Good Friday Morning, especially to the manufacturers of vaccines. Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson set out to deliver 240 million vaccination doses to the United States by the end of March, and they succeeded. Here’s some more good news tidbits on that front: 1) Pfizer announced its vaccine had continued high efficacy after six months. That information along with other studies is now positioning Pfizer to be the first vaccine-maker to seek full approval from the FDA, instead of emergency use only. 2) Moderna received FDA approval to fill its vials up completely, meaning they can now get up to 15 doses per vial instead of 10-12.
Those news items and more indicate our vaccination supply is about to explode. You should be able to get easy vaccine access in the next week or so, just about everywhere in the country. If you’ve listened to my weekly updates on the vaccines in the podcast, this is what I was predicting and saying back in January. I’m less than two weeks away from my second Pfizer dose.
Keep getting vaccinated and help end this pandemic! CDC studies and information out of Israel all agree: those who are vaccinated don’t spread the virus (please ignore the public health officials who refuse to say this, they’re morons).
One last note, I highly recommend a 60 Minutes segment on the origins of COVID-19. If you want to know what it looks like to watch a WHO official lie in your face about China’s honesty, it’s worth the 15 minutes. For the record, I’m on board with the critics they interview in that show.
This week, I’m going to dive into where I think we are historically as a country, and why we keep bouncing back and forth between these extremes. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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The left’s ‘post-truth’ reality that failed to materialize – The Conservative Institute.
Biden White House runs and hides on all issues – The Conservative Institute.
Lessons from history, or why I think we’re in a transition period.
From my vantage point, it feels like everyone got into something during the pandemic. For some, it was cooking and baking, others it was outdoor projects, and so on. Everyone picked up some new hobby or expanded on an old one to contend with the reality that the world got shut down.
My “thing” was diving into and expanding my library. I read a wide variety of things, but the main takeaways I hit were multiple books on Winston Churchill, which in turn got me into the Prime Minister who inspired Churchill and his father: Benjamin Disraeli, the only Jewish Prime Minister of England and leader of the conservative Tory party in the 1800s. After some considerable searching, I finally found a solid biography of Disraeli that I’m working on finishing. However, I’ve covered his life in various respects in other books, too (I highly recommend The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs. Disraeli, which explores the fights the two Prime Ministers had with each other).
What I like about Disraeli and Churchill is how they navigated their times and their countries during times of transition. Disraeli lived through the Victorian era and was Queen Victoria’s favorite Prime Minister. This period was when the aristocracy was losing ground to the new industrial capitalists who owned factories and mills. The Victorian era is one where concepts like “free trade” were first debated. You see the earliest signs of countries growing substantial wealth on the ideas of capitalism.
Disraeli was a novelist by trade. His political novels describe the divides of his time and the most pressing issues. One of his most famous passages comes from the book Sybil, which explored the state of the poor in England. You may recall the economic status of Bob Cratchet and Tiny Tim from Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol (Dickens and Disraeli were contemporaries). Disraeli approached the same topic in his novel, except he included facts and figures. In Sybil, Or the Two Nations he starts out by describing the divide:
“When the infant begins to walk, it also thinks that it lives in strange times,” said his companion.
“Your inference?” asked Egremont.
“That society, still in its infancy, is beginning to feel its way.”
“This is a new reign,” said Egremont, “perhaps it is a new era.”
“I think so,” said the younger stranger.
“I hope so,” said the elder one.
“Well, society may be in its infancy,” said Egremont slightly smiling; “but, say what you like, our Queen reigns over the greatest nation that ever existed.”
“Which nation?” asked the younger stranger, “for she reigns over two.”
The stranger paused; Egremont was silent, but looked inquiringly.
“Yes,” resumed the younger stranger after a moment’s interval. “Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.”
“You speak of—” said Egremont, hesitatingly.
“THE RICH AND THE POOR.”
These divisions evolve over time. Last week, I talked about how I think there’s a new division in society between the “Zoom class” and those who worked every day of the pandemic. Two sets of people who experienced a pandemic radically differently had different expectations and got treated differently. In the past, people only saw economic divides (hence Marxism). But I tend to believe cultural divides can have more profound meaning than economic class.
