When the pandemic first struck the United States with ferocity in March, the days were already getting longer. Spring was coming. Quarantined people could take to the outdoors when they needed a break. The second and more brutal wave of Covid-19 is coming now, and at a harsher time in much of the nation, as cold temperatures and earlier sunsets keep people indoors and increase the risk of spreading disease.
"Short days, sharp days, long nights come on apace," wrote Thomas Nashe, an English playwright in the Elizabethan era. "Ah, who shall hide us from the winter's face? Cold doth increase, the sickness will not cease, And here we lie, God knows, with little ease. From winter, plague, & pestilence, good Lord, deliver us."
Vaccines are on the way but too late to prevent an awful toll of death and disease. "We have failed to stop or even slow the spread," wrote Cristina Alesci, who covers business and politics for CNN. "My heart breaks as I report on how misinformation about herd immunity and denialism found their way into our national dialogue."
Alesci has Type 1 diabetes. She pricks her finger five times a day to measure her blood sugar level, monitors her carbohydrate intake carefully and has to inject insulin daily. "Thinking about all of this made me optimistic that my fellow Americans would make the much smaller sacrifices to buy time for our doctors, nurses and scientists to beat Covid-19," she wrote.
"It's really not much to ask," for the next six months, until the vaccine has been widely distributed, she wrote. "All you have to do is wear a mask over your mouth and nose in public, avoid other people and wash your hands regularly...if you're someone who won't wear one, why the hell can't you do that?"
The politicization of public health is being felt by doctors and nurses on the front line. Susannah Hills, a pediatric airway surgeon at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and the Columbia University Medical Center, wrote that recently, "a patient's father looked me in the eyes and said his doctors didn't have their best interests at heart. I had never heard those words about a patient before, and they stung." A few days later, President Donald Trump told a "mostly mask-free rally in Michigan, 'Our doctors get more money if someone dies from Covid.'"
"Beyond the emotional toll, the exhausting hours, and the financial insecurity, the most demoralizing impact for physicians is erosion of public trust," Hills noted, adding that the success of the Covid-19 vaccines depends on the willingness of people to place their faith in medicine.
Sportscaster Phyllis George did not die of Covid-19, but her passing due to a rare blood disease in May came in the midst of the pandemic. Her daughter, CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown, traveled to Kentucky to be with her mother ahead of a medical procedure and had to take precautions to shield her from possible infection.
"I wanted to stay overnight to help her feel safe but we were too scared about the risk," Brown wrote. "Limiting the amount of time we spent with her felt emotionally agonizing -- my heart wanted me to be with her every second I could, but my mind knew I needed to follow the doctor's orders and focus on the necessities. It upset her not to have her children around more -- one day she said through tears, 'You guys are who I live for and I feel like I can't even be with you.'"
Change on the way
While the pandemic rages, President Trump is still contesting an election he lost by seven million votes -- and a decisive margin in the Electoral College. On January 6, it will be Vice President Mike Pence, who has proclaimed his loyalty ever since Trump nominated him in 2016, who will preside over the House and Senate as he announces the results of each state in alphabetical order and certifies the victory of President-elect Joe Biden, wrote Robert Alexander, an expert on the Electoral College.
Appearing in a joint interview on CNN with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Biden said that he will ask Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days after he is sworn in and won't be "making policy by tweets." As Errol Louis noted, "voters chose to replace the singular, disruptive ego-driven approach of Trump with an administration that understands that the most potent power of an American president is his ability to convene, coax and cajole our vast nation into moving forward together."
Still, it will be a gargantuan challenge to take over the White House in the midst of a pandemic and deep economic distress. A computer model from the University of Washington is projecting that 539,000 Americans will have died of Covid-19 by April 1, and that the toll would only be slightly lower if there is a rapid roll out of vaccines. That's nearly twice the total US coronavirus death toll as of the end of this week. And the economic recovery is in danger of stalling out, with unemployment at 6.7% -- nearly twice as high as it was before the pandemic.
