Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, February 06, 2021
Biden Harnesses Defense Production Act for Vaccine Rollout
The Biden administration announced a handful of initiatives Friday aimed at accelerating mass inoculations against the coronavirus and expanding production of rapid tests and surgical gloves to help control the pathogen.
In the most immediate action, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deploy 1,110 troops to support vaccination sites. The first active-duty military personnel will arrive in California within the next 10 days, to begin operations around Feb. 15, said Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House’s coronavirus response team. The service members, the majority of whom will be medical personnel, are expected to be stationed at five FEMA megasites, two of which are in Oakland and east Los Angeles.
Biden has vowed to stand up 100 new sites in 30 days as he seeks to surpass his target of administering 100 million shots in his first 100 days — a rate that modeling suggests will be insufficient to stay ahead of new variants of the virus.
As of Thursday, there were 175 federally supported vaccination sites throughout the country, according to a FEMA leadership brief obtained by The Washington Post. Federal support includes the National Guard, whose services some states enlisted from the outset of the immunization campaign late last year.
In a bid to boost supplies of the shots and of other critical equipment, the Biden administration also said Friday that it was taking several steps under the Defense Production Act. The Korean War-era law has been a backbone of Biden’s pandemic-related promises. But its power and its limits are poorly understood, according to experts in government contracting.
The law includes a range of emergency powers to control distribution of products and compel companies to prioritize certain orders over others. Most important for the Biden administration’s long-term strategy is the authority it provides to issue loans and purchase agreements to expand industrial capacity.
In the short term, the Biden administration said it was using the law to ensure Pfizer has access to needed equipment to scale up production of the vaccine it developed with German company BioNTech. Between that product and the one developed by Moderna, the federal government has contracts in place for 400 million vaccine doses in the first half of the year — enough for 200 million people under the two-dose protocols.
The Biden administration is seeking 100 million more doses from each company, with the aim of securing the additional doses through the summer. While the administration has expressed confidence it will receive the supply, people knowledgeable about the negotiations said the need for certain equipment is vital.
Tim Manning, supply coordinator for the White House’s coronavirus response, said the action taken by the Trump administration was limited. The new administration will expand the priority ratings to include more equipment, he said, identifying filling pumps and filtration units as examples.
Pfizer spokeswoman Amy Rose did not comment on the announcement but said, “Our teams continue to work closely on our production as our commercial ramp-up progresses.” The company, as part of material released ahead of its fourth-quarter earnings call this week, indicated it could deliver 200 million vaccine doses to the United States by May, two months earlier than its initial July target. Its global estimate is 2 billion doses by year’s end.
Manning, however, said the Biden administration was taking steps to use the law to expand domestic production of critical equipment for the pandemic response, though he declined to name specific companies involved. The White House also did not respond to a request for comment about the cost of the efforts.
He said the administration was using powers under the Defense Production Act to boost domestic manufacturing of at-home coronavirus tests. With the investments, Manning said, 61 million such tests would be available by the summer.
Earlier this week, the administration announced that it was buying 8.5 million of the rapid tests from the Australian company Ellume. It will also invest in six more suppliers to “rapidly surge domestic testing capability,” Manning said. The investments will help private-sector partners construct new plants and build new production lines, with the aim of building resilience against disruptions to the supply chain, he said.
The actions also extend to the supply of personal protective equipment. Manning said the federal government would use the Defense Production Act to spur domestic manufacturing of surgical gloves, for which the country is currently almost entirely dependent on overseas suppliers.
“That’s unacceptable, and we’re using all of our authorities to fix it,” he said.
Manning said the government would help build plants to make the raw materials needed for the gloves, as well as factories that would produce the gloves themselves. By year’s end, he said, the country would be able to produce more than 1 billion surgical gloves a month — enough to satisfy about half of all American health-care demands.
Friday, February 05, 2021
End Media Silence on Violent Christian Extremism
For two decades, the U.S. government has been engaging with faith leaders in Muslim communities at home and around the world in an attempt to stamp out extremism and prevent believers vulnerable to radicalization from going down a path that leads to violence.
Now, after the dangerous QAnon conspiracy theory helped to motivate the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, with many participants touting their Christian faith — and as evangelical pastors throughout the country ache over the spread of the conspiracy theory among their flocks, and its very real human toll — it’s worth asking whether the time has come for a new wave of outreach to religious communities, this time aimed at evangelical Christians.
“I personally feel a great burden, since I came from these communities, to try to figure out how to help the leaders,” says Elizabeth Neumann, a former top official at the Department of Homeland Security who resigned from Trump administration in April 2020. . . . . Neumann, who was raised in the evangelical tradition, is a devout Christian. Her knowledge of that world, and her expertise on issues of violent extremism, gives her a unique insight into the ways QAnon is driving some Christians to extremism and violence.
