Saturday, October 01, 2022
Political satirist Andy Borowitz has published a new book, "Profiles in Ignorance: How America's Politicians Got Dumb and Dumber," which may surprise some readers. Unlike his New Yorker column, The Borowitz Report, this book is not cast in the vein of genial or gentle humor. It's a stinging indictment of how the Republican Party has, by design, devolved from at least somewhat reasonable or coherent discussions of politics and policy to full-on celebration of idiocy.
I spoke to Borowitz for a recent episode of "Salon Talks" about his deeply researched book on the GOP's long arc into paralyzing dumbness. He shared his insight on the GOP's "three stages of ignorance," which come with laugh-out-loud moments when he quotes actual words spoken by leading Republicans to make his point.
But it was Donald Trump, of course, who weaponized idiocy in a way that went from being amusing to literally deadly, especially with Trump's mishandling of the COVID pandemic and the election lies that led to the Jan. 6 attack. Remarkably, there are now numerous Republicans with Ivy League degrees — or even two degrees, like Ron DeSantis — who deliberately play dumb to connect with the GOP base.
Sarah Palin was the gateway idiot who led to Donald Trump. And that got me thinking about this whole rise of ignorance in America.
I think both parties started in a similar place. If you go back to ancient history before either of us was born, to the 1950s, and you look at Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, both of them were actually big readers. Harry Truman didn't go to college, but he read like crazy. He read every library book in Independence, Missouri. Ike on the other hand, was also a huge reader, but he kept it a secret. He thought it was going to hurt his image. He acted like he just played golf all the time, but Ike stayed up every night until 11 o'clock reading. I think reading is actually a really good measure for determining how knowledgeable somebody is.
I'm a little bit hesitant to say that the Democrats are the party of smart people and the Republicans are the party of ignorant people. But I think the Republicans caught on a little bit sooner to the fact that this whole projection of anti-intellectualism was a vote-winner, and they really made it their brand. . . . Democrats haven't been immune to it, but the Republicans really are untouchable when it comes to this movement. They are really the vanguard.
The three stages of ignorance are ridicule, acceptance and celebration. Ridicule came first. That was when dumb politicians had to pretend to be smart. It was still important, we thought, for our politicians to be knowledgeable. Then after that, we moved into the acceptance phase, where dumb politicians felt it was OK and even cool to appear dumb. That's George W. Bush, the guy you want to have a beer with. And now we're in a phase, which is really the most horrifying phase, where smart politicians pretend to be dumb because they think that wins votes. You have very well-educated guys, like Josh Hawley, the world class sprinter, and Ron DeSantis, who talk nonsense because that's what they think their voters want to hear.
There was an era a long time ago, say 50 years ago, where we still expected politicians to know stuff. The Republicans discovered in the 1960s, after the Kennedy-Nixon debates, that it was important to have somebody who was good on TV. Because Kennedy cleaned Nixon's clock on TV. . . . Republicans reverse-engineered this and thought, well, instead of finding a politician who's knowledgeable and making him good on TV, let's just find somebody who's really good on TV and then make it appear as though he knows stuff.
And that was the beginning of Ronald Reagan. . . . he won the California gubernatorial race by a million votes, and that really set the whole thing off. Because at that point the Republicans realized, we just have to find people who are good on TV.
Now, this backfired in 1988, because they thought they had that guy in Dan Quayle. . . . He just imploded every time his knowledge, or lack thereof, was tested.
[T]his is where Karl Rove, . . . . Bush's brain, as he was called — lucked out, because he started with George Bush being a candidate much in the mold of Dan Quayle. Their ignorance was very similar. Their backgrounds are very similar. They were in the same fraternity, Quayle at DePauw in Indiana and Bush at Yale. And they were both knuckleheads. But the difference was, Dan Quayle would get asked these questions and then freak out.
George W. Bush would get asked questions and he would say, "Maybe I don't know that. Maybe I don't have to know that." He would sort of embrace his ignorance. And he said, "I don't have to know everything. I'm going to surround myself with people who know things." That sounds familiar, because Trump said the same thing.
