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A Broken Health System Is a Threat to Freedom
President Donald Trump’s chief of staff stated plainly on Sunday that the administration does not intend to stop the spread of the coronavirus. “We are not going to control the pandemic,” Mark Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper. This approach is consistent with the president's own experience: He did not observe standard public-health measures, he caught the virus, and he received excellent care free of charge. The rest of the country has suffered, and will suffer, in an entirely different way.In normal democracies, health care is not the reserve of an elite, and citizens count on both the prevention and the treatment of disease. Universal health care serves as the moral bridge between citizens and their governments. In this sense, the United States is not a normal democracy. Untreated illness and uncertain care fill our politics with unnecessary fear and rage. Our president pushes this logic by offering insecurity instead of security as the aim of politics. Meadows only clarified what has been true all along: Trump’s form of politics works with a plague, not against it. Among the president’s notable responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have been the withdrawal from the World Health Organization and his persistent attempt to take health insurance away from tens of millions of Americans. This is not inefficiency or neglect. It is a pattern evident all across the Trump administration: Governing is not about problems to be solved, but emergencies to be magnified.Health care is always political, but the politics can confirm or deny democratic norms and practices. A democratic country that handles a pandemic well generates trust in government, and even national pride. If care is not universal, then the political equation, especially during a pandemic, is entirely different. When citizens cannot imagine security, politics becomes the distribution of insecurity, the allocation of fears and anxieties that push us away from an idea of common citizenship and toward authoritarianism. What is lethal for Americans is also lethal for our democracy.[Read: How the pandemic defeated America]I am an American historian who has seen the pandemic from both sides of the Atlantic, and who has just written a book about health care in the United States. When journalists from other countries ask me why so many Americans have died during the coronavirus pandemic, they phrase the question actively: “What have Americans done to bring about such needless mayhem?” And that is the right way to think about our COVID-19 policy. It is not a blundering, but a bludgeoning.In other rich nations, it is easier to see a doctor and harder to die than in the United States. As I write these lines, I am sick in Austria. That means that if I call a doctor, I see her the same day, get tests right away, fill out no forms, and pay no fees. Without worries about access to care, I am a freer person. On the scale of a whole society, the gain in liberty is extraordinary. Even before the pandemic, even before Trump, Americans were killing one another in huge numbers in the service of dogma. Too many of us take for granted that health and freedom are somehow in contradiction—and so we exclude our own bodies from our notion of rights. We treat as normal a system of commercial medicine in which decisions about life and death are made on the basis of profit. Our babies and their mothers die at rates that Europeans find unbelievable. American Millennials will likely pay more for health care yet die younger than their parents and grandparents did. Life expectancy peaked here in 2014, even as it continues to rise elsewhere. Americans pay twice as much per capita for health care as the citizens of peer countries do, for the privilege of dying years younger.Americans have internalized entirely unnecessary inequalities in access to care—to the point that they run deep into our souls. Many of us, by some calculations nearly half, simply avoid care because it seems unaffordable. Those of us with insurance think about how good our insurance is, and where it will get us. Those of us who get access believe that we deserve it. It does not occur to us that the less-bad access we have is worse than what everyone has in countries with universal health care. Lost to us are the political consequences: If we take for granted radical inequality and repeated emergencies in the realm of health, we are primed for authoritarianism in the realm of life. In the health-care debate in the United States, proposals to extend coverage to all are decried as government overreach, socialism, even outright tyranny. But the lack of health security is what makes Americans vulnerable to demagogues and authoritarians.[Ibram X. Kendi: Stop blaming black people for dying of the coronavirus]Our sense that suffering is normal is also racial. Many white Americans regard their own suffering as virtuous, while maintaining that public health care would only be abused by Black people and immigrants. In other words, suffering is normal so long as others suffer more. During the pandemic, this everyday American sensibility has been on full display in widespread white indifference to a disease that has killed Black and Latino people disproportionately. Racial inequality brings unnecessary death. It also brings a sentiment that an authoritarian leader can exploit: Namely, that those who suffer the most are themselves at fault. When racism is a preexisting condition, the disproportionate death rates of Americans of color during a pandemic seem normal.Given these grievous problems, America’s only hope of stopping the COVID-19 pandemic was to do so at the outset. Such efforts have been mounted before. Under George W. Bush, the number of SARS cases in the U.S. was limited, and no one died. In 2014, the Obama administration took the fight against Ebola to West Africa, a prudent step that was normal then but that seems like science fiction now.Before the novel coronavirus arrived in the U.S., the Trump administration dismantled the institutions that were responsible for early warning and early action. By telling Americans in February what they wanted to hear about the virus—that it was not serious, that it would disappear, that everyone could get a test—Trump ensured that death would be widespread. By failing to institute a regime of testing, he made it normal for us to follow our own guesswork and emotions rather than dealing with facts. This was a profound choice, and Trump made it explicitly: For him to feel good personally about artificially low numbers was more important than for Americans to accumulate the knowledge that we would need to survive.The Trump administration announced a kind of new federalism, in which governors would have to show their loyalty to get federal assistance, and in which the Democratic ones would be blamed regardless of what happened. The bluster shrouded the basic decision, which was not to launch a federal response to the pandemic. No nationwide lockdown, no national testing initiative, no national contact-tracing initiative, no nationwide signaling on wearing masks and washing hands. This set the United States apart from every other comparable country.After first blaming Democrats for not doing enough, Trump switched to blaming them for doing too much. He placed himself on the side of those who opposed public-health protections, and helped to create a sense among some of his supporters that lockdowns and quarantines were a power grab by liberals. By tweeting in April that states should be “liberated” at a time when armed protesters were at statehouses, he encouraged violence. In June, according to the FBI, men gathered in Ohio to plot the kidnapping of Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan. When the plot was exposed, Trump suggested that Whitmer was herself responsible, because she “wants to be a dictator.”Throughout the summer, as anxieties over the pandemic mixed with resurgent anger over racial injustice, Trump worked to make white people feel like victims. He used the Black Lives Matter protests to declare that Black people were actually the aggressors. By hiding in the White House bunker and using force to disperse a peaceful protest in nearby Lafayette Square on June 1, Trump defined himself as the real victim. He tried (and failed) to persuade the armed forces to view protesters as enemies. By issuing an executive order to protect monuments on June 26, he claimed that the real issue was the innocence of (white) American history. By sending unidentified federal agents to Portland, Oregon, he tried to create the impression that defenders of the rights of Black Americans were threats to American cities. The problem was not the shooting of civilians by police; it was that Black people were making trouble in cities for no good reason.[Read: Black Lives Matter just entered its next phase]In the real world, Americans have been dying from the pandemic all summer and fall, in ever greater numbers in states with Republican governors. The whole time, COVID-19 has been the real danger to everyone involved. More police officers have been dying of coronavirus exposure while on duty than from all other causes combined. At the very moment when the disease is reaching those whom Trump calls “my people,” the White House admits that it has no plan to stop it.This is America’s basic problem: Health care is not a promise for all, but rather an expectation of the rich that they will do relatively better than the poor, and of white people that they will do relatively better than Black people. Suffering can seem meaningful if it affirms this basic order, even if that suffering is one’s own. This is a posture of submission. Letting a disease play itself out is not the attitude of a free people. Nor is resentment against those who take the initiative.Our politics were supposed to be about the pursuit of happiness; and, as the author of that phrase knew, happiness is impossible without health. Yet a democracy can become suffused with suffering, to the point where many voters do not even expect that policy might help them or loved ones stay well. An aspiring authoritarian such as Trump knows what to do: provide the emotional jolts of pleasure that distract from the general decline. “Winning” is no longer about gaining something for oneself, such as a healthier or longer life, but about taking pleasure in the suffering of others. This is a sensibility—the strong survive; the weak get what they deserve—that favors authoritarianism over democracy. Those who endorse it cannot win this year’s election for Trump, but they can wreak havoc in November.When Trump stands on a balcony after receiving treatment that is out of reach for others, he is asking not just for submission but for sacrifice. After all, he looks strong in the foreground only if others die in the background. That Trump would maximize pain, divide people, and create emergencies should not surprise anyone. It is just the authoritarian alchemy that one should expect. The unpredictable part is how we choose to react. In this election, Americans face a choice not between individuals, but between regimes: between tyranny and a republic as forms of government, and between suffering and happiness as its aims. If Trump is defeated, our democracy should be reinforced by universal health care. Health and freedom collapse together, and they can be recovered together. We would be much freer as a people if we accorded ourselves health care as a right.
