Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter “Fratelli Tutti” (Brothers All)

On October 3, in Assisi (Italy) at the tomb of Saint  Francis, Pope Francis released his lengthy (287 paragraphs) Encyclical Letter, “Fratelli Tutti” (Brothers All).”[1]

Here are this lay person’s overview of this important document and summary of the instantaneous reactions thereto from E.J. Dionne Jr., a Washington Post columnist on U.S. national politics and a Roman Catholic, and from other journalists.

Overview of the Letter

The title of the Encyclical– “Fratelli Tutti”—was used by Saint Francis to address “his brothers and sisters” and to propose “a way of life marked by the flavor of the Gospel.” The Letter’s guiding light is Saint Francis’ call “for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother ‘as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him.’”

The Letter has an introduction “Without Borders” before exploring the following eight chapters:

  • One: Dark Clouds Over a Closed World;
  • Two: A Stranger on the Road;
  • Three: Envisaging and Engendering an Open World;
  • Four: A Heart Open to the Whole World;
  • Five: A Better Kind of Politics;
  • Six: Dialogue and Friendship in Society;
  • Seven: Paths of Renewed Encounter; and
  • Eight: Religions at the Service of Fraternity in Our World.

The Letter concludes with the following two prayers:

A Prayer to the Creator:

  • “Lord, Father of our human family,
    you created all human beings equal in dignity:
    pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit
    and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter,
    dialogue, justice and peace.
    Move us to create healthier societies
    and a more dignified world,
    a world without hunger, poverty, violence and war.”
  • “May our hearts be open
    to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
    May we recognize the goodness and beauty
    that you have sown in each of us,
    and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects,
    and shared dreams. Amen.”

An Ecumenical Christian Prayer:

  • “O God, Trinity of love,
    from the profound communion of your divine life,
    pour out upon us a torrent of fraternal love.
    Grant us the love reflected in the actions of Jesus,
    in his family of Nazareth,
    and in the early Christian community.”
  • “Grant that we Christians may live the Gospel,
    discovering Christ in each human being,
    recognizing him crucified
    in the sufferings of the abandoned
    and forgotten of our world,
    and risen in each brother or sister
    who makes a new start.”
  • “Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty,
    reflected in all the peoples of the earth,
    so that we may discover anew
    that all are important and all are necessary,
    different faces of the one humanity
    that God so loves. Amen.”

E.J. Dionne, Jr.’s Reactions [2]

E.J. Dionne Jr. published an intriguing column about this lengthy Papal Encyclical Letter, only one day after it was published.[2] Here is a summary of what Dionne had to say, which will probably spark this blogger’s comments after he carefully and prayerfully studies the Encyclical Letter.

According to Dionne, this Letter only a month before the U.S. presidential election criticizes many aspects of current politics that are found in the U.S. and other countries:

  • It criticizes persons who advocate “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism” and cast immigrants as “less worthy, less important, less human.”
  • It criticizes advocates of an ““every man for himself” worldview that “will rapidly degenerate into a free-for-all that would prove worse than any pandemic.”
  • “The marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith. Whatever the challenge, this impoverished and repetitive school of thought always offers the same recipes … the magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle’ — without using the name.”
  • It denounces those who speak of “empty individualism,” a “narrow and violent nationalism, xenophobia and contempt, and even the mistreatment of those who are different,” and “a cool, comfortable and globalized indifference.”
  • The Pope “cited his earlier condemnations of “a ‘throwaway’ world” that lacks respect for the “poor and disabled, ‘not yet useful’ — like the unborn — or ‘no longer needed’ — like the elderly.” And he denounced human trafficking as a “perversion that exceeds all limits when it subjugates women and then forces them to abort.”
  • The Pope had 12 references to capital punishment as “inadequate from a moral standpoint and no longer necessary from that of penal justice.”
  • The Pope criticized the world’s inability “to resolve problems that affect us all” like the COVID-19 pandemic and  “Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.” Moreover, ““God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those’, but only ‘us’. … If only we might keep in mind all those elderly persons who died for lack of respirators, partly as a result of the dismantling, year after year, of healthcare systems.”
  • “Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others. In this craven exchange of charges and counter-charges, debate degenerates into a permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.” This is “a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism.”

Other Reactions [3]

Chico Harlan, the Washington Post’s Rome Bureau Chief, and Stefano Pitrelli of that Bureau who covers Italy and the Vatican, lead with this statement, “Humankind, Pope Francis says, is in the midst of a worrying regression. People are intensely polarized. Their debates, absent real listening, seem to have devolved into a ‘permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.’ In some countries, leaders are using a ‘strategy of ridicule’ and relentless criticism, spreading despair as a way to ‘dominate and gain control.’”

Harlan and Pitrelli believe that the encyclical “amounts to a papal stand against tribalism, xenophobia, and the dangers of the social media age.” They also point out that this is only the third encyclical by Pope Francis. The first was “Lumen Fidei” (the Light of Faith) which was issued in 2013 soon after he became pope and was written mostly by Benedict XVI. The second, “Laudarto Si” (On Care for Our Common Home) in 2015 addressed responsibility for the environment, climate change and development.

The New York Times’ Rome Bureau Chief, Jason Horowitz, opened with Pope Francis’ criticism of the world’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic as “exposing our false securities” and “inability to work together.” This was accerbated by the forces of “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism.” The document also “calls for closeness to the marginalized, support for migrants, resistance of nationalist and tribal populism, and the abolition of the death penalty.” Hindering “the development of universal fraternity” were economic inequality, sexism and racism.

The Wall Street Journal’s article on the encyclical is by Francis X. Rocca, who is its Vatican correspondent based in Rome. He says the document offered the Pope’s “prescription for a host of ills plaguing societies around the world, including poverty, terrorism and racism, and “echoes some of the major themes of his social teaching, including the rights of migrants and the poor, with a special urgency inspired by Covid-19.” He also notes for non-Catholics that papal encyclicals are “one of the most authoritative genres of papal writing.”

Conclusion

As a Protestant (Presbyterian) Christian, I plan to give this Encyclical Letter careful and prayerful study and then offer my reactions to the Letter and to the comments by Dionne and  other journalists.

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[1] The Holy See, Encyclical Letter: FRATELLI TUTTI of the Holy Father Francis on the Fraternity and Social Friendship (Oct. 3, 2020).

[2] Dionne, The Pope’s unexpected election message, Wash. Post (Oct. 4, 2020).

[3] Harlan & Pitrelli, Pope Francis’s new encyclical is a papal warning about a world going bad, Wash. Post (Oct. 4, 2020); Horowitz, Pope Criticizes Lack of Unity in World’s Response to Coronovirus, N.Y. Times (Oct. 4, 2020); Rocca, Pope Francis Says Covid-19 Pandemic Shows Limits of Market Economics, W.S.J. (Oct. 4, 2020). See also Pepinster, How Pope Francis’s encyclical could shake up the US election, Guardian (Oct. 6, 2020).

 

 

 

Click to access papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si_en.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secretary Pompeo Foments Conflict with the Holy See

On September 30, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was at the Holy See for its Symposium on Advancing and Defending Religious Freedom through Diplomacy. There he delivered a speech entitled “Moral Witness and Religious Freedom” that provided great details about China’s abuses of religious freedom and called upon the Vatican (Pope Francis) to take action against the Chinese abuses. He thereby fomented conflict with the Holy See.

Pompeo’s Recent Speech [1]

Most of the first part of this speech appropriately concentrated on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe and the courageous resistance to the Nazi’s persecution of its Jewish citizens by Roman Catholic Father Bernhard Lichtenberg in  Berlin by his helping Jews with finances, advice and emigration assistance and by publicly  criticizing the Nazi regime after Kristallnacht.

