Editorial Roundup: United States
Jan 15, 2024, 5:20 PM
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The New York Times on the responsibility of Republican voters
Iowa Republicans who will gather on Monday to cast the first votes of the 2024 presidential campaign season, and voters in New Hampshire and the states that will follow, have one essential responsibility: to nominate a candidate who is fit to serve as president, one who will “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Donald Trump, who has proved himself unwilling to do so, is manifestly unworthy. He is facing criminal trials for his conduct as a candidate in 2016, as president and as a former president. In this, his third presidential bid, he has intensified his multiyear campaign to undermine the rule of law and the democratic process. He has said that if elected, he will behave like a dictator on “Day 1” and that he will direct the Justice Department to investigate his political rivals and his critics in the media, declaring that the greatest dangers to the nation come “not from abroad, but from within.”
Mr. Trump has a clear path to the nomination; no polling to date suggests he is anything but the front-runner. Yet Republicans in these states still have their ballots to cast. At this critical moment, it is imperative to remind voters that they still have the opportunity to nominate a different standard-bearer for the Republican Party, and all Americans should hope that they do so. This is not a partisan concern. It is good for the country when both major parties have qualified presidential candidates to put forward their competing views on the role of government in American society. Voters deserve such a choice in 2024.
Mr. Trump’s construction of a cult of personality in which loyalty is the only real requirement has badly damaged the Republican Party and the health of American democracy. During the fight over the leadership of the House of Representatives in the fall, for example, Mr. Trump torpedoed the candidacy of Tom Emmer, a lawmaker who voted to certify the 2020 election results, to ensure the ascendancy of Mike Johnson, a loyalist who was an architect of the attempt to overturn that election. (Mr. Emmer has since endorsed Mr. Trump.) But some Republicans have set an example of integrity, demonstrating the courage to put their convictions and conservative principles above loyalty to Mr. Trump. Examples include people whom he once counted as allies, like former Attorney General Bill Barr, former Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats.
Voters may agree with the former president’s plans for further tax cuts, restrictions on abortions or strict limits on immigration. That’s politics, and the divisions among Americans over these issues will persist regardless of the outcome of this election. But electing Mr. Trump to four more years in the White House is a unique danger. Because what remains, what still binds Americans together as a nation, is the commitment to a process, a constitutional system for making decisions and moving forward even when Americans do not agree about the destination. That system guarantees the freedoms Americans enjoy, the foundation of the nation’s prosperity and of its security.
Mr. Trump’s record of contempt for the Constitution — and his willingness to corrupt people, systems and processes to his advantage — puts all of it at risk.
Upholding the Constitution means accepting the results of elections. Unsuccessful presidential candidates have shouldered the burden of conceding because the integrity of the process is ultimately more important than the identity of the president. “The people have spoken, and we respect the majesty of the democratic system,” George H.W. Bush, the last president before Mr. Trump to lose a bid for re-election, said on the night of his defeat in 1992. When Mr. Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, he sought to retain power by fomenting a violent insurrection against the government of the United States.
It also means accepting that the power of the victors is limited. When the Supreme Court delivered a sharp setback to President George W. Bush in 2008, ruling that foreign terrorism suspects held at Guantánamo Bay had the right to challenge their detention in federal court, the Bush administration accepted the ruling. Senator John McCain, then the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, said that he disagreed with the court, “but it is a decision the Supreme Court has made, and now we need to move forward.”
By contrast, as president, Mr. Trump repeatedly attacked the integrity of other government officials, including members of Congress, Federal Reserve governors, public health authorities and federal judges, and disregarded their authority. When the court ruled that the Trump administration could not add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, for example, Mr. Trump announced that he intended to ignore the court’s ruling. After leaving the White House, Mr. Trump refused repeated demands, including a grand jury subpoena, to return classified materials to the government. As the government investigated, Mr. Trump called on Congress to defund the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice “until they come to their senses.”
