Saturday, December 12, 2020

A Political Obituary for Donald Trump

In his bizarre and dark inauguration address, Donald Trump talked about American carnage.  Now, with his regime of misrule, endless lies, corruption on an immense scale, and huge damage done to America, it seems in retrospect that Trump was unknowingly describing the coming four years of his toxic and repulsive regime.  Some of the damage can be reversed, but some - e.g., the utter debasement of the Republican's Party and the equivalent of a self-administered lobotomy among his supporters will take years or perhaps decades to undo. Indeed, as long as he continues to breathe, Trump will be a cancer in America's fabric seeking to metastasize.  As the date of his exit from the White House approaches a little more than a month away, America is weaker, more isolated diplomatically, far deeper in debt, suffers from a far more divided populace, and truth itself has been badly assaulted. His supporters want to hear none of these truths as the give adulation to a malignant narcissist who cares absolutely nothing for their wellbeing and sees them only as a prop for his insatiable ego.  A column in The Atlantic looks at the ugly legacy Trump leaves behind.  Here are column highlights:

To assess the legacy of Donald Trump’s presidency, start by quantifying it. Since last February, more than a quarter of a million Americans have died from COVID-19—a fifth of the world’s deaths from the disease, the highest number of any country. In the three years before the pandemic, 2.3 million Americans lost their health insurance, accounting for up to 10,000 “excess deaths”; millions more lost coverage during the pandemic. The United States’ score on the human-rights organization Freedom House’s annual index dropped from 90 out of 100 under President Barack Obama to 86 under Trump, below that of Greece and Mauritius. Trump withdrew the U.S. from 13 international organizations, agreements, and treaties. The number of refugees admitted into the country annually fell from 85,000 to 12,000. About 400 miles of barrier were built along the southern border. The whereabouts of the parents of 666 children seized at the border by U.S. officials remain unknown.

Trump reversed 80 environmental rules and regulations. He appointed more than 220 judges to the federal bench, including three to the Supreme Court—24 percent female, 4 percent Black, and 100 percent conservative, with more rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association than under any other president in the past half century.

The national debt increased by $7 trillion, or 37 percent. . . . . Trump signed just one major piece of legislation, the 2017 tax law, which, according to one study, for the first time brought the total tax rate of the wealthiest 400 Americans below that of every other income group. In Trump’s first year as president, he paid $750 in taxes. While he was in office, taxpayers and campaign donors handed over at least $8 million to his family business.

America under Trump became less free, less equal, more divided, more alone, deeper in debt, swampier, dirtier, meaner, sicker, and deader. It also became more delusional. No number from Trump’s years in power will be more lastingly destructive than his 25,000 false or misleading statements. Super-spread by social media and cable news, they contaminated the minds of tens of millions of people. Trump’s lies will linger for years, poisoning the atmosphere like radioactive dust.

Presidents lie routinely, about everything from war to sex to their health. When the lies are consequential enough, they have a corrosive effect on democracy. . . . But these cases of presidential lying came from a time when the purpose was limited and rational: to cover up a scandal, make a disaster disappear, mislead the public in service of a particular goal. In a sense, Americans expected a degree of fabrication from their leaders.

Trump’s lies were different. They belonged to the postmodern era. They were assaults against not this or that fact, but reality itself. They spread beyond public policy to invade private life, clouding the mental faculties of everyone who had to breathe his air, dissolving the very distinction between truth and falsehood. Their purpose was never the conventional desire to conceal something shameful from the public.

The most mendacious of Trump’s predecessors would have been careful to limit these thoughts to private recording systems. Trump spoke them openly, not because he couldn’t control his impulses, but intentionally, even systematically, in order to demolish the norms that would otherwise have constrained his power. To his supporters, his shamelessness became a badge of honesty and strength. They grasped the message that they, too, could say whatever they wanted without apology. . . . So the level of American political language was everywhere dragged down, leaving a gaping shame deficit.

Trump’s barrage of falsehoods—as many as 50 daily in the last fevered months of the 2020 campaign—complemented his unconcealed brutality. Lying was another variety of shamelessness. Just as he said aloud what he was supposed to keep to himself, he lied again and again about matters of settled fact—the more brazen and frequent the lie, the better. Two days after the polls closed, with the returns showing him almost certain to lose, Trump stood at the White House podium and declared himself the winner of an election that his opponent was trying to steal.

This crowning conspiracy theory of Trump’s presidency activated his entitled children, compliant staff, and sycophants in Congress and the media to issue dozens of statements declaring that the election was fraudulent. Following the mechanism of every big lie of the Trump years, the Republican Party establishment fell in line.

This narrative will widen the gap between Trump believers and their compatriots who might live in the same town, but a different universe. And that was Trump’s purpose—to keep us locked in a mental prison where reality was unknowable so that he could go on wielding power, whether in or out of office, including the power to destroy.

For his opponents, the lies were intended to be profoundly demoralizing. Neither counting them nor checking facts nor debunking conspiracies made any difference.

For believers, the consequences were worse. They surrendered the ability to make basic judgments about facts, exiling themselves from the common framework of self-government. They became litter swirling in the wind of any preposterous claim that blew from @realDonaldTrump. Truth was whatever made the world whole again by hurting their enemies—the more far-fetched, the more potent and thrilling.

How did half the country—practical, hands-on, self-reliant Americans, still balancing family budgets and following complex repair manuals—slip into such cognitive decline when it came to politics? Blaming ignorance or stupidity would be a mistake. You have to summon an act of will, a certain energy and imagination, to replace truth with the authority of a con man like Trump. . . . Though the U.S. is still a democratic republic, not a totalitarian regime, and Trump was an all-American demagogue, not a fascist dictator, his followers abandoned common sense and found their guide to the world in him. Defeat won’t change that.

Trump damaged the rest of us, too. He got as far as he did by appealing to the perennial hostility of popular masses toward elites. In a democracy, who gets to say what is true—the experts or the people?

