Capital Matters

A Fuller Picture of Unemployment

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The headlines are understating how much unemployment there is, but they’re also understating how fast it’s falling. See here for more.

World

Mixed Feelings

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Riot police fire tear gas into the crowds to disperse anti-national security law protesters during a march on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China from Britain in Hong Kong, China, July 1, 2020. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

The United Kingdom has provided a path to citizenship for Hong Kongers who hold British National Overseas passports because they were subjects of the queen until 1997. The move applies to nearly three million Hong Kongers out of a population of nearly 8 million. Australia is also looking to become a haven for Hong Kongers, and many are pressuring President Trump to do the same.

I have very mixed feelings about this. Obviously, the United Kingdom had to do something to punish China for violating the terms of the 1997 Joint Declaration on Hong Kong. There is an important and thriving community of Hong Kongers in London already.

I want Hong Kongers to remain free. But, I worry that the effect is to make Beijing’s tyranny over Hong Kong more secure and doom its chances of independence, or any kind of recovery of Hong Kong’s unique political–historical identity. If millions do take the options to emigrate, the effect will be to open Hong Kong to much greater re-settlement from Beijing’s mainlander loyalists. It will maroon those left behind in a tyranny whose grip has become tighter.

It’s true that a successful diaspora can help their brothers and sisters back home. And they often do. But, it’s also true that, historically, great waves of emigration can weaken nascent independence movements, or weaken the unique cultural identity of a people around which they can build an effective political resistance.

There’s also something unseemly about the way in which some commentators are talking about Hong Kongers and emigration. I agree with many of them that Hong Kongers are some of the most remarkable people in the world. If Hong Kong were a free nation, I would feel especially blessed to live there and count Hong Kongers as my neighbors. But, it is crass to talk about the destruction of their home as a free economic opportunity for those that would welcome them.

Culture

The Case of Woodrow Wilson

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President Woodrow Wilson throws out the first pitch on opening day, 1916. (Library of Congress)

Ross Douthat criticizes Princeton’s decision to change the name of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The school, he writes, “wasn’t named for Wilson to honor him for being a segregationist. It was named for him because he helped create precisely the institutions that the school exists to staff — our domestic administrative state and our global foreign policy apparatus — and because he was the presidential progenitor of the idealistic, interventionist worldview that has animated that foreign policy community ever since.”

It may have seemed too obvious a point for Douthat to note, but surely the school was named for him because he was the president of the university and, moreover, the president who made it a world-class institution. The argument Douthat makes for keeping the name is an argument that would apply if it had happened to be housed at Tufts or Clemson. But the case for keeping the name is stronger than that; it’s includes another argument, akin to the one Douthat makes for keeping the name of Yale University: “The name ‘Yale’ doesn’t honor old Elihu’s slaving; it simply pays the school’s debt to him. . .”

Some years ago I was speaking at Princeton, probably for an alumni event, in a room with a gigantic portrait of Wilson. My eldest daughter, then a baby, burst into tears when she saw it, and my wife had to take her out of the room. I thought at the time that a) this was an encouraging sign of her incipient conservatism and b) Wilson wouldn’t have been any more delighted to see her there than she was to see him. But that we can have reasons to be grateful to sinful and narrow-minded men is part of an education.

U.S.

Breaking News: Every Actor Has Just Been Pretending All Along!

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Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of ‘Hamilton,’ arrives at the 71st PrimeTime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California, September 22, 2019. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Tomorrow, Disney+ subscribers will tune in to watch the movie version of the Broadway musical Hamilton — a June 2016 performance of the celebrated cast of almost entirely minority actors playing, as far as I can recall, entirely white historical figures.

As many articles have noted over the years, many white actors have played characters that were of different ethnic groups in the source material — sometimes in performances that became iconic, like Italian Al Pacino playing Cuban Tony Montana or Ben Kingsley as Ghandi, and sometimes in examples of awful miscasting, like Johnny Depp as Tonto or John Wayne as Genghis Kahn. (“We’re gonna take over all of Asia there, pilgrim.”)

