Opinion | Conversations and insights about the moment. (2024)

Table of Contents
Pope Francis’ Remarkable Act of Contrition The Trump Team’s Inept Closing Argument Blew Up The Trump Team’s Big Lie About the ‘Access Hollywood’ Tape There’s Nothing Simple or Obvious About Trump’s Trial Defense How Quickly Would a Trump Verdict Sink In for Voters? What’s Spanish for ‘Chutzpah’? Fixing the Calamity in U.S. Math Knowledge Starts With Algebra In the Bronx, Trump Imagines His New York Glory Days Haley as Veep? Don’t Bet on It Biden’s Powerful Reminder of Trump’s Racist History A Blistering Congressional Hearing Forces Accountability on Covid Origins The Importance of a Personal Bridge Between the U.S. and China When Antitrust Law Rescues Olivia and Taylor Fans Nikki Haley, Ever Pragmatic, Tries to Keep Her Options Open Why Congress Loves Toying With University Presidents Does New York City Really Need More Smoke Shops? Western Europe Is Starting to Send a Vital Warning to Israel I’m Donald Trump, and I Disapprove of the Message I Just Posted An Attack on Justice Merchan Is an Attack on the Rule of Law The Viral Defiance of Jasmine Crockett Scarlett Johansson’s Voice Isn’t the Only Thing A.I. Companies Want Why the Crash in Iran Was Almost Certainly an Accident For Kendrick and Drake, Family Matters A Tongue-Lashing for a Defense Witness Isn’t Great News for Trump When Michael Cohen’s Lies Help the Case Against Trump Israel’s Denial of Gaza Aid May Lead to an Arrest Warrant The Dangerous Political Headwind Facing Biden Netanyahu Is Sorry/Not Sorry for the Killings in Rafah


Frank Bruni

Contributing Opinion Writer

Pope Francis’ Remarkable Act of Contrition

I’m not accustomed to apologies from popes. Aren’t they infallible?

Yes, I know, that term doesn’t have practical, colloquial application — it doesn’t mean that they never bungle math problems or lose track of where they hung their robes. But the general notion or mythology of infallibility reflects a kind of papal authority and aloofness that discourages any real-time revisiting of false steps, any open regret for errant syllables.

“I’m sorry” belongs to the political realm (or at least did until Donald Trump came along). Popes inhabit a higher plane.

So a Vatican statement on Tuesday that Pope Francis “extends his apologies” to anyone offended by something he recently said is a big and surprising deal. It’s all the bigger and more surprising because Francis was apologizing for insulting gay people, and for most of my 59 years, Roman Catholic leaders were more concerned with condemning or converting or chiding or hiding us than with making sure our feelings weren’t hurt.

In a closed-door meeting with Italian bishops last week, Francis reportedly responded to a question about whether openly gay men should be admitted to seminaries by saying that those training grounds for future priests were already too crowded with “frociaggine,” a crude Italian slur.

I’m disappointed that he used it, contradicting past statements of his that urged respect for gay people and his decision last year to allow priests to bless same-sex couples. I don’t know whether he was disclosing his own lingering bigotry or trying to curry favor with the conservatives around him.

But I know this: Another pope in a prior era wouldn’t have been so quick to do damage control. Another pope in a prior era mightn’t have felt that any damage was done.

And even Francis could have decided simply to ignore the media attention to his offensive language until it died down. Popes are expected to worry not about the news cycle but about eternity. What’s more, he would have pleased some of his sternest critics by moving on. They complain that he has done too much outreach to L.G.B.T.Q. people and been too indulgent of them.

His apology speaks to the kind of pope that he, at his best, has been: one who means to heal wounds. But it says even more about an altered church in a changed world, where gay people still endure taunts aplenty but also encounter unexpected moments of grace.

May 28, 2024, 3:18 p.m. ET

May 28, 2024, 3:18 p.m. ET

Jonathan Alter

Contributing Opinion Writer

The Trump Team’s Inept Closing Argument Blew Up


If Donald Trump becomes a felon in the coming days, he and his defense team can partly blame themselves. Throughout the trial they offered implausible arguments against the prosecution’s case, and on Tuesday Trump’s lead attorney, Todd Blanche, slipped an I.E.D. into the end of his closing argument that blew up in his face.

“You cannot send someone to prison based on the words of Michael Cohen,” Blanche said, in a bid to make jurors think it was their role to decide if a president should be incarcerated.

“Saying that was outrageous,” Justice Juan Merchan told Blanche after the jury left for lunch. Mentioning sentencing to gain sympathy with jurors who have no say in punishment “is simply not allowed,” he said, and that it was “hard for me to imagine how that was not intentional.”

The defense got more than a tongue-lashing. After lunch, Merchan turned to the jurors and told them why they had to ignore this sneaky move — not a good final look for the defense.

In his three-hour closing argument, Blanche gave jurors a few places to explore reasonable doubt but mostly swung wildly and set up the prosecution for better arguments in the afternoon.

My favorite dumb moment: “Guess who else you did not hear from in this trial?” Blanche asked. “Don and Eric. Is there some allegation that they are part of a conspiracy?” No, counselor, but the jury will likely wonder why the defense called Robert Costello, who was destroyed on cross-examination, instead of Trump’s own sons.

Blanche huffed and puffed to discredit the two possible “smoking guns” offered by the prosecution. The first consists of the scrawled notes of Allen Weisselberg, former financial head of the Trump Organization, breaking down the $420,000 that Trump paid Cohen in 2017. Weisselberg wrote “gross it up” in reference to doubling the $130,000 in hush money for tax purposes. That “is a lie,” Blanche said, using a word he would employ more than 30 times in his closing argument, to diminishing effect.

But it wasn’t a lie. The former controller of the Trump Organization had confirmed on the stand that the numbers and “gross it up” were in Weisselberg’s own hand.

The other smoking gun involves a call Cohen taped, during which Trump said “150” in reference to the hush money for Karen McDougal. While trying and — to my mind — failing to establish that Cohen’s phone was tampered with, Blanche played the tape and challenged the idea that Trump even said “150” and that Trump saying “cash” on the tape had anything to do with hush money. Jurors will presumably listen to the tape and decide for themselves. Believe me, you can hear “150.”

Blanche ended his closing argument by telling jurors that if they focus on the evidence, “this is a very easy and quick not-guilty.” Insulting the jury’s intelligence? Not smart.



May 28, 2024, 2:30 p.m. ET

May 28, 2024, 2:30 p.m. ET

Michelle Goldberg

Opinion Columnist

The Trump Team’s Big Lie About the ‘Access Hollywood’ Tape

In his closing argument on Tuesday, Donald Trump’s lead defense attorney, Todd Blanche, repeatedly tried to sell a revisionist history of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump was recorded boasting of his penchant for sexual assault. In the felony case against Trump, the “Access Hollywood” tape is important because, in the story the prosecution is telling, it’s the reason Trump was desperate to quash Stormy Daniels’s story.

“The government wants you to believe that the release of that tape from 2005 was so catastrophic to that campaign that it provided a motive for President Trump to do something criminal,” he said.

Attempting to undercut that narrative, Blanche insisted that it really wasn’t that big of a deal. It caused, he said, a “couple days of frustration and consternation, but that happens all the time during campaigns.” He added: “The ‘Access Hollywood’ tape is being set up in this trial to be something that it is not.”

This is insultingly and obviously untrue. As the longtime Trump aide Hope Hicks testified about that moment in the 2016 campaign, “I think there was consensus among us all that the tape was damaging, and this was a crisis.”

We now know that a critical mass of voters doesn’t care about Trump’s misogyny and predation, but we didn’t know that then. One job of the prosecution, which begins closing arguments Tuesday afternoon, will be to take the jury back to a more innocent time before Trump’s election, when people still imagined there were Republicans with a capacity for shame.