Trump’s legacy includes an extremist Republican Party that tries to hold on to power by flagrantly undemocratic means, and an opposition pushed toward its own version of extremism. He leaves behind a society in which the bonds of trust are degraded, in which his example licenses everyone to cheat on taxes and mock affliction. Many of his policies can be reversed or mitigated. It will be much harder to clear our minds of his lies and restore the shared understanding of reality—the agreement, however inconvenient, that A is A and not B—on which a democracy depends.

But we now have the chance, because two events in Trump’s last year in office broke the spell of his sinister perversion of the truth. The first was the coronavirus. The beginning of the end of Trump’s presidency arrived on March 11, 2020, when he addressed the nation for the first time on the subject of the pandemic and showed himself to be completely out of his depth. The virus was a fact that Trump couldn’t lie into oblivion . . . .

The second event came on November 3. For months Trump had tried frantically to destroy Americans’ trust in the election—the essence of the democratic system, the one lever of power that belongs undeniably to the people. His effort consisted of nonstop lies about the fraudulence of mail-in ballots. But the ballots flooded into election offices, and people lined up before dawn on the first day of early voting, and some of them waited 10 hours to vote, and by the end of Election Day, despite the soaring threat of the virus, more than 150 million Americans had cast ballots—the highest turnout rate since at least 1900. [Trump] The defeated president tried again to soil our faith, by taking away our votes. The election didn’t end his lies—nothing will—or the deeper conflicts that the lies revealed. But we learned that we still want democracy. This, too, is the legacy of Donald Trump.

One can hope that history will be very brutal to Trump.  In the shorter term, one can hope that either New York City's or New York State's top prosecutors put him behind bars for the rest of his life.  An added bonus would be the conviction of his devil's spawn children.

More Saturday Male Beauty


Christofascists and The Threat to American Democracy

I have many times stated that from my years in the Republican Party, the party's descent into insanity tracks directly with the rise of Christofascists in the party base and on city and county committees where they were cynically voted in by opportunists who foolishly thought they could control the Frankenstein monster they were creating. Now, the Christofascists are the core of the Republican Party base and most Republican elected officials are terrified of upsetting them - witness the over 100 House Republicans who signed onto Texas' frivolous lawsuit to over throw the 2020 presidential election.  Trump has skillfully conned the Christofascists by promising them special rights and playing upon their belief they are being persecuted merely because their ability to persecute others has been blunted.  The problem going forward is how does one deal with those for whom "belief" and a fantasy based "world view" override objective reality and facts?  Arguments based on logic, reason, and expertise mean nothing to this component of society which is nothing less than a threat to the nation's democracy.  Andrew Sullivan - with whom I often disagree - has summed up the situation well in a post on his blog (paywall protected).  Here are excerpts:

A long time ago now, frustrated with what I believed was a grotesque fusion of Christianity and politics in the Bush era, I coined the term “Christianism.” I regret it in some ways because it alienated many of the people I was trying to persuade. But its analogy to Islamism was not designed to argue that Christianists were in any way violent; just that, like Islamists, they saw no real distinction between politics and religion. 

I mention this because it seems to be a critical element in the current crisis of American democracy that we may now be missing. In a manner very hard to understand from the outside, American evangelical Christianity has both deepened its fusion of church and state in the last few years, and incorporated Donald Trump into its sacred schematic. Christianists now believe that Trump has been selected by God to save them from persecution and the republic from collapse. They are not in denial about Trump’s personal iniquities, but they see them as perfectly consistent with God’s use of terribly flawed human beings, throughout the Old Testament and the New, to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. 

This belief is now held with the same, unwavering fundamentalist certainty as a Biblical text. And white evangelical Christianists are the most critical constituency in Republican politics. If you ask yourself how on earth so many people have become convinced that the 2020 election was rigged, with no solid evidence, and are now prepared to tear the country apart to overturn an election result, you’ve got to take this into account. This faction, fused with Trump, is the heart and soul of the GOP. You have no future in Republican politics if you cross them. That’s why 19 Republican attorneys general, Ted Cruz, and now 106 Congressional Republicans have backed a bonkers lawsuit to try to get the Supreme Court to overturn the result. 

Biden’s victory was not God’s will. Therefore it couldn’t have happened. That’s the core conviction. That no court and no judge, including conservative ones, can find any evidence for it in over 50 lawsuits does not matter. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. “Who cares what I can prove in the courts? This is right. This happened,” declared influential evangelical Eric Metaxas this week, asserting Trump’s victory as a metaphysical truth.

This Thanksgiving, Metaxas opined: “Trump will be inaugurated. For the high crimes of trying to throw a U.S. presidential election, many will go to jail.” On November 30, he told Trump on his radio show: “Jesus is with us in this fight for liberty. … I’d be happy to die in this fight. This is a fight for everything. God is with us.”

This week, as Rod Dreher reports, he’s taken it up yet another notch. “You might as well spit on the grave of George Washington,” Metaxas says of the election “fraud”.  “It’s like somebody has been raped or murdered … This is like that times a thousand.” To those Republicans who are not up in arms, he says: “Yes, you are the Germans that looked the other way when Hitler was preparing to do what he was preparing to do.” Tomorrow, Metaxas will speak at the “Jericho March”, a demo in DC and elsewhere to demand the overturning of the election Joe Biden just won. 

On his indispensable blog, Dreher quotes a Greek Orthodox layman, one of the other leaders at tomorrow’s march, who argues that “[Trump] will soon be faced with a monumental choice. He can submit to Biden’s fraudulent victory … or he can refuse to do so and maintain control by any means necessary … I hope and pray that Trump can rise to this moment, and that not only is God not done using him as a cudgel of divine punishment against the wicked powers of the world, but has in fact preserved and prepared him for precisely this opportunity.” Not my italics. 

