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Opinion: Our possibly short national nightmare

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On August 9, 1974, the only unelected vice president in American history took the presidential oath of office at a White House ceremony. It was the day after President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace.

“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over,” President Gerald Ford said.

“Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.” In words that sound almost foreign to our ears in the 21st century, Ford added, “As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate.”

Last week the true-crime docuseries that shot to the top of the list of Netflix shows in the US was “American Nightmare.” But it wasn’t that kind of nightmare, or Gerald Ford’s one, that presidential candidate Nikki Haley invoked Monday after her third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

“Our campaign is the last best hope of stopping the Trump-Biden nightmare,” the former UN ambassador said. She was referring to polls showing that the majority of Americans don’t want a rematch between President Joe Biden and the president he defeated in 2020, Donald Trump.

Clay Jones/CNN
Clay Jones/CNN

When the results of the New Hampshire primary are reported Tuesday, we’ll have a better sense of whether anyone can stand in the way of that dreaded rematch. If not, it won’t be as protracted a “national nightmare” as the two-year-long Watergate scandal that put Gerald Ford in the Oval Office. This year’s election is on November 5 — and the inauguration is only one year away. Though, depending on your point of view, the real nightmare could begin after the swearing-in.

Haley is walking a tightrope, trying to challenge Trump’s frontrunner status among Republicans without alienating his MAGA base. “There’s an outside chance she can pull off an upset win, carry New Hampshire and pierce Trump’s perceived cloak of invincibility, changing the course of the race,” wrote Frida Ghitis. “But there’s another way Haley can emerge victorious. That way has more to do with forces outside her control… If Trump is disqualified, somehow unable to run or perhaps convicted and made too toxic even for his supporters, the space could clear for the GOP’s second-place finisher to step in and become the nominee. Call it the banana peel path.”

Haley has been wary of directly going after the former president’s many vulnerabilities, while obliquely arguing that the nation can’t risk having a president in or nearing his 80s and that “chaos follows” Trump, whether or not it is his fault.

“Her ability to build momentum over the course of the primary showcases her political talent and ability to attract college-educated Republicans tired of having to explain away their support for a president whose hair-trigger social media posts verge into the unhinged,” wrote Patrick T. Brown.

Daniel McCarthy isn’t buying into the idea that Haley has momentum: “Former President Donald Trump’s easy win in Iowa on Monday confirms that there really is no race for the Republican nomination this year. With a deep freeze discouraging turnout, the caucuses provided a hard test of voter enthusiasm. Trump’s rivals failed it.”

“A measure of the former president’s insurmountable strength within the party is that he not only beat Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy, he also overcame all of the institutional powers backing them — some of the most formidable interests in the GOP.”

Nick Anderson/RA News
Nick Anderson/RA News

On the Democratic side, Biden isn’t even on the ballot Tuesday and isn’t campaigning in New Hampshire, due to a dispute between state and national party officials over the primary’s timing.

Rep. Dean Phillips, a low-profile 54-year-old legislator from Minnesota, is running in New Hampshire, SE Cupp noted, and is polling more strongly there than around the nation. It’s a longshot, Cupp noted, but “if Biden’s poll numbers keep going in the wrong direction, if voters feel taken for granted or even overlooked by Democrats, if a symbolic win in New Hampshire gives voters a reason to look more closely at Dean Phillips, well he might give Biden a run for his money.”

Dana Summers/Tribune Content Agency
Dana Summers/Tribune Content Agency

Civil war echoes

Karen Finney is the great-great-great-great niece of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and great-great-great granddaughter of a freed slave from Virginia.

“Walking through the door of my grandmother’s home in North Carolina,” Finney wrote, “it was impossible to miss a portrait of Lee proudly displayed on the wall. At mealtimes, during what occasionally felt like indoctrination, she would admiringly describe our famous ancestor, ‘the General,’ as a benevolent slave owner and noble warrior.”

“As she explained it, Lee valiantly fought an unjust ‘War of Northern Aggression’ in defense of ‘states’ rights,’ often referred to as ‘The Lost Cause.’ The South had been defeated, my grandmother insisted, only because the Northern army had more resources and slavery really wasn’t so bad.”

In Finney’s view, the Lost Cause is the backdrop for Trump’s suggestion that the Civil War could have been “negotiated,” the rewriting of history in school curriculums under Florida Gov. DeSantis’ administration and Haley’s struggle over the question of whether America is, or ever was, a racist country.

Beyond absurdly omitting slavery as the root cause of the War, she made matters worse while trying to clean up her comments during a recent CNN Town Hall, saying she just assumed that slavery was a ‘given’ since all children learn about it in school in the South.”

