Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on the inauguration of President Joe Biden marking ‘a new day in America’:
Though it was hardly peaceful, it was a transition — an essential transition after four years of tumult capped by an insurrection led by the outgoing president to stop Congress from certifying his successor’s election. The historic proportions of President Joe Biden’s inauguration cannot be overstated, and not just for the deadly Jan. 6 assault on democracy that started on the very Capitol overlook where Wednesday’s ceremony occurred. America also broke the thickest of glass ceilings with Wednesday’s inauguration of Kamala Harris as the first woman — the first Black and South Asian woman — as vice president.
It was also a day of stark contrasts as most Americans celebrated not just a fresh start but also the departure in disgrace of the most divisive U.S. president in history. The most telling symbol of Donald Trump’s disgrace was the decision by his own vice president, Mike Pence, not to see him off but rather to attend Biden’s ceremony. It was an act of true class by Pence, a man who tried his best for four years to defend an administration that, ultimately, he could no longer defend after Trump unleashed a mob that shouted, “Hang Mike Pence!”
Biden’s inaugural speech reflected the damage and challenges Trump left in his wake, including what Biden labeled “this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.” The new president not only must tackle longstanding challenges of climate change, immigration issues and encroachment by America’s enemies but also the resurgence of white supremacists and domestic terrorists. Biden was emphatic that the Jan. 6 assault failed because people of both parties stood unified to ensure attempts to subvert American democracy would never succeed, “not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not ever!”
Biden’s ability to tamp down the lingering tensions and cultivate unity will depend on his ability to deliver on this line of his speech: “I will fight just as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.”
Also noteworthy was Biden’s message to the rest of the world. After four years of U.S. foreign policy consisting of threats, insults and bullying, Biden declared that the nation would resume its status as a beacon and “leading force for good in the world.” Americans would “lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example,” he said.
Reminders of the ongoing impact of Trump’s assault on democracy and gross mismanagement were everywhere: Thousands of National Guard troops ringed the entire National Mall to protect dignitaries from a possible new attack. The mall itself was empty of humans for security and pandemic-safety reasons. Instead, thousands of U.S. flags waved in the breeze to commemorate the deaths of more than 400,000 Americans from the coronavirus.
Three of the four previous presidents attended, but not Trump. He never defended democracy and never took the pandemic seriously enough to lead Americans with such basic survival steps as telling them to wear a mask. He became the first president to not attend his successor’s Capitol Hill inauguration since Andrew Johnson, a fellow one-term incumbent who also left in disgrace after being impeached. Good riddance. It’s a new day in America.
The Los Angeles Times on former President Donald Trump’s last-minute pardons:
In one of his last acts as president Donald J. Trump again exercised his constitutional authority to “grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States” in an irresponsible and offensive way — fortunately for the last time.
The way he has used the pardon power to benefit cronies, political allies and the father of his son-in-law underlines just how expansive that power is — and why Trump’s successor must be pressed, including by Congress, to exercise it impartially.
As he has done in the past, Trump extended clemency to some deserving recipients, including nonviolent drug offenders. But there were also grants of clemency that favored people with ties to the president or the Republican Party.
Most egregiously, Trump pardoned his longtime advisor Stephen K. Bannon, who had been charged with fraud and money laundering in an alleged scheme to swindle supporters of Trump’s border wall. The pardon for Bannon follows Trump’s previous pardons of self-described “dirty trickster” Roger Stone, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Trump also pardoned several politicians convicted of corruption charges, including former Republican Reps. Randy “Duke” Cunningham of Rancho Santa Fe, Rick Renzi of Arizona and Robin Hayes of North Carolina, adding to the list of disgraced former office holders whom Trump has favored. Also pardoned was major Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy, who’d pleaded guilty to unregistered lobbying on behalf of foreign interests seeking to end a federal investigation into the 1MDB investment scandal.
The new grants of clemency were notable for what they didn’t include: an arguably unconstitutional attempt by Trump to pardon himself. That may reflect less a sudden case of scruples than a fear that such an outrageous act would alienate senators who will sit as the jury in Trump’s second impeachment trial.
Other presidents have abused the pardon power. In 1992 George H. W. Bush pardoned former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who faced perjury charges arising from the Iran-Contra scandal. On his last day in office in 2000, President Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, a fugitive financier whose former wife had made large donations to Democrats and the Clinton library. That pardon prompted a congressional investigation.
But Trump is in a contemptible class by himself in the way he has used this power. Last July, in response to Trump’s decision to commute Stone’s sentence — the first of two times Trump used his power to benefit his longtime friend — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proposed that Congress enact legislation preventing to ensure that “no president can pardon or commute the sentence of an individual who is engaged in a cover-up campaign to shield that president from criminal prosecution.”
