Master and Commander

Craig Douglass On Consumers

Against all odds, sometimes the lesser of the two combatants wins. Consumers understand David and Goliath metaphors. And whether it is a contest in the marketplace pursued by a big brand over a little one, or a real and dangerous across-border invasion instigated by an aggressor nation against a would-be subjugant, the results can often be surprising.

In the consumer world, the little guy can win if her product or his service has a solid reputation, effective message, understands the audience and instills loyalty. Oh, yes, and has a product worth buying (worth fighting for).

You see where I’m going.

The experience in Ukraine meets the above test. Not to trivialize the grave situation through a marketing analogy, it nevertheless is worth pointing out that Ukraine’s sense of self, the cohesiveness of its people and the loyalty to Ukrainian leadership are nothing less than inspiring. This, taken together, means more than powerful armaments. This is a mighty spirit that transcends weapons of war.

At this writing, we don’t know and won’t know for some time the ultimate outcome of the struggle. We do know, however, the character, courage, heart and, yes, humor that can tip the scales.

Leaders of democratic countries have a power greater than their authority. Here we call it the “bully pulpit.” Leaders or despots of those less-democratic countries rule through brute intimidation. The weapon of authoritarianism is a slender reed when compared to the staff of free-thinking people. In either experience, leaders, whether elected or self-appointed, don’t have the all-encompassing power most people think.

In the United States, many assume the president of the United States has great power and can shape events at will. Not so. For instance, when it comes to the economy the Federal Reserve controls the money supply, not the president. And Congress has the final say on fiscal policy. But both react to consumer behavior, following rather than leading.

The flip side is in foreign policy and military affairs. While Congress provides the money, it is the president directing the diplomatic and military prowess of the country, both soft power and hard power. Public support for overseas decisions is still needed, of course. But, in this instance, the people at large are led rather than lead.

The dire situation in a country with a landmass the size of Texas, 5,000 miles from our eastern shore, is affecting and will continue to affect all of us here at home. Energy prices have increased due to the sanctions on Russian oil and natural gas. Food prices will continue to climb as staples like wheat and corn exported from both Russia and Ukraine will be restricted worldwide. And we are not even the ones at war.

Our decisions, the decisions by the European Union and NATO and even financial sanctions imposed by the historically neutral Switzerland will be felt in our wallets and purses without a shot being fired by any of the aforementioned.

To influence from here what we can in Eastern Europe, in kindred support of like-minded people “yearning to breathe free,” we should be willing to bear some modicum of sacrifice and exercise compassion, literally meaning “to suffer with.” It is truly in our national interest.

The cause of the crisis stems from one man. We can only hope that the tyrant’s own citizens create a second front at home, one that cannot be ignored and will be hard to cow. He can’t poison or jail them all. And we hope that the Russian military sees the folly in the unilaterally despicable actions and seeks a way out. Just say, “We won!” Then leave.

So, who is the Master, who is the Commander? In naval conflict, it is the sea. With the marketplace activity of buying and selling, the sine qua non is the one who sustains and endures. Like the sea, the people are, indeed, the essential element.

Craig Douglass serves as executive director of the Regional Recycling & Waste Reduction District in Pulaski County.