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Bret Stephens: Hello Gail. Hope you had a good July 4th. Politically, most of the fireworks appeared to come from the Supreme Court. Do you have any idea how the term ended?
Gail Collins: Bret, I was never too romantic on Independence Day. I guess when I was growing up I learned to look at a successful fourth as one that no one broke a finger off.
Bret: Where I grew up was Independence Day on September 16, although the celebrations started with a famous reputation the night before. Anyone who knows the country I’m referring to without Google’s help gets a salted margarita.
Gail: September 16th is Mexico’s Independence Day – you know, we haven’t talked enough about your life south of the border. Put that down for a summer distraction.
I admit I had to look up the famous reputation that I assume is the Dolores’ cry calling for freedom from Spain, equality and land redistribution.
Bret: Mexico has always been progressive, but more in theory than in practice. And if you want to let it rip, next month will mark the 200th anniversary of the Treaty of Cordoba when Mexico gained formal independence.
Gail: And September 16 is also the day the pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower. We need to put aside an autumn talk about history.
But now we’re going to talk about the performance of the Supreme Court. Given the current makeup, I tend to see success in any meeting that ends without total disaster. (The Affordable Care Act survives!) But I am very concerned about how the majority are on the side of the bad guys on franchise issues.
How about you?
Bret: You won’t be surprised, but I was with the bad guys on that vote in Arizona. It’s easy for anyone to vote in person at Grand Canyon State or by mail 27 days prior to an election. I don’t think it is against the electoral law to require people to vote in their district, or to prohibit voting on ballot papers, which is prone to fraud.
Gail: One Another person’s collection of ballot papers helps another person help their homeland neighbors vote. But I am not so concerned about what the court has done so far and where it will take us. We have Republican states zealously dismantling many procedures that make it easier for poor people – read Democrats – to choose. And some have also very much protected the right of political leaders to crush their constituents into districts that are most favorable to their interests, even if some of them look like two-headed iguanas.
Bret: There is a perception that ballot collection primarily helps the Democrats. Maybe that’s true, even though there are many poor Republicans out there. But the most notorious example of ballot papers being used to steal elections was in a 2018 Congressional race in North Carolina where the scammer worked for the Republican. But I’m with these two-headed iguanas. Democracy would be much better off if we could find our way out of the partisan Gerrymanders.
Gail: Very tricky as both parties tend to be creative with neighborhood drawings when their people have an advantage.
Bret: On the whole though, I think the court had a pretty good term considering people had a 6: 3 split between Conservatives and Liberals. Brett Kavanaugh and John Roberts voted with the court liberals for a state moratorium on evictions. Amy Coney Barrett voted for Obamacare. And every judiciary except Clarence Thomas has upheld a cheerleader’s right to use a specific four-letter epithet in connection with the words “school”, “softball”, “cheer” and “anything” that we are not normally allowed to write in this newspaper .
Gail: Yes, we’ve entered a world where it’s as common for teenagers to post that word on Snapchat or Instagram as … buying sneakers or googling the answers to a take-away quiz. If every student who did it is punished, we may need to replace all after-school activities with detention.
Bret: I think culture crossed the Rubicon swear word a long time ago. Around the time of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” monologue in 1972.
Gail: Though I have to admit that it would be nicer if the cool kids were the ones who came up with the most creative ways to express their dissatisfaction with life.
Maybe bird metaphors? (“Family reunion? I’d rather hang out with a flock of starlings!”) Or … well, let this be an ongoing project.
Bret: Flocked when I know how this will ever happen.
Gail: Let’s talk about something happy – the Trump charges. Or rather, the charge against the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer of failing to pay taxes on perks worth around $ 1.76 million.
I have to admit, the part I liked the most was the family, especially Eric, who treated perks like a luxury apartment and car and $ 359,000 in private schooling as normal life. I mean, if your neighbor brought you a plate of cookies, would you have to pay taxes?
Do you think this will lead to something bigger? The CFO in question Allen Weisselberg is a longtime Trump loyalist. Of course he’s 73 too …
Bret: You know I value the Trump Organization as much as I value toxic mud, KGB-poisoned panties, and James Patterson novels. But I’m a little doubtful about this charge. After all this investigation, is this the worst thing you can think of? I do not apologize provided the charges persist. But it seems to be the kind of sneaky and unethical corporate self-trafficking that usually results in severe civil penalties but not criminal charges.
Gail: So much was expected that Donald Trump himself would be sued for overvaluing his properties at the time of sale and undervaluing them for tax bills. Instead, we have a guy that no one has ever heard of getting a tax-free Mercedes. You’re right – it’s kind of a downer.
This is probably just a first step. Remember, there is this Manhattan grand jury who pledged to spend six months investigating possible misdeeds by Trump. And they barely started.
Bret: The bigger point is that it feels more like a political indictment, like Trump always threatened his political opponents, starting with Hillary Clinton. It’s a game that two can play.
Gail: The challenge for the prosecutors is to come up with something bad to shock New Yorkers. Or something that is so very likely to result in jail time that Trump comes over and makes a deal that would lock him out of politics forever.
Bret: My general theory of Trump is that the best we can do is starve him the things he longs for the most, which is publicity (good or bad) and the opportunity to play the martyr.
What might shock New Yorkers – he either skins cats for pleasure or he’s a fan of the Knicks owners.
Gail: Hey, give the curtsey a break. And let’s change the subject. Give me a snappy summary of your feelings about the endless negotiations over Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan.
Bret: The result will be good, I think. And popular too. We need an ambitious and forward-looking program that will allow projects like the George Washington and Golden Gate Bridges – projects that will last centuries – to be built, but this time with greater environmental sustainability.
Gail: Readers, please get out your twitters and quote this.
Bret: I would also love to see the Biden administration revive some of the more inspirational programs of the Roosevelt administration’s New Deal, particularly the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works of Art Project. By this I mean not only the creation of programs as an employment program, but also as a way of directing civic energies in the direction of active, participatory environmental responsibility and aesthetic creation. I also think that the art project should be open to foreigners so that the future Diego Riveras can leave their mark on American buildings and parks and boulevards.
Gail: We are completely in agreement. But – just check – are you equally excited about the other side of Biden’s plan that would support and expand critical social infrastructures like early childhood education and community colleges?
Bret: For sure. Why not? You have worn me down in submission – I mean, consent!
Gail: Forgive me again while I pour myself a glass of champagne. Are you listening, moderate republicans?
Bret: Last topic, Gail. July 4th was supposed to mark the date when Americans could finally celebrate their independence from the Covid pandemic. Are you finally feeling free of it?
Gail: Pretty much, Bret. I think for most people it depends on the things they liked to do that weren’t doable during the shutdown. For me, the biggest loss was that I couldn’t go to crowded public places like theaters or jazz clubs with my husband and didn’t see the friends who weren’t really comfortable outside of their families.
Bret: And I missed the trip abroad.
Gail: Now pretty much everything we like is back. What I still miss a lot is working in the real office. The work is done digitally, but it’s really not the same. As much as I love hanging out with you in these conversations, I would prefer if I could go to your desk and make fun of Mitch McConnell.
Bret: That and the regular use of the office’s chic coffee machines.
Gail: But soon, right? See you in September!