John Stoehr, The Editorial Board

Republican judges are stomping on their own espoused values to defend Donald Trump's lies

I'm tired. I'm sure you are, too. The upside is there's only five days to go until Election Day. The downside is those five days are going to age all of us by a decade. Making the hours crawl by even more is a series of federal court cases making it clear that Republican jurists are inventing law to stop citizens from voting or to invalidate their votes. There may be a time, perhaps sooner than you think, for unorthodox politics.

When it comes to legal theory, I defer to authorities (here, here and here). Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is how I see things. "Conservative" federal jurists (note the quotes) are sticking their noses where they don't belong. It's one thing for them to overturn a state law violating the US Constitution. It's another to overturn a state Supreme Court's interpretation of state law according to that state's constitution. That's what happened with Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Minnesota. "Conservative" jurists, including five sitting on the US Supreme Court, overruled court-ordered extensions of mail-in deadlines. My friend, if this looks like a betrayal of conservatism, that's because it is.

It gets worse. Justices appeared to accept as true a jaw-dropping lie, which is that tinkering with election deadlines somehow compromises the integrity of the vote. The extensions, of course, are entirely reasonable. We are smack in the middle of a covid pandemic. More than 234,000 Americans are dead. Infections are spiking, especially in rural and swing states. (There were 88,521 new cases Thursday alone, according to data from Johns Hopkins.) Easing deadlines is what you'd expect from state officials honoring the letter and the spirit of their state constitutions. Yet Justice Neil Gorsuch questioned whether the pandemic were a true "natural disaster" (a criteria for extensions). Justice Samuel Alito said Pennsylvania's election will be "conducted under a cloud." Officials should, therefore, throw away votes received after Election Day.

What's going on seems pretty straightforward. The president has been yammering nonstop about "voter fraud." It's the only thing, Donald Trump says, that will make him lose to Joe Biden. The only outcome he will accept, therefore, is victory. This is not only extortion (vote for me or say goodbye to a peaceful transfer of power), it is extortion based on a whopper. Voter fraud on the scale he suggests is fictional. When it happens, it's in dribs and drabs, not anywhere close to wholesale. (When it happens, it's often Republican voters committing the crime.) And yet the president keeps lying, and now, evidently, Republican jurists are listening. By accepting as true a categorical falsehood, they make the lie real. (Their rulings, after all, constitute the common law.) By overturning a state court's interpretation of state law, they push the Big Lie all the way down to the level of local affairs. Dear Leader's Big Lie is everyone else's Big Reality. My friend, if this looks like what authoritarians do, that's because it is.

Some might look at this and despair. Don't. There's plenty we can do. This is a time for unorthodox politics, creative thinking, and moral guts. For me, I'd suggest Democratic secretaries of states (the elected officials ultimately responsible for elections in their states) ignore federal court orders. Keep counting votes pursuant to state election law or state court rulings. Count the votes as a form of civil disobedience. Count the votes as an expression of patriotism. Count the votes in order to honor the obligations of elected officials to state residents. Count the votes in defense of states rights. North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Minnesota all have Democratic secretaries of state. They should all risk being held in contempt. Our republican democracy demands no less.

I'm not encouraging lawlessness. I'll cite Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." In it, he said: "In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."

My suggestion is, in reality, expressing the highest respect of a state's sovereignty, too. Remember the Republican jurists aren't just stomping federalism. They are making state elected officials complicit in the disenfranchisement of their constituents. State residents, if they choose to, would be right in punishing the complicit. If you're going to err in a republican democracy, do you err on the side of judges or the side of the people? That's a moral as well as a legal question. The answer should be plain.

Amy Coney Barrett's extreme religious views should be vetted

This is reprinted from The Editorial Board.

