(CNN)“Did you, too, O friend, suppose democracy was only for elections, for politics, and for a party name?”
Walt Whitman posed this question in his 1871 pamphlet “Democratic Vistas,” written when he was living in Washington, DC — the seat of power of a nation seeking to rebuild and redefine itself after the Civil War.
His answer, of course, was no — that the word had a far broader meaning. Democracy comes to true fruition, he wrote, only “in the highest forms of interaction between men, and their beliefs — in religion, literature, colleges, and schools.” In other words, “democracy in all public and private life.”
Whitman’s words rang out in a familiar key this week, as Americans across the country raised alarms over widespread Republican efforts to make it harder to vote and easier to overturn elections.
One of them was President Joe Biden, who in his Memorial Day address reached for Whitmanesque heights when he referred to democracy as “more than a form of government.” He called it “a way of seeing the world” and the “soul of America.”
A group of 100 scholars, experts on democracy and authoritarianism, warned that recent actions by Republicans “call into question whether the United States will remain a democracy.”
Writing for CNN Opinion, Nicole Hemmer noted that “Democracy has been overthrown in America before. That’s our best evidence and soberest warning that it can happen again,” adding that “that history — the sometimes-successful fight for democracy and the sometimes-successful fight to thwart it — is exactly the battle that the US is facing today, and there is nothing inevitable about democracy’s success.”
SE Cupp took Republicans to task for trying to “pass draconian laws that make it harder to vote, targeting especially minority voters, voters with disabilities and younger voters — i.e. people who usually vote Democratic.” The only possible reason for such dark moves, she wrote, is that the GOP was truly out of ideas to win elections. “If this is your idea of public service, it’s a pretty dystopian one.” Think of the two major political parties as “Parties R Us,” offering their wares in a giant department store: “Instead of adding new and improved items to compete with the Democrats’ overflowing racks, Republicans are trying to limit store hours, open the doors late and close them early, prohibit you from buying any products online and empower store managers to lurk menacingly behind you as you consider buying the other guy’s goods.”
Michael D’Antonio wrote that former President Donald Trump’s summer of grievance was upon us in the form of a planned series of rallies. “He’ll do this because he thrives on attention and withers without it,” D’Antonio wrote.
But D’Antonio cautioned readers to stay on guard because Trump’s irrational claim that he will be “reinstated” by August could potentially goad his most rabid followers to violence. In comments last Sunday (which he later walked back), Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn appeared to encourage just such violence in the form of a Myanmar-style coup. Wrote Peter Bergen: “It’s hard to get a grip on what’s happened to one-time war hero, retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn,” but like “so many who have entered into Trump’s orbit, Flynn’s once-sterling reputation is ever more seriously damaged.”
Another smart take:
A favor from Russian ransomware hackers
High-profile ransomware attacks are intensifying: first Colonial Pipeline and then JBS, the world’s biggest meat producer, the New York City subway system, a local police department in California and the city of Atlanta. FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday that the staggering vulnerability of the US to such cyberattacks threat summoned “parallels” to 9/11.
“When President Joe Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month, he will undoubtedly bring up — as he should — the matter” of these repeated ransomware attacks on US targets by Russian-based hackers, observed Frida Ghitis. The recent attacks, she wrote, are “serving a useful purpose for the United States. They are warning the country about a growing danger, and helpfully pointing out precisely where the vulnerabilities lie.” The Kremlin is already dismissing Wray’s comments (tellingly) as “emotional,” but according to Ghitis, what matters more than Putin’s immediate response is Biden’s “sending a message that there’s a price to pay for the attack” and “creating a system that will start blocking the assaults on the US and other countries … Anything else will result in ever-escalating assaults on America’s ability to function.”
The real reason employers can’t hire enough workers
American employers are facing a labor shortage in excess of 8 million jobs right now — not because of stimulus-boosted unemployment payments, as some conservatives have surmised, but because of what the Covid pandemic has revealed about a country that has long mistreated and radically underpaid its workers, wrote Jill Filipovic. She argued: “Our country may treat wage workers as disposable automatons, but if the past year has taught us anything, it should be how much we need the folks who deliver our food, stock our grocery store shelves, care for our children and tend to our ill and aging … It’s about money, yes. But it’s also about a desire to be treated like a human being.”
Covid has also motivated white-collar workers to challenge the “fetishization of the ‘frictionless employee,'” wrote Anne Helen Petersen for Substack — “the worker who makes themselves the most flexible and adaptable, who scrapes off aspects of their personality that impede their ability to be ‘a team player.'”
2021 is hardly the first time a pandemic has prompted a labor crisis, Spencer Strub pointed out in the Washington Post: In England “the worker shortages that followed what is known as the ‘Black Death’ of the mid-14th century … led to the introduction of the first national labor laws … In response, the elite found new ways to repress workers and maintain a class hierarchy, reminding us of the stakes of the conversation about labor today.”
On Friday, Biden rejected a new Republican counterproposal on infrastructure, saying it didn’t meet his policy goals. With negotiations continuing, key Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin indicated to CNN he’s not ready to join his colleagues in a partisan infrastructure bill or dispense with Senate filibuster rules. A grueling, process-driven path likely lies ahead for Biden and senators on both sides of the aisle.
“Republicans do not seem to have grasped the political dead-end they have created for themselves on the bipartisan infrastructure deal,” commented the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin. Jeffrey Sachs wrote for CNN Opinion that rather than engaging in endless bipartisan negotiations with the GOP — “a continuation of the status quo under a false headline” — Biden and the Democrats should simply push through the American Jobs Plan on a party-line vote.
