A Surprising Voice From A Conservative

Keith pointed me in the right direction on this one, telling me about Henry Olsen’s latest OpEd in The Washington Post.  I read Olsen’s work only occasionally, for I typically disagree with him on most things, but he really surprised me on this one, and in the best of ways.  What Olsen writes here is proof that there ARE moderate Republicans/conservatives who are not so deeply partisan that they cannot see the forest for the trees.


Biden deserves props for his masterful Ukraine policy

By Henry Olsen

17 November 2022

This week’s report that a Russian-made missile had fallen in Poland, a NATO ally, could have increased tensions with Russia and even led to direct conflict between the belligerent nation and the Western alliance. The fact that it didn’t casts a light on one of the year’s underreported stories: how masterfully the Biden administration has handled the Ukraine crisis.

Some of my fellow conservatives will strenuously disagree with this assessment. In their telling, the United States has no essential national security interest in a free and democratic Ukraine. President Biden’s decision to send massive amounts of military aid to the nation unnecessarily risked war with nuclear-armed Russia. And his decision to join our European allies in imposing severe economic sanctions on Russia is harming our economy, too.

But that ignores the key fact: America’s primary national security interest is to keep our potential enemies far away from our shores, and the least costly and most effective way of doing that is to assemble a network of allies across the globe. We take interest in their security objectives; they, in turn, assist us in obtaining ours.

Biden understood from the start of the conflict in Ukraine that our European allies in NATO viewed Russian designs very differently. Our allies in Eastern Europe, such as Poland, feared they would be next if NATO allowed Ukraine to be conquered. Our allies in Western Europe, such as Germany and France, also feared an aggressive Russia but thought that Russian President Vladimir Putin could be bought off with his country’s extensive economic ties with their countries. Balancing those views was the most important principle animating U.S. policy in the run-up to the invasion.

Thus came Biden’s elegant two-step: First, he warned the world that the invasion was coming and that there would be serious consequences if Russia went through with it. Second, he let Germany and France take the diplomatic lead, giving them the opportunity to prove that their assessments of Putin were correct. Biden also chose not to rush massive amounts of arms to Ukraine, an act that would have given Putin a pretext for the invasion he had already decided to launch. Being too quick to provide weapons also would have harmed Biden’s ability to rally recalcitrant allies in an anti-Russian cordon.

This dance worked perfectly. The Eastern allies knew we shared their fears, and the Western allies were shocked into action after their views about Putin proved dangerously naive. This gave Biden massive credibility to shape the alliance’s actions regarding Russia.

As a result, the economic sanctions the U.S.-led grouping levied were far more severe than almost any observer would have thought possible beforehand. And the military aid the alliance provided has been much more lethal than any that had been contemplated just a year ago. Ukraine now has the upper hand in a war against a foe three times as large. That’s all due to Biden’s superb diplomacy.

This maneuvering has also created collateral behaviors that redound to U.S. security. European powers had been leery of confronting China before Russia’s invasion, weakening the United States’ ability to contain its primary security threat. Now, with Chinese President Xi Jinping tacitly supporting Russia, Europe no longer sees China as a benign power. Even though many European elites resent America for its sometimes overbearing diplomatic manner and military swagger, they also know they share more values with the United States than they ever could with an autocratic Russo-Chinese axis. They are now likelier to back our initiatives to reduce China’s economic and diplomatic influence.

None of this was preordained. A U.S. president whose primary goal was to prevent confrontation with Russia might have been inclined to cut a deal with Putin that effectively gave him what he wanted, pushing Europe further into a strategy of appeasement. A president who intended to confront Russia might have involved the United States too deeply in Ukraine, alienating our allies and setting up the potential for a direct military clash between superpowers. Biden’s middle course avoided these missteps and set the United States up to reap massive benefits.

Biden will have to keep this balanced approach as the war continues. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would like to see the United States and NATO involve themselves more directly in his war, which is why he was quick to argue that his country was not responsible for the missile that fell in Poland. But the more territory Ukraine retakes, the closer it gets to the territory Russia seized in 2014. We now know Putin will not risk war with the West over Kherson or Zaporizhzhia. He might feel differently if a U.S.-armed Ukraine threatens to retake Crimea.

But those concerns are in the future. For now, it appears that Biden has reinvigorated NATO and brought the Europeans closer to our views on China. That’s cause for celebration across the partisan divide.

