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Donald Trump's biggest challenge comes on Tuesday

CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd weighs in on President Trump's unfounded attacks on mail-in voting and refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power.

Posted: Sep 28, 2020 12:11 PM
Updated: Sep 28, 2020 12:11 PM

Harold Wilson led Britain as prime minister for much of the 1960s and a shorter stint in the 1970s. Reputed to be a favorite of Queen Elizabeth II, the pipe-smoking Labour Party leader was a character in the most recent season of "The Crown." Wilson is usually credited with saying, "A week is a long time in politics."

His aphorism certainly fits the tumultuous events of the past week -- and maybe the coming one too.

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18 suddenly allowed President Donald Trump to pick his candidate for a pivotal seat on the top court. And, as the week advanced, it became clear that he would gain almost unanimous support from Republican senators for a vote on the nomination in the final days of the presidential campaign, a process they denied President Barack Obama four years ago by blocking consideration of his replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia -- nine months out from the 2016 election. ("Blatant hypocrisy," wrote Issac Bailey.)

Even Sen. Mitt Romney, the only Republican who voted in February to remove Trump from office after his impeachment, signaled he'd favor voting to confirm a conservative judge as a Ginsburg replacement before the election, prompting Jill Filipovic to write, "It appears this particular prize is simply too big for Romney to maintain his principles."

Yesterday, eight days after Ginsburg's death, Trump announced that he was nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the court, setting in motion a confirmation process that will run concurrently with the last 37 days of the campaign.

On Tuesday, Trump and his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden will appear together for the first time in a debate. And by the end of the week, we'll start to see whether their face-off alters the dynamics of the contest, which Biden has consistently led in the national polls.

'Not a drill'

This past week, controversy flared over Trump's extraordinary refusal to commit to the American political norm of a peaceful transfer of power.

"This is not a drill. This is not a game," wrote John Avlon. "The President of the United States just told us that he would not commit to peacefully turning over the government to a new administration if he loses the election ... This is a threat. This is a warning. And anyone who ever called themselves a patriot or a defender of the Constitution ought to condemn it immediately."

"Whatever Trump has in mind," wrote Frida Ghitis, "there is only one sure way to prevent a disaster that could engulf the entire country: A landslide victory for Biden would make it more difficult for Trump to remain in office by leveraging the courts, Congressional Republicans, and even the bands of extremists roaming antiracism protests aiming to spark more chaos. A decisive electoral result could defang Trump's post-election troops."

In late November, 2000, as the nation waited to find out who won the incredibly close presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, a crowd of conservatives gathered in a Florida high-rise to stop the manual recounting of ballots in Miami.

The protest by the well-dressed crowd earned the ironic title of the "Brooks Brothers Riot." Could we see something similar this November? "In light of the President's own words and actions," wrote Julian Zelizer, "officials are rightfully worried about a too-close-to-call nightmare scenario that might spur the President -- or his followers -- to go all-out in an attempt to make sure things go his way. If this happens, the Brooks Brothers Riot might just look like kid's play."

Trump's choice

In selecting Amy Coney Barrett for the court, Trump picked the closest thing to a rock star in the world of conservative judicial politics. "Barrett, a 48-year-old judge at the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, has the head, heart, and history to be an outstanding Supreme Court justice," wrote Paul Callan, ticking off her summa cum laude degree from Notre Dame Law School, her prestigious clerkships, her many articles and court opinions and adding, "her qualities of selflessness, empathy and heart are demonstrated in her and her husband's decision to adopt two children from hurricane and strife-torn Haiti and to raise a child with Down Syndrome, her youngest, Benjamin, who she described as the children's 'favorite sibling.'"

