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            Bloomingdale's tries to keep covid from stealing Christmas

            By Amanda L. Gordon
            Bloomingdale's tries to keep covid from stealing Christmas
            Bloomingdale's is saying goodbye to its annual Gund Holiday bear for a season. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Nina Westervelt

            Covid-19, destroyer of holiday traditions, has come for the Bloomingdale's little brown bear.

            The Gund collectible, updated every winter for two decades, is missing from the department store's seasonal lineup this year. Gone, too, are chocolates to sample in the gift shop, an in-person window reveal event and beauty-counter trials of cocktail-party looks.

            Replacing those long-standing traditions are a slate of new features concocted for the strange year that is 2020: curbside pickup and same-day delivery with DoorDash, custom wrapping paper printed with customers' faces, the ability to buy Lanvin and Valentino men's shoes online and - in a very out of character move for high-end retail - flash sales.

            Bloomingdale's has been buffered during the pandemic more than many mass-market peers, as wealthy clientele have more spending money than ever. In the fourth quarter, the retailer is looking to those well-heeled customers to self-indulge and increase spending on gifts, while offering households in a financial pinch more options under $100 and a bit of a dreamy escape at no charge, like the palm trees that will adorn 60th Street outside the midtown Manhattan flagship.

            "It's such a pivotal time of year, disproportionate in terms of sales and profitability," Chief Executive Officer Tony Spring said in a telephone interview. "I think we feel a strong obligation to over-deliver for our customers and make 2020 feel like it's a gateway to a brighter and healthier 2021."

            For most retailers, it's been gloomy for a while. Macy's Inc., which owns Bloomingdale's, initiated cost cuts and a plan to improve operations in February, unrelated to the pandemic. Then covid-19 hit the U.S., prompting store shutdowns and worker furloughs. Stores reopened, but customers have been slow to return in person. The company's total same-store sales - including its Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Bluemercury brands - were down 35% in the second quarter ended Aug. 1.

            Still, Bloomingdale's has been a relative bright spot, boosted by its strengths in categories that have boomed in quarantine times. Luxury - including handbags, diamonds, fragrances, shoes and textiles - made up 30% of its second-quarter business, up from 20% last year, according to a presentation at the Goldman Sachs Annual Global Retailing conference last month.

            "Bloomingdale's is a very small piece of Macy's Inc., but it has been the business that has been outperforming in the pandemic," Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Poonam Goyal said. And she thinks this will continue. "Luxury is the first to rise out of a recession, and typically the last to fall."

            But luxury has had to adapt, too. Big-ticket items, from handbags to jewelry, are normally the kind of thing buyers want to touch and feel. Moving those special purchases online takes some of the feeling of celebration away. It also cuts into the last-minute impulse buys that happen organically inside a department store.

            "That's the predicament retailers are in," said Gabriella Santaniello, founder of retail consulting firm A Line Partners. "Online shopping is precision shopping. You miss the halo effect, when you're in for one thing and something cute catches your eye. It's all those impulse-y things. The Lancome cosmetics Christmas Gift. 'Oh, I'm going to pick this up for my babysitter.'"

            At a time when retailers usually try to lure shoppers into stores with festive music and decorations, Bloomingdale's has amped up its website, adding 18 luxury brands, including women's ready-to-wear clothes by Oscar de la Renta and Jason Wu, and accessories by Mansur Gavriel, Balenciaga, Proenza Schouler and Saint Laurent. Personal attention can be lavished online or in-store, with stylists available to assist customers for free.

            There will also be promotions to drive traffic to the website, like flash sales, or deals of the day, which isn't something the store has done in the past, a spokeswoman said. For example, a flash sale might offer an Ooni pizza oven at a special price for just a day.

            About 20 online events are also planned as part of "Bloomingdale's On Screen," mostly catering to big spenders. They include cooking with designer Phillip Lim, drinks and dessert with designer Jonathan Simkhai and wreath-making with artist Michael Aram.

            To help engage customers, the print catalogue lives on, smaller this year at 154 pages. It leads with sumptuous shots of Gucci jewelry, a purse and shoes, followed by touts for a Yves Salomon men's olive green shearling-lined parka ($2,230), a Coravin wine gadget ($199.95) and Jonathan Adler Op Art backgammon ($395). There's even a nod to the Neiman Marcus holiday catalog's inclusion of experiences: Two "Luxe Getaways" are offered for five-night stays in the Florida Keys and Maine. With optional private jet travel, they come in at around $20,000.

            As for those gifts under $100: The selection includes a phone movie projector ($39), an Acqua di Parma gift set ($95), a yoga mat ($75) and a Bloomingdale's ornament featuring a woman carrying a yoga mat ($50). And of course, face masks. The "Give Happy" holiday shop goes online Sunday.

            While the catalogue lives on, the festive holiday window reveal party didn't make it in 2020. Last year, about a thousand people gathered outside the 59th Street store for John Legend and the window unveiling. This year, the celebration moves online, with singer Andra Day and dancer Misty Copeland of American Ballet Theatre performing. It's billed as a benefit requiring a donation (of any amount) to watch on Nov. 23. Funds collected will go to Child Mind Institute, which helps children with behavioral and mental health challenges.

            The benefit replaces fundraising from the little brown bear, which in 10 years has generated more than $2 million for Child Mind Institute and filled homes with plush bears dressed in sweaters, high school jackets and last year: an astronaut suit.

            CEO Spring said he'll miss the bear, personally: "We couldn't get the bear done. The bear, I hope, we will bring back next year."

            The risks and rewards of the covid career makeover

            By Jennifer Miller
            The risks and rewards of the covid career makeover
            Madelle Kangha, left, and mentor Ann Lim. Kangha, who was furloughed from her paralegal job, launched a beauty product business and met Lim through Score, a nonprofit resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Andre Chung

            Last March, as her final semester at Georgetown Law School was winding down, Madelle Kangha was feeling optimistic about the future. The 30-year-old would continue working as a senior paralegal to cover costs while she studied for the bar exam. Then, once credentialed, she'd find a higher-paying legal job - one that would provide for her 15-month-old daughter and chip away at her massive student debt.

            Then the pandemic arrived, and like so many people she knew, Kangha was furloughed. "It happened to attorneys and family members who worked in IT," she says. "It was a wake-up call: A lot of jobs aren't as secure as you think they are. I've been nursing this dream of entrepreneurship for a long time. Covid gave me the perfect combination of necessity and push to take the next step."

