Vote In Italy Underscores Why U.S. Must Heed Fascist Moves

The dangerous push for illiberal democracy with its continuing threats upon the most effective path following WWII to create vibrant economies and form relationships to foster international understanding gets much attention on this little slice of the internet highway. I have penned my utter disdain for Marie La Pen in France and complete contempt for Donald Trump in America. I have thumped my fist against Russian aggression and Hungary’s oppression. The slippery downhill slide to autocratic goals via menacing political maneuvers from governments worldwide is a concern that more people simply must take stock of and push back against.

The latest such dreadful headline followed the election results from balloting in Italy. A far right-wing coalition won a convincing majority with the ultra-conservative Brothers of Italy Party prevailing which means their leader, Giorgia Meloni, will become the new prime minister.  Those who know their history realize the enormity of the election headline, it means Meloni will be that nation’s first far-right prime minister since Benito Mussolini.  She pays lip service to not being associated with fascism, BUT OH PLEASE, her party is ripe with the trappings, symbols, and values of that wretched period that much of the world wishes to never see again. It is because some in the world do read history that so much uproar resulted from her victory.  

What we are witnessing, again, is the idea advanced through the party rhetoric that politics can take precedence over the law.  It is not a new concept, obviously, for the far-right fascist elements. But what happened in Italy underscores the growing threats elsewhere if such behavior is not checked and choked. Cultural nationalism has been the root cause of so much misery throughout the pages of history and the Brothers of Italy Party has stoked that fire both overtly and covertly.  Airbrushing history, which they love to do, along with what must be admitted was an effective political campaign strategy of uniting Italian protest votes resulted in a body slam to the high ideals the world embraced—and Italy mostly understood–following the last world war.

Transforming a democracy, even one as chaotic politically as Italy has clearly demonstrated for decades, is not something we can simply dismiss or view as happening ‘over there’.  We must ponder why such moves are taking place in Europe, South America, and even in the United States. There has been a most disturbing trend among the conservative Republican base to saddle up to misinformation and wrap their arms around conspiracy theories that are linked to those pushing illiberal democracy. For a functioning democracy to thrive there must be a fact-based citizenry. We have all watched the absurd, baseless, and groundless election chaos and followed the reasons many offer for why passions have been unleashed in the way they have over the past months. 

There are over 240 extreme conservatives running as Republican nominees in the mid-terms who rejected the outcome of the 2020 presidential elections.  Think about that for a moment.  We know from studies and polling that the link from such preposterousness stems back to some in the nation feeling their religion is under attack, (it is not) or that laws and social adjustments are occurring for a wider segment of the populace who are not white, and that the ‘browning; of the nation is happening ‘too soon’.    None of that should be the cause to throw rational thinking aside for fascist whims. But that anger in our nation over social advances for historically marginalized groups, or at times economic transitions not easily understood, is used by some politicians to foster partisan turmoil. Even advance autocratic and illiberal outcomes.

I will leave this column about Italy and fascism with a quote from a most famous American.  As the story goes Franklin was walking out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when someone shouted out, “What have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”

To which Franklin supposedly responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

With illiberal democracy knocking, and in places winning at the polls, we need to very much heed what Ben said centuries ago.

Stopping Putin Will Require Military Might From Europe, United States

From the start of the most recent Russian madness, I have taken a straightforward appraisal of the situation. For many of us, the Eastern European theatre has been long considered a potential tinderbox given Russian President Putin’s makeup and stated desires.

As the Russian military massed along the border I thought an invasion of Ukraine would occur, never thinking it would not. The dance of diplomacy had to be undertaken prior to the start of this phase of the violence, as that is an international nicety.

While I champion diplomacy, one has to keep in mind that there is a stark difference in sitting down with those one has disagreements with while hoping to foster dialogue and a working compromise, as opposed to talking with a madman who is wedded to delusional visions of conquest.

The war in Eastern Ukraine has been ongoing for years. Most of the world did not want to know about it. Thousands died prior to the latest invasion two weeks ago. That is the harsh reality.

So Putin has to be viewed in the totality of his past actions and declared threats for the future. As such, Putin can not reverse course and back down. There is nothing in his history to suggest that is an option for him to take. So the following news snippet this morning from Australia is worthy of posting.

Terry Barnes wrote the following for Spectator Australia.

A retired British general, Sir Chris Deverall, is arguing that a no-fly zone over Ukraine might yet be the only rational choice for NATO. Deverall says NATO will have to fight Vladimir Putin eventually, so should be prepared to do it now. Meanwhile, polling indicates 45 percent of Americans support a no-fly zone, 20 percent are against, and the rest presumably are undecided. Rightly or wrongly, the unthinkable is being thought. Putin’s war could yet become a European war.”

I again echo a theme on this blog that strength is what Putin understands, and weakness is what Putin uses for his own ends. If the world community can not accept that fact then Ukraine is doomed. And Europe is further threatened.

