Saturday, July 31, 2021
Pay people to get vaccinated, no matter whether that is unfair to those who didn’t receive checks for jabs. Require them to do so as a condition of going to work or enrolling in school. Do whatever it takes — and, recent weeks have shown, it is going to take steps like these — to get the pandemic under control.
Those of us who have behaved responsibly — wearing masks and, since the vaccines became available, getting our shots — cannot be held hostage by those who can’t be bothered to do the same, or who are too deluded by misinformation to understand what is so clearly in their own interest.
The more inconvenient we make life for the unvaccinated, the better our own lives will be. More important, the fewer who will needlessly die. We cannot ignore the emerging evidence that the delta variant is transmissible even by those who have been fully vaccinated. “The war has changed,” as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded.President Biden recognized this new reality with his actions Thursday. He announced that federal employees must be vaccinated or mask up and submit continuing proof that they are not infected; he urged private employers to do the same; and he encouraged the use of federal funds to prod — okay, bribe — the unvaccinated to step up.
If anything, Biden didn’t go far enough. He should have imposed a tighter mandate on federal workers and contractors — no frequent testing option as an alternative. He should have required vaccines for airline and railroad travel. He should have mandated vaccines for members of the military rather than kicking that can a few weeks down the road.
If I sound exasperated, I am, and I don’t think I’m alone. I have been looking forward to going back to my office — or backish, since it likely won’t be full-time — in a few weeks. Now, with D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) having wisely reimposed a mask mandate in the city, it’s hard to see how we’re going to actually pull that off.
It’s reasonable, it’s fair, and it’s legal to step up the pressure on the reckless noncompliant. By reckless, I mean to exclude some people: If you have a medical condition that counsels against vaccination, you are excused.
If you have a good-faith religious objection, same — although I have a hard time imagining what that might be beyond adherents of Christian Science, or what religion does not advocate some version of the Golden Rule. Yes, some fetal cell lines were used in the development or testing of the vaccines, but the Vatican has declared that it is “morally acceptable” to take the vaccines, and that reasoning seems solid.
And speaking of morally acceptable: How galling is it that some labor unions are resisting the vaccine mandate? The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the American Postal Workers Union and the American Federation of Teachers, which also represents health-care workers, are insisting that any mandate be the subject of bargaining. No. Show some leadership. Just tell your members to get the damned shot — for the sake of their colleagues if not themselves.
Federal judges have already rejected challenges to vaccine mandates by hospitals and public universities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has made it clear that federal anti-discrimination laws don’t prevent private employers from requiring proof of vaccination. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded that federal law “does not prohibit public or private entities from imposing vaccination requirements” for vaccines even at the emergency-use stage.
A century ago, balancing the tension between individual liberties and public safety, the Supreme Court upheld the ability of state and local governments to enforce mandatory vaccination laws. “In every well-ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members,” wrote Justice John Marshall Harlan, “the rights of the individual … may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand.” . . . The “safety of the general public” demands a “reasonable” response today, just as it did in 1905.
Friday, July 30, 2021
Several lawsuits are pending against Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpfuhrer and his acolytes in Congress who participated in the "rally" that preceded the assault on the U.S. Capitol by Trump cultists. One such is the cretin GOP Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama who has admitted he wore body armor to the event thereby dispelling any claim that a peaceful, lawful event was what was anticipated. Brooks and Trump are both claiming that they are protected from the lawsuits since they were performing duties as the incited a riot and an insurrection that sought to block the certification of Trump's loss in the 2020 election. Indeed, Trump has argued through his sleazy attorneys that none of his actions as president can be subjected to legal constraint, underscoring that he has always viewed himself as a would be dictator. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a brief that politely calls those arguments out for what they are: utter bullshit. A column in the Washington Post looks at how the DOJ action is very bad news for Trump, Brooks and others. Here are highlights:
Donald Trump managed to evade legal accountability throughout his presidency. That might be about to change — and the newest sign comes in a brief filed by the Justice Department. It doesn’t directly address the former president, yet has ominous implications for his ability to avoid responsibility for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
The Justice filing came in a lawsuit in which Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and a number of Capitol Police officers have sued Trump and others for their roles in the insurrection. One of those named in the suit, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), claimed that he is immune from personal liability under a law known as the Westfall Act, which shields federal officials acting within the scope of their employment.U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta asked for the Justice Department’s position, and, in a filing Tuesday, the department resoundingly rejected Brooks’s view. This is a correct — indeed, an unavoidable — interpretation of the law. It is a view that is directly relevant to Trump’s potential liability in the Swalwell lawsuit and other pending litigation, and a welcome departure from the position endorsed by the Justice Department in the defamation lawsuit filed against Trump by writer E. Jean Carroll.
