1. Opinion

Here’s what to read from the left and the right this week

Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.

We live in a partisan age, and our news habits can reinforce our own perspectives. Consider this an effort to broaden our collective outlook with essays beyond the range of our typical selections.


From “After I Lived in Norway, America Felt Backward. Here’s Why,” by Ann Jones from the 2016 files of The Nation.

The context, from the author: I was dumbfounded. Norway, Denmark, and Sweden practice variations of a system that works much better than ours. Yet even the Democratic presidential candidates, who say they love or want to learn from those countries, don’t seem know how they actually work.

The excerpt: What is it, though, that makes the Scandinavians so different? Since the Democrats can’t tell you and the Republicans wouldn’t want you to know, let me offer you a quick introduction. What Scandinavians call the Nordic model is a smart and simple system that starts with a deep commitment to equality and democracy. That’s two concepts combined in a single goal because, as far as they’re concerned, you can’t have one without the other. ... In the last century, Scandinavians, aiming for their egalitarian goal, refused to settle solely for any of the ideologies competing for power — not capitalism or fascism, not Marxist socialism or communism. Geographically stuck between powerful nations waging hot and cold wars for such doctrines, Scandinavians set out to find a middle path.

From “The Cosmic Irony of Bernie Sanders’ Rise,” by Seth Ackerman in Jacobin.

The context, from the author: What makes Bernie Sanders so threatening to the Democratic establishment is that he stands for what millions of Democrats thought their party stood for all along.

The excerpt: There is an ideological struggle going on within the party, even if many ordinary Democrats hardly notice it. But it’s a struggle that dare not speak its name. Whatever popular legitimacy the party possesses depends on its followers’ believing that the party hews to the very principles now most closely associated with Bernie Sanders. That makes it excruciatingly difficult to craft an effective anti-Bernie appeal.

From “Finding Neverland,” by John Ganz in The New Republic.

The context, from the author: The American Right is on a doomed quest to rid itself of Trumpism.

The excerpt: Ideas on the right are not so much irreconcilable as they are irrelevant. More than principle, the presence of threat and an enemy is the most important driver of right-wing energy, and since the end of the Cold War, the hunt for enemies has become ever more desperate. That’s especially been the case from the moment since the wars on terrorism and Iraq failed to coalesce the movement — let alone the country — into any viable political coalition for any sustained interval beyond the moment they launched. Still, the struggle continues.


From “The Price of the 1980s,” by Christopher Caldwell in the Claremont Review of Books.

The context, from the author: Periods of fiscal irresponsibility are often not immediately recognizable as such. Outwardly they can even look like golden ages of prosperity, because very large sums dedicated to investment are freed up for consumption.

The excerpt: Looking at numbers and charts from the 1980s, it is easy to miss the most basic question: Why on earth, at the height of the Baby Boom generation’s productive years, did the government need to borrow in the first place? What did this binge of debt buy? What emergency did it extricate the country from? From an actuarial and from a human-capital perspective, the quarter-century after Ronald Reagan’s election should have been the easiest time to balance the budget in the history of the republic.

From “Four Overlooked Weaknesses of Bernie Sanders,” by Jim Geraghty in the National Review.

The context, from the author: No. 2 or the four -- Bernie Sanders won’t, or can’t, vary his emotional tone.

The excerpt: Sanders pretty much has one setting: shouting that he’s not going to pay a lot for this muffler. He doesn’t do the tearful and empathetic tales of ordinary Americans he’s met on the campaign trail, he doesn’t tell stories from tougher times earlier in his life, he doesn’t crack a lot of jokes. We hear little about Jane Sanders or his son Levi. He doesn’t seem interested in the soft-focus or humanizing stuff. Maybe that isn’t as needed as it used to be now that we’re in the Trump era. But the contrast with, say, Barack Obama or Bill Clinton is striking.

From “Six Amazing High-Tech Things American Farmers Do That Prove Mike Bloomberg Knows Nothing About Agriculture,” by Joy Pullmann in The Federalist.

The context, from the author: “I could teach anybody, even people in this room, no offense intended, to be a farmer,” Democrat presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg said in 2016. No, he couldn’t.

The excerpt: Americans used to spend the majority of their income on food. Now we spend an average of less than 15 percent. That’s largely thanks to a revolution in agricultural efficiency known as the Green Revolution, which has saved billions from starvation and malnutrition. Every time farmers spend less, use fewer resources, and get better crops, everybody who eats benefits. ... How do farmers do all this? Well, nowadays it takes some freakishly expensive equipment, some high-grade science, a bit of luck with the weather, and a huge amount of hard, hard work.