Magazine May 4, 2020, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

What we have here is a classic WHO dunnit.

Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign and endorsed Joe Biden. Friends and foes said that he had achieved considerable success in moving the party in his “democratic socialist” direction. In truth his political success was more a product than a cause of the party’s leftward shift. His signature proposal, a single-payer health-care system, has less support among Democrats than it did before his latest campaign, precisely because the public came to understand it better. His departure from the race is a concession to reality when it comes to convention delegates — although not, of course, to history, economics, or human nature.

Sanders argues that the coronavirus epidemic shows why the United States needs the precise flavor of snake oil he peddles. Others agree. The evidence is not obvious. Set aside the actual socialist countries (Venezuela, Cuba, etc.) and consider only Europe. The United States has suffered, as of this writing, 72 coronavirus deaths per million of population. The United Kingdom, with its centralized government health-care monopoly, has more than twice as many deaths per capita. Some European countries have radically higher death rates (386 per million in Spain, 172 per million in the Netherlands) and some have much lower rates (38 per million in Germany, 26 per million in Norway), and there is no clear correlation between the rates and the organization of the health-care systems. As for the rest of the economy, the dynamism of American capitalism looks pretty good, especially in comparison with the uneven performance of American government. In spite of dire predictions, there are no widespread deaths from want of ventilators or pharmaceuticals, and big and small firms alike have found productive ways to respond to the crisis. The freshest political thinking from the 1930s is not exactly what the world needs right now.

Biden has still not been asked to respond personally to the sexual-assault allegations made by Tara Reade, a former member of his staff. The New York Times finally bestirred itself to report on Reade’s charges, burying them on page A20 of its Easter Sunday edition. The Washington Post reported on the story only in response to the Times. Biden’s treatment and the Brett Kavanaugh circus could not be more disparate. Reade was faulted for having no corroboration from other Biden staffers, but unlike Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, she told friends at the time. Ford, unlike Reade, never offered any corroborating proof that she had ever even met the man she accused. The Times and Post investigated the motives of Reade’s supporters, a standard they did not apply to Michael Avenatti back in 2018. The Times avoided reporting that Ford’s own lawyer had admitted that “part of what motivated Christine” was wanting to put “an asterisk next to his name.” A lot of people who said they support #MeToo are now adding a silent #ButNotHer.

“I think what happened to him was one of the greatest travesties in American history.” Attorney General Bill Barr rattled cages with this assessment of the Obama Justice Department and FBI investigation of candidate, then president, Donald Trump, on the theory that he conspired with Russia to steal the 2016 election — a theory that increasingly appears to have been bereft of a credible evidentiary predicate. Barr was responding to an inquiry about the status of U.S. Attorney John Durham’s probe of that investigation, which is likely to generate a damning report, and very possibly criminal charges. Simultaneously, Barr unsealed previously redacted footnotes from DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz’s blistering report on FBI surveillance abuses in the Russia investigation. They indicate that the bureau should have seen neon-flashing warnings that the Clinton-campaign-sponsored Steele dossier it used to obtain court warrants might have been tainted with disinformation planted by Russian intelligence. News reports, meanwhile, have provided more detail on how a top suspect, Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, vigorously denied the existence of any Russian conspiracy to a bureau informant — credible, blatantly exculpatory assertions that the FBI chose to conceal from the FISA court. The investigation of the investigators is nearing a decision point.

The debacle of Wisconsin’s April primary, carried out during the coronavirus pandemic, involved a last-minute call for voting by mail from the Democratic governor, a hard pushback from the Republican legislature, an appeal to the Supreme Court, and voters waiting in long, undistanced lines at the polls, sometimes in the rain. The mess heightened calls for voting by mail, which tracks longstanding Democratic goals of simultaneously nationalizing and loosening election standards, on the theory that larger, unmonitored turnouts will benefit them. We favor one-day, in-person voting with a strict ID requirement as a rule, as the best guarantee against monkey business. Some disasters — pandemics, hurricanes, earthquakes, violent disorder — may necessitate voting by mail. Reasonable access to the franchise is a right of citizenship, and right reason takes account of extreme circumstances.

