The Dimming Light of Democracy

Trump's Army and the Attack on America

Trump supporters sought to reverse the result of a democratic election on Wednesday at the behest of the president himself. DER SPIEGEL has reconstructed the events of a day that will live in infamy.

By Max Hoppenstedt, Janne Knödler, Britta Kollenbroich, Roland Nelles, Ralf Neukirch, René Pfister, Maximilian Popp, Mathieu von Rohr, Alexandra Rojkov, Marcel Rosenbach, Alexander Sarovic und Christoph Scheuermann

    Trump supporters in front of the Capitol Foto: Jon Cherry / Getty Images


Suddenly, there he stands. On the podium of the United States Senate, in the heart of American power. A bearded man with a fur hat and horns on his head, his bare torso a medley of chest hair and tattoos, a heavy metal chain dangling from his neck and his face striped with red, white and blue makeup. 

Like a harbinger of hell. He is holding an American flag in his hand and looking around. All of the Senators who had been there just minutes before have fled and the room is empty aside from the handful of other men who had breached the Senate floor along with him. 

"Where is Pence? Show yourself!" the intruders call out.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, as president of the Senate, was supposed to be presiding over the counting of the Electoral College votes confirming the election of Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. 

It is normally a ceremonial act, a key part of the democratic transition of power. But the fact that Pence is involved in the process at all has transformed him into a pariah for those who continue to support Donald Trump.

The man in the fur hat is named Jake Angeli and he looks like a character from some dystopian video game. He is a passionate fan of Donald Trump and is just as ardent in his loyalty to the QAnon conspiracy theory. 

Angeli has managed to achieve a certain amount prominence in the scene as a "Q Shaman," and has been making appearances at rallies and events for months to protest on Trump's behalf and has also attended demonstrations countering Black Lives Matter events. 

Over the summer, he told a reporter that he wanted to show the president that there are patriots out there who will support whatever he does. It would be hard for Trump to find a more pliant supporter than the Q Shaman.

Hundreds of men and women joined Angeli in forcing their way into the Capitol on Wednesday, the seat of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The photos and video clips show the world's proudest democracy under siege: Trump followers senselessly pounding down windows and doors, while security confront them on the other side with weapons drawn; men and women wearing MAGA hats and waving Trump flags as they hoot and holler in the halls of the Capitol; intruders who slouch in the desk chair belonging to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; frightened lawmakers in gas masks being rushed to safety through the basement halls of the Capitol. They are shocking scenes. Some of Trump's supporters are wearing camouflage and helmets as though they were preparing for a civil war.

It quickly becomes apparent how unprepared security personnel were. The Capitol Police, who are responsible for protecting Congress and staff, deploy pepper spray, tear gas and truncheons, but they are badly outnumbered by the aggressors. 

Windows are shattered, dozens push their way into the building and hundreds more follow. In the Rotunda, located between the House and the Senate, a Trump fan climbs onto the pedestal of a statue of former President Gerald Ford, puts a MAGA cap on his head and starts waving his Trump flag.

Dozens are injured in the scuffling and skirmishing. One woman is shot by Capitol Police and falls to the ground in a pool of blood. She would later die in hospital.

Attack on Democracy

The mob of Trump fans, QAnon supporters, right-wing anarchists and weapons fanatics was ultimately able to lay siege the heart of American democracy for several hours. Some were carrying the Civil War-era flag of the Confederacy, a symbol of hate and racism.

The attack on the Capitol was anything up unpredictable. It was incited, touted and trumpeted by the president of the United States, whose job is actually that of protecting his people from harm. It was Donald Trump who demanded on Wednesday midday that the vice president instigate a coup d'état. It was Trump himself who, speaking from a podium in front of the White House, encouraged his followers to march on the Capitol.

           Trump supporters force their way into the White House. Foto: Saul Loeb / AFP


Most Trump supporters are convinced that the election was stolen from their hero, that the Democrats falsified the election results, destroyed ballots cast for Trump and manipulated voting machines.

It is a lie that the president has been disseminating for weeks, despite there being not even the flimsiest shred of evidence for election fraud. In numerous states, election commissions have audited the results, some of them several times. 

In dozens of court cases across the country, judges have rejected complaints from Trump's campaign as being unfounded. Even many Republicans have stopped believing in the fraud narrative, if they ever truly did. But for millions of Americans, Joe Biden is not the legally elected president of the United States.

The world on Wednesday became witness to an attack on democracy that was months in the making, provoked by the very highest levels of American government. Trump recruited fellow Republicans to reverse the decision made by the American electorate and grant him a second term in office. 

Those who declined to go along with the effort were subjected to immense pressure. He tried to win the vice president as an ally in his campaign, and when that didn't work, Trump sought to brand Pence as a traitor. What we saw in Washington this week was nothing less than a coup attempt by the outgoing president.

After hours of silence on Wednesday, Trump did finally issue a video statement encouraging the mob to go home. At the same time, though, he made clear where his affections lay: "We love you, you're very special," he said. The violence wasn't an accidental byproduct of Trump's incitement, it was specifically summoned by him.

Since Wednesday, there has been a growing push in the U.S. capital to get rid of Trump as quickly as possible, even before Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20. The president "encouraged a violent attack on the United States Capitol," said Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski. It is simply too dangerous for the country to allow him to remain in office, he added.

On Thursday, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi also demanded that Trump be removed from office. She called on Vice President Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment and immediately expel him from the White House. Otherwise, she said, the Democrats would introduce articles of impeachment. 

There are, she allowed, just a few days left until his term comes to an end, but "any day can be a horror show for America," she said. The 25th Amendment gives the vice president, provided he has the support of the cabinet, the power to declare the president unfit for office.

Removing Trump from office with the 25th Amendment would be a first in U.S. history. It has been used several times in the past to temporarily pass power to the vice president, such as when Ronald Reagan underwent a medical procedure in 1985 and was briefly under general anesthesia. But the amendment has never been used to depose a president against his will.

Crumbling Support

Whether or not he is quickly removed, his support base in Washington appears to be crumbling. A number of former allies resigned from administration positions in the hours after the raid on the Capitol, including his former chief of staff, Nick Mulvaney, who was serving as special envoy to Northern Ireland. 

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao also resigned, though it was unclear if the move was primarily an attempt to protect her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: Since she is no longer a member of the cabinet, she would not have to cast a politically sensitive vote on the 25th Amendment should it be invoked. 

High ranking China adviser Matthew Pottinger also resigned on Thursday. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos followed on Friday. Other Republicans quietly voiced their support for Trump's removal from office.

Essentially, Washington has been engulfed by the final battle of what has been a disastrous presidency. It is a sad, filthy and unsightly downfall. And it shows how low Trump has managed to bring his country after just four years in the Oval Office.

Hundreds of Trump loyalists sought to violently overthrow democracy on Wednesday. Foto: Shannon Stapleton / REUTERS


Will the United States ever be able to recover from the ignominy of Jan. 6, 2021? It is difficult to imagine the country being able to present itself as the shining beacon of democracy in the coming years – if the country isn't even able to stage a peaceful transfer of power. 

America will not be able to provide any advice to up-and-coming democratic leaders for as long as the images from Wednesday – which ex-President George W. Bush compared to a "banana republic" – are in circulation.

The U.S. now finds itself facing a painful period of self-reflection. It would be too easy to merely blame Trump for the attempted coup. He does, of course, bear a lion's share of the blame for the attack on the Capitol for his full-throated claims that the election was stolen from him. 

But the pack would not have been so ready to participate in sedition had Trump not had such a committed coterie of abettors at his side during his entire term in office – a team of lackeys who played a significant role in the dismantling of democracy in America.

It was only thanks to these powerful ranks of allies that Trump was able to pursue his plan of sowing doubt about the integrity of the election – a plan that he and his advisers kicked off last summer and which reached its logical and dangerous conclusion on Wednesday.

There had been indications for several weeks that Wednesday's attack on the Capitol, on American democracy, was in the making. The president himself announced the date when his supporters would be needed: Jan. 6, he tweeted, would be a day to "save America" and "stop the steal." It wasn't even necessary to read between the lines. "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th," he tweeted. "Be there, will be wild!"

In the social media groups where conspiracy theories about the election having been stolen from Trump are considered fact, Trump's followers spent several weeks organizing for the big day – on Facebook, on Telegram, on the new right-wing messaging platform Parler and also on message boards like 4chan.

It wasn't difficult to follow the preparations. All you had to do was visit websites like thedonald in the early days of January, with much of the planning for Jan. 6 being conducted out in the open, visible to all. Even days before that date, marching orders had been posted, along with overt fantasies about storming the Capitol. There was even a discussion about whether they should bring weapons and, if yes, which ones.

