February 21, 2023
Speaking at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, today, President Biden continued to define this global moment as one in which democracies are defending their way of life against rising authoritarianism.
Biden’s speech followed his surprise visit to Kyiv yesterday, a visit that demonstrated for the world that Putin has failed to take the city in a year of brutal assaults. It built on Vice President Kamala Harris’s speech to the Munich Security Conference saying that Russian atrocities in Ukraine are crimes against humanity. And it built on the fact that the U.S. sent the largest delegation ever to the conference and that the delegation was bipartisan.
Biden began his speech noting that a year ago “the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv.” But he had just come from there and could report: “Kyiv stands strong! Kyiv stands proud. It stands tall. And most important, it stands free.”
The 2022 Russian invasion tested the world’s democracies, Biden said, and they stood up for national sovereignty, for the right of people to live free from aggression, and for democracy. Putin “thought autocrats like himself were tough and leaders of democracies were soft,” Biden said, but he “found himself at war with a nation led by a man whose courage would be forged in fire and steel: President Zelenskyy.” A year later, “President Putin is confronted with something today that he didn’t think was possible a year ago. The democracies of the world have grown stronger, not weaker. But the autocrats of the world have grown weaker, not stronger.”
“A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never be able to [erase] the people’s love of liberty,” he said. “Brutality will never grind down the will of the free. And Ukraine—Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. Never. For free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness.”
Biden said it’s time to decide what kind of world we want to build. Looking at the coalition that supports Ukraine, he said: “We need to take the strength and capacity of this coalition and apply it to lifting up—lifting up the lives of people everywhere, improving health, growing prosperity, preserving the planet, building peace and security, treating everyone with dignity and respect. That’s our responsibility. The democracies of the world have to deliver it for our people.”
It’s time to choose “between chaos and stability,” he said. “Between building and destroying. Between hope and fear. Between democracy that lifts up the human spirit and the brutal hand of the dictator who crushes it. Between nothing less than limitation and possibilities, the kind of possibilities that come when people…live not in captivity but in freedom. Freedom. Freedom. There is no sweeter word than freedom. There is no nobler goal than freedom. There is no higher aspiration than freedom.”
“Americans know that, and you know it,” Biden told his Polish audience. “And all that we do now must be done so our children and grandchildren will know it as well.
“Freedom. The enemy of the tyrant and the hope of the brave and the truth of the ages.
“Stand with us,” Biden said. “We will stand with you.”
During his speech, Biden thanked Poland for taking in 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees, then turned to the United States. “The American people are united in our resolve as well,” he said. “All across my country, in big cities and small towns, Ukrainian flags fly from American homes. Over the past year, Democrats and Republicans in our United States Congress have come together to stand for freedom. That’s who Americans are, and that’s what Americans do.”
The line drew applause, and indeed, five Republican lawmakers met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv today. Led by Representative Mike McCaul (R-TX), the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, they pledged their support for Ukraine.
But extremist Republicans stand against continuing Ukraine aid. Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and ten other Republican representatives recently introduced to Congress a “Ukraine Fatigue” resolution calling for an end to U.S. aid to Ukraine and urging “a peace agreement,” a position that accepts Russia’s invasion as legitimate.
Right-wing media has been trying to spin Biden’s trip to Kyiv and speech in Poland as proof that he doesn’t care about the derailment of the train carrying hazardous chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio. In fact, Republican governor Mike DeWine initially rejected federal help when Biden offered it, saying he didn’t see the need for it.
The right wing has also gone after Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg for the accident, although it was the Trump administration that weakened safety regulations put in place under Barack Obama that could have mitigated the crisis, and railroad personnel cuts that left the train understaffed. Before the accident, train workers had worried that the 151-car train, 9,300 feet long and weighing 18,000 tons, was too long and too heavy to travel safely.
But Buttigieg is answering his Republican critics. After Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) called for Buttigieg’s resignation, Buttigieg responded: “I can’t help but notice the last time this agency heard from him on rail regulation was his signature being on a letter that was pretty obviously drafted by industry, calling on us to weaken our practices around track inspection.”
Concerns about train safety seem warranted: on Monday, four train cars derailed in Riverbank, California, and another train of 31 cars carrying coal derailed today in Gothenburg, Nebraska. Unlike in Ohio, in neither case were there injuries or, apparently, hazardous spills.
Buttigieg has called for a three-pronged push to improve safety and hold the freight rail industry accountable for accidents. Among those proposals are calls for safer cars, paid sick leave for railroad workers, and larger crew sizes, some of the very things railroad workers wanted last fall. After Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) tweeted that Buttigieg should “[s]how up, do your job and stop playing politics with every crisis you find,” Buttigieg responded with his proposals and wrote: “If you’re serious, I’ll work with you on this.”
As Greg Sargent of the Washington Post spelled out today, right-wing figures like Fox News Channel (FNC) personality Tucker Carlson and newly elected Ohio senator J.D. Vance are now spinning the Ohio disaster as an issue of racial malice, portraying it not as a result of weakened safety regulations under former president Trump, but as proof that the Biden administration is throwing white people overboard to focus on Buttigieg’s idea that “we have too many white construction workers.”
