Happy New Year to all my beautiful babies. I hope you all had a great holiday season and got lots of presents (bourbon). Even though the first part of this Jackal will touch on January 6th, during the couple weeks where we were separated, the news around Omicron really shifted into high gear and it became the dominant story over the break. So, I wanted to touch on that and try to give a preview into what the pandemic looks like in 2022.
Separately, I’m sure you’re noticing that this Jackal is coming on a Friday as opposed to a Monday. This is going to be the format going forward, since it wasn’t really ideal for me to be putting the finishing touches on the Jackal while trying to give my baby a bottle on Sunday evenings. The goal is to give you something to read during your three-Martini Friday Happy Hour (Yes, this note is to you, Senator Romney).
Yesterday, I went through a bunch of stuff I had written after the Beer Belly Putsch, but heavily focused on the period right after the riot itself. It was both sobering and anxiety-inducing, but I kept stubbing my toe on this one piece, written by Tim Snyder and highlighted by me:
When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump — like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia — is one of the decline of local news (my emphasis).
Looking back over the past year since January 6th, this hits harder than it did initially. In the time since, we have seen COVID denialism and vaccine skepticism lead to an outsized number of deaths in one Party. A huge portion of the Right now believes that the Insurrection was a setup by the FBI, or that they - at the very least - encouraged Trump supporters to storm the Capitol (as if Trump hadn’t done that himself).
The base of the GOP is being swallowed by a black hole of disinformation, and it has both led to violence outside of the movement (January 6th) and violence within the movement (outsized COVID deaths of Trump supporters).
I’ve been trying to think of a relatable way of communicating this, but I keep going back to the Wild West of the 1990s. Back then, people would say random, insane stuff to each other as if it were fact: Mountain Dew reduced your sperm count; Paul from The Wonder Years grew up to be Marilyn Manson; Marilyn Manson had his lower rib removed so he could “pleasure” himself (why do so many of these involve Marilyn Manson?); Walt Disney had his head frozen; the list could really go on for all eternity, and it probably differs region to region. The hope was that as more people began using the Internet - which allows for easy access to a ton of clarifying information - we would move away from stuff like Yellow 5 infecting your spermies. But what’s happened instead is that the Internet has given all the people who want to believe in these things a home. It’s not a very nice home, but it’s there. QAnon and the anti-vaccination movement are what happens when people who loved to forward emails get just a little more tech savvy.
With all that in mind, one of the things I noticed about my posts earlier in 2021 was the optimism, where I was hopeful that the “fever” would break once Trump left office. But, because of everything I outlined above, it’s gotten worse. What’s happening is that as more of the email-forwarding people couldn’t find confirmation of their beliefs (Trump won the election, the Vaccines cause butt cancer, etc.), they moved from mainstream-adjacent sources, like Fox News, and threw themselves even further down the rabbit holes. Telegram, which was mostly founded as an app for encrypted end-to-end messaging, is now a hub for everything from QAnon conspiracy theories to anti-vaccine nonsense.
As you can see, these people don’t have small followings. The guy who is supposedly Q himself, Ron Watkins, has half a million followers. Praying Medic - who is a huge anti-vaxx voice - is reaching 174K people every day. Robert Malone - a grifter who is gaining fame by converting into an anti-vaxxer - recently did an interview with Joe Rogan and cast doubt on the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines. YouTube removed uploads of the interview, but it’s readily available on Rumble.com, where it has almost half a million views.
A few years ago, I wrote a piece on how a movement started within the Republican Party during the Nixon Administration to cast the media in general as “liberal” and therefore untrustworthy:
Agnew’s designation of the press as a liberal outfit hostile to conservative thought laid the groundwork for the hyper-partisan right-wing media to build their house on. It began on talk radio in the 1980s, then moved onto TV with Fox News, and is now solidifying its presence on the internet.
This basically started as a baby T-Rex that conservatives thought they could keep on a leash, but they’ve now fully been eaten by the T-Rex. The problems related to January 6th don’t just lie with Donald Trump: They lie with a portion of the GOP base that is primed to believe misinformation, and that is resulting in a toxic mixture:
A base ready to believe misinformation.
Pro-Trump Conservative media sources ready to feed them misinformation.
A failure from other Republicans/conservative media sources to push back on misinformation.
Add Donald Trump to all three of the above points.
The New York Times was roundly mocked by conservatives recently for publishing a piece titled, “every day is January 6th now.” But if you look past the headline, the piece itself highlights why the threat on that day didn’t evaporate overnight:
It is regular citizens who threaten election officials and other public servants, who ask, “When can we use the guns?” and who vow to murder politicians who dare to vote their conscience. It is Republican lawmakers scrambling to make it harder for people to vote and easier to subvert their will if they do. It is Donald Trump who continues to stoke the flames of conflict with his rampant lies and limitless resentments and whose twisted version of reality still dominates one of the nation’s two major political parties.
In short, the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends. No self-governing society can survive such a threat by denying that it exists. Rather, survival depends on looking back and forward at the same time.
