Our Best Stuff From a Week We Started Talking Lockdowns Again
GOP dysfunction, Biden's foreign policy, and more.
Did anyone else experience a case of pandemic-inspired whiplash this week? When the news came out Monday that the Pfizer vaccine was shown to be 90 percent effective, I felt more than relieved. Almost giddy, even. Not only was it the first bit of good news in what seemed like ages, it was better than expected. (This piece we ran by James Capretta and Scott Ganz recently discusses the vaccine trials and why the CDC and WHO set a threshold of 50 percent efficacy for approval.) Sure, it might not be widely available until April, but at least we knew it was coming.
But then, as the election craziness receded, the gruesome reality of the pandemic came back to the forefront. The situation both in the United States and around the world has been getting worse for weeks now, but it was easy to avoid thinking about it in the leadup to the election and in the days that followed. No more.
As experts predicted over the summer, the coronavirus gained strength—as viruses do—as the weather got colder and people headed indoors. I remember early in the pandemic, I wrote in one of these newsletters about how awful it felt watching the John Hopkins COVID tracker tally the 100,000th American case. Now we are seeing far more cases than that every day.
And so now states are talking about going into lockdown. Here in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine announced this week that he would close bars, and restaurants, and gyms as early as next week if the “trend continues.” Like many states, we are seeing record-level cases almost every day. Last Sunday, there were about 4,500 new cases. By Friday? We recorded 8,000. I don’t see how that trend changes within a week.
I don’t envy DeWine, or any other governor who has tried to do the right thing all along. The cases are increasing so rapidly and so drastically that it’s hard to see an alternative to lockdowns. At the same, for a few reasons, I also don’t know how they’ll work.
He experienced immediate pushback from the restaurant industry, and I don’t blame business owners, either. Restaurants were limited to takeout only from late March to late May, and have been at reduced capacity ever since. Bars have to end service at 10 p.m. and close by 11. (Though through my own, um, diligent research, it seems like a lot of breweries are doing just fine, at least those that have outdoor seating.)
Right now we’re stuck in a bad place. The community spread is high enough that lockdowns seem obvious. But Ohio, like many other states, has a balanced budget amendment. The state can’t really come out with its own economic relief package or do anything to supplement unemployment. Which means that any closures, after months and months of half-measures, are likely to be devastating.
It was very different when we were all locked down the first time. For almost everyone alive in America today, the pandemic was an unprecedented event: deserted parking lots, empty highways, closed schools, and an overwhelming sense of uncertainty. But the shock to the system prompted at least some collective concern. We could do this. We stayed at home and played board games with our kids and enjoyed the novelty of Zoom happy hours. We waited in line to spray down our grocery carts, and we disinfected our Amazon packages. Our dogs had never been happier or more spoiled.
But now we’ve been stressed out for about nine months and many outlets for escape—recreation, sports entertainment, travel—have been at least partially restricted that whole time. And as we head from fall to winter, in many places you can’t really socialize outside.
There’s a lot of evidence that our outbreaks, at least here in Ohio, are pegged to people hanging out in groups—cookouts, house parties, weddings—and not at businesses. If we close businesses, and people still socialize, isn’t that going to make it worse?
I wish there were better answers. But it’s looking like it’s going to be a long winter. During the first round of lockdowns, we all joked about how each week felt like a month. If that feeling takes hold again, that’s going to make April feel a lot farther away.
On that happy note, take a gander at the best of our stuff from the last week.
Donald Trump is going out with a bang. He hasn’t conceded the presidential election, and he has prevented the transition process from starting. Meanwhile, his legal team, his high-profile supporters, and too many in the right-wing media/entertainment complex are spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories to claim the election was stolen. David tackles all of it in the French Press: “[T] the American people are witnessing an intensified and especially dangerous version of the worst dysfunctions and deceptions of Donald Trump’s Republican Party and Donald Trump’s Republican media. A combination of intimidation, disinformation, and equivocation are persuading tens of millions of Americans that the 2020 election was illegitimate.”
The peace agreements that led several Sunni Arab nations in the Middle East to normalize relations with Israel offer real hope for the region. Danielle Pletka worries that President-elect Joe Biden will display an antipathy toward Saudi Arabia that could jeopardize that progress. While acknowledging that Saudi Arabia has a history of problematic policies and actions that make working with the kingdom challenging, Pletka looks at the bigger picture. “Over decades of friendship, the United States has foolishly turned a blind eye to dangerous Saudi policies. Now, at the very moment that Saudi Arabia is embracing generational change, the right choice is to support the important liberalization championed by MBS—a rejection of Salafism, greater rights for women, increased religious freedom—while continuing to reject and condemn his dangerous missteps.”
Kamala Harris’ elevation to the vice presidency was a historical moment for America: the first woman, the first black American, the first American of Indian descent to reach the office. And it offered an opportunity for a little history lesson. All the way back in 1929, the GOP nominated a man of Native American heritage, who’d spent his formative years on a reservation, to be Herbert Hoover’s running mate. Joseph Hammond tells the story of Charles Curtis, who was interesting for many reasons beyond his identity: “He was a vocal opponent of Woodrow Wilson, a strong ally of the suffrage movement, and an early supporter of Zionism.”
Fact check: True. I devoted a lot of last week’s newsletter to our fact checking efforts in the days after the election. Welp, it didn’t slow down this week. As it became apparent that President Trump would need tens of thousands of votes to try to change the election’s outcome, the false claims started to focus on possible vote-stealing via computer. Alec Dent was on the Dominion Voting Services beat, debunkingclaims that the vote-tabulating company had ties to Democrats and that their machines changed votes. And Khaya tackled the Hammer and Scorecard conspiracy theory, which you just have to read to understand.
And now for the best of the rest.
The Afghan government and the Taliban are nominally conducting peace talks, but you wouldn’t know it from the alarming levels of violence happening in the country. Charlotte has the details.
In the midweek G-File (🔒), Jonah questions the idea that the appeal of Donald Trump was his policies. “The real lesson of the Trumpification of the GOP isn’t that it’s become more ‘pro-worker’—whatever that is supposed to mean—but that it became simply ‘pro-Trump.’”
With a Democratic White House and a divided Congress, we could be looking at gridlock. And no one’s happier than Scott Lincicome, who sings its praises in this week’s Capitolism (🔒).
There were some interesting election results out there in blue California. Voters supported an initiative to keep Uber and Lyft drivers as contractors, rejected an attempt to repeal the state’s anti-affirmative action law, and rejected measures on rent control and property taxes. James P. Sutton explains.
And the pods: On The Dispatch Podcast, the gang discusses the firings of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other Pentagon officials. Jonah’s conversation with Kevin Williamson on The Remnant is everything you’d expect as they discuss Williamson’s new book, Big White Ghetto. Finally, on Advisory Opinions, President Trump’s legal challenges of election results give David and Sarah ample fodder for discussion.
Photograph by Mario Tama/Getty Images.