Editorial Roundup: United States
Jul 4, 2023, 1:13 PM
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on former President Donald Trump and the GOP debates
Candidate debates have become a fixture of presidential campaigns, and they’re especially valuable in primaries. Voters get a chance to see how well candidates perform under pressure, and relative unknowns get rare exposure against the front-runners. The debates helped Barack Obama in 2008 against Hillary Clinton, and they helped Donald Trump in 2016, so it’s notable that this time Mr. Trump is threatening not to debate.
Mr. Trump and his advisers are signaling he’ll probably duck the first GOP debate, which the Republican National Committee (RNC) has scheduled for Aug. 23 in Milwaukee. Fox News is the media host, and the former President is sore because the network hasn’t always carried his rallies live. He took to Truth Social recently to say that Fox wants him to “show up and get them ratings” for the debate.
He claimed Fox wants him to debate while trying to “promote, against all hope” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “Sorry, FoxNews, life doesn’t work that way!!!” he wrote.
Mr. Trump’s real motivation is probably closer to that offered by an adviser who told NBC News that “he is not going to debate unless he’s forced to by changing polling.” Mr. Trump is leading in the GOP nomination polls—“by a lot,” as he likes to say. He doesn’t want to give his opponents a chance to challenge him before a large TV audience. His advisers say Mr. Trump might even hold a rally at the same time as the debate, leaving his competitors to fight among themselves.
Mr. Trump has no obligation to debate, other than showing respect for voters. But our guess is that he knows his polling lead isn’t as invincible as he wants everyone to believe. He’s getting 50% or so in most national surveys, and many of them won’t abandon him no matter what he says in a debate. But the rest are on board because they know him as the former President or as a response to Democratic criminal indictments they see as partisan.
Millions of those voters might consider someone else who looked impressive in debates, and that’s what Mr. Trump wants to avoid. He hopes to coast to the nomination with rallies in which he can attack President Biden and tout his first-term record without anyone pointing out his failures or the risks of a second term. The GOP gave Mr. Trump a chance to debate in 2016, but he wants to deny that chance to his rivals this year.
Unlike 2016, his challengers won’t hesitate to challenge Mr. Trump in debates this time. That’s true of Mr. DeSantis, who is second in most polls and at age 44 can show a marked contrast in age with the 77-year-old Mr. Trump. Former Vice President Mike Pence will call out Mr. Trump on foreign policy and abortion. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has emerged as Mr. Trump’s most effective critic in New Hampshire town halls.
No one can force Mr. Trump to debate, but the RNC could help if it dropped its rule that every debater must pledge to support the eventual nominee. It’s a good idea in theory. But Mr. Trump might use that as an excuse not to debate, and his vow wouldn’t mean much in any case. It therefore shouldn’t be a bar to other candidates.
If Mr. Trump refuses to debate in the primaries, voters will be entitled to wonder what the former President is afraid of.
The Los Angeles Times on student loan relief
It’s not surprising but still deeply disappointing that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against the Biden administration’s plan to provide more than $400 billion in student loan forgiveness. Compounding the injustice is the fact that a divided Congress is unlikely to fill the vacuum left by the decision with remedial legislation. But advocates for debt relief should continue to press their case, not just at the Capitol but in next year’s elections.
Crushing student debt is a burden not just on former students but on the national economy. The pain was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why the Biden administration acted, claiming authority under the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) Act of 2003. That law empowers the secretary of Education to waive or modify loan provisions in response to a national emergency.
The Biden plan was not an indiscriminate bonanza but rather was targeted to help those most in need of relief. For borrowers with an annual income of less than $125,000, the Education Department would forgive up to $10,000 in student loans. Recipients of Pell Grants, a form of financial aid for lower-income students, could qualify for up to $20,000 in loan cancellation. The scope of the problem was evident in the fact that 26 million borrowers applied for relief.
Erase $10,000 in debt per person? $50,000? Biden is expected to announce his plan for burdensome student debt, but the problem will only be compounded unless we reform how much students spend on college.
But in a 6-3 decision Friday, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court held that the administration exceeded its authority. In response to a lawsuit brought by Nebraska and five other Republican-led states, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that the HEROES Act allows the secretary to “waive or modify” provisions, “not to rewrite that statute from the ground up.”
