A Nation Adrift

Posted October 17, 2020 8:12 p.m. EDT
Updated October 18, 2020 7:55 a.m. EDT

FILE -- The Glass Fire burns above Calistoga, Calif., early Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. "For anyone who cares about the health of the planet, the Trump years have been, to say the least, profoundly discouraging," writes Robert B. Semple Jr. (Max Whittaker/The New York Times)

From the editorial board of The New York Times

An Economy in Tatters



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Photographed on April 9, 2020 -- Vehicles fill a stadium parking lot before the start of a San Antonio Food Bank distribution. WILLIAM LUTHER/THE SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
Across America people are waiting for food, sitting in their cars in endless lines that stretch down streets or bend back and forth across blacktop parking lots. The scenes are reminiscent of the Great Depression: images from a grim past come suddenly to life.

The coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the nation’s economy in the spring, and because the virus continues to spread, millions of people remain out of work.

At first, the Trump administration worked with Congress to provide aid to Americans in need. The coronavirus relief bill, passed in March, included one-time payments to most households, coupled with extra weekly payments to people who lost their jobs.

Then the stock market began to recover, and President Donald Trump lost interest. The various federal aid programs lapsed over the summer.

The unemployment rate, which spiked in the spring to the highest level since the Great Depression, has since declined as some companies have reopened or recalled people to work. But more than 25 million Americans are still drawing standard weekly jobless benefits.

Job losses have been concentrated among low-wage workers. The number of Americans living in poverty has grown by 8 million since May, according to recent research. Many need help to feed their families. In the wealthiest nation on earth, hunger is on the rise, and overwhelmed food banks are struggling to help those whom the government has failed.

Immigration Halted


Photographed on June 26, 2019 -- The bodies of Oscar Alberto Martînez Ramirez, a Salvadoran migrant, and his nearly 2-year-old daughter, Valeria, after they drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico to Brownsville, Texas. JULIA LE DUC/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Trump administration has worked to reduce the number of legal and illegal immigrants to the United States with a fanaticism and attention to detail that are notably absent from almost any other area of policymaking, save packing the courts with conservative judges.

The administration deliberately separated thousands of children from their parents to deter immigration. It cut the number of refugees admitted each year to the lowest level on record, denying sanctuary to thousands of people fleeing domestic and political violence. It has pursued the deportation of people brought to the United States as small children, who have never known another country. It has prevented the immigration of scientists, engineers and other specialists whose talents might help to revitalize the U.S. economy.

The president also is obsessed with building a wall along the Mexican border — an inane idea his advisers first suggested because they wanted him to talk about immigration, and they knew he liked to talk about building things. The wall became such a fixation for Trump that he shut down the federal government in late 2018 in an attempt to wring funding from Congress. When that failed, he sought funding by declaring a national emergency. And when that failed, too, he took money from the defense budget to build a little bit of a wall.

If America once shined as a beacon of hope to the world, Trump has tried his best to extinguish it.

Black Lives at Risk

The Foreign Policy That Wasn’t

Photographed on June 6, 2020 -- At least 10,000 people protest in Los Angeles. The protest was organized by activists from Black Lives Matter as well as from an anti-fascist group calling for President Trump’s immediate removal from office. BRYAN DENTON FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
One of the most consequential events of the Trump era has been the roughly eight minutes that a police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck, suffocating him.

Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer — an appallingly common occurrence for Black people in the United States — prompted one of the country’s largest social movements ever almost overnight. Millions of Americans, mostly masked to prevent coronavirus transmission, took to the streets in cities from coast to coast, outraged by police violence and a justice system that too rarely holds to account those who perpetrate it.

Adding to the righteous fury this year: the killing of Breonna Taylor in her home by police — for which no officers faced murder charges.

Floyd and Taylor became some of the most recognizable victims of police violence in recent memory. But this year’s uprisings were a supercharged continuation of the Black Lives Matter movement, which had been growing since the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012.

Those who march do so not just for the names we know — but also for all the names we don’t.

They do so while agonizing over a potential second Trump term — the continuation of an administration that has minimized the anguish of Black Americans and upheld white supremacy. May their next march lead them straight to the ballot box.

A Planet in Peril

When Science Is Pushed Aside

Photographed on Sept. 29, 2020 -- A fire burns 36,000 acres and 113 structures in California, forcing 68,000 residents to evacuate. MAX WHITTAKER FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
For anyone who cares about the health of the planet, the Trump years have been, to say the least, profoundly discouraging. Barely two months in office, Trump ordered his Cabinet to review and remove any regulatory obstacles to the production of oil, gas and coal; shortly thereafter, he renounced U.S. support of the landmark Paris climate agreement, thus shedding any claim to American leadership on a global crisis.

It was more or less downhill from there. He methodically decapitated Obama-era rules aimed at limiting emissions from power plants and oil and gas operations and mandating increases in fuel efficiency. He also opened public lands hitherto shielded from mining and drilling exploration.

There were other assaults large and small on environmental protections, but the most damaging were those that undermined rules to diminish greenhouse gases while enabling the industries that produced them. All this despite the climate-related carnage in front of his own eyes — conspicuously, the fires in California — and despite authoritative studies warning that failure to wrench emissions drastically downward over the next decade will bring irreversible damage.