“That life or death struggle [against the Nazis] was a crucible, a proving ground of moral witness.  Individual stories of valor were legion.  But I remember especially Father Bernhard Lichtenberg. . . .[He] was a priest in Berlin in the 1930s, who fervently resisted the Nazi regime, and helped Jews with finances, advice, emigration assistance as the Nazi fist tightened. In 1938, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, he began to speak up more loudly on their behalf, proclaiming at St. Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin, ‘Outside ‘the synagogue is burning, and that too, is a house of God.’ From then on, he fearlessly prayed each day publicly for the Jews and other victims of Nazi brutality.”

“Eventually, the Nazis arrested him in 1941. Rejecting a deal to go free in exchange [for] stopping his subversive peaching, he was given a two-year prison sentence.  When asked if he had anything to add when the sentence was read, he said, ‘I submit that no harm results to the state by citizens who pray for the Jews.’ Towards the end of his sentence, the Nazis realized they could never break his spirit.  They ordered him sent to Dachau concentration camp, but he died on the way before he reached that grim destination. Father Lichtenberg bore an incredible moral witness, and in 2004 he was honored by the State of Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a non-Jew who risked his life to save Jews from Nazis.”

“Today, as we think about that man, I urge all faith leaders to exhibit a similarly moral, bold witness for the sake of religious freedom, for human dignity, and for peace.(Emphasis added.)

Secretary Pompeo then shifted his remarks to say “the mission of defending human dignity – and religious freedom in particular – remains at the core of American foreign policy. That’s because it’s at the heart of the American experiment.  Our founders regarded religious freedom as an absolutely essential right of mankind and central to our founding.”

“Indeed, I would say it’s an integral part to what Pope John Paul II described as the ‘universal longing for freedom’ at the United Nations when he spoke in 1995.  Billions of people today . . . have always seeked to worship according to their conscience.”

But sadly, authoritarian regimes, terrorists, and even secularists, free societies are – in their different ways – trampling religious freedom all around the world. Vast swathes of humanity live in countries where religious freedom is restricted, from places like . . . Cuba, and beyond.” (Emphasis added.) Later in the speech he reiterated this contention: “Christian leaders have an obligation to speak up for their brothers and sisters in Iraq, in North Korea, and in Cuba.” (Emphasis added.)[2]

Then he went into his excoriation of China.

“Nowhere, however – nowhere is religious freedom under assault more than it is inside of China today. That’s because, as with all communist regimes, the Chinese Communist Party deems itself the ultimate moral authority. An increasingly repressive CCP, frightened by its own lack of democratic legitimacy, works day and night to snuff out the lamp of freedom, especially religious freedom, on a horrifying scale.”

The Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang are “not the only victims.  The Chinese Communist Party has battered every religious community in China: Protestant house churches, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and more.”

“Nor, of course, have Catholics been spared this wave of repression: Catholic churches and shrines have been desecrated and destroyed. Catholic bishops like Augustine Cui Tai have been imprisoned, as have priests in Italy. And Catholic lay leaders in the human rights movement, not least in Hong Kong, have been arrested. Authorities order residents to replace pictures of Jesus with those of Chairman Mao and those of General Secretary Xi Jinping.”

“All of these believers are the heirs of those Pope John Paul celebrated in his speech to the UN, those who had ‘taken the risk of freedom, asking to be given a place in social, political, and economic life which is commensurate with their dignity as free human beings.’”

“We must support those demanding freedoms in our time, like Father Lichtenberg did.”

For the Church, “Earthly considerations shouldn’t discourage principled stances based on eternal truths.  And as history shows, Catholics have often deployed their principles in glorious, glorious service of human dignity.” These include Jacques Maritain,  the bishops of Poland and West Germany in the 1960s,  the bishops of Poland and West Germany, Pope John Paul II, who was unafraid, and Pope Emeritus Benedict. “And just like Pope Benedict, Pope Francis has spoken eloquently about the ‘human ecology’ essential to decent societies.” (Emphasis added.)

“Pope Francis has exhorted the Church to be ‘permanently in a state of mission.’  It’s a hope that resonates with this evangelical Protestant who believes, as the Holy Father does, that those of us given the gift of Christian faith have an obligation to do our best to bless others.” (Emphasis added.)

To be a Church ‘permanently in a state of mission’ has many meanings.  Surely, one of them is to be a Church permanently in defense of basic human rights. A Church permanently in opposition to tyrannical regimes. A Church permanently engaged in support of those who wish to take ‘the risk of freedom’ of which Pope John Paul II spoke, especially, most especially where religious freedom is denied, or limited, or even crushed.” (Emphasis added.)

“As Christians, we all know we live in a fallen world.  That means that those who have responsibility for the common good must sometimes deal with wicked men and indeed with wicked regimes.  But in doing so – in doing so, statesmen representing democracies must never lose sight of the moral truths and human dignity that make democracy itself possible.” (Emphasis added.)

So also should religious leaders.  Religious leaders should understand that being salt and light must often mean exercising a bold moral witness. And this call to witness extends to all faiths, not just to Christians and Catholics.  It’s for leaders of all faiths at – indeed, at every level.” (Emphasis added.)

I call on every faith leader to find the courage to confront religious persecution against their own communities, as well as Father Lichtenberg did against members of other faiths as well.” (Emphasis added.)

“Every man and woman of faith is called to exercise a moral witness against the persecution of believers.  Indeed – we’re here today to talk about religious freedom – the very future of religious freedom depends upon these acts of moral witness.”

Pope John Paul II bore witness to his flock’s suffering, and he challenged tyranny.  By doing so, he demonstrated how the Holy See can move our world in a more humane direction, like almost no other institution.” (Emphasis added.)

May the Church, and all those who know that we are ultimately accountable to God, be so bold in our time.  May we all be so bold in our time.” (Emphasis added.)

Pompeo’s Preceding Comments [3]

Just twelve days before his recent trip to the Holy See, Pompeo published an article in First Things, “a conservative Christian magazine that has called [Pope} Francis a failure as Pope.” https://www.firstthings.com/about

Entitled “China’s Catholics and the Church’s Moral Leadership,” Pompeo’s article vigorously attacked the 2018 agreement between the Holy See and China that recognized the validity of Chinese appointment of some of the Catholic bishops in the country and the current Holy See-China negotiations about renewal of that agreement. (Emphasis added.)

The next day, Pompeo issued the following tweet: “Two years ago, the Holy See reached an agreement with the Chinese Communist Party, hoping to help China’s Catholics. Yet the CCP’s abuse of the faithful has only gotten worse. The Vatican endangers its moral authority, should it renew the deal.” (Emphasis added.)

Reactions to Pompeo’s Comments and Speech [4]

These Pompeo words were seen by an “indignant Vatican . . . as a calculated affront.” As a result, the Vatican denied Pompeo a requested meeting with Pope Francis. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who, as secretary of state, is the Vatican’s second-ranking official, told reporters that the Pope had not granted the meeting because Francis had “clearly said that he does not receive political figures ahead of the elections.”

Moreover, Pompeo’s subsequent speech at the Holy See can be seen as an indirect challenge to Pope Francis by Pompeo’s talking about the Chinese abuses at great length and the courage of previous popes and Father Lichtenberg, by calling on “every faith leader to find the courage to confront religious persecution against their own communities,” by his using Pope Francis’ own challenge to the Church to be “permanently in a state of mission” as a way to say Francis is not doing that and by Pompeo’s saying, “May the Church, and all those who know that we are ultimately accountable to God, be so bold in our time.”  

