Antivax, anti-mask Maine legislator has COVID — and he doesn't sound too good

Another one bites the dust. From the Bangor Daily News:

Rep. Chris Johansen, a Republican legislator from Monticello who has been an outspoken opponent of coronavirus restrictions, has reportedly contracted COVID-19.

In a recording shared by Mainer News contributor Crash Barry, a man alleged to be Johansen said, "Listen up, I've got COVID and I'm really, really sick and I just don't have time to talk to you today."

Strange. He had plenty of time to talk last year:

Chris Johansen has been an outspoken opponent of state-mandated coronavirus restrictions and has organized multiple protests. In April 2020, he organized a protest in front of the Blaine House asking Democratic Gov. Janet Mills to reopen the state's economy, as well as downplaying the damage that the spread of COVID-19 would have on communities across the country.
Johansen's wife has also reportedly been infected and as of July 21 was spending her third day in the hospital, according to the report. Neither she nor her husband have been vaccinated. Both had reportedly shared posts on Facebook mocking the vaccine and downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic.
The GOP lawmaker's wife, Cindy Johansen, confirmed her COVID-19 diagnosis separately in a Facebook post. In the post, she claims to have passed out in her garage and that her "legs were like rubber" at one point. She is considered to be at higher risk for hospitalization with COVID due to her asthma.

Johansen was a particularly vehement opponent of masking. Not only was he one of seven Republicans in the Maine House who refused to wear a mask, he even suggested he might try to sue to prevent Maine's Democratic House speaker from enforcing the mask rule.

As reported in May by the Bangor Daily News:

Johansen said he would not be wearing a mask and was exploring whether legal action could be taken against [House Speaker] Fecteau to prevent him from forcing the mask mandate...[.]
"This is not a private business, this is the state's Legislature," Johansen said.

In the interests of journalistic accuracy it should be noted that thus far the only confirmation that Johansen himself has COVID is limited to the report by Mr. Barry of the Mainer, who Tweeted the following snippet of a phone call that purportedly features Johansen's voice:

Johansen was apparently less forthcoming when contacted for confirmation of his diagnosis by the Portland Press Herald. According to their report, "he wasn't feeling well and didn't stay on the phone long enough to be asked whether he has the virus." Crooks and Liars also reached out to Johansen; according to their report, he replied "I'm uh... I'm not talking right now."

Damn those pesky reporters!

The New York Times profiles 'most influential' purveyor of online COVID vaccine misinformation

Many of us who maintain a social media presence have at least one acquaintance, "Facebook friend" or real-life, actual friend who has in the past year shared some type of official-sounding, medical jargon-laden post questioning the value of the COVID-19 vaccines — or worse, directly asserting or implying that such vaccines are ineffective, harmful, deadly, or will lead to untold health problems.

According to the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a U.S./UK non-profit dedicated to fighting online disinformation and hate, nearly two-thirds of the anti-vaccine propaganda peddled in online forums and social media can be traced to exactly twelve individuals, colloquially labelled the "Disinformation Dozen." If you are someone who spends a significant time in social media forums, the chances are high that you have seen, scrolled through or otherwise had some awareness of their activity online, be it in your local school board's Facebook feed or other community sounding boards where supposedly informed individuals trade opinions and information.

According to the New York Times, and as confirmed in the CCDH's comprehensive report profiling these individuals, the number one purveyor of this vaccine misinformation is a gentleman named Joseph Mercola, described by the Times as an osteopathic physician. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he currently headquarters his company in the state of Florida, which, as USA Today's Nada Hassanein illustrates, is rapidly emerging as the nation's predominant "hotspot" for spiking COVID-19 infections, almost entirely among those who have refused to be vaccinated against the virus.

On Saturday the Times' Sheera Frankel profiled Dr. Mercola and cited multiple examples of his work, beginning with an article he published that appeared on Facebook in February. As Frankel reports, that article, clocking in at 3400 words, "declared coronavirus vaccines were "a medical fraud" and said the injections did not prevent infections, provide immunity or stop transmission of the disease." The article (now deleted by Facebook) purportedly claimed that COVID-19 vaccines "alter[ed] your genetic coding, turning you into a viral protein factory that has no off-switch." Spread by other anti-vaccine activists and translated into multiple languages, these assertions eventually reached 400,000 Facebook viewers.

Mercola, described as an "internet-savvy entrepreneur who employs dozens," has, according to Frankel's reporting, published approximately 600 articles on Facebook since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Mercola is the pioneer of the anti-vaccine movement," said Kolina Koltai, a researcher at the University of Washington who studies online conspiracy theories. "He's a master of capitalizing on periods of uncertainty, like the pandemic, to grow his movement."

As the vaccination effort in this country approaches what can charitably be described as peak acceptance, the focus of many in the media has justifiably been on such political propaganda outlets such as Fox News, whose motivation for disseminating such lies can be attributed to political ends. It has become increasingly obvious, however, that many of those who refuse to be vaccinated (and thus contribute to the spread of COVID-19 through mutations such as the current delta variant) are having their political preconceptions against vaccinations reinforced through pseudo-medical misinformation they read online.

Several of the individuals profiled in the USA Today article (linked above via Yahoo News) illustrate the huge role social media has taken in fueling and perpetuating the COVID-19 pandemic in this country. As one physician in Florida's Calhoun county -- one of the epicenters of the recent surge in the state's COVID cases, with a current vaccination rate of only 23% -- observes, it is virtually impossible to dissuade people from believing something they read on social media about these vaccines, particularly when it carries the imprimatur of medical expertise.

"We're a small community. We all know people who passed away from COVID. When someone passes away, it's people we know," Davis said. "But I still don't feel like that overrides what people have seen on social media."
Davis has heard it all – from the myths that the vaccine will turn people magnetic to the virus being a hoax. She tries to quell fears, countering the false claims with research and data but patients often shut the conversation down.

The responses she and other medical providers in Florida hear from people who refuse the vaccine typically include assertions that the vaccines are untested, "experimental", and that there is too much contradictory information about them online. Significantly, some of these opinions are being influenced by medical providers themselves; one gentleman quoted in the USA Today article was told by his wife, a registered nurse, that "the vaccines hadn't been studied enough."

As Frankel's article points out, the general scientific and medical illiteracy most of the US population provides the perfect breeding ground for purveyors and profiteers of unreliable information. Mercola is a case in point:

[R]ather than directly stating online that vaccines don't work, Dr. Mercola's posts often ask pointed questions about their safety and discuss studies that other doctors have refuted. Facebook and Twitter have allowed some of his posts to remain up with caution labels, and the companies have struggled to create rules to pull down posts that have nuance.

According to Frankel's article, Mercola, who originally practiced in Illinois, began in the 1990's to shift his practice towards alternative medicine and promoting natural health cures and treatments. A prolific author, he has even had a book on the New York Times' bestseller list. As his fame (and wealth) have increased, he has developed a multinational presence through various consulting companies and offices. His selling tactics, bolstered by a Facebook following of over 1.7 million (he has a Spanish language page with one million followers as well), resort to a routine pattern, according to Frankel:

It starts with making unproven and sometimes far-fetched health claims, such as that spring mattresses amplify harmful radiation, and then selling products online — from vitamin supplements to organic yogurt — that he promotes as alternative treatments.

