Saturday, October 22, 2022
What does the return of unvarnished racism to the center of our political culture mean?
The problem I’m highlighting is greater than former Los Angeles city councilwoman Nury Martinez’s racist comments . . . For decades, the Martinez model of scandal has been the (more or less) typical response to gaffe-revealed racism in both parties. Remember the case of Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) in late 2002, when he essentially endorsed Sen. Strom Thurmond’s (R-S.C.) 1948 Dixiecrat presidential campaign as a GOP ideal? Later, Lott dismissed his statement as an attempt to be “lighthearted.” Few got the joke. And Lott soon resigned his Senate leadership office.
Though I supported Lott’s resignation at the time, when I was a White House staffer, I assumed that many such statements by Republicans were blunders, rooted in ignorance. Many GOP officials took a view of history that praised the Emancipation Proclamation and affirmed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, while essentially skipping over white supremacists’ Redemption policy, lynching, routine police brutality and the injustice of over-incarceration. Republicans sometimes committed career-ending acts by falling into a historical memory hole. But the general goodwill of the GOP on racial issues could still be broadly assumed.
This is among the worst errors of moral judgment I have made as a columnist. I tended to view bigotry as one of America’s defects or failures. The historical works I read often tried to defend the best elements of the American ideal as dramatically outweighing the worst moments of its application.
But no: The country was soiled by the sin of slavery from its birth. Many White people became wealthy by systematically stealing the wages and wealth of their Black neighbors. White Americans established a social and religious system designed to grant themselves dominance, often while trying to convince African Americans of God’s lower regard for their souls. Such systemic abuse could be found in North and South (though it was more heavy-handed in the South). Slaves were raped with impunity and murdered without consequence.
The conflict over constitutional protection for people with a different amount of melanin in their skin was the foundational test of American ideals. Many of the founders who supported slavery were the functional equivalent of terrorists: Maintain white superiority, they said, or we will blow up the whole system. Which they tried to do. An argument over political philosophy was settled only by a torrent of blood.
Yet it is still not fully resolved. Many in the South launched a successful campaign to secure white supremacy through states’ rights and Klannish violence. And many in the North were content with the appearance of equality as long as it did not include actual social equality. This consensus of White people in support of fallacious freedom was challenged by the civil rights movement, which asserted a comprehensive legal, political, social, educational and spiritual equality. . . . . the goals of that movement remain only partially fulfilled.
This is the environment into which the MAGA movement is pumping a toxic discharge of bigotry.
Former presidentDonald Trump recently employed his own (supposedly) lighthearted treatment of racism’s cruelest epithet. “The n-word!” he told a campaign rally. “Do you know what the n-word is?” The crowd certainly did, when given permission to use it by Trump. “It’s — no, no, no. It’s the ‘nuclear’ word.” This was not a dog whistle; it was a Confederate trumpet.
During his last campaign, Trump warned suburban White women that “low-income housing would invade” their neighborhoods. Now he teases that he might run in 2024 “to take back that beautiful, beautiful house that happens to be white.” Even using the language and argumentation of the playground, Trump does his damage. He implies that the institutions of American government are and should be White dominated. He directly defends the segregation of housing. He encourages the idea that minorities are aggressors against Whites.
And Trump effectively gives permission to other MAGA fools. “They want crime,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said about Democrats at a recent Trump rally. “They want crime because they want to take over what you got. They want to control what you have. They want reparations because they think the people that do the crime are owed that.”
In MAGA world, the incitement of white grievance is the strategy. Such appeals are inseparable from racism. And they reopen a wound that nearly killed the patient before. It is politics at its most pernicious.
Friday, October 21, 2022
“I am a fighter and not a quitter!” British Prime Minister Liz Truss thundered Wednesday in the House of Commons. “I am resigning,” she said Thursday, in a less bombastic tone of voice. Let’s hope conservatives here and around the world learn a lesson about both policy and populism.
Truss’s announced departure after just 45 days apparently marks the shortest residence ever at 10 Downing Street. She made so many mistakes in so little time that it’s hard to list them all. But the most needlessly self-destructive was trying to impose simplistic right-wing economic policies that work only in theory, never in practice.
To a nation suffering through 10.1 percent inflation, alarmed by the war in Ukraine, worried about energy shortages this winter and struggling with myriad disruptions caused by Brexit, Truss offered massive tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals and the biggest corporations. Her brief tenure should be remembered as the hyphenate premiership: all-in on supply-side, laissez-faire, trickle-down economics.
The only way to pay for this huge giveaway was through equally massive borrowing. She and her first chancellor of the exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, gambled their futures — and the well-being of the country — on their blind faith in the wisdom of free markets.
Those markets immediately decided Truss and her cabinet were nuts. The British pound plummeted, investors lost faith in Britain’s debt, the independent Bank of England had to raise interest rates — utter chaos reigned in one of the world’s biggest and traditionally most stable economies.