The Senate Democrats avoided Monday the subject of religion. During the first day of Appellate Judge Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation hearings, they focused on health care and how Donald Trump's third nominee might rule after the US Supreme Court hears oral arguments next month on the Affordable Care Act. Avoiding religion was probably wise given the Republicans' level of fake outrage over fake "religious bigotry." The rest of us, however, don't need to play along. Barrett's Catholicism is fair game.

Yes, I know. Highly influential liberal pundits, and some liberal pundits striving mightily to become influential, argue that religion should be off limits. First, they say, because a person of sincerely held religious beliefs can adjudicate impartially. Second, there's enough to talk about without bringing up Barrett's faith. While I presume these liberals mean well (to be clear, in presuming this, I'm being generous), they're wrong.

They assume, for one thing, that religion and politics can be disentangled. Sometimes they can be. Sometimes they can't be. For another, these liberals behave as if politics is somehow taking religion hostage. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote last night: "When politicians use faith as an excuse to pass and uphold laws that seize control of people's bodies but not guarantee them healthcare, feed the poor, shelter the homeless, or welcome the stranger, you have to wonder if it's really about faith at all."

No, you don't have to wonder. It's about their faith, full stop. Millions in this country—white evangelical Protestants and conservative white Catholics chief among them—root their genuinely held religious beliefs in opposition to modernity, which is to say, in politics. There is, therefore, no appreciable difference between them. The more our society moves in the direction of greater freedom, equity and justice for all people, the more these revanchists believe their faith is under siege; and the more they feel their faith is under siege, the more prepared they are to go to war over "religious freedom."

I don't know if Barrett intends to help reverse Roe any more than you do. I do know—and you know—that that's why Donald Trump picked her. That's why she accepted his illegitimate nomination. Overturning Roe, or at least gutting it in order to permit the states to outlaw abortion, has been the goal for decades. The Republicans are so close to the prize, they're willing to sacrifice the presidency, the Senate and the court's credibility. The more our society moves in the direction of greater freedom, equity and justice for all people—the more American women enjoy a monopoly over their own bodies—the more the revanchists demand an minoritarian veto. They are demanding, and getting, an autocratic usurpation of the majority's will in the name of religion.

Not just any religion. A very specific strain of authoritarian and white Christianity. This strain believes that one person has a right to use another person, without her consent, in order to stay alive. The person being used by another person to stay alive has a moral obligation to forfeit the monopoly over her body, such that her body isn't private property so much as public property jointly owned by members of their shared faith. Importantly, if the person being used by another person to stay alive refuses, she is subject to various punishments, including, if the court overturns Roe, legal ones. There's a reason Republicans want to make Barrett's religion off limits. They don't want a majority to see outlawing abortion as the establishment of a state religion.

You can't see violations of the First Amendment if you insist that religion is off limits. What's more, you can't see the treasonous bad faith of the revanchists. They don't care about babies. If they did, they'd be up in arms over news of the president's treatment for Covid-19. He was injected with an "antibody cocktail" tested on stem cells derived from a baby aborted nearly half a century ago. White evangelical Protestants and white conservative Catholics usually say "fetal tissue," even in life-saving drug treatments, is a grave offense to God, but not this time. According to Business Insider, anti-abortion groups said it's OK, because the president wasn't involved in the original abortion.

That's bullshit, but at least they're dropping the charade. What they want to say but fear saying—because saying it out loud for everyone to hear would be too gothic and horrifying for mainstream America—is what they really mean. What they really mean is that it's OK for one person to use another person's body without his or her consent. The president, using remnants of the body of an aborted baby, didn't do anything wrong. He was exercising the God-given right that babies (men) have to access another person's body (a woman's). This right isn't just political. It's political and religious. Ignoring that means ignoring the parasitic ramifications of the anti-Roe project.

So don't ignore religion. It is central. None of this makes sense when it's not.

