Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, April 10, 2021
The GOP Can’t be Saved: Time for Biden Republicans
For over 40 years, I have been fighting to build the Republican Party by advancing the principles of limited government and individual liberty. Thanks to that focus, the GOP has become the majority party in Arkansas. Now, I am being attacked by some of my Republican colleagues for not being pure enough on social issues and for vetoing a bill that limited access to health care for transgender youth.
I vetoed this bill because it creates new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters concerning our youths.
It is undisputed that the number of minors who struggle with gender incongruity or gender dysphoria is extremely small. But they, too, deserve the guiding hand of their parents and the counseling of medical specialists in making the best decisions for their individual needs.
H.B. 1570 puts the state as the definitive oracle of medical care, overriding parents, patients and health-care experts. . . . The leading Arkansas medical associations, the American Academy of Pediatrics and medical experts across the country all oppose this law. Their concern is that denying best practice medical care to transgender youth can lead to significant harm to the young person — from suicidal tendencies and social isolation to increased drug use. Given these risks, we have to ask whether the state action helps or unjustifiably interferes.
This is but one example of the rabid dog-like base that demands that anyone who is different due to skin color, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion be punished and penalized. Thus, one former Republican exhorts sane, compassionate conservatives in a column in the Washington Post to abandon the GOP and become Biden Republicans. Here are column highlights:
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), one of only 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump this year, recently told the Atlantic why he remains committed to the party: “I’m a Republican because I’ve been a Republican far longer than Donald Trump has. He’s a Republican usurper.… I’m not going to let him take the party. So I will fight. I will fight like hell.”
I admire Kinzinger’s fighting spirit. I once shared it. I recall saying something very similar in 2016 when Trump was marching through the Republican primaries: It’s my party, and I won’t leave it. My hope was that a decisive win for Hillary Clinton would bring the GOP to its senses. That obviously did not happen, so the day after the 2016 election, I re-registered as an independent after a lifetime as a Republican.
It is a decision I have not for a moment regretted, because the GOP has become even more of a horror show than I anticipated. As former House speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) notes in a new memoir, the “crazies” have taken over.
The party’s center of gravity has shifted to kooks such as Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (who blamed Jewish space lasers for wildfires) and low-rent hucksters such as Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz (who reportedly shared nude photos of his sexual conquests with his colleagues and is under investigation for possible sex trafficking).
Most Republicans don’t care that Trump locked up children, cozied up to white supremacists, tear-gassed peaceful protesters, benefited from Russian help in both of his campaigns, egregiously mishandled the pandemic, incited a violent attack on the Capitol and even faced fraud complaints from his own donors. A new Reuters-Ipsos poll finds that 81 percent of Republicans have a favorable impression of Trump. Wait. It gets worse: 60 percent say the 2020 election was stolen from him, only 28 percent say he is even partly to blame for the Capitol insurrection, and 55 percent say that the Capitol attack “was led by violent left-wing protestors trying to make Trump look bad.”
This is a portrait of a party that can’t be saved — at least in the foreseeable future. The GOP remains a cult of personality for the worst president in U.S. history. It has become a bastion of irrationality, conspiracy mongering, racism, nativism and anti-scientific prejudices.
So what should a sane, center-right voter — someone who might have voted for the GOP in the past — do under those circumstances?
There has been talk of forming a third party, but it’s not likely to succeed in our winner-take-all political system. . . . We can and should undermine the political duopoly with reforms such as multi-member congressional districts, ranked-choice voting and nonpartisan primaries. Such steps, which are being pushed by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), would make moderate candidates and even third-party candidates more viable.
But we won’t transform our political system anytime soon. In the meantime, centrists have a binary choice: Support either an increasingly extremist and obstructionist Republican Party or a Democratic Party that, under President Biden, is working to solve our most pressing problems.
It’s possible to oppose Biden’s plans on fiscal conservative grounds, but Republicans have no standing left on that issue after supporting Trump’s $1.9 trillion tax cut during an economic expansion. Likewise, Republicans have lost all credibility on free trade by supporting Trump’s trade wars and on foreign policy by backing Trump’s neo-isolationism. What do they have left? Scare-mongering rhetoric (every Democratic initiative is a sign of “socialism”) and culture wars (Dr. Seuss, Major League Baseball) to distract their base.
