A collection of opinionated commentaries on culture, politics and religion compiled predominantly from an American viewpoint but tempered by a global vision. My Armwood Opinion Youtube Channel @ YouTube I have a Jazz Blog @ Jazz and a Technology Blog @ Technology. I have a Human Rights Blog @ Law
Monday, January 31, 2022
18 U.S. Code § 2101 - Riots | U.S. Code | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute. Trump has repeatedly violated this federal statute. Where are the charges?
'He must be kidding': Lawmaker reacts after Trump goes after Pence. When will Trump be prosecuted. I am sick of the double standard. A kid gets arrested in some placers for a blunt and a politician incites a coup d’etat and after a year he is still walking wherever he chooses. American justice is not and has never been blind.
Sunday, January 30, 2022
Opinion | What the Battle Over Banning Books Is Really About - The New York Times
By Viet Thanh Nguyen
"Mr. Nguyen is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Sympathizer” and the children’s book “Chicken of the Sea,” written with his then 5-year-old son, Ellison.
When I was 12 or 13 years old, I was not prepared for the racism, the brutality or the sexual assault in Larry Heinemann’s 1974 novel, “Close Quarters.”
Mr. Heinemann, a combat veteran of the war in Vietnam, wrote about a nice, average American man who goes to war and becomes a remorseless killer. In the book’s climax, the protagonist and other nice, average American soldiers gang-rape a Vietnamese prostitute they call Claymore Face.
As a Vietnamese American teenager, it was horrifying for me to realize that this was how some Americans saw Vietnamese people — and therefore me. I returned the book to the library, hating both it and Mr. Heinemann.
Here’s what I didn’t do: I didn’t complain to the library or petition the librarians to take the book off the shelves. Nor did my parents. It didn’t cross my mind that we should ban “Close Quarters” or any of the many other books, movies and TV shows in which racist and sexist depictions of Vietnamese and other Asian people appear.
Instead, years later, I wrote my own novel about the same war, “The Sympathizer.”
While working on it, I reread “Close Quarters.” That’s when I realized I’d misconstrued Mr. Heinemann’s intentions. He wasn’t endorsing what he depicted. He wanted to show that war brutalized soldiers, as well as the civilians caught in their path. The novel was a damning indictment of American warfare and the racist attitudes held by some nice, average Americans that led to slaughter and rape. Mr. Heinemann revealed America’s heart of darkness. He didn’t offer readers the comfort of a way out by editorializing or sentimentalizing or humanizing Vietnamese people, because in the mind of the book’s narrator and his fellow soldiers, the Vietnamese were not human.
In the United States, the battle over books is heating up, with some politicians and parents demanding the removal of certain books from libraries and school curriculums. Just in the last week, we saw reports of a Tennessee school board that voted to ban Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, “Maus,” from classrooms, and a mayor in Mississippi who is withholding $110,000 in funding from his city’s library until it removes books depicting L.G.B.T.Q. people. Those seeking to ban books argue that these stories and ideas can be dangerous to young minds — like mine, I suppose, when I picked up Mr. Heinemann’s novel.
Books can indeed be dangerous. Until “Close Quarters,” I believed stories had the power to save me. That novel taught me that stories also had the power to destroy me. I was driven to become a writer because of the complex power of stories. They are not inert tools of pedagogy. They are mind-changing, world-changing.
But those who seek to ban books are wrong no matter how dangerous books can be. Books are inseparable from ideas, and this is really what is at stake: the struggle over what a child, a reader and a society are allowed to think, to know and to question. A book can open doors and show the possibility of new experiences, even new identities and futures.
Book banning doesn’t fit neatly into the rubrics of left and right politics. Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” has been banned at various pointsbecause of Twain’s prolific use of a racial slur, among other things. Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” has been banned before and is being threatened again — in one case after a mother complained that the book gave her son nightmares. To be sure, “Beloved” is an upsetting novel. It depicts infanticide, rape, bestiality, torture and lynching. But coming amid a movement to oppose critical race theory — or rather a caricature of critical race theory — it seems clear that the latest attempts to suppress this masterpiece of American literature are less about its graphic depictions of atrocity than about the book’s insistence that we confront the brutality of slavery.
