Feb 26 • 20M

Putin and the Baby Bird

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The podcast version of Sasha Stone's Substack essays.
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A long while back, during the Obama presidency, when my daughter was in elementary school, we were taking a walk with another mother and her daughter. We saw a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest. I urged the other mother to take the bird, as I had cats who would eat it. She was going to take it to the wildlife refuge but instead decided to raise it on her own, thinking it would be a good experience for her daughter.

She named the bird after me, Sasha, because I had encouraged her to rescue it from the sidewalk. She kept the bird in a cage, gave it food and water and it grew to full size. At that point, I once again stupidly urged her to give the bird a better life, to not force it to spend its entire existence in a cage. I have never liked looking at birds in cages. There is something so cruel about that. But this was bad advice.

The day she decided to set the bird free, she gathered her whole family around, and with a video camera rolling, she set the bird free. Within minutes, a hawk swooped down and killed the bird.

This was, to me, a hard lesson on the natural world. But it was also a lesson in my own arrogance and stupidity to think this was all some Disney version of baby birds and freedom of flight. That is not what the natural world is about. It’s life or death. It’s kill or be killed. This isn’t about happiness. That’s a luxury reserved for humans.

I often stare into the eyes of animals, both the ones I look after and those in the wild. I look at them looking at me too, knowing I am the most dangerous of all living things. They have all evolved to be afraid of us, and they should be afraid.

To me, Joe Biden’s attitude towards Afghanistan, Russia, and China is on par with the thinking that the bird was going to live a free and have happy life, without paying attention to the point of view of the hawk. The hawk is hungry. The hawk has highly attuned skills to capture prey. The prey it seeks has survival instincts of its own that it has evolved over time. But that caged bird had none of it. It was a poor, helpless thing that didn’t know from hawks. It had no protection, no awareness, only vulnerability.

Everything that happened since Trump took office happened in a bubble of entitlement, arrogance, and ignorance. Everything we did while Trump was in power, from impeachment to Russiagate, to the Me Too protests, the protests against the “Muslim ban,” and the largest protest in American history, during a global pandemic without a vaccine, the George Floyd protests in 2020 all the way up to January 6th - all of that was being watched by Putin and by Xi Jinping, not to mention other leaders in other countries. It turned out the whole world was watching. We just had no clue or any awareness of that.

On his Substack, James Strock wrote way back in February of 2021:

The Whole World Is Watching

Our global competitors and adversaries—most notably the Chinese Communist regime—are alert to signs of American decline.

How will they interpret the events of 1/6?

We cannot know. Nonetheless, the failure of officials entrusted with power to react instinctively, to put themselves on the line against fellow citizens invading the Capitol, might incline some toward unwarranted conclusions about the United States as a whole.

This isn’t to get Trump off the hook for the things he said to antagonize the Left or the ways he misled or even outright lied to the public, but there is no doubt that not for one day, not for one hour, not for one minute did the ruling class, the establishment, the media, or the Democrats treat him as the President of the United States. Worse, it was almost a crime to support him, during COVID or at any other time for the four years he was in power. He was not praised for a single thing he did. The media profited off cherry-picking the worst things they could find and then tossing it out for Twitter, MSNBC and CNN to chew on for days.

Everything that was encouraged on the Left, from doubting the results of the election, to protesting violently for a cause that was important enough, was condemned when the Right did it. It wasn’t enough that they had spent hundreds of millions to put Biden in power without his having to even campaign with a mandate to win, and bad enough that the election had been won even before Election Day through absentee ballots and early voting, but to then be called “domestic terrorists” and “white supremacists” and racists just for supporting Trump, or protesting mask mandates or vaccines - the message was clear: if you aren’t on board with us, we’re going to treat you like human garbage at best, enemies of the state at worst.

When they talk about Democracy and freedom and liberty and human rights, they forget how they have treated half of this country this past year.

All of this was going on as though there was no Vladimir Putin or Xi Jinping. It was as if America is the whole world and there are no other outside threats we face. The protests of 2020 inspired the Biden administration to take power as though he’d just won the second Civil War against the Confederate Army. He went along with the idea that America was “systemically racist” and corrupt to its core. He has gone along with the condemnation of members of the military over vaccine mandates or “white rage.”

He has gone along with the idea that we should divide children in public schools into two groups of oppressors and oppressed, to teach them that their whiteness from birth means they have “opportunity” but if they aren’t born with “whiteness” they don’t. He has gone along with equity replacing meritocracy. He has gone along with every new rule the progressive Left puts in place that Americans must follow or be condemned by their peers or fired from their employment. He went along when they dragged the statue of Thomas Jefferson out of City Hall in New York. Biden has gone along with all of it. That is, at least partly, why his poll numbers are dropping. The America he and the fundamentalist Left are threatening is not the America the majority wants.

The blatant hypocrisy on display by the Biden administration goes unnoticed by the high-minded media that controls the mainstream narrative, but it has not gone unnoticed by Putin or Xi.

The Biden-led withdrawal from Afghanistan was so horrific that it leaves a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in its wake. With bodies falling off airplanes and mothers handing their babies over the fence at the airport, that probably seemed like the worst of it. But it was only the beginning. Now we hear of young women locked in their homes, forbidden from going to school. We hear of babies dying when they are born because their mothers are starving. There is no way out of what we have done. But Americans once again act as though we’re the only country in the world that matters, that everyone will understand our explanations as to why this was necessary. But that is not what happened.

Putin noticed that now there was little chance Biden could justify heading into another war. The exit made Biden look weak. His poll numbers began to plummet. Even if the media barely noticed, and the blue checks on Twitter were pretending it wasn’t happening, Putin noticed.

