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A new world order for the coronavirus era is emerging

By Alan Crawford
A new world order for the coronavirus era is emerging
People wearing masks collect their purchases at a curbside pickup counter outside a wine and spirits shop in New York on June 28, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Angus Mordant.

In July 1945, at the close of World War II, the leaders of the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union gathered at a Prussian royal palace in Potsdam outside the conquered German capital to hammer out the new global order. The seeds were sown for the Cold War.

As visitors in face masks ponder the consequences of those decisions at a new exhibition to mark the 75th anniversary of the conference, the geopolitical map of the world is again being redrawn. This time, it's a result of the coronavirus, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel has described as the biggest challenge of the postwar era.

Half-way into a year dominated by the pandemic, governments are confronting a health crisis, an economic crisis and a crisis of institutional legitimacy, all at a time of heightening geopolitical rivalry. How those tectonic shifts crystallize over the next six months will go a long way to determining the post-virus era.

Trends that were already discernible pre-covid-19 have intensified and accelerated. As a fast rising power, China is growing more assertive and jostling with countries from Canada to Australia. The U.S., the one superpower that has remained at the top table since Potsdam, is increasingly self-absorbed as the virus rips through its population and economy ahead of November's presidential election.

"A lot of structural problems in the international order are becoming much more glaringly apparent," said Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University.

With a convergence of multiple pressure points, from failures of leadership to a lack of trust in the veracity of information, "it does add up to a kind of perfect storm," he said. "The big test is really whether we can get through let's say the next six to 18 months without these crises coming to a head."

In Potsdam, the key dynamic was the ideological struggle between the Communist and Capitalist systems as espoused by Moscow and Washington. The Soviet Union under Josef Stalin had emerged from the war as a superpower, while American President Harry Truman demonstrated U.S. technological and military superiority by issuing the order from the conference to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Today's standoff between the U.S. under President Donald Trump and Xi Jinping's China was compared to the "foothills" of a new Cold War by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in November. Historian Niall Ferguson says we're already there. Most agree that a Joe Biden presidency would be unlikely to reverse the deterioration of U.S.-China relations.

For Medcalf, whose book "Indo-Pacific Empire" deals with the strategic rivalry in the region, the defining issue now is not just how the U.S. responds to the challenge of China's rise, but whether "middle players" including India, Australia, Japan and Europe are prepared to take risks to defend the international order-and to work together in doing so.

The problem is that there's no obvious forum to debate the shape of the post-pandemic world. The Group of Seven is in limbo while this year's host, Trump, disputes who should be a member. A planned September summit of European Union leaders and Xi has been postponed indefinitely. The November G-20 meeting under the presidency of Saudi Arabia remains uncertain.

The United Nations, formed in 1945 to prevent further wars, is largely dysfunctional: Russia and China, two of five veto-wielding powers, blocked another resolution this week, this time on Syria.

The sources of conflict with Beijing, meanwhile, are suddenly and bewilderingly everywhere.

China, which elicited broad sympathy and medical support at the start of the year when it became the first country to suffer the impact of coronavirus, has since frittered away that goodwill.

It's locked in a tussle with Australia over the origins of the virus, with Canada over the detention of Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou, and with India over a disputed border. Japan and the EU are moving to become less dependent on China as a result of supply-chain deficiencies exposed by the virus. Germany and Australia are two among many to enact or tighten legislation to protect against predatory investments from China.

Europe's attitude to China is hardening inexorably, helped by a rapid shift in public opinion against Beijing, according to Agatha Kratz, a Paris-based associate director at Rhodium Group who leads research on EU-China relations.

"We are actually advancing faster than many of our colleagues and partner countries, the U.S. included, on a number of fronts," said Kratz. She cited steps including an EU policy paper on competition issues released in June that is "a huge deal" in terms of the bloc's stance toward China.

China's national security law imposed on Hong Kong has spurred global anger at Beijing's interference in the former British territory's independence and is causing severe strains with London.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to reverse an earlier decision and shut out Huawei from its 5G networks, prompting a warning of "consequences" from China's ambassador in London. Johnson's government also offered 3 million Hong Kong residents a fast track to British citizenship.

Ulrich Speck, a senior visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund, compared the symbolism of China's stance on Hong Kong to Berlin's blockade by the Red Army in 1948-1949. That was the moment when reality struck that the U.S. and Soviet Union had moved from wartime allies to deadly rivals.

Tensions are also high with Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea and the East China Sea amid a "hyper-power display" by China, according to William Choong, senior fellow at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

"In the Chinese mind, the U.S. has lost its mantle of leadership in the Asia-Pacific, if not the world," he said. "So China does see it as an opportunity to press the advantage on some of the hotspots in my part of the world."

Choong worries that a confrontation between the U.S. and China, or between Japan and China, could turn to open conflict as a result of some "trigger-happy commander on the ground who decides to press a point and push the button."

History is littered with unintended consequences, and the Potsdam Conference had its share.

Over 16 days, Truman, Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided Germany's fate and debated Poland's western border, while also taking positions that would have far-reaching consequences for the Middle East and for China, Japan and Korea.

Shifting Poland's border west to compensate for territory carved out of the east-as well as the closing communique's reference to the "removal" of ethnic Germans from eastern Europe-led to the mass displacement of some 20 million people.

Within less than a year, Churchill, who was replaced in Potsdam by Clement Attlee after losing the British election, referred to an Iron Curtain descending across Europe. By 1950, war broke out on the Korean peninsula between the Soviet-backed Communist north and the U.S.-backed south.

Many of the fault lines established then can be traced today, overlaid and accentuated by the coronavirus.

The pandemic hasn't so much changed the world as "thrown a brutal spotlight on the flaws, deficiencies and the disrepair both for the international order and national order," said Constanze Stelzenmueller, senior fellow at the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "And where there have been flaws and weaknesses, the pandemic has ripped through with particular brutality."

That applies to the U.S. and the U.K., both of which have suffered a disproportionately high number of deaths to Covid-19. Stelzenmueller also sees China and Russia as having had bad crises: Beijing's aggressive virus diplomacy contributed to the backlash it's witnessing, while Vladimir Putin's move to consolidate his grip on power underlines his domestic weakness rather than strength.

Populism and its scorn for experts has been exposed. By contrast, Europe's efforts to present a viable third way have been given a spur, and appear be on the verge of becoming credible. Stelzenmueller sees hope in the performance of her native Germany, which has proved that "one sane government" can get a grip on even incredibly complex problems. "Sometimes you really have to stare disaster in the face," she said.

But the crisis is still very much with us, as renewed outbreaks from Florida to Melbourne show, with question marks over how frustrated populations will react to fresh government-imposed lockdowns and deepening economic hardship.

To Medcalf in Australia, a better analogy for what comes next is the prewar period of the 1930s. "Whatever's happening we're on the edge of some kind of gathering storm," he said. "It's just that we don't yet know what the storm will look like or how it will break."

Six months, six countries, six families - and one unrelenting, unforgiving epidemic

By Steve Hendrix
Six months, six countries, six families - and one unrelenting, unforgiving epidemic
Karen Yip, an actress who began disinfecting public buses during the pandemic as her theater work dried up, poses for a portrait in her neighborhood in the Sha Tin of Hong Kong on June 25, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Photo for the Washington Post by Laurel Chor

For the rising actress in Hong Kong, who had broken free of the poverty of her peasant parents, 2020 began as a moment of hope. For the window cleaner in New Delhi, finally able to afford a new cellphone, the year's start was a time of small advances. For the young nurse newly assigned to the coronary care unit of a Madrid hospital, it was a dawn of promise.

They had their troubles, of course, as did the sorbet hawker from a Rio de Janeiro slum run by drug lords, the publishing manager in Budapest nervous about rising authoritarianism and the single mother in Nairobi staying steps ahead of hunger and her HIV infection. But the concerns were familiar, the challenges of a kind that could be faced, or fought, or at least recognized.

Now, the new year was bringing a new peril.

An invisible menace emerging out of China was building into a wave that over the coming months would roll inexorably across a defenseless globe, swamping some while seeming to spare others, only to overwhelm them later. It would batter those hopes, amplify those woes and upend so many of life's norms.

In far-flung corners of the Earth, six families, like millions of others, would struggle to ride out the wave as it crested and then receded and then threatened to rise again.

