Saturday, June 10, 2023
Through his years as a Christian broadcaster, Robertson proved himself to be anything but welcoming of those with beliefs different than his own.
The televangelist repeatedly called non-Christians “termites” akin to “a virus,” attacked Hindus as “demonic” and claimed Islam is inherently violent and not a real religion. He called feminism an “anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” In the aftermath of the destruction and devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, Robertson suggested it was a result of God’s wrath over abortion.
When it was revealed during Trump’s presidential campaign that the candidate had joked about sexually assaulting women and grabbing them “by the pussy,” Robertson brushed off the comments as “macho talk.”
These and other dangerous and bizarre comments earned Robertson the occasional moniker of “Christianity’s crazy uncle.”
“What he lacks in self-awareness, he makes up in confidence,” Christian writer Jonathan Merritt said of Robertson in a 2016 article. “But somewhere along the line, Robertson seemed to completely detach from reality, exhibiting bizarre behaviors and making strange statements. ... forcing [Christians] to qualify their faith to friends and neighbors: ‘Yes, I’m a Christian. But I’m not a Pat-Robertson-kind-of-Christian.’”
A piece at CNN looks at Robertson's toxic impact on the Republican Party. Here are excerpts:
Robertson’s influence on right-wing politics didn’t end with his presidential bid. The Christian Coalition, which he founded in 1987, became a powerful political force after absorbing the leftover funds of the Robertson campaign — and the millions of names and addresses Robertson had collected while he ran for president. According to historian Neil J. Young (with whom I co-host a history podcast), by 1992, 300 of the 2,200 delegates at the Republican National Convention were Coalition members, as were a third of the platform committee members. When told he would need to be prepared for questions about whether the Coalition was trying to take over the Republican Party, Robertson shrugged, “What is there left to take over?”
Robertson also became a vector for vivid conspiracy theories on the right. His bestselling book “The New World Order,” published in 1991, played off Bush’s use of the phrase in a speech a year earlier. But rather than simply bash Bush, the book covered every internationalist conspiracy imaginable. Apocalyptic, paranoid and popular, Robertson’s conspiracy tract tapped a rich vein of right-wing religion and politics, one that continues to feed the party today.
Because Robertson was first and foremost a religious figure, one who occupied a world that seemed quite distant from politics, his impact as a presidential candidate has often been overlooked. But his candidacy, born of media and celebrity, set the stage for much of what would follow in the Republican Party. No assessment of the party’s march away from democracy and into demagoguery can be understood without understanding Robertson’s role.
It’s as sincere as the grief at a Mafia funeral. Who believes that Governor Ron DeSantis—so badly trailing in the polls behind former President Donald Trump—is genuinely upset by his rival’s federal indictment? Or that Speaker Kevin McCarthy—so disgusted by Trump in private—does not inwardly rejoice to see Trump meet justice?
The Fox News talkers have been trying for months to sideline Trump and promote DeSantis. Now they have a turn of events that promises both to help their corporate political agenda and to stoke controversy and ratings. They must be positively ecstatic at the network’s New York headquarters today.
Special Counsel Jack Smith now presents them with an opportunity—if they can find their way past a hitherto intractable, and perhaps still unsolvable, problem of collective action.
If you are DeSantis, here’s what you want to see happen:
- Trump is indicted, prosecuted, convicted, and thereby banished from public life.
- You champion Trump every step of the way, acting as his fiercest and loudest ally.
- To your pretend regret, your Trump advocacy fails to shield Trump from the law.
- Trump is removed from the path to office; you inherit all of Trump’s supporters.
Kevin McCarthy and the Fox News talkers share similar interests and goals.
But here’s the intractable collective-action problem: These plans depend on the non-Trump political actors performing just convincingly enough that their audience is deceived, but not so convincingly that their audience is mobilized to actually do something inconvenient about it. That undesirable something might be some kind of mass protest or even violence. Or possibly it would take the form of conservative voters losing faith in the system and withdrawing from voting and political participation altogether.
The conservative world in the age of Trump has coiled itself into a labyrinth of lies: lies about Trump’s victimhood, lies about Trump’s popularity, lies about Trump’s election outcomes, lies about Trump’s mental acuity and physical strength. The architects of the labyrinth presumed that they could always, if necessary, find an exit—and that their keys could someday turn the exit’s locks. Instead, they have found themselves as lost and trapped in the labyrinth as the deceived people they lured into it.
As a result, they have failed to take each opportunity to escape: the first impeachment, the November 2020 defeat, the January 6 crimes, the second impeachment, the end of the administration, the 2022 wipeout of swing-state election-denying candidates, the first indictment, and now this second indictment.
