A solo gunman killed 10 people in a Buffalo, New York, grocery store, but our writers say that it’s a mistake to consider him apart from a hate movement that thrives online. Then: Searching for Joan Didion on a California road trip.
Part of the pack
(Mark Mulville / The Buffalo News / AP)
Mass shootings are such a common part of life in the United States that Americans have developed an entire set of clichés around discussing them—“active shooter,” “good guy with a gun,” “thoughts and prayers,” that one Onionarticle. Perhaps the most familiar of them all is the “lone wolf” who acts out of a political motive, but isn’t a member of an established terrorist organization. The term was once useful, but in many recent massacres, it obscures more than it illuminates. Authorities believe the alleged Buffalo shooter was inspired to kill Black people by hate speech online.
Just because he opened fire without accomplices doesn’t mean he acted alone. In the wild, individual wolves aren’t all that threatening. What makes the predators dangerous is their ability to work together. The same is true of shooters who commit violence on their own but have been radicalized by a thriving online community of racists, Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary for homeland security, writes. A long manifesto attributed to the Buffalo shooter draws—in some places verbatim—on a document written by a man who killed 51 Muslims at mosques in New Zealand in 2019.
Shootings that target different groups are part of a broader whole too.The shooter appears to have subscribed to the “Great Replacement” theory, which posits a conspiracy to eliminate white people. Whether the victims of mass shootings like this one are Black, Jewish, Muslim, or Latino, the attacks are part of a larger strategy among white-power activists to foment race war, the historian Kathleen Belew argues. Focusing too much on the individual acts of murder and their perpetrators risks overlooking “a broad social movement that our legislators have failed to condemn, that our court system has failed to prosecute, and that our society has not stopped.”
Hate groups are targeting white teenagers via the internet. Racists have used social media, memes, and games to spread their ideology and find recruits. They hang out online, befriend children, and then indoctrinate them in spaces where parents don’t go. My colleague Ibram X. Kendi wrote in April that this—and not critical race theory—is “the principal racial threat facing white youth today.”
Further Reading: In 2019, Adam Serwer excavated the long history of fears of “white genocide” on the American right. And today, Graeme Wood proposes that the “profound moral deformity” evident in the Buffalo manifesto is why it should be available for all to read.
hate and enabled by easy access to weapons of war walked into a Buffalo supermarket and killed 10 people.
He live-streamed it all.
The shooter was apprehended by the police. He was wearing body armor and tactical gear. Walk into an NRA convention and that’s exactly what you’ll find on display.
He posted a manifesto online about his racist worldview about “replacement theory.”
People sometimes use words like “unthinkable” or “unimaginable” about events like these, but the tragic reality is we are all too familiar with this type of terror. We know that the shooter in Buffalo was not alone in his worldview and commitment to violence.
And sometime, sooner or later, we will see more images of police clearing an area around a school, a church, a movie theater, or a shopping center, as families rush toward the scene desperate for information about their loved ones.
Once again, my heart breaks for the victims of this shooting, their families and their friends. But that will never be enough.
Once again, our anger is with those who know how to stop this but fail to act out of cowardice and fear of the gun lobby money that fuels their campaigns. Time and time again they consciously make the decision to prioritize the profits of gun manufacturers ahead of the safety of our communities.
We are the only industrialized country on the face of this Earth that forces our citizens to live this way.
We can change this.
We can save lives.
And if this Congress refuses to act, then we must elect one that will.
Last night’s debate made clear again how disastrous our opponents’ plans are. When it’s all said and done, no matter who appears on the ballot in November, we know that we’ll be running against a wrong-for-Michigan candidate.
Unlike Gov. Whitmer, our opponents are running on dangerous platforms like stripping away abortion rights and cutting funding for public schools rather than continuing the progress we’ve made improving our infrastructure, keeping our economic recovery strong, and fighting for working families.
We have a clear choice here, and we need to double down today to show we’re ready to win this race. We can’t risk losing any ground to one of our radical opponents.
