A reader, Allene Swienckowski, shares an outlook similar to Thabiti Anyabwile, the Anacostia pastor we heard from earlier:
As a marginally educated black woman, several decades older than Mr. Coates, I disagree with his written and stated identification of what it means and feels like to him to be black in America today. His stringent and unabated hopelessness about the futures of blacks in America is not reflective of every black person in this country.
Without a doubt, there are oppressive elements to being black in America that have and do negatively affect the lives of black folks, such as high arrest numbers for minor offenses, mass incarceration, high unemployment, depressed opportunities in the inner cities, etc, etc. And I am completely aware of my family’s history in this country, having met a great-grandmother who had been a slave. As a child, my father danced for quarters on the street and my mother and grandmother cleaned white folks’ houses.
But this legacy of living black in America did not wrest away my hope for the future.
Perhaps my optimism for the future is because of my parents. The reality is, my legacy of optimism stretches back several generations. Both of my grandfathers owned their own homes in Detroit and Dayton. My mother’s father was a high school teacher and my father’s father worked for Frigidaire and was a Mason, as was his father. My father, at one point in his life, worked three jobs and would only buy homes in “white neighborhoods” before owning the first health club, even before Jack LaLane.
Yes, it’s true that when my father worked in the grocery warehouse for Ralph’s Supermarket in Glendale, California, he was routinely stopped by the police because it was illegal in the 1960s for blacks to be out after dark in Glendale, despite that my father working the swing and graveyard shifts. My mother acquired skills as a secretary and worked as an executive secretary. They bought homes, paid for me to attend private schools and pursued the lifestyle of Buppies.
I don’t believe that the chains of slavery and racism are the only rational explanation for the state of black lives in America today. It took me many years of living as an adult to understand that everything that happened to me or should have happened, was not based solely on the color of my skin. I did not understand the dynamic of how white people relate to one another, much less as to how they relate to minorities.
I believe that black intellectualism, as accepted by the white gate keepers, the white intelligentsia, requires black angst to simmer in a miasma of disenfranchisement. I believe that the thinking black man, such as James Baldwin and now Coates, is a non-threatening educated entity that will never achieve the same type of power in the white world of literary acceptance simply because the world largely only relates to the ideas of the Western white man.
I think that every race and person in America has to be aware of our history, the reality of who we are as people in the hope that we each can lead productive and fulfilling lives. To assume that blacks will never achieve social parity in this country is a tragedy.
That’s the question tackled by this short documentary on Angola prison:
A reader adds:
I was struck by the video Jeff Goldberg did on Angola prison and how it fit into the broader discussion he had with TNC about mass incarceration. Seeking to learn more about the prison, about which I knew little, I happened upon a book by one of its most famous prisoners, Wilbert Rideau: In the Place of Justice. The story is a chronicle of Rideau’s time at Angola, his role as editor of the prison newspaper, and his eventual release. It is also one man’s chronicle of Angola, and the changes it underwent during his time there (early ‘70s until early 2000s).
The book is well-written and harrowing. It is relevant to the debate on many levels, but the one most germane to the exchange between TNC and Goldberg is Rideau’s description of the tenure of Burl Cain.
Goldberg presents Burl Cain as a savior of sorts. While he has obvious discomfort with the level of religiosity Cain imposes on prisoners, Goldberg sees this as somewhat justifiable given that Cain has been saddled with the consequences of harsh and inflexible sentencing laws. In the documentary, Cain echoes this sentiment. He asserts that he is dealing with a situation someone else created.
Rideau’s account suggests a far more nuanced interpretation is required. Cain is a man of power in Louisiana politics and has been for years. His power and influence coincided with numerous changes to state sentencing guidelines that are directly responsible for the increase in long-term incarceration. More to the point, Rideau describes how Cain’s actions directly influenced these changes (pages 244-246).
While I do not profess any special expertise in this area, it strikes me that, if Rideau’s assertions are correct, Cain woefully misrepresents his role in the expansion of the carceral state. He is not simply dealing with the consequences, but instead he helped create this problem.
