AlterNet Exclusives

House GOP poised to launder Rudy's Russian disinformation again

We’ve been warned. When the Republicans take control of the House, it’s going to be all Hunter’s laptop, all the time.

Despite haughty GOP denials, the laptop story is probably a cover for another Russian hack and leak operation, and the Republicans are gleefully laundering it.

Republicans have browbeaten various social media execs – who are surely nervous about being called before GOP committees – into saying they were wrong to throttle access to what everyone correctly assumed was foreign election interference laundered through Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and election interference go-to-guy Rudy Giuliani.

READ MORE: On aid to Ukraine, the Republicans are jammed

Various major media outlets have authenticated a small percentage of the data dump as having belonged to Hunter Biden. But that’s exactly what you’d expect in a hack and leak operation. The question is whether the data were really abandoned by Hunter Biden or whether they were uploaded to that laptop as a pretext for trafficking in stolen secrets.

“That’s Rudy”

In October 2020, weeks before the general election, the New York Post ran a story about what Rudy Giuliani claimed was a hard drive abandoned by Hunter Biden at a computer repair shop in Wilmington, Delaware.

Over 50 retired intelligence pros signed an open letter arguing that L’Affaire MacBook bore all the hallmarks of Russian disinfo. Twitter’s former head of safety said this week that the story set off “every single one of my finely tuned [Russian intelligence] hack and leak campaign alarm bells."

READ MORE: GOP strategist pardoned by Donald Trump convicted of illegally funneling him Russian cash

Conveniently, the former shop owner who gave the data to Giuliani is legally blind, so he can’t say whether the man who dropped off the machines was Hunter Biden. He’s also a frothing conspiracy theorist who was unable to tell a straight story about the provenance of the laptop.

We know Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign of interference in the 2020 elections that focused on feeding anti-Biden propaganda to influential Americans, including members of Trump’s inner circle, according to a 2021 report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The report doesn’t name names, but contains enough clues to identify Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, as the useful idiot in chief.

This time, the collusion between Trump and the Russians was right out in the open. With Trump’s support, Giuliani spent much of 2019 ostentatiously shuttling to Ukraine and huddling with Kremlin-linked oligarchs, including an active Russian agent who was later sanctioned by Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s Treasury Department for interference in the 2020 election.

Data from Hunter Biden’s computer were on the market in Kyiv around the time Giuliani went disinfo-shopping. As you recall, Giuliani was searching for dirt in Ukraine because Hunter Biden sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma Holdings, which, according to that ODNI report, was hacked by the Russian spy service known as the GRU in late 2019.

Multiple US intelligence agencies repeatedly and explicitly warned Donald Trump in 2019 that Giuliani’s bottomless thirst for dirt on the Bidens made him the target of a Russian intelligence operation. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien warned Trump that any information Giuliani brought back from his Ukraine junket should be considered “contaminated” by the Russians. Trump reportedly shrugged and said, “That’s Rudy.”

Stolen and dumped

Let’s not forget Trump’s first impeachment was the result of a desperate bid to wring dirt out of the Ukrainians. Trump froze congressionally authorized defense aid to Ukraine in order to strong-arm the country’s new president into announcing a bogus investigation into Hunter Biden.

Republicans have falsely claimed that forensic analyses have proven that the data was found on a laptop that Hunter Biden abandoned at a repair shop in Delaware. These analyses have shown that some of the materials were produced by Hunter Biden. But that’s how hack and leak attacks work.

In a hack and leak, data is stolen and dumped.

A largely genuine trove of stolen data is also the perfect place to hide forged or stolen elements, which enjoy unearned credibility because they’re packaged with real stuff. That’s why the victims of hack and leaks are advised never to confirm the authenticity of anything.

The attackers are counting on the public to draw the erroneous conclusion that, because some things are genuine, the whole package is real, and – most importantly – that it came from where the cover story says it came from, be that an imaginary collective of good-hearted “hacktivists” or a computer repair shop in Delaware. Anywhere but the GRU.

The GRU is notorious for hacking and leaking.

A GRU unit known as FancyBear or APT128 famously deployed this tactic against the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016. They also targeted George Soros, the World Anti-Doping Agency, scientists investigating the poisoning of a former Russian agent, and countless others. For particularly high-value targets, GRU combines hacking with good-old-fashioned stalking, following their targets around, hoping to catch them using insecure hotel wifi.

Isn’t it a crazy coincidence that a disk image of “Hunter Biden’s laptop” was revealed to the world by the same guy who we know was the main conduit for Russian disinformation about the Bidens? A guy who has also been investigated for other kinds of election interference on behalf of Trump.

If you believe that, I’ve got an extended warranty to sell you.

READ MORE: Fiona Hill warns Musk is 'transmitting a message' for Putin as DeSantis rushes to billionaire’s defense

We may be at the beginning of a new era of labor power

Despite major tech layoffs and ongoing fears of a recession, unemployment in the US remains low. In the long term, businesses are likely to continue to struggle to fill positions. That creates an opportunity for unions. And there are encouraging signs that workers are seizing the moment.

There’s no doubt that the economy is slowing, with ugly consequences for some workers. Tech companies have been laying off employees at a brutal rate. Amazon plans to lay off about 10,000 workers. Hewlett-Packard has announced plans to lay off 4,000 to 5,000 people in the next few years.

NBC estimates tech layoffs this year could hit more than 137,000.

READ MORE: Know thine enemy: Time to strike

Higher interest rates and a slowing job market contributed to a 3.7 percent unemployment rate in October, higher than the 3.5 percent estimate.

Job gains were lower than in any month since December 2020. Many economists still expect a recession in 2023. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the non-farm economy still gained 261,000 jobs in October, higher than the estimated 205,000, and barely down from 263,000 in November. Overall, the economy grew faster than expected in the third quarter. Relatively low unemployment seems likely to continue in the long term, despite short-term variations.

There are two reasons for that.

READ MORE: 'Another happy jobs day': Economists cheer 'amazing' report as jobs growth beats expectations

An aging workforce and falling immigration.

Shrinking workforce

The median baby boomer turned 65 in 2022, and the pandemic has encouraged retirements. In the third quarter of 2021, 66.9 percent of people between 65 and 74 were retired, up from only 64 percent in the same quarter of 2019.

Economists thought that some of these retirees might return to the workforce, but that hasn’t really happened. Instead, retirements have continued high, contributing to workplace shortages.

Net migration to the US has collapsed simultaneously thanks to Trump era restrictions and the pandemic. Net migration to the US in 2021 was the lowest in decades. Only 247,000 people were added to the US population through immigration, in comparison to 568,000 in 2019 and more than 1 million in 2016.

According to one estimate, the US has a deficit of 1.4 million immigrant workers relative to pre-pandemic trends.

Little wonder, then, that US employers have struggled to fill positions, even as covid restrictions have largely ended. Some industries do have a surplus of workers now, like construction and mining. But others, like hospitality, education and health care, continue to have widespread vacancies.

In the first nine months of fiscal year 2022 (October to June), union election petitions were up 58 percent over the same period in 2021.

Moreover, unions won 641 of those elections—the highest number of union victories since 2005. The win rate of elections has been 76.6 percent, as high as any success rate since 2000.

Union boom

Not coincidentally, the industries where employers need more workers are also industries that have seen an increase in worker organizing.

The single company contributing most to unionization success is Starbucks. The first three Starbucks stores filed union election petitions in August 2021. In the next eight months, almost 250 stores followed suit.

Traditionally, food and drink retailers like Starbucks have had dismally low union participation. In 2021, 1.2 percent of workers in the sector were unionized, according to the US Labor Department.

An NPR analysis found that 10 years ago only 4 percent of union election petitions came from the accommodations and food service industry. In the beginning of 2022, in comparison, the sector was responsible for 27.5 percent of union election petitions.

Starbucks workers have organized heroically in the face of a vicious union-busting campaign by CEO Howard Shultz. Among other tactics, Shultz is accused of illegally boosting benefits and wages, but only for non-union employees.

Their efforts have been aided by the labor crisis in the industry. Many Starbucks locations, like businesses throughout the hospitality industry, have faced major shortages.

Pandemic disruptions to higher education also gave graduate students and adjuncts more leverage in dealing with university employers. In 2020, four universities signed contracts with graduate student unions, doubling the total number of private institutions with union agreements.

These successes helped to boost a long-term trend. Over the last 10 years, faculty union chapters at private schools have increased by 80 percent.

This month 48,000 academic workers at the University of California declared a strike that has entered its third week as they call for better pay, benefits and job security. The strike includes postdoctoral scholars, teaching assistants and graduate students, and has disrupted classes and laboratories.

A new day for labor

Wages have been stagnant for four decades in the US. Suddenly workers are at a premium, but wage growth continues to lag inflation. It’s no wonder that workers are using their greater power to unionize.

Unionization is a solid strategy for raising stagnant wages. Non-union workers make only 83 percent of unionized weekly earning. But unions ultimately raise wages for all workers.

One report estimated that the decline in unionization from 1979 to 2017 cost the average worker the equivalent of $3,250 a year. Deunionization depresses the wages of middle-wage earners more than those of high-wage earners, and so contributed to the 23-point growth in the wage gap between high and middle earners over the same period.

If the US moves back toward higher union concentration, it will move toward a stronger, more affluent middle class, and less inequality.

The business class and rightwing politicians oppose this. President Biden tried to get a bill through Congress allowing the National Labor Relations Board to fine labor law violators this year. It passed the House, but Republicans and conservative Democrats in the Senate killed it.

But the long-term trend of labor shortages in key industries, and organizing momentum in new sectors, is a promising development.

If we’re lucky, we may be at the beginning of a new era of labor power.

READ MORE: 'Profits over people': Senate rejects paid sick leave for rail workers

We should drop the idea of the United States of America being one country

Among the Editorial Board’s myriad mandates, as I see them, is bursting dogma, flaying stigma, and otherwise defenestrating ideas that make cohering American politics harder than necessary.

For instance: The United States is one country.

Nope.

READ MORE: House Democrat rips Republicans for refusing to condemn Donald Trump's 'full embrace of fascism'

That we are not one country is evident to anyone who has traveled widely around the country, who has lived and worked in various parts of the country or who has bothered to learn the country’s history.

Indeed, we are held together loosely by a constitution, but our founding document has been used to sow division as much as, or more than, to cement unity. Meanwhile, there isn’t really an America so much Americas that pretend to be more in line than they are. They pretend because those Americas might be different if they stopped.

Real sovereign units, made-up bigger one

That we are not one country is evidenced also by the early party primary states. Iowa (first) is different from New Hampshire (second), which are different from South Carolina (third) and Nevada (fourth).

Sure, voters there call themselves Democrats, but they are so distinct by geography, culture and politics as to be semi-autonomous zones. Their states, moreover, are more like countries in the European Union, nation-states inside a larger, overarching and made-up unit.

The differences quickly present themselves. Iowa Democrats want the party's national leaders to address climate change and secure human rights. South Carolina Democrats rarely share lofty goals. Theirs are defensive – eg, preventing GOP-controlled state governments from making their lives harder than they already are.

READ MORE: House Republican: 'I'll fall in behind' Donald Trump in 2024 despite call to suspend the Constitution

The national Democrats are rethinking the order of primary states. According to the Post, the president wants South Carolina first, New Hampshire and Nevada second, Georgia and after that Michigan.

But beyond the symbolic, which isn’t nothing, this order or that order probably doesn’t matter. Democrats in South Carolina are going to vote like Democrats in South Carolina, not like Democrats in Iowa.

We pretend the order influences the outcome, but it really doesn’t, because that would require the United States to be one country.

Nope.

A fictional community

If you do not understand that the United States not one country, you may find yourself confused and asking why, when national polls show overwhelming support for reproductive rights, the GOP is dead-set on the opposite. They seem bent of the ruination of young women’s bodies for the sake of protecting cell clusters that aren’t human yet.

A poll showing national support for, say, bronco busting, while popular in regions like Texas and the American southwest, won’t mean a thing to the highly concentrated and densely packed residents in the tristate area that links Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. If they outlaw bronco busting, nothing can stop them, though it contravenes the will of a national democratic majority.

States that have outlawed or restricted abortion don’t care – don’t need to care – about what a majority of Americans believes is right and good in a national survey, because a national survey measures the opinion of a political fiction, not a real political community.

Liberals by their nature envision a true e pluribus unum, but liberals should remember that that is, and may always be, an work in progress. Unity is a noble aspiration, not a concrete fact. As long as the United States is a de facto federation of (maybe) a dozen political zones – though not legal ones – unity might always prove elusive.

An artifice of law

Even the concept of states distorts reality.

There’s 50, but what’s the practical difference between Mississippi and Alabama, or Connecticut and Rhode Island or the Dakotas?

I’m sure residents there have strong opinions. But I’m also sure that, to national political figures, those distinctions are invisible. From a national viewpoint, there aren’t 50 states so much as (maybe) dozen political regions that, when cobbled together, form the United States.

The United States as one country comprising 50 states is an artifice of law and political convenience more than it is a description of how we function politically in our respective politically communities.

Don’t believe it? Why is the Mason-Dixon line where it is (the southern border of Pennsylvania and the northern border of West Virginia and Maryland)? It’s not a land mass like rivers or mountains.

It’s merely line drawn on the map – a legal and political demarcation – that once separated non-enslaving states from enlaving states. It is a product of democratic politics, not the result of natural causes.

Indeed, all borders are thus.

That goes for borders, too

What’s the difference between a border dividing American states and a border dividing nation-states, like the United States and Mexico?