Here’s the thing: If we oppose banning some books, we should oppose banning any book. If our society isn’t strong enough to withstand the weight of difficult or challenging — and even hateful or problematic — ideas, then something must be fixed in our society. Banning books is a shortcut that sends us to the wrong destination.
As Ray Bradbury depicted in “Fahrenheit 451,” another book often targeted by book banners, book burning is meant to stop people from thinking, which makes them easier to govern, to control and ultimately to lead into war. And once a society acquiesces to burning books, it tends to soon see the need to burn the people who love books.
And loving books is really the point — not reading them to educate oneself or become more conscious or politically active (which can be extra benefits). I could recommend “Fahrenheit 451” because of its edifying political and ethical dimensions or argue that reading this novel is good for you, but that really misses the point. The book gets us to care about politics and ethics by making us care about a man who burns books for a living and who has a life-changing crisis about his awful work. That man and his realization could be any of us.
It’s not only books that depict horror, war or totalitarianism that worry would-be book banners. They sometimes see danger in empathy. This appeared to be the fear that led a Texas school district to cancel the appearance of the graphic novelist Jerry Craft and pull his books temporarily from library shelves last fall. In Mr. Craft’s Newbery Medal-winning book, “New Kid,” and its sequel, Black middle-schoolers navigate social and academic life at a private school where there are very few students of color. “The books don’t come out and say we want white children to feel like oppressors, but that is absolutely what they will do,” the parent who started the petition to cancel Mr. Craft’s event said. (Mr. Craft’s invitation for a virtual visit was rescheduled and his books were reinstated soon after.)
Mr. Craft’s protagonist in “New Kid” is a sweet, shy, comics-loving kid. And it’s his relatability that makes him seem so dangerous to some white parents. The historian and law professor Annette Gordon-Reed argued on Twitter that parents who object to books such as “New Kid” “don’t want their kids to empathize with the black characters. They know their kids will do this instinctively. They don’t want to give them the opportunity to do that.” The historian Kevin Kruse went a step further, tweeting, “If you’re worried your children will read a book and have no choice but to identify with the villains in it, well … maybe that’s something you need to work through on your own.”
Those who ban books seem to want to circumscribe empathy, reserving it for a limited circle closer to the kind of people they perceive themselves to be. Against this narrowing of empathy, I believe in the possibility and necessity of expanding empathy — and the essential role that books such as “New Kid” play in that. If it’s possible to hate and fear those we have never met, then it’s possible to love those we have never met. Both options, hate and love, have political consequences, which is why some seek to expand our access to books and others to limit them.
These dilemmas aren’t just political; they’re also deeply personal and intimate. Now, as a father of a precocious 8-year-old reader, I have to think about what books I bring into our home. My son loves Hergé’s Tintin comic books, which I introduced him to because I loved them as a child. I didn’t notice Hergé’s racist and colonialist attitudes then, from the paternalistic depiction of Tintin’s Chinese friend Chang in “The Blue Lotus” to the Native American warriors wearing headdresses and wielding tomahawks in the 1930s of “Tintin in America.” Even if I had noticed, I had no one with whom I could talk about these books. My son does. We enjoy the adventures of the boy reporter and his fluffy white dog together, but as we read, I point out the books’ racism against most nonwhite characters, and particularly their atrocious depictions of Black Africans. Would it be better that he not see these images, or is it better that he does?
I err on the side of the latter and try to model what I think our libraries and schools should be doing. I make sure he has access to many other stories of the peoples that Hergé misrepresented, and I offer context with our discussions. These are not always easy conversations. And perhaps that’s the real reason some people want to ban books that raise complicated issues: They implicate and discomfort the adults, not the children. By banning books, we also ban difficult dialogues and disagreements, which children are perfectly capable of having and which are crucial to a democracy. I have told him that he was born in the United States because of a complicated history of French colonialism and American warfare that brought his grandparents and parents to this country. Perhaps we will eventually have less war, less racism, less exploitation if our children can learn how to talk about these things.