This account, detailed in dozens of interviews over several months, is their story - and the world's.

Reporting by The Washington Post's Max Bearak, Rachel Cheung, Marina Lopes, Shibani Mahtani, Niha Masih, Loveday Morris and Pamela Rolfe.

- January

Hong Kong, Jan. 1

The first day of the year was a busy one for Karen Yip. She was juggling rehearsals for a play scheduled to open in just a few weeks and preparing for another that would tour dozens of schools. School theater workshops filled the rest of her calendar.

This was a life Karen, now 33, had dreamed of since her high school drama club.

Her career - her calling, really - marked a radical shift in her family's history. Her father had fled to Hong Kong from a starving Chinese village during the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s. He rose from garment worker to owning three workshops, which he saw go bust in the 1980s. By the time Karen was in kindergarten, he was a street sweeper who scrimped on groceries and never stopped pleading with her to pursue something more secure than acting, even as she earned a master's degree in drama.

She and her partner, Cheng Ka-chun, hustled parts in local plays, puppet shows and traveling productions. They could afford a 300-square-foot slice of Hong Kong's real estate market, one of the world's most expensive, which they shared with a 2-year-old son.

That would soon be in jeopardy. On that first day of the year, next door on the mainland, Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan had been closed for urgent cleaning after more than two dozen people who had been there were hospitalized with a perplexing pneumonia.

Hong Kong, remembering the 2003 SARS outbreak that rattled the city, watched nervously as the outbreak blew up on the mainland. On Jan. 28, the city closed its rail links to the mainland.

When the Lunar New Year vacation ended late in the month and Karen was preparing her workshops for returning students, she got word: Schools were closed. Rehearsals were canceled. Her income was gone.

- February

Madrid, Feb. 14

Total known cases worldwide: 66,908

Maria Maraver had begun her assignment as a coronary care nurse at Gregorio Marañón Hospital just a few weeks before the reports of a respiratory syndrome wreaking havoc in China caught her eye. On one level, she was intrigued. If the novel coronavirus ever reached Spain, she could imagine treating the infected. She was confident her hospital was well-equipped for it.

At 25, Maria was part of an accomplished family from suburban Madrid. Her Arkansas-born mother, with the help of an older brother, ran a chain of stores selling imported American foods. One sister was a first-year medical student; the other was cramming for the medical school entrance exam. An academic interest in the distant epidemic was part of breakfast table chatter.

But their interest soon grew more immediate. Sixteen cases of coronavirus suddenly appeared in northern Italy. The outbreak had arrived in Europe.

Budapest, Feb. 17

Total known cases worldwide: 73,269

About 1,500 miles to the east in Hungary, Tamas Bodi and Melinda Biletics watched the news from Italy and thought of all the families on ski holiday there, some from the school where Melinda taught second grade and their two daughters were students.

The school's headmaster asked parents who had visited the Alps to keep their children home for two weeks. But many ignored him, and Melinda knew the virus had a way into her classroom. For the first time, she said, she could feel the epidemic "on my skin."

Tamas, 41, was a project manager for the publisher of HVG, a respected economic and political weekly, one of the few independent media outlets left under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Tamas dreaded the appearance of the coronavirus, not just as a health threat but also a political one. In Hungary, it was not hard to imagine a shutdown becoming a crackdown.

Nairobi, Feb. 19

Total known cases worldwide: 75,651

Hyrine Auma Mita had yet to hear of coronavirus as she visited the small clinic in Kibera, the city's biggest slum, where she lived. She had another virus on her mind: her long-standing HIV infection. The news at the clinic was good. The infection had fallen below detectable levels.

Finally, these were "good times," said Hyrine, 33. She had five children in school and a job cleaning for a wealthy Indian family, earning enough to pay for her antiretroviral medicine. She lived in a one-room shack, barely the size of a king-size bed but still big enough if they moved the table aside when anyone had to pass. Her son Daniel, 16, had earned a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school, a possible ticket for the family out of the slum.

It had been a long climb from the bottom of despair. Her husband, who had infected her with HIV, had died by suicide. His family had then had kicked them out of the rural house they all shared. Days later, Daniel had knocked rat poison from Hyrine's hand before it reached her lips. "Let us suffer until the end, but together," said the boy, who was 10 at the time.

She had gone on to build a family of adoring children by herself. She was eating more than one meal a day. Her face wore an irrepressible smile, and the front door bore the sign "Happiest Family."

Only two weeks later, an airplane from London would land in Nairobi, introducing a threat to the "good times" unlike any Hyrine could imagine.

New Delhi, Feb. 21

Total known cases worldwide: 76,840

Manoj Kumar was leaving his job packing airline meals near Indira Gandhi International Airport when he noticed the white blurs behind the windshields speeding by on the airport road.

Masks, more and more of them, covering the faces of passengers.

A friend who worked at the airport said something about a mystery sickness. It seemed distant, foreign, nothing to distract Manoj from his family's scramble from village poverty to the fragile stability of life in India's sprawling capital.

Manoj, 25, and his wife, Divya, had been in the city six months, joining his cousin Anar Singh, who had moved five years earlier. After months of job hunting, Manoj was now packaging food and cutlery for $50 a week.

Anar, 35, had a steady job cleaning windows at the four-story Radisson Blu Plaza. He sent much of his $160 in monthly pay back to his parents, wife and children in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

The cousins both lived along a narrow street, where the open sewer was usually clogged with food waste. Anar slept on the floor of a room shared with two other men but was set to move to a better room. Manoj had just bought a new Chinese smartphone on monthly installments of $25. It all felt like progress.

But "Covid19" kept showing up on the WhatsApp messages that were their main source of news. Whole cities in China were in lockdown. The virus was vaulting borders and oceans in the lungs of travelers.

Manoj wrapped a handkerchief around his face. And he stopped meeting up with his friend from the airport.

Hong Kong, Feb. 24

Total known cases worldwide: 79,543

With two more infections confirmed among the passengers of the stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship, Hong Kong's coronavirus cases bumped up to 81. It was still a modest tally, but the outbreak had already vaporized Karen's life in the theater. Her hard-won career was on hold, but she still had to pay for rent and groceries.

All her job applications fell through until, desperate, she applied to one of the few growth industries: disinfecting public buses. The job was all grime and sweat, nine hours a day of the hard physical labor her father had hoped to save her from. During her first week, her cleaning cart rammed her leg, leaving her bloody and limping.

"It literally feels like hell," said Karen, who despite her runner's stamina and strength from practicing taekwondo was barely able to get through a day. "I didn't expect that I would ever have to deal with this mess."

She was too embarrassed to tell her father about her new job.

Rio de Janeiro, Feb. 25

Total known cases worldwide: 80,396

By the end of February, the wave had reached every continent but Antarctica. The coronavirus, according to official accounts, arrived in South America after stowing away in a Sao Paulo resident returning from Italy.

Three hundred miles up the coast, Rafaela Machado was lugging a heavy cooler of acai sorbet up and down a crowded Copacabana Beach. The mother of four made $400 a month, hustling the beaches by day, returning home to dodge the drug gang that ran her crammed hillside favela by night.

Life was hard in the slum, but neighbors looked out for neighbors in a place where residents even had to run their own mail system because letter carriers wouldn't dare enter.

Once, when Rafaela's 3-year-old daughter had wandered off, the girl was scooped up by Carla "Momma Carlona" Pereira, a heavyset saloon owner who rarely budged from the doorway, where she spent the day watching her block and, in the view of many, mothering the neighborhood. Momma Carlona got word to the frantic Rafaela. All Rafaela could do was cry and thank her.

Now, Rafaela had no idea that favela life would soon get even harder. With coronavirus cases mounting rapidly in Italy and Iran and plateauing in China, Brazil was only just starting its climb to heights that would surpass them all and shake Rafaela's world.

- March

Budapest, March 2

Total known cases worldwide: 90,360

The first two cases reported in Hungary were a pair of Iranian students. They were deported, as more than a dozen Iranian students would be in coming weeks. Tamas said it triggered a campaign of "xenophobic propaganda."

As the number of cases climbed, Tamas and his wife took their girls out of school a week before it officially closed, and they limited shopping trips to once a week, wiping down every vegetable before bringing it into the house. They stopped using cash except for the bills they sterilized for the monthly rent. Melinda fretted about her husband's intensity.

