Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, March 26, 2022
White Christian Nationalists and the January 6th Insurrection
We haven’t paid enough attention to the role of right-wing Christian nationalism in driving Trump’s effort to destroy our political order, and in the abandonment of democracy among some on the right more broadly.
In invoking Jesus’ support for Trump’s effort to overturn the election, [Trump aid Mark] Meadows — who handled evangelical outreach in the White House — was not merely making an offhand comment. He was speaking in a vein that has held wide currency among the Christian nationalist right throughout the Trump years, right through the insurrection attempt.
Sarah Posner, a scholar of the Christian right, has extensively documented the role of that movement in supporting and lending grass-roots energy to the effort to overturn the election procedurally, and even in fomenting the insurrection itself.
The rhetoric from the Christian right about Trump has long sounded very much like that exchange between Meadows and [Ginni] Thomas. In a piece tracing that rhetoric, Posner concludes that for many on the Christian right, Trump was “anointed” by God as “the fulfillment of a long-sought goal of restoring the United States as a Christian nation.”
In this narrative, Trump — despite his glaring and repugnant personal imperfections — became the vessel to carry out the struggle to defeat various godless and secularist infestations of the idealized Christian nation, from the woke to globalists to communists to the “deep state.”
This culminated with the effort to overturn the election and the lead-up to the Jan. 6 rally that morphed into the mob assault. As Posner documents, Christian-right activists developed a “bellicose Christian narrative in defense of Trump’s coup attempt,” investing it with biblical significance and casting it as “holy war against an illegitimate state.”
That illegitimate state, of course, is our democracy. And so, when Thomas and Meadows text about the religious dimensions of the coup attempt, they’re echoing much of what we’ve long heard from the Christian right about it.
To be fair, some Christian voices roundly condemned the Jan. 6 violence. But on the day itself, there were many Christian symbols of various kinds visible throughout the “Stop the Steal” rally crowd, as Robert Jones, the founder and CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, has documented.
“The evidence for White Christian nationalism’s importance to the effort to overthrow the election was right before our eyes on Jan. 6,” Jones told me. “It was in the signs that were carried. It brought a veneer of divine blessing on the violence and the insurrection.”
Christian nationalism has at different times focused on varying enemies of its vision of a Christian nation. But the through line here is that multidenominational, multiracial democracy is producing a country that is unacceptable to the Christian nationalist vision, Jones notes.
Which is why reckoning with the role of this movement in the turn against democracy is important. “It is a violent reclamation movement,” Jones told me. “If we’re going to move into the promise of a multi-religious, multiethnic democracy, these forces are going to have to be confronted.”
In his diatribe about Meadows’s invocation of Jesus, [Joe] Scarborough said: “He’s right — it was a fight between good and evil. He’s just got the jerseys mixed up.” Scarborough repeated that this is a “sickness.”
But this movement runs a whole lot deeper than Meadows and Thomas. And it isn’t going anywhere.
These people are a clear and present danger. People need to understand the viciousness of members of this movement and their mindset that the end goal justifies the means regardless of the harm done to others. These are not you church bake sale ladies - they are armed and dangerous.
Friday, March 25, 2022
Ginni Thomas Is Destroying the U.S. Supreme Court
Virginia Thomas, a conservative activist married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, repeatedly pressed White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to pursue unrelenting efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in a series of urgent text exchanges in the critical weeks after the vote, according to copies of the messages obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News.
The messages — 29 in all — reveal an extraordinary pipeline between Virginia Thomas, who goes by Ginni, and President Donald Trump’s top aide during a period when Trump and his allies were vowing to go to the Supreme Court in an effort to negate the election results.
When Meadows wrote to Thomas on Nov. 24, the White House chief of staff invoked God to describe the effort to overturn the election. “This is a fight of good versus evil,” Meadows wrote. “Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues. I have staked my career on it. Well at least my time in DC on it.”
Thomas replied: “Thank you!! Needed that! This plus a conversation with my best friend just now… I will try to keep holding on. America is worth it!”
It is unclear to whom Thomas was referring.
The messages, which do not directly reference Justice Thomas or the Supreme Court, show for the first time how Ginni Thomas used her access to Trump’s inner circle to promote and seek to guide the president’s strategy to overturn the election results — and how receptive and grateful Meadows said he was to receive her advice. Among Thomas’s stated goals in the messages was for lawyer Sidney Powell [now facing possible disbarment], who promoted incendiary and unsupported claims about the election, to be “the lead and the face” of Trump’s legal team.
The content of messages between Thomas and Meadows — 21 sent by her, eight by him – has not previously been reported. They were reviewed by The Post and CBS News and then confirmed by five people who have seen the committee’s documents.
Meadows’s attorney, George Terwilliger III, confirmed the existence of the 29 messages between his client and Thomas. In reviewing the substance of the messages Wednesday, he said that neither he nor Meadows would comment on individual texts.
Ginni Thomas did not respond to multiple requests for comment made Thursday by email and phone. Justice Thomas, who has been hospitalized for treatment of an infection, did not respond to a request for comment made through the Supreme Court’s public information office.