Another reader notes about Louisiana prisons in general:
Louisiana not only has the highest incarceration rate of any U.S. state, it has a higher incarceration rate than most countries. To give some numbers, Louisiana’s incarceration rate is 5 times Iran’s, 13 times China’s, and and 20 times Germany’s.
Earlier this year, Inimai Chettiar wrote for The Atlantic about the fall in crime as it relates to the rise in incarceration over the last two decades. A causal relationship would seem to make sense—locking up more people should mean there are fewer baddies on the street to commit crime, right? But researchers from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law found that the growth in incarceration played a bit part in falling crime rates.
Even with all the known factors involved in declining crime, including higher incarceration rates, we still can’t account for the full cause. Take a look at these graphics exploring popular theories of the drop between 1990-99 and 2000-13:
That massive piece of the pie in a medium shade of grey comprises the unknown factors at play. Not a terribly satisfying answer, but that’s the data we’ve got.
Inimai Chettiar put it like this:
No one factor brought down crime. Today, incarceration has become the default option in the fight against crime. But more incarceration is not a silver bullet. It has, in fact, ceased to be effective in reducing crime—and the country is slowly awakening to that reality. Incarceration can be reduced while crime continues to decline. The research shows this and many states are watching it unfold.
Responding to our request for more evidence related to the lead/crime connection, a reader points to economist Rick Nevin, one of the leading researchers investigating that connection. Nevin wrote as recently as last month about how different cohorts were affected by lead:
The crime decline in recent years has been slower than the earlier decline in blood lead because steep arrest rate declines for youths have been partially offset by rising arrest rates for older adults. … This shift in arrest rates shows ongoing massive declines for youths born across decades of declining lead exposure, smaller arrest rate declines for adults born in the early years of the lead exposure decline, and increasing arrest rates for older adults born when lead exposure was increasing.
The shift in arrest rates has caused a corresponding shift in prison incarceration. From 2001 to 2013, incarceration rates fell by 59% for males ages 18-19 and 30% for males in their 20s, but increased 33% for men ages 40-44 and surged 86% for men ages 45-54. Proponents of “tough-on-crime” sentencing credit prison incapacitation for much of the USA crime decline – “when a criminal is locked up, he’s not ransacking your house” – but the largest arrest rate declines have occurred among younger age groups with large contemporaneous incarceration rate declines. ... Mendel reports that lead exposure can explain juvenile justice trends that cannot be explained by reform efforts or other crime theories.
Mark Kleiman, on the other hand, voiced skepticism on the lead/crime connection in response to Kevin Drum’s widely lauded 2013 essay, invoking the work of economist Philip J. Cook and criminologist John Laub. Another skeptic at the time was Ronald Bailey:
Interestingly, in a 2012 working paper [Rick] Nevin argues that the increase in IQs in the early part of the 20th century resulted from lessened exposure to lead paint and that increases in the average IQ scores slowed down as tetra-ethyl lead exposure from gasoline rose. Perhaps Nevin would argue that the increase in the U.S murder rate from 1.2 per 100,000 in 1900 to 9.7 per 100,000 in 1933 can be attributed to rising lead paint exposure?
Drum is right that exposure to lead increases the chances that a person will suffer the sorts of neurological damage that lowers their intelligence and lower intelligence is well-known to correlate with increased criminality. Reducing such exposures has no doubt contributed to our happily falling crime rates. But it is likely that other factors including more policing, more incarceration, less crack, increased concealed carry, and other such efforts to control crime have contributed as well.
The real question, it seems to me, is the magnitude of this [lead] effect, especially compared to other effects on crime. The Mother Jones article, by Kevin Drum, cited a figure that 90% of the increase in crime since WWII might be due to lead. He was called out on this figure by blogger Deborah Blum, and Drum later printed a correction. He said the 90% figure is at the upper limit of the range of estimates, and that 50% is likely closer to the truth.
