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Under NFL’s concussion protocols, decision on Patrick Mahomes’ playing status is out of Chiefs’ hands
The quarterback must be cleared by an independent physician to return to play in Sunday’s AFC championship game against the Buffalo Bills.
washingtonpost.com
Healing a Divided Nation | Opinion
The attack in Washington, D.C., is one of the many symptoms of a larger problem of white supremacy throughout our nation.
newsweek.com
Biden's Impending Immigration Blunder Will Cause a Border Stampede | Opinion
Mass amnesty with no increase in border security and the promise of less enforcement will have one side effect: unifying and galvanizing Republicans.
newsweek.com
2 dogs credited with saving owner's life from burning home die in same fire
Two dogs are being credited with saving the life of their owner after they woke him up while his house was burning down before perishing in the fire themselves.
abcnews.go.com
China Accuses U.S. of Abusing National Security Excuse While Doing Same in Hong Kong, Xinjiang
On Monday, President Donald Trump ordered federal agencies to investigate the risks of using Chinese-made drones.
newsweek.com
Inside the Capitol Attack
And what else you need to know today.
nytimes.com
Opinion: Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians shows how to make a difference with NFL's most diverse staff
Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians is "pissed" that assistant Byron Leftwich hasn't had a single interview for any of the NFL head coach vacancies .        
usatoday.com
Donald Trump Allies Await Pardons News as Clock Ticks Down on Presidential Powers
There is speculation about the president making final use of his clemency powers as his time in the White House draws to a close.
newsweek.com
5 things to know for January 19: Inauguration, transition, Covid-19, Russia, Uganda
Here's what else you need to know to Get Up to Speed and On with Your Day.
edition.cnn.com
Report: Mets GM admits sending explicit texts to female reporter
Porter texted apologies to the woman in 2016 after she wrote to him that his messages were "extremely inappropriate," ESPN reported.
cbsnews.com
POLITICO Playbook: The Washington Trump leaves behind
And John Roberts tries to wriggle out of the Senate impeachment trial.
politico.com
Inside the fight for the Capitol: US Capitol Police officers recount being unprepared and 'betrayed'
The day before the US Capitol was attacked, Capitol Police officers were ordered to report to the department's equipment depot to pick up helmets, an officer who was there that day told CNN. They didn't know why they were needed, but when they arrived, they were told to return later. The helmets had yet to be scanned into inventory.
edition.cnn.com
How Trump will hand off the 'nuclear football' to Biden
President Donald Trump will not be in attendance Wednesday to watch as his successor Joe Biden is sworn into office but his absence will have little impact on what may be one of the most important moments of Inauguration Day, the handing off of the "nuclear football."
edition.cnn.com
How Trump will hand off the 'nuclear football' to Biden
President Donald Trump will not be in attendance Wednesday to watch as his successor Joe Biden is sworn into office but his absence will have little impact on what may be one of the most important moments of Inauguration Day, the handing off of the "nuclear football."
edition.cnn.com
Joe Biden Can Unite the Country By Being Boring
Soaring pleas for unity don’t work. Maybe concrete achievements will.
politico.com
CNN poll: Biden's favorability on the rise
President-elect Joe Biden will take office Wednesday with high expectations and largely positive reviews of how he has handled the transition, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS. But those rosy assessments of Biden come as negative perceptions of how things are going in the United States are at the highest level since 2009.
edition.cnn.com
Biden's favorability on the rise as majority of Americans think he's handling transition well
President-elect Joe Biden will take office Wednesday with high expectations and largely positive reviews of how he has handled the transition, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS. But those rosy assessments of Biden come as negative perceptions of how things are going in the United States are at the highest level since 2009.
edition.cnn.com
Poll: Republican support for convicting Trump in Senate growing
About 20 percent of Republicans said they “strongly” or “somewhat” approved of a Senate conviction in the latest poll, conducted between Jan. 15-17.
politico.com
Four big questions for the NFL’s conference championship games
Can Josh Allen and the Bills keep pace with the Chiefs? And can Tampa Bay's man-to-man defense stifle Aaron Rodgers?
washingtonpost.com
The Capitol rioters kept posting incriminating things on social media. Unsurprisingly, they were mocked — and arrested.
Did they want to get caught?
washingtonpost.com
Five takeaways from Pompeo's Twitter victory lap
Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo has launched an unusual Twitter victory lap. He is thought to be considering a run for the presidency in 2024.
latimes.com
'Tough as nails': Lawmakers to grill Avril Haines, Biden's nominee for director of national intelligence
Avril Haines has been a pilot, a bookstore owner, an auto mechanic, a congressional staffer and an international lawyer. Next up for the 51-year-old? America's spy chief, if she is confirmed by the Senate.        
usatoday.com
Jon Lester strengthens the Nationals’ biggest strength — and gives them an undeniable identity
When the Nationals agreed to a one-year deal with left-hander Jon Lester, it further entrenched who they are.
washingtonpost.com
It’s like a Little Free Library, but there’s art inside. People are flocking to it, tiny art in hand.
"Welcome to the smallest free-est art gallery in the world," reads a sign on Seattle's Little Free Art Gallery. "If you’d like to take a piece, please leave another piece in its place."
washingtonpost.com
Biden's DHS pick vows to prevent future attacks on U.S. institutions
Alejandro Mayorkas will acknowledge the "horrifying" Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, according to his prepared testimony.
politico.com
Tim Graham: With Biden as president these 5 trends will vanish from the liberal media
Anyone who remembers the Obama years can guess the changes in the media that are coming with Biden as president
foxnews.com
Letters to the Editor: Due process for rioters doesn't mean job protection for them
It's one thing for rioters to receive due process; it's another thing for a law school not to want to be associated with someone who incited them.
latimes.com
Letters to the Editor: Stop comparing the Capitol mob to Black Lives Matter protests
To the rioters at the Capitol, destruction was the point, whereas Black Lives Matter demonstrators were protesting a very real problem.
latimes.com
The first US case. The first death. The first outbreak at a nursing home.
A year after COVID-19 arrived in the US, the front line staff in Washington state are still holding on.        
usatoday.com
Op-Ed: The ferocious last gasps of the religion of Christian America
Th Christian America religion has little to do with Jesus and everything to do with white, patriarchal dominance.
latimes.com
Trump’s ‘patriotic education’ report excuses Founding Fathers for owning slaves and likens progressives to Mussolini
It was released on the holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
washingtonpost.com
Editorial: L.A. and Long Beach want 'hero pay' for some workers but not others
Government shouldn't be picking winners and losers or ordering raises for some essential workers but not others
latimes.com
After Trump, Israel's Claim To Truth Is Stronger | Opinion
Israel now faces the Biden era from a much stronger position.
newsweek.com
Meet the economist charged with keeping Biden’s promises to women and people of color
If confirmed, Cecilia Rouse would become the first Black official to head the Council of Economic Advisers, and only the fourth woman.
