The Discourse Report: May 12, 2020

Welcome to the very first edition of DiscRep. You are witnesses to a moment of great historical significance.

We’ve divided our report into four sections: (1) Arguments, (2) Tweets, (3) Audio and Visual, and (4) Links. Collectively, these sections allow us to cover the discourse in a complete way. Here’s a very quick breakdown of each section.

In Arguments, we provide long-form summaries of recent articles. The specific element we summarize is each article’s … well, argument. In the last section, Links, we do a similar thing, but shorter. Since the online discourse, fundamentally, is a collection of claims people are making, along with the reasoning they’re using to support those claims, our main task here is to convey those to you.

In the Tweets section, we’ll point you to tweets—usually threads—that we think are worth a look. Twitter is our public square, so we can’t really claim to capture what’s happening in the discourse if we’re ignoring it. In the Audio and Visual section, we’ll highlight a podcast episode or a video clip that is noteworthy.

Today’s edition, our first, is considerably longer than what we’ll shoot for from this point forward. But c’mon, give us a chance to go super long our first time through.

Don’t forget to Follow us on Twitter.

Let’s get started.


Biden is Planning an FDR-Size Presidency by Gabriel Debenedetti in New York Magazine

Debenedetti has a comprehensive article on the state of the Biden campaign, covering everything from policy to strategy. Biden is shown to have a much bolder agenda than previously thought—Debenedetti walks readers through the process that has led Biden to ramp up his vision in this way. During the primaries, the former vice president had numerous proposals aimed at helping African Americans, and after defeating Sanders he almost immediately made overtures toward the progressive wing of his party on a host of other issues, but with the coronavirus wreaking havoc on the economy he’s more convinced than ever that what is needed is a very aggressive federal government. Biden has proposed everything from a Public Health Job Corps to mild student loan debt forgiveness to increased social security payments. It may be a less expansive vision than Sanders or Warren had in mind, but it is a change in posture from his career up to this point. You don’t get labeled “FDR-sized” if your plans are modest. Debenedetti also walks through the Biden campaign’s strategy and evolution on the Tara Reade accusations and, somewhat related to that, the vice-presidential selection process.

The Anti-Lockdown Protesters Have a Twisted Conception of Liberty by Jamelle Bouie in The New York Times

Most Americans support the lockdowns. Out of the minority who don’t, a subset have taken to the streets to protest any and all forms of enforced social distancing. They call the lockdown orders a form of “tyranny.” What makes these people feel so extraordinarily repressed? Bouie suggests that this uncontrollable expectation of freedom, and its concomitant assumption that those who are free in this way should dictate the fates of the less free, is built into the very fabric of whiteness. Throughout the historical sweep of white-black race relations in America, much ink has been spilled to catalogue the ways in which black people have been harmed by centuries of brutalization and mistreatment. But comparatively less has been written about how whiteness was also forged, as an identity category, by its role in the subjugation of others—indigenous and black populations. Whiteness, as a self-understanding, had as its animating conviction the idea that those who bear its main identity marker should be free from control and in fact should control others. That was its most cherished attribute. Today’s white protestors know that they are not among the populations most vulnerable to COVID, and they sense that it is their legacy, their birthright, to be free from constraints even if securing this “liberation” results in the virus ravaging people seen as inferior. The idea isn’t that most of these protesters are demonstrating in overtly racist ways; it’s that in their particular appeal to liberty—open everything up irrespective of how it affects the black community—they are embodying the privileged self-understanding of white freedom as mattering more than black freedom. They are implicitly carrying forward the time-worn tradition that whiteness supersedes the importance of black lives.

The Agonizing Story of Tara Reade by Laura McGann in Vox

McGann discusses the challenges of reporting on sexual assault allegations against powerful figures, even in the MeToo era. She argues that the scrutiny that comes from such reporting has required journalists to both prove a pattern of assault and find multiple accusers to come forward—as happened in the cases of Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose. But the Tara Reade case, which she discusses in detail based on her own investigation and other sources, is not so clear-cut. There is no pattern pointing to Reade’s more serious allegations against Biden regarding penetration, and Reade and those corroborating her claims have changed some details of the charge over time. This leaves reporters like McGann in a bind, with a story which may very well be true, but cannot be corroborated—at least thus far—with the same measure of evidentiary force.

