Jul 11, 2022

Shinzo Abe's assassination.

Shinzo Abe's assassination.

Plus, a question about Democrats passing an abortion rights bill.

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.”

First time reading? Sign up here. Would you rather listen? You can find our podcast here.

Today's read: 10 minutes.

Shinzo Abe is assassinated. Plus, a question about Democrats passing an abortion rights bill.

Japan's former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
Japan's former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)


Heads up: We've gotten some notices from readers that our newsletter has had a couple technical delivery issues. If you ever don't receive the newsletter, please let us know. You can also find everything on readtangle.com.

On Friday, I wrote a subscribers-only piece arguing that we should not execute the Buffalo mass shooter, and made the case that the death penalty should be abolished. You can read that piece here.

Quick hits.

  1. Elon Musk sent a letter to Twitter terminating his $44 billion bid for the company, citing material breach of multiple provisions of the agreement. (The deal)
  2. Steve Bannon agreed to testify before the House panel investigating the January attacks. (The testimony)
  3. President Biden will announce $100 million in aid to Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem during his visit to the Middle East. (The pledge)
  4. Amid an economic crisis, Sri Lanka's prime minister and president have agreed to resign just two months into their terms after protesters broke into the presidential palace and set the prime minister's home on fire. (The resignations)
  5. 64% of Democratic voters say they want someone besides President Biden to run for president in 2024. (The poll)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Today's topic.

Shinzo Abe. On Friday, Shinzo Abe, Japan's longest serving prime minister, was assassinated while giving a speech in Nara. He was 67 years old. Abe, who was best known for fighting deflation with "Abenomics" and beefing up Japan's military to counter China, had resigned from his position as prime minister in 2020. His protege, current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, called the killing "absolutely unforgivable."

Police say a 41 year old man* admitted to the shooting. It was an especially shocking event given the rarity of gun violence in Japan, which has severely limited the right to own firearms. In 2018, just nine people died from gun violence, including one suicide, according to the World Health Organization. For context, Japan has a population of 125 million, about one-third that of the United States, which had 39,740 gun deaths that same year. The suspect appears to have used a homemade, gun-like weapon to fire on Abe. He was apparently motivated by anger toward a group he believed Abe had been associated with.

When he was shot, Abe was speaking in support of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidates ahead of major Upper House elections in Japan on July 10. Despite resigning, Abe still remains an influential figure in Japan's politics. Two days after his death, Abe's LDP won a two-thirds supermajority in the nation’s parliament, opening the door for Kishida to increase its defense spending and pursue Abe's longtime goal of amending Japan's constitution so it can become a stronger military power (currently, Japan is limited by a clause that only allows a "Self-Defense Force").

But Japan still faces a plummeting yen, rising energy prices and inflation issues. Polls show voters are also concerned with national security, China's threats to Taiwan and North Korea's growing nuclear program.

Abe is widely considered to have been one of the most influential leaders in Japan's history. Today, we are going to take a look at some opinions from the typical left and right leaning sources here in the U.S., as well as from Japan, and then my take. But given that there isn’t a huge variance of opinions about this particular news item, we are not dividing the opinions up into right and left sections.

*When possible, Tangle refrains from naming mass shooters, terrorists, and other suspects because of the well-documented contagion effect.

The opinions.

In CNN, Frida Ghitis said the news "came like a thunderbolt."

"If it was shocking to people around the world, it was devastating in Japan, where gun violence is essentially non-existent," Ghitis wrote. "Abe's killing would have been appalling at any time. Now, however, it adds to the sense of an unstable world in crisis -- in which democracies, in particular, appear to be under siege. It's still early, and we don't know the assassin's motivation. But the violent death of Japan's most prominent politician of the 21st century -- and its longest serving prime minister -- is occurring at a time when violence, including political violence, is surging in the United States; when Ukraine, a fledgling democracy, is fighting for its survival against invading forces from an increasingly anti-democratic, aggressive Russia.