Shortly after providing the 2,320 messages, Meadows ceased cooperating with the committee, arguing that any further engagement could violate Trump’s claims of executive privilege. Committee members and aides said they believe the messages may be just a portion of the pair’s total exchanges.
The revelation of Thomas’s messages with Meadows comes three weeks after lawyers for the committee said in a court filing that the panel has “a good-faith basis for concluding that the President and members of his Campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States” and obstruct the counting of electoral votes by Congress.
Trump spoke publicly during this period about his intent to contest the election results in the Supreme Court.
Justice Thomas, 73, is the Supreme Court’s longest-serving current justice and has missed oral arguments this week because of his hospitalization. He has made few public comments about the 2020 election. In February 2021, when the Supreme Court rejected election challenges filed by Trump and his allies, Thomas wrote in a dissent that it was “baffling” and “inexplicable” that the majority had decided against hearing the cases because he believed the Supreme Court should provide states with guidance for future elections.
In her text messages to Meadows, Ginni Thomas spread false theories, commented on cable news segments and advocated with urgency and fervor that the president and his team take action to reverse the outcome of the election. She urged that they take a hard line with Trump staffers and congressional Republicans who had resisted arguments that the election was stolen.
Here are excerpts from the Post column that looks at Justice Thomas' glaring conflicts of interest due to his wife's uncontrolled activities:
Ginni Thomas’s name stood out among the signatories of a December letter from conservative leaders, which blasted the work of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection as “overtly partisan political persecution.”
One month later, her husband, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, took part in a case crucial to the same committee’s work: former president Donald Trump’s request to block the committee from getting White House records that were ordered released by President Biden and two lower courts.
Thomas was the only justice to say he would grant Trump’s request.
That vote has reignited fury among Clarence Thomas’s critics, who say it illustrates a gaping hole in the court’s rules: Justices essentially decide for themselves whether they have a conflict of interest, and Thomas has rarely made such a choice in his three decades on the court.
While the Supreme Court is supposed to operate under regulations guiding all federal judges, including a requirement that a justice “shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” there’s no procedure to enforce that rule. . . . Thomas has never bowed out of a case due to alleged conflicts with his wife’s activism, according to Roth. . . . In a number of instances, her activism has overlapped with cases that have been decided by Clarence Thomas.
“It doesn’t get more partisan than sending a letter to the Republican caucus” criticizing the Jan. 6 committee, said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), author of several bills that would require an independent review to determine when Supreme Court justices should recuse. He said in an interview that Clarence Thomas’s conflicts with his wife’s work make him “the poster child” for passing the ethics legislation.
Caroline Fredrickson, a Georgetown University law professor who served on the White House commission, said that she could think of no precedent for Thomas’s decision to rule on issues closely linked to his wife’s activism.
“In every case that has come up, he has shown no interest in recusal and has in fact seemingly been defiant,” Fredrickson said. “To be a Supreme Court justice and to be married to a firebrand activist who’s trying to blow things up” is unique. “It’s so out of bounds that if it weren’t so frightening, it would be comical.”
Ginni Thomas’ claim in 2000 that she doesn’t talk to her husband about Supreme Court business now seems laughable. Is there a single opinion that Justice Thomas has ever written that is inconsistent with his wife’s far right-wing views?”
Thursday, March 24, 2022
Americans Are Leaving Church and Not Coming Back
In the report, Generation Z and the future of faith in America, Daniel A. Cox, senior fellow in polling and public opinion at the American Enterprise Institute, who also serves as director of the Survey Center on American Life, paints a complicated and diminished view of religion in American life.
Much of the disaffection for religion today is largely driven by people who were once religious. There is a growing population of the religiously unaffiliated whose once religious parents raised them without religion.
“Young adults today have had entirely different religious and social experiences than previous generations did. The parents of millennials and Generation Z did less to encourage regular participation in formal worship services and model religious behaviors in their children than had previous generations,” Cox wrote. “Many childhood religious activities that were once common, such as saying grace, have become more of the exception than the norm.”
With more parents raising their children with weak or no bond to a faith community, it’s a lot more difficult for them to be converted in adulthood.
For nearly 30 years, notes Cox, research shows the share of Americans who identify as religious has consistently declined with each new generation.
“This pattern continues with Generation Z demonstrating less attachment to religion than the millennial generation did,” he said.
Generation Z, born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is now the least religious generation yet, with 34% of them identifying as religiously unaffiliated. Among millennials, 29% identify as religiously unaffiliated, while Generation X stands at 25%. Only 18% of baby boomers and 9% of the silent generation identify as religiously unaffiliated.
“It’s not only a lack of religious affiliation that distinguishes Generation Z. They are also far more likely to identify as atheist or agnostic,” Cox said, noting that some 18% of the cohort identified as either atheist or agnostic.
Cox pointed to a number of factors that have impacted a diminished view of organized religion, including a breach of trust.
“Gallup has found that trust and confidence in organized religion have plummeted over the past two decades. In 2021, only 37% of the public reported having a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in religious institutions, a massive decline since 2001 when 60 percent reported feeling confident,” he said.
He further added that while only 35% of Americans overall believe religion causes more harm than good, among the disaffiliated who were raised in religious homes, 69% say religion causes problems more than it provides solutions. Some 63% of Americans who have always been religiously unaffiliated also believe religion causes more problems in society than it solves.
