Our Best Stuff From a Week in the Cruelest Month

T.S. Eliot wrote that “April is the cruelest month.” I’m no poet, but his musings on depression amid the blooming new life feel more poignant now than ever. In more pedestrian terms, it can be a frustrating month in any year. Sunny and warm April days can be filled with baseball games and family outings and gatherings with neighbors. Or they can be full of destructive storms and dreary days—even snow. 

Which makes April a good metaphor for the week that was in what passes for our “new normal.” While we are dealing with rising death tolls and heartbreaking stories, we’re also seeing some areas appear to be past the worst in terms of deaths, new cases, and hospitalizations. Neighboring states are joining together to come up with plans for their region to reopen.

We also saw some extreme changes in temperament from Donald Trump. On Tuesday he claimed that “the federal government has absolute power” in his efforts to re-open the economy. On Wednesday he threatened to adjourn Congress to make recess appointments. And then Thursday he appeared serious and responsible in introducing the “road map” to re-open the economy, a set of guidelines that set reasonable benchmarks and deferred to governors. But it turned out to be merely a sunbreak amid the storms. On Friday he sent a series of tweets calling to “liberate” states that all happened to have Democratic governors.

But we do have that road map. Just as the jokes about homeschooling failures, day pajamas, and shaggy hair were starting to feel a little repetitive, the government announced a three phase plan that states can implement as they hit certain benchmarks. It’s not a panacea, but when you’re running the dishwasher for the second time in one day, when you’re lamenting that your kid won’t have their prom, when you’re worried about vulnerable family members or friends who work in health care, it’s comforting to have something to look forward to. 

Here at The Dispatch we’re aiming to give you the best coverage of the pandemic that we can, while still paying attention to other events in our country and around the world (really, there are other things going on). Here’s a roundup of the best things we published this week.

The Islamic Revolution vs. Donald Trump

At times it feels like the only story in the whole world is coronavirus. And that’s fair—very few people alive today have experienced a widespread pandemic; our lives and our economies have been disrupted in ways unimaginable as recently as February. But international relations, and the struggles inherent to them, don’t stop because of a virus. The Dispatch was proud to present a two-part series by Reuel Marc Gerecht, a leading expert on Iran, that is the definitive analysis of the relationship between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic. In the first part, Gerecht argues that Iran is at the peak of its influence since the 1979 revolution, and that while Donald Trump might “really annoy” Ayatollah Khameinei, he has been unable to “implant paralyzing fear.” In the second part, Gerecht looks at both the death of Qassem Suleimani and Iran’s nuclear capability since the U.S. abandoned the Iran nuclear deal. The recent maneuvering between the two sides, combined with ever-growing external pressure, portends a coming collision.

Suspending WHO Funding Should Be Just the Beginning

Donald Trump irked many when he announced this week that the U.S. was suspending its funding of the World Health Organization (WHO) pending an investigation into how it has handled its response to the coronavirus pandemic. But Lyman Stone delves into the institution’s history and evolution and concludes that the WHO deserves the scrutiny. While throughout its history it “focused on actual medical care, working mostly on identifying ‘notifiable diseases’ and resourcing health providers and health systems to address them,” that mission has changed greatly. Today, he writes, “the WHO does not have an appreciable crisis-response capability, especially for a disease for which vaccines don’t exist, at this point in history, and it has not had such a capability in quite some time. It simply isn’t that kind of organization. It’s a body for research, conferences, and grant-writing, not frontline disease-fighting.” Oh, and there’s that whole thing about how the WHO sucked up to China and disregarded early warnings about coronavirus from Taiwan. On a similar note, Danielle Pletka looked at how the international bodies that have formed the post-World War II world order (including WHO) have stagnated and are in desperate need of reform.

How This Pandemic Proves the Wisdom of the Founders

Not going to lie. We’ve spilled a lot of ink on the concept of federalism as it relates to the pandemic. And yet the topic keeps coming up. On Tuesday, as noted above, President Trump asserted that “the federal government has absolute power” in deciding when to re-open the economy. That is … patently untrue. Timothy Sandefur explains why these decisions properly rest with governors and local leaders, and how that’s by design. “Decentralized decision-making is wise because America is so extremely diverse. The population density in New York City is more than 27,000 people per square mile—10 times the population density of Albuquerque. North Dakota has about four hospital beds per 1,000 people—twice as many as Maryland. The average temperature in Phoenix in April is 85 degrees. In Anchorage, it’s 45. The median age in Utah is 31. In Maine, it’s 45. There’s no sense in using a one-size-fits-all approach for these different places, whether it be to ‘lock down’ or to ‘open up.’

Stumbling Into a New New Deal

In a piece for the site, Jonah asks what happens if we follow a presidential plan to “re-open the economy” and things don’t work out. He foresees Trump losing the election in a landslide, a la Hoover during the Great Depression, and he imagines Biden as a modern-day FDR. “Biden is not Bernie Sanders. But he is a pliable Democrat who has always staked ground as a centrist—not between the left and right of the American political spectrum but between the left and right of the Democratic Party (not at all unlike FDR himself). And the center of gravity of that party has been moving steadily to the left.” He elaborated on the same topic in his midweek newsletter (members only), and proposed a better idea than a new New Deal: a new Marshall Plan.

Now on to other highlights from the week:

  • Declan Garvey did a great profile of Justin Amash last fall. This week he followed up and asked if Amash just might be getting serious about a presidential run and examined what it would look like if he did.

  • In March, a former Biden staffer alleged that the now-presumptive Democratic nominee sexually assaulted her in the 1990s. It took until this week for major outlets like the Washington Post and the New York Times to publish investigative pieces into those claims, and the NYT piece was subject to such criticism that the NYT’s new media columnist Ben Smith did a Q&A with executive editor Dean Baquet about it. David French drew comparisons between how the media handled these allegations and the allegations leveled against then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Let’s just say the big papers don’t come out looking too good.

  • On the pods: Jonah talks to Jim Pethokoukis on The Remnant about the markets and coronavirus. And if you haven’t checked out his weekly “Ruminant,” which he records amid “a cloud of cigar smoke inside his own car,” you really should. On the flagship Dispatch Podcast, the gang hits on all the news of the week: reopening, governors’ overreach, and Trump halting WHO funding. And on Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah discuss the sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden, drive-in church services, and… The Sopranos.