But George W. Bush really turned ignorance into an asset. Because he didn't know anything and was like, "I'm like you. You don't know much either, do you? So I'm the kind of guy you'd want to have a beer with." That became so famous. That poll was commissioned not by an actual polling company, but by the marketing department of Sam Adams beer. So we've been living with this incredible political wisdom courtesy of the Sam Adams brewery. Well done, America.
[W]when facts and information disappear, hatred and prejudice fill the void. It's easier. Learning about geopolitics is tricky and complicated. Learning about economics, people's eyes glaze over. But if you say something like, "There are rapists coming over from Mexico," or, "Barack Obama wasn't born here," that's easy stuff to grasp. There is a very nefarious side to ignorance, which is, what fills that void? In the case of Sarah Palin, her own campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, who was John McCain's campaign manager, when he finally sat down with her after she'd been selected, he came to the horrifying conclusion, and this is a direct quote, "She doesn't know anything." And it's true.
Donald Trump actually doesn't have to make much of an effort. He is one of the most deeply ignorant presidents, probably the most ignorant, in our history. On the internet, especially on Twitter, it's so easy to call somebody an idiot or a moron. I'm sure you and I have been called that many, many times — today already. But I really prefer the term "ignoramus" because ignoramus literally means somebody who doesn't know things. And Donald Trump does not know any school subject well, even the areas of his so-called expertise, like business and construction and renovation.
[T]here are two kinds of ignorant politicians we're dealing with now. We have Marjorie Taylor Greene, who comes by ignorance very naturally. . . . Lauren Boebert comes by it very naturally. Louie Gohmert, people like that.
But then there are these super-educated guys like Ted Cruz, Princeton grad, Ron DeSantis, Josh Hawley. These guys know better, and yet they're making really dumb decisions because it appeals to this populist sense that we don't want smart people running the show. To me, the celebration phase is the most heinous phase, because we have people who really know better who are acting like dopes, and it's hurting us. It's endangering us.
[W]e've elevated everyone's opinion to the level of fact. That is very dangerous. But here's the thing. If we're going to believe in democracy — and I hate to be an optimist, but I am kind of an optimist — we can't totally give up on the idea of Americans learning stuff. We can't just say, "Well every Republican is an idiot and uneducable, and they can't be taught the truth."
One thing that I came across from researching the book is — you remember trickle-down economics, the Republican gospel that you cut the taxes of the rich and then the poor, magically, somehow get rich too. Doesn't work. It's been disproved a million times. I think, though, that trickle-down ignorance has been a roaring success . . . . So when our leaders say things like, to pull an example out of thin air, "I really think that drinking bleach could knock out the coronavirus just like that," a certain number of us will say, "Well he's really important, he's the president, so that must be true." So these people have an enormous responsibility, obviously.
If ignorance is trickling down, the only thing I can think of is that knowledge has to somehow push up. We've got to work locally and get involved locally and try to make our towns and communities better. Elect local politicians who are well-informed, get engaged in democracy in a way that reaffirms our belief in democracy. And then hope that will eventually spread upward.
We think it's all about Trump and Pelosi and Biden and all this stuff. We take ourselves off the playing field when it comes to our little community, our town. Yet that's probably where the best democracy is happening right now, at the local level. And it's probably the thing that we ignore the most, unfortunately.
The midterms are only six weeks away, and Republicans keep trying to find a midterm issue to run on. Since the fall of Roe v. Wade in June, anti-abortion messaging has become an election liability; South Carolina’s Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, tried to regain control of the narrative by introducing a 15-week abortion ban, but few of his Republican colleagues would (or could) get on board. Same-sex marriage, which recently hit a new approval rating of 71 percent, is another culture-war talking point off the table. And then there’s the absolute third rail that Republican Senate candidates like (most recently) Blake Masters and Don Bolduc can’t stop talking about—privatizing Social Security and Medicare—even though that, too, is wildly unpopular. Republicans seem to be in disarray.
