Amanda Marcotte

The dark truth behind the White House's sham investigation of Brett Kavanaugh

It may be hard to remember after the roller coaster of a news cycle we've all been riding for the past few years, but during the 2018 confirmation hearings for Donald Trump's Supreme Court appointee Brett Kavanaugh, Republicans actually bothered trying to create the appearance that they took allegations of sexual assault seriously. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were clearly concerned about looking like they were being dismissive or rude to the woman who stepped forward to accuse Kavanaugh of attempted rape in high school, Christine Blasey Ford. They were so worried, in fact, that the male-only Republican side of the panel hid behind a female interlocutor, Rachel Mitchell, who was hired to question Blasey Ford for them.

The whole thing was just an act, of course. That was obvious at the time, because the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee, while allowing Blasey Ford to testify, refused to call other potential corroborating witnesses, including a woman who claimed to have had a similar encounter with Kavanaugh in college. But a new report this week underscores the phoniness of Republican claims to take allegations of sexual assault seriously.

The supposed FBI investigation of Kavanaugh that the Trump White House and Senate Republicans ordered — and then used to claim Kavanaugh was exonerated — is looking more sham-like. The newest revelation is that, while the FBI got over 4,500 calls on their tipline about Kavanaugh, the ones deemed relevant were merely passed onto Trump's White House, who almost certainly tossed them in File #13.

"If the FBI was not authorized to or did not follow up on any of the tips that it received from the tip line, it is difficult to understand the point of having a tip line at all," a group of Democratic senators, led by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray. Whitehouse followed up with a Twitter thread, making clear how much he believes this "investigation" was a hatchet job:

In the months and years after the Kavanaugh hearing, it's become common wisdom on the right that Kavanaugh was done dirty and that the whole situation was proof that the #MeToo movement had gone "too far". But, critically, not because conservative America believed Blasey Ford was lying. It was much more that they didn't care if she was telling the truth. That's why they didn't bother to find out, either way. The grim reality is that, as a general rule, Republicans simply don't think it matters in many cases if a man has a history of sexual abuse. This wasn't a "we don't believe he did it" situation. This was a "who cares if he did it?" situation.

The Potemkin investigation of Kavanaugh's background illustrates this ugly reality. Republicans believed it was politically important to look like they care about sexual assault, so they made a big show of "investigating" it. But they do not actually care about sexual assault and have nothing but contempt for people who do care about the issue. And so it was about propping up an illusion of concern, while not actually doing anything substantive at all.

No surprise, of course. These are the same folks who backed Trump — and not just in 2016 and 2020, either. They are gearing up to put him on the ballot again in 2024. As a reminder, this is a man has not only been accused of sexual assault and abuse by 26 women, but two — his first wife Ivana Trump and journalist E. Jean Carroll — of them told harrowing stories of rape. (Ivana Trump later recanted the word "rape" during the nasty, lawyer-heavy divorce.)

Even for those who refuse to believe women, no matter how many steps forward, the case against Trump is about as ironclad as it gets, due to the completely voluntary taped confession he made to Billy Bush on the set of "Access Hollywood" in 2005. You know the one, of course, where he brags about how he likes to "grab 'em by the pussy" and that, "When you're a star, they let you do it."

The fact of Trump's history of sexual assault isn't really up for debate, but his support has only grown among Republicans in the five years since the "Access Hollywood" tape came out. Most of them don't even pretend to believe it's all a frame job, because again, taped confession/bragging session. They simply don't care. Being a sexual predator does not disqualify men from having positions of incredible political power, in Republican eyes. And the fact that Trump bragged about it is a reminder that some men even see assaulting women as something to be proud of.

The idea that Kavanaugh is the victim of overzealous feminists and opportunist Democrats has less to do with a belief that he's innocent and more about a belief that it shouldn't matter if men do things like this. It's all tied up with the ongoing outrage on the right about "cancel culture" and "wokeness." The anger flows from a conservative sense of entitlement to do and say awful things without having to face any consequences for it. You see a similar dynamic in the fights over what the right falsely describes as "critical race theory." Few deny that the U.S. has a history of slavery, segregation, or lynching. Conservatives just want liberals to quit talking about it, because, ultimately, they don't see why it should matter. And, in fact, they're annoyed that "woke" people keep insisting that these things do matter.

On a similar front, conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly is waging a war to silence Andrea Mackris, who accused him of sexual harassment when they were both working at Fox News and settled out of court in 2004. No one mistakes this as a situation of an innocent man trying to clear his name. This is just one of at least five sexual harassment lawsuits that Fox News settled on O'Reilly's behalf. And legal documents have lengthy transcripts from conversations Mackris apparently taped with O'Reilly.

This fight isn't about the facts. Letting women go on TV to tell their stories of being victimized is signaling that women matter and that sexual abuse is serious, and that, above all other things, is what people like O'Reilly cannot countenance.

It's good that Whitehouse and his fellow Democrats have stayed on this scandal, even as most D.C. power players have moved on. The #MeToo movement was, indeed, a seismic shift in how our country talks about sexual abuse, and a lot of people really did wake up to the fact that it's much more common than they thought. But it's important to remember that, for all that progress, we still have a sizeable number of Americans who flat out do not think most sexual abuse is a serious issue and resent people who say otherwise. Changing that attitude is going to require a lot more than education about the facts.

The media falls for Kevin McCarthy's Jan. 6 stunt

The most important thing to remember about the formation of the select committee to investigate the January 6 Capitol riot is this: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gave Republicans multiple opportunities to act as good faith investigators who want to help reveal the truth, instead of as insurrection co-conspirators who are running interference for Donald Trump.

Democrats tried to create a bipartisan committee through official congressional legislation, but Republicans stopped them. Democrats then went at it by themselves, creating a select committee with the House leadership powers, yet still decided to invite Republicans onto the commission as an act of good faith. All Republicans needed to do was act like adults who believe fascist coups are bad business, instead of a bunch of clowns whose only goal is to disrupt the proceedings. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, however, could not pass this basic "adults or clowns?" test. He picked clowns, including Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who has a pair of the biggest shoes and some of the thickest greasepaint in the highly competitive field of authoritarian buffoons of the GOP. Picking the QAnon shaman would have been a more subtle effort at sabotage, but "subtle" isn't exactly a popular aesthetic in Republican circles today. And so Pelosi did what any sensible person who wants a real investigation instead of a conspiracy theory circus would have done: She said no thank you to Jordan and Jim Banks, R-Ind., who honks his nose less loudly than Jordan but is no less a far-right saboteur.

In turn, McCarthy, proving once more he is not adult enough to handle the responsibilities Pelosi entrusted to him, threw a tantrum and declared that he and the Republicans are going to have their own investigation, where they can unpack the clown car full of all the "antifa did it!" and "beating cops is peaceful protest" lies that they want.

"There are people who want to derail and thwart an investigation and there are people who want to conduct an investigation," Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., made clear to the New York Times. "That's the fault line here."

Here's the thing: Everyone knows Raskin is telling the truth. Democrats know it. Republicans know it. The journalists covering this know it. And yet, because the slow decline of our democracy is like a horror movie where the scantily clad young woman is ignoring audience pleas not to go down that dark hallway, the mainstream media is framing this as a "both sides" problem — or worse, as somehow the fault of Democrats for wanting adults to act like adults when investigating such a serious matter as an attempted coup.

"Pelosi Bars Trump Loyalists From Jan. 6 Inquiry, Prompting a G.O.P. Boycott," reads the New York Times headline. The text describes the dispute as a "partisan brawl" that illustrates "how poisonous relations have become between the two parties," sidestepping how this is singularly the fault of Republicans for choosing Trump over democracy itself.

"Bipartisan House probe of Jan. 6 insurrection falls apart after Pelosi blocks two GOP members," declared the Washington Post headline. "Both parties have attacked the other as insincere and uninterested in conducting a fair-minded examination of the attack," without noting that only one side, the Republicans, are lying about this.

