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How the polls look on the last weekend of the election
A Joe Biden supporter at a campaign rally on October 27 in Orlando, Florida. | Octavio Jones/Getty Images Biden will probably win ... but he might not. Going into the final weekend of the presidential campaign, a trove of new national polling shows Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a comfortable lead. But, of course, the vote for president is not a national election. It’s a series of state-by-state elections that determine the winner of the Electoral College. Here, Biden’s edge is more muted, but still substantial. And whether looked at nationally or statewide, there’s simply no sign of a late change in either direction. Trump is not suffering from the new spike in Covid-19 cases, nor is he gaining ground based on the final debate or his last-ditch efforts to attack Hunter Biden. That stability is good news for Biden. He had a solid lead in the polls four months ago, but there was still much uncertainty as to the ultimate outcome. That the many subsequent events — conventions, protest and unrest, multiple debates, the president’s Covid-19 illness and recovery — left the race largely steady means that Biden’s odds of victory have grown substantially, even if his polling lead has not. Trump has a clear path to win, but it’s not especially probable. On the other hand, the Economist’s super-bullish odds for Biden say that the likelihood of Trump winning is 4 percent, or about as likely as Steph Curry missing a free throw — a rare occurrence, but certainly something that happens. FiveThirtyEight gives Biden about an 11 percent chance; if someone told you a given restaurant gave food poisoning to 11 percent of its clients, you probably would not eat there. In non-election scenarios, the kind of odds Trump is facing would be understood as involving a fair amount of risk. The national polls show a strong Biden lead More than a dozen national surveys were released Thursday, all showing Biden in the lead and averaging to something in the high single digits. His best result came from the USC Dornsife tracking poll (which has a somewhat unorthodox methodology) and registered a gigantic 12-point lead. Trump’s best poll came from Rasmussen, which invariably delivers Republican-leaning results and still showed Biden up 1 point. All in all, the RealClearPolitics unweighted national average shows Biden up 7.8 points. Crucially, in that average, Biden is over 50 percent — so even if every single undecided voter and third-party supporter decided to flock to Trump in a desperate pro-malarkey surge, Biden would still have the lead. Remarkably, throughout the entire campaign there’s been essentially no shot of Trump actually winning more votes than his opponent, and that continues to be true on the eve of the election. But it’s the states that matter, and in the states, the race is closer. Biden has a healthy lead in Pennsylvania The most likely “tipping point” state — the one that could be decisive if the election is close — is Pennsylvania. And the polling averages there are closer. RealClearPolitics says Biden is up by 4.3 points, which is a healthy lead, but polling errors of that scale happen. The final RCP average for Pennsylvania in 2016, however, had Clinton up by 1.9 points. Trump won by 0.7 points, for a total polling error of 2.6 points. (FiveThirtyEight’s weighted polling average currently puts Biden up by 5.2 points.) In other words, if you think that pollsters have done nothing at all to fix the methodological problems that plagued swing state polling four years ago and that an error of the same magnitude will recur, then Biden would still win Pennsylvania and thus almost certainly win the election. And the two most recent polls for Biden — +7 from Quinnipiac University and +5 from a firm called Citizen Data that’s not well-known — were actually better for him. Then there are a bunch of other states where Biden has a lead, but generally a smaller one. Biden has smaller leads in the other battlegrounds By the numbers, Biden unquestionably does not “need” to win Pennsylvania. Polling averages show him with modest leads in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, and even Iowa, so taking even an important state like Pennsylvania off the board isn’t the end of the story. But his leads in all these states are smaller — 1.4 in Florida, for example, and just 0.7 in North Carolina. If it turns out the polls are badly off in Pennsylvania, one likely scenario is that they were off everywhere, and Trump wins after all. That’s because while polling errors are random, large polling errors can be correlated from place to place. If you undersample white voters with no college degree, as many pollsters did in the 2016 cycle, you end up undersampling them everywhere, so every state where those voters are a large share of the population tips the same way. But it’s also not out of the question that polling error could go one way in Pennsylvania and another way in a demographically dissimilar state like Arizona or North Carolina. And in North Carolina, Biden did get late-breaking good news from the very well-regarded New York Times poll, which put him up 3 points, while Citizen Data had him up 7. In Arizona, by contrast, the most recent survey was a Rasmussen poll that had Trump up 4, though on Wednesday, a well-regarded Latino Decisions poll had Biden up 5. The basic picture, which is really what we’ve seen all year, is that you’d definitely prefer to be in Biden’s shoes. But the odds of a Trump win, though not large, are also not large enough to dismiss out of hand. On the other hand, liberal anxiety and conservative chest-thumping can obscure the fact that mistakes may happen in either direction. Biden could win in a landslide Biden definitely doesn’t need to win Texas to win the election, which is good news for him because the latest polls all have him losing the state — whether by 4 points or by just 1. There was a Data for Progress poll on October 26 showing him up 1 point, but the same day the New York Times had him down 4. The larger significance of all this is that Trump’s polling lead in Texas is actually smaller than Biden’s lead in Pennsylvania. In other words, while it’s definitely possible that Trump will defy the odds and win, it’s more possible that Biden will win a landslide victory that features a shocking blue Texas scenario. This would almost certainly involve sweeping Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina, too, and likely involve Iowa and Ohio as well. Indeed, FiveThirtyEight thinks it’s slightly more likely that Biden will win Alaska than that Trump will win the election. That doesn’t mean either outcome is likely (though the combined probabilities of one or the other happening are over 25 percent), but it’s a reminder that uncertainty exists in all directions. For now, though, the last week’s flurry of polling mostly confirms what’s been true of this race all along — Biden is up, and the Electoral College helps Trump, but not enough to save him unless the polls are wrong. Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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Who the Electoral College really benefits
Why some Americans’ votes count more than others. In the 2000 US presidential election, the Democratic candidate got half a million more votes than the Republican. The Democrat lost. Sixteen years later, a similar thing happened again. In the US, if you run for president, it does not actually matter how many people in the country vote for you. What matters instead is an arcane system for selecting America’s head of state called the Electoral College. The Electoral College is the reason the US has something called “swing states,” and it’s the reason those places get to decide the future of the country. It’s the reason presidential candidates rarely campaign in the country’s biggest cities. More recently, it’s also the reason that Republican candidates have been able to eke out victories in the presidential election without actually getting the most votes. The Electoral College makes some Americans’ votes more powerful than others. In fact, that’s part of the reason we have it to begin with; in the country’s early years, the Electoral College helped give the votes of Southern white people more weight than the votes of Northerners. The idea at its core — that certain votes simply matter more than others — is baked into the American tradition. In the 2020 election, it may decide the winner. Further reading: The historian Alexander Keyssar’s book Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? takes you through the history and function of the Electoral College: For the bite-size version of that history, Keyssar also wrote this piece in the New York Times. The Times has a great interactive feature on where the 2020 candidates actually spent money. Pew has a breakdown of how democracies around the world elect their head of state, which really shows what an oddball the US is. More on why today’s Electoral College gives Republican presidential candidates a structural advantage. You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube. And if you’re interested in supporting our video journalism, you can become a member of the Vox Video Lab on YouTube. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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Trump’s “Sharpiegate” grudge may have cost NOAA’s acting chief scientist his job 
President Trump presented a doctored forecast of the path of Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office on September 4, 2019. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images The scientist who defended forecasters against political pressure during Hurricane Dorian was told to step down for reinforcing scientific integrity. Remember Sharpiegate? It turns out that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) may still be reeling from that episode, when President Trump’s refusal to admit he was wrong ballooned into an actual scandal at one of the nation’s premier scientific institutions. The New York Times reported this week that NOAA’s acting chief scientist, Craig McLean, who called out political interference during the ordeal, was removed from his post this month when he asked a new political appointee to acknowledge the agency’s scientific integrity guidelines. The guidelines prohibit manipulating scientific research for political ends. The appointee, Erik Noble, a former White House adviser, was not pleased, according to the Times: The request prompted a sharp response from Dr. Noble. “Respectfully, by what authority are you sending this to me?” he wrote, according to a person who received a copy of the exchange after it was circulated within NOAA. Mr. McLean answered that his role as acting chief scientist made him responsible for ensuring that the agency’s rules on scientific integrity were followed. The following morning, Dr. Noble responded. “You no longer serve as the acting chief scientist for NOAA,” he informed Mr. McLean, adding that a new chief scientist had already been appointed. “Thank you for your service.” McLean is still at NOAA, but he’s been replaced as chief scientist by Ryan Maue, a former research meteorologist at the Cato Institute. It makes sense that scientific integrity was front of mind for McLean when dealing with a political appointee. NOAA in general and McLean in particular have been forced to police the line between science and politics ever since Hurricane Dorian in 2019 galloped toward the Gulf Coast. Trump tweeted at the time that Alabama was one of several states “most likely” to be struck. The National Weather Service’s Birmingham, Alabama, office quickly responded that the state was emphatically not in the path of the storm. In addition to Florida - South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated. Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever. Already category 5. BE CAREFUL! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2019 Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east. #alwx— NWS Birmingham (@NWSBirmingham) September 1, 2019 A few days later, McLean defended NOAA’s scientists, including researchers at the National Weather Service, and openly decried the interference from the White House in a statement. It’s rare for a career employee at a government agency to publicly challenge political staff, which may be why a White House appointee at NOAA was so keen to remove him. And while the whole affair may seem silly, it has consequences beyond bruising the president’s ego. Political interference, or even the appearance thereof, undermines the credibility of an agency like NOAA whose research is used to make life-or-death decisions, like who needs to get out of the path of a dangerous storm. Now, even before an election, just as Hurricane Zeta, the 27th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, has left 2 million without power along the Gulf Coast, political staff are sidelining scientists at an agency tasked with staying ahead of natural disasters. And it’s likely more manipulation of science is in store if Trump wins a second term in office. The Trump administration’s repeated attacks on scientific agencies weaken public trust When his words didn’t match reality, President Trump tried to make reality match his words. He responded with multiple tweets defending his statement that Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian. He pressured his Homeland Security adviser to release a statement validating him. NOAA, the parent agency of the National Weather Service, issued a curt statement downplaying comments from its Birmingham station. Then, in the Oval Office, President Trump infamously presented a map of Hurricane Dorian’s path, but the forecast was doctored with a black line to include Alabama. Altering an official weather forecast is actually illegal for a government employee, though it’s not clear who actually drew the black line on the map (it’s not clear whether it was drawn with a Sharpie, either). In a September 10, 2019, statement, McLean criticized the decision to use NOAA’s press office to echo Trump and undercut the National Weather Service. “My understanding is that this intervention to contradict the forecaster was not based on science but on external factors including reputation and appearance, or simply put, political,” he wrote. “If the public cannot trust our information, or we debase our forecaster’s warnings and products, that specific danger arises.” The inspector general of the US Department of Commerce, which oversees NOAA, agreed. A report from the inspector general this summer found that NOAA’s credibility “took a serious hit” when top officials at the agency contradicted the National Weather Service’s Birmingham office: The Statement undercut the NWS’s forecasts and potentially undercut public trust in NOAA’s and the NWS’s science and the apolitical nature of that science. By requiring NOAA to issue an unattributed statement related to a then-5-day-old tweet, while an active hurricane continued to exist off the east coast of the United States, the Department displayed poor judgment in exercising its authority over NOAA. But the political pressure on NOAA was mounting before Sharpiegate and has been aimed at influencing the science that drives policy, particularly around climate change. Since Trump took office, NOAA has not had a Senate-confirmed leader. Currently, Neil Jacobs, the acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, is serving as NOAA’s interim administrator. Meanwhile, Trump has repeatedly made his disdain for climate change science clear. Shortly after taking office, federal agencies began removing references to climate change from their websites. For the most part, scientists at NOAA continued doing their jobs but have collided with the White House at times. NOAA is one of the contributing agencies to the National Climate Assessment, a report mandated by Congress to assess the impacts of climate change on the United States. After the last installment highlighted the economic costs of climate change, Trump said he didn’t believe the findings — likely because they undermined his administration’s policies to boost fossil fuels and relax greenhouse gas restrictions. Since the report is foundational to how the government plans for the future, the Trump administration is aiming to alter it during a second term by “removing longtime authors of the climate assessment and adding new ones who challenge the degree to which warming is occurring, the extent to which it is caused by human activities and the danger it poses to human health, national security and the economy,” according to the New York Times. The Trump administration has already pursued a similar tack at the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA ousted numerous independent scientific advisers and instead brought in researchers from the industries it’s supposed to regulate. The agency also placed additional restrictions on what kinds of research could be used to develop environmental regulations, making it easier to roll back restrictions and harder to come up with new rules to govern hazards to air, water, and soil. And now we’re also seeing this manipulation play out in the Covid-19 pandemic. The White House has repeatedly interfered with and undermined guidance from public health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because Trump talked them up, the FDA granted emergency use authorizations to therapies like hydroxychloroquine and convalescent plasma despite weak evidence for their effectiveness. The net result of all this manipulation is a loss of public trust, making it less likely that people will adhere to guidelines to protect them from disease or environmental dangers. And with the science itself being twisted to meet political ends, dirtier air and water due to weaker regulations, communities left more vulnerable in a disaster, as well as unready and risky approaches being deployed to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic may result. Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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A 7.0 earthquake struck near Greece and Turkey, killing at least 14 and injuring hundreds
Search and rescue works are being conducted in Bayrakli district after a magnitude 6.6 quake shook Turkey’s Aegean Sea coast, in Izmir, Turkey on October 30. | Mehmet Emin Menguarslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Turkey and Greece are located near many active fault lines. A 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the Aegean Sea on Friday afternoon local time, killing at least 14 people, and injuring hundreds more in Turkey and Greece. The earthquake caused the most damage in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, with a population of nearly 3 million people. More than 20 buildings collapsed, the city’s governor said, and at least 70 people had to be pulled from the rubble. There were no reported injuries to the 100 US military personnel currently stationed in Izmir, aspokesperson for NATO Allied Land Command told the Military Times. Videos posted to social media after the earthquake ended showed residents in the streets assessing the damage. Scenes from Izmir earthquake pic.twitter.com/lTZQf8L7NG— Ouzo Papadopoulos (@DIAS) October 30, 2020 VIDEO — Footage shows building destroyed by powerful tremor that struck western Turkeyhttps://t.co/ZQDw7t0GU3 pic.twitter.com/OiSkUnm1Cj— DAILY SABAH (@DailySabah) October 30, 2020 The extent of the wreckage seems commensurate with the size of the earthquake. According tothe US Geological Survey, an agency that monitors seismic activity around the world in real time, the quakestartedsix miles below ground and triggered extensive flooding in Izmir. US Geological Survey Location where the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck. In an interview with local media outlet NTV,Izmir MayorIsmail Yetiskin said sea levels had risen following the quake: “There seems to be a small tsunami.” A video posted by the Daily Sabah, a Turkish news agency, showed floodwaters in a town near Izmir washing away furniture and other debris. VIDEO — A small-scale tsunami floods streets in the town of Sığacık in Izmir’s Seferihisar district after earthquakehttps://t.co/ZQDw7t0GU3 pic.twitter.com/Y21tXDMzDD— DAILY SABAH (@DailySabah) October 30, 2020 Turkey wasn’t the only nation hit.The impact of the earthquake was also felt in nearby Greece, where two teenagers lost their lives on the Greek island of Samos after a wall fell in on them. Samos was also inundated with flooding. Fortunately, it doesn’t look like the island or the country has sufferedany further deaths. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to offer his condolences. “Whatever our differences” — a reference to Greece and Turkey’s decades-long history of conflict — “these are times when our people need to stand together,” he said. France has also offered immediate aid to both countries. Pakistan, Italy, Germany, and Canada also offered words of support. I just called President @RTErdogan to offer my condolences for the tragic loss of life from the earthquake that struck both our countries. Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together.— Prime Minister GR (@PrimeministerGR) October 30, 2020 Turkey and Greece are located on or near many active fault lines, so earthquakes are fairly common in the region. The area within 150 miles of where today’s quake struck has seen more than 29 earthquakes of a 6.0 or greater magnitude in the past 100 years. As Vox’s Umair Irfan has explained, earthquakes can quickly arise on faults like these: An earthquake occurs when massive blocks of the earth’s crust suddenly move past each other. These blocks, called tectonic plates, lie on top of the earth’s mantle, a layer that behaves like a very slow-moving liquid over millions of years. That means tectonic plates jostle each other over time. They can also slide on top of each other, a phenomenon called subduction. The places on the planet where one plate meets another are the most prone to earthquakes. The specific surfaces where parcels of earth slip past each other are called faults. The most recent major earthquake to hit Turkey occurredin January in the country’s eastern province of Elzaig, killing more than 30 people. The last earthquake of a similar strength to today’s quaketo hit Greece occurred in the Ionian Sea in October 2018, causing damage to buildings; no injuries were reported. But while Turkey and Greece are unfortunately used to dealing with natural disasters, that doesn’t make Friday’s earthquake, or the recovery efforts still underway, any easier. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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89,000 new Covid-19 cases per day. And the worst may be yet to come.
A nurse checks on a Covid-19 patient at Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Florida. States like Florida are now facing rising numbers of Covid-19 cases. | Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images The US was warned. The United States has reached a new terrible milestone in the Covid-19 pandemic. This past week, the country saw, on average, 75,561 new cases per day — the highest on record in a pandemic full of atrocious records. On Thursday, 89,000 Americans received a positive test result. From north to south, east to west, the virus is spreading uncontrolled again. This is not a peak. We’re in the midst of a climb. Next week, we can expect yet another record: leaping from more than 9 million total cases to 10 million cases in a matter of a few days. The number of people in hospitals across the country is ascending, too, hitting 46,000 on Thursday. And this will likely be followed by rising numbers of deaths in the coming weeks. Why? Because this is the pattern we’ve seen in every Covid-19 surge during the pandemic. It’s not going to change now. There’s a momentum to this virus. Cases incubate silently for days in a human body, and it can take several days for a person to be tested, and more to find out the results. Next week’s record number of cases is already festering in the population now, waiting to be uncovered. All the while, the infected can continue spreading this very contagious virus exponentially, especially in places that don’t have mask mandates or restrictions on bars and restaurants being open for indoor dining. Covid Tracking Project Yet the disconnect between this grim reality and President Donald Trump’s words has never been greater. The president wants the public to believe the recent spikes are something of a mirage, based solely on expanded testing. More Testing equals more Cases. We have best testing. Deaths WAY DOWN. Hospitals have great additional capacity! Doing much better than Europe. Therapeutics working!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2020 “We’re rounding the turn,” Trump told his supports at a rally on Monday. “Our numbers are incredible.” A rise in Covid-19 cases means we’ll see a spike in hospitalization. Again. While part of the increase in cases can indeed be explained by more testing, that’s far from the whole story. Look no further than the test-positive rate to understand why. The national rate has climbed more than a percentage point over the past two weeks, reaching 6.3 percent. That average obscures far higher test positive rates in states with some of the worst-controlled outbreaks: Virus 49, US States 1Off-the-chart test positivity extends beyond MidwestSouth Dakota 46.3%Idaho 34.0%Wyoming 31.8% (down from 55%)Iowa 30.6%Kansas 27.6%Alabama 25.9%Nebraska 23.8%Nevada 23.3%https://t.co/I9lw9nAtaQ pic.twitter.com/T3KQVXIUL2— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) October 30, 2020 This means a growing number of Americans being tested have the virus — and health officials aren’t keeping up with the rising demand for testing, nor are they keeping on top of outbreaks. Covid-19 hospitalizations are also rising again, following a sharp drop through August and early September. Over the past month, the number of US patients in hospitals with the disease increased by more than 50 percent, according to the COVID Tracking Project, surpassing 46,000 on October 29. Covid Tracking Project As Vox’s Dylan Scott reports, this has already forced radical measures across the country: Wisconsin and Texas are building field hospitals; Idaho is planning to transfer patients out of state; Utah is ready to ration care. “Although we are not yet close to the hospitalization peaks of almost 60,000 that we observed in the spring and summer,” the editors at the Covid Tracking Project observed, “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.” If cases keep rising — as they’re expected to with the cold weather and more indoor gathering — this means we’re on track for a new hospitalization record. And, again, that will be followed by a new surge in deaths. .@IHME_UW now projects 399,000 #COVID19 cumulative deaths by February 1. If states do not react to risingnumbers by re-imposing mandates, cumulative deaths could reach 514,000 by the same date. pic.twitter.com/3XoIV9YOt7— Ali H. Mokdad (@AliHMokdad) October 30, 2020 People with the disease are more likely to survive today. But the gains doctors have made treating critically ill patients could rapidly be undone as hospital wards become overwhelmed again. “Each hospital’s overwhelmed point is different now than it was in April, but there is a point that’s too much for any hospital,” Theodore Iwashyna, a professor of critical care medicine at the University of Michigan who has been treating Covid-19 patients, told Vox. “There are only so many hands. You can only be in so many rooms.” This was not a surprise, nor was it inevitable What makes this moment so frustrating is that researchers and health officials have been warning for months that a fall and winter spike in Covid-19 cases was looming. “There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told the Washington Post in April. “And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.” We were warned, as early as March, that there would be no going back to normal life until community transmission of the virus had been suppressed. We were warned that any successes achieved through business closures and social distancing would have to be replaced by equally effective public health measures if we were to take steps toward returning to life as normal. In many parts of the country, those alternative strategies never came. Scientists also told us that we’d be living with the pandemic for potentially years without a vaccine. That’s still true. In May, we were warned that state reopenings were coming too soon, and that case spikes, and later hospitalizations and deaths, would follow. And they did. Over the summer, we were warned that falling temperatures in the autumn, along with continued lax precautions, might lead to another surge. And here we are. Yet earlier this month, as it became more apparent that the United States was on track for a major increase in Covid-19 cases, states like Florida were relaxing restrictions, allowing bars and restaurants to reopen for indoor patrons. (A similar pattern emerged this summer as cities and states relaxed restrictions even as cases were rising, fueling a spike in new infections in June.) The current rise in cases is starting from a much higher baseline, with the added element of increased transmission in winter conditions. As people spend more time indoors in the cold weather, and as lower humidity makes it easier to transmit a respiratory virus, the air is fertile for viral spread. That means the next Covid-19 surge could break more records. Scientists say it didn’t have to be this way. “Through comparative analysis and applying proportional mortality rates, we estimate that at least 130,000 deaths and perhaps as many as 210,000 could have been avoided with earlier policy interventions and more robust federal coordination and leadership,” researchers at Columbia University reported this month. Other parts of the world have also done a far better job of containing the spread of the virus. Officials in Taiwan reported this week that the island has gone 200 days without local transmission of Covid-19. South Korea, which confirmed its first Covid-19 case on the same day as the US, managed to keep its per capita infections far lower throughout the pandemic. Even with a recent rise in cases, South Korea’s infection rate remains much lower. The country also reported that its economy is even starting to grow. These countries maintained much more aggressive restrictions on movement, while investing far more in testing for Covid-19 and tracing contacts of the infected. They also embraced mandatory face masks. These lessons have been repeatedly emphasized throughout the pandemic, in the US and around the world. But these are lessons the US has still failed to learn. America is still struggling with basic pandemic control measures like social distancing. And now, with the days getting shorter, the country is facing the darkest stretch of the pandemic yet. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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You don’t have to love Star Wars to dig The Mandalorian
Disney+ Here’s a few things to know about Disney+’s Star Wars TV show if you’re not a Star Wars fan. Most people have likely seen at least one Star Wars film, if not all nine episodes of the Skywalker Saga (the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy that kicked off in 1999, and the new trilogy that wrapped up in 2019). But when it comes to delving into the deeper lore, that’s when the mainstream viewer may get lost. Which may make The Mandalorian, the first TV drama set in the Star Wars canon, seem intimidating. The Disney+ series is based almost entirely on new characters from planets untraveled in the movies. There aren’t any Wookiees or Skywalkers for the most base-level Star Wars viewer to point at and get stoked about. Instead, our hero is a bounty hunter who refuses to ever remove his helmet, which means that we unfairly don’t get to enjoy the face of the actor beneath it, the beautiful Pablo Pascal. Along the way, the Mandalorian works alongside other bandits and bounty hunters of all stripes. Aside from the Child — a.k.a. Baby Yoda, the painfully cute, tiny version of the beloved, sagely green alien — there aren’t any immediately familiar faces or characters for the cursory Star Wars viewer to latch onto. But The Mandalorian is fascinating for what it adds to the Star Wars universe, while also being accessible to the more rudimentary viewer because it doesn’t rely so much on preexisting storylines or characters. Instead, the show takes the semantics of Star Wars — space battles, unique creatures, a Big Bad that a Morally Gray Good Guy needs to vanquish — and applies them to the classic TV Monster-of-the-Week model. The result is something very fun, engaging, and just Star Wars-y enough. In case the cuteness of Baby Yoda and the age-old desire for new TV to watch is somehow not the only sell you need on the show, perhaps its awards track record can offer impetus. The Mandalorian’s first season was nominated for 13 Emmys, including the top trophy, Outstanding Drama Series — a huge deal for a streaming-exclusive genre show on a new streaming service. The Mandalorian ultimately took home seven statuettes, all in creative categories, on the strength of its fantastic world-building and stylish look. If you’re thinking of watching The Mandalorian but still haven’t checked it out, here’s a brief guide to get you started on the show just in time for season two, which debuted Friday, October 30. In-depth knowledge of the Star Wars movies is not required Disney+ The Mandalorian (Pablo Pascal) himself. There’s no need to have watched any of the previous Star Wars films to make sense of The Mandalorian’s first season. What you need to know is that the show takes place five years after Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi, released back in 1983. Return of the Jedi ends with Luke Skywalker and company having thwarted Darth Vader and his evil Empire, so Vader is well out of the picture when we meet Mando (as he’s lovingly known). Since the galaxy is so dang big, it’s totally plausible that Mando has no interaction with any of our main Star Wars heroes. So, for the purposes of the show, he does not. Instead, Mando is an independent bounty hunter who does jobs for questionable dudes in exchange for cash. The most important gig he’s taken on so far has been to deliver an ultra-powerful, very rare creature (the cooing, precious Child/Baby Yoda) to someone who clearly has some evil plans for it. By season one’s midpoint, Mando and Baby Yoda become a father-and-son pair, and Mando decides he’s not going to hand over his new charge to the bad guys and instead protect him and raise him as his own. The bad guys don’t like this. Fighting ensues. The Mandalorian is thus far divorced from the main Star Wars canon, but the contours of Star Wars are there. It’s an engrossing plot — can Daddy Mando keep super-strong Baby Yoda safe from the bad guys? And what’s Baby Yoda’s whole deal, anyway?— but it’s also breezily episodic. This aspect might change some in season two, as the season premiere leans a bit more into established Star Wars lore. Still, season one should get you comfortable with the world to the point that you’ll be able to embrace it even if you haven’t been a huge Star Wars fan in the past. The Mandalorian is a super-easy TV drama to watch In contrast to something like Succession or The Handmaid’s Tale, The Mandalorian is rarely too layered or overly dense. There’s the overarching “Protect the Child” plot, but otherwise, most of the first season feels very self-contained. The first handful of episodes play out like acts in their own mini-Star Wars movie, as Mando nearly delivers the Child, decides not to, and escapes the consequences of shirking his duties. It’s gripping and quick enough to watch in one sitting. Then the rest of season one unfurls, and nearly every episode feels like a stand-alone story. Mando goes on new jobs that take him to exciting locations around the galaxy. There’s an adorable episode where Mando and Baby Yoda find what might be a perfect place to settle in, a village where everyone loves and dotes upon Baby and Mando reunites with an old friend/love interest. Then the next episode is one guest-starring Amy Sedaris that is almost entirely forgettable. So it goes with The Mandalorian’s first season: It’s a little uneven, a little slow, but who cares! Almost nothing specifically matters from episode to episode, and the episodes run between 30 and 45 minutes long. There are only eight of them. It’s super-easy to blitz through, with very little active thinking required and plenty to enjoy along the way. There are lots of big names attached, and they’re all great Jon Favreau co-created The Mandalorian and serves as its showrunner; he also wrote most of the episodes of both seasons. If you’re a fan of his Marvel work (Iron Man, Spider-Man: Homecoming) or his Disney adaptations (The Jungle Book, The Lion King), then you know what to expect. Favreau has an eye for combining eye-catching action with strong humor, and keeps The Mandalorian from ever feeling grim or plodding. Behind the camera, Bryce Dallas Howard and Taika Waititi each took a turn in the director’s chair during season one (as did Star Wars: The Clone Wars writer-director Dave Filoni, which is a huge deal for Star Wars nerds). But in front of the camera is where the real magic happens: Giancarlo Esposito, Werner Herzog, and Carl Weathers all play recurring characters. Herzog is only briefly jarring to see as the guy who hands over Baby Yoda to Mando; he fits in really well to the Star Wars universe otherwise. Esposito is intense and horrifying as the show’s major villain, recalling his days on Breaking Bad. And Carl Weathers is Carl Weathers. You have to love Carl Weathers. Taika Waititi also voices a character in the season one premiere and the season one finale, a very funny, ultimately heartbreaking droid. Baby Yoda alone makes the whole show worth it Disney+ All I want is to hold him. Just once! Please! Everything you’ve heard about Baby Yoda is true. On top of being a lucrative merchandising opportunity for Disney, Baby Yoda is so cute that he will absolutely make you cry. He will leave your heart so full of love and affirmation that, for at least a short while, you’ll wonder if the world is perhaps less dreadful and harrowing than it often seems. I never understood why people liked babies so much until I saw Baby Yoda and his tiny hand stretching weakly toward his Daddy Mando. His powers are a little bit scary — there’s a moment in season one where he uses the Force to almost choke someone, which is a lot, especially for a character depicted as a baby — but all babies are unpredictable. At least this one is solidly the most precious one in any galaxy. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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Lean into uncertainty with Trust Exercise, the Vox Book Club’s November pick
