Voices of The Week: Compelling Quotes

David Brooks, New York Times

From “Joe Biden and the Struggle for America’s Soul,”

April 27, 2023

Joe Biden built his 2020 presidential campaign around the idea that “we’re in a battle for the soul of America.”. . .

In the video he released this week launching his re-election bid, he doubled down on that idea: We’re still, he said, “in a battle for the soul of America.” . . .

One of the hardest, soul-wearying parts of living through the Trump presidency was that we had to endure a steady downpour of lies, transgressions and demoralizing behavior. We were all corroded by it. That era was a reminder that the soul of a person and the soul of a nation are always in flux, every day moving a bit in the direction of elevation or a bit in the direction of degradation.

A return to that ethos would bring about a social and moral disintegration that is hard to contemplate. Say what you will about Biden, but he has generally put human dignity at the center of his political vision. He treats people with charity and respect.

The contest between Biden and Trumpism is less Democrat versus Republican or liberal versus conservative than it is between an essentially moral vision and an essentially amoral one, a contest between decency and its opposite.

AP News: Bernie Sanders endorses Biden, rules out 2024 bid of his own

[Shortly after Biden’s announcement]: “The last thing this country needs is a Donald Trump or some other right-wing demagogue who is going to try to undermine American democracy or take away a woman’s right to choose, or not address the crisis of gun violence, or racism, sexism or homophobia,” Sanders said in an interview. “So, I’m in to do what I can to make sure that the president is reelected.”

. . . The Democratic president will face the winner of the crowded Republican primary, which features former President Donald Trump and a half dozen lower-profile conservatives.

For much of the year, Sanders had left open the possibility of running again himself. On Tuesday, he said that he would not run and he discouraged any another high-profile progressive candidates from doing so either.. . .

“People will do what they want to do,” Sanders said of other potential primary challenges. “I think Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee. And my job, and I think the progressive movement’s job, is to make certain that he stands up and fights for the working class of this country and does not take anything for granted.”

Ruth MARCUS, Washington Post:

“‘Trump, [E. Jean] Carroll said, ‘shoved me so hard my head banged’ against the dressing room wall. He pulled down her tights and “jammed” his fingers inside her.

His fingers went into my vagina, which was extremely painful — extremely painful. It was a horrible feeling because he curved — he put his hand inside of me and curved his fingers,’ Carroll said. ‘As I’m sitting here today, I can still feel it.’ . . . .

I do not want to think about this. I do not want to make you think about it. And yet, we must. This is where Trump has brought us all. This is the person who wants to return to the presidency.

Carroll is far from the perfect plaintiff. She can’t precisely pin down the date of the alleged encounter. She didn’t report an assault . . . .
But if there is anything we’ve learned in the last three decades — since Anita Hill, since #MeToo — it is that perfection is both uncommon and unnecessary.. . .

‘I was ashamed,’ Carroll testified about why she didn’t go public. ‘I thought it was my fault.’ And, she said, with a daily show called “Ask E. Jean” on an obscure cable channel run by the man who went on to run Fox News, ‘Roger Ailes would have fired me. He was a friend of Donald Trump.’

Trump’s defense is a jumble of his customary misogyny, victimhood and dishonesty. “She’s not my type,” he said . . . . Carroll, in Trump’s telling, is the pawn of his Democratic enemies, in it for political payback, fame and cash.

And, Trump claims, the encounter never happened. “Does anybody believe I would take a then almost 60-year-old woman that I didn’t know, from the front door of a very crowded department store, (with me being very well known, to put it mildly!), into a tiny dressing room, and … her.’

Does anybody not believe it? Carroll’s accusations — and, by the way, she would have been in her early 50s at the time — are consistent with Trump’s pattern of behavior, both self-proclaimed and extensively reported. This is an admitted pussy grabber.

As Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ruled in allowing Carroll’s lawyers to introduce that evidence, “A jury reasonably could find … that Mr. Trump admitted in the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape that he in fact has had contact with women’s genitalia in the past without their consent, or that he has attempted to do so.”

