Amanda Marcotte

Republicans are increasingly siding against American democracy — what on Earth are they thinking?

It's increasingly certain that Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., is going to get the big ol' boot from her leadership positions in the House by a Republican caucus increasingly furious with her for refusing to cosign to Donald Trump's Big Lie, that he is the "real" winner of the election and that the insurrection was a good thing. No one should cry for Cheney, who is sleeping in a bed she carefully made for herself, but the whole situation is nonetheless extremely concerning. It's a sign that Republicans are going on all-in on Trump and the Big Lie, to the point where anyone who even shows signs of even feeling pangs of dissent is being subject to vicious smears and other tactics to bring them into line. To add to the concerns for democracy, the unspooling fake "audit" of votes in Arizona is continuing to feed a steady stream of pro-insurrection propaganda to the GOP base, continuing to reinforce the idea that they're entitled to steal elections because imaginary Democrats in outlandish conspiracy theories did it first.

But it's not just liberals who are worried for our democracy who are expressing concerns.

According to Allan Smith and Sahil Kapur of NBC News, many Republican political strategists are worried, too, because they see these pro-insurrection antics as alienating to some segments of voters.

"Removing Liz Cheney from leadership will give a boatload of ammunition to the GOP's critics," Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, told NBC News. Ayers' worry, Smith and Kapur wrote, is that such actions "could further antagonize suburban voters, particularly college-educated women, who ditched the party because of their opposition to Trump."

Similarly, some Republicans in Arizona are having second thoughts about the clown show that is the Maricopa County vote "audit" being conducted to please Trump and bolster right-wing conspiracy theories.

"It makes us look like idiots," Republican state Sen. Paul Boyer, who represents the kind of suburban district Ayres is afraid of losing, told the New York Times. "Looking back, I didn't think it would be this ridiculous. It's embarrassing to be a state senator at this point."

Trump and the Big Lie are both, to be clear, quite popular with the GOP base. Polling shows that 70% of Republican voters still refuse to accept that Joe Biden won the 2020 election and the majority of Republican voters cling to one kind of conspiracy theory or another to justify the insurrection Trump incited on January 6.

But there's good reason to believe those voters could be persuaded to move on to some other shiny object of white grievance, if the leadership just quietly cut Trump loose to rave by himself on his fake "social media" site. These folks are addicted to grievance more than they are to Trump, and if Republicans just gave them something else to focus on — Disneyland getting rid of rape jokes or the term "birthing people" are some recent Fox News-generated contenders — they would move on surprisingly quickly.

So it's the roughly quarter of Republicans who admit Biden won the election that Republican strategists are worried about. And those are just the ones who still admit they are Republican. As post-election analysis shows, in addition to suburban women, independent voters and even some male voters are getting fed up with the Trump circus. For those people, the insurrection was another inflection point proving Trump has gone too far. Republicans increasingly siding with the insurrection yahoos over ordinary Americans is not going to improve their standing with such voters.

So why are House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and the rest of GOP leadership going along with a plan to fully rebrand themselves as the party of wild-eyed conspiracy theorists?

0-It's not just fear of Tucker Carlson making gay jokes. It's that the GOP's strategy for "winning" elections is no longer the traditional democratic one of trying to attract and retain voters. Instead, the focus is shifting, quite rapidly, to making sure that Republicans "win" even when they lose. Voter suppression gets the lion's share of the attention, but as Heather "Digby" Parton noted at Salon on Monday, outright theft is now on the table for most Republicans.

"Trump made a serious run at getting the election overturned," she writes, noting that he was stopped, in part, because "local officials and judges around the country refused to cooperate." But now those folks are getting purged and Cheney is merely the most prominent example. As Parton notes, Republican leadership has set aside "misgivings" about openly trying to steal elections and next time it happens, they're fully on board.

Law professor Joshua A. Douglas concurs in a piece in the Washington Post, noting that a combination of harassment and new laws that make it easier to threaten election officials with prison are being leveraged to squeeze out those who still defend the integrity of elections on a local and state level. Next time Trump — or other Republicans running for any office — makes a run at stealing an election, they'll find a whole new cast of officials who think illegally throwing out votes or otherwise helping a fascist insurrectionist is very much to their liking.

That's why Republicans are way more focused on serving the MAGA faithful than they are serving more moderate voters who think democracy is a good thing. As the Capitol riot showed, while the red hats are a minority of Americans, they are one that's prepared to use whatever means necessary — including violence — to force their will on the rest of the country. That's a bad thing for democracy, but, as Trump believed, a good thing to have on your side if your desire is to take power by force instead of winning elections.

Which isn't to say things are hopeless.

What Republicans forget about Trump's coup is that it didn't just fail because Trump hit a firewall of election officials who still had integrity. It failed because progressives saw the coup coming, took it seriously, and fought back. After witnessing a mob literally storm the Capitol, even more moderates and liberals are ready to admit that we're in danger of a fascist takeover and will step up again to stop it.

The bad news, however, is pro-democracy forces are not finding the support they need in the Democratic Party. To be certain, both President Biden and the majority of congressional Democrats whole-heartedly support bills that would reform our electoral systems to shield them against the kinds of theft Republicans are gearing up to perform. Unfortunately, those Democrats are still stymied by a couple of blinkered, obstructionist Democrats in the Senate — namely, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — who would rather keep the filibuster in place than pass bills necessary to keep Republicans from outright stealing elections. Without that support, even the best efforts of ordinary progressives on the ground to save our democracy could very likely fail next time.

The clownish Arizona 'audit' is a joke — but it still serves the GOP's sinister plot

Any connoisseur of right-wing nuttiness can attest: It doesn't get any weirder than the conspiracy theory carnival that is the Arizona vote "audit" of the 2020 election being conducted in Maricopa County.

The audit — which was ordered by Republican state senators in order to please their master, Donald Trump — has no legal impact and can't change the results of the election, no matter what Trump likes to insinuate to his followers. Joe Biden won that county by over 45,000 votes, the kind of margin that any legitimate recount effort would never have a chance of closing since recount efforts rarely find more than a handful of ballots that were wrongly counted in the first place.

But, of course, this is not a legitimate recount.

As the New York Times reported Friday morning, it "is perhaps the most off-the-rails episode in the Republican Party's escalating effort to support former President Donald J. Trump's lie that he won the election." Ballots are "receiving microscope and ultraviolet-light examinations, apparently to address unfounded claims that fraudulent ballots contained watermarks that were visible under UV light" and "[u]ntrained citizens are trying to find traces of bamboo on last year's ballots, seemingly trying to prove a conspiracy theory that the election was tainted by fake votes from Asia."

The whole thing is like trying to bake a cake off a recipe, but replacing the sugar and butter with fairy dust and leprechaun snot, and then throwing it at the sun instead of putting it in the oven to bake it.