Gabbie Riley has been out of work since March. "What if you woke up one day and discovered that your industry had just disappeared," the Minnesota resident wrote. "The industry you had spent years learning, loving, building and becoming respected within just ... gone?" Riley was working in sales for the hotel industry, specializing in sports and entertainment, when travel stopped. "Millions of us around the world are being forced to pivot from our beloved careers at a time when there are more unemployed people than available jobs and the jobs available are outside of our honed industries."
Riley's story is one of millions that are prompting advocates and centrist members of Congress to push for rapid passage of an economic stimulus bill. "Here's a principle we seem to have forgotten," Paul Begala observed: "Something is better than nothing. Our diverse, divided nation requires compromise in order to survive. Blessed are the dealmakers."
A bipartisan group of senators this week proposed a rescue package of $908 billion, less than what Democrats have been pushing for. "Congress should pass it anyway," argued Begala. "Now. Why? I can't believe I have to say this: Over 2,800 Americans died of Covid-19 on Wednesday. That's nearly two deaths every minute. People's lives are at stake. Their homes, their jobs are at risk. Their teachers and firefighters and frontline health care workers could be laid off. You think things are bad now? Imagine fighting this pandemic without the emergency aid."
Joe Biden's selection of Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary drew wide praise, but other aspects of his transition generated some debate this week. "It's not easy pleasing every faction, including in the ideologically fractured Democratic Party," observed Frida Ghitis. But "with the economy in crisis, there's no better choice" than Yellen, who has run the Federal Reserve and chaired the White House Council of Economic Advisers. "When it comes to boosting debt during the pandemic, Yellen has already made clear that she stands firmly on the side of stimulus spending to pull the economy out of this quicksand."
In each of his cabinet picks, wrote Julian Zelizer, "Biden has conveyed the same message -- government experience will matter in this administration. Thus far, Biden has put forward an impressive team of advisers with resumes that offer a stark contrast to what we have seen in the past four years."
Black and Hispanic groups have pushed for more representation in the cabinet as Biden completes his slate. When it comes to the role of Attorney General, wrote Shan Wu, the choice should be a person of color. "We live in a time of racial division and strife not seen since the 1960s struggle for civil rights -- and we've watched as the Republican Party enabled a race-baiting president for the last four years -- so we need an Attorney General who can speak to the moment at hand," he said.
Biden's choice of Neera Tanden as director of the Office of Management and Budget drew criticism from Republican senators, partly over her social media posts. She is a "prolific tweeter," noted Jill Filipovic, and has deleted more than a thousand tweets since early November. But "there's something disconcerting about the 'she's mean on Twitter' rap," Filipovic said. "Republicans have no leg to stand on here, given the Twitter behavior of the Republican President. Donald Trump isn't just 'combative' on Twitter; he's burn-it-all-down destructive. His tone isn't just unpresidential, it's deranged, cruel, and infantile. And his tone is frankly the least of his Twitter problems. The President has used the platform to lie again and again."
For more on Biden:
Peniel E. Joseph: To win in 2020 and beyond, Democrats need to face 1990s truths
Miguel Cervantes del Toro: To the next US secretary of education: It's time to focus on students
Lincoln Mitchell: Where Biden got the votes that helped push him over the top
The Elvis vaccine
In 1956, the year after a vaccine was approved to prevent the deadly childhood disease of polio, Elvis Presley agreed to take it publicly. As David M. Perry pointed out, "it made headlines and, critically, also helped convince teens and young adults -- people who thought they weren't at risk -- that they needed a vaccine too in order to help defeat the deadly disease."
Presley's move set an example that today's celebrities and politicians should follow, Perry wrote. This week CNN reported that former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have offered to take the vaccine to boost public confidence.
Rich Fitzgerald, the county executive of Pennsylvania's Allegheny County, volunteered this summer to join the Moderna vaccine trial and was accepted. "I received both shots in September and while I won't know for a while whether I received the placebo or the vaccine, I do know that I experienced exactly the symptoms that were described to me as side effects if I had received the vaccine," he wrote.
"The fever, achiness and fatigue all went away after a few hours and were very mild. Participation in the trial hasn't impacted my daily life at all, but it's staggering to think about what a vaccine could mean to people's lives and this community, and beyond."