The platforms of this Republican Party aren’t just unpopular—often, they seem nonexistent. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Policy wasn’t a focus of Donald Trump’s presidency; tweeting was. In 2020, Republicans didn’t write a new policy platform at all. But now, two policy-less years later, Republicans find themselves in an unenviable position: They need to figure out how to win a midterm with little in the way of an agenda, and not much Trump. Can the party of Trump win without Trump?
What does the GOP stand for? Even Tucker Carlson can’t answer that. . . . “House Republicans just spelled out what they’re running on—it’s a document called the ‘Commitment to America’ … Have you heard of it? No, you probably haven’t. You probably haven’t read it. Nobody really cares. Why? Because there is nothing real in it.” Congratulations House Republicans: You’ve lost Tucker Carlson.
As the New York Democratic Representative Ritchie Torres told me in a text exchange earlier this week: A generally self-confident Republican Party has lost confidence in its own message. The far right—that is, most of the modern right—is running away from its anti-abortion extremism, which is anathema even to most Republican voters (see Kansas). We in the Democratic Party [have] finally found our mojo [in] the messaging war, and instead of allowing Republicans (save Lindsey Graham) to change the subject, we must double down on taking the fight to MAGA Republicans on the issues of freedom and democracy.
The Michigan State Senator and rising Democratic star Mallory McMorrow echoes Torres’s position. In a recent correspondence, McMorrow told me her view that the GOP is in a tailspin over its now “wildly unpopular” positions on issues like abortion, voting, LGBTQ rights, and Social Security and Medicare. As she sees it, this is why the party is “hellbent on changing the conversation and manufacturing moral panic,” McMorrow said.
In the meantime, Republicans are trying to find a midterm message that lands. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s stunt of flying 50 migrants from Texas (where he is not governor) to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts (where he is also not governor), dominated the news cycle earlier this month. All of a sudden, the public’s focus was back on the manufactured menace at the southern U.S. border. It may or may not have impressed voters . . .
GOP Senate candidates in competitive purple states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are making a similar bet on scare tactics and directing their efforts—and more than $21 million in campaign-ad spending—on painting crime as a major problem, and Democrats as the culprits.
During the Trump years, pundits and politics reporters would joke that the president was everyone’s assignment editor. The things Trump focused on, no matter how strange, became the media’s focus—and, eventually, the public’s focus. (Remember when Trump mused about buying Greenland and then the Republican Senator and sycophant Tom Cotton wrote an opinion piece about how America should buy Greenland? It turns out Trump got the idea from Ronald Lauder, an heir to cosmetics titan Estée Lauder.) But this time around, we should all know better. The stakes are too high to fall for his party’s distractions.
Friday, September 30, 2022
Thursday, September 29, 2022
It has long been understood that the MAGA movement is heavily dependent on White grievance and straight-up racism. (Hence Donald Trump’s refusal to disavow racist groups and his statement that there were “very fine people on both sides” in the violent clashes at the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville.)
Now, we have numbers to prove it. The connection between racism and the right-wing movement is apparent in a new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute. The survey asked respondents about 11 statements designed to probe views on racism. . . . . The pollsters then used their answers to quantify a “structural racism index,” which provides a general score from zero to 1 measuring a person’s attitudes on “white supremacy and racial inequality, the impact of discrimination on African American economic mobility, the treatment of African Americans in the criminal justice system, general perceptions of race, and whether racism is still significant problem today.” Higher scores indicate a more receptive attitude to racist beliefs.
The results shouldn’t surprise anyone paying attention to the MAGA crowd’s rhetoric and veneration of the Confederacy. “Among all Americans, the median value on the structural racism index is 0.45, near the center of the scale,” the poll found. “The median score on the structural racism index for Republicans is 0.67, compared with 0.45 for independents and 0.27 for Democrats.” Put differently, Republicans are much more likely to buy into the notion that Whites are victims.
The poll also found that the religious group that makes up the core of today’s GOP and MAGA movement has the highest structural racism measure among the demographics it surveyed: “White evangelical Protestants have the highest median score, at 0.64, while Latter-day Saints, white Catholics, and white mainline Protestants each have a median of 0.55. By contrast, religiously unaffiliated white Americans score 0.33.” This is true even though Whites report far less discrimination toward them than racial minorities do.
