2022 in Tribune editorials: America and the world

American Age Official

Vladimir Putin on the rampage. Sam Bankman-Fried on the fritz. And Queen Elizabeth, after a lifetime of service, taking her final bow.

Here’s a look — through excerpts from our editorials — at how the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board watched 2022 unfold in realms beyond Chicago.

Feb. 25 : Vladimir Putin has invaded the sovereign nation of Ukraine.

There was a time when Putin seemed to see himself, not as the head of a re-created Soviet state, but as a czar — an omnipotent monarch ruling over a quiet, subservient, grateful populace. “The monarch doesn’t have to worry about whether or not he will be elected, or about petty political interests, or about how to influence the electorate,” Putin said in “First Person,” a biography of him published in 2000. “He can think about the destiny of people and not have to be distracted by trivialities.”

When the biographer asked him whether the return of monarchy in Russia was possible, Putin answered: “You know, there’s a lot that seems impossible and incredible, and then — bang!”

Putin may liken himself to a czar, but the rest of the world now knows his true nature is even worse. Actually, the world has suspected Putin’s essence for a long time, but his brutal, bloody invasion of Ukraine has confirmed it. Putin is a despot, a brutish thug in the same ignominious pantheon as Bashar Assad, Robert Mugabe, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Augusto Pinochet and Josef Stalin.

May 31 : A draft opinion, appearing to foretell the end of Roe v. Wade, has leaked from the Supreme Court.

This editorial board long has supported a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. We reaffirm that support here, grounded in our belief in a woman’s autonomy over her own body and our long-standing commitment to individual freedoms, even as we lament the Monday night leak of a draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court, a further erosion of the fabric of the United States essential to a functioning democracy.

Contrary to what you likely are reading elsewhere, both of those positions can be held together.

Aug. 9 : The feds have invaded Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago.

Trump World calls these attempts to probe the actions of the former president a “witch hunt,” the same label a group of Trump supporters outside Mar-a-Lago on Monday used to describe the FBI search at the former president’s estate. To Trump and his faithful, any effort to hold the former president up to legal scrutiny is a “witch hunt.”

There’s a better, more accurate label for it, though. Accountability.

Aug. 12 : Salmon Rushdie has been attacked.

We herald Rushdie’s artistry, intellect, literary prowess and compassion for his fellow travelers.

In “The Satanic Verses,” Rushdie wrote of the poet’s work: “to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.”

Exactly. Godspeed to him.

Aug. 31 : Former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev has died.

Gorbachev was not an egomaniac. He did not refuse to leave the stage. He was a strikingly astute observer of human nature, especially the way insecurity and a thirst for dominance is so often manifest in the human male, often with terrible consequences. He knew that to curb Russian exceptionalism, now abundantly apparent in Ukraine with terrible global fallout, he also had to remind Americans not to thump their chests about their own exceptionalism. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that neither glasnost nor perestroika did much for Gorbachev’s ability to hold on to personal power. On the contrary. The contrast with the actions of Donald J. Trump could not be more acute.

Sept. 8 : Queen Elizabeth II has died in Balmoral, Scotland.

Queen Elizabeth II had such palpable fun in the job — watching prime ministers and presidents come and go, traveling to Chicago to sup with a thrilled Mayor Richard J. Daley in 1959 — that when her son, Prince Charles, told the British people recently that the thing that gets Queen Elizabeth up in the morning was them, the statement did not feel even remotely disingenuous.

Clearly, it was the truth. You could usually read it on her face.

Another truth presented itself as the queen’s health declined. She was and is deeply loved by the people she had pledged to serve and, at a minimum, was admired by many beyond that number.

That list included those who would not declare themselves monarchists if the topic of conversation involved any other monarch or progeny. You might say that the queen was grandfathered, or grandmothered, into a changing world.

Sept. 28 : Liz Truss has become the U.K.’s prime minister. She is engulfed immediately by a crisis of her own making.

Truss faces a truly horrific set of choices. She could stay the course for growth and risk things getting much worse: potentially, house prices crashing, small businesses going bust, retirees losing promised pensions. Or she could reverse the unfunded tax cut that turned global investors apoplectic and take it on the chin. Frankly, that’s her best, if most humiliating, option.

Truss swung for the fences, all right, but the markets have told her that she missed. They’ve also pointed out to anyone paying attention that we are not currently living in a stable world. If she persists, this might be one of the shortest, and most damaging, prime ministerships on record. The honeymoon ended, and the hurricane started, right after she shook hands with the late queen.

Nov. 10 : Elon Musk takes over Twitter. Many users say they will now leave. Fewer actually do.

Let’s be clear about a few things. Twitter was losing money and, for a public company, that’s generally a problem. Even during the halcyon days for social media, otherwise known as the pandemic, Twitter did not see any kind of meaningful increase in shareholder value, certainly not as compared with other channels like such as Facebook.

And on Wednesday, even Facebook announced huge layoffs of some 11,000 workers; not as drastic a percentage as Twitter, for sure, but a larger number of lost tech jobs. The social networks ate the lunch of traditional media by being leaner and meaner, but in time, they became become quixotic, bloated, complacent and vulnerable to competition.

Nov. 10 : When it comes to winning elections, Donald Trump’s election appears not what it used to be.

Former President Donald Trump’s name wasn’t on the ballot in the midterms. But his presence — for better and worse — loomed as large and audacious as a reminded us of a blimp in a circus tent, set to deflate.

In his tireless effort to prove his enduring influence as a political kingmaker after refusing to concede after following his 2020 loss, Trump endorsed more than 330 candidates, held some 30 rallies and raised millions of dollars. Many of his picks were inexperienced and otherwise flawed candidates, but all passed his litmus test, a willingness to defend the former president’s bogus claims of a stolen 2020 election.

Yet, after raising expectations of a “red wave,” his Republican Party failed to deliver much more than a pink ripple.

Dec. 2 : The crypto empire of Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of FTX, declares bankruptcy.

A live business-oriented event sponsored by The New York Times allowed Sam Bankman-Fried to mount what was, in essence, a preemptive defense to whatever personal fallout lies ahead after the collapse of his now-bankrupt FTX cryptocurrency exchange.

Speaking over a video link from his perch in the Bahamas, no doubt on advice of his lawyers, Bankman-Fried generally argued that the problems with FTX were a consequence of poor management, honest mistakes and unpredictable market events.

Anything but criminal malfeasance. Those who are wondering about where their money went may see it differently.

Dec. 7 : The Brazilian soccer team bring joy to the FIFA World Cup. For a while, at least.

Other teams and players have understandably struggled with the absurd levels of pressure that flow during the once-every-four-years tournament, where entire nations gather to watch heroes who easily can be overcome by the crushing burden of responsibility to those back home, biting their nails as they huddle around the beautiful game.

Not the Brazilians. Demonstrably, they are out to have fun and, so far at least, they’ve made a strong case for a causal relationship between their enjoying what they do and stuffing the ball into the back of their opponents’ nets.

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