The solicitor general made a persuasive case that the administration was acting within its authority. As Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissent joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson: “The statute provides the Secretary with broad authority to give emergency relief to student-loan borrowers, including by altering usual discharge rules. What the secretary did fits comfortably within that delegation.”
She emphasized that the delegation of authority is not some tucked-away provision but “is at the statute’s very center, in its ‘waive or modify’ language.”
Inaction and obstruction on Capitol Hill have often forced presidents to respond to pressing national problems with executive action. In this case, that action was grounded in a long-standing law. Now it is the duty of Congress to ensure that this relief program is carried out.
Reacting to Friday’s decision, President Biden said he will pursue some relief for student loan borrowers based on another law, the 1965 Higher Education Act. This backup plan may take longer to establish than the plan blocked by the court — which is all the more reason candidates for Congress next year should be pressed to restore the lifeline Biden tried to extend.
The Washington Post on “Bidenomics”
President Biden used to be leery of the term “Bidenomics” and once joked: “ I don’t know what the hell that is.”
But last week, he embraced that shorthand for his economic agenda — albeit on his own terms, and ones that are most favorable to his reelection campaign. Speaking Wednesday in Chicago, he defined Bidenomics as the reversal of four decades of “trickle-down economics” that prioritized the interests of the wealthy over the middle class.
As the president describes it, his philosophy is built on three pillars: massive public investments, from bridges to broadband; helping workers secure good-paying jobs by boosting unionization and requiring products to be made in the United States; and promoting competition by limiting noncompete agreements, junk fees and prescription drug costs — while vigorously enforcing antitrust laws.
With his approval rating underwater, Mr. Biden is understandably eager to claim credit for low unemployment, real wage growth and the economy’s better-than-expected resiliency. He has a good story to tell about making government work again. He can boast about significant legislative wins from his first two years.
Most Americans, however, perceive the economy to be worse than it is because of stubbornly persistent inflation. This was partially fueled by Mr. Biden unleashing too much spending with his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package during the opening months of his presidency, when the economy was already starting to overheat.
Polls often prod politicians to look for villains to blame as elections approach. Last week, Mr. Biden criticized banks, oil companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, cryptocurrency traders, hedge fund managers, airlines and hotels. During a recent speech to the AFL-CIO, the president said no one would notice if investment bankers went on strike but that the country would grind to a halt if union members did.
But, as he sharpens his economic pitch, Mr. Biden should resist the temptation to score political points with populism that is likely to sound inauthentic coming from someone first elected to the Senate 50 years ago, and who represented the most corporate-friendly state in the union.
Mr. Biden says he wants everyone to pay their fair share, but hastens to add that he doesn’t want to tax the well-to-do out of existence. “I’m not talking about the old, old days of 70 percent tax,” he said in Chicago, adding that he wants to build an economy in which “the poor have a ladder up and the wealthy still do well.”
This president, as most do, yearns to go down in history as transformational. He compares his efforts to finally get every American connected to high-speed internet to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s rural electrification and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s interstate highways. Most Republicans, who disproportionately represent the rural areas reaping the greatest benefits, voted against the legislation that will make universal broadband possible. Yet they now tout the money pouring into their states.
Mr. Biden won in 2020 by promising to be a president for all Americans, and that’s how he’s governing. He’s delivering results for red, blue and purple states. For the health of the nation’s civic culture, this is also how he should campaign.
The New York Times on the SCOTUS
In striking down affirmative action in higher education on Thursday, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority said it had to do so because the Constitution forbids any form of racial distinction. With a single opinion, the justices overturned decades of precedents that upheld race-conscious admissions policies as consistent with the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause and ignored the reality of modern America, where prejudice and racism endure.
As Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in dissent, the decision cements “a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter.”
The result of Thursday’s decision means the end of a system that provided decades of opportunity for thousands of students who might otherwise have been turned away from some of the nation’s biggest colleges and universities. The effects will be felt nationwide, and soon. In states that have already banned affirmative action in higher education, the percentage of Black students has dropped, in some cases dramatically. Black enrollment at the University of Michigan was 4 percent in 2021, down from 7 percent in 2006, before Michigan voters prohibited the consideration of race in college admissions. The story is similar in California, despite that state’s intensive efforts to recruit more minority students by other means.
