Column: Our divided U.S. should be able to unite for Ukraine

Volodymyr Zelensky appears on screen in front of members of Congress
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, speaks to Congress remotely, seeking more support from the U.S. to repel the Russian invasion.
(Pool Photo by Sarahbeth Maney)

I got an email from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) this week that caught my eye. It wasn’t personal but instead one of those fundraising E-blasts that populates one’s inbox if one has signed up for political newsletters. Usually I ignore these, but this one had such a catchy subject line —– “Biden is Putin 2.0” — that I decided to take the bait.

“We just witnessed a major injustice wrought by a despot who has zero regard for human rights,” the email began. “No, not Putin … President Joe Biden.”

It gets worse from there.

Opinion Columnist

LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.

Greene hurls a series of nonsensical accusations at the administration before asking for financial support: “I desperately need your help to make sure I’m still in Congress to stop Biden’s tyranny. Please donate today.” It ended with “God Bless America,” which given the content of the email, felt more like gaslighting than patriotism.


Russian President Vladimir Putin bombed a maternity and children’s hospital during an agreed-upon cease-fire. Meanwhile, Greene is trying to rile up supporters over the so-called tyranny of a president who, last I checked, was trying to get a child tax credit extension through Congress to help reduce childhood poverty — a metric in which Greene’s state, Georgia, ranked sixth.

While U.S. soldiers have been heading to Europe to counter Russian aggression, a former president is cheering for the Kremlin.

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In somewhat peaceful times, that fundraising email would be considered partisan hyperbole designed to rile a sleepy base. But these are not peaceful times. When a nuclear power facility in Ukraine was under attack early this month, NPR reported, “Russian forces repeatedly fired heavy weapons in the direction of the plant’s massive reactor buildings,” and a shell landed just 250 feet from one.

Perhaps some members of Congress needed a reminder that war is raging and the stakes could not be higher.

“Remember Pearl Harbor, terrible morning of Dec. 7, 1941, when your sky was black from the planes attacking you,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in English in a video address to U.S. lawmakers Wednesday. “Remember September the 11th, a terrible day in 2001 when evil tried to turn your cities, independent territories, in battlefields, when innocent people were attacked from air, yes, just like no one expected it, you could not stop it. Our country experience the same, every day, right now in this moment.”

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It’s apropos for Zelensky to cite the attacks on Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, because like today, the country was deeply divided prior to those events. Will a surge of patriotism unite Americans this time as it did when the U.S. was attacked?

Before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans couldn’t even agree on whether the president had been legitimately elected. The Supreme Court decision that delivered the White House to George W. Bush was not yet a year old when the World Trade Center was attacked. So while Bush made history by becoming the first man since Benjamin Harrison in 1888 to win the presidency despite losing the popular vote, let’s just say it wasn’t the kind of history that brought people together. What brought us together was the attack on our homeland. Bush went from a slightly declining job approval rating during the summer of 2001 to the highest in Gallup history at 90% by the end of September.


Similarly, the country was not united in the years leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Just as Biden struggled to get his ambitious Build Back Better plan off the ground, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had watched elements of his New Deal suffer setback after setback — and not just from lawmakers. In the fall of 1935, Gallup had found that 60% of Americans thought “expenditures by the Government for relief and recovery” were too large. In response to a conservative Supreme Court that invalidated some of his initiatives, Roosevelt announced a plan to pack the court with liberal justices, a maneuver some on the left have urged Biden to attempt. That’s how deep partisan division ran.

And then Pearl Harbor was bombed and the U.S. was unequivocally pulled into World War II. As happened for Bush after 9/11, the country rallied behind Roosevelt. That’s not to say Republicans agreed with all of his liberal policies or decisions, only that there’s not a whole lot of documentation of members of Congress comparing him to Hitler on the precipice of war.

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I don’t believe the country is more divided now than it has ever been. From my perspective, the Civil War era still holds that title. However, we do seem to be more confused about what it means to be patriotic, a concept already complicated by our racist past.

Anyway, while Russian forces were preparing to play roulette with Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Greene was preparing to speak at a conference organized by a white supremacist who encouraged pro-Putin chants before bringing her out on stage.

“God Bless America” indeed.

Look, criticizing elected officials is an essential element of American society, so I’m hardly advocating for censorship of Greene’s political speech. But under these circumstances, she should show some discretion herself. It’s not at all clear how much further the U.S. can wage a proxy war before finding itself in a direct one. Now is not the time for choosing party over country, especially for a few campaign bucks.

Americans understood that after Pearl Harbor. We understood it after 9/11. Now that Biden is sending an additional $800 million in military aid to Ukraine while calling Putin a war criminal for the first time, my hope is it won’t take another attack on our homeland to get the Greenes of the right wing to understand it today.