Barrett's opponents blasted the nomination, not for her personal qualities but for her ideology. "Her record of about 100 written opinions leaves zero doubt that she is an ideologically and politically motivated judge," wrote Shan Wu, a former federal prosecutor. "This is exactly what Trump needs in an election that the United States Supreme Court may end up deciding." Wu said there's "little danger here of a Justice Neil Gorsuch-like streak of independent thinking ruining an otherwise perfectly good replay of Supreme Court's Bush v. Gore decision that awarded the presidency to George W. by judicial fiat. No, she is a jurist who can be depended on to elevate political ideology over legal analysis."

If confirmed, Barrett could be on the Supreme Court bench November 10, when the court is due to hear arguments in a case challenging the law that established Obamacare. Trump, "the man who has spent years trying to destroy it now wants to hand-pick the successor of one of the five justices who voted to uphold it," wrote Abdul El-Sayed. "It could mean the end of the law as we know it -- and leave millions of Americans without health care in a pandemic."

A rush to confirm Ginsburg's replacement could have long-lasting consequences, wrote Robert Alexander and David B. Cohen. While it may be cheered by Trump's GOP base, it could also inspire outraged Democrats to vote. "Our electoral system has enabled a minority of the population to rule," they noted. "We would not be surprised, then, if McConnell's decision to try and fill the seat ultimately backfires on Republicans by ushering in a unified Democratic government. If that were to happen, Democrats may well choose to wield their power to regain control of the courts -- especially if they believe that two Supreme Court seats were stolen during Trump's only term."

Other views on the court:

Vanita Gupta: Civil rights are on the line with Trump's Supreme Court pick

Charlie Dent: Democrats play politics with Supreme Court too

John Avlon: GOP's Supreme Court hypocrisy in their own words

Tuesday's faceoff

When Trump and Biden appear with moderator Chris Wallace in Cleveland Tuesday evening, the stakes may be higher than usual for a presidential debate. "The nature of this year's campaign -- where voters have had less direct contact with the candidates as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic -- makes Tuesday evening's matchup potentially more consequential than in the past," wrote Lanhee J. Chen.

He urged Trump to focus on the economy, an issue where polls show he has an edge, to be ready to talk about health care and to "keep the pressure on Biden," who "has kept a relatively light campaign schedule for much of the last few months and, in his public events, has rarely faced tough questioning or direct criticism."

David Gergen learned the value of having candidates prepare for presidential debates in 1980 when he worked on Ronald Reagan's campaign against President Jimmy Carter and independent John Anderson. Gergen wrote that "Biden must figure out in advance how to handle Trump's bullying and any attempts to bait him into an ugly brawl. And how should he respond if Trump plows over the time limit and moderator Chris Wallace can't stop him? What should Biden do when Trump flatly lies time and again, as he is almost certainly bound to?"

Todd Graham is a debate coach whose teams have won five national championships. His advice for Biden? "Control the room," Graham suggested. "Don't get lost in the weeds of specific arguments. Instead, emphasize attitude. Stand up to Trump. Be assertive. Be aggressive. Be big." (Read Graham's advice for the moderators of the four campaign debates.)

In picking "race and violence in our cities" as one of the debate topics, Wallace took an approach that is "nakedly partisan and blatantly favorable to Trump," wrote Steven A. Holmes. "In the months since George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police, the President has fought to keep the focus on the violence that has marred some of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations against police brutality, rather than talking about the police misconduct that prompted the protests in the first place."

For more on the campaign and Trump's presidency:

Peter Bergen: The top Trump adviser who chose not to write a tell-all book

Miles Taylor: Why we should listen to what Olivia Troye says about Donald Trump

Ashish Prashar and DeAnna Hoskins: How Biden could make up for his criminal justice mistakes

Lanhee J. Chen: Biden may seem like a centrist, but his platform is progressive

Amy Fettig: Citizens shouldn't need Bloomberg's help to exercise their rights

Van Jones and Nisha Anand: What 56 million kids, and their parents, need to hear from Biden and Trump

200,000

It's "very sobering, and in some respects, stunning," that 200,000 Americans have died of Covid-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN's Sanjay Gupta on Tuesday. And there are no signs of an end to the pandemic.

