Criticizing Ukraine Is Free Speech, Too

Plus: an argument against Trump 2024, and where the daylight-saving-time debate goes from here.

Tucker Carlson
Chip Somodevilla / Getty

This is an edition of Up for Debate, a newsletter by Conor Friedersdorf. On Wednesdays, he rounds up timely conversations and solicits reader responses to one thought-provoking question. Every Friday, he publishes some thoughtful replies. Sign up for the newsletter here.


Question of the Week

What is a valuable insight, lesson, or perspective you have learned from someone who doesn’t share your politics?

Email your thoughts to conor@theatlantic.com. I’ll publish a selection of correspondence in Friday’s newsletter.


Conversations of Note

Debate is especially important during wartime, when the stakes of many judgments are higher, solidarity is more likely to be valued, and groupthink can cloud the judgment of whole nations.

Unfortunately, the free-speech protections and culture that help safeguard our ability to debate here in America are never as threatened as they are during wars: It is historically commonplace in wartime for state officials and regular citizens alike to call for the criminalizing of dissent. Indeed, the ACLU was founded in 1920 amid the free speech crackdowns of World War I, when its founders were “driven by the need to protect the constitutional rights of conscientious objectors and anti-war protesters.” The lessons of U.S. history are still lost on some Americans, judging by recent calls for authoritarian crackdowns on speech related to the war in Ukraine, including remarks from former Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who is accused of spreading false Russian propaganda for expressing concern about “U.S. funded biolabs” in Ukraine and her worry that pathogens therein could escape as a consequence of fighting in the country.

“Tulsi Gabbard is parroting false Russian propaganda,” Senator Mitt Romney declared. “Her treasonous lies may well cost lives.” But Gabbard engaged in constitutionally protected speech, not treasonous speech.

On the ABC daytime talk show The View, several hosts suggested that Gabbard and Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, should be investigated by federal authorities for peddling Russian propaganda. The broadcaster Keith Olbermann agreed, telling his nearly 1 million followers, without evidence, “They are Russian Assets and there is a war. There’s a case for detaining them militarily. Trials are a sign of good faith and patience on the part of democracy.” In fact, there is no lawful case for detaining either of them militarily, and trials are a due-process right, not a courtesy.

Alexandra Chalupa, a lawyer, tweeted, @TuckerCarlson needs to be tried at The Hague as a disinformation agent in Putin’s war. Carlson is a war criminal aiding and abetting a hostile enemy of the U.S. while thousands of American veterans are risking their lives helping Ukraine defend the free world from Putin.” But Carlson has not, in fact, perpetrated any war crimes. Observers can and should challenge what Gabbard and Carlson say, but not their right to say it.

Putin the Anti-Liberal

Cathy Young offers a detailed fisking of favorable Putin commentary on the populist right and concludes:

The greatest irony of all, perhaps, is that the Western democracies’ powerful response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is precisely the kind of thing the “anti-woke” should celebrate—at least if they are genuinely committed to freedom. It is a perfect moment to push back against progressive narratives that denigrate the West and dismiss liberal democracy as little more than a façade for racist, misogynist, and homophobic “systems of oppression.” It is a moment when democratic capitalist countries are at last, perhaps for the first time since the early 1990s, rediscovering their identity as the Free World—and when the global tide of illiberalism could be reversed.

In Foreign Policy, Paul Berman argues that Vladimir Putin is motivated by “a belief that dangers to the Russian state are external and ideological, instead of internal and structural.” More specifically, he fears that “liberal philosophy and republican practices from the West … will collide with the icy clouds of the Russian winter, and violent storms will break out, and nothing will survive.”

In a recent interview, the French political scientist Olivier Roy argued that in recent years, Putin’s Russia has been perceived by many conservative Christians in Europe and the U.S. as “the bulwark of traditional values, anti-LGBT and anti-abortion,” but invading Ukraine squandered that advantage:

Putin sacrificed all the soft power he had acquired over the last twenty years, which allowed him to be a global player, for a purely territorial vision of Russian power. The whole geostrategy of alliance with the populist right and Western religious conservatives, which made it difficult to exert pressure and sanctions against Moscow, vanished in thin air. In this respect, it is easy to see how his admirers are all backtracking … Today, Putin has become unjustifiable because he scares us. Today, all Europeans have a reflex of distrust. All Putin sympathisers or those who were in favour of finding agreements with the Russians … are now devalued. Their reaction is eloquent, they are dumbfounded, and they cannot even find a semblance of justification.

