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 THE LEFT
From “A Plea to President Biden to Stop Perpetuating Racist Tax Policy,” by Steven Dean in The Nation.
The context, from the author: Even if the president managed to vanquish racism in every other part of government, failing to address its role in our tax system would be a tragedy.
The excerpt: With her acclaimed book The Whiteness of Wealth, Dorothy Brown showed the world what we tax nerds long suspected. As Brown bluntly puts it: “When white and Black Americans engage in the exact same thing — marriage, homeownership, job, paying for college — tax policy advantages the white way of engaging in behavior while disadvantaging the Black way of engaging in the behavior.” While the long-standing IRS refusal to calculate statistics by race makes hard data scarce, nobody knows more about the ways racism affects our tax laws than Brown does.
The context, from the author: Derek Chauvin’s case isn’t a precedent or a symbol of change. It’s an aberration.
The excerpt: The fact is that for every Black person whose life is cut short and hashtagged, there are hundreds more, of every race, whose deaths go unnoticed by anyone other than their loved ones. According to the Washington Post database, police shot and killed 1,021 people last year. So far in 2021, 213 people were fatally shot by police. (George Floyd — and who knows how many others — was not included in that database, because Chauvin’s knee, and not a gun, was the weapon.)
From “How Americans Lost Their Fervor for Freedom,” by Evan Kindley in the New Republic.
The context, from the author: It is especially tricky to disentangle my freedom (which may depend on your coercion) from your freedom (which may depend on my coercion): It’s what produces absurdities like Martin Luther King and George Wallace appealing to the same value to justify diametrically opposite ends. This is an old liberal paradox, and the difficulties it presents may go some way toward explaining why progressives have abandoned the discourse of freedom to the right.
The excerpt: Freedom, we come to understand, is subjective: It describes a psychological state more than it does a material condition. “The feeling of freedom does not necessarily align with external conditions,” (Louis) Menand writes (in his new book, The Free World). “To use a banal example, many people feel free when they are driving a car, even though few everyday activities are more heavily regulated.” Though human beings seem to be naturally compelled by the idea of freedom, freedom itself “is not natural; it is carved out of a system of socialization and coercion, and it requires its own system of coercions to be maintained.”
FROM THE RIGHT
The context, from the author: Two decades of the conflict have shown us what American foreign-policy failure looks like. What success looks like remains unclear.
The excerpt: the American political conversation is conducted at a level of crippling oversimplification, Afghanistan was understood for a time as the new “good war,” while Iraq was another Vietnam, a quagmire fought on a lie. But Afghanistan was never only about hunting down al-Qaeda, and Iraq was never only — or even mainly — about Saddam Hussein’s arsenal. The more biting critique of the Bush administration is not its purported insincerity about weapons of mass destruction but its utterly sincere and culpably optimistic conviction that Afghanistan and Iraq could, with sufficient sustained effort, be remade in the liberal-democratic mold, as Japan and Germany had been after World War II. It was the domino theory in reverse: Vicious authoritarian regimes would be converted one by one as their neighbors realized the benefits of joining the U.S.-led order.
The context, from the author: It seems that the shadow of Derek Chauvin is obscuring our ability to make distinctions and respond rationally to other, similar cases. Similar is the operative word.
The excerpt: It’s not news that we have a serious problem with violence in this country—by citizens and police alike. But we compound that problem by forcing every new incident—videotape preferred—into a pre-digested narrative. Both the (Daunte) Wright and (Army Lt. Caron) Nazario cases are examples of human weakness, poor judgment, and tragedy, but it’s not clear that they are morality plays.
From “How Should Conservatives Think About The Iran Deal?” by Curt Mills in the American Conservative.
The context, from the author: The crucible of American Middle East policy is again up for debate, as Biden’s team has quietly negotiated in Vienna. How did we get here?
The excerpt: Today, it is broadly conceded that failure to address Iran’s “regional behavior” in the original (nuclear) deal was a major political mistake, paring down Iran’s nuclear capabilities to be sure, but allowing the deal’s advocates to get hammered politically as Iran and its vast network of militias expanded their authority. ... American voters should also be wary of being played the fool. The Iranian regime is a theocracy, a nasty one, but is also the sworn enemy of the Islamic State group, for instance. In tandem with the U.S.-led coalition, Iran, including Soleimani, subdued the self-declared caliphate without a shred of mercy. Members of Iran’s military, or its pledged allies (most famously Hezbollah in Lebanon), are definitely bad news but are definitely not the moral equivalent of ISIS, or al-Qaeda, the apocalyptic Sunni terrorists that have killed Americans in the homeland.