Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: The early legacies of the COVID-19 pandemic

We begin today with David Wallace-Wells of The New York Times citing a rather obvious underlying reason for continuing American economic pessimism: the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But in fishing for causes, an obvious contributor is often overlooked: the pandemic itself. It not only killed more than a million Americans but also threw much of daily life and economic activity and public confidence into profound disarray for several years, scarring a lot of people and their perceptions of the country, its capacities and its future.

When Americans are asked whether the country is on the right track, or whether they themselves are optimistic or pessimistic, they don’t treat the query like a trivia quiz about the last quarter’s G.D.P. growth or the Black unemployment rate or even the size of their own paychecks or stock portfolios. They are effectively responding to the therapist’s query: How are things? They answered that question according to one set of patterns, stretching back decades. And the pattern did not begin to shift only when inflation peaked in late spring 2022, or when pandemic relief was relaxed in fall 2021, or when supply-chain issues first arose earlier that year. They began answering differently in 2020, as the scale and duration of the pandemic came into view.

For decades, surveys about the economy were an accurate gauge of economic fundamentals that, practically speaking, there was little need to distinguish between the two.

That all changed in early 2020, when a significant gap opened between economic conditions and public perception…

Solomon Jones of The Philadelphia Inquirer sees the legacy of the worst of COVID-19 pandemic in the lingering violence of a stabbing of a security guard at a Macy’s in Philadelphia.

The armed rage that led to the fatal stabbing of a Macy’s security guard on Monday is an indication that the COVID-19 pandemic has given birth to yet another contagion. This time, the disease is violence. […]

The trend seems to have begun in 2020, when cities around the world shut down in an effort to protect the public from a virus that killed at least three million people worldwide in a single year, according to World Health Organizationestimates. That year, as schools and offices closed, interpersonal guardrails like after-school programs and social services were removed. An economic downturn and a historic uptick in gun purchases occurred. The killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor spurred worldwide protests, and amid all of those factors, the divisive politics of a presidential election also boiled over.

Daniel Webster, the director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins, told ABC News that 2020 was the “perfect storm,” adding that “everything bad happened at the same time — you had the COVID outbreak, huge economic disruption, people were scared.”

America isn’t alone in suffering from the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, either (although those “lingering effects” do vary from country to country and city to city).

The editorial board of The Los Angeles Times says that former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is only a victim of his own machinations.

It’s not surprising that dozens of members of the U.S. House of Representatives are choosing to leave the dysfunctional chamber rather than seek another term. The politics are toxic. The rhetoric is ugly. And it seems that members aren’t interested in doing much besides fighting the culture wars — and one another.

But we don’t believe for a minute that’s the reason former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy decided to step down at the end of the month after 17 years in Congress. After all, he helped create the hostile conditions in Congress by toadying to the hard-right Republicans in his conference by, among things, voting to challenge some of the results of the 2020 election and authorizing a baseless inquiry into impeaching President Biden.

In the end, however, McCarthy couldn’t manage the unruly conference and was deposed in October after a mere nine months in charge. His crime, according to the GOP hard-liners who orchestrated his downfall? Taking the kind of sensible action that Americans expect of their leaders. He’s no a tragic hero, though. Just a victim of the MAGA flames he fanned.

Clint Smith of The Atlantic details the radical plans that a potential second Trump Administration would have for educational policy.

Although educational policy is formed most directly at the state level, the Department of Education has $79 billion of discretionary funding that it can use as both carrot and stick, to encourage states and school districts to teach—or stop them from teaching—certain topics in certain ways. Trump’s 2024 education-policy plan promises to cut federal funding to any school or program that includes “critical race theory, gender ideology, or other inappropriate racial, sexual, or political content” in its curriculum. Already, in Texas, Florida, and other Republican-controlled states, educators are being ostracized for attempting to teach parts of American history that don’t cast straight, white, Christian Americans as the primary protagonists. Teachers are being punished for engaging with the history of policies that segregated, violated the rights of, or oppressed those whose identities fell outside that group. Trump would encourage such sanctions on a national scale.

