John Stoehr, The Editorial Board

Call Trump's treasonous acts what they are

There's one thing I can rely on when I write about the president, the Republicans and their treasonable rhetoric and behavior. Like clockwork, a liberal reader will respond, saying isn't, in fact, treason. It's something else, perhaps disloyalty or sedition. The US Constitution is clear about treason's meaning. I should be more careful with my words.

Fair enough, but also fair is saying liberals are quick to doubt themselves. They are ready to compromise even when the Republicans hold compromise in contempt. They are prepared to appease authoritarians, because mild appeasement costs less than bold confrontation. To liberals, partisanship is the problem, not the solution. They refuse, therefore, even when refusing means failing to take their own side in a good fight.

If anyone represents the liberal view in this regard, it's Barack Obama. The former president said recently that, to effect real change, activists must meet people "where they are." That might be fine and dandy when it comes to police reform, but what if "where they are" is taking the side of a president seeking to overturn a lawful election? What if "where they are" is the Republicans saying and doing things with the express intent of harming the republic, because harming the republic tightens their grip on power? What if Republican dominance is predicated on betrayal? Partisanship is, therefore, not the problem. Asymmetry is. Symmetrical partisanship is the solution.

Donald Trump has moved from demanding in secret that election officials break the law to doing so out in the open. He's violating his oath of office, profaning the rule of law and pissing on the spirit of the Constitution. The Democrats could try impeaching and removing him again. But, in my view, they don't have to go that far. What they should do is point out the obvious for everyone's sake—that the president's words and deeds are treasonable. Anyone standing by his side is complicit. To my knowledge, no Democrat in the US Congress has dared use the T-word. It's long past time to dare.

Mounting a rhetorical offensive won't be easy. For one thing, the Democrats are usually on the receiving end of such accusations. Because many Democrats have experienced the pain of being accused of disloyalty, they'll likely hesitate to accuse Republicans of the same. For another, the Democrats will worry about members of the Washington press corps reporting "both sides." The president has frequently accused the Democrats of treason. They don't want to be seen as meeting tit with tat.

This more than anything else is why some liberals are making a fetish of treason's constitutional definition. If Republican behavior does not rise to the highest possible standard, why should the Democrats join the Republicans in the partisan gutter? What's the point given that Joe Biden will be inaugurated in 44 days anyway?

First, this isn't the gutter. This is the most basic principle of being an American. Elections are sacred or we invite a master to rule us. Second, while the Republicans are busy siding with Trump, real people are dying. Nearly 290,000 are dead from the covid plague. The death toll may be 345,000, according to a Times analysis. Twelve million people are about to lose unemployment insurance. Trump doesn't care. The GOP seems indifferent. The republic's injury isn't just constitutional, legal or even moral. It's literal. (Only 25 Republicans say Biden won the election, according to the Post.)

Third, on a more practical note, the Democrats, in failing to accuse the Republicans of disloyalty, are failing to give Americans a choice: Power over country or country over power? Are you partisan for a party or partisan for the country? The Republicans have chosen the former two for the last four years. They hope everyone forgets that after Trump is gone. They hope to return to principle in order to oppose Joe Biden. The Democrats, however, have a role to play—the role of never letting anyone forget.

The Democrats keep appeasing authoritarianism, because it's cheaper than facing it head-on. Under a fascist president, the Republicans altogether stopped appeasing democracy. They faced it head-on without cost. Indeed, they got most everything they wanted without having to continue with a phony flag-hugging charade. Their true nature was revealed, true character exposed. Now they want their principles back.

They can't have them.

Why Democrats act like they lost

When the pundit corps expressed worry, wrongly, about Bernie Sanders and the rise of quote-unquote socialism in the Democratic Party, Congressman Jim Clyburn said son, please. Black voters know white voters better than white voters know themselves. By the time the primaries are done with Iowa and New Hampshire, Black pragmatists in South Carolina are going to seal Joe Biden's fate. Clyburn was right. First, Biden won the nomination. Then he won more votes than any candidate in US history.