The media's coverage of McCarthy's stunt so far has been an extreme example of what the bloggers at Lawyers, Guns, and Money deemed "Murc's law": "the widespread assumption that only Democrats have any agency or causal influence over American politics." In this case, the assumption is that it's somehow Pelosi's fault that McCarthy and his fellow Republicans are singularly focused on covering up for Trump and his crimes. These men are adults who think they're entitled to run the government, and yet they apparently can't be held responsible for their rejection of truth, the law, or the integrity of the electoral system they've sworn to uphold. Nah, it's somehow Pelosi's fault for not somehow massaging these fascist cover-up artists into better people.

A corollary assumption, though one that does not yet have a cute nickname, is that "bipartisanship" should be a goal above all others, one that all other values should be sacrificed to, including values like integrity, decency, and a belief that public servants should serve the public. Again, only Democrats are expected to sacrifice core values for "bipartisanship." Republicans can do what they want, burn any bridge, even continue to back the man who attempted a coup, but any failure of "bipartisanship" is laid at the feet of Democrats.

CNN's Chris Cillizza coughed up a particularly gross example:

The attitude, common in the Beltway press, is obnoxious enough when Democrats are being chastised for putting their campaign promises on infrastructure spending ahead of letting the GOP sabotage them in the name of "bipartisanship." But now the media fetish for bipartisanship is being weaponized by Republicans to justify, and this cannot be stated firmly enough, covering up for an attempted fascist overthrow of the U.S. government. And because they want the man who instigated it to have another bite at the apple, no less.

As Crooked Media editor-in-chief Brian Beutler pointed out on Twitter, the problem is that the media treats Republican "dirty dealing as a constant," as if it's the weather and not the actions of autonomous actors. They, therefore, end up acting like the only people whose actions deserve scrutiny are Democrats. The result is Democrats get blamed for things completely out of their control, such as McCarthy's choice to favor Trump over democracy.

The result, he added, is that the media is ignoring "one of the most incredible stories in U.S. history," which is that "an organized mob of the president's supporters attacked the Capitol and his party is trying to cover up the connections between the two." It's certainly a more interesting story than "Democratic leader fails to make Republicans act better," and yet, here we are.

Adam Serwer of the Atlantic diagnosed the problem by tweeting, "'The committee on the insurrection needs both pro and anti insurrection members, for balance is an expression of how uncomfortable mainstream objective journalists are in the current environment and how badly they want to get back to the pre-Trump equilibrium."

The irony of this is that the most effective thing the press could do to get that pre-Trump equilibrium back is to hold Republicans accountable for covering up for Trump. Pretending the fascists aren't fascist — or that they would somehow be less fascist if the Democrats were nicer to them — only helps the Trumpists get more power and helps keep Trump at the center of GOP politics. If there's any hope of the Republicans leaving Trump in the past, it goes through making it hard for them to keep hanging on. That starts with reporting the news honestly, instead of putting this Republican-coddling spin on events.

The reality is that Pelosi, by drawing the "no clowns" line in the sand for committee appointments, made the committee better. As Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman at the Washington Post wrote, "The less involved McCarthy is with this committee, the more likely it will be to undertake a genuine and comprehensive accounting."

Odds are that, for all the caterwauling about "bipartisanship," the press will end up giving more favorable coverage to the findings of the official Democratic-run committee than whatever joke of a committee the Republicans throw together. Not, of course, because mainstream journalists want to take Democrats more seriously. Clearly, they are so desperate to take Republicans seriously they're always throwing them a handicap. It's just that the Democrats will produce something that can be reported on seriously. McCarthy's nose-honkers, on the other hand, are likely to churn out some Breitbart newsletter-style conspiracy theories about "antifa" that the press will gently decline to cover widely, ironically to protect the illusion that Republicans are serious people.

Not that Republicans care. Whatever they produce is going straight into the Fox News propaganda machine. It was what Republicans intended to hijack the real committee to do: Produce selectively edited clips of Jordan raving at witnesses to distribute in their propaganda channels. Now they just won't waste Democrats' time in doing it.

By blocking the sabotage trolls, Pelosi gave the committee a fighting chance at producing something genuinely interesting, newsworthy, and focused on the real causes that led to the insurrection. She gets abused by the press for acting as the only adult in the room, but someone has to do it. And the same press that's bagging her for not doing more to accommodate insurrection cover-up artists will benefit from her choice. They're now going to get to cover committee findings that are both stronger and more interesting than the kneecapped version a more "bipartisan" committee would have produced. They may actually get people to click and read their stories, instead of ignoring the weak sauce headlines a report that caters to snowflake-sensitive pro-insurrectionists would have produced. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.

Right-wing media's toxic relationship with its audience is spiraling out of control

On air, the Fox News attitude about COVID-19 vaccines is one of pure loathing. Popular prime time hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham routinely suggest that the vaccines don't work, which is flatly false. In almost 60% of their segments about the vaccine, a recent analysis found, the network has pushed an anti-vaccination message, falsely implying the shots are dangerous or unnecessary.

Fox News has framed the vaccine in highly emotional culture war terms, with the shot presented to viewers like other made-up panics, such as "cancel culture" or "critical race theory." They are all a direct threat to the precious but poorly defined "freedom" that liberals supposedly want to snatch away. Viewers are made to feel that, by rejecting the vaccine, they are proving their conservative bona fides, sticking it to the liberals, and being the best MAGAs helping to make America great again.

But when the cameras are off at Fox News, suddenly everything changes. The vaccine is no longer regarded as a dangerous threat to Mom and apple pie, but a common-sense health intervention backed up by medical science. As CNN reported on Monday, Fox News — while decrying "vaccine passports" on-air — has been using a vaccine passport among their own staff since early June. Vaccinated employees who get what is called the FOX Clear Pass "are allowed to bypass the otherwise required daily health screening" and basically return to normal life inside the Fox offices.

This reporting caused rounds of completely justified outrage among liberals online, with "hypocrites" being the preferred term thrown around. But really, what the folks at Fox News are up to is much worse than garden variety hypocrisy. The whole thing is a dark reminder that the well-heeled pundits and corporate executives at Fox News have almost bottomless contempt for their own viewers, who they see as a bunch of gullible rubes to be exploited and discarded as needed for profit and political gain. Indeed, they hold their viewers in such low regard that they will happily talk their viewers into contracting a highly contagious, extremely dangerous, and easily prevented disease — for no other purpose than creating headaches for a Democratic president and, quite likely, the cheap thrill of having so much power over other people.

The worst part is that the numbers are only giving the Fox News elites more justification for the derision they have for their viewers. Polling shows over 86% of Democrats have gotten at least one vaccine, while only 45% of Republicans have. To make it worse, only 6% of Democrats reject the vaccine outright, whereas 47% of Republicans say they are unlikely to get vaccinated.

We all have heard over and over about the grave dangers of "liberal condescension," which is commonly blamed for Republican misbehavior as if Republicans weren't full adults responsible for their own decisions. In a recent piece for National Review Online, Michael Brendan Dougherty laid the blame for vaccine rejection at the feet of those promoting vaccines, writing that "attempts to answer skepticism or understand it end up poisoned by condescension" and that outreach to anti-vaxxers "feels like lowering themselves to answer people they believe to be less intelligent."

Dougherty, in a feat of truly spectacular bad faith, failed to acknowledge the two-ton elephant in the room, even as its manure is filling up the joint and getting people killed: That the main reason Republicans aren't getting vaccinated is that both Republican politicians and right-wing media are basically telling them not to. Oh, sure, they rarely come right out and say, "Don't get the shot." But Fox News is very good at getting that message across all the same, with segments that frame the shots as ineffective, dangerous, and a threat to "freedom".

"These segments amount to permission slips for unvaccinated viewers, telling them that they have good reasons not to get their shots and that the people trying to convince them otherwise are just trying to control them," Matt Gertz at Media Matters writes, citing recent segments on Fox News in which talking heads lied and told viewers the shots don't work very well and COVID-19 isn't that dangerous anyway.