As Frankel reports, both Twitter and Facebook have taken down and issued cautions about several of Mercola's postings, He has been sued by the Federal Trade Commission for purveying disinformation regarding the cancer-reducing qualities of tanning beds, and he has received a warning from the FDA regarding his claims of about the efficacy of vitamin treatments in treating COVID-19 infection, and for selling unapproved health products. None of these actions appear to have dissuaded him from continuing to post misinformation. Frankel cites a recent example of Mercola continuing to raise questions about the efficacy of the vaccines through his social media feed.

As noted above, Mercola is hardly the only one responsible for vaccine denialism; he is simply has the biggest audience. It's clear though, from what is happening on the ground in Florida, for example, with the widespread refusal among a susceptible, medically ignorant population to accept these vaccines (even in the face of increased infections and deaths), that this country faces an almost perfect storm of disinformation.

Fear is indeed the "mind-killer." By cynically downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic over the past year and a half, Republicans like Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and their allies in the US. Congress and state legislatures have fostered an environment where people's fears and doubts take precedence over science. Those fears and doubts are then exponentially amplified and reinforced by what they read on social media. The anti-vaccine movement has taken full advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to sow doubt and regurgitate false or misleading information.

What we are witnessing right now in this country is the predictable outcome of these two insidious, destructive, and wholly complementary narratives, almost in real time.

Almost all COVID-19 deaths now are among the unvaccinated: analysis

In a testament to the incredible effectiveness of the mRNA vaccines developed to combat COVID-19, an analysis by the Associated Press shows that nearly all U.S. deaths attributable to the SARS-CoV-2 virus at this point in time are happening to individuals who have not been fully vaccinated.

As reported by Carla K. Johnson and Mike Stobbe for the Associated Press:

Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now are in people who weren't vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths per day — now down to under 300 — could be practically zero if everyone eligible got the vaccine.

The AP analysis found that the rate of "breakthrough" infections (infections to people fully vaccinated) accounted for only .1% of all COVID-related hospitalizations, based on CDC-supplied data for May 2021, while the number of deaths to fully vaccinated people was less than one percent.

It should be noted that the CDC itself did not conduct such an analysis, citing limitations in the data. For example, as the AP reports, only about 45 states report so-called "breakthrough" infections, and the degree to which such infections are identified varies from state to state depending on the extent and quality of their investigations. Still, the overwhelming effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing hospitalizations and deaths appears clear from the AP analysis. While this news is not particularly startling—after all, that's the reason the vaccines were developed in the first place—it may give serious pause to those who for whatever reason have intentionally declined the vaccine despite being eligible for it.

As the AP article notes:

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday that the vaccine is so effective that "nearly every death, especially among adults, due to COVID-19, is, at this point, entirely preventable." She called such deaths "particularly tragic."

One tragic example cited in Johnson and Stobbe's article is the case of Ross Bagne, a 68-year old resident of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Eligible for the vaccine in February and planning to retire, he declined to get it, feeling that he did not venture out enough to be infected.

He was wrong. Bagne died on June 4, after spending three weeks in the hospital, his lungs filled with fluid. His sister blames the state of Wyoming for failing to emphasize the danger.

"Why was the messaging in his state so unclear that he didn't understand the importance of the vaccine? He was a very bright guy," his sister said. "I wish he'd gotten the vaccine, and I'm sad he didn't understand how it could prevent him from getting COVID."

But what exactly was happening in Wyoming during the time when Bagne's sister felt the state's messaging could have been better in informing and protecting its citizens?

In February of this year, while Bagne eagerly planned for his retired life, Wyoming's Republican governor, Mark Gordon, fully reopened barbershops, nail salons, tattoo parlors, and other "personal care" services throughout the state. In March of this year when Bagne was still very much alive, Gordon (who himself had contracted a mild case of COVID-19 in November) lifted the state's mask mandate. In May, with Bagne still living, Gordon issued an edict banning "vaccine passports" (a thing that doesn't exist).

In January, when the state's Republican-dominated legislature opened its legislative session, most members celebrated by openly defying the state's mask mandate. State police present during that session, under the governor's jurisdiction, did not try to enforce the mandate. Several of the legislators cavorting maskless that day had previously characterized Gordon as a "tyrant" for imposing the mandate in the first place. Democrats, for the most part, stayed away.

One newly elected Wyoming state senator, Troy McKeown, reportedly claimed that the death rate from vaccinations was almost as high as the death rate from COVID-19 itself. As late as May of this year, McKeown was still claiming that the effectiveness of the vaccines was "unknown."

These attitudes may explain why the most vaccine-hesitant counties in the entire country are all in Wyoming, and why Wyoming currently has one of the nation's lowest vaccination rates (28% fully vaccinated at the end of May). As Kim Deti, the spokesperson for the state's health department explains in this article from Wyofile.com:

One of the most difficult obstacles, Deti said, is the politicization of COVID-19.

"It's unfortunate, but it's a reality that we do face," Deti said.

As such, any efforts to increase the vaccination rate also raise political questions. Even taking the position that people should get vaccinated has political consequences, Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) said.

Wyoming has no shortage of "anti-vaxxers," but as Deti obliquely confirms, most of this vaccine "hesitancy," in Wyoming and elsewhere, is ultimately traceable to the mismanaged response to the pandemic by the Trump administration. The minimization and belittling of protective measures, the reckless, premature reopening of businesses, and the actions of Republican state legislators eager to demonstrate their pro-Trump bona fides all contributed in some way to the reluctance and refusal of people to be vaccinated. As a result, it is in these states and other areas where the unvaccinated rate remains high that most COVID-19 deaths will now be occurring, according to the AP:

The preventable deaths will continue, experts predict, with unvaccinated pockets of the nation experiencing outbreaks in the fall and winter. Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, said modeling suggests the nation will hit 1,000 deaths per day again next year.

The bottom line? For those who remain unvaccinated, the pandemic is just as bad as it ever was.

American business owners discover a novel solution to the worker shortage problem

Disgruntled business owners around the country have been complaining loudly about the lack of hired help available to them as the nation slowly emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these folks have gotten positively churlish about it, declaring "No one wants to work anymore," and blame the worker shortage on the additional $300 per week some are receiving to bolster their normal unemployment benefits, an effort instigated by Democrats to try to compensate Americans for the economic calamity left in the wake of hundreds of thousands of business closures.

But an investigation by Eli Rosenberg for the Washington Post, based on interviews of several business owners throughout the country, suggests that the hiring problem facing employers has less to do with extended unemployment benefits and more to do with the the fact that American workers simply don't want to go back to jobs that won't pay a decent wage. As Rosenberg found, businesses that increase their pay scales are actually being deluged with applications from willing workers.

As Rosenberg notes, many of the complaints about "unwilling workers" are coming from businesses long-accustomed (in the era before COVID-19) to paying their employees the minimum allowable wage:

Across the country, businesses in sectors such as food service and manufacturing that are trying to staff up have been reporting an obstacle to their success — a scarcity of workers interested in applying for low-wage positions.

