Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: “Legitimate political discourse”

Perry Bacon Jr. of The Washington Post says that the United States is at a crossroads with regard to the type of “;democracy”; that it wants to be.

Though for most of its history, the United States has had elections and a constitution, the country was nonetheless fairly undemocratic, certainly by today”;s standards. Most White women and Native and Black Americans couldn”;t vote. People who weren”;t wealthy, White male Christians didn”;t hold positions of power.

But through the 19th Amendment, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a broader cultural shift toward inclusion, the United States has become much more democratic. Yes, wealthy, White Christian men still have outsize power. White voters are the majority. Congress remains predominantly male. And it”;s not at all clear that a Muslim or atheist could win the presidency. But those who aren”;t wealthy, White Christian men have more cultural, economic, social and political power than ever before. The overwhelming majority of adults can vote. White women and people of color hold some of the most powerful jobs, and non-Christian and LGBTQ Americans are at the center of some of our most important social movements. The United States in the past few decades has become more of a Multiracial Multicultural Fuller-Democracy.[…]

At the same time, wealthy libertarians, conservative Christians, multiculturalism opponents and others who are most against multiracial, multicultural and/or socially democratic policies have also concentrated into one party. The clear majority of Americans, including a large bloc of Republicans, support abortion and LGBTQ rights, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and tax increases on the wealthy. But opponents of such policies have gained control of the GOP, which is now dominated by officials advancing unpopular ideas such as cutting Medicaid funding and banning abortion.

So the conflict in America –; what has driven us into our uncivil war –; is the deep divide between the progressive policies and multiculturalism of the Democratic Party and the anti-multicultural, plutocratic ethos of the Republican Party.

E J Montini of the Arizona Republic wants to ask elected Republicans a few questions about what constitutes “;legitimate political discourse.”;

Every elected Republican, no matter the office, should be asked if they agree with this statement.

Is bear spraying officers legitimate?

Before they respond, however, they should be asked a series of simple, yes or no questions dealing with the definition of “;legitimate political discourse.”;

One might ask, for example, “;Do you consider using bear spray on law enforcement officers legitimate political discourse?”; Because that happened on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol.

And, “;Do you believe that legitimate political discourse includes defecating in the Capitol and then spreading the feces in the hallways?”; Because that also took place.

And, “;Do you believe that using a deadly or dangerous weapon on an officer attempting to protect the Capitol is legitimate political discourse?”; Because more than 75 individuals have been charged with that.

Catie Edmondson and Mark Walker of The New York Times write about the alarming rise in threats against members of Congress.

Overall, threats against members of Congress reached a record high of 9,600 last year, according to data provided by the Capitol Police, double the previous year”;s total. In the first three months of 2021 alone, the Capitol Police fielded more than 4,100 threats against lawmakers in the House and Senate, straining the law enforcement personnel tasked with investigating them.

“;We”;re barely keeping our head above water for those investigations,”; J. Thomas Manger, the Capitol Police chief, testified last month. “;We”;re going to have to nearly double the number of agents who work those threat cases.”;

Threats against members of Congress jumped more than fourfold after Mr. Trump took office. In 2016, the Capitol Police investigated 902 threats; the following year, that number reached 3,939.

The threats range from phone calls with gruesome, specific descriptions of violence that have led to jail time for the callers to broad threats posted on social media for which juries have, on occasion, acquitted those charged.

Bradley Jones of Pew Research Center reports on polling that shows that fewer Americans blame TFG for the violence and destruction of Jan. 6, 2021 at The Capitol.

Last year, in the immediate wake of Jan. 6, about half of U.S. adults (52%) said Donald Trump bore a lot of responsibility for the violence and destruction committed by some of his supporters that day. Today, 43% say this. The share of adults who say Trump bears some responsibility has changed little since then, but more Americans now say Trump bears no responsibility for the mayhem caused by his supporters that day (32% today vs. 24% then). The new survey was conducted Jan. 10-17, prior to several developments involving the Jan. 6 investigation and Trump”;s actions following the 2020 election.

Among both Republicans and Democrats, there have been declines in the shares who say Trump bears responsibility for the violence and destruction at the Capitol. The share of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who say he bears a lot of responsibility has declined from 18% a year ago to 10% today. Nearly six-in-ten Republicans (57%) currently say he has no responsibility at all for the violence, up from 46% shortly after the riot. Among Democrats and Democratic leaners, seven-in-ten say Trump bears a lot of responsibility for last year”;s violence at the Capitol, down from 81% a year ago.

Views on the level of attention paid to the riot at the Capitol also continue to divide the public. A third of Americans say the right amount of attention has been paid to the events of Jan. 6, 2021, while about equal shares say the riot has received too much attention (35%) and too little attention (31%). These views are little changed from September 2021.

Jon Allsop of the Columbia Journalism Review wonders: Is all of the current media coverage of Donald Trump necessary?

