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The Soft-Power Politics That Exploded Into War – The New Yorker



The Soft-Power Politics That Exploded Into War

“Moscow knows that NATO is not a threat,” Mykola Riabchuk says. “It’s just rhetoric. It’s just an attempt to justify some imperialist, expansionist policy.”Source photograph by Joe Raedle / Getty

Mykola Riabchuk is a Ukrainian author and political analyst who has written extensively about questions of Ukrainian national identity. Riabchuk, who is based in Paris, spoke with me earlier this week about the Russian invasion of his country, and his frustrations with some of the ways the war has been covered in the Western media. Riabchuk was chairman of the Ukrainian PEN Centre for four years, and has published numerous books on Ukrainian history and politics, as well as collections of literary criticism and poetry. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we also discussed how Ukrainian identity has changed over the past several years, the shape of a possible negotiated solution to end the war, and why the West should be more skeptical of what Vladimir Putin calls Russia’s legitimate security concerns.

Where are you now?

Currently I’m in Warsaw because I came for a couple of lectures, but also I came to pick up my wife, who escaped from Kyiv.

You once made the point that looking at the Ukrainian-Russian relationship through the prism of Russia as an empire and Ukraine as a sort of colony was too simplistic. I’m curious what you meant by that then, and how you think about it now?

I believe that any theorizing is simplistic. You have to emphasize something and to marginalize some other things in order to conceptualize. So it’s inevitable. Of course, Ukraine was a colony, but in the same way it was very untypical. If we consider traditional colonies, it includes a racial component, which is fundamental, and of course it’s the most important, crucial thing. But that was not present in Ukraine. However, if we consider colonies as the lack of agency and the dominance of one people over another and an attempt to marginalize the other to make them voiceless and invisible, of course there was a very powerful dominance. It was an attempt to absorb them and force them to assimilate. These are all forms of dominance, since the very emergence of Ukrainian national identity was very heavily oppressed. So I do believe that we can speak about colonial pressure and colonial oppression.

I’ve read a lot of things that you’ve written recently and it feels like you are trying to argue against this idea that the West and Ukraine pushed Russia into a box around NATO expansion. What is it about that narrative that you don’t like?

Well, first of all, I believe that the very question, the very statement about Russian security concerns, frames the entire issue in a very false way. The assumption here is that Russia has some special security concerns, which other countries do not have. So Russian security concerns are presumed to be much more important than the security concerns of Ukraine, of Georgia, of Moldova, and on and on. Russia is seen as having special rights, exclusive rights. Why? I believe that Ukraine and Georgia and other smaller states—smaller neighbors of Russia—have many more reasons to be concerned about security. They were invaded; they were threatened; they were intimidated by Russia, and blackmailed, and so on. So their security concerns are really important and really serious.

Russian security concerns are a bluff. Russia has no security concerns, because nobody threatens Russia. Neither Ukraine nor Georgia, nor even NATO threatens Russia, and I believe Moscow knows that NATO is not a threat. It’s just rhetoric. It’s just an attempt to justify some imperialist, expansionist policy. Of course, I understand the essence of this rhetoric: NATO is a threat to Russian imperial ambitions. It contains these ambitions. It doesn’t allow Russia to expand further west and doesn’t allow Russia to invade Estonia or Latvia or Poland. And, in this regard, of course it’s a threat, but it’s not a threat to Russia—it’s a threat to Russian imperialism. But that’s another matter. So let’s call a spade a spade, because one of our problems is that we fail to call things by their proper names. We fail to call the Ukrainian conflict a war. It was not a conflict, it was war, and it was a Russian invasion. But all the time we use these false terms like “conflict,” like “crisis.”

I think the counter-argument is to say not necessarily that Russia had legitimate security concerns and that the states in Eastern Europe did not—obviously that would be silly—but to say, rather, that Russia may view its security concerns this way. So it’s in the long-term interest of the countries in Eastern Europe to not do things that would anger Russia simply because it is what you say, a larger imperial power. And, therefore, the idea is essentially that, even if Russia’s claims do not have more moral or ethical worth than the claims of Estonians or Georgians or Ukrainians, we still need to be more careful with Russia—simply because if we aren’t careful then we end up with things like the invasion of Ukraine.

If we employ this logic, we don’t understand that these concerns are absolutely groundless, they are false, they are invented. And yet we accept them and we discuss them seriously. Everybody knows that the Nazis said they were concerned about the Jewish threat, but this was false. Should we recognize the concerns as legitimate? Of course not. But the Nazis said they believed it, and Hitler believed that the Jews represented a threat for the entire world and specifically for Germany. So he had security concerns, the argument goes. Should we accept this? Should we accept Putin’s paranoia?