Katie Hobbs, Arizona's secretary of state, finally got fed up this week and sent a letter on Wednesday to the liaison to the Senate's audit, warning him, "Though conspiracy theorists are undoubtedly cheering on these types of inspections — and perhaps providing financial support because of their use — they do little other than further marginalize the professionalism and intent of this 'audit.'"

All of that is true, of course, but here's the darkest part: It's all by design.

The conspiracy theories, the sloppily handled ballots, the general disregard for security, facts, or even a modicum of fairness in the process? It's all deliberate. This entire process is a dramatic production, put on for Trump and the GOP base, to illustrate how easy it would be to steal elections if their people could just gain control over state elections boards.

Call it coup theater.

It's about ginning up enthusiasm for the GOP's continued efforts to undermine democracy and install the white conservative minority into power through cheating. It's about reinforcing the Republican Party's belief that they are entitled to rule, no matter how many Americans reject them at the polls. If manipulating ballots and conspiracy theories are required to get there, then so be it. That's why Republicans aren't embarrassed at how silly this entire fake audit is. It's meant to be ridiculous, precisely because the more ridiculous it is, the more it undermines faith and trust in the very concept of free and fair elections.

There's a tendency in mainstream and even progressive media to view right-wing conspiracy theories through a prism of believability. Journalists and pundits look at polls showing, for instance, that 70% of Republicans believe that Biden didn't win enough votes to be president and talk about how these folks live in such a major bubble of disinformation that they can't even grasp basic realities.

What this approach fails to take into account is that, for conservatives, facts matter less than justifications. How they can believe such nonsense isn't as important as why they believe such nonsense.

It doesn't matter that the accusations that Biden stole the election are false. What matters is such accusations provide the moral justification for future efforts by Republicans to steal elections. It doesn't matter that conspiracy theories about watermarks and bamboo have no basis in reality. All that matters is that it's a bunch of stuff Republicans can say that allows them to argue that they're entitled to throw out the ballots of people who voted for Democrats.

"There is a long-standing belief on the right that Democratic Party victories are inherently fraudulent," Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine wrote on Thursday.

This certainly isn't a belief arrived at through a sincere and fair assessment of the evidence. It is more an article of faith and one that increasingly justifies, to Republicans, their fealty to winning at all costs. If that means throwing out all the votes of states that voted for Biden, so be it. If that means spooling out increasingly implausible conspiracy theories as a pretext for tossing Democratic votes, they're fine with it. It's not really about facts, so much as it is about polishing and refining the lies and strategies that will get them closer to being able to successfully do what Trump failed to do, which is to steal an election.

The fake audit in Arizona functions, for the right, much like Occupy Wall Street did for the left: As a theater of the possible. Moral concerns aside, of course. No one really thought that the death grip the investment class has over our politics would be destroyed by a few campers in Zuccotti Park. Still, the drama and intrigue of the whole thing did draw attention to the cause and, arguably, laid the groundwork for the shift to the left we're seeing in the Democratic Party right now.

By a similar token, few on the right think they can overturn the 2020 election with this fake audit. But the whole thing sends a signal about how elections can be stolen by the GOP in the future. And Republicans are acting swiftly to turn that fantasy into a reality, passing laws to exclude voters who they perceive as too liberal and, perhaps even more importantly, to seize control of election boards. The ridiculousness of the Arizona audit helps conservatives to picture what the future might hold, and how they might turn real ballot counts into a similar circus that allows them to disappear all those inconvenient votes for Democrats.

Liberals look at the antics in Arizona and flinch because it's all so undignified, with people spouting conspiracy theories like idiots. But what we often fail to understand is that, for the hard right, dignity doesn't matter at all. Nothing matters but power. If you have enough power, after all, you are the one who gets to dictate the meaning of concepts like "dignity" and "truth."

It's why Trump's clownishness is so thrilling to his followers. He proved, time and again, that it doesn't matter what kind of pompous idiot you are, because power means people have to kiss your ass anyway. Liberals can laugh as much as we want. Republicans know that, if they are successful in their efforts to end free and fair elections, they'll be the last ones laughing.

The darkly funny truth about the GOP: Kevin McCarthy is being bullied into submission

That Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is a wimp is not news.

After Donald Trump incited an insurrection on Jan. 6, McCarthy reportedly phoned Trump and begged him to call off his QAnon-drunk dogs, only to get the reply, "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." McCarthy had done everything in his power to show fealty to Trump — and to Trump's attempted coup —by publicly supporting Trump's "right" to overturn the election and voting against certifying the electoral win of Joe Biden. But that wasn't good enough for Trump, who continues to clearly believe there was One Simple Trick© Republicans could have pulled out of a bag to overrule the legal election results. Rather than tell that bitter old wannabe dictator where to shove it, McCarthy has instead spent the past few months publicly licking Trump's boots. He even, at the end of April, pretended that his call with Trump had been about Trump wanting to end the Capitol riot when it was quite clearly the opposite.

And yet, McCarthy theatrically submitting to Trump has not been enough to placate the insurrectionist wing of the GOP, who continue to be suspicious that McCarthy harbors doubts in his heart about the wisdom of having a President-for-Life Trump. The new demand is that McCarthy defenestrates Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., for the sin of continuing to insist that the insurrection really happened.

The main tactic to bring McCarthy into line? Schoolyard taunts that are, frankly, beneath the average middle schooler.

And the admittedly darkly funny part of this is that it's working. McCarthy, like a substitute teacher who has lost control of a 7th-grade classroom, is caving to some truly childish bullying from the likes of Tucker "Dan White Society" Carlson.

On his Fox News show Monday evening, Carlson trashed McCarthy for renting a room from GOP pollster Frank Luntz. Carlson's excuse for doing an entire segment on McCarthy's living arrangements was that the "relationship gives Luntz outsized influence over the Republican Party's policy positions," suggesting that Luntz works for "left-wing corporations." The two men "are not simply friends; they're roommates," Carlson raved, in his usual tones of feigned outrage and surprise.

Even by Carlson's famously shoddy standards, the segment was ridiculous.

Luntz is a longtime fixture on Capitol Hill, but is not exactly a famous person and certainly not someone that the average Fox News viewer likely cares about one way or another. And while Luntz has done some admirable work trying to find ways to win Trump voters over to being vaccinated against COVID-19, it's beyond a stretch to paint him as "left-wing." Luntz is the architect of some of the most noxious right-wing communications strategies in history, winning the 2010 Politifact Lie of the Year, an award for framing the Affordable Care Act as a "government takeover of health care."

But let's face it: Carlson isn't really concerned about Luntz's "influence" over McCarthy. He did this segment with the full knowledge that most Fox viewers are unaware that it's common for members of Congres to rent rooms from friends in D.C., since most members maintain their full-time residence in their home district. As the Washington Post reported, Luntz's house is actually four adjoining penthouse apartments that add up to 7,000 square feet, suggesting that McCarthy's "room" is actually more like a full apartment with "access to a 24/7 concierge, a rooftop pool, a fitness center, a media room, a business center, and a party room with a bar and pool table."