"It comes just hours after the resignation of Britain's prime minister, a key player in support for Ukraine, with no successor in place, and just over a week after China, an exporter of authoritarian technology, celebrated the 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong, having just crushed the territory's democracy in what critics have said is a violation of its promises," she wrote. "Now comes the killing of a towering political figure in Japan's democracy."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board called him a friend to the U.S.

"Abe understood that without a strong economy he wouldn’t achieve his other central goal," the board wrote. "This was to normalize Japan’s strategic place in the world. The theme was for Japan to become a better ally to the U.S. and other partners by bolstering its own military capabilities. As Prime Minister he increased defense spending and broke through a longtime cap of 1% of GDP on military outlays, and after he stepped down as PM in 2020 he advocated for more. He also launched a debate about the pacifist clause in Japan’s constitution prohibiting much military activity. Abe wasn’t able to push through an amendment, though he did secure a 'reinterpretation' allowing more Japanese participation in alliance military endeavors. With China seeking regional dominance, this is no small breakthrough.

"Even in the attempt, Abe forced Japanese politicians and voters to start confronting difficult questions about Japan’s place in the world," the board continued. "He played a similar role this year when he tried to ignite a debate about whether Japan ought to participate in nuclear sharing with the U.S. to deter regional threats. Abe was not always as effective an advocate for these policies as he could have been. His nationalist tone, particularly on some of Japan’s terrible wartime history, stoked needless tensions with Japan’s Asian neighbors. But no country gets the platonic ideal of a philosopher-king for a leader. If a country is lucky, it gets an adept politician with a plan to tackle the country’s ills. Shinzo Abe was that leader for Japan, and his country and the world will miss his influence."

Riley Walters wrote about what the loss means for the world.

"Abe oversaw Japan’s completion of a number of trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and U.S.-Japan trade agreement. And he campaigned to have more women leaders in Japan’s often male-dominated workforce," Walters said. "Abe often was criticized for his defense reforms and his desire for constitutional reform, though. While his critics labeled him a hawk for his aggressive defense and foreign policies, his foresight was correct: The world is now challenged by a more belligerent China.

"Abe’s efforts formed the Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue — or Quad — between Japan, the U.S., Australia and India. And it was his campaign for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific that has been adopted into the Biden administration’s foreign policy. These efforts laid the foundation for future leadership in Japan to build on. His legacy is putting Japan on a path toward a more globalized economy while investing in stronger defense," Walters said. "In an interview this year, when asked what he thinks about Prime Minister Kishida, Abe said he respected Kishida’s realist approach to foreign policy. Specifically, he was confident that Kishida would make the right decisions when it comes to such issues as the future of Japan-Taiwan relations. In other words, he believed Japan’s future is in good hands."

Tobias Harris, the author of a book on Shinzo Abe, said it was important to remember the "other side" of Abe's story.

"He was the most polarizing Japanese political figure in several generations, a political battler whose commitment to his vision of the country’s future invited the adoration of his friends and the opprobrium of his critics," Harris wrote. "From his arrival in Japan’s House of Representatives as a junior lawmaker in 1993, Abe pursued controversial goals. Above all else, he wanted to transform core institutions of the postwar order introduced by the U.S. occupation and embraced by a portion of Japan’s political class. He believed that these institutions – most notably, the education system and the 1947 constitution (written largely by U.S. occupation officials) – prevented Japan from retaking its rightful place among the world’s great powers, reducing it to 'subordinate independence' on the United States.

"This agenda put Abe and his allies on a collision course with many members of the political class. The Japanese left, fiercely protective of the postwar constitution, hated Abe, seeing him and the New Right as militarists. But his ideas also alienated some of the older generations in Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), many of whom had experienced the war and were attached to postwar prime minister Shigeru Yoshida’s vision of a lightly armed Japan that was firmly allied with the United States and focused on its role as a ‘civilian’ economic superpower," Harris said. "While Abe learned to soft-pedal or quietly drop some of these more controversial positions by the time he returned to the premiership for a second time in 2012, they nevertheless help to explain why he often inspired distrust, if not outright opposition, from significant portions of the Japanese public."

