“Failures of Leadership in a Populist Age.” In an essay that rings even more true after the events of Wednesday, Yuval Levin warns would-be populist leaders to shun the temptations of fantasy and root their words and actions in reality:
It is the task of leaders in populist eras … to offer ways to use political power effectively to address [populist] complaints that are rooted in reality. And they need to push to the side or disperse the power of those complaints that are rooted in fantasy, so that they don’t render populist movements pointless, ridiculous, or dangerous.
“W. H. Auden’s Cure for the Post-Christmas Blues.” Jeff Reimer ponders Auden’s For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio and draws on its wisdom for how we should live in this time between times: “The cures for acedia that the Desert Fathers recommend are maddeningly unspectacular: steadfastness, stability, joy, patience.”
“China Is Getting Away with It.” Michael Brendan Dougherty recounts China’s ability to avoid any repercussions for its human rights abuses. It’s amazing what cheap manufacturing—made cheaper by slave labor—can do for you: “During a year in which it was an unrepentant geopolitical arsonist, China is emerging stronger than ever.” (But don’t worry, China is proud of its progress in Xinjiang.)
“Reforming Educational Authority.” In a nuanced and wise essay, Andy Smarick traces the history of American education and notes how our current system “effectively blends principles Americans hold dear: parental agency, democratic decision-making, pluribus, unum, local variation, state-level commonality, decentralization, and federal authority.” He concludes by offering advice for school reformers, urging them to respect these many different constituents and seek to properly balance their responsibilities.
“The New Strain: How Bad Is It?” Brendan Foht and Ari Schulman answer some questions about the new strain of COVID and warn that it can make our situation much worse. They argue it’s one more reason we need to rollout the vaccine as quickly as possible.
“Middlemarch and the Heart’s Reasons.” Myron Magnet draws on the wisdom of Eliot’s novel to probe the ways that human self-deception can compound suffering.
“Georgia’s Billion-Dollar Bonfire.” Emma Green reports on the obscene amounts of money spent on the two Georgia senate seats.
“The Tom Cotton Gambit to Win the Republican Future.” Damon Linker wonders if Tom Cotton is onto something: “Cotton has made the choice to blend his support for some aspects of Trumpian populism with a rejection of the president’s supremely irresponsible refusal to accept his own electoral defeat. That combination of positions — broadly affirming of Trumpism as the way forward for the GOP while distancing himself from the egregious corruption and authoritarian thuggishness of Trump the man — could be ideal for advancing the party’s prospects in 2024.”
“The Day QAnon Captured America.” Michael Brendan Dougherty warns that virtual conspiracy theories have real-life consequences: “But the thing that will keep me up at night is the knowledge that, in an instant, these confected beliefs and lurid fantasies can leap out of Facebook and Instagram and cause my countrymen to simulate the overthrow of my government. This is a psychological weapon, and somebody is going to learn to use it more effectively.”
“Is America Still the ‘Shining City on a Hill’?” David Frum reviews Abram Van Engen’s City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism and traces the history of this phrase as a touchstone of America’s self-understanding.
“There is No Such Thing as Justice.” From the left, Freddie de Boer describes the ways that the social media ecosystem rewards grandstanding without any real action: “Today the habit is for people to say that they need to convince no one, that the only political task is to rally the already convinced.”
“Iowa Farm Bankruptcies Continue to Rise, Despite Aid.” Erin Jordan reports on the confluence of forces that are putting many farmers out of business.
“More than an Education.” Clayton Trutor reviews David Brown’s new biography, The Last American Aristocrat: The Brilliant Life and Improbable Education of Henry Adams, and finds it a nuanced portrait of that thoughtful, turn-of-the-century critic of progress.
“Plastics in the Gut.” In a lengthy essay for Orion, Max Liboiron asks difficult questions about the tensions between scientific knowledge and local forms of understanding. As she puts it, her work “exists in [the] gully of mistrust and blame between two types of knowing.” She strives for a “science that thinks with locals, that works toward homegrown needs and questions, that minds the rocks.”
“Finding a Different Self.” Lance Kinzer traces the historical narrative that Carl Trueman develops in The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: “We are no longer wayfarers in search of sacred order and salvific meaning. Now we are autonomous bundles of desire captive to a corrosive anti-culture and the paltriness of subversion.”
“Melville’s Rejection of Utopia.” Micah Mattix reflects on the political vision of Moby-Dick as expounded in Will Morrisey’s Herman Melville’s Ship of State.
“Baking Bread as an Act of Hope.” Millie Sweeny writes about baking bread, and how this rhythm was interrupted by last year’s wildfires in Oregon. Nevertheless, it’s a way of practicing hope in the midst of uncertainty.
“Life, Liberty, and the Fourth Philosophy.” Rory Groves draws a perennial lesson from the events of the first century: “Beware of strong men who come in the name of the Lord.”