At the age of 89, Opal Lee walked many of the 1,300-plus miles from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, DC, to jump-start the campaign to make Juneteenth a national holiday. Now 94, she was at the White House Thursday when President Joe Biden signed the bill to do just that, realizing her goal that was four decades in the making.
It took Democrats even longer –75 years — to achieve national health care. And it would be another 11 years before Obamacare decisively survived legal challenges from Republicans determined to kill it: On the same day as the Juneteenth bill signing, the US Supreme Court tossed out a major lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act.
It was tempting to view Thursday’s one-two punch as a signal that progressives have history on their side — and that there’s more to come. As the proverb says, “All things are difficult before they are easy.”
But it’s also impossible to ignore the long record of reversals that have followed progress on race and social reform. “It’s one step forward and three steps back,” as Olivia Rodrigo sings (but in a different context).
“The sad fact of American history,” wrote Peniel E. Joseph, “is that at every time Black Americans have organized and asserted themselves, White backlash mercilessly follows. Look no further than the echo between 19th century post-Reconstruction efforts to suppress Black votes and the 21st century version of that endeavor playing out in GOP-controlled state legislatures today.”
The academic construct known as Critical Race Theory, Nicole Hemmer wrote, “has become the song of the summer for right-wing media and politicians, the one they’re playing on repeat, returning to it when they’ve got nothing else on tap.” She argued, “it is serving a useful political purpose: arguing about critical race theory shifts the conversation away from … challenging issues about equity, affirmative action, reparations, and government intervention to dismantle racist systems — all of which face significant opposition from the right — and can only hurt a Republican Party that has grown dependent on the politics of White racial grievance.”
Mara Schiavocampo noted that, “Congress is celebrating the liberation of slaves in Texas in 1865. But why is it that they can mobilize such quick bipartisan action on a new federal holiday, but not voting rights legislation to protect Black voters in 2021 (notably those in Texas, facing some of the most restrictive measures)? Why can’t they move with such urgency on anti-lynching legislation to protect Black lives, or the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to protect Black civil rights? The answer is because it’s much easier to play a role than to live it.“
As with other initially controversial programs, like Social Security, wrote Julian Zelizer, the benefits of Obamacare have made it too popular to fail. It’s “become an integral part of our health care system. The fury from the town halls that surrounded the program’s passage have been replaced with cheers for the continuation of benefits and regulations that have kept millions of Americans assured they will have health care insurance.” After all the heartache, Obama “will have the last laugh.”
In the wake of the law’s passage in 2010, a young man stopped Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod on a Chicago street and took off his baseball cap, revealing his hairless head. As Axelrod, recalled, the 27-year-old told him, “I didn’t feel well for a while but didn’t have insurance, so I didn’t go to the doctor.” When he got coverage under the Affordable Care Act, he went for care. “Turns out, I had non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but they caught it in time. I feel like that law saved my life.“
The road ahead for Joe Biden looks uncertain, with Democrats unsure if they will have the votes to pass bills on their big priorities: voting rights and infrastructure. But the President now has his first foreign trip in the rear-view mirror — and the reviews of the weeklong journey to Europe, including his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Switzerland, were mostly positive.
“Biden’s next challenge, after the successful summits, is to pass key parts of his domestic legislative agenda over objections from Republicans who seem, weirdly, more antagonistic toward him than Putin,” wrote David Ignatius in the Washington Post. “He should use the same tactics that worked in his trip abroad. Negotiate with his adversaries but remind them of his hard options. Be a pragmatic centrist, not bipartisan. Make them worry about the political dangers of obstruction…When the whole world seems to be celebrating the fact that America is back, does the GOP really think it can remain in its own bubble of resentment and lies?“
Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion and democracy advocate, took issue with the view that Biden scored a victory. “Dictators love events that put them on an equal footing with democratic leaders and sitting one-on-one with the president of the United States is the most coveted prize of all,” he wrote. “The foreign audience seemed shocked when Putin said Navalny had only himself to blame for consciously breaking parole by leaving the country — even though Navalny was evacuated to Germany in a poison-induced coma,” wrote Kasparov, who called it an example of “the absurd, reality-twisting nonsense Russians are fed 24-7 by the state-controlled media, and Putin was delighted to have the chance to spread it around the world.”