For these conversations to be robust, children have to be interested enough to want to pick up the book in the first place. Children’s literature is increasingly diverse and many books now raise these issues, but some of them are hopelessly ruined by good intentions. I don’t find piousness and pedagogy interesting in art, and neither do children. Hergé’s work is deeply flawed, and yet riveting narratively and aesthetically. I have forgotten all the well-intentioned, moralistic children’s literature that I have read, but I haven’t forgotten Hergé.
Books should not be consumed as good for us, like the spinach and cabbage my son pushes to the side of his plate. “I like reading short stories,” a reader once said to me. “They’re like potato chips. I can’t stop with one.” That’s the attitude to have. I want readers to crave books as if they were a delicious, unhealthy treat, like the chili-lime chips my son gets after he eats his carrots and cucumbers.
Read “Fahrenheit 451” because its gripping story will keep you up late, even if you have an early morning. Read “Beloved,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “Close Quarters” and “The Adventures of Tintin” because they are indelible, sometimes uncomfortable and always compelling.
We should value that magnetic quality. To compete with video games, streaming video and social media, books must be thrilling, addictive, thorny and dangerous. If those qualities sometimes get books banned, it’s worth noting that sometimes banning a book can increase its sales.
I know my parents would have been shocked if they knew the content of the books I was reading: Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint,” for instance, which was banned in Australia from 1969 to 1971. I didn’t pick up this quintessential American novel, or any other, because I thought reading it would be good for me. I was looking for stories that would thrill me and confuse me, as “Portnoy’s Complaint” did. For decades afterward, all I remembered of the novel was how the young Alexander Portnoy masturbated with anything he could get his hands on, including a slab of liver. After consummating his affair with said liver, Alex returned it to the fridge. Blissfully ignorant, the Portnoy family dined on the violated liver later that night. Gross!
Who eats liver for dinner?
As it turns out, my family. Roth’s book was a bridge across cultures for me. Even though Vietnamese refugees differ from Jewish Americans, I recognized some of our obsessions in Roth’s Jewish American world, with its ambitions for upward mobility and assimilation, its pronounced “ethnic” features and its sense of a horrifying history not far behind. I empathized. And I could see some of myself in the erotically obsessed Portnoy — so much so that I paid tribute to Roth by having the narrator of “The Sympathizer” abuse a squid in a masturbatory frenzy and then eat it later with his mother. (“The Sympathizer” has not been banned outright in Vietnam, but I’ve faced enormous hurdles while trying to have it published there. It’s clear to me that this is because of its depiction of the war and its aftermath, not the sexy squid.)
Banning is an act of fear — the fear of dangerous and contagious ideas. The best, and perhaps most dangerous, books deliver these ideas in something just as troubling and infectious: a good story.
So it was with somewhat mixed feelings that I learned some American high school teachers assign “The Sympathizer” as required reading in their classes. For the most part, I’m delighted. But then I worry: I don’t want to be anyone’s homework. I don’t want my book to be broccoli.
I was reassured, however, when a first-year college student approached me at an event to tell me she had read my novel in high school.
“Honestly,” she said, “all I remember is when the sympathizer has sex with a squid.”
Viet Thanh Nguyen is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Sympathizer” and the children’s book “Chicken of the Sea,” written with his then 5-year-old son, Ellison, among other books.
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Saturday, January 29, 2022
Amid omicron wave, some ignore the pandemic as hospitals are packed - The Washington Post
Friday, January 28, 2022
Billionaire Republican backer donates to Manchin after he killed key Biden bill | Joe Manchin | The Guardian
Billionaire Republican backer donates to Manchin after he killed key Biden bill
"Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone, author of I Love Capitalism!, said of the Democratic senator: ‘Thank God for Joe Manchin’
A billionaire Republican donor and Trump supporter donated the maximum allowed amount to Joe Manchin after the West Virginia Democrat sank Joe Biden’s signature domestic spending plan.
The Build Back Better plan sought to boost health and social care, and to help combat the climate crisis, at a price tag of $1.75tn.