Truss began rescinding her radical policies one by one, but it was already too late. On Oct. 11, a column in the Economist said Truss had “the shelf-life of a lettuce.” . . . . That same day, the Daily Star newspaper started running on its website a livestream of a picture of Truss next to a wilting head of lettuce, with a banner asking which would last longer. “Lettuce Wins,” the paper crowed Thursday after Truss announced her departure.
Truss never had a popular mandate in the first place — fewer than 100,000 members of the Conservative Party backed her in the vote to succeed the buffoonish but cunning Boris Johnson — and made grievous political errors as well.
In a larger sense, however, even if you leave aside her political ineptitude and her embrace of voodoo economics, Truss was in an impossible position. So was Johnson before her, and so will be her successor. The Conservative Party is in power because it embraced populism, which turns out to be a good way to win elections but an impossible way to govern.
In British politics these days, all roads lead back to Brexit. Like many in the Conservative Party, Truss originally opposed the idea of Britain leaving the European Union. But after voters narrowly voted for Brexit in 2016, she did what Johnson and many other Tories did and became a fervent Brexit supporter, bashing the E.U. and demanding that then-Prime Minister Theresa May move more quickly to finalize the divorce.
Today, none of the promised benefits of Brexit have materialized. In fact, Britain is having a harder time than E.U. countries in dealing with the economic shocks of the covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine war. There are long lines at ports of entry that even stoic Britons find hard to endure. The country faces labor shortages, especially in areas such as agriculture and home health care — relatively low-paying jobs that used to be filled by workers from Poland, Romania and other E.U. countries.
Likewise, the Conservative Party decided to encourage populist anger about immigration. In April, Johnson’s government announced a deal to send refugees who seek asylum in Britain to faraway Rwanda instead. Truss appointed a home secretary, Suella Braverman, who not only supported the Rwanda plan but wanted to go much further and see legal immigration from all sources dramatically reduced. However, Braverman resigned Wednesday.
When you hear Republicans in this country say “secure the border” or “crack down on crime” or “America first,” keep in mind how easy it is to write a bumper sticker and how hard it is to actually govern in a complex, interconnected world. GOP leaders, pay attention: Britain’s Conservatives have pandered their way into ruin.
Thursday, October 20, 2022
The bill prohibits using federal funds for programs or events that contain “sexually-oriented material” geared toward children under 10, such as drag queen story hours, which have attracted the attention of conservative politicians and right-wing activists. On Tuesday, Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson [pictured above] introduced the bill with more than 30 House Republican co-sponsors.
The introduction of this legislation is a reaction to far-right conservative outrage over innocuous drag performances that have included the presence of children at family-friendly drag events. An online video of a child attending a drag brunch at a Miami restaurant was widely circulated among right-wing Twitter users in July, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis filed a federal complaint against the restaurant in which he cited a 1947 state Supreme Court ruling that “men impersonating women” constitutes a public nuisance, The Hill reports.
The outlet notes that Johnson's proposal, the Stop the Sexualization of Children Act, says government agencies on the federal and state level, including the Department of Defense, have used federal funds in the past to promote and host “sexually-oriented events” like drag queen story hours for children.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in May obsessed about a drag queen story hour event scheduled at a U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany, and pushed to have the military cancel it. He also included drag panic in one of his campaign commercials recently, leading to drag queen Lil Miss Hot Mess and GLAAD asking why the Republican lawmaker is so obsessed with drag queens.
In a move that harkens back to the 1984 movie Footloose, when Kevin Bacon’s character discovers a small midwestern town in which dancing was made illegal, Republicans once again prove that life imitates art.
Specifically, the legislation prohibits taxpayer dollars from funding programs, events, or literature that expose children younger than ten to “lewd or lascivious dancing.”
Although children in the United States are not being exposed to inappropriate sexual behavior, nor are they being sexualized — in fact, a GLSEN study released Tuesday shows that most kids don’t even learn about LGBTQ+ topics in school — the bill reveals its actual bigotry within its text.
It defines “sexually-oriented material” as images, descriptions, and simulations of sexual acts, genitalia, or “any topic involving gender identity, gender dysphoria, transgenderism, sexual orientation, or related subjects.”
Harvard’s Cyber Law Clinic instructor Alejandra Caraballo described the bill as a federal version of Florida Gov. Ron Desantis’s “don’t say gay” law.
“Universities, public schools, hospitals, medical clinics, etc. could all be defunded if they host any event discussing LGBTQ people and children could be present,” she wrote on Twitter. “The way they define “sexually oriented material” simply includes anything about LGBTQ people.”
Caraballo warns that one enforcement mechanism in the bill is similar to Texas’ SB8, which made ordinary citizens bounty hunters if they suspected a person was involved with an abortion.