If GOP MAGAs Gain House Majority, It’ll Be Pay-back Time Leaving Little Time For Lawmaking

I know most of us will be glad when Election 2022 is behind us, and certainly we’re all hoping for the best possible outcome. In today’s post, our friend Gronda explains what the Republicans have in store if they are the victors at the end of the day, and it’s not a pretty picture. Thanks, Gronda, for sharing your prescient views.

Gronda Morin

The state of US democracy is in serious peril /Daryl Cagle / politicalcartoons.com

The following scenario is a conservative depiction of what voters can expect if GOP MAGAs gain a majority position in the US House of Representatives, post the November 2022 elections:

GOP MAGAs supporters of the defeated ex-president have started making demands on GOP MAGA lawmakers if they gain a majority position in the US Congress, like exacting retribution against everyone on the GOP MAGA defeated ex-president’s enemies list. In most cases the GOP MAGA voters are basing their commands on lies like the 2020 election was stolen from their leader by fraudulent means by the Democratic Party POTUS Joe Biden, that the ex-president’s trusted associates like the VP Mike Pence and the Justice Department’s head Mr. Bill Barr failed to do their jobs to keep their leader in power, that the US congressional GOP MAGA leaders like…

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Reflections and Perspective

I don’t know why, but a few things of late have made me do some thinking.  It started with Hurricane Ian and our friend Scottie’s post about the damage he and Ron had suffered.  Roger and I were chatting in comments about how insignificant our own problems suddenly seemed as compared to what the survivors of the hurricane were going through.

Earlier that day, I had been nattering because as I was trying to get something that was at the back of the refrigerator, my arm accidentally knocked a small tub of sauce off the fridge shelf and onto the floor, where the lid separated from the container and left a nice little puddle of sweet ‘n sour sauce for me to clean up.  I cursed a bit and pondered aloud why things couldn’t just go right.  And then … I caught my self … I stopped dead in my tracks and said, “Oh shit … I should be thankful that I have so much in my fridge that this could happen.  I should be grateful that I have a fridge and electricity to power it!  What the hell am I whining about???” 

We humans, it seems, are an insulated lot.  Sure, we (at least most of us) feel empathy for those who are in trying circumstances, but at the end of the day, we’re more concerned with our own convenience.  Last night, I popped into Facebook and saw a post by a friend bemoaning that her new living room furniture was supposed to have been delivered but there was a delay.  She was “not happy”, so her hubby took her out to her favourite restaurant as a consolation.  Most people commented with commiseration over her delayed furniture, or about how wonderful her hubby is (he really is a great guy), but my thoughts were … shouldn’t you just be thankful that you can afford new furniture when some people don’t even have furniture, old or new?  And then, I realized that I, too, would have been grouchy and whiny had I been in her shoes.  And it made me ashamed of myself.

Are we really so insular that we cannot see how petty most of our own problems are?  Does it matter that the cat knocked over the flowerpot, or grease spilled onto the stove burner, when compared to women in Iran being slaughtered for protesting an archaic, misogynistic dress code, or people in Ukraine being left homeless after Russian bombs destroyed their houses, or worse yet, mourning their child who was killed when a bomb hit?

Perspective.  I frequently diss on the wealthy, for they cannot see, will not see, how the rest of us live.  They live a life of luxury in their ivory towers while we commoners struggle to pay our bills and put food on the table.  But, in some sense, don’t we all do the same?  I live in a small rented townhouse that to me is a pain, because we have lived here for 24 years and have accumulated so much ‘stuff’ that we’ve basically outgrown it, but … how many people are sharing a makeshift shelter with a dozen other people tonight, hoping it doesn’t rain and wash their shelter downriver?  How many people are living in tents made of cardboard boxes under highway overpasses tonight?  I had chicken with veggies and rice for supper tonight … how many people had naught more than a scant bowl of rice or a piece of bread?

‘Wealth’ is relative … and relative to so many others, you and I are wealthy.  Yes, there are those who have far more than we do, but … there are more who have far less than we.  I’m not trying to sound ‘preachy’ at all … this is simply my own reflection of how much I have, how lucky I am, and how often I take it all for granted.  I think I need to learn a bit of humility, need to remember more often to reflect on what I have, need to put my everyday frustrations into perspective.  My needs are met, my ‘wants’ are mostly met … life will always be filled with minor frustrations, but that is exactly what they are … minor frustrations.