washingtonpost.com
Trumpism Is Harder to Fight Than Terrorism
At noon tomorrow, our four-year experiment in being governed by the political equivalent of the Insane Clown Posse will finally end. It is ending in Juggalo style (some have called it “Trumpalo”), violently and pointlessly, with a handful of deaths, the smearing of various bodily fluids, and a riot on the way out. After any bacchanal of this magnitude, the sober dawn is almost as disorienting as the hysteria itself—and the most urgent task, after wiping the shit from the Capitol hallways, is to prevent a repeat performance.First, the Senate must convict Donald Trump. I confess bewilderment that the Senate will have to deliberate at all: inciting an insurrection that threatens to kidnap and possibly murder members of the Senate (including the vice president of the United States) seems to me the kind of activity the Senate should frown upon. Enemies of Ted Cruz like to point out that Trump called his wife a hag and insinuated that his father killed John F. Kennedy, and Cruz cuddled up to Trump anyway. Any senator who excuses his own near lynching by a shirtless, horned shaman will make Cruz’s self-debasement look dignified by comparison.Second, law enforcement should hunt down and charge all the insurrectionists, from the flex-cuff guys and the grannies posing for photos. The vigor with which federal prosecutors have been pursuing them proves that the United States has not been corrupted completely. Prisons exist to hold people such as these.Here ends the easy part. Options for what comes next are harder to imagine, and have left everyone casting into a dark, vacant pool for the right paradigm. The Federalist Papers do not contemplate a Juggalo-in-exile post-presidency, so we search in unlikely places for comparably miserable predicaments to guide us. MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan argues that we should think of Trump’s followers as if they were al-Qaeda members, who move freely among us because they are white, rather than brown and Muslim. The former DHS official Juliette Kayyem agrees that we should treat MAGA as a terrorist movement and Trump as its Osama bin Laden. What do we do with terror movements? “Decapitate” their leadership. In this case she says the decapitation should be figurative: Isolate Trump; embarrass his followers; make Trump repudiate them.Whiteness, as Hasan suggests, is one difference between MAGA and al-Qaeda. Another is MAGA’s failure thus far to murder 3000 people in a single day and promise to keep it up until the survivors surrender. The U.S. did not kill bin Laden because he prayed to Allah instead of Q, and the latter is going to be much harder to neutralize. (Thomas Hegghammer also notes a strange tension in Hasan’s position: if Trumpism is like al-Qaeda—or worse—and the authorities are giving it a free pass, why is the Trumpalo-terrorist body count in the single digits?) Because bin Laden still looms as the villain par excellence in the American imagination, to bin Laden we turn for analogy when trying to impress upon each other the gravity of a threat. But when the analogy guides policy and is wrong—and here it is not even close—it leaves the real threat unbothered, and everyone as defenseless as the Capitol was two weeks ago. The comparison fails even though the mob in the Capitol included at least a few honest-to-goodness, unambiguous terrorists, who came there with the express purpose of violently scaring the hell out of politicians in an effort to change policy. It fails because the category of terrorism is diverse, and so is the category of MAGA.Even if we agree that Trump is a “terrorist,” consider how unlike other terrorists he is. Trump resembles bin Laden not at all: One was an ascetic who gave up riches to live in dangerous and squalid isolation; the other avoids even mild danger or physical discomfort, and will humiliate himself to add mere pennies to his bank account. One commands the military of the United States, for at least a few more hours, and the other never had more than a few thousand men swinging on monkey bars in Afghanistan to his name. Trump had powers bin Laden only dreamed of (and that if he had, he would have used genocidally). I consider Trump the biggest threat to American democracy since Robert E. Lee—a terrorist who had at his disposal a great army and used it to great effect. Trump’s strategy, by contrast, was to keep and maintain power, by gathering, very loosely, a gang of self-marginalizing anti-Semites, cosplay brownshirts, and flabby gun nuts, plus others who may be high-functioning in normal life but on January 6 were too stupid to refrain from geotagging their crimes on Facebook.Seventy-four million Americans voted for Trump, and tens of millions believe his lies about a rigged election. These numbers do not suggest that this credulous minority is on to something—but they virtually guarantee that treating the post-Trump problem like a terrorist movement will fail. If you think MAGA is a terror movement, you will trick yourself into thinking the United States can subdue and destroy it using the tools that have destroyed al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and many terror groups before them. MAGA is far more entrenched, and impossible to eradicate using any means dreamt of by counterterrorism. This problem cannot be decapitated like a terrorist movement, and it will not go away when one man is droned to bits or apprehended and perp-walked in his underpants. Besides, contrary to Kayyem’s suggestion, even terrorist movements do not reliably end with decapitation, and one trait that makes them resilient against decapitation is having extensive popular support. Of course those who murder cops and raid government buildings should enjoy a long, leisurely prison stay, similar to those meted to terrorists. (Someday they can emerge and tell their grandchildren that they committed sedition because a bat-faced incompetent named Rudolph Giuliani told them to, and he was very persuasive.) But you cannot treat tens of millions this way—and that means we need to lure back many of the 74 million, including some whose brains have been pickled by exposure to QAnon and 8chan.Start by distinguishing among MAGA subtypes. In the past week, some erstwhile Trump supporters have turned on him. In Congress, most of these disavowed him when doing so became pragmatic—Mitch McConnell, for example, saw his majority slip away because of Trump’s Georgia strategy. To the extent possible, their repentance must be accepted, even with some light denial of their former MAGA fervor. “When this is all over,” David Frum prophesied, “nobody will admit to ever having supported it.” That is the way of many sheepish ex-radicals. Plenty of reformed hippies prefer to remember the free love, doobies, and social justice, without dwelling on the gonorrhea, heroin, and murder. If Trumpists are embarrassed enough to deny what they have done, then fine. When their denials shade into wistfulness, we have pictures and tweets to remind them of what they said and did. (I would rather have gonorrhea than a record of passionate and convinced #MAGA tweeting.)Opportunistic amnesia is, like terrorism, a manageable problem. Far worse—and, I believe, nearer to the source of the disease—is a mental defect afflicting MAGA extremists as well as normal people: a near-total vulnerability to hyperstimulation of our political senses. The proper response to these extremists isn’t counterterrorism. It is mental hygiene.A young, successful politician once told me that at his events, he always deals with shouting protesters in the same way: He sends staff to escort them to the front of the audience, where they can shower him with spittle and fan him with their placards. The fight makes better TV, especially if a protester loses it and says or does something really crazy, such as disrobing. Wild TV clips are a source of endless attention, which is a currency fully convertible into power. Unless the camera is on you, you lose. That is the lesson of Trump, in a sentence.This annihilating tactic has rendered truth irrelevant, and like some horrible viral variant, it has rapidly come to dominate as a hysterical style in American politics. To see the MAGA insurrection and the dissociative, unhinged words of full-blown QAnon believers is to observe the hysterical style as a way of life. It resists persuasion by ordinary argument, because it persuades instead by domination of attention. When Trump said in his inaugural that “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” it turns out his most fervent supporters thought that the best way to resist oblivion is to dominate others’ attention for attention’s own sake—for example, by prancing half-naked wearing body paint and pelts and threatening violence if their attention flags. Nothing matters more than the production of images too bonkers to ignore, and ensuring that everyone is looking at you and not at someone else. Some subset of the population lacks natural immunity to this performance and surrenders entirely.Our best hope is to hasten a change in culture that reverses this effect. Call it the Bennet Inversion, for Senator Michael Bennet, who campaigned for president promising to govern so boringly that voters would go weeks without thinking about him. He was so successful that no one remembers his campaign at all. Biden accomplished a miniature version of this, by executing a Fabian strategy and defeating Trump without ever facing him directly on the field of meme battle.I once thought resistance to the hysterical style was hopeless. The struggle is internal, and familiar to all who consume media. We overdose on serotonin, or some equally enchanting neurotransmitter, and experience an addict’s bliss at the hysterical scenes that pass before our eyes, whether they make us happy or furious. The only thing that displeases us is boredom—and that is why boredom is our salvation. Developing an aversion to hysteria is a long process—as hard as for a drunk to learn to hate the bottle—but it is possible. You just have to learn to feel disgust for it, and for those who retweet it. I feel my own blood seroconverting against hysteria—I was once entertained, then riled, then bored, and now I am disgusted by it. And that makes me hopeful that others can undergo the same process.One sign that herd immunity against this hysterical style is within reach was the election of Biden, a nonhysterical fogey. More tests will come. A representative from Georgia has vowed to introduce articles of impeachment against Biden the day after the inauguration, for reasons too risible to bear repeating. These non-incidents are good practice: Follow the bead of your attention. Where does it go? Does it slavishly follow the antics of incorrigible exhibitionists? Do you wish it did not?The greatest of all concession statements was issued by the New York Mayor Ed Koch in 1989: “The people have spoken,” he said, “and now they must be punished.” Trump won an election; one generation of political Juggalos was punishment enough. But they have multiplied, and the whole wretched experience will be for nothing unless we derive the right lessons—the hard lessons, and not just the satisfying ones—from it. I am clutching my one-week serotonin sobriety chip.
