The Party Is Not Over

Updated at 3:20 p.m. ET on July 23, 2024.

The smoke-filled room is back! Praise the Lord—and pray the system works. To be technically accurate, there is no actual room, and if there were, it would not be smoky. Nonetheless, we have witnessed the extraordinary reassertion of a principle whose disappearance has been nothing short of calamitous for American politics. To wit: Nominations belong to parties, not to candidates.

If you have read a biography of Abraham Lincoln, you may recall that his entire record as a federal officeholder before the presidency was a single two-year term representing Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives. What you may not recall is: Why only two years? Did Lincoln lack ambition or talent? Face defeat by a stronger opponent? Retire in disgrace? None of the above. In Illinois, the Whig party machine had set up a rotation scheme in which party loyalists took turns occupying the party’s only safe House seat. When his turn ended, Lincoln went home.

Peculiar as this seems today, for most of U.S. history, it was taken for granted that nominations were party property. From the time of Martin Van Buren, who basically invented the modern U.S. political party, Americans saw the party, not the individual candidate or the particular office, as the locus of political life. The parties identified, trained, and promoted qualified and reliable politicians; built political coalitions and brokered deals across diverse ideologies and constituencies; organized officeholders to work together in government; maintained institutional knowledge and ensured strategic continuity over time. All of those political tasks were, and still are, essential.

[Read: The Harris gamble]

To perform them, the parties used everything from torchlight parades to pork-barrel spending, but their most important tool, the sine qua non of party influence, was control over who would be on their ticket. That power, exercised in formal ways like ballot access and informal ways like jawboning, allowed the parties to act as traffic cops. Party chairs would advise a green candidate to run for county commissioner before aiming for the House. Party donors would open and close the money taps to help reliable players. Party bigwigs would offer and withhold endorsements and steer media attention. The apogee of the party-controlled process was the so-called smoke-filled room, the (somewhat metaphorical) site where party leaders, elected officials, and trusted delegates met at the national convention to choose a presidential ticket.

Contrary to popular belief, the decision makers did not and could not override or ignore public opinion; they wanted to win, after all. What they could and did do was blend public opinion with other considerations, such as who could unify the party, govern after the election, and advance the party’s interests. Although it is true that the parties were dominated by white, mostly Protestant men, that was a reflection of their era. Other institutions were also dominated by white, mostly Protestant men.

And here’s something else they did: choose qualified candidates. By offering careers and perks to loyalists, the parties were able to attract impressive talent. The political scientists Jamie L. Carson and Jason M. Roberts, in their 2013 book, Ambition, Competition, and Electoral Reform: The Politics of Congressional Elections Across Time, found that the old party system’s congressional candidates were at least as experienced and well qualified as today’s. Although the machines of yore could be insular and corrupt—traits no one wants to go back to—they reliably screened out circus acts, incompetents, rogues, and sociopaths. Party insiders usually knew their candidates personally. They had worked with many of them, or had at least observed them, for years.

Donald Trump is not the first authoritarian-minded tycoon to put himself forward as a national savior. In the 1920s, a groundswell of popular support formed for a presidential run by the car magnate Henry Ford, a vicious anti-Semite who claimed that only a hard-driving businessman could solve the country’s problems. The parties were having none of it. As Collier’s magazine reported in 1923, “Almost without a single exception the men who constitute what is usually known as the ‘organization’ in every state are opposed to Ford.” Senator James Couzens said, “How can a man over sixty years old, who … has no training, no experience, aspire to such an office?,” adding, “It is most ridiculous.” Both parties shut their doors, and Ford’s presidential run was over before it began.

By the 1960s, however, the parties were under pressure to democratize their selection process. After Hubert Humphrey won the nomination in 1968 without entering a single primary, the Democratic Party put primary voters in charge. The new rules’ very first outing was disastrous: Left-leaning primary voters chose George McGovern (an architect of the new rules, as it happened), who lost 49 states in 1972.

What followed was an interim period in which the old system operated alongside the new. Primary voters had the main say, but party hacks clawed back influence in what became known as the invisible primary, a race for the support of party leaders, donors, and key constituencies such as unions and business. The hybrid system seemed to work—until, in 2016, it didn’t.