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theatlantic.com
The Atlantic Daily: Why the 2020s Are So Worrisome
Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.Getty / The AtlanticAmerica’s political schisms are so profound that we risk a repeat of the 1850s, when the country was on the precipice of the Civil War.Two Atlantic writers warn that the 2020s could mark another dangerous decade for the American experiment. This time, the split is between those who embrace the country’s diverse future and those who fear it.Should Donald Trump win, America will enter an 1850s-style death spiral.On the left and right, “extremism will spread, mutate into new forms, and gradually become entrenched in more areas of American life,” Anne Applebaum argues.A Joe Biden victory wouldn't necessarily soothe the nation's wounds.Especially if the GOP deepens “its reliance on the most racially resentful white voters,” Ronald Brownstein writes.Further reading: In retrospect, The Office’s Dwight Schrute was a bellwether for this tense new period in American politics, Megan Garber argues.Matt Huynh1. Watch a scary movie.Here are 25 of the best horror films you can stream, ranked by scariness.2. If you plan to celebrate, be sure to take precautions. “In much of the country, staying home is still the safest choice,” our health writer Amanda Mull warns. If you decide to trick-or-treat, plan with your neighbors to modify the activity for safety.3. Read a scary book. Our weekly guide to the best in books celebrates the genre’s masters of fright, including Maurice Sendak, R. L. Stine, and Stephen King.4. Familiarize yourself with everything that crawls, slithers, or shrieks in the night. Explore the evolutionary roots of our fear of bats. Meet the kingsnake—and find out how it got its name. Tap into a black widow spider’s shudder-inducing sixth sense.5. Eat all the candy. And while you do, read this delightful story on how children assign value to various treats. No, we will not trade our Snickers for your Tootsie Roll.6. Prepare yourself for the end of daylight saving time. Avoid an unnecessary Sunday scare by planning your bedtime accordingly on Halloween night. As if by witchcraft, clocks will jump backwards by an hour. (We know; we hate it too.)Thanks for reading. This email was written by Caroline Mimbs Nyce, with help from Haley Weiss.Did someone forward you this newsletter? Sign up here. Need help? Contact Customer Care.Looking for an easy-to-make cocktail for Halloween? Our deputy editor Ross Andersen recommends the Bobby Burns, a spiced and smoky blend of scotch, sweet vermouth, and Bénédictine, stirred and served up in a chilled coupe glass. If you aren’t drinking, try iced ginger beer with bitters instead. Either will pair well with the pop and crackle of a fire and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, the perfect autumn novel.
theatlantic.com
The Books Briefing: When Poets Write Novels
After the success of Ocean Vuong’s poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds, some dismissively suggested that the poet explore themes other than “war, violence, queerness, and immigration,” Kat Chow reported in a 2019 Atlantic profile. But Vuong wasn’t done considering those topics. So he disregarded his critics and wrote a novel. In On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Vuong continues to grapple with those questions, evoking his childhood with urgency, lyricism, and—more than anything—careful attention to emotional truth.A background in poetry can enrich the process of writing fiction, helping writers create descriptive and emotionally resonant works. In an interview with The Atlantic, the author Souvankham Thammavongsa said that she relied on the same “discipline and rigor and attention” when writing poetry and short stories, but still aimed to make her fiction distinct. The young-adult author Elizabeth Acevedo draws from her experience as a poet, English teacher, and aspiring rapper to write propulsive novels about young Latina characters in a variety of styles: The Poet X, a verse novel, follows a 15-year-old who finds solace in poetry; the protagonist of With the Fire on High, which is written in prose, finds herself through cooking. The poet and novelist Ben Lerner turns his focus on language itself (and the men who manipulate it) in The Topeka School.Chloe Aridjis is not a poet, but her novel Sea Monsters functions much like a poem, gaining its meaning not from plot but rather from vivid images that blend together and shift in meaning as the book progresses. ​Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas. Know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward them this email. What We’re Reading(Mengwen Cao)Going home with Ocean Vuong“In a way, Vuong works this same magic through his poetry, and now, his novel; he builds a world that draws from his own life and, in turn, makes the reader’s experience more real, more beautiful, and more our own.”
