Archive

December 30th

Is democracy a 'fetish'?

    It's important for those who favor the popular election of our presidents to separate their arguments for direct democracy from the outcome of a particular contest.

    My colleague George F. Will's recent column in defense of the Electoral College offers an excellent opportunity to make a case that has nothing to do with the election of Donald Trump.

    After all, Will, admirably and eloquently, insisted that Trump was unworthy of nomination or election. So our disagreement relates entirely to his insistence that we should stick with an approach to choosing presidents that, twice in the last 16 years, overrode the wishes of Americans, as measured by the popular vote.

    Will brushes aside these outcomes. "Two is 40 percent of five elections, which scandalizes only those who make a fetish of simpleminded majoritarianism."

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And the Trade War Came

    Donald Trump got within striking distance of the White House — or, more precisely, Comey-and-Putin range — thanks to overwhelming support from white working-class voters. These voters trusted his promise to bring back good manufacturing jobs while disbelieving his much more credible promise to take away their health care. They have a rude shock coming.

    But white workers are not alone in their gullibility: Corporate America is still in denial about the prospects for a global trade war, even though protectionism was a central theme of the Trump campaign. In fact, the only two causes about which Trump seems truly passionate are supposedly unfair trade deals and admiration for authoritarian regimes. It’s naive to assume that he will let his signature policy issue slide.

    Let’s talk means, motive and consequences.

    You might imagine that a drastic change in U.S. trade policy would require congressional approval, and that Republicans — who claim to believe in free markets — would put on the brakes. But given GOP spinelessness, that is unlikely.

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A Letter to President-Elect Trump About Health Care

    Dear Mr. President-elect:

    Your position on universal health insurance has been admirably clear. You support it. You did before you ran for president and continued to do so in the campaign.

    In 2000, you wrote, “We must have universal health care.” In a Fox News debate last year, you said, “We have to take care of the people that can’t take care of themselves.” On “60 Minutes,” you said, “Everybody’s got to be covered.”

    I am writing to you now because I am concerned that Republicans in Congress do not share your goal and are not giving you good advice on this issue. I’m worried that they are not acting in the best interests of your presidency or the country. I encourage you to be skeptical of them.

    It is entirely possible for you to sign a conservative health care bill that lives up to your belief in universal coverage. It’s a bill that you could celebrate as a replacement of Obamacare. But it would be quite different from the bills that congressional Republicans are pushing.

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Trump's win was unusual but it wasn't historic

    Donald Trump's aides, understanding their leader, vie to be most ostentatious about calling his victory "historic."

    That claim deserves close inspection. Certainly Trump's rise to the White House was unusual and surprising, even if only because it produced the least politically experienced and probably least qualified president in American history. It could also have lasting consequences: the shape of the Supreme Court, the prospects for war or peace, the shredding of regulations and the social safety net.

    But the truly historic elections reshape or realign U.S. politics. There are many reasons to believe that 2016 isn't one of them.

    Generally, political historians believe there were three clear realigning elections. The first was in 1828, when Andrew Jackson mobilized populist passions, moved the center of power westward and ushered in an age of expansionism. Then, in 1896, William McKinley refined the coalition of business and successful farmers that kept Republicans in power for 28 of the next 36 years. In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal forged a Democratic Party coalition that also ruled for 28 of 36 years.

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How China beats the U.S. at clean-air progress

    As Beijing and more than 20 other cities in northern China have been plunged into another winter air-pollution crisis, with choking, toxic air and many people afraid to wander outside, observers wonder when China will start making significant progress on this problem. But there is some good news, namely that when it comes to clean air improvements, China probably is ahead of the historic pace of the U.S. at a comparable stage of economic development.

    To be sure, China faces serious pollution problems. The country relies heavily on manufacturing, the state is reluctant to close unprofitable businesses, dirty coal is an important energy source, automobile use is increasing and the central government doesn't have enough power to enforce its will on the local authorities. Most of those problems, however, also plagued the U.S. in the middle of the 20th century.

