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.
We’re entering the era when the new violently replaces the old.
Neil Howe, demographer and co-authour of the book The Fourth Turning, returns to the podcast this week. In our prior interviews with him, we’ve explored his study of generational cycles (“turnings”) in America which reveal predictable social trends that recur throughout history and invariably result in transformational crisis (a “fourth turning”).
Fourth turnings are characterized by a growing demand for social order, yet supply of it remains weak. The emergence of the surveillance state, a perpetual war machine, increased intervention in failing markets by the central planners, greater government control of critical systems like health care and the Internet — all of these are classic fourth turning signs of the desperation authorities exert as they lose control.
History shows time and time again that such overreach ends in rejection of the current order, usually via violent revolution.
Now that we’re roughly halfway through the current Fourth Turning and things have really started to unravel here in 2020, we’ve asked Neil back on the program to update us on what to expect next.
Editor’s note: This Future View is about the baby boomers—who they are, and what stereotypes about them capture and leave out. Next week we’ll ask, “The 2010s are almost over. What defined the decade for you? For society as a whole?” Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before Jan. 7. The best responses will be published that night.
‘Sacrifice’ Isn’t in the Boomer Vocabulary
“Boomer” best describes not a particular generational cohort, but people who feel they deserve the entitlements promised to them decades ago, regardless of the consequences for younger generations. And the consequences of Social Security’s ever-expanding budget will be dire—its costs are expected to exceed its income in 2020, forcing it to draw from its trust fund. By 2035, both Social Security and Medicare are predicted to exhaust their trust funds entirely.
Anyone who understands basic accounting can see that the projected explosion in federal expenditure and debt these entitlements are driving will cripple my generation’s ability to deal with the myriad challenges before us. We need those funds to
- combat a rising China,
- climate change and
- the unforeseen consequences of nuclear waste, just to name a few.
The boomer mentality is understandable. Many people have planned their lives around these entitlements. However, their inability to sacrifice for the good of posterity is shameful.
When the Gauls sacked Rome, the old men who could no longer bear arms stayed to defend the city itself while the Senate and younger men withdrew to a more fortified position in the citadel with their families. They sacrificed themselves for their descendants and found it an honor. I don’t think many boomers would do the same.
— Benjamin Koby, Cambridge University, physics
Respect Your Elders
Clearly, “OK boomer” is an attempt to dismiss the knowledge and opinions of older Americans, based on the assumption that their wisdom isn’t relevant to today’s world. While our country has changed significantly since the birth of the first baby boomers in 1946, it’s incredibly foolish to suggest the lessons they’ve learned and values they’ve accrued are outdated.
Of course, it’s natural for young people to roll their eyes at their elders’ advice—“You just wouldn’t get it, Mom!” And in a way, they’re right. Boomers didn’t grow up worrying about school shootings or cyber bullying. Young people today live very different lives than the young people of the ’50s.
But to suggest that the knowledge boomers have accrued over their many years has no value is shameful and laughable. We have a lot to learn from them, because they’ve seen a heck of a lot more than we have. Not to mention, someday we’ll be the “old generation.” And I can’t imagine the 20-somethings of today will like being told that their opinions are outdated by the 20-somethings of tomorrow.
— Joey Reda, Boston College, finance
The Truth Behind the Joke
To my knowledge, the joke “OK boomer” began as a response to older relatives or co-workers who refuse to acknowledge problems staring them in the face.
- Social Security is fine the way it is, despite the fact that I will never see a penny of it? OK boomer.
- I should get a summer job to pay off my student loans? OK boomer. The term is a condescending retort to a group that frequently misrepresents or ignores concerns my generation raises.
This, coupled with the feeling that many problems were created by boomers—climate change, high housing costs, the massive federal deficit—makes the term a succinct criticism that rings true for many.
Of course, not all baby boomers are racist “back in my day” climate-change deniers. My parents and teachers are boomers, and they are thoughtful, intelligent people. However the boomer stereotype taps into a real frustration many young Americans feel. I know that this discontent can be interpreted as evidence of our penchant for self-pity, but so long as baby boomers ignore the issues of the present, you can bet you’ll hear a lot of “OK boomer.”
WASHINGTON — One of the most totemic pictures of the Obama era was a White House photo showing the president bowing to let a 5-year-old black boy touch his hair.
As Jackie Calmes reported in The Times, the boy, the son of a departing National Security Council staffer, had shyly told Barack Obama, “I want to know if my hair is just like yours.”
