Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, December 17, 2022
Trumpism is a Symptoms of America's Disorder, Not the Cause
The American people — or a great many of them, at least — believe they can finally see the end of the fascist fever dream they have been lost in for these last seven years. It's a cruel illusion; escape from the waking dream-nightmare is much farther away than it appears.
It is true that large numbers of Americans tried to reorient and steady themselves by voting in favor of "democracy" in the midterm elections. But most people in this country remain punch-drunk, confused by the trauma and abuse they've been bombarded with during the Age of Trump.
As for Trump himself and the neofascist movement and larger white right, they are largely undeterred by that electoral setback. Their existential threat to American democracy and society has by no means ended, and if anything they are amplifying their attacks. We cannot return to "normal" through a state of denial or by ignoring reality. The peril will not magically go away. History has repeatedly shown that ignoring fascism and other forms of authoritarianism is essentially to surrender to them.
This collective denial and amnesia is amplified by a deeper problem: American society and culture are profoundly immature, unserious and superficial. In many ways, 21st-century America is typified by the spectacular and the ridiculous. . . . . In an unhealthy democracy, politics is largely a function of supply and demand. The Republicans' embrace of fascism and other forms of right-wing extremism simply reflects what their public wants — and what it has been trained to expect.
An immature culture is especially vulnerable to exploitation by right-wing fake populists and demagogues who care only about power and have no conception of the common good or responsible governance.
In a recent essay for the Atlantic, Tom Nichols explores this deviant political feedback loop, as exemplified by Republican candidate Herschel Walker's failed U.S. Senate campaign in Georgia:
Win or lose, all the criticisms of Herschel Walker obscure a larger point: The Republicans have acclimated the American public to ghastly behavior from elected officials and candidates for high office. The result is lasting damage to our political system…. Walker's candidacy is a reminder of just how much we've acclimated ourselves to the presence of awful people in our public life. Although we can be heartened by the defeat of Christian nationalists and election deniers and other assorted weirdos, we should remember how, in a better time in our politics, these candidates would not have survived even a moment of public scrutiny or weathered their first scandal or stumble…. The Republicans were once an uptight and censorious party — something I rather liked about them, to be honest — and they are now a party where literally nothing is a disqualification for office.
"As usual, however, the real problem lies with the voters," who have fallen prey to "an unhinged faux-egalitarianism that demands that candidates for office be no better than the rest of us, and perhaps even demonstrably worse. How dare anyone run on virtue or character; who do they think they are?"
Nichols correctly observes that the fact that Walker became a viable candidate for high office, "and garnered millions of votes from perfectly normal American citizens," is symptomatic of a profoundly damaged political system. It's also true that Walker's embrace by the Republican Party cannot be understood as something independent of racism and white supremacy as he fulfilled the stereotypical role of a Black buffoon.
Caroline Williams addresses this in another Atlantic essay:
Walker is a big, ball-carrying Black man, and these Republicans do not have an ounce of care for him. They are using him to advance their own Constitution-compromising agenda, the way conservative white people in this country have always used Black bodies when given half a chance.
Walker stands up at podiums, and I feel shame and sorrow and resentment. . . . . Walker's candidacy is a fundamental assault by the Republican Party on the dignity of Black Americans. How dare they so cynically use this buffoon as a shield for their obvious failings to meet the needs and expectations of Black voters? They hold him up and say, "See, our voters don't mind his race. We're not a racist party. We have Black people on our side too." Parading Walker at rallies like some kind of blue-ribbon livestock does not mean you have Black people on your side. What it means is that you are promoting a charlatan. . . . the election looks like a kind of grotesque minstrelsy. The Republican Party is saying that it wants power more than decency. It's saying that race is a joke. We must all take note—it is willing to destroy a man to advance its cause. The party thinks he won't break. And if he does, well, he wasn't really one of them, anyway, was he?
The immature and deeply pathological subculture that elevated Donald Trump and the panoply of other Republican fascists and extremists — Kari Lake, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Ron DeSantis and many others — is multilayered and complex.
American society elevates anti-intellectualism and anti-rationality. As historian and political scientist Richard Hofstadter famously observed some six decades ago, this is especially true of the Republican Party and larger "conservative" movement. Since the rise of right-wing hate media in the 1990s, this embrace of overt ignorance and conspiratorial thinking, and the accompanying rejection of expert knowledge, has become a defining feature of the American right.
More than half of all Americans cannot read at a sixth-grade level. High quality primary and secondary public education, as well as the college and university system — which should create citizens who are capable of critical thinking and acting as responsible members of a democratic community — have been systematically targeted for destruction by the Republican Party and "conservative" movement.
