2020年3月27日 星期五

If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break

When the levee breaks, I’ll have no place to stay.
Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Author Headshot

By Jamelle Bouie

Opinion Columnist

My Friday column is on Franklin Roosevelt’s first Inaugural Address and the context in which he gave it. I wrote it because I’ve been thinking about our country’s crisis of leadership, which has exacerbated our disease-driven social and economic crisis.

The immediate problem is a president who doesn’t actually care about the mounting catastrophe. I don’t say that lightly. According to a recent CNN report, President Trump is bored. “Antsy at being sealed off, with no visiting dignitaries and no large crowds, Trump has wondered aloud to aides when life will again return to normal — not just for the nation, but for himself. The slowdown in his own life has led, in part, to Trump’s strong desire to see the guidelines he offered on avoiding crowds and staying at home lifted quickly.”

If Trump were active and engaged — if he were merely competent — he wouldn’t be bored. There is a huge amount of work to do in coordinating and managing the federal government’s response to a pandemic. Trump should be in meetings; he should be talking with state and local officials; he should be working to utilize the nation’s industrial capacity; he should be in constant dialogue with peers in other nations; he should be pushing the bureaucracy to work as fast as possible. He should, in other words, be exhausted.


But it’s just the opposite. From the same report: “Like everyone working from home, Trump has shown evidence of cabin fever: crashing meetings of his coronavirus task force, inserting himself into planned press conferences and tearing apart daily schedules so his appearances better align with television viewership patterns.”

This is not the behavior of someone who cares about the crisis and its toll on the American people; it’s not the behavior of someone who wants to save lives. It’s the behavior of someone who sees the presidency as a role to play — akin to dress-up — and is frustrated that events have put fun on the back burner.

Herbert Hoover is rightfully maligned for his ineffectual response to the Great Depression. But Hoover wasn’t indifferent to suffering or uninterested in governing; he was stuck in old ways of thinking, unable to see past his own orthodoxies to do what had to be done. Still, he took steps to try to solve the problem and keep the country from falling into disaster.

It is one thing to have an incompetent or an ineffectual president — a president who wants to lead but can’t do it. It’s something very different, and much more dangerous, to have a president who doesn’t care to lead, or doesn’t want to.


What I Wrote

Given the choice between solidarity and barbarism, the White House is choosing barbarism.

I suppose it is possible that when Trump and Kudlow say this, they are thinking of service employees and blue-collar workers, of people who live from paycheck to paycheck. But their mutual fixation on the stock market — Trump’s shift from apathy to attention came in the wake of a breathtaking sell-off — makes this unlikely. The “trade-off” here isn’t lives for prosperity — again, coronavirus will dampen economic activity with or without social distancing — it’s lives for shareholder value.

And here’s that column on Roosevelt’s first inaugural.

The coronavirus pandemic may plunge the United States into its worst social and economic crisis since the Great Depression. But our response — from the president’s blame-shifting rhetoric to the Senate’s inadequate relief package — has yet to rise to the scale and scope of the challenge. I’ve written before about why Congress needs to do far more than it has if it wants to save the economy from disease-induced depression. Here, I want to focus on rhetoric. If the country needs a New Deal-esque effort to stop the pandemic, then it also needs New Deal-esque leadership to mobilize manpower and resources to that end.

Now Reading

Sarah Jones on the eugenics thinking of the president’s allies in New York magazine.

Jazmine Hughes on learning to swim in The New York Times Magazine.

Julia Azari on Donald Trump as a 19th-century president in FiveThirtyEight.

Rachel Nuwer on the people who own big cats in Longreads.

Julia Ioffe on the infuriating story of how the government stalled coronavirus testing.



If you’re enjoying what you’re reading, please consider recommending it to friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week’s newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at jamelle-newsletter@nytimes.com.

Photo of the Week

The Post Office in Esmont, Va.Jamelle Bouie

About three years ago I decided to get into large-format photography and bought a Graflex press camera to introduce myself to the process. After about a year, I decided that I needed more flexibility, so I bought a field camera and a set of lenses. Well, after two years, I have decided that I don’t actually need that flexibility, so I bought a new press camera and have been using it the last month or so, in addition to my Leica and my Yashica. Here is one of the first photos I took with this new camera. It is of a post office in Esmont, Va., a small hamlet about 25 minutes from Charlottesville, in Albemarle County.

Now Eating: Deborah Madison’s Cashew Curry

To entertain myself, my wife and my friends, I have been live-streaming my cooking on Instagram, letting people watch and ask questions while I prepare a meal. My first stab at this was last weekend, when I made a cashew curry from Deborah Madison’s The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It was a fun experience, like having a little dinner party. And the meal was good too, even if only my wife and I could enjoy it. The only modification I made was to season and pan-fry some extra-firm tofu and add it to the sauce at the end, for a little more protein. It was good, but in retrospect, the cashews are so rich and substantive that it’s unnecessary. Serve with basmati rice and a crisp white wine.


  • ½ pound whole cashew nuts
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil or ghee
  • 5 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 small bay leaves or 5 curry leaves
  • 1 2-inch piece lemongrass or grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 serrano chile, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 slices ginger
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 15-ounce can light coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro


Soak the cashews for 6 hours, changing the water several times so that the nuts will whiten. Drain, then put them in a saucepan with 1½ cups water and simmer until tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Check them as they cook to make sure they don’t become mushy. Drain and set aside.

Heat the coconut oil in a small skillet, add the shallots, and cook over medium heat until golden, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the bay leaves, lemongrass or lemon zest, coriander, turmeric, chile, garlic, ginger and the salt. Cook until fragrant, then add the coconut milk, 1 tablespoon of the cilantro and the cashews. Simmer over moderate heat until the sauce is thickened, stirring occasionally. Remove the bay leaves and ginger slices. Garnish with remaining 1 tablespoon cilantro.


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