Manchin, one of two key swing votes in the 50-50 Senate, used a Fox News Sunday interview in December to say he was finally a “no” on the legislation.
The move appeared to surprise Biden, and enraged progressives, but Ken Langone was presumably delighted.
The co-founder of Home Depot and author of a 2018 book called I Love Capitalism! had signaled his support for Manchin before the senator made his move on Build Back Better.
“I don’t see leadership any place in this country. Thank God for Joe Manchin,” Langone told CNBC in November. “I’m going to have one of the biggest fundraisers I’ve ever had for him. He’s special. He’s precious. He’s a great American.”
Manchin voted for Biden’s earlier Covid relief and stimulus package, as well as for a bipartisan infrastructure bill, but helped to water down both.
In December, shortly after Manchin torpedoed Biden’s flagship legislation, Langone and his wife each gave $5,000 to Manchin’s Country Roads political action committee, CNBC reported. The amount is the most any individual can give in a year.
CNBC also listed donations from major corporations that helped Country Roads raise more than $150,000 more in December than it did in November.
Manchin is next up for re-election in 2024. As the only Democrat in a high office in West Virginia, he holds outsized power in the evenly divided Senate – a position that would change if Republicans take back the chamber in November.
Langone has contributed to Democrats but predominantly supports Republicans. He backed Trump in 2016, and continued to support him throughout Trump’s tenure in the White House, though he chided him over the Capitol riot.
CNBC reported that Langone has recently made much larger donations than to Manchin, including $1m to a fund that works to defeat Democratic senators and half a million dollars to Americans for Prosperity Action, a group backed by the hard-right Koch family.
In his book I Love Capitalism!, Langone writes of his fear of socialism in the US, a fear stoked by the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders’s run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
Some young Americans, Langone says, think the US “should be headed toward something that, in my mind, resembles socialism: guaranteed income. Free college tuition. Single-payer healthcare.
“I disagree. Strongly.”
He also writes that he disagrees “not (as you might believe) because I’m a rich guy trying to hold on to my money. I disagree because socialism is based on the false notion that we should all be exactly equal in every single way.”
Neither Langone nor Manchin immediately responded to requests for comment."
We Still Can’t See American Slavery for What It Was By Jamelle Bouie The New York Times
We Still Can’t See American Slavery for What It Was
“After nearly 10 years as physical media, SlaveVoyages was introduced to the public as a website in 2008 and then relaunched in 2019 with a new interface and even more detail. As it stands today, the site, funded primarily by grants, contains data sets on various aspects of the slave trade: a database on the trans-Atlantic trade with more than 36,000 entries, a database containing entries on voyages that took place within the Americas and a database with the personal details of more than 95,000 enslaved Africans found on these ships.
The newest addition to SlaveVoyages is a data set that documents the “coastwise” traffic to New Orleans during the antebellum years of 1820 to 1860, when it was the largest slave-trading market in the country. The 1807 law that forbade the importation of enslaved Africans to the United States also required any captain of a coastwise vessel with enslaved people on board to file, at departure and on arrival, a manifest listing those individuals by name.
Countless enslaved Africans arrived at ports up and down the coast of the United States, but the largest share were sent to New Orleans. This new data set draws from roughly 4,000 “slave manifests” to document the traffic to that port. Those manifests list more than 63,000 captives, including names and physical descriptions, as well as information on an individual’s owner and information on the vessel and its captain.
Because of its specificity with regard to individual enslaved people, this new information is as pathbreaking for lay researchers and genealogists as it is for scholars and historians. It is also, for me, an opportunity to think about the difficult ethical questions that surround this work: How exactly do we relate to data that allows someone — anyone — to identify a specific enslaved person? How do we wield these powerful tools for quantitative analysis without abstracting the human reality away from the story? And what does it mean to study something as wicked and monstrous as the slave trade using some of the tools of the trade itself?
Before we go any further, it is worth spending a little more time with the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade itself, at least as it relates to the United States.
