A brief polemic against the most monarchical, overblown, tedious piece of political entertainment in the American system.
Tonight is President Biden’s second State of the Union address (his first address to a joint session of Congress in 2021 was technically not a SotU because he had just been inaugurated). Most likely it will be far too long, constantly interrupted by Stalin-esque continued applause, and full of total nonsense. Biden will call out people in the audience that are brought in specifically for the purpose of being used as political pawns, he will make promises that everyone will forget about 5 minutes later, and he will occasionally go off-script to make him feel down-to-earth. The speech will be phony, the reception will be obsequious, and the TV coverage will be wall-to-wall.
How do I know this? Because every State of the Union address is exactly the same song-and-dance. Can you tell that I don’t like this “tradition”?
Progressive historians have been trying to rewrite American history for decades now, from Howard Zinn to the 1619 Project. The newest addition to this effort is Myth America, a compilation of historical essays purporting to debunk the myths of American history as understood by conservatives. Instead, they merely promulgate a whole host of progressive myths to replace them. In this episode of the Rational Policy podcast, we delve into Myth America chapter-by-chapter, breaking down the failures, falsehoods, and fabrications which fill its pages. If you enjoy a thorough historical argument, listen in!
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine stems not from Soviet nostalgia, but a deeper desire for Russian Imperium. How should the West respond?
[Note: This piece was initially published in February 2022, a few days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was reposted in February 2023 as the first anniversary of the war approached.]
As you likely have seen, the predicted invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces has indeed come to pass. It has only been a few days, and the fog of war is still thick on the ground, but the invasion seems to be total and the resistance has been fierce. Russian forces have attacked all across the country, from the coastal cities of Odessa and Mariupol, to the northern areas around Kharkiv and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, to the capital of Kyiv itself. Ukraine’s defense has been stronger than many observers – including the Russians – had anticipated, and acts of heroism have been reported widely. The war is moving very quickly, and the facts on the ground may have even changed by the time you read this; as such, this piece is not meant to be an exhaustive update on the military situation in Ukraine – there are far more knowledgeable people than I writing about that. What I can do, however, is explain and correct a key misconception in how many Western pundits and politicians – President Biden included – view Vladimir Putin’s motivations for this attack. They are correct in seeing Putin as driven by historical factors and nostalgia for past glory, but they ascribe that longing to the wrong era. He looks not to the Cold War of the 20th century, but to the Great Power conflict of the 19th. The Russian President does not seek to become the leader of a revived Soviet Union, but a new Tsar. That may seem like a distinction without a difference, but it isn’t; understanding this historic rationale and properly contextualizing it can help us better understand Putin’s worldview, learn a great deal about his future ambitions, and determine how best to respond to this unprovoked invasion.
The democratization of outrage via social media has overturned the historical relationship between media and audience, allowing us to indulge in our worst instincts.
Rage is an emotion buried deep within the human character; it is omnipresent, contributing to wars, murders, arguments, jealousies, and assaults since time immemorial. Anger can drive humans to incredible feats of courage, honor, and justice just as easily as it can power unparalleled atrocities and destruction – sometimes in pursuit of the very same hatred. Wrath, a feeling which is quite uncomfortable for most people, can – paradoxically – be addictive.
The confluence of interest and outrage has been exploited by powerful actors for centuries. Christians, slaves, prisoners, and other dissidents were publicly executed to the cheers of baying Roman crowds; itinerant preachers pressed Crusades on an ever-willing public with tales of woe betide Christians in the Holy Land; increasingly absurd antisemitic lies were lapped up by peasants across Europe and used to justify expulsions and pogroms; the list goes on and on. Since the advent of print media, the addictiveness of outrage has been of prime benefit to the press. Newspapers helped drive the American and French Revolutions, publishing polemics against government policy and promoting a robust disputation of ideas about politics. Radical abolitionist papers pushed Americans to deal with the reality of slavery and the moral and economic arguments against it, often through the stoking of righteous indignation.
Happy New Year! January 2023 has been replete with interesting stories in the world of international affairs. We’ve seen an absurd overreaction to the new Israeli government, political rioting from left and right in Peru and Brazil, and utter chaos in Mexico driven by cartel violence. In this Foreign Telegram, we discuss all three – recapping recent events, discussing the history behind the headlines, analyzing their impact, and explaining why they matter. Strap in for a whirlwind tour around the world of foreign policy in January 2023!