We know this race will be tough. With self-funding opponents, billionaire extremists, and national special interest groups, there will be tens of millions of dollars flooding our state to attack Gretchen Whitmer.
But Gretchen has a plan to fight back. It’s what she has always done: working hard, and delivering results for Michiganders.
From record investments in our children’s education and schools to fixing the damn roads to fighting like hell to defend abortion rights, Governor Whitmer knows how to get it done. And that’s why it’s crucial that we keep up our momentum.
Since taking office, Governor Whitmer has remained focused on putting Michigan first and getting things done that will make a difference in people’s lives right now. Contribute to support Gretchen’s work to fight for progress in Michigan >>
I can feel the dread, the despair, the fear, the anguish, and the yearning. I hear it in questions I get from family and friends. I read it in the comments posted here and elsewhere online. And I have been around long enough to sense it in the tenor and trembles of our fraught moment. If doomscrolling were an Olympic sport, many of us would be festooned with gold.
This is an age of deep and warranted anxiety. Threats to the stability upon which many of us have constructed our lives — and perhaps even more troubling, our expectations — are crescendoing with a cacophony of distress.
There will always be the challenges that upend our hopes and dreams at the individual level: the illnesses, accidents, and myriad other personal and professional disappointments. But this is something different. This is a chaotic world that feels like it is flooding in from multiple fissures in the foundation of our society. It can be measured in pandemic deaths, rising global temperatures, persistent injustice, and here in the United States, a country unmoored from what many of us saw as a fitful but ultimately reliable path toward progress. There was once widespread belief that an entrenched commitment to American democracy, as imperfect as that may have been, was nonetheless a system capable of rejuvenation. That now feels like a bet on the future that is no longer assured.
Any cataloging of our present challenges must not be built on a misreading of the past. Our country’s story contains countless chapters of pain, particularly for the most marginalized and afflicted among us. To yearn for a simpler time or some mythical history is to minimize the struggle and sacrifice that have always undergirded our national journey. For much of this struggle, the structural impediments to progress lay in the majority, and certainly in the majority of who was allowed to vote.
What I feel is so different this time is that we seem to be at a point when there is majority consensus in America on broad issues from abortion rights, to recognition of racial injustice, to LGBTQ+ rights, to a more equitable tax system, to even many contentious subjects like gun control and our climate crisis. In a more narrow political framing, this majority viewpoint is illustrated in the remarkable fact that Democratic candidates for president have won the popular vote in every election but one since 1988! And yet the courts — especially the Supreme Court — are stacked with far-right activist judges hellbent on blowing up a social order upon which most Americans have come to rely. Imbalances in our federal system give undue influence to red states in the Senate. And partisan gerrymandering has turned states and congressional districts that should be competitive into a pale shadow of a healthy democracy. Add to all this the immutable truth that it is always easier to destruct or obstruct than to construct, and you can see that reactionary forces have hijacked many of the functions of government — using lies and the privileges of power — to embolden their crusade against progress.
None of this is a surprise to most of you who could fill out the broad outline of dysfunction I have sketched above with the distressing details that litter our news cycles. Identifying our problems is not the problem. They probably play in some form of a loop in your thoughts, are echoed in what you read and see, and dominate your discussions with others. What you are thinking, feeling, and seeing is real. And it is felt by millions of Americans and millions more around the world.
In the face of all of this, one cannot help but wonder whether there is any reason for hope. I wish I could tell you that everything will certainly turn out fine. But to do so would be an insult to your intelligence. We should not be Pollyannaish about the depths or severity of the challenges. We should not take anything for granted. Solving problems has never been a passive activity.
We should not forget that throughout the course of human history, including in recent times, seemingly insurmountable challenges have been conquered. Long odds have been overcome. The human experience is full of not only tragedy but inspiration. There have been many instances in which the prospects of success were far more daunting than they are now.