     Security staff in the Capitol with weapons drawn. Foto: Pat Benic / UPI / laif


Followers of the conspiracy theory QAnon, in particular, saw Jan. 6 as a day of hope, a day when Joe Biden's inauguration could be blocked and Trump's power could be secured. QAnon believers are convinced that a secret elite rule the world. At the very least, they believe that political leaders and democratic institutions are corrupt, with many of them even believing the Democrats sexually abuse and murder children.

"I Can't Allow That"

Jerry Pritchard began preparing for the battle before sunrise on Jan. 6. His comrades-in-arms were set to arrive at 4:45 a.m. and Pritchard was hurrying to be ready before they showed up, as he explained over the phone the next day. 

There were nine of them, like Cindy, who has a degree in economics, and Paul, a retired farmer. All of them are members of the Republican Party in Northampton County, Pennsylvania.  

It was still dark when their pickups began turning into Pritchard's driveway. They had huge American flags in the beds of their trucks, several meters long. One of the flags bore the visage of Donald Trump, with the words "A Hero Will Rise" printed beneath.

Pritchard had never before attended a protest in Washington before. In his 54 years of life, he had never seen a need. He works at his father's construction company, coaches baseball and goes to church on Sundays. Political protest? Not his thing. "But now they are trying to steal our election and take our country away," Pritchard said over the phone. "And I can't allow that."

Pritchard's family has been members of the Republican Party for generations, but they have never been as loyal to a politician as they are to Donald Trump. What others find repellant is, for Pritchard, a cause for deep admiration: his tone, his coarse rhetoric, his willingness to win it all or tear everything down trying. 

For Pritchard, Trump embodies the perfect American, and it seems hardly coincidental that he looks and sounds a bit like the president. "I'm a Trump guy," he says.

The drive from Walnutport, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., took over three hours, and when they reached the capital that morning, they immediately headed for The Mall, where Trump was planning to speak to his supporters. 

Photos from these morning hours show the group in a lively and cheerful mood, smiling excitedly into the camera. Pritchard has an American flag wrapped around his neck to stave off the chilly, overcast weather.

Thousands of others were also making their way through downtown Washington on Wednesday morning. Among them were numerous members of the Proud Boys militia, a group that has proven its proclivity for violence on several past occasions. Their uniform includes black-and-yellow polo shirts. During a debate with Biden during the campaign, Trump told them to "stand back and stand by."

         Representatives and staff members take cover. Foto: Andrew Harnik / AP


The Proud Boys harbor a right-wing extremist worldview and believe that Western civilization is facing an existential threat. They were the most visible militia on Wednesday morning, but there were several dozen other right-wing groups that were also involved in the attempt to prevent Biden from moving into the White House, groups with names like The Three Percenters and Patriot Prayer.

At around 11 a.m., according to Jerry Pritchard's account delivered by phone the next day, his phone rang. It was his sister, who is head of the local GOP chapter in Pritchard's hometown. "Pence has stabbed Trump in the back," she said, referring to the vice president's refusal to block Biden's election. "I started crying," Pritchard says.

At midday, Trump appeared in front of his followers on the National Mall, the glorious strip stretching from the White House to the Capitol, where he spoke for about 70 minutes in a speech which, even for the president, was muddled, disgraceful, dangerous and full of lies. "We will never give up," he called to his supporters. "We well never concede. It will never happen. You don't concede when there's theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore."

In closing, he called upon the crowd to march to the Capitol at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue to "give our Republicans the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country." The president then returned to the White House to watch the ensuing chaos on television.

The unrest began at around 1 p.m., when a large number of Trump's followers left the National Mall and began heading for the Capitol. Some in the group were armed with baseball bats and knives.

Pritchard and his companions also marched toward the Capitol after listening to Trump's speech. A video shows them surrounded by people carrying flags. Pritchard then ran through the crowd to the steps of the Capitol, where he pushed against a barricade, as he would later explain. 

He wanted to tear it down when a police officer suddenly appeared in front of him and asked him what he was planning on doing. "I want to enter and save my country," Pritchard says he responded. Right then, a teargas cannister landed at his feet, he says. 

His eyes started burning and he felt a pain in his shoulder where he had been hit by a rubber bullet. He stumbled backwards, he says, and poured water into his face.

"I was so furious," he says. "Furious at the traitor Mike Pence, I wanted to break windows, I wanted to show that we will not accept it." But the others in his group wanted to pull back, and Pritchard also moved away from the Capitol.

At around 2:30 p.m., the first Trump followers breached the barricades with surprising ease, climbing over them on the west side of the Capitol Building. The police seemed to offer only limited resistance in some places – not even remotely comparable to the military-like police presence of the National Guard during the Black Lives Matter protests last year. The question as to how the police could be overpowered so easily will be one the county will be addressing for quite some time to come.

Jerry Pritchard and his buddies watched the storming of the Capitol from a distance until late in the evening. Pritchard was fine with it. "It's a building full of crooks," he says. He means all of the politicians, "except Donald Trump." Only gradually did the authorities, thanks to the arrival of the National Guard, win back control over the Capitol.

   A Trump fan sitting in the chair of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi Foto: Jim Lo Scalzo / epa-EFE / Shutterstock


Pritchard and his group only left for home at 9 p.m. "I was so angry, for the whole drive," he says. "I still am. I always will be." He says he goes to bed angry and his anger is still there when he wakes up. Meanwhile, lawmakers in the Capitol continued their session late that night and confirmed Biden's election as the next president of the United States.

For Pritchard, that has translated into his final break with the Republican Party. "It's time we form a new party," he says. "And then we'll come back, stronger than we are now."

Losing Is Lonely

What the future holds for Trump, meanwhile, is likely a question that not even he can answer. Thus far, the White House has kept largely silent, aside from Trump's acknowledgement on Thursday evening that "a new administration will be inaugurated on Jan. 20." 

That acknowledgement came in the form of a video posted on Twitter, after his account had been locked by the company for a day. Other than that, Trump has been keeping a low profile.

Just how far Trump's spirits have sunk since the election can be seen in the fact that he no longer even enjoys those mini-rituals that used to give him such pleasure. Trump used to love answering a couple of questions from journalists on his way to his helicopter, but these days, he goes for days at a time without leaving his residence.

Losing is a lonely endeavor, and since Nov. 3, Trump has been drawing an even sharper line between friends and "traitors." He has fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who had attracted his ire after refusing to send armed troops into America's cities. Attorney General William Barr, meanwhile, who had long been one of Trump's most reliable lieutenants, resigned on his own – apparently because he no longer wanted to be part of Trumps orgy of pardons for his cronies.

Even Rupert Murdoch has found a place on Trump's shit list. Trump believes that the Australian media mogul is deeply indebted to him because his presidency generated vastly higher ratings for Fox News. Yet it was Murdoch's TV station that called Arizona for Biden on Election Day, thus essentially ending Trump's dream of re-election.

Now, Trump has turned to such broadcasters as Newsmax and OANN, which make Fox News look like a paragon of journalistic sobriety.

    Police standing guard in Washington, D.C. Foto: Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images


Trump still enjoys talking on the phone with his faithful lawyer Rudy Giuliani, but he now almost prefers speaking with Sidney Power, the new star in Trump's firmament.

A lawyer, Powell amassed her wealth by defending white collar criminals, but for Trump, she invented the fairy tale of a socialist coup that is now installing Biden in the White House. According to that myth, the leftist regime in Venezuela manipulated voting machines in the U.S. 

The story was so outrageous that Trump's new favorite broadcaster, Newsmax, which had aired the story in its entirety, was forced to air a correction after it was sued by the manufacturer of the voting machines in question. 

That, though, didn't prevent Trump from considering her as a special counsel to investigate alleged election fraud – an idea that Pat Cipollone, chief White House counsel, was allegedly able to foil at the last minute.

Trump is hardly interested at all anymore in what is happening in the world outside. Even during the campaign, he had talked about how embarrassing it would be should he lose to Biden, "the worst presidential candidate" in U.S. history. Now that U.S. voters have delivered him precisely this defeat, it seems as though he no longer cares even a bit about the country's fate.

Each day, far more than 2,000 people are falling victim to COVID-19 in the U.S., with a record 4,111 fatalities on Thursday, far more than lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks. 

The total number of deaths could rise to a half a million by summer – a figure greater than the sum of U.S. soldiers who died during World War II. 

But Trump has largely bowed out of fighting the pandemic. It seems like a cynical commentary on the situation that the White House’s nightly schedule sent to the press for the president says he is working tirelessly for the American people.

The decision: Vice President Mike Pence certified the Electoral College votes in the presence of Democrat Nancy Pelosi, thus making Joe Biden's win official. Foto: Erin Schaff / AFP


Trump will continue to shape American politics even after he leaves office – that much is clear. Some 74 million Americans voted for him in the Nov. 3 election, 11 million more than in 2016. 