In the Carroll case, the department accepted Trump’s argument that his disparaging comments about Carroll while he was president were within the broad scope of his responsibilities. . . . . I strongly disagreed with that decision: Accusing someone of lying about your actions before you became president, as Trump did with Carroll’s rape accusation, cannot automatically fall within the scope of your presidential employment.
In the Swalwell suit, the department adopted a narrower and, I believe, more legally defensible, stance about when federal employees are immune from suit.
The department first invoked Brooks’s own “defense” that his appearance at Trump’s Jan. 6 rally before the insurrection was “campaign activity,” not part of his official position: He was trying to get Trump declared the winner of the 2020 election and to promote GOP wins in 2022 and 2024. That was, the department properly concluded, political activity, not remotely covered by any immunity.
Even if Brooks’s appearance was not deemed campaign-related, the department added, he still is not entitled to immunity because he was accused of violating federal law — by definition, not part of his job. “Instigat[ing] a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol … plainly could not be within the scope of federal employment,” the brief said.
Where does that leave Trump, who is also a defendant in the lawsuit and has also asked that it be dismissed? Not in great legal shape, in my view.
[T]he department’s forceful conclusion was that Brooks’s alleged actions — conspiring to “injure members of Congress and Vice President Pence,” “disrupt the peaceful transfer of power,” or otherwise ensure Trump’s installation as the next president — cannot qualify as part of Brooks’s official job. That irrefutable logic is equally applicable to Trump.
Tellingly, the department’s brief said, “Inciting or conspiring to foment a violent attack on the United States Congress is not within the scope of employment of a Representative — or any federal employee,” a category manifestly including the president himself.
Trump, in asking the judge to dismiss the case against him, referred to the Westfall Act in a footnote, arguing that “the allegations arose out of his [exercise] of political speech, clearly within the scope of his employment (i.e., ensuring the faithful execution of the laws and carrying out his other Constitutional duties).” Then he made an even more jaw-dropping claim: “The Constitution Forecloses This Court from Exercising Jurisdiction Over President Trump for Actions Taken During His Presidency.”
But, as Swalwell and other plaintiffs argue, Trump went far beyond giving a controversial speech. He insisted that he had won reelection regardless of what anyone said and stirred up a violent, partly armed and visibly angry mob and aimed it at the Capitol to disrupt the official counting of electoral votes. He stood by and even praised the mob as it grew violent, rejecting requests to help those under assault.
Inciting an attack on Congress “is not within the scope of employment of … any federal employee,” the department reminded us, and Trump, in its brief. That single word, “any,” marks the difference between a president and a dictator.
Thursday, July 29, 2021
As American athletes compete on the world stage in the Tokyo Olympics, many on the right aren’t cheering them on. “The collection of whiny, overpaid social justice warriors are very hard to root for,” said Newsmax host Grant Stinchfield, adding that he took “pleasure” in Team USA’s basketball loss this month because of its players’ “woke” politics. “The team is filled with anthem kneelers, and I find it ironic they are willing to put USA across their chests, but in the not-so-distant past, they would kneel for the anthem.” In addition to taking pleasure in the men’s basketball team’s loss, Stinchfield also noted that he found himself “rooting against…Megan Rapinoe and her merry band of America-hating female soccer players.”
Stinchfield’s comments come on the heels of Donald Trump suggesting at a Phoenix rally last weekend that Team USA’s recent loss to Sweden was caused by the progressive politics of its athletes. “Wokeism makes you lose, ruins your mind, and ruins you as a person,” he said. “You become warped. You become demented.” Trump, who goaded the crowd into booing the U.S. women’s soccer team, went on to say that “Americans were happy” about the team’s defeat.
Politics certainly isn’t stopping at water’s edge, as the Olympics, traditionally a moment of national unity, has become the latest front in the culture wars. Right-wing politicians and pundits, apparently incensed that some athletes have spoken out against racial injustice and on other social issues, are now seizing on setbacks as evidence that American athletes on the court and field aren’t fit to represent the United States. Star Olympian Simone Biles was branded a public enemy by conservative talkers for dropping out of her role in the gymnastics team finals.
