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.

An admission of Republican failure hovers beneath every racist coronavirus slur

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Republicans, encouraged by the twice-impeached, former one-term president, have persisted in using the phrase "China virus" or "Wuhan virus" to describe the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these same Republicans have insisted, despite an overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary, that the virus was created in a Chinese laboratory as opposed to originating in an animal host. Last April, as the pandemic spread uncontrolled throughout the U.S., the GOP sent a detailed, 57-page internal memo to its 2020 election candidates, specifically urging them to blame China at every turn when faced with questions about the administration's efforts to combat the pandemic.

Of course, the predictable result from repeating this theme was a marked upsurge in violence directed towards Asian Americans. The link between Trump and the GOP's anti-China rhetoric and such violence prompted President Joe Biden, in one of his first official acts upon taking office, to ban such pejorative terminology from our federal agencies and their public documents. Still, despite the well-documented consequences to Asian Americans, elected Republican officials—such as Ohio Lt. Gov. John Husted only last week—continue to trot out the racist slur.

While the connection between this rhetoric and acts of violence is obvious, it's important for Americans to remember why Trump and the GOP made this conscious, collective decision in the first place. Blaming China was more than a deliberate attempt to shift the blame for the pandemic itself,; as employed almost exclusively by Republicans, it was a deliberate attempt to distract from the administration's wholly botched response.

From the very start the "Chinese virus" appellation was intentionally amplified by American right-wing media. It's a slur which almost revels in its senselessness. To be clear, even if the virus actually had man-made origins—even if the virus been created in Xi Jinping's basement with a vintage Gilbert chemistry set—from a practical standpoint, the precise origin of the virus, be it bat, bald eagle or Beijing lab, is essentially irrelevant. Whether the virus originated in China, Kenya, or Wyoming is distinct from the question of how the global community has responded to it, which is what ultimately matters.

That distinction is what Trump's favorite slur tries to obfuscate. The tragic reality is that the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic was atrocious compared to nearly every other developed nation in the world. It was so bad it turned this country into a pariah nation, a cautionary tale of what not to do in a public health crisis.

And that abysmal response, whose ineptitude and human cost will doubtlessly fill the history books for the next hundred years as an example of what failed, indifferent government policies can lead to, was due almost entirely to an abdication of responsibility towards the American public by one of this country's two major political parties. Republicans were the ones responsible for electing, abetting and encouraging an Executive uniquely and pathologically unsuited to addressing the catastrophic implications of a global pandemic. Republicans were the ones who stood by silently, while our public health infrastructure and pandemic response capabilities were being gleefully dismantled by the the Trump administration. And Republicans of every stripe must bear the ultimate responsibility for the consequences of that failure, whether they choose to admit it or not.

Only recently, as the nation finally begins to extricate itself from this calamity, is a reckoning of sorts coming forth. The most up-to-date estimates place direct blame on Donald Trump for approximately 400,000 of the deaths that have occurred to date due to COVID-19. There is literally no president in American history whose malfeasance resulted in so many deaths of U.S. citizens.

But Trump didn't act alone. The death toll was increased exponentially due to the sycophancy of a Republican establishment lined up behind him, adopting his cues as the pandemic's impact continued to worsen. Every Republican at the state and federal level who acquiesced to the former administration's malfeasance either by parroting lethal anti-masking propaganda, forcefully advocating reopening businesses in the name of "personal freedom," or hawking phony cures and ridiculous conspiracy theories is complicit.

So the appeal of the slur to Republicans, however irrelevant to the actual harm caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is easy enough to understand, because it serves as an ready distraction from the blame they so richly deserve for allowing a public health crisis to become a calamity. The entire approach by the Trump administration was intended to abandon any leadership role of the federal government, and thereby escape blame for any failure to stop it. As pointed out by Josh Marshall, writing for Talking Points Memo, this exercise in blame avoidance was intentional, a key to the administration's overall strategy when faced with its own ineptitude.

From the very start of the Pandemic in the first weeks of 2020 the Trump administration consistently sought to disclaim responsibility for things that would be genuinely difficult and could have challenging or bad outcomes. Push the tough tasks on to others and if it goes badly blame them. This frequently went to absurd lengths as when the White House insisted that states short on ventilators at the peak of the spring surge should have known to purchase them in advance of the pandemic. Over the course of the year Trump spun up an alternative reality in which the US was somehow still operating under the Articles of Confederation in which individual states were responsible for things that have been viewed as inherently federal responsibilities for decades or centuries.

But the impetus wasn't ideological. It was mainly a means of self-protection and risk avoidance: arrange things so that the administration could take credit if things went well and blame states if they went bad. Nowhere was this more clear than in the months' long crisis over testing capacity. Since the administration was actually hostile to testing in general and couldn't solve the problem in any case they simply claimed it was a state responsibility.

As Marshall points out, the one constant during Trump's entire botched handling of the COVID-19 pandemic—from the first warnings of an incipient health crisis through and including Trump's final day in office—was "to put it off on someone else so the White House didn't get the blame."

Attributing the pandemic to China or Wuhan, or the rally staple "Kung flu?" That was always a calculated part of Trump's attempt to avoid blame, one which immediately filtered down to the state level and was adopted by Republican officials equally eager to dodge blame. Even following a year of racially-motivated attacks on Asian Americans that resulted from this distraction campaign, most House Republicans still refused to condemn Trump's rhetoric.

As detailed by Alex Samuels, writing for FiveThirtyEight, the vilification of China had its desired effect among the Republican constituency.

Ultimately, blaming China for the pandemic didn't help Trump win reelection in 2020, but unfavorable views of China are at a record high among Americans.1 And there are signs that Americans, especially Republicans, blame China for the spread of the coronavirus. A November Economist/YouGov poll found, for instance, that 64 percent of all registered voters and 86 percent of Republicans said it was definitely or probably true that China was responsible for the pandemic.

The key word for Republicans here was "responsible." Republicans recognize that Donald Trump and those GOP officials that adopted his strategy throughout this crisis were ultimately responsible for the U.S. sustaining a higher death toll from this virus than any other country in the world. As Samuels notes, that fact practically compels them to find a scapegoat for their own failure, with any blowback inflicted on Asian-Americans a secondary consideration at best.

