War in Ukraine Shows How Petty U.S. Partisan Divides Really Are | Opinion

Vladimir Putin has done incalculable harm to the people of Ukraine and to his fellow Russians, but he may have inadvertently done the United States a favor by placing American divisions in a more realistic, reasonable perspective. In an era when political partisans view their opponents as implacable enemies, he's shown the United States what a real enemy looks like.

In light of the barbaric and reckless behavior of the Russian invaders and their authoritarian leaders, even the worst excesses of Democrats or Republicans, Trumpers or progressives, look mild by comparison. The ferocious intra-party denunciations of recent months suddenly seem dated and antique, with the flavor of a distant America and a very different world. A few months ago, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gleefully ripped Republican leader Kevin McCarthy as "an evil imbecile" while conservative writer Matt Walsh classified the "Democrat Party" as "this really evil institution that stands for evil things."

MSNBC host Joy Reid went even further, lending her denunciation of Republicans and their leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, a sanctimonious Scriptural flair. "The Bible might even call it 'wickedness in high places,' A.K.A. evil," she declared. In The Daily Beast, Matt Lewis wrote a column confessing his own emergence from these hellish associations. "I was a lifelong Republican," the headline announced. "The GOP is now the evil party...viscerally repellent."

These sentiments don't just emanate from pundits and politicians, but also from countless ordinary citizens, nourished by the media on a steady diet of toxic vitriol. A memorable poll from Axios/Survey Monkey found 49 percent of Republicans describing Democrats as "ignorant" while 23 percent volunteered the adjective "evil" to characterize the members of the other party. Democrats displayed similar attitudes, with 54 percent calling Republicans "ignorant" and 21 percent reaching for the "e-word" to characterize their partisan rivals.

More recent polling hasn't yet reflected it, but public rhetoric and private conversations strongly suggest fading fears of an imaginary civil war in the face of the very real war in Ukraine. Democrats seem less likely to rail against new voting rules that prevent the provision of water bottles to voters waiting in line at polling places, when suffering Ukrainians can't secure food or water in any situation. The daily news from the battlefront conveys a devastating message about the fragility of order, civilization and life itself. It's harder to decry your political opponents as "existential threats" to America's future when a brutal invasion threatens Ukraine's very survival on a daily basis.

The flurry of heavily hyped books on America's dangerous domestic divisions (The Next Civil War, How Civil Wars Start and It Could Happen Here are among the most prominent of more than a dozen recent titles) may still find an audience, but they now seem less relevant, urgent and plausible than they did before Putin crashed his tanks across the border.

Ukraine protest White House
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 11: Demonstrators attend a daily protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at in front of the White House on March 11, 2022 in Washington, DC. Earlier today U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the United States would suspend trade relations from Russia and ban imports of seafood, vodka and diamonds from the country. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Watching the scenes of wanton, pointless destruction and some 10 million victims fleeing their homes, great majorities of both liberals and conservatives have found one point of ardent agreement: the Russian bid to reassemble the Soviet empire by force must be resisted and defeated. This doesn't mean that deep disagreements on a range of cultural and economic issues will magically disappear, but disgust and indignation at the pointless slaughter in Kherson, Mariupol and Kyiv stir the emotions far more intensely than disagreements over government spending, mask mandates or school curricula.

Where I live, just outside Seattle, Ukrainian flags and other signs of support have appeared everywhere; have you noticed any Russian flags proudly unfurled in your neighborhood? This isn't just a local or national phenomenon. The UN General Assembly voted 141 to 5 to condemn Russia's unprovoked attack (with 35 abstentions) so it's hard to imagine Putin-promoting banners appearing anywhere on Earth, outside of Russia itself or its deferential Mini-Me, Belarus. The shockingly strong response of European nations, famously reluctant to take united and unequivocal stands in international affairs, has added greatly to the sense that the whole world is coming together with shared determination and common purpose.

Naturally, Biden backers welcome this rally-round-the-flag instinct, but they wish the banner in question had displayed the message "Biden 2024" rather than the Ukrainian blue and yellow. It's still easy for the administration's critics to blame Biden for facilitating Putin's reckless and deadly gamble through his weakness in the Afghanistan withdrawal, his repeated announcements of what he wouldn't do (directly confront Russia) and his refusal to delineate the dire consequences he would pursue for a dire, deadly decision by the Kremlin.

Historians will argue over the merits of the president's leadership, but the course of this war will have immediate political effects in America. If the Russians succeed in their bloody campaign to erase Ukraine's independence, it's hard to imagine Biden would seek reelection, let alone succeed in winning it. If, on the other hand, the NATO powers manage to broker a ceasefire or peace agreement with Zelensky still presiding over a viable government in Kyiv, it's likely the beleaguered Biden would see some long-delayed improvement in his battered approval rating.

In any event, Republicans and Democrats eventually will resume their struggles over closer-to-home topics, but with some recollection—we can hope—that on truly globe-shaking issues like avoiding nuclear war and defending democracy, they can put aside their disputes to work together.

The devastation and death we saw during the first month of war cannot go on indefinitely. At some point Democrats will go back to slandering Republicans as racist, lick-spittle servants of corporations and the rich, who defy science and define selfishness; Republicans fill their familiar role by denouncing the Dems as perverted, crime coddling, socialist race hustlers, determined to dismantle the religious and familial values that have sustained the nation since its founding.

Meanwhile, having watched Ukraine face down Vladimir Putin and, we fervently pray, prevail, Americans of every stripe can recognize that neither of our two imperfect parties represent real evil, and that our flawed but fundamentally decent nation deserves some bipartisan gratitude to go along with all our griping.

Michael Medved hosts a daily radio talk show and is author, most recently, of God's Hand On America: Divine Providence in the Modern Era. Follow him on Twitter: @MedvedSHOW.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.