Along the way, these architects have taught tens of millions of Republican voters and conservative believers to regard the labyrinth of lies as their proper political home. Why escape at all? Escape to where? The ironic outcome of all this is that the deceived followers now block the exits for the deceptive leaders.
Trump himself may imagine that the deceived are numerous enough, and militant enough, to topple the American constitutional system for his sake. On that, he’s deceiving himself. One of the important lessons of January 6, 2021, was the marginality of Trump’s hard-core support. Another lesson was the strength and endurance of the American legal system when it’s allowed to function. And with Trump out of the presidency, he’s no longer empowered to sabotage it.
But what he can do—and what his adversaries are perversely helping him do—is alienate his supporters from their own society. What consequences will that alienation inflict? I cannot foresee. Perhaps the mania loosens its grip over time, and some number gradually recover their faith in democracy and the rule of law. Perhaps some number become radically demoralized and quit participating in politics altogether.
Or perhaps American society must contrive to bump along with some important minority of the population passively disloyal to the governing authorities, as happened with the white South in the decades after the Civil War.
One thing that would help: for leading Republicans and conservatives to stop positioning themselves for selfish immediate advantage and end their denigration of the legal process. . . . DeSantis, McCarthy, and the others must be well aware that Trump is in the wrong. They do not insist that Trump is innocent, only that it’s improper to hold him to account. The law is being weaponized, they say, to pursue a party leader (their party leader).
These Republican leaders expect to extract some short-term advantage from their double game. Maybe that’s a plausible calculation. But it is likely to prove, ultimately, a self-harming one.
Now federal prosecutors have opened an easier way. Republican leaders need not explicitly make that break. They need only repeat the standard formula about any pending criminal investigation: “I have no comment at this time. Every accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The law will take its course.” That’s it. Problem solved.
This is the right thing to do. It’s the prudent thing to do. And any other course of action points to horrible dangers ahead: a future in which the conservative-minded people who should be America’s strongest bulwarks of law and constitutional order mutate into an enduring malcontent faction willing to subvert that order.
Sadly, I see few Republicans with enough spine to embrace this exit and to allow the legal system to put Trump where he belongs, namely in prison.
Friday, June 09, 2023
Donald Trump has been indicted by federal prosecutors in connection with his removal of documents from the White House, the former president announced on his social-media site tonight. He said that he has been summoned to appear on Tuesday at a U.S. courthouse in Miami. Several outlets reported that he faces seven counts, but more information was not immediately available.
In fact, the indictment is, like so many of the signal moments of his presidency, both eminently foreseeable and utterly astonishing. If it never seemed possible that a former president would face such charges, that’s mostly because it never seemed possible that a president would abscond with a large number of documents and then defy a subpoena to return them. Trump’s shock also reflects his feeling that he was, or ought to be, immune to consequences for his actions and not subject to the same rule of law as other citizens.
This indictment began looking likely in August 2022, when the FBI conducted a surprise search at Mar-a-Lago. Each new revelation since then has pointed toward charges. . . . Some of the documents are believed to be extremely sensitive to national security. By this spring, I wrote, the big question was when and not if.
The indictment does not break the taboo of indicting a former president—that happened in April, when Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records. But the case in Florida, apparently brought by Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith, represents the first federal charges against a former president. And it poses a far greater danger to Trump than the New York case, for several reasons.
The public evidence in both cases suggests that the Florida case is much stronger. . . . . Many former officials have been prosecuted for mishandling official records and classified records. Trump has tried to draw a parallel to President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence, both of whom also took classified documents, but neither of those cases includes the appearance of great efforts to obstruct the government and refuse to return papers.
If the legal question for federal prosecutors is straightforward, the political calculations are much more complex. As if charging a former president were not explosive enough, Trump is the leading candidate for the Republican nomination in next year’s presidential election.
But Trump faces his own political complications. Voters have proved fairly willing to forgive politicians’ personal failings, especially in recent decades and especially when it comes to Trump. . . . . But the removal of the documents is an act that stems directly from his role as president, and it implicates the very security of the country. The documents removed are reported to have included detailed information about Iran’s missile program and intelligence programs in China—the sorts of things that are kept under tight wraps in government facilities, but were reportedly stuffed haphazardly in storage areas at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump was also able to survive his (also unprecedented) two impeachments, both because he could write them off as political processes and because he was ultimately accountable to politicians, including many aligned with him politically or afraid of his backers. In this case, Trump will have to come before a jury of his peers or a federal judge.
In Trump’s long career in and out of the courts, he has not yet faced a legal peril this serious, but just how serious it is will not be clear until the charges emerge. Prosecutors could use several laws to bring those charges, with different standards and different penalties.