You might be a little alarmed at a Greek Orthodox Christian using the Malcolm X language of “by all means necessary.” But here’s what he means: “After [Trump] has fully exposed the attempt to steal the election, he must use his authority under the Insurrection Act to arrest and/or kill everyone who participated in this plot. He must arrest the leadership of the Democrat Party, everyone of significance in the mainstream media, the major players in big tech, and the numerous other globalist string pullers.” Alrighty then.

Among the other speakers at the Jericho March will be General Mike Flynn, who has endorsed the imposition of martial law and a new election.

Are these fringe nutcases? One wishes. The fusion of Trumpism with religious fundamentalism is everywhere you look. Jenna Ellis, one of Trump’s lawyers, is a home-schooled evangelical Christian who wrote a book arguing that “our system of government is founded upon the Christian worldview and God’s unchanging law, not a secular humanist worldview.” 

In a Marist poll, 60 percent of white evangelicals do not believe the 2020 election result was accurate, and 50 percent believe that Trump should not concede. That’s a big chunk of the GOP that Trump has tended to assiduously — from rushed anti-transgender tweets to welding the US to Netanyahu’s agenda in the Middle East. 

[T]he long-established network of evangelical churches and pastors, and the unique power of an actual religion to overwhelm reason, gives the right an edge when it comes to total suspension of disbelief. Christianists are not empiricists or skeptics. They’re believers. This time around, it’s belief in a “multi-layered, multi-dimensional” conspiracy involving hundreds of people in several states, rejected by almost every court. 

And Trump is at the center of their belief system now, which includes all his lies. The relationship of many with him is that of evangelicals and their pastor: a male, patriarchal figure who cannot be questioned and must be obeyed. Trump’s political genius has been in sniffing out this need to believe, and filling it, all the time, tweet by tweet, lie by lie, con by con. No wonder Trump Trutherism is now a litmus test for the Christianist faith, and therefore for all Republican office-holders. In January, if all else fails, they will try to force the US Congress to take a stand, with every GOP member on the line. It’s yet another brick removed from the foundation of the republic.

To survive, liberal democracy must have some level of moderation, some acceptance of the legitimacy of the other side, and room for compromise. It has to be based in empiricism, shared truth, deliberation and doubt. Fundamentalist religion has none of those qualities.

When this psychological formation encounters politics, it cannot relent, it cannot change its mind, it cannot simply move on. And a core element of our politics right now — and part of the unprecedented resilience of Trump’s support — is this total suspension of judgment by a quarter of all Americans. When that certainty of faith met a malignant narcissist who cannot admit error, a force was created that continues to cut a ferocious swathe through our culture and our democratic institutions.

Saturday Morning Male Beauty


History Will Scorn the Republican Cowards Who Fear Trump

Throughout history in both politics and other spheres of life, doing what is right, moral and decent can require courage and even the risk of one's position or very life. History is full of those who have exhibited courage in the face of danger and death - think of Germans who opposed Hitler, some of who paid with their lives.  History is also full of cowards who when the choice was between honor, decency, the rule of law and honesty failed miserably putting personal advantage first.  These include the Vichy French, German industrialist who pandered to Hitler, toadies of Josef Stalin, Republicans afraid of Joseph McCarthy, and now, Republicans - the so called Vichy Republicans in some circles - who have gone to any and all lengths to prostitute themselves to Donald Trump and his base of deplorables, a base that might not have fallen to outrageous lies and untruths had Congressional Republicans exhibited even the slightest evidence of having a spine and put their oaths of office ahead of avoiding primary challenges. I hope history will be very harsh on these cowards who would have overthrown America's democracy for short turn advantage.  Meanwhile, I hope history will revere those who did what was right, including state level Republicans in Georgia, many of whom have faced death threats from Trump's foul supporters.  An op-ed at CNN looks at the phenomenon.  Here are highlights:

In the final days of his desperate, dishonest campaign to upend last month's election, President Donald Trump tossed off a particularly audacious and offensive challenge aimed at those he somehow thinks can change the outcome.

"Let's see if they have the courage to do what everybody in this country knows is right," he said.

With time running out, his blatant hope was to intimidate and bait state legislatures or the Supreme Court into overturning a vote of the people, by legislative or judicial fiat. Trump's perverse definition of "courage" and "right," of course, amounts to a willingness to bend truth to his will and prize his continuation in office over American democracy. 

Yet against this madness, we have witnessed many acts of genuine courage. Of people of both parties bravely doing right.

Secretaries of state and election authorities in the contested states, Republicans and Democrats, have weathered death threats and vows of political retribution simply for doing their jobs and counting, recounting and certifying the vote. They have shown enormous courage and deserve our gratitude and respect.

Yes, they were simply doing what the law required and democracy demands by certifying the vote in their states. But these officials acted knowing that in the hothouse of Trump's Republican Party, doing their duty now could cost them their jobs in primaries later. 

Dozens of judges -- some appointed by Trump -- have summarily dismissed his ferocious, groundless assault on the election results. They have shown gratifying fidelity to the law. Trump has made clear from the very start of his presidency that he believed that every branch, every person in government, should be beholden to him before the law and their oaths of office. 

He told us before the election, in rushing through the Supreme Court confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, that he wanted nine justices to rule on election disputes. His implication was clear: My justices. My way. 

But this very conservative Supreme Court would not (so far, at least) be enlisted in the profane and unconstitutional mission of overturning an election on his behalf.  As they and other federal judges have lifetime appointments, perhaps it took less courage than it did for those elected officials who have risked their careers -- and even their lives -- to stand by the rule of law. But the justices deserve credit, too, for firmly and unanimously rejecting the absurd lawsuits Trump and his loyalists have pushed their way. 

Courageous, too, have been those handful of elected Republicans who have acknowledged the results, congratulated President-elect Joe Biden and urged a peaceful, orderly transition of power. 

But if we have seen acts of courage, we also have seen cowardice. 

