Volcanoes are erupting in The Philippines, but on-fire Australia received some welcome rain. The Iran war cries have been called off and The Donald’s military powers are about to be hamstrung by the Senate. Meanwhile, his impeachment trial is starting, and we’re all on Twitter for a front-row seat.
Imagine you live in a country where, over the last eight years, the following has occurred.
The elected party, through a series of maneuvers, took over the courts. They prevented appointments of judges from the outgoing government, packed empty seats with party loyalists—illegally—and gave them veto power. Then they rewrote the laws in order to cement their authority over the judiciary.
They put state media under their control, firing senior figures en masse. They stopped independent journalists from covering certain issues, threatening and filing lawsuits. A state-controlled oil company bought all but four regional newspapers.
They transferred power—in a move barred by the country’s constitution—from the president and prime minister to the party’s chairman. They filled state jobs with party loyalists after “changing the civil service law to remove merit criteria” for hiring, according to a political science professor at Emory University.
In a country where abortion is banned except for in three cases—rape and incest, when the mother’s life is threatened, and if the baby would be born with an incurable, life-threatening disease or severe impairment—and where providing an abortion is criminalized, they introduced legislation to make the law even stricter and to investigate miscarriages. When the proposal was rejected in parliament after mass protests, the newly packed court ruled that abortion in the case of disease or impairment was unconstitutional, leading to tragic results.
They scapegoated the LGBTQ community, rejecting legislation to classify anti-LGBTQ attacks as hate crimes. Its leader, to name just one example of frequent party rhetoric, said in 2019 that the “ideology” leads to the “sexualization of children” and that the movement “threaten[s] our identity, our nation, its survival.”
This has been the situation in Poland since 2015, when the Law and Justice party (PiS) came into power. Their shenanigans have earned the scrutiny of the European Union (EU), which froze billions earmarked for the EU member in response. Democracy experts have been keeping a watchful eye on the situation, concerned that general elections, held last Sunday, would result in a PiS victory, worsening democratic backsliding to the point of becoming irreversible.
Something surprising happened instead: PiS did not receive enough votes to form a parliamentary majority. Because the opposition parties have stated that they will not work with PiS, this means that a coalition of center-right and center-left parties will likely be Poland’s next government, even though PiS will get first dibs at forming one.
Turnout was massive at over 74 percent, “the highest level in the country’s 34 years of democracy and surpassing the 63 percent who turned out in the historic 1989 vote that toppled communism,” reportedThe Associated Press. In some districts, turnout was over 80 percent.
Even in Athens, Greece, where I live, Poles waited in long lines to cast their vote. A Polish friend sent me this photo, adding that the line was hundreds of meters long:
Campaigns organized by young people bore fruit. According to an exit poll, 63 percent of Poles under 29 cast their vote for centrist parties, and they turned up in higher percentages than voters over 60. Women also voted for centrist parties—56 percent, versus 50 percent of men. (A full demographic breakdown is here.)
Jaroslaw Kuisz, author of The New Politics of Poland, told The Guardian that the result was “even more astounding given that the government in many ways rigged the playing field of the election.”
Now we wait for events to take their course. Even once the new government forms, led by the party Civic Coalition, the PiS-affiliated president will have veto power on legislation until 2025. Civic Coalition plans to liberalize abortion policies, introduce same-sex civil partnerships, and repair Poland’s relationship with the EU. But the question of how to undo the damage to the judiciary—especially without running afoul of the new laws set (illegally) by PiS—is a thorny one, as many outlets have pointed out.
Still, the validation of people power, even in the face of large odds, is a sight to behold. As Anne Applebaum wrote in The Atlantic, “Nothing is inevitable about the rise of autocracy or the decline of democracy. Invest your time in political and civic organization if you want to create change, because sometimes it works.”
Update: Last week’s newsletter stated that Israel has not used white phosporus in Gaza. Since then, Human Rights Watch announced that it has verified claims of its use, followed by a denial from the Israeli military. TIME has more on the intricacies of the situation.
Correction: Last week’s newsletter incorrectly spelled journalist Jessica Yellin’s name.
