Our Best Stuff For You to Read on a Lazy Sunday
Last thoughts on the Supreme Court term, predictions for 2020, and more.
Back when we accessed the newfangled doohickey called the internet via 14.4K modem, when email was an amazing new way to communicate, it was easy to be excited about the potential for how this new tool could be used for journalism. One of my favorite go-to answers in job interviews in those early days involved discussing how I loved that the World Wide Web offered the immediacy of broadcast and the depth of longform print journalism all at the same time. Plus, the ink was free. So many possibilities!
And indeed the internet has in many ways been a positive for journalism. The low cost of entry (not only is the ink free, you don’t need a printing press) has let many talented independent writers become prominent voices and, in some cases, even media moguls. (I remember when ESPN.com gave a relatively unknown Boston sports blogger a column. Now everyone knows who Bill Simmons is.) It allows for beautifully designed multimedia storytelling. And, heck, it made it a lot easier for us to get The Dispatch off the ground.
But online journalism was still a relatively nascent medium when YouTube, Google, Facebook, and Twitter and similar companies came to prominence in the first decade of the 21st century. And while none of them set out with the intention of influencing our industry, it’s undeniable that they have. Social media gives everyone a voice, which is good! Or could be.
But let’s be honest. The rampant polarization that has so soured the national discourse for so long has been made possible, at least in part, by the fact it’s much easier to sling insults at people from behind a keyboard than in person. And, thanks to the fact that we all have “friends” on social media we’ve never met in real life, and we can see the friends of our friends, you can sling those insults at vastly more people. What’s true on Facebook is true of the comments fields of many publications.
And while it’s great that it’s easier to start a media company than it used to be, not every publication seeks to hold itself to high standards. Some even cater to this social-media driven toxicity. We have infinitely more partisan and activist “news” sites than we ever did intellectual ideological journals.
It’s easy to despair. But it’s important to remember that even our most challenging problems can, if not be solved, at least be addressed. It was one of our goals at The Dispatch. It’s why we focus on reported analysis and sober commentary, and we’re proud of the fact that our community of commenters largely debates respectfully.
We send you this newsletter every week to help you catch up on stories you might have missed, and I’ve enjoyed the comments we get from readers who appreciate that. But, we also have a (fairly obvious) ulterior motive. If you haven’t joined us as a paid member yet, we hope that you’ll consider it. But this week I’m going to use this space to talk about a few other projects that deserve your attention. I want to talk about them because they give me a little optimism about the state of our discourse.
You might have heard of Yascha Mounk’s new project, Persuasion. David and Sarah talked to Yashca on The Dispatch Podcast about the new venture, in which he hopes to create a “community of thinkers, activists and citizens who are committed to debating and reinvigorating the values of a free and fair society.” I don’t know Yascha personally, but I’ve found him fascinating since he was an occasional contributor at Slate, where I used to work. He is intellectually curious, he excels at challenging conventional wisdom, and his writing is far more conversational than most academics.
And then on Friday, Andrew Sullivan announced that he was leaving New York magazine and relaunching The Dish, the blog he ran for almost 15 years and where he wrote about politics, foreign policy, Catholicism, gay marriage, and more. (Coincidentally, both of these projects are launching on Substack, which is the platform we use here at The Dispatch.)
Many many years ago, I started at Slate as a copy editor. I’d been a sports journalist, and the dot-com bubble burst about the same time I was getting married and preparing to start a family, and all of a sudden a lifetime of working nights and weekends seemed less appealing. I was grateful for my new job, but media elites intimidated me, even as I worked on their articles. The Dish was one of the sites I turned to help understand this new world I’d found myself in. And so I’ve always appreciated Andrew Sullivan, even when I didn’t agree with him. One passage in his farewell column at New York that has stayed with me:
[M]aybe it’s worth pointing out that “conservative” in my case means that I have passionately opposed Donald J. Trump and pioneered marriage equality, that I support legalized drugs, criminal-justice reform, more redistribution of wealth, aggressive action against climate change, police reform, a realist foreign policy, and laws to protect transgender people from discrimination. I was one of the first journalists in established media to come out. I was a major and early supporter of Barack Obama. I intend to vote for Biden in November.
It seems to me that if this conservatism is so foul that many of my peers are embarrassed to be working at the same magazine, then I have no idea what version of conservatism could ever be tolerated. And that’s fine. We have freedom of association in this country, and if the mainstream media want to cut ties with even moderate anti-Trump conservatives, because they won’t bend the knee to critical theory’s version of reality, that’s their prerogative.
