When the celebrity inside the Jack in the Box costume was revealed Wednesday on the Fox show “The Masked Singer,” he wasn’t Joe Pesci, Robert Duvall, Elon Musk or Al Roker, as the judges had guessed.
Instead, to the consternation of many including some of the judges, the man who sang the 1982 hit “Bad to the Bone” was former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in the news most recently for his extreme efforts to support former President Donald Trump’s false election fraud narrative. As the Daily Beast asked, “What did we do to deserve this?”
The farcical moment punctuated a week of unmasking — not just on the show, but across the country.
Protection was the goal in January 2021 when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced masks would be required for passengers on airplanes and public transit. But on Monday, soon after a federal judge struck down the transportation mask mandate, airlines dropped their requirements and many passengers dropped their masks.
Those strips of fabric helped protect millions of passengers from Covid-19, but they couldn’t mask the divisions in America that seem wider than ever in the third year of the pandemic. Instead masks have become cultural symbols and personal statements that loom large in a country where lockdowns have loosened the personal ties between us.
That the decision against the mask mandate came from a federal judge in Florida who was appointed by Trump — and rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association — wasn’t lost on critics of the ruling.
District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle’s decision, Jill Filipovic wrote, “seems to usurp public health guidance while failing to understand science or the English language. The federal government, she held, is only authorized to deal with issues concerning ‘sanitation,’ which she determined is limited to ‘measures that clean something.’ Because wearing a mask doesn’t clean anything, she wrote, mask mandates are beyond the scope of the government’s authority.”
“All of this is incredibly dangerous: A right-wing judge doesn’t like a government regulation, and so she voids it on incredibly specious grounds,” Filipovic wrote.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Kent Sepkowitz argued that it would be prudent to keep the mask mandate in place given the continued spread of the coronavirus but also noted the tension it causes in the air. On a plane, he wrote, “Nothing is private; everything is shared — even the filtered air. Out of deference to those around us, we stifle our whining to airline staff, minimize our scoots past neighbors for a stroll in the aisle, resist doing jumping jacks or — most especially — try our very best to avoid coughing, because all of this can affect others in our little inescapable airplane community.”
“This communal living, however brief, is unpleasant for everyone. Adding to it a mask mandate… appears to have tipped a segment of the ‘I am the boss of me; government be gone!’ zealots of the mask and vaccine resistance into a fierce, and even violent, uncivil disobedience. The trend is bad enough to have caught the attention of the Federal Aviation Administration and, for some particularly unruly passengers, the Federal Bureau of Investigation… the FAA had 1,150 reports of unruly passengers, from which 744 were related to mask-wearing.”
Some experts question how effective the mask mandates really are. In The New York Times, David Leonhardt wrote, “Unfortunately, the U.S. has spent much of the past two years with the worst of all worlds on masks. People have been required to wear them for hours on end, causing frustration and exhaustion and exacerbating political polarization. Yet the rules have included enough exceptions to let Covid spread anyway. The burden of the mandates has been relatively high, while the benefits have been relatively low. It’s the opposite of what a successful public health campaign typically does.”
States on the offensive
In high school, Danielle McLean played on the boys varsity hockey team. Weakened by chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, McLean wrote, “I could only last a single, one-minute shift during each three-period game before the muscles in my legs began to feel as if they were pushing through my skin,” she wrote. “But during those brief few minutes of playing time, I felt free, whole — as if my troubles did not exist.”
When McLean began transitioning from male to female as an adult, many childhood friends rejected her. But she found welcome on a local women’s hockey team. “Most of them knew that I was trans, but didn’t care. They accepted me as one of their own. For whatever reason —perhaps because our connection was not anchored in superficial ideals of masculinity — they loved me for me… I’ve gone to teammates’ weddings and baby showers and supported them through some of the hardest moments of their lives.”
McLean has watched with dismay as politicians in Florida and other states have stoked anxiety about gender transitions with laws “banning trans athletes from participating in sports teams consistent with their gender identity. These laws really only target young trans kids in school who are looking to express themselves, play sports with their friends or who like me, escape their anxieties through competition.”
Allison Hope wrote that “while attacks on our community are sadly nothing new, this current environment, in which public officials use dangerous rhetoric while peddling bills that discriminate against us, feels ever more fraught. It doesn’t help that some Republicans are increasingly perpetuating the harmful myth that liberals and members of the LGBTQ community are grooming children – a move that shatters any illusions that the US has become fully understanding and accepting of our LGBTQ lives and experiences.”