- A prosthetic that fuses with your bones, reads signals from your brain, and ameliorates phantom limb pain? Wow.
- The “job sharing” arrangement has some cons, but it is an interesting solution to the perennial issue of balancing children versus career.
Below in the links section, un-endangered butterflies, period tax refunds, asteroid samples, and more.
What Could Go Right? S5 E3
Are identity politics getting in the way of real progress? How did these marginal academic ideas go mainstream? And is it possible to make progress without diminishing the progress we have already made? Yascha Mounk, contributing editor at The Atlantic, host of The Good Fight podcast, and author of The Identity Trap, offers his ideas on the pitfalls of the “identity synthesis” and how we can create a more inclusive society without it. | Listen to the episode
Other good stuff in the news 🪨
Energy & Environment:
- Brazil set to widen lead as cleanest major power sector | Reuters
- Monarch butterfly is not endangered, conservation authority decides | Science
- Chart: Is climatetech manufacturing on track for net-zero goals? | Canary Media
- Cleaning Europe’s largest saltwater lagoon | BBC
- Three African countries pilot initiative to boost cervical and breast cancer care | WHO
- First-ever gene therapy trial to cure form of deafness begins | Ars Technica
- These brands will refund your period tax. Here’s how to submit a claim | Wired
- Medical imaging struggles to read dark skin. Researchers say they’ve found a way to make it easier | CNN
- Treating rural America: The new country doctors | Stat News
Science & Tech:
- Using AI to find missing hikers | CNN
- NASA just made asteroid samples public—here’s a first look | Inverse
- NASA spacecraft launched to mysterious and rare metal asteroid in first mission of its kind | AP
- New AI tool diagnoses brain tumors on the operating table | The New York Times
- Monkey survives for two years after gene-edited pig-kidney transplant | Nature
Politics & Policy:
- EU strikes deal to reduce super-potent greenhouse gases | Reuters
- Lithuania bans fur farming, offering compensations to farmers | LRT
- Millions more students to receive free school meals under expanded US program | PBS
Society & Culture:
- How Nigeria turned men into better fathers | Reasons to Be Cheerful
- More disabled Americans are working and studying | GZERO Media
- Banning smartphones at schools: Research points to higher test scores, less anxiety, more exercise | The 74
- Boston’s high school dropout rate fell by more than half. Here’s their blueprint | Next City
- Explainer: Advances in LGBTQIA+ rights across Asia and the Pacific | International IDEA
- ‘People are happier in a walkable neighborhood’: the US community that banned cars | The Guardian
TPN Member originals 🧠
(Who are our Members? Get to know them.)
- The missed chance for peace | David Brooks
- What will be the destiny of Netanyahu? | Ruth Ben-Ghiat
- Israel should respond to Hamas by keeping the Saudi deal alive | Fareed Zakaria
- The conflict in Israel and the state of foreign affairs | Fareed Zakaria & Scott Galloway
- Pulled into darkness, turning toward the light is our responsibility | Danielle Allen
- Terror and tragedy in the Middle East | Yascha Mounk
- An important follow-up on our Israel-Palestine piece | Isaac Saul
- The Israel-Palestine protests in the US | Isaac Saul
- Why Israel is acting this way | Thomas L. Friedman
- Why a Gaza invasion and ‘once and for all’ thinking are wrong for Israel | Thomas L. Friedman
- The deep roots of the left’s deafening silence on Hamas | Yascha Mounk
- The moral deficiencies of a liberal education | Ezekiel J. Emanuel
- Democrats should talk more about healthcare | Matthew Yglesias
- VP selections aren’t taken seriously enough | Matthew Yglesias
- Why the most successful marriages are start-ups, not mergers | Arthur C. Brooks
- Parenting as pro-progress, Up Wing policy | James Pethokoukis
- The Internet could be so good. Really. | Deb Roy
- ‘Over the long term, you cannot have a society that views technological progress as making life worse’ | James Pethokoukis
Until Next Time
For a more rewarding life, find your way to the opportunity zone of the danger scale. ⚖️