The Country is Coming Apart at the Seams. The Moment Demands a New Moral Framework.
It's time to look beyond the culture wars to take a stand against the politics of cruelty.
Americans are not optimistic about the direction of their country. RealClearPolitics aggregates polling data on this measure, and over the past month, only an average of 22.4% of Americans believe the country is headed in the right direction while 70.6% believe the opposite. That’s a yawning 48.2% gap and the highest levels of dissatisfaction recorded so far during the Biden administration.
For the record, Americans generally believe the country isn’t moving in the right direction. Since January 2009, only once—in June 2009—have Americans been more optimistic than pessimistic about the future of the country. Rarely, however, have Americans been as down about their nation’s prospects as they are now. Chalk it up to inflation, the embarrassing withdrawal from Afghanistan, the lingering effects of the pandemic, and our hyperpolarized political environment. It’s been a rough year.
Our national discontent may reach deeper than all that, however. I wouldn’t blame you if you watched the news from Uvalde, Texas, this week and thought the country was coming apart at the seams. For many, what happened there wasn’t just another in a long string of mass shootings but a violent manifestation of our current national berserk. The problem resists mere political, economic, or administrative fixes. It feels more like a collective psychological, moral, even spiritual breakdown.
I said my share about guns last week. You can read it here. It still applies.
This week, however, I want to examine why “[so] many Americans believe the moral fabric of society is fraying,” which is how New York Times columnist David Brooks put it in a recent op-ed essay. You can read his article here. Brooks is a conservative by temperament but not someone you could call a Republican these days. He is inclined toward moderation, admired John McCain, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton, and despised Donald Trump. Brooks is very concerned with virtue and character, believing society should encourage individual moral development, which in turn will foster the continued growth of a morally good society.
Brooks’ article, titled “How Democrats Can Win the Morality Wars,” posits that as Republicans have recently used moral issues to their political advantage, Democrats have floundered because they struggle to connect with citizens at a moral level. He then offers Democrats guidance as to how they can win over morally-minded voters. To some extent, I think Brooks’ thesis is true: Democrats often rely too much on facts and figures when debating matters of right and wrong, which can deprive their arguments of moral force. My issue with Brooks’ article, however, is that he’s applying a moral framework that gained purchase in post-1960s America to today’s moral landscape. It’s an intellectual shortcut that keeps him and the millions of people who still subscribe to its assumptions (including some Democrats who remain reluctant to engage on moral issues) from seeing what truly is morally at stake in America today.
Brooks’ essay begins as a retort to an article by Alex Samuels and Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux published at FiveThirtyEight three months ago titled “Why Democrats Keep Losing the Culture Wars.” Samuels and Thomson-DeVeaux argue Democrats lose such political battles because Republicans weaponize moral issues by using false or misleading claims to rally voters behind their candidates. As examples, the authors cite Republican efforts to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory in K-12 schools (it is rarely if ever taught in those grade levels) and the way conservatives discuss abortion (their focus on late-term abortion, which is extraordinarily rare, has led Americans to be more open to abortion regulations generally.)
Brooks turns to an article by Nate Hochman, a writer for National Review, to knock down Samuels and Thomson-DeVeaux’s arguments. I was unable to read Hochman’s article since it’s behind a paywall, but according to Brooks, Hochman’s basic argument is a variation on the old “you can’t derive ought from is” maxim, which states you can’t make a moral claim based on a fact alone. (For example, you may be able to drive a car at speeds in excess of 100 mph, but that doesn’t mean you should.)
There may be some of that going on in Samuels and Thomson-DeVeaux’s article. Facts about abortion (i.e., that late-term abortions are rare) don’t resolve moral debates about whether abortion is right or wrong. It is worth noting, however, that Samuels and Thomson-DeVeaux still have a point: There is often a disconnect between the moral concerns espoused by conservatives and what is actually going on in the world, and the ensuing panic frequently shapes moral perspectives on the issues. It’s happening right now with the way right-wingers keep discussing the great replacement theory, voter fraud, and accusations of pedophilia/grooming, and we’ve seen it before with their concerns over birtherism, the dangers of mRNA vaccines, gay marriage (which they believed would destroy traditional marriage,) Obamacare (which was said to include provisions for “death panels,”) and immigration (which conservatives have prominently portrayed as a source of violent crime even though migrants commit fewer crimes per capita than native-born Americans.) These claims are often so kooky liberals at first ignore them so they don’t inadvertently become validated, but soon enough they turn into full-on conflagrations that take months if not years (if ever) to effectively refute.
