On Thursday I went to a talk by Councellor Liubov Abravitova and Defense Attaché Andriy Kuzora from the Ukraine embassy. It was fascinating. Ukrainians are a people who have no desire for or inclination towards aggression; they just want to be respected and allowed to live in peace. Militarily they have no weapons to match those that Putin has. Their only weapons are freedom of speech, passion for their culture, and diplomacy. It's all they want to use, anyway.
Learning something about a country I didn't know much about, I felt transported for a few hours away from the rabid megalomania in Putin and Trump's administrations, the angry, hateful rhetoric and intolerance in the US, UK and from the rising alt-right in Europe.
I asked if Ukraine has a problem with brainwashing from Putin's state-controlled media machine. Liubov Abravitova said that Ukraine itself has free speech and a free press, and there's no censorship, so people who want to be informed can access information. Andriy Kuzora added, however, that during the day, you listen to people speak and they're anti-Putin. But at night, if you walk along the street, where there are no high walls—like the ones here in South Africa, he said with a smile—you can see inside people's windows. And Russian TV is on. Information influence, he called it. And yes, he said, it is a problem.
It's a big problem for all of us. How on earth do we counter this plague gone viral that threatens to halt us in our evolutionary tracks? I had thought that our evolutionary drive had itself evolved from using the physical to survive to relying on mental and spiritual capacities and empathy. If we care about each other and the planet we'll be sensible in our actions. We won't want or need to go to war. We'll control the greed in our own countries, get rid of leaders who are destructive.
Democracy will function the way it's supposed to. With challenges, but always forward moving. As it was doing during the Obama years.
People have always revolted against abuse of power. But the 2016 election was the anti-revolution! People bucking at a president who had worked miracles—testament to which is the state of the economy at the moment, notwithstanding Trump's bragging to the contrary.
I saw a comment on Facebook after the election results, "I feel truly American for the first time in eight years." With an intellectually challenged president who's a paranoid bully, a believer in conspiracy theories, a serial liar and manipulator, a sexual abuser, a racist, a bigot. Who tweets obsessively at three in the morning and seems to be lusting for the opportunity to get his fat little fingers on the red button.
The mind boggles. With Obama in the White House, I felt safe. The most powerful country in the world had a huge shield against the kind of things Putin does in Russia. The shield protected people round the world. Against all the things that most sane people revolt against. But now? The Trump administration is dialing back every achievement Obama made, all the progress towards equality for all and a safer planet. And he's opened the door wide for the alt-right to march through, victorious. He's turning America into their best role model.
Trump is too asinine to see how much he is being used by every Tom, Dick, Harry and Harry's pal with malevolent intent, from Mike Pence to Paul Ryan to Steve Bannon, to Vladimir Putin. And his followers either don't see it or don't care.
It's tempting to think that evolution just did a kind of mind-bending backward flip. Intelligence, alert minds, empathy and being properly informed weren't enough to counter the mindlessness that put power in Trump's hands and, by virtue of who he is, in the hands of people with truly malevolent intent. But, evolutionary progress doesn't happen in perfectly forward movement. The power of Trump and his pals, the alt right, and Putin, is bully power. And bullies are inherently weak.
As for information influence, it can only affect a limited number of people before it hits an impenetrable barrier—those of us who haven't lost control of our minds and are never going to.
Putin has cyber warfare tentacles in many countries, influencing France, Germany, the Netherlands, and of course the US. The more he gets his disruptive message out to people thirsty for anything that will justify their fear of a changing status quo, the more people he influences, of course. But outside of Russia he doesn't have control of the narrative. He can't control how much is written about his methods by those he hasn't reached.
The harder he pushes, the harder liberals will push back and spread truth. Some of that is going to filter back to Russians, who perhaps believe in Putin because they haven't had access to any truth. It will affect them. They'll start thinking. Those who already oppose Putin will be strengthened, invigorated. Bad ideas spread. But so do good ones.
One of these days Vladimir Putin will realize he overstepped himself. But by then he'll have a revolution on his hands. Hopefully until that happens, Ukraine's weapons of free speech and independent thinkers will be enough to protect their autonomy and preserve that beautiful spirit. A fitting metaphor for us vs. Trump.