Papa Francis at a pitch meeting. (Vatican Pool/Getty Images).

TGIF: The Pope Is With Us

Plus: A rough week for Biden. Trans swimmers face off. And reasons to be optimistic.

Let’s get right to it:

→A pretty rough week for Biden: The Supreme Court blocked his vaccine mandate effort. His approval rating dropped to 33%. Krysten Simena, the moderate Democratic senator from Arizona, said she will not support changing the filibuster rules. Without changing filibuster rules, Democrats have little chance of passing their voting rights bills. Meantime, when asked about whether the administration was planning to change tack on Covid policy, Kamala Harris said: “It is time for us to do what we have been doing and that time is every day.” Julia Louis-Dreyfus should watch her back, Harris might just be the next Selina Meyer. 

→Inflation, still going: Inflation rose to 7% in December, the highest in 40 years. Beef prices are up 18.6% from the previous year. Oranges: 9.9%. 

→Pope Francis, future Common Sense contributor? The Supreme Pontiff this week came out strong in a statement that I can only read as an explicit endorsement of this newsletter. He denounced cancel culture in his “State of the World” speech. “I consider this a form of ideological colonization, one that leaves no room for freedom of expression and is now taking the form of the ‘cancel culture’ invading many circles and public institutions,” he said. “Under the guise of defending diversity, it ends up canceling all sense of identity, with the risk of silencing positions . . . a kind of dangerous ‘one-track thinking’ is taking shape, one constrained to deny history or, worse yet, to rewrite it in terms of present-day categories.” My main question is: Which Vatican Slack channel dragged Pope Francis and got him riled up? Who showed the Pope 1619?

→A reporter admits failure on Covid: One of the largest papers in Denmark (ok, it’s a tabloid) published an apology to its readers about hyperbolic Covid coverage that relied on government data, headlined “We Failed” (read it here on Google translate). “For almost two years, we—the press and the population—have been almost hypnotically preoccupied with the authorities’ daily Covid counts.” Good for them. Meantime, the White House is issuing directives to social media companies to “curb the spread of misinformation.” 

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→Covid drugs are being doled out by race: States are allocating scarce Covid treatments like monoclonal antibodies based, in part, on race, with a preference toward non-white patients. New York state policy makes minorities effectively automatically eligible, while other patients have to meet specific health requirements. The Free Beacon’s Aaron Sibarium writes about the schemes to determine who gets prioritized. “In Utah, ‘Latinx ethnicity’ counts for more points than ‘congestive heart failure.’ And in Minnesota, health officials have devised their own ‘ethical framework’ that prioritizes black 18-year-olds over white 64-year-olds.” (Thanks to public scrutiny, Minneapolis has backed down on this policy.)

→A transman beats a transwoman in the women’s swimming match: There’s some surprising twists in the story of Lia Thomas, the University of Pennsylvania swimmer who competed as a male swimmer, transitioned, and now has been breaking records on the women’s team. The twist? She lost two of her four races this past weekend. The other twist?  She was just beat in the pool by transman, who was also swimming on a women’s team.

The winner of the 100-yard freestyle event last weekend was Iszac Henig, who swims on Yale’s women’s team. Can you ask any questions about this and whether it makes sense for women’s sports to become a free-for-all for all that leads to a man winning? Do you want to keep your job? Because by the definitions of the movement, Iszac is a male who cannot compete on a women’s team, right? This whole thing is becoming increasingly absurd. 

→Delete your Firefox: The chief executive of Mozilla Corporation, which runs the Firefox web browser, came out strongly against the open internet in a quiet post this week last year that has gotten renewed attention. “We need more than deplatforming,” Mitchell Baker wrote, citing Donald Trump’s removal from major social media platforms. “We need solutions that don’t start after untold damage has been done.” Baker argues for solutions, woven into the fabric of the web browser itself, that could prevent you from even encountering a Republican candidate like Trump. She added a list of action items like: “Turn on by default the tools to amplify factual voices over disinformation.” If Baker hates the idea of the free internet this much—an internet that involves lots of saying lots of things—then a monastic life offline might be a better option. 

A Note On Optimism

If you only watch cable news—on the left and on the right—you’d think America was going to hell in a hand basket. Depending on your team, it’s a failed state whose flag is a symbol of hate or the ur-example of godless decadence. But both teams agree: war is coming inside this country within months. Civil war! America to fall on Tuesday! Oh, to be more like Sweden! Or Hungary!

“The next US civil war is already here—we just refuse to see it,” writes The Guardian on January 4.

“Are we really facing a second civil war?” asks The Times Opinion desk on Jan 6. (Article response: Basically yes.)

“Imagine another American Civil War, but this time in every state,” posits NPR on Jan 11.

Meanwhile, the week before? Marjorie Taylor Greene called for “a national divorce” between red and blue states. 

