titanium ax against an overwhelming Russian onslaught – which fortunately is as corrupt and broken as Russia itself. 

Against long odds and assured tragic suffering, Ukrainians ask, “What can I do for my country?”  

And the answer, more and more is, “Sacrifice your life for our freedom.”  

It gives you shivers! While we suffer all this “divided nation” warring about masks and vaccines and stolen elections and fake news while tolerating and even promoting an authoritarian Vladimir Putin lover hell-bent on making America his very own family-ran autocracy? 

It’s time for us to grow up again and put on our big boy democracy clothes. It’s time to put our common good far, far ahead of whatever petty culture war wedge issues this or that lobbyist group is force feeding our Gumby politicians to mimic. Our freedom and indeed, freedom for the whole world is in a sense at stake in Ukraine. Our best response to Ukraine is full economic and refugee support – but more: Our response should also be for America to return to our best democratic behaviors, for the whole world to see! 

Another statement rings true from an unlikely source far removed from Kennedy’s vaunted position:  

“Can’t we all just get along?”  

Ukraine had been nearly divided as the U.S. Yet it voted in Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a Jew, from a family of Jews that suffered tragically in World War II, with 72% of their vote. Now, laughably accused by Putin of being a “drug-addicted Nazi,”  Zelenskyy is showing the world what true service on behalf of a nation looks like. Ethnic Russians, ethnic Ukrainians, Jews, Muslims, Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic, even Chechens and volunteer fighters from around the globe have rallied, forged into that titanium bar getting jammed down Putin’s throat, to preserve the nascent Ukrainian democracy. 

Instead, we have truckers clogging streets protesting COVID masks. Texan politicians restricting voting rights. Southern states bent on culture wars, eliminating basic personal sexual rights. Horned Viking cult followers assaulting the Capitol on our authoritarian’s implied orders.  

While the U.S. is finding ever new ways to divide ourselves (indeed, with Russia’s influence), Ukraine has shown the world that unity is achievable when we realize that freedom is on the line; that the common good overrules individual biases; and that the alternative is essential slavery under a very repressive, noxious Putin regime. Remember, in a democracy, freedom is on the line every election. Keeping free is up to you and me. 

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” 

These are incredibly important words for America today. We’ve just passed the one-year mark of an undemocratic effort by a sitting U.S. president to undermine democratic rule of law. To this date, the wannabe usurper continues to undermine the 2020 election, though it has been thoroughly litigated, triple checked with results beyond dispute.  

This is a dangerous for all of us, because the vision of America this faction is fighting for looks far more like Putin’s Russia than Washington’s America – with America’s authoritarian wannabe literally saying, “The press is the enemy of the people.” Putin, you know, just closed all the “fake news” free press outlets in the entirety of Russia. The Iron Curtain again descends. Do we really want this, here? 

To this day, America’s authoritarian personality cult leader praises Putin, despite the tragic war. Praises even Kim Jong-un: Last week, the usurper said Kim has, “total control,” marveling how his aids and generals cowered toward him.  

Cult leader fans: Are you sure you want a slip-slide into dictatorship in place of an orderly democracy? If you want an orderly democracy, DO WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY and abide election rules and results and support our elected officials so they can get the work of the people done. You lost. So what. Support what you can, help as you can, and let’s move America forward. You get another shot in 2024. Just play by the rules and hopefully run a candidate fully committed to American democratic values, and not some third world dictatorship view of a family-business-ran banana republic.  

Consider what would have happened had Ukrainians not quickly coalesced behind Zelenskyy’s adroit leadership! His words back at the U.S. are now forever carved in stone: 

Said Zelenskyy to America’s offer of war zone evacuation, “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.” When asked if he felt iconic, he replied, “I’m not iconic, the Ukrainian people are iconic.” 

And so should we be. We begin by accepting and obeying basic American democratic principles. We continue by being that Shining City on a Hill we envision our “American Exceptionalism” to be. We walk the talk instead of just mouthing it. We accept refugees. We (finally) reject overt militarism, such as the ludicrous invasion of Iraq. We spend our money promoting peace and prosperity at home and abroad, as well as keeping up a stout defense. We have mending and healing to do. 

In Ukraine, we see reflections of the birthing of America. It ought to jar us to our senses. 

May this tragedy serve to bring us all back to our common sense of good, our commitment to democracy, and our decency and good intention for all Americans, throughout all America.  

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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