If you drive through rural America, through Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia, you’ll see Trump flags still flying in front yards all over the place. It is from this base that Trump draws his power.

Trump could run for president again in 2024. He has already aired the idea internally. "There's a good chance Trump will be back," says Thomas Patterson, a professor of government at Harvard University. 

He says that Trump’s approval ratings have remained stable among Republicans. "It's pretty clear that the hard core of the party's base is behind him," he says.

Trump's prospects also hinge on whether he finds new media allies. Fox News may have turned its back on him, but OANN and Newsmax are still offering their unconditional support for the outgoing president. 

"The right-wing media is making things extremely difficult for some of the remaining moderates among the Republicans,” Patterson says.

There are persistent rumors in Washington that Trump will launch his own television station. "I think that would be a real option for Trump,” says his former adviser Anthony Scaramucci. As early as 2016, when it seemed all but certain that Hillary Clinton would win the election, Trump reportedly considered buying a channel. 

His son-in-law Jared Kushner scoped out the terrain and made an offer to an existing broadcaster, American media reported at the time. In Trump’s hands, a TV network would be a weapon he could use to target his enemies, and their numbers certainly haven’t diminished in recent days.

Some in the group were armed with baseball bats and knives.

In recent years, Trump has lived on the nimbus of invincibility. But he also remains the butt of jokes, the notorious groper and braggart who was never taken seriously by the upper echelons of New York society. With the loss of office, that ridicule is again creeping up on Trump, which is another reason why he is fighting so desperately.

"Of course Trump knows he lost,” says Scaramucci, who briefly worked as the White House communications director before falling out with his boss. He says Trump knows full well that his aura and allure are attached to the office he holds. "You also have to remember that the minute he loses power," he says, "there eight to 10 people in the Republican Party, who, when they look in the mirror, they see a future president, and they’re going to do everything they can to destroy him.”

Trump long thought he could just stay in the White House. But what if he winds up going from the Oval Office to a prison cell? It would be the first time in the history of the office that a president has been put behind bars.

Some presidents have been guilty of crimes, but not even Richard Nixon, who spent two years covering up the break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters in Washington’s Watergate complex, had to stand trial. Shortly after his resignation on August 9, 1974, he was pardoned by his successor Gerald Ford.

What's Next for Trump

In normal times, that kind of restraint makes sense. The prestige of the office sustains more than just a scratch when a former president is put through the wringer of the criminal justice system.

But does that still apply to Trump? It’s not only the left-wing of the Democratic Party and many legal experts who are now arguing that trust in democracy and the dignity of the office of the president can only be restored if Trump is forced to answer to the courts.

Trump has been guilty of far more than the usual white lies associated with politicians. "Impunity corrodes faith in institutions and in the rule of law,” says Martin Flaherty, a professor of law at Fordham University in New York. He argues that elites in politics and the financial world have been allowed to get away with too much in recent decades. Trump, he says, "is an embodiment of corruption that goes far beyond anything that we’ve seen.”

The Russia scandal, in particular, could still be dangerous for Trump. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team spent two years investigating Moscow's interference in the 2016 presidential election. In the end, he listed no less than 10 instances in which Trump could be guilty of obstruction of justice. 

During his appearance before the U.S. Congress in July 2019, Mueller suggested that he had only refrained from indicting Trump because he believed a sitting president enjoyed immunity from prosecution. After he released his report, 700 former federal prosecutors penned an open letter stating that if he weren’t president, he surely would have been put on trial.

So, will that investigation be revisited? Biden has already indicated that he has little interest in pressing charges against his predecessor. The Democrat ran his campaign on the promise of reconciling the country back to its former self. And nothing would rile up the Trump base like criminal charges against their hero.

As such, Randall Eliason thinks Biden’s caution is prudent. Special Counsel Mueller does have enough evidence for an indictment, the former federal prosecutor says. "But the question is: Is it the type of case, at this point, that is worth going after a former president?” An indictment coming from the Justice Department would set a dangerous precedent – and pave the way for the politicization of the judiciary.

There are also other ways Trump can evade prosecution. During his time in office, the outgoing president has already signed 94 pardons and commutations, including for Roger Stone, who lied to Congress on the president’s behalf, and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for tax evasion and bank fraud. Two weeks ago, Trump signed pardons for former U.S. soldiers who had murdered civilians in Iraq.

And Trump has already indicated that he is willing to pardon himself if he has to. The New York Times has reported that he discussed the possibility with his advisers after the election. In June 2018, Trump tweeted that he has the "absolute right” to pardon himself. 

There is a dispute among legal experts over the legality of such a step and so far, not a single president has ever attempted to pardon himself – much less before being charged with wrongdoing. Richard Nixon allegedly toyed with the idea. But the Justice Department concluded after the Watergate affair that even a sitting U.S. president could not serve as his own judge and jury.

   The last battle: Senators Hawley and Cruz backed Trump's assertion that the election was rigged.


That still leaves the possibility of an early resignation. Then Vice President Pence could briefly serve as president, giving him the possibility of signing a pardon for his former boss. It’s unlikely that such a move could be challenged legally. 

However, it’s doubtful that Pence would want to tarnish his own legacy by pardoning a president who essentially called for a coup during his final days in office. And even if Pence could be softened – the problem remains for Trump that a presidential pardon wouldn’t protect him from criminal proceedings initiated by the states.

In New York, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has already launched an investigation into Trump. It began with the hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal, which Vance deemed to be illegal campaign financing.

In the meantime, the focus of the case appears to have shifted to tax evasion and bank fraud. Even if the details of the investigation are still under wraps, the New York Times recently reported that Trump paid virtually no federal income tax for years – likely in part because he interpreted the possibilities for tax avoidance very generously and possibly unlawfully. 

For example, Trump reportedly shelled out around $70,000 to hair stylists one year before he became president. His daughter Ivanka also collected generous consulting fees.

A further complication for Trump is the fact that his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who for years handled all the delicate tasks for his client, is cooperating fully with New York investigators. District Attorney Vance has also spoken with employees of Deutsche Bank. The Frankfurt-based bank was one of Trump’s main lenders for many years.

And it’s not just legal worries that are plaguing the president. He is also likely to face uncomfortable times financially. The Financial Times has estimated that $900 million in loans will be coming due in the next four years, and Trump is apparently personally liable for more than a third of that amount. 

In normal times, that probably wouldn’t be the source of too many headaches for him, but Trump makes most of his money from hotels and golf resorts, businesses that are suffering enormously as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Add to that the weakness in the urban real estate market, which is a further blow to Trump’s bottom line. 

Still, it remains unlikely that he will be facing financial ruin: Forbes magazine estimates Trump’s net worth at around $2.5 billion. But it is possible that Trump will have to unload some of his real estate to pay back his loans. 

Trump already sought in October 2019 to sell his hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, but he was unable to find a buyer willing to pay a half a billion dollars for it.

The Enduring Trump Legacy

Politically, Trump will remain a figure the world will have to reckon with: Just as he divided the country, he is now dividing the Republican Party. On the one hand, there are those in the GOP who are turning their backs on Trump. 

Congressman Adam Kinzinger, for example, a former Air Force pilot, tangled with Trump early on and is now accusing the president of igniting a storm of violence. And Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has been the target of death threats ever since he dared to declare Joe Biden’s victory in the state.

But not everyone has been as resilient as Raffensperger. It’s a bit like withdrawal from an addiction. Trump delivers to the Republicans what they covet most: conservative judges, tax cuts and a firm "no” to tougher gun control laws. 

Now, though, Republicans are starting to realize the toll that comes along with the drug called Trump. The president has not only made the Republicans docile – he has also largely turned them into part of his cult, hanging to his every word as if he were some guru.

The look of victory: The success of Democratic Senate candidates Ossoff and Warnock (right) in Georgia will make it easier for Biden and incoming Vice President Harris to govern.


And as in any cult, faith trumps truth. Many Republican officials now feel they have to submit to this parallel reality. It’s clear that senators like Josh Hawley or Ted Cruz, who objected to the certification of the election results, know that Trump wasn’t cheated out of victory. 

The very men who this week charged against the Establishment are themselves products of the East Coast elite: Hawley got his law degree from Yale and Cruz graduated from Harvard. The two men are certainly opportunists, but they haven’t lost their minds.

For them, going into battle for Trump one last time was a sober, and cynical, political calculation. That they decided to support a coup attempt, however, will forever stain Hawley’s and Cruz’s legacies. At the same time, it shows just how fearful they were of disappointing Trump's base.

"The next six months will determine whether Trump remains in control of the party,” says Mark Smith, a professor of politics at Cedarville University in Ohio. He believes it would be best for the party in the long run if it broke free of the outgoing president, adding that Trump has never really been popular beyond his base and that his approval ratings have rarely been above 50 percent. 

