So I can't see what will be happening in Ukraine by the time you read this. It could be serious: it could be the first military invasion of a European nation since World War II. I ask myself how we got to this point of renewed authoritarianism in Russia -- as well as in Turkey, North Korea, and other places where the thugs don't even pretend not to be thugs. In part it is because we good guys in the US and the UK allowed Donald Trump and Boris Johnson to signal that Hitler-like hatred again was okay.
But some background on Ukraine. When I wrote my first book, Foreign and Female, in 1986, we didn't even have a standardized name for it, with some Americans calling it "The Ukraine," while others used "Ukrainia." (Actually, this is another huge topic, as we are just beginning to refer to nations with the name used by people in that place. These new usages are most likely in the former colonies of Africa and Asia, while we Americans still cling to our old preferences for European names. Among many possible examples, we use "Italy" instead of their "Italia;" "Spain," instead of their "Espana;" and most striking, "Germany" instead of "Deutschland." I just looked at the road atlas that Hubby and I depended on to transverse Europe in the pre-internet days, and the only nation that spelled its name in the way that we do is Portugal.)
When I wrote Foreign and Female, Ukrainians also were called Russian-Germans or German-Russians. I used a poignant photo from the Statue of Liberty Monument of a family with seven stair-step boys lined up next to the oldest child, the only girl, who were headed to South Dakota. The mother stood next to the father, who had a paper pinned to his jacket with the name of the town where they should get off the train. They doubtless didn't think of themselves as Ukrainian, let alone German or Russian. They simply were leaving their Old Country, the only place they ever had known.
Their ancestors had done the same, going East instead of West. They did so at the urging of Catherine the Great, who transformed Russia from a backwater to a genuine power and cultural center. Born to minor German royals, her name was Sophie Friedrike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst until her 1745 marriage to Russia's Peter the III. She was obviously more intelligent than he: her supporters soon placed him under house arrest, and the Russian Orthodox Church crowned her as monarch. Among other achievements that entitled her to be known as "the Great" was the recruitment of German farmers to the fertile steppes of Ukraine, which would become known as "the breadbasket of Europe."
So these are the people now facing Russian weaponry as they try to remain the independent nation that they became when the USSR broke up. Putin, a former KGB agent (the equivalent of our CIA), clearly is trying to restore the glory days of his murderous youth and already has succeeded in installing puppets in Crimea, Georgia, and Belarus. This looks so much like fascist expansion in the 1930s that it is genuinely worrisome, and I only can say that I'm glad Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is principled and smart.
WHICH LEADS TO THESE THOUGHTS
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman had an excellent piece with a really apt title, "Putin to Ukraine: Marry Me or I'll Kill You." Putin, he said, "is the human embodiment of one of the oldest Russian fables: A Russian peasant pleads to God after he sees that his better-off neighbor has just obtained a cow. When God asks how he can help, the peasant says, 'kill my neighbor's cow.'" It's a common attitude among those who believe that the only way to succeed is to kneecap competitors. In very general terms, the political left wants to build a bigger pie, while the right wants to grab more of what they see as a limited number of pie pieces.
Friedman went on: "The last thing Putin wants is a thriving Ukraine that joins the European Union and develops beyond Putin's underperforming, autocratic Russia. He wants Ukraine to fail, the EU to fracture, and America to have Donald Trump as president for life so that we will be in permanent chaos." I think Friedman is correct, and the first step to stopping this dystopian future will be in November. In every state, we must recruit and support truly democratic candidates who will put the fascist wannabes in their place.
That also requires understanding how things got this way, including legislative gerrymandering and the anarchic Electoral College that has overridden the majority will in the presidential elections of 2000 and 2016 – and would have in 2020 if Trumpsters had been able to. It also requires reporters who know something of the past. A recent Tampa Bay Times story gave a great deal of ink to gerrymandering, adopting as a premise that legislative and congressional districts are drawn to give an advantage to minorities. This, of course, is red meat to conservatives – and isn't the historical case.