Henry Holt & Company Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise is the Vox Book Club pick for November. The Vox Book Club is linking to Bookshop.org to support local and independent booksellers. Something monumental is going to happen in November, and as of this moment we have no idea what it is. There is a chance we won’t know for certain for several weeks. So in the spirit of embracing and exploring our current state of deeply vexed uncertainty, the Vox Book Club is going to spend November reading Susan Choi’s wicked and vexing Trust Exercise. Trust Exercise won the National Book Award in 2019, and it was one of my favorite books of that year. It starts off as a love story between two kids at a high-achieving performing arts high school. Then it spins off from there with a vicious act two twist that I won’t spoil for you, because the moment you realize exactly what you’re reading is such a kick that I wouldn’t dare do anything to jeopardize it. What ensues is an extended meditation on trust: the trust between lovers, between student and teacher, between actor and director. But Trust Exercise also covers the trust that is implicit and unspoken in novels themselves, that lies between the author who writes the novel, the characters who enact the novel, and the readers who read the novel. It’s the perfect book to read as we try to make our way through this period of deep and profound uncertainty. And I have confidence that together, if we all try hard enough, we’ll be able to figure out what the hell is happening at the end. Subscribe to the Vox Book Club newsletter to make sure you don’t miss anything, and let’s get started. Here’s the full Vox Book Club schedule for November 2020 Friday, November 20: Discussion post on Trust Exercise Monday, November 30: Virtual live event with author Susan Choi. Subscribe to the newsletter, and we’ll send you an RSVP link as soon as it’s available. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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Facebook glitch blocks certain political ads, raising new questions about transparency
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sits for testimony during the Section 230 Senate hearing this week. | Greg Nash/AFP The company says it has mostly fixed the “technical problems” that prevented some Biden and Trump ads from running. With less than a week to go before Election Day, Facebook has admitted to a glitch in the system that handles political ads on its platform. “Technical flaws” related to a new transparency effort that restricted new political ads from appearing on Facebook in the week before the election caused an unstated number of old political ads to not appear at all. Both the Biden and Trump campaigns say some of their ads were among them. This looks bad for Facebook. While the company says it has mostly fixed the problem — and that the issue had nothing to do with partisanship — the situation highlights a growing distrust in Facebook’s ability to manage political content on its platform. Facebook says the moratorium on new political ads that led to the glitch was part of its “efforts to ensure maximum transparency.” The Biden campaign says Facebook let them down. “We have no sense of the scale of the problem, who it is affecting, and their plan to resolve it,” Biden’s digital director Rob Flaherty said in a statement Thursday night. “It is abundantly clear that Facebook was wholly unprepared to handle this election despite having four years to prepare.” This is just the latest in a series of episodes that raises questions about Facebook’s commitment to transparency in its handling of political ads, including objectionable content found in and the opaque targeting of its political ads. It’s also not clear to many users how they’re being targeted by such ads. Facebook has previously taken steps to block ad tracking tools, including one built by New York University researchers, one from ProPublica, and another from Mozilla. So some worry that Facebook’s stated commitment to ad transparency is an empty promise and that the platform has failed to moderate itself successfully. “Every week, there is new bad stuff that gets through Facebook’s own monitoring and screening,” Laura Edelson, a researcher at NYU studying political ads, told Recode. “The real danger is that Facebook says it can do this job themselves, but they can’t.” Last month, Edelson and her colleagues at NYU launched a project called the Ad Observatory that, in part, allows users to download a browser extension designed to record information about the political ads they saw on the platform. The browser extension, which is called Ad Observer, “allows journalists and researchers to better understand the political misinformation and manipulation that spreads daily on your platform,” the group said. But on October 16, Facebook sent the NYU project a cease-and-desist letter, demanding that they had until the end of November to stop. This led a slew of organizations led by Mozilla to demand that Facebook withdraw its letter and work with the researchers on improving political ad transparency. Facebook claims that it provides transparency with its Ad Library, which the company built in response to demand for information about promoted campaigns on its platform. This searchable database shows information about active and inactive ad campaigns being run on Facebook, including the amount spent as well as the ages, genders, and locations of people who end up seeing an ad. However, the conflict between Facebook and researchers at the Ad Observatory project suggests that users don’t know much about why they see certain political ads. Technical problems with the Ad Library are also the reason why an unstated number of previously approved political ads did not run the week before the election. As for the Ad Observer tool itself, Facebook says the browser extension engages in bulk data collection, which is a violation of the company’s terms of service. The cease-and-desist letter also said that, if the researchers don’t shut down the tool voluntarily, they “may be subject to additional enforcement action.” In fact, the company says that it told the researchers months earlier that such a tool would go against its rules. It also demanded that all of the data collected by the project be deleted. “We informed NYU months ago that moving forward with a project to scrape people’s Facebook information would violate our terms,” Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne said in a statement to Recode. “Our Ad Library, which is accessed by more than 2 million people every month, including NYU, already provides more transparency into political and issue advertising than TV, radio or any other digital ad platform.” But while the Ad Library does reveal some general details about impressions — like where ads ended up being shown and the gender breakdown of those who saw an ad — researchers say that’s not enough. Many argue that the tool lacks pivotal details about how those ads were actually targeted, and some claim that not all political ads make it into Facebook’s library tool. The recent back-and-forth with Facebook has actually led to a surge in participation in the NYU project. Since people learned that Facebook had sent a cease-and-desist letter to the researchers, thousands more volunteers have downloaded the Ad Observer browser extension. The number of participants is now more than 13,000, which is double the 6,500 who had signed up before Facebook’s cease-and-desist letter. Meanwhile, the NYU researchers say the tool does not collect personally identifiable information and that the data of all the participants is anonymized and combined. “No personal information from volunteers is collected,” says the Ad Observatory’s website, which specifies that its tool does not collect “anything personally identifying,” including names, birthdays, friend lists, or ad interactions. Some employees at Facebook have suggested that the tool is not safe. Facebook did not share whether it had any plans to reveal any new information about targeting. Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a recent Senate hearing on Section 230 about political advertisements on the platform. This is a topic Klobuchar has been following as a co-sponsor of the Honest Ads Act, which would require tech companies to reveal more information about how political ad targeting works. While the law hasn’t passed, she’s asked Zuckerberg to meet its standards for fully disclosing which groups are targeted by particular political ads. In a statement to Recode, Klobuchar told Recode that technology companies, including Facebook, have not met those standards, and she condemned recent reports about the company trying to squash research. “As we face threats to our democracy, we need more transparency, not less,” Klobuchar said. Other social platforms have recently become more scrupulous about political ads. Major platforms like Twitter, Nextdoor, and TikTok have banned all political ads. But Facebook has doubled down on its controversial policies by refusing to fact-check political ads. There were some related political ad controversies earlier this year, including the company allowing the Trump campaign to run hundreds of misleading ads related to the census as well as ads that contained Nazi imagery. Facebook has since added the option for users to turn off political ads. Still, the most recent hiccups in Facebook’s political ad system shows that some — from academics to presidential campaigns — remain concerned about the company’s transparency efforts. In a sense, Facebook is making changes that have led to more problems and unintended confusion. So it’s worth wondering, days before a pivotal election that the company has known about for years, why Facebook still doesn’t seem prepared. Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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Trump may try to steal the election. Americans may have to take to the streets.
Protesters walk during the Women’s March on Washington, with the US Capitol in the background, on January 21, 2017, in Washington, DC. | Mario Tama/Getty Images An expert on nonviolent civil resistance talks about when protests work, how they work, and when they become necessary. President Trump has repeatedly challenged the legitimacy of the 2020 election, and he just had his third Supreme Court justice confirmed after saying he may need the Court to settle a disputed outcome. A Supreme Court decision this week on mail-in ballots in Wisconsin has raised worries among Democrats and analysts that the Court will do just that in Trump’s favor. And going back all the way to 2016, Trump has hinted that his supporters (“Second Amendment people”) might resort to violence if things go the wrong way. These developments, and Trump’s general predisposition to authoritarianism, raise an important question: What should Americans do if he loses the election and refuses to accept the results? Political analysts have already raised the prospect of mass protests erupting in the event of a contested election. But when to take the streets isn’t just a question for liberal activists. Even David Brooks, no radical, has suggested the US might need a “sustained campaign of civic action” to “rally the majority that wants to preserve democracy.” For better or worse, this is where we are as a country. And the possibility that we might need a wave of nonviolentcivil resistance leads to another question: When would people actually know that it’s time to take to the streets? The closer we get to November 3, the more urgent this question becomes. To help me think through this, I reached out to Harvard political scientist Erica Chenoweth. An expert on nonviolentcivil resistance, Chenoweth has studied mass movements for years, both domestically and globally. I asked them why they work and why they fail, how we’ll know we’ve reached the point for mass protests in November, and what happens if we’re facing the very real prospect of civil conflict. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows. Sean Illing What should Americans do if Trump loses and refuses to leave? Erica Chenoweth The honest answer is that I’m not sure. I don’t think anyone knows yet. I think there would be mass mobilization of the kind we haven’t seen in a long time. But the groups mobilizing would have to develop new strategies for how to affect appointed justices (rather than elected officials) and whose cooperation a movement would need in order to reverse a corrupt court ruling. Simply mobilizing without plans for different likely scenarios won’t be enough. Sean Illing How problematic is it that a considerable number of Trump supporters are likely to think he won even if he didn’t, both because Trump has been telling his base for months that it’s rigged and because right-wing news media will reinforce this narrative? Erica Chenoweth It’s a massive barrier. But awareness of that problem also contains within it a prescription for protest movements, which is to focus exactly on those necessary pillars of support. For example, it would be a big deal if there were people on Fox News who began to say, “Actually, I voted for Trump but I don’t think he won. We don’t need this chaos. We need to end it.” These are the sorts of visible defections you see at the peak of any mass mobilization movement. Another potential pillar of support would be Republicans who backed Trump taking a stand against an illegal power grab. There are prominent people who might support Trump but aren’t necessarily authoritarian in their impulses, and the movement would need them to call for him to peacefully step down if he loses. And then there’s the business community and various powerful corporate actors. One of the most curious aspects of how this might play out is predicting how they might respond in such a setting. If they throw in their lot with Trump, that could be very decisive in pushing things in his direction. But if they defect, that could be equally decisive in pushing it the other way. There are lots of cases around the world where the actions of business elites proved vital in the outcome of a campaign or dispute. Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images Trump 2020 flags fly in Columbus Circle during the Women’s March in Manhattan on January 19, 2019. Sean Illing In these types of situations, do business elites tend to side with power or the state? Erica Chenoweth It depends. Essentially, yes, unless it’s clear that the incumbent means instability and chaos. They want stability because that’s good for markets. So to the extent that mass mobilization can be disruptive enough, through a series of strikes or boycotts, that could have a really meaningful impact on whether they decide it’s in their own financial interest to support Trump. Ultimately, they don’t care who wins or loses. They care about whether the political situation is undermining their own prosperity and futures. Sean Illing Let’s just say that Trump loses and disputes the results. When will people know it’s time to take to the streets? Erica Chenoweth Nobody knows exactly because there are usually no bright lines, no clear point at which it’s time to mobilize. In fact, you could make the argument that if there is such a line, the US crossed it a long time ago. But the various groups [here and here] working now to coordinate efforts are coalescing around a clear plan and making some decision about when it would be time to mobilize. The youth-led coalition Count on Us has been talking about two clear lines: Trump declares victory before votes are counted, or Trump loses but refuses to step down. Those would be about as clear as it gets. So it’s important to work to manage the public’s expectations around how soon we will know the winner of the election. And it’s encouraging that a lot of media outlets are reinforcing the message that we’re unlikely to know who won on election night and anyone who says otherwise is basically spreading false information. Sean Illing And what would make a protest of this kind successful? Erica Chenoweth Mass participation is the number one thing that is correlated with the success of movements. And when we talk about mass participation, we’re not just talking about large numbers of people. We’re also talking about a very diverse and representative cross-section of society as a whole. It’s not enough to just have Democrats in the streets. You’d want to see independents and Republicans and libertarians and people across the various partisan or cultural divides. The second thing is that movements tend to succeed when they are able to bring about non-cooperation from within the opponent’s pillars of support. So in other words, civil servants walking out on the job, military leaders saying, “This is extraconstitutional and we can’t support it,” business elites taking a stand, religious authorities and others coming out and saying democracy is more important than a party or a single election. Another thing that successful movements do is they are able to sustain mobilization over a long period. As repression escalates, successful movements have beenable to innovate tactically so that they can maximize disruption and minimize exposure to repression. So in other words, not just marching in the streets but also organizing stay-at-home strikes and other low-cost actions that encourage widespread support without necessarily asking people to take on high levels of risk. Lots of people may not be willing to march, but if the movement offers other ways to participate, that can go a long way. Sean Illing What would undermine a mass movement of this kind? What tactics or strategies should be avoided at all costs? Erica Chenoweth The first thing that comes to mind is that it’s easy for movements to devolve into disarray when they are attacked, and it’s important to think through how this happens. A regime, if it wants to maintain control over a population, wants a movement to respond violently, because then the regime is able to draw on all kinds of narratives about the need to protect the people from the “criminals” and the “terrorists.” And that has been, unfortunately, a remarkably effective rhetorical and narrative device. This is why movements really need to undertake some degree of preparation because nonviolent resistance doesn’t mean it’s going to be a nonviolent interaction. In most of the cases I have studied, activists are hurt and killed in these events around the world. Successful movements tend to expect and prepare for violence against them, and they know that when violence is being used against them, it’s because they’re genuinely threatening the state and the status quo. Mario Tama/Getty Images A woman chants while attending the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017, in Washington, DC. Sean Illing You’ve argued that nonviolence works better than violence, especially against the state, because there’s an imbalance in power. If you’re a non-state actor protesting against the state, to take up violence is to fight on terms that are favorable to the state.But if we are talking about something more like civil conflict, with Trump-supporters clashing with pro-democracy protesters, where the imbalance is not quite as clear, why is nonviolence still the most reliable strategic weapon? Erica Chenoweth That’s a great question. The key thing to avoiding large-scale violence is to prevent the escalation of violence. And so responding to violence with violence is going to escalate it, especially if the government’s not stepping in and trying to suppress the initiating side, or if it’s ambiguous which side initiated or it’s deliberately made to be ambiguous or whatever. There’s a tactical dimension and a strategic dimension. Tactically speaking, if people find themselves out there in an unexpected, active confrontation with armed groups, there are tools available: you can slow it down using conflict de-escalation techniques like separating the groups that are confronting and antagonizing one another, or a method called interpositioning, which is when people line up and get between groups and kind of separate them physically with their bodies without touching anybody. There are even groups that do full-time unarmed accompaniment, like Nonviolent Peaceforce or Christian Peacemaker Teams, whose impartial, unarmed peacekeeping has helped to de-escalate violence to the extent that communities can buy some time to deal with one another. And then there are the options of simply leaving and switching from street protests to active noncooperation, like strikes or stay-at-homes. These types of actions have worked to reduce or keep communal violence in check in movements from Iran to Chile. On a strategic level, if the idea is that Trump would declare himself the winner and that armed groups would further escalate their violence in communities on his behalf, then we would be seeing the sort of nightmare scenario that civil war and political violence scholars worry about, which is basically the formalization of state-aligned pro-government militias. And then there would be the full capacity of the state and these groups acting on behalf of it. But even then, for a movement contesting that kind of power grab without wanting to see a mass atrocity or a civil war set on, the main task would be to not participate in the escalation of violence in a way that plays into those traps. There’s some pretty good research out there to suggest that finding a way to buy time and prevent violence from escalating against one’s community is a way to achieve both goals. There’s a book called Resisting Warby Oliver Kaplan, who makes this very clear in the case of Colombia. And there are many other examples of this around the world. And there are lots of everyday forms of resistance that people use in really violent settings against all armed actors, including the state and armed groups. If the community decides to pick up arms and try to fight it out in the streets, then it’s just going to escalate, and communal violence of that kind is very difficult to control. It takes on dynamics of its own. And most of the people who die aren’t even the people fighting. So the costs of meeting violence with violence are just way higher. Sean Illing My fear is that we get trapped in an escalating spiral of violence and retaliation, in which both sides are defined by their worst manifestations. If you get far enough down that road, it seems the potential for nonviolent resolution evaporates. Erica Chenoweth Well, I would say it doesn’t take much to be on that road and not be able to reverse course. So it’s not even going too far down that road. On the other hand, there’s nothing inevitable about violence escalating in this country. Jessica Maves Braithwaite wrote a great piece about this recently. It depends on us and what we choose to do. Sean Illing What’s your practical advice to ordinary citizens and to organizers preparing for these potential outcomes? Erica Chenoweth Never underestimate the power of nonviolent resistance to help achieve the effective changes that people are trying to achieve in their communities. Many people are wondering what they can do right now. Number one is vote. Number two is encourage other eligible voters to vote and support their efforts to do so, in terms of giving them reminders or rides or whatever they may need. But lastly, it’s also important to just stay connected with people in our communities right now and try to meet their immediate needs. We’re in a pandemic and lots of people are struggling and suffering with making ends meet. It can be very helpful for people to take care of one another and to find purpose and motivation in those types of actions. And these activities also build capacity for longer-term and more resilient collective action. Number four is to attend a nonviolent direct action training or two, so that you are equipped with basic skills that will make you feel more prepared for various scenarios and the role that you might play in them. And then the last thing I’d say is that it’s a really good time for people to feel connected to a political home, whether that political home is something they find in their faith community, among friends and family, among people who have similar affinities at work, or in a political party, a community organization, or whatnot. There are lots of bipartisan and nonpartisan groups that are organizing specifically around the election and its aftermath that folks can check out. Because the most important thing for people to remember is that they’re never alone. If they decide that they’re called to act to protect the Constitution and use nonviolent resistance to do that, then they’re following the tradition of millions and millions of people in the US and around the world who have done and are continuing to do this as well. They’re not alone. Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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The economy could lose a generation of working mothers
Kari McCracken helps her children with virtual learning in their home in La Grange, Kentucky, on October 29. | Morgan Hornsby for Vox Hundreds of thousands of women have been pushed out of work during the pandemic. It’s a catastrophe that could set them — and America — back years. Kari McCracken loved her job managing a team as regional supervisor at a bottling company for Coca-Cola in Kentucky. “The people that I worked with and interacted with daily were like a family to me,” she said. She was getting ready to celebrate her five-year anniversary. It was where she planned to retire. There, “I knew that I had a bright future,” she said. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. McCracken was furloughed in early April but was told she’d likely be called back in June. Since schools had closed, her five children — ages 11, 9, 7, 3, and 2 — were all at home. The furlough at least allowed her to manage the “chaos” of it all, she said. When her boss called in June, she said she could probably save McCracken’s position — if she could return to work in person within the week. “My first instinct is to say, ‘Okay I’m excited to go back to work,’” she recalled. “It hit me after the fact that oof, I can’t go back, I don’t have a sitter.” Her sister, who had helped watch her kids in the past, wasn’t available.She requested unpaid leave so she could make arrangements but was denied. Morgan Hornsby for Vox Kari McCracken, a mother of five, was recently laid off from her job as regional supervisor at a bottling company for Coca-Cola. Morgan Hornsby for Vox Drawings made by McCracken’s children are attached to the fridge with a magnet from her previous job. In April, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which included up to 12 weeks of guaranteed paid leave for workers whose child care or schools closed due to the pandemic. But it included a number of exemptions, including an exclusion for businesses with 500 or more employees. That applied to McCracken’s employer. “Had I worked for a smaller corporation, my job would have been protected,” she said. Instead, she set about frantically calling anywhere and everywhere that might be able to offer child care, even just for a week or two. But with child care capacity reduced as a Covid-19 safety precaution, “nobody had anything remotely available.” In July, one in five child care centers across the country were still closed. A few days later, she received an overnighted letter from the company saying that if she didn’t come back, it would consider her to have voluntarily resigned. Her last official day with the company was July 3. Coca-Cola Consolidated didn’t respond to a request for comment. “It crushed me,” she said. She had always felt that the company cared about her, but the letter made her feel like “I was another number.” Because she wasn’t technically fired, she wasn’t eligible for severance pay, paid out unused time off, or job assistance that was offered to others who were laid off. She lost her health insurance just as she had hit the annual deductible. Morgan Hornsby for Vox A collection of Louisville Slugger bats McCracken has received in recognition of her work performance. “I’m not sure what to do with the awards,” she said. “I don’t want to look at them, but I also can’t throw them away.” McCracken is part of a mass exodus of women from the paid workforce — the likes of which the country may have never seen before. In August and September, 865,000 women left work altogether; in September, there were 2.2 million fewer women in the labor force than a year earlier. There are fewer women employed or looking for work, and more women simply sitting on the sidelines of the labor force, than anytime since 1986. Some of the pain has been caused by intense contractions in the places where women, and in particular women of color, work: service industries like restaurants and retail that had to shut down, as well as state and local governments whose workforces are predominantly female and Black but are facing severe budget cuts. Women are also being squeezed out of the workforce by the vice of yet another remote school year, lack of child care, and the inability to take paid time off work to care for their children. Then there is the nagging, ingrained expectation that, even in a supportive heterosexual partnership, the person who is supposed to sacrifice their career to take care of the children is the woman. Even though most mothers work outside the home in non-pandemic times, they are also almost always the default caretaker when family needs to be cared for. In August, the federal monthly jobs report showed that even as employment began to rebound, women in their prime working years actually left the labor force, on net. And in September, more women left the labor force than any other month on record other than April, the peak of the pandemic. Women are getting the worst of this recessionBut it turns out there’s a huge marriage story we’ve been missingMarried women lost almost 1 million jobs last month. (single men gained 1.2 million)https://t.co/IE4UEtTbp21/ pic.twitter.com/MozPMf42Yr— Michael Madowitz (@mikemadowitz) October 6, 2020 “I was prepared for pretty grim stuff,” said Michael Madowitz, an economist at the Center for American Progress who has been tracking the numbers. “In August, it started to look much grimmer.” He had assumed that the exodus from the workplace would be more limited, perhaps just for mothers of elementary-aged children who are still too young to do remote learning on their own. “It’s a lot more broad-based than that,” he said. Women are bearing the brunt of having to choose child care over work The monthly jobs data is noisy and liable to revisions, so no single month can determine a trend. Still, it lines up with other data. In one national survey, 13 percent of working parents said they had lost a job or reduced their hours due to lack of child care. That survey was conducted in the late summer. “If that was an issue in the spring, you can imagine how bad that is at this point,” noted Betsey Stevenson, an economist and professor at the University of Michigan. In August, nearly half of manufacturers said child care constraints were making it hard to bring employees back or hire new ones. “It’s not a question of whether women are set back in the workplace. It’s a question of how far back will we go: 10 years, 15 years, 20 years?” It’s mothers who are bearing the brunt of abruptly losing child care and school. Mothers of young children have reduced their work hours four to five times more than fathers during the pandemic. An August analysis found that young mothers were nearly three times more likely than fathers to say they couldn’t work due to school or daycare closures. Among parents whose children are ages two to six, mothers were more than four times as likely to leave the workforce as fathers. Anecdotally, A Better Balance, a nonprofit focused on women’s workplace rights, is getting calls to its legal hotline “all the time” from women who have been pushed out of their jobs due to caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic, said vice president Elizabeth Gedmark. In the beginning, many people simply weren’t aware of the FFCRA’s paid leave, and the organization could help them assert their rights. But many others were carved out altogether — not just at large employers, but also at those with fewer than 50 employees, and health care workers. As the pandemic drags on, they’re also getting calls from people who were able to take the leave but have now run out. “That is an increasing problem as virtual schooling is so predominant in the country,” Gedmark said. And while families may