Liberal condescension may be a factor, but the ugly truth is that it's utterly dwarfed by the condescension — indeed, outright contempt — that conservative elites have for consumers of right-wing media. On Monday, morning host Brian Kilmeade came right out and said that if unvaccinated people are dying of COVID-19, then that's "their choice." Laura Ingraham gleefully distorts statistics to argue that there are doubts about "the efficacy of the vaccine itself among adults." There are not — over 99% of people hospitalized or dying are unvaccinated — but Ingraham, full of contempt for her audience's intelligence, assumes they can't or won't engage the actual statistical evidence.

And Tucker Carlson, the biggest anti-vaccine voice on Fox News, clearly thinks this is all a fun game he's playing with people's lives.

To be certain, the viewers of Fox News are not blameless ciphers, innocently doing what they're told out of an abundance of trust for their beloved TV personalities. Like all good con artists, the pundits at Fox News know to target the worst instincts in their marks — venality, egotism, and sadism. The anti-vaccine propaganda on Fox News works so well because it lures their viewers into believing they're in on the con. Viewers are led to believe that, by refusing to get the shot, they're getting one over on those namby-pamby Democrats. They're so caught up in the liberal-triggering that they fail to notice that the people being fed to the virus are themselves.

That's why this dynamic is so toxic.

It's hard to feel sorry for the rubes that make up the Fox News audience, because their mean-spirited nature is what makes them such easy marks. No doubt that's also how the Fox News elites sleep at night, by convincing themselves that the people they're bamboozling have it coming. Hard to argue against the contempt they have for their audience, when their audience is driven by such contemptible impulses.

Liberals often talk down to conservatives like they're stupid, no doubt. But liberal condescension towards conservatives cannot hold a candle to the contempt that conservatives have for each other, especially when we're talking about the contempt that Republican elites have for their everyday voters. They see each other as soulless assholes driven by pettiness and greed — and they often have a point. But the problem here is that it's causing a rat's nest of bad people talking other bad people into making bad choices, all feeding on each other's ugliest instincts. And now it's spiraled so out of control it's turned into a death cult.

Trump's fake Arizona 'audit' is working

The first thing to know about the fake Arizona vote "audit" that was the subject of an equally fake state senate "hearing" last Thursday: It's nearly impossible to follow what the hell is happening.

A lot of wild claims about voting "irregularities" are being flung about, and so are the fact checks, in a dizzying array of information that will cause even the most avid QAnoner's eyes to glaze over. Over the weekend, Donald Trump put out three separate statements full of so many false claims about the "audit," that it's nearly impossible to keep track of and debunk every lie. Associated Press reporters must surely be commended for their efforts in doing so.

The second thing to know about the fake audit is that everything about it is pure theater. It is agitprop meant to create the illusion of information-gathering while the people involved are doing everything in their power to distort reality.

Take for instance Doug Logan, a conspiracy theorist masquerading as a security "expert," whose firm, Cyber Ninjas, is running the fake audit. He pretended to testify last week about the so-called audit in an environment done up to look like a senate hearing. In reality, as the Arizona Republic reported, "it was not a hearing of any committee," and no one was allowed to ask questions but Arizona Senate President Karen Fann and Sen. Warren Peterson, two Republicans who have been involved in propping up this fake audit from day one.

The third thing to know is that, even though the "audit" was supposed to be wrapped two months ago, it's quite clear now that it will be dragged out for a long time, and may never really be concluded.

Logan has a pre-existing conclusion — that the election was "stolen" from Trump — and so Logan wants to keep digging even though he is yet have turned up any real evidence, because it didn't happen. He is now asking if his "auditors" can go door to door, using "canvassing" as cover for what is obviously going to be a racialized harassment campaign against Arizona voters.

This Arizona fake audit is incoherent, fact-free, and apparently endless, which has led to some amount of liberal gloating about what a disaster the whole thing has turned out to be. Indeed, some Republicans in the state are starting to get a little anxious about the whole thing, worried that it's such a clown show that it will backfire on them. The fake audit and the false claims that the election was "stolen" from Trump are dominating the GOP primary for a Senate nominee to challenge incumbent Democrat Sen. Mark Kelly. One Republican operative even complained to CNN that the "audit is an albatross around the neck for every Republican running in the state of Arizona."

But the sad truth of the matter is that every aspect of the fake audit that is so frustrating — the confusion, the B.S., and its interminable nature — is very much by design. While Trump and his more sane allies likely understand that there is no pathway to getting Joe Biden removed from office and Trump installed any time in the next three and a half years, their eyes are on the 2024 election. Trump likely can't win that one honestly, either, but he doesn't really intend to. Instead, this fake audit is all about laying the foundation for what Trump hopes will be a more successful coup effort than his failed one in 2020.

Trump apologist and disgraced lawyer Alan Dershowitz gave the game away on Fox News Thursday night, admitting that it's "fact that Joe Biden is the president of the United States," but insisting "we have to move forward to make sure that future elections have transparency."

"Transparency" is, of course, Trumpist code for sowing doubt and confusion about the election results, creating a pretext for Republican election officials and judges to simply vacate any election results they dislike. And that is what the Arizona fake audit is all about, generating an endless stream of confusing B.S. that can be leveraged for future claims that the elections are too "corrupt" to actually be counted. As Charles Pierce at Esquire notes, this fake audit is "a political perpetual-motion machine that is designed never to finish its purported 'job.'"

All part of the scheme: Logan's future plans to sue the state repeatedly with false accusations and the hopes for a door-to-door voter "canvassing." It's all about generating more press releases, more confusion, and, if they actually get to start harassing individual voters, more racist scare tactics implying that U.S. citizens are "illegal" voters.

Information overload is part of the strategy. Logan, Trump, and other fake audit proponents are pouring out lies and false allegations of irregularities so fast that fact-checkers can barely keep up. It's very much a variation of the GOP's "Benghazi" playbook: Flood the zone with so much confusing information that most people don't bother trying to understand it. Instead, many will assume that where there's so much smoke, there must be a fire.

Will it work? It's hard to say this early on.

Trump spraying a shotgun's worth of false claims about the Arizona election certainly is bolstering his supporters and appears, so far, to be making his allies even more confident lying about the results of the 2020 election. But the larger question is whether it's enough for the longer-term goal of setting up Republican-controlled state legislatures or even a Republican-controlled Congress in 2024 to simply throw out a Democratic win in 2024. Or to get the Supreme Court to do it for them.

Trump's election lawyer, Jenna Ellis, certainly hinted in that direction on Newsmax Thursday night, saying that the nonsense that Logan was spewing — which was immediately debunked live, on Twitter, by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors — was enough to justify her claim that Congress should not have certified Biden's win on January 6. Of course, Congress was then controlled by Democrats, so these lies were never going to matter. But Republicans may very well control Congress in 2024. By then, there will four years of lies being generated by this false audit. Worse, there may be false audits in other states, if Republicans get their way. The crush of lies that get repeated over and over until they are GOP canon could very well give Republican-controlled states and a Republican-controlled Congress the pretext they need to evacuate the results of an election that didn't go their way.

The good news is some Democrats in Congress seem to finally be taking this threat seriously. As Zachary Petrizzo in Salon reports, "the House Oversight and Reform Committee have launched a probe into the Arizona 'audit firm 'Cyber Ninjas.'" They explained in a letter requesting documents that they are worried this whole fake audit "could undermine the integrity of federal elections and interfere with Americans' constitutional right to cast their ballot freely and to have their votes counted without partisan interference."

Of course, undermining the integrity of federal elections is the entire point of the "audit." It's not clear how much House Democrats can do, and there's always a risk that adding more fact checks to Trump's lies just increases the amount of chaos Trump is trying to cause. But it's certainly better than standing by and letting this farce just go on without an answer. Unless there's a way to shut the whole thing down, the fake "audit" will likely be dragged out for months or even years, generating more lies and confusion that Trump is counting on to fuel a transparent bid to steal the 2024 election. Ignoring the situation is no longer feasible for Democrats on a national level. The Arizona "audit" may look like a big joke, but it's a very serious threat to democracy.

