Home » Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: States of mind, foreign and domestic

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: States of mind, foreign and domestic

We begin today with George Makari and Richard A Friedman of The Atlantic surmising that the malaise the country seems to be going through is a collective denial of what the country went through during the COVID pandemic.

Four years ago, the country was brought to its knees by a world-historic disaster. COVID-19 hospitalized nearly 7 million Americans and killed more than a million; it’s still killing hundreds each week. It shut down schools and forced people into social isolation. Almost overnight, most of the country was thrown into a state of high anxiety—then, soon enough, grief and mourning. But the country has not come together to sufficiently acknowledge the tragedy it endured. As clinical psychiatrists, we see the effects of such emotional turmoil every day, and we know that when it’s not properly processed, it can result in a general sense of unhappiness and anger—exactly the negative emotional state that might lead a nation to misperceive its fortunes.

The pressure to simply move on from the horrors of 2020 is strong. Who wouldn’t love to awaken from that nightmare and pretend it never happened? Besides, humans have a knack for sanitizing our most painful memories. In a 2009 study, participants did a remarkably poor job of remembering how they felt in the days after the 9/11 attacks, likely because those memories were filtered through their current emotional state. Likewise, a study published in Nature last year found that people’s recall of the severity of the 2020 COVID threat was biased by their attitudes toward vaccines months or years later. […]

We are not suggesting that the entire country has PTSD from COVID. In fact, the majority of people who are exposed to trauma do not go on to exhibit the symptoms of PTSD. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t deeply affected. In our lifetime, COVID posed an unprecedented threat in both its overwhelming scope and severity; it left most Americans unable to protect themselves and, at times, at a loss to comprehend what was happening. That meets the clinical definition of trauma: an overwhelming experience in which you are threatened with serious physical or psychological harm.

Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post notes the rapid increase in the number of “chaplain bills” nationally.

The bills have been introduced this legislative season in 14 states, inspired by Texas, which passed a law last year allowing school districts to hire chaplains or use them as volunteers for whatever role the local school board sees fit, including replacing trained counselors. Chaplain bills were approved by one legislative chamber in three states — Utah, Indiana and Louisiana — but died in Utah and Indiana. Bills are pending in nine states. One passed both houses of Florida’s legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

The bills are mushrooming in an era when the U.S. Supreme Court has expanded the rights of religious people and groups in the public square and weakened historic protections meant to keep the government from endorsing religion. In a 2022 case, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch referred to the “so-called separation of church and state.” Former president Donald Trump has edged close to a government-sanctioned religion by asserting in his campaign that immigrants who “don’t like our religion — which a lot of them don’t” would be barred from the country in a second term.

“We are reclaiming religious freedom in this country,” said Jason Rapert, a former Arkansas state senator and the president of the National Association of Christian Lawmakers, which he founded in 2019 to craft model legislation, according to the group’s site. Its mission is “to bring federal, state and local lawmakers together in support of clear biblical principles … to address major policy concerns from a biblical world view,” the site says.

I think that chaplains do provide needed services within places like hospitals, the armed services, private businesses, and perhaps even schools for people who are inclined to see them for solace or assistance in making personal decisions.

I think that it is disgusting that these states are intertwining their public policy goals with an honorable profession.

It’s eroding public confidence in both the state and the church. 

Sandhya Raman and Michael Macagnone of Roll Call reminds us of that this coming Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will have oral arguments in Food and Drug Administration v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, a case that will determine the ability to dispense the abortion drug mifepristone.

The justices will focus on a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that found the FDA erred when it expanded how and when the abortion drug mifepristone can be dispensed.

The drug is used in more than half of U.S. abortions, and the decision would impact access to the drug nationwide, even in states that do not restrict abortion rights.


Although the case may turn on the minutiae of administrative law and FDA drug approvals, access to mifepristone represents the new frontier in the abortion debate since the landmark 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned the constitutional right to an abortion.

The Dobbs decision set off a chain of new state laws, referendums and regulations to restrict or expand access to abortion, along with legal fights across the nation.

Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer reminds us of last week’s meeting between the shoe salesman and the richest man in Pennsylvania.

It became a big political story when presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump abruptly flip-flopped on TikTok, revealing that he no longer supports efforts to ban the popular app if its Chinese owners don’t divest from the company. Eyebrows were raised because Trump had just made peace at a Palm Beach, Fla., fundraiser with billionaire Jeff Yass — Pennsylvania’s richest man, TikTok’s biggest U.S. investor, and the nation’s largest political donor.