These people assumed that once the pandemic started to wane, the American economy could simply be flipped on like a light switch after its year-long hibernation, with Americans marching dutifully back to work for these same companies as if COVID-19 had never happened. Encouraged by Republican governors and Fox News, many are now blaming their inability to attract workers on the extra unemployment benefits afforded by the COVID relief legislation passed by Democrats and signed into law in March. In this blinkered view, the prospect of giving unemployed individuals and families an additional $300 per week through September 2021 was nothing but an an extravagant windfall for tens of millions of Americans, one that prompted able-bodied workers to sit at home watching TV and playing video games rather than rushing back to work for these companies that pay a paltry $7.25 an hour in wages.

The idea that an additional $300 per week could possibly substitute for holding a regular job in order to pay their mortgages, rent, health insurance, food, car payments, transportation, utilities and the multitude of intractable expenses most Americans face in any given month, was always a myth. It conveniently ignored the fact that if people were actually shirking work for such a paltry sum, then the wages they were forsaking were just as paltry. As one unemployed worker, interviewed for Business Insider put it, "These guys are just dumbasses if they actually think that the UI is the problem and not the wage."

Nevertheless, this myth has been a useful cudgel wielded by Republicans against the unemployed, prompting GOP governors in 25 states to cut off extended aid in hopes of forcing workers to return to these dismal, low-paying jobs. The very fact that these governors acted in such unison and in such a wholly partisan fashion—based on no hard economic evidence whatsoever—suggests that something far more fundamental is at stake here for the Republican party than simply trying to force people back into low-paying jobs. What we may be seeing in the refusal of workers to fill these types of jobs are the early signs of a labor force that is collectively rethinking its relationship to work.

As explained in Rosenberg's article, the data is anecdotal, but the trend is unmistakable: once businesses start treating employees as an asset to be maximized rather than a necessity to be exploited, their hiring woes immediately vanish. Rosenberg profiles several business owners, including Patrick Whalen who owns five restaurants in North and South Carolina, all of which had enjoyed success before the pandemic. As people finally began to venture out to eat, his restaurants filled up again. Suddenly he couldn't find enough people to staff them, and was soon facing a wave of negative reviews.

But he didn't whine about it. He didn't try to blame anyone. He simply increased his wages from $12 to $15, and added a tip line for the kitchen workers who (unlike the wait staff) wouldn't normally have received tips, a move that pushed their total hourly wages to over $23 an hour.

As reported by Rosenberg, Whalen's staffing problems vanished within three weeks:

Applicants began pouring in nearly overnight, Whalen said. A manager at one of his restaurants, Tempest, told him that 10 people walked in to drop off résumés over the course of one week after the policy change, compared with just 15 people over the four previous months.

The owner of Punch Pizza, a chain of pizza shops with a dozen locations in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, had similar results when its owner raised wages from $11 to $15 an hour: as Rosenberg observes, "Job applications increased fivefold on its website and were 10 to 15 times higher on the jobs portal Indeed." Rosenberg cites similar examples for restaurant chains in Buffalo, Detroit, Oakland and Philadelphia, all of which elected to increase their starting wages.

The routine objection to increasing workers' salaries is that doing so will raise the cost of doing business to the point where the business itself cannot survive. That too is debunked by Rosenberg's investigation. Yes, some businesses compensated for their increased labor costs by slightly raising their prices, but the increases needed to do that turned out to be minimal, for the most part:

Three of the 12 businesses interviewed said that they had raised prices for consumers to help offset the wage increase. White Castle increased menu prices in the Detroit area after increasing its minimum wage there to $15 an hour, as did another restaurant that raised wages, Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland, Calif. The Midwest-based clothing and design store Raygun increased prices by about 1 percent after raising wages to an average of $15 last year, owner Mike Draper said.

Rosenberg's research acknowledges that every business's situation will be different; in Philadelphia, HipCityVeg, a vegan restaurant, estimated that its veggie-burger prices might increase by 25 cents, but they didn't expect an all-out customer revolt because of this. Another had to trim hours and staff, mainly for seasonal workers. Others acknowledged that they might have to operate at a loss for a limited time but that the higher quality of their services (thanks to happier, more dedicated workers) was expected to balance that factor out over time. The improved staffing situation at Whalen's restaurants, for example, has markedly increased its overall sales numbers, as reviews have improved and satisfied customers return.

Rosenberg's article notes that in addition to increasing worker pay, employers are introducing other measures to improve working conditions, such as guaranteeing sick leave and paid time off. And some, including an owner of a hardware store chain in the Washington, D.C., area who has raised her employees' wages, have frankly acknowledged that raw material shortages due to the pandemic rather than increased wages are driving whatever price increases she has to pass on to her customers.

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged last year, several voices pointed out that such a drastic, unprecedented employment catastrophe also provided a rare opportunity to rethink the relationship between labor and capital, and specifically between workers and management. Although Rosenberg's interviews are anecdotal, it does appear that many businesses are re-evaluating their past policies, not necessarily out of some sense of altruism, but for their own economic benefit and continued survival. Rosenberg concludes his investigation with a quote from Gina Schaeffer, owner of that chain of hardware stores in and around Washington, D.C.:

"There's a shaming that's happening to working-class people," said Schaefer, the owner of the D.C.-area hardware stores. "Nobody talks about the fact that the economy is going to fall apart when a tech guy gets a $195,000-a-year salary with a 5 percent raise every year, or when lawyers are making $300,000. This conversation only happens when you're talking about the people who make the lowest wages. And I think as a society, that's just really insulting."

What Rosenberg's article ultimately shows us is that from a labor perspective the America that emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic does not have to be the same America that entered into it. Many businesses are finding out the hard way that they can no longer count on a workforce willing to accept substandard wages, and have decided that the best course is to convince Republican governors to declare a five-alarm fire, trying to force people back to work for the same, dismally low pay. Other, more forward-thinking businesses are embracing a more generous and fairer ethic that elevates both the pay and dignity of their employees, discovering that such an approach works in everyone's interests.

It's impossible at this early stage to say which approach will ultimately win out, but as more workers find alternative, higher paying opportunities available to them, history and human nature suggest they will naturally be far less willing to settle for anything they consider substandard, unfair, or inferior.

Here is the one freedom the Constitution doesn't ever allow

Over the past year and a half, we've learned an awful lot from Republicans about "freedom." We learned, for instance, that refusing to wear a mask in public places to protect others from a deadly virus was a symbol of such "freedom." We learned that carrying automatic weapons into state capitals to intimidate lawmakers (and by extension, ordinary citizens) into doing whatever a small, gun-toting group of people demanded was also an expression of "freedom." We learned from many vocal parents that shutting down schools and transitioning to online learning to protect children from coming home and infecting their parents and grandparents was a gross infringement on their "freedom."

And finally, we learned from many folks that carrying out a violent assault on our nation's capitol in order to try to nullify a lawful election was another example of "freedom."