As I see things now, the bar for centering Trump in the news should be very high; there is ample news to cover on the Biden front that is of immediate relevance to the lives of millions of people, and as I”;ve written before, covering democracy necessitates engagement with such everyday issues. News organizations can cover Trump and Biden, of course–;and Trump stories, including some of those I outlined above, often clear a high bar given the urgent stakes of his ongoing assault on democratic institutions. That said, a good deal of Trump coverage (or more accurately, in many cases, Trump commentary) feels less useful–;so much flotsam washing back and forth, back and forth, in an endless sea of outrage. On the whole, our focus could use some sharpening.

One persistent problem in coverage of Trump and his enablers (erstwhile and ongoing) is a sort of tyranny of low expectations–;the idea that Trump lowered the bar for conduct in public office to such a degree that commentators start to see behavior that clears it as praiseworthy, not so fundamental that it should pass without comment. Pence”;s remarks on Friday were a case in point. Mainstream reporters cast them as an “;extraordinary moment”; and a “;stunning rebuke,”; while Trump-skeptical conservative outlets commended Pence for standing up for the constitution at a personal political cost. It is fair to say that Pence rebuked Trump. But further hype isn”;t really warranted. As other commentators noted, Pence didn”;t go much beyond stating the obvious fact that he lacked the constitutional power to overturn the election, and his remarks hardly represented a profile in courage. As CNN”;s Abby Phillip noted on air Sunday, “;more than a year has passed–;and Pence has still not said anything to dispute Trump”;s false claims of election fraud.”;

Moving on to President Biden”;s upcoming nomination for a Supreme Court Justice, Greg Wolff writes for CNN advocating for California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger.

No, Kruger is not quite superwoman, but if she has superpowers, the first is preparation. Kruger reads everything. As an acting deputy solicitor general, she loved writing briefs; as a judge, she loves reading them.

During oral argument, Kruger is prepared and attentive. She listens closely, considers every argument with an open mind and asks insightful questions. Her queries are designed to clarify the advocates’ positions and explore the limits of their arguments, not to make a point or demonstrate her own cleverness.

I got a taste of these talents when I argued a case before her after leaving the court. She asked a question about a complex title insurance case that stopped me cold. I’m still trying to figure out a better answer than the one I came up with.[…]

Another super strength is her writing. Kruger carefully crafts her opinions so that everyone — not just lawyers and judges — can understand them.

For additional information and bio on Justice Leondra Kruger, you can check out this January 26 SCOTUSblog post written by Amy Howe.

Erica L. Green and Rick Rojas of The New York Times profiles U.S. District Court judge J. Michelle Childs.

The 55-year-old judge, who has served on the federal bench since 2010, is seen in elite circles as a long shot compared with other Black female candidates whose high-profile connections and Ivy League pedigrees fit the mold of a traditional Supreme Court appointee. But Judge Childs”;s powerful champions in Congress –; particularly Representative James E. Clyburn, the South Carolina Democrat who is widely credited with saving Mr. Biden”;s presidential candidacy –; and the broad appeal of her humble ascent could make her a formidable contender.

“;If you make assumptions about South Carolina, and a certain type of a judge and a non-Ivy League education, you won”;t know what you”;re missing in Michelle Childs –; she is brilliant,”; said Judge Toal, who would often tap Judge Childs to serve in an acting capacity on the state”;s high court.

People who have known Judge Childs for decades, personally and professionally, struggle to assign her a political ideology. Many describe a pragmatic approach to her rulings, which they say she issues after intense preparation and deliberation.

For additional information and bio on Judge J. Michelle Childs, you can check out this February 3 SCOTUSblog post written by Amy Howe.

Ryan Heath reports for POLITICO that polling shows that worldwide, citizens think that global leadership on climate change is failing. The United States is the country with the largest ideological divide on the issue.

The United States is home to the largest ideological divide on climate action. Among Americans, 97 percent of left-leaning voters expressed concern about climate change, compared to 51 percent of right-leaning voters.

All segments of the political spectrum give the Biden team poor marks for their climate approach: Overall, less than 1 in 5 say Biden is doing “;the right amount to combat climate change.”; But 26 percent of right-leaning voters say Biden is doing the right amount, compared to just 10 percent of those identifying as left-leaning.

Majorities in all 13 countries surveyed said they are “;very concerned”; or “;somewhat concerned”; about climate change. That includes majorities among right-leaning voters in every country, except Australia where only 49 percent of right-leaning voters said they are concerned.

While left-leaning voters are overall most likely to express concern about the climate, the ideological divide is small in most of the countries surveyed.

The ideological gap is narrowest in the countries where citizens are most concerned about climate change: Brazil, South Africa and Mexico.

Christa Case Bryant reports for The Christian Science Monitor on efforts to make Capitol Hill staffs more diverse.

Capitol Hill is but one of numerous arenas -; including journalism, academia, and nonprofits -; that are difficult for working-class students to enter because of low starting pay and the concentration of jobs in expensive coastal cities. Such structural issues, critics say, have contributed to these professions becoming silos of relatively elitist, homogeneous thinking, in which many individuals have never experienced the issues they”;re tasked with addressing.