In our current times, one cannot help but find hope in the fierce fight for democracy being waged by Ukraine and their heroic stand against the Russian military. Almost no one outside of the country itself expected that their nation would survive the onslaught from one of the world’s most vaunted militaries. But there have been incredible resolve and bravery and no capitulation. Their fight has inspired support from the countries of Europe and beyond. Yet the battle for freedom has also come at a horrific cost to the Ukrainian people — soldier and civilian alike.
While we use the language of warfare to describe our political battles in the United States, thankfully we are not facing anywhere near this level of bloodshed — although the evidence of the insurrection and the heated rhetoric of our political discourse do portend the possibility of further violence. What also makes our situation different is that we are at odds with ourselves. We are fighting not for the survival of the United States in the face of foreign aggression but the survival of a concept of what this country means to those of us who inhabit it. The unity of Ukraine stands in stark contrast to the severed bonds of our national community.
As I noted above, what makes America’s struggles so frustrating is that there is a fundamental structural imbalance between majority viewpoints (what should hold sway in a democracy) and minority power. If Congress and the courts truly represented the will of the American people, we would be a different country. In the end, however, I just don’t believe that this dynamic is sustainable over the long term. Just think about it: No major corporation would publicly take the culture war stances of the modern Republican Party. Look at the example of Disney in Florida. At some point, all this performative outrage is so out of step with the necessities of running a nation that it cannot endure. The fundamental imbalance of our country will cause ever greater strain.
As the lesson in Ukraine makes all too clear, the battle against the forces of autocracy will be difficult. We know that if Roe is overturned, people will die, and lives will be upended. We can see a rise in state laws driven by bigotry. The damage will fall more fully on marginalized members of our society, and that will also cause great pain. These are outcomes the immediate future holds in store.
But ultimately, I think that the chances of victory for progress outweigh the chances of defeat. Those who are trying to push this nation backward are not only on the wrong side — they’re on the wrong side of the future. Look at the beliefs of the younger generations of Americans on all these issues. Look at how young people think around the world. Look at where the dominant cultural forces are. We should not underestimate the strength we have to push back against this march of destruction. The forces who want to upend the world order and our own democracy weaponize despair. Hopelessness fuels their ends.
When we created this Steady publication, we had no way of knowing the specifics of the challenges we would face. I chose the name Steady because it has been a mantra of mine since childhood. I hold onto the word and notion so dearly because I know that steadiness can be elusive. I feel that keenly as well, especially now. But I also know that it can yield the strength that is needed to not quit, to keep going, to understand that the future will unfold in ways that are completely unpredictable. And yet in that uncertainty lies an opportunity — I would call it a duty — to step into the fight and do our part to shape our destiny along a framework of hope.
America is calling us. Do we have the courage, will we take the time and make the effort to answer?
In his zeal to overturn Roe and do away with abortion rights, the Supreme Court justice relies on deceptive arguments and a regressive read of the law.
As a matter of fact, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito is wrong.
In a leaked draft of the court’s majority opinion in the Mississippi case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Alito writes that Roe v. Wade and its successor Planned Parenthood v. Casey must be overturned — an extraordinary move that would topple precedent in order to constrict, rather than expand, constitutional rights.
The missive is aggressive and self-righteous and reads like the greatest hits of those who disfavor the right to bodily autonomy. There’s the linking of abortion to eugenics, for example. “Some such supporters have been motivated by a desire to suppress the size of the African American population,” Alito writes. “It is beyond dispute that Roe has had that demographic effect.” The ahistorical comparison misses the fact that an individual choosing to abort their own pregnancy is not analogous to forced sterilization by the state to alter the American gene pool.
And there’s the claim that because the word “abortion” isn’t found in the Constitution, the right to it doesn’t exist. “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,” Alito writes. This completely ignores the historical significance of the 14th Amendment, a Reconstruction-era addition meant to ensure individual liberty, including the right to decide whether and with whom to form a family. “Most Americans understand the plain truth reflected in these protections,” Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, said in a statement. “A person cannot truly be free, and is not truly an equal member of society, if they do not get to decide for themselves this most basic question of bodily autonomy.” Alito’s opinion, she said, “frighteningly bulldozes past the Constitution.”