In 2020, undecided voters are dangerous radicals

I wrote last Wednesday that Joe Biden demonstrated ways of saving the republic from the mistake of electing a demi-despotic goon like Donald Trump. During the first of three scheduled debates, the president was a fire-hose of bullying, pouting and puling, rarely giving the former vice president a couple of quiet minutes to speak. He tested his rival until Biden decided at last to stop tolerating the intolerable: "Will you shut up, man?"

Then something amazing happened. As I was writing Wednesday's edition, the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonpartisan nonprofit that organizes the debates and set the rules, said "that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues," according to the Post. Implicit in this change was a remarkable consensus: that Trump is to blame for the chaos. Changes include cutting off the candidate's microphones while the other speaks. The commission, in so many words, will be forcing the president to shut up.

Later on the same day, something else amazing happened. CNN's Jake Tapper, who was the subject of Wednesday's Editorial Board, followed suit. His guest was Trump campaign Director of Communication Tim Murtaugh. In a clip shared widely, Tapper asks why the president refuses to condemn armed white-power groups. Murtaugh answers with accusations that Biden "palled around with" segregationists decades ago. It's a maneuver aiming to "prove" the president is no more racist than his opponent. Tapper grows impatient with the nonsense. Murtaugh increases the volume, running over Tapper's follow-ups until he signals to the camera operator to shut Murtaugh up.

Telling authoritarians to shut up isn't the only way, or even the best way, of dealing with them. But it's one of the tools the rest of us can use on confederates who have told us who they are when they exploit the rights and privileges of a free and open society to undermine a free and open society, even destroy it. Don't argue with them. Don't reason with them. Don't debate with them. Debating them civilly is making room at the table of civilization for renegades ready to flip the table over if they don't get their way. They will never respect you. Therefore, be sparing with your respect in return. The only thing they truly respect is a majority flexing its democratic power.

For the same reasons, we should be exceedingly wary of what I'll call the Nice Undecided Voters (NUVs). The NUVs are almost always super-white. They are almost always rural. They are almost always middle class and up. They get a lot of attention from the press corps in light of a vast majority of Americans making up their minds about 2020 way back in 2017. (This is why the president's aggregated job approval rating has rarely changed since he took office.) To reporters, the NUVs appear to be deeply concerned about the fate of the nation, conflicted about the decision facing them, and symbolic of the divisions riving the United States. Most importantly, the NUVs are people who care about their reputations in their communities, and appear to be searching for ways forward in accordance with their genuinely held principles.

Truth is, the NUVs are dangerous radicals. No other serious conclusion can be drawn from the Post's Wednesday report on the NUVs' reaction to the debate. The president encouraged white-power vigilantes to "stand back and stand by." He repeatedly tried extorting the electorate, musing about bad trouble if he loses. This is what someone says when he sits at the head of the table of American civilization, expects everyone else to behave according to a set of established rules, but reserves the absolute right to hold himself above the law in case he needs to flip the table over to get his way. Trump was telling us clearly who he is, but the NUVs interviewed by the Post either refused to see the truth, accepted the truth secretly, or lied about accepting the truth. In all cases, seeing evil but ignoring it or joining it is another form of evil made more sinister by the appearance of being nice, respectable, concerned, and patriotic undecided voters.

The NUVs are not undecided. They are undeclared. They fear making their preference for fascism known. They fear it will get in way of their nice respectable lives at the office, at church, at the bowling alley. This fear of social sanction is more powerful than their fear of Americans being taken out and shot. Or they want the freedom to dominate those they believe deserve domination without being held responsible for their behavior. They want to punch down without the possibility of being punched back. They cannot get what they want, however, if the rest of us deny them what they need to get it. If you revoke your respect, if you take back your welcome to participate into the public square of a free and open society—if that happens, you in effect shut them down. The intolerant are only as strong as our willingness to tolerate them.

So don't.