Rudy Giuliani and the Trump legal team have debased themselves, our legal system and democracy by filing one frivolous lawsuit after another, crying fraud on TV -- but not in the courtroom, where evidence is required.

And too many Republican officials, fearful of getting sideways with Trump's base, have dutifully echoed his dishonest charges of vote fraud. A group of Republican state attorneys general lined up in support of a preposterous eleventh-hour filing from the attorney general of Texas, asking the Supreme Court to overturn the results in four states Trump lost. 

The suit was filed without standing, supporting evidence or a colorable argument. Nonetheless, Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana circulated an email among his Republican House colleagues urging them to sign an amicus brief in support of this outrageous folly. Trump is "anxiously awaiting the final list" to see who signs on to the amicus brief, Johnson wrote, implying dire consequences for anyone who failed join. Within 24 hours, more than 100 House Republicans complied. 

Almost as egregious have been the many Republican members of the House and Senate who have refused to acknowledge Biden's victory and countenanced weeks of delay in the transition.

Through their silence, they have given credence to Trump's blatant lies, which have now gained traction among a large majority of Republicans nationally. 

It's crazy, authoritarian stuff. If it were occurring anywhere else, Americans would condemn it as an appalling attempt to undermine democracy. 

History will scorn the cowards who meekly complied with Trump's scheme to tarnish and overturn the election -- and honor the many who showed courage and fidelity to the rule of law during this time of trial.

Friday, December 11, 2020

More Friday Male Beauty


U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Frivolous Texas/Trump Lawsuit

Many Americans - at least those not totally delusional and/or gaslighted by Der Trumpenfuhrer - are breathing yet another sigh of relief after the U.S. Supreme Court drop kicked the frivolous and outlandish lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a man seriously seeking a presidential pardon. Paxton's conduct was shameful enough, but even more shameful was the joinder in the lawsuit by 17 Republican state attorneys general and over 100 Republican members of the House of Representatives, who sought to overthrow a legitimately held election and engage in what would have amounted to a coup d'etat.   Everyone of these individuals violated their oaths of office and those who are licensed attorney should face disbarment.  Sadly, the Court issued a short ruling merely rejecting the case and stated that Texas had no legal standing to file the lawsuit.  Some such as SCOTUS Blog had hoped for a far stronger and scathing ruling that might have done more to undercut the lies of Trump and his enablers:

The justices’ decision whether to do that [write a scathing ruling] needs to account for this extraordinary, dangerous moment for our democracy. President Donald Trump, other supportive Republicans, and aligned commentators have firmly convinced many tens of millions of people that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. If that view continues to take hold, it threatens not only our national politics for the next four years but the public’s basic faith in elections of all types that are the foundations of our society.

A simple five-page per curiam opinion genuinely could end up in the pantheon of all-time most significant rulings in American history. Every once in a long while, the court needs to invest some of its accumulated capital in issuing judgments that are not only legally right but also respond to imminent, tangible threats to the nation. That is particularly appropriate when, as here, the court finds itself being used as a tool to actively undermine faith in our democratic institutions — including by the members of the court’s bar on whom the justices depend to act much more responsibly.

In a time that is so very deeply polarized, I cannot think of a person, group or institution other than the Supreme Court that could do better for the country right now. Supporters of the president who have been gaslighted into believing that there has been a multi-state conspiracy to steal the election recognize that the court is not a liberal institution. If the court will tell the truth, the country will listen.

The Court failed on this point, but it did reject the frivolous case and in doing so closed the door to similar ridiculous suits.  The New York Times looks at the Court's action:

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a lawsuit by Texas that had asked the court to throw out the election results in four battleground states that President Trump lost in November, ending any prospect that a brazen attempt to use the courts to reverse his defeat at the polls would succeed.

The court, in a brief unsigned order, said Texas lacked standing to pursue the case, saying it “has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections.”

The order, coupled with another one on Tuesday turning away a similar request from Pennsylvania Republicans, signaled that a conservative court with three justices appointed by Mr. Trump refused to be drawn into the extraordinary effort by [Trump] the president and many prominent members of his party to deny his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., his victory.

It was the latest and most significant setback for Mr. Trump in a litigation campaign that was rejected by courts at every turn.

Mr. Trump has said he expected to prevail in the Supreme Court, after rushing the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in October in part in the hope that she would vote in Mr. Trump’s favor in election disputes.

He was right that an election dispute would end up in the Supreme Court. But he was quite wrong to think the court, even after he appointed a third of its members, would do his bidding. And with the Electoral College set to meet on Monday, Mr. Trump’s efforts to change the outcome of the election will soon be at an end.

Friday’s order was not quite unanimous. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, issued a brief statement on a technical point. But it was nonetheless a comprehensive rebuke to Mr. Trump and his allies. It was plain that the justices had no patience for Texas’ attempt to enlist the court in an effort to tell other states how to run their elections.

The majority ruled that Texas could not file its lawsuit at all. “The state of Texas’ motion for leave to file a bill of complaint is denied for lack of standing,” the court’s order said.

Legal experts almost universally dismissed Texas’ suit as an unbecoming stunt. In invoking the Supreme Court’s “original jurisdiction,” Texas asked the justices to act as a trial court to settle a dispute between states, a procedure theoretically possible under the Constitution but employed sparingly, typically in cases concerning water rights or boundary disputes.

In a series of briefs filed Thursday, the four states that Texas sought to sue condemned the effort. “The court should not abide this seditious abuse of the judicial process, and should send a clear and unmistakable signal that such abuse must never be replicated,” a brief for Pennsylvania said.