In a sense, I agree that all of these things are valid expressions—or critiques—of our freedom. The Constitution that forms the entire basis for this country's existence allows all types of freedoms, no matter how self-destructive or ill-used those freedoms might be. You even have the freedom to commit acts of sedition or treason, as long as you're prepared to face the framework of serious legal consequences for exercising that freedom as provided by that same Constitution.

But there's one freedom the Constitution doesn't allow, because it can't. If this freedom is allowed, the whole rationale for the Constitution—and for this country itself—goes up in a puff of smoke. Jonathan Schell, writing forThe New Yorker as the Watergate scandal unfolded in 1973, put it very simply: "In a democracy, we are not free to ignore the truth."

At the time, Schell was referring to the fact that, while the majority of Americans had concluded that President Richard Nixon had committed a grave and serous offense in authorizing what ultimately became known as the Watergate break-in, 10 months after the incident itself, the general public remained unmoved to do something about it … almost to the point of willfully ignoring it.

But Schell pointed out that was simply not a viable option.

The public had not ruled out the possibility that high Administration officials were involved in planning and then in covering up the incident. Rather, a large portion of the public believed these things to be true, but, in a striking reversal of its traditional response to governmental corruption, it did not care to pursue the matter any further. This was, one hopes, the nadir of public opinion as an institution in our national life. When public opinion has lost the will to compel a thorough investigation into the apparent subversion of a Presidential election by officials of the Administration in power, it has been neutralized as a voice in the basic affairs of the Republic.

Schell argued that in a democracy, public opinion cannot be allowed to dictate whether truth itself can be ignored. If public opinion, whether informed or misinformed, tries to do that, it must immediately be disregarded if the country is to continue to exist. In 1973, the irrefutable truth of the matter at hand—in that case, Nixon's perfidy and involvement—had become non-negotiable.

In effect, the public was dragged from willful ignorance by the truth. In Hannah Arendt's words, "truth has a despotic character." The truth is that which compels our minds' assent. And in a democracy certain forms of truth do more than compel our minds' assent; they compel us to act. In a democracy, we are not permitted to seek out the truth about our affairs and then to ignore what we learn. When evidence of murder comes to light, indictments must be brought and a trial held. Our system is arranged to make such action reflexive. We must hold the trial whether we want to or not.

Schell distinguished between voluntary, desirable ideals—such as the idea of decency or compassion—from adherence to this principle of truth.

Decency and compassion belong to the large category of ideals which float above our heads as a reproach to our actual behavior. Truth and justice, on the other hand, are rooted as powerful forces in the heart of our political system. They have shaped and determined the fundamental structures of our institutions. Thus, the system of justice is the mechanism whereby certain forms of truth compel us to act. In a democracy, we are free to do many things, but we are not free to ignore the truth. It holds the system itself, and our individual liberty, hostage. In the end, it is by virtue of this power of truth that our nation consents to march to the tune of a piece of paper—the Constitution.

(emphasis supplied)

As explained by author and professor of foreign affairs Mark Danner, writing for the New York Review of Books, with the insurrection of Jan. 6, the two principles that establish legitimacy to our democracy—a government allowed by elections rather than violence, and respect for and honoring the outcome of those elections by the losing party—are now held in disfavor by a substantial percentage of the American electorate. As Danner points out, the last time in history that these principles were abandoned on this scale led directly to the carnage of the Civil War, and they were not re-established for a bitter decade in its aftermath. Even their re-establishment came at a terrible cost, with the defeated southern states instituting nearly a century of racist oppression on their Black citizens in spiteful revenge for their defeat.

Danner's point is that when the country behaves the way it is now, history suggests that the country will not endure in its present form. What Schell wrote about in 1973 was witnessing our system self-correct, as Democrats and Republican agreed that however uncomfortable the facts of Nixon's criminality were, the truth of them could not be ignored. As a result, the nation survived.

But that is not the situation the country faces today, in the wake of Jan. 6. Not at all, in fact.

Danner writes:

In the case of the Capitol coup we have thus far ignored the truth. The coup was a crime against the state, and because it unfolded live on television as a grand public spectacle, Americans believe they know the truth about it. But we do not. We do not know what kind of planning preceded the assault and who was involved. We do not know why Pentagon officials for several hours refused to send troops to the Capitol. We do not know what the president was doing as the violence he unleashed was unfolding on Americans' television screens. And much more. We do not know because there has been no thorough public investigation of what happened. Supporters of the former president within the political system have thus far worked hard to block such an investigation.
The result is a metastasizing corruption at the heart of the polity. About the Capitol coup there is no shared reality. Nor is there a shared reality about the integrity of the election or of the legitimacy of the president it produced. To millions of Americans the legitimate president remains Donald Trump. A quarter-millennium of American history offers no precedent for this.

Danner also quotes former CIA analyst Martin Gurri, who emphasizes that all of our focus on Trump himself ignores the weaknesses of our institutions which allowed his destabilizing influence to fester and propagate throughout the American population. As Gurri wrote in his 2018 book, The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium , "The right level of analysis on Trump isn't Trump at all, but the public that endowed him with a radical direction and temper, and the decadent institutions that proved too weak to stand in his way." In Trump, we witnessed what Danner characterizes as not necessarily the emergence of a traditional autocrat, but rather the triumph and "embodiment-as-leader" of the online troll, the ones who, by perpetually railing against "elites" and stoking regional prejudices have eroded the institutions of former democracies such as Hungary, effectively transforming them into breeding grounds for autocracies.

In the U.S., a country that has never shaken off its strongest cultural impulse, racism, Trump has accomplished this erosion by harnessing the fears and antipathy of millions of Americans towards their fellow Americans of a darker shade of skin, and by exploiting their fears of "replacement" by immigrants. That's why Lachlan Murdoch's Fox News finds such a perfect target in Vice President Kamala Harris, who represents for its audience an amalgamation of everything they've been taught to fear. Fox News' relentless focus on Harris isn't simply an effort to thwart her chances at future election; it's to consolidate and intensify the xenophobic hatred necessary to keep Trump's Big Lie in circulation. Meanwhile, Murdoch is limited, by Biden's unbearable whiteness, to merely mocking his age and implying a decline in mental acuity.

In closing his essay, aptly titled "Reality Rebellion," Danner observes that the road-show aspect of the fraudulent "audit" of votes currently underway in Arizona, as well as similar efforts to sow distrust of valid electoral processes around the country, are all of a piece: namely, a strategy to tie that distrust to a concrete, physical event, no matter how fictitious or fanciful that event is. Danner quotes Special FBI Agent Clinton Watts, who explained on MSNBC how this "alternative reality" is being created for the purpose of stoking potential violence. Watts calls it a "Reality Rebellion," and describes it as: "[E]ssentially trying to create an entire atmosphere, a complete show ... Because if you create an action in the physical world it makes it seem all the more legitimate to use violence and to strike out."

According to Danner, the manifestation of violence is now all but assured as the formerly winking-embrace by the Republican Party of such domestic terrorists organizations as the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Three Percenters has given way to a more fulsome acceptance; these groups are now coalescing as the necessary paramilitary wing that's characteristic of all fascist movements. With the groundwork for contesting all elections that do not end in their favor being laid, all that is necessary to galvanize the support of millions of Republican voters may be a single spark of violence.

