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The Pinched-Hose Economy
This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.“It’s not just my opinion that things are weird,” Derek Thompson told me recently. It’s a fact of life, he explained, that the U.S. economy is behaving very strangely right now.But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic. What comes after the search warrant? How California exported its worst problem to Texas The other Ukrainian army A Flopping HoseWe learned last week that unemployment in the U.S. is as low as it’s been at any time in the past 50 years, and a report released today shows that inflation slowed in July. Those are very good things—and yet, economic output has also slowed in 2022, enough that economists are asking whether the country is in a recession.I caught up with Derek Thompson, a staff writer and the author of the Work in Progress newsletter, about this huge disconnect between job growth and economic growth, and asked why it’s so hard to understand what’s happening with the economy right now. “If economic growth is really declining, it’s one of the strangest downturns in American history,” he told me.Isabel Fattal: How should a regular, nonexpert person think about this moment in the U.S. economy?Derek Thompson: When you’re thinking about the economy, you should think about three categories: statistics, labels, and feelings. Statistics, like the inflation rate or the unemployment rate, come from government surveys, and you should trust them, because they are highly descriptive of what is happening to the broader economy.Feelings come from your personal experience in the economy. Is your local labor market good? How do you feel about whether your income is holding up against inflation?Labels come from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Business Cycle Dating Committee. The label of “Are we in a recession or not?” is determined by eight economists. That has nothing to do with your feelings of the local economy at all.Isabel: You wrote recently that “Are we in a recession?” is the wrong question to ask. Why?Derek: There’s two reasons why it’s so hard to say whether we’re in a recession right now. Number one, the NBER is not going to render a judgment for several months, several quarters, or more than a year. So why debate now what we might not know for a year?Number two, the GDP estimate that we just got from the Bureau of Economic Analysis is just that—an estimate—and the estimate will be revised. There’s about a coin-flip chance that the economy actually grew in the first half of 2022. What we know about recent growth unfortunately isn’t solid.Isabel: What is one thing we do know for sure about the economy right now?Derek: We know three things for sure. Number one, we know that inflation is very high, historically speaking—one of the highest rates in the past 40 years. Number two, we know that unemployment is low, as low as it’s been in 50 years. The labor market is roaring.Number three, we know that growth is slowing down. We know that the GDP growth rate was really high in 2021, and we know that it’s slowing down in 2022. We don’t know if it’s what some economists would call a recession.Isabel: As you’ve written, we’re in an everything-is-weird economy because different factors are behaving in contradictory ways; for example, jobs are growing, but the economy is shrinking. How should people deal with these mixed messages? What should we be paying most attention to?Derek: Predicting the future of the economy is so hard that it’s useful to have a single metric to look for. The single metric I would watch is inflation, because if inflation starts to come down, as I believe it will in the next few months [it declined to 8.5 percent in July], the Federal Reserve doesn’t have to keep hacking up interest rates. If interest rates don’t keep going up, then the economy will probably get back to growth. So it all flows from inflation, and if I were interested in figuring out the direction of the economy, I’d be obsessed with watching energy prices, housing prices, and retail spending.Isabel: How are Americans feeling about the economy right now? There’s a possibility that people’s feelings can actually affect where the economy goes from here, right?Derek: It’s a really important point. Feelings aren’t imaginary. Feelings drive the economy, to a certain extent. When people are optimistic about the future, they spend more money.But if you ask consumers how they’re feeling about the economy, they increasingly bifurcate by ideology. Republicans say they’re sad about the economy when a Democrat is in the White House. And Democrats say they’re sad about the economy when a Republican is in the White House. So it’s not as useful as it used to be to ask people about their consumer sentiment, because increasingly, consumer sentiment is just political sentiment.On my podcast, Plain English, the economist Austan Goolsbee made the great point that in 1992, the entire presidential election was about an economic slowdown that had technically already ended. So statistically, the recession was over, but in vibes and feelings, the recession was deepening, and you had this electoral outcome—the defeat of the incumbent president—hinged on feelings of a recession that actually didn’t exist. That goes to show that even if feelings are disconnected from statistics, they still have real-world outcomes.Isabel: Is this an unprecedented moment for the economy?Derek: We’ve never had an economy