She sees QAnon’s popularity among certain segments of Christendom not as an aberration, but as the troubling-but-natural outgrowth of a strain of American Christianity. In this tradition, one’s belief is based less on scripture than on conservative culture, some political disagreements are seen as having nigh-apocalyptic stakes and “a strong authoritarian streak” runs through the faith. For this type of believer, love of God and love of country are sometimes seen as one and the same.
Christian nationalism is “a huge theme throughout evangelical Christendom,” Neumann says, referring to teachings that posit America as God’s chosen nation. Christians who subscribe to those teachings believe the United States has a covenant with God, and that if it is broken, the nation risks literal destruction — analogous to the siege of Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible. In the eyes of these believers, that covenant is threatened by cultural changes like taking prayer out of public schools and legalizing abortion and gay marriage, Neumann says. . . . . “When you paint it in existential terms like that, a lot of people feel justified to carry out acts of violence in the name of their faith.”
How should the country, and the new administration, approach concerns about extremism among American Christians? What role can faith leaders play in trying to keep vulnerable believers from the temptations of conspiracy theories? And do the totems of American evangelicalism look at all different through the eyes of a national security expert?
When did it become a security concern for you?
The pandemic. QAnon was this fringe thing, it was concerning. Then, in 2020, it went on steroids.
In March, even before the shutdowns, I had my staff look at the research we use for developing behavioral indicators of individuals who might mobilize to violence. If we go down this path of having to all stay home, does that increase stress factors? Does it increase risk factors known to be common in people who carry out attacks? The answer was yes.
With the pandemic, you had what was perceived to be government overreach; you had social isolation, which is a known risk factor [for extremism]; you had some people with a lot more time on their hands because they were not commuting, not taking kids to ballgames and not going to happy hour after work; you had economic stress — another known risk factor — as people lost jobs or moved to part-time status; you had people who lost loved ones. There was this great sense that people had lost control; our lives as we knew them had been upended.
People who had a strong, healthy sense of self or community were able to mitigate their isolation. But for individuals already on the cusp, this made them vulnerable. We use that word, “vulnerable,” to describe people who are not necessarily radicalized yet, but have factors in their lives that make it easier for them to move on a pathway towards extreme radicalized thought — and then, for a smaller subset, mobilizes them to violence.
We weren’t sure how it was going to happen, but we predicted that we would see violence in some form or fashion. The militia that attempted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — that was horrible, but not really shocking. The violence at protests? Not surprising. And the fact that you had white-supremacist groups using the protests to commit accelerationist violence was also not surprising — even though the president thought it was Antifa. We knew we were going to see more radicalization and violence.
Do you see anything about the evangelical tradition that could make its believers more susceptible to QAnon?
I really struggle with this question. I’ve been trying to figure out how it is so obvious to me — and I don’t mean to pat myself on the back. I actually do read the Bible. Yet there are people who read scripture and attend church but are also die-hard into believing the election was stolen or have gone down the QAnon rabbit hole. What’s the distinction there? I find that hard to answer.
There is, in more conservative Christian movements, a strong authoritarian streak, where they don’t believe in the infallibility of their pastor, but they act like it; they don’t believe in the infallibility of the head of the home, but they sometimes act like it; where you’re not allowed to question authority. You see this on full display in the criticisms of the way the Southern Baptist Convention is dealing with sexual abuse, which is so similar to the Catholic Church [sex abuse scandal].
The authoritarian, fundamentalist nature of certain evangelical strands is a prominent theme in the places where you see the most ardent Trump supporters or the QAnon believers, because they’ve been told: “You don’t need to study [scripture]. We’re giving you the answer.”
Another factor is Christian nationalism. That’s a huge theme throughout evangelical Christendom. It’s subtle: Like, you had the Christian flag and the American flag at the front of the church, and if you went to a Christian school, you pledged allegiance to the Christian flag and the American flag. There was this merger that was always there when I was growing up.
It’s American exceptionalism but goes beyond that. It says that we are the next version of Israel from the Old Testament, that we are God’s chosen nation, and that is a special covenant — a two-way agreement with God. We can’t break it, and if we do, what happened to Israel will happen to us: We will be overrun by whatever the next Babylon is, taken into captivity, and He will remove His blessing from us.
What [threatens] that covenant? The moment we started taking prayer out of [public] schools and allowing various changes in our culture — [the legalization of] abortion is one of those moments; gay marriage is another. They see it in cataclysmic terms: This is the moment, and God’s going to judge us. They view the last 50 years of moral decline as us breaking our covenant, and that because of that, God’s going to remove His blessing. When you paint it in existential terms like that, a lot of people feel justified to carry out acts of violence in the name of their faith.
Some of that fear is not out of thin air. There is a real “cancel culture,” where you see a mob mentality swarm on somebody who holds a biblically based viewpoint on, say, gay marriage, and you see someone forced out of a position or lose sponsorships or advertising. But they follow that to what they think is a logical conclusion — that eventually, pastors will not be able to preach against homosexuality or abortion, and if [they do], they’re going to end up arrested and unable to preach. I’ve heard that argument made multiple times over the last 10 years. The irrationality is the idea that there are no protections, that the courts wouldn’t step in and say, “No, the First Amendment applies to Christians as well.”
