The New York Times print headlines last week –
“Mikhail S. Gorbachev, 1931 – 2022 Visionary Soviet Leader Who Lifted the Iron Curtain”
“Biden Portrays Democracy as Under Fire in the U.S.”
A “bond” between these disparate political leaders? It may surprise, but the case for it is worth examining.
Both leaders gained power at inflection points in world history. And both worked to preserve and improve their countries within well-established, although very different, political and economic systems and societies – even while confronted by strong, and sometimes dangerous, adversaries.
Gorbachev’s failure was tragic for him, his country, and the world. Biden’s opportunity is epic for his country and the world.
There are, of course, vast differences in “where they came from.” But ultimately, there is one vital, even existential, common element: Each, in his own way and degree, became an apostle for democracy.
Gorbachev’s courage in pursuit of a more liberal Soviet Union was based on:
Perestroika -“The policy or practice of restructuring or reforming the economic and political systems …[it] came to entail greater awareness of economic markets and
the ending of central planning.” (Oxford dictionary)
Glasnost – “The policy or practice of more open consultative government and
wider dissemination of information initiated by leader Mikhail Gorbachev from 1985.” (Oxford dictionary)
And, after being deposed, Gorbachev visited America. His remarks while here were later reviewed in a program in New York City:
On June 3,1992 at the Pierre Hotel, a speaker noted:
“Last month, another heroic world figure, Mikhail Gorbachev, visited America … and outlined the possibilities for a new epoch. He said this:
” ‘Humanity is at a turning point. This is not just some ordinary stage of development like so many in world history … The attention, and the resources, of the world community can be focused on solving problems in nonmilitary areas: demography, ecology, food production, energy …
“This major international effort will be needed to render irreversible the shift in favor of a democratic world – and democratic for the whole world, not just half of it.'”
Key excerpts from President Biden’s “Soul of a Nation” speech:
“While the threat to American democracy is real…We are not powerless in the face of these threats. We are not bystanders in this ongoing attack on democracy… Folks, it’s in our hands, yours and mine, to stop the assault on American democracy …
“ I believe America is at an inflection point, one of those moments that determine the shape of everything that’s to come after…
“We are still at our core a democracy, and yet history tells us that blind loyalty to a single leader and a willingness to engage in political violence is fatal to democracy. For a long time, we told ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed. But it’s not.
“We have to defend it. Protect it. Stand up for it. Each and every one of us. That’s why tonight I’m asking our nation to come together and unite under the single purpose of defending our democracy regardless of your ideology…
“We’ve proved that for all its imperfections, America is still the beacon to the world, an ideal to be realized, a promise to be kept. There’s nothing more important. Nothing more sacred. Nothing more American. That’s our soul. That’s who we are…
“And we will come together as a nation that will secure our democracy.”
This brief examination of a “Biden/Gorbachev democracy bond”, even if only a virtual bond, is timely. It is offered when authoritarian regimes are spreading around the world.
History will judge its strength and resilience.