In addition,  Pompeo met with “prelates and others who are hostile to Pope Francis.” As a result of these developments, many observers believe “Pompeo’s [recent] visit is as much about the coming [U.S.] presidential election as about China policy. Mr. Pompeo dismissed that suggestion as absurd, but intended or not, his trip signals that President Trump is on the side of those conservative American Catholics who worry about the church’s direction under Francis and think he is soft on China.”

The New York Times also reports that the event at the Vatican where Pompeo gave his speech on September 30 was organized by Callista Gingrich, the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, and who received warm words from Pompeo at the start of his speech while she sat in the front row with her husband Newt Gingrich, the Republican former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.”

“Mr. Gingrich said that Mr. Pompeo’s piece in First Things has stirred support and ‘probably’ motivated Catholic voters who read it to vote for President Trump. ‘The reaction to his op-ed the other day was very strong.’ Mr. Gingrich, who converted to Catholicism after his third marriage [to Calista] is a co-chair of Catholics for Trump [that] has attacked Mr. Biden over his ties to China and . . . supports Carlo Maria Viganò, the former Vatican ambassador to Washington, who has accused the pope of shielding child abusers and demanded that he step down.”

As he went to the podium for his Vatican speech, Pompeo “gave a pat on the shoulder to Cardinal Raymond Burke, a U.S. leader of the conservative opposition to Francis within the church hierarchy. Burke, who ruled out giving communion to John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign, said he believed American voters ‘more and more so’ cared about the issues Mr. Pompeo raised. And when it came to China, he said ‘I know I do.’” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Leo_Burke)

“Thomas Williams, the Breitbart bureau chief in Rome and a consistent critic of Francis who attended the event, argued that there was a clear electoral angle to the nominally diplomatic trip. He said that while he believed Mr. Pompeo genuinely hoped to change the Vatican’s stance on China, any political benefit back home was ‘a welcome and I’m sure sought after side effect.’”

Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University [and a supporter] of Francis, said these Pompeo actions are “an appeal to an electorate that is bigger than the Catholic vote, it’s also the evangelical vote. Being anti-pope helps with these Catholics but also evangelicals.”

“Alberto Melloni, the director of the Foundation for Religious Sciences John XXIII in Bologna, Italy, called Mr. Pompeo’s moves ‘a divisive operation targeted to the American electorate, not to the Holy See.’” Afterwards Pompeo, rejecting the suggestion that his speech was an attack on Pope Francis, said at a press conference, “I wrote that piece to honor the moral authority of the Catholic Church and its capacity to influence and make things better for people all across the world. They have historically stood with oppressed peoples all around the world. The piece was written and our policy has been all along to bring every actor who can benefit the people of China from — to take away the horrors of the authoritarian regime the Chinese Communist Party is inflicting on these people. That was our mission set, and it will remain our mission set. It’s been so long before the election; it will remain so after the election.”

This response was endorsed in a Wall Street Journal editorial with these words: “It is a welcome message from a U.S. Secretary of State, and the Vatican would do well to at least hear him out as it enters its latest negotiations with Beijing.”

All of this leaves this non-Catholic blogger from Minnesota bewildered. However, there should be more diplomatic ways to discuss and negotiate differences with the Holy See.

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[1] State Dep’t, Michael Pompeo Speech, Moral Witness and Religious Freedom (Sept. 30, 2020).

[2] In his 2019 speech at the Holy See, Pompeo said, “Because when the state rules absolutely, God becomes an absolute threat to authority.  That’s why Cuba cancelled National Catholic Youth Day back in August [of 2019].”  This statement was erroneous and misleading as discussed in a prior post. (Secretary of State Pompeo Delivers Speech at the Holy See, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 4, 2019).)  https://dwkcommentaries.com/2019/10/04/secretary-of-state-pompeo-delivers-speech-at-the-holy-see

[3] Pompeo, China’s Catholics and the Church’s Moral Witness, First Things (Sept. 18, 2020), https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2020/09/chinas-catholics-and-the-churchs-moral-witness; Pompeo, Tweet (Sept. 19, 2020), https://twitter.com/secpompeo/status/1307366983890018311?s=21.

[4] Horowitz & Jakes, Rebuffed by Vatican, Pompeo Assails China and Aligns With Pope’s Critics, N.Y. Times (Sept. 30, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/30/world/europe/pompeo-pope-francis-china.html; Winfield, Pompeo urges Vatican to condemn human rights abuses in China, Wash. Post (Sept. 30, 2020), https://www.wsj.com/articles/pompeo-and-the-pope-11601507813?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=2; Morelio, Harlan & Shih, Pompeo and Vatican officials face off over negotiations with China, Wash. Post (Sept. 30, 2020), https://www.wsj.com/articles/pompeo-and-the-pope-11601507813?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=2; Winfield, Pompeo, Vatican talk China after tensions spill out publicly, Wash. Post (Oct. 1, 2020), https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/pompeo-meets-with-vatican-after-us-china-tensions-spill-over/2020/10/01/1d9b1c16-03d4-11eb-b92e-029676f9ebec_story.html.

 

Court Orders Public Release of Bodycam Footage of George Floyd Arrest and Killing   

On August 7, Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill ordered the public release of the bodycam footages of the arrest and killing of George Floyd that were made by criminal defendants and former police officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng.[1]

The Judge’s order said, “Members of the Media Coalition, as well as other media and members of the public, may obtain copies” of the footage. The order, however, did not elaborate on the rationale for his ruling, nor on how or when the footage would be released.

On July 13, the so called Media Coalition of local and national media companies had filed with the court a motion for the immediate release of this footage. The Coalition argued that the court’s allowing these videos to be viewed only at the courthouse by appointment violated state laws, court rules and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.[2]

The Media Coalition consists of the StarTribune; American Public Media, which owns Minnesota Public Radio; the Associated Press; CBS Broadcasting Inc.; Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal; Hubbard Broadcasting; Hubbard Broadcasting, which owns a Minnesota television broadcaster (KSTP-TV); and the New York Times Co., among others.

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[1] Simons, Judge orders release of Minneapolis police body camera video from the night George Floyd was killed, StarTribune (Aug. 7, 2020); Judge orders release of body camera video showing Floyd killing, MPRnews (Aug. 7, 2020).

[2] Media Coalition Asks Court To Release BodyCam Footage of George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (July 14, 2020).

 

Media Coalition Asks Court To Release BodyCam Footage of George Floyd Killing

On July 13, the Media Coalition of local and national media companies filed a motion for the immediate release of the bodycam footage of the killing of George Floyd on May 25th.[1]

The motion papers alleged that the court’s insistence that the videos be viewed by appointment only in the Hennepin County Government Center violates state laws governing public records, court rules and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, these media companies requested the Court “immediately make the BWC [body-worn camera] footage available for copying by the press and public so that it may be widely viewed not just by those who have the time and wherewithal to visit the courthouse during a global pandemic but by all members of the public concerned about the administration of justice in one of the most important, and most-watched cases, this State — perhaps this country — has ever seen.” [2]

The attorneys for the Coalition also said that “releasing the transcripts without the accompanying footage is the sort of piecemeal disclosure that threatens not only to mislead the public, including potential jurors, but also to destroy the public’s trust in the judicial system.” Moreover, they argued that a written transcript only captures what someone said, not actions. “The transcripts don’t capture non-verbal noises, tone of voice or other elements. In addition, the transcripts of Lane and Keung’s body camera videos differ during crucial moments of the encounter. Allowing journalists to copy the footage, watch it multiple times, transcribe it and compare it to the transcripts and to time stamps from the bystander video will help reporters piece together a more complete story.” [3]

In addition, the motion papers argued, “There is no reason to believe that making the BWC footage itself easily accessible to the press and public would materially impact the fairness of trial .… As days of unrest in the Twin Cities showed, it is vitally important that the public have full confidence in the process and outcome of this criminal prosecution.”