That year brought two insurgent candidacies. In no meaningful sense was Donald Trump a Republican or Bernie Sanders a Democrat. Trump had been a Republican, then an independent, then a Democrat, then a Republican, then “I do not wish to enroll in a party,” then a Republican; he had donated to both parties; he had shown loyalty to and affinity for neither. Sanders was an independent who had switched to nominal Democratic affiliation on the day he filed for the New Hampshire primary, only three months before that election. Yet both insurgents saw that they could bypass the party gatekeepers by exploiting social media, raising money online, and belittling or skipping endorsements. The Democratic establishment barely fended off Sanders, and, of course, Trump seized the Republican nomination and then the party.

By that point, no Americans under age 65 had working experience of functional political parties. Instead, the public saw the parties as vehicles for candidates at best, and as useless or corrupt intermediaries at worst. When Russian email hacks revealed in 2016 that Democratic National Committee officials favored Hillary Clinton over Sanders, the public and media were scandalized and the party chair quit. In earlier times, the appropriate reaction would have seemed more like: “Of course the Democratic Party favors the candidate who is actually a Democrat. That’s why it exists!”

Today, the Republican Party can still do some minor gatekeeping. It maneuvered former Representative Madison Cawthorn out of his House seat after he accused (unnamed) colleagues of holding orgies and using cocaine. For the most part, however, the GOP is engineered to serve Trump. In 2020 and 2024, it did not even pretend to deliberate over a platform.

The Democratic Party, however, has not gone as far down the road to self-dissolution. It has maintained so-called superdelegates who give elected officials and party elders a voice at the convention, albeit more in theory than in practice. In 2020, the Democratic establishment, by rallying to Joe Biden, again succeeded in heading off Sanders.

And now—the stunner. In a head-on conflict with its incumbent president and nominal leader, the institutional Democratic Party has prevailed. It has reclaimed control over its nomination. The party’s elected leaders and donors fell in line and told Biden that the party could not accept his continued candidacy, effectively cutting off the support he needed to win.

This astonishing turn raises two fascinating questions: Why did it happen, and how much will it matter? The answer to the first is that the party is realistic about its situation and that Biden is, in the end, a party man. Both the man and the party deserve credit for putting the institution ahead of the person. That is how American politics is supposed to work.

The second question depends on the outcome. If Democrats lose in November, the party’s intervention will be judged to have been desperate and pointless. But if the Democrats win, their gamble will vindicate the party as an independent actor. For the first time in two generations, the country will see why parties matter and how they can function independently in the public interest, doing what individual voters and politicians cannot.

Biden’s removal from the ticket also illuminates the single most important fact about American politics today, which is that the two parties are no longer the same kind of thing. As Brian Klaas and Tom Nichols have underscored in The Atlantic, one party is a coalitional party that maintains a sense of its identity and independence; the other is a personality cult projecting the will of one authoritarian-minded man. One party retains institutional guardrails; the other traffics in transgression. Both parties fielded dangerously unfit presidential candidates in 2024, but only one was able to muster the will and desire to correct itself. Until the GOP can be restored to its traditional role as a coalitional party, it will remain a source of hazardous instability.

[Brian Klaas: Calls for Biden’s withdrawal are a sign of a healthy Democratic party]

In his new book, American Covenant: How the Constitution Unified Our Nation—And Could Again, Yuval Levin writes, “It is now painfully obvious that the reforms that disempowered party professionals in both parties were a catastrophic mistake, which has sown bitter division throughout our political system and beyond it in the broader culture and done terrible harm to our country.” As Levin correctly notes, the weakening of the professional party organizations—along with the breakdown of Congress—is at the root of contemporary American political dysfunction. Our two parties cannot do what we need them to do if they are bystanders in their own nomination contests.

In principle, restoring more nominating power to party professionals is one of the easiest reforms out there. Whenever they choose, the parties can change their rules to provide for what Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution calls peer review. Surveys find that voters are open to giving parties and professionals a voice in the process.

In practice, however, Americans have lost their memory of parties that behave like institutions, not just platforms or brands. What’s needed is a reminder that a political party can act independently and wisely to serve the national interest at a crucial juncture. We’ve just seen one.

This article originally misdescribed Abraham Lincoln’s pre-presidential record as officeholder.

