We Were Wrong …

Democracy … It’s not what governments do. Democracy is what people do.

I could not possibly have said this any better than Robert Reich.  Like him, I had some really wrong ideas and the last several years have opened my eyes to the fact that humans have not progressed as much as I had once thought.


Putin and Trump have convinced me I was wrong about the twenty-first century

But the people of Ukraine are teaching all of us lessons we thought we knew

By Robert Reich, 12 March 2022

I used to believe several things about the twenty-first century that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Donald Trump’s election in 2016 have shown me are false. I assumed:

Nationalism is disappearing. I expected globalization would blur borders, create economic interdependence among nations and regions, and extend a modern consumer and artistic culture worldwide.

I was wrong. Both Putin and Trump have exploited xenophobic nationalism to build their power. (Putin’s aggression has also ignited an inspiring patriotism in Ukraine.)

Nations can no longer control what their citizens know. I assumed that emerging digital technologies, including the Internet, would make it impossible to control worldwide flows of information and knowledge. Tyrants could no longer keep their people in the dark or hoodwink them with propaganda.

Wrong again. Trump filled the media with lies, as has Putin. Putin has also cut off Russian citizens from the truth about what’s occurring in Ukraine.

Advanced nations will no longer war over geographic territory. I thought that in the “new economy” land was becoming less valuable than technological knowhow and innovation. Competition among nations would therefore be over the development of cutting-edge inventions.

I was only partly right. While skills and innovation are critical, land still provides access to critical raw materials and buffers against potential foreign aggressors.

Major nuclear powers will never risk war against each other because of the certainty of “mutually assured destruction.” I bought the conventional wisdom that nuclear war was unthinkable.

I fear I was wrong. Putin is now resorting to dangerous nuclear brinksmanship.

Civilization will never again be held hostage by crazy isolated men with the power to wreak havoc. I assumed this was a phenomenon of the twentieth century, and that twenty-first century governments, even totalitarian ones, would constrain tyrants.

Trump and Putin have convinced me I was mistaken. Thankfully, America booted Trump out of office — but his threat to democracy remains.

Advances in warfare, such as cyber-warfare and precision weapons, will minimize civilian casualties. I was persuaded by specialists in defense strategy that it no longer made sense for sophisticated powers to target civilians.

Utterly wrong. Civilian casualties in Ukraine are mounting.

Democracy is inevitable. I formed this belief in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union had imploded and China was still poor. It seemed to me that totalitarian regimes didn’t stand a chance in the new technologically driven, globalized world. Sure, petty dictatorships would remain in some retrograde regions. But modernity came with democracy, and democracy with modernity.

Both Trump and Putin have shown how wrong I was on this, too.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians are showing that Trump’s and Putin’s efforts to turn back the clock on the twenty-first century can only be addressed with a democracy powerful enough to counteract autocrats like them.

They are also displaying with inspiring clarity that democracy cannot be taken for granted. Democracy is not a spectator sport. It’s not what governments do. Democracy is what people do.

Ukrainians are reminding us that democracy survives only if people are willing to sacrifice for it. Some sacrifices are smaller than others. You may have to stand in line for hours to vote, as did tens of thousands of Black people in America’s 2020 election. You may have to march and protest and even risk your life so others may vote, as did iconic civil rights leaders like the late John Lewis and Martin Luther King, Jr.

You may have to knock on hundreds of doors to get out the vote. Or organize thousands to make your voices heard. And stand up against the powerful who don’t want your voices heard.

You may have to fight a war to protect democracy from those who would destroy it.

The people of Ukraine are also reminding us that democracy is the single most important legacy we have inherited from previous generations who strengthened it and who risked their lives to preserve it. It will be the most significant legacy we leave to future generations — unless we allow it to be suppressed by those who fear it, or we become too complacent to care.

Putin and Trump have convinced me I was wrong about how far we had come in the twenty-first century. Technology, globalization, and modern systems of governance haven’t altered the ways of tyranny. But I, like millions of others around the world, have been inspired by the Ukrainian people — who are reteaching us lessons we once knew.

