Editor’s Note: Sign up to get our new weekly column as a newsletter. We’re looking back at the strongest, smartest opinion takes of the week from CNN and other outlets.
The week began with (apologies to my beloved 1980s pop queens, The Bangles) a Manic Monday — only more so.
During a round table event with restaurant leaders and executives, President Donald Trump spilled it to reporters: “I’m taking it, hydroxychloroquine. Right now, yeah. Couple of weeks ago, I started taking it. ‘Cause I think it’s good, I’ve heard a lot of good stories.”
Even Fox News host Neil Cavuto was stunned by what Trump said next: “You know, I’m not going to get hurt by it.” Don’t count on it, Cavuto warned his viewers: “If you are in a risky population here … it will kill you.” (Trump immediately took a jab at Cavuto on Twitter.)
As Peter Bergen marveled, “Trump’s own FDA in late April warned of the dangers of taking hydroxychloroquine outside of a hospital or clinical study setting, ‘due to the risk of heart rhythm problems.’”
And despite a horrific death toll still climbing and warnings from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield about a coming winter outbreak, Bergen noted further that when it comes to “playing fast and loose” with facts about the pandemic, “the apple falleth not far from the tree.”
Donald Trump Jr. recently defended his right to “hyperbole” in speculating back in February that Democrats relished a coronavirus crisis big enough to end his father’s prospects for reelection, while second son Eric Trump cracked that once Dems have exploited it, “coronavirus will magically all of a sudden go away and disappear and everybody will be able to reopen” after the presidential election on November 3.
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No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service
Beyond the political bluster, Jennifer Senior posited for the New York Times that there may be more to it when it comes to Trump and hydroxychloroquine. In addition to being the “world’s most powerful patient,” she wrote, Donald Trump is “the patient perfect storm: a science denier, a devotee of medical quackery, and — above all else, I cannot emphasize this part enough — a powerful and narcissistic celebrity.” Citing examples as various as Elvis Presley Michael Jackson, Senior observed that the powerful, rich and famous “often seek out doctors who’ll follow their patients’ egos, not science and data.”
Trump’s resistance to wearing a protective face mask also drew lots of attention this week — and he leaned into it, going so far as to hold out to reporters a mask with the presidential seal on it during a visit to a Ford plant in Michigan on Thursday (he said he had put it on out of sight of cameras) but flouted the plant’s mask requirement during a walkthrough, surrounded by company brass with their faces covered.
“Too many encounters around masking turn hostile,” David Perry cautioned, urging a strategy simpler than making it a political or a policing issue. He said, “we already have all the tools we need built in to low-key and widely accepted societal norms. Let’s add ‘no masks’ to the famous “no shirt, no shoes, no service.”
Julian Zelizer had a different tactic for dealing with the tensions between individual freedom and public safety: Don’t be the guy who gets people killed. Try to focus on the real enemy here: Our 21st century viral Great White. “Jaws” celebrates its 45th anniversary in a few weeks and Zelizer wrote, “Today, as summer sets in…we find ourselves facing similar tensions to the ones that unfolded on screen back then. Now, our shark is a virus — and as we grapple with how to keep citizens safe while reopening our public spaces, the film can offer some important lessons.”
‘Memorial Day is every day for me’
The concept of a fun, long weekend seems like a quaint relic after months of lockdown and grief for so many, and indeed this Memorial Day weekend is unlike any Americans alive today have known.
Staying isolated from family and friends is staggeringly hard. And as biology professor Erin Bromage acknowledged in the New York Times, some people just aren’t going to do it anymore, even though the “actions and choices we make over the next few days and weeks will determine what summer looks like for all of us.” Bromage recommended practices for safer (though not safe) socialization.
John Kirby suggested that the painful hardships of isolation can each us all more about what this holiday is actually for: memorializing our lost war dead. Kirby spoke with Gold Star spouse Coleen Bowman, who lost her husband Rob to cancer resulting from a combat deployment to Iraq. “Every day is Memorial Day for me,” Bowman said, adding that her experience has both taught her there is no right way to deal with grief and given her empathy for those brought low by the virus.
This Memorial Day is not about making a perfect comparison between soldiers and those killed by Covid-19 (or the heroes fighting the virus and keeping us fed and safe), Kirby reflected, but “we’d be fools, indeed, if we failed to remember what those fallen troops and their surviving families can teach us about how to better connect with one another, how to recover from tragedy and how to overcome our own fear and grief during this pandemic.”