What Trump and the MAGA movement want is a country where children are falsely taught that the United States has always been a beacon of righteousness. Despite our nation’s many virtues, the truth of its past is harrowing and complicated. Slavery, Jim Crow, Indigenous displacement and slaughter, anti-immigrant laws, the suppression of women’s rights, and the history of violence against the LGBTQ community—these things sully the MAGA version of the American story. […]

A central part of Trump’s project is to depict the presentation of empirical evidence as an attempt at ideological indoctrination. The claim that this country has prevented millions from achieving upward mobility should not be a controversial one; it reflects actual policies such as convict leasing, school segregation, and housing covenants. To Trump and his allies, however, anyone making such a claim has fallen prey to a “radical movement” that sees America as an inherently and irredeemably evil country. A professor stating that the Confederacy seceded from the Union because of slavery and racism is a member of the “woke mob,” never mind the fact that the seceding states said this directly in their declarations of secession. (Mississippi in 1861: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest in the world.”) An elementary-school teacher highlighting the importance of LGBTQ figures in the history of American activism is reprimanded for being part of an effort to force sexuality onto students, never mind the fact that Bayard Rustin, Harvey Milk, and Marsha P. Johnson played an indisputable role in shaping political life.

Jim Saksa of Roll Call reports on the very different political stances that religious House Democrats have from Speaker Mike Johnson.

When he was mayor of Kansas City, Mo., Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II faced a choice. As pastor of one of the city’s largest congregations, he had helped lead opposition to the legalization of riverboat gambling. It passed anyway, and some expected Cleaver would use his new office to protect the downtown waterfront from the kind of sinful business that any good Christian would find repugnant.

They were wrong. Cleaver refused to get involved. “I was not elected as the Methodist mayor. I was elected as the mayor of our largest city, and I’m not going to try to convert people to Methodism,” the Democrat explained.

Before Mike Johnson was speaker of the House, he faced a similar moral dilemma. In his hometown of Shreveport, La., a strip club was set to open, the kind of sinful business that any good Christian would find repugnant. A coalition of neighbors thought Johnson, then a young attorney just a few years out of law school, might help them fight it. […]

Confronted with forks on the path of righteousness, these two deeply devout Christians went opposite ways. And today they follow those paths in Congress.

Ian Millhiser of Vox parses out the oral arguments of Moore v. The United States, which was argued before the Supreme Court yesterday.

The Supreme Court spent much of Tuesday morning beating up Andrew Grossman, a lawyer asking the justices to revive a long-defunct limit on Congress’s ability to levy taxes. […]

The full array of legal issues in Moore is dizzyingly complex. To completely understand the case, someone must have a working knowledge of how tax accounting typically works, how it works for certain investors who are taxed differently than others, how the Court once read a provision of the Constitution enacted to preserve a Union between free states and slaveholders to protect investors from taxes, and why the United States amended its Constitution to restore the federal government’s ability to tax investment income. (I explain all of these details here.)

But the shortest explanation of what’s at issue in Moore is that it asks whether the Constitution prohibits Congress from taxing investment income before that income is “realized” — meaning that the investor has sold an asset for a profit or otherwise disposed of that asset.

Renée Graham of The Boston Globe is unconvinced by the “apology” of actress Julianna Margulies over her derogatory comments about Black and LGBTQ support for Jews.

During an appearance last month on “The Back Room with Andy Ostroy” podcast, the actress best known for “The Good Wife” questioned the level of support for Jews in Black and LGBTQ communities since the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas stormed into Israel, massacred at least 1,200 people, and took more than 200 others hostage.

After mentioning Jewish support of the 1960s civil rights movement, Margulies said, “The fact that the entire Black community isn’t standing with us, to me, says either they just don’t know or they’ve been brainwashed to hate Jews.” She also castigated LGBTQ people, especially those who identify as gender nonconforming who, she said, “will be the first people beheaded and their heads played like a soccer ball on the field” in places run by extremist groups like Hamas. […]

Every headline about Margulies claimed she apologized for her comments. She didn’t. Her podcast appearance aired Nov. 21. Only more than a week later when her remarks started getting negative traction on social media did she even say anything about them. And when she did, she shifted away from what she said to how she has worked “tirelessly to combat hate of all kind, end antisemitism, speak out against terrorist groups like Hamas, and forge a united front against discrimination.” She added that she “did not intend for my words to sow further division, for which I am sincerely apologetic.”

Her intentions are irrelevant. Her words sowed further division. But Margulies did not retract her statement that Black people “have been brainwashed to hate Jews,” as if antisemitism is as innate to us as the texture of our hair or the melanin in our skin. She reduced Black people to a monolith guided by one mind and a binding set of hateful beliefs.

Sarah DeWeerdt of Anthropocene reports about a study showing that attempts to combat climate disinformation have only very limited success.