have muddled through the spring, whatever they did to make it work may just not be feasible anymore. “We’ve all been doing somewhat unsustainable things for seven months,” Madowitz said. “You can only do three jobs with two people, or two jobs with one person, for so long.” Carrie Westenhofer had worked at a bank for five years when Covid-19 hit, and because banks were deemed to be essential businesses, her employer required her to keep reporting to work, even though she thinks she could have easily done her job from home. When her four children’s three different schools all went remote in the spring, she adjusted her schedule so that she was working part-time. After she left for work at 7 am, her now-husband would supervise the start of school until he left for work at 11 am, at which point they paid a friend to come help. Westenhofer would leave work at noon and take over for the rest of the day. “It did not work. Unless the whole plan was for us to go insane — that worked,” she said with a laugh. “It was just a disaster.” Morgan Hornsby for Vox Carrie Westenhofer, a mother of four, was recently laid off from her position at a bank after being denied a request to work part-time. School ended in June and she went back to full-time, and that worked for a while. But when she found out school would once again be remote in the fall, she asked her supervisor if she could go back down to part-time hours. While her supervisor agreed, the market president refused. When Westenhofer took the issue to human resources, she was told there was nothing they could do and was chided that employers were also having a hard time. Like McCracken, Westenhofer looked into the paid leave offered under the FFCRA, but her bank also has more than 500 employees, so she realized she wasn’t eligible. The only thing the company offered her was to work in retail banking part-time, a position that wouldn’t come with any benefits. They wouldn’t hold her current position for her after the pandemic. It would have put her right back where she started five years earlier. “That was a huge slap in the face,” she said. That’s when she decided to quit; her last day was August 21. It was “difficult to process the fact that they had no loyalty to me after five years of loyalty to them,” she said. “To be treated like I literally could be replaced instantly was hard.” And while she knows she’s doing work watching her children all day, it’s been difficult not to contribute financially to the household. She’s worked since she was 15 and this is the first time in her life when she isn’t working outside the home. Westenhofer’s husband is a dispatch manager at a trucking company who works long hours. Though he offered to figure out a way to make it work, ultimately, he makes more money than her. “It wouldn’t have made sense for him to leave work,” she said. McCracken was in a similar situation. Her husband is “very supportive” of her having both a career and being a “super mom,” but just as she was furloughed, his job as a director for GE Appliances in the washer and dryer division became far more demanding. Even before Covid-19, his salary was nearly twice hers. Having her be the one to step back made financial sense; otherwise they risked not being able to pay their bills or keep their house on her salary alone. They couldn’t even afford his taking a leave of absence. Morgan Hornsby for Vox Carrie Westenhofer says it’s been difficult not contributing financially to her household. Morgan Hornsby for Vox Mothers today still spend twice as much time caring for children than fathers do. The gender wage gap likely plays at least a partial role in women being the ones to duck out of work in the face of an impossible dilemma. Across the economy, women who work full-time, year-round earn 82 percent of what men make. Black women make just 63 percent of what white men make; Latinas make 55 percent. “On average, we know that women are being paid less than men, even when they’re at least as qualified,” Madowitz said. “If you’re going to lose a large fraction of your income, you probably want to keep the higher paying of the two jobs.” But beyond the cold, hard numbers, there is also a powerful social expectation that women are supposed to be the ones to care for children — and to sacrifice their careers if the two come into conflict, no matter how supportive their husbands are. “I’m not sure what caused it, but I definitely felt like this was my thing to tackle,” Westenhofer said. “[My husband is] an extremely good team player. But I just have this drive to handle it myself.” Even as most mothers work outside the home and their families increasingly rely on their paychecks, they are still putting in much more time on child care. Mothers today still spend twice as much time caring for children as fathers do, and actually spend more time on child care than women in the 1960s — even though they’re also working more. The attempt to make everything work can fail, pushing them out of the labor force. The professional penalty women pay for becoming mothers is a big driver of the gender wage gap to begin with. Since leaving the bank, Westenhofer has been applying for remote work, and has accepted a customer service position that starts on November 2. Her hours will be 3:30 pm until midnight. She’ll still have a stretch in the evening when she’ll be juggling work while watching her children before her husband gets home. Because it’ll be done over chat, and the school day will end just as her workday starts, she hopes she can make it work. The women’s recession could impact a generation Women will almost certainly suffer career setbacks and lost wages from the pandemic. A new report from the Century Foundation and Center for American Progress estimates that if current conditions persist, their families will suffer $64.5 billion in lost wages per year. When women drop out of the workforce, “the consequences are actually really grave,” Stevenson said. She hopes that, if such a large number of women have been pushed out all at once, “there will be safety in numbers” and employers won’t be able to exclude all of them when the economy recovers. But we could still have “a generation of women left behind,” she said. “A decade from now their kids will be grown and they will still be bearing the scars of the Covid pandemic.” “It’s not a question of whether women are set back in the workplace,” Gedmark said. “It’s a question of how far back will we go: 10 years, 15 years, 20 years?” The effects won’t stay sequestered in individual families. Women flooding into the paid workforce between the 1970s and the 2000s increased GDP by 11 percent. Women have spent years graduating college at higher rates and investing in careers that contribute to economic growth. If we “drive a bunch of people out of not just the labor force, but the long-term career paths they’re on, that’s going to have significant consequences for how fast our economy grows,” Madowitz said. Mothers of young children have reduced their work hours four to five times more than fathers during the pandemic. “If you don’t send all the women back, you can’t have a V-shaped recovery,” in which the economy quickly bounces back from the depths of the pandemic, Stevenson said. “We couldn’t fully recover if we don’t bring them back.” While Congress extended paid leave through the FFCRA for parents whose children have nowhere to go, the exclusions meant only about 20 percent of workers were eligible. Meanwhile, many state and local governments have rushed to reopen bars and restaurants without prioritizing the safe reopening of daycares and schools, when those could have been prioritized instead. “We should never forget that that was a choice that we didn’t make,” Stevenson said. The exodus may only just be beginning. After seven months of desperately trying to make it work, some women may be ready to throw in the towel. Leigha Thomason was sent home to do her job as a certified medical assistant at a mental health clinic just as her two younger children’s schools went remote in the spring. “It was incredibly overwhelming,” she said. “I was having to learn a new job.” Meanwhile, her children weren’t even given instruction online when schools shut down— they were sent home with giant folders full of paperwork and told to complete it. Thomason, whose husband works as a truck driver and is gone until the evenings, found herself trying to juggle helping her children complete schoolwork while helping her patients. “I felt myself going crazy sometimes,” she said. Morgan Hornsby for Vox McCracken eats lunch with her children. She says this is the first time, since she was 15, that she isn’t working outside the home. Morgan Hornsby for Vox Westenhofer hugs her daughter Stella. She says she eventually wants to go back to work. Her employer eventually agreed to give her 80 hours of time off, which she spread out over five weeks. But she was denied the extra 10 weeks allowed under FFCRA. “That was very discouraging and felt like a slap in the face,” she said. She thought about quitting, but reasoned that her family needed the money. After starting school remote this fall, her children have gone back to full-time, in-person. But if schools close and go fully remote again — even if it’s just temporarily to deal with a cluster of Covid-19 cases in her district — and her employer still refuses to give her time off, she’ll probably quit. “My kids at that point do come first,” she said. “I’m not going to sit here and deprive them anymore than I have to, like I did in the past.” For McCracken, “basically, my life is on hold,” she said. After Covid-19 cases rose in her state, the governor delayed the opening of in-person school, so all of her children — including her three-year-old — were doing remote learning at first. It was only a few weeks ago that two of her kids started attending some days of the week. Everyone else is home full-time. “I don’t even know how I haven’t fallen apart yet,” she said. “You feel like you’re taking on this all by yourself.” She’s looking for other work, but it’s not easy to find the right thing. There aren’t many jobs that pay what she was making before, but she needs to make enough to be able to cover the cost of child care if she goes back. “It’s like I have to start all over,” she said, and she’s not sure she wants to start at the bottom and work her way up again. “I put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into my career,” she said, and had “defied all odds” to pull it off with five children in a male-dominated industry. “I was so proud of that. To be an example to my girls especially, to show them that you can be a mom and you can work.” For now, she said, it makes the most sense for her to be a stay-at-home mother. “I eventually will go back into the workforce, I believe that,” she said. “I just don’t know when.” She added, “I had so much to offer and so much potential.” Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. 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What the public is getting right — and wrong — about police abolition
More than 1,000 people gathered to protest the death of George Floyd and call for “abolishing the police” in downtown Los Angeles on June 5, 2020. | Jay L. Clendenin /Los Angeles Times via Getty Images Yes, the movement calls for a complete end to policing. No, it’s not a political fad. The idea of police abolition reached the mainstream this year after the police killings of Black Americans like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. People gathered in the streets in numbers never before seen, chanting humanitarian pleas of “Black lives matter” and solutions like “defund” and “abolish the police.” The deaths, whether caught on camera or not, sparked a collective rage against the police and systemic racism that is still burning. For people long familiar with the terrors of policing, the widespread calls for reform (with efforts like banning no-knock warrants and requiring the immediate release of body camera footage after a police shooting) felt like some relief. But the more progressive calls for defunding (moving resources away from police officers to alternative first-responder services and community programs) and abolition (straight-up doing away with the entire prison industrial complex) have inspired a way forward. Abolition of the prison industrial complex has existed as a movement for decades. Activists have long argued that locking people in cages and relentlessly funding the police are not the answers to society’s problems. However, when the recent protests erupted, skeptics called police abolition extreme and impossible. Now, five months later, doubters have cast it off as a political fad, an idea that’s gimmicky and fleeting. Support for the Black Lives Matter movement has also dropped since June, polls show, though the movement remains strong with Black supporters. But the calls for abolition seem quieter because protests, and the social justice movement in general, are no longer making headlines because the media is focused on the impending election. Activists who have rallied around cases like Taylor’s, though, are still making demands in an effort to seek justice from a system that some argue is rotten to its core, and Black people are still being killed by police — from Walter Wallace in Philadelphia to Karon Hylton in Washington, DC. As people continue to protest, they are coming to terms with demands that are at odds: If the prison industrial complex must be abolished, why call for anyone’s incarceration — even the incarceration of the officers who shot Taylor or Wallace? So where do we go from here? How can abolition continue to capture the broader imagination, and how can the public come to terms with the idea of a future with no police and no prisons? Rachel Herzing, a longtime prison industrial complex abolitionist and executive director of the Center for Political Education, an group that supports progressive social movements, believes that the fight for abolition is incompatible with police reform efforts and demands that “killer cops” be prosecuted and locked up in cages. Moreover, Herzing dismisses the idea that abolition is a passing trend. “We can remind ourselves that our movements do not spring from the ideas of some social media ‘influencer’ and are not tied to a slogan on a t-shirt, but have deep roots in decades, even centuries, of grassroots organizing,” Herzing told me. I talked to Herzing about the wave of attention that abolition has gotten in 2020 and why she says that the abolitionist imagination is far from limited. According to Herzing, activists must continue to fight for the future they wish to have. Our conversation has been edited and condensed. Fabiola Cineas Can you talk a little bit about what it means to abolish the police? Are there some key points that you think people are getting right or wrong? Rachel Herzing What most people are getting right is the bottom line. Most people understand the abolition of policing, for instance, to be about the elimination of the police. I think Donald Trump gets that right. That is ultimately the goal of abolishing policing: to eliminate the use of it. But I think what people are getting wrong inside of that is that this is an on-and-off spigot of what currently exists. The way that that sometimes gets articulated is, if there’s no cops then there’s chaos, like there’s some kind of one-to-one correlation. There’s only one option. People also sometimes think that it’s possible to achieve the goal of policing abolition while still building up the institution of policing. So there are people who are like, “Yeah, I’m an abolitionist! And what that means is cops should get more training.” But if you invest more resources into the institution of policing, it’s impossible to eliminate. Or the idea that you can use criminal prosecution to bring some kind of remedy to policing. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how the prison industrial complex works. But some people want to cling on to that because it’s the only thing that we ever get offered; we just don’t get offered anything besides cops in cages. And in general, cops are all we ever get offered as solutions. There’s a cat in a tree: cop. There’s a murder down the street: cop. And these things are not equivalent. The idea that we can live without that is very, very hard for people to understand, not because it’s complicated, but because there are so many constraints placed on our ability to even think beyond that. Those constraints include training we get as kids, such as, “Don’t talk to strangers,” but, “Look for a cop.” Or we bring Officer Friendly into elementary schools. Or every piece of media that you film needs to have some kind of cop attached to it in some way. Or the normalization of cops at the mall or in your school. We’re up against a lot to shift that. And it’s possible to shift that, but I do think that it’s one of the things that makes thinking about abolitionist politics challenging. Cory Clark/NurPhoto via Getty Images Protesters rally in Malcolm X Park before taking to the streets to call for justice in the killing of Walter Wallace Jr. at the hands of Philadelphia police, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on October 27, 2020. Fabiola Cineas What do you say to people who recognize that there’s a problem with policing but say the problem is that we don’t have enough police? Or they say that we just need to make sure that the police receive training so that interactions with people are positive, or that we just need community policing? Rachel Herzing My gut reaction to that is that those kinds of responses fundamentally misunderstand the nature of policing or what policing is meant to do. Policing is meant to contain and control the people who pose the greatest threat to the power structure. And so, if you understand what the nature of policing is, and again, if you have political goals that believe that containment and control of people seeking a reorganization of power is an affirmative thing, then you will want training. You will want there to be more cops. You will want them to be better equipped to do that. If you are not in support of that — if you think people should be able to fight for their own liberation and their self-determination and that women, femmes, and gender non-conforming people should be able to express their gender identities as they see fit rather than as what the legalized norms are, and that young people should be able to socialize in groups outside of their houses, and that Black people should be able to walk down the street without being harassed by state agents — then you cannot invest anything additional in policing because it just gives it more weapons to do more of those things, because that is what it is set up to do. Fabiola Cineas With all of this in mind,there were two very prominent social justice calls heard this summer on the streets and in social media: “arrest the cops who shot Breonna Taylor” and “abolish the police.” Can you help me unpack how the former clashes with, or even contradicts, the latter? Rachel Herzing Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of groups call for the arrest and prosecution of cops who kill community members. And, generally speaking, the way that I interpret those calls is related to some of the stuff that we were just talking about — which is that even though the system demonstrates itself over and over and over just to be completely rotten to the core and completely harmful, there is some amount of recuperation of that system that people want to do because we get so indoctrinated into believing that that is the remedy for everything. I see it as kind of a combination of things that happen frequently when these kinds of demands get made. One, using the system against itself really just has some very serious limitations baked into it. Two, even when people get what they want, they’re dissatisfied because the thing is not set up to do what they’re asking it to do. For instance, where I live in Oakland, California, Oscar Grant was murdered by BART Officer Johannes Mehserle. The demand was for him to get charged, and he got charged. And then the demand was for him to be extradited back from Nevada where he fled to. So he got extradited. And then the demand was for him to be prosecuted. He got prosecuted. And then the demand was for him to be found guilty, and he was found guilty. Then it was for him to do time, and he did time. Every single step of the criminal punishment system that was demanded to be used as a remedy was used and theoretically to the effect people wanted it to be. But because that system is often referenced out of vengeance as much as anything else, people were just completely dissatisfied, “Well, he didn’t get enough time.” You got what you asked for, and it wasn’t sufficient anyway. The system is not set up to actually acknowledge harm done. People think that somebody getting charged is going to make them feel this acknowledgment that the person shouldn’t have been killed. And that’s not what the system is set up to do. In typical criminal proceedings, you accept a punishment of guilt, but you don’t have to do any public acknowledgement of what you did and frequently no apology for what you did. And there aren’t pieces built in to do repair or to do healing or set things up so that it won’t just happen again. Fabiola Cineas Do you have anything you’d say to activists on ways to bridge the gap in terms of the thinking about abolition and justice? Rachel Herzing One of the things that I would say up front is, to stay in it. If the last set of demands that you made didn’t bring you satisfaction, what would have felt more satisfying? Figure out what would have felt like a win and what would have felt like justice and then fight for that the next time. And if that’s not satisfying, then put that test to yourself again. But stay in it and keep fighting. That’s the first and most important thing. Then there are some straightforward things that we can do when we’re campaigning or when we’re dealing with the loved ones of people who have been murdered by cops or other state agents. It’s to say, what do you actually want? And take some time with that and think about it in its full expansiveness. “People think that somebody getting charged is going to make them feel this acknowledgment that the person shouldn’t have been killed. And that’s not what the system is set up to do.” For example, if someone says, “I want this cop to go to prison,” we need to inquire after that. We need to ask why and what does that do? And if the answer is, “I want somebody to pay for what happened,” which is a pretty common sentiment, then I think we can also ask some different questions. If somebody is locked in a cage, how does that repay you? How does that put a different kind of value on your person’s life? And, without shaming or denigrating anybody, we can also ask whether there are other things that might also do that so that they remember that it’s not this on-off switch that I talked about before — either the prison industrial complex and nothing or the prison industrial complex or chaos. Then we can say, how would you want your loved one’s memory to be honored? What would be a good honoring of that? Is there some way that the person who took their life can be put to work on some of that labor? Can they be made to make a public apology? I’m a survivor of harm myself, and I’ve worked with people in the anti-violence movement for many years. And honestly, most people just want some acknowledgement that something messed up happened to them. And they want somebody to take accountability, to take responsibility for the fact that they were hurt. And I’m not saying necessarily that that’s sufficient. But I think that’s a good start. A lot of tools out of reparations can help us think about acknowledgement, repair, and then the kind of transformation that needs to happen to prevent future instances. Those kinds of basic elements of a reparations framework — the acknowledgement of harm, some restoration and repair, a return to a previous state if not an improved state, some guarantees of non-repetition — all of those tools are readily available to us today. And we could put those to work. The truth is that every single way that we feel is not necessarily the best remedy for the harm that we face. We need help sometimes to distinguish between what would feel really good in a visceral way right now and what ultimately is the kind of change that I want to see in the world. Fabiola Cineas As a survivor of harm, what to you is justice? Rachel Herzing Justice is such a tricky concept. I’m not trying to be evasive. It’s a really, really hard one. I may be more interested in self-determination than I am in justice. I’m more interested in people being able to have a say over their own affairs, people being able to have a role in determining the course of their own lives, people having access to the kinds of resources that make those things possible for being able to participate in the economy, being able to have enough of an education to be able to relate to people in society well, being able to feed yourself, being able to have safe permanent shelter — all of the things that allow us to live healthy, well, lives. That’s more interesting. Because justice is like balancing something I need against something you need. And I’m more interested in: What do all of us need? Fabiola Cineas I’ve watched people this summer somewhat dip their toe into this discussion and then kind of stop engaging when they arrive at the questions of, “What do we do with rapists? Won’t we still have murderers? What do we do with them?” People seemed eager to get to what they’ve framed as this sort of “gotcha” moment in the abolitionist imagination. So what is your response to folks who ask these questions and see it as a dead end? Rachel Herzing “A lot of tools out of reparations can help us think about acknowledgement, repair, and the kind of transformation that needs to happen” I think asking what do we replace it with is the wrong question. And again, it misunderstands what the thing is. If you want to know what a better response to addressing harm caused by rapists and murderers is, then it’s not like, “What are you going to do instead?” It’s like, “What are you trying to transform?” Are you trying to make it so people don’t murder each other again? Are you trying to make it so that this one person is incapacitated indefinitely? What is the goal of the thing? And I think if the goal of the thing is that we don’t want anybody murdered again and we don’t want anybody else to be raped, then the job ahead of us isn’t to figure out how to incapacitate somebody better. The job ahead of us is to figure out what are the conditions that lead to murder and rape. And then people are sometimes like, “That’s not practical! That’s far down the line!” Well, sure, in the bigger picture, I guess it is. But there’s also really practical stuff in the here and now that we can do to reduce the likelihood that people will be murdered or raped without putting armed agents of the state out to forcibly make something happen. We can do that by ensuring that there are safe pedestrian passages for people and things are lit. We can do that by helping people understand how to have escorts, like your friend will walk you from the train or somebody knows where you are. We can do that by ensuring that people have enough and that people have a place to live. And that people are not desperate. So how do we reduce people’s desperation? Building a different kind of jail doesn’t reduce people’s desperation. Putting a different weapon in the hand of a cop doesn’t reduce the desperation. Making all of the cops Black doesn’t reduce desperation. We need to go to work in answering the actual questions that are being asked of us rather than applying the same answer to every single question regardless of what it is because that’s what we have. We’re not trying to replace that with another catch-all single answer to every single question. What we’re trying to do is to take seriously what the questions are and then what the appropriate responses are as well. Fabiola Cineas Is there a specific “plan” or ”roadmap” for abolition, specific steps that abolitionists suggest the country take to reach an end to the prison industrial complex? Also, are there any policies that federal or local government can and should enact today to move toward abolition? Rachel Herzing While many people want to be told the exact steps to take to reach abolition, this desire misses the point. First, prison industrial complex abolition rejects the idea that the various and multifaceted problems that create harm can all be addressed with a single set of remedies. If a one-size-fits-all approach were effective, then the prison industrial complex would probably not generate more problems than it can address. Secondly, prison industrial complex abolition is more properly thought of as a methodology than a destination, so in this case, abolition would be the process of moving in a direction rather than the map itself. That said, people are taking steps every day to advance these politics, so I don’t want to give the impression it’s all abstract, either. People are trying to starve the system of the human beings it feeds on. They do that by advocating for people to be released so they are not exposed to the novel coronavirus because of the dangerous conditions inside prisons, jails, detention centers, and other locked institutions. They also do that by advocating for people’s sentences to be commuted, by expanding the grounds through which people can be eligible for release, or by advocating for compassionate release for elderly and infirm imprisoned people. Or they reject sentencing formulas, surveillance, and policing practices that drive people into cages to begin with. People are trying to prevent the use of cages. They do that by preventing the construction of new prisons and jails or the expansion of existing locked institutions. People are also fighting for the closure of existing prisons and jails. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The policy pathways are endless — we just need to remember to fight for those policies in ways that drive us toward abolition of the PIC rather than its reform as our end goal. Organizers, activists, and advocates are offering many concrete policy recommendations across this country right now that could lead to prison industrial complex abolition. Policymakers just have to pay attention. Fabiola Cineas When people speak of abolition, they think about it as a far-off thing. And I often hear, “in the meantime” or “in the interim” as we work our way toward abolition, we still need to deal with the system we are in now. So what can people who are moving into this space be doing “on the road to” abolition? Or should we not think of abolition on a timeline in this way? Rachel Herzing I think that there is no “in the time being.” The time is now. We fight for what we want now. We can’t say, “When abolition comes, I’ll meet you there. I’m gonna do this other thing over here for now.” Whatever we want, we have to make. I don’t know who those people who are waiting think are going to do those things. We make our own history. If you really want an abolitionist future, you need to work for an abolitionist future. It can’t be like, “I’m just gonna use all of this criminal punishment apparatus over here. And then one day, abolition is gonna fall out of the sky, and then I’ll be ready.” No, we make those conditions that make abolition possible. Fabiola Cineas So let’s say the goals are achieved, the powers that be say the police are done, everyone gets out of prison, prisons and jails are no more. Where do we go from there? Rachel Herzing We figure out how to live with each other. I’m not trying to be flip about that. There’s this idea that we’re not ready for our own liberation, and I just reject that idea. I’m not so naive to think that nobody might ever hurt anybody again. But if we really attend to the kinds of things that fuel people, and we really deal with those and think about how we want to be in relationship to each other and the world around us, then I think that actually will be reduced. We might also have to develop better skills of dealing with each other. We might have to build better skills for disagreeing with each other, for managing people’s expectations when they’re not met, their desires when they don’t get what they want.And it’s hard. What we’re talking about is making pretty substantial changes to how most of our social structures are set up and how we think about relating to other people. And that will take practice and us trying and failing and having the space and time to try again. All of that is everyday work. We’ll have to keep doing that work. But that’s also not a barrier of the abolitionist’s imagination. The fact that all of that stuff isn’t already in place isn’t a barrier. The prison industrial complex gets hundreds of years of untold failures that have really caused a lot of harm. It’s irresponsible to suggest that abolitionists have to have a 100 percent fully realized blueprint. We need to know what we want, and we need to actually work in that direction. Fabiola Cineas Some critics have taken to calling movements like defunding the police, prison abolition, and abolishing ICE political fads. What is your response to this? Rachel Herzing When I hear people talking about serious political movements as fads, my sense is that they are trying to discredit those movements, which, in turn, makes me wonder if their desire to discredit them comes from feeling threatened. I think for those of us who are inside the movements you mentioned, we can’t be put off or discouraged by people who try to minimize our political visions and organizing. We can remind ourselves that our movements do not spring from the ideas of some social media “influencer” and are not tied to a slogan on a t-shirt, but have deep roots in decades, even centuries, of grassroots organizing. Our movements spring from a genealogy of struggle that includes fights for the abolition of enslavement, anti-lynching campaigns, fights for sovereignty, civil rights, and workers’ rights. Someone would need to have a seriously messed up idea of history to imagine any of those struggles as mere fads. We need to take our politics seriously enough to not be distracted by people’s petty, illegitimate insults and remember that we’re actually fighting for our lives. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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Watching It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with a 5-year-old