The Media Coalition consists of the StarTribune; American Public Media, which owns Minnesota Public Radio; the Associated Press; CBS Broadcasting Inc.; Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal; Hubbard Broadcasting, which owns KSTP-TV; and the New York Times Co., among others.

The Coalition is represented by  attorneys Leita Walker, a partner in the Media and Entertainment Law Group in the Minneapolis office of the Ballard Spahr LLP law firm, and Emmy Parsons, an associate in that Group.

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[1] Xiong, Media coalition calls for immediate release of body camera footage in George Floyd killing, StarTribune (July 13, 2020); Assoc. Press, Media: Body Camera Video in Floyd Case Should Be Made Public, N.Y. Times (July 13, 2020).

[2] See Gag Order in George Floyd Murder Cases, dwkcommentaries.com  (July 9, 2020).

[3] Quotations from the transcripts of the bodycam footage were included in Ex-Officer Lane Moves for Dismissal of Criminal charges in George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (July 9, 2020).

 

Other Opinions About the U.S. Electoral College

A prior post discussed the July 6 Supreme Court decisions about the “faithless electors’ in the U.S. Electoral College for electing the president and vice president and initial reactions to those Supreme Court cases. Here are some additional reactions to those cases as well as other commentaries about the U.S.’ complicated system for election of a president and vice president.

Jesse Wegman[1]

Jesse Wegman, a member of the New York Times editorial board and the author of a book about the Electoral College, rightly says these recent cases did not address the issue of the continued existence of that institution, which, he says,” is rotting American democracy from the inside out.” First, it potentially can award “the presidency to the candidate who earns fewer votes among the people as a whole — which violates the fundamental premise of majority rule.” Second, it violates “the constitutional mandate of ‘one person, one vote.’ In the presidential election, the value of your vote depends on where you live. If you live in one of the half-dozen or so ‘battleground’ states, it matters hugely. If you happen to live in a ‘safe state,’ as a vast majority of Americans do, it’s effectively irrelevant.”

The Electoral College was created in the late 18th century Constitution because its “framers worried that most voters — who rarely ventured far from home and had no easy way of getting information quickly — couldn’t know enough about national candidates to make an informed decision.” However, Wegman says, the College has never worked that way with the immediate formation of national political parties.

As a result, Wegman argues, “there is no remaining rationale for the Electoral College. What remains is a system that serves no purpose other than to erase the votes of 100 million Americans every four years, making them bystanders to the most consequential election of all.” In short, amend the Constitution to eliminate the Electoral College.

Wall Street Journal[2]

A Wall Street Journal editorial also points out that these new cases do not “address the most controversial question about the Electoral College, which is whether the U.S. should have one at all.”

The editorial, however, does not address that issue either. Instead, it discusses the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact whereby some states agree to grant their electors to the winner of the nationwide popular vote and which presumably is valid under the Opinion of the Court. However, says the Journal, Justice Thomas in his concurring opinion, points out that the Constitution in the last clause of Article I, Section 8, states, “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress . . . enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State.”

In any event, that compact currently has 16 members (15 states and the District of Columbia) with a total of 196 electoral votes and by its terms would go into effect when enough additional states join to constitute a majority of the Electoral College (270 votes).

Richard L. Hasen[3]

 Just before these Supreme Court decisions, Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine and the author of a leading book on problems of the U.S. election system, noted several problems with that system.

  • First, it “features deep fragmentation of governmental authority over elections. Not only does the United States use a highly decentralized and localized election system that gives many powers over national elections to state and local bodies, but also, even within the approximately 10,500 bodies expected to run the 2020 election, there is sometimes disagreement over who has decision making authority over voting rights decisions.”
  • Second, “protection of voting rights in the United States is marked by polarized and judicialized decision making.”
  • Third, U.S. “ constitutional protections for voting rights remain weak. The U.S. Constitution contains no affirmative right to vote. It speaks of voting rights mostly in the negative: thanks to a number of constitutional amendments, it is now illegal to bar someone from voting on the basis of race, gender, age of at least 18, or through the use of a poll tax.”
  • Fourth, this “decentralized, federalist approach to voting rights has led to a self-perpetuating system of voting inequality, where in some places you may be disenfranchised even if you do everything right.”

Therefore, Hasen proposes the following short-term remedies. “All states need to expand opportunities for online voter registration in time” for this November’s presidential election. . . . Congress needs to adequately fund additional expenses related to running an election during the pandemic. . . .  States need to form independent bipartisan task forces to conduct full and independent investigations into why areas with more poor voters and voters of color saw significant problems voting in person during the primaries.”

In addition, Hasen advocates for a new constitutional amendment that would “guarantee all adult citizens the right to vote in federal elections, establish a nonpartisan administrative body to run federal elections that would automatically register all eligible voters to vote, and impose basic standards of voting access and competency for state and local elections.

 Wilfred Codrington III [4]

Last year Codrington, a Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, pointed out a racist motivation for the creation of the Electoral College at the Constitutional Convention.

“The populations in the North and South were approximately equal, but roughly one-third of those living in the South were held in bondage. Because of its considerable, nonvoting slave population, that region would have less clout under a popular-vote system. The ultimate solution was an indirect method of choosing the president, one that could leverage the three-fifths compromise, the Faustian bargain they’d already made to determine how congressional seats would be apportioned. With about 93 percent of the country’s slaves toiling in just five southern states, that region was the undoubted beneficiary of the compromise, increasing the size of the South’s congressional delegation by 42 percent. When the time came to agree on a system for choosing the president, it was all too easy for the delegates to resort to the three-fifths compromise as the foundation.”

This racial impact affected the election of 1800, when Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams, 73-65 in the Electoral College and “metaphorically rode into the executive mansion on the backs of slaves,” according to a Yale Law School professor, Akhil Reed Amar.

In the 1876 presidential election, Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but not the Electoral College vote due to disputes about the status of some electors. An ad hoc commission ultimately awarded the disputed electors to Republican Rutherford Hayes with his agreeing to remove federal troops in the South that were intended to maintain order and protect black voters.

Max Boot[5]

Boot, an historian and Washington Post columnist, reports that he recently participated in a “war game” over a hypothetical narrow Biden victory in the Electoral College, 278-260, including narrow wins in three swing states—Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—where Republicans control both houses of their legislatures. Although all three states have Democratic governors, who usually certify election results, there is nothing to prevent the legislatures from certifying different results, especially if Trump “will stop at nothing to avoid the stigma of being branded a ‘loser’” and if hypothetically he and his allies concocted allegations of election fraud in those three states. The resulting dispute over these three states and hence the results of the election could well end up in the Supreme Court, and who could predict how they might resolve the dispute, given what it did in the 2000 election contest between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

A related concern is whether local, state and federal funding for the expenses of conducting the upcoming election in this pandemic will be adequate. This especially is true for the U.S. Postal Service with the anticipated mailing of election ballots.

David Rothkopf[6]

A lot of these current issues about the Electoral College are prompted by the outrageous conduct of our current president, Donald Trump, who is the “embodiment of the Founders’ worst fears.” So says David Rothkopf, a former professor of international affairs at Columbia University, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown University, former CEO and editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine and a senior official in the Clinton Administration.

