Chicken little forecast

Still Chugging Along

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.


What Could Go Right? Democracy FTW

In a surprise result, anti-democratic forces were defeated in Europe this weekend.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas

This is our weekly newsletter, What Could Go Right? Sign up here to receive it in your inbox every Thursday at 5am ET. You can read past issues here.

Democracy FTW

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:

Citizens wait in a long line to vote at the Polish embassy in Athens, Greece.
Citizens vote at the Polish embassy in Athens, Greece, on Sunday.

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.

Quick hits

  • 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.

An image of a 2,000-year-old scroll showing letters deciphered by AI
Amateur researchers have for the first time used AI to decipher letters on an ancient scroll. The papyrus had been burned by Mount Vesuvius and buried for 2,000 years. Among the words deciphered is the Greek “πορφυρας,” which means “purple.” | Photo: Vesuvius Challenge/University of Kentucky

What Could Go Right? S5 E3

Promotional image for S5 E3 of the What Could Go Right? podcast—The Great Awokening's Great Mistakes with Yascha Mounk

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

Progress, Please

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TPN Member originals 🧠

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The Rest:

Department of Ideas 💡
(A staff recommendation guaranteed to give your brain some food for thought.)

The need for a media temperance movementThe Permanent Problem

Why we picked it: Adding one more idea to the pile of how to navigate today’s media landscape. —Emma Varvaloucas

Until Next Time

For a more rewarding life, find your way to the opportunity zone of the danger scale. ⚖️

Comment 1 Comment

  1. I do agree with all the ideas you have introduced on your post. They are very convincing and will definitely work. Still, the posts are very short for newbies. May just you please prolong them a little from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

Emma Varvaloucas

Emma Varvaloucas is the Executive Director of The Progress Network. An editor and writer specializing in nonprofit media, she was formerly Executive Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and is the editor of two books from Wisdom Publications.