SE Cupp, who was deeply critical of former President Donald Trump’s treatment of the media, faulted Biden for missteps, including a peevish response to CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, for which he apologized. “If ever there were a time to model America’s firm and resolute respect for the First Amendment and freedom of the press, it was here, in front of Putin, with the world watching,” Cupp said. “Instead, Biden kept the media at arms-length and took unnecessary shots at them.”
The summit with Putin followed a G7 gathering in the UK that was “broadly judged a success, with more progress than is often the case at such events, including landmark agreements on vaccine sharing, tackling climate change and a new project to challenge China’s Belt and Road initiative,” wrote Rosa Prince. A friendly tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle wasn’t ruined by Biden’s “spectacular breach of royal protocol in disclosing details of his conversation with the monarch — she apparently asked for his impressions of Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping.”
The ideal gift for Father’s Day isn’t something you can order on Amazon and it won’t arrive with two-day shipping. Kara Alaimo suggests that the most life-affirming — and potentially life-saving — thing that can be done for dads and their families is to end the culture of overwork that prevails in industries from finance to law and beyond.
“Professionals are expected to be available to their bosses and clients around-the-clock,” she wrote. “How can both parents in a household hold jobs like this? If both need to be available to run to the office — or hop on a plane — on a moment’s notice, who picks up the kids when daycare closes, or when they start running a fever at school?”
“Many families, of course, solve this problem by having the dads take the jobs requiring overwork, while moms take jobs with more flexibility for childcare. This isn’t a good solution for anyone involved.” Long hours literally kill people, Alaimo noted, citing a recent study finding that working “55 or more hours per week instead of the standard, more humane 35-40 increases a person’s risk of having a stroke by 35% and the risk of developing heart disease by 17%.”
January 6 story will be told
The memory of the January 6 Capitol insurrection is an open wound that shows little sign of healing. Newly released videos further documented the rioters’ assaults on police that day. And the odds of a bipartisan effort to fully investigate the event remain minuscule after the GOP voted against a commission.
“In an ideal world, we would have a vigorous and thorough response from the government,” wrote Julian Zelizer. “The danger is that we let the horrendous attack on our democracy become yet another fleeting memory in our short attention-span polity, where it is increasingly difficult to dig deep into the crises we experience. This is why others will need to step into the void. Popular culture will be one arena in which the producers of content have the chance to give Americans a better understanding of the factors that allowed that attack to unfold.” Journalism and historical writing are also crucial, he wrote. (Note: CNN is airing “Assault on Democracy: The Roots of Trump’s Insurrection” Sunday at 9 pm ET.)
Lawrence Norden and Matthew Weil wrote that while states are passing laws “that will limit access to voting in the name of baseless election integrity concerns, they have almost entirely ignored a very real existential threat to our democracy: the intimidation of and attacks against election officials. Scapegoated as villains by those who believe the Big Lie of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, these officials have become routine targets for harassment and death threats.”
Newly released emails spread light on the Trump administration’s extreme politicization of the Justice Department, wrote Elie Honig, who called them “stark evidence of a White House gone mad.” They included “wild conspiracy theories about election fraud, absurd suggestions on strategy to overturn the already-completed and certified election, desperate entreaties from unhinged fantasists dreaming of flipping the election’s outcome. But these were not junk emails from some trolls — they were sent from the top echelons of power in the White House to the Justice Department, in a genuine effort to overturn an American election.”