Only 40% of Gen Z see raising children with religion as a good thing.
Why It Is Crucial Ukraine Wins
The war in Ukraine has reached a turning point. The Russian troops that invaded the country from the north, south, and east are now scarcely moving. They have targeted schools, hospitals, apartment buildings, and a theater sheltering children, but they are not yet in control even of the places they occupy. And no wonder: Few Ukrainians are willing to collaborate with the occupiers. The overwhelming majority, more than 90 percent, believe they will defeat them. The Ukrainian army refuses to surrender, even in cities badly damaged by bombardment.
Russian planners expected the entire war, the conquest of Ukraine, to last no more than six weeks. More than half that time has already passed. There must be an endgame, a moment when the conflict stops. The Ukrainians, and the democratic powers that support Ukraine, must work toward a goal. That goal should not be a truce, or a muddle, or a decision to maintain some kind of Ukrainian resistance over the next decade, or a vow to “bleed Russia dry,” or anything else that will prolong the fighting and the instability. That goal should be a Ukrainian victory.
[I]n this war, victory can be imagined without difficulty. It means that Ukraine remains a sovereign democracy, with the right to choose its own leaders and make its own treaties. There will be no pro-Russian puppet regime in Kyiv, no need for a prolonged Ukrainian resistance, no continued fighting. The Russian army retreats back over the borders. Maybe those borders could change, or maybe Ukraine could pledge neutrality, but that is for the Ukrainians to decide and not for outsiders to dictate. Maybe international peacekeepers are needed. Whatever happens, Ukraine must have strong reasons to believe that Russian troops will not quickly return.
Imagine, too, the consequences of such a victory. In Washington, most people have long believed that Ukraine is part of a regional conflict, and that Ukraine is a piece of territory that the Russians care more about than we do and always will. But this is no longer true. The Ukrainians, and especially their president, Volodymyr Zelensky, have made their cause a global one by arguing that they fight for a set of universal ideas—for democracy, yes, but also for a form of civic nationalism, based on patriotism and a respect for the rule of law; for a peaceful Europe, where disputes are resolved by institutions and not warfare; for resistance to dictatorship.
This language is effective because it evokes the principles that bind together the majority of Europeans, Americans, and many other people around the world, reminding them of how much worse the world was in the bloodier past, and how much worse it could be in the future if those principles no longer matter. The words Zelensky uses also reverberate because they are true. A victory for Ukraine really will be a victory for all who believe in democracy and the rule of law. Citizens of existing democracies and members of the democratic opposition in Russia, Cuba, Belarus, and Hong Kong will all be emboldened. . . . The institutions protecting the states that embody those ideas, most notably the European Union and NATO, will be strengthened too.
Zelensky’s words resonated further because the Russians have also given this conflict enormous significance. The Russian foreign minister has just declared that this war will change global politics: “This is not about Ukraine at all, but the world order. The current crisis is a fateful, epoch-making moment in modern history. It reflects the battle over what the world order will look like.” . . . Vladimir Putin had planned for the Russian army to impose Russia’s autocratic, kleptocratic political system on all of Ukraine. Already, the Russian occupation of some eastern-Ukrainian towns resembles the Soviet occupation of Central Europe at the end of World War II. Public officials and civic leaders—mayors and police but also members of Parliament, journalists, museum curators—have been arrested and not seen since. Civilians have been terrorized at random.
In the case of a Russian victory, these tactics would be applied all over Ukraine, creating mass terror, mass violence, and instability for years to come. And, yes, if we accept that outcome, autocrats from Minsk to Caracas to Beijing will take note: Genocide is now allowed.
Precisely because the stakes are so high, the next few weeks will be extremely dangerous. Putin will do what he can to create fear. The extraordinary speech he made last week, describing Russian critics of the war as “scum,” “traitors,” and “gnats,” had exactly that purpose. He spoke of Russia’s need for “self-purification” using a word with the same root as purge, the term that Stalin used when ordering the liquidation of his enemies. Putin is deliberately evoking the worst and bloodiest era of Soviet history to avoid even a hint of domestic opposition. He has just thrown away 30 years of economic gains . . . He seems to believe that only elevated levels of fear will prevent them from protesting, once they understand what has happened to their country. He may be right.
Putin and his propagandists are dropping hints about chemical and nuclear weapons for the same reason. They want outsiders, and especially Americans, to fear the consequences of helping Ukraine. . . . all of that has a purpose. So does the strange, ranting, anti-Polish letter issued by Dimitri Medvedev, the Putin crony who briefly served as president of Russia before Putin decided he wanted the job back again. This screed contained insults, veiled threats, and an old Soviet-era complaint that the Poles were “ungrateful” that the Red Army pushed Hitler out of Poland, and then established a brutal new occupation regime in Hitler’s wake. Among other things, Medvedev was sending a reminder: Poland could be next. The recent Russian strike on a base near the Polish border sent the same message.