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When Democracies Backslide On Women’s Rights

In late December, I sat in an Istanbul criminal-court building and witnessed a scene unfold that has become depressingly familiar throughout Turkey. A man was accused of entering his ex-girlfriend’s home, in violation of a preventative order, on four different dates in May 2023. He had threatened to kill her and destroyed her property. The victim was too scared to attend the proceedings.

After a brief hearing, I watched the defendant scurry out of the courtroom, clutching a single piece of paper with the judge’s ruling: He had been released without pretrial detention.

“Cases like those end in murder,” Evrim Kepenek, a Turkish journalist who follows domestic-violence cases, told me. “The man comes to court after violating the protective order and learns that nothing will happen, so he continues until he kills her.”

I lived in Istanbul from 2014 to 2016, a relative high point for Turkish organizers intent on bringing global attention to domestic violence and other issues affecting women. When I returned for two weeks this past winter, I was struck by how much the situation has worsened for women facing domestic abuse. The country issues tens of thousands of preventative orders each year, but enforcement is weak. The Women’s Rights Center of the Istanbul Bar Association examined hundreds of cases of preventative orders issued in 2022 and found that women have little recourse when orders are violated.

Turkish women’s rights overall are in a precarious state. As prime minister of Turkey from 2003 to 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan promoted conservative Muslim traditions, such as the right to wear a headscarf in public institutions. Since being elected president, in 2014, he has been outright demeaning toward secular women, and he’s gotten harsher in the face of new threats to his political power. Indeed, Erdoğan’s attacks on women are an example of a well-established pattern of autocratic leaders diminishing women to enhance their own position.

[Read: How Erdogan made Turkey authoritarian again]

Authoritarian-leaning leaders “have a strategic reason to be sexist,” the Harvard political-science professors Erica Chenowith and Zoe Marks wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2022. “Understanding the relationship between sexism and democratic backsliding is vital for those who wish to fight back against both.”    

Turkey shows that when democracies falter, conditions for women worsen. Still, Turkish women are fighting back, shifting tactics in response to new challenges, and achieving real victories.

The women’s movement in Turkey is arguably the most successful and long-standing civil-society effort in the republic. Long before the Treaty of Lausanne recognized the state of Turkey in 1923, Ottoman-era women fought to end men’s rights to polygamy and unilateral divorce. Alongside the secular agenda of the early republic, women pushed for Sharia law to be replaced by Western civil and penal codes, making Turkey the only country in the region to do this. Influenced by feminism in the United States, in the 1980s, they took their fight to the domestic sphere. Through relentless campaigning, by the early 2000s, they’d won equal decision making in marriage, the criminalization of marital rape, an end to sentence reductions for “honor killings,” and some protections against domestic violence.

[From the May 1909 issue: Women in the young turks movement]

When I first traveled to Turkey, in 2014, women had developed significant organizing power. They took advantage of Western media’s interest in the region after the Arab Spring, and Erdoğan’s ongoing talks with the European Union, to organize massive protests. That year, I walked alongside one of the largest parades for trans rights in the region, one of many large protests that women helped lead. The route was so packed that I worried about a stampede. Although Erdoğan constantly insulted people who did not conform to traditional gender conventions, activists were winning the war of global public perception.

Conservative Muslim women, however, supported Erdoğan. Fifty-five percent of women voters, compared with 48 percent of men, voted for Erdoğan in the 2014 presidential elections. By lifting the headscarf ban, he had expanded some conservative women’s freedom of expression, and households had benefited from a strengthened economy.

Conditions for women across the political spectrum would erode significantly in the following years. On March 20, 2021, Turkey stunned the Council of Europe by withdrawing from the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence—also known as the Istanbul Convention, for the city in which it opened for signatures—which Turkey had been the first country to ratify. Erdoğan claimed that the convention undermined family values and had been “hijacked by a group of people attempting to normalize homosexuality,” though the document makes no major statements about gay rights.

Soon after, Erdoğan’s government made another attempt at undermining the women’s movement by charging the We Will Stop Femicide Platform, a volunteer group of lawyers and advocates who represent victims of domestic violence, with “acting against morality.” The prosecution recommended that the group be dismantled. In an unusual victory for a human-rights group, in September 2023, after 18 months and four hearings, the judge went against Erdoğan’s political agenda and dropped the case due to lack of evidence.