That idea raised constitutional issues, given the expansive authority the Constitution affords the president in the exercise of clemency. But later House Democrats proposed legislation that would sensibly require the Department of Justice and the White House to provide Congress with materials about “any self-serving presidential pardon or commutation in cases involving the president or his/her relatives, contempt of Congress, or obstruction of Congress.” (The proposal also would have banned presidential self-pardons.)
Most presidents won’t pervert the conduct of their office the way Trump did. But the almost limitless scope of the pardon power obligates presidents to treat it as an instrument of impartial mercy, not as a personal perk.
Trump allowed personal and political favoritism to taint a constitutional power that should be exercised for the greater good. Beginning with Biden, his successors must do better.
The Washington Post on the U.S. passing the grim milestone of 400,000 COVID-19 deaths:
“He’d wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning to get to the hospital for rounds, so he could be at his office when it opened. He never took a break.” That was Dr. Carlos Araujo Preza’s daughter talking about her 51-year-old father, a pulmonologist in Texas who had been on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic before he died of the disease on Nov. 30.
“My mom was the smiling face, the one that everybody loved.” That is how Debra Ivory, 62, owner of a popular barbecue restaurant in Oklahoma City, was remembered by her son after she died of covid-19 on Dec. 13.
“I told him I loved him and how sorry I was that he had to be in the hospital by himself.” That was the wife of Pedro Ramirez recounting the final hours of her 47-year-old husband before he died of the coronavirus on Jan. 4.
It has been a year since the first coronavirus case in the United States was reported. The toll of the pandemic is often recorded with the horrifying numbers — more than 400,000 people dead, daily death tolls as high as 4,000 — and grisly comparisons — more deaths in a day than people killed on 9/11 or at Pearl Harbor, eight times more total deaths than of Americans in a decade of fighting in Vietnam. The numbers can become numbing. But each loss is its own heartbreaking story.
No part of the country, no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic group, has been spared. We had hoped that the first grim milestone of 100,000 covid-19 deaths reached in May would have served as a wake-up call to the need to change habits and policies. Instead — thanks to the abdication of national and state leadership — it took four months for the country to reach 200,000 deaths, three more months to exceed 300,000 deaths and now just five short weeks to hit 400,000 deaths.
That effective vaccines are now being rolled out, albeit not as quickly as needed, and that Wednesday saw the inauguration of a president who has promised a plan of action against the pandemic are reasons for some hope. It is important, though, that we never forget the precious lives lost and how many could have been saved if government had not failed.
The Denver Post on social media attacks against a Republican congresswoman from Colorado:
The fact that U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert is getting a taste of her own medicine – unsubstantiated claims spreading like wildfire on social media – does not make it right.
Nor can we sit idly by without condemning the blatantly sexist and elitist attacks being lobbed at one of Colorado’s elected officials. It’s disgusting to circulate sexualized photos of Boebert under the guise of political scrutiny. It’s unprofessional to call her a “bimbo” or use other terms reserved only for women with power. And referencing her education in a demeaning manner will only alienate the millions of Americans who also have not gone to college or graduated from high school.
There is no evidence that Boebert led tours for would-be insurgents of the U.S. Capitol or that her mother was among those attacking the building on Jan. 6. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen’s current media tour claiming he saw her leading large groups of people through the Capitol in the days before the attack are intentionally misleading. His footnote, “now, whether they were people that were involved in the insurrection or not, I do not know,” should be the lead for anyone reporting on this controversy.
It’s just like how Boebert used terms like “stop the steal” and “voter fraud,” but when forced to articulate in an interview her election concerns, she delved into the weeds of changes in law in certain states that made it easier for people to vote. No one would have sieged the Capitol and killed a police officer over mundane, perennial debates surrounding election law and policy.
Make no mistake, The Denver Post editorial board, has concerns about Boebert’s behavior. We’ve called for an investigation into her role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, based on her words of support for those who rallied that day before and during the attempted insurrection. Some of her tweets do need an explanation, and we think she should be held accountable for the misleading way she talked about the election.
Boebert deserves to be judged on the merit of her ideas, on her actions and on her words, which are damning enough, without her critics fabricating tours or circulating grainy photos of protesters next to photos of her mother. That’s as bad as the Antifa-led-the-insurrection conspiracies.
Boebert’s past, while reported by The Post extensively as part of the scrutiny news reporters shine on every candidate for public office, should not be used as a trope or to fuel derision. Colorado voters knew Boebert had a criminal record and that she obtained a GED when they cast their ballot for her. It’s not as though any of this is a surprise to those who entrusted her to public office, against our express advice in an editorial endorsing Boebert’s November opponent.
If Americans are going to move forward, we have to commit to a higher standard of truth and respect than that presented by Trump.
So far, there’s not much we agree with Boebert on, but she is right that there is no evidence she gave tours to insurrectionists to assist them with the Capitol attack, and the personal attacks she faces on social media are disgusting.
