Our Best Stuff From Yet Another Busy Week

The Eastman memo, the Milley affair, and much, much, more.

Happy Saturday! This newsletter is coming to you on a cool, crisp fall day in Ohio. The heat has broken, it’s sweatshirt weather, and my only real disappointment is that today’s slate of college football games is pretty boring: Ohio State vs. Akron, Georgia vs. Vanderbilt, and Alabama vs., I think, the Little Sisters of the Poor. [Editor: Ahem, Wisconsin vs. Notre Dame?]

But wait … it’s fall? How did that happen already? If I recall correctly, 2021 was supposed to be better than 2020. We were supposed to get back to normal. Maybe we could relax a bit, things would slow down. Instead, 2021 has been playing a long game of “hold my beer” with its predecessor. And this week was no different. 

Perhaps the starkest reminder of 2020 this week comes from Arizona. The monthslong faux audit of Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots is finally over, and the report put out by Cyber Ninjas not only confirmed Joe Biden’s victory but gave him an extra 261 votes. It wasn’t a real audit and no one should take it seriously, but even this partisan effort didn’t produce the results the losers wanted. Don’t get your hopes up that this will be the last word on the 2020 election. Donald Trump sent Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger a letter last week asking him to decertify the state’s election results. In Texas—a state that Trump won—the secretary of state’s office (there is no actual secretary of state right now) announced an audit of four counties’ ballots: Dallas, Harris, Tarrant, and Collin. Okay. 

Congress, y0u might have noticed, is still pretty dysfunctional. The wrinkle, though, is that it’s largely attributable to Democratic infighting. The $550 billion infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” reconciliation bill have the moderates and progressives at odds. Progressives are threatening to tank the former bill if moderates won’t vote for the latter, and vice versa. But there won’t be money for any of these wish lists if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling. Read about the debt ceiling battle in Uphill and check out Thursday’s Morning Dispatch (🔒) for a great breakdown of the fight over the spending bills.

And the Biden administration continues to stumble. In one particularly telling episode, photos emerged this week of Customs and Border Protection agents on horseback trying to keep Haitian immigrants from crossing the U.S. border. The agents used long reins to control the horses, but some people on Twitter immediately assumed they were using whips on the migrants. The photos were admittedly unsettling, but even after the “whipping” claims were debunked, the administration announced that agents would no longer use horses along the border.  

So let’s see: We’re still talking about the election, Congress is a circus, and Twitter misinformation is running rampant. We’re nine months into 2021, and we can’t leave 2020 behind. 

On the bright side, we ran some really great pieces this week. Check them out below, and thanks for reading.

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How We Kept Poverty Down in 2020

There’s no denying that the pandemic had a profound effect on the economy in 2020. Unemployment skyrocketed and businesses struggled. But new data shows that the U.S. not only managed to ward off an increase in hardship and poverty, but both figures are near all-time lows. Scott Winship of AEI is doing a series on how public policy affects poverty rates, and his first piece looks at this success. He argues that our early policy responses to the pandemic— including the CARES Act and the Paycheck Protection Program— were key to this success. He points out that not everything about those policies was perfect, “but it is remarkable how quickly policymakers acted to prevent a deep depression, and they should be commended for the effective economic policy response to the pandemic.” He is concerned, though, that the Democrats’ continued focus on fighting poverty—when it’s close to an all-time low—is counterproductive given other needs that we face. Stay tuned for his coming pieces.

Biden Is Struggling, but Republicans Aren’t Ready to Govern

The bad news is piling up for Joe Biden. Aside from the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, there are troubling economic indicators and there’s a crisis at the border. And midterms are just more than a year away. Can Republicans take advantage? David argues in French Press (🔒) that the GOP is is no shape to govern, and he points to a memo by conservative lawyer and informal Trump adviser John Eastman ahead of January 6 laying out a plan for Mike Pence to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Pence, of course, did not go along with the scheme. But, David writes, “Had this plan been executed, it would have created the country’s greatest constitutional crisis since 1861. There would have been no constitutional reason for governors to recognize the authority of Donald Trump as president, yet there would have been no legitimate statutory process to confirm Biden’s victory. The issue would have rocketed to the Supreme Court in an atmosphere of violence and confusion that would have made the 2000 election dispute and Bush v. Gore seem like stories out of an idealized past.”

‘We’re Not Leaving Berlin’

Many people understandably did a double take when the Biden administration compared the Afghanistan evacuation to the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49. Among the obvious differences was that the Berlin Airlift involved getting food and other necessities to a population of people threatened with starvation while the Afghanistan withdrawal involved moving people away from a dangerous situation exacerbated by the Biden administration’s poor planning. But there’s a more important reason the analogy was so inapt, as historian Arthur Herman explains. The Berlin Airlift demonstrated that American might was a force for good in the world. “Truman had used all available American power to stand up to tyranny, in order to protect the innocent.  Here perhaps is the sharpest contrast with President Biden, who arguably used that power to give in to tyranny and abandon the innocent to an unearned fate.” But leave the politics aside for the moment, as Herman shares some details of the airlift that anyone who’s even a casual history buff will appreciate. 

​​What the Milley Affair Says About the State of Our Politics

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley found himself embroiled in a controversy—based on a revelation from a  new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa—that he reached out to his Chinese counterpart in the waning days of the Trump administration to allay concerns that an angry Donald Trump might take out his frustrations on the Chinese. Giselle Donnelly puts that bit of news into context with other instances of Milley finding himself facing unwanted attention—namely, his participation in President Trump’s march across Lafayette Square at the height of last summer’s racial justice protests and his comments on training materials critical race theory in the military academies—and blames us civilians for the destruction of civil-military norms. 

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And now for the best of the rest.

  • It’s a tale as old as time. When Republicans do something bad, the media report they’ve done something bad. When Democrats do something bad, the media tend to deflect. One indicator? When a headline says that “Republicans pounce” on Dem missteps rather than focusing on the missteps themselves. But the Biden era has brought on a new kind of deflection. In this case, Biden keeps “finding himself” in trouble or having “been dealt” a setback. Jonah has thoughts.

  • President Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal angered many of our allies, especially Great Britain. But just last week, the U.S., the U.K, and Australia announced a new partnership to provide the Aussies with nuclear subs as a buffer against China. How did we turn things around so quickly on the diplomatic front? Oliver Wiseman explains it’s all about the “special relationship.” 

  • Chris Stirewalt argues that the term “Evangelical” has become too intertwined with politics and that it would be best if we just dropped it: “If we ask voters if they are Catholic, the meaning is clear: Are they a member of the Roman Catholic Church? The same goes for other demographic variables like income, age, education, and gender. … Being an Evangelical is an attitude, and one of imprecise definition.”

  • Our supply chains are messed up and we’re in the middle of a shipping crisis. Sure, it’s partially because of the pandemic, but, as Scott Lincicome notes in Capitolism (🔒), there’s a lot more at play.

  • The pods! The pods! It was a special week as Jonah recorded the 400th episode of The Remnant. And his special guest was Kevin Williamson. Don’t miss it. On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss the memo John Eastman wrote laying out his case for overturning the 2020 election in Congress. And on The Dispatch Podcast, the gang asks a big question: Is Joe Biden just bad at his job?