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Stiehm: A tragedy in two acts

By Jamie Stiehm - | Jul 5, 2024

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Jamie Stiehm

MADISON, Wis. — The presidential torch passed from Dwight D. Eisenhower, who seemed ancient at 70, to vigorous young John F. Kennedy, 43, a Bostonian who spoke these stirring words on a bright new day, snow glistening on marble: “Let the word go forth from this time and place … that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.”

On the night of the presidential debate, family and some friends thought all was lost when President Joe Biden turned in a shockingly poor performance. Biden shifted the national focus to his readiness to serve and away from former President Donald Trump’s twisted rhapsody of lies, boasts and insults.

Aghast is the word.

I missed it, because my father was honored at a medical dinner. I noted with irony that he retired as professor emeritus at 81, Biden’s age now. Rep. Nancy Pelosi stepped down as House speaker with grace at 82.

A few days later, on the first of July, the thunderbolt came out of the John Roberts Supreme Court, as we knew it would. Suddenly, Biden’s debate stumbles, while troubling, seemed small compared to the monumental decision the Roberts Six delivered.

Daggers were drawn to democracy itself by giving a president immunity from “official” crimes committed while in office.

So they first stole human rights away from women and girls. Now, for the first time, one man will be above the law. It’s spelled out in black and white, on July 1, 2024. Remember the day.

In this time and place, that means the crime of inciting a mob attack on the peaceful transfer of power will likely not see the light of day in court for a long time, if ever.

The six Roberts Republicans are not even pretending not to be corrupt in this 6-3 delayed decision.

For me, it’s personal. I was there Jan. 6, inside the Capitol, and heard the mob’s hideous shrieks and pounding footsteps as they shattered glass, coming closer. The gunshots fired outside the House chamber where Congress and the press froze shall — and should — never be forgotten.

The Roberts court ruling drove Justice Sonia Sotomayor to protest, “With fear for our democracy, I dissent.” She is one of three liberals on the court, all women, no match for the Trump Three: Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice Roberts.

Thus, American political violence — a war within — will go unanswered because of six unelected Republicans, all raised Catholic. They resemble the papal Swiss Guard at the Vatican, except they lack colorful robes. Give them time.

I know smart lawyers who say the rogue Supreme Court is waging war against American democracy, working in concert with the Federalist Society to undermine established law. This organization supplied its A-list of Supreme Court contenders to the Trump White House.

In a separate action, the high court handed the fossil fuel lobby and dark money donors a major victory in conquering the power of the Environmental Protection Agency.

What a week. Trump smirked and gloated, as is his wont, while the nation of Democrats wondered what in the world to do next. Stick by their man? Draft a pair of governors to replace Biden at the party convention?

The bench of star talent in the bullpen is deep: Govs. Gretchen Whitmer, Gavin Newsom and Josh Shapiro, to name three. Wes Moore, the freshman governor of Maryland, is a natural.

Make no mistake, we’ve gone beyond interesting times into a constitutional crisis. Extraordinary events call on us to meet the moment with creative courage. The November election is ever more urgent. Nothing can be given or taken for granted.

Biden made a solid president, right in between the records of former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, in walking the walk of policy, governing and the way of the world. Until the debate, I thought he’d defeat Trump. Now I’m not so sure.

In the Senate, Biden loved the sound of his own voice, perhaps too much. So it was strange to see him struggle with plain English.

He has aged well into a man for all seasons. The nation has many reasons to be grateful to Biden.

But it may be time to pass that torch.

The author may be reached at JamieStiehm.com.


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