The GOP's pro-COVID plan is straight out of its usual playbook

After months of sliding downwards, COVID-19 transmission rates are now beginning to creep back up. The reasons for the backslide given in the media are often biological — lots of talk about how the delta variant is more contagious, for instance — but this surge was much more political. From the moment that President Joe Biden stepped into the White House, Republican leaders have understood that he will be blamed if the pandemic isn't brought under control. And so they've set out to sabotage his efforts by encouraging their followers to risk their own health and reject getting vaccines in an effort to get the COVID-19 numbers up.

The GOP's pro-virus campaign has been wildly successful.

While 86% of Democrats have been vaccinated, only 45% of Republicans have gotten a shot. Nearly all of the currently unvaccinated Republicans flat-out refuse to do it ever. So COVID-19 is quickly becoming a regional disease, with hotspots concentrated in deeply Republican areas of the country. And while the delta variant is more contagious, the main reason it's spreading is because of low vaccination rates, as 99.7% of new cases have been among the unvaccinated.

I've been writing about this Republican scheming to use the bodies of their own people as disease vectors for months, but only in recent days has the mainstream media started to wake up to this grim reality.

On CNN on Wednesday, Erin Burnett played a supercut featuring Republican leaders like Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado screeching "don't come knocking on my door with your Fauci ouchie" and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin falsely suggeting the shot kills people. On the same day, another CNN anchor, Chris Cuomo, got angry with Republican Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas for being "OK with this kind of jackassery that has absolutely led to a deficiency among Republican people in this country taking the vaccine." There's been a lot of attention paid to Republicans shutting down vaccine outreach to young people in Tennessee. The Washington Post released a video showing that Republicans who supported the vaccine while Donald Trump was in office immediately switched to dissing the shot the second the president was a Democrat:

Why did it take so long for the mainstream media to admit that Republican leaders are intentionally encouraging infection? As has happened repeatedly in the past, it comes back to a reluctance to accept that Republicans really are as bad as they seem. It was just plain easier to imagine that those who said that Republicans were pro-virus are merely #resistance hysterics until the numbers made the truth undeniable.

But that Republicans really are terrible enough to spread disease for political gain is unsurprising to those who have been paying attention to the sexual health wars. For decades, Republicans have done everything they can to discourage preventive sexual health care, including cutting off access to birth control and condoms and lying about the usefulness of various methods. The claim was that this was all justified to promote "abstinence," but the result, time and again, was just more disease and unwanted child-bearing.

Megan Carpentier at Dame Magazine took a deep dive on Wednesday on the Republican war on a vaccine for HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that causes many kinds of cancer, most notably cervical cancer. Pressuring parents to forgo this vaccine for their kids has been wildly successful at keeping preventable cancer rates high, Carpentier writes, as "the American Cancer Society predicts that 14,480 people will be diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer in 2021" and "more than 4,000 people will die from cervical cancer this year."

Republicans happily promote policies to kill these people because they think it serves their political interests. Spinning their followers up about the supposed evils of women's sexual freedom has been the bread and butter of right-wing politics for decades: These women's lives are being sacrificed for conservative propaganda.

It's the same story with all other sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV, which conservatives have long exploited to stigmatize LGBTQ people. And the same story with unwanted pregnancy and childbirth, which is useful to conservatives who want to demagogue about how girls today are a bunch of sluts and feminism is the reason. They need people to get sick and get pregnant against their will, so, with great deliberation, Republicans embraced policies and rhetoric designed to get people to forgo simple prevention measures. They slash funding for sexual health care every chance they get, often redirecting it to groups that will lie to people about the efficacy of contraception. In public schools, health classes across the country have long been forced to distribute anti-contraception propaganda. When the Affordable Care Act included copay-free coverage for contraception — a measure that, as predicted, reduced unintended pregnancy and abortion rates — Republicans lost their minds with rage. And they will lie and lie and lie about the supposed dangers of contraception and other preventive care.

Trump's vice president, Mike Pence, was deeply invested in the spread-disease-and-despair agenda, back when the targets were mostly women and LGBTQ people. In 2002, as a congressman from Indiana, Pence gave an interview where he falsely claimed that "condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases." Later, when Pence was governor of Indiana, he gutted the HIV prevention systems in the state. When this predictably led to a surge in HIV transmissions, Pence fought against every effort to curb the infection rate, ensuring that the virus spread for months before he reluctantly did anything about it.

Republicans justify this anti-prevention stance by claiming they promote sexual abstinence. The goal itself is unworthy — the government should not be in the business of pushing anti-sex religious dogma on the public — but, as Pence's experience in Indiana shows, it doesn't even work. All anti-prevention policies do is lead people to have unprotected sex. Abstinence-only programs in high schools are linked with higher teen pregnancy rates. Cutting contraception funding doesn't lead to women forgoing sex, but it does lead to a surge in unintended childbirth. And, as Carpentier's piece shows, replacing life-saving prevention tools like condoms and HPV vaccines with a "just say no" lecture leads to people dying.

Republicans know this. They have seen the studies. They, like Pence, watched over and over as undermining prevention measures just leads to more disease and unwanted pregnancy. They just keep doing it anyway. After a certain point, it becomes hard to deny that they simply don't care if people are suffering. On the contrary, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies serve the GOP agenda, because all that misery can be exploited for propaganda about the supposed evils of modernity, feminism, and gay rights. Republicans have a long history of hurting people's health to serve a larger political agenda. So of course they were well-prepared to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic and encourage disease transmission for political gain. Anyone who watched Republican responses to sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy knows this playbook well. The only thing that's changed now is that they're doing it to their own people.

Democrats need to play hardball to force the GOP to moderate

Monday night, Democrats in the Texas state legislature were forced to flee. Again. Republicans who control the state legislature and the governor's mansion have called a special session for the purpose of passing laws meant to make it difficult for residents in racially diverse cities to vote. The only way to slow them down is for Democrats to leave the state and deny Republicans the quorum necessary to have a vote. As they did over Memorial Day weekend, when they fled the first attempt by Republicans to crack down on voting, Texas Democrats held a press conference to shame Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the two Democratic holdouts who refuse to let a democracy reform bill be put up for a vote in the Senate, into changing their minds.

"We need Congress to act now to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect Texans — and all Americans — from the Trump Republicans' nationwide war on democracy," the Texas Democrats said in a statement.

Both Manchin and Sinema claim to support voting rights, but so far, they refuse to take the votes necessary to end the Senate filibuster, an arcane Senate procedure that is more the result of an accident than a legitimate tool, that Republicans are using to block democracy reform bills. Both Senate Democrats claim the filibuster is important for the vague purposes of "bipartisanship," even though its main use is for Republicans to unilaterally shut down all debate and refuse to come to the bargaining table with the slim Democratic majority in the Senate.

The situation in Texas, however, underscores how backward the Sinema/Manchin theory of bipartisanship is.

Giving Republicans more power does not, in fact, cause Republicans to be more open to compromise. On the contrary, the only thing that can cause Republicans to moderate and make deals is for Democrats to play hardball, and force Republicans to come to the negotiation table.

Right now, Republicans on Capitol Hill have absolutely no reason whatsoever to haggle in good faith with Democrats on anything. That's because a combination of gerrymandering, voter suppression and pre-existing anti-majoritarian provisions in the constitution have made it so that the votes of white conservatives, who are a minority of Americans, count for more than the votes of the more racially diverse and cosmopolitan majority. Indeed, the growing disproportionality is eye-popping. The Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, but those Democrats represent 41 million more Americans than the Republicans do. Republicans have controlled the Senate for most of the past two decades, even though Democrats have represented more people since 1996. Republicans lost the popular vote in all but one of the presidential elections since 2000 but managed to win half the time anyway. Even though Democrats likely get more votes, the math suggests that Republicans can gerrymander their way to controlling the House in 2022.

