This week, we learned that Donald Trump had tested positive for Covid before his first presidential debate with Joe Biden. He may well have been positive, and infectious, during his Rose Garden celebration with his final Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, as well as during his meeting with Gold Star military families.
Trump appears to have exposed dozens, if not hundreds, of people, including his 77-year-old opponent, to a potentially deadly illness. It was a remarkable demonstration of his selfish indifference to the health and welfare of everyone around him. And in the same way that he refused to act on his own infection — until it was almost too late — he also refused to act to stem a pandemic that, at the time of his positive test, had killed more than 200,000 Americans.
When asked about this news, on Wednesday, President Biden said, simply, that he did not “think about the former president.”
In keeping with the tone of his administration thus far, Biden wanted to show that he was more concerned with the work of governing than the antics of his predecessor. But I think this dismissal is a mistake.
No matter how well you govern, no matter how popular your policies, politics is not a game you can win from above the fray. And in the modern political environment, one must use every available opportunity to seize the attention of the media (and of voters) and force a conversation that happens on your terms, with your aims in mind.
The news of Trump’s decision to endanger everyone around him was an opportunity to do just that. It was a chance for Biden to emphasize the many and overlapping disasters he inherited from the former president and how both Trump and his party were poor stewards of the United States and the American people. A sharp remark would have put Trump’s failure back in the news and forced other Republicans to respond to it — on Biden’s terms.
Instead, by speaking as if he’s above the controversy, the president has, in effect, defused it.
Biden does not have to be like Trump — he does not have to try to dominate the public’s attention every minute of every day — but he should at least throw a jab when his opponents open themselves up to the hit. There is no reward for taking the high road in politics; there is only a lost opportunity to leave a mark.
What I Wrote
I wrote one column this week, on the open plot to subvert American democracy. I pointed out that not every bad actor works in secret, and the people working to restore Donald Trump to power do not care if you know what they’re doing.
Every incentive driving the Republican Party, from Fox News to the former president, points away from sober engagement with the realities of American politics and toward the outrageous, the antisocial and the authoritarian. None of this is happening behind closed doors. We are headed for a crisis of some sort. When it comes, we can be shocked that it is actually happening, but we shouldn’t be surprised.
I’m still doing my podcast on the political and military thrillers of the 1990s. Our latest episode is on the movie “Clear and Present Danger.” You should give it a listen!
Perry Bacon Jr. on “white appeasement politics” in The Washington Post.
Ta-Nehisi Coates on the historian Tony Judt in The Atlantic.
Jerusalem Demsas on rent control in Vox.
Hannah Mullen on how the courts, and the Supreme Court in particular, turn your legal rights into “worthless promises,” for Balls and Strikes.
Michele Goodwin on abortion for The New York Times.
Feedback If you’re enjoying what you’re reading, please consider recommending it to your friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week’s newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at email@example.com. You can follow me on Twitter (@jbouie) and Instagram.
From a recent visit to the Lincoln Memorial. Two kids, posing for pictures. I really like the framing on this one. Taken using a Yashica medium-format camera and Kodak film.
Now Eating: Warm Lentil Salad With Balsamic Roast Squash
This is a season for heavy food, so I wanted to share something a little lighter. Best served, as most things are, with a crisp green salad, a warm baguette and a nice, fuller-bodied white wine, like a viognier. Recipe from NYT Cooking.
For the squash
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into a small dice
salt to taste
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
For the lentils
1 cup lentils, either black beluga lentils or green Le Puy lentils, rinsed
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ onion, intact
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 cups water
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon cumin seeds, ground
salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Combine the lentils, ginger, turmeric, onion, water and salt to taste in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook at a moderate bubble until the lentils have softened and produced a flavorful broth, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the heat. Remove the onion and discard. Place a strainer over a bowl and drain the lentils.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Toss squash with salt to taste, the balsamic vinegar and the olive oil. Spread on the baking sheet in an even layer and make sure to tip all of the liquid remaining in the bowl over the squash. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes so that the squash browns evenly. The squash should be tender all the way through. Remove from the heat.
In a small bowl or measuring cup whisk together the vinegars, mustard, ground cumin, salt and pepper, and olive oil. Toss with the lentils and return to the saucepan. Add a few tablespoons of the lentil broth, stir in the parsley and heat through. Top with roasted squash and serve.