like this, period. This is a cliché, but I’ve called this the pinched-hose economy. If you turn on the water in your backyard hose and you pinch the hose for a while, the water will build up, and then, when you release the hose, it’ll start sputtering wildly, and the hose will flop all over the place in a violent and strange manner. That’s what happened in the economy. We shut off the hose and said no one will fly, no one will go to restaurants, people won’t go to movie theaters. We purposefully shut down the economy because of the pandemic.But then demand, which is the water, surged beyond supply’s capacity to easily fulfill it. That’s why we’re seeing the economic hose flopping all over the place. It’s why things are weird with baby formula, with gas prices, with airlines. That’s the hose flopping around. The hose is still flopping.Related: The three biggest mysteries about the U.S. economy Why we hate rising prices more than we fear losing our jobs Today’s News Donald Trump took the Fifth Amendment and declined to answer questions from the New York State attorney general’s office in the investigation into his company’s business practices. Russian forces killed at least 13 civilians and wounded others in a missile attack in southern Ukraine overnight. Ukrainian special forces also reportedly carried out a strike on a Russian air base in Crimea yesterday, a move that would mark a significant escalation in fighting. The Justice Department charged a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard with allegedly plotting to assassinate John Bolton. Dispatches Deep Shtetl: Yair Rosenberg explains how President Joe Biden keeps winning the internet by accident. The Weekly Planet: Congress just passed a big climate bill—not the one you think, Robinson Meyer reports. Evening Read (Remus86 / Getty) Hibernation: The Extreme Lifestyle That Can Stop AgingBy Katherine J. WuToday’s most elderly bats aren’t supposed to exist. Ounce for ounce and pound for pound, they are categorically teeny mammals; according to the evolutionary rules that hold across species, they should be short-lived, like other small-bodied creatures.Read the full article. More From The Atlantic The “L.A. woman” reveals herself. Lessons from a lonely, Trump-defiant Republican “History is human”: Remembering David McCullough Culture Break (Apple TV+ / Getty / The Atlantic) Read. The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom, a memoir set in New Orleans that has an incredible sense of place.Or try another pick from our list of eight books that grapple with a hard childhood.Watch. In the mood to solve a puzzle? Watch or rewatch Severance (Apple TV+) or Yellowjackets (Showtime)—but this time, try to follow along with fan theories on the internet, which play a bigger part in shaping modern TV than you might realize.Play our daily crossword.
America’s New Monkeypox Strategy Rests on a Single Study
Once again, the United States is messing up its approach to vaccines. Three months into its monkeypox outbreak, just 620,000 doses of the two-injection Jynneos shot—the nation’s current best immune defense against the virus—have been shipped to states, not nearly enough to immunize the 1.6 million to 1.7 million Americans that the CDC considers at highest risk. The next deliveries from the manufacturer aren’t slated until September at the earliest. For now, we’re stuck with the stocks we’ve got.Which is why the feds have turned to Inoculation Plan B: splitting Jynneos doses into five, and poking them into the skin, rather than into the layer of fat beneath. The FDA issued an emergency-use authorization for the strategy yesterday afternoon.This dose-sparing tactic will allow far more people to sign up for doses before summer’s end; if successful, it could help contain the outbreak in the U.S., which currently accounts for nearly a third of the world’s documented monkeypox cases. But this decision is based on scant data, and the degree of protection offered by in-skin shots is no guarantee. The FDA is now playing a high-stakes game with the health and trust of people most vulnerable to monkeypox—an already marginalized population. Call it a bold decision; call it a risky gamble: It may be the best option the country currently has, but one the U.S. could have avoided had it marshaled a stronger response earlier on.[Read: America should have been able to handle monkeypox]Little is known about how Jynneos performs against monkeypox even in its prescribed dosing regimen, the so-called subcutaneous route; the new method, intradermal injection, is a murkier proposition still. “We are in a very data-thin zone,” says Jeanne Marrazzo, an infectious-disease physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.The shot was approved for use against smallpox and monkeypox in 2019. But to date, researchers don’t have a strong sense of how well it guards against disease or infection or how long protection lasts. Although scientists know that two doses of Jynneos can elicit similar numbers of antibodies as older poxvirus vaccines, no estimates of the vaccine’s true efficacy, from large-scale clinical trials, exist; a human study in the Congo hasn’t yet reported results. And though firmer data have shown that the vaccine keeps lab monkeys from getting seriously sick, “I don’t necessarily trust making the clinical decisions” based just on that, says Mark Slifka, a vaccinologist at Oregon Health & Science University. It’s not even clear if Jynneos can stop someone from transmitting the