Right, or you could say that closer to home and further away from Hitler analogies, when American security concerns are hyped up or irrational or illogical or wrong, they should simply be called as such.

I’m not here to discuss or to defend America. My point is that Ukraine is not responsible for any wrongdoings, or missteps of America or Western colonial powers. It’s not our fault. Why should we be responsible for this? Russia raises all these questions and examples, saying, We have to invade Crimea because they did this in Kosovo. Ukraine had nothing to do with Kosovo, so why should we be responsible for Kosovo? Why should we play this game because somebody took over Kosovo or somebody invaded Iraq? If Moscow has some problem with America, let them settle this problem with America, not Ukraine. We are all the time trapped by this false rhetoric. Moscow deliberately introduces all this false rhetoric and Westerners buy it. That’s the tragedy, the real tragedy. We are seriously discussing all these artificial false frames established by Moscow.

One of the frames that Moscow—and not just Moscow or people sympathetic to Moscow—has offered is the idea that the West was pushing to bring in new member states, with obviously both the E.U. and NATO having expanded in the thirty years since the end of the Cold War, and getting closer and closer to Russia. But I want to ask you from a Ukrainian perspective how you viewed those expansions, and how Ukrainians look at the E.U. and NATO.

Well, first of all, I don’t accept this formula about approaching closer and closer to Russia. They didn’t care about Russia. They didn’t approach Russia. The countries of Eastern Europe had their own problems, and their own interests. Russia lost them because it didn’t have enough soft power. It was not hard power but a competition of soft power. And the West had much, much stronger soft power. And the Eastern European states were attracted by soft power. Moreover, they had very bad experiences with Russia and they wanted to move far away from Russia. So it was not NATO moving to Russia; it was Eastern Europe moving away from Russia. So again, let’s call things by the proper names.

Ukraine was interested from the very beginning in European integration, and this was declared by all Ukraine Presidents, including Viktor Yanukovych. It was Yanukovych who prepared this European association agreement, but stopped it because of Russian pressure. So, all Ukrainian élites and society were basically favorable about the West. Of course, they were more lukewarm about NATO, not because they were against NATO but because they understood that this was a sensitive issue for Moscow, and they did not want to spoil relations too much. So Ukrainians were rather reluctant about NATO at the time, but they were pro-E.U. from the very beginning. There was no big controversy about the E.U. Basically, Ukrainians from the very beginning, from the very emergence of modern Ukrainian identity, understood that their identity was incompatible with Russian because Russia is incompatible with Ukraine. And they’ve always had to seek some alternative, and had to seek some allies in the West, and they had to position themselves as a European nation.

So Ukraine was Western-oriented and the drift was quite natural under all governments. The only problem was that part of the population was more ambivalent. I try to emphasize that it was not pro-Russian, but it was ambivalent. It was pan-Slavic. Maybe they had this idea of belonging to pan-Slavic and Christian communities, which were imaginary communities. So it was not about real Russia. Russia was not very attractive, but, rather, this mythical community was.

That was what I was getting at in my first question about imperialism—this idea that the reason the colonial frame was in some sense too simplistic was that people in both countries had the sense of a larger pan-Slavic identity.

Well, yes and no. Yes, of course this sense of larger personal identity was present. It was largely induced by religion, by the church. But it was also a rather late construction because Ukrainians had little contact with Moscow until the eighteenth century. They belonged to different political entities and different political cultures. And so the contacts were very limited, but then an empire emerged and began with all this mythmaking. This imperial ideology was induced, primarily by the Orthodox Church, which was monopolized by Moscow. It was the only official church. And many Ukrainians internalize this idea, which originally was religious. But it also overlapped eventually with some cultural and political emotions.

So it affected many people, but still I’d like to emphasize that Ukrainian patriotism was present all the time, and today we see this. Otherwise, we cannot explain this phenomenon of today’s Ukrainian resistance, when all the people, regardless of language or ethnicity, fight the Russian occupation. They call invaders invaders. How can we explain this? Just because all of them, whatever their political views and affiliations, feel they are Ukrainians politically. And I believe this was present in Ukraine the whole time. Ukrainians could be very different in many ways, but they were attached to this land, to this country, and it was a very deep attachment.

Do you think Ukrainian identity started to change in some way in 2014?

Well, first of all, I definitely oppose the popular formulas which emerged recently that Putin created a Ukrainian nation or Ukraine identity—something like this. Of course not. Of course he should not be credited for this. It’s like crediting Hitler for the creation of the state of Israel. Nor should Stalin be credited for the creation of a Ukrainian nation. But the Russian invasion probably eliminated remnants of some of the illusions of some Ukrainians. Many Ukrainians had some illusions about this imaginary community, and they disappeared, or they were seriously undermined in 2014, and now they are completely eliminated.