In the review I cited above, reference is made to research showing that “as much as 20%” of crime is “lead related.” One small point – Drum’s now 50% figure, as he points out, is the rise in crime, not the cause of all crime. The 20% figure cited in research is all crime – so these numbers may be compatible. Either way, the 90% figure likely overstates the connection.
Therefore, even accepting the 20% figure, that means 80% of crime has nothing to do (at least directly) with lead, and the sociologists are free to continue to speculate and study about the myriad of social causes of crime.
Those troubling opening scenes of the documentary offer visual proof of a truth that America has worked hard to ignore: In a sense, slavery never ended at Angola; it was reinvented. … [I]nmates at Angola, once cleared by the prison doctor, can be forced to work under threat of punishment as severe as solitary confinement. Legally, this labor may be totally uncompensated; more typically inmates are paid meagerly—as little as two cents per hour—for their full-time work in the fields, manufacturing warehouses, or kitchens. How is this legal? Didn’t the Thirteenth Amendment abolish all forms of slavery and involuntary servitude in this country?
Benns goes on to insist that “Angola is not the exception; it is the rule.” But a reader who used to work in a Texas prison, Matthew Lewis, challenges that narrative:
Firstly, I want to be clear: Being a white male, I can never fully understand the emotional effect a person of color feels when they when they see a field of nothing but black men working a field while chained with armed men in uniform patrolling them on horseback when shotguns. I fully acknowledge that systemic racism occurs and has occurred for centuries.
With that being said, the forcing of offenders in America’s prisons is done in an effort to promote a positive change in offender behavior.
I will use Texas as an example, since I worked for TDCJ-CID. Texas has one of the largest prison populations in the U.S. All offenders in the general population are given a security class based on their in-prison disciplinary record, ranging from G1 (Trustee) to G5 (High Security). Every offender is assigned a job, with his individual abilities, medical history, etc, taken into account.
Every offender is given a job for multiple reasons. The main one is to have the offenders responsible for maintaining their living area and related programs. Janitors keep the common areas clean and sanitized, kitchen staff make the meals that feed everyone, etc. Specialized jobs are offered as well; Someone with plumping or electrical experience are assigned to building maintenance. Offenders even drive the trucks that transfer supplies from unit to unit. Jobs that don’t directly support the offender population (i.e call center work, raising cattle for sale) support operational costs and, at the unit level, assist in improving funding to rehabilitative and training programs.
Also, offenders come a range of different backgrounds. Some people have never had a daily job they had to report to, so they are given important life skills such as getting up, getting ready, and getting to work on time, reporting to superiors, and working as a team towards accomplishing a goal. These are life skills needed to function after re-entry into society.
The assignment of jobs parallels the security designations given. Higher security offenders are given less desirable jobs; G5s at the unit I worked were exclusively assigned to the Hoe Squad (outside field work). This is punitive in nature; Offenders who do not adhere to institutional rules are raised to a higher security level, which involves are harder job. Thus it promotes one of the agency’s goals by promoting a positive change in offender behavior.
Certain jobs, due to their dangerous nature, are volunteer-only as well—for example, working with the kennel to train the dogs used for tracking escapees. A prison dress up in a padded suit and the dogs track and bring him down. He also assists in caring for the dogs, which is the main appeal of it. But offenders will never be forced to do this job.
It’s easy to observe how vital offenders are to maintain their work area when you’re working there. If a unit goes on lockdown, it’s miserable. Work crews stop making food, so staff make sandwiches and have to serve them door-to-door. Janitors aren’t cleaning, so officers have to sweep the living area. Offenders are also more volatile, both verbally and physically, from being in a cell all day.
I feel that the system in place is superior to voluntary work at minimum wage. If an offender made minimum wage at 40-45 hours a week (the usual week), and was then billed for his room, board, etc, he would come out with a deficit while not having the advantage of learning necessary skills for living in the “free world.”
I understand the emotional reaction to seeing one hundred men of color forcibly working a field on lands that used to have men and women of color doing the same kind of work under the yolk of slavery, but there is a logical reason for why the system is like this.
