September 8, 2017

The alt-right and old wrongs

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Dear Editor:

Some time ago, a Ukrainian American friend tried to impress me with his conservative orthodoxy, saying: “A candidate cannot be right-wing enough for me.”

Some Ukrainian Americans harbor the illusion that combating Communism means embracing any ideology – no matter how extreme – to oppose liberalism or moderation.

Is there really no right-wing extreme too abhorrent to embrace? This question becomes especially urgent as we consider recent events in Charlottesville.

Blind loyalty to any ideology is dangerous.

After all, our forefathers witnessed not only the horrors of Stalin, but also the horrors of the Nazi occupation, serfdom and tsarist imperialism.

Vladimir Putin has spent millions financing proto-fascist parties to fuel social unrest in Western Europe. He openly supported Donald Trump’s divisive campaign. Given this pattern, my friend’s attraction to anything extremely right is deeply troubling.

Conservatives like Orrin Hatch, appalled by Mr. Trump’s equivocation towards neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, have called this a defining moment for the Republican Party. It is also a defining moment for Ukrainian Americans.

Ukraine faced its own defining moment in 2013-2014 when the Euro-Maidan renounced Ukraine’s Soviet legacy and Viktor Yanukovych’s boundless greed. The Maidan unified millions of Ukrainians of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Ukraine repudiated racism and jingoism. During the May 2014 elections, Svoboda and Pravyi Sektor secured only 2 percent of the national vote – far less than the 20-30 percent that far-right parties captured in France, Austria and Hungary.

Why would Ukrainian Americans embrace Mr. Trump’s cult of personality? He has been a shameless apologist for Mr. Putin, praising his “authoritarianism” and disclosing classified information to the Russians. Mr. Trump embraces extremists like Sherriff Joe Arpaio who ran an inhumane concentration camp for Mexicans in Arizona. The neo-Nazis and white supremacists that organized the “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia are emboldened by Mr. Trump’s bigotry.

We have many examples from Ukrainian history where the rationalization “the enemy of my enemies is my friend” proved disastrous. Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky thought a union with the tsar would protect Ukraine from Polish tyranny. In 1941, some Ukrainians welcomed the Germans in the hopes they would protect them from the Soviets. Our grandparents’ naiveté towards the Nazis’ is understandable. Even some Jewish leaders of that time found it hard to believe that a civilized nation that produced Goethe and Beethoven could breed a generation of monsters capable of the Holocaust. We have no such excuse for embracing the extremism that has resurfaced in the United States.

Conservatives like George Will have left the GOP in disgust over Mr. Trump. This is no longer the party of Dwight Eisenhower that our parents voted for. Under Mr. Trump, it is becoming increasingly dogmatic and authoritarian, seeking to “make American great again” by undoing 150 years of social and economic reforms.

We need to re-examine our moral and political compass. Civilized societies should renounce the kind of reckless fanaticism that has become Mr. Trump’s hallmark. Our Ukrainian American community needs to redefine where it stands. We should defend the democratic values of America and the ethos of Ukraine’s Maidan. We should resist extremism, whether left or right.

Glastonbury, Conn.

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