Our Best Stuff From the Week Elon Musk Made a Deal to Buy Twitter
Plus: Joe Kent’s campaign drama, social and emotional learning, and Disney vs. DeSantis.
Hello and happy Saturday! It looks like I’m going to have to keep this introduction short because I accidentally (but happily) went long on summarizing our articles from the week. There were too many good ones to choose from.
What strikes me about the week just passed is the variety of topics we were able to cover. There have been times in the short history of The Dispatch that it seemed that one or two topics overwhelmed the news cycle to such a degree that it was almost impossible to cover anything else. As I’ve written before, we knew when we were launching that Donald Trump was facing a likely impeachment (the first one) but way back in the fall of 2019 we were blissfully ignorant of the term coronavirus. That changed quickly. And, then of course, came the 2020 election, January 6, and Trump’s second impeachment.
There were times we thought maybe we could catch our breath. Remember last June when we thought the pandemic was almost over? Then the Delta variant happened. And Omicron. And then in late autumn, Russia started increasing its buildup of forces on its border with Ukraine.
We’re still in the middle of what is shaping up to be a lengthy war. The pandemic is not entirely over, even if mask mandates and other mitigations mostly are. Donald Trump still has a grip on the Republican Party and his influence will shape the midterm elections one way or the other.
But we’re in a time where those stories are not relentless in their hold on our attention span. Of course, it seems sometimes that, as a society, we’re too willing to obsess over lesser stories. Look at the focus on the fight between Disney and Ron DeSantis, one that broke out because of intense national scrutiny on (an admittedly controversial) state law. Or at the hyperventilating over Elon Musk buying Twitter, a social media platform that has one-third the number of users as Instagram and less than half the audience of TikTok.
One of the most important things we try to do here is to put all of these topics, whether they rightly dominate our full attention or conduct a hostile takeover of our brains, into perspective. I know I’m biased, but I think we knocked it out of the park this week.
Thanks for reading.
When Audrey started reporting on Republican Joe Kent’s campaign to unseat pro-impeachment Washington GOP Rep. Jamie Herrera Buetler in Washington state, it’s safe to say that she had no idea what she was getting into. She encountered a crazy amount of internal strife as Kent’s former campaign manager accused the current campaign manager of trying to commit voter fraud and the current manager accused his predecessor of lying, taking his cell phone, and doctoring images of texts. And then there are the external problems: the Kent campaign’s ties to white nationalists and far-right activists, and Kent’s comments that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is a “thug” and that Russia’s invasion is a “local border dispute.” “For months now, Kent has tried to brand himself as a refreshing voice for the Republican voters of Washington’s 3rd District who want to relitigate the 2020 presidential election. … But it's hard to run a campaign based on false claims about election integrity even if it wins you the support of the former president. And that’s especially true if your former campaign manager is accusing your team of a willingness to cut corners to win,” she writes.
I’ll be honest: I was unfamiliar with the controversy over SEL—social and emotional learning—until it became an issue in our local school board election last fall. When our district sent out an email saying it would be conducting SEL surveys throughout the year and parents could opt out their kids, I poked around the web to find some sample surveys and found them to be innocuous. So when the state of Florida rejected dozens of math textbooks and cited SEL as one of the reasons, I asked Frederick Hess, the director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, to explain what the heck is going on. Hess’ piece is a must-read for parents, regardless of where they stand. He points out that yes, much of what SEL encompasses is innocuous and allows schools to address students’ well-being and emotional health. But it’s also exploited by a “blue, bubbled industry of education funders, advocates, professors, and trainers to promote faddish nonsense and ideological agendas.”
Members of Congress were among the millions of Americans who worked from home during the pandemic. The House implemented a policy allowing legislators to vote by proxy so they didn’t have to be present on the floor. In a recent Uphill, Haley highlighted how Hawaii Democratic Rep. Kai Kahele had cast only five votes in person in 2022, citing the pandemic but making plenty of public appearances in his district. This week she called attention to Florida Rep. Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-Democrat former governor, who has voted in person only four days this session while spending most of his time running again to serve as the state’s governor. “Crist’s lack of participation extends beyond votes on the House floor. He hasn’t been speaking at most congressional hearings—skipping opportunities to exercise oversight and debate legislation, despite the option to join remotely,” she writes. Haley’s excellent reporting has been picked up by Politico, the Miami Herald, and NBC News, among other outlets.
The pandemic has directly killed approximately 1 million Americans, but there has also been an alarming increase in both alcohol- and drug-related deaths. Seth Kaplan argues that the isolation from lockdowns contributed to this increase and that it exposed and exacerbated our society’s fragility problem. He notes that America has always been an individualistic society, dating back to our founding, but that certain elements of our society—markets, geography, urban planning, even the dynamism of our economy that allows people to move freely to take jobs in distant locales–have the downside of weakening our ties to each other. “Our individualism drives many of our policies, which in turn encourage more isolation,” he writes. “But by breaking down the unique causes of our social fragility this way, we more easily grasp entry points for change—change that can encourage the development of stronger social bonds and the social structures that embed people in long term rather than transactional relationships.”
In Capitolism, Scott Lincicome takes a break from trade policy and his beloved charts to discuss the feud between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Disney. Many of those who supported the Florida legislature’s move to rescind Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District cited their opposition to corporatism and crony capitalism. So it was interesting to have Scott, whose libertarian bona fides are not in question, explain why Disney’s arrangement was not corporatism run amok. “The RCID has surely benefited Disney in some ways, but it’s also benefited surrounding areas and the state of Florida more broadly—a lot. In general, this is how it works: Disney gets to avoid many of the problems associated with local bureaucracy (permitting, infrastructure, debt, etc.) and gets to keep ugly or competitive businesses away from its pristine Florida compound—a key problem that Walt Disney wanted to avoid after such entities popped up all around Disneyland in California.” He also explains that Disney provides municipal services like water, fire fighting, and roads that keep local governments from having to do so, and that Florida enjoys benefits from the massive economic activity taking place on what was once swampland.
Here’s the best of the rest:
In the G-File, Jonah dives into Elon Musk’s deal to purchase Twitter and then moves on to a meme that Musk tweeted about our shifting political spectrum, giving him a chance to draw an analogy between extremists on the right and left and a can of mixed nuts.
Kevin Carroll discusses how the U.S. can respond effectively if Vladimir Putin deploys nuclear weapons in Ukraine—a threat that is at once unthinkable and yet growing more possible by the day.
It’s been nearly a year since the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, and recent rocket attacks on the Israeli city of Sderot are sparking fears of a renewed conflict. Charlotte looks into whether de-escalation is possible.
In The Current, Klon Kitchen has an interesting look at Ukraine’s request for more advanced drones than we have been providing. He understands why Ukraine wants them, and also why it might be in our best interest to say no this time.
And the pods! On The Dispatch Podcast, the gang talks about student debt forgiveness, and you can practically hear the eye-rolling. Should a football coach be allowed to pray on the field after games? David and Sarah discuss the Supreme Court case that will answer that question on Advisory Opinions. Jonah and Francis Fukuyama converse about Fukuyama’s new book, Liberalism and its Discontents, on The Remnant. And on Good Faith, David and his co-host Curtis Chang delve into the “partisan mind” and its incompatibility with “the mind of Christ.”