virus, especially now that many cases seem to be arising via skin-to-skin contact during sex, an understudied form of spread.The emergency switch to lower-dose intradermal administration has been tested with other vaccines, among them the shots that guard against yellow fever and influenza. Skin is rife with specialized defensive cells that can snatch up bits of vaccines and ferry them to other immune fighters, “so you can use a smaller dose and get similar responses” to a full-size subcutaneous shot, says Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir, a pharmacist at Loma Linda University, in California.One lone study from 2015 suggests that this logic should hold for Jynneos—at least among the trial’s participants, healthy adults who were mostly young and white. In that group, the subcutaneous and intradermal shots were “quite comparable” at rousing antibodies in the body, which is “very encouraging,” says Kathryn Edwards, a vaccinologist at Vanderbilt University who helped conduct the study. But that’s not the same as bona fide protection against the virus. And what happened in that single study won’t necessarily play out in the real world, especially in the context of the current outbreak, which differs from its predecessors in demographic and size. “I do think these data need to be confirmed,” Edwards told me. Most of the cases so far have been in men who have sex with men, many of them living with HIV—a community whose immune systems don’t look the same as the population at large, and in whom vaccines may not take as well, or for as long, Slifka told me. And yet the FDA has charged ahead “completely based on” that 2015 study, says Alexandra Yonts, a pediatric infectious-disease physician at Children’s National Hospital. In a statement, the agency explained that it had “determined that the known and potential benefits of Jynneos outweigh the known and potential risks” for green-lighting the intradermal route.Delivering vaccines into skin leaves little room for error. The tuberculosis skin test is also administered intradermally; Marrazzo has seen “dozens of those messed up.” People have bled or been bruised. Needles have gone too deep—a mistake that can slash effectiveness—or too shallow, letting liquid ooze back out. Intradermal injections are an uncommon and difficult procedure, requiring additional training and specialized needles. “There is going to be some degree of error,” says Kenneth Cruz, a community-health worker in New York. “People are going to wonder if they’re protected, and it’s going to be difficult to check.”Already, health-care providers are having “issues staffing vaccination clinics for subcutaneous injections,” says Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, an infectious-disease physician at Emory University; the switch to intradermal will exacerbate those shortages and could raise further vaccination barriers for people without reliable health-care access. Intradermal shots can also come with more irksome side effects, as the 2015 study suggested, including redness and swelling at the injection site that can be “pretty robust and severe,” Marrazzo told me. People who get their first doses might not come back for more, defeating the point.Dose-splitting is still “a much better way to go,” Yonts told me, than skipping or seriously delaying second doses—which has already happened in cities such as New York; Washington, D.C.; and San Francisco—in an effort to conserve supplies. Even elsewhere, second appointments are very hard to get. “I do not know anyone who’s gotten the second dose,” says Nick Diamond, one of the investigators behind RESPND-MI, an LGBTQ-led survey of monkeypox symptoms and networks. Which isn’t great: After just one shot, antibody levels “barely budge,” Yonts said, leaving people vulnerable until two weeks after the second injection is complete. (Another vaccine, ACAM2000, is available but can cause serious side effects, and isn’t recommended for people who are immunocompromised, including those with HIV.)With no other good choices on the table, dose-splitting is the only road to take. “I don’t really see another viable option,” Marrazzo told me. That doesn’t erase the fact that the nation squandered its chance with Inoculation Plan A: leveraging its considerable resources to deploy the tests, treatments, and vaccines to contain the outbreak early on, and keep subcutaneous shots in contention. Now, with about 9,500 recorded infections among Americans nationwide—a definite undercount—the door to that has slammed shut. Sticking with the strategy of two full subcutaneous doses for all was projected to leave us with “no vaccine by October,” Marrazzo said.Plan B, though, could have real costs, depressing vaccine demand and trust. Already, “we haven’t been able to answer questions about the level of protection,” Diamond told me, “which makes it really hard for people to make decisions around risk.” The best Abdul-Mutakabbir has been able to tell her patients is that “receiving this vaccine will likely protect you more than if you had not,” she said. Which doesn’t do much to “allay fears and worries,” Cruz told me, especially after more than a year of confusing and conflicting messages about COVID vaccination.