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.

The truth can hurt—tell it anyway

One of my first jobs after graduating from college was hosting a weeknight radio talk show in Austin, Texas.  This was the early 1980s and Austin was both politically and socially a very liberal town, yet over time I found a higher-than-expected percentage of conservatives among my audience on a radio station that played rock and roll the rest of the day.  I did interviews when an interesting guest was available—Madalyn Murray O’Hair came to the studio one night, had Timothy Leary on the phone once—but often it was an open line to talk about, and debate and argue, topics in the news.  I enjoyed the give and take with people who had a different opinion and were willing to make their case, and to listen to mine and respond on the merits.  I fancied myself left of center but not crazy; I had more than one caller who complimented me for being funny and so reasonable…for a liberal.

This was as a new American conservatism was eclipsing the old one: William F. Buckley, Jr.’s worldview was being subtly undermined and overwhelmed by the Moral Majority appeal to right-thinking Christian evangelicals who were urged to get involved and install their religious beliefs as secular law.  America was a Christian nation after all, they were told, so it was the right thing to do; any fancy intellectual arguments, or any point of view that sprung from a differing interpretation of the will of God, could be safely ignored.

And here we are.  Give the radical right credit: they played the political game on its own terms, they played it smart, and they won.  A lot.  We have the same American states, same U.S. Constitution and structure of government, and at least on the surface we have the same tradition of respect for the rule of law, for freedom of speech, for individual liberty and societal responsibility, as we did forty or more years ago.  But it’s not the same.

I try to be optimistic.  I believe that each new generation of Americans is more committed than the last one to the “liberal values” of racial and gender equity and equality, and the free exchange of ideas, and freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion, and that the fearful closedmindedness at the heart of the professional patriots of today will force their movement to wither and become the appendix of the American political system: present, but useless.

But in the meantime, I think the far right senses that its time is running out, and it’s desperately grabbing at any opportunity to maintain relevance and power, going all out to fortify their calcified beliefs in law and install like-minded judges to protect those gains.  Here in my state of Texas this week, a state legislator who is running in the Republican primary for attorney general has initiated “an inquiry into Texas school district content,” which is to say, he’s using his state house committee to investigate the books that public schools use to teach our kids.  (The vice chair of the committee says the panel never took a vote on this; she learned about it from a local school official.)

Attached to [Matt] Krause’s letter was a 16-page list of books published from 1969 to 2021 that included “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander. Other books on the list deal with issues of race, gender identity and sexuality.

The Fort Worth Republican asked school leaders to identify where copies of the listed books were located in school libraries and classrooms and the amount of money districts had spent on them.

He also asked districts to identify any other books or content that address human sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, or any material that “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” because of their race or sex.

The far right is very good at creating a villain where none existed, then using that villain to whip up fervor among those who don’t know any better.  Think Joe McCarthy, but with a broader canvas.  In this case, appealing to the good Christian souls who don’t have a racist bone in their bodies to battle the evildoers who would indoctrinate the innocent little schoolchildren of Texas into thinking the unthinkable: that the racism of the present as well as of the past, including not just the toleration of human slavery but the promotion and protection of it in law and custom, has tangible effects that all we experience today.

Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinions…how they act on them is another thing.  In the Washington Post this week, Michael Gerson makes the point that only one side in the current ideological dispute in America is threatening the future of our country:

In a country of 330 million people, one can find plenty of anarchist rioters, Marxist college professors and administrators who use tolerance as a club to beat those they deem intolerant. But judging their threat as equivalent to that of the populist right is itself a threat to the country. At some point, a lack of moral proportion becomes a type of moral failure.

My main concern here is with previously rational and respectable conservatives who are providing ideological cover for the triumph of Trumpism on the right. Often some scruple prevents them from joining fully in former president Donald Trump’s gleeful assault on democratic legitimacy. So their main strategy is to assert that leftist depredations against democracy are equivalent. If both sides have their rioters and petty autocrats, why not favor the rioters and petty autocrats whose success will result in better judges?

But here’s the rub: By any rational standard, both sides are not equivalent in their public effect.