Because the vote of a white conservative counts more, on average, than the vote of any other American, Republicans believe they have no real need to appeal to or work with anyone else. That means they have no incentive to moderate, cooperate, compromise, or do anything but obstruct Democrats in power and work, as they're doing in Texas, to make sure that Democratic majorities are permanently blocked from choosing their own leaders. The filibuster, therefore, doesn't work to smooth the way towards bipartisan compromise — it prevents it. Republicans, with the filibuster, have unilateral power to stop all real negotiation and debate as they amass so much illegitimate power that they never have to answer a Democrat's phone call again.

Republicans don't even bother to hide that their strategies are all geared towards obstruction and refusal to compromise on anything.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell calmly declared in May that "100% of my focus" is on obstruction and that he has "total unity" from the GOP caucus on that goal. Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy was recently caught on tape explaining to donors that "for the next 18 months, our job is to do everything we can to slow all of that down to get to December of 2022," and that all Republicans offer to Democrats is "chaos and the inability to get stuff done." In another recently leaked video, House Republicans can be seen laughing at what fools Manchin and Sinema are to think the filibuster serves any purpose but giving Republicans the ability to turn their noses up to the negotiating table.

If Manchin and Sinema want to return to the supposed glory days of bipartisanship and cross-party negotiation, they have the power to make that happen. They must vote to nuke the filibuster. Then they must start passing bills like the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, legislation meant to protect the right to vote and stabilize election systems so that Republicans cannot cheat their way towards more illegitimate power, with a simple majority vote.

This will work for two reasons. First, if Republicans are forced to compete in fair elections, instead of coasting to victory on the backs of an authoritarian minority, it will have a moderating influence on the party. They'll have to appeal to voters who want more moderate candidates, instead of merely blocking such people from voting at all. If they can't gerrymander districts to render the Democratic majority permanently disempowered, they will have to do more to work with Democrats to get things done.

Second, and just as importantly, ending the filibuster forces Republicans who are currently in Congress back to the negotiating table.

Right now, Republicans have near-absolute power to block not just bills but even debate on bills. So it's not just that almost no bills pass, but that bills have no chance of even being debated. There's no opportunity for bipartisan compromise and discussion because bills die long before that's even an option. But if bills were moving to floor debate and a vote, Republicans could actually weigh in and negotiate with Democrats, through the processes that they are currently halting with the absolutist use of the filibuster.

Texas Democrats have shown how to get Republicans to negotiate: You have to do more than ask nicely.

When Texas Democrats fled to deny Republicans quorum in May, that not only slowed down the assault on voting rights, but it forced Republicans, reluctantly, to strip out two unpopular provisions from the original bill: One to block "get out the vote" events at churches and one to give right-wing judges the ability to overturn election results they don't like.

But ultimately, the plight of the Texas Democrats are what national Democrats will be facing, if they don't take measures now to protect voting rights and fair elections. Democrats in that state represent nearly half the voting population — Donald Trump only got 52% of the vote in 2020 — and there's long been hope that Texas could be turned blue. But Republicans have an iron grip on power, not because they have strong majorities, but because they shamelessly gerrymander and vote suppress their way to dominance. And the legislature answers not to moderates, but only to far-right radicals, because Republicans who control the state have no incentive to compromise or negotiate. The only time they pay attention to what anyone else wants is when they are forced, such as by Democrats fleeing the state.

Manchin and Sinema have, so far, been unmoved to end the filibuster by appeals to decency or common sense. But they do love bipartisanship, far more than they care about voting rights or democracy. Unfortunately, the same thing standing in the way of democratic reform, or even a sensible infrastructure bill, is the same thing standing in the way of true bipartisanship: The filibuster. If they want to return to the world of drinks and deal-making with Republicans, Sinema and Manchin have to make it worthwhile for Republicans. And that requires ending the filibuster and making democracy competitive again.

Why conservative alternatives to Twitter are doomed to fail

Donald Trump loves a lawsuit, and not because he's especially good at winning them. Like other litigious bullies, Trump loves court battles because he knows the other party is likely a somewhat normal human who doesn't get a cheap thrill out of abusing the legal system, and can be beaten down or sucked dry by endless nuisance filings. But while that strategy often works for silencing ex-girlfriends and stiffing contractors, it's less effective against huge institutions that actually have the resources to fight back, as Trump found when he foolishly thought he could nuisance-sue the government into pretending that his 2020 election defeat didn't happen.

Now, in what may be an even more pathetic act, Trump is suing Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, demanding to be allowed back on their platforms so he can incite more terrorist violence through spreading election lies and claiming that Ashli Babbit was a martyr. Cool story, bro — except that these companies are wealthy behemoths with fleets of lawyers, not two-bit operations who make most of their money through tax fraud and cellphone ringtones. Plus, as half the lawyers in the country have already noted, Trump's claims that his "free speech" rights have been violated are a joke, as proved by his blog that failed from lack of public interest, not censorship.

A social media account is not a human right, of course. But it's also worth noting that there are multiple social media platforms that have been begging for Trump's presence, such as Parler, Gab and Mike Lindell's Frank, all of which were established to be a welcoming new home for the white supremacists, QAnon lunatics and COVID-19 denialists who have been kicked off more established social media networks. The newest effort at such a thing, Gettr, has also failed to snag that all-important @realdonaldtrump account, even though the platform was literally started by a bunch of Trump hangers-on, most notably his former campaign spokesperson, Jason Miller.

These right-wing alternatives to mainstream social media have been notoriously plagued by problems, from infighting between their funders to tech failures and poor security that leaves them open to hacking. Silicon Valley, unsurprisingly, is not sending its best to work for the Pepe-meme crowd. But that's probably not the main reason Trump would rather pursue his fruitless lawsuit than sully his Diet Coke-sticky iPhone by posting on any of these apps.

No, it's because trolling is central to the Trump messaging strategy. Unfortunately for Trump and his cronies, however, trolling only works if the people you're trying to troll can see your message — and more critically, amplify it. Posting provocative garbage on Parler is the trolling equivalent of sex with a blow-up doll: The motions are the same, but you're just not getting the reactions that make the interaction worthwhile.

As I've written about extensively, both in my book and here at Salon, spite is the main motivating force behind the contemporary American right. Bereft of any winning arguments or valid policy ideas, modern conservatives instead are focused on "owning the liberals." The success of any right-wing pundit is based not on the sharpness of their analysis, but their perceived success at irritating liberals. From his phony marriages to his illiteracy to his shameless racism, Trump couldn't have been better created in a lab to irritate the liberals, which is the main reason for his enduring popularity with the conservative base.

But trolling liberals isn't just the main source of pleasure for the right. It's also how they amplify their message.

In a recent edition of his Message Box newsletter, former Barack Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer wrote that "weaponizing liberal anger into online engagement is the primary Republican political strategy of the Internet Age," because social media platforms prioritize "the most engaging posts." By sharing right-wing posts — purportedly to dunk on them or express outrage — liberals only manage to "ensure that the offending post receives more engagement and is seen by more people."

Just as important, liberal outrage is crucial for selling bad or offensive ideas to the GOP base. Tucker Carlson of Fox News, in particular, understands this. He rarely tries to persuade his audience to embrace his bad ideas — from "replacement theory" to refusing a COVID-19 vaccination to the nobility of a fascist insurrection — on the merits, knowing full well that's impossible. Instead, he focuses on how much liberals hate these ideas, convincing his audience to adopt otherwise idiotic beliefs out of pure spite.

Provoking liberals is vital to selling a message to right-wing audiences, but in order for that to happen you need to reach those liberals to provoke them. And beyond a few journalists and other professional masochists, provokable liberals are basically nonexistent on Parler and Gettr.

We see this issue time and again with right-wing figures who, by choice or by force, have tried to move their base of social media operations to the conservative social media ghetto. In January, professional troll Dan Bongino reacted to Trump's Twitter ban by dramatically tweeting that this would be his "final post on this anti-American platform," and that he was moving to Parler. A few months later, he quietly crawled back to Twitter and starting posting again, never acknowledging that he had flounced away in righteous indignation.