But while Biden hasn’t gotten any GOP votes in Congress for his agenda yet, he has won broad approval from the country at large.
Biden is governing from the “new center,” while Republicans are increasingly catering to the far right with shrill, divisive rhetoric and antidemocratic actions such as bills to restrict voting. Under those circumstances, those of us on the center-right can’t afford a third-party flirtation. We need to become Biden Republicans.
The GOP Is Voting Against Its Base's Economic Interest
With their opposition to President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, Republicans are doubling down on a core bet they’ve made for his presidency: that the GOP can maintain support among its key constituencies while fighting programs that would provide those voters with tangible economic assistance.
Last month, every House and Senate Republican opposed Biden’s massive $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, even though it delivered significant benefits to working-class white voters, the GOP’s foundational voting bloc, including increased health-care subsidies and expanded tax credits for families with children. That pattern is repeating with the infrastructure plan, even though it directs billions of dollars to rural communities, which are indispensable to Republican political fortunes.
That resistance represents a political gamble, because the proposed benefits—including $1,400 stimulus checks, and rural broadband in the infrastructure plan—are large enough and visible enough that voters may be more likely to feel them in their daily life than most legislative actions.
For now, at least, the GOP appears utterly undeterred. Republican consultants I’ve spoken with express confidence that, despite the two plans’ benefits, they can discredit them—either by focusing on elements of the plans that may be unpopular with conservative audiences, or by changing the subject to culture-war confrontations, such as the surge of undocumented minors at the border.
Biden “is going to be disappointed” in how GOP-leaning constituencies react to these programs, David Kochel, a veteran Republican consultant based in Iowa, told me. “All of the negative partisanship and cultural motivation is going to be out of his control, and Republicans and the conservative-media machine [are] going to continue to fill” GOP voters’ heads “with all of these left-wing priorities” that are part of these packages.
Republicans may not immediately suffer for opposing these initiatives. But longer term, Democrats see more of an opening because assistance will be flowing so visibly that voters may note tangible effects contradicting the negative portrayals from GOP leaders and conservative-media voices. When policies are still being debated and “we are talking about hypotheticals, it is very hard for Democrats to get past the right-wing media landscape,” says Matt Hildreth, the executive director of RuralOrganizing.org, a group that argues for progressive causes in rural America. “After things pass, I think [it’s] a fundamentally different thing, especially when we are talking about policies that will impact people in their daily lives.”
Both the stimulus package and the infrastructure proposal are so expansive that they essentially replace “either/or” politics with “both/and”: They provide large-scale benefits to traditionally Democratic groups as well as to Republican communities and constituencies.
Low-to-middle-income white Americans, many of them without college degrees, will be among the major beneficiaries of those programs, social-policy analysts predict. According to an analysis provided to me by the Center on Poverty and Social Policy, at Columbia University, 95 percent of children in families headed by a white parent without a college degree will receive benefits from the expanded child tax credit. The average benefit for those families will be more than $1,800 over the next year. That’s a higher share of beneficiaries than among white people with a college degree—and a larger benefit.
The expanded ACA subsidies likewise substantially reduce premium costs for low-income working families, many of them white Americans without a college degree.
[T]he infrastructure plan that Biden unveiled last month shows the same expansive reach, channeling substantial aid to both Democratic- and Republican-leaning places. Mark Muro, the policy director at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, told me that it would provide an enormous boost for the country’s major metropolitan areas, which have become the backbone of the Democratic coalition in virtually every state.
At the same time, many other measures are structured to “help heartland midsize cities gain traction,” Muro told me. Biden’s plan includes a Great Society–style alphabet soup of programs to promote innovation and community development in rural areas (such as new regional innovation hubs outside major population centers), and huge sums for big, New Deal–style rural public-works projects: $10 billion for upgrading water systems in rural or tribal communities; $2 billion for affordable rural housing; and $20 billion for fixing smaller, rural bridges.
Towering over all those commitments, the bill’s most visible component in rural communities is likely to be Biden’s call for spending $100 billion to ensure 100 percent broadband access, which is now completely unavailable for about one-third of rural residents and spotty for many more. Although local-government officials in rural America have long lamented the lack of broadband access, the deficiencies have become more glaring since the coronavirus pandemic forced businesses to shift their operations online and forced kids to learn remotely. “It’s a huge issue,” says Link, who is based in Des Moines.