[T]he experts I've talked to think that if people uphold a specific worldview by delegitimizing another group, the framing of diseases will always be political — no matter how apolitical we think diseases are. That's because racism itself is a disease, and as Roger Keil, a political scientist at York University, told me, "[I]t seems to spread sometimes like a virus." Keil compared it to watching a video online: "For every video that links the disease to Chinese people, there will be 10 or 1,000 people watching, so it's normalized," he said. "It's terrible, but that's how racism spreads."

The Trump administration knew the implications of COVID-19,from the outset and that it presented his prospects and those of his minions with a truly daunting, existential crisis. The China scapegoating began immediately and continued throughout the rest of Trump's tenure, heedless of whatever harm such scapegoating would have on millions of Asian-Americans. Republican leaders willingly followed his lead and have continued to do so up to this day. But every time one of them utters the words "Chinese virus" or "Wuhan virus," what they're really doing is dodging their own responsibility for the worst response to a major public health crisis in this nation's history.

'Owning the libs' isn't really funny — but it is a hallmark of fascism

When Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert decided it would be a good political move to issue a histrionic email declaring "I told Beto 'HELL NO' to taking our guns. Now we need to tell Joe Biden" only hours after the news broke about the latest horrific mass shooting in a Boulder, Colorado, grocery store, many people took her to task for the callousness she demonstrated in self-promoting and fundraising off a tragedy.

And that criticism was valid, but it misses a more relevant point. Boebert did this intentionally, calculating that the blowback she received would be proportionately less than the credit and acclaim she'd get from her own constituents for her insouciant disregard of human life. In fact the blowback is what she counted on. After all, the desired effect was accomplished — she'd provoked the "liberal media " into a wholly predictable response. In other words, she "owned the libs," at least in the eyes of the people who will continue to vote for her noxious self.

She knew she'd be criticized, and that the criticism would be deserved. But by intentionally baiting her own excoriation she was reaching for what has now become the sole arrow remaining in the entire Republican quiver. As expressed cogently by Derek Robertson, writing for Politico, the purpose of "owning the libs" is not victory over them, but "so much as a commitment to infuriating, flummoxing or otherwise distressing liberals with one's awesomely uncompromising conservatism."

Robertson's worthwhile take on the subject, which promises to be a kind of dissection of the psychology underlying the "own the libs" phenomenon now ubiquitous within Republican Party ranks, still suffers from a facile sugar-coating of the concept by his Republican sources. He quotes Helen Andrews, editor of the American Conservative, who ennobles the process of "owning the libs" by elevating it to a virtue: "Owning the libs' is a way of asserting dignity," she says. "'The libs,' as currently constituted, spend a lot of time denigrating and devaluing the dignity of Middle America and conservatives, so fighting back against that is healthy self-assertion; any self-respecting human being would … Stunts, TikTok videos, they energize people, that's what they're intended to do."

That's not really true, though. Whatever outrage liberals direct towards "conservatives" is usually based on plain old empirical evidence. If we tend to categorize Trump supporters as racist, for example, it's because they either affirmatively endorsed or turned a blind eye to racism by voting for Trump who clearly demonstrated his own embrace of racism, over and over. We don't seek to "devalue" their dignity because we don't recognize any "dignity" there to begin with; their actions are reprehensible, they hurt other people and they should know better. If "dignity" is even implicated it's cognizance of their own lack of it — their anger at their sorry-assed selves being revealed--that compels them to respond with a defensive, mocking nihilism.

Still, to his credit Robertson traces the origins of this phenomenon back to the McCarthy era where conservatives would justify Sen. Joe McCarthy's worst excesses by intoning that he "at least he stood for something," whereas his opponents allegedly had no similar certitude of purpose. But while McCarthyism may have been the historical precedent to what we see spewed ad nauseum in virtually all conservative media content today (particularly since Trump, who elevated the heinous and offensive to an art form) it now seems that that "owning the libs" has become the entire rationale for a Republican Party singularly bereft of any ability to perform its supposed intended function of governing on behalf of the American people.

Robertson also quotes Marshall Kosloff, who comes closer to the truth:

"It basically offers the party a way of resolving the contradictions within a realigning party, that increasingly is appealing to down-market white voters and certain working-class Black and Hispanic voters, but that also has a pretty plutocratic agenda at the policy level." In other words: Owning the libs offers bread and circuses for the pro-Trump right while Republicans quietly pursue a traditional program of deregulation and tax cuts at the policy level.

So 'owning the libs' is at the very least, a scam, a feint, a mask for the Republican Party's utter indifference to the real-life concerns of their constituents, for whom elected Republicans have had absolutely nothing to offer. It's distracting entertainment, substituted as policy. But is it more than that?

As the Biden administration enters its third full month, it's useful to recount exactly what Republicans have done in the interim. Thus far the only reaction from the right to the progressive measures being instituted on an almost-daily basis by the new administration has been an exercise in outrage politics: From the truly ridiculous, such as the saga of Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head, to anti-immigrant racism, with Fox News ginning up outrage towards an over-hyped "border crisis," to amplifying the simplistic hatred of anti-transgender bias.

All of these tactics have something in common: they're performative exaggerations of social and cultural shifts that in reality have little or no tangible impact upon the daily lives of Republican constituents. Show me a Republican whose lives have actually been affected by an undocumented immigrant (few Republicans know any, and fewer still aspire to the "jobs" they fill), by a children's book few if any Republicans have ever read, or by a transgender child playing sports (few Republicans have ever encountered one). These are all red herrings — shiny objects for the right to hold up and point to with one hand, while the other hand is busy with more substantive goals, such as impeding people from voting.

But they're also symptomatic of a party that has completely abandoned "policy" as a governing principle. Instead, what we see is a Republican Party that has committed itself to one goal only — maintaining its grip on power by totally committing itself to inflammatory cultural issues such as immigration. In its drive to maintain power the GOP has adopted the same tactics of far-right parties in Europe, stoking grievances with apocalyptic, xenophobic rhetoric against immigrants and so-called "social deviants" such as LGBTQ people whom it attempts to marginalize as a threat to the "purity" of the population.

