Plus, a reader question about political flip-flops.
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Today’s read: 10 minutes.
It’s Memorial Day. I’m launching the first-ever Tangle competition, covering Trump and Biden’s awful weekends and answering a reader question from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Enjoy your day off if you have one!
Joe Biden and Charlamagne Tha God sit down for an interview on The Breakfast Club Friday.
Today is Memorial Day, a somber U.S. holiday dedicated to remembering members of the U.S. military who died while serving. The earliest observances of Memorial Day go back to the Civil War, which ended in 1865, when the country’s first national cemeteries were established. Once called Decorations Day, it became an official national holiday in 1971. Many family members will spend the day visiting a cemetery or celebrating their loved ones with a party. Bugle and trumpet players have been called to play Taps at 3:00 p.m. (EDT) in a national tribute modeled after the 7:00 p.m. cheering for healthcare workers in New York City.
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What D.C. is talking about.
President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden both had a rocky few days, showing off some of their biggest weaknesses within 48 hours of each other. Biden, infamous for his gaffes while campaigning, made one for the record books on Friday during an interview with Charlamagne Tha God. Charlamagne, who is black, hosts an influential radio show called The Breakfast Club. Charlamagne is well-known for pressing subjects of his interviews, including past guests like Hillary Clinton and Cory Booker.
During his sit down with Biden, the two got into a testy exchange about Biden’s record on crime and civil rights. Charlamagne challenged Biden on his support for legislation that has done harm to the African-American community, and Biden often dodged or avoided taking accountability for those mistakes. This culminated in the sign off of the interview when Charlamagne invited Biden to New York to talk more before November. Biden accepted, then said this:
“You’ve got more questions?” Biden replied. “Well, I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”
Reactions to the comments were swift, and they might have lasted all weekend if not for Trump. That’s because the president spent the weekend back at the golf course for the first time in more than two months, just as the COVID-19 death toll approached 100,000 and we head into a somber Memorial Day Monday. But he wasn’t just golfing.
He was also tweeting. Over the weekend, the president once again spent an afternoon insinuating that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough had murdered a former staffer who died in his office in 2001. He then began sharing tweets from John K Stahl, a failed Congressional candidate. The tweets included a photo of Nancy Pelosi with duct tape over her mouth, a tweet referring to Hillary Clinton as a “skank,” and a tweet that mocked Stacy Abrams for her weight. Stahl has previously used his Twitter feed to call Abrams “Shamu” and refer to Pelosi as “Super Skank.”
What the left is saying.
The left was upset about Biden but was quickly reminded why he is still their preferred choice. Patric Gaspard, a Haitian-born diplomat and former Obama campaign member, criticized Biden. “Those are not the kind of comments one should make even in jest,” he said. “I know he is a conscious, thoughtful person on these issues… however Biden is in no position to determine who is black enough or not.” Biden himself apologized, saying “I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy, I shouldn’t have been so cavalier… no one should have to vote for any party based on their race or religion or background.”
Many on the progressive left blasted Biden, saying it was exactly why he was a shoddy candidate for 2020. In The Root, Stephen A. Crockett wrote that he would be voting for Biden in 2020 — adding that he’d vote for a “hat found in the woods” over Trump — but also blasted the former VP.
“He’s the old white guy at the job who always wants to talk with you about basketball or hip-hop to prove that he’s not like the other white guys who mistake you for the valet,” Crockett said. “The problem is that all of his conversations about Jay-Z and whether Bradley Beal is getting traded are supposed to make him endearing, but he can’t even do that right.”
Before the weekend was over, though, the attention had turned to Trump. His tweets were further proof that the president is “deranged,” “unhinged” or “totally unfit” to be the leader of the free world. Vox’s Aaron Rupar called the tweets “absolutely despicable.” Media Matters’ Matthew Gertz warned that the family of the woman who died in Joe Scarborough’s office will now have to deal with a mob of conspiracy theorists, thanks to the president.