One afternoon, their daughter Csenga, 11, saw a friend from the building in the garden. Tamas pulled her back. "If you are going to try to play with her, we will go inside," he warned.

The playmate's mother sent him a text saying he was overdoing it.

"I got paranoid," he said.

Madrid, March 11

Total known cases worldwide: 126,547

The World Health Organization's declaration of the coronavirus as a pandemic confirmed what many already knew. Three days later, Maria was transferred to an intensive care unit urgently readied at the hospital for covid-19 patients. The sick were pouring in. Doctors and nurses were responding on the fly to a threat they didn't really understand.

Maria had only just arrived in the isolation unit when a patient was wheeled in, already intubated. She scrambled into a white protective suit and donned an FFP3 mask, the hospital's best.

"We talked about it like we were at war," she recalled.

Maria would often go an entire frenzied shift without eating or visiting the bathroom, trapped in a suit that was stifling and constricting, emerging hours later emotionally gutted.

Maria lost her first patient within days. She had never seen death as wrenching as that in these last moments of isolation, with no final human touch, the family that should have been bedside reduced to pixels on an iPad, farewells over a phone.

The hospital offered hotel rooms to front-line workers, but Maria's family wanted her to stay at home so long as she could decontaminate. "She needs to be with us," her mother, Dana, said. Maria would leave her shoes outside a side door leading straight into her bedroom and step right into the shower.

"Hi, how was your day?" Dana asked one afternoon when Maria arrived home from an early shift.

"Fine," Maria answered.

But when Dana looked, the tears were already streaming over the mask lines still visible on her daughter's face.

"I had cried multiple times," Maria would say later. "But that was the first and only time I cried in front of them."

New Delhi, March 16

Total known cases worldwide: 183,597

A few days after the Hindu festival of Holi, there was a problem at Anar's hotel. Several members of an Australian tourist group had fallen ill. Fearing covid-19, the cleaners refused to enter their rooms until they had been disinfected by pest-control workers. Anar was anxious. He needed the job to support his family but feared for his life.

Less than a week later, the number of cases in India was spiking. On March 24, with just four hours' notice, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day lockdown of the entire country.

Anar's hotel emptied within hours. His manager couldn't say when he would call back the workers. India had also banned almost all air travel, and Manoj's job at the airport was gone too. Neither was paid his March salary. They had about $15 between them.

At 4 a.m. the next morning, resigned to going back to their village 190 miles away, Divya put a pair of undergarments in her purse. Manoj put flatbread and a bottle of water into a plastic bag. They met Anar and Divya's sister, Payal, and the four began to walk.

Rio de Janeiro, March 24

Total known cases worldwide: 425,559

With Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro dismissing the coronavirus as a "little flu" and belittling social distancing measures, the gangs that govern Rio's vast slums stepped in. In Pavão-Pavãozinho, Rafaela's labyrinthine neighborhood, it was the Red Command that ordered residents to wear masks, told businesses to close and barred outsiders from entering, even to buy cocaine or marijuana.

Rafaela had continued pounding the beach with her cooler, in violation of the city's new curfew orders, until the last customer was gone. "My biggest worry was rent," she recounted. "Without income, how am I going to feed six people?"

She took the only job available: working for the local residents association to distribute food in coordination with the drug cartel. A year before, she and her son had been caught in a cartel shootout walking home from school. It terrified her to get so close to the gang.

On a road outside New Delhi, March 26

Total known cases worldwide: 539,336

It was rainy as the four set out for Uttar Pradesh, joining an estimated 5 million other Indians, many suddenly unemployed, who had begun a mass migration home. At least a half a million were on foot. After hours of walking, they came across a mob piling into a bus, but they didn't have the $6.50 for spots riding on the roof.

The four finally persuaded a truck driver to let them hitch a ride for part of the way and crammed into a cab built for two. Climbing down, they ate their only dinner: two chunks of bread apiece.

In the dark, Anar got separated from the others. He searched fruitlessly for an hour and then kept going, walking through the night.

When he reached his home village of Mohammadpur the next afternoon, after a day and a half on the march, the seams of his shoes were split wide. He couldn't walk for two days, but he knew he was lucky to have made it. Many who had trekked out of India's cities had been left stranded, injured or dead.

Hong Kong, March 29

Total known cases worldwide: 730,921

By the end of the month, after taking every available daytime shift disinfecting buses and also cleaning hotels and offices when her company asked, Karen had made almost $1,300, close to her earnings in the theater. But with her partner out of work, this barely covered the rent. With each bus and bathroom she sterilized, the life of an artist seemed further away.

And with coronavirus cases now spiking in her city, the end of the epidemic seemed no closer either.

Karen started working nights, breastfeeding her son before heading out. But the boy threw tantrums, and Ka-chun begged her to cut back her hours. Karen felt the weight of supporting them all. Home life had become "disastrous," she said.

Budapest, March 30

Total known cases worldwide: 795,560

Faced with an escalating outbreak, the Hungarian parliament granted Orbán open-ended powers to rule by decree. Tamas followed the developments with growing dismay, scouring news websites for details. The emergency decree, he noted, gave the government power to jail journalists for coverage deemed "misleading."

He was already careful about his social media posts, but now he was even more worried about Hungary's democracy.

Inside the family's second-floor apartment, located near the Danube River, Tamas and Melinda worked to create a safe and rich shutdown experience for their girls. They practiced piano and re-created classic paintings as part of an online art challenge.

Melinda set up a home studio in front of the bookshelves for daily Zoom classes with her second-graders. She also cooked and oversaw the shopping. Tamas overheard her say in a meeting that she felt like the family "servant."

Money worries were growing because Tamas's pay had been cut by 20 percent as the economy stalled. The family discussed whether Tamas was adding to the household tension by being so strict.

"Yes, yes, yes," said 13-year-old Hanga.

- April

Nairobi, April 1

Total known cases worldwide: 948,197

Kenya had reported only one covid-19 death by the start of April. But the economic shock wave was already decimating poor families like Hyrine's. The Indian family she cleaned for - one of the few who would employ an HIV-positive woman - had fled because of the pandemic.

The government imposed sanitary and social distancing measures, which were all but impossible to observe in the slums, along with an evening curfew. And when Hyrine finally found a job, sandpapering walls in houses being built in a gated community, the curfew restricted her working hours and her pay. At the end of the day, when she would return home with her face coated in white dust, there was often no proper dinner for the family. "That means maybe we drink porridge instead of having a meal," said her daughter Catherine, 13.

Even when the schools were shut down and Daniel moved back in, Hyrine insisted he maintain his studies rather than go to work. If he got a job now, she feared it could be a slippery slope. The family's future depended on the children somehow keeping up their education.

But she already could feel the dream slipping away.

Rio de Janeiro, April 14

Total known cases worldwide: 1,985,472

By the middle of the month, Brazil's Health Ministry had reported more than 25,000 cases. Bolsonaro fired his health minister days later, pledging to bring in someone who would quickly reopen business. Within another two weeks, Brazil's cases had more than tripled, surpassing China's total.

In Rafaela's slum, the cartel tightened its grip, announcing an 8 p.m. curfew. Notices appeared: "Anyone caught not wearing a mask will have to answer to the cartel."

Several times a day, Rafaela radioed cartel members, asking permission to deliver donated food around the neighborhood. But donations from wealthy neighborhoods were drying up. "Everyone is hungry," she said. It broke Rafaela's heart when neighbors begged for help she couldn't give. Others complained about the amount she delivered.

She was interacting ever more closely with the commanders of the drug gang, getting to know them far better than she wanted to.

"I'm afraid," she said. "Every day that passes, I end up more involved."

Hong Kong, April 17

Total known cases worldwide: 2,250,737

Karen's partner, Ka-chun, had been looking unsuccessfully for work for weeks when her company announced it needed someone to fill in on the bus disinfecting team. His "machismo" made him dismissive of cleaning work, and he had resisted doing something a woman could, Karen said. "Especially if I can do it."

But they were desperate for the money.

She noted how sweaty and red-faced he was upon returning from his first day. "He insisted it was really easy, just a piece of cake," she recalled.

Mohammadpur, April 20

Total known cases worldwide: 2,478,129

Anar's shoes were still broken when he headed into his father's six-acre plot to help harvest wheat for flatbread. Along with a final cache of lentils and a few kilograms of government-issued rice, it was their only food. Without Anar's income, provisions were dwindling.

