Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, December 24, 2022
The Right's Hatred of Zelensky and Liberalism
“I just want to punch him.” That’s what Candace Owens told her 3.3 million Twitter followers in response to a video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanking Americans for their support in his nation’s existential struggle against Russian aggression. It’s an absurd, juvenile statement, but it was also par for the course on the new American right.
Zelensky’s visit to the United States triggered an astonishing outpouring of raw vitriol from some of the most prominent right-wing voices in the land. Donald Trump Jr. called Zelensky an “international welfare queen.” In a furious monologue on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson said that Zelensky—who wore fatigues similar to the ones he’s worn since the conflict started—“dressed like the manager of a strip club.” The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh told his 1.2 million Twitter followers that Zelensky was a “grifting leech.”
The list goes on. Turning Point USA’s Benny Johnson called Zelensky an “ungrateful piece of sh*t.”
And if you think that’s the entirety of right-wing hatred against Zelensky, you’re sadly mistaken. I simply highlighted a few of the people with huge platforms on the right. If you want an even more complete roundup, I’d suggest reading Cathy Young’s outstanding report over at The Bulwark.
In fact, Cathy and I are doing much the same thing. We’re trying to highlight and explain the incredible outpouring of right-wing anger against the president of a country that’s defending itself against an unprovoked, brutal invasion by one of our nation’s chief geopolitical foes. Here’s Cathy’s smart take:
Partly, it’s simply partisanship: If the libs are for it, we’re against it, and the more offensively the better. (And if the pre-Trump Republican establishment is also for it, then we’re even more against it.) Partly, it’s the belief that Ukrainian democracy is a Biden/Obama/Hillary Clinton/”Deep State” project, all the more suspect because it’s related to Trump’s first impeachment. Partly, it’s the “national conservative” distaste for liberalism—not only in its American progressive iteration, but in the more fundamental sense that includes conservatives like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: the outlook based on individual freedom and personal autonomy, equality before the law, limited government, and an international order rooted in those values. Many NatCons are far more sympathetic to Russia’s crusade against secular liberalism than to Ukraine’s desire for integration into liberal, secular Europe.
I agree with all of her explanations. Each element is in the mix to a greater or lesser degree, but I want to drill down on her first point. Partisan polarization doesn’t just explain the fact of right-wing opposition to Ukraine; it also explains its raw intensity.
Simply put, it’s not about Ukraine. It’s about you. A key reason why the new right hates Zelensky is that the new right hates you. You are the real enemy, and anything or anyone you like, they will hate.
This is about polarization against the Democrats, against the Republican establishment, and against traditional Reagan conservatives like me—a coalition the new right calls the “uniparty.” What the alleged uniparty supports, the new right opposes, and it doesn’t just oppose positions; it opposes the people within the alleged uniparty with an almost primal ferocity. Just watch a typical Carlson monologue. It’s peppered with schoolyard insults and juvenile name-calling.
Along with the vitriol, there is a kind of potpourri of positions that goes along with membership in the new right, including vaccine skepticism (or outright opposition) and election denial.
Kirk, for example, spent much of yesterday tweeting against Zelensky and in support of Kari Lake’s hopeless effort to reverse the results of the Arizona gubernatorial election, which Lake lost.
At first glance, these issues might seem to be completely disconnected. But scratch beneath the surface, and they all share the same fundamental characteristic: furious defiance of majority consensus. Again, what the “uniparty” is for, the new right is against.
And this defiance makes a difference in people’s decisions. Republicans are less likely to get vaccinated against COVID, and now there’s evidence that this was a deadly choice. . . . Between March 2020 and March 2021, excess death rates for Republicans were 1.6 percentage points higher than for Democrats. After April 2021, the gap widened to 10.6 percentage points.”
That defiance is also making a difference in American support for Ukraine. The same poll I cited above, which indicates that a majority of Republicans still support additional arms for Ukraine, also shows that support for arms and economic assistance to Ukraine has dropped far more with Republicans than with Democrats or independents.
I’ve written about right-wing contrarianism before, but it’s important to identify each time it arises. And it’s important to identify the sheer amount of hatred that animates new-right discourse.