Whatever they might do—kidnapping or assassinating public figures, staging bombings or mass shootings—it would take the efforts of only a handful of determined violent actors to overturn the politics of the country. Such actions would be intended to provoke the security organs of the "deep state" to overreact and make widespread arrests, thereby revealing its repressive character and encouraging more sympathy for the terrorists' cause. This dynamic would further radicalize those whose anger has already been stoked by the delegitimizing rhetoric of the Republican Party. Potential terrorists, perhaps for the first time in this country, have what is vital to make violent actions politically successful: a pool of millions of willing sympathizers.

When such violent acts occur, Danner believes they "will feed the radicalization of Republican policy in a fervid feedback loop."

Danner's point is that the consequences of ignoring the truth, of failing to move forward to fully address and condemn what occurred on Jan. 6, and failing to prosecute and condemn those who funded, planned and inspired it, have already begun to manifest themselves. The strategy evinced by President Biden, which seems to hope to quell such passions simply by demonstrating the virtues and competence of government, cannot possibly make up for that failure.

Our country is facing an unprecedented time, and it it is getting late in the game to stop what Trump and the Republican parties have set into motion. We continue to ignore the truth about these people at our own peril.

No Republican is going to save the Republican party from itself

The media have focused a lot of attention on those few Republicans -- Liz Cheney, for example — who have spoken out publicly as the GOP transformed itself before our eyes into an authoritarian Trump cult, committed to overturning fair elections while disenfranchising as many Americans as possible in the process. You can appreciate this effort in the coverage on MSNBC, CNN, the New York Times and others surrounding the supposedly noble attempts by these dissident Republicans to save their party. And the attention is understandable; just seeing Republicans grant interviews to any other media outlet than Fox News has been quite a novelty in itself.

But if the traditional media are hoping such isolated voices as Cheney's, Adam Kinzinger's and a few others will somehow shift the course of the rest of the GOP — the 98% or so Republicans who have embraced this new ethic of sedition, voter disenfranchisement and outright violence --they're going to be disappointed. While the outsized coverage afforded to these outlier voices make for compelling political drama, the reality is that they do not represent the now-overwhelming consensus of the GOP at both the state and national levels: namely, that the party's future course is now inextricably tied to its obeisance to Donald Trump, and specifically Trump's Big Lie that the 2020 election was somehow nefariously snatched from his grasp. While most in the media will acknowledge this transformation and the danger it represents, only a few appear to be willing to explore the reasons why that transformation has occurred.

Elie Mystal, writing for the Nation, points out that what we are seeing in the GOP's stunningly rapid descent into something indistinguishable from nascent fascism is an inevitable byproduct of where that party has been headed since at least the 1950's. He uses former GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan, the most recent example of Republicans now expressing their indignation at their party's current trajectory, as an example.

Given that the Republican Party has now mainstreamed infection and insurrection, I get why mainstream media makers might think it's newsworthy when any erstwhile Republican leader is willing to speak out against the party orthodoxy of lies and deceit. But let's not make any mistakes about who Ryan still is and what his "principles" are. Before he debased himself into retirement, Ryan was an Ayn Rand sock puppet on a personal crusade to starve the government of resources so it could not deliver services. And the glory days he's hoping to resurrect are nothing more than that: a return to the days where Republicans expressed their cruelty through charts and graphs instead of tweets and slurs. Ryan just wants the cult of tax cuts to reassert its dominance over the cult of Trump.

Mystal's central point is that neither Cheney or Ryan are speaking any language that actual Republican voters understand anymore.That what Trump successfully tapped into— the bigotry, resentment, and grievance now looming so brightly in everything we see spewed from the pie-holes of new GOP luminaries like Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene— is the only thing that Republican voters have ever cared about in the first place. People like Ryan and Cheney, who tout the supposed virtues of conservative free-market ideology and tax policy, are pretending to ignore the fact that these things never, ever attracted many people to the GOP. As Mystal puts it, "The natural constituency for 'tax cuts for the rich, crumbling roads and bridges for everybody else' is so small you can fit them all into a moderately sized marina." Those may be the end goals of Republicans like Cheney and Ryan, but no one should separate those goals from the means used to achieve them.

In fact from the 1930's onward there was never a reliable majority of Americans who bought in to Republican warped and self-serving theories of social engineering. That is why the GOP had to resort from the very start to scaring Americans into voting for them through a drumbeat of fearmongering, first in the 1950's about Communists and then, in the 1960's, about Blacks.

Mystal notes that as the bogeyman of Communism fell by the wayside and the Civil Rights era passed into history, the GOP suddenly discovered themselves without anything compelling enough to sell their politics of resentment. So through Ronald Reagan they created the specter of the "welfare queen" and all the other myths of lazy, undeserving minorities allegedly poaching from the entitled white American's trough. Seizing the electoral opportunity afforded to them by the hapless response of Jimmy Carter to the Iranian hostage crisis, in the 1980's they again turned on the spigot of white resentment, the appeal to bigotry (as Mystal points out) that Reagan deliberately channeled when he symbolically opened up his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three Freedom Riders were murdered for trying to help register Black Americans to vote.

Bigotry and fearmongering alone, not any conservative philosophical principles, provided the glue that kept the Republican coalition viable for nearly a century. It is the same glue that binds Republican voters and their party together today.

As Mystal summarizes it:

Republican policies are broadly unpopular and empirically ineffectual, so the people peddling them realized long ago that they must be tethered to some hysterical lie or cultural threat to keep just enough white people voting against their own economic interests.
So when Paul Ryan tells his fellow Republicans to abandon the "cultural battles," he's telling them to abandon the only parts of their platform that their voters actually like. If Ryan were right about the appeal of "conservative principles," he'd still have a job. Instead, Majorie Taylor Greene does.

Thus, we see the likes of Cheney, Ryan and others claiming that what really concerns them is the cult-like influence Donald Trump has imposed on their voters, as if Trump's appeal to racist grievance were something they hadn't already signed onto decades ago when they attended their first homespun Republican gatherings. As Mystal observes, that implicit bargain with their voting base is common to all Republicans who pledge their allegiance to the party's so-called principles: "Every one has, at some point, decided to throw their hat in with the MAGA forces before those forces were unified under Trump's banner, and either explicitly or tacitly given aid and comfort to hate and grievance politics to achieve their otherwise unpopular agenda."

The traditional media is loathe to acknowledge this basic truth about Republicans, in part because it tends to nullify literally decades of time they spent tortuously skating around that fact, as they continued to credit the GOP with an actual agenda that could be expressed in more genteel economic terms than simple greed fueled by equally simple bigotry.

But probably their worst dereliction was their failure to admit the true nature of the people who put these Republicans into power in the first place. That's what's coming to the fore now: the sheer ignorance, fearfulness and littleness of a vast number of ordinary Americans. It's the key piece of the puzzle they've never wanted to acknowledge, but it's been right there in plain sight, from every Tea Party protest to what we saw unfold Jan. 6 on the steps of the U.S. capitol.