“Touch it, dude!” the president instructed the child.
It was a moment that summed up all the giddy dreams about race and modernity and a gleaming American future that propelled a freshman senator with an exotic name into office.
Now, one of the most totemic pictures of the Trump era has been tweeted by Melania from the El Paso hospital visited by the first couple amid the blood-dimmed tide of back-to-back gun massacres in Texas and Dayton.
The first lady is holding 2-month-old Paul Anchondo, whose parents, Jordan and Andre, died shielding him from a shooter who confessed to the police that he drove from his home in Allen, Tex., to El Paso to kill Mexicans with an AK-47-style rifle. A manifesto he posted on 8chan, an online forum that’s a haven for white nationalists, stated that he wanted to stop the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
President Trump, standing next to Melania and the baby in the picture, is grinning and giving a thumbs-up.
The infant’s uncle, Tito Anchondo, told reporters that he brought Paul to the hospital to meet Trump, while other victims refused to do so, because he wanted to tell the president about the pain of the family. His slain brother, he said, was a Trump supporter. He told The Washington Post that he felt consoled by Trump.
But still, there is something sickening about the photo. The picture of Obama with a child was luminous with hope and idealism. The one of Trump with a child was dark with pain and shattered ideals.
Devoid of empathy and humanity, Trump is mugging with an infant who will never know his parents. They were shot by a psychopath whose views echoed Trump’s dangerous and vile rants painting people with darker skin — like the baby’s father — as the enemy, an infestation and invasion aiming to take something away from real Americans. It is the same slimy chum thrown out by other Republicans, only more brutally direct and not limited to campaign season.
Even as we absorbed the grotesque image from the hospital, we had to watch the heart-rending footage of Hispanic children sobbing and stranded in Mississippi because their parents, many working at a chicken processing plant, had been rounded up by ICE.
The Post featured a disturbing headline on Monday about a new study: “Risk of Premature Birth Increased for Latinas After Trump’s Election.” The story said, “Researchers have begun to identify correlations between Trump’s election and worsening cardiovascular health, sleep problems, anxiety and stress, especially among Latinos in the United States.”
The shining city on a hill is an ugly pile of rubble.
Even on this most tragic of weeks for so many families, Trump was obsessing on himself, on his crowd size compared with Beto, and on whether he was getting enough obeisance from Ohio pols.
It defies one’s faith in the good sense and decency of America that we cannot stop the deluge of shooting rampages — even at a time of unprecedented weakness for the N.R.A. and the loathsome Wayne LaPierre, with the gun lobby awash in coup attempts and corruption.
Gun control has the aspect of an intractable problem when it is anything but. Inexplicably and abhorrently, we have decided to live with periodic human sacrifices. That became clear in 2012 in Newtown after the slaughter of the “beautiful babies,” as Joe Biden called the dead first graders. If that didn’t shock the soul enough to act, what could?
We’ve heard Trump talk about talking sense into N.R.A. officials three times now, during the 2016 campaign and after the Parkland shooting and again Friday after his sympathy calls in Dayton and El Paso. The first two times, he caved to the N.R.A. quickly.
Yet temperamentally, Nixon-to-China, Trump is suited to that job. Even though he’s a belligerent, he’s not so enamored of war and guns. “My sons love hunting,” he once tweeted. “I don’t.” He’s no gun nut; he’s a former Democrat from New York who likes to golf.
If he wanted to lead a crusade to get real background checks — or even a ban on assault weapons, which he said in a 2000 book that he favored — he would be formidable.
There is some movement now because the Republicans are scared — not of the shooters but of suburban voters.
For the most part, Republicans are gun owners and Democrats aren’t. But Republican voters are more supportive of common-sense gun control than elected members, who are wallowing with the swamp creatures at the N.R.A.
Mitch McConnell, Dr. No, won’t want to do anything; his spokesman was backing away on Friday. That same day, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, John Barrasso, pumped the brakes on possible inroads, background checks and red-flag laws.
If the president and Republicans come up with anything at all, it will be a remedy just marginal enough to give themselves cover, denying Democrats a powerful campaign issue.
Moscow Mitch and Dreadful Donald will keep talking compromise and hope that things settle down by September, when Congress gets back.
But point-blank: Our Republican leaders are cowards.
We shouldn’t let things die down. Because people keep dying.