His defense will face difficulties, including the huge amounts of evidence obtained in the raid, as well as a ruling that one of his lawyers had to turn over information that otherwise would have been shielded by attorney-client privilege. Trump will likely try to spin the charges as concerning “process crimes,” as though those are not just crimes, and deflect from the papers themselves. . . . . Reports last week said that prosecutors have a recording in which he seems to acknowledge that he cannot show a document to visitors because it is classified. And if he’s charged for refusing to return the documents, their classification status will not matter.
Court cases take time, and Trump’s attorneys will make every effort to draw this one out, trying to push a trial past the point of the 2024 election. If Trump wins, he would likely have the power to shut down any probe and perhaps even to pardon himself. That means that the court of public opinion may also render its verdict sooner than any federal court, and the jury will be American voters.
Thursday, June 08, 2023
About 75 million people across the country are under air-quality alerts. Below is a brief guide to what comes next, and what this moment explains about our warming planet.
In much of the northern United States and parts of Canada, a look outside the window right now might paint a more vivid picture of the current reality than any news article can. Wildfire smoke from Canada is spreading south over many regions of the Midwest, Ohio Valley, the Northeast, and the mid-Atlantic. Midtown Manhattan has been orange. About 75 million people across the country are under air-quality alerts.
Let’s start with some context: Good air quality lands from 0 to 50 on the Air Quality Index (AQI), which measures the density of air pollutants such as carbon monoxide and particulates. Any air-quality level higher than 100 can cause health issues for people at risk, such as children, the elderly, and those with asthma or lung diseases; air-quality levels higher than 150 can cause problems for even healthy people. As of 4 p.m. EST today, the New York City metro area had reached an AQI of 413, falling within the “hazardous” category.
Wildfire smoke contains small particulate-matter pollutants; when these are inhaled, they can get into the lungs and may enter the bloodstream. For healthy people without underlying medical conditions, brief exposure will likely not cause more than temporary irritation, but such levels of exposure are concerning for vulnerable people and those with certain health issues—and prolonged exposure is concerning for all people.
So what can you do while waiting this out? Experts suggest that you stay inside as much as possible, and keep windows and doors closed. If you have a window air conditioner, check that the unit is recirculating air from indoors instead of pulling air from outside.
How long this level of air quality will last in the northeastern U.S. depends on wind direction. Today into tomorrow, an even worse round of wildfire smoke could move south out of Canada and hit Pennsylvania, New York State, and the mid-Atlantic. But starting on Friday, the winds are expected to change direction, which experts predict should keep new smoke from moving south from Canada.
The Washington Post’s weather editor, explained yesterday that though wildfires are somewhat normal across Canada and the western United States in the summer, “outbreaks as widespread and numerous as these are virtually unheard of in late May into June. The amount of smoke pouring into the Northeast is thus also exceptional.”
While wildfires can be sparked in many different ways, the rapidity with which they spread is proportional to how hot and dry the ambient environment is. There exists a strong link between the frequency and intensity of heat domes and human-caused climate change. A number of high-end heat domes have already fostered wildfire outbreaks across Canada this year, and more appear to be in the offing.
A wet winter and cool spring curbed wildfire potential in parts of the West, but experts anticipate that warmer, drier conditions in America’s northern tier will drive new fire risks this summer, particularly in the Great Lakes states.
And eventually, parts of the East Coast may catch up. As the climate reporter Kendra Pierre-Louis wrote in The Atlantic last year, “the Northeast is now primed for more frequent droughts that will harm agriculture, intermittently reduce drinking-water supplies, and increase wildfire risk. The East will not emerge unscathed from the infernos that are quickly becoming a hallmark of western summers.”
“LGBTQ+ Americans are living in a state of emergency. The multiplying threats facing millions in our community are not just perceived – they are real, tangible and dangerous,” the group’s president, Kelley Robinson, said. “In many cases they are resulting in violence against LGBTQ+ people, forcing families to uproot their lives and flee their homes in search of safer states, and triggering a tidal wave of increased homophobia and transphobia that puts the safety of each and every one of us at risk.”
The historic announcement – just a few days into Pride Month – follows “an unprecedented wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in 2023,” according to the Human Rights Campaign, as violence against LGBTQ people continues and the community’s rights have become a flashpoint in the 2024 election.
And the Human Rights Campaign just last month issued an updated travel notice for Florida, outlining potential impacts of six bills recently passed there, many already signed by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican contender for president who’s championed “don’t say gay” and pronoun bills.