Though we owe Clyburn a debt, no one's perfect. Within a day or so of Election Day, the House Whip was out front again. Why did the Democrats lose seats in the House instead of gaining them, as expected? I think, more than anyone else, Clyburn can be blamed for the conventional wisdom that arose that day. The reason, he said, was quote-unquote socialism and all the messaging that arose from it. Largely thanks to Clyburn, the Democrats are now acting like losers, instead of the winners they are.

Then something peculiar happened. The same man who blamed quote-unquote socialism for the loss of House seats was talking up the champion of quote-unquote socialism. On CNN, Clyburn actually said that, "There are a lot of young people out there and some not-so-young people, like Bernie Sanders. I wish he would come into the administration. Bernie has a way of getting people to understand certain things."

What's going on here? On the one hand, you could say Clyburn meant it when he blamed quote-unquote socialism for the unexpected loss of House seats, but carved out an exception for an old friend even though he's a quote-unquote socialist. On the other hand, maybe Clyburn didn't mean it. Maybe he was searching for answers to hard questions like everyone does after an election. Maybe he was just being competitive. The party's progressive wing is rising. An oldster like Clyburn might not get what all the youngsters are talking about, but recognizes rivals when he sees them. The apparent conflict between competing wings of the Democratic Party, then, is probably not over quote-unquote socialism. It is probably over normal intra-party politics.

Remember that the Democrats were united against Donald Trump. It's natural, then, for unity to loosen up after a giant is slain. (Republican incumbents are indeed giants.) It's natural, moreover, for the various factions that united against a common foe to start jockeying for position postmortem, doing whatever they can, for as long as they can, to influence legislative affairs and achieve their respective goals. Sanders is not going to be in Biden's administration, because his place in the Senate is too valuable. But it's nonetheless normal for him to say, as he did last month, that he and his progressive supporters are going to hold the Biden administration "accountable." It's healthy for Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others to say, as they did this week, that they oppose the appointment of "deficit hawks." They are reminding the president-elect that he owes "the left," and that "the left" has expectations.

Healthy intra-party politics can become unhealthy. The Democrats are, however, a long way from where the Republicans were a decade ago when billionaire donors really did build an "alt-right" hierarchy of power to primary conventional Republicans out of existence. They are a long way from where the GOP is now—when people like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich accuse Georgia Democrats of voter fraud while worrying that such claims might deter Republican voters from turning out for that state's runoff elections next month. (The outcomes will determine which party controls the Senate.) I'm not saying the Democrats won't ever cannibalize themselves. I'm saying that reports of their self-cannibalization are, thus far, greatly exaggerated.

It probably won't ever happen, though. Consider the different ways the parties handle disagreement. For the Democrats, disagreement is expected. Independence of thought is valued. The party is a big tent. Lots of competing opinions, lots of competing goals. The trick is finding ways to balance them and move all factions forward at the same time. For the Republicans, disagreement is unexpected. Independence of thought is suspect. It suggests disloyalty. Loyalty matters above all. When Republicans disagree publicly, that's newsworthy. It signals weakness. When Democrats disagree publicly, that's newsworthy, too. But it's not weakness that's being signaled. It's strength. Republicans self-destruct at the sight of dissent. The Democrats, however, don't.

The Washington press corps, alas, doesn't quite get this. It doesn't fit into its amoral and two dimensional view that the parties are equally bad and equally good. For this reason, lots of normal people, even liberals, end up accusing the Democrats of being terrible communicators. "Why can't they get on message?" is a question I hear often. Even some Democrats appear to accept the charge as true, judging themselves not according to their considerable strength, but according to the Republicans' weakness. The result is making something healthy and normal, like intra-party rivalries, seem unhealthy and dangerous, like the rise of quote-unquote socialism. After four years of nonstop lying, the least the Democrats can do is speak truthfully about themselves.

The media is making a big mistake about Republican support for Trump's attempted coup

There's a presumption at work among members of the Washington press corps that needs rethinking. That presumption is this: the Republicans, especially those in the Senate, fear the wrath of voters who have balled up their identities with the rise and fall of Donald Trump. For this reason, all the Republicans, with rare exception, stand in silence while the president prosecutes what must be called an attempted coup d'etat.

