Amanda Marcotte

The California recall victory shows Democrats the path forward against Trumpism

Despite the polls looking hairy for a few weeks over the summer, Wednesday morning brought relieving news as California's Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom crushed a well-financed recall effort. Republicans had seen Newsom as a soft target ever since he was photographed attending a fancy dinner during the time of the most severe pandemic restrictions. They were counting on Democratic voters being too tuned out and demoralized by the pandemic to bother voting in this deeply blue state. But Newsom was saved by a landslide — 64% to 36% in the vote count, as of this writing.

Newsom likely won by making the campaign a referendum on his leading opponent, right-wing talk radio host Larry Elder a man so repulsive that he gives his idol, Donald Trump, a run for his money. Newsom highlighted how Elder opposed any COVID-19 mitigation measures and reminded voters that letting thousands of people die is worse than occasional bouts of hypocrisy. Newsom also relentlessly tied Elder to Trump.

"We may have defeated Donald Trump, but we have not defeated Trumpism," Newsom told a crowd on the final night of the campaign.

The political press was swift to seize on this aspect of the Newsom campaign as the dominant narrative, not just for how the California governor survived, but how Democrats will win in other off-year elections and possibly in the 2022 midterms.

"Democrats wanted Trump gone. Now they want him on the ballot," reads a Washington Post headline, which points not just to California, but Virginia and New Jersey and Virginia, where Democratic candidates Terry McAuliffe and Phil Murphy regularly invoke the specter of Trump in their 2021 gubernatorial campaigns.

"While Trump, of course, isn't on the ballot this fall, the Democrats in the most closely contested statewide races of 2021 are acting as if he basically is," political analysts Rick Klein, Averi Harper, and Alisa Wiersema write at ABC News.

"Even before the final ballots were cast, Newsom's advisers were selling his campaign as a template for Democrats nationally in the midterm elections," David Siders and Carla Marinucci write in Politico. Democrats "can find some comfort in this fact" that "Trump continues to be a disqualifying figure at the polls," argues Philip Elliott in Time.

It's tempting to roll one's eyes at these Trump-centric campaigns. After all, Trump lost not just the election but failed to pull off a coup, even after inciting a violent mob to storm the Capitol. He also continues to be a ridiculous figure. His most recent activities involve skipping the 9/11 memorial ceremonies to be a painfully terrible boxing announcer because this supposed "billionaire" never turns down a chance to make money.

The grim reality, however, is that Democratic voters are responsive to Trump-centric messaging because they know that Trump remains an active threat both to democracy and the wellbeing of everyday Americans.

Barring some miracle, such as Joe Biden's administration getting serious about prosecuting Trump for his dizzying number of crimes, Trump is going to run again. Most Republicans still say they want him as their leader, so he will likely to be the GOP nominee in 2024. The vast majority of Republicans are still in his thrall, not just constantly kissing his ring but actively covering up for his criminal activity, as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., did when he attempted to obstruct the formation of a commission to investigate the events of January 6. Republicans in state legislatures are rewriting election laws to make it easier for Trump to steal the 2024 election. And they are doing all this while understanding full well that Trump is an unhinged maniac.

Just this week, reports are coming out that Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Trump, understandably panicked during the heights of Trump's attempted coup and started maneuvering to keep Trump from starting a nuclear war with China. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa write in their new book "Peril" that Milley was alarmed because "Trump had gone into a serious mental decline in the aftermath of the election," and was "screaming at officials and constructing his own alternate reality about endless election conspiracies." Worried about Trump trying to save his presidency by doing something nuts, like nuke China, Milley talked to other military leaders about taking steps to slow down any orders from Trump.

There's been a lot of press hand-wringing, some of it even from liberals, about Milley's actions and the dangers of the military rejecting presidential authority. But that's the problem with coups — they are so disruptive to the normal order of government that they leave many officials facing impossible choices. Milley was faced with a choice between backing a president who is actively trying to overthrow democracy or protecting peace and democracy. There is no such thing as a clean choice in such a dilemma, either morally or legally. The very notion of "civilian control of the military" becomes elusive in such moments. The real moral of the story is not that Milley did the right or wrong thing, but that Trump is, to quote Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a "very dangerous person."

Failing in his coup effort hasn't mellowed Trump either. On the contrary, his loathing for American democracy has only grown stronger. At every opportunity, he repeats the flat-out false claims that the 2020 election was "stolen" from him and encourages those organizing around the Big Lie. He's actively rewriting the history of January 6, trying to frame it as a noble effort to save America, instead of what it was, which is a violent attempt to overthrow democracy. He's cast Ashli Babbitt, a woman who was shot as she tried to lead a charge of Capitol rioters to run down fleeing congressional members, as a martyr. On Tuesday, Trump appeared on Sean Spicer's Newsmax show and unleashed some more ominous hints of violence, declaring, "The election was rigged and we're not going to have a country left in three years, I'll tell you that."

This sort of rhetoric is often described as a "prediction," but it needs to be understood for what it is: A threat.

Trump needs to be understood for what he is, which is the leader of an authoritarian movement that is attempting to gut American democracy. He's got a real chance at success, due to the onslaught of gerrymandering, voter suppression, and even vote nullification laws being passed in Republican-controlled state legislatures. Should there be a Republican majority in Congress if Trump tries to steal the election again in 2024, he may very well successfully overcome the will of the voters and ascend to the White House again.

A growing number of voters understand this, which is why they are moved by reminders of the threat of Trumpism. A new CNN poll confirms how well voters recognize the threat, with 51% saying they worry about politicians simply overturning the results of an election they disagree with. Sadly, Democrats still underrate the threat, with only 46% seeing the threats to democracy. Still, that nearly half of Democrats see the problem, despite Trump's failed coup, is heartening. The poll results are unfortunately polluted by Republicans pushing the Big Lie, with 78% falsely claiming that Biden stole the election. But even this result underscores the real threat to our democracy: Trump-led Republicans, armed with lies painting themselves as victims, have talked themselves into believing they're entitled to actually steal elections.

The only real question now is whether the politicians Democratic voters are relying on to protect democracy can actually put up the necessary fight. On a national level, things aren't looking great.

A couple of dunderheaded Democratic senators refuse to provide the votes necessary to end the filibuster, and so legislation to stop Trump's plans for a coup redo in 2024 appears DOA. A Republican-controlled Supreme Court feels assured enough that the GOP is shielded from voter accountability that they basically overturned Roe v. Wade with a memo. So for now, Newsom's win is a reprieve from disaster in California — but the rest of the nation is still very much in danger.

The California recall is a microcosm of what has become the GOP's strategy of trickery

The stakes of the California recall election of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom couldn't be higher. Voting, either by mail or in person, ends Tuesday, and if Newsom is recalled, the bluest state in the country will not just have a Republican governor, but Larry Elder, a right-wing talk radio host who is a loon even by the standards of the party that elected Donald Trump.

If Elder wins, he threatens California's fragile recovery from the pandemic, since, like most Republicans these days, he's running interference for the virus. Plus, he would have the power to replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is literally 88 years old, if she were to leave office — and one name that's being floated is Elder's protege and white nationalist former Trump advisor Stephen Miller.

