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In the Armenia-Azerbaijan Peace Deal, Great Power Politics Is Back

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After weeks of brutal and bloody fighting between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in and around the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, a halt has been called. Facing defeat, the Armenian side has more or less capitulated. Russian peacekeepers are already arriving to enforce a new peace deal.

It is a pivotal moment. The military and political map of the South Caucasus region has changed fundamentally. Lives have been saved. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani refugees, displaced by the conflict in the late 1980s and early ’90s, can celebrate at the possibility of going home. But Armenians are shattered and fearful.

And the geopolitical picture is not so pretty: This is a deal brokered by two big autocratic neighbors, Russia and Turkey, that can now use it to pursue their own self-aggrandizing agendas. For them this is about troops and transport corridors, not people. The United States, despite being an official mediator, along with European countries, is being kept at bay, paying the price for years of not engaging with the conflict.

The conflict, which dates back to 1988 in its modern form, can lay claim to being Europe’s most intractable dispute. It pits the aspirations of the Armenian-majority region of Nagorno-Karabakh for self-determination against Azerbaijan’s right to the territory under international law. Almost incapable of dialogue, both sides have sought to settle their dispute by force of arms. In the ’90s, the Armenian side prevailed at great cost; on Sept. 27, Azerbaijan took military action to reverse that defeat and recover lost lands.

The big change came on the night of Nov. 9-10. After six weeks of fighting in which Azerbaijan recaptured huge sections of lost territory, the Armenian leadership, facing a military collapse on all fronts, agreed in desperation to a nine-point peace agreement announced in Moscow. The announcement sparked unrest in the Armenian capital, Yerevan. Prime minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia may not survive the crisis, which he badly mishandled by giving patriotic speeches but failing to engage seriously in diplomacy. But any successor will have little option but to accept this deal.

The human cost of the new conflict has been immense. The final military death toll is expected to exceed 5,000. More than 100 civilians have died.

Azerbaijan is the big winner. More than 26 years ago, it suffered a humiliating defeat on the battlefield, ceding both the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and all the surrounding regions to Armenian forces. Now, having prevailed in the new fight, it is poised to recover those lands, allowing more than half a million displaced people the right of return. What’s more, Azerbaijan gets to keep Shusha, the historic hilltop town in the heart of the enclave, called Shushi by the Armenians, which is of great cultural importance, and which previously had a majority Azerbaijani population.

Credit…EPA via Shutterstock

Russia, which crafted the deal, is also a winner. Unlike in other conflict zones in the former Soviet Union, it never managed to secure “boots on the ground” in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. Now it has done just that: 1,960 peacekeepers are being deployed. That suddenly gives Russia a greatly enhanced military presence in a region where it was losing influence.

Turkey gains, too. Having given its ally Azerbaijan decisive military support, it has secured the promise of a transport corridor that dramatically expands its eastern horizons, running from eastern Turkey to the Caspian Sea via the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan — effectively a new trade route all the way to Central Asia.

Armenians are the traumatized losers. They pay a very heavy price for a poor military performance and years of inflexibility over the Azerbaijani lands they occupied in the early 1990s. All that they could salvage from the deal was to keep a large part of the disputed Armenian-majority enclave, including the main city of Stepanakert, and to secure the protection of Russian peacekeepers. But they have lost parts of Nagorno-Karabakh itself to Azerbaijani forces. The final status of the region is still in doubt.

Russia’s agreement is one page long and contains many unanswered questions and potential traps. The abruptness with which it was done harks back to the ruthless great power politics of the turn of the 20th century.

For the first time in exactly 100 years — since the fall of 1920 — Russian and Turkish troops will both be on the ground in the region. Back then, just as many czars and sultans had done before them, Vladimir Lenin and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk dictated terms to draw new borders and spheres of influence. Then as now, Russia and Turkey shut Western nations out of the decision-making process.

Many “peace agreements” brokered by big powers across the world have festered or foundered because the grievances underlying them were never resolved and embittered parties to the conflict acted as spoilers. If this deal is not robust enough, in particular to make the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh feel safe and protected, it could fall apart in the same way and set off new conflict.

So to craft a sustainable Armenian-Azerbaijani peace, serious work is needed on a host of issues. These include: facilitating the safe return of refugees, reconstruction, demining, humanitarian support, addressing human rights abuses and opening the isolated region of Nagorno-Karabakh itself to access by international and United Nations agencies. Looming above them all is an angry clash of historical and national narratives that makes Nagorno-Karabakh one of the most toxic conflicts in the world.