The Guardian on Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s decision to return from Germany to Moscow:
Alexei Navalny’s decision to return to Russia from Berlin, having survived a suspected assassination attempt by state security agents, was an act of extraordinary bravery. On arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Sunday night, the Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner told reporters that he fully expected to be allowed to go home. But given what happened in the summer, he will have known that there was every risk that this would not happen.
In a hastily convened court hearing, held in a police station, a judge ruled on Monday that Mr Navalny would be kept in custody for 30 days. He is being held for allegedly breaching the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence, following a fraud conviction. The European court of human rights ruled that conviction to be politically motivated. It seems likely that the three-and-a-half-year sentence handed down may now be carried out.
Rather than choose the safer option of exile in Germany, Mr Navalny elected to continue the fight for democratic reform on Russian soil. At various points over the last decade or so, he has been badly beaten up while campaigning, nearly blinded in one eye following a chemical attack and regularly imprisoned. Still he came back from Berlin. In placing his arch-critic under lock and key, Vladimir Putin has shown boundless contempt for the civil rights of his citizens. Mr Navalny has shown himself willing to sacrifice his freedom for the cause he represents.
Confronted yet again with Mr Putin’s brutal determination to silence legitimate opposition, the west faces another bout of soul-searching. The Kremlin takes no notice whatsoever of moral lectures from foreign capitals, while targeted sanctions, such as those imposed in the wake of the Skripal affair, have had limited effect.
The timing, two days before the presidential inauguration in Washington, constitutes an early test for Mr Biden. In the autumn, as Donald Trump resisted bipartisan calls to impose sanctions following Mr Navalny’s poisoning, the president-elect pledged to work with allies to hold the Kremlin accountable for its actions. But those allies are themselves somewhat divided over how best to deal with Mr Putin.
In the wake of the suspected FSB poisoning of Mr Navalny, which is denied by the Kremlin, European Union sanctions were imposed on six senior Russian officials it believed to be associated with the plot. Despite calls for wider-ranging action, there was little appetite to go further. In Germany, Angela Merkel is likely to face renewed questions over a much-criticised $11bn gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, which is nearing completion. The German chancellor has argued that tougher economic isolation of Mr Putin’s Russia would be counterproductive. Her approach is shared by the newly elected leader of the CDU, Armin Laschet. But the impunity with which Mr Putin continues to flout international norms makes this policy of constructive engagement an increasingly hard sell.
For its part, Britain has been talking a good foreign policy game post-Brexit. Some MPs will on Tuesday vote to block a potential post-Brexit trade deal with China over human rights concerns. But there has been a reluctance to use powers such as those afforded by the Magnitsky Act to make life truly uncomfortable for Russian interests, or to clamp down on money laundering in London. Mr Navalny has put his life on the line in the battle for Russian democracy. His predicament deserves a more vigorous response than the one that followed his near-death experience in the summer.
The Las Vegas Journal-Review on assessing former President Donald Trump’s term:
President Donald Trump leaves office this week, his legacy forever tarnished by the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. But a full and fair accounting of his four years in the White House should acknowledge his achievements along with the unacceptable events of the past few weeks.
Mr. Trump’s record on the economy was impressive by any standards. He guided the first major overhaul of the tax code in more than three decades through Congress, allowing Americans of all incomes to keep more of their own hard-earned money. Coupled with his push to slash the bureaucratic red tape that hinders entrepreneurship and economic growth, that helped trigger a record jobs boom. The Trump years — pre-pandemic, of course — saw unemployment numbers at historic lows for African Americans, Hispanics and those without high school diplomas.
It would be nice if President-elect Joe Biden took notice of his predecessor’s accomplishments in that regard. But don’t count on it. Mr. Biden, through the selection of his economic team, has tacitly announced that he favors a return to the Obama-era “new normal” of stagnant growth brought on by oppressive regulation and an insatiable beltway bureaucracy. A Democratic Congress won’t help.
In addition to the economy, Mr. Trump nominated, and the GOP Senate approved, more than 200 judges for the federal bench. The president favored nominees with a healthy respect for our constitutional principles who will stand as a bulwark against the progressive notion that there are few, if any, limits to the power of the federal government.
On the foreign policy front, Mr. Trump’s refusal to engage in the normal diplomatic niceties shocked many NATO countries into upping their financial contributions to their own defense. He put China on notice that he recognized its dangers to U.S. interests and would not simply roll over on contentious issues such as trade. He also acted where virtually all of his predecessors had preferred lip service by moving the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and then brokering historic peace agreements — which many critics argued could never be done — between the Jewish state and several Middle Eastern nations. ISIS is all but dead.
There will be plenty of time for historians to issue a sober evaluation of the past four years. No doubt the waning days of the Trump White House will be dominant in those accounts. But it would be a disservice to ignore Mr. Trump’s many successes, which are as much a part of the historical record as are his flaws.
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