As was observed by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein last year, the modern Republican Party now closely resembles the neo-Nazi and white nationalist parties now emergent in Europe, such as Germany's AfD and Hungary's Fidesz, both in its ideological makeup and tactics, as it relentlessly tacks rightward.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

What we see in the behavior of these proto-fascist European parties is another, peculiarly European version of the "own the libs" approach, by mocking the Holocaust, for example, as reported by the BBC:

The party's leader in the eastern state of Thuringia, Björn Höcke, once described Berlin's Holocaust memorial as a "monument of shame" and called for a "180-degree turnaround" in Germany's handling of its Nazi past. Picking up the same theme, Alexander Gauland trivialised the Nazi era as "just a speck of bird's muck in more than 1,000 years of successful Germany history".

Similarly, those who resist or object to these tactics are drummed out of the party apparatus altogether:

The AfD has managed to attract voters from the centre right and even the centre left but in the words of Verena Hartmann, a moderate MP who left the party in January 2020 because it was becoming to extreme: "Those who resist this extreme right-wing movement are mercilessly pushed out of the party."

Sounds strangely familiar, doesn't it?

Heather Digby Parton shrewdly documented this phenomenon at the conservative CPAC convention this year, in which Republicans hoping to take up the coveted mantle of Donald Trump spent nearly all their energies playing up to the crowd's laundry list of hot-button grievances. Seldom if ever venturing into policy matters, the tone and tenor of those speaking reflected the prevailing sentiment of the attendees: "They don't care if these people are right or wrong, it's their unwillingness to back down no matter what that they admire."

Parton cites Soviet-born author Masha Gessen who shows how the "own the libs" phenomenon has its counterpart among the far-right parties that have arisen in former Communist states such as Hungary, as well as Western European countries now under siege by right-wing "populism." In particular, Gessen quotes Balint Magyar, who characterized the appeal of such parties as "an ideological instrument for the political program of morally unconstrained collective egoism:"

Magyar suggested reading the definition backward to better understand it: "The egoistic voter who wants to disregard other people and help solely himself can express this in a collective more easily than alone." The collective form helps frame the selfishness in loftier terms, deploying "homeland," "America first," or ideas about keeping people safe from alien criminals. In the end, Magyar writes, such populism "delegitimizes moral constraints and legitimizes moral nihilism."

The whole point of "owning the libs" is to project an in-your-face disregard to norms of decency and morality that most people have grown to expect from our civil society. In this mindset, "Fuck your Feelings" becomes a litmus test of moral nihilism towards others, a requirement to confirm one's party loyalty and be part of the "club."

The difference between the Unites States and Europe, however, is that unlike Europe the U.S. political landscape is essentially limited to a two-party system. The Republican Party has moved so far to the right that the American public are now left with a choice between a relatively moderate Democratic Party and an extreme, far-right Republican Party, with nothing at all in between. Because our American electoral system unduly favors low-population "conservative" states, providing them equal representation in the U.S. Senate, and because of partisan gerrymandering ensuring that the GOP maintains rough parity with if not domination of Democratic voters who tend to be clustered in metropolitan and suburban areas, these two parties are afforded equal time and attention by the traditional media and the political process.

But they are not equal, either in numbers or in motivation. One party represents far more voters, as shown in the national popular vote in election after election for the past twenty years, while the other represents a dwindling and aging voter base. One party represents inclusion and social progress, the other openly embraces xenophobia, racism, and suppressing the vote. With its new penchant for denying the legitimacy of elections and its now-open embrace of paramilitary organizations and white supremacy, the Republican Party is rapidly moving towards the textbook definition of fascism, if it has not already arrived there.

"Owning the libs" may seem funny and even harmless to those who practice it or profit by it, but the reality is that a party whose messaging now relies solely and exclusively on establishing a "litmus test" that deliberately and intentionally abandons moral constraints and human decency as a unifying principle is hardly breaking new ground. In fact, it's following a tired and familiar path, conditioning its followers to dehumanize those who oppose them politically, while instead embracing autocracy and, ultimately, fascism.

Former Trump officials' 'COVID-19 wasn't my fault' tour begins in earnest

The "It wasn't my fault" tour is in full swing.

We heard from Robert Redfield, former director of the CDC and one of Trump's prime stooges during the COVID-19 pandemic, venturing that that if only China had been a little more forthcoming, the U.S. response under Trump would have been so, so drastically different.

Speaking Saturday to CNN, and rather than trying to justify his own abysmal performance during the worst public health crisis the country has experienced in over a century, he instead chose to repeat the discredited and debunked "lab myth:"

Without citing any evidence to back up his claim, Redfield also told Gupta he believes the pandemic originated in a lab in China that was already studying the virus, a controversial theory that the World Health Organization called "extremely unlikely" and for which there is no clear evidence.

Still, Redfield filled up the Internets up with words, and maybe, just maybe, he will be able to salvage his career, working quietly cleaning bedpans in some nondescript medical hell-hole somewhere in the American "heartland." Which would be far more than he deserves.

But this is really, really just too much for any words:

Dr. Deborah Birx, who served as the White House coronavirus response coordinator under the Trump administration, reveals her chilling conclusion in a new CNN documentary that the number of coronavirus deaths could have been "decreased substantially" if cities and states across the country had aggressively applied the lessons of the first surge toward mitigation last spring, potentially preventing the surges that followed

In other words, mistakes were made "last spring." If some mysterious and unnamed "others" in those "cities and states" had just not been complicit in those mistakes, so many people would be alive right now!

"I look at it this way. The first time we have an excuse," Birx says. "There were about a hundred thousand deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially."

In "her mind" the number of deaths could have been "mitigated or decreased substantially."

Well, what exactly was in her "mind," last spring? How hard would it have been for a 64 year-old physician and diplomat, with a career fully established, well ensconced and secure in her position, to speak out against what amounted to a politically-motivated, contrived agenda that she knew full well would result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans?

I guess that prospect was just too daunting to contemplate at the time. As the New York Times reported, during that exact time — "over a critical period beginning in mid-April" — where she could have made any difference, Birx was little more than a cheerleader for Trump's malfeasance:

For scientific affirmation, they turned to Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the sole public health professional in the Meadows group. A highly regarded infectious diseases expert, she was a constant source of upbeat news for the president and his aides, walking the halls with charts emphasizing that outbreaks were gradually easing. The country, she insisted, was likely to resemble Italy, where virus cases declined steadily from frightening heights.

