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Ukraine’s Unexpected Hero

The courage and leadership of comedian-turned-wartime-president Volodymyr Zelensky.
March 3, 2022
Tim Miller's Not My Party: Zelensky: The World's #1 Sigma Male

[Editor’s note: Watch Not My Party every week on Snapchat.]

Narrator (voiceover): The human comedy can take some unexpected turns. Farce becomes drama in an instant.

Phil Black (voiceover): Zelensky’s show-biz career was all comedy and light entertainment. . . . That path has led him to the role of wartime president.

Narrator: And when history comes calling, it is often not the strongman who answers. Underneath their bare, puffed-up chest the soul shrivels, revealing their inner frailty.

Donald Trump: This is genius.

Narrator: Instead it is a humble, ordinary man who digs deep because that hero’s inner strength reveals itself as a swagger that transcends the generations.

Volodymyr Zelensky (in Ukrainian): We are not afraid. . . . Not afraid of anything.

Narrator: That kind of leader becomes a beacon of light that inspires nations and rallies other ordinary people into battle, a symbol who stays with us forever. This is “Not My Party,” brought to you by The Bulwark.

Tim Miller: We talk a lot on the show about the cowards, the conspiracists, and the cranks who’ve been contaminating our politics.

Homer Simpson: They’re embarrassing America.

Miller: So this week I wanted to focus on a political actor who deserves our admiration. There was no reason to expect that Volodymyr Zelensky would morph into a hero. He was a comedian, a reality-show contestant, the voice of Paddington Bear, for God’s sakes.

Paddington Bear (in Ukrainian): Paddington! . . . Oh, sorry.

Miller: Maybe this ludicrous resume was part of the reason an American president thought he could bully him with a phone call.

Trump impersonator (voiceover): Give me some dirt on Sleepy Joe!

Zelensky impersonator (voiceover): I don’t think I can help with that.

Miller: And why the Russian tyrant expected him to fold when he advanced. But in both cases, it was Zelensky who held firm. Just last year in a similar situation, the cowardly Afghanistan president stuffed bags full of cash and fled before the Taliban took over.

Five Hargreeves (Aidan Gallagher in The Umbrella Academy): Inspiring leadership.

Miller: Zelensky could have made a similar calculation. In fact, it’s been reported that America offered to help him flee to exile, since he’s said to be number one on Russia’s kill list. His storied response to that offer will echo through the ages: “I need ammunition, not a ride.” In the ensuing days, he continued inspiring his countrymen and taunting the Russians, posting videos in very recognizable locations, almost as if to say, “Come and get me, mother****ers.”

Dwight Schrute: So badass.

Miller: He gathered his prime minister and top advisers to send a “We are here!” message from the streets of Kyiv.

Zelensky (in Ukrainian): Our troops are here, citizens are here. . . . All of us are here protecting the independence of our country.

Miller: These are the actions of a true sigma male. That leadership has buoyed his people and garnered support from other European countries that had been reluctant to take on Russia in the past.

Brian (Graham Chapman in Monty Python’s Life of Brian): Surely we should be united against the common enemy.

Miller: Here in America, the Putin apologists and strongman fetishists, they’ve been unimpressed. They’ve tried to compliment the Russian savvy—

Trump: So Putin, how smart is that? . . . They’re gonna keep peace all right. . . . He’s very savvy. I know him very well.

Mike Pompeo: He’s very savvy, very shrewd. . . . I have enormous respect for him.

Miller: —and mock Zelensky’s bravery from the comfort of their TV studios.

Laura Ingraham: Kind of a really pathetic display from the Ukrainian president. He was essentially imploring Vladimir Putin not to invade his country.

Miller: But what these useful idiots miss is that strength has nothing to do with acting tough or being a dick.

Narrator: To overcompensate for your small one.

Fletcher Reede (Jim Carrey in Liar Liar): You know it’s true.

Miller: True strength comes from within, and we can’t be certain who has it until they’re tested. Zelensky has risen to the ultimate test.

TV news anchor (voiceover): The Russian military bombed the Holocaust Memorial in Kyiv.

Zelensky (with translator voiceover): Nobody’s gonna break us. We are strong. We are Ukrainians.

Miller: His country remains outmatched militarily, but they have rebuffed Russia’s advances with such determination that they will change history no matter the outcome of this battle. Ukraine has strengthened the resolve of free people in Europe and America and bolstered our alliance in the face of tyranny. It’s happened in no small part thanks to one man’s leadership and courage.

Ukrainian soldier defending Snake Island (voiceover): Russian warship, go **** yourself.

Miller: We’ll see you next week for more “Not My Party.” Peace and Slava Ukraini.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.