All politics is local, the saying goes, but in this stay-at-home crisis Canadians have looked to their national and provincial leaders on TV, and so far, it appears most like what they have seen.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been a political revelation. His daily press conferences have been down to earth and driven by common sense over political culture. On Saturday, he berated Ontario’s own protesting coronavirus conspiracy theorists as a bunch of reckless yahoos.
Quebec Premier François Legault has been praised for a firm, fatherly tone that prodded people into observing physical distancing restrictions, and he has admitted mistakes and promised lasting change.
Both premiers have been called populists, and though the label is misused and misleading, it’s still worth noting that neither indulged in the pandemic denial of other so-called populists such as Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro or Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko. Nor did they resort to the kind of flailing that took U.S. President Donald Trump into the realm of medical malpractice.
Instead, they have been direct and conversational. Conservative MP Gérard Deltell, though not exactly unbiased, was right when he compared Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s press conference style to Mr. Legault’s back on March 25: “One reads, the other speaks.”
But Mr. Trudeau’s approval ratings are high now, too. He made his role into speaking from a national pulpit and promising that the federal government has got your back – accompanied by daily announcements, often of new financial benefits.
In Canada, nearly everyone’s coronavirus approval ratings are high. A poll conducted from an online panel by Innovative Research between April 20 and 22 found 66 per cent of Canadians approved of their provincial government’s response. Seventy-two per cent of Quebeckers and 67 per cent of Ontarians felt that way. (The sample was not random so no margin of error can be ascertained.) Approval for the federal government’s handling was at 61 per cent.
Incumbent leaders across the country have been getting the thumbs up for leadership. And why not? We’re all stuck inside watching them earnestly, often tirelessly, talk us through the crisis day-to-day. Most citizens are in a mood to overlook glitches and even past decisions that look like mistakes now.
But, unfortunately for political leaders, that isn’t going to last. Perhaps Mr. Ford, more than anyone, has upended the perception of who he is. But all have to face the next, complex face in crisis leadership.
For one thing, cracks in crisis approval are starting to appear. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s coronavirus handling ratings dipped significantly over 10 days, Innovative Research president Greg Lyle noted. Mr. Legault was an unassailable hero a month ago, but you can hear more criticism of his handling of seniors care homes now.
For another, politics can be famously harsh to crisis leaders. Winston Churchill inspired Britons through the Second World War, but was dumped in 1945 by voters looking for a different kind of peacetime.
And now, Canadian governments are nearing a second phase that will require a different kind of leadership: less having our backs as we shut everything down and more steering through complex plans as we try to open things up.
Mr. Legault mused Friday about reopening involving “herd immunity,” the notion of building up the number of people in society who have antibodies making them immune. It was vague. And he hasn’t detailed a plan to protect the most vulnerable, including seniors in long-term care centres, as society reopens.
Provinces have to figure out how to resume other health care before COVID-19 is gone. Mr. Ford’s province is still lagging others on testing, which is critical to mitigating a rebound of the epidemic.
It is one thing for a province such as Prince Edward Island to set out a reopening timetable – it hasn’t had a confirmed new case of COVID-19 for more than a week, and it’s an island with just two entry points until ferry terminals reopen. It is different in many provinces, which need details of how they will monitor and manage, rather than just a list of what will reopen when.
Mr. Trudeau’s federal government, meanwhile, doesn’t just carry the responsibility for co-ordinating but for unwinding – for reopening interprovincial transportation and borders, then for winding down benefits, all while trying to bring business back to life.
That doesn’t call for the same kind of crisis leadership. Canadians admire what their leaders have done so far, but they will have a lot of anxiety for where they will be led next.
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Week In Politics: U.S. Sees Job Gains In May – NPR
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Of course, when President Trump called in the National Guard in the streets of Washington, D.C., he told governors in a conference call they must be dominating. NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us now. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: The president spoke at the White House yesterday for roughly an hour. And with all of the events and ferment going on, he spoke mostly about the May jobs numbers, didn’t he?
ELVING: Yes, indeed, he did. And it may have been the first time we’ve seen a president take a victory lap for 13% unemployment. But, you know, that was a better number than April by almost a point and a half and way better than what economists and journalists were expecting. So it turns out that even after a short period of reopening restaurants and dentist offices and so on, millions of furloughed folks go back, and it offsets the further job losses elsewhere in the economy. And, of course, the president has been cheerleading for quick reopening. And so here he is yesterday describing this recovery.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Now we’re opening, and we’re opening with a bang. And we’ve been talking about the V. This is better than a V. This is a rocket ship.
