Our Best Stuff From a Week on the Plateau
We cover a haunting killing in Georgia, look into China’s pursuit of ‘discourse power’ and much more.
Have we passed the peak of coronavirus deaths in the United States? Maybe. Do we have much reason to hope that things will be back to normal anytime soon? Not really. Are we forging ahead anyhow? Looks like it.
If the past week showed anything, it’s that America is a huge country and coronavirus is hitting regions with differing levels of severity, sometimes not totally in line with protective measures taken by state governments. In the New York/New Jersey region, the hardest hit spot in the country, cases and deaths appear to be trending downward. But in other areas, the trend lines are flat or cases are still increasing. And yet others, like Florida (which held off on shutting down and inspired fears of widespread outbreaks because of spring break) are a bit of a mystery for not being worse.
Meanwhile, a number of states are taking cautious steps to reopen, even though the federal reopening guidelines call for testing benchmarks that haven’t been met and contract tracing measures that haven’t been fully developed.
All of these factors create a tension that is both unsettling and yet understanding. Think back to when things started changing—I always remember March 11. That was when, while Donald Trump was addressing the nation from the Oval Office, the NBA announced it was suspending its schedule and Tom Hanks announced he was being treated for the virus. Dominoes started falling pretty quickly after that: Events were canceled, travel was curtailed, and schools and businesses started closing. And, honestly, most of us took it in stride. It was a sudden and dramatic upheaval, yes, but it was necessary. It’s safe to say that, at the time, many of us didn’t appreciate it would be a monthslong slog. Sure, we can all homeschool the kids for a few weeks. Sure, it will hurt businesses to shut down temporarily but we’ll hunker down and ride it out and then it will be over.
But in April alone, 20 million people were out of work, and comparisons are being made to the Great Depression. The federal government is spending vast, almost unthinkable, sums of money to prop up the economy, and it might not be nearly enough. How do we resolve this tremendous conflict?
Mostly by muddling through, it seems. A small minority of people are on the extreme fringes of the debate: On one hand there are people marching on statehouses (or, in Ohio, the private residence of the state health director) and refusing to wear masks. On the other, there are people calling the cops on people for not obeying sometimes dubious guidelines. But most of us are having an internal struggle. We want to do all we can to protect vulnerable people. But we also miss normalcy, and we worry about the mental health implications of keeping our kids—or our parents—cooped up and disrupting their lives. We worry about our friends who have lost their jobs, or that our favorite businesses won’t come out of this OK.
What’s frustrating is that it seems like we could be living in this uncertain phase for a while. Meanwhile, we also learned this week that the news doesn’t stop for a pandemic. The Justice Department dropped its case against Michael Flynn, generating all the controversy you’d expect. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments, albeit virtually—we’ll be taking a look at the rest of the term in weeks to come. And, as David French details below, racial injustice can still rear its ugly head.
Now, onto the week that was.
The video is haunting. It shows a young black man running through a neighborhood until he encounters a pickup truck in his path. He tries to run around, but finds himself tied up with another man, this one holding a shotgun. Three loud bursts of gunfire. The man, in shock, turns and tries to run away, only to collapse in a heap. David French does a deep dive on the tragic shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery. He was killed by Travis McMichael, who, along with his father had seen Arbery running and pursued him to make a “citizen’s arrest” because they suspected him of being responsible for “a series of break-ins” in the neighborhood. (Police records don’t support the suggestion that break-ins were prevalent.) David tackles this heartbreaking story with deft and care, explaining that citizens’ arrest statutes are narrow and specific and don’t really apply here. He strikes a blow against vigilante justice, writing, “While we don’t yet know the full details about the McMichaels’ motives, their actions speak loudly enough. When white men grab guns and mount up to pursue and seize an unarmed black man in the street, they stand in the shoes of lynch mobs past.”
Where can you come for a spirited discussion of panda mating habits, praying mantis dietary preferences and long, thoughtful discussion of the real value of social capital (especially during a pandemic)? Nowhere else but a G-File. Jonah’s Friday newsletter will definitely make you laugh, and it might make you tear up a little bit. “[Y]our job, while vital, is not as vital as the true source of your social capital: your family, however defined. If you hoarded canned goods and toilet paper, congratulations on your foresight. But the thing that will really get you through this is the group of people you care about and the people who care about you. That’s what the richest people alive have stockpiled.”
It’s easy to look at China’s obfuscations over its role in the pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and laid waste to much of the global economy and chalk it up to the notorious secretiveness of an authoritarian government. But in his latest Vital Interests newsletter, Thomas Joscelyn gets at a deeper and more pervasive problem with the Chinese government: its emphasis on “discourse power,” or “the ability to voice concepts and ideas that are accepted and respected by others, and by extension, the power to dictate the rules and norms that form the basis of the international order.”
Few people will argue against the measures that the federal government has taken to prop up the economy as businesses everywhere have been shut down or are operating at just a fraction of capacity while we fight the coronavirus pandemic. But Brian Riedl points out that we’re going to be looking at some really steep bills down the road. “Over the full decade, the coronavirus recession is projected to add nearly $8 trillion to the national debt, pushing the debt held by the public to $41 trillion within a decade, or 128 percent of the economy. This would exceed the national debt at the height of World War II.”
And here is the best of the rest of our stuff.
As I said above, problems don’t stop just because of a pandemic. Danielle Pletka paints an ugly picture of Lebanon, which is dealing with a financial crisis and great uncertainty because of the corruption rampant in its Hezbollah-friendly government.
Much ink has been spilled about the growing gender gap in the GOP. Donald Trump eked out victory in 2016 despite losing the women’s vote by 25 points. In the last three years, though, he’s made up some ground by having increased popularity among minority men. But, with blacks making up a disproportionate amount of COVID-19 deaths, will those gains disappear? Sarah Isgur investigates.
There has been a lot of misunderstanding about what “flattening the curve” really means, especially as states start to take measures to reopen their economies. Declan Garvey tries to sort it all out.
On the pods: The latest Advisory Opinions episode is titled “Justin Amash vs. the Death Star”—how can you resist? Meanwhile, Jonah talked to NBC’s Steve Kornacki about political tribalism on The Remnant, and the gang talks about China and a whole host of pandemic topics on the flagship Dispatch Podcast.
Photograph of hikers in Los Angeles by Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images.