Rothkopf continues, Trump “has invited our enemies to interfere with our elections to help him win, then sought to do it again. He has misused federal resources, inappropriately elevated his own family members, and enriched his own businesses. He has repeatedly attacked the First and the Fourteenth Amendments. He has had infants thrown in cages and denied relief to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria at the cost of thousands of lives. He has gutted environmental protections and attacked alliances that the US spent decades building and maintaining. And now he has mismanaged the worst public health crisis in a hundred years, overseen the greatest economic crisis since the Depression, and attempted to use the US military to crush legitimate protests on the streets of the capital.”

Moreover, “in the space of just a few days, . . . [Trump] was revealed to have endorsed concentration camps in China and to have again sought the assistance of a foreign adversary in winning a US election, was quoted as calling for the deaths and imprisonment of US journalists, defended the slave power traitors of the Confederacy, admitted that he suppressed testing during the pandemic because true data about the rate of infections would harm him politically, sought to fire more truthtellers in the administration and had his attorney general remove an official in charge of investigations into him and his supporters. He was reportedly briefed about a Russian scheme to place bounties on American and allied troops in Afghanistan, and not only did nothing about it but continued to act as an advocate for Putin. And so it goes on… before we even consider the many complaints about his character—his racism and misogyny, his ignorance and contempt for science and history, his lies, his narcissism, his vulgarity, his demagoguery. Has there ever been a public official in US history so unable to relate to others, show an emotion besides anger, or view the world through any means but his own self-interest?”

Conclusion

 Support a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College!

==========================

[1] Wegman, Can We Please Pick the President by Popular Vote Now? N.Y. Times (July 6, 2020)

[2] Editorial, States and the Electoral College, W.S. J. (July 6, 2020); Kendall & Bravin, Supreme Court Rules States Can Prohibit Electors From Breaking Rank, W.S.J. (July 6, 2020); Astor & Stevens, Did the Popular Vote Just Get a Win at the Supreme Court? N.Y. Times (July 6, 2020); National Popular Vote, nationalpopularvote.com.

[3] Hasen, Bring on the 28th Amendment, N.Y. Times (June 29, 2020).  Since there are now 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, this article calls for a 28th amendment even though an existing non-profit organization has drafted and is promoting what it calls the 28th Amendment “to end the escalating influence of big money that dominates our elections . . . [by enabling} Americans to enact reasonable limits on campaign contributions and dark money political spending [and] reversing the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision.” (American Promise, The 28th Amendment.)

[4] Codrington, The Electoral College’s Racist Origins, The Atlantic  (Nov. 17, 2019); 1800 United States presidential election, Wikipedia.

[5] Boot, What if Trump loses but insists he won? Wash. Post (July 6, 2020); Reuters, ‘Epic failure’: U.S. Election Officials Warn of November Chaos Due to Budget Crunch, N.Y. Times (July 10, 2020); McCarthy & Jameel, The Postal Service Is Steadily Getting Worse—Can It Handle a National Mail-In Election?, propublica.org (June 15, 2020). See also Will Upcoming U.S. Presidential Election Be Legitimate? dwkcommentaries.com (July 5, 2020).

[6] Rothkropf, “The Most Ignorant and Unfit’: What Made America’s Worst Ever Leader? N.Y. Rev. Books (July 3, 2020).

 

 

Will Upcoming U.S. Presidential Election Be Legitimate? 

Any country that claims to be a democracy in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic should be taking steps to encourage maximum voter participation while protecting voters from risking their health. Such steps would include facilitating voter registration and maximizing the use of voting by mail. That seems self-evident. Yet it is not happening throughout the U.S., and, as is usual in our complex federal system, the rules governing this November’s U.S. election are complicated.[1]

Introduction

While every presidential election year brings an increase in voting rights litigation, the current pandemic has multiplied the number of lawsuits filed in the past 3½ months. Democrats and voting rights advocates are pursuing cases to make it easier to vote by mail, filing more than 60 lawsuits in 25 states.

These lawsuits “are now poised to shape the details of how roughly 130 million registered voters are able to cast ballots in upcoming contests.” However, “conflicting court decisions could exacerbate the differences in voters’ experiences at the ballot box in November. And as the fights play out, the uncertainty is further complicating election officials’ ability to prepare for the vote.”

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Dale Ho, who supervises its voting litigation, says, “I think it’s clear we have a potential disaster on our hands on Election Day if we can’t process as many votes as possible beforehand. The alarm bells are going off. It’s not just some sort of hypothetical as a problem — we’ve seen it as a problem multiple times. It will repeat in November. The question is how much and in how many places and how badly.”

A Democratic elections attorney, Marc Elias, agrees. “When the political branches fail to protect voting rights, it is left to the courts to do that. If the political branches were functioning the way they’re supposed to, you would have Republicans and Democrats agreeing to increase access to absentee voting. You’d be putting in place safeguards to make sure every eligible voter who casts a ballot has that ballot counted. . . . Unfortunately, the Republican Party is taking its cues from Donald Trump.”

Common Cause’s director of voting and elections, Sylvia Albert, said decisions about how to handle voting during a pandemic are not easy but “have to be made.” She added,“There is no waiting it out,” noting that as more time passes, the shorter the window for educating voters about any changes becomes. “As a state legislator, as a secretary of state, as a governor, you are responsible for ensuring that voters can access the ballot. By not moving ahead, they’re really abdicating their responsibility to the voters.”

President Trump’s Opposition to Mail Voting

The principal cause of the problem of this election is President Trump, who has made it clear that he is determined to curtail access to mail ballots, claiming without evidence that their use leads to widespread fraud. “My biggest risk is that we don’t win lawsuits,” the president said in June in an interview with Politico. “We have many lawsuits going all over. And if we don’t win those lawsuits . . . I think it puts the election at risk.” As a result, the GOP is pushing to limit the expansion of voting by mail, backed by a $20 million Republican National Committee effort and help from conservative groups.

However, there is no evidence that mail voting leads to the kind of massive fraud Trump has described. A recent analysis by The Washington Post found that cases of potential fraud have been exceedingly rare in states that conduct voting exclusively by mail.

Nevertheless, with “Republican governors under pressure from President Trump not to expand voting by mail and many legislatures adjourned for the year or deadlocked along party lines, changes in the coming months are likely to come through court decisions.” As a result, this blogger fears that the Trump Administration will do anything and everything to try to steal this year’s presidential election.

Fortunately former Republican Governor of Massachusetts, Bill Weld, has come out against Trump on this (and other) issues. He says,“absentee voting has been around since the Civil War and . . ., increasingly, states both red and blue are not just allowing but also encouraging citizens to vote by mail.”[2]

Indeed, Weld says, “Public support for voting-by-mail was in place long before the novel coronavirus came along. In the past week, Colorado and Utah conducted successful, smooth primary elections almost entirely by mail, with strong turnouts and no need for voters to stand in unhealthy lines. For a highly contested June 23 primary, Kentucky’s Democratic governor and Republican secretary of state worked together to make absentee voting less cumbersome. It worked, and turnout was at near-record levels. . . . The only problems Kentucky encountered resulted from the covid-19-driven consolidation of in-person, Election Day polling places.”

Weld also notes that public opinion polls show nearly 80 percent of voters support giving all voters the option of voting in person or voting absentee. That includes a majority of Republicans — the president’s paranoia notwithstanding.”[3]

Therefore, Weld concludes, “To my fellow Republicans, I plead with you to not follow Trump off this cliff. A political party that brands itself as the party of exclusion, disregard for citizens’ safety and thinly veiled vote suppression is not a party with a future.”

