Saturday, August 10, 2019
A piece in Time Magazine looks at what has in many ways become the driving agenda of the Republican Party: restoring a mythic white republic. Yes, empowering corporate greed and polluters are sub-agenda items, but increasingly a desire to restore racial superiority (at least in the minds of Republicans) is the most important issue of all. Meanwhile, much of the wold looks on aghast at what has happened to America as noted by a piece at CNN:
What happens to a country that is an idea, when that idea turns ugly? Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the United States has been the leader of the free world economically, militarily, but also -- as communism and fascism fell by the wayside -- as an idea. . . . . But America was supposed to know better -- to lead us forward, not backward, to know the way.
Winston Churchill said you could always count on the Americans to do the right thing once they had tried everything else. Now, it's not clear who would know what the right thing is when it happens.
We watch the downward spiral helpless, trying not to be dragged in. America's ugly obsession with guns and mass shootings blended this month predictably with the far extremes of anti-immigrant sentiment.
The intense cruelty of US Customs and Border Protection facilities, separating children and parents, and of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, all fall foul of the rosy-eyed view outsiders have of America as a place where anyone can come and make it. The huddled masses were always the point of the United States, but now they seem to have become the enemy within.
What comes next? Does it lead the free world again, or allow China's alien authoritarianism to fill the vacuum? Has America peaked? Will it eventually do the right thing, and who will be left to know when it does?
Foreigners are not the only ones shocked by what is happening to America. Equally shocking is the willingness of Republicans to weaken the nation in exchange for increased white privilege/political power. Like some church denominations that prefer to shrink in size to maintain "purity," today's Republicans ignore the tearing of the social safety net, a weakened economy and military so that they can feel racially privileged. Here are highlights from the Time piece that looks at the manner the Trump/GOP quest for a white republic is harming America:
When in a recent tweetstorm Donald Trump suggested that four Congresswomen of color leave the U.S. and “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” social media exploded. Outrage. Even some news outlets finally let go of the euphemisms and called the tweets “racist.” The Republicans, on the other hand, were quiet. As well they would be. The ideological demographics of the party dictated it.
The GOP’s membership is nearly 90 percent white and can only envision carnage and extinction as it looks upon a rights-based, religious, racial and ideologically diverse America. Or, as Lindsey Graham had noted as early as 2012, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”
In short, the United States of America is not really their America. They yearn for a white republic. That’s why they are fighting to recreate the days when, as Archie Bunker sang, “Guys like us, we had it made.” That’s why they’ve willingly gone along with and participated in a sustained attack on the country itself, allowing it to grow weaker so that they could feel stronger.
Already, Trump and the Republicans have severely harmed the institutional heft of checks-and-balances. But they’re not done. America’s international reputation and influence rest on enormous economic and military strength, as well as the intangible but all-important “soft power” brought on by a robust democracy. All three pillars are necessary to sustain America’s nearly global respect and position, yet — and this was the rub — all three are increasingly dependent on more than just whites in the United States to build and sustain. For white America to exist, America must die. And the Republicans have made their choice.
In their effort to restore a white America, the GOP had to wound the kind of multiracial democracy that not only elected Barack Obama to the presidency but enhanced America’s global reputation. Republicans, therefore, set out to create an electorate that was disproportionately white and conservative. In Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Alabama, North Carolina and more than 20 additional states GOP policies targeted African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Native Americans, the young and the poor to keep them away from the ballot box. Republican governors and GOP-majority state legislatures deployed an array of voter-suppression tactics, including closing hundreds of polling stations in minority and low-income precincts, slashing early voting hours, reinstating poll taxes, mandating discriminatory voter ID laws and purging millions from the voter rolls.
Meanwhile, before his death, Republican legislative mapmaker Thomas Hofeller set in place another key foundation for a white republic. He crafted extreme gerrymandered Congressional districts across the United States that violated the basic Constitutional concept of “one person, one vote.” His legislative maps diluted the electoral strength of large, racially diverse cities, and magnified the power of overwhelmingly white suburbs and sparsely populated rural areas.
The dismantling of a robust, multiracial democracy requires not only acts of commission, such as the 5-4 Shelby County v. Holder decision by the conservatives on the Supreme Court to gut the Voting Rights Act, but sins of omission as well. Mitch McConnell’s flat-out refusal to even engage legislation that would protect the nation’s electoral infrastructure from hacking and foreign interference, despite solid evidence that it occurred in 2016, sends a clear signal that for his ilk this is not an American democracy worth protecting or saving.
The dangerous quest for a white republic is also undermining the U.S. military. When Trump came to power, there were more than 40,000 immigrants in uniform willing to fight and die for the United States. About 5,000 joined every year. The Department of Defense under this Administration, however, has either proposed or implemented policies that renege on promises of citizenship for immigrants in the armed services, issued directives that ban immigrants, even those with special language and medical skills, from serving and threatened to deport the families of those who are currently in the armed forces. . . . . Not surprisingly, in 2018, the Army missed its recruiting goals and then had to lower its expectations for 2019, to avoid two consecutive years of failure.
The economic might of the United States has not been spared either. While much of the discussion on the economy and immigration has focused on the impact on the agricultural sector, the GOP’s xenophobic policies are also taking a direct hit on higher education and the nation’s capacity for and leadership in technological and scientific innovation. A 2013 report notes that international students enrolled in American universities accounted for “70.3 percent of all full-time graduate students in electrical engineering, 63.2 percent in computer science, 60.4 percent in industrial engineering, and more than 50 percent in chemical, materials and mechanical engineering, as well as in economics (a non-STEM field).” Those students bring the brainpower to innovation, research and technology. . . . Yet, with the rise of Trump and his policies and rhetoric, U.S. higher education, which fuels this STEM growth, is simply not as attractive as it had been.