Anti-Green Environmental Rules

Ezra Klein argues that in the present climate crisis, the government’s unduly onerous environmental regulation is a key problem:

To conserve anything close to the climate we’ve had, we need to build as we’ve never built before, electrifying everything and constructing the green energy infrastructure to generate that electricity cleanly. As the climate writer Julian Brave NoiseCat once put it to me, “If you want to stand athwart the history of emissions and yell ‘stop,’ you need to do really transformational things.”

That’s where the environmental victories of yesteryear have become the obstacles of this year. Too many of the tactics and strategies and statutes are designed to stop transformational or even incremental projects from happening. Modest expansions to affordable housing or bus service are forced to answer for their environmental impact. But the status quo doesn’t have to win any lawsuits or fill out any forms to persist. “The problem is a bunch of the regulatory law doesn’t penalize or regulate pollution,” Alex Trembath, the deputy director of the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think tank that favors technological solutions, told me. “It penalizes and regulates technology, infrastructure and growth—often quite explicitly. That’s how putatively environmental regulations are used to block laws that would lower pollution or make society more resource efficient.”

Fool GOP Twice, Shame on GOP

In National Review, Charles C. W. Cooke points out that Donald Trump was a loser in his 2020 campaign against Joe Biden and insists that Republicans would be foolish to nominate him in 2024:

The idea should be absurd, risible, farcical, outré. It should be a punchline, a mania, the preserve of the demented fringe. Politics matters. And because politics matters, it is a bad idea to allow politics to be held hostage by someone who, in his heart of hearts, doesn’t really care. Donald Trump is an extraordinarily selfish man, and he is only too happy to subordinate your interests to his own. Why let him? It is one thing to say, “Well, he may have been a fickle boor, but I liked some of what he did once he was in office”; it’s quite another to put yourself through four more years of the man when you don’t have to.

And please don’t tell me that the GOP should choose Trump again because “he fights.” The Republican Party now has a whole host of other candidates who “fight,” and none of them come with Trump’s baggage, his torpidness, his ill-discipline, his self-indulgence, his abject disregard for our constitutional order, or his pathological, unyielding, surrealistic dishonesty.

Daylight Saving All-the-Time

In a tweet posted with the hashtag #LocktheClock, Senator Marco Rubio announced this week that “we passed out of the Senate my bill to make Daylight Savings Time permanent.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse added, “Americans are tired of changing their clocks twice a year. When winter comes, nobody wants to be sitting in the dark,” and called the time change an “outdated ritual.”

The journalist Josh Barro dissented. “Permanent daylight saving would mean sunrise at 8:58 in Detroit and 9:11 in Grand Rapids in December,” he pointed out. To which James Surowiecki retorted, “I never understand the assumption that ‘sunrise at 8:58 in Detroit’ is self-evidently worse than sunset at 4:30 in Detroit in December, since to me the latter seems obviously worse.”

Said Alice from Queens: “Daylight savings time discourse is just Early Birds vs Night Owls, with both types insisting they speak for everyone. For a night owl it’s not a tough decision. I’m never awake at 8 a.m. unless I’ve been up all night, in which case the last thing I want to see is the sun.”

Amid such disputes Bradley Babendir attempted to play peacemaker: “Whether you prefer standard time or daylight savings time, remember that those who disagree are not the enemy,” he wrote. “The duplicitous sun itself, hoarding its light while we fight for scraps, is the true enemy.”

The Senate bill, which includes no sunset provision, will now go to the House.

Provocation of the Week: Against Tracking Until Trial

In the Los Angeles Times, two law professors, Kate Weisburd and Alicia Virani, object to an explosion in the number of people forced to wear electronic ankle monitors as a condition of pretrial release––in Los Angeles County, the figure rose from just 24 people in 2015 to more than 1,200 in 2021, as if monitoring were the new default. “For people who would otherwise be in jail, monitoring may be preferable,” they argue. “But for people who are monitored instead of being released on their own recognizance, monitoring reflects a dangerous expansion of the carceral state.”

They add:

Like in jail, people on monitors have little privacy and must comply with dozens of strict rules governing every aspect of daily life. Failing to charge the monitoring device, changing a work or school schedule without permission or making an unauthorized trip to the grocery store can land someone back in jail for a technical violation. It is hardly surprising that in L.A. County, technical rule violations, not new criminal offenses, led to more than 90% of the terminations and reincarcerations applied to people on electronic monitors.

I’d like to know what effect, if any, pandemic considerations had on the 2021 numbers, and what percentage of the more than 1,200 people monitored in that year would have been jailed otherwise.

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