theatlantic.com
A former White House social secretary shares how an inauguration should look behind the scenes
Capricia Penavic Marshall knows presidential transitions — at least in years anything close to normal. This hand-off is certainly not that, but let Marshall explain how it ought to unfold in all its process and pageantry.
washingtonpost.com
Editorial: A single dose of COVID vaccine may help, but it's not sufficient
With cases surging, it made sense to stop reserving vaccine to guarantee a second dose to the initial recipients. But the gambit has risks.
latimes.com
Maryland House speaker to unveil a ‘Black agenda’ focused on health, wealth, homeownership
Del. Adrienne A. Jones, the state’s first Black House speaker, says: “Historically there has been a White agenda.”
washingtonpost.com
Covid-19 destroyed a young man’s lungs. Can his foster mom let him go?
Saundra Rogers fought for Nelson Orellana Garcia ever since he arrived in the United States 26 years ago.
washingtonpost.com
The Worst President in History
President Donald Trump has long exulted in superlatives. The first. The best. The most. The greatest. “No president has ever done what I’ve done,” he boasts. “No president has ever even come close,” he says. But as his four years in office draw to an end, there’s only one title to which he can lay claim: Donald Trump is the worst president America has ever had.In December 2019, he became the third president to be impeached. Last week, Trump entered a category all his own, becoming the first president to be impeached twice. But impeachment, which depends in part on the makeup of Congress, is not the most objective standard. What does being the worst president actually mean? And is there even any value, at the bitter end of a bad presidency, in spending energy on judging a pageant of failed presidencies?It is helpful to think of the responsibilities of a president in terms of the two elements of the oath of office set forth in the Constitution. In the first part, presidents swear to “faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States.” This is a pledge to properly perform the three jobs the presidency combines into one: head of state, head of government, and commander in chief. In the second part, they promise to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”Trump was a serial violator of his oath—as evidenced by his continual use of his office for personal financial gain—but focusing on three crucial ways in which he betrayed it helps clarify his singular historical status. First, he failed to put the national-security interests of the United States ahead of his own political needs. Second, in the face of a devastating pandemic, he was grossly derelict, unable or unwilling to marshal the requisite resources to save lives while actively encouraging public behavior that spread the disease. And third, held to account by voters for his failures, he refused to concede defeat and instead instigated an insurrection, stirring a mob that stormed the Capitol.Many chief executives have failed, in one way or another, to live up to the demands of the job, or to competently discharge them. But historians now tend to agree that our worst presidents are those who fall short in the second part of their pledge, in some way endangering the Constitution. And if you want to understand why these three failures make Trump the worst of all our presidents, the place to begin is in the basement of the presidential rankings, where dwell his rivals for that singular dishonor.For decades in the 20th century, many historians agreed that the title Trump has recently earned properly belonged to Warren G. Harding, a president they remembered. The journalist H. L. Mencken, master of the acidic bon mot, listened to Harding’s inaugural address and despaired. “No other such complete and dreadful nitwit is to be found in the pages of American history,” he wrote.Poor Harding. Our 29th president popularized the word normalcy and self-deprecatingly described himself as a “bloviator,” before dying in office of natural causes in 1923. Although mourned by an entire nation—9 million people are said to have viewed his funeral train, many singing his favorite hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee”—he was never respected by people of letters when he was alive. An avalanche of posthumous revelations about corruption in his administration made him an object of scorn among most historians. In 1948, Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. began the tradition of regularly ranking our presidents, which his son, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. continued—for decades Harding consistently came in dead last, dominating a category entitled “failure.”The scandal that prompted Harding’s descent to presidential hell involved the leasing of private drilling rights on federal lands in California and under a Wyoming rock resembling a teapot; Teapot Dome would serve as the shorthand for a terrible presidential scandal until it was displaced by Watergate. In April 1922, the Republican-controlled Senate began an investigation of the Republican administration, with Harding promising cooperation. Public hearings began only after Harding’s death the next year. The secretary of the interior was ultimately found guilty of bribery, becoming the first person to go from the Cabinet to jail. Other scandals engulfed the director of the Veterans’ Bureau and the attorney general.Although Harding had some warning of the corruption in his administration, no evidence suggests that he personally profited from it, or that he was guilty of more than incompetence. John W. Dean, the former White House counsel who pleaded guilty to federal charges for his role in Watergate, later concluded that Harding’s reputation was unfairly tainted: “The fact that Harding had done nothing wrong and had not been involved in any criminal activities became irrelevant.” And, regardless of Harding’s role in the widespread corruption in his administration, he didn’t ever threaten our constitutional system.On the other side of the ledger, Harding had a number of positive achievements: the Washington Naval Conference to discuss disarmament, the implementation of presidential authority over executive-branch budgeting, the commutation of Eugene V. Debs’s sentence. These, combined with his own lack of direct involvement in the scandals of his administration and the absence of any attack on our republic (which no positive administrative achievements could ever balance out), ought to allow him to be happily forgotten as a mediocre president.Harding’s reputation has hardly improved, but in recent presidential surveys organized by C-SPAN, his tenure has been eclipsed by the failures of three men who were implicated in the breakup of the Union or who hindered the tortuous effort to reconstruct it.The first two are Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan. Pierce, a New Hampshire Democrat, and Buchanan, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, abetted and at times amplified the forces that drove the Union asunder. Although neither was from the South, both men sympathized with southern slaveholders. They considered the rising tide of abolitionism an abomination, and sought ways to increase the power of slaveholders.Pierce and Buchanan opposed the 1820 Missouri Compromise, which had calmed political tensions by prohibiting slavery above a certain line in the Louisiana Territory. As president, Pierce helped overturn it, adding the pernicious sentence to the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act that declared the Compromise “inoperative and void.” The Kansas-Nebraska Act not only allowed the people of the Kansas and Nebraska territories to determine themselves whether their respective states were to be slave or free but opened all unorganized territory to slavery.Buchanan then used federal power in Kansas to ensure that slaveholders and their supporters, though a minority, would win. He authorized the granting of an $80,000 contract to a pro-slavery editor in the territory and “contracts, commissions, and in some cases cold cash” to northern Democrats in the House of Representatives to press them to admit Kansas as a slave state.When Abraham Lincoln was elected to replace him in November 1860, and states began to secede, Buchanan effectively abdicated his responsibilities as president of the United States. He blamed Lincoln’s Republicans for causing all the problems he faced, and promised southerners a constitutional amendment protecting slavery forever if they returned. When secessionists in South Carolina set siege to a federal fort, Buchanan collapsed. “Like … Nixon in the summer of 1974 before his resignation,” wrote the Buchanan biographer Jean H. Baker, “Buchanan gave every indication of severe mental