The singer’s overnight success is about more than the Sabrina Carpenter, Joshua Bassett drama.

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Photo illustration by Slate. Image via Olivia Rodridgo/YouTube.

By Chris Molanphy

If, as the actor, comedian, and belletrist “Judge” John Hodgman has declared, “Specificity is the soul of narrative,” actress–singer Olivia Rodrigo just won the Soulful Specificity prize for 2021, before the year was even a month old. It’s rare that a debut single by a new artist connects with a cross-section of the public as fast as “Drivers License” has. Rodrigo’s song about a very particular kind of heartbreak — presented as a plain-spoken analogy to finally graduating from one’s learner’s permit — proved universal enough to thousands of Americans to enter the Hot 100 at №1. Teens of Rodrigo’s generation powered the song to the top in quite literally record time: With a few caveats, Rodrigo’s first official single sets a record for a newcomer’s chart debut. But befuddled olds like me hear a lot that’s achingly familiar in this well-crafted confessional, too. …


Let’s play a game!

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images, Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for The New York Women’s Foundation, Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images,Comstock Images/iStock/Getty Images Plus, kovop58/iStock/Getty Images Plus, Kneonlight/iStock/Getty Images Plus, Auseklis/iStock/Getty Images Plus,Rawf8/iStock/Getty Images Plus, carlopops/iStock/Getty Images Plus,vitalik19111992/iStock/Getty Images Plus, and Lisainy/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

By Henry Grabar

With Donald Trump safely away in Florida, a weary nation turns its eyes toward the next blockbuster political spectacle, the race for America’s most thankless dead-end job: mayor of New York City. The field is huge, the contest wide open. If you want to throw your hat in the Tweed ring, too, you’ll need a signature idea, such as a Wi-Fi-enabled storm surge barrier at La Guardia Airport, a worker-owned co-working space in SoHo, or the Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo bitcoin mining facility in Staten Island.

You don’t actually have to build it if elected — the city’s history is littered with such scuttled plans — but you do have to create a convincing impression that you will make no little plans. So far, Andrew Yang is the clear frontrunner here, with visions of a public bank, universal basic income, and a casino on Governor’s Island. …


His executive order is essentially bulletproof. Here’s why.

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President Joe Biden after his inauguration on Wednesday. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

By Mark Joseph Stern

On the first day of his presidency, Joe Biden commenced the most sweeping expansion of LGBTQ rights in American history. In a historic executive order, Biden ordered every federal agency to clarify that civil rights laws prohibiting sex discrimination also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This move will extend nondiscrimination protections to millions of LGBTQ people with regard to housing, education, immigration, credit, health care, military service, Peace Corps service, family and medical leave, welfare, criminal justice, law enforcement, transportation, federal grants, and so much more.

While some of Biden’s executive orders may be vulnerable to court challenges, this one is essentially bulletproof. It merely implements the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, something the Trump administration refused to do. In Bostock, the Supreme Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars employment discrimination against LGBTQ people. Title VII does not explicitly mention sexual orientation or gender identity; rather, it bars workplace discrimination “because of sex.” But the court held that it is impossible to discriminate against LGBTQ workers without taking their sex into account. …


On the day he left my city, I got to see the view he had from the White House.

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Donald Trump’s old house. Christina Cauterucci/Slate

By Christina Cauterucci

If you’d wanted to make a year-in-review video for 2020, you could have done worse than plopping a time-lapse camera on the sidewalk on 16th Street in Washington D.C., just north of Lafayette Square and the White House. It was here that the righteous anger of racial justice demonstrators poured out all summer, prompting Mayor Muriel Bowser to name the street Black Lives Matter Plaza in early June. It was here that Trump deployed the National Guard against peaceful protesters for his Bible-wielding photo op. And it was here that, when Joe Biden’s victory was officially declared on the Saturday after the election in November, thousands of masked people danced in the street late into the night, blasting music and spraying Champagne in a celebratory mood rarely seen during the pandemic. In the months after Trump’s loss, that stretch of 16th Street saw the white fury of right-wing extremists, who made a beeline for the plaza each time they invaded the city. …


He can’t go back up the escalator.