None that are serious. They are fakes drawn for the convenience of leaders and communities to make sense of and identify themselves coherently, to administer and enforce respective laws and so on.

If you’re going to have a nation-state, which is what western countries have been doing since the Enlightenment, that nation-state requires national borders. Otherwise, there’s little point to it. Nation-states aren’t always artificial. (Eg, England.) But their land borders always are. They are products of politics, first and last.

Donald Trump was fond of saying that you don’t have a country if you don’t have borders. But Borders are the least important aspect of the character of any country, because they are legal and political fictions.

We pretend – well, fascists like Trump pretend - that the US-Mexican border is natural, as if God gave it to us, as if an abomination to tamper with it, as if a weak defense were a sin.

But the only thing natural about the US-Mexican border is the Rio Grande, and given the river dries up every year, it’s not even that.

We act like billions sent to the border, for the purpose of “securing it,” will somehow protect American values, identity, even destiny. That’s a lot to ask for, because the border was arbitrarily created.

Like the United States.

That the United States is not only one country doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think of it that way. But whatever utility there is to that idea is undermined by today’s United States Supreme Court.

It’s like the court won’t allow us to be one nation, indivisible.

The court’s rightwing supermajority has been on a tear lately, as in tearing up federal laws and federal court precedents like Roe that had in effect served as the glue that held the 50 states together as one.

The trend started in 2013 with the Shelby ruling. That’s the one that said states with a history of racial animus in government policy no longer have racial animus. Where once those states had to get clearance from the US Department of Justice before changing their elections laws, they can go ahead and so whatever they want.

Since then, states (mostly southern) have enacted laws that erode the power of racial minorities, deepen the white-power status quo and lay the foundation for what are becoming quasi-apartheid states that are being organized to deprive majorities of their political power.

The court has also aided in quasi-apartheid states by allowing them to gerrymander themselves so they can be run by a ruling minority party that does not fear the consequences of democratic politics.

This fact alone – that states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas and Florida barely reach a definition of republican government – is another reason for the rest of us to drop the idea of the United States being one country. There is no America. There are Americas.

Pretending otherwise warps our ability to make sense of ourselves.

READ MORE: 'Keep me out of it': Benjamin Netanyahu dodges talking about Donald Trump's 2024 campaign

We can't have both democracy and political violence, huh? What about [waves hands widely at everything]?

The Times’ editorial board, not to be confused with the Editorial Board, is running a series of editorials on political violence. In the main, these are exceptional pieces, deeply researched, densely packed with relevant, illuminating facts, and dispassionately argued.

Editorials rarely move public opinion, but even so, I’m grateful. Our culture too often fails to recognize the injuries of political violence. Perhaps this series will elevate public awareness, at least a little.

That said, the editorial writers have a recognition problem of their own – and it’s right there in the latest installment’s headline: “America Can Have Democracy or Political Violence. Not Both.”

READ MORE: Chasten Buttigieg stunned over new DHS warning lists LGBTQ people as 'targets of potential violence'

This dichotomy of either-or runs throughout the editorial, but the following shows its most distilled form: “It is unacceptable in a democracy for organized groups of men armed with military-style firearms and dressed in body armor to appear regularly at political rallies or to act as security for public officials and office seekers.”

My question is this – seriously? Why is it unacceptable? To whom? We can’t have democracy and political violence? Who says so?

Such assumptions suggest the Times’ editorialists need to get out of Manhattan more often. If they do, and if there’s enough effort, they might recognize a reality the rest of the country inhabits but usually does not recognize because it constitutes those “democratic norms.”

Seriously?

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Political violence is familiar and ordinary. It’s all around us. It is the consequence of democratic politics running against the grain of the white-power status quo, or the white-power status quo merely maintaining “democratic norms.” Whenever there’s change, there’s political violence. Whenever there’s a reaction, there’s the same.

So the question isn’t whether there’s political violence and what elected officials must do about it. It’s whether the political violence is politically acceptable or politically unacceptable.

Examples of politically acceptable political violence: when a police officer wrestles to the ground, or even kills, an armed suspect; when a police department disperses an unlawful political rally; even when a white cop murdered George Floyd. Normally, that would have been acceptable if not for the confluence of democratic politics and luck.

Examples of politically unacceptable political violence: when a man beats his wife, when a mother beats her children, when an uncle molests his niece, and so on. We rarely admit it, but each presumes the rights of top-down authorities over the bodies of innocents.

When democratic politics challenges these democratic norms – eg, see Black Lives Matter, the MeToo movement or any advancement by the LGBT-plus community – there is a violent political reaction that deepens existing levels of political violence. A violent reaction that itself concedes to its unacceptability deepens its political nature.

Why so absurd?

When we understand political violence as a democratic norm, rather than the exception to democratic norms, we can see why headlines like the one above are absurd. We can’t have democracy and political violence, huh? Well, what about [waves hands widely at everything]?

It’s absurd to claim that it’s “unacceptable for organized groups of men armed with military-style firearms and dressed in body armor to appear regularly at political rallies.” Why? Because such things are happening in a country that claims to call itself a democracy. It’s just weird to say something is unacceptable when there are enough people around, a majority in some states, who say yeah, no.

The Times gets grief for sucking up to those in power. But in this one way, it’s liberal. It holds to liberal standards the great many illiberal Americans who think husbands should rule their wife, that children should obey their mothers and that a niece had it coming to her when she tempted a grown man. Why would a newspaper otherwise known for its sobriety do something that absurd? Liberals say it’s one or the other, not both. Everyone else is like where you been, son?

The editorial writers are right say there are “four interrelated trends that the country needs to address.” They are “the impunity of organized paramilitary groups, the presence of extremists in law enforcement and the military, the global spread of extremist ideas and the growing number of GOP politicians” who pander to them.

But they stop short of identifying the thing that’s the biggest thing that makes all these things “interrelated.” No, it’s not extremist ideologies. It’s the opposite of extreme. It’s the force shaping all of our lives, because it’s the force that constitutes “the way things are.”

I’m talking about white power.

Keep it real

That said, the editorial writers are correct in saying that something really is different. Political violence is normal, but these days it’s spectacular: “Some of the most spectacular recent episodes of political terrorism are etched into the nation’s collective memory: mass shootings in El Paso and Buffalo, bomb and arson attacks against mosques and synagogues, a plot by a paramilitary group to kidnap Michigan’s governor, the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6.”

Instead of saying democracy is incompatible with normal political violence, we should say it’s incompatible with abnormal political violence, that the balance of power in society is out of balance, and that this social imbalance threatens to cut out democracy’s legs.

That I buy. It’s real.

We don’t need more bullshit.

READ MORE: Did some of our federal police conspire to overthrow the United States?

Another GOP 'civil war'? We know how that story ends

Mitch McConnell’s chief skill, above strategic cynicism, is the ability to look deeply concerned about matters of grave consequence.

He had his “grave face” on Tuesday. He said: “There is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism, for white supremacy. Anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, is highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States.”

The allusion was to Donald Trump. The criminal former president dined over the weekend with Nick Fuentes and Kanye West, two of the highest profile Jew-haters. (Fuentes is particularly repugnant.)

READ MORE: Donald Trump's allies want a chaperone to 'be present with him at all times' after Nick Fuentes dinner

The headlines were good for Trump, who needs the antisemite vote, and for the antisemites. Rarely have they gotten as much attention since the days of Charles Lindberg and Father Charles Coughlin.

McConnell’s remarks, with those of leading Republicans, seem to suggest that the gap between them and Trump is widening apace.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who’s less “grave face” than “avuncular face,” told CNN that “it’s not a good idea for a leader that’s setting an example for the country and the party to meet with [an] avowed racist and antisemite. … You want to diminish their strength, not empower them. Stay away from them.”

But the gap isn’t a gap. Nor is it widening.

READ MORE: How 'MAGA culture warriors' have escalated 'threats against teachers and school administrators': study

We’re seeing political people acting politically. That’s all it is. After a midterm but before an election, no one knows who among the Republicans will lead. Make no mistake, though. When a leader becomes apparent, recent moral clarity will melt into the air.

“Anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, is highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States,” McConnell said. There’s good reason for skepticism.

There’s also good reason why that reason might not be apparent. The Washington press corps does things to justify doing what they want to do. First, pretend history didn’t happen. From there, they can tell the story – again – about a civil war inside the Republican Party, with Trump on one side and “establishment Republicans” on the other.

Reruns are never as exciting as the original, though.

We know why the Republicans are acting this way. We know what they will do in the end. We’ve already seen it. Lindsey Graham had said that “if we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it.” Then the senator became Trump’s leading confidante.

Which is to say, they’ll get behind the winner.

For the moment, that’s not Trump.

Some Republicans say he lost three in a row: the 2018 midterms, the 2020 presidential election and the 2021 Georgia run-off. (Others add a fourth, the lower-than-expected gains in the 2022 midterms.)

But this three-time loser story has a subtext – the fast-ascending status of Ron DeSantis. The Florida governor crushed his Democratic opponent. That fueled breathless talk of a 2024 presidential bid.

Reasonsreasonsreasons

This binary lies beneath recent stories about Trump supporters second-guessing their support. Rolling Stone reported that white evangelical Protestants, Trump’s staunchest supporters, seem unsure. They got what they want from him – Roe fell – but suddenly they see reasonsreasonsreasons for “staying on the sidelines.”

The Times reported Israel hardliners previously in Trump’s corner also seem unsure. That dinner with antisemites is suddenly one of those reasonsreasonsreasons. “I am a child of survivors. I have become very frightened for my people,” Morton Klein, head of the rightwing Zionist Organization of America, said. “Donald Trump is not an antisemite. He loves Israel. He loves Jews. But he mainstreams, he legitimizes Jew hatred and Jew haters. And this scares me.”

Yeah, well.

The same thing could be said – the same thing was said – in 2017 after Trump appeared to, um, legitimize Jew hatred and Jew haters.

He said throngs of white-power protesters in Charlottesville weren’t all that bad. Sure, they chanted “the Jews will not replace us” but that was, evidently, enough to dampen enthusiasm by ultra-rightwing Jewish conservatives who’d yet to get something about of his tenure.

These people, like leading Republicans, are not “Trump defectors.” Yes, the press corps keeps hinting hard at that. What they are doing is merely repeating 2015 – waiting to see where the GOP base goes, especially its spokesmen at Fox and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. Wherever the base goes, the leaders of the party go, too.

There’s only one reason the Republicans and allies are not all-in for Trump. It’s not because of anything Trump did, like dining with antisemites. It’s that an alternative seems to have presented itself.

Savior of the Republican Party?

I mean, sure. Florida loves DeSantis. But Florida is Florida. It’s not the rest of the country, nor is it the rest of the Republican Party. And anyway, the presumption is that, during the Republican primaries, DeSantis would beat Trump in his own state. Why? Because Ron DeSantis is its governor? I don’t see why that presumption is wise.

It seems to me the Republicans are waiting to see who’s going to emerge stronger even as they process more data coming out of the midterms. If the base picks Trump over DeSantis, the GOP might lose the support of what I call “respectable white people,” those voters who made Democratic victories possible three times in a row.

Perry Bacon said Sunday that “the surprisingly strong performance of Democrats in the US House and in many gubernatorial and Senate races was in large part because the pro-Democratic suburban surge of the 2018 and 2020 elections didn’t ebb too much in 2022.”

Bacon’s suburbanites are my respectable white people.

Wherever they go, so go national elections.

Savior DeSantis might not be enough.

READ MORE: 'A strange no-eye-contact oddball': Who is the real Ron DeSantis?

Jiang Zemin, who opened China to markets and corruption, is dead

Born in Yangzhou in 1926, Jiang was one of the last Chinese leaders to remember the 1949 Revolution. His father died fighting the Japanese while Jiang himself was attending National Central University in Japanese-occupied Nanjing before transferring to what is today Shanghai Jiao Tong University, in 1947. He did not play any role in the Revolution itself, but he did join the Communist Party while in college.

Trained as an engineer, he was useful to the new regime. He was sent to the Soviet Union to get additional industrial training at the Stalin Automobile Works in Moscow and then worked for China’s First Automobile Works, making the Jiefang truck. He slowly rose through the ranks.

What’s pretty remarkable is how boring he really was throughout his career. He managed to come away almost totally unscathed through China’s enormous upheavals. There’s almost no public information on Jiang during the Great Leap Forward; he was just working for the party. The worst thing that happened to him during the Cultural Revolution is that he was sidelined from his main work and semi-exiled to Wuhan, but without any serious problems. He was just a good communist bureaucrat. He left the auto industry by the late 50s and became a boring apparatchik.

READ MORE: Green diplomacy: What if the United States and China cooperated on climate change?

Remarkably boring

When the Cultural Revolution ended, Deng Xiaoping brought Jiang back into the fold. He was deeply involved in the communist state’s transition to dictatorial capitalism. He was one of the key players in the creation of the Special Economic Zones in the South. He then joined the CP’s Central Committee in 1982. In 1985, he became mayor of Shanghai. He was reportedly quite unpopular with the people of the city, but he pushed ahead with the process of capitalizing China. Foreign businessmen loved his plans and investments started pouring into the city. In 1987, he joined the Politburo, stepping down from mayor of the city and instead becoming party secretary for Shanghai.

In 1989, of course, China faced the unprecedented student democratization protestors at Tiananmen Square. This was the boom time for Jiang. Just before the busting of the protests, he was promoted to replace Zhao Ziyang as CCP general secretary because he had a history of defusing student anger while in Shanghai and because Zhao was now seen as too liberal. He was also able to keep his distance from the repression that followed.