The new right’s objections to supporting Ukraine, or taking a vaccine, or accepting the results of an election are largely born out of hatred—the conviction that the evil “they” are out to destroy “us”; it’s difficult to reasonably debate policy differences against the backdrop of such extreme animosity. If the new right believes its Democratic and Republican opponents are fundamentally evil, then of course it will believe that the policies and people they support are evil as well.
We saw this animosity again yesterday, when 18 Republicans joined Democrats in the Senate to pass an omnibus spending package that included a substantial increase in aid to Ukraine. And how did Johnson react? “Senate Republicans are traitors,” he tweeted.
[A]nimosity is our real enemy. The anger in so many American hearts blinds them to the truth, renders them vulnerable to conspiracies, and tempts them into dehumanizing their opponents.
That’s what we saw unfold online this week during Zelensky’s visit. It wasn’t the new right rising in reasoned opposition to American policy, but rather hysterical rage animated by very real hate. And the hatred isn’t truly against the people of Ukraine or even necessarily against Zelensky himself. It’s against you. It’s against me. It’s against the people of this country who the new right believes are rotten to our very core.
Friday, December 23, 2022
Biden’s America Finds Its Voice
The cameras mostly focused on Volodymyr Zelensky during his address to Congress on Wednesday night, but I focused my attention as much as I could on the audience in the room. There was fervor, admiration, yelling and whooping. In a divided nation, we don’t often get to see the Congress rise up, virtually as one, with ovations, applause, many in blue dresses and yellow ties.
Sure, there were dissenters in the room, but they were not what mattered. Words surged into my consciousness that I haven’t considered for a while — compatriots, comrades, co-believers in a common creed.
Zelensky and his fellow Ukrainians have reminded Americans of the values and causes we used to admire in ourselves — the ardent hunger for freedom, the deep-rooted respect for equality and human dignity, the willingness to fight against brutal authoritarians who would crush the human face under the heel of their muddy boots. It is as if Ukraine and Zelensky have rekindled a forgotten song, and suddenly everybody has remembered how to sing it.
Zelensky was not subtle about making this point. He said that what Ukraine is fighting for today has echoes in what so many Americans fought for over centuries. . . . His words reminded us that America supports Ukraine not only out of national interest — to preserve a stable liberal world order — but also to live out a faith that is essential to this country’s being and identity. The thing that really holds America together is this fervent idea.
This liberal ideal has been tarnished over the last six decades. Sometimes America has opposed authoritarianism with rash imprudence — the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Iraq. Other times, America has withdrawn behind its ocean barriers and done little while horror unfolded — the genocide in Rwanda, the civil war in Syria, the failure during the Obama and Trump administrations to support Ukraine sufficiently as Putin tested the waters and upped the pressure.
American policy has oscillated between a hubristic interventionism and a callous non-interventionism. “We overdo our foreign crusades, and then we overdo our retrenchments, never pausing in between
The result has been a crisis of national self-doubt: Can the world trust America to do what’s right? Can we believe in ourselves?
Finding the balance between passionate ideals and mundane practicalities has been a persistent American problem. . . . Joe Biden has struck this balance as well as any president in recent times, perhaps having learned a costly lesson from the heartless way America exited from Afghanistan. He has swung the Western alliance fervently behind Ukraine. But he has done it with prudence and calibration. . . . . Biden has shown that America can responsibly lead. He has shown you can have moral clarity without being blinded by it.
Both Zelensky and Biden have been underestimated. Zelensky had been a comedian and so people thought he was a lightweight. He dresses like a regular guy and eschews the trappings of power that obsess people like Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
For his part, Biden doesn’t fit the romantic “West Wing” fantasy that many progressives have in their heads. A progressive president should be delivering soaring, off-the cuff speeches that make you feel good about yourself!
But the truth is that both men have delivered again and again. The military struggle in Ukraine might turn grim in the coming months, but both men are partly responsible for a historic shift in the global struggle against brutality and authoritarianism.