The determination to build MAGA Land explains why what should be obvious tripwires – disrespecting military heroes; engaging in widespread corruption; cavorting with a communist dictator in North Korea and a journalist-killing authoritarian in Saudi Arabia; dodging multiple allegations of sexual assault, including rape; creating horrific scenes of White House-sponsored cruelty on the border; and believing Putin over our own intelligence agencies about Russian interference in the 2016 election – have all failed to dislodge one of the most unpopular presidents in recorded history. Put simply, because Trump promises Republicans a return to white dominance, he is more important to the GOP and its base than the country those in power took an oath to support and defend.
The scurrilous attack on Representatives Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib was just part and parcel of a larger assault on America and the rich diversity and rights culture that are essential for true greatness.
A new book by a writer and filmmaker with the title used for the heading of this post looks at the growing moral bankruptcy of evangelical Christians in the age of Trump. The author argues that as long as evangelicals prioritize political power over true Christian behavior and persuasion by charitable actions, their pews will be continue to lose occupants and their national influence will dwindle in the long term. The author perhaps unrealistically argues given the lust for power of those like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Tony Perkins, that if evangelicals hope to avoid cultural irrelevance in the years to come, they will have to value humility over ego, and resist the seduction of political power, no matter the cost. Nowhere does the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of evangelicals reveal itself more than in their cheering support of the Trump/Pence regime's brutality towards children of undocumented immigrants.
Frighteningly, I suspect that many evangelicals would look at the image of the crying child above and not feel any remorse for the simple reason that the child is not white. The further irony, of course, is that while these evangelicals want to "take back their country," those against whom they target their hate are the descendants of the the original indigenous populations of the Americas and who had their lands stolen from them by white European conquest. Here are highlights from a column in the Washington Post by the author of “Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power Over Christian Values”:
As the debate about how to handle applicants for refugee status at the U.S. southern border gained urgency in recent months, Pew Research Religion waded into the social-media fray on July 7 with a tweet about the results of a poll the organization conducted last year. Pew reported, and online commentators quickly noted, that white evangelical Protestants were the least likely group — amid results sorted by age, race, education and religion — to say that the United States “has a responsibility to accept refugees into the country.”Sixty-eight percent of white evangelical Protestants said the country has no responsibility for refugees. No other demographic group came within 10 points of that result.
[S]ome evangelical leaders had been taken aback when the Pew results were originally released in May 2018, and urged their flocks toward change. But back then, the main question about refugees concerned those fleeing the brutal civil war in Syria. “When faced with a potential conflict between prominent evangelicals’ biblical pro-refugee arguments and
[President]Trump’s opposition,” Brian Newman of Pepperdine University noted in The Post, “the vast majority of white evangelicals choose Trump.”
A year later, with the focal point on refugees from Central America, in much greater numbers and more likely to be vilified by the president, evangelical leaders are largely as one with their congregations.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, ventured this observation on Twitter: “The reports of the conditions for migrant children at the border should shock all of our consciences. Those created in the image of God should be treated with dignity and compassion, especially those seeking refuge from violence back home. We can do better than this.”
Moore’s comments didn’t sit well with Jerry Falwell Jr., inheritor of his father’s Christian empire, president of Liberty University and a prominent evangelical figure.
Some were dismayed by Falwell’s response, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone paying attention the past few years who was surprised by it.
Falwell is one of several leaders in the modern evangelical movement who have helped solidify Christian principles as synonymous with the Republican agenda, and specifically with the [Trump’s]
president’sagenda. Trump, of course, welcomes this way of thinking.
Yet the idea that without Republicans, Christianity is lost, is not unique to the Trump era. The merging of evangelicalism and Republicanism has been underway for decades. It is simply more visible and pronounced under this president — primarily because evangelical support for Trump requires a much higher degree of cognitive dissonance.
That is, fighting for conservative Christian values by unquestioningly supporting someone who not only doesn’t share them but has lived most of his life actively, and unapologetically, in opposition to them.
Stomaching Trump’s behavior and rhetoric — which could generously be described as not characteristic of a Christian — has been rewarded with much-improved prospects for stricter abortion laws and achieving other long-sought goals in what conservative Christians regard as a desperate and escalating culture war.
The evangelical embrace of Trump has been an electoral positive for the Republican Party, but for those who would evangelize, the new reality is tragic.
[True Christians are] meant to speak the truth in a way that invites strangers in, welcomes them, makes them feel loved. To care for the least of these is a Christian value. Expressing and demonstrating it is spreading the Word.
That’s called evangelizing. A movement that based itself on the term but now embraces its antithesis is becoming difficult to recognize.
Friday, August 09, 2019
While the Trump/Pence regime continues to deny that climate change is real and that weather patterns are changing as a result, on Wednesday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ("NOAA") announced that it had increased its predicted odds of an above-average hurricane season. More named storms and stronger storms are part of the prediction. For those of us living on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, this is not welcomed news. Here in Hampton Roads where the population has surged, no major hurricane has hit in decades and evacuation routes - Interstate 64, Route 58, and Route 460 - are limited and traffic gridlock virtually guaranteed. With large industrial sump pumps, waterproofing of the entire first floor, and a natural gas powered whole house generator, our home is more prepared than most, but one would truly rather not put such preparedness to a test. The Washington Post looks at NOAA's updated forecast:
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Wednesday morning that it had increased its predicted odds of an above-average hurricane season. It now estimates a 45 percent chance of an above-average season and a 20 percent chance of the season being below average — an impressive upward jump from its initial predictions in May.“We are now entering the peak months of August through October,” said Gerry Bell, NOAA’s lead hurricane season forecaster. “Historically, 95 percent of hurricanes, and most major hurricanes, occur during this time frame. That’s why we do an update to the outlook. An above-normal season has the highest chance of occurring.”