            Kangha, who lives in Manassas, Va., wanted to start a beauty product company for women of color. She called Score, a nonprofit resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and began reading about business plans and watching the organization's marketing webinars. She also applied for a mentor, a Score volunteer who could lead Kangha through her launch. Suddenly, she was back in the role she thought she'd left behind: the student.

            Since early April, Kangha has signed on to regular Google Meets or phone calls with Ann Lim, a Loudoun County, Va.-based consultant with an extensive background in international business. Lim, 50, has given her protege a virtual crash course in entrepreneurship, complete with assigned readings and worksheets before every session. And yet the process is nothing like traditional business school or even a community college entrepreneurship course. It has been exclusively practical, exploring how Kangha can clarify her company's value proposition and source beauty suppliers.

            It has also been fast. "Ann asked me, 'Do you have a business plan?' but I wanted to get started," Kangha says. In just a few weeks, with the plan still unwritten, Kangha had spent $3,000 in savings plus a $500 gift from her family on inventory and marketing. "Your timeline is very aggressive," Lim told her during one of the online sessions that I attended with the women. She sounded a little concerned, but part of her job, she understood, was to prioritize her student's sense of urgency. "We should do a to-do list so we can achieve that timeline," Lim added.

            Some of Kangha's friends and family were more skeptical. "They ask, you're going to take the bar and not work as a lawyer?" But relying on Lim allowed her to dismiss those concerns. "Ann said, 'This is such a great market; you're right on trend.' It was such an encouraging and inspiring moment for me," Kangha says. "To know I'm not crazy."

            Historically, recessions have forced laid-off workers to reinvent themselves, often sending them back to school. According to the National Student Clearinghouse, two- and four-year colleges saw a significant uptick in enrollments within six to 12 months after the 2001 recession, and again after the 2008 crash. This time, the educational landscape looks different. Now colleges in all sectors have watched undergraduate enrollments drop, according to the Clearinghouse. At the same time, enrollment at shorter-term graduate programs offering certificates and master's degrees have increased, especially at for-profit institutions. These include coding boot camps, massive open online courses (MOOCs), small-business mentorship programs and online learning communities.

            Score says that in 2019, 91 percent of clients who came to the organization for help starting or expanding their business were still operating a year later. Whether that record will persist during a pandemic and recession is unclear, but Bridget Weston, Score's CEO, says would-be entrepreneurs have little to lose: "Despite our complete transparency about it being completely free, some people just don't believe that at first."

            Between April and July, demand for Score classes and mentors more than doubled. Typically, 20 to 30 students would show up to local workshops; now the average remote workshop has 80 students. Pre-pandemic the organization's national webinars averaged 800 people a session; now it's 1,300. Coursera, one of the world's largest MOOCs, saw a 400 percent increase in registered learners between the spring and summer of 2019 and the same period this year. Engagement on LinkedIn Learning, an online educational platform affiliated with the career networking site, tripled between July 2019 and July 2020. Traffic for Course Report, a coding boot camp directory and review site, has skyrocketed since March.

            In recent months, pandemic-fueled anxiety has pushed laid-off workers into an educational sprint. Like fast food and fast fashion before it, there is now fast education, modes of virtual learning and upskilling that allow - and even encourage - students to absorb as much information as they can as quickly as possible, often with the promise of a new career. But are these educational platforms overpromising? Even MOOCs hosted by top universities have low completion rates. Some allow students to buy badges or certificates, which may look good on a résumé but have little to do with actual learning. And students who eventually decide they'd like to earn a more traditional degree find that traditional schools often won't take online credits.

            Beth Stein, who co-led a congressional investigation into for-profit colleges after the Great Recession and now works at the Institute for College Access & Success, says the MOOC and boot camp industry was too often a "black hole." "There's no quality assurance, no one checking that faculty knows what they're doing or that students are having a good experience," she says. "And because they're not taking Title IV loans, they don't have protections inherent in the federal aid system."

            And yet learners like Kangha aren't concerned about a lack of oversight or quality control. Kangha isn't paying Score or her mentor; in fact, many of these courses are free or have expanded their free trials and scholarship offerings since the nation went into lockdown. But even when there's money on the line these pandemic learners are primarily concerned with taking action. Yes, they say, maybe there are no quick fixes. But what other option is there? "Having a daughter and getting furloughed: This is really real," Kangha says. "I need to make sure I create a stable situation for her."

            Beyond the challenge, covid-19 has also presented an opportunity like no other. "My clients are now thinking everything is vulnerable: this job, the work I do, my income," says Deana Jean, a New York-based business and leadership coach who helps entrepreneurs start and expand their businesses. Perhaps ironically, this realization has sparked inspiration. "I've seen (covid-19) really ignite in people the desire to figure out what they're passionate about and what they're good at," she says. "The barriers that people have presumed to entrepreneurship" - or any kind of reinvention - "have been broken down."

            - - -

            When Madelle Kangha lost her job, she turned to e-commerce because it seemed pandemic-proof. Many other laid-off workers, especially those in the service industry, have made a similar calculation. They're now pursuing engineering because it can be done remotely, ensures a stable income (unlike working for tips) and seems designed for the 21st-century economy. Boot camp enrollments increased from roughly 15,500 in 2018 to 23,000 in 2019, according to Course Report. The company says enrollments appear on track to go up by roughly 40 percent this year.

            Before the pandemic, Sara Salazar, a server at an upscale Miami restaurant, had considered learning to code, but she couldn't justify quitting her job to do so. Most boot camps are short, an average of 15 weeks, but they are intensive and strongly discourage students from also trying to hold a job. When covid-19 shut down her restaurant, Salazar, 30, didn't wait. "My job was taken away in an instant," she says, which forced her into an identity crisis: "Who am I if I'm not working?" In July, she enrolled at Wyncode, a local for-profit boot camp, to learn what's known as "full stack" Web development.

            Boot camps have their share of skeptics. "It is definitely doing something quickly, and people have been extremely critical, especially those who have been through four- to six-year-long computer science programs," says Liz Eggleston, the co-founder of Course Report. "But tech is like any other industry: There are different levels of jobs and different needs in the job market."