"There is strong evidence that he is driving away a significant number of voters, especially in the suburbs,” Smith says.

The Republicans, it should be noted, performed surprisingly well in elections for the House of Representatives in November and also in state elections. It's Trump who lost. 

He did manage to expand the total number of votes he got compared to 2016, but he also helped mobilize Biden’s supporters and drove many of the few remaining moderate Republicans to vote for the Democratic candidate. The latter group, especially, tipped the scales in favor of the Democrats.

Now Trump will go down in the history of the Republican Party as a president who gambled away the White House in one term as well as the party’s majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate. It’s a disastrous record, which is why power players like Mitch McConnell, who is losing his role as Senate majority leader, are suddenly turning their backs on Trump after all.

For the past four years, McConnell has covered for nearly every lie and lunacy that has come out of the White House. The Kentucky politician remained silent as Trump let the children of refugees be snatched from their parents’ arms. 

He defended the president when it became clear that Trump had attempted to blackmail Ukraine’s leader into providing campaign ammunition against Biden. And he didn’t lift a finger when Trump called on Attorney General William Barr to open investigations into Biden.

By midday Wednesday, however, McConnell had performed a long-overdue about-face. 

The same man who spent four years helping to crush democracy, was suddenly contradicting Trump’s claim that the election had been rigged on the floor of the Senate. He spoke out in no uncertain terms against the plan by fellow party members Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley who, along with other Republican Senators and more than 100 members of the House of Representatives, sought to challenge Biden’s election. 

"I will not pretend such a vote would be a harmless protest gesture,” McConnell thundered, making it clear to everyone that his four-year friendship of convenience with Trump is over.

But is that also true for the rest of the party? In the early hours of Thursday morning, more than 100 Republican lawmakers voted in the House to conduct a retroactive audit of the presidential election.

They aren’t necessarily fans of the president, but they are driven by fear of his supporters’ anger.

Like the Republicans, the Democrats are a deeply divided party.

That, in turn, may play into Trump’s hands. He could play a major role in steering the party’s fortunes in the future. And Trump has left no doubt that anyone who turns their back on him will face revenge. 

During a campaign event in Georgia on Monday, he promised to campaign against Republican Governor Brian Kemp in the next election -- all because Kemp had dared to certify Biden’s victory in his state.

Trump could also prevent the party from moving back toward the center. Under Trump, the Republicans have become a movement that denies climate change and considers racism to be a fringe issue at most. 

It was Trump who declared the European Union an enemy of the U.S., and this despite the fact that Republicans have placed great emphasis on fostering trans-Atlantic friendship for decades.

An Uphill Battle for Biden

This is not good news for Biden. He has repeatedly said that, as president, he would seek to work with the Republicans. But is that even possible when much of the party has abandoned reality? 

The double victory of the two Democratic Party Senate candidates in Georgia, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, now gives the Democrats a majority in the Senate for the first time in years. 

The years-long stalemate that paralyzed Barack Obama, particularly in his second term in the White House, is history. Biden will not be facing a hostile Senate when he takes the oath of office on Jan. 20.

As a first step, the incoming president could significantly expand the already approved corona aid package. The Democrats want to give most Americans a $2,000 check – an effort that Trump has also endorsed but failed because of McConnell’s opposition.

But Biden’s plan goes well beyond that. During the election campaign, he said he would help states and municipalities with a massive economic stimulus package. He also wants to provide greater support for the unemployed. 

The question of how quickly the U.S. economy recovers from the crisis sparked by the coronavirus will be a determining factor in the success of Biden’s presidency. The majority in the Senate is also an important factor for Biden’s nominations. Biden will now be able to appoint cabinet posts, judges and ambassadors without having to take the Republicans into account. 

Still, Biden and incoming Vice President Kamala Harris won’t be able to just push through any legislation they want to. 

A 60-percent majority is required in the Senate for many bills. And just like the Republicans, the Democrats are a deeply divided party.

In that sense, it would be best for Biden if he could get a few moderate Republicans on his side. That would make him independent of the hotheads within his own party. But cooperation with the Republicans will only succeed if the party is able to free itself of Trump.

Moreover, the storming of the Capitol has highlighted the extent to which polarization of society has intensified under Trump, but also how the Americans understanding of democracy has shifted. 

In a poll taken by the institute YouGov, 45 percent of Republicans said they supported the storming of the Capital, while 43 percent condemned the attack.

"Trump is a demagogue who amasses power by fomenting prejudice and social division,” says political scientist Smith. "He could find imitators who want to be like him and copy his style.” 

Men like senators Cruz and Hawley, for example, who have embraced Trump’s accusations of fraud only because they have their eye on the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 and want to keep the Trump base on their side.

Trump never had the political skill and diligence to systematically bring the political apparatus to heel. But he has been ruthless in exposing the weaknesses of American democracy. 

That could pave the way for smarter demagogues – for men like Cruz or Hawley, who have spent their entire lives trying to secure political power. The danger to America will not be over with Joe Biden’s inauguration. 

He will become president of a country that has lost its footing.

What Next for the MAGA Insurrection?

Having been fed a steady stream of lies by Donald Trump and right-wing media outlets like Fox News, many of those who stormed the US Capitol on January 6 may have genuinely believed that they were saving the American Republic from usurpers. Now that they have returned home, defeated, what will they do for the next four years?

J. Bradford DeLong


BERKELEY – When people stormed the Bastille in Paris on July 14, 1789, their purpose was to free inmates whom they saw as political prisoners of the monarchy. 

And when Frenchwomen marched from Paris to Versailles that October, their goal was to force the king to return with them and live among the people.

What goal did Donald Trump’s supporters have in mind when they stormed the US Capitol on January 6? 

Some vandalized the Speaker of the House’s offices, and some destroyed memorials to the late civil-rights leader and congressman John Lewis. 

Others broke into the Senate chamber to take selfies from the presiding officer’s chair. 

A Florida man walked off with a podium.

To understand why they were there in the first place, we need to roll back the tape. 

Just before the insurrection, Trump held a “Save America Rally” in a park behind the White House, where he told his audience that:

“All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical left Democrats, which is what they’re doing and stolen by the fake news media. 

That’s what they’ve done and what they’re doing. We will never give up. We will never concede, it doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. 

Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore and that’s what this is all about. To use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will stop the steal. … We won this election, and we won it by a landslide…”

The problem, Trump went on to claim – falsely – is that seven states had sent “illegitimate” electoral vote tallies to Congress. “With only three of the seven states in question, we win the presidency of the United States.”

The news that Democrats had won both Georgia Senate seats in run-off elections the previous day raised the stakes. Starting on January 20, Vice President Kamala Harris will cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will become the minority leader, handing control over to Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.

Thus, unlike in 2016, “We have no back line anymore,” Trump warned. “The only line that we have is the veto of the president of the United States.” He pointed out that many Republicans are still fighting hard to overturn the election. 

“I want to thank the more than 140 members of the House… warriors… studying the roots of the Constitution…. They know we have the right to send a bad vote that was illegally got [back to the states].” He then went on to thank the 13 Republican senators who also “stepped up,” not least Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas.

But Trump warned that there are “weak” Republicans, too – “Mitch [McConnell] and the group” – who “don’t realize that that’s going to be the end of the Republican Party as we know it.” But it’s “never going to be the end” for Trump’s movement. “Let the weak ones get out,” Trump advised, “This is a time for strength.”

Trump concluded his speech with a call to action: “We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue… give our Republicans, the weak ones… the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

Suppose that you believed that the president was a serious person who was telling the truth (or at least not exaggerating more than the typical politician). What would you do? Surrounded by others of a similar mind, you might conclude that you should “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” to get in the face of those “weak” politicians so that they will “come through for” you. 

According to the president, Vice President Mike Pence, McConnell, and the others needed a push to “do the right thing”: halt the counting of the Electoral College votes and send the fake and “illegal” certified tallies “back to the states to recertify.” If that happens, “we become president, and you are the happiest people.”

Believing this, you might be willing to push people out of the way – to break a few windows and club a few police officers – to get in front of the legislators who need to grow a backbone.

But now it is the day after the storming of the Capitol, and you find that, even though you had done your job, not enough senators had grown a backbone; in fact, their ranks had been halved, with only six proving “brave” enough to object to the certification of the election. 

What happened? You belong to the real majority, and you passed the baton to cowardly McConnell and Pence so that they could do the right thing. But in the end, they dropped it.

What will you do next? If the past is any guide, you will eagerly await your leader’s instructions – even if they are directions to the next cliff.


J. Bradford DeLong is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was Deputy Assistant US Treasury Secretary during the Clinton Administration, where he was heavily involved in budget and trade negotiations. His role in designing the bailout of Mexico during the 1994 peso crisis placed him at the forefront of Latin America’s transformation into a region of open economies, and cemented his stature as a leading voice in economic-policy debates.

