For those who have read my memoir, The Boy from Boadua, or heard me give a talk about it, my name could very well be Mr. Optimism. In the book, and in public discussions about its message, I place a lot of emphasis on positivity. I strongly believe that having a healthy dose of optimism is vitally important in life because without it, we cannot effectively summon the energy we need to face the myriad challenges that this world constantly throws at us.

Some people are perhaps wondering why, in light of my stated preference for buoyancy, so many of my current writings sound so gloomy. It would be a legitimate question. I am keenly aware that I am doing something that goes against my principles. But I do it anyway because the alternative would be worse. Given all that is going on around us in the world today, it would be a mistake for me to act as if everything is cheerful.

Disinformation is one of the biggest threats to democratic societies today. Our adversaries, in particular Russia and China, are pulling out all the stops to convince us and the rest of the world that we are racist oppressors, and that our system of government does not work and is not worth believing in. They are succeeding. According to a recent poll by The Economist/YouGov, only 54 percent of U.S. adults ages 18-29 agree with the statement, “Democracy is the greatest form of government.”

Of course that low percentage cannot be blamed entirely on malevolent external actors. Political dysfunction in Washington is partly responsible. Even then, it is not inconceivable that some of our national leaders have themselves succumbed to the disinformation campaigns, judging by the increasing numbers of Putin apologists in Washington.

I had the rare privilege of being one of the relatively few people on the planet who had firsthand knowledge of life on both sides of the Iron Curtain. During my student days in the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991, I traveled extensively throughout Eastern and Western Europe. I got a really good sense of how ordinary people on either side of the curtain felt about their societies and their political systems.

From the thousands of conversations I had with Soviets from all walks of life, I could tell that the vast majority of them didn’t believe in the socialism project. They lived their lives quietly because there was no outlet for their opinions. I was not at all surprised when they hurriedly emigrated in droves as soon as President Mikhail Gorbachev opened the borders. Their leaders had spent all those decades trying to get them to see America as a loathsome nation. Yet, it turned out to be the preferred destination for most of the people who were able to leave.

Capitalism has many rough edges, and skin contact with any of them can be quite painful. For that reason, it is easy to be seduced by the romantic picture of socialism that has been propagated throughout modern history. I have lived in America for thirty-two years now so I have had ample opportunity to swallow some of capitalism’s bitter pills. Because of the exposure that I have had to both systems, I am reasonably well equipped to make an informed judgment about which of them works better in practice. I have certain personal preferences that perhaps influence my verdict, but the direction of travel of those tens of thousands of Soviets who voted with their feet provides a sense of what most people who have actually experienced socialism feel about it.

As a proud American who firmly believes in democratic principles, I have a duty to do what I can to help push back on the tsunami of false narratives and conspiracy theories that our adversaries are actively employing to divide our country. Hence the sharp tone of some of my recent writings. We should have the humility to plead guilty, if warranted, to some of the things they accuse us of. But what we shouldn’t do is to allow them to falsely portray themselves as angels to the rest of the world, while painting us as evil.

The history of my native Ghana has taught me that there is great risk in letting such pernicious narratives take hold within a society. Just a few years after British colonial rule ended in Ghana in 1957, the country’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, tilted the nation onto a socialist path. Before returning to Ghana to lead the struggle for independence, Nkrumah had lived and studied in both America (during the Jim Crow days) and the U.K. Unsurprisingly, he experienced quite a bit of racism in the West that must have left a bitter taste in his mouth. It isn’t difficult to see why he was easily seduced by the utopian portrait of socialism. His problem was that he never had an opportunity to taste socialism in practice, as I did.

That veering of the country off course in those early days did permanent damage. It was a young nation that needed to chart a suitable path for its development. Western-style democracy was not necessarily the best option, as some leading local politicians argued at the time, because of high illiteracy and absence of required institutions. In essence, the seduction of socialism was a giant distraction that prevented the country from going through that necessary exercise to find an appropriate governance system.

The geopolitical jostling that did so much damage to Africa and numerous countries on other continents in the second half of the twentieth century is rearing its ugly head again today. Some African countries, especially in the western part of the continent, are once again falling prey. Their leaders have subscribed to the worldviews of Putin and Xi Jinping, and are already using the playbooks of these authoritarians to govern.

I am certainly not an expert on geopolitics. But I have enough lived experiences that I believe I can use to offer some useful perspectives on these issues that confront us in America today. I had ample opportunity to see the general hopelessness in the eyes of the people who were trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Based on those observations, I became convinced that socialism is a system that strips away a lot of personal dignity. It is not a system that I wish to live under.

Many young Americans are becoming disillusioned with democracy and buying into the notion that our nation is an irredeemably racist oppressor that should no longer be respected. They should know that there are no angels anywhere on this planet. They should also be thankful that they live in a nation that allows individuals the freedoms that so many of us take for granted.