How should the West respond? There is only one rule: We cannot be afraid. Russia wants us to be afraid—so afraid that we are crippled by fear, that we cannot make decisions, that we withdraw altogether, leaving the way open for a Russian conquest of Ukraine, and eventually of Poland or even further into Europe. Putin remembers very well an era when Soviet troops controlled the eastern half of Germany. But the threat to those countries will not decrease if Russia carries out massacres in Ukraine. It will grow.
Instead of fear, we should focus on a Ukrainian victory. Once we understand that this is the goal, then we can think about how to achieve it, whether through temporary boycotts of Russian gas, oil, and coal; military exercises elsewhere in the world that will distract Russian troops; humanitarian airlifts on the scale of 1948 Berlin; or more and better weapons.
[T]he strategy has to be clear. A month ago, nobody believed this war would matter so much, and I’m sure many people wish it did not. But it does. That’s why every move we make must have a single goal: How does it help Ukraine win?
“It’s not our war” was something we might have been able to say three weeks ago. Not now.
I agree with the author's analysis.
Wednesday, March 23, 2022
The Right's Never Ending School Wars
In 1925, Lela V. Scopes, twenty-eight, was turned down for a job teaching mathematics at a high school in Paducah, Kentucky, her home town. She had taught in the Paducah schools before going to Lexington to finish college at the University of Kentucky. But that summer her younger brother, John T. Scopes, was set to be tried for the crime of teaching evolution in a high-school biology class in Dayton, Tennessee, in violation of state law, and Lela Scopes had refused to denounce either her kin or Charles Darwin. It didn’t matter that evolution doesn’t ordinarily come up in an algebra class. And it didn’t matter that Kentucky’s own anti-evolution law had been defeated. “Miss Scopes loses her post because she is in sympathy with her brother’s stand,” the Times reported.
In the nineteen-twenties, legislatures in twenty states, most of them in the South, considered thirty-seven anti-evolution measures. Kentucky’s bill, proposed in 1922, had been the first. It banned teaching, or countenancing the teaching of, “Darwinism, atheism, agnosticism, or the theory of evolution in so far as it pertains to the origin of man.”. . . Tennessee’s law, passed in 1925, made it a crime for teachers in publicly funded schools “to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” Scopes challenged the law deliberately, as part of an effort by the A.C.L.U. to bring a test case to court.
A century later, the battle over public education that afflicted the nineteen-twenties has started up again, this time over the teaching of American history. Since 2020, with the murder of George Floyd and the advance of the Black Lives Matter movement, seventeen states have made efforts to expand the teaching of one sort of history, sometimes called anti-racist history, while thirty-six states have made efforts to restrict that very same kind of instruction.
Some ban the Times’ 1619 Project, or ethnic studies, or training in diversity, inclusion, and belonging, or the bugbear known as critical race theory. Most, like a bill recently introduced in West Virginia, prohibit “race or sex stereotyping,” “race or sex scapegoating,” and the teaching of “divisive concepts”
In Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin set up an e-mail tip line “for parents to send us any instances where they feel that their fundamental rights are being violated . . . or where there are inherently divisive practices in their schools.” There and elsewhere, parents are harassing school boards and reporting on teachers, at a time when teachers, who earn too little and are asked to do too much, are already exhausted by battles over remote instruction and mask and vaccine mandates and, not least, by witnessing, without being able to repair, the damage the pandemic has inflicted on their students.
Consider the dilemma of teachers in New Mexico. In January, the month before the state’s Public Education Department finalized a new social-studies curriculum that includes a unit on inequality and justice in which students are asked to “explore inequity throughout the history of the United States and its connection to conflict that arises today,” Republican lawmakers proposed a ban on teaching “the idea that social problems are created by racist or patriarchal societal structures and systems.” The law, if passed, would make the state’s own curriculum a crime.
In the nineteen-twenties, the curriculum in question was biology; in the twenty-twenties, it’s history. Both conflicts followed a global pandemic and fights over public education that pitted the rights of parents against the power of the state. It’s not clear who’ll win this time. It’s not even clear who won last time. But the distinction between these two moments is less than it seems: what was once contested as a matter of biology—can people change?—has come to be contested as a matter of history.
Still, this fight isn’t really about history. It’s about political power. Conservatives believe they can win midterm elections, and maybe even the Presidency, by whipping up a frenzy about “parents’ rights,” and many are also in it for another long game, a hundred years’ war: the campaign against public education.
Progressives fought for children’s welfare and children’s health, establishing children’s hospitals and, in 1912, the U.S. Children’s Bureau. Mandatory school attendance was closely tied to two other Progressive reforms that extended the state’s reach into the lives of parents and children: compulsory vaccination and the abolition of child labor.
Anti-evolution laws, usually understood as fundamentalism’s response to modernity, emerged from this conflict between parents and the state. So did the teaching of biology, a new subject that stood at the very center of Progressive-era public education. At the time, parents, not schools, paid for and provided schoolbooks, so they had a close acquaintance with what their kids were being taught. The textbook that John Scopes used in Tennessee was a 1914 edition of George William Hunter’s “A Civic Biology,” published by the American Book Company. More than a guide to life on earth, “Civic Biology” was a civics primer, a guide to living in a democracy.
“Civic Biology” promoted Progressive public-health campaigns, all the more urgent in the wake of the 1918 influenza pandemic, stressing the importance of hygiene, vaccination, and quarantine.