The success of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines is a huge accomplishment, wrote Kent Sepkowitz, an expert on infectious disease. But, he noted, "the real challenge is upon us now: to distribute this crucial product under both President Trump and then President Biden to an already fissured American public in a way that will diminish rather than inflame existing national grievances. And that is a very tall order."
A troubled White House
There are many questions and few answers: Will Donald Trump concede that he lost the election now that Attorney General William Barr admits there's no evidence of a rigged election? Will Trump attend Joe Biden's inauguration? Will he announce he's running for the presidency in 2024? And what becomes of the defeated President, who still commands the support of many Republicans?
"If he chooses to pose as a defeated fighter who would fight again, Trump could also tap potentially enormous supplies of two things he craves: attention and money," wrote Michael D'Antonio. Trump has already raised more than $200 million for his "Election Defense Fund" and could use much of that to finance post-presidential political activity.
But that doesn't guarantee he'll remain relevant. James Astill, the Lexington columnist for the Economist, wrote, "It is not hard to imagine Mr. Trump, without the ballast of his office, drifting into a state of lucrative but ever-more irrelevant bloviation. He might not have to resort to singing 'Baby Got Back' in a bear costume to get an audience, as Sarah Palin recently did on Fox. But his wilderness years could resemble those of John McCain's embarrassing running-mate more than most commentators imagine."
For more on Trump:
Thomas Balcerski: What America's former Presidents can teach Trump about pardons
Dean Obeidallah: There was only one fraud in the 2020 election
Jason Harrow: Donald Trump is not a political genius
Georgia on our minds
On paper, the odds are against two Democratic candidates whose victories in a January 5 Senate runoff election in Georgia would give Joe Biden's party control of the Senate. But then the odds were against Biden winning the traditionally red state, which he did.
Republicans are divided over the outcome of the election there, with die-hard Trump supporters -- who buy the President's unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud -- accusing the Republican governor and secretary of state of failing to prevent Biden's victory.
A Georgia Republican, Edward Lindsey, wrote that members of his party "can ill-afford the continuing division within their ranks and must make strides to reach out to disaffected former allies and potential new ones in Georgia's growing, diverse tapestry. To accomplish this challenge, it is time for Georgia Republicans to embrace the optimistic 'big tent' Reagan philosophy."
Democratic strategists Arick Wierson and Bradley Honan argue that their party should treat the Georgia race as a must-win, if Biden is to have hope of implementing his ambitious progressive agenda. "Democrats need to put Trump back on the ballot," they wrote. "He was a powerful force in turning out both Democratic voters and Republican-leaning suburban voters disgusted with his rhetoric and tweets. And (Sens. Kelly) Loeffler and (David) Perdue, who remain Trump's faithful enablers, should constantly be forced to defend their loyalty to an inept leader who cannot accept a peaceful transfer of power."
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When he was introduced as Joe Biden's choice for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken told the story of his stepfather's escape from a death march in Nazi Germany as World War II was nearing its end. Samuel Pisar was saved when he saw an American tank near the woods where he was hiding. "The hatch opened," Blinken said, "An African American GI looked down at him. He got down on his knees and said the only three words he knew in English that his mother had taught him: 'God Bless America.'"
Pisar's rescuer was Bill Ellington, of the 761st Tank Battalion, one of the few African-American units allowed in combat. And the history of that battalion, whose members were known as the "Black Panthers," is itself a story of considerable interest. As Steven A. Holmes wrote, it is a tale of "of perseverance, skill and bravery in the face of doubt and racism."
"The 761st was among the most storied Black units of World War II. It overcame harassment and violence by white GIs and civilians at their training camps in the South and had to deal with the skepticism of military brass who didn't believe Black people could master sophisticated tank doctrine -- or, for that matter, serve in any combat roles."
In the US, "the men of the 761st were targets of the typical subjugation and humiliation of the Jim Crow South," Holmes wrote. But when they were finally sent into combat, they liberated towns, airfields and a concentration camp.
"Its 676 enlisted men and 36 officers won 11 Silver Stars, 69 Bronze Stars and about 300 Purple Hearts," he wrote.
But it wasn't until 52 years after the war that black soldiers who served in the conflict, including one from the 761st, received the nation's highest military award, the Medal of Honor.