Esquire (USA) : 2020-06-01



Joe Biden was as dead as Kelsey’s nuts and nobody could deny it. What I did not know was that, on January 23, 2020, as I listened to the House managers present the impeachmen­t case in the Senate chamber, this country’s very first diagnosis of a new virus had been made in Washington state. On that same day, the city of Wuhan, China, was locked down. The intelligen­ce community had been warning the president about a potential pandemic for almost a month. On the morning of January 22, as his trial in the Senate opened, the president said, “We have it totally under control . . . . It’s going to be just fine.” A week later, on January 29, I was in the press gallery as senators questioned the managers on both sides. But at the other end of Pennsylvan­ia Avenue, White House trade advisor Peter Navarro was informing the president that this virus had the potential to kill five hundred thousand Americans. The next day, the Senate was debating whether to subpoena witnesses. The president was dismissing the warnings of an impending pandemic from his secretary of health and human services as alarmist. On February 5, the president was acquitted, one day after he gave the State of the Union address. The mess in Iowa was gradually sorting itself out, and I was headed to New Hampshire. What I did not know was that there had been a briefing with White House officials on the coronaviru­s, and that the administra­tion had declined to ask for any emergency funding whatsoever. On February 11, Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire primary. Joe Biden finished fifth, with a little more than 8 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, the National Security Council prepared a memo on February 14 discussing the logistics for a possible program of quarantine and isolation measures. The meeting to brief the president was later canceled. The last political moment I attended in the 2020 Democratic primary campaign came on February 27 in South Carolina. Already you could feel the improbable Joe Biden surge coming. That day, Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligen­ce Committee, told a gathering of donors that, according to briefings he’d received, the coronaviru­s could produce a pandemic as NEW ELECTION, NEW YOU The past is prologue in Masha Gessen’s The Russian-born writer peers through her unique lens on autocrats to catalog the Trump administra­tion’s assaults on American institutio­ns. But we can’t just blame the Russians. For decades, as the book chronicles, we’ve fallen away from our identity as a nation of immigrants and invited the wolf in through xenophobia and an unholy marriage of politics and money. We can never return to who we were, Gessen argues; rather, we must aspire to a new national identity, centered on “dignity rather than power, equality rather than wealth, and solidarity rather than competitio­n.” Now go check your voter registrati­on. Surviving Autocracy. —Adrienne Westenfeld