Storm warning

First, point out to anyone who complains when all of the ballots in Tuesday’s elections have not been counted by their bedtime Tuesday night and says that is evidence of widespread voter fraud that that is pure bull.  All the votes have probably never been counted just a few hours after the polls are closed, certainly not in an era when we encourage everyone to vote and accommodate their exercise of their rights with early voting and voting by mail and voting from overseas and such modern developments.  And second, don’t listen to anyone who argues on election night that there is evidence of widespread voter fraud – especially if they do so on the Fox “News.”  First, it would take a thorough investigation to prove that accusation.  Second, no such investigation has ever proven that fraud pervasive enough to change the results of elections has ever happened.  (OK, retiring the italics now.)

I don’t know what the results of Tuesday’s elections will be, but I feel confident we won’t find that the poisonous political divide across our country has miraculously healed.  The fight for democracy, as some have cast it, won’t be over whenever this week’s votes are finally tallied, because the fight never ends.  “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance” said…someone, I guess, but apparently not Mr. Jefferson despite many citations, but it’s a great thought to keep in mind: any system designed to guarantee freedom will face threats from those who find your freedom and mine an impediment to their own power.  (You know who I mean.) So how do we keep our spirits up in the face of that on-going threat?  Dahlia Lithwick has a great prescription in Slate.

It is easy to feel despair. The folks who keep disparaging those who worry about the future of democracy seem uninterested in the fact that one party refuses to accept election results, inflames election violence, admits the entire plan is one-party rule, and brushes off and even jokes about vigilante violence. Those same people have been adept at pushing us into semantic arguments about whether we’re using the right words to describe what we see happening right before our eyes. The problem with wasting our time fighting about whether the best word to use in this particular situation is “authoritarianism,” or “fascism,” or “vigilantism,” or “lawlessness,” is that such things can often only ever be empirically established in retrospect. We can hold the I Told You So Olympics in 10 years. Let’s get that on the books.

Call it whatever you like, but this speedy descent into a world in which people who are fundamentally unethical and unserious hold too many levers of power is not normal and it’s not funny. Even for the people striving to find meaning and purpose in the ugliness, the temptation to cede ground, give up, and go small is alluring. That they want you to cede ground, give up, and go small is in fact the problem we can name right now.

My rabbi recently reminded me of a useful way to think through the fog. Citing another spiritual hero last weekend, Aurora Levins Morales, she reminded me that there is always a difference between the weather and the stars. Morales, teaching in 2017, warned that it is too easy to be buffeted by the changeable weather, and in so doing, to lose sight of the immutable stars. The stars, in this telling, are a “constant to steer by, sometimes hidden by storm clouds, but high above them, untouched by wind or rain.”

The weather is different. Weather, Morales conceded, can be “violent, drenching, harsh.” But it isn’t constant. If we do nothing but chase and feel the weather, she wrote, “we could spin forever from emergency to emergency, shouting no to each new crime—but that would be steering by chasing clouds.”

The weather, and the stars: I think that’s a great way to think about it.  There’s the weather, that which we see every day and which changes day to day and in some cases hour to hour—it seems big and important, but it’s transient within the span of our own observation.  The stars, although not permanent in that firmament, can give each of us something long-lasting to steer by.  Lithwick again:

I spent the week before midterm elections that could help determine the fate of democracy in the United States trying to pick my own way through a careening mess of the world into those buckets: Weather versus star. Elon Musk is weather; so is Marjorie Taylor Greene. Tucker Carlson is weather. Even losing tens and thousands of followers on Twitter is, respectfully, just weather. It all matters, sure, and it’s all painful. But it’s a series of transient states to distract you from what is real.

Stars are the things that don’t ebb and flow with the showy Twitter feuds, or the mutable hourly outrages, or public performances of ghastly daily mediocrity. For some of us, the stars are the upcoming elections and the extraordinary acts of voter registration, postcarding, election protection, and democratic engagement. For some of us the stars are the law, the rule of law, and the efforts to bring accountability for lawbreaking. For some of us the stars are efforts to build a tolerant, pluralist world in the face of rising racial and religious intolerance and xenophobia.