Erdoğan’s attacks on women grew as his political support weakened, after criticism about his response to the February 2023 earthquake and amid raging inflation. Two hard-line Islamist parties were ready and willing to fortify him: the New Welfare Party (YRP) and Hüda Par. YRP’s leader has likened Turkey’s domestic-violence law to fascism, and Hüda Par advocates for separate education for men and women and criminalizing sex outside marriage. In the May 2023 elections, both parties campaigned for the repeal of Law 6284, which includes provisions to protect women but stops short of criminalizing domestic violence. As a result, Erdoğan lost considerable support from conservative women voters.

Last month, Erdoğan announced his plans to amend and weaken Law 6284, and on July 3, his party submitted an omnibus bill to the Turkish Parliament that removes an important provision for protection. Currently, a domestic abuser who violates a preventative order is subject to temporary imprisonment. If the proposed reforms pass, the abuser can avoid this preventive confinement. Equally concerning to the women’s movement, the legal reform would require married women to take their husband’s name, emphasizing the family as the basis for society. Parliament is reviewing the bill.

On March 8, Turkish women participated in their annual “Feminist Night” march, despite a government ban on protests in the busy downtown district where they had gathered. Police hit women until the protective shields they carried were broken, and then detained and charged protesters.

“This is actually an expression of how afraid they are of women,” said Özgür Sevinç Şimşek, a film director who was released in 2021 after serving five and a half years in prison on terrorism charges. “The male state knows that no matter how much it intervenes, women will never give up.” Viewed with this lens, Erdoğan is a rational political actor seeking to neutralize threats and consolidate his power.

Despite all the setbacks, there are signs of hope. In the May 2023 elections, Turkish women won 11 out of 81 mayoral seats, including in five urban centers and some conservative areas, more than doubling their representation in Turkey’s government.

[Read: Arab women are tired of talking about just ‘women’s issues’]

“The election took place between two sharp lines,” said 31-year-old Gulistan Sonuk, who won a mayoral race in the eastern province of Batman by a large margin against Hüda Par. “One was the mentality that saw women as second-class, and the other defended women’s freedom. The public chose the latter.”

The Turkish women’s movement continues to fight back against Erdoğan even as he lashes out at civil society. The movement’s judicial and electoral wins in the face of illiberal leadership and brutal censorship are a beacon of hope to defenders of women and democracy everywhere, though their fight is far from over.

Today, women’s rights and liberal democracy are under attack in countries around the world, including the United States. The countries that are the biggest threat to the U.S.—Russia, China and Iran—are autocratic patriarchies in which women often form a last line of defense by fighting for their rights. While the democratic world wrings its hands in the face of seemingly unstoppable forces of illiberalism, women are still organizing.

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Nothing Netanyahu Says Will Matter

“We can’t rely on miracles. We need action to eliminate the threat. Only one action will accomplish this, and that’s to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza.” These fighting words were uttered by Benjamin Netanyahu—in 2009, when he was running to become Israel’s next prime minister. “I want to say here and now: We won’t stop … We’ll complete the task. We’ll topple the regime of Hamas terror.” A few months after making this promise, Netanyahu took office. He did not, in fact, topple Hamas.

Fifteen years later, Netanyahu is about to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. He’ll be the first foreign leader to have done so four times, more even than Winston Churchill. And nothing he says will matter.

That’s not just because the speech is happening in the shadow of extraordinary electoral upheaval, days after President Joe Biden dropped his reelection bid and hours before Biden will address the nation from the Oval Office. No, the Israeli premier’s speech will be forgotten for a more fundamental reason: Although Netanyahu is very good at delivering portentous pronouncements, his words tend to have few consequences beyond the immediate attention they attract.

[Read: Netanyahu’s folly]

One would think that onlookers would have figured this out by now. After all, Netanyahu last addressed Congress in 2015, to lobby against Barack Obama’s impending Iran nuclear deal. It was a masterful piece of political performance art. It also did not derail the nuclear deal. The prime minister’s speech generated weeks of political strife and breathless media coverage in the United States, but the deal went into effect in January 2016, after the Republican-controlled Congress failed to muster the necessary votes to obstruct it. Practically speaking, Netanyahu’s dramatic intervention achieved nothing, other than rallying Democrats around their president and his signature diplomatic achievement.