May 28, 2024, 11:22 a.m. ET

May 28, 2024, 11:22 a.m. ET

Michelle Goldberg

Opinion Columnist

There’s Nothing Simple or Obvious About Trump’s Trial Defense

During closing arguments in Donald Trump’s felony trial on Tuesday morning, his lawyer Todd Blanche said, “There’s a reason why, in life, usually the simplest answer is the right one.”

I found this an odd approach, because to believe his theory of the case requires accepting several improbable things. First, although it’s not legally germane, Blanche reiterated, perhaps at the insistence of his client, that Trump “has unequivocally and repeatedly denied” any encounter with Stormy Daniels. And rather than simply arguing that Trump didn’t know about the scheme to reimburse Michael Cohen for the payoff to Daniels, he appears to be arguing that no such scheme existed.

Cohen, said Blanche, had a verbal retainer agreement in 2017 to serve as Trump’s personal attorney, and that’s why he was paid $420,000. If that’s the case, it’s hard to imagine why Cohen pleaded guilty and served prison time in connection with the hush-money payment.

Blanche’s argument has been internally inconsistent. First, he insisted that Trump, being busy as president, didn’t always look at the checks he signed. Then, trying to discredit the idea that Trump would reimburse Cohen $420,000 for a $130,000 payment — which Cohen has claimed was grossed up to include taxes and a bonus — Blanche pointed to “all the evidence you heard about how closely President Trump watches his finances.”

During a long digression about the National Enquirer’s practice of “catching and killing” stories, he insisted that there had never been a “catch and kill” plot involving the Playboy model Karen McDougal, implying, I think, that her deal with the publication was on the level. “She wanted to be on the cover of magazines, she wanted to write articles,” Blanche, said and that’s what she did.

Obviously, I have no idea what the jury is thinking. But given the implausibility of the narrative that Trump’s defense is spinning, it just seems weird that Blanche is invoking Occam’s razor.



May 28, 2024, 5:04 a.m. ET

May 28, 2024, 5:04 a.m. ET

Patrick Healy

Deputy Opinion Editor

How Quickly Would a Trump Verdict Sink In for Voters?


Each week on The Point, we kick things off with a tipsheet on the latest in the presidential campaign. Here’s what we’re looking at this week:

  • The most consequential week of Donald Trump’s criminal trial in Manhattan has arrived: The jury could begin deliberating in the next two days. We’ll also get insight shortly about Justice Juan Merchan’s instructions to jurors — basically, a clearer picture of what options they have for a verdict. As for the political impact of any decision by the jury, I think that will take weeks to become clear as Americans learn and absorb the news — as suburban women outside Philadelphia, for instance, weigh the verdict and their feelings about Trump against their views on the economy or abortion rights.

  • It takes time for voters to process big news, and opinions can shift with time. Part of why James Comey’s Oct. 28, 2016, letter about Hillary Clinton’s classified email was so politically damaging to her was that it came as many people were casting early votes and others were making up their minds ahead of the Nov. 8 election. The Trump verdict will be historic, but the election is five months away. How voters feel about the verdict could surely change in that time.

  • We’ll also start getting a clearer picture this week about whether Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will qualify to join the June 27 debate between President Biden and Trump. There’s a good explainer here boiling down how Kennedy needs to make the November ballot in a bunch more states first to make the cut for the debate. Given the various rules, I don’t think there’s much time for him to make the June debate; he may have a better shot at the September debate. Either way, I can’t see the Biden and Trump campaigns eager to have him onstage — they don’t want anything distracting voters from seeing the flaws and fumbles in the other guy, and R.F.K. Jr. will be one big distraction.

  • I’m preoccupied with the Biden-Trump fight for Pennsylvania and whether Biden can borrow from the winning political playbook of Gov. Josh Shapiro, who won a 15-point landslide in 2022. Biden is trailing Trump by a couple of points in the state polling average. As in other swing states, Biden needs to do far better than he’s currently polling with young voters and nonwhite voters, and with voters in Philadelphia and its suburbs. So keep an eye on Biden’s campaign trip to Philadelphia on Wednesday and his pitch for why Americans should want another four years of his presidency.

  • Trips like Biden’s Philadelphia event are planned weeks in advance, but as it happens, this one will probably happen just as the Trump jury is deliberating on Trump’s fate (or returning with a verdict). The split screen of Biden heralding Ben Franklin and Trump attacking jurors is a news cycle the Biden campaign badly wants.

May 24, 2024, 2:10 p.m. ET

May 24, 2024, 2:10 p.m. ET

Bret Stephens

Opinion Columnist

What’s Spanish for ‘Chutzpah’?

This week’s announcements by the governments of Ireland, Norway and Spain that they will recognize a Palestinian state are drawing predictable reactions from predictable quarters. Some see them as useful rebukes to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war strategy in Gaza that will further isolate Israel. Others, including me, view them as f*ckless gestures that reward Hamas’s terrorism.

That’s a column for another day. For now, it’s enough to note the Spanish government’s sheer nerve.

Though Spanish public opinion overwhelmingly supports swift recognition of Palestinian statehood, it’s another story when it comes to Spain’s own independence movements. In 2017 the regional government of Catalonia held a referendum, declared illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court, on the question of Catalan independence. Though turnout was low — in part because Spanish police forcibly blocked voting — the Catalan government said nearly 90 percent of voters favored independence.

The central government in Madrid responded by dismissing the Catalan government, imposing direct rule. Two years later, under the current left-wing government of Pedro Sánchez, Spain sentenced nine Catalan independence leaders to prison on charges of sedition, though they were later pardoned. This year the lower house of the Spanish Parliament voted to grant amnesty to those involved in the 2017 campaign as part of a deal to prop up Sánchez’s government, despite a Senate veto. Seventy percent of the Spanish public opposes the amnesty.

Catalans aren’t the only ethnic minority in Spain that has sought independence, only to encounter violent suppression. In the 1980s the Spanish Interior Ministry under a socialist government responded to the long-running Basque separatist movement with state-sponsored death squads, notoriously responsible for a string of kidnappings, tortures and assassinations. The Spanish government called the separatists terrorists — as indeed some were — though their tactics look tame compared with Hamas’s. By the time the conflict ended in 2011, it had claimed more than 1,000 lives.

Spain possesses two cities on the African continent, Ceuta and Melilla, both of which are claimed by Morocco and have been stormed by African migrants seeking entry into the European Union. They are protected by extensive border fences and fortifications strikingly reminiscent of Israel’s breached border fence with Gaza.

There are many other independence movements throughout Europe, from Scotland to Flanders to Corsica and the Balkans. Many of these movements tend to have affinities with Palestinians, for reasons that are obvious. More difficult to explain are governments that suppress independence seekers at home while applauding those abroad. Some might call it deflection. To others, it looks like hypocrisy.



May 24, 2024, 12:26 p.m. ET

May 24, 2024, 12:26 p.m. ET

Brent Staples

Editorial Board Member


Fixing the Calamity in U.S. Math Knowledge Starts With Algebra

The federal government made a disastrous choice a decade ago when it abandoned an accountability system (known as No Child Left Behind) that required schools to focus intently on helping the lowest-performing students catch up with their peers. Since then, the already alarming achievement gaps that separate poor and wealthy children have only widened.

Math scores have plummeted, raising fears that the United States is destined to fall permanently behind its competitor nations when it comes to preparing young people for careers in science, technology and engineering.

As Troy Closson of The Times wrote this week, some school systems have opted for policies that disguise the achievement gap without remedying it. A decade ago, for example, the San Francisco public schools responded to high failure rates and achievement gaps by moving algebra — which is foundational to the study of math — from eighth grade to ninth grade, meaning that no one was allowed to take the course in eighth grade simply because some students struggled with it.

This system wrote off poor students who might have benefited from exposure to new material and denied well-prepared children the opportunity to forge ahead in their studies. Not surprisingly, the policy failed to achieve its central goal, which was to close racial gaps in the taking of advanced math courses. Chastened by parental outrage, San Francisco reversed course.