[Read: What should worry most Americans about our monkeypox response]Joseph Osmundson, a microbiologist at NYU and a RESPND-MI investigator, told me that he thinks the Biden administration did not properly consult members of vulnerable communities before plowing ahead with dose-splitting. And he worries that disparities could arise if subcutaneous shots end up outperforming intradermal ones: People who had the socioeconomic privilege to find and access appointments early will have gotten the primo doses, while those already at higher risk skate by on a smaller serving of immunity, exacerbating the inequities the outbreak has already begun to exploit. The numbers alone could leave a bad taste: “If I were standing in line to get a fifth of a vaccine,” Diamond told me, “I would wonder why my health is valued less.”Dose-splitting is a stopgap—“not a solution” that’s sustainable, says Luciana Borio, a former acting chief scientist at the FDA. The monkeypox outbreak could stretch on for many months, or become endemic in animals. Eventually, boosts may be necessary; ACAM2000 may yet have a larger role to play. The U.S. will need clinical trials to understand which dosing strategies actually work best, and in whom—and the populations most affected, especially men who have sex with men, should be involved in those decisions along the way. Officials must be “transparent about the gaps that exist,” Abdul-Mutakabbir told me, “and be intentional about working to fill those gaps.”Still, as news of the dose-splitting decision continues to percolate out into the population, an inadvertent message may already be getting sent: “The government is placing the onus on community members to protect themselves,” Cruz said. “But we’re in this position because the government failed.” Should the administration’s big bet on dose-splitting not pay off, Osmundson said, for those who have so far borne the outbreak’s brunt, “that will be the nail in the coffin of any public trust.”
COVID Made the Housing Crisis an Everywhere Problem
On an otherwise sleepy Saturday morning, cars were parked bumper to bumper along a suburban street. Couples formed a line around the block, nervously sipping coffee and double-checking paperwork. They were there to see a charming but decidedly modest house—early-’90s suburban, vinyl shutters, holly bushes—that had just come on the market. Twenty-four hours later, the home had sold for 20 percent above the asking price and $100,000 more than it had sold for in 2006 at the height of a so-called housing bubble.That’s a story we’re used to hearing about the frenzied housing markets of coastal suburbs such as Orange County and Long Island. But this house wasn’t far from where I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky—a midsize city where local boosters are given to bragging about affordability. It’s a scene that’s playing out in more and more cities across the country, especially in regions once accustomed to a low cost of living, such as the South and the Mountain West.At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the shift to remote work was supposed to ease the long-festering housing crisis in “superstar” metros such as Los Angeles and New York. Prices would fall as workers once tethered to offices in Century City or Midtown Manhattan left for affordable suburbs near Las Vegas or Orlando—or so the thinking went. In reality, two years later, housing costs in those superstar metros are at record highs, while the wave of pandemic-era migrations has helped spread the affordability crisis nationwide.Absent deep reforms to the way we plan cities, it’s only going to get worse.2021 was always going to be a horrendous year for housing markets.Let’s start with the demand side. As pandemic restrictions wound down, consumers found themselves with a glut of savings. A shift to remote work—likely here to stay—made a finished basement or an extra bedroom even more tantalizing. And for many prospective buyers, plunging interest rates made those upgrades affordable.[Derek Thompson: Why your house was so expensive]These factors might sound good for consumers seeking better housing, but paired with a snarled supply side, they spelled disaster. A nationwide labor shortage hit right as high tariffs and chaotic supply chains made building materials unavailable. By one estimate, a quarter of all construction positions remain unfilled, a situation unlikely to change anytime soon. Meanwhile, prices for key materials skyrocketed: Softwood-lumber prices, for example, increased nearly 500 percent from March 2020 to 2021.Supply-side problems were especially apparent in major cities such as Atlanta, where residential permitting hit lows not seen since the Great Recession. Yet even where permitting remained steady, an unprecedented number of projects were scuttled. Within a block of my Los Angeles apartment, two half-built apartment buildings sit empty, casting shadows over tent encampments. With interest rates back up and the economy sputtering, the gap between permits and completions is almost certain to persist.You don’t need to study economics to know that surging demand amid stagnant supply causes prices to rise. According to the Case-Shiller Index, nationwide home prices jumped by nearly 20 percent last year alone. That’s the highest rate since 1979, another year of crippling inflation and economic uncertainty.Rents followed suit. The national median rent for a one-bedroom apartment also surged nearly 20 percent over the course of 2021. The average renter in any major U.S. city now spends more than a third of their income on housing, qualifying as “rent burdened” under federal standards. In Miami and Los Angeles, the typical renter now spends more than half of their income on rent.If the problem were simply low interest rates or international-trade hiccups, we could reasonably expect prices to come back down. For all their faults, markets have a way of solving issues like those. But the current housing crisis is a symptom of something much deeper.We walked into the coronavirus pandemic with a national housing crisis already brewing. According to a recent report by Up for Growth, a group advocating for solutions to the national housing shortage, the United States was short 3.79 million homes in 2019, a 130 percent increase over 2012. Researchers estimate that 169 metro areas—from Boston to San Diego—weren’t building nearly enough housing to keep up with demand, up from 100 metro areas in 2012.