strain affecting both his health and his judgment.”During the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, President George Washington had led the militia against the Pennsylvania rebels. Buchanan’s Cabinet didn’t expect him to personally lead U.S. troops to protect the federal forts and customhouses being seized by southern secessionists, but he shocked them by doing effectively nothing. When federal officeholders resigned in the South, Buchanan did not use his authority to replace them. He even had to be deterred by his Cabinet from simply surrendering Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, and ultimately made only a feeble effort to defend the fort, sending an unarmed merchant ship as relief. Meanwhile, former President Pierce, who had been asked to speak in Alabama, instead wrote in a public letter, “If we cannot live together in peace, then in peace and on just terms let us separate.” After the Civil War ended, Pierce offered his services as a defense lawyer to his friend Jefferson Davis. (Pierce might not have been our worst president, but he’s in the running against John Tyler, who left office in 1845 and 16 years later joined the Confederacy, for leading the worst post-presidency.)The next great presidential failure in U.S. history involved the management of the victory over the South. Enter the third of the three men who eclipsed Harding: Andrew Johnson. Lincoln had picked Johnson as his running mate in 1864 to forge a unity ticket for what he expected to be a tough reelection bid. A pro-Union Democrat, Johnson had been the sole southern senator in 1861 not to leave Congress when his state seceded.But Johnson’s fidelity to Lincoln and to the nation ended with Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865. While Lincoln had not left detailed plans for how to “bind up the nation’s wounds” after the war, Johnson certainly violated the spirit of what Lincoln had envisioned. An unrepentant white supremacist, he opposed efforts to give freedmen the vote, and when Congress did so over his objections, Johnson impeded their enjoyment of that right. He wanted slavery by another name in the South, undermining the broad consensus in the victorious North. “What he had in mind all along for the south,” as his biographer Annette Gordon-Reed wrote, “was a restoration rather than reconstruction.”Johnson used his pulpit to bully those who believed in equal rights for formerly enslaved people and to encourage a culture of grievance in the South, spreading myths about why the Civil War had occurred in the first place. Many people are responsible for the toxic views and policies that have so long denied Black Americans basic human rights, but Andrew Johnson was the first to use the office of the presidency to give that project national legitimacy and federal support. Having inherited Lincoln’s Cabinet, Johnson was forced to maneuver around Lincoln’s men to impose his own mean-spirited and racist vision of how to reintegrate the South. That got him impeached by the House. A Republican Senate then fell one vote short of removing him from office.All three of these 19th-century presidents compiled awful records, but Buchanan stands apart because—besides undermining the Union, using his office to promote white supremacy, and demonstrating dereliction of duty in the decisive crisis of secession—he led an outrageously corrupt administration. He violated not just the second part of his oath, betraying the Constitution, but also the first part. Buchanan managed to be more corrupt than the low standard set by his contemporaries in Congress, which is saying something.In 1858, members of Congress tried to curtail a routine source of graft, described by the historian Michael Holt as the “public printing rake-off.” At the time, there was no Government Printing Office, so contracts for printing the reams of congressional and executive-branch proceedings and statements went to private printers. In the 1820s, President Andrew Jackson had started steering these lucrative contracts to friends. By the 1850s, congressional investigators found that bribes were being extorted from would-be government printers, and that those who won contracts were kicking back a portion of their profits to the Democratic Party. Buchanan directly benefited from this system in the 1856 election. Although he signed reforms into law in 1858, he swiftly subverted them by permitting a subterfuge that allowed his key contributor—who owned a prominent pro-administration newspaper—to continue profiting from government printing.Does Trump have any modern competitors for the title of worst president? Like Harding, a number of presidents were poor executors of the office. President Woodrow Wilson was an awful man who presided over an apartheid system in the nation’s capital, largely confined his support for democracy abroad to white nations, and then mishandled a pandemic. President Herbert Hoover helped drive the U.S. economy into the ground during the Great Depression, because the economics he learned as a young man proved fundamentally wrong. President George W. Bush’s impulse after 9/11 to weaken American civil liberties in the name of protecting them, and his blanket approval of interrogation techniques universally considered torture, left Americans disillusioned and impeded the struggle to deradicalize Islamists. His invasion of Iraq in 2003, like Thomas Jefferson’s embargo on foreign trade during the Napoleonic Wars, had disastrous consequences for American power, and undermined unity at home and abroad.These presidents were each deeply flawed, but not in the same league as their predecessors who steered the country into Civil War or did their utmost to deprive formerly enslaved people of their hard-won rights while rewarding those who betrayed their country.And then there’s Richard Nixon.Before Trump, Nixon set the standard for modern presidential failure as the first president forced from office, who resigned ahead of impeachment. And in many ways, their presidencies have been eerily parallel. But the comparison to Nixon reveals the ways in which Trump’s presidency has been not merely bad, but the very worst we have ever seen.Like the 45th president, Nixon ascended to office by committing an original sin. As the Republican presidential nominee, Nixon intervened indirectly to scuttle peace negotiations in Paris over the Vietnam War. He was worried that a diplomatic breakthrough in the 11th hour of the campaign would help his Democratic rival, Hubert Humphrey. For Nixon, it set the pattern for future presidential lies and cover-ups.Trump, too, put his political prospects ahead of any sense of duty. As a candidate, Trump openly appealed to Russia to steal his opponent’s emails. Then, as Russia dumped hacked emails from her campaign chair, he seized on the pilfered materials to suggest wrongdoing and amplified Russian disinformation efforts. Extensive investigations during his administration by then–Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee didn’t produce any evidence suggesting that he directly abetted Russian hacking, but those investigations were impeded by a pattern of obstructive conduct that Mueller carefully outlined in his report.Trump’s heartless and incompetent approach to immigration, his use of tax policy to punish states that didn’t vote for him, his diversion of public funds to properties owned by him and his family, his impulsive and self-defeating approach to trade, and his petulance toward traditional allies assured on their own that he would not be seen as a successful modern president. But those failures have more to do with the first part of his oath. The case that Trump is not just the worst of our modern presidents but the worst of them all rests on three other pillars, not all of which have a Nixonian parallel.Trump is the first president since America became a superpower to subordinate national-security interests to his political needs. Nixon’s mishandling of renewed peace negotiations with Hanoi in the 1972 election campaign led to the commission of a war crime, the unnecessary “Christmas bombing” at the end of that year. But it cannot compare, in terms of the harm to U.S. national interests, to Trump’s serial subservience to foreign strongmen such as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, Kim Jong Un of North Korea, and, of course, Russia’s Vladimir Putin—none of whom act out of a sense of shared interests with the United States. Trump’s effort to squeeze the Ukrainians to get dirt on his likely opponent in 2020, the cause of his first impeachment, was just the best-documented instance of a form of corruption that characterized his entire foreign policy.The second pillar is Trump’s dereliction of duty during the COVID-19 pandemic, which will have killed at least 400,000 Americans