Linus and Sally have a spooky adventure on Halloween night. | AppleTV+ Our critic-at-large (39) and critic-at-small (5) discuss the most iconic Halloween special of them all. Since 1966, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown has aired annually on American television. It started on CBS (where it ran until 2000), then moved to ABC (from 2001 to 2019), and is now exclusively available through AppleTV+ for the foreseeable future. (It will be free to stream for anyone who has the AppleTV+ app for 48 hours starting Friday. You don’t even have to subscribe.) That makes this story of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang spending a particularly eventful Halloween together the most iconic Halloween special in American TV history, one that has defined many pop culture takes on Halloween. Yet many of the activities and party games depicted in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown have all but disappeared from mainstream culture. When’s the last time anyone you know went bobbing for apples? I, a nearly 40-year-old human woman, have only seen bobbing for apples at a party once in my life, and since that was when I was a tiny child, I can’t entirely trust my memory. (YouTube has a number of “bobbing for apples” videos, most of them of the “Wow, I’ve never tried this, seems weird!” variety. I recommend this one from 2016 of Jimmy Fallon and Priyanka Chopra giving it a shot.) But this slow abandonment of old Halloween traditions is documented in other areas of Great Pumpkin. Trick-or-treating still exists, but increasingly, it doesn’t involve small bands of children wandering their neighborhood at night, unsupervised, to beg for candy. Even before this year of Covid-19, trick or treating involved carefully managed events where children, with their parents, gather treats, usually in the early evening, before it’s too dark outside. And do today’s kids even wait for the Great Pumpkin in sincerepumpkin patches anymore? They don’t!? Well, when I was a girl ... I simply had to find out what the children of today think about the way It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown depicts Halloween. And since one of my most trusted colleagues, critic-at-small Eliza, is a literal child (she’s 5 and one-quarter!), I thought we could get to the bottom of just what Halloween means and just what she thought about this beloved Peanuts special. Our conversation has been edited and condensed. Emily and Eliza on the enduring appeal of Peanuts Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives Happy Halloween from the Peanuts gang. Emily: The comic strip Peanuts is one of just a handful of things I would call myself a legitimate “fan” of. The stories of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Linus and Lucy, and Peppermint Patty and Marcie were some of the very first things I truly adored as a kid. I loved Snoopy’s flights of fancy and the glum-but-whimsical world the comic took place in, most of all. Yet unlike so many other favorite things I loved as a child, Peanuts has retained its appeal for me as an adult. The series’ enduring genius stems from how beautifully its creator, Charles Schulz, managed to write a strip so broadly appealing. Peanuts spoke equally to kids, who just wanted to escape into an alternate world, and adults, who found something in the comic’s underlying melancholy that reflected the experiences of life after childhood. The TV specials are a big part of my love for Peanuts. Some of them, however, play into some of the strip’s worst qualities, especially once it was past its peak. The ones produced in the 1980s, when as many as three specials were released in a year, particularly showed off Peanuts at its worst. They sometimes played into hip trends of the moment — It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown — or took on subjects with a gravity difficult to discuss in a half-hour cartoon. (My favorite of these late-period specials, if only for its title, came out in early 1990. It’s called Why, Charlie Brown, Why and is about the Peanuts gang meeting ... a little girl with cancer. It’s honestly okay, but it’s also a lot.) Yet at their best, the animated Peanuts specials capture what is timeless about the strip’s weird sadness and find ways to take the ideas presented in the comic and bring them to cartoon life. The sequence where Snoopy imagines being a World War I fighter pilot shot down behind enemy lines in Great Pumpkin, for instance, reflects the dog’s big imagination from the comic. But there’s something so much more immediate about seeing him actually skulk about, looking for the dastardly Red Baron. Eliza, you don’t have the same history with Peanuts that I do. Did you respond to any of the characters in particular? Eliza: Linus and Lucy. My favorite favorite was Pig Pen because he’s always dirty. And Snoopy! Emily: Oh, I love Snoopy, too. I have a Snoopy right here. [I held up the stuffed Snoopy I keep at my desk. You’ll just have to imagine this part.] Eliza: My grandma has a Snoopy that plays music! Emily and Eliza on sibling rivalry AppleTV+ Linus has some trouble with the pumpkin Lucy picked out. Emily: Perhaps the most enduring cultural legacy of the Peanuts specials is “Linus and Lucy,” the jazzy piano theme by Vince Guaraldi that has become the de facto theme song of the animated Peanuts universe, as well as a Christmas music classic. (I’d wager that just thinking about the Peanuts specials lodged the tune in your brain somewhere.) What I forget every time I watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is just how much it’s built around the relationship between Linus and Lucy, the brother/sister dynamic that drove so many of the best Peanuts stories. Yes, Linus is the stalwart believer in the Great Pumpkin, the enormous pumpkin beast that chooses what he has dubbed the “most sincere” pumpkin patch to rise out of. (He then delivers toys to all the good children who happen to be waiting for him.) But while the bulk of the story involves Linus and Sally, Charlie Brown’s younger sister, waiting for the Great Pumpkin on Halloween night, so much of what’s around that story involves Lucy tormenting her younger brother, and later her ultimate affection for him shining through. The special is bookended by two sequences involving Linus and Lucy going to the pumpkin patch. In the opening scene, they select a giant pumpkin that Linus then rolls home (a thing I do not recommend trying). And in the closing scene, we see Lucy guiding her brother home and into bed after another year when the Great Pumpkin didn’t show. It’s a sweet encapsulation of the pair’s relationship, which is mostly combative except when they’re sticking up for each other. Eliza, you have a younger sibling. How did you feel about these two? Eliza: I liked when Linus went to the pumpkin patch and picked out two pumpkins, and Lucy was like, “Uh-uh,” and then he picked out a big pumpkin, and she was, like, “Yes!” Emily: Why do you like Linus and Lucy so much? Eliza: Because Lucy is Linus’s sister. Emily: Are they like you and your sister? Eliza: Uh-huh. Except I’m a girl, and [my sister] is a girl. Linus is a boy, and Lucy is a girl. Emily: Do you treat your sister like Lucy treats Linus? Eliza: Sometimes. [Long pause.] Not usually. [Long pause in which it seems like she’s about to say something but does not.] Emily: That’s good. Emily and Eliza on Halloween traditions Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Dog lips! I’ve been kissed by a dog! Emily: I grew up in rural South Dakota, so my childhood felt like a mirror of Schulz’s own childhood in the Twin Cities. The universe of Peanuts, with its endless winters and wide-open spaces without almost any adult presence to speak of, has always felt fundamentally right to me on some level. So it goes with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown which really does capture how it felt to go trick-or-treating as a kid in my little town. (I only went a couple of times, due to attending a church that believed Halloween was satanic. A story for another time!) I was never given a rock like Charlie Brown was, but there was something ghoulishly fun about being out after dark, going up to dimly lit front porches to beg for candy, for cookies, or for a toothbrush (from the local dentist). Eliza, have you ever done some of the stuff in this special on Halloween, like bobbing for apples? Eliza: I don’t think I’ve ever bobbed apples. Emily: Me neither! What’s your favorite part of Halloween? Eliza: Trick-or-treating! Emily: Right, but this year is so uncertain for that. Do you think you’ll get to go this year? Eliza: I don’t know. Emily: Well, what’s your favorite kind of candy? Eliza: Skittles and Kit-Kats! Emily: That’s a really good combo. Do you ever eat them at the same time? Eliza: No. Emily: That might be too much sugar at once. Does your mom let you eat as much candy as you want? Eliza: [Heavy sigh, as if to say, “What do you think, buddy?”] No. Emily and Eliza on costumes Disney “I got a rock.” Emily: One of the great joys of this special is the almost impressionistic art, created by a team led by director Bill Melendez. The night sky is covered in thick brushstrokes from the background painters, and the kids mostly dress as ghosts in a way that almost lets them seem to float through that night in the animated landscape. It’s appropriately eerie. Did you have a favorite costume, Eliza? Eliza: Lucy was a witch. Violet was a witch, and then all the others were ghosts. But my favorite ghost was Pig Pen and Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown because he had so much trouble with the eyes, and Pig Pen because he had just a dirt cloud around his costume. Emily: People sure are mean to Charlie Brown. What do you think about that? They give him rocks for trick or treating! Eliza: I don’t like it, but it’s really funny when he says, [pitch perfect Charlie Brown impression] “I got a rock. I got a rock. I got a rock.” Emily: So what are you gonna be for Halloween this year? Eliza: I’m gonna be a deep-sea diver, and I wish I was going to be holding a helium balloon, so I could float in the air and pretend I was swimming. But it’s a punching balloon, so it’s round. [I have since learned from Eliza’s mom, my editor, Jen, that the deep-sea diver helmet for the costume is a papier-mâché masterpiece the two built together, which was formed around a punching balloon.] Emily: So you’re not going to be able to float off the ground. That’s too bad. Eliza: I wouldn’t want to, because I wouldn’t want to be away from my friends for so long and maybe land in the ocean or a different state. Emily and Eliza on imagination Disney Look at this gorgeous art from Snoopy’s imagined trek through France. Emily: When Melendez and producer Lee Mendelson first began thinking about how to adapt Peanuts for television, they were concerned that they would struggle to incorporate Snoopy, the strip’s most popular character, who expressed all of his dialogue via thought balloons. Having him speak would destroy the illusion a bit. Their solution was brilliant: Make Snoopy an expert mime. If he could play the actions of something without the words, that would allow him to interact with the kids in a way that was recognizably Snoopy. But they weren’t entirely sure if this would work, so they used Snoopy only sparingly in the first Peanuts special, 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. However, by the time they were making It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, they were confident enough in their approach to give Snoopy an entire story of his own, where he pretended to be stuck in the French countryside. Eliza, what did you think of what Snoopy had to do here, when he crawled around? Eliza: He was pretending his doghouse was getting shot by a gun, and then he had to crawl through France to find his doghouse. Emily: How did you know he was pretending? Eliza: Because my mom told me. ... And his doghouse can’t fly up in the air. Emily: Yeah, doghouses can’t fly like that! That’s a good point. Eliza: And smoke doesn’t come out of the back of doghouses like that! Emily: I like when he’s on his adventure and he shows up at the party with the other kids, and he listens to Schroeder play the piano. And he gets excited, and he gets sad, and he gets excited, and he gets sad. That’s fun. Eliza: I also like the part where he sneaks into the party and is peeking out. And then he goes into the water bucket, and he grabs an apple, and Lucy gets the same apple, and she’s, like, [shrieks] “Ah! Poison dog lips!” Emily: Do you know any dogs? Do you like when they lick you all over the face? Eliza: Yes. Emily: That’s nice, isn’t it? [Moves on to next topic] So what do you think about — Eliza: But I don’t really want dogs to lick me in the face right now because of coronavirus. Like if they got it, I might get it. Emily: I don’t think dogs are in any danger from coronavirus. That’s what I had heard. Eliza: If I got bitten by a dog, if they had coronavirus, then I might get sick. Emily: It’s good to be precautious. I think you’re doing the right thing. [Moves on to next topic] Now do you think — Eliza: I wear my mask, but my sister never wears her mask. She does not like it. Emily: Telling on your sister like that is a very Lucy thing to do, Eliza. I hope you realize this. Speaking of imagination, what do you think about Linus believing in the Great Pumpkin? Eliza: He never goes trick-or-treating, because he believes in the Great Pumpkin, but it just never happens! Emily: An interesting lesson. Do you think the Great Pumpkin is real? Does Linus just have to wait around and have faith? Eliza: [with great conviction] Yes. Emily: Did you know that the Peanuts comic itself went back and forth on whether anybody but Linus believed in the Great Pumpkin, with at least a few strips suggesting the Great Pumpkin had a variety of acolytes out there? What about you? Do you believe? Have you ever seen the Great Pumpkin? Eliza: [exasperated] Yes. The last time I saw it was at Grandma’s house. Emily: Oh, I mean have you seen the Great Pumpkin himself — the pumpkin who brings toys to all the children? Eliza: No. ... At least not in our pumpkin patch. Emily: Maybe next year. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is streaming on AppleTV+. It will be free to non-subscribers who download the app from October 30 through November 1.
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Silicon Valley is spending way more on the 2020 election than it did on 2016
Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton were both backed by the tech industry. | Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call New numbers show just how much tech is spending to get rid of Trump. Silicon Valley is spending far more money to oust Donald Trump in 2020 than it did in 2016, a testament to the new political muscle that the tech industry has flexed over the last four years. And the money is not just from its billionaires. The tech industry did spend big to support Hillary Clinton in 2016. But Trump was merely a candidate then, without a track record of tangible policy changes on immigration, climate change, or other issues that concern the tech industry. And Silicon Valley did not have the years of preparation to start new groups, raise big money, and mobilize its energy in the sophisticated ways that it has had in the runup to 2020. And so this time around, Silicon Valley — led by this billionaire class and its captains of industry — has plunged even deeper into the world of partisan campaigning, according to a Recode analysis of extensive campaign-finance data. The exact amount depends on how you define Silicon Valley, but more money has been marshaled to back Joe Biden than was raised to back Clinton, no matter how you measure it. Ken Duda, a software executive who has spent millions of dollars on this election, said he has spent three times as much as he did in 2016 to beat Trump this cycle. Duda described himself as politically moderate and not a news obsessive but said he was deeply concerned because he believes Trump is leading the country into an “autocracy.” “I would be very happy to go back to ignoring politics like I did before 2016,” he told Recode. “I hope to put Twitter away after this election, and my political donations will go away along with that. That’s my hope.” This rise in Democratic giving is all happening against a backdrop of tension between the party and its donors from the tech industry who increasingly fund it. The Democratic Party has gotten far tougher on tech companies and its leaders over this four-year period — even debating a potential breakup of these giants — and despite being the beneficiary of its money, Biden himself has said that he’ll keep on scrutinizing Silicon Valley. Coming up with a distinct definition for what qualifies as “Silicon Valley” — whether it’s a physical place, an industry, both, or something more thematic — is challenging. So for this analysis, Recode worked with data-analysis outfitter GovPredict to run three different analyses on three different (even if all imperfect) windows into total Silicon Valley donations: Contributions by people who live in the San Francisco Bay Area zip codes Contributions by people who describe themselves as a “software engineer” or working in “venture capital” Contributions by people who describe themselves as working for Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Netflix, Apple, or Alphabet (or its subsidiaries, Google or YouTube) All of these analyses looked at the total donations to the Biden, Clinton, and Trump campaigns; the Democratic and Republican National Committees; joint fundraising committees between their campaigns and their parties; and major super PACs supporting their campaigns. All contributions from the beginning of the year before the election and up to three weeks before Election Day were included. To some extent, Silicon Valley is doing nothing unusual. 2020 is by far the most expensive election cycle, adjusted for inflation — costing more than twice as much as the runner-up, the 2016 race. But the new money reflects how Silicon Valley is increasingly turning its financial power into political power that could persist after Election Day. Bay Area People who live in the nine counties considered to be in the San Francisco Bay Area gave 22 percent more to Democrats in 2020 than they did in 2016, a jump from about $163 million to $199 million. (Those figures include money given in both cycles to super PACs by Democratic megadonor and San Franciscan Tom Steyer, who is not in tech but who donated tens of millions in both 2016 and 2020.) Gifts to the GOP from the Bay Area, where Republicans are few and far between, rose more dramatically, albeit from a far smaller base: After giving $800,000 to Republicans in 2016, Bay Area residents gave $22 million to boost Trump in 2020, a haul that came from figures like Oracle CEO Safra Catz. Occupation If you look at tech by choosing two common job descriptions — venture capitalist and software engineer — you can also see the new energy on the left. This group gave $7.2 million to Democrats in 2016. Four years later, that sum had almost tripled to $19 million. Republican donations from this slice of Silicon Valley also grew by about threefold but once again from a smaller base — from almost $700,000 to $2 million. Big Tech companies Lastly, one easy, simple way to measure “Silicon Valley” is to look at its biggest, most iconic companies, including Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Netflix. Big Tech employees are giving far more in the Trump-Biden race than they did in the Trump-Clinton race. Donations to Democratic efforts jumped from about $8.5 million to about $14 million, growing by nearly 70 percent. Meanwhile, donations to back Trump from Big Tech employees almost quintupled — from just about $180,000 to $850,000. That’s despite Trump’s frequently blasting these donors’ employers, including in the final days of the campaign. Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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Nate Silver on why 2020 isn’t 2016
Photo illustration by Pavlo Conchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images The FiveThirtyEight founder on polling error, Trump’s chances, and the possibility of an electoral crisis. We are days away from the 2020 election, and that means an anxious nation is obsessively refreshing FiveThirtyEight’s election forecast. Nate Silver is, of course, the creator of that forecast, and the founder and editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight. His forecasting model successfully predicted the outcome in 49 of the 50 states in the 2008 US presidential election and all 50 states in 2012. And in 2016, Silver’s FiveThirtyEight gave Donald Trump a 29 percent chance of victory, and Silver was rare among analysts in emphasizing that meant Trump really could win. So I asked Silver to join me on my podcast to talk about what’s changed since 2016, what’s new in his forecast this year, whether the polls can be trusted, how the electoral geography is reshaping campaign strategies, how Biden’s campaign strategy has worked, whether Trump is underperforming “the fundamentals,” and much more. An edited transcript from our conversation follows. The full conversation can be heard on The Ezra Klein Show. Subscribe to The Ezra Klein Show wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher. Ezra Klein What went wrong in the polls in 2016? Nate Silver Well, there are degrees of wrong. Polls often miss an election by 2 or 3 or 4 points, which is what happened in 2016. Ahead of an election, people need to be prepared for the fact that having a 2- or 3- or 4-point lead — which is what Clinton had in the key states — is not going to hold up anywhere close to 100 percent of the time. You might win 70 percent the time, like in the FiveThirtyEight forecast. That said, there are a couple of things that are identifiable. One is that a bulk of the undecided voters in three key states — Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — went toward Trump. If those undecided voters had split 50-50, Clinton would have won nationally by 5 or 6 points. The thing that I think you blame pollsters for is education weighting. If you just randomly call people in the phone book or use a list of registered voters, traditionally, you get older people more than younger people, women more than men, and white people more than people of color. So polls weight responses to account for those disparities. But it’s also true that people who are college-educated are more likely to respond to polls. It used to be that there was no real split along educational lines in who voted for whom, but now — at least among white voters — there’s a big split between the college-educated Biden and Clinton voters and the non-college Trump voters. So if you oversampled college-educated white voters and undersampled non-college white voters, you’re gonna have a poll that leans toward Clinton too much. Ezra Klein Two questions on that, then. First, how does Biden’s lead compare to Clinton’s in 2016? And second, do you think pollsters have corrected the mistakes they made in 2016, such that their polls are likelier to be reliable this year? Nate Silver First, let me back up and say, Trump can still win. In 2016, our final forecast said Trump had a 29 percent chance, and that came through; right now we give him a 12 percent chance to win in November. That’s not trivial, but it is a different landscape. One difference is that there are fewer undecided voters this year. In 2016, there were about 13 or 14 percent undecided plus third party; it’s around 6 percent this year. That’s a pretty big difference. So that first mechanism that I described that helped Trump is probably not going to be a factor. Trump could win every undecided voter in these polls and he would still narrowly lose the Electoral College. Biden’s lead is also a little bit larger. After the [FBI Director James] Comey letter, Clinton’s lead went down to 3 or 4 points in national polls and 2 or 3 points in the average tipping point state. Biden is ahead by more like 5 points in the average tipping point state. We can definitely find cases in the past where there was a 5-point polling error in key states — that’s why Trump can win. But a 2016 error would not be quite enough: If the polls missed by exactly the same margin, exactly the same states, then instead of losing those three key Rust Belt states by 1 point, Biden would win them by 1 or 2 points. He might also hold on in Arizona, where the polls were fine in 2016. So it would be a close call, but one that wound up electing Biden in the end, pending court disputes, etc. Ezra Klein The data analyst David Shor shared a chart showing that the 2018 polls were still underweighting Republican voters in some of those same Midwestern states they did in 2016. Even though they were trying to use education as a proxy and weighting it differently, it still didn’t fully measure what was getting missed in the Republican electorate. Do you think that the way those states are being polled in 2020 is better? Nate Silver It’s possible that even within, say, the demographic group of non-college-educated people, Trump supporters just answer your polls less. That’s always a concern. But there is a long history of the direction of polling error being unpredictable: If the polls miss in one direction — say, the Republican direction — in one year, then they’re equally likely the next year to miss again in the Republican direction or the Democratic direction. That’s because polling is a dynamic science and pollsters don’t want to be wrong. They particularly don’t want to be wrong the same way twice in a row, so they will make all types of new adjustments. So polls can be wrong, but it’s hard to know in which direction they’d be wrong if they were wrong. Ezra Klein I think it is easy to imagine for people how the polls could be wrong in Donald Trump’s direction, because people lived through that and have a visceral feeling of it. But as you often point out, in 2012 the polls were a little bit wrong, but in Barack Obama’s direction. If the polls were wrong in Joe Biden’s direction, what do you think would be the likeliest reason why? Nate Silver So I think you have a story that would start with the fact that maybe pollsters were not prepared for this early voting surge. You have likely voters in polls. That’s based on some combination of their vote history and responses. Well, some of those people won’t vote. Their car won’t start on Election Day, or they will have a Covid outbreak in their area. However, if you’ve actually already voted, then you’re 100 percent likely to vote. So it may be that Democrats weren’t given enough extra credit for early voting. It’s also worth thinking about incentives here. Imagine you’re a pollster and you have a choice between two turnout models. One is a newfangled turnout model that accounts for early voting. The other is a more traditional, conservative model. One of them has Biden up 6 points in Wisconsin. And one has him up 10 points. There’s not much incentive to publish the 10-point lead. If Biden wins by 10 when you had him up by 6, people will say it was a pretty good poll nevertheless. But if Trump wins, you’re going to look that much worse. So I think there are a lot of incentives to be sure that you’re not missing the white working-class voters that may not apply to Hispanic voters in Arizona or to younger voters who have not been reliable voters in the past but are evidently turning out this year. Ezra Klein As we’re speaking, the FiveThirtyEight forecast has Biden at an 88 out of 100 shot of winning the election and has Trump at a 12 out of 100 shot. We’ve been talking about the probabilities on one side of that distribution, the one where Trump wins. What does the outcome look like on the other side? In the 12 percent of best-case scenario outcomes for Biden, what is he winning? Nate Silver A 5-point polling error in Biden’s favor means he wins by 13 or 14 points. That would be the largest margin of defeat for an incumbent since Hoover. It would exceed the margin that Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980. It would mean that Biden would win almost all of the states that are commonly considered competitive, including probably Texas, Ohio, Iowa, and Georgia. Once you get beyond Texas, there aren’t many other close toss-up states. In a lot of our simulations, a good Biden night tends to peak at him winning Texas. Beyond that would take a really big polling miss. Ezra Klein I think one of the really interesting things you’ve done in the FiveThirtyEight model in 2020 is add an uncertainty index. What goes into that index, and what has it taught you so far? Nate Silver We analyzed lots of factors that historically are correlated with uncertainty and they point in opposite directions this year. On the one hand, the fact that you have few undecided voters and few third-party voters. The fact that you have stable polling and higher polarization — those all lead the model to be more certain about the outcome. But there are other factors that point in the other direction. The two most important ones are the degree of economic uncertainty and the amount of news. This last one has become infamous. We use an index based on how many full-width New York Times headlines there are. The more of those you have, the more uncertain the news environment. When, for example, Donald Trump got Covid-19, that was a banner headline at the New York Times for three or four days. That is something that moved the polls. But for the most part, these monumental events have not moved the polls very much. When the US first had our Covid crisis, initially, there was a little bit of a sympathy bounce for Trump that began to wear off. Then in June, when you had this second peak more in Southern states plus the George Floyd protests, that moves things a little bit. But you have these monumental historic events and you go from Trump minus 6 to Trump minus 9. That’s not nothing, but it means like 1.5 percent of Americans are changing their vote. So people seem pretty darn locked in about how they feel about Trump and about Joe Biden. Ezra Klein I wrote a whole book about polarization, and one of the big arguments I make is that as polarization goes up, American politics becomes more stable in terms of people’s preferences because the decisions are clearer for them. You all put that into the model. But if you had told me a year ago what was going to happen over the next year — coronavirus, 200,000 Americans dead, the kind of economic volatility we’ve seen, George Floyd and the national protests — I would not have predicted that one year later his approval rating would be up by 1 point. Are you surprised by the level of stability? Nate Silver I certainly think the hypothesis that polarization begets more stable public opinion is pretty sound. It has been tested in a pretty good way this year. Although one other prediction of polarized politics is that you get narrower outcomes. So you have more close elections. I’m not sure that Trump was necessarily going to lose this election absent Covid. It’ll be a famous debate if he does lose. But if you look at what polls of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania were saying in March or April, they were very close races — within a point or two. So things have shifted in ways that are meaningful, but only in relative terms. One other funny thing about this election is that because of Trump’s Electoral College advantage, there is not much middle ground between a Biden landslide and an extremely competitive, down-to-the-wire photo finish. If Trump beats his polls by 2 points, that’s a toss-up. If Biden beats his polls by 2 points, then it’s Obama 2008, which people consider a landslide. So the Electoral College edge makes a big difference and is why there’s been this very bifurcated, binary kind of world where we seem to oscillate between, “oh, my gosh, 2016 again” and “Trump is Herbert Hoover.” The degree to which American political institutions lean Republican — and why that matters in 2020 Ezra Klein There’s a finding by political scientist Alan Abramowitz that I think about a lot. He found that from 1972 to 1984, individual states would swing, on average, 7.7 points from one presidential election to the next. But since the 2000s, that change has been just 1.9 points. So there has been this really big drop in volatility. It strikes me that there is a different incentive set for politicians who are at real risk of losing voters they had before as opposed to politicians who, basically no matter how they perform, are going to keep the voters they had before. I’m curious how you assess that. Nate Silver There are two big fundamental things that govern every aspect of American politics. Number one is the increasing degree of polarization. It’s probably the most robust trend of the past 30 years that shows up in all types of ways. Number two is the GOP advantage in political institutions, particularly the Senate, because of overrepresentation of rural areas. We talked before about what a landslide it was when Obama won in 2008. He won by 7 points. The GOP has about a 6- to 7-point inherent advantage in the Senate, meaning that the median state is around 6 points more Republican in the country as a whole. So Democrats can win, but only if they win in a landslide. That has a couple of implications. One is that you have public policy catered to an older, more rural, whiter electorate. The GOP does not take advantage of that by saying, we’re going to win every election for all of eternity — we can have a stable, majoritarian coalition. Instead, they say, we’re going to actually pass very aggressive policies that the median voter would not like. But we don’t need to win the median voter. That governs a whole lot of decisions that they make. Ezra Klein How does that change for Democrats if they add DC and Puerto Rico decides to become a state as well? How would that change the Senate map? Nate Silver That shifts it to around a +4 for Republicans. If Democrats were to add DC and Puerto Rico and divided California in thirds, where all those Californias were at least somewhat blue, then the Senate would be still a +2 lean Republican. Ezra Klein What does the Electoral College partisan lean look like to you? How big is the GOP advantage there? And how durable is that advantage, given what demographics look like going forward? Nate Silver It was about 3 points in 2016. Clinton lost Wisconsin by about a point when she won the popular vote by 2 points. It looks similar for Biden — around a 3-point gap. I do think the Electoral College gap is more ephemeral. In 2008 and 2012, if you had had a photo finish election like you had in 2016, Obama would have won the Electoral College — he outperformed his national margins in the tipping point state. So it can flip back and forth pretty easily. If Texas flipped, that would make a big difference. The one state that is underrated as a problem for Democrats, though, is Florida, which has a ton of electoral votes. Florida, if anything, has been one of Biden’s worst states this year relative to the fact that he’s ahead by 8 or 9 points nationally. Ezra Klein Do you have an estimate on how big the Republican lean is in the House? Nate Silver It’s a little hard to estimate in the House because the advantage is partly is tied into incumbency; once you gain the incumbency advantage like Democrats have now, that can be hard to overcome. But it’s probably around 3 or 4 points. It’s been a bit of a moving target because in 2010 you had a very Republican year, so you had a lot of gerrymandering that favored the GOP. There’s also a lot of clustering of Democrats in urban areas. And most urban areas are more Democratic than most rural areas are Republican. That creates an inequity that makes the median district more Republican-leaning. With that said, you had a lot of suburban districts that have become what are sometimes now called “dummymanders.” If the suburbs of Houston or Dallas were 10 points in favor of the GOP in 2010 and things have shifted by 12 points, then all of a sudden now you have it perfectly inefficiently configured the other way where Democrats narrowly win all these districts in Texas or the suburbs of Atlanta or California or whatnot. So that advantages is less profound now. One other inequity here is that when Republicans get the trifecta in a state, they will, generally speaking, gerrymander as much as they can get away with. Democrats will often appoint some type of nonpartisan commission so they fight things back to 50/50. One other thing to keep in mind is because the GOP gerrymanders were so effective in 2010 in some states, it’s hard for Democrats to win back the state legislature in states like Wisconsin. Usually you wipe the slate relatively clean after 10 years, but in a state where you don’t have a lot of demographic change — where it favors a party that already had a gerrymandering edge — that can become a repeating error that persists for decades. Why Biden won the Democratic primary — and why he’s winning now Ezra