The Platte River flows eastward through Nebraska at depths far too shallow for shipping. “In some places it is a mile wide and three-quarters of an inch deep,” the writer Edgar Nye said in 1889, coining a phrase still in use.
Last week, as former President Donald Trump’s legal troubles continued to mount, so did a fundamental question about the 2024 Republican presidential campaign. Is Trump’s support in the GOP rock-solid, as suggested by the many party figures who rushed to his defense and the fans who attended his rally Saturday – or is it only a mile wide and an inch deep?
If prosecutors in New York City, Atlanta and Washington bring any charges against him – and there’s no assurance they will – would it strengthen his support or complicate and potentially weaken his campaign for the Republican nomination?
So far, Trump is leading the pack in early primary polling and could even see his numbers grow if he is arrested – as he predicted last weekend. That arrest has not happened.
“The danger facing Republicans is that they will either have to bind themselves even tighter to the mast of an intensely polarizing figure, or risk splitting the party by not coming out in his defense,” wrote Patrick T. Brown. “Navigating between those pitfalls will require some willingness to criticize Trump,” he added.
“The more daring Republicans may try to ding Trump for his seamy behavior even while attacking the politicized prosecution. One of Trump’s presumed rivals for the nomination, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, took a not-so-veiled shot at the former president’s behavior,” Brown noted.
“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” DeSantis said even as he accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of “pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office.”
If Trump is prosecuted, he could reap short-term gains, wrote Republican strategist Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal. “An indictment would likely provoke many MAGA Republicans to rally around Mr. Trump, at least temporarily. His standing in 2024 GOP primary polls might improve as a shoddy case from a left-wing district attorney is likely to anger partisans,” but Rove added, “Mr. Trump’s strategy appears to focus exclusively on winning the votes of true believers. But many are suffering Trump fatigue and there weren’t enough of them to re-elect him last time.”
“The most probable result of his current ranting and raving will be to convince more Republicans that he’s unelectable.”
Still, Trump “thrives on media attention,” observed Julian Zelizer. “This is his major weapon in political combat. He loves to dominate the news cycle, redirect national conversations, lash out at his enemies and eclipse all other issues.”
“It doesn’t seem to matter that much of the attention is negative. As president, reality television star and real estate mogul, Trump has cast himself as a fighter who has warded off individuals and institutions that he claims are out to get him. This is an essential part of his political persona: the aggrieved public figure who is at perpetual war with the world around him.”
On Saturday, Trump held his first rally since announcing he is running for president again. The location: Waco, Texas.
As Nicole Hemmer pointed out, “the rally coincides with the 30th anniversary of a siege just outside of Waco between religious extremists, a sect known as the Branch Davidians led by David Koresh, and the federal government. The 51-day standoff began in February 1993 and ended in mid-April with a fire that killed 76 people, including 25 children … For three decades, the city’s name has been a touchstone for groups who see the federal government not just as a problem but as the central enemy in a slow-rolling civil war.”
“In choosing Waco as the kickoff site for his campaign rallies, Trump has signaled that his courtship of extremist groups will continue, and that he sees his role as a pivotal figure in the far-right mythos as central to his efforts to retake the presidency,” Hemmer observed. A spokesperson for Trump said Waco was selected because it is conveniently located “to have as many supporters from across the state and in neighboring states attend this historic rally.”
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Former President Barack Obama did it 12 times. Trump did it 10 times. More than halfway through his term, President Joe Biden finally cast his first veto last week, rejecting a bill that would have banned managers of retirement funds from considering environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns in choosing investments.
Witold Henisz, who directs the ESG initiative at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in favor of considering such factors: “the logic here is straightforward and anything but political. The value of some assets depends, for instance, on the degree of global warming or our success in transitioning to clean energy.”
The problem with ESG investing, observed Sanjai Bhagat, professor of finance at the University of Colorado, is that “research has found that investor returns are generally lower from ESG investing compared to non-ESG (or traditional) investing.” The bill Biden vetoed “would have required retirement fund managers to act as true fiduciaries of middle-class American retirees — focusing solely on financial returns of their investments and not on environmental and social issues.”
Actor Jason Sudeikis not only plays the character Ted Lasso, he helped develop the quirky, feel-good show of the same name. On Monday, Sudeikis and other cast members showed up at the White House to talk about mental illness. Some Republicans criticized Biden for taking part in the public relations venture.
