Our Best Stuff From the Week We (Kind of) Got a Fresh Start

An end of an era, and what comes next.

It’s a bright sunny Saturday here in the Dispatch Ohio bureau. But when you step outside, it’s mighty cold. It feels like a metaphor for our current moment. Donald Trump has left Washington, but he hasn’t quite gone away. His impeachment trial looms, and the New York Times reported last night that he tried to oust acting Attorney General Jeffery A. Rosen and replace him with a lower-level staffer who supported the effort to overturn the election. And as we get closer to vaccinating 1 million or more Americans each day, the daily death toll from the pandemic hovers near 4,000. Even as we have reason for hope and optimism, reality can take your breath away.

It’s a new year, but one that doesn’t yet feel much different from the one we were so eager to leave behind. Still, there were some steps toward normalcy this week. Two weeks after the frightening events at the Capitol, Joe Biden, who won the 2020 presidential election, was inaugurated. There was a little less pomp and circumstance—and many more National Guardsmen—than normal, but we concluded the peaceful transition of power that has been a hallmark of our republic.

Meanwhile, Democrats are cooking up plans to spend even more money, and Republicans seem to have remembered they are supposed to be the party of fiscal responsibility. And Americans everywhere came together this week to use social media for the purpose for which it is best suited: memes. Bernie Sanders’ grumpy mug was edited into movies, TV shows, album covers, and even other memes. Nature is healing. 

It’s possible that I might be yearning for normalcy a tiny bit more than most: COVID hit our household a couple of weeks ago when our 14-year-old son tested positive, and we are just now coming out of quarantine. He had only minor symptoms, and we enacted a strict “stop the spread” policy by sending him to his room with the Xbox and leaving his meals outside his door. Luckily, none of the rest of us developed symptoms. It wasn’t a terrible time, as it’s easy enough to get groceries and meals delivered and there are a few things on Netflix we hadn’t seen yet. (If you need a pick-me-up, let me recommend The Peanut Butter Falcon, a quietly charming modern-day take on Huckleberry Finn. And, yes, the timing on the latest season of Cobra Kai was fortuitous.) Our sons’ teachers, having been dealing with quarantined students for most of the year, were super helpful in helping them stay on track. 

Coming weeks will show us whether Joe Biden will govern as the healing centrist he ran as or will move to appease the impatient left wing of his party. We’ll glean more insight into the future of the Republican party and the conservative movement as a whole. But this week showed that American’s institutions, while a little shaken, are solid. We’ll take it.

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Biden's Two Tasks: Repairing Deep Divisions and Defeating a Deadly Disease

Joe Biden’s inauguration has David thinking back to Ronald Reagan’s, and he notes that each man entered office facing twin challenges. Reagan had to “revive the American spirit, and he had to restore American power.” Biden, meanwhile, “has to restore a significant measure of American unity, and he has to defeat a deadly virus.” As daunting as the pandemic is, David suspects that the former challenge is the biggest. And he writes that Biden’s inaugural address offers promise. “I’m not naïve. I know that it’s far, far easier to welcome dissent in the abstract than it is in the actual heat of American political debate, where overreaction seems to be the only acceptable reaction to any political position. But the aspiration is there, at least, and an aspiration is a start.”  

Would Markets Have Handled the Vaccine Rollout Better Than Government?

We’ve probably all seen the memes and jokes about how if we just let Amazon or Chick-fil-A handle vaccine distribution, we’d all have been inoculated by now. But in Capitolism (🔐) Scott Lincicome asks the question earnestly. He walks through Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration effort to fund the research, development, and production of several vaccines. He notes what it got right and what it got wrong, detailing confusion and rancor over prioritization policies and uneven progress from state to state. And then he asks whether the markets could have handled better. It’s a straightforward question, but the answer is complicated: He applauds the government funding for research, the rewards to companies that delivered, and the benefits of our globalized trade policies. “What came up short, on the other hand, was regulatory inflexibility and extensive meddling in … complex manufacturing and distribution supply chains that have evolved over decades based on millions of interactions between suppliers and their customers.” (If you want to feel better about the U.S. effort, though, don’t miss this piece from Dalibor Rohac on the EU’s vaccine rollout.)

I’m Not Going To Say I Told You So ... But

On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump departed the White House for the last time. And Jonah has a few things to get off his chest. He is frustrated that so many on the right are still carrying water for Trump after his tenure resulted in the GOP losing the White House and Congress, and after the events that have transpired since the election. “Not since (the often unfairly maligned) Herbert Hoover has a president delivered the trifecta of losing the White House, the Senate, and the House after a single term. Yet, to listen to the primetime apologists and their enabling coteries, it is Donald Trump who is owed an apology from Democrats and unceasing effusions of praise from Republicans.” (Also, if you’re a fan of his canine updates, be sure to read all the way to the bottom.)

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And now for the best of the rest:

  • The Abraham Accords, which were negotiated by the Trump administration, are a remarkable step forward in relations between Israel and moderate Arab States like UAE and Bahrain. But Joseph Hammond argues that the new agreement between Sudan and Israel might be the most important one yet.

  • In Uphill, Haley looks at the campaign to have Liz Cheney, the third-ranking House Republican and only woman in GOP leadership, removed as GOP Conference chair for her support for Trump’s impeachment. (If you’re not receiving Uphill in your inbox, you can fix that here.)

  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a few important moves regarding China on his way out the door: He lifted restrictions on U.S. officials communicating with Taiwan and declared that China’s treatment of the Uighurs amounts to genocide. In Vital Interests (🔐), Thomas Joscelyn discusses what that means for the Biden administration.

  • You might have thought the campaign season was over. Hahaha. In The Sweep, Sarah gets right to work on what to expect in 2021, 2022 and … (we’re sorry) 2024.

  • The appointment of Gen. Lloyd Austin to be defense secretary was historic, as he is the first African American to serve in the position, and his 93-2 confirmation is a bright moment for bipartisanship in a tense time. But Eric Edelman and Roger Zakehim caution that we must return to our tradition of civilian control over the military.

  • Last but definitely not least, the pods: Can Joe Biden do anything about our polarization? David and Sarah discuss that and his flurry of executive orders on Advisory Opinions. Put on your party hat: It’s the 300th episode of The Remnant. Tune in for a helping of Soviet conspiracies, Bigfoot Erotica and other greatest hits. And on The Dispatch Podcast, the gang react to Joe Biden’s inaugural address and discuss the future of the GOP.