 State Developments on Mail Voting

Here is an attempted analysis of where at least some of the states stand on rules for the November 3, 2020 election.

Alabama. Because of the virus, Alabama officials are allowing any registered voter to cast an absentee ballot in the upcoming election without having to cite a valid reason. In  a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups citing coronavirus dangers, Birmingham-based U.S. District Court Judge Abdul Kallon on June 15 struke down a requirement for absentee voters to submit a copy of a photo ID and to have their ballots signed off by two witnesses or a notary public as well as lifting a statewide ban on curbside voting at polling places. The judge said he would permit willing counties to allow drive-up voting, but he stopped short of requiring such an accommodation. This order was upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, but on July 2, the U.S. Supreme Court, 5-4,  reversed that order for the July 14 primary runoff election for the U.S. Senate between Jeff Sesssions and Tommy Tuberville.[4]

California, Nebraska (counties < 10,000) and North Dakota provide counties the option to conduct all voting by mail. In addition, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (Dem.) ordered election officials to proactively send absentee ballots to all active registered voters in the state for the general election. This move drew fierce opposition from the right, including a lawsuit from the Republican National Committee, but the change subsequently was authorized by a new state law.[5]

Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington authorize all voting by mail. “For these elections, all registered voters receive a ballot in the mail. The voter marks the ballot, puts it in a secrecy envelope or sleeve and then into a separate mailing envelope, signs an affidavit on the exterior of the mailing envelope, and returns the package via mail or by dropping it off.”[6]

District of Columbia. It will send absentee ballots to all registered voters.

Georgia. The GOP Secretary of State mailed absentee ballot request forms to voters for the June 9 primaries. The Republican House Speaker, however, warned that expanded absentee voting could lead to fraud, and a state House committee approved a measure that would bar the mailing of absentee request forms for the fall, but the bill failed to pass before the legislature adjourned. The Georgia Secretary of State, however, already had said his office lacked funds to send ballot request applications for the general election, even though,

“By a wide margin, voters on both sides of the political spectrum agree that sending absentee applications to all active voters was the safest and best thing our office could do to protect our voters at the peak of COVID-19.”

Illinois and Michigan. This year these states will mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters.

Iowa. Gov. Kim Reynolds (Rep.) signed a bill into law that will require the secretary of state to seek legislative approval to send absentee ballot request forms to voters before November. This was seen as a rebuke to Iowa’s Republican Secretary of State, who mailed the forms to voters for the primary last month, resulting in a new turnout record for a June primary in the state.

Massachusetts. For the rest of this year this commonwealth has chosen to abandon its requirement for an excuse for an absentee ballot.

Missouri. As a result of an ACLU lawsuit, the Missouri Legislature adopted a statute expanding voting by mail during the pandemic, while retaining the statutory requirement for a notarization of the ballot with the legitimacy of that requirement still being litigated under a ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court.[7]

Pennsylvania. The Trump campaign recently sued to stop voters from using drop boxes to return completed absentee ballots and block ballots from being counted if they do not arrive inside the provided secrecy envelope. The Complaint alleged that mail voting “provides fraudsters an easy opportunity to engage in ballot harvesting, manipulate or destroy ballots, manufacture duplicitous votes, and sow chaos.” The Democratic Party obviously is opposing this lawsuit

Tennessee. Last month a Nashville judge ruled that any eligible voter who is concerned about contracting covid-19 at a polling place may cast an absentee ballot this fall, even though state law would typically require that voter to qualify using an excuse. The state Supreme Court declined last week to stay that decision after a request from Republican Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

Texas. The Texas Democratic Party and several voters sued in federal court to allow all eligible Texas voters to vote by mail, at least during the coronavirus pandemic, on the ground that the state’s over-65 age limitation for such voting allegedly was unconstitutional, which contention was upheld by a trial court’s injunction, but reversed by the appellate court with the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26th rejecting an emergency appeal by the plaintiffs and remanding the case to the appellate court. (Justice Sotomayor urged the appellate court to consider the case “well in advance of the November election”).[8]

Wisconsin. On June 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled that after more than three years, Wisconsin must reinstate several Republican-backed voting restrictions, including limits on early voting. The original GOP policies were struck down in 2016 for discriminating against minority voters, a conclusion the appellate panel rejected this week.[9]

Guarding Legitimacy of this Year’s Presidential Election

Great concern over the integrity of this presidential election has been expressed by William A. Galston, the Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program, a former policy advisor to President Clinton and a Wall Street Journal columnist.  He said, “After a quarter-century of toxic division, our democracy is imperiled. A contested election could tip the U.S. into a devastating crisis of legitimacy, a prospect that every patriot must regard with dismay.”[10]

Therefore, Galston suggested four ways to minimize the risks in this upcoming election.

First, “To reduce pressure on the mail-in option, localities must provide the fullest possible opportunity to vote in person, as New York University law professor Richard A. Pildes has argued. This means increasing the number of polling places while expanding opportunities for early voting. Many elderly poll workers will be reluctant to do the job this year; large numbers of younger Americans should be recruited and trained to replace them. Schools should continue to serve as polling places, as they have for decades, and Election Day should be a school holiday.”

Second, “states should do what they can to facilitate the fastest possible count of mail-in ballots. Mr. Pildes recommends processing the mail-in ballots that arrive before Election Day so that they can be tallied in time for the results to be included in the count soon after the polls close, a procedure that California now employs. Other states—including Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania—would have to change their laws to permit this, and they should.”

Third, “As Nathaniel Persily, a co-director of the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project points out, the media have a crucial role to play as well. Reporters should educate themselves and the public about the all but certain delay in the vote count that the flood of mail-in ballots will entail. Above all, media organizations should resist the urge to call the election ahead of their competitors and instead wait until enough ballots have been tallied to know the result with confidence. In the past, ill-judged early calls of key states have sown confusion. This year, the consequences could be far worse.”

Fourth, “America’s elder statesmen must do all they can to ensure election integrity. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush should spearhead the formation of a bipartisan committee including respected figures such as former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice, and former Secretaries of Defense Leon Panetta and Robert Gates, along with lawyers and election experts from both parties who have served in previous presidential campaigns. Committee staff should be ready to investigate charges of fraud as soon as they arise and observe the counting of mail-in ballots if asked. Committee leaders should announce their findings as quickly as accuracy permits and stand united in their defense.”

Such a committee’s “most important tasks would be meetings soon after Labor Day with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. These leaders should be asked for a public pledge to stand together against unsubstantiated claims that the election has been stolen and to do their utmost to persuade elected officials in their respective parties to stand with them.”

Conclusion

In addition to all of the above litigation, the Supreme Court still has to resolve two cases about so-called “faithless” electors in the Electoral College that actually elects the President. Presumably decisions in those two cases will come down this coming week and will be discussed in a future post.[11]

Another future post will examine ways to create stronger voting rights from Richard L. Hasen, Professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine and the author of “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust and the Threat to American Democracy.”

Comments to this post for corrections and supplementation for new developments are earnestly solicited.

===================================1~

[1] See generally Viebeck, Voting rules changed quickly for the primaries. But the battle over how Americans will cast ballots in the fall is just heating up, Wash. Post (July 3, 2020).

[2] Weld, Please, Republicans don’t join Trump’s crusade against voting-by-mail, Wash. Post (July 3, 2020). See also Strauss, ‘We’ve got to do something’: Republican rebels come together to take on Trump, Guardian (July 2, 2020).

[3] See also Brennan Center for Justice, Americans of All Stripes Want a Mail Ballot Option.