At the behest of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Florida legislature last week voted to strip Disney of its ability to exercise governmental powers in the area surrounding its theme parks. The move came in retaliation for the company’s opposition to the new law limiting what can be taught in schools about gender and sexual orientation. The move is “more than just a slimy and indefensible rearguard effort to punish a private company for violating GOP orthodoxy,” Greg Sargent wrote in The Washington Post.
It points “to a potential future Republican Party that envisions an expanded use of state power to fight the culture wars in a much broader and more pernicious sense.”
DeSantis’ move against Disney was a “political masterstroke,” according to Henry Olsen, also writing for The Washington Post. It enlists support both from the GOP’s base, which is animated by cultural issues and from libertarians who oppose giving Disney special privileges.
If big business “prioritizes cultural stances, it should expect to methodically be driven out of the GOP coalition,” wrote Olsen. “But joining the Democrats means it will be locked in constant warfare with that party’s growing progressive wing. Trying to play the two sides against one another will likely antagonize both parties’ vocal activists and leave business with no friends to defend it when the chips are down. Thus, big business must increasingly decide what it cares more about: its culture or its profits.”
For more on the politics of state actions:
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Democracy under siege
Florida also made news last week for the state Education Department’s rejection of dozens of math textbooks which it claimed touched on prohibited topics such as critical race theory.
In an editorial, the Palm Beach Post said the state had failed to back up its case that the textbooks weren’t appropriate: “In an increasingly complex and diverse world, Florida’s schoolchildren deserve the best educational material possible, not one filtered through a particular political dogma. Unfortunately, in trying to ‘own the libs,’ state leaders are shortchanging students.”
But in the long run, the more significant action came in the state legislature, which passed “DeSantis’s proposed congressional map that would add four seats likely to go to Republicans, do away with districts now represented by two of the state’s Black US House members and potentially prompt a federal court challenge to the Voting Rights Act,” as Peniel E. Joseph noted.
“How are we to claim to be the world’s more important and enduring democracy around the world and yet fail to safeguard the sacred right to vote for our citizens at home? We can start by choosing country over party and passing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”
Democrats may not have the votes to pass the bill in Congress yet, Joseph noted, but they “should remind voters at every opportunity of what is at stake on the ballot during the upcoming midterms. Republicans who are good faith political actors (in contrast to bad faith political actors who celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday while refusing to support voting rights) should join together with Democrats to pursue a halt to voter suppression.”
The May 9 factor
May 9 is “Victory Day” in Russia, an occasion for military parades and the commemoration of Nazi Germany’s surrender in 1945. As Frida Ghitis noted, “US intelligence assessments, Russian foreign policy analysts and common sense all indicate that (Russian leader Vladimir) Putin will use May 9 as a sort of self-imposed deadline in Ukraine. It’s not a deadline to win the war — that will likely not happen by then – but to pretend Russia has won something. Something major. Something important.”
There’s no end in sight to the horrific combat in the Donbas region, the section of eastern Ukraine where Russia has been waging war for the last eight years — and has seen increased fighting since Putin’s troops abandoned their attempt to encircle Kyiv.
“That’s where Putin will seek a face-saving success, a concrete victory he can take to the Russian people to tell them he is still the larger-than-life leader whose ‘special military operation,’ with all the hardship it is causing for Russians — let alone the calamity it is inflicting on Ukraine — has been worth the price tag. Unfortunately, his desperation for a win likely means that the next three weeks are sure to bring even worse death and destruction to Ukraine.”
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Traffic stops and shootings
Patrick Lyoya was shot dead by a Grand Rapids, Michigan, police officer during a traffic stop earlier this month. The 26-year-old was pulled over for improper registration, authorities said, and a physical encounter broke out between the two.
“As much as many Americans grieve for the snuffing out of Lyoya’s life,” Issac Bailey wrote, “all of this is so ordinary, so standard, that most of us never consider how absurd a practice it is for traffic violations to be the purview of police with guns. We continue that practice even though it’s a logical conclusion that unarmed traffic personnel and technology can handle many such things quite well without increasing the chances for bloodshed and death.”
Bailey noted that a New York Times investigation “found that over the past five years, police officers have killed at least 400 drivers or passengers who were wielding neither a gun nor knife and weren’t suspected of having committed a violent crime. According to the Times, they had been pulled over for things such as swerving across double yellow lines.”
“I drive on toll roads in North Carolina. They send me a bill in the mail 30 days later. No one armed with a Glock and Taser and baton has to be involved to ensure I’d pay what I owe. From red light cameras to robots to unarmed human traffic enforcement, we have a variety of mechanisms that could perhaps have been used by (or in place of) that unnamed officer in Grand Rapids.”