A large majority of people taken from Africa were sold to enslavers in either South America or the Caribbean. British, Dutch, French, Spanish and Portuguese traders brought their captives to, among other places, modern-day Jamaica, Barbados, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil and Haiti, as well as Argentina, Antigua and the Bahamas. A little over 3.5 percent of the total, about 389,000 people, arrived on the shores of British North America and the Gulf Coast during those centuries when slave ships could find port.
In the last decades of the 18th century, moral and religious activism fueled an effort to suppress British involvement in the African slave trade. In 1774, the Continental Congress of rebelling American states adopted a temporary general nonimportation policy against Britain and its possessions, effectively halting the slave trade, although the policy lapsed under the Confederation Congress in the wake of the Revolutionary War. Still, by 1787, most of the states of the newly independent United States had banned the importation of slaves, although slavery itself continued to thrive in the southeastern part of the country.
From 1787 to 1788, Americans would write and ratify a new Constitution that, in a concession to Lower South planters who demanded access to the trans-Atlantic trade, forbade a ban on the foreign slave trade for at least the next 20 years. But Congress could — and, in 1794, did — prohibit American ships from participating. In 1807, right on schedule, Congress passed — and President Thomas Jefferson, a slave-owning Virginian, signed — a measure to abolish the importation of enslaved Africans to the United States, effective Jan. 1, 1808.
But the end to American involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade (or at least the official end, given an illegal trade that would not end until the start of the Civil War) did not mean the end of the slave trade altogether. Slavery remained a big and booming business, driven by demand for tobacco, rice, indigo and increasingly cotton, which was already on its path to dominance as the principal cash crop of the slaveholding South.
Within a decade of the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, annual cotton production had grown twentyfold to 35 million pounds in 1800. By 1810, production had risen to roughly 85 million pounds per year, accounting for more than 20 percent of the nation’s export revenue. By 1820, the United States was producing something in the area of 160 million pounds of cotton a year.
Fueling this growth was the rapid expansion of American territory, facilitated by events abroad. In August 1791, the Haitian Revolution began with an insurrection of enslaved people. In 1803, Haitian revolutionaries defeated a final French Army expedition sent to pacify the colony after years of bloody conflict. To pay for this expensive quagmire — and to keep the territory out of the hands of the British — the soon-to-be-emperor Napoleon Bonaparte sold what remained of French North America to the United States at a fire-sale price.
The new territory nearly doubled the size of the country, opening new land to settlement and commercial cultivation. And as the American nation expanded further into the southeast, so too did its slave system. Planters moved from east to west. Some brought slaves. Others needed to buy them. There had always been an internal market for enslaved labor, but the end of the international trade made it larger and more lucrative.
It is hard to quantify the total volume of sales on the domestic slave trade, but scholars estimate that in the 40-year period between the Missouri Compromise and the secession crisis, at least 875,000 people were sent south and southwest from the Upper South, most as a result of commercial transactions, the rest as a consequence of planter migration.
New, more granular data on voyages and migrations and sales will help scholars delve deeper than ever into the nature of slavery in the United States, into specifics of the trade and into the ways it shaped the political economy of the American republic.“
Thursday, January 27, 2022
Opinion | Stephen Breyer Was the Right Justice for the Wrong Age - The New York Times
Stephen Breyer Was the Right Justice for the Wrong Age
"Ms. Greenhouse, a winner of a 1998 Pulitzer Prize, reported on the Supreme Court for The Times from 1978 to 2008 and was a contributing Opinion writer for 12 years, until last month.
Two misfortunes have befallen Stephen G. Breyer during his long Supreme Court career. One, which became apparent about halfway through his nearly 28-year tenure, was that it was his fate to be the quintessential Enlightenment man in an increasingly unenlightened era at the court. The second happened during this past year: the demand from the left that he step down and open his seat for President Biden to fill.
Justice Breyer’s belief in the power of facts, evidence and expertise was out of step in a postfactual age. The protections of the Voting Rights Act were no longer necessary in the South? The Constitution’s framers meant to give the populace an individual right to own a gun? Or, more recently, the federal agency charged with protecting American workers was likely powerless to protect the workplace from a deadly pandemic?