Brooks and Hochman can argue Democrats aren’t making good moral arguments, but they ignore the fact conservatives are prone to moral alarmism. Brooks even falls for this in his own article when he cites a FOX News poll that found 60% of Hispanics favored laws to keep teachers from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity with K-4 students. First of all, we should note the question is a dog whistle meant to stigmatize LGBTQ Americans and play into the hysteria over “grooming.” Secondly, if we took the question literally, a law prohibiting the discussion of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” would prohibit teachers from keeping this book in their classroom:
The adult characters in that book clearly have sexual orientations. The characters’ gender identities are clearly indicated by their names: Mama, Papa, Brother, and Sister. But the bigger issue is that the presumed problem the question is getting at is a patently ridiculous concern, and Brooks himself should know better. Anyone familiar with K-4 education knows “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are rarely discussed at those grade levels and never in ways conservatives fear they are. Maybe the issue of same-sex parents comes up, but teachers don’t dwell on it beyond an acknowledgement that kids come from different kinds of families (cisgender, same-sex, single-parent, adopted, no parents, divorced, remarried, extended, interracial, etc.,) and that that’s OK.
But alas, I’m playing right into Brooks’ hands by claiming his moral anxiety is overblown. Brooks would counter—and this is essentially the main point of his article—that I am not meeting the moral argument surrounding these issues on moral terms, which ultimately alienates voters who view politics through a moral lens. He insists this is the problem with progressives, who don’t understand the role moral issues play in politics. Progressives either don’t appreciate the moral concerns of conservatives or consider conservative moral concerns a distraction from economic issues “as if the moral health of society was some trivial sideshow.” This leaves Democrats at a political disadvantage, as “many Americans believe the moral fabric of society is fraying, and the Republican messages on this resonate.”
Brooks writes “Democrats will never prevail on social issues unless they understand the nature of the struggle” between the United States’ conservative and liberal moral traditions. Brooks doesn’t describe these traditions using these specific terms, but for clarity’s sake we can label them as “moral relativism” and “moral absolutism.” According to Brooks, progressives are relativists for whom the individual conscience is the ultimate moral authority and who believe it is wrong to impose moral views on others. Because they believe this, progressives are very tolerant of diversity, defend those whom the broader society may marginalize, and oppose discrimination. The problem with the relativist disposition, however, is that it erases the shared moral order that unites us a people. There are no enduring standards of right and wrong or good and bad or true and false. People become very self-centered, determining that whatever is good is whatever feels right or is convenient to believe in the moment. The idea of the greater good slips away as people pursue their own desires and impulses. The things that ground us and give our lives meaning—tradition, history, enduring institutions—are viewed as shackles and tossed aside. All this inevitably leads to the breakdown of the social order, as the moral ties that bind our communities together are dissolved.
On the other hand, conservatives are moral absolutists who believe individuals live within a long-standing moral order with objective truths. Moral authority exists beyond the self—in God, family, traditions, customs, and community—and individuals should subsume themselves to that authority for their own moral good as well as the good of the broader community. Absolutism recognizes that our well-being is clearly dependent on others, particularly those closest to us, and in turn we owe them our fidelity and support. Living within these moral structures supplies our lives with meaning and purpose and keeps us from going astray. The problem with the absolutist moral order is that it is very rigid and judgmental. There is little room for disagreement, even for legitimate reasons. Those who do voice sincere opposition to moral precepts may find themselves ostracized from their community. Community leaders wield a lot of power in this system, and those leaders usually embrace traditional worldviews, which means the historically marginalized may find themselves lacking power or treated unequally by their peers. Absolutists are also slow to adapt to a changing world and prone to seeing those outside their tradition as threats to their moral order, which can lead to discrimination and conflict between groups.
I have no issue with Brooks’ characterization of the tension between moral relativism and moral absolutism, just as I have no problem with how he’s described the weaknesses of both world views. It’s right out of Ethics 101. As a progressive, I’d even argue Brooks is right to say it would serve progressives well to better understand how so many Americans root their sense of morality in tradition, religion, family, and community, and how a culture of moral relativism can leave people feeling untethered to the wider world.
My problem is that this moral framework Brooks uses to diagnose the moral crisis the United States faces today is the same framework conservatives have been using for the past fifty years to diagnose the moral problems they saw arising from the 1960s and its ethos of radical individualism. Maybe that was a useful way to analyze the culture wars of the late twentieth century, but it’s wholly inadequate now, and because people keep using that moral framework to assess politics, they end up with a warped view of what really matters today when making moral judgments in the political arena.