Carlson slid by all of that, likely because this was an excuse to get the word "roommates" — which continues to be a popular euphemism in many of the red areas where Carlson's show is popular — attached to McCarthy's name on-air.

The strategy appears to have worked swiftly. Carlson was calling McCarthy a "roommate" Monday night and by Tuesday morning, McCarthy "accidentally" let slip into a hot mic during a Fox News interview that he thinks Cheney has "got real problems" and that he's "lost confidence" in her. Now the GOP caucus is moving to oust Cheney from her leadership positions and replace her with Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who has been a staunch supporter of Trump's attempted coup, even going so far as to sign onto a Texas lawsuit demanding that swing states that voted for Biden have their votes thrown out.

Despite this victory over McCarthy, however, Carlson upped the ante Wednesday when he hosted Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., on his paywall-only show on Fox Nation, the channel for people who feel unfulfilled with a mere 24 hours a day of right-wing propaganda. Bringing Taylor Greene on, of course, was Carlson signaling support for the insurrectionist wing, of which Taylor Greene is the most visible member. Taylor Greene then proceeded to bash the majority of Congress as "not qualified to be there," because they supposedly don't have the chops of Taylor Greene, a woman who inherited her construction empire from her daddy.

The audience for Fox Nation is one that wants to dispense with the winking and nudging and get straight to the red meat and, as Jake Lahut of Business Insider reports, Carlson and Taylor Greene did not disappoint:

These kinds of tactics really expose what the GOP is about in the post-Trump era, emulating Trump's own schoolyard bully instincts for getting his way. And frankly, it's because Trump showed it worked. For five years he was able to bring to heel the vast majority of the GOP caucus through childish tactics.

Wednesday night, Chris Hayes of MSNBC called McCarthy out for subjugating himself to these kinds of tactics, arguing that the cost of power in the Trump-controlled Republican Party "is to humiliate yourself as much as humanly possible."

McCarthy is clearly caving in to the demands for the ritual sacrifice of Cheney, so what more do the insurrectionist-friendly Republicans want?

According to CNN's Jamie Gangel, Republicans are still worried about the possibility that there will be a congressional commission on the Jan. 6 insurrection. This is something they dearly wish to avoid because it interferes with Trump's mission to create another Big Lie, which is that the insurrection didn't really happen and was more like a fun picnic. Rangel reports that McCarthy is "very concerned" that he would be called on to testify under oath, not just about his Jan. 6 call to Trump, but about all his communications with Trump as Trump pushed his coup-justifying lie that the election was "stolen."

"He does not want to do that," Rangel said of McCarthy.

And now we have Carlson and other utter sleazes like Taylor Greene on hand to remind McCarthy that the price of disloyalty to Trump — and especially of telling the truth about Trump's attempted coup — is being subject to this kind of rumor-mongering through popular right-wing channels.

It's tempting to laugh the whole thing off because McCarthy isn't just a wimp, but a hard-right ideologue who deserves every bad thing that Trump and his minions can dish out. Unfortunately, this campaign of humiliation against McCarthy is serving a larger purpose: Propping up lies that are meant to undermine and eventually collapse our democracy.

Tucker Carlson and Marjorie Taylor Greene are trying to scare anyone in the GOP who is even suspected of still having remnants of conscience into falling in line with Trump's Big Lies: That the election was stolen and that the insurrection didn't happen. It's about paving the way for Trump to regain the White House, this time with the anti-democratic machinery shored up so that he doesn't have to accept it the next time he loses an election. So while McCarthy isn't a sympathetic figure in the slightest, that this is working on him should terrify us all.

Trump doesn't get to vomit lies on Facebook — but freedom of speech is intact

After Donald Trump incited an insurrection on Jan. 6 that led to the trashing of the U.S. Capitol, the deaths of multiple people, and the delay — though not the cancellation he sought — of the certification of Joe Biden's election as president, Facebook and Twitter finally banned Trump from their websites. Trump's vitriolic and hateful posts, which often hinted at violence, had long been in violation of the terms of service for both websites, but his status as the president, and frankly the amount of traffic he generated for both sites, was enough to shield him from being banned for years. An attempted overthrow of the government finally crossed the line. Although a cynic would also note that because Trump failed, there was good reason to think his value as a revenue-generating troll was declining anyway, making it a much easier financial decision for both organizations.

On Wednesday morning, the Facebook oversight board issued its long-awaited decision on whether or not to let Trump — who again, attempted to overthrow the U.S. government and have himself installed illegally as president — back onto the platform. In what is a sad statement on our society, there was a real question about whether or not the oversight board would give in to pressure from the Trump camp and recommend reinstating his account. But in a victory for common sense, the oversight board decided to uphold the decision to strip Trump of his ability to inject lies and incitement directly into the social media streams of the kinds of addle-brained idiots who stormed the Capitol.

Not that this was a clean win for democracy, of course. Perish the thought!

Unfortunately, the board did demand that "Facebook review this matter to determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform," giving the company 6 months to comply. Their reasoning is that, while Trump clearly violated Facebook's rules "prohibiting praise or support of people engaged in violence," the company has no policy on what constitutes a violation that results in indefinite suspension and that needs more clarity.

Long story short: We have to worry about this in another six months. The good news, however, is that's six more months for Trump to fade from relevance, hopefully to the point where the profit motive of letting him back on is not strong enough to overrule the bad press that Facebook would get for doing so.

For months, Trump has been teasing the idea that he would be launching his own social media platform in response to his banning, which his flunky, Jason Miller, told the press "will be the hottest ticket in social media, it's going to completely redefine the game." This week, with great fanfare, the project was released. It's a blog. Not "social media" at all. It's just a series of short posts from Trump, tweet-style, largely focused on his two favorite topics: his belief that he is the greatest man who ever lived and his obsessive grievances against people who criticize him.

Each post has a button so that people can share it on Facebook or Twitter, an obvious attempt to skirt Trump's ban on both platforms. But the flaw in the plan is clear. When Trump was on social media, his posts got shared widely, both by fans and enemies who were sharing in order to dunk on him. But few people are going to be interested in deliberately seeking out this separate site since monologuing from a terminal narcissist is boring. Stripped of his power to be a disruptive troll flipping over tables in mainstream spaces, Trump's dullness becomes the most remarkable thing about him. Even Republicans — 88% of whom believe Trump should be allowed back onto Facebook — are likely going to find that they never think to visit Trump's blog, even if it's just a click away from their favorite social media sites.

Trump starting this blog was a dumb move in another way: It puts to rest any notion that his "free speech" is being stripped from him in any meaningful way. Trump can clearly still express himself, insofar as whining non-stop constitutes a meaningful form of self-expression. And people can even share it! That they don't want to now becomes Trump's problem to solve, and he is incapable of saying things that are, on their own, interesting to share, outside of the threat they present to the health of the nation or international stability.