Even that doesn’t exhaust the list of potential benefits for rural places in the two big economic plans Biden has announced so far. His call for requiring all utilities to generate 100 percent of their electricity from carbon-free sources would spur huge investment in solar and wind power, much of which is in rural communities and has already become a major source of income for farmers in states such as Iowa and Kansas. The second half of his jobs plan, which will be released sometime this spring, is expected to fund two years of tuition-free community college, a crucial source of economic advancement in many small towns.
The question for Democrats is whether all of these programs build a ladder tall enough to lift them from a very deep hole in rural America. . . . . as debate over the infrastructure bill intensifies in the weeks to come, Republicans may focus less on trying to discredit the proposal than on diverting their voters—by keeping their attention on disputes that widen the cultural gulf between them and the Democratic Party, such as undocumented immigration and police reform. “Don’t underestimate the power of conservative media to shape this into a [cultural] narrative Biden cannot fight,” Kochel told me.
One asset Democrats have in this struggle is time. However successful Republicans are at tarnishing Biden’s programs at the outset among core GOP voters, Biden has an opportunity to change those perceptions through the actual implementation of his plans.
[I]f Democrats can pass Biden’s infrastructure program this summer, that will leave plenty of time before the next two elections to start repairing bridges and roads, and to break ground on new water systems, new wind and solar installations, and new broadband facilities. Even small gains in nonurban areas from such initiatives would fortify Democrats’ position in states near the tipping point of American elections, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Georgia, Hildreth told me. “I think we are maybe a decade from having a majority in critical rural counties, but we just need to cut margins right now,” he said. “Literally the motto is ‘Lose less.’”
Thursday, April 08, 2021
The GOP and Corporate America are Beginning to Part Ways
The ever-moving tectonic shift underneath American politics is prime for another quake as civil rights starts to outweigh corporate tax rates in the calculating minds of big American businesses.
Corporate America's years-long move toward a political awakening has increasingly put large companies in direct opposition to the GOP, a political party that spent generations crusading as the friend of business and slasher of corporate taxes.
Another piece in New York Magazine looks at this political trend and takes particular aim at Moscow Mitch and his shocked and belatedly realizing that the earth may be shifting under his feet. Perhaps this is in no small part due to the backlash against the misrule of the Trump/Pence regime and the big lie about a "stolen election" and non-existent "voter fraud." Then too, as the article notes, counties that voted for Joe Biden account for 70% of the nations GNP and have far more spending power than the GOP's shrinking base and rural red states. Here are article excerpts:
On June 15, 2012, . . . The Senate Minority Leader used the hourlong remarks to warn that restrictions on political donations by corporations and wealthy people, or even mere disclosure requirements, were “an alarming willingness itself to use the powers of government to silence” dissent.
Whatever might be said about McConnell, here was an issue where not even his bitterest critics doubted his sincerity. Opposing campaign-finance reform as a dangerous restriction on political speech by businesses was the cause of his life.
And yet, last Monday, here was McConnell treating the spectacle of business leaders engaging in political debate as a stark threat to be extinguished. The provocation was a series of corporate statements denouncing Republican-sponsored voting restrictions, which McConnell described as “a coordinated campaign by powerful and wealthy people to mislead and bully the American people.” McConnell, invoking a spate of Republican proposals to punish firms that speak out against their vote-suppression laws, warned, “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country.”
The next day, after reiterating his warning to corporations to “stay out of politics,” McConnell clarified that he did not mean to discourage their continued donations. Corporate money is speech, but speech isn’t speech.
The phantasmal threat of government intimidating business leaders for exercising their First Amendment rights, which McConnell had once invoked to ward off any limits on their ability to use financial leverage over elections, had suddenly become real. And the source of the threat is McConnell himself. A few days’ worth of large corporations condemning voter suppression has left the Republican leader so thoroughly rattled that he’s thrown away decades of laborious work reputation-building on the single issue that is the foundation of his worldview.
There is more at work here than the latest cynical turn of the wheel. McConnell is acting not only out of calculation but a mix of fear and rage that is enveloping segments of the right that believed they had come through the Trump era unscathed. For a certain class of Establishment Republican, the events surrounding Georgia’s voting restrictions have set off a mental crisis more severe than anything they experienced during the previous four years.
