Our Best Stuff From the Week We Zoomed a Holiday

Our resilient institutions, the economic system that relies on them, and trouble afoot in the Peach State.

Banana pudding. Weird as it sounds, that’s what I’m missing this weekend. For starters, I’ve never been much of a pie person. My parents owned a small grocery store when I was growing up, and the week before Thanksgiving was our busiest time of year. Our little bakery churned out more than 1,000 pies, and to fill the orders the bakers started on Tuesday and worked nonstop through Wednesday. Once I got to high school, I would head to the store with my mom about 9 p.m. or so on Tuesday and work through the night. No, I didn’t make too many pies myself. But I folded pie boxes, moved the pies onto cooling racks, and helped fill the orders. My mom would call me off of school and so, after a couple hours to sleep or a trip out for breakfast, I would go back to the store and work as a cashier. It was hard work, but the atmosphere was always lively and customers were (usually) in a good mood. It was somehow energizing and exhausting at the same time. But once it was done—the big cooler emptied of all the turkey and stuffing orders, the shelves looking a little bare—pie was the last thing anyone in my family wanted to look at. 

Those years are long past, but we still try to have a few dessert alternatives at our Thanksgiving dinner. For most of the last 10 years, my brother-in-law, sister-in-law and nephews have come in from South Bend, Indiana, for the long weekend. And, among other dishes, they’re on banana pudding duty. It’s a great alternative to pie, but its real utility comes at breakfast the next few days. A bowl of banana pudding, a few cups of coffee, and ESPN’s College GameDay on in the background while we catch up with people we don’t see often enough—it’s just about perfection.

My in-laws didn’t make the trip this year. And we didn’t have any local family over, either. It still felt a little bit like a holiday—it was a Thursday with no work or school, football games played on the TV, and I opened a bottle of wine in the afternoon. We cooked a turkey. But it was pretty subdued. 

As it was for most of you, I gather. I know that the plural of “random Facebook photo” is not “data,” but from my vantage point it seems like many Americans realized that we are at a particularly dangerous point in the pandemic and kept their gatherings intimate. And it gives me a little bit of optimism. In some ways, I’m reminded of David French’s great newsletter from this week (more below), about how our legal and political systems are standing strong in the face of President Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the results of the election. Trump and his legal team have been lobbing baseless claims of election fraud all around the internet, but weak legal challenges are being rebuffed and states are certifying their elections. The pandemic is exacerbating our polarization, we’re still having stupid fights about masks, and, well, some of our political leaders were a little hypocritical this week. But when push came to shove, a lot of us were willing to give up a holiday.

I do worry, though, about longer term effects of what seem like simple sacrifices. Rituals tie us together and strengthen bonds between family and friends. They are gifts from one generation to those that follow. I never knew my maternal great-grandmother, but I grew up eating icebox pudding every Christmas because of a recipe she passed down. Now my mom makes it not only then, but—due to popular demand—for her seven grandkids on their birthdays.

It’s not just food (though I seem to have desserts on the brain). Maybe it’s waking up early to do a turkey trot 5K to make room for all the food coming later. Or you might recall sleeping on the lumpy sleeper sofa in the basement with your cousins after your bedroom got turned into the guest room. The real significance of our family gatherings is the time we spend together, and the conversations we have. It’s the kids staying up too late and giggling while the adults have a nightcap or several. But the repetition of cherished rituals builds a kind of mental muscle memory that ties everything together.

By the time we have widespread distribution of safe and effective vaccines, we’ll have been at this for a year. There will be (probably) two classes of high school seniors who miss out on graduation ceremonies. Thousands of couples who got married but never have a big ceremony or reception. Millions of Americans who buried a loved one without the support of a funeral or wake. Maybe it will be safe to have family reunions or rent a beach house with several other families this summer, maybe it won’t. 

