Amanda Marcotte

Is America’s infatuation with billionaires finally coming to an end?

It has long been evident that Elon Musk is a moron, at least to those willing to see it. Well before the Tesla CEO overpaid for Twitter in the throes of a tantrum, there was a chorus of mostly-ignored people pointing out, repeatedly, that Musk's mental maturity appeared to have stagnated around the sixth grade. There was the time he rolled out a "ingenious" idea for tunnel-based transportation, only to have people point out that the subway has been around for over a century. Or the time he tried to push a useless and overly complicated plan to rescue a group of Thai children trapped in a cave. Or the time shortly after that when, still angry at being dismissed, he falsely accused the man who actually did save the children of being a pedophile. Or the time he acted like such an idiot on Joe Rogan's podcast that Tesla stock took a dive. Or the time he named his actual child X Æ A-12.

There are infinitely more examples. (His childish feud with rapper Azealia Banks is a personal favorite.) Yet somehow, no matter how often Musk has shown his ass in public, the damage to his reputation was fleeting. The business and tech press would be startled at his dumb behavior, but within 48 to 72 hours, it was all forgotten and Musk went back to being covered as if he were a genius, if perhaps an eccentric one.

Such is the power of the American mythology of the billionaire. The infatuation with our richest capitalists is related to, but in many ways goes even beyond, the illusion that the U.S. is a meritocracy. The notion that to be very rich must also mean you're brilliant permeates our society, justifying both ridiculously low taxes on the wealthiest Americans and the undue influence they exert over our political system. It's a social fiction that dates back to the Gilded Age and has covered up the intellectual deficits of many famous Americans. (Henry Ford comes to mind.) But it's gotten a lot more juice in the past few decades, as the new class of tech billionaires, starting with Bill Gates of Microsoft and Steve Jobs of Apple, forged the image of the singular mastermind who, with little education and limited resources, remakes the world through the sheer power of their intelligence.

This presumption that wealth equals brains has so permeated our society that it's sometimes hard to see how pervasive it is. But the past couple of years — and indeed, just the past couple of months — have really done a number on the belief that having a fat bank account somehow inoculates one from being a dumbass. Watching Musk lay waste to Twitter, for no discernible reason beyond his desire to impress the biggest losers on the internet, has been a wake-up call. It's hard to imagine there will be the same mass forgetting of who Musk really is that we saw after all his previous public face-plants.

But it's not just Musk. The same process is unfolding for the single person who has benefited more than any other from the myth that money means you're smart: Donald Trump.

For those of us who always thought Trump was a dingleberry, it may not seem readily apparent how much he's really gotten a boost from the widespread assumption that wealth comes attached to inherent smarts. Trump coasted on this for decades. The entire premise of his reality show, "The Apprentice," was that he was some kind of business savant. As with Musk, Trump's gross and idiotic behavior — such as pushing the "birther" conspiracy theory about Barack Obama — was largely shrugged off as quirkiness instead of idiocy.

In 2016, a distressingly large number of people were able to tell themselves that it was OK to vote for Trump because his wealth must mean he's smarter than he seems. When I went to the Republican National Convention in 2016, one delegate after another insisted to me that there must be an ocean of intelligence under that dimwitted exterior, and pointed to his real estate empire as proof. Years later, it became clear that his wealth had been handed to him by others, and his principal accomplishment was to piss most of it away.

That was on top of a record of public tomfoolery that reached its zenith when he publicly suggested that doctors had overlooked the possibility that injecting bleach into the human body might cure COVID-19. In true Dunning-Kruger fashion, Trump then congratulated himself on knowing more than the entire medical establishment, due to this insight.

Trump lost the 2020 election for a number of reasons, but we can't overlook the strong possibility that four years of his outbursts disabused some number of his 2016 voters of the claims about his supposedly superior mental acumen. Yet the notion that Trump is a political sage underneath the braying boob exterior continues to have a remarkable hold on the GOP imagination. The expectation that the 2022 midterms would be a "red tsunami" was based in large part on the confidence that the gallery of QAnoners, snake oil salesmen and bumbleheads endorsed by Trump had also been anointed with some secret sauce that only he, in his infinite wisdom, could perceive or understand. Those candidates ended up losing by an average of about five percentage points more than other Republicans not cursed with Trump's blessing. Now the GOP establishment is struggling with the same doubts creeping into the tech press around Musk: Is it possible this guy's success was more about luck and privilege than savvy?

(To be clear, I don't think Trump's a total imbecile. He's a skillful criminal with a certain low cunning. He's just bad at all the things his defenders wanted to believe he was good at: Business, governance, literacy.)

Two examples, even as big as these, do not a trend make. But there's another big sign that the American faith in the galaxy-level intelligence of our wealthiest people is being rattled: the dawning realization that many people have exploited this mythology for the purposes of plain old fraud.

Just this past couple of weeks, we've seen both former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years in prison and the total career implosion of Sam Bankman-Fried, former CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX. In both cases, it should have been obvious that what they were selling to investors was pure nonsense. Holmes' alleged blood-test technology showed multiple signs of being a smoke-and-mirrors job, and numerous sensible people have been calling cryptocurrency a scam from the very beginning. However you slice it, a heavy dose of skepticism was warranted in both cases.

But both Holmes and Bankman-Fried managed to quash other people's doubts by leveraging the cult of the billionaire genius. Both expertly played to stereotypes to bamboozle investors. Holmes literally modeled her look and demeanor after Steve Jobs, which was such a weird thing to do that it only reinforced her image as a quirky brainiac. Bankman-Fried hyped himself as a relentless workaholic who slept at the office. Both images are meant to suggest a person too focused on changing the world to care about personal appearance. In reality, these personas were as carefully cultivated as Kim Kardashian's, and they were highly effective in convincing gullible people to part with their money.

Now that these two have been exposed, however, a lot more people are asking hard questions about whether the "grind culture" of Silicon Valley is a farce, akin to the illusion of Trump's business acuity built in the editing bay of "The Apprentice." Holmes and Bankman-Fried might have be written off as outliers a few years ago. But right now there's a growing sense that so much of self-congratulatory tech culture is just a digital version of the Wizard of Oz, especially as another crypto crash seems to happen every couple of weekw. Even Gates and Jobs, who were unquestionably brilliant at developing and marketing innovative computer technology, have lost a little of their luster. Jobs, of course, died of cancer after convincing himself that he knew better than doctors how to treat it. Gates, meanwhile, blew up his marriage by acting like a garden variety jackass. Even genuinely smart people can be stupid sometimes. More importantly, a bunch of people who have tricked everyone into thinking that they're geniuses are finally being revealed as the imposters they always were.

It's not just Trump: Midterms show the religious right is an albatross around the GOP’s neck

A couple of weeks out from a midterm election in which Republicans dramatically underperformed, one major theme has emerged in the post-mortems: Donald Trump is to blame. Turns out that voters do not like efforts to overthrow democracy, like Trump's attempted coup or the January 6 insurrection. As data analyst Nate Cohn at the New York Times demonstrated, Trump's "preferred primary candidates" — who usually won a Trump endorsement by backing his Big Lie — fell behind "other G.O.P. candidates by about five percentage points." The result is a number of state, local and congressional offices were lost that Republicans might otherwise have won.

Republican leaders are struggling with this information because dumping Trump is easier said than done so long as he has a substantial percentage of their voting base in his thrall. But, in truth, Republican problems run even deeper than that. It's not just Trump. The religious right has been the backbone of the party for decades, but this midterm election shows they might now be doing the GOP more harm than good at the ballot box.

As with Trump, Republicans are in a "can't win with them/can't win without them" relationship with the religious right. Fundamentalists remain a main source of organizing and fundraising for the GOP, as well a big chunk of their most reliable voters. They can't afford to alienate this group any more than they can afford to push away Trump. Doing so risks the loss of millions of loyal voters. But by continuing to pander to the religious right, Republicans are steadily turning off all other voters, a group that's rapidly growing in size as Americans turn their backs on conservative Christianity. That's doubly true when one looks at the youngest voters, the ones Republicans will need to stay viable as their currently aging voter base starts to die off.

New data from the progressive polling firm Navigator Research shows how dire the situation is for Republicans. On "culture war" issues like reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality, the voters broke hard on the progressive side of things. Among Democratic voters this midterm, 48% said abortion was an important issue for them, showing strong pro-choice sentiment. But among Republicans, only 13% ranked abortion (and the banning of it) as a driving factor in their vote. When Democratic voters were asked their main reason for their voting choice this year, abortion rights was the most popular, cited by 49% of voters. But among Republican voters, only 24% cited support for abortion bans as a major factor.

Republican politicians may have been circumspect in talking about their anti-abortion views prior to Election Day, hoping to make the issue less salient to swing voters. But overall, the past two years have been heavily defined by Republicans catering to the religious right. It's not just that the GOP-controlled Supreme Court went out of its way to overturn Roe v. Wade this past June. Republican leadership in state governments rushed forward to ban abortion, to the point where the red states seemed to be competing over how draconian their abortion bans could be.

Nor were the attacks on reproductive health care limited to abortion. In July, the House of Representatives voted on a bill to codify contraception rights so state governments couldn't ban birth control. All but eight Republicans voted to allow contraception bans. Democratic fears about legal contraception are not misplaced, either. Last week, ProPublica leaked audio of a meeting between anti-choice activists and Republican legislators in Tennessee, where the assembled can be heard gaming out their next steps to ban female-controlled forms of contraception.

The situation was similarly dire on the LGBTQ front, as Republican politicians raced to oppress queer and trans people, especially kids. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis championed the "don't say gay" law that forces queer teachers and students into the closet. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott menaced parents who accept a child's trans identity by threatening to use Child Protective Services to break up their families. Republicans keep passing laws blocking trans people from receiving health care or playing on sports teams. In addition, there's been a dramatic rise in conservatives attempting to ban books featuring LGBTQ characters.

This rash of queerphobic policy has been accompanied by an escalation of bigoted rhetoric in right wing media, all aimed at painting LGBTQ people as perverts and child predators. From Fox News on down the entire conservative media ecosystem, it's become routine to accuse queer people of being "groomers," which is a not-especially-oblique way to call them child molesters. Groups like the Proud Boys routinely target drag shows with intimidating "protests," which are starting to get violent. Over the weekend, there was a gun massacre at a gay club in Colorado Springs. While the police are still not speaking publicly about the killer's motive, observers have pointed out that the murders happened mere hours before a drag brunch, the kind of event that conservative groups have been targeting for harassment.

All of this ugliness did not help Republicans in the midterms. On the contrary, it appears to have hurt them, especially with such high youth voter turnout. As a national youth poll run by Harvard shows, younger people reject the fundamentalism that animates the Republican party. Only 12% identify as "fundamentalist/evangelical," while 37% — by far the biggest group — say they have no religious preference at all. This comports with other polling that shows that Christian churches are becoming older and smaller all the time, as young people leave in droves. Overall, 71% of Americans support same-sex marriage. About two-thirds of Americans want abortion to remain legal.

Even among Republican voters, the religious right doesn't seem particularly popular. Along with the low enthusiasm for abortion bans, the Navigator poll shows that Republican voters weren't super interested in anti-LGBTQ policy positions. Only 20% of those voters cited anti-trans views as a motivator in voting this year, despite nearly two years of non-stop right wing propaganda on this subject. The top three issues that got GOP voter juices going were opposition to social welfare spending, demands that government be "tough on crime" and anger over immigration. In other words, they were all proxy issues for white grievances about a racially diverse society. The Republican party still appeals to racist voters, but even they've lost the enthusiasm for being the panty police.

Despite this hard, statistical evidence, religious right activists refuse to accept that their extremism is hurting the Republican party. As Rachel Cohen of Vox explained last week, anti-abortion leaders insist that banning abortion is a winning issue for Republicans. Instead, as Politico reported, they're claiming that it was Republicans who failed by supposedly "not running harder on abortion restrictions."

Whether these arguments are delusional or simply bad faith hardly matters. The desperation is palpable. Christian conservatives are used to the Republican party being dependent on them, and therefore bending over backward to please them. But this data shows that pandering to the religious right might be hurting the GOP more than helping. Fundamentalists are learning they're just as dependent on the Republican party as the GOP is on them. No wonder they're doubling down. As more and more people leave their pews, their only foothold in staying relevant is to maintain control over the Republican party. As with Trump, they will not leave quietly, but continue to hold the GOP hostage to their increasingly unpopular agenda.

PA GOP makes one last stand for MAGA after Dems win state House majority for first time in 17 years

As the Republican Party takes on its unexpectedly slim majority in the House of Representatives for next year, one question lingers: Did they learn a damn thing from the midterm elections? Yes, they won the House by a handful of seats, but overall the election was a massive disappointment for Republicans, who had swaggered into the midterms expecting not only a sweep of both houses of Congress but a whole bunch of state and local races across the nation. Instead, Democrats won key gubernatorial races in swing states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin. retained control of the Senate (and may end up gaining a seat) and if not for a redistricting fiasco in New York might well have held the House too.

It's no secret that this mostly happened because of Donald Trump and his MAGA nonsense. Indeed, an analysis by Nate Cohn of the New York Times tried to calculate exactly how much being a MAGA true believer cost Republican candidates: It was around five percentage points, Cohn says, easily enough to make the difference between winning and losing in many key races. This realization is kicking off a genuine civil war in the GOP. One side wants to cut Trump loose at last, stop touting the Big Lie about the 2020 election and scale back on the culture war antics. The other side, however, clings to MAGA dogma with religious fervor, believing that cannot fail but can only be failed by RINO phonies. All eyes are closely watching the newly minted House majority and their presumptive speaker, the ever-hapless Rep. Kevin McCarthy. Will they finally tone down the Dumpster fire a tiny bit, or can we expect the next two years to be nothing but bug-eyed conspiracy theories, frivolous "investigations" of Joe Biden's family and Cabinet members and threats to sabotage the world economy if Biden refuses to gut Social Security?

In the House, early indicators suggest that Team MAGA Forever is getting the upper hand. But for even more definitive evidence, it's useful to look beyond the Beltway and toward the normally sleepy state capital of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In the state legislature there, Republicans have made it abundantly clear they have no intention of learning anything from the massive rebuke voters offered their party in the midterm elections.

Hours before it was announced that Democrats have won a majority in the state House for the first time in 17 years, the lame duck legislature in Pennsylvania made its last stand for MAGA by impeaching Larry Krasner, the district attorney in Philadelphia. While understandably unknown to most people outside Pennsylvania, Krasner has become a favorite punching bag in right-wing media, for his anti-racist and progressive views on fighting crime. Republicans paint him as "soft on crime" and blame him for the rise in gun violence in Philadelphia, even though a likelier culprit is the lax statewide gun laws passed by Republicans.

Krasner, for his part, is painting the impeachment as a direct attack on the right of Philadelphians to choose their own leaders. "History will harshly judge this anti-democratic, authoritarian effort to erase Philly's votes — votes by Black, brown and broke people in Philadelphia," he said in statement.

This impeachment of Krasner sews together two of the biggest and most racist themes that fuel the MAGA movement: A belief that anti-racist movements like Black Lives Matter are to blame for rising crime rates, and a belief that voters in racially diverse urban areas are "frauds" who are "stealing" elections from white conservatives.

Philadelphia was one of the cities at the center of Trump's false allegation that Democrats had stolen the 2020 election from him. During his drawn-out coup attempt following that election, Trump sent several of his surrogates — most famously Rudy Giuliani during the "Four Seasons" debacle — to paint the citizens of Philadelphia as illegitimate voters and demand that the state legislature throw their ballots out. In targeting Philadelphia — along with other cities with large Black populations, such as Detroit and Milwaukee — Trump essentially implied that those cities are less deserving of democratic representation than whiter, more rural areas of their state. (Biden also won Pittsburgh, but Trump wasn't nearly as interested in demonizing that city, which is more than 60% white.)

Along with Chicago, New York and other racially diverse cities, Philadelphia has also become central to right-wing media efforts to blame crime on the Black Lives Matter movement. Even in his supposedly "serious" campaign announcement speech Tuesday, Trump made the grotesque claim that "The blood-soaked streets of our once-great cities are cesspools of violent crime." In reality, the spike in crime in the past couple of years seems largely attributable to the pandemic. Gun sales rose during the lockdown and schools were closed, meaning the streets saw an influx of weapons and bored young people, an almost perfect prescription for rising crime. As the pandemic has begun to recede, homicides have also started to decline.

As a progressive prosecutor in a racially diverse city, Krasner makes the perfect hate object for the MAGA movement. He easily beat a Democratic primary challenger and then won the general election. Impeaching him is a hapless symbolic gesture, but also an omen of what's likely to come when Republicans take over the House of Representatives in January. Joe Biden will be subjected to endless investigations and may well be impeached, for the same reason Krasner was: Right-wing outrage over losing an election to a racially diverse coalition.

Perhaps no other state illustrated the voter distaste for MAGA politics in the 2022 midterms more than Pennsylvania. In the two biggest statewide races, Republicans nominated candidates tightly aligned with Trump: Dr. Mehmet Oz was his hand-picked candidate for the open U.S. Senate seat, and state Sen. Doug Mastriano, the gubernatorial candidate, is a hardcore Trump loyalist who helped foment the Jan. 6 insurrection and has numerous links to Christian nationalist causes. They both got creamed, even though Oz was running against Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who suffered a serious stroke that provoked ugly media coverage suggesting that he was unfit to serve. (Although Fetterman has some difficulty with auditory processing, his mental capacity is fine.)

Pennsylvania is a classic swing state in terms of demographics and party registration, but its legislature is controlled by the GOP and packed with Trumpers — including Mastriano, who literally paid for charter buses to send MAGA loyalists to D.C. ahead of the Capitol insurrection. As Spotlight PA reported, "Dozens of GOP state lawmakers — including those in leadership — also attempted to stop or delay Biden's electoral votes from being counted."

You might have thought Republicans would respond to losing their 17-year grip on the state House by dialing back the MAGA madness. Absolutely not: They forged ahead with their plan to impeach Krasner, who has not been accused of any crimes. This follows on the heels of a Republican threat to impeach Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf for implementing public health measures during the pandemic, and various impeachment threats against Philadelphia election officials, based on Trump's false claims of fraud during the 2020 election.

"They just don't think Philly has a right to govern itself," Krasner has stated. He's right, and that's pretty much the through-line of all these Republican efforts. Rather than engaging in self-examination when they lose elections, they attack the right of other Americans — especially those who aren't white — to participate in the democratic process. Krasner's impeachment is just a symptom of this larger problem. We shouldn't expect any Republicans, anywhere, to respond to these midterm losses by actively trying to deradicalize their party. If only. They'll just double down on conspiracy theories and lies, in a last-ditch attempt to delegitimize the voters who keep rejecting them.

Republicans’ asinine theory on why single women vote for Democrats

After the heavily predicted "red wave" in the 2022 midterm elections turned out to be an illusion, it was really no mystery why Republicans failed to capitalize on the political tailwinds that — according to conventional wisdom and political history — should have given them much bigger wins. Blame Donald Trump and Justice Samuel Alito, for the one-two punch of inciting an insurrection (which was wildly unpopular) and overturning the right to abortion (which was highly popular). Americans, it turns out, are protective of democracy and their basic human rights and turned out in huge numbers to vote for Democrats or, more precisely, to vote against Republicans, who are a threat to both. The smart thing for Republicans to do is clear enough: Stop stoking Trump's election lies and scale back the tsunami of racism, sexism and homophobia currently fueling their party.

But there's no chance that will happen, of course. Let's remember that Republicans also flirted with moderating their message after losing the 2012 election, only to go in precisely the opposite direction by nominating Donald Trump in 2016. Looking inward and engaging in self-reflection is the antithesis of everything the modern GOP stands for. So instead, the right is looking outward for someone besides themselves to blame, and they've landed on a favorite scapegoat: Single women. Worse, in blaming single women for their own political failure, conservatives are wallowing in a ludicrous conspiracy theory based on the premise that having an "F" on your driver's license renders you incapable of autonomous thought.

Yes, it's true: Republicans are big mad that single women voted for Democrats, and their explanation for this is that Democrats of brainwashing those hapless, unfortunate women who don't have husbands to make their decisions for them.

"Unmarried women in America are lost, miserable, addicted to SSRIs and alcohol, wracked with guilt from abortion, and wandering from partner to partner," wrote Joel Berry, managing editor of the popular right wing site Babylon Bee. "They are the Democrats' core base now, and the Democrats will do everything possible to manufacture more of them."

Mollie Hemingway, the editor-in-chief of The Federalist, was less colorful in her language, but nonetheless aired a similar claim about "the massive political incentive Democrats have to keep women unmarried."

"No one benefits more from the destruction of the American family than the Democratic Party," announced a headline at the right-wing Washington Examiner.

Andrew Torba, who runs the far-right social media site Gab, sent out a newsletter declaring that democracy is illegitimate because "the Godless unmarried whores of Babylon select your leaders so they can continue to slaughter their children."

Fox News host Jesse Watters, in the most viral example of this talking point, said that "Democrat policies are designed to keep women single" and implored male viewers to get the ladies under control: "Guys, go put a ring on it." How male Fox News viewers are supposed to talk these unruly Democratic-voting women into marrying them was left unexplained, although Watters has previously hinted at the usefulness of coercion when it comes to romance.

While Republican politicians have generally been a bit more circumspect in their language, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri tipped his hand on a not-that-subtle endorsement of this conspiracy theory, retweeting conservative sociologist Brad Wilcox — who prominently drew attention to single women's Democratic leanings — complaining that "fewer adults are opening their hearts, lives, and minds to marriage and children."

These accusations that Democrats are somehow preventing women from getting hitched are deliberately vague on the mechanics. Are Democrats crashing weddings and intervening when the officiant asks if anyone has cause to object? Are they rewriting dating-app software so liberal-leaning women only see video-game addicts who refuse to leave the house? Have they forced every eligible man to leave the country?

If you dig into the comments under these angry right-wing tweets, the outlines of the conspiracy theory these commentators are hinting at become a bit clearer. Reproductive rights, equal access to education and social welfare policies (which are always more generous in the right-wing imagination than in real life) are routinely blamed for somehow tricking women out of marriage. The idea is that Democrats use basic human rights to lure gullible young women away from their true destiny and most cherished desire, which is of course to be the doting helpmeet to a Republican dude. Democrats, the idea goes, get women hooked on a sinister cocktail of equality and freedom, and therefore hopelessly addicted to voting for Democrats.

