Mar 4, 2022

Please, don't lose the plot.

Please, don't lose the plot.

There is a lot of noise. Try to ignore it.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 6 minutes.

It has been eight days since Putin's war in Ukraine began, and I'd like to issue a warning: Please don't lose the plot.

On one side is Vladimir Putin, a former spy and authoritarian leader who disappears dissidents, appears to have risen to power in part by bombing his own citizens, and believes a country of 40 million free Ukrainians belongs to him. He is "liberating" them from "nazis" by bombing Holocaust memorials, schools, kindergartens, hospitals, apartment buildings and civilian centers.

On the other side is Volodymyr Zelensky, a former television star who grew up in Soviet Ukraine and became president in a free and fair election. Zelensky is a Jew from a Russian-speaking family who wants Ukraine and its people to get to choose their own leaders, stay fully independent from Russia, and move forward allied with the West. He was elected in a landslide victory, in part because of these objectives. He has not attacked Russia, nor has he bombed Russian citizens, nor has he disappeared his political opposition.

This is the plot of this story.

Are there complicating factors? Sure. Plenty. Some worth discussing more than others.

Did Zelensky stoop to the political low of attempting to prosecute his predecessor? Yes, he did. Did NATO provoke Russia by expanding into eastern Europe? It depends who you ask. Does Ukraine have a history of corruption? Sure. Do some Ukrainians support unification with Russia? A few. Are there actually far-right nationalists and neo-Nazis in Ukraine? Yes; but there are some in basically every country, ours included, unfortunately. Do any of these things make Putin and Zelensky equal counterparts? No.

Don't lose the plot.

An authoritarian leader is invading a country with a fledgling democracy and 40 million innocent people. He is bombing civilians, lying to his own soldiers about the war they are in, and trying to cut off his own citizens from reliable information about the war he started. More than one million people have already been displaced by his war — it has only been a week. A city the size of Pittsburgh has just fallen, and its government leaders fear they might be executed in public. Ukrainians are living in a constant state of fear. Ordinary Russian citizens, meanwhile, are being crushed by sanctions, their businesses and savings destroyed overnight.

Don't lose the plot.

You may have seen the polls showing that Republicans think more highly of Putin than they do of Democrats. These polls might feel something close to aneurysm-inducing, and they should. Democrats are not worse than Putin. Joe Biden is not worse than Putin.

Yes, sure, these polls probably better reflect ignorance about Russia's leader than they do hatred Americans have for each other. Maybe, even, there is the mischievous responding effect in play. But it does not bode well.

Some conservatives, like blogger Matt Walsh, have turned their ire on the wrong protagonists.

"Americans fawn over Zelensky while he openly tries to push our country into a world war that will get millions of our people killed," Walsh, who has 800,000 followers, tweeted. "It's the most pathetic thing I've ever seen."

Zelensky is not trying to get Americans killed. He is trying to defend his country from an authoritarian leader who is indiscriminately bombing his civilians with a larger, better-funded military than his. He is pleading with the world for help. He is doing the same thing any rational, honorable elected person would do to protect his people.

Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz took time out of his busy schedule to tweet this:

Here is a thought — novel I know — when you're a sitting member of Congress, with a war in Europe breaking out, you probably shouldn't be spending your time trolling the president's chief medical adviser on Twitter. In fact, I'd say Dr. Fauci has precisely zero to do with Putin invading Ukraine, and instead, I'd humbly suggest that our tax dollars that pay your salary would be better used for the purpose of preventing World War III.

Thank you.

Please, for the love of G-d, don't lose the plot.

There is no need to make this war about that thing that you care about. It is not about your thing. It is about Ukraine.

It's not just Republicans who disapprove of Putin (81%) less than Biden (92%), either. In a similar Fox News poll, 87% of Democrats had a negative view of Trump and 85% had a negative view of Putin. Again: Name recognition matters, and just as with Republicans I'm sure that is at play here. And I'm glad 85% of Democrats recognize that Putin is not someone to idolize. But for the love of all things holy, neither Trump nor Biden deserve the same amount of scorn as Putin. Putin is much closer to Hitler than he is to any of our recent presidents.

Now, let's talk about some of the really uncomfortable things out there.

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