            Eggleston says that boot camp coders are likely to find jobs as junior engineers: helping clients learn to use a technical platform or "taking tickets," addressing customer concerns with software. They won't be performing the coding equivalent of brain surgery or landing lucrative jobs at Google or Facebook. Course Report surveys have shown that about 83 percent of boot camp graduates are hired for a job using their boot camp skills at a starting salary of almost $67,000 - an average salary increase of $22,000. At least until now, the majority of boot camp students have had a college degree, which could help explain the high hiring rate and significant salary bump. This current boot camp cohort may represent a somewhat different demographic, given the high numbers of laid-off service workers and, according to Course Report, a greater availability of scholarships.

            Juha Mikkola, Wyncode's co-founder, says the program tries to keep students' expectations realistic: "The main message to our grads is that outside of the big tech companies, there are hundreds of thousands of growing tech companies out there," including those people don't automatically associate with tech. For instance, two dozen Wyncode graduates have been employed with Restaurant Brands International, which owns Burger King, and Watsco, a large air-conditioning distributor. Mikkola adds that in recent years, the large tech companies have been more open to considering programmers without college degrees. But often, such individuals have worked their way up. "The most important thing is to get your foot in the door somewhere where you can learn and build your skills," he says.

            Of course, with an unemployment rate of nearly 8 percent in September, it's unclear what the current hiring landscape will be for anyone. (Wyncode maintains that a two-month hiring slowdown at the start of the pandemic has mostly reversed itself.)

            The average boot camp costs close to $14,000, and Salazar wasn't certain how she would cover tuition. She says the school encouraged her to get preapproved for a loan. "Looking back now, with my financial situation, it definitely would have been hard to make loan payments," she says. She also considered an income-share agreement, which allows students to repay the tuition, sometimes with interest, only after they've landed a job at a certain salary. "I always advise students: Read the fine print there," says Eggleston, because the terms and conditions can be highly nuanced. In the end, Salazar lucked out. She received a scholarship for low-income and unemployed students that was covered by Wyncode and CareerSource South Florida, a workforce development organization.

            After graduating from the course, Salazar was hired to be a Wyncode instructor. But even if she hadn't landed a job so fast, she'd taken no financial risk. Other students have struggled. Kris Bartow, a server in Philadelphia, enrolled in a boot camp called Tech Elevator before the pandemic. A partial scholarship would cover the second half of the course, and Bartow planned to keep working to cover the first half. Then the pandemic hit, and he lost his job. He would have made it through - with the promise of a better-paying job after graduation - but the material was more difficult than he'd anticipated. "We were halfway through the program, and I was still unable to do Day One stuff by myself," he says. (In an emailed statement, Anthony Hughes, co-founder and CEO of Tech Elevator, said its students are heavily vetted before being accepted into the program and given personal support throughout the boot camp to keep them on track. Based on September reporting, he said, the school has a 95 percent graduation rate.)

            Bartow agonized over what to do. "I've never been one to leave something because it was too hard," he says. And he'd already invested so much time and money. "I feel like I put all my eggs into one basket with Tech Elevator," he says of the money he'd invested and his dream of a new career. "It not working out has left me kind of in limbo." And yet he had a fallback: This summer, his restaurant reopened for carryout and outdoor dining. He returned, finding new stability in the old.

            - - -

            Many students say they never would have made these career leaps - or even tried to - had the pandemic not forced them to. "I would have just been working my job without questioning it," says Melissa Ho, who enrolled at Prime Digital Academy in Minneapolis after losing her job as an office administrator. She received scholarships from Prime and Minneapolis-St. Paul TechHire, a workforce development organization. "After covid, after everything, I can't keep floating on by."

            Sydney Stern Miller, a North Carolina-based sales associate for a co-working company, wanted to enter marketing, but the 32-year-old couldn't justify starting over in a junior position, at entry-level pay. When she was laid off in early April, she realized her moment had arrived. Like Salazar, she felt her identity was on the line. "I love my daughter, but I was scared I'd be forced to be a stay-at-home mom," she says. "It was a vulnerable place to be."

            She signed up for three Coursera MOOCs: viral marketing hosted by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, brand management hosted by the University of London and London Business School, and an introduction to HTML5 hosted by the University of Michigan. The courses were short, between three and five weeks, and were mainly composed of recorded webinars. They were free but came with a paid certificate option; students who completed weekly assignments that were graded by other learners could buy a digital badge to display on their LinkedIn profile. Initially, Miller was reluctant to pay. "I really didn't know the quality of the education I would be receiving," she says. "I had heard some negative things about other providers, so I was a little wary."

            These criticisms included courses of poor quality with high price tags and teachers who were obviously treating their online courses as an afterthought. After about two weeks, Miller concluded her classes had value. She paid $49 for the viral marketing course and $99 for brand management. She decided not to pay for the HTML5 course; it was much more difficult than the others and was taking her longer to complete. Miller acknowledged that the certificates were largely symbolic, and described the viral marketing course in particular as "pretty fluffy." But the pedigree was worth 49 bucks.

            Her undergraduate degree was from the University of Pittsburgh, "but I had a strong wish, hope, dream to go to Wharton," she says. She was so excited to have received a Wharton badge that she wrote a LinkedIn post about it. The enthusiastic response gave her a newfound confidence, and she started networking actively on the site, connecting with companies and executives she was previously apprehensive to approach. That helped her secure an internship with a health-tech nonprofit, which in turn led to a full-time job as a marketing lead for Tech Talent South.

            She loves her new job, but the learning curve has been steep - significantly harder than the Coursera courses. Recently, her husband found her still working at 11 p.m. He was concerned, but Miller shrugged it off. "I'm a newbie because I reinvented myself," she says. "I can't jump into the work and know it inherently." The real learning, she says, comes from doing. But she believes the courses set her on the right path: "They helped me realize that the majority of jobs can be learned."

            - - -

            In late June, Madelle Kangha launched a line of natural and organic oils though her business, Elledam Beauty. With Ann Lim's help, she had narrowed her inventory. She also took her mentor's advice to showcase herself and her personal story on social media: as an immigrant, a woman of color, a mom. Initially, she'd been focusing her marketing efforts on Instagram, but Lim had helped her see that YouTube would add that personal touch. The goal, Lim had explained, was to make each purchase meaningful for the consumer. "You want them to understand where this all started," Lim says.