No one complains that the white historical figures are somehow poorly served by the performers in Hamilton — not out of some sort of sense that the cast balances out past historical injustices in casting, but because they’re good performances. 

Imagine how many good performances we would have missed if casting directors believed that actors had to match the ethnicity of their characters precisely. In any historical drama, the actors will be older, younger, taller, shorter, fatter, skinner, or somehow different from the characters they play. All acting is an exercise in pretending to be someone that you aren’t. The late Leonard Nimoy was not an actual Vulcan.

Can a film or television show or play miscast a role, putting in an actor who simply isn’t plausible or compelling or entertaining, because they are of a different race? Absolutely. A film trailer announcer declaring “Tom Hanks is . . . Malcolm X” is probably not going to work. The diminutive and hilarious Kevin Hart would probably not make a great Abraham Lincoln in a drama.

But it’s not hard to picture actors of different races offering terrific and surprising performances. Imagine James Earl Jones playing Winston Churchill. Casting directors need the freedom to cast a wide net and look for the best performance they can find — unafraid of stirring up angry social-media mobs.

Sports

The Football Gods Tell Me to Be Careful What I Wish For . . .

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I can’t stand the National Football League’s preseason, best summarized as boring, sloppy, error-filled play by obscure bench warmers and soon-to-be-cut long shots in meaningless games, sold to season ticket holders at full price.

In that light, ordinarily I would cheer reports that the NFL preseason will be cut in half for most teams, from four games to just two. Reports contend the decision is driven by teams wanting to reduce their travel and the lack of on-field practice sessions in the offseason means teams need more basic practice time to get ready for the regular season. And as of now, the NFL contends the regular season will start on schedule and include the full 16 games — although it is unlikely to feature fans in the stands.

But Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League have encountered a lot of bumps in the road trying to restart or start their seasons. The opening day of baseball’s 60-game season is expected to be July 23 or 24, the NBA season is set to restart July 30, and the NHL sometime in July. The odds that the NFL season will start without a hitch, on time, are not great.

Politics & Policy

Good Luck Promoting Gun Confiscation during an Era of Booming Gun Sales

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Joe Biden, when accepting the endorsement of Beto O’Rourke in El Paso back in early March: “You’re going to take care of the gun problem with me,” Biden told O’Rourke on stage. “You’re going to be the one who leads this effort. I’m counting on you.”

You probably recall O’Rourke declaring at a September 12 Democratic primary debate in Houston, “Hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” to considerable applause.

As our Britney Bernstein observes, in the first six months of 2020, the FBI has recorded 19 million background checks in the system, on pace to blow past last year’s record of 28 million background checks in one year. In recent weeks, Stephen Gutowski has spotlighted the trend of first-time gun buyers, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that 2 million gun purchases by March were by first-time buyers. The New York Times just spotlighted African-American first-time gun purchasers.

A Pew survey in 2017 estimated that three out of every ten American adults owned a gun, and another one in ten lived with someone who did. Thirty percent of 253 million American adults would add up to almost 76 million Americans owning guns.

Gun confiscation is a thoroughly unworkable policy, and probably the idea most likely to spur a violent resistance to American law enforcement. (Not that we haven’t seen plenty of violent resistance to American law enforcement already this year.) The more Americans own guns, the less likely it is that a proposal like confiscation ever gets any serious traction.

Politics & Policy

A Young Doctor Sees Oppression Everywhere

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(Pixabay)

I read an article in the current New England Journal of Medicine that broke my heart. Chase T. M. Anderson, MD, a gay African-American psychiatry resident, bemoans being stifled and denigrated by racism, homophobia, macro aggressions and micro aggressions. But as I read the piece, the picture presented was of an obviously talented young doctor with a very promising future in the midst of a very successful medical career — who has allowed rude comments by others to ruin success’s joy.

