Claire Bond Potter

Why I can't wait to see John Fetterman in the Senate

John Fetterman is a gigantic, progressive Democrat in a hoodie, tattoos, and cargo shorts. Currently the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, he hopes to replace Republican Pat Toomey in the United States Senate in November. Toomey is retiring, and with Donald Trump’s blessing, Pennsylvania Republicans made their lives far more difficult at the end of May by choosing the wrong candidate: they spurned former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick, who might have picked up independents in this generally moderate state, in favor of TV doctor Mehmet Oz.

You probably know about all the baggage that Oz brought into the race. A skilled cardiologist at one point in his life, he turned his back on medicine to become a talk show host, wellness guru, and shill for the diet and supplements industry. Want to sleep better? Oz can sell you a $2,500 mattress for that, as well as sheets, pillows, weighted blankets and everything else that will guarantee a good night’s sleep.

Republicans literally have nothing to say for themselves, having actually done nothing of any real moment since George W. Bush left office. Following Donald Trump’s lead, the party’s comms are relentlessly dark, mean, critical and often cruel.

OK, if you have ever suffered from a sleep disorder, you know that’s a lie. But there’s more — perhaps you are feeling fat? Maybe you should consider System Oz, a wellness, intermittent fasting and exercise program that will help you lose weight in an amazingly short time. It will cause you to need a great many dietary supplements from Dr. Oz’s business partnership with iHerb. Want to be young? Beautiful? Have whiter teeth? Less Alzheimer’s?

READ MORE: Mehmet Oz's campaign blames John Fetterman's stroke on his diet

Oz has you covered.

There will be more supplements involved. Lots more.

Oz’s financial disclosure pegs his fortune between $75 and $300 million.

So, Mehmet Oz knows supplements. What he doesn’t know much about is politics, campaigning or governing. He’s one of the mini-Trumps running around the country — JD Vance in Ohio, Blake Masters in Arizona — whose sole qualification for office is that he is rich.

READ MORE: How Mehmet Oz is scrambling to save his 'floundering' campaign: report

Bizarrely, the poor, non-college-educated, working-class white people who identify as MAGA Republicans seem to love voting for people who are insanely rich and who know nothing about government.

Due in part to the horrible campaign Oz has run, Fetterman currently has a comfortable, nine-point lead, according to Despite the fact that he was felled several months ago with a heart attack and a stroke, had to come off the campaign trail, and is only now re-emerging on a limited schedule, Fetterman’s lead has shrunk a bit in recent weeks, but not much. Why?

Here is the answer you will not hear from any other pundit.

His comms — politico-speak for “communications” — are so funny.

Fetterman’s style is a breath of fresh air in a line of work that seems to attract every Gloomy Gus in America, not to mention every Ivy League graduate who wants to tell you that your life is no longer worth living because Joe Biden is president. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Ted Cruz.)

For the last five years, the GOP has made every day on social media into some kind of funeral. Republicans literally have nothing to say for themselves, having actually done nothing of any real moment since George W. Bush left office. Following Donald Trump’s lead, the party’s comms are relentlessly dark, mean, critical and often cruel.

Take five recent tweets issued from the Republican Party’s official Twitter account, @GOP:

  • On foreign policy: “One year ago today, 13 American HEROES were killed in Afghanistan.”
  • On student debt relief: “Typical Biden White House: more spending, no saying who will pay for it.”
  • On immigration: “Joe Biden has been on vacation 95 days just this year and still hasn’t made time to visit the southern border.”
  • On back-to-school: “It’s back-to-school season, and Democrats are bringing back their anti-science mandates.”

I corrected the punctuation where necessary, but you get the point. Republicans never say anything nice about anybody—even their own voters. And Mehmet Oz has followed suit.

In a recent tweet, he painted a bleak picture of life in Pennsylvania: “Record homicides. Murderers released onto the streets. The progressive policies of the Biden-Fetterman agenda have caused chaos in the streets and left law-abiding citizens terrified. It’s time to return law and order to our cities — I will do just that.”

The Biden-Fetterman agenda? Really?

And how about this: “I believe in individualism, John Fetterman believes in collectivism.”

In perhaps the nastiest attack I have seen, much less from a physician, Oz snapped that if Fetterman “had ever eaten a vegetable in his life,” he wouldn’t have had a stroke.

We will return to the vegetable theme in a minute. But the Fetterman response was pitch-perfect, speaking directly to Pennsylvanians about a condition that someone in nearly everyone’s family has had — and often made a full recovery from.

“I had a stroke. I survived it,” Fetterman tweeted. “I’m truly so grateful to still be here today. I know politics can be nasty, but even then, I could never imagine ridiculing someone for their health challenges.”

Oz is running one of the worst campaigns I have ever seen. He is an excellent argument for getting money out of politics, since had he not loaned the campaign upwards of $8 million of his own money, he would never have gotten this far.

But he also does stupid things.

Recently, Oz released an ad about inflation, in which he cruised the vegetable aisle in “Wegners” (no, it’s Wegman’s) looking for ingredients for his wife’s “crudités platter,” something the MAGA base can totally relate to, and purchasing salsa to dip the vegetables in, which no one in Pennsylvania would ever do (chips, duh!)

Fetterman responded with a video in which he held up a $7.95 pre-packaged collection of sliced vegetables and dip, and shrugged: “In PA, we call this a veggie tray! If this looks like anything but a veggie tray to you, then I am not your candidate. And I’m serious, Dr. Oz doesn’t even know the name of the grocery store that he’s in!”

Hence Oz’s grumpy jab about Fetterman not eating vegetables.

Undeterred, the Fetterman campaign is continuing to own the vegetable theme and having fun with it. Last weekend, a pair of canvassers went out dressed as broccoli. As you can see, one is carrying a sign that says: “I’m afraid Dr. Oz will dip me in salsa.”

Fun, right? This is what I want to emphasize.

Fetterman is introducing a new kind of campaign, producing ads that are effective because they are less negative than they are funny, human and often kind. We have gone for years watching perfectly nice Democrats scraping their jaws off the floor as Republicans lie, barrage them with insults and insist that Americans live in a crumbling country.

But Fetterman meets the MAGA challenge, countering GOP foolishness with humorous trolling. For example, having a plane drag a banner down the Jersey shore on a hot weekend, welcoming Oz back to the state.

Yes, although Oz has some history in Pennsylvania, he has lived in New Jersey (it is one of his 10 homes, none of which are in Pennsylvania) for decades. When he decided to run for Senate, Oz re-registered to vote from his in-laws’ address in Bryn Athyn, a wealthy suburb outside of Philadelphia. This has provided rich fodder for the campaign.

Hence, my favorite Fetterman trolls are about Oz’s home in New Jersey. For example, Fetterman has started a petition to get the good doctor into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, intended to honor residents of the Garden State for their accomplishments. Oz was a presenter at the 2019 inductions, saying proudly when interviewed, “I’m from New Jersey.” The Fetterman campaign has circulated this video, too.

Better yet, two working-class kids from New Jersey who made good, Bruce Springsteen sideman Stevie van Zandt and “Snookie” of Jersey Shore fame, have filmed videos emphasizing Oz’s ties to the Garden State. “You do not wanna mess around with John Fetterman,” Van Zandt warns. “Trust me. He’s a little outta your league. Nobody wants to see you get embarrassed. So come on back to Jersey where you belong.”

