Everywhere is Ukraine.
I would add, to Didion's observation, that for many Americans– especially on the right– we've entered into an age of slogans. Policies are not ideas and ideas are not slogans.
For example, "pro life." Pro-life isn't a policy; it's not an idea. It doesn't address abortion, or unwanted pregnancy. It's a slogan, a battle cry. One reason our political situation has become so unserious, of late, is that our conversations have become inundated with slogans.
Ideas cannot be expressed by tweets, or on TV commercials. They're best expressed in white papers and essays and treatises. Policies follow from ideas, but they're more practical. They also involve tradeoffs, and price tags and consequences. Republicans these days oppose defunding the police. They also oppose funding the police. They want Biden to implement a NFZ over Ukraine. They also don't want to send military troops abroad. They do this on pretty much every issue: no policies, no real ideas even; only slogans.
It hasn't escaped my attention that their voters have been quite miserable for many years now. If I were them, I would be, too. All talk, and no action.
Excellent as always.
Thanks for these newsletters. I like Tim Snyder’s work - he has really studied Eastern Europe and I have read Bloodlands. I plan to read On Tyranny.
I agree that we all need to pay attention to the refugees and do all we can to elevate their suffering - as best we can.
This war will end and I am hopeful that Ukraine will survive as a free, independent state. That said, the longer the war grinds on the more likely it is that more radical elements in Ukraine will coalesce around the hatred of Russia. It is conflicts like this that foster terrorist groups. In this case their focus will be on Russia and Russians but wanton terrorism is never a good thing.
I know it may be premature but I believe the western democracies should be looking at how we can rebuild Ukraine once the conflict is over. Of course we should get Russia to pay for this - confiscate property, asses tariffs on all Russian exports (especially oil &gas). However it is paid for, we need a “Marshal Plan” to rebuild Ukraine and bring them back as quickly as possible. It is clearly the right thing to do but I also believe it may help to mitigate the forming of terrorist groups in Ukraine. I hope that Biden and the other leaders in Western Europe are thinking about this.
Having found the time to read it, I found Didion's piece to be more amusing than profound. So Seventies. The first part was practical advise on how to live in a complex world, then there was her diatribe about the sixties, then she ended it with a grab the gusto paragraph. In her diatribe she complained about language use and blaming it on the sixties. I had to chuckle, I guess she never read George Orwell.
This is not about your great newsletter choices, but I didn’t know the correct way to share this thought with the Bulwark . Anyways, how long before the FSB’s go full Martha Mitchell on Ginny?
All three excellent
Sadly, for me anyway, Didion nailed it. No gain in quibbling about the specifics. Will not change the message.
Hey JVL, correct me if I'm wrong but I haven't heard y'all talk about that poll showing John Fetterman with a big lead in the PA primary race. Do you think he can beat whichever Republican makes it through?
"I’m not sure if knowing that Didion saw the same pathology 50 years ago makes it more, or less, depressing."
I would say that it makes it simultaneously more depressing, and less frightening. Depressing because it's about as solid of proof as you need that this is a "humans being human" thing, and we're going to have to fight it forever. Less scary, though, because it also means that it has also *been with us forever*. Yet, we still managed to vanquish diseases, drag billions out of grinding poverty, and even make it to outer space, even as we wrangled with it. Arguably, the weaker, more moderate version of it helped make those things possible. It's misfortune and hope, walking side-by-side.
I think people like Raffensperger actually do get it and get it quite well, but for the high profile cult GOP members the trump train is a unique cash cow and for some like say MTG the only pathway to $$$. In Raffensperger’s case he is a sellout maybe of the worst type because we know he has a conscience sometimes unlike some of the more narcissistic personalities in that party. Sell outs pretty much make up the entire Republican Party of politicians save a few. They are selling out country for personal gain. That’s why Ukraine is so compelling, hopeful, and sad at the same time. The people are actually giving their lives for their country and democracy, but here we are with the worst of humanity on figurative bullhorns talking about crazy conspiracy gibberish hoping to gain their trump riches. It’s gross.