Among those criticizing Biles was right-wing sports radio host Clay Travis, who appeared on Fox News on Tuesday. “I think this is a massive issue for the United States women’s Olympics gymnastics team that she’s decided to quit in the middle of competition. We’ve never seen this happen,” he said, adding that Biles should not “be praised” for her decision and should never have “started the competition” in the first place.
Charlie Kirk, the founder of the right-wing youth group Turning Point USA, went even further in denigrating Biles, calling her a “selfish sociopath” on his podcast. “You know who has the gold medal? Russia! I have to go look at these four-foot-11 Russian Olympians chewing on their gold medals smirking at the Americans,” Kirk seethed, before claiming that America is “raising a generation of weak people like Simone Biles.”
The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer, responding to Kirk’s comments about Biles, suggested “that every Trumpist pundit understands the ravenous appetite their audiences have for belittling the tremendously successful black people they see on television, and rushes to meet every opportunity to do it.”
Biles, who was a survivor of sexual assault at the hands of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, further explained her decision to pull out of the Tokyo Games by sharing an Instagram post penned by former gymnast Andrea Orris. “It makes me so frustrated to see comments about Simone not being mentally tough enough or quitting on her team,” Orris wrote in a message, which Biles reposted to her Instagram story. “We are talking about the same girl who was molested by her team doctor throughout her entire childhood and teen years, won the World All-Around Championship title while passing a kidney stone, put her body through an extra year of training through the pandemic, [and] added so much difficulty to her routines that the judges literally do not know how to properly rate her skills because they are so ahead of her time.”
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
Earlier this month, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made the entirely sensible decision that the select committee to investigate the insurrection of January 6 should not include pro-insurrectionists. So she declined two nominations made by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., of Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, two Republicans who did not even bother to hide the fact that they planned to sabotage the important work of the committee. McCarthy, who has for months resisted this effort to investigate the attack that targeted members of Congress, including himself, responded by feigning outrage that Pelosi was denying him his god-given right to make a mockery of the committee and pulled all of his nominees.
McCarthy's tantrum initially worked. Pelosi's "no assclowns" rule, reasonable to any person whose basic sense of decency hasn't been hobbled by years of hack punditry, actually angered a number of people in the press. . . . Never mind, of course, that it was McCarthy who was playing games.
On Tuesday, we had the first hearing of what will hopefully be many into the events of January 6. Four police officers, two from the Capitol Police and two from the D.C. Metropolitan police, offered bracing and frequently heart-breaking testimony about what it was like to spend hours fighting both for their lives and to keep members of Congress safe from the rampaging mob intent on overthrowing democracy.
"I was electrocuted again and again and again with a Taser," D.C. police officer Michael Fanone, who suffered a heart attack and a traumatic brain injury from the attack, testified. "I'm sure I was screaming, but I don't think I could even hear my own voice."
Capitol police officer Harry Dunn spoke movingly about the racist abuse he received from the rioters, who called him the N-word repeatedly. He testified about sobbing after the attack and asking, "Is this America?"
Needless to say, the day proved Pelosi's critics wrong.
The proceedings did not, in fact, lack gravitas due to the lack of a coatless Rep. Jordan rolling up his sleeves and screaming incomprehensible conspiracy theories about "antifa" at the officers. The day would have not have been improved by having McCarthy's other saboteurs insult the officers or imply that they were lying under oath. No one's life was negatively affected by denying Republicans an opportunity to retraumatize these four men, who were incredibly brave to step forward, despite the ongoing threats from the followers of the fascist orange gaslighter the GOP is still in the thrall of.
The notion that the committee is not bipartisan, of course, is a joke. There are two Republicans on the committee — Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — who were chosen because they met the baseline requirement of believing fascist insurrections are very bad. The idea that these two don't "count" is inseparable from believing that to be a Republican necessarily means supporting Trump and his insurrection. And neither of them, who are both incredibly conservative despite their anti-insurrection views, are conceding that as of yet.