In a normal circumstance, someone like Elder — he suggested Women's March participants are too ugly to rape and argued that it's the descendants of slave owners and not slaves that deserve reparations — would never have a chance of winning the governorship of a deep blue state like California. Unable to win in a free and fair election, however, Republicans in the state have turned to dirty tricks and shenanigans. The entire Republican strategy is built around suppressing voter turnout through confusing and demoralizing the public. The recall ballots are confusing, and may lead voters to not understand that voting yes on recalling Newsom automatically means voting yes on his replacement being a Republican. Republicans are also counting on pandemic-induced disillusionment to keep Democratic voters from bothering to mail in ballots at all.

In other words, the California recall is a microcosm of what has become the GOP's national strategy.

Republicans have given up entirely on the basic premise of democracy. They no longer think that politicians should try to appeal to a majority of citizens to win power. Instead, their focus is entirely on finding ways to circumvent public will and gain power anyway. In some states, this manifests as gerrymandering, outright voter suppression and even a new slate of laws meant to allow Republican officials to simply vacate the results of elections they don't like. In California, it's about forcing an off-year election in the most confusing way possible, hoping to hoodwink voters into accidentally giving themselves a Republican governor.

Regardless of the state-specific method, what holds all of this together is a widespread rejection within the Republican Party of the right of the people to choose their own leaders. Republicans feel entitled to rule, no matter what, and therefore feel entitled to lie, cheat, and steal their way to power. The technical legality of the California recall election doesn't change this reality. The spirit of the whole enterprise is driven by a willingness of Republicans to find some backhanded way to force a governor on the state that they know very well the majority of Californians do not want.

Ultimately, it comes down to the increasingly rigid Republican belief that most Americans are not legitimate citizens and therefore have no right to vote Republicans are bound to respect. This belief manifests most commonly in the Big Lie, which is metastasizing beyond Trump's false claims that he lost the 2020 election due to "fraud". Already, right-wing pundits and Republican politicians are prepping their followers for the possibility that Newsom survives the recall with an updated version of the Big Lie, claiming the election is "rigged" and that Newsom will only win through "voter fraud."

No real evidence of actual fraud that could swing an election is ever produced with these relentless Big Lie claims, but then again, it doesn't need to be.

"Voter fraud" is not really a literal belief among Republicans, but more a code phrase to convey the larger belief that most legal voters shouldn't have the right to vote at all. To call these legal voters "frauds" is to contest the legitimacy of their citizenship. It functions in the same way as conspiracy theories about Barack Obama's birth certificate did, as a way for conservatives to signal to each other a belief that the first Black president is not a "real" American. With the Big Lie, the group of people who conservatives refuse to admit are legitimate citizens has grown to encompass pretty much anyone who votes for the Democrats.

This notion that most Americans aren't "real" Americans and therefore are "fraud" voters has become a majority belief among Republican voters. A recent CNN poll, which found that 6 in 10 Republican voters said that affirming the Big Lie — which again, is code for the belief that Democratic votes are inherently illegitimate — is an important part of being a Republican. We see this in the support for the January 6 insurrection that has been quietly solidifying among the GOP base. It all goes back to a belief that if Republicans can't win a fair election, they should be able to cheat their way into power — or, if that fails, use violent force.

As Igor Derysh reported last week for Salon, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is facing down a similarly sleazy power grab by Republicans in Michigan. Republicans in the state legislature are trying to pass an anti-voting bill to keep those voters they see as illegitimate — particularly urban residents and Black voters — from casting ballots. To get around Whitmer's veto, they're using the same tactic that California Republicans used to force a recall, exploiting an ill-advised loophole that allows a shockingly small number of petitioners to force the issue. In this case, it's not a recall, but even worse, the ability simply overrule the decision of a duly elected governor. Democrats in the state are accusing Republicans of using a "playbook of losing, lying, and attempting to cheat their way into office."

It's not just a fair accusation, but such an obvious observation that it's verging on banal. It's the playbook that fueled Trump's failed coup and is currently fueling Elder's attempt to seize the California governor's office through the back door. Elections are increasingly not going to be contests of two candidates trying to appeal to voters, but a Democratic candidate appealing to voters while a Republican candidate tries to find some way to get around that pesky "democracy" problem. Newsom will probably survive this recall effort, but the country is going to have a much harder time surviving the relentless GOP assault on democracy.

The real reason the right-wing elites are so threatened by Biden's vaccine mandates

Republican leaders are really mad about President Joe Biden's executive order issued last week, which mandates vaccination or weekly COVID-19 testing for employees of any company with 100 employees or more. Within less than a day, the battle cry of the virus's best advocates was ringing out across the land: We'll sue!

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared that he was "working to halt this power grab." South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, always on hand to assist the coronavirus's efforts to reproduce wildly, declared, "see you in court." When it comes to a virus and its mindless pursuit of human hosts to infect, this disease has no better friend than the modern GOP.

In this, however, Republican leaders are out of step with the majority of the public, which believes that vaccines should be mandated for workers. Of course, there's nothing new about Republicans embracing unpopular ideas. What makes this a shocking twist is Republican opposition to vaccine mandates puts them at odds with the larger business community.

Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that many business leaders — even those who are stalwart Republicans generally — are pleased with Biden's vaccine mandate. That's because — as Republicans understood when Donald Trump held the White House but seem to have forgotten since then — pandemics are bad for business. "The reality is there are a number of businesses that are wanting the government to step in. This gives them the cover to do what they want to do anyway," Charles Shipan, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, told the Post.

As one business leader in Texas explained, companies want their employees fully vaccinated and back to regular work life, but often shy away from mandates out of fear "that some workers would quit rather than submit." Now that it's required for all companies of a certain size, however, there's nowhere else for such workers to go.

Also, the more people who vaccinate, the sooner Americans can return to normal life — which is good for the corporate bottom line. This was a classic tragedy-of-the-commons problem, the sort of thing that government regulation is designed to fix.

The end result is that the interests of corporate America are now squarely at odds with the Republican Party, at least when it comes to the pandemic. This is, needless to say, unusual. The GOP coalition has long been a sometimes uneasy alliance between wealthy corporate interests and a voting base that is more interested in red meat bigotries than marginal tax rates. Still, the interests of the rich corporate benefactors almost always come first for Republican politicians. Even Trump — who ran by appealing not just to the raw racism of the base, but to their desire to hear a Republican president promise he would protect the social safety net so many of them rely upon — backtracked in office and instead shaped his policies to serve the demands of wealthy elites instead of the Medicare-loving base.

The pandemic creates a clear-cut conflict between capitalist interests and culture war politics. Corporate leaders oppose the pandemic, but the culture warriors have sided with the virus and against anyone who tries to implement measures to slow its spread. By making these threats to sue, especially if they make good on them, Republicans are picking the spittle-flecked redhats screaming invective at school boards over the Brooks Brothers set.

The reason is certainly not because the GOP leadership has gone "populist" in any meaningful sense. If they actually cared about the interests of the hoi polloi they rely on as voters, they would be all for these vaccine mandates, which are needed to slow the pandemic's current tear through red-state America.

