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Is Victoria’s Secret Identity Politics? – The Wall Street Journal

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Victoria’s Secret canceled its annual fashion show this year, a Christmastime staple of network television since 1995. The 2018 show had drawn only 3.3 million U.S. viewers on ABC, down from five million in 2017 and 12.4 at its 2001 peak. The cancellation added to Victoria’s Secret’s other woes: store closings, falling sales revenue, the termination of its famous catalog in 2016, and revelations that

Jeffrey Epstein

had been the financial adviser of

Leslie Wexner,

82-year-old founder and CEO of parent company

L Brands.

The retailer finds itself politically and culturally out of step.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

complained at the Guardian of the “pornified aesthetic” that the “male gaze” had foisted upon Victoria’s Secret’s customers. “It’s refreshing that comfort and inclusivity are now on the agenda,” she wrote. Big Think’s

Molly Hanson

credited the “body positivity” movement for the cancellation, which she called the “nail in the coffin to an archaic, androcentric definition of ‘sexy.’ ”

Conservative commentators expressed similar sentiments. The Washington Examiner’s

Madeline Fry

called the show a “sordid event” staged by a company whose “advertising has always been about fulfilling male fantasies.”

Models at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in New York, Nov. 10, 2015.


Photo:

Evan Agostini/Associated Press

The left also complained that Victoria’s Secret models lack “diversity.” True, Victoria’s Secret made the reputations of black supermodels

Naomi Campbell

and Tyra Banks. But “none of the models have been plus size or gender nonconforming,” Buzzfeed’s Scaachi Koul grumbled. Asked why in November 2018, Ed Razek, L Brands’ marketing director, told Vogue: “Because the show is a fantasy.” Mr. Razek has left the company, and in August Victoria’s Secret hired

Valentina Sampaio

as its first transgender model.

It is quite a change since 1977, when

Roy Raymond

founded Victoria’s Secret as a bordello-décor haven for men to buy sexy underwear for their wives and girlfriends. Raymond’s birthday- and holiday-focused business plan couldn’t sustain sales. When Mr. Wexner bought the chain in 1982, his first move was to reconfigure the stores to appeal to women who couldn’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars for a La Perla bra but would snap up midpriced lace and satin.

Mr. Wexner marketed his wares by employing gorgeous models like Ms. Banks,

Heidi Klum,

Gisele Bündchen

and

Candice Swanepoel.

That was Mr. Razek’s “fantasy”: Customers knew they didn’t have supermodel bodies, but the idea was that some of the glamour would rub off on them. And of course it was an “androcentric” conception of sexiness. The vast majority of women are heterosexual.

Beauty, however, is not democratic. And in the age of militant identity politics, identity has replaced beauty as a marketing strategy. Increasing numbers of women, especially the loudest in the media and social media, aren’t interested in partaking vicariously of the supermodel glamour of

Kendall Jenner

or

Gigi Hadid.

They demand instead to be told that they themselves are just as lovely as Ms. Jenner and Ms. Hadid—and to see versions of themselves on the runway.

One form of fantasy has been traded in for another. Plus-size and other figure-flawed ladies are now ubiquitous in womenswear advertising, especially among Victoria’s Secret’s upstart competitors: Aerie, Third Love, and singer Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty line. An X Fenty fashion show that streamed on

Amazon

Prime in September was heavy on performers of uncertain sex and hefty bra-and-panty models showing off their cellulite dimples.

Beauty has been declining in Western culture for more than a century, starting with the fine arts. Now it’s vanishing even from advertising. But the market is democratic, and we’ll see if social justice can sell underwear.

Ms. Allen is author of “The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus.”

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The ACA Case Reveals the Politics of ‘Constitutionality’ – The Atlantic

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Getty / The Atlantic

“I’d like to terminate Obamacare,” President Donald Trump said at Thursday night’s debate. He said he hoped that the Supreme Court, flush with six conservative justices after Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s likely confirmation, would take care of the job for him. “Now it’s in court, because Obamacare is no good.”

Trump’s argument is an awkward one, and not only because it’s a toxic message in the closing days of a campaign that’s occurring against the backdrop of a global pandemic. At last week’s confirmation hearings for Barrett, Trump’s Republican allies on the Senate Judiciary Committee repeatedly threw cold water on the lawsuit, which the Supreme Court will hear on November 10. As Democrats drew attention to the risk that the Supreme Court might put the law to the torch, Republicans insisted that the lawsuit was unlikely to succeed and that it was unfair to assume that Barrett would be as reckless as the man who nominated her. Democrats accused Republicans of disingenuousness; Republicans accused Democrats of fearmongering. The ensuing debate was as loud as it was unedifying.