[U]ltimately, it doesn't matter how "bipartisan" the committee is. As Tuesday's hearing showed, the facts are sturdy enough to stand up even under the relentless partisanship of Republicans who would rather support a seditious ex-president than admit that Democrats are right about something. The videos showing the violence, the righteous anger of the officers who are sick of being told they didn't experience what they clearly went through, and the raw emotions as these men spoke of the terrors of that day: It all speaks for itself.
That people who continue to support Trump after January 6 should be ashamed of themselves is a given. But so should any journalist or pundit who thinks that "bipartisanship" matters more than the blunt facts of what happened on January 6 and who is responsible. (That would be Trump.) And it's clear that the committee does not need to cater to the Beltway media's fetish for bipartisanship to do its job. All they need to do is continue to uncover the ugly truth about the attack on our democracy.
Tuesday, July 27, 2021
The select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol held its first hearing Tuesday, and Republican lawmakers took the occasion to demand justice — for the terrorists who took up arms against the U.S. government on that terrible day.
Six Republican members of the House, escorted by a man in a giant Trump costume bearing the message “TRUMP WON,” marched on the Justice Department Tuesday afternoon to speak up for those they called “political prisoners” awaiting trial for their roles in the insurrection.
“These are not unruly or dangerous, violent criminals,” Rep. Paul Gosar (Ariz.) proclaimed at a news conference outside DOJ headquarters. “These are political prisoners who are now being persecuted and bearing the pain of unjust suffering.” Rep. Louie Gohmert (Tex.) speculated that “we have political prisoners here in America.”
They distributed copies of a letter alleging the Jan. 6 defendants had been denied “potentially exculpatory evidence” and subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The lawmakers, ironically, had to cut short their defense of the insurrectionists, because demonstrators disrupted them with heckling, whistleblowing and signs (“Traitors Sit Down”).
The half-dozen lawmakers, including Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, made explicit what has become more obvious by the day: Republicans stand with those who attempted a violent coup on Jan. 6. And it’s not just the wingnuts. House Republican leaders held a news conference before the hearing, blaming Jan. 6 not on seditionists but on Capitol Police and, particularly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the House Republican conference chair, proclaimed: “The American people deserve to know the truth: that Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility, as speaker of the House, for the tragedy that occurred on Jan. 6.” Stefanik charged that Pelosi “doesn’t want a fair or bipartisan investigation.”
Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, one of the saboteurs House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy had tried to place on the select committee, announced that Capitol Police “weren’t trained” adequately and that “Nancy Pelosi is ultimately responsible.”
Seven of the eight Republicans standing there had voted down an independent, bipartisan commission negotiated by the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee. And now they claim Pelosi is the one blocking a fair, bipartisan investigation? All this while faulting the Capitol Police, who at that very moment shielded them with a ring of officers, barriers, vehicles and a canine unit.
Had the GOP leadership been watching the hearing instead of spinning yet another conspiracy theory, they would have seen what it means to put country before party. Cheney, at the hearing, warned that without accountability for Jan. 6, “this will remain a cancer on our constitutional Republic. . . . We will face the threat of more violence in the months to come and another Jan. 6 every four years.”
She challenged her colleagues: “Will we be so blinded by partisanship that we throw away the miracle of America? Do we hate our political adversaries more than we love our country?”
Police testified about their grievous injuries, the ferocious violence and racism of the armed attackers, and their fears that they would die that day defending democracy. . . . . But a number of Republicans expressed more sympathy for the attackers.
The insurrectionists’ allies grew anxious as more hecklers arrived and unfurled signs calling them racists, rapists and traitors and “Pedophiles for Trump.”
“Wrap it up,” a worried staffer told the lawmakers. “We got to get out.” They fled to waiting vehicles, one of which sped off the wrong way on 9th Street NW. It swerved in front of oncoming traffic onto Pennsylvania Avenue amid a hail of honking horns.
What were they afraid of? These protesters were nonviolent — unlike the Jan. 6 terrorists with whom Republicans now side.
The Republican Party with a few exceptions is now the party of treason and sedition.
For a few weeks in 1992, U.S. politics were all about “family values.” President George H.W. Bush was in electoral trouble because of a weak economy and rising inequality. So his vice president, Dan Quayle, tried to change the subject by attacking Murphy Brown, a character in a TV sitcom, an unmarried woman who chose to have a child.
