State of the union.

Today’s Edition (April 28, 2021)

         On Tuesday, President Biden gave a preview of his “state of the union speech” that will be delivered to Congress on Wednesday. Although Biden’s remarks on Tuesday were limited to announcing the relaxation of CDC guidance on masks for fully vaccinated people, the remarks served as a proxy for the state of our American union at this fraught time. In the span of a hundred days, Biden took charge of a non-existent vaccination strategy and converted it into an overwhelming success. If Biden’s only accomplishment was to coordinate the injection of 230 million doses of vaccine during the worst pandemic in a century, his first hundred days in office would be viewed as an outsized success of historic proportions.

          Of course, Biden has accomplished much more than righting America’s public health response to the pandemic, but the competence and confidence that he brought to fighting the pandemic are typical of his other accomplishments. Biden will undoubtedly report to Congress that the state of the union is strong but acknowledge that it faces significant headwinds. Amidst one of America’s greatest public health triumphs, the Republican Party and the right-wing media have descended deeper into madness. Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson urged viewers to call social services to report “child abuse” if they see children wearing masks. Senator Ron Johnson wondered aloud last week “why this big push to make sure everybody gets a vaccine?”  A school in Miami announced that “It is our policy . . . not to employ anyone who has taken the experimental COVID-19 injection.” The fact that Biden has made so much progress in the face of such irresponsible and scientifically illiterate opposition is remarkable.

          Among other successes, Biden has been strong on climate change, repairing international alliances, combatting Chinese and Russian cyber warfare and human rights abuses, and restoring the credibility of the U.S. science and intelligence communities. Biden has also emerged as a compassionate leader whose words and dignified manner help to calm and heal a divided America. Of course, Biden has not been perfect—or even close to perfect. His policy on the border is well-intentioned but inconsistent and poorly executed. He missed an opportunity to show international leadership by failing to sanction Muhammed bin Salman over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Some critics have faulted him for advancing infrastructure before criminal justice reform. But to the extent that Biden is perceived as having fallen short, those shortcomings reflect the political and social divisions affecting America. That would be true of any president. The buck stops at the top and Biden is now the lens through which Americans see their discontent.

          Nonetheless, as my Managing Editor and I frequently remark to one another, it is hard to imagine any politician who is better suited for this moment than Joe Biden. Some people undoubtedly voted for Biden because he was “not Trump.” They were not expecting a man who has both the vision and the courage of his convictions to move America forward with confidence and vigor. Because of Joe Biden, the state of the union is strong, but it faces significant challenges. We elected Joe Biden—which was the first step in righting the ship of state. We cannot let up.

Update on Investigation of Shooting of Andrew Brown Jr.

          The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. in North Carolina. CNBC, “Andrew Brown Jr.: FBI opens civil rights probe into police shooting.” North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper is calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the shooting. See Charlotte Observer, “NC Gov. Cooper calls for special prosecutor in Brown death.” These quick actions are undoubtedly intended to restore public confidence in the integrity of an investigation that got off to a shaky start under the Pasquotank County Attorney.

Update on Preliminary Census

          The New York Times has published a detailed analysis of the preliminary census report. See NYTimes, “Which States Will Gain or Lose Seats in the Next Congress - The New York Times.” I recommend the article to your attention, but I wanted to highlight two points made in the article. The first is that “If the 2020 election was re-run with the new Electoral College numbers, President Biden would have won 303 electoral votes, instead of the 306 he took last November.” The second point is consistent with an evidence-free argument I made in yesterday’s newsletter: That population gains in red states likely occurred in urban centers—Democratic strongholds. Per the Times,

          In Texas, it’s likely its new districts will need to include at least parts of greater Houston, given the region’s population boom. Republican mapmakers will be hard-pressed to draw all the new districts in their favor, given how many Democratic voters live in and around the state’s largest population centers.

          As I said yesterday, “Don’t Panic!”