The falling crime rate since the early 1990s has a number of documented causes and even more correlations associated with it, forming a very inconclusive picture—as we illustrated yesterday. Soon after publishing that note, we received a tweet calling for a clarification on the second chart we posted, the one showing the breakdown of possible causes for falling crime since the year 2000:
@TheAtlNotes@TheAtlQ decrease in crack use has "likely no effect" because as a population crack users represent such small # of ppl?
It’s another great question. I reached out to Inimai Chettiar, whose team at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law gathered the existing evidence on falling crime since the ‘90s and created those two charts we posted. Chettiar, who authored that Atlantic piece from earlier this year, was kind enough to expand on the minor role of crack. Here she is via email:
Many believe, with reason, that the decline in crack cocaine use during the 1990s contributed to declining crime over the same period. Since strong data on drug use (and particularly crack use) can be challenging to obtain, our report relied on existing research for our conclusions on the relationship between crime and crack use.
Economists, including Steven Levitt, have argued that a direct correlation between declining crime and crack cocaine use existed in the 1990s. The theory is that since crack use is associated with violence, a decrease in crack use should lead to a decrease in violent crime and/or theft.
However, shrinking unemployment over the same period may have caused both lower crime and lower crack use, so it is difficult to assert a causal relationship between the two. This led us to conclude that declining crack use could have played a role in the decline in crime in the 1990s.
The picture in the 2000s is clearer. Crack cocaine use was relatively constant on a national level from 2000 to 2010. Because there was little change in the use of crack, we are able to conclude it likely did not play a role in falling crime rates during that period.
Personal camcorders were invented in the mid-’80s, with a subsequent rise in closed circuit television (CCTV). In the early ‘90s, multiplexing was introduced for CCTV, meaning that additional cameras could be recorded on the same tape, with a concurrent increase in the number of security cameras actually deployed. By the mid-’90s, every ATM had a camera. The 2000s brought the advent of digital photography and video in the early years, with cellphone cameras and video in the latter. I suspect that if one were to plot the number of video cameras per capita on a national basis, you would see a very sharp rise starting in about 1990.
We’ve seen over the past year how the ubiquity of cellphone cameras has exposed police injustice, and before that there was the demand to add video recording to police vehicles after the nation watched video tape of the Rodney King beating. It seems therefore quite plausible to me that the decline in the crime rate over the past two and a half decades could well be explained by the expansion of surveillance, rather than the continuing expansion of incarceration.
Caty looked at more established theories here and here. I drilled down into the lead theory here and here.
Children suffer when their parents go to prison, [Coates] writes. Yet he says nothing about the suffering of black children growing up in chaotic families, though that suffering is itself highly correlated with the scourge of ghetto crime and incarceration.
Before 1960, when poverty and racism were by all accounts far worse, the black family was considerably more stable. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the large majority of black women were married before they had children. Black children were less likely than whites to grow up in two-parent homes, but only slightly so. It was only after 1960, even as more black men were finding jobs and even as legal discrimination was being dismantled with civil-rights legislation, that the family began to unravel.
That essay elicited over 1400 comments—an unwieldily number to even read, let alone edit into a productive discussion. So below are a handful of those comments, if readers are interested in getting a debate going. The first:
I had a sociology professor in the ‘70s predict the breakdown of the black family. He said it would be an unintended consequence of the Women’s Liberation Movement, which was just coming into its own. Women worked some, during WW2. But most were still at “home” prior to the advent of Women’s Lib—after which, we joined the workforce in large numbers. Black women had always worked as domestics, but it didn’t pay much. After Women’s Lib, they too (along with white women) joined the larger workforce.
My professor’s theory was that black women were seen as less “threatening” to whites than black men.
As such, they would become increasingly more employable than black men. Black men would lose work as women (both black and white) gained employment. Their status as breadwinners for their families would suffer. He said it was inevitable some would turn to crime, and end up in prison. As black women gained employment (and good money), they’d be less likely to take their man’s “guff”—and the black man would be made unnecessary and extraneous.
I’m sure there were other factors that contributed to the breakdown of the black family. But his theory is one I’ve contemplated, through the years.