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Hacking merits a joint inquiry by Congress

    Russia's theft and strategic leaking of emails and documents from the Democratic Party and other officials present a challenge to the U.S. political system unlike anything we've experienced. In October, when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. declared that the intelligence community was confident that Russia was responsible for hacking and dumping material and that such activities could only have been authorized by Russia's senior-most officials, he was describing a modern-day Watergate break-in, but one that was carried out by a foreign adversary through cyber means.

    The unprecedented interference in our election is disturbing enough, but the damage to our democratic system was compounded by campaign rhetoric calling on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's email. Continued dismissals of the intelligence community's consensus viewthat the most senior levels of the Russian government directed the attacks undermine those in the best position to prevent and disrupt further problems.

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As Trump administration nears, his priorities raise doubts

    Donald Trump and his adult children are continuing to dodge the obvious conflict of interest of running a huge for-profit business enterprise while he gets ready to run the country.

    Trump's post-election promise to clarify the situation, while insisting that by law as a president he has no obligation to separate the two, showed leakage the other day. The highly respected nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity revealed that Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump were publicly listed as part of a fundraiser offering access to the president-elect for half a million dollars or more.

    An initial proposal, soon disavowed by the Trump transition team, of which the two sons are members, said donors would be invited to "a private reception and photo opportunity" with the new president on the day after his Jan. 20 inauguration. Also, it said, they would get a "multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion" with one of the sons.

    When the event became public, run by an Opening Day Foundation in Texas, the Trump transition team said the sons had been used without their permission and asked that their names be deleted.

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December 29th

America the Indivisible

    Rare indeed, and bracing, are the moments that strip us of certainties and force us back to consideration of our most fundamental values.

    Such was 2016.

    Donald Trump campaigned to an America now largely dependent on televisual and social media-provisioned sources of information and misinformation.

    Institutions - such as newspapers, political parties and universities - that have traditionally helped test and vet evidence and argument hit, and now must face, the limits of their influence.

    As a society, we find that our disagreements are deep and that many of us, perhaps even most of us, too easily personalize them. We are dangerously near treating one another as aliens.

    Where to from here? The single most helpful resource I have hit upon this fall is an old book by the Roman politician and intellectual Cicero. It's called "On Duties." In it, Cicero offers guidance on navigating turbulent political times.

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The hope of Christmas in times of horror

    As a kid, the 24 hours leading up to Christmas were always the longest day of my life. Time fought to stand still, grudgingly giving way to the movement of the clock's hands.

    I wanted the day out of the way in time for the great vigil - an event I never stayed awake long enough to observe: the surreptitious delivery of presents by a visitor in the night.

    Now, Advent, that four-week waiting period for Christmas, has assumed its rightful time and place in my adult life.

    Advent comes with instructions that are often hard to follow: Slow down, be quiet and meditate on the real reason for the season; prepare for what's to come.

    Try doing that this tumultuous year.

    Advent, which ends Saturday, got started on Nov. 27 at my St. Mary's Episcopal Churchwith a ceremonial lighting of "Hope," the first of four candles on the Advent wreath.

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Pastor, Am I a Christian?

    What does it mean to be a Christian in the 21st century? Can one be a Christian and yet doubt the virgin birth or the Resurrection? I put these questions to the Rev. Timothy Keller, an evangelical Christian pastor and best-selling author who is among the most prominent evangelical thinkers today. Our conversation has been edited for space and clarity.

    Kristof: Tim, I deeply admire Jesus and his message, but am also skeptical of themes that have been integral to Christianity — the virgin birth, the Resurrection, the miracles and so on. Since this is the Christmas season, let’s start with the virgin birth. Is that an essential belief, or can I mix and match? 

    Keller: If something is truly integral to a body of thought, you can’t remove it without destabilizing the whole thing. A religion can’t be whatever we desire it to be. If I’m a member of the board of Greenpeace and I come out and say climate change is a hoax, they will ask me to resign. I could call them narrow-minded, but they would rightly say that there have to be some boundaries for dissent or you couldn’t have a cohesive, integrated organization. And they’d be right. It’s the same with any religious faith.

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