On the one hand, it’s depressing that mainstream publications have so little tolerance for intellectual diversity at the same time they work so hard on other types of diversity. (If Andrew Sullivan’s struggles at New York aren’t enough for you, do read Bari Weiss’s resignation letter from the New York Times.)
On the other, I’m starting to feel the same hope I did when I was an idealist about the potential of online journalism back at the turn of the millennium. The people who really care about free exchange and rigorous debate are starting to reclaim the public square from those who want to narrow the window of acceptable discourse (and from those who really just want to yell at one another).
We’re grateful that you’ve given us a chance; I hope you’ll check them out. We each have our own boats, but I’d like to think we’re sailing toward the same destination. Now, here’s our best stuff from the past week.
If you tune in to the Advisory Opinions podcast regularly, you know that David and Sarah hashed out the big Supreme Court decisions as they came down. This week, Sarah took a step back and looked at what could be gleaned from the term as a whole. She made the case for why conservatives could feel like they came away with a victory, and also argued why liberals could, too. “Taken as a whole, neither side can be said to have gotten all they wanted from the court. Conservatives saw their first full term with two Trump appointees and still lost, but liberals’ worst fears of a 5-4 steamroller didn’t come to fruition either.”
One of the problems with a novel virus is that we don’t know exactly how it spreads. Some early fears—that it could linger on surfaces, for one, have proved unfounded. But it appears that we are now gaining a better understanding about why it spreads so much more indoors than out, and how superspreader events originate. And, as Andrew reports, it comes down to aerosolized droplets, smaller droplets that don’t fall to the ground immediately. “If viruses can be carried by vapor that small, then the longer an infected person and uninfected people share the same space, the greater number of particles will be transmitted and the greater the infection risk grows.”
In the French Press, David lays out three possible scenarios for the November election—a narrow Trump win, a narrow Trump loss, and a decisive Biden victory—and makes predictions for both the Trump wing of the GOP and the NeverTrump holdouts. One thing is for certain, he writes: “[F]or Trump skeptics in the conservative remnant, there is no good electoral outcome. A narrow Trump victory or a narrow Trump win leaves a formerly conservative party in nationalist/populist hands. For the time-being, there would not be a viable conservative party in American national politics.” And a Biden victory could result in more progressive policies than a Hillary Clinton presidency ever would have.
It wasn’t the busiest news week since we started sending out our morning newsletter (well, at least relative to recent history), but that allowed us to drill down on some important stories. First off, on Monday, we got you all caught up on the Roger Stone commutation that went down late Friday. On Wednesday, for example, we reported on the latest kerfuffles with Chinese tech companies, as Prime Minister Boris banned Huawei from helping to build the U.K.’s new 5G wireless network, reversing an earlier policy decision and the U.S. threatened to ban TikTok. And on Thursday, we talked to vaccine experts about the promising news about Moderna’s COVID vaccine.
And here’s the best of the rest:
What’s going on in Iran, where various military and industrial sites have been the scenes of mysterious fires and explosions? Charlotte Lawson talks to some Iran experts, and they explain how it’s most likely not a coincidence, and point out that Israel and the United States have obvious motivations to create unrest.
Because apparently everything even tangentially related to the pandemic has to be politicized or controversial, some folks have gotten themselves worked up about businesses that don’t take cash. Some even complain it’s illegal. Except for two states and a handful of cities, that’s incorrect. Alec Dent is on the case for The Dispatch Fact Check. Check out his other filings on Joe Biden and a blackface skit and a claim that Barack Obama, Anthony Fauci, and Melinda Gates went to a Wuhan lab together in 2015.
We’ve written a few times about the way China has taken advantage of the pandemic to be aggressive about territorial claims and antagonize foes. In Vital Interests, Thomas Joscelyn explains why we now have an even bigger worry: Xi Jingping and Vladimir Putin are getting awfully cozy.
On the pods: Andrew Egger joins the gang on The Dispatch Podcast. They talk about Peter Navarro’s attack on Anthony Fauci and Bari Weiss’s resignation from the New York Times, but those are just lead-ins to the real debate, about french fries. Over on Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss Biden’s campaign strategy, presidential pardon power, and also Trump’s threat to pull the tax-exempt status of universities that are about “Radical Left Indoctrination” (Trump’s words, not ours). And on the Remnant, David guest-hosts for Jonah and interviews David Bahnsen, a portfolio manager and author.