It tries to assert that they are losing power and must regain that power by any means necessary . . . [the Bible] tells us [to do] the exact opposite of what they’re talking about. We are told not to seek power. We’re told to be humble. We’re told to turn the other cheek. Jesus, in confronting Caesar’s representative at his trial, says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” “My fight is not here,” basically. Our purpose as believers is to be salt and light; it’s not to force everybody else to hold our beliefs.
To fix that, you really have to go back to scripture. You can’t just be like, “Christian nationalism is wrong.” You have to go back to what the Bible says, versus what you were taught as an American Christian, where it was so interwoven.
But it’s a very hard thing for people to [address], because it requires acknowledging that how you were raised or the people that you trusted either intentionally lied to you or were just wrong. . . . But sadly, it’s a security issue that we have to address, because it has led to this.
What can government do? Well, they’re resourced to help state and local governments, to do research, to identify best practices, to keep us informed about the threats, to give grant funding for prevention work. But those concepts are inherently built around the idea that it’s a multidisciplinary approach. And when we say “multidisciplinary,” it’s mental health, it’s human services, it’s education.
The disinformation problem is not going away. We can build more resilience. We can put more guardrails in place. But it’s going to be a problem for us for a long time.
Thursday, February 04, 2021
The Knives Come Out for Josh Hawley
Since Josh Hawley was a young man, powerful people have told him he was special. His teachers gave him the “Special R” award, just one feather in the Rockhurst High School valedictorian’s cap of outstandingness. Hawley’s mentor at Stanford, David Kennedy, took a shine to him just weeks into his freshman year, and came to see him as possibly the most gifted student he ever taught. At Yale Law, the dean, Harold Koh, took care to seat the young banker’s son from Missouri beside the state’s former senator John Danforth when Danforth visited. Hawley was working on a book about Theodore Roosevelt; he was fascinated by Alexis de Tocqueville’s idea that American democracy depends on regular people in local communities. It wouldn’t have been polite for Hawley to admit to ambitions such as becoming senator or president. But the glimmer of potential lingered in the air. Here, Danforth thought, is somebody who is really special.
Hawley impressed Chief Justice John Roberts, who favored polished clerks over rabid ideologues. Hawley skipped the kingmaker’s queue in Missouri politics, helped along in his 2016 race for attorney general by conservative power players he knew from his days as a D.C. religious-liberty litigator. He launched a campaign for a U.S. Senate seat nine months after winning the AG job, urged on by Danforth and a coterie of big donors the elder senator had recruited. To all of these people, Hawley represented an opportunity: to promote homegrown talent of the conservative legal movement, to elevate a statesman in the era of Trump, even to shape what conservatism should mean.
Hawley’s combination of conservative politics, news-anchor gravitas, apparent ambition, and Ivy League success made him a target of liberal hatred from the moment he arrived in the Senate. But lately, all that Hawley specialness has attracted a special kind of rage from his former allies in the conservative world, too. On January 6, a violent mob stormed the Capitol to stop the certification of Electoral College votes. Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick. When news outlets around the world wrote the story of the riot, many illustrated it with a photo of Hawley, raising his fist to a crowd of then-peaceful protesters.
The Missouri senator became the avatar of the congressional insurrection, the one lawmakers started before the mob showed up. Conservatives and liberals alike blamed Hawley for encouraging the Capitol attackers by questioning the legitimacy of the election. . . . “Ted [Cruz] is now just that annoying fly in the room—okay, we’ll swat it eventually,” a Republican campaign operative told me. “Josh is seen as so much worse.”
How did Hawley become the most hated man in Washington? Sometimes, ideological allies turn on one another because they don’t want to admit their collective sins, and they need somebody to blame.
Hawley arrived in Washington in 2019 with a claim to glory. He had defeated a Democratic incumbent, Claire McCaskill; flipped a Senate seat in a terrible election year for Republicans; and done it all before his 40th birthday. But glory doesn’t last long when you’re a junior senator. So Hawley perfected the ultimate Washington attention play: defying GOP orthodoxy.
He started by holding up Donald Trump’s nomination of Neomi Rao, an all but custom-made pick for an influential seat on the D.C. Circuit, citing worries that she supported abortion rights. . . . This became a pattern. Each time Hawley took a stand, he didn’t just earn headlines and attention—he rebelled against one of his mentors. When Roberts voted to overturn Louisiana abortion restrictions this summer, Hawley complained on Twitter. When another Supreme Court decision significantly expanded LGBTQ rights, Hawley launched a thinly veiled attack on the Federalist Society, arguing that religious conservatives had gotten screwed.