Trump’s most ardent cultists disdained them as country-club insiders who resented Trump for inspiring a populist uprising that shook loose their control of their party. To their left, the media, liberals, Never Trumpers, and perhaps their neighbors and younger family members dismissed them as little Eichmanns working alongside a monster.
The nadir came on two consecutive days in January. On Tuesday, January 5, a surprising special election deposed the Republican Senate majority and gave Democrats a working government. The next day, a Trumpist mob ransacked the Capitol. In that moment, they finally snapped. McConnell delivered a searing speech blaming Trump. Even Lindsey Graham said he was done with Trump.
But the party faithful weren’t done. Trump’s lie that his sacred landslide election was stolen by fraud took hold among the party’s base. And so they responded by instituting a national wave of restrictive voting bills, beginning in Georgia, the epicenter of Trump’s grievance. It did not strike them as especially significant that the state is a literal crime scene (Trump is the subject of two ongoing investigations stemming from his efforts to pressure state officials to overturn the election results.) Nor did the symbolism of launching their vote-suppression program in a blue-trending former Jim Crow state strike them as especially provocative. Voter-suppression laws would, they hoped, advance the party’s electoral prospects by discouraging young people and racial minorities from navigating the bureaucratic requirements of voting.
While it looked to the outside world that they were flattering Trump’s lie, voter suppression was good old-fashioned mainstream Republican policy even before Trump came along. The conservative movement has argued for decades that the problem with voting is that too many people do it because it’s too convenient. “Voting is a privilege,” National Review’s Andrew McCarthy argues. (A privilege, not a right.) “It would be far better if the franchise were not exercised by ignorant, civics-illiterate people, hypnotized by the flimflam that a great nation needs to be fundamentally transformed rather than competently governed.”
Vote suppression sits at the intersection of Trump’s unique derangement and standard-issue conservatism. It is the sort of policy Republicans used to enact quietly, with little protest, back before everybody detested them.
To see dozens of corporations denounce voter-suppression laws has therefore come as a shock to the party’s elite. Nobody — nobody they cared about, anyway — was denouncing them for passing vote-suppression laws in 2010. They had begrudgingly accepted some level of backlash against Trump. But now Trump was gone, many of them had openly denounced him on his way out, and here they find themselves still on moral probation.
A sickening realization has settled upon them that many of the uncomfortable changes to the political atmosphere over the last four years may be permanent. The cultural change that alienated the GOP from academia and Hollywood years ago are creeping into corporate America.
A major reason for this is that the country’s economy has a leftward skew that is even more pronounced than the rightward skew of its political institutions. Counties that voted for Biden account for 70 percent of GDP. The young educated people that big companies disproportionately covet as customers and as employees are far more liberal than the median voter.
Republicans have lashed out at the market that has forsaken them, angrily threatening policy retribution against any companies that oppose their vote-suppression agenda.
The Journal also recently published a column by a Republican lamenting all the brands that have politically alienated him. The list only begins with known villains like Delta, Major League Baseball, and Coke. “Moving to the bathroom, I encounter my progressive razors,” he laments, recounting how a Gillette ad attacked toxic masculinity and Harry’s pulled its advertising from Ben Shapiro’s website.
Between his blustery threats of retribution against his erstwhile corporate allies, McConnell sounds almost plaintive. . . . . Perhaps he should try a little more introspection as to just how it came to pass that formerly anodyne corporate value statements, like “Voting is good” and “Racism is bad,” turned into divisive markers of partisanship.
Wednesday, April 07, 2021
Status Anxiety Is Drives the Right Wing
The Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 had a number of things (mostly) in common, including their race, their gender and their belief that when an election doesn’t turn out the way you want, the appropriate response is violence.
But political scientist Robert A. Pape found something interesting when he looked at where the 377 people who have been arrested or charged in connection with the riot hailed from:
Nor were these insurrectionists typically from deep-red counties. Some 52 percent are from blue counties that Biden comfortably won. But by far the most interesting characteristic common to the insurrectionists’ backgrounds has to do with changes in their local demographics: Counties with the most significant declines in the non-Hispanic White population are the most likely to produce insurrectionists who now face charges.