Emissions in America, pre-COVID-19, declined slightly, thanks partly to the switch to cleaner fuels and the determined efforts of states and cites to do the job Trump won’t do. Globally, however, emissions have been rising, and the seas with them.

Women’s Rights Under Attack

When Science Is Pushed Aside

Photographed on Jan. 19, 2018 -- Scene from the Women's March in Washington, D.C. SARAH SILBIGER/THE NEW YORK TIMES
There have been moments when it’s felt like the backlash to electing a man who’s been credibly accused of sexual assault by more than a dozen women — and who has in fact bragged about assaulting women — has been so profound, so righteous, that it could be harnessed to overhaul society as we know it.

The raw fury of the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration and the flourishing of the #MeToo movement were promising. Some men were held accountable for their abuses. A record number of women ran for office, and many of them won. The Equal Rights Amendment lurched back to life.

Nearly four years on, it’s clear that the patriarchy, while jostled on its pedestal, stands tall. Some people think it unmanly to wear a mask during a deadly pandemic, for goodness’ sake.

More troubling: Roe v. Wade, which is already so hobbled, could soon be overturned or gutted, leading to the further criminalization of pregnant women.

Since Trump took office, more women have come forward with credible sexual assault allegations against him — including one that surfaced just last month. One of Trump’s legacies will be whatever damage has surely been done to the national psyche for these claims to be buried by so many other disturbing events.

The High Price Of The High Court

For Conservative Christian Women, Barrett’s Success Is Personal

Photographed on Sept. 26, 2020 -- President Trump held a reception for Judge Amy Coney Barrett, his nominee for the Supreme Court, in the Diplomatic Room of the White House. DOUG MILLS/THE NEW YORK TIMES
American conservatives made a bargain in rallying behind Donald Trump: They’d turn a blind eye to his malevolence and incompetence in exchange for judges — more than 200 federal judges and most likely three Supreme Court seats, as it turned out. Their eye was on numerous prizes: Destroy abortion rights. Expand religious freedom. Protect Americans’ nearly unfettered access to firearms. Cripple the federal government’s ability to regulate the environment, interstate commerce and more.

This strategy has worked out pretty well for them. But it has come at a cost. This was made clear with the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett — especially when the White House ceremony that was held to honor her in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic turned into a super-spreader event because most participants went unmasked and many mingled and shook hands indoors.

Still, conservatives will almost surely get their third seat on the court, affecting its makeup — and very possibly eroding many Americans’ civil rights — for a generation. Indeed, the bigger cost of the Republican Party’s bargain with Mr. Trump will take many more years to calculate.

Too Many Fingers n Too Many Triggers


Photographed on June 28, 2020 -- Mark and Patricia McCloskey at their St. Louis mansion with guns after protesters walked onto their private street. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Guns sales in the United States typically rise under Democratic presidents and fall when a Republican is in the White House. That was true during the Trump presidency — until the coronavirus pandemic hit and racial justice advocates began exercising their right to protest. Then, Americans armed up.

There may be no more iconic image of the Trump years than that of Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the white St. Louis couple who were charged with unlawful use of a weapon for brandishing their guns at a crowd of demonstrators outside their gated home.

Far more alarming, though, was the sight of groups of men armed with semiautomatic military-style rifles, calling themselves militias, who appeared at protests around the country over the past year. President Trump has called for their ilk to “stand by,” and many have said they’ll show up at polling places. It’s a tense moment, with too many fingers resting on too many triggers.

L.G.B.T.Q. Protections Dismantled

A Half-Century On, an Unexpected Milestone for LGBTQ Rights

Photographed on June 14, 2020 -- A rally near the Brooklyn Museum and a silent march to call attention to police violence against transgender people, especially women of color. DEMETRIUS FREEMAN FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
In June, some 15,000 people encircled the Brooklyn Museum wearing masks and dressed in all white, forming one of the largest demonstrations for Black transgender lives in history.

Two days before that gathering, the Trump administration finalized regulations dismantling protections for transgender patients against discrimination by doctors, hospitals and insurance companies — protections that were urgently needed in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last fall, the American Medical Association declared the killings of transgender women of color its own epidemic. Violence against the L.G.B.T.Q. community has spiked under the Trump administration, emboldened by a president who has barred transgender people from the military, rejected plans to add questions on sexual orientation to the census, prohibited embassies from flying flags for Pride Month, condoned discrimination at home and turned a blind eye to attacks on gay communities abroad.

The Obama administration’s years were marked by signs of progress for L.G.B.T.Q. communities, but for every cautious step that had been taken forward, Mr. Trump signaled his intent to take running leaps backward. In the first week of his administration, all mentions of L.G.B.T.Q. rights on the White House website disappeared.

In what could be his final months in office, Mr. Trump nominated a jurist to the Supreme Court who has refused to say whether she supports the court’s ruling protecting same-sex marriage. It appears that Amy Coney Barrett and Mr. Trump agree: No progress is too deeply rooted to be undone.

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