For some of Hawley’s onetime allies, these transgressions alone were enough to raise their ire. I asked David McIntosh, a co-founder of the Federalist Society and the president of the Club for Growth, Washington’s most hard-core enforcer of free-market orthodoxy, what he thought of Hawley’s decision to object to the certification of the Electoral College results. “You can come down either way on that,” he said. What was truly unforgivable is that the organization spent $3.1 million on Hawley’s 2018 Senate race, and he’s not the guy the group’s leaders thought they were electing. . . . He sees Hawley’s Electoral College intervention and his turn toward populist economics as outgrowths of the same “misdirected ambition.”
Despite those betrayals, Hawley remained, until the Capitol riot, part of the elite conservative guild. Even those who found his cowboy-style escapades grating believed that he was an outstanding lawyer who revered the Constitution and the rule of law. . . . But after he [Trump] lost to Biden, the elite conservative world reached an unspoken consensus: Undermining the election results was the line not to be crossed. Even Bill Barr, Trump’s once doggedly loyal attorney general, filmed an interview where he all but said that Trump’s actions had “precipitated the riots on the Hill.”
Hawley, however, calculated that his duty was to reflect a GOP base that believes in Trump. . . . The move was classic Hawley. He upstaged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had been imploring senators for weeks to stay away from Electoral College objections. . . . But his larger goal was clear. The Republican Party’s base believed the election had been stolen. And on January 6, he was going to be their voice in the Capitol.
Hawley’s calls for an investigation created an awkward situation for some of his allies. Conservative elites had rolled their eyes when bombastic House members such as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Louie Gohmert promoted conspiracy theories and leaned into the hashtag #StoptheSteal. . . . . But when Hawley added his credibility to the false idea that the election had been stolen, that meant serious lawyers and people like McConnell suddenly had to formulate real arguments as to why #StoptheSteal wasn’t just goofy, but wrong.
January 6 did not go as Hawley had planned. Senator James Lankford was in the middle of a decorous speech questioning 2020 voting practices when the mob broke in, moving toward the Senate chamber. Hawley’s staff was shocked—his communications director was alone near the Senate floor when people started running and yelling. For hours, senators hid as their would-be attackers milled among their desks wearing red caps and carrying Trump flags.
The violence was an invitation to humility that Hawley declined. After the senators had returned to their chamber and it was time for him to speak, Hawley thanked law enforcement and denounced the day’s violence, then plowed ahead with his arguments about Pennsylvania’s constitution. He ended up objecting to certifying the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Condemnation was swift and nearly universal. Predictably, Democrats were quick to call for Hawley’s resignation . . . McConnell slapped him down on the floor of the Senate. In Missouri, the disavowals were even more brutal. Danforth wrote an email to another wealthy Hawley supporter, Sam Fox, to apologize for having recruited him to Hawley’s cause. “Everybody makes mistakes,” Fox replied.
People in Hawley’s elite conservative legal world were the most aggrieved. They couldn’t believe he would aid Trump’s bizarre attempt to overturn the election. “The Federalist Society must take a stand to remove anyone from leadership and to take away the legitimacy of our public forums to anyone who participated in this attack on the rule of law and our Constitution.
For all the time that he’s spent arguing over his right to air concerns, Hawley has generally avoided publicly acknowledging that Biden is the legitimately elected president of this country. (A spokesperson told me that he does believe Biden won.) But it’s also possible to see Hawley’s challenge to the 2020 election results as an act of representation, a truer reflection of Trump’s conservative movement than any speech about norms. Perhaps this is why his former allies are so mad. By lending his voice to the conspiracist base, Hawley exposed the lie that sustains the elite conservative world: that those with the right training and pedigree are inherently trustworthy stewards of the rule of law.
Hawley had once offered a redemptive fantasy to a certain kind of conservative—all the benefits of Trump with the polish of a statesman. He was supposed to save elite conservatism from Trump’s crass embrace of conspiracism, trade skepticism, and thuggish assaults on the rule of law, not mimic it. Trump 2.0 is not what Hawley’s backers thought all that specialness was for.
In the days since the attack on the Capitol, Danforth has been performing public penance. “‘Disappointed’ would be an understatement. I feel responsible,” he told me. The former senator did not seem to hate Hawley so much as grieve what he has become. “I feel that he had so much to offer. He could have been a terrific senator, and a terrific leader. Maybe presidential, who knows?” he said. Hawley had potential, intellect, and ability—a conservative version of Pat Moynihan, Danforth likes to say. “But instead of being positive and constructive, he turned out to be destructive.”
Can the GOP Be Saved
After losing a national election, it’s natural that a political party goes through a period of soul-searching and internal turmoil. The Republican Party, though, has taken it to another level.
PresidentDonald Trump brought most of the GOP along for the ride during his outlandish, conspiracy-fueled attempt to overturn the election, ending in the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
His loyalists have since been scouring the landscape searching for Republicans to censure or primary for insufficient loyalty to Trump during this interlude or his resulting second impeachment.
