Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, May 01, 2021
Anti-LGBT Bigotry is Alive and Well in the Virginia GOP
What was a sleepy Republican nomination contest for Virginia lieutenant governor took a bizarre turn this week after a mailer sent out by former delegate Timothy D. Hugo showed Del. Glenn R. Davis Jr. wearing a rainbow-striped shirt, highlighting several causes Hugo argued were not Republican — including protecting members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination.
On Wednesday, an anonymous cellphone text sent to delegates in the party’s May 8 convention used the same photograph of Davis (Virginia Beach) and accused him of being “a gay Democrat.” The text also called Hugo “the only conservative running for Lt Governor.”
Hugo’s campaign manager, Dustin Rhodes, defended Hugo’s authorized mailer, which landed in mailboxes this week, as a portrayal of Davis’s “liberal voting record” and said arguments about the content were an attempt to distract convention delegates.
The text focused on Davis’s support for repealing the state’s now-defunct constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which has been illegal in the state since 2014. “Help Glenn come out of the closet by not ranking him on May 8th,” the cellphone message read. “Tim Hugo is the only conservative running for Lt Governor.”
Davis and Hugo are the two best-financed candidates in a field of six GOP contenders for the lieutenant governor’s seat.
Davis (Virginia Beach) said the message “exceeds the bar of defamation of character.” But, he said, the tactic nonetheless shows that an anti-LGBTQ message can still sway voters in some conservative, more religious parts of Virginia. “It’s probably a small minority,” said Davis, who has been married to his wife, Chelle, for 16 years.
Other Republicans condemned the anonymous text, calling it an example of a divisive style of politics that has hurt the state GOP during elections as Virginia has become increasingly blue.
The issue of LGBTQ rights has been a subject of debate within the Virginia Republican Party for several years, contributing to former congressman Denver Riggleman’s failure last year to win his party’s nomination for a second term after he presided over a same-sex wedding.
The issue also surfaced this year in the Republican nomination race for governor.
In February, conservative businessman Pete Snyder tweeted that he was “humbled” and “blessed” to receive an endorsement from E.W. Jackson, the party’s 2013 nominee for lieutenant governor and a Chesapeake minister known for calling the LGBTQ community “very sick people.”
Riggleman condemned Snyder’s acceptance of the endorsement, tweeting, “The #GOP has no future with this leadership.”
One of Snyder’s consultants is Diana Shores, who helped lead the effort to oust Riggleman in last year’s convention. On Wednesday, she praised Hugo’s official mailed flier. “Kudos to Tim Hugo,” Shores tweeted. “Equality under the law, yes. Pandering to the sexuality club? No thanks. Not sorry.”
The Virginia GOP remains a hate-filled party that has little to offer other than racism and right wing "Christian" extremism. With luck, th GOP statewide slate will go down yet again to across the board defeat.
Can Democrats Hold the House and Senate in 2022
The good news for Democrats who watched Joe Biden unveil a historically ambitious agenda last night is that newly elected presidents have almost always passed some version of their core economic plan—particularly when their party controls both congressional chambers, as Biden’s does now.
The bad news: Voters have almost always punished the president’s party in the next midterm election anyway. The last two times Democrats had unified control—with Bill Clinton in 1993–94 and Barack Obama in 2009–10—they endured especially resounding repudiations in the midterms, which cost Clinton his majority in both chambers and Obama the loss of the House.
The scale of the agenda Biden laid out last night underscores Democrats’ conviction that their best chance to avoid that fate again in 2022 is to go big with their proposals. Counting the coronavirus stimulus plan approved earlier this year, Biden has now proposed more than $5 trillion in new spending initiatives over the next decade—far more than Clinton or Obama ever offered—to be partially paid for by tax increases on corporations and affluent families. On cultural and social issues, Democrats are likewise pursuing a much more ambitious lineup than Clinton or Obama did; Biden is endorsing measures related to a panoramic array of liberal priorities, including election reform; police accountability; citizenship for young undocumented immigrants; statehood for Washington, D.C.; LGBTQ rights; and gun control.
“There’s a very different strategy this time,” David Price, a Democratic representative from North Carolina and a former political scientist, told me. “There’s an openness now to the sense that a bolder plan, ironically, might have greater appeal for independents and others we need to attract than trying to trim and split the difference” with Republicans.
That “bolder plan” from Biden and congressional Democrats is so all-encompassing that historians are legitimately comparing it to the two titanic 20th-century programs that transformed government’s role in American society: the New Deal under Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s and the Great Society under Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s. “This is definitely FDR and Johnson territory, especially in the current age of polarization, where so little gets done,” Julian Zelizer, a Princeton historian, told me.
Republicans believe the magnitude of Biden’s plans will inspire significant backlash from GOP voters in 2022. “Democrats get in trouble when they overreach on spending, taxes, regulating guns, and when the border is a mess,” Bill McInturff, a longtime Republican pollster, told me. “You can see the possibility already [that] all of this could come together in 2022 and create a difficult cycle for President Biden and the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.” Democrats, for their part, are hoping that they “will be rewarded for solving big problems and … Republicans will be punished for sitting on the sidelines and just driving political rhetoric,” John Anzalone, one of Biden’s lead pollsters during the election, told me.
