The specter of Russian troops and tanks pouring into Ukraine has shocked the world and generated collective revulsion. Putin’s motives in carrying out this unprovoked attack are clear. Ukraine’s democratic society presents an existential threat to his regime, because it shows the Russian people that there is a better alternative to Putin’s oppressive and corrupt autocracy.
Scenes of Ukrainian resistance have stirred onlookers around the globe, and caused many to wonder: what can I do to help? Some answers including attending rallies, donating to charities that support Ukraine, and letting your legislators know how you feel. But the most important — indeed, the super urgent — thing any of us can do is to realize that the fight isn’t just over there. The invasion of Ukraine is just one battle in a worldwide campaign of fascist aggression. And one of the most important theaters of war is right here in the United States.
This has been true for a long time, but so far it’s been hard for the majority of Americans to accept. As we saw during the buildup to the invasion of Ukraine, even in the face of clear evidence, it’s difficult for many to grasp the extent of Putin’s ruthlessness and ambition. Hopefully the launching of this conventional aggression will stir Americans out of their slumber.
How do we know that America is under Russian attack? The evidence has been sitting in plain sight.
— In 2016 Russian military intelligence attacked the US presidential election. The aggression was multipronged, and included the hacking of a Democractic National Committee server and collusion between Russian intelligence and Trump’s campaign. While aware of the attack, US intelligence did nothing to stop it. As a result Russia’s efforts were successful and helped bring about Trump’s election.
— Once in power, Trump worked steadily to undermine US power and international prestige, unilaterally withdrawing troops and undermining alliances in areas where they curtailed Russian ambition. He revealed secret information to Russians, conducted one-on-one meetings with Putin without supervision, and publicly praised Putin.
— Trump solidified autocratic control over the Republican party, forcing out any who attempted to stand up to his personal one-man rule. He used his power to obstruct a special counsel investigation into his collusion with Russia, and then used it again in an attempt to extort Ukraine to create a fake investigation into Joe Biden’s family — an act for which he was impeached. When he ran for election in 2020, the Republican party offered no platform, instead simply asserting that it would work to accomplish whatever Trump wanted.
— Under Trump’s influence, the right wing media ecosystem has swung from skepticism of Russia to enthusiastic embrace, and from endorsing the concept of democracy to subverting it by endorsing the cynical Kremlin-sponsored view that American elections are deeply fraudulent. This was not merely a rhetorical shift: On January 6, 2021, a mob of hundreds stormed the Capitol at Trump’s urging in an attempt to violently and illegally overturn the results of the presidential election. Again Trump was impeached; again his conviction in the Senate was thwarted by a Republican party that has been effectively captured by antidemocracy forces.
— Trump and Trump-friendly media figures are currently expressing support for Putin’s attack on Ukraine. Trump said “This is genius”; Tucker Carlson’s remkarks were so complimentary that Russian state TV ran them with subtitles.
It is dismaying that an American politician would betray his country and his constitution for the sake of personal wealth and power. What’s equally dismaying is the failure of mainstream American society to call this attack on our democracy what it is. Civil servants who could have used their statuatory power to defend democracy have instead balked time and time again. Reporters and pundits have largely hewn to a familiar “both sides” perspective, lamenting so-called divisiveness in US politics while failing to clarify that the increasing bitterness and irrationality in politics has taken entirely on the part of the antidemocratic right. This timid unwillingness to state clear moral realities has encouraged the misperception that Trump’s Russia ties are a hoax.
This is what America can do to fight back against the worldwide march of fascism:
— Trump and his cronies must be aggressively prosecuted for any and all crimes. Yes, the prosecution of politicians who have left office is something that happens in banana republics. But having leaders who engage in open criminality is also something that happens in banana republics. We need to get over ourselves. If we cannot as a society lay down clear lines as to what is acceptable and what is not, chaos will ensue. And this of course is the goal of our enemies.
— Everyone who believes in democracy must put its preservation at the center of focus. While there are many, many causes that are important to pursue for the betterment of the country, none of them will come to pass if the country is swallowed by a Putin-style autocracy.
— Fascism must be driven out of the public sphere. Voltaire wrote, “I do not agree with a word that you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Such magnanimity cannot be extended to those who would use it to destroy democratic society. First Amendment or no, speech that is insurrectionist in intent must be viewed as unacceptable and fought through whatever means are available, whether it be laws or public pressure.
— Fascists must be driven out of politics. This year, Americans will return to the polls to vote for their representatives in Congress. Trump’s power remains strong in the Republican party, which officially has voted to expel members who dare to question his monolithic grip. Many Republicans who are running for office assisted in Trump’s attempted coup; many in the months since have further sewn doubts about the integrity of our elections and have encouraged the implementation of voter restrictions to prevent pro-democracy voters from casting ballots. If Republicans take the house, then the new speaker will likely be the current minority leader Kevin McCarthy, a staunch Trumpist who was among those who voted to overturn Biden’s election.
Under McCarthy’s leadership, the house investigation into the January 6 coup will be shut down. Efforts to skew future elections will continue. Antidemocratic misinformation will continue to spread. And, most dangerously, the chances of Donald Trump being reelected in 2024 will increase. If that happens, Trump will be in a position to achieve what he has promised: the prosecution and even execution of his political opponents. At that point, it’s hard to imagine what force could possibly remove Trump from power. The war against fascism in the United States will have been lost. The shrinking number of democracies in the world will feel considerably lonelier.
Right now, everyone in the United States needs at this point to be absolutely clear. The war between fascism and democracy is not some far-off battle; it is taking place right here. And each of us will play a role in the outcome. This year, voters will go to the polls. What they must understand with absolute clarity is this: a vote for any Republican is a vote to end democracy.