Tomohiko Taniguchi, Abe's former speechwriter, wrote about what Shinzo Abe really thought.

"One frequently asked question about the late Japanese prime minister was this: 'Why did Abe choose to get that close to Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin?' The answer about the latter leader also solves the one with the former," Taniguchi wrote. "Since the end of World War II, Moscow and Tokyo have yet to sign a peace treaty. By doing so, Abe thought that Japan could reduce the military tension to its north from Russia. For Japan to seek that path and to stand tall in arguably the most dangerous geopolitical setting in the world, he believed that it is the duty of a Japanese prime minister to build the best possible rapport with whoever happens to be the President of the United States.

"He accomplished the latter adeptly and strengthened the U.S.-Japan alliance, yet failed on his mission to resolve the outstanding issues in the northern front with Russia," he said. "With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the situation has gotten worse. For the first time in Japanese history, Japan must now confront military threats from three fronts all at the same time, which reinforces the importance of Japan building robust alliance ties with the United States and deepening quasi-alliances with like-minded democratic nations such as Australia and India, to name only two...Japan is, and will always be, a maritime trading nation that sits on the periphery of the vast land mass — which is currently dominated by undemocratic, militarist powers. What else could Japan do — Abe questioned — but to anchor itself even more firmly with seafaring democracies such as the United States, Australia and India?"

The Japan Times editorial board said "mercifully, guns remain a rarity in Japan."

"In fact, this country has one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the world. According to a police white paper, there were 21 arrests for the use of firearms in 2020, and 12 of them were gang related. World Health Organization figures show that Japan had just nine firearm-related deaths in 2018, down from 23 the year before. The rate of firearm deaths per 100,000 people is 0.01; for comparison, the U.S. number exceeds four per 100,000. Much of the credit goes to strict gun control laws, which were, ironically, written by the U.S. Occupation authorities.

"There is a more fundamental issue at hand: respect for democracy and the absolute imperative to resolve political differences through the ballot box exclusively. Half a world away, another political leader has been removed from power through the political process as he lost the confidence of his party. That is how political change is done. There is no place for violence in this process. The attempt by any individual or group of individuals to impose their will on the country through violent means is terrorism, pure and simple. That is unacceptable and must be condemned by all — whatever the political stripe or inclination."

My take.

I am not an expert on Japanese politics and I'm certainly not going to pretend to be one here. But as someone who has followed the Japan-U.S. relationship for a while, the news was shocking. Abe not only influenced Japan, he reoriented the entire region; and as some of the commentators noted above, he had strong foresight about China and the kinds of alliances that would be needed to counter them on the global stage.

From the U.S. perspective, what was notable about Abe is that he was a nationalist who, as Harris put it, "saw his country as engaged in a fierce competition among nations and believed that a politician’s duty, first and foremost, was to ensure the security and prosperity of his people." His ambition to expand Japan's military was welcomed by U.S. leaders of many stripes, though, and many of his ideas are now more popular than they were when he was in office (even if some critics have described them as his "authoritarian tinges").

In Japan, as divisive as Abe may have been, he also had some notable wins. He lowered the voting age from 20 to 18 and tried to usher in an economic focus on the country's youth, a policy focus that rightly won him their support. He pushed women to step into the labor force, and female labor participation outpaced the U.S. under his watch. He also ushered Japan into significant trade deals that expanded its already massive influence across the globe. For your average Japanese person, there is a lot to love.

But as I said, aside from Japan's relationship with the U.S., my understanding is rather limited — and I learned a lot just from reading so many opinions about his assassination. What is clear is that the story of his death fits into a larger picture of so many democracies across the world — including the United Kingdom, France, the United States, and Israel — that are all in considerable turmoil.