As Mystal writes, the existence and motivation of a huge segment of Americans has been clear for decades. But few in the media have ever mustered the courage to admit it.

Now that Trump has said the quiet part out loud, there's no stuffing the message back into a box. This is the Republican Party now. It's the same one it's always been, just with their bigoted voters empowered to say what they've always believed.

The focus on erstwhile GOP heretics like Cheney and Ryan only obscures the fact that the rest of the GOP, including roughly half of the entire House and Senate, are perfectly content and supportive of throwing out the entire American experiment if it means they can hold onto power. Part of the reason they feel safe in doing so is that they are all, for the most part securely ensconced behind a powerful right-wing media apparatus designed to nurture them, keeping their true aims and motivation under wraps, seldom seen or heard. The other part is that they've learned that there are more than enough voters susceptible to their message of resentment and grievance to keep them in power under this country's existing institutions, as long as a complacent media continues to find reasons to avoid calling them — and their supporters--out for what they are.

Confronting the truth about the Republican Party has always meant confronting the truth about those who support them, and specifically the reasons for that support. The media have been content to avoid that uncomfortable discussion, quite literally for as long as humanly possible. In its place, after Trump's election we got slews of vignettes about the "economic insecurities" of voters in the so-called heartland, all of which carefully tiptoed around the big elephant in the room — the constant stoking of racism — that has sustained the Republican party from the very start.

The idea of writing off a huge segment of the American population as irredeemably racist has always been a bridge too far for many in the media. And, for the most part, that's the reason we find ourselves where we are today.

Why there was never going to be a bipartisan investigation into the Jan. 6 attacks

By now the basic contours are visible to anyone who cares to look. The idea that Republicans would actually sign on to an investigation into their own party's deliberate embrace of fascism—which is precisely what any legitimate investigation into the events of Jan. 6 would reveal—was doomed to fail from the start.

Nowhere was this outcome more preordained than in the reaction of Republican House members whose votes could have authorized a commission to conduct such an investigation in the first place. Of the 210 GOP House members who voted this week, only 35 agreed to create such a commission. Of the 147 Republican House members who objected to the vote count certifying the 2020 presidential election, only five voted in support of the commission. The Senate has not yet voted on the House bill creating the commission, but Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has given his membership sufficient cover to oppose it in numbers that will make its passage effectively impossible, thanks to the filibuster.

So there will be no bipartisan commission to examine the events of Jan. 6. There will be no cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in uncovering the reasons those attacks occurred, or their support and coordination by specific members of the Republican Party and the Trump administration.

Max Boot, writing for The Washington Post, thinks this was all to be expected. In fact, it may well be a blessing in disguise. As Boot points out, the bipartisan commission, as agreed to by Reps. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat, and Republican John Katko, would have permitted Republicans to hamstring its effectiveness by requiring a majority vote of its 10 commissioners to issue subpoenas. On the Republican side, the five GOP commissioners would be appointed by the very people whose political futures could be implicated by the findings of the investigation: Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and McConnell, both of whom have now gone on record as opposing any investigation.

The GOP commissioners would simply be people approved and vetted by Donald Trump—the person responsible for the Jan. 6 attacks in the first place.

Boot writes:

Even if this bill were passed — which now appears unlikely — it would have still allowed considerable room for Republican obstructionism if all of the GOP-appointed commissioners voted in lockstep. There would have been nothing to stop McCarthy and McConnell from appointing rabid Trumpkins for precisely this purpose. (Imagine if, say, former Trump White House aide Stephen Miller were the vice chair.)
That McConnell and McCarthy are opposing even this balanced approach suggests they are intent on simply covering up what was arguably the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.

Put simply, you cannot put a thoroughly corrupt political party in charge of investigating its own corruption. The nature of the Jan. 6 attacks itself is inextricably tied to the lie of election fraud, a lie that is at this very moment being perpetuated and furthered by the GOP, at both the national and state level. Since Republicans are wedded to this lie, they cannot be expected to willingly participate in any good faith effort to uncover its origins, its blatant falsity, or its relationship to the Jan. 6 insurrection. As Boot points out, "the Republican leaders have become Trump's collaborators in a coverup." To expect them to willingly cooperate, while their ties and affinities to violent white supremacists and other assorted domestic terrorists are revealed and dissected for public consumption is, putting it mildly, preposterous.

So there can never be any bipartisan accounting of Jan. 6, by definition. It was a wholly partisan attack, condoned and even encouraged with the near-universal complicity of Republican members of Congress, at the explicit direction of their leader, Donald Trump. This is why McCarthy's first reaction to the commission has been a tortuous but classic exercise in whataboutism: What about antifa? What about Black Lives Matter?

And if Democrats had agreed to this framing, the GOP would have moved the goalposts yet again: What about Hunter Biden? And so on.

Republicans cannot allow a legitimate investigation into Jan. 6 because Republicans were responsible for Jan. 6. It's really that simple.

Boot believes the best course—in fact the only course, moving forward—is for Democratic House leadership to appoint a select committee.

The Republican refusal to agree to the bipartisan 1/6 Commission bill could actually be a blessing in disguise. It will free Pelosi to set up a January 6 Select Committee in which Democrats will be more firmly in charge — as Republicans were on the Benghazi committee. The Benghazi investigation was a political stunt, but this investigation is deadly serious. We must get a full accounting of the events of Jan. 6 despite Republican attempts to bury the truth. If we do, Republicans may come to regret their opposition to the bipartisan 1/6 Commission.

President Joe Biden describes the Jan. 6 insurrection as the "worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War." That attack was perpetrated by one party, and one party alone. There's no room for bipartisanship here, and there never was.

Democrats and Republicans alike have to face that fact.

'You're a communist': Florida parents hurl racist epithets at Chinese-American school board member

Wei Ueberschaer is the chairperson for the District 5 school board in Santa Rosa county, Florida. On May 3 the school board met to discuss lifting mask restrictions currently in place in that county's school system. Aware of the contentious nature of the topic, Ms. Ueberschaer began to read a statement she'd prepared, acknowledging the disparity of opinions on the issue but urging attendees at the public meeting to respect the decisions of those parents who wished their children to continue wearing masks at school.

But respect was apparently an unfamiliar concept for several of the attendees, who immediately began yelling pointed racial and political slurs at Ueberschaer, who is Chinese-American and has resided in the county for over twenty years.

As reported by the Washington Post:

The uproar from parents objecting to a mask requirement was so loud that Santa Rosa County school board member Wei Ueberschaer, who is Chinese American, did not hear it when she was called a communist and a man in the audience ridiculed the country her family is from.

"This is Santa Rosa County, not China," he taunted.

The bigot that uttered these slurs has not been identified, but can be heard in the clip of the incident, below, along with others shouting "Democrats," "Communists" and "RINO's."

This verbal barrage of Republican hate was particularly ironic since the school board had already decided to lift the mask restrictions and replace them with a recommendation.