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theatlantic.com
Why the 2020s Could Be as Dangerous as the 1850s
If Joe Biden beats Donald Trump decisively next week, this election may be remembered as a hinge point in American history: the moment when a clear majority of voters acknowledged that there’s no turning back from America’s transformation into a nation of kaleidoscopic diversity, a future that doesn’t rely on a backward-facing promise to make America great again. But that doesn’t mean the voters who embody the nation’s future are guaranteed a lasting victory over those who feel threatened by it.With Biden embracing America’s evolution and Trump appealing unrestrainedly to the white voters most fearful of it, the 2020 campaign marks a new peak in the most powerful trend shaping politics in this century. Over the past two decades, and especially since Barack Obama’s election in 2008, voters have re-sorted among the parties and thus reconfigured the central fault line between them. Today Republicans and Democrats are divided less by class or region than by attitudes toward the propulsive demographic, cultural, and economic shifts remaking 21st-century America. On one side, Republicans now mobilize what I’ve called a “coalition of restoration”; on the other, Democrats assemble a “coalition of transformation.”Republicans have grown more reliant on support from mostly white and Christian constituencies and the exurban, small-town, and rural communities that have been the least touched, and most unnerved, by cultural and economic transitions: growing diversity in race, religion, and sexual orientation; evolving roles for women; and the move from an industrial economy to one grounded in the Information Age. Democrats have become the party of the people and places most immersed in, and welcoming of, those shifts: people of color, Millennials and members of Generation Z, secular adults who don’t identify with any religious tradition, and college-educated white professionals, all of them clustered in the nation’s largest metropolitan centers.Heading into the campaign’s final weekend, Trump is facing erosion on both sides of this divide, with Biden consolidating most elements of the coalition of transformation, eroding Trump’s advantages with blue-collar and older white voters, and laying siege to the midsize industrial cities across the Rust Belt that moved sharply toward the president in 2016. Behind this two-front advance, Biden has consistently led Trump in national polls and surveys of the six swing states that both sides are most heavily contesting, especially the three in the Rust Belt that tipped the 2016 race to the president: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.Many Democrats remain unnerved by the prospect that, like a general advancing an army under cover of night, Trump will mobilize an unanticipated turnout surge from his base voters and win the Electoral College (if not the popular vote), the same way he did last time.That’s possible, but it remains less likely than in 2016, because the voters opposing him appear determined to turn out in much higher numbers, too. I’ve often said that modern American politics can be reduced to a single question: How long can Paducah tell Seattle what to do? Next week the answer may be that Seattle—that is, America’s future—has mobilized to reclaim control of the nation’s direction from Paducah—its past—and perhaps by a resounding margin.Without discounting the possibility of an upset, Tuesday’s results are likely to demonstrate that the Democrats’ coalition of transformation is now larger—even much larger—than the Republicans’ coalition of restoration. With Trump solidifying the GOP’s transformation into a “white-identity party … a nationalist party, not unlike parties you see in Europe, … you see the Democratic Party becoming the party of literally everyone else,” as the longtime Republican political consultant Michael Madrid, a co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, told me.The broad backlash against Trump’s vision of the GOP across the diverse, metro-based emerging America could provide Democrats unified control of government for the first time since 2010. It could also underscore the growing difficulty Republicans will face attracting majority support in elections to come.[Read: How the minority wins]And yet even a decisive Democratic win would not guarantee that the party can actually implement its policy agenda. As if laying sandbags against the coming demographic wave, Republicans have erected a series of defenses that could allow them to impede their rivals—even if demographic and social change combine to more clearly stamp Democrats as the nation’s majority party in the years ahead. And that could make the 2020s the most turbulent decade for America since the 1850s, when a very similar dynamic unfolded.Donald Trump didn’t start the electorate’s re-sorting along the lines of transformation and restoration, but he has made the process vastly more intense and venomous. Throughout his divisive, belligerent, and norm-breaking presidency, Trump has governed as a wartime president for red America, with blue America—not any foreign nation—as the adversary.In both rhetoric and policy, Trump has positioned himself in almost unrelenting opposition to the emerging America—from demonizing cities as dirty and dangerous to eviscerating Obama’s climate-change agenda. When the coronavirus pandemic initially exploded in blue states and cities, Trump feuded with Democratic governors and mayors and threatened to withhold federal aid when they criticized him. Likewise, when the death of George Floyd prompted enormous racial-justice protests nationwide, Trump disparaged the Black Lives Matter movement as a “symbol of hate,” deployed federal law enforcement into Democratic-run cities over the objections of local officials, and, through his Justice Department, even explored bringing criminal charges against several Democratic mayors for failing to act more aggressively against protesters.In the campaign, Trump has run as much against the emerging America as he has against Biden. Earlier Republican presidential nominees might have implied to white suburbanites that minorities are a threat to their safety or lifestyle, as in the Willie Horton ad that George H. W. Bush ran in 1988. But Trump has made the implicit explicit, warning that Biden would unloose a “mob” of rioters through suburbia. He’s claimed that Biden would appoint New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, a Black man, to enforce integration of low-income families. The Republican convention provided a prominent speaking slot to a white couple from St. Louis who face felony charges for brandishing guns at racial-justice protesters. In all these ways, Trump has presented himself as the last line of defense—a human wall—against the changes that so many of his supporters fear.This belligerence has helped bond Trump to his base. But the price of this approach has been clear in elections throughout his presidency. The first warning came in 2017, when a sharp recoil from Trump in the suburbs of northern Virginia and Richmond swept Democrats to control of the governorship and state House of Representatives, despite continued GOP strength in rural areas. In 2018, that revolt expanded nationwide, as Democrats recaptured the U.S. House behind sweeping gains, not only in suburban areas that were already trending blue, but also in Sun Belt metros where Republicans had not previously been vulnerable. The backlash was measured in more than votes: Democrats benefited in 2018 from an enormous surge in campaign contributions and volunteer activity.Those elections proved only a prologue to a 2020 mobilization against Trump that may be unprecedented in its magnitude. Though Biden, a 77-year-old career politician, does not inspire much personal passion among his party’s voters, his campaign has raised more money than any presidential nominee before him, the majority of it from small donors; the biggest surge has come from the same white-collar communities that have repudiated Trump’s GOP at the ballot box. The casts of iconic television shows and movies, including Seinfeld and The Avengers, have reunited to hold virtual fundraisers for Biden and state Democratic parties. LeBron James has led a campaign of professional athletes to recruit thousands of poll workers to ensure that polling places remain open in minority neighborhoods. Political leaders across the Democratic spectrum—from Bernie Sanders to Joe Manchin—have locked arms to campaign for Biden. Publications that have never endorsed a presidential candidate (Scientific American) or have rarely supported a Democrat (the arch-conservative New Hampshire Union Leader) have backed him. Dozens of former Republican elected officials, hundreds of former GOP executive-branch appointees, several former mid-level officials in Trump’s own government, and, perhaps most visibly of all, Cindy McCain have all publicly thrown their weight behind Biden. Blue and pink (that is, moderate Republican) America have left everything on the field in their battle to take down Trump.The evidence from both polling and early voting signals that this energy will translate into enormous turnout among most of the groups in the coalition of transformation, with a bigger share of them than in 2016 likely to vote against Trump. This threatens the president (and other Republicans) with a compounding effect: losing a bigger slice of a growing pie.Trump, for instance, appears likely to lose college-educated white voters by more than he did last time; in fact, he may lose them by the widest margin for any GOP presidential nominee ever. Especially sobering for Republicans is that not only is Trump facing a potentially record deficit among college-educated white women, who’ve been drifting to the Democrats since the early 1990s, but he could also lose a substantial majority of their male counterparts, a traditionally Republican-leaning group that most data sources say he carried in 2016.Young people are also moving further toward the Democrats. Trump has never been popular with younger voters. Democrats are confident that Biden, despite the limits of his own appeal to young people, can improve on Clinton’s 2016 performance (when she won only 55 percent, as many younger adults drifted to third-party candidates) to match Obama’s 2012 showing among adults younger than 30 (60 percent), and perhaps equal his huge haul in 2008 (66 percent). With the oldest Millennials about to turn 40, Biden should also improve on Clinton’s margins among voters in their 30s.Trump’s circle of religious support is narrowing, too. In 2016, Trump not only won four-fifths of white evangelical Christians, but also carried majorities of white Catholics and white mainline Protestants; now, a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) shows Biden leading with Catholics and running about even among Protestants. Both then and now, Trump faces rejection from about 70 percent of the growing number of secular adults who don’t identify with any religious tradition.The sole potential exception to this pattern is the possibility that Trump could notch some gains with Black and Latino men (especially younger ones, who are doubtful that either party can deliver for them). But the immovable resistance Trump faces from Black and Latino women limits the overall growth he can expect among voters of color (including Asian Americans, who are likely to vote against him in even larger proportions than Latinos).