The most famous Republican House freshman mused not too long ago about a space laser associated with the Rothschilds starting the 2018 California wildfires, forcing an embarrassing debate about whether to sanction her.
And Trump has maintained his hold on the party seemingly effortlessly. He’s been deplatformed by social media companies and hasn’t done TV interviews, and still, you’d think he were running a highly polished 24/7 political operation, rather than relaxing at Mar-a-Lago.
This dismaying chapter has predictably led to declarations that the party is doomed or calls to split it up.
A former chair of the Washington state GOP wrote in an op-ed in the Seattle Times urging, as the headline put it, “Let’s form a new Republican Party.” He argued that “dissident Republicans could and should band together and partner with the substantial Never Trump community of Republicans who have already left” to form a new political enterprise.
There’s been a spate of articles by erstwhile Republicans announcing they are done. The former Republican Rep. Mickey Edwards wrote one after January 6 saying he was quitting the party because it has become the “opposite of what it was.”
Jonathan Last wrote a piece in the New Republic titled, “The Republican Party is dead. It is the Trump cult now.” Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker declared, “The party isn’t doomed; it’s dead.”
The fortunes of our political parties ebb and flow and their iterations change over time, but they are robust, deeply embedded institutions of our public life that endure even after electoral disasters and self-sabotaging wrong turns.
As Dan McLaughlin, my colleague at National Review, points out, the Republican Party has since its inception been a fusion of a classic liberal wing with a more populist, elemental conservatism.
What’s different about Trump is that he represents the ascendance of the populist wing after it had long been in a subordinate position in the party.
Populism was part of the appeal of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, John McCain and even the patrician George H.W. Bush in his winning 1988 campaign, but it was easy to miss. Trump’s populism was unmistakable, even as he retained key policy priorities of the traditional GOP, from tax cuts and judges, to religious liberty and abortion.
That said, the party does need to get beyond Trump, who has remained potent despite being a three-time loser now — in the 2018 midterms, in his 2020 reelection campaign, and in the Georgia special elections. In electoral terms, “all the winning” stopped circa November 2016.
At this juncture, though, it does feel as though the advent of the post-Trump GOP is coming ... approximately never.
But American politics moves quickly. Richard Nixon won a landslide in 1972 and resigned in 1974, leaving the GOP in utter disarray — and yet Reagan won a landslide in 1980. The Tea Party didn’t exist when Barack Obama won an overwhelming victory in 2008, sprang to life almost immediately in 2009, and by 2016 had disappeared, subsumed into the Trump phenomenon.
There will inevitably be an overwhelming controversy in the Biden administration or a crisis that moves us beyond the politics of the Trump presidency and the immediate aftermath.
New issues will emerge, and so will new movements and players on the right. There are plenty of talented, ambitious Republican politicians who think they are better suited to win a presidential election in 2024 and to be president than Donald Trump 2.0. The incentives are for them to continue to keep their heads down and to slipstream behind Trump for now, but that won’t always be true.
The temptation to splinter from the GOP might be alluring to elements of both the populists and the Republican traditionalists, but this a dead end. It’s more realistic that the populists, with the passion and the numbers, could make a go of a new party, but they’d only be ensuring their own defeat and that of the GOP.
The Republican Party is the only plausible electoral vehicle for any sort of right-of-center politics in America. It is worth fighting over, and it will be. That struggle is sure to be toxic and unpredictable, except for the fact that at the end of the day the Grand Old Party will still be standing.
Wednesday, February 03, 2021
The Republican Party Bi-Polar Disorder Continues
House Republicans voted Wednesday night that Rep. Liz Cheney should keep her post in House GOP leadership after she defended her support for impeachment as a vote of conscience during a contentious closed-door GOP conference meeting, a source with knowledge of the process told CNN.
"I won't apologize for the vote," Cheney told the House Republican conference earlier Wednesday evening. . . . Cheney delivered an eight-minute speech near the beginning of the meeting, two people in the room said, offering what was described as a calm yet firm defense of the Constitution. She did not apologize during her remarks.
Cheney also told members that she wanted a vote to be called on her leadership status, which was interpreted by some in the room as an act of confidence in her standing with a broader cross-section of Republicans, the majority of which did not air their grievances toward her.
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise both said they support Cheney, according to a person in the room.
Cheney also fielded several contentious questions and comments from Trump loyalists, . . .
Yet despite these sane actions, the Washington Post reports that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy refused to take meaningful action against QAnon loony Marjorie Taylor Greene and, despite lip service to the contrary signaled that debased conspiracy theory lunatics still have a place not only in the party base but in Congress. Here are excerpts from the Post:
The top House Republican leader on Wednesday declined to take action against Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene as Democrats moved to remove her from House committees over her past extremist statements — signaling that Republicans intend to turn the issue into a partisan brawl rather than police the rhetoric inside their own ranks. . . . he said he would not bow to demands that she be removed from her committee assignments and accused Democrats of following a double standard and pursuing a “partisan power grab” by seeking to control the minority party’s internal decision-making.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said Democrats were forced to act after McCarthy and other Republicans declined to do so on their own. Democrats acknowledged the unprecedented nature of the move but said it was necessary given the nature of Greene’s conduct.