The beauty of these ads is that they call Oz a carpetbagger without calling him a carpetbagger.

“I heard you moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to look for a new job,” Snookie says in her high, nasal whine. “Personally, I don’t know why anyone would wanna leave Jersey, `cause it’s like the best place ever, and we’re all hot messes … but I just wanna let you know, Jersey will not forget you.”

The Fetterman campaign has learned something important about how to get ordinary people re-involved in politics: Entertain them. Don’t attack, don’t be cruel — just get your message across in a way that is funny and real.

I just can’t wait to see this guy in the Senate.

READ MORE: 'A massive gaffe': Mehmet Oz scrutinized for saying abortion is 'still murder’ at any pregnancy stage

The 'lost' Secret Service texts are part of Donald Trump’s rolling coup

On January 6, 2021, armed MAGA supporters swarmed the US Capitol in a bid to stop the electoral count that would transfer the presidency to Joe Biden. Secret Service agents, who were detailed to protect Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, stayed in touch with each other, and with their supervisors, by cell phone.

Like everyone else that day, they were sending text messages.

But as with so many government documents generated by the Trump administration, the public – and the House select committee to investigate the J6 insurrection – will probably never see them.

READ MORE: New analysis breaks down Mitch McConnell’s strategic erosion of U.S. democracy

Joseph Cuffari, the Trump-appointed Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the Secret Service, doesn’t want to talk about those missing text messages.

On January 27, 2021, Congress told all departments to preserve their records. When subordinates at DHS reported to Cuffari’s chief of staff in April, 2022 – 15 months after a search was initiated – to say that the texts had been permanently deleted in a data migration, that memo was never seen again. Congress was finally informed by a July 14 report saying that these documents may be permanently lost.

Was it a coincidence?

Of course, we cannot know what these texts would or would not add to our understanding of a former president’s rolling coup attempt.

READ MORE: 'Fire to burn': Criminologist warns Trump supporters could react violently if he is indicted

But it isn’t hard to imagine that an even marginally competent IT professional would have routinely backed up devices prior to such a migration. Nor is it too much to expect that the loss of these texts should have been reported, particularly since multiple House committees issued directives for the preservation on January 16, 2021 – eleven days before the alleged data migration took place.

Why? Because records requests now routinely include phone data. These devices report not only what we communicate, but when, and from where, those communications were sent. Digital communications provide a dense, real-time record. And computerized devices don’t do things by accident, or without warning. Permanently deleting such evidence requires either extreme premeditation or extreme negligence.

Text messages speak to witnesses’ state of mind, and decisions made in the moment. Think of the ones we do have: panicked texts from MAGA pundits like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, or the numerous Facebook posts by Stop the Steal activists, have helped tell a vivid story about January 6 that are seared in our memories.

On July 21, we learned the poignant fact that Pence’s Secret Service detail, trapped and hearing the crowd’s chanted death threats, used their cell phones to call their loved ones to say goodbye.

The missing Secret Service texts were important historical documents, but they might also corroborate testimony by Trump and Pence aides about what their bosses did, and said, on J6.

Curiously, however, the data migration that reportedly erased the Secret Service texts from that day occurred on January 27, 2021, two days after the House of Representatives forwarded articles of impeachment to the Senate, accusing the former president of inciting the attack on the Capitol, and one day after Trump was issued a summons notifying him to prepare for trial.

A coincidence? You decide.

Incompetence or malice?

But let’s be clear: Cuffari’s first move on J6, even without a request from Congress, should have been preserving the records of all DHS personnel on duty at the Ellipse, the Capitol and the Oval Office.

There were 24 Secret Service agents engaged that day, 10 guarding then-President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Their phones should have been secured as soon as they went off duty. Although the messages they held might have also documented these agents’ valor, Cuffari’s job is to anticipate problems and mistakes.

Inspectors general are supposed to proactively investigate for failure, sometimes identifying a conflict of interest before a legal violation has occurred. That’s why they are nicknamed “watchdogs.”

Instead, Cuffari has been Trump’s fox and DHS his hen house.

He had already refused staff recommendations to investigate potentially improper conduct by the Secret Service and the Border Patrol, in 2021. So the Counsel of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, an interagency group that oversees inspectors general, launched an investigation into Cuffari’s unwillingness to do his job. On August 12, Republican senators, led by Missouri’s Josh Hawley, announced that they want that investigation to end.

This points us to a much larger pattern in Trump nominees, from Cabinet-level to administrative jobs: filling important positions with candidates whose history suggested they would dismantle, or disable, the government agency they were appointed to run.

For example, after almost 30 years of enhanced federal intervention in education, a Republican-led Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos, a longtime proponent of defunding public schools through voucher programs, as the secretary of education.

Health and Human Services Secretaries Tom Price and Alex Azar, both of whom became the focus of unrelated scandals, were tasked with reducing government-funded healthcare by weakening administrative provisions of Obamacare.

Surgeon and former presidential candidate Ben Carson retracted Obama-era policies designed to help poor renters and that required suburban districts to track enforcement of racial equity in housing.

Of course, hyper-partisanship at the top is partially offset by nonpartisan civil service employees, tens of thousands of workers, protected by federal law, that remain in place regardless of the party in power.

Yet Republicans have a plan for them too: Should Trump be reelected in 2024, he will come in armed with a plan, which he implemented in late 2020 and Joe Biden rescinded, to target 50,000 civil service workers for dismissal and replacement with party loyalists.

The fight goes on

It would be a mistake to think that Donald Trump’s power grab has been fully defeated, or that the story of the missing Secret Service text messages is only about one Trump partisan’s misplaced loyalty to a defeated president. Cuffari’s refusal to do his job is yet another chapter in the attack on the foundation of our democratic state.

The coup is not over.

READ MORE: 'A pattern of conduct to destroy federal record': CREW urges DOJ to probe missing Jan. 6 texts

The pandemic didn't break our schools — it exposed the crisis they're already in

There is no question that American public schools are in crisis. But critical race theory, diversity initiatives, subversive books and online learning implemented during the pandemic are only the most recent chapters of the story in which politicians speak the language of school reform while draining actual schools of needed funding.

Instead, state and local governments rely on the private sector to address the changing needs of students. Charter schools, high stakes tests, surveillance and rote curriculum devised by consultants divert public funds to private entities. And the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives that have become so controversial in the past six months? Even they are provided by for-profit consultants.

Since none of these developments are reforms, it’s no wonder our schools folded like a house of cards when faced with a pandemic. I often wonder: what would a real reformer, like John Dewey, think?

A philosopher trained at the Johns Hopkins University, Dewey believed schools were the foundation of democracy. At a time when secondary schools featured rows of unmovable desks, and classrooms were dominated by rote memorization, Dewey proposed the radical idea of learn by doing. Reasoning, making choices and experiencing the world as it is prepared students, he said, for a modern, democratic society.

READ: Joe Manchin lashes out with profanity at a reporter who asks about his position on Biden's agenda

This influential turn-of-the-century scholar founded the University of Chicago Lab School to test his theories and, in 1919, my own university, The New School in New York City. Dewey believed that a school was a model community, where students and teachers cooperated in the learning process. The function of school was not to turn out students as quality products, but to cultivate individual creativity and, most importantly, incubate citizens capable of life-long learning.

