The Atlantic
Syndicated stories from The Atlantic.

It never has.

Vintage black-and-white photo of a hand on a paper ballot.
Vintage black-and-white photo of a hand on a paper ballot.
Photo: Ralph Morse/Pix Inc./The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

By Kenneth Owen

Minority rule is fast becoming the defining feature of the American republic. In 2000 and 2016, presidential candidates who received fewer votes than their opponents were nevertheless sent to the White House. Joe Biden’s 2020 victory came not because he won nearly 7 million more votes nationally than President Donald Trump, but rather because he won about 200,000 votes more in a handful of swing states. Congress has seen a similar dynamic: Though Republican senators make up the majority in the chamber, they represent more than 20 million fewer Americans than Democratic senators do. Such lopsided electoral calculus seems to fly in the face of both parties’ principles. …


U.S. COVID-19 statistics are about to look better — even though the reality is almost certainly getting worse. It’s time to hibernate.

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Dr. Joseph Varon hugs and comforts a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit during Thanksgiving at the United Memorial Medical Center on November 26, 2020, in Houston, Texas. Photo: Go Nakamura/Getty Image

Here is what we know about the state of COVID-19 as we approach the winter holiday season.

On Thanksgiving Eve, more than 1 million passengers cleared airport security, the highest single-day volume since the coronavirus reshaped American life in March. While airplanes are not likely settings for super-spreader events, everything before and after people step on a plane is somewhat risky. This includes parents shouting at their misbehaving kids in security lines; individuals munching on Auntie Anne’s pretzels, masks dangling from their chins, in departure-terminal crowds; and, most importantly, extended families swapping sweet-potato pie and invisible pathogens over the dinner table in poorly ventilated homes. …


‘Pod’ means something different to everyone, and that’s a problem.

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Illustration: Katie Martin/The Atlantic

By Rachel Gutman

Americans’ social lifelines are beginning to fray. As the temperature drops and the gray twilight arrives earlier each day, comfortably mingling outside during the pandemic is getting more difficult across much of the country. For many people, it’s already impossible.

To combat the loneliness of winter, some of us might be tempted to turn to pods, otherwise known as bubbles. The basic idea is that people who don’t live together can still spend time together indoors, as long as their pod stays small and exclusive. And pods aren’t just for the winter: Since March, parents have formed child-care bubbles. Third graders have been assigned to learning pods. Some NBA teams were in a bubble for months. …


This is why you can eat in a restaurant but can’t have Thanksgiving.

2 signs by the side of the road. 1 says, “Salon is open!” and the other says, “Stay home and stay safe!”
2 signs by the side of the road. 1 says, “Salon is open!” and the other says, “Stay home and stay safe!”
Photo: Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

By Amanda Mull

Two weeks ago, I staged a reluctant intervention via Instagram direct message. The subject was a longtime friend, Josh, who had been sharing photos of himself and his fiancé occasionally dining indoors at restaurants since New York City, where we both live, had reopened them in late September. At first, I hadn’t said anything. Preliminary research suggests that when people congregate indoors, an infected person is almost 20 times more likely to transmit the virus than if they were outside. But restaurants are open legally in New York, and I am not the COVID police. …


Penguin Random House purchasing Simon & Schuster is not the gravest danger to the publishing business. The deal is transpiring in a larger context — and that context is Amazon.

Exterior view of an Amazon Books store.
Exterior view of an Amazon Books store.
Photo: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

By Franklin Foer

In 1960, Dwight Eisenhower’s attorney general, William Rogers, read the paper with alarm. He learned that Random House intended to purchase the venerable publisher Alfred A. Knopf. Rogers began making calls to prod his antitrust division into blocking the sale. In those days, monopoly loomed as a central concern of government — and a competitive book business was widely seen as essential to preserving both intellectual life and democracy. …


The U.S. could have hundreds of thousands of fewer births next year than it would have in the absence of a pandemic.

An empty baby bed in front of a window in a maternity ward.
An empty baby bed in front of a window in a maternity ward.
Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

By now, the pandemic has disrupted Americans’ daily lives for nearly as long as a baby typically spends in the womb. This means that many children conceived in mid-March are weeks away from joining us in this disorienting new world, but just as notable are the children who won’t be joining us — the babies who would have been born were it not for the ongoing economic and public-health crises. These missing births, which could end up numbering in the hundreds of thousands in the U.S., will make up what’s been called the “COVID baby bust.”