When Deng retired later that year, it was Jiang who became the public face of the party, but Deng was still the real power player, working behind the scenes. Jiang understood that Deng’s real power at this point came from the personal connections he had built since the start of the Revolution and while he could not replicate that, he worked hard to build himself a personal power base. No one really saw Jiang as a significant leader up to this time. If anything, he would be a transitional figure to a real power to lead the nation. In some ways, this turned out to be true, but Jiang remained a major player for far longer than expected.

READ MORE: China's geopolitical inroads into Central Asia are coming at Russia’s expense

Cheap, abundant and quiet labor

Most observers believed Jiang would be little more than a transitional figure in Chinese history. And if one considers the rapid consolidation of power under Xi Jinping, I suppose that still holds some water.

But he really was much more than that.

As soon as took power, he started moving the party back to the ideological push of the Mao period as a way to undermine the kind of democratic independence that had led to Tiananmen. The Central Propaganda Department increased in power. Hard to argue that this didn’t work.

Of course, some of the real commitment to democracy by the protestors was shown to be pretty shallow once China rose economically. But decades of ideological work, no matter how counter to Marxism, has proven tremendously effective in China and Jiang deserves a lot of the credit for that, if credit is what we want to give. But Jiang was also still in a pretty tenuous position. When Deng began to criticize him in 1992 for not moving fast enough on economic reforms, Jiang got right in line.

Jiang put the lie to the liberal canard that democracy and capitalism would rise together hand-in-hand. If anything, the Chinese model of dictatorial capitalism became incredibly appealing to global capitalists and politicians, if for no other reason than that one could relocate production there for very cheap wages and be ensured that the government was not going to put up with any meaningful dissent. In 1992, Jiang began to use the term “socialist market economy” to describe China’s new ways under Deng Xiaoping’s spirit.

Communist capitalism

Now, all of this caused the same sort of problems that unrestrained capitalism causes everywhere. Unemployment skyrocketed, reaching 40 percent in some areas. State-owned businesses couldn’t compete with the efficiency of foreign ways and the new China didn’t have much of a safety net for those who couldn’t find work in the new nation.

By the millions, people migrated to the cities without any attempt to ease their transition. Growing wealth in the cities ran up against horrific poverty in the countryside. Organized crime became an ever-greater problem. Both civil and military officials issued illegal bonds to steal money. That the environment was to sacrifice for any and all industrial growth was almost inevitable and the once tremendously ecologically diverse lands of China became pits of pollution, despair and extinction.

But Jiang was primarily concerned with economic stability, believing that continued growth would eventually solve the problems, at least those he felt were worth solving. The Special Economic Zones he promoted became wealthy while the countryside remained impoverished. Always attuned to the power of state propaganda, he started a new program in 1998 dedicated to self-promotion as the nation’s leader and denunciations of opponents.

Deng had not really used state media for personal propaganda, so for many Chinese, this was a return to Maoism, whether good or bad. He placed this pro-business ideology into CP propaganda, creating the “Three Represents” as his version of Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory.

This actually changed the ideological foundation of the party from protecting all the people to “the overwhelming majority of the people,” as a way to make the business class happy that they could in fact oppress people in this now quite not-communist state. Leftist hardliners were pretty outraged and the Three Represents have certainly not had the ideological impact of Mao or Deng, but it’s not as if China has somehow reverted back away from capitalism under Xi.

Feed the organ market

Jiang also wanted Falun Gong crushed. He created an entire extralegal department called the 6-10 Department just for this task.

That the Chinese government was so threatened by a non-theistic spiritual mediation movement might seem bizarre, especially given that the government had actually promoted the movement in its early years of the 1980s. But given the history of Buddhist resistance to oppressive regimes in Southeast Asia, it wasn’t too hard to see this movement as a potential site of anti-government activities, at least if that’s what you are looking for.

As its leaders were arrested, a quasi-political movement did develop, with large demonstrations to demand their release. So for Chinese leaders, this was now a provocative challenge to their authority.

What’s remarkable to an outside observer is how far Jiang was willing to take this. Probably 65,000 Falun Gong members were murdered just to feed the Chinese organ market over an eight-year period. At least 2,000 people were tortured to death. Many have commented that internal divisions within the Politburo significantly exacerbated this crackdown as different factions fought for power.

Cheap shoes

As the Chinese economy continued to grow, Jiang also wanted to promote positive relations with the United States. This was also the agenda of Bill Clinton. Jiang visited the US in 1997 and gave a speech at Harvard that was interrupted by Tibetan independence demonstrators. Jiang was absolutely committed to Chinese domination over Tibet and was open to that. He gave an interesting interview to the Times in 2001 that demonstrated both his openness to improving relations with the US and the sharp limits of what China would accept in these conversations. He met with Clinton and Clinton returned the favor by visiting China in 1998.

When NATO forces bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, Jiang didn’t do much protesting with Clinton, even if he expressed some outrage for the domestic audience. Good relations with the US were more important to him. It wasn’t that there weren’t continued tensions, especially over Taiwan, but his pro-western foreign policy paid off big for China.

This culminated with China receiving Most Favored Nation status from the US in 2001 over the protest of labor and human rights advocates. Claims that bringing China into the family of nations would improve conditions there have been proven outright false and of course the nation became the global home of cheap labor for globalized nations.

Moreover, protests of Chinese dissidents in the US against the massive human rights violations of Jiang’s regime were largely marginalized in the US. A lot of these people were refugees in the post-Tiananmen period and had been imprisoned and tortured, including by Jiang’s henchmen. But what chance did human rights have in the face of cheap shoes?

Corruption

As a general rule, Jiang sought better relations with all his neighbors, even Taiwan to some extent. In recent times, he has come under criticism within China for not being as aggressive a nationalist as Xi Jinping and other leaders.

But he was fairly conciliatory toward Russia, working with Boris Yeltsin to settle longstanding border disputes, outraging nationalists who demand a maximalist China, as well as working out the Sino-Russian Treaty of Friendship with Vladimir Putin in 2001 to lay out a framework for long-term cooperation.

Many observers have placed a great deal of blame for the obscene growth of corruption in China at Jiang’s feet. While I am sure it is a lot more complicated than this, he certainly tolerated more than his fair share.

Quite a few of his close cronies were arrested for corruption after Xi Jinping took power. This was especially true in the military, where Hu Jintao was supposed to be in charge, but was constantly undercut by his subordinates and close Jiang associates Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong, both known for taking huge bribes in exchange for their assistance.

With personal connections meaning more than skill, the Chinese CP became increasingly devoid of anything but a power structure, with lesser talents with connections moving up the ladder and skilled but less connected people unable to do so without the required money.

Thwarted comeback

In 2002, Jiang began the process of moving on from leadership. He didn’t just disappear of course. But he left the Politburo Standing Committee and stepped down as General Secretary to let a new generation lead. The so-called Fourth Generation was led by Hu Jintao, who was a pretty weak leader in his own right. Most of the leaders of the new Politburo were close to Jiang, with six of the nine having been part of his Shanghai Clique, who had served under him there.

Jiang did remain head of the Central Military Commission until 2004, but this was more ceremonial than anything else, as the CMC is dominated by top generals. He probably was being pushed aside entirely. He was supposed to be head of the CMC until 2007 and he mostly disappeared from public life except as a senior figure to show every now and again after 2004.

He would stand next to Hu at major events such as the Beijing Olympics, major anniversary events and other important events for public consumption. But that’s about it.

However, in 2012, stories came out that Jiang, then 86 years old, was attempting to reassert his power. This was at a moment when central power in China seemed to be diminishing. Hu was pretty weak and Jiang hadn’t been a titan either. But then Xi took power and put down Jiang’s attempts to again have access to power very quickly, becoming the nation’s most powerful leader since Deng, if not Mao.

Legacy

In the end, Jiang has to be seen as an important figure in modern Chinese history, but a lesser leader compared to Mao, Deng or Xi, presumably.

He didn’t transform the nation particularly. He did lead it through a period of growing stability, but one dominated by intense environmental problems and a legacy of inequality. He was involved in consolidating power in the state post-Tiananmen, but also is limited by that same legacy.

His Three Represents disappeared almost immediately from Chinese ideology after he left power, even as China continued on its road to state-controlled capitalism. The corruption of his era is an overwhelming part of his legacy. He did do a good job of settling tensions between China and other powerful nations, but for a nationalistic population, this is not always seen as a positive, especially when Taiwan remains outside the nation.

READ MORE: Watch: Ron Johnson has a 'feeling' that Joe Biden is 'highly compromised' by China

What the left-liberal reactions to Twitter's new owner reveal about progressives

I have said what I want to say about Monsieur Muskrat’s takeover of Twitter. I don’t want to give him more of my attention than what’s necessary for doing my job. I don’t want to, by giving him my attention, give you the impression that he’s all that important.

But I do want to attend to, and therefore bring your attention to, the left-liberal reaction to his enfeebling of America’s premiere public forum. There seem to be two camps, possibly a third. I see plenty of overlap among them. Each tells us something about ourselves.

The professionals

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The first I’d describe as the professional critics. These are the pundits, journalists, scholars and writers who regularly participate in the public square, and who in turn influence lay participants. Call them “influencers” if you like. In any case, they, including me, spend most of their time doing stuff normal people don’t have time for.

This camp doubted Monsieur Muskrat’s claim of bringing free speech back. Never did they believe, as he does, that Twitter was being used as a weapon to silence “unpopular opinions.” But they did believe it was, as the top forum for democratic politics, useful for flattening the orders of power that constitute what most people see as normal.

Some went to extremes, but most practiced ordinary democratic politics. They argued against hate speech. They pressured the right people. They called for pushing the demagogues and anti-democrats to the distant margins of public discourse, where they belong. In time, key decision-makers in key positions at Twitter, Inc., agreed.

I have my share of disagreements with this camp, for instance, making a fetish of Monsieur Muskrat’s ongoing devolution into fascism. The man’s a billionaire. We know he’s dangerous. We don’t need to be told about each time he swallows a “red pill.” Democracy will not live or die according to the rigid fixedness of our focus.

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Even so, the professionals have the basics right. Twitter houses democratic counter-speech. Those whose claim to fight for “free speech” and against “cancel culture” and “censorship” mask their real intentions – to silence voices they deem threatening and restore the public square’s social standing as the voice of the status quo.

The partisans

The second I’d describe as the popular partisans. These are people with huge followings on Twitter who say, basically, one thing – the Republicans are bad. They are genius at finding various and sundry ways of saying one thing. But make no mistake, it’s always one thing.

The popular partisans have more influence than the professional critics, because they don’t bother with things like intellectual integrity, social realities, clear reasoning, clearer writing, etc. They don’t care about the process so much as the outcome. If the outcome of their labors keeps the Democratic faithful in line, job well done.

While the popular partisans are useful – they can bring attention to deserving people and issues that professional critics cannot – I think they often do more harm than good. They frequently hold the GOP to standards only the Democrats commit to, then announce to their Twitter armies that they can’t believe what that Republican said!

Unbelievable!

Why more harm than good? Because such behavior warps political reality. The Republicans do what Republicans do, mmm? This is not only not unbelievable. It’s expected. If we can’t believe what the Republicans do, there’s not much point to democratic politics.

The same applies to Twitter. The platform no longer enforces rules that were designed to prevent users from making and spreading misinformation and lies. It has allowed back some of those aforementioned demagogues and anti-democrats. The popular partisans will tell us that this is an outrage! But it’s all quite believable, or should be, as tilting public opinion in the direction of elite interest is what elites have done in America since forever.

This wouldn’t be so bad, I suppose, if it weren’t for a big deleterious consequence. I’m talking about an attitude toward democratic politics according to which the only way to advance progressive issues is by stopping the Republicans from doing what they do.

Why is this deleterious?

It’s preemptive surrender.

It puts the fate of democracy, freedom, equality and liberal republican values in the hands of people who will abuse them all – if not smother them in the cradle. When you make abusers responsible for democracy, you can pretty much expect them to do what they do.

Believable!

The popular partisans send, in effect, an anti-democratic message (perhaps without knowing it). That message is, alas, that democracy depends on bad people choosing to do good things. If anything is unbelievable, it’s that. No, democracy depends on what it’s always depended on – democratic people practicing democratic politics.

The spectators

What’s the third group? Well, I suppose it’s not a group as much as a tendency, but let’s call them the amused spectators. These people might be political cynics or political realists. They are definitely not political idealists. Not surprisingly, they are often Black. For instance, they believe voting is a defensive maneuver first. Ideals come later.

Their tendency is to hope for the best, but expect bad people to do bad things. It expects good people to do good things, too. It believes democracy’s greatest threat isn’t the bad people who hate it. It’s the good people who can’t or won’t believe believable things can happen.

Meanwhile, the amused spectators take pleasure in watching professional critics pushing their idea-boulders uphill while the popular partisans make those idea-boulders all the heavier.

They are not surprised to see that a billionaire born unaccountable to consequences everyone else is accountable to is busy tilting public opinion in the direction of elite interests. Elites have done it before. They do it now. They’ll do it again. The answer isn’t empty outrage.

It’s democratic people practicing democratic politics.

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On aid to Ukraine, the Republicans are jammed

The Democrat’s surprising strength in the midterms has been framed mostly as a rebuke of Republicans’ attack on abortion rights and on democracy. The GOP’s flirtation with imperial oligarchic Russian leader Vladimir Putin has, in contrast, received little attention.

That’s not exactly a mistake. Foreign policy rarely drives many votes, and the war between Russia and Ukraine was never a top issue for voters or for candidates on the campaign trail.