Only one party has based the main part of its appeal on a transparent lie. To be a loyal Republican in 2021 is to believe that a national conspiracy of big-city mayors, Republican state officials, companies that produce voting machines and perhaps China, or maybe Venezuela, stole the 2020 presidential election. The total absence of evidence indicates to conspiracy theorists (as usual) that the plot was particularly fiendish. Previous iterations of the GOP tried to unite on the basis of ideology and public purpose. The current GOP is united by a common willingness to believe whatever antidemocratic rot comes from the mouth of an ambitious, reckless liar.

Only one side of our divide employs violent intimidation as a political tool. Since leaving the presidency, Trump has endorsed the view that the events of Jan. 6 were an expression of rowdy patriotism and embraced the cruel slander that the Capitol Police were engaged in oppression. Turn to Fox News and hear hosts and guests referring to a coming “purge” of patriots, alleging that the left is “hunting” the right with the goal of putting conservatives in Guantánamo Bay, and speaking of “insurgency” as a justified response.

Only one political movement has made a point of denying the existence and legacy of racism, assuring White people that they are equally subject to prejudice, and defending the Confederacy and its monuments as “our heritage.” This is perhaps the ultimate in absurd bothsidesism. My side suffers from economic stagnation and the unfair application of affirmative action. Your side was shipped like coal and sold like cattle; suffered centuries of brutality, rape, family separation and stolen wages; and was then subjected to humiliating segregation and the systematic denial of lending, housing and justice. Who can say which is worse?

Gerson is not the first to make this point; it needs to be made more often, with volume and clarity.  This is not a “both sides of the story” thing where you intimate that the two sides just have a philosophical difference of opinion.  And here, journalism has let us down.

The practice of journalism in America has changed over the centuries, if not necessarily evolved and improved.  I come out of the post-Watergate era of journalism education, which taught us to get “both sides” of a story and not favor one over the other.  It was not that a reporter could not have a personal opinion on a topic, it was just irrelevant—the goal in writing a story was to uncover facts and context and assemble them into a narrative for the reader so he or she could better understand an issue and come to their own opinion about it.

Of course, the truth is there have always been more than two sides to most stories, and any reporter’s worldview influences how they go about the uncovering of facts and context.  Editors are there to help smooth that out so the final product is accurate, and fair, and enlightening.  But in the end, the journalism is done for the benefit of the customer: the reader, the listener, the viewer.  We sure as hell are not there to campaign for any politician, yet for generations politicians and their supporters have accused reporters and their employers of being unfair: if you write bad things about me, you’re against me; you’re biased.  It doesn’t matter whether the “bad things” are in fact true, or that the reporter or the paper routinely publish “bad things” about all candidates from all parties.  (From our perspective, those are all good stories!)

But over the years, some outlets—many of them—developed a preemptory defense against accusations of unfairness: report facts, but don’t add context that leads to a judgment about the participants; then they can’t accuse you of being unfair.

Of course, they still can and do make the accusation, so the strategy is flawed on its face.  But in a tragic example of the law of unintended consequences, that acrobatic effort to produce “neutral” journalism is failing the customer.  As Jackie Calmes writes in the Los Angeles Times, in the case of national politics today it is failing the country.

I started to chafe at false equivalence a quarter-century ago, as a congressional reporter amid Newt Gingrich’s Republican revolution. One party — his — was demonstrably more responsible for the nasty divisiveness, government gridlock and norm-busting, yet journalistic pressure to produce seemingly “balanced” stories — pressure both ingrained and imposed by editors — prevented reporters from sufficiently reflecting the new truth.

By 2012, as President Obama dealt with the willful obstructionists, conspiracists and racists of an increasingly radicalized Republican Party, political scientists and long-respected Washington watchers Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein put the onus for the dysfunction squarely on the GOP in their provocative book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks.” Significantly, they implicated journalists: “A balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon is a distortion of reality and a disservice to your consumers.”

The ascension of Donald Trump four years later should not have been such a surprise. With his continued hold on the Republican Party in the Biden era, Mann and Ornstein’s admonition is truer than ever.