[Read: What liberals don’t understand about pro-Trump Latinos]While Trump faces the likelihood that most key groups in the coalition of transformation will coalesce against him in significantly greater numbers than in 2016, he is struggling to generate comparable unity on his side of the divide. Trump continues to stir enormous enthusiasm among his core constituencies. But even increased turnout may not benefit Trump as much as in 2016, because he is facing modest, but measurable, erosion in his margins among some of his best groups.Seniors have been the most visible defectors. No Democratic presidential nominee has carried voters 65 or older since Al Gore in 2000, but disillusionment over Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, combined with a greater affinity for Biden than for Hillary Clinton, has provided the former vice president a chance to break that streak. Even Trump’s backing from his core group of non-college-educated white voters is wavering—slightly, but potentially pivotally. Trump still draws around 60 percent of their votes in national polls. But even that formidable showing represents a decline from 2016, when he captured around two-thirds, the best performance for any nominee in either party since Ronald Reagan in 1984. Against Biden, Trump isn’t matching those elevated margins, especially among blue-collar white women and especially in the key Rust Belt states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.The common theme of all of these trends: The circle is closing tighter around Trump.“In 2016, you still had some Republicans, some conservatives who were biting their tongue and voting for Trump, taking him ‘seriously but not literally,’” the Tufts University political scientist Brian Schaffner, who has studied the roles sexism and racism played in the last election, told me. But since at least 2018, there’s been “a whittling away of people who weren’t necessarily strong supporters for him, but voted for him out of a habit of voting for Republican nominees.” With more of those Americans gone from the Trump coalition, he will grow even more dependent than in 2016 on the voters most uneasy with racial change and evolving roles for women. “We are going to be even more sorted [in this election] along these cultural markers about race attitudes and attitudes about misogyny,” Schaffner said.Geography tells the same story of a narrowing circle for Trump and the GOP. Even compared to last time, Trump and his party are slipping further in the populous places that most embody the nation’s changes. At the same time, Biden is clawing back ground in some of the areas that provided the foundation of Trump’s victory, the small and midsize communities that more closely resemble the profile of mid-20th-century America.In almost every state, the best way to think about the political alignment now is to imagine a beltway circling each of the major population centers; all of the bustling communities inside those beltways are becoming more blue, while the less densely settled terrain beyond them is turning deeper red.In 2020, Biden is consolidating the vote inside those beltways and denting the president’s dominance beyond them. Biden appears likely to recover at least some ground in midsize, blue-collar cities where Trump recorded huge gains last time, such as his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. And while Biden is unlikely to pry away many rural counties from Trump, Democrats are cautiously optimistic that he can reduce the president’s margin in some of them, particularly across the Rust Belt.[Read: The real threats to America’s cities]Simultaneously, Trump is at risk of cratering in America’s population centers. Already, in 2016, Trump lost 87 of the country’s 100 largest counties to Clinton; this year, he could lose about half of the 13 he won. (Maricopa County, centered on Phoenix, is one to watch: The largest county in America that Trump captured four years ago, it has seen its voters move away from Republicans, starting in the 2018 midterms.)Trump’s problem isn’t just that some of the large counties he carried in 2016 will turn against him. Many of the ones he lost appear poised to deliver even bigger—maybe much bigger—margins for the Democrats. Clinton, for instance, won Harris County, home to Houston, by about 160,000 votes; local political observers I spoke with believe Biden could at least double that margin in 2020. Likewise, Biden appears virtually certain to improve on Clinton’s totals in big urban centers with large Black populations, such as Detroit, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Philadelphia, where turnout declined, in some cases substantially, relative to Obama’s 2012 showing. In the 100 largest counties, Clinton won by 15 million votes combined; Biden could substantially enlarge that number.In the same way that Trump has isolated the GOP from the growing groups in American society driving demographic change, he is exiling the Republican Party from the places at the cutting edge of economic change. The Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution calculated that while Clinton in 2016 won fewer than one-sixth of U.S. counties, her counties accounted for nearly two-thirds of total GDP. “What we’ve seen is an increased sorting in which the Democratic vote has aligned around a future-oriented, higher-tech information economy, anchored by diverse urban places with dense collections of workers,” Mark Muro, the MPP’s policy director, told me. “Meanwhile, the Republican vote has sorted to essentially become a bastion of holdover traditionalist economic activities”—led by manufacturing, energy extraction, and agriculture—“and smaller, rural, less dense places.”That sorting could intensify next week. What’s happening to the GOP, Muro said, is that the decline already recorded under Trump in the core urban centers of the new economy is now spreading to the periphery, to the inner suburbs around them. “There is a lot of tech in unglamorous office parks,” as well as “financial services and professional services,” Muro said. Those areas “are certainly on the bubble here” and could break for Biden. On November 3, Muro’s calculations suggest, Trump might be reduced to winning counties that account for 30 percent or less of the nation’s total economic output.Apart from law-and-order messages aimed at what he calls the “suburban housewives of America,” Trump has done little as president to combat his erosion in the large metropolitan areas driving the economy’s transition. Instead, he has devoted enormous effort to fortifying his support among workers in the dominant industries of the 20th century, which are mostly located in smaller communities. He has deluged farmers with billions in subsidies, repealed all of Obama’s key initiatives to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and fight climate change, and touted his trade deals as a boon for manufacturing.But almost all of the Republicans I’ve spoken with agree that trading small towns for big suburbs is an unsustainable strategy. With relatively few exceptions, the areas where Trump is strongest are stagnant or decreasing in population, while jobs, innovation, and people are concentrating inside of the metropolitan centers that are poised to repudiate him in massive numbers. “The Republican base has migrated from the country club to the country, and that’s just not where the people are,” says Tom Davis, a former Republican representative from northern Virginia who once chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee. “There is no question [that] long term it is a losing proposition.”Even in the unlikely (but not inconceivable) event that Trump squeezes out another Electoral College victory, it seems almost certain that Biden will win the national popular vote. If he does, Democrats will have won the most votes in seven of the past eight presidential elections. No party has managed that since the formation of the modern party system in 1828. Likewise, the 47 current Democratic senators won 14 million more votes in their most recent elections than the 53 current Republicans, according to calculations by the Brookings Institution’s Molly Reynolds. With Democrats poised for Senate gains in midsize and larger states—such as Colorado, Arizona, and possibly North Carolina and Georgia—that imbalance will widen next week. Democrats don’t have the power in Washington to show for it right now, but in this century they have a much stronger claim than Republicans to be the nation’s majority party.