Back by popular demand, on TMC’s last day at The Post, here’s a countdown of our 10 most-read pieces this year. Collectively these pieces reveal what particularly worried the American political imagination this year.
Above all, you were preoccupied with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, putting six pieces examining that war in our top 10. At the first anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, you worried about the state of U.S. democracy. You wanted to understand the record-breaking rash of laws restricting trans youth rights. And some of you kept wondering why the U.S. government would acknowledge evidence of unidentified flying objects, returning to a piece published in 2021.10. Back in February, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was shocking and new, pundits and public figures were scrutinizing every tea leaf for a clue to whether President Vladimir Putin would succeed. Hopes rose at the news that the invaders’ supply chains were stretched thin, but political scientist Ryan Baker explained that this was a commonplace early obstacle in “The Russian invasion has some logistical problems. That doesn’t mean it’s doomed.” As he explained, “Only over time do shortages become decisive.”
9. At the time of the invasion, one question was on many minds: How should NATO respond? Political scientist Sara Bjerg Moller explained, “NATO can’t send troops to Ukraine. Here is what it will probably do instead.” The answer: Shore up the defense of other post-Soviet nations, reassuring them that NATO has their back; take a strong collective stand against the invasion; and allow individual NATO member nations to send military supplies to Ukraine.
8. Before the Supreme Court dropped its bomb in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, striking down Roe v. Wade, more than a dozen Republican-led states were working to impose government control over gender and sexuality on a different front: LGBTQ lives. Elizabeth Sharrow and Isaac Sederbaum explained the context in “Texas isn’t the only state denying essential medical care to trans youths. Here’s what’s going on.”
7. In 2021, the U.S. government released the evidence it had for flying objects it had been unable to identify. Political scientist Curtis Bram explained how that might affect people inclined to be suspicious of the government in “UFOs exist, and might come from beyond Earth, the U.S. said. Will that encourage conspiracy theorists?” It’s still getting readers — presumably some of whom may be said to be conspiracy theorists.
6. As we hit the Jan. 6 anniversary, many wondered who believed the “big lie” — and who just said they did because it signaled loyalty to their side. In “Do Republicans really believe Trump won the 2020 election? Our research suggests that they do,” political scientists Lane Cuthbert and Alexander Theodoridis reported on a UMass Amherst poll in which they dug into these beliefs, and concluded that, yes, “Apparently, Republicans are reporting a genuine belief that Biden’s election was illegitimate.”
5. In January and early February, with 100,000 Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s border, the U.S. government warned that invasion was imminent. TMC editor Bryn Rosenfeld and several colleagues reported that, according to their surveys, “Russia may be about to invade Ukraine. Russians don’t want it to.” That didn’t stop Putin.
4. Before the invasion, Putin and the Kremlin shored up alliances — including issuing a joint statement with Chinese President Xi Jinping. What did that mean? TMC editor Stacie Goddard explained, “Xi and Putin have declared a united front against the United States.” The statement revealed Kremlin worries that NATO was encroaching too closely — particularly in Ukraine — while also reiterating Beijing’s position that “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.”
3. Around the anniversary of Jan. 6, some researchers, pundits and analysts worried where the visibly dangerous and violent political divisions in the United States would lead. Political scientist Julie Novkov wrote, “Some say the U.S. is headed toward civil war. History suggests something else.” Think about the United States after Reconstruction fell, she said, when Republicans agreed to let Democrats establish and enforce white supremacy in the South — which lasted for the next 100 years. One possible future, she warned, was an exhausted live-and-let-live federalism enabling states to “develop and implement policies based on the world views of those who control their dominant parties, with all that that could mean for those living there.”
2. Weeks into its invasion, Russia put its nuclear weapons on alert. The world worried about possible nuclear confrontation. Political scientist Caitlin Talmadge examined the situation for us in “The Ukraine crisis is now a nuclear crisis,” explaining the risks of deliberate and inadvertent escalation.
1. But what you wondered most this year was: How long can Putin stay in power? Two years ago, as Putin was changing the Russian constitution to extend his rule, political scientist Timothy Frye asked, “What’s Vladimir Putin’s end game? Other post-Soviet autocrats give a few clues.” As the Russian invasion of Ukraine raged, the question became even more pressing — and search engines sent many of you back to this 2020 piece for answers.
Thank you for coming to TMC to understand what it all means. Although we are moving away from The Post, you can come along when we reemerge in the spring!