Yet Democrats’ fear of failure may be fueling the ambitions on vivid display last night just as much as their hope of success is. While most Democrats believe that going big offers them their best chance of maintaining at least one of their majorities next year, many quietly acknowledge that, no matter what they achieve, they face long odds of holding the House in the first midterm election after the decennial redistricting process spurred by the census. . . . . many Democrats think that their window for significant legislative accomplishments will slam shut if the GOP wins either chamber in 2022.
What’s encouraging is how past presidents have managed to push through important parts of their agenda. Presidents don’t get everything they want during that initial two-year period. Clinton, for instance, failed to pass comprehensive health-care reform, and Donald Trump failed to repeal the comprehensive reform that Obama did pass—the Affordable Care Act. But presidents whose party controls Congress typically do pass some version of their core economic proposals during their first two years, even if it usually happens after some significant remodeling.
This history augurs well for Congress eventually approving some version of the infrastructure and human-capital plans Biden touted last night, even if the plans are adjusted to win approval from the Democratic Party’s most conservative senators, such as West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. (Democrats can pass most of Biden’s economic agenda through the reconciliation process, which requires only a simple-majority vote in the Senate. His noneconomic priorities face much dimmer prospects of passing in the upper chamber, unless Senate Democrats agree to curtail the filibuster.) Democrats often blame the devastating losses Obama suffered in 2010—he lost more House seats than any president in a midterm since 1938—on his administration’s overly cautious approach, and they don’t want to repeat that mistake.
Price, Anzalone, and other Democrats cited several reasons to feel confident that the party can pass a sweeping agenda and avoid the big losses that Obama and Clinton suffered early on. For starters, compared with 1994 and 2010, the party isn’t defending as many conservative-leaning House or Senate seats: In 2022, the party will not be defending a single Senate seat in a state that backed Trump, and will have to protect only seven Democratic lawmakers in House districts that he won. Another key difference: For all of his other ambitions, Biden isn’t trying to remake the health-care system, as both Clinton and Obama were in their first two years.
The absence of such sustained opposition—key business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have in fact praised many of Biden’s proposals—may help explain why public polls have been in Biden’s favor: They’ve consistently found a substantial majority of Americans supporting Biden’s stimulus plan, and a narrower but still consistent majority backing his infrastructure proposal. “That’s in large part because there has not been a coherent message against Biden’s plan or a large mobilization against his agenda,” McElwee said.
Most of the key elements of the American Families Plan that Biden laid out last night—such as the expanded tax credit for children, universal pre-K, and paid family leave—poll well too, as does raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy to pay for them.
The prospect that Democrats can gin up strong enthusiasm among their base is the party’s biggest source of optimism. The Democratic voter-targeting firm Catalist has calculated that some 92 million Americans voted Democratic in at least one of the past three elections; to hold one or both chambers, the party might need only a little more than 50 million of them to turn out next year.
Biden last night showed one approach to mobilizing those voters: underscoring what he will do for them in his first two years. But if Democrats are to avoid the midterm deluges that submerged each of their past two presidents, some in the party believe an even more urgent task may be one that Biden, with his emphasis on bipartisanship, hasn’t really begun: showing Democratic voters what Republicans will do to them if they regain power in Congress next year. In the meantime, Democrats are racing the clock to pass an agenda that rivals FDR’s and LBJ’s—in a country and a Congress divided far more closely between the parties than when those presidents made their indelible marks on history.
Let's hope a majority of Americans refuse to fall for the GOP's lies and reverse Robin Hood agenda in 2022.
Friday, April 30, 2021
Biden Seeks to End American Brutality to Parents
When Patty Murray joined the Senate in 1993, one of the first bills she worked on was the Family and Medical Leave Act, which guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid family leave for people who worked at companies with 50 or more employees.
It was pretty modest, especially compared to the family benefits available in most developed countries, but Murray said passing it was a hard fight. . . . Among wealthy nations, the United States has remained an outlier in how little help it gives parents.
Now, though, we might be on the cusp of a humane family policy. On Wednesday, Joe Biden unveiled his American Families Plan, which would, among other things, fund paid leave for caregivers, subsidize day care and institute universal preschool. It would extend through 2025 the monthly cash payments that parents will receive under the American Rescue Plan. America might finally become a country where having children doesn’t mean being left to fend for oneself in a pitiless marketplace.
There are several reasons our domestic policy has long been uniquely hostile to parents, but two big ones are racism and religious fundamentalism. Essentially, it’s been politically radioactive for the federal government to support Black women who want to stay home with their kids, and white women who want to work.
The original Aid to Dependent Children program — which would become Aid to Families With Dependent Children — began during the New Deal. It was meant, as the Supreme Court described it in 1975, “to free widowed and divorced mothers from the necessity of working, so that they could remain home to supervise their children.”
Eligibility was determined by states and localities, which found various ways to exclude Black women. With the civil rights revolution in the 1960s, however, more Black mothers were able to receive benefits. As they did, conservatives started demonizing “welfare mothers” as indolent Black women, even though there continued to be more white women than Black women on A.F.D.C.
In “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together,” Heather McGhee detailed how support for public goods collapsed among white people once Black people had access to them. This very much includes relief for parents and children.