In reality, Netanyahu never had the clout in Congress to seriously challenge the deal—the address was about him and bolstering his standing in Israel’s upcoming election, not about changing the course of U.S. diplomacy. Countless “important” Netanyahu addresses in Israel, America, and the United Nations for more than a decade have followed this pattern: The Israeli leader uses his speeches to burnish his brand as a statesman of stature, but his words are only tenuously connected to any real-world outcomes.

Consider Netanyahu’s landmark 2009 address at Bar-Ilan University, where the conservative prime minister—under pressure from a newly elected Obama—claimed to have embraced the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, after having spent his career opposing it. “In my vision of peace in this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect,” he declared. “Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government. Neither will threaten the security or survival of the other.”

Spoiler alert: Netanyahu did not advance the two-state solution in the years that followed. Running for reelection in 2015, he promised that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. At a press conference in December 2023, Netanyahu told a reporter that he was “proud” to have thwarted the establishment of such a state “for almost 30 years,” because after the atrocities of October 7, “everybody understands what that Palestinian state could have been, now that we’ve seen the little Palestinian state in Gaza.”

Earlier this month, before the prime minister departed to address Congress, right-wing factions in Israel’s Parliament proposed and successfully passed a resolution rejecting Palestinian statehood, garnering 68 of the Knesset’s 120 votes—including Netanyahu’s. Some supporting lawmakers clarified that they opposed a Palestinian state only for the present moment, lest its creation reward Hamas for terrorism. Netanyahu’s Likud party made no such stipulation.

The prime minister’s parade of empty utterances goes on. In 2014, Netanyahu announced a deal with the United Nations to resolve the status of 34,000 African asylum seekers in Israel, calling the carefully negotiated arrangement a “landmark achievement.” Hours later, he nixed the whole thing after backlash from his base. In 2019, as part of his reelection campaign, the Israeli leader repeatedly pledged to annex part of the occupied West Bank to Israel, only to ditch the plan as a condition for signing the Abraham Accords. Today, however, Netanyahu’s hard-right government is quietly pursuing such annexation in all but name.

“The ability to spot danger in advance and prepare for it is the test of a body’s functioning,” the prime minister told a popular Israeli talk show a decade ago. “The Jewish nation has never excelled at foreseeing danger. We were surprised again and again—and the last time was the most awful one. That won’t happen under my leadership.” (It did.)

[Read: The end of Netanyahu]

Whatever one thinks of his policies—and I’ve been a critic—Netanyahu is undeniably a singular salesman for himself. A polyglot and a peerless orator, he excels at using set-piece speeches to hijack the public’s attention and cast himself domestically and internationally as a senior statesman. But this ruse works only because bystanders—including the press—confuse rhetoric for reality and spectacle for significance.

The truth is the reverse: What matters are not the words Netanyahu speaks but the actions he ultimately takes. The rest is noise, and—like his address today—can be safely tuned out.

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Why I Buy German Toothpaste Now

For as long as I can remember, I have bought into the gospel of fluoride, believing that my teeth would surely rot out of my head without its protection. So it felt a little bit illicit, recently, when I purchased a box of German fluoride-free kids’ toothpaste for my daughter. The toothpaste came in blue, understated packaging—no cartoon characters or candy flavors—which I associated with German practicality. And instead of fluoride, it contained an anticavity ingredient called hydroxyapatite, vouched for by several dental researchers I interviewed for this story. Could it be, I wondered as I clicked “Buy,” that toothpaste doesn’t need to contain fluoride after all?

The scientific case for hydroxyapatite toothpaste is actually quite simple: Composed of calcium and phosphate, hydroxyapatite is the very mineral that primarily makes up our bones and teeth. Tooth enamel, the hard protective outer layer, is naturally about 96 percent hydroxyapatite. NASA researchers first patented an idea for repairing teeth with a hydroxyapatite precursor in the 1970s; nothing came of it then, but a Japanese company acquired the patent and eventually created a popular toothpaste called Apagard. Hydroxyapatite toothpaste has been approved for cavity prevention in Japan since 1993. It is also approved in Canada and endorsed by the Canadian Dental Association. And it’s sold in Europe, where the European Commission has deemed the ingredient safe in toothpaste.

