A Damp Start to the New Year

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Written By Pinang Driod

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Moderation is usually a good idea. But must we commercialize the concept?

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:

  • The GOP completes its surrender.
  • Who’s afraid of calling Donald Trump an insurrectionist?
  • There was never such a thing as “open” AI.

Going Damp

Americans are zealous flip-floppers, especially when it comes to alcohol consumption. The history of drinking in America is one of back-and-forth: As Kate Julian wrote in a 2021 Atlantic article, “Americans tend to drink in more dysfunctional ways than people in other societies, only to become judgmental about nearly any drinking at all. Again and again, an era of overindulgence begets an era of renunciation: Binge, abstain. Binge, abstain.” No time of year better captures this dynamic than the start of a new year. December is for partying and eating too many cookies, the cultural narrative goes; January is for drinking water and working out.

Dry January has become a popular way to start the year with a classically American dramatic turnabout. But in recent years, some people have become less doctrinaire about New Year’s resolutions and self-improvement goals. Last year, fewer people said that they participated in a full month of no drinking than in the year before, according to a Morning Consult survey. And in general, young people are drinking less alcohol. Enter Damp January, which encourages people who do drink some alcohol to be mindful about their habits and to consider drinking in moderation, rather than necessarily ceasing entirely. That seems like pretty intuitive, logical behavior to employ at any time of year. Rather than feeding the American impulse toward extremes, Damp January seems to promote an attainable step toward a healthier relationship with drinking.

But almost as soon as Damp January became a topic of chatter on social media, brands seemed to have jumped on the opportunity to use it as a marketing hook. As Jaya Saxena put it in Eater last month, “We love taking a casual thing and making it Official.” Since at least the time of the Stoics, human beings have extolled the virtues of moderation. It feels a bit silly to brand and package such a straightforward concept—and perhaps also unwise to trigger the promotional apparatus that comes with calling something a Trend. (Once that apparatus gets going, it can be hard to pull it back.)

The marketing of moderation was probably inevitable; Americans are inclined to pay for things that they believe will make them better, healthier people. And at the start of a new year, consumers tend to be especially vulnerable to marketing pitches suggesting that wellness lies on the other side of a purchase. As my colleague Amanda Mull wrote in 2019, “With New Year’s resolutions, the commodification of inadequacy can be explicit in a way that might seem rude during most of the year.”

Going “damp” is a scaled-back resolution, a chiller in-between that goes against the spirit of harsher plans to reset. Damp January is a good match for our current moment; especially since the coronavirus pandemic started, some people have eschewed hustle culture in favor of self-care and being gentle with ourselves. Moving forward, maybe we can go damp on other resolutions too. Damp is a gross word, conjuring images of dirty sponges languishing in the sink. But if the concept encourages people to consume less—and to be less rigid about trying to change everything about themselves—the grating name might be worth it.


  • Making a New Year’s resolution? Don’t go to war with yourself.
  • It’s the most inadequate time of the year.

Today’s News

  1. The Supreme Court agreed to review whether Donald Trump is eligible to appear on Colorado’s primary ballot after his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
  2. Wayne LaPierre resigned as the leader of the National Rifle Association days before the start of his civil trial in New York; he has been accused of violating nonprofit laws and misusing millions of dollars of NRA funds.
  3. The Food and Drug Administration authorized Florida to mass-import medicines directly from wholesalers in Canada at far lower prices than in the U.S.; it signals a major policy shift that the pharmaceutical industry has vehemently opposed for decades.


  • Up for Debate: The core of the conflict behind Claudine Gay’s resignation is the desirability of the DEI policies that she presided over, Conor Friedersdorf writes.
  • The Books Briefing: Emma Sarappo makes the case against counting the number of books you finish in a year.

Explore all of our newsletters here.

Evening Read

Illustration by The Atlantic. Source: Samuel Corum / Getty.

What January 6 Made Clear to Me

By Nancy Pelosi

The sixth of January is the date prescribed in United States law for Congress to count the electoral votes in the presidential election. It is an occasion of high drama with specific requirements: the security of the mahogany boxes containing the states’ Electoral College certificates; the timing of the joint session of Congress, called to order at 1 p.m.; the precise rules that spell out that the debate on objections to the count shall proceed “clearly and concisely.”

On January 6, 2021, my daughter Alexandra brought her two sons to the Capitol to witness this historic occasion of a peaceful transfer of power. My grandsons did witness history that day, just not the history anyone expected.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

  • The House Republicans who have had enough
  • The cases against Trump: a guide
  • A second life for my beloved dog

Culture Break

An image of a woman wearing sunglasses that reflect images from new movies
Illustration by Joanne Imperio / The Atlantic. Sources: Apple TV+; Focus Features; Getty; Lionsgate; Neon Rated.

Watch. Hollywood’s awards shows might overlook these nine movies, but you shouldn’t.

Study. Spend time with the career and lyrics of Taylor Swift. A new class will be in session at Harvard, and fans are rejoicing.

Play our daily crossword.


Speaking of chilling out about rigid goals: I enjoyed my colleague Emma Sarappo’s edition of the Books Briefing newsletter this morning about why she is not into counting the number of books she reads. Racking up books for its own sake, she suggests, doesn’t really capture how one reads. I agree with her! I track my reading in a casual spreadsheet, as I noted in this newsletter last month, and feel that counting books is not the most nourishing way of spending time with literature. Insofar as I am making damp resolutions for 2024, I am in favor of less optimization of the self and more doing stuff because it’s interesting.

— Lora

Stephanie Bai contributed to this newsletter.

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