Estimated read time: 18-19 minutes
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Miami Herald on Fred Guttenberg, father of a student killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, being removed from President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s act of rebellion during President Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night came from her sense of political savvy. Fred Guttenberg‘s act of rebellion came from the heart, a heart in pain, a heart irrevocably broken.
And it seemed particularly heartless for him to be removed from the balcony gallery by security of after he shouted out in the name of his slain daughter when Trump failed to address any attempt on his part to confront gun violence in America.
Guttenberg’s daughter Jaime was killed in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland. Pelosi had invited him to attend the State of Union speech.
The pain of Jaime’s death has turned Guttenberg into a well-known gun control activist. He keeps his daughter’s name alive by reminding us how senselessly she died in our own backyard.
Who can blame him. He speaks for the millions of Americans who have been affected by gun violence.
Tuesday, as Trump finished saying, “So long as I am president, I will always protect your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” Republicans began to cheer. Guttenberg, sitting with the South Florida delegation, likely fumed at the president’s total dismissal of America’s gun-violence problem.
As the cheers quieted, Guttenberg could be briefly heard in the chamber saying: “victims of gun violence like my daughter . . .”
Security came and took Guttenberg away as the shocked South Florida delegation sitting around him watched him be led off.
As the commotion to remove Guttenberg played out, Pelosi can be seen looking in his direction.
By the end of Trump’s address, Pelosi, who had apparently had enough, dramatically ripped up her copy of the speech, later telling reporters that it was “the courteous thing to do given the alternatives.”
Trump had refused to shake Pelosi’s hand earlier, she who, after all, initiated impeachment proceedings against him.
Obviously, tensions were raging like a teenager’s hormones all evening.
A contrite Guttenberg apologized on Twitter early Wednesday:
“I disrupted the State Of the Union and was detained because I let my emotions get the best of me. I simply want to be able to deal with the reality of gun violence and not have to listen to the lies about the 2A as happened tonight.
“I should not have yelled out. I am thankful for the overwhelming support that I am receiving. However, I do owe my family and friends an apology. I have tried to conduct myself with dignity throughout this process and I will do better as I pursue gun safety.”
Guttenberg was immediately comforted by followers who assured him:
“No apology needed.”
Except maybe one from the White House.
The Minnesota Star Tribune on Trump’s State of the Union address:
Amid an impeachment effort meant to remove him from office and a re-election campaign meant to return him, President Donald Trump gave his third State of the Union Address Tuesday night.
The extraordinary circumstances were apparent in the setting. Over his left shoulder sat Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who resisted impeachment until allegations demanded Congress do its constitutional duty. In front of him was his right flank: Republican lawmakers defending the president, including a House minority that voted unanimously not to impeach him, and a Senate majority expected to quickly acquit the president on Wednesday.
It was a night that laid bare the nation's deep partisan divide, with Trump not shaking Pelosi’s hand and the speaker ending the evening by ripping up her copy of the address.
And it was hardly the combination of ingredients for the compromise, or even comity, that’s needed for bipartisan action on key issues that are too pressing to await a presidential campaign, including work on lowering health care costs.
Like presidents preceding him, Trump appropriately declared the state of the union “stronger than ever before” — at least economically, if not politically. In particular, the record-low unemployment rate, especially for communities of color, is an accomplishment all should laud and look to build upon.
But in a speech touted by the White House as “the great American comeback,” the president overstated the strength of the ongoing recovery and ignored the cost of the country’s relatively tepid economic growth. Just last week, the Congressional Budget Office reported that 2019 GDP growth was 2.3%, its slowest since 2016 in an era Trump described in his inaugural address as “American carnage.”
More troubling, the CBO reported that the annual budget deficit soared past $1 trillion, a figure that will increase to an average $1.3 trillion per year from 2021 to 2030. The Republican tax cut was a major contributor, and Trump is campaigning on a promise of even more cuts with no clear strategy for covering the lost revenue.