As part of the larger project of authoritarian capitalism, today's "conservative" movement seeks to create human drones who possess "job skills," rather than well-rounded human beings capable of thinking for themselves and asking questions about power, justice and the future of our society.
America's news media and the nation's larger public discourse are increasingly dictated by speed and superficiality and an endless supply of "content" in service to clicks, likes, downloads, retweets and of course advertising revenue. Contemplation, rigorous thinking, serious public conversations about politics and society, and the kinds of reflective writing and other thinking that speaks truth to power and empowers citizens is shoved underground or rendered invisible by such a system.
Ultimately, America's democracy crisis and the rise of neofascism are a symptom, not a cause, of deeper cultural and social problems in what the Pulitzer-winning journalist Chris Hedges has called an "empire of illusion." Donald Trump and the Republican Party could disappear tomorrow, and the Age of Trump will likely soon be deleted from the public's collective memory. But the deeper roots of America's democracy crisis will not go away. Our society is sick and is using maladaptive behavior to compensate for that condition. American society will not get better until its leaders and the public at large face and admit the horrible reality of the situation and then do the hard work to remedy it.
I continue to blame much of the decline of the GOP on the rise of Christofascists in the party, a demographic that despises science and knowledge that threatens its flimsy beliefs and that wants power so that their beliefs can be inflicted on the majority.
Friday, December 16, 2022
Democrats Can Win the Culture War
Ahead of the midterm elections, Democrats debated internally about whether to engage with the MAGA crowd’s attacks on crime and cultural issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights or change the topic and focus on economic issues.
The former, as it turned out, was the right tactic, as a recent postelection memo shows.
The report comes from Shield PAC, a new soft money group of moderate Democrats that, as its memo explains, is designed to respond to “the Republican pledge to use the ideas and rhetoric of the far left to paint moderate, at-risk Democrats as radicals (‘woke socialists’) on culture war issues like crime and immigration.”
After Democrats lost House seats in 2020, Shield PAC interviewed 150 candidates and campaigns to find out why they thought they had lost. The answer was clear: “the GOP’s success in tying Democrats to toxic far-left ideas like ‘Defund the Police.’ ” This hurt Democrats, especially in swing suburban districts. The main Democratic response in 2020 had been to attack Republicans without defending their own side.
So for 2022, Shield PAC focused resources on nine competitive House races — each featuring a female Democratic candidate — with an emphasis on combating the $68.5 million the GOP spent on crime and immigration-related ads. This included Virginia’s 7th Congressional District (where Rep. Abigail Spanberger was the Democratic candidate), Virginia’s 2nd (Elaine Luria), Michigan’s 8th (Elissa Slotkin), Pennsylvania’s 6th (Chrissy Houlahan), New Jersey’s 11th (Mikie Sherrill), Kansas’s 3rd (Sharice Davids), Minnesota’s 2nd (Angie Craig), Washington’s 8th (Kim Schrier) and Nevada’s 3rd (Susie Lee). Democrats won all of them except Virginia’s 2nd.
After the election, Shield PAC assessed the effectiveness of its ads and found that a high percentage of voters recalled the ads. Moreover, the ads actually changed voters’ impressions of the candidates. The group reports:
In [Virginia’s 7th Congressional District], in the initial poll we did in the spring, 37% of voters believed that Spanberger was “soft on crime.” But after Shield PAC’s advertising, that number dropped to 32%. Additionally, in our original poll, 33% rejected the idea that Spanberger was “soft on crime”; after our advertising, that number shot up to 50%. In [Kansas’s 3rd District] and [Washington’s 8th District], Shield PAC helped hold the line on the share of voters who perceive Davids and Schrier as “very liberal.”
The percentage of voters who shifted as a result of Shield PAC’s push was not enormous, but in a close election, victory happens at the margins. It’s hard to deny that one reason all those anti-crime ads did not work is because the candidates refuted them directly.
I interviewed four of the nine women promoted by Shield PAC: Spanberger, Schrier, Lee and Craig. Each of them raised two other issues with me that might have contributed to their wins. First, they all leaned heavily into the abortion issue, painting their opponents as out of touch with their districts’ voters. They also emphasized the series of legislative wins in the past two years (e.g., the PACT Act, Inflation Reduction Act, gun safety reforms). Showing they had delivered for their district was a big part of their final push.
What does all this mean? No single thing contributed to Democrats’ surprising success in holding down midterm losses. All of these women were top-flight, engaging campaigners. All worked extremely hard. All stressed abortion and economic deliverables. And yes, they had a response to the “soft-on-crime” attacks.