Dr. Anderson writes about becoming enraged when the NRA urged doctors to stay out of the gun-control debate in the wake of mass shootings. From, “Taking Back Our Voices: #HumanityIsOurLane:”

And who can forget that in 2018, when physicians spoke out about the need for gun control and reducing deaths from gun violence, the National Rifle Association tweeted, “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane”? Directives to “stay in your lane” have in fact echoed throughout history whenever physicians have attempted to speak out on issues deemed too “political.”

I have written a bit about this very question. Doctors are — and should be — just as free to engage politically as everyone else. Medical societies are — and should be — as free to engage policy issues as the NRA. But I don’t want to be harangued about gun control or any other political question — whether I agree with my doctor or not–in the course and scope of our professional relationship. I want my doctor to explain the medical implications of my blood tests or whether the pain in my gut is gas or appendicitis. Frankly, I do not care what my doctor thinks about, gun control, BLM, or any other political issue.

Dr. Anderson sees discrimination everywhere, even in the most seemingly minor personal interactions:

I realized that medicine itself, with its inherent bigotry, had conditioned me to silence. I had lost my voice.

In medical school, I had been told by a classmate that I’d probably won the race for class president because I was black and gay. Another classmate asked me if I’d gotten into medical school because “they had a certain number of spots for gay people.” My professionalism was called into question when I spoke with administrators about the racism, homophobia, and bigotry I encountered in our institution. The list of microaggressions, aggressions, and implicit and explicit biases ran long by the end.

This is so sad. Instead of rejoicing at the great achievement of being elected class president — demonstrating unequivocally that most of Dr. Anderson’s classmates were not prejudiced — the psychiatrist obsesses about classless comments. Dr. Anderson has earned success after success after success — but that doesn’t seem to matter. The entire system is rotten because a few people were rude and thoughtless.

Dr. Anderson writes that such interactions forced the young doctor into pre-defined expectations:

If students and residents who identify as minorities experience heart-rending discrimination in their own institutions, how are they supposed to find their voice? How can they advocate for themselves and for their patients if they are continually told by their own universities to stay in their lane?

There is no evidence presented in the piece that Dr. Anderson’s university discriminated. Dr. Anderson was once told to wear a tie — which conflicted with Anderson’s “gender expression and identity.” And Dr. Anderson was once accused of eye-rolling by a colleague, “a classic racist trope.” I am sorry, but those events don’t seem like evidence of stifling oppression. Indeed, Dr. Anderson is in the midst of a psychiatry residency at a major Massachusetts hospital. That is a matter to be celebrated is it not?

Dr. Anderson concludes:

In the face of systemic and individual racism and rampant other “isms,” we can no longer remain silent. I believe we have a duty to heal not only our patients, but also the world at large. I am finally getting my voice back. Ultimately, I would love nothing more than for the voices we hear in medicine to reflect the diversity of the rest of our world.

Go for it. That’s the right of every citizen. Just don’t bring your issues and political passions into our professional relationship if I am ever your patient.

And please don’t support the ubiquitous efforts to stifle the heterodox voices of those who disagree with the emerging reigning ideological paradigms. That too is an essential part of the comity required “to reflect the diversity of the rest of our world.”

Politics & Policy

The Right to Choose What, Joe?

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during an event in Philadelphia, Pa., June 2, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Joe Biden would like us to believe that Roe v. Wade is in peril. Nothing so energizes the abortion-advocacy wing of the Democratic Party (also known these days simply as the Democratic Party) like a press release or two gesticulating wildly about being the underdog.

In reality, of course, the U.S. proudly maintains one the most expansive legal-abortion regimes in the Western world, and it doesn’t appear to be crumpling anytime soon. But in a statement on the Supreme Court’s ruling this week in June Medical Services v. Russo, Biden insists that it is necessary to elect him president so as to stave off the allegedly imminent threat to Roe.