What happens when we suspend ritual and tradition, even for the most worthwhile of reasons? If we can Zoom with our geographically distant relatives for an hour on Thanksgiving, is it really worth it to take vacation days, pile everyone into the family truckster and spend hours on the road for an in-person visit? Or for a different demographic: Sure, it’s been fun to meet for a weekend with your dearest friends from college, but is it necessary to keep it going? Isn’t that what social media is for? 

Whenever it is that we come out on the other side of this, we could go in a couple of directions. We can remember that this year felt a little hollow and work to rebuild the traditions that sustain us through more mundane days. Maybe we can even become a little more inclusive and embrace neighbors and friends who are alone. Or we can shrug and let things fade away, blame it on being busy or not wanting to hear Aunt Tilda repeat the same boring stories one more time. 

I know that even though we made the best of our Thanksgiving that it left me a little unsettled. I missed making the same jokes about having too much food, missed wondering if the kids were going to try the green bean casserole for once, and I missed everyone thanking everyone for contributing to the feast. Here’s to having banana pudding—and a house full of family—next year. 

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When the Center Was Shaky, the System Held

Donald Trump hasn’t just refused to concede the election or merely followed the legal recourse available to candidates who want to question election results. He and his campaign and high-profile supporters have made unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud to claim the election was stolen. And yet, legal challenges have been mostly dismissed and states have certified their election results. There is no doubt that Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20. In The French Press (🔒), David celebrates that the system worked. “In surveying these last few weeks of litigation and protests, what’s remarkable isn’t that it took courage to oppose the president and much of the GOP establishment, but how ultimately easy it was to block the president’s schemes, how little courage it actually took,” he writes. 

The Georgia Dilemma

The Republican Party is at odds with itself these days in Georgia. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue must survive runoff elections in January to guarantee the GOP maintains control of the Senate and can serve as a check on the Biden administration. But it’s hard to openly discuss that reality when so many Trump supporters insist that Trump won the state, and the election at large. Plus, the allegations from Team Trump are creating a sense of mistrust among voters, who might not turn out at all. Andrew went to Georgia to investigate. “It’s difficult to describe the vibe coming off the Stop the Steal crowd, the simultaneous sensations of invincible majority and fragile, embattled minority. To many, the very idea that Biden had really won the popular vote was laughable; their feeling that Trump had won in a landslide was strengthened by every van or truck passing the crowd that honked its approval.”

Trump’s Election Gambit Isn’t Just About Politics

Speaking of elections and trust, in Capitolism (🔒) Scott Lincicome makes the important point that levels of interpersonal trust and faith in institutions correspond to economic outcomes. Countries with high levels of trust are wealthier, and it’s pretty simple: “Every day, individuals (who are often total strangers) undertake millions of spontaneous, voluntary transactions. To the extent that these people trust neither one another nor the legal system that supposedly regulates and protects their transactions (e.g., from fraud), they will either (1) have fewer interactions; and/or (2) invite greater state scrutiny and involvement.”

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The best of the rest:

  • Having a hard time convincing your Trump-supporting friends that Biden won the election? Wonder where they’re getting their info? James P. Sutton watched hours of Newsmax and One America News, two networks that have gained viewers disenchanted by Fox News by aligning themselves with the president.

  • Yeah, 2020 has been rotten. But Danielle Pletka reminds us that, for all the awfulness, there are plenty of things for which to be thankful. Global poverty and childhood mortality are down, adult literacy and human life expectancy is up. Russia and China are up to their usual shenanigans, but the Middle East is seeing promising developments between Muslim nations and Israel. And there are a few reasons to cheer even here at home.

  • We haven’t let up on the fact-checking front. In this informative piece, Khaya Himmelman dug into President Trump’s claims about rejected mail-in ballots in Georgia.

  • On the podcasts: Jonah and Charles W. Cooke of National Review have a wide-ranging conversation about the election, the future of conservatism, and gratitude on The Remnant. On Monday, David and Sarah put out an emergency edition of Advisory Opinions to try to sort through the wild claims from Trump’s legal team that dominated last weekend.

Photograph by Dwight Sipler/Flickr.