All that noise obscured two deeper truths. The first is about the nature of constitutional change, and it helps explain why Senate Republicans have a point when they question the viability of a lawsuit whose goals they share and that the White House supports. The second is about the threat that the conservative Supreme Court poses to democracy. A Justice Barrett may be unlikely to topple the Affordable Care Act, but she’s a foot soldier in a conservative legal movement that has armed itself with the tools to subvert Congress’s ability to govern.

Roll the tape back to 2010. Minutes after President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, lawsuits were filed challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate, the part of the law requiring people to secure insurance or pay a tax penalty. At the time, the cases were widely dismissed as constitutional stunts that stood no chance of success in the federal courts.

By the time the Supreme Court heard them in 2012, however, the cases had become nail-biters. That year, Jack Balkin, a Yale law professor, took a hard look at how that happened. His account of constitutional change didn’t turn on the nitty-gritty of legal doctrine. Instead, it hinged on the simple insight that “what people think is reasonable depends in part on what they think that other people think.”

Supreme Court justices are people too. That’s why moving a constitutional argument from “off the wall” to “on the wall”—to borrow Balkin’s terminology—demands more than showing that the argument is legally defensible. The justices must be reassured that the argument has enough public support that they won’t be written off as kooky or eccentric for endorsing it. The Supreme Court came to find that the Constitution protected gay rights and gun rights, for example, only after those rights had become mainstream. A similar shift in public sentiment explains how the challenge to the individual mandate became plausible.

How exactly did the challengers manage it? It wasn’t enough for conservative lawyers to make clever arguments, though that was essential. Nor was it enough for Tea Party activists to crash town halls. For Balkin, the key to the campaign’s success was the full-throated support of the Republican Party. The arguments of liberal lawyers insisting that conservatives were just making stuff up about the Constitution rang hollow when Republicans across the country, including local politicians, business leaders, and the guy on the bar stool, said otherwise. An argument can’t be crazy if half the country buys it.

The Republican Party’s political support was forthcoming because the legal challenge directly advanced the party’s agenda. Republicans might cripple a law that they deplored; failing that, they could use the challenge to focus public outrage and mobilize voters. As it happened, the Supreme Court, by a 5–4 vote, upheld the Affordable Care Act by construing the individual mandate as an exercise of Congress’s power to tax. But the political gambit worked: In 2012, Republicans made historic gains in both the House and the Senate. President Obama called it a “shellacking.”

Strictly on the legal merits, this latest challenge to the individual mandate is more absurd than the first one. In 2017, when Congress eliminated the tax penalty for going without insurance, it left in place language saying that people “shall” buy insurance. With nothing to back it up, that instruction lost its teeth. But the challengers—a group of red states—have argued that Congress, by retaining that language, must have meant to coerce people into buying insurance.

The upshot is that, by eliminating the tax penalty for not having insurance, Congress made the individual mandate more coercive—and thus unconstitutional. Even more radically, the challengers say that the constitutional flaw in the individual mandate requires unraveling the entire Affordable Care Act. Neither of these arguments is defensible.

But the case’s doctrinal weakness is not what most sharply distinguishes it from the first Obamacare suit. Indeed, the arguments are coherent enough to have persuaded each of the three Republican-appointed judges who have heard the case so far. The biggest difference is that the conservative political establishment that did so much to make the last Obamacare case seem plausible, even inevitable, has not laid the same groundwork here. The case is still off the wall.

The first sign that something was different about this lawsuit came in 2018, just months after it was filed. Instead of avoiding a debate over health reform, as they had before, Democratic Senate candidates used their opponents’ support for the lawsuit as a cudgel. Joe Manchin of West Virginia fired a shotgun at a copy of the complaint; Claire McCaskill of Missouri ran ads excoriating her opponent, Josh Hawley, for joining a case that would rip protections from people with preexisting conditions.

Hawley set the script for how Republicans would respond to these attacks. They would ignore the lawsuit, not defend it, and press the misleading talking point that they support protections for people with preexisting conditions. Protective of his Senate majority, Mitch McConnell damned the lawsuit with faint praise, saying only that there was “nothing wrong with going to court. Americans do it all the time.”

