More than 500 years ago, Thomas More published a slim book in Latin that bequeathed us the word "Utopia." He conjured up a fictional island where people enjoy "life in happiness and peace, with all cares removed."
Three centuries later, philosopher John Stuart Mill questioned the practicality of achieving a Utopia -- popularizing the term "dystopia" in a speech to the House of Commons.
As they presented their case this past week for ousting the President, Democrats summoned a dystopian vision of Donald Trump's America: a rampaging virus, record unemployment and democracy in danger. Over four nights, convention speakers, including Barack and Michelle Obama, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Jill Biden, invoked decency, empathy, democracy, diversity and unity to rally voters behind Joe Biden. Trump is clueless about the Covid-19 pandemic and completely out of his depth in his job, they said. "It is what it is," Michelle Obama concluded, echoing the President's own recent comment.
Forced by the coronavirus to meet virtually, Democrats invented some new ways of convening, featuring a roll call that offered glimpses of all 57 states and territories -- including a cameo appearance by a platter of Rhode Island calamari. "Let's not go back to the old way of doing conventions," Jen Psaki wrote, "The third night of the Democratic National Convention was far more powerful and more moving..."
But that was last week. Starting Monday Republicans will have a chance to strike back at their convention, to defend Trump's presidency and to warn Americans not to entrust the White House to Democrats. And the outlines of their own fearsome dystopia are not hard to imagine. On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence said on Fox News, "Joe Biden said last night that democracy was on the ballot, character's on the ballot. Well, the economy is on the ballot, law and order is on the ballot, and the American people know it."
Looking ahead to the RNC, David Axelrod wrote, "What may seem like a humane, common sense agenda to most Americans this week will be cast by Trump and the Republicans as nothing more than job-crushing environmental regulations; amnesty for 'illegals' and open borders; an attack on police that invites urban violence and anarchy; onerous new taxation and a radical assault on the Second Amendment."
"These are the jagged fault lines of American politics: a rising number of young people, racial minorities and college-educated White voters versus those who view the cultural and social changes proudly displayed at the Democratic National Convention this week as a threat," Axelrod noted.
Frida Ghitis noted that in his speech Thursday night, Biden "made it stark when he vowed to help the country 'overcome this season of darkness' ... underpinning it all was the terrifying prospect that the devastation caused by the current President could lead the country to even darker places if Democrats cannot win in November."
Praise for Biden
Biden's speech got positive reviews, jeopardizing Trump's effort to question the former vice president's mental ability. "The caricature of the bumbling old fool that Republicans were pushing went out the window tonight," wrote Van Jones. "They will have to go back to the drawing board for their convention next week."
David Gergen, who has been an adviser to four presidents, argued that "Biden emphatically proved on Thursday that he is up to the job — and then some. He spoke movingly about pain and suffering but showed flashes of inner steel when describing his opponent."
Republicans contended that the Democrats focused more on passion than policy, as Alice Stewart put it. "They are making a strong play for winning over the hearts of voters-- and largely relying on emotion to carry them over the finish line."
Oren Cass said, "Barack Obama's legacy looms awkwardly over Joe Biden." He added that "Biden's agenda was, almost verbatim, a reiteration of Obama's ... none of this tackles America's fundamental challenges or changes course from the policy mistakes of the past generation."
Many Americans are concerned about casting their vote this fall, given the pandemic and Trump's continual attacks on mail-in ballots. Postal worker Sinikka Melvin, who heads the postal worker union local in Clarksburg, West Virginia, wrote that her co-workers are committed to their mission. "We're Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and everything in between. Regardless, we're still postal workers who, come snow, rain, heat or politics, will get the mail to our communities. We want our new postmaster general to give us the tools to do our job and do it well."
And it's not only about the election, Melvin wrote. "Delayed deliveries harm the public. It's the customer who comes first thing in the morning to get a medicine they urgently need and can't wait for. It's your paycheck you need to put food on the table. It's that new coat your child needs for winter. It's your passport you've eagerly waited on. Your reading list for the new semester. Your 12th birthday card. Your new face mask. The ways the Postal Service affects our lives are endless."
For more on the campaign:
Dean Obeidallah: Taylor Swift is 100% right about Donald Trump
Barbara Boxer: What Joe Biden taught me when we served in the Senate
Leon Panetta: What I learned about Joe Biden
Paul Callan: If Trump loses and won't leave, it could get ugly
Charlie Dent: I'm voting for Joe Biden
Jay Parini: The biggest lesson Scranton taught Joe Biden
Julian Zelizer: It's a mistake for Democrats to brush impeachment under the rug
Richard Reddick: The part of Kamala Harris' story that fills Jamaicans with pride
Steve Bannon indicted
The controversial former Trump campaign official and White House adviser Steve Bannon was arrested Thursday and charged in what Southern District of New York (SDNY) prosecutors said was a conspiracy to defraud donors to a crowdfunding campaign that would become the non-profit "We Build the Wall."