Public health is an expression of faith
On Friday, the President announced that he would “override the governors” if they didn’t allow churches and other houses of worship “to open right now, this weekend.” He called them “essential places of faith.” Father Edward Beck responded that he won’t argue the point that worship is essential but took strong issue both with the idea that in-person worship warrants compromising public safety and with the implication that clergy and people of faith haven’t already been providing essential spiritual care. Beck himself has presided over funerals with limited family members and prayed via FaceTime and Zoom, and “even heard a confession in a supermarket parking lot.”
Priests, rabbis, imams and many other faith leaders are blessing the sick and dying in hospitals, wrote Beck, and are providing ceaseless community support while continuing to celebrate Masses and prayer services and other rites and rituals virtually “for countless of the faithful … That is all ‘religious service.’ What most of us have not done is put ourselves and our parishioners in danger by gathering in large groups for Mass or other religious services ‘as usual.’ That would have been — and would continue to be, in this time of contagion — irresponsible and sinful.”
A Trump firing leaves a trail of fallout
A week ago Friday, the President announced that he was firing State Department inspector general Steve Linick, whose job is “investigating any signs of malfeasance at the State Department,” wrote Frida Ghitis, headed up by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. On Wednesday Pompeo acknowledged that he asked Trump to fire Linick. “Mike Pompeo has surged into the headlines atop a geyser of revelations so dramatic that they may even help President Donald Trump distract the public from his disastrous pandemic response,” Ghitis observed.
Pompeo, under investigation for having staffers do his personal errands, according to an NBC News report, was also being investigated by Linick for his handling of an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, according to Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. “One of the most distinctive and harmful traits of the Trump administration is its disdain for ethics and integrity in government,” Ghitis wrote. Pompeo has denied any wrongdoing. As Quin Hillyer put it for the Washington Examiner, “Something looks rotten in the State Department of Mike Pompeo.”
In defending his secretary of state against accusations that he used his position to task aides with among other things walking his dog and picking up his laundry, Trump said, “I’d rather have him on the phone with some world leader than have him wash dishes because maybe his wife isn’t there or his kids aren’t there.” This showed his hand on what he really thinks women are for, appraised Jill Filipovic — to clean up the mess.
More smart takes:
– Elie Honig: Firing State Department inspector general may be a crime
– Samantha Vinograd: Trump’s dangerous assault on government watchdogs
The struggle to reopen
All 50 states reopened in some measure this week. And yet, many Americans remain unsure of what’s safe to do, particularly as infection counting has come into question in several states. In Florida, for example, the data “continues to puzzle,” wrote CNN medical analyst and infection control expert Kent Sepkowitz. “The numbers and rates of infection and death, including on the state’s Department of Health Covid-19 website continue to be all over the place.” Assessing the impact of this disease should be simple, “involving just two metrics: the number of deaths and the number of cases. But in Florida, these numbers — though presented with a high-gloss friendliness — are difficult to follow if you dig an inch below the surface. He warned: “given the political tension nationally as well as the dismissal of a key member of the data team, for now, Covid-19 reports from Florida will need to be handled with care.”
Public health expert Leana Wen wrote for the Washington Post that since no state has “met the metrics to safely reopen but are starting to do so anyway, the United States needs to move to the public health strategy of harm reduction.” She offered four concepts to help readers assess personal risk. In those same pages, US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar argued that it’s imperative that America reopen for its health: “Returning to normal isn’t about balancing health vs. the economy. It’s about balancing health vs. health: the health risks of Covid-19 balanced against the health, social and economic costs of keeping Main Streets across the United States closed for business.”
More sharp analysis:
– Kent Sepkowitz: How a fitness class made 112 people sick
Time to throw the school calendar out the window
Issac Bailey is a father, a college professor and someone who is immunocompromised. He grasps the uncertainty and anxiety of opening up in a pandemic. Still, he thinks heading back to classes, with an adjusted school calendar starting in late summer and ending before the expected next wave of pandemic in the fall and winter — is the best path forward. “It’s time to throw the old calendar out,” he opined — like Notre Dame and other schools have announced they plan to do. “Let’s take advantage of this time to re-envision what education can be … [and to] completely reimagine where and how we conduct in-person education, because the country we knew in February is not coming back.” We can view that as a tragedy, or an “opportunity to rethink, tinker, innovate.”
But innovating while adapting needs resources, Sara Goldrick-Rab noted for The Atlantic, and that is why the pressure will be on for community colleges, which saw a huge influx in enrollment after the Great Recession. After years of funding neglect, community colleges “now face a national emergency”; they got only 27% of the stimulus funding allocated for higher education in the CARES Act (despite educating about 40% of students and over half of low-income students in the US).
