Bader Ginsburg, therefore, is the Kennedy to Turner’s Lewis and Huxley. She is the Diana to his Mother Teresa
IN THE FACE of covid-19, world leaders have fallen into four camps. The first group denies there is a problem: think of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan, who fined his subjects for wearing face masks before ordering everyone to don them as a protection against “dust”. The second group recognises the threat and counters it with maximum coercion, regardless of civil liberties: think of Xi Jinping in China. The third group, which includes most democracies, handles the tricky trade-off between crushing the virus and crushing everything that is enjoyable in life reasonably well. The fourth group tries to act tough, but does so incompetently. Here, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and President Joko Widodo, or Jokowi, of Indonesia stand out. Their two archipelagic countries have fared far worse than the rest of South-East Asia, with around 200,000 and 160,000 known coronavirus cases respectively and still rising fast.
Mr Duterte is coarse, Jokowi soft-spoken: the two seem cut from different cloth. Yet both were mayors who won national power because voters saw in them something new. They were not from the usual dynasties that dominate their countries’ politics, nor did they spout the geekspeak of global elitists. As mayors they got stuff done: in Mr Duterte’s case, “fighting crime” in Davao by encouraging vigilantes to murder drug suspects; in Jokowi’s, by building things like expressways in Solo and Jakarta, the capital. Men of action, they promised to roll up their sleeves and apply their business model to the country.
Yet the simple-sounding approach crumpled at the first encounter with the virus. As cases rose, Jokowi dithered and flip-flopped over lockdown and distancing measures. Partly that was pandering to conservative Muslim leaders who have long accused him of insufficient piety. In April he faced pressure to allow the mudik, Muslim migrants’ annual return home to mark the end of Ramadan. Its eventual ban came too late to staunch covid-19’s spread. But, mainly, Jokowi feared popular unrest if he shut down the economy. Having asked to be judged on the economy, he was reluctant to see his beloved infrastructure projects halted. Either way, Jokowi was hardly the strong, resolute ruler.
Mr Duterte acted far more quickly, ordering a lockdown of greater Manila, the capital. He called on the army and police to shoot violators of lockdown rules—classic strongman stuff. But in practice, enforcing the rules has fallen more to local governments than to the security forces under the president’s control.
As it happens, local police and village watchmen armed with staves have often been as heavy-handed as the president could have wished. But that is pure coincidence. In practice, the local power-brokers in the periphery of the Philippines—mayors, plantation owners, armed insurgents or drug gangs with friends in the police—do what they like for their own benefit, regardless of what anybody in Manila, including Mr Duterte, instructs. The political apparatus simply is not suited to effective authoritarianism.
In both the Philippines and Indonesia, confinement in crowded slums has helped spread the virus. So, too, has the two countries’ reliance on inter-island transport. It has put a premium on efficient testing and contact tracing, yet efforts have been scrappy—highlighting how ineffectual the state is. That is despite Jokowi borrowing increasingly from the authoritarian playbook. In April his police chief instructed “cyber patrols” to apprehend people who criticise his handling of the pandemic. In early August he ordered by decree the nationwide enforcement of social-distancing and other public-health measures. Yet he fails to get things done. Bureaucrats are nervous about disbursing money to the neediest for fear of being accused of misspending state funds. Ministries competing for favour stand in for clear policy. Jokowi’s “new normal”—a supposed balance between public health and economic activity—risks serving neither.
Like Mr Duterte, Jokowi inherited a political system in which the presidential writ does not run far, and only then through personalised rule. Yet neither Mr Duterte nor Jokowi campaigned on overhauling the system to introduce more effective and accountable government. Nor did voters insist on it. Perhaps, dismayed by the immense cost of the pandemic, they will next time. But do not count on it. Many in the Philippines and Indonesia, for better or for worse, love a strongman.
This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Tough, but incompetent”
Washington Politics Could Be About To Enter A 'Post-Apocalyptic' Phase – NPR
As if 2020 couldn’t get any more politically contentious, a fight is underway over a Supreme Court vacancy — just 43 days until Election Day, and as Americans are already voting in some places during this election season.
Raising the stakes even more, this is not just any seat. It’s the chair formerly held by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal and feminist cultural icon.
While in the minority on the court, Ginsburg became known for her dissents, and, in many ways, she embodied the spirit and strength of the resistance to President Trump. She stood against the social and cultural shifts conservatives have started to implement with Trump’s two picks making the high court majority conservative.
As NPR’s Nina Totenberg reported, Ginsburg dictated a statement to her granddaughter days before her death that read: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
A majority of Americans seem to agree with Ginsburg. A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken over the weekend found that 62% of American adults felt the vacancy should be filled by whoever wins the 2020 presidential election.
