At some point, her Reaganite optimism slowly hardened into something better described as a form of apocalyptic pessimism.
“It was cocktail hour on the opening day of the new, Republican-dominated Congress, and the long, chandelier-lighted parlor of David Brock’s town house in Georgetown was filling up with exuberant young conservatives fresh from events on the Hill.”
That was the opening sentence, in 1995, of a New York Times Magazine cover story called “The Counter Counterculture.” The author was the late James Atlas, and one by one, he introduced a series of characters. There was young David Brooks, then of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. There was Brock himself, best known at the time for his vicious investigations into the personal affairs of President Bill Clinton. There was David Frum—now a writer for The Atlantic—and his wife, Danielle Crittenden, with whom, years later, I co-wrote a Polish cookbook.
There was always a logical explanation for why cases rose through the end of June while deaths did not.
There is no mystery in the number of Americans dying from COVID-19.
Despite political leaders trivializing the pandemic, deaths are rising again: The seven-day average for deaths per day has now jumped by more than 200 since July 6, according to data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. By our count, states reported 855 deaths today, in line with the recent elevated numbers in mid-July.
The deaths are not happening in unpredictable places. Rather, people are dying at higher rates where there are lots of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations: in Florida, Arizona, Texas, and California, as well as a host of smaller southern states that all rushed to open up.
The deaths are also not happening in an unpredictable amount of time after the new outbreaks emerged. Simply look at the curves yourself. Cases began to rise on June 16; a week later, hospitalizations began to rise. Two weeks after that—21 days after cases rose—states began to report more deaths. That’s the exact number of days that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated from the onset of symptoms to the reporting of a death.
The minute we make any decision—I think COVID-19 is serious; no, I’m sure it is a hoax—we begin to justify the wisdom of our choice and find reasons to dismiss the alternative.
Members of Heaven’s Gate, a religious cult, believed that as the Hale-Bopp comet passed by Earth in 1997, a spaceship would be traveling in its wake—ready to take true believers aboard. Several members of the group bought an expensive, high-powered telescope so that they might get a clearer view of the comet. They quickly brought it back and asked for a refund. When the manager asked why, they complained that the telescope was defective, that it didn’t show the spaceship following the comet. A short time later, believing that they would be rescued once they had shed their “earthly containers” (their bodies), all 39 members killed themselves.
Heaven’s Gate followers had a tragically misguided conviction, but it is an example, albeit extreme, of cognitive dissonance, the motivational mechanism that underlies the reluctance to admit mistakes or accept scientific findings—even when those findings can save our lives. This dynamic is playing out during the pandemic among the many people who refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing. Human beings are deeply unwilling to change their minds. And when the facts clash with their preexisting convictions, some people would sooner jeopardize their health and everyone else’s than accept new information or admit to being wrong.
The popular book aims to combat racism but talks down to Black people.
I must admit that I had not gotten around to actually reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility until recently. But it was time to jump in. DiAngelo is an education professor and—most prominently today—a diversity consultant who argues that whites in America must face the racist bias implanted in them by a racist society. Their resistance to acknowledging this, she maintains, constitutes a “white fragility” that they must overcome in order for meaningful progress on both interpersonal and societal racism to happen.
White Fragility was published in 2018 but jumped to the top of the New York Times best-seller list amid the protests following the death of George Floyd and the ensuing national reckoning about racism. DiAngelo has convinced university administrators, corporate human-resources offices, and no small part of the reading public that white Americans must embark on a self-critical project of looking inward to examine and work against racist biases that many have barely known they had.
A genre famously resistant to change and controversy has been jolted by the pandemic and protests.
The No. 1 song on country radio at the moment is about the joy of tequila, Jimmy Buffett, and crowds. “One Margarita,” by the 43-year-old Georgia-born superstar Luke Bryan, gives a detailed plan for losing one’s faculties to lime-flavored frozen cocktails guzzled with friends. In the music video, crowds wearing sombreros gather with beach balls on some nice sandy shore as Bryan presides in board shorts. Unavoidably, some viewers will be reminded of the infamous Lake of the Ozarks splashathon, or of kids who spent spring break in Florida when much of the country was hunkered down with sourdough starter.