[Read: The huge snag in Trump’s reelection pitch]The increasing influence of the racially diverse, heavily secular, and well-educated Millennials and Gen Zers will make it difficult for Republicans to dislodge Democrats from that majority position. This year will mark the most profound generational transition in the electorate since around 1980, when the Baby Boom supplanted the Greatest Generation as the largest bloc of voters, according to analysis by the nonpartisan States of Change project. Since then, for a remarkable four decades, Boomers have ruled as the largest group of both eligible and actual voters. But in 2020, for the first time, Millennials and Gen Zers have matched the Boomers as a share of eligible voters. And by 2024, the two younger generations will equal the Boomers and even older generations at the ballot box, and will surpass them by substantial margins very quickly thereafter, States of Change projects.That’s an ominous prospect for the GOP. Trump has run well among Baby Boomers, but he has defined the party in opposition to seemingly every priority that the younger generations have embraced, including climate change, racial equity, and gay rights. Trump might as well try to convince fish to fear water as to persuade young people to view the diverse country around them as harmful to American traditions. “On every one of these issues that has to do with a more pluralistic, cosmopolitan America, they grow up living in that world,” Robert P. Jones, PRRI’s founder and CEO, told me. “There is no conceivable way most of them will be sold on the idea that it’s a threat.”Yet it’s far from clear that the coalition of transformation can implement its agenda, even if it convincingly establishes itself as the nation’s majority through the coming decade. Republicans benefit from multiple features of the current electoral system that could allow them to hobble Democrats.The Electoral College and the Senate magnify the influence of the small, mostly white and Christian interior states that now lean reliably toward the GOP. Even if Biden wins next week, control of the Senate remains on the knife’s edge. And even if Democrats do win a narrow Senate majority, the Senate filibuster, which amplifies small states’ power, could stymie much of their agenda. Senators representing states with as little as 11 percent of the population can muster the 41 votes to maintain a filibuster, according to calculations from Adam Jentleson, a former deputy chief of staff to onetime Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid and the author of an upcoming book arguing for Senate reform. “You can get to 41 votes to sustain a filibuster simply by assembling states that Trump won by 20 points or more,” Jentleson told me.If Democrats win the upper chamber, they might terminate the filibuster, as a growing number in the party have proposed. But even then, they would face the last line of GOP defense: the new six-to-three Republican majority on the Supreme Court. The justices could repeatedly invalidate Democratic legislation and executive-branch actions. For instance, it’s not hard to imagine that with unified control of government, Democrats might take the monumental step of ending the Senate filibuster to pass a new Voting Rights Act, only to see the Republican Court majority strike it down (as the 2013 Shelby County decision did to a key element of the original VRA). With the oldest members of that Republican bloc only in their early 70s, this conservative Court majority could easily persist through the entire decade of the 2020s. Unless Democrats pursue legislation to change the Court’s structure, the oldest Millennials might turn 50 before the current conservative majority is dislodged.[Read: The end of the filibuster—no, really]These same flammable ingredients were present in the 1850s, when a rising majority found it impossible to impose its agenda because of all the structural obstacles laid down by the retreating minority. As the decade proceeded, it became more and more clear that the newly formed Republican Party, dedicated to barring the spread of slavery to the territories, constituted an emerging national majority. It was centered on the northern states, which by 1860 would represent 60 percent of America’s population, including 70 percent of its white population. In their writings and speeches, southerners were acutely conscious of their status as a national minority. Yet for decades they successfully maneuvered to block restrictions on slavery through their powerful position in the Senate and their influence over pro-slavery Democratic presidents. That allowed them not only to suppress most legislative threats, but also to establish a friendly majority on the Supreme Court. In the 1857 Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court, with seven of its nine justices appointed by earlier pro-South Democratic presidents, declared that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories. As the Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz recently told me, “What Dred Scott did, in effect, was to declare the platform of the Republican Party unconstitutional.”Whether Abraham Lincoln could have maneuvered around those obstacles we’ll never know, because the South seceded before anyone could find out. Even if Democrats consistently win elections through the 2020s, red states aren’t likely to follow the example of the pre–Civil War South and quit the union. But Republican behavior in recent years suggests that they share the antebellum South’s determination to control the nation’s direction as a minority. That determination is evident in the extraordinary steps Republicans have taken to shift the Supreme Court, including denying a vote on Obama nominee Merrick Garland in 2016 and then rushing a vote on Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett this month, after more than 60 million Americans had already voted. It’s evident in the flood of laws that Republican states have passed over the past decade making it more difficult to vote. And it’s evident in the fervent efforts from the party to restrict access to mail-in voting this year. In many ways, recent history has suggested that Republicans believe they have a better chance of maintaining power by suppressing the diverse new generations entering the electorate than by courting them.What’s unclear is whether a Trump defeat could cause Republicans to reconsider that path. After the 2012 election, the Republican National Committee commissioned its heralded “autopsy,” which concluded that the GOP must expand its appeal to young and nonwhite voters. Instead, Trump pursued the polar-opposite strategy: maximizing support among older and non-college-educated white people by presenting those growing constituencies as a threat. A Trump defeat might well prompt Republicans to exhume the autopsy. But if more of the GOP’s white-collar voters abandon the party next week, as seems virtually certain, there may not be much of an electoral foundation for such a reconsideration.The reason: If racial and cultural moderates abandon the GOP, the voters left in the party will tilt even further toward Trump’s message of racial and cultural resentment. “The Republican Party is going to continue to shrink and become more monolithic and less relevant and more regionalized,” Madrid, the Lincoln Project co-founder, told me. “They believe they are the last stand for America and [that] America is the white Christian nation. They believe they are what America is. And that kind of identity gets stronger as it loses—it becomes more self-righteous as it loses.”The inexorable change coming to the Democratic Party could make the GOP even more reactionary. Biden has defined himself as a “transitional” figure, and demands are already building for a Democratic leadership corps that reflects the party’s increasing reliance on young people and people of color. It’s not hard to imagine that by 2024, Democrats will be led by presidential nominee Kamala Harris, who is of Jamaican and Indian descent; vice-presidential nominee Pete Buttigieg, an openly gay man; and House Speaker Hakeem Jeffries, who would be the first Black person to hold that post. Much like Obama did in 2008, such a roster would symbolize a changing America in a way that inspires the coalition of transformation—but terrifies many in the coalition of restoration. “It would touch on everything that a lot of Trump supporters were reacting to when they supported him in 2016—this sense of feeling threatened by the [challenge] to white supremacy in the U.S,” Schaffner told me.California over the past 30 years may offer a hopeful vision of how America could work through these coming conflicts. During the 1990s, as minorities were slowly becoming a majority of the state’s population, racial tension soared. With preponderant support from white voters, conservatives passed a series of ballot initiatives targeting those minority groups, including Proposition 187, which cut off services for undocumented immigrants; a ban on bilingual education; and tougher criminal-sentencing laws. But once California passed the racial tipping point and the sky didn’t fall, tensions dramatically eased. In years since, the state has repealed much of the hard-line agenda it approved during the 1990s. If that’s the nation’s path, the next few years may be rocky, but today’s political fault lines could slowly dissolve. Americans could re-sort themselves around less volatile differences over taxes and spending, instead of their feelings about racial and cultural change.The alternative is the 1850s scenario. On that path, the Republican coalition remains centered on culturally conservative white Americans who grow more embittered and radical as evidence mounts that they cannot stop the emerging majority from instituting its agenda. If this many non-college-educated and Christian white voters are receptive to a Trump-style racial-identity message when they constitute a little over 40 percent of the population, there’s little reason to believe fewer of them will respond to it when they fall to 38 or 36 percent as the decade proceeds. Already, research by the Vanderbilt University political scientist Larry Bartels has found that a stunningly high percentage of Republican voters express sympathy for an array of antidemocratic sentiments, such as the half who agreed that the “traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” A similar impulse to embrace any means necessary for maintaining power is evident in the virtual silence from GOP leaders as Trump has openly called for criminal prosecution of Obama and Hillary Clinton, as well as Biden and his family (not to mention the choice by every Republican in Congress, except Utah Senator Mitt Romney, to decline sanctioning Trump for trying to extort Ukraine to manufacture dirt on Biden).A Republican Party deepening its reliance on the most racially resentful white voters, as Democrats more thoroughly represent the nation’s accelerating diversity, could test the bonds of the union to the greatest extent since the Civil War. If Trump wins a second term, that crisis could come very quickly: Blue America isn’t likely to quietly acquiesce if a reelected Trump follows through on any of his multiple threats to criminalize his opponents, deploy large numbers of federal law-enforcement officers to blue cities, or pursue punitive actions against media institutions and technology companies he considers threats.Winning next week would give Biden an opportunity to temper partisan hostilities and “bind up the nation’s wounds,” as Lincoln put it. But through his long career, the former vice president has not often shown the dexterity required to satisfy the ascendant left in his own party while building meaningful bridges to the other party. Nor is there much reason to believe that the Republicans left in Congress after a big Democratic win—a group that would be concentrated in Trump country even more than today’s GOP caucus—would have much interest in reaching back out to Biden. The 2020 election has been among the most vitriolic and divisive America has ever experienced, with the prospect of further disruption and even violence still lingering in its aftermath. But all of that may be just the opening bell for a decade that tests the nation’s cohesion like few others ever have.