"[F]ully embracing her role as a member of the president's team," as the Times reported back in July of last year, she positively reveled in her newfound status, even providing some useful buzzwords for Trump to try to explain away the virus' mounting death toll, as he intentionally and deliberately discouraged the states — with her full knowledge, over and over -- from doing anything to mitigate it:

Dr. Birx would roam the halls of the White House, talking to Mr. Kushner, Ms. Hicks and others, sometimes passing out diagrams to bolster her case. "We've hit our peak," she would say, and that message would find its way back to Mr. Trump.
Dr. Birx began using versions of the phrase "putting out the embers," wording that was later picked up by the press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, and by Mr. Trump himself.

So during the time that she now says deaths from COVID-19 "could have been mitigated or reduced substantially," Birx was doing essentially nothing to achieve that end. In fact, based on the reporting of record, she knowingly acquiesced in making the pandemic even more lethal.

Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California, comes to the same conclusion:

"The malicious incompetence that resulted in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths starts at the top, with the former President and his enablers," the congressman tweeted. "And who was one of his enablers? Dr. Birx, who was afraid to challenge his unscientific rhetoric and wrongfully praised him."

There's nothing more sickening than watching people desperately trying to redeem their reputations in the wake of a catastrophe they themselves helped to create.

But, I suppose they can always say they were "just following orders."

EPA to conduct unprecedented 'public accounting' of Trump's political attacks on science

A newly transformed Environmental Protection Agency under the leadership of Michael Regan will conduct an unprecedented, public accounting of the Trump administration's four years of politically-motivated attacks on scientific inquiry, attacks that were used as a basis for dozens of regulatory changes calculated to benefit corporate polluters at the expense of the public health.

As reported by the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is taking the unusual step of making a public accounting of the Trump administration's political interference in science, drawing up a list of dozens of regulatory decisions that may have been warped by political interference in objective research.
The effort could buttress efforts to unwind pro-business regulations of the past four years, while uplifting science staff battered by four years of disregard. It is particularly explicit at the Environmental Protection Agency, where President Biden's political appointees said they felt that an honest accounting of past problems was necessary to assure career scientists that their findings would no longer be buried or manipulated.

In preparation for this inquiry, Mr. Regan has requested all EPA employees to bring any and all examples of political interference to the attention of the agency's inspector general and other officials responsible for maintaining scientific integrity at the agency, without fear of retaliation or retribution of any kind.

In a blunt memo this month, one senior Biden appointee said political tampering under the Trump administration had "compromised the integrity" of some agency science. She cited specific examples, such as political leaders discounting studies that showed the harm of dicamba, a herbicide in popular weedkillers like Roundup that has been linked to cancer and subsequently ruling that its effectiveness outweighed its risks.

As noted in the Times' report, former Trump officials involved in the deliberate distortion of scientific evidence and studies in order to justify their political motives have reacted to the announcement with varying degrees of concern, some characterizing the efforts to uncover their work as simply another exercise in "politicization" of the agency. They emphasize that their decisions were aided with the advice and concurrence from (presumably non-political) career employees. And while acknowledging that in many circumstances those employees did not agree with their decisions, they stress that their efforts were just "differences in scientific opinion" and the typical give-and-take of any "team."

It will be interesting to see how many of those career employees truly felt themselves as part of a "team" with these Trump political hacks. As reported in 2021 by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, the EPA lost 672 scientists during the Trump administration, many of whom felt they were forced out of their positions. A comprehensive report on the administration sidelining of scientific research conducted in December, 2019, by the New York Times, found that Trump's political appointees had "diminished the role of science in federal policymaking while halting or disrupting research projects nationwide:"

Political appointees have shut down government studies, reduced the influence of scientists over regulatory decisions and in some cases pressured researchers not to speak publicly. The administration has particularly challenged scientific findings related to the environment and public health opposed by industries such as oil drilling and coal mining. It has also impeded research around human-caused climate change, which President Trump has dismissed despite a global scientific consensus.

So corrupted from its intended purpose had the agency become under Trump that Former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler even went so far as to release an official pre-election memo in August, 2020, touting the agency's "removal" of environmental regulations that he characterized as "hamstringing" American businesses. Some of these actions are addressed in the Times article linked above, including the refusal to ban asbestos products; "declaring the health effects of chlorpyrifos, a widely-used pesticide, 'unresolved' despite years of agency research proving its danger to infants;" and attempting to limit the type of scientific studies which could be used to justify the imposition of any new regulations affecting corporate profits.

Wheeler's self-congratulatory memo bragged about such efforts as "rescind[ing] the Obama Administration's inadequately justified regulation of methane" and eliminating regulations on potentially cancerous emissions for suffering "small oil and gas operators." His tenure at EPA, like that of his disgraced predecessor, Scott Pruitt, was, as the Times report notes, "the epicenter of some of the administration's most questionable decisions."

So yes, it's understandable why certain people might be concerned about a report publicly revealing what they did, at the U.S. taxpayer's expense, in the guise of "protecting" the environment.

145 House Republicans refuse to say whether they've been vaccinated against COVID-19

You couldn't find a better example of just how little Republican House members think of their constituents than this. CNN conducted a survey of all members of the House of Representatives to determine how many had received at least the first dose of one of the three available vaccines for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has killed approximately 540,000 Americans.

CNN confirmed that 189 Democrats out of 219 in the House have been vaccinated. One Democrat confirmed he had not been vaccinated but planned to be and there were 29 Democrats for whom CNN did not receive responses.
CNN also confirmed that 53 House Republicans out of 211 have been vaccinated. Thirteen Republicans told CNN they have not been vaccinated even as many said they planned to be. CNN did not receive a response from 145 House Republicans.

(emphasis added)

For the record, I think we can assume that the true number of vaccinations between Republicans and Democratic representatives is actually quite similar, since the number of those (including senators and House representatives) publicly reported to have been infected skews heavily (nearly triple the number) toward Republicans, almost wholly due to their insistence on refusing to social distance or use masks. If for some reason that is not the case, it would suggest that most Republicans as a group are either a.) completely honest, delusional, or cognitively impaired, b.) mindlessly obstinate, or c.) afraid to reveal their status because of what their constituents would think.

