Harold Wilson led Britain as prime minister for much of the 1960s and a shorter stint in the 1970s. Reputed to be a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II, the pipe-smoking Labour Party leader was a character in the most recent season of "The Crown." Wilson is usually credited with saying, "A week is a long time in politics."
His aphorism certainly fits the tumultuous events of the past week -- and maybe the coming one too.
The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18 suddenly allowed President Donald Trump to pick his candidate for a pivotal seat on the top court. And, as the week advanced, it became clear that he would gain almost unanimous support from Republican senators for a vote on the nomination in the final days of the presidential campaign, a process they denied President Barack Obama four years ago by blocking consideration of his replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia -- nine months out from the 2016 election. ("Blatant hypocrisy," wrote Issac Bailey.)
Even Sen. Mitt Romney, the only Republican who voted in February to remove Trump from office after his impeachment, signaled he'd favor voting to confirm a conservative judge as a Ginsburg replacement before the election, prompting Jill Filipovic to write, "It appears this particular prize is simply too big for Romney to maintain his principles."
Yesterday, eight days after Ginsburg's death, Trump announced that he was nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the court, setting in motion a confirmation process that will run concurrently with the last 37 days of the campaign.
On Tuesday, Trump and his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden will appear together for the first time in a debate. And by the end of the week, we'll start to see whether their face-off alters the dynamics of the contest, which Biden has consistently led in the national polls.
'Not a drill'
This past week, controversy flared over Trump's extraordinary refusal to commit to the American political norm of a peaceful transfer of power.
"This is not a drill. This is not a game," wrote John Avlon. "The President of the United States just told us that he would not commit to peacefully turning over the government to a new administration if he loses the election ... This is a threat. This is a warning. And anyone who ever called themselves a patriot or a defender of the Constitution ought to condemn it immediately."
"Whatever Trump has in mind," wrote Frida Ghitis, "there is only one sure way to prevent a disaster that could engulf the entire country: A landslide victory for Biden would make it more difficult for Trump to remain in office by leveraging the courts, Congressional Republicans, and even the bands of extremists roaming antiracism protests aiming to spark more chaos. A decisive electoral result could defang Trump's post-election troops."
In late November, 2000, as the nation waited to find out who won the incredibly close presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, a crowd of conservatives gathered in a Florida high-rise to stop the manual recounting of ballots in Miami.
The protest by the well-dressed crowd earned the ironic title of the "Brooks Brothers Riot." Could we see something similar this November? "In light of the President's own words and actions," wrote Julian Zelizer, "officials are rightfully worried about a too-close-to-call nightmare scenario that might spur the President -- or his followers -- to go all-out in an attempt to make sure things go his way. If this happens, the Brooks Brothers Riot might just look like kid's play."
In selecting Amy Coney Barrett for the court, Trump picked the closest thing to a rock star in the world of conservative judicial politics. "Barrett, a 48-year-old judge at the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, has the head, heart, and history to be an outstanding Supreme Court justice," wrote Paul Callan, ticking off her summa cum laude degree from Notre Dame Law School, her prestigious clerkships, her many articles and court opinions and adding, "her qualities of selflessness, empathy and heart are demonstrated in her and her husband's decision to adopt two children from hurricane and strife-torn Haiti and to raise a child with Down Syndrome, her youngest, Benjamin, who she described as the children's 'favorite sibling.'"
Barrett's opponents blasted the nomination, not for her personal qualities but for her ideology. "Her record of about 100 written opinions leaves zero doubt that she is an ideologically and politically motivated judge," wrote Shan Wu, a former federal prosecutor. "This is exactly what Trump needs in an election that the United States Supreme Court may end up deciding." Wu said there's "little danger here of a Justice Neil Gorsuch-like streak of independent thinking ruining an otherwise perfectly good replay of Supreme Court's Bush v. Gore decision that awarded the presidency to George W. by judicial fiat. No, she is a jurist who can be depended on to elevate political ideology over legal analysis."