[M. Nolan Gray: Cancel zoning]At the start of the pandemic, many eagerly predicted that the “death of the city” would help solve this. A shift to remote work, the story went, would cause a wave of migration out of high-cost cities in the Northeast and on the West Coast—long suffering from self-imposed housing shortages—and into low-cost cities in the South and the Mountain West. This would benefit everyone, easing pressure on housing prices in the former regions while spurring economic growth in the latter.It didn’t quite work out that way. Yes, places such as Manhattan and San Francisco lost some of their population. And pre-pandemic migration patterns—from California to Texas, for example, and from New York to Florida—ramped up. By one measure, approximately 360,000 people moved out of the Golden State last year, many of them going to states such as Nevada and Arizona in a kind of a modern exodus to the desert.But if prices are any indication, these migrations were too little, too late: Rents in most high-cost coastal cities are rapidly rising, while home prices in California have never been higher. Even with unprecedented population losses, demand so exceeded supply that prices are unlikely to come down without a building boom. If you lose 360,000 residents but have a housing shortage of 978,000 units—as Up for Growth estimates for California—don’t expect home prices to fall by much.That’s not to say that these migrations didn’t affect housing. On the contrary, all of those migrating households carried the crisis with them. The fastest home-price appreciation last year was in Phoenix and Tampa, where populations grew and prices increased by nearly a third. Apartments followed a similar trajectory, with rents in Florida’s four largest cities increasing by 25 to 55 percent. In Mountain West cities such as Boise and Bozeman, planners are now scrambling to accommodate an unprecedented surge in new arrivals.Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a family moving from a coastal hub to relative peace in states like North Carolina or Colorado. But if they’re moving because housing shortages have priced them out of their community, that’s a policy failure. Worse yet, if they’re moving to a place with many of the same constraints on housing development, they might well be displacing the next generation of locals, spreading—rather than solving—the problem.The COVID-19 reshuffling of Americans was supposed to buy us time in tackling the housing shortage. Instead, it likely took the crisis nationwide.We’ve become used to hearing about arbitrary constraints on housing growth in “superstar” cities and their suburbs. (I wrote a whole book on it.) Policies such as segregationist apartment bans in the Bay Area, onerous parking mandates in Southern California, and community-input requirements leading to raucous public hearings in New England have made those regions prohibitively difficult to build in. If we want to contain the spread of high housing costs, these constraints have to go.[Jerusalem Demsas: Community input is bad, actually]But what about all the “affordable” destination cities? Restrictions there are, in most cases, just as bad. Duplexes and fourplexes are banned in 84 percent of residential neighborhoods in Charlotte. In Salt Lake City, minimum-parking mandates mean that apartments can’t be built without either towering garages or huge lots. In Austin, naysayers have successfully delayed a liberalizing zoning overhaul for a decade. And even in pro-growth states such as Georgia, California-style NIMBYism stands in the way of new housing in most suburbs.To the extent that these cities were ever affordable, it was because they had undeveloped land on their periphery, where developers could build low-density residential subdivisions—just about the only thing that zoning doesn’t prohibit. But as Dallas is discovering, you eventually run out of vacant land within a reasonable commute of job centers. In Miami, local policy makers are even rolling back flexible-zoning rules in a brazen attempt to block new infill development.Until recently, policymakers in states like Utah or Tennessee were used to dismissing housing affordability as a coastal issue. If they thought about it at all, they certainly weren’t looking to the coasts for solutions. But as the housing crisis comes to more places, they’ll soon find that they have a lot to learn from states such as California, where policymakers have streamlined approvals for affordable housing and legalized fourplexes over the past few years. The silver lining of being further along in a crisis is that you’re also further along in solving it.There’s an apocryphal Mark Twain joke: “If the world ends, I’ll just head on down to Kentucky, because they’re always 20 years behind.” When it comes to housing, our grace period is over.