Another reason for many of these Democrats’ successes was their national security backgrounds. Spanberger, Slotkin, Houlahan and Sherrill served in either the military or the intelligence community. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) endorsed Slotkin and Spanberger because of their national security bona fides.
Democrats in tough districts going forward would do well to follow an all-of-the-above approach. The party should find capable candidates who are strong on national security, lean into abortion rights, have a record of achievement to point to and don’t allow Republicans free rein to pelt them with culture attacks.
Thursday, December 15, 2022
McConnell to GOP: I Told You So
While many of his colleagues were eagerly anticipating a Republican “tsunami” ahead of the 2022 midterms, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was warning against setting expectations too high: “Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome,” he said in August, suggesting that wildly flawed nominees like Herschel Walker and Mehmet Oz could help Democrats retain control of the upper chamber. Rick Scott, the National Republican Senatorial Committee chair, bristled at the Kentucky senator’s assessment: “We have great candidates,” he told Politico at the time.
Now, in the wake of a midterm cycle that saw the Democrats expand their Senate majority and Donald Trump’s handpicked candidates mostly lose in key races, McConnell has a message for his party: I told you so. “Some of you may recall,” he told reporters Tuesday at his weekly news conference, “I never said there was a red wave.” Discussing the 2022 midterms, the minority leader once again expressed disappointment with the cast of wacky Trump loyalists his party put forth this cycle — and went even further in invoking the name of the man who helped saddle Republicans with them. “We ended up having a candidate quality test,” McConnell told reporters, citing winnable races in Arizona, New Hampshire, and Georgia that Republicans lost due in part to poor, Trump-backed candidates.
“Our ability to control the primary outcome was quite limited in ‘22 because the support of the former president proved to be very decisive in these primaries,” McConnell continued. “So my view was do the best you can with the cards you’re dealt. Now, hopefully, in the next cycle we’ll have quality candidates everywhere and a better outcome.”
McConnell’s unfavorable view of the MAGA losers his party ran in 2022 isn’t exactly a surprise, of course, but his remarks are notable for the more direct blame he’s assigning to Trump. Though the two men have seemingly long viewed one another with contempt, McConnell has been careful not to hit out at the former president — even after Trump suggested McConnell had a “death wish” and disparaged the senator’s wife, Elaine Chao, one of his own former Cabinet officials. But like others in the GOP, who had previously avoided confrontation with Trump in the interest of political gain, McConnell seems to be growing increasingly comfortable throwing jabs, as the former president’s standing wanes. “Anyone seeking the presidency who thinks that the Constitution could somehow be suspended or not followed, it seems to me, would have a very hard time being sworn in as president of the United States,” McConnell said last week . . . . echoing similar comments he made after Trump dined with Nazi-loving rapper Ye, also known as Kanye West, and noted white supremacist Nick Fuentes.
Such criticisms are still pretty pathetic; they're centered on what Trump’s rhetoric and conduct mean for his electability, not on the dangers they pose to the country and its political system. But they nevertheless underscore the weakened political position Trump now finds himself in. Where he once struck fear into the hearts of Republicans, they are now openly casting about for new leaders. The latest to do so is Arkansas governor and potential 2024 Republican presidential hopeful Asa Hutchinson, who said another cycle with Trump as the GOP nominee would be the “worst scenario” for the party. GOP voters may agree: A pair of striking new polls this week found Trump trailing another likely 2024 aspirant, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, by double digits, with a USA Today/Suffolk University survey putting the former president 23 points behind his rival. Polling, especially this early, can only tell you so much. But it does contribute to a general sense that Trump is a man diminished, even if Trumpism continues as a powerful force in Republican politics.
McConnell, who worked to try to elect all those dangerous weirdos he’s wringing his hands over, clearly isn’t swearing off that movement. He’s just trying to get Republicans to find a less motley crew of torch-bearers for it. “We have to have quality candidates to win in competitive Senate races,” he said Tuesday. The question he should ask himself is: Can candidates like that actually exist under such a banner?
Wednesday, December 14, 2022
Marriage Equality Is Now Federal Law
President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law Tuesday afternoon, assuring that marriage equality for same-sex and interracial couples will remain the law of the land no matter what the U.S. Supreme Court does.
"Today's a good day," Biden said as he stepped before the audience outside the White House. He recalled when he first came out for marriage equality 10 years ago, when he was vice president. "I want to thank all of you for being here today," he told those in attendance, citing Vice President Kamala Harris, First Lady Jill Biden, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
He said he was thinking of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose case won the right to interracial marriage in all states at the Supreme Court in 1967. He also noted all the couples and individuals who fought for the right to same-sex marriage, such as the late Edie Windsor, who fought the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal recognition to her marriage to Thea Spyer. "Today we celebrate our progress," he said.
