Only Biden can lead America in support of Ukrainians fighting for a democratic future | Opinion

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I worry about Ukraine.

I worry about Americans losing interest in the war and telling their representatives in Congress it no longer matters. “Give Ukraine to Putin,” they may say. The thousands of men, women and children who have been killed, injured or forced to leave their homes are expendable just to keep America out of a conflict with Putin and his campaign to extinguish the flames of democracy across Europe.

I worry how Congress fails in a timely response to support Ukraine as Freedom Caucus Republicans in Congress turn their backs and take their cues from Trump who praises and admires Putin’s cunning ways. Republicans including Speaker of the House Mike Johnson crowed about the passage of the bill giving military assistance Ukraine requested, but the weeks-long delay gave Putin time to ramp up his war machine to gain advantage in the war. In a related effort to sow the seeds of dissent among Americans, Putin even launched a disinformation campaign aimed at American college students to escalate campus unrest and then lay the blame on American democracy.

I worry about the Republican Party itself, once in awe of President Ronald Reagan who stood up to the Soviets, even demanding to then-Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev that he tear down the Berlin Wall. But today, rank-and-file Republicans seem to follow Trump’s lead according to a CBS/YouGov survey last month reporting 61 percent of Republicans did not support more weapons and other military assistance to Ukraine.

I worry about China bailing out Russia in the face of Western sanctions that seem to do little to contain the Russian war machine or interrupt ordinary life in Russia. With Putin’s recent state visit to China, Xi-Jin-Ping and Vladimir Putin can compare notes and decide how to present a united front against the western nations supporting Ukraine.

The Hamas attack on Gaza has monopolized network news, and given the horror of the attack that killed approximately 1,200 people, mostly civilians and took about 250 hostages, it’s understandable that so much of what we see on network news comes from Gaza. Netanyahu’s deadly response to the Hamas attack that has killed thousands of innocent civilians is even more reason for the evening news to focus on the Middle East.

The media must find ways to increase coverage of Ukraine’s fight for survival. Ukraine must not be sacrificed for news that leaves little or no time for coverage of a war that defines the fundamental challenge to democracy across the globe. If the American people give up on Ukraine because the war takes a back seat to other coverage, then the only question remaining will be who is next and how long before America’s leadership as a global power shrinks from view.

It’s a slightly different focus on cable news where stations like MSNBC are in a veritable trance over Trump’s trial, spending hours featuring every legal expert they can find to bury viewers with duplicative analyses of every move made in the courtroom. Meanwhile, we learn little about the details of the Russian war on Ukraine.

I did find one place a few weeks ago that left no doubts about where its residents stood on the Ukraine issue. I visited Ukrainian Village on Chicago’s northwest side where Ukrainian immigrants transformed a Chicago neighborhood into a Ukrainian enclave at the close of the 19th century. Over a century later, Ukrainian flags fly in front of iconic Chicago brownstone homes in support of the Ukrainian homeland.

A walk through Ukrainian Village is about as close as I have come to a feeling of solidarity with the Ukraine people. Although it has been gentrified to some extent by young families today with no Ukrainian connection, many families of Ukrainian descent remain. They speak the language, shop in local stores with an Eastern European flair and hang out in bars and restaurants that pay tribute to their countrymen and women fighting off a Russian army. The walls display messages of contempt for strongman Vladimir Putin.

The assault on democracy both here and abroad has been compared to those pre-World War II days when American Nazis campaigned and organized against getting involved in the war against Hitler. That period has been compared to Trump stoking the fires of xenophobia among his MAGA supporters, but there is one big difference between then and now that makes the threat to democracy today much more serious.

When Roosevelt had to contend with American Nazis and isolationists like Charles Lindbergh who opposed America’s entry into the war, there was no immediate threat to FDR’s presidency and the survival of our democratic way of life. There was no presidential contender who had already shown in a single term of office how he could dismantle the machinery of democratic government. Hinting at what his second term might look like Trump used the word “dictator” as the best description of his first day in office as President in 2025.

To date, Putin’s war on Ukraine has resulted in over 33,000 casualties, with over 12,000 killed in the devastation of Ukraine’s cities and countryside. Trump has shown his hand in how he would deal with the Russian assault on Ukraine by calling Putin’s strategy there as “genius” and “savvy.”

My trip through Ukrainian Village reminded me of our common heritage with the people of Ukraine as they fight for democracy in eastern Europe. The Russian assault on Ukraine should renew our commitment to democracy and the freedoms we enjoy. It is in this present day that we must join hands with people who may speak a different language but who desire to practice self-government where they live.

For now, we must choose this November between two diametrically opposed worldviews and two very different interpretations of the rule of law. Trump’s loyal base is a given in this race and we can count on his supporters showing up at the polls regardless of how often the American people are reminded that he is a four-times-indicted philandering bully who attempted to overturn the 2020 election and incite an insurrection in the process.

As far as the Biden vote is concerned, it’s a guessing game. Can Biden really count on the Independent vote given his vulnerability on the border issue and Gaza? Or will inflation be the reason Independents sit it out or go elsewhere, like a wasted vote for Robert Kennedy, Jr.? Will never-Trump Republicans vote for Biden, Kennedy or sit it out? What will the turnout be in those swing states, like Michigan where Biden’s policy on Gaza has caused some of his supporters to question a second term for the incumbent?

In the end, there is only one way of looking at the upcoming presidential election. Who will provide the global and moral leadership to stand up to strongman Putin and assure freedom-loving democrats everywhere that America will have their backs. There is one reason to vote for Joe Biden, which overrides all other concerns. No matter his age, the question must be which candidate will unite our European allies to defeat Russia or force it to the negotiating table. There is only one answer and it is Joe Biden.

To do otherwise with Trump as president is to witness an America of lost prestige and weakened authority across the globe. It would be an America that failed to heed the warning the Russian assault on Ukraine predicts of a future where strongmen rule and democracy takes a back seat to dictatorship.

Glory to Ukraine and America that supports her!

Bob Kustra served as president of Boise State University from 2003 to 2018. He is host of Readers Corner on Boise State Public Radio, and he writes a biweekly column for the Idaho Statesman. He served two terms as Illinois lieutenant governor and 10 years as a state legislator.