These are issues in which the politicians in Moscow or Ankara have little expertise or interest. They are ones in which Western countries and international organizations can offer a lot. That requires some humility about how little they have engaged with this conflict over the years and also what is bound to be an awkward cooperation with Russia. But a broader international contribution is crucial. What was signed on the night of Nov. 9, was only a deal for Nagorno-Karabakh. Much more is required if it is to become a peace.

Thomas de Waal (@Tom_deWaal) is a senior fellow with Carnegie Europe and the author of “Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War”

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Biden wrestles with politics in effort to depoliticize the Justice Department – CNN

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This creates competing realities for Biden. He must get an attorney general confirmed by a Senate that could be controlled by Republicans, some of whom tell CNN they will only vote for a candidate who pledges to continue an investigation into the 2016 election.
But even more significant, Biden is also feeling pressure from top Democrats and allied groups who believe he must nominate a person of color to at least one of the top four Cabinet posts, likely as attorney general.
Democratic lawmakers and allied groups are pressuring Biden’s transition team after Biden selected White nominees for both his top job at the State and Treasury departments. The calculation is complicated by the fact that Michele Flournoy, who is also White, is seen as Biden’s leading contender to lead the Defense Department.
On the right, there’s a new hurdle for Biden to clear, following the appointment of John Durham as special counsel investigating whether intelligence and law enforcement violated the law in investigating the 2016 presidential campaign. Senate Republicans are signaling they will require any attorney general nominee to commit to keeping Durham in place. A source familiar with the deliberations inside the transition said Thursday that the ongoing Durham probe “won’t impact” who Biden selects for attorney general.
Biden’s list of contenders for the job — from Sally Yates, former deputy attorney general, to Doug Jones, soon to be former senator from Alabama who was defeated in November — largely centers on former prosecutors whose history at the department could lend credibility with the public and career officials.
Others said to be in contention include Deval Patrick, former Massachusetts governor and former Justice Department civil rights chief; Jeh Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary under Obama; California Attorney General Xavier Becerra; and Lisa Monaco, a former Homeland Security adviser in the Obama White House and who previously worked at the FBI and as top national security prosecutor at Justice.
Biden, along with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, are interviewing contenders and weighing the decision. They are not expected to announce a decision until next week at the earliest, people familiar with the matter told CNN, but with a goal of doing so well before the holidays. The timing is also contingent on the nomination of a Secretary of Defense.
The job, for whomever Biden picks, will be a heavy lift. The pick will be stepping into a Justice Department damaged by the Trump administration and with low morale among career officials, many of whom have been publicly called out by President Donald Trump, Barr and other Republicans.
And Senate leaders are already demanding Biden select someone who will leave Durham in his special counsel job.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who sits on Senate Judiciary, told CNN on Thursday that the next Attorney General nominee “absolutely” must commit to keeping Durham as special counsel.
“It’s non-negotiable,” he said.
The nominee will also be tasked with overseeing Biden’s attempts to tackle questions about race and policing, an issue that dominated the political conversation over the summer in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in May and the subsequent widespread protests, as well as calls to protect the right to vote and use the power of the Department of Justice to combat climate change.
Biden said Thursday he will make sure his Justice Department operates independently, he told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an exclusive interview. “I’m not going to be telling them what they have to do and don’t have to do. I’m not going to be saying go prosecute A, B or C — I’m not going to be telling them. That’s not the role, it’s not my Justice Department, it’s the people’s Justice Department.”