Klein If the presidency was decided by the popular vote in 2016, Donald Trump would have lost. In that world, I think there would have been a lot of frustration among Republicans that the Trumpist faction of the party had nominated a candidate who blew a winnable election. And, maybe, because of that, the Republican Party would have reformed itself. The Democrats have the opposite version of this: They have to win by pretty big margins at the presidential level, the Senate level, and the House level. They’ve actually responded to that, and Joe Biden was their response in 2020. Joe Biden was not the favorite pick of most Democratic factions that I know of, but he was an answer to the question: Who would be acceptable to white working-class voters in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — the kinds of voters Democrats feared they were losing? The polls seem to be indicating that this has been strategically successful — that Biden is actually changing the coalition. Do you think Biden has actually changed the coalition? Or do you think this election would be the same under any Democrat? Nate Silver In the primary, you had a fairly explicit contrast between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. Bernie’s pitch explicitly was: We are going to win this with a high turnout of younger people and people of color. We’re the biggest coalition. So we’re going to win and we’re going to win the White House that way, too. Turnout, turnout, turnout. Whereas Biden is about persuasion and the median voter. The median Democratic voter liked Medicare-for-all but liked the public option a little bit more and felt like it seemed a little safer electorally. For better or worse, Joe Biden’s pitch has come true: The reason he is way ahead in these polls is not because Democratic turnout is particularly high relative to GOP turnout — it’s because he’s winning independents by 15 points and moderates by 30 points. He’s winning back a fair number of Obama-Trump voters and keeping a fair number of Romney-Clinton voters. The story the polls are telling is that Biden is persuading the median voter not to back Donald Trump. Biden is a throwback politician in so many ways. He’s also a throwback in the sense he’s very coalitional. He’s not a very ideological guy. He gets branded as a moderate, which I think also reflects the bias that if you’re an older white man you can have the same policy positions but will be branded as much less radical than a young Latina might. But still, he’s able to perfectly calibrate himself to what the median Democratic voter wants, and is good about listening to different coalitions within the party. That’s why he’s been successful over a long time. He’s very transactional and good at listening to different demands from different party constituencies. Ezra Klein After Democrats nominated John Kerry and lost to George W. Bush In 2004, there was this view that the Democrats have to win back the heartland. They started thinking about guys like Brian Schweitzer in Montana. And then what actually happens in 2008 is they run Barack Hussein Obama from Chicago, Illinois, and have this gigantic victory. This is a way in which the immediate post-election punditry really fails. There is a desire to refight the last war. Democrats were responding to ’04, but ’08 was just a different election in a different context and something else ended up working. I think that’s happened here, too. One of the dominant views after 2016 was Donald Trump gave people something to vote for. You may not like him, but at least he doesn’t think the system is okay. So there was a rise in politicians who responded to that. Populist politicians on the left like Bernie Sanders or, in a different way, Elizabeth Warren. Other kinds of figures on the left who try to match Donald Trump’s energy but really push hard on a diversifying America. And here comes Joe Biden with what is almost a strategy of being inoffensive — he has popular policies, he says nice stuff. And what you see in these polls is 70-30 Trump voters say they’re voting for Trump, not against Biden. And roughly 70-30 Biden voters say they’re voting against Trump, not for Biden. And Biden is way ahead! In a way, Donald Trump provides the enthusiasm and Joe Biden just keeps denying him something really significant to run against. Biden has this weird rope-a-dope of an election strategy that seems to be paying off. Nate Silver I think to say 2016 was about enthusiasm is a misdiagnosis. If you look at David Shor’s work, he’s tried to break this down. Probably 80 percent of the shift toward Trump was Obama to Trump voters, and because of persuasion, not turnout. One basic piece of math behind that is that if I persuade you, Ezra, to switch from Trump to Biden, that’s a net +2 for Biden. You were -1, now you’re a +1. If I turn someone new out for Biden, that’s only a +1. So persuasion matters more. Ezra Klein I want to go back to the Bernie theory because I think we weren’t 100 percent fair on it. The Sanders campaign had a real theory about low-attachment voters — people who don’t turn out. And the idea was that those people don’t turn out because they aren’t given a clear enough choice. But if you propose ambitious policies like Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal and others — something the Bidens and Clintons of the world haven’t done — those folks will have a reason to vote. That didn’t really pan out in the primary. A lot of those people didn’t come out to vote for Bernie Sanders. And that raises the question: Why don’t people vote? We often have turnout in the 50 to 60 percent range for presidential elections. What do we know about these marginal voters — people who may turn out but often do not? Nate Silver Generally, the idea that your views on 10 or 12 different issues are highly correlated makes sense for strong partisans, but that doesn’t make sense for a lot of voters. There was a great episode of The Dailywhere they randomly picked voters to talk about the Amy Coney Barrett [Supreme Court] nomination. There was one woman said, “Well, I’m pro-life, but if I’m really pro-life, then is Donald Trump really the pro-life candidate in this election?” She’s thinking more broadly about what that means, so she probably feels very conflicted. She likes Donald Trump’s Supreme Court picks; she doesn’t like his treatment of women or how he acts on Twitter or that he doesn’t seem to want to have a health care policy in the country. So I think as things become more polarized, then the people who drop out tend to have more heterodox political views. There are also people who feel like it’s going to be hard for them to vote or their vote doesn’t matter. Voter suppression has different effects based on different time spans. In the short run, if you try to suppress the vote and people find out about it, they might be more motivated to vote. In the long run, though, if I know that every time I have to vote, there’s a long line, that can have a cumulative effect. Ezra Klein One implication of the polarization conversation we were having earlier is that there is less of a penalty for nominating candidates who are more ideologically extreme. Even if you think Ted Cruz is really conservative or Donald Trump is kind of nuts, you just can’t stand Hillary Clinton, so you vote for Trump or Cruz anyway. Or, on the other side, even if you think Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders are too liberal, you aren’t going to vote for Donald Trump, so you support a candidate more liberal than you are. So do you think it actually would have made much of a difference if Sanders were the nominee? How differently from Biden do you think he would have performed? Nate Silver So we actually find that there still is a pretty big effect from where you line up on the issues. It’s a little bit hard to define liberal versus conservative, so we look at how often members of Congress vote with their party. Members who break with their party more often do quite a bit better, other things held equal. And that advantage has not diminished since 1990, which is when our data set starts off. I think that Bernie would have given Trump a different vector to campaign on, where he could say, “the socialists are coming!” He’s trying to say Biden is a Trojan horse for AOC [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and Bernie and Warren. Maybe that argument works for some voters, but you’re also conceding that Biden himself isn’t that bad, which is a weird strategy. Look, Biden’s up by 8 or 9 points. I think the penalty for being more left is probably not enough to make Sanders an underdog — he’d be the favorite. But I do think when we kind of look at this stuff and measure ideology, it seems to have an effect. Now, Bernie could have been effective for other reasons. One thing where I think Biden’s people have not done very well is signing up new people to vote. They also were not doing a lot of door-knocking operations until recently. So Bernie would have done certain things better. But I’m someone who still believes in the median voter theorem, I suppose. Ezra Klein Let me ask about the flip of this: Donald Trump. Trump has never won an election with more voters. He has never been above 50 percent in average approval ratings. Do you think another Republican candidate, a generic Republican, would likely be in a stronger position today than Trump? Nate Silver One big question that’s pertinent to how we think about this election is where do the fundamentals point in our specification? That’s a very nerdy way to put it. But we actually think that a generic Republican should be running neck and neck with a generic Democrat because the economic recovery was pretty robust in the third quarter and because you have an incumbent and incumbents usually get reelected more often than not. If you look around the world, approval ratings for many leaders went up during the early stages of coronavirus. I think if Trump showed some basic empathy uncovered and just said the right things and didn’t get in the way of basic things that every country needs to do — and then we have this 30 percent GOP rebound in quarter three — I’m not sure that he’d be losing his campaign. At the very least it might be close enough where his 3-point Electoral College edge would come in handy for him. So he has not been a very effective politician from an electoral standpoint. Why Silver thinks we shouldn’t be too worried about the possibility of an electoral crisis Ezra Klein When we talk about elections, I think people mentally index to the idea that there are two outcomes: win or lose. And in this election, it seems to me there are three: win, loss, and crisis. When we talk about, say, the possibility of a 3- or 4-point polling error in Donald Trump’s direction, that would make the election very close in the key swing states. In the world where you have lots of mail-in voting because of Covid-19, a bunch of Republican attempts to prevent or discredit those votes, and a Supreme Court with Amy Coney Barrett possibly having the last word on election rulings, that’s a situation where we could face a real legitimacy crisis over who won. As crazy as Bush v. Gore was, I really worry that if you replay that now, it gets a lot crazier. Your models explicitly do not try to measure the effect of electoral chicanery, but I’m curious how you think about that possibility. Nate Silver I always worry about these conversations because the chaos scenario is so bad that whether it’s 2 percent or 5 percent or 15 percent, you still have to be very worried about it. And it’s certainly somewhere in the low to mid-single digits, if not a quite bit higher — although not the modal outcome by any means. But I think there are a couple of things to keep in mind.One, people forget just how close Florida was in 2000. It came down to something like 537 votes in a state with 10 million people. That’s not just within the recount margin — it’s exactly on the nose. And it’s still quite ambiguous who ultimately really won Florida, depending on dimpled chads and the butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County and everything else. Two, the issue most likely to affect the debate is ballots that are returned after Election Day. Those actually aren’t that many ballots, and may not be as Democratic as people assume because Democrats are being more diligent about sending their ballots in early. If you look at mail ballots returned so far, Democrats have around a 30-point edge on partisan ID in terms of who has returned more ballots; if you look at the mail ballots that have not yet been returned but were requested, it’s only a 12-point edge for Democrats. It’s possible that the attempts at voter suppression can backfire if they make the people you’re trying to suppress more alert. You can imagine Democrats being more diligent about getting their ballots in early, finding different ways to vote, following all the rules — in which case, these things might not help the GOP. The last thing I think about a little bit is: Is it harder or easier to vote than it has been in the past? You’re always calibrating a model based on past history. There has always been voter suppression that disproportionately affects people of color and people who are more likely to be Democrats. That’s priced into the models. However, it’s probably easier to vote now in most states than it ever has been. The Brennan Center does a write-up every year on the voting rights that passed in the past year. And for the past couple of years, you’ve actually had more pro-voting laws than voter suppression laws, which is different than the era from 2012 to 2016. So it’s probably easier to vote now than it has been in the past. And that could potentially help Democrats. Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. 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As coronavirus numbers hit record highs, the world’s biggest tech companies report staggering profits
Big Tech’s earnings aren’t noticing the pandemic. | Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images Despite antitrust investigations and a recession, Big Tech is doing great. Despite a pandemic that’s shocked the entire economy and impending antitrust lawsuits, Big Tech is doing rather well. Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook raked in a huge amount of money last quarter: $38 billion in profits on nearly $240 billion in revenue. For the most part, this represents growth over what these companies made last year, despite the worst recession in the United States since World War II. These numbers are striking not just for the tremendous amount of money these four companies are making but also because Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook seem to be defying this moment in history. Earlier this month, a long-awaited congressional report accused the companies of anti-competitive behavior, and some politicians are asking that they be broken up. Meanwhile, unemployment is double the rate it was in the beginning of the year, and numerous industries are struggling to stay afloat. But as many of us have been stuck at home, Big Tech’s services have become more important than ever, becoming the primary way many of us interact with the outside world. So what’s been bad for restaurants, airlines, and countless other industries has been good for the world’s biggest tech companies. In the quarter ending September 30, Amazon’s profits rose nearly 200 percent from a year earlier. Google’s profit grew about 60 percent and Facebook’s 30 percent. Even Apple, whose profits were down slightly, brought in a healthy $12.7 billion in profit. Revenue was up for each of these companies. Amazon, which has seen its dominance rise especially sharply during the pandemic as people’s shopping habits shifted online, saw record revenue of $96 billion, a 37 percent increase compared with last year. As a result of these earnings, Big Tech’s stocks are at or near all-time highs. This is a notable milestone, since Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple stock all took a big hit back in March. But unlike many other companies still suffering from that blow, these four companies’ stock prices have now more than recovered. On average, their market cap is up about 50 percent since then. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up about 5 percent (Apple is included in the index, helping buoy the whole average). These massive numbers don’t mean much to the average person, since many Americans don’t have a real stake in the stock market. Instead, shareholders are the ones who benefit — as well as the companies themselves, who are able to reinvest these profits to become even bigger and make competition even harder. As the government ramps up its antitrust cases against Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook, their outsize profits are going to become more important. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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Black voter turnout was down in 2016. This time looks to be different.
Black Lives Matter supporters show off their “I VOTED” wristbands after leaving the polling place in Louisville, Kentucky, on October 13. | Jon Cherry/Getty Images For many Black Americans, the best way to fight a pandemic and systemic racism is to vote. D’Angelo Crosby says the demands placed on Black Americans this year are so heavy, they’re incapacitating — leaving him undecided in the election. “I don’t think [former Vice President Joe] Biden is willing to help the American people. ... I just think that he’s been in the office a long time. And I don’t notice what he did for young Black men — or Black people in general,” said Crosby, a junior at Morehouse College who is attending classes remotely from his home in Illinois. “I could say this, that my father said that he made more than he had ever made with [President Donald] Trump [in office] than he did Obama.” One of Crosby’s problems with Biden is that he fears the Democrat would take an overly restrictive approach to containing the coronavirus, including by encouraging the sorts of lockdowns that led to his mother losing her job. “My mom during the pandemic got laid off. And that was a really heartbreaking experience for me. Because my mom had been working that job for over 30 years,” Crosby said. “Before the pandemic, everything was running smoothly. She was on the path to retire and everything.” Lucy Hewett for Vox D’Angelo Crosby feels that Black Americans won’t be in a “great position” no matter who wins the presidential election. Crosby says the president wasn’t “well equipped” to handle the pandemic, and both his parents got sick with Covid-19 this year. “They were, fortunately, two that pulled out,” Crosby said. And they were, in fact, fortunate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black people make up nearly 20 percent of US Covid-19 deaths, despite making up 13 percent of the population. Crosby tuned in to the first presidential debate to help him settle on a candidate, but he found it disappointing. “It was like everything was a joke,” he said. The second debate helped Crosby decide on Biden, but he still has many reservations. There are many factors motivating voters this year, from the pandemic to the ongoing struggle against systemic racism. The extraordinary force with which these factors have shaped Black American life is animating Black voters this year — pushing them to vote with far greater energy than they did in 2016. Now Black voters have lived under a Trump administration, and many wonder if they can survive another; they have seen their friends, family, and neighbors taken by Covid-19, and watched Black people taken time and again by police; they’ve been inspired by the Black Lives Movement but remain deeply fearful about the future. “I’m not excited. I’m scared,” Crosby told me. “I would definitely say that it feels like, either way that it goes, Black people — just, it doesn’t seem like we’re in a great position. It just really doesn’t.” This year, there are highhopes for Black voters to turn out Fewer Black Americans voted in 2016 than did in 2012. And while some election watchers, like the New York Times’s Nate Cohn, have argued that a shift of white voters from Democrats to Republicans was the source of Trump’s victory in 2016, others, like Osita Nwanevu for Slate, have posited that lower Black turnout cost Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton the election. Black voter turnout decreased by 7 percentage points from 2012 to 2016. It was the first decline in Black voter turnout in 20 years, according to the Pew Research Center, and the steepest decline in participation by any ethnic group since white turnout fell by about 10 percentage points from 1992 to 1996. It is possible the decline is due to Barack Obama not being on the ticket; the last election without him, held in 2004, had a Black voter participation rate of 60.3 percent, 0.7 percentage points higher than in 2016. Other hypotheses have been raised as well — like that Black voters soured on Clinton due to her association with criminal justice policies that negatively affected Black communities (and her use of racist language to defend them) or that the Black vote was suppressed by Russian actors and Republican policies. Whether any, or all of these, or something else entirely was the root cause of the decline is difficult to say — and that’s something that’s still being researched today. But the 17 activists, party officials, and voters that I spoke to across the country said they think things might be different this time. “After the election in 2016, you could literally just see all the organizations collaborating with all hands on deck,” Terri Minor Spencer, founder and president of West End P.O.W.E.R., said. Spencer, who is based in Pittsburgh, said her organization began collaborating with the county jail, working to get voter registration forms to men and women who found themselves there. And ahead of November’s election, Spencer said the group has worked to ensure the imprisoned know their rights: “If you are not sentenced, you can vote. If you are sitting in there because you cannot make bond, you can vote. If you’re on pretrial, you can vote.” Like Spencer, many other activists and organizers have been hard at work in their communities for four years — if not longer. And this year, all of their efforts have only been compounded by the ongoing protests over systemic racism and police violence. Megan Jelinger/AFP via Getty Images Black Lives Matter demonstrators protest outside the first 2020 presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio on September 29. Jon Cherry/Getty Images Black Lives Matter protesters gather in Jefferson Square Park in Louisville, Kentucky before a march to an early voting center on October 13. “The Black Lives Matter movement has encouraged people to realize that we have to participate in the system and create some type of change,” Cooper Blackwell, an activist and entrepreneur in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, told me. It was a sentiment that was echoed by most I spoke to. The importance of voting has been a fixture at many of the ongoing protests for racial justice — and there appears to have been an increase in voter registration, particularly among Democrats and independents, because of them. A message that has been stressed repeatedly at these protests nationwide is that police, mayors, and city budgets are not controlled at the federal level. And many I spoke to said that message has been fully absorbed. “We are actually seeing a lot of people taking more interest in the local races, understanding that, obviously, the presidency is very important, but honestly, I don’t feel like it’s a key draw anymore,” Peggy West-Schroder, the statewide campaign coordinator for Ex-incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO), a civil rights group in Wisconsin that advocates for the currently and formerly incarcerated, told me. Spencer described how focused those her organization works with have become on the power local magistrates hold over the quality of housing, and how this has inspired some to work towards becoming magistrates themselves. And Christopher Walton, the chair of the Democratic Party of Milwaukee County, told me of the new energy Democratic voters have around stopping Wisconsin’s legislature from achieving a veto-proof majority in this year’s elections. “The revolution takes place within our communities, on the ground,” Blackwell said. “The system changes as a result of that.” The work of activists and the energy created by the Black Lives Matter movement has culminated in a moment where Black voters — particularly young ones, whose turnout was also depressed in 2016 — are feeling as if they have an obligation not just to vote but to ensure others do, too. Darylette Parker, a 23-year-old from Illinois who said she regretted not voting in 2016, told me she and many of her friends have been motivating one another to vote — and that she was spurred to action by Michelle Obama, who has spent much of the past few months attempting to drive up turnout. Here’s my full closing argument for Joe Biden. I hope you’ll share this, too. https://t.co/y3KzekerTU— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) October 19, 2020 “Through her Instagram, [Obama] made a video and she said, ‘If you think things can’t get worse, you’re wrong,’” Parker said. “So that was kind of like a wake-up call. And that really motivated me to go make sure I was registered.” Social media has been a powerful agent for convincing people in Malik Martin’s life as well. A sophomore at North Carolina A&T University, Martin said he’s felt a lot of pressure from his classmates online to vote — and that he’s seen what happens to those who say they won’t participate. “I have seen some people on Twitter ... say that, ‘Well, I’m not gonna vote because this or this,’ and the way that the students responded to it — they were really upset,” Martin said. The students who said they didn’t want to vote were on the receiving end of a lot of harsh DMs and tweets, according to Martin, “just trying to get them to understand that they should vote.” One other powerful force driving Black voters to fill out ballots this year is the same thing driving turnout among many suburban women, young Latinx voters, and Rust Belt workers: Trump. “The Black Lives Matter movement has encouraged people to realize that we have to participate in the system and create some type of change.” According to Walton, Trump’s actions, words, and record have many Black Americans “just enraged at him, especially amongst the older African American population, because they’ve seen this before. … People are like, we spent a lot of time fighting to make sure this was never going to happen again. And here it is happening. And I’ll be damned if I’m gonna stand by and allow it to happen again.” Preliminary indications suggest efforts to energize and empower Black voters have been working. In an analysis conducted in mid-October, the Associated Press found that about 10 percent of the more than 20 million early votes cast nationally (both in person and mail-in) were submitted by Black Americans, a number roughly in line with their share of the national electorate. Since then, the number of early voters has more than tripled, and in the states that provide voter data by race, Black voters have markedly improved on turnout compared to this time in 2016. Black voters could swing races in key states — but must overcome voter suppression efforts first Part of what gives Black voters their power is the Electoral College — a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center found that a little more than a third of Black eligible voters live in swing states, and that in many, they make up a sizable portion of the electorate. In North Carolina, 22 percent of eligible voters are Black, far more than enough to decide a close race. And North Carolina, home to 15 electoral votes, is expected to be very close. The state went to Trump by only 3.8 percentage points in 2016, and the Biden campaign hopes to run up his vote total in Democratic strongholds like Raleigh, but also in swing counties like Nash, which Trump won by 118 votes. So in the weeks before the election, top Biden surrogates, like Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), have been dispatched there to secure it for him. But Trump has also worked hard in recent weeks to boost Republican turnout in the state. Reportedly, 70 percent of the paths to victory his campaign envisions run through North Carolina, making it a pivotal state for him. It’s one of the few swing states in which he has spent more than Biden, and he and his allies have traveled there repeatedly, even holding events in districts that went for him by a large margin in 2016. Biden has a slight lead in most North Carolina polls, but Kevin Jones, the first vice chair of the Nash County Democratic Party, said he’s concerned about the level of enthusiasm among some of his fellow Democrats. “It’s bad,” Jones said. “If Donald Trump needs 15 electoral votes to win the presidency, and it comes down to one vote in North Carolina, it won’t be my vote that gets him in there. But, you know, I don’t feel too good about it.” And there’s one big reason for this, Jones thinks: “The BLM [Black Lives Matter] piece has supercharged, I think, Trump’s base. I think that the BLM, that’s been used as a tool and a firestarter, if you will, to really rally people.” Nearly all of those I spoke with in North Carolina cited a similar concern about the effect anti-BLM sentiment will have on voting in the state. Many also said they were worried about a related issue: finding ways to empower voters in the face of attempted voter suppression. Grant Baldwin/AFP via Getty Images A poll worker assists voters as they enter an early voting center in Charlotte, North Carolina on October 15. D’atra Jackson — the national co-director of the BYP100 Action Fund, who is based in Durham, North Carolina — said there is a “very real threat of white supremacist, white nationalist violence in North Carolina. And those are things that have been threats, literally every election.” Threats from white nationalists have led her organization, and its partners, to set up a program around polling sites to reassure Black voters and to provide for their safety. Blackwell, who hopes toovercome any concerns with positivity, is organizing virtual parties and DJs outside of polling places,andrecounted how even in Rocky Mount — a city largely controlled by Black people — the risk of violence is inescapable. Citizens there faced have implicit and explicit threats, including the appearance of a noose in a park after a Confederate monument was recently removed. Narratives like these are a reminder that it’s not necessarily a dislike of either candidate, or apathy, or a lack of Obama on the ballot that may have led to lower Black voter turnout in 2016, but concern for safety. There are barriers put up by state actors as well: Cooper complained that a longstanding polling place had been moved to an area more difficult to access — and nationally, nearly 21,000 polling places have been shuttered this year, according to Vice News. Activists in swing states said this had been an acute problem for them this year. “There was only four polling places open in a whole city, and it was just — it was bad,” West-Schroder said of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s most recent elections. “And we do feel like some of that was done to disenfranchise Black voters.” The number of polling places has been expanded for the general election, but she said EXPO faces a new challenge in the amount of “miscommunication, misinformation that’s being spread. And I think that that is a deliberate attempt to stifle the Black vote.” “So what we like to teach our members,” West-Schroder said, “is that if your vote didn’t matter, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to take it away from you.” Not all Black voters are thrilled about Biden and Harris — particularly because of their backgrounds Most Black voters seem poised to vote for Biden, based on recent polls; Morning Consult’s tracking poll for the week on October 25, for instance, found 86 percent of Black likely voters favored Biden, and 9 percent favored Trump. But Jones says he’s still nervous about the results of the election because “the enthusiasm is not there.” This too is reflected in polling; for example, an Economist/YouGov poll taken in mid-October found Black voters to be split when it comes to their enthusiasm about Biden — 48 percent said they were enthusiastic about the nominee; 49 percent said they were not. Part of that gap might stem from a longing for another candidate like Obama. “I don’t care how good you are at basketball, if you go play for the Chicago Bulls you’re gonna be measured up against Michael Jordan,” Jones said. “I think for the rest of my lifetime, we will measure up every Democratic presidential candidate against Barack Obama .... and Joe Biden, you know, can’t be Jordan.” Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images A voter casts a ballot in Washington, DC on October 27. Perhaps a more widespread issue, however, is the slightly more distant past: Many told me voters often bring up a 1994 crime bill as a reason they can’t get behind Biden. That bill, called the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, was written in part by Biden, and he played a key role in getting it passed into law during his time in the Senate, two things he bragged about as recently as 2016. Essentially, the law was meant to stem a decades-long rise in crime and signal to voters that Democrats were tougher on crime than Republicans. As Vox’s German Lopez has explained, it was not very successful at doing either, but it did do a lot of other things: The law imposed tougher prison sentences at the federal level and encouraged states to do the same. It provided funds for states to build more prisons, aimed to fund 100,000 more cops, and backed grant programs that encouraged police officers to carry out more drug-related arrests — an escalation of the war on drugs. At the same time, the law included several measures that would be far less controversial among Democrats today. The Violence Against Women Act provided more resources to crack down on domestic violence and rape. A provision helped fund background checks for guns. The law encouraged states to back drug courts, which attempt to divert drug offenders from prison into treatment, and also helped fund some addiction treatment. Particularly during the past 10 years, advocacy groups, think tanks, and scholars have argued that the 1994 crime bill helped encourage racially biased mass incarceration and, along with the crime laws of the 1980s, exacerbated systemic inequality. The general consensus now, as Princeton African American studies professor Naomi Murakawa put it to the Marshall Project in 2015, is “that 1994 act is overwhelmingly, incredibly punitive.” Throughout the Democratic primary campaign, Biden’s then-rivals brought up this record; Sen. Cory Booker called the crime bill “shameful,” while Biden’s current running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, accused him of contributing to mass incarceration. The attacks stuck — and were quickly adopted by Trump, who has continued to use them against Biden in the general election. But Curmilus Dancy II, a political blogger in North Carolina, argued that the criticism makes little sense: “You want Black folk to be mad because you say they were hard on them, but I see it as them doing a job, and what some Black folk wanted, at that particular time.” To Dancy’s point, the crime bill was popular at the time. As the Brookings Institution’s Rashawn Ray and William A. Galston have explained, in 1994, “58% of African Americans supported the crime bill, compared to 49% of white Americans.” After several different responses to these attacks (some less convincing than others), Biden has simplified his message. “It was a mistake,” he said when asked about the crime bill at the second presidential debate. “I’ve been trying to change it since then, particularly the portion on cocaine.” It’s an answer that impressed Crosby, and Biden’s new stance on the bill has impressed others as well; that he’s willing to say when he is wrong and knows when “it’s time to step up” is something Spencer said she liked about him. While Biden was ultimately able to satisfy Crosby’s concerns about his record on criminal justice, Harris has been able to do no such thing. “She prosecuted so many Black men, and it’s just like, do you, also feel the struggle of Black people? Or are you at a place right now where it’s just you and your family, and you don’t care about oppression anymore?” Crosby asked. “That’s so sad to me, to see that you cannot be empathetic and sympathetic to Black people, your own race.” He went on to explain that he cannot understand why Harris accrued the record she did as San Francisco’s district attorney, and later as California’s attorney general. Harris had a somewhat contradictory record in those two roles, as Vox’s Lopez explained: She implemented some progressive reforms, but there are also prosecutorial choices she made that critics say were particularly harmful to people of color. This record means that when she was announced as Biden’s vice presidential pick, “We weren’t as excited maybe as some other people were, just because her track record hasn’t hasn’t been that great in regards to criminal justice, reform, and second chances,” West-Schroder of EXPO said, noting the group is nonpartisan. Harris has since stressed that she has left behind the “smart on crime” stances she took while in California in order to advocate for progressive criminal justice reform in the Senate — including by introducing bail reform, anti-lynching, and marijuana decriminalization bills. And like Biden, she clarified where she stands now during a recent debate, saying, “We need reform of policing in America, and our criminal justice system.” Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images Sen. Kamala Harris hosts a discussion outside of White’s Barber and Beauty Shop in Raleigh, North Carolina on September 28. This new stance won over some of the voters I spoke with; but others were excited more by what she represents — potentially, the first Black and first Asian American woman to be vice president. “A lot of people were already like, ‘Eh, yeah, I’ll vote for him, I’ll do what I got to do.’ And then when she was put on the ticket, it was, ‘I’m voting!’” said Walton, the Milwaukee party chair. “The fact that she would be the first woman vice president is lit,” Blackwell said, noting that he also thought she would be helpful in balancing a potential President Biden: “It’s hard to trust any old white man with a lot of power, to be honest.” “There’s a contradiction that folks are holding,” Jackson said, noting “there’s a particular political terrain that we need to be on” to achieve aims like defunding the police. But many are willing to embrace that contradiction and come out for Biden and Harris regardless of their pasts, because, as Jackson said, “this is such a high-stakes election.” There is a lot at stake for Black Americans The stakes feel — and are — existential for Black Americans. For many, the Covid-19 death toll isn’t just numbers of a graph; they have been personally swept up by the first, second, and third waves. Branden Snyder, the executive director of Detroit Action, told me, “In Detroit, you know, it’s six degrees of separation, everyone is seeing someone that they know who passed from from Covid. I know somebody — we’ve had … two of our members pass, we’ve had staff members who’ve been infected.” More than 27,000 Black Americans have died. And that means Black Americans “have the kind of collective experience of grieving and mourning people that should be here,” Jackson said. It is not just the coronavirus that is taking Black lives. This year, Black Americans have been killed by vigilantes and police officers, by guns and knees, on snow-covered pavement and in their own homes. Black men have a 1-in-1,000 chance of being killed by police, a recent study found. One in 920 Black Americans has been killed by Covid-19. It can feel as though if one does not get you, the other will. “I just don’t understand it,” Crosby said. “I don’t see why we’re not getting helped.” Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images Relatives of Covid-19 victims drive past photographs of their family members in Detroit, Michigan. Spencer expressed similar frustration: “How are we still fighting for the same things that my mom was fighting for? My mom is 90. How? How? I mean, how?!” Many I spoke to expressed particular concern for racist violence from non-state actors. “The KKK, the white supremacists, the racist individuals, they have taken off their hoods,” Spencer said. “They are no longer hiding who they are. They are embracing it, actually. They are embracing white supremacy.” The president has had a strong hand in this. In the words of my colleague Fabiola Cineas, “Trump is the accelerant” — he habitually quickens racist fires, from insisting that Obama was a Muslim with ill intent to telling the far-right hate group the Proud Boys to “stand back” and “stand by” on national television. In his staffing choices, rhetoric, and policies, he has advanced the cause of white nationalists, who desire a physical or spiritual white state. Spencer said many Black voters she’s talked to believe the price of a second Trump term will be high. She said they are “extremely worried that if there’s four more years of this administration, we will be under 2.5 seconds away from chains and cotton fields.” Even if such a dire reprisal of history isn’t in Black Americans’ future, they will still be faced with the economic remnants of that past. In good times, Black Americans faced a desolate economic landscape, one bereft of benefits accessible to white Americans, like homeownership and being on the high end of a persistent wage gap. Now is not a good time, nor will the foreseeable future be. There is no simple solution to these monumental problems that are so ingrained in American life. Trump may be the accelerant, but he is not the root cause. “We’ve got to delete Trump out of the picture,” according to Blackwell. “It’s not about him. It’s about us.” Crosby was always sure he was going to vote, but he also wanted to be sure he was casting his ballot for the candidate who would most benefit his community. And he said, after watching the final debate, he’s no longer undecided. Lucy Hewett for Vox “It upsets me to think that people don’t think that America is still racist,” Crosby said. With a pandemic, systemic racism, economic inequality, and the shadow of white nationalism haunting the US, he said, “I don’t know who’s truly going to help me. But it sounds like Biden is more on the side of trying to help people.” That is enough for him, and enough for nearly everyone I spoke to. They all just want to use their voting power to install leaders who will actually work for — and with — them to make life better. “We just have to get to the next level,” Blackwell said. “So we can change, really, the system.” Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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Money Talks: The father and son running a coffeehouse together
Christina Animashaun/Vox; Getty Images Henry and Hrag have navigated the 55-year-old family business with empathy, understanding, and only occasional conflict. Welcome to Money Talks, a series in which we interview people about their relationship with money, their relationship with each other, and how those relationships inform one another. Henry Kalebjian, 79, is the owner of Henry’s House of Coffee. His son Hrag, 43, joined as co-owner in 2013 — and although the father-son collaboration required a little more understanding and empathy than either Henry or Hrag had been expecting, business has more than tripled since Hrag came on board. Today, the 55-year-old coffeehouse makes between $1.5 and $2 million in annual revenue, provides jobs to one full-time manager and 12 part-time employees, and sells both traditional and Armenian coffee to customers in San Francisco and online coffee-lovers around the world. Henry is Armenian, but his family was one of the many families displaced in the early 1900s during the Armenian Genocide. His grandparents went to Lebanon and Syria, where they lived as refugees. Henry was born and grew up in Lebanon before immigrating to the United States. His experience as an immigrant building a small business was very different from Hrag’s experience as a financial expert taking co-ownership of a thriving coffeehouse — which is just one of the factors that father and son discuss in the following conversation. Henry: As I was young, I was helping my father back home. He used to roast coffee — small volume, not a big one. It was a hobby. When I came to the United States, I went to school and became a mechanical designer. We got laid off after 10 years working, and I had to do something. I saw this store, a small Middle Eastern store, and the owner wanted to sell because he wanted to retire. When I went in, I saw a small roaster in the corner and thought “This is interesting.” I bought the business, and little by little I increased the volume and became a good solid roasting company. At that time, coffee roasting was a very simple thing. The quality was different, everything was different. Now it’s very fancy. I started attending lectures and conventions, I noticed the change, and I followed the change. Hrag: I hated the business when I was a kid. For me, it was like doing a chore. I didn’t look forward to helping my dad, especially on the weekends when I wanted to watch cartoons instead of working in the shop. I wanted to be upfront with the customers, but my dad wouldn’t let me — which makes sense, you don’t want a 10-year-old taking your coffee order, it’s weird. So my dad always had me in the back, scooping coffee beans into five-pound bags. There’s no music, it’s cold, I’ve got a scoop, and it was super-boring. That was what I was tasked to do, and I reluctantly did it. When I went to college, the last thing on my mind was taking over the business. I was involved in finance, and I did corporate finance for roughly 10 years. The corporate grind is great, but sometimes there’s lack of recognition. I felt like I was giving a lot and not getting as much back, and I started looking into other avenues. One of those avenues was my father’s business. Being in finance, you’re crunching numbers all the time — and as I dug into my father’s business I thought, “Wow, this is a really strong and healthy business. I wonder if this is something that I can take to the next level?” [When you’re an entrepreneur], whatever you put in is what you get out. If you put in 5 percent, your business is going to suffer. You put your heart and soul in it, and every tiny little sale is a result of your work. That’s much more satisfying than sitting in front of your boss, having your quarterly review, and hearing “Good job, here’s a 3 percent increase in pay.” It’s like, two worlds apart. Right now, I’m digitally in front of the customers. My focus is our online channel, and so all of the business development, marketing, all of that is me. I spend a lot of my time in front of the computer, thinking of ways to tell our story and get new customers. Henry: When Hrag took over, he changed everything! I was so mad at him, but I couldn’t express that I was getting angry. One day he comes, and he tells me that we’re going to do advertisements — I think it was Google or Facebook or something — and we’re going to spend $7,000. I said, “What? Seven thousand dollars? I used to spend one thousand! Don’t do it! Stop it!” He said, “No, Dad, we have to do it.” Finally, I talked to myself a little bit. I said, “Listen, Henry. This is your son. This is not a stranger. Let him do it. If he fails, imagine that he’s going to learn, and it’s going to cost $7,000. By losing $7,000, you’re not going to go bankrupt. This is your son. This is how he’s going to learn.” So I let him do it. Man, am I glad he did! We tripled our income. That $7,000 became so many more. Hrag: When I started working at the coffee shop, for the first six months I didn’t do anything — I was observing how the business functioned and the nuances of how the business worked. I noticed that every once in a while, my dad would run off to Safeway to get some milk, because we were running out of milk. I thought, “We’re a coffee shop, we make lattes and cappuccinos, they’re 75 percent of our sales, why the hell are we running out of milk?” When I dug into it I realized, typical mom and pop shop, there are no procedures. Nothing written down. If the person who does the milk ordering is sick, someone else takes a stab at it and doesn’t know how to do it, so we would be short of milk. I thought to myself “Here’s a good opportunity. I can create a milk order form for the staff.” Tell them, “Here’s how much milk we should have, we need 100 bottles of 2 percent milk, count what we have in the refrigerator, subtract the two, and that’s how much you need to order.” Super simple. This was six months in, and I sat down with my mom and dad and I was explaining this thing, and being a mama’s boy, my mom was all “This is so smart, I love it, it’s great,” and I’m talking to them about how we’re going to implement it — because that’s the other aspect of running a business, not only having the strategy but also implementing it — and my dad wasn’t saying much. I turned to him and said, “Dad, what do you think?” He looks at me, and he says, in Armenian, “I feel like everything is being taken from me.” That wasn’t what I was expecting. I was expecting a lot of kudos and congratulations, and here’s this guy telling me that a simple milk order form is as if everything is being taken from him. If changing the way we order milk makes him feel like the whole world is crumbling in on him, how’s he going to react when I tell him that we have to get rid of a lot of the coffee he’s selling? Or that we have to do a $300,000 remodel? Or that we have to spend $50,000 on a website? How is he going to react to that? Henry: I saw that my son is very smart, just like his mother. He is good with numbers, so when he did the calculations, I saw that he was completely correct. So I let it go. Whatever he wants to do, he can do it, and I have no objections. Sometimes I put a brake on it, but other than that I let it go. I say “He knows what he’s doing, so let him do it.” That’s what he does now. He’s free, he does the changes, he does everything, and I am very, very pleased. He has taken my store over, and he has increased the volume three or four times what I used to do. Hrag: I love what I’m doing right now, and I want my children to do what they love when they’re older. I don’t want them to feel like [the coffeehouse] was forced upon them. The challenge for me is that I also want them to know what Dad does, and I want them to be proud of that. If it’s not something they’re interested in, that’s absolutely fine. But I want it to come from them as opposed to me. So I wanted to take aspects of the business that I thought my children would like, and not have it feel forced. One of my sons really loves culture, he loves language, he’s interested in history, and so my conversation with him when it comes to the business is more around where our coffees are from, why that’s important, different styles of coffee that are grown in Ethiopia as opposed to South America. He was so excited when I told him that Ethiopia has a lot of regions, and they have cities and states that are very different from what the United States has. I asked him if he could teach me a little bit more about that, and his eyes opened up. He went and researched Ethiopia, and so it really came from him. I just planted the seed. Never at any point was I talking about him working in the business or taking over. It was just conversational. I think that’s a lot healthier, especially with kids nowadays, where they know what they like. If you’re forcing them into a situation, it has drawbacks — when they grow up, they’re like “no, I had bad experiences, I never want to have anything to do with it,” instead of having fond memories when they’re older. The other big thing is, when my father immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, he had nothing. For him to be able to provide for his family, he worked his ass off — and I didn’t see my dad. He worked Saturdays. If I wanted to spend time with my dad, I had to go to work. I’m a little more spoiled. My dad has given me all of this, and because of his hard work, I don’t go in to work on the weekends. Henry: The father has to give in, in the sense of “Let it go. The son is taking over. He might take a step, and he might not succeed. That’s okay. That’s how he’s going to learn. Next time, he’s not going to do that mistake.” The father has to give the son the opportunity to try on his own, whatever he thinks he’s doing, and he will succeed eventually. That’s how I did. If you have a compelling story about how money comes into play in one of your relationships — whether with a partner, a friend, a sibling, a coworker — we want to hear about it! Email alanna.okun@vox.com and karen.turner@vox.com with a little about yourself. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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One Good Thing: A nonfiction portrait of witchcraft that becomes a spiritual quest
Amanda Northrop/Vox Alex Mar’s 2015 book “Witches of America” is about a lot more than witches. One Good Thing is Vox’s recommendations series. In each edition, we’ll tell you about something from the world of culture that we think you should check out. This week, in honor of Halloween, we’re summoning five recommendations involving witches. When I first started reading Alex Mar’s 2015 nonfiction book Witches of America, I couldn’t help but think of author Frank Peretti. As an evangelical kid in the 1980s and ‘90s, I devoured Peretti’s novels, which I found in the church library. They were Christian horror mixed with comic-book-style battles, although there weren’t any pictures involved. Bestsellers that some churches evidently began to regard as manuals for “spiritual warfare,” with titles like This Present Darkness and Prophet, they were dense with angels and demons summoned by small-town folks. Their plots were full of good, decent church people who prayed, and angels came; bad church people, who didn’t really believe and had demons invisibly skulking around them; and “ordinary” people — newscasters, elementary-school teachers, councilmen, professors at the local college — who summoned demons on purpose, engaging in seances, rituals, and, if I remember correctly, even blood sacrifices in order to please the Prince of Darkness and his minions. It was the era of the Satanic Panic, after all. On the surface, Peretti has very little to do with Witches of America, but when I first read Mar’s elegant, earnest memoir-history-journalism hybrid, I thought about his work anyhow. Peretti’s novels were my first (and, to be honest, entire) introduction to the world of paganism and witchcraft. I hadn’t earnestly thought about those topics at all as an adult. And so the stereotype of the modern witch — who, in Peretti’s stories, was usually a devious, scheming, evil-intentioned woman who lured men into her snares so they would do her bidding — loomed somewhere in the back of my mind. When I picked up Mar’s book, it was out of a longstanding interest in religion writing, the exploration of belief systems that are outside the mainstream and like it that way. (Also, I had just started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) And I found so much more than I expected. Witches of America is deeply researched, giving a long history of witches and witchcraft and, more specifically, the European roots of Wicca, which Mar positions as the parent of one big strain in the modern witchcraft movement. She weaves history into the narrative carefully, like a dark-red thread through a tapestry. By the end, you haven’t learned everything about modern witches — that would be impossible to cover in a single volume — but you’ve learned quite a bit. But the history may be the least interesting part of the book. Another rich stripe comes in the form of intimate reportage, as Mar engages with several pagan communities and follows key figures to create a portrait of the people who practice these religions. The most memorable is Morpheus, a priestess devoted to the ancient Celtic goddess known as “the Morrigan.” Mar met Morpheus when she was making American Mystic, Mar’s 2010 documentary that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. The movie is interesting in its own right, a modest and intimate look at Americans in three religious communities that exist on the fringes of American society: a Lakota Sioux sundancer, a Spiritualist medium, and Morpheus. But it turns out that making the film only scratched the surface of Mar’s interest in witchcraft, and Witches of America became her next project. Mar follows Morpheus for several years, visiting her over the seasons as she engages in her community’s rituals and goes to conventions. One of the book’s most memorable scenes is set at the 2012 PantheaCon, a gathering for American Pagans at a DoubleTree Hotel in San Jose, California, where Morpheus channels the Morrigan and, later, Mar participates in an exorcism — though it’s nothing like what you might know from The Exorcist. She eventually moves on to other practitioners and communities, but what makes Witches of America unforgettable isn’t only the encounters Mar has with witchcraft practitioners — it’s also what she experiences herself. After the book was published, Mar came under fire from some in the pagan community for being, in essence, a religious tourist, and for failing to fully represent the people she wrote about. All of which is a common risk for any book of nonfiction. But it’s hard to read Witches of America and not understand it as a work of someone who longs to be part of what she sees but has trouble getting there. Throughout the book, Mar describes herself as a skeptical New Yorker, attuned to second-guessing every experience she has. Even when she begins studying witchcraft seriously with a woman Morpheus recommends, she feels a little on the outside, unsure of whether she will ever belong to the community, or if she wants to. She ends the book in much the same place: a skeptic, having observed all of the religious experiences and wishing she could be part of them. Near the end, she’s spending the night in a swamp as part of a ritual designed to foster wisdom and revelation in the participant. “Here in the dark confines of the swamp, I’ve lost perspective,” she writes. “How can I tell the difference between a transcendent experience and the desire for transcendence? Between magic and the hope of magic?” A few pages later, she starts to have a true self-realization that helps put the rest of the book into perspective: In the days and weeks that follow the ceremony in the swamp, after I’m no longer drunk on it, I will realize that I am just as much a priest as Josh is, or Karina or Morpheus, and I have just as much ritual in my life, because I have built that ritual, built it around the thing I live for — which is this, the collecting and scrubbing and remixing and chiseling out of other people’s stories. And this collecting and connecting with others, sometimes as a kind of trick, as a way of getting what I need, necessarily draws me out of myself and mixes Me up with Them, and we all become part of a new beast in the writing of it. This is what I found so moving about Witches of America. Aside from history or ethnology or a piece of longform journalism about a hidden world, it’s a vulnerable story about one woman who’s looking for community and meaning. And not just one woman, really. Unlike the wild-eyed portraits painted by Peretti’s novels and by Hollywood and by the remnants of the Satanic Panic, Witches of America delivers an empathetic, thoughtful profile — clearly written with love — of a whole community of people seeking to touch something together, to be in touch with their humanity and the world around them in a way that most people miss. They are interested in power, in summoning something larger than them, but the scheming deviousness of Peretti’s novels is gone. And of course it is — they’re people, not cartoons. Witches of America does what good religious journalism has always done: It takes people at their word and sees their beliefs as both integral to who they are and not determinative of their entire individuality. I found the book fascinating, but even more so, I found that it challenged my preconceptions in a whole new way — and maybe a slightly witchy one, too. What we think we know about the world may be just a slice of the whole picture. Witches of America was published in 2015 by Sarah Crichton Books. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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Support for Trump is tearing apart Vietnamese American families
Karen Ducey/Getty Images 46 percent of polled Vietnamese American voters say they prefer Trump to Biden. When Tram Nguyen, a Democratic state representative from Massachusetts, posted a Facebook video declaring support for the Black Lives Matter movement, she thought the message to her constituents was relatively uncontroversial. Millions of Americans were taking to the streets to protest police brutality. And as an elected official, she had to take a stand against systemic racism and express her commitment to “fight for equality for all.” The video, however, enraged a vocal group of conservative Vietnamese Americans outside her district who flocked to Nguyen’s page, accusing her of having communist sympathies and aligning with “domestic terrorists.” The comments on her video branded her as a traitor, a dishonor to her family. “I respect the right for people to disagree with me,” she told me in July in an interview for the Interpreter, a volunteer-run site that translates English-language news into Vietnamese. “I represent a purple district … but I’ve never had this sort of attack thrown against me before.” Nguyen was not the only victim of an online Vietnamese American mob this summer. Lê Hoàng Nguyên, an insurance agent in Houston, used his savings to fund a “Black Lives Matter” billboard with the phrase “Stop Racism” in Vietnamese and English. He intended for it to be a statement of solidarity, but ended up receiving messages that called for his lynching and boycotts of his business from the pro-Trump Vietnamese community in Houston. In the months after my conversation with Nguyen (no relation), I began lurking around the online spaces that directed personal attacks against her, scouring Vietnamese-language local Facebook groups, political news pages, and YouTube channels. I kept coming across a disturbing trend: Many Vietnamese Americans — particularly first-generation, older immigrants with low English proficiency — had become more radically conservative, or were exposed to and sympathetic with these pro-Trump views. From my reporting on immigrant Asian communities, I found that some Vietnamese immigrants who might not understand the nuances of racism in America felt threatened by the social unrest and looting in cities. A few even became counterprotesters at local Black Lives Matter rallies. This occurred in tandem with the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes spurred on by Covid-19, which was branded as the “China virus” by President Trump. All of this might feel counterintuitive for a minority group. But out of the six ethnic groups in the 2020 Asian American Voter Survey conducted this summer, Vietnamese Americans were the only enclave to express more support for Trump (46 percent) than Biden (36 percent). They were also more likely to vote Republican for House and Senate candidates, while overall support among Asian Americans trends more Democratic. (The phrase “Asian American” is itself a vague descriptor; it cobbles together a wide variety of ethnic groups who happen to hail from the same region but hold varying economic and political histories.) But many first-generation Vietnamese were already conservative to begin with. Having left behind a communist-led country, they may be averse to liberal politics, deeply religious, and invested in the idea of the American dream. Guided by a tide of Vietnamese- and English-language misinformation, however, these radical right-wing views are now quietly held by a not-so-insignificant minority — and are often left to younger, more progressive family members to challenge and dismantle. In 2016, Trump won 32 percent of the Vietnamese American vote, according to exit polling by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. This was a sharp drop, compared to support for Romney (54 percent) and McCain (67 percent) in years past, but even in 2016, more Vietnamese American voters favored Trump than any other Asian ethnic group — and it has only risen since. Vietnamese support for Donald Trump and the Republican Party has taken on a zealous, nearly fanatical edge in the lead-up to the 2020 election. Vietnamese Americans have staged events in states like Virginia, Texas, California, and Florida, where there are already established cultural hubs. For example, a Houston-based choir published a YouTube video dedicating a song for Trump’s reelection, featuring middle-aged Vietnamese singers dressed in MAGA gear. During Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings, “Vietnamese for Trump” organizers from different cities came together for a rally outside the Supreme Court, where attendees donned áo dài (traditional Vietnamese garb) with sewed-on patterns of the American and South Vietnamese flags. In early October, hundreds of Vietnamese Republicans in Orange County — some wearing South Vietnamese military outfits — participated in a drive-by demonstration, flying Trump 2020 flags. This Trump mania is certainly not reflective of every Vietnamese voter. Some longtime Republicans who dislike Trump are siding with Biden for the election, and young liberals are ramping up Democratic efforts through the Vietnamese Americans for Biden campaign. But the jump in support from 2016 is notable. For Democrats perplexed by Vietnamese loyalty to the GOP, it’s easy to infantilize them or to think they’ve been led astray solely by online misinformation. One could even consider Vietnamese Americans as simply a political aberration from other Asian American voters and discount them entirely from national electoral politics since they only number about 2 million. But while the Vietnamese diaspora’s working-class, immigrant background might seem on paper to be at odds with Trump’s nationalist messaging, to anyone familiar with the strain of cultural and historical conservatism rooted in the refugee Vietnamese identity, it makes sense. Some Vietnamese Americans don’t align themselves entirely with other immigrants. Many are wartime refugees who fought against the communist North Vietnamese army alongside American soldiers, my mom explained. They had no choice but to leave their home country. The way she sees it, Vietnamese people deserve to be here, but America shouldn’t just accept anyone. “A country is like a home,” she told me in Vietnamese. “You can’t just let anyone inside your home.” But this line of thinking — that they are “good” or “special” immigrants — fails to recognize how Trump’s immigration policy actually hurts some Vietnamese families, especially newer arrivals who are navigating the green card process. Those who fled Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon tend to remain strongly opposed to big government policies, are suspicious of any socialist-sympathizing politicians, and are blatantly anti-China, haunted by China’s imperialist agenda in Vietnam and the South China Sea. Many are religious, and hail from patriarchal households where the male breadwinner makes all the important family decisions. “The issue of anti-communism or anti-China weighs heavily on the minds of the first generation,” said Linda Vo, a professor of Asian American studies at UC Irvine. “Many became politically engaged when there were Republican presidents, which is what interested them in politics. They see the GOP as socially conservative and anti-communist, which aligns more with their values. But still, for a lot of foreign-born Vietnamese, it’s taken time for them to become engaged in the political process.” “The issue of anti-communism or anti-China weighs heavily on the minds of the first generation” Long before I became politically conscious, I was aware that political beliefs were central to the Vietnamese community I grew up in. I was raised by staunchly Republican Catholic parents close to the heart of Orange County’s Little Saigon, a California suburb where the first members of the Viet diaspora settled in the 1970s. At the dinner table, my father spoke admirably of George W. Bush, his post-9/11 policies, and his militaristic stance against China when it came to Taiwan. Many men like my father — some of whom are former South Vietnamese veterans — supported these hawkish policies against China. And no one talks as tough on China as Trump (without delivering results). My uncle, who I call Bác Huy, believes that Trump will stand toe-to-toe with China. “I would say over 50 percent of my decision to vote for him is related to China,” he said over a phone call last week. “We like Trump because he connects with us over the issue of China.” While most American-born Asians have been horrified by Trump’s racist coronavirus rhetoric, some older Vietnamese Americans are enthused by it. Online, they parrot the phrase “Chinese virus” or “kung flu” uncritically, despite how Trump’s attitude seemingly foments anti-Asian sentiments. Many view the president as their only hope against China’s territorial encroachment toward Vietnam, in light of China’s crackdown in Hong Kong. It doesn’t matter that both Trump and Biden are similarly vulnerable when it comes to negotiating with China; Vietnamese supporters point to Trump’s tough talk and business acumen as evidence that he’s fit for the job. “There is a big myth that Trump is very anti-China and that he’s the only hope for Vietnam to have protection from China territorially,” said Anh Thu Bui, a member of the Progressive Vietnamese American Organization (PIVOT). “There’s a belief that Biden is soft on China by comparison, and that the Democratic Party is susceptible to communist ideas because of certain stances on socialized medicine.” It’s challenging to explain Vietnam’s geopolitical complexities, Bui added, even to second- and third-generation Vietnamese Americans. It’s a unique sort of identity politics, since “part of the Vietnamese identity is to be anti-China,” she told me. “China is an existential threat to the Vietnamese. It’s historical and woven into our culture after 1,000 years of Chinese domination. And the 1979 border conflict was not so long ago, when China tried to invade Vietnam.” The language barrier has made immigrants especially susceptible to misinformation or news that feeds into their confirmation bias. Meanwhile, the concept of news literacy is only vaguely understood. “Many heritage speakers get their news through radio, TV, or social media,” Vo, the UC Irvine professor, told me. “There’s a lot of potential for misinformation to occur in these ethnic enclaves, just like how it affects regular Americans.” On Facebook, it was surprisingly common for some Vietnamese users to echo talking points from Fox and Breitbart News: that the mainstream media perpetuates “fake news,” that the Democrats are weak or in cahoots with China, that American universities (with money from China) are brainwashing their children. In progressive online forums, young Vietnamese Americans have commiserated over their parents’ viewership of Fox News, conservative Vietnamese YouTube personalities, and biased Vietnamese-language news programs. While PIVOT and the news aggregator site the Interpreter (where I volunteer as a translator) have sought to provide factual and accurate information, it’s uncertain whether that can radically alter the community’s perception of Trump — or if they’re even capable of comprehending criticisms of the president. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Valerie Plesch (@valerieplesch) on Oct 25, 2020 at 6:59am PDT My uncle is a consistent listener of Rush Limbaugh and conservative AM talk radio, while my mother relies on Facebook and Vietnamese-language sites, like BBC Vietnam and Voice of America Tiếng Việt, to get her news. My mother believes that Trump is a patriot. She used the phrase “yêu nước” to describe the president, which translates to “love for country,” and said she worried over the Biden family’s business ties in China. (Biden has not earned any income from his son’s business ventures, which are not illegal, and Trump also has pursued business deals with China.) But when I asked my mom if she could tell me what Trump and the Republican Party stood for, she briefly hesitated, uncertain whether she and my father were registered Republicans or Democrats. Exasperated, I clarified for her that they always vote Republican. This scenario, Bui told me, is familiar among Vietnamese immigrants who struggle to grasp how politics is different in the US than it is back home. “I’ve heard stories from community organizers who help people register, who say they don’t know who the Republicans or Democrats are,” she said. “They’ve only heard of Trump and since they recognize his name, they want to sign up for his party. There aren’t any linguistic or cultural explanations for the two-party system.” There also might be some linguistic similarities between the Republic of Vietnam (Việt Nam Cộng Hòa, or South Vietnam) and the Republican Party, which translates to Đảng Cộng Hòa, Bui theorized. “They’ve only heard of Trump and since they recognize his name, they want to sign up for his party” I’ve always known that my parents were moderate conservatives who appear publicly apolitical to avoid conflict or, in their words, hard conversations. Many children, though, are actively feuding with their parents over the stakes of the 2020 election; some have tried to sway their parents toward the Democratic Party by delving into the platform, explaining how it benefits working-class voters. For others, it’s a breaking point in family relations, in light of the nationwide protests against racism and police brutality. I’ve heard anecdotally, online, and from my own family members that they are worried about “anarchy” and wish for “law and order” to be restored. Misinformation on social media fuels these fears, often playing into anti-Black tropes. Some children have moved out or stopped talking to their parents entirely. “My frustration toward the older generation of Vietnamese Americans being entitled, hypocritical, racist, homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic, and every other kind of bigotry under the sun, has more or less boiled over into nothing short of pure disdain,” one user wrote in the Facebook group Asian Americans with Republican Parents Support Group. “It’s gotten to the point where I flat out don’t care about what they think of me or say to me.” Comments responding to the post agreed, with another user writing, “I’ve given up trying to educate them on the matters. … They’re so far up Trump’s ass, it feels impossible to take them out.” A common joke among young Viet progressives is that you’re bound to be called a communist, or cộng sản, once you openly express any left-leaning political views. And yet, I find that there is something uniquely cruel about this political divide among a war-torn generation and their children, that beyond the language and cultural barriers that already alienate older Vietnamese Americans, there is now a stark political wedge rooted in hate, misunderstanding, and trauma. During a recent phone call, my mom said, unprompted, that people have the freedom to vote for whoever they want in America. I told her I agreed, and that I hoped whoever she supports preserves rather than encroaches upon our freedom. Perhaps that’s all we can do now. Agree to disagree, and hope it doesn’t tear us apart. Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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One of Barrett’s first cases asks if religion is a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people