There has already been a good deal of social media response to Pape’s study of the, “Duh, it’s racism, not economic anxiety” variety. But while this result may not be surprising, it is a vivid illustration of the forces that helped propel Donald Trump to the presidency and still hold the Republican Party in their grip.
It’s also a reminder to Democrats of what they can and can’t accomplish with subtle alterations to their messaging.
Many at the Capitol seem to have experienced the kind of cultural change that the entire conservative world — including both ambitious politicians and an entrenched right-wing media — is intent on not just drawing attention to but also focusing on as a source of resentment and fear.
Looking back, it seemed almost destined that the Trump era would culminate in a violent right-wing insurrection.
We’ve known for some time that many Trump supporters felt a deep cultural anxiety, the sense that the world is changing in ways they don’t like and can’t control, and is leaving them behind. To a great degree, they’re right: Popular culture is far more diverse now than it was 20 or 30 years ago, and in many ways it reflects liberal values. If you think it’s an abomination for people of the same gender to marry, TV is going to make you feel very uncomfortable . . . .
And if you’re a White person living in a town that is steadily becoming less White, just like the country as a whole? Many such people will welcome that diversity, but some will see it as a threat to their status.
Status is complicated. It comes not only from your income, the prestige of your occupation or the esteem of your neighbors. It can also come from the feeling that you and people like you are in charge. And sometimes you don’t even notice it until it’s threatened, which is part of how cultural hegemony operates.
Trump understood that the feeling of status threat could be turned into a powerful political weapon. For instance: The point of insisting Mexico would pay for his border wall wasn’t that we needed the money, but that we’d regain status and potency by dominating and humiliating that country. Vote for Trump and that status and potency would be restored, he suggested.
It is almost impossible to overstate the role that the conservative media plays in creating and sustaining the feeling that White people’s status is under threat — and that the appropriate response is resentment and fear. The encroachments of liberalism are a daily drumbeat on Fox News and conservative talk radio, as is the message that everything you cherish is on the verge of collapse.
After the past couple of decades, we should understand that there’s almost nothing Democrats can do to diffuse those feelings of cultural displacement. Fox is gonna Fox, and politicians like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) are going to see culture war rabble-rousing as their key to rising within the GOP.
The degree to which Democrats “reach out” to guys in Midwestern diners or try to show them “respect” by paying homage to their cultural markers won’t make a difference. . . . . Trump didn’t show his voters respect; he could barely contain his contempt for them. He told them he’d be a vehicle for their rage. That’s what they loved.
That rage still burns, because the forces of societal change that feed it continue inexorably, and some people will always try to profit from it, politically or financially. That’s true even if conservatives find it harder to loathe President Biden than they did Obama or Hillary Clinton.
And sometimes, even if — or especially when — Democrats assemble electoral majorities, that rage is going to burst out in violence. Again.
These people are the number one threat to peace and security in America and white nationalist are the number one terrorist threat.
Tuesday, April 06, 2021
Evangelicals Are An Obstacle to America's Vaccination Effort
Stephanie Nana, an evangelical Christian in Edmond, Okla., refused to get a Covid-19 vaccine because she believed it contained “aborted cell tissue.”
Nathan French, who leads a nondenominational ministry in Tacoma, Wash., said he received a divine message that God was the ultimate healer and deliverer: “The vaccine is not the savior.”
Lauri Armstrong, a Bible-believing nutritionist outside of Dallas, said she did not need the vaccine because God designed the body to heal itself, if given the right nutrients. More than that, she said, “It would be God’s will if I am here or if I am not here.”
The deeply held spiritual convictions or counterfactual arguments may vary. But across white evangelical America, reasons not to get vaccinated have spread as quickly as the virus that public health officials are hoping to overcome through herd immunity.
The opposition is rooted in a mix of religious faith and a longstanding wariness of mainstream science, and it is fueled by broader cultural distrust of institutions and gravitation to online conspiracy theories. The sheer size of the community poses a major problem for the country’s ability to recover from a pandemic that has resulted in the deaths of half a million Americans. And evangelical ideas and instincts have a way of spreading, even internationally.
There are about 41 million white evangelical adults in the U.S. About 45 percent said in late February that they would not get vaccinated against Covid-19, making them among the least likely demographic groups to do so, according to the Pew Research Center.