Never mind that June Medical offered the Court a golden opportunity merely to overturn Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt — the 2016 case in which the Court struck down a Texas law requiring abortionists to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital — and it failed to do so. The Court, in other words, remains unwilling even to acknowledge that states have a right to require abortionists to follow the same regulations imposed on every other sort of medical provider.

But Biden would like us to believe that his presidency is the sole thing standing between American women and a vast hellscape of illegal, back-alley abortions. He’s come a long way for a guy who’s spent decades in politics plaintively calling himself “personally pro-life.”

“Women’s health care rights have been under attack as states across the country have passed extreme laws restricting women’s constitutional right to choice under any circumstance,” Biden’s statement on June Medical attests. What Biden fails to point out is that not a single one of these laws has been permitted to take effect. From Georgia to Missouri to Ohio and now to Louisiana, one court after another has enjoined or otherwise struck down these laws, because, after all, they violate Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which prop up our judicially manufactured and enforced regime of abortion on demand.

But Biden would like us to believe that the very passage of these laws proves that abortion rights are in danger — and if we’d like to elect him, please, he’ll take care of it.

He offers plenty of obfuscations to digest in just a couple of paragraphs, but what is most intriguing about his statement is what it doesn’t say. As he laments the enactment of even the most modest safety regulations on abortion providers, and as he promises to “codify Roe v. Wade” — whatever that means — Biden fails to use the word “abortion” even a single time.

Of June Medical, Biden says that the Court has “reaffirmed that states cannot put in place laws that unduly burden a women’s right to make her own health care decisions with her doctor.” Of pro-life laws, he mutters, “restricting women’s constitutional right to choice under any circumstance.” Of his presidential administration, he avers, “My Justice Department will do everything in its power to stop the rash of state laws that so blatantly violate a woman’s protected, constitutional right to choose.”

But the right to choose what? Like every activist and politician who backs unlimited legal abortion, Biden benefits from two common myths: first, that the jurisprudence forcing legal abortion on the entire country is always on the brink of being entirely eliminated, and second, that phrases like “women’s health-care decisions” and the “constitutional right to choose” are euphemistic enough to avoid acknowledging that the choice in question involves killing a distinct, living human being.

Culture

New Data Indicate that Abortions Surged in Ireland after Legalization

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A celebration following the result of the abortion referendum, Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2018 (Max Rossi/Reuters)

In May 2018, Ireland voted to repeal the Irish constitution’s eighth amendment, opening the door for full legalization of abortion, which officially became legal on January 1, 2019. A new report from Ireland’s Department of Health shows that the number of abortions performed in the country surged during the first full year after legalization.

This report indicates that 6,666 abortions took place in Ireland, and an additional 375 Irish women obtained abortions in England, for a total of 7,041 abortions in 2019. By comparison, in 2018, only 2,879 abortions were performed on Irish women, and the vast majority took place outside the country.

After abortion was legalized, then, the number of abortions in Ireland increased by nearly 150 percent.

The fact that abortion rates in Ireland increased sharply after legalization should come as no surprise to anyone involved in the pro-life movement. Legalizing abortion, of course, makes it much easier to access, and it reduces the stigma attached to it. Legalization also gives abortion rights greater legitimacy in the eyes of the public and creates a network of doctors who advertise for abortion and have a vested financial interest in keeping it legal. Also, legalization often shifts the public view of sexual mores, which could result in more unplanned pregnancies and more abortions.

Many supporters of legal abortion prefer to push the narrative that the incidence of abortion is unaffected by its legal status. For instance, they often circulate studies suggesting that the abortion rates are similar in countries where abortion is legal and countries where abortion it is restricted, and these studies tend to receive positive coverage from mainstream media outlets. However, many of these studies are flawed, because most of the countries where abortion is illegal are located in Africa, South America, and the Middle East, places that tend to have higher poverty rates and a higher incidence of other social pathologies, which may increase the demand for abortion.