“We have never had a member like this before,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the Rules Committee chairman. “This is truly sick stuff.”
The bottom line is that the GOP cannot have it both ways. It has to either condemn extremism in a meaningful way or it will remain a party rapidly headed toward being the refuge of lunatics and hideous elements of society. A column in the Washington Post argues that the GOP must make a clean break from Trump and QAnon. Here are column excerpts:
There is a strange dynamic at work among Senate Republicans. Over the last four years, they showed utter fidelity to the ex-president, including acquitting him in the face of clear evidence of impeachable conduct. Now, Republicans such as John Thune of South Dakota intone on the fate of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
“Do [House Republicans] want to be the party of limited government and fiscal responsibility, free markets, peace through strength and pro-life or do they want to be the party of conspiracy theories and QAnon?” Thune said on Tuesday. He admonished the House: “It’s a big distraction for them right now and not in a good way.” Has he not been paying attention for the last few years?
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) never piped up when the ex-president was suggesting quack cures for covid-19, siding with the Russian president over our intelligence community or accusing former president Obama of crimes. That was then. Now McConnell warns, “Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality.”
After allowing lies to displace reality and pure propaganda to take the place of problem-solving, McConnell is in a poor position to summon his colleagues back to the fact-based world. Perhaps if he had voted to convict the ex-president last year or immediately recognized President Biden’s victory or had not spent six months refusing to confront Americans’ economic suffering, McConnell would be in a better position to disown his House colleagues.
Understandably, McConnell desperately wants to define his party in a way that prevents them from being labeled the “QAnon Party.” (To borrow a construction from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), “Not all Republicans are QAnon followers, but all QAnon followers are Republicans.”) But that will not fly so long as Senate Republicans concoct half-baked arguments to rationalize acquitting Trump.
If Republicans want to break from Greene and her fellow extremists, they should follow the lead of Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). He started his own political action committee, Country1st PAC, to recapture the party from the MAGA crowd, understanding the need for a divorce from the loony forces that now control his caucus’s leadership. “Republicans must say enough is enough.
There is no mystery about how to dissociate themselves from white supremacists, QAnon followers, Proud Boys, anti-Semites and racists. Denounce the conspiracy theories that brought us the attack on the Capitol. Throw out the white supremacists and other anti-democratic elements. Stop screaming “fraud” as an excuse to disenfranchise voters. Start making policy arguments on the merits (decrying “socialism” does not count).
Unless they quit their dependence on a crazed MAGA base and addiction to white grievance politics, the GOP will not recover. And as anyone familiar with 12-step programs knows, the first step is admitting you have a problem.
Will the GOP Succumb to QAnon Delusion?
A conspiracy theory promulgated by Donald Trump, the loser of the 2020 presidential election, has gripped American politics since Nov. 3. It has been willingly adopted by millions of his followers, as well as by a majority of Republican members of Congress — 145 to 108 — and by thousands of Republican state and local officials, all of whom have found it expedient to capitulate to the fantastical claim that the election was stolen by the Democratic Party, its officeholders, operatives and supporters.
Trump’s sprawling conspiracy theory is “being reborn as the new normal of the Republican Party,” Justin Ling wrote in Foreign Policy on Jan. 6.
A Dec 30 NPR/Ipsos poll found that “recent misinformation, including false claims related to Covid-19 and QAnon, are gaining a foothold among some Americans.”
According to the survey, nearly a fifth of American adults, 17 percent, believe that “a group of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics.” Almost a third “believe that voter fraud helped Joe Biden win the 2020 election.” Even more, 39 percent, agree that “there is a deep state working to undermine President Trump.”
Well before the election, on Aug. 22, 2020, my news-side colleagues Matthew Rosenberg and Maggie Haberman described the rising strength of conspiracists in Republican ranks in “The Republican Embrace of QAnon Goes Far Beyond Trump”:
A small but growing number of Republicans — including a heavily favored Republican congressional candidate in Georgia — are donning the QAnon mantle, ushering its adherents in from the troll-infested fringes of the internet and potentially transforming the wild conspiracy theory into an offline political movement, with supporters running for Congress and flexing their political muscle at the state and local levels.
Conspiracy theorists are by definition irrational, contradictory and inconsistent. Polarization, the Covid-19 pandemic and the specter of economic collapse have engendered suspicion. Many on the right see “liberal elites” pulling strings behind closed doors, and paranoia flourishes.