But “One Margarita,” released in March, is a pre-COVID-19 recording. And at this phase of our interminable crisis, images like the ones in Bryan’s video fill me with nostalgia rather than revulsion. Sipping a homemade marg on my couch for the 17th week in a row, I just want to be at that big cheesy beach party. I just want normal.
The nation’s top public-health expert tells The Atlantic that he isn’t going anywhere, despite the Trump administration’s newest attempts to undercut him.
Anthony Fauci isn’t about to quit, despite the White House’s clumsy attempts to stain his public image. More so now than at any other point in their uneasy partnership, it seems that if President Donald Trump wants to be rid of Fauci, he’ll need to fire him. In recent days especially, the White House has stepped up efforts to discredit Fauci, a move he describes as “bizarre.”
“Ultimately, it hurts the president to do that,” Fauci told The Atlantic in a series of interviews this week. “When the staff lets out something like that and the entire scientific and press community push back on it, it ultimately hurts the president.”
He described the White House attacks against him as “nonsense” and “completely wrong.” He also seemed dismayed that they are coming at a time when COVID-19 is surging across the country, deaths are once again rising, and Americans remain deeply confused about how to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
COVID-19 has steamrolled the country. What happens if another pandemic starts before this one is over?
Editor’s Note: The Atlantic is making vital coverage of the coronavirus available to all readers. Find the collection here.
Seven years ago, the White House was bracing itself for not one pandemic, but two. In the spring of 2013, several people in China fell sick with a new and lethal strain of H7N9 bird flu, while an outbreak of MERS—a disease caused by a coronavirus—had spread from Saudi Arabia to several other countries. “We were dealing with the potential for both of those things to become a pandemic,” says Beth Cameron, who was on the National Security Council at the time.
Neither did, thankfully, but we shouldn’t mistake historical luck for future security. Viruses aren’t sporting. They will not refrain from kicking you just because another virus has already knocked you to the floor. And pandemics are capricious. Despite a lot of research, “we haven’t found a way to predict when a new one will arrive,” says Nídia Trovão, a virologist at the National Institutes of Health. As new diseases emerge at a quickening pace, the only certainty is that pandemics are inevitable. So it is only a matter of time before two emerge at once.
The U.S. prioritized the economy over public health—and got the worst of both worlds.
Failed businesses and lost loved ones, empty theme parks and socially distanced funerals, a struggling economy and an unmitigated public-health disaster: This is the worst-of-both-worlds equilibrium the United States finds itself in.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump has railed against shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, tweeting in all caps that “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself” and pushing for employees to get back to work and businesses to get back to business. But the country has failed to get the virus under control, through masks, contact tracing, mass testing, or any of the other strategies other countries have tried and found successful. That has kneecapped the nascent recovery, and raised the possibility that the unemployment rate, which eased in May and June after nearly reaching 15 percent in April, could spike again later this year.
The battle to define this president’s legacy is already under way. Centrists and the activist left fundamentally disagree over what Trump represents.
When some presidents leave office, politicians and political thinkers jockey to be their intellectual heirs. Even Ronald Reagan, a Republican, claimed the legacy of John F. Kennedy. Even Barack Obama, a Democrat, claimed the legacy of Reagan.
If Donald Trump loses this fall, few will be in a hurry to claim his legacy. Commentators on the left and in the center—and even some on the right—will compete instead to tar their foes with it. For people across a broad ideological terrain, Trumpism will be less an attractive political philosophy than a term of abuse.
The best precedent is McCarthyism, which has become a synonym for hysterical intolerance. Joseph McCarthy, like Trump, built his political career on demagoguery, intimidation, and a cult of personality—not tangible achievements or coherent ideas. And as the psychology professor Dan P. McAdams has observed, “When narcissists begin to disappoint those whom they once dazzled, their descent can be especially precipitous.” More than a half century after the senator from Wisconsin died, progressives accuse conservatives of McCarthyism, and vice versa. But few embrace the label themselves. Especially if Trump is badly defeated in November—a distinct possibility—Trumpism too will likely be used primarily as an epithet.
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.