(snip)

As we move through the frightening and destabilizing days to come, the weather will attempt to consume more and more of your time and attention and energy. Fascists will tweet more fascism to try to distract you from the impacts of their fascism. My entirely inadequate advice will remain unchanged: Sit in the foulness of the roiling storm and do your work, whatever that may be, and triangulate by the light of whatever star feels eternal to you. Take care of your family; they need you, and take care of your health. Take care of your community; it needs you, and take care of someone in your community who doesn’t know Twitter is even a thing. Vote. Help others vote. Register voters. Staff voter protection hotlines. Place your own body between someone unkind and someone vulnerable. Read a book. Help a kid. Give someone food and love and respect. Donate something you don’t use. Ask for help. Don’t give your time or attention to anything small enough to diminish you along with it.

We’re in the weather, and the temptation to do nothing but talk about the weather is fierce. But above and beyond there are still fixed and immutable values and principles and we must try as best we can to steer by those things instead.

(snip)

You won’t always be able to see them, but the stars are still there. And we will get through the storms ahead, even if we don’t yet believe it, because the storms are not the story. We are the story. Keep looking up.

Wh-wh-wh-what?

I had to go back and read it again: did that story indicate that Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate are in agreement on a bill designed to fight off some future “January 6” effort to steal the results of the election?  Why, yes; yes it did:

Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has endorsed a bipartisan electoral count reform bill in the Senate, giving the legislation a key boost over a similar bill the House passed last week. Both bills seek to prevent future presidents from trying to overturn election results through Congress, and were directly prompted by the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob seeking to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral win.

The Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), would amend the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and reaffirm that the vice president has only a ministerial role at the joint session of Congress to count electoral votes, as well as raise the threshold necessary for members of Congress to object to a state’s electors.

Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, McConnell said he would “strongly support” the legislation…

(snip)

The Senate and House bills differ chiefly in how much they would change the threshold necessary for members of both chambers to object to a state’s results. Currently only one member each from the House and Senate are required to object to a state’s electors. The House electoral reform bill would raise that threshold to at least one-third of the members of both the House and the Senate, while the Senate version would raise that threshold to at least one-fifth of the members of both the House and the Senate.

I’m not saying this would solve all our problems; I am saying it is heartening (if a little surprising) to see members of both parties taking action to benefit the country instead of pandering to their hard-line supporters.  I could get used to this…

Enough

Joe Holley is a writer here in Texas with a background in newspapers and magazines right up to his own books.  He writes the feature column Native Texan in the Houston Chronicle about Texas places and people and history, and today he started off referring to “The Captured,” a history of frontier Texas telling the story of Anglo children captured by Indians in the late 19th century.  He uses it to touch on the harshness of life on the Texas frontier in those days, facing not only the Natives but the constant threat of disease, and outlaws, you name it.  And yet, Holley says,

…it’s only today’s Texas, our Texas, that experiences mass shootings in a suburban high school, in churches, a Walmart, an Army base, the streets of Midland-Odessa, a Luby’s Cafeteria and a small-town elementary school. Our frontier forebears, whatever their own travails, would have been aghast, unbelieving.

I’m wondering, why aren’t all of us today just as aghast and unbelieving?  Sure, with each new horror we mumble some hopefully appropriate words to express shock and disbelief, but are we really so surprised?  I mean, it just keeps happening, over and over again; can we really still be shocked, and really feel the emptiness in the pits of our stomachs that we ought to feel when innocent children are massacred with weapons meant for war on the battlefield?  This time, in Uvalde, it was fourth graders…nine and ten year olds; it was six-and-seven-year olds in Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn. ten years ago.  The Washington Post chose the almost arbitrary starting point of the Columbine shootings in 1999 and calculates that more than 311,000 American children, at 331 schools, have been exposed to gun violence at school in those years.  All the students in that time, right up through today’s college graduates, have normalized the grotesque concept of the active shooter drill as just a part of life.

Why would a person take a gun to a school and open fire at…some kids, ones they often don’t even know?  Why did I take a magnifying glass to school in the fourth grade and focus sunlight to burn holes in a classmate’s sweater I found hanging on a fence at recess?  Same response to both questions: who knows?  Short of finding that answer, we should be doing something to try to reduce the chances of our schools become killing grounds, and of our own children and those of our friends and neighbors becoming one of those small images in a large collection of class photos that identify the dead.

Holley recalls the 1937 natural gas explosion that killed some 300 students and teachers in New London, Texas, and that the Texas Legislature and then Congress responded to that by requiring the “odorization” of natural gas so future leaks could be detected before they became catastrophes.  What can we, through our elected representatives, do now to make a meaningful change in the normal course of business that will better protect our children’s lives when they simply go to school?