The survey also captured just how popular the “Lost Cause” to rewrite the history of the Civil War and downplay or ignore the evil of slavery is on the right: “Republicans overwhelmingly back efforts to preserve the legacy of the Confederacy (85%), compared with less than half of independents (46%) and only one in four Democrats (26%). The contrast between white Republicans and white Democrats is stark. Nearly nine in 10 white Republicans (87%), compared with 23% of white Democrats, support efforts to preserve the legacy of the Confederacy.”
Americans who fully support reforming Confederate monuments have a much lower structural racism index score, while those who oppose it have a much higher score. The same is true when it comes to renaming schools honoring individuals who supported slavery and racial discrimination or changing racist mascots.
In general, MAGA forces have one goal when they amplify “replacement theory” or fuss over corporations promoting inclusivity: to maximize White anger and resentment.
Robert P. Jones, who leads PRRI, tells me, “While this result may seem surprising or even shocking to many White Christians, it is because we do not know our own history. If we take a clear-eyed look at our history, we see a widespread, centuries-long Christian defense of white supremacy.” He adds, “For example, every major Protestant Christian denomination split over the issue of slavery in the Civil War, with Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Baptists in the South all breaking fellowship with their Northern brethren.” Given that history, Jones says, “it’s hardly a surprise that a denial of systemic racism is a defining feature of White evangelicalism today.”
The PRRI poll shows the MAGA movement has done a solid job convincing the core of the GOP base that they are victims. And let’s be clear: An aggrieved electoral minority that believes it has been victimized and is ready to deploy violence is a serious threat to an inclusive democracy.
My "friends" who continue to vote Republican need to take a good hard look at themselves in the mirror and do some soul searching.
Wednesday, September 28, 2022
Ginni Thomas has become a problem.
You don’t have to be a left-wing, anti-Trump minion of the deep state to think it’s a bad look for American democracy to have the wife of a Supreme Court justice implicated in a multitentacled scheme to overturn a free and fair presidential election. But that is where this political moment finds us.
A longtime conservative crusader, Ms. Thomas increasingly appears to have been chin deep in the push to keep Donald Trump in power by any means necessary. Her insurrection-tinged activities included hectoring everyone from state lawmakers to the White House chief of staff to contest the results. She also swapped emails with John Eastman, the legal brains behind a baroque plot to have Vice President Mike Pence overturn the election that may have crossed the line from sketchy into straight-up illegal. Along the way, Ms. Thomas peddled a cornucopia of batty conspiracy theories, including QAnon gibberish about watermarked ballots in Arizona.
Even by the standards of the Trumpified Republican Party, this is a shameful turn of events. And after extended negotiations, Ms. Thomas has finally agreed to voluntarily testify soon before the Jan. 6 House committee. Her lawyer has declared her “eager” to “clear up any misconceptions about her work relating to the 2020 election.”
[M]any people would be even more eager to have a bigger question addressed: How is it that someone with such evident contempt for democracy, not to mention a shaky grip on reality, has run amok for so long at the highest levels of politics and government?
The most obvious answer is that Ms. Thomas is married to a very important man. And Washington is a town that has long had to contend, and generally make peace, with the embarrassing or controversial spouses and close kin of its top power players . . . .
But even within this context, Ms. Thomas has distinguished herself with the aggressiveness and shamelessness of her political activities, which she pursues with total disregard for the conflicts of interest that they appear to pose with her husband’s role as an unbiased, dispassionate interpreter of the law.
In another era, this might have prompted more pushback, for any number of reasons. But Ms. Thomas has benefited from a couple of cultural and political shifts that she has shrewdly exploited. One touches on the evolving role of power couples and political spouses. The other, more disturbing, is the descent of the Republican Party down the grievance-driven, conspiracy-minded, detached-from-reality rabbit hole.