Other right-wing figures, like Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones, have seen their fortunes and profiles decline precipitously after being banned from spaces where regular interactions with liberals created opportunities for outrage harvesting. Yiannopoulos has set up shop on the far-right social media networks, and frequently uses the space to grouse about how these platforms don't "drive traffic" because it's just "a little private chat with my gold star homies."

Trump's own "social media platform" — which was actually just a blog — folded in less than a month. It turns out that the key to his social media success wasn't just writing half-literate missives overflowing with lies and vitriol. He needed his political foes to retweet his content and dunk on it to get his followers excited.

Which is not to say there's no value in these right-wing silo sites for the growing authoritarian movement. For instance, hundreds of thousands of QAnon enthusiasts have flocked to the messaging platform Telegram, where the talk of violence and overt anti-Semitism have become increasingly extreme. As Jared Holt, a visiting research fellow at the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab, told NPR in January, that kind of space is "an incubator for radicalization," because extremists can whip each other up without outsiders arguing back or expressing skepticism.

But that leaves the far right with a recruitment problem. Luring everyday conservatives into more radical spaces requires attracting them in the first place. That means appealing to the thing those folks care about the most: Owning the liberals. Unfortunately for them, you can't trigger the libs from afar. Which is all the more reason for the major social media platforms to tell Trump he can take his nuisance lawsuit and shove it. He is always free to use his First Amendment rights to whine about it to left-behind conservatives on Parler.

The narcissistic tendencies of conservatives expose their extremely fragile egos

Every so often, a right-wing pundit drops his guard a little and reveals to the world the incel-ish inclinations and bitterness toward women that undergirds so much conservative "intellectualism." This week, it was Manhattan Institute fellow Eric Kaufmann, with a prolonged whine in the National Review about the massive social problem that desirable women apparently don't desire Donald Trump voters. Kaufmann's ostensible point was to warn about the dangers of "progressive authoritarianism" supposedly "infringing rights to equal treatment or free speech." As many folks pointed out on Twitter, however, the evidence offered of such civil rights violations was centered around the low rates of "non-Trump-supporting students willing to date a Trump supporter," the statistic that "87 percent of all female college students wouldn't date a Trump supporter" and the claim that "Trump supporters get the short end of the dating stick."

Kaufmann inserted a CYA statement up top about how "people are free to discriminate however they wish in dating," but the rest of the essay paints a clear picture of rage that Trump voters are being denied romantic or sexual opportunities. But Trump voters' belief that they should be entitled to date liberal women is about more than just what one Twitter wag called "Universal Basic Intercourse." It's about the ego benefits of having a girlfriend: The praise, the respect, the adoration, even — feelings that Kaufmann knows the women he's scolding do not and cannot authentically feel towards Trump voters. It's about entitlement to a woman's flattering lies.

Kaufmann's dumb essay is an extreme example, but the grim truth is that such entitlement oozes out of every corner of the conservative movement. Indeed, the driving force of the modern right is a belief that, when they look at in the world, they should only see flattering lies reflected back at them, and that anyone who speaks the truth is somehow oppressing them.

Last week, the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin had a book event scheduled with the authors of "Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of An American Myth," which exposes an often-ignored history about how central white rage at the Mexican ban on slavery was to the Texas revolution. Upon finding out about the event, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick immediately got it canceled and bragged on Twitter that "this fact-free rewriting of TX history has no place at the Bob Bullock Museum."

Of course the problem was not that the book is "fact-free," but exactly the opposite. Patrick's fury is clearly about the authors daring to utter truths. This is about stomping out historical facts about white supremacy. What is truly amazing, however, is how unapologetic Patrick is. He simply feels entitled to scrub unpleasant facts from history or lie about the lying to justify his behavior.

Patrick has a long history of gleefully stomping on free speech rights in the name of having his prejudices flattered. Just a few months ago, he announced that a top legislative priority would be to pass a law literally forcing sports arenas to play the national anthem, a reaction to the Dallas Mavericks quietly removing the practice from their pre-game program. No one actually missed the anthem, because people go to basketball games to have fun, not to perform half-hearted displays of patriotism that are somehow both needlessly contentious and boring. But Patrick wants to force people to do it, and he's happy to violate their First Amendment rights for a mandatory pantomime of his preferred flavor of "patriotism."

That attitude is exactly what's driving the nationwide tantrum over "critical race theory," based on lies both about the content of critical race theory (which is not actually about "hating white people") and whether it's being taught in public schools (it's not). It's fashionable on the left to mock conservatives for "not knowing" what critical race theory is, but that's not quite what's going on. Conservatives who use the term aren't referencing the academic framework used in graduate programs so much as they're deploying a code for what they actually object to, which is teaching historical facts about racism. It's about demanding that schools set aside truth in favor of cloying fables, just as Patrick demanded that the Bullock Museum set aside the truth about the Texas revolution in favor of a fanciful story that turns a violent, racist tantrum into a heroic act.

Trump's former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo — who has thoughts of a 2024 presidential campaign of his own — embodied this attitude over the weekend, launching this tweet:

What is remarkable here is the blasé sense of entitlement to a truly preposterous lie, which is that the founding of America — or of any country, really — could be flawless. That's even before we get to indisputable facts, such as the one about slavery being both legal and enshrined in the Constitution, which make the assertion that the U.S. was racist as banal (and true) as saying that the U.S. is located in North America. Pompeo's stance is a repudiation of history itself, a demand that it be entirely replaced with myths. Worse, his view is increasingly the one shared across the entire Republican Party.

No wonder, then, that Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election is so quickly becoming GOP canon. As a recent analysis from the Washington Post shows, of the nearly 700 Republicans who have already filed paperwork to run in 2022, "at least a third have embraced Trump's false claims about his defeat." And that's just the ones who repeat the lie — many, if not most, of the others feel like they can't object to it in any way, lest they face the fate of Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

A similar situation is unfolding with the Jan. 6 insurrection. As Media Matters detailed in a lengthy report for the six-month anniversary of that event, right wing media has spent the past half-year spinning out all manner of preposterous narratives to deny that the event was violent or insurrectionary or fascistic, even though the whole country saw, with our own eyes, an unbelievable amount of evidence that proves it was all those things. This is particularly encapsulated in the efforts to claim Ashli Babbitt, a rioter who was fatally shot in the melee, as some kind of victim and martyr — a narrative that Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, is now embracing. Babbitt's shooting was captured on video from multiple angles, making it indisputable that she lost her life because she was leading a mob intent on running down and attacking members of Congress. Yet she is being canonized on the right as "proof" that they're the ones being oppressed, even after they literally tried to steal a democratic election.

Do proponents of the Big Lie or insurrection revisionism actually believe their own nonsense? That's beside the point. Truth simply has no value to these folks. All that matters is power — and one way to exert power is to force the official narrative into the shape of a lie, untouched by even well-documented facts.

In a sense, this is nothing new. The right has long had an interest in replacing facts with its own bellicose myth-making. Evolutionary theory is attacked, because conservatives would rather imagine themselves in "God's image" than as primates. Climate change must be denied, because admitting that we should stop driving gas-guzzling pickups and SUVs is too much to bear for the fragile right wing ego. And heaven forbid anyone talk about how Martin Luther King Jr. had political views beyond that one line in his "I Have a Dream" speech.

But there should be no doubt that these narcissistic tendencies on the right have metastasized into a sense of overwhelming entitlement, a need to be swathed in thick blankets of lies such that not even a hint of unpleasant facts can even touch snowflake-fragile conservative egos. Trump's flagrant personality disorders have operated, over the years, as a permission slip to his followers to emulate his example. As we've seen over and over, he has petulantly demanded that all information around him be shaped into a flattering mirror, and believes no truth is too powerful not to be crushed to suit his overblown self-image. Now we are cursed with millions of mini-Trumps, staging tantrums at school boards and CDC ads about vaccines, in an endless narcissistic rage that anyone would dare rattle their world by saying stuff just because it's true.

