All of Our Best Stuff From a Truly Unsettling Week

The Dispatch Weekly comes to you every Saturday from Ohio, where things got very real, very quickly this week. Gov. Mike DeWine has been upfront and decisive in announcing closures and other precautionary measures to mitigate the impact of coronavirus. Schools are closed for at least three weeks, and districts that scheduled their spring breaks for the week preceding Easter will be off for four. With some exceptions, large public gatherings are prohibited, and we’ve depleted most of the grocery stores of toilet paper. (But not booze for some reason. Give us time.)

Tears were shed, in my house and others, as long-anticipated, important sporting events were canceled left and right. But given the rapidly changing nature of the story, the kind of cancellations that were unfathomable and heartbreaking on Wednesday morning were met with shrugs by Thursday afternoon. In between, of course, the NBA and other leagues suspended their seasons, President Trump announced a travel ban and other policies to combat the virus, and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced they had COVID-19. How we wish we could pass this time of social distancing with March Madness.

Is Ohio ahead of the game or at least doing all the right things that it can? Time will tell. It is worth noting that state and local governments, colleges, and private-sector organizations have often demonstrated more acumen for dealing with this crisis than the federal government. 

Our goal at The Dispatch for the duration of this crisis is to provide reporting and analysis that is accurate, measured, and responsible. And we hope that we’ll be able to offer up some counter-programming when we are able, as there are still big-deal things going on overseas, in our courts, and in life in general.

This newsletter will always be free, but if you like what we’re doing and think it’s important and you haven’t joined yet, please consider doing so now. We thank you for reading. Now, onto the best of what we did this week.

Competence Is a Character Trait

Donald Trump’s Wednesday evening address from the Oval Office inspired differing reactions, even among our small staff. Andrew Egger sounded an optimistic note, pointing out that, despite his bungling, the president still has a chance to unite the nation on the issue. But at The Morning Dispatch (members only), we focused a little more on the many misstatements the president made. In his Thursday newsletter (for members only) David French took a deeper dive and looked at something that’s been an issue for the duration of the president’s term: competence. “Competence (much less excellence) requires a degree of self-discipline, commitment to personal improvement, and openness to critical information that are the hallmarks of developing true expertise. There is a difference between ‘brilliant but flawed’ and simply ‘flawed.’” 

How Bernie’s 2020 Struggles Can Be Explained by 2016

Unless something really crazy happens (and, honestly, after the last week, we shouldn’t rule out anything), Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee for the 2020 election. In a span of about two weeks, Bernie Sanders went from frontrunner to likely runner up, just like 2016. What happened? Didn’t he inspire a youth movement? Isn’t the Democratic party clamoring for change? Maybe, maybe not. As Sarah Isgur notes, maybe Bernie’s disappointing run this time has less to do with Bernie and more about what we failed to learn from 2016. (Stage whisper: Hillary Clinton was a terribly flawed candidate.) But that’s a lesson for more people than Bernie: “And that means, like Sanders, President Trump’s surprise election may have been more of a reflection of Clinton's unpopularity too—meaning the movement that the GOP has embraced for the last three years may not be as strong as it appeared in 2016 either.” Sarah had one more piece on the Bernie beat, pointing out that the Democrats’ willingness to hold a debate this weekend plays into Sanders’ hands and risks hurting Biden.

Trying to Stay on Top of All the Coronavirus Misinformation

Any crisis on the level of coronavirus is going to cause confusion and misinformation. The reality is always changing, for one, so even accurate information becomes outdated. But it doesn’t help when we live in such a polarized time and have a president who not only struggles with the truth but inspires his opponents to exaggerate in their reactions. Fortuitously, we’ve been ramping up our fact-checking operation in recent weeks. On Friday, Alec Dent addressed the president’s claim that “If an American is coming back or anybody’s coming back [from overseas], we’re testing. We have a tremendous testing setup.” As much as efforts are being made to increase screening and other efforts at U.S. airports, Trump’s statement is false. Earlier in the week, Alec looked into claims by Democrats that Trump had cut the CDC budget (no, but not for lack of trying) and picked apart statements by Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, that were full of misinformation.

Other highlights from The Dispatch this week:

  • In a stark reminder that other challenges are growing even while the U.S. deals with coronavirus, Tom Joscelyn’s latest Vital Interests (members only), looks at Iran’s effort to build nuclear weapons and the various ways that China is helping the Iranian regime.

  • Danielle Pletka explains that dictatorships make us sick—literally. Just look at how China and Iran have handled coronavirus.

  • In his Wednesday members-only G-file (or as we call it, the Hump Day Epistle), Jonah surveyed the remaining presidential candidates—Trump, Biden, and Sanders—and warns that we need to worry about COHID-20—Codger Hypocrisy Disease 2020.

  • On the pods: Jonah had a great interview with Ross Douthat on The Remnant. And in what was perhaps the liveliest (and funniest) episode yet, the gang talked about the Democratic primary and had a robust discussion about feminism on the flagship Dispatch Podcast. And on Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah talked about Harvey Weinstein and discussed the Hillary Clinton documentary.

Photograph of Mike DeWine by Justin Merriman/Getty Images.