Editor’s Note: Sign up to get our new weekly column as a newsletter. We’re looking back at the strongest, smartest opinion takes of the week from CNN and other outlets.

CNN  — 

“What is given may be taken away at any time,” writes Irish-born novelist Maggie O’Farrell in her acclaimed novel “Hamnet.” Published amid the wave of Covid-19 lockdowns last year, the book is a historical fiction of another era’s pestilence, depicting the repercussions of the death of William Shakespeare and his wife’s 11-year-old son from bubonic plague in 1596: “The trick is never to let down your guard. Never think you are safe.”

Not comforting words, no. But their blunt acknowledgment of vigilance and fear in an unpredictable world resonates as the United States meets the mutability of a post-pandemic landscape – one in which a rising, highly transmissible Delta variant of Covid traverses a politicized map of the vaccine-hesitant.

“Even with this latest incursion” of the variant “the news still shouldn’t be that bad,” wrote Dr. Kent Sepkowitz. The catch, he noted, is that its “contagiousness means that everyone – including teens, and, as soon as it is proven safe, younger children – must get vaccinated. That includes the vaccine-hesitant.” His message (with an apology to the state of New Hampshire): “America! Live free (of vaccine) and (maybe) die.”

RESTRICTED 02 opinion weekly column 07 10 2021

This week, an analysis by Georgetown University researchers showed a handful of under-vaccinated states – mainly stretching across the South and Midwest, including Texas – were endangering the nation’s Covid recovery. And on Thursday, Republican US Sen. Rand Paul vowed to fight the public transportation mask mandate, requiring passengers to mask on planes, as soon as the Senate is back in session next week. Ayelet Haimson Lushkov addressed an open letter to Greg Abbott, the governor of her home state of Texas, who in May moved to bar government entities – including school districts – from imposing mask mandates or requiring vaccinations.

Lushkov implored: “Adults and even teenagers can at least choose their fate. But until a pediatric vaccine is approved for emergency use, young children and their caretakers cannot … Governor Abbott, I didn’t vote for you, and I don’t agree with your politics. But as a mother of two, I ask you to help parents as we try to keep our children safe. Surely, we can all come together to agree on that.”

In the absence of political consensus about how to extend America’s tenuous new normal, wrote Julian Zelizer, it’s time to accept truth … and require vaccines. “Both political parties have made the mistake of framing vaccines within the tradition of individualism,” he observed, while US history is full of examples, from polio vaccines to driver’s licenses to the draft, of requiring citizens to place civic well-being first. “Collective obligations have always been part of what actually makes America great and we need to start talking about vaccines through this vital lens.”

More smart takes:

Jill Filipovic: What was glaringly absent from NY’s parade for its Covid heroes

David M. Perry: The latest Pfizer statement has me on the edge

America still has a chance to save itself

RESTRICTED 03 opinion weekly column 07 10 2021

The deadly, record-breaking heat wave afflicting wide swaths of the American West continued, and in some places, intensified – bringing deaths and the threat of wildfires. That news, along with other recent developments in the US and globally, shows the depth of America’s predicament on climate disaster, contended Jeffrey Sachs. The way forward must include “oil companies paying restitution for damage that they have done to the climate and humanity for decades,” he argued.

Government has a role to play in America saving itself from climate-change destruction, wrote North Dakota farmer Vanessa Kummer. Sustainable farming is good for farmers’ bottom lines and ensuring the land’s viability for future generations. Many farmers have been adopting conservation practices that help mitigate climate change, she wrote, but need help to stay afloat. Kummer urged policymakers to consider that if farmers were given resources to, for instance, expand efficient fertilizer application, pay for feed additives to help livestock reduce methane and buy big steel tanks that capture natural gas from livestock manure, “we could turn the industry into a net-carbon sink.”