I shall try to do better.

Good People Doing Good Things — Too Many To Count!

It started with the pandemic in 2020 and a young college student, Aidan Reilly who was depressed …

“There was so much bad news. Economic collapse, political protests, social protests. It felt like there was very little that you could do about it.”

Aidan Reilly

Reilly and his childhood friend James Kanoff were reading and watching news about food shortages when they came up with what started out as a simple plan to rescue some eggs from a farm that were about to be thrown away and get them to a food bank for distribution. But it evolved into a project – Farmlink Project – that has ended up involving hundreds of volunteers and providing more than 70 million pounds of food to food pantries and other distribution organizations.  The food they provide is food that would have otherwise been wasted … but instead it is providing nourishment for families in need.  I will let Aiden tell you the story himself, for he tells it so well, but be sure to check out the Farmlink Project (link above) for further details and to meet some of the volunteers who have made this work!


But it doesn’t end there …

While all of the volunteers at Farmlink Project are good people, one in particular stands out.  Charles McBryde was the Brand Director for the Farmlink Project, but earlier this year he resigned that position and traveled to Ukraine where he helped found Mission Kharkiv, an organization whose mission is twofold:

  • Organize a consistent supply of chronic, anticancer, and accompanying pharmaceuticals into Ukraine.
  • Coordinate the efficient extraction of Ukrainian patients for treatment at clinics in the EU, UK, and US.

As Mr. McBryde modestly claims …

“The Farmlink Project cut its teeth solving a supply chain issue during an unprecedented global crisis. I merely hoped to do the same thing in Ukraine, just with more bombs and the occasional minefield.”

You can read his story and also a bit more about Mission Kharkiv if you’re interested … so many good people volunteering time, resources, and in the case of Mission Kharkiv, risking life and limb.   

Something A Bit More Uplifting

I needed to step away from the politics of the day for just a few moments, and had just about decided to skip doing a morning post today, but as I scrolled through the 400+ emails awaiting some disposition, I came across one from World Central Kitchen.  You all remember them … the organization started and led by renowned Chef José Andrés.  I thought that maybe you guys could use a break from the angst of the moment, too, so I decided to share Chef Andrés’ letter with you for a bit of extra ‘good people doing good things’ around the world to remind us all that not everything is doom & gloom.


As missiles hit shopping mall and apartment buildings in Ukraine, WCK jumps into action

The past several days in Ukraine have seen horrific attacks on purely civilian targets, including a busy shopping mall in Kremenchuk, and apartment buildings in Kyiv & Mykolaiv–and just tonight, an apartment building in Odesa where at least 10 people were killed. In response to the missile strikes, WCK teams have jumped into action, bringing food & water. After the shopping mall was destroyed, we delivered hot meals, sandwiches, fruit, 2 tons of water & tea—and brought a generator & built a rest area for rescuers.

Hot meals, water & baby formula for communities devastated by deadly earthquake in Afghanistan

The most damaging earthquake in two decades struck the remote, mountainous provinces of Paktika and Khost in eastern Afghanistan last week. Killing more than a thousand people and injuring many more, families and rescue teams continue to care for survivors as medical facilities become more overwhelmed each day.

Together with Hospitality for Humanity–whose team lead is from the affected region–we are distributing thousands of hot meals every day to shelters, hospitals & clinics working around the clock. To increase capacity and serve more communities in need, we established two Relief Kitchens cooking for families. While the UN delivered tents, WCK is the only organization currently providing food & water.

Serving both lunch and dinner, fresh meals have included lobia chalaw (beans with tomatoes, parsley, mint, and spices), kabuli palaw (considered the national dish of Afghanistan composed of meat with rice, raisins, and carrots), naan, and fruit.

Assisting families and medical staff in need of clean water, we are also providing both bottled water and six 15,000-liter water tanks with our fresh meals. Damage from the earthquake destroyed entire villages and has left many families sleeping outside in the rain.

Tragically, many children have lost both of their parents. To provide as much comfort to these kids as possible, we’ve set up a special tent to give them a safe space where they can draw, read books, and enjoy some fresh fruit. Additionally, the team is starting a baby formula program to deliver bottles to mothers in hospitals.