Ukrainians had two different types of identities. One of them was clearly progressive and distant from Russia. They definitely differentiated themselves and were pro-European. And there was another type which was not strictly Russian, nor was it European. It was ambivalent, and gradually this ambivalence disappeared. It disappeared throughout all the decades of Ukraine independence, and sociological surveys clearly showed this gradual decline in ambivalence.

Can you just describe a little bit more what that ambivalence is. You have used the word several times.


I know what the word means. I just—

I mean it in regard to identity. Ambivalence means some sort of infantile belief that you can combine incompatible things. In this case, the belief that you can, at the same time, pursue European integration and integration with Belarus and Russia and Kazakhstan and whatever else. This sort of naïveté is very childish. People cannot recognize this, and it is based on different values. Maybe it was not so clear in the nineteen-nineties, but increasingly it’s obvious because Belarus became more and more authoritarian. Russia became more totalitarian. We have nothing to do with this, absolutely. Ukraine is a democracy. Maybe not a mature democracy, but a democracy with full-fledged institutions, with freedom of speech and so on. We don’t want to belong to this world with Russia.

What did you think Volodymyr Zelensky represented when he was elected in 2019? And why do you think he was elected?

People were tired of the war. They were disappointed because they had very high expectations after the Maidan Revolution. People believed in and expected some miracles, and miracles didn’t happen. The media helped Zelensky greatly, too. The campaign was very technologically skillful. But he didn’t declare anything very clearly. He played the role of a clean, empty screen on which everybody could project his or her own expectations, so he was able to gather very different groups of people and everybody could imagine that he is their President, their ideal. But I believe that, when he occupied the position, he gradually began to grow as a politician. You have a big country—you have forty million people—so of course you have to think differently, not like an actor or like a pop star. And he transformed himself into a quite mature and responsible politician, I believe. So it’s a very interesting phenomenon, and unusual.

A few weeks before the war, Zelensky said that he thought that people needed to relax and not panic and so on. And then he transitioned fairly quickly into this sort of heroic wartime leader. The speed of it was fascinating.

I don’t know whether he really said the former seriously or just played this game, because today he explains that we knew and we took seriously the Russian threat, we understood what was going on, and we were preparing, but silently. We did not want to disclose our preparation. At least he has said we just played possum. So I can understand this decision, and I can also understand his intention to catch Russians unexpectedly. And to some degree they caught them unexpectedly. They didn’t expect such resistance.

I’m sure you’re hoping for Russia to be defeated and for Ukraine to have its sovereignty. But beyond that, is there some sort of agreement that you could see that you would think might be O.K. for the Ukrainian people? How are you processing what’s going on, and, when you hear about negotiations, how do you think about that emotionally and practically?

I cannot speak on behalf of the Ukrainian people. My feeling is that they are not ready for any compromise because it means capitulation. So we have nothing to lose. For Ukrainians, it is clear that Russia is determined to exterminate Ukraine, either to assimilate it completely or to exterminate or extinguish it. It’s obvious for me, it’s obvious as a political scientist, but it’s also obvious for common people who just feel it, because Putin is obsessed with the Ukraine question. He’s writing constantly about Ukraine. All the time, he says that this is not a nation, it’s not a country, it’s an artificial creation, it’s something fake and Ukrainians are Russians. So, if you disagree, you are anti-Russian.

He introduced this formula that anti-Russian sentiment has emerged in Ukraine. And of course we cannot tolerate anti-Russians. What does it mean? That anti-Russians should be eliminated and exterminated, extinguished, destroyed. And for him an anti-Russian is any Ukrainian who doesn’t accept that he’s Russian. So the logic is very clear. He would like to destroy the country, and destroy Ukrainian identity. So, Ukrainians in this situation have no choice. Either you are going to the crematorium or you resist. And we have to resist.

But I personally believe we could sacrifice NATO membership because it’s not so important. If we are promoted to the E.U., we can exchange it for NATO membership. I believe that E.U. membership is much more important for Ukraine, as long as we get some other security guarantees from the international community. And this is something that maybe could be sold by Putin to his own people as a kind of victory, even though it’s not his goal. I understand that Putin doesn’t care about NATO, he cares about Ukraine, he cares about the subjugation of Ukraine. But, to save face, he may buy this.

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How women have helped change the culture of politics in Quebec –



It’s been 61 years since Claire Kirkland-Casgrain became the first woman elected to Quebec’s National Assembly, and though women politicians say there is still much to change to make Quebec politics more inclusive, they point to the ways they’ve already created progress in what was a boy’s club for centuries. 

“It was really a purpose of mine to change the way we go about politics, the way we practise it,” said Véronique Hivon, who recently announced she would not be running in the next provincial election, after being a mainstay in Quebec politics for more than a decade. 