For more:

Keith Magee: ‘Origin’ brilliantly exposes America’s caste system. Here’s how we tear it down

Julian Zelizer: What’s working for Trump

Samuel L. Adams: Trump supporters know exactly what they’re doing when they compare him to King David

Border crisis

Trump’s remark that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of Americans evokes the words of Adolf Hitler in “Mein Kampf,” author Paul Moses pointed out. But he added that the concept goes further back — to the eugenics movement of the early 20th century.

In 1914, the year Edward Alsworth Ross became president of the American Sociological Association, he published a book warning that immigrants, Moses wrote, “would act on Americans’ standards for cleanliness, morality and education ‘like a slow poison.’ A nation that relies on immigration to maintain its population ‘deserves the extinction that surely awaits it,’ he wrote…The prejudice beneath Ross’ opinions was obvious, but his ideas were mainstream and respectable — he was considered a progressive reformer…”

“But Ross came to regret the implications of his ideas about supposedly superior and inferior races, writing shortly after World War II that ‘we never imagined the theory being made a hinge for German aggression to turn on.’ That’s what the phony claims of eugenics led to — Hitler’s ‘Final Solution,’ which resulted in the murder of 6 million Jews. It’s certainly worth having vigorous debates about immigration laws, but those who’ve been indifferent to or even supportive of Trump’s increasingly clear turn toward racist, eugenic ideas should confront what they’ve enabled.”

Republicans describe the immigration surge at the US southern border as an “invasion” that presents a national security threat. Yet, John Avlon wrote, Trump and some members of the House GOP, want to tank an emerging compromise in the Senate that would couple border security measures with aid to Ukraine.

Scott Stantis/Tribune Content Agency
Scott Stantis/Tribune Content Agency

“Speaker Mike Johnson is facing more threats from his far-right flank, who have been signaling that they will balk at any border security bill until a Republican is president.

Right-wing resistance is entirely consistent with a Trump-ified GOP that is more willing to demagogue an issue than actually deal with it.”

For more:

Alice Driver: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s heartless war against migrants   

E. Jean Carroll testifies

Bill Bramhall/New York Dailiy News
Bill Bramhall/New York Dailiy News

Trump sat in a Manhattan courtroom Wednesday while E. Jean Carroll testified in support of her defamation case against the former president. Last May, she was awarded $5 million for battery and defamation when a jury found Trump liable for sexually assaulting her. Now Carroll is seeking at least $10 million in additional damages for Trump’s 2019 comments about her allegation.

As Danielle Campoamor wrote, “Carroll found herself facing down not only a man found liable for assaulting her, but also a former president and current presidential frontrunner — an unprecedented example of the power dynamics survivors face. While a victim of sexual assault receives death threats, her assailant receives endorsements and secures the Iowa caucus.”

“During Carroll’s testimony, Trump repeatedly shook his head, according to CNN reporters inside the courtroom, and could be heard ‘loudly saying things’ such as ‘it’s false,’ ‘she’s gotten her memory back,’ and, according to Carroll’s lawyer Shawn Crowley, that the lawsuit is ‘a witch hunt’ and a ‘con job.’”

When the judge threatened to oust Trump from the courtroom, the former president said, “I would love it.”

The chaotic court proceeding is just one example of why the Supreme Court should clear the way for allowing television cameras at Trump’s forthcoming election subversion trial, argued Robert C. Gottlieb. “Whether or not cameras are permitted, we know that Trump will continue to impugn the integrity of the proceedings, prosecutor and judge, twist the testimony and repeat his debunked conspiracy theories. His disturbing behavior that was on full display during Wednesday’s court proceedings will undoubtedly continue during his upcoming criminal trial.”

“The American people are entitled to see and hear for themselves what goes on in the courtroom so that they can draw their own conclusions from the evidence.”

Jack Ohman/Tribune Content Agency
Jack Ohman/Tribune Content Agency

Inequality debate

The narrative of fast-worsening inequality over the past half century has been challenged in a new study by economists Gerald Auten and David Splinter. They used data to show that, compared to the 1960s, the pre-tax income of the top 1% has increased only by 2.6% and after accounting for taxes, the share of income going to the super-rich “hasn’t budged at all,” wrote Jordan McGillis. The study disputes a 2018 finding by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman that the top 1% has seen its share of national pre-tax income go from 12% to 20% since the 1980s.

McGillis says there’s something else going on that tends to exacerbate inequality. Among rich Americans, marriage rates remain high, but they’ve plummeted for less affluent people, creating more single-person households with lower levels of income. “This cleavage makes possible what the Brookings Institution’s Melissa Kearney describes as “two-parent privilege,” an emerging phenomenon through which well-off couples transmit educational and economic advantages to their children. Viewed from this angle, it should not surprise us that many Americans think the rich are galloping ever further ahead.”

