Americans Are Sleepwalking Through a National Emergency
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The United States of America is facing a threat from a sometimes violent cult while a nuclear armed power wages war on the border of our closest allies. And yet, many Americans sleepwalk as if they are living in normal times instead of in an ongoing crisis.
First, here are four new stories from The Atlantic:Airbnb really is different now. The bizarre story behind Shinzo Abe’s assassination An intellectual and a moral failure Rory Stewart: What to do when your political party loses its mind
The Fragility of Freedom
Americans have become accustomed to so much in public life that they would have once found shocking. But many of these events are not only shameful; they are a warning, a kind of static energy filling the air just before a lightning strike. America is in a state of emergency, yet few of its citizens seem to realize it.
For example, a single senator, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, has been holding up hundreds of military promotions for months, endangering the national security of the United States. The acting chief of naval operations says it will take years for the Navy to recover from the damage. (Welcome news, no doubt, in Beijing.) Few people outside of America’s senior military leadership seem particularly concerned.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is going to open an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. Why? Well, why not? Speaker Kevin McCarthy promised the extremists in his party that if they made him speaker, he would do what he was told. And so he has; the People’s House is now effectively being run by members such as Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, fringe figures who in better times might never have been elected, and in a sensible House would have been relegated to the backbenches so far away from the rostrum that their seats would be in a different time zone. (And let us not even speak of Lauren Boebert.)
Elsewhere, the governor of Florida and his vaccine-skeptic surgeon general are telling people under 65 not to get boosted against COVID. He apparently thinks that anti-science extremism will help him wrest the Republican presidential nomination away from Donald Trump, and so he is resorting to a deeply cynical ploy that could cost lives.
And then there is Trump himself, the wellspring of all this chaos. In a country that understood the fragility of its own freedoms, we would see him for what he is: the leader of a dangerous cult who has admitted to his attempts to subvert American democracy.
Last week, Special Counsel Jack Smith filed a request for a gag order on Trump to stop him from making more public attacks on prosecutors, witnesses, and potential jurors. As they say on social media, let that sink in:
A federal prosecutor has asked a judge to stop the former president of the United States from threatening lawyers and witnesses in his case, and intimidating potential jurors.
As I wrote recently, this is not a normal election. (We haven’t had one of those in almost a decade now.) The GOP is not a normal political organization; the party withdrew into itself years ago and has now emerged from its rotting chrysalis as a nihilistic, seditionist movement in thrall to Trump. And Trump is not a normal candidate in any way: He regularly expresses his intention to continue his attacks on the American system and has made so many threats in so many different directions that we’ve lost track of them. Yet millions of Americans simply accept such behavior as Trump being Trump, much as they did in 2016.
Trump has shown his willingness to endanger anyone who gets in his way—as Smith’s recent motion shows—and so we might at least expect the media to report on Trump not merely as a candidate but as if they were following the developments around a dangerous conspiracy or the ongoing trial of the leader of a major crime syndicate.
Instead, we have Kristen Welker inaugurating the reboot of Meet the Press by leaning forward with focused sincerity and asking Trump, “Tell me—Mr. President, tell me what you see when you look at your mug shot?”
That wasn’t even the worst of it. Like Kaitlan Collins in her disastrous town hall with Trump on CNN this past spring, Welker lost control of the interview, because she, too, insisted on treating Trump like an ordinary political candidate instead of the seditious menace he’s become.
Many of my colleagues in the media have already dissected Welker’s failure, and I won’t pile on, because I agree with my friend Jonathan Last at The Bulwark, who wrote this morning, “I’m being hard on Kristen Welker, but this isn’t really about Kristen Welker. It’s about the mainstream broadcast media. All of them. In 2016 broadcast media was totally inadequate to the job of covering an aspiring authoritarian … Today—even after witnessing an insurrection—they still don’t seem to understand the situation and their complicity in it.”
Democrats and their liberal allies claim to be in full mobilization mode to stop Trump and defang his threat to the constitutional order. But are they? How much more hand-wringing will they do over Biden’s age, over whether he’s doing enough for climate change or to forgive student loans? Do we really need Biden to visit the UAW picket lines (as some have suggested)? How many more times will Trump’s opponents in the pro-democracy coalition internalize the right’s criticisms—about inflation, about spending, about gasoline—and respond to them as if Republicans care one whit about policy?
Yes, gas is expensive. So is food. These are real issues, and people deserve to hear how their government will assist them. The solution to these problems, however, is not to normalize an authoritarian and thus pretend that one party, dysfunctional as it can be, is the same as a reactionary, anti-constitutional, and sometimes violent movement.
We don’t have to live in panic. Americans need not walk around all day with their hair on fire, talking about nothing else but the gathering dangers. In times of crisis, whether World War II or 9/11, we married and divorced, we carped about prices, we partied, we took vacations. (Heck, I’m off to Las Vegas myself shortly.) We did all the things normal people do in the course of a normal life.
But we don’t have to live this way, either, with voters and institutions—and especially the media—pretending that all is well while charlatans, aspiring theocrats, and would-be authoritarians set fire to American democracy.
Related:CNN went full Jerry Springer. American democracy perseveres—for now.
Today’s NewsFive Americans who were imprisoned in Iran were freed today as part of a prisoner-swap deal between Washington and Tehran. Hunter Biden has sued the Internal Revenue Service, alleging that agency investigators violated his privacy rights in testimony and public comments. The IRS has declined to comment on the suit, and the agents have said that they made their disclosures legally. China flew 103 warplanes near Taiwan in a 24-hour period, a notable escalation of a near-daily practice.
Evening ReadSally Anscombe / Gallery Stock
A Driver of Inequality That Not Enough People Are Talking About
By Melissa Kearney
Earlier this year, I was at a conference on fighting poverty, and a member of the audience asked a question that made the experts visibly uncomfortable.
“What about family structure?” he asked. “Single-parent families are more likely to be poor than two-parent ones. Does family structure play a role in poverty?”
The scholar to whom the question was directed looked annoyed and struggled to formulate an answer. The panelists shifted in their seats. The moderator stepped in, quickly pointing out that poverty makes it harder for people to form stable marriages. She promptly called on someone else.
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Culture BreakPhotograph by Philip Montgomery for The Atlantic
I mentioned that I’m going off to Vegas for the rest of the week. In my pursuit of the perfect American cultural experience, I am going to see Barry Manilow. (Yes, I will write about it when I get back.)
Last night, however, I came across Spenser: For Hire, the television adaptation of Robert B. Parker’s series of novels about a tough but cultured Boston private eye. The series, starring Robert Urich and Avery Brooks, was fine, especially within the limits of network programming in the mid-1980s. But my recommendation is to read the books—and read them in order. They are a lovely time capsule (especially of Boston) from the early ’70s through the ’80s.
The books are funny yet dark; I won’t tell you that they’re great literature, but they do raise issues about honor, manhood, friendship, loyalty, and love, all while unraveling some excellent private-eye plots. In later years, Parker lost a step (he died in 2010), and I am not a fan of the series’ continuations by other authors, but if you start with God Save the Child (written in 1974 and one of the best books in the series, especially if you remember the ’70s) and make your way through to A Catskill Eagle (1985), I think you’ll enjoy the ride.
Katherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.
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