44 thoughts on “We Were Wrong …

  1. Hi Jill….Stark mood morning (10.00 am GMT-UK)
    Isn’t it a kick in the head?
    Sorry folks but history is littered with unpleasant powers falling and rising again. With enlightenment coming then being stamped out or those embracing it have decided only ‘their form of enlightenment’ is the right one. With bright sunny dawns suddenly being subsumed in thick cloud.
    The Chinese Prime Minster of the Mao era Zhou Enlai (and arguably the equal of Kissinger) said of the effects of 1968 Paris ‘revolution’…a few years later ‘It is too early to tell’ (well that’s the English version).
    That should always be your mantra. It is always too early to tell. Never assume your sunrise means a happy shiny day. Enjoy it, but carry an umbrella.
    Nothing new here folks.
    If you want Peace, Prosperity, and Fairness, you have to fight for it, all the damn time.
    Ask any animal out in the wild.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This was another of Robert Reich’s newsletters that was read upon arrival, then over the next few days read again and again. There are times when I have wished that Reich is wrong but Reich is nearly always right! It is upsetting and a bit disorienting when one realizes that one has either been misled through no fault of their own or just downright wrong in their assumptions. Reevaluating one’s opinions is necessary for progress in life. In March of 1901, long before becoming President, Woodrow Wilson (then a political-science professor at Princeton) penned a lengthy piece for The Atlantic magazine titled “Democracy and Efficiency” which near the end contains these words : “Democracy is not so much a form of government as a set of principles.” President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people have made it both! WHAK!! Thank-you!

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    • We tend to form our opinions and make our assumptions within a certain context, usually that of our own lives and those within our circle. Sometimes, though, we find our views are no longer in keeping with the greater world and then … we don’t change our own values, but rather the way we see the world as related to our own values. Self-assessment is a healthy exercise and a necessary one. Not always a pleasant one, but … necessary.

      Off topic, but it appears that you were right and I was wrong last month when you said a certain post was my last one for Black History Month and I said that no, I planned to write a few more. Then Russia invaded Ukraine, and I never did get back to finishing up Black History Month. Sigh. Love you, dear Ellen. WHAK!!!

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  3. Lethargy and Egocentricity are the masses’, the people’s most lethal poisons against a thriving, full democracy and her all-embracing equality. And those toxic, combined ailments over time disintegrate the required collaboration, social-engagement, and cohesion necessary for healthy democracies.

    Robert Reich has always been one of my go-to American economists, lawyers, and political analysts. He is highly regarded by his peers and colleagues; I have always respected and admired his viewpoints, education, and career. I particularly enjoyed and was impressed with his 2013 documentary “Inequality for All.”

    If there is one thing that Zelensky, Ukrainians, and Mr. Reich have shown us these last 10-12 years, it is that true democracy, healthy democracy cannot survive without weekly, monthly, annual, and bi-annual participation of every single citizen of its nation. The virtuous, dutiful, privilege of civil participation & engagement is the fuels, the energy democracy runs on. Yes, in contention sometimes, but ALWAYS ALWAYS in peaceful tolerance, thoughtfulness, 2-way understanding, and respect—virtues and behavior too many Americans have lost and/or forgotten. What is our national motto and its meaning?

    “E Pluribus Unum.”

    It was NEVER, “Me, Meum et Tantum Nobis, Non Lemma” or Me, Mine and Only Us, Not Them.

    The healthy signs and manifestations of a true democracy, or its dysfunction and decay… can be easily observed by how the PEOPLE treat each other. Treatment in public and private, even when disagreeing. America has lost these traits over the last 2-3 decades, and she has NOT yet corrected her course. Let’s hope Ukraine shows us the way and poignantly shows us what REALLY matters most: each other. Earthlings first and foremost, Americans second, and everything else a distant third or fourth… if those even matter at all.