If most of America has come around to two-income households, Washington is overrun with bona fide power couples and has fashioned its own set of rules, official and unofficial, for dealing with them. Among these: It is bad form to suggest that a spouse should defer to his or her partner’s career, other than when explicitly required, of course. . . . . plenty of folks discuss it sotto voce, publicly musing that a couple’s work life might bleed into their home life is considered insulting — even sexist, if the spouse being scrutinized is a woman.
The Thomases have been playing this card for years. Ms. Thomas has forged all sorts of ties with individuals and groups with interests before her husband and his colleagues. . . . When people grumble about perceived conflicts — or Ms. Thomas’s perpetual political crusading in general — the couple and their defenders complain that they are being held to different standards from others. They are adamant that of course the Thomases can stay in their respective lanes.
Ms. Thomas has for decades operated in a kind of gray zone: Her professional identity and influence are not wholly defined by her husband, but they are inextricably bound up in his importance. She has endeavored to make the most of a tricky situation. And without question, she has been helped by — and she has capitalized on — the shift in her party toward its right wing. For Ginni Thomas could not be Ginni Thomas without the mainstreaming of conspiracy culture and heavy-duty grievance mongering in the G.O.P.
During the Obama era, she threw herself into the Tea Party revolution with gusto, cultivating connections and credibility with the party’s angry populist wing. When Mr. Trump came to power, she threw herself even harder into the MAGAverse — which is more a cult of personality than a political movement.
Ms. Thomas goes in for sharp-edge partisanship and evil-libs-are-destroying-America demagogy. Finding so many like-minded warriors in Mr. Trump’s Republican Party freed her up to really let her freak flag fly.
During his presidency, she would approach administration officials about people she thought should be fired or hired. She would occasionally pop in to visit with Mr. Trump at the White House.
Her efforts to meddle in the 2020 election were merely the high point — or, rather, low point — in a long and tireless career of crusading.
Not that Ms. Thomas’s work is finished. The MAGAfied Republican Party is one in which her most outrageous views and behavior are ever more at home. This does not seem to trouble her extremely powerful husband or much of her party — at least not enough for anyone to seriously consider holding her accountable. Given all this, the most disturbing question we really should be looking to clarify may be: What on earth will she get up to next?
Tuesday, September 27, 2022
“Hello, I have a pregnant wife and a mortgage. My wife is panicking, and I have no money to go abroad. How can I escape the draft?”
This is a message we received at Help Desk, a website I and other journalists set up in June to help people — with information, legal advice and psychological support — affected by the actions of the Russian government. The writer, after completing his mandatory military service seven years ago, was being drafted into the war in Ukraine. The Russian government was not interested in who will pay the mortgage or take care of his pregnant wife. It simply wanted more fodder for its war.
In the days since Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization,” clearing the way for hundreds of thousands of men to be conscripted into his failing war effort, we’ve fielded tens of thousands of messages like these. Some were plaintive; others were defiant. Some were simply defeated. Along with Russians desperately trying to board flights, crossing borders or attacking recruitment centers, they testified to the same desire: to avoid the draft.
The truth is, they probably can’t. While presented as a limited measure affecting only those who previously served in the army, in practice, the government has free rein to conscript as many people as it wants. The initial number of 300,000, for example, already seems an enormous undercount. In the face of a monstrous regime hellbent on war and widespread international isolation, Russians are caught in a disaster. And judging from the response so far, they are terrified.
Such terror is at odds with the mass support the war supposedly enjoys. But the actual level of support is clearly significantly lower than that trumpeted by the Kremlin-controlled media. There are, tellingly, very few people eager to go to war — something made viscerally clear by the shooting of a recruitment officer in Siberia on Monday.
For regular citizens who want to escape that hellish fate, there simply aren’t many options. Some people have crossed into Belarus, but we are already getting information that the Belarusian authorities, complicit with Mr. Putin, are planning to seize men from Russia. If not Belarus, where? Just days before the start of the mobilization, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland imposed an entry ban on almost all Russians. Last week, the Baltic States declared that this decision will not change, at least for now.
