I am writing this edition of the newsletter as I listen to Joe Biden’s first speech to a joint session of Congress. I am struck by his tone. He is speaking quietly, with humility and grace. His voice is barely above a hush, allowing his words to carry the force of his message: America is on the road to renewal. Given his accomplishments, he could have adopted a chest-thumping, self-congratulatory tone. He did not. At times, he spoke with the informality of a living-room conversation among family members. Speeches to Congress by the previous president resembled high school pep rallies in tone and substance. Biden’s measured and dignified delivery seemed to have members of Congress listening intently to his words. His authenticity and humanity radiated through the television screen.
Biden touched on issues critical to America’s future: Climate change, investment in scientific research and development, investment in medical research, free community college, childcare, investment in technology and renewable energy sources, and closing tax loopholes to fund The American Family Plan. He provided details about his conversations with China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. He warned President Xi about human rights abuses, theft of intellectual property, and military expansion into the South China Sea. He warned Putin about cyberattacks on the U.S. He addressed gun violence, saying that “I don’t want to get confrontational,” but action by Congress is long overdue. He called to build trust between law enforcement and the people they serve.
In a touching moment, he addressed “all transgender people at home, especially young people,” saying, “I want you to know that your president has your back.” Biden urged Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, noting that fifty women are killed by a domestic partner or spouse each month. Most members in the House chamber—but not all—rose to applaud that comment. He called on Congress to enact H.R.1. in a passage in which he addressed the January 6th insurrection, saying that it was the greatest assault on democracy since the Civil War. He labeled white supremacy as “terrorism.”
In a stirring conclusion, Biden called for unity, asking Americans to defend democracy. In words reminiscent of FDR and JFK, he called on all Americans to “do our part.” He repeated the phrase, “We the people,” saying that we have “stared into the abyss of insurrection” and “we did not flinch.” It was a masterful speech because it was not about Biden, but about us. Everyone who voted for Biden should be proud and grateful.
Further thoughts on the results of the Census
One of the surprises of the 2020 Census was the slow rate of growth over the last decade. Indeed, the nation’s population grew more slowly in the last decade than at any other time except during the Great Depression. Putting aside the climate impact of population growth, it is generally a bad sign when the population of a country stagnates. The unavoidable corollary of stagnation in population growth is that the workforce ages, requiring younger works to subsidize healthcare and social services for retired workers. For a discussion of this issue, see op-ed by Greg Sargent in WaPo, “Bad news from census about our future gives Biden a big opening. Will he seize it?”
The rural areas in America are depopulating and would be losing population except for foreign immigration. See Pew Trust, “Changing Patterns in US Immigration and Population.” Per the Pew report,
[T]he native-born population was declining in certain areas of the country. This trend is most strongly observed in the middle of the United States. . . . [G]rowth of the foreign-born population has slowed overall decline and sometimes has overcome native-born losses for a net population gain.
West Virginia stands as a warning. The state has fewer residents in 2020 than it did in 1950 and has resorted to tax cuts to entice Americans to move into the state. That is a recipe for economic collapse. See TribLive.com, “West Virginia weighs income tax cut to stem population loss.” Per TribLive:
Republican lawmakers are convinced a massive income tax cut is the key to reversing the trend [of population decline]. But figuring out how to do that without harming the state’s most vulnerable or punching a massive hole in the budget has proven complicated.
The answer, of course, is immigration. America became a great nation in large part because of immigration. If the trends of the 2020 Census continue, our future is dependent on immigration—and not just for population growth, but for innovation and competitiveness, as well. We should start viewing immigration as a solution, not a problem.
Update on Shooting of Andrew Brown Jr.
Officials in North Carolina continue to mishandle the aftermath of the shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. From the very first announcements, the Sheriff’s Department of Pasquotank County and the County Attorney have selectively disclosed the minimum information possible about the shooting. An immediate trust gap emerged. That gap grew larger on Wednesday as local officials took contradictory positions on the release of the police bodycam video of the shooting. In a hearing before Judge Jeffrey Foster, the Sheriff’s Department supported the release of the video, the District Attorney opposed the release of the video, and the Governor urged “full transparency.” See WaPo, “Andrew Brown Jr. shooting: Body-cam footage won't be released.”