That, of course, is of little concern to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Just over an hour after news of Ginsburg’s death broke, the Kentucky Republican vowed to press forward on a Trump replacement.
“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate,” McConnell said in a statement.
That’s despite not even allowing a hearing for former President Barack Obama’s pick to replace Antonin Scalia in 2016. That nominee, Merrick Garland, is the chief judge of the second-highest court in the country, the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Trump is vowing a replacement very soon.
“I will be putting forth a nominee next week,” Trump said at a campaign event in Fayetteville, N.C., on Saturday after taking the stage to chants of “fill that seat.” “It will be a woman. I think it should be a woman because I actually like women much more than men.”
High on Trump’s list are Judges Amy Coney Barrett, Barbara Lagoa and Allison Jones Rushing, NPR’s Carrie Johnson and Tamara Keith reported this weekend.
Barrett, who has been a federal judge in Chicago for three years, is seen by NPR’s sources as a front-runner. The 48-year-old University of Notre Dame law professor and staunch Catholic was a finalist for the seat Brett Kavanaugh ultimately filled.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, a former longtime senator and Judiciary Committee chair, called on Republicans in the Senate “who know deep down what is right for the country — not just for their party” to vote against a Trump nominee.
“Don’t vote to confirm anyone nominated under the circumstances President Trump and Sen. McConnell have created,” Biden said in a speech Sunday. “Don’t go there. Hold your constitutional duty, your conscience. Let the people speak. Cool the flames that have been engulfing our country.”
He added, “If I win this election, President Trump’s nominee should be withdrawn.”
“Hold the tape”
There are plenty of statements Democrats will point to on how Republicans are operating with a double standard.
“If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait to the next election,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said in 2018 at a panel hosted by The Atlantic.
“Hold the tape,” Graham assured.
The tape has been held, but Graham has changed reels.
The South Carolina senator and current Judiciary Committee chair, who’s in a tough fight for reelection and who led the charge to confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, is unapologetically vowing to bring forward Trump’s nominee.
“Harry Reid & Chuck Schumer changed Senate rules to try and stack the courts for Obama,” Graham tweeted Saturday. “Now it’s coming back to haunt them as I predicted. I’m dead set on confirming.”
I stand by what I said in Jan. 2019: Harry Reid & Chuck Schumer changed Senate rules to try and stack the courts for Obama. Now it’s coming back to haunt them as I predicted. I’m dead set on confirming @realDonaldTrump’s nominee. If you stand with me: https://t.co/MYF6qgyjdI pic.twitter.com/lsejlSs0QQ
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) September 19, 2020
There has certainly been very little consistency among Republicans on this. They are arguing that 2016 was different because different parties controlled the White House and Senate. This time, Republicans control both.
All about power
As a candidate, Trump cut through all that and was blunt about his calculation.
“If I were president now, I would certainly want to try and nominate a justice,” Trump said during a February 2016 presidential primary debate after Scalia’s death. “I’m absolutely sure that President Obama will try and do it. I hope that our Senate is going to be able — Mitch, and the entire group, is going to be able to do something about it.”
He added, “I think it’s up to Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it. It’s called delay, delay, delay.”
Translation: It’s not OK for Obama to do it, because it’s bad for my side. But it’s OK for me to do it, because it is good for my side.
This is all about political power.
Remember, there’s no filibuster anymore for Supreme Court nominations. McConnell blew that up to get Trump nominees Neil Gorsuch and Kavanaugh onto the court. So Republicans need a simple majority to get another Trump nominee through.
If Democrats stick together, Republicans can lose just three votes and still confirm a justice with Vice President Pence coming in to break a tie.
Two Republicans have already said they would hold firm and vote against a nominee because of the 2016 precedent of not allowing a vote on Garland — Susan Collins of Maine, who is in a tough reelection fight, as well as Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski.
Democrats are hoping to persuade Utah’s Mitt Romney, who has been a vocal opponent of Trump’s, to do the same. But that leaves them one vote short.
Their hopes for a fourth got a little dimmer on Sunday when retiring Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander sided with McConnell. He said he would have no problem voting for a Trump nominee as long as he or she is intelligent and of good “character” and “temperament.”
“We have arrows in our quiver”
There isn’t a lot Democrats can do procedurally to stop this, but they’re going to try. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told his caucus in a Saturday night call that no options are off the table.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on ABC’s This Week did not rule out the possibility of going so far as impeaching Trump again or Attorney General William Barr. (Impeachment takes precedence in Congress, and an impeachment resolution would force the Senate to take up a trial and could, in theory, delay a nomination.)