"Love is love. Right is right. Justice is justice," he added.
He condemned anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that is being introduced and passed in states around the nation and Justice Clarence Thomas's stated desire for the Supreme Court to reverse its marriage equality ruling. He noted that racism, homophobia, transphobia, and anti-Semitism are all connected.
Vice President Harris spoke before Biden.
"This is a victory," she said, adding, “The Dobbs decision reminds us that fundamental rights are interconnected, including the right to marry who you love, the right to access contraception and the right to make decisions about your own body,” referring to the recent Supreme Court ruling that overturned abortion rights. She reminded the audience that fundamental rights are interconnected, including the right to marry and the right to control one's reproductive life. And she quoted Harvey Milk: "Rights are won only by those who make their voices heard." She also praised Biden for elevating LGBTQ+ people throughout his administration.
The Respect for Marriage Act will assure that the federal government recognizes same-sex and interracial marriages and that all states recognize those performed in other states. It forbids anyone acting under a state law to discriminate based on the gender or race of a married couple. It repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, which has been unenforceable since the Supreme Court rulings in Windsor v. U.S. (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) but remains on the books.
The impetus for the legislation came after Supreme Court Justice Thomas said the court should overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling that established marriage equality nationwide. The statement came in his concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which struck down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion in all states. There is no case currently making its way through the courts challenging Obergefell, but Thomas and other conservatives have made clear they would welcome one.
The act will not require any state to allow same-sex marriages to be performed. State bans on these unions were struck down in Obergefell, so such bans could be enacted again if Obergefell is overturned, as Congress has always left the definition of marriage to the states. But every state would have to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
From the Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president and CEO of inclusive religious freedom organization Interfaith Alliancet: “Marriage will be protected for millions of couples across the country in large part thanks to the steadfast support from diverse faith communities. This achievement is a shining example of our power to wield faith as a bridge, not a bludgeon. Interfaith Alliance is honored to join President Biden at the White House for this historic signing, and we look forward to continuing our work with leaders on both sides of the aisle to further an inclusive vision of religious freedom.”
The Republicans Need a Reckoning
The pretense that the seditionists in the GOP are limited to a handful of kooks who worship Donald Trump is no longer sustainable. If there are any Republicans left who care about the Constitution, the time to speak up is now.
The near miss of the midterms, in which almost all of the most extreme Republicans were defeated, seems to have generated a certain amount of complacency about the ongoing threat to the American system of government. I know, of course, that many of our fellow citizens are well aware of the dangers posed by conspiracy theorists, election deniers, and other assorted enemies of the Constitution. And I cannot blame people for becoming numb: You can watch a Paul Gosar or a Marjorie Taylor Greene spouting off like pinwheels of paranoia only so many times.
But we cannot ignore recent developments. Only a few days ago, Greene took the stage in formal attire at the New York Young Republican Club gala and said, “I want to tell you something, if Steve Bannon and I had organized that”—the January 6 insurrection—“we would have won. Not to mention, it would’ve been armed.” A few days before that, Gosar posted and then deleted a tweet supporting Trump’s call for the “termination” of parts of the Constitution.
These are not examples from the fringe. Dozens of Republicans contacted then–White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows after the 2020 election and right through to Trump’s last days in office with wild theories and desperate ideas about how to keep the 45th president in power. The Meadows texts were obtained by the House January 6 committee and then published by Talking Points Memo. The messages are alternately stomach-turning and comical, in some cases at the same time.
[O]nly 11 days after the insurrection and roughly 72 hours before Joe Biden was to be sworn in, Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina pleaded with Meadows:
Mark, in seeing what’s happening so quickly, and reading about the Dominion law suits attempting to stop any meaningful investigation we are at a point of no return in saving our Republic !! Our LAST HOPE is invoking Marshall Law!! PLEASE URGE TO PRESIDENT TO DO SO!!
This is a member of the U.S. Congress insisting, in a jumble of exclamation points and capital letters, that a sitting president call out the men and women of the United States military to nullify an election and prevent, by force of arms, the constitutional transfer of power. This is sedition, and it is madness. It is also evidence of a shocking inability to spell; if you’re going to advocate for a coup, the least we might expect is that you first learn how to spell martial law.
What Norman is probably counting on, of course, is that people will forget about his behavior and that of his colleagues. We are all prone to “normalcy bias,” the human inclination to disregard the danger that things could change dramatically in a short time. Normalcy bias is why our minds sometimes refuse to grasp threats that range from natural disasters to nuclear war; we assume that tomorrow will always look something like today.
But this unwillingness to think about danger should not stop us from confronting the undeniable fact, as the TPM report put it, that we now have a record of “Republican members of Congress strategizing in real time to reverse the results” of the 2020 election.