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theatlantic.com
How Trump Could Shock the World Again
It was late in the evening at Hillary Clinton’s victory party in 2016, and by that point, the guests understood there would be neither a victory nor a party. As Donald Trump’s upset sank in among the hordes at the Javits Center in Manhattan, I asked one Clinton supporter how he was feeling. “Like I want to kill myself,” he said.Later, at a bar in Hell’s Kitchen, I stumbled upon a group of Clinton-campaign aides sitting together in tears. A tray of shots sat on the table before them. They shared a look of shock: How could this possibly have happened? Trump trails Joe Biden by an average of eight points nationally, and is behind in every important battleground state. But his reelection still seems plausible, if only because 2016 seemed so implausible. “If I take my PTSD hat off, I can feel semi-comfortable about where things are,” Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist in Florida, told me. “But it’s impossible to take my PTSD hat off.”Better to leave it on. Surrounding Trump is an apparatus that is still trying to flip states and woo evangelical, Latino, and Black voters, who could all make a difference in a tight race. “There are some people on the Trump campaign who understand political strategy,” Ryan Williams, a spokesperson for Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, told me. “They’re just overridden on a daily basis by whatever the president says or does.”Certainly, the chaos candidate isn’t making the job any easier. At a rally last week, Trump told the people of Erie, Pennsylvania, that he’d rather be somewhere other than the city they call home. Still, the president’s reelection campaign is doing a few things that might work. Here are four.Trying to expand the mapThe president will be better positioned for another Electoral College victory if he can pry loose a state or two that Democrats won last time. His campaign has been eyeing New Hampshire and Nevada, but another target, Minnesota, has as many Electoral College votes as the other two combined. Clinton carried Minnesota by only 45,000 votes in 2016. Although Republicans haven’t won it since 1972, a play for Minnesota is not a bad gamble: At minimum, competing in the state forces Democrats to divert resources from other battlegrounds.[Read: Don’t count Trump out]Minnesota Democrats estimate that as many as 250,000 white residents who didn’t go to college—the heart of Trump’s base—weren’t registered to vote in 2016. Republicans are taking pains to find them. While Democrats in the state have largely suspended door-to-door campaigning because of the pandemic, Republicans have kept at it. Last week, volunteers knocked on more than 130,000 doors in the state, a campaign official told me. “This is the largest organization that we’ve seen a Republican put into this state, in terms of advertising dollars, principal visits, and staff on the ground,” Ken Martin, the chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, told me. “There’s no doubt that they have a significant operation here.”Trump’s campaign has booked more than $1.2 million in TV advertising in Minnesota in the final week of the campaign—more than it spent there in the preceding three weeks combined, according to Advertising Analytics, which tracks campaigns’ ad spending. Vice President Mike Pence held a rally in northern Minnesota on Monday, the latest in a series of visits to the state by Trump and top surrogates. Overall, the Trump campaign has deployed 60 staffers in Minnesota, a level of Republican intensity surpassing that of any race in memory, both parties say. (Democrats say they have many more staffers on the ground in the state).Biden’s lead in Minnesota stands at 5 percentage points, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls. That number could be inflated. State-level polling proved flawed in 2016: Clinton won Minnesota by 1.5 percentage points even though some of the final polls showed her up by double digits. “Knowing what we do about 2016, we would all be foolish to imbue the polls with undue certainty,” Charles Franklin, a pollster, told me. Both Biden and Trump are scheduled to make dueling appearances in Minnesota today.Winning Minnesota would give Trump “some leeway to lose another state that he won last time,” Williams said. “It’s an insurance policy,” even if it isn’t “a game changer.” Minnesota has the same number of electoral votes as Wisconsin, for example—a battleground that Trump narrowly won four years ago. Should he lose Wisconsin this time, he’d be no worse off in the Electoral College tally if he manages to wrest Minnesota from the Democrats.Microtargeting Latino votersTrump’s campaign is sending customized messages to voters of Cuban, Colombian, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan heritage who may be receptive to the president’s anti-socialist rhetoric.“It’s classic microtargeting,” José Parra, a Democratic consultant and former aide to ex–Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, told me. Trump is “going after the main groups in South Florida that could help him out in blunting Democratic turnout.”A theme of Trump’s messaging is that he’s a bulwark against leftist ideology espoused by specific political figures in Latin America. “These are folks who are generally religious and culturally conservative,” Nick Trainer, the campaign’s director of battleground strategy, told me of the voters being targeted. “Especially in Florida, the Cuban and Venezuelan voters often have left countries that have communist histories. The advantage of incumbency is we get to spend time homing in on each and every piece of the electorate.”One ad juxtaposes images of Biden and the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro, a reviled figure in much of Florida’s Cuban American voting bloc, which numbers about 900,000, according to Eduardo Gamarra, a political-science professor at Florida International University specializing in Latin American politics. The same ad also includes footage of Gustavo Petro, a former Colombian guerrilla and an ex-mayor of Bogotá, saying he supports Biden. About 200,000 Colombians living in Florida are registered to vote, Gamarra said. Asked about the ad, a Biden-campaign official told me, “No, he [Biden] doesn’t want the support of Petro. Of course we don’t. Just—no.”Meanwhile, Trump used his Twitter feed earlier this month to congratulate Colombia’s ex-president Álvaro Uribe after he was ordered released from house arrest amid an investigation into alleged witness tampering. Uribe’s tenure was also linked to human-rights abuses. Trump called him a “hero” and an opponent of socialism.[Read: What liberals don’t understand about pro-Trump Latinos]“It’s smart politics,” Gamarra said. Trump is “playing to the right wing here in Miami. Most Colombians are Democrats. But all he needs—and this is key—is to move these communities by 5 or 10 percent and that’s enough to change the equation in Florida.”Shoring up evangelical votersWhite evangelical Christians accounted for 20 percent of people who voted in 2016. Today, they constitute only 18 percent of registered voters, according to the Pew Research Center. Some are tiring of Trump’s act. He received 80 percent of the evangelical vote in 2016; a Pew poll earlier this month showed that his support had slipped to 78 percent. “He needs maximal white-evangelical turnout. That’s his only path to winning,” Michael Wear, who handled religious outreach for former President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, told me.“All the evangelicals I know have expressed chagrin, or concern, or heartburn, or some combination of the three about some of the president’s vocabulary and some of the president’s posturing toward those with whom he disagrees,” Richard Land, the president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary and a member of a group called Evangelicals for Trump, told me.There isn’t much Trump can do about the larger demographic trends that have trimmed his base, but he can give evangelical voters reason to show up at the polls. In the final sprint to Election Day, Evangelicals for Trump is holding several “Praise, Prayer, and Patriotism,” events in battleground states. Past meetings featured the Florida televangelist Paula White and Alveda King, a niece of Martin Luther King Jr. A meeting at a Las Vegas hotel this summer drew hundreds of people—along with condemnation from the state’s Democratic governor, Steve Sisolak, for violating COVID-19 restrictions limiting gatherings to 50 people.For the faithful, Trump isn’t an obvious choice. As my colleague McKay Coppins wrote, Trump has privately mocked Christian leaders and derided certain religious rites and doctrines. But he’s also taken action that matters to evangelicals, capped by the hasty nomination of the newest conservative Supreme Court justice, Amy Coney Barrett, whom he swore in Monday night. She is the third justice he’s installed on the high court, cementing a conservative majority that will decide cases on abortion rights, religious freedom, and other cultural issues long after Trump is gone. Trump is deploying “a very clever, cynical, and mostly successful strategy,” Rob Schenck, an evangelical minister who supports Biden, told me. “He made a deal with American evangelicals. He said, ‘You tell me what you want and I will deliver it, and you will give me back what I want—and that’s your vote.’”Holding rallies to recruit new votersDemocrats went through rounds of finger-pointing after Clinton’s defeat. Should Biden lose, a similar reckoning will begin anew. Already, some analysts point to inroads Republicans have made in voter registration as a potential problem.At Trump rallies, campaign aides have been checking to make sure supporters are registered to vote. (Biden largely chose to forgo big rallies because of the pandemic). In Florida, the Democratic registration advantage is down to about 134,000 voters, out of a total of more than 14 million. By contrast, in the 2000 election, Democrats’ registration lead in Florida was 379,000. In Pennsylvania, Republicans have cut the Democrats’ registration lead since 2016 from 916,000 to 687,000, out of 9 million registered voters. That’s not a trivial difference. Four years ago, Trump won Pennsylvania by just 44,000 votes.Sean Trende, a senior elections analyst at Real Clear Politics, cites the registration numbers along with Trump’s relatively high approval ratings on the economy as evidence that he could prevail. “If Trump does pull out the win or overperforms expectations significantly, we would look back at these types of things and say, ‘Yeah, it was there all along!’” Trende told me.Trump wasn’t supposed to win last time, making it harder to believe that he may lose this time. “You have this gnawing feeling in the back of your head about how wrong everyone was in 2016,” Chris Kofinis, a Democratic strategist, told me. “When people this time suggest, ‘There’s no way Trump can win; look at the polls; it’s impossible’—I heard that exact same nonsense in 2016. We all lived it.”
