Happy Saturday! I always look forward to sending you this newsletter, but I’ve got a bit of a dilemma this week. I can either summarize all our great work from the past week and keep you here for an hour, or I can pick and choose and be sure that I’m leaving something out. I realize this isn’t even a humble brag, just good old-fashioned bragging, but hear me out.
We had a bunch of great reported pieces this week, on Ukraine and Russia, on infighting within the House Republican caucus, on a bill to boost competition with China, on the weird state of our economy, and more.
Obviously we also prioritize great commentary, and—more important—informed commentary. The internet is full of opinions on the two cases taken up this week by the Supreme Court on affirmative action in college admissions. Do you want to sift through those, or do you want to read David French, who’s not only a constitutional lawyer but also sat on an admissions committee at Cornell?
But back to the reporting. We have some ambitious goals for building up our staff this year and bringing you more articles, profiles, and features. And reporting is going to be at the core of it. We know we can provide you with vital information that helps you understand the stories of the day and also helps you form your own opinions—rather than just giving you ours. We think it’s important not just for you, but also for our discourse as a whole.
It’s easy to look at our polarization and the putrid state of our discourse and feel despair. Both political parties are punishing centrists, and a lot of reasonable representatives in Congress are taking a look around and opting to retire rather than deal with it all. We live in a time where people end friendships and cut family ties over political differences. We’re at a precipice, and it seems like too many people are all too willing to make a flying leap rather than a cautious step in reverse.
It was a long journey to get here, and it’s going to take baby steps to get us back. I’m feeling a little reflective about the state of our discourse because my friend Will Saletan has left Slate for The Bulwark (congrats to both parties) after 25 years, and he wrote a farewell essay that touches on some of the problems we face today. Will has been doing online journalism even longer than I have, and we’ve seen a lot of the same things.
When I got my first dot-com job, as we called them back then, I marveled at the promise of online journalism: You needn’t be held back by deadlines, because you could publish at any time. You weren’t beholden to a word count, because there was infinite space. (One of my other personal favorites was that you could also fix typos, but I digress.) And when blogging emerged, it seemed like it could empower citizen journalism, give rise to new voices that might have struggled up the conventional journalism career ladder.
I didn’t see the potential downsides right away. Lowering the barrier to entry is in many ways a good thing. But we figured out pretty quickly that people loved reading opinions. And as legacy media outlets struggled to figure out how to stay in business amid a changing business landscape, it was an easy choice to go big on “takes.” Not only was it giving people what they wanted, it was cheaper. It’s much easier to sit in the office, or at home in one’s pajamas (as the cliche went) and crank out blog posts and columns opining on the news rather than getting out in the community or traveling around the country to interview real people. It was easier to call politicians names and complain about their actions rather than to get a press badge and go cover city council, the statehouse, or Congress.
And then came social media, which just magnified the audience for such content at the same time it allowed us to retreat into likeminded networks. I can’t put it better than Will did: “In the old days, there was a lot of hope that the information age would make us smarter. It didn’t. Instead, high-speed communication, combined with algorithms that discern our biases and feed us what we want, helped us sort ourselves into echo chambers.”
It was a long road here, and it will be a long road back. The Chinese proverb that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” might sound like something that belongs on a Successories poster, but it’s true. And we see doing more solid and informative reporting as one of those steps. We hope you’ll appreciate it, and we know that we’ll make it with your time. Thanks for reading.
What a busy week for the Supreme Court. Way back on Tuesday, before the news broke that Justice Stephen Breyer was retiring, the big story was that the court had decided to take up two related cases, one against Harvard and one against the University of North Carolina, challenging race-based admissions practices. At both schools (and at other elite universities), the percentage of Asian Americans admitted has remained flat while the college-age population has doubled, and the schools have found, shall we say, creative ways to keep it that way. In French Press (🔐), David wrote: “Longtime readers know that I’m an advocate of institutional responsibility … to right the wrongs of America’s racist past and to remedy any ongoing racial discrimination in our imperfect present. But there is a profound difference in asking Harvard—with its immense endowment and bottomless well of intellectual capital—to creatively take steps to increase opportunity for marginalized communities and telling 18-year-old Asian kids (many of them immigrants or children of immigrants with challenging stories all their own) that they must endure racial discrimination, for the “‘greater good.’”
The challenges Kevin McCarthy faces keeping the House GOP Caucus together are well-known. Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, and others have drawn ire from the Trumpier wing of the party. But Audrey got a bit of a scoop this week about how McCarthy has dealt with his latest challenge. House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry had proposed removing Cheney and Kinzinger from the caucus, and, at a lunch meeting attended by 50 to 60 Republicans, McCarthy pushed back. A source at the lunch told Audrey that McCarthy emphasized that removing members could reduce the number of seats Republicans have on committees. She writes: “The latest effort to boot Cheney from the conference is unlikely to gain much—if any—traction in the House if Perry decides to pursue it, as most members don’t necessarily want to decrease their ranks while in the minority. But the Freedom Caucus’ persistence speaks to longstanding fissures in the GOP over how to grapple with the aftermath of the Capitol attack and how to engage with the two Republican members who have joined Democrats in investigating the events of that day.”
Some of the most searing images that came out of the disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan were people huddled outside Hamid Karzai Airport, and cargo planes packed with Afghan citizens desperate to flee their country. But the nightmare didn’t necessarily end once they reached safety. Charlotte and Harvest interviewed a few refugees whose struggles have continued even after reaching the United States. Hosai Barakzay and Mansoora Sharifi spent three months at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, which housed 13,000 Afghan refugees at its peak. They write: “Barakzay described the experience as ‘a nightmare,’ between cramped conditions, cold weather, and limited access to medical care. … The two women have since relocated to Utah, but are ineligible for government housing aid and benefits because of their decision to depart from the military base after months of bureaucratic stagnation.”
And now for the best of the rest:
We’ve probably all seen videos of groups of people running through stores—from Target to Neiman Marcus—on shoplifting sprees. And we’ve heard from lefties that it’s not a big problem and anyway such crimes are actually down. The truth, Charles Fain Lehman argues, is more complicated.
With talks between the West and Russia over Ukraine at a stalemate, Charlotte reports on the preparations being made both by the United States, its NATO allies, and Ukraine itself.
Will we just have to accept the fact that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon? In a detailed piece that looks at the failures of the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations, Reuel Marc Gerecht expresses pessimism: “Really only one question remains now: Will the Israelis strike?”
In Stirewaltisms, Chris weighs in on Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement and says that having this vacancy probably feels like a vacation to President Biden. “This should be a welcome distraction for the beleaguered Biden, though probably not something that will much change the trajectory of this year’s elections,” he writes.
We can’t forget the pods: David and Sarah tackled all the big SCOTUS news this week, with one episode on the affirmative action cases and one on Breyer’s retirement. On the Friday Dispatch Podcast, Steve hosted a panel discussion on the coming Supreme Court vacancy with Sarah, Gregg Nunziata (who worked on several confirmation hearings as a Senate Judiciary Committee staffer) and John McCormack of National Review. And on The Remnant, Jonah welcomes his friend, former colleague, and “most erudite Florida man” Charles C.W. Cooke from National Review.