[4] Liptak, Splitting 5-4, Supreme Court Grants Alabama’s Request to Restore Voting Restrictions, N.Y. Times (July 2, 2020); Gerstein, Supreme Court blocks judge’s order loosening Alabama voting requirements due to virus, Politico (July 2, 2020).

[5] National Conf. State Legislatures, All-Mail Elections (aka Vote-By-Mail).

[6] Ibid.

[7] ACLU, Press Release: Court Rules Lawsuit To Allow All Missourians to Vote By Mail Without a Notary During Covid-19 Can Proceed (June 23, 2020).

[8] Liptak, Supreme Court Turns down Request to Allow All Texans to Vote by Mail, N.Y.Times (June 26, 2020); Assoc. Press, Supreme Court doesn’t wade into mail-in voting battle, Wash. Post (June 26, 2020); Barnes, Supreme Court won’t force Texans to allow absentee ballots for all voters, Wash. Post (June 26, 2020).

[9] Earlier this year there was federal court litigation over the Wisconsin primary election that lead to counting of ballots that had been mailed no later than election day. (See these posts and comments to dwkcommentaries.com: Pandemic Journal (# 10): Wisconsin Primary Election (April 10, 2020); Comment: More Criticism of Republican Strategy of Limiting Voting (April 12, 2020; Comment: More Comments on Wisconsin Election (April 13, 2020); Comment: Surprising Results in Wisconsin Election (April 14, 2020); Commnet: George F. Will’s Opinion on Voting By Mail (VBM) (April 15, 2020); Comment: Emerging Battles Over Changing State Election Laws (April 15, 2020); Comment: New York Times Editorial on Wisconsin Election (April 20, 2020; Comment: Thousands of Wisconsin Absentee Ballots Counted After Election Day (May 3, 2020).

[10] Galston, How to Prevent an Electoral Crisis, W.S.J. (June 30, 2020).

[11] Liptak, Supreme Court Seems Ready to Curb ‘Faithless Electors,’ N.Y. Times (May 13, 2020); Wegman, The Electoral College Is a Confusing Mess, N.Y.Times (May 13, 2020).

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 24): What We Are Learning in the Pandemic

Peggy Noonan, a Wall Street Journal columnist, offers her thoughts on what we are learning in the coronavirus pandemic. Here are her main points along with reactions thereto.

Noonan’s Observations[1]

She says we have learned a lot. “How intertwined and interconnected our economy is, how provisional, how this thing depended on that. And how whisperingly thin were everybody’s profit margins. The well-being of the West Side block depends on human traffic, which depends on restaurants and bars, which depend on the theater being open. It was a George Bailey economy: every man on that transport died. Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry.” [2] “Every economy is, in the end, and if you’re interested in economics you knew this, but not the way you know it after the business catastrophe of 2020.”

“But the biggest things I suspect we learned were internal. No matter what you do for a living, when you weren’t busy introspection knocked on the door and settled in. Two different men, professionals, both blinked with surprise as they reported, unasked, that they can’t believe they have their college-age kids home again and they’re all together and they have dinner every night and play board games. They were so grateful. They had no idea this was possible, that it would make them so happy. That it had been missing.”

“People have suffered. They’ve been afraid. The ground on which they stand has shifted. Many have been reviewing their lives, thinking not only of ‘what’s important’ or ‘what makes me happy’ but ‘what was I designed to do?’ They’ve been conducting a kind of internal life review, reflecting on the decision that seemed small and turned out to be crucial, wondering about paths not taken, recognizing strokes of luck. They’ve been thinking about their religious faith or lack of it, about their relationships. Phone calls have been longer, love more easily expressed, its lack more admitted.”

“It has been a dramatic time. We have stopped and thought about our lives, and our society’s arrangements. We have applauded together, for the first time, those whose jobs kept our towns up and operating, from nurses to truckers. We’ve rethought not only what is ‘essential’ but who is important. All this will change you as a nation.”

“Here is what I am certain of. We will emerge a plainer people in a plainer country, and maybe a deeper one. Something big inside us shifted.”

“[Y]ou can almost hear people thinking eh, our time is finite, our money limited—maybe that’s not gray[hair]. it’s silver. . . . I like the simplicity of this.”

“The world has admired and imitated America’s crisp chic, but I see an altering of the national style. For reasons economic and existential a new simplicity is coming, glitz leaving.”

“We’re getting pared down. We’re paring ourselves down.”

‘The pioneer genes shall prevail, and women will focus on the essentials: nurturing their children in the arc of safety (homes and schools) providing food (driving to breadlines and food banks) and making do with what is already in the closet. Everything old will be suddenly new again.”

“America is about to become a plainer place. Maybe a deeper one, too. Maybe that’s good.”

Reflections

Do you agree with any of these observations?

Some of her reflections concern individuals and every-day life. I certainly hope that “America is about to become a ‘plainer place’ and ‘a deeper one.’”

Economically we certainly should have learned “how intertwined and interconnected our economy is, how provisional, how this thing depended on that. And how whisperingly thin were everybody’s profit margins.”

Noonan, however, fails to mention the big economic lessons of the pandemic for me and many others: the immense economic inequality in the U.S.; the many ways of racial injustice in the U.S.; and our horrendous health-care system. All of these problems require government action.

That, in turn, raises my concern over the future impact of the many, young, conservative federal judges who recently have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate, some in the midst of the pandemic, pursuant to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s agenda.[3]

More generally, the need for government action emphasizes my belief that many aspects of the U.S. system of government are obsolete: the Electoral College; every state having two senators with equal voting rights regardless of the state’s population; the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule; the horribly complicated system of voting and its manipulation to suppress voting, including President Trump’s recent rantings against voting by mail.[4]

The Trump Administration’s inconsistent and wavering foreign  policies before and during the pandemic raise the question of what will become of the international system of institutions, treaties and laws that the U.S. helped to create after World War II to foster and preserve peace and human rights. In my opinion, we should be leading the world in reforming and modernizing this system, not tearing at its roots.[5]

All of these larger issues raise the issue of what can one individual do about them.

My answer. Carefully review candidates for office and vote for those who promise to work on these problems. Provide financial support to political parties and candidates as well as organizations that are supporting these reform measures. Advocate for individuals, organizations and policies involved in this effort.  (I choose to do my advocacy with this blog.)

Noonan appropriately mentions many people expressing gratitude for simple things in the midst of the pandemic. I  have gratitude for my wife, sons, their families and I being in good health and for my wife and I are not living in a senior-citizen retirement home. I am grateful for being retired with good savings and thus not worrying about keeping my job or finding a new one or about how I will be able to pay for food or the mortgage.[6]

I also am grateful for friends and family and have made efforts to reconnect with them.[7]

Like Noonan, I hope that people are “reviewing their lives, thinking not only of ‘what’s important’ or ‘what makes me happy’ but ‘what was I designed to do?’ They’ve been conducting a kind of internal life review, reflecting on the decision that seemed small and turned out to be crucial, wondering about paths not taken, recognizing strokes of luck.”

For a Christian, this means discerning your calling for a particular time and place and recognizing that your calling may change over time. This includes forgiving others for their wrongs as well as praying for forgiveness for your own misdeeds.[8]

I trust that I will continue learning about the world during this pandemic. Another of the many subjects I have learned something about are prior pandemics, especially the Flu Pandemic of 1918. [9]

==================================

[1] Noonan, A Plainer People in a Plainer Time, W.S.J. (May 22, 2020).