Alito also dismisses the notion that there are any clearly identifiable reliance issues at stake in discarding abortion rights. In this context, the concept of reliance posits that when expectations have been built around the stability of a particular law or judicial pronouncement, those interests should be protected and the precedent underpinning them upheld. In addressing the issue, Alito comes off as if perplexed: The court knows how to evaluate “concrete” reliance issues like those implicated in “property and contract rights,” Alito writes, but assessing an “intangible” reliance is a whole other story. “That form of reliance depends on an empirical question that is hard for anyone — and in particular, for a court — to assess, namely, the effect of the abortion right on society and in particular on the lives of women.”
In an amicus brief filed in the Dobbs case, 154 economists and researchers took direct aim at the how-could-we-possibly-know-what-abortion-has-done-for-society nonsense. The brief details a substantial body of research demonstrating that access to legal abortion has had significant social and economic impacts, increasing education and job opportunities for women and reducing childhood poverty.
The expansion of abortion access after Roe reduced the overall birthrate by up to 11 percent. For teens, the drop was 34 percent; teen marriage was reduced 20 percent. Research has revealed that young women who used abortion to delay parenthood by just a year saw an 11 percent increase in hourly wages later in their careers. Access to abortion for young women increasedthe likelihood of finishing college by nearly 20 percentage points; the probability that they would go on to a professional career jumped by nearly 40 percentage points. All these effects, the economists noted, were even greater among Black women.
“Abortion legalization has shaped families and the circumstances into which children are born,” the economists wrote. Abortion legalization reduced the number of children living in poverty as well as the number of cases of child neglect and abuse. “Yet other studies have explored long-run downstream effects as the children of the Roe era grew into adulthood,” reads the brief. “One such study showed that as these children became adults, they had higher rates of college graduation, lower rates of single parenthood, and lower rates of welfare receipt.”
In other words, the effect of the abortion right on society is not remotely “intangible.” There is decades’ worth of evidence showing that abortion access has positively impacted women and their families. “But those changes are neither sufficient nor permanent: abortion access is still relevant and necessary to women’s equal and full participation in society,” the economists wrote, challenging Mississippi’s argument in the Dobbs case that contraception and employment policies like parental leave have essentially made abortion unnecessary. Indeed, nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended and nearly half of those pregnancies end in abortion. “These statistics alone lead to the inevitable (and obvious) conclusion that contraception and existing policies are not perfect substitutes for abortion access.”
Deceptive and Dangerous
I was a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Maryland when I found out I was pregnant. I freaked out; I did not want to be pregnant. I knew I needed an abortion, but I didn’t have the money. I gathered up a bunch of change and called my mom from a pay phone. She didn’t miss a beat when I told her I was pregnant. “No, you’re not,” she said. She sent the money that day.
It was 1991, a year before Planned Parenthood v. Casey set the stage for the overwhelming number of restrictions on abortion access to come. Many were sold as a way to protect people’s health or a state’s interest in potential fetal life, but they were largely based on junk science. For me, once I had the money, the access was easy. I went on with my life, and I have never regretted my decision. Abortion was the reason I was able to stay in school, go on to graduate school, and develop my career.
But while I had a relatively easy time exercising the right conferred by Roe, that is far from a universal experience. For many, Roe was always just a promise on paper. And for decades, those who disfavor reproductive freedom have worked diligently with their conservative elected allies to make abortion all but inaccessible for millions of people living in large swaths of the country. I’ve watched this happen over the nearly two decades that I’ve covered assaults on reproductive health access. The burden has fallen disproportionately on people of color, those with low incomes, those living in more rural areas of the country, young people, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ people. Doing away with Roe is only going to exacerbate those inequities. Thirty-six million people of reproductive age live in the 26 states that will outlaw abortion, or are likely to, once Roe falls. It is “unconscionable; it is unjust,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said on a Tuesday press call.