According to Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent, professors of political science at the University of Miami and Notre Dame, conspiracy theorists do not “hold coherent, constrained policy positions.” In a forthcoming paper, “Who Supports QAnon? A Case Study in Political Extremism,” Uscinski explores what he identifies as some of the characteristics of the QAnon movement: “Support for QAnon is born more of antisocial personality traits and a predisposition toward conspiracy thinking than traditional political identities and motivations,” he writes . . . “the type of extremity that undergirds such support has less to do with traditional, left/right political concerns and more to do with extreme, antisocial psychological orientations and behavioral patterns.”
The illogic of conspiracy theorists is clear in the findings of a 2012 research paper, “Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories,” by Karen M. Douglas and Robbie M. Sutton, members of the psychology department at the University of Kent, and Michael J. Wood, a former Kent colleague.
Douglas, in an email, wrote that “people are attracted to conspiracy theories when important psychological needs are not being met.” She identified three such needs: “the need for knowledge and certainty”; the “existential need” to “to feel safe and secure” when “powerless and scared”; and, among those high in narcissism, the “need to feel unique compared to others.”
Believers in conspiracies will often automatically dismiss factual claims disputing their beliefs. Jovan Byford, a senior lecturer in psychology at the Open University in England, makes the case that
Conspiracy theories seduce not so much through the power of argument, but through the intensity of the passions that they stir. Underpinning conspiracy theories are feelings of resentment, indignation and disenchantment about the world. They are stories about good and evil, as much as about what is true.
Byford continues: Lack of evidence of a conspiracy, or positive proof against its existence, is taken by believers as evidence of the craftiness of those behind the plot, and their ability to dupe the public.
Why, I asked, are Trump supporters particularly receptive to conspiracies? Van Prooijen replied:
For one, the Trump movement can be seen as populist, meaning that this movement espouses a worldview that sees society as a struggle between ‘the corrupt elites’ versus the people. This in and of itself predisposes people to conspiracy thinking. But there are also other factors. For instance, the Trump movement appears heavily fear-based, is highly nationalistic, and endorses relatively simple solutions for complex problems. All of these factors are known to feed into conspiracy thinking.
The events of Jan. 6, van Prooijen continued, underscore that conspiracy theories are not some “innocent” form of belief that people may have. They can inspire radical action, and indeed, a movement like QAnon can be a genuine liability for public safety. Voltaire once said: “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities” — and he was right.
In their 2014 book “American Conspiracy Theories,” Uscinski and Parent argue that “Conspiracy Theories Are For Losers.” They write:
Conspiracy theories are essentially alarm systems and coping mechanisms to help deal with foreign threat and domestic power centers. Thus, they tend to resonate when groups are suffering from loss, weakness or disunity.
The psychological predispositions that contribute to a susceptibility to conspiracy thinking are complex, as Joshua Hart, a professor of psychology at Union College, and his student, Molly Graether, found in their 2018 paper “Something’s Going on Here: Psychological Predictors of Belief in Conspiracy Theories.”
Hart and Graether contend that “conspiracy theorists are more likely to believe that the world is a dangerous place full of bad people,” who “find it difficult to trust others” and who “view the world as a dangerous and uncontrollable.”
Perhaps more interesting, Hart and Graether argue that conspiracy theorists are more likely “to perceive profundity in nonsensical but superficially meaningful ideas,” a concept they cite as being described by academics in the field as “b.s. receptivity.”
Adam M. Enders, a political scientist at the University of Louisville, argued in an email that:
There are several characteristics of QAnon acolytes that distinguish them from everyone else, even people who believe in some other conspiracy theories: they are more likely to share false information online, they’re more accepting of political violence in various circumstances.
In addition, Enders writes,
QAnon followers are, in a sense, extremists both politically (e.g., wanting to overthrow the U.S. government) and psychologically (e.g., exhibiting many antisocial personality traits).
Polarization, in Enders’s view, when joined with conspiracy thinking, produces a toxic mix:
As polarization increases, tensions between political parties and other groups rise, and people are more willing to construct and believe in fantastical ideas that either malign out-groups (e.g., “Democrats are Satan-worshipping pedophiles”) or bolster the in-group (e.g., ‘we only lost because you cheated’). Conspiracy theories, in turn, raise the temperature of polarization and make it more difficult for people from different partisan and ideological camps to have fact-based discussions about political matters, even those that are in critical need of immediate attention.
Conspiracy thinking has become a major internal, problem for the Republican Party, which is reflected by the current turmoil in party ranks over two newly elected congresswomen, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, QAnon sympathizers with long records of florid, antagonistic conspiratorial accusations.
There is some evidence that the Republican establishment has begun to recognize the dangers posed by the presence in that party of so many who are preoccupied — obsessed is not too strong a word — with denying the incontrovertible truth of Trump’s loss and Biden’s win in the 2020 election.
Even Mitch McConnell, perhaps the most cunning and nefarious member of the Republican establishment, has come to see the liability of the sheer number of supposedly reputable members of the United States Senate caving in to patent falsehoods, warning colleagues earlier this week of the threat to their political survival posed by the “loony lies and conspiracy theories” voiced by allies of QAnon in the House of Representatives.