This presumption is part of a larger generational context in which political, economic and financial incentives are pursued amorally, wherever they might lead, even if they tear into this or that social, ethical or democratic norm. Shareholder value must be maximized. Profits must be realized. Voters must be obeyed. They must, even if they poison the water, ruin livelihoods or bring America to the brink of despotism.

This presumption is usually hard to spot. It's found in and among the many rational-sounding reasons Republicans give for their continued support of the president. Sure, they might be complicit in the sabotage of the incoming administration, but what can they do? They must hold on to Trump's voters in order to hold on to the Senate. (Two run-off elections in Georgia will determine which party controls the upper chamber.) Importantly, these incentives are so fierce, they appear to give Republicans no choice.

The problem isn't that incentives impact elected officials. Of course, they do. The problem is that reporters allow these incentives to seem monolithic—as if there were not, in fact, many equally important incentives to consider. The impression is one of Republicans merely doing what constituents demand. If it were up to them, they say, they would oppose Trump. It's not up to them, so they don't. According to CNN's Carl Bernstein, many Republicans Senators "have repeatedly expressed extreme contempt for Trump and his fitness to be" president. All of them are said to be scared to death.

Presumably, this is why Bernstein outed 21 of them on CNN's "New Day." They are too scared to stand up to Trump. The current crisis is too dire to keep their names hidden. So: "The 21 GOP Senators who have privately expressed their disdain (to Bernstein) for Trump are: (Rob) Portman, (Lamar) Alexander, (Ben) Sasse, (Roy) Blunt, (Susan) Collins, (Lisa) Murkowski, (John) Cornyn, (John) Thune, (Mitt) Romney, (Mike) Braun, (Todd) Young, Tim Scott, Rick Scott, (Marco) Rubio, (Chuck) Grassley, (Richard) Burr, (Pat) Toomey, (Martha) McSally, (Jerry) Moran, (Pat) Roberts, (and Richard) Shelby."

I think Bernstein hoped outing them would put more pressure on them to act in the best interest of the republic. But he may be giving more credit than is due. To repeat, there are many incentives to consider when it comes to the behavior of elected officials. Another incentive is the oath of office by which they vowed to defend and protect the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic. Trump cheated to win in 2016. He cheated again when he involved a foreign leader in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the American people. The case for the president's removal was as clear as the outcome of the 2020 election. Very. Yet all the above Republicans acquitted Trump of treason.

But they were said to be afraid. They had to stand by him. OK, fine, but acquitting a traitor demands more than taking the GOP's word for it. What's so scary that they're willing to, as political scientist Steven White said this morning, "debase themselves" for "a man who will throw them under the bus the second it seems beneficial to him." Dissent's Richard Yeselson's answer nailed it: "(It's) always fascinating … how little 'courage' is really required. Nobody is going to the Gulag, nobody need rise up in the Warsaw Ghetto. Republicans are terrified of tweets, and afraid of, at worst, losing office. They are the most craven, contemptible governing class imaginable."

So the problem is one of choices. The Republicans do not fear Trump. They fear losing power. They are, in intent and in effect, choosing power over principles, power over promises, and power over patriotism. They could choose to explain for the good of the country that Trump should get out of the way. But they are choosing not to. We are left, then, with a reasonable conclusion: they believe sticking with Trump gives them an advantage over people who believe some things matter more than power. Sticking with Trump gives them an advantage over those of us who believe in democracy. They say they are afraid in order to gain advantage over people of good faith who fall for it.

Choosing death over democracy

I get why some do not get why 72 million Americans voted for Donald Trump. The covid pandemic has killed nearly a quarter million people in this country. It has brought the US economy to the brink of collapse. The president is a lying, thieving, philandering sadist. How could so many Americans say: "Yeah, I'm good with that"?