Hivon, the Parti Québécois MNA for Joliette, is one of 16 women so far who have announced they will not run again in this year’s provincial elections, expected in October.

A CBC analysis earlier this week highlighted the fact that number represents about one in four female MNAs, compared to one in seven male MNAs who have announced they will not seek re-election. There are currently 55 women and 70 men who sit in the provincial legislature. 

Experts who spoke with CBC said the proportion of women leaving is disappointing, given the 2018 Quebec election’s historic results for women and non-white candidates

Groupe Femmes, politique et démocratie, an organization based in Quebec City, has been pressuring the province to adopt a “parity law” that would force parties to have between 40 and 60 per cent of their candidates be women.

“Because it won’t happen alone,” said Esther Lapointe, the group’s director. “There are always setbacks.”

Lapointe worries the majority Coalition Avenir Québec government’s surging popularity in the polls and the opposition parties’ struggle to gain ground before the election could be the reason so many women are leaving. 

But Hivon, in an interview with CBC this week, said she is optimistic more people — more women — will enter politics without feeling like they have to “fit into a mould.” 

Hivon has been hailed for her work on cross-partisan initiatives. With three other female MNAs from different parties, and in just under four years, Hivon helped create Quebec’s new court specialized in sexual violence and domestic violence. 

Women goal-oriented

She also helped draft Quebec’s legislation on medical aid in dying and led a highly praised commission on end-of-life care. 

Women in Quebec politics are known for working across party lines on issues from medical aid in dying to creating a specialized court for sexual and domestic violence. Hélène David, Sonia LeBel, Véronique Hivon and Christine Labrie, left to right, worked on the court project together. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Hivon was seen as a natural choice to succeed former PQ leader Jean-François Lisée when he lost his seat in the 2018 election, but she decided not to seek the job. 

“I have no regrets. I feel I was able to fulfil my objectives and what I wanted to change in Quebec politics and in policies,” Hivon said. 

“I feel I was able to do it, even though I wasn’t a leader — maybe even because I wasn’t a leader,” she added, laughing. 

The PQ suffered a dismal result in the 2018 election, losing its official party status with only nine seats, compared to 30 in 2014, which was already one of the party’s worst results since 1970.

It is still reeling from those losses, finding itself fifth among the province’s six main parties in popularity, with only 10 per cent of the potential vote, according to polling aggregator

Hivon posited that more women may be leaving this year because they are content to step aside once they’ve accomplished their goals. 

“They don’t hold onto power maybe as much as men, who see it as a milieu, a place where they can still do things, even if they don’t know exactly what,” Hivon said in the interview. 

WATCH | Véronique Hivon on why she thinks more women are leaving Quebec politics: 

Véronique Hivon on why she thinks more women are leaving politics

2 days ago

Duration 0:58

Retiring Parti Québécois MNA Véronique Hivon says a different approach to power and the tone of discourse at the National Assembly are among her theories as to why women might not want to enter or stay in provincial politics.

The pandemic and the reflections it prompted about work-life balance may have also played a role, she said.

Thérèse Mailloux, the president of Groupe Femmes, politique et démocratie, also said she believes women tend to leave once they feel they have accomplished their objectives. 

That may be because the culture still has a ways to go to be more welcoming to people who are not white men. 

“The men who have been there for centuries, well, they are in their codes and their networks and the way they do politics,” Mailloux said. 

Need for better work-life balance

Québec Solidaire’s Ruba Ghazal, the MNA for Mercier, said she sees firsthand the ways her female colleagues don’t feel as comfortable in the National Assembly, and believes the institution should do more to “make it easier for women to come and to stay in politics.”

Ghazal suggested the National Assembly create a daycare to make it easier for politicians to find balance between their work and their families. 

“I’m going to run again, and in my personal life it’s easier because I don’t have children and I will not have children,” Ghazal said, also speaking in an interview with CBC this week.

The way men in the Salon bleu approach debate is also different, Ghazal said, opting for harsher jabs in a style that can sometimes alienate women. 

Still, she acknowledges, progress takes time. 

“Even if it’s 50 years,” that women have been in politics in Quebec, “that’s not a lot of time to change this,” Ghazal said. 

After Kirkland-Casgrain was first elected in 1961 for the Quebec Liberals, it would take another 15 years before more than one woman at a time would have a seat at the National Assembly. 

Claire Kirkland-Casgrain served in two Liberal governments and was the first female provincial judge. (Radio-Canada)

Mailloux said she sees the culture changing. Debates — although at times brutal — have in general become more respectful. Schedules are more humane, and there is a recognition of the importance of working on cross-partisan initiatives, such as the ones Hivon participated in. 

Hivon said it’s getting easier to be oneself in Quebec politics but it remains a fight to do so. 