In fact, Buttigieg’s comments addressed the problem of creating opportunities for minority construction workers when white workers are brought in to work on construction projects in minority communities, and the Biden administration has passed expansive legislation that is bringing jobs to poor white communities, legislation most Republicans opposed. But the race baiting has gone so far that, Sargent notes, right-wing personalities are accusing the Biden administration of “spilling toxic chemicals on poor white people.”
Knocked out of the news by the flurry of activity around the past several days has been the filing in the Dominion Voting Systems defamation case against FNC. The texts and testimony in that filing establish that the FNC is a propaganda arm of the Republican Party.
That information is important as we grapple with House speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) apparent release of the U.S. Capitol video clips from January 6, 2021, to Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson. According to Politico, Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger, who has oversight responsibility for those files, did not learn of this deal until he heard it on the news. The Capitol Police have been leery of permitting indiscriminate release of the footage out of concern it reveals safety information.
It remains unclear how—or, perhaps, if—this permission was actually granted. Carlson publicly described his access as “unfettered,” but McCarthy isn’t commenting, and the three-person Capitol Police Board, including Manger, that oversees security decisions would likely have had to sign off on the exchange. House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) has told House Democrats he and his team are still trying to learn the details.
There is lots of buzz today about comments from the foreperson from the Georgia grand jury investigating the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Emily Kohrs said the grand jury had recommended a number of indictments and suggested that people would not be shocked to hear the names on the list. Actual indictments are in the hands of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.
Scrolling through the top couple threads of the comments yesterday, and hoo boy, y'all, I could I feel the anxiety emanating off the screen! Some of y'all are back in election anticipation terror mode almost two years ahead, with a side order of despairing over the national discourse. I get it. Me too. But gather in, because it is time for a pep talk.
The primary election took place today in Wisconsin to fill an upcoming vacancy of the state Supreme Court. If a liberal judge wins in April, ideological control of the court will switch. The ramifications would be enormous. Cases would be brought - and almost certainly succeed - to throw out the state and federal gerrymanders, overturn voting restrictions, nullify the state's abortion ban, give boosts to unions, and much more. Four judges were on the ballot in what is usually a low turnout affair. Democratic endorsee Janet Protaseiwicz, who has been explicit she is running to save democracy and personal freedoms, came out first. Yay. But here's the kicker: she received slightly more votes than the two conservative challengers *put together*, and a second liberal candidate took an *additional* 7.5% of the vote.
This is Wisconsin. Do I gotta tell y'all whether an 8-point democratic preference in Wisconsin is impressive? It's impressive.
Over in Virginia, Jennifer McClellan won her special Congressional election too. Her district was D+35 for Biden, and D+13 in the '21 gubernatorial. She won today by 48 points. A nearby special state Senate election was held in recent days. Dems flipped it, solidifying their control of that chamber.
In Pennsylvania, Dems also recently put a bow on their newfound control of the state legislature there, not just winning all three special elections held, but outdoing Biden's wide margins by double digits.
This is what being on the winning team looks like.
Political control is numbers and gamesmanship. Feelings don't really enter the picture. I know, I know. Most of us here are big liberals with bigger feelings, and right now we have the biggest sense of concern! It doesn't *feel* like we're winning, because we see crazy people in positions of power, and that doesn't *feel* safe. We just want to *feel* like we know it's going to be ok and that no bad people will ever be in charge anywhere, and we don't *feel* that yet.
But, my friends, that is where we get into trouble.
We have all been traumatized these last few years by the madness in our country. Yes, that is what we are feeling: patriotic trauma. Trauma builds anxiety. Anxiety convinces you to doubt and second-guess and triple-check and think and think and think, sending you on a mental wild goose chase to find the feeling of cosmic safety and certainty that life just can't seem to give you, to crack the code, to find THE ANSWER as to what to think and say and do to make sure the things you want to happen happen, and the things you do not want to happen do not.
How do I know this? Hard experience, my friends. I have three overlapping mental health disorders: the poorly-named Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the poorly-portrayed-on-TV Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Major Depressive Recurrent. I'll spare the gory clinical details of what these each entail. I will simply say that there is a common denomination among all three of these dark clouds that make up this perfect storm, and that is that they are all very good at convincing my entire brain and body that something feels very wrong with everything, even when nothing is actually wrong with anything. The silver lining if years of therapy is that I have been forced - out of the necessity of survival - to realize that feelings are not facts. When your brain is a misgivings machine, you must learn to ignore misgivings and creeping suspicions and sneaking hunches. When OCD tells your body that the appropriate response to something as anodyne as touching a doorknob wrong is a sudden shock of fear, learning to ignore your fears becomes less a noble ideal and more a practical imperative. And I am not a guru: it is way, way easier said than done. Feelings are an essential part of how we experience life, yes. But they cannot be allowed to totally dictate it.
We are winning. Winning does not mean winning every battle. It means holding your ground and not giving up. We have the people, and we have the momentum. It feels scary still. But there is nothing different we need to do to get democracy to prevail. We simply need to keep doing what we are doing.And add https://chopwoodcarrywaterdailyactions.substack.com/ to your morning tea session while you're at it!
Yes. We. Can! We already are.
The train wreck story is a sign that Republicans are again going to fight the next election exclusively on culture war issues. Buttigieg is hitting a perfect rapid response combative tone, playing up the Republican hypocrisy and pushing the legislation that will protect railroad workers and the public, and programs that will ensure better fair and job opportunities for all workers.
Biden and Buttigieg have to keep giving lessons on how to talk back to the Republicans.