Only about a quarter of American students study algebra in eighth grade. That proportion needs to grow. Fortunately a few states, including North Carolina and Texas, are adopting systems under which children who meet specified performance levels on state exams are automatically channeled into advanced math classes.

In Dallas there are no hoops to jump through. As The Dallas Morning News reported last year, young people no longer have to wait for counselors to recommend them or for parents who know little about how schools operate to sign them up. Students who were unaware that honors courses even existed are now being enrolled.

The gravest challenge facing the country today is redressing the devastating learning losses that children suffered during the Covid pandemic. Among other things, solving this problem will mean equipping teachers to manage classrooms that include students of different preparation levels.

One new study offers reason for optimism. It shows that students who would ordinarily be tracked into remedial work can perform well in algebra classes that include higher-performing peers — and experience broader academic success — when teachers are trained to handle heterogeneous groups and are given more time to prepare.

May 24, 2024, 10:00 a.m. ET

May 24, 2024, 10:00 a.m. ET

Michelle Cottle

Opinion Writer

In the Bronx, Trump Imagines His New York Glory Days

Donald Trump is still such a New Yorker.

Rarely has this been clearer than at Thursday evening’s rally in the Bronx. Sure, his speech featured his usual campaign folderol: the “rigged election” lies, the claims of legal persecution, the scaremongering about migrants and, of course, the wild claims of how, during his presidency, America was richer, stronger, smarter, safer, more respected, more peaceful, more beautiful, sexier — all the things — than at any other point in the history of the planet.

But the parts that were a little different and that the former president clearly enjoyed the most were his rose-colored reminiscences about his years as a player in his hometown — back when most New Yorkers thought he was a harmless joke rather than a serious threat to American democracy.

Trump went on and on about the local landmarks he had worked to renovate and the big ol’ buildings he built, and he could not stop talking about his dealings with the city’s rough and tough contractors. “These are killers!” he gushed. “By comparison, talking to world leaders is, I believe, easier.” Or how about this bit of schmaltz? “I knew that if I could build a skyscraper in Manhattan, I could do anything.”

These tales of his past heroism and genius tended to be rambling to the point of incoherent and probably confused many people with their utter irrelevance to the presidential race at hand. But the guy was obviously having so much fun with them, he was practically glowing.

This was all history according to Trump, of course, meaning his many and varied business failures didn’t make the cut. The whole display was kinda goofy. But it was also a shrewd play to New Yorkers’ sense of exceptionalism.

The dark side of this was Trump’s false hyperbole about how his beloved city has become a dirty, crime-ridden hellhole — that only he can fix, of course. Which goes for the rest of the nation as well, he told the crowd: “If a New Yorker can’t save this country, no one can.”

Aww. How adorable. But what this country really needs is someone to save it from this particular New Yorker.



May 24, 2024, 5:05 a.m. ET

May 24, 2024, 5:05 a.m. ET

Frank Bruni

Contributing Opinion Writer

Haley as Veep? Don’t Bet on It


Touched, amused, baffled — none of those words precisely captures my reaction to many people’s surprise at Nikki Haley’s announcement that she’d vote for Donald Trump. Did they think that Haley, who’d so recently pantomimed a principled stand against Trump, actually stood on principle? How quaint. How amnesic. She has always wobbled like a Weeble. The only real suspense is whether she’ll wobble onto the Republican presidential ticket.

I’m betting not, but then my record in the casino of American politics is a spotty one.

Haley would say yes if Trump asked her to be his running mate. Of that much I’m confident. Her overwhelming defeat in the Republican presidential primaries, the polls that show Trump beating President Biden and other developments over the past few months have clearly convinced her that the only path to viability in the Republican Party right now is the one that leads to the doorstep of Mar-a-Lago, where a supplicant must arrive on bended knee.

So here she is, performing her genuflection — despite having called Trump “totally unhinged,” despite her expressions of disgust at his fealty to Vladimir Putin, despite dozens of ways in which Trump contradicts her putative convictions, despite having warned us emphatically that another Trump presidency would be ruinous folly. Never mind! She has personal ambitions to attend to, a future to blaze.

In a post on Truth Social a week and a half ago, Trump stated that he was not considering Haley as his choice for vice president. But he would hardly feel bound by that. He wants to win, period. If she’s the way, it would be her all the way.

She’s not, though. Many of the Republican primary voters who chose her over Trump aren’t likely to follow her into the Trump camp. They were opposing and defying him more than they were supporting and deifying her, and they would recoil from the stench of rank opportunism surrounding a Haley-Trump partnership.

While she arguably complements Trump, she inarguably complicates his anti-establishment message. Picking her would be in cynical league with presidential politics as usual. What’s more, the media coverage of her vice-presidential candidacy would be dominated by her past denunciations of Trump, by all the U-turns and switchbacks on the rocky road of their relationship. It’s not the story line he wants.

He’d be wise, though, to figure out some other prize to dangle before her. You never know when she might wobble in an unhelpful direction.

May 23, 2024, 5:03 p.m. ET

May 23, 2024, 5:03 p.m. ET

Mara Gay

Editorial Board Member

Biden’s Powerful Reminder of Trump’s Racist History

Just how worried is the Biden campaign about its standing with Black men?

Worried enough, apparently, that it has rolled out an unusually blunt campaign ad reminding the group that President Biden’s opponent, Donald Trump, is an inveterate racist.

“Donald Trump disrespecting Black folk is nothing new,” a male voice, clearly Black-coded, booms in the spot, following a 1989 clip of Trump saying, “Of course I hate these people,” referring to the Central Park Five, who were wrongly convicted.

He was sued for refusing to rent his apartments to Black families, and called for the execution of five innocent Black and brown teenagers.

It’s why Trump stood with violent white supremacists, warned of a blood bath if he loses the next election, and if he is president again vowed to be a dictator who wants revenge on his enemies.

Now, who do you think that is?

Black voters are more likely to support Biden than voters of any other race. But polls in recent months have suggested that support may be softening, especially among Black men.

Heavy-handed ads like this one from the Biden campaign might help reacquaint lower-information Black voters (but especially men) with Trump’s loathsome racial attitudes. There’s value in that, particularly in what could be a very close election.

And yet, most Black voters already hold strong negative views of Trump and have no trouble recognizing his abhorrent views on race. The possibility that a sizable portion of these voters are considering voting for Trump anyway should provoke a flurry of soul-searching in the Democratic Party, as well as outreach and relationship building.

Black voters appear to be at least somewhat open to the idea of finding a new political home. The real task before the Biden campaign, and the Democratic Party, is to give them good reasons to stay. That’s something no 30-second spot can buy.



May 23, 2024, 5:07 p.m. ET

May 23, 2024, 5:07 p.m. ET

Zeynep Tufekci

Opinion Columnist

A Blistering Congressional Hearing Forces Accountability on Covid Origins

The unraveling of a high-level attempt to avoid transparency about the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic began with a single email uncovered via a Freedom of Information Act request published last year.

Dr. David Morens, a senior adviser at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had emailed a small group of outspoken scientists who opposed the idea that a lab leak was the source of Covid-19. “I always try to communicate on my Gmail,” he wrote, “because my N.I.H. email is FOIA’d constantly.”

If he had to email the group from his N.I.H. email, he promised, “I will delete anything I don’t want to see in The New York Times.”

When the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic subpoenaed those emails, it found that Morens advised his colleagues to avoid oversight requirements and that he intimated he would delete emails related to Covid origins.

Many of those conversations involved EcoHealth Alliance — a nonprofit that collaborated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, often criticized for its risky research and lax biosafety standards — and Peter Daszak, EcoHealth’s president. The Trump administration had terminated an EcoHealth grant, but as these emails showed, Morens was working to reverse that decision. (The termination was eventually reversed, but last week the Biden administration barred EcoHealth from all federal funding, after a hearing in which the organization was scorched by lawmakers from both parties for misrepresenting its work with Chinese virologists.)