The thousand-mile border with Ukraine is, of course, closed. The Finnish authorities are still letting Russians in, but one needs a passport and a Schengen visa — something held by just a million Russians. Finland is planning to close the border, too.
What remains open is Georgia, where the queue at the border crossing is more than 24 hours long and people are occasionally denied entry without any obvious reason. There are also destinations as far-flung as Norway, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Mongolia. Getting to any, by foot, bike or car, is a daunting undertaking with no assurance of success.
You want to fly to neighboring Kazakhstan? Here’s a ticket, with two layovers, for $20,000. Want to go to Armenia? No tickets left. Or to Georgia? Russia used to have daily direct flights to Tbilisi before the conflict in 2008, but now you cannot fly there, either.
The terrible truth is that Russians have become outcasts. Many countries have already imposed residency restrictions on them, and there are fewer and fewer possibilities of obtaining legal status, a work permit or even a bank account. No one is waiting to welcome fleeing Russians. In any case, it’s unclear how long the Russian authorities will allow people to leave the country.
People observing this horror from outside Russia are asking: Why don’t Russians protest? Well, many are. . . . . Some protesters were severely beaten up. This is bravery beyond the imagining of those who have never experienced life in a dictatorship.
As for overthrowing Mr. Putin, likewise urged on Russians, I doubt you will find anyone who can tell you how to do it. The main opposition politician, Aleksei Navalny, is behind bars; protest is effectively outlawed; and even mild antiwar statements can land Russians in prison with a hefty sentence. I, for one, am facing criminal charges for writing on Instagram that the massacre in Bucha, Ukraine, was perpetrated by the Russian Army. For Russians, there is no visible route to a better future.
Capital punishment may be forbidden in Russia. But for Mr. Putin’s decision, many people will pay with their lives.
Putin views himself as Russia's new tsar. He might do well to remember the fate of the last true tsar which was hastened by disastrous wars that could have been avoided.
Monday, September 26, 2022
Sunday, September 25, 2022
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) ran on education — specifically, giving parents more say about what happens in and around the classroom. So it is no surprise, yet nonetheless disheartening, that his administration announced last week that it rewrote model school guidance for how educators should treat transgender students, eliciting a storm of controversy on a subject for which there are no easy answers — and that, therefore, requires less politicization, not more.
Mr. Youngkin’s education department to quickly tear them [the Northam administration guidelines] up and substitute its own guidance — one that better reflected the governor’s weaponization of parental rights as a wedge issue.
It’s troubling, for example, that the new model policies would allow school personnel to disrespect and belittle transgender students by refusing to use the name that conforms with their gender identities, even in some cases when parents have made an official request. Just as teachers are not allowed to teach creationism out of their personal or religious beliefs, so, too, must school employees be barred from hurting children placed in their care.
Far thornier is the question of what school officials should be required to tell parents about their children’s gender identity. Mr. Northam’s policy recommended that schools weigh sharing information with parents on a case-by-case basis, considering students’ health and safety.
Mr. Youngkin’s new policy states that schools may not “encourage or instruct teachers to conceal material information about a student from the student’s parent, including information related to gender.” This might make informants of teachers and counselors, causing transgender students — already at a greater risk of suicide and substance abuse — to avoid confiding in them and, as a result, not get needed support . . . . There is also the risk that outing kids could endanger them if parents are unwilling to accept them.
Instead of issuing another guidance more likely to inflame than to strike a durable balance, Mr. Youngkin should have rescinded Mr. Northam’s policy and asked the state board of education to consult with his administration on how to craft a guidance that would help school districts, individual schools and administrators to navigate these fraught issues. Indeed, those closest to the students for which they are caring might prove better able to muster the right mixture of compassion and good sense these situations require than a governor in Richmond who made his political name riling up parents on school policy.
The second column looks at how the fallout of Youngkin's anti-transgender policies will likely harm LGBT students in general. Here are highlights:
When it came time to find someone to edit his college essay, Aaryan Rawal turned to a teacher at his high school in Fairfax County. . . .He trusted her opinion. He also trusted that she wouldn’t out him to his parents.