What the right is saying.
This is how Democrats view black voters. The right spent the weekend blasting Biden, with some conservatives who don’t support Trump also taking the time to criticize his tweets. On Friday night, hours after the Biden appearance on The Breakfast Club, Katrina Pierson led a Black Voices for Trump live stream where they recounted all the racist senators Joe Biden bragged about working with throughout his time in office, and even quoted Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris’s criticism of Biden’s record.
In TownHall, Ken Blackwell blasted Biden and the Democratic party, saying they have “long sowed racial division” and that his condescending remark is indicative of how the party views black voters. Worse, Blackwell said, is that Biden’s destructive policies as a senator were all a “twisted” effort to make himself look tough on crime and thus, more electable.
“He salivated at the opportunity to expand a non-focused demand-side war on drugs with legislation aimed to increase criminal penalties for drug use and expand civil asset forfeiture,” Blackwell wrote. “For instance, Biden led the push to increase sentencing on crack cocaine-related offenses that unfairly targeted low income, black communities.”
Meanwhile, a few voices on the right blasted Trump for his tweeting. “Some of you enjoy/justify conspiratorial tweets & juvenile shitposting,” Fox News analyst Guy Benson said. “If you think it’s cool for presidential ‘counterpunching’ to entail calling a woman ‘shamu’ or advancing baseless insinuations about murder, I probably can’t convince you that it’s gross and counterproductive.”
Biden’s comments are an ugly reminder of how he and some Democrats seem to view their African-American base. It’s not votes won but votes expected. As I noted on Twitter, Biden’s remarks are going to be interpreted and felt differently by black voters. Black voters are not a monolith or hive mind or singular thing — they’re as diverse and free-thinking as any other group of voters. For me, Biden’s remarks are a reminder that he is a poor campaigner, bad at handling tough questions and often off the mark when trying to land what seemed like a mind-boggling attempt at a joke.
They’re also a sign of how out of touch his brand of Democrat is. I hate to play identity politics, but the old, white Democrat still seems to have no regard for the angst felt by so many young voters of color in the U.S. It’s obviously true that Biden has more reliable black support than just about any living politician — but it’s also true that younger black voters are very unsure about him and his record, and that this election is going to be a close fight and he can’t afford to alienate anyone.
But at least he apologized. At least he came out and said what he did was stupid and arrogant and wrong — and then said he was sorry. He was decent about his indecency.
Can you say the same for our president? Forget the golfing, which I don’t care about at all. The simple fact is the President of the United States saw a tweet referring to Hillary Clinton as a “skank” and decided to share it. He saw a tweet joking about Stacey Abrams “visiting every buffet” in Georgia and he decided to share it. And then, for the third or fourth time, he decided he’d spend a few hours getting payback on his most hated TV host by baselessly insinuating that host committed murder.
The 28-year-old woman who Trump is dragging into his feud with Joe Scarborough is not an internet meme. She was a real person. She was married for four years, at the peak of her career, and left behind her husband, an Air Force contractor, two living parents and siblings. Now her family will have to deal with the horde of conspiracy theorists who will undoubtedly descend on them looking for “clues,” despite the fact that the cause of her death was thoroughly investigated and easily explained by a medical examiner. And despite the fact Joe Scarborough was 900 miles away in Washington D.C. when she died.
My 11-year-old cousin subscribed to this newsletter last week (hi, Jesse!). He wanted to learn more about politics and his mom encouraged him. Today I had to text his mom to let her know there’d be some inappropriate language in this one because the president went on a Twitter bender as we approach 100,000 COVID-19 deaths on Memorial Day weekend. Call me a pearl-clutching media hack or whatever you want. Nine times out of ten, I’ll tell you the left is overreacting to Trump’s tweeting. But this is an embarrassing spectacle and there should be more pro-Trump voices calling him out and shaming him. It’s beneath the office and it’s beneath what we should accept from our leader as Americans.
6 quick hits.