If they were completely honest, delusional, or cognitively impaired, they would be likely to tell the truth about their status (either yes or no, or "planning" to be vaccinated), rather than refuse to answer, because either they would want their constituents to be vaccinated, not vaccinated, or it would make no difference to them. So they're not "completely honest," delusional, or cognitively impaired.

If they were just mindlessly obstinate, dyed-in-the-wool deniers and truly believed the COVID-19 pandemic was nothing but a "hoax," they would likely respond that they had not been vaccinated, since they would not want to encourage their constituents to be vaccinated. This might be a reprehensible response, but at least it would be truthful. But those 145 chose instead not to say whether they'd been vaccinated—or not.

Finally, if they were simply afraid to reveal their status, they would refuse to respond, which is what 145 of them have done.

So we can fairly assume that most if not all of these 145 Republicans are afraid to reveal their vaccinated or non-vaccinated status. But by succumbing to this fear and refusing to reveal their status, they're implicitly and deliberately placing their own political interests above the lives of their constituents. Because otherwise they would fall into category a.) above.

This is the uniform excuse being employed by those Republicans who refuse to respond:

"Isn't that a HIPAA violation?" Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia said when asked about her vaccine status. "I don't know if should tell you," Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma said. "I am not going to answer that." "That's not appropriate," Rep. Jason Smith, a Republican from Missouri, chimed in as he overheard the question. Later when Smith was asked about his vaccination status, he shot back, "The fact that you are asking them their health information, I think that is really unacceptable."

Of course HIPAA has nothing to do with this. As the CNN article points out, it's neither a violation of HIPAA nor an infringement on their "privacy" to disclose whether you've been vaccinated or not: "HIPAA applies to health care providers, who are barred from sharing personal health information about their patients without consent, not to individuals who willingly share their information."

These Republicans know this full well. As public figures allegedly hired to represent their constituents, in the face of a massive and deadly public health crisis they have a civic duty, if not an obligation, out of basic human decency to respond "yes" or "no."

But clearly that is too much to ask of them.

Former top DOJ official: Capitol riot evidence 'trending towards' sedition charges

The wheels of Justice turn slowly, but they do turn.

As reported in the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Evidence the government obtained in the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol most likely meets the bar necessary to charge some of the suspects with sedition, Michael R. Sherwin, the federal prosecutor who had been leading the Justice Department's inquiry, said in an interview that aired on Sunday.

The last time the Department of Justice brought sedition charges against anyone was nearly a decade ago.

"I personally believe the evidence is trending toward that, and probably meets those elements," Mr. Sherwin said. "I believe the facts do support those charges. And I think that, as we go forward, more facts will support that."

A long time ago someone wrote a cryptic little song:

And you just can't escape from the sound
Don't worry too much, it'll happen to you
We were children once, playing with toys

Sherwin was the prosecutor originally leading the Justice Department's inquiry into the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. He is in the unusual position (for a prosecutor) of having personally witnessed the attack on the Capitol, dressed in running clothes and standing among the crowd at the time Trump beckoned his supporters to attack.

"Where it was initially pro-Trump, it digressed to anti-government, anti-Congress, anti-institutional," Mr. Sherwin said. "And then I eventually saw people climbing the scaffolding. The scaffolding was being set up for the inauguration. When I saw people climbing up the scaffolding, hanging from it, hanging flags, I was like, 'This is going bad fast.'"

And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
From the profit he's made on your dreams

"It's unequivocal that Trump was the magnet that brought the people to D.C. on the 6th. Now the question is, is he criminally culpable for everything that happened during the siege, during the breach?" Mr. Sherwin said.

It must be quite an eye-opening experience for some of these folks to have the full implications of what they've done brought home to them. Very easy to play Nazi pretend games on a keyboard with your maladjusted and irascible friends, quite another thing to be looking at up to twenty years in a federal prison.

If you had just a minute to breathe
And they granted you one final wish
Would you ask for something like another chance?

For some of these folks, it's far, far too late to ask that question.

Charting the Democratic Party's future through the nation's cities and suburbs

Last week 21 Republican attorneys-general, all hailing from "red" states, signed onto a letter complaining about a provision contained within the American Rescue Plan (ARP), which effectively prohibits them from diverting funds, intended to shore up local budgets and services, in order to instead finance tax cuts. Irate that they were being denied the opportunity to use this federal largesse for their own ideological purposes, they condemned what they called the federal government's "coercive" and "micromanaging" tactics.

Sadly for these Republican-led states, the prohibition is likely to remain in effect. But by their very antagonism to being sidelined by provisions for direct, targeted aid (much of which will necessarily be dedicated towards those state's largest municipalities), these attorneys general again highlighted the glaring divide that exists between "blue" America (broadly speaking, the country's more populated metropolitan areas and their inner suburbs) and "red" America, the vast, but lesser populated, areas in between.

This divide is emphatically presented to us in every election as we watch the nation's votes being tallied on the electoral map. Within most states, we inevitably see a confluence of blue, urban and suburban, contrasting with a sea of deep red in the rural hinterlands, as people make their political preferences known. Despite the hopeful aspirations of many (mostly Democratic) politicians, this divergence is now a simple fact of American life that is unlikely to change as this nation becomes more and more polarized — at least in the near term.

Ronald Brownstein, writing for The Atlantic, believes it's well past time for Democrats to face reality. While we may wish, in the spirit of national unity, to chip away at the Republicans' solid white, predominantly rural and semi-rural base, the fact is that, for all his wretchedness, Donald Trump knew where his center of power resided. It wasn't in the cities or their suburbs. From Donald Trump's anti-urban policies, race-baiting dog whistle politics and out-and-out insults directed at the major cities in those swing states he'd lost in the 2020 election, to the racist voter suppression measures now being obsessively instituted in Republican-led statehouses throughout the country, it's patently clear who Republicans consider as the "enemy."

In particular, the actions displayed by "red" state governments, in comparison to the metropolitan areas within them, provides a case study in differing priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just look at the stark contrast between the response of Democratically-governed cities like Houston, Texas, or Philadelphia, and the attitudes of Republican-dominated state legislatures towards protective measures and aid. As Brownstein points out, "the states controlled by Republican governors or legislators—currently slightly more than half of all the states—are hostile to almost everything a Democratic president wants to do."

