Granderson: Our divided US should be able to unite for Ukraine

I received an email from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) this week that caught my eye. It wasn’t personal, but one of those fundraising e-blasts that fill up your inbox when you sign up for political newsletters. I usually ignore these, but this one had such a catchy subject line — “Biden is Putin 2.0” — that I decided to take the bait.

“We have just witnessed a great injustice committed by a despot who does not respect human rights,” the email began. “No, not Putin…President Joe Biden.”

From there it gets worse.

Spotted portrait illustration by LZ Granderson

opinion columnist

LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and life in America.

Greene hurls a series of nonsensical allegations against the government before appealing for financial assistance: “I urgently need your help to ensure I’m still in Congress to stop Biden’s tyranny. Please donate today.It ended with “God Bless America,” which, given the content of the email, felt more like gaslighting than patriotism.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has bombed a maternity and children’s hospital during an agreed ceasefire. Meanwhile, Greene is trying to anger supporters over the so-called tyranny of a president who, last time I checked, was trying to get Congress to extend the child tax credit to help reduce child poverty — a metric in which Greene’s state of Georgia ranked sixth.

In reasonably peaceful times, this donation email would be viewed as partisan hyperbole designed to anger a sleepy grassroots. But these are not peaceful times. When a nuclear power plant in Ukraine was attacked earlier this month, NPR reports“Russian forces repeatedly fired heavy weapons towards the plant’s massive reactor buildings,” and a shell landed just 250 feet from one.

Perhaps some members of Congress needed a reminder that the war is raging and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

“Remember Pearl Harbor, that dreadful morning of December 7, 1941, when your sky was black from planes attacking you,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in English in a video address to U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday. “Remember 9/11, a terrible day in 2001 when the evil tried to turn your cities, independent territories into battlefields, when innocent people were attacked from the air, yes, just like nobody expected, you couldn’t stop it. Our country is experiencing the same thing, every day, right now.”

It is appropriate that Zelenskyy spearheads the attacks on Pearl Harbor and 9/11 because, like today, the country was deeply divided prior to these events. Will a wave of patriotism unite Americans this time, as it did when the US was attacked?

Before the attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans could not even agree on whether the president was legitimately elected. The Supreme Court decision that delivered the White House to George W. Bush was less than a year old when the World Trade Center was attacked. While Bush made history by becoming the first man since Benjamin Harrison in 1888 to win the presidency despite losing the popular vote, let’s just say it wasn’t the kind of story that brought people together. What brought us together was the attack on our homeland. Bush rose in the summer of 2001 from a slightly declining job approval rating the highest in Gallup history at 90% by the end of September.

Likewise, the country was not united in the years leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Just as Biden was struggling to get his ambitious “Build Back Better” plan underway, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had seen elements of his New Deal suffer setback after setback — and not just from lawmakers. In the fall of 1935 Gallup had found that 60% of Americans thought “government spending on relief and recovery” was too high. In response to a conservative Supreme Court invalidating some of his initiatives, Roosevelt announced a plan to fill the court with liberal justices, a maneuver some on the left have called on Biden. That’s how deep the partisan division went.

And then Pearl Harbor was bombed and the United States was unequivocally drawn into World War II. As with Bush after 9/11, the country stood behind Roosevelt. That’s not to say that Republicans agreed with all of his liberal policies or decisions, just that there aren’t many congressman documents comparing him to Hitler on the precipice of war.

I don’t think the country is more divided now than it has ever been. In my view, the Civil War era still bears that title. However, we seem more confused about what it means to be patriotic, a concept already complicated by our racist past.

However, while the Russian armed forces were preparing to play roulette with them Europe’s largest nuclear power plantGreene was preparing to speak at a conference organized by a white supremacist who encouraged pro-Putin chants before taking her on stage.

God Bless America indeed.

You see, criticism of elected officials is an essential element of American society, so I’m hardly advocating censorship of Greene’s political speech. But under the circumstances, she should exercise some discretion herself. It’s not at all clear how far the US can go in a proxy war before finding itself in a direct one. Now is not the time to choose party over country, least of all for a little campaign money.

Americans understood that after Pearl Harbor. We got it after 9/11. Now that Biden is sending an additional $800 million in military aid to Ukraine while calling Putin a war criminal for the first time, I hope it doesn’t take another attack on our homeland to make the right-wing Greens want it today to understand .

@LZ Granderson Granderson: Our divided US should be able to unite for Ukraine

Caroline Bleakley

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