Twelve score and six years ago, our founding fathers created a new nation with a new form of government—not rule by kings or dictators, not by the rich or the strong, but of, by and for the people. This experiment in democracy worked and, over the years, was embraced around the world.
But today, democracy is under siege. Most dramatically, democracy is under attack in Ukraine, where citizens are heroically defending self-government with their own blood.
There is not much state and local policymakers and advocates can do against the Russian invasion. But we can help make Americans understand why the defense of Ukraine is unusual and important.
U.S. political leaders of both parties say they stand with the Ukrainian people. But why? Others have been attacked and slaughtered by military forces in recent years, including residents of Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and Myanmar, to name just a few. We haven’t particularly stood up for them.
It’s because Ukraine is a democracy. Russia, an oligarchy leaning toward dictatorship, has invaded a sovereign country to reverse policy decisions made through self-government. In a battle between despotism and democracy, America must defend representative government.
Just as America was a part of Great Britain before 1776, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union before 1991. That year, in a nationwide referendum, more than 90 percent voted for independence, with majorities in every region including Crimea. Ukraine became a republic with a popularly-elected President, and a Prime Minister and cabinet approved by a 450-member elected Parliament.
President Zelensky won a five-year term in May 2019 and the members of Parliament were last elected in July 2019. International monitors confirmed that both of these were free and fair elections. While Ukraine has had its problems over the past 30 years, the nation has a vibrant independent media and a flourishing civil society. Aside from regions controlled by Russia, it is a representative, pluralistic democracy.
Democracy is self-determination. Democracy is freedom. Democracy is America’s highest ideal. The point of democracy is to settle disputes not by force but by voting, by majority rule. And once a vote is held, to respect it. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in our Declaration of Independence 246 years ago, governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.” An attack on democracy is anti-American.
That is why we support Ukraine today.
We need to talk about democracy now because Americans have reason to listen, for once. This is not the time to compare Russia’s invasion to Trump’s efforts to reject the result of the 2020 elections or the efforts of Republicans to block citizens from voting and gerrymander districts. (Frankly, Ukrainians’ efforts to protect their republic make ours look pitiful.) But it is time to make people understand what democracy is.