Despite promises that all of the money raised would go toward building a portion of the southern border wall, Elie Honig wrote, Bannon and his co-conspirators used some of it "to pay for their own lavish lifestyles and expenses including 'travel, hotels, consumer goods, and personal credit card debts,'" according to the indictment.
If convicted, Bannon would likely face a sentence of at least seven to nine years, Honig said. Though the odds favor conviction in federal court, he can go to trial, "or Bannon can try to cooperate with the SDNY -- which could offer him his best chance at a significant sentencing reduction. ...But, to save himself, Bannon will very likely need to give the SDNY the ammunition it needs to take others down too."
Michael D'Antonio wrote that Bannon's arrest aboard the yacht of an exiled Chinese dissident "has added one more big name to the list of Trump-adjacent figures who have found trouble with the law. For years it's seemed like a parade of conmen has trailed the President and that prosecutors have tried to pick them off one-by-one."
Bannon called the charges a "political hit job" and promised to fight them. Trump said he "didn't like" the private fundraising project for the wall.
Whether or not the GOP wins in November, wrote Sarah Isgur, "it will be a party that will never have Donald Trump on the ballot again."
We asked Isgur and 10 other Republicans for their take on the party's future as the convention begins. Clearly Trump has reshaped the party in his own image, dispensing with much of the conservative ideology that animated it since the Reagan presidency. "The 2024 nominee will be charting a new path for the Republican Party without the shibboleths of the conservative movement that used to comprise it," Isgur wrote.
The party should "get back to standing for and focusing on a platform instead of personalities," wrote Scott Jennings. "I became a Republican, despite coming from a family of Democrats, for a handful of reasons. I am pro-life, because all life is precious and should be protected. I believe in lower taxes, because I don't support punishing people who work hard and create opportunity for others.
"And I think the United States ought to have the most fearsome and lethal military in the world, to serve as a deterrent most of the time and as a force to be reckoned with when bad actors choose to test us."
Red states are more fiscally prudent, wrote former US Rep. Mia Love. "I would like to see the party capitalize on this advantage and others that drew me, a first generation Black American, into the fold. Republicans have answers to poverty that actually work. Their pro-work, pro-family, pro-business, low tax agenda creates jobs and expands opportunity."
Others are skeptical that the party can really survive its current standard-bearer. "The corruption of the Republican Party by Trump is complete," wrote SE Cupp. "The idea that Republicans can -- earnestly and with a straight face -- just pretend like the last four years never happened and pick up the policies and principles that the party used to espouse strains credulity."
One of the most compelling moments of the Democratic convention was Michelle Obama's blistering attack on President Trump. No former first lady "has spoken so passionately about unseating an incumbent," wrote Kate Andersen Brower. "The focus of her remarks was not Joe Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris, the first Black woman ever on a major party ticket. It was all about getting Trump out, and as a former first lady her words matter," Brower noted.
"What she delivered was a master class," wrote Van Jones. "She was not just trying to put the President down -- she was trying to pick the country up."
The former president, Barack Obama, joined in making the case against Trump on the third night of the convention. "The former president's speech was a balance of slashing attacks against his successor, combined with inspirational invocations of the civil rights movement, which served as an exemplar of America's commitment to forming a more perfect union with each generation," wrote John Avlon. "He also passed the baton to Kamala Harris, who described her childhood's stroller-eye view of civil rights marches with her parents. Hers was a personal speech, an introduction to many Americans of the pioneering figure who could be our country's first woman of color Vice-President."
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Nick Prince: In the shadow of Covid-19, silent killers re-emerge
Nancy Santiago and Frankie Martínez-Blanco: Puerto Rico's future is for Puerto Ricans to determine
Exactly 100 years since women gained the right to vote, the US is in the midst of a national debate over exercising that franchise.
Recognizing his weakness among women voters, President Trump this week issued a posthumous pardon to suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony, who was arrested for voting in 1872 in Rochester, New York.
"As Trump announces that he is pardoning a woman whose life's work was expanding voting rights," wrote Jill Filipovic, "he's simultaneously trying to make it more difficult for Americans to carry out their fundamental civic duty of political participation, In the midst of a deadly pandemic when it's simply not safe to be in close proximity with other people indoors for extended periods of time, Trump has been hard at work undermining the US Postal Service -- the agency that will be in charge of ferrying millions of absentee and mail-in ballots to the vote counters."
Our social and cultural commentary editor Jane Carr has been curating viewpoints on the suffrage anniversary. Treva B. Lindsey wrote that we should be careful to look at that history critically: "This centennial is a momentous occasion to honor the tremendous political labor of tens of thousands of women who made the 19th Amendment possible. And yet, 'commemorate' is the word I choose to use, because we cannot 'celebrate' the ways in which the broader movement often attempted to relegate the voices and experiences of women of color to the background."
Coline Jenkins, who is the great-great-grandaughter of one of the earliest suffrage activists, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, urged Americans to pay attention to "the 72 years of agitation, protest, social condemnation, imprisonment, and even violence that women endured to gain the ballot."
What the lives of the suffrage advocates should "teach us is that voting rights have always been a struggle and how citizenship is defined, and who defines it, is a continual source of conflict."