Our Best Stuff From the Last Week Before the Big Day
Election previews, final thoughts on the 1619 Project, and how Amy Coney Barrett might influence policy.
Back when our kids were little, we would spend Friday nights watching movies. Anything from Pixar. How to Train Your Dragon. All the Harry Potter films. I have a crystal clear memory that our youngest first danced to the ending of Megamind. He was just 2 or so, in fuzzy footie pajamas, and when Michael Jackson’s “Bad” came on he started tapping his foot and moving in a circle.
I mention it because I’m writing this on a Friday evening, and I corralled the kids into watching a movie together for the first time in a while. I dragged them away from their phones and video games, and it took a good half-hour of grumbling before they agreed on anything. (We’re a Marvel household, and Guardians of the Galaxy won out over our dozenth time or so watching of Thor: Ragnarok.) But we were all in the same room for a few hours, and they even all laughed at some of the same jokes.
It’s a reminder that time flies. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. With the election just days away, it’s impossible not to think back to 2016 and how much has happened since then. In some ways that election feels like it happened a decade ago. And in others, it feels like yesterday. Donald Trump’s victory threw everyone for a loop, but sooner or later it would all settle down, right? We’d get back to normal. That’s what I thought then. But the surprises (and scandals) never stopped coming, and everything just kind of snowballed. Anyone else still waiting around for Infrastructure Week?
Regardless of how one feels about the president’s policies or his demeanor, regardless of whether he’s the cause of or merely a symptom of the problems in our culture, it’s undeniable that aspects of the last four years have been stressful. We fight with strangers and friends from behind keyboards, and—increasingly—in real life. Politics has taken on an outsized presence in our daily lives. It’s not just that liberals and conservatives get their news from different sources, watch different TV shows, or eat at different restaurants. This week the New York Times ran a quiz asking, “Can You Tell a ‘Trump’ Fridge From a ‘Biden’ Fridge?”
It makes it easy to forget that there is so much else important that is going on.
Two weeks ago our middle son turned 14, and I did the typical mom thing and posted about it on Facebook. I found a photo from his birthday a year ago, and I was struck by the difference. And that’s just one year!
The danger in getting too caught up in the craziness around us (admittedly something impossible to avoid in a pandemic that has disrupted our economy, our kids’ schooling, and our work, home, and social lives) is that you risk missing out on those other important things, or least not paying enough attention.
I think back to what was going on in our family four years ago and what has changed. Our kids have tried different activities and experiences, and they are figuring out what their real passions are. We’ve taken memorable trips, spent important time with family and friends. We’ve graduated from watching cartoons to debating which Saturday Night Live seasons had better casts and which trilogy of the Star Wars series was more disappointing. Overall, we’ve been pretty lucky.
I don’t know what’s going to happen this week, except it’s safe to say a lot of people are going to be unhappy. It’s wishful thinking, but I do hope that whatever happens, people can look back on the last four years and see how much we’ve worn ourselves out over our divisions. Jonah has some great thoughts on fatigue in his G-File. And I’m going to try to make Friday movie night a thing again.
Meanwhile, you can catch up on our greatest hits from a really strong week.
The New York Times faced criticism after publishing its 1619 Project, over its claim that America’s “true founding” came when a ship carrying 20 African slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619. And it faced a new round of backlash after a stealth edit of its original text to remove those claims. Much ink has been spilled calling out the NYT, but Timothy Sandefur goes deeper and argues that the premise of the project ignores “large swaths of American history.” He recounts the experiences of Chinese laborers in California, Native Americans, Irish and Italian immigrants, among others. “Everything, in fact, that makes America great originates in the fact that Americans do not take the sale of human property in August 1619 as the source of their nationhood—that, on the contrary, they are disgusted by what doing so would say about their nation.”
Election Day is still a few days away, but in a members-only French Press David looks ahead to the potential reaction and fallout. He highlights how emotions play an enormous role as we watch the results coming, and revisits 2016 and how many voters bonded with Trump in the wake of his victory. He predicts that another surprising win would cement that bond. But what of the Democrats in that event? “If Trump won despite losing the popular vote again (perhaps even by a bigger margin), you would see a growing crisis in confidence in the American system of governance itself—and no amount of ‘well actually’ commentary from conservatives justifying the electoral college would convince despairing Democrats of the virtue of minority rule.”
President Trump’s treatment for COVID-19 included an antibody cocktail developed by biotech company Regeneron that used fetal cells acquired from an abortion performed in the 1970s in the Netherlands. In an extremely insightful piece, Andrew goes beyond the immediate cries of hypocrisy that were lobbed at Trump and does a deep dive on the ethical quandary pro-lifers face. He provides some history on other unethical research tactics—from gruesome Nazi experiments to the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells were harvested without her knowledge or consent—and weighs the concerns of pro-lifers against the public-health threat of a pandemic. It’s one thing, he says, to refuse treatment once one has been diagnosed with COVID. But what about the risk presented by refusing a vaccine developed with fetal-derived cells?
The Amy Coney Barrett confirmation process offered up a civics lesson on the definition of originalism (though it’s safe to say a number of people are still confused). Andy Smarick writes about how the new justice’s judicial philosophy offers cause to be optimistic about a return to self-government. He argues that by creating new rights in the Constitution, the judiciary has undermined the democratic process. “America must recover the connected beliefs that the most important societal decisions should be made by the people, that decentralized decision-making enables American pluralism to work, and that our Constitution assigns law-making (and therefore politics) to the legislative branch.”
And now for the best of the rest:
Reuel Marc Gerecht looks at how a Biden administration might deal with Iran, and he’s not optimistic. He predicts an attempt to return the U.S. to the nuclear deal that Trump abandoned. “Concerns about the development of long-range ballistic missiles, regional aggression, domestic oppression, and terrorism will all be shunted to the sidelines.”
Once upon a time, the GOP nominated for president a disreputable nincompoop who was opposed by many within his own party. Sound familiar? Writes Patrick Frey: “I have not given the name of this wretched, awful Republican candidate whose nomination shocked every sensible Republican, but anyone reading this passage can instantly recognize him. I am speaking, of course, of James G. Blaine, who ran against Democrat Grover Cleveland in 1884.”
It’s hard to know what to make of the Hunter Biden story. But Charlotte digs into the background of one the mysterious figures promoting it: Chinese expat billionaire Guo Wengui. “He has marketed himself to Western audiences and politicians as an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party and whistleblower on the practices of its officials. But his activities in the United States raise red flags about the authenticity of his self-assigned dissident status.”
In one of the final pre-election editions of The Sweep, Sarah offers up an interesting explainer of internal polling. “If strategists just wanted to know who was winning or losing, they could rely on all these great public polls. Instead, a campaign uses internal polls to decide where to put resources and who their messages—both positive and negative—are resonating with.”
On the pods: On the The Dispatch Podcast, the gang answers all the last-minute questions around the election. Turnout, turnout, turnout: It’s a topic on both episodes Advisory Opinions this week. David and Sarah discussed the record early voting numbers on Monday, and then on Thursday looked at the implications for poll accuracy and potential litigation. Finally, on The Remnant, Jonah chats with Commentary editor John Podhoretz about Hunter Biden, pop culture, and New York nostalgia.
Photo by Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images.