Meat plant workers have a message for you
Before you fire up the grill this weekend, think: Who made that burger possible and how? Alice Driver heard from a variety of meat, poultry and farm workers in Arkansas — many undocumented, some having fled human suffering to come to the US from places like Mexico, El Salvador, Myanmar and the Marshall Islands — about their experiences at work during the pandemic. These essential workers are proud to support their families but “reported that many of their employers weren’t following guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Although President Trump and other politicians have repeatedly told us that essential workers are heroes and warriors, the workers I spoke to feel like they are expendable. For essential workers, all praise rings hollow if it isn’t followed by action that will help save their lives.”
More views on Covid-19 and inequality:
– Ed Morales: Understanding why Latinos are so hard hit by Covid-19
– Van Jones and David Kamenetzky: A pandemic of hatred: 6 ways to stop it
– Henk Ovink: For many, the first line of defense against Covid-19 is out of reach
What the Ronan Farrow controversy says about us
After a New York Times column by Ben Smith cast doubt on some of Ronan Farrow’s groundbreaking reporting on sexual harassment and rape allegations, particularly against Matt Lauer (who wrote an op-ed of his own on Mediaite claiming vindication), Ashley Feinberg at Slate suggested that Smith’s column might be “too good to be true,” that it sought to “perform broad-mindedness, sacrificing accuracy for some vague, centrist perception of fairness.”
But Peggy Drexler suggested it’s more complicated than that. She contended that the controversy says a lot about us, the readers who want a Big Story fast and first, above all else, and are willing to canonize anyone who brings us what we want (often subsuming the same kind of reporting by women in the process). If Farrow’s reporting doesn’t hold up, Drexler wrote, that’s a big problem — but it’s not the biggest one “(that would be the men who rape and harass with impunity) and it’s also not a referendum on the #MeToo movement, which is far broader and richer than one reporter’s voice.”
Do you even remember who you were before this started?
Thomas Lake recounted what life looks like for him and his family during a season of contagion. Some days he doesn’t recognize himself: “I am a distant figure in a season of darkness, with children who may remember the day we left the field in the middle of a game because their father was afraid of a little boy” who tried to play Frisbee with them at an Atlanta park, he lamented.
Life and her home city are changed forever for Holly Thomas as well. Mourning for the probable loss of a cityscape defining-institution — The Globe Theater, which came back from plague, Puritanism and fire only to likely close permanently due to the coronavirus’s economic ravages — Thomas wrote London (and the world) will never be the same without this temple to Shakespeare and its “unique cross-section of art, tourism and living history.”
It’s important to stay connected to some good things from before, as Amy Bass said of sports this week, so we remember why they matter. She was responding to ideas set forth this week by the governors of New York, California and Texas — that sports are welcome if no fans are gathered. But this fundamentally misses the point of who and what sports are for, she insisted. “Getting baseball back should be our reward for doing this right, not a goal leading the way. When we fix the parts of society that Covid-19 has fractured or, more precisely, has exposed as broken, we get back sports. Not the other way around.”
And while this pandemic is changing America’s cities, they will survive, said Zillow’s chief economist Svenja Gudell for CNN Business Perspectives. What Zillow traffic shows is that while more city dwellers are looking to suburban and rural options because of Covid-19, “the murky early signals tell us that residents aren’t cutting the cord from their central city, they’re maybe exchanging it for an extension cord. People still want to be close to the urban amenities they value: culture, history, nightlife, arts, theater, education and sports. And cities are home to huge clusters of world-class health care and research facilities that are more necessary now than ever.”
– Joy Park: China is shattering Hong Kong’s illusion of autonomy
– Arnold Eisen: God has a lot to answer for
– Amy Compton-Phillips: US health care can be cheaper and more equal. Here’s how
– Elie Honig: Want to eat or shop at Disney? Say you won’t sue
– Jen Psaki: Democrats can’t keep ignoring this vital campaign issue
– Errol Louis: Trump’s snub over Obama portrait is part of a plan
– Michael Bociurkiw: Is China the new leader on the world health stage?
– Jeffrey Sachs: We’re already in a Great Depression
A parent’s love letter to that rarest of feats
In this time of loneliness and anxiety, what could be more powerful than finding joy as a family? Writing movingly as a queer parent seeking diverse and relatable entertainment for her family, Lindsey Mantoan paid tribute to the TV show that has answered that need: “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power,” the reboot of the 1980s cartoon franchise whose fifth and final season recently came to Netflix.
Mantoan wrote that the characters and storytelling in “She-Ra” are a blessing for her family and many others in the easy, unforced way they embrace and embody difference and individuality: “Rarely does a family show appeal to both parents and kids. Rarer still is a family show bingeworthy. ‘She-Ra’ is both, and hands down the best queer representation on television — providing satisfying content through which kids can see people like us not just normalized but celebrated.”