But universal day care programs that would help women work didn’t go anywhere either. In 1971, Congress passed a bill that would have created a national network of high-quality, sliding-scale child care centers, akin to those that exist in many European countries. Urged on by Patrick Buchanan, Richard Nixon vetoed it, writing that it would “commit the vast moral authority of the national government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing over against the family‐centered approach.”
Ever since, efforts to expand government-supported child care have faced furious opposition from the religious right.
But Schlafly-style conservatives have less power than they used to. Religious fundamentalists have decisively lost the culture war about women working, and about family values more generally; the party of Donald Trump and Matt Gaetz is in no position to lecture anyone about their domestic arrangements.
At the same time, many on the right, driven partly by concerns about low birthrates, have awoken to the crushing financial burden of parenthood. The public policy debate is thus no longer whether to subsidize child rearing, but how. Mitt Romney’s Family Security Act, for example, would give parents $350 a month for each child under 6, and $250 a month for children between 6 and 17, up to $1,250 per family per month.
And so a window of possibility has opened. By weakening America’s already threadbare child care system, Covid made family policy an urgent priority. Among Democrats, there’s a political imperative to help mothers who were pushed out of the work force by school and day care closures to rebuild their careers. With the laissez-faire economic assumptions that dominated America since the Reagan administration discredited, Democrats no longer cower when the right accuses them of fostering big government. As Biden said in his address to Congress on Wednesday, “Trickle-down economics has never worked.”
And — this is important — there are now a lot more women in positions of power. When Murray arrived in the Senate, she said, she was one of the few members talking about issues like child care. Whenever she brought it up, she said, “it was sort of the end of the conversation,” and there would be a “pat on the head, like, ‘Oh, that’s so cute.’”
This doesn’t mean that the American Families Plan is going to happen. With little chance of any Republican support, it would have to be passed through the reconciliation process, so its fate likely lies in the hands of Joe Manchin, the Senate’s most conservative Democrat. Still, it’s amazing that it’s suddenly possible that American parenthood could actually become a less financially brutalizing experience.
“Our country has taken a turn, and I believe Covid had a lot to do with it,” said Murray. Families, she said, are acutely aware of the unmanageable stress they’re under, and they’re saying, “I want my country to deal with it.” For the first time in my lifetime, there’s hope that it will.
Thursday, April 29, 2021
Biden's Family Plan Could Upend the GOP
Conservatives beware: If the main elements in Joe Biden’s American Family Plan become law, they’ll be very hard to repeal. Why? Because they’ll deliver huge, indeed transformational benefits to millions.
I mean, just imagine trying to take away affordable child care, universal pre-K and paid leave for new parents once they’ve become part of the fabric of our society. You’d face a backlash far worse than the one that followed Republican attempts to eliminate protection for coverage of pre-existing health conditions in 2017. And that backlash quickly gave Democrats control of the House and set the stage for their current control of the Senate and White House as well.
So what’s the Republican counterargument? Well, much of the party appears uninterested in debating policy, preferring to lash out at imaginary plans to ban red meat or give immigrants Kamala Harris’s children’s book.
Biden intends to pay for his proposals with higher taxes on corporations and high-income individuals, including a dastardly plan to give the Internal Revenue Service enough resources to crack down on wealthy tax cheats.
It’s important, then, to realize that the family plan would, if enacted, be a major job creator. That is, it would increase the number of Americans — women in particular — in paid employment substantially, probably by several million.
To understand why, the first thing you need to know is that while Republicans always claim that raising taxes on the rich will destroy jobs, they have never yet been right. Scott’s rejoinder to Biden appeared to suggest that the 1993 Clinton tax hike killed jobs; in reality, the United States added 23 million jobs on Clinton’s watch. People also seem to forget that Barack Obama presided over a significant hike in high-end taxes at the beginning of his second term; the economy continued to add jobs rapidly, at the rate of about 2.5 million a year.
Oh, and employment in California boomed after Jerry Brown raised taxes on the wealthy in 2012, defying conservative declarations that the state was committing economic suicide.
It’s also instructive to compare the United States with other advanced countries, almost all of which have higher taxes and more generous social benefits than we do. Do they pay a price for these policies in the form of reduced employment?
Take the case of France: Adults between the ages of 25 and 54, the prime working years, are more likely to be employed in France than they are in America, mainly because Frenchwomen have a higher rate of paid employment than their American counterparts. The Nordic countries have an even larger employment advantage among women.
[T]axes don’t visibly kill jobs — but lack of child care does. Parents in many rich countries are able to take paid work because they have access to safe, affordable child care; in the United States such care is prohibitively expensive for many, if they can get it at all. And the reason is that our government spends almost nothing on child care and pre-K; our outlays as a percentage of G.D.P. put us somewhat below Cyprus and Romania.
The American Family Plan would completely change this picture, providing free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds while limiting child care costs to no more than 7 percent of income for lower- and middle-income parents. If this raised employment of prime-age American women to French levels, it would add about 1.8 million jobs; if we went to Danish levels, we would add three million jobs.
[M]aking it possible for more women to take paid jobs isn’t the principal point of this plan — and there’s nothing wrong with parents’ choosing to stay at home and care for their kids. Instead, it’s mainly about improving the environment in which children grow up, partly as a matter of social justice, partly so that they eventually become healthier, more productive adults.
