Dysfunction’s Function

In the coming hours or days, the post-Cold War geopolitical order we have known has the potential to come crashing down. Writing these words reminds and overwhelms thinking of the magnitude of the precipice upon which our world now stands. There is little doubt the impending Russian invasion of Ukraine would be the most significant, bloodiest conflict witnessed in Europe since the end of World War II.

Much will be written, said, and opined about the conflict itself. Analysis – both credible and utter tomfoolery — will move at the speed of light. Factual information, disinformation, and Lozhniy Informatsiya (false information with a purpose) will flow instantaneously with equal force. Globally, generations only knowing a post-Cold War world devoid of the daily threat of nuclear obliteration will suddenly understand the feeling of helplessness to events beyond the falsely perceived personal empowerment in which they have come of age. They will ask why.

The world built since the early 1990s isn’t constructed for the return of history. It is ill-equipped for past generational battles like fascism and freedom or communism verse capitalism. Our personal technologies, instant of internet-driven information and commentary, and our easy access to goods and services across globalized interdependent markets aren’t set up for such a vastly different set of realities and rules.

Events comprise the annals of history. When reflecting upon the path humanity has traveled, we inevitably see the tipping points with the benefits of hindsight. The moments in the Guns of August which could have led to them have never been fired or the failures of German elites to recognize and rally against the rise of the Third Reich.

Today, as we stand on the brink of a world potentially doubling back within history, we must ask ourselves, where are the tipping points? What moments in the roads since the Berlin Wall came down in jubilation led us to this one? We must seek to understand where and what our role is in events. Those taken individually, as nation-states, and more broadly among those who share the common values leading to that day when the Wall came down.

Much will be made about Vladimir Putin’s choices in pushing the world back to a less safe era. The world will ask, to what ends do Ukrainians deserve such a brutal fate? There will be pondering why Russia would do such a thing? How can they not see a peaceful world, devoid of the conflicts in Europe that plagued it for centuries and killed so many, is a blatantly better option? Others in places like China and Taiwan will watch our response and ponder what it means for their designs or fate. Yet, in truth, we should be asking how dysfunction in our democracies to this point?

The foundation of all democracies is built upon Faith in each other. Autocracies are imposed through fear of one another. Fear is what Putin is attempting to inflict upon the people of Ukraine and all of us. It is fear prevailing in our democracies too.  

We see it daily in the dysfunction in the United States. The rise of Donald Trump and Trumpism. Protests after African Americans seem to be continually being killed at the hands of the police. A storming of the US Capitol to overturn a free and fair election. It resides in Canada in the form of truckers blocking roads. In the UK, tone-deaf leaders feel compelled to live one set of rules while imposing those same mandates on everyone else. Across Europe, dysfunction derived from fear is winning in the form of division and inaction.

What we are about to witness with Ukraine is a significant tipping point. A moment when democracy and democracies rise to the occasion through faith or succumb to a world where fear rules. Throughout history, we have been here before. Vladimir Putin is betting our dysfunction at home will function as his opportunity for returning to a world where fear rules. Today is the call to arms in our generation’s great battle – one between democracy and autocracy — a struggle between the faith that once brought down the Wall and the fear which originally constructed it.

We have reached the point where our actions individually to overcome the political dysfunctions at home which are driven by our fears will determine which world, we will live in. Ultimately, as Roosevelt said long ago when facing a similar threat, “All we have to fear is fear itself.”

Trygve Olson is the founder of Viking Strategies LLC and a Senior Advisor to the Lincoln Project. He worked at Senior levels of Republican politics and spent over two decades training thousands of activists from over forty countries struggling to build democracies for the International Republican Institute (IRI) which was led by the late Senator John McCain. You can follow him on Twitter @trygveolson[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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