[T]hese election deniers and seditionists are still in Congress—Norman won reelection with nearly 65 percent of the vote in his district—and they have faced no real repercussions for their disloyalty to the Constitution.
Indeed, these same people will be sworn back into office in January, making a mockery of their oath. Worse, they will be the majority. Representative Jim Jordan is expected to become the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Conservatives bristling at this as a selective focus on the fringe might argue that there are still loyal Republicans out there who will defend the Constitution, and that it is a mistake to describe the entire party as a dangerous movement based on lies and sedition. But we must ask when those Republicans are going to rise up and oppose the enemy in their midst. What conclusion can we reach about the GOP when a supposed centrist such as Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin campaigned for Trump’s would-be clone in Arizona, Kari Lake? How much fidelity to the Constitution can we presume from Ohio Senator-elect J. D. Vance (a Yale Law School graduate) when he gladly accepts Greene’s endorsement and support?
What will it take for prominent Republican leaders to say that they will not share a party or a platform with the likes of Norman, Gosar, and Greene? Who will stay, and who will go? If there was ever a time for the last sensible Republicans to remember that they are the party of Lincoln, the man who saved the Union and its Constitution, and to declare a war against their seditionist wing, this is it. And if they won’t—or can’t—then that should tell Americans everything they need to know about the party and its base.
Tuesday, December 13, 2022
A Network of Sinister Groups Is Fueling Book Bans
The Keller Independent School District, just outside of Dallas, passed a new rule in November: It banned books from its libraries that include the concept of gender fluidity.
The change was pushed by three new school board members, elected in May with support from Patriot Mobile, a self-described Christian cellphone carrier. Through its political action committee, Patriot Mobile poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Texas school board races to promote candidates with conservative views on race, gender and sexuality — including on which books children can access at school.
Traditionally, debates over what books are appropriate for school libraries have taken place between a concerned parent and a librarian or administrator, and resulted in a single title or a few books being re-evaluated, and either removed or returned to shelves.
But recently, the issue has been supercharged by a rapidly growing and increasingly influential constellation of conservative groups. The organizations frequently [disingenuously] describe themselves as defending parental rights.
The groups have pursued their goals by becoming heavily involved in local and state politics, where Republican efforts have largely outmatched liberal organizations in many states for years. They have created political action committees, funded campaigns, endorsed candidates and packed school boards, helping to fuel a surge in challenges to individual books and to drive changes in the rules governing what books are available to children.
The materials the groups object to are often described in policies and legislation as sensitive, inappropriate or pornographic. In practice, the books most frequently targeted for removal have been by or about Black or L.G.B.T.Q. people, according to the American Library Association.
In Texas, 11 school board candidates backed by Patriot Mobile Action, the political action committee formed by the cellphone company, won in four districts this year, including Keller. The committee’s aim is to eliminate “critical race theory” and “L.G.B.T.Q. indoctrination” from schools, Leigh Wambsganss, its executive director, said on Steve Bannon’s show, “War Room.”
Even books without sexual content can be problematic if they include L.G.B.T.Q. characters, because they are “sexualizing children,” she said: “It is normalizing a lifestyle that is a sexual choice.”
By August, about three months after the new members were seated, the Keller school board had restricted or prohibited books containing profanity, violence, sex scenes or nudity. These changes resulted in the removal of at least 20 books from the district’s schools, including Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and several young adult novels with L.G.B.T.Q. characters, like Adam Silvera’s “More Happy Than Not.”
In November, the board added the ban on books that refer to gender fluidity. Laney Hawes, who has four children in Keller schools, was there that day. She and some other parents felt outflanked, she said, by deep-pocketed organizations whose actions can change longstanding policies in a matter of months.
“They ran on the campaign of, ‘We’re going to get pornography and sexually explicit books out of our school libraries,’” Ms. Hawes said. “The parents didn’t have a PAC. We couldn’t compete with these people.”
The restrictions, said Emerson Sykes, a First Amendment litigator for the American Civil Liberties Union, infringe on students’ “right to access a broad range of material without political censorship.”
The A.C.L.U and other advocacy groups filed a federal civil rights complaint against the Keller school district, arguing that banning books about gender fluidity creates “a pervasively hostile atmosphere for L.G.B.T.Q.+ students.”
Librarians in Texas formed Freadom Fighters, an organization that offers guidance to librarians on handling book challenges. In Florida, parents who oppose book banning formed the Freedom to Read Project, which urges its members to attend board meetings and tracks the work of groups like Florida Citizens Alliance.
