—The U.S. military struck a Syrian airfield near Homs, the opening salvo in the Trump administration’s response to this week’s chemical-weapons attack by the Assad regime. More here
—Republicans changed the rules of the Senate on judicial nominations, invoking the so-called “nuclear option” to lower the threshold for such votes from a supermajority of 60 to a simple majority of 51. More here
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).
UPDATE: Republicans Use 'Nuclear Option' After Democrats Filibuster Gorsuch Nomination
Updated at 1:08 p.m.
Republicans changed the rules of the Senate on judicial nominations, invoking the so-called “nuclear option” to lower the threshold for such votes from a supermajority of 60 to a simple majority of 51. The change came after Democrats filibustered the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court seat made vacant by the death last year of Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans, who have a 52-48 majority in the Senate, had the support of at least three Democratic senators, but fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the Democratic filibuster. The party-line vote on the rule change was 52-48. Democrats, still smarting over the GOP’s refusal to hold hearings for Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the same Supreme Court seat, have been unrelenting in their opposition of Gorsuch. They say if the president’s nominee cannot get the support of 60 U.S. senators, the White House should withdraw his nomination in favor of someone who can secure the support of a supermajority of senators. But it was always going to be an uphill effort, and Gorsuch is expected to be easily confirmed Friday by the Senate.
Devin Nunes Temporarily Recuses Himself From Russia Investigation
Representative Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, announced Thursday he would temporarily recuse himself from the investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. Nunes said in a statement it was “in the best interests” of his committee and Congress for him to temporarily step aside, adding: “I will continue to fulfill all my other responsibilities as Committee Chairman, and I am requesting to speak to the Ethics Committee at the earliest possible opportunity in order to expedite the dismissal of these false claims” filed by left-leaning organizations. Nunes has faced mounting pressure to step down from the investigation after it was revealed last month he visited the White House before and after announcing he had significant information to support President Trump’s unsubstantiated claims his transition team was surveilled by the intelligence community. That resulted in allegations from Democrats he was too eager to do Trump’s bidding, especially after it was revealed the information was given to him by White House officials. Nunes said the investigation will be taken over by Republican Representative Michael Conaway, with assistance from Representatives Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney. As my colleague Russell Berman notes, though Speaker Paul Ryan reiterated his support for Nunes in a press conference following the announcement, “the chairman’s sudden move to quit the Russia probe raises questions about whether he misled the speaker about his handling of evidence that he viewed at the White House.”
North Korea Looms Over Meeting Between Trump, China's Xi
President Trump has called China a currency manipulator, he has criticized it on trade, and for, in his view, not doing enough to curtail North Korea’s activities. But while those issues loom over the meeting today between Trump and Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s estate in Florida, the two leaders are likely to discuss the one area where there could be a deal of some sort: North Korea. Their meeting comes a day after North Korea launched a ballistic missile off the coast of the Korean peninsula, the latest of several such tests the North has carried out in recent months. Last month U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ruled out talks with the North until it renounces its nuclear-weapons program, adding that when it came to the North, the U.S. kept all options on the table. The New York Timesnotes that Trump, behind closed doors, “intends to aggressively press his counterpart to more effectively use China’s economic leverage on North Korea to restrain its rogue leader, Kim Jong-un, from developing nuclear weapons.” Meanwhile, their discussions on trade could focus on the U.S. trade deficit with China, which stands at about $300 billion annually.
Intelligence can make you happier, but only if you see it as more than a tool to get ahead.
“How to Build a Life” is a column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his podcast series on all things happiness, How to Build a Happy Life.
“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know,” an unnamed character casually remarks in Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Garden of Eden. You might say that this is a corollary of the much more famous “Ignorance is bliss.”
The latter recalls phenomena such as the Dunning-Kruger effect—in which people lacking skills and knowledge in a particular area innocently underestimate their own incompetence—and the illusion of explanatory depth, which can prompt autodidacts on social media to excitedly present complex scientific phenomena, thinking they understand them in far greater depth than they really do.