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theatlantic.com
The Rare Sight of a Political Reckoning
These days, it is rare that a piece of political news can make your jaw drop. But the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn from Britain’s Labour Party lit up social media—and my phone—like a fireworks display.Until April, Corbyn was the leader of Britain’s main opposition party. (He stood down less than four months after leading Labour to a thumping general-election defeat last year.) The man who replaced him, former lawyer Keir Starmer, supported the punishment.The immediate cause of Corbyn’s suspension was his reaction to an independent report, published this week by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a British watchdog group, on anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. The report found that his office had interfered with complaints about anti-Semitic postings and comments, objected to an investigation into Corbyn himself, and contributed to a hostile environment for Jews in the party. Significantly, it found that the offenses amounted to three breaches of equalities law. One section was entitled “A Failure of Leadership.”In this context, taking action against the man who oversaw this failure might seem obvious. Yet our political climate encourages partisans to dismiss or even cover up wrongdoing by their side. The American comparison underlines how extraordinary Starmer’s action is. If Donald Trump loses the upcoming U.S. presidential election, absolutely no one expects the Republican leadership to repudiate his racism, sexism, and contempt for democracy. There will be no reckoning with the man who corrupted the values of his party. In a hyper-partisan era, the temptation to excuse and obfuscate the mistakes of one’s own side will surely prove irresistible, even to those who have privately expressed their disgust with the president.The most extraordinary aspect of Corbyn’s suspension, then, is also the most basic one: A party leader has disciplined his predecessor. (Labour insists that the decision was not taken by Starmer personally—but he created the “zero tolerance” rules which made it inevitable, and it was his chosen candidate for the party’s top official who wielded the axe.) Starmer won the leadership in part because he did not denounce Corbyn, as other Labour politicians did. Indeed, he served in party leadership under Corbyn. He is far from the British equivalent of a Never Trumper. Yet it is under his command that the party has severed the link with its most recent leader. It’s not regicide or patricide, but it feels close to both.[Read: The lessons of Jeremy Corbyn’s defeat]Corbyn’s reaction to the anti-Semitism report was typical of his attitude to the broader issue, which has dragged on for several years. In a Facebook post, he said he regretted the slowness of reforming the complaints procedure under his leadership, but argued that Labour’s anti-Semitism problem had been “dramatically overstated” by his opponents and the media. He used a favourite phrase—denouncing “all forms of racism”—which he must know by now is upsetting to Jewish activists, who see it as evidence that he cannot recognize the unique challenge of anti-Semitism. Corbyn added that he did not accept all the findings of the report.That last statement sealed his political death warrant. Starmer served as Corbyn’s Brexit spokesman, and ran for the leadership on a platform of unity, promising to heal the division between the Corbynite left and the rest of the party. He was widely expected to reform Labour’s complaints procedures in light of the EHRC report and perhaps even criticize his predecessor by name. But suspending Corbyn from the party, one he has represented in Parliament since 1983, is a much more decisive—and incendiary—move.Corbyn won the Labour leadership in 2015 on the promise he would take the party to the left, breaking with the capitalist-friendly policies and political centrism of former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Labour’s socialist faction had long been marginalized—one of Blair’s advisers once spoke about consigning it to a “sealed tomb”—and from the start, Corbyn felt attacked by the media and undermined by many of his own members of Parliament, who sat closer to the political center than Corbyn’s supporters.As the friction grew, his long associations with fringe left-wing groups were a point of contention. A firm opponent of colonialism, he had spent years associating with activists who saw Israel as one of the evils of the modern world because of its activities in Gaza and the West Bank. In those circles, criticisms of Israeli policy too often slid into conspiracies about divided loyalties, a sinister “Jewish lobby,” and shadowy cabals of “bankers” or “Rothschilds” ruling the world. Corbyn had personally invited a Holocaust denier to Parliament and referred to members of the militant group Hamas as “friends.”Before last year’s election, Britain’s chief rabbi went public with his fears over what a Corbyn government would mean for British Jews. One of Labour’s oldest affiliates, the Jewish Labour Movement, refused to campaign for the party. Britain’s Jewish population is tiny, so this had a negligible effect on the electoral results, but it tainted Labour’s cherished self-image as a champion of equality and anti-racism.Starmer’s wife is Jewish, and he feels a moral, as well as strategic, imperative to tackle anti-Semitism. His first speech as leader addressed the problem head-on, and he quickly met with Jewish groups that had complained of being frozen out by Corbyn. In June, he sacked his Corbynite rival for the leadership, Rebecca Long Bailey, from his shadow cabinet for sharing an article containing an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory on social media. After several other Corbynite shadow ministers resigned on October 5 over an unrelated disagreement (a bill about undercover operations by the security services), the Labour left is now highly marginalized in Parliament again. It might not be in a “sealed tomb,” but it has gone from believing it could be on the verge of governing Britain to its present humbled and diminished state in less than a year.[Read: Britain just got pulled back from the edge]How much firepower do Corbyn supporters have to aim at Starmer? The current Labour leader is no one’s idea of a charisma machine, but he has previously run a large organization, as Britain’s chief prosecutor, and is nerdishly interested in how institutions work. That has served him well as Labour leader. Since taking over, he has assembled a loyal office, installed his favored candidate in the party’s administration, and laid the ground for the decision to suspend Corbyn by declaring that the party had a “new leadership.” Nonetheless, a civil war in Labour could prove debilitating and even fatal to his chances of becoming prime minister.As I wrote in December, denying the extent of anti-Jewish sentiment and conspiracy theories—implying that there was a “witch hunt”—had become a loyalty test on the left in Britain. Starmer has indicated that Labour has no room for anyone, no matter how senior, who contests the existence of the problem.The question now is this: Will the rump of Corbyn’s supporters mount a coup attempt on Starmer? Or now that the pretense of “unity” is gone, could Corbyn become a king in exile? Since stepping down, the former leader, who once drew thousands to his rallies, has largely retreated to defending his record and commenting on liberation struggles abroad. Perhaps he might remember his heyday and brand himself as the leader of “True Labour” or something similar. Any new outfit would struggle to win seats under Britain’s electoral system—the experience of those who left Labour to form a new party in the last Parliament is not a happy one—but who cares? Corbyn never really believed in parliamentary democracy as a route to socialism anyway. He might feel life is more congenial as the Old Pretender, criticizing his successor from beyond his reach.This is an arresting moment in British politics—a truly unexpected event—and a rare one in global terms, too. The U.S. is less than a week away from an election which the president is expected to lose. Yet if he does, there will be no catharsis, no reflection, no denunciation.Starmer has shown that another way is possible. His decision is a gamble. It is the nuclear option. It is a reckoning.
