The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Trump Thinks Shana-Can

After four months of 'acting,' Patrick Shanahan passes his audition for Defense Secretary. Plus: What do the Democratic voters who flipped the House want now?

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

What We’re Following Today

It’s Thursday, May 9.

‣ The United States revealed that it seized a North Korean freighter carrying coal ash last July, because North Korea was using the ship to evade U.S. sanctions.

‣ Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said House Democrats might move to hold additional Trump-administration officials (past and present) in contempt if they did not adhere to Judiciary Committee subpoenas, and said the U.S. is in a “constitutional crisis.”

‣ Donald Trump said that the U.S. will raise tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports starting tomorrow, as trade negotiations between the U.S. and China resumed in Washington.

Here’s what else we’re watching:

(Andrew Harnik / AP)

The Audition Is Over: Donald Trump nominated acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan to be the permanent secretary of defense, after four months of waiting. Now to get the “acting” out of his title, Shanahan will have to be confirmed by the Senate. The previous secretary of defense, James Mattis, quit in protest of the president’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, and wrote in his resignation letter that the president deserves a secretary “whose views are better aligned with” his own. How will Shanahan fare?

Fractured Foundation: Polls show that the ambitious, progressive policies of Democratic presidential candidates trying to push the party further to the left could jeopardize the electoral coalition Democrats built in 2018, writes Ronald Brownstein. “Such prized progressive ideas as a government-run single-payer health-care system, tuition-free public college, and significantly higher top marginal income-tax rates hold the potential to starkly divide Democrats along racial lines.”

Oil and Gas: A new report by the International Monetary Fund found that in 2017, governments around the world collectively subsidized fossil fuels by $5.2 trillion. The report suggests that if only government cut those subsidies, carbon emissions would drop. But such a straightforward fix might not even be possible.

What Children Fear: Fifty-seven percent of teens worry a mass shooting will happen in their school, according to a Pew Research Center survey, and in the 2017–2018 school year, more than 4.1 million students participated in lockdowns or lockdown drills. When was the last time kids have been so afraid, and “so regularly prompted to imagine their own suffering?”

Viktor Orbán’s War on Intellect

(Paul Spella; Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty; Jorge Silva; Bernadett Szabo / Reuters; Shutterstock)

Hungary’s authoritarian President Viktor Orbán has systematically clamped down on the country’s universities, limiting funding and installing political allies to tighten control. However, one university has notably resisted Orbán’s reach: Central European University (CEU), a private institution founded by the billionaire George Soros. In The Atlantic’s June issue, Franklin Foer explores Orbán’s war against academic freedom:

And so, for much of the past two years, CEU has been the barricades of a civilizational struggle, where liberalism would mount a defense against right-wing populism. The fate of the university was a test of whether liberalism had the tactical savvy and emotional fortitude to beat back its new ideological foe. → Read on.


A supporter of the president listens during a Trump-campaign rally in Panama City, Florida, on May 8, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

Ideas From The Atlantic

New York Seeks Trump’s Tax Returns—And Supports Impeachment (Jed Shugerman)
“Americans should be wary of changing our laws too abruptly just to investigate Trump. When the last law is down, as Robert Bolt wrote, the devil may turn round on you, and where would you hide?” → Read on.

Why Surveillance Is the Climate Change of the Internet (Derek Thompson)
“Democracy requires the informed participation of adult citizens. Surveillance capitalism demands the uninformed half-consent of consumers pressing ‘Okay!’ on privacy disclosures they cannot possibly read or understand.” → Read on.

Barbara Bush’s Greatest Loss (Susan Page)
“Robin Bush’s illness and her death from leukemia, at the age of 3, would forever change Barbara Bush. The experience would steel her resolve and broaden her understanding of the ways the innocent can be caught and crushed by the unfairness of life. It would leave an indelible stamp on her about what matters, and what doesn’t.” → Read on.

Don’t Scrap the Test, Help Black Kids Ace It (John McWhorter)
“Why does so much of the debate over these admissions discrepancies [to elite New York public high schools] operate according to a tacit assumption, that to discuss black kids getting better at the tests is ticklish at best and piggish at worst? There are reasons, in themselves quite well meaning, for this mannered approach to the problem, but they don’t hold up.” → Read on.

What Else We’re Reading

Mayor Pete Blindsides Kamala Harris in California (Carla Marinucci, Politico)
‘I Have a Plan for That.’ Elizabeth Warren Is Betting That Americans Are Ready for Her Big Ideas (Haley Sweetland Edwards, TIME)
An Actual “America First” Foreign Policy Would Be Pretty Popular (Joshua Keating, Slate)
It’s Time to Break Up Facebook (Chris Hughes, The New York Times) (🔒 Paywall)

About us: This newsletter is a daily effort from The Atlantic’s politics writers: Elaine Godfrey, Madeleine Carlisle, and Olivia Paschal. It’s edited by Shan Wang.

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