Let’s start with the obvious flaw in Brooks’ argument. Here he is writing about what researchers found concerning conservatives’ moral motivations:
Conservatives, they discovered, are more attuned than liberals to the moral foundations that preserve a stable social order. They highly value loyalty and are sensitive to betrayal. They value authority and are sensitive to subversion.
“Stable social order?” “Value loyalty?”
“Sensitive to betrayal?” “Value authority?”
“Sensitive to subversion?”
No, conservatives can’t claim that anymore. Not after Trump, not after 1/6. Conservatives might have a moral “message” (Brooks uses that word a lot) but it’s often hard to see that message backed up in deeds. It suggests Brooks might need to dig a little deeper into the moral content of both conservatism and progressivism.
Brooks does spend a fair amount of time near the end of his essay admitting that contemporary conservatism—particularly contemporary Christian conservatism, which one would assume would be the strain of conservatism most immune to this problem—has either succumbed to moral relativism or descended into a poisonous authoritarianism. Sorry, but arguing most conservatives no longer adhere to the conservative moral paradigm kind of undercuts the validity of his whole framework. I suppose the authoritarian reaction isn’t necessarily surprising, but the way conservative voters and politicians embraced (and excused) Trump, his indiscretions, his disdain for moral norms and the rule of law, and his band of insurrectionists has deprived the conservative political movement of its moral authority. What’s left is a nihilistic political tribe that speaks a moral language but does not act in accordance with it, that believes might—not principle—makes right, and that is motivated more by resentment of their political opponents than deeply held beliefs.
To his credit, Brooks is no ally of what passes for conservative politics today. He’s remained a conservative in its true civic form. What he hopes is that a progressive Democratic Party might find room for people like him. Yet because he’s viewing today’s politics through an old moral framework, he’s set progressives up to fail. It’s a sneaky little bait-and-switch. Although he claims early in his essay that there is much to value in the progressive moral tradition, deep down he doesn’t think the progressive moral tradition is actually based on a set of moral beliefs or has many moral convictions, which is what keeps him and millions of other Americans from backing progressive causes.
Brooks should know better. At one point in his op-ed, he criticizes progressives for being too “preachy” and “judgmental,” which is a strange way to describe a bunch of “anything goes” moral relativists who actually hold pretty strong beliefs on everything from racial equality to economic justice to environmentalism and who have often adjusted their lifestyles to align with their beliefs. That should tip him off that there is more moral content to progressivism than he assumes.
If Brooks looked a little closer, he’d notice that the foundation of progressive morality is a caring ethos. It envisions the nation as a big community—a big family—and that each of us as citizens has a responsibility to look out for one another. No matter where we’re from or what our background is, we’re all in this together. Nobody wins unless we all win. If one of us falls behind, we’ve got to pick him or her up. Because all of us don’t start life in this country on an equal playing field, we need to do what we can to make sure everyone’s got a fair shot at making it. That means creating and supporting public resources that serve the people (especially children, the needy, and the vulnerable) and help them reach their full potential. That means paying particular attention to those who have historically been marginalized in American society. That means accounting for the way capitalism can ravage communities and exploit workers and consumers. And it means making sure people are treated fairly. While people are free to live their lives in accordance with whatever values or traditions they find meaningful, what really matters in the progressive moral tradition are the public values that give direction to our society, our democracy, and our relationships with our fellow citizens.
The progressive moral ethos doesn’t jibe with Brooks’ moral framework, mainly because he locates the source of morality in established moral (particularly religious) traditions. Yet moral precepts can come from other sources and cross moral traditions. In fact, one of the strengths of progressive morality is that people from different moral traditions can find their values reflected in and supported by it. I would think Brooks would also understand why so many Americans no longer look toward religion as a basis for their moral beliefs. The nation’s two largest Christian denominations—the Catholic church and the Southern Baptist Convention—have found themselves entangled in scandals that have rocked those churches to their moral core. Conservative evangelical Christian churches are viewed by much of the public as hypocritical. Many other churches have been slow to welcome women and LGBTQ people as full members. For many Americans, religious institutions have lost their moral authority, but that does not also mean those Americans have abandoned their morals. (In fact, leaving a church may have been an act of moral courage.)