By feigning outrage over the mandates, Republican leaders reinforce a message that's been emanating from all corners of right-wing media: being a "good" Republican means refusing the vaccine. The likely reason that Republican leaders and propagandists are in conflict with business leaders over this is because continuing the pandemic is the linchpin of their 2022 midterms election strategy.

As Greg Sargent of the Washington Post pointed out last week, "After having gone to great lengths to impair our response to covid at best, and to actively sabotage it at worst, Republicans will claim the covid resurgence is only the fault of President Biden and Democrats." While there are some people still telling themselves it's impossible that the same people who backed Trump would do something this slimy, it's been evident for some time now that Republicans are running the same playbook on Biden's efforts to end the pandemic that they did on Barack Obama's efforts to heal the country during his presidency: Sabotage the effort and pin the blame for the continued misery on the president and his party. It's a strategy that requires using their own followers as bioweapons in their effort to hamper Biden's success, but as anyone who watches Fox News for even an hour can tell you, treating their voters as cannon fodder clearly doesn't tickle the conscience of GOP leaders and pundits.

Perhaps the outrage over the vaccine mandate is real, but not because of "freedom" or any of the other empty excuses Republicans are hiding behind. It's because Biden is messing with their 2022 midterm strategy. If this mandate works and brings COVID-19 under control, it blows up GOP plans to run on claims that Democrats "failed" to end the pandemic. Never mind that it's Republicans who are actually to blame for discouraging vaccination. These folks are willing to kill thousands of Americans a week in a bid to get a political advantage over Biden, so they're not going to be constrained by the moral imperative to be honest.

Biden's vaccine mandate threatens not just to save thousands of lives and return the country to normal, but to derail the GOP's maximally cynical and deadly 2022 political game plan.

Whether or not it will work remains, of course, to be seen. Much depends on how quickly companies comply with the executive order. If companies act quickly to implement the mandate, it's likely many, if not most, will not bother to roll it back even if there are lawsuits against it. In the end, the results will be most visible in the vaccination rates — if they start to climb rapidly, it's a sign that Biden's mandate is working. If not, it's a sign he didn't go far enough and needs to move quickly to do things like banning the unvaccinated from flights before the holiday season gets underway. But whoever prevails, this entire situation underscores how much the GOP has come to rely on grotesque and often nonsensical culture war politics to gain power. They aren't just willing to kill their own people, either, but now are turning their backs on the interests of the monied elite that they traditionally serve.

The culture war is no longer just a tool, but everything to the GOP. They are willing not just to let untold numbers die for their culture war, but even, shockingly, to let the profit margins of corporate America suffer.

Greg Abbott is not ignorant — he's a liar

So often progressives, many of us missing the school days of gold stars on our spelling quizzes, love nothing more than to dunk on Republicans for saying stupid stuff. And boy, don't conservatives know how to weaponize that "um, actually" gene they trigger against us? Take, for instance, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Like most ambitious Republicans, he is a consummate troll who is happy to say seemingly dumb things to attract liberal outrage, attention which bolsters his fame and credibility in the eyes of the right. (He likely learned well from his fellow Texas Republican, skilled troll Sen. Ted Cruz.) Playing dumb, for right-wingers, is often the smartest move you can make.

And so, with depressing predictability, Abbott said some foolish things on Tuesday, when a reporter asked him why he would force a victim of rape or incest to carry the pregnancy to term. Abbott started by insisting the law "provides at least 6 weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion." This is flat-out untrue, unless Texas has some secret access to time travel technology, because the ban kicks in a mere four weeks after the actual conception and only two weeks after the typical missed period date. ("Six weeks" refers to the time since the first date of the last missed period, which is easier to measure than the moment sperm hit egg.) He then went on to insist that rape victims don't need abortion, because "rape is a crime," which is a little like saying gunshot victims don't need hospital care because shooting people is a crime. He then insisted that the state will "eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas," which seems like the thing they should have already been doing if it's as easy as all that.

The A students of left saw these comments and immediately diagnosed their source as ignorance, as if Abbott's problem is that he slept through high school biology, and not that he's a glib liar. Even the usually more astute Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., stepped into the trap, stating on CNN that Abbott "speaks from such a place of deep ignorance," and "I'm sorry we have to break down Biology 101 on national television."

To be fair to Ocasio-Cortez, she is speaking to a national audience that keeps hearing the term "six weeks" and doesn't understand that pregnant people have, at most, two weeks to navigate the byzantine Texas law to obtain an abortion. Using this as a moment to educate viewers probably felt like a priority over talking about how Abbott is a lying troll.

Still, it's frustrating to see Abbott's rhetoric framed as ignorance instead of sadistic lying, because, frankly, that lets the people behind this law off the hook. Ignorance is a forgiveable sin, easily corrected with education. But most of the folks involved with writing and passing anti-abortion laws understand biological facts and standard medical practice perfectly well. Indeed, they leverage that knowledge to craft clever laws that sound reasonable on their face, but actually make providing safe abortion impossible. For instance, the last time Texas tried to ban abortion, they did so by requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges, which sounds reasonable to the average person. What peeople in the know — including the law's drafters — understood, however, is that abortion doctors couldn't get hospital privileges. Hospitals only give such privileges to doctors who actually admit patients, and abortion doctors don't do that, because abortion is a safe outpatient procedure akin to getting a cavity drilled.

It's the same story with the latest ban. The people behind it are playing a little game. They know the media will use the standard medical terminology "six weeks." That sounds like a long time, but patients actually have, if they're very lucky, only two weeks. That kind of media manipulation is not a matter of being dumb, but being both clever and deeply evil.

We know that Abbott is deliberately lying, and not just dumb, for a couple of reasons. For one, he says "at least six weeks," when he knows full well that "six weeks" refers to the cut-off, not the baseline. (And, again, that's six weeks since the beginning of the last period, not actually six weeks gestation.) Even if he doesn't know the first thing about menstrual cycles, we can rest assured he knows the difference between a floor and a ceiling. Second of all, that crap about eliminating all rape is so dumb that literally no one who says something like that can believe it. Remember, Abbott successfully sued the person whose negligence left him in a wheelchair. He understands full well that legal justice is not the same thing as erasing the physical effects of an injury. Watching a rapist go to jail doesn't ameliorate the pain of forced childbirth.

Whether or not anti-choicers are liars or just ignorant may not seem like a meaningful distinction, but in reality, it's crucial to understand the difference.

For one thing, it's important to remember that conservatives deliberately say dumb things in order to attract dunks, because it allows them to play the victim of liberal know-it-alls. So understanding that they act out of malice and not genuine stupidity can help liberals avoid taking the bait.

Even more importantly, anti-choicers have, for decades, successfully exploited stereotypes that they are dim-witted Bible-huggers to escape responsibility from some truly heinous behavior. Take, for instance, a 2014 case in which the Supreme Court struck down a Massachussetts law giving abortion patients a 35-foot buffer zone to walk to a clinic without being harassed by anti-choice protesters. The lawyers for the protesters portrayed their clients as simple-minded but sweet grandmothers whose desire to "counsel" young women should be indulged. In reality, the protesters who surround the clinic are resentful bullies who are only too happy to talk about abortion patients like they're sluts and who sneeringly denounce women for wanting "to have their careers [and] their education." Their motives weren't gentle ignorance, but unvarnished sadism.