Not only is Trump's free speech still wholly intact — along with his freedom generally, another gross reminder of the injustice of our deeply unequal society — he is still managing to control the entire Republican Party, despite his social media bans. GOP leadership has largely fallen in line with the Big Lie that Biden "stole" the election, and is focused on pushing out people who speak the truth about the attempted coup.

Still, Trump is bound to be grumpy about this. His death grip on the GOP flows from the widespread perception in party leadership that their base voters are more loyal to Trump than they are to the party. Right now, that may be true, but like cult leaders Jim Jones or David Koresh, Trump understands that keeping his hold over his followers requires constant sermonizing at them. Without his rants being dumped directly in their Facebook feeds, their attention may drift and the spell may even start to break. They'll find some other demagogue to follow, one whose posts are easier to share on Facebook.

Trump loved Twitter and his use of it dominated the media because most journalists are also much more engaged on Twitter than on Facebook. But the reality is that Trump voters — who are older, whiter, and less urban— are more likely to be on Facebook, driving their kids and grandkids nuts by recklessly sharing every fake news story about MS-13 and screenshot of Candace Owens they come across. Because lies and provocations tend to perform better on Facebook than boring old truths, Trump's user engagement on that site before the ban was exponentially higher than Biden's. Facebook started slapping "fact checks" on Trump's lies, but that did nothing to slow down the engagement, as Trump fans simply dismiss facts as "fake news" and Trump's detractors feel more emboldened to share his posts because of them.

The only thing that works against the tide of incitement and lies is bans. The whole "free speech" gambit is a distraction — Trump continues to be free to lie to his heart's content on his own website. The larger issue here is protecting democracy itself, which becomes a very dicey proposition indeed in an information ecosystem where lies spread rapidly but the truth is largely ignored because it's not sexy enough. Trump has every right to spew his lies into the ether if he wants. But he has no right to commandeer the attention of the nation by exploiting algorithms designed to reward provocation over content that's better for the human spirit.

Why the right wing is so susceptible to dangerous, twisted logic

Herd immunity just ain't happening, folks. Once anti-vaccine rhetoric became normal on the right, the goal of herd immunity to stop the spread of COVID-19 was doomed.

Many folks have been saying it for a few months now, but it appears that the slower-moving medical experts in the federal government are finally admitting it. Despite half of Americans getting the shot, Apoorva Mandavilli of the New York Times writes, "vaccination rates are slipping, and there is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever."

This article caused a lot of doom-saying from pandemic addicts on social media, but there's actually good news in this. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden's top advisor on the pandemic, explained that federal leaders "stopped using herd immunity in the classic sense," and instead the focus has shifted to "vaccinate enough people, the infections are going to go down." In other words, it's time to stop letting anti-vaccination people hold the rest of hostage, wind down the lockdowns, and shift gears to managing COVID-19 through other strategies.

As Mandavilli explains, there's a lot of reasons that herd immunity is simply unachievable in the current situation, but there is no doubt that "[s]kepticism about the vaccines among many Americans" is playing a major role. She delicately avoids digging in deeper, but anyone who has been paying attention in recent months understands what this means: It's Republicans.

The last big poll released on this question was by Monmouth University in mid-April and the news was not good: Nearly half of Republican voters flat-out refuse to get the vaccine. That number has been steadily climbing, in response to a heavy push from Fox News to demonize the vaccine and the spread of anti-vaccination conspiracy theories on social media.

To be clear, "because Fox News said so" isn't actually enough to convince Republican voters to forgo a free, easy shot that can literally save your life. The anti-vaccination propaganda is only working because it builds on decades of right-wing propaganda that has poisoned the minds of millions of people. Nowadays, conservatives and even people who are more conservative-adjacent see hostility to scientific expertise as a virtue and reject the very idea that there is any such thing as the common good.

There is such thing as a healthy skepticism of the experts, of course. Throughout the pandemic, for instance, many prominent academics, public health experts, and journalists have been critical of many decisions made by the Centers for Disease Control and other health officials, asking hard questions rooted in a strong understanding of science and public health care policy. But what right-wing propaganda has instilled in followers is not really skepticism, so much as a reflexive suspicion of scientific experts.

Climate change denialism, which is widespread among Republicans, is the most obvious example. While the numbers are thankfully shrinking, for decades now, Republican voters largely bought into the ludicrous conspiracy theory that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by academics who had ulterior motives, usually of the "Marxist" variety. But the idea that a random GOP voter with a big ego knows more than the experts has become pervasive. It's why conservatives stubbornly stick by discredited ideas like creationism or "abstinence-only education," even though the overwhelming scientific evidence shows it's all poppycock.

These attitudes have leaked out beyond just the hardcore right. Now, large portions of the public that may not think of themselves as right-wingers nonetheless have adopted the idea that they, armed with a Google search engine and unearned confidence in their own opinions, know better than the experts.

Witness, for instance, the recent kerfuffle over the bafflingly popular podcast host Joe Rogan, who recently went on a rant about how "a healthy person" who is "exercising all the time" and is "young and you're eating well" shouldn't bother to get the vaccine because the risk of dying of COVID-19 is low.

On its face, this was a dumb thing to say, because getting sick sucks, no matter how healthy you are generally. But when Rogan got criticized, including by Dr. Fauci, he responded in a way that was widely reported as a "backtracking." The reality, however, is more complicated. Rogan did not actually back down from his false belief that vaccines don't benefit healthy people. (Which they do, by keeping them from getting COVID-19.) He simply said that the "argument was you need it for other people" and "that's a different argument."

Rogan's clearly sticking by his premise, that getting the vaccine is inherently a sacrifice for "healthy" people. It's likely that a lot of his audience still imagines they belong to the category "healthy people" and that there is, for them, some conflict between what's good for them and what's good for the larger community. In reality, getting the shot is both good for individuals and communities, because again, getting sick sucks, no matter who you are. Rogan's poor logic here, however, is persuasive to a lot of people because decades of right-wing propaganda has instilled this notion in millions that everything is a zero-sum game, and anything an individual does that is good for the community must inherently come at some personal price.

This false logic, for instance, is pervasive in the debate over health care generally.

Universal health care systems in other countries have demonstrated, time and again, that individuals have a lot to gain, in terms of lowered health care costs and accessibility, from systems built around the assumption of a common good. But Republicans talk about health care in these zero-sum terms, scaring their voters into believing that more people in the system just means less health care for them. In reality, universal systems have more people paying in, streamline bureaucracies, and lower overall costs — often making it easier for any individual to get health care.

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran another piece, about how the conservative, white communities of Appalachia have become bastions of anti-vaccine sentiment. Folks deny that it's out of a tribalist loyalty to Donald Trump, even though he leaned hard into COVID-19 denialism. But even if it's not that, it is because they're largely Republican, and are plugged into long-standing right-wing tendencies to reject science and look dimly on anything perceived as the common good. Indeed, the messaging coming from government officials about the vaccine is backfiring precisely because it emphasizes community spirit and science. Instead, the folks who the Times spoke to highlighted how "me and my family can take care of ourselves."