But higher employment — jobs generally expand to meet the available work force — would be a significant and more immediate side benefit. And it would also offer a partial fiscal offset to the direct cost of child care and pre-K, both because newly working Americans would pay taxes and because they would be less likely to need support from safety-net programs like food stamps. No, Biden’s spending plans won’t pay for themselves. But they’ll cost taxpayers less than the headline numbers might suggest.
And if these plans improve life for millions of Americans, will anyone besides professional ideologues care if they’re “big government”?
Biden Proves We Have an Adult Back in the Oval Office
It did not look like a typical presidential address before Congress. Wednesday night’s event, which lacked the packed House chamber due to pandemic guidelines, was missing some of the buzz and drama of past speeches. But there was a far more important difference this year: The return of normal presidential rhetoric and the embrace of traditional democratic values. As an added bonus, Americans saw two powerful women perched behind the president — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Vice President Harris. It made for a compelling, historic tableau and a reminder that only one party sends a consistently inclusive message.
President Biden struck an optimistic tone right off the bat: “Now — after just 100 days — I can report to the nation: America is on the move again. Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setbacks into strength,” he declared. Without mentioning his predecessor, he echoed messages from his campaign. The country is choosing “light over darkness” and “hope over fear.” He did not shy away from the Jan. 6 insurrection, calling it the “worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.”
He began, as one would expect, with a recounting of how far the nation has come in fighting the covid-19 pandemic and used the opportunity to urge everyone to receive a vaccination. . . . He touted his accomplishment in cutting child poverty and recounted the economic recovery to date while insisting the country cannot stay still as China and other world powers advance.
In introducing his jobs plan, he directly addressed working-class Americans who did not vote for him or were skeptical of his political promises. “I know some of you at home are wondering whether these jobs are for you. So many of you, so many of the folks I grew up with, feel left behind, forgotten in an economy that’s so rapidly changing,” he said before noting the number of jobs that would not need a college education. Biden then signaled he intends to reach out beyond the Democratic base to independent and Republican voters, not allowing Republicans in Congress to define the terms of the debate.
In a nod to bipartisanship — and a nudge for Republicans to end their obstruction — he declared: “Investments in jobs and infrastructure like the ones we’re talking about have often had bipartisan support. ... I applaud the group of Republican senators who just put forward their own proposal.” He added, “I welcome those ideas. But the rest of the world is not waiting for us. ... Doing nothing is not an option.
Biden used the opportunity to describe the wide range of investments — from broadband to electric cars to new water systems — that remain popular with Americans who do not care whether these things are called “infrastructure.” His basic message did not lack for alliteration: “A blue-collar blueprint to build America.”
He then moved to his American Families Plan, which includes child care, free pre-K and community college, paid family leave, investment in historically black colleges, and another extension of the child tax credit. He also vowed to keep Obamacare premiums and to lower drug prices. Anticipating Republicans’ complaints about taxes, he vowed only to raise taxes on the very rich and corporations. He denounced a tax code that allows big corporations to avoid taxes altogether and noted that the 2017 tax cut failed to pay for itself and pump up the economy.
This was a bold populist proposal. “It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom and the middle out,” he said. “You know, there’s a broad consensus of economists, left, right, and center, and they agree what I’m proposing will help create millions of jobs and generate historic economic growth. These are among the highest-value investments we can make as a nation."
Foreign policy usually gets short shrift in these speeches, but Biden touched on his administration’s re-engagement in the Paris climate accord, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, threats from China, his promises to stand up to unfair trade practices and rogue states seeking nuclear weapons. And he emotionally restated his commitment to human rights: “No responsible American president could remain silent when basic human rights are being so blatantly violated. ... An American president has to represent the essence of what our country stands for.
He made a powerful pitch for police reform, citing the murder of George Floyd. He said, “We’ve all seen the knee of injustice on the neck of Black Americans,” and then urged the nation to come together to “root out systemic racism in our criminal justice system.” He set a goal of reaching a deal on police reform by the first anniversary of Floyd’s death.
He ticked off a whole list of other priorities, including gun safety, voting rights and immigration. And he refused to be cowed by Republicans’ denial and deflection on the Jan. 6 insurrection. “As we gather here tonight, the images of a violent mob assaulting this Capitol — desecrating our democracy — remain vivid in all our minds,” he said. “Lives were put at risk, many of your lives. Lives were lost. Extraordinary courage was summoned.” This was no mere riot; it was “an existential crisis — a test of whether our democracy could survive." It did, he said, adding that “the struggle is far from over.”
At the close, Biden confronted threats to democracy. He argued that government can be a force for good and that democracy, not authoritarianism, works. He practically pleaded with Americans: “It’s time to remember that we the people are the government. You and I. Not some force in a distant capital. Not some powerful force we have no control over. It’s us. ... In another era when our democracy was tested, Franklin Roosevelt reminded us — in America: We do our part. We all do our part. That’s all I’m asking. That we do our part, all of us.” It was the most compelling part of a long, policy-laden speech.
He displayed his unique knack of making bold provisions seem reasonable and necessary. He was exceptionally optimistic, declaring that there is nothing Americans cannot do if they do it together. No one will have to endure inane punditry that Biden has finally “grown into the presidency.” He is comfortable in his new job — and determined to do big things.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
The GOP Poses a Threat to American Democracy
The hope of many conservative critics of Donald Trump was that soon after his defeat, and especially in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection, the Republican Party would snap back into its former shape. The Trump presidency would end up being no more than an ugly parenthesis. The GOP would distance itself from Trump and Trumpism, and become a normal party once again.