Across US state legislatures, at least 417 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in roughly the first quarter of 2023 – a new record and twice the number of such bills introduced all of last year, according to American Civil Liberties Union data. The number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills signed into law so far this year is also more than double last year’s tally, which had been the highest on record, the Human Rights Campaign said.
They include pronoun refusal laws, forced student outing laws, anti-drag bans and “don’t say LGBTQ+” laws.
Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court is poised to issue an opinion in a case over whether a business can deny services to LGBTQ customers.
But even as Human Rights Campaign trumpets warnings, the group insists it will not back down from any attempts to stymie the community: “LGBTQ+ people nationwide will not be erased – not now, not ever,” the group said.
This theme of the dangers now facing the LGBT community is picked up by a column in the New York Times that looks at the unprecedented effort to stigmatize LGBT individuals and to silence us and strip us of civil rights. The driving force behind the onslaught? Christofascists and evangelicals who continue to seek to erase and/or punish those who do not conform to their myth based writings of Bronze Age herders and who now control much of the Republican Party primary voter base. Sadly, racial minorities are also finding themselves under attack as white supremacy goes mainstream within the GOP. Here are column excerpts:
This year there is a pall over Pride. As the L.G.B.T.Q. community celebrates Pride Month, we are besieged by a malicious, coordinated legislative attack.
There’s been a notable rise in the number of anti-L.G.B.T.Q. bills since 2018, and that number has recently accelerated, with the 2023 state legislative year being the worst on record.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, in 2023 there have been more than 525 such bills introduced in 41 states, with more than 75 bills signed into law as of June 5. In Florida — the state that became known for its “Don’t Say Gay” law — just last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that banned gender transition care for minors and prohibited public school employees from asking children their preferred pronouns. . . . There’s 12 more that are sitting on governors’ desks, so you could be at nearly 100 new restrictions on the L.G.B.T.Q.+ community by the end of this cycle.
I recently spoke with several leaders of L.G.B.T.Q. groups and historians who have documented the community’s history, and they all raised the alarm about the severity of what we’re seeing.
There have been other periods of backlash against the queer community, including with the passage of oppressive legislation, but this one has moved with alarming political calculation and efficacy.
“This is a terror campaign against our community,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and chief executive of GLAAD, the pre-eminent L.G.B.T.Q. media advocacy organization.
The way this kind of terrorism works is that it not only punishes expression, condemns identities and cuts off avenues for receiving care but also creates an aura of hostility and issues grievous threats. It’s like burning a cross on someone’s lawn: It’s an attempt to frighten people into compliance and submission.
The Republican politicians pushing anti-L.G.B.T.Q. laws usually pretend that their principal, if not their sole, motivation is to protect children. But these laws operate in furtherance and protection of the fragile patriarchy, in perpetuation of the twin evils of homophobia and heterosexism and in reinforcement of abusive gender-identity policing.
These politicians play to a segment of the population that sees any divergence from its primitive ideals as deviant. So they build boxes. But for too many people, particularly young people, those boxes can become caskets: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five gay, lesbian or bisexual high school students attempted suicide in the past year. Last year the Trevor Project found that 45 percent of L.G.B.T.Q. youths seriously considered attempting suicide in the preceding year.
These politicians have Willie Horton-ized the transgender equality movement and, by extension, the whole movement for L.G.B.T.Q. equality.
And there have been some in the queer community who have remained shockingly silent when it comes to trans rights, treating the issue as zero sum. Rather than express solidarity with the trans community, they see the fight for trans rights as an opening for homophobes to erase the hard-earned gains of gay men, lesbians and bisexuals. This is not a hill they chose to die on.
But if you are queer and silent on this issue, you are betraying your own cause. Silence won’t shield you. It will only embolden your adversaries and expose your cowardice.
It’s in this atmosphere of unfamiliarity and ignorance about who trans people are — and are not — that hysteria and cruelty flourish. The maleficent caricature that people conjure in their minds about trans people is one of a predator or “groomer” lurking in bathrooms and locker rooms. They imagine a Frankenstein’s monster in lipstick to justify their pitchforks.
The problem, though, is that once laws are on the books, it can be hard to remove them. Take, for example, H.I.V. criminalization laws and laws against same-sex marriage that still have not been repealed in some states.
That could mean a near future of further bifurcation of the country — some states rushing to oppress the L.G.B.T.Q. community, with others winding up as places to go to try to escape oppression — not unlike the country’s bifurcation in the Jim Crow era. In fact, you could call this era the birth of Jim Queer.
