Our Best Work From a Week That Tested Us
An indictment in the Breonna Taylor case, Supreme Court nomination controversies, and more.
Well, that was a very 2020 week, wasn’t it? In fact, it might have been the 2020-iest week yet. The news was at times grim, as the American death toll from coronavirus passed 200,000, and at times alarming, as when President Trump struggled with a question about guaranteeing a peaceful transition of power after the election. It was one more week that exposed problems with our criminal justice system, as a grand jury indicted one of three Louisville officers involved in the Breonna Taylor case, but not on charges related to her death. And It was violent—two cops were shot in Louisville in the protests that followed the grand jury decision.
That’s a lot to take in. Fortunately we have really smart people to weigh in on all of those topics, as you’ll see below. That lets me step back and take a little break from all of it, so let’s talk about something else.
The other day I stumbled upon this tweet by Peter Suderman, the features editor at Reason by day and noted mixologist at all hours.
And it got me thinking about the topic that pops up sometimes, when we need to feel hopeful about something, even for a little bit. It’s an affront to anyone who has been seriously ill or lost a loved one to say that any “good” might come from the pandemic. But we can say that some of the changes it necessitated have been positive, and it would nice to see them made permanent.
Cities have, as Suderman referenced, allowed bars and restaurants to sell to-go cocktails (in some places to take home, and in some places to carry around in designated areas). And they’ve loosened restrictions on outdoor dining, allowing businesses to take over sidewalks and even streets to set up tables. It gives people a sense of normalcy, and certainly helps the businesses (and local tax revenues).
Bars and restaurants also provide a lot of jobs and are important institutions in their local communities. But it can feel a little frivolous to focus on making booze consumption more efficient. There have been other significant developments that should carry over whenever this ends. Like states offering reciprocity on employment licensing. If you’re licensed as a doctor in one state and then move to another, shouldn’t it be easy to be licensed in that state? Good news: States are catching on.
Some things are small and simple, but could have significant benefits over time. I’m guessing that the plexiglass shields separating retail workers from customers in checkout lanes, like at Target and the grocery store, are here to say. Isn’t flu season awful? It is! Now that companies have spent all this money to keep their employees from getting coughed on, it makes sense—for both humanitarian and financial reasons—to help keep them from getting exposed to colds and flu and other illnesses.
And maybe this is just my own experience (obligatory caveat that the plural of anecdote is not data), but it seems like we’ve gone to the dogs. So many people I know have welcomed a “quarantine puppy” and at times, shelters have been empty. Plus, people are taking these new dogs to more places. The rise of craft breweries with big patios has made dogs welcome at more restaurants, and now it seems like they are moving inside (not sure how smart an idea this is, but I guess dog germs don’t seem as scary as they used to). I see people with dogs at the hardware store and other similar places. They’re everywhere! And, except for maybe grocery stores, that’s a good thing.
My question to you, readers, is this: Have you experienced any changes like these that you would like to see stick around?
The shock of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death hadn’t yet worn off when the debate started over whether Donald Trump should nominate a replacement so close to the election. Mitch McConnell, who had refused to act on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in early 2016, announced less than two hours after her death that President Trump’s nominee would receive a floor vote. Almost as quickly, an internecine fight began among conservatives: Forge ahead with a nomination or not? Jonah, David, and Adam White at TheBulwark proposed that Republicans seek a compromise with Democrats to avoid court-packing and other extreme measures. But Matthew Franck makes the case for plowing ahead. “How would it be fair to this nominee, or fair to the process of deciding the merits of a nomination already under consideration, to delay a vote only for the purpose of tabling it—permanently consigning her nomination to limbo—should the president who made it be defeated in the election? That is more than the Senate should ask of a nominee whose name has been put forward in good faith, and who has already subjected herself to the grueling process we employ in these cases.” For more on the Supreme Court battle, read Jonah’s midweek G-File and David’s Tuesday French Press.
