“Come on, it’s not that hard.” So said White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow to CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Friday when asked about lost productivity, as parents care for children out of school during the pandemic. “Just go back to school, we can do that.”
Can we? How should we? Those are the questions doctors, parents and public officials are asking in a chorus, its volume increasing as July ticks toward August. That’s when many school districts would normally resume classes. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for school opening during the surge in Covid-19 cases do not align with President Donald Trump’s desires: in tones that many perceived as threatening, he issued a tweet on Friday implying that schools that don’t open for in-person instruction may be denied federal funding. While Trump isn’t empowered to do that unilaterally, he could try to restrict pandemic relief money or refuse to sign future grants or bailouts for education. “This would be a detrimental move,” warned primary care pediatrician Edith Bracho-Sanchez, “adding more fear and confusion during an already chaotic time.”
The reopening of schools is a goal, not a mandate or a foregone conclusion, wrote Bracho-Sanchez. Stuck in the middle are students and their parents — and teachers. Elana Rabinowitz, an ESL teacher in New York City, where teachers were among the pandemic’s first victims, implored the “parents and especially politicians expressing their opinions” to consider educators’ perspective and the “teachers, teachers’ aides, administrators, office employees, food service workers and others (who) have died” when making life-and-death decisions about going back to school. “I love my students,” she lamented, “but I don’t want to be next.”
Rabinowitz, who favors a community-driven combination of limited in-person instruction (with appropriate resources) and virtual learning, offered public officials this message: “Stop pretending there is a one-size-fits all solution that will work for an entire state, much less the entire country … What schools need from the top is support, flexibility and money — not control.”
As the school debate gained momentum, it renewed attention on treatment for Covid-19 and questions about the possibility of a vaccine to fight it. Biologist Erin Bromage explained that any vaccine’s efficacy depends on how well it trains our bodies to respond to infections. With vaccine trials ongoing in multiple countries, “scientists around the world will focus on understanding how our immune systems respond to the virus that causes Covid-19,” he wrote, and what “we learn will have major implications for how vaccines are designed, the cells they train, and how long immunity might last.”
Dr. Phoebe Danziger, a pediatrician, warned in The New York Times that an effective vaccine will work only when patients are willing to take it, which is far from a given: “As repeated measles outbreaks demonstrate, we haven’t done a great job addressing people’s concerns about vaccines. And if we don’t learn from our failed response to them, a coronavirus vaccine program will be doomed.”
Even without a Covid-19 vaccine, there’s still reason for hope, affirmed William Haseltine. Drug treatment — probably antivirals or monoclonal antibodies — “can likely help us bridge the gap between where we are today — with only masks, hand hygiene and physical distancing to protect us — to where we hope to be tomorrow — with a vaccine in hand.”
Smart takes on self-care:
— Dr. Ford Vox: What Covid stress is doing to your body
— Dr. Vivek H. Murthy and Dr. Alice T. Chen: The best way to take care of your mental health during the pandemic
The rage that saved Roger Stone
In a widely anticipated move on Friday evening, Trump commuted the sentence of political operative and longtime ally Roger Stone just before he was to begin serving 40 months behind bars. This exercise of the most presidential of executive powers drew widespread outrage and also held up a mirror to just how powerless Trump is feeling right now, wrote Errol Louis. A Friday night bombshell isn’t rare for this White House, but the “angry announcement” that accompanied this one “reflected the rage of an administration that is besieged and bewildered, hemmed in — this week alone — by skyrocketing Covid-19 cases; wretchedly bad poll numbers; the looming release of a tell-all book by President Trump’s niece, Mary Trump; and Supreme Court decision that means Trump’s personal taxes could be seen by prosecutors soon.” Trump can’t change much of that, but he can use his “unreviewable power to commute federal sentences” to lash out at enemies, wrote Louis.
For an advance take on Mary Trump’s book:
— Michael D’Antonio: Mary Trump’s disturbingly credible assessment of her ‘dangerous’ Uncle Donald
Move over, MAGA?
“Forget MAGA,” opined Frida Ghitis. “The snappy new motto of the Trump 2020 campaign would be more fittingly changed to ‘Hate One Another.’” Citing the President’s stances “in defense of all things Confederacy” at a time when most Americans support a national reckoning on race, Ghitis assessed that Trump is “punching back against his collapsing poll numbers with a new campaign aimed to appeal to his most racist supporters and hoping to expand that core by creating more divisions and more fear.