A few years ago, democracies seemed to be teetering and authoritarians seemed to be on the march. But since, we’ve had heroic resistance from Kyiv and steady leadership in the White House. As I look at the polls and the midterm results, I see Americans building an anti-Trump majority, which at least right now seems to make it far less likely Trump will ever be president again.
Meanwhile events have shown — yet again — that you can’t run a successful society if you centralize power, censor knowledge and treat your people like slaves. The Times’s awe-inspiring reporting on the Russian war effort shows how pervasive the rot there is.
On his first foreign trip since the war began, Zelensky came to America. It’s a reminder that for all the talk of American decline, the world still needs American leadership. It’s a reminder that the liberal alliance is still strong. It’s a reminder that while liberal democracies blunder, they have the capacity to learn and adapt.
Finally, Zelensky reminded us that while the authoritarians of the world have shown they can amass power, there is something vital they lack: a vision of a society that preserves human dignity, which inspires people to fight and binds people to one another.
Thursday, December 22, 2022
Zelensky Recalled Us to Ourselves
“So much in the world depends on you.” Of all the many moving words in President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, those eight may have been the most urgent and important.
Zelensky came to Washington to speak for his nation. He came to Washington to ask for assistance. But above all, he came to Washington to recall Americans to themselves. He came to say, My embattled people believe in you. Embedded in his words of trust was a challenge: If we believe in you, perhaps you can again believe in yourselves?
Political scientists have dubbed the past 20 years an age of “democratic recession.” There are fewer democracies on the planet. Antidemocratic predators have gained in wealth and strength. Even within the surviving democracies, extremist forces have undermined citizens’ confidence in their own system of government.
The ideal of partnership among democracies has declined, too, and perhaps even more than confidence within individual democracies. Narrow and selfish nationalism has displaced international cooperation and collective security. The slogan “America First”—seemingly discredited forever along with its fascism-friendly promoters of the late 1930s and early ’40s—was revived. Unsurprisingly, “America First” summoned forth reciprocal chauvinism from countries on the receiving end of American tariffs and American disrespect.
This mood of democratic recession enabled Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine. He regarded Ukraine as weak and vulnerable, and Ukraine’s allies as divided and ineffectual. When he ordered the invasion 10 months ago, Putin apparently expected to roll into Kyiv in days. He seemingly expected the rest of the world to grumble, then come to terms.
What a mistake. The Ukrainians fought. Their ferocious and successful resistance surprised Putin. Perhaps it surprised the Ukrainians themselves. Certainly, it surprised the rest of the world, democratic and nondemocratic alike. A surge of sympathy rapidly translated into the greatest joint military assistance effort since 1945. Weapons, money, intelligence, economic support, humanitarian assistance—all flowed into Ukraine, by the tens of billions of dollars, pounds, and euros. Collective security was suddenly upgraded from an antique slogan to an organizing principle.
The assistance worked. The invasion was stopped, then reversed. The intended victim began to win.
And as the Ukrainians began to win, all the rest of us—all the other intended victims of Putin’s aggression—began to consider that maybe we might not be such losers ourselves. Maybe our ideals were not so out-of-date. Maybe our institutions were not so broken. Maybe the people the Ukrainians needed us to be, maybe those were the people we could be again.
Zelensky spoke of “bicameral and bipartisan” support in Congress for his cause. That sounded a surprising note, because an important faction in Congress and in conservative media has aligned with Putin against Ukraine. But Zelensky was using words not to describe reality; he was using words to change reality. His praise strengthened Republican friends of Ukraine such as Senator Mitch McConnell—and the reverberating applause for his praise left the friends of Putin in Congress and in conservative media more aware than ever of their ideological extremism and political isolation.
Zelensky argued that assistance to Ukraine is not charity. It is an investment. That statement is obviously true by the material metrics of national security. At a comparatively small cost in American and allied assistance, the Russian military has been given a mauling it will not soon care to repeat. Ukraine’s resistance has helped secure Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan, too, because the lesson inflicted on Moscow will surely reverberate in Beijing.
But the “investment, not charity” argument is even more powerful when measured less materially. What the Western world is getting in return for its aid is a powerful recommitment to its own best self. We didn’t believe the Ukrainians could do it, in part because we didn’t believe we could do it. But they did. And so did we. And we look now at both Ukraine and ourselves in new ways.