The phrase "herd immunity" brings with it the concept that we are a herd. For right-wing America, however, accepting the idea that they share anything with the rest of the country — the racially diverse, progressive majority — is an anathema. They don't want to see themselves as part of a herd that has those other people in it, even if that means rejecting the basic facts of human biology. So of course they were easy to bamboozle with anti-vaccination rhetoric. And now it's just up to the rest of us to figure out how to deal with that.

The last refuge for Republicans with no defense left

Over a year ago, and in violation of my own good advice, I got caught up in a Facebook argument with a Republican relative about Donald Trump. I don't remember what the topic was, and it hardly matters now, since the past four years was just a constant churn of Trump doing terrible stuff and his defensive voters constantly grasping for dumb excuses for why the terrible stuff wasn't actually all that terrible. What I do remember, however, is that, at one point, I linked the Washington Post's daily counter of Trump false statements — he was up to over a dozen a day by then — and demanded an explanation of why she would support such a liar. (I am not proud of myself, as noted.) She retorted with something along the lines of, "Oh, like Elizabeth Warren has never told a lie!"

Now, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is an honest politician and well-rated by PolitiFact. But all politicians have succumbed to the urge to massage the truth a time or two, and certainly I couldn't prove on the spot that Warren had a spotless record. But what was really preposterous was my relative's underlying assumption: if Warren had ever fudged the truth, then all criticism of Trump was rendered null and void.

It's this tendency to compare two unequal things that provided Trump and his supporters a blank check to have no standards at all, because, after all, the other side was hardly perfect. It's Whataboutism, the common term for a version of the tu quoque fallacy. RationalWiki explains that whataboutism is "a diversionary tactic to shift the focus off of an issue and avoid having to directly address it" by "twisting criticism back onto the critic and in doing so revealing the original critic's hypocrisy."

As my interchange with my relative shows, in conservative hands, whataboutism often results in a comparison of egregious sins of the right to slight or even imaginary ones on the left. The purpose isn't even really to establish hypocrisy, since it's usually comparing apples to oranges. The purpose is pure deflection. It doesn't even have to make sense.

Sarah Longwell, a Republican political strategist who now publishes the never-Trump website The Bulwark, has been doing a series of focus groups on Republican voters. She spoke with Peter Wehner of The Atlantic, and flagged this increasing conservative addiction to whataboutism.

If compelling evidence is presented to MAGA supporters that what they're being told by Greene or others is a lie, they don't engage directly with the evidence. According to Longwell, "They say, 'What about Ilhan Omar?' They say, 'What about [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]?'" As Longwell puts it, "They've got these things down, which is 'Whatever you just showed me about Marjorie Taylor Greene is irrelevant because Ilhan Omar, because AOC, and I know lots about that, and I can tell you all about it.'" Some focus-group participants report that they like how Greene "speaks her mind."

As with my relative's false Warren vs. Trump gambit, a notable factor here is how the whataboutism is comparing apples to oranges.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., are nothing like Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene, R-Ga. They aren't conspiracy theorists, racists, or trolls who stop congressional business for no good reason. This isn't just a logical fallacy, but it's a half-baked one that falls apart under even the slightest scrutiny. But the point of it isn't to make sense, but to fill the discourse with noise, so that they don't have to answer for — or even think about — the deep immorality of supporting Taylor Greene.

Once you are tuned into it, the reliance on whataboutism by conservatives — especially right-wing pundits — is evident everywhere. Just this week, I collected a number of examples.

On Fox News, Juan Williams called out the network for spreading false stories about President Joe Biden rationing beef and Vice President Kamala Harris "pushing" her book on migrant children. Co-host Greg Gutfeld immediately retorted by whining, "Well I guess they learned from the best," and referencing the Steele dossier. Of course, these aren't equivalent. Christopher Steele's dossier was never presented by the media as anything but what it was, which is a series of allegations that ranged in their level of adequate sourcing. The beef ration and Harris book stories, however, were pure misinformation.

On "The View", Meghan McCain pulled a similar trick when trying to defend Fox News for spreading fake stories, trying to change the subject to "liberal media which runs all of media, all of tech, all of entertainment, all of music, all of politics, all three branches of government." Not only was her claim a lie, but it was also nonsensical. Why should liberals having power in the media justify conservatives spreading obvious disinformation?

Or check out this story from The Daily Beast, where reporters Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley detailed how "the former president and his Republican allies are coalescing around a new argument to fend off allegations that Trump incited the bloody Jan. 6 riot: Maxine Waters did it, too."

Again, that's a lie.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., told Minnesota protesters to get "confrontational," but in a context that clearly indicated a desire for said confrontation to stay peaceful. The result was that the people she was speaking to stayed peaceful, as the vast majority of Black Lives Matter protesters have done for the past year now. Trump, however, spent months riling his followers up, gave a speech saying, "You'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength," and then sent them to the Capitol. And we know they got the message because of what they did when they got there.

Thursday night, Tucker Carlson of Fox News was so aggrieved at Biden for denouncing this insurrection, that Carlson leaned hard into the most non sequitur version of whataboutism.

"Really? The worst attack on our democracy in 160 years? How about the Immigration Act of 1965?" Carlson complained.

White nationalists hate the 1965 bill because it basically banned racial discrimination in immigration. Even by Carlson's low standards of what constitutes logic, arguing that being anti-racist is less democratic than trying to overthrow a free and fair election is a joke.

Perhaps the most dangerous way that the right-wing addiction to whataboutism manifests is in the way it's employed after every story about cops killing Black people in incidents that should not have been deadly. Inevitably, right-wing media will settle on pointing the finger at the victim for being "no angel." Apologists for Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd loved to harp on how Floyd had drugs in his system at the time.

This argument, of course, makes no sense.

The right not to be killed by police should not depend on a person having a spotless history. The percentage of Americans who can honestly say they've never broken a law or done a bad thing lingers around zero. Being imperfect shouldn't be a blank check for cops to kill you. But whataboutism, of course, always embeds this double standard: People outside of the right-wing tribe are expected to be perfect, and if they are not, it's blanket permission for people inside the right-wing tribe to do whatever they want, no matter how terrible.

The reason that whataboutism is increasingly popular on the right is obvious: They know they can't defend either their behavior or their ideas, so they are laser-focused on deflection.

Whataboutism is crude and relies on false equivalences or outright lies. Still, it often works, either by tricking liberals into changing the subject or by giving conservatives a thing they can say, no matter how nonsensical, that staves off the demons of self-interrogation. As with other shady rhetoric the right is using to avoid talking about real issues, we can expect to see more of this, as they get more desperate in the face of their own failures.