Perhaps more than even George Floyd, Breonna Taylor’s has become a cause celebre of the racial justice movement this summer. She was killed in March when police serving a late-night warrant on her apartment broke down her door and her boyfriend fired at the intruders, unaware they were police. Two officers returned fire, killing Taylor. Activists, celebrities, and everyone else who elevated Taylor’s case and called for the officers to be arrested were no doubt crushed this week when a grand jury returned an indictment against just one of three officers involved, and it was for wanton endangerment. David has written an excellent distillation of the case and explains why, although it might have been lawful for the officers to engage, Taylor’s death was unjust. “The grand jury’s decision was proper, but the laws that led the police to violently enter Taylor’s home and confront her armed boyfriend in the middle of the night are unjust. The practices of the Louisville police department capitalizing on those laws are also unjust.” It’s not an easy read, but it’s important.
A lot of what we do here at The Dispatch ends up being about national politics. A lot of times we can’t help it (2020, man). But sometimes we like to take a step back and explore issues that affect people at the local level, and tell a good story along the way. This week Charlotte Lawson reports on a frustrating situation in Georgia’s low country. Sapelo Island is home to the last remaining intact Gullah population in the United States. The Gullah are descended from West African slaves who worked rice, indigo, and cotton plantations before Emancipation. Those who remain on Sapelo have watched their island be taken over by large vacation homes--and they are paying the price in the form of increased property taxes, sometimes as much as 1,000 percent in a single year. Charlotte’s piece also offers a history lesson of the island and the Gullah people who call it home.
There’s a theory going around DC that libertarians have been running the show on economic policy for about four decades. As a libertarian himself, Scott Lincicome is … amused, to say the least. He’s ready to fight back, and he’s armed with charts. Lots and lots of charts. He looks at the size of the federal government, the 4 million-word tax code, immigration and the administrative state (you know, regulations). “That brings us to Washington’s ‘free trade fetish’—probably the policy area most often cited by folks on the right as proof of libertarian economic domination,” he writes. “Yet, as I’ve written repeatedly, the notion that libertarians have been controlling U.S. trade policy for the last 40-plus years is manifest nonsense.” Just a reminder: Scott’s Capitalism newsletter has been free for the first few editions, but it will soon be available to members only. And if you’re a member, you need to opt in. Check your account settings to make sure you’re not missing anything.
And now for the best of the rest:
Andrew unpacks what happened at the CDC early in the week, when the agency posted, and then removed, guidance discussing aerosol transmission of COVID-19. The first question isn’t “How did the CDC get itself in this messaging mess?” Rather, it’s “why hasn’t the CDC had anything to say about aerosol transmission before?”
We continue our “Biden Agenda” series with an entry from Frederick Hess on higher education. He discusses Biden’s potential plans for free college, debt forgiveness, Title IX, and more.
Did you know that drug cartels in South America are using charcoal to disguise cocaine? And that they are in cahoots with Hezbollah? Emanuelle Ottolenghi has the fascinating details.
In the members-only edition of The Sweep, Sarah interviews the New York Times’ Reid Epstein on what it’s like to be a campaign reporter, and how that has changed from 2016 to 2020. He has some amusing anecdotes about Democrats falling all over themselves to get the NYT to write about them. Check it out.
Special announcement: Last week, David and Sarah did a live video event to discuss David’s new book and all the news about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing and the controversy over the resulting vacancy. It was for members, but we’ve unlocked it so everyone can watch it. If you like it, please consider joining so you can check out the post-debate special edition of Dispatch Live with David, Steve, Jonah, and Sarah. Details here!
On the pods: Remnant regular Tevi Troy joined Jonah to discuss presidential debates. On an extra large Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah tackle the Breonna Taylor grand jury decision, the Supreme Court controversy AND election law. And on the Dispatch Podcast, Carrie Severino joins to discuss why the Supreme Court is so important to conservatives.
Photograph by Getty Images.