NOAA is now predicting between 10 and 17 named storms, five to nine of which are expected to become hurricanes. . . . . More important, the revised outlook is calling for two to four major hurricanes, referring to storms that achieve Category 3 status — or greater.
“In addition, the storms we end up getting could be longer-lived and stronger than we had forecast back in May,” said Bell, who referred to the early demise of an El Niño pattern that is typically hostile to hurricanes. “Winds now are forecast to be much more hospitable” to hurricanes.
Bell emphasized that it’s impossible to predict this far ahead whether these storms will hit land. “That comes down to local weather patterns at the time the storm’s approaching,” he said. That can’t be done before a storm has developed. “We just can’t make seasonal landfall predictions.”
The season may seem to be off to a slow start, but in reality that’s normal. Strong hurricanes rarely form before mid- to late August. . . . “But the pattern switches in August. We start getting storms from tropical waves that come off the coast of Africa. It’s a completely different formation mechanism.” And those are the storms that ride all the way across the Atlantic, gathering strength and, on occasion, metastasizing into monsters.
Bell emphasized the need for early preparedness, suggesting that residents along the Gulf Coast and the Eastern Seaboard take advantage of the next few quiet weeks now before a storm develops. “This applies to both coastal and inland residents,” he said. “It’s not only about the numbers. It only takes one storm.”
Bell says that we’ve been in the midst of a more active period of hurricane activity since 1995. . . . The past few years have experienced a spike in hurricane activity. Included was Hurricane Michael in October, the first Category 5 U.S. landfall since Andrew in 1992. Florence dropped nearly three feet of rain in North Carolina, coming on the heels of a 2017 season that featured Harvey, Irma and Maria. Bell warns this year could be another memorable one.
Thursday, August 08, 2019
With its off-year state elections, Virginia is often viewed as a test case of where issues and voter mindsets are trending. Now, with Virginia's so-called urban crescent firmly in the Democrat column in state-wide races, 2019 will offer a test of whether demands for sane gun control laws will help flip control of the Virginia General Assembly to Democrats. After the Virginia Beach mass shooting, Democrat Governor Ralph Northam called a special session of the legislature to address gun control. Despite strong public support for common sense gun control reform, Republicans arrogantly adjourned the session without and debate on the issues and, in my view, basically flipped the middle finger to millions of Virginians. Typical of this attitude is Tommy Norment, current Virginia Senate majority leader, who made obnoxious, derogatory (and uncalled for) remarks about gun control advocates at a CLE - continuing legal education - course where he was a speaker. A piece in the New York Times looks at Virginia's role in this regard. Here are highlights
CENTREVILLE, Va. — At door after door, house after house, Dan Helmer, a Democrat running for the Virginia House of Delegates, found voters of both parties telling him one thing as he canvassed for support Tuesday night: Do something about the mass shootings.“I have it on the TV right now,” Reza Darvishian, a State Department security engineer, told Mr. Helmer on the porch of his home. “I’m sick of listening to all of this stuff.”
The mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, last weekend have rebooted the national discussion over gun violence and ignited a bitter fight between Democrats and President Trump over whether his divisive rhetoric encouraged the violence. Now Virginia’s off-year elections in November loom as the first political battlefield on the issue. Republicans hold only one-vote majorities in both the House and Senate. Democrats are aiming to capture both chambers and pass new gun control legislation next year.
The Virginia elections will help measure the potency of the issue with voters after a series of mass shootings that has outraged many Americans. And it will match the resources of the movement’s biggest supporter, former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, against the National Rifle Association, the long-dominant Virginia-based gun rights organization that faces internal turmoil and a steady loss of influence.
The 2018 midterms marked the first time the N.R.A. was outspent by gun control groups in a national campaign.
The issue is already highly charged in Virginia, which had its own mass shooting in May, when 12 people were killed in a Virginia Beach municipal building. The massacre prompted the Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, to call a special session in July and ask lawmakers to consider a package of eight gun control proposals, including banning assault-style weapons and implementing universal background checks.
Republicans ended the session after 90 minutes . . . . .
Now Mr. Cox and Mr. Hugo are the top targets for Democrats and gun control proponents. Both represent suburban districts long in Republican control where voters have rejected the party in the Trump era.
“This will be the first thing on the docket,” said former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. “People are fired up. People are sick and tired of saying, ‘My thoughts and prayers are with you,’ and they want action.”
The Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, the political arm of Mr. Bloomberg’s gun control organization, said this week that it would invest at least $2.5 million in Virginia before Election Day . . . . “Virginia is a bellwether state and we are going to be there,” said John Feinblatt, Everytown’s president. “There is no doubt this is a test. This is the next theater for what’s going to happen everywhere in 2020.”
With its odd-year elections, Virginia has a long record of serving as a leading indicator for national contests the following year. The state’s voters in 2009 were the first to reject Democrats in the Obama era, foreshadowing the rise of the Tea Party, and did the same to Republicans in 2017 following President Trump’s election. That year, Democrats swept out a generation of long-tenured suburban Republican lawmakers while coming within a coin flip in a tied race of winning control of the state’s House of Delegates for the first time since 1999.
Virginia remains a complex state demographically and culturally, with wide swaths of rural areas where Confederate flags are common and belief in gun rights sacrosanct. But the current gun control debate comes as the state has nearly completed a Republican-to-Democratic transition in statewide elections, as urban and suburban voters have swung hard away from Republicans over the last decade.