One would think that a baby bust would take at least nine months to reveal itself, but traces of one seem to have already appeared. As Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, has noted, births started to decline in California and Florida during the summer. That’d be too soon, though, to reflect a drop in conceptions during the pandemic, or a rise in abortions or miscarriages (which tend to happen earlier on in pregnancy). Three possible explanations, Cohen told me, are errors or lags in states’ data on births, large numbers of pregnant people moving during the pandemic and giving birth in another state, or a large, unexpected drop-off in births that was already going to happen regardless of the pandemic. …


Stopping the virus from spreading requires us to override our basic intuitions.

A green man with green viruses floating behind him as he walks through a crowd of tan people with black hair.
A green man with green viruses floating behind him as he walks through a crowd of tan people with black hair.
Image: RUSSELLTATEdotCOM/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

By Yascha Mounk

Over the summer, parts of the United States seemed to have a grip on the pandemic. New York and much of the Northeast, for instance, recorded relatively few new infections. The pandemic gloom was taking a less heavy toll than it had in its first months, partly because warm weather made restrictions on indoor activity more bearable.

That sense of control was illusory. As the seasons have changed, the virus has resumed its exponential spread. The public’s willingness to follow health guidelines also feels more tenuous. …


Each day, it becomes more urgent that Republicans and conservatives speak in defense of institutions and in defiance of the president’s posture.

A blocky red letter “T” with a blue “L” superimposed on it.
A blocky red letter “T” with a blue “L” superimposed on it.
Image: The Atlantic

By Gregg Nunziata

A democratic republic is a fragile thing. A large, diverse one such as ours is more fragile still.

Conservatives, whose political philosophy is rooted in the importance of tradition and preserving institutions, should know this. Yet too many are ignoring the obvious damage that President Donald Trump has done — and continues to do — by denying his electoral loss.

I write as a conservative, a lifelong Republican, and a committed member of the Federalist Society. I have worked as counsel and adviser to several Senate Republicans. I am delighted by how well the party performed relative to expectations in this election and think it of vital importance that Republicans retain both Senate seats in January’s runoff elections. I’m quite alarmed by the policy agenda of the incoming Biden administration. But none of that changes my horror at an American president undermining faith in our democracy. …


There is no perfectly safe way to gather. That said, here’s how to make the holiday less dangerous.

Vintage black-and-white photo of Thanksgiving dinner, the kids’ table with the adults’ table in the background.
Vintage black-and-white photo of Thanksgiving dinner, the kids’ table with the adults’ table in the background.
Photo illustration: The Atlantic; source: Bettmann/Getty Images

Most years, in the anxious days before Thanksgiving, I write a health-related FAQ. It’s meant to be fun, reminding us of the timeless risks that spike every year around this day, such as Salmonella poisoning and fires from exploding turkeys.

This year is different. On Thursday, the CDC advised Americans not to congregate with people outside their immediate household. If anything, the advisory understated the risk at hand, saying that “travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.” Travel does increase your risk. It should have read: Do not travel. Do not gather. Effectively, Thanksgiving is canceled. Just wait one year, and then have a basically normal holiday. …


Fox News acknowledged Trump’s loss. Facebook and Twitter cracked down on election lies. But true believers can get their misinformation elsewhere.

A black hashtag on an animated background of hypnotizing red ripples spreading.
A black hashtag on an animated background of hypnotizing red ripples spreading.

By Renée DiResta

When Fox News called Arizona for Democrat Joe Biden shortly after the polls closed there on Election Night, right-wing social media erupted in fury. Fox is the most conservative of the nation’s major news outlets, and its aggressive Arizona call — which most other national outlets did not follow for days — left true believers on the right feeling betrayed. On the social-media app Parler, which has been gaining popularity among supporters of President Donald Trump, posts alleging electoral irregularities mixed with assorted hashtags decrying Fox itself: #BOYCOTTFOXNEWS, #DUMPFOXNEWS, #FAKEFOXNEWS, #FOXNEWSISDEAD, and #FOXNEWSSUCKS. Throughout Election Day, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube had been cracking down on a flurry of allegations about voter fraud in Arizona; the platforms quickly applied warning labels to new posts containing false or disputed information and reduced the distribution of groups spreading them. …

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