The Republican Vision of White America

          The media reported on two stories on Tuesday that are emblematic of a vision of a “white” America that seems to animate much of the Republican base. Former Republican Senator Rick Santorum addressed the conservative organization Young America’s Foundation at its annual conference. During his remarks, Santorum said, in part,

          We came here and created a blank slate. We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here. I mean, yes we have Native Americans, but candidly there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.

See Talking Points Memo, “‘Embarrassing Racist’: Native American Orgs Rip Santorum For Claiming There Was ‘Nothing’ Before Colonizers Arrived.”

          Santorum’s statement is breathtaking in its ignorance and insensitivity. There were millions of Native Americans in North America in the 1400s before the arrival of European explorers. They were engaged in a transcontinental network of trade and commerce—much of which was still in existence when Lewis and Clarke began their survey of the Louisiana Purchase in 1804. In their travels over a small portion of North America, Lewis and Clark encountered 50 tribes of Native Americans. That is not “nothing.” But by the time Lewis and Clark conducted their expedition, upwards of 90% of Native Americans had died due to “Old World” diseases such as smallpox. As Tara Houska tweeted,

Not much Native culture in American culture . . . could that be because of America’s colonial genocide, cultural genocide, displacement, systematic erasure and dehumanization of Native peoples?

          It is almost as though Santorum is willfully ignorant of American history. Speaking of willful ignorance, Idaho is about to pass a law that will prohibit the teaching of ‘critical race theory’ at all educational levels in the state—including at the university level. It has finally happened: Republicans in Idaho want to be the “Thought Police.” See CNN, “Idaho moves to ban critical race theory instruction in all public schools, including universities.” The proposed bill declares that critical race theory is “contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being of the state of Idaho and its citizens.” If you live in Idaho, your state legislators want to tell you what to believe because they presume to know what ideas are in the best interest of all citizens of Idaho.

          The Republican Party has lost its way—big time. It gives lip service to free speech and the First Amendment—as long as the speech pleases them.

Concluding Thoughts.

While Joe Biden is working hard to end the pandemic and rebuild the American economy, Republicans are busy trading false stories about Biden and Vice President Harris. Two recent examples show the depths to which Republicans will go—and more worrying—that they don’t care when they are caught. They simply move on to the next lie. For example, a New York Post reporter resigned on Tuesday, tweeting that she was “ordered to write . . .  an incorrect story” about Kamala Harris. (The story falsely claimed that a children’s book written by Kamala Harris was being included in the “welcome kit” for unaccompanied minors at the border.) After the story was exposed as a lie by The Washington Post, the New York Post issued a complete retraction (buried at the bottom of the story as an “Editor’s Note). But many prominent congressional Republicans still have the false story on their Twitter feeds.

          A similar incident occurred when the right-wing media nearly collapsed in a frenzy over a story that Joe Biden wanted to severely restrict beef consumption to limit climate change. In fact, the source of the story was a research paper by professors at the University of Michigan and Tulane University. After an on-air rant by a Fox News anchor who claimed the paper represented the views of Joe Biden, Fox News retracted its claim. See  Talking Points Memo, “Fox Corrects Graphic, Script After Days Of Hammering Fake Biden Red Meat Ban.” The retraction by Fox came too late to prevent the proliferation of the lie on social media. Again, prominent Republicans continue to publish the story on their social media feeds.

          I have received emails from readers expressing outrage over such tactics. I understand the outrage. But the fact that GOP is spending time on false stories about children’s books and hamburgers is an indication of the pathetic state of the Republican Party. Biden has proposed two major bills (on infrastructure and the American family) that have strong favorability ratings. Rather than offer real alternatives to those bills, congressional Republicans have resorted to distractions unworthy of tabloid journalism (literally). It is a sign of desperation. Try not to expend emotional energy fretting over such offenses; instead, focus on helping Joe Biden to ensure that the state of the union remains strong.

          Talk to you tomorrow!