The Charlotte Observer
NC Republicans in Congress got a stinging lesson in democracy from Zelensky
Gene Nichol – March 27, 2022
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to the U.S. Congress was a hallmark in the history of democracy. It echoed, in word and deed, Lincoln at Gettysburg, Churchill after Dunkirk, Martin Luther King from Montgomery in March, 1965.
It instructed a calcified, ancient and often unserious democracy on the meaning and human centrality of government by the people.
It taught, once again, that democratic politics can be the most ennobling and heroic of undertakings. It is not relegated to the hatred-driven and timidity-infused version that dominates our assemblies. It provided a much needed, if likely still insufficient, jolt to self-satisfied American lawmakers.
The undaunted and courageous Ukrainian president reminded that “Russia has attacked not just us, our land, our cities,” but, more foundationally, it has launched “a brutal offensive against basic human values.” It has “thrown tanks and planes against our freedom, against our right to live freely in our own country, (against our power) to choose our own future.” Russia demands to be master to the slave.
Zelensky’s oration also included censure. Some was intentional, pointed — calling on us, “in the darkest times to do more,” urging President Biden to be “leader of the world for peace.”
Yet another rebuke, I thought, was likely accidental, ancillary. Zelensky explained:
“Just like anyone in the United States, I remember your national memorial in Rushmore, the faces of your prominent presidents who laid the foundation for America as it is today: democracy, independence, freedom, and care for every person, for everyone who works diligently, who lives honestly, who respects the law. We in Ukraine want the same for our people.”
No one can doubt how powerfully Zelensky strives for these fundamentals in his re-born nation. And, of course, it’s hard to be sure how much Zelensky actually knows of the reality of modern American political life. He has, at the moment, somewhat larger fish to fry. Though, it must be conceded, Zelensky himself has had to stare down the United States’ most dangerous, lawless, and dishonest tyrant.
Still, Zelensky’s testament to defining creed inevitably reminded the rest of us that much of our nation now rejects the teachings of Rushmore. Re-read the list. Can there be any doubt that the most popular and dominant Republican in North Carolina, Donald Trump, despises each and every one of these constitutive notions? The entirety of his political career is a battle against them.
Trump’s Tar Heel consigliere, Mark Meadows, was literally caught on tape facilitating his boss’ efforts to force Georgia officials to overturn the presidential election. Madison Cawthorn not only fostered the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, but , voted to oppose various Russian sanctions, and pressed for violence if Republicans fail to achieve office — as if the American democracy was merely a white man’s gun club.
Virginia Foxx gleefully made the successful motion to expel Liz Cheney from Republican House leadership for refusing to endorse Trump’s lies. Foxx called Cheney “a leader with no followers,” almost bragging about the absence of character in the Republican caucus.
Dan Bishop, Ted Budd, Richard Hudson, David Rouzer, Cawthorn and Foxx locked arms with Republican colleagues, amazingly, to lawlessly reject state electoral college certifications. The N.C. Republican Party censured Sen. Richard Burr for saying the rule of law applied to Trump. It spoke not a word against Cawthorn’s embrace of violent sedition.
These powerful N.C. Republicans must have felt a stinging discomfort at Zelensky’s soul-stirring address. No one wants a soul to be stirred after he’s bartered his own.
Contributing columnist Gene Nichol is the Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina.