Democracy in America

American politics

  • Paper chase

    Brett Kavanaugh’s years as a government lawyer

    by S.M. | NEW YORK

    WHEN Donald Trump was considering his choice for Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seat on the Supreme Court, Senator Mitch McConnell reportedly asked the president to steer clear of Brett Kavanaugh, the long-time circuit court judge Mr Trump tapped on July 9th. Mr McConnell is said to have told Mr Trump that someone with a paper trail as long as Mr Kavanaugh’s could hit more snags and give Democrats more to gripe about than one of the greener judges on the list. Mr McConnell’s hesitations seem to have since vanished. The 12-year veteran of the Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit is a “superb” choice, he says. 

  • Divided we stand

    America’s cultural divide isn’t growing

    by C.K. | WASHINGTON, DC

    THE idea of two Americas is a trope of political commentary: a population divided in mutual incomprehension by income, race, religion or region—flyover country versus coastal elite. The idea that cultural fissures are growing is used to explain increasing political rancour and the rise of Donald Trump. But those explanations may need tempering. Two papers on cultural distance, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in June, suggest the idea of cavernous and expanding cultural fissures is over-wrought.

    The papers both use data from the General Social Survey, a long-running poll of Americans’ attitudes towards issues including free speech, same-sex relations and crime.

  • The Helsinki summit

    The missing middle of the Trump-Putin meeting

    by J.P.P. | HELSINKI

    THE story of the meeting between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki has a beginning and an end, but no middle.

    It began with a statement from the American president. The lowly state of Russo-American relations, he tweeted, was not the fault of the Russian government for seizing Crimea, shooting down a passenger airliner, interfering in America’s presidential election or using a banned nerve agent to kill citizens of a close ally on its own soil. No, it was the fault “of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt”.

  • America under attack

    Robert Mueller indicts twelve Russians


    IF ALL America can be said to have been under attack when hijackers turned four airliners on it in 2001, the assault Russian agents launched on American democracy in 2016 represented a full-blown war. The 12 fresh charges against Russian intelligence officers unveiled by the deputy attorney-general, Rod Rosenstein, on July 13th, offered a few important new details about that attack, confirmed many long-held fears, and suggested there may be much more of the scandal to unfold.

  • Borderline

    Courts slap down the Trump administration’s immigration policies

    by I.K. | WASHINGTON, DC

    THE Trump administration’s position on immigration is simply summarised: it would like to have fewer immigrants, whether legal or illegal. But that aim, shared by both President Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions, the attorney-general, has collided with pesky obstacles like laws, courts and public outrage. It has also provoked chaos on the southern border. A new “zero-tolerance” policy, announced in May, referred adults caught illegally crossing the border to criminal prosecution and required that accompanying children be separated and held in specialised facilities. That resulted in the spectacle of small, terrified children in cages, shocking the world.

  • New justice

    Brett Kavanaugh is Donald Trump’s new pick for the Supreme Court

    by S.M. | SAN DIEGO

    ON JULY 9th, in a prime-time ceremony, President Donald Trump announced that he had chosen Brett Kavanaugh to be his new pick for the Supreme Court. As his nominee walked into the East Room of the White House flanked by his wife and two daughters, the president praised his “impeccable credentials, unsurpassed qualifications and a proven commitment to equal justice under the law”. Mr Kavanaugh, the president’s second nominee to the Supreme Court in as many years, has twin degrees from Yale. He clerked for three judges, including Justice Anthony Kennedy, the man he hopes to replace. He worked for Kenneth Starr in the investigation of Bill Clinton.

  • Pollution and power

    Scott Pruitt’s grubby tenure at the EPA is over


    NOT even his tactical pants could save him in the end. Beset by at least 13 investigations into his alleged grifting and abuse of power—including his office’s expenditure of almost $3,000 on hardwearing pants and polo shirts—Scott Pruitt resigned as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on July 5th.

    Washington will be a duller place in his absence—so relentless and uproariously grubby were the scandals his roving eye for a freebie and Napoleonic sense of self-importance kept landing him in. An exhaustive list would be beyond the capacity of this blog.

  • Abortion wars

    How endangered is Roe v Wade?

    by M.S.R. | WASHINGTON, DC

    MANY times in his 30-year Supreme Court career Justice Anthony Kennedy gave the crucial fifth nod to a conservative ruling. But the biggest abortion cases were not among them. In 1992 he was the fifth vote in a ruling that reaffirmed Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court ruling from 1973 that declared abortion a constitutional right. In 2016 he played the same role in striking down a Texas law that restricted access to abortion.

