This week, one of my editors pointed out that the Iowa caucuses happened less than two months ago.
I didn’t believe her until I checked my calendar.
Over the past week or so, all of our lives have transformed into something so different that “normal” — or as normal as covering a disastrous caucus process can be — feels as if it happened long ago, in a world where kids went to school, adults went to offices and I wore something other than leggings most of the time.
Some things will certainly go back to normal after the coronavirus threat passes. But it’s hard to imagine that the country and our politics will not be reshaped by the pandemic.
There are some early signs of political shifts. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah sounded a little like the #YangGang this week, suggesting a one-time payment of $1,000 to every American adult to address the economic impacts of the coronavirus outbreak. The Trump administration picked up a version of the plan, proposing two waves of $1,000 checks for adults and $500 per child, part of a $1 trillion economic package. Senate Republicans were hammering out their own plan on Thursday for direct payments to taxpayers.
There have been times when Republicans have embraced big government. During the Great Recession in 2008, the party handed out checks to Social Security recipients, gave broad tax rebates and backed the government bailout of Wall Street — a decision that helped inspire the conservative Tea Party movement. More recently, they supported a $28 billion bailout for farmers to mitigate losses from the trade war started by President Trump.
Yet, this proposal is something new: a direct payment to every American, pushed by a Republican White House and passed by a Republican-controlled Senate.
Not only is this the embodiment of a “big government” response to a crisis, but it also was spurred by the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nominee.
Don’t forget Mr. Romney was the candidate who argued in 2012 that 47 percent of Americans were effectively government parasites, looking for “big gifts” and “free stuff.” He famously argued against the bailout of the auto industry in an Op-Ed titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
Now he’s handing out cash.
Aides to Mr. Romney say he’s not thinking of the cash infusion as a permanent plan, like Andrew Yang’s proposal for monthly basic income, but as an emergency relief measure similar to President George W. Bush’s tax rebates in 2001 and 2008.
Yet, the fact that Mr. Romney, the White House and the Republican leadership now endorse direct payments to the public as a form of economic stimulus is a sign that this virus may reverberate across our politics in ways that are difficult to predict.
A generation of students is finding its college careers shaped by the virus, now a formative political experience. Some officials and activists are wondering whether in-person voting might start to become a thing of the past. Even Mr. Trump sounds different in moments — but only in moments — toning down some of the bluster and certitude that have characterized his early response to this crisis, not to mention his time in office.
Politics evolve. Parties grow and shrink and change and redefine themselves.
Maybe these political shifts are the most normal thing happening right now.
Stuck at home? Talk with us
What’s so different about this moment is that our national mission of social distancing means we have to navigate these developments alone.
Personally, I’d rather work through this together. So let’s have a chat.
I’m curious how you are getting information in this challenging time. What’s the first place you go to for coronavirus information — is it your group text, the news media, a neighborhood email list, a political leader? Whom do you trust, if anyone, to give it to you straight?
Write me at [email protected] and your response could be featured in a future newsletter. Be sure to include your name and location. And if you’re so inclined, attach a picture of what you see out your window.
Let’s be stuck home alone, together.
From Opinion: Will politics be temporarily or forever changed?
“Looking back, it’s hard to remember the exact moment we left the old world behind, and entered this new one,” Jennifer Finney Boylan wrote in an Opinion essay on Wednesday. “How did Ernest Hemingway describe going bankrupt — ‘gradually, and then suddenly’? Like that.”
American society, like much of the global community, has been gradually halted and deeply changed by the public health and financial crises spawned by the coronavirus pandemic. That dawning reality has been the focus this week in the New York Times Opinion section. The columnist Jamelle Bouie declared that “The Era of Small Government Is Over,” and asserted that the inequality already laid bare by this disease had made “a powerful, real-life argument for the broadest forms of social insurance.”
The Editorial Board endorsed giving “every American $2,000, immediately” — a view once seen as radical by many on the left and right in the more ordinary-feeling times of a month ago. Another remarkably swift, near-disorienting change has been the new bipartisanship in Congress, which is hashing out a series of ambitious expenditures intended to save lives, jobs and people’s homes.
Jan-Werner Müller, a professor of politics at Princeton, gave one reason for the shift toward valuing competence and camaraderie: “Things change when your — or your grandparents’ — life really does depend directly on the experts, and when you realize that no gated community can keep a virus out.”
— Talmon Joseph Smith
One thing that unites us all across the world in the midst of this crisis: Distance learning is the worst.
(Thanks to Jennifer Medina and her co-worker — er, husband — Josh for forwarding the video.)
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