After Morens rebuffed the committee’s request for a voluntary interview, it subpoenaed him to testify.

Morens told the committee he used a private email account because he was merely trying to avoid having his personal correspondence with Daszak, whom he described as a longtime friend, become public information. However, the subpoenaed emails revealed Morens advised Daszak on how to publicly respond to the termination of EcoHealth’s grant and demeaned other scientists who worried about biosafety lapses.

Morens wrote to Daszak, “We are all smart enough to know to never have smoking guns, and if we did, we wouldn’t put them in emails, and if we found them we would delete them.”

Representative Raul Ruiz, a physician who is the committee’s ranking Democrat, told Morens his actions were a “stain on the legacy” of his colleagues. Representative Debbie Lesko, Republican of Arizona, read email after email from Morens on his avoidance techniques and snapped, “When you say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know this. I didn’t intentionally use my Gmail,’ are you kidding me?”

Morens replied to that and many other pointed questions with a version of “I don’t remember,” drawing strong rebukes from members of both parties.

The only way to reassure the public that smoking guns weren’t deleted is proper transparency.

May 23, 2024, 3:41 p.m. ET

May 23, 2024, 3:41 p.m. ET

Farah Stockman

Editorial Board Member

The Importance of a Personal Bridge Between the U.S. and China

There aren’t a lot of things that make me optimistic about U.S.-China relations these days, but Nicholas Burns’s speech on Wednesday to graduating students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government came close. Burns wasn’t speaking in his capacity as the U.S. ambassador to Beijing. His role that day was as a professor who taught at the Kennedy School, with its remarkably international student body, for 13 years.

He made a point of meeting with 25 of the Chinese citizens studying there and told them in his speech, “We’re proud of you, too.”

“Thank you for being 25 of the 300,000 Chinese students in the United States,” he said. “You’re very welcome in our country.”

He also spoke about bumping into his former students in Beijing, including at church during an Easter Sunday Mass.

“There’s a point in the Catholic Mass where you turn to the person beside you when you say, ‘Peace be with you,’” he recalled. “I turned to my left and before I could say anything, this young woman said: ‘Professor Burns, peace be with you. I was in your Great Powers class in 2014.’”

It struck me as he spoke that it is a fortuitous thing that our man in Beijing has personal relationships with some of China’s best and brightest. When ties between the two governments get strained to the brink, he can still see his Chinese counterparts as human beings, with all the complexity and nuance that entails.

It also means that he knows what’s at stake when negotiating agreements with China, including the U.S.-China Science and Technology Agreement, which has been the basis of scientific cooperation since 1979. That pact, which was once renewed every five years without much debate, has been living on life support, with short-term six-month extensions.

There are good reasons to renegotiate it, and the terms of the U.S.-China relationship itself. China has changed, and we must change, too. But let’s work to preserve what we can of these people-to-people ties and make sure that our interactions are characterized by knowledge of one another, and ideally, mutual respect.



May 23, 2024, 1:34 p.m. ET

May 23, 2024, 1:34 p.m. ET

Rollin Hu

Opinion Researcher

When Antitrust Law Rescues Olivia and Taylor Fans


On a Friday afternoon last fall, Jonathan Kanter, the Department of Justice’s head of antitrust enforcement, met with Times Opinion. I should have been paying attention, but I was staring at a cursed Ticketmaster countdown for Olivia Rodrigo tickets. I never got them.

I later showed Kanter my screen, pointing out the struggle that I (along with teenage girls across America) had endured — indifferent customer service and exorbitant fees. Taylor Swift fans, too, had lodged their Ticketmaster complaints with the D.O.J. after their disastrous experience of buying tickets to the Eras Tour. Kanter assured me he was on the case.

On Thursday, the D.O.J. and dozens of state governments finally filed a suit against Live Nation Entertainment, a corporate glob of revenue streams encompassing music venues, concert promotion, tour merchandise and, of course, Ticketmaster. Kanter stated that all this made Live Nation an “illegal monopoly.” Live Nation called this allegation “absurd” and blamed scalpers and increased demand for high prices.

Live Nation functions both as the middleman and the supplier for a concert’s needs — shuttling both concertgoers and musicians to its own venues, vendors and promoters, while setting the prices and fees as it sees fit. In a news conference, Attorney General Merrick Garland, also a Swiftie, said “it is time to restore competition and innovation in the entertainment industry.”

The net effect of this is an industry strangled by a parasite. We all know how frustrating the concert-ticket experience is for consumers, but the effects of this monopoly on performers is also often disastrous. The musician Clyde Lawrence wrote a guest essay for The Times in 2022 about how the company’s perverse incentives were able to take a cut of nearly every one of his band’s revenue streams. He said if someone paid $42 to Ticketmaster to see his band, Lawrence, perform, the band ended up with $6.

Today’s suit against Live Nation appears to be part of the Biden administration’s broader antitrust playbook, which chooses targets for antitrust suits based on issues like market structure and capacity for innovation, rather than just exorbitant prices. Yes, the “Ticketmaster tax” is high, but the true target of the suit is the power that this company exercises over a large majority of the concert experience. Breaking up Live Nation, as the suit prescribes, might stimulate competition in an industry that has had too little of it for far too long.

Until then, as Olivia Rodrigo would put it, “God, it’s brutal out here.”

May 23, 2024, 12:17 p.m. ET

May 23, 2024, 12:17 p.m. ET

Katherine Miller

Opinion Writer and Editor


Nikki Haley, Ever Pragmatic, Tries to Keep Her Options Open


Nikki Haley’s announcement on Wednesday that she’s going to vote for Donald Trump wasn’t that much of a surprise. Eight years ago, she basically did the same thing: She was critical of him before he got the nomination, then once he did, said she’d vote for him and sort of faded into the background, before her surprise arrival in the administration.

She’ll probably end up in the vice-presidential conversation again, even though Trump already said she won’t be, partly because he seems to like the curveball consideration.

I wrote a lot in the winter about what Haley would do after she lost, specifically how much her plans hung over her campaign long before she lost, and then how for a month she subverted those expectations. And, of course, she has now done what many of the skeptics thought she’d do: say she’d vote for Trump.

But part of the reason I wrote a good deal about this topic is that, to me, it always seemed the after-the-loss phase would be much less interesting for Haley and almost everyone else in the Republican field. Most of the failed candidates would probably say they were voting for Trump, as most Republican officials you can think of have been saying they would do for years — and the far more active issue would be that Trump would be the nominee.

The value proposition was entirely in winning and moving past the Trump era by default. Haley wanted to win, she didn’t, she probably wants to run again as a Republican, and here she is preserving some optionality. That’s probably profoundly disappointing to some people who were invested in her campaign. Maybe they had hoped she would just never say anything about voting this year, as it’s not eight years ago; a lot of dark stuff has happened since 2016.

Haley, as a political figure, is not especially focused on moral cases. The larger ones she made against Trump centered on electability and Ukraine in an ideological sense. Even in the late stages of her presidential campaign, she did not frame her criticism of Trump around Jan. 6 or anything similar but more around his recent behavior.

This is a practical politician who is used to winning and seemed to envision a fusion path to victory that didn’t quite congeal. There are various reasons for that. One is that the segment of Republican voters who want to move past the Trump era is just a small fraction of the party. That might make her a bit of an inverse Pat Buchanan 30 years later, articulating the opposite ideological view and representing only a quarter of the party — the bookend to an era that’s really over or the faint strands of a different era we’ll be able to see only long in the future.



May 23, 2024, 11:51 a.m. ET

May 23, 2024, 11:51 a.m. ET

Ariel Kaminer

Opinion Editor for Ideas and Investigations

Why Congress Loves Toying With University Presidents

When the heads of Northwestern University, Rutgers University and U.C.L.A. arrived on Capitol Hill on Thursday morning to answer questions about antisemitism on their campuses, they faced what may be the scariest end-of-term exam on record. But they had a bountiful study guide, in the testimony of the other university leaders the House of Representatives had called on.