Among the common sense suggestions I’ve read since last week – and not that it hasn’t been suggested before – is that we stop letting children buy these guns legally.  Our laws prohibit those under age 21 from buying alcoholic beverages; why not guns, too?  Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who’s been working on gun restriction legislation since he represented Newtown in the House of Representatives, argues that “most of these killers tend to be 18, 19 years old.” and PolitiFact has rated that claim as Mostly True: “That’s largely accurate when looking at school shootings alone, according to a Washington Post database of school shootings since 1999. The database did include shootings that did not result in a death, and the share of teenagers committing mass shootings overall is smaller.”

Also judged to be Mostly True is the assertion last week by Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, that “90% of Americans, regardless of political party, want universal background checks.”  PolitiFact finds that “For years, polls have shown a majority of Americans support gun background checks for all buyers. Some polls show overall support in the ballpark of 90%. Support is lower among Republicans (emphasis added), but polls still indicate majority backing” for a review designed to make sure that guns are not being sold to people who are not permitted under law to possess guns, people who have been “convicted of a serious crime or committed to a mental institution.”

No right guaranteed under the United States Constitution is absolute.  The law recognizes, even when some Americans don’t or won’t, that rights come with some limitations.  Even your right to life is not absolute, not if you are convicted of committing a crime for which the approved punishment is the loss of your life.  Your right to be free of government censorship of your expression of your thoughts and feelings doesn’t mean your speech can endanger the health and safety of others with impunity.  And none of us has an unrestricted right to gun ownership.

Please, let’s get creative.  Adding mercaptan to AR-15s won’t stop school shootings, but expanding background checks and limiting gun ownership by minors will help.  We’ve got to find something else that will make a difference.  We can’t just accept that this is the way things have to be, and there’s nothing we can do.  I don’t want to settle for the situation Holley found himself in as he finished up his phone call with the Uvalde County Judge, Bill Mitchell:

When it came time to hang up, I tried to tell him how sorry I was. My voice broke. So did his. Perhaps for both of us, the faces of those little kids swam into view.

We were two men of a certain age. We’ve seen much over the years. Words failed us.

Say the truth

It feels like it’s been going soooo slooooowly, but maybe we’re going to see some movement.  Chairman Bennie Thompson says the first public hearings on what the House January 6 committee has learned will be held in early June, and committee member Jamie Raskin is describing what they have learned this way: “This was a coup organized by the president (Donald Trump) against the vice-president (Mike Pence) and against the Congress in order to overturn the 2020 presidential election” and “We’re going to tell the whole story of everything that happened. There was a violent insurrection and an attempted coup and we were saved by Mike Pence’s refusal to go along with that plan.”

Wait, what?  Saved by Mike Pence?

To be fair, I can remember feeling sort of satisfied at the time that Pence had finally stood up to his boss (I think there was some mention of overcoming obsequiousness in there) and refused to take part in such a blatantly illegal plan—a coup.  But I hadn’t considered that maybe we all owe Pence more of a debt than we realized.  Earlier this week MSNBC’s Chris Hayes laid out this interpretation.

I’m eager to see the evidence.  I’m eager to get on with it!  Not to rush to judgment, mind you, but it’s been almost 16 months: the legislative branch and the Justice Department and the court system have got to nail the people responsible for this illegal power grab, and do it soon…or we may find those traitors may be back in power in Washington and in a position to protect themselves forever.  We’ve got to take action to punish those who deserve punishment, and stand up to the haters.

None of the mechanisms to deter a rogue president would work to restrain a reelected Trump.

On that note, I was invigorated last week to stumble across a speech by Michigan state senator Mallory McMorrow.  In retaliation for her support of LGBTQ issues, one of her “colleagues” embraced the popular new right-wing slur by accusing McMorrow of “grooming” children for sexual exploitation.  In a fundraising message.  No evidence provided, of course.  But McMorrow didn’t just take it, or shrug it off; in less than five minutes she sent a positive message that hits the haters right between the eyes.

“Hate will only win if people like me stand by and let it happen.”

I want to take a lesson from Mallory McMorrow, and not to afraid to call them like I see them.  We need to make it OK again to say the truth that we see.  It’s how we can defeat the haters.

Democrats Ask if They Should Hit Back Harder Against the G.O.P.