“I made a promise to myself when I entered politics that I would stay true to myself, my values, my convictions. It’s hard work every day because there are pressures, but you can do it,” she said, encouraging others to join. 

“I really feel hopeful that there are new generations of women who will come and really be themselves.”

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Roe draft is a reminder that religion's role in politics is older than the republic –



At its core, the abortion debate is between those who regard the fetus as a person and those who regard abortion as a rightful option for pregnant women.

While there are religious and non-religious people on both sides of the argument, the loudest voices are often those of religious traditionalists on one side and contemporary secularists on the other.

The discussion also entails biology, medical technology, policy questions and constitutional issues such as state’s rights and a personal right to privacy. As the decades have passed, the discussion has also become saturated with partisan politics as the mix of opinion in the major parties has shifted dramatically.

But through it all, there is no denying the centrality of religion. It is not so much a matter of identification with one faith or church, but of the degree of intensity of an individual’s involvement.

In a report issued Friday, Gallup senior scientist Frank Newport wrote:

“The pattern among Protestants and Catholics reflects the general pattern in the U.S. — the more religious the individual, the more likely that individual is to say that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.”

Newport noted that such an outright ban was favored by “only 9-10% of all Americans who seldom or never attend religious services,” but that jumps to 19-23% among those who attend once a month or almost every week, and to 40% of those who attend church once a week.”

To be sure, surveys also find differences in attitude that reflect gender, age, education, party preference and geographic residence. But all of these reflect the relative religiosity of individuals within these groups. The belief that abortion is morally wrong is embraced by 75% of those who attend services weekly, but less than half of those who seldom or never attend.

“In short the relative religiosity of Americans (that is how religious they are) is more predictive of their abortion attitudes than their broad religious identity,” according to Newport.

Going all the way back to the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which invalidated the anti-abortion statutes in effect in 46 states, the objections heard have come first and foremost from religious organizations and activists.

There have been secular institutions that criticized Roe as well, including some academic and legal organizations. The biggest, ultimately, has been the Republican Party, which had been neutral on abortion in the 1970s but has since aligned in opposition. But that has reflected the rising role of religion in that party, particularly the role of evangelical and Catholic traditionalists.

Many Americans, particularly those born since Roe, may find all this rather mystifying. The question arises: Since when did so much of our politics have to do with religion? And the answer is, since the beginning – and even before.

Religion was a driving and determinative force in politics on this continent even before the “United States” had been formed. And it has been brought to bear in widely disparate causes. Religion has been invoked to condemn slavery and segregation, to ban alcohol and the teaching of evolutionary science and to bolster anti-war movements.

Colonial origins

Persecution of religious minorities in the British isles and Europe drove many of the original white settlers of the American continent across the Atlantic in the 1600s. In New England colonies, one could find the origins of both tolerance and intolerance. Rhode Island had religious freedom for all, including Jews. But in Massachusetts there were witch trials and an emphasis on religious conformity.

The split tradition was in evidence at the founding of the Republic, with a mix of attitudes mainly devoted to minimizing religious rivalries and antagonism. The Constitution banned any religious test for office and the First Amendment barred the establishing of an official church.

In the early 1800s, there were waves of religious feeling and new formats emerged, from the transcendentalist movement in New England to the rise of the Latter-day Saints led by Joseph Smith, who eventually found a home in Utah.

But the main thrust of religion in the period was the challenge that the abolitionist movement, often led by preachers, made to the institution of slavery. The movement often adopted the language of liberation from the Bible and cast the “peculiar institution” of the South as not just wrong but sinful. Note the religious language in the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which speaks of Christ’s death as the model for the Union’s mission in the Civil War. (“As He died to make men holy / Let us die to make men free / His truth is marching on / Glory, glory hallelujah!”)

Clarence Darrow, left, and William Jennings Bryan speak with each other during the monkey trial in Dayton, Tenn., in July 1925.

Appropriating biblical images was also a habit for the populist hero William Jennings Bryan, who came out of Nebraska to lead a national movement against the gold standard used to establish value at the time. His “Cross of Gold” speech at the 1896 Democratic National Convention led to his first nomination for president at the age of 36. (“You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold.”)

He was nominated — and lost — three times. But he later served as secretary of state and became a champion of those religious traditionalists opposed to the teaching of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in public schools. He appeared as both an attorney and a witness in the famous Scopes trial in Tennessee in 1925, arguing for a literal reading of the Bible’s six-day story of creation.

Bryan was also influential in the temperance movement, largely a project of Protestant activists. Supported largely by church leaders, the movement found enough support in a still-largely rural America to ban the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. Backed generally by rural representatives from both parties, Prohibition was achieved in 1920 by constitutional amendment (the 18th) and ended by another (the 21st) in 1933.