Stop trying to find the old normal
In a week full of Covid-related news, Dr. Anthony Fauci’s emails threatened to acquire Hillary Clinton-level notoriety. Many pored eagerly over more than 3,000 pages released through a Freedom of Information Request, “including Fauci’s detractors currently scouring them for missteps,” wrote Dr. Megan Ranney. They may have been disappointed as the messages offered an inside look at the routine interactions between scientists and government, but of Fauci himself, she noted: “Throughout, his on-paper voice sounds just like his television voice. He is humble, curious and committed. My takeaway? He is just like us — or, at least, he’s how most of us like to imagine ourselves to be, on our best days.”
Rai Goyal, a sixth grader from New York City, described getting his first Covid vaccination dose and sent a message to other kids his age —and their potentially hesitant parents: “Do your own research from widely trusted sources, listen to the science and take a look at the world around us. We need to bring an end to this pandemic, and if our age group doesn’t take the vaccine, there will always be a significant chunk of the population that continues to pass the virus and create opportunities for mutations. Roll up your sleeves and take that shot.”
As joyful as being vaccinated and out in the world is, reflected Tess Taylor, there is still a kind of amnesia attached to reentry. She compared it to moving back to her hometown as an adult and getting lost driving around, because the streets had changed in her absence — the freeway on-ramps of her youth no longer existed. “There has been a troubling uptick of hate and violence in public places,” she lamented. “This is just one more sign that we have widespread, steady work to do towards repair … Some of the old on-ramps are gone, it’s true. What’s ahead? Instead of treating ‘getting back to normal’ as ‘returning to the way it was before,’ is there a way we could approach it differently?”
Another smart take:
Naomi Osaka’s courageous choice
In a long social media post on Monday, tennis star Naomi Osaka explained her withdrawal from the French Open after officials threatened to expel her if she didn’t participate in mandatory media interviews. She cited anxiety and depression, writing, “I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences.”
Psychologist Peggy Drexler applauded Osaka’s courage, noting that for organizers, “forcing her to choose between her mental health and a few media sound bites was entirely unnecessary.” MSNBC Opinion’s Dave Zirin suggested that French Open officials’ response was all the more shocking because of how “increased social awareness of mental health has spawned something of a burgeoning movement in the sports world.” He was less surprised by what he saw as the racism and sexism being marshaled against Osaka, a young woman of Haitian and Japanese heritage.
Lindsay Crouse of the New York Times saw in Osaka the continuation of a growing line of women athletes — runners, gymnasts and Osaka’s fellow competitor Serena Williams — exercising their power by setting limits on their own terms. Osaka’s decision to put herself first resonated with others in the sport, reported Alexa Mikhail and Zaria Howell for The 19th, who quoted one high school tennis coach: “Why can’t we try to do better? Why are we OK with doing things that are really bad for our mental health?”
The power of Pride
As Pride Month began, pastor and speaker Paula Stone Williams shared her story of transitioning from living as a White evangelical man to coming out as transgender and living authentically as a woman. She lost her job and almost everything else in a matter of days and thought her life was over. Today, she lives a fulfilling life; decades of White male privilege helped her bounce back in ways few other transgender people — especially kids and people of color — can, she wrote. She issued a firm call to those pursuing and supporting bills in multiple states that target transgender kids: “To my White evangelical friends and former coworkers, I implore you, leave transgender children alone. I can handle your rejection. These children cannot … the lives of many hang in the balance. I am lucky that mine is not one of them.”
By treating gender as something to be freely explored instead of policed, wrote Allison Hope, everyone who interacts with kids — parents, relatives, teachers, caregivers, babysitters, neighbors — has the power to build joy and protect their future selves: “It’s not hard. But it is necessary. We all have a role to play.” She revealed that when her son “recently told me that he liked his friend’s pink dress and wanted one of his own, I brought up a children’s clothing site on my phone and let him pick one out. It was a small gesture (that) set me back roughly three minutes and $5.95 … but (it) … could mean a lifetime of affirmation for a child.”
Another powerful take:
40 years of fighting AIDS
On June 5, 1981, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published an article in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) describing cases of a rare lung infection in young, White, previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles — the first official reporting of the disease later known as AIDS. Forty years later, Dr. Kent Sepkowitz reflected on haunting lessons that decades of fighting this epidemic have left for those battling the Covid-19 contagion. He described the harm caused by government neglect and societal denial, and the painstaking, transformative work of communities and public-health professionals to create progress. “AIDS has shown us this inch-by-inch strategy is the only way forward with Covid-19. Hopefully, the dimming spotlight of attention and ever louder screams of denial will not deter us. Because if we falter now, we will find ourselves trapped in an eternal 2020, stepping forward — then back — as people continue to die.”
‘Moments of Love’
The third season of “Master of None,” written by Lena Waithe, directed by Aziz Ansari and starring Waite and Naomi Ackie as lesbian couple Denise and Alicia, is a radical portrayal of Black queer love that defies stereotype at a crucial time in American life and art, affirmed Peniel E. Joseph.
Despite criticism from fans of the show and those who have accused Waithe of problematic representations in her other work, Joseph asserted, Denise and Alicia are a revelation: “Combining Black American, British, Caribbean and African traditions in their sartorial, food, linguistic and aesthetic touches, they are authentically and transnationally Black in ways that are brilliantly conveyed through the mundane. In a bravura scene, one that I replayed over and over, they silently fold laundry while grooving to the sound of ‘Everybody, Everybody,’ a global anthem sung by Black Box that captures in miniature the sublime joy of Black love in moments of peace, sheltered against the inevitable tides of an outside world that still sees Black life for what it lacks rather than all of the transcendent genius it embodies.”