            By the middle of August, however, Elledam Beauty had few sales. Thirty-thousand people had visited the site, but they weren't buying. Often, they would abandon their carts at checkout. Kangha marshaled her resources. She went back to Lim for advice, took a webinar hosted by the e-commerce fulfillment website ShipBob and hired a marketing and social media manager, even though it meant dipping into a second set of savings. Based on their feedback, she realized she'd been moving too fast. The site was slow, the interface needed a punch-up and she had more audience development to do. "When you're so passionate, you're looking from your eyes," Kangha says. "But what does the buyer actually want? This has been a month of learning and implementing, and I can see the changes."

            By this point, she'd spent just over $7,000 on marketing, sourcing and inventory, twice as much as she'd initially set aside. It was now clear that she needed a steady paycheck, so she started looking for work. When a couple of leads didn't pan out, she decided to start a second business in IT consulting. Once she secured a few clients, she'd have to work on Elledam at night after her daughter went to bed. It wasn't ideal, but neither was losing her job because of a global pandemic. "I believe the business will pick up," she says. "It's just a matter of time."

            Ukraine seeks U.N. cultural status for beloved borscht. A culinary spat with Russia could be brewing.

            By David L. Stern and Robyn Dixon
            Ukraine seeks U.N. cultural status for beloved borscht. A culinary spat with Russia could be brewing.
            A plate of borscht freshly cooked by Oksana Chadaieva as seen Oct. 15 in her kitchen in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Chadaieva loves to cook borscht using the recipe of her mother and grandmother. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Oksana Parafeniuk for The Washington Post.

            KYIV, Ukraine - The chef said he didn't intend to start an Eastern European culinary clash.

            But that's what happened after 33-year-old Ievgen Klopotenko fired the equivalent of a gastronomic cannon shot: starting an effort to have borscht recognized as part of Ukraine's cultural heritage by the United Nations' cultural agency.

            To the uninitiated, borscht is a humble, reddish beet soup, often served with a generous dollop of sour cream on top. But in its simplicity is a cultural significance that transcends borders.

            A pot of borscht, simmering away on the stove during the long winter months, is a mainstay across many parts of Eastern Europe, and a cornerstone of the region's concept of home and hearth.

            Many countries claim the dish as central to their culinary tradition. However, what has previously been a debate on low boil now threatens to bubble over.

            The disagreement over who is steward of borscht heritage has primarily been between Kyiv and Moscow - amplified since 2014 by Ukraine's battle against Kremlin-supported militants in its East, a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people over six years.

            Klopotenko said that his actions were inspired by the commonly held impression outside of Ukraine that borscht is a Russian dish. A tweet from the Russian Foreign Ministry last year called the soup one of the country's "most famous and beloved dishes."

            "Russia, as usual, is changing the facts. They want to make borscht their own. But it's not true," Klopotenko said on the terrace of his Kyiv restaurant, which specializes in modern-day versions of traditional, and sometimes long-forgotten, Ukrainian dishes.

            But he doesn't fear any Russian repercussions for his UNESCO campaign. "They're already at war with us," he said. "What's the worst they can do?"

            His campaign to place Ukrainian borscht on UNESCO's world heritage list began earlier this year, seeking to join a list that includes multinational traditions such as the Mediterranean Diet and niche regional dishes such as Malawi's nsima, a thick porridge of maize flour.

            The first step was to have it recognized by Ukraine's Culture Ministry as a part of the country's "intangible cultural inheritance."

            He gathered a team of a dozen experts, culinary historians and ethnographers, who collected recipes from 26 Ukrainian regions, including Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

            The materials that they assembled included photos and documentary evidence that the recipes had been passed down among at least three generations in one family.

            And although the base ingredients remain the same, each version of borscht reflected the regions' various gastronomic cultures - and each family's own twist on the dish.

            "Borscht has five basic ingredients: potatoes, cabbage, onion, carrots and beets," said Maryna Sobotiuk, Klopotenko's second-in-command in the project.

            "But then people make their own additions," she continued. "Some add mushrooms, or dried vegetables, apples, pears, meat, and in one region they add wild boar's blood, which makes the borscht very dark."

            Klopotenko contends that borscht originated in what is now Ukrainian territory. Originally, it was a borscht-like soup, but without the beets. Later, beets were introduced to the area, and in the early 18th century, the first borscht recipes were written down.

            Earlier this month, Klopotenko and his team presented the Ukrainian Culture Ministry's expert commission with their results, which included five liters of the soup. To no one's surprise, the commission approved borscht's inclusion in the ministry's own cultural heritage list.

            "The Culture Ministry's list up to now has consisted of items that are particular to a particular region," Sobotiuk said. "This is the first time that there's an element that unites the whole country."

            The Ukrainian government plans to submit materials to UNESCO next year. What comes next is anyone's guess.

            UNESCO officials in Paris said that Ukraine has another submission - for a Crimean Tatar ornament - to the world heritage list waiting for a decision, and the documents for borscht must wait until this process is finished. The review usually takes around two years, UNESCO officials said.

            Although Ukraine hopes to lay its claim to borscht as quickly as possible, UNESCO officials say that the door is still open to other countries mounting their own applications in the future. The organization lists for example different versions of the Middle Eastern flatbread known in parts of the world as lavash.

            A dispute over who really owns the bragging rights to borscht threatens to draw in not just Ukraine and Russia, but also Poland and other countries in the region.

            But it's not the first culinary spat.

            There was a "hummus war" between Lebanon and Israel earlier this decade, which culminated in the two countries vying against each other to create the largest "dish of hummus" for inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. (Lebanon won.)

            Marianna Dushar, a Ukrainian doctoral student in social anthropology who is co-writing a book on borscht, said that it should not come as a surprise that food becomes a focus of our cultural aspirations, and sometimes a placeholder for other tensions between countries.

            "Food, like language, is the first and last cultural bastion," she said by telephone from the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. "We grow up with it, and we associate ourselves with it. Countries communicate with other countries through food."

            On the Russian side, a few voices are calling for compromise.

            Boris Akimov, restaurateur and a pioneer of Russia's farm-to-table movement, said borscht did not really belong to anyone.