The Narrative Business by Noah Rothman in Commentary

Rothman argues that the category of “narrative” is an inappropriate one for journalism. On Monday, May 5, Nikole Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer for her essay in the New York Times on “the 1619 Project.” This project, according to the Times, was an effort to change “the national narrative.” Rothman cites a study to suggest “narrative journalism” has become popular. But one element that concerns him is that this approach imports a standard that is fundamentally literary: the quest to tell a compelling story. Journalism, by contrast, should be about laying out the facts. Not about imposing a structure on top of the facts that bends and shapes them until they serve up a good story for us. Plus, weaving a story out of the facts runs the risk of oversimplifying: requiring a hero and a villain, and making sure the characters align with these storytelling elements. Rothman provides two examples of narratives being distortive rather than informative: a CBS News tweet about the U.S. women’s soccer team having their discrimination suit tossed out, and a Tampa Bay Times report about the alleged consequences of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ decision to reopen Florida. Rothman ends on a cynical note, suggesting that while journalism should be about judiciously and carefully laying out the facts, without the narrative framing, the articles won’t be captivating enough to inspire people to share them on social media.

The Sacred Project of American Sociology by Musa al-Gharbi in Heterodox Academy

Al-Gharbi summarizes Christian Smith’s book The Sacred Project of American Sociology. While formally committed to the neutral study of how individuals and groups interact, Smith argues that American sociology is deeply committed—as a “sacred” and unspoken axiom—to the liberation of all from any form of hierarchy, coercion, or oppression. While ostensibly noble, this mindset has led sociologists to effectively ignore what individuals and groups themselves want, and to see themselves as an enlightened caste with the power and the right to impose their will on society, as well as colleagues who dissent from this approach. Smith argues that sociologists should instead see themselves as learned advisers, informing individuals and groups of what is happening within their circles and why, so that they may make the best moral and social decisions for themselves, instead of a self-appointed academic priesthood making it for them.

…and one more before we leave this section. This is from a guest discourse reporter: Arc’s senior editor Nicholas Grossman. Want to have your argument summary featured in DiscRep? Shoot us an email at

Guest Discourse Reporter: Nicholas Grossman

China’s Bargain on Global Influence Is Paying Off by Kathy Gilsinan in The Atlantic

Gilsinan writes that, while the Trump administration has treated international institutions like hindrances, China sees them as opportunities to expand its influence. From the World Health Organization and various other UN agencies to a recent European Union-led conference about a COVID-19 vaccine, China is taking advantage of the global pandemic to participate more while the United States is in retreat or absent. Gilsinan notes that the U.S. still gives decently more than China in foreign aid, but “China is a shiny relative newcomer in many developing countries that have come to take U.S. assistance for granted,” and the money usually comes without pressure regarding transparency or human rights, making it more attractive to authoritarian and corrupt governments. China's efforts to influence agencies such as the Human Rights Council and the Food and Agriculture Organization, Gilsinan argues, are more about getting the world to adhere to Chinese interests—for example, regarding Taiwan—than about the agencies' missions. However, "with the world awash in a pandemic and the U.S. trumpeting China's culpability, Beijing may soon find that there are some things money can't fix."


Caitlin Rivers, @cmyeaton

Noah Smith, @noahpinion

Robby Soave, @robbysoave

Pew Research Center, @pewresearch

Michael Kim, @michaelvkim

Audio and Visual


  • Episode: Welcome to Steve's World

  • Podcast: The Remnant with Jonah Goldberg

  • Topic: Goldberg talks to MSNBC elections analyst Steve Kornacki about the 2020 race and tribalism in politics.




  • Actually, the Orange Man Is Bad by Tim Miller in The Bulwark on 5/8/20

    • Critics of the president’s critics, or anti-anti-Trumpers, frequently respond to negative comments about Trump with the ironic slogan, “Orange Man Bad.” It’s a strange trolling attempt, as it is literally what the Trump critic actually believes.

  • The Full-Spectrum Failure of the Trump Revolution by Damon Linker in The Week on 5/8/20

    • Linker looks at the “full spectrum” of broad policy categories—from domestic to foreign policy—and finds that when it comes to the Trump administration there is a rather large disconnect between its populist rhetoric (styling itself as pro-worker, anti-corruption, and anti-foreign intervention) and its actual results (anti-worker, corruption-friendly, and unthinkingly interventionist).

  • Betsy DeVos Strikes a Blow for Due Process by David French in The Dispatch on 5/7/20

    • Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos just enacted Title IX reforms that require campus sexual misconduct cases to more closely follow critically important due process standards.

  • How Congress Can Help the States by Yuval Levin in The Atlantic on 5/6/20

    • As we approach the fourth phase of congressional coronavirus emergency relief, the federal government ought to create three categories of support for states: (1) funds for responding to the pandemic, (2) funds to make up for state revenue losses, and (3) funds for especially fiscally compromised states, conditional on their agreeing to adjust their behavior.