“For years, my sexual orientation clashed with my Indian heritage,” he wrote in that essay. “I threw out pink clothes, purged musicals from Spotify playlists, remained silent in class discussions on LGBTQIA+ issues, and deepened my voice to hide the inflections of the ‘gay voice’ — all in an attempt to stamp out my sexuality. None of it worked, but I still avoided anything with even loose connections to Queerness until the pandemic. No longer walking hallways pierced by gay slurs, I finally appreciate that my sexuality is not tethered to a color, music genre, behavior, or voice, but rather, a part of me I cannot change.”
Rawal is now a student at Harvard University. Virginia’s public schools propelled him to that prestigious campus, and that should be a point of pride for the state. But a close look at his experience also shows this: A shift in policy could have shifted that outcome.
Rawal said it wasn’t until his senior year of high school that he began to openly identify as queer at school. He said he only felt safe doing that because of the “model policies” put in place by then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to protect transgender students.
Rawal is not transgender, but he said the polices created an atmosphere where he felt free to be himself at school. He described it as allowing him to focus on his studies and pursue his passions.
“I don’t think I would be attending Harvard without that policy,” Rawal told me on a recent afternoon. “I think I would have been very depressed and suicidal.”
The 18-year-old shared his essay with me and agreed to speak openly about his experience in Virginia’s schools because he knows what’s at stake right now for LGBTQIA+ students in the state. He also decided long before we talked that he didn’t want to hide that part of himself in his public life.
“The model trans policies saved my life and are the reason I was able to attend a school that, while not perfect, still affirmed some of my humanity,” Rawal tweeted. “@GlennYoungkin new guidelines undermine the humanity of so many Queer kids — especially gender Queer and Queer students of color.”
The new policies require schools to force students to use restrooms and other facilities corresponding with their assigned sex at birth and prevent students from changing their names or pronouns without parental permission. They do this despite studies that show LGBTQ youth are already at high risk of self-hate and self-harm.
In the United States, at least one young person who identifies as LGBTQ attempts suicide every 45 seconds and 1.8 million seriously consider it each year, according to the Trevor Project.
“We know if this gets implemented, students will die in Virginia,” Rawal said. “Students will be subject to abuse and harassment. To us this isn’t a game. This isn’t about advancing an agenda.”
Years before I was a columnist, I was a cops reporter, and in that position, I saw time and again parents who were capable of horrific cruelty toward their children. Saying he trusts parents to do right by their children may help build a presidential platform for Youngkin, but using it to restrict how vulnerable children can identify in the places where they spend much of their time is inhumane and dangerous.
His policies stand to cost not only lives but also human potential. How can we expect LGBTQ students to thrive when we are putting in place policies that we know will make it more difficult for them to survive?
A statement released by the Pride Liberation Project condemned Youngkin’s new policies as “bigoted.” “These revised guidelines will only hurt students in a time when students are facing unparalleled mental health challenges, and are a cruel attempt to politicize the existence of LGBTQIA+ students for political gain,” it reads.
A piece at Vanity Fair looks at how radical and dangerous Youngkin is despite his efforts to pretend otherwise.
After President Vladimir Putin announced this week that Russia was conscripting some 300,000 reservists and military veterans to reinforce its war effort in Ukraine, international flights out of Russian cities quickly sold out. This latest wave of Russia’s exodus included Anton Shalaev, a 38-year-old senior manager at an IT company, and 15 colleagues.
On less than a day’s notice, these men of military age all left their relatively comfortable lives in downtown Moscow to fly to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. Because of Putin’s war, Shalaev tossed a book, an iPad, and a laptop in a backpack and got out of Dodge.
Shalaev and his co-workers are true tech geeks, producers of high-value computer games. They represent their country’s brightest and best, members of a tech elite that was the economic foundation of Russia’s new middle class. In a last selfie from Moscow, Shalaev brandished a coffee mug that bore the slogan Not today, Satan.