            "We cannot say it's Ukrainian or Russian," Akimov said. "Borscht is very popular now and it was very popular 200 years ago in Ukraine and Russia. I hope that borscht can be a thing that unites these countries but does not divide."

            Some prominent Russian culinary figures are even ready to concede on one front: that Ukrainians make the best borscht.

            Viktor Belyaev worked 30 years in the kitchens of the Kremlin cooking for Soviet leaders and is now president of the Russian Culinary Association. He does not care to debate the origins of the dish, but he immediately grows wistful thinking of a bowl of Ukrainian borscht topped with a generous blob of minced salo (cured pork fat) and garlic.

            "I'm dreaming of such borscht," he said. "I can't wait to eat it. It is so delicious, especially if you have had a few drinks beforehand."

            "The most important thing is that we eat together and taste our dishes," he adds. "You know when people sit at the dining tables the cannons are silent."

            But for Ukrainians like Oksana Chadaieva, the option of sharing borscht's patrimony is not on the table.

            "I completely support Klopotenko's initiative," she said. "Borscht 100% has nothing to do with Russia."

            In her cozy kitchen in the capital, Kyiv, Chadaieva prepares a pot of her version of borscht for lunch for her husband, Serhii, and 14-year-old son, Orest.

            As she chops the ingredients, she reveals her secret component, passed down from her grandmother: marinated and salted tomatoes, which she converts to a paste and cooks in a pan with other vegetables.

            When the soup is ready to serve, its aroma permeates the apartment like a delicious wave.

            For Chadaieva, borscht and home are synonymous.

            "The women of my family always believed that if there's no borscht in the home, then there's nothing to eat - there has to be borscht."

            - - -

            Dixon reported from Moscow.

            Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

            Trump acts like he knows he's losing - and he's leaning into it

            By megan mcardle
            Trump acts like he knows he's losing - and he's leaning into it

            MEGAN MCARDLE COLUMN

            Advance for release Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, and thereafter

            (For McArdle clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

            By Megan McArdle

            WASHINGTON -- It's hard to say whether it was the addition of a mute button that held President Donald Trump back in the first part of Thursday's debate, or whether his own advisers finally convinced him that "overbearing jerk" was not a winning political persona. Either way, Trump turned in a better, saner, more restful performance than in the first debate. Better late than never, of course, but I'm not sure how much better, given how much ground he has to make up with less than two weeks to go.

            After the humbling experience of 2016, I am loath to proclaim Joseph R. Biden the next president of the United States. What I do feel confident in saying is, first, as Ross Douthat of the New York Times has already pointed out, that Trump acts like someone who is trying to lose the election, haphazardly flitting from message to message without any coherent, overarching theme. And second, that Trump acts like someone who knows he is losing.

            The first tell came during the debate last month with Biden, when Trump was asked about the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court and responded, "We have plenty of time. Even if we did it after the election itself. I have a lot of time after the election, as you know." These are not the words of a confident warrior; they are the words of a man who has already begun contemplating a lame-duck end to his first term.

            The latest signs came this week, when he preemptively started attacking Thursday's moderator, whom he had earlier praised. It was hard not to suspect that Trump was just looking for a scapegoat in advance to justify a failure he was already anticipating.

            There was a moment in the debate when it seemed Trump might save himself. "We have to open our country," he said. "I've said it often, the cure cannot be worse than the problem itself, and that's what's happening." It looked as if Trump was prepared to spend 90 minutes having a semi-serious discussion about serious topics, such as the trade-offs we're making to control the pandemic. But he couldn't keep it up; by the end of the debate, he reverted to form, taunting Biden to "Say it. Say it." about a $15 minimum wage and trying to dodge questions about race in America by changing the topic to Hunter Biden's adventures abroad.

            This only brought home what Trump makes obvious every day: He is not the n-dimensional chess player of conservative legend. In fact, he isn't even able to correctly perceive his own personal self-interest. Which complicates his sales pitch, even to conservatives.

            Four years ago, Trump's opponents within the conservative movement pointed out that Trump was an unprincipled con man. This argument didn't work well, because of course his supporters knew that his affected Christianity was not merely new, but breathtakingly shallow; that he had no firm ideological commitments; that he would slap his name on anything, no matter how cheap or sleazy; and that he stiffed his vendors whenever he thought he could get away with it.

            "So what?" his supporters said. They didn't need to trust him. All they needed was for him to understand that if he didn't deliver on policy, they'd demolish him at the next election.

            This allegedly hard-nosed realism in fact contained a heroic and untested assumption: that Trump would understand what his political incentives were. Trump has spent the past year systematically falsifying that hypothesis.

            It didn't take a scientific genius to understand in early March that the United States had been handed a very lucky break: We'd been seeded with COVID-19 later than Europe, so if we acted quickly, we could escape relatively lightly. It didn't require an economist to understand that pandemics are bad for the economy, particularly if you let them get out of control. It didn't require any great altruist to know that voters don't like dying.

            No, it just took someone of ordinary judgment and modest cunning to grasp that the president's best chance for reelection was coherent, consistent leadership on COVID-19, instead of alternately claiming the virus was going away on its own and ranting about miracle cures like some late-night huckster on a third-rate cable channel. Unfortunately, we didn't have someone like that in the Oval Office. We just had Trump.

            Which is why it looks like we'll have Trump for only a few months longer. Republicans may lose the Senate, thanks to their decision to stand behind their president. His party faction will pay a price, too, as the rest of the party blames them for the debacle. That faction will be fighting to place the blame elsewhere -- on a stab in the back from establishment types, on the biased media, on anyone except the guy who most deserves it: the self-proclaimed genius who couldn't even beat Sleepy Joe Biden.

            - - -

            Follow Megan McArdle on Twitter, @asymmetricinfo.

            The high cost of confirming Barrett

            By e.j. dionne jr.
            The high cost of confirming Barrett

            E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

            Advance for release Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, and thereafter

            (For Dionne clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

            By E.J. Dionne Jr.

            WASHINGTON -- There is only one good thing that can come from the power-mad Republican rush to jam Amy Coney Barrett onto the U. S. Supreme Court before the election: Of a sudden, to borrow from the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Americans in the tens of millions now know that our country faces a crisis of democracy triggered by the right wing's quest for unchecked judicial dominance.

            Judge Barrett's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee and President Donald Trump's comments before naming her brought home just how dangerously disrespectful of democratic norms the enlarged conservative majority on the court threatens to be.

