Opinion | Frank Bruni: A Final Column on What it Means to Be a Columnist – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

This is the last of Frank Bruni’s regular Opinion columns, but his popular weekly newsletter will live on. To keep up with his political analysis, cultural commentary and personal reflections, sign up here.

“I owe Ted Cruz an apology.

Though, really, it’s readers to whom I should say I’m sorry.

One day in 2015 when I had a column due in hours and couldn’t settle on a topic, I took the easy route of unloading on Cruz, who was one of many unappealing contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. He was fair game for rebuke, no question there. But did I illuminate his dark character, enlighten my readers or advance any worthwhile cause by comparing him — repeatedly — to the unstoppable entity in the horror movie “It Follows”?

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No. I just swam with the snide tide.

I did that too often. Many columnists do.

Starting, well, now, I’m a columnist no more. I’ve taken a job in academia and will split my time between teaching and writing. Maybe that’s best: Ten years is a long haul in any assignment, and while this one has been amply challenging and deeply rewarding, I always had misgivings.

I worried, and continue to worry, about the degree to which I and other journalists — opinion writers, especially — have contributed to the dynamics we decry: the toxic tenor of American discourse, the furious pitch of American politics, the volume and vitriol of it all.

I worry, too, about how frequently we shove ambivalence and ambiguity aside. Ambivalence and ambiguity aren’t necessarily signs of weakness or sins of indecision. They can be apt responses to events that we don’t yet understand, with outcomes that we can’t predict.”

Frank Bruni | Is the Burger Nearing Extinction? – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

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Credit…Ben Wiseman

“I liked my patties thin and then I liked them thick. There was the Cheddar period, followed by the Roquefort interregnum. Sesame-seed buns gave way to English muffins as ketchup traded places with special sauce or even, God help me, guacamole, which really was overkill.

But no matter its cradle or condiment, the hamburger was with me for the long haul — I was sure of that.

Until now.

A few days ago I tripped across news that McDonald’s was testing a vegetable-based patty, coming soon to a griddle near you. The McPlant burger, they’re calling it — a McOxymoron if ever I’ve heard one. And McDonald’s is late to the game. Burger King has been selling a meatless Impossible Whopper since 2019. Dunkin’ has been serving a Beyond Sausage Breakfast Sandwich for nearly as long.

Meanwhile, Bill Gates has been telling anyone who will sit still long enough to listen about his investment in a “pretty amazing” start-up that uses a protean protein made from an especially hardy fungus for meatless patties, meatless balls and vegan versions of various dairy products. Over the past weeks, he has plugged it on my Times colleague Kara Swisher’s “Sway” podcast and in Rolling Stone.” . . .

Frank Bruni | Trump’s Republicans, Brought to Their Knees – The New York Times

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Ben Wiseman

“During the first of the three presidential impeachments in my lifetime, we contemplated the smudging of a blue dress. During the second, the smearing of a political rival.

During this one, which ended with Donald Trump’s predictable but infuriating acquittal? The shrieking of a police officer as a mob crushed and bloodied him. It was rawer and uglier. So is America.

But I keep thinking about the late 1990s, Bill Clinton, that whole melodrama and how Republicans used it in the service of a particular identity for their party. I keep thinking about what a lie that identity was then and what an absolute joke it is now.

Republicans sought to define themselves as the caretakers of tradition, the guardians of propriety, the proudly old-fashioned champions of honor, order, patriotism and such. Clinton’s background, especially the accusations of infidelity, helped them do that. They turned him into a symbol of America’s turpitude. They reasoned that the more thoroughly they demonized him (and Hillary), the more persuasively they sanctified themselves.

He was lies and they were truth. He was lust and they were modesty.

Monica Lewinsky dropped into that crusade like a gift from the gods. What you saw on the faces of many Republicans as they discussed Clinton’s dalliance with her wasn’t indignation. It was glee, and it fueled the charade that men like Newt Gingrich — who was then the House speaker and was cheating on his second wife with the much younger woman who would become his third — were the bulwarks against moral chaos.

Chaos. That’s precisely what Donald Trump wrought. Not metaphoric chaos, but actual chaos, deadly chaos, on grueling, gutting display in the footage of Jan. 6 that House Democrats presented at his Senate trial. It showed rioters coming for lawmakers like lions for lambs. (“Hang Mike Pence!” “Naaaaaancy, where are you?!?”) It showed lawmakers fleeing for their lives. It showed stampeding, smashing, stomping, screeching.