Friday Morning Male Beauty


How Does the GOP Move On Past 2020

John Bolton is not among my favorite individuals but he offers sound advice to the Republican Party on how to move on past 2020 and Donald Trump's destruction of the party's moral standing in an op-ed in the Washington Post.  Much of it revolves around kicking Trump to the curb and trying to make the GOP a party of ideas and policies again.  Neither may be feasible given Trump's cult like followers and the reality that the GOP base is now largely  comprised of the least educated - and I would argue, least intelligent - portion of the nation's population (Christofascists by definition embrace ignorance and superstition over science and knowledge) on whom policy niceties may be lost. Then too there is the likelihood that Trump will continue to stir the pot even after he is forced from the White House and that structure is deeply sanitized in more ways than one. The GOP also needs younger and more imaginative leadership to assist in this transition.  At the moment no one appears up to the role with some of the self-anointed "young guns" embracing ignorance on a massive scale despite their Ivy League educations.  Here are op-ed highlights:

On Monday, Donald Trump will officially lose the 2020 presidential election. In their respective states, electoral college delegations chosen by the citizens will meet to cast their ballots. If there are no “faithless” electors, 306 votes will go to Joe Biden for president and Kamala D. Harris for vice president, and 232 to Trump and Mike Pence. There will be no lawful way to change this result.

Most Americans will be relieved that the election is over. Unfortunately, too many Republicans will see only the ratification of a “stolen election.” Why? Because for months Trump has proclaimed he could lose only through foul play, and because too few Republicans said this was nonsense.

Rather than “America First,” Trump’s true slogan is “Trump First,” so his fantasy will not end easily. Nonetheless, starting with the resolution of the electoral college vote, Republicans, and all Americans, can take significant steps to move beyond Nov. 3, without endless, debilitating reargument of what happened.

First, everyone — Republicans especially — should recognize that the national political dynamic will change irrevocably at noon on Jan. 20. It will never be the same again for Trump. There will be a new president, doing his job, whether Trump adjusts to it or not. . . . . many who have been unable or unwilling to feel the tectonic plates shifting will finally recognize the change. Mar-a-Lago is not the same as the Oval Office. Foreign leaders will not flock to Florida for meetings.

Despite four years as president, Trump never fully grasped the issues before him, and he won’t learn anything new once he leaves. His observations will become increasingly irrelevant.

Second, with this coming dramatic shift in the political universe in mind, every Republican as of next Monday’s electoral college vote should publicly acknowledge what they have known in silence for many weeks: Biden is the president-elect. We Republicans should all just say it and get it over with.

If confronted by bitter-enders, stuck on Trump and dreaming of continuing the fight, for example on Jan. 6 when the electoral college ballots are opened and counted in Congress, Republicans should take their cue from Nancy Reagan: Just say no.

Third, there is every reason to believe Republicans can make Democrats’ hold on the White House last just one term. Analysts across the political spectrum have noted the GOP’s November successes, other than Trump’s loss. . . . That will necessitate disbanding the GOP’s circular firing squads now blasting away in Georgia, Arizona and elsewhere. This internecine warfare is not along ideological lines; by any coherent measure, all the main participants are conservatives. The common denominator is that Trump set these dumpster fires to advance his own interests.

To reclaim the high ground, national, state and local party structures must focus impartially on enhancing support for all Republicans, not just Trump. We must have open debates on policy, and new platforms reflecting those debates. As long as Trump continues broaching a possible 2024 candidacy, this neutrality is threatened.

Any party official unable to remain impartial should be a candidate for retirement. Historically, after presidential-election defeats, Republicans have sought new party leadership.

This is an entirely normal intra-party transition. It is not about any particular losing candidate or party official, and saying so casts no blame. But without ironclad assurances of impartiality by current party officials, based on their personal honor, Republicans risk missing a big opportunity for revitalization. Contested elections for party positions are not bad things.

Fourth, speaking as a baby boomer, I make perhaps the most painful point: Republicans should begin thinking about finally selecting a non-boomer presidential candidate.

If Biden again bears the Democratic standard in 2024 — when he will turn 82 — and faces a non-boomer Republican opponent, the contrast will be palpable. If Biden doesn’t run, and a 78-year-old Trump is again the Republican nominee, the contrast will also be palpable. This one should not be hard for the GOP, as long as the succession is based on merit, not heredity.

More suggestions for Republicans abound, but even these four ideas are likely to meet strong opposition from some parts of the GOP despite their Wizard of Oz, on Dec. 14, having finally and definitively lost the 2020 election. Pull the curtain aside — better late than never.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

More Thursday Male Beauty


Texas AG's Outlandish Lawsuit to Overthrow the 2020 Election

UPDATE: An excellent piece debunking Paxton's lawsuit is here in the New York Times.

Attorney General Ken Paxton - currently facing indictment on security fraud charges as describe here and here (Paxton was hit with subpoenas yesterday) - has filed an outlandish lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court against the states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Georgia asking that court to void those states elections and allow Republican controlled state legislatures appoint electors to reelect Donald Trump.  The lawsuit is ridiculous for a number of reasons which is no surprise given Paxton's lunatic track record and likely dire need for a presidential pardon (which might not even work if he has not been convicted at the time it is issued).  What is disturbing is that 17 other Republican attorneys general and over 100 House Republicans have joined in the suit demonstrating just how desperate some Republicans will go to prostitute themselves to Trump and his basket of deplorables base.  A key issue is that Texas has no legal standing to challenge the election process in other states, all of which have certified their election results.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at the outlandish lawsuit and the Republican effort to overthrow democracy.  Here are excerpts:

This is a lawsuit that seems both like President Trump’s last major attempt to get the courts to overturn his loss — and like it’s destined to flop. That’s the consensus of numerous legal experts on a recently filed lawsuit by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) alleging rampant fraud in four states that numerous other court cases have so far failed to prove.

Paxton alleges “the 2020 election suffered from significant and unconstitutional irregularities” in four states that swung from President Trump in 2016 to President-elect Joe Biden in 2020: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Georgia.

And he asks the Supreme Court to allow state legislatures to pick electors in those states instead. That part of the equation is now familiar, given Trump is also trying to pressure state lawmakers to overturn election results.