Elise Gould and Josh Bivens have a different take. Using Social Security Administration data, they found that the “share of earnings for the bottom 90% fell 9.7 percentage points between 1979 and 2022, while the share of earnings for the top 5% grew 8.8 percentage points. The very top — the top 0.1% of wage earners — nearly tripled its share of total earnings from 1.6% in 1979 to 4.6% in 2022… All of this straightforward data on earnings clearly shows a huge rise in inequality of pay in the US economy.”

Mideast war

The US and the UK struck back at the Houthis, the Yemeni insurgent group that is targeting commercial shipping in the Red Sea, but the lingering question was about how effective such a series of strikes can be. “We think of war as a last resort,” Elisabeth Kendall, head of Cambridge University’s Girton College told Peter Bergen. The Houthis “think of it as a way of life.”

The Houthis have this massive advantage, which is that they don’t care about casualties, and they also don’t have to be accurate, as we have to be accurate when we’re operating in these theatres because we don’t want to kill civilians. All they have to do is lob missiles and drones into the Red Sea to have the effect that they want, which is to disrupt global shipping, rattle financial markets, create fear and look heroic at the same time. So, by taking out some of their launch sites, we have probably taken out some of their capability, but they will have expected that. They will have hidden some of their military assets,” Kendall said.

CNN Opinion senior editor Sheena McKenzie interviewed Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, known as the first Palestinian doctor to hold a staff position at an Israeli hospital, and asked him about the future for Palestinian children amid the war in Gaza.

There is no future for them,” he said. “How can we give them hope to stop this bloodshed? How can we start to give them a future, not to be an extremist or be a fanatic?”

“The cost of this war is not just what is happening now. The cost of war is the invisible ghost. It’s the post-war. The physical, social, spiritual and mental wounds that lasts generations.” (Hear more from Sheena McKenzie on the Tug of War podcast.)

There is a lot of talk but very little real debate about the Israel-Hamas conflict on US college campuses, wrote Peter Rutland, a professor of government at Wesleyan University.

Instead, we see two parallel sets of conversations, some more civil than others, organized by those who ‘Stand with Israel’ and those seeking ‘Justice for Palestine.’… Many college students are taught that American society is the product of “settler colonialism” — a history of conquest and exploitation. In this simplistic framing, the plight of the Palestinians is just one more example of the familiar evils of settler colonialism. For those who see the conflict through this lens, the founding of Israel is treated as the equivalent of the European colonization of the Americas.”

The Gaza war is better understood as a conflict between two competing nationalist projects than as a case of settler colonialism. There are a number of inconvenient historical truths that complicate the “settler colonialism” narrative.”

“It is a conflict in which each side — with good reason — sees itself as an embattled and threatened minority.”

For more:

Nafees Hamid: Psychology explains why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so intractable.

Don’t miss

Walt Handelsman/The Times Picayune/The Advocate
Walt Handelsman/The Times Picayune/The Advocate

Sara Stewart: Katherine Heigl deserves a little justice

Jill Filipovic: Why censor pictures of FKA twigs and not those of Jeremy Allen White? 

Lanhee J. Chen: The repercussions from Taiwan’s election will continue for years

Suzanne Nossel: DEl and free speech can go hand in hand

Jade McGlynn: The real story behind Russia’s new ‘Stalin Centers’

AND…

Teen skin care craze

When Holly Thomas was 12, she “received a large — unsolicited — Estee Lauder makeup sampler for Christmas. The box felt like a totem of my impending maturity, recognition that I would soon be allowed access to an as-yet out-of-reach club. I gave it pride of place on my bedroom table (swiftly rebranded as a “dresser” with the help of a soon-to-be filthy sarong), and before too long I was regularly being sent out of class, cheeks burning, to wash my contraband mascara off.”

“It wasn’t a particularly edifying phase, but neither was it very consequential. Today however, skin care is a far more serious business. Gone are the days of teens aimlessly browsing random drugstores by day and smudging their pillows with iridescent bronzer by night. Now, kids don’t just know how to cleanse properly, they’ve taken to beauty products with unprecedented zeal. Absurd though it sounds, that fervor is acutely ominous,” Thomas wrote.

“Dermatologists report children as young as nine, many of whom already maintain elaborate at-home skin care regimes coming to their offices for cosmetic consultations. Teens who’ve barely exited puberty are obsessing over the alleged ‘preventative’ anti-aging properties of Botox, and the internet is teeming with youngsters pleading for solutions to their ‘wrinkles.’ The fretting and groupthink involved bear all the hallmarks of a classic youthful infatuation. But this one comes with sinister undercurrents less familiar to the adults who went before them.”

“The most worrying thing about today’s skin care craze isn’t just that the financial and emotional buy-in are completely out of proportion to the “need” being addressed. They may set kids up for lasting damage. And thanks to the misinformation soup of social media, the gnarly, anxiety-provoking call is coming from inside the house.”

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