The extremists and conspiracists and populists, the authoritarians and kleptocrats and theocrats who have all gained so much ascendancy in recent years, they do not speak for us. That small man in the olive-green jersey at the rostrum of the House of Representatives, he spoke for us. And the reception given to him today by the president and by Congress told the world that his words had been heard and received and understood by the great democracy-minded majority of Americans.
“So much in the world depends on you.” Sometimes, Americans forget that.
Zelensky reminded us. He came to say thank you. It’s a little embarrassing to hear that thanks, because what Americans gave, fundamentally, was just money. Zelensky’s people have given blood, home, comfort, and security—every precious thing that human beings can sacrifice. The answer we owe Zelensky, the answer Zelensky should hear from this country, revived by his visit, his cause, and his country’s heroic fight, is: No, no, no—thank you.
Hopefully, Americans will rededicate themselves to their core principles and reject those whose stock in trade is spreading hate, division and bigotry.
Wednesday, December 21, 2022
The Right's War on ‘Happy Holidays’ Isn’t About Christmas
When I wish strangers “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” it’s a battle cry.
I’m not waging a war on Christmas. I like Christmas. But I am declaring my allegiance to one idea of America that opposes another: inclusive vs. exclusive.
In one recent skirmish, residents of exclusive America crowded a Tuscumbia, Ala., City Council meeting to protest a forthcoming Festival of Yule, which its organizer designed, she said, “for everyone to enjoy this time of year that is winter’s solstice and also an awareness of the origins of this holiday season.”
Opponents declared it, rather, “a sort of twisted anti-Christmas celebration” that threatened the city and the children. Speaker after speaker denounced the festival as a perversion of a holiday that was supposed to honor Jesus Christ, not the devilish Krampus.
Toward the end of the public comment period, a lone voice politely ventured, “I’m not sure that it’s the City Council’s job to enforce Christianity,” and offered advice for citizens offended by the Festival of Yule: “If you don’t agree with it, you don’t have to show up.”
Everyone ignored this suggestion. Clearly the problem wasn’t that they would be forced to attend or even that the festival replaced the traditional Christian one . . . . The problem was the very idea of inclusion.
A similar dynamic was at work in August, when Cracker Barrel added plant-based sausage to its menu, sparking outrage among patrons furious that the restaurant chain would no longer be serving pork.
Oops, no, I got that wrong — the pork was staying. . . . But I think exclusive America was simply incensed that, even at Cracker Barrel, inclusive America was winning.
Inclusive America recently thrilled to videos of Black girls watching the preview to the live-action “The Little Mermaid” with Halle Bailey, a Black actor, as Ariel. Exclusive America flooded YouTube with negative comments and argued that the mythical girlfish should be White because mermaids are European, the original story is Danish, and everyone’s childhoods will be retroactively ruined, since Disney will be destroying all copies of the animated 1989 version.
Oh — sorry — no, it won’t. Our cultural heritage will henceforth include both the Black Ariel and the White one. But that’s cold comfort to exclusive America, because central to its worldview is the notion that inclusion is incursion.
Rewriting the reflexive December salutation to include people who might not be celebrating Christmas, putting a solstice festival on a town’s event calendar, expanding the range of ethnicities represented in children’s movies, adding more choices to breakfast menus — all of it poses some sort of vague, unstated threat.
Or stated, but untrue. Like the claim that same-sex marriage weakens traditional marriage. Or that including trans men in the discourse about abortion erases women. Or that teachers using gender-inclusive language or acknowledging the existence of same-sex parents constitute indoctrination.
I get that it’s destabilizing to lose your monopoly on the culture — or to realize you never had it to begin with. To be informed by the Tuscumbia events calendar that the particular kind of Christmas you’ve celebrated your whole life is not the winter holiday, but a winter holiday.
You can still celebrate however you want, though. When inclusion wins, nobody actually loses.
But that’s the point: to blur our shared imagery, to leave open the possibilities so that schools, doctors, parents and, most important, the law are less likely to look at a pregnant trans man or a gay couple or a nonbinary child or a Jew and think they don’t fit the picture.