ELVING: One thing about a rocket ship, though, Scott, as a metaphor, it does set certain expectations. Right now, the stimulus bills are still shoring up the economy to some extent, and permanent job losses actually increased in the month of May. We should note as well that job losses for African Americans actually grew and the gap between white and black unemployment got worse. Still, it was easily the best news the president has had on any front in some time.
SIMON: And this week, the president was the subject of grave and serious criticism from high-profile and respected people who once worked for him who do not approve of his leadership, do they?
ELVING: It started with that dressing down of the governors that you mentioned. Then we had the violent clearing of peaceful protesters from the park across from the White House to set up Trump’s photo-op with the Bible in the boarded-up church. All this prompted unusually sharp responses from a number of retired national security officials and even military officers, such as retired Marine General and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis. They denounced the president’s talk about sending troops into American cities, and Mattis in particular said the president had not even tried to unite the country or even pretended to try. He said the president had chosen to divide and deepen the divide. And another retired Marine general, John Allen, wrote that the events of Monday night, the clearing of the park across from the White House, looked like the beginning of the end for American democracy.
SIMON: And when these generals spoke up, a number of, I guess what we’d call – what we used to call, I might say, centrist Republicans seemed to also speak. I’m thinking specifically of the Republican senator from Alaska, Lisa Murkowski.
ELVING: Yes. Senator Murkowski has not been a big Trump booster, but she has stood by him on the big votes. Now, with her newfound reluctance, the president has targeted her on Twitter, vowing to support anyone who will oppose her in her next primary – anyone with a pulse, the president said.
And one other remarkable thing the president said to end the week, on Friday morning, talking about the jobs report, he said George Floyd was hopefully looking down and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. Continuing to quote the president, “a great day for him, a great day for everybody, a great day in terms of equality.”
SIMON: Do we know where, when the Republican National Convention in August is going to be?
ELVING: Not really. The governor there in North Carolina, Roy Cooper, is a Democrat. He says they are still seeing a lot of new COVID cases in North Carolina. He can’t guarantee approval for 20,000 people to go to Charlotte and jam into a basketball arena in August. And that prompted the president to say he was going to move his acceptance speech, the centerpiece of the convention, out of Charlotte, possibly to Tennessee or Texas or maybe most likely to Florida, which is now his home state.
SIMON: And we will note the polls don’t look so good for the president.
ELVING: It’s been a rough week for Trump in the polls, several of which now have him trailing Joe Biden nationally by 7 points or as many as 11.
SIMON: NPR’s Ron Elving, thanks so much.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.
The Class of 2020 Is Missing Out, and So Are Politicians – The New York Times
The event comes with a captive audience of thousands — Republicans, Democrats, “apolitical” relatives, little siblings too young to vote. Everybody sits trapped in their bleacher seats. After 20 minutes, they dutifully applaud.
For a politician, a commencement speaking gig offers the kind of advertising that money can’t buy. “You have people of all different backgrounds gathered,” said Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, who delivered two dozen virtual commencement speeches this spring. “It’s a time of extraordinary diversity.”
Mr. Booker recalled that when he was chosen to give the address at the University of Pennsylvania in 2017, there were Republican trustees “pooh-poohing” the choice of such a partisan speaker. (He won them over, he said, with his focus on “our common values” and “the larger body politic.”)
College graduation ceremonies are fittingly focused on the graduates, but for some 20-odd minutes the spotlight turns to the illustrious speaker. Ideally the audience, in what Mr. Booker called its “extraordinary diversity,” might inspire a speech that transcends ideological divisions, as some of the most memorable ones have. The Apple founder Steve Jobs earned his spot in the commencement hall of fame with a 2005 speech at Stanford University reminding students that “you are going to die.” But when a politician steps up to the lectern, the message tends to veer away from death and toward politics.