            Her silence on the most basic issues of republican self-rule tells us to be ready for the worst. She wouldn't say if voter intimidation is illegal, even though it plainly is. She wouldn't say if a president has the power to postpone an election, even though he doesn't.

            She wouldn't even say that a president should commit himself to a peaceful transfer of power, telling Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., that "to the extent that this is a political controversy right now, as a judge, I want to stay out of it."

            What, pray, is controversial in a democratic republic about the peaceful transfer of power? It's hard to escape the conclusion that she was nodding to the president who nominated her. He said he wanted a friendly judge on the court to deal with electoral matters, and he continues to signal that one the most hallowed concepts of a free republic is inoperative when it comes to himself.

            Rushing such a nominee to the high court just in time to rule on any election controversies (from which she refused to commit to recusing herself) would be troubling enough. But it is all the worse for being part of a tangle of excesses by the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

            The truly scandalous lack of institutional patriotism on the right has finally led many of the most sober liberals and moderates to ponder what they opposed even a month ago: That the only genuinely practical and proper remedy to conservative court-packing is to undo its impact by enlarging the court.

            Note the language I just used. Court-packing is now a fact. It was carried out by a Republican Senate that was cynically inconsistent when it came to the question of filling a court seat during an election year. A Democratic president could not get a hearing on Judge Merrick Garland. A Republican president got express delivery on Judge Barrett.

            That's two seats flipped. Then consider the lawless 5-to-4 Bush v. Gore ruling by conservative justices in 2000 that stopped the Florida recount and let George W. Bush become president. (Oh, yes, and Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Barrett were all Bush lawyers in that fight. All in the family.) After winning reelection the normal way, Bush appointed Roberts in 2005 and a month later named Justice Samuel Alito.

            That's four seats out of nine.

            So it's not court enlargement that's radical. Balancing a stacked court is a necessary response to the right's radicalism and (apologies, Thomas Jefferson) to its long train of abuses. And conservatives are as hypocritical about court enlargement as they are about Garland and Barrett: In 2016, Republicans expanded the state supreme courts of Georgia and Arizona to enhance their party's philosophical sway.

            Democracy itself is at stake here. If the oligarchy-enhancing Citizens United decision and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in the Shelby County ruling don't persuade you of this, reflect on a study by the pro-enlargement Take Back the Court group. In 175 election-related cases this year, it found that Republican appointees interpreted the law in ways that impeded access to the ballot 80% of the time, compared with 37% for Democratic appointees. (The group pegged the "anti-democracy" score of Trump appointees at 86%.)

            Court enlargement will be a long battle, but those of us who support it should be encouraged, not discouraged, by Joe Biden's call for a bipartisan commission to study a court system that is, as Biden put it, "getting out of whack."

            Biden is a longstanding opponent of enlargement, so his statement is an acknowledgement that this crisis can't be avoided. His commission would help the public, which usually doesn't want to worry about judges, understand the danger of a judiciary dominated by reactionaries.

            Sadly, the best case for enlargement will likely be made by the court's conservative judicial activists themselves. It would be good for democracy if they showed some restraint. But everything about this struggle so far tells us that restraint is no longer a word in their vocabulary and prudence is not a virtue they honor anymore.

            - - -

            E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

            The candidates' closing messages to the American people

            By alexandra petri
            The candidates' closing messages to the American people

            ALEXANDRA PETRI COLUMN

            Advance for release Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, and thereafter

            (For Petri clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

            By Alexandra Petri

            WASHINGTON -- Well, the campaign is almost over, as Napoleon said at the gates of Moscow. Time for the Trump and Biden campaigns to make their closing arguments to the American people!

            TRUMP: Look, we all saw what happened over the past four years when I was president. I will not try to argue that you should vote for me. Instead, I will tell you many frightening and imaginary things about my opponent! Joe Biden wants to spend $100 trillion to replace all your big windows with little tiny windows! Joe Biden wants to replace your suburb (which he will make illegal) with an enormous, deadly windmill that belches noxious fog and kills all birds. Even worse, Joe Biden thinks I am Abraham Lincoln! Wow, embarrassing! I am not Abraham Lincoln. I am much better than Abraham Lincoln in most ways: sheer virility, number of sinister people named Steve who are involved in my administration, no Civil War. Abraham Lincoln might have been better on one tiny thing, but maybe not. Most importantly of all, though, there is a laptop from hell out there somewhere, and I think that says it all. I don't need to explain. In conclusion, if you love your beautiful windows, you cannot vote for Joe Biden, because he hates them. Also, I am speaking in a tone that roughly approximates the way a person might talk to another person, so the cable folks will say I did a good job and was presidential.

            BIDEN: Instead of having no plan to address the coronavirus pandemic, I have what sounds like at least part of a plan, and I am eager to listen to scientists.

            TRUMP: When you think about how many people died, remember that an even bigger number of people could have died but DIDN'T! Meanwhile, here is the vision of America that Joe Biden would like: a big windmill, killing every bird. Eagles are birds! Does Joe Biden hate America?! And kiss your windows goodbye, folks! Joe Biden will take all your money and burn it and sacrifice it to his only god, an enormous turbine. He is not even from Scranton! Don't trust this sneaky windmill! Look at those flailing arms! I bet if we were to get to the bottom of his birth certification situation, we would find out that he's actually a windmill who hates prosperity and wants to make all windows smaller. We are looking into it very strongly. What is Joe hiding? What doesn't Joe want us to see through our normal-sized windows? Better reelect me to this job I am bad at and hate doing so that we can avoid the window thing. I would not raise the minimum wage even though a majority of Americans favor doing so.

            BIDEN: Thousands of people are dead now who do not need to be. Families miss their loved ones. Believe me when I say this, I am a human being who has experienced grief and loss, and I will not make fun of you for being sad to lose a family member.

            TRUMP: Anyone who does not make fun of people for being sad to lose a family member is a loser! "I love my family," and "I enjoy spending time at the dinner table with my family," and, "I love you, son," are the cynical words of a career politician (windmill) that do not reflect the reality of most Americans. No one could possibly ever mean to say such things in a sincere way! No one could ever want to connect meaningfully to another person, to be vulnerable even for an instant before another human being. . . . Right?

            - - -

            Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.