And yet the Democratic midterm strength serves as a powerful defeat not just for the GOP, but for Putin. Republican losses in the Senate and narrow gains in the House all but guarantee that the US will continue to lead international support for Ukraine.

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GOP Putinistas

The GOP has been divided on aid for Ukraine. An older, more traditional wing of the party, steeped in Reaganite Cold War antagonism to the Soviet Union, has supported the (much more justified) Ukrainian war against Russia imperial invasion.

But there’s another wing that’s openly pro-Putin.

Putin has long cultivated ties with far-right nationalist groups globally, portraying himself as a defender of manly tradition through shirtless iconography and vicious homophobic policies.

READ MORE: Why support for Ukraine could dwindle in the final months of 2022

He saw a potential ally in wannabe-authoritarian Donald Trump, and tried to aid his campaigns in 2016 and (less successfully) in 2020.

Trump reciprocated by praising Putin consistently over the last six years. Most recently, he called the Russian invasion of Ukraine “genius” and “wonderful.”

Trump’s enthusiasm has affected his partisans.

Between 2015 and 2017, GOP opinions of Putin went up 20 points from 12 percent favorability to 32 percent favorable. A February poll found that Putin’s favorables among Republicans were higher than those of Democratic President Joe Biden.

It’s not just the rank-and-file either. Fox News far-right host Tucker Carlson has ceaselessly pumped out pro-Putin propaganda since the invasion of Ukraine in February. So has Carlson’s frequent guest, erstwhile progressive and current far-right shill Glenn Greenwald.

Many in the GOP conference have followed along. In the House, the chair of the rabid more-MAGA-than-thou Freedom Caucus, Scott Perry, wants to investigate, and potentially spike, US aid to Ukraine.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy signaled support for Perry in an interview in October: “I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.”

In May, 57 House Republicans voted against $40 billion in aid to Ukraine. Eleven senators joined them, including Rand Paul and Josh Hawley.

In addition, one of the few midterm contests focused on foreign policy was that of JD Vance, the Ohio Republican Senator-elect, boosted by fash-curious tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who made opposition to Ukraine a centerpiece of his campaign.

Republicans are split

With far-right Putinophilia bubbling up from the MAGA swamp, observers believed Biden might have real trouble continuing support for Ukraine. Reports suggest Russia put off announcing its retreat from Kherson until after the midterms because Putin did not want news of a Ukrainian victory to bolster Democrats.

Republicans who support Ukrainian aid were reportedly nervous that they’d be undercut in a GOP-controlled House. Biden was floating a Ukrainian aid package in the lame-duck session of the Congress, anticipating that further funding might be blocked.

Democrats may still vote on a Ukraine funding bill. But prospects for aid in the new Congress have significantly improved.

First of all, Democrats retained control of the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has strongly supported aid for Ukraine. Even so, his conference is unpredictable, and the Democrats are in a much better position to buttress Biden’s foreign policy priorities than they would have been had they lost the chamber.

Democrats did lose the House — but it was very close. The GOP majority is likely to be somewhere between 220-215 and 222-213.

McCarthy — or whoever the GOP chooses as speaker — is will block many Democratic initiatives on abortion rights, voting rights and much else. Ukrainian aid is different, though. That’s an issue that sharply divides McCarthy’s own caucus. Even if he wanted to, he’s not going to be able to win a vote striking down Ukrainian aid.

And if he were to try, the Democrats could likely get enough GOP support to bring it to the floor without his say-so.

Opposition to aid would likely expose huge fissures in the Republican caucus and lead to an embarrassing defeat for the speaker.

Stepping away, domestically

If the GOP were a normal party, that would be the end of that.

But the conference is neither normal, so there are caveats.

Representatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz hate their more moderate Republican colleagues almost as much as they hate Democrats. They might oppose Ukrainian aid precisely because they know it would put their own speaker in an impossible and humiliating position.

So there could be bumps in the road.

The bottom line is that after their weak showing in the midterms, the Trumpy GOP pro-Putin wing doesn’t have the leverage to successfully advance their dream of global totalitarianism.

The defeat of election deniers in races for governor and secretary of state across the country means that the US has taken a step back from authoritarianism — domestically.

READ MORE: Writer schools Kevin McCarthy on why Ukraine aid isn’t a 'blank check'

The Supreme Court is dirty. Time to clean it up

The recent story about leaked Supreme Court drafts isn’t about SCOTUS opinions getting leaked. It’s not even that the court is political. The story should be that the court’s right-wing is blatantly corrupt and basically exists outside of oversight or accountability.

When the draft of Dobbs, the case overturning Roe, was leaked, way too many people were more focused on the erosion of norms than the horrific content of the draft. Did leaking the draft serve the right-wing agenda of the right wing of the Supreme Court? Probably.

Why else leak it?

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But the focus on the leak was what served their agenda, as it offered a distraction from the fact that the court was overturning important precedent by waving around some nonsense ahistorical argument that abortion wasn’t deeply embedded in the nation’s history.

There was concern that the leaked draft would dampen outrage on the left but, as recent midterm results show, that hasn’t happened. If anything, some Democrat politicians used the leaked draft as an opportunity to protect abortion rights before the ruling’s release.

A report by the Times suggests that Dobbs wasn’t the first opinion to leak. Anti-abortion activist Rob Schenck said he received information about the Hobby Lobby case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that private companies didn’t have to provide insurance coverage for contraception. Schenck he heard from conservative donors to his group Faith and Action after they’d dinner with Justice Samuel Alito.

This is a much more troubling leak, as it was done privately and in a clearly corrupt way. Schenck has previously asserted that his nonprofit engaged in overt attempts to influence conservative justices through dinners and vacations with wealthy donors to his nonprofit. The strategy was to use casual social occasions to influence rulings and gain access to information on pending cases.

READ MORE: 'Denied': Supreme Court rejects Donald Trump's request to hide his tax returns from Congress

While a sitting Supreme Court justice shouldn’t leak information about cases to donors or participate in obviously political events, they technically don’t break any rules when they do so. Supreme Court justices have no ethical code of conduct they must adhere to and pretty much entirely self-police themselves. There is a Code of Conduct for federal judges published by the Judicial Conference of the United States, which is presided over by Chief Justice Roberts, but it’s not binding for Supreme Court justices. It’s worth noting that the last time a liberal justice got in trouble for political action, conservatives were mad that Ruth Bader Ginsburg publicly expressed dislike of Trump – not really as bad as political dinners with donors.

Supreme Court justices need to exhibit “good behavior” and technically can be impeached for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The only justice to be impeached was Samuel Chase in 1805 for clearly political motives as Chase was a staunch Federalist who was pissing off Thomas Jefferson.

The House voted to impeach, but Chase was acquitted by the Senate, therefore not removed from the bench. Oddly enough, the majority of impeachment trials have been for federal judges and all eight people convicted of impeachment and removed were federal judges.

A bill has been proposed to require justices to write and adopt a formal code of ethics. The Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act outlines requirements for recusal and disqualification. It does not offer specifics for what would be in a code of conduct. It only requires that one be adopted through the Judicial Conference. The bill already passed the Senate, so we can hope for a lame-duck adoption by the House.

We absolutely need more oversight for sitting justices but the obstacles to impeaching them show why we need to take confirmation hearings more seriously.

Brett Kavanaugh likely lied under oath during his confirmation hearing but people treated moderate questioning of a serious accusation like a witch hunt. Clarence Thomas called a similarly respectful hearing about his history of sexual harassment a lynching. These are serious job interviews, our last chance to vet nominees.

While we might not have recourse once they’re on the bench, senators need to take their roles in confirming these justices more seriously than a rubber stamp for the president’s political nominee.

While the Congress has little oversight outside impeachment, it can hold hearings and call justices to testify. Though unlikely to remove a justice, it would show that Congress is taking the corruption seriously and force the justices to speak publicly about their actions.

While Justice Alito has likely leaked information about at least two Supreme Court cases, Justices Thomas and Kavanaugh have probably committed impeachable offenses.

Clarence Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas, has been called in front of the January 6 committee for her possible (likely) involvement in the attempted coup. We know she sent text messages to Mark Meadows urging Trump not to concede and that she attended the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6. She claims her husband knew nothing of these political activities but that strains credulity. Thomas also hasn’t recused himself from any of the cases concerning January 6.

As for Kavanaugh, his theoretically possible impeachable offenses occurred before he took the bench but lying before the Congress – committing perjury – is an impeachable offense. Sexual assault should be one too, but we all know how seriously that’s taken.

We need court reform.

We should expand the court to 13 to match the number of federal courts and more realistically pass a bill requiring a code of conduct.

While it's only been done once, there’s no reason we can’t impeach one or more of the current justices for their blatant corruption.

And as many of my articles are going to end – all this will be easier if we manage to elect Reverend Warnock in the runoff in Georgia.

READ MORE: Why we have the right-wing majority of the US Supreme Court to thank for GOP’s House takeover

So much mass death: The insurgency we refuse to see

There was another mass shooting last night, this one in a Chesapeake Bay-area Walmart. Using a pistol, the gunman shot dead six people, wounded five more, then killed himself. Police say the suspect was an employee at the store. They say the shooting began in a break room.

We don’t know the shooter’s identity yet, but we do know last night marked the seventh mass shooting in seven days, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit group that tracks and makes available information on gun-related violence. Investigators are still determining a motive for the violence. Honestly, it doesn’t matter.

The gunman’s motive doesn’t matter because whatever it is in detail, the urge to murder expressed itself from inside a political context that’s already highly tolerant of spectacular rates of political violence. The Gun Violence Archive reports an estimated 600 gun-related incidents of mass death so far this year. That’s nearly two daily.

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Whether, over 20 years, the bodies piled skyward came from criminals shattering the peace or from police officers “keeping the peace” – one way or another, it’s political violence. No matter the Walmart shooter’s goals, his actions are political violence, too.

Yet we pretend it isn’t.

Why?

“Commonsense” is senseless

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In any other time and place, in any other part of the world, seven mass shootings in seven days, nearly two every day of the current year, would not be called “senseless,” “insane” and “barbaric.” Why?

Because in any other time and place, in any other part of the world, seven mass shootings in seven days, nearly two every day of the current year, would be seen as acts of political violence demanding a political solution. We don’t do that, though. We say it’s “senseless.”

We say the solution is “commonsense.”

No, “commonsense” is senseless.

Because political violence is never senseless! It has an objective! If we stopped denying what’s in front of our eyes for a moment, we’d see why there’s so much mass death in such short periods of time.

This is an insurgency.

Rule of law as the enemy

One way or the other, mass death is a consequence of liberal democracy head-banging with the hierarchies of white power that have constituted the political order of America since the start.

Democratic politics, which never stops pressing forward, triggers a reaction from the status quo, which never stops defending itself. One kind of politics irritates another kind. Occasionally, they collide. Political violence is the outcome. Mass death is one variety of it.

Precisely, the Republicans favored democratic politics as long as democratic politics was in line with “the natural order of things.” Then democratic politics produced a Black president. That was it.

Not only has the GOP retreated since then from democratic norms and democratic institutions. They have retreated from the rule of law. They permitted guns to deluge communities. The sheer volume empowered white men to take the law into their own hands. Equal treatment under law was no longer an ideal. It was the enemy.

Soft targets

Since 2008, but especially since 2012 (with Barack Obama’s reelection), the paramilitary wing of the Republican Party has continued to grow, as has the political culture around it that allows men of any color to solve their personal problems with a gun.

No matter the shooter’s identity, his actions are political violence arising from a political context in which people seek political goals. The main one is weakening the perceived grip liberal democracy has on the United States for the purpose of “taking their country back.”

This paramilitary insurgency – which, by the way, operates inside and outside the ranks of law enforcement; which, by the way, includes freelancers unrelated to the GOP – cannot succeed, ie, would fail fantastically, if viewed as an armed internal threat.

In that case, GOP guerrillas would risk open warfare with the government, a confrontation they’d lose and never recover from.

So these partizans hit soft targets – schools, churches, nightclubs, Walmarts – anything that can’t fight back. They foment anarchy. Spread chaos. Create an air of insanity. Such is the status quo upheld by establishing an atmosphere of fear that’s designed to prevent reformers from using democratic politics to reform the status quo.

The problem is obvious

As I said, in any other time and place, in any other part of the world, the paramilitary wing of the Republican Party would be seen for what it is – an armed faction that can’t get what it wants democratically and instead uses violence to bring back political conditions in which democratic politics is again in line with “the natural order of things.”

Why don’t most Americans see that?

That’s obvious.

Most of us are white.

White power serves white Americans such that a paramilitary insurgency can’t possibly exist. Something like that happens in South America or Asia, not these United States! There must be another reason – any reason! – that does not call on us white Americans to rethink our political advantages or, God forbid, be responsible for choices we make that altogether uphold the white-power order.

It must be the Republicans’ fault! It’s all those guns!

No, the problem is us.

We just won’t see it.

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Thanksgiving food for thought: Immigrants are not 'invading' the United States

White Christian men are really scared of immigrants. Or at least they’re scared of immigrants who are “undesirable.”

They’re just terrified that new people are going to come into their country and make them eat weird food or hear weird languages.

They’re so fragile they have to cast poor people and children just trying to survive as “invading.” Texas Governor Greg Abbott is now so scared he’s begging President Biden to invoke the invasion clause of the US Constitution to protect Texans from refugees and migrant workers.

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The US has a decidedly weird relationship with immigration. It’s unique in its need for immigrants to “settle” the country (indigenous Native Americans don’t count). So immigration and naturalization have an outsized importance in the nation’s history. However, despite this need, nativism sprang up with a vengeance as soon as “undesirable” immigrants began arriving in the 19th century.