When anti-evolutionists condemned “evolution,” they meant something as vague and confused as what people mean, today, when they condemn “critical race theory.” Anti-evolutionists weren’t simply objecting to Darwin, whose theory of evolution had been taught for more than half a century. They were objecting to the whole Progressive package, including its philosophy of human betterment, its model of democratic citizenship, and its insistence on the interest of the state in free and equal public education as a public good that prevails over the private interests of parents.
Black intellectuals and Black reporters didn’t think the new law had anything to do with evolution; it had to do with an understanding of history. All Tennessee’s lawmakers know about evolution, the Chicago Defender suggested, “is that the entire human race is supposed to have started from a common origin. Therein lies their difficulty.” If they were to accept evolution, then they would have to admit that “there is no fundamental difference between themselves and the race they pretend to despise.”
During the trial, H. L. Mencken ridiculed Bryan (a “mountebank”) and fundamentalists (“poor half wits”): “He has these hillbillies locked up in his pen and he knows it.” But W. E. B. Du Bois found very little to laugh about. “Americans are now endeavoring to persuade hilarious and sarcastic Europe that Dayton, Tennessee, is a huge joke, and very, very exceptional,” he wrote. “The truth is and we know it: Dayton, Tennessee, is America: a great, ignorant, simple-minded land.”
Scopes, in the end, was found guilty (a verdict that was later reversed on a technicality), but Tennessee had been humiliated in the national press. . . . But the battle was far from over. “The Fundamentalists have merely changed their tactics,” one commentator observed in 1930. They had given up on passing laws. “Primarily, they are concentrating today on the emasculation of textbooks, the ‘purging’ of libraries, and above all the continued hounding of teachers.” That went on for a long time. It’s still going on.
By the end of the nineteen-fifties, segregationists had begun using a new catchphrase: “school choice,” maybe because it would have been confusing to call for “parents’ rights” when they were also arguing for “states’ rights.” In Mississippi, opponents of segregation founded Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS. Advocates for “choice” sought government reimbursement for private-school tuition costs, in the name of allowing the free market to drive educational innovation. The free market, unsurprisingly, widened the very inequalities that public education aims to narrow.
A century ago, parents who objected to evolution were rejecting the entire Progressive package. Today’s parents’-rights groups, like Moms for Liberty, are objecting to a twenty-first-century Progressive package. They’re balking at compulsory vaccination and masking, and some of them do seem to want to destroy public education. They’re also annoyed at the vein of high-handedness, moral crusading, and snobbery that stretches from old-fashioned Progressivism to the modern kind, laced with the same contempt for the rural poor and the devoutly religious.
But across the past century, behind parents’ rights, lies another unbroken strain: some Americans’ fierce resistance to the truth that, just as all human beings share common ancestors biologically, all Americans have common ancestors historically.
In the end, no matter what advocates of parents’ rights say, and however much political power they might gain, public schools don’t have a choice; they’ve got to teach, as American history, the history not only of the enslaved Africans who arrived in Virginia in 1619 and the English families who sailed to Plymouth on the Mayflower in 1620, but also that of the Algonquian peoples, who were already present in both places, alongside the ongoing stories of all other Indigenous peoples, and those who came afterward—the Dutch, German, Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Cambodian, Guatemalan, Japanese, Sikh, Hmong, Tunisian, Afghan, everyone. That’s why parents don’t have a right to choose the version of American history they like best, a story of only their own family’s origins. Instead, the state has an obligation to welcome children into that entire history, their entire inheritance.
Tuesday, March 22, 2022
Is It Possible Ukraine Is Winning Over Russia?
When I visited Iraq during the 2007 surge, I discovered that the conventional wisdom in Washington usually lagged the view from the field by two to four weeks. Something similar applies today. Analysts and commentators have grudgingly declared that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been blocked, and that the war is stalemated. The more likely truth is that the Ukrainians are winning.
So why can’t Western analysts admit as much? Most professional scholars of the Russian military first predicted a quick and decisive Russian victory; then argued that the Russians would pause, learn from their mistakes, and regroup; then concluded that the Russians would actually have performed much better if they had followed their doctrine; and now tend to mutter that everything can change, that the war is not over, and that the weight of numbers still favors Russia. Their analytic failure will be only one of the elements of this war worth studying in the future.
At the same time, there are few analysts of the Ukrainian military—a rather more esoteric specialty—and thus the West has tended to ignore the progress Ukraine has made since 2014, thanks to hard-won experience and extensive training by the United States, Great Britain, and Canada. The Ukrainian military has proved not only motivated and well led but also tactically skilled, integrating light infantry with anti-tank weapons, drones, and artillery fire to repeatedly defeat much larger Russian military formations. The Ukrainians are not merely defending their strong points in urban areas but maneuvering from and between them, following the Clausewitzian dictum that the best defense is a shield of well-directed blows.