Spampatti and his colleagues have developed six psychological interventions to combat climate disinformation. Past research has suggested that pre-emptively providing warnings about disinformation and counterarguments against it could serve as a psychological ‘vaccine,’ inoculating people to better resist denialists’ messages.

The new interventions, which Spampatti and his colleagues describe in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, are based on current research about how people develop and update their understanding of scientific information. The researchers devised messages emphasizing:

  1. The strong scientific consensus about the reality of human-caused climate change;
  2. The trustworthiness of scientists who prepare international climate reports and suggest strategies to fight climate change;
  3. Transparency about the pros and cons of climate actions;
  4. The strong moral case for climate action;
  5. The importance of carefully judging the accuracy of online information; and
  6. The positive emotions that come from climate action.


“We expected the psychological inoculation we tested to protect people from climate disinformation, because they had been identified as a promising strategy to fight disinformation,” Spampatti says.

“Unfortunately, we noted that these inoculations protect only against one piece of disinformation, but not more.” A more sustained effect would be necessary to protect against disinformation in the real world, where climate denial is plentiful.

Florantonia Singer of El País in English reports about the annexation of Essequibo, a disputed territory between Venezuela and Guyana, by Venezuela.

Two days after the referendum on Essequibo, a territory disputed between Venezuela and Guyana, the government of Nicolás Maduro is moving forward to try to enforce what was approved Sunday in a vote that registered almost no participation in the streets but which Chavismo hailed as a victory with 10.4 million voters, reawakening a crisis of credibility in the country’s electoral authorities. In a television appearance Tuesday, Maduro presented a new official map of Venezuela with Essequibo incorporated, without the disputed delimitation, during a Council of State in which he announced a series of measures and upcoming legislation to cement Caracas’ possession of the territory and its resources. Earlier, Maduro had sent a military contingent to Puerto Barima on the Venezuelan Atlantic border, close to the limits of the area under claim.

The war of narratives has begun. A few weeks ago, Guyana raised a flag on a small hill in Essequibo. On the day of the referendum, the Venezuelan Ministry of Communication released a video in which Indigenous people lowered the Guyanese flag and raised the Venezuelan flag. Maduro is now counterattacking with everything at his disposal. Via a special law announced Tuesday, he will create a new province or state in the territory, having already appointed a single provisional authority: Major-General Alexis Rodríguez Cabello, a deputy for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), who will operate from the mining community of Tumeremo in Bolívar state, barely 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the town of San Martín de Turumbang in the disputed area. […]

Brazil, which shares a border with both Venezuela and Guyana, has also expressed concern over the escalation of the territorial dispute. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva spoke with both Maduro and Ali and reinforced the military deployment on the border. The Ministry of Defense increased the contingent of the Boa Vista detachment in the state of Roraima from 70 to 130 uniformed personnel. Its mission is to “guard and protect the national territory,” according to a statement from the ministry. After the Venezuelan referendum, Lula also decided to send around 20 armored vehicles to the triple border.

Finally today, we return to The Philadelphia Inquirer and Elizabeth Wellington’s celebration of the complex legacy of Norman Lear, who died yesterday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 101.

At five, I was banned from watching “Sanford & Son” after I slapped a toy out of my cousin’s hands, rolled my eyes, called him a fish-eyed fool and a heathen in my best Aunt Esther imitation.

That was the power of Norman Lear’s situation comedies on my little pop-culture psyche back in the 1970s and 1980s, when Lear’s shows dominated the primetime landscape. With shows like “Maude” and “All in The Family,” Lear introduced taboo topics like rape, incest, and abortion to America’s living rooms in a way that educated us and made us laugh. Lear died Wednesday morning at his Los Angeles home. He was 101.

Lear’s impact on the Black situation comedy was groundbreaking. From “The Jeffersons” to “Good Times,” Lear introduced modern Black life to television, when before we just had “Soul Train.” Little Black children saw ourselves in Arnold, Willis, Tootie and Michael. Songs in these shows’ opening credits were schoolyard chants. Lear proved that Black shows starring Black people had a place on primetime television, paving the way for a slew of 1990s comedies from “Martin” to “Moesha.”

It wasn’t all good in the hood. Lear’s shows were full of stereotypes. Sherman Hemsley’s George Jefferson moved on up to the East Side, but when he got there he was rude, loud, obnoxious and racist. The Evans family on “Good Times” were always struggling and broke, so much so my mother didn’t allow my sister and I to watch it because she didn’t want us to internalize that Black people never could have anything. She was also disgusted at how much of a buffoon JJ Evans (Jimmie Walker) was.

Try to have the best possible day everyone!


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