The narrative that immigrants were an “invading” force began with Samuel Morse’s Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States published in 1836. He said every American citizen who values his birthright should attempt to repel “this insidious invasion of the country” of “illiterate” Catholic immigrants. Chinese immigration was cast as an invasion in the 1870s in such a way that directly led to the Chinese Exclusion Act. Such rhetoric, and comparisons to an invasion of locusts, was applied to immigrants from Eastern Europe. The “invasion” moved on to Mexican immigrants in the 1920s and has remained focused on immigrants from South and Central America, even sometimes being described as a “Wetback Invasion.”

Immigrants are not invading the US.

They are not trying to conquer us, or take land, or forcibly convert us, or steal resources, or do anything else that invading armies have done (or that Americans have historically done to indigenous people).

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Current immigrants are coming to the US for the same reasons immigrants came historically. Undocumented immigrants are coming for the same reason documented immigrants are. Everyone just wants safety and economic opportunities. But casting immigrants as “invading” is a purposeful conscious choice to make vulnerable people doing no harm seem threatening and violent.

And now Abbot isn’t just accusing immigrants of invading rhetorically. He’s actually trying to get the president to treat poor people without weapons or power as a military invasion!

On November 16, a day after tweeting it publicly, Abbot wrote a letter to President Biden informing him that he has not lived up to the promise of Article IV, § 4, that the federal government “shall protect each of them against Invasion.”

Since, according to Abbott, the federal government isn’t treating poor immigrants like an invading army, Abbott will now invoke Article I, § 10, Clause 3 of the US Constitution, which allows states to “engage in War” when they are “actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.”

Oh, and just to make it extra scary, Abbot specifies that the invasion is by “Mexican drug cartels.” You’d think we would have heard about drug cartels invading large swaths of Texas.

As far as I can tell the Invasion Clause has rarely been invoked in US history. The one example I could find was in 1914 when the Colorado governor asked Woodrow Wilson to invoke the clause during the Colorado Coalfield War, a bloody labor dispute, not an invasion.

Abbot’s strategy has been regularly rejected by the courts. In New Jersey v. United States, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected New Jersey’s claim that the US had violated its obligation to protect states from invasion by not controlling immigration through international borders better.

In Chiles v. Florida, the plaintiffs, Florida, claimed that the "government breaches its duty when its failure to protect against invasion of illegal aliens imposes coercive pressure on the state and local political processes.” The Southern District of Florida rejected this argument and said the plaintiffs were making a political argument, not a legal one.

Abbott seems to be trying to enforce war powers which, along with immigration enforcement, is the purview of the federal government.

Therefore, he’s clearly trying to unlawfully invoke the threat of invasion to justify rounding up asylum seekers. Last year, Texas passed Operation Lone Star, which already further militarizes the border by giving Abbot authority to deploy the national guard.

Of course, this was also justified through complaining that President Biden wasn’t doing his job. This latest ploy invoking invasion is likely in response to a Texas court ruling that the arrests under Operation Lone Star violated established law that immigration enforcement was the sole purview of the federal government.

For Article I Section 10 to be invoked, invasions must be armed invasions that are “too formidable for the civil power to overcome.”

New Jersey v. US, as well as Padavan v. US and State of California v. US in the 1990s all confirm this definition. Asylum seekers and poor immigrants are not armed and they are certainly not too formidable for civil powers to deal with. Even if we include the threat of cartels who might be armed, there is nothing to suggest that threat amounts to a formidable invasion.

Like previous courts have said, invoking the Invasion Clause is a political ploy not a legal strategy.

We never know how courts will react anymore but it’s likely Abbott’s actions would be rejected if he did take steps to further militarize immigration enforcement and take jurisdiction away from the federal government.

Unfortunately, harm can be done in the meantime, and immigrants can be unlawfully arrested. Not to mention the political narrative itself is insidious and harmful to any reasonable response to immigration. Asylum seekers are often traumatized. They don’t need to be met with a response as if they are trying to invade.

It might be something we all want to think about the week of Thanksgiving.

READ MORE: Avian flu is back: Millions of poultry birds culled ahead of Thanksgiving

Saying 'trans people deserve to be alive' is political

Ben Collins is a reporter for NBC News. He’s known for covering the “dystopian beat.” On MSNBC this morning, Collins talked about the Colorado mass shooting over the weekend. A 22-year-old white man had entered an LGBT-plus bar, killed five and wounded 25. Anderson Aldrich was indicted Monday on charges of murder and hate crimes.

Collins was clearly moved by the incident. After reading a long series of headlines, about the threats to America’s LGBT-plus community by the Republicans, rightwing demagogues and redhat propagandists (those are my words), he asked:

What could I have done different?

Seriously. As reporters, what can we do different? Because there are five dead people in a strip mall. That’s the only place they felt safe as gay or trans people in Colorado Springs. …

I think we have to have a come to Jesus moment as reporters. Are we more afraid of being on Breitbart for saying trans people deserve to be alive? Or are we more afraid of the dead people?

Collins’ point is well taken. Journalists must have the courage to say what needs saying – that trans people have a right to life, liberty and happiness like everyone else. Journalists also need the backing of their employers. Sadly, because employers often share the opinions of Republicans, reporters often get thrown under the bus.

READ MORE: NBC reporter urges 'come to Jesus moment' for media in wake of Colorado Springs anti-LGBTQ mass shooting

So far, Collins is lucky.

And I disagree.

Courage is good, politics is better

The problem isn’t about courage or lack of it. It’s more fundamental. If we don’t understand the fundamental – especially if journalists don’t understand it – we can hardly come up with a good solution.

READ MORE: 'Very dark': Reporter nails Fox News for going right back to hate speech that sparked Colorado massacre

What’s the problem? An underlying assumption.

What assumption?

That journalists’ choices are made in a vacuum.

They are not. They are choices made among other choices made that altogether constitute what our society considers to be “normal.” These choices are political on account of having been made by and among other human beings who are themselves making choices according to their values, prejudices, preferences and interests.

Journalists who are employed by right-leaning employers are deathly afraid of accusations of bias. But accusations of bias assume that the status quo (“the way things are”) is politically neutral. The status quo is never politically neutral. This claim is evidenced by those who accuse reporters of bias. Their accusations protect the status quo.

Journalists’ choices are made among other choices made. The question isn’t about bias, because the entire concept of bias is made meaningless when seen in an always already political context.

The question isn’t about the choices reporters make and whether they are “politically neutral.” (That’s make-believe.) The question is about the nature, character and purpose of the politics in question.

“Trans people deserve to be alive,” Collins said.

His point about courage is good.

But his politics is better.

“Fleeing a displeasing truth”

Reporters shouldn’t fear being on Breitbart or other rightwing media, Collins said, “for saying that trans people deserve to be alive.” They shouldn’t fear, because there’s nothing political about saying it.

Seems like commonsense, doesn’t it?

It isn’t.

It’s denial.

Saying “trans people deserve to be alive” is totally political on account of rightwing politics believing it to be. Neither Collins nor anyone is going to stop rightwing politics from being what it is. Separating “good people” who deserve reward from “bad people” who deserve punishment, well, that’s the point of rightwing politics.

Collins means well, I have no doubt.

But saying “trans people deserve to be alive” is a choice. Choices are the product of politics. This choice refuses to see “a displeasing truth,” philosopher Lewis Gordon once said. It hopes to avoid confrontation by make-believing that it’s not confrontational.

Without meaning to, Collin contributes to the “bad faith” that’s central to the rightwing project and that ultimately constitutes the “edifice of how oppression is constructed,” Professor Gordon said.

“Bad faith is a flight into a pleasing falsehood in order to avoid a displeasing truth,” he said. “That avoidance – that evasion – actually plays a role in maintaining those systems of oppression.”

Insisting that politics isn’t political affirms the claim that the status quo is politically neutral. That, in turn, empowers the accusers of bias. That protects a status quo that produced five dead people.

Collins is right in that journalists must have courage.

But it’s courage to face “a displeasing truth.”

READ MORE: 'I did what I had to do': Army veteran who tackled suspected Club Q gunman shares haunting details

Gun control is not enough: The white power status quo is killing us

A 22-year-old white man in Colorado Springs walked into an LGBT-plus nightclub over the weekend and opened fire. Anderson Lee Aldrich killed five and wounded 25 more before a patron subdued him. The shooter survived and was indicted on Monday on five counts of murder as well as hate crimes charges.

But others aren’t waiting around. Critics say that a young white man doesn’t bring an AR-15-style semiautomatic weapon, a handgun and extra rounds of ammunition into an LGBT-plus venue, located in a relatively conservative city, if he doesn’t hate the people in it.

Others say the shooting is an example of what experts sometimes call “stochastic terrorism” or the incitement of violence against an individual or group. The Editorial Board’s Rod Graham put it this way:

If a group of people hear from Republican authority figures and thought leaders that Democrats are satanic pedophiles, somebody is going to eventually grab a hammer and march over to the residence of their local Democratic representative.

READ MORE: Update: Suspect named in mass shooting at Colorado gay nightclub that killed at least five

Rod was referring to the recent attack of Paul Pelosi, the spouse of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The assault has been described as an attempted assassination. I think I can speak for Rod when I say we can swap out “Democratic representative” for any minority group, like the LGBT-plus community, and come to the same conclusion.

I agree with all the above, but I want to add an observation.

When we talk about “hate crimes” and “stochastic terrorism,” we should bear in mine an underlying assumption, and by bearing it in mind, we can see that the challenge before us requires solutions far greater than demanding that Republican rhetoric, which inspired Aldrich to murder, be toned down. That assumption is twofold.

One, that the status quo – what’s “normal” – is politically neutral.

READ MORE: White liberals are not free – but they are protected by white power

Two, that the status quo is nonviolent.

It is neither.

Political violence is normal

The way things are is not just the way things are. It’s a product of politics and history, all the choices made before us, and by us, coalescing into a knowable moment that we experience as the now.

The politics of the past is the politics of the present, just as the politics of the present will be the politics of the future. This is the true way of things. To deny this is to deny our humanity. To deny this is to run away from the freedom of making choices that suit us collectively. It’s to escape the responsibility of having made them.

The status quo is not politically neutral.

Neither is it politically nonviolent.

Hard as it is to say, violence is a force that shapes our norms. Some violence we deem legitimate, as when police keep the peace. Others we deem illegitimate, as when criminals breach the peace. But both shape what’s “normal.” The difference is the degree of acceptability.

However, because the status quo is political, and the status quo is shaped by violence, legitimate and illegitimate, political violence is an expression of the status quo. And given that white power (rule by heterosexual, Christian, preferably rich, white men) is the status quo, political violence is expression of white power. Put another way:

• The status quo (what’s normal) is white power.

• White power is political violence.

• Political violence is normal.

Anderson Lee Aldrich committed an act of political violence.

It’s going to take more than gun control to address that.

One way or another, we have, and everyone before us has, decided that one kind of violence is good while the other kind is bad. These choices are political. They were made in a political context. Their consequences, which we all live with unawares, are political, too.

To deny the politics of these choices is to deny the cause and effect of history – to ignore the material consequences that come with decision-making. To deny that is to throw up our hands and say whatever has happened and is going to happen is in God’s hands.

That’s what most of us do.

Running from freedom

Political violence is an expression of the status quo – of white power, of rule by straight white (and rich) men. Whether we think it’s good (police keeping the peace) or bad (criminals breaching the peace), it’s political violence. Why, then, does political violence surprise us?

I think there’s more going on than the natural horror of witnessing bloodshed – more than the despair at witnessing bloodshed over and over, as we have for the past 20 years. I think it’s about expectations.

And who has them.

When something is working for you, you don’t think about it. That it’s working is what’s expected. But when it fails to work, indeed harms you, that’s surprising, maybe even shocking. It’s supposed to work!

White power works for white people (who are most people in America). We never think about it. We don’t have to. It works! But occasionally, the political violence that is white power doesn’t work. It harms us, kills us! It causes young white men to go on rampages.

Yet we continue to be surprised. We continue to be, because we – meaning white people – won’t rethink the problem. We won’t make different political choices. We won’t even recognize, and admit, that we have already made choices. We won’t, because white power works. We think political violence can’t be a feature. It must be a bug!

It’s not a bug. Indeed, the question isn’t whether there is or isn’t political violence. (Political violence is the force that shapes our norms.) The question is how much. The answer is a lot. We tolerate political violence – heaps of corpses – because that’s easier than rethinking political choices that go into maintaining white power.

If we admitted responsibility, we’d have to do something.

White power normally works, though.

So we don’t.

By refusing to accept that we (white people) have already made choices that together produce the status quo, we are denying our humanity. We are running from freedom. We rather throw up our hands and say whatever has and is going to be is in God’s hands.

But the choice is ours.

Not God’s.

READ MORE: White-power violence inevitably comes for 'respectable' white people

By destroying Twitter, Elon Musk reveals contempt for democracy

Helaine Olen’s column last Friday came a week early.

Word got out last night that Twitter could shut down imminently on account of owner Elon Musk telling workers to love it or leave it (ie, to go “extremely hardcore” with no change in pay or go). Turns out some are leaving – “some,” as in thousands. It’s enough to make you wonder about the whole billionaire worship thing, Helaine wrote.

“I’m not denying that some billionaires are brilliant entrepreneurs,” Helaine wrote in the Post. “But they are way less special than they are frequently told. (Some are just heirs, or lucky Powerball winners.)"

