Burn the Covid Playbook

US
A sign hangs outside of Pulaski International School after Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, said it would cancel classes since the teachers’ union voted in favor of a return to remote learning, in Chicago, Ill., January 5, 2022. (Jim Vondruska/Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

To pick up where this newsletter left off before the holidays — we are fast approaching a point where policy-makers must decide whether the Covid playbook becomes a permanent fixture. That is, will the farrago of masking and lockdowns and vaccine passports and remote learning and testing regimes and contactless everything become the standard response to every new Covid variant, possibly to new viruses of all kinds?

That debate is playing out now — at the start of Year Three, against the highly contagious but relatively mild Omicron variant — and nowhere are the stakes higher than in the schools.

In New York City, newly sworn-in mayor Eric Adams is doing his damnedest to resist closing classrooms, but the unions are fighting just as hard to suspend in-person learning. Not all executives are holding their ground, and plenty of other school systems once again are going remote, affecting over 450,000 students by one count. In Chicago, a very ugly fight is playing out as the teachers’ union opposes in-person schooling, leading to a standoff with the city.

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The pivotal factor here is the bipartisan skepticism — and outright opposition — over these steps, with leaders from Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot to U.S. education secretary Miguel Cardona recognizing that the damage to students from prolonged isolation far outweighs the risk from Covid-19. They should shut this debate down, for good.

NR’s editorial explains precisely and concisely why:

Children are at extremely low risk for Covid. In 2020–21, 678 people aged 0–17 died from Covid. To put that in perspective, 1,161 people in that age cohort died from influenza in 2012–13, and 803 died in 2014–15. Covid is more severe than the flu for adults, but it is not significantly different from the flu for children. The adults have multiple safe and effective vaccines, and now antiviral pills as well to treat Covid. We don’t close schools for influenza, and we shouldn’t close schools for Covid.

The reflexive return to the Covid playbook by the teachers’ unions and their allies is as disheartening as it is predictable, considering what we now know, especially about this variant. Study after study is showing Omicron to be less dangerous, less deadly, less likely to attack the lungs.

Ironically, the soaring infections make the case for easing restrictions, as the CDC’s latest guidance implicitly recognized: Omicron is becoming unavoidable, making the elaborate avoidance schemes too disruptive for too little benefit. Know someone who’s caught it in the past couple weeks? Yourself? A colleague? A close family member? And more every day? This keyboard jockey sure does. If we’re all getting it, and if the indications are that this is a milder version, what good is making schoolkids continue to suffer? Especially when experts suggest the latest variant could help “quell the pandemic” by boosting immunity.

Universities are behaving even more irrationally than the K–12 schools, subjecting vaxxed students to nonstop testing and even quarantines, while ignoring that the risk posed to this cohort is low anyway. Cornell University senior Matthew Samilow writes for NR about an Omicron outbreak at the school in December that effectively shuttered campus, but notes: “Buried within the frenzy over the number of student cases, however, was the reality that all of them were mild.”

Meanwhile, and we know we’re a broken record on this, THERE IS A VACCINE. It is remarkably effective at preventing severe infection and death; breakthrough cases are numerous but manageable. This analysis from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that the overwhelming majority of deaths in the latter half of 2021 would have been prevented with vaccination. Yet the Covid playbook undermines the vaccine’s value, by treating this miracle as just one of many coequal mitigation measures.

None of this is to say there’s no place for some of these measures, especially in the face of a future and more virulent variant. But it’s time for those intellectually capable of conducting a cost–benefit analysis to do so. Michael Brendan Dougherty notes here that Omicron has made once-taboo notions about this pandemic painfully obvious and increasingly mainstream:

Things such as “your masks are useless.” And “the hospitalization figures for Covid in children are overcounted.” And “we need to stop focusing on cases and start focusing on hospitalizations.” And even that public-health regulations had to retreat to the point at which they would be tolerated by the public.

It’s important to note that none of these insights became true with the onset of Omicron, which is extremely contagious but less severe and infects vaccinated people easily. This isn’t guidance changing with the latest science. No, Omicron only made these facts more undeniable.

Michael advises that in the new year, “the only thing between us and a recognition of endemic Covid is our own tolerance for [officials’] disruptions and guidance.”

A smart start to 2022 would be to tear up this played-out playbook and respond to the unique challenge in front of us, not to the crisis we left behind.

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

There is no defense for what the mob did at the Capitol one year ago, or for what Donald Trump did to summon it: Anniversary of a Disgrace

New York State is urging doctors to prioritize Covid-19 patients for treatment based on race: Race-Rationing in a Pandemic

Let’s say it one more time: Keep the Schools Open

ARTICLES

Dan McLaughlin: How Republicans Can Outflank Chuck Schumer

Andrew McCarthy: Examining Trump’s Role in the Capitol Riot

Andrew McCarthy: SCOTUS Should Nix Biden’s Vaccine Mandates

Kevin Williamson: What Happened on January 6

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Let’s Make 2022 the Year of a Foster-Care Revolution

Kyle Smith: Patton Oswalt Turns Rat against Dave Chappelle

Daniel Tenreiro: GM Loses Spot as No. 1 U.S. Automaker for the First Time since 1931

