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CNN  — 

At just about every virtual birthday party in the coronavirus era, there comes an awkward moment when people gamely try to sing Happy Birthday in unison over Zoom – and the voices don’t quite sync up.

It’s a bit like the exuberant but discordant sound ringing out from the nation as it celebrates its 244th birthday this weekend — an America unruly, hopeful, challenged — and not exactly in sync.

With a pandemic that has killed more than 125,000 Americans, as well as ongoing economic trauma and social unrest, it’s no wonder that the country is troubled this July Fourth. Douglas Bradburn, a historian who heads George Washington’s Mount Vernon, wrote that many believe this “revolutionary experiment in democracy … is failing. A recent Gallup poll shows that national pride in the United States is at a record low. Our country’s increasing division and the unwillingness by some to participate in a healthy civilized debate and listen to dissenting opinions is fostering greater fissures.”

But he urged Americans not to forget that “we, the people, control the meaning of equality and popular rule in our future, which is our inheritance and our great trust.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth argued that “doing the tireless, often thankless work necessary to effect change is what American patriotism has always been about.” She sharply criticized President Donald Trump, “who, day after day, wraps himself in the flag in the morning, but reverts back to tribalism by the afternoon.” She noted that “marching and chanting, grieving and kneeling, countless Americans have braved tear gas and rubber bullets over the past six weeks to send an unequivocal message to their elected leaders: that they will not stand idly by as racial injustice continues to tear at our country.”

The protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd “make this Fourth of July perhaps the most important in American history,” wrote historian Peniel Joseph. “Independence Day 2020 is imbued with new meaning about what it means to be an American, rooted in a collective effort to squarely confront the bitter and beautiful struggles that shape our profoundly historic present.”

For weeks, Trump has chosen to emphasize “law and order” rather than the cause of the protesters, appealing to his base with promises to defend statues and military bases tied to the Confederacy. A week ago, he tweeted a video shot at a Florida senior community where pro-Trump residents paraded in golf carts, with a man shouting “white power.” The tweet was removed, and aides said Trump hadn’t heard the incendiary phrase before posting it.

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“Trump’s sharing this video was not a mistake,” Dean Obeidallah wrote. “The President, who finds himself trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by up to 14 points in a range of polls, is simply following his successful 2016 campaign playbook, where he trafficked in bigotry to divide Americans. We saw it from his baseless claim that Mexico was sending ‘rapists’ to calling for a ‘total and complete shutdown’ on Muslims entering America. … But what could’ve been seen as disturbing dog whistle, racist politics by a candidate is even more jarringly out of place in 2020.”

In a Friday night speech before a holiday fireworks display at Mount Rushmore, Trump railed against protesters and vowed to defend monuments and the memory of presidents from George Washington to Theodore Roosevelt, seeking to fan a culture war that his campaign views as a winning strategy for November. “Breathe easy, America,” wrote Michael D’Antonio. “President Donald Trump’s got this. A deadly pandemic is tearing through the country, but the statues are going to be all right. … Always eager to be seen as a fighter and a champion, Trump left out the real battle he is losing – to the coronavirus – and invented another so that he could pose as a valiant defender of this country.

Jay Parini is hopeful this July Fourth weekend. “I teach at a college, and I’m awe-struck by the young people I meet in the classroom, who have quite simply lost all patience with racism. They understand that most White people have barely an inkling about what Black and brown Americans put up with every day, and how hard it remains to get ahead if you’re a person of color.”

In the months following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, 92% of Americans aged 18 to 29 identified themselves in a Harvard University survey as patriotic; that number is only 62% this year, wrote Harvard students Katie Heintz and Will Matheson in CNN Opinion’s “Generation Resilient” series.

Young people “have a vision for the future, and it includes an acute sense of altruism and optimism,” they wrote, but also discouragement witht the current state of US politics and the economy. “Patriotism is a two-way street. If we don’t want to lose a generation’s belief in this nation entirely, our elected leaders and our institutions will have to rise to the challenges we face in a way they haven’t yet.”

Surefire way to fight Covid-19

The coronavirus is surging in the US. Vaccines and surefire treatments are at least months, if not years, away. That leaves two clearly effective ways to fight the virus. One is increasing social distancing by slowing down or even reversing the reopening of the economy – some governors ordered the closing of bars this week, for example. The other proven method is requiring people to wear masks.