I was reminded of that incident when I read about recent remarks by J.D. Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” who is now a Republican Senate candidate in Ohio. Vance noted that some prominent Democrats don’t have children, and he lashed out at the “childless left.” He also praised the policies of [stridently anti-gay] Viktor Orban, the leader of Hungary, whose government is subsidizing couples who have children, and asked, “Why can’t we do that here?”
As The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel, who was there, pointed out, it was odd that Vance didn’t mention Joe Biden’s newly instituted child tax credit, which will make an enormous difference to many poorer families with children.
It was also interesting that he praised Hungary rather than other European nations with strong pronatalist policies. France, in particular, offers large financial incentives to families with children and has one of the highest fertility rates in the advanced world. So why did Vance single out for praise a repressive, autocratic government with a strong white nationalist bent?
The whole focus on “family values” — as opposed to concrete policies that help families — turns out to have been an epic intellectual misfire.
Dan Quayle, of course, was no intellectual. But his sitcom offensive took place amid a sustained argument by conservative thinkers like Gertrude Himmelfarb that the decline of traditional values, especially traditional family structure, presaged widespread social collapse. The demise of Victorian virtues, it was widely argued, would lead to a future of spiraling crime and chaos.
Society, however, declined to collapse. . . . the peak of hyperventilation about family values happens to have coincided with the beginning of a huge drop in violent crime. Big cities, in particular, became vastly safer: By the 2010s, New York’s homicide rate was back down to the levels of the 1950s.
Since someone is bound to bring it up, yes, during the pandemic there was a surge in murders — although not in overall crime. . . . . It’s worth noting, however, that other aspects of society also went haywire during the pandemic. For example, there was a jump in traffic deaths, even though there was a large decline in the number of vehicle miles traveled. Presumably forced isolation does a lot of social damage; but this has nothing to do with family values.
It’s also worth noting that the decline of traditional families is even more pronounced in some European countries than it is here; France, as I said, has succeeded in achieving a high fertility rate, but a majority of those births are to unmarried mothers. As in America, however, there is very little sign of social chaos: France’s homicide rate is less than one-seventh of ours.
Of course, not everything has gone well for U.S. society. We’ve had an alarming increase in deaths of despair, that is, deaths from drugs, alcohol and suicide. But it’s hard to make the case that this surge reflects a decline in traditional values.
In fact, if you look across states, of the 10 states that most strongly display one measure of traditional values, religiosity, seven have above-average deaths of despair. That’s almost surely a story of correlation, not causation; it reflects the concentration of despair in rural areas and small towns where opportunity has disappeared as the economy’s center of gravity shifts to highly educated metropolitan areas.
When politicians rant about values, or attack other people’s personal choices, it’s usually a sign that they’re unable or unwilling to propose policies that would actually improve American lives.
The fact is that there are many things we can and should do to make our society better. Doing more to help families with children — with financial aid, better health care and access to day care — is at or near the top of the list. The point, . . . .[is] to improve the lives of the children themselves, so that they grow up to become healthier, more productive adults.
On the other hand, yelling at members of the elite over their personal life decisions isn’t on the list at all. And when that’s all a politician does, it’s a sign of intellectual and perhaps moral bankruptcy.
Monday, July 26, 2021
Less than half of the US population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19 – and with cases on the rise, experts are urging a return to precautions reminiscent of the earlier days of the pandemic.
“What I would say bluntly is: If you are not vaccinated right now in the United States, you should not go into a bar, you should probably not eat at a restaurant. You are at great risk of becoming infected,” CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield.
In 48 states, the rate of new Covid-19 cases in the past week jumped by at least 10% compared to the previous week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. In 34 of those states, the rate of new cases increased by more than 50%.
Despite many officials’ encouragement and experts warning that the best protection from the virus comes from vaccinations, only 49.1% of the US population is vaccinated, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If a large swath of people remains resistant to vaccination, Reiner said, the US is left with two options to control the spread: shut down businesses – which few people want to do – or return to masks.
“The only way to get the unvaccinated to mask up is to mask everyone up,” Reiner said.
Part of the urgency to control spread and implement precautions is due to the prevalence of the Delta variant, which is believed to be more transmissible than other strains of the virus.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, the CDC said that a close contact was somebody that you’re indoors with unmasked for 15 minutes or more,” Dr. Celine Gounder, who served on President Joe Biden’s transition Covid-19 advisory board, said in an interview with STAT published Friday. “The equivalent of that with the Delta variant is not 15 minutes, it’s one second.”