As Lyz Lenz wrote about adding more inclusive language to her book “Belabored,” “If I can crack a door open in a conversation and let another person in, why wouldn’t I?” Why wouldn’t we?
Complaceny vs. Broad, Sunlit Uplands
On June 18, 1940, Churchill delivered his celebrated “Finest Hour” speech. The British Army had been evacuated from Dunkirk. France, under Pétain, had decided to surrender. “Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war,” Churchill told the House of Commons.
“If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”
Two of those phrases — “broad, sunlit uplands” and “the abyss of a new Dark Age” — should ring in our ears as we approach the end of this hinge year in history.
Broad, sunlit uplands are the women of Iran tearing off their hijabs the way the people of Berlin once tore down their wall. And Ukrainian soldiers raising their flag over Irpin, Lyman, Kherson and other cities liberated from Russian barbarism. And Chinese protesters demanding — and gaining — an end to their regime’s cruel and crazy Covid lockdowns by holding up blank sheets of paper, where nothing needed to be written because everyone already knew what they meant.
Broad, sunlit uplands were Emmanuel Macron’s victories over the fascistic Marine Le Pen in France. They were the defeat of nearly every election denier in the United States who ran to oversee voting at the state level. They were the drubbing of most of Donald Trump’s handpicked candidates in battleground midterm elections, including in states such as Georgia where non-QAnon Republicans won handily.
This isn’t just a laundry list of the year’s good news. It is a demonstration of the capacity of people across cultures and circumstances to demand, defend and define freedom; to defy those who would deny it; and to use freedom to broaden the boundaries of what we can know and do and imagine.
But it isn’t the only thing 2022 demonstrated. We continue to stare into the abyss of a new Dark Age, brought about not just by the malice of the enemies of freedom but also by the complacency and wishful thinking of its advocates.
The complacent include those who imagined we could leave Afghanistan to the Taliban and suffer no wider consequences. But the perception of American weakness travels fast and far. Vladimir Putin’s second invasion of Ukraine, on Feb. 24, happened about six months after that American fiasco. Recall that his first invasion of Ukraine, in February 2014, happened a few months after Barack Obama’s Syria debacle over his chemical weapons “red line.”
The complacent include those who thought that we could trade our way to a form of perpetual peace — whether by bringing China into the World Trade Organization or outsourcing Europe’s energy needs to Putin or imagining we could strengthen Iranian “moderates” with sanctions relief. Dictatorships are rarely weakened by being enriched. Lenin may not have said that “capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them,” but it’s remarkable how the point never seems to be learned by successive generations of capitalists.
The complacent include those supposedly sophisticated Republicans who never took a real stand against Trump — first on the grounds that he couldn’t win; then on the view that he could be a vehicle for conservative policy victories; then in the conviction that he would concede gracefully; then in the belief that impeachment after Jan. 6 was too extreme a remedy — only to see him infest the party with conspiracy theorists and lead it to its well-earned defeat.
The complacent are those who think that no vital American interest is at stake in a Ukrainian victory or in the outcome of the Iranian demonstrations. Or that China’s recent travails, along with Russia’s setbacks in Ukraine, might dissuade Xi Jinping from trying to seize Taiwan. Or that a corner has been turned on inflation. Or that the surging wave of migration across the southern border, sparked by a collapse in governance throughout much of Latin America, is some peculiar right-wing obsession rather than a genuine crisis that will incite a furious populist backlash if it isn’t competently managed.
As Britain was fighting for its life in 1940, much of America was still uncertain as to what, if anything, the moment demanded of it. Churchill laid out the choice: sunlit uplands, or the abyss. It remains our choice today.
Tuesday, December 20, 2022
Criminal Referrals Against Donald Trump Were Inevitable
Donald Trump cannot pass off the House Jan. 6 select committee’s final report as mere partisan opinion. His criminal liability is based on a mound of evidence, as the committee meticulously detailed.
Moreover, the committee’s “roadmap to justice” is not just a restatement of facts already made public by the committee. It is the foundation that the Justice Department could use to prosecute the former president and his underlings to the fullest extent of the law.