  • Nation’s Stockpile Proves to Be No Match for a Pandemic by Sara Murray and Scott Glover in CNN on 5/6/20

    • A key element for American crisis readiness is the Strategic National Stockpile, a repository of goods and resources the country might need in a disaster. Founded in 1999, the national stockpile maintains an $8 billion inventory. But for reasons that cut across party lines, the stockpile was in a state of woeful neglect by the time the COVID madness began.

  • How ‘Never Trumpers’ Crashed The Democratic Party by Perry Bacon Jr. in FiveThirtyEight on 5/5/20

    • A profile of Never Trumpers. Where they started (early 2016), where they are most represented (in the media), how they’ve impacted the 2020 primaries (advised the Democrats against Warren or Sanders), and what their strategy is for 2020 (vote Biden).


  • Take the Shutdown Skeptics Seriously by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic on 5/10/20

    • Dangers to food supply chains, the economy that sustains the healthcare system, and the importance of educating children for the general welfare of the country mean that the more thoughtful and serious critics of indefinite or unlimited shutdowns deserve a more careful hearing.

  • Americans Didn’t Wait For Their Governors To Tell Them To Stay Home Because of COVID-19 by Clare Malone and Kyle Bourassa in FiveThirtyEight on 5/8/20

    • Before the president and governors told people to stay home, they were already starting to do so. This was true even in states Trump won handily. FiveThirtyEight, which provides charts from each state, shows that in the Southeast, the number of people staying at home doubled over the month of March. This supports the thesis in a new academic paper that a lot of the economic damage was effected before the lockdowns were put in place.

  • America’s Coronavirus Report Card: Grim But Incomplete by Tyler Cowen in Bloomberg Opinion on 5/7/20

    • Can America still excel at big projects, of which a serious coronavirus response is one? Cowen grades us on various aspects of our plan to deal with COVID and gives us very low marks in most categories.

  • Ahmaud Arbery and the Racist History of Loitering Laws by Bonnie Kristian in The Week on 5/7/20

    • Kristian covers the history of the racist conception of black men in public as inherent threats and public menaces, as seen through the discriminatory enforcement of vagrancy laws and as a motivator of incidents like the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

  • Virus Experts Aren’t Getting the Message Out by Renée DiResta in The Atlantic on 5/6/20

    • The difficulty public health experts are having in getting information out stems from a basic failure to understand how information travels. While academics and public health organizations spend time clarifying and refining their message behind paywalls and closed doors, conspiracy theorists are liberally throwing information out there, filling the vacuum by engaging the public more directly in terms they can understand and setting the parameters of the entire debate.

  • The Sordid History of Housing Discrimination in America by Sean Illing and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor in Vox on 5/5/20

    • Illing interviews Taylor, author of Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership, on the history of discrimination against black home ownership. And how that has made it impossible for black families to amass wealth the way whites have.

  • The Harsh Future of American Cities by Steve LeVine in GEN on 5/4/20

    • Big cities, or densely populated urban areas, will be among the hardest hit regions by the coronavirus pandemic. What these sorts of places were becoming, the promise they were showing, is all over now.


  • Allies Despair as Trump Abandons America’s Leadership Role at a Time of Global Crisis by Nicole Gaouette, Jennifer Hansler, Kylie Atwood, and Angela Dewan in CNN on 5/9/20

    • CNN enlists a considerable number of analysts and world officials to condemn what they see as Trump’s unwillingness to have the U.S. “lead” the global anti-coronavirus effort. Some acknowledge the U.S. has continued to work with countries in a bilateral fashion, but they specifically criticize the Trump administration’s intention to defund the World Health Organization, and the U.S.’s disinterest in coordinating with other countries on vaccine development.

  • Containing China Will Be Complicated by Elbridge Colby and A. Wess Mitchell in The Wall Street Journal on 5/7/20

    • The West, particularly the United States, has facilitated China’s rise. Now, to curb their power and influence, our post-pandemic response must take the form of a grand strategy that specifically counters the ways in which China has built up regional hegemony.


  • U.S. Labor Market Policy Should Take a Page Out of Europe’s Book by Megan Greene in The Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University on 5/11/20

    • Labor flexibility is one of the stronger characteristics of the U.S. economy. One area where we could improve, argues Greene, is not responding to reductions in the workforce with reflexive layoffs and instead look to the sorts of worksharing programs that exist in Europe.