Here's why corporate donors backtracked on the plan to cut off Republicans who tried to overturn the election

Six months ago, the insurrection Donald Trump incited at the U.S. Capitol in a last bid attempt to steal the presidential election from Joe Biden, was experienced as a cataclysmic event. Many assumed it would remake American politics permanently — so much so that dozens of major corporations rushed forward to declare they were withdrawing all financial support from Republican politicians who aided Trump's effort by voting against certifying the results of the electoral college vote count.

In the past half-year, however, a combination of Republican intransigence and Trump's talent as escaping justice has already served to move the insurrection from the category of "unthinkable" to "mainstream GOP politics," allowing it to be viewed through the lens of partisan bickering instead of what it actually was, a violent attempted coup. In turn, a lot of the companies who swore they were cutting off the money spigot to insurrectionist Republicans have quietly turned it back on.

Judd Legum is the investigative journalist behind Popular Information, where he keeps track of both the corporations who have reneged on their promise and the lazy excuses they produce for doing so. He spoke with Salon's Amanda Marcotte about the role corporations continue to play in normalizing the violent assault on American democracy six months after Jan. 6:

It's been six months since the insurrection at the Capitol. Nearly 200 major corporations in the immediate aftermath of the Capital riot said that they were ending donations to the insurrectionist Republicans who voted to overturn the election. My question to you is how well are they sticking with that promise?

Well, it varies by corporation.

Overall, if you look at the whole group of 200 corporations, most of them are, at least at this point, sticking to what they said around January 6th. But there are a number of corporations that have resumed giving money to the Republicans who voted to overturn the election. Corporations like Toyota, Cigna, a few others. A larger group is doing so indirectly by not giving to those individual candidates, but by giving money, for example, to the National Republican Campaign Committee, which is the fundraising arm to support the reelection of Republican members of the House. Two-thirds of that group were objecting to the electoral college. There's a group that has resumed business as usual. So far, that's the minority, but obviously, it's still significant and the size of that group could increase over time.

Toyota has gotten the most attention for reneging on their promises and why is that?

Just because they have given to the largest number of Republican objectors. The most recent count is 39 Republican objectors that they've given money to, $62,000 in total. While there's some other corporations who've given to one or two or three or four, they stick out because they've given to so many. The only companies that are kind of up there with them are some of the defense contractors like Northrop Grumman and Boeing. They've started at similar numbers.

In your reporting on this, you found that the wording that these companies use to justify the decision sounds an awful lot like the language from a memo circulated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce earlier this year. What's going on there?

In the immediate aftermath of January 6th, the Chamber of Commerce seemed like they were taking this very seriously. They said, without getting too into specifics, that there were members of Congress who they would no longer support as a result of what happened that day. It really seemed to validate a lot of the decisions that their member corporations were making to cut off these donations. But that changed in March, when they released a memo saying that they no longer believed that it was appropriate to cut off funds just on the basis of that vote.

Then when you look at Toyota, who has been under some scrutiny since April 1st, before all of this, they use that exact same language to describe why they were donating to so many of these Republicans. It sets up this idea that there were some Republicans who did really bad things that day, but just the vote itself wasn't really that bad. But Toyota has given to, for instance, Andy Biggs, who's one of the most outspoken members of Congress on the idea that the election was stolen.

Why would anybody think that there should be a distinction between the supposedly insurrectionists Republicans, the ones that are the really bad and the ones who "merely" voted to overturn the election?

Well, I think companies are getting worried about cutting off so many, particularly of the House Republicans, because they're worried that they're going to be in power in 2022. That includes Kevin McCarthy, who would be the Speaker. It includes Steve Scalise, who's one of the biggest fundraisers for the House Republicans. They're looking to make it easier on themselves, effectively.

I hate to sound cynical, but it seems to me that these companies mostly just wanted to bet on the winner. In the days after the insurrection, companies thought that the pro-democracy side would prevail. Now they think the authoritarians are winning and they've switched sides. Is that too simplistic?

I focus on the corporations that have violated their pledge because that's the news, right? That's what people are interested in and I think that's important. Still, six months later, you have a lot of major companies who have not resumed business as normal, who normally would have given a bunch of money to the NRCC and the NRSC, and most of them still have not done that.

I think some cynicism is warranted, but I think we should temper that cynicism, because there's a possibility that, at least in some quarters, there will be lasting change. I try to keep that in perspective, although sometimes it can be hard.

That makes me feel better. It really does.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is an interesting organization. I think most Americans hear that name and they think it's like a town's local Chamber of Commerce, like a booster group that is there just to generically promote commerce and kind of that sort of thing. Why are they running defense for what can only be described as a literal fascist insurrection?

Well, I think there are habits and practices of Washington, D.C., especially as it relates to how corporations exercise power, that are very hard to let go of. Principally, it's the idea that corporations write a $5,000 check or a $10,000 check to a member of Congress. That money is not a huge amount of money, but it gets them a connection. It allows them to know who to talk to, when they want a meeting. It makes sure that they get that meeting and it smoothes the whole process for them of trying to influence key policy issues in D.C.

The Chamber of Commerce is very much in the business of having corporations exercise the maximum amount of influence over the political system. When they see corporations bowing out of this and cutting off people who if they aren't powerful today may be very powerful in 2022 or beyond, they want to figure out a way around that.

A lot of corporations give to politicians and then argue those donations as functionally apolitical because they spread money on both sides, right?

Anytime you would ask a company about a donation prior to January 6th, that's what they said in response to almost any inquiry: they give to both sides, that they don't agree with everyone. That just because say that they support LGBTQ rights, but they are supporting this person who's said all of these offensive things about trans people. They dance around that by describing these as essentially apolitical donations.

January 6th was the one time when you did have a bunch of corporations draw a line and say, this goes beyond what we're sort of willing to tolerate. What we're observing now is whether that line will hold. For some companies, it already has not held. Other companies have held the line, but I will say that just holding the line for six months really doesn't mean much because it's a two-year cycle, right? If you give the money in the beginning of 2022, instead of the beginning of 2021, that doesn't mean that much. You can only donate $5,000 per election anyway, and they'll need the money in 2022. The question will be, are there companies who are in it for the long term?

Why do you think the insurrection caused a lot of companies that otherwise try to keep their brand out of politics to publicly say that they were going to withdraw donations, whether they renege on that promise or not?

I think it was the imagery. The seriousness of what happened that day. I don't think companies wanted to be associated with, as clumsy as it was, an attempted overthrow of the government led rhetorically by Trump. Watching his supporters attack the Capitol, attack police officers with American flags: The visceral images of that day that really pushed companies.

Now, maybe there's some companies who've taken a principled stand. I know that for instance, American Express, when I was reporting on this in January, told me that they will never donate to any of these Republicans again. For some companies, it may have been a real moment of principle where they said "enough, we're not going to be doing business with these kinds of politicians anymore." Other companies, it was more about short-term public relations. There's another set of companies where it's still up in the air.

From a kind of practical standpoint, nothing has changed. Trump incited this insurrection. The people that stormed the Capitol are going to prison for their crimes. There's been no material change to justify, or somehow minimize what's happened. Why do companies, at least some of them, feel more comfortable now being like oh okay, that's in the past, it didn't matter, it wasn't that big a deal?

I think part of it is just time, right? It's not dominating the news every day as it was in the weeks immediately after January 6th. So it's less of a public relations headache for some of them. The other issue is that Trump remains such an influential part of the Republican party. Nothing's really changed, but there hasn't really been any fallout. Right after January 6th, it could have been for a hot second, it looked like, well, Trump might actually get in trouble for this. Mitch McConnell was considering supporting impeachment, whether or not you were credulous about those reports or not. The conventional wisdom was that really maybe this was going to be a real inflection point about our politics and what's within the realm of acceptable conduct and what's not.

The reality is that these folks are going to be very influential for years to come. For companies that are taking a purely practical approach, where they just want influence with whoever's in power, they're looking at these Republicans and they're saying, hey they may be in power pretty soon.