Yes, it’s critical for political journalists to remain fair and balanced, in contrast with the right-wing network that cynically co-opted those adjectives. And, yes, variations on the word “lie” justifiably made it into the mainstream — something I never thought I’d see, let alone write — to describe what comes out of Trump’s mouth whenever his lips move. Sadly, that was progress.

(snip)

This is a Republican Party that is not serious about governing or addressing the nation’s actual problems, as opposed to faux ones like critical race theory.

Healthcare costs, child care, climate change, income inequality, you name it — Republicans don’t even acknowledge the problems, let alone propose solutions. Statewide candidates from Nevada to Virginia echo Trump in claiming that addressing (nonexistent) election fraud is, as he put it in another statement Wednesday, “the single most important thing for Republicans to do.”

Republicans in Congress scandalously opposed a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection, which threatened them as well as our democracy. They won’t support a must-pass increase in the nation’s debt limit, despite the trillions of debt that they and Trump piled up. Yet it was Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, who came in for pundits’ rebuke last week when he lambasted Republicans for flirting with a default, just after they’d allowed a temporary debt-limit measure to pass. What was he supposed to do? Celebrate the Republicans’ “bipartisanship” in defusing, only until December, the dynamite they’d lit under the economy?

On Saturday, the Senate’s most senior Republican, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, gleefully accepted Trump’s endorsement for reelection at a rally in Iowa where Trump repeatedly lied that he’d beaten Biden. The next day on “Fox News Sunday,” the second-ranking Republican in the House, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, repeatedly refused to say that the election was not stolen from Trump.

Democrats can’t be expected to deal with these guys like they’re on the level. Nor should journalists cover them as if they are.

Wheels up

Twenty years fighting a war in Afghanistan, and what did we come away with?  The head of Osama bin Laden…and we threw that in the ocean.

The start of this war was clear cut.  America was attacked by Al Qaeda and we went to Afghanistan to get the people who were responsible.  Twenty years and four presidents ago.  It took almost ten years to finally kill bin Laden (Mission Accomplished!) but we did it.  And then…we didn’t come home.  We had pushed out the Taliban and installed a new government, and we tried to train the people to govern themselves and to defend themselves.  But the killing never stopped, the government never worked, and the Afghan army was a sad joke.  Twenty years later the Taliban is back in charge, and look what we’ve left behind in weapons they now control, even after all the deaths we’ve sustained and the trillions of dollars we spent.

“Tonight’s withdrawal signifies both the end of the military component of the evacuation, but also the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan shortly after Sept. 11, 2001,” said Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the military’s Central Command. “No words from me could possibly capture the full measure of sacrifices and accomplishments of those who served.”

More than 2,400 U.S. military personnel and nearly 50,000 Afghan civilians died in the 20-year war, in addition to tens of thousands of casualties among U.S. contractors, the Afghan military and national police, insurgents and others, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

The U.S. military succeeded in evacuating more than 120,000 people from Afghanistan in recent weeks, American citizens and others who feared staying under Taliban rule.  Quite an achievement, really; unfortunately, there are another few hundred they couldn’t get out before the deadline.  Let’s wish them all luck in finally escaping.

I’ve got no issue with why we went to war in Afghanistan, nor with the decision to end the war despite the messy nature of things.  I give President Biden credit for closing this down, despite the complaints.

He is under heavy criticism, particularly from Republicans, for his handling of the evacuation. But he said it was inevitable that the final departure from two decades of war, first negotiated with the Taliban for May 1 by former President Donald Trump, would have been difficult with likely violence, no matter when it was planned and conducted.

“To those asking for a third decade of war in Afghanistan, I ask, ‘What is the vital national interest?’” Biden said. He added, “I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars in Afghanistan.”

If only our government had learned that lesson ten years ago, after we made good on the real reason we went there in the first place.

Dear Founding Fathers,

The public discourse here in America in the 21st Century has become so bizarre that I’m having trouble keeping it sorted…having trouble understanding what’s going on.  Not that it’s your responsibility to help, but I thought that trying to explain some of it to you might help me clear my head, so here goes.