Know your enemy

On Friday morning, after a night of insomnia fueled by worries about raising children in a collapsing society, I opened my eyes, started reading about efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to seize control of the state’s elections, then paused to let my tachycardiac heartbeat subside. Marinating in the news is part of my job, but doing so lately is a source of full-body horror. If this were simply my problem, I’d write about it in a journal instead of in The New York Times. But political despair is an issue for the entire Democratic Party.

It’s predictable that, with Donald Trump out of the White House, Democrats would pull back from constant, frenetic political engagement. But there’s a withdrawal happening right now — from news consumption, activism and, in some places, voting — that seems less a product of relief than of avoidance. Part of this is simply burnout and lingering trauma from Covid. But I suspect that part of it is about growing hopelessness born of a sense that dislodging Trump has bought American democracy only a brief reprieve.

One redeeming feature of Trump’s presidency, in retrospect, was that it was possible to look forward to the date when Americans could finish it. Covid, too, once seemed like something we’d be able to largely put behind us when we got vaccinated. Sure, Trumpism, like the virus, would linger, but it was easy to imagine a much better world after the election, the inauguration and the wide availability of shots.

Now we’re past all that, and American life is still comprehensively awful. Dystopia no longer has an expiration date.

Last week in the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg worried about the future of our American democracy.  Like thousands/millions of others, I share her concern, and so should you.

The problem isn’t just that polls show that, at least right now, voters want to hand over Congress to a party that largely treats the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as heroes.

(snip)

What’s terrifying is that even if Democrats win back public confidence, they can win more votes than Republicans and still lose. Gerrymandering alone is enough to tip the balance in the House.

(snip)

Meanwhile, Republicans are purging local officials who protected the integrity of the 2020 election, replacing them with apparatchiks. It will be hard for Republicans to steal the 2024 election outright, since they don’t control the current administration, but they can throw it into the sort of chaos that will cause widespread civil unrest. And if they win, it’s hard to imagine them ever consenting to the peaceful transfer of power again.

(snip)

I look at the future and I see rule without recourse by people who either approve of terrorizing liberals or welcome those who do. Such an outcome isn’t inevitable; unforeseen events can reshape political coalitions. Something could happen to forestall the catastrophe bearing down on us.

Here’s a hopeful sign: two long-time contributors to Fox News giving a thorough and public explanation of why they just can’t take it any more.

…there are still responsible conservatives [at Fox News] providing valuable opinion and analysis. But the voices of the responsible are being drowned out by the irresponsible.

A case in point: Patriot Purge, a three-part series hosted by Tucker Carlson.

The special—which ran on Fox’s subscription streaming service earlier this month and was promoted on Fox News—is presented in the style of an exposé, a hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism. In reality, it is a collection of incoherent conspiracy-mongering, riddled with factual inaccuracies, half-truths, deceptive imagery, and damning omissions. And its message is clear: The U.S. government is targeting patriotic Americans in the same manner —and with the same tools—that it used to target al Qaeda.

(snip)

This is not happening. And we think it’s dangerous to pretend it is. If a person with such a platform shares such misinformation loud enough and long enough, there are Americans who will believe—and act upon—it.

This isn’t theoretical. This is what actually happened on January 6, 2021.

Over the past five years, some of Fox’s top opinion hosts amplified the false claims and bizarre narratives of Donald Trump or offered up their own in his service. In this sense, the release of Patriot Purge wasn’t an isolated incident, it was merely the most egregious example of a longstanding trend. Patriot Purge creates an alternative history of January 6, contradicted not just by common sense, not just by the testimony and on-the-record statements of many participants, but by the reporting of the news division of Fox News itself.

There are still many real conservatives who recognize that the Orange Emperor has no clothes, and who have not drunk the toxic brew that has let so many Republicans (and others) show true feelings they have always keep secret, until now.  Jennifer Rubin is one.

When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, Never Trumpers (now largely ex-Republicans) warned that he would corrupt the party in every way imaginable. His misogyny would morph in the party’s toxic masculinity and degradation of women, they cautioned. His infatuation with brutality and violence (boasting he would kill terrorists’ families, exhorting his supporters to slug protesters) would metastasize to the party as a whole. Boy, did those predictions pan out.

You only have to look at the vicious imagery showing the murder of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) deployed by Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), the verbal attack on her from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) last year — and Republicans’ defense of both — to understand that their refusal to dump Trump after the “Access Hollywood” tape came to light was merely the prelude to an era of normalizing violence (especially against women), culminating in the Jan. 6 violent insurrection, which many Republicans, including Trump, tried to paint as nonviolent.