Conservatives Believe Trump Is Above the Law
A former president was raided by federal law enforcement yesterday, reportedly over possession of classified documents. Although prosecution of former heads of state has occurred in other democracies, a form of government in which ostensibly no one is above the law, it has never happened in America, a place that did not even punish the leaders of a rebellion in defense of human bondage.The merits of a potential government case against Donald Trump, and of the basis for the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago, cannot yet be evaluated, despite the assertions of many of Trump’s supporters and critics. A federal search warrant can be obtained only with probable cause and with the approval of a federal magistrate, but that does not mean that Trump is guilty of whatever alleged crime the FBI is investigating. Nor does the fact that Trump may be guilty of criminal conduct in other contexts mean that he is guilty here. But at the same time, the reflexive Republican insistence that the investigation is politically motivated is itself unmoored from the available evidence.[David A. Graham: The Mar-a-Lago raid proves the U.S. isn’t a banana republic]On Fox News, pundits warned of a “preemptive coup,” proclaimed a “dark day for the republic,” and compared the FBI to “the gestapo.” Other conservative-media figures grimly suggested that political violence was imminent, while a few right-wing intellectuals tweeted menacingly in the same tone that a mid-level functionary on the Death Star uses right before he gets choked out by Darth Vader. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced that the FBI was in a “an intolerable state of weaponized politicization” and threatened to investigate if Republicans take back Congress in the midterms.Again, the case against Trump here is impossible to evaluate, because we know the basis neither for the warrant nor the investigation. So the certainty that Trump is being politically persecuted cannot be supported by evidence. It is instead based on ideology: There are people against whom law-enforcement action or abuse is always justified, and there are people against whom it can never be justified. That is, if law-enforcement officials want to murder an unarmed Black man in the street, brutalize protesters against police misconduct, or investigate a Democratic presidential candidate, conservatives will insist that such officers are infallible and that any criticism of their conduct is outrageous. But when the law is used to investigate or restrict the conduct of people deemed by conservatives to be above its prohibitions, that is axiomatically an abuse of power.This is why, for example, it was perfectly permissible for Trump to order his attorney general to prosecute his political opponents, to even campaign on that basis, but it is intolerable politicization for him to be investigated, regardless of the basis. Indeed, there is no need to know what the basis even is; it is by definition unjustified because of whom it targets. This reasoning is also why the police who defended the Capitol against the rioters on January 6 were assaulted by people who in any other context would chant “Blue lives matter.” Law enforcement is legitimate and deserving of unconditional support only as long as it enforces the law against groups conservatives want it to target and exempts those they do not. Shortly after news of the raid broke, far-right representatives such as Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Paul Gosar called for the FBI to be defunded or destroyed.[David Frum: Stuck with Trump]Ironically, Trump has continually received favorable treatment from the FBI. During the 2016 election, FBI Director James Comey twice aided Trump’s campaign by commenting publicly on an FBI investigation into his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, while the bureau subsequently denied to the press that the Trump campaign was being investigated for coordinating with a Russian effort to influence the election. Then, after Comey refused to reassure Trump that the president would be above the law, Trump fired him and handpicked his replacement, who is still in office today. In 2016, Trump supporters chanted “Lock her up” in reference to Clinton’s mishandling of classified emails; today the alleged mishandling of classified information is deemed by these same supporters to be a form of political persecution. This is not because one set of facts is more damning than another; it is because conservatives believe that the law does not apply to Trump. (The centrist version of this argument is that any politician with sufficient political support becomes an unaccountable caudillo who possesses legal immunity, a position that mocks the bedrock democratic principle of political equality.)I hope that the Department of Justice and the FBI, by virtue of the seriousness of this matter, have acted as carefully as possible in obtaining their search warrant. The gravity of the situation might suggest that they would have done so, but it doesn’t mean they did. Just as it cannot yet be said that Trump is a victim of political persecution, we do not yet know that the FBI’s actions here are justified. In keeping with conservative ideology about the infallibility of law-enforcement officials when they are not investigating Republicans, conservative judges and justices have consistently narrowed constitutional due-process protections that exist to prevent potential abuses. Indeed, Trump himself publicly encouraged cops to physically assault those in their custody, while his administration abandoned any pretense of federal oversight of police misconduct. Ultimately, conservatives believe this unfairness in the justice system to be a virtue, as long as they are never on its losing end.The Trump supporters outraged about the Mar-a-Lago raid are not lamenting that those protections have been curtailed. They simply believe that Trump should not be subject to the law at all. Political systems with such exemptions exist, but democracy is not one of them.