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Donald Trump at the White House on Jan. 12. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

By Susan Matthews

No Trump moment, through this presidency of endless new and appalling moments, has been invoked in the popular memory more often than the first one, his escalator ride down the commercial halls of Trump Tower to announce his bid for the job. It’s lasted because of its absurd visual message — Donald Trump deigning to come down from the tiptop of his ugly fortress to engage with the people via escalator, an inherently ridiculous form of transport. The whole scene looks amateurish: There’s no natural light, and the setup makes it hard to capture any sense of a crowd (the president immediately exclaims that there are “thousands!” of people; in reality he offered to pay actors to attend). When I recently rewatched it, I realized that maybe it has stuck because the escalator is the ultimate symbol of the man himself — supposedly luxurious, but ultimately conjuring the artificial aesthetic of a shopping mall. …


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Andrew Yang announces his candidacy for New York City mayor on Thursday in Manhattan. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

By Henry Grabar and Jordan Weissmann

Andrew Yang will not forestall the robot apocalypse from the Oval Office, but he may get to do it from New York City Hall. In the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, the former entrepreneur’s quirky campaign found a surprisingly robust audience, attracted by Yang’s warnings about automation and his promise to mail every American a “freedom dividend” (or, at least, by his math jokes and laid-back, open collar). In the end, the Yang Gang only got their guy as far as the New Hampshire primary. But thanks in part to the name recognition and national network of donors he accrued during that race, Yang is actually leading the polls this year’s contest to be the Democratic candidate for New York City mayor. On Friday, Henry Grabar and Jordan Weissmann, two of Slate’s native New Yorkers, convened to debate whether this is a good thing. …


“You just say your prayers and keep your fingers crossed.”

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Banners announcing the inauguration are displayed outside the White House on Tuesday. Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

By Mary Harris

After the insurrection on Jan. 6, Democratic Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who heads the subcommittee that oversees the Capitol Police, was “fucking livid.” He claims he’d been expressly assured the day before — by both the sergeant at arms and the then–Capitol Police chief — that his colleagues and their staffs were safe. And yet, the deadly riot that could have endangered their lives was allowed to unfold the way it did. Ryan is attempting to get to the bottom of this chaos right as he also prepares for this week’s inauguration, where Joe Biden will be sworn in as president. But if the Capitol invasion proved lawmakers weren’t as safe as they’d believed they were, how can they be assured Wednesday’s transfer of power will go smoothly? To take stock of the aftermath of the riot and the anticipation of the inauguration, I spoke with Ryan on Tuesday’s episode of What Next. …


White House officials have warned Trump against pardoning himself.

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President Donald Trump walks to the Oval Office while arriving back at the White House on December 31, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

By Daniel Politi

President Donald Trump is finalizing the details on one of his last acts as president when he will pardon or commute the sentences of more than 100 people before he leaves the White House. CNN says the pardons and commutations will come Tuesday, his final full day in office while the Washington Post reports it could be Monday or Tuesday. This latest batch of pardons and commutations is expected to include a mix of people, including “white collar criminals, high-profile rappers, and others,” according to CNN.

Trump met on Sunday with his daughter Ivanka and his son in law, Jared Kushner, to finalize the details of the pardons, according to the Post. Trump is personally involved in the details of the pardons and those who know him say it makes sense considering that he’s likely to take clemency actions that could benefit him once he’s no longer president. “Everything is a transaction. He likes pardons because it is unilateral. And he likes doing favors for people he thinks will owe him,” a source told CNN. Earlier, the New York Times had reported that Trump allies were making lots of money lobbying for pardons. …


The decline was largely due to Republicans.

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President Donald Trump walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on January 12, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

By Daniel Politi

President Donald Trump had low approval ratings throughout his time in office. He was, after all, the first president in the history of Gallup polling to never receive a positive rating from a majority of Americans. And now as he is getting ready to leave the White House, his approval ratings are getting even lower. Trump will be leaving office with an approval rating of 29 percent, which is the lowest of his presidency, according to the latest Pew Research Center poll. That marks a nine-point decline from August and is lower than his previous record low approval rating of 36 percent in the poll that was registered in August, 2017. …


The executive branch embarked upon a mad dash to kill death row inmates before Biden’s inauguration.

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor in 2016. Leigh Vogel/Getty Images

By Mark Joseph Stern

On Friday night, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority bent a series of bedrock rules to ensure the immediate execution of Dustin Higgs. Several hours later, Higgs became the thirteenth victim of the Trump administration’s quest to revive the federal death penalty after a moratorium of nearly two decades. All three liberal justices dissented, and Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor each wrote to express their disgust with the conservative majority for facilitating Trump’s rush to kill as many prisoners as possible before Jan. 20.

Friday’s decision in U.S. v. Higgs appears to be unprecedented. A district court had halted Higgs’ killing, finding that it may be illegal. Federal law requires a federal death sentence to be implemented “in the manner prescribed” by the state in which it was imposed. But Higgs was sentenced by a federal court in Maryland, which abolished capital punishment in 2013, so there is no “manner prescribed” for Higgs’ execution. An appeals court upheld the district court’s stay, setting oral arguments for Jan. 27. On Jan. 11, Trump’s Department of Justice asked the Supreme Court to clear away these roadblocks. In a stunning move, the court agreed: It issued a summary decision on the merits of the case, short-circuiting the traditional appeals process. The court directed the government to kill Higgs using the execution protocol in Indiana, where he was imprisoned. It did not explain its reasoning. …

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