She, more than anyone, can get under Trump’s skin.
Whatever his wobbles, Joe Biden has, from the start of his presidential campaign, got one thing exactly right: The 2020 election is a battle for the soul of America. That’s not just a pretty slogan. It’s the stomach-knotting truth — and it’s the frame he should use for choosing his running mate.
It’s why he should pick Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.
She’s a paragon of the values that Donald Trump, for all his practice as a performer, can’t even pantomime. She’s best described by words that are musty relics in his venal and vainglorious circle: “sacrifice,” “honor,” “humility.” More than any of the many extraordinary women on Biden’s list of potential vice-presidential nominees, she’s the anti-Trump, the antidote to the ugliness he revels in and the cynicism he stokes.
Americans can feel good — no, wonderful — about voting for a ticket with Duckworth on it. And we’re beyond hungry for that. We’re starving.
That ache transcends all of the other variables that attend Biden’s deliberations as he appraises Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Val Demings and others: race, age, experience, exact position on the spectrum from progressive to moderate.
Duckworth, a former Army lieutenant colonel who lost both of her legs during combat duty in Iraq, is a choice that makes exquisite emotional and moral sense. Largely, but not entirely, because of that, she makes strategic sense, too.
For the uninitiated: Duckworth, 52, is in the fourth year of her first term in the Senate, before which she served two terms in the House. So unlike several of the other vice-presidential contenders, she has ascended to what is conventionally considered the right political altitude for this next step.
But it’s her life story that really makes her stand out. It’s the harrowing chapter in Iraq, yes, but also how she rebounded from it, how she talks about it. It’s her attitude. Her grace.
As my colleague Jennifer Steinhauer explained in a recent profile of Duckworth in The Times, she didn’t just serve in the Army: She became a helicopter pilot, which isn’t a job brimming with women. And as she flew near Baghdad one day in 2004, her Blackhawk was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. The explosion left her near death.
She later received a Purple Heart, but she bristles when she’s called a hero. That designation, she has often said, belongs to her co-pilot, Dan Milberg, and others who carried her from the wreckage and got her to safety.
She put it this way when, as part of a “Note to Self” feature on “CBS This Morning,” she read aloud a letter that she had written to the younger Tammy: “You’ll make it out alive completely because of the grit, sacrifice and outright heroism of others. You haven’t done anything to be worthy of their sacrifices, but these heroes will give you a second chance at life.” She paused there briefly, fighting back tears.
To Steinhauer she said, “I wake up every day thinking, ‘I am never going to make Dan regret saving my life.’” Her subsequent advocacy for veterans, her run for Congress, her election to the Senate: She casts all of it in terms of gratitude and an obligation to give back.
Tell me how Trump campaigns against that. Tell me how he mocks her — which is the only way he knows how to engage with opponents. Or, rather, tell me how he does so without seeming even more obscene than he already does and turning off everyone beyond the cultish segment of the electorate that will never abandon him. Duckworth on the Democratic ticket is like some psy-ops masterstroke, all the more so because it was she who nicknamed Trump “Cadet Bone Spurs.”
I asked her about that on the phone on Thursday, remarking that it was uncharacteristically acerbic of her. “This guy’s a bully,” she said. “And bullies need a taste of their own medicine.”
Warren, too, is terrific at giving Trump that. Her placement on the Democratic ticket might fire up the progressives who regard Biden warily. And she could make an excellent governing partner for him.
But mightn’t Warren also give moderate voters pause? What about her age? She’s 71. Biden’s 77. Can the party of change and modernity, whose last two presidents were both under 50 when first elected, go with an all-septuagenarian ticket?
Governing partners don’t matter if you don’t get to govern. The certain catastrophe of four more years of Trump demands that Biden choose his running mate with November at the front, the back, the top and the bottom of his mind.
Harris also ably prosecutes the case against Trump. But many progressives have issues with her, and the idea that she’d drive high turnout among black voters isn’t supported by her failed bid for the Democratic nomination. She lacked support across the board, including among African-Americans. And in a recent national poll conducted by The Times and Siena College, more than four in five voters — including three in four black voters — said that race shouldn’t be a factor in Biden’s vice-presidential pick.
Duckworth is neither progressive idol nor progressive enemy. That partly reflects a low policy profile that’s among her flaws as a running mate but could actually work to her advantage, making her difficult to pigeonhole and open to interpretation. Trump-weary voters can read into her what they want. And in recent congressional elections, Democrats have had success among swing voters with candidates who are veterans.
Duckworth certainly can’t be dismissed as the same old same old. Her vice-presidential candidacy would be a trailblazing one, emblematic of a more diverse and inclusive America. Born in Bangkok to an American father and a Thai mother, she’d be the first Asian-American and the first woman of color on the presidential ticket of one of our two major parties.
She was the first United States senator to give birth while in office and the first to bring her baby onto the Senate floor. You want relatable? Duckworth has two children under the age of 6. She’s a working mom.
She’s not the product of privilege: In fact her family hit such hard times when she was growing up in Hawaii that at one point she sold flowers by the side of the road. But she went on to get not only a college degree but also a master’s in international affairs.
Cards on the table: I’m not at all sure that running mates matter much on Election Day. There’s ample evidence that they don’t.
But in any given election, they sure as hell might. Biden would be a fool, given the stakes, not to consider his running mate a victory clincher or deal breaker and to choose her accordingly.
Duckworth’s virtues include everything that I’ve mentioned plus this: She projects a combination of confidence and modesty, of toughness and warmth, that’s rare — and that’s a tonic in these toxic times.
I asked her whether she deems Trump a patriot. She said that he wraps himself in the American flag — a flag, she noted, that will someday drape her coffin — for the wrong reasons.