Brownstein argues that with their new, fragile majorities in Congress, now is the time for Democrats to go beyond reimagining the political landscape, and deal with the reality of this nation as it actually is. We must furiously and relentlessly consolidate Democratic power and policies in Democratic strongholds: the cities, and even more importantly, the suburban areas immediately surrounding them. As he observes, the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic has provided President Joe Biden with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do just that.

Cities and their inner suburbs need an immediate lifeline from Washington to stabilize their finances after the devastation of the pandemic. But once those communities regain their balance, they could become crucial allies for Biden. By working with big metros, the president would be aligning federal policy with powerful economic, social, and electoral trends—and empowering local officials overwhelmingly sympathetic to his core objectives. If Biden can forge such partnerships, he could both ignite a new wave of local innovation and solidify the Democratic Party's advantage in the fast-growing, diverse, and well-educated metro areas that have become the bedrock of its electoral coalition.

Despite the prevailing tendency of today's Republicans to rely on lies they call "alternative facts," some facts are unassailable. Brownstein points out that the 100 most populous counties in the U.S. now account for half the nation's economic output. As a result, more people are gravitating towards—rather than away from—metropolitan areas, including both inner cities and their suburban surroundings, increasing their racial diversification. The suburbs, once a bastion of Republican-leaning white flight, have become paramount to Democratic electoral prospects as economic ties between the cities and their suburbs have strengthened over the past decade.

This phenomenon argues for what Brownstein calls a "regional" political approach, one which Republicans have ceded through their hostility to the urban populations they continue to demonize in order to inflame their own racist constituencies. Such an approach to federal governance, from a Democratic standpoint, can rely on a ready power base made up of elected major metropolitan and suburban-metropolitan officials whose goals and attitudes already align with the Democratic Party. Brownstein cites the cooperation of the nation's largest urban municipal governments with the Biden administration's goals to combat climate change as just one example of how this approach can work in practice. For instance, by initiating green-based energy innovations such as conversion to electric vehicles and energy-efficient lighting, or by matching or directly funding energy-efficient mass transit capabilities, the administration can partner directly with urban regions without resorting to the traditional allotment of federal funding directly to state governments.

Possibly the most immediate impact of a federal-local (rather than a federal-state) mechanism of cooperation could be felt in the area of healthcare, with emphasis on covering the uninsured through Medicaid expansion, a measure that would normally be resisted by red-state governors and statehouses. While Democrats hold both chambers, this is possible by simply revising language of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to allow it.

In most, if not all, red states, Republican governors would likely block such federal-local partnerships, but a Democratic-controlled Congress could change the ACA to allow local governments to bypass those governors—and even to make such partnerships more financially feasible for the locales by providing them with enhanced federal funding. Authorizing local governments to expand coverage directly would make a big dent in access to health care, since most of the uninsured in those red states live in urban areas—the five biggest Texas counties, for instance, account for nearly half of the state's uninsured. And a law empowering local governments to expand Medicaid might be easier to pass through Congress than an alternative Biden has already floated: automatically enrolling eligible Americans in the non-expansion states into a new "public option."

Brownstein follows with several proposals that would effectively re-orient the way federal funds are disbursed towards a more regional, metro-centric approach. While some of the measures he offers would require the elimination of the filibuster, others—such as inducements for metropolitan developmental and economic expenditures included in federal budgeting—may be possible through the reconciliation process, as long as the Democratic Party continues to retain majorities in Congress.

From a political standpoint, Brownstein points out these measures are grounded in an unfortunate reality. The needs of rural America are important and shouldn't be discounted or disregarded, but no matter how much effort and resources the administration extends towards revitalizing these "red" areas—expanding access to broadband, improving their infrastructure and health care, encouraging rural economic development—Biden is unlikely to receive much, if any, political benefit from it. The Republican Party has a perverse, existential interest in ensuring that such efforts do not succeed, if only for the goal of maintaining their grip on power. They GOP will continue their efforts to stoke race resentment and cultural grievance, pitting the more rural citizens who comprise the vast bulk of their voting base against the larger, more economically vibrant urban and suburban areas. As Brownstein observes, "so long as the GOP continues to stoke those voters' racial and cultural resentments—and as Democrats more unreservedly embrace racial and cultural liberalism—Biden is likely to have only limited success, at most."

In the end, in Brownstein's view, it comes down to the cold calculation of political expediency. While he doesn't advocate abandoning Democratic efforts in more rural areas, his focus is grounded on the more immediate accomplishments possible in this, the Biden presidency.

That reality leaves Biden facing what, in the end, may be a straightforward equation. In an era of intense political polarization and widening social division, Biden's best chance at enlarging his political support—and recording gains on the issues he cares most about—may come from finding new ways to work with the places that most want to work with him.

Former President Barack Obama famously declared that there should be no division between "red" or "blue" Americas—that there should be just one United States of America. But the unrelenting, racially-motivated efforts of the Republican Party have had their desired effect: they have made that worthy aspiration impossible from a practical and political standpoint. The economic, social and cultural future of this nation rests, for the foreseeable future, in its largest population centers, the major cities and their surrounding suburban areas. There is no longer any reason for Democrats to pretend that its political future should be anything otherwise.

Note: Judeling in the comments points up an excellent contra argument to Brownstein's thesis, here.

Think Democrats would pay a political price for ending the filibuster? Think again

For an issue that has so dominated the media during the past two weeks, the views of ordinary Americans toward the legislative filibuster have received remarkably little in the way of polling. What emerges most noticeably from those polls that have been conducted is a remarkable degree of indifference, one that most likely stems from Americans' overall lack of knowledge of what the filibuster is and what the Senate rule regarding cloture of debate about a specific piece of legislation really means.

I always found it curious when a Democratic senator frets about changing a procedural mechanism that the vast majority of his or her actual constituents could not even explain if you asked them to. Are there people in West Virginia, for example, who as they entered the voting booth in 2016, said to themselves, "I'll vote for that Manchin guy again, but if he ever decides to change that cloture rule, he's history?" Or put another way, is there any Manchin voter in West Virginia who, when offered the prospect of a huge waterworks or road repair project to bring jobs and improvement to his hometown or county is likely to say, "Well, those things would be wonderful but I just can't reconcile that with changing the filibuster rule?"