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    • My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.
      — Adlai Stevenson

      Along the lines and context of Martin Niemöller’s famous confessional prose during the Nazi’s rise to power with my personal twist:

      • Is it safe in America to be one in the LGBTQ community?

      • Is it safe in America to be a non-white?

      • Is it safe in America to be non-Christian?

      • Is it safe in America to be liberal or conservative?

      • Is it safe in America to be unarmed?

      • Is it safe in America to be a peaceful intellectual?

      • Is it safe in America to wear a mask and be fully vaccinated & boostered?

      • Is it safe in America, the wealthiest country in the world, and be impoverished and disadvantaged because of the zip code you were born into?

      • Is it safe to be an American in the world?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Since I fit into over half of the aforementioned categories, these are good questions to ask. The answer is … well, it probably all depends on wealth, skin colour, and financial status. Is it safe to be an American in the world? That’s one I cannot answer. To some in the world, we are the laughingstock, to some we are the hated, and to some we are to be pitied. I guess it all depends.

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        • Exactly Jill! Our “prestige” in the international community has been declining for at least 2-decades. It was at its all-time worst from 2017 to Jan. 2021. 😔

          Question now is Can we get back to what we once had soon enough?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Gee … I wonder what could have caused it to plunge from 2017 ’til 2021 … specifically January 20th 2021??? 🤔

            Your question is a good one, and one for which I have no answer. We could, but the real question is … “will we?” And that remains to be seen … most days I think we’re heading in the wrong direction, but I haven’t given up hope yet.

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    • You’ve stated the case well, Professor! “peaceful tolerance, thoughtfulness, 2-way understanding, and respect—virtues and behavior too many Americans have lost and/or forgotten” is in keeping with a post I am working on for this afternoon. I think the people of this nation have forgotten those virtues. One good deed can spread like wildfire, but conversely, one hateful word can do the same. Stay tuned …

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  4. Pingback: WE WERE WRONG … |jilldennison.com | Ramblings of an Occupy Liberal

    • I’d say that many of them are stuck in the 19th century. Or, if you like, the nineteenth century +automobiles, +jet aircraft, +smartphones, +the internet, +AK47s.

      If only they would go all the way back to the 19th century, and stick to using horse and buggy.

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      • I agree, with the exception that if we return to the 19th century, then we also return to the days of slavery, of Jim Crow, of the KKK infiltrating law enforcement and … well, you get the picture. My fear is that some would actually like to return to those days, but as you say, keep their cars, computers, televisions, and most of all big, powerful guns.

        Liked by 1 person

    • We think … two steps forward and one step back … but these days it seems more like one step forward and two (or maybe 5) steps backward. I think that many of us thought we had progressed further than we had. Perhaps someday … sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jill, like collaboration and relationships, democracy is hard work. We must do our part. With freedom comes responsibility. That responsibility includes being informed and being community minded to protect all of our rights, not just mine.

    Keith

    Liked by 4 people

    • You are so very right, Keith! And successful relationships also require compromise, sometimes giving in, and determination to make it work. That one word … compromise … seems foreign to so many in leadership positions these days. It’s “all or nothing at all” … and that isn’t the way the world works. It is often the responsibility that accompanies ‘rights’ that falls by the wayside. People are quick to assert their rights, but often completely forget the accompanying responsibility. You are a wise man.

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  7. These are two requirements to making democracy work:

    1) Responsible candidates who can put aside their own desires to represent the needs of the majority of people who vote for them, against them, or those who do not to vote at all!

    2) Responsible voters who care more about creating a safe and secure world for themselves, their loved ones, their neighbours, and ALL their fellow citizens, than they do about creating enclaves of people who think somewhat like them and damn everyone else!

    I do not think I am going out on a limb when I say that many democracies have NEVER had enough responsible candidates and responsible voters AT THE SAME TIME to elect a government that works for the safety and security of the majority of the citizens of the governing bodies’ purviews! (But I can be wrong.)

    I do not know about all democracies, but I say the above about Canada, the United States of America, and Great Britain. The probability is that few democratic governments, if any, have ever achieved those requirements!