The pattern has held this election cycle. Embattled Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, for example, has refused to say where he stands on the case. Instead, he released a campaign video promising to maintain preexisting-condition protections “no matter what happens to Obamacare.” When Democrats forced a vote on whether to bar Trump’s Justice Department from supporting the lawsuit, Gardner and five other incumbents in close elections broke from their party to side with Democrats. Republicans aren’t running on their party’s support for the lawsuit. They’re running away from it.

The only major exception is President Trump himself. Indeed, the White House’s surprise endorsement of the lawsuit in 2018 is probably best understood as a bid to get the rest of the Republican Party to back the case and put it on the wall. But that bid failed: The case was just too radioactive for most Republican officeholders. Even Attorney General Bill Barr has urged the president to moderate his position. A more prudent president probably would have taken that advice.

If the lawsuit is such a liability for Republicans, why was it brought in the first place? The answer is that what’s bad for the party may still be good for some politicians. Every one of the red-state attorneys general who brought the lawsuit has ambitions for higher office. But winning a gubernatorial race in Utah or Texas means winning a Republican primary, and the primary electorate in these states is much more conservative than the general. It might be advantageous for those politicians to press a position that’s bad news for Republican incumbents.

This puts Republican leaders in a bind. Without getting crosswise with the White House, they are trying to signal as loudly as they can that they would prefer the lawsuit to go away. That effort reached almost comic proportions during the Barrett hearings. McConnell said that “no one believes the Supreme Court is going to strike down the Affordable Care Act.” Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, emphasized that severability doctrine requires judges “to save the statute, if possible.” Senator Chuck Grassley said that it was “outrageous” to think that Barrett would invalidate the law, because, “as a mother of seven, [she] clearly understands the importance of health care.”

The Supreme Court is sure to get the message. During the first Obamacare case, groups affiliated with the Republican challengers filed 59 amicus briefs, including one from the Chamber of Commerce and another on severability from McConnell and dozens of Republican senators. This time around, only five amicus briefs were submitted to support the lawsuit, all from marginal players in the Republican political ecosystem. McConnell is sitting this one out.

The Supreme Court would thus be going out on a limb were it to invalidate all or part of the Affordable Care Act. It may still do so; we’re all just guessing. But without a full-court press from the Republican Party, a result like that couldn’t be spun to the public as a principled constitutional holding. Even to Republicans, it would look like rank partisanship. And the justices know that Republicans would bear responsibility for the fallout.

Although the prospects of this particular lawsuit are dim, however, the Democrats were right to focus on it during Barrett’s hearing. To begin with, the case serves as a reminder of all the other cases about health care that are coming down the pike—and not just those about abortion. The Supreme Court, for example, will decide in the coming weeks if it will hear a case about whether 19 states can impose work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said no, effectively preventing hundreds of thousands of people from losing insurance. A Supreme Court packed with a conservative supermajority could—and probably would—flip that decision.

This latest Obamacare case also stands in for all the cases to come involving progressive legislation. Judge Barrett has been pretty candid that she would have sided with the challengers in the first lawsuit challenging the individual mandate. If she, not Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, had been sitting on the Court back in 2012, the Affordable Care Act would now be in ashes.

That should teach us something about the reception that major legislation passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress is likely to receive on a 6–3 Supreme Court. Republican officeholders may have mixed feelings about this case, but they will leap to convince their conservative constituents of the unconstitutionality of Medicare for All or a new Voting Rights Act or the Green New Deal. The resulting mobilization will make the Supreme Court receptive to inventive arguments that target those laws or frustrate their implementation.

Making the Affordable Care Act the centerpiece of the Barrett hearings was thus apt—not because the law itself is in serious jeopardy, but because it symbolizes the risk of giving a veto over progressive legislation to a conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court. The justices’ views about what counts as reasonable, like anyone’s, are powerfully shaped by the political debates of our time. If Barrett is confirmed, the views of two-thirds of those justices will be shaped by a Republican Party that represents less than half the country.

That’s not just a problem for Democrats. It’s a problem for democracy.

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This story is part of the project “The Battle for the Constitution,” in partnership with the National Constitution Center.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Nicholas Bagley is a law professor at the University of Michigan.

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Transcending politics – Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

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It is a phrase that has been continuously invoked by Democratic and Republican leaders. It has become the clearest symbol of the mood of the country, and what people feel is at stake in November. Everyone, it seems, is fighting for it.