The District Attorney opposed the release of the video unless and until it was shown to a jury in a criminal trial—thereby presuming that some of the officers would be charged with crimes in the killing of Andrew Brown. At the same time, District Attorney Andrew Womble asserted—for the first time after a week of statements about the shooting—that the video shows that the officers did not fire on Brown until his car “made contact” with the officers. If true, why not release the video and remove all doubt?
In opposing the release of the video, District Attorney Andrew Womble cited the well-known legal maxim, “You cannot swing a skunk in front of a group of people and then ask them not to smell it.” Womble’s comments are a disgrace, as is his effort to make the focus of the investigation about protecting the officers—who have not been charged with a crime—while ignoring the right of the family and the public to know what happened. The selective and delayed release of information about the shooting is an insult to the public. If Womble doesn’t want to release the video, he should not simultaneously describe its purported content.
If you wanted to write an instruction guide on how to destroy public trust in an investigation, look no further than the actions of the Pasquotank County officials. To quote an actual legal maxim, “Accusator post rationabile tempus non est audiendus, nisi se bene de omissione excusaverit.” Translation: “A person who makes an accusation after a reasonable time has passed is not to be heard unless the person makes a satisfactory excuse for the omission.” District Attorney Womble owes everyone an explanation for his tardy disclosure of important facts about the shooting.
The Challenge of Reporting on the Antics of the Republican Party
One challenge in writing a newsletter that discusses the politics of the day is resisting the temptation to turn it into a catalog of the crazy things that Republicans say and do daily. I received several comments in response to my description yesterday of the fabricated stories about Kamala Harris’s children’s book being distributed at the border (not true) and Joe Biden’s decision to ban hamburgers (not true). In the main, the comments urged me to stick to more important matters. Fair point—except when the stories reflect the unmooring of the Republican Party from reality. At some point, the craziness and lies are the story—especially when Republican politicians refuse to remove false stories from their social media posts after the stories are proven false.
The descent of the GOP into delusion is getting worse. There might have been an explanation (but not an excuse) for that fact when Republicans felt the need to defend Trump’s unhinged statements, but they are now promoting conspiracy theories and falsehoods to curry favor with their base. The feedback loop is becoming irresistible for elected GOP officials. In this regard, I recommend Charlie Sykes essay in The Bulwark, “The Crazy is Metastasizing.” Sykes’s essay does catalog the most recent GOP conspiracies and falsehoods—in a somewhat irreverent manner. Some might enjoy his approach, while others might be offended. Everyone who reads the article will learn at least one new four-letter word.
Is there a legitimate purpose to be served by discussing the drift of the GOP away from reality? I believe there is (though not to excess). The willingness of Republican leaders to spread lies—even silly lies about children’s books—goes hand-in-glove with legislation that is premised on the Big Lie of election fraud in 2020. Inviting the Republican base to set aside notions of truth is essential to convincing them to support legislation directed to a problem that does not exist. The historical antecedents for legislation built on lies are sobering. Dedication to truth matters. We can’t highlight every lie promoted by Republican leaders and I won’t do so in this newsletter. But we can’t ignore them altogether. We do so at our peril.
In response to my critique of Rick Santorum’s disgraceful comments about the lack of “contribution to American culture” by Native Americans, readers sent dozens of examples of how Native Americans have contributed to American culture. The most frequent comment was to note that the Iroquois Great League of Peace served as a template for portions of the U.S. Constitution. See PBS “How the Iroquois Great Law of Peace Shaped U.S. Democracy.” In 1988, Congress passed a resolution that recognized the contribution of the Iroquois Confederacy to the U.S. Constitution. H. Con. Resolution 331 says, in part,
The confederation of the original 13 colonies into one republic was inﬂuenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy, as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the constitution itself.
I wrote my introduction to today’s newsletter real-time, before reading any of the media’s reaction to Biden’s speech. In general, the reviews have been positive. After reviewing online commentary, I should add that the scale and ambition of Biden’s agenda are historic. Whether Biden can deliver with a divided Congress is another question, but he is “swinging for the fences” as I noted a week ago.
Republican Senator Tim Scott gave a response to a speech that Biden did not give. Scott assumed that Biden would give a confrontational speech that scolded America for its shortcomings. Senator Scott must have been unpleasantly surprised by a speech that spoke to all Americans about issues that matter to them—and that did so in a positive, unifying way. Biden gave the speech we needed to hear. It had the added virtue of being true. You can’t ask for more.
Talk to you tomorrow!