They all stayed in his father's three-room house with no toilet and electricity for only a few hours a day. With temperatures above 100 degrees, most slept on the roof.

The epidemic in India was accelerating, with more than 1,500 new cases a day. Manoj and Anar, so determined to climb out of rural poverty, could feel their foothold growing more tenuous.

They called back to Delhi every day to see when they could return to their jobs. Anar had to borrow his father's phone after his 3-year-old daughter accidentally dropped his in a bucket of water.

He was still owed back pay from his work at the hotel, but the contractor said the lockdown made it impossible to deposit the money at the bank. So Anar hadn't paid the rent for his New Delhi room for two months, and he knew he was close to losing it.

Working in the fields left him sore and spent, and he wasn't sure he was up to doing other manual village work, such as breaking bricks. But, he said, "that day may not be far off."

Madrid, April 25

Total known cases worldwide: 2,890,259

It wasn't long before the epidemic outran Spain's ability to safely protect those fighting it. European officials reported that health-care workers accounted for 20 percent of new cases in Spain. Hospital staff blamed a growing shortage of protective gear.

At Maria's hospital, managers told her to start saving the top-strength FFP3 masks for treating only the most contagious patients. Then, soon after, she was instructed to use weaker masks for all cases. Some days, there were no new masks at all.

On television, Maria saw the nightly applause across Spain for doctors and nurses. But it wasn't backed up by action. She and her colleagues were giving their all without being afforded the most basic protections. Television had also aired images of Spanish nurses donning garbage bags because protective suits had run out.

"We feel completely abandoned," she said. "A lot of people we work with die."

- May

Nairobi, May 6

Total known cases worldwide: 3,759,295

Total infections in Kenya were still relatively modest, but one section of the city had been identified as a growing hot spot. The government put it under total lockdown. Hyrine's construction job was gone.

To help her out, a family from her church gave her some flour. Another congregant said she could pick spinach in her garden. Hyrine parsed the food carefully, deciding when to skip meals.

More ominously, Hyrine could no longer buy her HIV medicine. The hospital where she was registered to get it had run out because of supply disruptions arising from the pandemic. Because she couldn't afford to pay her outstanding bill, the hospital refused to transfer her case to another clinic that might have the medicine.

Even then, she would have confronted a choice between her health and her family.

"If I am being honest, even if they had it in stock, I would have to stop buying food in order to afford it," she said.

Rio de Janeiro, May 11

Total known cases worldwide: 4,176,020

Rafaela could feel death and desperation closing in. The number of cases in Brazil had nearly doubled during the first 11 days of May and would double again by the end of the month, leaving about 30,000 people dead.

One of Rafaela's neighbors, Dilson Gomes, died in the second week of May.

Then, a few days later, she glanced at her phone. She stopped and stared and didn't want to believe the text: Momma Carlona was dead. After about a week in the hospital, she had succumbed to the virus. Her weight, heart problems and difficulty breathing had made her an easy mark.

"Carlona came to my rescue when I needed it most," Rafaela said with dull grief. She said she would remember Momma Carlona "by her smile and her contagious happiness."

The cartel shot off fireworks to honor the neighborhood icon. But with hunger stalking the favela, it wasn't possible for Rafaela to take the day off from work to mourn.

"We can't stop," Rafaela said wearily. "She wouldn't have wanted us to."

Rio de Janeiro, May 13

Total known cases worldwide: 4,344,370

Karen pulled nylon strings from the dripping black dye. They would make perfect puppet hair. After four months, theater life was stirring, sort of. Ka-chun was rehearsing for a show that would pay no salary and play to a house with every other seat empty.

Hong Kong was gradually loosening up, allowing slightly larger public gatherings and planning to reopen schools by month's end.

Karen and Ka-chun were still disinfecting vehicles. But each evening, she rushed off to make props or rehearse her upcoming children's show. She spent late nights with her small drama troupe. She signed up to re-create scenes for a documentary on the 1989 protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, brutally repressed by the Chinese government.

In Hong Kong, returning to normal meant confronting Beijing's ever-growing shadow. Protesters would return to the streets later in the month for the first time. But citing coronavirus fears, authorities had banned the annual June commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Karen feared they might survive the pandemic only to lose their freedom.

Mohammadpur, May 16

Total known cases worldwide: 4,629,637

Anar was frightened by the perils posed by the epidemic, but he knew his future would depended on salvaging the life he'd been building in Delhi and he was getting impatient.

The virus, however, was showing no signs of slowing down. Back in Delhi, there had been several infections on the very street where Anar and Manoj had lived. Uttar Pradesh had sealed its border with the capital. Anar's father and wife urged him to stay put.

Madrid, May 26

Total known cases worldwide: 5,582,910

After a long struggle, Spain had turned the corner. The country's daily death toll had dropped below a hundred for the first time in two months.

Maria's hospital mothballed the coronavirus unit and sent her back to her old assignment in coronary care.

But it was hard for Maria to let it all go: the top-speed intensity, the hours grappling with life and death, the foxhole camaraderie. She was stamped by the times she and her colleagues lined the corridor to excitedly applaud a survivor leaving the isolation unit and the brief pauses to grieve those who never would.

Spain had allowed some nonessential workers back to work, and groups of up to 10 were permitted to walk and exercise together. But it was jarring for Maria to see many people packing cafes and sidewalks.

"We put our lives on hold for this, and then people forget what we went through," she said.

She was infuriated. She saw the rules as a thin line of sandbags holding back a second wave.

- June

Budapest, June 1

Total known cases worldwide: 6,256,493

As the year approached its halfway mark and reported deaths worldwide neared half a million, the global wave was swelling to unprecedented heights in Latin America, South Asia and the United States, even as it continued to recede in parts of Asia and Europe.

In Hungary, a summer vacation now seemed possible, and Tamas began planning trips to the grandparents and camps on Excel spreadsheets. They even pondered a holiday in Croatia or Serbia.

Virus fears faded from the headlines and the Bodis' routine. Tamas' mother came to help with kids and shopping; he was pretty sure she didn't disinfect the produce at all. They had their first meal out at a local inn.

The government announced plans to rescind the emergency law giving Orbán expanded powers. But Tamas was more worried than ever, fearing this might not actually rein them in.

Hong Kong, June 7

Total known cases worldwide: 6,993,970

Karen finally had a week when she spent every day crafting plays and puppets without disinfecting a single bus.

She was back in pursuit of a middle-class artistic life, which now seemed threatened less by the coronavirus than the tightening restrictions imposed by Beijing, including a national security law that, among other things, would let Chinese security agencies operate in the city.

Karen never did tell her father about her job cleaning buses, and she planned to keep taking a couple shifts a week. She wanted to make sure she would be employed if the epidemic returned, and she valued what she had learned of endurance. "I think I have gained something," she said. Her newfound strength could help her resist China's threat.

Madrid, June 12

Total known cases worldwide: 7,621,346

Maria's managers gave her a month's vacation to make up for all the overtime she had worked. Before taking off, she joined several of her colleagues for a beer near the hospital. They were still leery, and the gathering broke up quickly.

She also got to celebrate her sister's high school graduation with several of her friends. They watched the online ceremony projected on the living room wall.

She welcomed the return of a normal life, even as she was unable to forget what she had seen. If the coronavirus were to return, she said she was ready to face it like a veteran. "I think this made me tougher in some way."

Nairobi, June 13

Total known cases worldwide: 7,755,445

The global wave has left families around the world forever marked by the strain of uncertainty and the pain of lockdown, by sickness and death. But it has not crashed upon their communities with equal force. For the rich, the road back has often been clearer. For those in the lowlands of poverty, the wave has left more lasting devastation.

In Kenya, the pandemic continued to press in on Hyrine. Her slum, Kibera, was reporting hundreds of new infections and had become synonymous with the coronavirus across the city.

Hyrine and her five children now expected to share their cramped shack through the end of the year, the earliest that Daniel's boarding school would reopen. Unless they were evicted before then. They were three months behind on rent.

Hyrine was now sick and unable to work. A doctor diagnosed her with a urinary tract infection, common in the Nairobi slums, where women often share a pot to avoid paying for the public toilet. "I can't treat you until you pay," the doctor said. That would mean more begging and more shame.

Without Hyrine's knowledge, her son Michael, 13, had been taking money from neighbors for food and the toilet fee, falsely promising that his mother would return it. When Daniel found out, the two boys came to blows.