That means people might need to do more than one thing to protect themselves from the more transmissible variant, said Gounder, an infectious diseases specialist at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine.
In addition to vaccination, “Some of the other layers that we should consider would be masking indoors when you’re outside of your household bubble, optimizing ventilation in the home – just opening your window works really well,” she said.
In Florida, state health data shows new case positivity nearly doubled in two weeks, from 7.8% the week of July 2 to 15.1%.
A total of 870 hospitalized patients were reported Sunday in Alabama, according to the state’s public health Covid-19 dashboard. Hospitalizations there have been steadily rising since early July: On July 4 there were just 213 hospitalized patients reported.
And Louisiana now has the highest increase in cases per capita in the US, state officials said Friday.
“We know that more than 80% of these are the Delta variant – that is what’s causing this surge,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
Sunday, July 25, 2021
In April 2018, researcher Frederick Clarkson exposed the existence of Project Blitz, a secretive Christian nationalist "bill mill" operating below the radar to shape and enact legislation in dozens of states, using a network of state "prayer caucuses," many of which had unsuspecting Democratic members. Its plan was to start with innocent-seeming bills, such as requiring public schools to display the national motto, "In God We Trust," and to culminate with laying the foundations for a "Handmaid's Tale"-style theocracy, enshrining bigotry in law under the guise of "religious freedom."
Salon was the first to report and build on Clarkson's findings, as well as subsequent progressive organizing efforts which eventually drove Project Blitz back underground, following a high-profile USA Today exposé (Salon follow-up here.) Now, three years later, Clarkson, a senior research analyst at Political Research Associates, has unearthed the playbooks Project Blitz has used since going dark, and discussed their implications with Salon in an exclusive interview.
"The playbooks advise legislators to cloak their religious mission in the guise of more secular intentions and they've renamed several bills to make them sound more appealing," Clarkson reported at Religion Dispatches. But there's another, more hopeful message: These playbooks "also tell a story of the resilience of democratic institutions and leaders in the face of movements seeking to undermine or end them."
Clarkson told Salon, "While most people to the left of the Christian right view the Project Blitz playbook with revulsion, I see it as a gift to democracy. The playbook and their accompanying briefings and events laid bare their intentions and their game plan." Because of that, he continued, "We were handed a vital tool for the defense of democratic values and, arguably, the wider defense of democracy itself. The things that happened in response, I think, are underappreciated, even by some of those who should be taking great pride in their victories."
In particular, Clarkson said, "We were fortunate that Rachel Laser, the then-new president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, recognized this right away and made taking on Project Blitz a signature campaign of her presidency." One highlight of Laser's work was "organizing dozens of national religious and civil rights organizations to issue a joint letter to state legislators opposing the anti-democratic, Christian nationalist intention" behind Project Blitz.
Elaborating on this last point, Clarkson told Salon, "Scores of national media outlets covered either Project Blitz directly, or covered the patterns of bills introduced in legislatures across the country, especially the most common, In God We Trust bills…. Thus Project Blitz was exposed as part of wider problem of manipulation of state legislatures, . . . .
What's equally important is that these lessons can also provide tools and strategies to counter the right's latest culture war offensive — the racist backlash flying under the banner of fighting "critical race theory." Although the two campaigns are dissimilar in some respects, in both cases the right is defending a founding myth (America as a "Christian nation," or America as a flawless "beacon of liberty") and perverting or taking hostage a progressive value to claim it as their own (religious freedom or racial equality). In both cases, the reliance on blatant deception tells us that conservatives themselves understand that progressives hold the stronger hand. The right may be more mobilized now — just as it was before Project Blitz was first exposed — but it won't win if progressives can learn, and adapt, the lessons of their recent success.
As Clarkson first reported, Project Blitz originally divided its bills into three tiers. The first tier aimed at importing the Christian nationalist worldview into public schools and other aspects of the public sphere. A signature example is display of the motto, "In God We Trust," a Cold War replacement for "E pluribus unum" — out of many, one — which better reflects America's pragmatic, pluralist foundations.
