Our Best Stuff From a Week That Math Got a Little Scary

It’s probably not good for your mental health to spend too much time looking at the Johns’ Hopkins coronavirus map that tracks ongoing cases on a country-by-country basis, but it’s also hard to avoid. And watching the U.S. count tick ever higher—on Friday alone it felt like we were adding a few thousand cases at a time, rushing right past the 100,000 mark—helps put into perspective some of the other big numbers we had to deal with this week.

First, unemployment: Jobless claims were at an off-the-charts 3.28 million. The previous record? In 1982, 695,000 people made claims in one week.The other big number came out of Congress, which managed—after overcoming a few hurdles—to pass a $2 trillion economic relief package (we’re trying not to call it a “stimulus” package; I’ll let Jonah explain why) that provides expanded unemployment benefits, loans for businesses large and small, and cash for most Americans.

These times are testing America in a way that few of us have been tested. It’s easy to be angry about the way the federal government’s various failures have gotten us where we are. But there is something else I keep coming back to, and that is the way that most Americans have taken all of this in stride and with good spirits.

Think about it: Imagine a fortune teller told you in January that kids would be home from school for months, that there would be no March Madness, no Opening Day, and no Olympics this summer. That our movements would be limited such that we couldn’t go out to dinner with our spouses, meet a friend for a drink, or take the kids to a movie or even the playground. That governors would be issuing orders closing businesses. Would you envision riots? Streets filled with police?

Sure, our cable news networks are oversupplied with hotheads who want to argue that this is overblown, or that we should let Grandma and Grandpa die to protect the kids’ college funds. But away from the cameras, we’ve settled into the new normal almost as quickly as it was thrust upon us. With some notable exceptions, we’re staying home. We muddle through school time, and we see our co-workers and our friends on Zoom instead of in person. At the same time that neighbors and people in our communities have lost jobs, people are coordinating food drives and raising money for those affected. 

I’m not one to paint too rosy of a picture. But it’s something I’m holding on to when the bad news starts to overwhelm. Here at The Dispatch, the pandemic pretty much took over our coverage this week, but we took it on from various angles. We know these are difficult times for many, and we know that if you are anticipating that check from the government that it might help pay the rent, or maybe you’re fortunate enough that you’ve earmarked it for your favorite charity. We don’t want to inundate you with appeals. But the support of our members makes it possible for us to do the work we’re doing, and if you’re not a member yet, we’d be grateful to have you.

How the Intel Community Saw This Coming

Every four years the National Intelligence Council puts together a Global Trends report, a sort-of roadmap for potential international crises to help prepare incoming presidential administrations. Back in 2004, the NIC decided to include pandemics, and looked at what could happen … in the year 2020. A pandemic could “put a halt to global travel and trade during an extended period, prompting governments to expend enormous resources on overwhelmed health sectors.” Contributor Paul Miller digs deeper into subsequent editions of the report and finds this nugget from 2012: “The NIC included a fictional memo drafted in the year 2030 by a future analyst. The analyst looks back at the outbreak of the global pandemic—along with rising nationalism, unrest in the Middle East, and a Taliban coup in Kabul—as among the drivers for the reversal of globalization.” No, that doesn’t sound worrying at all. 

Donald Trump Cannot Open Up America

Our own David French has written extensively on the different roles of the state and federal governments in battling coronavirus. He took up the topic again this week in a members-only French Press in response to President Trump’s wish to end social distancing measures by April 12. While Trump doesn’t have the actual authority to allow businesses to reopen, David is worried that the belief that he can will cause tension between blue states and red states, where governors will be pressured by their constituents to get the economy moving again. “With some notable exceptions, red-state governors—especially those in states with few COVID-19 cases—would find themselves under immense political pressure to lift restrictions. … Blue-state governors—especially those who govern states with large urban populations where the virus is hitting far harder than in rural America—by contrast would likely defy the president. They may impose their own travel restrictions from red states, claiming that red states’ increased openness increased the chance of viral spread.” In his Thursday newsletter, which we made available to the public on Friday, he gets a little angry about the idea circulating among some on the right that we should risk the health and safety of our elders for the sake of the economy. 

Trying to Flatten the Curve on Coronavirus Disinformation

Fact checker Alec Dent has had a busy week. In a town hall with Fox News, President Trump claimed that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rejected an opportunity to buy 16,000 ventilators to help his state prepare for a pandemic. That wasn’t exactly right. Alec also looked into claims that a prominent British scientist retracted his projection that 500,000 U.K. citizens could die from coronavirus, revising that down to 20,000. That … is also not true. 

Watch These Movies While You’re Sheltering in Place

One bright spot in this crisis is that as we’re being asked to stay at home and sit on the couch, our nation’s bandwidth has not sagged under the pressure of all the streaming. If you’ve stormed through Tiger King (it’s crazy; you’ll love it) and have rewatched The Office (or in our house, Brooklyn 99) so many times that you’re saying the lines before the characters do, have we got something for you. Jonah asked his favorite critics for a list of movies you have to watch to be politically literate, and they delivered. Yes, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is on there. But also Casablanca, Taxi Driver, and many more.

Other highlights from The Dispatch this week:

  • As coronavirus has hit more countries around the world, it’s easy to forget that Iran was one of the early hotspots. We had two pieces on Iran this week: Danielle Pletka argues that this is not the time to lift sanctions on the Islamic Republic, and in Vital Interests (members only), Tom Joscelyn looks at how the mullahs are getting away with blaming the U.S. for their own mistakes.

  • President Trump sent off a heated tweet or two on Friday, demanding that GM start manufacturing ventilators. It sounds like he didn’t see Scott Ganz’s article looking back at how long it took Ford to ramp up B-24 production during World War II.

  • Many small businesses will benefit from the loans available in the relief package. But what about those that still go out of business? Arpana Mathur looks at how we can make it easier to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy claims.

  • And finally, on the pods: The gang talked about the worst day of the crisis so far on the Dispatch Podcast. David and Sarah talked coronavirus but also confirmation battles on Advisory Opinions. And on The Remnant, Jonah actually had a pandemic-free conversation with R Street’s Shoshana Weissmann (best known on Twitter as Senator Shoshana, Sloth Committee chair).