by the time he leaves office. In his inaugural address, Trump vowed an end to “American carnage,” but in office, he presided over needless death and suffering. Trump’s failure to anticipate and then respond to the pandemic has no equivalent in Nixon’s tenure; when Nixon wasn’t plotting political subversion and revenge against his perceived enemies, he could be a good administrator.Trump, of course, is not the first president to have been surprised by a threat to our country. Franklin D. Roosevelt was caught off guard by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Trump, like FDR, could have tried to redeem himself by his management of the response. But Trump lacked FDR’s intellectual and leadership skills. Instead of adapting, he dug in, denying the severity of the challenge and the importance of mask wearing and social distancing while bemoaning the likely damage to his beloved economy.Trump continued to insist that he was in charge of America’s coronavirus response, but when being in charge required him to actively oversee plans—or at least to read and approve them—he punted on the tough issues of ramping up testing, and was painfully slow to secure sufficient protective equipment and ventilators. FDR didn’t directly manage the Liberty ship program, but he grasped its necessity and understood how to empower subordinates. Trump, instead, ignored his own experts and advisers, searching constantly for some silver bullet that would relieve him of the necessity of making hard choices. He threw money at pharmaceutical and biotech firms to accelerate work on vaccines, with good results, but went AWOL on the massive logistical effort administering those vaccines requires.In doubling down on his opposition to basic public-health measures, the president crossed a new line of awfulness. Three of Trump’s on April 17, 2020—“LIBERATE VIRGINIA,” “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!,” and “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”—moved him into Pierce and Buchanan territory for the first time: The president was promoting disunity. The “liberation” he was advocating was civil disobedience against stay-at-home rules put in place by governors who were listening to public-health experts. Trump then organized a series of in-person rallies that sickened audience members and encouraged a wider public to put themselves at risk.Trump channeled the same divisive spirit that Pierce and Buchanan had tapped by turning requests from the governors of the states that had been the hardest hit by the coronavirus into opportunities for partisan and sectarian attack.Fifty-eight thousand Americans had already died of the virus when Trump signaled that ignoring or actively violating public-health mandates was a patriotic act. Over the summer, even as the death toll from COVID mounted, Trump never stopped bullying civic leaders who promoted mask wearing, and continued to hold large in-person rallies, despite the risk of spreading the virus. When the president himself became sick in the fall, rather than being sobered by his personal brush with serious illness, the president chose to turn a potential teachable moment for many Americans into a grotesque carnival. He used his presidential access to experimental treatment to argue that ordinary Americans need not fear the disease. He even took a joyride around Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in his closed, armored SUV to bask in the glow of his supporters’ adulation while endangering the health of his Secret Service detail.American presidents have a mixed record with epidemics. For every Barack Obama, whose administration professionally managed the threats from Ebola and the H1N1 virus, or George W. Bush, who tackled AIDS in Africa, there’s been a Woodrow Wilson, who mishandled the influenza pandemic, or a Ronald Reagan, who was derelict in the face of AIDS. But neither Reagan nor Wilson actively promoted risky behavior for political purposes, nor did they personally obstruct federal-state partnerships that had been intended to control the spread of disease. On those points, Trump stands alone.The third pillar of the case against Trump is his role as the chief instigator of the attempted insurrection of January 6. Although racism and violent nativism preceded Trump, the seeds of what happened on January 6 were planted by his use of the presidential bully pulpit. No president since Andrew Johnson had so publicly sympathized with the sense of victimhood among racists. In important ways, Nixon prefigured Trump by conspiring with his top lieutenants to use race, covertly, to bring about a realignment in U.S. politics. Nixon’s goal was to lure racists away from the Democratic Party and so transform the Republican Party into a governing majority. Trump has gone much further. From his remarks after the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, to his effort to set the U.S. military against the Black Lives Matter movement, Trump has openly used race in an effort to transform the Republican Party into an agitated, cult-like, white-supremacist minority movement that could win elections only through fear, disenfranchisement, and disinformation.Both Trump and Nixon sought to subvert any serious efforts to deny them reelection. Nixon approved a dirty-tricks campaign, and his chief of staff Bob Haldeman approved the details of an illegal espionage program against the eventual Democratic nominee. Nixon won his election but ultimately left office in the middle of his second term because the press, the Department of Justice, and Congress uncovered his efforts to hide his role in this subversion. They were helped in large part by Nixon’s absentminded taping of his own conversations.Trump never won reelection. Instead, he mounted the first effort by a defeated incumbent to use the power of his office to overturn a presidential election. Both men looked for weaknesses in the system to retain power. But Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election put him in a class of awfulness all by himself.Holding a national election during a pandemic was a test of the resilience of American democracy. State and local election officials looked for ways to boost participation without boosting the virus’s spread. In practical terms, this meant taking the pressure off same-day voting—limiting crowds at booths—by encouraging voting by mail and advance voting. Every candidate in the 2020 elections understood that tallying ballots would be slow in states that started counting only on Election Day. Even before voting began, Trump planted poisonous seeds of doubt about the fairness of this COVID-19 election. When the numbers didn’t go his way, Trump accelerated his disinformation campaign, alleging fraud in states that he had won in 2016 but lost four years later. The campaign was vigorous and widespread. Trump’s allies sought court injunctions and relief from Republican state officials. Lacking any actual evidence of widespread fraud, they lost in the courts. Despite having exploited every constitutional option, Trump refused to give up.It was at this point that Trump went far beyond Nixon, or any of his other predecessors. In 1974, when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in U.S. v. Nixon that Nixon had to turn over his White House tapes to a special prosecutor, Nixon also ran out of constitutional options. He knew that the tapes proved his guilt, and would likely lead to his impeachment and then to his conviction in the Senate. On July 24, Nixon said he would comply with the order from a coequal branch of our government, and ultimately accepted his political fate. In the end, even our most awful presidents before 2017 believed in the continuation of the system they had taken an oath to defend.But not Trump. Heading into January 6, 2021, when Congress would ritually certify the election, Trump knew that he lacked the Electoral College votes to win or the congressional votes to prevent certification. He had only two cards left to play—neither one of which was consistent with his oath. He pushed Vice President Mike Pence to use his formal constitutional role as the play-by-play announcer of the count to unconstitutionally obstruct it, sending it back to the states for recertification. Meanwhile, to maintain pressure on Pence and Republicans in Congress, he gathered some of his most radicalized followers on the Mall and pointed the way to the Capitol, where the electoral count was about to begin. When Pence refused to exceed his constitutional authority, Trump unleashed his mob. He clearly wanted the count to be disrupted.On January 6, Trump’s legacy was on a knife’s edge. Trump likely knew Pence’s intentions when he began to speak to the mob. He knew that the vice president would disappoint his hopes. In riling up the mob and sending it