During the culture wars of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, much was made about how America had lost its moral compass. Society had grown decadent, self-centered, and violent, and culture warriors warned that the United States was headed for a moral collapse that would result in the collapse of the nation. Cultural political debates in this time revolved around (among other topics) the breakdown of the nuclear family, sexual licentiousness, recreational drug use, abortion, homosexuality, the influence of popular culture on America’s youth, and the role of religion in public life. Some of these issues have faded as public concerns; others remain hot button issues today. It is not my intention to dismiss these concerns, but if we say that all that matters when it comes to morality and politics are these standard culture war issues and that political debates about politics can only be understood through the prisms of relativism/absolutism and personal virtue, then we won’t be able to come to terms with the most pressing moral issues facing the nation today.
The first of these issues is the preservation of democracy, which requires a reengagement with civic virtues such as civility, public-mindedness, fairness, forbearance, tolerance, prudence, and respect for the rule of law. It is sometimes argued democracy itself is not a moral system but rather a way to resolve or at least manage moral conflict in a society, but when people take civic habits seriously, they tend to craft a civil, respectful society where people can more easily flourish. Democracy in the United States is in peril at the moment and needs defending. No one will argue democracy is a perfect form of government—it certainly has its flaws, and it can be abused—but, to paraphrase Astra Taylor, we would certainly miss it if it went away.
The second issue is cruelty, the “ordinary vice” scholar Judith Shklar ranked as the vice that demands our repudiation more than any other for the way it degrades and humiliates other people. Cruelty goes beyond merely hurting or punishing another person, but hurting someone who is at your mercy or inflicting unnecessary pain onto someone. It is the point where power announces its abusiveness. It is difficult to defend cruelty, but as Adam Serwer once wrote in The Atlantic, for Trump and his followers, “the cruelty is the point.” Serwer observed the way Trump treated immigrant children, mocked victims of sexual assault, scorned Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and encouraged his followers to assault protesters, leading him to write
The cruelty of the Trump administration’s policies, and the ritual rhetorical flaying of his targets before his supporters, are intimately connected….Taking joy in that suffering is more human than most would like to admit. Somewhere on the wide spectrum between adolescent teasing and the smiling white men in the lynching photographs are the Trump supporters whose community is built by rejoicing in the anguish of those they see as unlike them, who have found in their shared cruelty an answer to the loneliness and atomization of modern life….
It reflects a clear principle: Only the president and his allies, his supporters, and their anointed are entitled to the rights and protections of the law, and if necessary, immunity from it. The rest of us are entitled only to cruelty, by their whim. This is how the powerful have ever kept the powerless divided and in their place, and enriched themselves in the process.
Trump and his followers assume the world is inherently cruel, a place where the strong survive and use their power to keep their opponents in check. In their minds, they are either the victim of their opponents’ cruelty or the ones threatening or wielding cruelty, and they would much prefer to be the latter. There is little room for civility or compassion in Trump’s world. Menace (both threatened and real) rule. We saw this when Trump separated migrant children from their parents at the southern border, when he led chants of “Lock her up!,” when he gassed protesters outside the White House, when he and other Republican governors flouted masking guidance, when his followers stormed the Capitol, and when he ran a campaign that shattered the nation and then expected that nation to put itself back together behind his authority after he won (a move that is a hallmark of the abuser).
And we see it today in the way right-wingers defend guns. By now, their arguments are exhausted. This isn’t about deranged individuals or self-defense or security or personal liberty anymore. It’s all about firepower: Who has it and who’s ultimately willing to use it. The victims of mass shootings prove that at the end of the day, we must live in a world where gun owners reign supreme, a world where cruelty rules.
If you want to know why this country feels like it’s fraying, that’s the source. This is not a debate between relativism and absolutism. To assume it is is to fail to grasp this nation’s current moral dilemma, which also means failing to grasp the severity of the crisis we face. This is a debate between cruelty and compassion, between dehumanization and basic human decency. We are divided not because we have an honest difference of opinion, but because the side that has embraced cruelty is willing to tear this nation apart.
The progressive moral framework and its caring ethic is well positioned to confront this challenge. It deserves to be recognized as a legitimate moral paradigm rather than diminished by morally serious conservatives as weak or lacking conviction. Those who adhere to both religious and secular moral codes should be able to unite around a progressive politics of compassion, but that will also require them to move beyond the moral assumptions that have shaped our politics for the past fifty years. Failing to do so could be disastrous. It’s time we realize our current political era demands new moral priorities.