- A federal judge gutted a law that aimed to make former felons pay off their court fines and fees before they can register to vote. The ruling clears the way for thousands of Floridians to register in time to vote for the November election.
- Jared Kushner is reportedly trying to re-build the Republican platform in time for 2020 and make it fit on an index card. Kushner wants to simplify and update the platform to make it more palatable for 2020 voters, with specific focus on courting the African-American vote.
- The House of Representatives can now hold remote hearings and vote by proxy. This marks the first time in U.S. history that members of Congress will be able to vote remotely. The first remote vote could happen this week, when members of the House vote on whether to extend the coverage period for the Paycheck Protection Program.
- The Republican National Committee and two other Republican groups sued California on Sunday for its executive orders to use mail-in ballots in November. California was the first state to say it would send mail-in ballots to every registered voter to make it easier to vote during a pandemic. Republicans say it’s setting up the state for massive voter fraud.
- The White House imposed a travel ban on Brazil this morning, adding it to the list of countries whose travelers are not allowed entry into the U.S. We’ve already banned certain travelers from China, Europe, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Iran. Brazil is second to the U.S. in confirmed COVID-19 cases and their numbers are increasing rapidly.
- North Dakota Gov. Dough Burgum, a Republican, made waves Friday for an emotional plea to his constituents to wear a face covering. Burgum asked his constituents to be empathetic instead of shaming those who wear masks. “This is a, I would say, senseless dividing line,” he added, urging people to “try to dial up your empathy and your understanding.”
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: reader questions are one of my favorite parts of Tangle. If you have something you want to see in the newsletter, simply reply to this email and write in. I’ll try to get to it as soon as I can.
Q: It seems that politicians on both the left and the right use some version of “If something does not align or agree with my politics, it is wrong.” Are there any examples of politicians who are willing to accept fair, reasonable criticism of their positions and engage with the person making that criticism? Do you see any way that politicians and political figures might be able to accept reasonable criticisms about their policies and change their stance based on an objection someone brings to them?
— Mike, Pittsburgh, PA
Tangle: It’s pretty rare to see a politician engage in criticism of their stance openly and honestly and then change their position. Part of that is because politicians, today, are mostly criticized when their politics evolve. I wrote in Tangle about the evolution of my own political journey, and I was met with responses from readers across the U.S. about how much the nuance of my politics resonated with them. But when politicians change their stance on something, they’re met with fury and labels like “flip-flopper.”
Part of that is our fault, the journalists and the general public who follow this stuff. Part of that is the politicians’ fault, whose evolutions can often be tied to political expediency instead of a genuine change of heart or persuasion due to new evidence or good argument.
Regardless, I found a few examples I think qualify.
Perhaps the most notable for readers of Tangle is the Iraq War. It wasn’t until the lead up to the 2016 election that the consensus for the war became “it was a mistake,” but that consensus has definitely settled in. Hillary Clinton voted in favor of the Iraq War but wrote in her memoir: “I got it wrong. Plain and simple.” Even Jeb Bush, when running in 2015, took a definitive stance against his brother’s war and said it was a mistake.
Of course, the Iraq war was an unmistakable failure — and one that, at this point, the public derides so much it would be political suicide to stand by it. Still, it’s probably one of the biggest policy decisions in the last 20 years that was widely supported at the time, but with new evidence and the passing of time, has left many jumping to the other side.
Gay marriage, too, was a position where politicians were engaged and defiant in their views before changing them. BuzzFeed had a good write-up about 11 prominent politicians on the left and right who were staunchly opposed to gay marriage before changing their positions. The list includes Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore and Jerry Brown. Some might dismiss this as political expediency, but at least a few had views that seemed to genuinely evolve based on engaging constituents and LGBTQ Americans about their lives.