While Dewey’s ideas were implemented in their most literal form in private, progressive schools, over time they had an impact on public education as well. Whenever students complete a chosen research project, go on a field trip or reorganize moveable desks into small groups to thrash out a problem, it’s an idea derived from Dewey.

But there is less and less room for students to learn by doing, and more pressure for teachers and students to consume rigid curricula that prepare them for standardized tests. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the charter school movement that began in the 1970s, and that was first enacted into state law as educational alternatives in 1991, promoted charter schools as more accountable than mainstream public schools, something that could only be gauged by tests.

The idea that private entities could provide a public service cheaper, and more efficiently, than the government (a theory otherwise known as “neoliberalism”) had a particular impact on schools in the late 20th century, as Republicans and Democrats both bemoaned the decline of public schools and refused to tax Americans to fund them properly.

READ: Mark Meadows is having a really bad week — and Trump's is even worse

Instead, school reform came to mean demanding accountability: from students, parents, teachers and principals. Pedagogies that emphasize discipline, mandatory curricula and grading resurged powerfully after Congress passed George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” legislation in 2002, which threatened to (and did) close “underperforming” schools.

While most public charter schools showed little improvement, others like New York’s Success Academy, prided themselves on imposing rigorous discipline on both students and parents, pointing to their high test scores as proof that regimented classrooms work.

But regimented classrooms are not democratic: they teach children to take orders, not think for themselves. And as we learned during the pandemic, regimentation does not prepare students to learn on their own, nor does rote learning thrive in an online learning environment in which students must be motivated to succeed. Despite the fact that public secondary schools doubled down on rigid rules, requiring students to adhere to school dress codes, sit up straight and show a neat, utilitarian workspace – student performance steadily declined.

Worse, schools couldn’t replicate community in a virtual environment. While substance abuse among teens dropped in 2021, depression and anxiety accelerated as students experienced school without any moderating influence from teachers or friends. The National Institute of Health (NIH) measures average learning loss from school closures at 20 percent, but that number rises to 60 percent among the most disadvantaged students. Up to 3 million students simply vanished.

READ: Is America experiencing mass psychosis?

At a time when students need good teachers more than ever, they are in short supply. A pre-pandemic shortage, fueled by low pay that pushes one in six teachers to hold a second job, is intensifying. Two out of every three Colorado teachers are contemplating a new career, and Minnesota is reaching out to retirees.

And it’s not just the pay and the working conditions. Teachers often don’t have tools allowing them to do their jobs. Stories about teachers purchasing supplies for their students that school systems won’t, or can’t, budget for were back in the news this week when a video featuring eight South Dakota teachers scrambling for cash in a hockey arena, money intended to supplement classroom budgets, went viral.

The pandemic did not cause our school systems to break. It exposed the fact that schools’ fragile capacity to support students has declined. Not surprisingly, so have their buildings, a factor that has inhibited a full-scale return in many places. In 2020, the Brookings Institution reported 36,000 schools were in need of new heating, ventilation and HVAC systems. Over half of American schools needed approximately $197 billion in upgrades to return them to a good condition.

To be sure, the pandemic has been a sucker-punch to education at all levels. But culture-war issues, which occupy hours of broadcast time on cable news and endless social media outrage, only hide what is really wrong with our schools: long-term managed decline and disinvestment. But they do distract voters from policymakers’ repeated failures to reimagine curriculum, invest in infrastructure and create incentives to recruit and retain talented teachers.

READ: Noam Chomsky, AOC slam the failures of ‘neoliberal’ economics during their first meeting

As John Dewey would remind us, that’s a problem for democracy too.

What the media is getting wrong about the centerpiece of Biden's agenda

Last week's election results, which showed modest Republican gains across the nation, set off alarm bells in America's pundit class about the power of progressives in the Democratic party.

Democrats promised change, the Times contrarian Maureen Dowd complained, and instead offered "wokeness" and infighting. Bloomberg's Ramesh Ponnuru warned that even though the Virginia governor's race normally means nothing, former Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe's loss was a "portent" and "bad news" for the national party as it moved forward on a human infrastructure package.

Why? As the editorial board of the New York Times warned, with Joe Biden's $1.75 trillion Build Back Better framework, Democrats were moving too far to the left. "The concerns of more centrist Americans about a rush to spend taxpayer money, a rush to grow the government," the Times wrote, "should not be dismissed."

Indeed, a recent Gallup poll argues that 52 percent of Americans prefer a smaller government, up an alarming 11 percent since last year. But does this mean Biden should scale back his aspirations?


It means Americans are radically underinformed.

In every industrialized country but the United States, government programs perform an essentially moderate task. By supporting workers, they support business. They create vital economies that support well-paying jobs. They keep workers healthy, and vulnerable family members safe. They lower tuitions, train workers so that employers don't have to, and make it possible for students to pay back modest loans at affordable rates.

And best of all — if you are one of those centrists — government programs keep people at work. There is no more graphic example of how the United States has failed at this than the number of healthy Americans who cannot, or will not, return to their jobs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of mid-October, 10.4 million jobs are unfilled. More than 1 million of those workers are mothers who cannot find, or afford, childcare. Some missing workers — 80,000 truck drivers, for example — mean American consumers face shortages of everything from paper towels to covid tests as container ships bob offshore. And prior to the pandemic, school districts in the United States were already short 110,000 teachers.

So how would Build Back Better make American business stronger?

Republicans, and some centrist Democratic senators, such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, argue it won't. Government "giveaways," we are told, will only make Americans dependent and cripple the economy with higher taxes.

Manchin complains the US will move "toward an entitlement mentality" if Americans who can care for themselves without government help don't. And Sinema, who has raised almost $1 million in donations from lobbying groups, has given a thumbs down to higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, making Build Back Better even harder for deficit hawks in the Democratic Party.

But it isn't clear what Republicans know that conservatives in other countries don't. The United States is the only industrialized country that does not offer paid family leave, and universal childcare, healthcare, and eldercare. In the United States, not only new parents, but sick and injured workers, are back on the job long before they are ready and able to work. And those who can't pay someone to care for family members have to cut back on consumption: experts estimate that American business may be leaving $28.5 billion a year on the table when families re-budget to account for a lost salary.

There is no question that all these policies are moderate because they benefit business. They keep families consuming, and they bring valued workers back on the job rested, healthy and focused. Similarly, knowing that elders and children are well cared for, at an affordable cost, means that families can plan for the big items that drive a healthy economy: houses, cars and appliances, and the thousands of skilled jobs the market in durable goods support.

But perhaps the biggest categories of government spending that could drive the United States economy are healthcare and education. These economic categories are not only a leading cause of national consumer indebtedness, but also of corporate spending. The cost of college doubles every nine years, and medical debt is currently pegged at $140 billion. Worse, healthcare costs are expected to rise almost 6 percent through 2028, well above the projected GDP of 4.3 percent.

Why is this bad for business? Because the employers who offer healthcare coverage for over 23 million American workers spent almost $14,000 per employee in 2020. That's over $3.2 trillion.