The report’s executive summary, which the committee released on Monday, includes four criminal referrals for Trump: insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to make a false statement. . . . The committee leaves open the possibility that others might be referred for participation in such crimes, leaving it to the Justice Department to investigate.
At its core, the report lays out the evidence for critical facts:
- Trump attempted to stay in power despite the vote of the American people.
- He tried to concoct phony slates of electors to change the electoral vote.
- He tried to pressure former vice president Mike Pence to disregard the electoral count.
- When that did not work, he summoned the mob to the capital on Jan. 6, 2021, urged rally attendees (some of whom were armed) to march to the Capitol and did nothing for 187 minutes to stop the violence that ensued. In fact, while the insurrection was underway, he sent out a tweet putting a target on Pence’s back.
Never in the history of the republic has Congress taken such a momentous step of issuing a criminal referral of a former president. Then again, never in our history has a president attempted to prevent the peaceful transfer of power.
While a referral has no legal significance, the roadmap puts great pressure on the Justice Department. If special counsel Jack Smith decides not to indict Trump, he will have to explain why his judgment differs from that of a congressional committee that painstakingly examined the evidence and presented it to the American people.
Let’s take a look at each of the potential charges against Trump:
In some sense, this referral should come as no surprise. The entire country saw Trump unleash the mob to stop Congress from counting the electoral votes. A majority of the House impeached Trump specifically for incitement of insurrection. And 57 senators voted to convict him on that charge.
The statute concerning such a criminal charge is fairly straightforward. Section 2383 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code states: “Whoever incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”
[P]rosecutors in an insurrection case would not need to prove that Trump agreed to overthrow the government, as would be required for a seditious conspiracy charge. They would only need prove he assisted in opposing the authority of the government.
Moreover, conviction under Section 2383 would bar Trump from holding federal office.
Obstructing a congressional proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States
These potential charges are nothing new. Legal scholars as well as federal District Judge David O. Carter (in adjudicating Eastman’s attempts to avoid complying with congressional subpoenas based on client-attorney privilege) have found it more likely than not that Trump committed such crimes. (The committee’s summary devotes substantial space to reviewing Carter’s analysis.)
In fact, multiple Jan. 6 insurrectionists have either pleaded guilty to or been convicted of obstructing a congressional proceeding under Section 1512(c) of Title 18. The executive summary released by the committee explains:
Sufficient evidence exists of one or more potential violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c) for a criminal referral of President Trump based solely on his plan to get Vice President Pence to prevent certification of the election at the Joint Session of Congress. Those facts standing alone are sufficient.
Trump’s plot to create alternative electors warrants a conspiracy to defraud charge for similar reasons. This is based on Section 371 of Title 18, which the Supreme Court has ruled makes it a crime to obstruct lawful governmental functions through "deceit, craft or trickery, [or] by means that are dishonest.”
Conspiracy to make a false statement
This is based on Section 1001 of Title 18, which applies to anyone who “makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” to Congress or who “makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry.”
Trump’s attempt to compile phony alternate electors to submit to Congress could subject him to prosecution for this crime. The committee finds:
The Committee believes that sufficient evidence exists for a criminal referral of President Trump for illegally engaging in a conspiracy to violate Section 1001; the evidence indicates that he entered into an agreement with Eastman and others to make the false statement (the fake electoral certificates), by deceitful or dishonest means, and at least one member of the conspiracy engaged in at least one overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy . . . .
The Justice Department is by no means limited to these pathways of prosecution. The committee holds out the possibility that the department might pursue other charges such as seditious conspiracy if it uncovers evidence that Trump conspired with the violent armed groups that stormed the Capitol.
Many Americans have rightly wondered whether Trump would ever be held accountable for his misdeeds. Today marks a critical, unprecedented and justifiable step toward making that happen. The ball is now in Jack Smith’s court to uphold the rule of law.
Monday, December 19, 2022
The Republican Party's Terminal Illness
The Republican Party is terminally ill, and most of its voters are oblivious to this fact.