The main way the virus spreads, wrote Dr. Jennifer Lee, is “through close contact with an infected individual via respiratory droplets that are emitted while coughing, sneezing, singing, laughing, talking, or even just breathing. Wearing a face mask is one of the best ways for infected individuals to keep those droplets contained, and for those who are healthy, a mask can also offer some protection from breathing them in.” Hundreds of lives would be saved every day if people throughout the US had to wear a mask.

Meanwhile, universities are scrambling to figure out how to safely reopen this fall. Roopika Risam, who teaches education at Salem State University, wrote that some colleges “are planning for face-to-face instruction and recklessly forcing faculty and staff back to campus, granting exceptions only based on the Americans with Disabilities Act.” That puts at risk students, staff and faculty, including those whose families have health issues, and the burden falls particularly on people of color, she wrote. “If being humane is not motivation enough, universities should consider the role of racial equity in their reopening plans.”

Millions of child care slots could permanently disappear as a result of the pandemic, wrote Reps. Nita M. Lowey and Richard E. Neal. The two Democrats are pushing legislation to expand federal aid for child care. “People simply cannot return to their jobs if they’re unable to find care for their children,” they wrote. “For the economy to reopen fully, Congress must provide meaningful, robust child care relief for families and providers.”

The new surge in coronavirus cases is not a surprise, wrote infectious disease specialist Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, “given the reopening of states that exposed more individuals to contagion.” What is surprising is that the death rate hasn’t also spiked – at least not yet. Some of this could be due to a time lag, he warned, since deaths tend to occur weeks after people contract the disease.

Sepkowitz noted that a New York Times report estimated that 43% of all US Covid-19 deaths have occurred in long-term care facilities, with half of those in five states in the north: “Which means that a crucial issue affecting mortality is whether the raging epidemic in Southern states will result in the virus further spreading into nursing homes.”

Covid-19 has indeed exacted an awful toll on people in nursing homes, noted Robert Egge, chief public policy officer of the Alzheimer’s Association. “The death toll has reached unacceptable heights because of the limited testing and lack of PPE in facilities across the country,” he wrote. “More than 2.4 million people live in long-term care settings, and every single one of their lives is in jeopardy until the necessary policies are in place to protect them.”

Missing in action

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Two news stories this week dealt a body blow to President Trump’s national security record. The first reported that a Russian intelligence unit offered bounties to Afghan militants to kill US soldiers. And in the second, CNN’s Carl Bernstein painted a portrait of a President “unprepared for discussion of serious issues” with foreign leaders, “so often outplayed in conversations with powerful leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin” and “so abusive to leaders of American’s principal allies” that officials saw Trump as “a danger to the national security of the United States.”

Jill Filipovic wrote that it’s time for those who have seen Trump at his worst to “stand up for the future of this country and put their name and face behind the truth.” The evidence is clear, she wrote: “this is a man dangerously unfit for the office he occupies.”

Trump claimed that the Russia bounty story was a hoax, and his aides said he wasn’t briefed on it because the information was unverified. That makes no sense, wrote Peter Bergen, who noted that presidents routinely are given unverified intelligence information. “The real hoax is how White House officials are covering up for Trump’s incompetence as commander in chief … responsible for the welfare of the US military and who has consistently maintained a bizarre bromance with a former KGB officer, Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

The Russian bounty story, argued John Avlon, is “the latest, most urgent, example of why so much rides on the Supreme Court’s decision on whether Trump’s taxes and business records can be turned over to members of the House of Representatives and the New York district attorney.” He called it “perhaps the most closely watched Supreme Court decision of this session, with massive implications for the separation of powers and the ability of American voters to make a fully informed decision in the November presidential election.”

For more on the bounty reports:

Paul Begala: This has got to be the worst of Trump’s outrages.

Samantha Vinograd: New reports raise urgent question: Is there any line Trump won’t allow Putin to cross?

Symbols of change

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Protests over racial inequity are dislodging symbols once thought immovable. Mississippi is replacing the state flag, which has featured the Confederate battle emblem since 1894. The Washington Redskins are reconsidering the controversial name the team has used since 1933. And Princeton University is changing the name of its Woodrow Wilson school, which has honored the former US president (and Princeton president) since 1948.

Actress and activist Aunjanue Ellis wrote that “most of America has always treated my home state of Mississippi as the hidden ‘dirty’ room, as the forgotten uncle with the disgraced past” and the state has formed “an almost shadow government that celebrates Confederate holidays, enacting Confederate-inspired laws and policies that trample on voting rights and incarcerate Black children, and boldly flying the Confederate stars and bars on its official state flag.”

