In another recent article, I pointed out that arming civilians at the last minute to fight an existential threat isn’t the best plan for success. If you really want to have armed civilians be a last line of defense, it’s better to at least ensure they have some experience. But that’s still better than nothing and appears to be making a difference.
One Ukrainian Twitter account, however, made a very good point . . .
"The fact is that Ukraine can afford to distribute weapons among the population for defence, and the Kremlin cannot afford this, because in this case their fuhrer will be overthrown." https://t.co/XU6dkfP0YK
— English Lugansk (@loogunda) February 25, 2022
While Ukraine, like other countries, is far from perfect, they had one significant thing going for them: trust.
If someone like Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping distributed tens of thousands of rifles to their general populace — people who haven’t proved their loyalty in some fashion — things would go badly for them. Why? Because tyrants rule by force and intimidation instead of relying on the consent of the governed.
Autocrats have more power, but that power comes at the expense of being able to trust the public. Should Russia ever face an existential threat, arming the general population is an option they probably won’t want to risk.
Ukraine is small and relatively weak compared to Russia. Their president used to be an actor and a comedian. Allies didn’t jump in and do much to help until recent days. And yet they’ve been able to draw on the public trust that they had banked over the years to hold off a much bigger country’s military, lead by a Chekist (Putin himself says there’s no such thing as a former KGB officer), and they’ve managed to do it for days so far.
No Such Thing As Too Much Trust
Just as arming inexperienced and untrained citizens at the last minute is suboptimal, so is trying to build public trust in an emergency. Yes, when a country faces a significant common threat, people tend to unite against the enemy, but that’s not something that can be counted on for the future of a country or the safety of its people.
Let’s not kid ourselves that things are necessarily better in the United States. We have gun rights and that helps us be more prepared as a country, but those rights are under constant assault. Politicians always want to take what they think is the easy way out of society’s problems. Instead of putting in the work it takes to solve deep-seated problems that result in violence, they’d rather sweep those problems under the rug by disarming the populace.
The very same people who act this way and make us lose nearly all trust in them are suddenly shocked — shocked I tell you! — when something like the coronavirus pandemic comes along. They close down small businesses while big corporations continue to operate, blame a sometimes skeptical population that had been given conflicting information, and vilify those who are hesitant about taking vaccines that were rushed into production. Instead of realizing that they didn’t earn our trust, they blamed us for not trusting them.
And don’t think that my use of this one example (the pandemic) lets Republicans off the hook. Like Democrats, they’re often just as quick to push the limits of public trust for short term political gain, sometimes even on gun control. Both parties are guilty.
Burning Fewer Bridges
This goes far beyond guns, of course. Authoritarian whack jobs are always trying to find other ways to put and keep the public under their boot. When the ruling elite tries to pass laws against encrypted messaging, Big Gulps, religion, blurting out the wrong pronouns, LGBT rights, parental rights, and all manner of other matters that aren’t the government’s business — that takes a toll. Forcing people to do things they don’t want to do burns bridges and erodes public trust, taking us just a little closer to living under something not un like what Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping might impose.
Instead of pushing the “easy button” and forcing people to do things their way, we need to be finding common ground and win-win solutions for divisive issues. That takes more work and more thinking — activities most politicians aren’t enamored with or capable of — but it’s the only way to keep our relatively free society free. Letting people we disagree with come away from these debates with their dignity intact is important, because like it or not, we’ll need them one of these days.
The worst thing we can do in our society is burn all the bridges of trust during safe and peaceful times. We need to accumulate that trust for the inevitable rainy days, not unlike Ukraine is experiencing. Hopefully we will never see that, but I’d rather have my neighbors by my side in dark days than working against me or sitting the fight out because we hate each other.