When Ernest Hemingway was finishing a novel in Paris in 1929, he let a fellow writer read the manuscript.
F. Scott Fitzgerald responded with 10 pages of handwritten comments.
Among them: “slow and needs cutting…rather gassy…definitely dull…offensive…too glib.” But in his notes, which are now among Hemingway’s papers at the JFK Presidential Library, he also called it a “beautiful book” and urged Hemingway to end what would eventually be titled, “A Farewell to Arms,” with a “wonderful” passage that included these lines:
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.” Hemingway rejected that suggestion and wrote at the bottom of Fitzgerald’s letter, “kiss my ass.” The “broken places” passage wound up tucked away in Chapter 34.
But President Joe Biden invoked it Thursday evening to sum up the year-long pandemic: “Finding light in the darkness is a very American thing to do…We have seen front-line and essential workers risking their lives, sometimes losing them, to save and help others, researchers and scientists racing for a vaccine, and so many of you, as Hemingway wrote, being strong in all the broken places.”
The President held out hope that every adult American could be eligible for a vaccine by May 1 – and that people could safely gather in small groups for traditional July 4 family barbecues. “When Biden speaks about the pandemic, when he implores Americans to do their part, when he speaks about losses, and about his determination to defeat the virus,” wrote Frida Ghitis, “there’s a striking earnestness in his demeanor. He promises to tell the truth. We’ve all learned to become cynical, skeptical of politicians, but Biden sounds, as he might say, like the real deal.”
Ghitis saw Biden’s words, along with the signing of a landmark $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill, as vital after an “excruciating, dystopian year, during which the worst public health challenge in a century overlapped with a narcissistic, incompetent presidency.”
Likening Biden’s speech to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats and President Ronald Reagan’s speech after the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, historian Julian Zelizer wrote, Biden’s “ability to speak to Americans in a direct and familiar manner, along with his knack for showing genuine empathy for the challenges they face as individuals and families, will help guide the country toward the next stage of recovery.”
“The relief package is groundbreaking,” Jill Filipovic noted. “It sends $1,400 stimulus checks to close to 90% of American households, directs billions to small businesses and schools, pours necessary resources into vaccine distribution, extends unemployment benefits and offers parents an unprecedented child allowance – a cash benefit for families with children. No, it’s not everything progressives wanted. But it’s the most ambitious cash assistance plan I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
Dr. Scott Hadland, an addiction expert based in Boston, observed that the “pandemic has pushed already economically vulnerable Americans into even greater despair” and that “overdose deaths are now surging to record highs.” Addiction “preys” on “lost jobs, worsened poverty, housing and food insecurity and lapses in education.” To oppose the relief package “is to overlook the possibility of hundreds of thousands more lives being lost to addiction for years to come.”
Republicans and relief
The bill put members of the opposition party in Congress in an odd position: Covid relief is widely popular. Most Americans are going to welcome the arrival of thousands of dollars in their bank accounts, and businesses, schools and local and state governments will benefit. But not a single Republican legislator voted for it. As CNN’s Manu Raju noted, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi even tweeted in support of $28.6 billion in aid to restaurants – despite having voted against the bill.
Scott Jennings, a CNN commentator and Republican strategist, argued that “the merits of this bill are more than debatable, as less than 10% of the $1.9 trillion plan is spent on direct Covid spending and just 1% is for vaccine distribution” and that it is “hard to see” how provisions in the bill are “worth further mortgaging our children and grandchildren’s future with all this new debt.”
Ron Brownstein wrote that “although every House and Senate Republican voted against the rescue plan, it has not generated anything like the uprisings against new government spending and programs that engulfed Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama during each man’s first year in office. Indeed, throughout the legislative fight, congressional Republicans and conservative media outlets like Fox News appeared more interested in focusing attention on peripheral cultural issues, like whether Dr. Seuss had become a victim of liberal ‘cancel culture.’”
For more on politics:
Peniel E. Joseph: The voters the GOP wants to silence
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James Moore: Matthew McConaughey, stay out of Texas politics
Van Jones and Louis Reed: The one issue that could bring Democrats and Republicans together
Katherine M. Gehl: It’s time to get rid of party primaries
Lauren A. Wright: Why progressives need to give Joe Manchin a break
For many, this week’s anniversary of the declaration of the pandemic was an emotional moment, a time to look back at all that has been lost and to look ahead at our aspirations for a return to normal life.
Julie Gallagher was Zooming with friends she hadn’t seen in person for more than a year when one said, “‘I’m just scared to feel hopeful.’” And when someone revealed that she had just gotten her first vaccine dose, the “news ricocheted across our screens like a shot of electricity. We buzzed about who else in our lives has been vaccinated, who has had trouble booking an appointment, who was eligible in our home states. We went through our bucket list of what we will do first once the majority of Americans have been vaccinated and our worlds return to ‘normal.’”
When Tess Taylor found out she was eligible for a shot, she took her 9-year-old son, “put on our favorite music in the car, got celebratory frozen yogurt and headed out” to the Oakland coliseum where FEMA workers directed them through a maze of traffic cones to a tent where “Keith, the masked man with kind eyes, was jabbing my shoulder, and I didn’t have to look. He said something nice to my son – ‘I bet you’re quite a slugger!’ – and poof, we were pulling ahead to the place where we could honk our horn in case anything goes wrong, except no one was honking….”
“The 15 minutes we are supposed to wait flew by, and then we were back out again, entering the freeway, and suddenly everything seemed so much more beautiful, even the trash in the gully, and the graffitied sides of the boxcars, rising against the green grass of spring. We rose up on the 880. Against a peach-colored sky, San Francisco and the bridge looked like an elaborate layered cut-out in a children’s book, and the distant city seemed like the most beautiful place, and I realized that it is a beloved place, a not-so-distant place, a part of the world that one day, not so far from now, many people will be able to collectively re-enter.”
