America has a Windows 95 of an election system

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Today's Agenda

Make This Election Not Happen Again

This newsletter owes the United Kingdom an apology. Last August we made fun of Britain's arcane parliamentary procedure, which involves various maces and hats, hilariously. After the latest U.S. election, we realize now we had no room to laugh. 

Because we are still counting and recounting votes from an election that happened nine days ago. And the clear loser still won't acknowledge that loss and may never do so, undermining the smooth functioning of government and public faith in democracy. Some significant movement happened today, including President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College vote tally rising to 306 (matching President Donald Trump's in 2016) and Trump losing several more court battles. But still: nine days! 

To be fair, this vote went far better than expected, considering the pandemic, a sabotaged Postal Service, and the potential for foreign interference and violence at the polls. None of that stuff apparently made a real difference, and turnout was healthy. Still, there are too many flaws in our election system, Bloomberg's editorial board writes, too many toeholds for people looking to cast doubt on the results. It's mostly the job of states to fix this, but Congress can do plenty to help.

While we're at it, it's also time to codify some of the presidential norms that long kept our politics halfway civil, which President Donald Trump has smashed like so much delicate china. We can't assume he'll be the last to try that, writes Rohit Aggarwala. This is stuff that used to be second nature: releasing tax returns, avoiding conflicts of interest, not politicizing the Justice Department. None of it is really written down anywhere, sort of like the British Constitution. Amending the U.S. Constitution to include it could be something even Republicans will support, if they think for a minute about President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez having the power Trump does.

In fact, Trump could well have that power again someday; there's chatter he'll try to pull a Grover Cleveland in 2024. But Jonathan Bernstein suggests there's good reason to think Trump will instead fade away and the GOP will move on without him. Though they might still watch him on Trump TV

Further Trump Reading: Attacking Trump's election lawyers is a slippery slope; even the worst causes deserve lawyers. — Stephen Carter 

Portraits of Covid Success and Failure

Trump's poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic is a huge reason he's a one-term president (so far). The disease is now in its third wave in the U.S., which is really more like the latest amplification of a first wave that just keeps getting stronger. Part of the blame lies with Trump-friendly governors such as South Dakota's Kristi Noem, who took his cue to let the virus run wild. Tim O'Brien points out Noem criticized Maine Governor Janet Mills for the lockdowns and other steps that governor took to control the pandemic in her state. How's that working out for South Dakota? It has more than 10 times the caseload of Maine, and its hospitals are near capacity. 

The lesson, which we depressingly keep having to learn, is that the virus must be taken seriously. College football thought it could use rapid testing to beat Covid-19 and have a semi-normal season, writes Joe Nocera. It couldn't; dozens of games have been canceled or suspended as the coronavirus sweeps through teams. And yet the games must go on, because schools are desperate for billions in TV dollars.

There is at least better news coming from France, where the virus is in a second wave on track to outdo the first. Lionel Laurent points out the government's less-stringent lockdown rules, along with people deciding on their own to shelter in place, have already started to slow the spread of the virus. It's a sign we might get away without the harsh lockdowns of March. But we'll still need to wear masks.  

Further Covid Reading: America's manufacturers are ready to help with a vaccine rollout. — Brooke Sutherland

Biden's Presidency Keeps Taking Boring Shape

Meanwhile, Biden keeps quietly preparing for his presidency, despite Trump's efforts to make that difficult. We've come a long, bad way from this transition in 2008:

In case it's not clear, that's Barbara Bush and her daughters showing President Barack Obama's daughters around the White House. Instead of sliding gleefully down halls, Biden's team will spend its early days cleaning up messes left by the political cronies Trump has recently jammed into the Pentagon and elsewhere in the government. But James Stavridis isn't worried: He predicts Biden's defense team is skilled enough to get right to work restoring alliances, cutting new arms deals and modernizing the military. 

Biden's economic and diplomatic team, meanwhile, has lots to do repairing the damage Trump has done to the global economic infrastructure, from alliances to trade organizations, writes Ferdinando Giugliano

Telltale Charts

The U.S. housing market is clearly in a bubble again, warns Aaron Brown. The good news is it probably won't destroy the financial system this time.  

Walt Disney Co. is now fully Disney+, just as Tara Lachapelle predicted, though she did not predict the pandemic that made it happen all at once. 

Further Reading

Covid has caused a labor shortage for Indian farmers, forcing them to burn more crops, worsening Delhi air pollution, which will worsen Covid. — David Fickling 

China is regulating its big tech firms because it doesn't like the inequality their success has fostered. — Shuli Ren 

The departure of Dominic Cummings is a chance for Boris Johnson to govern better. — Therese Raphael 

The developers of the BioNTech vaccine are another immigrant success story. — Andreas Kluth 

Stuck at home again? Taking up a hobby will help it not be so awful. — Sarah Green Carmichael 


Elon Musk has coronavirus, apparently.

Trump will try to rush new leases for Arctic oil drilling.

This week brought a quant blowout for the ages.


Historians find Newton's "Principia" was kind of a blockbuster. (h/t Ellen Kominers)

Measles is on the rise again.

Prevent depression with less screen time, more sleep.

Step-by-step instructions for handling a public mistake.

Note: Please send sleep and complaints to Mark Gongloff at

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