Jim Verhulst - Deputy Editor of Editorials
Here’s what to read from the left and the right | Column
Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
This is the Google building at its campus in Mountain View, Calif.
This is the Google building at its campus in Mountain View, Calif. [ JEFF CHIU | AP ]
Published Oct. 25, 2020

We live in a partisan age, and our news habits can reinforce our own perspectives. Consider this an effort to broaden our collective outlook with essays beyond the range of our typical selections.


From “Confronting Our Civics Deficit,” by William Collins Donahue in Commonweal.

The context, from the author: Imagining that democracy is something that just comes naturally to the American people is a fatuous assumption that (Donald) Trump is counting on. For too long we’ve assumed that shared myths — such as this being a country of immigrants — could compensate for a deficient grasp of our own constitutional order. We are seeing now that that no longer holds true, if it ever did.

The excerpt: These are questions one dare not ask publicly without seeming an ogre. Simply to pose the question is an abomination to many, perhaps particularly to liberals, because it flushes into the open things we’d rather not talk about. To raise the question about others' educational status — to imply that some minimum fund of civic education may be necessary for successful participation in our democracy — is taboo, because it touches upon the class differences that have discomfited Americans since the founding of this country, and the very economic disparities that may explain the current divide in American politics.

From “Building the Welfare State Is About Building Democracy,” by Steven Klein in Jacobin Magazine.

The context, from the author: The welfare state is good for democracy, but only when there are robust, emancipatory movements that can use welfare institutions to expand democracy.

The excerpt: The first modern, nationwide social welfare laws were passed under Otto von Bismarck, the autocratic chancellor of late-19th-century Imperial Germany. Taking aim at what was then the largest, most powerful socialist party in the world, the German Social Democratic Party, Bismarck attempted to use the welfare measures (health insurance, accident insurance, disability insurance) to arrest the socialists' growth and prevent the deepening of German democracy.

From “How Republican Senators Account for the Trump Presidency,” by Benjamin Wallace-Wells in the New Yorker.

The context, from the author: If you’re interested in how Republican politicians are talking about Donald Trump in the end phase of his first term and perhaps his presidency, one good place to look is to the campaigns of the 10 Republican senators who are least likely to be reelected.

The excerpt: For five years, Republicans have been wearily answering (or, more often, dodging) the question of whether they support President Trump. But in this election they are being asked a deeper question, too, about what they have actually delivered during this decade of steady conservative ascendance. Across the debates, I could hear the backbeat of “Montana values” and “Arizona values” and the regular cymbal crash of “conservative judges,” but there was no melody.

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From “The Feds' Antitrust Case against Google Is Weak,” by the editors of the National Review.

The context, from the authors: The Trump administration’s lawsuit against Google doesn’t live up to the hype.

The excerpt: American antitrust laws are broadly written, and the prevailing legal standards have changed over the years. The dominant and most economically sensible approach to enforcing these laws, however, remains the one that Robert Bork laid out in the 1970s: “Anticompetitive” behavior becomes a problem when it harms consumer welfare. In our view, officials should not pursue antitrust actions unless they can compellingly show a company is, in fact, harming consumers — not just that it is doing everything it can to attract consumers to its product at the expense of the competition.

From “The Car In The Landscape: A Love Story,” by James Howard Kunstler in the American Conservative.

The context, from the author: As life and business return to the small and local scale, the age of the automobile will recede to myth.

The excerpt: I want to discuss here exactly how the car disgraced our beautiful continent, so you’ll enter this new disposition of things knowing exactly what went wrong and why we will benefit from living differently without cars. Cars destroyed all the traditional connections between things except for the car and road, and there was a lot more to man’s relationship with the landscape than just the need to go rapidly from point A to point B. Our relations with the world work in layers and hierarchies, and the car destroyed those relationships in our physical surroundings.

From “The Moral Necessity of Accountability for Civil Disobedience,” by Gregg Hurwitz in The Bulwark.

The context, from the author: Looters, rioters and anarchists should all be condemned as violence undermines legitimate activists.

The excerpt: Rioting and looting are not civil disobedience. And in asserting their mob behavior as some sort of virtuous response to injustice, these rioters are glomming onto the Civil Rights imprimatur while doing nothing whatsoever that resembles what the Civil Rights movement did. The looters and anarchists in Portland and Seattle are moral cowards, because in addition to their destructiveness and violence, they completely misunderstand the second half of the civil disobedience equation: you must willingly accept — even seek out — the consequences of your actions.