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Editorial Roundup: United States

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

July 6

The Washington Post on SCOTUS and how government works

The Supreme Court’s 2024 term might have been defined, to the general public at least, by multiple decisions concerning Donald Trump. These cases matter. But the bigger picture is in how the justices are remaking the U.S. government.

The former president, certainly, had little to complain about. First, the high court ruled, correctly, that he could appear on the ballot this fall. The justices then went many steps too far, declaring, at Mr. Trump’s request, that presidents are presumed to have immunity from criminal liability for “official acts.” The ruling unnecessarily delays Mr. Trump’s trial regarding the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot and encourages Oval Office lawbreaking — assuring presidents that they can argue they are just doing their jobs when they do wrong.

Yet the court did much more this term than reshape the checks on the president.

In some cases, the justices got things right. In the court’s decisions on restrictive Texas and Florida social media laws, Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority, explained that these sites have First Amendment protections of their own — a blow to right-wing efforts to stymie these companies’ attempts to moderate content. In the so-called jawboning case, Murthy v. Missouri, the court preserved the White House’s ability to communicate with the same set of companies about posts related to public health and elections.

The news on abortion was, in one case, encouraging: The justices all agreed that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit was wrong to limit access to the pregnancy termination drug mifepristone. In a case involving Idaho’s attempts to block emergency abortions, they gave desperate women a reprieve — if only for now — dismissing the case as improvidently granted, leaving open the prospect of further proceedings.

But these bright spots contrast with a collection of decisions this term that represents an effort, largely shared by all six of the court’s conservatives, to alter how the U.S. government functions — or, as the case might increasingly be, fails to function. On top of the Trump immunity case, a 6-3 decision last month overruled the long-standing precedent Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, freeing judges from deferring to executive agencies’ interpretations of ambiguous laws. The change weakens the executive branch and hampers the legislative by preventing lawmakers from writing laws broadly in anticipation that executive-branch experts will fill in needed details. Instead, judges will be freer to substitute their own judgment for the agencies’, despite being unelected and inexpert. The latter was clear in Justice Neil M. Gorsuch’s mistaking of nitrous oxide, laughing gas, for nitrogen oxide, an air pollutant, in a recent related ruling that also chipped away at agency authority.

The conservative majority also ruled, 6-3 once again, that South Carolina’s racially gerrymandered voting districts constituted mere partisan gerrymandering — a practice the justices have sanctioned. This will encourage more racial gerrymandering by making accusations thereof nearly impossible to prove.These outcomes might not seem to have much in common. The immunity case gives the executive more leeway, and the cases involving the administrative state give that branch less. But they fit with a conservative vision for government in which the person of the president is less constrained, even while conservative judges check a bureaucracy designed to bring stability and expertise to the administration of the policy Congress sets.

Many conversations about the Supreme Court this term have concerned not jurisprudence but the justices themselves: whether they are letting their political, even their personal, preferences dictate their votes. The onus has been on them to prove their integrity to the public, after scandals involving everything from luxury vacations and suspiciously generous real estate deals to upside-down American flags. Their decisions haven’t always broken along ideological lines, even on hot-button issues. There have been pleasant surprises, especially from Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who has shown more independence than critics expected.

But this court also issued a hefty 32 non-unanimous rulings this term. The 6-3 lineup, with all Republican appointees at odds with all Democratic appointees, ranked as the most common, occurring 11 times and defining several of the most consequential rulings. Those rulings are altering not simply one law here and another law there, but the government’s modern design. Regardless of the justices’ motivations, the court is hampering federal authorities’ ability to act in the public interest and to protect vulnerable minorities — even when Congress asks them to.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2024/07/06/scotus-decisions-trump-immunity-abortion-2024/

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July 8

The New York Times on the Democratic Party and Biden

For voters who held out hope that President Biden’s failure to communicate during last month’s debate was an aberration, the intervening days have offered little comfort.

Donald Trump’s candidacy for a second term poses a grave threat to American democracy. Mr. Biden, instead of campaigning vigorously to disprove doubts and demonstrate that he can beat Mr. Trump, has maintained a scripted and controlled schedule of public appearances. He has largely avoided taking questions from voters or journalists — the kinds of interactions that reveal his limitations and caused him so much trouble on the debate stage. And when he has cast aside his teleprompter, most notably during a 22-minute interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Friday, he has continued to appear as a man in decline.