Another reader replies to the above’s “strong explanation for the decline of the black family, and for the increasingly anti-social life paths of many young black men (a.k.a. the rise of ‘gangsta culture’).” He then offers a concurring theory:
Beginning in the late 1960s, the U.S. began losing factory jobs and other low-skilled industrial jobs. Automotive manufacturing, steel-making, consumer goods manufacturing, etc. became less labor-intensive as they adopted automation and shipped jobs to lower-wage countries. Jobs that had been readily available during the first half of the 20th century, and that had brought millions of poor and working-class people (including blacks) into relative prosperity gradually disappeared. As a result, getting into the middle class has become much harder since the 1960s.
Who got left behind when those jobs dried up? Those who were the least-educated and the most discriminated against in the first place: young black men. Being the lowest in social status, they suffered the worst effects of de-industrialization and globalization: joblessness, lower socioeconomic opportunity compared to other groups (including black women), worsening marriage prospects, etc.
So it looks like young black men got hit with a double whammy: the postwar economic changes that made decent jobs harder to get, and the persistent racism that keeps them at the end of the line for the few jobs that remain.
The black family survived centuries of slavery and generations of Jim Crow, but it has disintegrated in the wake of the liberals’ expansion of the welfare state.
Truly, the worst thing that has befallen blacks is the state: it enslaved them, it segregated them, it incarcerates them, now it divides them and breeds dependency upon state welfare. Presciently, President Reagan could have been describing blacks when he said: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
Another reader builds on that Republican narrative:
Anybody who lived through the ‘60s into today knows that liberal permissiveness toward crime resulted in a massive crime wave starting in the late ‘60s that peaked in the ‘90s, with a murder rate of nearly 10 homicides per 100,000 Americans. NYC wasn’t safe, buses weren’t safe, subways weren’t safe. You didn’t go out onto a public street in any large city after it started to get dark. The Dirty Harry movies and the Charles Bronson vigilante movies were a reaction to the fact that liberal policies made our nation unsafe.
When Reagan was elected, the laws began to change, the liberal permissiveness was shoved aside, mandatory sentencing began, and cities like NYC began to kick out the liberal pols and elect folks like Mayor Giuliani. There was a lag time. Reagan started the change, but people were so fed up with crime that President Clinton didn’t dare bring back liberal insanity on crime. Democrats began to sound like Republicans on crime.
If you have any strong rebuttals in mind, drop me an email and I’ll post the best ones.
In case you missed it, Ta-Nehisi went on The Daily Show last night to discuss his latest cover story with Trevor Noah; check out the TV version here. The two go into further detail in the extended interview that exclusively went online, with a transition into the lighter topic of comic books at the 7:20 mark. (I didn’t embed the videos here because they both autoplay, even if placed after the jump.)
I’m sure ACLU, NAACP, and the slew of liberal establishments are going to cry foul for articles like this one from Hymowitz. But it’s a breath of fresh air coming from a generally liberal-leaning media outlet like The Atlantic.
Yes, police brutality is wrong and racism still exists, but there are more reasons for incarceration of black males than just the color of their skin or the blame on drugs. Violent crimes are all too real, and it is equally wrong to simply advocate shorter sentence for all black violent crime offenders just because of their skin, which in and of itself would not help lift the black community and neighborhoods out of their blight. As Hymowitz has rightly argued, putting these violent offenders back on the street would likely do more harm than good for the black neighborhoods.
That last point makes me think of a recent New Yorker essay from Kelefa Sanneh that was largely a response to Ta-Nehisi’s new book. Sanneh focuses on the history of black politicians and community activists pushing for more imprisonment:
[Black Silent Majorityis] a provocative new history by Michael Javen Fortner, a professor of urban studies who wants to complicate our understanding of crime and punishment in black America. He points out that while African-Americans have long been disproportionately arrested and incarcerated for committing crime, they have also, for just as long, been disproportionately victimized by it. His focus is New York in the nineteen-sixties and early seventies, when crime rates shot up, creating a demand in African-American communities for more police officers, more arrests, more convictions, and longer prison sentences. ...