According to a recent report from the free speech organization PEN America, there are at least 50 groups across the country working to remove books they object to from libraries. Some have seen explosive growth recently. . . . The growth comes, in part, from the rise of “parental rights” organizations during the pandemic. Formed to fight Covid restrictions in schools, some groups adopted a broader conservative agenda focused on opposing instruction on race, gender and sexuality, and on removing books they regard as inappropriate.
Other groups, like Florida Citizens Alliance, have been around for years. Established in 2013, the alliance has longstanding ties to Gov. Ron DeSantis: Its co-founders, Mr. Flaugh and Pastor Rick Stevens, served on the DeSantis transition committee. The group also has partnerships with over 100 other groups , including Moms for Liberty and Americans for Prosperity Florida, a local branch of a national group founded by the billionaires Charles and David Koch.
Five years ago, Mr. Flaugh and Pastor Stevens helped draft a bill that gave all county residents, not just parents, the power to challenge a book in a school district. Opponents say it contributed to waves of book challenges.
[T]his network sprang into action this year to support a bill that requires Florida districts to report all book objections to the state. The state will then create a list of challenged titles and distribute it to districts “for consideration in their selection procedures.”
The Florida Board of Education said it was up to districts to develop “a process for removing or limiting access to specific books,” but did not answer questions about how districts should interpret the list. Some librarians and parents are concerned it will have a chilling effect.
“This list could be seen as a warning, like ‘Don’t even bother with these books,’” said Michelle Jarrett, the library media supervisor for the School District of Osceola County. “Librarians across the state are already self-censoring for fear of retribution . . .
An organization called Utah Parents United, created to fight Covid restrictions in 2020, has broadened its agenda to shaping school curriculums and library collections. This year, Utah Parents formed a political action committee and lobbied for a bill banning “sensitive materials” in schools, including books that could be viewed as “pornographic or indecent.”
After the law was passed, the number of book challenges began to rise, with the bulk of complaints coming from a small number of people, said Mark Peterson, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Education. In one school district, Alpine, 49 books were challenged, and 22 were removed. Among them: “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and “Gender Queer.”
Be very afraid of the agenda of these groups and do NOT be fooled by the "parental rights" smoke screen.
Monday, December 12, 2022
Saving the Supreme Court From Itself
The Supreme Court’s right-wing majority has been on a tear lately. In the last week alone, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. made inappropriate wisecracks during oral arguments about whether a web designer can object to working with gay couples, and several right-wing justices seriously considered adopting a once-fringe legal theory that could upend how state courts oversee elections. Allegations also recently emerged that in 2014, Alito leaked the outcome in the court’s Hobby Lobby/ case to a group of right-wing donors (which Alito denied).
Fortunately, there is no shortage of ideas to return sanity to the court. And there has never been a better time to advance them to the public.
As Maya Wiley, head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, explains, “The Supreme Court is now far out of step with the American mainstream and has, as a result, become the best organizer of its own court reform campaign.” Given the many ongoing scandals, such as leaked opinions and Justice Clarence Thomas’s refusal to recuse himself in cases involving his wife’s activism after the 2020 election, Wiley notes, “More Americans believe term limits, transparency and ethics reform are good ideas.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher. The court’s pattern of self-inflicted wounds erodes its credibility and undermines its stature. As the progressive Brennan Center for Justice put it, “The lack of structural democratic accountability is much of the reason why we ended up with a Court so out of step with the public and with mainstream legal thought. But it could also spell a crisis for the Court’s own legitimacy, spurring new attention to the broken system that gave us today’s radical supermajority and garnering momentum for efforts at Court reform.”
Three main avenues for reform have emerged:
Eliminate lifetime tenure for justices
Democracy is not well served when the same pack of out-of-touch Ivy League law school alumni can dominate the bench for decades simply because of Senate gamesmanship and politically timed retirements. Establishing terms limits could ameliorate those practices. It could also help detoxify confirmation hearings and end the unseemly practice of justices purportedly misrepresenting their views simply to be confirmed.
“Supporters of the idea run the ideological gamut from Senator Cory Booker to Federalist Society co-founder Steven Calabresi,” he says. “The idea also generated broad support in the recent presidential commission on court reform.”
This is also gaining broader support among the public. A Monmouth University poll in September found that 2 in 3 Americans favor term limits. . . . . The terms could be staggered so as to give presidents regular opportunities to appoint justices. This, however, might require a constitutional amendment, although supporters argue it can be done by statute.
Expand the court
A recent Marquette University Law School national poll showed that 51 percent of Americans (including 72 percent of Democrats) favored expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court. And unlike term limits, which might require a constitutional amendment to achieve, there is no dispute that Congress has the power to enlarge the court.