The best study analyzing the effects of legal limits on abortion was published by the Journal of Law and Economics in 2004, analyzing the way in which changes to abortion policy in Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism affected abortion rates. After the fall of Communism, some countries, such as Poland, enacted legal protections for the preborn. Other countries, such as Romania, legalized abortion. The study held constant a range of economic and demographic variables and found that modest abortion restrictions reduced abortion rates by 25 percent. Stronger limits had a much larger effect. The fact that the incidence of abortion increased sharply in Ireland over the past year adds to the body of research showing that legalizing abortion increases abortion rates and that pro-life laws save lives.

Business

ESG and Share-Price Performance

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Notepad kept on table in empty conference room (Getty Images)

I haven’t read the underlying paper (so all necessary caveats apply) from 2019, but, if this INFORMS report of its contents is accurate, it is of interest both as a reminder of the importance of investor perception in shaping a company’s market price (something that is both obvious and yet something that some “fundamental” investors can overlook), and for the awkward questions that it implicitly asks about “socially responsible” (to use that preening, self-regarding label) investing.

INFORMS (my emphasis added):

A company with a gender-diverse board of directors is interpreted as revealing a preference for diversity and a weaker commitment to shareholder value, according to new research in the INFORMS journal Organization Science.

The study examines investor responses to board diversity and finds that one additional woman on the board results in a 2.3% decrease in the company’s market value on average, which could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Authors Isabelle Solal and Kaisa Snellman, both of INSEAD, looked at 14 years of panel data from U.S. public firms and saw that firms with more female directors were penalized.

“Firms that increase board diversity suffer a decrease in market value and the effect is amplified for firms that have received higher ratings for their diversity practices across the organization,” said Solal.

The paper, “Women Don’t Mean Business? Gender Penalty in Board Composition,” suggests that investors respond to the presence of female leaders not simply on their own merit, but as broader cues of firm preferences.

“If investors believe that female board members have been appointed to satisfy a preference for diversity, then by increasing board diversity, a firm unintentionally signals a weaker commitment to shareholder value than a firm with a nondiverse board,” said Snellman.

Some reports by consulting firms and financial institutions have shown a positive correlation between firm value and gender-diverse boards, but recent studies based on long-term data show a negative effect on female board representation. The explanation is found in how investors interpret the decision.

Put another way, investors are not marking the price of a company down because of higher female board representation per se, but because of their suspicion that it is evidence that the company is prioritizing a “socially responsible” agenda above shareholder return. Such hirings are seen, to borrow the phrase used above, as a “broader cue of firm preferences.”

INFORMS:

The paper suggests that over time, just as greater exposure to female leaders has been shown to reduce stereotype bias, the increase in female board appointments should likewise decrease the perception that firms select directors for any reason other than their qualifications.

I am sure that’s the case. Experience will dispel prejudice.

But then let’s take a look at other aspects of what is now expected of a “socially responsible” company, often a series of tests designed to see how it measures up various against various (and varying) “Environmental, Social and Governance” (ESG) standards. What evidence there is suggests that the relatively uncontroversial ‘G’ (Governance) adds, as might be expected, to share price performance, the ‘S’ and the ‘E,’ not so much.

To reiterate some research I cited in a post from late May, which comes from Julian Morris, writing in IFC Review:

 A 2016 paper from group of researchers from the European Parliament and Bournemouth Business School sought to look more deeply at the relationship, using disaggregated data from Bloomberg’s ESG Disclosure form for the S&P 500 for the period 2007 to 2011. The researchers found that the relationship between ESG and financial performance in general was indeed U-shaped. However, they found that the environmental and social components were linearly negatively related to performance. It was only the governance component that drove the U-shape relationship. This governance-dominated U-shape relationship between ESG and financial performance has since been confirmed in other studies.

Even if we put that to one side, there is some evidence that the outperformance of some ESG investment funds might reflect nothing more than investor demand for tech companies that happen to be (environmentally speaking) ‘light touch.’

