RBG’s death and the subsequent political fallout
It takes a monumental event for a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans . to be the second biggest story of the day. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death somberly accomplished this feat, when it was announced Sept. 18 that her years-long fight with pancreatic cancer had drawn to an end.
RBG, a nickname popularized by a 2018 documentary focused on her life, has left a profound impact on the U.S. Nominated by Bill Clinton to the Supreme Court in 1994, she has made key rulings on legal matters that have shaped the lives of millions.
In the past decade, she ruled in favor of same-sex marriage and struck down a Virginian plan that would’ve given the state the right to draw congressional districts based on their racial demographics. As such, she has been hailed as a champion of progressive causes and has inspired millions of young people to pursue careers in law.
The timing of her death, 39 days before the presidential election, has already set off a political battle in the Senate over the nomination of her successor.
Though not historically unprecedented, the nomination of new justices has traditionally been delayed should a vacancy open in an election year. The current Senate Majority Leader, Mitch Mcconnell (R-KY), adamantly opposed and subsequently blocked Merrit Garland, former President Barack Obama’s pick to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia in March 2016 on these very grounds.
Yet, with little over a month before election day, Mcconnell announced his intentions to hold confirmation hearings for President Trump’s nominee and vowed to confirm him before U.S. citizens go to the polls.
Many are outraged over Mcconnell’s decision. They have the absolute right to be. The hypocrisy couldn’t be clearer – it’s a direct contradiction of actions he made just four years prior.
Judiciary Chairman Lindsay Graham (R-SC), who will oversee the nomination process, said in 2018 that Americans should “hold my words against me, [that] if an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait until the next election.”
Then on the day of Ginsberg’s death, he announced his support for the new vacancy to be filled.
As despicable as the Republicans in the Senate have conducted themselves, one shouldn’t lose sight of the Democrats’ role in this mess.
In 2013, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) invoked the “nuclear option”, which abolished a congressional rule that required judicial nominations to get 60 votes in order to be confirmed, and mandated that a simple majority vote was now the threshold.
Reid took this step in response to a concerted Republican effort at the time to block President Obama’s judicial nominees. Three years later though, Democrats became the victims of the very procedures they implemented, as McConnell used the rule to confirm a record number of conservative judges to courts throughout the country.
Just like Trump and Mcconnell, Democrats too sought to confirm a new Supreme Court justice in an election year with the nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016. Now, they’ve vowed to fight Trump’s nominee at every turn.
This episode is another frightening reminder of the extreme polarization that has consumed the country for the past decade or so now.
American politics has increasingly become a staring contest in which both sides would rather go blind then cede victory to their opponent. All the while, a trifecta of crises has engulfed the country. Bodies have piled up as a result of police brutality and a merciless virus. So have the unpayable bills for millions of families.
For the sake of the country, Congress and the White House must reserve petty political disputes for now and instead focus on what voters elected them to do: govern.
Rising cases mount pressure on Boris Johnson
In times of crisis, people often band together behind their leaders. Typically, this is seen during times of conflict, but a deadly pandemic likewise poses a grave threat.
In the present circumstances, the threat of COVID-19 doesn’t come from any particular nation (despite some calling it the China virus). The U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party government must have really bungled its response to the virus, especially during the second wave, to warrant the criticism it is currently receiving from the public and its opposition.
Of course, governments have an extremely tricky balancing act to perform. Battling COVID-19 extends beyond the realm of everyday governmental responsibilities, for which they already receive extensive criticism.
On the one hand, if Johnson increases lockdown measures, he subjects the economy to potential destabilization, which is especially harmful to small businesses. Large corporations can survive by dipping into deep reserves, furloughing staff and cutting back operations, but the average high street retailer doesn’t have such luxuries.
On the other hand, if they abandon lockdown measures altogether, the economy stays open, but thousands of lives will almost certainly be taken by the virus. Somehow, the U.K. government has found a way to plunge both sides of this balancing scale, failing to control the public health emergency as well as sending the U.K. into a deep recession.
These gigantic crises have warranted extensive distrust in the U.K. government among its population. More than half of British voters believe the government has handled the COVID-19 crisis poorly, per a recent poll.
Beyond public discontent regarding the COVID-19 response, many believe firmly that it emulates the greater incompetence of the Conservative government. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, perhaps the loudest of these critical voices, said that the re-introduction of lockdown measures in and of itself represents the government’s failure.
Johnson will only find himself in a deeper hole if cases and deaths continue to rise. On the economic side of the discussion, the furlough scheme held in place by Chancellor Rishi Sunak may be the only thing preventing full-blown outrage.
Shinzo Abe resigns as Japanese Prime Minister
Long-time Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his intention to step down as the country’s leader, effective immediately. The decision came in response to reports that the Prime Minister’s health had been deteriorating over the past few years.
After more than a decade in power, Abe leaves a profound impact on Japan, but also begs questions of the country’s geopolitical futures.
Abe was instrumental in expanding Japan’s global status beyond that of just an economic powerhouse.
He instituted policies that strengthened Japan’s military capability, giving generals greater authority to deploy forces overseas. As the island nation is under 1,000 miles away from the Korean Peninsula and China, both of which are flashpoints for conflict, military strength is of paramount importance to Japan.
The military overhaul was part of a broader effort to compete with China, its prime regional rival. He strengthened ties with many countries in South-East Asia who have increasingly come under Chinese influence, in terms of the military, but primarily, the economy.
China has built massive infrastructure projects throughout Southern Asia, making their long-term economic growth dependent on the continuation of Chinese assistance. Japan has promised to match Chinese investment in the region in an attempt to curb regional dependence on China.
These policies,in turn, have worked to strengthen relations with the U.S., who too have recently taken a tougher stance on China. Late last year, the two countries signed an historic trade agreement which lowered Japanese tariffs on U.S. beef imports in exchange for the slashing of similar levies on Japanese automobile exports.
However, relations with South Korea, a key regional ally, have sourced dramatically.
In 2018, a Korean court ordered that Mitsubishi, a Japanese firm, pay compensation to Koreans it used as forced laborers in World War II. The Japanese company refused to comply, the symbolism of which outraged the Korean government. Recent flair ups over a disputed set of Islands resulted in the cancellation of a trilateral intelligence sharing agreement the two held with the U.S.
Abe’s successor, recently announced as Yoshihide Suga, who is a close ally of Abe’s, is largely expected to maintain much of what his predecessor accomplished. However, Suga will inherit a number of issues that Abe left unsolved, namely relations with Korea and China. The relationships with these two nations will be key in Japan’s efforts to preserve and maintain its global superpower status.