Signals and Noise
By David Frum of The Atlantic: “America’s Hands are Full of Blood” (“Every other democracy makes some considerable effort to keep guns away from dangerous people, and dangerous people away from guns. For many years—and especially since the massacre at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School almost a decade ago—the United States has put more and more guns into more and more hands: 120 guns per 100 people in this country. The years of the pandemic have been the years of the greatest gun sales in U.S. history: almost 20 million guns sold in 2020; another 18.5 million sold in 2021. No surprise, those two years also witnessed a surge in gun violence: the spectacular human butchery of our recurring mass slaughters; the surge of one-on-one lethal criminality; the unceasing tragic toll of carelessness as American gun owners hurt and kill their loved ones and themselves. Most of us are appalled. But not enough of us are sufficiently appalled to cast our votes to halt it. And those to whom Americans entrust political power, at the state and federal levels, seem determined to make things worse and bloodier. In the next few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will deliver its opinion in the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, a decision that could strike down concealed-carry bans even in the few states that still have them. More guns, more places, fewer checks, fewer protections: Since Sandy Hook, this country has plunged backward and downward toward barbarism.”
By Bill Bostock, for Insider: “Texas has made it easier to purchase guns in recent months — despite playing host to a series of mass shootings in recent memory, including the killing of a combined 30 people in El Paso and Odessa in 2019. A new state law that came into effect on September 1 allowed anyone over the age of 21 to carry a handgun in most places without a permit or training. The bill was put forward by Texas Republicans. Before the change, Texans had to pass a background check, take a safety course, and take a competency test to get a license.” Also, from NBC News: “Abbott Calls Texas School Shooting a Mental Health Issue but Cut State Spending For It” (“Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the Uvalde school shooter had a "mental health challenge" and the state needed to "do a better job with mental health" — yet in April he slashed $211 million from the department that oversees mental health programs. In addition, Texas ranked last out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for overall access to mental health care, according to the 2021 State of Mental Health in America report.”)
By Jackie Kucinich, for The Daily Beast: “Mitch McConnell Is Pulling His Favorite Move After Mass Shootings” (“While it is notable that McConnell signaled his willingness to talk about changes to laws that regulate gun ownership in the United States, in McConnell’s case, it’s only a small step above immediately dismissing action on guns. Time and again, McConnell’s “hope” for a bipartisan solution has simply prolonged the inevitable: inaction.”)
More like Mitch Van Pelt.
By Philip Bump of the Washington Post: “Mass Killings Keep Happening Despite Good Guys with Guns” (“Even when law enforcement is able to respond quickly and forcefully to a mass shooting, that doesn’t mean that many people won’t die. A shooter in Dayton, Ohio in 2019 was shot to death by police within 30 seconds of the first bullet he fired. But in that half-minute, the shooter was able to kill nine people and injure more than two dozen others. Earlier this month, the shooter at a grocery store in Buffalo was confronted by the store’s security guard. But the guard, Aaron Salter Jr., was in combat with a better-armed and batter-armored opponent. He died at the scene. The mass killing at a high school in Parkland, Fla., in 2018 occurred despite there being an armed guard on campus. The challenge at that point was different: The guard is accused of hiding instead of engaging the shooter.”) Furthermore, the more we learn about the police response in Uvalde, the more this whole “good guys with guns” argument should be put to rest.
“Our deepest sympathies are with the families and victims involved in this horrific and evil crime.”—Official statement by the NRA following the shootings in Uvalde, Texas.
From a Republican Florida State Senator:
This past Friday, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA): “If you talk to the people that own it, killing feral pigs in the, whatever, the middle of Louisiana. They’ll wonder: ‘Why would you take it away from me?’ I’m law abiding, I’ve never done anything, I use it to kill feral pigs. The action of a criminal deprives me of my right.”
Sometimes you can tell a lot about people by the company they keep. CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) is a multi-day event that has become in recent decades the largest annual gathering of conservative activists, organizers, and politicians in the United States. It now holds multiple events each year in different states and different countries. This year they held an event in Hungary featuring speeches by Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, and Mark Meadows. Another person who delivered a speech was Zsolt Bayer, who has called Jews “stinking excrement,” described Roma as “animals” who are not fit for “coexistence,” and used racial epithets when talking about Black people (During the protests over George Floyd’s murder in 2020, he said, “Is this the future? Kissing the dirty boots of fucking [racist epithet] and smiling at them? Being happy about this? Because otherwise they’ll kill you or beat you up?”) Bayer used his speech to criticize Calvin Klein for running an ad with a Black woman in it. The final speaker was Jack Posobiec, an antisemite who routinely characterizes Democrats as pedophiles. Hungary, of course, is led by Viktor Orban, a right-wing nationalist who has turned Hungary into an autocracy during his reign.
