1. Get Your Shinebox, Mikey
Two bits of housekeeping.
First: I’ll be doing an AMA on reddit’s r/neoliberal thread tonight around 6:00 p.m. Come and hang out! Enjoy the spectacle! Ask questions about watches!
Second: Thanks to the couple thousand members who came to the livestream with us last night. It was great. I had a lot of fun, even though I am regretting my life choices in re: the Costco pumpkin pie.
Now: About the debate.
Of course, none of it mattered. And I was pretty cool last night on the subject of Mike Pence. He did the normal politician thing. He was adept at spinning and lying and putting words in the mouth of his opponent. As a matter of balls-and-strikes calling, he did about as well as someone in his position could.
After all, he is first mate on what might be—just in terms of observable outcomes—the most disastrous presidential term since Herbert Hoover.
But here’s why I do not believe that “calling balls and strikes” is adequate to this moment in American politics:
Mike Pence demonstrated himself to be not just a partisan, but a willing accomplice in an assault on American political norms that goes far beyond questions of policy, such as tax rates, environmental regulations, and Supreme Court nominations.
Three moments stuck out at me.
(1) Pence’s dog whistle on race and the rule of law. Asked whether or not he believed “justice had been done” in the case of the police killing of Breonna Taylor, this was Pence’s answer: “I trust our justice system.”
Pence’s non-answer amounts to: Whatever outcome the justice system arrives at is, by definition, just. So don’t question it.
Counterpoint: Trump fixer Roger Stone was convicted and sentenced to prison by the justice system. Here is what the White House press secretary said about “our justice system”:
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany described Stone as "a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump presidency."
Here is what Donald Trump said about Stone’s conviction:
"He was framed. He was treated horribly."
Trump called Stone’s conviction—by “our justice system”—a “miscarriage of justice."
And then Trump used his powers to spring the guy who was sent to jail for doing his dirty work.
You may recall that “our justice system” cleared Hillary Clinton of criminal wrongdoing earlier this year. Here is what Pence’s boss said after that verdict: “You should lock her up, I'll tell you.”
In 2016, when the FBI also declined to press charges against Clinton, Trump declared that “The system is rigged.”
That system Trump was talking about?
“Our justice system.”
On the one hand, this is the sort of hypocrisy we expect from politicians.
But on the other hand, the subject of this hypocrisy is the rule of law and the purpose of it is to defend the killing of a black woman.
This isn’t politics as usual. It’s an outrage. The fact that people weren’t outraged last night simply because Pence made this argument at a normal decibel level and mostly within the time rules of the debate does not make it “normal” as a matter of politics.
(2) The peaceful transfer of power. Mona Charen was all over this. Given the opportunity to clean up Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, Pence declined. Instead, this is what he said:
If we have a free and fair election, we know—we’re going to have confidence in it.
Go write this down: After November 3, the price of admission to GOP politics is going to be an insistence that, actually, Donald Trump did win the election and/or would have won if it hadn’t been stolen/rigged.
That’s going to be dogma for everyone in Republican political life. And don’t give me BS about how “the Dems did this too” in 2016. Because it’s not even close.
(3) Alternate universe. In an attempt to not merely defend, but boast about Trump’s handling of COVID, Pence had the audacity to say that Trump handled COVID much better than Obama handled H1N1.
This has been a Fox News talking point since the earliest days of the pandemic. I remember getting emails from people saying, “Only 25 people have died from COVID. Way more people died from N1H1.”
It was a preposterous argument at the time—the American outbreak was only just starting and anyone with even the slightest understanding of epidemiology knew that the COVID death toll was going to be measured in the tens of thousands. At least.
But to mount that horse now? It’s the single most intellectually insulting thing I’ve ever heard from a politician not named Donald Trump. Here is what Mike Pence actually said:
If the swine flu had been as lethal as the coronavirus in 2009 when Joe Biden was vice president, we would have lost 2 million American lives.
Again I say: AYFKM?
This makes as much sense as saying, “If Ronald Reagan had ordered a first strike on the Soviet Union, and the Russkies had retaliated, then 100 million Americans would have died. But 100 million Americans did not die under Jimmy Carter. Therefore Carter did a better job of handling the Cold War than Reagan.”
Here is the thing about “calling balls and strikes”: It’s not enough to keep your eyes focused only on the strike zone when the guys from one team are in the dugout trying to set explosives throughout the stadium.
The one meaningful takeaway from the debate was that the future of the Republican party is now clear.
As a wise man once wrote, Trump is forever.
If Donald Trump loses—even in a landslide—he will not go away. He will insist that, actually, he won. And his co-conspirators, such as Mike Pence, will publicly affirm this view.
There will be no “autopsy” trying to understand what went wrong.
There will be no reexamination of the party’s choices.
There will be no assigning of blame to Trump, or his cronies.
What we will see is this:
The election results were fraudulent. Trump actually won.
The only reason it was even “close” was COVID.
And the treachery of Republicans who spoke out against Trump and must be forever banished and shamed.
Trump should absolutely be the nominee in 2024.
During this revanchist Democratic interlude, Donald Trump will be the Republican leader in temporary exile.
The people who know better—people like Mike Pence—will play along because they will understand that the only path to the presidency for them is if Trump both declines to run again and decides not to install Don Jr. as the party’s next nominee.
Guys like Pence now understand the base. Once upon a time, they thought that Republican voters wanted lower taxes, robust foreign policy, and smaller government. But Trump has helped them understand that policy preferences are just a fig leaf for an identitarian worldview. And the avatar of that worldview is Trump.
Anyone who wants a future in Republican politics is going to have to hug Trump as tight as possible.
Because the only other option is to try to out-Trump Trump by taking the white nationalism to the next level.
God help us if that happens.
And if it does, it will be because of craven quislings like Mike Pence.
3. Wear the Damn Mask
“If you look at any one paper — it’s not a slam dunk. But, taken all together, I’m convinced that they are working,” says Grabowski. . . .
“Masking may not only protect you from infection but also from severe illness,” says Monica Gandhi, an infectious-disease physician at the University of California, San Francisco.
Gandhi co-authored a paper published in late July suggesting that masking reduces the dose of virus a wearer might receive, resulting in infections that are milder or even asymptomatic. A larger viral dose results in a more aggressive inflammatory response, she suggests. . . .
Across the United States, mask use has held steady around 50% since late July. This is a substantial increase from the 20% usage seen in March and April, according to data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle (see go.nature.com/30n6kxv). The institute’s models also predicted that, as of 23 September, increasing US mask use to 95% — a level observed in Singapore and some other countries — could save nearly 100,000 lives in the period up to 1 January 2021. . . .
“There’s a lot more we would like to know,” says Vos, who contributed to the analysis. “But given that it is such a simple, low-cost intervention with potentially such a large impact, who would not want to use it?”