That number is only slightly less than President Biden requested to pay for a capacious package of universal programs, a number that has been whittled down to half that amount. And corporations spend billions more to administer these programs.

Last Friday, the House finally passed the $1.2 trillion hard infrastructure framework: it had yes votes from Manchin, Sinema — and even Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney, 17 other conservative senators and 13 House Republicans. Why?

Because it was bold in its scope but moderate in its vision. Businesses know they can't compete in a global economy without modern transportation, roads, technology and data security, and that only federal spending and coordination makes national projects possible.

Human infrastructure — healthcare, eldercare, childcare, education and family stability — is also good for business.

It's not progressive. It's just common sense.

Why politicians dawdle when it comes to regulating Facebook

When 37-year-old Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before Congress on October 5, she brought thousands of stolen documents with her. They are the most conclusive evidence yet that the top social media company knows it profits from harming the public.

Like many whistleblowers, Haugen — a member of the civic integrity team — took an exciting job only to be implicated in what she believes to be an ethical catastrophe. Much has been made of her statement on "60 Minutes" that teenage girls who use Facebook are more likely to suffer from depression and self-harm. Endangering children rightly grabs the public's sympathy and concern.

But what about the consequences to democracy? Haugen is the latest expert to directly implicate Facebook in the tsunami of disinformation that was instrumental to Donald Trump's victory in 2016 and, more recently, his attempts to overturn the 2020 election. Yet, shortly after November 3, as the political crisis that would culminate in the January 6 insurrection was building, Facebook dissolved the civic integrity team.

Six months later, a third of American voters still believed that Donald Trump won the election. Facebook has been implicated, not just in the spread of global illiberalism, but in gun violence, youth suicide, genocide and a contemporary contagion of conspiracy theories. And, except for listening to Haugen's testimony, Congress has done nothing.


Although the right fulminates about censorship, and the left about Facebook's monopolistic practices, neither Republicans or Democrats seem content to let the company — which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram — regulate itself. Yet Haugen has revealed little that we, and presumably, Congress, did not know about Facebook already.

Since 2018, media experts like Jaron Lanier and Siva Vaidyanathan have explained that Facebook promotes dark and destructive content because it is "sticky," keeping users on the platform for longer sessions that reap greater profits for the company. In their 2021 book An Ugly Truth, Times reporters Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, using interviews with anonymous and named sources, recounted Haugen's charges in detail.

To understand why the political class does nothing, one could start with Federal Election Commission filings: Facebook employees donated almost $20 million to political campaigns in the 2020 cycle alone. While over 80 percent of that went to Democrats (Joe Biden was the top draw at over $1.5 million), Republicans got their share too. Facebook's PAC, the company's official political donor arm, consistently donates more money to Republicans than Democrats.

But there is, I suspect, something larger in play than money.

Facebook and other forms of digital marketing that would inevitably be affected by regulating Facebook have transformed politics. It was Republican John McCain who mounted a brief, but robust, challenge to the powerful Bush money machine in 2000 by engaging voters live on a website with rudimentary video technology. In 2004, the almost unknown Howard Dean became a contender for the Democratic nomination by raising hundreds of millions in small donations in a few months, connecting to voters on blogs and organizing supporters in states other candidates didn't visit on

And in 2008, Facebook entered national politics through the back door. Co-founder Chris Hughes took a leave from the company to organize digital marketing for Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. Following his victory, the right took notice: in 2010, the Tea Party movement mobilized almost exclusively on Facebook to fight the Affordable Care Act, endorsing 129 Republican candidates for the House and nine for the Senate. A third of those candidates won, delivering the House of Representatives into the hands of a Republican majority also stripped of many moderate incumbents.

In a short 20 years, it has become possible for "outsiders" who represent the most energetic factions in both parties to succeed, and career politicians in both parties to fundraise as if they were outsiders. Facebook is the linchpin of a digital universe where it is always election season.

What would political campaigns even look like if social media platforms were, for example, uniformly restrained by standards of truth, restrictions on emotional content and algorithms, or the collection and sale of user data? How would the myriad small donations that power all campaigns, but particularly insurgent progressive and right-wing candidates, be collected? What new methods could mobilize grassroots supporters to demand, or refuse, change?

In a world where only 25 percent of twenty-somethings watch the news — but 70 percent of adults use Facebook — how would politics even happen if social media's reach was blunted?

Since Donald Trump was kicked off Facebook and Twitter, conservatives have complained the loudest about Big Tech's power. But the truth is politicians are not just facing questions about regulation, public health and civic disorder when they confront Facebook's unethical behavior. They are facing questions about a political environment that has been transformed by the internet.

And they are facing ugly truths about themselves.

The Republican Party overplayed its hand in Texas

The Texas Heartbeat Act (SB 8), which went into effect on September 1 when the conservative majority on the United States Supreme Court declined to review it, packs a big political punch.

The law is rife with misinformation. A fetus, for example, has no heartbeat at six weeks. It has no heart. The law ignores the fact many women are unaware they are pregnant at six weeks. It is also designed to sap the morale of progressives, who have collectively spent half a century of time and treasure defending reproductive rights.

But SB 8 is also a calculated political move. Determined Democratic organizing, millions of new voters and explosive urban growth in its increasingly cosmopolitan cities has made Texas a wobbly brick in the GOP's southern wall. Governor Greg Abbott's Trumpian refusal to take sensible public health measures against covid create a opening for Texas Democrats to make new gains in 2022.

To Republicans nationwide, of course, the law demonstrates that the GOP, now mobilized almost exclusively by zombie Reaganism and culture wars, has the power to deliver a policy, one that has been at the center of the New Right's agenda since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. It may even reassure Trump supporters smarting from 2020 that, by seizing the Supreme Court, the party won after all.

But Texas may also have overplayed its hand.

As the Pew Research Center noted in May 2021, public support for legal abortion remains high. Today, 59 percent of Americans support the procedure in "all or most cases," and 39 percent do not. But unlike other issues, those numbers are not fully defined by political party affiliation: 22 percent of conservative Republicans, and a whopping 59 percent of moderate Republicans believe in reproductive freedom.

SB 8 and the threat it poses to reproductive rights in other states is, in other words, a gamble for a party that, in 2020, lost the women's vote by 13 points, the Black vote by 65 points and the Hispanic vote by 33 points. And the 18-40 demographic, people of childbearing age who represent 40 percent of the national electorate? The Republican Party lost those voters by a combined 40 points.

The Texas legislature may cynically imagine women of means will access the procedure, and vote as they always have. Poor women who cannot get a legal abortion, targeted by the voter suppression bill Abbott signed on September 7, won't be voting in the fall. Right?


This isn't 1977 when — against the wishes of feminist allies — Democrat Jimmy Carter signed the Hyde Amendment, banning the use of federal dollars for abortion. Since then, poor women have given birth to unplanned children at a higher rate than middle class and wealthy women. Democrats went on the defense, trying and failing to serve the need for abortion through private philanthropy. Politically, Democrats, presumed that abortion could be preserved by retaining the Supreme Court's liberal majority. And the strategy that evolved out of this was to fight for the presidency, not the country.