In a post, again from May, I quoted Bloomberg’s John Authers:

Vincent Deluard, of INTL FCStone Inc., suggests that ESG funds are people-unfriendly. Tech and pharma companies tend to look good by ESG criteria, but they tend to be virtual as well as virtuous. These are the kind of companies that need relatively few workers and which churn out hefty profit margins. When Deluard looked at how the big ETFs’ portfolios varied from the Russell 3000, the results were spectacular. They are full of very profitable companies with very few employees. . . . A further look at companies’ market cap per employee showed that investing in the current stock market darlings who are making their shareholders rich is a very inefficient way to invest in boosting employment. They include hot names like Netflix Inc., Nvidia Corp., MasterCard Inc. and Facebook Inc…. Companies with few buildings, few formal employees and a light carbon footprint tend to show up well on ESG screens.

In other words, the reasons that these stock-market favorites score well (in ESG terms) is not a result of a conscious decision to adopt, say, a climate agenda, but because of the underlying nature of their business.

Returning then to the question of female directors, the more that investors can see that the appointment of women to the board is a boon to the bottom line, then the more that this particular issue can be separated from the issue of “socially responsible” behavior and looked at instead as a matter of employing the best person for the job, something to which no rational investor ought to object.

However, if the broader implications of this research, which is that investors do not like to see companies adopt “socially responsible” policies at the expense of the bottom line, are thought through, that raises serious questions about whether companies or investment groups investing client money who consciously adopt (or insist upon) such policies may (in the absence of a specific investor or shareholder mandate) be in breach of the duty they owe to those who have entrusted their money to them.

Music

Groovin’ to America

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George Gershwin (Bain Collection / Library of Congress)

My new episode of Music for a While offers an all-American program, in honor of Independence Day. As I say in my introduction, we don’t need the excuse of the Fourth to have American music — but it’s a sweet excuse all the same.

The program begins with “Hoe-Down,” from Copland’s ballet Rodeo. A lot of Americans got to know “Hoe-Down” in the 1990s when the American beef industry used it in a series of television ads, narrated by Robert Mitchum. (“Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.”)

Then I have a little piano piece by Edward MacDowell — not “To a Wild Rose” but another of his Woodland Sketches, “By a Meadow Brook.” The rose has been overshadowing the other sketches for a long time. It’s time for them to enjoy a moment in the sun.

I have a song by Amy Beach, one of her Three Browning Songs, “Ah, Love, but a Day.” And another song by my old friend Lee Hoiby: “Lady of the Harbor,” written in the mid 1980s to honor the centennial of the Statue of Liberty.

Another friend, Scott Wheeler, has written a rag — yes, a new rag, in 2020. It’s called “Isolation Rag,” with the “isolation” referring to these strange months we have been experiencing. (And let’s hope the months don’t turn into years. Mark Helprin reminded me recently that people used to speak of “the plague years.”)

In addition to Scott’s rag, I have some bluegrass: bluegrass courtesy of Edgar Meyer and a few of his friends, who include Joshua Bell, the violinist. Then an opera aria: “Ain’t It a Pretty Night?” from Susannah (Carlisle Floyd).

There’s Gershwin, of course. That’d be his Piano Prelude No. 2 in C-sharp minor, though arranged (for violin and piano) by Jascha Heifetz. Heifetz arranged all three preludes and recorded them in 1945 with Emmanuel Bay, his regular pianist.

Heifetz was a very patriotic American. He flew the Stars and Stripes outside his home every day. He must have been very glad to be out of the Soviet Union — and in Southern California.

Music for a While ends with “Plenty Good Room,” the spiritual, in a jazz arrangement: Barbara Hendricks is the singer (delicious) and Dmitri Alexeev the pianist (fabulous).

So, this is just a little menu, out of many possible menus. (I’ve been doing Fourth of July programs for years now.) Again, find it here — and Happy Independence Day.