Like many scholars and activists, Fortner is profoundly disturbed by our modern system of criminal justice, calling mass incarceration “a glaring and dreadful stain on the fabric of American history.” But he thinks this history is incomplete if it ignores what he calls “black agency”: he wants us to see African-Americans not merely as victims of politics but as active participants in it, too. At a moment of growing concern about how our criminal-justice system harms African-Americans, Fortner seeks to show that African-American leaders, urged on by members of the community, helped create that system in the first place.
And that momentum carried into the late ‘80s:
A decade later, during the crack years, African-Americans in Congress faced a similarly difficult choice in considering the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. The law established a minimum sentence of five years for trafficking five hundred grams of cocaine or five grams of crack cocaine. Years later, activists criticized this hundred-to-one disparity as unfair to African-Americans, who were more likely to be convicted of selling crack cocaine. But the bill passed with support from two-thirds of the African-Americans then in Congress, including Charles Rangel, from Harlem, whom President Reagan singled out for praise during the signing ceremony.
None of this directly refutes [Michelle] Alexander’s argument that the modern carceral state is a new version of Jim Crow. Indeed, Fortner thinks that black leaders, though right to be concerned about crime, were wrong to think that exorbitant mandatory sentences—rather than better-funded rehabilitation programs and structural anti-poverty efforts—were the answer. (Rangel later worked to end the crack-versus-cocaine disparity.)
When Alexander calls our criminal-justice system “the new Jim Crow,” she is drawing an imperfect parallel that tells us more about what this system does than about why it exists. It is possible, as Fortner shows, to be skeptical of the drug war while also noting that no small number of its supporters believed, as fervently as any activist today, that black lives matter.
The reason Black Lives Matter has a lot of eyes rolling is not because people don’t care about black people and don’t understand the problem with police. The problem is that the typical black man in a particular kind of community is at much, much more risk of being killed by another black man. And you can’t argue it away. … [I]n short, Black Lives Matter is very important. It could make a very important difference in modern black history. But for it to be a movement that resonates historically, it has to add a new wing where it firmly says and stands behind the idea that black lives matter when black people take them too.
Black Lives Matter activists are often silent about black-on-black killings. Perhaps that is a P.R. mistake. But the reforms they are urging strike me as a more realistic path to decreasing those killings than publicly haranguing would-be murderers to be peaceful. Black Lives Matter participants are civic activists, not respected high-school teachers or social workers or reformed gang members who can influence their former brethren.
Since police departments are ultimately responsive to political institutions, fighting for police reforms with civic activism is a relatively straightforward project. ... Fighting to stop black-on-black murder is much less straightforward project. And the tools available to civic activists are a much poorer fit for it: the undesirable behavior is already against the law; lots of attention has been paid to the problem for decades, so awareness-raising isn’t all that valuable; and there are few obvious best-practices to spread.
The gut-wrenching claim that “the black family survived centuries of slavery” flies in the face of fact. At the whim of the slave owner, children were separated from parents, wives were separated from husbands.
The easy explanation that “liberal policy” is the cause for increased crime or family instability masks the methodical ghettoization that occurred to ease white fears of black people with whom they did not want to associate. The architecture of urban environments, including the highways that allowed white flight to residence but convenient access to the city center amenities, gutted cities and thus their schools and limited the wealth which typically accrues in home ownership. The necessary policing to control ghettos contributed to the urban riots of the 60s, which fueled the fear that left urban environments at risk and gave rise to the easy stereotyping of shiftless black people living on the dole (see 'welfare queen'), instead of a population methodically cut off from opportunity.
Jim Elliott adds:
I encourage every single one of your readers who is interested in the “breakdown of the black family” to read Jason DeParle’s American Dream. They should flip to the part (early on in the book, if I recall) where DeParle interviews Hattie Mae Crenshaw. Your readers will see how the idea that the black family “survived centuries of slavery and generations of Jim Crow” only to perish at the wicked hands of liberalism, sagging pants, and hippity-hoppity music is just so much balderdash. The black family was never given a chance in the first place. Early parenthood, abuse, absentee fathers ... these are historical problems for the black family, stretching back to slavery, not to Johnson’s War on Poverty.