Donald Trump has been saying since mid March that the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine “could be a game changer” in fighting COVID-19. In typical Trump fashion, he has overhyped and oversold what we know about an experimental treatment. The desperate need to prove Trump wrong has led his critics to wild extremes, from blaming him when a Democratic donor’s husband died from drinking fish-tank cleaner under piscine circumstances, to writing off modern medicine as “a magic potion,” to calling for Trump to be tried in The Hague for crimes against humanity (no, really). But hope is not a bad thing, if taken in modest doses. As was true during the AIDS crisis, what government needs to do is let doctors and patients skip the red tape and accept the risks in order to see what works. The White House task force and Democratic governors such as Andrew Cuomo and Gretchen Whitmer are acting with appropriately cautious optimism in doing just that. It will work, or not, regardless of how one feels about Donald Trump.

“In the summer of 2005, President George W. Bush was on vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, when he began flipping through an advance reading copy of a new book about the 1918 flu pandemic. He couldn’t put it down.” Thus began a recent report from ABC News. Bush was semi-obsessed with the issue of pandemics, and instructed members of the government to come up with a plan. “Look, this happens every 100 years,” he said. “We need a national strategy.” Members of the government worked on this intensely, according to ABC, for the next three years. Bush said in a speech, “If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare. And one day many lives could be needlessly lost because we failed to act today.” In a recent press conference, President Trump was asked whether he had “any interest in reaching out” to former presidents. He said, “I don’t think I’m going to learn much.” He might be surprised.

On December 30, Dr. Li Wenliang warned colleagues about the outbreak of a pneumonia-like illness in Wuhan, China. Authorities promptly summoned Dr. Li on charges that he’d spread disinformation. By then, physicians on the ground had seen the disease spread between individuals, and from patients to doctors. But two weeks later, the World Health Organization announced that there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus,” echoing the messaging of Chinese authorities eager to suppress bad PR. Parroting Chinese statements wasn’t enough for WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: He went on to praise China for “setting a new standard for outbreak control.” Later, Tedros overruled the objections of WHO colleagues in delaying the declaration of a public-health emergency, despite abundant evidence that the virus would likely spread beyond China’s borders. Meanwhile, the WHO opposed travel restrictions to prevent that possibility. Its performance cost the world precious time in preparing for the pandemic, and casts doubt on the competence and integrity of the WHO. President Trump has suspended funding for the organization. It may be the only way to force accountability on an institution corrupted by the likes of Tedros and Chinese president Xi Jinping.

From the start of the coronavirus outbreak, China-watchers have raised doubts about medical data coming from the Chinese Communist Party. By downplaying the severity of their domestic outbreak, Chinese authorities hope to bolster their perceived legitimacy. Recently, we’ve gotten a sense of the magnitude of those lies. The American Enterprise Institute’s Derek Scissors pegs the actual number of cases in China at 2.9 million — more than 30 times the official figure.L American intelligence officials concluded in a classified report to the White House that the Chinese had fabricated their numbers. It doesn’t take classified intelligence to note the infinitesimally low probability that China’s 1.4 billion people have fewer infections than Italy’s 60 million.

On Saturday, April 11, President Trump tweeted that “watching @FoxNews on weekend afternoons is a total waste of time.” So will the leader of the free world stop wasting his by watching it? “We now have some great alternatives, like @OANN,” Trump continued. He is referring to One America News Network, a relatively new, explicitly pro-Trump cable-news outfit. OANN’s business model is slavish loyalty to a man. It has followed this muse into some of the most fetid fever swamps of American politics, attempting to discredit those who accused failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct, promoting conspiracy theories about the death of Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich, speculating that COVID-19 was created in a North Carolina lab by the “Deep State” to “destroy the Trump economy,” and more. OANN’s chief utility to Trump lies in prodding the far more influential Fox into giving more-favorable coverage to the president. Though cable-news viewers can take their business anywhere, they should not bother with OANN if they want to be informed.

President Trump is leading the effort to protect Americans from low gasoline prices. Trump, a critic of OPEC, has informally joined the cartel, promising oil-production cuts he has no authority to order. With the coronavirus epidemic shutting down much of the world economy, demand for oil has plunged, and with it oil prices. That is going to be hard on oil producers around the world, including those at home. The United States has grown into an oil-and-gas powerhouse, which means that there are more corporate profits and more American jobs tied to energy than there once were. On balance, that is an excellent thing, but there are inevitable and obvious trade-offs. The government wisely sought to take advantage of low prices to stock up on oil. But that is not enough to prop up the market, and so Washington is reverting to Soviet-style central planning, which, to no one’s surprise, is not working: Oil prices continued to decline after the deal was announced, and industry insiders have little confidence that the scheme will achieve its ends. Maybe a bigger cartel is not the solution.