The district that the (too young) writers focused on is the current Florida Senate District 19. The writers said it has "map boundaries that were cut in the 1990s to create a district where Black voters had a reasonable chance to elect a representative." They are correct in saying that it created, for the first time, a linking of Pinellas and Hillsborough that we have lived with for the last thirty years. But I want to point out that this crossing of the bay did not create a minority district – unless one considers Republicans to be a minority.
Instead, the new district was the only one in the 40-member Florida Senate in which two incumbent senators had to face each other. Both now are dead, but they were white Democratic women and former League of Women Voters presidents, Helen Gordon Davis of Tampa and Jeanne Malcohn of St. Petersburg. Helen won the primary, but lost the general election to a young white male Republican from Pinellas. She personally paid for lawyers to take the gerrymandered district all the way to the US Supreme Court, but lost. And Republicans soon became a majority in the Florida legislature, which they have retained ever since.
They would like people – especially minority people – to think these lines were drawn because they care about "wokeness," but that is not true. And, indeed, it is an insult to African Americans to assume that they need some sort of reserved space to win elections. Again, I would point out that the first African American elected to any office in Hillsborough was The Reverend Leon Lowry, who won a 1976 school board race that was county-wide.
MORE FROM THE BEST EX-PRESIDENT EVER
I said several weeks ago that I would be returning to Jimmy Carter's 2014 book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power. It's taken a while, but there is so much to unpack in this book that it may take even more future time and space. Although Bill and Hillary could rank with them when they reach the Carters' ages, Jimmy and Rosalyn certainly are the most exceptional husband/wife team in presidential history. I've said before and I'll say again: the nation started on the road to hell in 1980, when we chose a divorced Hollywood actor who didn't speak to his children over a Georgia Sunday school teacher – on a platform of family values. It was hypocrisy personified, but Americans fell for it.
Similarly, many men continue to fall for the faux images of other men. One example: on his Zimbabwe schedule, the former president was to present a check to a man who had been named as the "Global Outstanding Farmer." A farmer himself, Carter insisted on walking the fields with this man – who "objected strenuously." It turned out that was because he was not the real farmer. "I asked him a series of questions," Carter said, "and in every case, he turned to his wife for the answer. Very shyly, she explained the entire process." Her husband merely collected the credit – and the money – for her work and ability.
The Carters went on to Liberia, where they monitored the fair election of Ellen Sharif Johnson, the first woman to be president of an African nation. Liberia, he wrote, had been controlled by warlords and was "basically lawless… The new president asked us to help her minister of justice evolve a legal system," especially regarding the mistreatment of women that long was acceptable under tribal law. "We worked," he said, "to inform people, often for the first time, that rape was a crime and that perpetrators could be punished, that women could own property, that a wife could inherit her deceased husband's estate, that female genital cutting was not mandatory… Most of this was news to them."
That rape should be considered a crime especially was news to men. Carter cited a study in a public health journal in which as many as 34% of men in African countries freely admitted to forcing a woman to have sex. They did not see this in the same way as men in developed nations, where only 2% to 4% of men gave that response. It would be interesting to have the comparable stats from my youth. I recall prominent men saying there was no such thing as rape, and it is only because of organizations like Hillsborough's STOP RAPE that this attitudinal change occurred.
The former president returned to the subject of violence against women in a chapter called "The Genocide of Girls." Again, shocking information that too often is ignored by today's feminists, who sometimes seem eager to excuse crimes against humanity if they occur in Africa or Asia. "In China," he said, "we saw a number of billboards depicting two parents proudly holding the hands of their only child. In every case, it was a boy," and he went on to quote a Nobel Laureate who concluded that upwards of "50 million females were 'missing' in China." The Carters encountered a woman in India who calmly stated that she had "strangled eight of her newborn daughters."
The result, as you doubtless know, is that the families of young men in these countries where baby girls were destroyed now are buying brides from abroad. These purchases, however, do not indicate a new appreciation of female worth nor regret for the past. Genocide could easily return, and the numbers are massive. After looking at other studies that estimate more than a hundred million girls have been victims, Carter concluded: "It appears that more than twice as many girls have been killed by their parents during my lifetime as the total number of combatants and civilians lost in World War II."
He called it "femicide," a word that my spell checker does not recognize.