How can I stop my bank from freezing my accounts?

I haven’t been able to get hold of my bank for two weeks.

Lucy Warwick-Ching

  © Alamy


My bank has frozen my accounts after I tried to send a larger payment than average.

I’m not getting any response and it’s been two weeks. What’s happened and what can I do to stop my bank from freezing my accounts?

Sam Tate, partner at law firm RPC, says authorities around the world, including the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), are increasingly being asked to focus on money laundering and sanctions. 

As a result, banks over the past few years have become noticeably more nervous about committing an offence by permitting transactions that they should have stopped.

Most banks monitor transactions using automated screening tools. 

Many different factors that may trigger an alert, such as the size of the transaction, the total value of transactions over a given period, where transactions are going, and whether any transaction “makes sense” based on what the system knows about you and the recipient.

If the internal bank monitoring system blocks a transaction, it will be escalated to a team within the bank for manual review. 

As the systems regularly block perfectly legitimate transactions, manual reviews are often completed quickly and transactions promptly released.

                        Sam Tate, partner at RPC


There are several reasons why your transaction may have taken longer to clear. 

It could be that the bank’s team has a large backlog of reviews and has simply not got around to your transaction yet. 

Alternately, the team may have escalated your transaction further up the chain for additional scrutiny.

In some cases, the bank may decide to raise a suspicious activity report (Sar) to the NCA in relation to a transaction. 

Banks have a legal obligation to raise a Sar when they encounter potentially suspicious activity and may face severe penalties if they fail to do so. 

On the other hand, there is no penalty if a bank raises a Sar when it did not need to. 

As a consequence, banks raise a lot of Sars effectively “just in case”.

If the bank hears nothing back from the NCA for a month after raising a Sar then the transaction may proceed. 

However, during this period it is a criminal offence for the bank to “tip off” its customer that a Sar has been raised or that the transaction is under investigation. 

If your bank blocks your account and stops answering your calls, this may well be the reason why.

The best way to avoid your accounts being frozen is to plan ahead. 

If you have an upcoming transaction that is notably different from your normal account activity, such as it being larger than average or going to a foreign country, you should call the bank in advance and let them know it is coming. 

This may not stop the automated screening system from flagging the transaction, but once it gets in front of a real person it should hopefully help them understand the true context.

If your account has been blocked and the bank is not explaining why, it may simply be waiting for the one-month Sar moratorium period to expire (which they cannot tell you about due to the potential for “tipping off”). 

The bank will then release your transaction with a nondescript apology for the inconvenience. 

However, if you are really worried about your frozen account, then you should consider speaking to a suitable lawyer for further advice, including in relation to your rights to be treated fairly as a customer under FCA rules.

Anita Clifford, barrister and principal associate at Bright Line Law, says that when a bank freezes an account, all too often the account holder is left in the dark and the impact can be disastrous.

                         Anita Clifford, principal associate at Bright Line Law


In the first instance, an algorithm has flagged that the transaction is out of line with your profile. 

From there, the bank has considered there to be a risk that the money might have an illegal origin. 

This has called into question all of the money the bank holds on your behalf and, in an effort to manage risk, it has chosen to suspend your accounts.

In some situations this approach will be sensible, but in many cases freezing accounts is unnecessarily heavy handed.

One of two things are likely to have happened. 

The bank is either conducting a review to see whether there is a concern or has concluded this process and made a Sar to the NCA who have started their own investigation. 

As soon as it suspects or considers that there are reasonable grounds to suspect crime, a bank must report it externally.

The NCA abides by strict timeframes when investigating Sars but the Crown Court in England and Wales can allow more time and, throughout the period, the bank will be unable to progress any transactions unless the NCA says otherwise. 

Separate to action taken by your bank, it can also apply to the court to freeze your accounts if it thinks they contain the proceeds of crime. You can challenge the order but will typically only be notified after it occurs. 

Further, once a Sar has been submitted, the bank cannot tip off the customer. 

All this is likely to explain why you have been stonewalled.

Given the consequences, you should make representations to your bank as soon as possible about the legitimacy of the transaction and the money in your accounts. 

Supporting documents may be needed. In practice, it can be difficult for an account holder to contact the right people at the bank and representations about the source of funds may be more effective from a legal representative specialised in freezing and money laundering issues.

Timing is critical. Ideally, representations will be made when the bank is conducting its own review so that concerns can be dispelled before the NCA becomes involved.

If necessary, legal action may be taken against the bank if there is delay in considering the representations or an unreasonable refusal to lift the freeze. 

In the future if an unusual transaction is planned you should always notify your bank in advance to mitigate the risk of it leaping to conclusions but do take comfort in knowing that if accounts are frozen, you are not out in the cold and swift action can be taken to lift the freeze. 

People Are Dying. Whom Do We Save First With the Vaccine?

With limited doses available, and a pandemic claiming more lives every day, a complex moral calculus has begun. Five thinkers weigh the choices ahead.

By Emily Bazelon

              Photo illustration by Tyler Comrie


In mid-December, before a key vote by an advisory panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a public debate flared up over what might well be the most momentous policy decision of 2021: how to distribute the Covid-19 vaccine. 

This particular fight centered on how to balance the vaccination of seniors (who die from the coronavirus at much higher rates than younger people) against that of essential workers (who, because they come into contact with many people over the course of any given day, risk getting sick themselves and becoming superspreaders).

That debate was just the first of what will be many contentious ones in the months to come, when supplies of Covid vaccine will surely be among the world’s most precious, scarce resources. 

The calculation of how to prioritize various groups inevitably touches on all the fault lines that divide American society — race, class, age, geography, occupation and more — and ultimately bleeds into the question of our ethical obligations to the poorer nations of the world, which risk being forced to wait for lifesaving vaccine supplies while the wealthy save themselves first.

More starkly than most policy choices, these decisions will essentially determine who dies and who lives. We brought together five experts to talk about the collective ethical judgments that the world faces — and a logistical challenge that’s as epic in scale as the pandemic itself.

The Panelists

Ngozi Ezike, an internist and pediatrician, is the director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. She previously worked for 15 years in the Cook County health system, where she delivered inpatient and outpatient care and directed medical services at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center.

Gregg Gonsalves is a professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health and an AIDS and global health activist. He is also a 2018 MacArthur Fellow.

Juliette Kayyem is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she is the faculty chairwoman of the Security and Global Health program, and a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. She is advising a number of public and private entities on pandemic response and vaccine distribution.

Siddhartha Mukherjee is a professor of medicine at Columbia University and a cancer physician and researcher. He is the author of “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer,” which was the winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction. He is a founder of a vaccine-delivery platform called Othena.

Peter Singer is a bioethics professor at Princeton, author of “The Life You Can Save” and founder of the charity of the same name. His most recent book is “Why Vegan?”

Emily Bazelon, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, moderated the discussion, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, with material added from follow-up interviews.


Who Goes to the Front of the Vaccine Line?

Emily Bazelon: As vaccination begins, the C.D.C. has recommended that the first group of American recipients should be health care workers, who total approximately 21 million, and residents of nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities, another three million. This is called Phase 1a. 

For Phase 1b, the agency decided after much debate to recommend people age 75 and older, who number about 20 million, and also 30 million “frontline essential workers,” including first responders; grocery-store, public-transit and postal workers; and teachers and day care providers. 

The states don’t have to follow this federal guidance. Regardless, they have difficult decisions to make about how to rank subgroups within Phase 1a and 1b as the vaccine gradually rolls out. Dr. Ezike, as you look ahead, what do you see coming in Illinois?

Ngozi Ezike: Phase 1a seems to be the most straightforward. We are starting with health care workers on Covid units. Not just the clinicians but the person who delivers the food, the person who cleans the room and who turns the room over after a patient is transferred. 

So, people in direct contact with Covid patients, or the infectious particles. And then people who work in the emergency room and in urgent care. We also signed up for the pharmacy partnership program that the C.D.C. offered, and Walgreens and CVS will bring the vaccine to our long-term-care facilities. 

After that, there is a middle bucket of health care where the work is mostly outpatient but they have some interaction with the public. Then the group at the end of Phase 1a would be health care workers who are tele-working or administrative.

For Phase 1b, I haven’t presented a plan to the governor yet, but this is where I am so far: I’m very concerned with the over-75 category. 

When I look at my data, the average age of death from Covid for a white person is 81, but for a Latinx person it’s 67, and for a Black person it’s 72. Many of the people in these groups don’t even reach 75. I’m not sure what the right age brackets are, but I want to think about how to make it equitable and data-driven, based on the average age of death from Covid.