In the United States, however, fluoride still reigns supreme. You likely won’t find toothpaste containing hydroxyapatite at your corner drugstore. A few boutique hydroxyapatite-based brands have popped up, but they cannot market themselves for cavity prevention without FDA approval, a long and expensive process that no hydroxyapatite toothpaste has yet gone through. The American Dental Association (ADA), meanwhile, gives its Seal of Acceptance only to toothpastes that contain fluoride.

Fluoride does work remarkably well: It is incorporated into the enamel structure of the tooth itself, forming a mineral crystal that is significantly more resistant to cavity-causing acid than the tooth’s natural material, according Bernhard Ganss, a scientist at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Dentistry. “​​The dogma in dentistry has always been: Fluoride is a good thing.”

The trouble with fluoride is that, at very high levels, it becomes a bad thing. Ingesting too much can lead to a condition called fluorosis, in which teeth become mottled in mild cases or structurally weak in more serious ones. The same can happen to bones. More controversially, high levels of fluoride in drinking water—higher than the level recommended in the U.S., but lower than the current EPA limit—have been linked to lower IQ in children. Toothpaste typically contains more than 1,000 times the fluoride recommended in drinking water. We use much less toothpaste than water, of course, and it’s not meant to be swallowed, but young children do not spit out toothpaste reliably.

Hydroxyapatite is a way to sidestep the fluoride controversy. It offers the anticavity benefits of fluoride, but without the risks. Bennett Amaechi, a dentistry professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, says he now recommends it to parents who have concerns about fluoride. He has collaborated with toothpaste manufacturers to study ​​hydroxyapatite, but Felicitas Bidlack told me the same thing about its utility. Bidlack is not a dentist, but she is a tooth enamel researcher, recommended to me by the American Dental Association, which one could hardly accuse of being anti-fluoride. Yet for kids under 2 still learning not to swallow toothpaste, she would likely choose hydroxyapatite. “That’s what I would do as a mother,” she told me.

Fluoride toothpaste is in a bit of catch-22, Bidlack added. Sweet candy flavors, bright colors, and glitter can make toothpaste enticing enough for kids to want to brush their teeth, but if it’s too enticing, kids might simply eat it. “If you provide fluoride with this good-tasting goo that they put in their mouths, there is definitely a risk of unintentional ingestion,” says Ganss, who has published papers on hydroxyapatite in collaboration with scientists from the Dr. Wolff Group, a German business that manufactures toothpaste. He went even further: For very young kids, “I would actually really stand up and say no fluoride, period.”

I found these conversations clarifying, as they cut through the contradictory advice I’ve been given about fluoride for my 1-year-old. Toothpaste marketed to kids under 2 in the U.S. does not in fact contain fluoride (it usually contains a sugar alcohol called xylitol), and toothpastes that do contain fluoride are labeled as unsuitable for kids younger than 2 unless instructed by a doctor. But the American Academy of Pediatrics, whose guidelines our pediatrician repeated, says to use fluoride toothpaste as soon as the first tooth appears—though only a rice-size smear, which would limit exposure to fluoride. So is fluoride good or not? Is it safe or not? Wouldn’t it be nice not to deal with fluoride at all?

Hydroxyapatite’s track record is not as long as fluoride’s, but the evidence so far looks good: In clinical trials that have followed kids or adults for six months to a year and a half—largely funded by toothpaste manufacturers—hydroxyapatite and fluoride have come out about equally protective against cavities. Hydroxyapatite is chemically not as resistant to cavity-causing acid as the mineral formed by fluoride, but Ganss says that daily brushing might replenish hydroxyapatite often enough that the real-world protection is the same. The mineral may also have some other benefits: In studies, hydroxyapatite has helped reduce tooth sensitivity and the amount of bacteria stuck to teeth. The one thing it cannot do is resolve the controversy over adding fluoride to drinking water, which is done as a public-health measure in most parts of the U.S. to prevent tooth decay. Hydroxyapatite can’t be put into drinking water, because it doesn’t dissolve at a neutral pH. “The tap water would be milky,” Ganss says. “It would probably clog all your pipes within a few days or so.”