down Pennsylvania Avenue, he was imperiling the safety of his vice president and members of Congress. If there was any doubt that he was willing to countenance violence to get his way, it disappeared in the face of the president’s long inaction, as he sat in the White House watching live footage of the spreading assault.And he may do still more damage before he departs.Andrew Johnson left a political time bomb behind him in the nation’s capital. After the Democratic Party refused to nominate Johnson for a second term and Ulysses S. Grant won the election as a Republican, Johnson issued a broad political amnesty for many Confederates, including leaders who were under indictment such as the former president of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis.So much of the pain and suffering this country experienced in the Trump years started with that amnesty. Had Davis and top Confederate generals been tried and convicted, polite society in the South could not have viewed these traitors as heroes. Now Trump is hinting that he wishes to pardon those who aided and abetted him in office, and perhaps even pardon himself—similarly attempting to escape accountability, and to delay a reckoning.As Trump prepares to leave Washington, the capital is more agitated than during any previous presidential transition since 1861, with thousands of National Guard troops deployed around the city. There have been serious threats to previous inaugurations. But for the first time in the modern era, those threats are internal. An incumbent president is being asked to discourage terrorism by supporters acting in his name.There are many verdicts on Donald Trump still to come, from the Senate, from juries of private citizens, from scholars and historians. But as a result of his subversion of national security, his reckless endangerment of every American in the pandemic, and his failed insurrection on January 6, one thing seems abundantly clear: Trump is the worst president in the 232-year history of the United States.So, why does this matter? If we have experienced an unprecedented political trauma, we should be prepared to act to prevent any recurrence. Nixon’s fall introduced an era of government reform—expanded privacy rights, overhauled campaign-finance rules, presidential-records preservation, and enhanced congressional oversight of covert operations.Managing the pandemic must be the incoming Biden administration’s principal focus, but it needn’t be its only focus. Steps can be taken to ensure that the worst president ever is held to account, and to forestall a man like Trump ever abusing his power in this way again.The first is to ensure that we preserve the record of what has taken place. As was done after the Nixon administration, Congress should pass a law establishing guidelines for the preservation of and access to the materials of the Trump presidency. Those guidelines should also protect nonpartisan public history at any public facility associated with the Trump era. The Presidential Records Act already puts those documents under the control of the archivist of the United States, but Congress should mandate that they be held in the D.C. area and that the National Archives should not partner with the Trump Foundation in any public-history efforts. Disentangling the federal Nixon Presidential Library from Nixon’s poisonous myths about Watergate took an enormous effort. The pressure on the National Archives to, in some way, enable and legitimate Trump’s own Lost Cause is likely to be even greater.Trump’s documented relationship with the truth also ensures that his presidential records will necessarily be incomplete. His presidency has revealed gaping loopholes in the process of public disclosure, which the president deftly exploited. Congress should mandate that future candidates and presidents release their tax returns. Congress should also seek to tightly constrict the definition of privacy regarding presidential medical records. It should also require presidents to fully disclose their own business activities, and those of members of their immediate family, conducted while in office. Congress should also claim, as public records, the transition materials of 2016–17 and 2020–21 and those of future transitions.Finally, Congress must tend to American memory. It should establish a Joint Congressional Committee to study January 6 and the events and activities leading up to it, have public hearings, and issue a report. And it should bar the naming of federal buildings, installations, and vessels after Trump; his presidency should be remembered, but not commemorated.Because this, ultimately, is the point of this entire exercise. If Trump is now the worst president we have ever had, it’s up to every American to ensure that no future chief executive ever exceeds him.
theatlantic.com
France Knows What Awaits America
A Jewish military officer wrongfully convicted of treason. A years-long psychodrama that permanently polarized an entire society—communities, friends, even families. A politics of anger and emotion designed to insult the very notion of truth. A divide that only grew with time. A reconciliation that never was. A frenzied right wing that turned to violence when it failed at the ballot box.This was the Dreyfus affair, the signature scandal of fin de siècle France, aspects of which Americans might recognize as we arrive at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency: After decades of cascading political crises, debilitating financial scandals, and rising anti-Semitism, the Dreyfus affair saw the emergence of political surreality, an alternate universe of hateful irrationality and militarized lies that captured the minds of nearly half the population.That period in France, known as the Third Republic, never resulted in any reconciliation. It turned out to be impossible to compromise with those who not only rejected the truth but also found the truth offensive, a kind of existential threat. The social divide simply grew wider and wider, to the point where bridging the gap became a futile proposition. Even the national mobilization in World War I was not enough to create a durable unity; the wounds of the past proved impossible to heal. In fact, “unity” turned out to be the wrong goal to pursue. What mattered was defending the republic’s values, a defense never made forcefully enough.As a historian of modern France, I’ve followed with great interest the innumerable comparisons drawn between Trumpism and Nazism that began even before Trump took office: the endless debate over whether Trump can be called a “fascist” (I would say yes), whether American society today resembles Weimar Germany before it fell to the Nazis (I would say no), and if we can really say that the Republican Party is just a confederation of “collaborators” (of course we can).All historical analogies are flawed, and they might not mean much at all. Even if they underscore the gravity of the moment, they often obscure its causes and might, in fact, prevent us from seeing them. Trump might be leaving office, but his followers are here to stay, as their numbers and conviction make clear. In seeking to understand Trump, and Trumpism, we have preferred to tell ourselves stories about violent rupture and hostile takeovers—of Hitler’s rise, of Nazism’s threat, of the perils of collaboration—but not so much about the valorization of falsehood and a republic that ignores, and even embraces, its own terminal impotence. That is the story of France’s Third Republic and its defining psychodrama.