When considering “Phase Four” of its coronavirus-relief efforts, the federal government has two broad options. One, it can improve what it has already created by boosting funding for its forgivable small-business payroll loans, which are administered by banks. Or, two, it can opt for the approach of Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.), who would have the government take on the responsibility of paying affected workers in a much more direct fashion — and provide bonuses to businesses that rehire laid-off workers. We see the attraction to Hawley’s proposal, as it is crucial to fully support businesses and workers whom the government has deliberately idled. But the plan needs careful vetting to ensure that it wouldn’t hit major administrative snags or prove susceptible to fraud; if there are serious obstacles, it may be better to smooth out the glitches in what we’ve already implemented. Either way, the senator has done much to move the conversation forward as Congress decides where to go next.

Trump fired or demoted a couple of inspectors general. He cashiered the intelligence-community IG, Michael Atkinson, who revealed to Congress the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment. There is a legitimate argument over whether Atkinson followed the letter of the law, but Trump clearly fired him as an act of vengeance. The president also moved to keep Glenn Fine, a Democratic holdover, from leading the oversight of the government’s massive coronavirus relief spending. Although Trump was fully within his rights to oust Fine, he obviously is not keen on independent oversight as a general matter. It’s up to Congress to make sure that the IGs continue to fulfill their role, which is a valuable one.

Apple and Google announced that they are working together on a smartphone app that will enable people who are diagnosed with COVID-19 to provide an anonymous alert to everyone they have been near (more precisely, to everyone whose phone their phones have been near). Such “contact-tracing” raises privacy concerns: Would this app be used for less virulent illnesses? Could it be used to enforce isolation orders? Then again, some of the alternatives — mass lockdowns, rampant disease, frequent mandatory testing — might be worse. This is another case where there isn’t a simple trade-off between public health and other goods. The tech companies, and legislators, ought to keep in mind that people are going to need privacy protections before they will voluntarily use this app.

Lawmakers and hospitals have unsurprisingly sought out predictions of how bad the coronavirus epidemic could become, resulting in a lot of attention being paid to assorted statistical models. One model in particular, from the University of Washington, captured the attention of the White House and offered separate predictions for each state. In early April, however, the model’s death and hospitalization forecasts were significantly revised downward twice in a matter of days, leading to no small amount of confusion and outrage. Some tried to play off the improvements as the result of states’ lockdown policies, but the model had always taken those policies into account. The simple facts of the matter are these: No one has a crystal ball, statistical models can at best give us informed guesses that improve as new data come in, and the UW model has some very real weaknesses. There’s no conspiracy to overstate the risk of the pandemic, which at this writing has already killed nearly 30,000 Americans, but decision-makers need to consult numerous sources of information rather than expect a single website to predict the future accurately.

Salus populi suprema lex, said the Romans. But Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion, says the Constitution. How do we worship in a time of corona? On Fire Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., came up with a clever solution for Easter: a drive-in service with congregants staying in their cars. The mayor forbade it, even though drive-through restaurants and liquor stores still operate in his city. District judge Justin Walker sided with On Fire, likening the mayor’s edict to “the pages of a dystopian novel, or perhaps the pages of the Onion.” But other churches have met en masse, while in Brooklyn and upstate New York scattered congregations of Orthodox Jews have assembled for funerals. The Bible, which, for the devout, is a higher law than the Romans or the Constitution, says, Thou shalt not kill. Which in a time of pandemic means, Stay safe — for your own sake, and for that of your family and your neighbors.

A lot of Harvard Law School professors are dismissive of originalism as a legal philosophy and would rather judges felt entitled to conform the law to a higher understanding of morality and secure their preferred policies. Many of them are able to say so in glossy magazines. It is a little more noteworthy, however, when the higher morality specified is Catholic social teaching and the favored policies are restrictions on pornography. Professor Adrian Vermeule wrote an essay for The Atlantic advocating a “common-good constitutionalism” and achieved the intended result of provoking people. His argument is facile, ignoring the abundant evidence that the original understanding of the Constitution gave legislators great scope to advance the common good while also creating safeguards to protect the common good from legislators. His essay will accomplish something useful, though, if it prompts his colleagues to reflect on the full range of alternatives to obeying the Constitution.