Wednesday, June 07, 2023
For a couple of years now, Republicans have been ramping up their increasingly unhinged attacks on LGBTQ people, usually with the same cover story: They don't hate queer people! It's just about protecting the children! This excuse has always been paper-thin, of course, and based on the risible premise that queer people, merely by existing, are "sexual" in some undefinable way that straight people are not. It's how, for instance, Florida's Gov. Ron DeSantis can pass laws that presume that depicting a same-sex wedding in a book is "pornographic," but an opposite-sex wedding is just fine for kids.
The "for the children" excuse is so flimsy, in fact, that even a Donald Trump-appointed judge in Tennessee was forced to dismiss it, late Friday night. Republican Gov. Bill Lee had signed a law banning drag wherever minors could see it, on the specious grounds that drag performances are "sexualized entertainment." . . . . falsely implying, for instance, that a dance performance at a Pride parade or a drag queen story hour is the same thing as a lap dance at an adults-only strip club.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker saw right through that false equivalence. . . . Translated into plain English: Tennessee Republicans don't care about kids. They just want an excuse to shut down Pride events, harass trans people, and arrest LGBTQ people for expressing themselves. That's why Lee shrugged it off when photos of him dressed in drag for a high school performance surfaced. To Republicans, a straight man in a dress is just a laugh, but a gay man in a dress is "pornography." It's an excuse to classify LGBTQ people as inherently predatory and dangerous. It's why the vicious slur "groomer" has become ubiquitous on the right, aimed at any queer person who is out of the closet.
The decision is well-timed, and not just to save the various Pride events that many feared would have to be canceled in Tennessee this month. Increasingly, conservatives are abandoning the pretense that the escalating attacks on LGBTQ people are about "the children." Instead, they've become more open about their true intent: restoring a social order where only cis straight people are "normal" and everyone else is deemed a pervert who is not fit to move about freely in society.
That much was evident in the most recent right-wing tantrum over Target stocking Pride merchandise. Sure, there was a half-baked effort to find some kid angle, by spreading lies about the company marketing "tuck-friendly" bathing suits to children. But revealingly the right-wing outrage persisted despite many debunkings of this lie, showing the conspiracy theory was a mere pretext.
This follows an even more shameless right-wing hysteria over Bud Light offering a minor endorsement deal to online trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney. It's basically impossible to pretend there's something about "sexualizing" minors in a fully-dressed woman talking up a product that minors are legally banned from purchasing.
The Proud Boys were instrumental in ratcheting up anti-LGBTQ harassment under the guise of "protecting" children, mostly by targeting family-friendly drag shows and Pride events, with false claims that they were sexually explicit. As Business Insider reports, however, that thin pretext has dissolved. On Telegram channels, Proud Boys have been planning attacks on Pride events by joking that "'LGBTQ' stands for 'Let's Go Bully The Queers,'" and how they want to get a rise out of the "Fag community." . . . Repeatedly, Proud Boys discussed "taking back June," tying their anger over Pride to anger over Juneteenth, a new federal holiday to celebrate the end of slavery.
In Montana, the harassment of state legislator Zooey Zephyr also illustrates how little Republicans believe their own lies about "protecting children." As soon as Zephyr, who is trans, was elected, the GOP state house speaker Matt Regier started hounding her. As Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times wrote, he made clear "a lock would be installed on the main door to the multistall women's bathroom to avoid the possibility of anyone having to share it with Zephyr."
What's noteworthy is that Republicans didn't even bother with tortured arguments trying to make all this childish harassment of Zephyr about "the children." As with the Bud Light tantrum, it's now unapologetic, naked hatred.
All the behavior they deem as "sexualizing" when queer people do it is seen as perfectly fine for straight people: using the bathroom, dancing at a party, teaching history and getting married. Or even, in the case of Tennesse's Gov. Lee, cross-dressing. It's all "innocent" when straight people do it, and "grooming" with LGBTQ people do it, a double standard that's so obvious that it feels stupefying to even point it out.
Still, it matters to have a judge point out the obvious, especially in an era where conservative judges are often all too eager to flagrantly endorse bad faith arguments. Absolutely no one believes the "protecting kids" lie — not even a Trump judge. It's a wonder why Republicans bother to pretend to care about kids at all.
Tuesday, June 06, 2023
Republicans, right-wing judges and MAGA activists have set out to trample on free speech and individual rights in the name of battling “wokeism.” If they don’t like what teachers say about history, gag them. If they don’t like certain books, ban them. If they don’t like a corporation defending LGBTQ rights, retaliate against it. Their crusade has become an expression of not only white Christian nationalism but of contempt for the Constitution and the First Amendment.
But last week, U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Parker, appointed by President Donald Trump, stood up to the thought police and the MAGA bullies in striking down the so-called drag queen ban (the Adult Entertainment Act) in Tennessee.