I'm someone of, I believe, average intelligence. My formal education consists of enough college level classes to qualify for a degree, but do not have one for a couple of reasons. Beyond that, I've read a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff over a lot of years. I'm a "thinker" of sorts, I guess, but I don't think I can fairly describe myself as a "deep" thinker.
I say this because I'm having a problem understanding a small piece of Didion's words and am looking for a little help. I've got a mental flat, have opened the trunk to discover I'm missing the jack needed to make the repair and get back on my way, and am hoping some kindly motorist out there will take a moment to pull over and provide one.
It didn't take me an hour to recognize the quote from the Brazilian guerilla's book as gibberish. It struck me that way as soon as my eyes got to the period at the end of the sentence. The problem I'm having is with what comes in the next paragraph, in which three similes are proffered which are, if I'm taking Didion correctly, also devoid of meaning. I can see "culture at the crossroads" easily enough in that light, but "broken home" and "ask not..." , well they are in the depths of the well that my mind's reach is apparently unable to plumb at the moment as far as being meaningless goes.
Broken home seems to me to have a definite meaning, one which is pretty much recognized and agreed upon. And I am old enough to remember hearing Kennedy speak those words on TV, and even at that young age they had meaning for me, one that I've only more appreciated as I've grown older. So, what am I missing here? I know enough to know that Didon full well knew what she was talking about, so I'm feeling a bit inept in my efforts to put on that spare, and a hand with the jack and the lug wrench would be much appreciated.
The problem here is that people like Raffensberger see no other lane but the party they belong to. The real problem is the party structure and it’s hold on otherwise rational human beings.
Lesson Three is the main reason I can’t go all in with the Democrats. During the recent redistricting here in Virginia, I’ve been moved from a conscientious moderate Democrat’s district, Spanberger’s 7th, to an amoral, hack, machine Democrat’s, McEachin’s 4th. On the bright side, I’ve been removed from a white populist social justice warrior’s House of Delegates’ district, VanValkenburg’s, to a district held by a moderate African-American Democrat, Lamont Bagby. Finally, I’ve been redistricted from the district of a moderate, conscientious Republican to that of a moderate, conscientious Democrat, so that’s a wash. Going forward, I will be happy to vote for Del. Lamont Bagby, where I couldn’t pull the lever for his fellow Democrat, Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg. I will continue to support both my old senator, Republican Siobhan Dunnavant, as well as new senator, Democrat Jennifer McClellan, because they are both genuine people actually working on behalf of their constituents and across the aisle. I appreciate their desire to see government function, instead of grandstanding. However, I cannot in good conscience pull the lever for Rep. Don McEachin, despite the fact that the Republicans lining up to challenge him are a clown show, because I know he’d be just as willing to tear the country apart to advance his political career as any MAGA Teahadist Trumpshevik. I will miss not being able to vote for Abigail Spanberger. As much as we have to stop the Trumpist authoritarians, we also have to work to maintain a two- (or more) party system, and that means continuing to support the few sane Republicans left out there.
Jonathan, I'm glad you were able to track down a digital copy of the Didion piece. Anything she writes is pure gold.
Jonathan used the word decadent to describe our society in a podcast this week. The word says a lot. When I read about crises in the world, death and destruction, and then I parse the news of the day, and reflect on the news of yesterday, so much of it seems like utter nonsense. We’re a decadent people, and I have time believing that anything but a catastrophe of biblical proportions will shake us out of the decline. I think the Joan didion part shook this screed out of me.
"When I look around our public life, I see a great many people in thrall to ideas. People who, because of their ideas, have decided that liberal democracy is no longer important. Or who, because of their ideas, refuse to confront reality." This is important. This should be on The Bulwark masthead. It also ties in to Neil deGrasse Tyson's state: "that revelation that our everyday experience is not a reliable guide to the ultimate nature of reality is a major transition in thought." Far too many people are utterly incapable of making that transition.