The researchers I spoke with thought fluoride still had its uses, particularly in treatments and toothpaste for adults who know not to swallow too much. Amaechi still brushes with the Colgate he’s used all his life, as he sees no reason for him, as an adult, to change his habits. But he does recommend hydroxyapatite in specific situations—for example, patients with dry mouth, he says, may particularly benefit from this formulation.

Age 2 isn’t some magic threshold at which the calculus regarding toothpaste in small children suddenly changes, of course. Canada, in fact, recommends holding off on fluoride for most kids until age 3; fluoride-free options for kids are now expanding in the U.S., even without FDA approval of hydroxyapatite. The German children’s toothpaste came only in boring white mint, but I found a number of brands in the U.S. already selling more tempting flavors, such as orange creamsicle and birthday cake.

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The Court Fools Itself

The Trumpist justices on the Supreme Court had a very serious problem: They needed to keep their guy out of prison for trying to overthrow the government. The right-wing justices had to do this while still attempting to maintain at least a pretense of having ruled on the basis of the law and the Constitution rather than mere partisan instincts.

So they settled on what they thought was a very clever solution: They would grant the presidency the near-unlimited immunity Donald Trump was asking for, while writing the decision so as to keep the power to decide which presidential acts would be “official” and immune to criminal prosecution, and which would be “unofficial” and therefore not. The president is immune, but only when the justices say he is. The president might seem like a king, but the justices can withhold the crown.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on presidential immunity combines with its regulatory decisions this term to remake the executive branch into the ideal right-wing combination of impotence and power: Too weak to regulate, restrain, or punish private industry for infractions, but strong enough for the president to order his political opponents murdered or imprisoned. To ordinary people, the president is a king; to titans of industry, he is a pawn. Given the work the Trump justices have done here, the billionaire class’ affection for Trump, often presented as counterintuitive, is not difficult to understand.

Yet when it comes to the justices’ decision on immunity, they were too clever by half. They seem to believe that when a president goes too far for their taste, they can declare he’s not immune and constrain him. But there is danger in a ruling that invites presidents to test the limits of their power. By the time a rogue president goes too far, he is unlikely to care what the Supreme Court says. A president unbound by the law is shackled only by the dictates of his own conscience, and a president without a conscience faces no restraint at all. And because they ruled as they did, when they did, and on behalf of a man lawless enough to try to overturn an election, Americans may pay for the justices’ hubris sooner rather than later.

Rather than leave such momentous decisions in the justices’ hands as they intended, the ruling empowers anyone amoral enough to commit crimes to do so without any fear of the law or the Supreme Court. The decision implies that this immunity would extend to anyone acting on the president’s orders—meaning that a president is free not only to commit crimes, but to turn the federal government itself into a criminal enterprise, one in which officials can act with impunity against the public they are meant to serve. That the executive branch has all the guns was true prior to the Court’s ruling. But until the justices had to find a way to keep Donald Trump out of prison for trying to stay in office after losing an election, few people believed that the presidency was as unbound from the law as the Supreme Court has now made it.

The American government was constructed with one basic idea in mind: that the three branches would prevent tyranny by counteracting one another. As Federalist No. 51 put it, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” But a subsequent clause is just as important: “What is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

The Framers were decidedly not angels—their acceptance of slavery being an obvious illustration of their fallibility. They understood that, to sustain itself, the structure of the government would have to account for vices as well as virtues. The Roberts Court’s ahistorical ruling reversed the entire purpose of the Constitution, from creating a government that did not need to be led by angels to creating one so imperial that only an angel ought to be allowed to govern it.

[Read: The Supreme Court puts Trump above the law]

We could speculate on how presidents without fear of the law might act, but we already have a historical example in Trump’s favorite president, Andrew Jackson.

In 1831, the Supreme Court decided 5–1 in favor of a pair of missionaries who had been assisting the Cherokee in a dispute with the Georgia state government. The justices ruled that because the Cherokee constituted a sovereign nation, only the federal government had jurisdiction over them. Georgia had passed a series of laws authorizing the ethnic cleansing of the Cherokee from any lands claimed by the state, and as a result of the ruling, those laws had become invalid. But Jackson had no intention of upholding the Supreme Court’s decision and preventing Georgia from seizing those lands and displacing the Cherokee.