No court decision can stop abortion, “period, point blank,” she said. “People with resources will travel to get the care they need, they always have. Others will self-manage their abortions. And there will be people forced to carry pregnancy against their will.”
Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, was blunt. “To say that we are in unprecedented and truly terrifying times would be a gross understatement,” she said on the call. Losing the right to abortion would mean we no longer have a Constitution that “recognizes our fundamental autonomy and equality.”
Indeed, Alito’s arguments in the draft opinion are deceptive and dangerous. And his regressive read of the law places other rights firmly in the crosshairs — including the right to contraception and to marriage equality. In his zeal to overturn Roe, Alito not only dismisses the decades of work toward realizing the ideal of equality, but also the very notion of equality itself.
The U.S. economic rebound from the pandemic’s devastation held strong in April with another month of solid job growth.
Employers added 428,000 jobs, matching the previous month, the Labor Department reported Friday, with the growth broad-based across every major industry.
The unemployment rate remained 3.6 percent, just a touch above its level before the pandemic, when it was the lowest in half a century.
The challenge of a highly competitive labor market for employers — a shortage of available workers — persisted as well. In fact, the report showed a decline of 363,000 in the labor force.
The economy has regained nearly 95 percent of the 22 million jobs lost at the height of coronavirus-related lockdowns two years ago. But the labor supply has not kept up with a record wave of job openings as businesses expand to match consumers’ continued willingness to buy a variety of goods and services. There are now 1.9 job openings for every unemployed worker.
The hiring scramble has driven up wages, and employers are largely passing on that expense, helping fuel inflation that Americans have cited as their leading economic concern. On that front, Friday’s report showed an easing in the acceleration of average hourly earnings, which increased 0.3 percent from the month before, after a 0.5 percent gain in March.
President Biden pointed to the latest data as evidence of “the strongest job creation economy in modern times,” a message the White House is increasingly amplifying ahead of the congressional elections.
The State of Jobs in the United States
The U.S. economy has regained more than 90 percent of the 22 million jobs lost at the height of pandemic in the spring of 2020.
Unionization Efforts: Since the Great Recession, the college-educated have taken more frontline jobs at companies like Starbucks and Amazon. Now, they’re helping to unionize them.
The unemployment rate stayed under 4 percent in April.
The share of people who have looked for work in the past four weeks or are temporarily laid off, which does not capture everyone who lost work because of the pandemic.
By Ella Koeze
But a record share of Americans now rate inflation as the biggest financial problems facing their households, according to a Gallup Poll in April. The survey found that 46 percent of Americans rated their personal finances positively, down from 57 percent last year, when most households were freshly benefiting from rounds of direct federal aid.
After the Labor Department report on Friday, Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, put the spotlight on inflation rather than jobs. “Families can’t afford food and groceries, wages can’t keep up with inflation, and Biden’s agenda is only going to make it worse,” she said in a statement.
The April survey showed average hourly earnings 5.5 percent higher than a year earlier, but with inflation running at 6.6 percent — its highest rate in 40 years — workers are being left with reduced purchasing power.
Rapid price increases, which began last spring as demand from households and businesses collided with a chaotic reordering of the supply of goods and labor, have persisted longer than the Federal Reserve expected, prolonged in part by the price pressures stemming from the war in Eastern Europe and lockdowns in China.
As a result, the Federal Reserve announced this week that it would raise its benchmark interest rate by half a percentage point — the biggest increase since 2000 — and signaled that additional increases are coming. The effort aims to slow demand and business expansion by making money more expensive to borrow, with the goal that this could, in turn, slow down hiring and decrease job seekers’ ability to vie for higher wages.
If borrowing costs reach what officials call restrictive levels, a recession and a reversal of job gains could follow. But the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, has expressed confidence that the economy can be steered back into balance, a view some economists have echoed.
“Job creation will eventually settle into a slower pace as businesses feel the pinch of soaring inflation and tighter financial conditions, but gains will stay healthy,” said Oren Klachkin, a lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. He forecast that the economy, which has added two million jobs in 2022, would add another two million by year’s end.