The president, elected in 2020 as an antidote to Mr. Trump’s malfeasance and mendacity, is now trying to defy reality. For more than a year, voters have made it unquestionably clear in surveys and interviews that they harbor significant doubts about Mr. Biden’s physical and mental fitness for office. Mr. Biden has disregarded the concerns of those voters — his fellow citizens — and put the country at significant risk by continuing to insist that he is the best Democrat to defeat Mr. Trump.

Since his feeble debate performance, multiple polls have shown that both Mr. Biden’s approval rating and his chance of beating Mr. Trump have markedly dropped from their already shaky levels. In response, he has adopted a favorite theme of the floundering politician, insisting that the polls are wrong in showing that his presidency is historically unpopular. Even if the polls were off by historic amounts, they would still show overwhelming skepticism about his fitness. The latest Times/Siena poll showed that 74 percent of voters think that Mr. Biden is too old to serve, an increase of five percentage points since the debate and not a figure that can be attributed to some kind of error or bias.

He has denied that age is diminishing his abilities, not even bringing up the subject in a lengthy letter to congressional Democrats issued on Monday. In that letter, he insisted that he is the candidate best equipped to defeat Mr. Trump in November — thereby dismissing the potential candidacy of Vice President Kamala Harris or any other younger, more vigorous Democrat, and in effect asking the American people to trust him instead of their own lying eyes.

It’s not enough to blame the press, the donors, the pundits or the other elite groups for trying to push him out, as he did in the letter. In fact, to use his own words, “the voters — and the voters alone — decide the nominee of the Democratic Party.” But Democratic leaders shouldn’t rely solely on the judgment of the few voters who turned out in this year’s coronation primaries. They should listen instead to the much larger group of voters who have been telling every pollster in America their concerns for a long time. Mr. Biden has to pay attention to the will of the broader electorate that will determine the outcome in November.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2024/07/08/opinion/editorials/democrats-biden-truth.html

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July 9

The Wall Street Journal on House Speaker Mike Johnson

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit this week will spawn many discussions about America’s role in the world, but the most important speech of the week may be Republican Mike Johnson’s on Monday at the Hudson Institute. The House Speaker laid down a marker for a GOP that rejects U.S. decline and retreat abroad.

“While democracy is not perfect, the burden of self-government is certainly far lighter than the yoke of tyranny,” Mr. Johnson said. “But right now, absent American leadership, we’re looking at a future that could be” defined by “communism and tyranny, rather than liberty and opportunity and security.”

Mr. Johnson said Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to expand “his communist footholds.” Vladimir Putin imagines a Russian empire that includes the Baltics, and Iran aspires to wipe Israel off the map. The Biden Administration is “appeasing and apologizing and accommodating. Joe Biden doesn’t treat China like an enemy. He’s stopped supporting Israel, and has cozied up to Iran to revive the failed nuclear deal,” he said.

The Speaker defended Donald Trump’s record and called on European allies to live up to their defense spending commitments. He noted the security risks of an uncontrolled southern border and the rising national debt, which will require hard spending adjustments.

But most notable was the larger picture Mr. Johnson painted. He didn’t indulge a false choice between meeting problems at home and threats abroad. He is pushing his party in the direction of Ronald Reagan, which is correct for the world moment and politically popular.

America is threatened “by Chinese Communists, by Russian oligarchs, and Islamic terrorists. We can choose to ignore them, we can try to appease them,” the Speaker said. “Or we can choose another course. . . . We can rearm, rebuild, reinvigorate, restore, and reinstate fear in our enemies.” Decline “is always a choice. That is not a choice that Republicans will be making anytime soon.”

Mr. Trump could hardly do better than repeat Mr. Johnson’s message word for word at next week’s GOP convention.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/mike-johnson-speech-hudson-institute-gop-national-defense-russia-china-nato-b237609c?mod=editorials_article_pos6

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July 10

St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Trump and “Project 2025”

The necessary if alarming national debate over President Joe Biden’s cognitive fitness shouldn’t obscure the reason the stakes in that debate are so high: Former President Donald Trump has been fundamentally, dangerously unfit for office since before he took the oath the first time, in ways far worse than the ravages of age that are central to Biden’s situation. That’s why it’s so urgent that Democrats field a candidate strong enough to prevent Trump’s return.