Not so long ago, we could have printed an item in every issue about campus “speech codes” — restrictions on so-called hate speech that often amount to punishing any dissent from officially established opinions (which were almost always established by the Left). Lately, though, the tide has receded a bit, with colleges abandoning their restrictive codes, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and other free-speech groups. The latest university to return to freedom is a big one: Florida State. As revealed by The College Fix, FSU’s rules had banned “derogatory or offensive language” toward a person based on gender, “offensive, demeaning, or degrading” behavior, any “pre-formed negative opinion or attitude toward facets of another person(s)’ identity,” conduct that is “severe, pervasive, or persistent,” and “irrelevant, inappropriate or unsolicited emails.” To be sure, genuine harassment and threats to safety can and should be prohibited and punished, but all those adjectives in FSU’s speech code contained much more wiggle room than necessary, to the point where anyone who considered saying something unpopular might legitimately fear punishment, even expulsion, based on an ex post facto judgment call. Even in Tallahassee, a chilling effect is not always welcome.

Captain Brett Crozier was relieved of his command of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, after a desperate email of his describing a coronavirus outbreak aboard ship was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle. Acting secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly blasted Crozier for his behavior, then was forced to resign because lawmakers and aggrieved sailors in turn blasted his comments as too harsh. Captain Crozier, who retains his rank, was concerned for the health of his men. But he went outside the chain of command in airing his worries; his crew’s congregating on deck and cheering him at his departure showed a lack of discipline, for which he is responsible. Modly was right to take action against Crozier, though his language (he called Crozier “naïve” and “stupid”) sounded like a poor imitation of George C. Scott as Patton. A bad show all around, especially since it is the Navy that must be our chief monitor of the coronavirus’s enablers’ attempts to colonize the South China Sea.

Citing the pandemic, the Hungarian parliament passed an emergency law, which grants to the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban the power to rule indefinitely by decree. The law includes the additional troubling stipulation that those who spread information that government authorities judge to be false or misleading are subject to fines and jail sentences. The law stands as a wide-open invitation to abuse. In a measured statement, the U.S. embassy in Hungary urges governments around the world “to avoid restrictions on essential rights and fundamental freedoms, including the ability of the free press to provide information to the public about the crisis and the government’s response.” It adds that governments should ensure that “such powers are restricted to the period of time needed to address the current crisis and lifted as soon as they are no longer needed.” Hungary’s friends should hope that it errs on the side of sooner.

Spare a thought for Rami Aman. He is a Gaza Palestinian, the leader of a peace group, the Gaza Youth Committee. For five years, the group has had video chats with Israeli counterparts. The participants speak in English. Their chats have gone under the playful name “Skype with Your Enemy.” But in these days of social isolation, people are Zooming — using the teleconferencing platform Zoom. On April 6, a Zoom chat between Palestinians and Israelis involved more than 200 people. It was the biggest such chat ever. They asked questions about life on the other side. “Do you have music festivals?” was one question. They talked about coping in the time of corona. And they talked about possibilities for peace. Some less peace-minded Palestinians got wind of the conversation and reported it to the authorities. Hamas then arrested Rami Aman and others for the crime of “holding a normalization activity.” There are brave and heroic souls among Palestinians, and their names ought to be known in the wider world.

Whether we like it or not, Britain’s Labour Party is a major party in a major country. The health of it is of concern to all. Under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party was not healthy. Most problematically, it was rife with anti-Semitism. Labour now has a new leader, Sir Keir Starmer, who made no bones about the party’s problem. “We have to face the future with honesty,” he said. “Anti-Semitism has been a stain on our party. I have seen the grief that it’s brought to so many Jewish communities. On behalf of the Labour Party, I am sorry. I will tear out this poison by its roots and judge success by the return of Jewish members and those who felt that they could no longer support us.” Well done, as Brits say.

The dress: light green, high-necked, conservatively cut. A matching green brooch, a triple string of pearls. The silver hair, very pre-Sassoon. The room: furniture and tchotchkes of a stately home of a generation past. The accent: clear, clipped, its class markers softened by age and familiarity. “I hope in the years to come everyone will take pride in how they have responded to this challenge. And those who come after us will say . . . that the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humored resolve, and of fellow-feeling still characterize this country.” One of the attributes of leadership is to tell people that they are doing what they ought; telling them so encourages them to do it. So Elizabeth II told Britons in her coronavirus address, speaking with the authority of her position, her persona, and a career stretching back to her first address to the nation, as a teenage princess in World War II, 70 years ago.

Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, has been released from St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, where he was being treated for a life-threatening case of coronavirus. During his stay Johnson spent two nights in a critical-care unit and, though he was not ventilated, was given oxygen support. On the advice of his medical team, Johnson, 55, will not immediately return to work but will continue to recuperate at Chequers, a country residence reserved for prime ministers. In an emotional speech, Johnson thanked the NHS workers who saved his life, as well as the British public for their cooperation with social-distancing measures. Johnson gave reason for encouragement, saying the U.K. was “now making progress” in the effort to contain the epidemic, a “fight we never picked against an enemy we still don’t entirely understand.”

In a 7–0 decision, the High Court of Australia acquitted George Cardinal Pell, overturning his conviction on charges of sexual abuse. He had been accused of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys after Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996. The circumstances in which he was alleged to have committed the crimes meant that jurors would have “entertained a doubt” had they acted “rationally,” as the High Court explained. Don’t be misled by the dry understatement: The scenarios put forward by the prosecution were wildly improbable. The busy public setting that was the cathedral, the logistics of the after-Mass routines of the participants, the nature of liturgical vestments, which are only slightly less cumbersome than suits of armor — the account of Pell’s alleged assaults and indecency was riddled with features that screamed its implausibility, but the jury covered their ears. Media pilloried him, spurring on a public ready to believe the worst, disgusted by the Church’s long history of sex-abuse scandals. The injustice to Pell will be borne in part also by survivors of clerical sex abuse, who will now find it a little harder to be believed.

NBA star Stephen Curry sat out four months with a broken hand before returning to the Golden State Warriors in early March — only to see the season suspended after he had played in just a single game. How could Steph maintain his shooting touch during the long layoff without violating quarantine rules? As it turns out, the same way anyone else would — he bought an outdoor hoop and mounted it on his driveway, struggling with the instruction manual and taking five hours to finish the job, like every suburban dad. Next he painted a three-point line, and reports are that Steph has been raining down the treys in his solo practice sessions.

The Cannonball Run is the nickname for an informal, sporadic, not entirely legal competition in which drivers seek to go from New York City to Redondo Beach, Calif., in as little time as possible. Obviously, traffic is a major concern, and planning a route that avoids snarls at peak hours can be quite involved. But what if there were no traffic to speak of, and a correspondingly modest police presence? The virus created these exact conditions, and a three-man team driving an Audi A8 sedan has taken advantage of them to set a new coast-to-coast record of 27 hours and 25 minutes. The achievement does seem a bit frivolous when so many people are dying, and we hesitate to endorse the constant, extreme violation of speed limits that such a drive must have required. Yet for better or worse, there’s something truly American about it all (including the subsequent controversy over whether the virus-assisted record should count). Still, we’d recommend against a White House invitation.

The Sixties left included mere criminals (the Black Panthers) and terrorists (Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, and friends). But it also included a fair share of randomly violent psychopaths. Ira Einhorn, named “Philadelphia’s head hippie” by the Village Voice, was a figure in the worlds of psychedelia, environmentalism, and the local establishment, whose freak pet he became. He was also a beater of women. One of them, Holly Maddux, he murdered after she ended their five-year-long relationship. At his trial he was defended by future-senator Arlen Specter; his bail was posted by a Canadian socialite. He fled, and was tried and convicted in absentia. Discovered years later living in France with a woman he had not killed, he was brought home and, as a condition of his extradition, tried again, which resulted in a second conviction. He maintained that his victim’s body had been planted in his apartment by the CIA. An evil man, patronized by willing dupes. Dead at 79.

Linda Tripp is a footnote in American political history, a figure in the scandal that led to the impeachment of President Clinton. She was the onetime White House aide who had a friendship with Monica Lewinsky, and who taped some of their phone conversations. Linda Tripp eventually handed over those tapes to the independent counsel. To her enemies, she was a snitch, a traitor, the villain of the piece. She was subject to fierce, animal hatred, including many jibes at her looks. These came, in particular, from female defenders of the president. To her own defenders, she was one of the few truth-seekers and -tellers in Washington, blowing the whistle on an immoral and dishonest president. At every step, she handled herself with dignity and even courage. In 2003, she said to an interviewer, “I think history will see things through a prism that will make it easier to understand that it wasn’t black and white.” Linda Tripp has died at 70. R.I.P.

