In the four days of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, a lot happened. Let’s review.
Positive Economic News.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Labor Department released strong economic news that undercuts the widespread perception that the economy is struggling. Initial claims for unemployment fell to pre-pandemic levels; indeed, the number of jobless claims was lower than any time since 1969! That good news followed an announcement earlier in the month that the U.S. added 531,000 jobs in October and the unemployment rate fell to 4.6%. Earlier job gains for the summer months were also revised substantially upward after initial reports suggested only modest job growth. See NYTimes, “Hiring figures for August and September were revised upward by 235,000, bringing the three-month average for job growth to 442,000.” Professor Heather Cox Richardson summarized the situation nicely in her November 27, 2021 blog,
Under Biden, the U.S. has recovered economically from the pandemic faster than other nations that did not invest as heavily in stimulus. In March 2021, the Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan stimulus package to rebuild the economy, and it has worked spectacularly. Real gross domestic product growth this quarter is expected to be 5%, and the stock market has hit new highs, as did Black Friday sales yesterday. Two thirds of Americans are content with their household’s financial situation.
The pandemic tangled supply chains both because of shortages and because Americans have shifted spending away from restaurants and services and toward consumer goods. The Biden administration mobilized workers, industry leaders, and port managers to clear the freight piled on wharves. In the past three weeks, the number of containers sitting on docks is down 33%—and shipping prices are down 25%. Major retailers Walmart, Target, and Home Depot all say they have plenty of inventory on hand for the holiday season.
If you don’t already subscribe to Professor Richardson’s blog, Letters from an American, you should. She is a national treasure and I refrain from quoting her because I fear I will simply repeat her analysis at length (as above). Her pre-Thanksgiving essay captures the essence of Biden’s accomplishments in the first nine months of his presidency. Read it and you will be buoyed.
Against that good economic news, the scolds at the Wall Street Journal declared that “Joe Biden Owns This Economy” which, in the Journal’s view, consists of inflation and nothing more. Tell that to the 519,000 workers who found jobs in October!
Democratic leadership has finally acknowledged they have failed at messaging and are vowing to fix the problem. See The Hill, “With Build Back Better, Dems aim to correct messaging missteps.” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney is urging his House colleagues to hold more than 1,000 “Build Back Better events” that focus on the benefits of the bill rather than the price tag. Maloney also presented House Democrats with internal polling that showed only a 2% GOP advantage in battleground states for 2022—a margin that can be overcome with hard work and better execution. So, don’t give up hope. Rather, become part of the solution by volunteering to help get out the vote, registering new voters, donating, and being a positive influence on others!
Jury convicts three defendants for murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
A jury in Brunswick, Georgia, convicted three defendants of murdering Ahmaud Arbery. The defendants used their pickup trucks to chase Ahmaud as he jogged through a residential neighborhood. One defendant was convicted of first-degree murder (“malice murder”) and eight other counts, while the other defendants were convicted of felony murder, assault, and false imprisonment. The verdict represented the triumph of justice over racism. Ahmaud was killed by three white men. As explained in a summary from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, when Ahmaud was killed, the local District Attorney, who is white, instructed police to refrain from arresting the defendants because one of them (Greg McMichael) had previously worked for her. Per the LDF,
The District Attorney was later arrested and indicted for obstructing a police officer and violating her oath as a public officer. In total, it took 74 days for Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael to be arrested after they killed Mr. Arbery.
But the unconscionable efforts to insulate the defendants from criminal liability arising from the killing an unarmed, innocent Black man did not end there. Although 60% of the population in Brunswick, Georgia is Black, eleven of the jurors were white, and only one was Black. (The county in which Brunswick is located is 26% Black.) The judge stated that he believed the makeup of the jury was the result of ‘intentional discrimination’ but declared that he was powerless to prevent the trial from proceeding before a jury that the defense tainted by using race to exclude members from the jury.
Despite the obstacles to justice, the jury found each of the defendants guilty of some form of murder. (An explanation of the complicated verdicts can be found here, in Vox.) The defendants argued that they acted in self-defense under a “citizens arrest law” enacted during the slavery era in Georgia. That statute was repealed in the wake of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder. As explained in Dan Rather’s excellent essay in his blog, Steady, “A Jury for America - by Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner,” the verdict represents progress because “even in a small town in the South, the racial realities aren’t what they once were.” Rather then includes a hopeful description of what happens when Americans hear evidence that is untainted by political spin and party tribalism:
We know that all the jurors in the Arbery case, no matter their backgrounds, heard the same evidence and came to the same conclusions. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. I don’t know what each of them thinks of the notion of “critical race theory.” I don’t know if they voted for Barack Obama or Donald Trump. I don’t know if they think voting laws are too strict or too permissive. I don’t know if they want their children to read Toni Morrison. I don’t know what they think about all the cultural and political storms that are pulling our country apart. I just know that they looked into the eyes of three white men and said they did not have any right to murder Ahmaud Arbery.