Daniel Tenreiro: Chicago Drivers Get Speeding Tickets Every Eleven Seconds

Nate Hochman: Texas Democrats Have a Problem

Dominic Pino: California Wants to Double Its Taxes

Rich Lowry: Chuck Schumer’s January 6 Cynicism

Madeleine Kearns: The Myth of No-Fault Divorce

Philip Klein: The Covid-Vaccine Mandates Are Unprecedented

Michael Brendan Dougherty: No to Vaccine Passports

Ryan Mills: Arizona State Directs Wrestlers to Mask While Competing

Preston Cooper: Harvard’s Stance against Standardized Testing Will Worsen Inequality

CAPITAL MATTERS

Joel Kotkin authors a deep dive on what ails California: Trouble in Paradise: The Crumbling California Model

Aaron Hedlund finds the one area where Biden’s economy has exceeded expectations: Building Back Badly: Biden’s Supply-Side Counterrevolution

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Kyle Smith’s tribute to Peter Bogdanovich: An Exasperating, Brilliant Filmmaker Who Changed His Art Form

French filmmaker Bruno Dumont has produced a masterpiece of modern-media criticism. Armond White reviews: France — Inside Media Sainthood

Brian Allen visits the Jewish Museum’s exhibition on Edmund de Waal’s book documenting his family’s unique story of wealth, loss, survival, and Nazi theft: New York’s Jewish Museum Makes an Exhibition of The Hare with Amber Eyes

And look what just arrived in the mail today: Armond’s The Better-Than List for 2021

FROM THE NEW JANUARY 24, 2022, ISSUE OF NR

Dan McLaughlin: American Slavery in the Global Context

Wilfred Reilly: The 1619 False-History Project

Jack Butler: George Bailey’s America

Spencer Case: Miles Davis, Someday and Always

THE EXCERPTS WILL SEE YOU NOW

January 6, 2021, was not, as some opportunists like to argue, comparable to 9/11 or the Civil War. But the Capitol riot has its own special place in American infamy. From the editorial:

This will, and should, be remembered as a stain on the nation’s history. . . .

What happened at the Capitol that day is best understood as a riot that was particularly dangerous because of its setting and context. It was not a purely peaceful protest, or a cartoonish costume party with a little bit of trespassing. The Secret Service had to rush Pence to safety. Members of Congress emptied the chamber and fled for cover. The vote-counting process was interrupted for five and a half hours. The Capitol itself was wreathed in smoke. This is the stuff of a banana republic.

January 6 was a day shrouded in tragedy. Four of the protesters died, including one woman who was shot by Capitol Police while she was breaking through a door at the head of a screaming mob, and a 42-year-old Capitol Police officer who was pepper-sprayed had a pair of fatal strokes just eight hours later. Even if not all these deaths are directly attributable to the riot, the mayhem that day has been documented on video — people being stomped on, one officer being beaten with an American flagpole, rioters crushing one police officer in a door. The violence is why, of the more than 700 people who have been arrested, over 200 have been charged with assault or resisting arrest, including scores charged with assaulting police with dangerous weapons (mainly toxic sprays). Police officials report that 140 officers suffered injuries including bad cuts and bruises, burns, and broken bones. There was also damage to the Capitol that was estimated to exceed $1 million.

Defenders of Trump and apologists for the riot argue that the events of January 6 did not emerge out of nowhere. It is true that past Democratic misconduct helped to set the stage for the riot, but that does not exonerate Trump or the rioters.

A new issue of NR — the very first of the new year — is out, and it’s dedicated to countering the falsehoods and misinterpretations of the 1619 Project. At its center is Dan McLaughlin’s magisterial essay, which explores the awful history of slavery, frankly and factually, in the global context:

No topic in American history is more enduringly controversial than slavery. It sits at the heart of every indictment of America and our founding principles. It is central to battles over critical race theory, the removal of monuments, and the renaming of places and institutions. It is invoked in debates over policing and welfare.

For the New York Times’ 1619 Project, slavery is foundational to American identity. Its beginning is our “true founding.” We should “reframe our understanding of U.S. history by considering 1619 as our country’s origin point.” Slavery is “the seed of so much of what has made us unique” and should sit at “the center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.” Yet this claim lacks the global perspective we need to examine what is actually uniquely American. Where did American slavery come from? How did it differ from other systems of bondage and forced labor?

Slavery was a human crime of which Americans were one part. It proliferated for millennia before slaves are first known to have been sold in Virginia, in 1619. It persisted long after it was abolished in the United States in 1865. It was practiced by people far from our shores without American influence. People were enslaved in virtually every society from which American slaves were descended. Few of the world’s major civilizations have been innocent of it.

In the story of world slavery, Americans loom much larger in the history of abolition than in the history of enslavement. . . .

Ironically, the early death of slavery in northwestern Europe would make it harder on the slaves in North America. Slave systems elsewhere were somewhat mitigated by custom. In some African societies, slavery ended after three generations. Islamic slaves could work on their own time for wages to buy their freedom (this was encouraged by the Koran). Sales of household slaves were discouraged. But northwestern Europe had neither law nor custom of its own regarding slavery. Then, in the twelfth century, Italian scholars rediscovered Roman law, helping shape the law of medieval Europe. When confronted anew with slaves, classically edu­cated Western Europeans reached for the harsh, ancient law of Rome. So, eventually, did the American South.