Help make history. Make sure you are registered to vote and go to the polls in November, 2019, and vote a straight Democrat ticket. If your senator and delegate are in uncontested races, donate time and money to Democrats in competitive races (this is what the husband and I are doing). We need gun control reform and a host of other measures which will only happen when Republicans are swept from control of the General Assembly.
History - a subject increasing ignored in America's education system and of which far too many Americans are woefully ignorant - can teach us lessons. Some will argue that what happened in the past has little relevance to today, yet over the centuries, human nature has not changed as much as some would like to think and megalomania, narcissism, and tribalism remain alive and well under the veneer of civility. Moreover, many remain an easy target for demagoguery and toxic forms of populism that stir mankind's worse instincts. Throw in propaganda such as what one sees on Fox News - which today incredibly blamed liberals for fanning hate and division - and the same dangers from the past lurk ready to undermine democratic government and, I would argue, common decency. In a very long piece in New York Magazine Andrew Sullivan looks at the parallels between America in 2019 and the Roman Republic of over two millennia ago and notes the danger signs that ought to disturb true American patriots who put the U.S. Constitution and the rule as a top priority. Here are article excerpts:
[O]ne obvious and arguably apposite parallel exists: the Roman Republic, whose fate the Founding Fathers were extremely conscious of when they designed the U.S. Constitution. That tremendously successful republic began, like ours, by throwing off monarchy, and went on to last for the better part of 500 years. It practiced slavery as an integral and fast-growing part of its economy. It became embroiled in bitter and bloody civil wars, even as its territory kept expanding and its population took off. It won its own hot-and-cold war with its original nemesis, Carthage, bringing it into unexpected dominance over the entire Mediterranean as well as the whole Italian peninsula and Spain.And the unprecedented wealth it acquired by essentially looting or taxing every city and territory it won and occupied soon created not just the first superpower but a superwealthy micro-elite — a one percent of its day — that used its money to control the political process and, over time, more to advance its own interests than the public good.
As the republic grew and grew in size and population and wealth, these elites generated intense and increasing resentment and hatred from the lower orders, and two deeply hostile factions eventually emerged, largely on class lines, to be exploited by canny and charismatic opportunists. Well, you get the point.
Of course, in so many ways, ancient Rome is profoundly different from the modern U.S. . . . But there is a reason the Founding Fathers thought it was worth deep study. They saw the destabilizing consequences of a slaveholding republic expanding its territory and becoming a vast, regional hegemon. And they were acutely aware of how, in its final century and a half, an astonishing republican success story unraveled into a profoundly polarized polity, increasingly beset by violence, shedding one established republican norm after another, its elites fighting among themselves in a zero-sum struggle for power. And they saw how the weakening of those norms and the inability to compromise and mounting inequalities slowly corroded republican institutions. And saw, too, with the benefit of hindsight, where that ultimately led: to strongman rule, a dictatorship.
So when, one wonders, will our Caesars finally arrive? Or has one already?
Drawing parallels between Rome’s fate and America’s is not new, of course — from Gore Vidal’s trenchant critique of American imperialism in the Cold War, to Patrick Buchanan’s A Republic, Not an Empire in the late ’90s, to Cullen Murphy’s Are We Rome? in the aughts. But the emergence of Trump adds a darker twist to the tale of imperial overreach and republican decline: that the process is accelerating, and we may be nearing a point of no return.
The story of Rome is as unlikely as America’s. Its republic emerged from a period of rule of consecutive kings, elected for life, beginning around 750 BCE, or so later Roman historians claimed. That period lasted a couple of centuries before the last king, a despised figure called Tarquinius Superbus, was overthrown. From then on, from 509 BCE to 49 BCE, the rule of one man was anathema and the title rex a political kiss of death. A Senate and other assemblies replaced the monarch, and power was more widely distributed.
The new offices of state, including the most powerful, the consuls, were all held by at least two people, with strict term limits of one year — and with each officeholder given a mutual veto, to guard against any monarchical pretensions. The power awarded to the consuls and the Senate — representing the landed elite and, increasingly, the business class — was balanced against that of the tribunes (there were, at first, two), representing the masses, who had their own assembly with real clout. A new office of “dictator” was created — a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency assignment to one man to assume total power if civil unrest threatened the republic as a whole. But the dictator had a maximum of six months in office, after which he had to step down.
I’m crudely simplifying a complex and evolving set of arrangements, but the core idea was the dispersal and balancing of power, so that every segment of Roman society, apart from slaves, could have some input, even as the Senate effectively, if not definitively, called the shots. (It was a republic and emphatically not a modern democracy.) What kept this contraption together, without a written constitution, was something the Romans came to call the mos maiorum, the “way of the elders.” Tradition, in other words, or what we would call long-standing democratic norms — adherence to precedent, give-and-take in political negotiations, respect for proper procedures, a willingness to accept half-measures rather than imposing zero-sum solutions, and, above all, loyalty to the republic over one’s own ambition. Whenever someone seemed to push against these norms, they were demonized as a wannabe king.
The fact that Rome was in a semi-permanent war with its neighbors — a “forever war” if ever there was one — gave military commanders greater and greater clout, and the loot they hauled from Africa to Asia overwhelmingly enriched the elites beyond anything they had previously experienced.
These were decades and centuries of sudden growth in wealth and territory, but also tension. The forever war required small landowners to leave their farms untended for extended periods to fight. Romans saw many of these small estates fall into decay or ruin and begin to be bought up by wealthier landowners and consolidated into vast estates.
And into this fraught moment came the first real populists, the Gracchus brothers, who rose — from within the elites, as Trump and many others have in the millennia since — in the 130s BCE.