READ MORE: Twitter in the edge of collapse as workers revolt against 'notorious union-buster' Elon Musk

She continued:

As our men of business become more prominent and wealthier, they enter a feedback loop. Sycophants flatter instead of challenging them. This impacts their ability to hear criticism. And that leaves them more likely to cling to toadies who feed their now inflated self-image. All too often, the end result is ever larger mistakes and more ethically dubious behavior.

Of course, Helaine is right. Billionaires are human. To err is human. To err spectacularly, and destructively, is billionaire-level human.

That’s why there’s more at stake than a “peculiarly American form of worship,” as Helaine calls it. There’s more at stake than even the collapse of America’s premier public forum. We’re witnessing a democratic abomination injure democratic politics, because democratic politics is the only thing that can keep him in check.

Musk deserves ridicule, true, but he deserves more democratic contempt. Why? Because of his contempt for democratic politics.

READ MORE: Former Twitter VP urges companies pull advertising from platform — citing Elon Musk’s 'toxic takeover'

Destroying Twitter proves it.

Musk was born into wealth in his native South Africa. The dead granted him power and privilege that he neither earned nor deserved. The day he accepted his inheritance was, moreover, the day he participated in the deprivation of other people’s political equality, which they are entitled to for the fact of being born.

Musk became a billionaire in these United States. To become a billionaire is to commit political crimes that would be otherwise impossible without a federal government of, by and for the people permitting them to happen or at least looking away while they do.

Musk then harnessed that power and privilege to shape and mold the very same federal government that initially allowed the political crimes that animate his power and privilege. To be the world’s richest man – to exist as such alone – is to profane not only political equality but the republican principle of equal treatment under law.

He is, therefore, a democratic abomination.

But that’s not all.

For all its flaws, which are many, Twitter remains the premiere public forum in America. That’s because its nature is democratic. It puts downward pressure on the orders of (white, patriarchal) power established long before Elon Musk was born but from which he still benefits. Twitter is, in other words, democratic politics in action.

As such, Twitter has played a huge role in democratizing virtually every part of society that previously had been shielded and defended by those with the most to lose from democratic politics. These parts included politics, journalism, sports, religion, business, you name it. Elites who otherwise would not have faced accountability did in part because Twitter is a public forum where the people can be heard.

Sure, Twitter can be chaotic. It can really feel like it’s everything everywhere all at once. But ultimately, Twitter gave voice to people who rarely have a voice – look up “Black Twitter” – and it flattened the (white, patriarchal) orders of power that have shaped, influenced and dominated every human society since humans stood upright.

Twitter can be democratic politics at worst – for instance, an angry mob in search of victims. But it can be democratic politics at its best – freedom of speech for the weak and powerless, accountability for the rich and powerful, and a valuable indicator of the public mood.

Good or bad, Twitter is politics from the ground up.

That’s why Musk hates it.

There are many theories as to why Elon Musk bought Twitter for billions more than it’s worth. The simplest answer is that he really believes Twitter is used as a weapon to silence unpopular points of view – and that someone (a hero!) had to do something about it.

In other words, Musk appears captive to the accusation, popular among elite white men, that these days you can’t say boo without offending someone, and that this fact is a violation of free speech.

While there are many exceptions to the rule, the rule is still pretty clear to an honest reader of the First Amendment. Twitter is not a weapon to silence people. It is, however, a source of counterspeech. It’s a place in which people who never before had a say have a say.

Pre-Twitter, elite white men could say boo while safe in the knowledge that anyone who had a platform high enough to criticize them looked just like them. Post-Twitter, not so much. Then suddenly anyone off the street could read them the riot act.

For Elon Musk and his ilk, it’s not the silencing that’s the problem. The problem is a matter of who’s doing the silencing. Pre-Twitter, elite white men could say virtually anything. They could shut up points of view they didn’t like. Democratic politics was a nuisance but it didn’t threaten their rank, nor did it call on them to answer to it.

Post-Twitter, they’re being held responsible – and they’re being held responsible by people – Black, LGBT-plus and women, for God’s sake – who have no right to hold them responsible. Worse of all, they can’t do anything to shut them up. For the powerful to be made powerless is a grievous injury. It’s enough to make you want to buy Twitter.

Then kill it.

It may be too soon to say Twitter has gone to ground. But whatever form it takes, it will likely be, in Musk’s view, a restoration of the “natural order of things” by which political elites can do and say whatever they want and the rest of us just have to put up with it.

That’s why rethinking the myth of billionaire greatness – that “peculiarly American form of worship” – isn’t enough. Musk is making choices, which are informed by politics, the kind of politics that not only has contempt for democracy but wants the people to shut up.

It’s not enough to say stop worshiping them.

We need to hold them in contempt, too.

READ MORE: Critics trash 'Twitter troll' Ted Cruz after he blames John Kerry for litter along the southern border

Respectable white people return to the Democrats

The Republicans reached the 218-seat threshold late last night to officially take over the House of Representatives. The vote-counting continues. We don’t yet know how big their majority will be. We do know it will be teensy. (About six races are pending, per the AP.)

We also know the Republicans would have lost without aggressive gerrymandering in Florida and interference by the US Supreme Court in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana. The Democrats should have won the Congress. As it is, “voters delivered a split verdict.”

“Despite concerns about Biden’s handling of the economy and the prospects of a recession,” reported Bloomberg, “voters delivered a split verdict over who was to blame and how much weight to put on issues such as abortion rights and election deniers’ threats to democracy.”

READ MORE: 'One country. One destiny': House Speaker Nancy Pelosi steps down from Democratic leadership

But was that split really despite economic concerns?

As I said Wednesday, “the economy” isn’t only the economy. “The economy” can include abortion, which is, to many, another “kitchen table issue.” “The economy” (inflation, jobs) and abortion are not mutually exclusive. So did the Democrats overperform in spite of it, as Bloomberg reported? Or did they overperform because of it?

If I’m wrong, consider that independent voters determined the midterms. They favored the Democrats by two points. That doesn’t happen. Since 1986, the in-party has lost independents while the out-party has won them. (2002 is an exception.) They said “the economy” was their primary concern. So one of the following:

1. Indies thought of “the economy” as the economy (inflation, jobs) or

2. Indies thought of “the economy” as including abortion.

READ MORE: How Ron DeSantis’ badly gerrymandered congressional map helped Republicans flip the House: report

Either way, they thought the Democrats were better.

This is important to work out. Independent voters are not merely people refusing formal party alignment. They are that great globular middle of American politics – respectable white people, that is, white people who care about looking respectable to white people, who themselves care about looking respectable to other white people.

I call this class of Americans “globular,” because they can be pushed and pulled, depending on the context at election time. They are fickle. They believe they are immune to the consequences of politics. But they can be shamed, as respectability among other white people, who are the people who really matter, is a key motivator for them.

I suspect abortion is central to their concept of respectability. After all, half are women. I think the other half associates respectability with the social status of businessmen, as this is an affluent class of Americans that identifies with owners more than workers, and while inflation is good for wages, it’s bad for the bosses who pay them.

So “the economy” (abortion, jobs, inflation) is their No. 1 issue.

This is important to work out for another reason. These people determine which party wins elections. I don’t like it either, but fact is, respectable white people have always been a critical voting bloc.

As David Winston wrote convincingly Wednesday for Roll Call: “Independents were without question the most critical voter group in this election. In fact, they made up 31 percent of the electorate, the largest percentage going back as far as the 1980 election.”

Winston doesn’t call them respectable white people (though that’s who they are). He said indies are more important than “the youth vote” and “angry women.” “We have not seen evidence that either young voters or women voters turned out in greater proportion of the electorate than we’ve seen in other off-year elections,” he said.

Under-30 Americans voted at percentages similar to past elections, he said. As for women, he said that, “Republicans actually improved with women voters, losing them by only 8 points (53 percent Democratic to 45 percent Republican) after a 19-point deficit in 2018.”

Among polemicists like me, it’s fashionable to say that swing voters are extinct and that the key to victory is driving out the base. While the base is important, these midterms should force us to rethink.

Abortion alone didn’t win.

“The economy” (abortion, jobs, inflation) did.

Respectable white people – swing voters – still matter.

And this is important to work out, because respectable white people, wherever they are on the political continuum, represent the center of US politics, which is to say, the center of the political order.

After the triumphs of civil rights and the failures of the Vietnam War, respectable white people, who had previously been OK with the postwar liberal consensus, found their preferences on the right.

Where once, before 1965, they had given the Democrats the benefit of the doubt, they now gave it to the Republicans, whose policies privileged markets over governance, and who promised, though obliquely, to prevent democratic politics from competing with them.

Now respectable white people have witnessed some 20 years of shocks: The Iraq War, a Black president’s election, a 2007-2008 panic, a fascist president’s election, a covid pandemic and a coup d’etat.

Over the same period, the Republicans got worse and worse. They were supposed to prevent democratic politics from competing with respectable white people. They weren’t supposed to blow it all up.

Joe Biden won more votes than any presidential candidate in our history. That suggested to me a shift among respectable white people, away from the Republicans and toward the Democrats. But last week’s congressional elections confirmed it – to me, anyway.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

The midterms were supposed to be a “red wave,” not a “split verdict.” They were supposed to reward the out-party, not the in-party. Respectable white people were supposed to vote for Republicans. (That they didn’t, I think, stunned the GOP as much as anything.)

There’s a reason the percentage of indies is the biggest it’s been since 1980, the last time one political order ended and another began. By degree, respectable white people have stopped calling themselves Republicans. They haven’t yet begun calling themselves Democrats.

They will, though.

READ MORE: Democrats made history with state-level gains. That could be crucial for democracy

It’s past time to start busting trusts again and the Biden Administration knows it

Although Democrats overperformed in the 2022 midterms, it’s likely that they will still narrowly lose the House of Representatives. At the least, their majority will be much reduced. They may pick up one seat in the Senate still, but even so, they are going to continue to struggle to pass vital measures like the protection of abortion rights and voting rights.

That doesn’t mean that Democrats can’t make needed changes though.

Presidents have a great deal of power. And President Joe Biden has been using that power in some hopeful ways.

READ MORE: Are we supposed to believe Republicans were duped?

For example, his administration appears to be reversing a decades-long status quo and embracing vigorous antitrust enforcement.

This is a vital step in reducing inequity and breaking the hammerlock the wealthy currently have on policy and public life.

With the threat of authoritarianism looming, the reinvigoration of antitrust policy could be one of the few positive signs of democratic renewal.

The biggest recent victory for the administration’s tougher trust-busting approach was in the book industry. The Biden Justice Department brought a lawsuit to block the merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.

READ MORE: Trust buster explains why 'monopoly power is the biggest threat' to small businesses and competition

The US District Court Judge Florence Y. Pan agreed with the Justice Department that the merger would “lessen competition” for “top-selling books.”

Joseph Kanter of the Justice Department said the decision was the correct one, because the deal “would have reduced competition, decreased author compensation, diminished the breadth, depth and diversity of our stories and ideas, and ultimately impoverished our democracy.”

The Justice Department argued that Penguin Random House Simon & Schuster would be so large that it would be able to push down advances for books from top authors like Stephen King (who testified against the merger.)

The Justice Department also said that the merger would significantly reduce the number of book releases, limiting what was available to readers and shrinking the breadth of public discourse.

Those sound like good reasons to prevent a deal. However, those arguments for antitrust action have been denigrated and even verboten for decades.

As Stacy Mitchell, co-director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, explains on Twitter, “For 40 years, antitrust has largely operated within the narrow confines of the consumer welfare standard — ie, the only harm that matters is to consumer prices.”

What this meant was that the Justice Department would only prevent mergers if the merger was deemed likely to raise consumer prices. Under that rubric, lower advances for authors wouldn’t matter, since authors are providers, not consumers. Neither would a reduced diversity of books.

As Mitchell suggests, it wasn’t always this way.

In the book How to Think Like an Economist, Elizabeth Popp Berman explains that antitrust used to have a broad remit.

In the early 20th century, antitrust was seen as an important means of regulating the economy and society as a whole.

Antitrust lawyers and government regulators saw antitrust legislation as an important means of protecting small businesses, which were seen as essential to the health of civic life. Limiting mergers prevented individuals from accumulating vast wealth and power, which could damage the health of democracy.

These goals led to aggressive enforcement of antitrust legislation in the early 20th century, Berman says. The 1914 Clayton Antitrust Act prevented companies from buying one another’s stock if the effect would “substantially limit competition.”

This provision was largely enforced by lawyers using a prosecutorial frame. When they felt the law was being violated, and that they could win in court, they would sue.

Over time, however, the framework for government action in general, and for antitrust in particular, began to shift.

Republicans had long been very skeptical of antitrust enforcement. As they gained power in the 1980s, Democrats went on defense and began to turn to what Berman calls an “economic style” of thinking.

The economic style emphasized efficiency first and foremost, dismissing other goals. Through this frame, the point of antitrust was simply to make markets as efficient as possible.

That meant that antitrust regulators focused only on whether a merger would raise consumer prices.

Even in cases where officials thought they could win, they started to do assessments of whether the merger would raise prices or not. If it would, they would move forward. If it wouldn’t, they wouldn’t even try to stop the merger, even if it might reduce competition in other respects.

The results of the lax enforcement regime have been stark.

Concentration of businesses has increased markedly since the 1970s. Competition has fallen. In the 1990s, a profitable business had a 50 percent chance of being profitable in 10 years; today it has an 80 percent chance. That’s an indication that entrenched businesses are using market power to squelch rivals.

The failure of antitrust policy is linked to rising inequality. The gap between the rich and everyone else started to widen substantially in the 1980s.