President Donald Trump stands with newly sworn in US Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett during a ceremonial swearing-in event on the South Lawn of the White House on October 26, 2020, in Washington, DC. | Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images The Supreme Court’s new culture warrior will leap straight into the culture war. Just one day after the election, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that could hand religious conservatives total victory in a longstanding battle over whether the Constitution protects the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people on religious grounds. On Wednesday, the justices will hear a case brought by a government contractor that claims a constitutional right to discriminate — and to still receive a government contract while it refuses to provide government services to same-sex couples. Fulton v. City of Philadelphia was likely to end in victory for the religious right even before Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation gave conservatives a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court. With Barrett now on the Court, Fulton is overwhelmingly likely to end in a major defeat for LGBTQ equality. And the case also has implications that stretch far beyond anti-discrimination law. The Fulton plaintiffs attack two well-established constitutional doctrines. The first provides that laws that apply equally to religious and secular parties, without singling out people of faith for inferior treatment, are generally constitutional. The second provides that the government has wide-ranging authority to regulate its own contractors, and may place demands on such contractors that it might not be able to place on private businesses. Both of these doctrines could fall now that a 6-3 conservative Court has taken up Fulton. The government could lose much of its ability to control how its own services are provided One of the plaintiffs in Fulton is Catholic Social Services (CSS). Until recently, CSS was one of 30 different organizations that contracted with the city of Philadelphia to identify potential foster parents and to help the city place foster children in suitable homes. In 2018, however, a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer discovered that CSS discriminates against same-sex couples, in violation of its contract with the city forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. After an investigation, the city determined that CSS was, indeed, engaged in discrimination, and it did not renew its foster placement contract with CSS. (The city says in its brief that it wishes to renew its contract with CSS, which has otherwise “performed its contractual duties with distinction,” but will only do so if CSS agrees to be bound by the non-discrimination requirement.) CSS’s primary argument is that the Constitution’s safeguards protecting “free exercise” of religion entitles it to continue to contract with the city, even if it refuses to comply with one of the terms of that contract because it objects to that term on religious grounds. For this reason, Fulton is a significant escalation in the legal war over whether and when people of faith may violate laws that they object to for religious reasons. Other recent cases seeking religious exemptions from the law, such as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission(2018), involved private businesses that claimed a right to defy certain laws regulating their business. Fulton, by contrast, involves an organization that contracts with the government to provide governmental services to the public. Cases like Masterpiece Cakeshop, in other words,ask whether the government can regulate how private business owners conduct their own affairs. Fulton asks whether a private religious organization can dictate how the government conducts its business. In the past, the Supreme Court treated this distinction as significant. “There is a crucial difference, with respect to constitutional analysis,” the Court explained in Engquist v. Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (2008), “between the government exercising ‘the power to regulate or license, as lawmaker,’ and the government acting ‘as proprietor, to manage [its] internal operation.’” But it’s far from clear that the current Court will consider the distinction between purely private actors and government contractors to be dispositive — or even relevant. The Court is likely to support an unprecedented expansion of religious objectors’ rights to defy the law The rights of religious objectors have ebbed and flowed at various points since Sherbert v. Verner (1963), a seminal decision holding that the Constitution limits the government’s ability to enforce laws that impose a “substantial infringement” on someone’s religious beliefs. Understanding how the Court’s approach to religious liberty has changed over time is important to understanding the Fulton case — and to understanding why the Fulton plaintiffs’ position is a radical break with nearly all of the Court’s previous precedents interpreting the Constitution’s free exercise protections. A big reason why the Supreme Court’s religious liberty cases can be confusing is that the Court made an unfortunate choice of words in Sherbert. Sherbert held that the government typically cannot enforce a particular law against someone who objects to that law on religious grounds unless the government’s reasons for doing so are supported by a compelling state interest. These three words, compelling state interest, will leap out to any law student who has completed their first semester of constitutional law. When the Court uses the words “compelling interest,” it typically signals that the Constitution applies the highest possible safeguards against a particular kind of government action. Laws that discriminate on the basis of race, for example, must overcome a “compelling interest” test. Most laws that are subjected to such a test — lawyers refer to this rigorous level of constitutional analysis as “strict scrutiny” — are struck down. Yet, while the Court used three loaded words in Sherbert, the judiciary applied something much less rigorous than strict scrutiny in cases involving religious objectors. A 1992 study by James E. Ryan, now the president of the University of Virginia, found that federal courts of appeals heard 97 free exercise cases applying the “compelling interest” test between 1980 and 1990, and those courts rejected 85 of these cases. A similar study by UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, which looked at cases between 1990 and 2003, found that federal courts upheld 59 percent of “religious liberty burdens” during that period. By contrast, Winkler found that federal courts applying the compelling interest test upheld only 22 percent of free speech restrictions and 27 percent of laws that engaged in discrimination on disfavored grounds such as race. So, while the courts often used the rhetoric of strict scrutiny when confronted with religious objectors, they weren’t actually engaged in strict scrutiny. Claims by religious objectors typically failed during the periods studied by Ryan and Winkler. Indeed, while Sherbert technically remained good law for much of this time, the Supreme Court’s decisions often emphasized that courts should be reluctant to grant exemptions to business regulations or other laws that applied evenly to secular business and to people of faith. As the Court held in United States v. Lee (1982), “when followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.” Eight years after Lee, the Court seemed to abandon Sherbert altogether — and it did so in a majority opinion written by one of the conservative movement’s heroes. “To make an individual’s obligation to obey such a law contingent upon the law’s coincidence with his religious beliefs, except where the State’s interest is ‘compelling,’” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the Court in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), is “permitting him, by virtue of his beliefs, ‘to become a law unto himself.’” Such an outcome, according to Scalia, “contradicts both constitutional tradition and common sense.” Religious objectors must follow “neutral law[s] of general applicability,” Scalia wrote in Smith. So long as a law applied equally to religious and secular actors, religious objectors had to follow it. Smith announced a new rule — a rule that the Fulton plaintiffs explicitly ask the Supreme Court to abandon now. Smith triggered an immediate backlash from people across the political spectrum who believed that it did too much to limit religious liberties. Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) by an overwhelming margin, which sought to “restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert” and one other related case. Significantly, RFRA only applies to the federal government. States may still enforce their own laws against religious objectors so long as the state obeys the neutrality rules laid out in Smith. One more legal development is worth noting here. As Ryan’s and Winkler’s research demonstrates, “the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert” is far less strict than the rigid strict scrutiny test that the Court applies to laws that discriminate on the basis of race. Nevertheless, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby(2014), the Supreme Court reinterpreted RFRA to apply full-bore strict scrutiny when a religious objector claims an exemption to a federal law. To summarize this somewhat convoluted history: Current law provides that religious objectors to federal laws will frequently prevail. But religious objectors to state law will typically lose their case unless the objector can show that the state imposes restrictions on religious actors that it does not impose on secular actors. And that brings us back to Fulton. The Fulton plaintiffs offer several reasons why they think that Smith should not apply to their particular case, but they also make a big ask: The Court should “revisit Smith and apply strict scrutiny to government actions infringing on religious exercise.” The plaintiffs in Fulton, in other words, seek broad, unprecedented legal immunity from federal and state law. And they claim that this immunity is written into the Constitution itself. Not that long ago, the Supreme Court indicated that cases like Fulton were frivolous The idea that religious objectors should be free to violate anti-discrimination laws is not new. But the Supreme Court used to treat this idea very dismissively. Maurice Bessinger owned a South Carolina chain of restaurants known as Piggie Park that sold barbecue served with the mustard-based sauce peculiar to that state. He was also a virulent racist, who distributed literature to his customers claiming that African slaves “blessed the Lord for allowing them to be enslaved and sent to America.” When Congress banned whites-only restaurants in 1964, Bessinger claimed that this ban “contravenes the will of God,” and that the Piggie Park restaurants should be allowed to ignore this new law. But the Supreme Court rejected Bessinger’s religious liberty argument in the most dismissive way possible. In its unanimous decision in Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises (1968), the Court concluded that “this is not even a borderline case,” and that Bessinger’s claim that his religion empowers him to discriminate is “patently frivolous.” At least some members of the Court’s right flank appear to concede that religious objectors cannot engage in at least some forms of race discrimination. As Justice Samuel Alito wrote in Hobby Lobby, “the Government has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce without regard to race, and prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal.” But Fulton is likely to establish that religious objectors do have a constitutional right to discriminate against LGBTQ people. And future cases could potentiallypermit other forms of discrimination — such as if someone who claims that their religion requires them to discriminate against women seeks an exemption from anti-discrimination law. Unless Congress adds new seats to the Supreme Court, the Court’s new majority is likely to give religious conservatives unprecedented new rights — and to do so at the expense of many victims of discrimination. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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How do you put on a comedy show when laughter is a risk?
Valerio Rosati/EyeEm via Getty Images Florida theaters have been allowed to reopen, but the guidelines are a bit confusing. Here’s how SAK Comedy Lab handled it. It became clear, at the beginning of the pandemic, that the live-events industry was in a dangerous predicament. American legislators deemed grocery stores and pharmacies essential businesses, meaning they’ve remained open throughout even the most chaotic moments of 2020. Restaurants offered takeout and delivery to stymie the losses from the lack of dine-in service, and the retail sector perfected curbside pickup and mask mandates for indoor customers. But theaters, where hundreds of patrons squeeze together in darkness for a few hours, seemed elementally incongruent to all the preventative measures doled out by the CDC and NIH over the past seven months. Chris Dinger, a 34-year-old improv player and the managing director of SAK Comedy Lab in Orlando, Florida, says he’s still trying to figure out a path forward. Florida has been aggressive in its reopening strategy during the Covid-19 outbreak, which means SAK got the green light to open its doors in early June. Dinger returned to the stage with three other performers for an audience capped at 30 percent capacity, eager to riff his way through the most turbulent time of his life. The staff taped the halls with social distancing landmarks, rationed out hand sanitizer, and installed gauzy acrylic barriers in front of the box office, all so comedy could thrive again. Dinger’s cast was eager for the work — it’s hard to find these days — but unsurprisingly, a significant number of the SAK players opted out of the homecoming. No matter how many rules you enforce, it’s hard to feel completely safe indoors with a $20 ticket, laughing among strangers. Dinger started a donation drive for SAK at the beginning of the shutdown, and arranged a few Zoom-based shows for a handful of generous clients to keep some money flowing in. But the theater was still losing $40,000 a month during the stay-at-home order, which was and is a reality for countless venues around the country. The only reason SAK has survived thus far, says Dinger, is the nest egg he accumulated before the coronavirus struck. But the US needs to achieve some sense of normalcy if he wants to keep the lights on. We talked about what that means, as well as about the mixed messages Dinger received from Florida leadership and what it’s like to perform for a masked audience. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity. When did the coronavirus become a reality for you and your business? It was in the middle of March. We went from, the week prior, having record-breaking revenues to our Thursday show being 30 percent down. That was when we were like, “Oh, wow, I guess this really is having an impact.” And then our Friday show was half down, and our Saturday show was abysmal. This was when we were trying to figure everything out. There were a lot of questions about if we were going to continue to have shows, and then the stay-at-home orders showed up and answered that question for us. View this post on Instagram A post shared by SAK Comedy Lab (@sakcomedylab) on Jun 26, 2020 at 10:38am PDT Do you remember what the mood in the theater was like during those shows? My memory is telling me that it felt fairly normal except for the size of the crowds. The people that came were less risk-averse. For them, they were like, “Alright, let’s do this.” It was just the volume decrease that was the oddity. It’s a similar feeling to when a hurricane is coming, and the Saturday show is right on the border of people’s comfort zone. What did you have to do with your cast? Did you need to furlough them? How did you navigate that time? Our theater is unique in a way because we pay our players. That sounds funny, but a lot of clubs don’t pay their professionals. So a lot of ours are on 1099 contracts — they also work at Disney and Universal. They didn’t get furloughed; we just didn’t have any shows. Did you see a path forward in the spring to get your business back on track? Around that time, it seemed impossible that live-performance venues would be opened back up anytime soon. We were limited by what the state would allow us to do. Our approach was, “We’re going to operate more conservatively than the reopening protocols.” Theater is a lot more discretionary than food and other industries, so we stayed closed longer than we needed to. When we reopened, we allowed in a lot less people than the state or county prescribed. We’re still at a third when they told us we could have 50 percent capacity. We erred on the side of safety and caution and saw how our audience responded to that. We didn’t want to be seen as an extreme case. We were prepared to shut down if it became clear that hospitals were being overrun. Fortunately, so far, the measures we’ve taken seem to be sufficient. When the theater was shut down, did you explore any other ways to generate some revenue for the company? We were pretty much in the red the entire time. We added a donate button to our homepage, as well as a gift certificate. I knew it wouldn’t be much, but it was something. We collected $8,000 total that way. But our losses are about $40,000 a month, so $8,000 over the course of three months was nothing. It was humbling. We’ll take it, but there wasn’t much we could do. We did sell one or two private events [over Zoom] during the shutdown. So we came up with an online format and did that. But it was clear that if we were going to survive as a business, things needed to return back to some sort of normalcy. Courtesy of SAK Comedy Lab A post-coronavirus show at the SAK Comedy Lab in Orlando, Florida. Are you guys out of the woods yet on your financial situation? We were lucky. In the years leading up to Covid, I was concerned about our lease downtown. If we got kicked out, we’d be caught flat-footed unless we had a good sum of money to move venues and build out a new theater. So I was collecting a fund for that purpose in case we couldn’t come to an agreement with our landlord. But what happened is we extended our lease five years and have a great relationship with our landlord now. With that threat off the table, we’re sitting with a nice pile of reserves. We entered the pandemic on financially solid ground. It gave us a longer runway to wait this thing out. But we need to grow our revenues to slow the bleeding. At some point, we need to be breaking even again. There’s not much more we can cut. We’ve slimmed down as much as we can. Do you feel like you’ve been given clear instructions from the state on how to operate during this pandemic? It wasn’t perfectly clear. Part of that is understandable. It’s hard to make a set of guidelines that work for everyone. There wasn’t a lot of guidance on theaters specifically. There were plenty of rules for bars and restaurants, but we’re a different animal. So we looked to the big movie theaters for directions, and tried to read all the executive orders as best to our ability. We had an employee come in and ask if, when they’re working alone, they’re allowed to take their mask off while they’re at their desk. We didn’t know, so we called the Department of Health and we got a really cloudy response. “I guess it’s okay, unless someone else comes in.” There’s been a lot of that. So we just have to read everything and take our best swing at it. What were some of the cleaning protocols you instituted upon reopening? It was a lot of the obvious stuff. We put up acrylic barriers at our box office. We created one-way pathways in our halls. We have hand sanitizer everywhere, and social distancing markers. Before our auditorium opens, there’s a line outside the theater. So we decided to open our doors earlier to cut down on that. It’s been about mitigating the traffic flow. At the very beginning of reopening we didn’t have a mask mandate, but within a week that changed and we instituted that for all of our guests. We also went from six players on stage to four. Has the tone of your improv shows changed at all during the coronavirus era? It’s on a curve. It was a lot more early on where it was on the top of everyone’s mind. We referenced it a bit more back then. But now we might reference it at the top of the show, like when we’re asking for a topic, we might say, “What’s something that’s really disturbing and frightening, other than Covid?” It just becomes part of the new normal. As someone who’s on the stage and pioneering the reemergence of our shows, it was interesting that first night back in late June. We had a small audience, 30 people in an auditorium that seats 250. They were all spaced out and wearing masks. At first it was odd, but when the lights turned on, there was a palatable feeling of excitement and relief in the crowd. Just a taste of normalcy again, that people were happy to be back out after several months of being indoors. It felt surprisingly like our shows prior to the shutdown, just with a crowd full of muffled laughter. Help keep Vox free for all Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. 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The 3 biggest governor races to watch in 2020
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) greets supporters during a campaign rally at a gun store in Lees Summit, Montana, on October 25. | Charlie Riedel/AP Eyes will be on Montana, Missouri, and North Carolina. As much change as the 2020 election might bring on a national level, it’s unlikely to shake up many states’ leadership: Of the 11 states with governor races in 2020, nine have incumbents running for reelection, many of whom are expected to coast to victory. That makes Montana, where current Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is leaving the seat open to run for US Senate, one of the cycle’s most interesting gubernatorial races — and the only one that 270towin.com rates as a true toss-up. Bullock’s lieutenant, Mike Cooney, is running against the current US House member in Montana’s at-large congressional district, Republican Greg Gianforte. The race is interesting on its own merits. The two men represent sharply different political styles: Cooney is a longtime state official who embraces retail politics and classic Montanan issues; Gianforte, a conservative who’s aligned himself with President Donald Trump, is perhaps best remembered for the night in 2017 before he won his special election, when he body-slammed a reporter from the Guardian and was charged with misdemeanor assault. Montana, however, isn’t the only race worth keeping an eye on. North Carolina is one of three states where the governor and lieutenant governor belong to different parties. The race there is between Democratic incumbent Roy Cooper and his Republican lieutenant Dan Forest. Most polls show Cooper in the lead, but an upset is certainly possible, especially if Trump and Republican Sen. Thom Tillis perform well. Missouri, meanwhile, is sort of the opposite of North Carolina: There’s a Republican incumbent — one of six running for reelection in 2020 — but unlike many of his peers, Mike Parson is in for a tougher-than-expected fight. Parson took office in 2018 after Eric Greitens resigned, so this is his first true election. His opponent, Nicole Galloway, is the state auditor, the only woman and the only Democrat currently holding statewide office in Missouri. Trump is expected to carry Missouri comfortably, but Parson might not have the same luck, due in large part to his botched response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Eight other states have gubernatorial elections this year, but few hold surprises. Republicans hold a 26-24 edge in control of governors’ mansions around the country, and many of their six incumbents up for reelection this year are expected to win. Hillary Clinton won Vermont by 27 points in 2016, but Republican incumbent Gov. Phil Scott is a heavy favorite. A similar situation is playing out in New Hampshire, where Republican Chris Sununu is comfortably leading in the polls. Republicans are expected to easily hold seats in Utah, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Indiana; Democratic incumbents in Washington and Delaware are also safe. Here are the governor races to watch. Missouri: Mike Parson (R) vs. Nicole Galloway (D) A lot of money has gone into this race — the Republican Governors Association, seeing Missouri as a must-hold, has given $11 million to a pro-Parson PAC, while the Democratic Governors Association has spent $4.35 million on the race, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Parson is leading in the polls, but by a significantly narrower margin than the nearly 19-point margin Trump carried the state in 2016. Galloway, the state auditor, has run an inspired campaign — Christina Amestoy, a spokesperson for the DGA, told The 19th* that “you could write down a dream candidate on paper, and Nicole Galloway would still be better.” Parson was among the last governors to institute a lockdown in the spring due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and among the first to reopen. Missouri never had a mask mandate, and Parson and his wife tested positive for Covid-19 in September. His campaign did not respond to a request for comment. Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP Gov. Mike Parson walks past State Auditor Nicole Galloway before the Missouri gubernatorial debate in Columbia on October 9. “The governor has taken a very hands-off approach to dealing with this pandemic,” a spokesperson for Galloway’s campaign told Vox. “Most governors have looked at this crisis and taken action and put in place a mask mandate, and used their bully pulpit to lead. Parson has been very reluctant to do that.” Missouri’s Covid-19 situation has worsened significantly since the summer. On July 1, the state saw 320 new cases, but by July 31, that number skyrocketed to 1,403. Despite occasional periods of improvement, the situation has only deteriorated: As Vox’s Dylan Scott wrote earlier this week, “hospitals in Kansas City, Missouri, are reportedly turning away ambulances because they don’t have any beds available.” Galloway has outlined a detailed plan for combating Covid-19 — she would implement a statewide mask mandate, cooperate with other states to purchase rapid testing supplies, use a data-driven approach to reopening schools, and form an emergency medical task force. Montana: Mike Cooney (D) vs. Greg Gianforte (R) At the presidential level, Montana consistently votes Republican. But down-ballot races can be more competitive; Sara Rinfret, a Montana pollster and a professor at the University of Montana, told Vox the state is strongly independent. “I often categorize Montana as purple,” Rinfret said. “We don’t register for party in this state, so during the primary, you get both ballots and you pick which one you want to vote for. People vote depending on what’s going on at the time.” Louise Johns for The Washington Post via Getty Images Montana’s lieutenant governor and Democratic candidate for governor Mike Cooney gives a speech at a drive-in rally in Livingston, Montana, on October 3. Matthew Brown/AP Sen. Steve Daines (R) left, and Rep. Greg Gianforte visit a FLIR Systems company site in Bozeman, Montana, on September 2. Case in point: Montana has had a Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, for the past eight years, and a Democratic US senator, Jon Tester, since 2007. Bullock is now running for the other US Senate seat, against incumbent Republican Steve Daines, leaving an opening in the governor’s mansion. According to Rinfret, Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and US Rep. Greg Gianforte are in a dead heat. Gianforte was elected to Congress in a 2017 special election — the night after he body-slammed a reporter. Trump praised him for doing so, saying at a 2018 rally in Montana that “any guy who can do a body slam, he is my type!” Cooney, a fourth-generation Montanan whose children all live in the state, has worked to paint Gianforte, a multimillionaire who was born in San Diego and lived for several years in New Jersey, as not sufficiently Montanan. The Gianforte campaign could not be reached for comment. As Kathleen McLaughlin wrote for the Washington Post, the race could have big implications for a state where “political attitudes often vary starkly by location”: Democrats have occupied the governor’s office for the past 16 years, yet with a Republican-controlled legislature likely to hold, a Republican governor could undo more moderate policies on health care, public schools funding and labor protections. North Carolina: Roy Cooper (D) vs. Dan Forest (R) The presidential and Senate races in North Carolina are both expected to be tight, and the governor’s race, where incumbent Democrat Roy Cooper is fighting off a challenge from his own second-in-command, should be close, too. Director of Emerson polling Spencer Kimball said their most recent survey of the state shows Cooper leading Dan Forest by 4 points, down from eight in a previous poll. Cooper received positive reviews for his response to Covid-19. He closed restaurants and bars on March 17 and has generally provided solid leadership. Forest, meanwhile, has been holding in-person events for much of the year, many of them indoors with few masks and little or no social distancing. Gerry Broome/AP North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, left, and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest participate in a debate on October 14. “There’s well over 50 [campaign] events at this point,” a spokesperson for Cooper’s campaign told Vox. “Just a total lack of regard for any safety measures at all, and it’s been really sort of reckless and crazy to see. That is totally his campaign strategy — pretend like the pandemic doesn’t exist.” Forest’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but he has said he will prioritize getting North Carolinians back to work, reopening schools, and supporting law enforcement. North Carolina has a divided government, with Republicans in control of both houses of the state legislature. Both US senators are also Republicans, as are nine of 13 US House members (one district is currently vacant). President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have both campaigned extensively in North Carolina, and with an important Senate race between incumbent Republican Sen. Thom Tillis and Democrat Cal Cunningham, voter turnout is expected to be high, which could help Cooper maintain his post. Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.