JAMELLE BOUIE — April 28, 2023

Last week, Congress called the chief justice. In the wake of revelations concerning the friendship between Justice Clarence Thomas and Harlan Crow, a billionaire Republican donor, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, invited Roberts to testify at an upcoming hearing on Supreme Court ethics rules. . . .

This week Roberts answered. He said, in a word, no.

“I must respectfully decline your invitation,” Roberts wrote. “Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by the chief justice of the United States is exceedingly rare as one might expect in light of separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence.”

This deceptively polite reply sounds reasonable for as long as you can manage to forget the fact that it is questions about the ethical conduct of the court and its members that have compromised the independence of the court.

Was Thomas influenced by the largess of his billionaire benefactor? Was Justice Samuel Alito influenced by an explicit campaign to curry favor with the conservative justices? Was Justice Neil Gorsuch influenced by the lucrative sale of a Colorado property, in the wake of his confirmation, to the head of a powerful law firm with ample business before the court?

It is with real chutzpah, in other words, that Roberts has claimed judicial independence in order to circumvent an investigation into judicial independence.

More striking than this evasion is the manner in which Roberts ended his reply. Faced with serious questions about the integrity of the court, Roberts pointed to a nonbinding ethics document that has done almost nothing to prevent these situations from arising in the first place.” . . .

Roberts did not write an aggressive or confrontational letter. And yet, he is quietly making an aggressive and confrontational claim about his own power and authority and that of the court’s. “Separation of powers,” in Roberts’s view, means the court is outside the system of checks and balances that governs the other branches of government.

“Judicial independence,” likewise, means neither he nor any other member of the court has any obligation to speak to Congress about their behavior. The court checks, according to Roberts, but cannot be checked.

A number of legal scholars have remarked on the judicial power grab of the last several years, in which courts across the federal judiciary have seized key governing decisions from the legislative and executive branches and disparaged the ability of elected officials to, as Josh Chafetz of Georgetown University Law Center writes, “engage in principled, competent governance.”

As one of the architects of this development in American politics, Roberts is essentially using this letter to make plain to Congress the reality of the situation: I will not speak, and you cannot make me. And he’s right, not because Congress doesn’t have the power, but because it doesn’t have the votes. . . .

There are steps Congress could take to discipline the court — shrinking its budget, reducing the scope of its docket, imposing ethics rules itself, even making it “ride circuit” à la the 19th century — but those require a majority in the House and a supermajority in the Senate because of the filibuster, as well as a consensus among lawmakers (and specifically, Democrats) to follow through if they ever have the chance to do so.

It is not especially dramatic, but this exchange with Chief Justice Roberts over the court, its ethics and its responsibility to the public and its representatives has done more than almost anything else in recent memory to illustrate a key reality of American politics in this moment: that our Supreme Court does not exist in the constitutional order as much as it looms over it, a robed tribunal of self-styled philosopher-kings, accountable to no one but themselves.

Jamelle Bouie, NY Times

One of the many self-justifying myths about the counter-majoritarian features of the American political system is that they exist to curtail or prevent the “tyranny of the majority.” Americans today might want to remember something their framers never forgot: that much worse than the tyranny of the many is the tyranny of the few.

New York Times: Nikole Hannah-Jones (of the 1619 Project)

[On] When legislatures are passing so-called “divisive concept” laws that further marginalize already marginalized histories, mandating that educators cannot teach about systemic racism or hold discussions about race that might cause students to feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress.”

With my own work often at the center of the legislative bans, I’ve thought a lot about how the word “white” in front of “students” is implied in these laws. What about the discomfort of Black children that results from what isn’t taught, the distress Black children experience when searching for themselves in an American story from which their people are largely absent, a story in which they learn about the great white men who lived in the White House but not the enslaved Africans who built it?”

Maureen Dowd, on the GOP after Biden’s SOTU:

Columnist Maureen Dowd: “Republicans spent the whole week trying to get out from under [Biden’s] criticism that they always want to cut Social Security. But it’s a hard criticism to rebut because Republicans always want to cut Social Security.”

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