For Women’s History Month, Marianne Schnall curated the thoughts of leaders including Melinda Gates, Tarana Burke and Opal Tometi on the stark gender inequities exposed by the pandemic. “Women have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic’s social and economic impacts,” wrote Gates. “In one year, decades of progress toward gender equality were erased.”
Reshma Saujani observed, “when structures like school and childcare come crumbling down, it’s moms who are left holding the bag. We are the ones being asked to juggle Zoom school, housework and caregiving with full-time jobs. We have sacrificed our sleep and deferred our dreams. Individually, our mental health is suffering: Many of us have gone from hanging on by a thread to free falling. I read a statistic recently that gave me chills: During the pandemic, there has been a 41% increase in heavy drinking by women. That means more than four drinks in one sitting. The same study from RAND showed only a 7% increase among men.”
Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, an infectious disease expert, welcomed the long-awaited set of guidelines for vaccinated people that was issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week. “It is clear, decisive, and it puts its proverbial nickel down where the public most needs guidance,” he wrote. “The core of the document can be summarized by the simple and great news that a vaccinated grandparent can visit with an unvaccinated, healthy grandchild. In some significant ways: mission accomplished.”
For more on the pandemic:
David A. Andelman: The case for issuing Covid-19 vaccine passports
Dr. Megan Ranney and Dr. Jeremy Faust: How worried should we be about a more deadly variant of Covid-19?
Amy Mathers and Lisa Colosi-Peterson: The dirty work that could detect Covid
Dr. Jonathan Reiner: Greg Abbott’s delusional ideas about Covid
Biden’s administration is the third one in a row to face a crisis at the southern border, wrote Raul A. Reyes: “The number of migrant children detained at the border has tripled in the last two weeks, and the government is straining to process them in a timely manner.”
The new President faces a “Herculean task,” he wrote. “What is needed is an overhaul of how our country treats unaccompanied child migrants. In the short term, this will require a tremendous expansion of federal efforts to process them. FEMA should be enlisted to help with the intake of children, and then local governments and community-based organizations should be enlisted as partners to help secure safe placements.”
If Biden wants to reform the immigration system, wrote Jorge G. Castañeda, he’ll need more than his proposed pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the US. “Legalizing everyone without papers in the United States, whether overnight or gradually, and placing those who so wish on a path to citizenship, will not deter new unauthorized flows from Mexico and Central America.” For that, the US and Mexico would have to reach agreement on a new temporary worker program, wrote Castañeda.
Meghan, Harry and Oprah
Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry was a ratings blockbuster with huge political reverberations in the UK. Credit Winfrey, who is more than just an accomplished interviewer, Doreen St. Félix wrote in the New Yorker. “She certainly asks questions, difficult ones, and doggedly follows up on hedges or evasive responses. But she is also something of an emissary, a reactive translator of emotion, a master weaver, pulling disparate revelations into a collective portrait that colonizes the mind…’Were you silent,’ Oprah asked Markle, ‘or were you silenced?’ When she does this, it is like opening a door. And Markle walked right in.”
Amid a chorus of sympathy for Harry and Meghan after the interview, Piers Morgan drew attention, first with his assertion that he didn’t believe what the duchess said – and then, after a co-host criticized his comments, for walking off the set of his British morning TV show
“Refusing to believe any of her emotions were genuine, he argued they were all part of a grander manipulation…None of this should come as a surprise from Morgan, who mistakes cruelty for honesty – like most bloviating bullies would and do,” wrote Nicole Hemmer. “But it is ironic, given that his whole schtick is rooted in emotion. Not the kind you find on Oprah – empathy and vulnerability are not his strong points – but rather a deep well of grievance and anger.”
The Oprah interview also put a nail in the coffin of the “princess fantasy,” wrote Kara Alaimo. “Marrying someone who is rich and/or royal isn’t the magical pathway to a glamorous life. Rather it can be stultifying, alienating, depressing – the opposite of developing further as a human being and, in this case, a wife and mother. Finding one’s own identity, one’s own voice, including by pursuing a career, does bring happiness.”
The interview left behind a series of questions about the role and nature of the UK’s monarchy, noted Kehinde Andrews, professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University. “The role of the family is to represent the idea of Britain both to the nation and the globe (see the popularity of ‘The Crown’). In this sense the British monarchy is one of the premiere symbols of White supremacy, a born to rule White elite encrusted with the wealth and jewels stolen from their former colonies. It is baffling that anyone is surprised about the questions raised over the skin color of the couple’s baby, given how central Whiteness is to the image of the monarchy. They are a direct connection to the days of empire, when Britannia ruled the waves and presided over an empire so large the sun never set on it.”
Watch this debate: Does the Monarchy still have a place in the UK?
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Carol Bryant isn’t happy with the way the Bidens are treating Major, “the first shelter dog to live in the White House.” Bryant is past president of the Dog Writers Association of America and winner of the organization’s “Best Dog Blog” award.
Major and the Bidens’ older dog, Champ, both German Shepherds, were banished to Delaware after a “biting incident” at the White House which injured a Secret Service officer.
On the positive side, Bryant noted, “How great that a not-so-average Joe walked into a shelter and gave an unwanted pet a second chance. We need more Joes in the world giving dogs like Major forever homes.”
But, she wrote, “Major was a high-strung dog adjusting to a new environment – a challenge, but not an unsolvable one. There were many things the First Family could have done before banishing the boys from the big house. Dogs of any age, gender, breed or size can bite. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates dogs bite more than 4.5 million people every year. Many dog bites and unruly canine behaviors can be prevented and corrected with proper training and early intervention… Banishing the dynamic duo from the White House is a bunch of malarkey.”