Meet Some of the #ChefsForUkraine Team

WCK’s work across Ukraine is managed and carried out by thousands of brave Ukrainians every single day. Our team now includes more than 4,500 people—chefs, drivers, warehouse managers, logistics experts—who help us serve over 1 million daily meals.

In Zaporizhzhia, Alex Beluga and his namesake Beluga Restaurant feed thousands of people every single day. One village he serves is Mala Tokmachka, a community near Russian-occupied territory—prior to the invasion, Mala Tokmachka had 3,000 residents, but there are now just 600-800 people left. Alex brings WCK food kits for families here living with no power or electricity. Deliveries here are dangerous—their vehicle has been damaged by shelling—but Alex is dedicated to supporting families not receiving any other form of help.

Katya, WCK’s regional lead in the eastern city of Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region, delivers critically needed food to families in the area. It was in Kramatorsk where we witnessed the horrific missile attack on the train station as families—including many young children—were desperately trying to flee. But Katya and her family have stayed behind, playing a vital role in supporting many who are unable to leave, even as attacks from Russia increase. Despite the danger, she says, “I really enjoy meeting and communicating with people, helping them—and this gives me the strength and desire to keep working.”

Earlier this month, a boxcar carrying pallets of WCK food to be delivered in eastern Ukraine was hit by a missile. Working with the incredible team from Ukrainian Railways, Katya helped clean up the mess and get the salvageable food to families in need.

Artem works with our WCK team in Dnipro to distribute thousands of WCK food kits and meals to families every day. He’s been traveling to frontline communities in the occupied Kherson region, and villages under attack in Donetsk. When he learned that water had been out for 2 months for 2,000 families, Artem brought a WCK generator to get the pumps working again–and 5 villages now have access to clean water.

Nastia is only 12 years old and came to Dnipro from Kharkiv with her mother Yulia in early March. They left their native town, home, and everything else, trying to save their lives. After receiving hot meals from a local WCK restaurant, they both began volunteering every day to help prepare meals for other Ukrainians forced to flee home!

Ukraine

So wrapped up are we here in the U.S. with our internal crises that we have forgotten to pay as much attention to what is happening in Ukraine. It isn’t that we’ve forgotten, or that we don’t care, but simply a product of the fact that the human mind can only process so much at one time. Our friend David in Wales has been paying attention, however, and he is here to remind us that Putin’s aggression has predictably increased, that more and more lives are being lost every day. While we in the U.S. bemoan the loss of our rights, our democratic foundations, the people in Ukraine are fleeing Russian bombs, watching their homes and their lives destroyed in front of their eyes. Thank you, David, for the timely reminder.

The BUTHIDARS

Todaay we enter a new darker period in the war in Ukraine.Prior to the G7 and Nato meeting on the conflict there was a rocket attack on a suburb of Kyiv which left at least one dead and more civilians mourning. Since then there has been a rocket attack on Kremenchuk in Central Ukraine, an area well away from the front line. The attack in full daylight hit a busy shopping arcade/ This cannot have been a mistake so showing that Uncle Vlad is now condoning attacks on civilians in Crowded areas.

I have to believe that The G7 meeting may have pissed Putin off, since he is no longer invited and this is his way of showing he’s not worried by their deliberations. A bit of a short sighted view since the accusations of War Crimes won’t be easy to shake off and if he is ever turfed out…

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Misplaced Priorities

The effects of climate change are predicted to bring us our hottest summer ever and one with even more hurricanes, tornadoes, and extreme wildfires than past years. We are told that we should expect rolling electricity ‘blackouts’ this summer as power companies try to protect the electric grid from damage due to overuse.  We have become a nation known for its mass shootings, known for people who carry a gun into churches, schools, and grocery stores just looking for trouble – we are not safe shopping for food, and our children are no longer safe in school.  There is a war in Ukraine (just in case you’ve forgotten) that is likely to expand into other nations and may well ultimately involve the U.S.  Our voting rights are being stripped, states are passing ridiculous laws to deny women of their rights and children of the right to learn those things they need to know. Far too many people cannot afford adequate, let alone quality healthcare, and the quality of healthcare for the average person is poor, to say the least.  Women’s rights, voting rights, civil rights, are being rolled back by the Courts at an alarming rate.  Racism and homophobia are on the rise, with violent episodes of each happening around the nation.  And yet … what are the people of the United States concerned most about?  Inflation. Yep, the rising costs of fuel and groceries are hitting their pocketbooks directly, so those somehow matter more than protecting the planet or saving people’s lives.  Somebody find me a tiny violin, please. 🎻