In the real world, of course, what's going on is painfully simple. Single women are a constituency that benefits enormously from equal pay, equal education and reproductive rights. (Married women benefit from these things, too, but a lot of them are cross-pressured to keep the peace with Republican husbands, and/or are voting their resentments toward their single counterparts.) Understanding that they have a built-in advantage with single women, Democrats have constructed a platform designed to appeal to them.

But accepting that straightforward narrative means accepting the radical notion that women have minds of their own. That will clearly never do in the GOP universe. So a nefarious and unnecessarily complicated conspiracy theory must be created that reimagines basic constituent appeal as manipulation and brainwashing.

As with most accusations made by Republicans, the claims that Democrats somehow "control" women are pure psychological projection. It's pretty obvious that Republicans are the ones who want to control women, and when they start talking about "incentivizing" marriage, what they really mean is various forms of coercion. Stripping women of reproductive rights and economic equality is about trying to create a society where women feel they have to get married in order to survive, or at least to have any financial security. As a not-so-hidden bonus, a woman who is financially dependent on her husband is likely to feel even less room to disagree with him politically or vote her own conscience.

In fact, the theory that Democrats are brainwashing women into staying single is directly linked to the "great replacement" conspiracy theory, a white supremacist fiction proposing that liberal "elites" are somehow "importing" people of color to "replace" white conservatives. In both cases, the presumption that people who are not white men are lesser beings, incapable of independent thought.

As with the Big Lie, this is all about Republicans telling themselves that entire groups of Americans are not legitimate voters or citizens, and don't deserve a say in government. Conservatives' bitter retreat into this conspiracy theory after their disappointing midterm results strongly suggests that the Republican Party has no inclination to moderate anything about its policies or messaging. Instead, we can expect the right to double down on the fascistic assumption that people like them are the only real Americans, and nobody else gets to vote.

Elon Musk’s epic bumbling is a daily reminder that America is not a meritocracy

"He really is the living embodiment of the Dunning-Kruger effect," a friend responded in a group text over the weekend. We had been sharing stories about the bouts of dumbassery on display, as Elon Musk starts his ill-advised reign of Twitter. And hoo boy, there was plenty to share. Did you see the one about Musk telling software engineers to print out 30 days of code, only to tell them to shred it when he likely realized this exposed how he doesn't know what he's doing? Or how he plans to take a bazooka to the content moderation team, even though doing so will likely send advertisers packing? Or how he thought carrying a sink around was a hilarious joke? Or how he tweeted an asinine conspiracy theory about the Paul Pelosi attack, only to delete it hours later?

None of this should be surprising. From day one, this entire saga has been a story of a man with far more money than brains. After all, this all started when Musk stupidly offered to buy Twitter at a price way over its valuation, for no other reason than a fit of trollish pique. It was only after he realized what a foolish idea it was to set $44 billion on fire that he started coming up with disingenuous excuses to escape the deal, only to discover that it was too late, legally, to back out.

Yet, somehow, much of this still feels surprising. The idea that Musk is "smart" has persisted through years of very public evidence to the contrary. Even now, many of his critics offer pre-emptive caveats that they don't think he's stupid, before explaining why the latest of his endless string of idiotic choices is a bad one. This notion of Musk's intelligence clings to the discourse around him for one simple reason: He is very, very rich.

The myth of the American meritocracy is a stubborn one. Americans can't help but believe that someone as rich as Musk must have something going on for him beyond dumb luck. To imagine otherwise is too unsettling. So many people block out what should be an obvious truth: You probably would have never heard of Elon Musk if he wasn't a white man from a wealthy family that literally owned an emerald mine in South Africa.

To be fair, it's entirely possible that, at one point, Musk wasn't a total birdbrain. His resume suggests there was a time when he was relatively competent at computer science, though there's no reason to think that such skills mean fluency in any other higher-functioning tasks. But regardless of what some IQ test from back in the day might have said about Musk, it's clear that in the past couple of decades, his brain has turned to total mush.

The irony is that the very wealth and privilege that tricks people into thinking he must be a genius likely contributed to the current state of affairs. Being surrounded by nothing but flattery makes it hard to distinguish between thoughts you have that are smart and useful and thoughts you have (such as right-wing conspiracy theories) that are idiotic. Either way, the people in your life — and for Musk, his legions of fanboys on Twitter — are swooning over what a super genius you are. The lack of meaningful feedback would damage most people's capacity for critical thinking. Musk's narcissism renders the diagnosis of his rational capacity terminal.

One can only hope the daily updates on Musk's antics will put some dent into the American myth of meritocracy. But then again, having to endure four years of a Donald Trump presidency didn't seem to make much difference, even as he shared moments of Trumpian wisdom like telling people to inject bleach into their lungs to cure COVID-19 and trying to "correct" a weather map drawn by actual meteorologists because he felt it would better serve his ego for a hurricane to make landfall in Alabama. Trump was elected in no small part because he had convinced large numbers of Americans that he was a successful businessman and therefore smart. In reality, he was a historically terrible businessman whose wealth exists because other rich white guys spent decades bailing him out of his self-inflicted financial woes.

The insidious nature of the meritocratic myth is on full display this week, as the Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit over affirmative action at Harvard University. Unfortunately, polling shows that 63% of Americans oppose universities considering race in their admissions process, naively believing that ending affirmative action means some objective measure of "merit" will be used instead. In reality, the opposite is true: Far from being meritocratic institutions, Ivy League schools are largely devoted to elevating rich white kids at the expense of people who have more talent. As Mark Joseph Stern at Slate explains, "Harvard has a preference for four specific groups of applicants known as ALDC: athletes, legacies, those on the dean's list (frequently because of family donations), and the children of faculty." He continues:

In theory, ALDC preferences are colorblind. In practice, they operate as a massive affirmative action program for white applicants. Over a recent six-year period, 2,200 out of 4,993 admitted white students were ALDC—a figure significantly higher than the overall number of admitted students who are Black (1,392) and Hispanic (1,283). White ALDC students are not overrepresented because they happen to be more qualified; to the contrary, about three-fourths of them would have been rejected without the ALDC boost.

The existing race-based affirmative action program is mostly an attempt to make up for the diversity that is lost giving such a massive advantage to white applicants. And yet, somehow, you hear no complaints from most conservatives about the ALDC preferences. That's because they don't actually want a meritocracy. They want a system where white people can get twice as far while being half as talented. Or where the richest man in the world keeps getting called a genius, even as we can all see — if we're willing to look — that he's just another privilege-addled idiot who lost his capacity for critical thinking many billions of dollars ago.

Pink wave? Women rise up for reproductive rights — as conservatives scramble to stop them

The ballot referendum on abortion rights in Kansas wasn't just a test of public attitudes about reproductive rights — it was a test of democracy.

The Republican organizers behind the bill were no doubt aware of the robust polling that shows that strong majorities of Americans support abortion rights, and thus did everything in their power to make sure the general public did not turn out to vote on the question of banning abortion in the state. So they scheduled the ballot initiative during an August primary election, when few Democrats turn out to vote, even though other ballot initiatives are scheduled for November's election. They made the language of the ballot initiative confusing, so pro-choice people might accidentally vote for the ban. And they blanketed the airwaves with misleading ads meant to trick pro-choice voters into voting for the ban.

None of it worked.

Pro-choice activists in the state worked tirelessly to register and turn out voters, as well as educate them on how to vote down the abortion ban, despite the confusing wording. Indeed, the vote wasn't even close, with nearly 60% of voters giving the abortion ban a thumbs down. A huge chunk of voters were independents who didn't even vote in the primary races, only showing up to weigh in on the ballot referendum.

But rather than accept this democratic outcome, conservatives are hardening even more against democracy.

What began with Republicans hand-waving away the election as somehow not a true reflection of voter desires, soon became conservatives reskinning Donald Trump's Big Lie, that the 2020 election was "rigged" against him, to argue that something fishy must have happened in order for Kansas result to occur. They forced a recount of the abortion vote. Recounts, which are expensive and time-consuming, tend to occur only when an election is close. The abortion ban, however, lost by an 18-point margin, so there was zero chance that a recount would change things. Still, as the Kansas City Star reports, the recount was authorized at the request of Melissa Leavitt, a Big Lie advocate who pushed Trump's conspiracy theories to the Kansas state legislature in 2020. Along with Mark Gietzen, a hardline opponent of reproductive rights, they raised nearly $120,000 for the recount. Unsurprisingly, it did nothing to change the outcome. Yet Leavitt and Gietzen are using the recount effort as the foundation for what appears to be a larger push to harass anyone who dared vote against the abortion ban in the state.

"The next step is to check the registrations of the people who they say voted," Gietzen told the Star.

He promised he'll "be visiting homes" of said voters. The pretext is "to see if anyone lives there," but of course, the real purpose is clearly intimidation. This isn't just conjecture. Gietzen is a long-time practitioner of the politics of personalized intimidation. He's spent years parking himself outside of abortion clinics, approaching patients trying to enter, writing down information about them, and repeatedly filing nuisance police reports to waste the time of clinic workers.

The adoption of Trump's Big Lie rhetoric by anti-choice activists is likely only to get worse from here. As political data analyst Tom Bonier noted last week, the overturn of Roe v. Wade is causing an unprecedented spike in registrations of female voters.

Abortion politics in Kansas have been particularly salient, due to a state constitution that protects abortion rights, which is what the ballot initiative was meant to repeal.

The gender gap is why President Joe Biden won in 2020, as Biden performed 12 points better with women than men. If it was only up to male voters, Trump would have won handily, as 53% of men voted for Trump while 57% of women voted for Biden. The gender gap in new registrations is only likely to make the gap grow. With his conspiracy theories about "rigged" elections, Trump has handed anti-choice activists a pretense to undermine democratic efforts to protect abortion rights.

Opposition to abortion was already the root of a great deal of domestic terrorism. Shootings and bombings at clinics in the past few decades have resulted in 11 deaths of clinic workers and patients. In the wake of January 6 and Trump's continued implicit promotion of political violence, however, the use of terroristic tactics has expanded beyond clinics. Gietzen's hint that he'll be dropping by to "investigate" pro-choice voters, for instance, is not isolated. As Kathryn Joyce reported for Salon, in the wake of the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, pro-choice activists were subjected to violence at the hands of police and civilians. While Fox News ran misleading stories accusing pro-choicers of violence, in reality, pro-choice activists were punched, beaten, and in at least one case, run over by a car.

The Proud Boys, who were deeply involved in the January 6 insurrection, have taken up the cause of silencing and intimidating supporters of reproductive rights. Anti-choice activists have started to invite Proud Boys to join as "security," using trumped-up claims of supposed threats from pro-choicers as a justification for violent posturing. As the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) recently documented, "Abortion-related events involving far-right militias and militant social movements like the Proud Boys increased by 150% in 2021 relative to 2020, and 2022 has already seen a 90% rise compared to 2021." Demonstrations where people show up armed tripled from 2020 to 2021. Researchers found that when guns are on scene, demonstrations turn "violent or destructive 40% of the time," compared to .2% of the time when there are no guns.

Since January 6, anti-democratic organizing has only grown more intense and effective.

Proponents of the Big Lie are winning Republican primaries on campaigns built around promises to void any election results that go against the preferences of Republican voters. Under the banner of Big Lie-style conspiracy theories, right-wing sheriffs across the country are organizing campaigns to intimidate people from voting in 2024. As the Kansas recount shows, even a blowout election does little to put a damper on conspiracy theories about "rigged" elections. That's evidence that these conspiracy theories aren't really about a sincere belief that elections are being stolen, but merely a pretext to undermine free and fair elections.

For Trump, January 6 and his subsequently unsubtle incitements to violence are largely about his ego. But while his following has a very cult-like quality to it, ultimately the reason his supporters embrace his anti-democratic attitude isn't just about making one man feel good about himself. It comes back to the fact that Republican views and policies are unpopular with the general public. They can't win at the ballot box, so increasing numbers of Republicans are looking for ways to impose their will outside of democratic means. Legal abortion is perhaps the most crystal clear test of this, as Republicans seem determined to ban it no matter what the voters say.

Fox News and GOP leaders understood the 'great replacement' conspiracy theory was dangerous — and pushed it anyway

In the 16 months since Jan. 6, 2021, Donald Trump and the hosts Fox News hosts — especially its top-rated personality, Tucker Carlson — haven't exactly been subtle in approving of what happened and longing to see more right-wing violence. Trump has publicly mused about issuing pardons to the Capitol insurrectionists if he wins back — or rather steals back — the White House in 2024. Like many of the far-right Republicans in Congress, Trump has also made a martyr out of Ashli Babbitt, the QAnon believer who was shot during the Capitol riot when she tried to break into a secure area and quite likely attack members of Congress. Carlson, meanwhile, has been at the forefront of popularizing various often contradictory conspiracy theories, mostly intended to portray the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as noble patriots and lambaste any Republican who dares say otherwise. While these GOP leaders and media personalities are generally careful to avoid direct calls for violence, their overall message of sympathy and support for right-wing terrorism is undeniable.

So Saturday's mass shooting in Buffalo, while horrifying, is really no surprise.

The alleged shooter who killed 10 people and injured three others in a Buffalo supermarket is 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who appears to have target a busy location in a predominantly Black neighborhood. As has become far too common with these kinds of mass murders, Gendron reportedly live-streamed the massacre on video, and apparently also published a manifesto that echoes many of the paranoid right-wing talking points one can hear every day streaming from the mouths of Fox News hosts and Republican politicians: a series of scurrilous lies about "critical race theory," George Soros and the "great replacement."

Now a familiar refrain will commence. No doubt we will be hear a great deal of umbrage in the coming days from Republican leaders and right-wing pundits. "How dare you blame us?" they will proclaim, in almost hysterical terms, acting shocked, shocked, that anyone would suggest that their words have had horrible consequences. The point of this fake outrage will be to make it too emotionally exhausting to hold them accountable, and to reinforce the ridiculous victim complex that fuels the American right as it increasingly slides into fascism. But let's not mince words: These folks share the blame. They have been encouraging violence, and violence is what they got.

The "great replacement" theory has been a favorite of Carlson's for some time now. This particular paranoid hypothesis is deeply rooted in neo-Nazi and other white nationalist circles. A cabal of rich Jewish people, the theory holds, has conspired to "replace" white Christian Americans with other races and ethnic groups in order to gain political and social control. Carlson doesn't actually say "Jews," and generally blames the sinister plan on Democrats, socialists or unspecified "elites," but otherwise has kept the conspiracy theory intact. (Antisemitism remains the mix by singling out individual Jewish people especially Soros, as the alleged ringleaders.) It's not like Carlson only invokes this narrative on occasion. As Media Matters researcher Nikki McCann Ramirez has documented, Carlson is obsessed with this idea that the people he calls "legacy Americans" — a not-so-veiled euphemism for white Christians of European ancestry — are under siege from shadowy forces flying the banner of diversity. He uses anodyne terms like "demographic change" to make the point, but has gotten bolder more recently, using the word "replacement" to make it even clearer that he's borrowing his ideas from the white-supremacist fringe.

Carlson has also explicitly linked this conspiracy theory to the threat of violence, repeatedly "warning" that America faces a new civil war unless these fictional conspirators stop trying to "replace" his cherished "legacy Americans." The GOP base has been getting the message. A poll conducted in December showed that nearly half of Republican respondents buy into the idea that there's a conspiracy to "replace" white Christians with different racial and ethnic groups. That proportion has probably risen since then, as Carlson's deluge has further mainstreamed this delusional and dangerous notion. Unsurprisingly, there has been a concurrent rise in hate crimes, of which this Buffalo shooting is merely the most dramatic recent example.

When called out for stoking a conspiracy theory that is likely to inspire violence, Carlson inevitably plays the victim, accusing liberals of being "hysterical" and characterizing these criticisms as "cancel culture." This only encourage his viewers to embrace the conspiracy theory even more, telling themselves that they (and he) are bold truth-tellers fighting against the forces of liberal oppression. That's why the how-dare-they posturing we will almost certainly see from Carlson and other right-wing pundits in coming days so predictable. This article, for instance, will quite likely be characterized as hysterical name-calling or an attempt to censor bold political speech. But let's understand this feigned outrage for what it is: an attempt to leverage an act of terrorism in a way that leads people to accept it or even condone it.

The "great replacement" theory fits in with the larger pattern of right-wing Republicans (especially our former president and his allies) and Fox News pundits encouraging not just right-wing paranoia, but the inevitable acts of violence that flow from it. The most straightforward example of this, of course, is the relentless rewriting of the history of Jan. 6, which began in the immediate aftermath and continues to this day. Republican leaders in Congress voted down Trump's impeachment only weeks after the riot and have tried to block congressional efforts to uncover exactly how the attempted coup went down.

Over this past winter, Fox News, Trump and other GOP leaders made another big push towards political violence, hyping outrageous conspiracy theories about COVID vaccines and encouraging their audiences toward aggressive acts of so-called resistance. As with Carlson, these threats are often packaged as "warnings," as when Trump declared on Fox News in February, "You can push people so far and our country is a tinderbox too, don't kid yourself." Around the same time, Carlson, Sean Hannity, Carlson and Glenn Beck all started pushed the idea that anti-vaccination fanatics were potentially justified in using violence as "self-defense."

Indeed, as the shooting was unfolding in Buffalo, there was an overt call for right-wing violence at Trump's rally in Austin, Texas, where oock geezer turned gun advocate Ted Nugent told the crowd of 8,000 that he'd "love" it if they all "went out and just went berserk on the skulls of the Democrats and the Marxists and the communists." In his speech afterward, Trump praised Republican politicians in Texas, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who have slavishly proven their loyalty to him.

Many of the people arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 , 2021, have stopped being apologetic about what they did, and are now portraying themselves as martyrs and heroes. Last week, one of the most prominent ringleaders on the insurrection, Tim "Baked Alaska" Gionet, a troll to the very end, dramatically declared at a hearing that he was changing his plea. He had agreed to plead guilty to a lesser offense, but now wants to plead not guilty, even though he filming himself inside the Capitol during the riot and put the evidence online. Other Jan. 6 defendants have also become more confrontational, including pulling a gun on probation officers, acquiring new guns in defiance of a court order, or claiming that their actions on that day amounted to "self-defense." In fairness, why shouldn't they feel emboldened? Most Republican voters, along with the party's leadership, are more interested in making excuses for Trump's coup than holding anyone accountable for it.

And all of the above doesn't even touch on the way Republican politicians and right-wing media have mainstreamed the QAnon conspiracy theory by regularly slurring Democrats, LGBTQ folks and their allies as "groomers." Demonizing political opponents with false allegations of pedophilia is unbelievably slimy, even by Republican standards. It also serves to inspire or encourage potential acts of violence, by dehumanizing their targets and creating a delusional narrative that makes such attacks seem justified.

Perhaps the horror unleashed in Buffalo on Saturday will cause Carlson and his allies to rethink their paranoid, racist and inflammatory rhetoric. That is doubtful, however. After all, this is just the latest in a series of mass shootings inspired by the "great replacement" theory, including the Walmart shooting in El Paso that left 23 dead and the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in which 11 people died. Since those massacres, the "great replacement" theory has only become more popular with Republican voters, largely thanks to Carlson and similar figures on the right. It has also become popular with Republicans, including J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee in Ohio's Senate race. Just this week, the conspiracy theory got another round of hype as Republican pundits and politicians pretended to believe that President Biden was stealing baby formula from Americans to feed "illegals," their slur for refugees applying for asylum. Those who would support deliberately starving babies for racist and xenophobic reasons aren't likely to feel any real empathy for the victims and their families in Buffalo. We cannot legitimately hope that they will be chastened by this latest round of violence, but we can make clear that their hateful rhetoric helped to unleash it.

Trump has only himself to blame for Kathy Barnette, Pennsylvania's terrifying new MAGA darling

Donald Trump is not happy about the shape of the Republican Senate primary in Pennsylvania. His fame and celebrity thirst led him to endorse TV star Dr. Mehmet Oz, an accomplished surgeon who gave it all up for the easy cash of peddling snake oil. But now it looks like Oz may lose his primary, dealing an embarrassing blow to Trump's fragile ego.

Worse, Oz may not even lose to the generic Republican candidate, David McCormick, a walking MAGA-hat whose bland white guy looks can pass as "normal" to low-info swing voters. (I like to call this "pulling a Glenn Youngkin.") No, the surging candidate is Kathy Barnette, a hard-right commentator and crank in the style of Christine O'Donnell or Todd Akin — in other words, weird enough to pull in national attention, but with extreme views that could sink her in a general election race.

"Kathy Barnette will never be able to win the General Election against the Radical Left Democrats," Trump ranted in a statement released Thursday. He complained that she "has many things in her past which have not been properly explained or vetted," and argued that "Oz is the only one who will be able to easily defeat the Crazed, Lunatic Democrat in Pennsylvania."

Politico describes Barnette's poll surge as "somewhat puzzling." It's not, however, if one has been carefully following how much the backlash to the #MeToo movement and rising anger at feminism has been fueling Trumpism. Trump won in 2016 thanks to a widespread sexist tantrum over a woman, Hillary Clinton, winning the Democratic nomination for president. Trump reinforced the misogyny message throughout his campaign, starting with mocking a female journalist for menstruating and ending with an absurdly insincere apology for the "Access Hollywood" tape in which he can be heard boasting about sexual assault.

Barnette's entry into the Misogyny Olympics is outrageous even by MAGA's low standards. She's been circulating a video and a story about how her mother was raped at 11 years old in 1971. While the subsequent birth of Barnette is treated like a beautiful sacrifice on her mother's part, it is worth noting that she didn't exactly have many choices as a Black child in Alabama before Roe v. Wade.

As feminist writer Jessica Valenti noted in a recent newsletter, "people talk about abortion as if something is ending," but in reality, access to abortion secures opportunities for women. Citing how her abortion made possible her marriage, daughter and career, Valenti wrote, "Anti-choicers like to pose hypotheticals about the remarkable baby a woman could have if she just didn't get an abortion: What if they cured cancer? None ask if that woman herself might change the world." When we're talking about rape victims who are literal children, it's even more stark; their entire futures can depend on having access to abortion.