            The country doesn't need another Trump victory. But it might deserve it.

            By kathleen parker
            The country doesn't need another Trump victory. But it might deserve it.

            KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

            Advance for release Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, and thereafter

            (For Parker clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

            By Kathleen Parker

            It is only a coincidence that Election Day follows so closely on the heels of Halloween, but 2020's presidential contest couldn't be more perfectly correlated to the Gregorian calendar. It's spooky out there.

            When Congress in 1845 set Election Day on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, however, lawmakers were thinking of weather rather than witches. The idea was that crop-harvesting would be finished by early November and winter wouldn't have yet arrived.

            Even though many fewer people are busy harvesting crops these days - and most buildings are comfortably climate-controlled - we nevertheless trudge off to our respective precincts (or the mail box) to pick which of the least-worst people in the world should lead the country for the next four years.

            I'm kidding, of course. There are surely people worse than Donald Trump, and Joe Biden looks like Mahatma Gandhi by comparison.

            What's scary about this day, this year? Why, madness. A coarse blanket of anxiety and repulsion has settled over the landscape as we approach the haunted voting booth. Even more frightening is the brief and bizarre normalcy displayed by Donald Trump during Thursday night's debate. By some miracle or sorcery, he seems to have escaped the coils of COVID-19 not just in good health but with improved mental faculties. Meanwhile, the rest of the country has gone insane.

            Psychologists and therapists warned of this when Trump won in 2016. But combined with other factors -- isolation, unemployment, fear of contagion, death or months more of cloistered living -- even the slim prospect of his reelection has sent people over the edge. Hard data may be in short supply, but I suspect some readers may recognize themselves, or others, in the anecdotal evidence.

            I hear about them daily. My New York City niece recently reported walking through Central Park and witnessing a woman she recognized screaming at a passing car bearing a Trump bumper sticker: "You're disgusting! You're disgusting!" A well-dressed woman pushing an expensive baby stroller tossed a dirty diaper onto Madison Avenue, signifying to my niece that the usual self-imposed restraints on human behavior are being discarded out of misplaced anger.

            Another friend posted a Biden/Harris sign in her pro-Trump town and soon reported lost friendships and unpleasant comments by passersby. Yet another friend, who agrees that people's heads are exploding, told me he was giving friends from both sides second chances because, he said, "I know we're all going nuts."

            "My mantra is: (BEG ITAL)It's not their fault; it's not their fault; it's not their fault.(END ITAL)"

            In reality, it may not be. Bonkersville is a short trip for most of us these days, but Republicans have an advantage.

            Except for a few renegades, Trump supporters are generally unwavering in their allegiance to the president. To them, Trump makes perfect sense. Even when he says ridiculous things or lies outright, they either shrug with indifference or offer a more-palatable translation of what he really meant.

            Otherwise, Trump's fans find him to be charming and funny -- a true-blue patriot who supports the military, fills the courts with conservative judges, and, until the pandemic, boasted the most-robust economy in memory. And by the way, they add, COVID-19 isn't his fault. In other words, they never doubt Trump or themselves. When certitude is treated as a virtue, psychological breakdown -- or self-critical analysis -- isn't considered time well-spent.

            Of course, the rest of the country thinks these people are crazy. Being the only sane person in the asylum can do that. When enough people around you see reality in what seems to you like utterly delusional terms, you WILL lose your mind. And, then, because you're normal, you'll begin to question your own sanity and wonder: (BEG ITAL)Is it me?(END ITAL)

            No, it's not.

            But maybe Trump isn't crazy either. Maybe he just enjoys making other people lose their minds. His modus operandi was plainly spelled out in "The Art of the Deal." Create chaos, get people to turn on each other, collect the chips when they fall. To this president, everything's a game.

            Trump's critics have long feared that over-exposure to his errant behavior eventually would lead to acceptance - normalizing the abnormal. It may be, however, that rather than accepting Trump, people are simply exhausted from four years of a psychological siege and weary of the drama. Election Day will tell. But, watching the more-subdued Trump during the second debate, I had a notion that Trump was primed to pull a victory out of his ringmaster's top hat.

            Even a squeaky victory when polling suggests otherwise could lead to a national nervous breakdown. And then Trump, having driven his foes crazy, would, in the fashion of narcissists, become the normal guy who looks down from the dais at the writhing mass of human madness and, with the cool detachment of a visiting alien, observe that the losers seem to have gone stark raving mad.

            Happy Halloween.

            - - -

            Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

            What if one of those 545 kids was yours?

            By ruth marcus
            What if one of those 545 kids was yours?

            RUTH MARCUS COLUMN

            Advance for release Sunday, Oct. 24, 2020, and thereafter

            (For Marcus clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

            By Ruth Marcus

            545.

            That is the number of children still separated from their families by the Trump administration -- separated deliberately, cruelly and recklessly. They might never be reunited with their parents again. Even if they are, the damage is unimaginable and irreparable.

            545.

            Even one would be too many. Each one represents a unique tragedy. Imagine being ripped from your parents, or having your child taken from you. Imagine the desperation that the parents feel, the trauma inflicted on their children.

            545.

            That number represents an indelible stain on President Donald Trump and every individual in his administration who implemented this policy, flawed at the conception and typically, gruesomely incompetent in the execution. It is, perhaps in the technical sense but surely in the broader one, a crime against humanity. It is torture.

            545.

            That number -- I will stop repeating it, yet it cannot be repeated enough -- represents a moral challenge and responsibility for the next administration. If Joe Biden is elected president, he must devote the maximum resources of the federal government to fixing this disaster. The United States broke these families; it must do whatever it takes to help them heal.

            Nothing like that would happen in a second Trump term, because Trump himself doesn't care. He doesn't grasp the horror that he oversaw. He doesn't comprehend the policy, and he is incapable of feeling the pain it inflicted.

            Those truths could not have been clearer cut than during Thursday night's debate.

            Moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News asked the president a simple question: "How will these families ever be reunited?"

            First, Trump misstated the situation: "Their children are brought here by coyotes and lots of bad people, cartels, and they're brought here, and they used to use them to get into our country."

            No. These are children separated from their families, not separated from smugglers. They are children brought by their parents in desperate search of a better life, desperate enough that they would take the risk of the dangerous journey.