The transcripts of those encounters amount to a powerful syllabus of what not to do.

As you may recall, in early December, Claudine Gay, then the president of Harvard; Elizabeth Magill, then the president of the University of Pennsylvania; and Sally Kornbluth, the president of M.I.T., were hauled — er, invited — to congressional hearings about campus protests over the war in Gaza. It didn’t go well.

In response to questions about what they were doing to protect Jewish students, the presidents produced responses only a very bad lawyer could love. You had to wonder what kinds of questions they had expected. They certainly weren’t brought there for their scholarly expertise, little of which was on display anyway. It seemed more likely that they were there so that critics of academia — particularly those on the right — could score one very big point. The presidents played along beautifully, if unwittingly. Only one of them still has her job.

In April, Nemat Shafik, the president of Columbia, came much better prepared, clearly determined not to make the same mistakes. But her testimony, though it pleased her interrogators, might have been even more damaging. Dutifully reassuring Representative Rick Allen, Republican of Georgia, that no, she definitely did not want “Columbia University to be cursed by God,” eagerly agreeing to punish outspoken faculty members in defiance of the institution’s rules for due process, Dr. Shafik — who capped her testimony by summoning the New York Police Department to dismantle the encampments and arrest scores of protesters — looked like someone frantically throwing ballast overboard to keep from sinking. Well, it worked. For now, she still has her job.

Today’s witnesses, and those who follow, need a better way to navigate this moment. Because critics in Congress have a winning formula, and they’re not going to tire of it any time soon.

May 23, 2024, 5:04 a.m. ET

May 23, 2024, 5:04 a.m. ET

Neel V. Patel

Opinion Staff Editor

Does New York City Really Need More Smoke Shops?


When it comes to weed, I’m not a crank. But I am getting cranky.

Legalized marijuana is a good thing. I live in New York City, and New York State legalized recreational cannabis in the spring of 2021. Since then, I have seen an explosion of shops that sell marijuana products. Some are licensed, but many, many more are not. Ten years ago, I could walk down the block to a dry cleaner or hardware store or a favorite coffee shop for a pastry. Now I’m relearning my neighborhood because these stores have become the umpteenth cannabis shops — legal or otherwise — within a five-minute stroll.

The city was supposed to prevent this from happening, but it botched the rollout of marijuana licenses during legalization. Now the city is flooded with black-market sellers, contributing to an aggravating sense that there is too much marijuana floating around.

And it’s not just New Yorkers: A new report by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that 17.7 million people are using marijuana daily or nearly every day, which is three million more than those who report the same frequency of drinking alcohol.

No, marijuana is not nearly as dangerous as other Schedule 1 substances like heroin. But our understanding of the health effects of very frequent cannabis use is still unsettled. Most of us can accept it’s generally not good to be recreationally consuming mind-altering substances every day.

This week, Maia Szalavitz argued in Times Opinion for balanced policies regulating the probable federal legalization of marijuana. I’d add that we need to think deeper about a psychological balance for our society. It’s wonderful to see marijuana use destigmatized and decriminalized. But it feels as though New York City is tripping over itself to sell us the idea that the whole world is toking up now — and that you should be, too.

How our neighborhoods look should be defined by the things we do and the services we need every day. Having every dry cleaner I know replaced by a front for weed isn’t making our day-to-day lives better.



May 22, 2024, 2:18 p.m. ET

May 22, 2024, 2:18 p.m. ET

Thomas L. Friedman

Opinion Columnist


Western Europe Is Starting to Send a Vital Warning to Israel


The decision by Spain, Norway and Ireland on Wednesday to recognize an independent Palestinian state marks the latest brick in the wall of rejection being built around Israel’s current far-right government, which is asking the world to let it destroy Hamas in Gaza while refusing to work on a new future with non-Hamas Palestinians.

More than 140 countries and the Holy See have recognized the right of Palestinians to have a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. What is noteworthy about this latest move, though, is that major Western European countries, and the United States, had resisted going there, arguing that peace should be worked out between the two parties. Until today.

My focus is always on the practical: Will these recognitions of a nonexistent Palestinian state with undefined borders lead to the only sustainable solution — a real-life peace between two states for two indigenous communities — Jews and Palestinians? The answer is yes and no.

In the short term, these diplomatic recognitions from fellow democracies will not move the Israeli public, Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, told me. In the wake of the horrific murders, rapes and kidnappings perpetrated by Hamas on Oct. 7, he said, Europeans telling Israel that it must accept a Palestinian state — “without even mentioning that it must be demilitarized or any obligations on the part of Palestinians to reject Hamas” — will be “rejected” by the Israeli silent majority.

In the long term, though, it is precisely these kinds of diplomatic shocks that could lead the opposition leaders in Israel to finally escape from the gravitational pull of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who dominates what is or is not permissible to say on this subject — and start calling for two states on terms Israel can live with. One can already see signs of that.

If that does not transpire, though, Israel is heading for a world of hurt. Those recognitions of a Palestinian state by European nations “are a huge straw in the wind, that will grow into a hurricane if Israel does not change course,” Craig Charney, a pollster who was a member of Nelson Mandela’s polling team in the 1990s, told me.

Charney explained that the isolation of South Africa’s apartheid regime started with a voluntary arms embargo in the 1960s, which after the Soweto uprising morphed in the 1970s into a formal U.N. arms embargo, which grew into a popular cause on campuses and in boardrooms in the early 1980s, which grew into a broader economic, military and travel embargo in the mid-1980s — until two great leaders, Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, finally emerged to end apartheid. “But it was a very painful journey,” he said.

May 22, 2024, 5:04 a.m. ET

May 22, 2024, 5:04 a.m. ET

David Firestone

Deputy Editor, the Editorial Board

I’m Donald Trump, and I Disapprove of the Message I Just Posted


In the distant and innocent year of 2002, lawmakers really thought they could cut back on negative and corrosive political advertising with one simple trick: Making candidates personally stand behind their ads. Within a year of passage of the McCain-Feingold Act, politicians started appearing at the end of their ads mouthing much-mocked platitudes like, “I’m John Kerry, and I approve this message!”

Though the requirement is technically still in effect, it seems fantastically quaint now. The law never applied to independent or super PAC ads, which drenched the airwaves in mud, and the “stand by your ad” requirements never applied to internet ads, which would soon become one of the dominant ways in which candidates misled voters.

More crucially, the requirement apparently had little effect on the era of Donald Trump. That was evident as recently as Monday, when Trump reposted a video in which he precelebrated his 2024 victory and answered the question of “what’s next for America?” with an image containing the words: “the creation of a unified Reich.”

It was clear in Trump’s first presidential campaign that this level of cartoonish outrageousness would help him get the attention he craved. As Jim Rutenberg of The Times wrote in 2018, the campaign law never stopped Trump or other Republican candidates from advertising blatant lies and overt racism; being crudely aggressive and openly authoritarian, in fact, had become a useful tool.

Former Representative David Price of North Carolina, an architect of the “stand by your ad” provision in 2002, summed up the new attitude this way 16 years later: “I’m the baddest, meanest, most politically incorrect guy in town and will say whatever pops into my head and I regard that as a political virtue.”

The “stand by your ad” law couldn’t prevent this attitude, but if it had been more effective, it might at least have spared the country the embarrassing spectacle of blaming bad ads on some low-level staff member somewhere. In 2015, when Trump retweeted a dumb post mocking Iowa voters for preferring Ben Carson, he later deleted the tweet and put full responsibility on an intern, who he said had apologized. (Trump himself, of course, almost never apologizes.)

In the case of the Reich video, the campaign said it was created by a “random account online” and reposted “by a staffer,” though the posting was done in Trump’s own name. (The campaign took it down the next day, after the inevitable outcry.) Too bad Congress didn’t prohibit blaming the help for a candidate’s deeply offensive messages.