Alacrity over the deficit and other threats to America’s security, like climate change, should create bipartisan consensus, not the gridlock gripping Washington. But the president, who has called global warming a “hoax,” ignored it in his address just as he has in his administration. And while Trump is correct that the country must not take a “socialist” turn, capitalism’s enduring scourge of increasing inequality threatens the nation’s social fabric.
Rather than offering a vision for immigration reform that could fuel future economic growth, Trump continued to paint those not born in this country as a threat. Instead of searching for common ground on the Second Amendment, the president ignored the scourge of gun violence.
Security threats from nation-states and stateless actors alike are omnipresent, too, and while the commander in chief correctly credited the unrivaled U.S. armed forces, the soft power of diplomacy and alliances are more important than ever — something the president should prioritize even if he gave the issue short shrift in his speech.
Even beyond the military and economic might and rich alliances, America’s greatest advantage is its system of governance, which when done right is still an idea and ideal for the world — a truth Trump and Congress must ensure. Otherwise, the great American comeback is just a slogan, not a reality.
The Wall Street Journal on the Iowa Democratic caucuses:
There’s no shortage of mordant fun to be had at the expense of the Democratic National Committee and Iowa Democratic Party after the fiasco of the inaugural 2020 presidential contest, which has yet to yield definitive results apparently as a result of coding errors in a tabulation app created by party insiders. The college of cardinals at least lets the world know with white or black smoke how the vote for pope is going.
Here the party that waxes sanctimonious about election security couldn’t secure its own election from itself. Here the party that has spent three years questioning the legitimacy of the 2016 election will see the legitimacy of its own custom-designed process questioned. Here the party that promises technocratic management of American health care, energy and finance proved less able to tally votes even than the ancient Athenians.
Yet the incompetence and hypocrisy will have real consequences. The first and most important could be a boost for Bernie Sanders, who may be able to claim the mantle of both victor and underdog at the same time. By all accounts the Vermont socialist performed well, with he and Pete Buttigieg leading based on partial results that the party finally released late Tuesday afternoon.
Yet many of Mr. Sanders’s supporters will believe the technological snafu denied their candidate a clear-cut victory. They believe the party establishment is trying to block their candidate, who until this campaign wasn’t officially a member of the party that botched the caucuses. Even if results do finally vindicate Mr. Sanders, those who underperformed (most significantly, Joe Biden based on Tuesday’s partial results) are already trying to dismiss their significance.
One irony is that while Mr. Sanders can capitalize on anger at the Democratic establishment, that very anger may have contributed to the mess. Mr. Sanders’s supporters cried foul after Hillary Clinton beat their candidate in 2016 and demanded rules to make the caucuses more “transparent.”
Unlike in previous years, Iowa caucus sites this year had to report two counts—a “first alignment,” which reflects how many people had each candidate as a first choice, and a “second alignment,” reflecting the results after supporters of candidates below the 15% threshold moved to their second choice. This may have made tallying more difficult and would have added complexity and muddied the result even if it weren’t for the technical failure.
This is a reminder that changing electoral systems to satisfy populist demands should be done with care, because the unintended consequences can further undermine their legitimacy. Democrats have been griping about how Iowa is insufficiently diverse to hold the first presidential contest, and this may be the last time the state goes first. But let’s hope whatever comes next is geared toward producing strong candidates and reliable outcomes and not merely satisfying the demands of partisan opportunists.
On that front, we wonder if any of the Democrats who feel as if they wasted months and hundreds of millions of dollars in Iowa are having second thoughts about calls to eliminate the Electoral College. As journalist Dan McLaughlin notes, such state-level failures highlight the perils of a nationwide system for popular vote counting. At least here the failure is contained, and let’s hope it can be rectified without calling the entire presidential nominating contest into question.
The delayed results in Iowa are a reminder of other potential features of the 2020 election that could create controversy and damage its legitimacy. Recall that in California in November 2018, several Republican Congressional candidates were well ahead based on the Election Day tallies, only to see the results reversed in the following days and in some cases more than a week later as absentee ballots trickled in.
We have argued that California’s lax election rules that allow “ballot harvesting” by party activists will also lead to political mischief. But even if they don’t, tallying delays discourage the swift acceptance of outcomes that well-functioning democracies need.
