Every week I highlight three newsletters that are worth your time.
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1. Tomorrow Will Be Worse
I’ve always liked Julia Ioffe’s stuff, going back to her TNR days. Now she’s in the newsletter space putting together her own media company, which is very cool. In her first dispatch she talks about the stunning naivete of Ben Rhodes:
Here’s the thing about [Ben Rhodes’s book] After the Fall: it is crushingly obvious. Its primary conclusion—that unregulated American capitalism and information technology have helped raise the global anti-democratic tide that has returned to our shores; that Trump is Putin is Orban—is hardly novel. But it isn’t offensive. The problem is his tone of wide-eyed wonder about the discovery of truths that are painfully self-evident.
Ben describes meeting activists for coffee, staring at hotel room ceilings deep in thought, or sitting in front of Buddhas, “trying to feel something,” and experiencing insights that I really hope he understood years ago, before he became a foreign policy advisor to the Leader of the Free World at the age of thirty-two. He learned, for instance, that Frances Fukuyama’s proclamation that the fall of the Berlin Wall heralded the “end of history” was near-sighted. That, in fact, “history never ends,” that history is a bloody, awful business, and that the progress of humankind is neither inevitable nor irreversible. . . .
Ben compares himself to Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny. Yes, Navalny has had a harder time of things, Ben writes, but their righteous anger at corruption is pretty similar, no? (When Ben was writing this book, Alexey was still a free man, still unpoisoned by a weapons-grade nerve agent, though now he is recovering from a nearly successful assassination attempt and in jail for the forseeable future—unlike Ben, who lives in L.A.) There’s an assumption that America is inherently different and that Americans are just better, immune to the kinds of undemocratic things that other, less advanced peoples do, like storming their own parliament in an effort to overturn a free and fair election—only to wonder how this could possibly happen in America when it does.
It takes a certain kind of privilege, as Ben occasionally acknowledges, to be surprised by the darkness of history. Here is a man—a smart man, an educated man—who, in his own telling, is flabbergasted to discover for himself and his reader things that have been obvious—and written about—for years. Here is a man discovering this years after he leaves the White House, where he read the most sensitive intelligence briefings and whence he traveled the world, meeting with foreign leaders as a key foreign policy advisor to the most powerful person in the world.
And here is a man who got that job at thirty-two years of age because he was a speechwriter on a campaign that was full of young male speechwriters, which is a job he trained for while working for the 9/11 Commission, a job he got through a family connection, where several prominent older white men took notice of him and introduced him to other prominent older white men. Before that, his experience of the world was limited to the kind of privileged things that curious young men from the Upper East Side and Collegiate do: He had studied abroad in Paris and done a little backpacking in Europe.
This is a straight-up homicide.
Sign up for Julia Ioffe’s newsletter, Tomorrow Will Be Worse, here.
2. Good Faith
I really like Ben Dreyfuss and this post about understanding that most people aren’t monsters, but rather just normal, flawed people, is lovely.
But late last week he did another post trying to game out the worst-case scenario for 2024:
The nightmare scenario for Democrats is that they lose the House in 2022 and in 2024 Joe Biden wins by a large popular vote, but by just a few states in the electoral college, and that then the Republican legislatures in a bunch of states Biden won cite voter fraud as an excuse to award their electoral votes to Trump and the House GOP goes along with it. . . .
Let’s just indulge our worst nightmare for a second and assume this happens, that Biden wins the popular vote and the electoral college but has it stolen by a GOP congress. In this scenario people will rightfully be very upset! And there will indeed be protests! Lots of them! The biggest ones in history! And then what?
[W]hat do people do after the protests don’t achieve anything? They’re supposed to grit their teeth and start working to win elections? After the election is wholesale stolen?
What Dreyfuss is missing here is that in such a scenario, Republicans would not be “stealing” the presidential election. They would be claiming power via one of the pathways explicitly allowed by law.
If you took nothing else from the last five years, it should be this: Democracy runs on the honor system.
Once people decide that they are only constrained by what the law explicitly says may not be done, then everything else is on the table.
And let me promise you this: All those Republicans and professional conservatives who roll their eyes at this now and chuckle, saying it couldn’t possibly happen? When the chips are down, they’ll excuse it. They’ll say, Sure, it’s not my preference. But it IS in the law. What we supposed to do? And I have to go along with this because we need responsible people on the inside to constrain the really bad actors.
3. Rethinking News
Timothy Lee’s operation has some big ideas of how to reimagine media. I highly recommend it.
But this post on how bs “journalistic ethics” cost him $2 million nearly gave me a stroke:
This image shows a collection of "paper wallets" that held my bitcoins in 2013. If I'd held onto the bitcoins, each of these pieces of paper would be worth around $280,000 today. I had a total of 56 bitcoins, so at today's price of $35,000, my May 2013 bitcoin holdings would be worth almost $2 million today.
Unfortunately, that's the month I took a new job at the Washington Post. Since I was planning to write about bitcoin, the Post's rules required me to liquidate my bitcoin holdings.
I am all for journalistic ethics and avoidance of conflicts. But this is insane. Bitcoin is a currency. It’s a currency with wild valuations, yes. And the IRS treats it like an asset class. But functionally, it’s not really different from the euro or the dollar or the yen or gold: It goes up. It goes down. You can buy stuff with it.
Is it a breach of journalistic ethics for a guy who covers real estate to own a house? For a woman who covers defense to own shares of an index fund that includes Lockheed?
For the Post to have told a junior writer that he had to liquidate what was, at the time, $4,700 worth of bitcoin just so he could write about tech borders on the criminal.
Lee’s equanimity is a sign of excellent character.
You should read the whole post and subscribe. The universe owes him that much, at least.
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