But that dream soon died. The Trump presidency might have been the first act in a longer and even darker political drama, in which the Republican Party is becoming more radicalized. How long this will last is an open question; whether it is happening is not.
The radicalization manifests in myriad ways, most notably in Trump’s enduring popularity among Republicans. Trump’s loyalists have launched ferocious attacks against Republican lawmakers who voted to impeach him for his role in the insurrection, even as national Republicans eagerly position themselves as his heir. Right-wing media display growing fanaticism, while public-opinion polls show GOP voters embracing Trump’s lie that the election was stolen from him. The Republican Party’s illiberalism, its barely disguised nativism, and its white identity politics are resonating with extremist groups. Slate’s Will Saletan, in an article cataloging recent developments, summarized things this way: “The Republican base is thoroughly infected with sympathies for the insurrection.”
To better grasp what’s happening among 2020 Trump voters, I spoke with Sarah Longwell, a lifelong conservative and political strategist who is now the publisher of The Bulwark, a news and opinion website that is home to anti-Trump conservatives. She is also the founder of Republican Voters Against Trump, now the Republican Accountability Project.
Since 2018, Longwell has spent hundreds of hours speaking with and listening to Trump voters. . . . . Prior to November 3, 2020, Longwell told me, “I almost never heard QAnon come up, except in a way that was derisive.” But postelection she’s had people “lean in and say, ‘I’m not saying I believe everything about Q. I’m not saying that the JFK-Jr.-is-alive stuff is real, but the deep-state pedophile ring is real.’” (The QAnon theory is that John F. Kennedy Jr. faked his own death to become the group’s leader.) In Longwell’s words, “The deep-state/conspiracy/Hollywood pedophile ring, that is in there. I’m hearing that plenty.”
As Longwell explained it to me, Trump supporters already believed that a “deep state”—an alleged secret network of nonelected government officials, a kind of hidden government within the legitimately elected government—has been working against Trump since before he was elected. “That’s already baked into the narrative,” she said.
A second finding, according to Longwell, is that for the first time, she’s hearing people say they pretty regularly tune in to Newsmax or One America News Network, two conspiracy-theory-minded MAGA television news outlets. She’s heard from some people in her focus groups that “Fox has gone too far left.” Overall, what she sees isn’t Trump supporters fleeing Fox in huge numbers so much as experiencing some cooling of their enthusiasm and a willingness to look to other sources of information. (Tucker Carlson, the most malicious and influential figure at Fox News, does have a certain rock-star status in MAGA world.)
Finding No. 3 is that many Trump voters believe the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent. Not everyone Longwell has spoken with believes that absent fraud, Trump would have won, though many do. . . . . despite the fact that the Trump administration’s own election-monitoring agencies issued a statement declaring the 2020 election to be “the most secure in American history”. . .
If compelling evidence is presented to MAGA supporters that what they’re being told by Greene or others is a lie, they don’t engage directly with the evidence. According to Longwell, “They say, ‘What about Ilhan Omar?’ They say, ‘What about [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]?’” As Longwell puts it, “They’ve got these things down, which is ‘Whatever you just showed me about Marjorie Taylor Greene is irrelevant because Ilhan Omar, because AOC, and I know lots about that, and I can tell you all about it.’” Some focus-group participants report that they like how Greene “speaks her mind.”
“Right-wing media has primed people for two very clear reactions to avoiding any confrontation with the bad thing that’s going on, on their own side,” Longwell explained. “And that is to say, ‘What about the left? What about this example of Democrats?’—that’s No. 1. And No. 2, ‘Why does the media never talk about that?’ So the media is as much an enemy as Democrats, and they believe that they’re connected to each other in this way.”
Trump followers believe they are independent thinkers, unlike the rest of us, whom they view as sheep, people who are “just sleepwalking through life,” in Longwell’s phrase—too naive, too compliant, too trusting. This explains how the effort to combat COVID-19 was derailed; much of MAGA world rejected what epidemiologists were saying, including about the efficacy of masks and vaccines, and turned the fight against the pandemic into a culture war between those they viewed as arrogant elitists and liberty-loving Americans.
Longwell also offered insights into a phenomenon that both fascinates and concerns me: political tribalism. Too many behaviors and attitudes are now driven by very strong loyalty to political tribes or social groups, or by antipathy and hatred for those on the other side. Many Americans are coalescing around their mutual resentments and fears. Tribalism is intrinsic to human nature, but it’s growing more acute. Amy Chua, a Yale law professor, has written about how in America today, every group feels threatened. That is a prescription not just for misunderstanding, but for more political violence.
Longwell laments what she refers to as the “symbiotic relationship” between Republican voters and politicians. The base is angry, radicalized, and prone to catastrophize; Republican politicians believe that stirring up the base is in their self-interest; and so Republican lawmakers, combined with the right-wing media ecosystem, inflame emotions even more.
Longwell holds the Trumpian political class more responsible than she does ordinary voters, though she doesn’t let voters off the hook. But she believes that the former know better and are acting more cynically, while she has some sympathy for many Republican voters. “They’re not bad people,” she insisted. “They’re just—they don’t know what to believe or they have been told a bunch of things that aren’t true.”