I'm certain I have some readers living in Japan or from Japan — what do you think? Reply to this newsletter to share your thoughts. I'd love to hear from you and share with our audience!

Your questions, answered.

Q: Do you really believe Democrats actually want to secure abortion rights through achievable legislation? I believe they would rather have the issue as a perpetual campaign and fundraising tool. It's true also for gun control, voting and other issues that can be used as [a] wedge. Republicans — same.

— Don, Colorado Springs

Tangle: It's an interesting question. I think, generally speaking, you are right to be skeptical about any political party's interest in "solving" an issue that matters to voters and drives turnout. The rationale there is as you said: Once the issue is resolved, it can't be used as a wedge.

That being said, I think Democrats have a genuine interest in "solving" the issue of abortion rights — and many of them would do it if they could (caveat here in a second). Joe Biden's presidency has been tumultuous, and the wins he has delivered to the Democratic base have been fleeting and limited thus far. If he could secure even limited or narrow federal abortion rights legislation, that would be a major win for Democrats to run on in the midterms, and I think Democrats genuinely want that.

The one caveat to this is that we don't really know how all Democratic senators and members of Congress feel about abortion. For the most part, it's safe to assume they are "pro-choice," but like America as a whole, that spans a huge gamut of views. Right now, Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have mostly taken the flak for blocking a move on the filibuster, and thus we haven't gotten what I'd say is an "honest" vote on an abortion bill (i.e., one where the outcome could really be to introduce a piece of abortion rights legislation).

So, it's hard to say definitively, but I think it's safe to assume that nearly every Democratic senator and the vast majority of Democratic House members would vote for and pass an abortion rights bill tomorrow if they could. Right now, that doesn’t seem possible unless there is a filibuster carve out or Democrats decide to adopt a much narrower bill, like the one being proposed by Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins (and even then, it’d be very tough to get 60 votes).

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

A story that matters.

Last week, President Biden issued an executive order that attempts to protect access to reproductive health services in the wake of Roe v. Wade being struck down. There are no actions Biden can take to overrule state law where abortions are now banned, but the order attempts to keep abortifacient medication and emergency contraceptives available for purchase. It also aims to protect patient privacy and launches a public education campaign for abortion resources. Biden is also considering a declaration of a public health emergency that would unlock more resources to meet interstate demand for abortion services. The Wall Street Journal has the story.


  • Nine. The total number of years that Shinzo Abe served as prime minister.
  • 33%. President Biden's job approval rating, according to a new New York Times/Siena College poll.
  • 86. President Biden's age when his second term would end, if he were to be re-elected.
  • 124,000+. The number of leaked documents in the so-called "Uber files," which reveal the company flouted laws and exploited drivers between 2013 and 2017.
  • $45,000. The new minimum salary for House aides, which the Senate is now trying to match.

Have a nice day.

Anyone who has ever explored a creek, river or woods has probably run into a familiar piece of litter: Abandoned tires. But a new park in Tennessee has found a fun way to repurpose them as hard surface walking and biking trails. Officials from Tennessee State Parks and Tennessee Department of Transportation have officially cut the ribbon on a new, 2.5 mile long trail in Fuller State Park made entirely from rubber crumbs derived from tires. The tires had been illegally dumped in the area around the park, gathered by volunteers, then transformed into crumbs by a tire recycling center. Good News Network has the story.

❤️  Enjoy this newsletter?

💵  Drop some love in our tip jar.

📫  Forward this to a friend and let them know where they can subscribe (hint: it's here).

📣  Share Tangle on Twitter here, Facebook here, or LinkedIn here.

🎧  Rather listen? Check out our podcast here.

🛍  Love clothes, stickers and mugs? Go to our merch store!

Subscribe to Tangle

Join 100,000+ people getting Tangle directly to their inbox!