“It includes a private right of action against any government official AND private entity for a violation,” she writes. “This is SB8 style bounty lawsuits against anyone accepting federal funds. This will be a ban on all discussion of LGBTQ people in any entity that received federal funds.”
Tuesday, October 18, 2022
Monday, October 17, 2022
There have been plenty of awful candidates in American political history; what sets Herschel Walker apart is that he’s a wreck in so many different ways.
Walker, the Republican Senate nominee in Georgia trying to unseat Democrat Raphael Warnock, is a compulsive liar, so much so that he falsely claimed he has not made false claims about graduating from the University of Georgia. Walker’s speech is often unintelligible. His argument for why efforts to address climate change are pointless goes this way: “Since we don’t control the air, our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then now we got to clean that back up, while they’re messing ours up.”
Walker is an absentee father who has been critical of absentee fathers. His campaign has acknowledged that he has three children by women to whom he was not married, in addition to his son Christian by his former wife, Cindy Grossman, who has alleged that Walker threatened to kill her.
Walker hasn’t denied the allegations; instead, he implied it was the result of his struggle with mental illness. (Grossman filed for divorce in 2001, citing “physically abusive and extremely threatening behavior” and secured a protective order against Walker four years later.)
The most recent revelation to roil his campaign is that Walker, who has said he supports abortion bans with no exceptions, allegedly paid for an abortion in 2009 and urged the woman to terminate a second pregnancy in 2011, which she refused to do.
As expected, Republicans rallied to Walker. “Full speed ahead in Georgia,” declared the president of the Senate Leadership Fund, the body’s leading Republican super PAC. “Republicans stand with him,” said the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Rick Scott. So does National Right to Life.
Ralph Reed, the founder and chair of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, frames Walker’s story as that of a man of past imperfections who has turned his life around. “Herschel’s story is one of redemption and hope,” according to Reed. He told The New York Times he believes that the new reports could increase Republican turnout by rallying social conservatives to defend Walker. Reed may be right.
The Walker-Warnock race is crucial because it might decide control of the Senate next year. But the most important and instructive thing about the Walker candidacy is what it tells us about the Republican Party, starting with how thoroughly Trumpified it is.
Walker, a former Heisman Trophy winner, had no business running for political office at any level, let alone the United States Senate. The only reason he won the nomination is that he was Donald Trump’s hand-picked candidate.
Like so many who now represent the GOP, Walker displays not just a lack of interest in serious ideas but contempt for them. Benightedness is chic.
The Republican Party didn’t write a platform for its convention in 2020. And why should it have? A party platform, after all, is a formal statement of the principles and policy goals to which a party is committed. When a party becomes a cult of personality, interested in power but not ideas, platforms become extraneous.
For those of us of a certain generation, who came of age in the Reagan era, this philistinism is jarring. Conservatism has a proud intellectual tradition, and for many years its (imperfect) home was the Republican Party.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democratic senator and brilliant scholar, wrote in 1981, “Of a sudden, the GOP has become a party of ideas.” The GOP certainly has had its share of fringe figures and obscurantists. But James Q. Wilson, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Irving Kristol, Antonin Scalia, Richard John Neuhaus, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Allan Bloom, and Thomas Sowell were people of intellectual rigor. . . . But today’s Republican Party, more populist than conservative, has become an intellectual wasteland.
Yet it hardly ends there. Republicans once sold themselves as representing family values and tradition, concerned with moral standards and civic character. They insisted on the importance of good character and integrity in political leaders. This has been exposed as utterly cynical, most obviously in the support that Republicans—many of whom savaged Bill Clinton over his moral failings—gave to Trump, whose corruptions are peerless and borderless.
Consider just the case of white evangelical Protestants. In October 2016—not long after the notorious Access Hollywood tape was released—more than seven in 10 said an elected official can behave ethically even if they have committed transgressions in their personal life. Five years earlier, only 30 percent of white evangelical Protestants had said the same. No other group shifted their position more dramatically.
In 2016, Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote, “If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president, I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.” (Mohler had declared Clinton morally unfit to serve in office.) In 2020, Mohler stated that he would vote for Trump.
Bill Clinton is still waiting for his apology.
Translation: Abortion may be murder, but we stand foursquare with those who encourage and pay for abortions if they provide us the path to power. This is, in itself, a dramatic and depressing shift. Not long ago, those on the right reacted to each new Trump scandal with feeble explanations and justifications for his behavior. Now, as Trump’s imitators and acolytes produce scandals of their own, their defenders don’t even bother to generate excuses.
The GOP has turned on virtually every noble principle it once claimed to stand for. It has become a freak show, embodied in people like Trump and Walker, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert, Ron Johnson and Josh Hawley, Blake Masters and Doug Mastriano, Adam Laxalt and J. D. Vance, Steve Bannon and Roger Stone, Michael Flynn and Mike Lindell, Tucker Carlson and Sebastian Gorka, Eric Metaxas and Paula White. They shape its sensibilities, providing the script for everyone else to follow.
