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Twitter’s Last Gasp?
Plus: Admissions after affirmative action.
Good morning. I hope your July Fourth holiday was joyful and relaxing. I’m Mona Charen, host of The Bulwark’s Beg to Differ podcast, sitting in for Charlie today.
The big news of the day is the fate of Twitter. As part of the continuing cage match (perhaps literal?) between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, the latter will be debuting a Twitter competitor called Threads tomorrow. This comes on the heels of what some observers are calling Twitter’s “worst weekend ever.”
As a tech naïf myself, I don’t have a prediction about what will happen, but can report my own profoundly mixed feelings. On Twitter, I’ve made friends, discovered great articles, learned to reevaluate old adversaries, and been amused and enlightened.
On the other hand, the site has arguably played a big role in degrading public discourse. It has rewarded snark and cynicism at the expense of nuance and enabled cyberbullying. Elon Musk has made all of that worse. If it dies or becomes a desiccated husk of its former self, I will miss it but not mourn it.
SCOTUS Term Wrapup
And speaking of degraded public discourse, the response to the Supreme Court’s final decisions has featured a fair amount of hyperventilating. On the whole, I’m happy with the Court’s results this term. (Over on the Bulwark homepage, check out Kim Wehle’s summary of eight of the term’s most consequential cases in her roundup titled “How Far Did SCOTUS Go This Term?”)
It’s hard to square the denunciations of a “radical” Supreme Court with the decision in Moore v. Harper, the “independent state legislature” doctrine case. Had it gone the other way, the decision would have been a serious blow to democratic legitimacy. Here is what former Circuit Court Judge Michael Luttig, a conservative, said about the stakes in that case:
In Moore v. Harper, the Court will finally resolve whether there is a doctrine of constitutional interpretation known as the ‘independent state legislature.’ If the Court concludes that there is such a doctrine, it would confer on state legislatures plenary, exclusive, and judicially unreviewable power both to redraw congressional districts for federal elections and to appoint state electors who quadrennially cast the votes for president and vice president on behalf of the voters of the states. It would mean that the partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts by state legislatures would not be reviewable by the state courts—including the states’ highest court—under their state constitutions.
Such a doctrine would be antithetical to the Framers’ intent, and to the text, fundamental design, and architecture of the Constitution.
We can be grateful that three conservative justices joined three liberals to ensure that this distortion of our constitutional structure was firmly rejected.
As for the affirmative action cases, it’s important to bear in mind, as even some of the Court’s dissenters failed to do, that the issue is no longer black versus white, in every sense of that term. We are a multi-ethnic country, and discriminating against one minority (Asians) to benefit African Americans and whites is not okay. It violates a principle enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment that states cannot deprive any individual of the equal protection of the laws, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which declares that “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Rejecting affirmative discrimination is not the same thing as saying there is no longer a problem of racism in America, or that the effects of centuries of slavery and discrimination have been overcome. That would be foolish, and it is not what the Court said. Rather, the majority found that continuing to discriminate on the basis of race is not the answer to persistent racism or inequality or any other problem.
It’s no good to say that racial discrimination is fine if your motives are benevolent. Tell that to the Asian and other students who are rejected. It’s not as if Asians have suffered no historical discrimination, but even if they had not, the Court has repeatedly held that living 17-year-olds should not be asked to bear the taint of sins committed by their ancestors (or, in the case of millions of descendants of immigrants, other people’s ancestors). That way lies grievance and resentment on the part of those disfavored. Where admission to very selective schools is concerned, it’s a zero-sum game. Someone’s win is someone else’s loss.
In addition to inviting resentment, so-called benevolent racial discrimination has other serious downsides. It leads to stereotyping. An entire industry has sprung up coaching Asian high schools students how to seem less Asian in their college applications. And the beneficiaries, African-American students, rather than being treated as individuals, are assumed to bring a distinctively black perspective to the table. It’s hard enough for a freshman to figure out who he is, far less speak for an entire ethnic group.
