"The past is never dead. It's not even past," wrote William Faulkner in "Requiem for a Nun."
This week, a slew of bombshell books recounting the final days of Donald Trump's presidency crowded the headlines with jarring revelations from the recent past. And many Americans, weary of anxiety and sweltering through an overheated July, may have longed to ignore Faulkner -- and reach instead for Don Henley's Grateful Dead-influenced counsel in "The Boys of Summer": "Don't look back, you can never look back."
If only that were possible.
One reason it is neither possible nor prudent to ignore the past, argued Nicole Hemmer, is that Trump -- his loss of the presidency and two impeachments notwithstanding -- remains overwhelmingly influential in the Republican Party, even as shocking new videos of the January 6 insurrection he summoned emerge almost daily. The party has continued to protect him, linking its fortunes to his, she wrote, and sustaining his Big Lie -- that he, and not President Joe Biden, actually was the winner of the 2020 election -- as part of a dangerous effort to undermine our democracy by staying in power.
She cited Michael Bender's assessment in "Frankly, We Did Win this Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost," noting that "Trump was not being buffeted by chaotic winds, but rather bubble-wrapped by a party that sought to protect his power, and theirs, at any cost. Every step of the way ... Republicans stepped in to save him."
Trump met Thursday at his New Jersey golf club with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has stalled on naming Republicans to serve on the Democratic-led House select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection. Hemmer opined: "McCarthy's flip-flopping on the House select committee likely reflects not a wobbliness on support for Trump, but merely uncertainty over how best to protect him."
Bender's book, Michael Wolff's "Landslide" and Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker's "I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Last Year" do reveal some alarming behind-the-scenes accounts of Trump's presidency; Julian Zelizer suggested that Republicans -- and all Americans -- should also see these books as more than an urgent reminder of recent tumultuous history. They're also an alarm bell for the future risks in returning Trump to power: "As GOP leaders lean into a potential second Trump election bid, they and all voters should be crystal clear about what they are signing up for if they stick with him."
More smart takes:
Michael D'Antonio: The real reason Trump keeps telling the Big Lie
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A troubling vaccine impasse
Nowhere was the political rancor around getting -- or even requiring -- the Covid-19 vaccine on clearer display this week than in Tennessee, where health official Dr. Michelle Fiscus said she was fired after disseminating information about the legal rights of adolescents in that state to seek vaccination even without the support of their parents (she received a dog muzzle in the mail for her trouble). In a "saner world," contended the Washington Post's Kathleen Parker, "Fiscus would be rehired soon with an apology ... And those who lend legitimacy to the anti-vaccine cause on social media and flaky cable and radio programs would be face to face with unemployment."
The state then confirmed its total shutdown of all vaccine outreach to adolescents. Jill Filipovic wrote that these events reinforce the enduring irony that the GOP, the "pro-life" party, doesn't believe that children or teens have basic rights to preserve their own well-being separate from their parents' wishes or consent: "What's particularly striking about the current controversy in Tennessee is that the fired health official wasn't doing anything outside of the bounds of existing law -- but the right-wing reaction to the very concept that teenagers might have some limited rights to bodily autonomy, coupled with the paranoid dogmatic rejection of vaccines, created a perfect storm of conservative outrage."
Covid numbers are moving in the wrong direction in the US, and in much of the from the rest of the world. Raymond Joseph, who lives in Cape Town, shared his experience of being infected six weeks after being vaccinated and recovering after a "mild" -- though alarming -- bout of Covid. The shot, he wrote, may have saved his life: "At a time when the Delta variant is surging across the globe, someone like me who is vaccinated may be lulled into a false sense of safety, but in South Africa, where vaccinations rates have largely lagged, the threat remains quite high -- and until vaccinations rates increase -- extra precautions are needed."
Dr. Jay Patel wrote that the decision to ban audiences at events during the upcoming Tokyo Olympics is wise, especially in a country with a high elderly population and slow vaccine rollout: "As the urgency of the pandemic fades in some parts of the world, in others, it has never been in greater need of attention. Allowing visitors to congregate in a country that has fallen behind on vaccinations and for which a large-scale outbreak would be disastrous and would be unnecessarily reckless."
Further perspective on Covid:
Dr. Tina Sacks: What anti-vaxxers sound like to me
David A. Andelman: What's behind Macron's bold bet on a Covid health pass
Dueling Texas tactics
Ron Reynolds, a Democratic state representative in Texas, explained why he and dozens of his colleagues left their home state and flew to Washington, DC as Republicans' new restrictive voting bills were about to be voted on back home. Their move drew heat from critics on the right, but, he said the Texas Democrats all wanted Congress to hear from people who are on the frontlines, battling the anti-voter movement: "We were forced to flee Texas and have come to DC to ask our Congress to act now and pass both the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, [which] would strengthen the freedom to vote for all Americans."
Texas political writer James C. Moore conceded that while Texans "rarely make nuanced political gestures," this is a critical moment both for his home state's Democrats and for the President. Biden gave a speech in support of voting rights in Philadelphia Tuesday in which "[he] was also pushing new federal voting rights legislation, a move that can make his presidency appear weakened if he fails."
MSNBC Daily's Joyce Vance argued Biden's speech didn't go far enough; he "didn't articulate a plan for moving past the biggest impediment to restoring voting rights: the 60-vote threshold created by the filibuster. That threshold is clearly unattainable in this current polarized moment. As long as the filibuster is honored, it will be impossible to pass the laws that are necessary to restore voting rights protections."
