Our Best Stuff From a Sort of Slow News Week

The New York mayoral primary, a new Cold War, and the bad-faith debate about critical race theory.

The last few years have been so overwhelming that we’ve come to take for granted that the news never stops. So when we kicked off the Wednesday Morning Dispatch by pointing out Tuesday had been a slow news day, I had to stop and think about it. But it had been. 

We’re in a holding pattern on the pandemic front. We’re not engulfed in protests or getting ready for a big election, or litigating the last one. Sure, there’s plenty going on. Afghanistan is a mess. Haiti’s president was assassinated. New York City finally figured out who won its Democratic mayoral primary. But our phones (or at least mine) weren’t blowing up with relentless breaking news alerts.

When my husband and I lived in Seattle, we quickly became acquainted with the term “sunbreak.” It’s when the relentless drizzle stops just long enough to let the sun come out and the clouds part just enough to give you a glimpse of the gorgeous mountains for maybe 15 to 30 minutes. 

I hope that the past week isn’t just the media equivalent of a sunbreak. It allowed us to cover some important topics in a deeper way than we might have otherwise. (Which, you’ve probably heard us say more than a few times, is central to our mission here at The Dispatch.) We looked at the dangerous COVID outbreak at the Mexico-U.S. border. We didn’t have to relegate the Haiti crisis to a brief third item in TMD. In Uphill, Harvest and Ryan wrote about how some progressives are pressuring the Biden administration to take it easy on China because of climate change. We could let our staffers work on some longer-term projects that I’ll be highlighting in this space in the coming weeks. 

Slowdowns in the news cycle are good. But slowdowns on the home front can be stressful and unsettling. A couple weeks ago our oldest broke his foot, and he’s worried about staying in shape just months before he starts the process of applying for an ROTC scholarship that has physical fitness standards. Then we found out Tuesday that our 14-year-old broke his elbow while pitching last weekend. The timing is bad because even though the season is wrapping up, it’s already tryout time for next season. Club baseball gets pretty serious at the 15u level (well, for some people it gets serious at about age 8, just not us), and finding the right team can set you up well for the next four years.  And if you can’t try out? It’s tricky. Coaches aren’t inclined to believe doting moms who say, “My kid throws really hard, I promise.”

As a parent, you can do everything in your power to give your kids opportunities. And not just in sports, though that’s been the direction our kids have gone. It can be music lessons or dance classes or space camp. You invest time and money and you hope you’re giving them enriching experiences while setting them up to enjoy success later. But sometimes, things are just out of your control and all you can do is hit pause.

That’s an important lesson in itself, and it has a similar effect to the slow news week. It’s an opportunity to remember what matters, to focus our attention on different things, and to be grateful for what we have.

On that note, here’s our best stuff. Thanks for reading.

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‘Nobody Will Ever Know Who Really Won’

Chris Stirewalt uses the New York mayoral primary fiasco—it took officials more than two weeks to announce Eric Adams the winner of the Democratic primary after the city’s first use of ranked-choice voting—to illustrate why efforts by Democrats to make elections longer and more complicated will only end up causing people to lose faith in the process. He points to the Trump team’s mantra to “just slow it down” on January 6 in hopes of sowing doubt.  “Believing that it will make it easier for people to vote—and trusting in their own myth that more turnout is always good for Democrats—many in the party are looking to make permanent the same conditions that made the 2020 count so dangerously prolonged.”

Welcome to the New Cold War

Vladimir Putin hasn’t just been an authoritarian, he’s been an aggressive one: annexing Crimea, meddling in elections around the world, cozying up to China. At their meeting in Geneva, he and President Biden issued only a brief statement swearing off nuclear war and promising to conduct a strategic dialogue. Leon Aron argues it’s time to call the situation with Russia what it is: a new Cold War. “A diminutive hooligan from the slums of post-war Leningrad, Putin absorbed two other core components of the Soviet identity: equating respect with fear and self-assertion with aggression,” he writes.

Standing Athwart the Bait, Yelling ‘Stop’

Critical race theory is a term with which, it’s safe to say, most Americans were unfamiliar before the protests of last summer. Now it’s become perhaps the hottest of hot buttons in our culture wars. And, not surprisingly, there’s a lot of bad-faith arguing going on. We covered it a few times this week. For a good primer on just what CRT is, and what is laudable about it, check out Jonah’s column. But in his midweek newsletter, he took a hard look at how both critics and supporters misrepresent what CRT is and its role in education. He draws a particularly apt analogy between CRT and Marxism. “I definitely believe that kids should be taught about the role Marxism played in world affairs. But I don’t think we should teach kids that all of history is the scientific unfolding of dialectical class conflict, or that all literature should be read within a Marxist framework.” Meanwhile, David tackled the topic of state legislatures introducing (often poorly written) bills to ban the instruction of critical race theory in schools: “The allure is obvious,” he writes. “If we have the power to ban harmful speech, why not ban harmful speech? But the execution is always clumsy and dangerous if it’s broad, and narrow to the point of irrelevance if it’s precise.” 

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And now for the best of the rest:

  • In Capitolism, Scott Lincicome pulls out a few charts to challenge the “current conventional wisdom about why the American working class needs ‘America First’ (Trump) or ‘worker-centric’ (Biden) trade policies to offset a widening rich-poor gap.”

  • Wildfire season is off to an early start in California this year. James P. Sutton explains that it’s not just current heat waves and drought but years of poor forest management that pretty much guarantee we’ll be seeing glowing orange skies out West this summer and fall.

  • The Sweep is already looking ahead to 2024 with mini-profiles of likely contenders. This week Sarah and company featured the senators in the mix: Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Tim Scott. Look for more in the coming weeks.

  • On the pods: It’s a midsummer Festivus of sorts on The Dispatch Podcast, with a robust airing of grievances. Looking for some summer reading? On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah talk to Politico’s Peter Canellos about his new biography of Justice John Marshall Harlan. And on The Remnant, don’t miss Jonah and Will Saletan (full disclosure: my friend and former colleague) trying to find something to fight about.