“If we can’t get a significant number of white evangelicals to come around on this, the pandemic is going to last much longer than it needs to,” said Jamie Aten, founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, an evangelical institution in Illinois.
As vaccines become more widely available, and as worrisome virus variants develop, the problem takes on new urgency. Significant numbers of Americans generally are resistant to getting vaccinated, but white evangelicals present unique challenges because of their complex web of moral, medical, and political objections. The challenge is further complicated by longstanding distrust between evangelicals and the scientific community.
Many high-profile conservative pastors and institutional leaders have endorsed the vaccines. . . . . But other influential voices in the sprawling, trans-denominational movement, especially those who have gained their stature through media fame, have sown fears. Gene Bailey, the host of a prophecy-focused talk show on the Victory Channel, warned his audience in March that the government and “globalist entities” will “use bayonets and prisons to force a needle into your arm.”
Dr. Simone Gold, a prominent Covid-19 skeptic who was charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct in the Jan. 6 Capitol siege, told an evangelical congregation in Florida that they were in danger of being “coerced into taking an experimental biological agent.”
Some evangelicals believe that any Covid restrictions — including mask mandates and restrictions on in-person church worship — constitute oppression.
Ms. Beukers foresees severe political and social consequences for resisting the vaccine, but she is determined to do so. She quit a job at Trader Joe’s when the company insisted that she wear a mask at work. Her son, she said, was kicked off his community college football team for refusing Covid testing protocols.
“Go ahead and throw us in the lions’ den, go ahead and throw us in the furnace,” she said, referring to two biblical stories in which God’s people miraculously survive persecution after refusing to submit to temporal powers.
One widespread concern among evangelicals is the vaccines’ ties to abortion. In reality, the connection is remote: Some of the vaccines were developed and tested using cells derived from the fetal tissue of elective abortions that took place decades ago.
The vaccines do not include fetal tissue, and no additional abortions are required to manufacture them. Still, the kernel of a connection has metastasized online into false rumors about human remains or fetal DNA being an ingredient in the vaccines.
Some Catholic bishops have expressed concerns about the abortion link, too. But the Vatican has concluded the vaccines are “morally acceptable,” and has emphasized the immediate danger posed by the virus. Just 22 percent of Catholics in America say they will not get the vaccine, less than half the share of white evangelicals who say that.
White pastors have largely remained quiet. That’s in part because the wariness among white conservative Christians is not just medical, but also political. If white pastors encourage vaccination directly, said Dr. Aten, “there are people in the pews where you’ve just attacked their political party, and maybe their whole worldview.”
[A] public education campaign alone may not be enough.
There has been a “sea change” over the past century in how evangelical Christians see science, a change rooted largely in the debates over evolution and the secularization of the academy, said Elaine Ecklund, professor of sociology and director of the Religion and Public Life Program at Rice University.
Distrust of scientists has become part of cultural identity, of what it means to be white and evangelical in America, she said.
In short, "conservative Christianity" remains a scourge on the world for many reasons.
Monday, April 05, 2021
Sunday, April 04, 2021
America's Insane Gun Carnage
In California, a 9-year-old child was one of four people shot dead at a real estate office on Wednesday. Shortly before that, 10 people were massacred in a Colorado grocery store, and eight people were executed in Atlanta-area spas.
More Americans have died from guns just since 1975, including suicides, murders and accidents (more than 1.5 million), than in all the wars in United States history, dating back to the Revolutionary War (about 1.4 million).
No one is spared. In a typical year, more children from infancy through 4 years old are fatally shot in the United States (about 80) than police officers (about 50 or fewer).
The main challenge for effective policy is that the United States may now have more guns (around 400 million) than people (330 million). The United States has 4 percent of the world’s population but about 40 percent of the firearms in civilian hands.
When Europeans lose their tempers, they punch someone; Americans pull out a handgun. Foreigners express road rage by cursing; a driver in North Carolina recently expressed his by firing shots into another car, killing a mother of six. Abroad, brutish husbands put wives in hospitals; American husbands put wives in coffins.
The guns used in highly publicized mass shootings get the most attention, and they reflect the changing American arsenal. . . . . hunting rifles are rarely used in crimes, but in recent decades the “cool” weapons in some circles have become military-style semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15 and AK-47 and military-style pistols like the Glock 17 that were designed to kill people.