Of course not. People may have different rationales to support their voting decisions, but the retention or modification of arcane Senate rules is not one of them—and that's historically true for either party. Perhaps more basic (but just as obvious): People elect their senators to get work done. That's also generally true for partisans of either political persuasion (although it may be more so for Democrats).

Washington University political science Professor Steven S. Smith wanted to find out how concerned the American electorate actually is about reforming the filibuster, and whether there was an actual, partisan breakdown, either for or against it. In a paper released this month titled "Partisan Differences on Filibuster Reform in the American Public," Smith, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a distinguished professor of political science at several other institutions, examined the past polling on the issue, and found—not surprisingly—that pollsters tended to ignore the issue except when a particular piece of legislation was publicly and noticeably subject to the filibuster. The fact that issue of filibuster reform was even raised during the 2020 campaign, almost wholly in the context of the Democratic primary, was an anomaly.

Smith writes as follows (footnote omitted):

A fair generalization is that only a few Americans show real familiarity with the filibuster and cloture and that, in the aggregate, the balance of opinion shifts with attitudes about the legislation or nomination at stake. Moreover, the public favors both majority rule and minority rights, with preferences about the right balance affected by which party benefits from majority rule at the moment. But attitudes about the filibuster are transient.

The number of Americans who know even enough about the filibuster to say how many votes are required to end one varies wildly from survey to survey. Based on a Pew Survey from 2018 the number was as high as 40% who could "identify" that number as 60. But when asked in a 2020 survey to say exactly how many votes were required to end debate, only 15% responded that 60 votes were required. Overall, in terms of their actual views about it, whether it is a "good" or "bad" thing, Americans views are, as Smith describes, "weak."

That's mainly because polling on the issue invariably requires asking lengthy, confusing questions that many people simply don't comprehend: Smith cites a 2013 CBS survey that asked respondents to say whether simply the means to end a filibuster was a "good thing," but was so vaguely worded that respondents could have felt they were being asked whether the specific 60-vote threshold required was a "good thing." Overall, there was a small majority in favor of retaining the rule as is. But then came 2020, when discussions about the filibuster began to percolate through the media, and now people's perception of the filibuster has changed: "A reasonable working hypothesis, based on elite commentary over the past year, is that Democrats and liberals favor reform while Republicans and conservatives do not."

But that, of course, is dependent on which party is in power at the time. It makes perfect sense that Republicans would disfavor a change that reduces their party's ability to obstruct, when Republicans are in the minority. And vice versa for Democrats. But the more interesting observation is the degree of utter indifference by Americans overall: When asked whether they would support a reform of the filibuster so that legislation could simply get a vote with 51 (majority) votes, 45% of respondents "chose "neither support nor oppose" reform or did not answer the question." In other words, as Smith points out, "Indifference seems to run deep."

Smith essentially concludes from his review of the polling that neither party is likely to pay any discernible political price for reforming the filibuster:

While Democrats clearly favor reform more than Republicans do, the lack of knowledge about the current rule surely must make the issue difficult to understand for the average citizen. Strong procedural preferences, independent of partisan or policy considerations, are likely to exist for only a few Americans. The result is that party and opinion leaders have a quite malleable audience for their procedural moves and are not likely to suffer a political price for those moves on whatever grounds motivate their strategies.

(emphasis added)

It is probably too obvious to point out that for those few who would strongly object to such reform, nearly all would be from the party against whom such reform is being sought—in our Manchin example, it would be those Republicans who would never have voted for Joe Manchin in the first place.

In other words, neither he nor anyone else in the Democratic Party would pay a political price for reforming the filibuster.

Democrats must abolish the filibuster now, or risk losing the country to permanent GOP domination

If this were a perfect country, the rejection of Donald Trump by a substantial majority of the American electorate would have resulted in a fundamental, across-the-board rebuke, where everything Trump ever said or stood for would stand repudiated, and the nation could simply move on.

But Trump left a parting gift to Americans, one more poisonous than anything he possibly could have accomplished while in office. He left the Republican Party, which carried water for him for four years, something its members had always wished for, but never quite achieved: a ready, tailor-made excuse they could point to in their relentless quest to suppress the vote. We are now clearly seeing why Republicans so eagerly embraced trump's Big Lie of the supposedly "stolen" election: it made their work so much easier.

After Trump's "election fraud" theme percolated its way through the consciousness of the Republican base, like clockwork, GOP-dominated state legislatures began introducing bill after ALEC-ghostwritten bill designed to "correct" problems that never existed in the first place. Suddenly, restricting early voting and mail-in voting, eliminating ballot drop boxes, imposing new identification requirements, reducing voting hours and locations (all in heavily Democratic-leaning areas), became priority number one for the GOP, an imperative they would sell over and over by referring back to Trump's Big Lie.

As reported by Ronald Brownstein, writing for The Atlantic:

In its latest tally, the Brennan Center counts 253 separate voter-suppression proposals pending in 43 states. That's significantly more than the number of bills it tracked after the 2010 election—180 bills, in 41 states—when significant GOP gains in the states triggered a similar wave of laws.

But there is a fundamental difference between now and 2010: The Supreme Court, now governed by a rabid 6-3 conservative majority (including, yes, John Roberts, the lead author of the 2013 decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act) is not merely likely—but certain—to uphold nearly any state-imposed restrictions that make their way to that "august" body. So all these new restrictions will not simply fade away in states like Georgia, Texas, Iowa, and Arizona; most will become the governing law in those states, and many more.

As a result, what Brownstein aptly characterizes as "the greatest assault on Americans' right to vote since the Jim Crow era's barriers to the ballot" threatens to tip the balance of American elections in the GOP's favor, for well into the foreseeable future. That, coupled with partisan gerrymandering rendering an even larger majority of Americans essentially subject to the governance of a smaller Republican minority, presents an existential threat unlike any that Democrats—or the country, for that matter—have ever faced.

If those warped, distorted metrics intentionally designed to suppress Democratic turnout are ever imposed on all states at the national level—by a Republican president and a Republican-dominated Congress—it is highly unlikely that Democrats will ever hold power in this nation again.

