(CNN)“I didn’t need to do this.”
He says he didn’t need to do it, and some say there’s no justification for it. But one thing is clear, wrote CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer: Amid this Trump farce, this Presidents Day weekend reminds us what the greatness of the office is all about. (Spoiler alert: He says it’s not what we’re seeing right now.)
Looking from George Washington’s encouragement of term limits to Abraham Lincoln’s devotion to the republic to Lyndon Johnson’s stand on civil rights and beyond, Zelizer observes: “Without being overly nostalgic and with clear eyes about the great disappointments and hardships they have caused, we can also remember on Presidents Day weekend that it is possible for the holder of this awesome power to use it toward great ends.”
Trump began the week with an appearance in El Paso, Texas, fighting it out with Beto O’Rourke in dueling rallies offering opposite visions for the future of the border — and where Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin assessed that the President was soundly upstaged as “irrelevant” and “incoherent.”
But Trump wasn’t the only one deserving of blame as Washington narrowly averted another shutdown, argued Michelle García: “Rather than bring an end to border security fights, Democrats may have signed on to a never-ending battle” by agreeing to new security funding and giving new life to the GOP’s focus on it.
Stop throwing stones
Inclusiveness also became a partisan battleground this week as David Perry and Bill Carter pointed out. Both weighed in on the angry reaction to tweets from freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota that were widely criticized as anti-Semitic. Omar ultimately did the right thing, Perry wrote. She “took down her tweets. She talked to her colleagues. She offered a thoughtful statement. … Now I hope Republicans will try to listen half so well and stop throwing stones until they’ve patched their own glass house.” After Vice President Mike Pence and others rejected Omar’s apology, Carter called on the GOP leaders to get that house in order and address the hypocrisy of their “selective moral outrage” on racism.
Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan took aim at the polarized sniping with a “dose of reality for both sides. … Most Americans are frankly fed up with the dysfunction in Washington and a government that can’t seem to even keep the lights on, much less achieve real solutions to our serious problems.”
Surprises can (re)make and break our worlds
Bill and Melinda Gates have been trying to change the world for the better for nearly two decades. On the occasion of their annual letter, they acknowledged that one of the forces driving their philanthropy is the element of surprise, from realizing that toilet innovation could save billions of lives to learning at-home DNA tests can help prevent premature birth: “Sometimes a surprise helps you see that the status quo needs to change. Other times it underscores that transformation is happening.”
Transformation doesn’t always happen over decades, as Arthur Kent and Sari Kaufman reminded us by marking anniversaries of Valentine’s Days decades apart. It can happen in the breathless space of a single violent act that disrupts diplomatic progress or gives birth to a new student movement for gun safety. Kent, known for his reporting on the Persian Gulf War, traced 40 years of bloody war in Afghanistan back to the still-mysterious murder of US Ambassador Adolph “Spike” Dubs on February 14, 1979.
Kaufman, a survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, described the one-year anniversary with a bleak grace: “Now when a book drops on the floor in class, my classmates and I all have to take a breath and remember it is not a gunshot. When we hear sirens passing by, we all have to remind ourselves that they are not driving to our school, and when we see empty desks, we have to remember that this is our new normal.”
A Prime example of chaos
Jeff Bezos brought the city that never sleeps up short — along with the rest of America (for a second week running) — when Amazon announced that after a courting process for a second headquarters more intense than “The Bachelor,” the company won’t be opening an Eastern hub in Queens after all.
“This is why we can’t have nice things,” said John Avlon (apparently Cher had similar feelings and expressed them on social media). Rather than a win for liberal Democrats such as New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who denounced the original plan and celebrated the announced pullout on Twitter, Avlon characterized activists cheering the development as having “just screwed their community by depriving it of a transformational investment.” Matt Yglesias, writing for Vox, outlined the ways in which New York is better off without Amazon. Alex Kantrowitz of BuzzFeed tweeted a 1997 letter from Bezos to offer some insight; in it, Bezos praises the wisdom of reversible decisions.
