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Our Best Stuff From the Week We Hit an Awful Anniversary
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Our Best Stuff From the Week We Hit an Awful Anniversary

Where were you when our world changed overnight?

We probably all remember exactly where we were a year ago on March 11, right? When our phones buzzed with news alerts or texts that Tom and Rita Hanks had contracted COVID-19 and that the NBA had shut down after the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Goebert tested positive? That part is easy. The real question is: Do you remember what you did in the days that followed?

I couldn’t, so I went to my phone to see if my photos told a story. I found a few of our middle son dressed up for Outsiders’ Day at junior high—it was the last day of school until August. I had taken a photo of the TV while we watched Star Wars, and so remembered that we stopped and rewound a few times on the crucial cantina scene. (Spoiler alert—Han shot first.) There were photos of a glass of beer (to lament that the cancelation of March Madness ruined my favorite annual day-drinking experience), some stuff I was trying to sell or donate, and a screenshot I accidentally took while canceling my beloved Orangetheory classes (the studio closed a couple days later). Let’s see: beer, family movie night, spring cleaning, and no more gym. Yup, that pretty much sums up the early days and weeks of our pandemic. Not necessarily in that order.

What else I remember about everything, at least at first, was a certain good-natured sense of purpose. Granted, we thought we were looking at a month or two of precautions, that “flattening the curve” would get us through it. Our kids couldn’t go to swim practice, so the team brought in a former club member who’d swam in the Olympics to give them a Zoom pep talk. Online school was such a novelty that our youngest, on his own and not even for extra credit, did a research project and built a PowerPoint presentation on World War II. (I’d prefer to remember that over the day a couple of months ago when, home on quarantine, he sneakily skipped a whole day of Zoom classes to play video games on his computer. But I suppose those are bookends to this journey that we will look back on and laugh about some day.) We couldn’t go out, so the local breweries sent delivery trucks through neighborhoods like so many adult ice cream trucks. 

One thing that strikes me now is that, living in Ohio, we could only watch from afar as the pandemic hit states like California, Washington, and New York—especially New York—hard. I think it might have given us a false sense of, not superiority, exactly. But a sense that we would get through relatively unscathed. Less scathed? Is that a word? We were doing all the right things. We watched the governor’s daily 2 p.m. press conferences—”Wine with DeWine” T-shirts and coffee mugs popped up for sale in Facebook ads in no time—to hear Mike DeWine and health director Amy Acton provide updates and reassure us that we were flattening the curve. We were one of the “good” states.

Were we, though? Or were we just lucky? I have no doubt that the strict lockdowns were necessary and saved lives. And getting through that first wave relatively well did let us have a summer that was … not normal, but tolerable. We could visit with neighbors outdoors. Kids played sports. We checked out as many restaurant patios as we could. I’m grateful we had that, because I don’t like to think what it would have been like to be locked down for months on end, only to watch the third wave of fall and winter devastate us anyhow. 

And so here we are a year later. More than 500,000 Americans dead, our polarization exacerbated by fights over mask mandates and lockdowns, an unfathomable $6 trillion spent on economic relief. Finally, though cases are dropping as precipitously as they went up in early winter. We have truly miraculous vaccines going into arms all over the country. Many kids are heading back to school. 

The challenge before us now is just to  get through these next few months. As we mark this grim anniversary, it would be nice if we could look back on those early days and remember the sense of shared purpose that sustained us then. Brighter days are ahead.

Now, here’s our best stuff from last week. Thanks for reading.  

It might not be surprising that the Biden administration is reviving some Obama policies that Donald Trump tried to undo. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Back in 2011, Obama bypassed a lot of regulatory hurdles to require college campuses to adjudicate sexual assault claims on a “preponderance of evidence” standard that served to strip accused students of due process. It led to hundreds of lawsuits and devastated the lives of young men who’d been falsely accused. The Trump administration worked to undo that policy, but Biden has said he will seek to reimplement it. In the French Press (🔒), David dissects everything that was flawed and dangerous about this policy, and sums it up with a telling illustration: “A sad irony of the Biden plan is that if Joe Biden was a student—and the Obama guidelines he supports applied—Tara Reade’s sexual assault allegation would have likely ended his career. After all, he would have no right to a detailed description of the charges against him, he would have had no ability to discover exculpatory evidence, and he would have enjoyed no right to cross-examine his accuser.”