A second Trump term would almost certainly be even more disruptive to the norms of democracy than his first term was. The institutional guardrails on presidential power that restrained his worst instincts last time — that prevented him from using the military against civilians, from weaponizing government against his critics, from shattering NATO, from overturning a national election — won’t necessarily hold now that he understands where they are and how they work.

Instructions for disassembling those guardrails are contained in a roughly 900-page document titled Project 2025. Compiled by more than 100 conservative organizations and backed by more than 200 officials from Trump’s first administration, it is nothing less than a blueprint for systematically consolidating power around the presidency to a degree that approaches autocracy.

No one should buy Trump’s recent, implausible disavowal of that blueprint. And everyone should familiarize themselves with it — especially those considering voting for Trump in November, or just not voting, in light of Biden’s struggling campaign.

Project 2025 is the brainchild of The Heritage Foundation, the far-right think-tank behind some of Trump’s most radical policies in his first term. The organization’s president, Kevin Roberts, said in a recent interview that the current project, implicitly premised on Trump’s return to office, will drive “a second American revolution” — one that “will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be.”

If that doesn’t make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, consider some of the project’s specific recommendations and goals for a second Trump term:

• It would place much of the federal bureaucracy, currently made up primarily of non-political civil servants, under direct control of the president by stripping their civil-service protection.

That would give the president an army of potentially tens of thousands of ground-level political foot soldiers, interacting with countless regular Americans on issues from tax enforcement to law enforcement to Social Security and Medicare and countless other areas of everyday life. No longer would expertise in a given area determine who fills those functions; political fealty to the president would become the only criterion.

• It would greatly expand the role of the U.S. military on domestic soil, using armed forces to capture undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and deploying soldiers for other domestic law enforcement purposes.

That possibility must be pondered in combination with Trump’s reported interest in invoking the archaic Insurrection Act to use the military against Inauguration Day protesters on his theoretical first day back in office.

• It would set the stage for even more draconian restriction on abortion rights, starting with banning the abortion drug mifepristone, even in states where abortion remains legal.

In a truly Orwellian turn, it would even scrub a long list of offending phrases from “every federal rule, agency regulation, contract, grant, regulation, and piece of legislation that exists,” including: “sexual orientation and gender identity … gender equality … abortion, reproductive health, (and) reproductive rights.”

• It would turn the civil-rights function of the Department of Justice on its head: Instead of taking legal action to protect minorities, women and others from discrimination, its mission would become persecuting local governments, universities, corporations and other entities that dare to institute DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) policies that are designed to counter discrimination.

• It would turn the FBI into little more than the personal police force for the president, diminishing the agency’s staffing and eliminating the director’s 10-year term — thus making that person a purely political appointee who can be hired or fired at will based on literally nothing but loyalty to the president.

• It would aggressively turn back the clock on environmental and climate progress, repealing regulations designed to reduce carbon emissions, gutting the EPA and downsizing agencies, including the National Weather Service, which it labels “drivers of the climate change alarm industry.”

There’s much more of this dystopian fantasy, all of it easily available online at www.project2025.org.

This radical-right manifesto has been out there awhile but has come under renewed scrutiny lately. Trump responded to recent public outrage over the plan by claiming on social media last week: “I know nothing about Project 2025. I have no idea who is behind it. I disagree with some of the things they’re saying and some of the things they’re saying are absolutely ridiculous and abysmal.”

None of that is believable or even coherent. Some of Trump’s closest allies are publicly behind the project, including likely officials in a second Trump administration. And if he knows “nothing” about it, how does he declare in the same sentence that it’s “ridiculous and abysmal”? Does that include the plan to strip civil service protections, which Trump himself tried to do in his first term?

Lies and incoherence are nothing new from this ex-president — and these policy goals should look familiar as well, reflecting as they do so much of Trump’s disdain for constraints on the power of the presidency. This document should serve as a warning that there are actually worse possibilities in the White House than potential infirmity.

ONLINE: https://www.stltoday.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-project-2025-would-help-trump-seize-the-unrestrained-power-he-sought-last-time/article_dc74a2e6-3e0a-11ef-91c1-470622fabbeb.html

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
The Associated Press

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