Alan Zendell, October 5, 2022
It’s often said that, like sausage making, the more you scrutinize politics and diplomacy, the worse they look and smell. A main reason I object to mixing religious and secular education is that religion plants the false notion in children’s minds that good and evil exist as distinct and easily identifiable characteristics in each of us. Before the internet, it was easy for propaganda-savvy governments and politicians to idealize good and evil so they were portrayed as good.
During World War 2 and Korea, Americans believed we were the good guys. Despite having committed genocide against the native Americans who preceded us and enslaving millions of kidnapped Africans, then continuing to deny non-white Americans’ constitutional rights, we grew up believing America was the greatest country in the world, the greatest that ever existed. That might be true if you define a virtuous person as the least evil one.
About politics and diplomacy, it’s also said that the only thing worse than either would be if neither existed, as they are the only alternatives humans have found to constant conflict and chaos. In a desperately divided nation, each faction believes it has good and righteousness on its side. In a desperately divided world each alliance feels the same way.
If our divisive politics in recent decades wasn’t bad enough, there’s a civil war within the Republican Party. Last week, Donald Trump viciously attacked Mitch McConnell and threw a racial slur at his “China-loving” wife, Elaine Chao. Many saw Trump’s remarks as an invitation to his more virulent supporters to do violence to the Kentucky Senator, and the china-loving remark was typical Trump slander. Chao may be corrupt, but her wealth comes from her family businesses in Taiwan – she’s no fan of China. And as 2024 approaches, after supporting Ron DeSantis’ run for Governor of Florida, and receiving constant support from DeSantis since he entered politics, Trump is now poised to direct his hate and vitriol against the Florida Governor because early preference polls for president show DeSantis leading Trump in the primaries.
The Democrats waged a civil war of their own which resulted in sixteen months of legislative stalemate after the 2021 COVID stimulus bill passed. That they resolved their differences sufficiently to have an unusually productive Congressional term doesn’t suggest that their internal differences are any less severe than the Republicans’. Their success in this Congress stems from the non-self-aggrandizing leadership of President Joe Biden, who believes it’s better to unite a party than for one faction to beat another into submission.
Diplomatically, America has been on the wrong side far too often. Vietnam was a disaster, not only because we lost, but because it’s not clear we were on the right side. We inherited the mess left by the French, not because they were the good guys, but because they were allies, and the decades since we surrendered showed that Ho Chi Minh was not the evil enemy he was portrayed to be. Were we on the right side in the Iran-Iraq conflict? Were we right to spend twenty years fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of confronting the Saudis for their role in the nine-eleven attack?
We’re more involved every day in the war in Ukraine. I’m all in supporting Ukraine, no matter what it takes. But does that mean good resides in Ukraine while only evil drives Russia? Ukraine has our sympathy and support because almost all of the 45 million Ukrainian people are innocent victims in this war.
NATO loves calling Russia’s invasion “unprovoked,” but is that true? When Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, Russia depended on its agriculture and its ports in Crimea and the Odessa region. Ever since the USSR’s demise, Russia has been clear that it fears incursions by NATO on its western borders. We may hate Vladimir Putin and condemn the actions he takes, but most of America felt that way about Trump during his administration. We’re not supporting Ukraine because they’re the good guys, but because it is in the strategic interest of the entire planet to stop aggression by a nuclear power before it leads to total destruction.
Ukraine, as a nation has hardly been a model of democracy and good government. I watched all fifty-plus episodes of Servant of the People, the prophetic Netflix parody starring Volodymyr Zelensky when he was Ukraine’s most popular comedic actor. Made after Russia annexed Crimea, it shows us a Ukrainian-eyed view of the country in 2015-2017. Zelensky, playing the role of president, constantly fights greedy oligarchs and a government owned, lock, stock, and barrel by wealthy supporters. It’s difficult to distinguish that view of Ukraine from our image of Russia, they’re so similar. And today the New York Times is reporting that the car bomb in Moscow that killed the daughter of a Russian oligarch was the result of a Ukrainian plot.
No one’s hands are clean, whether it’s politics or diplomacy. We support Ukraine because supporting them is a better idea than allowing Putin to run rampant throughout Europe. When you look at the people supporting your candidates in the coming elections, you’ll see similar dynamics at work. They all have huge egos and a lust for power, but some are a lot more evil than others.