It showed hell, or something close enough that when all but seven Republican senators shrugged it off so that they could vote to acquit Trump, they finally forfeited any claim to virtue or to “values,” a word that had long been their mantra. They irrevocably lost all rights to lecture voters on such things. They affirmed that they, like Gingrich, were gaseous with hot air all along.

They’re fine with hell, so long as they’re re-elected.” . . . .

Frank Bruni | When You Don’t Have Trump to Hide Behind – The New York Times

“In case you hadn’t noticed, the Lincoln Project — an organization as pointedly anti-Trump as any other, its rise and political relevance symbiotically tied to his — is unraveling.

It’s unraveling because one of its founders, John Weaver, was using his position to proposition young men. It’s unraveling because peers of his in the organization apparently sat on complaints about that, too pumped up by their currency as Trump slayers to let accusations against Weaver impede their mission and kill their buzz.

It’s unraveling because it can no longer hide what a financial boondoggle it was for some of its central players, who spoke of principle while lining their pockets. Yes, they made dynamite ads and an eloquent case about Trump’s betrayal of America. Their firms also made money from the hero status that they were accorded by Trump haters the world over.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you Frank Bruni for this thoughtful, disturbing column. I was huge fan of of the Lincoln Party, but refused to support them financially, without more information. I reposted their brilliant ads, but surprisingly, there weren’t very many. Apparently my instincts not to send money were OK, but the real reason was that I was tapped out giving to Biden and DSCC et cetera, and many contributions to Individual candidates running to turn the senate blue. But many of the comments here say that the Lincoln Project made a major difference in the outcome of the races. Did they. Please, somebody research and help up all understand, how important were these petty crooks at bringing down Trump and other Trumpsters. We need more information, to safely and correctly figure out the place the Lincoln Project deserves in the last election, which was successful in ridding us of Drumpf the con artist, and liar in chief. The seditionist who impowered Putin, and betrayed our allies the Kurds and rebels of northern Syria. Maybe the Lincoln Project folks deserve all the accolades I just read through in the comments here after Frank Bruni’s thoughtful piece. Maybe they don’t.
David Lindsay Jr is the author of the Tay Son Rebellion about 18th century Vietnam, and blogs at InconvenientNews.Net.

Frank Bruni | Can  Make American Politics Decent Again? – The New York Times

“I think it’s very hard to get back to the way things were,” said Mitt Romney of Utah, the only Senate Republican who voted to convict President Trump at the end of his impeachment trial. We spoke the day after the electors in the Electoral College formalized Biden’s victory.

One of the obstacles, Romney said, is a media environment in which different Americans now consume entirely different facts. “If you have 70 percent of Republicans thinking that Biden stole the election, that’s a hard hole to dig out of,” he said.

But if any president can make headway in this era of gall and grievance, it’s Biden. He was elected to soothe rather than stir, plod rather than strut, and by all appearances so far, he understands that.

Just look at his preternatural reticence in the face of Trump’s and other Republicans’ postelection provocations. Across much of November and December, reporters sought from Biden some howl of anguish, some fiery denunciation, and got oratorical oatmeal instead. He murmured metronomically that Republicans would eventually come around. It was unsatisfying but right. What would be accomplished by screaming the opposite?

Even when he finally took Trump and his Republican enablers to task in a speech on Dec. 14, he did so with an appeal for unity and a renewed pledge to work as hard for the Americans who hadn’t voted for him as for the Americans who had. His recriminations were measured and sandwiched between feel-good reflections on democracy.

Three days later, when he and Jill Biden were interviewed by Stephen Colbert, he remained impossibly placid and insistently positive as Colbert wondered about the ferocity with which Republicans were going after Biden’s son, Hunter. “It is what it is,” Biden said, assuring Colbert that no matter how unfair or overzealous Republicans’ effort, he would always try to work with them when Americans’ welfare was in the balance.

Opinion | The Deep State Is on a Roll – By Frank Bruni – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images

“President Trump was right about the “deep state” — sort of. There exist, in government, people and forces rigged to foil disruption.

But the deep state isn’t, as he suggested, a reflexive defense of a corrupt status quo. It’s a righteous defense against the corruption of democracy, which he continues to attempt.

And that defense is holding. Three cheers for the deep state, which has been on a roll these past three weeks.