Mind you, I do realize that inflation is a problem, more for the poor than for the rest of us.  But it is not a problem that is unique to the U.S. … it is global!!!  Every nation on earth is suffering to a greater or lesser extent for numerous reasons, not the least of which is disrupted supply chains due to Putin’s war against Ukraine!  And the people doing the most complaining are those who, while it may be annoying and inconvenient, CAN still afford to put enough fuel in their cars to get where they need … yes, I said need … to go and CAN still afford enough food to feed their families!  They are more worried about whether they can take a cross-country vacation than whether their own children are safe in school and whether their grandchildren will have air to breathe!!!

These people need to get over themselves, to learn to be a bit more frugal, combine errands to use less fuel, turn the damn a/c off at night, eat chicken or fish instead of beef … better yet, what better time to go vegan?  Life in any nation is going to have its ups and downs … we have far more pressing and critical problems in this country than the price of a gallon of gasoline or the price of grapes.  If we don’t wake up and wake our legislators to the effects of climate change, it will soon be too late.  Oh, speaking of which … a headline in the New York Times caught my eye yesterday …

How an Organized Republican Effort Punishes Companies for Climate Action

A few snippets from the article

  • Across the country, Republican lawmakers and their allies have launched a campaign to try to rein in what they see as activist companies trying to reduce the greenhouse gases that are dangerously heating the planet.
  • In Texas, a new law bars the state’s retirement and investment funds from doing business with companies that the state comptroller says are boycotting fossil fuels. Conservative lawmakers in 15 other states are promoting similar legislation.
  • The pushback has been spearheaded by a group of Republican state officials that has reached out to financial organizations, facilitated media appearances and threatened to punish companies that, among other things, divest from fossil fuels.
  • And last week, the global head of responsible investments for HSBC Asset Management, Stuart Kirk, made a provocative presentation titled “Why investors need not worry about climate risk” at a Financial Times event in London. Describing climate risk as a problem in the far-off future, Mr. Kirk said, “Climate change is not a financial risk that we need to worry about,” adding, “Who cares if Miami is six meters underwater in 100 years?”

If you needed further proof that people live for today and to hell with tomorrow, there it is!  I think we need to be far more worried about global climate change that is a lasting problem, not one that will be solved in our lifetimes, perhaps never if we don’t get busy, than about temporary inflation.  Yes, rising prices are a concern, but not nearly as much so as children being shot and killed in schools, the planet heading toward disaster for all life forms, a war that could yet turn into World War III, and so much more.  Priorities, my friends … priorities.

While The Rich Get Richer …

Yesterday saw the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  Timely issues like the war and Covid will be discussed, alongside perennial threats such as climate change and cybersecurity.

Needless to say, Ukraine will be at the top of the list for discussion topics this year, as it should be, and Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy gave a virtual address to those present earlier today.  But other topics are on the agenda as well:  the post-pandemic recovery, tackling climate change, the future of work, accelerating stakeholder capitalism and harnessing new technologies.  I would suggest they turn their attention more toward the worldwide wealth/poverty crisis.  A few facts for your perusal …

  • The fortunes of food and energy billionaires have grown by $453 billion over the past two years owing to soaring energy and commodity prices during the pandemic and Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine
  • Spiraling global food prices helped create “62 new food billionaires” in just 24 months.
  • Cargill, which is one of the world’s largest food traders, now counts 12 family members as billionaires, up from eight before the pandemic. The Cargill family, along with three other companies, controls 70% of the global agricultural market.
  • Food prices, which are up more than 30% over the past year on average, are likely to push more than 263 million more people into acute poverty than before the pandemic. That would take the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day to 860 million by the end of the year. That is equivalent to the populations of the UK, France, Germany, and Spain combined.
  • Billionaires’ combined wealth stands at $12.7 trillion, according to Forbes magazine’s ranking on the super-rich. That is the equivalent to 13.9% of global GDP, and a threefold increase from 2000. The fortunes of the richest 20 billionaires are greater than the entire GDP of sub-Saharan Africa.