“Assault rifles are the weapons of choice when someone wants to kill as many people as possible,” noted Michael R. Weisser, a gun store owner, author, N.R.A. member and self-described “gun nut” who has also sponsored a petition to ban assault rifles. “Since 2012 there have been 10 mass shootings resulting in 30 or more dead or wounded victims. Every single one of these shootings was accomplished with an AR or an AK.”
[T]oday there appear to be more AR and AK rifles in private hands than in the United States military. And most crime and deaths involve handguns, not rifles.
But there is a way to stem the tide of a new type of gun that is proliferating unchecked. President Biden can use executive action to crack down on “ghost guns,” which avoid regulation and serial numbers because they are sold unfinished or as kits. . . . Ghost guns have been used in at least three mass shootings in California, Wintemute said.
White nationalists have seized upon the chance to build secret arsenals through ghost guns. Last year, a supporter of the extremist boogaloo movement allegedly used a ghost weapon to kill a law enforcement officer, and the men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, also had ghost guns.
Ghost guns evade the law because the federal government defines firearms so as not to include so-called 80-percenter guns, which are not quite finished but can be quickly turned into a finished weapon. The Ghost Gunner 3 uses 80-percenter units as the base for complete weapons.
If you order a disassembled couch kit from Ikea, you’re still ordering a couch, stated Daniel Webster, a gun policy expert at Johns Hopkins University. The Biden administration should take executive action to redefine a firearm to include kits and 80-percenters.
“This is a huge and important thing to address,” Webster said. “It’s a huge threat.”
We also need universal background checks, red flag laws, curbs on people with violent misdemeanor records acquiring weapons, and more.
Biden should move urgently to take executive action, to reduce the threat of ghost guns, to gather better gun data and to publicize where weapons used in crimes come from. States should also move forward. We can continue to lay the groundwork.
It’s also true that some of the most cost-effective steps to reduce gun violence don’t involve firearms directly and thus are less controversial. They include investments in “violence interrupters,” who stop urban cycles of violence, or support for programs like Becoming a Man that help at-risk youths build a better future.
All of this isn’t enough to stop the parade of gun deaths. It’s frustratingly inadequate. But even modest steps are both urgently needed and an essential way forward.
The Other GOP Obsession: Attacking Transgender Youths
Republican-controlled legislatures across the country have introduced dozens of bills targeting transgender youth, building on conservative dog whistles and putting some of the country’s most vulnerable at risk, human rights groups say.
The bills fall into two main categories: At least 17 states are considering laws that would limit access to health care for young transgender Americans, and 28 more have bills excluding trans kids from school sports, according to a tally by the American Civil Liberties Union.
So far, the effort is working. Bills prohibiting children from playing on sports teams in line with their gender identity have already been passed in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee — and other measures are moving forward as well.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) went so far as to say she was “excited” when such a bill passed in her state. She later declined to sign it, saying she was worried about legal challenges, and instead issued a pair of executive orders she said would “protect” sports teams this week.
The push to roll back freedoms for transgender kids amounts to a dramatic uptick in exclusionary legislation by GOP lawmakers that builds on the far-right push to establish anti-trans bathroom laws, human rights groups say.
“We are truly witnessing an escalation of attacks on trans people, unlike anything I’ve ever seen in government,” Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the ACLU, told Democracy Now. “I think what we’re seeing today in state legislatures is a particular effort to pivot from the anti-trans restroom bills into a new form of regulation of trans young people and trans bodies.”
The ACLU has pledged to file suit against such bills, and a judge overturned legislation in Idaho last year that sought to exclude transgender girls from girls sports teams. But studies show that a vast majority of trans youth feel unsafe at home and at school, Strangio said, and ongoing efforts will only contribute to that.
This bevy of legislation relies heavily on misinformation and negative tropes about transgender people, and flies in the face of medical advice.
After the Arkansas legislature overwhelmingly passed a harmful bill that would prohibit doctors from providing medically necessary treatment to trans youth, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics said it was a “dangerous” attempt to politicize medicine.
“This is discrimination by legislation and transgender children and all children deserve better,” Dr. Lee Beers said. “It puts politicians rather than pediatricians in charge of a child’s medical care.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality said the Arkansas legislature’s decision was putting young people at risk.