Barnette calls the rape "horrible" in the video, but — by the anti-choice logic she's appealing to with her messaging — if forced childbirth is a beautiful thing because it results in "life," wouldn't that make forced impregnation beautiful as well? Indeed, MAGA circles went nuts last week over an event at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, where one speaker declared, "Not your body, your choice. Your body is mine and you're having my baby." It's why the anti-choice movement also opposes birth control. People who are compelled by the idea that a person wouldn't be here if a woman had ended a pregnancy will likely find other potential roadblocks to giving birth, including preventing pregnancy via contraception or a woman's right to refuse sex, suspicious as well.

Barnette's appeal to the MAGA base isn't exactly mysterious. The anti-choice crowd has always romanticized stories of women submitting to extreme levels of oppression. It puts an ennobling gloss on what is actually a deeply sadistic attitude towards women.

As much as he may loathe admitting it, Trump's objections to Barnette echo concerns that have already been expressed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In April, McConnell gave a speech noting that Republicans are in a good position for the midterms unless they "screw this up" by running "unacceptable" candidates. As Russell Berman noted in the Atlantic later that month, McConnell is likely thinking of "the GOP's missed chances in 2010 and 2012," where lunatic candidates lost races they could have otherwise won. In at least two cases, it was because of "defending their opposition to abortion even in cases of rape."

Well, Barnette isn't just opposed to abortion rights for rape victims. She's built her entire campaign around it. Anti-choicers like to leverage stories by people who claim they are products of rape because they know it shuts down some arguments. That doesn't mean those stories win people over, though. "Being forced to give birth to a rapist's baby in junior high is good, actually" is a bad campaign slogan, no matter how many personal testimonies you put behind it. Republican strategists desperately want the campaign to be about anything but forced childbirth, but Barnette may make that impossible in Pennsylvania.

Plus, that's just one of her many truly fringe positions. Reporters haven't even really started digging and the research on her bigoted statements has started to pour out in volumes, documented at length on her own radio program. She compared being Muslim to "Hitler's Nazi Germany view of the world." She compared same-sex marriage to marriage between "one older man and a 12-year-old child." (Which is notably similar to the configuration that led to the forced childbirth she celebrates.) "Two men sleeping together, two men holding hands, two men caressing, that is not normal," she claimed. She bemoaned LGBTQ rights as a "barrage to normalize sexual perversion."

It's a race that's expected to get a lot of national attention because Pennsylvania is a swing state. Barnette sticks out from a crowded field of MAGA-heads because of her race and gender, but also because, as Trump suggests, there's a great deal not known about her yet. That opens the door to investigations into her background. Clearly, the GOP powers-that-be are worried about Barnette, because they're placing opposition research about her in the right-wing press not unlike the ongoing campaign to destroy Madison Cawthorn, the extremist MAGA congressman from North Carolina. Unlike states where the local media has been thoroughly destroyed, Pennsylvania still has some popular local newspapers like the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Philadelphia Inquirer, which make it harder for shady politicians to avoid press scrutiny.

It's a tough year for Democrats, who are taking the blame for inflation and general American malaise, but the public is starting to get quite angry about issues like the upcoming overturn of Roe v. Wade. All this makes her a very bad candidate for the GOP in this race.

But if Barnette is a bridge too far, as Trump fears, he only has himself to blame. His electoral success in 2016 — even though he never once won the popular vote — emboldened the GOP base to believe they could win elections by running any troll they want. Trump hasn't exactly done much work to discourage this idea. He's backed Herschel Walker in Georgia, who lied about graduating college and is accused of threatening to kill his ex-wife. He's backed a Nebraska gubernatorial candidate with eight sexual assault allegations. Prior to endorsing Oz, Trump's man in the Pennsylvania senate race was Sean Parnell, whose wife accused him of beating her and punching a door into a child's face. Trump has no discernible objection to candidates with ugly attitudes about violence towards women. His cold feet around Barnette might change a few minds. But in a GOP primary system that is mostly a race to the bottom, it's not a surprise someone like her is pulling ahead.

So much for 'pro-choice': Susan Collins goes full MAGA on abortion

Republican Sen. Susan Collins still wants voters to believe she is pro-choice. During the hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Collins defended her decision to vote for the Federalist Society-linked judge by claiming to believe his assurances to her that he had no plan to overturn Roe v. Wade. In the three and a half years since, there's been a raging debate over whether she said that because she's stupid, or just a liar that knows she can't win in Maine without maintaining the illusion that she's a moderate Republican.

So she continues to insist on Kavanaugh's pro-Roe credentials, even after he cast an anti-Roe vote in 2020 with the minority of the court. Facing down a genuinely pro-choice Democratic challenger in 2020, Collins voted against confirming Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Observers noted, however, that she could get away with it because Barrett had enough votes to get confirmed anyway. Then after a draft opinion from the Supreme Court was leaked, showing that her beloved Kavanaugh was once again voting to overturn Roe, Collins insisted that it was "completely inconsistent" with what Kavanaugh told her in meetings prior to his confirmation.

I've always believed Collins isn't that big an idiot but is simply that big a liar.

Kavanaugh, after all, repeatedly lied under oath — in comically obvious ways — during his confirmation hearing. Collins rewarded him with a vote to confirm and then was rewarded handsomely for her vote with donations from the Federalist Society, money which likely helped push her over the top in her 2020 campaign. On Wednesday, she and other fake moderate Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted against the Women's Health Protection Act, which codifies Roe and recognizes abortion as a right. By taking this vote, Collins and Murkowski reveal beyond any reasonable doubt that they are not, in fact, pro-choice, even as they continue to insist otherwise on TV.

Sure, Collins is still pretending that she's pro-choice despite repeatedly standing in the way of abortion rights. She put out a statement defending her vote by accusing the Democrats of designing the bill to fail. She claimed that the bill eliminates "basic conscience protections that are relied upon by health care providers who have religious objections to performing abortions."

This, like the claim to believe Kavanaugh wouldn't overturn Roe, is flat-out false. The bill only protects the right of doctors to perform abortions. It certainly doesn't require any doctor to do so. Even the most robust pro-choice activists don't want, say, an optometrist in the business of providing abortions just because patients ask. And while it would be nice if there weren't any misogynist gynecologists using religion as a cover to deny women abortions, it's also for the best that such bigots aren't in the business of dealing with patients who need compassionate and safe care.

Collins also claims she plans "to continue working with my colleagues on legislation to maintain" abortion rights, citing an alternative bill she and Murkowski have written that supposedly protects abortion rights. In fact, the bill allows states to pass serious restrictions that make it hard, if not impossible, for providers to operate. If any bill is "designed to fail," it's this one Collins wrote that she knows full well will never come up for a vote.

Just a few years ago, both Murkowski and Collins were willing to be moderates in deed as well as word, voting against Donald Trump's 2017 effort to repeal Obamacare. Now they won't even stand up for a right that is supported by a strong majority of Americans. This reflects a larger shift to the right in the GOP. Those who aren't willing to go along with it face the danger of being purged. Much of the purge is centered around loyalty to Trump's Big Lie, but it's also clear that Republican politicians increasingly feel that they must toe the MAGA line in all ways — even on abortion rights — or else face losing to primary challengers that are even more far-right than they are.

Republicans used to write anti-abortion bills that had exceptions for health or for victims of rape or incest, but this new crop of abortion bans are absolutist. Republicans used to be more circumspect about their hostility to contraception access, but now are speaking more openly about plans to repeal the right to use birth control, as well. Justice Samuel Alito's leaked draft opinion really underscores how shameless the misogyny has become, as he quite literally cites a pro-rape witch-burner from the 13th century as an authority on whether women have legal rights. (He was not for the idea!) In this environment, it's no surprise that Murkowski and Collins feel their careers would be in real danger if they stood against the rabidly misogynist GOP base on the issue of abortion rights.

The whole situation is a perfect illustration of the greatest conundrum of current American politics: undemocratic election systems and high rates of voter complacency allow Republicans to be wildly overrepresented in federal power.

On the first front, the problem is simple enough. More Americans vote for Democrats, but because electoral maps favor rural and suburban areas over urban ones, Republicans win disproportionate numbers of seats. On the latter front, the issue is a little more complicated. Primary voters tend to be both more ideological than general election voters. So Republicans keep sending far-right radicals to the ballot. They then win mainly because a huge chunk of voters don't pay much attention to politics, and have no idea that they're voting for foaming-at-the-mouth MAGA radicals.

The election of Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia is the most recent example of the latter phenomenon. The man is a Trumpster through and through. However, he managed to tamp down on the most rabidly fascist behaviors in public, giving Democratic Virginians an excuse to skip voting and allowing some swing voters to feel okay backing him. And sure enough, now Virginia voters are feeling betrayed by how far-right Youngkin turned out to be. Of course, this was entirely predictable if they had just paid a modicum of attention.

Collins, in particular, seems like she's trying to thread the needle by not taking actions that could alienate the MAGA base while putting on an empty pro-choice act for moderate voters. It goes a long way to explain her comically over-the-top reaction to a group of pro-choicers writing a demand that she vote for abortion rights in chalk on her sidewalk. The cops were called to deal with what Collins described as "the defacement of public property in front of our home." After having the cops called on them for "defacement" that will disappear the next time it rains, the chalkers returned to write messages reminding Collins that they also have a right to free speech.

Collins obviously does not like any kind of message that might remind her moderate voters that she is not actually pro-choice. But her reaction of trying to get the chalkers arrested speaks volumes about why she's gone full MAGA, instead of quietly retiring like so many of her more moderate Republican friends have done. Her entitled reaction echoes the same MAGA petulance that led Trump to call for shooting Black Lives Matter protesters and pushed Trump supporters to storm the Capitol rather than accept a lost election. Collins is all aboard with the power-at-any-price mentality, especially since it's other women who will have to suffer the consequences of forced childbirth.

Republicans are lying to you about Roe

Despite the fact that forced childbirth has been a major goal and central organizing strategy of the GOP for approximately four decades, Republican political strategists don't exactly seem stoked about a leaked draft opinion indicating that the GOP-controlled Supreme Court plans to overturn Roe v. Wade outright. Turns out that abortion rights are very popular, likely due to people's well-documented enthusiasm for fornication without procreation. With the midterms just a few months away and Democrats signaling that they intend to make this a major issue, Republicans are scrambling for a political strategy to make their mandatory childbirth policy seem not as bad of an idea as it obviously is.

On Tuesday, Axios leaked a three-page talking points memo from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). The strategy that the Republican campaign strategy group suggests is to lie. A lot. Lie every chance you get. Lie about everything, all the time. Lie so often that the media stops bothering to fact-check you and your opponents grow exhausted trying to disprove your lies. It's a tried-and-true trick for the GOP.

The document is remarkable as a snapshot into not just the ease with which Republicans lie, but also their total dependence on keeping voters in the dark about their true beliefs and intentions. Most of the claims on this document are flat-out lies, and even when they aren't — such as the fact that Democrats oppose "even limiting abortion to the first trimester" — they are attempts to distract voters from the true view of Republicans, which is a ban on all abortions in any trimester. The entire GOP political strategy is geared around pulling the wool over voters' eyes.

True to form, this short document is so packed full of lies that it's impossible to debunk all of them. But just the section titled "FORCEFULLY REFUTE DEMOCRAT LIES REGARDING GOP POSITIONS ON ABORTION AND WOMEN'S HEALTH CARE" is a marvel in protesting-too-much. Nearly everything they label as a "lie" would, in the common parlance, be better described as the truth.

"Republicans DO NOT want to throw doctors and women in jail. Mothers should be held harmless under the law," reads the document.

Of course, this is a lie.

Lousiana is already drafting a bill that would imprison both doctors and patients for abortion under homicide laws. Twenty-six states have or are expected to pass abortion bans, and nearly all come with criminal penalties. In Texas, a woman was already arrested for abortion, and the charges were only dropped when negative national attention fell on the state. But sustained media outrage will fade when such arrests are common, which is what Republicans are clearly counting on.

"Republicans DO NOT want to take away contraception," reads another bullet point.

Of course, this is the Republican Party that, under President Barack Obama, repeatedly threatened to shut down the government in an attempt to take away contraception services. This is the party that has waged an all-out war on public clinics that provide contraception services. This is the party that had a total meltdown when the Obama administration passed a rule requiring insurance plans to cover birth control. Their most popular pundit at the time accused women who use birth control of being sex workers. Republicans took the anti-insurance fight to the Supreme Court, where the anti-abortion justices signed onto a plan to cut off birth control coverage that women had already paid for. This is the party that, under Donald Trump, cut off funding for birth control services and appointed an HHS secretary who believed employers should be able to fire women for using birth control. This is the party that, under George W. Bush, backed a massive program to teach every public school student that condoms don't work and birth control pills make you unlovable. Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who is the head of NRSC, personally signed a bill as Florida governor to take birth control services away. Plus, more Republicans all the time are admitting they want to overturn Griswold v. Connecticut, the decision that legalized contraception.

The document goes on to lie about the science, which is standard operating for the party of vaccine and climate denialists. It repeatedly calls Democrats "extremists," even though Democratic views are in line with the strong majority of Americans that want Roe upheld. It recommends that Republicans talk about "late-term" abortions, eliding the fact that red states define "late" as two weeks after the first missed period, before most pregnant people experience symptoms.

It's hard to flag what is the most egregious lie in this, but the most telling may be the insistence that "If Roe v. Wade is overturned, state and local officials closest to the people will make laws that reflect the will of their states." That may be true in the short term, but only because Joe Biden is president and will veto any abortion ban that Congress passes. But should Donald Trump, as planned, steals — or heaven forbid, actually wins — the 2024 election, Republicans will almost certainly pass a national ban on abortion.

This isn't just speculation. Congressional Republicans are already drafting the bill, likely with an eye toward passing it on January 21, 2025. In the meantime, however, the plan is to make sure that blue states are not, in fact, free to keep abortion safe and legal. As Mark Joseph Stern of Slate reports, Republicans are exploring "new laws that prevent people from crossing state lines to terminate a pregnancy." They are also building out a legal framework where red states can legally persecute abortion providers in blue states. For instance, a red state court could rule in favor of the family of a rapist who sues a blue state provider for aborting the victim's pregnancy. The anti-Roe Supreme Court is likely to rule that such judgments must be upheld. As battles ranging from those over slavery in the 19th century to those over same-sex marriage in the 21st show, systems where human rights exist in some states but not others tend to collapse under the contradictions.

Republican lies are laughably easy to punch through, but it's not surprising that Scott and the NRSC think they can get away with this. The problem is that conflict-averse Democrats avoid calling Republicans out for this nonsense. As Rebecca Traister wrote in New York this week, Democratic leadership reacted to the Roe leak with "words that ultimately felt bloodless." Most leaders won't even say the word "abortion," much less explain why Republicans are lying about their intentions.

The NRSC document paints a hysterical picture of Republicans under siege from "angry" and "strident" Democrats. If only! Then perhaps the voters Democrats are trying to woo over would actually start to understand that things are serious and human rights are very much in peril. But, as it is, Republicans have an opportunity to lie their heads off about their radical forced childbirth plans, and they have every intention of exploiting it.

Evangelicals are the backbones of Trump's Big Lie — and it's all about white supremacy

"There's one thing that I know for sure," declared Gene Bailey, the pastor of Eagle Mountain Church International, before a crowd of thousands recently gathered at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma. "The raw truth was on Nov. 3, 2020, President Donald J. Trump won the election."

Later during the summit on the 2020 presidential election, which was broadcast live to a Facebook audience of over 300,000 followers, Hank Kunneman, the pastor of One Voice Ministries, proclaimed: "There is a payback coming!"

The pastor went to rave about how President Joe Biden belongs in prison for "treason" and a "demonic agenda."

The late April event is chilling — but remarkable, mainly for how unremarkable it is.

Forget Jesus Christ and the "good news" about salvation. All across red state America, the true faith of evangelical churches lately often seems more about Donald Trump and trumpeting the Big Lie. As Charles Homans at the New York Times wrote in late April:

In the 17 months since the presidential election, pastors at these churches have preached about fraudulent votes and vague claims of election meddling. They have opened their church doors to speakers promoting discredited theories about overturning President Biden's victory and lent a veneer of spiritual authority to activists who often wrap themselves in the language of Christian righteousness.

In the mainstream media and the eyes of much of the public, there's a secular cast to the false claims that Biden "stole" the 2020 election, which is being used to justify a national GOP campaign to actually steal the election for Trump in 2024.

From Rudy Giuliani sweating through his hair dye to Steve Bannon's self-aggrandizing to the hard-drinking Proud Boys, the face of the Big Lie is that of the all-American dirtbag, someone who is more likely to be out on Saturday harassing women in bars than up early on Sunday for church. But while those figures certainly get attention, the larger threat to democracy likely comes from the well-organized, well-funded white evangelical movement, which has managed to reorganize itself around Trump's Big Lie out of the glare of much mainstream media attention.

From the beginning, the religious right was the backbone of Trump's Big Lie. As Kathryn Joyce reported for Salon on the anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, in the run-up to the riot, "allegations about the 'stolen' election became nearly inseparable from messages of apocalyptic faith." The crowd that turned out that day was largely driven by religious fervor. Popular religious right figures were responsible for sending thousands of people to the Capitol to do Trump's bidding. Since then, the Christian nationalist devotion to the Big Lie has only grown stronger. Six out of 10 white evangelicals claim Biden stole the 2020 election, compared to 37% of white Christians from mainline churches.

The enthusiasm for the Big Lie among white evangelicals comes back primarily to one thing: Racism.

Scrape away the easily disproven conspiracy theories about voting machines and stolen ballots and what you're left with is the animating belief of the Big Lie, which is that conservative white people are entitled to rule, no matter what. The Big Lie puts a moral gloss on this argument, by recasting the opponents of democracy as the "victims" of a "stolen" election. Actions like trying to throw out the vote total in racially diverse cities in 2020 and rewriting election laws to marginalize voters of color, however, tell the true story. The Big Lie is about preserving white supremacy, even if the cost is ending democracy.

Anthea Butler, a religious studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of "White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America" explained the history of the evangelical movement last year in an interview for Religion & Politics.

"There's a prevalent belief around evangelicalism that the movement was formed in the 70s in response to Roe v. Wade," she noted. In reality, however, "It wasn't abortion that fired them up—it was integration, taxation, busing, and similar issues."

As Dartmouth historian Randall Balmer has carefully documented, while religious right leaders like Jerry Falwell liked to portray their movement as anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ, it really started as a pro-segregation movement. Falwell first made a name for himself by preaching about the evils of integration. He started really getting into political organizing around the issue of the federal government stripping tax-exempt status from private schools, such as his own Lynchburg Christian School, which barred Black students. Falwell later publicly recanted his segregationist beliefs, but only in the most surface of ways. White supremacy is still foundational to white evangelical culture, which is why they continue to be Trump's strongest base of support.

It's easy to see how much racism is in the DNA of white evangelical culture in a recent New Yorker article about Liberty University, which was founded by Falwell and, until recently, was run by his son Jerry Falwell, Jr. University leadership talks a big game about racial diversity, but whenever there's even a hint of a challenge to white supremacy on campus, the administration comes down on students like a hammer. As Megan K. Stack reports, "members of the student government drafted an anodyne condemnation of white supremacy" in response to the deadly white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, but the administration functionally blocked it. Falwell then defended Trump's claim that the neo-Nazis and other white nationalists were "very fine people."

A similar fight went down when a small group of students tried to organize a demonstration in support of Black Lives Matter after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. The administration totally panicked in response, as Stack notes:

They were told to stop using the words "Black lives matter" and "protest"; "demonstration," they recalled the administrators admonishing them, sounded less violent. They were asked to organize an academic discussion instead of a protest, or perhaps an athletes-only gathering in one of the sports halls. "They were just being very passive-aggressive," Williams said. "They were just trying to water down the statement 'Black lives matter.' "

When the students continued to press forward with the plans, the administration refused to provide campus police protection. Afterward, the school released a statement emphasizing that it was "student-led and student-created," lest anyone mistake them as supporting this anti-racist movement.

A November PRRI poll found that while they espouse anti-racist views when asked directly about race, 78% of white evangelicals agreed with the statement that "America is in danger of losing its culture and identity." To my mind, that question is an excellent measure of white supremacist sentiment, as it's hard to imagine what else people are thinking of when they talk about American culture and identity. They certainly aren't reacting to the long-standing tradition of America as a nation of immigrants, the traditions of secularism, or any of the other progressive values about equality and freedom that the liberal majority of Americans believe in. Instead, what they clearly believe is that people like them are the only legitimate rulers and that it's "fraud" if the majority of Americans disagree.

The truth is that white evangelicals are, in fact, a shrinking portion of the American public, but not because of immigration or Black Lives Matter or antifa or any of the other bogeymen that Republican propagandists prop up. It's because of evangelicals' own intolerance and bigotry. Younger Americans simply don't truck with it — even at Liberty University, students speak out about it! — and so are leaving the pews in large numbers. Heaven forbid, however, that evangelicals admit they only have themselves to blame and change their views to become more accepting of diversity. Instead, white evangelicals are embracing conspiracy theories, Trumpism, and, ultimately, a war on democracy itself.

'It was Russia first': GOP 'Don't Say Gay' laws plucked straight out of Vladimir Putin's 'playbook'

The conservative government was alarmed at the rise in the numbers of young people espousing LGBTQ identities. So leaders decided it was time for a crackdown. Claiming that it was all about "protecting" the children from supposedly sexually predatory adults, a "don't say gay" law was passed that barred "promoting non-traditional relations to minors." Defenders of the law insisted that LGBTQ people were "not being discriminated against in any way." However, as human rights advocates pointed out, the law was so vaguely worded as to bar any open expression of queer or trans identities. Simply being out of the closet became reason enough to be accused of "gay propaganda," since, after all, one could read that as a signal to minors that being gay is okay.

This is Florida now— but it was Russia first.

