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Jim Verhulst - Deputy Editor of Editorials
Trump as Jefferson Davis, Biden the liar, kids vs. the app store, and Florida’s future | Readings
Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.
 
Which former or current president is telling the truth? Is either one? A conservative columnist has questions and hopes that "by some miracle, the American public elects a water buffalo or sea cucumber or catalytic convertor as its commander in chief instead."
Which former or current president is telling the truth? Is either one? A conservative columnist has questions and hopes that "by some miracle, the American public elects a water buffalo or sea cucumber or catalytic convertor as its commander in chief instead." [ BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI | Getty Images North America ]
Published Dec. 9, 2023

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 THE LEFT

From “What Happened When the U.S. Failed to Prosecute an Insurrectionist Ex-President,” by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker at tinyurl.com/3hdwa7a2.

The context, from the author: After the Civil War, Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, was to be tried for treason. Does the debacle hold lessons for the trials awaiting Donald Trump?

The excerpt: The (Jan. 6, 2021) insurrection at the Capitol cost seven lives. The Civil War cost 700,000. And yet Jefferson Davis was never held responsible for any of those deaths. His failed conviction leaves no trail. Still, it had consequences. If Davis had been tried and convicted, the cloak of presidential impunity would be flimsier. Leniency for Davis also bolstered the cause of white supremacy. First elected to the Senate, from Mississippi, in 1848, Davis believed in slavery, states’ rights and secession, three ideas in one. Every state had a right to secede, Davis insisted in his farewell address to the Senate, in 1861, and Mississippi had every reason to because “the theory that all men are created free and equal” had been “made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions,” meaning slavery. Weeks later, Davis became the president of the Confederacy. His vice president, Alexander Stephens, said that the cornerstone of the new government “rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man.” Trump could win his Lost Cause, too.

From “When Black and White Tenant Farmers Joined Together to Take on the Plantation South,” by David Griscom in Jacobin at tinyurl.com/2ak9ssv7.

The context, from the author: The Southern Tenant Farmers Union was founded on the principle of interracial organizing. It challenged the Southern landowning class and the Jim Crow white supremacist order, leaving a proud legacy for both the labor movement and the civil rights movement.

The excerpt: The Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU for short), one of the first interracial and most influential unions in the South, ... would grow to 31,000 members across the South, challenging the Southern landowning class and the Jim Crow white supremacist order, and leaving an undeniable legacy for both the labor movement and the civil rights movement.

From “Corruption Unbound,” by Franklin Foer in The Atlantic at tinyurl.com/2wbj8v9h.

The context, from the author: Donald Trump and his cronies left his first administration with a playbook for self-enrichment in a second term.

The excerpt: If the first Trump presidency was, for the most part, an improvised exercise in petty corruption, a second would likely consist of systematic abuse of the government. There’s a term to describe the sort of regime that might emerge on the other side: a Mafia state.

FROM THE RIGHT

From “Biden the Liar,” by Charles C.W. Cooke in The National Review at tinyurl.com/5v5dahmu.

The context, from the author: Joe Biden’s pitch in 2020 was that it was time for the honorable adults to return to power. As president, he has spectacularly failed to deliver on that promise.

The excerpt: The aim of any candidate worth his salt ought to be the digging of a gulf between himself and his opponents. And yet, when faced with the lying demagogic child that is Donald Trump, Joe Biden has elected to emulate his foil. That the United States seems destined to be punished by another contest between two unpopular, incompetent, clownishly dishonest geriatrics is bad enough. That the contest seems doomed to be stained by farcical and outlandish lying makes one want to curl up into a ball and hope that, by some miracle, the American public elects a water buffalo or sea cucumber or catalytic convertor as its commander in chief instead.

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From “Unmonitored Minors on Dangerous Devices,” by Elizabeth Self and Michael Toscano in The American Conservative at tinyurl.com/527jeexr.

The context, from the authors: Better regulation on smart devices and in app stores is common sense.

The excerpt: If we ask Apple and Google to protect minors even before apps are downloaded, we ask them to do something well within their capabilities. The elegance of many of their products, contrasted with the bugginess of the parental controls on offer, suggests that these companies have no motive to resolve their child safety issues. It’s not that Apple and Google don’t have enough data to recognize whether users are underage and must be guarded from mature content. These companies know enough about your children to recommend games and other apps, but they claim ignorance when it comes time to judge whether material is safe and suitable for them.

From “The Future Is Florida,” by Katherine Mangu-Ward in Reason magazine at tinyurl.com/ywvcnvpn.

The context, from the author: The siren song of the Sunshine State is the promise of freedom tinged with the idea of escape.

The excerpt: Most of what is magical about Florida existed long before (Gov. Ron) DeSantis pulled on his boots. The siren song of the Sunshine State is the promise of freedom tinged with the idea of escape — most perfectly channeled by the late Jimmy Buffett. Florida was not, and is not, a libertarian utopia, though the lack of income tax is pretty nice. DeSantis has chosen to focus his campaign on his more authoritarian culture war forays, including his punitive approach to Disney’s corporate political speech, his administration’s meddling in school libraries and curriculum, and his harsh treatment of immigrants. As Floridians never tire of pointing out, there are many different cultures contained within the state.