“We have our options. We have arrows in our quiver that I’m not about to discuss right now,” Speaker Pelosi tells @GStephanopoulos when pressed on what Democrats would do if Pres. Trump and Republicans push a SCOTUS nomination ahead of the Nov. 3 election. https://t.co/MCxVZDHboU pic.twitter.com/9Rd1sXdIQW
— ABC News (@ABC) September 20, 2020
“We have our options,” Pelosi said. “We have arrows in our quiver that I’m not about to discuss right now.”
Asked to clarify that she wasn’t ruling anything out, she said, “Good morning. Sunday morning.” She added, “When we weigh the equities, defending our democracy requires us to use every arrow in our quiver.
Some on the left want Democrats to threaten that if Biden wins the White House and they take over the Senate, they will play hardball. That includes eliminating the filibuster for legislation; passing statehood for Washington, D.C., to likely give Democrats two more senators; and passing legislation to expand the number of justices who can sit on the Supreme Court. (One bit of evidence for how fired up Democrats are: ActBlue says it raised more than $91 million in the 28 hours after Ginsburg’s death.)
It’s just the latest chapter in the Washington political arms race. McConnell justified ending the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees because former Democratic leader Harry Reid eliminated the filibuster for federal judges after record obstruction from the McConnell-led Republican minority.
As the formerly genteel modern Senate goes, that was considered “going nuclear.”
If blowing up the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees was “going nuclear,” we might be about to enter a phase of “post-apocalyptic” governance in Washington.
Coincidence and condolence: Dying together in politics – Fort McMurray Today
John Turner, a former Prime Minister of Canada, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a lifetime Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, both died on Friday night.
Dying accidentally together like this has created many historical odd couples, such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third American Presidents, who both died with a poignant flourish for the calendar on July 4, Independence Day, 1826.
Sometimes one death eclipses the other in the public’s capacity for mourning, as when Mother Teresa passed almost unnoticed a few days after Princess Diana in 1997. Likewise, Farrah Fawcett died of cancer on the morning of June 25, 2009, and was the big celebrity news of the day until TMZ reported in the afternoon that Michael Jackson also died that day.
Some death partnerships seem to elevate each other in solidarity with a common cause. The civil rights leader, statesman and “conscience of Congress” John Lewis died on July 17 this year, the same day as the preacher C.T. Vivian, who was also a civil rights leader going back to the inner circle of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Others are schoolkid legends or viral factoids that are not quite true, like Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare, who did technically both die on April 23, 1616, but in different countries, Spain and England, which were using different calendars, so in fact they died 10 days apart.
Some simultaneous exits are curious coincidences, like Signe Anderson and Paul Kantner who both died on Jan. 28, 2016, 50 years after she left the psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane, which they co-founded.
Some death partnerships seem to elevate each other in solidarity with a common cause
Others seem not to be coincidences at all, but somehow causally related as expressions of intense emotional intimacy, as in the occasional married couple who make headlines for dying sweetly together in ripe old age, or the parents of former star CFL quarterback Doug Flutie, Dick and Joan, who had heart attacks in short sequence on Nov. 18, 2015.
Some just seem ominous. On the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Nov. 22, 1963, C.S. Lewis died of ill health in Oxford, and Aldous Huxley died of cancer in Los Angeles, tripping on LSD.
Few such death partnerships carry the political heft of the latest one between Bader Ginsburg and Turner.
The main contrast is how differently they matter to the wider public. Turner’s death casts the mind back to the past. Bader Ginsburg’s death does the same, but it also inspires urgent thoughts of the future.
Turner’s death has been treated in Canada as an opportunity to reflect on history, on the Liberal Party’s changing fortunes. Former prime ministers are under a newly critical eye. No one gets the saintly treatment any more, even in death. But Turner is someone who can be mourned at ease. He was not prime minister very long, less than three months in 1984. He had not been in the news lately, and had seemed frail in public appearances.
His death is an opportunity to appreciate a unique life of leadership, but it will not disrupt Canadian politics.
Bader Ginsburg, on the other hand, has set off a tumult by dying because her vacant seat on the top court hands an opportunity to President Donald Trump to replace her.
They have become footnotes to each other’s obituaries
“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” she dictated to her granddaughter Clara Spera a few days before she died.
Trump and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell indicated over the weekend they intend to ensure that wish does not come true — Trump by nominating a replacement judge in the next month, and McConnell by speeding a confirmation vote.
Mourning Bader Ginsburg, therefore, has a sense of political urgency that mourning Turner does not.