In a long career like a slow-burning candle, Al Kaline won a batting title, ten Gold Gloves, and a roster spot on 18 American League All-Star teams. In the 1968 World Series, he hit .379 and drove in eight of the 34 runs scored by the Detroit Tigers, the last world champions before MLB divided the leagues into divisions and established postseason playoffs. A high-school and rec-league superstar in Baltimore in mid century, he caught the attention of Tigers scout Ed Katalinas and signed as a bonus baby, skipping the minor leagues and jumping straight to Detroit. In 1955, at age 20, Kaline hit .340 and became the youngest batting champion in major-league history. “There’s a hitter!” said Ted Williams, who would know. A right fielder most of his career, Kaline moved to first base toward the end and finished where he began, in the Motor City. Lifetime batting average, .297, in a pitcher’s era. He amassed more than 3,000 hits and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1980. Off the field and in retirement, he remained steady and quiet — a source of light and warmth, minimal fireworks. Mr. Tiger, dead at 85. R.I.P.

Master picture-book author and artist Tomie dePaola passed away at the age of 85, due to surgery complications. With over 270 books to his name after decades of publishing, Tomie is one of the most beloved children’s-literature figures of our day. His stories touch the imagination and the soul, spanning numerous genres and covering many cultures, as in the delightful Strega Nona stories. Tomie also charmed readers by recounting his childhood in a series of chapter books. According to the New York Times obituary of Tomie, his favorite holiday was Christmas, a fact made very apparent by one glance at his bibliography. A cradle Catholic, Tomie made his faith evident in many books illustrating the lives of the saints. Tomie didn’t just tell stories, he made them come alive with his artwork; his colors glow, giving off a sense of warmth and home that in a quiet but powerful way brought light, humor, and joy to generations of children. May his work continue to be a light for generations to come. R.I.P.

For decades Mort Drucker generated impish, extroverted covers for Mad magazine — and once for National Review. NR was running an article on the dire state of higher education, a hardy perennial with us. Charles Bork, art director at the time, wanted to do a cover showing Alfred E. Neuman, Mad’s gap-toothed iconic doofus, wearing a mortarboard and gown, and called up Mad for permission to copy the character. Drucker volunteered to do the cover for us himself, gratis. Thanks again for that, and thanks for so many other laughs. Dead at 91, R.I.P.

Abigail Thernstrom was one of the most remarkable thinkers, writers, and activists of our time. She was brought up left-wing — on a collective farm outside New York City. In the city itself, she went to Elisabeth Irwin High School, also known as the Little Red School House. Alumni include Angela Davis, Mary Travers, and the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. At least three alumni became prominent conservatives, of the classical-liberal persuasion: Ronald Radosh, Elliott Abrams, and Abby Thernstrom. She was married to Stephan Thernstrom, the Harvard historian, who survives her. She, too, was a Harvardian, earning her Ph.D. in government in 1975. Her specialty was civil rights. She had an old-fashioned view of race relations: equality under the law, equality of opportunity, E pluribus unum. She wrote steadily and took part in any number of forums — including forums with President Clinton. She also served as vice chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Through everything, she was feisty, righteous, sparkling, brave, and unforgettable. She has passed away at 83, having enriched the world around her. R.I.P.

 

PUBLIC POLICY
Beating the Virus

If an American president has ever before considered a crisis a way to increase his TV ratings, he at least had the good sense not to tell anyone in public.

Donald Trump has taken his routine unpresidential conduct to the big stage of an unprecedented national crisis, and it hasn’t played well. When he has been at the podium, his daily briefings have often featured petty feuds with reporters (where, incredibly enough, the president manages to seem smaller than his journalistic tormentors), threats to withhold aid to governors based on what they say about him, over-the-top pitches for hydroxychloroquine, wildly gyrating and contradictory positions on public matters, and, at one point, the constitutionally nonsensical claim that he has “total authority” to order states to reopen.

Not all of leadership in a crisis involves public communication, but it’s an important part of it, and on this front Trump has performed abysmally.

He is especially defensive about his administration being late to the gun on the threat of the virus. There’s no doubt that this is true. As the danger arose in China, impeachment still dominated the national conversation and the administration was consumed with completing a trade deal with Beijing. China hawks and public-health experts within the administration began to sound warnings about a potential pandemic. Trump thought they were exaggerating, and worried about the effects on markets. This is a matter of public record, since he openly pooh-poohed the threat of the virus into late February.

