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Opinion: What started in Kansas upends American politics

Opinion by Richard Galant, CNN

Updated: Mon, 08 Aug 2022 15:12:21 GMT

Source: CNN

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In "The Wizard of Oz," a tornado sends Dorothy and her Kansas home spinning into the "Merry Old Land of Oz." Last week it was what Politico called a "political earthquake" in Kansas that sent the national debate over abortion into a new phase with many unknowns.

For decades, the anti-abortion movement worked to overturn the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established a national right to abortion. But their long-sought goal, finally achieved in June, may turn out to be a case of "be careful what you wish for." By a vote of 59% to 41%, the people of Kansas rejected an amendment to the state constitution that would have eliminated the right to an abortion.

"It's a huge victory for abortion rights," wrote Jill Filipovic. "The result in Kansas confirms that Americans simply do not want an extreme anti-abortion movement regulating women's bodies. Kansans have said what most Americans believe: abortion is an issue best left to women and their doctors."

But she added that this was a vote which should never have happened. "Fundamental rights -- and it doesn't get more fundamental than sovereignty over one's own body -- should not be up for a vote, even if the righteous side is likely to win," Filipovic argued.

Writing for Politico, John F. Harris suggested that the vote in Kansas, along with others that may follow, could scramble the legacy of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion overturning Roe. He may go down in history as the "the justice who facilitated a national consensus on behalf of abortion rights. Quite unintentionally, today's hero of the 'pro-life' movement could end up being a giant of the 'pro-choice' movement."

Tuesday's vote in Kansas, which "mirrors polling showing solid majorities of people supported leaving Roe v. Wade intact, suggests that opponents of legal abortion do better when the prospect of an abortion ban is hypothetical, while abortion-rights supporters do better when the issue is tangibly real," wrote Harris.

A moderate Republican, former Rep. Charlie Dent, noted that "the overturning of Roe v. Wade has energized a previously demoralized Democratic base and could galvanize college educated suburban women in particular ... If the GOP can't win an abortion fight in Kansas, imagine the difficulty it will face in swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin."

"Coupled with Trump's stolen election obsession, mass shootings and a growing number of extreme GOP candidates in competitive races, the unpopularity of the Roe decision may mitigate Democratic losses in November, despite vulnerabilities on a number of other fronts (namely, the economy)."

Dent also faulted Democrats for running ads that backed extreme, election-denying candidates in the GOP primaries in the hope that Democratic candidates could more easily defeat them in the general election. In Michigan, "the courageous freshman Congressman Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump just days after being sworn into Congress, fell to an election-denying candidate, John Gibbs, a former Trump administration official who was backed by the former President," Dent wrote.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent more than $300,000 on ads touting Gibbs' "conservatism and fidelity to Trump," wrote Dent. "I'm sure plenty of Democratic operatives are cackling over their success meddling in the GOP primary, but any smugness may turn into deep regret if Gibbs ends up prevailing in November. Those who play with fire often get burned."

For more:

Mary Ziegler and Elizabeth Sepper: The coming state-federal showdown over abortion

Aziza Ahmed and Ji Seon Song: Protecting patients' privacy is paramount in time of uncertain abortion access

Nancy Pelosi drops in

China fired off missiles, flew jets into Taiwan's air defense identification zone and called off talks with the US on issues such as climate change and military relations. The reason: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, which China sees as part of its territory.

While Pelosi's visit sparked apocalyptic warnings and fevered headlines, Taiwanese-American journalist Clarissa Wei wrote that the people of Taiwan are mostly unfazed. "What's most frustrating about the reaction to Pelosi's visit is not the prophetic declaration of imminent doom, but the expectation of fear and the surprise that follows when people realize that we aren't all panicking in Taiwan -- as if the calm we exude in light of unprecedented threats is a symptom of our ignorance of the facts before us."

"Threats from China are nothing new. They have been a part of my life, my parents' lives and their parents' lives for as long as almost anyone in my family can remember. In fact, Taiwan has been under threat by the People's Republic of China for nearly 70 years. The three Taiwan Strait crises are proof of that."

Alex Jones

A Texas jury ordered incendiary radio host Alex Jones to pay a combined $49.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages to the parents of a child killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting 10 years ago. Jones' legal troubles aren't over by any means: he faces two more such trials.

One of the parents, Scarlett Lewis, even had to testify that her son "Jesse was real. I'm a real mom."

"It's an unthinkable statement for a grief-stricken parent to have to make," wrote Nicole Hemmer, "testifying that her 6-year-old son, murdered while he sat in school, had actually lived, and that she was the woman who had given birth to him and raised him for the too-few years he was alive. But that was the testimony Scarlett Lewis gave this week at a hearing to determine damages against Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist and media personality."

"After 20 children and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Jones began to spin lurid conspiracies that the shootings never happened and that the shattered families were simply actors. The conspiracy triggered years of harassment as conspiracists targeted the mourning parents, who have had to hire security to protect themselves."

But as Hemmer noted, Jones is not a lone fringe player in the media world. He is "part of the right-wing power structure, from his interviews with soon-to-be president Donald Trump to his alleged role as an organizer at the January 6 insurrection."

"More than that, many in the Republican Party and conservative movement increasingly sound like Jones, with talk of false flags, crisis actors and pedophile rings now a mainstay of right-wing rhetoric. And while the Trump presidency opened the door for the mainstreaming of Jones, it's important to understand how ripe the GOP was for Alex Jonesification."