Further, black students who are boosted by affirmative action into schools they would not otherwise be qualified to attend suffer a variety of undesirable outcomes. As Ayaan Hirsi Ali points out,
As for those black Americans who do get into college, only 42 percent graduate within six years—well below the national average of 63 percent. Forgive me for spelling this out, but it bears emphasizing: if you are a black college student in America, you are more likely to drop out than graduate.
Black and Hispanic students abandon STEM majors at much higher rates than other students.
As Justice Clarence Thomas noted in his concurring opinion, racial preferences are
over inclusive, providing the same admissions bump to a wealthy black applicant given every advantage in life as to a black applicant from a poor family with seemingly insurmountable barriers to overcome. In doing so, the programs may wind up helping the most well-off members of minority races without meaningfully assisting those who struggle with real hardship.
And guess what, 71 percent of Harvard’s African-American and Hispanic students come from families in the top 20 percent of the income distribution.
Meanwhile, historically black colleges and universities enroll just 10 percent of America’s black undergraduates yet they produce 19 percent of the country’s black STEM graduates, 50 percent of the black lawyers and doctors, and 80 percent of the black judges.
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In addition to inviting racial animosity, affirmative action saddles its “beneficiaries” with a stigma. Black Americans (and members of other preferred minorities), whether or not they benefited from affirmative action, often labor for their entire lives under the stigma of being an “affirmative action hire” or an “affirmative action admittee”—a feeling of uncertainty about whether their achievements are fully earned. That is corrosive.
My own view is that affirmative action is the lazy way out of dealing with the problems of poor schools in poor neighborhoods. A preference to the already advantaged black kids of doctors and lawyers does nothing for those who most need a boost. Race-blind consideration or, yes, affirmative action, for those at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale would be more just. But it’s not enough to say we’ll replace race-based affirmative action with class-based affirmative action, because the poor are so hobbled. Some of their disadvantages are very hard for governments to affect—broken homes, dangerous neighborhoods, addicted parents. But some are susceptible to government reform, namely the schools.
A new complaint, filed with the Education Department, challenges Harvard’s use of legacy and donor preferences on the grounds that they disproportionately benefit whites. Good. Eliminate them. But we spend too much brain space obsessing about those at the very top and too little considering the millions of kids in bad K-12 schools. If the Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard has the effect of focusing on the broken pipeline of education in the lower grades, it will have done far more for disadvantaged students of all ethnicities than any racial preference program.
1. The GOP Presidential Field’s Brightest Ideas
“On my first day as Commander-in-Chief, the strongest nation on Earth will stop retreating from our own southern border,” [Tim Scott] bellows from his campaign website. “If we want to prevent deadly drugs like fentanyl from infiltrating our communities, we need to stop the illegal immigrants who bring them across our borders . . . either with a strong border wall or by military force.”
The only problem with this analysis is that it’s wrong. As the Washington Post reported earlier this year, “U.S. citizens comprise 86 percent of fentanyl trafficking convictions in 2021, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent agency of the federal judiciary branch.” The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, reported that just 0.02 percent of illegally crossing immigrants arrested by border agents had fentanyl on them. Moreover, the Post found that “[Customs and Border Patrol] data show the drug is overwhelmingly smuggled through U.S. ports of entry—the official crossings—which account for more than 96 percent of fentanyl seizures along the border since the start of the 2023 fiscal year on Oct. 1.” Nearly all border smuggling is happening in California and Arizona, not the entire Southern border.
2. Who Is Really a Conservative Nowadays?
3. ‘The Corruption of Lindsey Graham’ Read By Will Saletan
By popular demand, The Bulwark has produced an audio adaptation of Will Saletan’s blockbuster article / ebook tracing the transformation of the South Carolina senator from Trump critic to Trump truckler, and what it reveals about the GOP and authoritarianism. New chapters will be released every Monday through the summer on The Bulwark Podcast—with the first dropping this past Monday:
To Start Your Day on the Right Foot. . .
I leave you with this dance video that I stumbled upon. I can’t watch it without feeling that the world is pretty great. Enjoy!