Parker began with an ode to the First Amendment: “Freedom of speech is not just about speech. It is also about the right to debate with fellow citizens on self-government, to discover the truth in the marketplace of ideas, to express one’s identity, and to realize self-fulfillment in a free society.” He continued,
“That freedom is of first importance to many Americans such that the United States Supreme Court has relaxed procedural requirements for citizens to vindicate their right to freedom of speech, while making it harder for the government to regulate it.” And the Tennessee statute impermissibly tried to regulate free speech, he found.
Parker ruled that the law was “both unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad” because of the prohibition on displays “harmful to minors,” whatever that means. The law “fails to provide fair notice of what is prohibited, and it encourages discriminatory enforcement,” especially because the ban applies wherever a minor could be present.
Parker noted that the Supreme Court does not protect obscenity but certainly does protect speech that is unpopular. “Simply put, no majority of the Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit — but not obscene — speech receives less protection than political, artistic, or scientific speech. … The AEA’s regulation of ‘adult-oriented performances that are harmful to minors under § 39-17-901′ does target protected speech, despite Defendant claims to the contrary.” In a retort to Republicans seeking to rid libraries, classrooms and performance venues of anything they find offensive, Parker wrote, “Whether some of us may like it or not, the Supreme Court has interpreted the First [Amendment] as protecting speech that is indecent but not obscene.”
And Parker also found the law “targets the viewpoint of gender identity — particularly those who wish to impersonate a gender that is different from the one with which they are born.” This is prohibited “content-based, viewpoint-based regulation on speech.” Republicans insist there is no such thing as gender identity other than gender determined at birth. That’s not a fact, as the MAGA censors insist; that’s a viewpoint. And it is impermissible to ban other viewpoints.
Simply because MAGA politicians want to write trans Americans out of existence does not make it constitutionally permissible. “The Court finds that the AEA’s text discriminates against a certain viewpoint, imposes criminal sanctions, and spans a virtually unlimited geographical area,” Parker wrote. . . . . He concluded, “This statute — which is barely two pages long — reeks with constitutional maladies of vagueness and overbreadth fatal to statutes that regulate First Amendment rights. The virulence of the AEA’s overbreadth chills a large amount of speech, and calls for this strong medicine.”
Frankly, this isn’t a close case. The Tennessee statute, like so many unconstitutional abominations, patently violates First Amendment rights. Governors and lawmakers — who took an oath to uphold the Constitution — should know better, but either their constitutional literacy has atrophied or they simply don’t care to abide by the Constitution. In wreaking havoc on a core democratic principle, they violate their oaths of office.
Anti-woke Republicans trafficking in authoritarian abridgment of speech would do well to read the opinion from a judge who cannot be written off as a progressive crank. Parker’s sound constitutional reasoning, defense of the First Amendment and determination to set aside any partisan loyalties should be a reassuring sign that, at least below the Supreme Court, the federal judiciary’s fidelity to the Constitution — not to MAGA patrons — remains intact.
Monday, June 05, 2023
Sunday, June 04, 2023
You may think that child labor was abolished a century ago, at least in the United States. That was never quite true. The Fair Labor Standards Act, passed during the New Deal, outlawed “oppressive child labor” but exempted agricultural work from many of its restrictions, which, in the decades since, has left hundreds of thousands of children in the fields. In every industry, enforcement of the law has been uneven. States have always been free to strengthen protections, which some did, but challenges to the federal standards have been rare.
The Reagan Administration, in its pro-business zeal, proposed lowering the standards, but abandoned the idea under fire from teachers, parents, unions, and Democratic lawmakers armed with Dickens references.
Today, however, child labor in America is on the rise. The number of minors employed in violation of child-labor laws last year was up thirty-seven per cent from the previous year, according to the Department of Labor, and up two hundred and eighty-three per cent from 2015. (These are violations caught by government, so they likely represent a fraction of the real number.) This surge is being propelled by an unhappy confluence of employers desperate to fill jobs, including dangerous jobs, at the lowest possible cost; a vast wave of “unaccompanied minors” entering the country; more than a little human trafficking; and a growing number of state legislatures that are weakening child-labor laws in deference to industry groups and, sometimes, in defiance of federal authority.
In the past two years, according to a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute, at least fourteen states have enacted or proposed laws rolling back child-labor protections. Typically, the new laws extend work hours for minors, lift restrictions on hazardous work, lower the age at which kids can bus tables where alcohol is served, or introduce new sub-minimum wages. In Iowa, a new law allows children as young as fourteen to work in industrial laundries, and, with approval from a state agency, allows sixteen-year-olds to work in roofing, excavation, demolition, the operation of power-driven machinery, and other dangerous occupations. . . . Iowa’s new law contains multiple provisions that conflict with federal prohibitions on ‘oppressive child labor.’ ” It also limits employer liability for the injury, illness, or death of a child on the job.