The GOP must rescue itself from the doom Trump is bringing down on his party and evolve to survive, wrote former Republican congressman Charlie Dent, who observed: “Speaking to people of color, religious minorities and the LGBTQ community will demand a policy platform that is socially tolerant and sensible, constructively engaged on the international stage and supports reasonably regulated free markets. Trump and “Trumpism” make it virtually impossible to accomplish these objectives.”
— Arick Wierson and Bradley Honan: Democrats, it’s too soon to cheer Trump’s defeat
— Robert Redford: This is who gets my vote in 2020
Latinos will keep cooking…without Goya
After Goya CEO Robert Unanu said on the White House lawn Thursday that “we are all truly blessed … to have a leader like President Trump,” the world “stood on its head,” wrote critic Ed Morales, who like most of his friends and family, has Goya products in his cupboard. The ubiquitous brand has long been a way for Latinos, himself included, to stay connected to traditions — and even for “many non-Latinos, consuming Goya products is a fairly authentic, if superficial way to practice Latinidad.”
Morales pointed out that the outrage and boycott that sprung up on social media have changed all that for now, even as they quickly also became a new pawn in Trump’s culture wars and allowed the president and his supporters, like Ted Cruz, to cry “cancel culture.” A boycott is not likely to change Unanue’s mind, he wrote, but many, many Latinos will cook on — without him.
Supreme Court drama
Elie Honig said Chief Justice John Roberts’ efforts to put the Supreme Court before politics have yielded a variety of surprising recent stances for a conservative jurist, including voting to save DACA, defend the rights of transgender Americans in the workplace, block a controversial and restrictive abortion law in Louisiana. But these were all a prelude to Thursday’s much-anticipated rulings on the President’s tax returns: “Roberts joined with the liberal bloc, plus Trump-appointed justices, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, to flatly reject Trump’s legal claim that he is above the reach of prosecutors or Congress. However, by sending the cases back down to lower courts for further consideration, the court left Trump with enough wiggle room to delay and run out the clock, likely past the November election.” These most mixed-bag decisions reflect an important reality, insisted Honig: Roberts “owes nothing to anybody, and has nothing to gain from playing politics, for or against either party.”
Ed McCaffery wrote that Roberts’ opinion on Trump’s taxes “goes back to the 1807 trial of Aaron Burr” to affirm “that the President is not above the law. Grade school students in America are supposed to know that. Maybe it is time to pass simple laws that make this simple point even simpler … Two laws I humbly suggest: One, every President must disclose his or her tax returns. Two, every President must wear a mask in public just like everyone else.”
In a 5-4 decision, the court also held that based on 19th-century treaties, much of the eastern part of Oklahoma is, legally speaking, a Creek reservation — which will have wide-ranging practical and symbolic ramifications in the state. Writing at Bloomberg Opinion, Noah Feldman noted, “If this attitude of acknowledging broken promises and fulfilling them were to be adopted by the courts, not to mention by the American public, it would go a long way toward repairing the nearly unimaginable wrongs done to the first peoples of the North American continent over the centuries.”
For more on the Supreme Court:
— Robert Alexander: Court’s ruling on Electoral College won’t fix much
— Lisa Tucker: Just how far will Clarence Thomas go?
The plight of international students
This week, outcry arose after Immigrations and Customs Enforcement announced new rules requiring international students to leave the United States if their universities or colleges, facing the ongoing threat of Covid-19, implemented online-only learning environments for the fall — something some leading institutions of higher learning have already done.
These rules are “another disgusting, transparent Trump administration attack on foreigners and immigrants, one that is solely about malice,” wrote Jill Filipovic.
Anushay Hossain responded to the new guidance by reflecting on how the journey from Bangladesh to go to college in the US changed the course of her life. “Let’s look around us,” she appealed. “Who are our doctors? Who are our medical researchers? Who are the country’s top scientists? Ask yourself — who works to make America stronger than she already is?”
Writing for Made By History at the Washington Post, education anthropologist Chenyu Wang, wrote that while international study in the US has changed before during significant moments like World War II or the Cold War, the Trump administration’s stance marks a “shift in the country’s political agenda … Today, rather than focusing on foreign policy goals, the administration is using its power to define an admissible foreign student as one who is willing to risk their life in exchange for studying on a reopened college campus with in-person classes.”
Another smart take, from CNN Business Perspectives:
— Charles A. Goldman and Rita T. Karam: College in America could be changed forever
Which team do the adults play for?