In Dallas, the Conservative Political Action Conference gave a warm welcome to Hungary's autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

"The audience cheered him on during his blistering attacks on abortion, immigration, LGBTQ rights and more," Julian Zelizer observed.

"The illiberal and anti-democratic elements of Republican politics, which flared during the Trump presidency, are alive and well. As Orban's popularity indicates, the profoundly anti-democratic strains that have been shaping the GOP keep getting stronger, not weaker..."

"The talk comes on the same week that several election deniers, as well as participants in the January 6 insurrection, won in the primaries. The assault on the 2020 election continues to be a unifying theme in Republican circles. Even if some Republican voters are tiring of Trump, his rallying cry animates much of the electorate."

Terrorist leader killed

Eleven years after then-President Barack Obama announced the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in a US raid, President Joe Biden described the tracking down and elimination of bin Laden's former associate, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

"The airstrike that killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri over the weekend in Afghanistan is part of the long and justified campaign by the United States to bring all the heads of the terror group to justice," wrote Peter Bergen.

Still, some of the claims about al-Zawahiri's impact were overblown. "While Zawahiri was influential in the very early years of al Qaeda in turning bin Laden against the regimes in the Middle East, he wasn't involved in bin Laden's most important strategic decisions -- that is, turning him against the US and planning 9/11. And Zawahiri proved to be an incompetent leader of al Qaeda when he took over the group more than a decade ago."

Bergen added, "Zawahiri was not a charismatic leader of al Qaeda in the mold of Osama bin Laden. Instead, he had all the charisma of a boring uncle given to long, arcane monologues, someone that you would best avoid sitting next to at Thanksgiving dinner."

Families in turmoil

Guy Reffitt was sentenced to more than seven years in prison, the longest penalty meted out so far to insurrectionists who took part in the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. His son Jackson Reffitt had reported his father to the FBI on Christmas Eve 2020.

"The Reffitts' story is tragic, but hardly unique," observed SE Cupp. "Chances are, you probably do know someone who's been sucked into the cult of Trumpism, as Guy was.

"Maybe it's an aunt or uncle posting about rigged elections on Facebook, spreading Trump's lie that the election was stolen...

"Maybe it's a father, or a mother, or a brother, who's gone down a QAnon rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, and is no longer attached to reality."

"The carnage from Trump's divisive rhetoric, lies, and conspiracy theories is incalculable. Trumpism is a powerful drug, one that can even cause a father to threaten his own child.

"This was, incidentally, all by design. Trump stoked the fears and grievances of his base, turned Americans against each other, spread lies and conspiracy theories, undermined our faith in democratic institutions -- all so that he could keep his supporters rabid, angry, willing to do whatever he asked. And sadly, many of them did."

For more:

Peggy Drexler: Loving your family even when they make horrible choices

Bill Russell and Nichelle Nichols

On and off the field, Bill Russell was a leader. On and off the screen, Nichelle Nichols was an inspirational role model. Both died last weekend.

Peniel Joseph recalled Russell's contributions as an athlete and a crusader against racism. "Russell was a 6-foot-10 center whose defensive prowess, rebounding skills and all-around leadership propelled the Celtics to 11 titles in 13 years," Joseph wrote. "As if appearing in a news reel of the most significant events of the civil rights era, he was present, time and again, at key moments for the movement, from the March on Washington in 1963 to his visit to Mississippi that same year following the assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers..."

"Over the years, he never lost his willingness to call out racism, or a perceived indifference to it. In recent years, he chided White Americans for their incredulity -- in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder and the racial and political reckoning that followed -- about the existence of systemic racism."

When "Star Trek" premiered in 1966, one of the cast members "was the cool, sultry, supremely self-possessed Lt. Nyota Uhura, played by Nichelle Nichols, still a relative newcomer to television," Gene Seymour recalled. In an era when the civil rights movement achieved its biggest successes, Nichols' role had a symbolic significance. Yet "she was discouraged by her lines being cut from some of the episodes and was ready to move on to the Broadway stage. And she would have left if she hadn't met a die-hard 'Trek' fan at an NAACP fundraiser in Hollywood: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr."

King "told her that he and his family enjoyed watching 'Trek' and rooted for her playing a non-stereotypical Black character. She thanked him but said she was on her way out," Seymour wrote.

"'You cannot and must not!'" Nichols recalled King saying in her autobiography. "'Don't you realize how important your presence, your character is? Don't you see? This is not a Black role, and this is not a female role... You have broken ground. For the first time, the world sees us as we should be seen, as equals, as intelligent people -- as we should be.'"

Nichols stayed with the show for its remaining two seasons and later would embrace "her importance as an inspiration and role model for young Black people whose dreams of space science and travel were emboldened by her character's futuristic adventures."

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AND...

Lizzo and Beyoncé heard her

It's no easy task -- getting the attention of two of the world's biggest music superstars. And even more impressive, getting them to make changes in their work.

Yet Hannah Diviney, a disability activist in Australia, accomplished just that.

She called out Lizzo and Beyoncé on Twitter for including an offensive term referring to her disability in recent albums. Both artists soon responded and revised their songs' lyrics.

"Words matter," Diviney wrote. "They always have and they always will. Language is one of the few tools in the world most people can wield with ease and on social media even more so. That's why it's worth paying attention to how we use it. That's why my mom always taught me the pen was mightier than the sword. If anything, this week has taught me that thanks to social media and the power of a well-crafted tweet, we have access to the mightiest pens of all. And that's why I hope we can use this global attention to have bigger conversations about the inequalities disabled people face. From little things, big things grow."


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