If the conspiracy wing of the Republican Party becomes strong enough to routinely mount winning primary challenges to mainstream incumbents, McConnell may well abandon his critique and accept a party moving steadily closer to something many Americans (though not all) could never have imagined: the systematic exploitation of voters gullible or pathological enough to sign on to preposterous conspiracy theories in order to engineer the installation in Washington of an ultraright, ethnonationalist crypto-fascist white supremacist political regime.
The problem of keeping the extremist fringe at arm’s length has plagued the Republican Party for decades — dating back to Joseph McCarthy and the John Birch Society — but nothing in recent American history has reached the crazed intensity of Donald Trump’s perseverating, mendacious insistence that he won a second term in November. That he is not alone — that millions continue to believe in his delusions — is terrifying.
Tuesday, February 02, 2021
Pete Buttigieg Confirmed as Transportation Secretary
Pete Buttigieg will be the next Transportation secretary, bringing his political celebrity and legion of super fans to a mammoth agency that's not used to headlines — unless they're jokes about "Infrastructure Week."
After four years of leadership under former President Donald Trump's Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, a Washington, D.C., insider who was notoriously unavailable to reporters, DOT has a new leader who made near-daily appearances on cable TV even before the Senate confirmed him in an 86-13 vote Tuesday.
“He is very unique in the sense that he brings a whole group of people from all over the country that got to know him when he ran for president,” said Ray LaHood, former President Barack Obama’s first DOT secretary, in an interview. “They believe in him; they believe in his leadership. He starts out with a huge, huge advantage.”
Now an agency that oversees aviation safety, railroads, transit, highways and more, and has an entire bureaucracy devoted to corralling statistics, will run headfirst into Mayor Pete's throngs of social media fans.
On Twitter, hordes of #TeamPete followers — who sport bumble bee emojis as a nod to a cordial campaign-trail encounter between Buttigieg and a bee — hang on every word written about him. They relentlessly retweet each other and have been studying up on transportation issues, the better to follow the ins and outs of his career turn at DOT.
"From #TeamPete — excited to be learning about the tugboat, towboat and barge industry today! #SecretaryMayorPete" wrote one fan.
Some industry groups have even begun to seize on that dynamic, using #TeamPete hashtags to get more eyes on their issues. And it seems to be working, as Buttigieg's Twitter army has begun to engage — such as one tweet from progressive group Transportation for America, which drew this response from an account calling itself @GoodGuyPete2024: “#TeamPete is a loyal bunch. We are also curious and just nerdy enough to keep you on your toes. #HighwayHopes.”
The AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, an umbrella group for various transportation-related unions, also has been leaning into Buttigieg’s fandom.
“Clearly there is a new audience there, there's some new audience that we want to make sure we reach,” said Greg Regan, the TTD’s secretary-treasurer. “There's an established constituency that already cares about the secretary personally and listens to what he has to say," adding that his group plans to "channel that."
For now, he's mostly discussed Biden‘s agenda broadly, as well as his own history-making turn as the first openly gay Cabinet secretary to be confirmed by the Senate. In an interview with Lemon last month, some of his most memorable comments were about Biden's decision to reverse former President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military.
He has made some nods to transportation issues, though those have been typically brief and vague — such as when he told the hosts of "The View" that the Biden administration could address the country’s surge in political extremism by building “trustworthy” infrastructure — “the kinds of things that build up confidence in America as a whole.” In another example, he spoke to a local Fox affiliate in Detroit and CNN about the need to support U.S. manufacturing when Biden signed his “Buy American” executive order.
Beyond flash, Buttigieg‘s celebrity could breathe life into an ambitious climate-and-infrastructure plan he’ll be tasked with promoting. That's an exciting prospect for transportation wonks both inside and outside the agency tired of stale jokes about the Trump administration’s constant promises to pivot to an infrastructure agenda.
One of his primary tasks will be shepherding the transportation pieces of Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure vision, in whatever form it might take. He will be aided by deputy secretary-designate Polly Trottenberg, a DOT veteran from Obama’s first term who spent the intervening seven years running the New York City DOT.
Trottenberg, who has also worked for several senators including now-Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, has the Washington credentials and connections to work effectively with Capitol Hill, the White House and beyond.
“Once he gets in the job he’s going to be up to his eyeballs with transportation,” LaHood said, waving off a question about Buttigieg getting distracted by other administration duties. “If he can be an added asset to the Biden administration … that’s an advantage.”
Buttigieg is “politically astute enough to know that he’s going to have a lot of attention on the department, and he’ll use that to his advantage.” “If he channels that excitement around him to actually advocate for more transportation investment, I think that’s a positive,” the official said.
“We saw in his confirmation hearing and we saw when he was running for president the first time how detailed his transportation infrastructure policy platform was that he cares about the details, he's interested in getting to the bottom of these issues and finding out how to solve the problems that are facing us right now,” Regan said.