“For those discouraged by the recklessness of policymakers, some solace can be found in the work of a group of healthy young American millionaires who are using science to punch their way forward through the pandemic and its restrictions: Professional athletes.” You read that right. In the weeks to come, according to infection control expert Kent Sepkowitz, athletes, coaches and support staff of America’s major league sports who are working to reopen safely “will become volunteers in a vast national experiment to see whether an evidence-based, rather than miracle-based, program might allow the rest of us to gradually resume an orderly and un-isolated life.”
More on sports:
— Roxanne Jones: The WNBA has come too far to be silenced by Kelly Loeffler
— Brad Balukjian: When baseball players retire, they turn into accidental Buddhists
The problem with crying ‘cancel culture’
It’s become known as “the letter” — formally titled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” published by Harper’s Magazine and signed by more than 150 scholars, journalists, artists and intellectuals ranging from J.K. Rowling to Noam Chomsky and warning of the dangers of cancel culture. Jeff Yang described it as an elegantly written affirmation of privilege: “even if the letter were warranted — even if it weren’t an off-note, Olympian statement that reads as self-interested and elitist at best — it’s sure to be used by serial bad actors on the list (of signatories) as a shield against legitimate criticism.” Megan McArdle characterized the backlash thus in the Washington Post: “Unsurprisingly, the letter triggered some of the very tactics it implicitly condemns.”
“Who signed the letter in Harper’s is just as important as what’s written in it,” opined Jessica Valenti for GEN — and for many, that significance rested most heavily on the signature of “Harry Potter” creator J.K. Rowling, long embattled for transphobia and just this week for a tweet comparing gender affirmation care with gay conversion therapy. “Boy Erased” author Garrard Conley, a survivor of this toxic process — and a “Potter” fan — categorically refuted her comparison as bigoted and painful, noting: “Any time someone tells you they want to protect you from what you know and feel to be true, that person does not have your best interests at heart.”
Watching ‘Hamilton’ in 2020
It seemed like all of America tuned in to stream the newly-released film version of “Hamilton” on Disney Plus last weekend like they were running out of time. And yet, in Ed Morales‘s estimation, the film entered a cultural landscape in 2020 nearly unrecognizable by the standard of the 2015 Broadway hit. The multicultural production seems now “at odds with Black Lives Matter’s strident call for radical change to an America where the legacy of white supremacy lives on,” wrote Morales. “To reassess Hamilton now is to note a crucial incompatibility with our current moment: Its hero and its message are essentially ambivalent while today’s politics around America’s racial sins requires taking a strong stance.”
Despite its dissonances now, “Hamilton” may yet have much to teach us about our own moment, asserted S. Mitra Kalita, who interviewed Thayne Jasperson, one of the White actors from the original cast. Recalling her own experience seeing the production on stage and again on screen, Kalita wrote: “I noticed the few White faces on stage and wondered if they might have some insight on what it was like to live the revolution that was “Hamilton,” what that means now and if they might have advice on what it means to be an ally to people of color.”
— Julian Zelizer: What Trump learned from Newt Gingrich
— Penny Pritzker and Jack Markell: Six ways to fix America’s broken safety net
— Joey Jackson and Diana Florence: What the Amy Cooper case really reveals
— Andrew Peterson: How to decide who gets the Covid-19 vaccine first
— David Andelman: Trump’s risky nose-to-nose challenge to China in the South China Sea
— Peggy Drexler: Naya Rivera’s disappearance is a hard reminder
What ‘The Wonder Years’ could offer America now
The news that ABC is rebooting “The Wonder Years” — set in 1960s Alabama with a Black family and with former child actor Fred Savage and director Lee Daniels at the helm — roused nostalgia, critique and anticipation. Skeptical of nearly every other remake as recycling at best, Gene Seymour speculated that “The Wonder Years” would be different. Where the original looked back at the 1960s from the vantage of the late 1980s, this new version offers the prospect of looking at the civil rights-era South through a 21st-century, Black Lives Matter-focused lens — with the ultimate hope of opening up nostalgia, previously the “sole property of White America,” to new potential intimacies and channels of empathy.
“So many Black children like me knew those ‘wonder years,’ too,” observed Seymour. A reimagination of a beloved show presents “an intriguing test case for how much empathy has grown between Black and White Americans in a post-George Floyd time frame. … The grownups who found communion in the original ‘Wonder Years’ could find similar communion with this one.”