It’s pretty easy to find other divisions and separations in our society. The most consistent one is the division between our political parties. While party affiliation and loyalty have always been a thing, its power has grown when organized religion is collapsing (Gallup announced US Church membership fell below 50% for the first time in polling history and is no longer a majority). Politics has become a new religion, and people have created all the same idols. The irony is that less is getting done in that arena than ever before. Legislating has come to a grinding halt for most of this new century. The narrow divide in Congress is a reflection of the current state of our country.
I believe, fundamentally, we’re in another transitory period of history. What makes our era slightly different is there’s not some change agent to shove everyone into the new age. For the Victorian era, the change was evident. Capitalism created an entirely new class of people, independently wealthy, and challenging the old aristocracy and nobility. Churchill represented one of the last generations of that class. We don’t have any major events to precipitate our plunge into whatever age we’re entering.
Here’s where I think we are, as a society, at a crossroads. Ronald Reagan’s election changed everything about the trajectory of America. Reagan’s administration solved two intractable problems of his time: stagflation and the USSR.
From 1965 to Reagan’s election in 1980, the United States suffered some of the worst economic growth in its history. Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, and Carter all had policies that created and exacerbated inflation. In those 15 years, it wasn’t just that we experienced societal upheaval, but the economy was just awful. Wages were low, unemployment was high, inflation ramped up into the double digits, and oil prices skyrocketed.
To control inflation and bring it under control, the Federal Reserve under Reagan ramped up interest rates (some of them peaked at around 15+% in 1981). This policy caused a recession, “the worst of the postwar period.” Reagan’s response to this was to dramatically lower taxes and cut regulations across the board, attempting to give the markets room to grow.
That formula worked. Inflation got checked, and free markets, free of high taxes and excessive regulation, unleashed US history’s greatest economic boom. And although we had some mini-recessions between Reagan and the Great Recession, you can argue that the Reagan boom continued until the Great Recession.
By itself, that’s a significant accomplishment. But Reagan wasn’t done. He also set the stage to rid the world of America’s greatest enemy: the USSR. Reagan won both the Cold War and the ideological battle of freedom/capitalism over communism. That victory was so thorough and complete, it led to Francis Fukuyama writing the most consequential political philosophy book of the post-war period: The End of History of the Last Man. In it, Fukuyama persuasively argues that American liberal capitalism has effectively won the war of ideas against all other systems. No other system can compete.
Reagan was a generational President in a way few are. I think you can only place him in the same tier as Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. Every President after Reagan was working in his shadows. Clinton famously turned the Democratic Party to the right to achieve victory.
But Reagan’s victory wasn’t the end of the movie. Time marched on. Disraeli delivered a similar victory for his generation. Europe was itching for a war in the 1870s, during Disraeli’s premiership. Disraeli negotiated a treaty between all the European powers in 1878 and declared, accurately, “I have returned from Germany with peace for our time.” (if you recognize this line, it’s because UK PM Neville Chamberlain used it after his treaty with Hitler in 1938). That peace lasted a long time, from 1878 until World War One in 1914, so 36 years of peace.
Reagan defeated inflation, unleashed the economy in a way no one before had, and defeated communism. Those accomplishments set America up to enter a world where it ruled supreme over the rest of the planet. We went from a polarized world of America vs. the Soviets, capitalism vs. communism, to only the United States. All of this was done without a shot being fired. From a pure history standpoint, it’s one of the most stunning and impressive victories in history.
That peace and prosperity hit two different snags: 9/11 and the Great Recession. The 9/11 terrorist attacks placed us back on a war footing with military operations that have now lasted 20 years. 9/11 was followed by the Great Recession, which knocked the economy clear off of its feet.