The stated purpose of the World Economic Forum is “… to bring together decision-makers from across society to work on projects and initiatives that make a real difference. Through collaboration between stakeholders with varied perspectives, our projects deliver concrete and sustainable results and make a positive impact at all levels of society.”

While I do not doubt that some of those leaders and decision makers are in Davos with the best of intentions, I very much doubt that any real help will come to those who are struggling for their very survival.  Why?  In part because even the founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, has come to realize that the world he once believed could exist with cooperation among nations, simply isn’t happening.  Says political scientist Ian Bremmer …

“I think this will be the first World Economic Forum where Klaus himself does not believe that it is a Western-led world and that the rest of the countries are just going to align toward it. I think he gets it.”

Yet another part of the reason for my skepticism is the atmosphere that surrounds the event in Davos.  It seems to be a haven for the wealthy, days of sipping champagne and, as Mr. Bremmer says …

“… five days of making as much money as they can because they’re masters of the universe and they’re seeing other masters of the universe and they’re meeting every 30 minutes and getting deals done.”

As I sat writing notes for this post at about 2:00 this morning, munching on a few tortilla crisps, sipping a cup of fresh-brewed coffee, I realized just how lucky I am … and everyone reading this blog is … that while we may groan and moan about rising prices, we can still afford to keep a roof over our heads, the lights on, and food on the table.  Millions, if not billions of people around the globe are not able to do that.

Nellie Kumambala, a primary schoolteacher who lives in Lumbadzi, Malawi, with her husband, two children and her mother, said:

“Prices have risen so much, even since last month. Two litres of cooking oil, last month was 2,600 kwacha, now it is 7,500. Imagine. Yesterday I went to the shop to buy cooking oil, but I failed, I did not have the money. Every day I worry about how I will feed the household, thinking to myself, ‘What should I do today so we can eat?’”

Here in the U.S., gasoline prices are high and food prices are on the rise.  At least half of the people in this nation blame President Biden, for they have been told by their mentors on Fox ‘News’ that anything and everything that goes wrong must be Biden’s fault and they are too lazy or too uneducated to seek real answers.  But the reality is that fuel and food prices are high, not because of anything President Biden has or hasn’t done, but because the wealthy bastards who run the oil and food companies saw an opportunity to stick it to we the consumers, and they grabbed that golden ring, increasing their own profits astronomically while hurting the other 99% of us, particularly the lower economic families.

The development charity Oxfam called on world leaders meeting at Davos to immediately introduce wealth taxes on the super-rich to help tackle “the biggest increase in extreme poverty in over 20 years”.  While I fully agree … I think the wealthy should be taxed to the nines, be made to pay back for all the years they have gotten by with murder, paying no taxes while others starved to death … I am enough of a realist to know that it won’t happen.  Not today, not tomorrow, not next year, and probably not in 20 years, if the human species survives that long.  So, while I think the premise behind the World Economic Forum is a good one, I also think it’s pie-in-the-sky, unachievable, for the wealthy are greedy, arrogant creatures who would happily sip their champagne while the world burns around them.

TokyoSand’s Week’s Best Political Cartoons

As she always does, TokyoSand has taken the time to scour the media for the best political ‘toons of the week.  Political cartoons are appealing because they sum up a situation using few or no words, whereas the rest of us require hundreds or even thousands of words to try to explain the why, what, when, where and hows of what is happening in our world.  Thank you, TS, for all your hard work in finding these gems!


This is only a sampling, so be sure to check out the rest of the ‘toons at TokyoSand’s Political Charge!!!

Still Hope …

I came across an OpEd by Pulitzer Prize-winning Bret Stephens in the New York Times this morning that I thought made some excellent points, gave encouragement to not lose hope, even as our nation seems to be falling apart at the seams some days.


Can We Still Be Optimistic About America?

May 10, 2022

By Bret Stephens, Opinion Columnist

This is a season — an age, really — of American pessimism.

The pessimism comes in many flavors. There is progressive pessimism: The country is tilting toward MAGA-hatted fascism or a new version of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” There is conservative pessimism: The institutions, from primary schools to the Pentagon, are all being captured by wokeness. There is Afropessimism: Black people have always been excluded by systemic, ineradicable racism. There is the pessimism of the white middle and working classes: The country and the values they’ve known for generations are being hijacked by smug, self-dealing elites who view them with contempt.