Yates and Jones

Yates, multiple sources told CNN, had long been one of Biden’s leading contenders for the job, with the longtime official reflecting Biden’s focus on career officials in the picks he has already made.
But her nomination could be contentious.
Yates’ order for the Justice Department to refuse to enforce Trump’s first travel ban prompted her firing in January 2017, making her a “Resistance” hero to liberals and served as a highlight for Yates in a speech to the Democratic National Convention in August, during which said Trump “trampled the rule of law, trying to weaponize the Justice Department to attack his enemies and protect his friends.”
As quickly as Yates has become a hero to the left, she has become a villain on the right — Barr, then a private citizen, wrote that her decision was “incoherent and untenable” — a fact that could complicate her nomination to a Republican Senate. If nominated, Republicans are likely to revisit that episode, as well as the fact that the FBI launched its investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign during Yates’ tenure. In recent months, Yates sat for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss some of the mistakes the FBI made during that probe.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is in line to chair Senate Judiciary in a GOP majority, told CNN on Thursday that Durham’s probe into the 2016 election will be key to the consideration of a new nominee.
“Yes, from this standpoint,” Grassley said when asked if keeping Durham would be central to the nomination. “Everybody came to me when I was chairman of the committee and wanted to make sure that I would take action to make sure that Trump didn’t fire Mueller.”
After noting he sponsored legislation aimed at protecting special counsels, Grassley added: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, so I want to make sure that Durham gets the same respect.”
Sources also told CNN that Biden is serious about his intent to move beyond the Trump era in hopes of unifying the country and wonders whether Yates could be too divisive of a nominee to lead the Justice Department and her confirmation could be complicated by Senate Republicans.
Jones is seen as someone easier to confirm. The current senator from Alabama who lost his bid for reelection in November previously worked as the US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama and was the lead prosecutor suing KKK members responsible for the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, strong selling points to advocacy organizations.
Both Yates and Jones, however, are White, an issue for an incoming administration seeking diversity among its appointees that could be compounded by picks Biden has already made.
The former vice president has picked Antony Blinken to be his Secretary of State and Janet Yellen to be his Treasury secretary, and the frontrunner to be Biden’s Secretary of Defense is Flournoy. All three are White.
“I don’t think they can politically do that,” said a source familiar with the transition. “I don’t think they can get away with that.”

Political considerations

Attorney General, like other nominations to the Cabinet, is hardly made in a vacuum, so the likelihood of Biden picking Johnson, Patrick and Becerra could increase if Biden has not already chosen a Black nominee for another top Cabinet post.
Biden is seriously considering Patrick, believing he could have a smoother path to confirmation, sources told CNN. Patrick was viewed to be an attorney general candidate in the latter years of the Obama presidency, but instead went into the private sector before mounting an ill-fated presidential bid late in the nomination process. His relationship with Biden could be strained, however, after Patrick largely ran for president by arguing none of the other candidates — including Biden — had what it took to beat Trump.
Johnson is someone Biden knows from his time in the Obama administration, where he led the Department of Homeland Security from 2013 to 2017 and previously as the general counsel of the Department of Defense. And Johnson is also said to be under consideration by Biden for other positions, including Defense Secretary.
“I like how Jeh Johnson handles himself,” Grassley said Thursday.
But Johnson comes with some baggage for the left, particularly how the Obama administration handled the deportation of undocumented immigrants during his tenure at Homeland Security. Biden has sought to distance himself from that record, including explicitly saying he would handle deportation differently than President Barack Obama.
Becerra is also under consideration, people familiar with the matter say, and has many allies inside the Biden transition. He served in Congress for more than two decades and despite his criticism and myriad lawsuits against the Trump administration, officials believe at least a handful of Republicans would join Democratic senators in confirming him.
Monaco, like Johnson, has been considered for other Biden administration roles. If Trump fires FBI Director Christopher Wray, as he at times mused that he might, then Monaco is a top candidate as the first woman to fill that vacancy. She was on the shortlist for the job when Obama picked James Comey in 2013.