Why don’t the president’s supporters hold him to their own standard of masculinity?
So many mysteries surround Donald Trump: the contents of his tax returns, the apparent miracle of his graduation from college. Some of them are merely curiosities; others are of national importance, such as whether he understood the nuclear-weapons briefing given to every president. I prefer not to dwell on this question.
But since his first day as a presidential candidate, I have been baffled by one mystery in particular: Why do working-class white men—the most reliable component of Donald Trump’s base—support someone who is, by their own standards, the least masculine man ever to hold the modern presidency? The question is not whether Trump fails to meet some archaic or idealized version of masculinity. The president’s inability to measure up to Marcus Aurelius or Omar Bradley is not the issue. Rather, the question is why so many of Trump’s working-class white male voters refuse to hold Trump to their own standards of masculinity—why they support a man who behaves more like a little boy.
The coronavirus is coursing through different parts of the U.S. in different ways, making the crisis harder to predict, control, or understand.
There was supposed to be a peak. But the stark turning point, when the number of daily COVID-19 cases in the U.S. finally crested and began descending sharply, never happened. Instead, America spent much of April on a disquieting plateau, with every day bringing about 30,000 new cases and about 2,000 new deaths. The graphs were more mesa than Matterhorn—flat-topped, not sharp-peaked. Only this month has the slope started gently heading downward.
This pattern exists because different states have experienced the coronavirus pandemic in very different ways. In the most severely pummeled places, like New York and New Jersey, COVID-19 is waning. In Texas and North Carolina, it is still taking off. In Oregon and South Carolina, it is holding steady. These trends average into a national plateau, but each state’s pattern is distinct. Currently, Hawaii’s looks like a child’s drawing of a mountain. Minnesota’s looks like the tip of a hockey stick. Maine’s looks like a (two-humped) camel. The U.S. is dealing with a patchwork pandemic.
Business owners like me face a summer of uncertainty, and I’m terrified.
When I glanced out the window of my restaurant one day not long ago, I saw a woman struggling to climb over the large table that was blocking access to our front doors. The table gave my staff a spot to drop off to-go food outside while keeping a wide berth from our customers. But it also served as a visual and psychological barricade: You, our guest, stay on one side while we, the restaurant workers, stay on the other, safely preparing your order.
So I stepped outside to ask our would-be patron, who was old enough to be my grandmother, if she might refrain from crawling over the table, which is surrounded by ropes and planters and signs and directional arrows and brightly colored buoys to reinforce our message. She looked at me, dumbfounded. “But then how …,” she stammered, “how am I supposed to get in?”
American conspiracy theories are entering a dangerous new phase.
If you were an adherent, no one would be able to tell. You would look like any other American. You could be a mother, picking leftovers off your toddler’s plate. You could be the young man in headphones across the street. You could be a bookkeeper, a dentist, a grandmother icing cupcakes in her kitchen. You may well have an affiliation with an evangelical church. But you are hard to identify just from the way you look—which is good, because someday soon dark forces may try to track you down. You understand this sounds crazy, but you don’t care. You know that a small group of manipulators, operating in the shadows, pull the planet’s strings. You know that they are powerful enough to abuse children without fear of retribution. You know that the mainstream media are their handmaidens, in partnership with Hillary Clinton and the secretive denizens of the deep state. You know that only Donald Trump stands between you and a damned and ravaged world.
The government’s disease-fighting agency is conflating viral and antibody tests, compromising a few crucial metrics that governors depend on to reopen their economies. Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas, and other states are doing the same.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conflating the results of two different types of coronavirus tests, distorting several important metrics and providing the country with an inaccurate picture of the state of the pandemic. We’ve learned that the CDC is making, at best, a debilitating mistake: combining test results that diagnose current coronavirus infections with test results that measure whether someone has ever had the virus. The upshot is that the government’s disease-fighting agency is overstating the country’s ability to test people who are sick with COVID-19. The agency confirmed to The Atlantic on Wednesday that it is mixing the results of viral and antibody tests, even though the two tests reveal different information and are used for different reasons.
