The news cycle is loud, but we need to hear those who can’t shout
Editor’s Note: This weekly feature will publish Fridays during the 2020 election season.
1. Biden and black voters
When an African American radio host told Joe Biden he had more questions near the end of a recent interview, the former vice president replied: “Well, I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out if you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”
Biden later said he shouldn’t have been cavalier, but the remark played into a talking point of the Trump campaign: Democrats take black voters for granted.
Only 8 percent of black voters picked Donald Trump in 2016, and Republicans don’t expect to peel off a substantial number this fall. But in a close election, a couple of percentage points could make a difference.
Trump’s campaign has made a pitch to black voters this cycle, but the pandemic could upend the playbook: The coronavirus has hit the African American community particularly hard, and early plans to launch field offices in black neighborhoods won’t look the same as the campaign had hoped.
For now, the Trump campaign is seizing on the Biden blooper: By the end of last week, the campaign reportedly planned a $1 million advertising blitz to turn the comment into a catchphrase and began selling T-shirts emblazoned with #YouAintBlack.
2. Trump and Twitter
President Trump signed an executive order on Thursday aimed at limiting legal protections for social media companies after Twitter fact-checked one of his tweets about mail-in voting. Trump called the action censorship.
Meanwhile, a separate battle still simmered: A Florida widower defended the memory of his late wife against a recent Twitter barrage by Trump. Timothy Klausutis wrote a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, asking him to remove the tweets that stoked conspiracy theories about his wife’s death.
Lori Klausutis worked in the Florida office of Joe Scarborough when Scarborough served as a Republican congressman. The 28-year-old died in July 2001, after apparently collapsing in the office and striking her head. The police ruled out foul play, but conspiracy theories bubbled up suggesting she was murdered.
Nearly 20 years later, Scarborough works as an MSNBC television host—and a frequent Trump critic. The president recently resurrected rumors about Scarborough on Twitter: “Did he get away with murder? Some people think so.” Trump later said he thinks there’s “more to the story” of Klausutis’ sudden death: “An affair?”
An understandably aggrieved Timothy Klausutis told Dorsey that the president “has taken something that doesn’t belong to him—the memory of my dead wife—and perverted it for perceived political gain.” Twitter execs declined to remove the tweets.
It may be tempting to dismiss the controversy as a sideshow, but in a swirl of conversations about media censorship, it’s important to remember the value of self-censorship: It’s wrong to circulate salacious rumors—and it certainly doesn’t offer steadiness in unsteady times.
The same applies to Trump’s tweet about potentially sending National Guard troops to quell riots in Minneapolis, after a video showed a white police officer using his leg to pin down a black man by the neck on Monday: George Floyd died in police custody. The National Guard might help with unrest, but this part of Trump’s tweet likely won’t: “... when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
3. Church politics
The president urged American churches to re-open last Sunday and pointed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for taking precautions. The move evoked alarm from some and praise from others.
Politico reported Trump’s move came in response to recent polls showing the president’s favorability rating slipping among white evangelicals. A poll from P.R.R.I. in late April reported 66 percent of white evangelical Protestants view the president favorably. That was down from about 77 percent in March.
It’s worth noting pollsters vary in how they define “evangelical,” and it’s not always clear what it means to voters. In 2016, exit polls from the National Election Pool reported 26 percent of voters self-identified as evangelicals, but only 64 percent of that group reported going to church at least once a week.
Whatever Trump’s motives, many churches made decisions about re-opening based on local guidelines set by their state governments. And despite the president’s threat to “override” governors who try to block churches from gathering, most of those disputes will be settled in local or state courts.
4. Unsound bites
Some media outlets won’t admit bias, but others are more transparent. Katha Pollitt, a columnist for The Nation, began a recent column: “I would vote for Joe Biden if he boiled babies and ate them.” Pollitt called critics of her remarks “tender souls” who don’t appreciate “dark humor and comic overstatement.” She added: “They must have a hard time in this fallen world.”
Indeed we do.
Last week, we reported on the approaching launch of the SpaceX capsule. Officials scrubbed the launch earlier this week because of bad weather, but they’ll try again on Saturday at 3:22 p.m., when two astronauts hope to blast off for the International Space Station (ISS). If you’re still sticking to home, this might be the perfect break from politics and other online diversions: See if you can spot the ISS from your own backyard.