On The Street

The Vanity of Putin, Xi and Their Dysfunctional Visions of National Glory

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By Michael Gold 

Political leaders around the world are inflicting grievous damage to the international order and American security with their aspirational vanities. I’m talking specifically about Russia and China and one person closer to home, here in the U.S.

Vladimir Putin’s army has murdered or wounded almost a half-million people, almost two years into his blundering invasion of Ukraine. This includes 70,000 killed and about 120,000 wounded on the Ukrainian side and 120,000 Russian soldiers dead, with about 180,000 wounded, according to an article in The New York Times in August.

Because Putin is a dictator in everything but name, and not accountable to anyone, he doesn’t have to care about improving the lives of Russian citizens in any way. He doesn’t seem to spend much time on how well Russians can feed or house their children.

“Russia has one of the highest levels of alcohol-attributable burden of disease worldwide due to heavy episodic drinking patterns,” states the National Library of Medicine’s website.

Almost 21 percent of Russia’s entire population is suffering from alcohol use disorder and alcoholism, states The World Population Review, a research organization. That seems incredible. That’s about 30 million people, out of a nation of about 146 million.

Male life expectancy in Russia is now about the same as Haiti – 54 years – the World Health Organization states.

Russia’s population continues to decline. It’s predicted to fall to 106 million by 2100 (source: https://www.healthdata.org/research-analysis/health-by-location/profiles/russia).

Russia’s per capita income is about $15,000; that’s the amount of money each Russian citizen earns. The U.S. per capita income is about $65,000.

About 10 percent of all Russia’s information technology workers fled the country after the invasion of Ukraine, stated The Economist magazine in its May 4, 2023, issue.

With Russia in such a dire state, why would Putin go after his neighbor? At least part of the reason lies in Putin’s grab for glory. If he takes Ukraine, he can prevent the Ukrainians from joining the democratic sphere of Europe and America. But he will also be able to boast about the greatness of Russia as a mighty military power, even as he celebrates the importance of the Russian Orthodox Church as a valiant avatar of international moral values, fighting against the decadence of the West. Last time I looked, Christianity was supposed to teach love and charity for your neighbor, not mass murder.

The hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded are on his head alone. This is what the power of one-man rule can do – ignore the needs of ordinary people and commit their bodies to innumerable, unvisited graves.

In China, we see a similar phenomenon, as President Xi threatens to attack Taiwan on a weekly basis. Xi sees a free, democratic Taiwan as an intolerable mud pit of defiance, preventing him from attaining his glorious goal of establishing China as a world power that could well threaten the economic and political dominance of the United States.

How can he run the world if he has to suffer the existence only 100 miles from his nation’s shores 23 million Chinese living in a nation with a thriving economy and where they can freely choose their government leaders?

Besides the prospect of an invasion of Taiwan, China presents a second grave problem to the world in its quest for glory. The country is planning to construct at least 100 new coal-burning power plants, according to a Reuters news story in March.

In a rapidly warming world, with China having experienced a summer of extreme heat, droughts and terrible floods, severely damaging the country’s rice and corn crops, Xi’s policy to build yet more climate-changing, pollution-generating plants feels a lot like insanity.

The only possibility that seems to make sense here is that Xi’s desire for power and pride is obscuring the reality he refuses to see – his nation and the world is suffocating from continuing to heedlessly increase the amounts of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide by far, responsible for 31 percent of the global total in 2020, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The U.S. emitted about 13 percent, by comparison, although America has spewed more carbon than any other country over the last 220 years

(source: https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/each-countrys-share-co2-emissions).

The experiences of the dictatorial models of Russia and China should put us all on guard against the prospect of the nomination for President by one of our major political parties of a man who admires Putin and says the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah is “very smart,” and who freely discusses his aspirations to rule without any constraints on his decision-making authority, all in an effort to recover, in his telling, a lost, mystical idea of American glory.

Pleasantville-based writer Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, the Hartford Courant, The Palm Beach Post and other newspapers, and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.

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