Really? Of course, Justice Breyer was on the losing side.
To my second point, it’s not that requests for him to step down were unreasonable. It’s that they became so vociferous, so belittling, really. It’s as if this distinguished public servant could be shoved out of the way, obscuring any idea of who he is and what his time on the court has meant. That is a loss not only for him — and he certainly deserves better — but also for the rest of us, because his career has much to teach us about the state of the court today.
At 83, Justice Breyer is a decade older than the next oldest justice, Clarence Thomas, and a generation older than the youngest, Amy Coney Barrett, who turns 50 on Friday. Like five of his colleagues (Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Barrett, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh), he was once a Supreme Court law clerk.
But there is a difference. He clerked for Justice Arthur Goldberg during the Supreme Court’s heroic age, the period under Chief Justice Earl Warren when the court seemed to be pushing — or dragging — post-World War II America into recognizing the equality of the races and the rights of criminal suspects. The other five came of age in the subsequent era of judicial retrenchment, that era now reaching a climax.
Although the labels often affixed to Justice Breyer are “pragmatist” and “seeker of compromise,” it has always seemed to me that these, while not inaccurate, miss the mark. They discount the passion beneath the man’s cool and urbane persona, passion that I think stems from his early encounter with a court that understood the Constitution as an engine of progress.
That passion was obvious in his astonishing 21-minute oral dissent from the bench in 2007 from a school integration decision that, early in Chief Justice Roberts’s tenure, marked a significant turn away from the court’s commitment to ending segregation. The law professor Lani Guinier, in a famous article in The Harvard Law Review the next year, celebrated that dissent as “demosprudence,” a way of speaking law directly to the people in the expectation that they will then speak back to the lawmakers.
His passion was obvious this month, too, when the court heard a challenge to the Biden administration’s Covid vaccination rule for businesses employing 100 or more people. Justice Breyer radiated fury as he addressed Scott A. Keller, the lawyer representing the business plaintiffs.
“I mean, there were three-quarters of a million new cases yesterday,” the justice said, his voice rising. “New cases. Nearly three-quarters — 700-and-some-odd thousand, OK?” He continued that the number was 10 times as high as when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “put this rule in. The hospitals are today, yesterday, full, almost to the point of the maximum they’ve ever been in this disease, OK?”
Noting that the standard for granting an injunction of the sort the plaintiffs requested required a showing that the court’s intervention was in the public interest, he asked: “Is that what you’re doing now, to say it’s in the public interest in this situation to stop this vaccination rule, with nearly a million people — let me not exaggerate — nearly three-quarters of a million people, new cases every day? I mean, to me, I would find that unbelievable.”
Of course, that’s what the court did, and of course, Justice Breyer dissented.
His dissenting opinion, written with Justices Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, wasn’t particularly showy. It was, one might say, Breyeresque, using data, logic and the language of administrative law — a subject he taught for many years at Harvard Law School — to arrive at its central argument:
Underlying everything else in this dispute is a single, simple question: Who decides how much protection, and of what kind, American workers need from Covid-19? An agency with expertise in workplace health and safety, acting as Congress and the president authorized? Or a court, lacking any knowledge of how to safeguard workplaces and insulated from responsibility for any damage it causes?
That this argument failed to carry the day speaks volumes not only about how out of step Justice Breyer is with the court’s trajectory but also how out of step the majority is with the kind of fact-based analysis that he has brought to the problems the court is charged with solving.
In recent months, Justice Breyer has been mocked on the left for clinging to a romantic vision of the Supreme Court as an institution apart from politics. Surely, that argument has gone, if he could only get over that fiction and understand the political moment, he would hang up his robe.
That mistakes the man. He cut his eyeteeth in politics, working for Senator Edward Kennedy as chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. I’m sure he, along with the rest of us, has watched with clear eyes and a heavy heart as politics swamped the institution he loves.