Between 1975 and 2014, households in the bottom 60 percent of income saw income rise 9 percent. Income grew 22 percent for those in the 80th percentile. It grew a stunning 36 percent for those at the 95th percentile.

One calculation suggests that between 1975 and 2020, the economy transferred a staggering $50 trillion from working Americans to the wealthy.

Early trustbusters worried this kind of concentration of wealth and power could damage democracy. And, given our current predicament, they appear to have been right. Billionaires gave a staggering, record-breaking $881 million to candidates in the midterms.

Almost all of that money went to Republicans who are seen as pro-business, and who are also increasingly embracing authoritarian attacks on democratic norms and institutions like the J6 coup attempt.

The Penguin Random House/Simon & Schuster might not have raised prices for consumers. But it would have reduced payments for authors — increasing inequality by allowing (very, very rich) corporations to keep more money from (some rich, some not so rich) authors.

And it would have reduced the number of books published. That would have cut access to ideas in the public sphere.

A shift in antitrust enforcement philosophy won’t reverse wealth inequality or save democracy all at once or all on its own. But after four decades of increased business concentration and growing oligarchy, it’s well past time to start busting trusts again.

Hopefully the Biden Administration’s new focus indicates a long-term shift by Democratic leadership away from a model based solely on efficiency, and back to a recognition that antitrust can be a tool to restrain the wealthy and powerful for the public good.

READ MORE: The next Republican to occupy the White House will probably also try to end our democracy -- unless Congress acts

The Democrats didn’t perform well in spite of inflation. They performed well because of it

The criminal former president said last night that he’d run for a third time for the White House. It came a week after he “dragged down the [GOP] in three consecutive elections,” Chris Christie reportedly said.

Donald Trump’s announcement is an occasion to ask if the twin themes of “American carnage” – crime and immigration – will resonate this time around, and if inflation will be a potent addition to his arsenal?

2024 is a million years from now, but it’s important to ask after last week’s midterms. Trump wasn’t on the ballot, but congressional Republicans (and gubernatorial candidates) decided to tie Joe Biden and his party to the “crime wave” (there wasn’t one), the “open border” (there isn’t one) and rising prices, especially energy.

READ MORE: Mitch McConnell beats Rick Scott for control over Senate GOP caucus

So the question, it seems to me, is this. Do these issues work (or not) because of (or in spite of) Trump? Will his challengers from within the Republican Party adopt them? Moreover, are these issues the Republicans’ alone? Do voters trust Biden and the Democrat to fight crime? Do they trust them on immigration and the cost of living?

Again, 2024 is a long time from now. The issues overshadowing that election may not be the same as those that overshadowed the midterms. Then again, these are boilerplate Republicans themes. They have accused the Democrats of being “soft on crime” since Richard Nixon’s day. It’s pretty likely they will stay the course.

There’s another reason I’m asking these questions. It’s the annoying habit of the press and pundit corps of latching on to any theory claiming to explain the midterms’ outcome. The Republicans failed to meet expectations. Ergo, that must mean that abortion rights - and the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe – is the reason.

It’s as good as any other explanation, I guess, but as I said last week, there’s probably no one big thing that explains the midterms’ outcome. If there is one big thing, it’s everything. Yet news people prefer putting issues in discrete boxes. They prefer writing the name of one but not the other party on each box. So if the GOP didn’t win on inflation, that means the Democrats won on abortion rights.

READ MORE: How the Supreme Court controlled the midterms

Humans don’t work like that.

We’re complicated. We muddle through complications. We care about more than one thing at the same time. We often believe a true thing and false thing are right or wrong at the same time. Lumping people into categories is convenient in the high-pressure job of journalism.

But labels are not human.

Humans are human.

The conventional wisdom – yes, it’s only been a week – tells us that the Democrats performed better than expected in spite of inflation (or the economy) being the biggest worry. “The National Election Pool exit poll found that [abortion] was second only to inflation as the top concern driving people to vote, and in some places, such as Pennsylvania, it was the No. 1 motivating factor,” said Businessweek.

I don’t see why one comes at the expense of the other.

The press corps encourages us, by way of putting issues in discrete boxes, to think of inflation and abortion as mutually exclusive. So if a voter cites abortion, they don’t vote for a Republican. If a voter cites inflation, they don’t vote for a Democrat. This is make-believe.

“Inflation” as a campaign issue is about the rising cost of goods and services. That can include pretty all things involving money. (To some people, it’s a “kitchen table issue.”) Since women in states that ban abortion have to go to states that don’t, abortion is about money.

To be sure, the backlash against a renegade Supreme Court mobilized midterm voters against state referendums. Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont voted broadly to “enshrine reproductive freedom” in their constitutions. A referendum to put “no right to an abortion” in the Kentucky constitution failed, too.

Voters can care about both, however, in spite of the Republicans.

Michigan Republican John Gibbs, who ran for Congress, told Bloomberg News in October that he’s “100 percent pro-life in all cases” and that Michiganders are focused “more on kitchen-table issues,” he said. “Can I afford to buy groceries?” That he lost to a Democrat has been interpreted as abortion besting inflation.

But humans are human, remember?

The same individual voter can conclude that abortion and inflation are equally critical, then chose a Democrat over a Republican.

And if abortion can bleed into inflation, inflation can bleed into other campaign issues typically identified as the Republicans’ alone.

Turn the conventional wisdom on its head. Instead of the Democrats performing better than expected in spite of the cost of goods and services, maybe they performed better than expected because of it.

When asked what happened, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, told CNN that though midterm voters were worried about Biden, they were more worried about something else.

“Fix policy later, fix crazy now,” he said.

But the Republicans, crazy as they are, did offer policies.

Senator Rick Scott said his party, if given the chance, would reform Medicare in a way that jeopardizes it. Senator Lindsey Graham said his party, if given the chance, would enact a national abortion ban.

Fix the crazy, sure, but these are crazy policies.

Did voters separate crazy and policy? I doubt it. If they thought, as Sununu said, that the GOP was crazy, they thought its policies were, too. If they thought that its policies were crazy, the GOP was, too.

Will independent voters – those respectable white people who determine electoral outcomes – believe the Republicans are competent, not crazy? Or have the Republicans ruined their reputation among respectable white people, some of whom surely recall when Republican leadership cared about sane policies.

That used to be a given. Not anymore.

“After covid, Trump, recession, supply-chain disruptions, inflation, war and insurrection, voters wanted a return to normalcy, not more chaos,” said Simon Rosenberg of the New Policy Institute on Twitter.

Will voters trust Biden and the Democrats to fight crime? Will they trust his party on issues like immigration and the cost of living?

Well, compared to what? The crazy? Crazy policies?

“Voters wanted a return to normalcy, not more chaos.”

The midterms say yes.

READ MORE: 'She did nothing': Ruben Gallego blasts Kyrsten Sinema for letting fellow Democrats down in the midterms

How the Supreme Court controlled the midterms

Midterms are (almost) over and we (almost) have the results. While we don’t know which party will win the House yet, Democrats have retained 50-50 control and have a chance to make it to 51 seats.

While there is still a lot up in the air, two things are clear. One, the Democrats outperformed expectations around the country against enormous odds. The other thing that’s clear is that elections are being determined by Supreme Court decisions.

Abortion was the second most important issue for people in midterms according to exit polls, only a few points behind inflation. It was also the most important issue in Pennsylvania and Michigan where Democrats made great strides. Maggie Hassan, an incumbent Democratic senator from New Hampshire, managed to hold on to her seat by highlighting abortion in her reelection campaign.

READ MORE: New Hampshire State House seat flips by one vote from Republican to Democrat following a recount

Abortion should have been the most important issue in 2016, 2018 and 2020 to prevent Roe from being overturned but unfortunately many politicians ignored it and most voters didn’t prioritize it.

Hillary Clinton centered abortion rights in 2016. Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris focused in 2020 on reproductive justice issues. But the larger party and Democratic voters failed to see the import of following their lead. Unfortunately, it took the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson to force people to pay attention.

And pay attention they did! Even before midterms, it was clear many votes were mobilized to protect abortion. In August, Kansas voters rejected an anti-abortion ballot measure by an 18-point margin.

There is also significant evidence that the Dobbs decision drove voter registration in the months preceding the midterm election with higher numbers among young voters and women.

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In every state where abortion was on a ballot measure, abortion rights won. A California amendment passed stating that the state Constitution cannot interfere with someone’s reproductive freedom.

Like Kansas’ earlier abortion vote, Kentucky voters rejected a ballot measure to declare there is no right to abortion in the state constitution. Michigan voters passed a ballot measure to ensure their constitution protects a right to reproductive freedom. Montana voters rejected an attempt to criminalize healthcare providers. Vermont voters passed an initiative to amend the state constitution to ensure a right to “personal reproductive autonomy.”

Another Supreme Court decision, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, got less attention but should probably have been highlighted by the Democrats in the way abortion was.

Gun regulation was in the top five issues most important to voters this election, but few politicians focused on it. Last year, the Supreme Court overturned a New York gun regulation that allowed more discretion for issuing gun permits with a “may issue” law rather than a “shall issue” law. The court ruled that carrying a gun, not just owning one, was a constitutional right. I’m not aware of any politicians who tried to use the case to rally voters.

The case was decided a month after the Uvalde massacre. School shootings have become common and Uvalde did little to move public opinion, though it did start an important conversation about a police officer’s “duty to act.” Many of the parents of the Uvalde victims rallied behind Beto O’Rourke, trying to unseat Greg Abbott as governor of Texas. O’Rourke was one of the few politicians to prioritize gun reform and the Uvalde shooting as part of his campaign. Unfortunately, Democrats couldn’t overcome the voter suppression and gerrymandering enabled by the Supreme Court.

In one of the most devastating decisions for fighting partisan gerrymandering, the court ruled in Rucho v. Common Cause that partisan gerrymandering issues are not the purview of the federal court system, so a major avenue of redress was removed.

While we’re awaiting a ruling on Merrill v. Milligan, and Ardoin v. Robinson after oral arguments this term, last term the court allowed the racist gerrymandered map in Alabama to go in effect.

The court is likely to sustain the racist map, and the Louisiana map in Ardoin v. Robinson, which they also temporarily sustained, will severely weaken section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and allow Black voter dilution. Gerrymandering is only going to get worse.

The decision to allow the Alabama map to go into effect in February likely influenced gerrymandered maps all over the country for the midterms. A judge declined to block a racially gerrymandered map in Georgia. A Texas court dismissed multiple claims against their gerrymandered map that targeted Latino representation.

In Florida, Ron DeSantis demanded a more extreme gerrymander than what Republicans initially proposed in the state, which the Florida Supreme Court reinstated after a lower court struck it down.

Even a New York court rejected the initial congressional map and forced a map less favorable to Democrats (no surprise Democrats lost 4 congressional seats in New York). Ohio’s map also showed extreme Republican bias going into election day.

And no conversation about elections and the Supreme Court can ignore the effect of Shelby v. Holder. It struck down a key element of the Voting Rights Act. The effect of Shelby was that states with histories of voting discrimination would no longer need federal preclearance to pass new voting laws. It’s likely that the increase in voter suppression laws after 2013 influenced the passage of more voter suppression in states without historical discrimination. Twenty states faced new voter restrictions since the 2020 election.

The 2022 midterms saw a rash of new voter suppression laws in response to the myths about fraudulent elections perpetrated by Donald Trump after losing in 2020. Over two years, there has been a significant increase in laws that criminalize election behavior and ultimately amount to voter intimidation through the involvement of law enforcement in the name of election security. Since 2020, 132 bills have been introduced across 42 states to increase police involvement in elections. Twenty-eight passed in 20 states.

The Supreme Court is controlling our elections.

It is driving the political issues we have to focus on.

It is dictating our access to the ballot box.

There’s not much we can do about the Supreme Court (that is, until Samuel Alito or Clarence Thomas need to be replaced) without reform, like expanding the court to 13, but federal judges across the country are working to fight back against the court’s fascism.

Our best hope is to nominate more federal judges, which means we must ensure that Senator Raphael Warnock wins his runoff.

READ MORE: 'Insecure small people': McConnell, Rick Scott allies point fingers over scope of GOP Senate failure

The GOP will take the House. Time to get back to work

All right. It’s been a week since Election Day. There’s been enough time for high-fiving and fist-bumping. Time to get back to work.

Sure, the Democrats held the Senate. (By winning the Georgia run-off, they’ll have 51 senators.) Sure, the Republicans failed to trigger a tsunami of overwhelming victories. But while the count continues, it looks like they’re going to take the House by a nose.

I know, I know. There was “supposed” to be a “red wave.” That’s indeed cause for some celebration. But there's a reason we shouldn’t get too giddy. Two reasons, actually: one, the Democratic machine in California and New York are corrupted and need purging fast. GOP insurgents took advantage of the rot and turned blue districts red.

READ MORE: 'Selling the Big Lie': Reporter unloads on Kari Lake after her campaign ends in defeat

Roll Call reported the other reason. “Republicans … held on to their advantage in redrawing congressional maps and got some key rulings from courts,” reporter Michael Macagnone wrote. “Experts said Republicans used the redistricting process after the 2020 census to retain a small, but measurable, advantage over Democrats.”

Sure enough, the US Supreme Court “allowed Alabama to use a map that a lower court ruled had violated the Voting Rights Act for having only one Black [district]. Following that ruling, pending a broader argument over the VRA, the court allowed Louisiana and Georgia to move forward with maps found to similarly violate the VRA.”

“We are now looking at the second election in recent memory where an intervention by the Supreme Court helped put Republicans in power,” tweeted the New Policy Institute’s Simon Rosenberg.

No, yeah, we did good.

