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This is my last day writing The Atlantic Daily (for now!), and I’d like to thank you all for reading. I know it’s something of an ask to allow the same fellow into your inbox every evening to opine about the day’s news, and I appreciate it.
But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.
Plus: Scroll down for an update from Katherine J. Wu on the spread of Omicron’s latest subvariants.
Keep the Faith
It’s been a tough month. The mounting toll of the war in Ukraine, the murders in Highland Park, the Supreme Court’s disturbing decisions—there hasn’t been a lot of great news. Boris Johnson finally packing his bags, I suppose, counts; so does today’s jobs report. But even before I began to write this, we learned that former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is dead, assassinated during a political rally. If you feel like the world is spinning out of control, you’re not alone.
I have been trying to think about what connects many of these stories. It’s easy to say—and I know, because I’ve said it—that America and other democracies are falling prey to a kind of mass psychosis. Many Americans are becoming unhinged, unmoored from reality, unable to process even the tiniest bit of information if it conflicts with their biases. A few days ago, Mitt Romney wrote in The Atlantic that the problem of denial affects us all. He’s right. I feel it too; I sometimes do not check myself fast enough when shuffling new information into the pigeonholes of my priors.
Confirmation bias is normal human behavior. What’s not normal is the emergence of a populist madness on the American right that counts on the intimidation of the sensible many by the delusional few. This development threatens to turn a great republic into little more than a collection of unthinking and dangerous reflexes, its citizens like a school of fish aimlessly darting back and forth as they are lured by bait or chased by predators.
This, I think, is the link that binds so many recent events, including the January 6 insurrection, the callous and even reckless decisions of the Supreme Court, the Illinois massacre, even the Ukraine war. At almost every turn, democracy and basic human decency are under siege because a paranoid and rage-blinded mob will shout down and sometimes go as far as threatening the rest of us. Ordinary citizens, overwhelmed and exhausted, soon turn away from public spaces.
In a different time in America, almost every story this month would have been an immense scandal or upheaval in and of itself. The Russian army invading a nation in Central Europe while brandishing its nuclear weapons at NATO would have been an ongoing national crisis that once would have unified America and its two parties. A mass shooting at a July 4 parade would have shocked our national conscience and moved us to look closely not only at our ridiculous gun laws but at a society that seems to produce an endless stream of violent young losers. Talk of stopping women from crossing state borders by turning the United States into a giant version of East Berlin with a pregnancy-testing Checkpoint Charlie on every highway would have provoked outrage on both the right and the left.
Most important, an attack on the U.S. Capitol aimed at the overthrow of an American election, instigated and cheered on by a sitting president, would have been a national trauma that would have made Watergate look like a comic opera. And yet, a violent insurrection seems to barely register with some Americans—while others actively continue to support it, and still others believe it was a “false flag” operation by the left or by operatives of the U.S. government.
I started by asking you to forgive me if I’ve cast a pall over your optimism about America, and here I am, doing it again.
So let me try to leave you with some of the good news. Rational and decent citizens are still a significant majority in the United States of America. Cynical Republican officials might cower in fear of the small clutch of their own extremist primary voters, but on many issues—including Ukraine, abortion, and gun control—a durable majority across both parties is in favor of doing what’s right, what’s humane, and what’s sensible.
And that means America endures. Yes, American democracy is on the ropes, and the destruction of our constitutional system is still possible if enough of the unhinged minority votes and enough of the rational majority does not. The Constitution was not designed to withstand a frontal assault from its own citizens and elected officials; it relies on shared norms and values about essential things like basic human and legal rights.
That means it’s up to us to assert those norms and values in everything we do in our daily life. It means that citizens of good will must hold their ground, calmly and without reacting to the many bad-faith provocations thrown at them. It means linking arms with people with whom we disagree about almost everything, so long as we agree on the Constitution and our rights as citizens. And that means, more than anything else, voting in great numbers together as a coalition. We must, as John Adams encouraged us in 1765, “dare to read, think, speak and write.”
After his presidency, Mr. Adams retired to his farm in Massachusetts, a place south of Boston called Peacefield. That is also the name of my newsletter, and if you’ve enjoyed my writing for the Daily, please join me there.
- President Joe Biden issued an executive order intending to preserve access to abortion in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, but it’s not yet clear exactly how it will do so.
- The economy added 372,000 jobs in June, many more than expected.
- The U.S. women’s national soccer team beat Jamaica to qualify for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
After two and a half years of pandemic life, people in the Northern Hemisphere are now neck-deep in a summer of travel—and so, too, are the coronaviruses they’re carrying.
Really, the summer sojourns have long since begun. BA.4 and BA.5—offshoots of the Omicron variant that were first detected in South Africa in January—are now dominant in many parts of the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, with BA.5 in particular taking a decisive lead. The subvariants are speedy and stealthy, some of the most antibody-evasive morphs of SARS-CoV-2 identified to date. That means they’re having little trouble infecting and reinfecting people around the world who have already encountered the virus before, or been vaccinated against it, or both, making transmission a bit of a nightmare to contain. Cases are rising in more than 100 countries. And in places like the U.S. and the U.K., hospitalizations are continuing the troubling upward creep spurred by prior Omicron morphs. To make matters all the messier, yet another immunity-dodging member of the ever-growing Omicron clan, BA.2.75, is starting to pop in a few countries, with more cases being discovered by the day, including in the U.S.
This is not the warm-weather news most people want to hear. The start of this summer won’t be like the last, when Delta was still at a gentle simmer and the pandemic’s American toll was at some of its record lows. But the news isn’t necessarily all bad—just complicated.
Importantly, the world has yet to meet a SARS-CoV-2 variant that can completely circumvent people’s immunity to the virus, which is multifaceted and sturdy. Our defenses against severe disease, hospitaliation, and death are still holding up quite strongly—evidenced, for instance, by the sizable disparity in mortality and infections that played out in South Africa’s BA.5-driven fifth wave. Even infections and transmission remain less common among people with immunity, especially those who are up-to-date on their shots. Vaccines also seem to offer at least some protection against long COVID. And revamped shots, better tailored to fend off BA.4 and BA.5, are slated to debut this fall. The average coronavirus infection is still, over time, becoming a bit more bearable.
But more bearable isn’t totally benign—and large swaths of the population remain much more vulnerable than experts would like. If infections and reinfections keep happening, they’ll continue imperiling people’s health. And the virus will take every opportunity it can to shape-shift again.
More From The Atlantic
Read. Where the Wild Ladies Are, by Aoko Matsuda, is an electrifying story collection based on classic ghost stories. “Read this one slowly, to get a tangy whiff of the afterworld as it tangles with daily life,” our editor Jane Yong Kim suggests.
Check out our full summer reading guide for more recommendations.
If you’re headed to the theater, just remember that the Minions are good—really. And a new film about Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” playing in select theaters, explores how the song came to belong to everyone.
For many of us, movies and TV are our comfort food, but many people still keep a book on the nightstand, perhaps by a beloved author who calms them after a tough day. Mine is The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis. Many of you might know Lewis from his Narnia books, or the widely read classic The Screwtape Letters. The Great Divorce, however, is a strange little fantasy about a man who finds himself in a rainy, dingy town that might be hell. And then a bus arrives, and … well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. I love The Screwtape Letters so much that I tried my hand at emulating it, but The Great Divorce is a work of such rich description, redemptive hope, and sincere human emotion that I find it restorative every time I read it. Maybe you will as well.
Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.