The reluctance to admit what is happening on the ground in Ukraine stems perhaps in part from the protectiveness scholars feel for their subject (even if they loathe it on moral grounds), but more from a tendency to emphasize technology (the Russians have some good bits), numbers (which they dominate, though only up to a point), and doctrine. . . . . But the war has forcibly drawn attention to the human dimension. For example, most modern militaries rely on a strong cadre of noncommissioned officers. Sergeants make sure that vehicles are maintained and exercise leadership in squad tactics. The Russian NCO corps is today, as it has always been, both weak and corrupt. And without capable NCOs, even large numbers of technologically sophisticated vehicles deployed according to a compelling doctrine will end up broken or abandoned, and troops will succumb to ambushes or break under fire.
The evidence that Ukraine is winning this war is abundant, if one only looks closely at the available data. The absence of Russian progress on the front lines is just half the picture, obscured though it is by maps showing big red blobs, which reflect not what the Russians control but the areas through which they have driven. The failure of almost all of Russia’s airborne assaults, its inability to destroy the Ukrainian air force and air-defense system, and the weeks-long paralysis of the 40-mile supply column north of Kyiv are suggestive. Russian losses are staggering—between 7,000 and 14,000 soldiers dead, depending on your source, which implies (using a low-end rule of thumb about the ratios of such things) a minimum of nearly 30,000 taken off the battlefield by wounds, capture, or disappearance. Such a total would represent at least 15 percent of the entire invading force, enough to render most units combat ineffective. And there is no reason to think that the rate of loss is abating—in fact, Western intelligence agencies are briefing unsustainable Russian casualty rates of a thousand a day.
Add to this the repeated tactical blundering visible on videos even to amateurs: vehicles bunched up on roads, no infantry covering the flanks, no closely coordinated artillery fire, no overhead support from helicopters, and panicky reactions to ambushes. The 1-to-1 ratio of vehicles destroyed to those captured or abandoned bespeaks an army that is unwilling to fight.
The Russian army has committed well more than half its combat forces to the fight. Behind those forces stands very little. Russian reserves have no training to speak of (unlike the U.S. National Guard or Israeli or Finnish reservists), and Putin has vowed that the next wave of conscripts will not be sent over, although he is unlikely to abide by that promise. . . . Domestic discontent has been suppressed, but bubbles up as brave individuals protest and hundreds of thousands of tech-savvy young people flee.
If Russia is engaging in cyberwar, that is not particularly evident. Russia’s electronic-warfare units have not shut down Ukrainian communications. Half a dozen generals have gotten themselves killed either by poor signal security or trying desperately to unstick things on the front lines. And then there are the negative indicators on the other side—no Ukrainian capitulations, no notable panics or unit collapses, and precious few local quislings, . . . And reports have emerged of local Ukrainian counterattacks and Russian withdrawals.
The coverage has not always emphasized these trends. As the University of St. Andrews’s Phillips P. O’Brien has argued, pictures of shattered hospitals, dead children, and blasted apartment blocks accurately convey the terror and brutality of this war, but they do not convey its military realities. To put it most starkly: If the Russians level a town and slaughter its civilians, they are unlikely to have killed off its defenders, who will do extraordinary and effective things from the rubble to avenge themselves on the invaders.
Most commentators have taken too narrow a view of this conflict, presenting it as solely between Russia and Ukraine. Like most wars, though, it is being waged by two coalitions, fought primarily though not exclusively by Russian and Ukrainian nationals. The Russians have some Chechen auxiliaries. . . . and find a half-hearted ally in Belarus, whose citizens have begun sabotaging its rail lines and whose army may well mutiny if asked to invade Ukraine.
The Ukrainians have their auxiliaries, too, . . . . More important, they have behind them the military industries of countries including the United States, Sweden, Turkey, and the Czech Republic. Flowing into Ukraine every day are thousands of advanced weapons: the best anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles in the world, plus drones, sniper rifles, and all the kit of war. Moreover, it should be noted that the United States has had exquisite intelligence not only about Russia’s dispositions but about its intentions and actual operations. The members of the U.S. intelligence community would be fools not to share this information, including real-time intelligence, with the Ukrainians. Judging by the adroitness of Ukrainian air defenses and deployments, one may suppose that they are not, in fact, fools.
There is no publicly available evidence of the Russians being able to regroup and resupply on a large scale; there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. If the Ukrainians continue to win, we might see more visible collapses of Russian units and perhaps mass surrenders and desertions. Unfortunately, the Russian military will also frantically double down on the one thing it does well—bombarding towns and killing civilians.
The Ukrainians are doing their part. Now is the time to arm them on the scale and with the urgency needed, as in some cases we are already doing. We must throttle the Russian economy, increasing pressure on a Russian elite that does not, by and large, buy into Vladimir Putin’s bizarre ideology of “passionarity” and paranoid Great Russian nationalism. We must mobilize official and unofficial agencies to penetrate the information cocoon in which Putin’s government is attempting to insulate the Russian people from the news that thousands of their young men will come home maimed, or in coffins, or not at all from a stupid and badly fought war of aggression against a nation that will now hate them forever. We should begin making arrangements for war-crimes trials, and begin naming defendants, as we should have done during World War II. Above all, we must announce that there will be a Marshall Plan to rebuild the Ukrainian economy, for nothing will boost their confidence like the knowledge that we believe in their victory and intend to help create a future worth having for a people willing to fight so resolutely for its freedom.
