After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States rallied together and was arguably more unified than ever before. However, nearly twenty years later it seems as though the United States cannot achieve a unified front on anything. This is largely due to polarization taking precedent over democratic ideals, which is evident in leading republicans’ criticism to democratic president Joe Biden’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Since the onset of World War II, the United States has substantially been able to put partisan, political interests aside for the good of the nation during some of the country’s worst times and threats, whether they be direct or indirect threats.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the nation was united and the republicans did not blame Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt. The same can be said about republicans during the rest of World War II, even Democratic President Harry Truman’s decision to use two atomic bombs to end the war. Similarly, during the Cold War, when major events occurred such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan, the opposition party did not blame the party in power for these events. In the post cold war era the same can be said for 9/11.
After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the United States rallied together and was arguably more unified than ever before. However, nearly twenty years later it seems as though the United States cannot achieve a unified front on anything.
The domination of partisanship in American politics is particularly dangerous to democracy for a multitude of reasons. Partisanship makes it very easy for an “us versus them” mentality to emerge, which is notably used by populist leaders to come to power. In addition, it is not uncommon for polarization and a mistrust in the government to grow together which are also conditions under which a populist leader could thrive under. Conditions such as these have allowed the door to swing open for a plethora of democratic undermining actions in the United States. Overall, the difference in responses to 9/11 and America’s response to Ukraine are just two examples that clearly exhibit the changes the United States has gone through in the past twenty years.
While the level of patriotism and bipartisanship that followed 9/11 was obviously not a surprise as it was the first attack on United States soil in decades, it still fostered an unprecedented level of patriotism as well as large bipartisan actions. Congress passed a bipartisan forty-billion-dollar disaster relief bill and then the Patriot Act. President Bush’s approval ratings also soared to ninety percent after he began military operations in Afghanistan (History.com, 2010). Most importantly, democrats did not blame the republican president, Bush. These events clearly show putting partisan politics aside for the greater good.
When contrasted with President Biden’s response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there are vastly different responses. Of course, Ukraine’s invasion and 9/11 cannot be equated. However, they were both major events that attacked and threatened democracy. As the United States prides itself on spreading and defending democracy, an invasion by an autocratic leader to their sovereign democratic neighbor should be a clear indicator of where the United States should stand.
After Russia invaded Ukraine it was clear that the United States public opinion was divided in numerous ways. Republicans have concluded that Putin decided to attack Ukraine during a Biden administration rather than during Trumps because as they put it he is weak. Republican senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has said that Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan has given autocrats an invitation to do whatever they want.(Martinez, 2022). A Quinnipiac Poll found that eighty percent of republicans say President Biden has not been tough enough on Russia (McCormack, 2022). One republican even said. “For America, President Biden may be the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of this century”. (Morgan, 2022). It is evident that there is lots of criticism of President Biden’s response to the Russian invasion among the republican party, this is a large difference from the bipartisan response to the attacks on 9/11.
While many republicans have criticized President Biden’s actions while still maintaining the position that the United States should still support Ukraine, some republicans have questioned this stance. Former President Trump has called Putin a genius and has spoken more of how this could never happen during his presidency than actually condemning Putin’s actions. Tucker Carlson of Fox News has even said Americans only hate Putin because democrats told them to. He also suggested the United States is only supporting Ukraine to repay personal debts to Ukrainian oligarchs for President Biden. (Carlson, 2022).
The contrast between America’s unified response to 9/11 and the response to the invasion of Ukraine is significant because it marks a huge weakness and demise of American democracy. Almost no matter what President Biden does, republicans will claim he should do the opposite. This is not about condemning his actions for the good of democracy but rather to paint the other side in a bad light to advance their own position to win future elections. When political gain becomes more important than doing what is good for democracy that is an indicator of a democracy in demise. When polarization becomes more important than maintaining democratic values that is a telling sign for democracy.
Carlson, T. (2022, February 23). Tucker Carlson: Americans have been trained to hate Putin, and will suffer because of it. Fox News. Retrieved March 2, 2022, from https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/tucker-carlson-hate-putin-americans-suffer
History.com Editors. (2010, August 13). Reaction to 9/11. History.com. Retrieved March 2, 2022, from https://www.history.com/topics/21st-century/reaction-to-9-11
Martinez. (2022, February 24). Republicans are condemning Putin for the invasion of Ukraine – and criticizing Biden. NPR. Retrieved March 2, 2022, from https://www.npr.org/transcripts/1082954761
McCormack, J. (2022, March 1). Quinnipiac poll: Only 6 percent of Republicans say U.S. is doing ‘too much’ to help Ukraine. National Review. Retrieved March 2, 2022, from https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/quinnipiac-poll-only-6-percent-of-republicans-u-s-is-doing-too-much-to-help-ukraine/
Morgan, D. (2022, February 25). Republicans target Biden for blame over Putin’s Ukraine invasion. Reuters. Retrieved March 2, 2022, from https://www.reuters.com/world/us/republicans-target-biden-blame-over-putins-ukraine-invasion-2022-02-24/