But today's Democratic party — the president, the House Majority and its razor-thin Senate voting majority — is united in the belief that universal health care is a human right. Democrats believe that abortion is a personal, not a political, decision, and a keystone of reproductive health. This includes fighting for accessible clinics (Planned Parenthood is a leading provider for men's sexual health services); sex education; contraception; and the maternal care that produces healthy, planned births.

It's also an overstatement to say money solves the abortion problem. True, in the pre-Roe years, women of means could access a "therapeutic" abortion if a sympathetic doctor was willing to fudge the paperwork. But Republicans might be shocked to know how many older women in their party vividly recall the shame and isolation of an accidental pregnancy, the trip to a dodgy abortionist; and being spirited away from high school to deliver a baby they never saw again.

SB 8 will have real-life consequences for real-life women, regardless of party or class. Within hours of it taking effect, many were flocking to neighboring states. That this makes access unequal is part of what activates the reproductive rights movement. "Traveling for an abortion may be impossible for women who would struggle to find childcare or take time off work," a Houston reporter explained. "And for those without legal US status along Texas' southern border, traveling to an abortion clinic also entails the risk of getting stopped at a checkpoint."

But because of this glaring inequality, the new abortion fight will mobilize a Democratic party that has not foregrounded social policies so dramatically since 1965 to win in 2022.

Furthermore, this new fight for reproductive rights will activate the same voters that the GOP is working to silence. It will not just draw on feminists who have fought this fight for over 50 years. It will draw on woman of color mobilizations that the Roe generation only dreamed of: activists mobilizing against anti-Asian hate crimes, #Fightfor15 organizers, the Movement for Black Lives, immigration activists, and grassroots LGBTQ groups who understand the links between abortion and legislation that targets them.

Finally, the law is also a sign of how rudderless, and desperate, the GOP has become. While SB 8 will please the base, it will bring the intensity of a presidential election to the 2022 midterms — not just in Texas, but everywhere there is a Senate or a House seat in play.

There's an important political lesson in the Surfside condo collapse disaster

A little after midnight on June 24, Champlain Towers South, a condominium in Surfside, Florida, started talking. Tremors, creaks and two booms alerted a few residents to grab their wallets and run. Eleven days later, although officials hope for survivors, there aren't any. Aided by a controlled demolition of what remained, 28 corpses have been found. One hundred and seventeen people are still missing.

It's a tragedy that will transcend partisanship. But should it transcend politics? At National Review, senior writer Charles CW Cooke said yes: "What of our ongoing debates about the merits of our two political parties, or our fights over infrastructure or regulation?" he fumed. "Doesn't this incident fit in there? No, it does not."

Nonsense. Of course this disaster is political and ideological, because it is a story about government neglect. By holding builders, inspectors, real-estate agents, bankers and condo boards to high ethical and legal standards, governments protect our lives.

Yet for decades conservative public officials have insisted that individuals make better decisions than the government. Public regulation, they say, is bad for business. And where conservatives cannot deregulate in civil society, they simply do not enforce.

According to investigative reports, it turns out that the town of Surfside, and Miami-Dade County, both failed to inquire and failed to act, allowing Champlain Towers South, and its condo board, to not reckon with the building's obvious deterioration.

Much had been made of natural corrosion of buildings from salt water. But were flaws in the foundation overlooked by Miami building inspectors paid to look the other way? Why was a private inspector's 2018 warning about corroded re-bar, pooling water and cracked concrete not acted on? And why was it submitted only to the town, and not the county, as required by law? Why did Surfside Building Official Ross Prieto assure the condo board, elected residents at odds over a $15 million assessment, that the building was "in very good shape" and that they could delay much-needed repairs?

The tragedy of Champlain Towers South is only the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of a corrupt Miami real-estate industry, supercharged by international money laundering since the 1970s. By 2016, over 50 percent of Miami real-estate deals were cash purchases. The new owners were shell companies created by Florida law firms that shielded the identities of overseas clients—often politicians associated with corrupt regimes, like that of Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro—stealing public money.

When the point of land and real-estate development is to make dirty money clean, shortcuts, sloppy inspections, building code evasions and payoffs are sure to follow. And a range of people who are licensed and regulated by the state of Florida—lawyers, bankers, real-estate agents and construction companies—are implicated.

This, too, is politics. Over time, officials from both parties have been involved. And yet, partisanship may also be playing a role. Increasingly, Democrats are committed to investing in the public, Republicans are not, and Republicans are in charge in Florida. Although Miami has a Democratic mayor, Miami-Dade County itself has become increasingly conservative. This accelerated after 2016, resulting in Donald J. Trump winning a county that had been reliably Democratic for generations—and the state.

Florida's political leadership—its governor, its legislature, its senators, and over two-thirds of its representatives—has cohered around core conservative principles, like low taxes (which make it hard to fund necessary projects) and deregulation of business.

And they act on it. In January 2019, when 28 residents of Champlain Towers South had 18 months to live, Republican governor and potential 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis announced a "deregathon," calling on the state's 23 professional licensing boards to do even less to protect the public interest than they were doing already.

While DeSantis has not denied global warming like his predecessor, Republican Rick Scott, he dawdles and prevaricates. Labeling climate-change policies a "leftist agenda," he refuses to promote a climate policy that requires taxation and public spending—all a ball-and-chain in the party of the former president. "I am not a global warming person," Rick Scott told reporters in 2018. "I don't want that label on me."

Miami now suffers "sunny day floods" in which rising seas push up through porous land where aquifers have run dry, rotting buildings from below. This makes it likely that more luxury oceanfront condos are in as precarious shape as Champlain Towers South was prior to its collapse. One North Miami Beach condo tower was evacuated last week over safety concerns. And it's hard to imagine there aren't more.

The tragedy at Champlain Towers South shouldn't be partisan football. But there is a lesson about politics in this tragedy, and it is this: Individuals do not make the best decisions for themselves. They make self-interested ones. Government is there to make the hard political decisions that individuals cannot, or will not, make on their own.

Politics is how we, as a people, make good on a social commitment to care for each other. Because it wasn't just re-bar and concrete that failed in Champlain Towers South: those tremors, creaks and booms were the sound of Florida politics breaking.

A scandal at Yale exposes a major gap in sexual harassment law

Yale law professors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, who are married to each other, are in the news. Again. It's not because of an important book or a pro bono constitutional law case. As the Timesput it, it's their "boundary-pushing behavior" with students.

Everyone loves a good scandal about good-looking, influential and wealthy people. And since we are also in a political moment during which exposing college faculty as phonies is in vogue, it's no surprise this colorful pair is getting negative press.

The couple was unknown outside of scholarly circles before Chua wrote a best-selling book in 2011, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. A memoir about perfectionist helicopter parenting verging on self-parody, Chua's success pushed her husband and two daughters to the front page. There they stayed. But then things took a dark turn.

Chua defended Yale grad Brett Kavanaugh as a "mentor to women" during Supreme Court hearings marred by sexual harassment allegations. Then the accusations about Chua and Rubenfeld's behavior toward students became public. In August 2020, Rubenfeld was suspended for two years after a sexual harassment investigation. Chua was barred from socializing with students. The couple denies some of the allegations while other allegations, they say, have been misunderstood and misreported. But this week, Chua is again under scrutiny due to accusations she broke her agreement.