This was no exception for the class of 2020. While isolated at home in their pajamas because of the coronavirus pandemic, graduates were saluted in virtual ceremonies headlined by government figures and entertainers. Former President Barack Obama celebrated the more than 27,000 graduates of historically black colleges and universities in May, and on Sunday he is set to join Lady Gaga, Malala Yousafzai and others in a “Dear Class of 2020” event hosted by YouTube, a lineup that even the most ambitious real-life commencement would find impossible to replicate.
One class of graduates will get its celebration in person: the 1,000 West Point cadets, who will be addressed by President Trump on June 13.
Tia Humphries, a Howard University graduate from Orlando, Fla., watched Mr. Obama’s virtual address with family in her living room, which her parents had decorated with streamers and balloons to mimic what Howard’s gymnasium would have looked like for the ceremony.
It quickly became clear the speech was not just for Ms. Humphries and her friends. The speech, given on May 16, weeks before Mr. Obama addressed the nation on the killing of George Floyd and the protest movement that followed, still used the momentous occasion as a way to reach beyond the graduates and their families.
The former president made headlines by using the opportunity to criticize the country leadership’s response to the coronavirus. He urged the graduates to take responsibility in the midst of the crisis, when political leaders “aren’t even pretending to be in charge.”
Mr. Obama’s words followed in a long tradition of graduation speeches, landing in moments of national crisis, that are partly for the graduates and partly their country at large.
President John F. Kennedy called for a nuclear test ban treaty at American University’s 1963 graduation. President Lyndon B. Johnson created the framework for affirmative action policy at Howard University in 1965, the year after the Civil Rights Act passed. In 2002, President George W. Bush told graduates of the U.S. Military Academy that the country should be prepared for “pre-emptive action” in Iraq.
These speeches form a presidential ritual as familiar as it is peculiar: addressing the nation through its newly minted adults.
Leland Shelton, a 2013 graduate of Morehouse College, recalled his experience with the personal milestone turned political. Mr. Shelton had spent the months before his graduation lobbying class leaders to pick Ray Lewis, a Baltimore Ravens linebacker, as the commencement speaker. Instead, they chose their president, Mr. Obama.
Midway through the speech the improbable happened. “Where’s Leland?” Mr. Obama said. The president went on to praise Mr. Shelton, a foster care child with a mother in prison who was Phi Beta Kappa and Harvard Law-bound. Mr. Shelton stood up to thunderous applause, listening in disbelief and wishing his mother was present.
But to Mr. Shelton, being included in the speech was also complicated. Mr. Obama spent several minutes urging the Morehouse graduates to be good parents to their children.
“I was thinking, ‘You’re talking to an audience of 550 black men going on to some of the best professional schools in the country,’” Mr. Shelton said. The message seemed to “harken to stereotypes about black men not being good fathers, which I don’t think are true.”
Some political commencement speeches evoke far more than mixed emotions. In 2014, Condoleezza Rice had to withdraw from the Rutgers commencement after students staged a sit-in condemning her foreign policy at the university president’s office.
Kathleen Sebelius, former secretary of health and human services in the Obama administration, was interrupted by a heckler at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute in 2012, and a small group protested her appearance at the university’s front gate. Georgetown’s president said it was the decision of students at the institute to invite Ms. Sebelius as a speaker.
Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black university in Daytona Beach, Fla., had its 2017 commencement interrupted when some students turned their backs on the speaker, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Student leaders said they were protesting comments Ms. DeVos made three months earlier that referred to historically black institutions as “pioneers” of “school choice”; they were established at the height of racial segregation.
For Fedrick Ingram, an older alumnus of the university who helped coordinate the protests, the disruption was the highlight of the ceremony. “It was electricity,” he said. “It was almost like 1968 with the Freedom Riders.” The university president had threatened to withhold degrees from students who disrupted the ceremony, but dozens booed Ms. DeVos anyway.
Political commencement speeches aren’t always mired in drama, but for many students and families they evoke a simpler question: Why draw politics into a day that’s otherwise festive and uncontroversial?
That was a question on Michael Agnello’s mind, when the University of Massachusetts, Amherst announced Elizabeth Warren as its undergraduate commencement speaker, in 2017. Mr. Agnello was a fan of the Massachusetts senator, but he knew his more conservative family members would be skeptical of the university’s decision. He decided to bring some levity to the day by creating “Elizabeth Warren’s Commencement Speech Drinking Game.”