If he had not been so resistant, the administration might have acted more quickly to prepare for the potential tsunami of disease. His hesitation, coupled with the early CDC and FDA debacle on testing, undoubtedly lost crucial time when, soon enough, every day would matter.

All this said, there’s no doubt that this crisis would have tested the capacity of the most prescient, best-organized administration. The decisions that have mattered most in squelching the spread of the virus — the various lockdowns — are hugely momentous and costly. It’s understandable that almost every authority around the world, with the exception of some Asian countries and perhaps California and Washington State, hesitated to act until the disease clearly forced their hand and it was too late. Even Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has become a media folk hero for his impressive daily briefings, was too late to move in New York, which has been hit hardest by the disease (more than 10,000 deaths and counting).

As we went to press, the numbers both in New York and nationally suggested that the epidemic had hit a plateau and begun to decline in intensity. If so, we have avoided the worst case of hospitals getting completely overrun in hotspots and having to ration care based on shortages of ventilators and other equipment. Governors in affected states have added hospital capacity and scrounged for necessary gear, while the administration and other state governments have sent ventilators and masks where most desperately needed. These efforts, together with the effect of the lockdowns in diminishing new cases, have kept the health-care system, strained as it has been in New York City and New Orleans, from capsizing anywhere.

As we begin to emerge on the other side of the curve of the epidemic, voices are growing louder questioning whether the lockdowns were necessary in the first place (over “only” tens of thousands of deaths). There are a couple of things to say about this. One, large parts of the economy were going to shut down regardless of what the government did. Fearful of the virus, people were already beginning to vote with their feet by going out less and keeping their kids out of school. Two, it’s not right to assume a trade-off between the economic costs of the lockdowns and the current number of deaths in the U.S. (closing in on 30,000 as we went to press). Absent the strictures against social interaction, the number of cases and deaths would obviously be significantly higher. If the virus had spread unchecked, the economy would have ended up shutting down anyway, just in even more desperate circumstances, with more human suffering and death.

This is not to deny the nearly immeasurable economic and social costs of the lockdowns. We pulled the brakes on our economy and brought it to nearly a full stop in a matter of days and even hours, and we’ve seen the stark effect in 16 million unemployment claims in just three weeks. Trump is right to want to begin opening up as soon as feasible, but that isn’t a matter of selecting a date. We have to come up with a strategy for return to semi-normality as we live with a virus that, right now, has no cure or vaccine.

Much thought has already gone into this challenge, with former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb making particularly valuable contributions. We will need massive testing (which will require an industrial-level mobilization to make the tests and other materials), combined with robust contact tracing aided by technology. This will involve considerable infringement on privacy, but anything looks mild compared to the large-scale social controls we’ve adopted to check the virus now. Hard-hit areas are going to have to adopt a new norm of people wearing masks outside and of temperature checks in public places. The government and private researchers must continue to partner on promising therapies that can at least make the disease less severe, and prepare to start manufacturing them even before we are sure they work (we want to have them available in large quantities quickly if they do prove out).

We might get some respite in the summer, but what we want to avoid is another severe outbreak in the fall, with spiraling deaths and yet more damaging lockdowns.

Make no mistake: Life is not going to completely snap back to normal any time soon. As long as we lack a vaccine — and it could take two years to get one — we are going to be less prone to gather in crowds or in tight places with other people, whether on airplanes or in restaurants. Epidemics have influenced society throughout human history, and this one will leave an imprint. But we are a resilient country. Our resourcefulness and public-spiritedness have already been put in stark relief by this crisis, and will see us through it.

Something to Consider

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The Policing Crisis in New York City

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On Tuesday afternoon in Manhattan, cops carried out a routine arrest of an 18-year-old New York activist who is suspected of disabling police cameras by spraying paint on them. The person is suspected of this for very good reason: There are videos starring the perpetrator carrying out the act in question. ... Read More
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The Chicago Gun Myth

The tragically incompetent mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, appeared on CNN’s State of the Union this weekend to deflect attention from the horror show unfolding in her city by blaming interlopers for its spiking murder rate: “We are being inundated with guns from states that have virtually no gun control, ... Read More
U.S.

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Cultural suicide used to be a popular diagnosis of why things suddenly just quit. Historians such as Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee cited social cannibalism to explain why once-successful states, institutions, and cultures simply died off. Their common explanation was that the arrogance of success ... Read More

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