Paul Begala: What the GOP is really after in Texas
Richard Branson's space jaunt
The Virgin Group founder's flight was a landmark moment for a fledgling space tourism industry soon to be further bolstered by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's launch (scheduled for July 20) and Tesla mogul Elon Musk's pledge to be right behind him. But, as Holly Thomas maintained, "dreaming big billionaire-style" might come at a hefty price for the rest of us -- at least in terms of environmental impact, a crucial concern at a time when the US West is enduring a heat wave some officials are calling a mass casualty event -- and waste untold resources in a world suffering the ravages of poverty, disease and social injustice.
SE Cupp took a different view, rejecting criticism of reporters covering Branson's journey. Dismissing Branson's accomplishment is a missed opportunity to savor the role of space in the American story, she argued. Reflecting on Walter Cronkite's emotional words of inspiration at the moment of the moon landing in 1969, Cupp urged media critics and other observers: "let's be a little less cynical, remember our humility and rediscover our sense of adventure."
An unprecedented water crisis
Harsh temperatures and raging wildfires plague US Western states. Richard M. Frank wrote that the region is facing the punishing throes of a decades-long megadrought -- "an era of water crisis that is unprecedented in recorded American history." Climate change is progressively worsening the drought conditions, he wrote, creating a horrific "new normal" and rendering existing laws and policies determining water rights obsolete: "Given this reality, it's imperative that the American West modify its water policies without delay and implement more efficient methods of conserving and managing water." He explained just how.
Writing in The New York Times and drawing from their recent paper in Science, Katharine J. Mach and A.R. Siders suggested that "managed retreat" -- a purposeful move "away from places threatened by floods, droughts, fires or high temperatures" -- should no longer be considered an extreme option or a "last-ditch effort to flee climate problems. It should be a thoughtfully deployed tool for addressing a wide range of human problems."
Another important view:
Ban Ki-Moon and Patrick Verkooijen: The 'wet bulb' warning
What the US should do about Cuba and Haiti
Amid historic protests in Cuba and growing chaos in the aftermath of the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in Haiti, pressure mounted from some quarters for the US to intervene in both countries. Dan Restrepo cautioned against such action: "The situations in Haiti and Cuba are complex and immune to the kind of bold action people so desperately want....The hard, simple truth is the United States is not going to be the primary engine of political change in either Haiti or Cuba. Meaningful, durable political change in both lies in the hands of the populations themselves."
Reflecting on her own time reporting in Cuba, Frida Ghitis assessed the Cuban government's potential responses to the social unrest: calling out masses of government supporters to drown out their critics in the streets, acknowledge the island's problems while blaming them on the US and last, brute force. Thus far, Ghitis wrote, President Miguel Diaz-Canel, has done the first two in his televised response to the protest, but the last step will be harder -- especially with the people's access to social media: "The more extensive the crackdown, the harder it is to defend its image as a government of and for the people. If we see much more violence at the hands of security forces, we will know authorities are deeply worried about losing control."
What 2021 is showing us about Black lives mattering
More than a year after the murder of George Floyd touched off the Movement for Black Lives, lasting progress remains "haltingly slow," as Richard J. Reddick put it. In his analysis of Nikole Hannah-Jones' fight for tenure at the University of North Carolina, ESPN's Maria Taylor facing racist criticism from a White colleague and the House of Representatives vote (over some Republicans' objection) to remove Confederate statues from the US Capitol, Reddick noted that 125-year-old words from W.E.B. Du Bois "still resonate with Black Americans, too often asked to silence their voices in deference to White comfort. Du Bois related how simply existing as a Black person in America left one subject to 'double consciousness' -- the sense of that perpetual uphill climb to prove one's worth, made while knowing that every stride forward will be scrutinized, second guessed or dismissed."
In the world of sports, Peniel E. Joseph observed that this sense of "double consciousness" isn't limited to Black Americans: English soccer stars Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were subjected to heinous racist abuse following their missed penalties in England's loss to Italy in the Euro Cup final. Joseph linked Du Bois to the statement of Black Formula One racing superstar Lewis Hamilton: that as a Black athlete, "success feels like a double-victory, but a miss feels like a two-fold failure when it's compounded with racist abuse." Joseph observed that "according to this logic, the only way in the political and cultural imagination for Black athletes to win is to be perfect. When players of color like Rashford and his teammates make a misstep on the pitch -- or show vulnerability off the court, as in the examples of Naomi Osaka or Serena Williams -- the racialized responses from many fans and others in their sports reinforce this narrative."
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Our summer of superhero reinvention
Disney's "Black Widow," the first Marvel movie in theaters in two years, is now the highest grossing film of the Covid era so far. Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh's turns in the film have people talking about everything from #MeToo to whether Pugh's character is what "Little Women" character Amy March would be like if she tried to kill Laurie instead of marrying him.
For Roy Schwartz, "Black Widow" is only one of a slate of superhero films and TV offerings that fit our political times. All share a common theme of reinvention a lot of us identify with these days, he wrote.
From Black Widow's quest for redemption, to Harley Quinn's search for clemency in the latest "Suicide Squad" film, to the self-discovery journey of the series "Loki," to a reexamination of identity in the CW's "Superman and Lois," Schwartz writes that superheroes' tendency to evolve and reflect the moment is "why the 2021 summer offerings are heavy on antiheroes seeking their own reform, and why superheroes continue to resonate....They offer the great promise that we have not just the power to save the world, but the power to save ourselves."
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