Opinion: Harry, Meghan and the power of their story

Of the monarchy’s role, Bagehot famously cautioned, “Above all things our royalty is to be reverenced, and if you begin to poke about it you cannot reverence it. When there is a select committee on the Queen, the charm of royalty will be gone. Its mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic.”

Whatever magic is left in the House of Windsor today, after “The Crown,” may not survive tonight’s airing of Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.

Meghan told Winfrey that the royal family, aka “The Firm,” was “perpetuating falsehoods” against her. Her words evoked memories of the tension between Buckingham Palace and Princess Diana in the 1990s.

Peggy Drexler wrote, “It’s easy to feel bad for Harry, who grew up in the spotlight, and for Meghan, who many would say both pursued that attention and fought it.” For all his privileges, “since he was small, Harry’s life was one of being followed, trailed. He was young when his mother, Princess Diana, was pursued to her death by paparazzi, but old enough to remember.”

Don’t blame Harry for stepping away from his royal duties, Drexler added. “He’s human and chose to recognize the pain that performing those duties caused.” (Here’s how to sign up for CNN’s new newsletter on the royal family.)

Harry is sixth in line to the British throne and thus unlikely to ever have a constitutional role in the United Kingdom’s government. But the fascination with his family’s story lands him and his wife in the headlines constantly, even at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic and economic turmoil are the pressing everyday realities for billions of people.

‘Smorgasbord of stupid’

As if to satisfy the need for distractions, conservative media seized on an innocuous announcement from Dr. Seuss Enterprises Tuesday that it was ending distribution of six of Seuss’ many books because they contained racist images.

The storyline: ‘Cancel culture’ is targeting Dr. Seuss! The truth, according to Jill Filipovic: “It is a recognition that a small portion of his older work is out of place today. No one is canceling Dr. Seuss.” But this decision “has prompted a full-on right-wing freakout. The story got top billing on Fox News and has been burning up right-wing Twitter,” she wrote.

“In case you’ve been too busy paying attention to other things — say, surviving a global pandemic,” observed SE Cupp, you might have missed the outrage around “an Ice Age species of human that went extinct 40,000 years ago, a wildly popular series of children’s books spanning the mid-20th century, and a starchy tuber-turned dress-up toy from the 50s.” She wrote that “right-wing culture warriors” not only fumed over the Seuss story but assailed the announcement of a gender-neutral “Potato Head toy.” They were also up in arms when President Joe Biden referred to state leaders who dropped mask mandates as exhibiting “Neanderthal thinking.”

“I didn’t know Neanderthals had a lobby, but they do and her name is Marsha Blackburn. The Tennessee Senator went on Fox Business to defend the poor, oppressed, EXTINCT class, insisting, in the present tense, ‘Neanderthals are hunter-gatherers, they’re protectors of their family. They are resilient. They are resourceful.'”

“Eh…not so resilient,” Cupp pointed out. “Republicans are focused on a smorgasbord of stupid, a buffet of buffoonery.”

Covid relief

On Friday, as the Senate moved toward passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill, the Labor Department reported that the United States added 379,000 jobs in February — reflecting a faster pace of hiring but with a workforce still nearly 10 million smaller than a year earlier.

The relief bill proceeded through Congress without any Republican support, in contrast to bipartisan votes for stimulus during the Trump administration. Even moderate GOP senators showed little appetite for the kind of major stimulus bill Biden wanted — and he took note, wrote Julian Zelizer. “It’s likely that his experience as vice president taught him that there is in fact a red and blue America, and that trying to blend them could easily lead to political paralysis…Biden is making his own decisions, shaping his own agenda and counting on his own party to move policies forward rather than waiting for Republicans to help him along.”
Polls show that 68% of Americans back the Covid-19 bill, so why would the GOP vote no? “The Republican Party’s own cold calculations have concluded that opposing this measure is good for them politically,” observed Dean Obeidallah. “GOP House representatives apparently believe that their base would rather have the ‘red meat’ of fighting Democrats than the actual red meat that this relief bill could provide them the funds to afford.”
Biden is likely to hail the bill’s passage as a major accomplishment, wrote Lanhee J. Chen, but it might prove to be a “Pyrrhic victory — one that they may come to regret in the weeks and months ahead.” Such a “go-it-alone approach will only make it more politically challenging for Republicans to step out and work with Democrats in the future on issues such as prescription drug pricing, tougher action against China or infrastructure legislation.” And Chen suggested, the unilateral passage of the bill is uniting Republicans at a point when the party seemed in danger of fracture over the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