Florida in the year 2022 is where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law that threatens financial ruin for any speech that could be construed as "instructing" kids about LGBTQ identities. But nine years ago, the same controversy was centered in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin signed a federal "don't say gay" law. The only difference is Putin could apply it to the whole nation, whereas DeSantis can only exert power on public schools in his state. In both cases, however, the same baseless justification was used: kids were being "groomed" by adults with nefarious intent so speech needed to be restricted to protect kids. In both cases, however, the actual reason for the law is to force people to live in the closet and punish anyone speaking out on behalf of equal rights.

Though it's not being talked about much, if at all, in the mainstream media, the 2013 ban on "gay propaganda" in Russia and the current Florida law barring any "instruction" on "sexual orientation or gender identity" are incredibly close to each other. So close, in fact, that's it's impossible to imagine that DeSantis and his allies didn't draw inspiration from the same Russian dictator who is currently waging a genocidal war on Ukraine.

As NPR reports, "don't say gay" bills are spreading as Republicans in over a dozen states have introduced copycat legislation meant to ban books and shove teachers and students back into the closet. There's good reason to think Putin inspired this current raft of "don't say gay" bills beyond just the similarity in how the bills are worded and the same "groomer" lies being used as justification. The American religious right has long and deep ties to Putin and the authoritarian government in Russia. Indeed, they've spent years specifically advocating for and supporting the "don't say gay" law in Russia.

As Right Wing Watch reported in 2014, "several American Religious Right leaders have spoken loudly in favor of Putin's crackdowns on gay people." Worse, "American anti-gay activists quietly provided intellectual backing and international support that directly and indirectly fueled the resurgent anti-gay movement in Russia." In a 2017 report, the site noted, "The Kremlin, through financing and conferences, has also built up ties with America's Religious Right."

In other words, the religious right has long been aware of Putin's "don't say gay" law and the lies his government used to defend it. It's not a coincidence that the same ideas and rhetoric are being deployed by Republicans here. Indeed, at the same time Russia passed its "don't say gay" law in 2013, they also passed an "anti-blasphemy" law that recommended jail sentences up to three years for "offending religious feelings." If that sounds familiar, it should. The same kind of language is being used in the Republican war on what they call "critical race theory." For instance, the "Stop WOKE" bill DeSantis is also pushing bans any materials that discuss racism that white people claim causes them "discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress." The anti-"critical race theory" movement in the U.S. has been used to ban books teaching that slavery or the civil rights movement happened, just as Russia's "anti-blasphemy" law is used to punish any criticism of the Christian right.

Despite Putin's claims to the contrary, human rights advocates were right about the impact of his "don't say gay" law: The Russian "don't say gay" law has been used as an all-purpose excuse to crack down on LGBTQ rights, all under bad faith claims of "protecting" children. Public materials that portray same-sex couples have been censored. Gay rights activists have been arrested. People were fired for being out of the closet. Pride parades were banned. Right now, the Russian government is trying to shut down one of the nation's biggest LGBTQ rights groups. Ukrainian citizens worry that the campaign of terror against queer people will be extended to their country if Russia succeeds in its invasion. WNBA star Brittney Griner is being held hostage in Russia right now, and while the official excuse is drug-related, gay rights activists are accusing the government of holding her in no small part because she's an out lesbian. And while the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the "don't say gay" law in 2017, unsurprisingly that's done little to stop the human rights abuses in Russia.

Due to Russia's horrific invasion of Ukraine and the seemingly unending war crimes being committed there, most Republicans have become shy about the pro-Putin sentiment that's been churning through their party for years and was only amplified by Donald Trump's robust admiration for the Russian dictator. But it is hard to ignore that this explosion of "don't say gay" and "critical race theory" bills look like they were directly inspired by Russia's "gay propaganda" and "anti-blasphemy" laws. Even the justifications — wild accusations of "grooming" and whining about the dominant class's hurt feelings — sound identical. The American right's affinity for Putin's Russia is still going strong, even if some of them are being a little quieter about it these days.

How Donald Trump became the most powerful religious leader on the right

As Salon's Kathryn Joyce reported on Friday, Manhattan Institute senior fellow Christopher Rufo, who fashions himself "the new master strategist of the right," is not a man afraid of the spotlight. On the contrary, he's surprisingly candid for a man whose policy ambitions, such as destroying public education as we know it, are deeply unpopular. He loves to brag, on social media and into any microphone you'll put in front of him, of how he cynically concocts baseless moral panics with repeated false claims about everything from "critical race theory" to conspiracy theories about Disney "grooming" children for pedophilia.

But there's one thing that Rufo is surprisingly mum about: Religious faith.

Rufo's agenda is obviously being set by the religious right. He works closely with Hillsdale College, a fundamentalist school that functions as the Christian right's war room. His goals are aligned directly with long-term religious right targets. Searching his Twitter account, however, one swiftly finds that he never talks about his religious beliefs. There's no real mention of God or Jesus or the Bible. When he does speak about Christianity, it's only in the context of pushing conspiracy theories about how white Christians are victims of ethnic oppression by "woke" forces. His conspiracy theories are clearly designed to get Christian conservatives in particular riled up. For instance, he heavily hyped ridiculous claims that children are being taught to pray to Aztec gods in public schools — but he carefully avoids getting theological with it.

It wasn't always this way with the religious right. During the George W. Bush years, Republicans tended to wear their Bible on their sleeves. The God talk was frequent and explicit. Bush himself spoke of being "born again," and frequently did evangelical events thick with fundamentalist jargon that was impenetrable to outsiders. The public school fights weren't over "critical race theory" and false claims that kids were being taught sex acts in kindergarten. Instead, it was over whether schools should replace science with creationism and replace sex ed with abstinence-only texts that had been written by religious organizations. This public piety from Republicans was more muted during the Barack Obama administration, but only slightly. Throughout those years, the difference between a church service and a Republican fundraiser was often undetectable.

Then Donald Trump became president. On paper, Trump appeared to be as much of a supplicant to the relentless Jesus talk on the right as every other Republican. He hit up the same evangelical schools for speeches, waved Bibles around in public, and even did photo-ops where a bunch of grifty ministers prayed over him. But, as far as I can tell, almost no one was actually fooled by this. Trump's ignorance of Christianity was absolute. He wasn't even aware that the central tenet of his supposed faith was a focus on penance and forgiveness. He called Christians "fools" and "schmucks" behind their backs. But no matter how often Trump's evangelical base was reminded that he is not one of them, they stuck by his side. They believed, correctly, that he could deliver them the policy outcomes they desired: A rollback of reproductive and LGBTQ rights, the destruction of public education, and an end to the separation of church and state.

Turns out that Trump is the most powerful religious right leader of all, precisely because he so obviously isn't a believer. He created a "secular" cover that allowed the Christian right to hide in plain sight. Now he's out of office, but the lesson was learned well: The best way to impose theocracy on Americans is to dress it up as a secular movement.

Nowadays, the main public discourse on the right about Christianity is focused on identity, not theology. Fox News pundits like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity talk about Christianity mainly in demographic terms, as part of a larger conception of what it means to be a "real" American. It's less about what you believe, and more about what tribe you belong to. Across the country, Republicans are passing laws that are clearly designed to advance the Christian right agenda, from abortion bans to the "don't say gay" law in Florida. But the Jesus talk has taken a backseat to QAnon-inflected fantasies about pedophilia and litter boxes in schools.

That the QAnon-style conspiracy theories would work better than lots of public praying seems weird at first blush. But it works for one simple reason: The Christian right has terrible branding.

Church ladies waving crosses around are nobody's idea of a good time. A lot of Americans, even Republican-voting Americans, don't go to church very often, if at all. What Trump understood, and the GOP, in general, has glommed onto, is that people want to have fun or at least create the illusion of being fun people. Packaging misogyny and homophobia as religious faith may give it a moral justification, but it's also a drag. Putting those ideas into the mouth of someone like Joe Rogan or Carlson in his current "naughty boy" persona, however, makes it feel transgressive, cool, and exciting.

Trump gave the right permission to stop trying to dress up their ugly views in Christian piety. He pushed calorie-free bigotry. You get the pleasures of being a bully, but you don't have to pay the price of doing boring crap like going to church. Of course, it sells well.

The confirmation hearing of Amy Coney Barrett is a perfect illustration of this shift. Barrett has a long history of public piety in the Bush mold. It's why Trump chose her so that the religious right would feel absolutely secure that she will be the vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. But during her confirmation hearing, when Democrats tried to make hay over Barrett's lengthy record of super public religiosity, Republicans cried foul, pretending that Barrett's beliefs were an entirely private matter that had no impact on her jurisprudence. This bad faith was aided by the fact that Barrett happily stood by Trump's side in public, apparently indifferent to his long history of adultery and repeated divorce. That willingness to be in the same room with Trump, perversely, only helped bolster her image as a "reasonable" person who had no intention of forcing her fundamentalism on the American public. But, of course, that's exactly what she was hired to do.

Right now, the nation is being swept by a tidal wave of theocratic legislation, and the situation only looks like it's getting worse. So far, however, the public mostly doesn't seem to take much notice. The various abortion bans barely make a ripple in the public discourse and the threats to hard-won LGBTQ rights aren't really raising many alarms either. Part of that is due to Democratic complacency after President Joe Biden's 2020 win, of course. But part of it is that people respond, especially in our short-attention-span era, to aesthetics more than substance. The Christian right has stopped looking like the Christian right and instead embraced the secular-seeming vibe that Trump, because he's godless, embodies effortlessly. It's hard to convince the public that fundamentalists are coming for them when the fundamentalists have gotten so good at pretending to be someone else.

The attorney general needs to do more than chase the 'low-level idiots who actually stormed the Capitol'

In remarks scheduled the day before the one-year anniversary of the Capitol insurrection, Attorney General Merrick Garland swore that his agency would not let power and privilege shield those responsible for the assault on our democracy.

"The Justice Department," he promised, "remains committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law." Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers, he said, would "follow the facts wherever they lead."

It's now been nearly three months since those remarks, and unfortunately, it's starting to look very much like the elite Republicans who were part of a conspiracy to overthrow democracy are, in fact, too swaddled by status and wealth to be held accountable under the law. Every day, the extent of the conspiracy and the number of high-level GOP officials and activists involved with Donald Trump's attempted coup becomes more clear. Yet the DOJ appears to be doing little, if anything, to charge them with crimes. It's gotten to the point where the members of the January 6 committee are publicly begging Garland to do something.

"Attorney General Garland," Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va said Monday evening, "do your job so we can do ours." Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., concurred by noting that "there is no oversight, and without oversight, no accountability."

If Garland's hesitation comes from a belief that prosecuting coup-related crimes is too "political" to be handled by the DOJ, well, then he needs to be a better student of history. It's not just that dealing with people like Trump and his co-conspirators has always been a part of the DOJ's mission, it's that stopping racist and anti-democratic criminal conspiracies like Trump's attempted coup is quite literally what the DOJ was founded to do.

Quick history lesson: The modern DOJ — which was originally called the U.S. Department of Justice and Civil Rights Enforcement — was founded in 1870 under President Ulysses Grant. Its most important mission, as Bryan Greene at the Smithsonian Magazine explained in a 2020 article, "was the protection of black voting rights from the systematic violence of the Ku Klux Klan." In 1871, Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan Act, which empowered the DOJ to break up the white supremacist criminal conspiracies that had risen up throughout the former Confederacy to intimidate Black citizens from voting.

It's not a coincidence that this 1871 law is now being used by civil rights groups, Capitol law enforcement, and some Democratic members of Congress to sue Trump and his alleged co-conspirators for inciting violence on January 6. It's also being leveraged by civil rights groups and Democratic officials to sue Trump supporters engaged in campaign and voter intimidation across the country. That's because the January 6 insurrection and these voter intimidation efforts are very much the historical descendants of the KKK and similar white supremacist groups the DOJ was explicitly founded to quash.

Trump wasn't exactly subtle in his false claims of "voter fraud" aimed at cities like Philadelphia and Detroit. Everything that followed from the Big Lie, from the attempts to decertify the election to the Capitol riot, flowed from the same impulse that shaped the KKK: A belief that white Americans are the only legitimate Americans and that a president elected by a racially diverse coalition is illegitimate. Like the KKK, Trump and anyone else involved in the attempted coup would rather destroy democracy than accept sharing power with people who don't look like them.

The DOJ's failure to act, meanwhile, can't be chalked up to a lack of facts or possible charges, either.

The House of Representatives referred Trump's former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, on contempt of Congress charges three and a half months ago, and so far, Meadows has not been arrested. Instead, more stories have come out about how he and his wife likely committed voter fraud, aka more crimes they will likely be too rich and powerful to have to answer for. The committee's public call for Garland to act this week came after they referred two more Trump officials — Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro — to the DOJ for refusing subpoenas.

In just the past week and a half, the amount of evidence of the high-level conspiracy to overthrow the 2020 election has been frankly overwhelming. Trump fought to keep White House call logs from January 6, 2021 hidden for months. They have finally been turned over to the January 6 committee — and sure enough, seven hours are missing, despite a mountain of witness testimony showing that Trump was glued to his phone throughout this period. Former national security advisor John Bolton has confirmed that Trump liked to talk about using "burner phones," which is exactly the sort of evidence that establishes criminal intent in trials against people who actually face charges because they aren't high-ranking Republicans. A federal judge in California also just ruled "it more likely than not that President Trump" conspired with his lawyer, John Eastman, to commit crimes — and the evidence of that is being entered into the public record.

There's also this big-time story about how Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was part of a larger circle of people plotting ways for Trump to steal the 2020 election. According to new reporting from the Washington Post, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., was also heavily involved, fleshing out schemes to block Joe Biden's electoral win certification. While it's unclear if either of them can be charged with crimes, what is clear is that there was an extensive, high-level conspiracy to deny Americans the right to choose their own leaders, one that was fueled by white supremacist intent. Which is exactly the sort of thing the DOJ was founded to stop.

The good news is that there are whispers that the DOJ is planning to hire more lawyers to handle the January 6 investigations, which many DOJ watchers took as a sign that Garland is finally — almost 16 months after the Capitol riot — starting to take seriously his duty to do something about the conspiracy to end democracy. Unfortunately, this may just be more wish-casting. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco did recently reiterate the promise of holding perpetrators accountable "no matter at what level." Still, she mostly talked about how, "We are going to continue to do those cases." So far, "those cases" have strictly involved the low-level idiots who actually stormed the Capitol, as well as some fringe leaders of neo-fascist street gangs. While these folks are known to be in communication with Trump's inner circle, the actual inner circle people — as well as Trump himself — remain untouched.

Perhaps that will change. If so, Garland is nearly out of time.

The midterm elections are a mere seven months away, and if Republicans retake the House of Representatives, as most polling shows they likely will, one thing is certain: They will do anything and everything in their power to destroy any meaningful DOJ investigation into high-ranking coup conspirators. As they are the people who control the budget to hire all those lawyers the DOJ is finally asking for, this could get ugly fast. So the clock is ticking. If Garland has some secret desire to do his job, the time to get it done is nearly out.

Republicans 'want to bring back the closet': right-wing LGBTQphobia is evil and dangerous

Even against an overwhelming backdrop of relentless GOP book banning and censorship attempts of recent months, Florida's "don't say gay" bill stands out from the crowd.

There are good reasons why the proposed legislation, which passed the Florida Senate on Tuesday, is drawing national attention and condemnation. The bill doesn't just ban teachers from allowing any acknowledgment of LGBTQ people in the classroom, it uses the novel "bounty hunter" system Texas used to ban abortion to allow parents to sue schools if, say, a teacher allows a kid with same-sex parents to talk about it in class. Even Kate McKinnon of "Saturday Night Live" jokingly weighed in on a recent "Weekend Update."

"So, like, one kid can say, 'I live with my parents,' but another one has to say, 'I live in a house with two adult men who bought me when I was young?'"

Despite all the public pressure, Florida Republicans pushed this bill through the legislature and sent it to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk on Tuesday morning. To make it even worse, Republicans, in their eagerness to get the "don't say gay" bill across the finish line, revived a repulsive, homophobic myth: That queer people are pedophiles who recruit children.

"The bill that liberals inaccurately call 'Don't Say Gay' would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill," Christina Pushaw, DeSantis' longtime press secretary, wrote over the weekend on Twitter. She followed up by saying that anyone who opposes the bill is "probably a groomer." The term "groomer," of course, is just another word for "child molester," as actual pedophiles are known to "groom" their victims before assaulting them. But (I can't believe this needs to be said in the year 2022) there is no evidence that LGBTQ people molest children at a higher rate than straight-identified people.

What Pushaw is doing here, of course, is dog-whistling to QAnon and their conspiracy theories accusing pretty much every Democrat around of being pedophiles and cannibals. She's harkening back to a "gays recruit" myth that is so old that many Americans haven't even heard it, or at least thought it died out long ago. The myth comes straight out of the 1970s.

In 1977, religious right icon Anita Bryant and her husband Bob Greene spearheaded a nasty campaign against a proposed Miami ordinance prohibiting job and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. As the Washington Post at the time reported, the two argued that "passage of the law will enable homosexuals to 'recruit' youths." This myth allowed conservatives to deny that same-sex attraction — and later trans identities — are intrinsic with a side dose of implying that queer people are dangerous sexual predators.

Decades of LGBTQ people telling their coming-out stories have done a great deal to destroy this myth, allowing the larger public to hear about how most queer people's identities come from inside. Indeed, most queer people's experience was massive pressure from others to be straight or cis, and having to overcome all the pressure to live as their authentic selves. And yet, as we're finding out from Florida Republicans, a lot of conservatives are still clinging to this idea that everyone is inherently straight and cis, and that the only reason people are queer is because they're "recruited."

DeSantis himself invoked the "gays recruit" myth on Friday, insisting that the bill just bans "sexual instruction" and "telling kids they may be able to pick genders." No one actually believes, of course, that kids are being given how-to lessons in sexual technique at any level of public school. This is just a dressed-up version of his press secretary's grotesque argument that merely acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ people is somehow sexual predation and "recruitment."

At the risk of feeding the troll, it's worth remembering that no one equates acknowledgment of straight people with "recruitment" kids into that lifestyle. If a children's book has a picture of a heterosexual couple getting married, this is not viewed as "sexual instruction." But, to hear DeSantis tell it, that same picture of a same-sex couple getting married is perverse, pornographic, and somehow "recruitment."

The bill's sponsor, Republican state Senator Dennis Baxley, also defended the censorship effort by invoking the "gays recruit" myth. During debate over the bill, he argued that LGBTQ kids are "just trying on different kinds of things they hear about." He went on to say coming out is like "maybe they're in this club or that club," and accusing kids of just being confused about who they are.

"All of a sudden overnight, they're a celebrity when they felt like they were nobody," he said, trying to explain why kids might feel they are LGBTQ. Notably, he did not consider the possibility that straightness is also something kids might try on and decide they don't like. The underlying assumption, always, is that straight identities are always authentic, and only queer identities are questionable. Which is an inverse of reality, where many queer people are coerced into pretending to be straight for years, or even decades, due to social pressure.

The same "queers recruit" myth is underlying the new orders from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas for state agencies to investigate parents of trans children. By signing this order, Abbott is implying that trans kids are being pushed into their identities by overbearing parents, presumably for the same motivations — attention, accolades, woke points, whatever — Baxley assigned queer kids who come out in school. In reality, the vast majority, if not all, of these families follow the same path: The kid themselves starts asserting a trans identity, and the parents are affirming and supporting the child. In many cases, the parents are actually being pushed far out of their comfort zone in doing so, but love for their child is overcoming their doubts and confusion.

It is worth, also, noting that the people being targeted for state "investigation" (read: abuse) are only following the standard care recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. These parents are consulting with medical professionals and experts before moving forward with the plan to affirm a gender identity in a child who doesn't agree to the one they were assigned at birth. And in doing so, most parents are giving up a lot, often including the name they gave their child. That's an act of love and acceptance, not "abuse" or "recruitment."

But it almost feels pointless to argue these points.

Most of the Republicans reviving the "queers recruit" myth know full well it's a lie. What they want is not to protect children, but to harm children. This bill is intended to force teachers to shame and marginalize kids who are either LGBTQ, have family members who are, or, in some cases just don't want to conform to rigid gender roles by being boys who like pink or girls who play sports. In other words, Republicans want to bring back the closet. And they want to coerce teachers, on pain of being sued or fired, to play the role of right-wing gender police.

Rick Scott's agenda underscores the love fest between the GOP and Vladimir Putin

On the surface, it seems like Republicans can't decide how they feel about Russian President Vladimir Putin invading the sovereign country of Ukraine. On one hand, the more old guard GOP leadership is formally denouncing Putin and trying to score their political points against Joe Biden by claiming that this is evidence that the U.S. president is "weak." But both their de facto leader, Donald Trump, and their de facto party agenda-setter, Tucker Carlson, have been out there making their love and support of Putin known. As with every internal conflict in the GOP, the smart bet is the Trumpian wing will win over the traditional conservatives, even though it once again means that Republicans will be siding against America and democracy in favor of the forces of authoritarianism.

It's tempting to write this off, as so many in the mainstream media like to do, as evidence that the Republican party is "afraid" of Trump as if they were setting aside good intentions out of fear of crossing the orange mob boss who runs their party. The darker truth, however, is that this is part of a larger turn in the GOP towards anti-democratic, even fascist politics. As journalist Stephen Marche told Salon's Chauncey DeVega, "a huge number of Americans want such a dictatorship," and it's important to ask why, even though the answers don't "feel good."

One important document that points to the answer was released this week by Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott, a pamphlet titled, "An 11 Point Plan To Rescue America." Needless to say, the title is misleading, as this pamphlet is very much about destroying America — by dismantling basic freedoms and democracy itself — under the guise of "saving" it.

Despite the heavy declarations of patriotism, the document presents a depressing and dystopian vision of America that is at total odds with the values of freedom, equality, and democracy that are supposed to define this country. Through rhetoric heavy on euphemism and doublespeak, Scott's plans are not hard to suss out: Replacing fact-based education with nationalistic propaganda, destroying voting rights, ending all efforts to ameliorate racial inequalities, and forcing rigid and sexist gender roles on all Americans. Scott justifies the latter by declaring it's "God's design for humanity," which of course, violates the very first amendment to the constitution that protects freedom of religion.