Anton Shalaev: On the day Putin declared the war, I knew I would never fight on behalf of this new Nazi Reich. They are my personal enemies: mercenaries who steal my country from me, occupy foreign territories, and kill innocent people. Putin’s army commanders have had plenty of time to turn down their contracts; instead, they are recruiting more cannon fodder now.
So I chose to help Ukrainians suffering from this horror—pay for shelters in Kyiv with cryptocurrency and write antiwar posts on social media. To encourage Russians at home, I said: “Guys, look, I am writing this from Moscow.”
The departure was super stressful. The border guards took each of my friends aside into a small room, interrogated them, asked if they had ever served in the military, and if not, why not. And you know that type of sly border official making their little jokes: “Aha, you are leaving on the day of conscription.” Of course, they checked whether our names were in the database for the mobilization.
Shalaev: A few old men and an army of zombies are leading us to hell. I say that because people around me in Russia behaved as if they had been bitten by a zombie, dragging my entire country into a dreadful war. All I saw was Russian loser husbands beating their wives, while the entire rotting house of the state system has turned my people into an army of the dead. They are my enemies. . . . . This entire war is a crime against humanity.
On February 24, when the invasion of Ukraine began, it became clear to me that the old man had nothing to lose. He [Putin] is a psychopath and does not care what happens to us all, to our economy, to our future.
My only hope is that he has some instinct for self-protection that will stop him from nuking us all.
The CNN piece is of a similar tone and looks at those fleeing by car, bus, train or in some cases walking the last few miles to escape the hell Putin is creating and that they had no hand in creating. Here are excerpts:
Tension was in the air as a long trail of cars lined up near the Petkuhovo checkpoint on the border between Russia and Kazakhstan late Friday night.
Andrei Alekseev, a 27-year-old engineer from the city of Yekaterinburg, was among many men in the queue who were fleeing Russia in the wake of President Vladimir Putin’s mobilization orders. Cars had to go through Russian and Kazakh border checks, both of which lasted about two hours.
Alekseev woke up to the news of Putin’s mobilization order on Wednesday morning and he knew he had to flee Russia. He met up with his friends that night to discuss their next steps and decided to avoid taking any risks and to leave Russia with no plan in mind.
On Saturday, Putin signed the law on military service, setting a jail term of up to 10 years for evading military duty due to mobilization, and up to 15 years in prison for wartime desertion.
The decree signed by Putin appears to allow for wider mobilization than he suggested in the speech that aired on Wednesday. According to the address, 300,000 reservists would be drafted to the front, breaking his promises earlier in the war that there would be no mobilization. However, the decree itself puts no cap on how many people can be mobilized.
“Mobilization is called ‘partial,’ but no parameters of this partiality, neither geographical, nor in terms of criteria, are specified,” Ekaterina Schulmann, a Russian political scientist, wrote on her social media page. “According to this text, anyone can be drafted, except for workers of the military-industrial complex.”
Kirill Ponomarev, 23, who also fled Russia via a Kazakhstan border, said he struggled to book a ticket. The night before Putin’s address he was looking up tickets out of Russia.
While all men aged below 60 in Russia now share the fear of getting drafted, Putin’s mobilization disproportionately affects poorer, more ethnically diverse regions of Russia, according to Alexandra Garmazhapova, president of the Free Buryatia Foundation, who spoke to CNN. “In Buryatia, mobilization is not partial, everyone is mobilized. Summons come to students, pensioners, fathers of many children, people with disabilities,” she told CNN.
Some men were lucky to find out the news of mobilization orders from abroad. Ilya, 35, was on vacation with his family in Turkey when he received a text from his co-workers in Kurgan, a city in the Urals region of Russia, that his office had received a draft letter for him.
His wife and child returned to Russia while he stayed behind in Turkey. “I don’t want war, I don’t want to die for someone else’s ambitions, I don’t want to prove anything to anyone, it was a difficult decision to not return to Russia, very difficult, I don’t know when I can now see my family, my loved ones,” Ilya told CNN.
Note how one young Rusian called Putin a psychopath - no wonder he and Trump hit it off as Putin used Trump as a Russian asset.