Talking Points

A moment of moral clarity

In a perverse and terrible way, Vladimir Putin has done the world a great service. As he ruthlessly tries to brutalize Ukrainians into submission, Russia's mad czar has reminded Europeans and Americans of the fragility of the liberal international order. History is not over. Authoritarians are ascendant. Democracy and freedom are in peril. Even the unthinkable — nuclear war — is back in our nightmares. At this hinge point in history, Ukraine's suffering and incredible courage should provide some moral clarity. "We've hardly slept for seven nights," President Volodymyr Zelensky told his countrymen this week, as shells and missiles rained down on Kyiv. "The time will come when we'll be able to sleep, but it will be after the war, after the victory." 

Though we haven't fully recognized it until now, Putin has also been at war with the U.S. and the West for more than a decade. The former KGB agent has pumped money and online propaganda and disinformation into both the far left and far right in Europe, to sow discord and division, and undermine democracy. In 2016, he ordered his hackers and disinformation specialists to support the election of Donald Trump, a real estate developer Russia had long been cultivating with flattery and shadowy condo purchases. As Putin hoped, Trump deepened America's divisions, repeatedly demeaned NATO and America's European allies, and even withheld a congressionally approved shipment of arms to Ukraine to blackmail Zelensky — an act for which he was impeached. In Trump's wake, our own democracy has grown more angry and cynical, riven by petty culture-war struggles and "leaders" who invite us to indulge our basest instincts and resentments. We are told we owe each other nothing, and that any sacrifice for the common good is "tyranny." How trivial our arguments would seem in Kyiv, as children hide in subway tunnels from thunderous explosions, and grandmothers hurl curses and homemade firebombs at Russian tanks. 

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.