[Read: Among the insurrectionists]The Third Republic was born in a moment of trauma, in the aftermath of France’s total humiliation in the Franco-Prussian War. It was a return to the venerated ideals of the French Revolution after 18 years of imperial Bonapartism, and nobody, not even its first president, expected the new republic to last as long as it did—70 years, longer than any other system of government in modern French history, including the current regime, which began in 1958. This era, unlike Weimar Germany, which lasted only from 1918 to 1933, was a continuous system of government that spanned several generations of political actors. It’s possible to trace recurrent themes in that time, some of which resemble those in contemporary America.What is most important to remember about the Third Republic is that, as long-lasting as it might have been, it was a parliamentary system constantly stalled in political gridlock. Its credibility was regularly called into question by a number of major financial scandals, and the French parliament overthrew individual governments for often trivial reasons, petty score settling, or insider politicking. Between July 1909, the bitter end of Georges Clemenceau’s first premiership, and August 1914, the start of World War I, there were 11 different governments. Prominent ministers—some of whom became celebrities in a game of musical chairs—often put off dealing with the pressing issues of the day, either because they would likely not have had sufficient time in office to do anything concrete or because they were unwilling to assume the political liability. The goal was to stay in power by whatever means.Despite its unending political intractability, the Third Republic was also a time of unprecedented social advancement in the lives of ordinary people, an era marked by ruthless colonial expansion overseas and cultural refinement at home. The time of the Dreyfus affair, after all, was also the Belle Époque, the world that appears in the canvases of Renoir and in the novels of Marcel Proust, perhaps the greatest chronicler of the age, and a time whose optimistic spirit was embodied in the Eiffel Tower, the tallest structure in the world on its completion in 1889. Yet, much like in America today, there was a self-absorbed intellectual establishment obsessed with decline and the mysterious disease of “decadence,” which was spoken of in the same pompous outrage that our own pundits use to decry what happens on Ivy League campuses or in major newsrooms.In the end, the opportunism and the cynicism of political elites earned them the distrust of both ordinary voters and the bureaucrats left to run things when they themselves would not. What emerged was a “politics of resentment,” to use the phrase of the historian Philip Nord, who has written about the way shopkeepers, peasants, and other small-business owners grew disillusioned with the Third Republic and its lofty ideals, which to them seemed hollow, totally out of touch with the economic challenges they faced. The spectacular crash of the Union Générale bank in 1882 triggered an economic downturn that would take years to overcome; this, and the corruption of the Panama scandal just four years later, might be seen as19th-century versions of 2008, economic crises whose root causes were similarly ignored by the elite and, among the masses, blamed on the Jews.Beyond mere themes, there were multiple Trumpian moments and characters in the Third Republic as well, most notably Georges Boulanger, the swashbuckling, garish hard-line nationalist general who seemed to emerge from nowhere and launched a populist movement of mass appeal, an anti-republican crusade that nearly toppled the republic in 1889. Boulangism did not last politically, but it represented a new fault line in French society: a powerful right-wing bloc that united some in the working class along with conservative Catholics and the remnants of the old nobility. It only radicalized from there a few years later, and the Dreyfus affair was the moment when what was left of the social fabric definitively unraveled.[Read: The coming Republican amnesia]When historians now think about the Dreyfus affair—which saw the wrongful conviction of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish military captain accused of treason and forced to serve a lengthy prison sentence on Devil’s Island in French Guiana—we rightly remember it as the most significant example of political anti-Semitism in Europe before the Holocaust. It was the event that inspired the young Theodor Herzl to outline his vision of what we now know as Zionism and, as Hannah Arendt later argued (not entirely convincingly), a 19th-century nightmare that somehow foretold the horrors of the 20th century to come.But the reason this episode bears revisiting today is not simply to compare French anti-Semitism then to American anti-Semitism now, although it’s worth remembering that the deadliest series of attacks on American Jews in our history has taken place during this administration. What is especially useful to remember about the Dreyfus affair now is the point of no return it represented, the repugnant embrace of lies by one half of society, educated people who were not ignorant but who had simply ceased to care. For them, the truth was irrelevant; what mattered was preserving their vision of the nation, regardless of the facts.From start to finish, the Dreyfus affair was a seemingly endless social drama. Much like the Trump presidency, it was an all-consuming, emotional experience that left no aspect of public or even private life untouched. It would be hard to overstate the polarization it triggered in France, which found its population split over the fate of an obscure officer hardly anyone had heard of before the episode began. Over time, the controversy far transcended the case of Dreyfus himself, as there was evidence relatively early on proving that he had been framed. None of it mattered.In some ways, the Dreyfus affair was the culmination of an age-old clash begun by the French Revolution: On one side were the defenders of the republic and its “universal” values, on the other the anti-republican faction that preferred the grandeur of the monarchy, the sanctity of the Church, and the prestige of the military. For many opponents of Dreyfus, the scandal was about defending the military’s honor at all costs, but this is much too simple a reading of their intent, as is any single explanation given for Trump’s appeal and the support he continues to enjoy among his followers, no matter how much evidence is shown to them or how many of his lies are exposed. Then, as now, these people had undertaken a deliberate embrace of irrationality, an almost primal flaunting of decency and civilized norms, merely because that was possible, and because there were never any real consequences. The writer Charles Maurras, one of the most virulent anti-Semites and anti-Dreyfusards of the time, was even named to the Académie française in 1938, the nation’s highest literary honor.[Read: QAnon is destroying the GOP from within]In the end, the institutions of the republic prevailed, just as ours have, at least for the moment. Dreyfus was exonerated, although he should never have been convicted in the first place; Congress officially certified the results of the 2020 election, although not until after a putsch attempt launched by the sitting president and carried out by his followers. But there was never any reconciliation then, just as there will not be now. Those who had opposed Dreyfus, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence, were permitted to remain in their fanciful universe of illusions and lies.There might not be a clear line between the right wing that radicalized during the Dreyfus affair and the events of the 1930s, but what began as something of a club for like-minded bigots, locked in the lie of Dreyfus’s “guilt,” then started inspiring actual violence. Groups born in the scandal, notably the Action française, beat up Jewish politicians such as Léon Blum, France’s first-ever Jewish prime minister, who nearly died from a 1936 attack, and they took center stage in a February 1934 insurrection attempt that looked quite a lot like the scenes from the Capitol invasion this month.We should not indulge the illusions of our own anti-Dreyfusards, yet I fear we will. By now, it seems fairly clear that those who stormed the Capitol and those proven to have encouraged that violent spectacle are likely to be brought to justice, at least in some form. But this might not solve the deeper problem, which is that so many in Trump’s mob—like so many of his supporters in general—remain comfortably ensconced in the mansion of lies their champion has built. As we have seen for years on end, any attempt to expose those lies with facts or evidence of any kind is a fool’s errand. These people deliberately inhabit an alternate universe because it makes them feel powerful, because it frustrates their enemies, and, in the end, because they can.Ever since the events of January 6, the line among certain Democrats has been that there can be “no healing without accountability.” But this is naïve. There can be no accountability for those who engage in surreality, the dark province in which the world is apparently run by a cabal of prominent pedophiles and where Trump somehow retained the White House in a landslide. As long as the president’s supporters insult the notion of objective truth, coddled by conspiracy theories and social-media networks that simulate a sense of community, there will be no common ground to seek, no “America” to reclaim. Perhaps there never was a unified “America,” but once upon a time there was a mutual reality. Until there is again, things will continue to deteriorate. If the Dreyfus affair and France’s Third Republic have any echo today, it is that we have not yet seen the worst.Historical analogies have their limits, of course, and it is next to impossible to “learn” from history as a useful corrective. But if the past rarely offers lessons, sometimes it offers warnings.