It's not just, as Paul Waldman of the Washington Post wrote this weekend, that Republicans want "a return to the 1950s, a dramatic rollback of social progress to a supposedly simpler time, with traditional hierarchies restored." As Ed Kilgore wrote in New York, this document is "batshit crazy," full of ideas like ending Medicare and Social Security, as well as dismantling federal agencies like the Department of Education and the IRS. As Aaron Rupar noted in his newsletter, "It's not that Republicans don't stand for anything. It's that they stand for things that are unpopular and divisive." For instance, Scott's plan to replace real education with book bannings and nationalistic propaganda? Polling shows a whopping 83% of Americans oppose the idea.

Scott ostensibly opposes Putin and his war on Ukraine. This document, however, shows why that stance is increasingly incoherent for Republicans — and therefore opposed by their true leaders, i.e. Fox News hosts and Trump. Like Putin, American Republicans support a far-right social agenda that simply cannot withstand democratic debate and fair election systems. That's why Republicans are rallying behind Trump and his Big Lie. Democracy itself is their enemy, and they are siding with a transnational anti-democratic movement against the U.S. and its values.

The Trumpian wing of the party often doesn't even really bother to hide their goals. On a recent episode of his popular podcast "War Room," former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, as his wont, got vivid and violent with his fantasies of imposing one-party rule on the U.S.

This kind of rhetoric has become so normal on the right that it's easy to get inured to it, but it's important to remember what exactly Bannon is saying here. The Democratic Party represents a strong majority of Americans, a fact which is already disturbingly hidden by election systems that favor right-wing minorities. Since 1992, the Democrat won the popular vote in every presidential election but one. Bannon's "war" is very plainly about destroying the ability of the majority of voters to express their preferences in elections.

A slightly slicker but similarly disturbing message is evident in a recent campaign ad by Peter Thiel-backed GOP candidate for Arizona's Senate seat, Blake Masters.

Don't be fooled by the faux-innocuous assertions of cultural history or the glib tokenism of mentioning Chuck Berry. By declaring that America is a "people" and not an "idea," Masters gestures towards this white nationalistic, anti-democratic argument. This is a strike against the very foundational premise of the country, which is that this a constitutional democracy defined by its laws and ideals, one that is flexible and can evolve alongside its population. Instead, he clearly wishes to replace that vision with a white nationalist one, where "America" is about "its people," a group that will inevitably be defined along exclusionary lines of race and ethnicity.

As Roy Edroso, a writer focused on chronicling the right, noted on Twitter Wednesday, a focal point for the softly pro-Putin voices in the GOP is that "Russia is right because it persecutes gay and trans people, and America wrong because it doesn't."

It is a particularly salient example of why Republicans are growing increasingly anti-democratic, because their vicious bigotries on this front simply cannot withstand the rigors of the ballot box. We see this in Texas, where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued a vile executive order instructing CPS to strip parental rights off anyone who supports their trans child's gender identity. The bill was proposed in the Texas legislature, but it's so gruesome that it couldn't pass, despite firm Republican control of the state. So Abbott is simply going around the democratic system in a bid to destroy families in the name of his rigid gender ideology.

Like Putin, Republicans know that their views cannot win in a free, fair democratic debate. The tension between claiming to be for democracy in Ukraine while opposing democracy in the U.S. is causing way too much cognitive dissonance on the right. It's why Trump is going with a simpler message of blatantly rooting for Putin. Trumpism has always been part of this transnational war on democracy. Bannon in particular loves to trumpet this fact. With this invasion of Ukraine, this alliance between Trumpists at home and authoritarians worldwide is only going to strengthen — and strengthen Trump's hold on the Republican Party.

The Bundy takeover: How the GOP’s embrace of pro-terrorist politics opened the door for Jan. 6 and the Ottawa trucker tantrum

In the weeks after the January 6 insurrection, the Washington Post published a disturbing piece that hinted at how everyday Republicans had come to embrace the politics of terrorism. In Oklahoma City, the Post noted, the memory of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing has become a flashpoint, as both Republican politicians and ordinary citizens bully anyone who tries to draw a line between Timothy McVeigh's crime and Donald Trump-incited storming of the Capitol. The link is obvious, however. Both crimes were committed by white nationalists who refuse to accept a multiracial democracy — but woe on those who say as much in Oklahoma. When Oklahoma's Department of Education shared information from the bombing memorial linking McVeigh's attack with the domestic terror attack on the Capitol, their Facebook page was flooded with vitriol.

"How in the world is this even remotely the same as the Oklahoma bombing??!!!" one teacher wrote. Another derided the education department as the "Oklahoma Dept of Socialist Indoctrination." An angry dad clashed with other parents who argued that McVeigh's radicalism and the anti-government rhetoric at the Capitol were "the very definition of the same context."

One angry Oklahoman even shared the right-wing slogan about the "tree of liberty" needing to be "refreshed" with "blood" in the comments, seemingly unaware that the same phrase was on the T-shirt that McVeigh wore the day he murdered 168 people.

This incoherent insistence on treating McVeigh's insurrectionist violence as somehow different than the Capitol rioters illustrates an ugly shift that's happened in Republican politics since 1995. Back then, most Republicans rejected the view that a white nationalist is entitled to commit violence to protest democratic outcomes he doesn't like. Now, McVeigh's ideology is the mainstream view in GOP politics. Sure, they rarely come right out and say it. But this insistence on minimizing the Capitol riot and continuing support for the man who instigated it — Donald Trump — speaks loudly enough. And ugliness in Oklahoma City in the days after the 2021 insurrection demonstrated that this pro-insurrection view was fixed on the right within days, if not hours, of the event itself.

We see this, as well, in the celebratory attitude that right-wing media — especially Fox News — is taking towards the Ottawa trucker blockade.

As Zack Beauchamp of Vox notes, the uprising that brought that part of the Canada-U.S. border to a standstill and has terrorized the city of Ottawa "is on the fringe, including among Canadian truckers — some 90 percent of whom are vaccinated." It's a group of right-wingers who "are angry because they have lost" and are trying to gain by force what they cannot through democratic means. And yet, it's become a cause célèbre on Fox News, causing comically overwrought claims like it's "the single most successful human rights protest in a generation."

Fox News doesn't like the blockade despite its widespread unpopularity — they support it because it's unpopular.

As with the January 6 insurrection, the trucker tantrum is viewed by right-wing media as a model for how the embittered white conservative majority can impose its will without getting public support. Both the insurrection and the trucker tantrum are a far-right minority expressing a belief that they entitled to rule, no matter what. And while the Ottawa demonstration has so far not been as violent as the January 6 insurrection, it is still about using force — by taking the economy hostage and intimidating the residents with the threat of violence — to obtain what conservatives cannot gain fairly.

This shift from being anti- to pro-terrorism among Republicans can really be traced back to Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's 2014 standoff with the Bureau of Land Management(BLM) and his sons' subsequent 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. That's when a group of far-right extremists, led by brothers Ryan and Ammon Bundy, seized control of a visitor's center at an Oregon national wildlife refuge, spouting a bunch of incoherent demands that amounted to a belief that a democratically elected government had no right to pass laws restricting the right of white men to wreak as much environmental damage as they damn well pleased. The fight quite literally started because the occupiers didn't believe the government had a right to convict two men who had set fire to federal lands to protest not being allowed to graze their cattle there.

The occupiers were domestic terrorists, trying to obtain through violence what they couldn't through fair engagement in politics. But while Republicans formally condemned the violence, they were also tripping over each other to validate the asinine complaints of the occupiers. Multiple GOP congressmen even drew on arguments that came from fringe authoritarian writers who believe in things like turning the U.S. into a Christian theocracy. Even more troublingly, the occupiers were found "not guilty" at their trial, suggesting that by October of 2016, enough Republicans were pro-terrorism enough to make it impossible to put together a jury to convict in a case that should have been a slam dunk. So that Trump was able to cobble together enough votes the next month to win the electoral college should not, in retrospect, have been a surprise.

The Department of Justice under Barack Obama had been slow and cautious in its response to the occupation, fearing another debacle like the Branch Davidian fire in Waco, TX in 1993. Instead of storming in, they let the occupiers feel safe enough to actually leave the property for a media event, where they were then easily captured on an open highway. It was a decision heavily criticized at the time, with lots of people rightfully pointing out that people of color who commit acts of terrorism don't get the kid glove treatment. Others, including myself, defended the feds, arguing that the fact that only one person died in the process justified the strategy. Now I'm beginning to doubt that view.

It may be that Democrats just need to get stiffer spines when dealing with right-wing bullies and terrorists, even when doing so means the right will react with violence. As Brian Beutler of Crooked Media argued in his newsletter last week, it's reasonable to worry that the utter failure of the Department of Justice to arrest Trump or his allies for their many crimes "is driven by fear" of a violent backlash. Certainly, Trump has been using intimidation recently, promising pardons for people who commit violence for him and demanding ugly reactions from his followers if he does face a consequence.

But this failure of nerve on the part of Democratic leadership is going to screw us all over in the long run. As Beutler argues, the system "can't function if one side gets a hostage-taker's veto over the rules of fair play," and without imposing real consequences for crime and violence, "he public will just grow desensitized to right-wing tactics or, worse," even start to sympathize with the hostage-takers and violent terrorists.

We see this in the shift in GOP circles from 1995, when McVeigh's villainy was indisputable, to our modern time, when people who share McVeigh's views and stormed the Capitol are described by the Republican National Committee as merely engaging in "legitimate political discourse." The RNC did walk that lie back a little bit, but notably only for the people who got arrested. That only underscores the validity of Beutler's argument: Consequences matter when it comes to public opinion.

The ongoing failure of Democrats to bring the hammer down on the ringleaders of the coup signals strongly to the public that the coup was no big deal — and indeed, opens the door to arguing that the coup was justified. Republicans are walking right through that door right now.

From voting rights to 'critical race theory': There's no law or fact the GOP feels bound to respect now

Two stories straight out of Alabama this week really encapsulate how the panic over "critical race theory," the war on schools and the war on democracy itself are all a piece of a singular racist right wing movement. Last week, reported that school officials across the state say parents are freaking out over the very existence of Black History Month, accusing schools of promoting "critical race theory" by mentioning it or honoring it in any way. And on Monday, the Supreme Court declined to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act in response to a plainly racist gerrymander in Alabama, on the grounds that doing so would interfere with the state's control of their elections systems. Yes, even though federal oversight of state election systems is literally what the Voting Rights Act was designed to do.

It's been 13 months since Donald Trump incited an insurrection on the Capitol, one that was clearly driven by white supremacy and the belief that the votes of Black Americans simply shouldn't count as much as those of white people. There continues to be a struggle between various factions of the GOP over how to portray the violent insurrection itself — to call it a glorious MAGA revolution or pretend it was a random event unconnected to the larger party — but these two stories show the sentiment that drove it has now taken root in every corner of the GOP. From the school board to the Supreme Court, Republicans are determined to stomp out anything that stands in the way of white supremacy, from history to the law to democracy itself.

The Supreme Court's Monday decision is rife with confusing legalese, and will likely be mostly overlooked by both the media and the public because of it. But it's important. As with the court's recent approach to the Texas abortion ban, it showcases how the three Trump appointees to the court have transformed SCOTUS into an authoritarian body that will throw out the rule of law to enforce a far-right agenda.

In a 5-4 decision, the conservative justices stayed a lower court's ruling that a new Alabama gerrymander disenfranchised Black voters, in a clear violation of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. In his defense of the decision, Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh didn't even bother to argue that the gerrymander was legal, but instead insisted that enforcing federal election law nine months out from an election would "lead to disruption" and that it was "unanticipated and unfair" to expect Alabama to obey a law passed 57 years ago.

"It is hard to overstate how lawless the Supreme Court's order is," wrote Mark Joseph Stern, who covers courts and law for Slate, on Twitter. "The five ultraconservative justices broke the court's own rules to intervene with an unreasoned shadow docket decision that effectively nullifies a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. It's profoundly alarming."

The refusal of the court to enforce the plain letter text of the law is so egregious that even Chief Justice John Roberts — a man who has made it his life's work to gut the Voting Rights Act — voted with the liberal justices. Roberts may share the racist goals of the other conservative judges, but even he clearly feels uneasy with the court simply rejecting the duty to enforce the law simply because they disagree with its aims.

By issuing this decision, the conservative judges are throwing their lot in with Trump and the Capitol insurrectionists — if the law will not uphold white supremacy, the law itself is invalid.

It's the same impulse underpinning the panic over "critical race theory," a cover story for white conservatives trying to stomp out acknowledgment of the country's racist history and contributions made by Black Americans. Republicans spent months gaslighting the public about this, insisting the attacks on school boards and bans on "critical race theory" were about stopping supposedly "divisive" teachings and "anti-white" racism. But their actions speak otherwise, from these complaints about Black History Month to efforts to ban books about Martin Luther King Jr. The goal is erasing history, literature and even facts that conflict with a white supremacist ideology.

What was remarkable about the Capitol insurrection is that it was both an assault on rule of law and on reality itself. The rioters rejected the basic fact that Joe Biden won the 2020 election. They also rejected the basic law that asserts that the winner of the election has the right to take power. The belief that they and people like them — white conservatives — have a "right" to rule overrules everything else.

The insurrection clearly didn't end on January 6, just because the rioters failed to overturn the election and enshrine the Big Lie. On the contrary, the insurrection has mutated and metastasized within the GOP. It has infused the whole party, from the ordinary voters freaking out at school boards to the highest court in the land. There might be a few Republican holdouts — like Roberts or former vice president Mike Pence — who still think things like "rule of law" and "basic facts" matter. But they have clearly lost the battle with the rest of the party, as this 5-4 Supreme Court decision shows. There is no law or fact Republicans feel bound to respect. Anything that stands in the way of the white conservative will to power is expected to give way.

The far right is using anti-vaxx sentiment to radicalize Republicans

The "Defeat the Mandates" rally on Sunday in Washington D.C. was not exactly the blockbuster event, size-wise, organizers had hoped to turn out. The event's planners had predicted 20,000 people, but more reasonable estimates suggested it was fewer than half that who actually showed. But despite the paltry turnout, the event was deeply troubling to experts who monitor the far-right.

The tone and tenor of the occasion were so hyperbolic and self-aggrandizing, creating exactly the sort of conditions that will further radicalize ordinary Republicans and stoke more right-wing violence. Disgustingly, one of the main speakers was Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of the Democratic scion who was assassinated in 1968. Kennedy has spent the past few years becoming an increasingly unhinged anti-vaccine activist — but his presence on Sunday was even more alarming considering the role that the Kennedy family plays in the imaginations of the QAnon cult.

Many QAnoners believe that JFK and JFK Jr. — Kennedy's deceased uncle and first cousin, respectively — are still alive and secretly supporting Donald Trump. Simply by showing up, Kennedy validated these kinds of fringe beliefs. The situation got much worse when he actually spoke and told the crowd that anti-vaxxers have it worse than Jews did during the Holocaust.

"Even in Hitler Germany (sic), you could, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic, like Anne Frank did," Kennedy said. "I visited, in 1962, East Germany with my father and met people who had climbed the wall and escaped, so it was possible. Many died, true, but it was possible."

Kennedy's analogy is incoherent for obvious reasons — does he think East Germany was a Nazi state or not know that Frank died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp? — and was widely criticized for being offensive. The Auschwitz Memorial responded with a tweet describing Kennedy's speech as "a sad symptom of moral & intellectual decay."

But the speech wasn't just offensive — it's also dangerous.

It doesn't matter that Kennedy didn't come right out and call on people to commit violence. It's inciting to tell anti-vaxxers they are victims of oppression worse than what the Jews faced under the Nazis. It justifies violence as a form of self-defense. This is why experts on far-right organizing and violence were alarmed. Ben Collins, an NBC reporter who has been covering the rise of American fascism, was especially concerned.

Kennedy was just one of many who made the comparison Sunday, both onstage and in the crowd. There was also a lot of comparing the plight of anti-vaxxers to that of Black Americans living under segregation. Meanwhile, rally organizers pretended theirs was a message of diversity and tolerance. Prominent anti-vaccine activist and rally speaker Del Bigtree insisted this "is a movement of unity," and "if you have any problems with race, or religion, or sexual preference then I don't think you're truly representing this movement."

In reality, however, as Will Carless of USA Today wrote, hate groups and far-right activists are using the anti-vaccine movement to recruit, both online and off. Brian Hughes of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University explained to Carless that the far-right sees "anti-vaccine sentiment and COVID denialism as a market that they can exploit for views, for clicks and for merchandise sales." Indeed, these kinds of groups were heavily represented in the crowd at the rally. As Salon alum and current Daily Beast reporter Zachary Petrizzo noted, "Far-right fanatics were out in full force, from the extremist members of the hate group Proud Boy to rank-and-file supporters who consume everything that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones utters."

But it was also true that more ordinary Republicans also showed up. There were even people claiming to be disillusioned Democrats, although this is a common enough lie on the right and should always be taken with a grain of salt. Either way, what is crucial to understand is that the far-right and hate groups are plugging into the anti-vaccine discourse to lure conservatives into becoming even more fascistic and more supportive of the violent rejection of democracy. (Similarly, fascists have also been using anti-abortion demonstrations to recruit.)

For the past year, being anti-vaccine has been an easy — if often deadly — way for ordinary Republicans to express their hatred of President Joe Biden and to spite Democrats. Fox News and GOP leaders have encouraged their followers to reject the vaccine as a way to show solidarity on the right and make life harder for those who voted against Trump. It's ugly and dangerous behavior — but it has been effective at meeting the liberal-triggering goals.

Biden's approval ratings have been dropping as a result of the prolonged pandemic. Democratic voters, who are more likely to make personal sacrifices like mask-wearing or social distancing to curb the pandemic, have been made to suffer the indignities stemming from a prolonged pandemic, even if their vaccinated status has largely prevented them from being the ones filling up hospitals. Republicans are three times as likely to be unvaccinated as Democrats. That's why anti-vaccine ideology makes a perfect recruiting ground for fascists.

There are a lot of Republican voters whose hatred and desire to spite Democrats has led them to gamble with their own lives by refusing vaccines. It's not much of a leap to believe such folks are open to taking things to the next level, to reject democracy and embrace an authoritarian ideology for the same vindictive reasons. The anti-vaccine discourse is a perfect space to blur the lines between being a petty partisan who is mad about losing an election and being an outright fascist who no longer believes in holding free and fair elections.

The media learns the wrong lesson from Joe Biden's fight for voting rights

Remember: With Republicans, every accusation is a confession.

Nowhere is that more true than in the discourse around fair elections and voting rights, both of which Republicans stand firmly against. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats attempted to pass a bill that would both protect voting rights and strengthen elections against blatant Republican sabotage. In response, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., lied and said that Democrats don't care about "securing citizens' rights," but just "about expanding politicians' power."

The opposite is true, however. It's Republicans who are swiftly dismantling the right to vote, in the name of preserving their own power. As such, the party has been passing state-level voting restrictions targeting people of color, redrawing district maps to marginalize minority populations, and running unmistakeably racist purges of election offices. So President Joe Biden was right to ask, in a speech in Atlanta last week, "Do you want to be the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?"

Republicans made their choice Wednesday, using their filibuster power — which is shamefully being protected by two turncoat Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — to block the passage of the Senate voting rights bill. Some Republicans are no doubt personally racist, in full agreement with Donald Trump's repeated insistence that racially diverse voters in cities like Philadelphia and Detroit are "frauds". Some are just worried about their own power, which they know is threatened in all Americans, regardless of race or ethnicity, have equal rights to the ballot box. Either way, the use of the filibuster — in line with its history — was leveraged by Republicans as a tool of white supremacy.

The obvious people to blame for this gross behavior are Republicans themselves. But what's the fun in that? So, instead, far too many in the media are letting Republicans off the hook and instead fixing the blame on Democrats for somehow not doing more to make Republicans less evil.

In the hours before Republicans killed this crucial democracy protection legislation, Biden held a marathon press conference, talking about a wide range of topics from COVID-19 to Russian/Ukraine tensions. But on the mind of many reporters was one burning question: Why wasn't Biden doing more to stop Republicans from being racist? ABC reporter Mary Bruce kicked off this line of inquiry, claiming, ridiculously, that Republicans "may be open to major changes on voting rights" and complaining that Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, "says he never even received a phone call from this White House."

Romney released this bait to the press over the weekend, correctly assessing that it would be filtered through the mainstream media assumption that Democrats are the only politicians who possess autonomy. And sure enough, as the press conference demonstrated, Biden was being blamed for not "reaching out," while Romney is not being asked why he needs to be cajoled to take a very basic stand for the right of all Americans to vote.

This idiotic assumption — that Democrats are responsible for GOP racism, but not Republicans themselves — only got uglier as the press conference went on.

At least two reporters parroted feigned Republican outrage over Biden's comments about George Wallace and Bull Connor at Biden. NBC News reporter Kristen Welker noted that Biden has made his inauguration speech about "bringing people together," before confronting him about the people who "took exception" to last week's comparison of voting rights opponents of today to George Wallace and Bull Connor. Shortly after, Philip Wegmann of RealClearPolitics asked a similar question, implying that the blame for the conflict over voting rights lay not with Republicans passing racist laws, but Democrats for being too blunt in their opposition.

Implicit in such lines of questioning is an assumption — beloved by the right — that to be called out for racism is far worse than actually being racist. Biden is being accused of being divisive for drawing a clear and accurate line between voter suppression of yesteryear and today. But Republicans don't face similarly harsh questions about their opposition to voting rights, or why they think it's acceptable to systematically target people of color for disenfranchisement. Biden is asked why he didn't somehow persuade Romney to support voting rights, but Romney isn't asked why he needs such persuasion, or why his own supposed morality doesn't drive him to stand up for basic human rights.

This idiocy began even before Biden's press conference Wednesday. Over the weekend, Chuck Todd of NBC accused Biden of failing "to build a small coalition of governing Republicans," rather than asking why Republicans are so relentlessly obstructionist. And in his preview piece of the failed voting rights Senate vote, New York Times political reporter Jonathan Weisman implied that Republican votes were somehow gettable, but "Democratic activists have spent far more time and energy trying to break the will of Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema on the filibuster than they have working to win over Republicans on the actual legislation."