“This campaign isn’t just about winning votes. It’s about winning the heart and, yes, the soul of America,” former Vice President Joe Biden said in August at the Democratic National Convention, not long after the phrase “battle for the soul of America” appeared at the top of his campaign website, next to his name.

A recent campaign ad for President Donald Trump spliced videos of Democrats invoking “the soul” of America, followed by images of clashes between protesters and police and the words “Save America’s Soul,” with a request to text “SOUL” to make a campaign contribution.

That the election has become a referendum on the soul of the nation, suggests that in an increasingly secular country, voting has become a reflection of one’s individual morality — and that the outcome hinges in part on spiritual and philosophical questions that transcend politics: What, exactly, is the soul of the nation? What is the state of it? And what would it mean to save it?

The answers go beyond a campaign slogan, beyond politics and November, to the identity and future of the American experiment itself, especially now, with a pandemic that has wearied the country’s spirit.

“When I think of soul of the nation,” Joy Harjo, the U.S. poet laureate and a Muscogee (Creek) Nation member, said, “I think of the process of becoming, and what it is we want to become. That is where it gets tricky, and that is where I think we have reached a stalemate right now. What do people want to become?”

Harjo said the country’s soul was “at a crucial point.”

“It is like everything is broken at once,” she said. “We are at a point of great wounding, where everyone is standing and looking within themselves and each other.”

In Carlsbad, Calif., Marlo Tucker, the state director for Concerned Women for America, has been meeting regularly to pray with a group of a dozen or so women about the future of the country. The group has been working with other conservative Christian women to register voters.

“It really comes down to what do you stand for, and what do you not stand for,” she said.

“I know this is a Christian nation, the Founding Fathers were influenced by the biblical values,” she said. “People are confused, they are influenced by this sensationalism, they are angry, they are frustrated. They are searching for hope again in government, they are searching for leaders who actually care for their problems.”

THE BODY POLITIC

The soul, and the soul of the body politic, is an ancient philosophical and theological concept, one of the deepest ways humans have understood their individual identity, and their life together.

In biblical Hebrew the words translated as soul, nefesh and neshama, come from a root meaning “to breathe.” The Genesis story describes God breathing into the nostrils of man, making him human.

The meaning echoes through today, in a pandemic that attacks the respiratory system and in police violence against Black people crying out, “I can’t breathe.”

Homeric poets saw the soul as the thing humans risk in battle, or the thing that distinguishes life from death. Plato wrote of Socrates exploring the connection between the soul and the republic in creating the virtue of justice. For St. Augustine, who wrote “The City of God,” the city could be judged by what it loves.

The soul of the nation is “a very ancient trope that is revived when all sorts of cultural ideas are in flux,” Eric Gregory, professor of religion at Princeton University, said. “It reveals something about the current political conversation, in times of crisis and change, a corruption of sickness.”

Often we stress systems and institutions, he said, but in the Trump era there has been a return to ancient concepts about the welfare of the city, where politics is about right relationships. “In ancient politics the health of society had a lot to do with the virtue of the ruler,” Gregory said.

In the United States, the question of who could define the soul of the nation was fraught from the start, from the forced displacement of American Indians to the enslavement of Africans.

And the state of the soul of the nation has often been tied to the country’s oppression of Black people. Abolitionists like Frederick Douglass fought for an “invincible abhorrence of the whole system of slaveholding” to be “fixed in the soul of the nation.” Lyndon B. Johnson said the country found its “soul of honor” on the fields of Gettysburg. When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders formed what is now the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957, they made their founding motto “to save the soul of America.”

‘BATTLE FOR THE SOUL’

This year Trump has positioned himself as the defender of a Christian America under siege. “In America, we don’t turn to government to restore our souls, we put our faith in Almighty God,” he said at the Republican National Convention. Franklin Graham, one of his evangelical supporters, wrote last year that this age is “a battle for the soul of the nation,” as the original “moral and spiritual framework, which has held our nation together for 243 years, is now unraveling.”

For Biden, the soul of the nation came into focus after the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., three years ago. “We have to show the world America is still a beacon of light,” he wrote at the time.

Amid questions of the soul, voters have problems they want solved, and systems they want changed.