The challenges

Whoever Biden picks for attorney general will inherit a Justice Department damaged by perceptions of politicized decision-making, thanks to Trump’s Twitter rantings, and low morale among career employees.
Taking on the job is likely to be a major challenge, particularly because the Justice Department’s top job in recent decades increasingly has become the focus of partisan fights between Congress and the White House no matter who holds it. And many in the Democratic base want to see the Department of Justice do more to combat systemic racism in policing, protect the right to vote and crack down on the kinds of financial abuses that were seen to run rampant during the Trump administration.
After four years of Trump, some Democrats are also hungry for the Department of Justice under Biden to prosecute some of the decision made during Trump’s tenure.
Biden has largely resisted those calls and plans to try to put distance between the Department of Justice and his White House by issuing an executive order “directing that no White House staff or any member of his administration may initiate, encourage, obstruct, or otherwise improperly influence specific DOJ investigations or prosecutions for any reason.” The move is a rejection of the Trump administration, which saw Trump repeatedly lean on the Department of Justice for political reasons, especially under Barr.
Justice employees welcomed Barr to his second stint as attorney general, with hopes high that he would protect the department from the steady diet of attacks from Trump, who regularly criticized Jeff Sessions, his first attorney general. Instead, Barr has embraced Trump’s rhetoric, doing damage to the department’s reputation with the courts, the public and its own employees, current and former Justice officials say.
After months of complaining privately about career prosecutors resisting his demands, Barr used a September speech to a conservative college audience to compare career officials to Montessori pre-schoolers. The point of the speech was to underscore that political appointees are the bosses, but Barr used demeaning terms to complain about career civil servants who serve under Republican and Democratic administrations.
Barr’s defenders say he has done as much as possible to keep politics out of the department in an unorthodox presidency. Under public pressure from Trump to target Biden and Obama over what Trump claims were spying violations against his campaign, Barr publicly said the department wasn’t doing that. People close to Barr also say his conduct in office isn’t evidence of doing Trump’s bidding, but more a reflection of a deeply conservative Republican attorney general who believes the political left was out to get Trump.
Phillip Halpern, who left the department this fall after 36 years as a federal prosecutor, says one example of potential long-term damage from the Barr era comes from his push to drop charges against Michael Flynn, claiming in part that Flynn’s lies to the FBI weren’t material, or big enough, to matter.
“His excuse on the Flynn case on the standard of materiality was as stupid as what Trump said about injecting bleach into your body,” Halpern said in an interview. “It’s a lie, it’s offensive.”
A future attorney general will have to restore trust, Halpern said.
Other current and former officials say the department’s civil rights enforcement and voting rights sections will require work after the Trump era. And after months of protests over police conduct and accountability, the Justice Department under Biden will be under pressure to help encourage changes to policing.
And the pick will be tasked with what to do about special ongoing probes launched under Barr, in an apparent effort to placate Trump. These include the investigation by John Durham into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation.
And that could be the first test of Biden’s pledge to take a hands-off approach with the Department of Justice.
“I will not do what this president does,” Biden told NBC News last month, “and use the Justice Department as my vehicle to insist that something happen.”
But the special counsel investigation will now be waiting for Biden.

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America's Covid politics, historical revisionism and why Cold War conformity isn't the answer – NBC News

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Americans are losing their jobs, getting sick and dying because of inaction by the federal government and by their governors and because of resistance — sometimes violent resistance — to the few public health measures that are in effect.

How did we end up with a new member of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who used her first moments in Washington to criticize masks? Why has the federal government given up on a national response to the Covid-19 pandemic? Why are people threatening violence against governors who propose even modestly restrictive public health measures?

Why are we being so reckless about something so important?

The short answer is that public health has become politicized, and political conflict makes us stupid.

The short answer is that public health has become politicized, and political conflict makes us stupid. Most people know almost nothing about public policy, and when we make political arguments, we reason in ways that would be embarrassing in other contexts. Being smart offers little protection, and it can even make us more vulnerable to distorted political reasoning.

In 2013, Yale researcher Dan Kahan worried that politics could quickly pollute the science communication environment about vaccines. Even though beliefs about vaccine science and immunization policy were not then strongly associated with political identities, he was concerned that this could change quickly. Something similar had happened before: In the 1990s, beliefs about climate change were not significantly politically polarized; that consensus evaporated in the first decade of the 2000s.

In 2020, it has become clear that Kahan was right to be worried. Americans’ willingness to accept vaccines and their feelings about vaccine laws are increasingly split along party lines. The same is true for views about Covid-19 lockdowns, mask mandates and social distancing. The new Covid-19 vaccine could be political dynamite.

Dec. 3, 202004:38

A common explanation for some people’s resistance to public health measures is that previous generations were more virtuous than we are. You might point to the example of the school-age Polio Pioneers who participated in vaccine testing and to Jonas Salk’s (supposedly) altruistic refusal to patent the polio vaccine.

But it is a self-congratulatory fiction to attribute the public health compliance of earlier generations to a now-lost commitment to fairness and solidarity. A truer story would focus on the fact that earlier Americans had more in common and were more obedient to authority figures.

Consider that, until the 1970s and the 1980s, patients rarely provided informed consent to medical procedures. While the medical abuses of the Holocaust illustrated that patients and research subjects should have the right to make their own decisions, American doctors largely rejected the 1947 Nuremberg Code’s call for informed consent and continued to practice more paternalistic medicine — they would continue to treat patients over their objections or otherwise disregard patient preferences — until the law forced their hand.

