Our Best Stuff From the Week We Started Staying Home

Not everyone stayed home, of course. Our medical professionals are risking their health every day trying to keep us safe. And truck drivers are working furiously to keep our supply chains functioning so that we don’t have to fight over toilet paper at the grocery store. (For an illuminating and slightly harrowing look at what their lives are like, check out this Twitter thread.) And many small businesses and restaurants are trying to stay afloat in our new reality.

But this was the week that social distancing went into full effect for many people around the country. Office workers everywhere started commuting from their couches, people spent a lot of time on Zoom and in Google Hangouts, and a lot of us are newly licensed homeschool teachers. (Shout out to all the real teachers who are becoming online instructors on the fly. May parents never take you for granted again.)

The next few weeks will demonstrate whether we acted in time. Overall cases are in an exponential growth pattern, though a lot of that has to do with increased testing capability. This is not a sign that our efforts at social distancing and shutting down are not working. But COVID-19 fatalities are growing rapidly, too—a result, among other things, of the stealth spread of the disease before more testing was available.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans are out of work, at least temporarily. State governments are taking steps to help those affected access unemployment benefits more quickly, and Congress is working on a stimulus package.  

Here at The Dispatch, we didn’t move to covering the pandemic exclusively—while the Democratic primary might be all over but for the shouting, there is still plenty of shouting. But it is our primary focus. We look forward to bringing you more reporting and analysis you can trust on the issue, but we’re also yearning for the days we can be a little more lighthearted. Now, here is the best of what we did this week.

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The Definitive Timeline of how the U.S. Bungled Testing at the Start

There has been invaluable reporting on the bureaucratic breakdowns that have led the United States to limit its testing regimen, including investigative work from sources as varied as Reuters, GQ, and The New Yorker. Building on that work with his own analysis as a tech policy expert, Alec Stapp laid out a precise timeline of where things started going south. It starts with the Food and Drug Administration: “In a declared emergency, the FDA has broad discretion about which laboratory-developed tests will be permitted to be used. By o nly issuing a single [emergency use authorization] to the CDC, the FDA put all its eggs in one basket.”

Can COVID-19 Help Us Overcome Our Polarization?

Are people in your community coming together in any way? Are they helping elderly and vulnerable people get their shopping done? Is everyone getting takeout and tipping heavily to help local businesses and workers? As much as we bemoan the polarized state of our national political discourse, trying times help break down divisions. Sam Abrams argues that the pandemic that is testing us so much right now might actually upend that polarization. “Americans are turning away from national politics and supporting local mayors and municipalities regardless of partisanship; they are pragmatic.”

We Need to Talk About China

Tom Joscelyn, the author of our Vital Interests newsletter, might be best known for his reporting on terrorism and U.S. counterterror efforts. Lucky for us, he’s something of a China expert as well. He had two newsletters (members only) on the topic this week: In the first, he wrote about the dangers of China’s disinformation campaign to deflect blame for the spread of coronavirus. And in an edition that just went out today, he worries about the implications of Xi teaming up with Vladimir Putin to try to discredit the United States. 

The Moral Heroism of our Coronavirus Response

In the G-File, Jonah weighs both the idea that we are doing what’s necessary to fight coronavirus and the concern that we are risking too much economically. Landing on “I agree basically with what the government is doing,” he points out that our “course of action defies so much of the glib rhetoric about America.” How so? “If we were some Capitalist Sparta, we’d be putting old people on figurative ice floes to fend for themselves or pushing them off cliffs, like Paul Ryan in that heinous ad. People older than 80 are not, as a rule, vital cogs in the capitalist machine. If one were to apply the butcher knife of Peter Singer’s ethical pragmatism, we might even be setting up death panels.”

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Other highlights from The Dispatch this week:

  • Bernie Sanders will be a mere footnote in the history of presidential politics before too long, but it’s fair to start considering his legacy. Daniel Vaughan argues that he gave rise to a modern socialism, but ultimately his own movement passed him by in place of “Woke Marxism.”

  • The Morning Dispatch (members only) tried to hone in on one big coronavirus topic each day. On Tuesday, we looked at hospital capacity and ways it can be stretched. On Wednesday, we were on the hospital beat again, looking at what happens when hospitals run out of not only rooms but protective equipment. And on Friday, it was grocery stores and the supply chain and how we don’t need to be hoarding. Oh, and also the coronavirus-adjacent insider trading accusations against Richard Burr and Kelly Loeffler (again, we tried to stick to one topic).

  • In an article for the website (free to all) David French offers a very useful explainer of the division of powers that answers why it’s up to the governors, and not the federal government to close schools and limit businesses.

  • Finally, on the pods: On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah talk to a bankruptcy judge about how the courts are handling coronavirus-related filings. On The Remnant, Jonah takes a break from the pandemic to talk to a psychologist about the differences between cultures. And finally, the gang (from separate remote, undisclosed locations) takes on a bunch of coronavirus topics, including how everyone is talking to their kids about it.