But it’s too easy just to blame one state, Ellis wrote. “There would be no Confederate flag in Mississippi or anywhere else in this country if it were banned nationwide. Congress must act now to ban the public display of that flag in the same way Germany banned the swastika after WWII.”

At Princeton, the growing campaign against Wilson, a Southern Democrat who resegregated the civil service, has developed over decades, as have the university’s Black Studies programs. Mark Whitaker recalled the story of his father, C.S. “Syl” Whitaker, Jr., who was recruited to run an Afro-American Studies Program that administrators created after Black student protests over Princeton’s financial ties to the apartheid regime in South Africa. But after accepting the post, Whitaker learned that the university had cut virtually all of the program’s funding. That betrayal and a personal battle with alcoholism led to his resignation.

“As Princeton comes to terms with its imperfect legacy on race, it should not forget the first generation of Black scholars and administrators who were sent into battle with so little reinforcement,” Mark Whitaker wrote. “These beleaguered early pioneers didn’t fail Princeton: Princeton failed them.”

For more on racial inequity:

Mireille Grangenois: The unspoken problem with a capital B

Herbert Lowe: My hope for my students in fight for racial justice

Rebecca Wanzo: Taking down an episode of “The Golden Girls” isn’t going to fix the real problem

Trump panicking?

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Trump’s focus on preserving statues and railing against unrest in the streets is a diversionary tactic, argued Frida Ghitis. “Trump is desperately trying to change the subject from the death and disease spreading across the country, sticking his fingers in his ears and shouting as loudly as he can so that Americans will look away from the catastrophically mismanaged national challenge. … The world’s wealthiest country, rich in expertise and resources, has been unable to bring the virus under control.”

Polls four months before the election show Trump trailing his Democratic rival former vice president Joe Biden by a double-digit margin nationally and by substantial amounts in several key swing states. What has been the President’s response, asked Frank Bruni in the New York Times. “To set himself on fire. …There’s a culture war for him to exploit, but instead of simply pillorying monument destroyers, he created his own living monuments: a white supremacist astride a golf cart in a Florida retirement community and a pistol-toting Karen shouting at peaceful Black protesters from the stoop of her St. Louis manse. As a statement of values, it’s grotesque. As a re-election strategy, it’s deranged.”

In the Atlantic, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg wrote that “most Americans have strongly rejected Trump’s divisiveness, intolerance, and racism in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd. While Trump claimed the mantle of a law-and-order president, two-thirds of the country supported Black Lives Matter, according to a June Pew poll. Two-thirds.”

Michael D’Antonio wrote that reality has caught up to Trump. “With his limited mind, deficient heart and empty soul on full display, Trump is discovering that a man who declares ‘I alone can fix it’ runs the risk of being blamed when everything breaks down.

Don’t miss:

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Gene Seymour: Carl Reiner, 98 years of funny.

Lincoln Mitchell: Why Biden has what it takes to beat Trump

Katie Donnelly: Grad student mom: This is something I can’t fix.

Marie Solis: What the fall of the ‘girlboss’ reveals

Julian Zelizer: How #NeverTrumpers can live up to their name

Donald Ayer: Why Bill Barr isn’t fit to serve

Gerry Connolly: America’s Postal Service is made up of real heroes. It’s no time to let it die.


Honoring Harriet Tubman

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Four years ago, the Obama administration announced that the face of a new $20 bill would be Harriet Tubman, the former slave turned freedom fighter, instead of President Andrew Jackson, who was a slaveholder. As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump called the move “pure political correctness.”

His administration has chosen not to speed up plans for the change. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last month that the new $20 bill won’t be released for another 10 years so that it can feature anti-counterfeiting technology and a new printing process.

“America’s money tells a tale of power, as well as subjugation – the subjugation of women, the subjugation of people of color, and the subjugation of history,” wrote CNN senior legal analyst Laura Coates. “America’s money tells a tale of inequality. The delay in placing Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill speaks to that subjugation.”

At a crucial time, Coates observed, producing the new currency would “show the world” what America stands for. “Right now, we are showing the world that we value Confederate generals who tried to tear apart the nation more than freedom fighters. Right now, we are showing the world that we honor those who championed slavery – instead of those who fought against it. Right now, we are showing the world that America doesn’t believe that a heroic Black woman is worthy of occupying space on our currency.”