The problem is that the information sources on which they’re relying, and that they seek out, are built on falsehoods and lies. Many Trump supporters aren’t aware of this, and for complicated reasons many of them are, for now at least, content to live in a world detached from objective facts, from reality, from the way things really and truly are. And without agreement on what constitutes reality, we’re lost.
Republican leaders could have moved away from the indecency and corruption that defined the Trump era. In their different ways, Representatives Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, and Jaime Herrera Beutler and Senators Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Mitch McConnell have done so. . . . most others in the GOP chose to double down.
Having alienated college-educated suburban voters, many consequential Republicans decided their best bet is to keep their contracting coalition in a state of constant agitation and fear, combatants in a never-ending culture war, “embattled warriors making a last stand against the demise of everything,” as a friend of mine describes it. And that, in turn, requires them to feed the base even greater falsehoods.
[R]ight now the Republican Party is a grave threat to American democracy—not the only one, of course, but a grave one—and unless and until Republicans summon the wit and the will to salvage the party, ruin will follow.
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
California Braces for Another "Clown Car" of Gubernatorial Recall Candidates
Running in the California recall may be the best bargain on the planet for fame and fortune seekers.
For just $4,000, any registered voter can grab an instant platform in what’s sure to become the nation’s most watched election this year — and leverage that position on social media and airwaves with some of the most attention-getting stunts possible.
State officials announced Monday that the recall has enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, three days after reality TV star and transgender activist Caitlyn Jenner launched her campaign to challenge Gov. Gavin Newsom. California is already bracing for the media frenzy that occurred 18 years ago when B-list actors and ax-to-grind residents jumped into the state’s only other gubernatorial recall.
“If you want to be famous for being famous, there’s no better way to do it than to run for governor of California — even if you have no chance of winning,” said veteran California PR guru Larry Kamer. “It’s kind of the political equivalent of running naked down the street.”
The final field of candidates could look like a "clown car" of wannabes and political thrill seekers, Kamer suggested, and many believe the candidate field will easily top the 135 entrants in the 2003 race. The current social-media culture gives enterprising Californians an easy way to amplify their voice and build a following should they join the fray.
The 2003 contest included Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, actor Gary Coleman and former Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth. Arianna Huffington joined the fray before she launched The Huffington Post. None of them came close to topping A-list movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who established himself early as the front-runner — but all gained coverage and notoriety as they ran for California’s top job.
Few know that better than former porn star Mary Carey, who finished 10th and built a brand that lasted beyond the recall. She’s returning this year and already clearly winking at California voters with her messaging. “Last time I ran I was young, dumb and full of fun,” said Carey, upon announcing her candidacy. “This time I have more experience and will not be taking this position laying down. I am ready to be on top!”
Carey said in a Tuesday interview that she doesn't actually support the recall of Newsom and believes the process is disruptive and expensive for voters. But since it's happening, she wants to use the opportunity to "hear from the people" and use the platform to talk about real issues "like homelessness," women's health and small businesses. She said she has an unnamed Sacramento political adviser this time around — whom she dubbed "Deep Throat."
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who’s been a fixture in six decades of state politics, said California’s current recall system leaves the door open for a circus. Even he joked that he might run for governor, if only to sell some pricey “Willie Brown for Governor” hats and ties — “made by Brioni,” he boasts — to the hungry masses.
“It’s absolutely the least expensive way to advertise yourself statewide,” Brown said.
Before Monday’s announcement that the gubernatorial recall had enough valid signatures, more than 40 Californians declared their intention to run in the state of nearly 40 million people that’s home to some of the nation’s largest media markets.
The 2003 recall involved “a veritable who’s who of has-beens," said David McCuan, professor of politics at Sonoma State University. But that parade will be far surpassed by the 2021 version, he predicted.
“Because of social media, the politics of Trump and kind of the anti-establishment, anti-everything moment that we are in," he said, “the potential to have five or six times that number right is huge."
If there’s any hope for more experienced candidates, it’s that the three who finished right behind Schwarzenegger were established political players. They were, in order, Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, then-state senator and now Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and regular Green Party gubernatorial candidate Peter Camejo.
There's also likely to be a dizzying array of issue diversity among other candidates, who will use the race as a megaphone to drive their single-issue messages. In 2021, that could span the political spectrum from anti-vaxxers and QAnon backers, from religious zealots to Communist Party activists.
Already, declared candidates include political newcomers like Armando "Mando" Perez-Serrato, the owner of a Fullerton-based sporting goods enterprise. He supports ending all state Covid-19 restrictions and exporting mental health, drug and homeless services, as well as state prisons, “to Central America."
Tech professional and pastor Tim Herode says that if elected, he would no longer accept excuses like climate change for California’s rampant wildfire season. “If that’s the case, then why doesn’t the desert sand catch fire?" he argues on his campaign website.
And small business owner Dakota K. Vaughn vows to dump “useless and unnecessary” laws, saying that if he's governor, "dog neutering and registering will no longer be a requirement."
Despite the entertainment value a free-for-all campaign may bring, critics say there are serious concerns about an election that will cost taxpayers perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars to run — a price tag that hasn't yet been estimated by the California Department of Finance.
And Kamer warns that while the recall may create a flood of such political neophytes hoping to grab the brass ring, the vast majority will find the path intense — and the fame fleeting.
