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Trump-inspired political sparring hits the courts – CNN

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Now, judges are joining the scorning and directing criticism toward one another as they take up cases involving the President.
Liberal jurists have voiced concern about a President who is shattering norms and challenging the rule of law. Conservative jurists, in turn, have defended a presidency they see as under attack, including by a judicial resistance. The language from both sides has recently grown coarser.
With Trump litigation escalating, including at the Supreme Court, and the country moving closer to the November presidential election, such clashes are certain to intensify.
Consider the recent exchange between majority and dissenting judges on a Richmond-based US appeals court as it rejected Trump’s effort to shut down a lawsuit challenging his ownership of a hotel in Washington, DC. By a 9-6 vote, the majority said the emoluments anti-corruption case could proceed.
At the highest levels of the judiciary, judges spar over Trump's legal powers
Dissenters did not take that decision at face value. “(W)ould it not be fair for our fellow Americans to suspect that something other than law was afoot?” wrote Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson. “The majority is using a wholly novel and nakedly political cause of action to pave the path for a litigative assault upon this and future Presidents.”
Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, who wrote for the majority, countered, “The dissent portrays us as ‘partisan warriors.’ … But we remain confident that our narrow holding … is the essence of restraint. Readers may compare our measured approach with the dramatics of the dissent and draw their own conclusions.”
The tone was self-conscious all around, as the judges implicitly acknowledged increased scrutiny of their own motives in the era of Trump.
Larger questions of Trump’s behavior were in the air during the Supreme Court’s arguments last week over whether his personal financial records could be subpoenaed from his longtime accountants and banks.
In her first question, liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg showed her hand regarding Trump: “Every President voluntarily turned over his tax returns. So it gets to be a pitched battle here because President Trump is the first one to refuse to do that. And, initially, he said because an audit was ongoing. Now it seems to be broader than that.”
Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, alternatively suggested the President was being hounded: “You’ve got, in this case, three different House committees seeking subpoenas. You’ve got the district attorney in New York. You know, depending upon party composition of different bodies in the future, you might have the Senate joining in. How do you measure harassment in a case like that?”
Justice Clarence Thomas characterized the third-party subpoenas as more personal to Trump, intimating that the asserted grounds — tied to Congress’ effort to write legislation — were “pretextual” and the true intention: “to remove the President from office.”
Trump calls for Sotomayor, Ginsburg to recuse themselves from 'Trump-related' cases as he has a lot at stake before the courtTrump calls for Sotomayor, Ginsburg to recuse themselves from 'Trump-related' cases as he has a lot at stake before the court
Three months ago, Justice Sonia Sotomayor declared the conservative Supreme Court majority was favoring the Trump administration over other parties when the justices handled requests for emergency intervention. Referring to such emergency “stay” requests, she wrote that “the Court’s recent behavior on stay applications has benefited one litigant over all others.” She contrasted that pattern to the majority’s rejection of pleas from condemned inmates, “where the risk of irreparable harm is the loss of life.”
“I fear this disparity in treatment erodes the fair and balanced decisionmaking process that this Court must strive to protect,” Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion that drew the Twitter wrath of Trump at the time.

‘Obama judges’ or ‘Trump judges’

Ideological differences on the federal bench are age-old, as are tensions between a president and judges. But Trump, from the start as a candidate, targeted the judiciary more intensely.
In May 2016, he criticized US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, then hearing a fraud claim in San Diego against Trump University, for his Mexican heritage. Curiel was born in Indiana and has been a federal district judge since 2012. Trump questioned Curiel’s ability to rule fairly because Trump was campaigning on the pledge to build a wall between the US and Mexico.
A few months later, newly elected President Trump referred to US District Judge James Robart as a “so-called judge” because he temporarily blocked Trump’s first travel ban aimed at majority-Muslim countries. Trump added that “if something happens blame him and the court system.” The President continued to attack federal district court rulings, calling them “ridiculous” and “political.”
Will Trump win or lose at the Supreme Court? With John Roberts, possibly bothWill Trump win or lose at the Supreme Court? With John Roberts, possibly both
US Court of Appeals Judge Jay Bybee, a Republican appointee on the California-based 9th Circuit, tried to counter Trump. As an aside in an opinion related to the travel ban, Bybee wrote, “The personal attacks on the distinguished district judge [Robart] and our colleagues were out of all bounds of civic and persuasive discourse — particularly when they came from the parties. … Such personal attacks treat the court as though it were merely a political forum in which bargaining, compromise, and even intimidation are accepted principles.”
Trump continued his Twitter invective against judges. Roberts entered the conflict in November 2018 after the President disparaged a judge who ruled against the administration as an “Obama judge.”
“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said in a statement first given to The Associated Press. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”
Trump responded within hours with a string of tweets that began: “Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’ and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country.”