But Trump later told CNBC that when he met Yass and his wife, Janine, at the Club for Growth fundraiser, they talked about something completely different.

The ex-president insisted that Yass “never mentioned TikTok. She [Janine Yass] did mention her school choice and that’s what her whole … in fact, she said, ‘My whole life is based around school choice.’ [It] was a very important thing to her, and I agree with it.”

Voters shouldn’t be reassured by Trump’s explanation. They should be very, very alarmed.

That’s because whatever you think about TikTok’s wild popularity with teenagers and its impact on their state of mind, the portfolio of education strategies that right-wingers brand as “school choice” — vouchers or tax credits to aid kids to attend private or even religious schools, or public charter school alternatives — is actually more dangerous for your child. Not to mention its impact on declining public schools in your community. Or on your rising taxes.

Renée Graham of The Boston Globe, after ticking off a list of the shoe salesman’s bombast this past week, says that all he did was to follow the leader.

Not that long ago any one of these vile actions or comments would have sounded a death knell for a presidential campaign. But Trump, like the authoritarian he aspires to be, believes he speaks for the masses. And like the dictators he admires, he remains undaunted by what is just, appropriate, or true because he gets away with it.

But the hush money trial is a reminder that this wasn’t always the case. Eight years ago, Trump thought that an alleged act of infidelity that once might have made for an ego-boosting headline would be a dealbreaker for a presidential candidate trying to score a nomination from a party that falsely touted its moral superiority over those supposedly godless Democrats.

Now there are no guardrails that Republicans will apply, not that Trump would abide by them. In a way, the hush money trial is happening because Trump thought that Republicans possessed a greater sense of propriety than he does. They don’t. At a time when he’s desperately strapped for cash, it’s a good bet that he probably wishes he knew in 2016 what’s clear about the shameless and shameful party he leads now.

Nick Paton Walsh of CNN thinks that the terrorist attack at the Crocus City Center just outside Moscow, is a reminder of the chaos beneath authoritarianism.

The mere idea, stated by foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, that the gunmen sought to flee to Ukraine — through one of the most violent and militarised borders on earth — shows a Kremlin struggling to explain this horror, even in their own highly controlled information space.

Margarita Simonyan, head of the Russia Today network and a Kremlin mouthpiece, even suggested — with no evidence at all — the ISIS gunmen are in fact Ukrainian. One senior parliamentarian also hinted that the “Ukrainian trace” in these attacks must be answered on the battlefield. Ukraine has strenuously denied any connection with the attack.

It exposes how far adrift and overstretched Putin now is. The safety of his muted, urban electorate in the capital has been entirely sacrificed to his war of choice in Ukraine. Special forces did not race in; they are dead, or busy elsewhere. Even some police have been deployed to the frontlines.


…he is not in control in the ways he portrays. Like with the short-lived coup by former confidant Yevgeny Prigozhin, Putin’s veneer of absolute authority sometimes briefly slips and what is below is terrifyingly chaotic. There is so much the Russian system of authoritarianism cannot quash. It relies on patriarchy, fealty, corruption and a curious sense that the tsar, in this case Putin, will intervene to right palpable wrongs. But he does not. He does not always know how badly his state is functioning. And so, four young men can just roll up with automatic weapons to a vast Moscow mall and set fire to it, after shooting dozens dead.

Finally today, Christina Goldbaum of The New York Times gives an overview of what we know about Islamic State Khorasa, the terrorist group that has taken credit for the terrorist attack on the Crocus City Center.

ISIS-K was established in 2015 by disaffected fighters of the Pakistani Taliban, an ideological twin and ally of the Taliban in Afghanistan. ISIS-K’s ideology spread partly because many villages in eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan are home to Salafi Muslims, the same branch of Sunni Islam as the Islamic State. The Taliban, in contrast, mostly follow the Hanafi school of Islam. […]

Before the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan ended in 2021, American airstrikes and Afghan commando raids had contained ISIS-K mostly to eastern Afghanistan. But after the withdrawal of Western troops, the Islamic State’s reach expanded to nearly all of the country’s 34 provinces, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. […]

But even as ISIS-K cells have come under mounting pressure from Taliban security forces, the group has proved resilient and remained active across Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. Just a day before the attack near Moscow, the group carried out a suicide bombing in Kandahar, Afghanistan — the birthplace of the Taliban movement — sending a powerful message that even Taliban soldiers in the group’s heartland were not safe.

Try to have the best possible day everyone!


March 2024