Republican members of the House and Senate in Washington have blocked plans for a Congressional investigation of the attack on the Capitol back in January, on the day that Congress was certifying the results of last year’s election for president and vice president.  They did so with an explanation that defies facts and logic, something they have become very practiced at offering.  The plan approved by the House had been negotiated by members of both parties, with the Republicans asking for changes to the original idea to make sure it would not be a partisan witch hunt aimed at damaging their party before next year’s Congressional elections.  The Democrats accepted all the changes the Republicans asked for, yet just 35 House Republicans voted for it, and then it failed in a Senate vote with only six Republican senators voting in favor.  Why?  The Senate Republican leaders said the plan would be a “partisan kangaroo court” intended to damage Republicans and the recent former president of their party.  Some of these same Republicans—who were physically present in the Capitol that day and saw what happened; who hid from the mob with their colleagues—are now asking us to believe that the whole thing was either just a bunch of tourists visiting, or was actually orchestrated by liberals.

This came two weeks after the Republicans threw out their own #3 leader in the House.  Liz Cheney of Wyoming, daughter of the former vice president and as hard-line a conservative Republican as they come, was tossed for being insufficiently servile to the former president, for insisting on accepting the evidence of her own senses and denouncing his behavior in continuing to claim that the election was stolen from him, despite there being no evidence of any voter fraud significant enough to have made a difference.

…at the end of the day, the problem isn’t that Cheney is making controversial statements; the problem is that Republicans consider her obviously true statements to be controversial.

In a recent tweet that sent the move to ditch her into overdrive, Cheney wrote in response to a Trump statement calling his election defeat THE BIG LIE: “The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.” This should not be considered provocative.

That’s the National Review talking there!

The Big Lie is leading Republican-controlled state legislatures around the country to pass new laws that will make it harder for some people to vote, and easier for state officials to manipulate election results…for their own benefit and that of their party.  And it’s all being done right in front of our faces.

Republican legislators claim they’re tightening up election procedures to address (unfounded) concerns about fraud in the 2020 election. But what’s really behind this effort is a group of conservative Washington insiders who have been pushing these same kinds of voting restrictions for decades, with the explicit aim of helping Republicans win elections. The difference now is that Trump’s baseless claims about 2020 have given them the ammunition to get the bills passed, and the conservative movement, led by Heritage, is making an unprecedented investment to get them over the finish line.

“We’re working with these state legislators to make sure they have all of the information they need to draft the bills,” Anderson told the Heritage Foundation donors. In addition to drafting the bills in some cases, “we’ve also hired state lobbyists to make sure that in these targeted states we’re meeting with the right people.”

Democrats in the Texas Legislature found a temporary way to fight back on Sunday night: they walked out just before a procedural deadline, denying the state House a quorum, and killed the “bad ol’ bill” that Republican leadership was pushing.  The Republican governor says he will call a special session to start the process over again (absolutely his prerogative) and cut funding for the legislative branch (absolutely his predictable, childish response).

There’s been good news lately on the fight against COVID-19.  Thanks to so many people finally wearing a mask, and to so many getting vaccinated, the number of deaths is at its lowest level in ten months, the positive rate among those being tested is below five percent, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently loosened its guidelines on who should wear masks and when—as it should when conditions call for it.  More places are beginning to open up.  (The chief government administrator for the county that includes Houston, who has been among the most strident anywhere for telling people to wear masks and keep their distance, downgraded the threat level—twice!—in the past week!)  What we’ve been doing is finally showing signs of working.  If you think that has people finally conceding the efficacy of those actions, you’re thinking wrong: here’s the news of Houston hospital employees (most are not health care providers) suing their employer over its requirement that they get vaccinated if they want to keep their jobs.  They claim that since the vaccines have only ever been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use, any requirement to take the vaccine amounts to “nonconsensual human experimentation” under a code of medical ethics adopted in response to Nazi atrocities during World War II.  Their lawyer is “a former chairman of the Harris County GOP who has launched numerous legal challenges related to the pandemic, including a ban on in-person worship services last year.”