Bazelon: Race and ethnicity have become a flash point in this debate. Black and Latino and Native American communities have been hit especially hard by the virus, with death rates that are close to three times as high as they are for white and Asian people. 

But the idea of giving people priority for the vaccine based only on race has generated a lot of criticism, and the chair of the C.D.C. panel (the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) said that was never the plan.

Ezike: There are examples in medicine where the guidelines are different — for example, for prostate cancer, Black men are recommended to be screened at a younger age because the prevalence is higher in that population. 

We are also thinking in terms of preventing the spread of infection. Our highest case rates are in Latinx communities, where we have more multigenerational households.

Gregg Gonsalves: The virus has spread in the United States along the fault lines of social inequality. Vaccines and medical interventions won’t roll out to protect people who have been hit hardest unless we allocate based on social vulnerability. 

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine has said we need to do this using the C.D.C.’s Social Vulnerability Index, which the agency developed for public-health emergencies. 

It can pinpoint geographic areas based on factors like living in crowded housing as well as socioeconomics and race and ethnicity. The index designates many rural communities, along with some urban ones, as at increased risk.

So for Phase 1b, if you have 10,000 doses of vaccines in a small city, you might reserve more of them for neighborhoods that rank higher for social vulnerability. These choices will be made differently in different places, but we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the disparate impacts of this epidemic.

Ezike: Absolutely. The goal is to get everyone vaccinated, but you push out doses in weighted numbers so high-risk areas get more vaccine first. We can stop a lot of the clusters that are nodes of infection if we get to those people who have no choice but to show up at work, often to feed their families, in high-risk, public-facing settings.

Peter Singer: It makes sense to protect those who are most vulnerable, whether the vulnerability is social or health-related. So if the evidence indicates that Black, Latino or Native American people have a higher risk of dying from the virus, they should be offered the vaccine ahead of others of the same age who are at lower risk because they are white or Asian. 

But a document that was circulated in November to A.C.I.P., the C.D.C. panel, suggested that the fact that racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented among those older than 65 is a reason for giving lower priority to that age group as a whole and instead vaccinating more than 100 million “essential workers” ahead of them. 

The effect would be that more people over all would die — and also that more members of racial and ethnic minorities would die, because the higher fatality rate in older people would outweigh their lower share of representation in that age group. 

That’s absurd. Equity for disadvantaged minorities can’t tell us to distribute vaccines in a manner that will mean more deaths in those communities themselves.

Fortunately, the C.D.C. has not adopted this view. Instead it has recommended priority only for the much smaller group of “frontline essential workers.” The case for doing this is stronger than the misconceived notion of equity that appears to have been the grounds for the original suggestion.

Bazelon: Allocation involves trade-offs. In the United States, at press time, we have about 100 million complete vaccinations (two shots each) on the way from Pfizer-BioNTech by the end of July and another 100 million from Moderna planned by the end of June. But for months, it seems clear, demand will far outstrip supply. 

What do you think about the priorities that the C.D.C. has recommended so far, and what about the remaining groups at potentially heightened risk — people who are over 65, people who have a high-risk medical condition, essential workers who don’t fall within the “frontline” definition the C.D.C. used, people who are homeless or in congregated settings like jail and prison. 

What moral framework do we use for deciding who goes where in line?

Singer: The objective that we should aim for is to reduce years of life lost. I know a lot of people are talking just about saving lives. But I do think that it’s different whether somebody dies at 90 or 50 or a younger age still. So, in my view, that’s what we should be looking at.

Bazelon: The British government plans to first vaccinate people age 80 and older, along with frontline health workers, then people 75 and over, and so on through age 65, before everyone else.

Singer: The basis for the British government’s plan is, of course, to treat those who are at the highest risk of dying and thus to minimize the number of deaths. But it is also important to consider what your life would be like if you don’t die.

It might still be that we should protect 90-year-olds first, based on data suggesting that 90-plus are at eight times the risk of dying from the virus as people around 70, whereas their life-expectancy difference is roughly something like four and a half years as against 15 years for 70-year-olds. If that’s correct, then the higher risk to the 90-year-olds outweighs the difference in life expectancy.

But even there I would make some exceptions. I don’t know whether the public-health systems are going to be able to do this or whether the political leaders are able to accept it, but if we are talking about everybody in an elderly-care home getting vaccinated, I think we should ask questions about the quality of their lives. 

Going back many years, looking at ethical issues about end-of-life decisions, many doctors tell me that when patients have severe dementia, they do not treat conditions like pneumonia. Even though you could treat it with antibiotics relatively simply, they say, there’s a time to let a patient go. 

If a patient is not capable of expressing a view on whether or not to receive treatment — and that includes vaccination — families should be consulted, and they should make the call. We shouldn’t just go through nursing homes and automatically vaccinate those who are not capable of giving consent.

Now, in other cases, obviously with health care workers, there is an indirect benefit to vaccination. It’s not just their lives that we’re trying to save, we’re trying to protect the lives of the people that they serve.

Juliette Kayyem: To me the question of priorities for Phase 1b is like a badly bruised airplane coming down for a landing. You put the oxygen mask on those who can help. 

You save the helpers, and then you help others. In this case, that’s the frontline essential workers.

Singer: Setting priorities in this phase should depend on the impact on essential services. For services in which workers are mostly young, and even if they get the virus they’re not likely to have severe symptoms, and they will not be absent from work or will be absent only briefly, then maybe you don’t have to vaccinate them first. 

But if we have essential services that are really being set back by the fact that people are getting the virus — for example, if we’re at risk of not having enough truck drivers to deliver the vaccine — that would be a reason to give these workers high priority.

Bazelon: That makes me think of teachers. The service of in-person schools has been cut off in parts of the country for 10 months now. 

This has come at a huge cost to kids, in terms of learning loss and social and emotional development. Some vulnerable kids aren’t in school at all. Children generally have borne a greater share of the burden of the virus than we often talk about.

Gonsalves: If schools should be last to close, first to open, perhaps we should put teachers right up there. In the recommendations for Phase 1b, the A.C.I.P. split the difference in some ways by saying the next round should go to people age 75 or older and also to frontline essential workers, including teachers. They are looking both to reduce mortality and keep society functioning.

Kayyem: Education is critical infrastructure. We didn’t designate it as such, as we did with electricity and water or the food-supply chain. But it turns out that a society cannot move, literally cannot flow, if parents are at home because of kids. The economic impact has been huge. 

And on the other side of this pandemic, the long-term impact for kids who were already behind is disastrous. Shame on us for not treating school as critical infrastructure before this. We should fix that. And the number of vaccinations we need to open the schools, for teachers and staff — 6.6 million in public schools — is relatively small relative to the general population.

Bazelon: In thinking in terms of years of life saved, research suggests that children who fall behind because of elementary-school closures are likely to have shorter life expectancies, on average. The same may be true of older students as a result of lower graduation rates.

Gonsalves: There are other trade-offs to consider, outside of schools. Suppose we’re interested in preventing the most new infections, not the most deaths. Then we’re looking for places where transmission is high, like prisons and meatpacking plants.

Kayyem: For people in jail and prison, whom the C.D.C. did not include in the first or second phases, I don’t have a legitimate argument for why they are different, in terms of vaccine priority, than people in senior care homes. It’s the same pool: people who don’t control their own movement, who are disparately impacted, especially elderly prisoners.

Gonsalves: It’s hard to make these complex trade-offs. Look, my parents were schoolteachers. I’d put teachers at the front of the line too. But to say how I would have written the recommendations for A.C.I.P. — I don’t know. Science can help frame these choices, and we should rely on the data to guide us but also understand we are making social, value choices as well.

Bazelon: Is it useful to have a federal authority, meaning the C.D.C., that makes recommendations to the states?

Ezike: Oh, absolutely. And I recently had a call with some of my counterparts in neighboring states. If we can decide on vaccine priorities as a collective, there’s also power in numbers.

Siddhartha Mukherjee: As a scientist and as an immunologist, I’d like to bring up another consideration — or another kind of value. I see value in more broadly distributing at least a little vaccine in the earlier phases so that we can understand its success and failure rates in the real world, across various populations. 

In the trials that have been done so far, Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines were each tested on 30,000 to 40,000 people. Now we are in a phase of massive expansion. We need a broader range of people to figure out, Is this really working? 

Is it really preventing infections across all the groups that need to be protected? Six months from now, we don’t want to still be asking that question.

Gonsalves: This is a huge issue. I don’t think the vaccine makers have cut corners on safety, but to understand the long-term effects, we have to formally evaluate the vaccines in the broader population, not just watch passively to see what happens.

Mukherjee: For instance, we’d like to know how the vaccine affects women who are pregnant and people who are partially immuno-compromised, and young kids. And we’d like to know about drug-vaccine interactions — if a particular drug you’re taking changes the effectiveness of the vaccine. 