Politics & Policy

‘Undefeated’

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British prime minister Margaret Thatcher at the Conservative Party conference on October 13, 1989 (Stringer / U.K. / Reuters)

In response to How to Quit without Being a Quitter

Kevin, after the midterm elections of 2018, I toyed with an idea. Margaret Thatcher once told Charles Moore, her official biographer, that she had wanted to title her memoirs “Undefeated.” She was very proud of having never lost at the ballot box. (Her fellow Conservatives ended her premiership, internally.) I thought Trump might be enchanted by the idea of having been undefeated: one political race — for the presidency, at that — and a win. No defeats. I thought that just might appeal to him.

Maybe he will be undefeated. There are four months left in this race, roughly speaking. I think the experience of 2016 has left most of us ready for anything.

P.S. Yesterday offered another sign of the Trumpian transformation of the GOP. The Republican National Committee — @GOP — tweeted the following:

In 1993, Biden supported NAFTA & downplayed arguments against it — calling them “vastly, vastly, vastly overblown.”

NAFTA killed THOUSANDS of American jobs & put other countries’ workers before our own.

Pres. Trump’s #USMCA — to be put into effect today — puts #AmericaFirst!

Republicans used to be so proud of NAFTA, and international-trade agreements generally. And they used to be contemptuous of Democrats’ and Big Labor’s opposition to these agreements. Not so much contemptuous, actually, as pitying and head-shaking.

There are constants in American political life. Joe Biden was first elected to office in 1969! And to the Senate in 1972! But there is also whip-lashing change.

P.P.S. I thought of Biden, and 1972, when Madison Cawthorn won his primary the other day. He is a North Carolina GOP-er and it looks like he’ll be going to the U.S. House. He is 24 years old. You have to be 25, to serve in the House — but he will be, by the time he’s sworn in (if he indeed wins election). Biden was 29 when he won his Senate race in 1972 — turning 30 later that month, making him eligible for the institution to which he had been elected.

White House

Doesn’t This Approach Seem a Little . . . ‘Low Energy’?

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President Donald Trump arrives to lead the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, April 23, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

If the United States, led by the executive branch of the government, can get the coronavirus pandemic under control, all sorts of good things will follow, increasing the odds of President Trump’s reelection. Businesses will open, with employees safely interacting with customers. Workers, equipped with masks and tested frequently, will be back on the job, even in meatpacking plants. Parents will be able to send their kids to in-person school. (You have probably noticed that none of the young people gathering in streets late at night and getting into trouble have anyplace they need to be in the morning. Few public pools, no summer programs, no summer jobs . . . why are we surprised to see a surge in crime in a variety of forms?)

But to get the pandemic under control, we need a much more aggressive, much more coordinated, much more persistent approach to the preventative steps than we have seen so far. We need leadership to encourage masks until they are ubiquitous. If Jacksonville, Fla., Bluffton, S.C., and Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala., can implement mask rules, anyplace can. Social distance whenever possible and discourage gatherings of crowds — whether it’s a presidential rally, a protest march, or concerts. Get Americans outside and spread out this summer. We don’t need the lockdowns of late March, but we need the seriousness of late March.

But to do that, the head of the executive branch has to want that, and he needs to be energetic and relentless in pursuing it and promoting it. The president has a bully pulpit. He can use it to promote whatever message he wants, but unfortunately on a lot of days, Trump’s message is his reaction to whatever he saw on television. Earlier today, in an interview with FOX Business’s Blake Burman, President Trump discussed the coronavirus and declared, after discussing signs of recovery . . .

TRUMP: I think we’re going to be very good with the coronavirus. I think that at some point, that’s going to, sort of, just disappear, I hope.

BURMAN: You still believe so? Disappear?

TRUMP: Well, I do, I do. Sure. At some point. And I think we’re going to have a vaccine very soon too.

How badly does the president want to win this election? Because hoping for the virus to disappear, or for a vaccine to be discovered (and distributed!) before the November elections does not seem like a safe bet.

White House

How to Quit without Being a Quitter

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About the possibility that Trump could drop out of the race, Jim writes:

But it’s really hard to imagine Trump choosing to not run for another term. As much as the president dreads the label “loser,” I suspect he would dread the label “quitter” even more.