There is also the pessimism of the middle: We are losing the institutional capacity, cultural norms and moral courage needed to strike pragmatic compromises at almost every level of society. Zero-sum is now our default setting.

These various kinds of pessimism may reach contradictory conclusions, but they are based on undeniable realities. In 2012, there were roughly 41,000 overdose deaths in the United States. Last year, the number topped 100,000. In 2012, there were 4.7 murders for every 100,000 people. Last year, the rate hit an estimated 6.9, a 47 percent increase. A decade ago, you rarely heard of carjackings. Now, they are through the roof. Shoplifting? Ditto. The nation’s mental health was in steep decline before the pandemic, with a 60 percent increase of major depressive episodes among adolescents between 2007 and 2019. Everything we know about the effects of lockdowns and school closures suggests it’s gotten much worse.

Economics tell a similar story. “Twenty-first-century America has somehow managed to produce markedly more wealth for its wealthholders even as it provided markedly less work for its workers,” observed Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute in a landmark 2017 Commentary essay. It’s in part from the loss of meaningful work — and the consequent evaporation of pride, purpose and dignity in labor — that we get the startling increase in death rates among white middle-aged Americans, often to suicide or substance abuse.

The list goes on, but you get the point. Even without the daily reminders of Carter-era inflation, this feels like another era of Carter-style malaise, complete with an unpopular president who tends to inspire more sympathy than he does confidence.

So why am I still an optimist when it comes to America? Because while we are bent, our adversaries are brittle. As we find ways to bend, they can only remain static or shatter.

This week brought two powerful reminders of the point. In Moscow, Vladimir Putin gave his customary May 9 Victory Day speech, in which he enlisted nostalgia for a partly mythical past to promote lies about a wholly mythical present, all for the sake of a war that is going badly for him.

Putin is belatedly discovering that the powers to humiliate, subvert and destroy are weaker forces than the powers to attract, inspire and build — powers free nations possess almost as a birthright. The Kremlin might yet be able to bludgeon its way to something it can call victory. But its reward will mainly be the very rubble it has created. The rest of Ukraine will find ways to flourish, ideally as a member of NATO and the European Union.

Meanwhile, in Shanghai, more than 25 million people remain under strict lockdown, a real-world dystopia in which hovering drones warn residents through loudspeakers to “control your soul’s desire for freedom.” Does anyone still think that China’s handling of the pandemic — its deceits, its mediocre vaccines, a zero-Covid policy that manifestly failed and now this cruel lockdown that has brought hunger and medicine shortages to its richest city — is a model to the rest of the world?

Meanwhile, in Shanghai, more than 25 million people remain under strict lockdown, a real-world dystopia in which hovering drones warn residents through loudspeakers to “control your soul’s desire for freedom.” Does anyone still think that China’s handling of the pandemic — its deceits, its mediocre vaccines, a zero-Covid policy that manifestly failed and now this cruel lockdown that has brought hunger and medicine shortages to its richest city — is a model to the rest of the world?

For all its undeniable progress over 45 years, China remains a Potemkin regime obsessed with fostering aggrandizing illusions: about domestic harmony (aided by a vast system of surveillance and prison camps); about technological innovation (aided by unprecedented theft of intellectual property); about unstoppable economic growth (aided by manufactured statistics). The illusions may win status for Beijing. But they come with a heavy price: the systematic denial of truth, even to the regime itself.

Rulers who come to believe their own propaganda will inevitably miscalculate, often catastrophically. Look again at Putin, who really believed he had a competent military.

Which brings me back to the United States. Just as dictatorships advertise their strengths but hide their weaknesses — both to others and to themselves — democracies do the opposite: We obsess over our weaknesses even as we forget our formidable strengths. It is the source of our pessimism. But it is also, paradoxically, our deepest strength: In refusing to look away from our flaws, we not only acknowledge them but also begin fixing them.

We rethink. We adapt. In bending, we find new ways to grow.

We have a demonstrated record of defanging right-wing demagogues, debunking left-wing ideologues, promoting racial justice, reversing crime waves, revitalizing the political center and reinvigorating the American ideal. Our problems may be hard, but they are neither insoluble nor new.

Those without our freedoms will not be so fortunate.