These films, each unforgettable in its own way, are essential viewing.
The word unique has to be one of the most overused descriptors in show business; if every movie that got touted as one-of-a-kind by its marketing team actually was, there’d be no further complaints about Hollywood creativity. But every once in a while, I’ll have a cinematic experience that feels genuinely unprecedented, when a work plays with the medium and its modes of storytelling in ways I didn’t think possible. The 30 movies I’ve gathered below—all of which are available to watch online—are singular, whether they’re experimental documentaries, visionary works of animation, or labyrinthine epics. Each is unforgettable, and a reminder of cinema’s potential to flout narrative convention, subvert visual traditions, and find new ways to express timeless themes.
Senator Cory Gardner’s political relationship with the president reads like a tawdry romance novel.
Updated at 4:19 p.m. ET on May 25, 2020.
In the future museum of Never Trumpers turned Ever Trumpers, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado will have pride of place. In 2016, Gardner called Donald Trump a “buffoon,” left the Republican National Convention after one day rather than watching him formally receive the party’s nomination, called for him to drop out of the race after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, and said he would write in Mike Pence’s name on his presidential ballot.
Now Gardner, perhaps the Senate’s most endangered Republican incumbent, is locked in an uphill battle for reelection in a state trending bluer by the day. He trails his probable Democratic opponent, the former governor and erstwhile presidential candidate John Hickenloooper, by double digits in the polls. In a sharp about-face, Gardner has backed Trump at every turn since endorsing the president for reelection last year.
We will need a comprehensive strategy to reduce the sort of interactions that can lead to more infections.
COVID-19 has mounted a sustained attack on public life, especially indoor life. Many of the largest super-spreader events took place inside—at a church in South Korea, an auditorium in France, a conference in Massachusetts. The danger of the indoors is more than anecdotal. A Hong Kong paper awaiting peer review found that of 7,324 documented cases in China, only one outbreak occurred outside—during a conversation among several men in a small village. The risk of infection indoors is almost 19 times higher than in open-air environments, according to another study from researchers in Japan.
Appropriately, just about every public indoor space in America has been shut down or, in the case of essential businesses such as grocers, adapted for social-distancing restrictions. These closures have been economically ruinous, transforming large swaths of urban and suburban life into a morbid line of darkened windows.
After receiving a trove of documents from the whistleblower, I found myself under surveillance and investigation by the U.S. government.
“What time exactly does your clock say?” asked the voice on the telephone, the first words Edward Snowden ever spoke to me aloud. (Our previous communications had all been via secure text chats over encrypted anonymous links on secret servers.) I glanced at my wrist—3:22 p.m. “Good. Meet me exactly at four. I’ll be wearing a backpack.” Of course he would; Snowden would never leave his laptop unattended.
The rendezvous point Snowden selected that day, December 5, 2013, was a gaudy casino hotel called the Korston Club, on Kosygina Street in Moscow. Enormous flashing whorls of color adorned the exterior in homage to Las Vegas. In the lobby, a full-size grand player piano tinkled with energetic pop. The promenade featured a “Girls Bar” with purple-neon decor, stainless-steel chairs and mirrors competing for attention with imitation wood paneling, knockoff Persian rugs, and pulsing strobe lights on plastic foliage. Also, feathers. The place looked like a trailer full of old Madonna stage sets that had been ravaged by a tornado.
The coronavirus didn’t break America. It revealed what was already broken.
When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.
The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus—like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering. The administration squandered two irretrievable months to prepare. From the president came willful blindness, scapegoating, boasts, and lies. From his mouthpieces, conspiracy theories and miracle cures. A few senators and corporate executives acted quickly—not to prevent the coming disaster, but to profit from it. When a government doctor tried to warn the public of the danger, the White House took the mic and politicized the message.