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Good morning. The U.S. is dealing with a cascade of crises during the wait between a presidential election and inauguration.
In the four months between Franklin Roosevelt’s election and his 1933 inauguration, much of the world descended into chaos.
Adolf Hitler took power in Germany, and the Reichstag — the Parliament building — burned. Japan quit the League of Nations. In the U.S., hundreds of banks shut down. Lynchings surged in the South. “The country, numb and nearly broken, anxiously awaited deliverance,” as David Kennedy wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the era.
Today, the length of time between a presidential election and inauguration is about six weeks shorter than it was in 1933, and neither the U.S. nor the world is in as dire a situation as it was then. But the current situation is still pretty dire.
The worst pandemic in a century is becoming more severe, with a contagious new coronavirus variant spreading and thousands of Americans dying every day. The mass vaccination program is behind schedule. Almost 10 million fewer Americans have jobs than did a year ago. The U.S. president, with the backing of dozens of members of Congress, has tried to overturn an election result and remain in power. Hundreds of his supporters overwhelmed police officers and stormed the Capitol, one of the few times in history that a U.S. government building has been violently attacked.
All the while, the country lacks a president who has both the power and willingness to reduce the death, illness and mayhem.
Instead, President-elect Joe Biden is left to rue that President Trump is denying the new government access to important national security information — and to plead with Trump to renounce the violence. Trump, for his part, appears disengaged from the worsening coronavirus crisis.
Most other longtime democracies have much shorter lags between an election and the transfer of power. In Britain, a new government usually takes office the next day. In Canada, France, India and Japan, it happens within a few weeks.
The authors of the U.S. Constitution created the delay to give a new government time to travel to the nation’s capital during winter, an issue that obviously no longer applies. And the country has already shortened the time period once, through the 20th Amendment. It was ratified in early 1933, during the chaotic months when Roosevelt was waiting to take office, but not soon enough to shorten his transition.
Many legal scholars say there is little justification for today’s two-and-a-half-month wait. Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas has called it the Constitution’s “most mischievous” feature.
“There is something profoundly troubling,” Levinson wrote in an academic journal in 1995, “in allowing repudiated presidents to continue to exercise the prerogatives of what is usually called ‘the most powerful political office in the world.’”
THE LATEST NEWS
A reverse Great Migration: The Times columnist Charles Blow recently moved to Atlanta from New York, part of a rising number of Black Americans relocating to the South. He arrived in time to see Georgia elect its first Black U.S. senator, and describes the new migration as “the most audacious power play by Black America.”
Also in Opinion: Gabby Giffords, a former member of Congress, writes about the 10th anniversary of the attempt to assassinate her — and about this week’s attack on the Capitol.
Modern Love: A couple struggling with a cancer diagnosis improvises a wedding and joins a commune.
Lives Lived: Neil Sheehan, who in 1971 obtained the Pentagon Papers, telling the secret government history of the Vietnam War, has died at 84. Sheehan, who covered the war for The Times, never explained how he got the documents — until a few years ago, when he agreed to an interview on the condition that it not be published until his death.
An N.F.L. playoff primer
Much of the country will watch the start of the N.F.L. playoffs this weekend. (Last year, the five most watched U.S. television shows of any kind were N.F.L. playoff games.) Here’s a primer — whether you’re a fan or just want to understand what people are talking about:
Was this a normal season? Yes and no. The league played all 256 scheduled regular-season games, though sometimes with delays and missing players. The biggest absence this weekend: The Cleveland Browns will be missing their head coach, who tested positive for the coronavirus this week.
What are the big playoff story lines? The Kansas City Chiefs are trying to become the first repeat champion in 16 years. The New England Patriots, without their longtime star Tom Brady, are out of the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons. And Brady, despite being 43, has made it to the postseason on his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Which team should you root for if you don’t already have one? The Buffalo Bills are a good option. Buffalo, which hasn’t won a sports title in more than 50 years, loves its Bills. The young quarterback, Josh Allen, “makes for great television with deep throws and bruising runs,” as our colleague Benjamin Hoffman says. “It’s hard not to pull for the Bills.”
How can I impress my football-fan friends? Ask whether they think home-field advantage still matters. With few or no fans in the stands, home teams lost slightly more games than they won this season. That had never happened before in modern football, as The Ringer’s Nora Princiotti notes.
For football fans: The Times answers eight higher-level questions.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Set aside some time to make this rich and complex beef stew.
What to Watch
The final episode of “Jeopardy!” with Alex Trebek as host will air tonight. To mark the occasion, The Times’s Julia Jacobs interviewed Johnny Gilbert, the 92-year-old announcer who introduced Trebek on air for 36 years.
For the first time in half a decade, a full year went by without a new “Star Wars” to hit the big screen. But YouTube has plenty of movies set in a galaxy far, far away: those made by fans.
The late-night hosts talked about Republican officials who have resigned.
Now Time to Play
The pangrams from yesterday’s Spelling Bee were chopping and pooching. Today’s puzzle is above — or you can play online if you have a Games subscription.
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: [I’m freezing!] (three letters).
And do you enjoy quizzes? Try our weekly 11-question news quiz, which we’ve revamped to include more visual elements. See how you do compared with other Times readers.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David
p.s. The New Yorker interviewed Astead Herndon, a Times politics reporter, about the Senate runoffs in Georgia.
You can see today’s print front page here.
Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about how the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol organized online. And on “The Argument,” Times Opinion writers debate whether the attack on the Capitol can be classified as a coup.
Kitty Bennett, Lalena Fisher, Claire Moses, Amelia Nierenberg, Ian Prasad Philbrick, David Scull, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at email@example.com.