I get why that's hard to believe, but the thing we have to do, if we hope to move our country forward, is get over this disbelief. It's time to believe millions favor or tolerate organic homegrown fascism. It's time to believe millions voted against their material self-interests. It's time to believe they will kill themselves before admitting a mistake. America is no more exceptional than any other nation. We can and will eat ourselves. I don't mean to sound hopeless. I mean we can't solve the problem till we see it clearly.

There's probably no better illustration of this than Jodi Doering's interview on CNN this morning. Doering is a nurse in South Dakota. These days, she sees a lot of death. She said nearly all of her small town is dead from the new coronavirus. Doering sees patients who are denying the reality of the covid even as they are dying from it.

People are still looking for something else, and they want a magic answer, and they won't want to believe that covid is real. … It wasn't one particular patient. It's a culmination of so many people. Their last dying words are, "This can't be happening. This is not real." When they should be spending time Facetiming with their families, they're filled with anger and hatred. It made me really sad. I just can't believe those are going to be their last thoughts and words. … (italics are mine)
In the bigger picture, when you're trying to reason with people, "Can I call your family, your kids, your wife, your friend, your brother," and they say, "No, because I'm going to be fine," (and they're dying), "it just makes you sad and mad and frustrated, and then you know you're going to come back and do it over again.

When people would rather believe they're dying from lung cancer than from the covid—that's what Doering reported to CNN—what can you do as a nurse? Nothing, except get "sad and mad and frustrated." What can you do as a citizen? Well, pretty much the same thing. You cannot expect cooperation from people who believe cooperation is defeat, who will hurt themselves to hurt you, and who deny reality as they lay dying. You cannot expect a free and equal exchange from them. You can't expect democracy from them. All you can do is persuade as many people as you can to take the side of reason. That's what Joe Biden did when he won more votes than anyone ever. That doesn't mean the nation is ready for healing. It only means for now that all's not lost.

It's hard seeing fellow citizens as dangerous. That difficulty amounts to an incentive to find a reason, any reason, to explain why they're killing themselves. Some might say, "They must have been duped—by Fox News, by Russian disinformation, or by Donald Trump." Or: "These people are idiots. They don't know what's good for them. They can't make rational choices." There's something to these, but only something. The best explanation is the plainest. This is who they are. To look for other answers, as Jodi Doering said, is to look for "magic answers." They are choosing their fates. Dying isn't even the hard part. (Lung cancer is OK.) The hard part is conceding to the truth.

We have to rearrange our expectations. During the election, it was believed that voters would move toward Biden the more the covid and its economic fallout moved into their communities. It was believed imminent sickness, joblessness and/or death would open people's eyes. Turns out, it had the opposite effect. According to last week's analysis of election results by Buzzfeed, "COVID-19 deaths and unemployment had surprisingly little influence over the swings that happened at the county level. If anything, Trump did better in counties where more people have died of COVID-19."

We have to rethink our political thinking, too. It's often presumed Americans resist wearing face masks and other pandemic precautions due to the depth of their faith in individual liberty. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem gave voice to this when she said recently, "My people are happy, and they're happy, because they're free." Our heritage is rife with heroes choosing death over tyranny. "Live free or die," for instance. See also: "Don't tread on me." But nowhere is there a hero choosing death over democracy.

We must reconsider the credit we give. In places like South Dakota, individual liberty is being perverted in the interest of the group, of the tribe, of the collective, so that individual life, far from being sacred, is expendable. This is the collectivism we must face. This is the alternative to democracy we must fight. Winning the presidency means there's still hope. There's work to be done but we must first believe the unbelievable.

It's time to call out Mitch McConnell's treason

Despite being polarized, Americans really do agree on the fundamentals. Is the president above the law? No. Does every citizen have a right to vote? Yes. Should powers be separated? Yes. Are checks and balances good? Yes. Should people be free to worship as they wish? Yes. Are the people the ultimate sovereign? Yes. And so on.

Theory isn't the same as practice, obviously, but even so, there's only one correct answer to fundamental political questions. If there were other correct answers—if these questions hinged on differences of opinion—we would not be members of a political community whose outlines were established long ago. We would be part of another kind of political community, one none of us would recognize as familiar, legitimate or good. Our nation would be something else. It would not be America.