Civil rights and anti-war movements

After the repeal of Prohibition, many religious white people in the U.S. turned away from politics. While distressed at many trends in the culture, they did not see a clear path to addressing them in the public sphere.

But something quite different was happening in the churches of African Americans, especially in the South. Much as the symbols of Exodus had been used a century earlier, they reappeared in the civil rights movement in the post-war American South. Songs with words such as “Tell old Pharaoh let my people go” were sung with new meaning, their words incorporated in sermons by preachers in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference led by the Rev. Martin Luther King.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., co-pastor with his father of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., is shown as he speaks in Eutaw, Ala., on June 4, 1965.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., co-pastor with his father of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., is shown as he speaks in Eutaw, Ala., on June 4, 1965.

Also borrowing from the Bible were some exponents of anti-war sentiment in both the Protestant and Catholic traditions who opposed the war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.

While there had been “conscientious objectors” in the two world wars who cited Christ’s non-violent teachings to resist military service, their numbers were few and had little impact. That changed with Vietnam, and priests and preachers were often involved in encouraging such objections.

But after Vietnam, active engagement on major public issues more often came from the more conservative elements of the religious community. Some were mobilized by the Supreme Court’s 1962 ruling that prayer in public schools violated the Constitution’s establishment clause. Others were disturbed when courts began ruling against religious displays in official places, such as monuments to the Ten Commandments in courthouses.

As the 20th century came to a close, much of the traditional religious community shifted its focus to the rising gay rights movement and “the homosexual agenda.” This activism had support in both parties, and President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, his reelection year. He later said that had been a mistake.

In the early years of the new century, resistance to gay rights and gender identity issues focused on same-sex marriage. In the 2004 presidential election year, Republican activists were able to include bans on such unions as ballot measures in a number of swing states – notably the bellwether state of Ohio.

Robust turnout among religious conservatives in those states that year contributed to narrow wins for Republican President George W. Bush, who would the following year nominate two conservative Catholics (Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito) to the Supreme Court.

That was not enough to prevent the court from reaching a historic decision in the 2015 case of Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. With both Roberts and Alito dissenting, along with two other Catholic members appointed by earlier Republican presidents, the high court on that occasion overturned all state laws blocking same sex marriage.

But the reasoning found in Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson is regarded by some as applicable to Obergefell as well, raising the possibility of another precedent being overturned. Some legal scholars think the same could be said of the 1967 ruling in Loving v. Virginia, which struck down laws against interracial marriage. Alito wrote in his draft opinion that overturning Roe would not imperil other precedents.

An apparent contradiction in trends

It may seem surprising, or contrary to expectations, that contentious religious issues are gaining importance in the Republican Party at this point in U.S. history. The rising influence of religious conservatives in the GOP coincides with a steady decline in the percentage of Americans identifying with either Catholic or Protestant churches. That decline in percentage terms had begun in the latter half of the 20th century but it has accelerated since, according to periodic surveys by the Pew Research Center.

Pew also found the percentage of Americans who claimed no particular religious connection (including self-described agnostics or atheists) has risen from 17% to 26% since 2009.

Despite all this, or perhaps in part because of it, political activism has risen among those who do prioritize a religious connection. And that activism, including a heightened propensity to vote, has had substantial and sustained political impact over the last 40 years — owing in part to the issue of abortion and the force of Roe v. Wade.

Roe vote remains the big test

When Roe was decided, four of the seven justices who voted for it had been appointed by Republican presidents (three by Richard Nixon). Only one Republican appointee dissented.

But since then, and particularly since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the GOP has courted religious conservatives and promised them judges attuned to their causes — particularly opposition to Roe.

The five current Supreme Court justices prepared to overturn Roe (according to the leaked version of the draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson) were all appointed by Republican presidents, three by Donald Trump alone. Trump had been more explicit than any of his predecessors in promising to appoint justices committed to ending Roe.

Most of the voters for Republican presidents have not been Catholic but Protestant, especially white evangelical Protestants. The Catholic vote, which was overwhelmingly Democratic for nearly two centuries, is now split about evenly nationally in presidential elections. But Trump got about three-fifths of the white Catholic vote each time he was nominated.

Republicans who get to the Oval Office have found the most likely nominees to please social conservatives with their eventual votes on the bench are the Catholic nominees. Non-Catholics named by Republicans since Reagan took office have not been as likely to oppose Roe. Of the seven justices they named who were Catholic, five are still on the court and four of them were named as supporting the draft of the Alito ruling overturning Roe.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit

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Politics Briefing: Prime Minister Trudeau welcomes news that Pope Francis will visit Canada – The Globe and Mail



The Prime Minister and his Minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations are welcoming news that Pope Francis will visit Canada in July in a cross-country tour to address the Catholic Church’s harmful legacy of running the majority of the country’s residential schools.