And most importantly of all, there's danger in ascribing to stupidity what is born from enmity, which is the threat of underestimating your opponents. The Texas abortion ban isn't something that idiot anti-choicers stumbled into by accident. It was carefully crafted by highly educated, intelligent people who spent years researching ways to overturn Roe v. Wade while pretending that's not what they did. They are manipulative and diabolical, and have had incredible success, despite holding views that are wildly unpopular. It may feel good to write such people off as "ignorant," but that is the last thing they are. They're smart as hell, and that is why they're so dangerous.

Playing dumb: The cruel lies of Gov. Abbott about abortion are much worse than ignorance

So often progressives, many of us missing the school days of gold stars on our spelling quizzes, love nothing more than to dunk on Republicans for saying stupid stuff. And boy, don't conservatives know how to weaponize that "um, actually" gene they trigger against us? Take, for instance, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Like most ambitious Republicans, he is a consummate troll who is happy to say seemingly dumb things to attract liberal outrage, attention which bolsters his fame and credibility in the eyes of the right. (He likely learned well from his fellow Texas Republican, skilled troll Sen. Ted Cruz.) Playing dumb, for right-wingers, is often the smartest move you can make.

And so, with depressing predictability, Abbott said some foolish things on Tuesday, when a reporter asked him why he would force a victim of rape or incest to carry the pregnancy to term. Abbott started by insisting the law "provides at least 6 weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion." This is flat-out untrue, unless Texas has some secret access to time travel technology, because the ban kicks in a mere four weeks after the actual conception and only two weeks after the typical missed period date. ("Six weeks" refers to the time since the first date of the last missed period, which is easier to measure than the moment sperm hit egg.) He then went on to insist that rape victims don't need abortion, because "rape is a crime," which is a little like saying gunshot victims don't need hospital care because shooting people is a crime. He then insisted that the state will "eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas," which seems like the thing they should have already been doing if it's as easy as all that.

The A students of left saw these comments and immediately diagnosed their source as ignorance, as if Abbott's problem is that he slept through high school biology, and not that he's a glib liar. Even the usually more astute Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., stepped into the trap, stating on CNN that Abbott "speaks from such a place of deep ignorance," and "I'm sorry we have to break down Biology 101 on national television."

To be fair to Ocasio-Cortez, she is speaking to a national audience that keeps hearing the term "six weeks" and doesn't understand that pregnant people have, at most, two weeks to navigate the byzantine Texas law to obtain an abortion. Using this as a moment to educate viewers probably felt like a priority over talking about how Abbott is a lying troll.

Still, it's frustrating to see Abbott's rhetoric framed as ignorance instead of sadistic lying, because, frankly, that lets the people behind this law off the hook. Ignorance is a forgiveable sin, easily corrected with education. But most of the folks involved with writing and passing anti-abortion laws understand biological facts and standard medical practice perfectly well. Indeed, they leverage that knowledge to craft clever laws that sound reasonable on their face, but actually make providing safe abortion impossible. For instance, the last time Texas tried to ban abortion, they did so by requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges, which sounds reasonable to the average person. What peeople in the know — including the law's drafters — understood, however, is that abortion doctors couldn't get hospital privileges. Hospitals only give such privileges to doctors who actually admit patients, and abortion doctors don't do that, because abortion is a safe outpatient procedure akin to getting a cavity drilled.

It's the same story with the latest ban. The people behind it are playing a little game. They know the media will use the standard medical terminology "six weeks." That sounds like a long time, but patients actually have, if they're very lucky, only two weeks.That kind of media manipulation is not a matter of being dumb, but being both clever and deeply evil.

We know that Abbott is deliberately lying, and not just dumb, for a couple of reasons. For one, he says "at least six weeks," when he knows full well that "six weeks" refers to the cut-off, not the baseline. (And, again, that's six weeks since the beginning of the last period, not actually six weeks gestation.) Even if he doesn't know the first thing about menstrual cycles, we can rest assured he knows the difference between a floor and a ceiling. Second of all, that crap about eliminating all rape is so dumb that literally no one who says something like that can believe it. Remember, Abbott successfully sued the person whose negligence left him in a wheelchair. He understands full well that legal justice is not the same thing as erasing the physical effects of an injury. Watching a rapist go to jail doesn't ameliorate the pain of forced childbirth.

Whether or not anti-choicers are liars or just ignorant may not seem like a meaningful distinction, but in reality, it's crucial to understand the difference.

For one thing, it's important to remember that conservatives deliberately say dumb things in order to attract dunks, because it allows them to play the victim of liberal know-it-alls. So understanding that they act out of malice and not genuine stupidity can help liberals avoid taking the bait.

Even more importantly, anti-choicers have, for decades, successfully exploited stereotypes that they are dim-witted Bible-huggers to escape responsibility from some truly heinous behavior. Take, for instance, a 2014 case in which the Supreme Court struck down a Massachussetts law giving abortion patients a 35-foot buffer zone to walk to a clinic without being harassed by anti-choice protesters. The lawyers for the protesters portrayed their clients as simple-minded but sweet grandmothers whose desire to "counsel" young women should be indulged. In reality, the protesters who surround the clinic are resentful bullies who are only too happy to talk about abortion patients like they're sluts and who sneeringly denounce women for wanting "to have their careers [and] their education." Their motives weren't gentle ignorance, but unvarnished sadism.

And most importantly of all, there's danger in ascribing to stupidity what is born from enmity, which is the threat of underestimating your opponents. The Texas abortion ban isn't something that idiot anti-choicers stumbled into by accident. It was carefully crafted by highly educated, intelligent people who spent years researching ways to overturn Roe v. Wade while pretending that's not what they did. They are manipulative and diabolical, and have had incredible success, despite holding views that are wildly unpopular. It may feel good to write such people off as "ignorant," but that is the last thing they are. They're smart as hell, and that is why they're so dangerous.

Theocratic Christianity has come to Texas

Trolling is largely associated with humor-impaired right-wing bullies, but there are still some on the left who know how to troll with wit and style while serving the forces of good instead of evil.

Take, for instance, the Satanic Temple of Salem, Massachusetts, a perennial thorn in the side of Christian fundamentalists who try to pass off their theocratic impulses as "religious freedom." The Temple, which is a pro-secular organization and does not literally worship Satan, routinely pulls stunts like suing states that display Christian imagery on public grounds to make them also display Satanic imagery. The group also stands for reproductive rights, and as Brett Bachman reports for Salon, is fighting the Texas abortion ban by declaring that abortion is one of their sacred rituals, making the ban a major imposition on their free expression of religion.

The Satanists' trolling worked. The move triggered all the right people, by which I mean misogynist prigs who have way too much interest in other people's sex lives.

Texas Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw's tweet was an immediate contender for the Self-Aware Wolves hall of fame. It's the Satanists — whose mission is "to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense, oppose injustice, and undertake noble pursuits" — and not Crenshaw who are clearly on the right side of history and human rights.

But this move by the Satanic Temple serves a higher purpose than trolling forced-birth advocates like Crenshaw. The Satanists are highlighting an issue that often gets lost in the debate over reproductive rights: The anti-choice movement is just one part of a larger effort by Christian fundamentalists to covertly turn the U.S. into a more theocratic state.