As for the endgame, it should be driven by an understanding that Putin is a very bad man indeed, but not a shy one. When he wants an off-ramp, he will let us know. Until then, the way to end the war with the minimum of human suffering is to pile on.
Let's hope the author is correct.
Monday, March 21, 2022
The GOP's Continued Assault on Children and Families
Our society claims to love children, admire parents and revere the family. But our public policies send the opposite message.
A June 2021 UNICEF report on where rich countries stand on child care found that the United States ranked 40th.
Yes, you read that right.
Unlike every other well-off democracy, the United States has “never adapted to the needs of families in today’s labor market and economy,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy. “We’ve never responded to so many women with young children being in the workforce.”
This is why a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on child care and preschool deserves more attention than it will probably get.
It’s a particular problem for families with modest incomes. “Parents are paying as much as a mortgage or car payments — or college tuition — each month for child care,” Murray said, “while child-care workers are making less than they could earn at Target.” The UNICEF study found the United States near the top among nations in child-care costs relative to the average wage.
No one can claim to be “pro-family” without being willing to deal with the stresses the modern economy places on family life. In Europe, effective child-care policies have been championed not only by Social Democrats, in keeping with their long history of egalitarianism, but also by Christian Democrats and other moderately conservative parties concerned with strengthening the family.
Republicans who talk a lot about the family — and would like Americans to see their party once again as operating on the responsible center-right — might consider learning from their European counterparts.
Economic interest is at stake as well, since future prosperity depends on a growing labor force. “Businesses need workers,” Murray told me, “but we’re seeing parents opt to stay home, moms especially often, because they can’t find or afford quality child care.” Despite recent job gains, women are still down a net 1.4 million jobs since February 2020, the National Women’s Law Center reported this month.
Our country needs a sensible family policy. That’s why child care, universal pre-K, family leave and an expanded child tax credit were central components of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan. But our debate last year about his proposal rarely got to the merits. It focused instead on the overall size of the plan, what package might get 60 votes in the Senate, and how the resulting legislative train wreck would affect Biden’s poll ratings and the November elections.
Is it too much to ask politicians of various ideological orientations to align their glowing tributes to family life with the world in which families actually live — and struggle?
And have we entirely forgotten the gratitude we expressed during the pandemic’s worst moments for “essential workers”? They’re the people in our labor force who face some of the toughest work-family challenges.
Repeat it a few times: “We’re Number 40!”
Sunday, March 20, 2022
The Other Refugees: Russians Fleeing Putin
In the world as it existed before Russia invaded Ukraine, on February 24th, the Vnukovo International Airport, in Moscow, was a point of departure for weekend-holiday destinations south of the border: Yerevan, Istanbul, Baku. In the first week of March, as tens of thousands of President Vladimir Putin’s troops advanced into Ukraine, Vnukovo teemed with anxious travelers, many of them young. The line for excess baggage split the giant departure hall in half. These people weren’t going for the weekend.
In a coffee shop, a skinny young man with shoulder-length hair and steel-framed glasses sat at a tall counter. “I haven’t done much in the last day,” he told someone through his headphones, sounding more nervous than apologetic. “I’ve been busy with my move. I am flying to Yerevan today, then overland. I’ll be settled tomorrow and back to work.” The flight to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, was later cancelled. Two of my friends who were also scheduled to go to Armenia that day ended up flying seven hours to Ulaanbaatar, then three hours to Seoul, ten to Dubai, and a final three to Yerevan. My friends, a prominent gay journalist and his partner, were among the Russians—more than a quarter of a million, by some estimates—who have left their country since the invasion of Ukraine.
From Moscow, it’s a four-hour flight to Istanbul. There, you could spot the recently arrived: they had the disoriented look best summed up by the Russian expression “hit over the head with a dusty sack.” Snippets of conversations I overheard in the streets concerned possible next destinations. Istanbul is easy to get to, but it’s pricey, and Russian citizens can stay in Turkey for only two months without a visa. At a low table on a restaurant terrace, a crew of Russian journalists in their twenties scrolled through their phones looking for tickets (“There are two seats left to Tbilisi for next Sunday!” “Got one!”); they tried to figure out whether they’d ever be able to access their bank accounts, which were frozen by new restrictions from both Russia and the West; and they watched as the world as they knew it disappeared. . . . Russia was fast becoming an economic pariah: the lights were going out at Ikea, H&M, and Zara. Hundreds of thousands of people were losing their jobs.
My world, too, was vanishing. I moved to New York from Russia eight years ago because of government threats against my family, but most of my friends had remained in Moscow. As political pressure grew, they adjusted. Journalists and academics changed professions. . . . . Now almost everyone I knew was leaving. One long going-away party flowed from house to house. “Party” is the wrong word, of course, although there was a lot of drinking. When people raised a glass to one another, they added a wish to meet again. When they toasted the host’s home, they were drinking to a place they might be seeing for the last time.
Some of the conversations—about elderly parents who couldn’t make the journey, or teen-age children forced to separate from their first loves—were familiar to me from the nineteen-seventies, when a small number of people, mostly Jews, were able to leave the U.S.S.R. But this was different. The old Russian émigrés were moving toward a vision of a better life; the new ones were running from a crushing darkness. “It’s like watching everyone you know turn into a ghost of themselves,” a friend, Ilya Venyavkin, said.