I’m thinking of Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, who supervises its elections. He refused to cry foul and fraud just because others in his party couldn’t abide Joe Biden’s victory in a state that hadn’t gone to a Democrat in a presidential election for nearly three decades.

“People are just going to have to accept the results,” he told The Washington Post. “I’m a Republican. I believe in fair and secure elections.” He ordered a recount, but as President Trump, the two U.S. senators from Georgia and plenty of others on the right pilloried him, he stuck to his assurance that a fair and secure election was precisely what Georgians had participated in and what had delivered the state’s electoral votes to Biden.

He was bolstered on Tuesday by another top-ranking Georgia official, another Republican not about to let the republic go to hell. Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, scolded and shamed Trump at a news conference at the state Capitol, warning the president that his unwarranted smearing of the balloting in Georgia was “inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence” and that “someone is going to get killed.”

“It has to stop,” he said. That was the deep state speaking, and its words were gold.

Raffensperger and Sterling are hardly the only Republican election officials who have refused to buy into Trump’s conspiracy theories. They have restored some of the faith and hope in me that the past four years eroded.

So have Lee Chatfield, the Republican speaker of Michigan’s House of Representatives, and Mike Shirkey, the Republican majority leader of Michigan’s Senate, who took that scary trip to the White House almost two weeks ago and then took a pass on propping up Trump.

“We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and, as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors,” they said in a joint statement immediately following their meeting with the president. Follow the normal process. Such milquetoast verbiage, and such a titanic reassurance.”

Opinion | Kamala Harris’s Undertold, Undersold Story – By Frank Bruni – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Ben Wiseman

“When I saw on Wednesday morning that Kamala Harris had released a short video marking and celebrating her selection as Joe Biden’s running mate, I clicked — eagerly and instantly. I wanted to continue riding my wave of excitement about all the firsts: first woman of color on a major party’s presidential ticket, first Black woman specifically, first Asian-American.

By the time I finished the video, that wave had crashed.

OK, that’s an overstatement. But as I listened to her flat, desultory recitation of her biography and philosophy, I did feel a sense of frustration, and it was familiar. I’d wrestled with the same letdown during the Democratic primary, when the experience of Harris didn’t live up to the idea of Harris. She often skipped or skimmed over facets of her background that she would have benefited from dwelling on. She frequently zoomed past the poetry to the prose, more a steely lawyer rattling off lists than a soulful leader serving up inspiration.

Harris the prosecutor can find the holes in your argument and make you tremble. But can Harris the history-making vice-presidential candidate find the cracks in your heart and make you cry?

That’s certainly not a requirement — most politicians not named Barack Obama fail to do that — and I’m not complaining per se. As I wrote when the news broke, her presence on the Democratic ticket makes total sense in terms of the experience that she possesses, the values that she represents and the contrast that she helps Biden draw between his politics of inclusion and Donald Trump’s politics of division.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Maybe the chorus is right. Frank Bruni is guilty of mansplaining to a new national female talent. So I went back and reread some of his piece. I do not dispute his main point: “I’m articulating a wish, one that’s tied to my belief that a decent future for this country hinges on an end to Trump’s presidency and my concern that Biden and Harris use every arrow in their quivers to defeat him. I’m venting a worry that Harris doesn’t fully use one of her arrows. She did poorly in the Democratic primary because, yes, her campaign was a mess. But she also did poorly because she never discovered the right, stirring way to tell and sell her story.” This is a valid point and request.
Where I part with Frank, is that I think she hit a home run when Joe Biden introduced her at their joint press conference. I wrote in my blog afterwards: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris both gave excellent speeches yesterday, at their coming out press conference. For Joe Biden, it is one of his best. Kamala Harris is wonderfully dynamic and impressive. She moves back and forth seemlessly between being powerful, then soft, deferential and daughterly, then prosecutorial again.” So many of Bruni’s critics have a point in his lack of gentleness. I thought she brilliant, and he just wanted more.

Opinion | She Predicted the Coronavirus. What Does She Foresee Next? – Frank Bruni with Laurie Garrett – The New York Times

“. . . She said she wasn’t surprised that a coronavirus wrought this devastation, that China minimized what was going on or that the response in many places was sloppy and sluggish. She’s Cassandra, after all.

But there is one part of the story she couldn’t have predicted: that the paragon of sloppiness and sluggishness would be the United States.