Anti-choice politics are driven by a small and shrinking group of hard-right white evangelicals who wish to foist their religious views on the majority, in violation of the First Amendment-enshrined value of free exercise of religion. The Texas abortion ban is tied to a larger agenda to undermine LGBTQ rights, replace science with religious dogma, and otherwise violate the constitutional prohibition of the establishment of religion.

Conservatives go to great lengths to hide how much being anti-abortion is about forcing all Americans to live by the religious tenets of the white evangelical minority. Indeed, Republicans will often try to pretend "science" is motivating abortion bans, as former New Jersey governor Chris Christie did over the weekend on ABC, when he declared, "One of the reasons you're seeing a decline in abortion is an increase in science and how much more people know about viability." He then went on to baselessly claim that people are "much more appalled by the act of abortion than they were back in 1973."

As with pretty much everything that's said in defense of abortion bans, Christie spouts lies all the way down.

Support for abortion rights has remained steady since 1973 and strong majorities want Roe v. Wade to stay put. In 1973, scientists understood perfectly well how embryonic development worked and that understanding hasn't meaningfully changed since then. Embryos are not "viable" two weeks after a missed period, which is when the Texas abortion ban kicks in. Indeed, the pretense for banning abortions so early — the "fetal heartbeat" — is also a lie. As actual medical scientists and doctors told NPR, there is neither a fetus nor a heart that early in pregnancy, but more "a grouping of cells that are initiating some electrical activity" that GOP legislators misleading call a "heartbeat."

Unfortunately, these kinds of lies about "science" are common among anti-choicers. As scientists Nicole M. Baran, Gretchen Goldman, and Jane Zelikova wrote in Scientific-American in 2019, GOP legislators "actively misrepresent the work of scientists, using rhetoric to deceive the public and stoke emotional outrage," and the ideas animating abortion bans "are appallingly unscientific, and they are dangerous."

We've all been accustomed to the cynical ease with which Republicans lie, but the anti-choice lies about "science" are ridiculous even by the basement-level standards conservatives live by. These are the same folks who reject the very real science of climate change and COVID-19 vaccination, even though their anti-science views are leading to mass death and destruction. (And then they lie and claim to be "pro-life.") And it's all to serve theocratic forces who really got this anti-science ball rolling by trying to force schools to teach Christian creation myths in lieu of evolutionary biology.

It's not science that fuels this assault on abortion rights, it's religion — specifically the religion of white Christian fundamentalists.

A 2020 Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll shows that 67% of white evangelicals want to ban abortion, compared to only 37% of Americans overall. Even the majority of Catholics support legal abortion, despite decades of church opposition to reproductive rights. A similar 2020 poll from Pew Research shows the same results. Strong majorities of Black Protestants, white non-evangelical Protestants, Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated all support Roe v. Wade. The only group where a majority opposes abortion rights is white evangelicals.

The anti-abortion movement cannot be meaningfully separated from this theocratic movement of white evangelicals, or, for that matter, from white supremacy. It's all one big bundle of intertwined ideas, and all the same people pushing it. These are folks resolutely opposed to a multiracial democracy, and instead have a vision of the U.S. as a white supremacist state where their far-right religious views shape the laws that everyone has to live by. And despite the fact that Ten Commandments explicitly forbid bearing false witness, these theocrats lie and lie and lie — about science, about the law, about their intentions — because they know full well that their mission is anti-democratic and violates the constitutional precepts about freedom of religion.

Abortion rights are often marginalized as a "woman's issue" in American political discourse. That's offensive in itself, as women are more than half the population and access to reproductive health care affects the lives of everyone, not just women. But truly, this Texas abortion ban goes beyond even these material questions about health care access. It cuts right to the heart of the struggle defining our era, between a secular, pro-democracy majority and an authoritarian minority who wants to force its racist, theocratic view of America on the rest of us.

The Satanists get it. No amount of right-wing lying about "science" will change the fact that this abortion ban is a direct attack on freedom of religion.

The bigotry built into Texas' anti-abortion law

In 1915, the suffragist Alice Duer Miller wrote a delightful book of satirical poetry titled "Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times." Here we are, 106 years later, and Texas and the Supreme Court have weighed in with their opinion, which is very much no, women are not people. They are human-shaped, but they cannot be regarded as full people, capable of making very basic decisions about their own bodies and lives. After a full day of the Supreme Court not yet deciding whether to enjoin a Texas law banning all abortions two weeks after the first missed period, the court finally made a decision late Wednesday night. In full violation of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court is allowing Texas to ban abortion.

This is not, as the mansplainers will let you know, an official overturn of Roe. That is still coming, in the form of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a case looking at another abortion ban in Mississippi that has been explicitly held out as an opportunity for the court to simply overturn the 1973 case that legalized abortion. Still, as Jessica Mason Pieklo, a legal expert at Rewire News Group writes, "Let's just get this out of the way: We can stop debating about whether the Court overturned Roe v. Wade. They did. So what if it's on a technicality? It's not a technicality to the people forced to carry pregnancies to term against their will."

The human cost of this last minute abortion ban can be felt in this piece at The 19th that details the scene at a clinic in Fort Worth at 8PM on Tuesday, when providers realized they only had four hours to help "two dozen people [who] were still waiting for the procedure," before the ban went into effect at midnight. It was a nightmare race against the clock, as the "staff worked without stopping to eat, shifting patients in and out of rooms." One woman "dropped to her knees on the cold tile floor," begging to get a place in line before the ban came down. All while a crowd of Christian fundamentalists, drunk on misogyny and their own victory, screamed at top volume outside.

As a writer, I've been covering the religious right over 15 years now. As a person who grew up in Texas, I've known these kinds of broken souls who support this law my whole life. They are small people, who spend their time trying to dominate the lives of others, rather than face up to the fears that prevent them from embracing full lives of their own. Donald Trump spoke to them, despite his barely concealed contempt for their religion, because they saw themselves in him: A man so poisoned by hate that his only real pleasure in life is bullying others. So, I get it, intellectually. On a deeper, emotional level, though, understanding will always elude me. How can so many give up their one precious life to cruelty, rather than just take the easier and humane path of "live and let live?"

At this point, these sadists will try to defend themselves by claiming this is all about "life." It's a lie that worked for decades to give cover to their malice. It's collapsed in the age of a deadly pandemic that conservatives are doing everything in their power to spread, a pandemic that is especially dangerous for the fetal life they only care for when it can be weaponized against women's rights.

No, the Texas law — and the Supreme Court endorsement of it — is about one thing and one thing only: Denying the humanity of women, and, of course, denying the humanity of those who don't neatly fit in that category of "woman," but can get pregnant anyway. This is about reducing these people to mere vessels, and rejecting the idea that they are autonomous human beings who have sovereignty over their bodies and their lives. On the contrary, having a uterus renders you as little more than human livestock in the eyes of conservatives.

We see this attitude in the enforcement mechanism of the law.

The law allows any person – even a complete stranger to the person getting an abortion — to sue an abortion provider or any other person who helps with the abortion. The right to control a pregnant person's body, in this Texas law, belongs quite literally to anyone but the woman herself: Her father, her husband, her ex, her neighbor, some random misogynist who just wants to ruin a life because he spends too much time on incel forums. Just so long as it's not the person actually living in that body.