The once-tight family bonds were fraying. Their diet, at times, had been reduced to nothing but cabbage. Between her illness, missing her anti-viral meds and the humiliation of begging, her life was once again frighteningly precarious.

Rio de Janeiro, June 25

Total known cases worldwide: 9,583,608

The death toll continued to soar as Brazil became a new epicenter of the global epidemic, exceeding more than a million reported cases.

Yet all around Rafaela were those who had no choice but to venture out and look for work. Shops and cafes were reopening. But the risks seemed too great. "When I turn on the television and I see the scale of the problem, I get worried," she said.

She felt the walls closing in, trapped in a job linked to the cartel that frightened her more all the time as drug buyers crept back into the neighborhood and tensions flared amid rising joblessness and hunger.

New Delhi, June 29

Total known cases worldwide: 10,273,510

Three weeks after India began reopening as lockdown restrictions eased, coronavirus infections were surging. The country was adding more than 10,000 reported cases every day, faster than anywhere on Earth but Brazil and the United States.

Manoj returned to Delhi and spent days walking among shuttered factories looking for employment. Even the shop that used to let him buy lentils on credit was closed.

Manoj thought of trekking back to the village, but Anar was having no more luck there. His employer had deposited $26 of his back wages. Anar spent most of it on food, new shoes and diarrhea medicine for his daughter. He wasted $5 on cellphone repairs that didn't work.

On a scorching June afternoon, Anar sorted through what was left of the life he once knew and realized there was no longer money for his daughter's school fees. Gone were her bright job prospects, her favorable marital prospects. So much promise washed away.

"This disease has destroyed everything," Anar said. "Not just our lives, but also the future of our children."

Americans are bewildered by patchwork of social-distancing rules

By Kristen V Brown
Americans are bewildered by patchwork of social-distancing rules
Pedestrians wearing protective masks pass in front of customers sitting outside to eat at a restaurant in the Corona neighborhood in the Queens borough of New York on June 27, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Amir Hamja.

As states report record numbers of new covid-19 cases, Americans are left confused about how to handle daily life.

The surges have prompted some of the most aggressive reopening advocates, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, to reverse course and require masks. President Donald Trump, who told reporters he wouldn't give them the satisfaction of being spotted in one, is planning a rally for Saturday where attendees will be "strongly encouraged" after a June campaign event, noteworthy for its lack of social distancing, drew a fraction of the supporters staff had claimed.

Even so, in New York, once the U.S. epicenter, Independence Day and the first weekend of reopened beaches brought crowds out. In Brooklyn, Prospect Park buzzed with barbecues boasting a dozen or more guests and birthday parties complete with balloons and buffets. At the Jacob Riis Park beach in Queens, crowds of sun lovers gathered while others staked out social-distanced camps, marking their perimeters with beach chairs, coolers or lines drawn in the sand. And sidewalk seating at some bars and restaurants was downright crowded, with patrons sometimes seated less than six-feet apart.

"These rules are hard," said Jonathan Marron, a bioethicist at Harvard University. "I don't blame people for being fed up and sick of this. It's human nature to want to be doing this stuff."

In Los Angeles, where new infections have spiked in recent weeks, Shayna Englin said she and her husband took social distancing seriously early on. But as cases seemed to ebb in late spring, they decided to invite some friends over to hang out in the backyard, complete with individual cheese platters for socially distant snacking.

"The rationale was we have more exposure to people we don't know when we go to the grocery store," the 46-year-old said. "We hung out outside, 10 feet apart, we were never in the house at the same time, and if anyone went to the bathroom, there were wipes to wipe everything down."

After that success, they invited two friends who had tested negative recently over to stay the weekend. Next, they contemplated hitting up their favorite outdoor bar. But "we saw the massive increases in cases and hospitalization rates and got scared, honestly," Englin said. New activities are off, and they're holding their social circle to six until things improve.

"We maybe had some irrational hope for a hot second there," she said. "We reassessed what we were willing to take risks for."

Epidemiological modeling has suggested that lockdowns have limited new cases and saved lives. In one study, researchers at Imperial College London assessed the impact in 11 European countries and found lockdowns saved around 3.1 million lives. A study from the University of California, Berkeley's Global Policy Lab showed by April 6, had there been no restrictions, there would have been nearly 14 times as many cases in the U.S.

Confusion about rules has been less common in countries where social-distancing rules have been set by central governments and enforced diligently. In France, people needed paperwork to justify leaving the house and police were deputized to check them and impose fines. But in the U.S., local officials have drafted a patchwork of often competing standards - often in accordance with local political preferences - making it difficult to determine how to appropriate navigate life during the pandemic.

A growing number of public health experts agree that there needs to be more nuanced guidelines for Americans that allow some liberties. Public-health non-profit Vital Strategies has suggested color-coded alerts that communicate to the public how severe the virus is in a given region so that people can adjust their activities appropriately on any given day. (Vital Strategies has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable foundation of Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News's parent company.) The Texas Medical Association has an activity guide citing camping, tennis and take-out as low-risk, while movie theaters and gyms are high.

Finding a way to balance the risks with the realities of needing to resume some economic and social activity will be critical pending a vaccine, according to Abrar Karan, a physician at Harvard Medical School.

"I think some people are thinking, 'Okay, yes this is bad, but I don't know that my personal risk is that bad,'" he said. "People are just fatigued. They are tired of staying inside."

Officials should look at it as many smaller epidemics happening in different places, Karan said, with some spots needing stricter rules. And it's important to tell people what they can do, as well as what they can't.

"We need to compromise. It's not just masks versus no masks. You need to give people something they can feasibly do," he said. "Even by listening to 50% of our advice, people are making huge compromises."

Polling data has consistently shown most Americans are keeping cautious as new cases hit records. An Axios-Ipsos poll from last week showed two-thirds of respondents saying they were "very concerned" about the virus, levels not seen since early May. At the same time, though, few said they'd reduced outside social engagements, with 45% reporting visits with friends and family in the past week, compared to 49% a week earlier. Going out to eat continues to increase, and visits to salons and retail stores remained flat.

At Vinny's Barber Shop near Houston, Vinny De Leon doesn't require patrons or barbers to wear masks as some local officials have signaled they wouldn't enforce Abbott's new mask policies.

"It's very confusing," said De Leon, who owns two barbershops in the Houston area, one where masks are required and another where they aren't. "One day one person says one thing, the next day another says something else."

He's letting his barbers and customers decide what makes them comfortable. While at first, about 90% didn't wear a mask, he's seeing more as cases have risen in Houston. Most customers are tested regularly since their work is considered essential, De Leon said, and his employees get tested. Two of his 15 barbers have tested positive for the virus. On both occasions, the shop shut down until everyone else had tested negative.

"I'm not trying to buck the system," he said. "I'm being pulled in every direction."

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

The July 15 tax deadline is close. The IRS says it has refunds worth $1.5 billion just waiting to be claimed.

By michelle singletary
The July 15 tax deadline is close. The IRS says it has refunds worth $1.5 billion just waiting to be claimed.

MICHELLE SINGLETARY COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, July 12, 2020, and thereafter

(For Singletary clients ONLY)

By MICHELLE SINGLETARY

(c) 2020, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the IRS temporarily "paused" tax collection and enforcement actions against people who owed back taxes.

This effort, dubbed the "People First Initiative," provided a financial break for taxpayers struggling to pay their tax bills during a pandemic that saw the unemployment rate soar to 14.7%, the highest level since the Great Depression.

In March, the Treasury Department extended the April 15 tax deadline to July 15. The agency also launched its coronavirus-related debt relief initiative, which allowed people facing financial hardship to postpone payments related to installment agreements and Offers in Compromise, or OIC, a program in which taxpayers can settle their tax debt for less than the full amount owed.

The IRS halted most new liens and levies against delinquent taxpayers, including any seizures of personal residences. The IRS said it wouldn't forward new delinquent accounts to private collection agencies. The agency also stopped sending notices to the State Department about "seriously delinquent" taxpayers, a status that prevents people from acquiring or renewing a passport.

But this special debt relief program, which began March 25, is just about over. As of July 15, the IRS says, delinquent taxpayers must resume installments, OIC, and other debt payments to avoid penalties and default, which can result in a tax lien. Payments should pick up on the first due date after July 15, the IRS said.

