On January 6, 2020 a secessionist mob invaded the U.S. Capitol and unsuccessfully tried to overthrow a free and fair election. That should have been a pivot point for concerned Americans of all stripes to unite and put their country first instead of their party. Sadly, it was not.
On, February 24, 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine in a to-date unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the legitimate democratic government of that nation. Unexpectedly, that outrageous act caused Americans of varying persuasions to unite in support of that beleaguered democracy.
The question becomes can the Ukrainian invasion become a pivot point for uniting Americans in support of our own democracy? A pivot point, as we defined it in our 2013 book, Working the Pivot Points: To Make America Work Again, is “an area that must be leveraged and addressed effectively in order to effectuate change and achieve positive outcomes.”
There is growing evidence that the Ukraine invasion has the potential to be a pivot point. The most salient evidence came on March 1 during President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.
During Biden’s remarks, politicians from both sides of the aisle rose to give standing ovations on several occasions. Early on, they gave sustained applause to the Ukrainian ambassador when Biden introduced her. Later, they applauded each of the elements of what Biden labeled his Unity Agenda for the Nation: beat the opioid epidemic, support our veterans, take on mental health, and end cancer as we know it. Finally, their applause was resounding and sustained, after Biden in closing stated “This is our moment to meet and overcome the challenges of our time. And we will, as one people. One America. The United States of America.”
Ruth Marcus observes in her Washington Post article, “White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain’s first post-speech tweet, just minutes after Biden concluded, led with the new agenda; “Four big things. Strong bipartisan support. Time to move forward, together.”
Time will tell whether that bipartisan political support remains strong and whether we as citizens are willing to move forward together. The early indications are that there is definitely positive momentum because the American public is standing up for and wants the country to stand up for Ukraine.
Converting this support into a pivot point for unity will require the country having a shared agenda endorsed by the American mainstream. Major components of that agenda must be renewing American leadership in the world and strengthening our democracy domestically.
The key roles for the United States of America on the world stage include role model, partner, problem-solver, and peacekeeper. With the rapid emergence of the Ukraine national and humanitarian crisis induced by Russia’s unprovoked and unwarranted war on that country and the apparent end of the cold war era, America’s peacekeeper responsibility has come to the forefront of those roles.
In a Washington Post opinion piece, Robert M. Gates, who was the CIA Director and Secretary of Defense, and served in the administration of eight presidents, advises us that to prevail as a peacekeeper, the U.S. needs a “more realistic strategy for the post-Cold War era.”
Gates declares “A new American strategy must recognize that we face a global struggle of indeterminate duration against two great powers that share authoritarianism at home and hostility to the United States.” He recommends that the strategy be multifaceted, including:
- Use of nonmilitary instruments of power such as diplomacy, science and technology and strategic communications to avoid war
- Reinvention of the United States Information Agency (strategic communications) and U.S. Agency for International Development (economic assistance)
- A larger, more advanced military in all branches, with air power being critical
- Radical reform of the Pentagon, and cutting of wasteful legacy programs and defense bureaucracy
- Congress and the President collaborating “to help our citizens understand why events abroad matter to us.”
We believe Gates’s recommendations are solid and absolutely agree there is a need to help our citizens understand why events abroad matter in order to build a sense of unity. Of greater importance is for we Americans to understand that events at home matter even more.
That’s the critical point E.J. Dionne, a Washington Post columnist makes in a recent column regarding whether Putin and Zelensky have “created a come-to-democracy moment.” Dionne concludes his article by stating:
But Zelensky can’t save anyone else’s democracy. We have to do this ourselves. Perhaps this terrible episode will help us recognize that our shared commitment to democracy runs a lot deeper than we thought. We need to come together to fight for it — starting at home.
We agree with Dionne as well. Americans have been fighting with each other — and not for each other — here in the United States in an “uncivil war” from the time that Donald Trump began running for President until today.
We have written extensively about that war and the decline of our democracy. This war, in conjunction with Trump’s “America First” campaign (which should have been called “America Alone”), isolated the United States, reduced its status in the world, and brought our American democracy to the precipice of authoritarianism.
As noted near the outset of this blog, there are indicators that this could be a moment we can unite to move our democracy a little bit further back from that precipice. William Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, opines that this show of unity on the invasion of Ukraine is not “just a passing response to the emotions of the moment.”
Galson is commenting on the substantial support for retaliatory measures toward Russia and Putin. As we have stated, to convert this into a pivot point for both the U.S. democracy both internationally and domestically, there will need to be a shared agenda.
President Biden outlined components for part of that agenda in his State of the Union address. The essential elements for using that framework to finalize the agenda in order to work this pivot point are:
- Pivot persons — citizens and leaders from the public and private sectors who commit to working together to create shared solutions to problems and to advocate for their implementation
- Pivot policies — a mutually agreed upon agenda for action to achieve those shared solutions
- Pivot programs — well-defined, controlled, and results-oriented methods for rolling out those policies in a cost-effective and efficient manner
In our blog preceding this one — drafted approximately one week ago — we said there was a glimmer of hope for America unifying. Since then, that glimmer has intensified into a beam of light. And as we finish this blog, it appears that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a pivot point that can be worked to create a more united America.