How Joe Biden turned the tables on Republicans and used their tactics against them

President Joe Biden's plans are ambitious. I know this because every headline Thursday morning after Biden gave his first speech to a joint session of Congress said so.

"Biden Just Gave the Most Ideologically Ambitious Speech of Any Democratic President in Generations," Politico's wordy headline screamed. "Biden bets big," Axios said more succinctly. "Big Government Is Back," said the NPR headline. The Washington Post described Biden's "sweeping agenda" and the New York Times called it a "risky gamble."

Except that none of this actually feels risky. On the contrary, Biden was able to frame everything he said in convincingly reasonable tones. Put at ease by his patented "c'mon, man" approach, so far, it seems like the public can't be bamboozled into feeling angry, scared or worried about Biden's surprisingly progressive aspirations. Snap polls after the speech showed that 85% of viewers approved of Biden's speech, out of a crowd that was only 54% Democratic. This comports with previous polling that shows that, while Biden's approval numbers are stuck in the low 50s because of GOP voters who will never say they like him, an overwhelming majority like his actual policy ideas. Demonizing him as "tax-and-spend" isn't working, because voters are increasingly keen on the idea that we should be taxing corporations and wealthy people and spending it on the programs that Biden has successfully — and correctly — identified as investments in our nation's future: infrastructure, child care, jobs.

"We have to prove democracy still works," Biden said during his speech. "That our government still works – and can deliver for the people."

It all feels so reasonable. Why shouldn't Americans get to have democracy and get to have a functioning government, especially since we pay for it? Why shouldn't we want, as Biden said, "the wealthiest 1% of Americans to pay their fair share"? Why shouldn't we try to eliminate child poverty, an idea that made Republicans in the chamber so salty they refused to clap for it? Why shouldn't the wealthiest country in the world be able to provide its citizens with the same standard of living so many other less wealthy countries do with ease?

The thing is, these are the same exact arguments that progressives have been making for decades, and yet Republicans — aided by a loud right-wing media, the racism of the majority of white voters, and a mainstream media addicted to false equivalencies — were successful at demonizing such reasonable points as basically communism. Why then does it seem like Republicans suddenly can't land a glove on Biden?

Part of the credit should go to Biden himself, who is rising above what doubters like myself thought of him. He was able, as John Harwood of CNN said, to speak "in plain, non-political, non-ideological language invoking the people he wants to help."

But let's face it: Republicans also did this to themselves.

For decades, Republicans have increasingly abandoned policy debate in favor of culture war antics, race-baiting and raw tribalism. From Monica Lewinsky to Barack Obama's birth certificate, the modern GOP has turned politics into conflicts about personality and identity, not policy. Even during the height of the debate over the Affordable Care Act — the biggest policy agenda Democrats had pushed since the 1960s — the Republicans were mired in culture war theatrics. Their response was to freak out about abortion and birth control, as well as the "death panels" nonsense, which was always a barely coded conspiracy theory about Democrats taking away health care from old white people so younger, more racially diverse people could have it. They created a political environment of style over substance because, of course, they know that they can't win debates about policy on the merits.

The result is a situation where voters think Biden is more moderate than Obama was, even though the reverse is true, simply because Biden looks and sounds like more people's idea of a moderate. Those stereotypes are racist, to be clear. As Paul Waldman of the Washington Post points out, Obama "was young, Black, cosmopolitan, hip and the hero of young people across the country," and Biden "has always been the establishment," a "folksy guy with a bottomless supply of bromides."

No wonder right-wing media has, in desperation, grasped for a bizarre conspiracy theory accusing Vice President Kamala Harris of being the "real" president. They don't know how to do oppositional politics that isn't about base racism and sexism. But it is also an increasingly losing proposition. The forces that allowed Obama to get elected in the first place — Americans growing more relaxed about racial diversity and more urbane in general — are only growing stronger as time goes by.

One line during Biden's speech Wednesday night really jumped out at a number of pundits: "Trickle-down economics has never worked." It was a notably explicit repudiation of Reaganism. But it's also likely that large numbers of Americans, especially younger Americans, have no idea what "trickle-down economics" even is or was supposed to be. Not just because it is a failed economic theory that was always nonsense, though it is that. The phrase is more so a relic from a time when conservatives used to pretend to have serious policy ideas.

"Trickle-down economics" never made sense, but it sounded smart and gave Republicans a thing they could say to voters to explain why cutting taxes and government investment would somehow lead to prosperity. But mostly, they've given up even that kind of argument in favor of screeching about Dr. Seuss and "cancel culture," hoping these tactics would distract voters from their more substantive concerns. Even when Republicans half-heartedly try to argue against Biden's policy ideas, it's through lame tactics like arguing over the semantics of what constitutes "infrastructure."

Of course, a big part of the reason that Republicans want to avoid talking policy is that, increasingly, voters can see what decades of doing things their way has done to this country.

Low taxes on corporations and rich people, coupled with low levels of government investment, did not, as promised, produce a robust economy where private interests pay for all that stuff people want and need. Instead, our roads and buildings are falling apart, health care is a nightmare, and childcare and education are unaffordable. Food is cheap, in part because it is one sector government quietly subsidizes. But as Biden pointed out in his speech last night, so many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck that the economic downturn meant "nice cars, lined up for miles, waiting for a box of food to be put in their trunk."

Republicans are grumpy, extremely grumpy. Republican Senators watching the speech last night collectively looked like they smelled a fart, and not just because they were wearing masks. They're mad, not just because they know he's right. They're mad because they know he's popular and what he's saying is popular. They'll block as much of his agenda as they can and hope that voter suppression and gerrymandering do the rest. But on the merits of the argument itself? They're toast.

It's not because Biden is some super-politician. It's because Republicans spent decades making politics into a reality TV show. Now that we're facing a real crisis, the public is turning its eyes towards the comfort of a real politician who wants to do real policy. And Republicans have nothing to say in response.

The signs are mounting that the GOP is falling deeper into a world of fantasy

In the real world, there are real problems that serious people are worried about: global pandemic, climate change, economic inequality, systematic racism, mass shootings, and gendered violence, just to name a few. The problem for Republicans, of course, is that they are, quite literally, on the wrong side of pretty much each of those issues, and spend their time either actively making problems worse or getting in the way of people who want to fix things. Outside of sociopaths, Fox News hosts, and people with "Pepe" memes in their Twitter profiles, however, few people want to look in the mirror and see a villain gazing back at them. So right-wing media, which has always been addicted to selling its audiences on imaginary threats and preposterous fairy tales of conservative victimhood, has only been escalating such nonsense in recent months as the Republican policy agenda has been increasingly exposed to be nonexistent.