But at least until recently, few staffers had received housing, food, or unemployment assistance, which Congress spent more than $650 billion on last year. Yet staffers play a critical role in shaping such policies. Over the past half-century, there”;s been “;an enormous shift of responsibility”; toward staffers, who now do “;95% of the nitty-gritty work of drafting [bills],”; wrote the late Sen. Ted Kennedy in his 2009 memoir.

Advocates say that broadening the talent pool would help congressional offices better reflect the country they represent and craft more effective solutions to problems. It could also counteract a growing disconnect between average Americans and elites -; and maybe even temper partisan rancor.

Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat writes that censorship almost never works; in fact, it usually backfires.

Polk County authorities recently “;quarantined”; 16 books from school libraries at the behest of an organization called County Citizens Defending Freedom. Because what says “;freedom”; better than the government grabbing books? Removal of “;Maus,”; a Pulitzer prize-winning novel of the Holocaust, was banned by a school district in McMinn County, Tenn., because of some language and an illustration of a nude figure.

Art Spiegelman”;s book hasn”;t caused widespread depravity or corrupted the youth around Chattanooga in the 40 years since its publication, but apparently Tennessee didn”;t learn much from its Scopes “;monkey trial”; of a century ago.


That”;s another incongruity about censorship. It almost always backfires, making an artwork forbidden fruit for those it”;s meant to protect –; usually children –; and making the censors look asinine.[…]

No one is suggesting we teach fourth graders about the San Francisco bath house scene of the Seventies. But in this internet age, we can”;t keep them perpetually in the stultified era of the Fifties and Sixties, when Lucille Ball wasn”;t shown on TV below face level while she was pregnant and the Rolling Stones sang “;Let”;s Spend Some Time Together”; rather than “;Let”;s Spend the Night Together”; to keep Ed Sullivan happy.

Patti Davis, the daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, writes for The Washington Post about learning about the Holocaust at an early age.

There was a woman who visited my mother frequently who had long, flowing black hair and sad eyes. One day she had on a sleeveless summer dress, and I saw numbers etched on her forearm. I asked her what they were.

“;I got them in the camps,”; she said and turned her eyes away from me. I was confused, as the only camps I knew about were the ones where you slept in sleeping bags and learned to row a canoe. My mother overheard and said something about explaining it to me later.

Later turned out to be an evening when my 3-year-old brother was already in bed and my father set up the movie projector, as he usually did to show us home movies. That night my parents were very serious, even nervous, and my father explained to me that he was going to show me something that happened before I was born –; something that would upset me. But I had asked about the numbers on their friend”;s arm, and he wanted me to know that a terrible thing had happened in the world.

Christopher Nehring of Deutsche Welle writes about the conflicting views regarding Russia and Ukraine in southeastern Europe.

However, there are some strident, and conflicting, voices making themselves heard in the region. At the end of January, the president of Croatia, Zoran Milanovic, caused confusion both at home and abroad when he declared that, in the event of a conflict in Ukraine, his country would retreat. Speaking in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, Milanovic said: “If it comes to an escalation, we will withdraw, down to the last Croatian soldier.” He did not, however, specify exactly what he meant. There are no Croatian soldiers stationed in Ukraine.

The government of Croatia -; a member of both the EU and NATO -; immediately issued a contradictory statement. “The president does not speak for Croatia, but for himself,” said the Croatian foreign minister, Gordan Grlic Radman. “We are and remain a loyal member of NATO.”

What is most peculiar about the Croatian president’s threat is that no one -; not NATO, not the US, not Ukraine -; had requested the Croatian military’s involvement. “Milanovic’s statements serve domestic political purposes. They have to be seen against the background of his ongoing feud with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic,” explained Filip Milacic of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Vienna, in an interview with DW. “Lately, the president seems to be playing the nationalist card. He has called Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb leader, a ‘partner,’ and he wants to pander to Croatian nationalists, who dream of redrawing the borders in Bosnia, with Russian support.”

Finally today, Christina Wyman writes for NBC News about the “;trolling”; that followed the Duke of Sussex”;s discussion of practicing daily meditation to reduce stress and anxiety.

When Prince Harry recently discussed his need for a daily meditation ritual to battle burnout, the trolls predictably came out of the woodwork to mock him and his efforts to prioritize his mental health. Ironically, it”;s those with the most to gain from meditation who attacked the Duke of Sussex for talking about how he”;s used this ancient practice to combat stress and anxiety.

After all, heightened self-awareness, reducing negative emotions and increasing patience and tolerance are three of many possible advantages of meditation highlighted by the Mayo Clinic. So the trolls have made Harry”;s point for him: Society is suffering from a dearth of compassion and is in desperate need of mental health intervention. We see this starkly with every vitriolic and petty response to his efforts.

This response inevitably involved the ludicrous accusation that the prince has never known a day of hard work, obviating any need to take time for himself. Of course, these attacks willfully overlook his experience in the military, his commitment to injured service personnel through his Invictus Games Foundation and his work supporting Sentebale, which helps young people living with HIV/AIDS in Lesotho and Botswana.

Everyone have a great day!

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