Our Best Stuff From a Week That Felt Like Three
As of last Sunday night, about 2,800 Americans had died from COVID-19, and there were 142,000 overall cases. By the time this newsletter reaches your inbox, we’ll have about double the total cases and close to triple the number of deaths. The numbers are staggering and heartbreaking, and they’re only going to get worse for the next two or three weeks.
The week was full of frustrating news on the political front. A U.S. intelligence report concluded (to the surprise of very few people) that China had lied about the number of COVID-19 deaths and other matters, and France acknowledged that it hadn’t been counting nursing home deaths. Georgia’s governor said Thursday he’d learned only in the “last 24 hours” that asymptomatic people could transmit the virus. And as much as it had seemed that President Trump had come to grasp the reality of the situation—he extended the CDC guidance for social distancing and other precautions to April 30 and in Tuesday’s task force press briefing appeared more somber than at any point in his presidency—on Thursday Americans were treated to a press conference appearance by Jared Kushner where he criticized states for wanting to access the federal stockpile of equipment to aid in the handling of a pandemic. His statement contradicted information on the Health and Human Services website about the mission of the federal stockpile, and by Friday the website had been changed.
Kushner praised his father-in-law’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and criticized state officials, saying, “what a lot of the voters are seeing now is that when you elect somebody ... think about who will be a competent manager during the time of crisis.”
Fortunately, it’s also easy to be heartened by the various efforts being made by companies and others in the private sector to respond more successfully. In my home state of Ohio a research and development company, Battelle, figured out how to sanitize used masks, up to 160,000 per day. After a little scuffle with the FDA, it’s happening. Medtronic publicly shared its plans for ventilators to allow more companies—including its competitors—to make the devices more quickly and more cheaply. Uber has pledged to deliver 10 million free meals and rides to health care workers and others in need. Bill Gates said his foundation would fund seven new factories for the production of coronavirus vaccines. Those are just a few examples.
That’s not to say all government is bad and all business good. State and local leaders are making tough decisions, and there is concern that many essential businesses are doing too little to protect their employees. But it’s heartening to see American ingenuity helping to carry us through these tough times.
Now, on to the best of what we published this week.
There are long, dark days ahead of us. Americans are dying, the economy is shut down, and we’re without so many of the things—sports, entertainment, church, family and social gatherings—that weave together the fabric of our society. We’ll get through this, but normalcy feels like it’s a long ways away. While there has been much focus and debate on the economic cost of the pandemic, less attention has been paid to another cost: our mental health. Declan Garvey tackled this tough topic: “There’s fear of being unable to pay rent or put food on the table for your children,” he writes. “Mandatory loneliness has plunged those crawling out of the depths of depression back into the pit. And it’s an impossible situation.”
If you follow any sites that are tracking the the number of coronavirus cases worldwide, you’ll notice that while the U.S. has the highest number of reported cases in the world, other countries like Italy and Spain have rocketed past China, where the virus started in late 2019 but has seemingly—just like magic—stopped. Jeryl Bier isn’t buying it, even if the World Health Organization, media outlets, and others are. And his skepticism is based on a hard look at the numbers. “If the past is any indication, the Chinese government will continue to hide the true consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak in that country as best it can. But the media and international health authorities would do well to view any data coming out of China with a more skeptical eye.”
We’ve been hitting home the importance of state and local governments throughout the pandemic, and not just because of the failings of the federal government at multiple points. It’s because the Founders realized that such decentralization lends itself both to more individual liberty and more willing participation by citizens when decisions are made locally. Andy Smarick has a great essay on how this is benefiting us now and will continue to do so through the recovery. “So far, perhaps unsurprisingly, America’s governors have generally shown the kind of leadership we need. Because they are aware of the risks of COVID-19 and knowledgeable about the conditions of their cities, towns, schools, industries, and hospitals, they are positioned to balance competing priorities. It is why many of them moved quickly to require social distancing and close workplaces—and now avoid setting arbitrary timelines for changes while holding the line on their tough policies despite the president’s oscillation.”
The Atlantic published an essay by Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule arguing, basically, that the originalist view of the Constitution long favored by conservatives has outlived its usefulness. It was the latest salvo in the intra-conservative battle between classical liberalism (or “French-ism” after our own David French) and a new traditionalist authoritarian movement. Jonah addressed the matter in his midweek (members only) G-File, arguing that “a system whereby people are free to make their own choices, own the fruits of their labors to the greatest extent possible, and live how they want to live so long as they do not harm others is as close to an ideal as we can get,” and pointing out that that is exactly what Vermeule and his ilk are fighting. And naturally David had thoughts (members only): “But to the new authoritarians, liberty is only useful when it yields outcomes they like. That’s the genesis of Sohrab Ahmari’s willingness to throw out decades worth of constitutional case law that protects the rights of millions people of faith to access public facilities on a viewpoint-neutral basis just so the state can prevent a tiny number of drag queens from accessing those same facilities and enjoying those same rights.”
The best of the rest of our stuff:
The Morning Dispatch (members only) had a great item looking back at news stories from the 1918 Spanish flu crisis. There were mask shortages, people worried that quarantining would hurt the economy, and even debates over what to call the virus.
Jonah used his Friday G-File to send a shout out not only to the doctors and nurses taking care of the sick, but the retail workers, restaurant employees and truck drivers that are still out there getting us what we need.
In Vital Interests (members only), Tom Joscelyn looks at where ISIS is now, a year of its fall. “There’s no question that the one-time caliphate is well-removed from the zenith of its power. … But ISIS hasn’t been entirely vanquished either.”
On the pods: The gang talked about China, our governors, and the presidential briefings on The Dispatch Podcast. David and Sarah talked about—what else—coronavirus (and also the Vermuele essay) on Advisory Opinions. And Jonah talked to Cass Sunstein about dogs and bonobos and engaged in some “rank nudgery” on The Remnant.