The first, Tiberius, . . . he went straight to the People’s Assembly. Then he tried to get his fellow tribune thrown out of office to avoid his veto, and ran for an unprecedented second term as tribune, at which point several senators, out of procedural tools, organized a small mob, grabbed whatever came to hand, entered the vote-counting arena, and clubbed Tiberius and 300 of his supporters to death.
This kind of violence seems unthinkable in America today, though it was not so unusual in the decades before the Civil War, when senators were repeatedly at each other’s literal throats on the Senate floor. But look past the violence and the situation seems a bit more familiar: deepening polarization, mutual mistrust, abandonment of norms, and trashing of precedents. Soon, it was possible to speak, very roughly, of two Romes: the rich Establishment and the rising masses, the optimates and the populares, waging a zero-sum war through Roman political institutions.
Tiberius’s cause was taken up by his younger brother, Gaius, who ran for the tribunate, won, and proposed even more distribution of land, new colonies for landless citizens, a major investment in roads and infrastructure, the removal of some senators from juries, and a subsidized grain dole for any Roman in need. It was something for everyone but the elites . . . A bloodbath ensued, in which Gaius was slaughtered along with 3,000 of his followers, their corpses thrown into the Tiber.
In The Storm Before the Storm, Duncan quotes the great Roman historian Sallust, who, looking back, pulled a “both sides” argument — “The nobles began to abuse their position and the people their liberty.” . . . A cycle of polarization had begun.
Within a decade, though, the underlying patterns deepened, and nearly all of Sulla’s reforms collapsed. What lasted instead was his model of indefinite dictatorship, with the power to make or repeal any law. He had established a precedent that would soon swallow Rome whole.
This was no longer a republican culture protected by an austere elite, but an increasingly authoritarian one, with great military leaders and a handful of wealthy men dominating the political scene through money, legions, and military success. The ancient institutions and customs still existed but were slowly losing relevance. Worrywarts in the Senate and intelligentsia became concerned about strongmen emerging within the system — “The political situation alarms me more each day,” wrote Cicero. Two in particular stood out: Pompey, a hugely successful celebrity general who, at the tender age of 35, was made consul; and an up-and-coming Julius Caesar, rampaging through Gaul and then Britain, besting Pompey’s imperial acquisitions, and generating wide popular enthusiasm.
These two celebrity commanders had so many soldiers, had conquered so much territory and won such widespread support, that the Senate had effectively become irrelevant. It could vote, and it did, but its votes no longer mattered.
The civil war that followed lasted four years, spanned several continents, resulted in Pompey’s murder in Egypt and gave Caesar a monopoly of power. He used it on a grandiloquent scale; his parades were beyond sumptuous and displayed the humiliation of his domestic as well as his foreign enemies, as the wider public thrilled to the spectacle. He was granted the position of dictator by the Senate to stabilize the war-torn polity, then reappointed as dictator in 48 BCE for a whole year, and by 44 BCE had been formally named dictator-for-life.
His assassination — the famous murder on the Ides of March — was accomplished not by a mob but by a group of senators, who feared another rex and worried that their own attenuated power — or the republic itself — would disappear entirely. But it was a last-ditch attempt to save any kind of checks and balances within the system. After years of further civil war, Caesar’s adopted nephew, Augustus, finally destroyed his enemies, shed any pretense of republican rule, and established himself as emperor. His reign would last 40 years. Only emperors succeeded him.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes . . . . The vast American middle class that stabilized liberal democracy at the height of the 20th century never existed in Rome. We have a welfare state that provides some measure of buffer against popular revolt and a written, formal Constitution far harder to flout brazenly than the unwritten mos maiorum of the Romans.
But still. It’s impossible to review the demise of the Roman Republic and not be struck by the parallel dynamics in America in 2019. We now live, as the Romans did, in an economy of massive wealth increasingly monopolized by the very rich, in which the whole notion of principled public service has been eclipsed by the pursuit of private wealth and reality-show fame. Cynicism about the system is endemic, as in Rome. The concept of public service has evaporated as swiftly as trust in government had collapsed. When the republican virtues of a Robert Mueller collided this year with the populist pathologies of Donald Trump, we saw how easily a culture that gave us Cicero could turn into a culture that gave us Caesar.
Class conflict — which, in America, has merged with a profound cultural clash — has split the country into two core interests: the largely white lower and middle classes in the middle of the country, roughly equivalent to Rome’s populares and susceptible to populist appeals by powerful men and women; and the multicultural coastal elites, whose wealth has soared as it has stagnated for the rest, and who pride themselves on their openness and meritocracy: the optimates. And just as in late-republican Rome, each side has begun not to complement but to delegitimize the other.
The battles in this Cold Civil War take place all the time on the front lines of the two forces: in states where fights over gerrymandering and vote suppression are waged; in swing states in presidential elections; in the courts, where the notion of impartial justice has been recast in the public mind as partisan-bloc voting; in Congress, where regular order is a distant memory, disputes go constantly to the brink, the government is regularly shut down, the entire country’s credit is threatened, and long-established rules designed for republican compromise, like the filibuster, are being junked as fast as any Roman mos maiorum.
And the American system has a vulnerability Rome didn’t. We have always had a one-man executive branch, a head of state, with exclusive and total command of the armed forces. There is no need for an office like Rome’s dictator for when a systemic crisis hits, because we have an existing commander-in-chief vested with emergency powers who can, at any time, invoke them.
So what happens when a populist celebrity leverages mass resentment of elites to deploy that power — as Marius and Sulla and Pompey and Caesar did — in ever more expansive, innovative, and authoritarian ways?