Remember, we are going to try to vaccinate billions of people. And so, we really need to understand as deeply as possible. That’s not an easy task.

    Photo illustration by Tyler Comrie


How Does the Rollout Work?

Bazelon: The ethical considerations about who gets priority for the vaccine loom very large if we imagine people waiting for many months, whereas if you imagine people waiting for weeks, then they become less fraught. 

How long will it take to get all the high-risk groups vaccinated? When will the vaccine get to the general population, and how do we know we’ll have enough?

Kayyem: Are you asking whether your kids can get out of the house this summer?

Bazelon: Yes, I’d like to know that!

Kayyem: I think the answer is yes. I’ll talk in terms of seasons, not dates, because there are some big things we don’t know yet. First, how soon does the C.D.C. approve the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? 

That’s the one I really like, because it might work as one shot, not two, and it doesn’t have to be kept cold, which just makes it easier from a logistics perspective. So that’s an important unknown piece. 

Then also, President Trump has not yet invoked the Defense Production Act for vaccination. That would ensure that we are compelling or incentivizing U.S. companies to ramp up production of syringes and needles, gloves, storage facilities and anything else we need to support the whole enterprise. 

I don’t know how much the Biden team can see into what’s happening now, but they’ll want to keep money and supplies pumping until the whole population is vaccinated.

Look, the hardest part is done. We have the vaccine. But the rollout won’t be perfect. 

You’re going to have broken-down trucks and lost packages and people who should have shown up and didn’t show up. You are going to hear the story of this 65-year-old man and the woman of his dreams whom he has been married to for 40 years, and she is 64, so they’re separated by three months in the vaccine line.

But I think by spring, we’ll start to reach the general population. And we will get better and faster as more vaccines get approved. Manufacturing will move faster. 

We will have a new administration that can look past a president’s ego. Think of it like a tidal wave, starting slowly and then getting bigger. I have confidence that by this summer we will be well en route, if not all the way back, to normal-ish, a term I’ve been using because I’m not sure we know what normal is anymore.

Bazelon: As immunity starts to ramp up, even in small numbers, if it’s among the high-risk groups, does that take some of the pressure off, does it improve some of the outcomes?

Gonsalves: Well, remember that the primary endpoint for many of the vaccine trials was mitigation of disease and not necessarily prevention of transmission. We’re all hoping that it’s going to turn out that the vaccines also prevent transmission. 

And as we vaccinate older people, we’re going to see the fatality rate drop in this group, and guess what, it’s going to look like things are getting better. But that could be an excuse for us to let down our guard over the next few months. 

Rochelle Walensky, who is President-elect Biden’s choice for C.D.C. director, recently explained why we have to keep wearing masks and to social distance in the context of the vaccine rollout. She compared the virus to a forest fire. The vaccine is the fire hose that can put it out. 

With a small brush fire, water meets fire and quickly extinguishes it. But if the forest fire is raging, as the virus has been raging and continues to rage, the potency of the vaccine will be diluted by the sheer force of infections. A fire hose can do little good faced with a wall of flame.

Another problem is that there hasn’t been a lot of money for the rollout coming from Congress to the states and localities. The new stimulus package is a start, but without more funding from the new Congress, our efforts to get to somewhere normal-ish by the summer will be hampered. 

If there’s anything I want people to think about, it’s that what happens on Jan. 5, in the Georgia races for the Senate, will determine a lot of our future.

Mukherjee: When you talk about trucks breaking down, that’s one problem. There’s a second, equally important but I think neglected logistical problem, which a company I co-founded, Othena, is trying to solve. The Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines require booster shots. 

They need to be tracked, and they need monitoring and auditing. What’s the reminder system for telling you to come back for your second dose and for tracking which populations are getting the vaccine? 

This is a data-management challenge. We are piloting Othena software to address this issue in Orange County and other places in the country.

Current software systems are not patient-based, and vaccination will only be scalable if patients can manage their own vaccination.

Ezike: These are significant issues. And we need to be able to see which communities are getting appropriate uptake of the vaccine. But then, when I do virtual town halls with Latinx groups, I get a lot of questions: What are you doing with this patient information? 

How do I know it’s not going to be used and reported to authorities to get me deported? So, we are balancing and trying to keep track of all these different concerns.

Mukherjee: Building trust means not just trust in the safety of the vaccine but also trust that your information will be secure and won’t be misused. These are solvable problems but they require technology. 

There are advanced encryption mechanisms available. They allow you to give information without disclosing all of your identifying details, while still allowing for searchability. We want that to be digitized, and we want to know as a nation how many people have been vaccinated.

Kayyem: As we think about what the world looks like in the process of getting herd immunity, if you want to leave the country, international airlines such as Qantas are suggesting that they will be requiring proof of vaccination for passengers. 

Security for the Japan Olympics now includes health security, and there’s a serious debate in Japan about vaccine verification for not just athletes but also for spectators.

Singer: Qantas will require vaccination verification not only to protect crews and other passengers but also because Australia, where it is based, is close to eliminating local transmission of the virus. 

Currently everyone arriving from overseas has to quarantine in special high-security hotels for two weeks, at their own expense, before going into the community. Vaccination certificates could replace that.

We need other strategies to incentivize people to get vaccinated. Employers could require vaccination certificates for employees whose work brings them into contact with others.

Mukherjee: Deploying a vaccine just in the United States, not even talking about the world, to more than 300 million people without the digital infrastructure, which we lack currently, it sounds to me like madness.

Gonsalves: But the information problem started a long time ago. If you look at the data collection over the course of the pandemic, with no disrespect to the states, we have had fragmentary data collection on basic things like cases, tests, deaths, hospitalizations. At the county level, things get much worse. We have very little longitudinal data on age, race, ethnicity.

And if we’re going to build trust, it’s not just saying, “Hey, a new vaccine is coming.” 

It’s working with community leaders to help people understand how good this new intervention is. But talking is not enough. It’s investing real resources in the very same communities that have been hardest hit and that we’ve ignored for years.

Kayyem: My big worry has been the polling that showed lots of people not willing to take the vaccine. Including people in high-risk communities. But I’m hopeful that’s starting to shift. It looks like “no” does not mean “never.” 

It means: “I want to make sure that you build trust in my community. I’ll be hundredth in line, I just don’t want to be first.” 

And that seems to me something that we can work with. You get the validators, you get the community leaders. You get a fair process of allocation in place that people can understand. 

And you get the logistics right. If that’s working well, people will have confidence in the vaccine, because it will be delivered well. People think, Oh, it’s just logistics. But if the process works, it will help achieve the policy goal of assuring communities that might be nervous.

Ezike: I think what Juliette is saying is true. My team and I have done the virtual town halls with churches, with first ladies of churches, reaching out to the Black population. There’s just the fear of going first. 

If we only said, “We really want to support the groups that have been disproportionally hit, and, Black people, you’re at the front of the line,” some of them would go running. 

People who are skeptical would think, No, no, no, we’re not doing that. But I think by putting health care workers first, this part of the Black community would think, OK, cool, you can’t be trying to take out all your doctors!

Bazelon: We need them!

Ezike: Right. I think, though, there’s a possible issue with the long-term-care population. Many of those people may die anyway, for other reasons, but then the conclusion could be, “Grandma got the vaccine and died the next week.” 

These are elderly people with co-morbidities, and their death will coincide with the period after vaccination, but it will not be caused by the vaccine. I think that will be confusing for many people, however. 

So having health care workers get vaccinated and survive — that helps people get the confidence to say: “OK, I’m ready now. I’m lining up.” I think there’s going to be this big push at the end when people are like, “So far, so good.”

What About the Rest of the World?

Gonsalves: If you follow Peter’s age-based utilitarianism, we should give priority to immunizing the people in the Global South. That’s where most of the young people on this planet live.

Singer: I totally agree. Getting vaccines to the Global South should be a very high priority.

Gonsalves: But right now, most of the vaccinations are being sucked up by Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. and the United States and Canada. 

The People’s Vaccine Alliance, which includes Amnesty International and Oxfam, just released a report saying that in 70 lower-income countries, only one out of 10 people will get access to the vaccine in 2021. 

We’re setting up a kind of medical apartheid over the next couple of months, and even couple of years, in which the virus will be under control in the United States and Europe and some other places, but if you’re coming from another country with no proof of immunity and trying to get a student visa to the United States, good luck.

Ezike: Thinking more globally, as I think of Nigeria, my father’s birthplace — access to vaccine, access to testing, all of that is limited there. We’re not seeing a significant number of deaths in Nigeria, and that’s fortunate. 

But if transmission was rampant, given how much Nigerians travel abroad, it would have serious reverberations beyond the country’s borders.

Bazelon: Rich countries appear to be planning to hoard vaccine. The European Union has ordered enough to immunize its residents twice. 