            Then Trump pivoted to the irrelevant: "We now have as strong a border as we've ever had. We're over 400 miles of brand new wall. You see the numbers. And we let people in, but they have to come in legally."

            Welker persisted: "But how will you reunite these kids with their families, Mr. President?"

            Trump responded by pointing his finger at his predecessor: "Let me just tell you, they built cages. You know, they used to say I built the cages, and then they had a picture in a certain newspaper and it was a picture of these horrible cages and they said look at these cages, President Trump built them, and then it was determined they were built in 2014. That was him."

            This is typical Trumpian deflection, bluster undergirded by ignorance. The "cages" are ugly but irrelevant to the topic at hand: the deliberately cruel plan to deter border-crossing by separating children from parents. That was a Trump administration special, implemented with callous sloppiness and so extreme that even the Trump administration abandoned it.

            Welker, for the third time: "Do you have a plan to reunite the kids with their families?"

            At which point Trump made clear that he did not: "We're trying very hard, but a lot of these kids come out without the parents, they come over through cartels and through coyotes and through gangs." The children, he added later, "are so well taken care of, they're in facilities that were so clean."

            Wrong, wrong and wrong. Wrong that the administration is "trying very hard" -- the efforts to reunite the children that they separated from their families are being driven by court orders and outside groups. The Trump administration has been "trying very hard" only to prevent reunifications, arguing in court that it didn't need to provide additional information about some of the separated children because they had already been released from federal shelters and were living with sponsors.

            Wrong that "a lot of these kids come out without the parents" -- the children Welker was asking about came with their parents, from whom they were deliberately separated by the Trump administration. As a draft report by the Justice Department inspector general quotes former attorney general Jeff Sessions instructing prosecutors: "We need to take away children."

            Wrong that the children "are so well taken care of." By definition, they are not; the ones that Welker was asking about have been separated from their parents, some at unconscionably early ages. And in reality, they are not; the conditions in some facilities are appalling.

            Biden, the Democratic nominee, gets it. "Their kids were ripped from their arms and separated and now they cannot find over 500 of sets of those parents and those kids are alone. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to go. It's criminal, it's criminal." The situation, he said, "violates every notion of who we are as a nation."

            It does. It must be fixed.

            545.

            What if one of them were yours?

            - -

            Ruth Marcus' email address is ruthmarcus@washpost.com.

            Trump lost the debate by widening the empathy gap

            By e.j. dionne jr.
            Trump lost the debate by widening the empathy gap

            E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

            Advance for release Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, and thereafter

            (For Dionne clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

            By E.J. Dionne Jr.

            EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of two Dionne columns that are moving today with different release dates. This one is for release tomorrow, Saturday, Oct. 24.

            WASHINGTON -- The central issue of the 2020 presidential campaign was settled within the first 11 minutes of the final debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday. And it did not work out well for Trump.

            "More and more people are getting better. We have a problem that's a worldwide problem," Trump declared. "We're rounding the turn. We're rounding the corner. It's going away."

            Problem One for Trump: Saying that it's a "worldwide problem" doesn't get him off the hook. Problem Two: We're not rounding the turn. Problem Three: We're not rounding the corner. Problem Four: It's not going away anytime soon.

            So Biden pounced: "220,000 Americans dead. You hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this. Anyone who is responsible for not taking control ... anyone [who] is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America."

            Trump tried again, suggesting that a country that is sick and tired of living with the pandemic has, in fact, become accustomed to it, the way people get used to bad weather. And the president could not stop himself from talking about his favorite room in the world.

            "I say we're learning to live with it," Trump insisted. "We have no choice. We can't lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does. He has the ability to lock himself up. . . . we can't close up our nation, or you're not going to have a nation."

            Biden ignored the basement and surged right through the opening Trump afforded him. "He says that we're learning to live with it. People are learning to die with it. You folks home will have an empty chair at the kitchen table this morning. That man or wife going to bed tonight and reaching over to try to touch . . . out of habit, where their wife or husband was, is gone. Learning to live with it? Come on. We're dying with it."

            Trump's presidency seems to be dying, too, which is why it was not surprising that the post-debate snap polls awarded Biden the victory -- by 19 percentage points in a YouGov survey, by 14 in a CNN poll and by 11 in a Data for Progress measure.

            Trump lost the night because he misunderstood what he needed to do to turn the presidential contest around.

            He thought if he looked reasonable, in contrast to his crazed performance in the first debate, journalists would fall all over themselves to declare that a new, sober Trump had arrived, just in time to save his presidency. That sort of thing happened early in his presidency. It's way too late for that now.

            He thought he could knock Biden out with Fox News and right-wing media reports about Hunter Biden's business dealings. But it's no longer 2016, when any negative story concerning Hillary Clinton was treated credulously. And Trump's overconsumption of sympathetic media has hurt him. He explained nothing, tossing out disjointed pieces of a story that only the crazy uncles out there understood.

            But most importantly, Trump failed in his most important task: to show that he cared about his fellow citizens, and not just himself. The president needed to close the gigantic empathy gap with Biden at least a little bit. Instead, he turned it into a canyon.

            Biden used Trump's attacks on Hunter to drive this home. "It's not about his family and my family. It's about your family, and your family's hurting badly. . . . You're sitting at the kitchen table this morning deciding, 'Well, we can't get new tires. They're bald, because we have to wait another month or so.' We should be talking about your families, but that's the last thing he wants to talk about."

            Trump brusquely pushed this aside as "a typical political statement. . . . 'The family, around the table, everything.' Just a typical politician when I see that."

            I won't try to improve on my Washington Post colleague Alyssa Rosenberg's observation that Trump's derision of the family and the kitchen table demonstrated the president's "utter disdain for the simple ideas of human connection and emotions."

            The Trump campaign will leap on this or that Biden statement in its frantic search for an opening. The president and his minions were quick to turn Biden's pledge to "transition from the oil industry" (since oil "has to be replaced by renewable energy over time") into an assault on the entire states of Texas, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. Never mind that our country is already transitioning from oil.

            But this is just grasping at oil wells. Biden is ahead because most Americans have decided that narcissism is not an effective governing style and that self-involvement is not a demonstration of strength. Thursday night confirmed that the only way to start "rounding the corner" is to be done with the man who thinks our current circumstances are something we can "live with."

            - - -

            E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

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