When you stick ink-filled needles into your skin, your body’s defenders respond accordingly. Scientists aren’t sure if that’s good or bad for you.
In 2018, I paid a man a couple hundred dollars to repeatedly jam several needles into the skin of my right wrist. I felt as if I were being attacked by a microscopic cavalry of crabs. Into every jab went black ink, eventually forming the shape of double quotation marks. It was my first tattoo, and likely not my last.
In the thousands of years that tattoos have been around, not much has changed. The practice still involves carving wounds into permanent, inked-in shapes that we find aesthetically pleasing. But much of tattooing remains mysterious: Scientists still aren’t sure what makes certain tattoos fade fast, why others stick around when they’re supposed to disappear, or how they react to light. One of the strangest and least-studied enigmas, though, is how tattoos survive at all. Our immune system is constantly doing its darndest to destroy them—and understanding why it fails could clue us in to one of our bodies’ most important functions, even when we leave the skin blank.
These days, when I explain to a fellow parent that I write novels for children in fifth through eighth grades, I am frequently treated to an apologetic confession: “My child doesn’t read, at least not the way I did.” I know exactly how they feel—my tween and teen don’t read the way I did either. When I was in elementary school, I gobbled up everything: haunting classics such as The Witch of Blackbird Pond and gimmicky series such as the Choose Your Own Adventure books. By middle school, I was reading voluminous adult fiction like the works of Louisa May Alcott and J. R. R. Tolkien. Not every child is—or was—this kind of reader. But what parents today are picking up on is that a shrinking number of kids are reading widely and voraciously for fun.
Traditional notions of the intellectual were never meant to include people who looked like me or who had a background like mine.
In 2017, I was trying to write How to Be an Antiracist. Words came onto the page slower than ever. On some days, no words came at all. Clearly, I was in crisis.
I don’t believe in writer’s block. When words aren’t flowing onto the page, I know why: I haven’t researched enough, organized the material enough, thought enough to exhume clarity, meticulously outlined my thoughts enough. I haven’t prepared myself to write.
But no matter how much I prepared, I still struggled to convey what my research and reasoning showed. I struggled because I was planning to challenge traditional conceptions of racism, and to defy the multiracial and bipartisan consensus that race neutrality was possible and that “not racist” was a definable identity. And I struggled because I was planning to describe a largely unknown corrective posture—being anti-racist—with long historical roots. These departures from tradition were at the front of my struggling mind. But at the back of my mind was a more existential struggle—a struggle I think is operating at the front of our collective mind today.
Anti-Jewish bigots steal the show in the revived musical. And that’s why it works.
There’s a moment in Parade, the musical revival that opened last week on Broadway, that encapsulates the show’s subversiveness. It’s also the moment that seals the demise of the drama’s protagonist, Leo Frank.
Frank, played by Ben Platt, is on trial for the murder of Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old girl who was found dead in the Atlanta factory where he served as superintendent in 1913. (The plot is based on a true story.) A nerdy northern Jew in Georgia, Frank is an easy target for the ire of the public and the prosecution. In a taut and tense courtroom scene, he is implicated by a succession of coached but compelling witnesses. The most damning testimony comes from a janitor, Jim Conley (Alex Joseph Grayson), who claims that the Jew stereotypically attempted to buy his silence, recalling Frank’s words in a sinister song:
The Fed, among others, is blameworthy. But the ultimate culprit is COVID-19.
When the Federal Reserve board last met, at the end of January, its main concern was whether it needed to continue hiking interest rates aggressively in order to bring down inflation. When it met yesterday, it had a whole new pile of concerns, including, most importantly, whether further interest-rate hikes would destabilize more banks and aggravate the mini banking crisis we’ve been living through since the failure of Silicon Valley Bank on March 10. Those concerns help explain why, even with inflation still high, the Fed chose to raise rates only a quarter of a point.