If confirmed, Barrett could be on the Supreme Court bench November 10, when the court is due to hear arguments in a case challenging the law that established Obamacare. Trump, "the man who has spent years trying to destroy it now wants to hand-pick the successor of one of the five justices who voted to uphold it," wrote Abdul El-Sayed. "It could mean the end of the law as we know it -- and leave millions of Americans without health care in a pandemic."
A rush to confirm Ginsburg's replacement could have long-lasting consequences, wrote Robert Alexander and David B. Cohen. While it may be cheered by Trump's GOP base, it could also inspire outraged Democrats to vote. "Our electoral system has enabled a minority of the population to rule," they noted. "We would not be surprised, then, if McConnell's decision to try and fill the seat ultimately backfires on Republicans by ushering in a unified Democratic government. If that were to happen, Democrats may well choose to wield their power to regain control of the courts -- especially if they believe that two Supreme Court seats were stolen during Trump's only term."
Other views on the court:
Charlie Dent: Democrats play politics with Supreme Court too
John Avlon: GOP's Supreme Court hypocrisy in their own words
When Trump and Biden appear with moderator Chris Wallace in Cleveland Tuesday evening, the stakes may be higher than usual for a presidential debate. "The nature of this year's campaign -- where voters have had less direct contact with the candidates as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic -- makes Tuesday evening's matchup potentially more consequential than in the past," wrote Lanhee J. Chen.
He urged Trump to focus on the economy, an issue where polls show he has an edge, to be ready to talk about health care and to "keep the pressure on Biden," who "has kept a relatively light campaign schedule for much of the last few months and, in his public events, has rarely faced tough questioning or direct criticism."
David Gergen learned the value of having candidates prepare for presidential debates in 1980 when he worked on Ronald Reagan's campaign against President Jimmy Carter and independent John Anderson. Gergen wrote that "Biden must figure out in advance how to handle Trump's bullying and any attempts to bait him into an ugly brawl. And how should he respond if Trump plows over the time limit and moderator Chris Wallace can't stop him? What should Biden do when Trump flatly lies time and again, as he is almost certainly bound to?"
Todd Graham is a debate coach whose teams have won five national championships. His advice for Biden? "Control the room," Graham suggested. "Don't get lost in the weeds of specific arguments. Instead, emphasize attitude. Stand up to Trump. Be assertive. Be aggressive. Be big." (Read Graham's advice for the moderators of the four campaign debates.)
In picking "race and violence in our cities" as one of the debate topics, Wallace took an approach that is "nakedly partisan and blatantly favorable to Trump," wrote Steven A. Holmes. "In the months since George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police, the President has fought to keep the focus on the violence that has marred some of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations against police brutality, rather than talking about the police misconduct that prompted the protests in the first place."
For more on the campaign and Trump's presidency:
Peter Bergen: The top Trump adviser who chose not to write a tell-all book
Ashish Prashar and DeAnna Hoskins: How Biden could make up for his criminal justice mistakes
Lanhee J. Chen: Biden may seem like a centrist, but his platform is progressive
Van Jones and Nisha Anand: What 56 million kids, and their parents, need to hear from Biden and Trump
It's "very sobering, and in some respects, stunning," that 200,000 Americans have died of Covid-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN's Sanjay Gupta on Tuesday. And there are no signs of an end to the pandemic.
Asked about it on Fox News, Trump gave his handling of the pandemic an A+, while faulting the media for how his administration's response has been covered. The 200,000 victims, Dean Obeidallah observed, "deserve a better response from the President. They are not a PR crisis to be managed -- they were someone's loved one. They were beloved mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. They were grandparents who taught their grandchildren about life, teachers who made students smarter, coaches who pushed their players to be better, deli owners who remained open so neighborhoods would have food during lockdowns. They were doctors, nurses, police officers and others who worked while many of us were able to stay safe in our homes ... The people who died were not only like us, they often were the best of us."