America also used to be a more collectivist place, at least in much of the post-World War II era. Most people were bound by a shared civil religion of patriotism (including a Cold War hatred of communism), and their private religious beliefs were more often connected to churches that occupied centrist positions in political life. Among white Americans, there was greater economic equality, more optimism about improving standards of living and greater trust in social institutions (including government, medicine and science). Racism and, more importantly, the influence of white supremacy — in education, housing and the workplace, among other things — shaped a shared experience for white Americans and imposed a similarly common oppressive way of life on nonwhite Americans.

Cold War conformity and Jim Crow terrorism are not good models for contemporary social cooperation. We applaud the accomplishments of the civil rights and patients’ rights movements. We are glad to live in more pluralistic and diverse communities.

However, the loss of common identities and shared political aspirations has led directly to rising levels of political polarization around policies that used to be less controversial.

Common enemies often generate a sense of shared purpose. Perhaps the Covid-19 pandemic will become so severe that our mutual vulnerability will cultivate recommitment to public health measures. For example, some Republican governors have recently reversed themselves and embraced mask mandates. But even if this trend continues, it is not likely to be a stable basis for an ongoing public health consensus after the pandemic.

It seems more likely that opposition to a foreign enemy — say, China — could cultivate longer-lasting common political commitments in a diverse America. Political leaders of both parties support America’s imperial projects, and most citizens seem open to bipartisanship in the name of resisting (supposed) existential threats to the country. This kind of shared political identity could be more stable, but only if the struggle lasted a long time and only if it did not result in catastrophic wars. But this is a dangerous and unethical basis for political consensus.

We hope, instead, that Democrats and Republicans can find common cause in conceptions of freedom that express our shared values. We all ought to be free from restrictions on what we say and believe, and we have good reasons to protect valued spheres of civic life from the corrupting influence of politics and the unwelcome oversight of government. We all also ought to be free to live in healthy and peaceful communities, participate in well-functioning economic systems and have access to targeted social welfare programs. Whether America can re-create stable public health governance depends on whether Americans can promote these kinds of freedoms in our ongoing work of living together.

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All Santa Wants for Christmas Is to Stay Out of Politics – The New York Times

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All Santa Wants for Christmas Is to Stay Out of Politics

After a brush with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, professional Santa Clauses are just trying to get through this holiday season safely.

Credit…Julien Sage for The New York Times
  • Dec. 4, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET

Ric Erwin is one of thousands of men for whom Santa Claus is both a sacred idea and a seasonal occupation. Earlier this year, he was looking forward to donning his red velvet suit and hat this December, just as he has each winter for the last decade.

But the pandemic has thrown a wrench in the usual Christmas shows and shopping mall photo ops. And Mr. Erwin, 62, who is the chairman of the board of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas — a national association for men who grow and maintain their own beards to play Santa Claus at holiday events — has found himself advocating for 500 professionals to safely support their work while virus cases are surging.

In September, Mr. Erwin, who lives in Hemet, Calif., testified virtually before the Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. He noted that the production and distribution of an H1N1 vaccine in 2009 allowed Santa Claus performers to save Christmas that year. He hoped the C.D.C. could similarly expedite a vaccine in time for this holiday season.

After his testimony, Mr. Erwin received several phone calls, voicemails and emails from Michael R. Caputo, the assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, who hoped to broker a deal with the Santas. Mr. Erwin recalled Mr. Caputo telling him that the White House was interested in having Santas participate in a 35-city rollout campaign for Operation Warp Speed, the federal effort to develop a coronavirus vaccine. In exchange, he promised the Santas access to a vaccine by mid-October.

A Santa meet-and-greet at Bass Pro Shops in Bridgeport, Conn.
Credit…Seth Wenig/Associated Press

“That sounded like a great deal to us,” Mr. Erwin said. “Within 24 hours we had over 100 volunteers. The response was overwhelming.”

Mr. Caputo told Mr. Erwin he couldn’t wait to tell President Trump that the Santas were onboard with the plan. Then, Mr. Erwin said, Mr. Caputo, the C.D.C. and the H.H.S. ghosted him.

Mr. Erwin realized Mr. Caputo was never going to call him back when The Wall Street Journal published an article in late October stating that the campaign, which was meant to include not only Santa players but also celebrities, had been scrapped. (In a statement to The New York Times, an H.H.S. spokeswoman reiterated: “This collaboration will not be happening.”)