Republicans choose chaos

01 trump lawsuit 0707

This week marked six months since the Capitol insurrection, and in the latest episode of “Unfiltered,” SE Cupp assessed that congressional Republicans turning a blind eye to the reality and meaning of that day, even now, appear to have only one objective – complete chaos. It “isn’t good governance,” Cupp maintained, “It’s annihilation. They are attempting to thwart the investigation of the January 6 insurrection. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy admitted as much. They’re pushing for more pointless audits of the 2020 election. They’re still chasing Trump around as he maniacally tries to cling to relevance, most recently launching a frivolous lawsuit against social media companies that banned him.”

Former President Donald Trump doesn’t have a strong case as he seeks legal redress against companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter for deplatforming him, wrote Kara Alaimo: “Trump is clearly trying to recapture some of the attention he’s lost and rally conservatives by mobilizing them against a common foe … But the facts aren’t on his side.

Fred Hiatt concurred in The Washington Post, calling the suits bogus but warning that underneath his “lies and self-pity, (Trump) may have a point.” Most people understand that these platforms “are private companies but also that, in today’s America, if those three are silencing you, you are being excluded in a serious way from the public square. And many understandably wonder: Why should they get to make that call?

Another smart take:

Michael D’Antonio: Trump and Greene invite a horrific history to repeat itself

A broken departure from Afghanistan

RESTRICTED 01 opinion weekly column 07 10 2021

The withdrawal of US troops – including those pulling out from Bagram Air Base near Kabul in the middle of the night without telling Afghan allies – struck a precarious note, one that, Peter Bergen wrote, will likely escalate conflict in the country and effectively hand a victory to the Taliban.

Bergen had harsh words for President Joe Biden’s Thursday speech defending the withdrawal. Biden’s remarks, Bergen said, were “peopled with straw men and littered with false assertions … In response to a question about whether he saw any parallels between this withdrawal and the US exit from Vietnam in 1975, the President asserted ‘none whatsoever’ … yet an urgent evacuation is exactly one of the contingencies US military planners are preparing for, a senior defense official with knowledge of the planning process told CNN. To use another trademark Biden expression, his Afghanistan speech was a bunch of malarkey.

Biden’s departure process is endangering the lives of Afghans who supported the US presence, cautioned Noah Coburn and Sediq Seddiqi, who has worked as a researcher and translator for US entities and international organizations.

Though Seddiqi has been told he does not qualify for the Special Immigrant Visa program, he says he has nonetheless been receiving threats of violence. Even those Afghans who worked for the US and who do qualify face both peril and unanswered questions: “Will those evacuated eventually be allowed into the US or will they have to remain in some third country? … Can they bring family? When will it begin, with troops on pace to be gone by August? … Clarity about what the US will do to assist the people who helped the US presence would be a good start, but even better would be assurances that the US will stand by its allies in Afghanistan diplomatically and politically, even as the troops leave.”

Haiti’s unraveling democracy

President Jovenel Moise

The shocking assassination on Wednesday of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse rocked a nation already teetering on the brink of a complex political emergency. “Haiti’s constitutional crisis failed to register with many Washington policymakers as well as those in the international community for far too long – in part, thanks to the plethora of challenges already present in the Western Hemisphere,” said Ryan C. Berg. “Notwithstanding the Biden administration’s claims to the contrary, the inattention of US policymakers in recent years has contributed to the country’s rapid unraveling.

Amid the chaos following the assassination and talk of US intervention, Rosy Auguste Ducena wrote for The Washington Post that what “Haiti desperately needs is a transitional government that can ensure legitimate, free and fair elections in due course … Haitians have had enough of living in a climate of violence, which has touched us all” – including Ducena, who is mourning a close friend and her colleague, both of them activists and journalists, who were recently shot to death in Port-au-Prince. She urged the US to reconsider its stance on Haitian elections and its support for Moïse’s government and asked: “How many more lives must be unnecessarily lost before the United States gets on the right side of history?”

“There are no simple options,” reflected Amy Wilentz in The New York Times. Historically, “(w)hen the United States has stepped in, Haitians have ended up worse off … The best option right now for the United States is to wait and watch and listen not just to the usual suspects but to a broad new generation of Haitian democrats who can responsibly being to move toward a more workable Haitian polity.”