In 2018 the California rules seemed to hurt the GOP, but if the state’s March primary is closely contested, then Democratic candidates could feel the sting. Meantime, if Mr. Biden’s performance was as weak as partial results showed, then perhaps Michael Bloomberg, who sat out Iowa and is spending big elsewhere, becomes the party’s best bulwark against a socialist takeover. That’s unlikely to calm the passions of Mr. Sanders’s supporters or make the 2020 contest any less heated. Buckle up.
The New York Times on the Trump administration adding six more countries to the travel restriction list:
On Friday, with Americans focused on President Trump’s impeachment trial, the coronavirus and the upcoming Iowa caucuses, the Trump administration announced it was adding six more countries to the list of those whose citizens face travel restrictions to the United States. The given reason was that those nations were not sufficiently screening people who sought to come to America.
The six countries affected when the travel ban takes effect on Feb. 22 are Sudan, Tanzania, Eritrea, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan and Nigeria. All have sizable, if not majority, Muslim populations — in Myanmar’s case, Muslims are a minority that is severely repressed. According to the acting secretary of homeland security, Chad Wolf, these countries fell short in new vetting criteria for “terrorists and criminals attempting to enter the United States.”
The restrictions differ — Sudan and Tanzania are barred from the “diversity visa” lottery, while the other countries face a suspension of entry for immigrants. Travel for tourism and reasons other than immigration remains open — a curious gap if the purpose of the restrictions is to keep out potential terrorists.
It may be that the countries do somehow fall short in vetting would-be emigrants. And since the conservative-controlled Supreme Court upheld Mr. Trump’s ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim countries — Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Chad (later removed from the list) — as well as Venezuela and North Korea in June 2018, the new ban would most likely survive legal challenge. But it doesn’t take a lot of intuition to guess that security is not foremost on the president’s mind.
Blocking the immigration of people of color, Muslims or non-English speakers has been among the most frequent of Mr. Trump’s pitches to his base, and the timing for a new ban was propitious. It was the third anniversary of his first travel ban, the impeachment drama was sputtering to an end and the starting gun for the 2020 election season was about to go off in Iowa (or, as it happened, to pathetically misfire). With all the Democratic candidates opposed to Mr. Trump’s immigration policies, what better time to remind his followers that Mr. Trump was still standing guard at the gates?
Yet the latest ban makes as little sense as the first one, and it stands to do far more harm than good. A 2018 study by the libertarian Cato Institute found that the Trump administration’s “extreme vetting” of travelers and immigrants, of which the travel ban is a centerpiece, would not significantly reduce the already minuscule risk of imported terrorism achieved by visa reforms after 9/11, but would come at exponentially greater cost. The risk of any American being killed in the United States by a refugee or immigrant is negligible, Cato found.
Apart from the cruelty of barring thousands of family reunifications, the new restrictions could actually hurt the American economy. The ban is certain to strain relations with the newly listed countries. Five of them, including Nigeria, which has Africa’s largest economy, are being avidly courted by China as part of its “Belt and Road Initiative,” and could well conclude that China is a more trustworthy and predictable partner than the United States.
Adding ignorance to insult, Mr. Trump has consistently misrepresented the diversity lottery program, from which he is now excluding Sudan and Tanzania, as a means for poor countries to dump people they don’t want on the United States. In fact, the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program is administered by the State Department to increase immigration from countries with low rates of immigration, and candidates must have at least the equivalent of a high school diploma or two years of work experience to qualify.
The veneer of process and rationale over the latest travel ban cannot conceal its fundamental malice.
The Valdosta Daily Times on the observation of Black History Month:
Black History Month has a history of its own.
The commemorative month was founded more than 100 years.
In 1915, 50 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which abolished slavery in America, Black History Month was created as a way to acknowledge black Americans.
Attempting to recognize all African Americans who achieved greatness in their field is impossible.
The contributions of black Americans is as broad, as vast and as diverse as the nation.
Some people still like to deride the need for a Black History Month. Why don’t we have a White History Month, they ask?