For more on politics:

Norman Eisen, Richard W. Painter and Jeffrey Mandell: The most important exception the Senate can make

A year of lockdown

It was 65 years ago that a vaccine began to put an end to a virus epidemic that gave American parents nightmares. As David Oshinsky wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Polio: An American Story,” the newly developed Salk vaccine was soon administered to a majority of Americans under 40. “Swimming pools reopened in the summer of 1956,” Oshinsky noted. “A child with a fever or a stiff neck no longer sent shockwaves through the neighborhood. Newspapers stopped printing the daily box score of polio victims on the front page.”

This coming week marks the one-year anniversary of the lockdown that changed the lives of Americans, and naturally people are yearning for a return to normal life, just like when the polio threat ebbed. The pace of vaccinations against Covid-19 is quickening. Infections and deaths are dropping. But experts say it’s too soon to let up on protective measures, such as masks and social distancing.

Texas-based executive Katie Mehnert was getting her first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at the Bayou City Event Center in Houston when the news broke that Governor Greg Abbott was “lifting Texas’ mask mandate — even as health officials warn not to ease restrictions aimed at stemming the pandemic. No one at the vaccination site removed their mask, fortunately. But we immediately started discussing the decision — and we were all appalled.”

“Abbott’s announcement may have been cheered by some in the business community, but make no mistake: Those of us who want to see a thriving economic climate are far from universally on his side. Instead, we recognize that to save lives and build a strong long-term future we have to put science first. And the science does not back up his decision,” Mehnert pointed out.

Lisa Respers France‘s parents were due to celebrate their 50th anniversary this year. “Mom and I had frantically searched for appointments for her and dad,” wrote France, a senior writer for CNN’s entertainment team. “They fell ill right after her doctor’s office had scheduled her to receive her first dose and we were continuing our search for dad. ‘We were so close to getting them vaccinated,’ I sobbed after the hospital called to inform me my father didn’t make it.”

Gary D. Respers Sr died on February 18, “leaving a hole in our family that can never be filled,” Lisa wrote. “I pray for all the families like ours who are left to wonder what could have been if the coronavirus had been handled differently from the onset. I also pray for those of you who are survivors — either of the virus or the fear that comes with watching someone you love battle it and come out alive.”

Trump at CPAC

Donald Trump was so clearly the star of the Conservative Political Action Conference that it included a golden idol sculpted in his honor (made in China). Michael D’Antonio was among those who pointed out how odd it was for Republicans to venerate the defeated President. “He lost the White House (big time), and (on his watch) his party lost the Senate and the House in the midterms. He lost Twitter and Facebook. Revenues are down across his business empire. What’s a losing businessman-turned-politician to do?”

“If he’s former president Donald Trump, the answer is: use his principal assets — fame and attitude — to revive his brand through a ‘hostile takeover’…With the help of his son, Donald Jr., he claimed both the conference and the GOP as his own.”
The cult of Trump proved confounding to the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial board. “If CPAC represented America, Mr. Trump would still reside in the White House, not Mar-a-Lago. He lost to Joe Biden, the old Democratic war horse, by seven million votes. He also lost five states he carried in 2016, even Georgia…if 2020 was so fabulous, why are Republicans shut out of power up and down Pennsylvania Avenue? They have zero influence over the $1.9 trillion spending extravaganza they rightly deplore. Democrats are slowly erasing the Trump legacy on taxes, deregulation, energy, education, and so much more.”
Republicans have good reason to think they could make gains in Congress in the 2022 midterms, wrote Scott Jennings, but “there’s no evidence the GOP can win the 2024 presidential campaign unless it embraces a more elastic brand, which welcomes country clubbers, white and blue collar workers, young and old, White and non-White…But who can lead the party to that broad coalition?” Likely not Trump, who “got a smaller percentage of the vote than Mitt Romney. And that was before the failed insurrection wherein Trump violated his oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.”
In the two months since the Jan. 6 riot, wrote Nicole Hemmer, “conservatives in media and Congress have sought to rewrite the events of the day. As new reports from the New York Times and Washington Post show, much of the right has embraced the conspiracy theory that the insurrection was a false-flag event, an effort by undercover anti-fascists to smear and discredit the Trump administration and the movement that supports it. While that is not remotely true, it has quickly become an article of faith, evidence that the InfoWars-ification of the right is nearly complete.” As Hemmer noted, Republicans backing conspiracy theories risk “transforming the Party of Lincoln into the Party of Alex Jones.”