Voters inclined to support Mr. Trump as an instrument of certain policy goals might learn from his presidency that changes achieved by lawless machinations can prove ephemeral. Federal courts overturned Mr. Trump’s effort to deny federal funding to “sanctuary cities.” Campaign promises to roll back environmental regulations also came to naught: Courts repeatedly chastised the Trump administration for failing to follow regulatory procedures or to provide adequate justifications for its decisions. Mr. Trump’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, announced on Twitter in 2017, was challenged in court and reversed on the sixth day of the Biden administration.
In 2016, Mr. Trump appealed to many caucus and primary voters as an alternative to the Republican establishment. He campaigned on a platform that challenged the party’s orthodoxies, including promises to provide support for domestic manufacturing and pursue a foreign policy much more narrowly defined by self-interest.
Voters who favor Mr. Trump’s prescriptions now have other options. The Republican Party of 2024 has been reshaped by the former president’s populism. While there are some meaningful differences among the other Republican candidates — on foreign policy, in particular — for the most part, Mr. Trump’s “America First” agenda has become the new orthodoxy.
Mr. Trump is now distinguished from the rest of the Republican candidates primarily by his contempt for the rule of law. The sooner he is rejected, the sooner the Republican Party can return to the difficult but necessary task of working within the system to achieve its goals.
The Washington Post on the suffering in Gaza
Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Israel this week bearing a message for the country’s leaders only an American diplomat could deliver with a high chance of being heeded: Alleviate Gaza’s misery and plan for its future. President Biden, with his rhetorical and material support for Israel’s war against Hamas, has positioned himself to influence Israeli leaders to see past their understandable outrage at the horrors of Oct. 7 and their legitimate desire to eliminate Gaza-based terrorists — and toward critical humanitarian and strategic concerns that Israeli leaders should see are in everyone’s interest, including theirs. These include minimizing civilian deaths; improving conditions for displaced Palestinians; and planning for a postwar dispensation that provides dignity to both Israelis and Palestinians, by laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state not dominated by Hamas.
The Biden administration’s challenge is extreme. But so is the need.
The military onslaught. Now, huge sections of Gaza are reduced to rubble, its civilian population huddled in tent camps, desperately in need of food and medicine.
A bombed like few places in recent decades. Hamas has embedded itself deeply in civilian life and structures, such as schools and hospitals. Meanwhile, Israel has deployed massive firepower in its campaign to uproot Hamas. The Wall Street Journal reported that, by mid-December, Israel had dropped 29,000 bombs, munitions and shells on the strip, destroying or damaging nearly 70 percent of Gaza’s 439,000 homes and about half of its buildings, and much of the water, electrical, communications and health-care infrastructure is beyond repair. Most of the strip’s 36 hospitals are shut down, the Journal reported, and only eight are accepting patients. More than two-thirds of its schools are damaged. More than half of all roads, the World Bank found, have been damaged or destroyed. Some 342 schools have been damaged, according to the United Nations, including 70 of its own schools.
It is still unknown how effective the military assault has been at disabling Hamas, though Israeli officials claim to have dismantled its military capability in northern Gaza.Mr. Biden is right to press Israeli leaders on the steep human toll in any case. More than 22,000 Palestinians have died, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, a part of Gaza’s Hamas-controlled government that international groups nevertheless say has provided reasonable estimates in previous conflicts. About 85 percent of Gaza’s population has been displaced, concentrated in the south of the strip. Even with trucks bringing in supplies , the United Nations reports, hunger is now common.
Before the war, 500 or more trucks a day entered Gaza. During a pause in fighting, there were about 200 daily. On Jan. 3, only 105 trucks carrying food, medicine and supplies entered the strip, and 187 trucks on Jan. 4. The supplies are less than the humanitarian situation requires, according to U.N. officials.
Israeli officials say they are scaling back the fighting, though military operations could be fierce in central and southern Gaza — places to which Palestinians fled. For its part, Hamas still holds more than 100 Israeli hostages, whose release, along with an end to Hamas rule in Gaza, would be preconditions for any realistic truce. In the meantime, Mr. Blinken and Israeli leaders need to prioritize getting in more aid trucks, as well as ensuring their safety inside Gaza — a critical task, as aid trucks have been raided as they transit the strip. U.S. pressure has already moved Israel to allow aid to cross its border with Gaza, in addition to crossing on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt.