Recent investigative reporting on Chua and Rubenfeld reveals every element that a juicy higher-education scandal requires. A power couple, known to student critics as "Chubenfeld," holds court in a lavish home. There are allegations of boozy dinner parties, sexual harassment and favorites pushed for coveted Supreme Court clerkships. Students spy on each other to get more ammunition against other law professors.

But this is more than a delicious celebrity-faculty scandal. It's about the role that discrimination and harassment, the stepchildren of Title IX, a federal gender equity and inclusion law passed in 1972, are playing right now on elite university campuses.

The complaints against Chua and Rubenfeld do not all claim discrimination and harassment. But connecting the dots between those that do, and other behaviors that are simply noxious and unwelcome, reveals a world that Title IX made. And it also reveals a major problem in higher education. There's no consensus about where sexual harassment begins and ends or even why it affects equity and inclusion on campus.

This is why Title IX should be revised to make its governance over sexual harassment explicit as well as to define what sexual harassment is, and by implication, is not.

Currently, the words sexual harassment do not appear in Title IX at all. The law was initially conceived as an amendment to crucial civil rights bills passed in the 1960s. Written by Congresswoman Patsy Mink and Senator Birch Bayh, it was intended to close gaps in existing law. The 1964 Civil Rights Act did not cover education. The Higher Education Act of 1965 did not specify gender as a protected category.

Equity in secondary school and colleges would, Mink and Bayh argued, determine whether women could compete with men for the opportunity education provided. The language is simple: "No person in the United States shall, based on sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

Initially, the law targeted overt discrimination against women. It also addressed covert spending priorities—such as school athletics, which could be converted into college scholarships—that produced discriminatory educational outcomes for women.

Sexual harassment, a term that was just beginning to circulate in feminist circles, was not one of the problems Title IX addressed. These cases were understood primarily as employment problems and litigated under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

But in 1980, Yale law professor Catharine MacKinnon, who had popularized the term "sexual harassment" in a ground-breaking 1979 book, changed that. She employed the novel argument that Yale, faced with multiple sexual harassment claims, had a duty under Title IX to provide an institutional remedy. In part, this was to provide redress. But Yale also, MacKinnon argued, had a duty to address the needs of female faculty who were functioning as an unpaid, informal counseling staff to traumatized women.

Though dismissed, Alexander v. Yale established the principle that sexual harassment could be litigated under Title IX. It is now common that in any educational setting receiving federal funds, unwanted sexual attention is prohibited as discriminatory.

So are behaviors that can lead to, or follow from, sexual harassment, like preferential treatment, unsolicited personal comments and social intimacy linked to the workplace. But in the absence of actual sexual harassment, should they be?

There seems to be little evidence that Chua, however noxious and unwanted her behavior, has set the stage for behavior Rubenfeld is accused of. Nor is there evidence that students have been denied opportunities because they refused to tolerate them.

Some students defend Chua. Some students of color note she's the only woman of Asian descent on the faculty and a vital mentor. Others are clearly uncomfortable with and angered by her behavior. They have a right to say so and to ask for change. But do Chua's social intimacies and favoritism rise to a level of university discipline?

In the world Title IX has made, yes. But they aren't Title IX violations, nor does Yale say as much. So on what grounds can she be punished? Title IX needs to be clearly revised to make this point. It doesn't seem to be protecting anyone's rights at Yale.

Here's what Liz Cheney is really aiming for

United States Representative Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, must be banking on the notion that much can happen between now and 2022, and even more by 2024. Why else would she have gone out of her way last week to fist-bump President Joe Biden at the joint-session of Congress, an image that will return to haunt her in a Wyoming primary, where former president Donald Trump is working to defeat her?

Although Cheney says she can win that primary, in 2022, the numbers currently say no. "She wanted to be speaker," a conservative political consultant told me today. "And it's all going up in flames." But could Cheney be setting her sights higher than that?

The daughter of Dick Cheney has refused the conspiracies that fueled the Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021. She has taken a lonely and tough stance against Trump's position as either the GOP's king or its kingmaker. Despite being censured by the Wyoming GOP after the House impeached Trump, she won't repudiate that vote.

The fist bump sent another message. Liz Cheney is an old-school Republican who has clear differences with Democrats but a shared commitment to the democratic process. Given every opportunity to repair her relationships with Trump loyalists, Cheney has doubled down on a simple truth: Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.

Cheney retaliated after Trump said on Gab that, "The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!" Six out of 10 Republicans agree, but not Cheney. "Anyone who claims it was is spreading the BIG LIE," she tweeted, "turning their back on the rule of law and poisoning our democratic system."

Later that same day, at an American Enterprise Institute event, Cheney repeated herself. Support for the election conspiracy theory was "disqualifying" for any Republican, she emphasized, but particularly those with presidential aspirations.

Cheney is betting the farm that ordinary conservative Republicans will, in the end, support that position—and perhaps her, too. Not so long ago, she was a rising star in the GOP. "She kind of reminds you of Margaret Thatcher or somebody like that in history," United States Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, told Politico right before the 2020 election: "a strong person, in a big position, a woman who stands her ground in an otherwise male-dominated conference."

Now, Cheney has allies in her conference, but none of them supports publicly standing her ground against a lie that is a GOP moneymaker and that placates the angry man at Mar-a-Lago. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's patience with Cheney has been dwindling since April when Cheney, in an interview with a New York Post reporter, repeated her assertion that support for the Big Lie was "disqualifying." Importantly, when asked, Cheney refused to rule out a presidential run for herself in 2024.

Whether it's Cheney's unwillingness to accept the lie or the hint that Cheney is eyeing the presidency, McCarthy (who saved her leadership position) is under increasing pressure to demote her. In a news conference Tuesday morning, McCarthy signaled that a vote to replace Cheney in the conference leadership could happen next week.

Cheney might have insulated herself from controversy had she taken the easy route into the Senate in 2020. Yes, delegates booed former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who as a senator twice voted to convict Trump, at the recent state party convention. Catcalls of "traitor!" and "communist" were hurled from the crowd. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has refrained from criticizing members of his conference who dissent from the Big Lie. It is a position he has said he shares.

Currently, Cheney is an outlier for 2024. Trump is flirting heavily with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, nationally known because of his resistance to mask mandates and keeping the state open for business during the Covid-19 pandemic. But what if there is no Trump—as a candidate, kingmaker or king—in 2024? What then? That GOP would be a party without ballast. Its leadership has invested everything in an elderly, unpredictable man entangled in a series of federal and state investigations.

Cheney is a demonstrably tough leader and excellent fundraiser ready to take charge of the party. United States Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who will retire in 2026, has defended Romney;'s right to depart from Trump. She seems to think so, too. "Liz Cheney is a woman of strength and conscience," Collins told the Washington Examiner. "She did what she thought was right, and I salute her for that."

Can Liz Cheney finish what she has started?

She thinks she can.

Why one anti-trans bill went too far for Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson vetoed Monday an anti-trans bill passed by an overwhelming majority. The Republican had already signed a bill banning trans girls from athletic competition against other girls, and one affirming the right of healthcare professionals to refuse treatment for moral or religious reasons. But HB 1570, which would have banned gender-confirming treatments for minors, was "indefensible."