Venyavkin, who is forty, is a historian of the Stalin era. The week the war began, he and his wife, Vera Shengelia, the development director of a foundation that supports adults with mental disabilities, were at their dacha, outside Moscow. They have three kids, ages ten to eighteen, who were at home in Moscow. . . . . After two days in a stupor, he and Shengelia drove back to Moscow, to be with their children. And they started talking about leaving. . . . . They headed to Tbilisi with their two younger children on Wednesday, the seventh day of the war.
People have fled Russia because they fear political persecution, conscription, and isolation; because they dread being locked in an unfamiliar new country that eerily resembles the old Soviet Union; and because staying in a country that is waging war feels immoral, like being inside a plane that’s dropping bombs on people. They have left because the Russia they have built and inhabited is disappearing—and the more people who leave, the faster it disappears.
Dmitry Aleshkovsky is one of the leaders of Russia’s volunteer movement. . . . . When news of the war broke, he knew that this was the end—not of Ukraine, but of Russia. Aleshkovsky, who is thirty-seven, has spent a lot of time thinking about the Gulag. (His great-uncle Yuz is a labor-camp survivor who has described the experience in novels and songs.) Long ago, he concluded that if Putin ever wanted to re-create Stalinist terror there would be nothing to stop him. If he was bombing Ukraine now, he would imprison more of his people before too long. The morning after the war began, Aleshkovsky got in a car with his wife, the film director Anna Dezhurko, and their toddler daughter and drove west, to the Latvian border.
Alexandra Primakova, a forty-two-year-old marketing researcher in Moscow, woke up at seven that Thursday to get her kids ready for school. She saw the news and decided to let her husband, Ilya Kolmanovsky, a forty-five-year-old science educator, sleep a bit longer. Kolmanovsky had been having panic attacks about the possibility of a full-scale war in Ukraine. For a year or so, the couple had discussed leaving the country; both of them had been active in anti-Putin protests. Now they called a large family council in their apartment. By the end of the following week, thirty-three people in their immediate and extended families had left Russia, flying to four different countries. This group included journalists, academics, natural scientists, a developmental psychologist, a doctor, a musician, and a Russian Orthodox deacon.
Lika Kremer, a forty-four-year-old media executive, and her partner, the thirty-eight-year-old podcaster and editor Andrey Babitsky, attended a protest in Pushkin Square on Thursday night. Babitsky had been detained at a protest in September, and a second detention in less than six months could lead to a prison sentence. But they couldn’t not go. . . . . The next day, Kremer and Babitsky flew to Venice for a seventy-fifth-birthday celebration for Kremer’s father, the violinist Gidon Kremer. . . . . He was growing convinced that his family had to leave Russia immediately. Under this new wartime regime, he would either end up in prison or drink himself to death. . . . Ultimately, Kremer and Babitsky went to Riga and then to Tbilisi and arranged for the children to leave Russia with Babitsky’s ex-wife. That group flew out on the eleventh day of the war.
Sergey Golubok, a thirty-seven-year-old lawyer in St. Petersburg, had resolved to stay. He had moved back to Russia ten years earlier, after several years of studying and working in the U.K. and France. He had represented many political activists. . . . on the ninth day of the war, Russia blocked the Web sites of virtually all remaining independent media outlets. If there wasn’t going to be any reporting, Golubok reasoned, he wouldn’t be able to make any difference in the courts. He decided to leave.
They flew. They drove. Golubok and his family walked across the bridge from Ivangorod, in Russia, to Narva, in Estonia—they were once one town. When Primakova, Kolmanovsky, their children, and their French bulldog, Chloe, landed in Yerevan, someone asked, “Are you here for the show?” The person explained, “I assumed there must be a dog show, with so many people coming with dogs.”
Many of those who have left Russia are I.T. professionals; a number of them appear, at least temporarily, to be staying in Yerevan, a regional tech hub. Others are journalists, academics, and N.G.O. leaders, who are landing in Berlin, Tbilisi, Tallinn, and Vilnius. Their departure accelerates a long-running process of shutting down Russia’s civil society, without the state having to persecute and imprison people individually.
Years ago, I found a picture in my great-grandfather’s papers. It was taken in 1913, a year of unprecedented prosperity in Russia. My great-grandfather, then a prominent political journalist in his mid-thirties, was with a group of people, all dressed in white linen, all looking as though they had invented friendship and good living. Most of that group emigrated during the decade of wars and revolutions that followed. My great-grandfather stayed, found ways to work in and around publishing while keeping out of politics, and lost everything he owned and clawed his way back to relative prosperity at least twice. Through the rest of the century, his family lugged around redwood furniture, fine china, and silverware from the glorious past—not as family heirlooms but as objects of use in a country that no longer made such objects. Now Russia was entering another era when things—clothes, furniture, cars—would come primarily from the past.
Sadly, many who want to leave lack the funds to do so or are tied down with elderly parents. Ever since 1917, everyday Russians have been betrayed time and time again by their dictator leaders. Putin seems to want to revive the worse from that past.