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The Best Way to Dine Out Is to Share Everything
It’s simple economics.
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The Dark Absurdity of American Violence
Jamil Jan Kochai’s story collection reveals the surreal farce of the War on Terror.
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The Camp Fire Teens Are Adults Now
Katie Elder got just a few normal months of high school before the fire came.It was early November of 2018, her freshman year. Her mom woke her up around 7 a.m., and Katie began to get ready for what she thought would be a normal school day. Then they stepped outside and saw an orange sky. She felt the wind gust.“We’ve lived in California all our lives. We’ve been around fires,” the now-18-year-old told me over the phone. “When you’re seeing sky like that and you’re feeling those winds, you know that you don’t have very much time.”Katie and her family grabbed what pets and things they could and left their house for what would be the last time. Their home was destroyed, as was most of the town—lost to the Camp Fire, California’s deadliest and most destructive fire to date.[Read: A deadly tsunami of fire]The rest of freshman year was a blurry scramble. Katie’s school, Paradise High, was partially damaged and closed. That December, displaced students began classes—first in a former mall, then in a location nicknamed “The Fortress,” as the building was located on Fortress Street.At the beginning of Katie’s sophomore year, the Paradise campus reopened, and students were able to return. If these were normal times, the story would end here: The Camp Fire alone could have been the disaster that defined Katie’s formative years. But then, during her sophomore spring, came the coronavirus pandemic.This past June, Paradise High School held a very normal-looking graduation ceremony, complete with caps, gowns, speeches, flowers, and diplomas. But this wasn’t a normal graduating class. In fact, in recent years, no senior class really has been: Each has dealt with its own particular mix of disaster. The class of 2019 was defined by the fire; the classes of 2020 and 2021 got both that and the pandemic.What sets Paradise’s class of 2022 apart is that they never got a single normal year of high school. Freshman year, they were handed the fire; sophomore year, COVID lockdowns; junior year, hybrid school; and senior year—the most normal, relatively speaking—they still had to contend with masking and all the other ways that COVID continues to disrupt life. Now they are newly minted adults, heading off to college and their first full-time jobs, having never gotten two consecutive semesters of just boring, unremarkable high school.[Meira Levinson and Daniel Markovits: The biggest disruption in the history of American education]Sydney Pruis, another member of the PHS class of 2022, explains it this way: “It’s like our feet are ripped out from under us, and we’re just falling. And it seems like the falling never ends.”By the time the second major disaster arrived, the students were still living with the consequences of the first. Every person from Paradise whom I talked with for this story lost their home in the fire. Much of the town remained closed for months during cleanup, leaving families to shuffle among various housing situations. The school’s principal said that he was unable to find a place to live and departed.“I had lived in the same house since I was 2,” Abby Boutelle, another 2022 grad, told me. “And then, all of a sudden, I’ve lived in, like, three houses, and it’s like …” She made an exasperated noise.A new principal, Michael Ervin, arrived in the fall of 2019. “I was probably as damaged walking into here as the kids were,” he told me. Ervin had lived in the town for more than 20 years before the fire, having married into a longtime Paradise family. He and his wife lost their home, as did much of his wife’s extended family.“People understand the whole town burned to the ground and how devastating that is. What most people don’t know is these kids—these families—lost their support groups,” he explained. “My friends moved. Everybody scattered.”When COVID hit during Sydney’s sophomore year, her family was living in two trailers on the property where her home once stood. She did remote school in the smaller, travel-size trailer while her brother joined in from the bigger one. “Oh, great, now I’m stuck in a trailer,” she thought to herself.Katie and her family were also living in trailers, but hers had no water or electricity. She said that the school offered hot spots for students without Wi-Fi so that they could attend virtual class—but that her only access to electricity was via a single extension cord. She bounced between relatives’ houses to use their power and internet. She told me that she’d always had anxiety, but that the pandemic