Compared to the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse in a case that was more difficult to prove and less skillfully prosecuted, the convictions of the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery should rekindle our faith in a cornerstone of our democracy.
The Omicron Coronavirus Variant.
News of a coronavirus variant designated “Omicron” rattled the globe on Friday. Governments and individuals are desperate for immediate answers about the severity of the threat from Omicron. Plenty is being written with the benefit of only a few days’ experience with the variant. If you feel compelled to read the latest, I would start with the CDC Statement on B.1.1.529 (Omicron variant). At the moment, Omicron is the fifth variant of SARS-CoV-2 to be designated “of concern.” Per the CDC, its advice remains the same: get vaccinated, wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of high transmission, and maintain physical separation. We will know more soon enough. In the meantime, protect yourself and others around you. After all, the seven-day moving average of deaths from Covid in the U.S. was 1,081 before the Thanksgiving weekend. That is more than enough motivation to remain on guard.
Kevin McCarthy’s personal hell.
Kevin McCarthy’s life’s ambition is to be Speaker of the House. If he succeeds—and we hope he won’t—he will find himself to be the hostage of the Sedition-Conspiracy-Wacko Caucus consisting of the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, and Louie Gohmert. Recent examples of their indefensible behavior that McCarthy will be forced to defend include: Marjorie Taylor Greene introducing a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Kyle Rittenhouse and Lauren Boebert suggesting that Rep. Ilham Omar is a terrorist because of her religion.
Kevin McCarthy will do nothing to reprimand Greene or Boebert—because they have enough votes to deny McCarthy the position as Speaker—a fact that Greene flaunted over the Thanksgiving weekend. See Newsweek, “Marjorie Taylor Greene Says Kevin McCarthy Doesn't Have 'Full Support to be Speaker'.” So, for the next year, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, and Lauren Boebert will control Kevin McCarthy. And the media will laud House Republicans for their unity and discipline while ignoring the reprehensible behavior that is condoned and excused by such discipline.
Over the holiday, when readers should have been tending to family and friends, some of you were reading the latest entries in the cheap journalistic genre of “disaster prediction.” I won’t link to the articles that were forwarded to me over the four-day weekend (because I don’t want to reward the journalists who have resorted to alarmist clickbait), but I will share an insight sparked by one of the articles.
Among the many things about which the media is excoriating Democrats is their supposed lack of discipline and unity. The usual pablum includes a recitation of the lengthy and painful negotiations over the Build Back Better legislation. “Progressives” are cast as villains who just don’t know when to accept “Yes” for an answer.
It is true that Democrats are engaged in vigorous internal struggles over landmark legislation. But those struggles are a sign that the party is still a vital and functioning organization. Among Democrats, there is room for debate, disagreement, and even intransigence. The ability to tolerate and accommodate widely disparate viewpoints is the very definition of a healthy party. Or, rather, it should be, but the commentariat is pillorying Democrats for having the nerve to disagree in public.
Those same critics ignore the fact the GOP has collapsed into a cult of personality. Sure, the GOP brooks no dissent, but that is because it has surrendered to a president who attempted a coup to remain in power. Under Trump, the GOP has abandoned all principle and stands for nothing except retaining power for power’s sake. The trains run on time in the Republican Party, but is that good? Hardly. But among many commentators, party discipline is portrayed as virtuous without regard to the policies (or lack thereof) that animate such discipline. History is full of disastrous consequences of party discipline unmoored from morality.
Republicans in the House voted in lockstep against censuring Paul Gosar for depicting the killing of a member of Congress. That is a sign of depravity, cowardice and dysfunction that is barely mentioned by political commentators. But the intra-party fight among Democrats over which families should receive the Child Tax Credit is viewed by the same commentators as a sign of dysfunction and impending defeat of epic proportions. The double standard is so thick it is viscous.
Here’s my suggestion. Ignore the clickbait masquerading as highbrow political commentary. If you want an objective, fact-based description of the state of the Democratic Party in the first year of Joe Biden’s presidency, go back and read Heather Cox Richardson’s pre-Thanksgiving essay, which concludes as follows:
Has the Biden administration accomplished anything? It has created a sea change in our country, rebuilding its strength by orienting the government away from the supply-side economics that led lawmakers to protect the interests of the wealthy, and toward the far more traditional focus on building the economy by supporting regular Americans.
What she said!
Talk to you tomorrow!
Heather IS a national treasure! Her decades of study of American history in general and the GOP in specific, give her an undeniable advantage as a starting place to write our history as we are living it. And she can write!
Robert, your perspective is also invaluable. Your ability to analyze events through a legal perspective has helped us immensely.
I’ve added other substackers to my daily reading list, often at your suggestion, but you and Heather were and remain, the first two people I read every day.
Thanks for your commitment to keeping us informed and sane.
Robert, you have--I think--fewer readers than Prof. Richardson, but you, too are a treasure to those who are lucky enough to see your words.
And one note: In Mussolini's Italy, the trains did not really run on time. The fascists just said that they did.