George Floyd trial

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, charged in the death of George Floyd, an event that convulsed America and the world last May. Outside the courtroom, the focus of the case will be around issues of “disproportionate treatment of Black Americans by the police,” wrote Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and Minnesota-based law professor. But inside the courtroom, he wrote, race will be the missing element.

Racial bias isn’t a component of the murder and manslaughter charges facing Chauvin. “This jarring contrast risks further damaging our racial divisions, as the evidence and arguments will seem to be ignoring what is most important,” Osler wrote. “An acquittal would be devastating to race relations, and a conviction would do little to heal longstanding harms.”
Another former federal prosecutor, CNN legal analyst Elie Honig, asked, “How on earth do the parties select a jury in a case that virtually everybody has already heard about, and on which many already have strongly-held opinions? I’ve done trials that have received intense media coverage before — though not on the scale of what we are about to see with the Chauvin trial — and, in my experience, picking a fair jury will be difficult but not impossible.”

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day arrives Monday in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. Alyssa Milano, who is backing the “Marshall Plan for Moms,” wrote that “we are doing the critical and extremely difficult unpaid labor of motherhood. And for so many women during the pandemic, this is a forced career change, one they did not ask for and did not train for, but one which they undertook anyway. Last September alone, four times as many women left the labor force as men, and twice as many women as men did so for childcare purposes. At home, we suddenly became teachers and full-time caregivers. We’re figuring out how to keep our kids engaged in their education and participating in schooling — often without any support.”
Melanne Verveer and Jessica Smith of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace & Security gave the Biden administration high marks for its creation of a White House Gender Policy Council but argued that more needs to be done: “A top priority must be to apply a gender lens to one of the Biden administration’s key issues: climate change…the administration should account for how gender and other factors like ethnicity, race and socio-economic status, leave some more seriously affected by climate change than others.”
On a worldwide scale, Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and Laura Chinchilla, former President of Costa Rica, wrote that “to advance gender equity, we most prioritize the most basic rights that are still denied to women and children. Let’s start with the most fundamental of human needs — access to clean water and safe sanitation, including soap for handwashing. Too many of us take these for granted, and yet according to the WHO, 2.2 billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water and according to UN Water, 4.2 billion don’t have a safe place to use the toilet.”

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An essential worker

The year of lockdown has been an eventful one for Onesimo Garcia, superintendent of an apartment building in Brooklyn. As Abigail Pesta wrote, “The stretch of Grand Avenue where Onesimo Garcia works in Brooklyn is not exactly grand. It’s a desolate warehouse street, in the shadow of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, where cars roar overhead…It’s a street where film crews like to stage scenes of drug deals going down. It has that look — all grit and graffiti. But there’s also a tiny garden, growing in a square of dirt carved out of the sidewalk, where sunflowers and roses bloom in the summer.”

“That’s all Garcia.”

Pesta described the precautions he took to avoid getting sick when the pandemic arrived. Working from home wasn’t an option. “He needed to support his family — his wife and two sons at home in Brooklyn, as well as his father, sister, and two nephews in Mexico. But he feared for his safety every time he walked into the building. ‘For me to come to work every morning, I feel so afraid something will happen to me,’ he told me, noting that the virus has been especially deadly for Latino people like him.”

“One day in April, his wife, Matilde, felt sick after coming home from work at a corporate cafeteria. ‘She had a bad fever and cough, but she didn’t want to go to the hospital because she knew people were dying there,’ Garcia recalled. Indeed, thousands of people had died across New York at this point, with new infections skyrocketing.” Their son also fell ill with the virus.

Though they thankfully recovered, Garcia’s struggle to make ends meet is a constant, Pesta noted. “He, like so many essential workers across America, lives on a knife edge.”

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