The visit will take place from July 24 to July 30, but the Vatican press office gave no other details of his trip, saying that information on the full program “will be published in the coming weeks.”

European bureau chief Eric Reguly and reporter Tavia Grant report here.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the Pope’s upcoming visit is very good news.

“It will be extremely important that he deliver the apology from the Catholic church to residential school survivors and their families. It’s going to be an important time on the path of reconciliation,” Mr. Trudeau told journalists present for the beginning of a meeting Yukon Premier Sandy Silver

Marc Miller, federal Minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations, told journalists the visit will present an opportunity for survivors to have a “direct connection” to the Pope, hear his words and consider whether that offers a measure of closure “which is what a number of survivors are asking for.”

He was commenting ahead of Friday’s Question Period.

Asked whether there were conversations with the Vatican for a meeting between the Pope and Prime Minister, Mr. Miller said he can’t share information on that at this time.

“But clearly we are in a very delicate position insofar as Canada has a role to play in welcoming a head of state, but also we don’t want to be in the way between the survivors and the Pope, who really have to have that time and spend that time and be offered the opportunity to speak to someone who doesn’t get to be on Canadian soil all that much, someone of very advanced age.”

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.


SUPREME COURT RULES ON EXTREME INTOXICATION – Extreme intoxication resembling a state of automatism can be used as a defence for violent crime, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in three cases involving the use of drugs that led to stabbings, beatings and, in one case, a death. Story here.

PM DENOUNCES TORTURE OF AFGHANS SEEKING ACCESS TO CANADA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it is “heartbreaking and horrific” to hear of Afghans being tortured by the Talban as they wait for resettlement to Canada, and repeated the government’s promise to bring them to safety. Story here.

PUSHBACK AT LIBERAL EFFORTS TO GET BUDGET BILL THROUGH COMMITTEE HEARINGS – The federal government’s latest large budget bill would apply Canada’s Criminal Code to the surface of the moon, an example Conservative MPs cited this week in their effort to resist a Liberal timeline to get the legislation through committee hearings. Story here.

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SEEKS DISMISSAL OF CLASS-ACTION FACIAL-RECOGNITION LAWSUIT – The federal government is asking a judge to dismiss a Quebec photographer’s bid for certification of a class-action lawsuit, possibly involving millions of people, over the RCMP’s use of a controversial facial-recognition tool. Story here.

MAJOR ANTI-ABORTION RALLY ON PARLIAMENT HILL – Thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators descended on Parliament Hill Thursday, as a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft decision brings renewed attention to the issue on both sides of the border. Story here.

DUTCH PRINCESS VISITS OTTAWA – Princess Margriet of the Netherlands is visiting Ottawa, the city where she was born during the Second World War. Story here.

POLICE INVESTIGATE HARASSEMENT OF SINGH -Police in Peterborough, Ont., say they are actively investigating after NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh received a barrage of insults and harassment as he made his exit from a provincial election rally. Story here from CTV.

LEGAULT RULES OUT ENGLISH-LANGUAGE DEBATE – Quebec Premier François Legault has declined an invitation by a consortium of media to participate in an election debate in English during the fall campaign. Story here from the Montreal Gazette.

ONTARIO ELECTION ON FRIDAY – The NDP is set to unveil plan aimed at seniors; Liberals to make announcement on cost of living. Check here.

Meanwhile, on the Ontario Election: Readers have told us which issues they care about most when it comes to their vote: health care, climate policy, housing and the economy. Every Tuesday and Friday from May 17 until election day, Globe journalists will break down everything you need to know about these key issues ahead of June 2 in a newsletter called Vote of Confidence. You will also learn how fellow Ontarians are feeling about the topics, and find out what’s happening on the campaign trails.

For a chance to be featured in Vote of Confidence and to help shape our election campaign coverage, share your thoughts by filling out this survey. Subscribe to Vote of Confidence here to have all the information you need to make your choice on June 2, delivered right to your inbox.


TRUDEAU RESPONDS TO POILIEVRE PLAN TO FIRE BANK GOVERNOR – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre either misunderstood or doesn’t care about the Bank of Canada’s independence, after the Ontario MP said that if he forms government, he would fire Governor Tiff Macklem. Story here.

CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Thursday’s newsletter had Pierre Poilievre attending a meet and greet with supporters in Cape Breton. That event is actually on Friday evening. Meanwhile, Scott Aitchison is in Calgary on Friday. Roman Baber was in Alberta, and planning to return to Toronto on Saturday. Patrick Brown was in Edmonton. Jean Charest was in Montreal on calls and Zooms with party members. Leslyn Lewis was attending events in her Haldimand-Norfolk constituency.


TODAY IN THE COMMONS – Projected Order of Business at the House of Commons, May13, accessible here.