First, we should stipulate that the surge in anti-trans legislation is a national phenomenon. None of this stuff was written in Arkansas. Dozens of state-level bills introduced in the aftermath of the 2020 election were written from cookie-cutter legislative templates originating from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC for short), a 501(c)(3) founded at the dawn of the culture wars in 1973.

Legislation and ballot initiatives defending traditional views of sex and gender have historically whipped up the conservative base. Since 1985, ALEC has been well-known for drafting legislative templates that seek to put a brake on expanding LGBTQ civil rights and liberties. In a memo the organization has since disavowed, articulating homosexuality as a choice linked to predatory sexual behavior and pedophilia.

Although it does not embrace gay rights, ALEC does not overtly oppose them either. Instead, the organization preserves traditional stances on gender, sexuality and family by elevating "moral conscience" and "protection." This is what may have put trans girls, even more of a minority than LGBTQ adults, in the organization's crosshairs.

This shift followed Obergefell, the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage across all 50 states. The conservative backlash was swift. By February 2016, the Human Rights Campaign identified an "unprecedented onslaught of legislation … targeting transgender children." More than 40 bills were introduced in two years.

Following the 2020 election, conservative legislators in multiple, mostly red, states introduced a blitz of anti-LGBTQ legislation. Sixteen establish the right of health care, clerical and government workers to refuse services on the grounds of moral conscience or faith. Three times as many prevent minors from gender confirmation treatments; and from athletic competition against, or sharing bathrooms with, other girls.

These bills present themselves as acts of conscience and fair play. Echoing the language of the anti-gay Save Our Children campaign, they "save" kids from harms inflicted by adults. The "Save Women's Sports Act" proposes to preserve female athletes from someone who, in the words of one advertisement, "claims to be a girl, but was born a boy." The "Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act" reinforces science skepticism, implying that gender confirmation care is untested and risky.

Anti-trans activists erroneously view gender dysphoria as a myth, identifying those who support transgender children as elevating unstable, youthful "feelings" over the biological "facts" of physical bodies. "Facts don't care about your feelings," a slogan propagated by conservative media personality and anti-trans activist Ben Shapiro.

Bodies are not the only reality conservative lawmakers are concerned about: keeping conservative voters attached to emotionally-charged cultural issues energizes them. Yet only 24 percent of Americans now believe that homosexuals do not deserve rights and equal treatment. Over half of Christian millennials support gay equality.

Even anti-trans bills can be toxic. While easy to pass in red states, they are a liability for any governor aspiring to recruit the corporate donors necessary to running for national office. Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota threaded this needle. A potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, she vetoed an anti-trans sports bill opposed by the NCAA and by corporations. Noem then issued her own executive orders restricting women's athletics to those whose female gender is "reflected on their birth certificate or affidavit provided upon initial enrollment." That appears tough, but because birth certificates can be changed in many states, it creates a legal window.

Asa Hutchinson may have been in a similar position. In a public statement, he explained the bill banning gender confirmation treatment was "overbroad, extreme," and failed to "grandfather those young people who are currently under hormone treatment." It was also government overreach, the governor said: "The state should not presume to jump into the middle of every medical, human and ethical issue."

Cannily, Hutchinson supports conservative principles while avoiding conflict with a Biden administration determined to legally expand transgender protections. While affirming gender difference, he has also distanced himself from the anti-science wing of the GOP by subtly admitting that gender dysphoria is, in fact, a fact, not a feeling.

Finally, by gesturing to the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship, he has signaled support for another sexual right, one that white suburbanites value most: access to legal birth control and abortion. Hutchinson signaled that his support for a more moderate Republican when he declared he could not support another Trump candidacy. Now he has raised another question: Is he supporting himself in 2024?

The GOP embrace of the new culture war isn't fooling anyone

On Monday, US Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the Republican Party's most aggressive culture warrior, called for an investigation into "cancel culture."

Welcome back to the culture wars.

We've been here before.

First, there was McCarthyism. Ostensibly a Cold War campaign against fascism and communism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) dug deeply into university campuses and media companies, ferreting out "subversive" ideas like nuclear non-proliferation, racial equality, and homosexual rights.

Alternative media—Regnery Press, The Manion Forum, The National Review, and 700 Club—supported the expansion of the right. Repudiating liberalism in both parties, by the 1970s these conservative outlets were actively resisting the "cultural excesses" of the 1960s: free speech, desegregation, free love, and freedom from religion.

Jim Jordan's initiative not only substitutes rhetoric for policy. It substitutes freedom from ideas for freedom of thought.

Conservatives at the time named this policy agenda "family values." By 1991, however, sociologist James Davison Hunter had renamed it a "culture war." Otherwise abstract issues like family, religion, patriotism and freedom were now "controversies that seem to have a life of their own," dividing Americans into opposing political camps.

By 1992, the culture wars strategy took firm root in the GOP as right-wing populists, under the leadership of Patrick Buchanan, repudiated party moderates. While Buchanan failed in his bid for the GOP nomination, at the convention that summer he urged a return to Reaganism when "they were proud to be Americans again."

"The central organizing project of this republic is freedom," Buchanan thundered, excoriating gay rights, abortion rights, and secular public education. "My friends," he continued, "we must take back our culture and take back our country."

But is the crackdown that Jordan and the Trumpist majority of the GOP are calling for—eliminating diversity initiatives on campus and hate speech on the internet as if they were indoctrination—simply another chapter in the story of the same culture war?


To be sure, conservatives always sought to protect their rights at the expense of others. The "right" to be free from homosexuality at school and in public jobs required censoring curriculum as well as policies like the 1978 Briggs initiative that purged LGBT teachers from public schools, and the 1993 "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" compromise forced on Bill Clinton that allowed queer people to serve secretly in the military.

But Jordan's initiative not only substitutes culture-war rhetoric for actual policy. It substitutes freedom from ideas for freedom of thought. While conservatives are up in arms about Amazon's refusal to sell books that make false or conspiratorial claims, Trumpists are engaged in the more dangerous task of purging public libraries of LGBTQ books, suppressing reports on climate change, and ending diversity training.

Similarly, conservatives recognize that creating a parallel social media platform is not a sufficient antidote to having their speech curbed on Twitter and Facebook. Unlike television, radio, and mailings, social media built for conservatives will not be seen by, or capture the imaginations of, independent and uncommitted readers and viewers.

By contrast, in the 1990s, Republicans like Newt Gingrich offered a concrete map for waging a culture war. Designed to mirror the Bill of Rights, the 10-point "Contract with America" offered voters in 1994 an explicit program of tax benefits, welfare cuts, and a strengthened military that aligned with right-wing conservative objectives.

Today's Republicans have no policies. They have hot takes, irony, and a vague antipathy to "wokeness." If Jordan calls for investigations of non-criminal activity, Ben Shapiro bides his time with mockery. On February 26, in response to the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolchildren, he tweeted: "Time to unleash the power of hashtag."

Time will tell whether this was a winning formula, but initial signs suggest fake culture wars won't work in 2022. Yes, Donald Trump won the annual straw poll at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference with 55 percent. But since CPAC is Trump country, shouldn't he have won overwhelmingly? The answer is yes.

The GOP's increasing embrace of this new culture war isn't fooling anyone.

Much less conservatives.