These people are…well, choose your own word for what it is when a member of Congress compares a COVID-fighting mask requirement from the speaker of the House to the Nazi extermination of Jews–

(Please note, the Christian Broadcasting Network “journalist” conducting the interview nods along as if she’s saying nothing more controversial than that the sun rises in the east.)

Holding different political beliefs is one thing, but it’s becoming damn near impossible to discuss anything when some of our “leaders” appear to have lost their minds.  This Democrat (no relation) is barely containing his disgust:

Why…the big question has to be, why are so many Republicans now the way they are.  On the specific question of the January 6 investigation, I think S.E. Cupp has it absolutely right—they are complicit in the crime, and are trying to protect themselves!

CNN conservative commentator S.E. Cupp on Friday pondered the purpose of her party ― the GOP ― after Senate Republicans blocked a bipartisan probe into the deadly Capitol riot.

“My question to the Republican party would be, what are you here for? What is your function if not to preserve the republic and protect American democracy?” Cupp told “The Lead” anchor Jake Tapper.

“If you have no curiosity about what happened on Jan. 6, first of all, I think it’s just because you believe it will implicate you … But also, I’m not sure what you stand for as a party,” she said.

(snip)

“The point of having two strong parties is to bring a competition of ideas to the table,” she said. But while Cupp admitted to not agreeing with many Democratic proposals, at least it wasn’t the “gibberish” and “nonsense” coming from across the aisle.

“Talking about Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head and conspiracy theories and lies,” she said of Republican focus in recent months. “Making inane, absurd comparisons between the Nazis and mask mandates.”

(snip)

It’s “incredibly embarrassing to watch an American political party cower just to fetishize and service the emotional narcissism of one guy, the guy who, by the way, lost it all for you,” she said, calling it “maddening,” “infuriating” and “a disgrace.”

That’s coming from a confirmed Republican.

I’ve got to keep in mind that not all Republicans have hopped on the crazy train.  But there are enough off them out there—and I mean, way out there—that it’s frightening.  What is driving this?  Not admiration for the last Republican president, I think…it’s clear that very many national party leaders are disgusted by him.  Always were, still are.  But, I think they see the advantage he brings to their side in the culture war, lining up a not-insignificant segment of Americans who see themselves inevitably losing their privileged place in society, and who appear willing to “do what it takes” to hold onto it.  As Amber Ruffin puts it, “resisting change means maintaining power.  And that’s why they’re fighting to keep racist children’s books and Confederate statues, and that’s why they’d rather talk about cancel culture than domestic terrorism.”  Worth your time to watch this clip…

Thanks for the sympathetic ear…thanks for the terrific country, too. We’ll keep doing our best…

The winter of my discontent has spilled over into the spring

You’d have thought that two months would have been plenty of time.  Time for Americans to take a calming breath, relax a bit, and let the radicalization of thought and action spurred by “the former guy” just naturally subside.  Time for passions to cool.  Time for the recognition of fact versus fiction.

Nope.

Four years of cognitive dissonance generated by the primary source of fake news in our lives reached its crescendo in early January when thousands of people claiming to hold an unwavering belief in law and order ignored the provable facts and attacked the seat of government of the country they swore they loved.  Hundreds of law enforcement officers were injured by the “patriots” who took the law into their own hands that day and tried to overturn the results of a free and fair election because they didn’t like the result.

The man impeached for inspiring that assault has left office, but the “the crazy” is still in the house.  He wasn’t the cause, it turns out; just a catalyst.

I daresay we all know at least a few of these people.  The stone cold racists.  The Christian Nationalists trying to make the United States a “Christian nation” even though the Constitution prohibits that.  The self-styled “conservatives” for whom anything can be said if it annoys their political opponents and inspires their own supporters, with adherence to actual accuracy or consistency with their own past statements not required.