The number of seats on the high court is not set in stone. It was set at nine when the nation had nine circuits (there are now 13). . . . Members of the presidential commission on the Supreme Court were candid about this reform: Court expansion would be the most effective means to dilute the influence of the current right-wing majority. The commission also noted that it could provide more diversity on our highest court, which is very small compared with those of other developed democracies.
Democracy itself has been threatened by politically compromised justices acting far outside the bounds of neutral referees. The commission reports:
[Critics] maintain that the Supreme Court has been complicit in and partially responsible for the “degradation of American democracy” writ large. On this view, the Court has whittled away the Voting Rights Act and other cornerstones of democracy, and affirmed state laws and practices that restrict voting and disenfranchise certain constituencies, such as people of color, the poor, and the young.
For those who say expansion would politicize the court, remember that the court has already been politicized. Consider how we got here: Senate Republicans in 2016 refused to fulfill their constitutional duties to render advice and consent on Obama’s nominee on the grounds that voters should have a say, and then rushed to install Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020 even after early voting for a new president was underway. Court expansion would be simply be a corrective action to return it to its pre-MAGA incarnation.
Implement ethics rules for justices
Ethical guardrails already exist for federal courts in the form of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges, as Glenn Fine explains in the Atlantic. This includes “conduct both on and off the bench, including requirements that judges act at all times to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” But the Supreme Court’s adherence to the code has no means of oversight or enforcement.
Here is where the Supreme Court’s cry for “independence” is most self-serving. Congress is “independent," but it has ethics rules and an enforcement mechanism. Same goes for the executive branch, which is subject to ethics laws such as the Hatch Act. Judicial independence should not mean freedom to act with impunity.
“The judiciary as a whole should be subject to inspector-general oversight — to investigate alleged misconduct and to promote efficiency throughout the judiciary’s administrative operations, not to second-guess any judicial opinion.”
This could be done by statute, or the Supreme Court could be obliged to adopt it by virtue of public pressure.
The path forward
None of these reforms is radical. The Brennan Center observes: “The U.S. Supreme Court is an international outlier in many respects when compared to the high courts of other countries, including how much authority justices wield — and for how long.” Moreover, the public has never been so engaged on the issue, as the reaction to the court’s decision to overturn abortion rights has shown.
The goal should be to rebuild the public’s confidence in the rule of law. There is arguably no more important task. It’s time to start preparing the public to save the Supreme Court from itself.
Sunday, December 11, 2022
Gun Violence and the Targeting of Gays
On Sunday, November 20, 2022 I learned that an armed killer entered Club Q, a queer bar and nightlife space in Colorado Springs, and prematurely ended the lives of five patrons and injured 22 more. I knew it would happen again. This time, though, I reacted differently. I felt personally violated, passionately angered and deeply unsettled. I stood there for a long time trying to figure out why this mass shooting was different, other than the obvious reason that it had targeted queer people like me. The news of the immeasurable, yet familiar, loss of life weighed heavily on my mind, but something immensely somber wrapped around my soul.
Gun violence is endemic in America; it is a strange and dangerous reality our society has made normal and seemingly immovable. Accounts of perpetrators — mostly cisgender heterosexual white men — slinging firearms and donning combat gear to enter public spaces and reap the lives of innocent people date back decades.
Mass shootings, which easy access to guns enables as evidenced by the limited successes of the federal government's assault weapons ban, should not be viewed as an anomaly within American culture because the adoration of firearms generally is part of the bedrock upon which we have built our society. As I stated previously, gun violence in America is endemic, yet we react to it as a merely pervasive problem which will somehow resolve itself. Until Congress and 38 state legislatures decide we have reached an appropriate amount of bloodshed to take truly effective action, every person you know and love in America should be on alert in every public space. Every person you see at a Walmart or in the crowd of a concert on American soil should prepare to enjoy their day with the expectation of being shot at, and potentially senselessly murdered in cold blood.
Every time you step into a nightclub, especially spaces of liberation and joy the queer community has created for itself, you should take note of every exit, every hiding place and every potential item you can use to protect yourself for the inevitable.
David Mack, senior breaking news reporter for BuzzFeed News, was outraged. . . . . "I am angry because it is very clear that there has been a political strategy in this country to try to demonize LGBTQ people as a way of mobilizing a political base in a way that we haven't really seen in a few years."
The American public today generally supports the idea that queer people are human beings who deserve equal legal and social footing, at least in regards to gay marriage and especially in the case of conventionally attractive, white, able-bodied, cisgender gay men. Despite this, the prevailing attitudes that have begun to work in favor of America's queer community mustn't be taken for granted.