The revenge of the 'liberal tears'

For four years, Donald Trump and his followers mocked Democrats as congenital failures and weepers of "liberal tears." On the 2020 trail, Trump imagined a fistfight he might have with Joe Biden (a famous male weeper), promising his followers that Biden "would go down fast and hard, crying all the way." Madison Cawthorne (R-NC), celebrated winning a Congressional seat last year by tweeting: "Cry more, lib."

It was a ritual in 2020 for Trump supporters to taunt Democrats for crying or, like a bully on a playground, anticipate with delight the tears that would flow from liberal eyes when Trump and his allies scored another victory.

But Biden won, and crying may be back. On Monday, his nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland testified before some of the same senators who refused him a Supreme Court hearing in 2016. Garland stopped to compose himself as he told the story of his grandparents' flight from antisemitic violence, and his "obligation to the country to pay back" for their lives. While some outlets respectfully described him as "emotional," others noted that Garland was "tearing up" as he spoke.

Of course, this kind of bullying is not entirely conservative. It is also good business. Just as you can purchase bacon-scented gun oil branded as liberal tears, there are coffee mugs for sale that hold "alt-right tears," "white tears," "MAGA tears" and the tears of men who are white, straight, and just plain mediocre.

But history skews towards weeping as a conservative slur. From the 1890s through World War I, Progressive men were taunted by their "red blood" opponents as effeminate "mollycoddles" prone to breaking down in tears. Women were excluded from voting until 1920, and then from office holding for another half-century because their tears were seen as the opposite of reason. A 2019 study showed that one in eight Americans still believe women are too emotional to hold office.

While President Dwight Eisenhower was known to have a good cry when asked to recall the sacrifices of World War II, male tears largely remained a sign of political weakness and failure for most of the 20th century. In 1952, then-Senator Richard Nixon cried when confronted with a fundraising scandal. Jimmy Carter was widely reported to have wept when he lost the 1980 election while the victor, Ronald Reagan, never shed a tear in public and was famous for displays of masculine anger.

That changed with Bill Clinton, who may have done more than any modern liberal to rehabilitate crying and associate it with the Democratic party. While Clinton cried very little as president, photographers often caught him in tears as he watched the former First Lady succeed as a politician after 2000.

The association between crying and authenticity was cemented in the 2008 New Hampshire primary when a TV crew caught the normally restrained Hillary Clinton on the brink of tears, a personal moment that gave her a victory over Barack Obama. By 2016, Obama had cried so frequently in public that it was said to be "revolutionary."

Obama's emotional honesty may have encouraged other men to cry too, even Republicans. John Boehner, who cried when he became speaker of the House in 2010, routinely wept when asked about his bootstrap story. And Glenn Beck, who wept so much— faith, family violence, and George Washington were a few triggers—that he was suspected of faking it and characterized by Trump during the 2016 campaign as a "weird guy" who was "always crying."

Trump hated tears. He announced on the eve of his inauguration that he never cried because he liked "to get things done." Not crying, as if others wept at the drop of a hat, became part of the Trump brand. While Melania Trump was said to have cried in despair when her husband was elected, she never cried in public: Trump once said proudly that she wouldn't cry if he died. Although Ivanka is said to cry when calling editors to have negative publicity retracted, no one in the Trump family has been photographed in tears.

And ironically, the false narrative of Trump's victory still hinges on tears. "Gimme four more years," a white adolescent boy lip-synced on TikTok last week, draped in a Trump flag. "What comes next? Liberal tears." Bumper stickers and tee shirts that used to read "Trump 2020: make liberals cry again" have been updated for an anticipated 2024 campaign.

They are now on sale at Amazon: because the only losers are people who cry.

'This will never end': Why conservatives sound increasingly desperate and ominous

Just a day before the House stripped Georgia Republican Congressperson Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee appointments for violent speech and disseminating conspiracy theories, Rep. Jim Jordan was apoplectic. In a surprisingly tough interview with Sandra Smith and John Roberts of Fox News, the House Republican from Ohio warned that censuring Greene was a "slippery slope" toward silencing all Americans

Although Jordan never used the phrase, Twitter picked up on the "slippery slope" argument. Acting against an elected representative was more dangerous to democracy than Greene's proposal: that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi be executed for treason.

House Republican Jim Jordan: "This will never end, and if we don't stop it now, every single American is at risk."

"Tell me where it ends, Sandra?" Jordan asked, pointing at the audience. "Who's next? Look at the cancel culture!" If the Democrats "keep attacking people, their First Amendment free speech rights, where does it end?"

American politics has always relied on logical leaps, or articles of faith. Rhetoric like "When in the course of human events" and "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" and "there's not a liberal America and a conservative America, there's a United States of America" inspire faith in the American democratic order.

But the "slippery slope" argument invokes darkness, instilling or leveraging irrational, unfounded fears of annihilation. By the 1870s, pseudo-intellectuals like Madison Grant insisted that only colonialism, ending non-white immigration, and suppressing Black civil rights would prevent the worldwide destruction of the "Caucasian" race.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover saw the rise of socialism after World War I similarly, launching a decades-long assault on the left starting in 1919. Donald Trump's characterization of Latin Americans as murderous rapists enlisted fearful Americans in a ruthless and racist project to exclude, deport and divide.

But the slippery slope fallacy is also established conservative political theory. In Road to Serfdom (1944), Friedrich Hayek proposed that nearly invisible choices to restrict freedom ended in dictatorship. Contemporary legal scholars, philosophers, and ethicists take the slippery slope—that B inexorably follows A, and is far worse than A ever was—seriously. In 2003, Eugene Volokh, the legal scholar, argued in the Harvard Law Review that, while not absolute, "slippery slopes are … a real cause for concern."

The slippery slope also proposes that there is a descent into chaos and unfreedom that can only be prevented by checking liberal policy agendas: abortion, gun control, and national health insurance. On the 10th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (1973), Ronald Reagan declared that failing to protect every fetus was a slippery slope to legalizing infanticide. Paying doctors to consult with terminally ill patients under Obamacare was re-cast as a slippery slope toward "death panels." In Box v. Planned Parenthood (2019), Clarence Thomas not only incorrectly linked legal abortion to eugenics, but also insisted the procedure was "an act rife with the potential for eugenic manipulation."

Not surprisingly, much of Donald Trump's strong-man rhetoric depended on logical fallacies, many of the slippery slope variety. As he approached the 2020 election, these became more catastrophic. A vote for a Democrat was a vote to replace the American Dream with socialism. Background checks—which he had once cautiously supported—were now a "slippery slope" leading to a future "where everything is taken away."

As Jim Jordan threatened on Fox News, Republicans could learn to take everything away too. "It won't stop with Republicans. It'll-it'll go to all of us," Jordan said, jabbing his thumbs into his own chest. "So this will never end, and if we don't stop it now, every single American is at risk. And that's what concerns me." Why, Senator Dianne Feinstein's name had just been removed from a public school in California!

Slippery slope arguments are tactical. They distract from real issues, while activating conservatives to overcome their differences and rally around a vague, but potent, idea about freedom. Expect to hear more of this rhetoric in the coming months, as Republicans frantically try to rebuild a party riven by defeat and disunity, and work to hide the complicity of the party leadership in the violent end to Trump's presidency.

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