May 21, 2024, 7:03 p.m. ET

May 21, 2024, 7:03 p.m. ET

Jonathan Alter

Contributing Opinion Writer

An Attack on Justice Merchan Is an Attack on the Rule of Law


No fair-minded person sitting in the courtroom of the Trump felony trial can doubt that Justice Juan Merchan is a wise, impartial and fair judge. He proved it again on Tuesday when he held an important “charging conference” to determine how he will instruct the jury before it begins deliberating next week.

That’s why I was so appalled to see House Speaker Mike Johnson standing outside the Manhattan criminal courthouse last week denouncing the trial as a “travesty of justice.” Echoing Donald Trump, who has repeatedly called the judge “corrupt” and the whole thing “rigged,” the speaker said he was “disgusted” by the trial, though he clearly knows almost nothing about it.

This kind of talk is not only wrong, it’s a threat to the integrity of the American judiciary, which, for all its faults, is the crown jewel of our constitutional system. Johnson, second in line to the presidency, is using some kind of authoritarian playbook when he assaults another branch of government. When an independent judiciary dies, so does democracy.

Inside the courtroom, my go-to guy is Judge George Grasso, retired from the New York bench, who is attending the trial as a spectator.

“This judge is evenhanded,” Grasso told me at the end of the day. “He makes rulings sometimes for the benefit of one side, sometimes for the other. He’s very careful on the facts and everyone has the opportunity to be heard. Even if he’s decided already,” Grasso said, referring to pretrial motions, “he’s willing to listen.”

I got up to leave but Grasso, a former deputy New York police commissioner, wasn’t finished yet, adding: “To attack him is to attack the rule of law.”

Merchan’s Solomonic nature was in evidence Tuesday as he discussed with lawyers for both sides how he will instruct the jury.

On the critical issue of “accessorial liability” — how responsible Trump should be given his distance from the Trump Organization’s bookkeeping department — Merchan said he would instruct the jurors that they “need not to be unanimous on whether the defendant” is liable on each element of the case, though they do have to be unanimous on the overall verdict. This was a win for the prosecution. So was his ruling that the jury will be instructed that “intent to defraud can extend beyond economic concerns.”

At the same time, Merchan seemed to be leaning toward the defense in limiting how far the prosecution could go in pushing accessorial liability. When the district attorney’s office sought to broaden the concept, Merchan said that would mean a “material change” in the state statute and he would not use it in his instructions. And he reserved judgment on the extent to which Trump’s violations of tax laws can be brought into the case.

We won’t know until later this week exactly what the judge’s instructions to the jury will be. But we do know this: When you trash a judge like Merchan, you’re trashing America.

May 21, 2024, 5:08 p.m. ET

May 21, 2024, 5:08 p.m. ET

Charles M. Blow

Opinion Columnist

The Viral Defiance of Jasmine Crockett


Why, exactly, was Marjorie Taylor Greene’s dig at Jasmine Crockett’s fake eyelashes so upsetting?

The two members of the House Oversight Committee tore into each other last week in a verbal assault that was widely seen as a new low for personal relationships in this polarized Congress. Greene began the descent by saying to Crockett that her “fake eyelashes are messing up what you’re reading.”

For Crockett, it was about much more than a rules violation for attacking another member’s physical appearance. For her, it was an insinuation of inferiority.

As Crockett told me, “It triggered me because MAGA is constantly on social media doing all these wild memes about my lashes and talking about my nails.” She continued, “They call me ghetto trash and D.E.I. hire.”

Greene, in that moment, became the personification of her online harassment, Crockett said.

“I interpreted that as not, ‘oh girl, you don’t need to wear lashes because you’re more than enough and you’re beautiful,’” she said, “I interpreted that as, ‘you’re basically like, oh, you ghetto piece of trash.’”

So, Crockett shot back with her one insult about Greene’s appearance, asking the committee chairman, “I’m just curious, just to better understand your ruling, if someone on this committee then starts talking about somebody’s bleach-blonde, bad-built, butch body, that would not be engaging in personalities, correct?”

The alliteration became a viral sensation. People made songs about it. Crockett herself is making apparel featuring the phrase, and she moved to trademark the term.

Crockett has gained a reputation for producing such moments. But the incident also speaks to the nature of the modern Congress, in which spectacle generates its own form of power, in which being a social media clip star is just as important as being an advancer of legislation.

This is not to defend Greene in any way. She is a bully who has proved to be a bona fide stunt queen, exploiting outrage for personal advancement. I think Crockett was right when she told me, “People have really been waiting on someone to put her in her place, because she’s been so out of place and so outlandish this entire time.”

And yet, going toe to toe and tit for tat with someone like Greene is also to descend into chaos, and ultimately into indecorous absurdities, because that is precisely where Greene is most comfortable.

Even Crockett concedes that the clipbait-ification of Congress is a bad thing, saying, “I really dislike that social media and virality is playing a part in legislating.”

But she offered an explanation for her own actions: “I don’t try to create these moments, but I think that what’s happening is that Democrats have been craving someone who would be responsive in the moment to misinformation and disinformation and do it in a very forceful way.”

In her view, it is the motivation that matters most: standing for truth vs. standing for institutional and societal degradation.

The problem is that the country has been lied to so often and for so long that many people can only see their party’s representatives on the noble side of that equation.



May 21, 2024, 1:20 p.m. ET

May 21, 2024, 1:20 p.m. ET

Zeynep Tufekci

Opinion Columnist

Scarlett Johansson’s Voice Isn’t the Only Thing A.I. Companies Want

When OpenAI introduced its virtual assistant, Sky, last week, many gasped. It sounded just like Scarlett Johansson, who had famously played an artificial intelligence voice assistant in the movie “Her.”

On the surface, the choice made sense: Last year, Sam Altman, the C.E.O. of OpenAI, had named it his favorite science fiction movie, even posting the single word “her” around the assistant’s debut.

OpenAI approached Johansson to be the voice for its virtual assistant, and she turned it down. The company approached her again two days before the debut of Sky, but this time, she said in a blistering statement, it didn’t even wait for her official “no” before releasing a voice that sounds so similar to hers that it even fooled her friends and family.

In response to Johansson’s scathing letter, OpenAI claimed that the voice was someone else and “was never intended to resemble hers,” but it took Sky down anyway.

The A.I. industry is built on grabbing our data — the output that humanity has collectively produced: books, art, music, blog posts, social media, videos — and using it to train their models, from which they then make money or use as they wish. For the most part, A.I. companies haven’t asked or paid the people who created the data they grab and whose actual employment and future are threatened by the models trained on it.

Politicians haven’t stepped in to ask why humanity’s collective output should be usurped and monopolized by a handful of companies. They’ve practically let the industry do what it wants for decades.

I am someone who believes in the true upside of technology, including A.I. But amid all the lofty talk about its transformational power, these companies are perpetuating an information grab, a money grab and a “break the rules and see what we can get away with” mentality that’s worked very well for them for the past few decades.

Altman, it seems, liked Johansson’s voice, so the company made a simulacrum of it. Why not?

When you’re a tech industry star, they let you do anything.

May 21, 2024, 11:14 a.m. ET

May 21, 2024, 11:14 a.m. ET

Serge Schmemann

Editorial Board Member

Why the Crash in Iran Was Almost Certainly an Accident

When the first reports came out on Sunday that a helicopter carrying the president of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi, had gone down, the first question on most minds was probably, “Who did it?”

That’s not a far-fetched question. Only last month, several senior Iranian officers were killed in a drone strike on Iran’s embassy complex in Damascus, Syria — a hit broadly attributed to Israel, though Israel rarely acknowledges such things. And in 2020 the United States acknowledged responsibility for the drone strike that killed Qassim Suleimani, a powerful Iranian general.

This time, however, the United States and Israel were quick to say: Not us. Washington even expressed “condolences” after it was confirmed that Raisi had died. Iran was equally quick to declare that the crash, in foggy mountains, was indeed an accident and even reportedly asked the United States for help in locating it.