Millions of American conservatives remain furious queer people have a designated 30 days in June to proclaim we deserve to be equal to them. In addition to the rhetoric Mack described that relentlessly and baselessly vilifies people like us, the Republican party has further emboldened these irrational sects with the canonization of these attitudes. In the GOP's official 2016 platform, the party included the outright objective of hopefully overturning Obergefell v. Hodges — the 2015 Supreme Court case that legalized gay marriage in all of the United States
This platform, the GOP believed, was so perfect they recycled it for the 2020 general election. The Republican Party's mission to turn back the clock on queer rights is in motion, and we've seen with the religious right's determined success to roll back federal abortion protections that no victory should be considered secure, that every inch of progress we have made must be zealously protected.
Though the queer community has faced its own unique challenges in America, the problem of gun violence and mass shootings is universally shared. It should be noted, though, that the June 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting remains the deadliest mass shooting targeted towards queer people and the second deadliest mass shooting in American history. What I've been trying to deduce is what it means exactly when a problem every American faces is so vigorously applied to a group of people who already experience discrimination. These mass shootings targeted at queer people specifically, and the visceral hatred those individuals have towards people like me — what does that mean? What greater message lain beneath their outer derision for queer people?
Queer people everywhere across the globe are conditioned to respond to threats our entire lives. Bullies made my life difficult in grade school, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have only been victim to childhood taunts and as-of-then unsubstantiated claims of my sexuality. Both my parents were accepting and supportive when I came out to them, but shortly afterwards, my mom expressed her serious concern for my safety. She was never able to shake her feelings of despair and heartbreak at the news of Matthew Shephard's 1998 murder. She said she couldn't even bring herself to imagine me befalling a similar fate.
"There's not a lot of places where you can let that guard down," Balof said. "To have someone come in and violate that and try to destroy that makes it that much more traumatic, not just for the people who experienced it, of course, but for the entire community."
In this modern era of the inclusion of queer people in American society and advocating for queer rights more broadly, especially in the case of our community's trans people of color, the political right has responded with more than the standard gamut of taunts and slurs. The escalation of prejudiced violence in our spaces from outside perpetrators, in instances like the Club Q shooting, is the most up-front and bloody confrontation my community has to prepare itself for. Other, less violent means of intimidation and purposeful exclusion include the record number of anti-trans bills introduced in state legislatures. While the cancerous growth of vile anti-queer rhetoric the right wing manufactures hurts all queer people, it is now especially targeted towards gender-obscuring, gender-defying and transgender people, artificially juxtaposing some of the most vulnerable and courageous people in my community against children. Baselessly accusing queer people of coercing children into being queer and trans is not a new lie, but it has been dusted off and viciously clamped around the right's portrayal of who we are. And, as we've seen, this barrage of unfounded accusations results in the very real disruption of our everyday lives beyond a showering of bullets.
On Dec. 3, a strange attack on Moore County, North Carolina's power grid left thousands of people without electricity. The FBI has joined the investigation, and queer activists believe there is strong suspicion to support the theory the attacks targeted a drag performance, cutting off the power supply and sending a queer space of joy into literal darkness.
The phenomenon of gunmen shooting us down in bars and clubs, I believe, goes deeper than merely being a place where queer people will be. These killers' qualms about my community being joyous and having fun, to me, is not just about what we do but also where we do it. They don't want us to openly be a part of society; they don't want our elation and bliss visible to the world, even in the semi-private enclaves we've created. Attackers choosing to murder queer people in nightclubs and bars, on dancefloors and during drag shows, is an exercise in dismantling the spaces we have intentionally created for ourselves. These venues are an essential component of queer culture, acting as social settings and safe havens away from judgement and the fear of being othered. We can hold hands and make out without a coward in a moving car yelling at us, calling us a slur. We can breathe, and live, in a space we have designed to cater to our agenda: not just staying alive, but living in the most vulnerable and open sense.
[F]earing further violence for drawing attention to the hatred pointed at our community is exactly what the shooters want. He said that this coercion of silence is exactly what terrorism does, because that's what we are: terrorized. To speak out regardless — not just me, but anyone who has the privilege to do so safely or chooses to otherwise — is an act of defiance worth doing.
Queer people are forced every day to decide whether we will be silent or vocal about our existence in America. We live in a society of abject terror that every person in this country shares. Queer people understand this as well as today's grade school children. Unlike children, we also wonder if we will be shot because of who we are, of which our spaces are an extension. As long as our society fails to act in the wake of imminent tragedies, killers will put our bars, clubs and other spaces of joy in the path of danger.
I don't expect the laws to change favorably for the hunted anytime soon. Until then, I remain hopeful that one day there will be an empty space between the First and Third Amendments, and years will have passed since the last mass shooting in America.