  • The Most Alarming Thing About the Worst Jobs Report in History by John Cassidy in The New Yorker on 5/8/20

    • The April jobs report, released last Friday, is unprecedentedly grim. The 14.7 percent unemployment rate—more than a 10-point bump from the previous month—is likely underselling the carnage. Cassidy thinks the real rate is closer to being in the low twenties, which is Great Depression-level.

  • Inflation Is the Way to Pay Off Coronavirus Debt by Noah Smith in Bloomberg Opinion on 5/7/20

    • COVID is going to leave consumers and businesses owing a lot of debt, which will burden the former and not allow the latter to invest. Instead of bailouts, which will be politicized, the government should use inflation to eliminate personal and business debts. It can do this by raising the inflation target from 2% to 4%. Though three problems are considered, Smith suggests it’s worth a try.

  • How the Virus Could Weigh Down America’s Economy for the Long Haul by James Pethokoukis in The Week on 5/7/20

    • The post-COVID economy will be a Great Depression-like catastrophe. Adding populist policies like immigration-restrictionism on top of that will likely exacerbate the economic havoc we’re already set to face.

  • Say Goodbye to Hero Pay, Kroger Tells Workers by Sarah Jones in New York Magazine on 5/6/20

    • Kroger, a grocery chain, has informed employees that they are ending the temporary “hero pay” increase.

  • Thomas Piketty’s Plan to Fix the Economy by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein in The New Republic on 5/6/20

    • A review of renowned economist Thomas Piketty’s latest book, Capital and Ideology. The work targets a particular view of private property—one that “sacralizes” its role in society and in so doing keeps economic inequalities entrenched.

Science, Medicine, and Technology

  • ‘We May Have to Rethink the Toilet Seat Altogether’: How the Coronavirus Could Change Bathrooms for the Better by Lara Sorokanich in Fast Company on 5/11/20

    • U.S. toilets are ill-equipped for a pandemic. Which means, the coronavirus may bring about much-needed change. Goodbye toilet plumes and urinal rows; hello toilet lids and privacy.

  • Don’t Waste the World’s Great Online Learning Experiment by Clara Ferreira Marques in Bloomberg Opinion on 5/9/20

    • Marques shares her experience with online homeschooling. She has become a tech optimist, especially in special needs cases like with her autistic child. Marques looks at things parents and educators need to do to make it online instruction work better and capitalize on its potential.

  • Coronavirus Hijacks the Body From Head to Toe, Perplexing Doctors by Betsy McKay and Daniela Hernandez in The Wall Street Journal on 5/7/20

    • At first thought to be a virus that only targets the lungs, medical experts now understand that COVID affects multiple major areas in the body: including the respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, musculoskeletal, and digestive systems.

  • Covid-19 is Way, Way Worse Than the Flu by Brian Resnick in Vox on 5/5/20

    • The flu is bad, but COVID is far worse: the infection fatality rate is 10 times higher than the flu; there is no vaccine for COVID like there is for the flu; COVID has a higher percentage of asymptomatic cases than the flu, increasing risk of transmission; COVID has a longer incubation period than the flu, also increasing risk of transmission; and populations have no natural immunity to COVID, making it twice as contagious as the flu.

  • What We Know About Whom COVID Kills by Eleanor Cummins in Slate on 5/1/20

    • A breakdown of the categories of people COVID seems to kill more often. They include the elderly, those with relevant preexisting conditions, men, and black people.


  • Why Australia Is Making Facebook and Google Pay the Media by Will Oremus in OneZero on 5/5/20

    • The media used to be able to count on revenue from online advertising. With the advent of Google and Facebook, that is no longer the case. As a result—but not entirely for this reason alone—journalism is a dying industry. The Australian government is trying to empower the media to take some of that revenue back.


  • Christianity Gets Weird by Tara Isabella Burton in The New York Times on 5/8/20

    • A profile of high-church traditionalism—mainly of the Roman Catholic variety—and its otherworldly appeal in an age of consumerism, superficiality, and brokenness.

  • Lonely Men and Women of Faith by Timothy P. Carney, Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, Siraj Hashmi in The Washington Examiner on 5/7/20

    • A Christian, Jew, and Muslim discuss the challenges the faithful face and the creative solutions they arrive at to maintain community and observance during the coronavirus restrictions.

  • Religious Never Trumpers Have to Be Tougher Than the Rest by Francis Wilkinson in Bloomberg Opinion on 5/6/20

    • Evangelicals are still by and large very supportive of the president. This presents a ministerial difficulty for evangelical leaders who remain critical of him.

Thanks for reading,

Team DiscRep