“The criticism feels out of touch,” wrote Sara Stewart. “Yes, Ted Lasso is a fictional character and yes, ‘Ted Lasso’ is a comedy; it’s also one of Apple’s most popular shows, with what Politico has referred to as a ‘strange bipartisan appeal’ that’s led to its being mentioned frequently by politicians from both sides of the aisle. And judging from White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre’s reaction, the cast’s appearance Monday drew a record number of reporters to the press room and yielded a ton of coverage, all of which included Sudeikis’ comments about mental health…”
“It’s not the substantive action we need to make mental health care widely accessible. Yet. But it’s still a fairly savvy way to get a wide range of Americans thinking and talking about it, which seems like a decent step forward.”
Protests are roiling France over President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. “From the far-right acolytes of Marine Le Pen to the far left of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise (unbowed) party,” David A. Andelman noted, “the political sharks are all smelling blood … even though the next elections aren’t for another four years.”
The impact can be seen on the streets: In addition to demonstrations against Macron, garbage collectors went on strike, and more than 7,000 tons of trash piled up in Paris.
But France, which spends almost twice as much of its GDP on pensions than the US, has a budget problem and reduced pension spending could help, Andelman wrote.
Catherine Poisson, a French native who teaches at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, wrote, “For those of us raised in French culture, work refers to a finite period of life lasting roughly 40 years. And when that work is done, you are still young enough and fit enough to enjoy the best of what life has to offer. It’s the norm that retirement years — or decades actually — are spent traveling, caring for grandchildren or picking up new hobbies.”
Shou Zi Chew, chief executive of the immensely popular social network TikTok, failed to persuade members of Congress Thursday that his platform is safe for Americans, despite the company’s ties to China.
Alex Stamos, former chief security officer of Facebook, wrote that “national security concerns about TikTok are justified. ByteDance, like any other Chinese company, is subject to laws that compel extreme compliance with the interests and dictums of the state. There is no First Amendment or independent judiciary to protect ByteDance executives if they decided to deny China’s requests. President Xi has made that clear by taking direct action against China’s richest and most powerful CEOs.’
TikTok knows “a huge amount about the demographics, interests, location, contacts and devices of its 1.5 billion users.” But Stamos argued that the problem is bigger than TikTok.
“There is no US law clearly governing the access that Beijing or Moscow-based employees of any tech or social media company have to the personal data of US citizens that use their services. And, there is currently no federal law discouraging the overcollection of critical data or personally identifiable information.
“It’s time for Congress to finally pass a comprehensive privacy law.”
Privacy isn’t the only issue posed by social media. A study released last week found that the number of Twitter posts containing antisemitic language doubled after Elon Musk took over Twitter in October.
“Researchers tried to get a comment from Twitter,” Frida Ghitis wrote, “but the response was an email showing a poop emoji. That’s the same response Musk sent after another study, back in December, found an explosion of racist tweets after he bought the platform.”
If social media feels too overwhelming, try what Tess Taylor did: “a deep social media unplug.”
“Time online was making me bored, anxious and grumpy. I was falling down attention rabbit-holes, scrolling for boots when I actually wanted to play Uno with my kids. I was buying stuff I can’t afford, didn’t need and didn’t even desire … I felt vulnerable and exposed to random fury: you might go online to like someone’s new baby and suddenly be swept up in the day’s melee, like being slammed into rush hour traffic.”
Taylor used a bit of her offline time to chat with poet Julia Guez. She “had some of the best rules for social media use of anyone I talked to,” Taylor wrote.
Guez’s rules: “Never in the morning, never in bed, never before bed, never in the bedroom. Mostly on the train, in order to find out other people’s good news, and amplify it, and sometimes to then to write a letter or actually call a friend who you’ve seen post something and check in on them.”
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For 31 years, the Labrador retriever ruled the dog kingdom as America’s most popular breed. But now it has ceded that title to what Urmee Khan described as “a pint-sized, sedentary, furry gargoyle”—the French bulldog.
Khan shares her London abode with Bertie, one of the newly ennobled breed.
“It would be easy to dismiss French bulldogs, with their squidgy, cartoon faces and small squat bodies, as little more than a handbag accessory. Celebrities everywhere are photographed toting a baby Frenchie in a shoulder bag, or holding one at the end of an expensive designer leash.”
Why the new popularity? “In the post-Covid era, these more inward-looking times call for a pup that is less demanding, a pet whose company you can enjoy within the quiet and solace of your four walls.”