Will Corporations Face a Reckoning?
Corporations have talked a good game when it comes to civic responsibility. After the Black Lives Matter protests last year, we heard vows to diversify and paeans to racial justice. The Business Roundtable in 2019 declared that the obligations of a corporation went beyond shareholders and included customers, employers, suppliers and society at large. However, their devotion to short-term profits and tone-deafness to the threats to a democracy from extreme economic inequality have not abated. In the wake of two recessions and a pandemic, a reckoning may be coming.
Corporations got a huge windfall in the past four years, seeing their tax rate plunge from 35 to 21 percent as part of Trump’s 2017 tax bill. More than 50 of the country’s largest corporations paid no tax whatsoever in 2020. Stock buybacks soared in the immediate aftermath of the tax cuts (then fell dramatically early in 2020, before they began to rebound toward the end of the year). After the pandemic struck, corporations reaped hundreds of billions in bailout moneys.
Moreover, as the New York Times reports, despite massive losses “at many of the companies hit hardest by the pandemic, the executives in charge were showered with riches.” When Boeing loses $12 billion amid the 737 Max debacle but its CEO makes $21 million, or the hospitality industry sheds workers and suffers tens of billions in losses but CEOs make seven-figure salaries, Americans understandably think something is amiss.And yet when the Biden administration proposes a modest increase in corporate taxes to 28 percent, these same corporate leaders warn about dire economic consequences. If only the 2017 tax cuts had resulted in long-term growth and narrowing of the gap between CEO and average worker compensation, they might have a leg to stand on.
When Georgia passes a bill, motivated by false claims of voter fraud, to make access to the polls more difficult, corporations have to be dragged by threats of boycott to issue bland platitudes in support of democracy. After promising to end donations to politicians who voted to overthrow the results of the 2020 election, some corporations quietly reneged and resumed their donations to those same Republicans.
It should come as no surprise then that average Americans are ready to curb the excesses of corporate greed. The most recent Post-ABC News poll shows Americans favor President Biden’s infrastructure plan by a margin of 52 to 35 percent. However, raising the corporate tax rate is even more popular; 58 percent approve while 36 percent disapprove.
However, they have yet to make good on the promise to end exclusive focus on short-term shareholder gains, diversify corporate ranks and pay their fair share of taxes. In 1952, corporate taxes were 32 percent of federal revenue; in 2013 that share was down to 10 percent. By 2019, corporations contributed only 6.6 percent of federal revenue.
If corporations do not exercise self-restraint and translate platitudes into action, you can bet on a political reckoning. If corporations want to stave off a true populist rebellion, they should consider some self-imposed constraints including significant limits on CEO pay in years of layoffs and economic losses; a permanent cutoff of contributions to anti-democracy politicians; an action plan to support voting rights that includes paid time off to vote, lobbying for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and ending financial support for state and federal lawmakers who push legislation that harks back to the days of Jim Crow; and an end to their histrionic opposition to any corporate tax hike.
Corporate leaders would do well to remember that after the Gilded Age in which corporations amassed unprecedented wealth and power, the Progressive Era initiated an era of reform, government regulation and greater concern for what we used to identify as the “common good.” Corporations can be productive participants in a similar transition or they can get trampled in the rush to achieve economic, political and racial equality. So far, they do not seem to grasp the magnitude of the reckoning already underway.
Monday, April 26, 2021
Why the Country Needs a Jan. 6 Commission
IT HAS been less than four months since a murderous mob ransacked the Capitol in an effort to overturn a free and fair election, goaded on by
then-PresidentDonald Trump. This horror should have forced a national reckoning. Instead, a depressing number of senior Republicans continue to defend Mr. Trump and play down the events of Jan. 6, even as the party blocks creation of a bipartisan commission to examine the event. Case in point is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), himself a key witness to what occurred Jan. 6, and who now appears more interested in preserving his relationship with the former president than in acknowledging a national tragedy for what it was: mob violence encouraged by the one-time — and possibly future — leader of his party. Mr. McCarthy claimed on “Fox News Sunday” that Mr. Trump did not know about the riot before Mr. McCarthy called him, and that the then-president concluded the call saying that he would move to end the attack — a step Mr. Trump did not take until after the violence had peaked, and even then only halfheartedly.
“The statement contradicted McCarthy’s initial response to Trump’s role in the attack and a fellow GOP lawmaker’s recollection of what had been a tense call between McCarthy and Trump,” The Post’s Amy B Wang and Marianna Sotomayor noted. “In addition, one Trump adviser told The Washington Post that the then-president had been watching live television coverage of the riot, as multiple people were trying to reach Trump and his aides to beg for help.” According to one lawmaker’s account, Mr. Trump said to Mr. McCarthy, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” The minority leader on Sunday refused to answer directly a question about that reported exchange.
Mr. McCarthy’s squirming shows why the country needs a Jan. 6 commission fully empowered to subpoena witnesses and take testimony under oath. Such a panel could establish the definitive timeline of what [Trump] the president knew — and when — by interviewing members of Congress, White House aides and others. It could examine any connections between Trump associates and the riot’s perpetrators, the Pentagon’s role, coordination among rioters during the ransacking and other questions.