The reasons offered to justify these initiatives often emphasize child welfare. In Ohio, where Republican legislators are also proposing weaker laws, a spokesman for the Ohio Restaurant Association testified that extending work hours for minors would cut down on their screen time. . . . Arkansas’s Republican governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, recently signed a law ending a requirement that fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds obtain a parent’s consent and a state permit before starting work. Linking the bill, strangely, to parental rights, the governor’s office called the permit “an arbitrary burden on parents.” . . . Removing it eliminates a paper trail, makes enforcement and monitoring much more difficult. It opens the door to exploitation.
Many employers are clearly not waiting for the laws to change. Fast-food chains, which rely on teen-age workers, seemingly treat fines for violating the laws as a cost of doing business. (It’s the franchisees who actually break the laws, while the parent corporations pay lobbyists to help loosen them.) In February, the Labor Department announced that it had found more than a hundred children between the ages of thirteen and seventeen working in meatpacking plants and slaughterhouses, in eight states, for Packers Sanitation Services, one of the nation’s largest food-sanitation companies. The facilities themselves are owned by major corporations . . .
Social-service agencies were frustrated that the Labor Department referred none of the children from Packers to them. . . . . In 2022, a hundred and thirty thousand unaccompanied minors entered the H.H.S. system, nearly half of them from Guatemala. In the rush to house such numbers, sponsors are barely vetted. Some are relatives, some are traffickers, some are a combination. . . . If employers ask for an I.D. or a Social Security number, faked documents can be easily bought; many employers do not ask.
There are signs that the Biden Administration has begun to face the child-labor crisis—the announcement of a crackdown, a request to Congress to increase penalties against employers. And yet strengthening enforcement when the budget of the regulatory state is shrinking under pressure from the debt-ceiling negotiations seems unlikely. Republicans say that the problem is an insecure border. Certainly, crumbling economies in Central America intensify this crisis. But the immediate problem is a broad indifference to the well-being of children when profits are at stake.
All human societies experience recurrent waves of political crisis, such as the one we face today. My research team built a database of hundreds of societies across 10,000 years to try to find out what causes them. We examined dozens of variables, including population numbers, measures of well-being, forms of governance, and the frequency with which rulers are overthrown.
We found that the precise mix of events that leads to crisis varies, but two drivers of instability loom large. The first is popular immiseration—when the economic fortunes of broad swaths of a population decline. The second, and more significant, is elite overproduction—when a society produces too many superrich and ultra-educated people, and not enough elite positions to satisfy their ambitions.
These forces have played a key role in our current crisis. In the past 50 years, despite overall economic growth, the quality of life for most Americans has declined. The wealthy have become wealthier, while the incomes and wages of the median American family have stagnated. As a result, our social pyramid has become top-heavy. At the same time, the U.S. began overproducing graduates with advanced degrees. More and more people aspiring to positions of power began fighting over a relatively fixed number of spots. The competition among them has corroded the social norms and institutions that govern society.
The U.S. has gone through this twice before. The first time ended in civil war. But the second led to a period of unusually broad-based prosperity. Both offer lessons about today’s dysfunction and, more important, how to fix it.
To understand the root causes of the current crisis, let’s start by looking at how the number of über-wealthy Americans has grown. Back in 1983, 66,000 American households were worth at least $10 million. That may sound like a lot, but by 2019, controlling for inflation, the number had increased tenfold. A similar, if smaller, upsurge happened lower on the food chain. The number of households worth $5 million or more increased sevenfold, and the number of mere millionaires went up fourfold.
On its surface, having more wealthy people doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. But at whose expense did elites’ wealth swell in recent years?
Starting in the 1970s, although the overall economy continued to grow, the share of that growth going to average workers began to shrink, and real wages leveled off. (It’s no coincidence that Americans’ average height—a useful proxy for well-being, economic and otherwise—stopped increasing around then too, even as average heights in much of Europe continued climbing.) By 2010, the relative wage (wage divided by GDP per capita) of an unskilled worker had nearly halved compared with mid-century. For the 64 percent of Americans who didn’t have a four-year college degree, real wages shrank in the 40 years before 2016.
Even college-educated Americans aren’t doing well across the board. They made out well in the 1950s, when fewer than 15 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds went to college, but not today, when more than 60 percent of high-school grads immediately enroll. To get ahead of the competition, more college graduates have sought out advanced degrees. From 1955 to 1975, the number of students enrolled in law school tripled, and from 1960 to 1970, the number of doctorate degrees granted at U.S. universities more than tripled. This was manageable in the post–World War II period, when the number of professions requiring advanced degrees shot up. But when the demand eventually subsided, the supply didn’t.