The gentleman was partially correct, however. This is most definitely not China. China actually has had the pandemic under relative control since last November. That is due to various measures and cultural differences including a strong, centralized governmental response to the pandemic. Also China is not a democracy, unlike the U.S. which permits ignorant assholes like these the opportunity to vote in such a manner that can actually influence national policy; in this case, the people shouting racial and other slurs from the back of the room likely voted for Matt Gaetz, since this is the district Gaetz represents.

Although outnumbered by the loud and nasty Republicans present at the meeting, several parents had written to the board requesting that the mask mandate not be lifted. Rebekah Castor, a reporter for the local ABC affiliate 3WEAR-TV spoke to one of them.

She says she's not surprised no one spoke out in favor of masking during public comment because of the hostility in the meetings from those on the other side.

"Many of us knew the decision was already made because of the state," Colon said. "And just looking at how the board was treated, I can't imagine how I would've felt sitting there being attacked by these people."

The Santa Rosa school board meeting occurred before Florida governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order on Monday invalidating local emergency orders, but the state's department of education later clarified that DeSantis' order did not apply to school districts. However, the state's department of health last week rescinded its COVID-19 health advisories, including the requirement for masking in situations where social distancing is not possible. According to the WEAR-TV report, many of the school board members cited this as the reason for their decision.

The county currently has 14 students testing positive for COVID-19, while the state's number of cases involving variants to the virus has soared to over 10,000.

Republicans' strategy now relies entirely on stoking the eternal 'victimhood' of their voters

The myth of the elusive "white working class" Trump voter continues to haunt Democratic dreams of holding on to its slim House and Senate majorities. But a closer analysis suggests that what unified millions of Americans to support Trump, and what continues to constitute the biggest threat to Democrats has little to do with economic disparity or any "bread and butter" issues. Rather, it has more to do with the deliberate, calculated efforts by Trump—and now by all Republican elected legislators—to maintain and stoke a perpetual sense of "victimhood" among their constituents.

Trump's supposed appeal to "white working class" Americans has been interpreted as a phenomenon unique to Trump himself, as if his arrival on the political scene suddenly galvanized entire swaths of a previously dormant voter demographic. The reality, though, is considerably more nuanced, as reported in The Washington Post in 2017: "If being working class means being in the bottom half of the income distribution, the vast majority of Trump supporters during the primaries were not working class." The great majority of those who supported Trump during the 2016 primaries—the truest measure of a "Trump voter"—earned livings well above the national median income level:

Nor was lack of a college education peculiar to Trump supporters. Although 70% of his votes came from people without a college degree, there was nothing unique about that in terms of Republican voters overall, as The Post's Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu noted.

[D]uring the primaries, about 70 percent of all Republicans didn't have college degrees, close to the national average (71 percent according to the 2013 Census). Far from being a magnet for the less educated, Trump seemed to have about as many people without college degrees in his camp as we would expect any successful Republican candidate to have.

(emphasis original)

Thomas Edsall, writing for The New York Times convincingly suggests that the glue that bound Republicans together in 2016 and 2020 owes far more to simple psychology than any real sense of economic deprivation, lost economic status, or lack of educational attainment. It is a psychology of injured pride and fear of lost status, an unending sense of victimhood, carefully prodded and cultivated—most visibly by Trump himself since taking office, and now adopted by the rest of the Republican Party as their sole political strategy going forward.

This formula is hardly unique to Trump or the GOP. As pointed out by Alexandra Homolar and Georg Lofflmann, two authors quoted by Edsall, the "humiliation" narrative of victimhood is one commonly employed by so-called populist demagogues thoughout Europe and elsewhere.

From the abstract of their research paper, Populism and the Affective Politics of Humiliation Narratives:

As we show, within the populist security imaginary, humiliation is the key discursive mechanism that helps turn abstract notions of enmity into politically consequential affective narratives of loss, betrayal, and oppression. Humiliation binds together an ostensibly conflicting sense of national greatness and victimhood to achieve an emotive response that enables a radical departure from established domestic and international policy norms and problematizes policy choices centered on collaboration, dialogue, and peaceful conflict resolution.

In more simpler terms, by constantly stoking this over-arching narrative of perpetual victimhood, a demagogue such as Trump (or anyone else) can motivate his followers to reject the very tools of democratic governance that a country such as the U.S. relies on to resolve political differences. This is why millions of Trump voters were so primed and ready to believe that the election was somehow "stolen" from them by some murky, nefarious means. This is the psychology that prompted thousands of conspiracy-addled insurrectionists to attack the U.S. Capitol. It's why despite being the very targets of that mob of rioters, the vast majority of Republican legislators have refused and will continue to refuse to acknowledge the truth about what prompted those attacks.

These legislators are duplicitous—and in most cases, knowingly so. But as things currently stand, they know that any departure from the victimhood narrative will be met with howls of outrage by their constituents. So they will continue to parrot it, because as Trump amply demonstrated, the tactic works. As astounding as it is, white Republican voters, who by many objective measures are some of the most privileged, pampered people in the world, now consider themselves as victims.

As Edsall carefully emphasizes, this does not mean that Trump voters are actual victims. He quotes Clark University psychology professor Johanna Ray Vollhardt, who distinguishes groups who have actually experienced oppression from this altogether different idea of "dominant victimhood."

The psychology of collective victimhood among groups that were objectively targeted and harmed by collective violence and historical oppression is quite different from the psychology of grievance or imagined victimhood among dominant group members, who are driven by a sense of status loss and entitlement as well as resentment of minority groups that are viewed as a threat.

This is why Trump-voting COVID-19 deniers feel justified whining about their supposed loss of "freedoms" when asked to wear a mask when shopping or visiting a restaurant, without ever considering how silly these appeals sound to those groups who have truly been victimized by, say, systemic racism throughout this country's history. It's why Fox News and other right-wing media organs continually diminish and dismiss the concerns of genuinely marginalized communities. The brand of "victimhood" hawked by Fox News and its ilk is rooted in social status, and tied to a sense of entitlement, not actual rights.

The fact that many of us consider these attitudes pathetic and selfish doesn't prevent them from being dangerous. As noted by Holmar and Lofflemann, when a group is taught to feel victimized and humiliated, it turns off any impulse towards collaboration or cooperation, and reacts viscerally and emotionally instead, with the inevitable result of gravitating towards those leaders who continue to feed its sense of grievance.

Edsall quotes Scottish researchers Stephen Reicher and Yasemin Ulusahin, who note in their book, The Social Psychology of Collective Victimhood, that this kind of indoctrination fosters a moral dimension in their mentality that further stokes the "juices" of revenge and redemption towards their "oppressors."

It is ultimately about the toxicity of a particular construction of victimhood: One which transforms eliminationist violence into the restitution of a rightful moral order. For it is when we believe ourselves to be acting for the moral good that the most appalling acts can be committed.

As Edsall points out (with several illustrations), nearly every word spoken by Trump on the 2016 campaign trail, and most of the tweets issued from his fingertips while occupying the Oval Office were couched in some form of grievance or resentment, constantly portraying himself and the people who supported him as victims. His attacks on Hillary Clinton as an elitist, his demonization of immigrants, and his winking appeals to violence were all of a piece creating a shared sense of victimhood between himself and his followers.