Threats and portrayals of violence against women have turned into a badge of honor for a party in which traditional notions about gender (back to the 1950s!) have become a key predictor of Republican support. Casting men (even a Supreme Court nominee) as victims of aggressive, “nasty” or unhinged women accusing them of wrongdoing has become standard fare in the Trump party.

Rubin cites Robert P. Jones, CEO and founder of Public Religion Research Institute, who is willing to lay the blame for the violence we’re seeing now at the core of Republican party voters: White evangelicals.

Today, for an alarming number of white conservative Christians, the mark of Christian faithfulness is not a love that inspires them to lay down their lives for their friends, but a defensiveness that lures them to take the lives of their fellow citizens.

The anti-democratic and white supremacist core of this worldview snaps into focus as soon as we ask just one question: What is the “America” they are saving? This question is at the heart of the MAGA ideology that has now fully overtaken one of our two major political parties.

That second “A,” for “again,” is the hermeneutical key that unlocks the obfuscation.  This nostalgia for a White Christian America has become the weapon of choice in the culture wars. In that vision of the country, white law and order reign, and with refreshments and pats on the back, white vigilantes are informally deputized as partners. And Black people protesting in the streets or even shopping in the local CVS are seen as suspect for not playing their properly deferential roles or staying in their assigned subservient places.

If Trump has done anything for us, he has peeled back a thin veneer of patriotic- and Christian-sounding words to reveal the core claim underneath it all: That God intended America to be a white Christian nation. That claim has literally generated—for those among the chosen— a license to kill anyone who threatens that norm and the confidence that those actions will not only be free of negative consequences, but be rewarded both here on earth and in heaven.

“Christian nationalism” is the threat.  Let’s start by defining the terms, thanks to Paul D. Miller at Christianity Today.

There are many definitions of nationalism and an active debate about how best to define it. I reviewed the standard academic literature on nationalism and found several recurring themes. Most scholars agree that nationalism starts with the belief that humanity is divisible into mutually distinct, internally coherent cultural groups defined by shared traits like language, religion, ethnicity, or culture. From there, scholars say, nationalists believe that these groups should each have their own governments; that governments should promote and protect a nation’s cultural identity; and that sovereign national groups provide meaning and purpose for human beings.

What is Christian nationalism?

Christian nationalism is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way. Popularly, Christian nationalists assert that America is and must remain a “Christian nation”—not merely as an observation about American history, but as a prescriptive program for what America must continue to be in the future. Scholars like Samuel Huntington have made a similar argument: that America is defined by its “Anglo-Protestant” past and that we will lose our identity and our freedom if we do not preserve our cultural inheritance.

Christian nationalists do not reject the First Amendment and do not advocate for theocracy, but they do believe that Christianity should enjoy a privileged position in the public square. The term “Christian nationalism,” is relatively new, and its advocates generally do not use it of themselves, but it accurately describes American nationalists who believe American identity is inextricable from Christianity.

What is the problem with nationalism?

Humanity is not easily divisible into mutually distinct cultural units. Cultures overlap and their borders are fuzzy. Since cultural units are fuzzy, they make a poor fit as the foundation for political order. Cultural identities are fluid and hard to draw boundaries around, but political boundaries are hard and semipermanent. Attempting to found political legitimacy on cultural likeness means political order will constantly be in danger of being felt as illegitimate by some group or other. Cultural pluralism is essentially inevitable in every nation.

Is that really a problem, or just an abstract worry?

It is a serious problem. When nationalists go about constructing their nation, they have to define who is, and who is not, part of the nation. But there are always dissidents and minorities who do not or cannot conform to the nationalists’ preferred cultural template. In the absence of moral authority, nationalists can only establish themselves by force. Scholars are almost unanimous that nationalist governments tend to become authoritarian and oppressive in practice. For example, in past generations, to the extent that the United States had a quasi-established official religion of Protestantism, it did not respect true religious freedom. Worse, the United States and many individual states used Christianity as a prop to support slavery and segregation.

There is much more here you should read.  Know your enemy, while there is still time to win the fight.

This is not about all Christians, or even all Christian evangelicals.  But those who think “freedom of religion” means everyone is free to practice their particular strain of Christian faith in their houses of worship and through the imposition of their religious beliefs in secular law, those who harbor a “nostalgia for White Christian America,” and who have been succeeding politically at achieving their goals since at least the days of the Moral Majority, those are the political enemies we need to get serious about defeating.  Right now, political despair be damned.