Competition is healthy for society, in moderation. But the competition we are witnessing among America’s elites has been anything but moderate. It has created very few winners and masses of resentful losers. It has brought out the dark side of meritocracy, encouraging rule-breaking instead of hard work.
All of this has left us with a large and growing class of frustrated elite aspirants, and a large and growing class of workers who can’t make better lives for themselves.
The decades that have led to our present-day dysfunction share important similarities with the decades leading to the Civil War. Then as now, a growing economy served to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. The number of millionaires per capita quadrupled from 1800 to 1850, while the relative wage declined by nearly 50 percent from the 1820s to the 1860s, just as it has in recent decades. Biological data from the time suggest that the average American’s quality of life declined significantly.
This popular immiseration stirred up social strife, which could be seen in urban riots. From 1820 to 1825, when times were good, only one riot occurred in which at least one person was killed. But in the five years before the Civil War, 1855 to 1860, American cities experienced no fewer than 38 such riots. We see a similar pattern today. In the run-up to the Civil War, this frustration manifested politically, in part as anti-immigrant populism, epitomized by the Know-Nothing Party. Today this strain of populism has been resurrected by Donald Trump.
Strife grew among elites too. The newly minted millionaires of the 19th century, who made their money in manufacturing rather than through plantations or overseas trade, chafed under the rule of the southern aristocracy, as their economic interests diverged. To protect their budding industries, the new elites favored high tariffs and state support for infrastructure projects. The established elites—who grew and exported cotton, and imported manufactured goods from overseas—strongly opposed these measures.
The victory of the North in the Civil War decimated the wealth and power of the southern ruling class, temporarily reversing the problem of elite overproduction. But workers’ wages continued to lag behind overall economic growth, and the “wealth pump” that redistributed their income to the elites never stopped. By the late 19th century, elite overproduction was back, new millionaires had replaced the defeated slave-owning class, and America had entered the Gilded Age. Economic inequality exploded, eventually peaking in the early 20th century.
Then came the New York Stock Exchange collapse of 1929 and the Great Depression, which had a similar effect as the Civil War: Thousands of economic elites were plunged into the commoner class. In 1925, there were 1,600 millionaires, but by 1950, fewer than 900 remained. The size of America’s top fortune remained stuck at $1 billion for decades, inflation notwithstanding. By 1982, the richest American had $2 billion, which was equivalent to “only” 93,000 annual wages.
But here is where the two eras differed. Unlike the post–Civil War period, real wages steadily grew in the mid-20th century. And high taxes on the richest Americans helped reverse the wealth pump. The tax rate on top incomes, which peaked during World War II at 94 percent, stayed above 90 percent all the way until the mid-1960s. Height increased by a whopping 3 inches in roughly the first half of the 20th century. Life expectancy at age 10 increased by nearly a decade. By the 1960s, America had achieved a broad-based prosperity that was virtually unprecedented in human history.
The New Deal elites learned an important lesson from the disaster of the Civil War. The reversal of elite overproduction in both eras was similar in magnitude, but only after the Great Depression was it accomplished through entirely nonviolent means. The ruling class itself was an important part of this—or, at least, a prosocial faction of the ruling class, which persuaded enough of their peers to acquiesce to the era’s progressive reforms.
[E]xecutives and stockholders mounted an enormous resistance to the New Deal policies regulating labor–corporate relations. But by mid-century, a sufficient number of them had consented to the new economic order for it to become entrenched. They bargained regularly with labor unions. They accepted the idea that the state would have a role to play in guiding economic life and helping the nation cope with downturns.
President Dwight Eisenhower, considered a fiscal conservative for his time, wrote to his brother: Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things … Their number is negligible and they are stupid.
The foundations of this broad-based postwar prosperity—and for the ruling elite’s eventual acquiescence to it—were established during the Progressive era and buttressed by the New Deal. In particular, new legislation guaranteed unions’ right to collective bargaining, introduced a minimum wage, and established Social Security. American elites entered into a “fragile, unwritten compact” with the working classes, as the United Auto Workers president Douglas Fraser later described it. This implicit contract included the promise that the fruits of economic growth would be distributed more equitably among both workers and owners. . . . because business feared the alternatives.”
We are still suffering the consequences of abandoning that compact. The long history of human society compiled in our database suggests that America’s current economy is so lucrative for the ruling elites that achieving fundamental reform might require a violent revolution.