theatlantic.com
Biden’s White House Doesn’t Need to Be a COVID-19 Hot Spot
Before the Bidens move into the White House on Wednesday, butlers and housekeepers will perform their usual rituals: They’ll dust the gilded portraits of George and Martha Washington flanking the East Room fireplace; they’ll discard the bedsheets and towels used by the outgoing first family; and they’ll stock the residence pantry with the incoming president’s favorite dessert. This year, the White House will also get an unprecedented—and expensive—deep clean. An outside firm will likely use a powerful disinfectant to kill any lingering coronavirus on the doorknobs, elevator buttons, and other high-touch surfaces throughout the 55,000-square-foot complex. It might even follow the lead of airports and hospitals by deploying a robot to wipe out the virus using UV-light technology.But disinfecting the White House, which has already been the epicenter of three different COVID-19 outbreaks, won’t protect the building’s residents from future flare-ups. Because the coronavirus doesn’t live long on surfaces, this kind of power wash is more like hygiene theater—a ritual meant to make people feel safer without actually reducing risk. The real key to guaranteeing the future health and well-being of White House staff is relatively simple: The incoming administration needs to require mask wearing and social distancing on the grounds.Current White House staffers aren’t asking for much from the Biden team. “I hope that they strictly enforce masks,” said one employee, who was granted anonymity because he fears he would be fired for complaining about current White House health standards to a reporter. The aide found out about President Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis in October through news reports, rather than an internal alert. “I would hope the new administration tells the truth, good or bad” about infections in the building, he said.[David A. Graham: Trump didn’t even try to keep his own people safe]The Trump administration has been almost impressively lax in its handling of the pandemic on White House grounds. Throughout the past 11 months, the president and members of his immediate family have rarely worn face masks in public. In the West Wing, where the space between desks is closer to six inches than six feet, Trump aides have roamed the halls, held meetings, and addressed reporters entirely maskless. The first couple have flouted CDC guidelines to host a series of large gatherings at the White House, including a Rose Garden celebration that may have been a super-spreader event. Dozens of Trump allies and political aides, more than 100 Secret Service officers, and at least four White House residence staff have contracted the disease, and many of those cases can be linked directly to the White House. The director of the White House security office spent three months in the ICU, and ultimately lost part of his leg.The incoming administration wants to handle things differently. “It’ll be a sea change, obviously,” one Biden transition official told me, when I asked about plans. In addition to requiring masks for all staff members, the incoming administration will mandate vaccines for aides who interact closely with the president and vice president (both of whom have been vaccinated); it will limit the number of people working inside the West Wing; and it will regularly test all staffers in the White House complex, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.But the new administration faces considerations outside the West Wing. The executive mansion is a dense warren of high-traffic rooms, including the tiny flower shop and the staff locker rooms beneath the North Portico, and the White House mess hall under the West Wing. Staff in these spaces eat and work in extremely close quarters, so protecting them will mean allowing only absolutely essential employees to come to work, or at least alternating schedules. The Trump administration has already furloughed some staff members to prevent infection spread, but the Biden team may need to do even more—at least until everyone can get vaccinated.That’s totally doable, Anita McBride, a former chief of staff for First Lady Laura Bush and assistant to President George W. Bush, told me. “It is not ideal when you’re starting a new administration, but unless it’s of the most critical nature, [Biden should] limit the number of people that need to come in,” she told me. Americans can also expect the Bidens to avoid hosting soirees in the middle of a global pandemic, McBride added: “There will be no massive events in the Rose Garden or on the South Lawn. They won’t be putting [staff] at risk, setting up all this stuff.”[Read: The people Trump came home to]The Bidens will also need to think carefully about the employees who work most intimately with the first family: the chefs who prepare their food, the butlers who serve meals, the valets who tidy bedrooms and lay out fresh clothing, and the housekeepers who do laundry and general cleaning. Many of these longtime staffers are older people of color, who are in an especially high-risk category for COVID-19. Kate Andersen Brower, who wrote a book on the White House residence, predicts that the Biden family may have a much more “stripped down” set of staff than previous first families, at least to start.The White House has dealt with deadly infections before. The deaths of two presidents—William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor—may have been caused by the building’s water supply, which was contaminated by an upstream sewage dump. Hours after delivering the Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln became ill with smallpox; although the president survived the disease, his longtime barber and valet did not. During the flu pandemic of 1918, President Woodrow Wilson, his personal secretary, his chief usher, his stenographer, multiple Secret Service members, and his eldest daughter all contracted the illness. The Trump-era coronavirus infections are now part of this tragic roster.Before a new president moves into the White House, residence staffers often scour newspaper articles to learn every detail they can about their incoming bosses, making note of everything from food allergies and workout habits to personality quirks and pet peeves, McBride told me. They may notice how Biden has managed to keep himself and most of his staff safe during the pandemic. It’s hard to know how residence staffers feel about the change in administrations; their job requires the utmost discretion, and they are loath to talk to the press. But the change will be obvious. Residence staffers are single-mindedly focused on providing a safe and comfortable environment for the first family. Soon, they’ll be working for a family that will try to keep them safe, too.
theatlantic.com
Dear Care and Feeding: I Told My Kids They Could Pee Outside and Now They Won’t Stop
Parenting advice on potty training, self-confidence, and politics.
slate.com
National Guard Activated in 21 States Over Fears of Inauguration Violence
From California to Michigan, dozens of states will be bolstering security, including some declaring states of emergency and summoning the National Guard.
newsweek.com
Biden Moves to Take Charge as U.S. Virus Deaths Near 400,000
President-elect Joe Biden will attend a virus memorial event on the eve of his inauguration. Here’s the latest on the pandemic.
nytimes.com
Members Of Right-Wing Militias, Extremist Groups Are Latest Charged In Capitol Siege
Eight alleged members of extremist groups were charged in the past week in connection with the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol.
npr.org
How to Kill MAGA Nation’s Brain Worms
Jonathan Ernst/ReutersHow will we bring the Trump supporters who live in an alternate reality back to the real world?A recent Pew poll asked who respondents thought was to blame for the Capitol riot—and an “astounding” number said President Donald Trump bears no responsibility, Rick Wilson told his co-host Molly Jong-Fast on the latest episode of The New Abnormal.Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers “really want to close their eyes and say, it didn’t happen. Oh, it’s just going to go away. Well, it did happen. You made it happen. It’s not going away. It’s going to be with you for a long, long time,” Wilson said.Read more at The Daily Beast.
thedailybeast.com
Don Lemon Blows Up at Trump's Allies Praising Martin Luther King Jr.
A number of Republicans including Ted Cruz and Ivanka Trump praised the civil rights icon on the holiday celebrating his birth.
newsweek.com