When you think of how the Founders conceived the presidency, the 21st-century version is close to unrecognizable. Their phobia about monarchy placed the presidency beneath the Congress in the pecking order, stripping him of pomp and majesty. . . . . Like Roman commanders slowly acquiring the trappings of gods, presidents have long since slipped the bounds of republican austerity into a world of elected monarchs, flying the world in a massive, airborne chariot, constantly photographed, and now commanding our attention every single day through Twitter.
No one in the American system at this level [i.e., Trump] has ever behaved like this before, crudely trampling on republican practices, scoffing at the rule of law, targeting individual citizens for calumny, openly demonizing his opponents, calling a free press treasonous, deploying deceit impulsively, skirting the boundaries of mental illness, bragging of sexual assault, delegitimizing his own government when it showed even a flicker of independence — and yet he almost instantly commanded the near-total loyalty of an entire political party, and of 40 percent of the country, and this loyalty has barely wavered.
If republicanism at its core is a suspicion of one-man rule, and that suspicion is the central animating principle of the American experiment in self-government, Trump has effectively suspended it for the past three years and normalized strongman politics in America. Nothing and no one in his administration matters except him, as he constantly reminds us. . . . . He muses constantly about extending his term of office indefinitely, just as those Roman populists did.
Does he mean it? It almost doesn’t matter. He’s testing those guardrails to see just how numb a public can become to grotesque violations of ethical or rhetorical norms, and he has found them exhilaratingly wanting. And he has an unerring instinct for where the weaknesses of our republican system lie.
Is recovery possible? The Roman lesson is that it is in the short term, but that recovery is fragile because norms are so much easier to break than to build, let alone rebuild, and that the longer republican norms are trashed, the weaker they subsequently become. And much depends, of course, on what comes immediately after, whether these compounding trends can be nipped or reversed before they entrench themselves.
In Rome, it took a long while, but there were periods of much quicker erosion, as charismatic figures established a space for authoritarianism that came to be permanent. And then, of course, a sudden and unexpected collapse. In America, the question of whether this history will repeat itself hangs ominously in the air. But that sound you hear in the distance is of future Caesars preparing to make their move.
Wednesday, August 07, 2019
Despite requests from local politicians that he stay away, Donald Trump traveled to both Dayton, Ohio - which he referred to as Toledo earlier in the week - and El Paso, Texas, today. White House officials claimed the trips were to "honor victims" and to praise first responders even thought Trump in typical fashion ended up attacking opponents and Democrats and never once apologized for his own incendiary language that was paraphrased by the El Paso shooter. Thankfully, many protesters came out to oppose Trump's visit although one would never know this if they only watched Trump TV, a/k/a Fox News where Tucker Carlson called "white supremacy a "hoax." As CNN is reporting, for over a year, the Trump?pence regime has blocked Department of Homeland Security efforts to beef up efforts to counter domestic terrorism, most of which involved some form of white supremacy. One should never be duped by Trump's disingenuous and insincere remarks about the latest mass shootings. His regime has encouraged white supremacist violence and blocked efforts to stop it. Here are highlights from CNN:
White House officials rebuffed efforts by their colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security for more than a year to make combating domestic terror threats, such as those from white supremacists, a greater priority as specifically spelled out in the National Counterterrorism Strategy, current and former senior administration officials as well as other sources close to the Trump administration tell CNN.
"Homeland Security officials battled the White House for more than a year to get them to focus more on domestic terrorism," one senior source close to the Trump administration tells CNN. "The White House wanted to focus only on the jihadist threat which, while serious, ignored the reality that racial supremacist violence was rising fast here at home. They had major ideological blinders on."
"Ultimately the White House just added one paragraph about domestic terrorism as a throw-away line," a senior source involved in the discussion told CNN. That paragraph mentions "other forms of violent extremism, such as racially motivated extremism, animal rights extremism, environmental extremism, sovereign citizen extremism, and militia extremism." It made no mention of white supremacists. (A separate paragraph in the report mentions investigating domestic terrorists with connections to overseas terrorists, but that does not seem to be a reference to white supremacists.)
The document mentions that domestic terrorism is on the rise, but the subject is only briefly addressed, all the more stark given that FBI Director Christopher Wray's July testimony that there have been almost as many domestic terror arrests in the first three quarters of the fiscal year -- about 100 -- as there have been arrests connected to international terror. Wray noted that the majority of the domestic terrorism cases were motivated by some version of white supremacist violence, adding that the FBI takes the threat "extremely seriously."
Said a current senior Trump administration official, "DHS is surging resources to the [domestic terrorism] issue, but they're behind the curve because of lack of support from the White House.
Critics of President Donald Trup hit out at the White House's lack of support for the department's attempts at combating domestic terrorism, including multiple Democratic presidential candidates.
"People are getting killed, and this President is turning a blind eye to America's national security threats," said California Sen. Kamala Harris on Twitter.
Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, another presidential candidate, who is from El Paso, tweeted, "Despite the evidence, despite the threat to our country that domestic terrorism poses, this president did nothing. He made us less safe."
Why the White House pushed back so much is a matter of some debate. The former senior administration official noted that the White House, specifically the President, has a problem criticizing white supremacy, and says he "didn't have expectation they would get behind it" -- the brief mention of domestic terrorism as a threat in the National Counterterrorism Strategy -- "because the preponderance of it involves white supremacy and that's not something this administration is comfortable speaking out against, until the other day by the President and even that was pretty hedged."
The senior source close to the Trump administration acknowledged the President's reluctance to criticize white supremacists was part of "an overlay" of all these discussions. "You know it will trigger the boss," the source said. "Instinctively you know he's going to be averse to mentioning that."
During the lengthy back and forth, the senior source tells CNN, one White House official proposed that the National Counterterrorism Strategy focus radical Islamists and foreign drug dealers, since that would please the President. "But those things don't go together," the source recalled. "That was part of the warped worldview they had there."