Well, this is awkward. I look forward to sharing the fine work my colleagues and our contributors are doing each week. Yet here I am indulging in a little self-promotion. But this article was near and dear to my heart. When you live in flyover country but national stories are overrepresented in your media diet, you often see a disconnect. And the national narrative on schools is that they aren’t open. I knew this wasn’t true: We’ve been very lucky that our kids have had in-person school all year (barring occasional quarantines). I started with our own district because I’m intimately familiar with our mitigation measures, quarantine policies, and how the district has fared. But I also had wonderful conversations with representatives from other districts, including Steven VanMatre out in tiny Premont, Texas. He’s a gregarious man whose concern—and affection—for his students really shines through. And Daniel Merck in Easley, S.C., had great insight about how, while the district had already been ramping up its virtual learning options even before the pandemic (hello, serendipity) when the pandemic set in he encouraged his teachers not to worry too much about logging into video conferences but to reach out to students via email and phone, just to check in. Give it a read if you missed it.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Tom Joscelyn was a fierce critic of the Trump administration’s “deal” for withdrawing from Afghanistan, which was negotiated without the participation of the Afghan government and amounted to some toothless promises from the Taliban. Now Afghanistan is the Biden administration’s problem and … it’s not getting better. In Vital Interests, he analyzes an eight-page letter from Secretary of State Antony Blinken and “peace plan” published in an Afghan outlet. Together, they’re a shameful dereliction of American responsibility—even if your ultimate goal is withdrawal.

Colin Kahl might not be a household name, even though he served in several prominent roles in the Obama administration, including national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. But after leaving the Obama team, he developed a reputation as a caustic commentator, especially on Twitter. And now his nomination to be the Pentagon’s third-ranking civilian is up in the air. Charlotte details some of his more incendiary comments—calling the GOP a “death cult” and the “party of ethnic cleansing”—but raises a larger issue: When it comes to Iran, his area of specialization, he’s often been flat-out wrong. 

And the best of the rest:

  • This will be a shock to people who’ve agonized over getting vaccine appointments for themselves or loved ones but we might be looking at a vaccine glut. Production is ramping up and our capacity to get shots in arms must ramp up.

  • Biden is trying to navigate a fine line on immigration, undoing some of Trump’s more restrictive policies while also dealing with limitations brought on by the pandemic, and he’s making no one happy, left or right. Andrew explains

  • I don’t include enough of Jonah’s G-Files in this roundup, well, just because we can tell a lot of you are reading them already. But please don’t miss this one, on elites and bubbles and what happens when secular ideology takes on a religious fervor.

  • In The Sweep (🔒) on Friday, Andrew has a fantastic interview with Georgia election official Gabe Sterling about how H.R. 1, the House bill on election reform, will have negative repercussions on our voting processes by taking control away from states and localities.

  • There’s not a lot of things Democrats and Republicans agree on, but China might be one of them. In Uphill  (🔒), Haley looks at a bipartisan measure introduced in the House to make it easier for Uyghurs to apply for asylum. 

  • And on the pods: If you love Scott Lincicome’s Capitolism newsletter, you’ll love his appearance on The Dispatch Podcast with Sarah and Declan. On Advisory Opinions, check out David’s tale of spending three hours in the Clubhouse room “David French: Based or Cringe.” (And if you are unsure what “Clubhouse” or “based” or “cringe” is, check out his Friday newsletter.) Last but definitely not least, on The Remnant, Jonah welcomes Steven F. Hayward for a fascinating conversation on conservatism, illiberalism, cancel culture, and more.

Rachael Larimore is managing editor of The Dispatch and is based in the Cincinnati area. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she served in similar roles at Slate, The Weekly Standard, and The Bulwark. She and her husband have three sons.