Obama ran as a transformational candidate. In fact, in office, he often looked towards trying to be another Reagan. But Obama lacked both the legislative and foreign policy achievements of Reagan (which is no knock on Obama, few Presidents have that). The other problem for Obam is that he needed Biden to run and win in 2016. Having, effectively, a third term as George H. W. Bush delivered for Reagan cemented the Reagan legacy. Clinton’s running and Trump’s victory in 2016, now combined with Biden’s lackluster performance so far, presents a far different dynamic. There’s no apparent Obama legacy.
We’re in a transition period. Both parties feel this in their bones. That’s one reason the rhetoric gets ratcheted up every election because the stakes are: what direction should the country go? No one can set a timeless agenda. Because for the first time since the roaring 1920s, America doesn’t have any real purpose or direction. For most of the 20th Century, we fought a war, struggled against stagflation, or engaged in a Cold War.
Those obstacles gave American policy a purpose and a goal. That provided a level of continuity between Presidencies that no longer exist. You can’t get any more bipolar than the elections from Clinton to Bush to Obama to Trump to now Biden. If someone in your life exhibited these kinds of radical life shifts, you’d have them involuntarily committed — and for a good reason!
But that’s America. I like joking that I love this country because we’re stone-cold crazy. We love doing dumb things. We’re that brilliant smart, and rich kid in the class who wants to get by with the least amount of work possible, but, if push comes to shove, we can invent something insane that shocks the world (see incompetence in getting tests to the public vs. developing mRNA vaccines that could revolutionize medicine. From derp to brilliance in two seconds, that’s us).
What I’m getting at here is Biden doesn’t represent an end to this bipolar fight over who or what we are as a nation, but only the next round. We still have no real direction or purpose. We should be treating China with the same level of seriousness that we treated the Soviets and communism. But we haven’t gotten serious on that subject yet. And it hasn’t sunk into our consciousness that China poses an existential threat.
We’ll get there. It just hasn’t been yet. The other reason Biden doesn’t represent the end of this fight is that he’s not the historical figure he wants to be. Not even his own party believes he can be that. We get these comical stories of Biden holding meetings with historians trying to decide how transformative he can be as a President versus reporters asking questions of why this administration is strangely calling itself the Biden-Harris administration, something no other President has done.
If this were a medieval period, you’d call Biden-Harris a marriage of political convenience to settle the various factions. Astute political advisors in those kinds of royal courts would also tell Biden to watch his back because no one would trust Harris. And so it is here. You only get a Biden-Harris administration description if the VP is power-hungry. And so it is here.
Biden can’t be transformational because he lacks both the legislative margins and the strength within his own party. The Democratic Party’s leadership is old. Pelosi, Schumer, and Biden are ancient politically. And the next generation is eager to toss them overboard. Meanwhile, the GOP doesn’t know who it is post-Trump and doesn’t have a future vision for America.
And so we continue lurching, from one partisan flank to another, in these elections because America has, at its core, an identity crisis. When I’ve talked about the leadership crisis in our nation in the past, this is partially that issue. No one has taken the reins and helped America determine its identity in the world and what we’re going to do next. This pandemic has shown us again what our greatness is capable of. However, we still haven’t harnessed that into a cohesive vision for tomorrow.
That will eventually happen. There’s always some major event that defines the transition from one era into another. I don’t know what that event will be, but this status quo of bipolar conformity won’t continue forever.
What I’ve learned the most in reading the biographies of leaders like Disraeli and Churchill is that even though they weren’t always sure of the world around them, they were sure of themselves. They knew what and who they were, and they pushed to bring that to pass. And in the process, they changed history.
Links of the week
The Disintegration of the ACLU: A new documentary about former Executive Director Ira Glasser explains how the once-storied civil liberties organization came to embrace the ideology it was built to fight – James Kirchick, Tablet Magazine
As Cuomo Sought $4 Million Book Deal, Aides Hid Damaging Death Toll: Gov. Andrew Cuomo boasted, “I am not a superhero,” in early versions of his book, drafted as his aides scrubbed a politically damaging Health Department report. – NYT
Twice as many children are in Border Patrol custody under Biden than Trump peak in 2019 – The Washington Examiner
Biden falsely claims the new Georgia law ‘ends voting hours early’ – The Washington Post
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!