This rejection of women as autonomous beings is also baked into the parameters of who can be sued. The abortion bounty hunters are permitted to go after health care providers or any other person who helps a woman get an abortion, but they cannot sue the person who wants an abortion. She is viewed simply as an empty vessel, not as a thinking, feeling person who is making a decision. And so the responsibility for the abortion decision is assumed to belong to another person, because conservatives simply cannot admit that women are capable of making such decisions.

This rejection of female autonomy is generally presented as chivalrous in anti-choice rhetoric, as if they are trying to "protect" women from abortion. The Texas Right to Life site defends the law as supposedly saving women "whose lives are irrevocably altered by the death of their children." They even use condescending memes like this, which erase the fact that it's women themselves choosing abortion.

Needless to say, there's piles of research showing that women's main feelings after abortion are relief, not grief. But even without that research, it's clear how offensive it is to pretend that women don't actively choose abortion. It's treating women like dumb animals, refusing to believe they have any more capacity to make reproductive decisions than a feral cat. It's ugly, dehumanizing rhetoric, no matter how much anti-choicers try to pass it off as "compassion."

That some of the people who are behind these kinds of laws are women themselves doesn't change this fact. Justice Amy Coney Barrett voted to uphold the Texas law, but she is also quite famously a religious fundamentalist, a status that reassures the religious right that she's simply upholding beliefs handed down to her by a patriarchal faith. As for the motivations of the female misogynists themselves, well, that's why Aunt Lydia of "The Handmaid's Tale" was such a good character. For women committed to living with, instead of resisting, male dominance, being an enforcer gives them power over other women. It's not quite as good as being a man, but hey, at least it gives you someone else to control and look down on.

Sadly, the misogyny baked into the Texas law is about to spread like wildfire across red America. The Supreme Court will not issue a formal ruling on whether Roe stands until next summer, but this support for the Texas law is an open invitation to every state legislature run by woman-hating Bible thumpers to pass versions of their own. Accompanying the law will be more dehumanizing rhetoric, treating women as livestock who can't be trusted to make decisions, or even acknowledged as capable of making decisions. Because debasing women has always been what the anti-choice movement is about. Now Americans will start to see the real life damage such hatred can wreak in women's lives.

The Supreme Court's latest salvo exposes the trick John Roberts has played on the country

At the stroke of midnight on Wednesday, the Supreme Court suddenly overturned Roe v. Wade.

The move was quiet and it very well may be temporary (they could still issue a short decision any minute now, or not) but make no mistake, a Roe overturn is exactly what it is. But headlines across the country aren't coming right out and saying so, because the Supreme Court used a dastardly legal manipulation to let states ban abortion without actually issuing a straightforward decision to end abortion protections.

Earlier this summer, Texas passed a law banning abortion at 6 weeks. Six weeks may sound like a luxurious amount of time to make a decision, but in fact, it amounts to a near-ban on all abortion. That's because in reality, "six weeks" is only two weeks after the missed period, and that's only in women who have highly regular periods. Critically, it is also before many doctors will even do the procedure, for safety reasons. So it's estimated that 85-90% of abortions in Texas are performed after the 6-week mark.

To make it worse, the law is written in such a way as to make wife beaters, Aunt Lydias, and embittered incels the primary enforcers of the ban, establishing what amounts to a public bounty hunter system. As legal analyst Imani Gandy explained at Rewire News Group, the law "allows anyone—literally anyone, including strangers!—to file a lawsuit against a person they suspect is going to either provide an abortion or help a person obtain an abortion." This means that not only can the abusive ex-boyfriend sue the doctor who helped his victim escape his clutches, but he can now also go after the friend who put her up and paid for her abortion.

As The 19th reports, Planned Parenthood and other clinics across the state have already mass-canceled abortion appointments.

This Texas law clearly violates Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that bars states from banning pre-viability abortion, a category which very much includes pregnancies two weeks after a missed period. And yet, somehow the Fifth Circuit Court, which is notoriously authoritarian, found a way to uphold the law. The law went into effect at the stroke of midnight on September 1, as the Supreme Court passively allowed that lower court decision to stand. The move, or lack thereof, is unprofessional and cowardly, but it did allow the far-right court to have it both ways by banning abortion in Republican-controlled states without drawing "Roe overturned" headlines that would anger the large majority of Americans who want to keep Roe in place.

Unfortunately, such a shadowy maneuver is hardly a unique move for this court. These kinds of passive, backdoor decisions are increasingly how the Supreme Court is now doing business. Despite the self-flattery from the legal world about the apolitical nature of the courts, the reality is today's Supreme Court is both very political and very right-wing.

It is not hyperbole to say that the GOP has spent years shaping not just the Supreme Court but the entire federal judiciary to force a far-right ideology on a public that keeps rejecting it at the ballot box. The problem for Republicans, however, is that dramatic Supreme Court decisions overturning Roe or otherwise gutting hard-earned human rights would anger voters. That could drive up turnout for Democrats in elections and hurt elected Republicans. The court's behavior suggests a clash between a yearning to push the country as far to the right as possible and a political need to avoid backlash.

One way they've squared that circle is by gradually chipping away at laws like the Voting Rights Act, so they can destroy human rights quietly without drawing the attention outright annihilation would bring. But the newest innovation is abusing the so-called shadow docket.

As Igor Derysh reported for Salon, the shadow docket is "where the justices hand down largely unsigned short opinions without going through standard hearings, deliberations, and transparency." Traditionally, it's mostly upholding lower court orders or emergency petitions that aren't especially controversial. But this court, controlled by Chief Justice John Roberts, has started to use the shadow docket to issue far-right rulings under the radar, avoiding the press coverage that more traditional rulings get. That's how, for instance, the Supreme Court dispensed with the eviction ban that President Joe Biden was implementing to prevent a surge of pandemic-caused homelessness. It's also how the Supreme Court forced the Biden White House to enforce the racist "remain in Mexico" policy regarding political asylum seekers. As Moira Donegan at The Guardian explains, this sleazy strategy for cheating the legal system was developed under Donald Trump.

Previously, shadow docket emergency requests had been rarely used, to advance the interests of the governing administration. From 2001 through 2016, the Department of Justice applied for these emergency relief interventions from the court only eight times. During the four years of Trump's presidency, however, the justice department applied 41 times.....
Bypassing lower courts, the Trump administration was able to solicit the supreme court for a green light for border wall funding and construction, for a ban of transgender troops in the military, for a ban of immigrants from Muslim majority countries, and for many, many executions during the administration's 11th-hour killing spree in the latter half of 2020.

Unfortunately, this strategy has been devastatingly effective at lulling the press into not covering how far-right the Supreme Court is, and therefore tricking the public into believing the courts are more reasonable than they actually are:

This Roe non-decision advances the court's cowardly strategy a step further. By not saying anything at all, they allow the Texas law to go in effect without drawing headlines that indicate that Supreme Court decision was made one way or another.