READ MORE: Republicans’ asinine theory on why single women vote for Democrats

But gerrymandering and judges, you know?

Let’s get back to work.

The Republicans are going to have a majority of just one or two seats, but that will be enough for their primary objective (other than grandstanding, fundraising and otherwise beclowning themselves.)

That objective is wounding Joe Biden before Election Day 2024. For others, it will be wounding Biden for Donald Trump’s sake. (The criminal former president is expected to announce a rerun today.)

There will be a joint effort from inside and outside the Congress to put the squeeze on Biden. But to do that, there will have to be a preliminary squeeze play on House speaker hopeful Kevin McCarthy.

McCarthy, according to Businessweek’s Joshua Green, sold his soul to the devil (my words) for a second shot at being speaker. He’s so craven that after blaming Trump for the failed paramilitary takeover of the US government, he flew to Mar-a-Lago to meet with him.

“Kevin came down to kiss my ass,” Trump told Bob Woodward.

At the same time, McCarthy somehow convinced GOP mega-donors (or they convinced themselves, Green suggests) that as speaker he could “keep a lid on the most extreme elements of the House caucus.”

That’ll be tricky, Green writes. Conference members like Marjorie Taylor Greene are not motivated by policy goals that would require unity to achieve. Motivating them is “their celebrity and social media stardom, ambitions that all but necessitate fomenting angry conflict.”

That “angry conflict” is likely to culminate in Biden’s impeachment.

Or attempts at it.

Ten Republicans have already introduced or sponsored articles against Biden. McCarthy has said that “the country doesn’t like impeachment used for political purposes at all.” But “he’s not going to have a choice,” said podcaster Steve Bannon. (Bannon was sentenced last month to four months in prison for contempt of the Congress.)

It’s too soon to say whether McCarthy will be speaker, but it’s not too soon to say that if he is, he’ll be between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, he’ll face a vengeful Trump, who’s already asking how many times Biden will be impeached. On the other, he’ll face the odds of asking the Democrats to save his conference from itself, as his predecessor John Boehner did. And like Boehner, that will doom him. McCarthy would be the “Republican Liz Truss,” Green wrote.

The president claims that, in a nearly evenly divided House, he can gain support for his economic agenda from a few reasonable Republicans. That remains to be seen, but in all likelihood, this is the end of the president’s winning streak until the next Congress.

That – and no doubt the prospect of (multiple) impeachments – is why James Bennet, The Economist’s Lexington columnist, said that Biden shouldn’t run for a second term. Too many Republicans bow before the former guy. Meanwhile, Kevin McCarthy, as speaker, will be “preoccupied with placating … the rest of the berserker caucus.”

"By saying he would not run again, Mr Biden would not surrender political leverage so much as enhance his chance to reach at least some deals,” he wrote. “And he would make any Republican investigations of him and his family seem like malicious irrelevancies. … By declining to run, Mr Biden would concentrate the public glare on Mr Trump’s egotism and his party’s extremism."

I don’t know which House GOP Bennet is referring to, but it’s not the one that wants to impeach Joe Biden for winning the 2020 election. It’s not the one that wants to avenge Trump. It’s not the one that refuses to recognize Biden’s legitimacy. Why would they bargain with an illegitimate president just because he decided not to run again?

Amazingly, Bennet said that by bowing out, Biden can put “the public glare on Mr. Trump’s egotism and this party’s extremism.” It seems to me that the Republicans are capable of doing that all on their own.

Egotism and extremism were magnified by a failed coup. They were magnified by an anticipated “red wave” that didn’t materialize. (They certainly fueled the ferocious gerrymandering and court decisions that enabled a takeover of the House by the barest of margins.)

Most of all, egotism and extremism will be magnified by a House conference bent on impeaching Biden for reasonsreasonsreasons.

But Biden doesn’t have to act. He certainly doesn’t have to bow out of running again. Sure, “the country wants to move forward, to discard the nihilist tenets of Trumpism – election denial in particular – and Mr. Trump, too.” But that doesn’t depend on Biden’s stepping away.

It depends on Biden running for reelection.

It’s time for more democratic politics, not less.

That includes squashing harmful media fictions.

Let’s get back to work.

READ MORE: The top midterms takeaway: The electorate has swung to the left

The top midterms takeaway: The electorate has swung to the left

It’s the Tuesday after Election Day. The counting keeps on keeping on. We know the Democrats will hold the Senate. Catherine Cortez Masto’s victory secured control before the Georgia run-off. If Raphael Warnock beats Herschel Walker, the Democrats will have 51.

We still don’t know about the House. We do know that credible predictions give either party a one- or two-seat majority. I’m still bullish on the Democrats eking out a win, but let’s be real: If the GOP takes the lower chamber, we’re going to see hella more fresh hell.

Some say the midterms have humbled the GOP. They cite Murdoch media, party actors and even some elected Republicans blaming the criminal former president for endorsing losers and botching an expected “red wave.” But Donald Trump was never the cause of GOP fascism. He was and is an outcome of it. Without him, a Republican House majority, however thin, would still be anti-democratic.

READ MORE: Democrat Katie Hobbs is the projected winner of Arizona's gubernatorial race

Still, I agree with those sensing a subtle shift in the Republican leadership’s thinking, as if they realize (at least for now) that Trump isn’t the asset they thought he was. It’s no overstatement to say he’s the reason for defeats in 2018, 2020 and this year. Does that mean he’s a liability? It’s too soon to say. That party elites seem excited by Ron DeSantis suggests they’re open to alternatives, though.

“Ron DeSantis is the MAGA/GOP frontrunner. He has displaced Donald Trump. Trump is an intuitive player. He knows his world was remade this week. He is alone and afraid. He has been abandoned by Jared and Ivanka. He is spiraling. It’s over,” said Steve Schmidt.

Mmm, maybe.

The press corps seems eager to tell the story of a chastened GOP, but I think the real story is about unity. Some of the base will go wherever the elites go. Some of the base will go wherever Trump goes. If elites pick DeSantis over Trump, we can expect a rupture.

READ MORE: Republicans 'are confused and frustrated and angry right now': reporter

A crack-up would be good for the republic (I think neither Trump nor DeSantis would beat Joe Biden), but that won’t prevent the GOP from causing more injury. As historian Thomas Zimmer said Saturday:

The right-wing offensive against democracy is not coming from a sense of strength. It’s animated by a sense of weakness, so fully on display … by a feeling of being under siege, of running out of time to preserve what is the only acceptable order.

This is the main reason why I am so skeptical of the idea that the result of the midterms will lead to moderation. Every defeat, every crisis only heightens the sense of being under siege, is answered by calls for more drastic measures, more radical steps.

That siege mentality is already manifest.

Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio are rigged so that overwhelming turnout is the only thing that could overcome entrenchments favoring the GOP. Wisconsin Democrats won 51 percent of the vote but won only 30 percent of the state House. As The Economist’s G. Elliott Morris said: “There is no reasonable definition by which the Wisconsin state legislature counts as a [small-r] ‘republican form of government.’”

Issues that failed in the congressional elections – immigration, crime, “wokeness,” gender – will continue working in states whose residents are already predisposed to authoritarian leadership. The weaker the Republicans get at the national level, by way of some kind of intraparty civil war, the stronger it’s likely to get in state capitals.

That, however, might be the best-case scenario. Thomas Zimmer: “If the ruling minority is willing to keep curtailing the rights of opposing groups, to further restrict their ability to take part in the political process, to mobilize state power and to enable paramilitary/vigilante forms of violence, minority rule can absolutely be sustained.”

Still, here we are. We have seen three elections in a row for which a majority of Americans – the largest turnout ever for a midterm – made the right choice. Yes, the House is still pending, but even if the Republicans win a one- or two-vote majority, that doesn’t change the fact that the electorate has shifted leftward its center of gravity.

“This should have been a huge red wave,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican. “It should have been one of the biggest red waves we’ve ever had. It’s basically the third election in a row that Donald Trump has cost us the race, and it’s like, three strikes and you’re out.” He added: “I’m tired of losing. That’s all he’s done.”

“Trumpy Republican candidates failed at the ballot box in states that were clearly winnable,” the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page said. “Since his unlikely victory in 2016 against the widely disliked Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump has a perfect record of electoral defeat.”

That’s the biggest takeaway.

Not that Trump is a loser.

That the electorate has changed.

We can talk about what the GOP did wrong, what the Democrats did right. We can talk about the issues that informed voter choices. We are going to talk, nonstop, about how this affects the coming presidential election. But let’s not lose sight of this fundamental.

It’s hard to say why it’s changed.

But you don’t win three in a row without it.

The electorate has changed in ways that may force the GOP either to return to some semblance of a democratic party or to double down on their fascist trajectory – to commit, as Thomas Zimmer said, to being a minority ruling party ready to turn the US into Florida.

Conversely, this electorate may force the Democrats to continue evolving from a centrist to a popular liberal party, one that can govern while protecting democracy against the Republican Party.

READ MORE: 'Insecure small people': McConnell, Rick Scott allies point fingers over scope of GOP Senate failure

'Division' and 'polarization' are how we got here. Are they our way out?

Perhaps the Washington press corps should embark on a pilgrimage to a desert wilderness in the Levant where they can learn to defy the temptations of “objectivity” the way Christ defied those of Satan.

Until that time, we must suffer the likes of Susan Page.

USA Today’s DC bureau chief managed to write Wednesday more than 1,000 words about last week’s congressional elections without saying who did what to whom. Her posture was the familiar “view from nowhere.” She drew straight from the lexicon of “objectivity:"

On Election Day 2022, Americans were unhappy with the present, pessimistic about the future and not fully enamored with either party. Their anxious, angry mood helps explain why campaign appeals turned mostly not on aspirational promises – on exploring space or ending poverty, say – but on ominous warnings about the dangers of supporting the other wide.

The polarization that has marked US politics for a generation has become more toxic, even more than during the era of anti-war protests and political assassinations in the 1960s. Not only do the two parties offer contrasting views on policy and conflicting visions for the country, but some candidates are even refusing to commit to accept the elections' outcomes.

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If it feels like you’ve read this before, you have.

It tells you nothing.

It warps everything.

“Division” and “polarization” have been the leitmotif of the Washington press crops since at least 2008, when half the country refused to recognize the legitimacy of the first Black president. While “division” and “polarization” are strictly accurate, the way they’re used in reporting democratic politics is fantastically misleading.

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Saying that democratic politics is dividing and polarizing America is like saying water is wet. Water has been wet. It is currently wet. It will be wet. Wetness is water’s nature and history. Likewise, “division” and “polarization” are deeply rooted in America’s nature and history.

To say “deep division and politics of fear set the tone for 2024” is accurate but those qualities set the tone for every election. Water is wet. Politics divides. Accurate but doing more harm than good.

Are “division” and “polarization” self-evidently bad? Page appears to think so. But why would the Washington bureau chief of a big national newspaper believe that? “Division” and “polarization” are neither good nor bad on their own. It depends on the context.

If “division” and “polarization” are driving authoritarian politics, that’s bad. But if they are driving democratic politics, that’s good. Purveyors of “objectivity,” however, refuse to say which is which.

Presenting “division” and “polarization” as newsworthy on their own impresses on the audience, by way of merely talking about them, that “division” and “polarization” are somehow abnormal – that they are bad, wrong, extraordinary, even deviant, eliciting fear and dread.

“Division” and “polarization” seem like something out of the ordinary when they are actually in the ordinary. Such an upside down treatment of democratic politics warps our understanding of it, hindering a democratic people from seeking change democratically.

It’s news rhetoric.

It’s what?

Listen.

God did not hand down the lexicon of “objectivity” the way he handed Moses the ten commandment. The lexicon is the product of choices, which is the product of politics. That’s news rhetoric.

Because it’s arises from choices made in a political content, the lexicon of “objectivity” cannot represent the view from nowhere.

There’s a somewhere out there.

It’s the status quo.

Susan Page said the midterm campaigns were negative. They were rife with dire warnings about the dangers of voting for the other side. In a tenor of lamentation, she said candidates did not run “on aspirational promises.” She gives two examples of “aspirational promises.” They are “exploring space” and “ending poverty, say.”

These are allusions to two presidents and two major points in history that baby boomers are now remembering, in late age, as far more harmonious than they were. John Kennedy launched the so-called “space race.” Successor Lyndon Johnson initiated federal programs together were called “the Great Society” to combat social ills.

But neither Kennedy nor Johnson united Americans any more than any other president had. Sure, there were compromises, bargaining. But suggesting, as Page does, that democratic politics is more “divisive” and “polarizing” now than it used to be is just nostalgia – for that uncomplicated time when everyone seemed to get along.

Which never was.

By portraying today’s democratic politics as if it were abnormal, or bad, compared to yesterday’s, Page is defending the status quo, specifically, a status quo as understood by others in her generation – white Americans who don’t care for how these United States have changed and who’d rather things go back to the way they used to be.

By saying democratic politics is worse now than it was “during the era of anti-war protests and political assassinations” (!), Page creates a fictional standard in comparison to which democratic politics can’t help but be bad, wrong, extraordinary, dreadful, even deviant.

The politics of the status quo gave rise to Donald Trump and today’s toxic climate. Yet the press corps often suggests that we go back to that uncomplicated time when everyone seemed to get along, deploying a news rhetoric preferred by their boomer bosses.

No, we shouldn’t go back to a time that never existed.

Neither should we hold on to a decaying status quo.

“Division” and “polarization” are how we got here.

“Division” and “polarization” are how we get out.

READ MORE: Nobody knows why the Democrats did so well because there was no one big thing

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