[2] Noonan apparently refers to brothers George and Harry Bailey, characters in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George was a wealthy banker who suffers various difficulties, including not being present to save his brother from drowning. As  a result, George contemplates suicide before being rescued by his guardian angel and friends. (It’s a Wonderful Life, Wikipedia.)

[3] E.g., Hulse, McConnell Has a Request for Veteran Federal Judges: Pleases Quit, N.Y. Times (Mar. 16, 2020; Hulse, Trump Picks McConnell Protégé for Influential Appeals Court Seat, N.Y. Times (April 3, 2020).

[4] See, e.g., these entries in dwkcommentareis.com: Search: filibusterU.S. Needs More Democratization (Feb. 14, 2020); Responses to Ezra Klein’s Democratization Thesis (Feb. 15, 2020); Open Letter to U.S. Senate from 70 former Senators (Feb. 29, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 10): Wisconsin’s  Primary Election (April 10, 2020) (and comments thereto).

[5] E.g., Douthat, The End of the New World Order, N.Y. Times (May 23, 2020).

[6] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Gratitude I (Mar. 15, 2012);  Gratitude II (April 11, 2012); Gratitude III (April 12, 2014); Another Perspective on Gratitude; (Nov. 23, 2015); Other Thoughts About Gratitude. (Nov. 26, 2015).

[7] Pandemic Journal (# 8): Reconnecting with Family and Friends (April 8, 2020).

[8] See, e.g., these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: The Roads Not Taken (April 27, 2011); My General Thoughts on Vocation (Feb. 6, 2014); Other Scriptural Passages About Vocation (Feb. 17, 2014); My Vocations (Feb. 23, 2014); Why I do Not Want to Die at 75 (Sept. 25, 2014); What Is Your Call Story? (Feb. 28, 2019); My Call Stories (Mar. 4, 2019). See also List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: RELIGION; A Christian-Muslim Conversation About Forgiveness (May 15, 2017).

[9] See, e.g., the following posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Pandemic Journal (# 3): 1918 Flu (Mar. 27, 2020); Pandemic Journal (# 22): Other Reflections on the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1920 (May 17, 2020).

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 21): Concurring Opinion on Class Conflicts Over Pandemic         

Pandemic Journal # 19 set forth Fareed Zakaria’s analysis of the U.S. class conflict over responses to the coronavirus pandemic. This analysis is shared by Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist for the New York Times.[1]

Stephens’ terms for the two classes are “Remote”  and “Exposed.” “The Remote are, disproportionately, knowledge workers, mostly well educated, generally well paid. Their professional networks, and many of their personal ones, too, are with people who also work remotely” or roughly 37 percent of American workers. The other two-thirds, the Exposed, “include everyone — shop owner, waiter, cabdriver, sales associate, factory worker, nanny, flight attendant, and so on — for whom physical presence is a job requirement. They are, typically, less well educated, less well paid.”

“For the Remote, the lockdowns of the past two months have been stressful. For the Exposed, they have been catastrophic. For the Remote, another few weeks of lockdown is an irritant. For the Exposed, whose jobs are disappearing by the millions every week, it is a terror. For the Remote, Covid-19 is the grave new risk. For the exposed, it’s one of several. For the Remote, an image on the news of cars forming long lines at food banks is disconcerting. For the Exposed, that image is — or may very soon be — the rear bumper in front of you.”

Says Stephens, “The 2020 election will hinge on who decisively wins the vote of the Exposed.” Although the Democrats’ emphasis on containing the virus seems to have more support than the “open up” strategy, Stephens expresses some skepticism. One  assumption of the containment argument is “that Covid-19 is containable and will eventually be curable. If it isn’t, what are the lockdowns really achieving, other than delaying the march toward herd immunity while imposing ruinous costs on those least able to afford them?” Another assumption of the containment argument is “that the lockdowns are the economic equivalent of a medically induced coma. But what if they’re really a form of politically induced necrosis, killing jobs and businesses that will never come back?” The third assumption of the containment strategy is “that the balance of public sympathy will rest with the comparatively small numbers of acute Covid-19 sufferers. But what happens when their numbers are dwarfed by those suffering from awful personal hardship?”

Yes, many Democrats believe that they will win the November election because of “Trump’s catastrophic failures in managing the crisis. But Trump’s political stock-in-trade is resentment, above all toward those who mistake their good luck for superior merit, or confuse virtue signaling with wise policy, or who impose policies on others without fully feeling the effects themselves.”

Stephens finds this analysis presciently discussed in a February 2016 Wall Street Journal column by Peggy Noonan, who  “made the distinction between two classes of people: the ‘protected’ — that is, the well-off, the connected, the comfortably insulated — and the ‘unprotected’ — everyone else.” She added, “The protected make public policy. The unprotected live in it. The unprotected are starting to push back, powerfully.” This larger point, said Stephens, was that Trump was going to win the 2016 election, which was “unfathomable to so many people at the time (including me).” [2]

Conclusion

I am a Democrat who fervently wants Trump to lose the November election. Yet, Stephens, Zakaria and Noonan make persuasive points that need to influence Democratic strategy in the upcoming election.

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[1] Stephens, In this Election, It’s the Remote Against the Exposed, N.Y. Times (May 15, 2020).

[2] Noonan, Trump and the Rise of the Unprotected, W.S.J. (Feb. 25, 2016).

 

Pandemic Journal (# 15): Declining U.S. Gross Domestic Product 

On April 29, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the first quarter of the year declined at a 4.8% annual rate. “That is the first decline since 2014, and the worst quarterly contraction since the country was in a deep recession more than a decade    ago.” [1]

Moreover, “Economists widely expect the Commerce Department to revise the first quarter figure even lower as more data becomes available. Goldman Sachs says the true decline was likely over 8 percent. JPMorgan Chase says it was likely over 11 percent.”

Most of this quarter that ended on March 31 “came before the coronavirus pandemic forced widespread shutdowns and layoffs. Economists expect figures from the current quarter to show G.D.P. contracting at an annual rate of 30 percent or more.” As the Wall Street Journal stated, this number “indicated the economy is sliding toward a near-certain recession and signaled the end of the longest economic expansion on record.”

“Many economists [already] have said the pandemic has put the U.S. in a recession. The number of American workers filing new claims for jobless benefits in recent weeks, at more than 26 million, points to an unprecedented wave of layoffs, and readings on consumer and business activity are showing record declines.”

Conclusion

These numbers confirm what everyone in the U.S. (and the rest of the world) already knows. The pandemic has caused and will continue to cause enormous economic pain in the U.S. and around the world.

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[1] The U.S. economy contracted by the most since the great recession,,N.Y. Times (April 29, 2020); Torry, U.S. Economy Shrank at 4.8% Pace in first Quarter, W.S.J. (April 29, 2020); Long, U.S. economy shrank 4.8 percent in first quarter, the biggest decline since the Great Recession, Wash. Post (April 29, 2020).

 

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 14): Reading and Writing  

This Pandemic Journal is a means of recording how this blogger is living through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Its entries cover a wide range of  topics: reflections on the pandemic’s development; reflections on politicians’’ policies and statements about the pandemic; reactions to analyses of the pandemic by journalists; personal things to do.

I spend a lot of time keeping up on the news by reading the hard-copy of the local newspaper (StarTribune) and other news sources online (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Diario de Cuba, Granma (from Cuba), New York Review of Books, HuffPost, Politico, Atlantic, CNN, State Department, and others from time to time.

So far at least, I have not had time to read books. An exception is Louise Erdrich’s new novel “The Night Watchman.” Surprisingly I had difficulties with the book that has resulted in a lengthy essay about the book that soon will be added as a regular post.