Taking a pre-mortem liberty with the five stages of grief, from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' "On Death and Dying" — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance — what one will notice about Republican voters and elected officials is that they currently, and confusedly, occupy numerous stages.
Yes, we will continue to see Republican candidates, who will cite heroic dead presidents (but no living ones), and will prattle on with their usual myths (which I'll get to in a moment).
But the GOP is a soon-to-be spectral political party. What rendered the party sickly beyond cure? Its illness are its politically traumatizing mythologies, as old as our country itself.
The Republican Political Traumatization Mythologies Meter is as follows; there's some overlap from one phase to another, but differences may be overt, rather than implied. The higher a Republican politician is on the meter, the more politically traumatizing he/she is:
- 1-2: Garden-variety partisanship; standard-fare fear-mongering;
- 3-4: Utilization of trigger words and phrases, such as, but not limited to: "culture," "values" and "parental rights"; these are often incorporated into rhetoric about sex, LGBTQ and "states' rights";
- 5-6: Overt yearning for when America was "great," i.e. the 1950s or early '60s, when the ruling class was Caucasian, heterosexual (at least outwardly), male and Christian; undermining the value of education and science, especially from the Ivy League-educated;
- 7-8: Whites are being replaced by brown and Black foreigners; law enforcement is weaponized against Republicans; Big Tech "censors" Republicans; teachers are making our kids gay; Democrats are coming for our guns; citing of Barack Obama by name;
- 9-10: Elections are rigged, unless won by Republicans; political violence is legitimate political discourse, warranted when Republicans lose; use of guns, as the preferred holy war weapon, to intimidate; Christian theocracy and nationalism; and the will of God.
No Republican can win 270 electoral votes without moderate (levels 3-6), to heavy (7 and above) traumatizing; and the number of states a Republican running for statewide office can win is likely shrinking with each passing election cycle — hence the GOP's worsening hostility to democracy.
Given that around 44 percent of voting-age Americans voted in the 2022 midterms — with Democrats doing well both federally, and in numerous gubernatorial and state legislative races — many Republicans, perhaps even most, have undoubtedly further realized that the market for the politically traumatizing mythological product has indefinitely dwindled
The irrefutable fact is: the Republican Party appealed (habitually, I talk of the party in the past tense) to those who think moving backward is moving forward. Whether that means looking to an imaginary version of 1776, the "Lost Cause" of the Confederacy, the 1950s as America's apogee of greatness or relitigating the 2020 election, the entire GOP product is backward-facing.
The GOP, of course, withheld the diagnosis of its terminal political illness from its voters; you may debate among yourselves when the irreversible malignancy metastasized within the GOP. I am of the belief that it accelerated fatefully with the election of Obama, and reached the irreversible stage with Donald Trump.
Republican politicians are scattered across the bargaining, depression and acceptance stages; one notable acceptor is Sen. Josh Hawley, who has stated in unambiguous terms that the old GOP is dead, thus necessitating a new GOP.
The new GOP that Hawley envisions, however, sounds an awful lot like the old one; his reborn party must be more zealously supportive of the Second Amendment (9-10 on the mythologies meter), "parental rights" (3-4) and placing a sword of Damocles over the tyrannical heads of "Big Tech" (7-8). Hawley's new GOP will likely convince candidates from various disadvantaged minority groups, such as the recently defeated Herschel Walker, to run for offices any relatively objective person can see they are wholly unqualified for.
The GOP has not been an active or proactive political force for years. It is reactive and reactionary — it adopted the politically traumatizing, hysterical and paranoid mythologies disseminated throughout the right-wing infotainment system, often crafted in the deepest and darkest bowels of the rabbit-holed internet, and then regurgitated them.
Though I will not excuse ignorance, politically traumatized Republicans have themselves been failed by the liars, grifters, carnival barkers, faux-constitutionalists and insurrectionary apologists they've supported — all because they were convinced that any Republican is always preferable to any Democrat.
The GOP cannot vote its way out of its Trump problem, because no cult leaders ever willingly steps aside for another. (Lookin' at you, Ronnie DeSantis!)
In Trump's case, it goes even beyond the cult: He would burn his own nation to the ground to rule over the ashes.