They took advantage of having a mainstream leader—it don’t get any mainstreamer than the White House—who was willing to support their radical beliefs to force a massive change in the course of American society.  For four years, it was working.  They didn’t count on Dear Leader being so thoroughly self-absorbed and delusional that he refused to lead the country against the ravages of a global pandemic, a failure which generated enough antagonism that it inspired the record voter turnout that caused his defeat.

MAGA nation has always been there; it came out of the shadows in 2016, and it’s not done.

For those with no self-esteem and no affinity for truth, the blatant and self-serving lying is still going strong.  (Recent examples here and here.)  The flow of ludicrous conspiracy theories and disinformation is unrestrained—such as Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, “an all-access purveyor of misinformation on serious issues such as the pandemic and the legitimacy of American democracy, as well as invoking the etymology of Greenland as a way to downplay the effects of climate change.”  The absence of any need for intellectual consistency has never been more apparent: a lawyer who is being sued for defamation by a voting machine company she trashed for weeks is defending herself by claiming that “no reasonable person” would have believed the things she claimed in an actual legal filing were actually true!

Many Republicans across the country acknowledge that they have a problem: there are too many Americans who have not drunk the kool-aid and are not voting for Republicans. So they are taking action to make it harder for those people to vote at all.

More than 250 bills have been introduced in 43 states that would change how Americans vote, according to a tally by the Brennan Center for Justice, which backs expanded voting access. That includes measures that would limit mail voting, cut hours that polling places are open and impose restrictions that Democrats argue amount to the greatest assault on voting rights since Jim Crow.

First across the finish line is the great state of Georgia.  In the state where a Republican secretary of state effectively told a sitting president soliciting his cooperation in voting fraud to shove it, the Republican legislature passed and the Republican governor signed an “overhaul of state elections that includes new restrictions on voting by mail and gives the legislature greater control over how elections are run.”

Among other things, the law requires a photo ID in order to vote absentee by mail, after more than 1.3 million Georgia voters used that option during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also cuts the time people have to request an absentee ballot and limits where ballot drop boxes can be placed and when they can be accessed.

Democrats and voting rights groups say the law will disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color. It is part of a wave of GOP-backed election bills introduced in states around the nation after former President Trump stoked false claims that fraud led to his 2020 election defeat.

The effort in Georgia and elsewhere—including my state of Texas, sad to say—are marketed as laws designed to provide greater ballot security and give voters reassurance about the integrity of election outcomes.  This presupposes your belief in the old GOP chestnut that elections now are not secure and that the outcomes are not legitimate.  Which, of course, is untrue—look at the literally dozens of lawsuits pursued across the country by Republicans trying to change the outcome of the presidential race last year, which could not prove voter fraud sufficient to have changed any results.  No one can reasonably argue that there is no election fraud, ever, anywhere, but there has never been evidence of the kind of massive voter fraud—ever, anywhere—that Republicans falsely assert as reason to make voting harder.  Even to the extent, in Georgia, of making it illegal to give a bottle of water to anyone waiting in line to vote.

Republicans who recognize actual truth understand this: their party controls the legislatures in 30 of the 50 states, and thus the redistricting process in those states, which goes a long way to perpetuate their electoral strength in legislative and congressional elections despite their national weakness.  (Democrats redistrict to their own benefit, of course, but they don’t have as many opportunities.)  In the 2020 election for president, 84.1 million Americans voted for someone other than the Republican incumbent, and another 80.8 million Americans didn’t vote at all, so nearly 70% of Americans who are eligible to vote turned thumbs down at another four years of Republican control of the White House.  In an election where more Americans voted than ever voted before, less than one-third of Americans voted Republican at the top of the ballot.  If Republicans want to hold on to power, they know they had better use their majorities while they still have them.

So must the Democrats in Congress.  The For the People Act, passed by the House of Representatives and awaiting action in the Senate, is an effort to negate the Republican attempts to make voting more difficult: it would expand voting rights, and limit gerrymandering, and take precedence in these areas over any laws passed in the states.  We’ll see.

Meanwhile, Republicans and conservatives seem intent on amusing us with their crying and whining.  The party that used to be all about personal responsibility can’t shut up about being the victims of cancel culture when they get caught doing the very things for which they criticize others.