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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris hold open a Ukrainian flag that was presented to them by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after he addressed a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 21.Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press

Will 2022 prove to be the year democracy began to turn the tide? Will December be the month? Will this week be the week?

It was hard to miss the symbolism in the accelerating demise of Donald Trump – to which this week’s final report by the congressional committee of inquiry into the Jan. 6 insurrection adds an exclamation point – and the bipartisan hero’s welcome accorded Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the U.S. Congress the same week.

Symbolism, or synergy? Mr. Trump was and remains the spearhead for every anti-democratic force in American politics, in which endeavour he was and remains the prized protégé of Vladimir Putin; the failure of the Mueller report to recommend criminal charges of collusion against a sitting president does not for a minute obscure the many and demonstrable ties between Mr. Trump and his supporters, on the one hand, and the Russian government on the other.

That Mr. Trump is inarguably in eclipse has many causes:

  • the failure of the Republican campaign in the midterm elections, and in particular of Mr. Trump’s roster of preferred candidates, which made him look weak;
  • the multiple legal proceedings against him, actual or pending, on matters ranging from the Jan. 6 insurrection, to the Mar-a-Lago classified documents fiasco, to the mountain of fraudulent activity carried on by members of the Trump Organization, which made him look vulnerable;
  • his own increasingly aberrant behaviour, from hosting neo-Nazis and antisemites for dinner, to demanding the suspension of the U.S. Constitution (en route, as ever, to reversing the 2020 election result), to his ever-closer relationship with the QAnon cult, which made him look crazy.

No doubt these are mutually reinforcing: the more that Mr. Trump has looked like an electoral liability, the easier it has been for fence-sitters in the party establishment to distance themselves from him; the greater his isolation, the more he has seemed to seek refuge among the diehards in the extremes, and the more toxic he has become to Republican hopes of attracting mainstream voters.

But surely part of the growing marginalization of Mr. Trump has been the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the return of a certain moral clarity in its wake. Just as the monstrous tyranny of the Soviet Union helped the democracies to define themselves in opposition to it, so Mr. Putin’s brutal attempt to annex his neighbour, after years of étapism and subterfuge, left no room for doubt about the evil he represents, or the threat he poses.

More than the manifest wickedness of the Russian invasion, however, it was the heroism of the Ukrainians in defence of their homeland that has inspired the democracies to look within themselves: to recall how hard-won was their own democracy, how easily it may be lost, and how essential it is that it be defended, whatever the costs. And the beating heart of the Ukrainian resistance, throughout, has been Mr. Zelensky – the moral leader, as he has been called, of the free world.

To see Republican politicians, then, standing and applauding Mr. Zelensky – whom Mr. Trump had tried to blackmail and bully into aiding his re-election effort; whose government Russian propagandists, and their eager Western amplifiers, pretend is filled with Nazis; who shows, by his every word or act, that he is everything Mr. Trump is not, ie. honourable, courageous, decent, democratic – was more than an endorsement of the man or his cause. It was a repudiation of Mr. Trump.

Conversely, the hysterical attacks on Mr. Zelensky from Mr. Trump’s most loyal lieutenants – the ones who will die in the bunker with him – were in their own way as much a tribute as any congressional ovation. Tucker Carlson compared him to “the manager of a strip club.” Donald Trump Jr. called him “an ungrateful international welfare queen.” Youth-for-Trumper Charlie Kirk, like many MAGA commentators, complained about his choice of clothes.

Well of course they did. As much as Ukraine is on the front lines of the fight for democracy internationally, it is also increasingly reshaping the domestic politics of the democracies. In a time when it has seemed there were no longer any uncrossable lines in democratic politics, Ukraine’s fight has redrawn the line. It is the line between basic decency and utter moral barbarism; between some rough respect for the facts, and sniggering contempt for the very idea of fact; between democracy and autocracy.

And as the person on this Earth who has, more than any other, helped to redraw that line, it was inevitable that Mr. Zelensky would attract the wrath of those on the wrong side of it. For in his rise they see their own fall.