Not all Republicans, however, are on board. Sen Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), an occasional Trump critic, singled out Paxton’s own legal troubles back home and said this, in part, in a statement about the lawsuit: “It looks like a fella begging for a pardon filed a PR stunt.” (Paxton is facing indictment on securities fraud charges and says he has not discussed a pardon with the White House).

But more than 100 House Republicans signed on to a brief supporting the effort.

All these Republicans are setting themselves up for a quick failure, legal experts who have spoken to The Fix and other Post reporters say.

It’s a legitimate question what right Texas even has to bring such a lawsuit against other states. (Lawsuits between states are rare.) The Supreme Court could dismiss it out of hand for that reason, if it offers a reason at all.

And then you get into the substance of it, which is more like a Newsmax reel than actual legal arguments, said Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Law School and host of the legal podcast “Passing Judgment.”

“It’s all of the Hail Mary pass lawsuits strung together, in the erroneous hope that somehow lining them all up will make them look more impressive,” she said. “It’s procedurally defective. It’s substantially defective. And I think the Supreme Court will have not only no appetite for it, but it will actively nauseate them.”

Here are the most spectacular allegations in the lawsuit . . . .

Paxton argues that it was unconstitutional for state election officials, like secretaries of state, to expand mail voting, because the legislatures get to decide how to run elections. Despite there being no evidence that mail-voting leads to statistically significant fraud, he says that these states changed or modified their rules to allow more voting by mail due to the pandemic opened the door to fraud. . . . There’s just no evidence it actually happens.  Paxton ignores that Wisconsin and Michigan already had programs set up to vote by mail before the pandemic. Wisconsin has allowed people to vote absentee without an excuse since 2000.

Paxton strings together half a dozen examples he says demonstrate “rampant lawlessness” in the vote-counting process: . . . . Much of that evidence has been reviewed and thrown out by various courts. And even if some poll workers were asked to leave, does that mean tens of thousands of votes for Trump were counted for Biden? In Pennsylvania, Trump’s lawyers were forced to admit they did have poll workers in the room watching counted ballots, even as they tried to file a lawsuit arguing the opposite.

Paxton pulls an accusation straight out of Trump’s Twitter feed — not even something Trump’s lawyers dared make in a courtroom — that it was odd that Biden took late-night leads in states after Trump initially was leading. . . . We’ve explained this. Trump’s voters, following his own lead, largely voted in person. In-person votes are quicker for officials to count than mailed ballots. Biden’s voters largely voted by mail. Those take more time to tally. So as election officials worked throughout the night, they started adding the mailed votes to the vote count in their states. Paxton is literally arguing that the Supreme Court overturn an election because states counted their votes.

Paxton alleges that “the statistical improbability of Mr. Biden winning the popular vote in these four states collectively is 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000.” It’s unclear, even in the lawsuit, where and how he got that number. . . . Biden won these four swing states not by massive fraud, but by learning the lessons from Clinton’s 2016 campaign and not being overconfident about polling showing him doing well in these states. He campaigned successfully to take away Trump’s support particularly in suburban areas.

Bottom line: Biden got more votes where he needed to win the electoral college, just like Trump did in 2016.

Thursday Morning Male Beauty


South Dakota: A Study in Idiocy

In the 2020 presidential election, South Dakota voted 61.8% for Donald Trump, thus displaying that logic, reason and the truth count for little in that state.  Therefore, it is little surprise that South Dakota has the worse per capita incidence of Covid-19 cases and in terms of its population a staggering death rate.  South Dakota's Republican governor, Kristi L. Noem still refuses to issue a mask mandate, leaving communities to make their own rules. The advice of medical experts is ignored and anti-maskers bloviate about losing their personal freedom, seemingly caring nothing about their neighbors.  Virginia's Covid numbers are worsening and today  our Democrat governor - the nation's only doctor/governor will be announcing new restrictions to address the dangerous trend, no doubt drawing further threats and complaints by those who style themselves "staunchly conservative" when a better description is stupid and self-centered.  A piece in the New York Times looks at one small city in South Dakota where despite surging deaths a meaningful mask requirement could not be passed.  How do you help those who refuse to help themselves and wear ignorance as a badge of honor?  Here are article excerpts:

A cold wind whipped through the prairie as they laid Buck Timmins to rest. Timmins, a longtime coach and referee, was not the first person in Mitchell, S.D., pop. 15,600, to die of the coronavirus. He was not even the first that week.

As the funeral director tucked blankets over the knees of Timmins’s wife, Nanci, Pastor Rhonda Wellsandt-Zell told the small group of masked mourners that just as there had been seasons in the coach’s life — basketball season, football season, volleyball season — Mitchell was now enduring a phase of its own. Pandemic season.

In a state where the Republican governor, Kristi L. Noem, has defied calls for a statewide mask mandate even as cases hit record levels, many in this rural community an hour west of Sioux Falls ignored the virus for months, not bothering with masks or social distancing. Restaurants were packed. Big weddings and funerals went on as planned.

Then people started dying. The wife of the former bank president. A state legislator. The guy whose family has owned the bike shop since 1959. Then Timmins, a mild-spoken 72-year-old who had worked with hundreds of local kids during six decades as a Little League and high school coach and referee.

His death shook Mitchell just as its leaders were contemplating something previously denounced and dismissed: a requirement that its staunchly conservative residents wear masks.

As Wellsandt-Zell led those mourning Timmins in the hymn “Jesus Loves Me,” the rumble of an approaching helicopter cut through the sound of the singing and the mourners’ soft tears. In Mitchell, the medical emergency helicopter, once a rare occurrence, now comes nearly every day, ferrying the growing number of people desperately ill with covid-19 to a hospital that might be able to save them.

News of Buck Timmins’s death spread quickly through town just hours before the first vote.

Kevin McCardle, the city council president, heard the news in a text from a fellow referee and was shocked. He had not even known Timmins was sick. How could he be dead when McCardle had seen him filling up his tank at the gas station just a few days ago?