That this ruling has been long anticipated does not change the context in which it was handed down. For the second time in just over a year, the Supreme Court tossed out a longstanding precedent intended, however imperfectly, to expand basic rights and freedoms to a large group of Americans who had suffered under a legal system that treated them as second-class citizens. Last year it was women seeking the constitutional right to have an abortion; this year it is chiefly Black and Latino students who want a shot at the economic opportunity that can come from a college degree.
Why now? Nothing has changed in either case — not public opinion, not the underlying facts, not even the behavior of the two schools targeted in the court’s decision, which were both following the guidelines the Supreme Court set out in a previous ruling on affirmative action in 2003.
Only one thing has changed: the court’s membership. With their supermajority now firmly in charge, the Republican-appointed justices have had free rein to upend swaths of American law in order to achieve long-held goals of the conservative movement. Ending any form of racial consideration has long been high on that list, part of a continuing effort to pretend that racial inequality no longer exists — what Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson described in her dissent as a “let-them-eat-cake obliviousness” to the role of race in daily life.
It has been the special project of an indefatigable right-wing activist named Edward Blum, who for years has coordinated the legal challenges to affirmative action, including the current lawsuits, which targeted race-conscious admissions practices at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.
Thursday’s ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by all of the Republican-appointed justices, takes a long time to make a simple — and simplistic — point: There is no real difference between the centuries of racial discrimination against Black people and targeted race-conscious efforts to help Black people. Both are equally bad, in this view.
The chief justice has long adhered to this view of race. As he wrote in a 2007 case striking down race-conscious state programs aimed at integrating public schools, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” It was a memorable line, because it flattered the commonly held belief that any race-based discrimination is not just wrong but unconstitutional.
The problem is that, as a matter of history, it’s not true. The 14th Amendment, ratified in the aftermath of the Civil War, was expressly intended to allow for race-conscious legislation, as Justice Sotomayor noted emphatically on Thursday. The same Congress that passed the amendment enacted several such laws, including the Freedmen’s Bureau Acts, which helped former slaves secure housing, food, jobs and education.
The bureau was an obvious and essential measure to remedy at least some of the harm that slavery inflicted on Black Americans. The first affirmative-action programs, a century later, had the same goal, only then it was necessary to address the decades of state-sanctioned discrimination against Black people that followed Reconstruction, and that continued to impose unique and specific hurdles to their ability to fully join American society. As President Lyndon Johnson said in a 1965 commencement speech at Howard University, “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”
And yet despite the success of affirmative action programs in raising minority enrollment, or more likely because of it, the pushback was immediate. Allan Bakke, a white man rejected by the medical school at the University of California, Davis, said he was the victim of racial discrimination and filed a lawsuit. In a complicated split opinion in the 1978 Bakke case, the Supreme Court allowed race to be considered in college admissions, but only for the purpose of increasing diversity on campus, not as a way to alleviate the long-term effects of discrimination.
The focus on diversity was an orchestrated compromise meant to win over the court’s key swing justice, Lewis Powell. It worked, and yet at the same time it set the stage for affirmative action’s ultimate demise. By limiting it to a hard-to-define concept like diversity, the court opened the door to endless challenges. Some justices have asked, for example, why certain types of diversity mattered more than others. Why only racial diversity and not religious or political diversity?
But diversity — whether on campus, in business, or in government and society at large — remains a vital goal for any institution, and it will now be more difficult to achieve. The word is not a “trendy slogan,” as Justice Jackson wrote in her dissent. Diversifying medical schools by opening up the profession to Black physicians can save lives, she notes. Black infants, for example, are more likely to survive under the care of a Black doctor. Diversity also expands economic benefits and social understanding. A diverse student body, she wrote, means that “students of every race will come to have a greater appreciation and understanding of civic virtue, democratic values, and our country’s commitment to equality.”
What’s especially interesting in Thursday’s opinions is not where the justices disagree but where they agree: The Equal Protection Clause allows for race-conscious programs, as long as they are narrowly tailored to meet a compelling government interest. In fact, the opinion explicitly permits affirmative action in military academies, in what seems to be an acknowledgment that diversity in the armed forces remains a national priority. The real debate, then, is over exactly where to draw that line. What sort of harm is sufficiently clear and traceable to permit an exception to the 14th Amendment, and what isn’t? For nearly half a century, the court drew the line to permit affirmative action in higher education. On Thursday, it moved that line.