Like it or not, everything Trump - and Pence - does involves the issue of skin color. If the terrorists are white, expect the White House to block responsible actions to counter the threat to the general population. Why? Because a large segment of Trump's base is comprised of white supremacists.
Increased racial hatred, increased gun violence, trade wars damaging American farmers and perhaps moving the country toward a recession, and frayed relations with long time allies. All trace back in varying degrees to a single individual: Donald Trump. The main is a boil (if not a cancer) on nation and conservative columnist and former Republican Jennifer Rubin makes the case that almost anyone else would be better in the White House and would set the stage where serious, sane progress to address pressing problems could begin. If Trump cannot be removed by impeachment, then he needs to be removed at the ballot box in November 2020. The cancer that he embodies must be removed and not allowed to further metastasize. True, we will still have to contend with his dangerous supporters, but his removal from office will be a much needed beginning. Here are column excerpts:
Even if we get a Democratic president Americans don’t like all that much, or whose limitations are obvious, we’ll be in a better spot than we would be with
PresidentTrump. That’s an unsurprising assumption by Democrats. But, increasingly, independents and disaffected Republicans — as seen from their praise of former president Barack Obama’s remarks on the mass murders in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio — know this to be true. “Anyone but Trump” should be the goal for all Americans, even Republicans.For one thing, Republicans won’t have to observe the debasement of other Republicans like Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), who lamely tried to create some moral equivalence between Trump, who incites white nationalism of the type motivating the El Paso terrorist, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who incites no one to hatred and whose ideology — progressive capitalism — hasn’t driven anyone to kill.
Whatever the problem, things would be better without Trump even with a president whose ideology and/or performance might not thrill most Americans.
Combating domestic terrorism? Just getting rid of the instigator of white nationalism would be a plus. The Post reports:
The administration has also curtailed or disbanded a Department of Homeland Security program that had been created to counter violent extremism by working with regional authorities and organizations to identify those vulnerable to radicalization, whether by Islamist groups or the far right. . . . this presidency has come to be defined by policies that are aligned with aspects of the white nationalist agenda and his penchant for fanning racial animus.
We could curtail Trump’s presidency and rebuke the white nationalist ideology, or we could reelect the man who stoked their grievance. It’s pretty easy to figure out the best option from a national security standpoint.
The trade war with China? Trump now has seized “control” of policy, . . . And how’s that working out? Not well:
Business executives, economists, and former government officials have said the worsening conflict between the White House and China was damaging the U.S. economy. Business investment contracted in the second quarter of 2019, and a number of White House officials are worried that the economy is beginning to slow.
Get rid of Trump and you would, at the very least, have a less chaotic, less impulse-driven policy from someone who understands U.S. consumers and not China pay the tariffs.
Relations with allies? They’ll immediately improve without Trump. Human rights policy? Once Trump is gone, we wouldn’t be in the business of praising mass murderers (e.g., Kim Jong Un). Environmental policy? Even some Republicans are dumping their climate change denial, but as long as Trump is in office, any hope of progress is illusory. Russia? No Democrat or Republican likely to be elected will kowtow to Vladimir Putin.
I don’t mean to suggest that all our problems will go away if Trump does, nor do I mean to suggest it doesn’t matter who succeeds him. However, we would eliminate a slew of Trump-created problems and inanities and make it possible rationally to address issues.
It’s not hyperbole to say Trump is a threat to our democracy, to national security and to progress on virtually any issue. We want the best possible president, but we will settle for anyone who isn’t Trump.
If you care about America and the future, vote Democrat in 2020 and in Virginia's 2019 elections.
Tuesday, August 06, 2019
With messaging coming out of the White House indicating that racism and white nationalism involves "fine people" and social media websites failing to ban racists and misogynistic messaging, it is hard to not believe that things are going to get far worse in America - two countries advised citizens to avoid travel to the USA - before, hopefully, Trump and the GOP lose power and the pendulum will begin to swing back towards normalcy. A piece at The Atlantic that interviews a former white nationalist adds to concerns that things may well get worse in the near term. That being the case, all that most of us can do is be sure to vote Republicans - especially Trump in 2020 - out of office and demand that social media sites take action to block hate motivated white nationalist propaganda. Here are highlights from The Atlantic piece:
It’s going to get worse. That’s the warning of a former violent extremist, Christian Picciolini, who joined a neo-Nazi movement 30 years ago and now tries to get people out of them. White-supremacist terrorists—the ones who have left dozens dead in attacks in Pittsburgh, New Zealand, and El Paso, Texas, in recent months—aren’t just trying to outdo one another, he told us. They’re trying to outdo Timothy McVeigh, the anti-government terrorist who blew up an Oklahoma City federal building and killed more than 100 people in 1995—the worst terrorist attack in the United States before September 11, 2001.
On Saturday morning in El Paso, a gunman shot and killed 22 people, including children, at a Walmart. The store was crowded for back-to-school-shopping season. The victims included a high-school student, an elementary-school teacher, and a couple carrying their infant son, who survived. And the shooter, according to an online manifesto [that quoted Trump] authorities attributed to the suspect, saw himself fighting a “Hispanic invasion” as he gunned them down.
That shooting, along with another one hours later, in which an attacker killed nine people over 30 seconds in Dayton, Ohio, renewed the clamor for gun-control laws that has become a grim ritual after such events. But Picciolini said that even if the U.S. could get a handle on its gun problem, terrorists can always find other ways.
“I have to ask myself, Do we have white-nationalist airline pilots?” Picciolini said. “There have to be. I knew people in powerful positions, in politics, in law enforcement, who were secretly white nationalists. I think we’d be stupid and selfish to think that we don’t have those in the truck-driving industry.”