Zach Beauchamp makes a lot of the same points:
Yet the GOP’s fever didn’t break that day. Large majorities of Republicans continue to believe the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, and elected Republicans around the country are acting on this conspiracy theory — attempting to lock Democrats out of power by seizing partisan control of America’s electoral systems. Democrats observe all this and gird for battle, with many wondering if the 2024 elections will be held on the level.
These divisions over the fairness of our elections are rooted in an extreme level of political polarization that has divided our society into mutually distrustful “us versus them” camps.
January 6th isn’t just about the violence that day; it is about the potential violence that is coming. Trump isn’t going to stop, as evidenced by his statement today on the anniversary of the attacks.
In digging through some of the stuff from last year, I came across this absolutely disgusting Tweet from Trump on January 6, 2021, at 6:01 PM:
These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously and viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly and unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!
His supporters had left the Capitol, caused massive violence and tons of damage, and his finishing note was a threat: “These are the things that happen!” He’s never going to let it go, he will never change, and the threat is here until he is gone, and maybe even after. He doesn’t even need to have a plan: In the year since January 6th, we’ve basically found out that Trump was gleeful about what he was seeing on TV that day. He didn’t know what the chaos would bring him, but he knew it provided him with an opportunity. Trump is basically Littlefinger with an IQ of 14: He knows chaos is a ladder, and he is more than willing to take his giant obese body up it, no matter the damage to American democracy.
But, again, it’s not just Trump. Things are not getting better in Congress, where showing up to a moment of silence for fallen police officers is a political liability:
And things are not getting better in conservative media, where you cannot call January 6th a terrorist attack, and have to instead call those people “patriots.”
The GOP is just getting uglier and uglier. And if you think it’s bad now, the Presidential primaries (THAT WILL START NEXT YEAR) are going to be flat-out insane. I wish I could give you better news to start off your new year, but I have to keep it 92+8 at the Jackal.
I want to leave this section with the word from Tommy Jefferson:
if a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was & never will be. the functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty & property of their constituents. there is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe (my emphasis).
Actually, I can give you some good news about Omicron: It looks like the worst fears we had have been alleviated. It is certainly less severe than the Delta variant, and even when it does cause hospitalization, it looks like most people who are hospitalized leave in about three days as opposed to five. That is good news for both hospital capacity and society at large.
Also, it looks like the vaccines still hold up really well, along with prior infection:
David Leonhardt flat out says it in his newsletter: There is reason for hope. It is worth a read (although if you get NY Times push notifications, you’ve probably already read it), but the charts are the star:
From there you can really see that while cases are exploding, they are “decoupled” from hospitalization and death. However, it’s not all good news:
Omicron will still do terrible damage among the unvaccinated in both the U.S. and worldwide. Many hospitals face the risk of being overwhelmed in coming weeks.
Yet when the current surge begins receding, it will likely have left a couple of silver linings: Omicron is so contagious that it will have infected a meaningful share of the population, increasing the amount of Covid immunity and helping defang the virus. Omicron has also helped focus Americans on the importance of booster shots, further increasing immunity (my emphasis).
The bolded portion is really the rub here. In his speech earlier in the week on Omicron, Biden emphasized that this was still a pandemic of the unvaccinated, and that is largely true.
The whole thing about COVID is that it wasn’t - despite what many said - the flu; the goal was to get it to become like the flu. COVID was never going to float off into space a la the dolphins in A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Instead, we are approaching the more realistic scenario now: COVID is endemic. Scott Gottlieb thinks the Omicron wave could be over by the end of February. Researchers at the University of Florida think it will be January (for Florida). The hope here is that Omicron antibodies will provide significant protection against any new strain of the virus and a really large portion of the public is protected against severe disease. It will get worse before it gets better, but hopefully the end is nigh.
So, some should-reads:
This is a great interview with a Christian climate scientist, and it relates to a lot of what we’re talking about in this Jackal.
It’s wild that this was only on January 4th, but the January 6th Committee turned up evidence that Sean Hannity was shitting his pants the day before the insurrection, but on TV he was telling a different story.Hannity privately on 1/5: "I'm very worried about the next 48 hours" Hannity on Fox on 1/5: "Big day tomorrow, big crowds" and "this all kicks off in the morning tomorrow"
January 6th Committee @January6thCmteThe Committee is seeking information from Sean Hannity. Chair @BennieGThompson and Vice Chair @RepLizCheney request Hannity answer questions about matters including communications between Hannity and the former President, Mark Meadows, and others in the days surrounding Jan 6th. https://t.co/wXtOGSsneg
This is making me crazy: Ron DeSantis disappeared for like 10 days while Omicron was sweeping through Florida, showed up at a worship concert with his wife (who is undergoing cancer treatments), and then did a press conference where he couldn’t breathe. HE CLEARLY HAD/HAS COVID and the media has basically ignored it.
Noah Smith has a piece on the jobs report and (seriously) the Biden Boom.
A fun, happy story: On January 6th last year, DC reporter Joe Lowry tweeted that he had found an earring in the chaos. A year later, he tweeted again that he still had the earring and no one had claimed it. Another DC reporter, Sarah Ferris, finally noticed it and claimed it. There is a meet-cute story in here somewhere.
It’s great to be back my babies. I will see you every Friday moving forward.