The Ukraine crisis transformed the 2022 State of the Union address and our politics with a startling show of near-unanimity whose type we see rarely. But we know it will be brief. The larger story of the Ukraine crisis in the United States is about our bitter politics, which seems to prize partisanship above security, above our institutions and processes of government…above everything.
Partisanship is not new to U.S. politics. When the United States faced a potential world war at the Korean-Chinese border in 1950, President Harry Truman endured political attacks that included calls to “impeach the imbecile.” But there was still a sense of national purpose and a widespread belief that politics should “stop at the water’s edge” (in the phrase of Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, a contemporary of Truman and his critics).
The United States should not abandon a foreign policy that promotes free self-determination around the globe. After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, the United States would benefit from some humble soul-searching about a tendency to insist on re-making the world in our image. And even as the NATO powers defend a democratic ally in Ukraine and Volodymyr Zelenskyy emerges as a democratically elected hero, there are indications that at home the vitality of our democracy has diminished.
In this moment of acute geopolitical danger, it is difficult to accept that our own commitment to democracy is shakier than many of us would like. Our flawed democratic commitments do not necessarily disqualify the United States as a global champion for democracy and peace, but they could mean that the authoritarian crisis abroad is not something Americans can point a finger at without first facing up to the political crisis at home.
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Steven P. Millies is professor of public theology and director of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union.
With thanks to America and Steven P. Millies, where this article originally appeared.