Biden’s administration rolled out its strategy this week for countering domestic terrorism. Peter Bergen called it “long overdue,” citing the Capitol riot, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and recent racially and ethnically motivated mass killings. “The new strategy shows that the US government has finally adopted an overall approach to counter the threat posed by the violent extremists living among us,” wrote Bergen.
Barbara Starr speaks out
CNN’s Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr wrote Monday of learning recently about “the Trump administration’s months long efforts to secretly gain access to tens of thousands of my 2017 work and personal emails and my work and personal phone records.”
“All of this is a sheer abuse of power in my view — first against CNN and myself, since our work is and should always be protected by the First Amendment. But … more significantly, it is an abuse against the free press in this country, whether you are a television network correspondent or a reporter at a small town newspaper uncovering wrongdoing.”
Emergence from Covid
More than half of Americans are at least partially vaccinated against Covid and life is edging back to normal around the country. But as Dr. Kent Sepkowitz noted, there are places, including parts of the Deep South, where vaccination rates are particularly low, raising the odds of new outbreaks of the disease. The data show that states which voted for Biden have higher vaccination rates than Trump-supporting states, but the political dynamic alone doesn’t explain what’s going on.
“Take the elderly, the 65 and up crowd: 87% are at least partially vaccinated, even though they were more evenly split during the 2020 election. Conversely, the younger voters went heavily for Biden but a significant percentage of adults 49 and younger are vaccine averse, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation,” Sepkowitz wrote.
Jeanne Martinet describes herself as “someone who essentially mingles for a living. Before the pandemic I went out five or six nights a week. I am a devotee of dinner parties, a promoter of in-person interactions.” But when a friend texted her to join a group of people at an outside table at a local cafe recently, she hesitated.
“For most of us, getting back into the swing of social life feels a bit like coming out of the storm cellar after a tornado. Emerging from our Covid caves, we are blinking our eyes in the sunlight, vaguely nervous, feeling awkward. Is it really okay out here? We also have worries that are akin to stage fright. What can I possibly find to talk about? What if people discover how little I’ve accomplished during the past year?”
New thoughts on gun violence
After a mass shooting took the lives of nine people at a railyard in his city, San Jose, California Mayor Sam Liccardo made news with an innovative proposal to respond to gun violence.
“These proposals include two measures that no other city nor state in the United States has ever tried: mandatory gun insurance to support victims, and mandatory gun fees to compensate taxpayers. As with many other Silicon Valley innovations, we intend to implement and test these ideas, learn from our mistakes, improve, iterate and provide a platform for others to scale them to benefit their own communities.” Requiring insurance promotes “safe gun ownership, where risk-adjusted premiums might encourage owners to take gun-safety courses, use gun safes or install child-safety locks,” an approach similar to the way auto insurance rewards good drivers.
Senator Ben Ray Luján and John Feinblatt of Everytown for Gun Safety, argued for closing a gun control loophole: “Right now, only federally licensed gun dealers are required to run background checks. Private, unlicensed sellers — even those who sell guns frequently — are not required to do so. This means that thousands upon thousands of gun sales, including at gun shows and between strangers who meet online, are not subject to a background check.“
What workers want to hear
When MacKenzie Nicholson lost her job during the pandemic—on top of coping with her husband being furloughed and her children’s disrupted schooling and child care –she began a grueling round of 30 interviews with prospective employers. Only one of them asked her the kind of question she thinks all employers should consider.
“During one of my last interviews, an employer surprised me,” she wrote. “‘I want to make sure you’re evaluating us, for fit, too,’ she said. They wanted to know what kind of support and flexibility I would need from them in order to do the job to the best of my ability. After all the interviews I had participated in, this was the first time in my life that an organization considered me and my family life when evaluating whether I was right for them — and asked me to do the same.”
“In order to be a great mom, partner and employee, I need help. At the end of the day, I want to be part of an organization that values me as a person, recognizes that I am only human, and offers the flexibility and support I need to manage a balance between my work and family life.”