These fundamentals and the outlines of our political community that were derived from them constitute a contract among and between citizens and noncitizens. We agree to them, consciously or subliminally, because if we did not, we wouldn't participate in the union we all actually participate in. We'd be in something else that does not exist.

In the run-up to Election Day, CNN's Jake Tapper urged counting of every vote. He was not violating the norms of journalism. He was not taking a position. With respect to voting, there's no position to take. Counting every vote is what we do. If we do not count every vote, we are not America. Very few things in this country are either-or, right or wrong, but fundamental questions are. They are, because they must be. They must be, because we want them to be. We want them to be, because we are America.

The president and the Republican leaders are failing the test of fundamentals. Should they recognize as legitimate the outcome of a lawful democratic process? The only answer is yes. That's the only correct answer, because either the American people are sovereign or they are not. If they are not, we do not live in a representative democracy. Anything less than yes indicates unwillingness to participate in the union as it stands. Anything less than an immediate yes indicates a certain softness of dedication to the US Constitution and the republic. Yet Donald Trump, and now Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican Party, are refusing to recognize Joe Biden's victory.

I'm told this is theater. I'm told this is about fundraising. Campaign debts must be paid, after all. I trust some of this is true. I also trust history, though. No president has ever denied the reality of his defeat. (Biden has now eclipsed Ronald Reagan's share of the popular vote, 50.8 percent to 50.7. It is the highest for a challenger since Franklin Roosevelt beat Herbert Hoover in 1932. And the counting continues.) No president has ever refused to concede in the face of a mathematical certainty. To my knowledge, no political party has ever gotten behind an incumbent's effort to steal an election.

That effort will fail. (I say "will" but honestly I'm as full of dread as you are.) The president's legal scheme has so far floundered. Every one of his suits has been thrown out, because there's no evidence of voter fraud on the scale he's alleging. On the off-chance of one of these lawsuits getting to the US Supreme Court, I'm guessing the conservative justices there will buy themselves legitimacy by dismissing the case outright. Accusations can work in politics, less in court. As GOP Sen. John Cornyn said: "In the end, they're going to have to come up with some facts and evidence."

But even in failure, the president and the Republicans will have accomplished something. (It will benefit the GOP, of course, not the president; Trump will face legal scrutiny the minute he's out of office.) They will have succeeded in three things. One, establishing doubt in Biden's legitimacy. Two, establishing the groundwork for obstructing his agenda. More important, though, is three. They will have deepened an assumption already at work in the background of Republican discourse. Democrats don't count. Anything they do, whether criticizing Republicans or beating them by a landslide in national elections, deserves any reaction up to and including murder.

In a very real sense, the Republicans are constituting a nation inside this nation, a confederacy of the mind and spirit to be made real so "real Americans" chosen by God can dominate the whole in God's name. They are constituting a separate and unequal system inside the one everyone else recognizes as legitimate, in which a small minority is privileged over a majority bound by law but not protected by it. They are, ultimately, on the path toward suicide. When parasites kill their hosts, they kill themselves, too.

The most extreme view among pundits is that the Republicans won't recognize Joe Biden's legitimacy. That's not extreme enough. They are creating a beachhead inside the United States from which to continue covert civil warfare against the United States. The Republicans are committing treason literally, yet they're being afforded respect, as if accepting the outcome of a lawful democratic process were a matter of opinion. Wrong. There's only one correct answer to that fundamental question. Anything less than fully accepting the people's will is desiring an America that will never exist.

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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.

It’s now clear Trump’s intent was criminal

As I write, I’m sitting with my daughter while she zooms into fourth grade. We’re about 40 minutes into class time. It’s taken this long to take attendance amid the sounds of dogs barking, ambulances blaring and infants crying. It’s taken this long, because every detail of teaching more than thirty 9-year-olds is magnified many times over. (If you’ve never had to navigate Google Classroom, consider yourself lucky.) It’s a microcosm of the maddening complexity of life in the time of the novel coronavirus.

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