History books and curriculum have largely been written by white people, and thus reflect a homogeneous perspective that has excluded the contributions of blacks, women and other minorities. Arguably, every month is White History Month.
Still, eventually, our country might reach the point we no longer need to call attention to the achievements of any specific race or ethnic group.
But we’re not there yet.
For the fourth year, the newspaper’s SunLight Project team interviewed several community leaders and residents to discuss the importance of the civil rights movement, current race relations and other aspects that could easily fit into the character of Black History Month.
And while the stories are shared during the month, readers will hopefully realize an overriding truth.
These are not black stories.
They are the stories of our neighbors and friends.
They are American stories.
The London Evening Standard on the United Kingdom leaving the European Union:
Today, as the 11th hour approaches, there will be no street parties or pealing of bells in celebration, nor are there angry demonstrations and defiant protests of outrage. The exhausted nation is hardly aware that, after all the acrimony, the moment of departure is upon us. Brexit is done.
The best the governing party can manage to mark the event that has consumed all its political energies, and dispatched two of its leaders, is a commemorative mug and tea towel. Why? Because whatever side you have taken in the debate that has cleaved our society in half, today represents a failure.
For the Remainers the defeat is absolute. We can lament the mistaken decision to call a referendum, and the lacklustre, unemotional campaign. We can rue the errors that followed, as overly-moderate Tory rebels pitched their fight on the method rather than the substance of our departure; while the extremist Labour leadership and naive Liberal Democrats proved unwitting handmaidens to our exit and their own destruction.
But the facts are these: after half a century of membership, appeals in the 2016 referendum to a common European identity fell on millions of deaf ears; and after three years of economic stagnation since, and transparent evidence that the promises of Brexit were false, the voters reaffirmed their decision in a second vote in the election last month. So the truth must be faced by all who wanted Britain to remain in the EU, including the Evening Standard: we did not convince our fellow citizens.
If the failure of pro-Europeans is obvious, why are the celebrations of Brexiteers so muted? In part, because they too know they have not convinced the nation.
Britain walks through the exit door with a feeling of melancholic resignation rather than excitement about the future. The nation knows it has chosen the poorer path — the estimates produced by the Bank of England yesterday show an economy barely growing, with a trend rate not seen since the Seventies.
The country also knows it has greatly diminished its voice in the world — already our views on everything from climate goals to the taxation of big tech matter far less.
The more thoughtful leaders of the Brexit campaign know too that they prevailed by harnessing a nativist opposition to change and a resentment at the success of others in parts of the country, outside the cities of the North and South, that felt left behind.
They talk of levelling up, but they won on the argument of levelling down: if you can’t enjoy the fruits of globalisation, then nor should anyone else. No one beyond the offices of a few deluded hedge funds in Mayfair believes Brexit was a vote for less red tape and more free trade.
The party that now represents Sedgefield and Blyth Valley champions more government intervention, higher spending and extra regulation. Yesterday, the Conservatives were trumpeting their re-nationalisation of the Northern railways, the kind of state involvement in the economy that we joined the EU to get away from. “Global Britain” may be the slogan, but neither the globe nor Britain believe a word of it.
So what lies ahead?
Ignore those who say that Brexit isn’t done. It is. Yes, there’s a trade agreement to be negotiated — and the details matter a lot to businesses — but it’s a much less important decision than the existential one we’ve just taken about whether we are members of the EU.
There will be an argument about “divergence” — but the truth is that, in most areas, global standard-setting and the European markets will force us to be a taker of the rules we have until today participated in making. That’s why the hard Brexit on paper will feel much softer in practice.
Even the hour of our departure — midnight Central European Time — is set by others.
It will take time for this loss of control to become apparent — but when it does, the same questions that faced Britain 50 years ago will confront us now: how do we exert our influence in the world? How do we sustain support for the free markets and the open society?
US Secretary of State Dean Acheson famously said of post-war Britain that we had lost an empire but not yet found a role.
Back in 1972, we thought we had by joining the European community. In 2020, as we leave, it’s time to come together — because we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.