In 2015, Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan wrote an essay explaining why he was abandoning his opposition to abortion. “I am not afraid to say that my position has evolved as my experiences have broadened, deepened and become more personal,” he wrote. Plenty of people speculated that Ryan’s “evolution” was the result of the Democratic party moving to an absolutist pro-choice platform, but he seems to have genuinely been persuaded by his experiences and conversations with voters.
Another good example is a story from Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman who had been really far to the right. Bill Clinton told a great story to Esquire Magazine about Inglis. The gist of it was that Inglis had a very bad fall in his bathroom and after some time alone, he “had an epiphany” that he “didn’t have to hate Democrats who disagree with me.” Inglis, like Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. John McCain, came out of that epiphany by conceding global warming was real and needed to be addressed, something he had previously denied. He also admitted Obama was American and not Kenyan and said openly Obama was Christian and not Muslim (all lies Inglis had previously peddled).
What’d he get for his epiphany? He lost his primary in 2010 after having a 100% conservative rating, Clinton said.
I struggle to think of any current politicians or political figures who regularly engage in fair criticism of their positions. That’s not to say they don’t exist, but in a way, being a politician and engaging in fair criticism of your views are mutually exclusive. Politicians are selling the public on a vision — if they’re constantly undermining that vision, they’re not going to be very good politicians.
That being said, I think certain politicians like Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) have shown a unique willingness to both engage voters and criticize their own parties. In that way, despite their many flaws, each has at least seemed open to the criticism of their politics and has left the safety of friendly media to talk to the other side.
It’s a hard thing to find, though. And again, part of that is our fault: politicians like Bob Inglis or Hillary Clinton don’t get credit for having changing views, they get excoriated and shunned and criticized for it. I wrote a few months ago about how Bernie Sanders's never-evolving views were something I did not view positively. The world has changed in the 30 or 40 years that he’s held public office, and I don’t think his views should be unchanged over that time. But most people view it as a virtue, and until that changes I think politicians will be a lot less likely to engage in or accept those criticisms.
A story that matters.
“Nobody likes tourists — until they stay away.” That’s the headline of a new piece in The Wall Street Journal by Dave Seminara, who does an excellent job breaking down our distaste for tourists but our unbelievable need for them. Domestic and international travelers spent $1.1 trillion in the U.S. in 2019, which supported nine million jobs and generated $180 billion in tax revenue, Seminara notes.
“The economy cannot recover with everyone at home watching Netflix,” he added. “I’m not advising untested travelers from New York City and other hard-hit areas to fan out around the world with unwashed hands and uncovered faces. But I think that many of us, particularly those like me who have tested negative for Covid-19 or those who live in lightly affected areas, can travel ethically and responsibly.” Click.
- $434 billion. The increase in the total net worth of all U.S. billionaires since March 19th, when many states were placed on lockdown.
- 39 million. The approximate number of Americans who filed for unemployment in that same period of time.
- 42%. The percentage of Americans who believe the U.S. is too involved in solving the world’s problems, according to a new Pew Research poll.
- 8%. Joe Biden’s lead over Donald Trump in a national Fox News poll.
- 63%. The percentage of registered voters with a favorable opinion of Barack Obama.
- 48%. The percentage of registered voters with a favorable opinion of Joe Biden.
- 43%. The percentage of registered voters with a favorable opinion of Donald Trump.
- 45-42. The percentage of registered voters who would Trust Donald Trump and Joe Biden, respectively, to do a better job on handling the economy.
- 34.1%. The increase in prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications between mid-February and mid-March, according to Express Scripts.
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Have a nice day.
An American pastime is ripe for a major comeback. Drive-in movie theaters are becoming an optimal choice for people who want to hit the big screen but are nervous about a crowded, germ-filled movie theater. In Washington state, drive-in movie theaters just got the green light to reopen after thousands of citizens petitioned the state. You can expect that trend to spread. Americans are looking for ways to spend their free time or dates they can go on that are safe. Drive-in theaters are outdoor, include isolated groups and cars are often parked several feet away from each other. The risk is minimal and the entertainment is as American as apple pie. Consider me excited. Click.