The layers of irony here are heavy to the point of being debilitating because the usual media excuse for not holding Republicans' feet to the fire over such questions is that it is pointless to do so. As Greg Sargent at the Washington Post writes, because GOP opposition to voting rights "is a foregone conclusion, Republicans are too rarely asked by reporters to justify it." Instead, reporters treat Republican attitudes about this issue as "natural, unalterable, indelibly baked-in." But only, critically, when it comes to reporters themselves refusing to hold Republicans accountable. When the topic shifts away from media responsibility to the responsibility of Democrats and activists to somehow change GOP minds, suddenly the assumptions change. No longer are Republicans viewed as resolute in their opposition to the point where it's useless to talk to them about it. All of a sudden, Republicans are recast as soft targets who are one friendly lunch or flattering phone call away from dropping their stubborn opposition to basic democratic protections.

Biden was castigated in some media corners for showing a flash of anger over the repeated questions about why he wasn't nicer to Republicans who are trying to decimate voting rights. But it's honestly surprising he held back as much as he did. Wednesday's press conference was a perfect illustration of the deeply unfair double standard the press holds itself to, where reporters aren't expected to press Republicans about their opposition to voting rights, but Democrats are supposed to wave a magic wand and make Republicans act like decent human beings. This dereliction of both duty and common sense is annoying at the best of times, but right now, the vapidity is morally indefensible.

As media critic Margaret Sullivan noted in the Washington Post recently, "That American democracy is teetering is unquestionable," and yet much of the press is "afraid to stand for something as basic to our mission as voting rights, governmental checks and balances, and democratic standards." Instead, the coverage all too often resorts to the typical-but-misleading bothesiderism the D.C. press loves, in which Biden's blunt characterization of Republican opposition to voting rights is regarded as equally bad — or sometimes worse — than the actual fact that Republicans are trying to take away the basic right to vote.

Kyrsten Sinema, a traitor to the cause of women's rights, loses support of feminists

When Kyrsten Sinema first ran to be the Democratic senator from Arizona, her support from Emily's List seemed to be a no-brainer. The political action committee (PAC) is one of the biggest in politics, and historically is one of the major reasons for the remarkable influx of female leaders in the Democratic Party in the past few decades. The main criteria for supporting candidates — that they be female, pro-choice and Democratic — appeared, at the time, to fit Sinema beautifully. She claimed to believe "a woman, her family, and her doctor should decide what's best for her health" and that she stands for "health clinics like Planned Parenthood and opposes efforts to let employers deny workers coverage for basic health care like birth control." Emily's List was the biggest source of funds for Sinema's 2018 campaign, raising nearly twice as much money for her as her second largest supporting PAC. It is unlikely she would have won by her razor-thin margin without their support.

But, as it turns out, Sinema's claims to feminist values were all nonsense.

Sure, unlike Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, her fellow corrupt conspirator in shutting down the Democratic agenda in the Senate, Sinema continues to claim to be pro-choice. She has even voted the right way on the issue in those rare instances that votes even happen in the Senate, all while Manchin continues to vote for right-wing interference with reproductive decision-making. But when it comes to taking actions that would actually protect not just reproductive rights, but the equality of women generally, Sinema has become a major obstacle, with her stubborn insistence on supporting the filibuster, which Republicans use to shut down pretty much all meaningful legislation from the Democratic majority — including bills to protect abortion rights and enshrine gender equality into the constitution.

On Wednesday night, Sinema — as she's dramatically promised to do — is expected to side with the Republican minority against a bill meant to shore up democracy and protect voting rights against a coordinated GOP effort to dismantle fair and free election systems. Sinema claims, quite falsely, to support the voting rights bill, but insists on letting the Republicans have veto power over it, putting an arcane and anti-democratic Senate rule ahead of democracy itself.

In response, Emily's List and NARAL promised to pull their support from Sinema. Emily's List president Laphonza Butler released a statement explaining the decision by saying, "Electing Democratic pro-choice women is not possible without free and fair elections. Protecting the right to choose is not possible without access to the ballot box." NARAL president Mini Timmaraju concurred, stating, "Without ensuring that voters have the freedom to participate in safe and accessible elections, a minority with a regressive agenda and a hostility to reproductive freedom will continue to block the will of the majority of Americans."

Butler and Timmaraju are dead right. It's not just about reproductive rights, either. Without a healthy democracy, women's rights and gender equality in general are imperiled. There's a reason 19th century feminists focused their efforts on women's suffrage, a century-long fight that few, if any, of those who started it lived to see succeed. The fight for gender equality and fight for democracy are inextricably intertwined. The fight for one is a fight for the other.

It's also not a coincidence that authoritarians like Donald Trump also happen to be giant misogynists. From the beginning, the rising fascist movement in America has been fueled not just by racism, but by toxic masculinity and male anger at women's growing equality. Trump's 2016 campaign was built on a foundation of misogynist rage — not just at Hillary Clinton for daring to think a woman can be president, but at women generally for asserting their right to be treated as equals in the home and workplace. His popularity with the GOP base was cemented when he mocked a Fox News host Megyn Kelly with menstruation insults. He secured the religious right's support for promising to ban abortion.

But the election of 2016 also illustrated how democracy can protect women's rights. After all, Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes and with a 2 point margin over Trump. It was only because of the anti-democratic electoral college system — an ongoing and retrograde leftover from the era when women and people of color weren't allowed to vote — that Trump even had a chance. And there can be no doubt that, if 2016 had been a truly democratic election, both the country and women's rights would be in much better shape right now. At bare minimum, the Supreme Court wouldn't have three Trump appointees on it, and Roe v. Wade would not be slated for a near-certain overturn in June.

Authoritarian misogyny is hardly just an American phenomenon, either.

Throughout history and in our current day, there's been a strong link between hostility to women's rights and anti-democratic attitudes. The Nazis were notoriously sexist, insisting a woman's place was in the home and strengthening bans on abortion. Romania's communist dictatorship banned abortion and contraception. China's authoritarian government has forever been opposed to reproductive rights, first by banning the right to have more than one child and now, due to low population growth, by announcing plans to restrict abortion access.

To be certain, fighting for women's equality in a healthy democracy is hardly a breeze. There's literally millennia of patriarchal oppression that needs to be overturned, and lots of ingrained sexist attitudes held by the majority of Americans. (About 7 in 10 married women, for instance, still take their husband's name, including, however reluctantly, Hillary Clinton.) As noted, suffrage for women was a long and miserable fight that took literally a century. The Equal Rights Amendment, which was almost passed in the 70s, died after anti-feminists activists successfully lobbied against it.

Still, what democracy offers feminism is the chance to make the case: To argue for gender equality, to appeal to voters, and to build — sometimes painfully slowly — public understanding of why women's rights are so important. And, as miserable as that process can be, history shows it's better than the alternatives. Polls show strong majorities of Americans support abortion rights and even more believe contraception is acceptable. Stigmas against divorce, single motherhood, and sex outside of marriage have collapsed in the public eye after decades of feminist agitation for the right of women to be treated a full adults, instead of male property. Support for LGBTQ rights also rose, as a direct result from larger feminist discussions about the evils of gendered oppression. And a woman even won the popular vote in a presidential election — and if this was a truly democratic system, she would be president.

Sinema's support for the filibuster exposes how paper-thin her claims to support feminist values always were. Biden won because of women. He got 57% of the female vote, while Trump won 53% of men. The Biden agenda that Sinema is blocking is what female voters sent not just Biden, but Sinema to Washington to accomplish. And not just on voting rights, either. By supporting the bipartisan infrastructure bill but not the Build Back Better plan, Sinema helped ensure that 90% of new job creation will go to men, instead of the more diverse pool that Biden's larger agenda would have supported.

Voting rights is the issue that gave birth to the American feminist movement. By refusing to support voting rights, Sinema isn't just turning her back on her country and her party, but on the very feminist movement that permitted someone like her, a female senator, to even exist. Sinema may play-act the fun-loving feminist, with her kitschy dresses and loud wigs that stand out from the drab masculinist attire that rules the Senate. But as long as she stands with Republicans against democracy, she is a traitor to feminism and should be regarded as such.

The real insidious reason the GOP spread conspiracy theories that don't even make sense

No one should ever accuse Ted Cruz of being held back by a basic sense of dignity.

Last week, the Texas Republican got into hot water with Donald Trump loyalists, who will brook no criticism of the fascist insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol last year. Cruz, who has otherwise been an advocate of Trump's Big Lie as one of eight senators who voted to throw out the results of the 2020 election so that Trump could illegally remain in power, dared to suggest that the people who used violence for that same goal had engaged in a "terrorist attack."

Calling those Trump loyalists anything but peaceful patriots who have never done a bad thing in their entire lives is forbidden in Trumpist circles, of course. For his trespass, Cruz was taken to task by Tucker Carlson and other fascistic leaders in right-wing media far more beloved by the GOP base than the likes of Cruz. And as is his wont, Cruz has been crawling on his belly ever since, begging for forgiveness and making it clear he'll say or do anything to get back in the good graces of the worst people in the country.

Cruz's been on Fox News repeatedly since his momentary lapse in lying, hyping a conspiracy theory/apologia for the fascist insurrection that's long been favored by Carlson: The FBI compelled Trump fans to storm the Capitol. Worse, Cruz has been abusing taxpayer funds in order to push this conspiracy theory. On Tuesday, Cruz spent his time during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing going off about this idiotic claim that it was the FBI who caused the Capitol riot, not unhinged Trump supporters acting on Trump's obvious and well-communicated wishes.

Like most right-wing conspiracy theories, this one is both incoherent and easily debunked. (A quick Google search for "Ray Epps" leads to some good explanations as to why.) But, crucially, this narrative isn't supposed to make sense. On the contrary, the nonsensical nature of it is very much by design. The whole point of these incoherent conspiracy theories is to create a cloud of bewildering disinformation so thick that the actual truth gets lost in a maze of lies, hand-waving and fart noises.

Even more crucially, Cruz's performance yesterday worked exactly as intended, providing ample video footage that could be cut up and re-edited into clips to be disseminated across right-wing land as "proof" that the FBI is hiding something. Misleading clips spread rapidly on social media with breathless text like "the FBI stonewalled and refused to answer" and "The American people deserve answers."

No one sharing these videos wants "answers," however. They just want to make a bunch of noise to distract from the fact that there's no mystery regarding what happened on January 6. It was an insurrection, instigated by Trump, for the purpose of overthrowing an election so he could be installed as an illegitimate president.

Unfortunately, Cruz's sleazy behavior Tuesday is not an anomaly, but part of a larger right-wing derangement feedback loop.

Far-right conspiracy theories first bubble up from the swamps of Infowars and various online Trump-loving forums. Republicans in Congress, desperate for both attention and donations, then use congressional hearings to float these conspiracy theories, knowing they'll be cut into videos that get widely shared on social media and shown on Fox News. Those well-produced videos, in turn, legitimize the lies and embolden the people in the fever dream swamps to keep generating conspiracy theories. The whole thing has an addictive quality to it, with both Republican politicians and their audiences needing ever-nuttier conspiracy theories, in order to keep getting the same derangement high.

Cruz wasn't even the only Republican in the Senate employing this tactic on Tuesday.

During another Senate hearing, this one held by the Health and Education Committee, both Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Roger Marshall of Kansas used the presence of Dr. Anthony Fauci — Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a favorite hate object on the right — to generate more propaganda footage. Both men floated elaborate and deliberately obtuse conspiracy theories about Dr. Fauci that simultaneously imply that he somehow created the coronavirus and also that COVID-19 is a socialist hoax.

Yes, these ideas contradict each other. No, the people who claim to believe these theories don't care about that contradiction. As usual, the point is not to make sense, but to grind rational discourse into dust.

As an added bonus, Marshall kept making false accusations that Dr. Fauci is hiding his financial position, with an obvious intent to imply that Dr. Fauci is somehow secretly profiting off of the pandemic. The same pandemic that right-wing conspiracy theories paint as somehow both a bioweapon but also not an actual threat. Dr. Fauci got fed up with all this and called Marshall a "moron" into a hot mic. Sadly, Marshall is not actually a moron. He's a cynical opportunist who is deliberately generating misinformation in order to increase his name recognition with the GOP base and rake in more money. Marshall, frankly, seems thrilled that Dr. Fauci called him a "moron." He's hyping the story, banking off the GOP base's well-known hatred of Dr. Fauci. There is no better way in GOP fundraising circles to get attention and make money than to cast yourself as a primo liberal-triggerer.

So right-wing politics should be understood as a topsy-turvy version of pro wrestling, where real-life heroes like Dr. Fauci are recast as the heel and real-life villains like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz get to play the role of the face. By hijacking congressional hearings in order to put on these wrestling matches, Republicans aren't just wasting taxpayer money and destroying the ostensible purpose of hearings to gather and expose the truth, they're using the prestige of Congress in order to disseminate their conspiracy theories more widely. It's a derangement loop that's driving the GOP base further away from reality and deeper into a fascist ideology.

We only need to look at last summer's hearing of the January 6 committee, where Congress heard testimony from law enforcement that was there during the insurrection, to see what happens when bad faith Republicans are barred from the microphones. That hearing generated real information, unmarred by the grandstanding and conspiracy theories of Republicans competing to see who can act the most maniacal for their base.

While there may be no legal way for Democrats, who technically control the gavels, to put a lid on the misuse of hearings this way, it's time to explore the possibility of shutting Republicans up, or at least minimizing how much they can abuse the hearing process. Turning congressional hearings into little more than Infowars taping sessions isn't just embarrassing for Congress, it's undermining our democracy.

Biden must make clear what Republicans know: The fight for democracy is a struggle over racism

President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats are focusing heavily on the racial justice angle for their refreshed pro-democracy campaign.

They've kicked off the new year with what is likely a doomed bid to convince corruption-poisoned Democratic holdouts Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to allow a voting rights bill to pass. On Tuesday, Biden made the trip to Atlanta, Georgia, to explicitly tie the current bid to pass voting rights protections to the 20th century struggle for civil rights. The schedule was first to lay a wreath on the grave of Martin Luther King Jr. and then give a speech about the importance of continuing the work by passing voting rights legislation this year.

The racial angle isn't merely a historical matter. The racist impetus the fueled the Jim Crow laws of the past are motivating the current Republican assault on both voting rights and electoral integrity today. And it isn't even particularly subtle. In 2019, the state wrongfully purged about 200,000 voters from the rolls in a move that the ACLU Georgia describes as predominantly affecting "young voters, voters of lower income, and citizens of racial groups that have been denied their sacred right to vote in the past." In 2021, "Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law an omnibus bill that targets Black voters with uncanny accuracy," the Brennan Center explains, with provisions designed to make it harder to vote in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Georgia Republicans have also been using newly written anti-democracy laws to oust Black elections officials and replace them with Donald Trump loyalists.

Coverage of the new Jim Crow reliably sets the talking heads of Fox News and other Republican propagandists into fits of faux outrage, on the grounds that it's unfair to call them "racist" just because they keep wanting to block Black people from participating in democracy. But despite all the whining about the word "racist," Republicans show no interest in actually acting less racist in response to these accusations. On the contrary, they're kicking off 2022 by dropping the masks and the dogwhistles, and getting ever blunter about their white nationalist yearnings.

Last week, Republican state senator Scott Baldwin of Indiana drew outrage when he argued that teachers should be "impartial" on the subject of Nazism. His remarks came during a public hearing on his bill that is clearly meant to suppress any discussion of racism in schools, all under the guise of (you guessed it!) "critical race theory." The bill requires teachers to "remain impartial in teaching curricular materials or conducting educational activities," language clearly meant to make sure teachers don't say things like "slavery was bad" or "the civil rights movement was good."

One history teacher, Matt Bockenfeld, protested that he can't teach about "the rise of fascism and the rise of Nazism" without noting that Nazis were super-duper-bad, what with the massive genocide and attempts at world domination. Baldwin, however, disagreed. "I have no problem with the education system providing instruction on the existence of those isms," he argued, but insisted, "We need to be impartial" on whether or not Nazism was actually bad or good.

The Indianapolis Star later ran a headline claiming Baldwin "walked back" his remarks, but that is not true in any meaningful sense. He insisted that he personally believes "Nazism, Marxism and fascism are a stain on our world history," but did not say that this supposed belief should have any place in schools. As Judd Legum of Popular Info pointed out, nor did Baldwin say "he would make any specific change to his proposed legislation." Also, equating Nazism and Marxism is a rather unsubtle rhetorical trick to minimize Nazism, by equating it with a political philosophy that has inspired quite a bit of good work (like the labor movement), even as dictators like Stalin misappropriated it for self-justification.

But Baldwin's behavior shouldn't be any surprise, as he lives in a right-wing bubble ruled by Fox News, where neo-Nazi rhetoric is now standard issue. As Media Matters documented last month, "While Tucker Carlson has been flirting with white nationalism for years, 2021 was the year he went full-tilt and repeatedly said the quiet part aloud, explicitly referencing the white supremacist "great replacement" conspiracy theory." Other prime time hosts have been joining in.

On Monday night alone, Fox News was in a full boil over conspiracy theories claiming white people are the new American underclass, one supposedly being denied health care so that people of color can hoard it all. Carlson rolled out the conspiracy theory with claims that the CDC "made it official policy to withhold life-saving medical treatment from" white people by supposedly prioritizing young people of color over "older Americans," who Carlson claims were targeted for death by being "too white."

It's basically the neo-Nazi notion that racial diversity is "white genocide," and in line with Carlson's drumbeat of programming mainstreaming neo-Nazi ideas. The irony here is he is using the early days of the COVID-19 vaccine, when essential workers and people over 65 were prioritized, as the basis for his pretzel-like logic of an anti-white government conspiracy. In reality, Carlson is the one preventing old white people from getting vaccinated — by telling them likes like it's useless, it's poison, and Viagra works better. Meanwhile, the government vaccine programs he is complaining about were more effective at getting shots in the arms of white people than people of color throughout much of 2021, leading to months where the former had much higher vaccination rates than the latter, though that racial gap has finally closed.

But facts never get in the way of a white supremacist narrative. Sure enough, former Trump advisor Stephen Miller was on an hour later, on Laura Ingraham's show, claiming Democrats want to "take money and power from one group based on race and give it to another group based on race," with the former being white people and the latter being people of color. To stop this, he argued, white people need to "push back and reclaim our heritage as a nation of legal equality, equal justice." Of course, the actual history of slavery and Jim Crow shows that this "heritage" he speaks of is not one of equality and justice. In typical gaslighting fashion of the right, Miller is using those words to mean their opposite.

The racist subtext of Trump's attempted coup, which led to what must be understood as a white supremacist riot at the Capitol, was generally ignored by the media, even as it was stunningly unsubtle. Trump continued to single out cities like Philadelphia and Detroit, which have sizeable Black populations, for accusations of "voter fraud." While mainstream journalists played dumb and pretended to believe the facile excuse that Trump was talking about literal fraud, his supporters picked up on his implication: voters of color are inherently un-American.

The 2022 midterms will be all about Jan. 6 — and that gives Democrats a big opportunity

Donald Trump may have canceled his press conference to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the January 6 insurrection that he incited on the Capitol, but he still has managed to communicate his desire for the event to be lauded as a glorious revolution. He wants to whitewash an act of domestic terrorism in the name of fascism, making life extremely hard for Republican politicians who wish to remain on the fence over the question. One year out, Republican leaders continue to hedge their bets. They are attempting to both appeal to the Trump base by pretending to believe there are "questions" about the validity of the 2020 election and also to appeal to swing voters and moderates by publicly denouncing the violence of the insurrection fueled by such "questions." But playing in the gray zone may not be an option for Republicans much longer —if Ted Cruz's very bad, no good week was any indication.

Cruz's woes started on Wednesday when he, correctly, called the Capitol riot "a violent terrorist attack" and lauded the Capitol police for their courage in fighting back. Cruz, it should be noted, should get absolutely zero credit for this. He, like most of the GOP leadership, is running interference for Trump by engaging in a massive gaslighting effort, where Republicans will admit the violence happened, but pretend that it had nothing to do with Trump or his lies about the 2020 election. Still, Trump has long been hostile to such triangulating political tactics, especially when it comes to his own ego. He clearly wants the insurrection celebrated as a triumphant strike in his war against democracy, not this mealy-mouthed "violence is bad" talk.

So, unsurprisingly, Tucker Carlson of Fox News went after Cruz, insisting that "it was definitely not a violent terrorist attack." (It absolutely was. The FBI defines terrorism as violence committed "to further ideological goals," which storming the Capitol in order to overthrow an election 100% is.) And Cruz, equally unsurprisingly, went on Fox News the next night to grovel for forgiveness, calling his phrasing "sloppy" and "dumb." But because Cruz kept insisting that assaulting police officers was wrong — while he downplayed how many Trump supporters engaged in that behavior — Carlson kept tearing into him, making it quite clear that any bad word against Trumpian violence is simply unacceptable.

The incident was the capstone in a year's long — and now hugely successful — effort by the far-right to bring the GOP in line with not just Trump's Big Lie, but the belief that violence in the name of the Big Lie is not just acceptable, but laudable. It is something Republican leaders have been resisting. Initially, the hesitance seemed due to a lot of them being genuinely rattled by having a mob come for their lives. Now, however, it's purely for political reasons.

Polling shows that a huge majority of Americans disapprove of the insurrection at the Capitol. But in 2024 election match-ups, President Joe Biden and Trump are neck-in-neck. That can only mean that a lot of voters are happy to vote Republican, so long as they can keep telling themselves a story about how Republicans are not the party of violent insurrection.

That's why Cruz and other Republican figureheads — including, at times, Carlson himself — are drawn to a narrative about January 6 that paints the event as a random anomaly, instead of the direct result of months of Trump's fomenting of violence. Even Trump himself understands that capturing those more moderate votes for Republicans likely means backing this ridiculous spin on the events and falsifying a story where the GOP is a normal political party. That's why he, however reluctantly, canceled his January 6 celebration event, at the request of Republican leaders who think there's a way to push the Big Lie without also embracing the violence that resulted.

Cruz's situation suggests that may be untenable, however. There is not and has never been a way to be for Trump while against either his coup or the violence he harnessed in his last-ditch attempt to steal the election. To support Trump is to support what Trump stands for, which is violent insurrection in the name of fascism. The only way that Republicans leaders can continue to walk this tightrope, pretending to somehow be for Trump but not for his violent insurrection, is if the issue isn't at the forefront of the 2022 midterms. Unfortunately for Republican leaders, that's unlikely to happen, for a couple of reasons.