Perhaps Mr. McCarthy and other Republicans fear exposing their party’s complicity. This may be why they have dragged their feet on establishing a Jan. 6 commission, insisting that any such panel also investigate far-left antifa violence unrelated to the Jan. 6 insurrection. Drawing this false equivalence would play down the significance of the Capitol’s desecration and the attempted negation of a democratic election.
Republicans should drop their unreasonable demands about the commission’s scope — and stop trying to whitewash history on behalf of their disgraced former leader.
European Union: Vaccinated Americans Can Visit This Summer
After a year of nonessential travel from the United States coming to a halt amid the pandemic, the top executive of the European Union said in an interview on Sunday that fully vaccinated American tourists can visit the bloc this summer.
“The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, told the New York Times, referring to the public-health regulator which has approved the Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson shots. She added that “all 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by E.M.A.”
[H]er comments suggest that travel to the European Union will soon change from state-based restrictions to those based on vaccine status. Already, the EU is developing a program of “digital green certificates,” which will function as vaccine passports within the bloc. According to the Times, “technical discussions have been going on for several weeks between European Union and United States officials on how to practically and technologically make vaccine certificates from each place broadly readable so that citizens can use them to travel without restrictions.” Such a program would be a departure from domestic travel in the United States, where the Biden administration ruled out the possibility of a vaccine passport program earlier this month.
The announcement is a big step toward normalcy for Americans who can afford to travel to Europe — and a serious economic boost for local economies reliant on tourism. But it also reinforces the severe, artificial inequality of vaccine access between the nations which have secured millions of doses and those which are left to wait as wealthy countries refuse to share both supply and manufacturing technology.
As of late April, just two percent of all vaccines administered globally had been administered in Africa, a continent which represents more than 16 percent of the world’s population.
Sunday, April 25, 2021
American Police Are Inadequately Trained
Police in the United States receive less initial training than their counterparts in other rich countries—about five months in a classroom and another three or so months in the field, on average. Many European nations, meanwhile, have something more akin to police universities, which can take three or four years to complete. European countries also have national standards for various elements of a police officer’s job—such as how to search a car and when to use a baton. The U.S. does not.
The 18,000 police departments in the U.S. each have their own rules and requirements. But although police reform is a contentious subject, the inadequacy of the current training provides a rare point of relative consensus: “Police officers, police chiefs, and everyone agree that we do not get enough training in a myriad of fields,” Dennis Slocumb, the legislative director of the International Union of Police Associations, told me.
The mix of instruction given in police academies speaks volumes about their priorities. The median police recruit receives eight hours of de-escalation training, compared with 58 hours of training in firearms, according to the Police Executive Research Forum, a think tank for police executives. But despite the initial focus on firearms, American police don’t receive much ongoing weapons training, either. Slocumb said that when he was an officer in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, pistol requalification went from happening once every 30 days to four times a year, and then to three times a year. “That’s not because the sheriff or anyone else wants us to become less proficient,” he said. “It’s just a financial consideration.”
Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University law professor, trained as a reserve police officer in Washington, D.C, while writing a book. . . . . American police training resembles military training—“polish your boots, do push-ups, speak when you’re spoken to,” Brooks told me. In an article for The Atlantic last year, she described practicing drills and standing at attention when senior officers entered the room. “I don’t think I’ve been yelled at as much since high-school gym class more than three decades ago,” she wrote. Reformers worry that this type of training teaches recruits that the world runs on strict power hierarchies, and that anything short of perfect compliance should be met with force and anger.
Many policing experts recommend that officers be trained to slow down when they are able to do so, giving themselves time to decide the best course of action. “Police are taught in the academy [that] police always have to win,” says Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. But sometimes it’s okay not to win, particularly if it means saving a life.
“So many of these bad cases are a result of an officer incorrectly perceiving a threat,” says Sue Rahr, the former sheriff of King County, Washington, who now serves as an adviser to police-reform organizations. Rahr has developed a method to train recruits to be courteous, show empathy, explain their actions, and preserve everyone’s dignity. Police should be trained “to be sympathetic, to be guardians, rather than warriors,” Wexler says.
That might mean adding new subjects to the curriculum. Few American officers receive much education about the history of policing or the role of police in a democratic society. “The officer coming out of one of the European training programs, he’s much more likely to have a much broader perspective on what the job is, what your role is, what your society is like, how do you fit into it,” says David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “Those things are just not really part of what’s going on in most American police-training programs.”
American police academies are also light on training in “soft skills,” such as how to communicate or use emotional intelligence to see a situation clearly. “We didn’t talk about any of what you might call the big issues in policing: race and policing, policing and excessive force, what is good policing?” Brooks said.
New officers are often paired with field-training officers, but many of those officers learned the wrong techniques themselves, and are passing them along to their trainees. Derek Chauvin, who was convicted on Tuesday of murder, was acting as a field-training officer when he killed George Floyd. Kim Potter, who shouted “Taser! Taser! Taser!” before fatally shooting Daunte Wright with her pistol last week, was also acting as a field-training officer at the time.
The Marshall Project recently looked at 10 big-city police departments and found that most allow officers who have faced allegations of aggressive behavior to become trainers; one academic study found that officers whose trainers had a history of citizen complaints were more likely to draw complaints themselves in their first two years on the job.
Better training alone can’t solve every problem with American policing. But because officers are licensed to use force against their fellow citizens, they should at least be equipped to use it wisely.