The second tier, "Resolutions and Proclamations Recognizing the Importance of Religious History and Freedom," aimed at making government a partner in "Christianizing" America, largely by promoting bogus historical narratives. For example, Clarkson told me, the model "Civic Literacy Act and the Religion in History Acts," required the study or posting of "the founding documents" in the public schools, but with a twist:
"Curiously, the Mayflower Compact is included as a founding document," he said, "but there is no mention of the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty [the law Thomas Jefferson wrote which served as the model for the First Amendment] ... because it throws a monkey wrench into the Christian nationalist narrative, which seeks to link Christianity and national identity from the British colonies at Jamestown and Plymouth to the present."
The third tier contained three types of proposed laws that "protect" religious beliefs and practices specifically intended to benefit bigotry. . . . "First to denigrate the LGBTQ community, and second to defend and advance the right to discriminate. This is one way that the agenda of theocratic dominionism is reframed as protecting the right of theocrats to discriminate against those deemed second-class, at best. As the late theocratic theologian R.J. Rushdoony said, 'Only the right have rights.'"
The 2019-2020 playbook was more narrowly focused, dealing only with bills related to sexual orientation and gender identity. That made sense, since it was the rapid shift in public attitudes around LGBTQ rights that put the religious right into its current defensive posture, out of which it conceived its counter-offensive: recasting religious bigotry as a defining feature of faith, and claiming a right to discriminate as an essential aspect of "religious freedom."
The 2020-2021 playbook returned to the full three-tier format . . . . One new bill that Clarkson draws attention to would criminalize libraries and librarians, and became infamous even before Project Blitz adopted it:
The "Parental Oversight of Public Libraries Act," introduced by then-freshman Missouri State Rep. Ben Baker (R-Neosho), ignited a state and national controversy in January 2020 shortly after he took office. …
His bill sought to create "parental review boards" with the authority to "convene public hearings" and restrict access to anything they deemed "age-inappropriate sexual materials." Not only would their decisions be "final," but the bill also prescribed fines or jail for librarians who "willingly" violated board decrees regarding what is inappropriate, and included the potential state defunding of libraries accused of violating the statute.
This bill is deceptive in two key ways. First, as Clarkson notes, it "feigns a democratic method to achieve an anti-democratic result." These board members wouldn't be chosen in a general election, but by voters who show up in person at a scheduled public meeting where the issue is raised. "Thus the boards could be elected by small groups of zealots able to pack an otherwise routine evening meeting of a town council," Clarkson writes. These boards would then be given powers to overrule existing library boards, which are either democratically elected or appointed by democratically elected officials. In short, this is an attack on local democratic control, the very principle it pretends to embody.
The second deception is over the term "age-inappropriate sexual materials," since the impetus for the original bill wasn't about sexual content at all, but rather gender representation: . . . In this worldview, any breakdown in rigid gender stereotypes is associated with "grooming our children" for the LGBTQ community," a trope used by the right dating back at least to the Eisenhower-era John Birch Society, when scientific knowledge about gender orientation and identity was virtually nonexistent. Not only does this lack any scientific credibility, it's also a hysterical overreaction, since no one is forced to attend Drag Queen Story Hour. If this law were passed, as an official with American Library Association warned, not just Drag Queen Story Hour could be censored, but also displays relating to Pride Month, Black History Month and other specific commemorations.
This attempted intrusion into local library politics is just one example of how Project Blitz overlaps with the new wave of white backlash under the banner of fighting "critical race theory."
"That librarians and allies around the country rallied to the defense of the archives of democratic knowledge, culture and practice is a case example of how we need not be bullied by Christian right demagoguery. Screechy charges may make headlines and bring in ad revenue on right-wing talk radio, but most people, most of the time, do not want their schools and libraries messed with by authoritarian bigots and mobs of the easily led."
More worrisome than Project Blitz itself, Gill said, are the forces behind it. "The same forces pushing forward Project Blitz have now seized upon new issues, and they are already flooding state legislatures with dangerous model bills," she said. "There were at least four major waves of harmful legislation propagated in 2021: anti-trans youth legislation, religious exemptions to COVID-related public health protections, broad denial-of-care bills, and bills that undermine abortion access."
Of those, she says the most dangerous element is a "renewed emphasis on Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) measures at the state level. RFRAs create a limited exemption from state laws whenever religious organizations say that their activities are burdened. RFRAs have been used to attack nondiscrimination protections, access to contraception and abortion, and even child labor laws."