Trump's weakness has been laid bare

We're familiar with the explanations. Why did under half the electorate take a chance of a lying, thieving, philandering sadist like Donald Trump? Most respectable white people dutifully cite economics. Inequality is wide. Wages are stagnant. The white working class got hammered by globalization. Others, like me, cite racism. America's birther-in-chief minced Republican rivals with a rhetoric of unrepentant white-power demagoguery. While both lines of reasoning are compelling, I've always felt something fundamental was in plain sight but missing from our larger, collective understanding.

Cast your mind back to those moments after Barack Obama won his historic election but before the US Congress bailed out the biggest of the Too-Big-To-Fail banks. Wall Street had manufactured more wealth than God has seen by lending and lending and lending some more, got in life-threatening trouble as a result, then held the country hostage, in effect, saying, "Bail us out or the economy gets it." Then the banks got even bigger and bankers got even richer, handing themselves bonuses while normal people struggled to hold on to their jobs, their homes and their basic human dignity. Recall that before the "Tea Party" emerged as a nascent fascist movement, many of us, even pundits on the left, thought, "Yeah, these people are pissed for a very good reason."

Between 2009 and 2011, Obama signed into law society-changing legislation that came very close to reaching the heights of the New Deal and Great Society. Even admirers like me, however, must concede Obama's major mistake. His administration did not investigate and prosecute the super-white percent that hijacked America and held it for ransom. It is a plain fact no one was brought to justice for the panic of 2007-2008 that sparked a decade-long recession from which some people never recovered. From that we can suppose reasonably that lots of Americans just gave up. They lost faith in public morality. What was the point of working hard, playing by the rules, and striving for a better future when no one in power is held accountable? By the time of Hillary Clinton, who was (wrongly) perceived as a symbol of an establishment gone rotten, Trump, the flawed independent "billionaire," looked like a chance worth taking.

I'm not blaming Obama or Clinton for 62,984,828 Americans being partial or impartial to the president's lying, thieving, philandering sadism. These voters made their choice and should be held accountable. (I am also, for the time being, presuming good faith when I have in the past presumed none from these voters.) It is, however, important to understand voter behavior is contingent. It springs from a particular time and place. The present, moreover, is a product of the past. Clinton ran for president during a time when powerful political elites such as herself—and, importantly, her husband—were seen as complicit or willfully blind to profound nihilism and systemic corruption. If nothing really matters, why not vote for a combed-over schlub with a God-complex?

The schlub was the true fraud, of course. Anyone paying close attention knew this. Most, however, couldn't hear about his life of criminality through the din of "but her emails!" To the extent Trump's supporters understood clearly his bone marrow-deep corruption, it was probably to his political benefit, as the "billionaire" seemed like the glamorous playboy who figured out "the system" and beat it. Since white supremacy was Trump's primary mode of political communication, he seemed to be saying he would be a champion who'd make white people winners again ("Make America Great Again!") after eight years of losing (after a Black man's tenure as president, that is). Corruption didn't seem so bad as long as Donald Trump seemed successfully corrupt.

This is why reporting Sunday and Monday by the Times is devastating. Not the part about his being tax cheat. That's not going to affect supporters who have traded public morality—working hard, playing by the rules, and striving for a better future—for the promise of winning if they stick with Trump. What's going to affect them most is the fact that Donald Trump is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad businessman, that his properties are bleeding red ink, that he owes more money than he can possibly pay back, and that his personal finances are a house of cards. In this sense (the sense of being in indebted), Trump is quite normal. His supporters, however, don't want normal. They want the Übermensch they had been promised, the one they are still waiting for in many respects. If he's normal, what's the point of sticking with him?

To be sure, the president's allies in the US Congress and on Fox are busy attacking the Times for its reporting. They are going to do everything they can to prevent GOP voters from knowing the truth about the president. But the truth works in subtle ways, as does doubt. Loyalty to Trump depends on perceptions of super-strength. As he once said, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters." That assumed he'd be shooting bullets. There's a good reason why he's worked hard to hide his tax returns, though. Truth is, he'd be shooting blanks.

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