The rules Mr. Agnello designed were straightforward. For a mention of “the disappearing middle class,” he advised readers to “fight fire with fire and rip that Fireball.” For a discussion of “student debt,” the rule was to “quell such injustice” with “a nip of Smirnoff.”
But he was not expecting the senator to stumble upon his game online and refer to it directly — which she did midway through her speech, with a reference to Fireball that delighted his conservative relatives.
“By the time we walked out of the football stadium I had 30 texts on my phone like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that just happened,’” Mr. Agnello said. “My family was cracking up.”
Politicians, for their part, realize the difficulties of imparting wisdom to an audience with lots of competing concerns, from family drama to last hurrah hangovers. “It’s always a crapshoot with graduating seniors because a lot of them might have been out super late the night before,” said Cody Keenan, a speechwriter for Mr. Obama.
Mr. Obama gave more than two dozen commencement speeches while in office — at military schools like West Point, state institutions like Ohio State and private ones like Barnard. Over years of commencement speechwriting, Mr. Keenan developed rules of the road. The speaker should be funny and self-deprecating. He should not over-index on the political, even in an election season.
Most important, Mr. Keenan said, is that speechwriters not fixate on producing a speech that becomes an instant classic.
“One of the mistakes people make is that they’re like, ‘I want to break through,’” he said. “‘I want to be Steve Jobs in 2005.’ Steve Jobs broke through because he was dying and explicitly talked about that.”
Kendra Grissom, who graduated from Spelman College last month, was looking forward to the many rites of commencement weekend: marching through the alumni arch, dressing up for senior soiree, passing down the class cymbal. Instead, she said, she spent it propped up in bed watching a parade of digital speeches from “Debbie Allen, some executive from Chase and a basketball player.”
But Mr. Obama offered some assurance for graduates like Ms. Grissom: “The disappointments of missing a live graduation, those will pass pretty quick,” he said. The greatest solace, according to the former president: “Not having to sit there and listen to a commencement speaker isn’t all that bad. Mine usually go on way too long.”
Amid protests, US faith leaders engage racism and politics – Rimbey Review
Amid protests, U.S. faith leaders engage racism and politics
NEW YORK — As days of anti-racism protests sparked by police killings push Americans toward a national reckoning, religious leaders are stepping more directly into the politics surrounding discrimination, entering into a dialogue that cuts across lines of faith and colour.
Groups from multiple denominations across Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths have publicly called for action against racism, aligning with peaceful demonstrators’ goals following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Even beyond those statements, the amount and diversity of religious involvement in the ongoing protests suggests a possible sea change for faith-driven engagement in racial justice issues.
“I’ve seen people of different faiths coming out and saying ‘this was wrong’ in ways I didn’t see before,” said Rev. Traci Blackmon, associate general minister of justice at the United Church of Christ and an early spiritual leader in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Religion’s role in struggles against racial bias long predates Floyd’s killing, which sparked mass demonstrations across the United States and even in other countries. But a notable shift has taken place this week.
Among those who’ve publicly backed protesters are clergy from the Southern Baptist Convention, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Orthodox and Reform Judaism.
Meanwhile Catholic and Episcopal leaders openly criticized President Donald Trump after peaceful demonstrators were forcefully cleared to make way for his brief visit and photo-op outside the historic St. John’s Church near the White House.
On Wednesday, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, leader of the United Methodist Church’s Washington-area conference, joined Rev. Mariann Budde, the bishop of Washington’s Episcopal diocese, which includes St. Johns, and other faith leaders for a prayer vigil that aimed to orient the religious conversation around fighting racism.
“I think that all leaders that consider themselves to be religious or moral leaders have an obligation to rise and to speak to this moment, because institutional racism and supremacy cannot be dismantled by African American leaders alone,” said Easterling, who is African American. “Those who enjoy the privilege of those systems must rise.”
The vigil was initially set to take place at St. John’s but had to move to a nearby block after local law enforcement extended the security perimeter around the White House.
Budde, who expressed outrage Monday over Trump’s use of St. John’s as a backdrop, said white Americans need to engage more in “the realities of this country that we … are allowed to be blind to in ways that cost people of colour.”
Trump’s visit, in which he held up a Bible and said “we have a great country,” was at least in part intended as a show of solidarity with faith, according to the White House. But the manoeuvr nudged Budde and other religious leaders to wade further into the political realm, airing their disagreement.
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