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Ups and Downs - Fall 2022



It’s hard to resist the urge to gaze into my crystal ball (figuratively speaking). I know I should resist the temptation since I am usually wrong anyway. This is an especially dangerous exercise when the future outlook is cloudy. I think we can all agree, we are in one of those moments now.

There are two things weighing heavily on my mind. One is existential; the other, though probably not life-threatening, is no less unsettling. I’ll start with the one that is literally life and death.

Many people roll their eyes at Putin’s nuclear threats and presume his pronouncements are just bluster and hot air. I am not in that camp. I think he might be sufficiently unhinged to actually do the unthinkable. This is especially concerning now that he’s been backed into a corner and feels that his destiny as the next Napoleon is slipping from his grasp. I keep worrying that the next text message that pops up on my phone is going to tell me that a “dirty bomb” has spread radioactive material all over some part of Eastern Europe. He will, of course, blame Ukraine for the detonation. If that happens, it’s hard to predict what comes next. But I think we all agree that none of the options are good.

The worst-case scenario is an escalation of reprisals that ends civilization as we know it, and even possibly the human race. The “best” case is that tens of thousands of people (if not many more) are killed and injured with immeasurable economic and environmental damage to the planet.

About the only hint of a silver lining I can see in this scenario is that Putin brings the rest of the world together, creating greater unity in the face of his menace. Who knows, this might even lead to his being driven from power. But I wouldn’t hold my breath for this outcome. There is a lot to suggest that the opposite is more likely to occur.

Maybe the most likely outcome of Russia’s illegal and immoral conquest of Ukraine is that Putin wins by just refusing to lose. For years, he has successfully played on the West’s weaknesses by using our democratic systems against us, seeding us with misinformation and amplifying our divisions. We are already seeing signs of Ukraine fatigue here and abroad. If gas prices soar this winter (as seems likely to happen), the western alliance standing up for a free and democratic Ukraine against an aggressive and tyrannical Russia could quickly crumble.

And that gets me to my other big worry – less life threatening, but disturbing nonetheless. That is the continued advancement of anti-democratic forces around the globe. In this country, these forces are personified by Donald Trump’s continued, and entirely false, claims that the 2020 election was stolen. He now has an army of politicians who have jumped on the bandwagon, hoping to ride it to positions of power.

The new mantra of the national Republican Party seems to be, only accept a loss if it is your opponent’s. In all other cases, declare the election rigged as a means of holding onto power at any cost, even when the majority of voters clearly does not want what you have to offer.

It didn’t used to be so. For all the differences that have always existed between the parties, there has been an equally strong consensus that we maintain our Democratic system and abide by the time-honored tradition of the peaceful transfer of power.

All that is now at risk. It is true that many of the election deniers running for Governorships, both Houses of Congress, Statehouses and other high offices did not do as well as anticipated. But it is also true that election-denial remains a strong force in our country. Look no further than Kari Lake’s ongoing efforts to discredit the election in Arizona as a preview of what may lie ahead in the 2024 presidential election cycle. With Donald Trump now an announced candidate, there’s sure to be more election denialism ahead. The question remains - how do we maintain our democratic traditions when one of the country’s two major parties no longer believes in them?

We’ve always thought of ourselves as the leaders of the free world. Now, we risk slipping into autocracy – just a bigger and more powerful version of the Russia we rightfully disdain. That’s not something I want for my future or my country’s. Rationally, nuclear holocaust is the greater of the two concerns. But the crumbling of democracy in America scares me just as much.




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