    His retirement has therefore sparked both hope and fear that whoever replaces him will join the court’s four conservative justices to overturn Roe. Long a professed aim of Republicans, this would not ban abortion.

  • Yes we Kaine

    How Corey Stewart is helping Democrats in Virginia

    by J.S | RICHMOND

    PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP is expected to be a drag on Republican congressional candidates in Virginia this year. He lost the state in 2016 and has angered much of its increasingly Democratic electorate ever since. But Corey Stewart, the Republican nominee for the US Senate, could be a bigger liability in the mid-terms than the president.

    Mr Stewart, who for years has played to the hard-right fringe, was always considered a long shot to defeat Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s vice-presidential running mate in 2016. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of the Senate Republican caucus has said it will not support Mr Stewart, denying him cash and services.

  • Locked up together

    The Trump administration wants to expand immigrant family detention

    by C.K. | WASHINGTON, DC

    IN RECENT days, the Trump administration has ended its policy of separating undocumented migrant children from their parents. Faced with inadequate capacity at family detention centres it has also put a temporary halt on its policy of imprisoning every undocumented family that it apprehends. But the administration is clear that its preferred solution is to expand the use of family detention. The evidence of the last 15 years suggests that this would be a mistake.

  • Presidential power

    The justices vote 5-4 to uphold Donald Trump’s travel ban

    by S.M. | NEW YORK

    ON JUNE 26th, after months of legal wrangling over Donald Trump’s executive orders banning travel from several Muslim-majority countries, the Supreme Court effectively put an end to the battle. Officially, the five-justice majority’s opinion in Trump v Hawaii, which upholds the third version of the travel ban, sends the matter back to lower courts to ask again whether Mr Trump’s policy violates a constitutional bar on religious discrimination. But it is unlikely that further scrutiny will yield a different result.

  • Drawn out

    The Supreme Court upholds voting maps that had been ruled discriminatory

    by S.M. - NEW YORK

    IT HAS not been a good month for voting rights at the Supreme Court. On June 11th, the justices gave the green-light to states experimenting with new ways of removing voters from the rolls. A week later, the court told America that procedural tangles prevented it from doing anything to curb partisan gerrymandering—at least for now. On June 25th the five conservative justices formed a bare majority to mostly absolve Texas of findings it had discriminated against Latinos when lawmakers redrew congressional and state-legislative maps following the 2010 census.

  • Indebted to immigration

    Why America needs more immigrants

    by C.K. | WASHINGTON, DC

    AS PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP attempts to reduce immigration into America, new research suggests how rapidly that strategy is likely to disadvantage many of his most loyal supporters. In 2016, there were more deaths than births among America’s non-Latino white population. The future quality of life of this aging, shrinking population increasingly depends on two factors: sustained high fertility amongst minority groups already in the country—and continued immigration.

  • Bloomberg’s beneficence

    Michael Bloomberg is spending big to flip the House

    by V.v.B. | CHICAGO

    ELECTIONS are never won by money alone, but a weighty campaign chest gives candidates for political office a boost both practical and psychological. On June 20th moderate Democratic candidates for Congress received such a fillip when the New York Times reported that Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, political independent, and former mayor of New York, intends to spend at least $80m on the mid-term elections, mostly on Democratic congressional candidates—with the aim of flipping the House of Representatives. Mr Bloomberg’s pledge is to date the biggest political donation to the mid-terms campaigns. 

    Democrats need to flip 23 seats in the House in November to regain the majority.

  • Taxing times

    A Supreme Court ruling heralds the end of tax-free online shopping

    by S.M. | NEW YORK

    FOR 50 years, savvy Americans have enjoyed a sales-tax loophole. By ordering a product from an out-of-state company, consumers could often avoid paying the tax their states and cities impose on purchases. Consumers had two Supreme Court decisions to thank for the savings: long-standing rulings that have prohibited states from requiring stores with no physical presence within their borders to collect sales tax on purchases. But on June 21st, the justices voted 5-4 to end this half-century-old gift.

    The ruling in South Dakota v Wayfair featured an unusual line-up.

About Democracy in America

Analysis of American politics, in the spirit of Alexis de Tocqueville’s eponymous study of American society


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