If your "team" is on the side of the Capitol insurrectionists and Derek Chauvin, it's hard to suppress the haunting fear that you're the baddies. So Fox News is on hand to spoon out alluring fantasies that recast liberals as the bad guys and conservatives as the long-suffering heroes. Tucker Carlson — a Fox News host who clearly relishes being a cartoon villain (think: "Dan White Society") — coughed up an almost too-perfect sample of the form Monday night, when he encouraged his audience of millions to harass ordinary people minding their own business under the guise of "helping."

Using as cover the recent reports that much of outdoor masking is unnecessary to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, Carlson told his audience that people wearing masks outside are "the aggressors" and that "the next time you see someone in a mask on the sidewalk or on the bike path, do not hesitate" to get in their face and demand they remove the mask. Carlson claimed this can be done "politely but firmly," but of course, it's categorically impossible to "politely" boss other people around about choices that simply do not affect you. And no, his story about how masks "prevent intimacy and human contact" is not enough. Strangers on the street do not owe you "intimacy," despite what creeps who follow women around and demand smiles might wish to believe.

Carlson then escalated by asking his viewers to call the police when they see children wearing masks because it "should be illegal." Of course, Carlson also knows full well how dangerous such nuisance calls (which are actually illegal) can be if the target is a person of color — and likely, he's counting on it, Derek Chauvin defender that he is.

Skipping a mask outside does, indeed, seem to be mostly harmless, which means that the common-sense response is to simply leave other people alone while you also do what you want. But conservatives want revenge because they've been made to wear masks where it is necessary. Carlson is only too happy to feed them a narrative that allows them to pretend to be heroes while continuing to be jerks for no good reason whatsoever.

Over the weekend, we saw another comically over-the-top example of right-wing fake victimhood narratives when a totally fake — and obviously fake — conspiracy theory about President Joe Biden imposing severe beef rations tore through the right-wing media and exploded on social media.

Jon Skolnik explained here at Salon how right-wing media distorted a study about reducing meat consumption to impact climate change, pretended it somehow was part of Biden's infrastructure plan and ran wild with it. But what was truly remarkable wasn't just that the folks at Fox News and other outlets deliberately misled the public with false claims that Biden planned to "limit" beef consumption to four pounds a year. It was how this lie managed to spread rapidly, infecting every corner of the country, in record time.

"It's tempting to dismiss this attack as too absurd to be believed," Dan Pfeiffer wrote in his Message Box newsletter, but warned that, "But too often, Democrats focus on the absurdity of the specifics and ignore the believability of the general impression."

Indeed, watching the "Biden's banning beef" lie spread out over social media, boosted by supposedly "apolitical" Instagram influencers and other such conduits, it was easy to see how this worked. Many people — possibly most — had wholly emotional reactions when they heard or read the lie, and were too focused on lashing out angrily to think critically about the story. So many reactions online were variations of "how dare you criticize me" and "fake meat tastes bad," instead of the more helpful "is this even true?"

The best right-wing B.S. works in this way, by activating people's pre-existing guilt and making them feel defensive. A lot of Americans, even on the right, already feel bad about how much beef they eat. It's not just because it's bad for the environment, but because they know it's bad for their health, and American discourse around food and health tends to be highly moralistic. The Biden beef lie works first by activating that sense of shame and then giving people a story that makes them feel better about themselves, about how they're actually the good guys here. They get so focused on trying to make their defensive feelings go away that they don't stop to search Snopes or Politifact and find out if it's even true.

Carlson is playing the same game with his mask nonsense.

Conservatives obviously have a lot of sublimated guilt over refusing to take the pandemic seriously and are therefore on a hair-trigger for defensive reactions. So they're ready to hear how someone else wearing a mask is a judgment on them, about how they're the "real" victims, and mask-wearers are the "real" bad guys. Truth and common sense are crowded out by these over-the-top emotional reactions, driven by their own — in many cases, completely earned — sense of shame.

As Pfeiffer notes, the only way to push back on nonsense like this is for ordinary people to confront those who are spreading it on social media. The problem is that these right-wing freakouts are fueled by conservatives feeling angry, ashamed, and judged — frankly often because they deserve to feel bad about their behavior. Unfortunately, that means that the smarter reactions are ones that turn the temperature down, not up. It can help a lot for interlocutors to focus on facts, instead of moral judgments about things like mask-wearing or beef-eating, and save the moral discussion for another time, when folks are in a less defensive mindset.

Either way, the amount of culture war debris that the right-wing media will be churning out is going to be immense over the next few years. Conservatives have a lot of guilt for their terrible behavior and beliefs, and therefore will be easy marks for any and every story that lets them believe they're the victims and not the victimizers. Right-wing media, as these examples show, is incredibly good at kicking up fake controversies that feed off those defensive feelings. Conservatives are addicted to these lies, and like most addicts, they need increasingly stronger stuff to get their fix. Be prepared.

The party of Charlottesville: Trump's praise of white nationalists is now the GOP mainstream

Former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean had some choice words for the modern Republican Party during a recent interview with Molly Jong-Fast of The Daily Beast. He called the GOP "racist" and "neo-fascist" and, hilariously, compared the Republican congressional caucus specifically to a "sentient YouTube comment section." I expected there to be some outrage, but so far not so much. Apparently, even Republicans are running out of energy to deny what is obviously true about their party. Donald Trump's only been out of office for a little over three months and his once-shocking levels of racism have now become just normal Republican politics.

In August 2017, Trump incited one of the larger of his nearly infinite controversies by insisting that a crowd of neo-Nazis and other white nationalists who gathered for a race riot in Charlottesville contained "very fine people" in it. Over the next few days, Trump did his usual thing of backing off the racist comments and then backing off the back-off. Ultimately, everyone walked away with the same general understanding: Trump's heart was with the white nationalists and any half-hearted gestures otherwise were political theater no one actually took seriously. Efforts by conservative pundits to clean up Trump's comments over the next few years were merely meant to get liberals to stop bugging them about it, not a genuine sign of confusion over where he stood on the matter.

Trump was constantly in the news for saying racist things, but this one stuck out because that crowd of "very fine people" that Trump had so much love for produced a murderer that day. James Fields Jr. rammed his car into a crowd of anti-racists that were counter-protesting, killing a woman named Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others, five critically. Fields went to prison for the attack, but Republican politicians, following Trump's "very fine people" lead, have since moved to legalize what Fields did that day.

In Oklahoma and Florida, Republicans have passed new laws making it legal for motorists to run over protesters, so long as they claim that they felt afraid of a "riot." The laws are clearly meant to give cover to people who attack anti-racist protesters, a trend that started with Fields murdering Heyer but has spread rapidly on the right. Over the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, there were a whopping 104 incidents — including 8 by police — of motorists hitting protesters with cars. The 2017 video of Fields slamming his car into a crowd was a genuine shock, but similar images became sadly common in 2020. Now Republicans want to make it legal.

Such laws are part of a larger push to use violence and threats to silence anti-racism.