“They would deny them live-saving, appropriate health care not because it’s good public policy but because politicians believe that it will bring them more power,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director for the group. “We need to remember that these are children. All children deserve to have access to the support and health care they need to live happy and healthy lives.”
How the Christian Right Is Killing Religion in America
The trend of Americans exiting the pews, never to return, has been steady for some years now and shows no signs of slowing down. According to a new Gallup poll released this week, only 47% of Americans polled in 2020 belong to a house of worship, which is the first time that number has fallen below half of the country since they started polling Americans on this question.
But what's really interesting is that the collapse in church membership has happened mostly over the past two decades. Since Gallup started recording these numbers decades ago, church membership rates were relatively steady, with only the smallest decline over the decades. In 1937, 73% of Americans belong to a church. In 1975, it was 71%. In 1999, it was 70%. But since then, the church membership rate has fallen by a whopping 23 percentage points.
It is not, however, because of some great atheist revival across the land, with Americans suddenly burying themselves in the philosophical discourse about the unlikeliness of the existence of a higher power. . . . A 2017 Gallup poll finds that 87% of Americans say they believe in God. So clearly, what we're seeing is a dramatic increase in the kinds of folks who would say something akin to, "I'm spiritual, but not big on organized religion."
Blame the religious right. Until recently, the U.S. was largely unaffected by the increasing secularization of many European countries, but that started to change dramatically at the turn of the 21st century. And it's no mystery why. The drop in religious affiliation starts right around the time George W. Bush was elected president, publicly and dramatically associating himself with the white evangelical movement. The early Aughts saw the rise of megachurches with flashily dressed ministers who appeared more interested in money and sermonizing about people's sex lives than modeling values of charity and humility.
Not only were these religious figures and the institutions they led hyper-political, the outward mission seemed to be almost exclusively in service of oppressing others. The religious right isn't nearly as interested in feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless as much as using religion as an all-purpose excuse to abuse women and LGBTQ people. In an age of growing wealth inequalities, with more and more Americans living hand-to-mouth, many visible religious authorities were using their power to support politicians and laws to take health care access from women and fight against marriage between same-sex couples. And then Donald Trump happened.
Trump was a thrice-married chronic adulterer who routinely exposed how ignorant he was of religion, and who reportedly — and let's face it, obviously — made fun of religious leaders behind their backs. But religious right leaders didn't care. They continually pumped Trump up like he was the second coming, showily praying over him and extorting their followers to have faith in a man who literally could not have better conformed to the prophecies of the Antichrist. It was comically over the top, how extensively Christian right leaders exposed themselves as motivated by power, not faith.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Gallup's numbers show numbers of religiously affiliated Americans taking a nosedive during the Trump years, dropping from 55% of Americans belonging to a church to 47%.
[T]he drop-off in religious affiliation is, researchers have shown, likely less about people actively quitting churches, and more about churches being unable to recruit younger followers to replace the ones who die. As Pew Research Center tweeted in 2019, "Today, there is a wide gap between older Americans (Baby Boomers and members of the Silent Generation) and Millennials in their levels of religious affiliation."
[Y]oung adults, even those who went to church with their parents, do have to make an active choice to join a church as adults. And many are going to look at hypocritical, power-hungry ministers praying over an obvious grifter like Trump and be too turned off to even consider getting involved.
In 2017, Robert P. Jones, the head of the Public Religion Research Institute and author of "White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity," spoke with Salon about how the decline in religion is concentrated largely among young people. There's "a culture clash between particularly conservative white churches and denominations and younger Americans," he explained, noting that young people were particularly critical of anti-science and homophobic rhetoric from religious leaders.
It's a story with a moral so blunt that it could very well be a biblical fable: Christian leaders, driven by their hunger for power and cultural dominance, become so grasping and hypocritical that it backfires and they lose their cultural relevance. Not that there's any cause to pity them, since they did this to themselves. The growing skepticism of organized religion in the U.S. is a trend to celebrate. While more needs to be done to replace the sense of community that churches can often give people, it's undeniable that this decline is tied up with objectively good trends: increasing liberalism, hostility to bigotry, and support for science in the U.S. Americans are becoming better people, however slowly, and the decline in organized religious affiliation appears to be a big part of that.