Timmins fell ill with the virus Oct. 24, his wife said. She was pretty sure he picked it up at one of the many games he went to, where people were casual about wearing masks.

“You may need a mask to get in the door, but once you were inside, you looked around and there were 300 people in the seats watching volleyball, pretty much going maskless,” she said. “Mitchell, South Dakota, is a small town. We trusted each other.”

McCardle had a yellow legal pad under his arm with his daily tally of coronavirus cases in Davison County since March. The growth he had been so carefully recording had exploded in recent weeks, with 359 cases Oct. 1 to 1,912 that morning, a 433 percent increase. Locally, 10 people had died in less than seven weeks. South Dakota now has the largest increase in deaths per capita in the nation, according to Washington Post data from Dec. 8.

The positivity rate at two local testing sites — a key indicator of the virus’s hold on a community — was 33 percent at the beginning of November and would soar to 49 percent near the end of the month, according to Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell.

McCardle said he found the numbers as alarming . . . . But when Susan Tjarks, the lone female member on the council, had raised the idea of a mask mandate a month earlier, he had ridiculed her for wearing one and grumbled: “You don’t see the grocery stores putting mandatory masks in. Nobody would go to ‘em. They’d lose business.”

But now McCardle and others on the council, rattled by Timmins’s death, listened attentively to Tjarks’s proposal, sitting at socially spaced tables on the auditorium’s basketball court in front of murals depicting their hardy pioneer ancestors. The draft ordinance would require masks in public buildings and businesses, with a possible fine of up to $500 and 30 days in jail.

Tjarks, who owns a drapery company called Gotcha Covered, is a conservative Republican. But she became convinced the city had to act as deaths began tearing a deep hole in the community’s civic heart.

“What we have been doing isn’t working,” she told the city council. “I don’t want to lose any more friends. I don’t want to lose any more neighbors. We have to do what we need to do to step up and prevent these cases from rising.”

So many town leaders have died in such a short time that the impact has been profound, Tjarks said.

During the public comment section in Mitchell, a handful of anti-maskers spoke, alleging that masks don’t work and that the measure was an overreach that would violate their civil rights. Local doctors and nurses overrun by covid-19 patients pleaded for help.

Ultimately, the Mitchell City Council passed the draft measure unanimously Nov. 16. But Mayor Bob Everson — one of the mask-doubters — still had to issue an executive order to put it in place. And the draft had to survive what was expected to be contentious public hearing and final vote the following week.

Then there were the patients who didn’t even believe the coronavirus was real. That week, a patient in his 40s came in for a physical — he was high-risk and asthmatic — and his gaiter pushed down when she walked into the exam room. He said he couldn’t breathe in it and didn’t believe the whole pandemic thing anyway. People were dying from pneumonia because they were being forced to wear masks, he told her.

The current council debate had re-energized the anti-maskers, and they pelted city officials with calls and emails running 2 to 1 against, exhorting members of its closed Facebook group to come to the meeting to protest.

The night of the final vote, a cold, clear evening in the 30s, more than 100 people gathered at the Corn Palace, sitting spaced out in the venue’s faded blue folding seats.

The anti-mask forces sat with naked faces, defying the mayor’s order. One by one, they got up to air their grievances. They wept. They swore. They cited junk science: Positivity defeats the virus. So does a healthy lifestyle, eating wild-caught sardines, pasture-raised beef liver and drinking raw organic kombucha. A young mother stood up and compared anti-maskers to Jews persecuted in the Holocaust: “The bare face is the new yellow star of Nazi Germany,” she said.

After the public comment period was over, the council immediately got busy stripping the mandate of its penalties. They removed the city’s fine, leaving only the court costs of about $90, should it come to that. They were opting for a “soft approach,” the mayor said, to “educate” people.

“We’re putting together an ordinance that has no teeth!” McCardle, the council president, protested. . . . . But in the end, McCardle couldn’t even bring himself to vote for the toothless mandate, which passed 5 to 3.

By the end of the night, mostly anti-maskers remained in the auditorium. Kenkel had ducked out just after she spoke, going home to write up 18 patient charts before bed, including six patients seriously ill with covid-19. She was long gone by the time one city councilman hopefully suggested that maybe they wouldn’t have any mask citations after all this, and the mayor pointed at the crowd and said, “Did you listen to these people?” and they all laughed.

Darwin's theory appears to be at work in South Dakota.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Wednesday Male Beauty


The Resentment That Never Sleeps

A long and academically focused column in the New York Times examines the hate and resentment that defines not only the Trump/GOP base but also those who gravitate to right wing extremism in Europe and elsewhere.  The column argues that the prime motivating factor is a real or imagined loss of status which is hitting low education whites particularly hard as in that group's eyes, minorities gain in equal rights and opportunity.  Demagogues like Trump are capitalizing on this fear of loss of status and the loss of an ability to dominate others perceived as lesser in society.  A prime example of the loss of dominance is Christofascists who view themselves as being persecuted simply because they no longer can freely persecute others- e.g., prohibitions against discrimination against LGBT citizens set out in the Virginia Values Act.  Some of the loss of status is real - thanks in part to failed GOP policies that have harmed working class Americans as wages have stagnated and wealth has been transferred to the very wealthy.  The challenge for Democrats and the Biden/Harris administration will be in finding ways to blunt resentment and provide economic improvement to prevent future demagogues from following in Trump's footsteps.  Here are article highlights:

More and more, politics determine which groups are favored and which are denigrated.

Roughly speaking, Trump and the Republican Party have fought to enhance the status of white Christians and white people without college degrees: the white working and middle class. Biden and the Democrats have fought to elevate the standing of previously marginalized groups: women, minorities, the L.G.B.T.Q. community and others.

The ferocity of this politicized status competition can be seen in the anger of white non-college voters over their disparagement by liberal elites, the attempt to flip traditional hierarchies and the emergence of identity politics on both sides of the chasm.