made it a lot worse.Ervin, who’d been principal only for about six months at that point, continued to work from the school’s empty campus. He said that they trained staff in social-emotional learning, or SEL: “Our first focus has got to be checking in with kids: ‘How are you doing today? How are things going? Do you have food? Do you have water?’”Junior year, the teens returned to campus on a hybrid model that divided the school into two rotating groups, where half received in-person instruction each day while the other half stayed home and did homework. (Friday was remote for everyone.) Senior year, the entire class of 2022 could finally be in the same building again—but with rules about masking. Only this spring did the masks come off. Aiden Luna, who also just graduated, told me that he really enjoyed his senior spring and that if all of high school had been like that last semester, “I think it would have been absolutely just super fun.”The disruptions piled up beyond home and academia. Aiden made the varsity football team as a freshman, but two of his four seasons were cut short. Sydney, likewise, got just two normal years of soccer. Katie sang, but says she shuffled through multiple choir directors. Abby joked that it’s impossible to put together a junior-year yearbook when only half your class is present on any given day. They celebrated senior prom, and Katie says that, although she has nothing else to compare it to, the dance was “just like the movies.” Ervin, the principal, told me that the kids had a blast.I asked a few experts what kind of psychological effects they would expect these paired disasters to have on the students—as well as how it may affect their development. After all, high school is supposed to be a formative time, a kind of dress rehearsal for adulthood. What might so many stops and starts in their teen years do to a person? Although the Paradise High School graduates’ specific challenges are unique, they aren’t the only students of their generation who will face the mental-health consequences of remote school and a burning world.“My research shows that most people are resilient to anything,” George A. Bonanno, a psychology professor at Columbia University and the author of the book The End of Trauma, told me. Bonanno said that his team reviewed 25 years’ worth of studies on war, disasters, and more and found that the majority of people end up basically okay: “I would imagine a lot of these kids are going to be just fine.” But a minority will struggle from the get-go and do worse with each new adversity.[From the December 2020 issue: School wasn’t so great before COVID, either]Brett McDermott is a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Tasmania in Australia. His research group has surveyed some 9,000 students in the aftermath of disasters, including bushfires. McDermott told me that the rate of emotional disturbance after an acute event is approximately 10 to 15 percent—or higher, depending on how bad the event was. (After one particularly deadly flood he studied, more than 30 percent of kids had PTSD, he said.) Students who directly feared for their lives may develop PTSD, while those who experienced loss may develop depression—the latter being more common, he said. The disaster can also trigger generalized anxiety or specific fire-related phobias. He also noted that secondary disruptions associated with fire, such as the breaking of the social structure and the loss of one’s livelihood, can have emotional consequences. The good news, he said, is that we have treatment options that can help.And some of the students, McDermott told me, “will actually do amazingly well,” having “mastered their worst nightmare and come through psychologically intact.” They may even carry it as a badge of honor: I survived.Bonanno told me that getting back on track with whatever they’d planned to do after high school before the stressors hit—whether that’s getting a job or going to college—could be really healthy for the new graduates.All four PHS grads told me that they were ready for what comes next—which is college, in their cases. Abby, Aiden, and Sydney are all headed to Butte College this fall, which is about 10 minutes down the road from Paradise High. Katie, meanwhile, is on her way to San Francisco, where she plans to study game design at the Academy of Art University to work toward becoming a concept artist.For the most part, they are feeling optimistic—so much so that Abby admitted that she was hesitant to talk with me. She explained that, although her experience wasn’t ideal, the fire made her closer with her family, and that, reflecting on high school, she’s realized that she values everyday conversations more than dances or rallies. She wasn’t sure if that’s what people would want to hear, but it was her lesson, hard-earned.
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