None of that reflected a change of heart or a disavowal of targeted killing as a clandestine tool or any regret outside Iran over the death of Raisi and his foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, who was also killed in the crash. Both were full-blooded members of the Iranian theocracy, dedicated to its ruthless suppression of any dissent and its proxy wars, especially against Israel. Raisi, in fact, was discussed as a likely successor to the 85-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iranian exiles were reported to have celebrated their deaths in London and elsewhere.

But Iran, already deeply enmeshed in the Israeli conflict through its support for Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Houthi rebels in Yemen, only recently risked getting into a major direct war with Israel by launching a massive wave of drones and cruise and ballistic missiles at Israel in retaliation for the bombing of its Damascus embassy. Accusing Israel or the United States of the killing of the Iranian president would have risked a far more fateful exchange, which no one wanted at this juncture.

Besides, Raisi and Amir Abdollahian probably did not figure high on the American or Israeli enemies list, even if the president was a candidate for supreme leadership. However repugnant, both were tools of the theocracy, not architects of the nuclear, regional or domestic policies that they brutally enforced.

The broad consensus in the immediate aftermath of their deaths was that nothing much would change. There were plenty of other hard-liners lined up to succeed Khamenei, including his son Mojtaba Khamenei, and none of them suggested a promising future for Iran. The only immediate question was how many — or, more accurately, how few — Iranians would show up for the “election” of the next president picked by the supreme leader.

A correction was made on

May 21, 2024


An earlier version of this article misstated the year of the drone strike that killed Qassim Suleimani. It was 2020, not 2000.

How we handle corrections



May 21, 2024, 5:04 a.m. ET

May 21, 2024, 5:04 a.m. ET

Romaissaa Benzizoune

Opinion Editorial Fellow

For Kendrick and Drake, Family Matters


Weeks after the rap battle between Kendrick Lamar and Drake began — triggered by competing claims to greatness — listeners are still electrified. There’s a general agreement that Lamar won, whether because of his masterly storytelling, triple entendres that stretch the horizons of meaning, or flow that feels like the sonic equivalent of an ice bath.

There’s also the fact that some of his most successful, emotionally resonant bars argue that his opponent has failed as a father, son and romantic partner. In one of the catchiest verses in “euphoria,” Lamar accuses Drake of knowing nothing about raising a son. He also raps as a sort of warning, while using coded Canadian slang for “bro”: “It can get deep in the family, crodie / Talk about me and my family, crodie? / Someone gon’ bleed in your family, crodie.” Days later, Drake dropped “Family Matters,” in which he questions why Lamar hasn’t married his fiancée. Drake accuses Lamar, without providing evidence, of abusing her.

Lamar counters with the tragic “Meet the Grahams,” a point-by-point takedown through a series of vignettes addressed mostly to Drake’s family members: his son, Adonis; his mother, Sandra; and an unnamed baby girl that Lamar claims is Drake’s daughter.

These digs are so provocative because the rich and powerful are beholden to few things other than family.

Family motifs carry hip-hop and rap. Rappers are obsessed with whether the women they’re involved with are wifey material. Are they capable of mothering, or are they just hos? The rapper Future, notorious for having seven baby mamas, apparently dreams of domestic bliss. Lil Wayne, Offset, DaBaby and Lamar have all featured family members on album covers. Artists grapple meaningfully with family, whether that family abandoned them or supported them on the come up.

In her 2022 book “Abolish the Family,” Sophie Lewis criticizes family as a norm that “makes a prison for adults — especially women — out of their own commitment to children they love.” But because there is no alternative, family is sacred; this is especially true for Black people.

The traditional family is an untouchable symbol. Women, who bleed more for it, are its figureheads. This is why attacking your competition’s family members — especially his partner or mother — becomes the most potent way to dismantle the honor of a man who appears to have everything.

It’s hardly Drake’s fault that Kendrick Lamar did it better.

May 20, 2024, 7:24 p.m. ET

May 20, 2024, 7:24 p.m. ET

Jonathan Alter

Contributing Opinion Writer


A Tongue-Lashing for a Defense Witness Isn’t Great News for Trump


Eight times a day during his felony trial, a former president of the United States must stand and honor 12 jurors and six alternates as they walk past, eyes straight ahead or down, casting no glances at him. It’s inspiring to watch these ordinary citizens as sovereign soldiers for justice.

On Monday this calm processional was disrupted, as jurors were forced to hurry out after a witness for the defense mocked the authority of the court. Moments later, Justice Juan Merchan ordered the courtroom immediately cleared, and reporters fled in a frenzy.

The reason for all of this was the testimony of Robert Costello, an astonishingly arrogant former federal prosecutor who has defended the likes of George Steinbrenner and Leona Helmsley, borrowing a little of his nasty affect from each.

Michael Cohen testified earlier that Costello and Rudy Giuliani were assigned by Donald Trump to open a back channel to Cohen to keep him in the Trump fold.

Costello testified before a friendly House subcommittee last week that Cohen was a liar. This apparently impressed Trump and — presto! — Costello was the first important witness the defense called after the prosecution rested.

On direct examination, Costello did next to nothing for the defense beyond landing a few more mostly irrelevant blows on Cohen.

On cross-examination by the prosecution, however, you could almost see steam coming out of Costello’s ears. The temerity of this lowly local female prosecutor asking him questions! Merchan ruled earlier that Costello could testify only on certain subjects. When Merchan sustained several objections from the prosecution and struck a couple of Costello’s answers from the record, Costello decided to play judge.

He muttered “ridiculous” and “strike it” after disliking a question. An enraged Merchan excused the jury and said sharply, “I want to discuss proper decorum in my courtroom.” He continued, “You don’t say, ‘Geez,’ and you don’t say, ‘Strike it.’ And if you don’t like my ruling, you don’t give me side-eye and roll your eyes.”

Merchan apparently didn’t want reporters to hear the rest of his tongue-lashing and cleared the courtroom.

None of this was good for the defense, which struggled all day to build on Thursday’s success in making Cohen seem he was lying about the purpose of his calls to Trump in late October 2016. Cohen looked bad admitting he passed $20,000 in cash in a paper bag to Red Finch, a tech firm that uses algorithms to rig online polls. But Trump looked even worse by directing Red Finch to cheat his way onto CNBC’s list of the most famous business leaders of the 20th century. Classic Trump.

Jurors may conclude that the whole bunch of ’em are liars and reasonably doubt every word out of all of their mouths. At this point, that may be Trump’s best hope of avoiding conviction.



May 20, 2024, 3:39 p.m. ET

May 20, 2024, 3:39 p.m. ET

Jonathan Alter

Contributing Opinion Writer


When Michael Cohen’s Lies Help the Case Against Trump


Is it possible to use a lie to illuminate the truth? If the lie is told by the serial liar Michael Cohen in the right context, the answer is yes. Credit the prosecution in the Trump felony trial for pulling off this tricky maneuver.

On Monday, we finally got closer to a key factor in this case: campaign finance law. To convict Donald Trump of a felony, the jury must find that he falsified business records (or directed that they be falsified) with “the intent to commit another crime.” Trump need not be found guilty of any of those other crimes — in this case, it could be tax fraud, intervening in an election or violating campaign finance laws — in order to convict him. But he needs to have crime in mind in at least one of those areas.

Late in the morning, Susan Hoffinger — a prosecution lawyer on her game — drew Cohen’s attention to a letter written by his lawyer, Stephen Ryan, after the Stormy Daniels hush-money story broke in The Wall Street Journal in 2018. At that time, Cohen was still in Trump’s camp, telling the world that he had paid the $130,000 to Daniels on his own. In his letter, Ryan wrote, “The payment in question does not constitute a campaign contribution.”

Hoffinger asked, “Was that a true statement?” Cohen, in his new, polite incarnation, replied, “No, ma’am.” This told the jury: Here goes Cohen, lying again. In other words, because Cohen was such a known liar, it is more plausible than not that he was lying when he said the payment was not a campaign contribution, to protect Trump and himself.