A Yahoo News/YouGov poll found 61% of Trump voters agree with the idea behind the great replacement theory.
The New York Times found that 44% of Republican state legislators in the nine most closely-contested states in the 2020 election have either tried to overturn or discredit the results of that election.
Rule of Thumb: If you catch a politician burning papers, they’re probably doing something wrong. From Politico: “Meadows Burned Papers After Meeting with Scott Perry, Jan. 6 Panel Told” (“Then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows burned papers in his office after meeting with a House Republican who was working to challenge the 2020 election, according to testimony the Jan. 6 select committee has heard from one of his former aides….The Meadows-Perry meeting came in the weeks after Election Day 2020, as Trump and his allies searched for ways to reverse the election results.”)
In “Who Knew They Have Big Macs at McDonald’s?” News: From NBC News, “Jan. 6 Rioter Convicted After Telling Jurors He’s an ‘Idiot’ Who Didn’t Know Congress Met at Capitol” Money Quote: “I know this sounds idiotic, but I’m from New Jersey. I feel like an idiot, it sounds idiotic, and it is.” Yeah, what kind of excuse is that? I didn’t see Springsteen at the riot. And by the way, here’s a picture of this guy, who, as you may recall, the RNC said was engaged in “legitimate political discourse”:
By Paul Waldman, for the Washington Post: “Why is the Right Ignoring the Southern Baptist Abuse Scandal?” (“There are few things that members of the American right emphasize more often about themselves than their deep commitment to protecting children — particularly when it comes to the threat of sexual abuse. In recent months, they’ve shown how intense that commitment is by labeling just about anyone who supports equality for LGBTQ people as “groomers” who are preparing children to be sexually abused. So when news broke this past weekend of a blockbuster report about sexual abuse (including of children) and a coverup within the Southern Baptist Convention, the GOP and conservative movement rose up in outrage. Republican politicians such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis demanded further investigation, QAnon adherents turned their focus to this conspiracy, and conservative media couldn’t stop talking about the story. Actually, none of that happened. QAnon and its allies in politics seem uninterested. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and her QAnon-curious friends in Congress have not tweeted about it. Neither Tucker Carlson nor Laura Ingraham nor Sean Hannity brought it up on their Fox News shows the next evening.”) Also, by Michael Gerson of the Washington Post: “The Report on Southern Baptist Abuses is a Portrait of Brutal Misogyny”
From Politico: “The Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday it now expects federal revenue this year to jump by a whopping $800 billion — equivalent to the Pentagon’s annual budget. That translates to a 19 percent increase, the biggest one-year hike in more than 40 years, and it comes on top of an 18 percent increase last year.”
From the New York Times: “How Does It End? Fissures Emerge Over What Constitutes Victory in Ukraine” (“In recent days, presidents and prime ministers as well as the Democratic and Republican Party leaders in the United States have called for victory in Ukraine. But just beneath the surface are real divisions about what that would look like — and whether “victory” has the same definition in the United States, in Europe and, perhaps most importantly, in Ukraine.”)
What’s Russian for Lebensraum? From CNN: “Russia is Depopulating Parts of Eastern Ukraine, Forcibly Removing Thousands into Remote Parts of Russia” (“Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have been processed through a series of Russian “filtration camps” in Eastern Ukraine and sent into Russia as part of a systemized program of forced removal, according to four sources familiar with the latest Western intelligence – an estimate far higher than US officials have publicly disclosed. After being detained in camps operated by Russian intelligence officials, many Ukrainians are then forcibly relocated to economically depressed areas in Russia, in some cases thousands of miles from their homes, and often left with no means of returning, sources said.”)
We’re focused on Ukraine, but we should also be paying attention to what’s going on in the South Pacific. By Richard Lloyd Perry, for the Times of London: “China and Australia vie to dominate South Pacific” (“The governments of China and Australia have begun an intense diplomatic race to win over the countries of the South Pacific, as Beijing’s rivalry with the US and its allies spreads into one of the most remote but most strategically sensitive regions of the globe. Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, landed in the Solomon Islands, the first of eight Pacific and southeast Asian nations he will visit during a ten-day tour. Penny Wong, Australia’s newly appointed foreign minister, flew to Fiji in an explicit effort to block Beijing’s attempts to increase its influence in the region.”) Also, from the Japan Times: “Japan to 'Drastically Strengthen' Defense Capability, Policy Draft Says” as officials worry that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could prompt instability in East Asia.