Taxpayers who paused making payments to the IRS via direct debit from a bank account need to contact their financial institution to restart the payments.

Even though the COVID-related initiative is ending, if you're still struggling, you can request that your payment agreement be revised downward to a more affordable amount. The number of Americans applying for unemployment insurance has remained above a million since mid-March.

Log in to the online payment agreement tool at IRS.gov/paymentplan and look for the "apply/revise" link to make changes to your payment amount and/or your monthly due date. If your proposed monthly payment doesn't meet the required minimum, you'll be prompted to revise the amount.

If you need assistance, call the number listed on the tax bill you received, the IRS says. However, be aware that you could be on hold for a long time before speaking with a customer representative. The IRS is putting more people on the telephones, but after being shut down for more than three months because of the virus, a lot of people need help, increasing wait times.

If you need more time to file your federal return, fill out IRS Form 4868 by July 15 to obtain an automatic extension to Oct. 15. An extension does not mean you can get more time to pay. It only allows extra time to file your return.

The one thing you shouldn't do is put off filing because you can't pay your tax debt. Don't add to your financial burden by being hit with a failure-to-file penalty, which is usually 5% of the tax owed for each month or part of a month that your return is late, up to a maximum of 25%. File and pay what you can, or ask for a payment plan, something you can easily do at irs.gov.

And don't be so scared of the IRS that you resort to getting help -- typically at a steep price -- from a company promising to reduce your tax debt. Don't fall for the tax relief hype. Putting your faith in a debt-settlement company is likely to leave you deeper in debt and still stuck with your tax bill. If you don't feel confident about applying for an installment agreement online, at least find a reputable tax professional.

Maybe you don't owe the IRS, but the agency owes you.

If you're waiting on a refund, you may be due a bonus. The IRS is paying interest on 2019 refunds issued after April 15, and it's better than what you'd get at a bank. The interest rate for the second quarter, ending on June 30, is 5%, compounded daily. After this date, the interest rate for the third quarter, ending Sept. 30, drops to 3%. Interest payments may be received separately from the refund.

July 15 is also a deadline for a different group of taxpayers, those who didn't file a 2016 return but are owed a refund.

By law, taxpayers have just three years to claim a refund. That means July 15 is the last day people may recover money the IRS owes them for the 2016 tax year.

The IRS says it owes about $1.5 billion in unclaimed federal income tax refunds to an estimated 1.4 million taxpayers. The median potential refund is $861. Many low-income workers may be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which for 2016 was worth as much as $6,269. And don't worry about any penalties. There is no penalty for filing late when the IRS owes you a refund.

---

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump's Fourth of July speech was divine, not divisive

By ruben navarrette jr.
Trump's Fourth of July speech was divine, not divisive

RUBEN NAVARRETTE COLUMN

FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE. Usually advance for release Sunday, July 12, 2020, and thereafter

(For Navarrette clients only)

By RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.

(c) 2020, The Washington Post

SAN DIEGO - This being an election year, and with the media determined to send President Donald Trump into retirement, we shouldn't expect to hear anyone give Trump credit for anything. All they have to offer is blame -- and criticism.

Even as a Trump critic myself -- and an original Never Trumper who has despised the real estate mogul since June 2015, when he declared his White House bid and revved up the crowd by essentially calling my Mexican grandfather a criminal, rapist, and drug dealer -- I get sick of it.

No president gets everything wrong, or everything right. Whether we're talking about CNN on the left or Fox News on the right, the media is always trying to hypnotize the public. Why not just report events?

Trump haters are stuck on the narrative that failed Democrats in the 2016 election, i.e. Trump is a bad person.

Why, even going to Mt. Rushmore to praise America on the Fourth of July, we are told, is a diabolical attempt by an evil president to stoke divisions and start a "culture war."

If there is a war, the first shot was fired decades ago. In the words of Billy Joel, Trump didn't start the fire.

I don't think the left has thought out this line of attack. It takes as least two parties to go to war. If Trump supports America, then can we assume that his opponents are against America? Is that really where anti-Trump liberals want to make their stand?

The 2020 election should be about a whole host of things - from reviving the economy to battling the coronavirus to curbing police violence. Instead, the election could boil down to how we all feel about America.

I'll play along. I don't care for Trump, but I love America. And I liked his speech.

"We declare that the United States of America is the most just and exceptional nation ever to exist on Earth," Trump told cheering supporters.

Now that the activist fringe has succeeded in pulling Biden to the left and away from the moderate center, whenever the Democratic candidate talks about America, his robotic cadence sounds like this: "We won't just rebuild this nation. We'll transform it."

You know who's been transformed? Joe Biden. To think that this is the same guy who, in 2008, Barack Obama put on the ticket because the Delaware senator had built his whole brand around being the "working-class whisperer." While Democrats abandoned their common man roots and became the party of coastal elites, Biden remained connected to blue-collar folks who wear hard hats and carry lunch buckets.

This year, Trump's campaign message is obviously: "America the Beautiful." Biden's message seems to be: "America the Broken."

That's a stark choice. Which message do you suppose will resonate with more Americans?

Yeah, me too. I was afraid of that. Most Americans think the country is like a house that could use a touch up, a little paint, maybe some minor repairs. But America does not need to be torn down to the studs and rebuilt with safe spaces, "woke" culture, and police-free CHOP zones.

Our country is not perfect. But nor is she, as many on the left claim, rotten to her core. The left wants to give America a stern scolding. It's going to wind up giving Trump something he doesn't deserve: four more years.

The media knows this, which is why they wasted no time in demagoguing Trump's Fourth of July speech. They know a winning message when they hear it. And coming up with a better, positive message takes too much work. It's easier to go on the attack.

But do you know what really bugs me about the media's attack on Trump's speech? It's not partisanship or politics. It's personal responsibility, or rather the lack thereof.

Trump told the crowd: "Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities."

All true. Did protesters really think they could go on rampages, create mayhem, destroy public property, burn down police stations, break windows, loot stores, and generate chaos - and that there would be no consequences or condemnation? Americans are all supposed to feel good about that, just accept it as a healthy exercise of free speech and move on?

That settles it. The hard left - and the Democratic Party it now controls -- should be disqualified from leading this country. How can they run it? They don't even understand it.

Navarrette's email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2020, The Washington Post Writers Group

An interview with President Trump: 'The real hate is the hate from the other side'

By marc a. thiessen
An interview with President Trump: 'The real hate is the hate from the other side'

MARC A. THIESSEN COLUMN

Advance for release Friday, July 10, 2020, and thereafter

(For Thiessen clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Marc A. Thiessen

(BEG ITAL)This column is the first of two I'm writing based on my interview with President Trump on Wednesday.(END ITAL)

As I walked into to the Oval Office, President Donald Trump was going over new polls - some internal, some not - showing him tied or leading Joe Biden in key swing states. "Pennsylvania tied. Florida, up one. Wisconsin, up one. Texas, up five. Arizona, Trump 49, Biden 45; North Carolina, Trump up three. And then Montana: Trump up a lot - 52-38," he said.

While some in the Republican Party may be panicking over other polls showing an uphill climb for reelection, the president remains confident. "I haven't really even started to campaign yet," he said, adding: "Now, campaigning's a little bit tough because of the coronavirus. This thing, what China did to us, is just unbelievable. We were sailing, it was unstoppable. And then, this happened. And it's [a] shame, but now [we've] got to go back to work. But I think we're doing really well."

Our conversation turned to negative media coverage of his outstanding speech at Mount Rushmore on July 3. The speech, he said, "was actually not dark, it was the opposite of dark." "What's dark is the other side. . . . They're trying to take everything down. And I think they're crazy, but I also think they're evil. There's an evilness to it. And I can't believe that there's not more pushback. I mean, I push back. But people who are on the other side of the issue, are like lambs being led to slaughter. They're like lambs being led to slaughter. They're going to get slaughtered if they don't push back."

During his speech, Trump praised Abraham Lincoln for winning the Civil War and issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, and called slavery an "evil institution." So why is Trump so adamant about defending Confederate memorials? "Oh, I'm not," the president says. "But I am adamant about defending the past. It's part of our history. They're taking down everything. They're taking down history, they're taking down so much, Marc. They're taking down everything and they call it 'cancel culture.' I don't think it's a beautiful term, but it's actually very descriptive. . . . They want to cancel everything. They want to cancel the good and the bad. They started off by canceling things that were controversial, and I actually said years ago. . . . 'Well, does that mean that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are next?' And it turns out that they are next. . . . I was sort of half-joking, and people are now saying 'Trump was right.' These people are crazy. They've gone stone-cold crazy."