The comedy world’s treatment of Dave Chappelle is endlessly fascinating. Kyle Smith savages a fellow comic for bowing to the mob this week for the crime of acknowledging his own friendship with Dave:

Patton Oswalt once famously played a rat in a movie, but he has never crept so low, nor squeaked so annoyingly, as he did in the apology he issued on Instagram for the crime of appearing in public with an old friend. Oswalt has been pals with Chappelle for 34 years, and after getting a text from him while the two were performing next door to one another on New Year’s Eve, joined him at the (only-in-Seattle) Climate Pledge Arena for a guest set and a backstage picture.

Oswalt described Chappelle in an Instagram post as “a genius” who “works an arena like he’s talking to one person and charming their skin off.” Oswalt then made the rookie mistake of reading the comments under his post. His post apparently inspired a session of cranial explosiveness to rival David Cronenberg’s Scanners. (Oswalt deleted hostile comments, so they’re not there anymore.)

Having tasted the people’s wrath, Oswalt rat-scurried back onto Instagram for a follow-up post. The comedy world is a close-knit family in which it is understood that everyone has everyone else’s back. Comics feel that, no matter their sensibilities or what they find funny, they have far more in common with one another than they do with those who have never known the sensation of standing utterly exposed on a stage trying to entertain with nothing but one’s words. And so it is rare for comics to take potshots at one another.

Which is why Oswalt’s revolting, embarrassing, disloyal, and incoherent follow-up post was so rodential. Oswalt betrayed a friend of, as he put it, “Thirty FOUR years” because he was scared by the antics of a handful of crap-flinging baboons on the Internet.

Joel Kotkin is not giving up hope on California, but he offers a must-read diagnosis of the state’s problems that its policy-makers would be wise to heed:

For most, the reality on the ground is increasingly challenging. The state is now the second-most unaffordable state for home-buyers, a particular challenge for Millennials, and it suffers the highest rate of “doubling up” — only our friend Hawaii does worse. California has the largest gap between middle and upper wage quartiles in the nation, and it has a level of inequality greater than that of Mexico and closer to that of Central American countries such as Guatemala and Honduras than to such “progressive” developed counties as Canada and Norway. According to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, 20 percent of state wealth is held within 30 zip codes that account for just 2 percent of the population. . . .

California’s media and academic establishment tend to dismiss the idea of an “exodus,” blaming the narrative in large part on conservative propagandists. We can debate the significance of this outbound movement, but it’s not exactly chopped liver. Since 2000, more than 2.4 million net domestic migrants, a population larger than that of the Sacramento metropolitan area, have moved to other parts of the nation from California. This process is now accelerating, driven as much by people not moving in as those moving out. Between 2014 and 2020, net domestic out-migration from California grew from an annual rate of 46,000 to 242,000, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

This decline does not reflect the movement of disgruntled oldsters and the unemployable, but from a rapid decline in people who traditionally came here to make their fortunes. California now has the worst attraction rate in the country, which is driving the demographic decline. Some 85 percent of those leaving, according to an analysis of IRS data from 2012 to 2019, are in their prime earning years of 25 to 64. In 2019, the largest number of net domestic migrants was in the 35–44 age category, at 27 percent, while 21 percent were age 55–64.

Particularly ironic, given the state’s racialized politics, has been the declining growth of California’s minority populations, who now represent nearly two-thirds of the residents. Some may see California as a multicultural exemplar, but a recent University of California, Berkeley, poll showed that 58 percent of African Americans express interest in leaving the state, more than any other ethnic group. So too do 45 percent of Asians and Latinos.

Shout-Outs

Tevi Troy, at City Journal: The de Blasio Debacle

Marty Makary, at Common Sense: Universities’ Covid Policies Defy Science and Reason

Mike Brest, at the Washington Examiner: Marine officer discharged after criticizing Afghanistan withdrawal bemoans ‘systemic’ problems at Defense Department

Kat Rosenfield, at UnHerd: The curse of the Girlboss

CODA

This constitutes two consecutive Codas with a Clapton connection, but don’t construe that as any hidden message pertaining to vaccines. This is the politics-free zone. Speaking of which, a holiday trip home to the folks’ place yielded some new appreciation for guitarist Derek Trucks and his various ensembles, a staple of the OG Berger household. One recording in particular (shared by my dad) showcases Tedeschi Trucks Band covering another famous “Derek” — Derek and the Dominos’ entire Layla album, live. The title song, of course, is heartbreaking, though it’s hard to suppress the conjured images of mobsters in meat lockers whenever it comes on, no matter who is covering. Better than the original? It’s a contest, but in the standing “Who’s better than Clapton?” games, Trucks is most assuredly up there. Here’s a bonus track off one of Trucks’s early albums, too, an exotic instrumental that, like most of his work, really builds.

Got a tune? Want to share? Send a link to jberger@nationalreview.com. Thanks for reading.

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