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    • Rawgod,

      Your #2 is spot on. Bulls-eye. And much of that grit and know-how comes from (highly?) qualified Civil & Government educations in secondary schooling, then beyond… hopefully in under-grad and post-grad educations. Unfortunately, our (the U.S.’s) public civics curriculums have deteriorated or been sacrificed the last 2-3 decades for outdated subjects and courses in the charter & private schools, or home-schooling such as religious pursuits or more popular business (capitalistic) pursuits.

      Your #1 is also on target. Unfortunately again, here in the U.S., incentives for qualified, people-oriented candidates, particularly younger generations, have been grossly monetized… begun or misdirected in 2010 with the landmark decision by our Supreme Court in Citizens United vs FEC; then came the Super-PACS. Today, on state and federal levels, new younger qualified candidates (in law & politics) must have colossal campaign funds OR millions of dollars of their own money to run against incumbents or opponents to have a decent chance of winning—i.e. either their own Super PAC or an uncontested seat, or a weak & less wealthy opponent. And in today’s American politics obese with corporate funding of their own choice-candidates, how often does that happen, especially in very key, critical offices/seats that SWAY national elections & policies? 😔

      Nevertheless, it does indeed begin with your #1 and #2. Well done Sir.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Well … there will always be politicians, and I don’t think it’s fair to lump them all together anymore than it’s fair to say, “All women ________” or “All Black people _________________”, for there are some decent politicians out there … they’re just outnumbered these days.

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  9. That last line is so real. “But I, like millions of others around the world, have been inspired by the Ukrainian people — who are reteaching us lessons we once knew.” I am one of these people. They (the Ukrainian people) give me hope that humanity is still on the table in life.

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    • Yes, I think the people of Ukraine, including President Zelenskyy, have given us a birds-eye view of what true courage is. I keep asking myself … “would I have that kind of courage?” I like to think I would, but … I just don’t know. I’ve stood facing an angry man (ex-husband) pointing a gun at my face and rather than cower in fear, I kicked the fender of his car in, so I must have some untapped well of courage somewhere deep in myself, but … I still don’t know. But I AM CERTAIN that humanity is still on the table of life, that good people still outnumber bad ones. Hope, my friend.

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      • I have to believe that and have hope too…that there are more people like them and like us. People that are not scared to stand up for others and ourselves.

        I am so sorry that you have had to encounter one of those kinds of ex-husbands as well. I had a bat-shit crazy one myself. He wasn’t brave enough to put a gun in my face but did things in parallel.

        Keep fighting the good fight, my dear friend! I am right by your side!

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        • We cannot lose hope, for if we do then all is lost. All people are some combination of things — greed, kindness, selfish, compassionate, etc. I still believe that most of us lean more toward being ‘good people’ than bad, but the bad ones are the ones we hear about on an everyday basis. If we don’t also see the good ones, then it’s easy to lose hope.

          I’m sorry you went through all that you did … the dominant male is part of the problem in our society today … it is still very much a man’s world despite all the progress women have made in the past century.

          Yep, I’ll keep fighting until I draw my last breath, and so will you because that’s who we are!

          Liked by 1 person

            • It frustrates me to see my friends tune out and completely ignore what is happening in this country, in the world. They say it ‘stresses’ them and since there’s nothing they can do to change it, they are happy in their own little worlds. That is part of the problem … people wearing blinders and rose-coloured glasses Sigh. HUGS!!!

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                  • I couldn’t agree more. I have spent my day sending texts about the DA elections, the Equal Act, and some other legislation, and some people are helpful and make the time worth spending. Then you have the ones that just want to be obtuse and tell me to get a life. I want to say, “This is my life”, and I usually do then opt them out LOL Hugs! It’s been a day haha

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                    • I do so admire what you do, and I must say that you have far more patience than I would have with those who ‘just want to be obtuse’ … I would likely make their ears burn with my retort! (I have a bit of a temper 😉 ) Get some rest, dear Amy … you’ve earned it!!! Big hugs! 🤗

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