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theatlantic.com
The Pandemic Is in Uncharted Territory
Editor’s Note: The Atlantic is making vital coverage of the coronavirus available to all readers. Find the collection here. The United States set a new record for reported cases this week, breaking 500,000 for the first time in the pandemic as the third surge continued to build across nearly every state in the country.Today, the country recorded 88,452 new cases of COVID-19, its highest single-day total since the pandemic began. Over the past two weeks, 25 states have set a new record for cases in the past two weeks, including 17 states with record highs since last Wednesday.The country reported a record number of tests, at 8.2 million, but case growth (24 percent) far outpaced test growth (9 percent), as we explained earlier this week. That’s also true for the entire month of October: Forty-seven of the 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, have seen cases rise faster than reported tests since October 1.These cases are translating into higher numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations in many states in every region of the country. All but 11 states saw a rise in people hospitalized this week, the largest increases occurring in the upper Midwest and Texas. Although we are not yet close to the hospitalization peaks of almost 60,000 that we observed in the spring and summer, the average number of people hospitalized this week rose to 42,621, a very substantial increase from the lows of about 30,000 that we saw just a month ago.In some worrying states—North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin—hospitalization rates are approaching those of the Sun Belt–surge hot spots over the summer. At this point, we see no evidence that any state in the current surge has reached its peak and begun to decline.COVID-19 deaths have risen, but not nearly as sharply as hospitalizations. The current explosion of cases is only three weeks old, and we know from the data that reported deaths lag behind cases and hospitalizations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the approximate timeline from symptom onset to the reporting of a death to public-health authorities is about three weeks, on average. This lag varies by state, and some states such as Florida take an average of more than six weeks to log COVID-19 deaths. Given the current trends, we should expect deaths to continue to rise in the coming weeks.More encouraging, as our team explained this week, the fatality rate for hospitalized patients has declined as treatments have improved and younger and healthier people have made up more of those hospitalizations.It’s important to note, though, that the hardest-hit states are seeing notable increases in deaths. In Wisconsin, the state that led off this surge, deaths rose 56 percent this week and are up 270 percent since the week ending October 1. Deaths have also climbed markedly in the Dakotas to a combined 101 this week, from 11 in the week ending September 3. On a per-capita basis, that is worse than any individual week of deaths in Florida at any time in the pandemic.With the presidential election next week, the swing states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin would already have been in the spotlight. But they also happen to be in the midst of a major uptick in COVID-19 cases. Beyond the large rises in cases since October 1, hospitalizations are up at least 96 percent in all four states. Ohio and Wisconsin have also surpassed their previous hospitalization records.If we look at the county-level data from these four states, we see another pattern emerge. In the early days of the pandemic, the outbreaks in these states were concentrated in major cities, especially Detroit and Philadelphia, but this new surge is much more geographically dispersed.Since September, the racial composition of people who are confirmed to have the coronavirus has also changed remarkably in the three worst-hit states, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Our COVID Racial Data Tracker shows that the per-capita infection rate in Black, Latinx, and Asian communities has declined, while per-capita infections among white people have risen very slightly. (In states with mostly white populations, even a small rise in per-capita cases among white residents can translate to large increases in total numbers of cases in this population.)In absolute terms, the disparities remain pronounced: In North Dakota, since the start of the pandemic, one in every 12 Black people has tested positive for COVID-19, compared with one in 29 white people. In South Dakota, one in every 14 Indigenous people has tested positive, compared with one in 26 white people. In Wisconsin, one in every 13 Latinx people has tested positive for COVID-19, compared with one in 30 white people. But recent data suggest that the virus is now circulating in whiter populations outside the major cities.We’re seeing a dramatic rise in long-term-care-facility cases in many of the states now experiencing surges, an alarming trend given that long-term-care deaths account for roughly 41 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. This week saw 17,848 new cases associated with long-term care facilities. Because many states do not separate out resident cases and staff cases, this total includes both.Wyoming reported a record number of new cases in long-term care facilities for the third week in a row. The state has reported 309 total resident and staff cases since the beginning of the pandemic. About one-quarter of those are from this past week, and half are from the past two weeks.Ohio reported 791 new cases of COVID-19 among nursing-home residents this week, the highest number in the state since we started tracking cases in late May. And Wisconsin’s long-term care facilities reported their highest number of resident and staff cases since May: 241.Hospitalizations have risen at least 96 percent in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio since the beginning of October.We continue to be alarmed that Arizona and South Dakota do not report comprehensive long-term-care data. Arizona releases the number of affected facilities but does not provide facility-level case or death numbers. And South Dakota does not release COVID-19 data on long-term care facilities at all.The bottom line this week is simple: The third surge is in full swing, hospitalizations are rising nationwide, and deaths have begun to increase in Wisconsin, the state that could be seen as the canary in the coal mine of this surge. But it is difficult to predict what might happen from here. Just as the summer surge in the Sun Belt unfolded differently than the spring outbreak in the Northeast, we are seeing distinct patterns emerge at this stage of the pandemic. Cases and hospitalizations are more geographically dispersed and appear to be rising less steeply but over longer periods. And the behavioral shifts brought on by the intense cold arriving in the upper Midwest may accelerate the spread of the virus.Testing accessibility and in-hospital patient care have improved, so it seems unlikely that we’ll return to the case-fatality rates of the spring. The lower death rates from COVID-19, however, are predicated on stable and functioning health-care systems. As this outbreak continues to grow in so many urban and rural communities, public-health officials have brought back the “Flatten the curve” mantra of the spring. Each fall, hospitals prepare for an increase in patients requiring respiratory support due to influenza season.What was true in the spring is true now: If hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, they cannot provide the quality of care that has reduced the number of Americans who die from this disease, and from other health emergencies. And local reporting suggests that communities from El Paso to Green Bay are in danger of letting the virus grow beyond the capacity of health-care workers to contain the damage.This post appears courtesy of The COVID Tracking Project. Artis Curiskis, Alice Goldfarb, Erin Kissane, Júlia Ledur, Alexis Madrigal, Jessica Malaty Rivera, Charlotte Minsky, Kara Oehler, Joanna Pearlstein, Sara Simon, Peter Walker, and Nadia Zonis contributed to this analysis.
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theatlantic.com