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AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

Justin Amash (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

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Dean’s List: Justin Amash bids adieu

A grab-bag of politics, religion, and other news ahead of the 2020 election

Editor’s Note: This weekly feature will publish Fridays during the 2020 election season.

1. Amash’s adieu

Less than three weeks after jumping into the presidential race, Rep. Justin Amash (Libertarian-Mich.) jumped back out. Amash was exploring a bid for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination, but the congressman said on May 16 he realized success isn’t likely under the current circumstances. 

That’s likely true—with or without a pandemic. But it also wasn’t certain Amash could win the party’s nomination.  Amash left the GOP in July 2019, but he filed paperwork to change his affiliation to the Libertarian Party on May 1, 2020. He officially announced his Libertarian bid just 24 days before the party’s scheduled convention. 

Amash drew media attention, but longtime Libertarian Jacob Hornberger had already won a handful of primaries. Those contests are non-binding in the party, but they revealed a base of support. 

In an online debate, Hornberger grilled Amash on a slate of issues, including his pro-life position. On abortion, the Libertarian Party platform asserts “people can hold good-faith views on all sides,” but says the government should stay out of it.

Amash didn’t deny his pro-life beliefs. But he said he thought a Libertarian presidency wouldn’t require him to compromise the party’s platform, since the party opposes federal funding for abortion. Still, there are other abortion-related issues a president must face, and it wasn’t clear how Amash would handle them. 

The Libertarian Party is set to hold its nominating convention online over Memorial Day weekend. The decision to go virtual came only after an extensive debate over party by-laws that require the group to meet “in a place” they agree on. A question they debated—perhaps one we’re all pondering these days: Is the internet a place? 

2. Swinging low

At a moment when nursing homes are suffering some of the highest death rates related to COVID-19, frailty isn’t funny. But, sadly, that’s the schtick in a recent Trump campaign ad pointing out opponent Joe Biden’s mishaps on the presidential trail.

Biden has stumbled with his speech and concentration at more than one public event this cycle. Though he’s struggled with a stutter since childhood, it’s still fair to ask reasonable questions about his mental acuity if he aspires to the presidency. 

But it’s folly for the Trump campaign to produce an ad that begins with an image altered to appear like Biden is being spoon-fed in a nursing home. The recent Facebook spot featured jaunty music and a string of Biden’s slip-ups. Another ad declared: “Geriatric mental health is no laughing matter,” while playing a jovial tune and showing Biden falter. 

Ben Carson, now secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was once a presidential candidate who liked to quote the book of Proverbs on the campaign trail. One of the Proverbs that campaign managers might keep in mind: “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense.” 

3.  Loving thy neighbor 

Nursing home residents are some of our most isolated neighbors, with COVID-19 contributing to a steep death toll at many residential care facilities. President Trump announced an independent commission to assess COVID-19 response in nursing homes, and to make recommendations to the federal government for preparing for outbreaks.

Emma Green of The Atlantic penned a moving story about nuns from the Roman Catholic order Little Sisters of the Poor, as they cared for residents falling ill in a nursing home in Delaware. “If you don’t have a strong faith, this thing would just succeed in crushing you,” one of the nuns told Green. 

A few weeks later, attorneys for the Little Sisters of the Poor were making oral arguments via telephone to the Supreme Court (the court was quarantining). The nuns are still battling regulations related to the Affordable Care Act requiring the religious order to provide contraceptives and abortifacients in its health care plan. 

Biden served as vice president in President Barack Obama’s administration when the rules rolled out. The case is a reminder that Biden, a lifelong Catholic, should face questions about his views on religious liberty during the presidential campaign. 

4. Sound bites 

The Atlantic also published an expose of QAnon, an anonymous online entity with a group of followers professing belief in a vast, deep-state conspiracy theory they say is aligned against Trump. 

Some of the followers also use Biblical language, and the article leans toward suggesting the group could be partly an outgrowth of the evangelical church. Denny Burk, professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary offered a crisp response on Twitter: “I know what Christianity is, and Qanon ain’t it.” 

5. Off-the-trail

In non-campaign news, two NASA astronauts are scheduled to launch from earth on May 27 and soar to the International Space Station. The astronauts will fly in the Dragon capsule developed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX. (NASA encourages viewers to watch the launch online.) It’s the first manned flight for the California company—and perhaps the ultimate form of social distancing during an election year.

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