It's also important to consider how these lessons can be applied to the racist backlash formulated around the bogeyman term "critical race theory," which Fox News has repeated thousands of times without ever clearly defining it. This can be seen in the state legislative map as well. Chalkbeat has tracked efforts in 27 states to "restrict education on racism, bias, the contributions of specific racial or ethnic groups to U.S. history, or related topics," . . . .
[T]he parallels are clear. "White Christian nationalism is the belief that America is and must remain a Christian nation founded for its white Christian inhabitants, and that our laws and policies must reflect this premise," she said. "They completely reject church-state separation. White Christian nationalists oppose equality for people of color, women, LGBTQ people, religious minorities and the nonreligious.
Here in Virginia, this movement can be combated by defeating Glenn Younkin and the rest of the GOP slat of candidates.
In the United States, this pandemic could’ve been over by now, and certainly would’ve been by Labor Day. If the pace of vaccination through the summer had been anything like the pace in April and May, the country would be nearing herd immunity. With most adults immunized, new and more infectious coronavirus variants would have nowhere to spread. Life could return nearly to normal.
Experts list many reasons for the vaccine slump, but one big reason stands out: vaccine resistance among conservative, evangelical, and rural Americans. Pro-Trump America has decided that vaccine refusal is a statement of identity and a test of loyalty.
In April, people in counties that Joe Biden won in 2020 were two points more likely to be fully vaccinated than people in counties that Donald Trump won . . . . By early July, the vaccination gap had widened to almost 12 points . . . . When pollsters ask about vaccine intentions, they record a 30-point gap: 88 percent of Democrats, but only 54 percent of Republicans, want to be vaccinated as soon as possible. All told, Trump support predicts a state’s vaccine refusal better than average income or education level.
Part of the trouble is that pro-Trump state legislatures are enacting ever more ambitious protections for people who refuse vaccines. They are forbidding business owners to ask for proof of vaccination from their customers. They are requiring cruise lines, sports stadiums, and bars to serve the unvaccinated. In Montana, they have even forbidden hospitals to require health-care workers to get vaccinated.
Pro-Trump vaccine resistance exacts a harsh cost from pro-Trump loyalists. We read pitiful story after pitiful story of deluded and deceived people getting sick when they did not have to get sick, infecting their loved ones, being intubated, and dying. And as these loyalists harm themselves and expose all of us to unnecessary and preventable risk, publications—including this one—have run articles sympathetically explaining the recalcitrance of the unvaccinated.
Reading about the fates of people who refused the vaccine is sorrowful. But as summer camp and travel plans are disrupted—as local authorities reimpose mask mandates that could have been laid aside forever—many in the vaccinated majority must be thinking: Yes, I’m very sorry that so many of the unvaccinated are suffering the consequences of their bad decisions. I’m also very sorry that the responsible rest of us are suffering the consequences of their bad decisions.
As cases uptick again, as people who have done the right thing face the consequences of other people doing the wrong thing, the question occurs: Does Biden’s America have a breaking point? Biden’s America produces 70 percent of the country’s wealth—and then sees that wealth transferred to support Trump’s America. Which is fine; that’s what citizens of one nation do for one another. Something else they do for one another: take rational health-care precautions during a pandemic. That reciprocal part of the bargain is not being upheld.
[S]tate and local leaders in Biden’s America have spoken clearly and consistently about the urgency of vaccination. The leaders in Trump’s America have talked a double game: Like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, they urge vaccination one day, then the next they fundraise by attacking public-health officials such as Anthony Fauci. The consequence of DeSantis’s weeks of pandering to COVID-19 denial: More than one-fifth of all new COVID-19 cases in the United States are arising in the state of Florida—24,000 recorded on a single day, July 20.
Compassion should always be the first reaction to vaccine hesitation. Maybe some unvaccinated people have trouble getting time off work to deal with side effects, maybe they are disorganized, maybe they are just irrationally anxious. But there’s no getting around the truth that some considerable number of the unvaccinated are also behaving willfully and spitefully.
But these are the same people who keep talking about “personal responsibility.” In the end, the unvaccinated person himself or herself has decided to inflict a preventable and unjustifiable harm upon family, friends, neighbors, community, country, and planet.
Will Blue America ever decide it’s had enough of being put medically at risk by people and places whose bills it pays? Check yourself: Have you?
I for one have had enough and find it very difficult to have compassion for those who willfully refuse to get vaccinated.