From a journalist's perspective, I can say that this method, while sordid, is effective for media manipulation. Outlets cannot publish straightforward headlines that say "Roe overturned" or "Supreme Court upholds Texas abortion ban," because it hasn't actually happened, one way or another. It's possible that a decision is issued later today or this week, or never. There's no way to know and so no way to write clear, compelling headlines, much less stories that state clearly, one way or another, if Roe is overturned. It's Schrödinger's abortion ban.

Except, of course, for the women who actually need abortions. For them, these legal ambiguities are irrelevant, because the situation is black-and-white: They need abortions, but are barred legally from getting them. If they can't figure out ways to get abortions on the black market or out of state, they may end up being forced into childbirth. While headline writers are stuck trying to explain this to the public, pregnant people themselves are very much non-ambiguously in crisis.

What makes the non-decision even more repugnant is that the Supreme Court is due to hear arguments next month in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which involves a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi. That ban may sound less serious than the Texas ban, but it is also an invitation to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe, since it's an attack on the pre-viability standard. Mississippi's lawyers have even made it clear that overturning Roe is the point of the law.

That's why, even if the Supreme Court accedes to public outrage over this cowardly Roe overturn, and issues a too-late injunction against the Texas law, a lot of damage has been done by not swiftly enjoining a law so clearly in violation of Roe. Legal analysts Jessica Mason Pieklo at Rewire and Steven Mazie at The Economist explained on Twitter:


It's a truism in Beltway media that Roberts is an "institutionalist" who values preserving the Supreme Court's integrity over his far-right views. This is, as many pieces of received wisdom in D.C., utter nonsense. To be clear, Roberts values his reputation as an institutionalist. That's why he has increasingly embraced strategies based on subterfuge and obfuscation, so he can preserve that reputation while actually doing what he was appointed by George W. Bush to do, which is impose a far-right ideology on a public that rejects it. Roberts is the one who is shepherding this abuse of the shadow docket. Roberts is the one who is letting Texas ban abortion, in direct violation of Roe, by simply washing his hands of the issue. He's a radical wolf in institutionalist sheep clothing. The only hope is that this abortion ban is finally what attracts enough national attention to these abuses, and blows up an authoritarian strategy that only works in the shadows.

The Republican plot to get payback on Trump's behalf

The wheels of the last U.S. military plane were barely off the ground in Afghanistan when Republicans trotted out their plot to impeach President Joe Biden over ending the war.

Using Politico, ground zero for the media pressure campaign to bully Biden into occupying that nation forever, the GOP rushed to concept test the idea of impeaching Biden in 2023. "The I-word looms: McCarthy faces internal pressure to go harder at Biden on Afghanistan," reads Politico's headline the morning after the withdrawal. "Republicans [] want to make a high-stakes call for impeaching Biden over his handling of Afghanistan — a vow that would come due should the GOP take back the chamber next November."

Yep, they want to impeach Biden over Afghanistan. Or impeach him for something, anyway. Not because Biden committed any high crimes or misdemeanors, mind you. Nor even really because of "incompetence," which is a word that is thrown around mainly by people who haven't explained how one is supposed to make losing a 20-year war to the Taliban look prettier on the TV box.

No, it's all about pandering to Donald Trump's rabidly bitter, trollish base, the same people who are so furious about losing the 2020 election they're committing biowar on their own bodies just to hurt the rest of the country for not wanting Dr. Drink Bleach as their president. As Politico's Olivia Beavers writes of congressional Republicans, "their offices were being bombarded with calls from base voters for a future Biden impeachment" even before the full military withdrawal from Afghanistan this week.

What's going on here is not mysterious and, critically, is not about the lost war in Afghanistan, which was lost long before Biden set up camp in the Oval Office. Nope, this is about Trump. When it comes to Republicans, it's always about Trump.

"There's a school of thought in McCarthy's conference that Democrats opened the door to politically motivated impeachment efforts by going after Trump," Beavers writes, quoting an anonymous Republican congressional member claiming, "this is exactly what we said would happen when Democrats weaponized impeachment last time."

Of course, this excuse is just more rationalization and lies. Democrats did not, in any way, "weaponize" impeachment by impeaching Trump twice. On the contrary, Democrats didn't impeach Trump enough.

Trump was only impeached for two crimes: The first was for blackmailing a foreign leader into trying to help him cheat in the 2020 election. The second was for inciting an insurrection on January 6. But the actual number of impeachable offenses committed by Trump was a lot more than that, from his obstruction of justice in the Russia probe to his mainlining foreign bribes through his hotels to abuse of power against the press to tax fraud to campaign fraud, and probably a few more things I'm forgetting. Trump loves crime as much as he loves Diet Coke, and if he could have had a "commit a crime" button on his desk, he would have also been constantly punching it.

So no, the problem is not that Democrats politicized impeachment. It's the opposite: Democrats are so afraid of this "politicization" accusation that they haven't done nearly enough to hold Trump accountable for his criminal behavior. Trump is still walking around, free as a bird, even as the people he compelled to storm the U.S. Capitol are being sent to prison at a steady clip. Considering how much public evidence there is for Trump's criminality, it's hard not to conclude that the Department of Justice's failure to prosecute is less about the law and more about politics. Specifically, there's reason to fear that Attorney General Merrick Garland worries that Republicans will seize on any legitimate prosecution of Trump as an excuse to launch a thousand illegitimate prosecutions against Democrats the next time they control the DOJ.

But, as this talk of impeaching Biden demonstrates, Democratic reluctance to hold Trump accountable has not slowed down the vindictiveness and corruption of Republicans in the slightest.

Republicans claim the mantle of victimhood, no matter what, and if they don't have anything to point to as evidence, they'll just make stuff up. After all, the entire GOP caucus now tacitly endorses Trump's Big Lie that Biden stole the election, without a single shred of even decently faked evidence to support it. All that Democrats bought themselves by being under-zealous about going after Trump was that Trump is now free to run in 2024. Republicans don't really need excuses anymore. Hating Democrats is reason enough.

Beyond pleasing Trump and his base, there's an even deeper reason Republicans will want to impeach Biden the second they seize control of the House: to make a mockery of the very idea of accountability.

Remember, the current GOP plan is to run Trump as their presidential nominee in 2024. If and when that happens, Trump will almost certainly commit a series of crimes, both during the campaign as he attempts to cheat his way to victory, and likely from the White House if he manages to get back there. Betting against that is about as wise as betting against dogs barking and the sun rising in the east.

All Republicans can do, then, is undermine confidence in our systems of justice as much as possible before then. One way to do that is to impeach, perhaps repeatedly, a Democratic president who is clearly innocent of any crimes. Making the impeachment process a joke through shameless kangaroo trials will exhaust the public, and blunt the impact of the word "impeachment." That way, when Trump gets back to campaigning — and therefore back to committing crimes — even the already insufficient accountability tool of impeachment will be substantially weakened.

That's been Trump's strategy from the beginning. He can't convince people he's not corrupt, so instead, he instills the idea that corruption is endemic and therefore unimportant. The rest of the GOP has learned the lesson well, which is why, if they regain the House in 2022, they will likely start impeachment proceedings early in 2023. It probably won't be over Afghanistan — as that will be thoroughly faded from the headlines by then — but Republicans will make up some other B.S. reason. The point is not simply to accuse Biden of crimes but to make accusing someone of crimes a meaningless gesture altogether. That way, when they bring back a real live criminal to office, Democratic outrage will be read by the media as little more than "playing politics" and "both sides do it," instead of as a substantive concern.