None of this is to deny the legitimate critique of affirmative action as it functions today. Unlike abortion rights, most Americans oppose race-based admissions programs for colleges, polls show. These programs have, for instance, been insufficient for addressing economic disparities, which are a crippling barrier to millions of Americans of all colors.
This and other shortcomings require their own solutions. This ruling against Harvard and University of North Carolina should be a call to action, for private and state universities alike, to create new paths to ensure that qualified students can find opportunity on their campuses. More evidence is needed around whether the most commonly proposed alternatives — giving a leg up to students from lower socioeconomic groups, for example, or admitting the top 10 percent of students from each high school in a state — boost minorities into better jobs and more stable lives.
Many schools, of course, already engage in one particularly insidious form of wealth-based affirmative action: legacy admissions. The children of alumni — who are overwhelmingly white — enjoy a far better chance than other applicants of getting accepted to the nation’s top colleges and universities, which, as this board has argued, constitutes “ a form of property transfer from one generation to another. ” It has a far larger impact on the racial and socioeconomic makeup of student bodies than race-based affirmative action ever has. At Harvard, an estimated 14 percent of students, most of whom are white, are there at least in part because of a legacy. Reducing or eliminating this practice could create new opportunities for all kinds of students who normally don’t have a chance of getting into a top school.
It’s nice to imagine an America where all people are treated the same, regardless of the color of their skin, but that is not the nation we live in today or ever have lived in. “Our country has never been colorblind,” Justice Jackson wrote. “Deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.”
This is a genuinely difficult task, but the solution is not to pretend that we have suddenly become colorblind. Any meaningful effort should take race into account. That’s not only permissible under the Constitution; it’s the only way it has ever succeeded.
The Guardian on unrest in France
Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the death this week of the French teenager Nahel M. in Nanterre is its familiarity. A man or boy of north African descent dies after contact with the police. A misleading or downright false account from officers casts blame on the victim. Outrage sparks protests and violence.
The unrest that has swept French cities speaks not to the shock of those involved, but their anger and despair that this is still happening. Not only police stations but schools, cars, tramways and town halls were attacked or torched in cities including Lille, Dijon, Lyon and Toulouse as well as the Paris suburbs. On Thursday, after Emmanuel Macron held a crisis cabinet meeting, 40,000 officers were deployed across the country.
Yet the contrast with 2005 – when the electrocution of two teenagers as they hid from police led to three weeks of riots – is also striking. The then interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, made remarks suggesting that the victims were thieves and ratcheted up tensions. This time, President Macron called the incident “inexplicable and inexcusable”. The officer responsible is under formal investigation for manslaughter. The most obvious difference is that these events were caught on phone camera and posted on social media – disproving the claim that the 17-year-old drove straight at police. Two officers are seen beside the stationary vehicle, one pointing a gun at the driver. The words: “You are going to get a bullet in the head,” are heard. The officer then appears to fire as the car drives forward.
For those in the banlieues, the footage is not a revelation but a confirmation. The anger is cumulative. They think not only of Nahel M. but of Adama Traoré, who suffocated in police custody in 2016, or of Jean-Paul Benjamin, a father-of-two shot dead last year. Such cases are particularly potent because French law does not allow the collection of data on ethnicity, which would expose discrimination in other ways. As in other countries, the Black Lives Matter movement galvanized activism. People have spoken out at increasing volume. Yet they have not been heard.
There are particular concerns about legal changes six years ago, which critics warned broadened the standards for police use of firearms. A record 13 people died after not complying with a traffic stop in 2022. But the broader issue is aggressive policing techniques once used to control subject populations in colonies such as Algeria, and imported back to the homeland. They are evident in the handling of broader civil unrest, such as protests over pensions or by the gilets jaunes. But they are particularly toxic, and more often lethal, in the context of institutional racism, racial profiling and personal bigotry.
Economic grievances that were key to previous unrest appear less of a factor here than the rage at being ignored, excluded and discriminated against. Kylian Mbappé, the multimillionaire French football star who grew up in the French suburbs, tweeted: “I am hurting for my France.” The anger extends beyond police to other state institutions.
Many in the banlieues are afraid both for the safety of their children at the hands of police, and of the unrest. They are also concerned about how Marine Le Pen and the far right in general may exploit events. What they know is that things must change – and that it should not require another death, smartphone footage or mass unrest, to make it happen.