The enduring power of Black institutions

04 photos this week 0709

After a protracted controversy over whether the Board of Governors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill would grant her tenure (it ultimately did), acclaimed journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones announced that she, along with writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, would instead be joining the faculty, with tenure, at Howard University. The move, and Hannah-Jones’s powerful statement explaining it, prompted probing conversations about historically Black institutions (including colleges and universities) and the experiences of Black Americans who learn and work at primarily White institutions.

M Shelly Conner, who attended another HBCU as an undergraduate but now teaches undergrads herself at a majority White school, described for NBC THINK why she related to Hannah-Jones’s decision: “W.E.B. DuBois predicted in 1903 that the color line would be ‘the problem of the 20th century,’ but it certainly has endured well into the 21st. How can I create safe spaces for my students while facilitating conversations that walk boldly within our differentiated experiences? How can I bring the HBCU love to my Black students; a rainbow to my LGBTQ+ students; a lighthouse to my White students; and a model for those with intersections that defy categorization?”

Historian Peniel E. Joseph found deep meaning in Hannah-Jones’s choice about the “enduring power of Black institutions, (which) resides in their ability to recognize and amplify Black excellence, offering shelter in a time of political backlash and structural violence that has historically enveloped Black communities.” Both Hannah-Jones and Coates are, he wrote, “particularly well suited to continue a long-standing tradition of challenging a limited conception of American citizenship, identity and democracy that at once profits from Black genius and denies its existence.”

Hannah-Jones’s move came just days after a report in The New York Times about a leaked recording of a private conversation in which White ESPN anchor Rachel Nichols made disparaging remarks about a Black fellow anchor, Maria Taylor, after Taylor got tapped to host the network’s NBA Finals coverage. Nichols’ comments confirmed the “terrible, nagging fear” faced by so many women of color “at school or at work or in their everyday lives: that the White women who publicly profess their commitment to racial inclusion are only engaging in a pantomime,” argued Rafia Zakaria. She wrote that the controversy, which gained steam after Nichols was dropped last week as a sideline reporter during the NBA finals, “is growing in intensity in part because … at a deeper level, this recording captures candid sentiments too many White people express behind closed doors especially when Black, brown and Indigenous women achieve success in the workplace.”

Another smart take:

Justin Trudeau, Darren Walker and Theo Sowa: We can smash one of the defining inequalities of our time

Don’t miss

nina simone harlem cultural festival FILE

Clay Cane: This stunning film opens a time capsule of Black Power

Lincoln Mitchell: Why so many New Yorkers picked a former cop for mayor

Frida Ghitis: The real meaning of Belarus’ kidnapping of an American citizen

Peggy Drexler: How Valerie Bertinelli turned her pain into power

Diana Butler Bass: America is no longer as evangelical as it was – and here’s why


01 National Spelling Bee 2021 Winner

Fourteen-year-old Zaila Avant-garde holds three Guinness World Records for dribbling basketballs – and on Thursday with the word “murraya,” she became the first African American winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Avant-garde told CNN she hopes one day to play basketball at Harvard before a career in NASA, neuroscience or as an NBA coach.

Avant-garde’s win makes her only the second Black winner over 90 years of the Bee (the first, Jody-Anne Maxwell in 1998, is Jamaican). Celebrating having the Bee back after the pandemic canceled it last year for the first time since World War II, Shalini Shankar wrote about what a more equal Bee might mean for all kids, noting that the exclusionary history of this competition – and the roots of all US spelling bees, aimed at standardizing American English as part of the settler-colonial project – should be a catalyst for considering more enduring innovations that could promote equity.

“Nearly everyone’s reality has changed” since 2020, emphasized Shankar, “and we find ourselves in a moment of potential, and potentially intentional, transformation. A racially diverse Bee in which children are offered increased access to technology, coaching and support would not only create a more inclusive dynamic but also help transform its purpose as one over which new generations of Americans can feel a sense of ownership.”