What's Tony Thinking

Out of the Fog: A Surprising Moral Clarity


We became familiar with the phrase “the fog of war” through the 2003 film of that title about onetime Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, and how he, and we, lost our way during the Vietnam War.

But “fog” describes a lot of what we have lived with so far in the 21st century. There was the fog of the 2000 election, Bush v. Gore, where — and not for the last time — the person with the most votes lost. Then there were the Iraq WMD’s episode when we all learned the word “truthiness,” which means “it sounds like truth, but isn’t.” The fog deepened during the Trump years when he, the fount of falsehood, was constantly complaining of “false news.” But the fog was not only at such higher altitudes, it has been closer to ground level as well as we’ve tried to sort what is true and false about epidemics, vaccines, critical race theory and what words are no longer okay. It has been a very foggy time for quite some while.

What’s strange and striking now is an unaccustomed moment of blinding moral clarity. Let’s see . . . whose side are you on, that of the reptilian V. V. Putin and his crack Russian army or that of the Jewish comedian, Ukrainian President Zelensky, and the old men and middle-aged woman taking up arms against the Russian incursion? Not all cats are grey on this one. It looks, for the moment, pretty black and white. The fog has cleared.

And in the clarity amazing things are being revealed.

There is something like a freedom and democracy movement. “Movement” in the sense that one thing after another keeps happening, adding to the opposition to Putin and his legions. Not only are Ukraine and Kyiv holding out against the highly-trained, elite Russian military, but Germany and the EU have broken with all past precedent to send military support to Ukraine, anti-war demonstrations occur daily is Russia, sanctions are being pushed further, and from the ballet to the soccer pitch Russians are being snubbed. Everybody, it seems, is getting on board.

Well, almost everybody. One notable exception being former President Donald Trump who thinks that “savvy” Putin is his kind of guy, about which he is actually right. As grievance-gluttons the two are bonded. For Putin, someone stole my empire. For Trump, someone stole my election. If victimology is a besetting sin on the left, it is being outdone by grievance-gluttony on the right. (See link above for “Stop Whitewashing GOP Putin Worship”)

And then there are Trump’s pseudo-intellectual mandarins, Bannon and Carlson et. al., whose true colors now stand revealed. It turns out, they love “strongmen” more than strong democracy. They are willing to sacrifice freedom for the preservation of some vague notion of a hyper-masculine “western culture.”

Out of the fog clarity emerges about the Trumpist right. Despite all their anti-vax diatribes, they do not love “liberty more than life” (“America the Beautiful”). This from a recent piece on how Republicans have learned to love, well, Putin.

“’Hating [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has become the central purpose of America’s foreign policy,’ complained Tucker Carlson on Fox. ‘It’s the main thing that we talk about. It might be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious: What is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him?’

“Interviewed on ‘The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show’ on Tuesday, former President Donald Trump described Putin as ‘smart’ and ‘savvy.’ Then on Wednesday night, as reports of Russian explosions across Ukraine rolled in, Mr. Trump repeated his admiration for the Russian leader.

“The American political right was long associated with Cold War hawkishness. But in recent years the trend has shifted toward fawning praise for autocrats, even those leading America’s traditional adversaries, as well as projecting our own culture wars overseas. Where once Russia and other autocracies were seen as anti-democratic, they have now become symbols of U.S. conservatism — a mirror for the right-wing worldview.”

Maybe even the spine-shriveled Republicans who have caved to Trump and MAGA time and again will realize there is something more at stake in this life than their own political power and future, and that of their party. (I know, not likely, but one can hope.)

The fog is clearing to reveal the real battle lines: democracy versus autocracy. Strong people versus the strongman. Moral values of human decency and freedom to think and speak versus “might makes right.”

And the clearing fog reveals something else that seemed far from likely: a renewed unity of western democracies, of that creaky old alliance that Trump tried to kill, NATO, and of the left-for-dead (way to go, Boris, et. al.), EU. It appears, fog clearing further, we have Putin to thank for getting western democracies to stand up for something more important than economic growth and personal comfort, namely freedom, decency and truth.

Can we see clearly now, now that the fog is lifting?




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