“I would leap into a burning fire to pull that flag to safety, but I will fight to the death for your right to burn it,” she told me. “The most patriotic thing you can do is not necessarily putting on the uniform but speaking truth to power, exercising your First Amendment rights — that’s what created America, right?”
I asked her how it felt to have her name floated as a possible vice-presidential nominee.
“It’s surreal, right?” she said, recalling that she was once “a hungry kid who fainted in class for lack of nutrition. It’s unbelievable I’m even a U.S. senator.”
“But it’s one team, one fight,” she added, referring to the Democratic quest to defeat Trump. “I will work as hard as I can to get Joe Biden elected because the country needs it. It doesn’t matter where I end up on that team.”
Yes, Senator Duckworth, it does. In the right role, you could help guarantee the right outcome.
The most important environmental factor in children’s early lives, researchers have shown, is the way their parents and other adults interact with them. Beginning in infancy, children rely on responses from their parents to help them make sense of the world. Researchers at Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child have labeled these “serve and return” interactions. An infant makes a sound or looks at an object—that’s the serve—and her parents return the serve by responding to her babbles and cries with gestures, facial expressions, and speech. More than any other experiences in infancy, these rudimentary interactions trigger the development and strengthening of connections among the regions of the brain that control emotion, cognition, language, and memory.
.. When parents behave harshly or unpredictably—especially at moments when their children are upset—the children are less likely over time to develop the ability to manage strong emotions and respond effectively to stressful situations. By contrast, when a child’s parents respond to her jangled emotions in a sensitive and measured way, she is more likely to learn that she herself has the capacity to cope with her feelings, even intense and unpleasant ones.
.. Just as early stress sends signals to the nervous system to maintain constant vigilance and prepare for a lifetime of trouble, early warmth and responsiveness send the opposite signals: You’re safe; life is going to be fine. Let down your guard; the people around you will protect you and provide for you. Be curious about the world; it’s full of fascinating surprises. These messages trigger adaptations in children’s brains that allow them to slow down and consider problems and decisions more carefully, to focus their attention for longer periods, and to more willingly trade immediate gratification for promises of long-term benefits.
.. When teachers and administrators are confronted with students who find it hard to concentrate, manage their emotions, or deal calmly with provocation, the first instinct often is not to look at them as children who, because of a lifetime of stress, haven’t yet developed a healthy set of self-regulation mechanisms. Instead, the adults see them as kids with behavioral problems who need, more than anything, to be disciplined.
.. When children and adolescents misbehave, we usually assume that they’re doing so because they have considered the consequences of their actions and calculated that the benefits of misbehavior outweigh the costs. So our natural response is to increase the cost of misbehavior, by ratcheting up punishment.
.. The guiding theory behind much of the school discipline practiced in the United States today—and certainly behind the zero-tolerance, suspension-heavy approach that has dominated since the 1990s—is behaviorism, which is grounded in the idea that humans respond to incentives and reinforcement. If we get positive reinforcement for a certain behavior, we’re likely to do it more; if we get negative reinforcement, we’re likely to do it less... Jackson’s new index measured, in a fairly crude way, how engaged students were in school—whether they showed up, whether they misbehaved, and how hard they worked in their classes. Jackson found that this simple noncognitive proxy was, remarkably, a better predictor than students’ test scores of whether the students would go on to attend college, a better predictor of adult wages, and a better predictor of future arrests... Jackson found that these two groups of successful teachers did not necessarily overlap much; in every school, it seemed, there were certain teachers who were especially good at developing cognitive skills in their students and other teachers who excelled at developing noncognitive skills... In essence, what Farrington found was this: If you are a teacher, you may never be able to get your students to be gritty, in the sense of developing some essential character trait called grit. But you can probably make them act gritty—to behave in gritty ways in your classroom. And those behaviors will help produce the academic outcomes that you (and your students and society at large) are hoping for.
.. four key beliefs that, when embraced by students, seem to contribute most significantly to their tendency to persevere in the classroom:
1. I belong in this academic community.
2. My ability and competence grow with my effort.
3. I can succeed at this.
4. This work has value for me.
.. Giving students more autonomy in their learning meant giving up control. And like many teachers at other high-poverty schools, those at MS 45 had come to believe that with students as potentially disruptive as theirs, strong, dominant teacher control was the only way to keep the classroom calm and orderly; handing over the reins would mean chaos.
.. Many EL students will tell you that their crew meeting is the place where they most feel a sense of belonging at school; for some of them, it’s the place where they most feel a sense of belonging, period.
.. In general, when schools do try to directly address the impact that a stress-filled childhood might have on disadvantaged students, the first—and often the only—approach they employ has to do with their students’ emotional health, with relationships and belonging.
Success is about being passionately good at one or two things, but students who want to get close to that 4.0 have to be prudentially balanced about every subject. In life we want independent thinking and risk-taking, but the G.P.A. system encourages students to be deferential and risk averse, giving their teachers what they want.
Creative people are good at asking new questions, but the G.P.A. rewards those who can answer other people’s questions.
.. Most important, she notes that the quality of our longing matters. Gritty people are resilient and hard working, sure. But they also, she writes, know in a very, very deep way what it is they want.
The G.P.A. mentality is based on the supposition that we are thinking creatures. Young minds have to be taught self-discipline so they can acquire knowledge. That’s partly true, but as James K. A. Smith notes in his own book “You Are What You Love,” human beings are primarily defined by what we desire, not what we know. Our wants are at the core of our identity, the wellspring whence our actions flow.
.. As David Foster Wallace put it in his Kenyon commencement address, “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships.” Some worship money, or power or popularity or nursing or art, but everybody’s life is organized around some longing.
.. In such a school you might even de-emphasize the G.P.A. mentality, which puts a tether on passionate interests and substitutes other people’s longings for the student’s own.