On your newsletter, Popular Info, you give people information they can use to organize pressure campaigns, to keep corporations from doing things like donating to insurrectionist Republicans. Why do you put your focus on these particular corporations? How do you think that that particular activism can be effective in stopping what is functionally a rising anti-democracy movement in the U.S.?

My role is to get the information out there. Certainly, there's a lot of folks who use that and take action, who write these companies, tweet at these companies and make their voices heard. I do think that the information is valuable. Part of the reason that corporations thought that they could just donate to who whomever they wanted, regardless of whether those politicians were in line with their state and corporate values, is because there really wasn't much attention paid to it on an ongoing basis. So if you can change that dynamic and people that you actually have people who know what's going on, that can ultimately may change behavior.

The other group of folks that I think really need access to this information is the employees themselves. It's very unlikely that some sort of consumer action is going to have a meaningful impact on Amazon's bottom line or Microsoft's bottom line. But if there's a dozen or two dozen of their engineers or other types of key employees who say, hey you were telling us how much you support democracy and now you're supporting these Republicans. Why are you doing that? That's something that they pay attention to. That played out pretty publicly with Microsoft. It was the employees who drove them to a much stronger position. They initially had said that they were just going to temporarily suspend all donations, but they eventually committed to cutting off the 147 Republican objectors for at least two years. It was really driven by the employees.

These companies are, like you said, are buying access. Will convincing them to stop donating to Republicans really change anything? Because the Republicans are acting against democracy itself for their own reasons. Do you think that this inflection point would actually change their behavior?

No, I don't think so. I think it is about the longer term. For instance, all of this corporate PAC money is only a small portion of what these companies spent on politics. Much larger amounts of money are spent on big nonprofit groups, Super PACs, independent political expenditures. Money, that for the most part, does not have to be reported publicly. But the criticism that these companies are taking over their corporate PAC expenditures is also motivating shareholders to demand more transparency from corporations about the whole scope of their political spending. A number of high profile companies, there were shareholder resolutions that passed demanding more reporting on how they're spending their money on politics.

This whole process over time can hopefully create more transparency and accountability for corporations and how they use their influence, and over time, that could have some influence over the political system overall. I don't think it's all of a sudden going to make Steve Scalise think about politics differently, but it can kind of change overall the playing field in which we decide who the political winners and losers are. So I think that's more of the way that it plays out.

Biden didn't 'fall short' of his vaccination goal — he was sabotaged

By most measures, President Biden got surprisingly close to his goal of 70% national vaccination by July 4 that he set early on in his administration's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. We're reportedly now at 67%, which is pretty darn good, especially considering how little of a plan Donald Trump even pretended to have before leaving office. But the mainstream media, always eager to prove to conservatives (who will never believe them) that they're just as hard on Democrats as Republicans, pounced eagerly on this minor shortfall, running headlines focusing on this "failure" rather than the much bigger story of success.

"U.S. falls short of Biden's July 4 COVID-19 vaccine goal," read the headline at CBS News.

"Biden misses July 4 vaccine target as nation's 'independence' from virus remains elusive," echoed a similar headline at ABC News.

"Biden heralds U.S. emergence from the pandemic, but he risks celebrating too soon," warns a headline at the Washington Post.

As the ABC News piece admits, this dour framing conceals a lot of genuine progress made against COVID-19, including "a 90% drop in deaths and hospitalizations since January." On July 5, the number of new reported transmissions was slightly more than 5,000, a small fraction of the cases seen at the January apex of the pandemic, when those numbers sometimes topped 250,000 a day.

Despite this success, however, it is indisputable that after months of watching the virus seemingly fade from the landscape, cases are starting to creep back up again. While many are eager to blame the CDC for rolling back mask-wearing and social distancing recommendations for vaccinated people, those who've gotten the shot are not the ones spreading this disease. The real problem is that the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus is tearing through parts of the country where people clearly would rather die than get an inoculation they associate with a Democratic president.

There are many reasons for vaccine hesitancy, of course, including conspiracy theories that are dissuading folks of all political persuasions. But if we pull back and look at the bigger picture, it's clear is that the main driver of vaccine rejection, by far, is plain old right-wing trolling. Trump supporters are so angry and bitter at Biden that they have weaponized their own bodies to sabotage his efforts to end the pandemic. Maybe it feels to them as if refusing vaccination is a good way to stick it to the liberals — who admittedly are exasperated by this behavior — the main result is that the pandemic is raging out of control in "red" areas of the country, while blue states and regions are getting back to normal.

Some sobering statistics: A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that while 86% of self-identified Democrats have gotten at least one shot, only 45% of Republicans have done the same. If it weren't for the high rates of inoculation among seniors, in fact, the proportion of vaccinated Republicans would be even lower. As it is, most of the unvaccinated Republicans currently say that they have no plans to get the shot.

The result, as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on NBC on Sunday, is that the pandemic surge is a "regional" problem. A new report from Johns Hopkins about geographical rates of COVID-19 underscores his point.

"States with below-average vaccination rates have almost triple the rate of new Covid-19 cases compared to states with above-average vaccination rates," CNN reports. In Arkansas, "where less than 35% of residents were fully vaccinated," the rate of transmission is roughly five times higher than the national rate. As the Washington Post reported over the weekend, only 3% of outbreaks are occurring in counties where more than half the population is fully vaccinated.

"To put it bluntly: Polarization is killing people," as German Lopez of Vox wrote on Tuesday.

To put it even more bluntly, Republicanism is killing people. On the Democratic side of the aisle, polarization is not a problem. If anything, it probably saved lives, because many Democratic voters made it a point of pride to get vaccinated as soon as possible. All 18 of the states that have surpassed Biden's 70% goal voted for him in the 2020 election.

The rising caseload of the last couple of weeks has caused some panic on liberal social media, with some folks clamoring for a return to lockdown restrictions and mask mandates. But considering that the only places with the political will to do such a thing are also the places where vaccination rates are high and virus transmission is low, that's probably not the answer. Returning to such restrictions in blue areas, while many red states continue to ignore the problem, is a little like putting a bandage on your left hand when the wound is on your right. It might feel like you're doing something, but it's basically useless.

Conservatives no doubt feel that refusing the vaccine feels like a good way to give the finger to liberals, a message that Fox News reinforces regularly and enthusiastically. But even some Republican governors are now admitting that actually, their own voters are the ones paying the price for valuing liberal-triggering over their lives, their health and their families.

"Politics is becoming religion in our country," complained Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah, a Republican, in a Saturday appearance on CBS, adding that "it's caused us to make bad decisions during this pandemic."

The Republican governor of West Virginia, Jim Justice, was even blunter on ABC, accusing people who aren't vaccinated of being in a "death lottery." He admitted that the reason people aren't getting the shot is they "are very, very conservative in their thinking," but added that "they're not thinking right."

Of course there's nothing inherently "conservative" about refusing to protect yourself and other people by getting vaccinated. This is only a problem because Donald Trump somehow convinced his supporters that refusing to take the pandemic seriously was central to their identity. To make things worse, Fox News, eager to find a way to sabotage Biden's pandemic efforts (and his entire presidency), has convinced its viewers that only hated liberals get the shot. So the vaccines have become aligned with vegan cookery, "critical race theory" or driving a Prius: Something Republicans are convinced is sinister and will somehow infect them with socialism.

As long as vaccination rates are tied up with media assessments of Biden's success as president, Republican voters — and the propagandists of right-wing media — will have an incentive to keep refusing the vaccine. They weren't quite able to steal the election for Donald Trump, but they can offer their own bodies up as sacrifices to keep the virus circulating in an effort to make Joe Biden look bad. But this problem falls outside Biden's power to fix. If anything, the harder he pushes people to get vaccinated, the more Republicans will dig in their heels and refuse. So it's time for the media to stop blaming Biden and put the blame where it squarely belongs: On Trump, on spiteful, embittered Republicans and on the right-wing media, which would rather kill off its own viewers than give a Democratic president a legitimate win.


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