For one, celebrating Trump's coup is a surefire way to get the most hardcore Republican voters engaged and excited. As Axios reported Monday morning, prominent Republican candidates — including some Senate candidates — are campaigning heavily on the Big Lie, finding that it's a great way to reap in piles of donations. For another, Trump's ego won't let the issue go away. He may have canceled his January 6 celebration, but he made it clear he intends to keep up the drumbeat of pro-insurrection talk at his various rallies and other communications.

Democrats can — and critically should — make sure Republicans can't play this game.

Democratic candidates must resist the campaign-consultant-driven urge to always be changing the subject to "kitchen table issues." Instead, between now and November (and ideally as long as is necessary), Democrats must not treat their opponents like they're in a friendly disagreement over tax rates, but make sure they have to answer for Trump and his violence every day. Bring up the insurrection often, in debates and in ads, and make sure that it's never far from voter minds. This doesn't need to be lieu of talking up kitchen table issues, but it simply can't be memory-holed, as Republicans dearly wish it to be.

As the Cruz example shows, Republicans don't have a lot of wiggle room on this issue, because they're trapped by Fox News and the right-wing media. Attempts to distance themselves from the violence increasingly result in a sharp rebuke from the likes of Carlson and other powerful right-wing pundits and leaders. That's why the insurrection is, despite being an unusual event in American history, is still a standard issue wedge issue, one that pits the GOP base against the moderate voters they need to win elections. (While we still have elections, which may not be for much longer if the Democrats screw up the 2022 midterms.)

The good news is, by giving a January 6 speech where he didn't shy away from blaming Trump, Biden has given the go-ahead signal to the rest of the party to make January 6 a central campaign issue. The House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack also seems prepared to keep pushing out information and generating news hooks that make it hard for Republicans to memory-hole either the event itself or Trump's central role in it.

There's a reason Fox News and Republican leaders are feigning outrage at Democrats for "politicizing" Trump's act of political terrorism. They want to scare Democrats off of talking about an issue that will rally voters to their side. Democrats should take that fake outrage as more evidence to lean into the issue, and not give in to that cowardly urge to avoid controversy that has already lost them elections.

Trump and the GOP both want to steal the 2024 election — there's just one major disagreement

To no one's surprise, Donald Trump wanted to use the anniversary of the insurrection he incited on January 6 to incite more violence. To commemorate the day when he sent a violent mob to the Capitol to intimidate then-Vice President Mike Pence into refusing to certify Joe Biden's electoral win, Trump scheduled a press conference at Mar-A-Lago. The content wasn't hard to predict: self-pitying claims to be the "real" winner of the 2020 election, racist insinuations that voters of color who had backed Biden are illegitimate, and inciting more violence by lauding the insurrectionists as martyrs and political prisoners. The whole thing was causing all manner of hand-wringing about media responsibility not to air Trump's violence incitement live vs. the responsibility to cover this important news event.

Then suddenly, Trump canceled the press conference. He incoherently blamed "the total bias and dishonesty of the January 6th Unselect Committee of Democrats, two failed Republicans, and the Fake News Media" for the decision. It didn't take long for the truth to come out: Republican leaders were begging him not to do it. Axios reports that "several key allies — including hardline Fox News host Laura Ingraham and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — made clear they thought it was a bad idea to invite the national media to Mar-a-Lago to mark the deadly riot."

Graham confirmed this reporting to Axios, and his reasoning was quite telling: "[T]here could be peril in doing a news conference. ... Best to focus on election reform instead." ("Election reform" being one of the many euphemisms Republicans use for rewriting laws to make it easier to steal elections.) His argument cuts to the core of the internal struggle over strategy in the GOP.

Institutional Republicans have fully come on board with Trump's plan to steal the 2024 election. But they remain conflicted with Trump over whether or not violence is the best way to make that happen. Trump gets caught up in his violent fantasies, which he correctly believes are shared by a huge chunk of his base. Republican leaders, however, feel that stuff backfires. Arguments like the one floated by Graham suggest they think it will be easier to end democracy with paperwork, rather than guns. They are busy rewriting state election laws so they can throw out any results they find displeasing, all while pretending to be a normal political party to the media, so that they don't get called out on it. The idea is to gut democracy in such a way so that the majority of Americans don't even know it happened. Violence interferes with that plan.

Most people, including journalists, assume guns and bombs are what makes a coup a coup. A bloodless coup is, in fact, quite likely to be covered as not a coup at all — and therefore more likely to be accepted, however reluctantly, by the public.

Thursday is the one-year anniversary of the Capitol riot that left five people dead and dozens of officers injured, some quite severely. The coverage of this anniversary has largely focused on the threat of future violence. Multiple outlets commissioned polls meant to measure Republican propensity for violence and the results — such as 30% of Republicans hinting that they're open to future violence — have generated plenty of alarming headlines. Meaty long-form stories about our current dilemma — such as a piece titled "How does this end?" by Zack Beauchamp of Vox and "Trump's Next Coup Has Already Begun" by Barton Gellman of the Atlantic — are peppered with alarming quotes from political scientists worried about a bloody civil war. Our Canadian neighbors are even openly worried about the possibility of the U.S. devolving into violence.

The threat of political violence is, make no mistake, quite real. And yet, I remain skeptical that the U.S. is going to see anything like a full-blown civil war. After all, a huge chunk of Americans has been nurturing fantasies of civil war for a long time. Mostly, they don't act on it, having neither the courage to do so or any sense of what such violence would actually accomplish. And the reality is that most Republicans are too old and comfortable to imagine throwing it all away for some violent revolution. Even the January 6 insurrectionists only acted because they clearly didn't realize that legal consequences would follow. Most of them even left their guns at home, figuring that would be the only thing they'd get in trouble for. Republicans may have most of the guns, but they know full well that their political opponents are, on average, younger and healthier. That puts them at a huge disadvantage in a physical conflict.

More importantly, it's not clear what widespread violence would actually accomplish, outside of making Trump gleeful as he sits in the safety of his own home, watching people put their lives on the line for him. On the contrary, it's still the rule of thumb in American politics that those who resort to violence end up losing support. Fox News hyped the hell out of the extremely rare occasions of violence at Black Lives Matter protests precisely because they knew it was the best way to discredit the movement. Polling shows strong majorities of Americans disapprove of the Capitol riot. That's why Republican leaders and pundits go out of their way to minimize the violence of that day, and, when they can't pull that off, they pretend to oppose it. Republicans know their best way to grab power is to lean into a press that is desperate to normalize them, and disassociate themselves from the violence of January 6.

To be clear, just because we're unlikely to see an all-out civil war doesn't mean violence isn't a threat. There are just too many leaders — including Trump — who are too infatuated with doing things like exalting vigilantes such as Kyle Rittenhouse as heroes. We should be prepared for a constant drumbeat of self-directed terrorism from the right, much of it politically incoherent and useless for advancing Trump's political goals, such as the mass shooting in Denver over the holiday that left five people dead. But organized armies of right-wing yahoos will remain more of a fantasy than a reality.

Instead, the real threat is the one Lindsey Graham is offering: The paperwork coup.

As Beauchamp argues in his piece, we're like to see something like what happened when authoritarians took over Hungary. "The change was subtle and slow — a gradual hollowing out of democracy rather than its extirpation," he writes, noting that high-profile fascists like Tucker Carlson see Hungary as the ideal model. The appeal of the paperwork coup is that one can end democracy without the mainstream media ever coming out and telling the public that it's happened. Instead, you get stories with quotes from Democrats warning that democracy is ending vs. Republicans claiming they're trying to "save" it. Cowardly reporters will throw up their hands and pretend there's no way to know who is telling the truth, rather than bluntly tell readers that Republicans are simply lying.

Even Trump sees this, which is why he reluctantly agreed to call off January 6 celebration event. He loves a violent spectacle, but he loves power even more. So he'll keep the hyping violence for his rallies, and allow the Republicans to pretend to journalists that they are not plotting alongside Trump to overthrow democracy.

In a lot of ways, the GOP strategy is far more sinister than openly advocating for the violent overthrow of democracy. After all, a bloodless coup is far more likelier to work.

Republican voters don't actually 'believe' the Big Lie about January 6 — they're in on the con

Of the 725 people arrested so far for the January 6 insurrection incited by Donald Trump, perhaps one of the most telling stories is that of the very first person sentenced, Anna Morgan-Lloyd. On Facebook, Morgan-Lloyd's attitude about participating in a violent attempt to overthrow democracy was jubilant, declaring it the "best day ever." But, when faced with the possibility of prison time, she masterfully escaped punishment by pretending to be reformed. After talking up all of the studying she did in jail about the importance of democracy and evils of fascism — she even claimed to have watched "Schindler's List" — Morgan-Lloyd turned on the waterworks.

The act worked. Morgan-Lloyd was let off with a slap on the wrist, getting probation with no prison time. The judge seemed to sincerely believe her tale of being fooled into fascism and finding redemption through the magic of learning. This is why he was furious later to learn that Morgan-Lloyd's gut-wrenching show of remorse was all nonsense. Indeed, it was only a day after she was handed her light sentence that Morgan-Lloyd was telling lies on Fox News, saying "we see nobody damage anything" and the rioters were "actually very polite."

In reality, the rioters did $1.5 million in damages, injured nearly 140 officers, and were so out of control that five people died on the scene. Many of the officers who defended the Capitol from the violent mob are still paying the price one year later. Six months after the insurrection, 17 were still on leave due to injuries. Four have committed suicide in the past year. As officer Michael Fanone testified about that day, "I'm sure I was screaming, but I don't think I could even hear my own voice."

So was Morgan-Lloyd just delusional? Did she not have eyes in her head? Was she unable to see the violence plainly visible in the overwhelming amount of video and photographic evidence of the day? No, of course not. As the judge who sentenced her later noted when issuing a harsher sentence to another rioter, hopes that her contrition was real were quickly "dashed."

The lesson here is clear and should remain clear: Fascists lie. That is the nature of the authoritarian ideology, which doesn't value good faith discourse in a democracy. Indeed, they spit on democracy, or, as rioters in the Capitol reportedly did, they shit on it. All that the fascist respects is power and domination. Lying, if anything, is valorized in the authoritarian ideology because lying is an expression of power. To lie to someone else — a judge, a journalist, randos on social media — is a display of dominance over them and contempt for their petty attachment to Enlightenment values.

That bad faith is the lingua franca of fascism is not a new observation. Jean-Paul Sartre famously noted that fascists see lying as a delicious troll "for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words." All of which is why it's important not to take it at face value when Republicans claim to "believe" various lies around Trump's attempted coup, from the claim that the election was "stolen" to the justifications rolled out for the rioters' behavior that day. None of it.

Unfortunately, the word "believe" still gets attached to the various nonsense Republican voters spout about the attempted coup. "Republicans who watch Fox News are more likely to believe false theories about Jan. 6," blared a Washington Post headline on a Monday morning analysis of new polling about what Americans say about the insurrection. "What makes someone think that the 2020 election was stolen?" writes Philip Bump in the opening paragraph.

It's important to note, however, that there's good reason to believe that Republicans do not actually believe the election was stolen. Nor should one assume they are legitimately deluded when they tell pollsters lies like "Trump didn't incite it" or "it was antifa" or "the protesters were peaceful" or "the attack was justified". As Heather "Digby" Parton noted Monday, "78% of Republicans now believe that Trump bears only a little or no responsibility for the attack, which is contradictory since they also profess to believe that the mob was protecting democracy."

These contradictions between professed beliefs reflect the contradictory lies that are flowing from Fox News. Tucker Carlson, the most adamant rewriter of the coup's history, switches seamlessly between denying that the riot was an insurrection, claiming that the insurrection was a "false flag" orchestrated by the FBI and antifa, and claiming that the insurrectionists were justified. That each of these claims contradicts the other is of no matter because Carlson believes none of it, and neither do his viewers. They are engaged in a collective act of dissembling and gaslighting, deliberately filling the discourse with noise so they never have to actually defend what their true beliefs about the insurrection actually are.

So what is that true belief? Hard to say exactly under all that noise, but the likeliest one is that democracy is a threat to white supremacy, therefore democracy must be ended. This deeper, more unspeakable belief peeks out occasionally. We see it when Carlson claims that opposition to Trump's attempted coup and the insurrection is an attack on "legacy Americans," his latest clunky euphemism for the conservative white people he believes should be treated as the only legitimate Americans.

As Media Matters documented at the end of December, Fox News, and Carlson especially, spent the bulk of 2021 hyping the neo-Nazi "great replacement" theory. The theory starts from the assumption that white conservatives are entitled to be the dominant class in the U.S. From there, demographic changes are recast as a giant conspiracy against white people. The neo-Nazis explicitly say Jews are conspiring to "replace" white Christians with people of color that they supposedly can control. The Fox News crew euphemizes that by saying it's the "elites" or the "globalists." Either way, the same conspiracy theory bounces around the right-wing media ecosphere and creates a permission structure for conservative whites to treat racial diversity as an act of deliberate aggression. It's used to justify their embrace of fascism and violence as an act of self-defense. It's the same game Nazis played by accusing Jews of secret conspiracies — and it's for the same general purpose.

That's why it's so critical to abandon the hope that Republicans are merely delusional when they parrot the Big Lie. As the judge who sentenced Anna Morgan-Lloyd learned to his regret, authoritarians will say whatever they feel they need to in order to evade accountability, whether consequences come in the form of a prison sentence or merely having someone point out that they are racist. Fascists lie, especially to pollsters, who are viewed as part of the "elite" class of pro-democracy forces they are trying to destroy. Seeing them for who they are is the first step of fighting back effectively.

6 reasons Democrats have to be hopeful about the 2022 midterms

It's hard not to feel depressed going into 2022. Headlines are dominated by the omicron variant of COVID-19, Donald Trump continues to walk free despite his attempted coup one year ago, and Republican efforts to steal the 2024 election for him are well underway after receiving no resistance from a Senate that is being held hostage by the two worst Democrats in the nation. Democratic voters are demoralized, as evidenced by the low turnout in November's Virginia election. Republicans, meanwhile, are in a "let's go Brandon" frenzy.

And yet, there are tendrils of hope peeking out through the freeze of despair.

Omicron is spreading rapidly— but the hospitalization rates remain low, suggesting it's morphing into a relatively minor cold for the vaccinated. Trump, for his part, may actually be facing real legal consequences in 2022. And, as hard as it may be to accept, there are genuine reasons to believe that the midterm elections may not be the democracy-ending bloodbath that so many of us have been fearing.

The Republican push to consolidate power and usher in a new Trump-led authoritarian state might not be as effective as the GOP hopes — and everyone else fears. So that means it's important to keep up the fight and resist the urge to simply give up. We can't let the bad guys win. Here are six reasons to stay in the fight in 2022.

1. GOP's gerrymandering-pocalypse is a dud

The press pays more attention to voter suppression techniques that make for good imagery, like denying food and water to people to people waiting in line, but actual election experts have been far more worried about the impact of aggressive gerrymandering this election cycle. Packing-and-cracking techniques have recently allowed Republicans to gain seats nationwide, despite their declining popularity. After the 2020 census, the fear was Republicans would be able to redistrict themselves into power that was untouchable by Democratic majorities. And yet, as Paul Waldman of the Washington Post reported last week, "informed redistricting experts now say it appears that this process will look more like a wash, or even that Democrats might gain a few seats."

There are many reasons for this shift in GOP fortunes, including that Democrats are fighting back harder than expected. But a lot of it comes down to the fact that demographic changes have been so dramatic that Republicans, in many places, decided to "consolidate their current position rather than take a riskier path that might expand their seats." In the end, Democrats should have a shot at far more seats than previously believed.

2. Democratic governors — who may be what save us in 2024 —look strong in 2022

One of Trump's strategies for stealing the 2020 election focused on voiding out electoral college votes from swing states that Joe Biden won. While Trump failed to get the momentum for his plan back then, the GOP-controlled state legislatures in places like Wisconsin and Pennsyvlania seem game to try again in 2024. They almost certainly, however, can't succeed without the governor's cooperation.

That is why it's crucial for Democrats to win gubernatorial elections in 2022. And there is reason to be optimistic on that front. These statewide elections are out of the reach of the gerrymandering that has captured so many state legislatures for Republicans.

Many of the states that Trump wants to steal are electing governors this year. Democrats have a strong chance of winning — if they put up a fight. They have a chance to retain seats in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Stacey Abrams is taking another shot at Georgia. And there's a chance to flip the governor's seats in Florida and Arizona.

3. The Senate map looks good for Democrats

If you're sick of Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, I've got good news: If Democrats gain Senate seats in 2022, these two's ability to stop all legislation of importance may disappear. Better yet, that may very well happen.

In Pennsylvania, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey is retiring, leaving his seat up for grabs by one of the many popular Democrats who are running. Both North Carolina and Wisconsin are two other swing states where there's a chance Republicans can be replaced by Democrats. Even Missouri may be in range, if Republicans are foolish enough to nominate Eric Greitens, a repulsive specimen who was last seen being forced to give up his governor's seat after being credibly accused, with photographic evidence, of kidnapping and sexual assault.

4. Republicans are putting up a vomit-inducing set of candidates this cycle

As Igor Derysh reports, Greitens is actually looking like the Republican norm for candidate choice in today's Trump-controlled GOP. In those crucial gubernatorial elections I mentioned, this could matter a lot. Abrams, for instance, is likely to run against the charisma-free David Perdue, who is an out-and-proud insurrectionist. In Arizona, there's a strong chance the party goes with Kari Lake, a Trump pick who is associated with Mike Lindell and other nutty folks linked to the "vote audit" that Republican diehards love, but everyone else finds embarrassing. Most voters oppose the insurrection, so insurrectionist candidates are going to have a harder time at the polls.

Republicans' much-lauded 2021 win in the Virginia governor's race came courtesy of Glenn Youngkin, a bland specimen who could convincingly fake being sane to middle-of-the-road voters. But in California, their choice of Larry Elder, a loudmouthed and misogynist radio talker, gave Democrat Gavin Newsome a much easier path to victory in their gubernatorial race. Republicans loo poised to nominate more Elders and fewers Newsomes. Democrats have a real chance to take advantage.

5. The pandemic may finally dissipate

Fox News and Republican leaders convinced their voters to reject vaccines and draw the pandemic out as long as possible to hurt Biden and the Democrats. By offering themselves up to the virus, Republicans kept case and death rates up at a steady clip, sowing malaise that led directly to Biden's declining approval numbers.

Then omicron started to wash over the country like a tidal wave, infecting hundreds of thousands of people a day. People are now getting infected at higher rates than they are getting their first vaccine. That sucks, but the silver lining is that all those unvaccinated Republicans are now getting their inoculations the hard way. Building immunity through infection ain't ideal, but it still works. There's a very real chance that the pandemic is mostly in the rearview mirror next fall, and Democrats reap the rewards of getting us through this crisis.

6. The Supreme Court may awake a sleeping giant

People are going to be very angry if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, as it is widely expected to do. Abortion rights are popular, and so the common wisdom has been that the Supreme Court will find some way to keep restricting access without actually creating the "Roe is overturned" headlines that could lead to an electoral backlash against Republicans. But the arguments before the court earlier this month in a Mississippi abortion case showed that 5 out of the 9 nine justices seem way too invested in ending reproductive rights to worry overmuch about the political impacts. Sure Chief Justice John Roberts still wants to preserve the court's unearned reputation for prudence and moderation, but he's simply outvoted by the slobbering misogynists on the bench.

If there is, as expected, a national run to pass abortion bans — often enforced with bounty hunter systems — across states in the summer and fall, that will likely wake up a lot of people who have checked out of politics since Biden's win. Nor is there any reason to strike a cynical pose of anger at Democrats for pressing a political advantage on this. If Democrats can secure a stronger majority in Congress in 2022, they can actually pass a bill that will overrule any Roe overturn the Supreme Court coughs up. Saving reproductive rights cannot be disentangled from saving either the Democratic Party or democracy itself.

To be clear, much of this optimistic outlook is speculative or contingent. It could very well be that 2022 is an extension of 2021, where Democratic demoralization keeps snowballing, leading to Republican sweeps in the midterms. If that happens, we may be looking back on these days and seeing an inexorable path to fascism.

But right now, hope is simply not lost.

There are a lot of levers that can be pulled to keep Republicans from crushing Democrats in 2022, and then voiding out any election protections that are needed to keep Trump from stealing the 2024 election. Saving the country means fighting for it. It's hard for people to fight, unless they can retain some hope of prevailing. The good news is that there are lots of reasons to feel that hope. Pro-democracy forces have the numbers, and they can still be translated into power, at least for now. The next year will be a wild ride, but, in the end, we may be looking at a repeat of 2020, where hope bested nihilism. The moment for saving ourselves has not passed. We still have a chance — if we seize it.

Here are 7 of the worst political takes of the year

The common wisdom about the "hot take" — the derisive term for a provocative but poorly argued position — is that it persists because social media algorithms don't really distinguish between people sharing something because they like it or because they're dunking on it. But, in compiling my list for some of the smokingest takes of 2021 — a year when boredom and national unease made the hot takes industry especially fecund — I saw a theme emerging. The theme, pitifully but inevitably, was endless variations of the claim that Republicans aren't as sinister, or frightening, or fascistic as the hotheaded #Resistance or "woke mob" make them out to be.

Journalists generally spend too much time on Twitter, and it's producing an irrationally strong urge in some media figures to portray themselves as the above-it-all voice of moderation, in contrast to Twitter noise-makers in their "Mueller Time" T-shirts. I even, on some level, get it. Social media rewards hyperbole. People take things too far every day. (For instance, reading lefty Twitter would leave one with the impression that a breakthrough COVID-19 case is a death sentence, as opposed to the relatively minor or even asymptomatic infection most people experience.)

But being annoyed by social media junkies who are addicted to self-righteous posturing is no justification for trolling folks with wrongheaded takes about how Republicans aren't so bad. Whatever other flaws #Resistance might have as a community, they tend to be right about one thing: Republicans suck. One underestimates that fact at their own peril. Take a walk, turn off Twitter for awhile, do real work. Anything is smarter than firing up a computer and writing that spicy take about how Republicans aren't the cartoon villains that they, in fact, are.