2020 and 2024
On the surface, Trump lords over the Republican Party, granting audiences and dispensing much-coveted endorsements from his Mar-a-Lago base. But the full picture is much more complicated — and this week the depth of the private discontent among GOP leaders became clearer.
In the days following the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol, according to a book by New York Times reporters Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell privately expressed outrage at Trump’s role in fueling the election lie that set the stage for the violence that followed. As Julian Zelizer noted, McConnell said, “If this isn’t impeachable, I don’t know what is,” according to the Times.
“Both McCarthy and McConnell, of course, voted to acquit Trump of inciting an insurrection when the former President was impeached for the second time,” Zelizer observed. “This refusal to hold Trump accountable, and the pressure both McCarthy and McConnell felt to take this stance, reveals just how far the Republican Party has shifted in recent decades.”
“Even something as dramatic as a full-scale attack on a presidential election, coupled with a violent attack on Congress, is not enough to break the rank partisanship we’ve seen from Republicans. It’s clear from their actions that the political strength of the party supersedes all else, even the health of our democratic institutions.”
Michael D’Antonio noted that Trump’s rally crowds are growing sparser and more Republicans are speaking out. “Frank Luntz, a longtime GOP pollster, said in a recent interview that many Republicans are laughing at… Trump in private. ‘They won’t say it, but behind his back, they think he’s a child. …Trump isn’t the same man he was a year ago. Even many Republicans are tired of going back and rehashing the 2020 election,’ Luntz told the Daily Beast.”
At the same time, his potential rival in the 2024 race, President Joe Biden, has endured several months of dismal approval ratings that are about as low the ones Trump logged during his presidency. Biden’s central problem: Inflation continues at levels that are the highest in decades. And Jason Furman, an economist who chaired President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, wrote for Project Syndicate that strong consumer demand is driving prices up, and “we should expect high inflation to stay with us for some time.”
The plight of ‘The First Lady’
A new Showtime series tells the stories of three first ladies — Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford and Michelle Obama — through the performances of actors Gillian Anderson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Viola Davis.
“All three chafe at the central contradiction of the role, one that ushers them to the center of national power not through their achievements but through their husbands’, offering new avenues of influence while strictly policing how they use that influence,” wrote Nicole Hemmer.
In “The First Lady,” Roosevelt rejects the notion that the role is actually a job, even though she would be the first to leverage the role for real political influence. The question remains, though, whether it should be a job. While first ladies have at times used the office to do meaningful work, the idea that presidential spouses are required to spend most of their time as glorified hosts seems increasingly out of touch.”
“The women in ‘The First Lady’ make the most of their circumstances, but the show is a reminder that they may have been better served by not being forced into those circumstances in the first place.”
When he wasn’t hunting wild game, Theodore Roosevelt was a pioneering conservationist. As President, “Roosevelt established 150 national forests and five national parks — and protected over 230 million acres of public land,” his great-great grandson John Palfrey wrote.
“But Roosevelt, and many others in the conservation movement, did not do enough to protect the Earth with equity in mind. These White leaders failed to recognize the extraordinary role that Indigenous people played in protecting and nurturing our planet.”
Palfrey, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, added that, “Climate justice means recognizing and addressing the fact that marginalized communities will feel — and have already felt — the worst impacts of climate change. We must make sure that those who face these effects are in positions of power, where they are able to make decisions for their own communities and to contribute to research and creative solutions.”
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William Shakespeare died 406 years ago, but his life and work remain an inexhaustible source for everything cultural we consume today, from “Game of Thrones” to this weekend’s new movie, “The Northman.”
As Jeffrey R. Wilson wrote, “The film — with an all-star cast that includes Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk and Willem Dafoe — is an adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s sources, the legend of Amleth in the medieval historian Saxo Grammaticus’ ‘History of the Danes.’ ‘The Northman’ overleaps ‘Hamlet.’”
“‘The Northman’ is a Shakespherean adaptation — note the spelling — a retelling inspired by materials that aren’t Shakespeare’s texts but are widely known today in relation to Shakespeare.”
A prime example, according to Wilson: Stephen Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” “That’s a 2021 remake of a 1961 film adaptation of a 1957 stage adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ which was a 1595 stage adaptation of a 1562 English poem that translated a 1560 French translation of a 1535 Italian novella. Where ‘The Northman’ elides Shakespeare’s text, ‘West Side Story’ is a refraction of adaptations.”
“Shakespherean adaptations call us beyond expressions of personal taste into understandings of how we got here.”