Britain and the United States could inoculate everyone four times, if the supplies they have lined up are delivered, and Canada six times, according to a New York Times analysis of data on vaccine contracts. 

The World Health Organization and others have led an international effort called Covax, which commits a billion doses to less-wealthy countries. But that’s still not enough for anything like equitable distribution.

Gonsalves: Here we go again, right? I mean, I’m an epidemiologist. I’m also an AIDS activist. And in 1996 we had the advent of a highly active antiretroviral therapy, and where did it go? 

It went to the industrialized North. And within a few years, everybody was clamoring for it all over the planet.

Mukherjee: Companies in India are making hundreds of millions of doses of Covid vaccines. China and Russia have vaccines, too. But we don’t know whether any of these vaccines have been tested with the same rigor as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. 

To me, this is the most unfortunate thing about vaccine testing that’s happened by far. 

The only data that we have about the Chinese vaccine comes from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and we don’t know the efficacy of it. They say it’s 86 percent; we don’t know real numbers. The Russian vaccine also has very little information released. Then there’s the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has run into data problems.

And yet, these are the very vaccines that are likely to reach the many millions. Really, there’s a challenge of distribution here that’s also an ethical challenge. 

The United States is getting ultracold vaccines deployed in aircraft across the United States, whereas the vaccines that are the easiest and perhaps the most amenable to vaccinating hundreds of millions of people have gone through relatively poor evaluations.

One thing that we could do as a community of epidemiologists and immunologists is to ask the manufacturers to release the data publicly so we can evaluate how good or bad these other vaccines are that are being produced in the hundreds of millions of doses. 

We will never conquer the North-South divide completely in the short run, but at least we can mitigate some of the problems.

Singer: I also agree that it’s important to get these other vaccines through proper trials as soon as possible. To date, human-challenge trials have not been part of vaccine development, but researchers in the United Kingdom hope to start them in January. 

According to 1DaySooner, which advocates for volunteers, nearly 40,000 are willing to take part. If you can give people a vaccine and then deliberately expose them to the virus, you get results much faster. 

And you can study the antibody responses and the immune responses, because you can house volunteers in a residential quarantine facility where they’d be available for that kind of testing. 

I recognize that they don’t have the representative demographics that you would want, but these trials do offer the possibility of getting much speedier results.

Gonsalves: Yes, evaluate other vaccines that are easier to store and ship. But even if there are cold-chain issues with distributing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in poorer countries, it’s not impossible. 

These are the vaccines we have right now, which work. We have to break the patent on them. We would not have worldwide access to antiretroviral therapy if countries like India and Thailand weren’t making generic versions of patent drugs, whether or not the original manufacturers agreed.

Mukherjee: I was formerly an Indian citizen. India as a country got into trouble, politically and internationally, from breaking patents on drugs for antiretroviral therapies for H.I.V. 

The world regime right now is not very sympathetic to breaking vaccine patents. And I just don’t see that happening in the short run.

It’s so important for the vaccine data to be cleaned up and presented properly so that we can understand what the trade-offs are. 

Because even if we break the patents, I just don’t see Pfizer, with a vaccine that must be kept at –70 degrees, deploying it to 1.3 billion people in India. I just don’t see it.

Singer: I think everybody, except the drug companies that had the patents, applauds the fact that the patents were broken in the case of H.I.V. and antiretrovirals. It should be possible to do that again here. 

It may be that a certain portion of money needs to go to those companies to compensate them for the loss. That shouldn’t be beyond the means of affluent nations.

There are other proposals for funding vaccine development on the table, including the Health Impact Fund, which has been discussed by some European governments, and would pay companies based on performance. 

Instead of patenting vaccines or other treatments, developers could opt to receive payments (from a pool of funds contributed by governments or philanthropists) based on the success of their products, worldwide. 

So pharmaceutical companies would have an incentive to develop the products that help people the most and distribute them as widely as possible.

Mukherjee: When one of the easily deployable vaccines is available, if every one of America’s billionaires put a fraction of their wealth into deploying it to the Global South, worldwide vaccination would become an achievable goal.

Singer: The economist Richard Thaler wrote in The Times recently about letting celebrities and wealthy people jump the vaccination queue by bidding for spots at an auction. 

That would show they wanted to get the vaccine, which would help encourage other people to get immunized. And Thaler thought the money could go to people who are suffering because, for example, the virus cost them their jobs. 

My idea is that instead of dollars, people should bid on sending units of vaccine to the Global South.

Mukherjee: Peter, what if you could jump the queue, and get 10 doses of vaccine for your friends and family, if you contribute 5,000 or 10,000 or 500,000 doses for the Global South. Would you be open to such an option?

Singer: Yes, I would be, I think. Clearly, for a utilitarian like me, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs.

Gonsalves: It won’t happen. But there will be huge numbers of rich people who will jump the line for the vaccine and not give anything back.

Are the Stakes Even Higher Than We Realized?

Kayyem: The first part of 2021 is going to be a split screen — the horror and the hope. 

On one side are people rolling up their sleeves and getting inoculated. On the other are people dying in terrible numbers in the United States.

It’s hard to be magnanimous in that situation. And I totally think we should be out in the world supporting vaccine distribution to those in need, but I look at this country right now and I also recognize there’s this aspect of holding on for dear life over the next couple months. 

This is why vaccine nationalism is so strong. 

And it’s why vaccine diplomacy by China, for example, is a major part of geopolitics in 2021. While we’re on our knees struggling, China is going around the world, spending money to support other countries in purchasing vaccines and making lots of friends. 

People ask me, as a matter of homeland security and national security, what are President-elect Biden’s five major priorities, and my answer is Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid, Covid. For decades we provided the world a market economy with a lot of freedoms —

Mukherjee: And medicines.

Kayyem: And medicines. The alternative to that was a market economy with limited freedoms — China. 

But a country’s strength is its capacity to be resilient. And now we are groping. We have not proved our resiliency yet. And that’s a problem not just for national security but for free-market democracy.

Gonsalves: Kind of like what happened here under our noses, right? 

Everything seemed fine, until it wasn’t. Over the past 10 years we’ve had massive cuts in public-health funding at the state and local level. 

Barely 3 percent of our health care dollars are spent on public health and prevention. 

We invest in the most sophisticated health care technologies but ignore the social-welfare programs that undergird people’s health in many of our peer nations: No wonder we’re ranked 17th in the world for life expectancy by the U.N. We let our great public-health system collapse. Looking at us, the world has to think, Are they really a role model?

Kayyem: Dr. Ezike, what worries you the most? Is there a point of failure we’re not thinking of?

Ezike: We will have significant issues if some new adverse event with the vaccine comes to light. In the unlikely event that something goes very wrong, it could reverse all of the progress we’ve made in trust of vaccine science. I’m thinking of kids not getting their regular required vaccinations. Public health will suffer for generations to come.

Bazelon: That makes me really nervous. It means the stakes are even higher than I realized — and something is bound to go wrong, isn’t it?

Mukherjee: And remember, this is not simple. It’s not, Go to CVS, get one jab and come out. This requires a booster, to be taken on time, post-vaccine monitoring and not mixing up vaccines. This keeps me up at night: Imagine some small percent of people saying, I got a terrible fever from the first dose, I don’t want to go back for the second one. The good news is that Pfizer’s data suggests the first dose is actually quite effective by itself.

Bazelon: Is it effective enough that it’s OK if people just take one dose?

Mukherjee: No, no, no. That would be bad news for a thousand reasons, including the possibility of viral resistance, which would be a disaster. But some part of me wishes that a priority up front in the United States was a much more conventional vaccine, which could be deployed more simply.

Bazelon: Will everyone here get vaccinated at the first opportunity?

Mukherjee: I will.

Kayyem: I’d bump Sid if he’s ahead of me. (Laughter.)

Gonsalves: I will.

Singer: I will, though I think in Australia we’re not getting it till March, so you will be ahead of me.

Bazelon: Well, not me. I’m low priority, which is as it should be, though I can’t wait to get that shot. Or shots.

Singer: I’m pretty safe here, so I’m not too worried about waiting.

Ezike: I’ll get the vaccine. I actually don’t have a choice at this point.

Bazelon: I feel as if you should get it on TV.

Ezike: That’s in the works. Though I have to wait my turn.

Kayyem: I want to say one more thing: We do have permission to hope, because of the vaccines, and all of us here can help to give that permission. 

But it has to be said every time, where the country is right now, with more than 300,000 people dead, it is unforgivable. It did not have to be this way.

Singer: In Australia, we haven’t hit 1,000 dead, and our population is about a 15th of the United States. Perhaps that shows what’s possible.


Emily Bazelon is a staff writer for the magazine and the Truman Capote fellow for creative writing and law at Yale Law School. Her book “Charged” won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for 2020 in the current-interest category.