The whole world is watching. Democracy is under threat in Ukraine, and the U.S.

February 23, 2022 3:20 am

President Joe Biden. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Yes, the chant made memorable in 1968 at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago haunts us again. The whole word is indeed watching, as we witness the hyper aggressive actions of a certain former KGB officer who is threatening his vulnerable neighbor.

After more than two months of daily reports, the video images from Eastern Europe are becoming more graphic — and disturbing. Those reports show the tensions building by the day, as Russian forces continue to mobilize on the Ukrainian border. Armed conflict, we are told, could come at any time.

But as we examine Vladimir Putin, whose KGB training allows him to detect vulnerabilities in adversaries, some observers believe they know the reason the former lieutenant colonel has chosen this particular moment for confrontation.

In fact, when the topic is about a threatened democracy in Europe, in the long run it might also about us. And our imperfect union. Here’s why.

If you’re worried about the continuing aftereffects of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 of last year, you should be. And when you add to other actions that point to further national instability, including a plethora of anti-democratic (small d here) actions enacted in state legislatures, our collective national worry increases.

To no one’s surprise, Putin, intently looking from afar for vulnerabilities not only in Ukraine but also in his main adversary, has noticed all of this as well.

And now, with his threatened invasion of Ukraine, an emerging democracy and former Soviet republic, one expert on both Ukraine and Russia has some observations on what is happening:

“It’s mainly because of a sense of opportunity, a sense of weakness within the United States. I have every reason to believe that if we had not had [an] insurrection on January 6th, because [of] President Trump, President Putin would not believe that there’s an opportunity, there’s a vulnerability in the United States.”

Those words were spoken recently by retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a native of Ukraine. In the interview, Vindman, who became famous as a whistleblower during the first Trump Impeachment in 2019, went on to emphasize that “major talking heads on Fox News, like Tucker Carlson,” have assisted Putin in adding to our current state of conflict and disunion.

But if we are looking for suspects in addition to Tucker Carlson that are also fueling conflict and disunion in this nation, we don’t need to look any farther than a number of Republican-controlled state legislatures for confirmation that the GOP, which post-Jan. 6 now means Gang of Putschists, is intent on destroying democracy.

Not with tanks, mind you, but with legislation that provokes conflict and disunion in this country. Republicans have proven to be masters of the strategy of divide and conquer, and they’re working overtime at their craft to achieve that goal.

The vehicle which Republicans chose to start that division is impeding citizen access to voting. With dozens of bills introduced in legislatures, Republicans have largely succeeded in limiting access to vote-by-mail and early voting options in a number of states, with Texas being the most notorious and current example of that strategy. In the state’s most populous county, 38% of mail-in ballots have been rejected in Harris County and Houston, the state’s largest city.

With voter access throttled, the Gang of Putschists, formerly known as the Grand Old Party, then moved on, a la Putin, to target another visible and vulnerable part of democracy.

Public education.

The evidence of GOP (remember, that now means Gang of Putschists) subversive activity in state legislatures is abundant. Just this past week, Utah passed a school voucher bill, joining Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee and West Virginia, all of which have recently passed legislation allowing students to use our taxpayer dollars to attend private and religious schools.

Last week, the Ohio Capital Journal reported on the status of HB 290, the so-called “Backpack Bill” which would allow public tax dollars to flow to private and religious schools, thus harming public education by requiring more effort in local communities to fund their schools, absent the presence of state funds transferred for private purposes.

HB 290 would force local communities to rely even more heavily on local property taxes to fund schools for the 90% of Ohio children who attend public schools,” said Ohio Education Association president Scott DiMauro.

What should not be lost in the debate about HB 290 is that if the legislation is passed, public funds will flow to schools whose boards are not democratically elected, where curricula may not match current societal needs, where teachers many not have to meet state professional licensure standards, and where many state laws do not apply to these non-public entities.

In the meantime, with the loss of tax dollars to public school boards, democratically elected boards of education chosen by voters will have to ask those same district voters to approve additional funding in the form of ballot measures which in all likelihood will raise tax levels.

That sounds Byzantine. But if that’s the case, Putin would certainly approve. After all, Mr. KGB has a way of being a wrecking crew.

Just like those Gang of Putschists legislatures, post-January 6.

But unlike Putin and what he may be on the verge of doing to Ukraine and its democracy, the GOP doesn’t need tanks and rockets to destroy our system and the schools which have represented all of us.

When you destroy public education, you destroy democracy as well. And you can bet that Comrade Putin is watching very closely the devolution of that very symbol of democracy.

Let’s wake up, folks. We’re allowing our legislature to destroy our public schools and our democracy.



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Denis Smith
Denis Smith

Denis Smith is a retired school administrator and served as a consultant in the Ohio Department of Education's charter school office. He has additional experience working in marketing communications with a publisher and in association management as an executive with a national professional society. Mr. Smith is a member of the board of Public Education Partners.