That's my two cents for 2022, but it's too late for this year's list of awardees for the hottest takes of 2021:

Best hate click: "What Trump Got Right"

This piece in the Washington Post came just six months after the only president who attempted to end democracy by inciting a violent insurrection left office. The Post might as well have run a story about Mussolini's excellent train management skills except the premise was somehow even stupider because, unlike the Italian fascist Trump learned his chin gestures from, Mussolini actually cared about some matters of governance. Needless to say, any policies that actually worked under Trump were purely by accident and were not really a credit to a man so wholly incurious about the world outside of his ego that the only app installed on his iPhone is Twitter.

Most wrong: "How Ron DeSantis won the pandemic"

Trumpy Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida set out to become, and succeeded at, being one of the most notorious villains of the pandemic. He not only blocked most efforts to curtail the spread of COVID-19, but even went so far as to sell merchandise advertising his contempt for public health officials. Naturally, championing DeSantis was irresistible bait for Michael Kruse of Politico. In March, Kruse wrote a piece headlined "How Ron DeSantis won the pandemic," and argued, "after 12 months in which he was pilloried as a reckless executive driven more by ideology than science," Florida "has fared no worse, and in some ways better, than many other states."

Then the delta variant hit, sending cases in Florida through the roof. The state has the 12th highest death rate and, as omicron tears across the country, has a case rate more than one-and-a-half times what it was during last winter's peak — and climbing. Over 62,000 Floridians have now died of COVID-19.

Most stubbornly insistent on being wrong: "Republican vaccine denial is not a political strategy"

Shortly after Joe Biden was inaugurated, it became obvious that Fox News and many GOP leaders saw a continuing pandemic as their best bet to undermine the Biden presidency. They quickly figured out that the easiest way to prolong things is convince their own supporters to eschew vaccination. There was some resistance, however, to say out loud that GOP leaders are willing to kill their own people for political gain, but some commentators — including myself and Brian Beutler from Crooked Media — were pointing this out early and often. Now, it's commonly accepted wisdom in the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Still, Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine refuses to see what is plain. In August, he petulantly insisted that this cannot be a political strategy. "Never attribute to malice," Chait argued, that "which is adequately explained by stupidity."

This faith in the non-malice of the GOP was a particularly strange stance in 2021, a year when Trump tried to overthrow democracy and the party backed him. Chait stood by his refusal to accept the GOP's sinister motives in November, even in the face of Republican governors bribing people to stay unvaccinated. Now right-wing media figures are raging at Trump for getting the booster. If they actually thought the shots were dangerous, they'd be worried about Trump's health. Anger belies that this is about holding the strategy line, not a legitimate fear of the shots.

Biggest lemming: "Kavanaugh Is the Last Hope for Abortion Rights"

This is one where it's hard to single out one hot take. Instead, this will be awarded based on a widespread rush to "prove" that the left is hysterical, one that blew up in many, many faces: The claim that Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett aren't as bad as the ladies in the Handmaid's costumes are saying. One juicy example is "Kavanaugh Is the Last Hope for Abortion Rights," written by Harvard law professor Noah Feldman in August. After a couple less-than-apocalyptic decisions in the summer, nearly every mainstream outlet had to issue a tut-tutting scold of the supposedly hysterical left, with headlines like "Barrett Flashes Independence" and "the Court has largely avoided partisanship."

Shortly after lulling the easily baited mainstream press into believing they aren't that bad, however, the conservatives on the Supreme Court turned around and upheld not just an unconstitutional abortion ban in Texas, but blessed the bounty hunter system to enforce it. And that's before they overturn Roe outright, which is what arguments in December suggested is all but inevitable next summer. And that's just the tip of the iceberg of right-wing radicalism experts believe is about to be unleashed by the court in the coming months.

Biggest dupe: The neverending quest for one good Republican

This one is for everyone who briefly fell for the Chris Christie "comeback" hype in November. ABC, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, and even The Daily Show all gave Christie fawning coverage over the possibility that he could emerge as an anti-Trump figure, a supposed return of common sense and sanity to the GOP. (A narrative that ignores how little the party had of either to begin with.) The whole thing went over about as well as New Coke:

But the fantasy of the "good Republican" will never die in the mainstream media, so expect many more rounds of this until Trump wins the party's presidential nomination in 2024.

Least fact-based: "A maternity ranch"

In November, Stephanie McCrummen in the Washington Post wrote a glowing profile of Aubrey Schlackman, a far-right Texas evangelical planning to start a "maternity ranch" for women forced to give birth, due to the state's abortion ban. Anyone reading the article could see Schlackman's plan is to trap isolated pregnant women on a ranch, extract unpaid labor from them, and subject them to mandatory Bible study and lectures on the sin of fornication. But McCrummen uncritically portrayed this as "a Christian haven where women could live stress-free."

As many folks pointed out immediately, a quick Google search on the history of such practices would reveal that "maternity homes" are less spa-like charities and closer in spirit to prison camps. Past violations range from traumatizing women by forcing them to give up babies to imprisoning women for life to throwing dead bodies of "fallen" women into mass graves. While not technically a take, McCrummen gets the award as a reminder to do a little research instead of just assuming the label "Christian" preempts the possibility that someone is up to no good.

Biggest whitewash: "Sinema speaks up — and shakes off her critics"

Most of the reflexively wrongheaded impulse to troll the left centers on laundering Republicans. But I won't ignore the November Politico effort to clean up the reputation of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democrat who destroyed her own party's good name in 2021 with a truly stunning combination of stupidity, ego, and corruption.

"Sinema speaks up — and shakes off her critics," reads the headline of the puff piece by Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine, which attempts to paint Sinema as a reasonable and tough-minded Democrat, instead of what she is, a sleazy traitor who sold out not just her party but democracy itself. Sinema was clearly trying to use Politico to fix her image with Democrats. But she couldn't hold it together to coast on this reputation rehab very long at all. Within a month, she was spitting on Democratic efforts to protect election integrity and voting rights, reminding everyone that there is no amount of fawning coverage that can hide the rotten person underneath all those colorful clothes.

Next year, everyone, let's try to find some other reason to write stuff other than "this will annoy the overheated wine moms of #Resistance Twitter," okay? Oh, who am I kidding? That's like asking journalists to take time away from Twitter itself. Might as well ask the sun to stop rising or Donald Trump to think of someone other than himself.

How Sinema and Manchin are derailing Biden's plan to save democracy

When Joe Biden won the presidential election, many progressives were relieved Donald Trump lost, yet remained anxious about the future. After Trump attempted to overturn the election, even going so far as to instigate a violent insurrection on January 6, that anxiety only rose. The moment called for a visionary president, an FDR type, someone who was willing to tackle the serious structural failures that had opened the door to the current democratic crisis. Biden spent most of his career as a centrist with an unfortunate tendency to favor rich bankers over working Americans. It was hard to imagine he would have the moxie to fight for the democratic reforms and progressive economic vision necessary to truly stop what was increasingly looking like a growing and successful fascist movement in the United States.

But Biden's actual presidency has been a wonderful surprise.

He went into office taking the threat to democracy seriously, studying "How Democracies Die" by Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. His theory of how to meet the moment was a sound one: Prove to the public that democracy can work, and people will fight to keep it. So he focused his energies on passing Build Back Better, a massive social spending and economic reform package that was meant to be a New Deal-style rebuttal to the cynicism and disillusionment that allows authoritarianism thrive. There are reasons to criticize Biden's approach — I certainly felt like he should have put more of a priority on shoring up electoral systems and imprisoning the coup ringleaders — but Biden was absolutely correct that any strategy to save democracy requires demonstrating its value to the public.

Despite Biden's boldness, however, here we are at the end of 2021, with fascists ascendant and the pro-democracy majority feeling demoralized. Biden's approval ratings have been underwater for months, with more than half of Americans disapproving of his performance in office. Biden's theory wasn't wrong. Saving democracy does require showing that government can work. But Biden isn't doing that. On the contrary, the message most Americans are getting is that he failed, Democrats failed, and maybe it's time to give up fighting.

The worst part of all of this is it's mostly not Biden's fault. Nor is it the fault of congressional Democrats, 96% of whom support Build Back Better and, almost certainly, some kind of bold democratic reforms to save election systems from Trump's grubby little fingers. No, the fault lays entirely with two Senate Democrats, both of whom are awash in corruption: Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

As 2021 closes out, the verdict is clear: Manchin and Sinema managed to do more damage to the country, and to the future of democracy than anyone else throughout the year. And that's in a year where the ex-president Trump was actively plotting his next coup! Why are these two more destructive even than the various Republicans who are working with Trump across the country to gut democracy? Mostly, it comes down to power.

Republicans are the minority party and, in theory, shouldn't even have the power to rewrite our election systems to make it easier for Trump to steal the race in 2024. In theory, the Democratic congressional majority should have been able to preempt all these anti-democratic moves on the state level by passing robust voting protections, as well as backing Biden's agenda and proving to voters that government can work. But, due to a toxic combination of selfishness, stupidity, and greed, both Manchin and Sinema have blocked every effort Democrats have made to fight back against the Republican assault on democracy. And worse, they did so while pretending, every step of the way, that they were on the verge of being won over to the side of good, when clearly neither ever had any intention of doing anything but destroy Biden's agenda.

This isn't a matter of evil triumphing because good men do nothing, either. Neither Sinema and Manchin are "good" in any meaningful sense. Their record suggests that they are sinister figures who have actively undermining Biden throughout the year — and, in doing so, assist the rise of authoritarianism. Through duplicity and bad faith, both led the Democratic majority to believe there was a real chance of accomplishing needed reforms through Congress, when, it's becoming quite clear, neither ever had any intention of letting anything of note get past their firewall. Republicans are waging their war on democracy right out in the open. Manchin and Sinema, however, are snakes in the grass, using feints of allyship to lure Democrats into a trap before springing it. Over and over again.

Witness, for instance, the months of nonsense with the Build Back Better plan. Republicans did not hide that they had no intention of voting for it. But both Manchin and Sinema repeatedly tricked the Democrats into believing there was a chance they would hand over the necessary votes to pass the bill this year. By feigning interest in voting for the bill, they were able to get Democratic leadership to spend months negotiating with them and wooing them, wasting time and energy that could have been focused on more fruitful endeavors. It was only this month that Manchin accidentally let slip that he never had any intention of voting for the bill, confirming what may progressive critics have said for months: He has never negotiated in good faith.

Manchin played the same games with voting rights, even going so far as to seed Democratic hopes that he would support a democracy reform bill by writing his own. But instead of actually doing anything to pass his own bill, Manchin just keeps defending the Senate filibuster, giving Republicans to ability to block his bill. Which is not how one behaves if one is sincere about passing a bill. But, as Paul Waldman of the Washington Post points out, it's clear that Manchin doesn't give a crap about anyone but himself and his rich friends. After all, Manchin has the power to rewrite Build Back Better "to completely transform his state" with huge cash infusions, but instead, he does everything to keep Biden from helping the very voters Manchin claims to represent.

Sinema, whose actual intelligence falls short of her ego, is a little less crafty at hiding her bad faith. She puts out petulant press releases insisting she's for the whole bouquet of Democratic policies — higher minimum wages, a better social safety net, voting rights — but reliably sides with the wishes of her rich donors over the needs of the public. And she likes to throw a little curtsy in, mock her critics with photos or make an F-off gesture while she's at it, unable to resist the urge to troll the people she was ostensibly hired to serve.

It's not just that betrayal from supposed friends feels worse than hatred from avowed enemies. It's that they are just more effective than Republicans are at derailing Biden's plans to save democracy. It's hard not to wonder what the past year would have looked like if Democrats hadn't been distracted by hopes of getting anything past these two jackasses. Not only did Manchin and Sinema waste a year of the very limited time Democrats have to save democracy, but they broke the spirit of the Democratic base in doing so. And, as Trumpists know full well, that kind of demoralization is the best friend a fascist could have. Republicans are sneering cartoon villains, but at the end of 2021, it's clear that Manchin and Sinema were more destructive. They broke Biden's vision and left him to take the blame going into the 2022 midterm elections, doing more to bring about the end of democracy than even the most energetic Trump acolytes ever could.

The MAGA faithful have flipped out at Trump — but what does it really mean?

Donald Trump is going to run in 2024. He's going to try to steal the election again — and he has an extremely good chance at succeeding. With people in power unwilling or unable to save us, it's tempting to hope for some completely random happenstance to come in and fell Trump before he completes his grim march to a 2024 takeover. That is why, no doubt, there was a flurry of excitement over the holiday weekend when the MAGA faithful did what many on the left thought was impossible: flipped out on Trump.

Naturally, the source of right-wing anger at Trump was over the one good thing he's done: telling his base that it's good for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. A week before Christmas, he got booed at an event after saying the vaccine was good, mostly because he wanted to take credit for it. When Trumpist grifter Candace Owens interviewed him a few days later, Trump rejected her anti-vaccine stance and insisted, correctly, that "the vaccine works" because "people aren't dying when they take the vaccine."

Because of this, folks across MAGAland are panning Trump for what is actually a very mild pro-vaccine stance (he still opposes mandates). Their language is sometimes surprisingly forceful.

Alex Jones called Trump "one of the most evil men who has ever lived" in response. "Stop the Steal" rally organizer Ali Alexander begged Trump to stop and called him "boomer level annoying." An angry group of red hats protested at Trump Tower in Manhattan, shouting that Trump is a "fraud" if he keeps up the vaccine-positive talk. Even Ben Garrison, the weird-but-loyal Trump cartoonist, got angry with his idol over this.

It's an exciting thought, that this vaccine thing would split the Trumpian base and demobilize his support. Alas, it will never actually happen. For the fascist right, Trump remains their best bet for a takeover in 2024. As much as they might be irritated with him over his vaccine opinions, they will never abandon him, not as long as he's useful to them.

One can already see the MAGA leadership making up excuses for Trump's deviation from anti-vaxx orthodoxy. Owens is arguing that people his age "came from a time before TV, before internet, before being able to conduct their independent research." Owens may not know TVs were commonplace by the 1950s, but she knows her audience will accept this as an excuse to be both anti-vaccine and pro-Trump. Mike Lindell is clinging to the fact that Trump is still anti-mandate. Lin Wood is claiming that the pro-vaccine rhetoric is Trump's supposedly brilliant "wartime strategy," which will all become clear in due time.

Trump tends to stick to right-wing culture war doctrine in public, even if — as he does when he calls Christian ministers "hustlers" behind their backs — he doesn't believe a word he's saying. So it is a little surprising that he doesn't just follow the path of his buddies at Fox News, who clearly have all gotten vaccinated before they go on air and encourage their viewers to keep rejecting the shot. Part of it is no doubt because of Trump's all-consuming narcissism, and his desire to get credit for a vaccine that was actually developed by scientists and researchers. It's also likely Trump is starting to sweat the fact that a lot of his followers might die off before they get a chance to vote for him. After all, deep red counties now have a COVID-19 death rate that is six times that of deep blue counties. Trump was already obsessed with how blue cities tipped swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania to Joe Biden in 2020. He's likely acutely aware that blue areas are experiencing much better survival rates than red areas in those very same states.

Setting aside the ridiculous and overheated rhetorical strategies of the right, what we see between Trump and his critics comes down to a strategy disagreement. The anti-vaxx crowd is betting on the ongoing pandemic to demoralize Democratic voters. They hope the drop in turnout from disillusioned Biden voters will outstrip their own losses from COVID-19 deaths. Trump, who tends to have a more single-minded obsession with demographics, seems more worried that the die-off is reaching the point where it might affect electoral outcomes. Neither side, of course, actually cares about the people who are dying, who are seen as little more than collateral damage.

Political alliances, especially on the right, very rarely break apart over strategy disagreements. We shouldn't expect that to happen here. And support for Trump is still mainly one of strategic value to his followers. Despite the often over-the-top gestures of Trump worship on the right, ultimately, the movement simply isn't about him. (Even if he very much wants to believe otherwise.) His own followers often seem quite bored by him. He's a couple of years away from running, and so he's got anemic attendance at his rallies and his talking tour with Bill O'Reilly.

But all that means is that even loyal redhats don't see the point of spending time with Trump in an electoral off-year. Showing up at a Trump rally isn't about experiencing Trump's charm, which is non-existent. It's a show of force, about sending a signal to the rest of the country that the right has the numbers and the will to fight to gain total power. Once it becomes politically potent to do so again, they will turn out for Trump. Indeed, suffering through Trump droning on is a sacrifice to demonstrate their level of commitment. Just as refusing vaccination and risking death from COVID-19 is about demonstrating commitment to the MAGA cause.

Trump supporters have always been more anti-Democrat than they are pro-Trump. He's just an obnoxious weapon to wield against the Democratic majority, and his annoying personality is beloved mainly for his power at "triggering" the liberals. Trump's pro-vaccine talk will, like his clear disdain for Christians and members of the military, ultimately be a thing that most of his followers decide they can live with. As long as they can use him, expect the right to keep backing Trump.

The real reason right-wingers get so triggered by Dr. Fauci

"Whatcha reading for?"

It's the laugh line in a classic bit from Texas comedian Bill Hicks, recounting his encounter with a Waffle House waitress in Tennessee who did not understand why a man sitting by himself in a coffee house would read a book. The bit continues with a truck driver standing over Hicks and menacing him with, "We've got ourselves a reader."

Hicks, who died of pancreatic cancer in 1994, has a lot of material that hasn't aged well. Still, I have fond memories of this part of his act, which tended to kill with Austin audiences, packed as the city was back then with escapees from the less liberal parts of Texas. That audience brimmed with people who had repeatedly been on the receiving end of the anger Hicks described. He captured the defensive rage the willfully ignorant have towards those who look at the larger world with curiosity, instead of fear.

I thought about that Hicks bit when I saw Tuesday's news that Fox News' Jesse Watters, a man who radiates a strong "I paid some nerd to write my term papers" energy, threatened the life of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has been the top COVID-19 advisor to President Joe Biden. Oh, Watters pretended it wasn't a threat when he told an audience at the conference for right-wing youth group Turning Point USA — founded by Charlie Kirk, who blames his lack of a college education on minorities supposedly taking "his" spot — to "ambush" Dr. Fauci with a "kill shot." Watters pretended he was speaking metaphorically, encouraging "deadly" questions instead of actual violence. But obviously, the garish rhetoric, especially in light of the growing violence on the right, was meant to intimidate.

What struck me about the whole incident was how weird it was.

Both Watters and his audience — who were whooping and hollering — are just so clearly threatened by Dr. Fauci. The frenzy of defensive rage that Dr. Fauci inspires on the right is hard to square with the man himself, a slight and mild-mannered fellow who retains a 50s-era Brooklyn accent. It's like being threatened by a puppy dog. It's like experiencing foaming rage at a child flying a kite. Dr. Fauci's main two public qualities are that he's very nice and wants to help. Who hates that?

Well, right-wingers do. And it's not just Watters.

Dr. Fauci has been the favorite target of "who does he think he is"-style rants by pretty much every right-wing pundit and politician out there for over a year now. He's easily the most reliable hate object they've had since Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Those three are some readers — and that reliably triggers the bullying response in the Jesse Watters types. Despite all of their chest-thumping bravado, this knee-jerk hostility to those perceived as intellectually curious evinces a deep insecurity driving right-wingers.

We also see this in the furious reaction on the right to polling data showing that young Democrats are not interested in socializing with, much less dating, Republicans. Considering how much liberals are demonized in right-wing media, you'd think the last thing conservatives would want is their company. But so much of that anger is driven by conservative insecurity, knowing that ultimately, their company is mostly irritating and definitely not interesting, and lashing out at others for perceiving that.

Which isn't to say the stereotype of the smug liberal doesn't exist. That Hicks routine is iconic in the annals of smug liberalism. But nowadays, the trend in smug liberalism tends to be more condescending than catty. It's those on the left who mistake intentional obtuseness for inborn stupidity. It manifests in lectures at other liberals about how we need to be patient with the unvaccinated Trumpers, because they can't be expected to understand how vaccines work. Or in treating Fox News viewers like dim-witted ciphers, instead of people who actively seek out propaganda and reject reality-based information. Say what you will about those on the left who are angry at the unvaccinated, fascistic Fox News audience — at least we give them the respect of knowing that their ignorance is a choice, not a predetermined condition.

In truth, the "smug liberal" is far more of a paranoid fantasy on the right than a reality. It's the manifestation of their own resentment of people who did do the reading, people who do want to know more about the larger world. They are jealous of people who say yes to novel ideas and new experiences, instead of freaking out at the mere thought of having to learn something new. It's not that such people are especially smug. Dr. Fauci, for instance, radiates kindness and patience. It's that conservatives are just that insecure about their own shortcomings.

That's why this assault on schools has been such a potent organizing force for Republicans. It really plugs into not just the racism of the right, but the defensive posture of those who are deeply afraid that their kids will be rewarded for intellectual curiosity and grow up to be brighter than dear old mom and dad. Though it has admittedly produced some truly sublime moments of comedy, such as when a woman named Kara Bell stood up at a Texas school board meeting to rant, "I've never had anal sex. I don't want to have anal sex." It earned her the online nickname "Cornhole Karen".

Still, there's something about the screeching about anal sex that also underscores the larger problem here: bitter incuriosity. And it is delivered in a way that was funny enough for Jimmy Kimmel to make it his clip of the year. It's not that Bell doesn't like anal sex, which is really just a matter of taste. It's the self-righteous fury at the very idea that anyone would be curious about such a thing. It's treating ignorance like a virtue, and intellectual dullness like a mandate.

It's been long understood that, once you control for demographic factors, the personality trait psychologists deem "openess to experience" is a major predictor of progressivism. That used to mostly be an interesting but irrelevant factoid, like learninig that orange cats are mostly male or what a "strawberry moon" is. Now, however, this personality difference is a central motivating factor in a growing fascist movement. The kind that wants to violently put down those who do express inquisitiveness and a willingness to be intellectually challenged. The kind of movement that leads crowds to cheer wildly at the idea of taking a "killshot" at an 80-year-old man whose main crime seems to be that he studied hard and knows things about science. This isn't just an unpleasant encounter in a Waffle House. It is a rage that is threatening to destroy a nation.

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