Are you cheering or jeering Amazon’s decision not to open an Eastern hub in New York? We want to hear what you think: CNN Opinion is soliciting letters to the editor on the Amazon announcement here.
Punished for telling the truth
It was an unnerving week elsewhere in media. As Steven Butler of the Committee to Protect Journalists expressed, the arrest of Maria Ressa, founder and CEO of the Philippine news site Rappler.com, was a somber episode in the recent narrative of attacks on press freedom. Her story, “while deeply troubling, is not isolated,” Butler wrote, praising Ressa (a former CNN bureau chief and reporter) for her dedication to “the kind of journalism that gets people in trouble.”
You don’t have to get arrested to be at risk; Rosa Prince noted the reported attack on BBC cameraman Ron Skeans at Trump’s rally in El Paso as evidence that the President’s anti-media speech has been weaponized.
The road to Madam President: It’s complicated
Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar. All are vying for the Democratic nomination in 2020 and the chance to be called Madam President. As Maggie Astor argued in The New York Times, none are immune to the coded language so often used to describe ambitious women: words such as “shrill,” “difficult” or — the kiss of death — “unlikable.”
On the positive side of the ledger, as Dean Obeidallah observed, is the fact that the women are kryptonite for Trump. With every tweet he levels at any of these candidates, “he will remind Americans of his horrible record on gender issues. … Trump is now confronted with a gang of women who are all gunning for him. And if he responds in usual Trump fashion, with his no-holds barred attacks, he could drive away more female voters than he did in the 2018 midterms.”
Speaking of sexism, titles and institutions of power, Meghan Markle may not aspire to be Madam President, but Kate Maltby urged us, in light of recent appalling attempted takedowns of the Duchess of Sussex as various kinds of (you guessed it) unlikable, to consider: “The problem isn’t Meghan Markle. It’s that royalty is an unsustainable institution in the 21st century.”
Not all institutions are taking such hits. Many of our readers wrote in with their thoughts on Alexandra Robbins‘ defense of fraternities from charges of toxic masculinity. Wrote one reader who met his wife through his fraternity: “I was a shy college student at the University of Iowa. I joined a fraternity that brought me out of my shell.” Said another, who is raising a son as a single mother: “I do not believe the patriarchy can be smashed, but hope that in time it will be diminished as each generation’s understanding of it grows and tolerance for it lessens.”
Virginia is for covers (of future nonracist yearbooks)
2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of black Africans at Jamestown, a fact Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam mentioned in his latest misstep, calling them “indentured servants” in an interview.
There’s little else that’s as toxic as a combination of racism and negative publicity, commented Kara Alaimo. Before going on the air with CBS’ Gayle King, Northam would have done well to read Peniel Joseph on why it’s so pivotal during this Black History Month not to euphemize America’s racist past, a history shaped in part by the story of those 19 enslaved Africans.
Virginia continues to struggle, with Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax facing accusations of sexual assault from two women. “We can’t look away from this,” Jill Filipovic argued — both Northam and Fairfax (who denies the allegations and has called for an FBI inquiry) need to step aside.
Let’s rethink our rock collections
Depending on whom you ask, Ryan Adams is a legendary singer-songwriter or the guy who isn’t Bryan Adams. For a music fan such as Sara Stewart, he’s also the reason she’s asking tough questions about bands from the Beatles to Aerosmith, challenging “the nauseating through-line in many of the bands and singers generally considered the best in the business.”
Reading Joe Coscarelli and Melena Ryzik‘s reporting on Adams and his alleged abuse of women in The New York Times, Stewart wrote, “makes me wonder how there has not, yet, been a more widespread #MeToo reckoning in the wider world of rock ‘n’ roll, which, since its inception, has been glaringly open about its disdain for, and love of abusing, women.”
Stewart — and she’s hardly alone — wants “more women (to be) encouraged to take the stage instead of standing below it, waiting to be winked at.”
I can think of a few Democratic candidates for president who would certainly be on board with that idea.
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