President Trump has contended that a vaccine could be approved by Election Day, a prospect that scientists have suggested is wildly optimistic.
The risks of a rushed vaccine are huge, wrote Dr. Kent Sepkowitz. "If indeed people develop side effects after their injection, the vaccine program also runs the risk that those just barely accepting of it will be scared away from other already safe vaccines that have saved countless lives. We could come out of the Covid-19 experience an even less healthy and less sensible nation than we are today."
Edgar Marcuse, who has chaired the US National Vaccine Advisory Committee, wrote, "Gaining the confidence of American people in the processes and systems that lead to the development and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines is essential."
Kentucky's Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced Wednesday the indictment of one officer in the Breonna Taylor investigation, but it wasn't the justice her family and many people around the country were seeking.
"Justice feels like the elusive carrot that is dangled but never caught," wrote Laura Coates, a former prosecutor. "Consider the fact that (former Louisville Det. Brett) Hankison was charged for shooting in the manner that could have killed someone. No officer has been charged for the fact that someone actually did die." She said, of Taylor, "Disturbingly, it seems her death was summarily dismissed as collateral damage."
Lisa Respers France observed, "The death of Breonna Taylor has been yet another painful reminder that women like me, Black women, are not safe in America."
When Neil Siegel, a former law clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and now a Duke University law professor, had dinner with Ginsburg at a favorite DC restaurant, he told her he was separated and getting divorced. "She saw that I was shaken. When dinner was over and she stood to leave, she looked at me -- into me -- with her steely gaze. She said simply and clearly: 'Neil, you will get through this, like you have gotten through everything else in your life.'" Ginsburg would give the same advice to America now, he wrote: "you will get through this, like you have gotten through everything else in the life of this nation."
In the midst of the mourning for Ginsburg, it's interesting to look back to the moment when President Bill Clinton nominated her for the Supreme Court in 1993. Renee Knake Jefferson and Hannah Brenner Johnson pointed out that liberal as well as conservative women's groups, along with those on both sides of the abortion debate, raised concerns about her nomination.
The authors credit President Jimmy Carter, who appointed Ginsburg to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in 1980, for stressing diversity in judicial nominations.
"But for Carter's efforts to diversify the federal judiciary, she might never have gained this judicial experience that made her candidacy so attractive to President Clinton when he selected her for the Supreme Court," Jefferson and Johnson wrote. "When President Barack Obama greeted RBG at Justice Elena Kagan's swearing-in, he asked her: 'Are you happy that I brought you two women?' Ginsburg replied, "Yes, but I'll be happier when you bring me five more.'"
For more on Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
Betsy West and Julie Cohen: 'RBG' filmmakers: How Justice Ginsburg wanted to be remembered
Peniel Joseph: Remembering 'Notorious RBG' is complicated
Michael Klarman: Ex-RBG law clerk: My two favorite stories about Ginsburg
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings: What my husband, Elijah Cummings, would say if he were alive today
Alex Totterman: The disturbing truth about plastic recycling
Fall began this week in the shadow of a pandemic that affects all of our lives, in ways big and small. Nick Couldry and Bruce Schneier pointed out that "many of us have been feeling a sense of unease that goes beyond anxiety or distress. It's a nameless feeling that somehow makes it hard to go on with even the nice things we regularly do."
They described it as "a restless distraction that stems not just from not knowing when it will all end, but also from not knowing what that end will look like," and credited Jonathan Zecher for resurrecting a name for it: acedia.
"Acedia was a malady that apparently plagued many Medieval monks," wrote Couldry and Schneier. "It's a sense of no longer caring about caring, not because one had become apathetic, but because somehow the whole structure of care had become jammed up."
This is not just something to analyze, it's vital to take action, they wrote. We need to "recognize it as a problem we choose to face together -- across political and cultural lines -- as families, communities, nations and a global humanity. Which means doing so in acceptance of our shared vulnerability, rather than suffering each on our own."