North of Boston, Andrew DeFranza, executive director of Harborlight Community Partners, an organization that develops inexpensive housing, reflected on the disastrous impact of the coronavirus pandemic for many people, from essential workers to people with disabilities. The country’s soul is disoriented, adversarial and tired, he said.

“I don’t think Group A is going to beat Group B and everything is going to be fine,” he said of the election. “We are eager to see political leaders at every level regardless of party demonstrate concrete, actionable plans to address these issues of inequity around health and race, and to do so in a way that is concrete and has outcomes to which they can be accountable.”

photo

Protesters watch a fireworks display above the White House after President Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination during the final night of the Republican National Convention, in Washington, on Aug. 27. The election has become a referendum on the soul of the nation, suggesting that in an increasingly secular country, voting has become a reflection of one’s individual morality — and that the outcome hinges in part on spiritual and philosophical questions that transcend politics.
(The New York Times/Erin Schaff)

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On politics and the principle of nurturing – MinnPost

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Who is my neighbor? Over the course of life’s wanderings my answer to this question has gone through expansion and contraction cycles, and as I stumble into middle age over the cracks and potholes I recognize I’ve treated the question at times as rhetorical and metaphorical, but increasingly in recent years, literal. Especially this year, and especially at this time of year as I make decisions about the votes I will cast for elected offices in November.

Tim Moore

The passionate pursuit of a single issue can drive a vote. As I write this, I’ve just read the fine commentary on these pages by Erik Johnson, who discourages us from hinging our decisions on single issues (“At election time, you have a voice — and it is your obligation to use it,” Oct. 19). I have never been a single-issue voter, but in these complex times parsimony is an elixir. The issue I claim is the principle of nurturing (the breadth of which may get me a pass from detractors of single-issue voting). Oxford Languages defines nurturing as “to care for and encourage the growth and development of.” As a mental health professional, I’ve become aware of the ubiquity of the need for nurturing (all of us, not just those who seek professional support), and as a Lutheran I struggle with the limitations on the bandwidth I have for contributing to the nurturing needed where my family lives in the urban core and across the state where my kids will grow up alongside yours.

A natural tendency

Humans have a natural tendency to nurture — with our families, pets, gardens, clubs, teams, businesses — reflecting the importance of people, where we belong, and what we are responsible for. We can recognize nurturing in the actions of people who inspire us. We read about nurturing in the newspaper and other media every day in wide-ranging stories of long-sustained efforts in every sector of life from global politics to sports to race relations, in obituaries telling us how the world is a better place because of ideas, values, and visions nurtured. Nurturing is not something the political right or the left can claim — thankfully it is a nonpartisan path to tread.

In his 2015 book “The Nurture Effect,” Anthony Biglan argues for nurturing as the core of solutions to challenges faced by individual people, families, schools, and our larger society (among other roles in his influential career in social/behavioral science, Biglan directed the research consortium of the Promise Neighborhoods initiative under the Obama administration). He describes nurturing as a scalable practice supported by decades of research across sectors of society that drives improvements to the human condition at the individual and systems levels. Biglan traces the origin of his push for nurturing to his work on a 2009 Institute of Medicine report on preventing social and health problems: “I began to see common threads that ran through all successful programs, policies, and practices … all of them make people’s environments more nurturing.”

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Neighbors = Minnesotans

Back to the question “who is my neighbor,” I have settled on the answer of “everyone in Minnesota.” Business and pleasure have taken me all over this state to experience the richness of its people, places, and pursuits. But rather than a simple balm for my struggling spirit and a road map for action, this answer adds complexity. The decisions I make at the ballot box this November cannot possibly nurture all my neighbors in the ways they would define it. It is not a zero-sum calculation, but what nurtures the (mostly white) neighbors on my block may not nurture my BIPOC neighbors. Decisions that nurture my urban hometown or my beloved wild lands may not nurture the farmers who grow my food or the mining families who produce resources for our state and far beyond. I try to listen and learn but I don’t walk in the shoes of others. I embrace the tension in having no simple answers and in rejecting the dichotomous choices of our politics.

There will be winners in this election who will earn the responsibility of nurturing their entire constituencies, and must be held to account in that regard. I cling to an optimism that I am not alone in the hope that our civil discourse can embrace the difficult shades of gray it has shied away from in this age of the echo chamber, and collectively our tendencies as nurturers will pave smoother roads for all our neighbors.

Tim Moore is a psychologist who lives in St. Paul with his wife and three children.

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