GG IN TORONTO – Governor-General Mary Simon and her husband, Whit Fraser, are visiting Toronto on Saturday, with stops that include presenting the new guidon or pennant to the Queen’s York Rangers, and honouring Inuit singer and humanitarian Susan Aglukark at the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ 2022 Juno Opening Night Awards.

THREE FEDERAL MINISTERS IN VANCOUVER – Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, and Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu are in Vancouver on Friday to provide an update on federal support measures for this year’s wildfire season.


On Friday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, Senator Yvonne Boyer, who is Métis and was formerly a nurse and a lawyer, discusses how her background inspired her to devote her life to ending forced sterilization procedures, how it’s part of the systemic racism Indigenous women face in Canada’s health care system and why addressing it is an important part of Canada’s reconciliation efforts. Ms. Boyer wants Canadians to know that Indigenous women are still being forcibly sterilized in Canada. She has been fighting to raise awareness of this issue. She is also a part of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, which is currently examining the issue. The Decibel is here.


In Ottawa, the Prime Minister held private meetings, met at his office with Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, and was scheduled to participate in a plaque unveiling ceremony with Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet of the Netherlands.


Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen is in Washington for meetings, including with Kirsten Hillman, the Canadian ambassador to the United States, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, as well as a number of members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Ms. Bergen returns to Canada on Monday.

No schedules provided for other leaders.


Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on how, for Pierre Poilievre, undermining the Bank of Canada brings an easy political reward: Pierre Poilievre was obviously surprised that it was so easy to beat up on the Bank of Canada. Now, every time he takes it up a notch, it sparks a reaction from experts and leading economic figures. And that’s what Mr. Poilievre wants. His latest step, promising during Wednesday night’s Conservative leadership debate to fire the Governor of the Bank of Canada, Tiff Macklem, isn’t going to do anything to bring down inflation. But that’s not the point. The goal is to attack the experts, the “elites,” the “gatekeepers” – to channel the anger that many in the country feel, and the frustration propelling Mr. Poilievre’s candidacy. Inflation is a powerful political issue, but it’s a lot more useful to Mr. Poilievre when it is a cudgel wielded against culprits painted as one big ivory-tower elite.”

Andrew Coyne (The Globe and Mail) on how more election debates might improve them: The public appears to want more debates, according to the Commission’s polling data. So why are we stuck with only two? The Commission is sympathetic to the idea of more debates, but says it “heard concern that this would require the agreement of the political parties and television networks. Invited leaders may not be willing or available, and networks may not commit to broadcasting multiple debates.” Here’s a thought: Why should it be up to the networks? Why should they get to decide whether to broadcast the debates? Why shouldn’t it be required of them, as a condition of licence?”

Erika Barootes (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on lessons for Alberta’s political leaders from the Stanley Cup playoffs: Your first line can’t play the entire game. Focusing on building up bench strength can keep legs fresh longer, and nurturing a depth of talent will benefit the team during the four-year season. That also means that from captain to fourth-liners, a team is a team. Everyone needs to show up to practice and look out for one another. And although rookies need to earn their spot, they shouldn’t feel irrelevant. It comes down to focusing on the team goal over individual stats. This is easier said than done. For this type of culture to be authentic, it should be regularly addressed and communicated from leadership.”

Kelly McParland (National Post) on how Pierre Poilievre is too big a risk to lead the Conservatives: “Pierre Poilievre’s performance in the first two Conservative leadership debates is a strong argument against his suitability for the job of prime minister. Whether Conservatives nonetheless decide to put him in charge of the party will say a lot about their credibility as a potential alternative to the Liberal government. Poilievre falls short on several fronts, both personal and policy-wise. There is an imperiousness and inflexibility in his performances that bodes poorly for someone who would need to bring a divided party together, and then do the same for a divided country. He has a caustic approach that would all but certainly alienate a significant segment of the voting population, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of anger, evinced by his regular, eviscerating assaults on an array of targets ranging from political opponents to fellow Conservatives standing a few feet away on a podium.”

Don Braid (Calgary Herald) on how the UCP has earned the public mistrust of the leadership vote: “On Thursday, the UCP’s livestream of ballot “verification” — the checking of voter names against a party list — drew thousands of viewers. It’s a weirdly hypnotic scene of volunteers, party officials and scrutineers as they open envelopes, scan documents, then toss documents into green bins for “approved” and red ones for “escalated.” The UCP is trying to allay suspicion by putting up this livestream. Even Kenney’s opponents who are participating in the verification — including Vitor Marciano, aide to MLA Brian Jean — say this part of the complex process is basically straight-up. But the horse named Mistrust left the barn weeks ago. Many people have believed the fix was in ever since the voting procedure was changed from in-person to mailed ballots.”

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