Picciolini . . . . spoke with us yesterday morning about the mainstreaming of white nationalism, what it takes to de-radicalize far-right extremists, and why the problem is metastasizing. . . . this whole idea of the “Great Replacement,” of “white genocide,” the belief that immigrants are going to overwhelm the white race. That, frankly, is a crock of shit. But we see things in the news that seem to kind of stand behind these notions—that border facilities are overwhelmed. Even though it’s not really a threat to anyone’s race. Migration has been happening for centuries, and we’re still here. Nations change over centuries, borders have been different. But that’s all the language white supremacists have been using for decades.
It’s no longer a lone-wolf-type situation, which is something we were pushing in the ’80s and ’90s. The ideology then was that there were no leaders, there was no centralized movement, individuals were empowered to act on their own. But the internet has really solidified this movement globally through all these forums online; they’re connected in the virtual world in ways that we often can’t be in the real world. I would say that the threat of a transnational, global white-supremacist terrorist movement is spreading.
|“He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists |
and criminals,” Beto O’Rourke said of Trump.
The mainstream media's false equivalency in news coverage during the 2016 presidential election helped elect Donald Trump. Sadly, the problem continues and belatedly Democrats are beginning to call out lazy and irresponsible journalists and media outlets. There is ZERO equivalence between Trump/GOP lies and fact, data and science based Democrat positions, yet one would rarely get that message from even outlets like the New York Times that fail to take on outright lies and/or continue to broadcast untrue propaganda. If one is a responsible journalist, you do NOT merely parrot a lie or hate speech and never call out the individual lying or disseminating false and/or racist statements. The Founding Fathers saw the free press as the bulwark of protection against dishonest politicians and policies, yet too much of the media has failed to fulfill its critical role in safeguarding both the truth and democracy itself. A piece in Politico looks at the long overdue backlash against an often complicit media. Here are excerpts:
A liberal backlash against the news media’s coverage of Donald Trump and the 2020 race was already brewing when the New York Times published a five-word headline Monday night summarizing the president’s reaction to the mass shootings over the weekend: “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism.”“Unbelievable,” steamed Beto O’Rourke. “That’s not what happened,” wrote Kirsten Gillibrand. “Lives literally depend on you doing better,” Cory Booker tweeted.
New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet said senior editors quickly recognized problems with the original headline Monday night and rewrote it. “The fact that Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker didn’t like it didn’t influence me,” Baquet said in an interview Tuesday. “I don’t need the entire political field to tell me we wrote a bad headline. It was evident.”
Still, the furious response capped an outpouring of frustration lately from 2020 candidates, Democratic strategists and left-leaning columnists over everything from CNN’s handling of last week’s primary debate to coverage of race and white supremacists to the years-old gripe that news organizations are too willing to amplify Trump’s words.
O’Rourke channeled that discontent best Sunday with an exasperated reaction to a reporter’s question about what Trump could do in response to the deaths of 22 people in El Paso at the hands of a suspected white nationalist.
“He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals,” O’Rourke responded. “Members of the press, what the fuck?”
Neera Tanden, the president of the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, told POLITICO that O’Rourke “spoke for millions of liberals” with those three words.
“If you’re thinking, ‘Can Trump make this better?’ you’re absolving him of his role in this, and it makes people think you don’t get it,” Tanden said.
Democrats and progressives expressed some frustration with the media in 2016, claiming that journalists neglected Sen. Bernie Sanders early on and that they were obsessed with Hillary Clinton’s emails. And Democrats are quick to distinguish their critique of the news media from that of the right, especially Trump’s attacks on journalists as “the enemy of the people.” O’Rourke, for one, has told crowds that the media is not the “enemy,” and nearly every Democratic campaign has vowed to bring back White House press briefings if elected.
Still, the critique of the news media is cropping up more as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up, including during the primary debates hosted by CNN. And it has the potential to hurt the news business’ reputation with a large chunk of the electorate, just as Republican voters became less inclined to trust the mainstream media after years of candidates decrying what they viewed as liberal bias.
“A vast swath of Democratic voters are pretty angry at the media,” . . . . They see a media obsessed with Trump voters who like his rhetoric and little interest in those targeted by his rhetoric. I think Beto's comments spoke to a feeling that media as currently constructed is not up to the moment we are living in."
Brian Fallon, who served as deputy press secretary for Clinton’s 2016 campaign and is now executive director of progressive organization Demand Justice, told POLITICO on Monday afternoon that “a lot of Democrats are understandably exasperated about the broken state of the media in the age of Trump.”
“Instead of the media standing up against his lies, we get thought pieces about whether the truth really matters anymore,” he continued. “Instead of calling out Trump's racism, we see headline writers engaged in acrobatics designed to achieve some false measure of objectivity.”
On Monday night, Fallon was one of the prominent progressive critics to pounce on the Times’s initial headline choice about Trump’s press conference on the shootings. Editor Baquet "cares more about being seen as impartial by diehard supporters of Donald Trump than he does about faithfully representing what is happening in American politics,” Fallon tweeted.
Some liberal Times subscribers, however, disagree. The hashtag #CancelNYT was trending Tuesday morning. Adam Jentleson, who served as deputy chief of staff to former Sen. Harry Reid, said on Twitter that he was going to do just that.
Appeasing Trump and/or his base is NOT what a responsible journalist does. Instead, exposing lies and racist and misogynist fear mongering is what needs to be done.“I resisted for a long time but I’m cancelling my NYT subscription today,” he tweeted. “Great reporters but terrible editorial judgment on headlines and social media, which is all most people read. It can’t be the paper of record anymore if it doesn’t accurately report the news.”