I am adamant about defending the past. It's part of our history. They're taking down everything. They're taking down history, they're taking down so much.

The president's critics in the media conflate his criticism of mobs tearing down statues with criticism of the broader racial justice movement. So, I asked him point blank: Do you support the peaceful protests? "Peaceful protests for racial justice? Absolutely. Peaceful protests, period. Absolutely. I support peaceful protests," he said. What he does not support is mob violence and cancel culture. "You had people that were far-left radical maniacs, they were anarchists, and they were agitators, and you also had other people that were there and they didn't know what they were doing. They got caught up in the whole thing."

He believes his tough response has tamped down the violence. "In Minneapolis, after a number of days of watching that fiasco, I demanded that the National Guard be sent in," he said. "And as soon as they were in - I don't know if you remember - they showed up, they lined up in the street, they walked through like butter being cut by a knife, and it all ended. It was over."

Trump also contends that the Black Lives Matter movement preaches violence against the police. "You take a look at the people running it, they're Marxists, they're people that you don't want," he said. "And yet, they become almost like this wonderful group of people. And you look at what happened with the riots, and you look at all of the things that have happened, I think it's a very, very divisive group. And I'm not the only one to feel that way. Now, a lot of people don't want to talk about it because they haven't got the guts to talk about it. But they feel it. The [National Basketball Association] now is putting big 'Black Lives Matter' on the courts. It's mainstream, but the people running it are not mainstream."

I pointed out that millions of Americans have marched peacefully since the killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day, and that most are not for the cancel culture or violence against police, but they want racial justice. "I do too," Trump interrupted.

Trump also says he has no love for the Confederacy. "I'm against it. It was my opponent. I was born in New York, I'm against it. . . . I am a Yankee. But I also believe in free speech, and I believe in history. You can't erase history. If you erase it, you're going to repeat it." The president's concern, he said, is that if you give in to the cancel culture, where does it end? "You take out the Confederate? Okay, good. Then they're going to take out all opposition to the Confederates. I mean, they don't want George Washington. . . . I've seen them rip down statues [of] abolitionists. It will never stop."

What about the military posts and bases named for Confederate generals? We don't have bases named for Benedict Arnold, who was part of our history, because he was a traitor. These Confederate generals were the Benedict Arnolds of their day. "I consider that a very different thing," Trump said. "The interesting thing, the bases were named after, long after the war. And they were named as a reconciliation to bring our country together. And then, all of a sudden, they cancel them out. Now, I'm not defending or judging any of the names because most of the names - you know Fort Bragg, but nobody knows who General Bragg is. But we won two world wars from these forts. We won two world wars. Is anyone just a little superstitious? We had great success and great luck from all of these places. And now we're going to all of a sudden change the name? And who are we going to name them after?"

What about naming them for some of the American heroes Trump named during his remarks at Mount Rushmore? "I would, but I'm not sure that you could get them," he said. "It won't be accepted." Besides, he added, "I think it's a slippery slope. You're going to take the name off and then who are we going to name it after? You're going to end up with a fight, you're not just going to put a name on it."

But if he could control it, would he rename them? "If I could control it . . ." He paused and thought for a moment, then said, "I believe in history. To me, this was Fort Bragg named after somebody as a reconciliation matter. I mean he was a general, he was a tough general, he's very tough, but this was done for reconciliation. These bases were named to bring the South because it was tremendous animosity from the many years to bring the South . . ." But, I interjected, that's been accomplished, so the names are not needed anymore. "Yeah, but you could also say then did they go back on the deal?" Besides, the president said, "it's not going to be easy to find somebody that. . . . I mean, what we're saying is let's find somebody who's universally loved. There is no such person. . . . You couldn't even name the base [for] George Washington."

This is a mistake. If Trump directed the Army to rename bases for the Founding Fathers, he would be striking a blow against the cancel culture, not giving in to it. The left argues that both the Confederacy and the Union were built on slavery. Trump would be in a stronger position to defend the Union if he renamed the bases - and forced his opponents to protest that naming military installations after Washington and Jefferson was inappropriate.

But Trump is absolutely right to fight back against the cancel culture. And his message will resonate more than many in Washington realize. "It takes guts to say what I say," he said on Wednesday. "I mean, I understand, I could do it a lot easier, but it would be the wrong thing to do. I could say I'm against everything - 'I'm against everything, I'm totally in favor of all of the hate.' - The real hate is not the hate from me. The real hate is the hate from the other side on many of the things that we talk about."

"Maybe I'm a voice in the wilderness," he said, "but most people agree with me. And many won't say it, and they might not even say it in a poll, but I think they'll say it in an election."

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Smart states have the edge in fighting COVID-19. The United States isn't one of them.

By fareed zakaria
Smart states have the edge in fighting COVID-19. The United States isn't one of them.

FAREED ZAKARIA COLUMN

Advance for release Friday, July 10, 2020, and thereafter

(For Zakaria clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By FAREED ZAKARIA

(c) 2020, The Washington Post

The United States is in a unique position among the world's most advanced countries. Far from having flattened the COVID-19 curve, it is watching as cases spike in several populous states, and Dr. Anthony Fauci is recommending that these places "seriously look at shutting down" their economies again. Meanwhile, in other rich countries -- as diverse as Germany, South Korea, and even Spain and Italy -- the number of new cases plummeted months ago and has stayed low. America is still exceptional, but no longer in a good sense.

In order to understand why this is happening, let's start by examining something America got right: economic stimulus. In March and April, despite the most polarized political climate since the aftermath of the Civil War, Congress provided $2.4 trillion in relief, and the Federal Reserve provided even more. This adds up to about 25% of GDP, one of the largest spending efforts in the world. That might explain why the stock market has barely noticed that the economy remains in its worst condition since the Great Depression.

But the size of the stimulus plays to America's one great strength - sheer heft. The U.S. economy is huge, America's borrowing capacity is (apparently) limitless, the dollar (for now) is supreme. It's easy to write checks. (Or at least it should be - more on that later.)

In every other sense, American government has failed. It's not just Donald Trump and the White House, which have done a miserable job bringing coherence to federal agencies and coordinating with the states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and other arms of the Department of Health and Human Services all failed in their own ways, as did state officials.

Americans accepted extensive lockdowns far more readily than many predicted. But this period of suffering was meant to buy time for the government to set up systems of testing, tracing and isolation so that once the lockdowns ended, people could return to some semblance of normal life, confident that their government was monitoring and reacting to new outbreaks. In truth, it squandered the time. Although Trump declared in May, "We've prevailed on testing," his goal of 5 million tests a day, with testing available at every Walmart and CVS store, is still just a dream. Most states still don't have comprehensive testing or contact tracing in place.

Federal spending as a percentage of GDP is where it was 40 years ago, but that statistic conceals more than it reveals. Spending on entitlement programs - Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid - has gone up massively as the population ages and health care costs soar. But most of the agencies of the federal government have been starved of resources while being given more tasks and mandates.

Even writing the checks proved hard this time. Countries like Canada and Germany sent out funds faster and more directly than the U.S., providing quick relief to their citizens, while Americans had to wait anxiously, navigate websites that didn't work, and apply again and again to get a response.

The number of federal employees is smaller per capita than in the 1950s, despite the fact that real U.S. GDP is seven times larger. The government barely hires new recruits anymore. As a Brookings Institution report notes, "one third [of the federal workforce] will be eligible to retire between now and 2025, and only 6% of federal employees are under 30 years old." For almost half a century, politicians on the right have pursued a strategy of "starving the beast." Anti-tax campaigner Grover Norquist explained: "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." Steve Bannon, the ideologist of the Trump revolution, made clear that his central goal is the "deconstruction of the administrative state." Guess what? It was already happening.