The pro-vehicular homicide law in Florida, for instance, is part of a larger package signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that redefines "rioting" in order to make it easier for police to shut down anti-racism protests. DeSantis has explicitly tied the bill to the conviction of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd, insisting that the conviction was because "the jury is scared of what a mob may do" and not because of the evidence — including a video of the murder, which happened in broad daylight — of Chauvin's guilt.

Indeed, this overwhelming evidence against Chauvin is also overwhelming evidence that his supporters in the media and politics simply believe that police should have an unchecked "right" to kill people of color at will. In fact, Chauvin's guilt was so obvious that many in the right-wing media initially seemed to feel the smart move was to throw him under the bus. But Tucker Carlson of Fox News went all-in on treating the verdict like a travesty and now even supposedly more "intellectual" outlets like National Review are hyping the idea that the "real" bad guys are the ones who wanted Chauvin to pay for his crimes.

The "anti-anti-Chauvin" messaging appears to be working.

Right after Chauvin's verdict, a Morning Consult/Politico poll showed that 61% of Republicans said the jury decided correctly while only 29% defended Chauvin. A few days later, after much of the right-wing media portrayed Chauvin as a martyr, a CBS News/YouGov poll showed a shift with 46% of Republicans opposing the verdict and 54% supporting it. That's still the majority, thankfully. But considering how the murder was both dramatic and indisputable, these numbers suggest that Carlson and other figures are successfully winning over Republicans with the notion that people who commit racist violence shouldn't be held accountable. Which, of course, is also the message of the laws legalizing hitting protesters with cars.

It's not just that the larger GOP is increasingly embracing Trumpesque levels of comfort with racist violence. They are also embracing Trump's racist reaction to the 2020 election, which he continuously insisted was "stolen" with racist rhetoric painting voters in cities like Philadephia and Detroit as illegitimate.

A new bill in Texas further dispenses with the GOP's paper-thin rationale of "concerns" about "fraud" to nakedly target the ability of voters in racially diverse cities to cast ballots at all. It sets forth a bunch of regulations to make it much harder to vote, but limits the restrictions to cities with populations of over a million people. It's crystal clear why: The cities of Texas are racially diverse and left-leaning, whereas most rural districts in the state are white and conservative.

The racist intent is right on the surface, and likely, that's a huge part of the point. We already saw this in Georgia, where the racist signaling around the signing of an anti-voting law was so over-the-top that it had to be intentional. Making it hard to vote, but only in the cities, sends a message from the GOP leadership to their own voters: "We are targeting people of color."

The big takeaway that Republican leaders and conservative pundits clearly got from the Trump era was that the Republican base wants their racism delivered piping hot and with the minimal amount of subtlety. It's a situation that is likely to get much worse before it gets better.

Remembering the day Trump turned the GOP into a death cult

April 23: It's Shakespeare's birthday. It's the day that Beyoncé released her instant 2016 classic "Lemonade." It's, uh, the day that Anne Stuart was crowned queen of England. And — much to the chagrin of those who care about things like facts, human decency, and not letting hundreds of thousands of people die to serve the pathetic ego of a sociopathic narcissist — it is also the anniversary of the day that Donald Trump, technically elected president of the United States of America, stood up on national television and suggested he had found the cure for coronavirus that those silly doctors hadn't considered: bleach injections.

And before a sea of conservatives start saying "nuh-uh" and "fake news," let's go ahead and roll the tape:

I see disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it'd be interesting to check that.

Standing at a podium in the White House briefing room, Trump also insisted — and this always stuck with me because he was just so sure that he had figured out something that medical science had overlooked — "I'm like a person who has a good you-know-what" while pointing to his head. He also threw out the idea of cracking people open and letting sunlight clean them out.

The moment wasn't just the end of any remaining dignity for the U.S. It was the end of the last remaining hope beating in liberal hearts that there was anything that Trump could say or do that would cause his followers to un-cleave themselves from the bosom heaving under that weirdly overlong tie. No, on the contrary, it was proof that the worst Trump acted, the more his supporters clung to him, determined to stick it to the liberals who kept laughing at them for voting for the wannabe fascist reality TV "billionaire" in the first place.

For the one-year anniversary of what will likely be remembered as the stupidest day in American politics, Politico did a very Politico thing and published an "inside baseball" piece allowing anonymous and self-congratulatory Trump aides to claim that they did try to stop him before he unleashed the ignorance kraken. Naturally, not a one is asked the deeper question of why they would even work for a man who was a known threat to do something so thunderously stupid.

More important, however, than the self-serving narratives of people with more ambition than sense is what this moment really ended up foretelling about the next year. No doubt it was pretty funny, this new level of cretinism reached by this known moron whose unearned privileges allowed him to fail upwards right into the White House. But Trump's toxic combination of stupidity wed to the self-assurance of a terminal narcissist also ended up being the catalyst for months of mounting trauma inflicted on a nation where most voters really had done their level best to elect Hillary Clinton instead.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, Trump's narcissism led him to believe that he not only knew better than all the scientists of the world combined but that they were probably only saying COVID-19 was a problem as some sort of plot against him. By giving him a daily press briefing at which he could rant mindlessly at cameras every day, his staff was able to trick him, for a time, into reluctantly pretending to take the virus seriously. Still, he was able to communicate to his followers — by refusing to wear a mask, by acting like a pouty child, and by encouraging anti-lockdown protests — his true feelings about the virus, and about his irritation at scientists for thinking they know more than him just because they read and study.

The results were deadly. Refusal to take the pandemic seriously became a badge of honor among Republicans, leading to red states falling short on quarantine measures and conservatives rejecting even the most basic precautions. Trump encouraged this by holding maskless, crowded rallies. The death toll quickly mounted, spiraling way past the early worst estimates of 100,000 or 200,000 to where we are today, with over 570,000 dead on this grim anniversary.

Trump's leadership in framing belligerent ignorance as a right-wing virtue is still wreaking havoc. Over 40% of Republicans refuse to get vaccinated, ready to see this rejection of science until the very end. Even just this week, Trump's former HUD Secretary, Ben Carson, was still hawking hydroxychloroquine, one of the many failed "miracle cures" that Trump hyped in his efforts to deny that scientists know what they're talking about.

The bleach presser crystallized another important aspect of Trump's personality that turned out to be not funny at all: His stalwart belief that there's always some easy way out. Trump was a man who spent his whole life being bailed out of trouble by rich and powerful people, but the pandemic was not something that could be made to disappear with a quick phone call to Roy Cohn or a check written to buy someone's silence. Still, Trump did not abandon his hope that there must be a way to make this whole pandemic business go away, and, in his grasping for such a thing, he landed on "disinfectant injections".

Unfortunately, that same attitude of Trump's came into play after he lost the 2020 election. His failed coup that played out over the next two and a half months was driven by his hunt to find some legal trick, some cheat code available only to him, that would allow him to sail in and seize the lost election from Biden. And when that didn't pan out, as we all saw, he instead sent an unruly mob to storm the Capitol and try to steal it for him.

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