The media has been so focused on Trump that they didn’t even notice when our country - the once mighty United States of America, was mocked by Putin for jailing political prisoners who, according to Putin, came to our Capitol “with a list of political demands.” Putin made the point that we were in no position to criticize him for what he does to journalists and dissenters when we are doing the same thing here. Even if we weren’t, what has happened to the January 6th protesters and rioters is not America most of us have grown up with. Putin noticed. How could he not when all we’ve ever done is take the moral highground against him.

Here is Putin nailing the Biden administration on jailing political prisoners:

Then, if that weren’t bad enough, the other world power that is about to test Biden’s weakness, China, called Biden out for Black Lives Matter and the racism Biden was announcing defined America. Now, not only had Putin exposed our hypocrisy but so did Xi Jinping. The only people who either didn’t see it or refused to call it out was our own media that kept being Biden’s magic mirror, telling him he was the greatest of them all. The Left existed in their own little bubble as though there simply were no other countries in the world that might be watching or listening.

Both of these moments illustrate two major US enemies pushing back, criticizing, and showing a kind of dominance we would not have seen under Trump. Whatever their relationship was, Putin saw Trump more as an equal than he does Biden, whom he clearly sees as no threat whatsoever. Trump also blustered loudly, always saying things like “we’ll hit them with everything we have,” and “it will be a response like the world has never seen.”

Here in the US, the press mocked Trump for that one minute, then called him a dangerous madman the next. But whatever that was, it was a stronger response to these two dictators in Russia and China than the Biden administration was ever prepared for.

In fact, as Ukrainian Konstantin Kisin says so brilliantly, we were not paying attention. We were focused on our own fantasy utopia and we had no idea what was waiting back in the real world. To Kisin, we must exert our power, or else these countries will start to do things we’re not going to approve of. They have no reason not to. They have no one to fear. It is like what happened in blue cities with the “defund the police” policies that led to massive spikes in crime.

That’s because on the Left, and in the Biden administration, they are still living the glory days of the Obama renaissance. In this world what matters is lifting up marginalized groups, renewable energy, a country that doesn’t see our enemies abroad but sees them instead as friends. The only people worth fighting, to Biden, are Trump supporters. Even now, forces are rising up on Twitter to try to get Tucker Carlson banned off Fox, or have Fox removed entirely from the airwaves. Don’t think they won’t use the threat of war to do that. They will. They’ve already tried to say Carlson is pro-invasion, which he never was.

This clip, which was dated February 17, already has 2 million views. This must be what they are referring to:

Obviously, this shows how unprepared Carlson and others on the Right were where Putin was concerned. He wasn’t the only one. Plenty of columnists whom I also read didn’t believe an attack was imminent. But does that make Carlson an enemy of the state? You might not like what he says in this video. I don’t much like it. But Carlson’s job is to be contrary to the status quo. That’s why he is popular. The answer to speech you don’t like is more speech, not less. That is not only what I believe, but it is the American way. Not the Russian way, not the China way. The American way.

What the Democrats want, what Joe Biden wants, what the high-status voices on Twitter like David Simon, Rob Reiner, Joy Behar, and Bette Midler want is to have things back the way they were before Trump won. They want the moral high ground back. They want the run of the place back. They want the garbage out of their pristine utopia. It was so much better when they had no idea just how many people in this country couldn’t stand them, and didn’t want to live by their rules.

We can’t go back. We can’t ever go back. Trump’s win was a pivotal moment in history when the populists rose to power, a movement that had its roots going all the way back to the year 2000 with World Trade Organization protests. They continued on with Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. That movement, with or without Trump, not only continues but has its eye on the House, the Senate, and the presidency. Again. There is no going back. There is only going forward through whatever the next phase will be.

If I were the Biden administration I would reach out to the populist Right. I would find a way to listen to them the way he is supposed to listen to all Americans. I would stop calling them terrorists. I would take down the political theater fencing around the Capitol. I would find out what they were worried about. The border, energy prices, freedom of speech, our schools, and I would find a way to meet in the middle. He will never do that. Think about David Simon or Rob Reiner’s reaction to that. To them, the populists could be carted off to camps and they would not blink.

But Biden is not them. He is, or at least once was, more compassionate and open-minded than they are. He is also the President of this entire country, not just the side that is acceptable to the Blue Checks.

America is in a very precarious place right now, not just because of the threats coming from Russia and China, but because of our own fractured condition. If we don't believe in this country if it is always being criticized and attacked by the people who govern it if there is a distinct oligarchal class that rules over a majority of discontents that doesn’t bode well for the future. You can’t have a powerful minority rule over a powerless majority and expect things to go well. They never have. Sooner or later the barbarians will be at the gates.

What they want on the Left and in the Biden administration is to be good - to be inclusive and diverse. They want a country where everyone gets a seat at the table and no one is marginalized or offended ever. At some point, though, their desire to be good was replaced by a desire for everyone else to go along with them, or else they weren’t good, they were bad.

The Left, right now, feels threatened that all of the progress they’ve made with women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and rights for the Black community is about to be ripped out of their grasp by the marauding Right. They believe Democracy Itself is at stake. But really, the silent, afraid majority just wants to be able to have a reasonable conversation about the country the Left is demanding America become. It is their country too and no one ever asked them if they agreed with the new rules.

That is why Trump is such an existential threat to them even now, even after he’s been booted off of social media and is no longer president. He isn’t silent. He isn’t open to discussion. He has come to knock it all down. That has left them feeling scared and under siege.

Their problem was they believed Trump was their worst nightmare. They thought electing Biden was like opening the door of the cage and letting the bird fly to its freedom. But they forgot what was waiting for them in the trees.