Winning the fight against covid doesn't require a huge bureaucratic apparatus. Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea have relatively small governments, measured by government spending as a share of GDP. On the other hand, Denmark, Norway, and Germany have also done very well, and they have relatively large states. But in all of those cases, government bureaucracies are well-funded, enjoy considerable autonomy, are not burdened with excessive rules and mandates, and recruit intelligent people who are accorded respect for working in the public sector. In the United States, we have a culture set by Ronald Reagan, who, as head of the federal bureaucracy, joked, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

COVID-19 should be a wake-up call. America needs to rebuild its government capacity. The goal is not a big state or a small state but a smart state. For now, what we have is stupid.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Today's faint echoes of fascism

By george f. will
Today's faint echoes of fascism

GEORGE F. WILL COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, July 12, 2020, and thereafter

(For Will clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By GEORGE F. WILL

(c) 2020, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- So many excitable Americans are hurling accusations of fascism, there might be more definitions of "fascism" than there are actual fascists. Fascism, one of the 20th century's fighting faiths, has only faint echoes in 21st-century America's political regression.

Europe's revolutionary tradition exalted liberty, equality and fraternity until revolutionary fascism sacrificed the first to the second and third. Fascism fancied itself as modernity armed - science translated into machines, especially airplanes, and pure energy restlessly seeking things to smash. Actually, it was a recoil against Enlightenment individualism, the idea that good societies allow reasoning, rights-bearing people to define for themselves the worthy life.

Individualism, fascists insisted, produces a human dust of deracinated people (Nietzsche's "the sand of humanity") whose loneliness and purposelessness could be cured by gusts of charismatic leadership blowing them into a vibrant national-cum-tribal collectivities. The gusts were fascist rhetoric, magnified by radio, which in its novelty was a more powerful political tool than television has ever been.

The Enlightenment exalted freedom; fascism postulated destiny for those on "the right side of history." Fascism was the youthful wave of the future: Mussolini was 39 when he became Italy's youngest prime minister until then; Hitler became chancellor at 43; Franco was 43 when he ignited the 1936 military insurrection in Spain. In "Three Faces of Fascism" (1965), Ernst Nolte said that Mussolini, who "had no forerunners," placed "fascism" in quotation marks as a neologism.

Fascism's celebration of unfettered leaders proclaiming "only I can fix it" entailed disparagement of "parliamentarism," the politics of incrementalism and conciliation. "Democracy," said Mussolini, "has deprived the life of the people of 'style' ... the color, the strength, the picturesque, the unexpected, the mystical; in sum, all that counts in the life of the masses. We play the lyre on all its strings...."

Fascism was entertainment built around rallies - e.g., those at Nuremberg - where crowds were played as passive instruments. Success manipulating the masses fed fascist leaders' disdain for the led. Hitler described them as feminine, the ultimate fascist disparagement. Imagine the contempt a promiser feels for, say, people gulled by a promise that one nation will pay for a border wall built against it by another nation.

Mussolini, a fervent socialist until his politics mutated into a rival collectivism, distilled fascism to this: "Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state." The Nazi Party - the National Socialist German Workers' Party - effected a broad expansion of socialism's agenda: Rather than merely melding the proletariat into a battering ram to pulverize the status quo, fascism would conscript into tribal solidarity the entire nation - with exceptions.

Fascism based national unity on shared domestic dreads - of the media as enemies of the people, of elites, or others who prevented national homogeneity and social purification. Jews were reviled as "cosmopolitans," a precursor of today's epithet: "globalists."

In the 1920s, fascism captured Italy, in which, it has been said, the poetry of the Risorgimento - national unification achieved in 1870 - was followed by "the prose of everyday existence." Mussolini, the bare-chested, jut-jawed, stallion-mounted alpha male, promised (as Vladimir Putin today does in diminished, sour Russia) derivative masculinity for men bored by humdrum life in a bourgeois "little Italy." "On to Ethiopia!" was Mussolini's hollow yelp of restored Roman grandeur.

Communism had a revolutionary doctrine; fascism was more a mood than a doctrine. It was a stance of undifferentiated truculence toward the institutions and manners of liberal democracy. "The democrats of [the newspaper] `Il Mondo' want to know our program?" said Mussolini the month he came to power in 1922. "It is to break the bones of the democrats of 'Il Mondo.'"

In the 1930s, Spain acquired a bland fascism - fascism without a charismatic personification: nervous nationalism, leavened by clericalism and corruption. Spain's golden age was four centuries past; what was recent was the 1898 humiliation of the Spanish-American war. Paunchy Francisco Franco, a human black hole negating excitement, would make Spain great again by keeping it distinct from modern Europe, distinct in pre-Enlightenment backwardness.

Donald Trump, an envious acolyte of today's various strongmen, appeals to those in thrall to country-music manliness: "We're truck-driving, beer-drinking, big-chested Americans too freedom-loving to let any itsy-bitsy virus make us wear masks." Trump, however, is a faux nationalist who disdains his nation's golden age of international leadership and institution-building after 1945.

Trumpism, too, is a mood masquerading as a doctrine, an entertainment genre based on contempt for its bellowing audiences. Fascism was and is more interesting.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump is our bubble boy

By michael gerson
Trump is our bubble boy

MICHAEL GERSON COLUMN

Advance for release Friday, July 10, 2020, and thereafter

(For Gerson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By MICHAEL GERSON

(c) 2020, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- In a storm of national challenges, perhaps the most urgent one is this: The president inhabits a different country from the rest of us.

It is a land where the novel coronavirus is harmless. Where hydroxychloroquine is still a miracle drug. Where President Donald Trump's handling of the pandemic is an example to the world. It is a land where Black Lives Matter is a movement of looting and violent subversion. Where the Confederacy is part of "our heritage." Where police brutality is the desired norm. It is a land where every bad poll is a political plot, and the "silent majority" will always ride to Trump's rescue.

Trump is not only using this right-wing information bubble to exploit his supporters. He seems, increasingly, to have taken up residence there. As his failures have multiplied, his hold on political reality has loosened. Trump has become our "boy in the bubble," with an intellectual immune system too weak for him to survive exposure to reality.

In one sense, every president struggles with this temptation. All of them live in a cocoon of high security, familiar advisers and deference. How can you really be wrong when they play Hail to the Chief as you walk in the room? In most presidencies, this tendency is fought. Working with allies in the National Security Council and the State Department, I helped introduce President George W. Bush to a series of dissidents and human rights activists from Sudan, North Korea, China and elsewhere. Their stories touched Bush and focused his policy making. At the White House, I sent Bush articles harshly critical of his foreign policy - which sometimes angered him, but generally provoked discussion. This did not guarantee good results, but it enabled serious deliberation.

Trump has systematically removed sources of dissent and critical thinking within his administration - people like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. Sycophants now occupy those posts. From the start, the president expressed distrust for American intelligence services - even publicly preferring Vladimir Putin's word over their findings. Trump has recently disputed the views of government public health experts and tried to shift and sabotage their professional advice.

For Trump, everything is politics, and all politics is personal. Disagreement with his impulses is taken as betrayal. Dissent is disloyalty.

So what are the sources of truth and authority in the land of Trump? There is the cool rationality of right-wing Twitter. There is the wisdom of golfing buddies. There is a constant consumption and regurgitation of cable television. There is Tucker Carlson for advice on epidemiology, Jeanine Pirro on constitutional theory, Lou Dobbs on immigration policy, Sean Hannity to polish his shoes.

We have entered a genuine crisis of truth. The President of the United States is only allowing inputs that reinforce his instincts. He is operating based on a set of views and assumptions that have no relation to the actual lives of Americans. The African American experience of injustice doesn't matter to him. The deaths of the elderly from a preventable disease don't register. The struggles of Americans in a disease-cursed economy are not even admitted. Instead, we get a huge helping of denial with a side of racism.

Does Trump really think this is the path to reelection? Does he believe that most Americans will give him a pat on the back for a job well done? Yes, he appears to believe this. It is part of his delusion to believe it is always November of 2016. Hillary Clinton is still his opponent. The polls are still weighted against him. The experts and doubters will again be humiliated. If only he stays the course of polarization and intolerance. If only he refuses to doubt his bigotry and his destiny.

But Trump is not the strongman of his daydreams. In the real world of COVID-19, racial injustice and economic suffering, his delusions are pathetic and dangerous. He combines the pretentions of a Caesar with the impulse control of a toddler. He is bound by his own compulsions and imprisoned by his own lies. The scent of his weakness is everywhere.

Because Trump cannot listen, he will not change. And it is no longer 2016.

(c) 2020, Washington Post Writers Group

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