‘Any other president’

That was the last time Roberts pointedly rebuked the President.
Earlier this year, the chief justice himself was the focus as a federal judge in Wisconsin contended Roberts’ record accelerated polarization in America.
“The Roberts Court has been anything but passive,” Judge Lynn Adelman, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, wrote in the Harvard Law & Policy Review, a student law journal published by the liberal American Constitution Society.”Rather, the Court’s hard right majority is actively participating in undermining American democracy.” He pointed to Roberts’ conservative record particularly on campaign finance and voting rights issues.
Justice Clarence Thomas has found his momentJustice Clarence Thomas has found his moment
It is rare for judges to complain about each other in political terms. That is what made the recent exchanges on the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals so striking. Both sides, Democratic and Republican appointees, questioned each other’s motives in a way that could suggest a new pattern as Trump litigation moves toward resolution.
Judges on the Richmond-based court have in the past prided themselves on their customs of courtesy, which include coming down from the bench after each case to shake hands with the lawyers who argued. The vote in the emoluments case divided the nine Democratic-nominated judges and six Republican-nominated judges.
In response to Motz’s opinion, Wilkinson suggested that the majority had done more than simply permit the dispute over Trump properties to go forward; he said the majority had undermined the judiciary with a partisan approach rather than a good-faith effort.
Obamacare, Trump and the Supreme Court, explainedObamacare, Trump and the Supreme Court, explained
“When partisan fevers grip the national government,” insisted Wilkinson, “the judiciary must operate as a non-partisan counterweight and discourage suits whose inevitable denouement will make us part of the political scrum.” The 1984 Ronald Reagan appointee, the longest-serving member of the court, added that he held “no brief for the particular conduct of this or any President. I fear only for the future of the courts.”
“It may be that at this time the judicial branch, with its aspirations to be above the fray, is our country’s best remaining hope for maintaining public trust. Shall we sacrifice that hope in the service of a lawsuit, which asks us to exercise no traditional judicial power… ?”
Judge James Wynn, part of the majority, wrote a separate statement addressing dissenting judges’ claims of partisanship.
“Editorial writers, political speechwriters, and others are free, of course, to make a career out of accusing judges who make decisions that they dislike of bias and bad faith,” Wynn wrote. “But the public’s confidence and trust in the integrity of the judiciary suffer greatly when judges who disagree with their colleagues’ view of the law accuse those colleagues of abandoning their constitutional oath of office.”
Trump nominee, once a Supreme Court clerk, still unhappy at how Obamacare ruling played outTrump nominee, once a Supreme Court clerk, still unhappy at how Obamacare ruling played out
Early in Trump’s tenure, judges took pains to treat him as any other president. The five-justice Supreme Court majority that upheld Trump’s travel ban, in its third iteration, in 2018, stressed that “the entry suspension is an act that is well within executive authority and could have been taken by any other President.”
During the nine justices’ recent hearing on the Trump documents sought by the Democratic-led House and a New York grand jury, there was an emphasis on Trump as a distinctive target of litigation.
At one point, Thomas raised the possibility that a president could be overwhelmed by scores of subpoenas from multiple investigations.
House counsel Douglas Letter protested that the disputed subpoenas were to private businesses. “Nothing is required of the President here for these subpoenas to be fully complied with,” Letter said. “Not a single thing is required of the President or the White House.”
Rejoined Thomas: “Well, I think we all know it’s about the President.”

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Week In Politics: U.S. Sees Job Gains In May – NPR

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We take a look at the May jobs numbers, the president’s use of the military against protesters, and where ther Republican National Convention might take place.



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.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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.

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The Class of 2020 Is Missing Out, and So Are Politicians – The New York Times

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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.

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  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 5, 2020

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


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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.”

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Amid protests, US faith leaders engage racism and politics – Rimbey Review

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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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