The fact that six weeks ago almost no one was talking about banks’ balance sheets, let alone bank runs, and today everyone is makes it seem as though this crisis came out of nowhere. But its true origins go back almost exactly three years, to spring 2020. The banking system’s current woes are in a real sense a product of the pandemic.
What happens when everyone first gets immunity to the coronavirus as a very young kid?
To be a newborn in the year 2023—and, almost certainly, every year that follows—means emerging into a world where the coronavirus is ubiquitous. Babies might not meet the virus in the first week or month of life, but soon enough, SARS-CoV-2 will find them. “For anyone born into this world, it’s not going to take a lot of time for them to become infected,” maybe a year, maybe two, says Katia Koelle, a virologist and infectious-disease modeler at Emory University. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this virus will be one of the very first serious pathogens that today’s infants—and all future infants—meet.
Three years into the coronavirus pandemic, these babies are on the leading edge of a generational turnover that will define the rest of our relationship with SARS-CoV-2. They and their slightly older peers are slated to be the first humans who may still be alive when COVID-19 truly hits a new turning point: when almost everyone on Earth has acquired a degree of immunity to the virus as a very young child.
Millennials popularized bulky, super-cushioned shoes. Then Millennials got old.
My mom has been warning me that I’m going to ruin my feet for almost as long as I’ve been able to walk. She has her reasons: I spent much of my childhood refusing to wear shoes more substantial than soccer slides. In high school, she wouldn’t buy me high heels, so I got an after-school job and bought them myself. During college, I added slipperlike ballet flats and Ugg boots to my repertoire. When I was 25, a physical therapist who was treating my ankle, destroyed years prior during rec-league soccer, told me that he’d never before had a client with a leg injury show up in flip-flops.
Now I am 37, and if you already have been 37, you probably know where this is going. I’ve cleaned up my worst shoe habits, but a moderate concession to podiatric health wasn’t enough to save me. Recently, I developed plantar fasciitis, a common, nagging injury to a band of connective tissue in the foot that most acutely afflicts people who spend a lot of time on their feet—nurses, bartenders, distance runners, seemingly everyone in the NBA. It is also possible to acquire plantar fasciitis by being a dumbass who loves traipsing around in terrible shoes, which was my method.
Here is a story I have heard from more than one professional philosopher, though it has never, at least not yet, happened to me: You are sitting on a plane, the person next to you asks what you do, you tell them you are a philosopher, and they ask, “So, what are your sayings?” When a philosopher opens their mouth, people expect deep things to come out of it. Philosophers don’t always enjoy this; to avoid it, they might even say instead, “I am a professor” or “I teach Plato” or “I am in academia.”
When I was an undergraduate pondering what to do next, a professor of mine—not a philosopher—advised me, “Even if you get a Ph.D. in philosophy, don’t ever call yourself a philosopher. Kant, Socrates—those people were philosophers; you’re someone who reads or thinks about philosophy.” He felt that by calling myself a philosopher, I would be putting on airs, claiming to be deeper than I was. I did get a Ph.D. in philosophy, and I do call myself a philosopher, and that does, just as the professor feared, sometimes lead to disappointed expectations.
The timelines, the issues at stake, and the threat they pose to the former president
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If you’re finding it hard to keep track of all of former President Donald Trump’s legal woes, don’t feel bad: He can’t get it straight, either. Last weekend, he announced that he’d be arrested in Manhattan on Tuesday. It’s now Thursday, and Trump remains a free man, with no indictment from a grand jury yet. Public indications still seem to point toward charges against Trump in Manhattan, but what and when are still a mystery. And several more cases loom beyond that.
Assuming Trump is eventually charged, whether in Manhattan or elsewhere, the result will be a spectacle no one alive has seen before: a former U.S. president under arrest. We likely won’t see a classic perp walk, with officers holding him by each arm and escorting him. The process would instead be arranged and negotiated beforehand, and he’s reportedly been debating whether to smile for the cameras on his way to being booked. Trump would have to be fingerprinted like any other defendant, and then he’d be released. But that would be just the start of a long process toward a trial or plea, and then a verdict.