Making America Grieve Again

Disparate star power defined the national party conventions over the past two weeks. The Democrats presented Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Warren; the Republicans offered Joni Ernst and Tom Cotton. Hillary Clinton was supported by stirring testimonials from Bill Clinton and Barack Obama; Trump received only vague affirmations from his children. Joe Biden rallied Democrats with the stirring exclamation “we are America! Second to none.” Republicans were led by Michael Flynn in chants of “lock her up.” While it’s too early to tell what benefit Clinton will get out of her professionally run convention, the contrast between the accomplished politicians and decorated generals taking center stage at the DNC with the RNC’s exhibition of the General Manager of the Trump Winery and a Vice President at the Eric Trump Foundation could not have been starker.

Yet there was one common feature between the four nights of fear in Cleveland and the festivities in Philadelphia. Each party put on a parade of grieving mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, and daughters of those lost to one form of violence or another afflicting the country. Whether the issue was the killings of police, soldiers, or unarmed black men, there was a family member present to give face to the grief and sorrow of losing a loved one. While the tone and purpose of presenting these speakers during the two events was night and day, a similar air of mourning nonetheless hung over each. That Republicans and Democrats alike thought that their message this year could best be delivered through the pain of others should give us pause. In a bid to arouse our sympathy, America’s two primary political parties actually acknowledged the current limits of our society’s empathy for the struggle of others. Continue reading

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Trump-Pence a Gag

There was a passing moment last Thursday when it appeared that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign might actually make a traditional decision. Around midday, first Roll Call and then other media outlets began reporting that Trump had finally landed on Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. Pence was an uninspiring vice-presidential choice to be sure. But with even the most milquetoast GOP backbenchers flinching at the mere thought of joining the Trump ticket, and with the unfathomably awful choices of Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie as the other finalists, choosing Pence was a downright responsible move. The fact that the pick leaked nearly twenty-four hours before Trump was set to introduce the governor through the campaign’s Swiss-cheese shaped hull was of no moment. The long awaited “pivot” was finally at hand.

It turns out Trump was just catching his breath. Continue reading

Cruz’s Choice

In early May, as the Republican primary campaign wheezed toward the finish line, Ted Cruz was presented with a difficult decision. On one hand, the Republican Party “establishment” had become increasingly resigned to Donald Trump as the inevitable Republican nominee. Trump swept the northeastern primaries in late April and seemed poised to deal Cruz a devastating blow in Indiana. Regardless of the intricacies of the delegate math, the party appeared wholly uninterested in wresting the nomination away from the overwhelming popular vote and delegate leader at a messy and unpredictable contested convention in Cleveland. Elite Republican opinion increasingly coalesced around the notion that Trump might be electoral poison and an erratic conservative at best, but further dividing the party in a futile attempt to reclaim what had already been lost would forever alienate a generation of Republican voters.

On the other hand, Trump was calling Cruz’s father a treasonous murderer. Continue reading

Abortion Procedures

The United States Supreme Court from afar.The Supreme Court’s decision last week in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was, at first glance, about what you might expect. In striking down Texas’s admitting privileges and surgical-center requirements for abortion provider facilities as placing an “undue burden” on the constitutional right to abortion, the majority opinion tacked closely to the principles of Roe v. Wade and the prevailing legal standard of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. Those cases held that a woman has a general constitutional right to a pre-viability abortion, subject to reasonable regulation by the states that does not place a “substantial obstacle” in the way of her exercising that right. The Hellerstedt majority’s major innovation was the unremarkable conclusion that Casey “requires that courts consider the burdens a law imposes on abortion access together with the benefits those laws confer…the Court, when determining the constitutionality of laws regulating abortion procedures, has placed considerable weight upon evidence and argument presented in judicial proceedings.” The lineup, too, was relatively unsurprising. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the majority opinion, joined by four justices who had voted to protect abortion rights in the past, and the three dissenters were justices who previously endorsed abortion restrictions. True, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s conclusion was somewhat in doubt and ultimately determinative—he has previously voted on either side depending on the abortion regulation at issue. But given the truly drastic effect of the laws at issue on the availability of abortion providers in Texas and other states, it was hard to square Kennedy’s prior support for the undue burden standard with a nod in their favor.

Upon closer review, however, there was something rather striking about the written opinions in Hellerstedt. Continue reading

Winning is the Easy Part

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Last month’s vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union has been touted as a potentially defining moment in not only UK politics but also across the world. There are those who say that the UK’s departure from the EU means indefinite stagnation, job loss, and poor growth for the British economy. Others have predicted that the UK itself will dissolve over disagreement between English voters and their Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish counterparts about whether to remain in the EU. Some have even argued that the vote portends an end to the European project as a whole, given that other EU countries such as France, Italy, and the Netherlands might force their own popular referendums on whether to remain part of the great liberal, European legacy of World War Two. Even more broadly, some have linked Brexit’s narrow victory with the fortunes of Donald Trump, suggesting that events in the UK offer predictive power about the fleeting nature of Hillary Clinton’s temporary lead in the polls. Some of these grand pronouncements may yet prove true, although the predictions of doom and gloom appear to be overstated.

If there is one clear lesson for America from the British referendum, however, it is not that isolationist and xenophobic views are a rising political force. Rather, Brexit’s clearest instruction for politicians in the United States is that the costs of a campaign based on deceitful sloganeering are not outweighed by momentary victory. Right-wing politics divorced from fact-based analysis, both abroad and here in the United States, must eventually confront reality when its undeliverable promises are put to the test. There are real consequences for political movements that campaign on fantasy. Continue reading