It's cynical and anti-democratic to impeach Biden. That's why it's almost certainly the inevitable Republican move if they win the House in 2022.

The Supreme Court has gone too far — and left Democrats with only one option

As a pair of Supreme Court decisions from the Republican majority showed this week, they feel free to do exactly what they were appointed to do: Impose their far-right ideology on an unwilling public.

The most recent, unsigned opinion was part of the court's "shadow docket," which, as Salon's Igor Derysh explains, is "where the justices hand down largely unsigned short opinions without going through standard hearings, deliberations, and transparency." Typically reserved for uncontroversial or emergency petitions, Derysh reports that "the shadow docket has dramatically grown under the increasingly conservative Supreme Court, alarming legal experts."

For a brief, shining moment early in Joe Biden's presidency, there was a flurry of talk about the exciting possibility of resizing the Supreme Court in response to Donald Trump, despite losing the popular vote, still getting to appoint three justices — one into a seat illegally held open by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But that chatter quickly got destroyed by Democratic dream killers Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both of whom apparently love the filibuster more than human rights.

University of Wyoming law professor Stephen Feldman, however, thinks now is the perfect time to revive the discussion, arguing that court-packing is a vital necessity to save our democracy.

In his new book "Pack the Court!: A Defense of Supreme Court Expansion," Feldman argues that not only is court expansion politically wise, it also fits in with a long history of seeing the courts not as separate from politics, but working within a political system. Feldman spoke with Salon's Amanda Marcotte about his new book and why it's not time to give up on the dream of a better Supreme Court.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

People talk about the Supreme Court as if its size and makeup is practically ordained by God — or at least the founding fathers. You argue that it's not so, and historically there's been a lot of flexibility around the size of the Supreme Court. Can you tell me more about that?

Number one, the Constitution itself doesn't say anything about the size of the Supreme Court. The part of the Constitution talking about the federal judiciary is very sparse, with almost no detail in there. It was basically left to Congress to set out the court's size and to some degree, its jurisdiction. And the fact is that Congress, particularly for the first hundred years or so, was fiddling with the size of the court. The first Judiciary Act established the court, at that point at six justices. But Congress started fiddling with it, within just a few years, like around 1800. And around that time, the Congress tried to shrink the court by one justice. And then there was an election, where power changed and they changed the size of the court again.And that continued all the way up through 1860s. It was very volatile decade in terms of, of trying to manipulate the number of justices on the court. So it changed multiple times all the way up to 10 and then back to nine and then it's been stuck at nine. Well, for the most part since then.

I would say that when the Republicans refused to consider President Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland for the court, that was de facto changing the size of the court. Right? They didn't pass a statute, but they, in effect changed the size of the court for about a year.

Why do you think now is a good time to start talking about court-packing again? Why should the Democrats, who control the White House and Congress, consider doing such a thing?

There are three elements to the argument. Number one is the history: The court does not have to be set at nine justices, and the fact that it has been for a number of years doesn't mean it needs to be that.

Second, if you really look at the court's decision-making, what becomes evident is the actual process of deciding cases is infused with politics. The notion that we have to keep politics out of the Supreme Court just doesn't hold up. Not only with regard to the size of the court but also with regard to the nomination and confirmation processes, which are obviously political, right? Who the President chooses to send the court and whether Congress confirms that individual, the actual decision-making process by the justices is a combination of law and politics.

I call it the law-politics dynamic.

Law and politics dynamically interact in the decision-making process. If you have two justices from different sides of the political spectrum, they're reading the First Amendment free speech clause. They're likely to read it differently, right? And vote differently to decide a particular first amendment case. But it's not because either justice is lying or being disingenuous. They look at the text and they read it from their particular political perspectives. You cannot get away from the fact that their political horizons and their cultural backgrounds, their religious backgrounds are going to influence how they interpret the text. That's simply inherent in the interpretive process. So politics is always part of it.

The third part of the argument is just looking at the politics of the Roberts court. The Roberts court is extremely conservative and that's even before Justice Ginsburg passed away and the Republicans rushed through the confirmation of Justice Barrett. They keep handing down very conservative decisions, one after another. And really the only way to counter that is the court-packing.

Let's say somehow the Democrats did pass some type of voting rights protections, a new statute protecting voting rights. The odds are extremely high that this court would find some way to strike down that voting rights legislation.

Both Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett presented themselves, when they were getting confirmed, as impartial judges, just calling balls and strikes. They claimed not to be political ideologues.

Every Supreme Court nominee needs to say something along those lines, right?

"We'll just call balls and strikes, just by following the law, my politics will never matter."

They'll say that and in some ways it's true. What I'm saying about how politics influences Supreme Court decision-making, doesn't mean that it's purely politics. I think that in most cases, not every case, in most cases, the justices sincerely try to interpret the relevant legal texts and constitutional text or a statutory text, whatever, in the best way possible. They tried to give it the best interpretation. But again, that the way each individual justice uses the text or what they think is the best interpretation, is infused with their political-cultural backgrounds.

Legal interpretation is not like arithmetic. It's not two plus two equals four, right? It's never like that. One's politics will always come into play. The justices themselves might good faith say, yes, I will sincerely interpret the constitutional text. They very well might be totally honest about that and they might continue doing that when they are on the court, but nonetheless, their politics influence how they read or interpret texts.

The Democrats don't look like they're in any hot hurry to change the size of the court, but if they were going to, what would that look like? What would you think would be the best way to go about that?

All they need to do that is pass a statute, which means of course, that both chambers of Congress need to approve a bill and then the President needs to sign it and that would change the size of the court. And then the President can nominate new justices, depending on how many seats there are and it would go to the Senate for confirmation.

The President appointed this commission. I don't know what they might recommend. The odds that they would recommend straightforward court-packing, I don't think are extremely high, but it's possible. There are all sorts of proposals that have been suggested over the last couple of years for sort of more stylized types of court expansions. There'd be various plans to put term limits on the justices or expand the court.

I don't think anything is likely to happen right now unless the filibuster were eliminated. What needs to happen is the filibuster needs to go. Then there needs to be court-packing and then there to be protection for voting rights.

If you don't have the filibusters there's unlikely to be any type of court-packing. Right? And unless the court makeup is changed through court-packing, voting rights protections are likely to be struck down as unconstitutional and really much of any progressive agenda that could possibly get through Congress would be endangered in front of the Supreme Court.

People who criticize calls for court-packing say that the problem is Republicans will retaliate and add more justices themselves, next time they have power. What's your answer to that?

Well, I think the politics of the situation is that you can't have court-packing, unless you have control.

Democrats have control of the House, the Senate and the White House. If there's protection of voting rights that the Supreme Court would not strike down, then I don't think the Republicans, as currently constituted, could sweep the House, the Senate and the White House. The Republicans exercise outsized power right now, because of gerrymandering, because of the electoral power. But in 7 out of the last 8 presidential elections, the Democrat has won the popular vote. The Republican party would not have the popularity to sweep and implement court-packing. When the Republican party might actually sweep, it won't be the same Republican party that we have today.

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