According to the Jackson biographer John Meacham, the president did not say, “Well, [Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it,” the popular misquote of Jackson’s reaction. Instead he said, “The decision of the Supreme Court has fell still born, and they find that it cannot coerce Georgia to yield to its mandate.” But the effect was the same. Neither Jackson nor the state of Georgia wanted to follow Marshall’s opinion, and so they ignored it. The federal government had already passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, so the decision would not have prevented the ethnic cleansing known as the Trail of Tears even had it been heeded. Nevertheless, the incident showed that the Supreme Court had no power to enforce its decisions; it relied on the good faith of the executive branch.

In the history of presidential crimes, the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans dwarfs anything Trump has done. Jackson acted as he did not because he believed the text of the Constitution granted him immunity, but because in 1831 the United States allowed only white men to vote and there was no constituency large enough to oppose his actions. In other words: He did it because he knew he could get away with it.

[Read: The Roberts Court draws a line]

One could retort that the fact that the republic did not fall after a president ignored a Supreme Court decision should provide some comfort. Except that is not the lesson here. The lesson is that presidents and governments are capable of doing monstrous things to people they consider beneath them or to whom they are unaccountable. The extraconstitutional presidential immunity invented out of whole cloth by the Roberts Court offers to make presidents unaccountable not just to a portion of the people they govern, but to all of them.

Whatever crimes Trump has committed in the past, or chooses to commit in the future, he will, unlike Jackson, have the Supreme Court’s blessing—so long as he can disguise them as official acts. But even if Trump loses in November, this concept of presidential immunity conjured up by the Roberts Court has made the current crisis of American democracy perpetual. Until it is overturned, every president is a potential despot.

The Jackson incident is a well-known cautionary tale of presidential lawlessness. Trump’s entourage however, sees it differently—as inspiration.  

Trump’s newly announced running mate, J. D. Vance, has said so himself. In 2022 , Vanity Fair reported that Vance had appeared on a podcast in which he said, “I think Trump is going to run again in 2024,” and added:

“I think that what Trump should do, if I was giving him one piece of advice: Fire every single midlevel bureaucrat, every civil servant in the administrative state, replace them with our people.”

“And when the courts stop you,” he went on, “stand before the country, and say”—he quoted Andrew Jackson, giving a challenge to the entire constitutional order—“the chief justice has made his ruling. Now let him enforce it.”

This is not a view of executive power that is going to submit to whatever legal technicalities the justices might use to restrain it, if they even wanted to. One likely reason Vance was picked is that, unlike former Vice President Mike Pence, Vance has openly said he would have tried to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election using the vice president’s ceremonial role in electoral-vote certification. In other words, he would be a willing accomplice to a coup. We might view Vance’s lawlessness here as a kind of audition for the next Trump administration, one he apparently aced.

The originalists of the Roberts Court, supposedly so committed to the text of the Constitution, the intent of the Framers, and the nuances of history, conjured out of nothing precisely the sort of executive office the Founders of the United States were trying to avoid. They did so because their primary mode of constitutional interpretation is a form of narcissism: Whatever the contemporary conservative movement wants must be what the Founders wanted, regardless of what the Founders actually said, did, or wrote.

The right-wing justices, in rewriting of the Constitution in Trump’s image, have clearly diverged from the intentions of the founders. In “Federalist No. 69,” Alexander Hamilton wrote that former presidents would “be liable to prosecution and punishment in the ordinary course of law.” Expanding on his point, Hamilton wrote, “The person of the king of Great Britain is sacred and inviolable; there is no constitutional tribunal to which he is amenable; no punishment to which he can be subjected without involving the crisis of a national revolution.” The Roberts Court turned the office of the presidency the Founders made into the kind of monarchical office they rebelled against.

The justices, less independent arbiters than the shock troops of the conservative movement, wanted Trump to be immune to prosecution, and so they conjured a rationale for doing so, with a narrow window of legal accountability that only they have the right to determine. But that window might as well be barred from the inside: What Jackson’s story shows is that the feeble, arbitrary restraints the justices put into their own grant of royal immunity to Trump will not withstand any president with the capacity to violate them. Unfortunately, the day a rogue president shows the Supreme Court just how powerless it really is, it will not be the justices who suffer most for their folly.

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