Her death is not merely an opportunity to reflect on her role as the liberal grandee of the court, famous for her consensus building with conservatives like her friend the late Antonin Scalia, and credited by progressives with securing important votes on deeply divisive issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
Rather, it is bound up in a presidential election both sides describe as the all-or-nothing struggle for America’s soul.
This sense of historical import came through in the impromptu singing of Amazing Grace by mourners on the steps of the Supreme Court, a Christian hymn for a Jewish judge in a distinctively American irony. Moments like this illustrate how different America can be from Canada, where judicial appointments are not unto death, let alone so nakedly politicized.
Bader Ginsburg, therefore, is the Kennedy to Turner’s Lewis and Huxley. She is the Diana to his Mother Teresa, coming chronologically first and to far greater hoopla. They have become — like the filmmaker Orson Welles and the actor Yul Brynner who both died on Oct. 10, 1985 — footnotes to each other’s obituaries.
Mitch McConnell is the apex predator of U.S. politics – The Washington Post
“I like the evil ones better,” McConnell replied, with a thin smile.
No joke. At 78, after a half-century in politics, Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr. now stands at the precipice of what most Republicans only a generation or two ago would have said was impossible: conservative domination of the Supreme Court.
For McConnell, this is a personal triumph worthy of the history books. But history may record it differently. It seems probable that McConnell’s epitaph will note instead that no one since the Southern segregationists of the 1940s and 1950s did more to cripple the proper functioning of all three branches of government, not to mention faith in the very idea of one America.
Historian Rick Perlstein has long described this chapter in the American story as “Nixonland,” a jagged terrain of White racial fear and populist resentment of the federal authority that began in the mid-1960s. But while GOP presidents from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump have tilled that soil when it suited their purposes, McConnell has been, over the years, its most constant gardener, mixing arcane, cynically hypocritical legislative procedure and judicial appointments to turn emotion into lasting policy.
He has jammed hundreds of conservative judges onto the federal bench, making it younger, Whiter and more male — and far more partisan — in the process. In concert with the Federalist Society, McConnell is transforming the federal judiciary from sometimes-defenders of the poor, immigrants and people of color into the Praetorian Guard of corporations, the wealthy, and those whose cultural and racial privileges make them, at best, oblivious to their collective responsibility to all Americans. At the same time, McConnell is standing in the schoolhouse door of dozens if not hundreds of pieces of needed legislation, rendering the “world’s greatest deliberative body” an empty pantomime of itself.
And if he succeeds in forcing another pliable justice onto the Supreme Court, he may prove responsible for undercutting whatever legitimacy a possibly disputed presidential election might have if, as many suspect, it must be settled by that court. One reason to move fast and give the court a 6-3 conservative majority? To take the relatively independent (and therefore unreliable) Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. out of the equation.
McConnell has been around so long people think they know him. But they don’t, and that is by design. When you are the apex predator of U.S. politics, you don’t really care what anyone thinks. In Kentucky, where I worked for six years as McConnell was beginning his rise, he is not so much loved as endured. People talk about him like the rainy Ohio River Valley weather: It’s a pain, but it waters the crops. He retains an iron grip on state politics, has been elected statewide six times and is likely to win a seventh term in November. Democrats are pouring millions into defeating him. It’s not a great bet.
McConnell, reduced to his essence, is a state party chairman on steroids. His eye for detail, and his feral sense of approaching threats, is total. In the summer of 1968, working for a U.S. Senate candidate that year, he traveled the state from Pikeville to Paducah with another young Republican, Jon Yarmuth, now the Democratic member of the U.S. House representing Louisville. After work, as they hunkered down at yet another rural motel, Yarmuth would suggest that they go out for a drink. Mitch would have none of it. “What he wanted to do was sit in the room,” Yarmuth recalled, “and read every report and statistic about the county.”
His granular focus on local matters derives in part from the fact that McConnell isn’t Kentucky-bred. He was born in North Alabama and spent his childhood there and in Georgia before moving to Louisville as a teen. He and his family lived in the city’s South End, where newcomers from the Deep South settled in a city whose moneyed ruling class saw itself as tweed-clad country cousins of the Eastern elite. McConnell absorbed the middle-class resentments of his neighborhood.
From boyhood on, he pursued every title he could find: high school student council president; college student president, law school bar association president, state president of the Ripon Society and so on, up the ziggurat of perches and entitlements, all the way to Senate majority leader.
These days he pitches himself to historians as the heir to the godfather of distributed power, James Madison. McConnell has a point, in one sense. The contrapuntal effect of the federal courts is valuable, even indispensable; a piece of Newtonian balance that the founders knew was important. But McConnell is not interested in balance: He is interested only in total dominance, and in a bulwark against change, whatever the cost to the country.
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