Asked about it on Fox News, Trump gave his handling of the pandemic an A+, while faulting the media for how his administration's response has been covered. The 200,000 victims, Dean Obeidallah observed, "deserve a better response from the President. They are not a PR crisis to be managed -- they were someone's loved one. They were beloved mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. They were grandparents who taught their grandchildren about life, teachers who made students smarter, coaches who pushed their players to be better, deli owners who remained open so neighborhoods would have food during lockdowns. They were doctors, nurses, police officers and others who worked while many of us were able to stay safe in our homes ... The people who died were not only like us, they often were the best of us."

President Trump has contended that a vaccine could be approved by Election Day, a prospect that scientists have suggested is wildly optimistic.

The risks of a rushed vaccine are huge, wrote Dr. Kent Sepkowitz. "If indeed people develop side effects after their injection, the vaccine program also runs the risk that those just barely accepting of it will be scared away from other already safe vaccines that have saved countless lives. We could come out of the Covid-19 experience an even less healthy and less sensible nation than we are today."

Edgar Marcuse, who has chaired the US National Vaccine Advisory Committee, wrote, "Gaining the confidence of American people in the processes and systems that lead to the development and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines is essential."

Breonna Taylor

Kentucky's Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced Wednesday the indictment of one officer in the Breonna Taylor investigation, but it wasn't the justice her family and many people around the country were seeking.

"Justice feels like the elusive carrot that is dangled but never caught," wrote Laura Coates, a former prosecutor. "Consider the fact that (former Louisville Det. Brett) Hankison was charged for shooting in the manner that could have killed someone. No officer has been charged for the fact that someone actually did die." She said, of Taylor, "Disturbingly, it seems her death was summarily dismissed as collateral damage."

Lisa Respers France observed, "The death of Breonna Taylor has been yet another painful reminder that women like me, Black women, are not safe in America."

RBG

When Neil Siegel, a former law clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and now a Duke University law professor, had dinner with Ginsburg at a favorite DC restaurant, he told her he was separated and getting divorced. "She saw that I was shaken. When dinner was over and she stood to leave, she looked at me -- into me -- with her steely gaze. She said simply and clearly: 'Neil, you will get through this, like you have gotten through everything else in your life.'" Ginsburg would give the same advice to America now, he wrote: "you will get through this, like you have gotten through everything else in the life of this nation."

In the midst of the mourning for Ginsburg, it's interesting to look back to the moment when President Bill Clinton nominated her for the Supreme Court in 1993. Renee Knake Jefferson and Hannah Brenner Johnson pointed out that liberal as well as conservative women's groups, along with those on both sides of the abortion debate, raised concerns about her nomination.

The authors credit President Jimmy Carter, who appointed Ginsburg to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in 1980, for stressing diversity in judicial nominations.

"But for Carter's efforts to diversify the federal judiciary, she might never have gained this judicial experience that made her candidacy so attractive to President Clinton when he selected her for the Supreme Court," Jefferson and Johnson wrote. "When President Barack Obama greeted RBG at Justice Elena Kagan's swearing-in, he asked her: 'Are you happy that I brought you two women?' Ginsburg replied, "Yes, but I'll be happier when you bring me five more.'"

For more on Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Betsy West and Julie Cohen: 'RBG' filmmakers: How Justice Ginsburg wanted to be remembered

Peniel Joseph: Remembering 'Notorious RBG' is complicated

Michael Klarman: Ex-RBG law clerk: My two favorite stories about Ginsburg

Don't miss

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings: What my husband, Elijah Cummings, would say if he were alive today

Luis V. Gutiérrez: Puerto Rico needs more than Trump's cynical ploy three years after Hurricane Maria

Alex Totterman: The disturbing truth about plastic recycling

Amanda Geduld: NYC's disastrous start to the school year is a cautionary tale

AND...