This morning Ukraine President Zelenskyy was termed by a news analysis on television as “Churchhill in the digital age”. With that phrasing comes to mind the weight of leadership that Winston Churchill would remind us of if he were here to gauge the current crisis. History will judge the international community harshly if we do not stand up to this test of our time.

Putin must be stopped.

And so it goes.

Peace Of Westphalia Still Echoes From Tri-County Classroom As Russia’s Threat To Ukraine Mounts

Mrs. Marge Glad, the most wonderful of history teachers, and the indispensable instructor of my youth, might now say, “Well, I said the Peace of Westphalia was mighty important.”

She should know better than most as her family fled Europe for America during WWII.

What she had to say about that treaty filled lectures with the truism of what was designed after the Thirty Years War. It should be recalled now as the threat of Russia overtaking Ukraine increases. As the crisis now mounts the essential foundations of what was once viewed as a major demarcation in European history deserves a shout-out.

As does the teacher who allowed me to deepen my awareness and love for history.

The treaty is much noted for what seems stunningly simple ideas and concepts we take for granted today. At the top of the list was the concept of a state or nation being sovereign. Each state was allowed to set its own governing process be it kings or parliaments, and pray to its own religious beliefs. Placing officials within other states for ongoing diplomatic talks were seen as a way to bridge differences. What was designed created a system of balance so that power of a new type–accords with one another–could be used to counter military threats.

Much has changed since the 1600s and as we know wars consumed Europe and caused massive reactions worldwide. But there is no denying that the foundation of Westphalia still rings true.

Russian President Putin has designs on reviving a chapter of history that can not be remade. The old Soviet Union and the forced subjugation of peoples and cultures that had no reason, other than brute force, to be joined together will not be allowed again by the international community.

While Ukraine is a central part of the historical narrative for Russia the military moves by Putin to strangle the republic can not be accepted. There are those who will bend to the autocrat and claim the West is to blame for pushing the NATO umbrella.

But, I would argue it is Putin’s vision of grandeur about a region captured from the Ottomans during the reign of Catherin the Great that should not now be relitigated through the use of tanks and missiles. One can assert the West should have been more inclusive of Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Or we could just say, as is proper with any madman, that it would be cheaper for Putin to just talk with a psychiatrist.

Putin prides himself on being a student of history. Until, that is, the collapse of the USSR. Then he seems to have stopped reading. It was very evident that all of the ethnic and culturally diverse people clamped down by Moscow for decades wanted their own state, their own government, their own say in their own affairs. When given the chance they bolted with the fall of the USSR.

Almost a modern Peace of Westphalia.

My favorite teacher, Mrs. Glad died many years ago. While she was still teaching I visited her late one afternoon in her classroom. I had worked in radio and then moved on to my time in the statehouse. She sat behind her desk and I was back in one of the desks that are a trademark in such rooms. I thanked her for making a difference in my life. She truly did make a difference.

Tonight, I wish Vladamir could have had her in his formative days as a student, too.

And so it goes.

Anti-Gay Policy By Autocrat Causes International Outrage

Whenever Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Mihály Orbán is mentioned on this blog it is in a negative way. The reason being there is no positive manner in which to write about an autocrat.

With his blessing and strong support, Hungary passed a bill that banned the distribution of material in schools deemed to promote homosexuality or gender change. Orbán has long played this type of card as an advocate of traditional Catholic values. Anything that smacks of liberal democracy gets tarred by him as a dangerous undermining of values. One could only wish he would be so concerned with the free press, independent judiciary, and process of open government.

He claimed that the law was aimed at giving parents the exclusive right to decide about their children’s sexual education. And we all know the success that parents worldwide have with sex education within their homes! One of the running themes on this blog has been the need to allow young people to recognize that their sexuality is fine to embrace, and with adults taking that perspective, youth suicide among that demographic can be reduced.

This law has created a major issue among the European Union leaders. Rightfully, they are defending gay rights and piling pressure upon Budapest to step back. Part of their anger comes from Orbán equating homosexuality and sex changes to being akin to pornography. The absurdity speaks for itself.

This is not even close to the first time that Orbán has spit on democratic values. But the level of blowback is increasing concerning his homophobic moves.

Members of the European Parliament are calling for this law, which is to go into effect this week, to be withdrawn and for EU leaders to sanction Budapest.

Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld told the European Parliament: “we can already congratulate Mr Orbán for winning the European championship for the most homophobic law on the continent.”

Flexing political will from the EU is making headlines.

The European parliament has denounced a Hungarian law that bans gay people from appearing in educational materials or on primetime TV as “a clear breach” of its principles of equality.

In a resolution voted in Strasbourg on Thursday by a resounding majority, MEPs condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the Hungarian law as “a clear breach of the EU’s values, principles and law”, while urging the European Commission to launch a fast-track legal case against Viktor Orbán’s government.

Gay people worldwide, and their advocates, need to be engaged in this fight as many of us know full-well the attitudes and dangers felt and experienced in our lives. Progress for rights and changed laws has been a slow and all-uphill trek. While much of the world have enlightened views, or making strides in that direction, we must not forget those who still reside in backward and hostile places.