His understanding of politics — that the only way to make a difference is by staying in the game — led him to stay on the court as the diminished liberal side’s senior associate justice, a role that will now pass to Justice Sotomayor. Although he will reportedly remain on the court until the end of this term, he chose to announce his plan to retire now, just after the court finished assembling the cases it will hear and decide through late June or early July. This suggests he has the months ahead fully in view and has decided that he has made all the difference he can make.
Now it’s time to let someone else try."
Wednesday, January 26, 2022
Opinion | Biden Promised a Black Woman on the Supreme Court - The New York Times
Biden Promised a Black Woman on the Supreme Court
"Joe Biden limped into the South Carolina primaries in 2020.
He had finished fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, and second — a distant second — in Nevada.
He needed South Carolina to stay alive, a state where six in 10 Democratic voters are Black. He needed Black people to save him.
During a debate just days before voting began in South Carolina, Biden made a promise to Black voters. Everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and everyone should be represented on the Supreme Court, he said: “I’m looking forward to making sure there’s a Black woman on the Supreme Court, to make sure we in fact get every representation.”
Black voters gave Biden the victory he needed, one that turned his campaign around and arguably set him on a path to win the nomination.
Now, with reports that Justice Stephen Breyer will retire in June or July, President Biden has a chance to make good on his promise and repay Black people — at least on this measure — for their support.
This opening could not have come at a better time for Biden. He is struggling in the polls, unable to overcome Republican obstructionism and resistance from within his own party to deliver on several of the major promises he made to Black voters, such as passing federal police reforms and voter protections.
Poll after poll has pointed to growing dissatisfaction among Black voters.
Morning Consult data from October found that Biden’s approval among Black voters was down 16 percentage points from the month before.
As NBC News reported in December:
“Biden’s approval among Black voters has been sliding throughout the year. A poll by HIT Strategies showed that 48 percent of Black voters said in November that Biden was addressing their needs, compared to 66 percent of respondents in June.”
And as The Associated Press reported last week:
“Just six in 10 Black Americans said they approved of Biden in a recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, down from about nine in 10 who approved in polls conducted through the first six months of Biden’s presidency.”
The perception of Biden as a disappointment has been hardening among Black voters, the voters he needed to win in 2020 and the ones he would need again in 2024.
The Biden administration’s attempts to turn things around have not borne fruit. This is not to say Biden hasn’t had some big wins, particularly early in his term, but rather, that the losses loom large in recent memory, and they are continually piling up.
A Supreme Court opening offers Biden an opportunity to move beyond those losses, to change the conversation and the narrative, to emerge with a significant victory that he can hold up as proof of his success. It would put a major mark in the plus column.
No justice Biden nominates can change the ideological balance of the court significantly, but all new justices change the dynamic on the court. And every time an excluded group is included, that is good for the institution and its credibility.
It is important, I believe, that Black people have a Black person on the court more in tune with the views of the Black community than Clarence Thomas, the lone Black justice for the last 30 years. It has always struck me as a tragedy that Thomas was chosen to replace the liberal lion Thurgood Marshall.
Ideologically, it was like night and day, or night overtaking the day.
I remember knowing the name Thurgood Marshall for as long as I can recall knowing anything about the Supreme Court. As a child, I’m not sure I could have named another justice. As Biden suggested in South Carolina, representation matters, not just the skin of a person but also their soul.
Marshall’s entire life was spent in the service of, and for the liberation of, Black people.
We need a justice who considers the Constitution in a cleareyed way, as Marshall put it in 1987:
I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever “fixed” at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today.
I hope that little Black girls — and all children — can know the pride and sense of belonging I felt when I saw Marshall or said his name. I saw myself when I saw him. I believed that my voice was being heard because he was relaying it.
I also hope that young people will know, once again, what it feels like to have a person on the court who looks like them and can advocate for them and their positions, rather than being constantly confronted by the dissonance Thomas evokes.
Now is the time for a Black woman on the Supreme Court."
What postwar racial paranoia tells us about criminal justice in the US today - CNN
What postwar racial paranoia tells us about criminal justice in the US today
"Washington (CNN) — A version of this story appeared in CNN's Race Deconstructed newsletter. To get it in your inbox every week, sign up for free here.