Finding meaning

Fall began this week in the shadow of a pandemic that affects all of our lives, in ways big and small. Nick Couldry and Bruce Schneier pointed out that "many of us have been feeling a sense of unease that goes beyond anxiety or distress. It's a nameless feeling that somehow makes it hard to go on with even the nice things we regularly do."

They described it as "a restless distraction that stems not just from not knowing when it will all end, but also from not knowing what that end will look like," and credited Jonathan Zecher for resurrecting a name for it: acedia.

"Acedia was a malady that apparently plagued many Medieval monks," wrote Couldry and Schneier. "It's a sense of no longer caring about caring, not because one had become apathetic, but because somehow the whole structure of care had become jammed up."

This is not just something to analyze, it's vital to take action, they wrote. We need to "recognize it as a problem we choose to face together -- across political and cultural lines -- as families, communities, nations and a global humanity. Which means doing so in acceptance of our shared vulnerability, rather than suffering each on our own."

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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 522512

Reported Deaths: 10790
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson755371494
Mobile39129799
Madison34124500
Tuscaloosa25408444
Montgomery24059573
Shelby23225242
Baldwin20730302
Lee15638166
Calhoun14358311
Morgan14171273
Etowah13705348
Marshall12012220
Houston10416279
Elmore10024203
Limestone9862148
Cullman9509191
St. Clair9486236
Lauderdale9280233
DeKalb8762183
Talladega8127173
Walker7151276
Autauga6763106
Jackson6762110
Blount6532133
Colbert6236132
Coffee5436113
Dale4781111
Russell431239
Franklin421382
Chilton4130110
Covington4069115
Tallapoosa3922148
Escambia390374
Dallas3528150
Chambers3519122
Clarke347360
Marion3076100
Pike306676
Lawrence296395
Winston273272
Bibb256761
Marengo248561
Geneva246475
Pickens233259
Barbour227155
Hale218675
Butler213268
Fayette209660
Henry188444
Cherokee182744
Randolph177841
Monroe173140
Washington165538
Macon156548
Clay150255
Crenshaw149557
Cleburne147041
Lamar140034
Lowndes137353
Wilcox124727
Bullock122040
Conecuh109728
Perry107726
Sumter103332
Coosa99428
Greene91434
Choctaw58824
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 835842

Reported Deaths: 12081
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby930851587
Davidson88030924
Knox49813624
Hamilton43402485
Rutherford42319420
Williamson27545216
Sumner23492341
Montgomery19623224
Wilson18472229
Out of TN1803295
Unassigned16760132
Sullivan16184287
Blount15180194
Bradley14599147
Washington14177242
Maury13211169
Sevier13166175
Putnam11168173
Madison10789241
Robertson9607130
Anderson8627171
Hamblen8498171
Greene7739152
Tipton7226104
Coffee6831121
Dickson6734109
Cumberland6568127
Carter6468156
Bedford6426129
Gibson6402144
McMinn636597
Roane6191102
Jefferson6073121
Loudon601669
Lawrence580686
Hawkins5781106
Monroe570995
Warren551381
Dyer5361104
Franklin508688
Fayette492178
Obion450296
Cheatham444454
Cocke443798
Rhea431275
Lincoln430663
Marshall411158
Campbell409662
Weakley402862
Giles395399
Henderson372975
Macon358077
Carroll357582
White354868
Hardin349766
Hardeman346464
Lauderdale314444
Henry312475
Marion309946
Claiborne306273
Scott305545
Overton296961
Wayne294334
Hickman280546
McNairy276854
DeKalb275653
Smith274838
Haywood268361
Grainger259149
Trousdale249022
Morgan246039
Fentress238546
Johnson231638
Bledsoe209711
Chester209451
Crockett201048
Polk200024
Unicoi194549
Cannon188931
Union186034
Grundy177933
Humphreys174221
Lake169526
Sequatchie166728
Benton163240
Decatur157338
Lewis155826
Meigs134823
Stewart130828
Jackson129935
Clay109031
Houston108533
Perry105728
Moore100017
Van Buren83421
Pickett75624
Hancock54912

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