As Brownstein observes:

It's no exaggeration to say that future Americans could view the resolution of this struggle as a turning point in the history of U.S. democracy. The outcome could not only shape the balance of power between the parties, but determine whether that democracy grows more inclusive or exclusionary.

This is no "imaginary" scenario—it is, in fact, the most logical, likely outcome, unless the Democratic Party uses this brief, evanescent and flickering window of opportunity to stop the GOP's ruthless juggernaut—by passing the election reform bill known as H.R. 1. The legislation would halt or reverse these GOP-inspired efforts by establishing automatic voter registration, ensuring a uniform early voting period and the provision of no-excuse absentee ballots, and ending partisan gerrymandering by requiring independent review of redistricting decisions.

As Brownstein writes:

Although Democrats first introduced H.R. 1 and the new VRA long before the 2020 campaign, everything that has happened since Election Day has underscored the stakes in this struggle. The GOP's state-level offensive amounts to an extension of the assault Trump mounted in the courts, in state legislatures, and ultimately through the attack that he inspired against the Capitol. If nothing else, the GOP's boldness can leave Democrats with little doubt about what they can expect in the years ahead if they do not establish nationwide election standards. "This is a very brazen effort by lawmakers across the country to enact provisions that make it harder for Americans to vote," Eliza Sweren-Becker, a counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice who is tracking the GOP's state-level measures, told me. "There is no subtlety and no attempt to obfuscate what is going on here."

H.R. 1 passed Wednesday in the Democratically controlled House, and is quite likely to have full Democratic support in the Senate, in this precarious moment of history when Democrats exert unified control of both chambers of Congress. But it will garner no Republican support, because Republicans understand that the enactment of H.R. 1 will effectively kill their plans to impose minority rule upon Americans. They understand that H.R. 1 means they will only survive (if they can) by actually offering their ideas for the consideration of all Americans, including the ones whose preferences and votes they would prefer to suppress. And they know what the majority of Americans think of their "ideas."

For that reason, Senate Republicans will filibuster H.R.1, to kill it before it ever comes to a vote. That is not an "expectation," but an absolute certainty. Thanks to Donald Trump, that legislation will swiftly become caricatured as the "Democrat election fraud" law on Fox News, and it will be demonized and distorted with all the formidable race-baiting tools at the American right's disposal. The entirety of the Republican donor base will go into overdrive to see that no Republican votes for it. A law that guarantees all Americans the right to vote is not in the GOP's interest at all.

Republicans, of course, have chosen to willfully ignore, for their own purposes, something which should be crystal clear: that deliberately imposing obstacles to deny Americans the right to vote is something truly heinous—something fundamentally un-American. It's a misdeed which should never, ever have been countenanced in the first place, much less legitimized by a political party driven by racism, self-interest and greed.

That's why the filibuster must end, and it must end now. If the Democratic Party is to survive the coming onslaught of Republican voter suppression legitimized by a thoroughly biased, extremist Supreme Court majority, there is simply no alternative. Ending the ridiculous Jim-Crow era artifact that is requiring an effectively impossible 60-vote majority to pass any substantive legislation, is now a survival issue for our democracy. The sooner all Democrats in the Senate realize this, the better.

Brownstein quotes Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes, the chief sponsor of H.R.1, to further contextualize exactly what is at stake.

Against the backdrop of the red-state voting offensive, the fate of H.R. 1 looks like a genuine inflection point. If Democrats can't persuade Manchin, Sinema, and any other filibuster proponents to kill the parliamentary tool, Senate Republicans will be able to shield their state-level allies from federal interference. And that could produce a widening divergence between elections in red and blue states—as well as a lasting disadvantage for Democrats in the battle for control of Congress. Such a chasm will fuel "competing narratives that are inherently corrosive and destructive," Sarbanes told me. "The more you have this bifurcated system of how elections are conducted in this country, the more oxygen you are going to give to some of the conspiracy theories that come from the other side."

If the filibuster is not dispensed with, Democrats—and the American people they represent—will eventually find themselves held in a perpetual minority that cannot be overcome. Republicans have shown themselves to be perfectly willing to act in lockstep, imposing their one-party vision, one blessed by a hopelessly corrupted judiciary carefully created to affirm it. As Brownstein warns, if Republicans can succeed in establishing such laws in a few more swing states, such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, or Michigan—states which now have Democratic governors but Republican legislatures—then they can establish more or less permanent control of the presidency.

Just after President Joe Biden was inaugurated, a newly disempowered Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took the highly unusual step of insisting that Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema personally go on record, stating their opposition to changing the filibuster rule. In fact, McConnell refused to turn over control of the Senate's own committees to the Democrats before he received this pledge. It's clear why he did so—not for any concern about the COVID-19 relief package, which he knew would pass by reconciliation, but because of H.R. 1. Manchin and Sinema have dutifully fallen into line, in effect swearing up and down and crossing their hearts that they would never, ever vote to kill the filibuster, no matter what the reason.

Of course, McConnell had no right to insist on anything—this was political blackmail, pure and simple. It was simply McConnell, on behalf of his Republican donor base, baldly setting up and threatening the careers of two Democratic senators if they refused to do his bidding. There is no constituency—in West Virginia, Arizona, or anywhere else—that opposes the repeal of the filibuster. Many, if not most American voters could not explain what the filibuster is if asked, let alone how it affects them. To whatever extent any Democrat opposes its elimination at this point, their reasons must lie elsewhere, and those reasons are far removed from what people who actually live in their states believe or need. The "bipartisanship" excuses trotted out to keep the filibuster immediately pale in the face of the implications of its retention, and when the reality of what preserving this archaic construct actually means is brought home to the people whose lives are being held hostage by it.

Voting is not—and should never be—an issue susceptible to questions of policy or debate. The simple, basic right for people to vote is not—and should never be—a political football in a country purporting to be a functioning democracy. The right of all Americans to participate in their government goes well beyond legitimate political differences in how the country should be governed, or what course it should follow. Not only should the filibuster not be invoked in connection with so basic an issue, it should never even be a consideration.

The reality is that the very nature, character, and continued existence of this republic is on the line with H.R. 1. Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and any other Democrats who obstinately refuse to accept that fact risk going down in history as the enablers of its destruction.


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