Such as in Orbán’s Hungary.

And so it goes.

President Biden To Again Assert American Leadership On World Stage

There are few presidents in our history with the resume of international experience that President Biden can rely on when conducting international affairs. That places him in good stead as he starts his first world travel with diplomatic meetings with dozens of world leaders.

While most of the encounters will be with friendly nations, the weighty nature of world problems means the meetings are of consequence. Overlaying all the specific issues is the need to separate the past four years under a deranged American leader, with what must be the mature and proper role of the United States on the world stage. The Group of Seven democracies, the European Union, and our NATO alliance all will be closely watching for not only words but also body language for signals and confirmation that normalcy can again be brought to international affairs.

The headline maker on this trip will be, of course, the June 16th summit with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. That is where the tire will meet the road, where Biden’s decades of cumulated experience from being a senator and vice-president will allow for a gritty understanding that the United States now has a leader at the helm.

While the G7 leaders will obviously be concerned about COVID and the availability of the needed vaccines they will be needing assurances that they will not be left abandoned in the large causes and efforts which otherwise unite the organization. Memories of Donald Trump who pulled Washington out of several multilateral institutions and threatened to quit NATO have left nations wondering if they need to seek new ways of advancing their concerns, perhaps by asserting their own national efforts. France has been taking note of the lack of needed leadership, as an example.

I strongly suspect that Biden, who has actual working relationships with many leaders and nations, will showcase why the world’s democracies are not to fear being minimized by China or Russia. He will assert the role the US is to play on the world stage and most likely will place something on the table to demonstrate that resolve to a world that is waiting.

Talking face-to-face with Putin is the best way to underscore that there can be areas of agreement should the Russian leader seek to engage the US in that fashion. Climate change can be a topic where cooperation could prove meaningful. But the ransomware attacks, the attempts to undermine our democratic institutions along with our elections will be met with steely deterrence.

Putin will get his time on the world stage with the leader of the free world. That image of an American president has been dimmed due to Trump, but the light is being hoisted up again, and with it comes the awareness to the Russian leader. Biden is a man who knows himself and his values. He is not needing to find his way about the world, and as such, there is a high degree of predictability about the toughness that will result should Russia not abide with international norms.

We know that elections have consequences. The world has seen the absolute truism of that fact and is now ready to embrace reasoning and logic, after having experienced the exact opposite for years. The welcoming to the stage of President Biden is needed for them and us.

And so it goes.

World Should Block Airline Flights From United States To Block Spread Of Covid-19

It is being reported that the European Union is seriously considering banning Americans from traveling to any of its member countries because of our failure to control our coronavirus infections. I strongly support such a ban.

My main reason for this support is based on the medical need to slow the virus.  The fact is the United States should be treated like visitors from Russia and Brazil, as our nation has failed at leadership in combatting COVID-19.  We have more than 2.3 million cases and upward of 120,000 deaths, more than any other country.  Too many of our fellow citizens do not abide by health guidelines to wear masks or self-distance.   The world should not endure increases in their nations due to the lack of regard for science and common sense in America. 

We have not been able to muster the leadership to deal with the virus so we should be treated in the same fashion as we dealt with Chinese airline flights earlier this year.  Our nation needs to be placed under a ban to travel to other nations.

People coming from our nation are unlikely to know whether they have been exposed and if they have the virus but are just asymptomatic.   Couple that with the cavalier and shameful disregard for health advisories which too many here are demonstrating daily and it means the rest of the world must protect themselves from Americans.

I strongly support the EU on this matter.

America’s International Embarrassment

Ask yourself a question.

Had a Democratic president been overseas on official business and made only a fraction of the outlandish statements, or acted only to a small degree as what we have witnessed this week from Donald Trump, the entire Republican Party wold be at Andrews with their pitchforks and burning crosses.

So what happened to the GOP outrage this week?

This week the Republican Party of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are so quiet you might even think they are all practicing to be mimes.

Meanwhile a large and concerned segment of the nation is simply appalled and aghast at the outrageous behavior of a most troubled and unbalanced man.  But what I fear is that it is very likely that, come Monday, our worst fears about Trump’s summit with Russian President Putin will come true.  (It is no mistake that Putin gets a title on this blog and Trump no longer does.)

The only thing to be understood about what has resulted in the chaos of this week is that knocking over institutions and policies is his only goal.  Trump has sowed chaos and confusion.   If one were to look at this strategically there is no end game but only very awful outcomes for the United States. For instance, stabbing host British Prime Minister May in the back either makes her stronger or empowers Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, and neither option necessarily helps Trump or the alt-right groups he seems to want to promote.

If Trump had read history–any history at all about presidents and European domestic politics —he would know to never, EVER insert oneself into that beehive.

This Sums Up My Thoughts On Brexit

Europe, 20 June 2016 Brexit. Markus Grolik/Cartoon Movement/Hollandse Hoogte
Europe, 20 June 2016
Markus Grolik/Cartoon Movement/Hollandse Hoogte