“I never imagined that,” she said. “Ever.”

The highlights — or, rather, lowlights — include President Trump’s initial acceptance of the assurances by President Xi Jinping of China that all would be well, his scandalous complacency from late January through early March, his cheerleading for unproven treatments, his musings about cockamamie ones, his abdication of muscular federal guidance for the states and his failure, even now, to sketch out a detailed long-range strategy for containing the coronavirus.

Having long followed Garrett’s work, I can attest that it’s not driven by partisanship. She praised George W. Bush for fighting H.I.V. in Africa.

But she called Trump “the most incompetent, foolhardy buffoon imaginable.”

And she’s shocked that America isn’t in a position to lead the global response to this crisis, in part because science and scientists have been so degraded under Trump.

Referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and its analogues abroad, she told me: “I’ve heard from every C.D.C. in the world — the European C.D.C., the African C.D.C., China C.D.C. — and they say, ‘Normally our first call is to Atlanta, but we ain’t hearing back.’ There’s nothing going on down there. They’ve gutted that place. They’ve gagged that place. I can’t get calls returned anymore. Nobody down there is feeling like it’s safe to talk. Have you even seen anything important and vital coming out of the C.D.C.?””

Opinion | Injections of Bleach? Trump’s Coronavirus Response Is Breaking Down – By Frank Bruni – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Ben Wiseman

” “And he’s going to get re-elected.”

Not a day goes by without several friends — Republicans as well as Democrats — saying that to me. It’s the blunt coda to a bloated recitation of Donald Trump’s failures during this pandemic. It’s a whimper of surrender following a scream of disbelief.

Tens of thousands of Americans die; what does the president do? Spreads bad information. Seeds false hope. Reinvents history, reimagines science, prattles on about his supposed heroism, bellyaches about his self-proclaimed martyrdom and savages anyone who questions his infallibility. In lieu of leadership, grandstanding. In place of empathy, a snit. And he’s going to get re-elected.

With that refrain we perform a spiritual prophylaxis. We prepare for despair.

But somewhere along the way, we started to confuse a coping mechanism with reasoned analysis. We began to treat a verbal tic as inevitable truth.

It isn’t. While Trump may indeed be careening toward four more years, it’s at least as possible that he’s self-destructing before our eyes.”

Opinion | The Governor Who Dissed New Yorkers – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

“When every other Democrat in America was swooning over Andrew Cuomo, Gina Raimondo was sparring with him.

I can’t say I’m surprised.

Raimondo, the second-term governor of Rhode Island, is blunt and sometimes contrarian. That’s what I’ve always liked about her.

I can’t say I like how she singled out New Yorkers, stopping cars with New York license plates at the border and ordering any drivers who planned to remain in Rhode Island for a while to quarantine themselves for 14 days. Cuomo, the New York governor, blew a gasket.

But I understood the epidemiological logic of it. The coronavirus was raging in New York. It wasn’t nearly as prevalent in Raimondo’s state. One strategy to limit a contagion is with checkpoints and barriers. She did on a state level what the United States was already doing with Americans returning from hot spots abroad.

The Daily News called her policy — which also involved having the National Guard visit and talk with people in vacation homes and rental properties where cars with New York plates were spotted — “authoritarian.” An editorial in The Providence Journal said it was “reminiscent of police states.”

There were rumors — false ones — that visitors were being turned back at the border.

And Cuomo threatened to sue.

That was last Saturday. Hours later, Raimondo changed course. But she didn’t let New Yorkers off the hook. She just gave us company there, decreeing that all out-of-state motorists would be treated the way New Yorkers were. That’s where things stand now.

It isn’t pretty. She conceded as much when we talked on the phone on Wednesday night. But it’s necessary, she said, at least if she’s to honor her obligation to save as many Rhode Islanders as possible from death, illness and economic devastation.

“This is a different time,” she told me. “I was asked last week during my daily news conference, ‘Do you worry about the image that you’re creating with National Guardsmen knocking on doors of renters and stopping cars at the border?’ Absolutely! I care about civil liberties. I care about equal protection. I do not like that image.”

“Having said that,” she continued, “the image that I worry a lot more about is hospitals overflowing with people. I’m focused on outcomes, not optics. Regular politics and political considerations are out the window right now. Am I doing things that I would prefer not to and I’m uncomfortable with because we’re in a state of emergency? Absolutely. There’s no doubt about that.”