The Cost of Autocracy

Stoyan Nenov/Reuters
A woman cries as she walks with her children after fleeing from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at the border crossing in Siret, Romania, Feb. 28, 2022.

I’ve been watching gut-wrenching footage of the Ukrainian refugee crisis.

Images of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing their homes. Pictures of desperate and panicked mobs on train station platforms looking for safe passage to Poland or Hungary. The same pained expression on every face. An expression that comes from leaving all you’ve ever known behind with the devastating understanding you’ll likely never return.

I think the world is still reeling from how quickly events leading to the crisis unfolded. The transformation from Ukrainian citizen to Ukrainian refugee seemed instantaneous.

Ukrainians went from sipping coffee at sidewalk cafés to walking for miles with everything they own stuffed in a duffle bag. We watch them stagger down the middle of streets, surrounded by block after city block of blackened and bombed-out buildings. We wince in discomfort at the hundreds of children in winter coats clinging to stuffed animals while holding on to their stunned parent’s hands. We imagine the feeling of having our own security ripped away and our lives forever changed because of one man’s delusions of grandeur and unbridled lust for power.

What’s happening in Ukraine is so unsettling because we see with our own eyes the fragility of life and how tenuous the connection between safety and total chaos is.

As I watch the crisis unfold from the comfort of my surroundings, a sense of hopelessness settles in. The hopelessness is chased by an anxiety-fueled realization that everything which anchors me to my own sense of belonging might disappear in a wisp and whim.

Simple things, like walking through the front door into the arms of a loved one, relaxing in a favorite chair, falling asleep to the warm and familiar nuances of home. The almost unconscious absorption of sights and sounds that comprise life; the sound of my dog walking across the kitchen floor, a ticking clock in the den, the electric hum of a refrigerator at night, or the relaxed, carefree expression of my children sitting around the kitchen table.

It’s unbearable knowing that everything that grounds us and keeps us whole can disappear when one man decides to go to war.

But that’s what happens in an autocracy.

Most importantly, we shouldn’t get lulled into thinking this can’t happen in America. We have a vicious and ugly streak of “might-is-right” believers in our country and government.

And let’s keep in our collective consciousness that Donald Trump is one of Vladimir Putin’s biggest admirers, and that Donald Trump still controls the Republican Party.

Redirecting our democracy to an autocracy might be one election cycle away.

When Donald Trump was President, he openly mused about shooting protesters in the legs. Donald Trump ordered military police to use tear gas to disperse peaceful protestors. Donald Trump despises a free press and openly talks about “investigating” and targeting journalists. And like every true authoritarian, Donald Trump understands the biggest threat to autocratic rule is truth and freedom. After all, it was truth and freedom that ended his presidency, despite all his attempts to suppress both.

I’ve no doubt that Trump is fine with Putin clamping down on protestors. And I’m sure that Trump sees nothing wrong with Putin keeping the truth from Russian citizens by cracking down on journalists. Trump himself longed for that type of power and control.

Imagine if Trump were President today. Do you honestly think he would condemn Putin and work with our NATO alliance? How much worse would the Ukrainian people be under a Trump Presidency?

We are all Ukrainians today – their fight is our fight, because they fight for freedom and democracy.

One of the easiest things we can do as Americans to help the Ukraine is to stand up to the autocratic forces in our own country. Call out Trump and his sycophants at every turn and be sure to vote for candidates that support democracy and freedom.

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