“We saw the handwriting on the wall and we knew there was not going to be a collaboration at that point, so if we were going to save Christmas this year it was just going to be the Clauses,” Mr. Erwin said.

In addition to stoking some false hope, his negotiations with the federal government drew attention to the myriad societies Santa Claus performers belong to today (though the word “performers” is scorned by those who take a method approach to the role). There are regional groups (like the Lone Star Santas and the New England Santa Society), as well as national and international ones.

For the most part, these organizations try to stay out of politics, activism and other kinds of campaigning. So some Santas were annoyed.

Credit…Houston Cofield for The New York Times
Credit…Julien Sage for The New York Times

“First of all, Santa lives in the North Pole — he doesn’t live in the United States,” said Stephen Arnold, 70, a Memphis resident and president of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas (I.B.R.B.S.), a trade group with more than 2,000 members. “He might have an interest in seeing that the United States is a calm and safe place for him to visit and deliver Christmas presents, but as a Santa Claus, you shouldn’t have a political posture.”

Mr. Arnold added that his understanding was that only four or five people would end up eligible for an early shot of the vaccine according to the offer Mr. Caputo made to Mr. Erwin.

To be fair, Mr. Arnold and Mr. Erwin have some history. The Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas (F.O.R.B.S.) emerged out of the dissolution more than a decade ago of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas (A.O.R.B.S.), which was wrapped in scandal at the time. (“If you Google ‘Santa Wars,’ you’ll find articles on it,” Mr. Arnold said.) Today, F.O.R.B.S. is much smaller than I.B.R.B.S., which also includes Mrs. Clauses, and there are members of each group who will not forget the Santa tension of years past.

Personal matters aside, Mr. Arnold said his resistance to take part in the government campaign revolved largely around a desire to remain apolitical.

“Most of our members were reluctant to consider being first in line because they felt that the whole thing on vaccines was being politically manipulated,” he said. “We work very hard on not being political. We do not allow any political posts or anything on our Facebook group pages.”

“If somebody posts something that’s even slightly interpreted as a political statement, it’s gone instantly,” he continued. “It’s just deleted.”

Should a member like to make a statement out-of-character, that’s fine, Mr. Arnold said. “We encourage all of our Santas who want to make political posts to create a separate page where they don’t wear any red, and don’t indicate they’re Santa Claus or have Santa in their names,” he said.

Credit…Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

At this point, according to C.D.C. recommendations, Santa players shouldn’t expect to be vaccinated before Christmas. So, what does that mean for this holiday season?

“Generally speaking, within the Santa community, we are being as cautious as possible,” Mr. Arnold said. “There’s a small contingency of people who have laughed it off and said ‘I’m going to go on normally, I won’t be performing with a mask.’” Most members of Santa organizations, however, are considered high-risk coronavirus candidates: They are retirees in their 70s and 80s and many have underlying health conditions, Mr. Erwin said.

“There isn’t a group of people that are more compromised than the Christmas Committee,” Mr. Arnold said. “A lot of us are old and have diabetes. Most of us have a heart problem, most of us are obese. We check every box.”

While many Santa-related innovations have come out of 2020 — holiday-themed masks, plexiglass and acrylic walls that can be made to look invisible in photos, video calls, drive-through greetings — Mr. Erwin is most enticed by the idea of placing Santa in a vinyl dome.

The dome provides physical separation, but it can also be explained with a clever story for the children to understand, Mr. Erwin said.

“If parents don’t want to explain virus transmission, they can say Santa got trapped in a snow globe by an elf magician and you have to come visit him at the globe,” he said.

But Mr. Erwin won’t be scheduling any in-person visits this year. His father-in-law suffered a stroke in April and was hospitalized for 30 days before he died; none of his family members were able to visit because of the pandemic. Mr. Erwin told his wife and his mother-in-law, who makes Santa costumes and goes by Mother Claus, that he would not take any chances with the virus.

“I don’t even care about giving up my season,” Mr. Erwin said. “I’m thinking about the 150,000 plus people that did not have to die.” He blames the rising toll on the current administration and plans to deliver fitting gifts to its members this Christmas.

“As a Santa, I am neutral and love everybody, but as a citizen I have to say something,” Mr. Erwin said, adding that he would not be giving politicians coal. “They are getting dryer lint, at best.”

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