But these are short-term measures. In the long term, Gaza will need to be rebuilt — physically, yes, but also politically and socially. Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for Palestinians to leave the strip, a repugnant policy of ethnic cleansing that the Israeli government has not embraced and that Israeli President Isaac Herzog has publicly disavowed. Israel should recognize now that there is no reasonable, long-term settlement with the Palestinians that does not involve the creation of a Palestinian state. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed a two-state solution; the Biden administration must make clear that Oct. 7 has changed the picture, and Israel’s policy must change, too. Alternative approaches — direct Israeli occupation of Gaza, blockade, various forms of limited Palestinian self-rule — have all failed.
The obstacles are evident, as are the failures of past peace talks. But Mr. Biden, Israel, Arab states and all other actors should seek to offer Gazans hope that something better can be made of the ruin. Otherwise, what emerges from the despair will be ugly indeed.
The Wall Street Journal on SCOTUS and vagrancy
Good news for West Coast denizens. The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear an appeal challenging a judicial ruling that established a de facto constitutional right to vagrancy. Wouldn’t it be rich if conservative Justices rescue progressive cities from themselves? (City of Grants Pass v. Johnson.)
A panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2022 blocked the Oregon town of Grants Pass from enforcing “anti-camping” laws on public property. The judges said the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits cities from arresting or imposing penalties on homeless people for squatting on public property if there aren’t enough shelter beds for every vagrant.
Progressives have used the ruling to sue to stop cities across the West from enforcing similar laws. Under the appellate court’s precedent, a police officer in, say, San Francisco can’t cite a homeless person who has set up a tent inside a public playground even if he has been offered temporary housing.
Many homeless reject temporary shelter because they’d rather live on the streets where they can freely use drugs. The Ninth Circuit decision has made it harder for local officials to use the threat of penalties to force vagrants to accept treatment for mental illness and drug addiction, which has contributed to the increasing disorder in West Coast cities.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed last summer held a rally in front of the Ninth Circuit courthouse to protest a lower-court injunction blocking the city from clearing homeless camps. The judges weren’t moved. On Thursday a 2-1 majority of a three-judge panel upheld the lower-court ruling.
In a fiery dissent, Judge Patrick Bumatay explained that nothing in “the text, history and tradition” of the Eighth Amendment “comes close to prohibiting enforcement of commonplace anti-vagrancy laws.” The court’s “sweeping injunction has no basis in the Constitution or our precedent,” he added. “San Francisco should not be treated as an experiment for judicial tinkering.”
“Our decision is cruel because it leaves the citizens of San Francisco powerless to enforce their own health and safety laws without the permission of a federal judge,” Judge Bumatay wrote. “And it’s unusual because no other court in the country has interpreted the Constitution in this way.” This may be one reason the High Court agreed to hear the Grants Pass appeal.
Local governments in the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Phoenix, also urged Justices to hear the case. That includes California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who argued in a friend-of-court brief that “courts are not well-suited to micromanage such nuanced policy issues based on ill-defined rules.” We look forward to Mr. Newsom’s constitutional communion with Justice Clarence Thomas.
The Los Angeles Times on House Speaker Mike Johnson and a potential government shutdown
Once again, the federal government faces a shutdown of important services — only this time there are two precipices from which the nation will plunge if Congress doesn’t act. Under a complex short-term spending measure adopted in November, funding for some departments will run out on Jan. 19 while for other departments the deadline is Feb. 2. For Americans dependent on government services and federal paychecks, Congress must again pull the country back from the brink.
The good news is that congressional leaders have worked out a bipartisan deal, praised by President Biden, which would set spending levels for the current fiscal year consistent with a compromise reached last year to temporarily suspend the federal debt ceiling. The new agreement includes some concessions to Republicans, including a faster pace for $20 billion in budget cuts to the Internal Revenue Service.
Republican opposition to adequate resources for the IRS is counterproductive and rooted in a fantasy of an “army” of IRS agents menacing American citizens. But, just as Republicans must acknowledge the fact that this is a divided federal government, so must Democrats be willing to make compromises to avert a fiscal disaster.