Hierarchal ranking, the status classification of different groups — the well-educated and the less-well educated, white people and Black people, the straight and L.G.B.T.Q. communities — has the effect of consolidating and seeming to legitimize existing inequalities in resources and power. Diminished status has become a source of rage on both the left and right, sharpened by divisions over economic security and insecurity, geography and, ultimately, values.

The stakes of status competition are real.

“As a basis for social inequality, status is a bit different from resources and power. It is based on cultural beliefs rather than directly on material arrangements,”. . . . “status is definitely important in contemporary political dynamics here and in Europe,” adding that

Status has always been part of American politics, but right now a variety of social changes have threatened the status of working class and rural whites who used to feel they had a secure, middle status position in American society — not the glitzy top, but respectable, ‘Main Street’ core of America. The reduction of working-class wages and job security, growing demographic diversity, and increasing urbanization of the population have greatly undercut that sense and fueled political reaction.

The people most often drawn to the appeals of right-wing populist politicians, such as Trump, tend to be those who sit several rungs up the socioeconomic ladder in terms of their income or occupation. My conjecture is that it is people in this kind of social position who are most susceptible to what Barbara Ehrenreich called a “fear of falling” — namely, anxiety, in the face of an economic or cultural shock, that they might fall further down the social ladder,” a phenomenon often described as “last place aversion.

Gidron and Hall argue in their 2019 paper “Populism as a Problem of Social Integration” that Much of the discontent fueling support for radical parties is rooted in feelings of social marginalization — namely, in the sense some people have that they have been pushed to the fringes of their national community and deprived of the roles and respect normally accorded full members of it.

[T]hree factors have heightened the salience of status concerns.

The first, he wrote, is the vacuum created by “the relative decline of class politics.” The second is the influx of immigrants, “not only because different ‘ways of life’ are perceived as threatening to ‘organically grown’ communities, but also because this threat is associated with the notion that elites are complicit in the dilution of such traditional identities.”

The third factor Ford describes as “an asymmetrical increase in the salience of status concerns due to the political repercussions of educational expansion and generational value change,” especially “because of the progressive monopolization of politics by high-status professionals,” creating a constituency of “cultural losers of modernization” who “found themselves without any mainstream political actors willing to represent and defend their ‘ways of life’ ” — a role Trump sought to fill.

[T]he “oldest (interwar) generation, non-college graduates, the working class, white Europeans, the more religious, men, and residents of rural communities” that have moved to the right in part in response to threats to their status:

These groups are most likely to feel that they have become estranged from the silent revolution in social and moral values, left behind by cultural changes that they deeply reject. The interwar generation of non-college educated white men — until recently the politically and socially dominant group in Western cultures — has passed a tipping point at which their hegemonic status, power, and privilege are fading.

If polarization has evolved into partisan hatred, status competition serves to calcify the animosity between Democrats and Republicans.

In their July 2020 paper, “Beyond Populism: The Psychology of Status-Seeking and Extreme Political Discontent,” Michael Bang Petersen, Mathias Osmundsen and Alexander Bor, political scientists at Aarhus University in Denmark, contend there are two basic methods of achieving status: the “prestige” approach requiring notable achievement in a field and “dominance” capitalizing on threats and bullying.

[A]t the core of extreme political discontent are motivations to achieve status via dominance, i.e., through the use of fear and intimidation. Essentially, extreme political behavior reflects discontent with one’s own personal standing and a desire to actively rectify this through aggression.

Extreme discontent, they continue, is a phenomenon among individuals for whom prestige-based pathways to status are, at least in their own perception, unlikely to be successful. Despite their political differences, this perception may be the psychological commonality of, on the one hand, race- or gender-based grievance movements and, on the other hand, white lower-middle class right-wing voters.

[S]tatus competition is a political tool deployed overwhelmingly by the right. By email, Kurer wrote: It is almost exclusively political actors from the right and the radical right that actively campaign on the status issue. They emphasize implications of changing status hierarchies that might negatively affect the societal standing of their core constituencies and thereby aim to mobilize voters who fear, but have not yet experienced, societal regression.

[I]t is the threat of lost prestige, rather than the actual loss, that is a key factor in status-based political mobilization: Looking at the basic socio-demographic profile of a Brexiter or a typical supporter of a right-wing populist party in many advanced democracies suggests that we need to be careful with a simplified narrative of a ‘revolt of the left behind’. A good share of these voters can be found in what we might call the lower middle class, which means they might well have decent jobs and decent salaries — but they fear, often for good reasons, that they are not on the winning side of economic modernization.

“[T]he downfall of the working class over the last thirty years is not just a question of its numerical shrinkage, its political disorganization and stagnating wages. It also signifies a loss of status.” The political consequences are evident and can be seen in the aftermath of the defeat of President Trump:

Those who cannot adopt or compete in the dominant status order — closely associated with the acquisition of knowledge and the mastery of complex cultural performances — make opposition to this order a badge of pride and recognition. The proliferation of conspiracy theories is an indicator of this process. People make themselves believe in them, because it induces them into an alternative world of status and rank.

Millions of voters, including the core group of Trump supporters — whites without college degrees — face bleak futures, pushed further down the ladder by meritocratic competition that rewards what they don’t have: higher education and high scores on standardized tests. Jockeying for place in a merciless meritocracy feeds into the status wars that are presently poisoning the country, even as exacerbated levels of competition are, theoretically, an indispensable component of contemporary geopolitical and economic reality.

Voters in the bottom half of the income distribution face a level of hypercompetition that has, in turn, served to elevate politicized status anxiety in a world where social and economic mobility has, for many, ground to a halt: 90 percent of the age cohort born in the 1940s looked forward to a better standard of living than their parents’, compared with 50 percent for those born since 1980. Even worse, those in the lower status ranks suffer the most lethal consequences of the current pandemic.

Trump has capitalized on the failures of this American promise. Now we have to hope that Biden can deliver.