After a sidebar, Justice Juan Merchan turned to the jury and repeated instructions he had already given, during direct examination of Cohen, when the subject of his 2018 guilty plea in the criminal case that sent him to jail for 13 months came up: “Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea is not evidence” of Trump’s guilt.

The judge was basically saying to the jury, “I know you may think these two guys both intended to commit this other crime, but you can’t use Cohen’s guilty plea to convict Trump.”

As Norm Eisen, an expert on campaign finance law, told me during a break, “The jury will listen to the judge, but that’s like saying, ‘Don’t look at the elephant.’”

To emphasize the point further, Hoffinger asked, “Did Mr. Trump approve the substance of these false statements by you?” This brought another “Yes, ma’am.”

The prosecution caught another break when Merchan refused to allow Bradley Smith, a Republican and former chair of the Federal Election Commission, to testify about his conservative interpretation of campaign laws. The judge said if he allowed that testimony — which the defense desperately wants — he would have to let the prosecution call an expert witness with his or her opposing interpretation. Merchan concluded that as judge, it was his job — and his job alone — to interpret how campaign finance law should be regarded by the jury.

All in all, this was an unsexy but significant win for the prosecution.

May 20, 2024, 11:14 a.m. ET

May 20, 2024, 11:14 a.m. ET

Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist

Israel’s Denial of Gaza Aid May Lead to an Arrest Warrant

The decision on Monday by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to seek arrest warrants for leaders of Hamas and Israel probably will not result in anyone being put on trial immediately for crimes against humanity. But it does further tarnish Israel’s invasion of Gaza, add to the isolation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and raise questions about President Biden’s steadfast support for Israel’s war in Gaza.

It’s no surprise that the prosecutor, Karim Khan, is seeking to arrest Hamas leaders for their rampage of murder, rape, torture and kidnapping on Oct. 7, which clearly constituted war crimes. Those protesters making excuses for Hamas should read Khan’s statement and understand Hamas’s brutality.

The allegations against Netanyahu seem to focus on the Israeli government’s decision to throttle aid, including food assistance, to civilians in Gaza and thus cause starvation. The very first allegation listed by the prosecutor against Netanyahu is “Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.”

That has always seemed to me a part of the Israeli operation in Gaza that is particularly difficult to justify. My view is that Israel absolutely had a right to strike Gaza militarily after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks, to destroy Hamas leadership and to try to recover hostages. I have argued that the military operation should have been far more restrained, calibrated to target Hamas officials rather than to level entire neighborhoods, but bombing targets in Gaza was not inherently wrong or unlawful.

What has seemed utterly indefensible has been the constraints placed on aid entering the territory, so that Gaza is teetering on the edge of famine — even as trucks filled with food are lined up at Gaza’s border, waiting to enter. That is what seemed to galvanize the International Criminal Court.

A panel of international experts convened by the International Criminal Court unanimously backed the prosecutor. “Parties to an armed conflict must not deliberately impede the delivery of humanitarian relief for civilians, including humanitarian relief provided by third parties,” the experts said.

I’m not an expert in international humanitarian law, so I’ll leave it to others to argue about whether a prosecution of Netanyahu is justified. But the court’s efforts underscore the moral stain of the starvation in Gaza, in which the United States is complicit.

America’s highest-priority response needn’t be a flurry of legal arguments, but instead could involve a far greater effort — using all the leverage we have — to persuade Israel to allow more aid into Gaza and to ensure that the aid is actually delivered to starving children. Whether or not one agrees that starving children is criminal, it is unconscionable. And preventable.



May 20, 2024, 5:03 a.m. ET

May 20, 2024, 5:03 a.m. ET

Patrick Healy

Deputy Opinion Editor

The Dangerous Political Headwind Facing Biden


Every Monday morning on The Point, we kick off the week with a tipsheet on the latest in the presidential campaign. Here’s what we’re looking at this week:

  • All eyes will be on Donald Trump’s criminal trial in Manhattan this week. His lawyers are expected to wrap up their cross-examination of Michael Cohen on Monday, and then will reveal if Trump is going to testify in his own defense before heading to closing arguments, probably on Tuesday. As much as Trump might be tempted to take the stand, he knows very well the lies he has told about Cohen, Stormy Daniels and his business records over the years — lies he could get caught telling under oath. The risk of testifying is enormous for a born liar, and Trump wasn’t born any other way. I don’t see him taking that chance.

  • For me, this trial has underscored two things: The enthusiasm and loyalty that the Trump base feels for their man, and the dangerous political dynamic that President Biden faces this year. That dynamic, as I see it, is this: Many Americans want change, and while they may respect Joe Biden, they don’t want Joe Biden anymore. Even the Trump criminal trial hasn’t been enough to make Biden look good by comparison, if the latest polls are any measure. My colleague Ezra Klein has a great new column about why this may be, but whatever the reason, the Biden campaign has big choices to make.

  • The biggest choice to me: His campaign has been focused on getting people to respect Biden — by portraying him as a defender of democracy, a champion of a normal America, a trusted ally to the less fortunate, a more decent man than Trump — rather than on making people want the Biden presidency to continue. He gave a good speech Sunday at Morehouse College in Atlanta about manhood and faith, but given his weak polling in that battleground state, I was surprised he didn’t make a stronger case for why people should want him in office for another four years.

    He then headed to another battleground, Michigan, where he is also struggling in the polls. Based on his speech at an N.A.A.C.P. dinner there, I’m sure there was a lot of respect for him in the room, but what’s he doing that’s new or especially persuasive to make more Black voters and others want him for another four years?

  • On Tuesday, Biden heads to New Hampshire, another traditional battleground where he is polling strongly. As Trump gets closer to a verdict on that day, I’ll be watching New Hampshire to see if Biden and his team demonstrate any new thinking to make the case for why Americans should want another four years of his presidency.

May 28, 2024, 6:17 p.m. ET

May 28, 2024, 6:17 p.m. ET

Farah Stockman

Editorial Board Member

Netanyahu Is Sorry/Not Sorry for the Killings in Rafah

I often tell my 8-year-old daughter that saying “sorry” doesn’t cut it if she continues the behavior that she’s apologizing for. It’s a basic lesson that kids learn. World leaders need to learn it, too, apparently.

After facing international blowback for the Israeli military strike that burned dozens of people alive in their tents in a refugee camp in Rafah on Sunday, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called the civilian deaths a “tragic mishap.” He also said that his government was making “utmost efforts not to harm innocent civilians” and that mistakes would be investigated.

It reminded me of the awfully similar statement he gave in April, after the Israeli military attacked a convoy of World Central Kitchen staff members who had just unloaded food aid at a warehouse in Gaza. Those deadly airstrikes took place even though the World Central Kitchen workers drove in a clearly marked convoy and had meticulously coordinated their movements with the Israeli military. After an international outcry, Netanyahu issued a statement calling the deaths “a tragic accident” that “happens in war.”

“We are conducting a thorough inquiry and are in contact with the governments,” the statement read. “We will do everything to prevent a recurrence.”

But by that time, the sheer number of attacks on aid workers and on Gaza civilians seeking aid raised real questions about whether we have been witnessing intentional killings or “reckless incompetence,” as Christopher Lockyear, an official with Doctors Without Borders, noted.

On the side of reckless incompetence, there was that time in December when Israeli soldiers fired on three unarmed men waving white flags — only to discover that they were Israeli hostages who had managed to break free of their captors. At that time, Netanyahu’s office released a statement that called the killings “an unbearable tragedy.” The statement pledged to “learn the lessons” to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.

How many apologies will be issued and investigations pledged before this God-forsaken war ends? Netanyahu’s list of international apologies keeps growing. But the attacks on Rafah — and the unspeakable suffering of Palestinian civilians — continue.

Opinion | Conversations and insights about the moment. (2024)
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