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If Biden wins, here’s how he could undo Trump’s deregulation agenda
Janeen Jones for Vox Biden could use Trump’s playbook to reverse his regulatory moves on pollution, worker safety, health care, and more. Cutting workplace safety inspections. Allowing subpar health insurance plans to be sold to Americans. Permitting tractor-trailer drivers to blow past previous driver-fatigue limits. Waging war on birth control. These deregulatory actions and others taken by President Donald Trump’s administration have adversely impacted the health and safety of Americans, according to System Failure, an investigative series produced by the Center for Public Integrity and Vox. But Trump’s actions may not stick. If former Vice President Joe Biden wins the November 3 election, he’ll have a few tools at his disposal to undo some of Trump’s regulatory maneuvers. And if Democrats take control of both houses of Congress, they’ll be able to quickly wipe out regulations pushed through in the last 60 legislative days of Trump’s term, thanks to the Congressional Review Act, part of the Contract With America that Newt Gingrich and House Republicans campaigned on in 1994. Alex Wong/Getty Images Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks outside during a campaign stop on September 30, 2020, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. It won’t be clear until mid-January when the 60-day period began — because it all depends on how many days Congress meets between now and January 3, when its current term ends — but experts predict it started sometime during the summer. Since July 1, for example, a Public Integrity analysis shows more than 1,000 regulatory changes have been published in the Federal Register, though only about 100 of them have risen to the level of being reviewed by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is charged with sifting out “significant” regulations. The changes that could be subject to the Congressional Review Act include one that weakens methane emissions standards and one that opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Trump and Republicans in Congress actually set in motion a number of rollbacks themselves when they took office, said Bethany Davis Noll, litigation director for the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law. The Trump administration, more than any other in the US history, aggressively pursued the rollback of federal regulations, particularly the ones put in place by President Barack Obama — including a rule meant to prevent people with mental health issues from buying guns and a regulation aimed at keeping coal companies from dumping mining waste into streams. Republicans used the Congressional Review Act to undo at least 14 of the Obama administration’s rules. Before Trump took office, the law had only been used once. Biden has already said that if he wins, he plans to roll back more than 100 Trump administration public health and environmental regulations, including his reversal of protections for transgender people. We asked Davis Noll to explain how Biden will execute these rollbacks if he takes the election. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Sarah Kleiner Our reporting with Vox showed that the Trump administration made a number of regulatory maneuvers that had an adverse effect on the health and safety of Americans. If Biden is elected, what options will his administration have if he wants to undo some of what Trump has done? Davis Noll There’s a slew of options, starting with issuing quick rollbacks of the rollbacks. And the reason I say it’s an option to issue them quickly is because there was, often with these rules, a very robust record in place for the Obama-era rule — and then the Trump administration rolled it back with some cursory explanation. The Biden administration can then pull that record up from the previous Obama administration rule and update it. And it should be pretty simple to say, “This record still works. You know, there hasn’t been that much time that has passed, and this rule that was vastly beneficial to the American people is still a good idea.” So that’s one thing. Alex Wong/Getty Images President Barack Obama (left) walks with Vice President Joe Biden after giving a statement on the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold subsidies in the Affordable Care Act on June 25, 2015. In court, there’s a whole bunch of cases pending on Trump-era rules, and I would imagine that, in many of those cases, the Department of Justice will ask for a pause on litigation. Because the new agency isn’t going to want to defend the Trump-era rule. They’re going to want to figure things out and work on these rollbacks. And so we won’t see decisions out of court affirming Trump-era rules. And then we’ll see if the Congressional Review Act is an option too. Congress has to be aligned with the president, so both House and Senate have to have Democratic majorities. Sarah Kleiner In March 2019, your report “Regulation in Transition” outlined some of the aggressive tools Trump had used to roll back Obama-era regulations. You found that, through some strategies that other presidents had not used in the past, “the Trump administration was able to reach a far greater proportion of regulations finalized during Obama’s presidency than would have been possible under prior practices.” What did you find in your research, and how does it affect the average American? Davis Noll What Ricky Revesz and I found in this paper is that the Trump administration has used these rollback strategies just to a much greater extent than ever previously used — more than any administration had previously used them. And that means two things. One, it means now there’s this road map that the next administration is going to be expected to at least think about following. Because usually when you’ve got this tit-for-tat strategy going on between the two parties, it continues — and it accelerates, if anything. So it means that the new administration is under a lot of pressure to issue rules as quickly as possible. The other thing that it does is it kind of puts us in this flip-flop world. It’s this era of partisan back-and-forth that is just very volatile. It means you can’t, as an agency, issue rules that will be long-lasting without this speedy work. So what it does to the regulated industry is it creates a volatile atmosphere, and I think most people would agree that it’s better for our industry to not have that. Because we want our business leaders to be thinking about innovation and investment instead of things like, “What’s the regulation going to look like tomorrow?” Sarah Kleiner To be clear, these are actions taken in the executive branch, without Congress weighing in, correct? Davis Noll Yeah, we’re talking about agency regulations. And another thing that has happened in the last 20 to 30 years is presidents have more and more turned to their agencies to make policy, because we can’t get much out of Congress these days. There’s just massive gridlock there. It’s been there for a while, and it seems like it’s continuing. There was this really great article written by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, when she was a law professor, called “Presidential Administration,” back in 2001. It was about the Clinton administration. And she said the Clinton administration had basically turned to its agencies to make policy because of congressional gridlock. And she predicted that presidents would do that more and more. And we’ve definitely seen that. They said that about Obama, that he did this more than any prior president. And now with Trump, they’re saying he’s gone to his agencies even more than any prior president to make policy, because he can’t get anything out of Congress. Like with the Affordable Care Act repeal that he wanted — that didn’t happen. And so he’s just chipping away at the Affordable Care Act through rulemaking. Sarah Kleiner That’s a lot of power concentrated in one branch of government. So Trump found a new, more aggressive way of rolling back his predecessor’s regulations. Did he set a precedent that he’s going to regret if Biden wins? Davis Noll Yeah, I mean, he used the Congressional Review Act — the administration, plus Congress — used the Congressional Review Act to roll back a bunch of rules that were issued at the end of the Obama term. Even though we don’t know what’s going to happen with the election, that’s already had a huge impact on the end of the Trump administration. At the end of the first term, for example, the vehicle emissions rule that was finalized in April of this year was, by some accounts, rushed out because they were afraid of the Congressional Review Act. “The whole country is worried about the pandemic, and these agencies are issuing rules that roll back vehicle emissions regulations” Sarah Kleiner Our June analysis found that, since Trump declared the coronavirus a national emergency in March, the White House signed off on or was reviewing more than 250 temporary or permanent regulatory actions. How does this compare to past administrations? Davis Noll It’s pretty typical that administrations issue a lot of rules in the final days. That happens a lot. I have definitely not done an empirical study on how close the Trump administration is to prior administrations, but it’s not a new thing. Maybe it’s new that it’s happening in the middle of a pandemic. Win McNamee/Getty Images President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House on March 31, 2020, in Washington, DC. It’s definitely something to behold when the whole country is worried about the pandemic, and these agencies are issuing rules that roll back vehicle emissions regulations. The priorities don’t seem like they’re in the right place. Sarah Kleiner Do you think they’re trying to take advantage of the fact that people are preoccupied by the pandemic? Davis Noll I guess I can’t really say what the intent is. But I also think they would have issued these rollbacks anyway. I’m sure the pandemic didn’t change that. It’s just something else, especially when it’s a respiratory illness that’s affecting the country, to have agencies issuing rules that roll back emissions cuts that would have helped, that would have cleaned up the air. It just makes it more striking how these agencies are acting far outside the scope of what Congress envisioned. Sarah Kleiner You study litigation and keep track of Trump’s regulatory win-loss rate and what role courts play in the regulation landscape. What have you found so far about the Trump administration? Davis Noll What I’ve been tracking is court decisions on agency actions to either roll back regulations or make policy for the president. Like I was saying before, presidents use their agencies to make policy. One of the best ways to see if it’s working is: What’s the success rate in court? The overall success rate right now is 15.6 percent. And it stands in stark contrast to prior administrations. Prior scholars have looked at prior administrations and just consistently, across the board, have found that agencies win 70 percent of the time, more or less. And so to see a win rate now of 15.6 percent, it’s very surprising. It’s very, very shocking. Also, you can sort on my tracker for deregulation, and the win rate for deregulatory cases is 13.8 percent. So it’s a little lower. So the agencies are not doing very well in court. Sarah Kleiner Why do you think that is? Davis Noll There’s two big issues that consistently have come up. One is agencies are acting outside their statutory authority. And two is they are not providing the required explanation for what they’re doing. There’s this standard that requires agencies to provide a reasoned explanation for their decision, and in many cases, the agencies are doing something that’s actually harmful. With the vehicle emissions rollback, the baseline was a rule that was going to improve fuel economy over time and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars. And so if you roll that back, what you’re doing is you’re increasing greenhouse gas emissions from cars and reducing fuel economy. So that’s a harmful thing. And it’s not that easy to give an explanation for that. That case is pending. But there are a whole bunch of other cases that have already been decided that are like that, where the agency is doing something that’s actually harmful, and they haven’t been succeeding in court, when they try to explain why they did what they did. Sarah Kleiner What else should we keep an eye on if Biden wins? Davis Noll You’ll see agencies getting back to doing their job, like looking at their statutes, which often say something like “reduce emissions,” in the case of the Environmental Protection Agency, or “regulate this thing that is harmful to the public.” And you’ll see agencies getting back to doing the business of the agencies. That’s what we’ve been missing. I think the data shows that that’s what we haven’t been seeing these last four years. We haven’t been seeing agencies interested in implementing the statutes as Congress wrote them. They’re trying to implement President Trump’s policies, and often those policies are not what Congress intended. If we’re asking about what we imagine we could see out of a new administration, I predict agencies will go back to doing their jobs. I don’t think that’s like a tit-for-tat thing. I think those bounds are still there, those guardrails. Their importance has been reaffirmed in the last few years and I don’t think the Trump administration has been successful at kicking them down. So I don’t imagine that the next administration would want to act outside those bounds. Alex Wong/Getty Images Democratic members of US Senate Judiciary Committee walk down the east front steps of the US Capitol for a news conference on October 22, 2020, in Washington, DC.
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9 questions about 2020’s record-breaking early vote, answered
Election officials assist a voter in Washington, DC, on October 27. Early voting turnout has surpassed the total early vote in 2016. | Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images How many people have already voted? And what does that tell us about the election? More than 80 million Americans have voted so far in 2020, a turnout so enormous that by the time you read this, the figure might already be out of date. The early vote in 2020has already far surpassed the total early vote in 2016. The early vote surge indicates turnout in 2020 could be the highest in a century, at around 65 percent of the voting-eligible population, or about 150 million voters. And 2016 wasn’t exactly shabby in turnout: About 60 percent of those eligible voted. “We’re seeing a very energized, interested electorate, and we’re seeing a public, I think, that is responding to a message that you need to cast that ballot early this year,” Paul Gronke, a professor of political science at Reed College who runs the Early Voter Information Center, said. Enthusiasm among both Democratic and Republican voters is high. President Donald Trump is the reason: His supporters are extremely motivated to reelect their guy, and the other side is extremely motivated to elect him out. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images A voter casts a ballot in Washington, DC, on October 27. Voters also absorbed the “vote early” directive, likely motivated by safety concerns about voting during the coronavirus pandemic, and by rhetoric around the integrity of the election system, from the Trumpian attacks on mail-in voting to Democratic concerns about a dysfunctional Postal Service. But rather than deterring people from voting, it may be driving them to the polls right now. “People are responding — thankfully, not by not casting a ballot, but by casting an early ballot,” Gronke added. Beyond turnout, the early vote data offers only partial and incomplete clues about the electorate in 2020. It hints at who’s voting, and how, and where they are on the electoral map. But what it absolutely can’t do is forecast the thing that many are fretting about: who is actually going to win. That will have to wait until at least Election Day, and very likely many days after. But in the meantime, Vox is here to answer all the questions you have about the early vote: what it looks like, what it means, and whether this election year might radically change how America votes, for good. 1) What does early voting look like in 2020? Due to a combination of the coronavirus pandemic and increased enthusiasm, early voting and mail-in voting are more popular than ever. Last week, with 11 days left to go before the election, the number of early votes officially surpassed 2016’s early vote numbers. Now,less than a week before Election Day, more than 80 million people have cast early votes — more than half the entire 2016 turnout. All states offered early voting or mail-in options, though the specific rules and deadlines vary by state. Nine states — California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington — along with Washington, DC, mailed ballots to all eligible voters. Some others — Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas — required specific reasons to get a mail-in ballot. In some states, their early vote numbers are nearing their total 2016 turnout numbers, including Texas (94 percent of 2016 turnout), Montana (86 percent) and North Carolina (81 percent), suggesting total voter turnout might end up being higher than in 2016. 2) How many people are voting by mail versus in person? The majority of early votes are coming in the form of mail-in ballots, which make up two-thirds of the 80 million early votes, according to data from the US Elections Project, run by the University of Florida’s Michael McDonald. Trump has sought to discredit this type of voting through a disinformation campaign, but mail-in voter fraud is extremely rare. The mail-in option has also been beset by US Postal Service delays. If you have a mail-in ballot that you haven’t turned in yet, don’t mail it. Instead you should now drop it off at an election drop box or vote in person in order to guarantee your vote is counted. People have also been turning out to a lesser extent to vote in person ahead of the election, with 28 million doing so thus far. High turnout for early voting can be seen in long lines across the country. 3) Who, exactly, is voting early? According to the US Elections Project, of the 20 states that report party registration, Democrats have turned out early to vote at nearly twice the rate of Republicans. However, that data is likely skewed by the inclusion of California (a highly populous and Democratic state) and the unavailability of data from Texas (also highly populous and more Republican). TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm that uses voter file data in addition to consumer data to model early voter demographics in states where that information is unavailable, shows that Democrats have nearly a 10-percentage-point lead over Republicans. Of course, partisan affiliation, while indicative of how a person might vote, doesn’t guarantee a person will vote for their party’s candidates. What’s perhaps most notable is the early turnout numbers among people who didn’t vote at all in 2016. “Over 16 million people voted already who didn’t vote in 2016,” TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier told Vox earlier this week. “Those are the people who have the ability to change the composition of the electorate relative to 2016.” Only a quarter of these new voters are under 30, suggesting these aren’t just people who are newly of voting age. Those new voters, he said, are also more likely to be Democrats and more likely to be Asian or Hispanic than the electorate at large. This group also includes seniors over 65, who may have sat out in 2016. Some of these voters returned in the 2018 midterms, part of the reason for the “blue wave” back then, Bonier said, but they’re returning again in 2020. Younger voters are also turning out, and so far it’s an “astronomical” difference compared to 2016, according to Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher at the Center for Information Research & Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). In Texas, for example, more than 750,000 voters aged 18 to 29 voted early in this election, as of last week, compared to just a little more than 100,000 who voted early in 2016. 4) What kind of problems are we seeing with early voting? The biggest headlines from the early vote are about long lines, long lines, long lines. Long lines are sometimes celebrated as a sign of high voter enthusiasm. Pandemic safety protocols, a reduced number of polling sites, and poll worker shortages in some places also slow down the process. Sometimes technical glitches at voting sites cause delays, which ripple throughout the day. And observers often point to the hours-long wait times that many voters face as part of a pattern of voter suppression. Voters in many of America’s peer democracies don’t spend hours standing in line to cast their ballots, and US voting advocates believe reforms such as expanding early voting and standardizing some voting procedures and resources could ease wait times. That would also cut down on more nefarious suppression tactics, such as reducing the number of polling stations in minority neighborhoods. In 2020, experts see a combination of the problems that have long plagued US voting, along with the unpredictable realities of this strange year of voting in a pandemic. Mark Makela/Getty Images Voters queue outside of Philadelphia City Hall to cast their early voting ballots October 27. Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images Megan Dominy, with her daughters, offers water and snacks to people waiting in line to cast their ballots in Smyrna, Georgia, on October 24. Typically, states open many more polling sites on Election Day, compared to the early voting period. Election officials have to do their best to anticipate how many people are going to vote, and when, but that’s always an imperfect exercise. And especially in places that are just trying out early voting for the first time, or are offering expanded vote-by-mail options, it can be hard to precisely predict turnout and rush times. Ivelisse Cuevas-Molina, an assistant professor of political science at Fordham University, pointed out that in New York, the lines are long, but the state is also deploying early voting for the first time in a presidential election. Some growing pains are to be expected as the state adjusts to a new system. “But in places like Georgia, where they’ve had early voting for a while now, we should be seeing more efficiency,” she said. “And when you don’t see efficiency in places like Georgia, with early voting, you can make the conclusion that there is voter suppression happening in a place that is supposed to be experienced.” Technical glitches also happen, as they did in Fulton County, Georgia, which caused delays as officials had to reboot the software. Officials in Fort Bend County, Texas, had to extend polling hours at the start of early voting because of a technical error. Issues like these do crop up in places, and add to wait times — although, that’s one major benefit of early voting. It’s usually not someone’s last chance to vote. Finally, some voting advocates have expressed concerns about voter intimidation, fueled by some of Trump’s rhetoric around voter fraud and his encouragement to supporters to “watch the polls.” In Pinellas County, Florida, law enforcement officials posted sheriff’s deputies at polling sites after two armed security guards claiming to represent the Trump campaign came to a voting location. (The Trump campaign denied any affiliation in a statement to reporters.) In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign video recorded voters dropping off ballots in drop boxes, which could potentially constitute illegal voter intimidation. So there have been a few troubling examples of possible voter intimidation, but, so far, no large-scale threats to voters. Voter intimidation is always illegal, and voting advocates say voters should report any possible violations. The Election Protection hotline is one helpful resource. 5) How about problems with voting by mail? Mail-in voting is a bit more complicated to track, because only some states, like Florida, have started processing mail-in ballots. Plenty of other states, including the swing states Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, can’t begin to even process or count ballots until Election Day. The biggest concern around mail-in ballots is the rejection rate — that is, the number of ballots that are tossed out (for whatever reason) as a percentage of the total number submitted. Mail-in ballots typically have a higher rate of rejection than ballots cast in polling places. This isn’t because of voter fraud, but because humans are, well, human, and make mistakes. Mail-in ballots can get rejected in some states if a voter’s ballot signature doesn’t match the one in their voter registration file. Sometimes voters forget to sign at all, or use the wrong color ink. And many ballots are disqualified because they arrive too late to be counted. In 2016, slightly less than 1 percent of the 33.4 million mail-in ballots submitted were rejected. But the number of people voting by mail this year is much higher — more than 51 million people have turned in mail ballots in 2020 — and that likely includes many voters who’ve never cast ballots by mail before. “There is a definite concern this year that there will be higher ballot rejection rates as new people are voting by mail and mistakes are made,” Gronke said. If the race is super close in certain swing states, that rejection rate could be the difference between who wins and who loses. Trump, remember, won by fewer than 80,000 votes in three states in 2016. Gabriel R. Sanchez, a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico and principal at Latino Decisions, said that based on the data he’s seen, Latinos, African Americans, and younger voters are among those whose mail ballots are more likely to have problems that get them tossed. “That’s something obviously that concerns a lot of folk,” he said. “Regardless of the horse-race element, just in terms of those segments of the electorate feeling like they have their vote counted.” Still, rhetoric on “making your vote count” has likely helped to motivate voters to make sure their ballots are accepted. Election officials and voting advocacy groups have emphasized that voters need to carefully fill out ballots, and many states allow voters to track their ballots to make sure they’re received, processed, and accepted. “Cure” processes have also been set up in most places so voters can remedy discrepancies or errors that might have led to their ballots being rejected. Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images Election workers examine mail-in ballots for irregularities at the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorders’ mail-in ballot processing center in Pomona, California. Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images Los Angeles County Officials relocated mail-in ballot processing to an expansive location due to the need for COVID-19 social distancing for the ballot workers and the large number of mail-in ballots. Still, experts point out that these procedures are far from perfect, and some are still being litigated. For example, election officials might not have a voter’s current phone number or email address to swiftly contact them if their ballot is rejected. Sanchez said his data shows that some Latino voters, for instance, have had to change addresses because of Covid-19 financial hardships, which means they may never get a notice that there’s a problem with their ballot should one occur. And while ballots can be “cured” for signature problems or other errors, there’s nothing voters can do if their ballots arrive at election offices past the deadline. (Which is why, if you still plan to vote by mail, you need to drop your ballot off.) Bonier, of TargetSmart, said that, so far, there isn’t any evidence of disproportionate numbers of mail-in ballots being rejected this year. “But the absence of evidence doesn’t equal the absence of that phenomenon,” he said. “The hope is that those numbers will be reasonably low,” he added. “But, unfortunately, I think in a lot of these places, we just won’t know, until we get there.” 6) What does this mean for overall 2020 turnout? The early voting turnout in 2020 is unprecedented. In 2016, about 41 percent of voters cast ballots before Election Day, which breaks down to about 24 percent by mail and 17 percent who voted early in person, according to the US Election Assistance Commission. So far, in 2020, voters have cast more than half of the total numberofvotesin 2016, and early voting extends through the weekend in many places — so expect millions more people to vote early this year than did in 2016. Plus, around a third of voters are still expected to vote on Election Day, according to the Democracy Fund. “It is, of course, enormous, and of a scale that we haven’t seen,” said John Fortier, the director of governmental studies at the Bipartisan Policy Center and author of Absentee and Early Voting: Trends, Promises and Perils. “And usually, I do caution people, we shouldn’t read the tea leaves about early voting too much. Because, of course, you could see many people showing up early, and then the other people don’t show up later — and then we don’t have higher turnout.” Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images An election official assists a voter in Washington, DC. “But I mean, the enthusiasm here, and the amount that we’re seeing, is just off the charts,” he added. Fortier also pointed out that sometimes, the novelty of the new method of voting — whether early, or by mail — can sometimes generate interest and enthusiasm, so “there is a crush at the very beginning of that period” that might taper off, before picking up again on Election Day. Of course, this year is also different because of the coronavirus. “People are obviously getting the message — I think a good message — that there’s some incentive to get your ballot in early,” Fortier said. “Also, we tend to think of very early voters as being the most committed to candidate or party.” But even with all of that, forecasters still think the United States could hit 65 percent turnout — which, while still leaving out many voters, could be the highest in a century. Turnout was about 60 percent in 2016, at about 137 million people. The website FiveThirtyEight is predicting turnout of about 154 million people, based on polls of voter enthusiasm and other data. It could still be a record, and anything in the high 60s, or close to 70 percent turnout, Fortier said, “would be just extraordinary.” 7) What does this mean for the outcome of the election? Not much! Sorry to disappoint those of you who really want to read the tea leaves, but the reality is that the early voting data just isn’t useful for predicting the outcome of the election. Yes, Democrats have an edge in early voting overall. Registered Democrats voted early at a higher rate than Republicans, but that number is narrowing. Democrats are voting in much greater numbers by mail, which is a big reason why they have such a big advantage in the early vote count. This was expected, especially as President Donald Trump’s false but nonetheless repeated claims about voter fraud filtered down to his supporters. So Republicans are showing up for early in-person voting, and even more are expected to turn out on Election Day. Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images A voter show his support for President Trump in Old Forge, Pennsylvania. Pablo Monsalve/VIEWpress via Getty Images A voter shows her support for Joe Biden in Brooklyn, New York. “I think we can safely say at this point that, yes, Republicans are just more likely to vote in person, whether it’s early in-person or on Election Day,” TargetSmart’s Bonier said. “But then, the remaining question is: Will enough of them do so in order to offset the Democratic advantage that’s been built in mail balloting, which in some of these states is hundreds of thousands of votes?” Nationally, maybe not — especially with populous blue states like California in the mix. But that doesn’t really matter because the popular vote isn’t how America elects presidents. And in places like Florida, Republicans are chipping away at the Democrats’ early vote lead. Again, party registration itself is an imperfect metric, because it doesn’t predictwith certainty whether someone will vote for Biden or Trump. And not all voters affiliate themselves with a political party; unaffiliated voters cast about a quarter of all early votes in states where that data is available. So do yourself a favor, and don’t try to make any predictions about the outcome of this election based on early voting trends, because it will enormously stressful, and still totally fruitless. 8) Ugh, okay, fine. But what does all this early voting mean for how soon we’ll know the results of the election? Might that at least come in early? The answer is that we’ll know the results when we know the results. Depending on how the electoral map shakes out, it might be possible to get a sense of whether Biden or Trump has won on election night. But more likely, if the election is very close, it’s going to take a lot longer to declare an official winner, even if some news organizations anoint a presumptive winner. States have different rules on vote processing and counting, and that will make a huge difference in how results are reported. Some states, such as Florida and Arizona, have already started to process and count mail-in ballots. North Carolina has also begun processing ballots — basically making sure the ballot is accepted and matches the voter files — and though it can’t count until Election Day, putting the ballots in counting machines is the easier part. But states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, can’t even start processing mail-in ballots until Election Day. Michigan can start processing ballots the day before Election Day. Those disparities in vote counting could make for a few “mirages” — both red and blue. Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images Voters fill out their ballots at an early voting center in Washington, DC, on October 27. Because Democrats have an edge in early voting, specifically in mail-in voting, states like Florida and North Carolina could very well post results that look favorable to Democrats early in the night. This could be a so-called “blue mirage,” where it looks like Biden is about to win a state like North Carolina only to see those results tighten and tighten. Meanwhile, a “red mirage” could happen elsewhere on the map, specifically those states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan that are processing and counting ballots much later. Here, the opposite phenomenon could happen: A “red mirage” might give the impression that Trump is way ahead, only to see his lead shrink and shrink. It’s going to take much, much longer to count ballots in those states, and it may take days to declare a presumptive winner. Election officials are preparing for this. Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said she is asking counties to update their election results periodically, rather than all at once, to avoid the appearance of massive shifts that might feed conspiracy theories. The important thing for voters, however, is to expect to wait. 9) So is early voting, in all its forms, going to be a permanent thing now? 2020 is a truly unusual year: a pandemic, an economic crisis, political rhetoric that’s undermining democracy and making people fearful of being disenfranchised. All of that makes it hard to know whether the explosion of early voting this year is an outlier, or the start of a new normal. As experts pointed out, the number of people voting early, either in person or by mail, was already increasing gradually, and even without all of the crises that have happened this year, it was expected to grow. This year just supercharged everything: Voters who’d typically go to the polls opted to vote by mail. And many, many states changed to make it easier to vote by mail. What emerged from necessity could become more permanent, as both voters and election officials realize there might be better ways to run elections. Once you make it easier for people to vote, either by mail or in person, they’re just not going to want to go back. This is the “habituation effect,” as Gronke,of Reed College’s Early Voter Information Center,calls it. “When people cast their ballot via one of these new methods, they tend to do it again. And so I do think we’re going to see a lot of people who previously had thought, ‘Oh, polling places is the way to do it’ vote by mail [this year] and say, ‘Wow, that was easy. That was really convenient. I liked that.’ So I do think that this is going to be a permanent shift.” Jon Cherry/Getty Images Black Lives Matter protesters display their I VOTED wristbands after leaving their polling place in Louisville, Kentucky, on October 13. And it’s not just voters. Election officials might have a few epiphanies, too, especially when it comes to voting by mail. It’s easier to run and staff elections that way, and it can be a lot less expensive than running in-person elections. “It’s possible in places like Nevada, Montana, New Jersey, Vermont, DC, these states that moved temporarily to all-mail ballots, that they may decide to do so on a more permanent basis in the future because it’s just cheaper,” Michael McDonald, of the US Elections Project, said. Gronke predicts another spurt of election reform, similar to what happened after the 2000 election, and the Florida recount, in the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, including possible proposals at the federal level to expand the franchise. House Democrats have already passed a new Voting Rights bill, and should Democrats retake Congress and the White House, they will likely pursue that as a top priority. Still, the 2020 election has shown how partisanship has leaked even into how people choose to vote, not just whom they vote for. Democrats, so far, have overwhelmingly favored voting by mail, while Republicans have preferred voting in person, in part because of the president’s rhetoric. Depending on the outcome of the election, those divides could harden even more, and become a roadblock to reform. Will you help keep Vox free for all? The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. 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