I’m an optimist and all of this strikes me as hyperbolic. So I called up a comrade in optimism, the economics writer Timothy B. Lee, who co-writes the great blog Full Stack Economics. He wrote this week: “One of the worst aspects of current politics is the bipartisan consensus that America kind of sucks. On the left you have the relentless negativity of woke politics. On the right you have the relentless negativity of Trumpism.” 

I asked him to make the case for optimism. Here’s what he said:

Big picture economically, America is the richest large country in the world on a per capita basis.

The median family in America is richer than the median family in most European countries. The median disposable household income in the U.S. in 2019 was $42,800. That is compared to $36,675 in Canada, $31,323 in Germany, $28,585 in France, $25,730 in the UK, and $21,728 in Japan. 

And we're getting richer over time. In 1960, an American family spent 7% of their budget on clothing. Now it’s 2%. Today most middle class Americans have a closet full of clothes and wouldn’t have space for more. 

The U.S. economic model produces not only a lot of wealth, but inventions that the whole world benefits from. If you look at the most dynamic technology and pharmaceutical companies, a hugely disproportionate share are here.

One other piece of “America is great” evidence: way more people move from other developed countries to the U.S. than vice versa. 

There are 674,000 Brits in the U.S. (Only 171,000 Americans are in the U.K.)

There are 162,000 French in the U.S. (While there are 62,000 Americans in France.)

There are 320,000 Japanese in the U.S. (Compared to 58,000 Americans in Japan.)

The negativity bothers me because it’s a self-inflicted thing. Everybody has this impression that there are these crises everywhere. And they feel really panicked about the other side because they think, ‘there’s only a few years left.’ There are things I worry about (climate change). But people should recognize that what we have is pretty good. Chill out a little bit. That would be helpful.

Doomsday thinking is pleasing. Among liberals and progressives, I think it comes from a sort of self-indulgence and self-absorption. It makes you feel like the star of the show, struggling to survive under late capitalism, just one election away from the End of Democracy, and probably months from violent civil war.

On the right, I think much of this comes from a kind of nihilism, or a justification for sitting back and doing nothing. Falling too deep into American catastrophe porn (let’s say, Libs of TikTok videos) lets you check out and take the blackpill. Liberalism tried and failed. These are the end times. Let’s get the popcorn and watch civilization collapse.

But: What if America is actually in pretty good shape? What if we’re not in the last days, on the edge of slaughtering each other? Things always need improving. Suffering needs alleviating. (I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t think that.) But what if we took the panic level down a few notches. Maybe that would help make things a little more reasonable. Maybe it’s not DEFCON 1 right now. Maybe it’s more like a 3. 

To read more, I’d also look to the writer Derek Thompson, who this week wrote about how American liberals operate with a scarcity mindset and need to switch to an Abundance Agenda.

Good Reads

This week, two fun pieces from liberal moms, both shocked by Covid politics. 

In The Atlantic, Angie Schmitt writes: “Why I Soured on the Democrats: COVID school policies set me adrift from my tribe.” And in Politico, you’ve got Rebecca Bodenheimer writing: “How school closures made me question my progressive politics: I’ve never felt more alienated from the liberal Democratic circles I usually call home.” (Hopefully someone in the White House is hearing the primal scream that seems to be coming from America’s parents.)

A few brave students at the University of Chicago are standing up to draconian campus rules that require them to be boosted. They write: “This booster mandate is demonstrably unsafe, ineffective, unnecessary, inconsistent, and unethical. We’ve struggled beneath UChicago’s draconian COVID decrees for years, but the university’s booster mandate reaches a new height of absurdity.” This is what following the science actually looks like.

And some Princeton University professors have launched a new Free Speech Initiative. Hopefully they’ll find a way to make sure Abigail Shrier speaks on campus next time.  

Common Happenings

Mike Solana, a venture capitalist oligarch and Common Sense contributor, hosted his inaugural conference of thought criminals—Hereticon—this past week in Miami. Even Grimes had something to say about it.  

And Olivia Nuzzi, friend of the blog, got a TV deal to write a dark comedy about a D.C. journalist. 

This Week on Common Sense

Peter Kiefer and Peter Savodnik came out with a blockbuster piece on “Hollywood’s New Rules.” They talked to dozens of Hollywood insiders, some of whom even went on the record, describing a cultural and political revolution that will make what you watch on TV probably a little more dull. Also: there will definitely be lawsuits. This piece was picked up all over the place, including on Drudge. 

Three of the most reasonable Covid doctors in America took subscriber questions in a roundtable conversation hosted by Bari, who I can attest is extremely done with Covid.

Believe it or not, Common Sense has been around for a year now. And this week, we looked back at what this small (but mighty) newsroom has produced—and outlined what comes next.

All of us who work on making Common Sense can only do so because of our subscriber community. Year Two brings a lot more to you. 

Subscribe now

TGIF everyone.