In any case, the economic effects of the Fed’s intervention won’t play out overnight, and there are reasons to think the process could take longer than in the past. “Right now we’re not seeing any meaningful signs that consumers or businesses are pulling back,” Mr. Klachkin said. “Sentiment might be weak out there, but that doesn’t always indicate how people spend their money. In other words, people feel one way, but are acting another.”
A major force upholding business expansion and job growth has been the durability of household finances, buoyed by the relief spending of the past two years. Savings accumulated during the pandemic, though tilted toward the affluent, remain in the trillions. And according to anonymized data collected by Bank of America, which tracks the spending of its 67 million customers, households with an annual income below $50,000 have about twice the savings they did before the pandemic.
Mary and Chris Ginder, a married couple in St. Charles, Ill., who run a business making artisanal hot sauces, have seen the benefits of the continued willingness to spend.
They were pleased with their growing operation, Spice of Life, in February 2020. Then came a problem: “About 45 percent of our business consisted of going around to local festivals and farmers’ markets, getting face to face with people and selling direct to customers,” Ms. Ginder said. That business model was fully undermined by virus fears and the state’s health restrictions.
To keep the business alive, the couple pivoted to free delivery and aggressively increased their e-commerce presence by refurbishing their website, marketing by email and doing social media campaigns with local partners. When gasoline prices surged, they canceled the free delivery service.
“We tried to see it as an opportunity, you know? It’s not all negative.” Mr. Ginder said, referring to the vagaries of the past two years. “For everything that seems like a hiccup, there’s something positive that can come out of it, if you’re creative enough.”
With weekend markets and festivals running again, the couple has enough cash flow to expand beyond their eight to 10 employees. So far, they have not had trouble hiring. Part-time kitchen workers start at $12 an hour, and pay for full-time workers varies greatly based upon negotiation.
“We’ll come up with a wage that makes sense for them and for us,” Ms. Ginder said. “Even if it means sort of stretching our pocket a little bit, because we see the big picture with them.”
Participation in the labor force among prime-age workers declined slightly in April.
Share of those ages 25 to 54 who are in the labor force (employed, unemployed but looking for work or on temporary layoff)
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
By Ella Koeze
Other employers have found it harder to manage the current environment. Jerry Bone, the owner of West Side Electric Service in Nashville, has eight electricians on staff. Yet he says he could use more.
“It’s hard to get any young people to even train,” he complained, before asserting that there have been times when he has trained new hires only to see how “a guy can spin off you” — quickly start his own business — “then call your customers up.” Frustrated, he characterized the trend as part of what sees as an impatient expectation among a younger generation of tradesmen “to start off on the top of the pay scale” in a way that erodes teamwork.
With business orders booming in the area, he said, veteran electricians like him, “who can do it — they’re in demand.” He would prefer to hire more and focus on management and training, he added, but the staffing shortage keeps him in the field until the evening six days a week. “I’m 68 years old, still working with my tools, climbing in attics,” he said.
This all comes, Mr. Bone says, on top of head-spinning increases in the price of electrical components — “coils, circuit boards, even some circuit breakers” — which are also often in short supply. “I mean, one circuit breaker that was $28 is now $108.”As a result, he has increased prices. “Our customers are not liking it at all,” he said.
While a growing number of economists believe the country is at or near full employment, in which virtually all who are able and willing to work are doing so, the consulting firm McKinsey concluded in a recent report that the “untapped” labor pool — those who are not in the work force, but who might return with the right offer and under the right conditions, such as relief from caregiving obligations — could be as large as 23 million people.
Even if the labor force returned fully to its prepandemic level, there wouldn’t be enough workers to meet employers’ needs, said Michelle Meyer, chief U.S. economist for Mastercard.
“It’s not about getting supply to where it was prepandemic,” she said. “It’s about getting supply to meet this very high level of demand.”
Ben Casselman, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Jeanna Smialek contributed reporting.