To make matters worse, those who surely know better—people like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Ron DeSantis, and especially Kevin McCarthy—turned out to be hollow men, . . .
Whatever you thought about the GOP pre-Trump—and it may be that the ugliness was much closer to the surface than I wanted to acknowledge at the time—the Republican Party is today much more conspiracy minded, anti-democratic, and anti-truth. This worries me, because I love my country. And it disheartens me, because I once admired my party. Today, however, because of its diseased state, the most urgent political task is to defeat it in the hopes of eventually rebuilding it.
Sunday, October 16, 2022
As an Episcopal priest at a parish in Brooklyn, I’ve officiated at scores of weddings. At each one, I stand in wonder at the divine presence that envelops couples as they make solemn vows to each other. At my own wedding, though, I learned that there is a difference between seeing and doing. Now it was me standing across from another human being, making unthinkably difficult promises, holding his hand as we committed to walking into the vast, unknown cloud of the future together.
That day, my husband and I called upon the ancient rites of our religion to sanctify our union. The 300 or so guests gathered at our church sang a 14th-century hymn as we walked down the aisle. . . . . It was one of the most profoundly spiritual experiences of my life.
Our wedding was an exercise of the freedom not only to be married under equal protection of the law but also to practice our religion. And yet a powerful political, legal and social movement is poised to prevail in its mission to relegate the marriages of L.G.B.T.Q. people to second-class status in name of “religious freedom.” It seems its true goal is not to advance its advocates’ religious freedom but to restrict ours.
Marriage, perhaps the most personal public institution, uncomfortably straddles the divide between religion and state. At the conclusion of every wedding I officiate, I sign both the church register and the state-issued marriage license. The Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which required states to perform and recognize same-sex marriages, reflected an affirmation of marriage equality that was already taking place in religious institutions. Today, same-sex marriage is a fully integrated part of some 15 religious traditions, including most mainline Protestant churches and three prominent Jewish movements, claiming millions of members throughout the country.
But groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom claim that the existence of same-sex marriage places sexual rights above the rights of their supporters to worship, express opinions and run businesses as they choose. Tellingly, this strategy has focused on defending the supposed religious rights of private businesses rather than churches or even individuals. The Supreme Court endorsed religious freedoms for privately held for-profit corporations in the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision. Four years later, in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the court sided with a baker who refused service to a same-sex couple, albeit on narrow procedural grounds that the court will soon revisit.
This term, the court plans to hear 303 Creative v. Elenis, the case of a Colorado-based web designer who wants to refuse business from same-sex couples as a matter of policy based on her religious beliefs. An amicus brief filed by a cohort of Christian and Jewish religious groups argues that the designer’s petition would harm people of faith and “lead many to perceive ‘religion’ as being opposed to LGBT equality and pluralism more generally.”
The legal strategy behind 303 Creative v. Elenis was crafted by the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Court watchers expect the web designer to prevail in the case. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who wrote the Hobby Lobby decision, told a sympathetic audience at a Notre Dame Law School event in Rome this summer that “religious liberty is fragile, and religious intolerance and persecution have been recurring features of human history.” Moreover, the religious freedom to discriminate against L.G.B.T.Q. people and their interests has been gaining momentum in lower courts, perhaps emboldening the majority.
If the law allows same-sex couples to be treated differently from other couples, then our religious freedom to be married is not complete. The court is not being asked to rule whether members of the clergy should be forced to perform weddings that conflict with their beliefs or whether houses of worship should be mandated to welcome L.G.B.T.Q. people. . . . . the question here is whether my God-given right to be married to my spouse matters as much in the eyes of the law as someone else’s.
I pay attention to these cases not as a lawyer but as a gay man and a Christian. The arbitrary nature of what mostly straight people decide queer people can and cannot do trains us to keep an eye out on legal developments.
I often wonder how they square all this legal contortion to restrict the rights of others with Jesus’ Great Commandment to love God and one another with all we have. Religious people on either side of this divide have largely settled into a chilly détente over our irreconcilable interpretations of Scripture. But I also doubt that those opposed to marriage equality have ever considered the mismatched scale of our respective motivations: If they win, they get to discriminate in the name of God; if we win, we get to keep the blessing of our families.
But one thing should be clear to those of us whose religious faith affirms the godly dignity of L.G.B.T.Q. people: We should never cede the ground of religious freedom. The court will hear arguments that the web designer, like the baker before her, should have the right to express her beliefs through the clients she chooses to serve. But what about the religious beliefs of those clients? Even schoolchildren know that the Bill of Rights prevents the state from showing favor to one religion over another. Why should her religion be favored over mine?