I don’t think he’ll probably drop out, either, but I don’t find it hard to imagine the narrative. How about this? “I have important things to do, and very profitable businesses to run. I was never a politician. I never wanted to be a politician. I did this for the country. But I can only do so much. I had always planned to be a one-term president, but, of course, I couldn’t announce that, because it would have put me in a weak negotiating position and kept me from getting all these great deals done, which I have accomplished. The only reason I allowed my name to be put on the ballot a second time around was because no one on the Republican side stepped up, so there was only me. The Republicans just don’t know how to win. I know how to win. And I won the one I wanted to win, the one that counted. I can’t keep carrying these losers for another four years.”

Randomize the capitalization and muck up the spelling, put it on Twitter, and that’s the story.

Health Care

How Much Does Genetics Explain Who Can Fight Off a Coronavirus Infection?

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A taxi driver wears face mask at the Nima market, as Ghana lifts partial lockdown amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Accra, Ghana April 20, 2020. Picture taken April 20, 2020. (REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko)

A new study of groups of coronavirus patients in New York state sorted by race concluded whites were the least infected, with the fewest hospitalizations and deaths. While Hispanics had the most infections and the lowest rate of diagnoses, Blacks were most likely to be hospitalized or killed by the coronavirus.

When all is said and done about the pandemic of SARS-CoV-2, I suspect we will learn that patients’ genetics played a significant role in whether their body managed to fight off the virus. There are just so many surprising examples of elderly patients who manage to fight it off while much younger and seemingly much healthier patients — including doctors and nurses — succumb to the virus.

Research into human genetics has unveiled some fascinating and downright bizarre disparities in the ability to fight off pathogens.

Back in 2012, a study of human cells’ ability to resist anthrax bacteria selected cells from 234 individuals from four locations — Nigeria, Tokyo, Beijing, and “Utah residents with ancestry from northern and Western Europe.” Three of the individuals with European ancestry “showed extraordinary resistance to toxin lethality” — about 30,000 times more resistant to anthrax than the least-resistant cells in the sample. Removing the three outliers still left the scientists with a wide range in resistance, with the next most resistant cells about 250 times more resistant than the least. The study confirmed that these sample donors were family and that the resistance was an inherited trait. In short, some unspecified genetic line of European heritage is, if not immune to anthrax, much more resistant to it than other groups.

Then there is the example of the Tharu people, in the region around the Indian–Nepalese border. A region of Nepal called Terai was infested with mosquitos and had high rates of malarial infections — but the local Tharu were either unaffected or minimally effected; they effectively had a genetic immunity to malaria — and the prevalence of malaria offered the Tharu a de facto defense against invaders. (The program for malaria control that started in the region in the 1950s did not work out well for them.)

Back in 2016, researchers at the University of Montreal concluded that Americans of African descent have a stronger immune response to infection compared to Americans of European descent. They emphasize “stronger” rather than “better” because an immune system that reacts more strongly can create its own problems; if your body’s immune system reacts too much and it starts attacking healthy cells, you could develop an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus or Crohn’s disease or multiple sclerosis. In fact, one of the potential effects of a coronavirus infection is a “cytokine storm,” where the immune system goes into overdrive and starts attacking healthy cells and disrupting other needed operations of the body. If African Americans are already more likely to have a strongly reactive immune system, and then the coronavirus triggers a cytokine storm . . . this could well be a factor in the higher mortality rate among this population.

Do systemic inequalities in society contribute to the higher death rate among Hispanics and Blacks in New York state? Almost certainly. If you’re poor and not seeing a doctor regularly, your health is extremely likely to suffer — problems go unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated.

But we’re all walking around with genes, inherited from our parents, that make us more resistant to some threatening pathogens and more vulnerable to others. When we see some people whom we would have thought could have survived the coronavirus succumb to it, and some people who looked like they had no chance managing to make a full recovery . . . how much of the answer can be found in patients’ genes?

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