Trump, DeSantis, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, et al., peddle identical politically traumatizing mythologies, because the myths are effective — albeit for a shrinking segment of the electorate. The mythologies are a form of identity politics; forging a diverse and varied coalition of Americans, as the Democrats sometimes do well and sometimes poorly, is much more difficult than politically traumatizing identity politics.
I find no pleasure in all this morbidity; and I don't want a single-party political party system. I much prefer the candid, pragmatic optimism and stout leadership of Obama to the apocalyptic dystopia of the GOP, in which Republicans are victimized because of their extolled morality and piety (paid-for abortions for mistresses, wives and daughters aside). We cannot fully eliminate the right's politically traumatizing mythologies, but we must stymie and reduce them. Building diverse pro-democracy alliances, and telling original, inspiring and challenging stories about our national mythologies (the good, bad and ugly ones), can begin to heal our nation's political traumatization. The continued perfection of our Union demands it.
Sunday, December 18, 2022
Former House Members: Investigate Members Involved in January 6th
As is now clear, January 6th was only one event among many that together constituted an extraordinary campaign to overturn an election. The scale and audacity of the campaign is profoundly troubling. Among the most alarming findings is that various members of Congress participated in it.
We now know, for example, that sitting lawmakers corresponded and met with White House officials and allies to plot various prongs of the campaign, including to advocate that the president declare martial law; that states submit false certificates of electoral votes to Congress; that the vice president, in contravention of his constitutional duties, interfere with the counting of electoral votes; and that federal law enforcement authorities be enlisted to interfere with the election; among other startling facts. We also now know that various sitting lawmakers sought presidential pardons.
These lawmakers stopped short of storming the Capitol themselves. But they shared a common goal with those who did: to prevent the lawful transfer of power for the first time in the Republic’s history. As with those who stormed the Capitol, they must be held accountable.
Sadly, with Republicans about to take control of the House of Representatives (although who will be named Speaker remains unclear), any much deserved investigation by the House will be promptly killed as some of the very participants in the coup plot find themselves further empowered to the detriment of the nation. Perhaps the Senate can launch an investigation that will hold these individals accountable and/or remove them from office. A piece in Vanity Fair looks a the situation as does one in The Hill. Here are highlights from Vanity Fair:
Nearly 40 former members of the House of Representatives wrote a letter to their current colleagues requesting ethics investigations for members “who played a role in the events leading up to and on January 6th.”
Signed by 36 former U.S. Representatives, Democrats and Republicans alike, the letter was posted on Medium on Saturday. Signatories spanned generations, including some who served in Congress starting in 1973, like Rep. Alan Steelman (R-Texas), as well as those who retired as recently as 2017, like Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.).
“As is now clear, January 6th was only one event among many that together constituted an extraordinary campaign to overturn an election. The scale and audacity of the campaign is profoundly troubling. Among the most alarming findings is that various members of Congress participated in it,” the letter said.
The letter was released days before the January 6 committee is expected to vote on at least three criminal referrals against former President Donald Trump on Monday. As indicated by committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) last week, the House panel could also vote on referrals to the House Ethics Committee regarding five Republican lawmakers—House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) Scott Perry, Andy Biggs and Mo Brooks—who ignored the panel’s subpoenas.
It encouraged other former members of the House to sign on by December 31, 2022.
“Based on the facts and findings to date, we urge you to demand that the Office of Congressional Ethics thoroughly investigates those members who played a role” in the Capitol riot, “and if appropriate, that the House exercise its disciplinary functions.” The letter continued, “At stake is not only the institutional integrity of the legislative branch — to draw and enforce bright lines of ethical conduct — but the principle of accountability upon which our democracy rests.”
“No one — including members of Congress — is above the law,” the group wrote.
The letter seems to be referring, at least in part, to the half a dozen representatives who the January 6 committee revealed had requested pardons or contacted officials about pardons after voting to overturn 2020 election results: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
“These lawmakers stopped short of storming the Capitol themselves. But they shared a common goal with those who did: to prevent the lawful transfer of power for the first time in the Republic’s history. As with those who stormed the Capitol, they must be held accountable,” the letter stated.