Brian Howey: Our leaders warn of the coming cataclysm

NOTRE DAME — Our world is on fire. Our leaders are warning of a coming cataclysm.

Purdue University President Mung Chiang told the U.S. Global Leadership forum in Indianapolis that the human race is facing the most dire conditions “since 1939.”

U.S. Sen. Todd Young told a “Future of Democracy” Forum at the University of Notre Dame recently that “We live in a perilous world. This is the most dangerous time in my lifetime, from a geopolitical standpoint.”

Young’s Democratic colleague, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, said at Notre Dame, “We’re at one of those hinge points in history where there are dramatic changes unfolding strategically in several theaters around the world at the same time.”

These leaders are citing Russia’s genocidal invasion of Ukraine, creating the most dangerous European military confrontation since World War II; the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel and the Jewish state’s ferocious response; and China’s threatening actions aimed at Taiwan and the South China Sea. In addition, there is Iran’s widespread aid to terror networks such as Hamas and Hezbollah that are threatening a broader Middle East conflict, and North Korea’s continued development of intercontinental nuclear weapons.

In 2002, President George W. Bush cited “Iran, Iraq and North Korea” as the “axis of evil.” Two decades later, a new axis is on steroids.

“Believe it or not all of these hotspots are connected, in multiple ways,” Young said. “They are connected because Xi, Putin, and Iran collaborate on their major activities.”

“[Journalist] Anne Applebaum has characterized this collaboration as ‘Autocracy Inc.,’” Young said. “Unlike in the Cold War where you had collaboration because of ideological reasons, they invested themselves in communist ideology and their aim was to coordinate activities and foment a global revolution to ensure their side wins. This is different in the sense that there is no ideology underneath it.”

For added consternation, the planet continues to heat up (last summer was the hottest on record and the eight warmest years have all occurred since 2015), triggering widespread migration from Africa, Central America and Asia.

And there is the political instability tormenting the United States, as former President Donald J. Trump remains the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination despite facing 91 criminal charges. Should he be nominated next year, Trump would face a rematch with the oldest U.S. president in history when President Biden will be 82 years old.

While a third Trump Republican nomination never came up during these two forums, he was an underlying element. “There is a coordination and collaboration … so that autocrats can stay in power,” Young said. “That’s it. It’s about staying in power. That is their end game. To elevate and venerate themselves and expand their power.”

When President Chiang cited “1939,” that was in reference to that was the year World War II started with Germany’s invasion of Poland, ending six years later when the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. There were 15 million battlefield deaths in that conflict along with 25 million wounded, while civilian deaths were estimated to be 45 million, including 7 million in the Holocaust.

As this unrest and apocalyptic violence spreads from Ukraine and Gaza, Young’s Republican Party appears to be returning to its isolationist tendencies that last occurred before World War II.

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, the GOP frontrunner for Indiana’s U.S. Senate seat open in 2024, now opposes further funding for Ukraine. So does Young’s Senate colleague, Mike Braun, who said this week, “I fully support Speaker Johnson’s plan to support our ally Israel in their fight against Hamas terrorists in a standalone bill with the funds offset by cuts to President Biden’s bloated $80 billion IRS budget. These are two separate and unrelated conflicts …”

Punchbowl News reported recently that support for Ukraine among congressional Republicans is eroding quickly. Both Young and Coons reference the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, signed by Ukraine, the U.S., the United Kingdom and Russia. “Ukraine had the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world and they voluntarily gave it up,” Coons said. “That is now being tested. Is our word worth anything?”

Young added, “It was not forgotten we made that agreement. They are looking to us for our credibility. The world is paying attention.”

Young told the Global Coalition that supporting the Israeli and Ukrainian armies is a no-brainer. “There are no boots on the ground,” he said of U.S. aid stopping well short of putting U.S. forces into combat. “It is expensive. But what I would argue is it would be even more expensive if you had to put boots on the ground.”

Asked by host Liz Schrayer at the Global Leadership Conference what it’s worth for America to be engaged in the world, Young responded: “Our nation was founded on universal principles that apply to all of humanity for all time: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that exist within a universal framework. You have to be engaged in the world to defend those foundational principles.”

At Notre Dame, Young said, “Only by reengaging with each other as people can we get out of the rabbit hole our politics has been pulled into.”

Brian Howey is is managing editor of Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs at, where this column was previously published. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol. Send comments to [email protected].