OPINION: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reminds us: Don’t feed the bears

Suddenly, everything from alcohol rewrites to the state’s legislative maps feels distant, petty and muted compared to the rising noise of violent conflict in Europe. There’s an acute sense of helplessness as the egos of a few will undoubtedly result in the immeasurable pain and suffering of the many.

It’s in times like this that leaders show their true colors, calling for resolve and unity in checking the aggression of a strong-arm dictator like Vladimir Putin.

Unfortunately, you can’t say the same for our country’s political system, where there’s never an opportunity too low for some to take. GOP pundits who have been dismissive of President Joe Biden’s attention to the rising threat are now blaming Biden for allowing the invasion to happen.

Others are taking their cues from Donald Trump, seemingly condoning the invasion, condoning the anti-democratic tactics of a strong-arm dictator. And it’s that second group we need to focus on.

Among the flurry of social media posts Thursday morning that showed Russian aircraft filling the skies, military crowding the streets, Ukrainians taking refuge and Russian civilians protesting the actions, were several posts relaying what Anchorage Assembly member Jamie Allard had to say on Facebook:

“Baltic countries will be next. Ukraine has always been a part of Russia, they are not a part of NATO and is the gateway to Europe. Poland will put up a fight, but the tanks will come and eventually Poland will lose and the Baltic countries once again will be taken over by Russia. Mark my words NATO is about to fall apart. President Trump saw this coming.”

While Allard is apparently alone among Alaska politicians to seemingly condone or, at the very least, parrot the justifications for Putin’s actions, she is far from the only member of the Republican Party to do so.

Understanding why these so-called patriots who’ve draped themselves in constitutionality and self-styled themselves as the Defenders of Democracy would endorse such openly anti-democratic tactics is critical to understand our own path ahead and the political forces at work in our own country. It may be easy, even inviting, to dismiss it all as part of the Cult of Trump, a coddling of the ego of the Republican Party’s flagbearer, or as a product of the blackmail that Putin and his cronies must surely hold over key GOP figures. After all, how else can all this seemingly bizarre, incoherent embrace of Putin make sense?

As Salon writer Amanda Marcotte wrote, it’s because it’s not about Trump or his ego. It’s because Putin and his authoritarianism has shown the model for instituting the brutal bigotry that has come to define the far-right’s policy platform over the will of the voters:

“It’s tempting to write this off, as so many in the mainstream media like to do, as evidence that the Republican party is ‘afraid’ of Trump as if they were setting aside good intentions out of fear of crossing the mob boss who runs their party. The darker truth, however, is that this is part of a larger turn in the GOP towards anti-democratic, even fascist politics. As Roy Edroso, a writer focused on chronicling the right, noted on Twitter Wednesday, a focal point for the softly pro-Putin voices in the GOP is that ‘Russia is right because it persecutes gay and trans people, and America is wrong because it doesn’t.’

“Like Putin, Republicans know that their views cannot win in a free, fair democratic debate,” Marcotte wrote. “The tension between claiming to be for democracy in Ukraine while opposing democracy in the U.S. is causing way too much cognitive dissonance on the right. It’s why Trump is going with a simpler message of blatantly rooting for Putin.”

This commentary is particularly critical as this country grapples with the militant fantasies of groups like the Oath Keepers — whose conspiracy theories and fan-fiction approach to the Constitution lay the groundwork for violence — to the believers of the Big Lie — whose conspiracy theories and fan-fiction approach to the Constitution lay the groundwork for violence and bad-faith legislation.

True believers in democracy look at a lost election and learn from it. They recalibrate their message, rework their campaign strategy, build new coalitions and look for new, better candidates. The right, instead, has doubled down on the sinister lie that the election was stolen and therefore there’s nothing to change about its message, only changes to the rules or how our Constitution is shaped to ensure they win. This energy has fueled some of the country’s darkest impulses.

As the Legislature found in its hearings on the Oath Keepers, so much of this world view is “Freedom for me, not for you” with the “you” being fellow Americans they disagree with.

These sentiments are not confined to the international or even national stages, but to state and local stages. They are contained in the extreme right’s violent scare tactics that were on display in the Anchorage Assembly chambers, in their continued conspiracy over election security with solutions that all intentionally undermine the fairness and openness of our elections, and in the continual quest to otherize the most vulnerable among us. It’s seen in the House GOP’s covering for extreme-right legislators like Rep. David Eastman, where they are more concerned about straw men like Cancel Culture Wolves than in confronting the wolf at their own table.

To them, the enemy isn’t Putin and the antidemocratic attitude he embodies but their fellow Americans. They rave about the “Cold Civil War” and how it’s their fellow Americans — liberals, minorities and trans children — who are the enemy.

It’s easy, almost understandable to want to dismiss the underlying threat posed by these forces. Easier to write it off as the product of a bunch of nutjobs than the greater political system’s slide into authoritarianism. But it’s something we must not ignore and must not give any ground to in the weeks, months and years ahead.

As I’ve said before, you can get friendly tax policies without supporting bigots.

And that’s what’s so frustrating about all of this. Our country, our state and our communities have real, serious and important work to be done. There are many good people at every level who are working toward good, fair and equitable opportunities because they know we are stronger together and stronger because of our differences. But instead, we find ourselves not just wasting time but losing the very foundations of our democracy at the hand of our own domestic culture wars.

In the end, everyone suffers.

Matt Buxton is a political journalist who blogs for The Midnight Sun and writes the daily Midnight Sun Memo newsletter. He formerly worked for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. He’s on Twitter: @mattbuxton.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.