And once that sense was established with his base, it didn't matter that his actual policies didn't follow through to address their real-life problems. It didn't even matter to them that he grossly fumbled the COVID-19 crisis, or that their fellow Americans were dying in the hundreds of thousands as a result. All that mattered was the sense that they were the victims, their "freedoms" were being threatened and the country had to reopen, even in the face of all medical and rational scientific fact suggesting exactly the opposite course. It was, as Miles Armaly and Adam Enders, two researchers from the University of Mississippi and University of Louisville also quoted by Edsall, describe, "an "egocentric victimhood," among Trump supporters, one which is almost wholly, internally focused.

A systemic victim looks externally to understand her individual victimhood. Egocentric victimhood, on the other hand, is less outwardly focused. Egocentric victims feel that they never get what they deserve in life, never get an extra break, and are always settling for less. Neither the 'oppressor,' nor the attribution of blame, are very specific. Both expressions of victimhood require some level of entitlement, but egocentric victims feel particularly strongly that they, personally, have a harder go at life than others.

By its very nature, this cloud of self-focused victimhood tends to preclude any acknowledgement of personal responsibility by these folks, either for creating their own problems or for failing to cooperate with their fellow Americans to resolve their differences. Like an addict constantly thinking about his/her next fix, they simply crave more fuel to feed their grievances. That explains why Republicans are more or less united in opposing Democratic efforts to provide COVID-19 relief, and feel compelled even to oppose any efforts to improve the nation's infrastructure. They don't want things to improve, because if things improve they will have to find something else for their constituents to feel victimized about. That's the only glue holding Republicans together.

President Biden has, thus far, managed to convey that what he has done thus far will benefit all Americans. If the economy rebounds as most expect it to, the endless litany of race-based grievances from Republicans and Fox News will loom less brightly than they did in 2020, with an economy still adrift from the pandemic. If Biden continues to highlight the favorable impact of these pieces of progressive legislation on people's lives, then that may relegate these fever dreams of victimhood to the ridiculous status where they belong.

But Edsall's analysis also suggests that if Joe Biden or any Democrat wants to make inroads with Republican voters, it will probably take more than simply passing policies that benefit them. It's an oft-overlooked fact that Donald Trump was elected in the midst of a fairly booming economy, one that owed itself almost entirely to Barack Obama. That didn't stop Trump from being elected, and it won't stop Trump or any Republicans—in 2022 or 2024—from employing the same time-tested "victimhood" mantra.

Edsall doesn't offer any specific solutions on how Democrats can combat this strategy, which essentially requires Democrats to convince these people that their grievances are imaginary and being cynically manipulated for political purposes. In an environment where Republicans have convinced more than half of their own electorate that the election was stolen, that seems like a manifestly difficult and probably futile task.

Which is why the focus for Democrats, going forward, should prioritize—above all else—protecting voter rights and access, mobilizing and inspiring our own voters, and doing everything within the realm of the possible to ensure that they turn out.

Pro-Trump website 'TheDonald' confirms detailed plans to storm Capitol and kill members of Congress

If there were any lingering doubts as to the violent intentions and motives of those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, those doubts may now be put to rest. From minute details, such as the most effective type of zip ties to restrain elected officials to the most effective methods of killing police officers, the rioters left a chilling and irrefutable electronic trail on a website dedicated to overturning the 2020 election on Donald Trump's behalf. Prior to Jan. 6, that website, "TheDonald.win," had generated over 1 million visits per day.

A research group called Advance Democracy, formed by former FBI analyst and Senate investigator Daniel Jones, collected thousands of messages posted by pseudonymous users of the now-defunct website in the days leading up to the insurrection. The posts were distilled into a report and provided to The Washington Post. Jones' group had previously focused on the online effort to mobilize the riot, and it soon became evident that this particular website served as one of the rioters' primary organizational hubs.

As reported by the Post's Craig Timberg:

"The website, TheDonald, played a far more central role in the January 6th Capitol insurrection than was previously known," he said. "There are thousands of posts — with tens of thousands of comments — detailing plans to travel to Washington and engage in violence against the U.S. Capitol. The ultimate end goal of this violence was, on behalf of Trump, disrupt the Congress and overturn the presidential election."

Because the posters on this site used pseudonyms, Advance Democracy could not identify them; the logical assumption is that the website and its contents are now being analyzed by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to track the former users through more forensic means. As the Post explains, the website itself grew out of a Reddit forum that served for some time as a "safe space" for racists and conspiracy theorists. Eventually, chafing at Reddit's moderation rules, the forum became a standalone site, with its web address owned by an Army Veteran named Jody Williams. Williams disbanded the site after the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol.

The Post article cites a treasure trove of intensely violent comments and discussions on the site in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 assault. Many of those comments clearly go well beyond the aspirational fever dreams of "keyboard commandos," and involve meticulous and well-coordinated plans, including "shared diagrams of the tunnel systems beneath the Capitol complex," discussion of travel and funding resources, and most notably, proposed methods to inflict violence, some of which were then employed by the rioters.

Users of TheDonald.win also shared advice on bringing firearms into Washington as well as how much ammunition to carry in case the protest turned into a gun battle, and they discussed the legality of carrying other weapons, such as stun guns and small knives, that might not violate the city's strict gun-control laws.
Other subjects of discussion were the proper length and brand of zip ties for detaining members of Congress and how to use a flagpole and other objects to attack police officers.

The question of how to overcome the presence of armed police officers on the Capitol steps dominated several of these online conversations. "Cops don't have 'standing' if they are laying on the ground in a pool of their own blood," wrote one user. Another posited creating a "wall of death" by pushing their fellow Trump supporters from behind. This user theorized—probably correctly—that police would be reluctant to shoot into the crowd if those in the surging mob appeared as if they were physically compelled by others in fomenting the assault.

In addition to detailed preparatory instructions, users of the site—self-described as a "never-ending rally dedicated to the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump,"—routinely encouraged each others' participation in what they unmistakably viewed as a Trump-inspired insurrection. Statements like "If they 'certify' (B)iden, we storm (C)apitol (H)ill. Executions on the steps" and "Arrest the worst traitors … Let them try to hurt us as civilians. Their support will collapse overnight." Other posts directly responded to Trump's encouragement to attend the "wild" event: "I'LL BE THERE, AND I'LL BE WILD, SIR!!!"

Additional posts ruminated as to whether the presence of a gallows or a guillotine outside the Capitol building would be preferable; ultimately, it appears it was decided that the blade of a guillotine would be too large to transport. There were also several posts providing helpful advice on ammunition should the rioters decide to bring arms to the event.

Taken collectively, the posts on this website confirm what the innumerable videos and photographs posted online by the participants themselves make obvious: The riot was carefully planned, it was wholly prompted by the exhortations and incitement of Donald Trump, and its intent was to inflict violence on both elected officials and any law enforcement officers who dared defend them.

In short, it was anything but a spontaneous event. It was a deliberate revolt against this country, planned weeks in advance, for the sole purpose of overthrowing a lawful election and preventing the Joe Biden presidency.


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