The problem is that there probably isn’t enough time for Congress to enact the compromise through its regular procedures before the deadlines. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that “obviously” another temporary government funding bill will be necessary to bridge the gap. The problem is that House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is on record as saying “I’m done” with short-term continuing resolutions.
More ominously, the same hard-right Republicans who eventually ousted former Speaker Kevin McCarthy could make trouble for Johnson if he pursues the wise course of fiscal responsibility and compromise with Democrats. On Wednesday, several Republicans registered their displeasure with the spending deal by joining Democrats in voting to block debate on three unrelated bills.
In a further complication, some Republicans might try to use the threat of a government shutdown as tightening of the standards for the “credible fear” of persecution or torture used in initial interviews with migrants requesting asylum.
Biden has said he is open to “significant compromises” on border security. Given the apparent progress on the border issue, there is no reason to entangle it with the attempt to forestall a shutdown.
Johnson, like McCarthy, has tried to appease hard-right Republicans by supporting a baseless impeachment inquiry into Biden while showing some sense of responsibility by accepting a bipartisan compromise on federal spending. If he is serious about putting the nation first, he will do everything necessary to avoid a government shutdown — including supporting a short-term funding bill that would buy time for Congress to implement the bipartisan spending agreement.
The Guardian on the Houthi strikes — which might fuel crisis in Middle East
The reality is that the war in Gaza has already spread through the region. The question is how far it extends and how intense it grows. Those involved are calculating and calibrating; they have in mind small blazes, rather than a regional conflagration. But their confidence that they can take containable risks may prove misplaced. Crises are feeding into each other, and the likelihood of missteps is rising.
Thursday night’s US and UK strikes on Houthi positions in Yemen were taken after diplomacy and threats failed to halt sustained attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea and the naval taskforce protecting them. They were not token measures – the US says it launched 60 strikes at 16 locations, the UK that it hit two – but were intended to re-establish deterrence and degrade military capability rather than destroy the Houthi threat. The US blames Iran – which supplies and enables but does not control the Houthis – for assisting the Red Sea attacks. But neither Washington nor Tehran wants direct conflict. For Iran, it’s better to allow the rest of the “axis of resistance” to advance its position at minimal cost.
Both Washington and London presented the military action solely in terms of protecting international shipping, with Rishi Sunak’s visit to Ukraine framing a broader narrative of moral strength in upholding security. But the Red Sea crisis cannot be separated from the war in Gaza. The Houthis claim – others disagree – that they are only attacking ships with links to Israel. They are positioning themselves as the foremost champions of Palestinians. There are plenty in Yemen and the region who detest their ruthless and authoritarian record, but will still view the US and UK as fighting for Israel – or at least as prepared to ignore (and even provide arms for) Israeli strikes killing thousands of children in Gaza, but quick to defend their own economic interests.
Direct confrontation with the US consolidates the Houthis’ power domestically and boosts recruitment, while raising their status regionally. No surprise that they have already vowed retaliation, perhaps targeting US military assets. The US and UK, in turn, will surely feel required to hit back. When parliament debates this action, critical questions include how far the UK is prepared to go, and what alternative means it can pursue.
The Houthis appear only strengthened by the long years of war which saw Saudi Arabia drop billions of pounds worth of bombs on Yemen. They have been accused of being at best indifferent to civilian costs. It is hard to believe that these much more limited strikes will have significantly reduced their capacity or will to fight. On the verge of legitimising their de facto political authority they will not want to risk the gains they have made at home. But their success against Riyadh may well have bred hubris.
Meanwhile, there is a growing danger that pro‑Iranian militias in Iraq and Syria may step up attacks on US forces. Hezbollah in Lebanon is deeply angered by Israel’s assassination of a Hamas leader in Beirut. Others are capitalising on the crisis: Islamic State has claimed responsibility for last week’s bombing in Iran. So far, the rising tensions on each front have been contained. But they will not calm while bombs are still falling on Gaza. A ceasefire and release of all hostages is needed for the whole region.