The Washington PostThe Washington Post

The limits of performative symbolism

By Robin Givhan

09 Mar 2022 · 5 min read

The geopolitics is blunt. Countries and companies from all segments of the marketplace have shunned Russia to protest its invasion of Ukraine and to create as much pain for the Russian economy as possible. Oil companies, car manufacturers, fast food, luxury fashion houses and a host of other business sectors have ceased dealing with Russia as a matter of international solidarity, offensive strategy and moral imperative. Today, President Joe Biden announced that the United States would stop importing oil and natural gas from Russia. Sports organizations have banned Russian athletes from competition. And nonprofit organizations are lending a hand to Ukrainians who've had to flee their country.

But for the average citizen, what does it take to ease the whiplash that results from the shock of a war that for most remains geographically distant and yet feels perilously near? The existential uneasiness is real: Intellectual discussions of Russia's possible use of nuclear weapons are afoot; conversations about Russian President Vladimir Putin's mental state are on the table. That feeling of helplessness sweeping across the United States isn't lessened by a recitation of historical facts or pithy tweets. It can't be war-gamed away with "If this; then that" scenarios laid out by Washington's great men and lionized women.

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