John Stoehr

Now that inanimate property fell victim to the right-wing insurgency, will the Republicans help end it?

The “rule of three” is one of those informal guidelines that help us journalists decide whether an event is newsworthy. If something occurs three times, it’s probably a trend. Trends are newsworthy.

Trends can be fads, but three rifle attacks on critical infrastructure in less than 10 years – two this week alone – isn’t a fad. That goes double since the attacks appear to correlate with another political trend, which is wider and greater social acceptance of trans people.

Even as GOP-dominated state legislatures move to restrict trans rights, more than 500 municipal governments are moving the other way, opening cities to greater equality and freedom. Two hundred major urban centers and 50 state capitals have enacted or are set to enact laws, policies and services inclusive of the LGBT-plus people.

READ MORE: FBI investigating five power substations attacked in Pacific Northwest strikes similar to North Carolina

That’s democratic politics. It never stops. But neither does the political violence that erupts in reaction to democratic politics. The more Americans perceive trans people as people, rather than subhuman perversions, the more political violence we can expect.

Hence the nature of the ongoing right-wing insurgency.

It’s not a fad

Two electrical substations were damaged Saturday in Moore County, North Carolina, knocking out power in more than 37,000 homes.

READ MORE: What Ye's antisemitism teaches us about right-wing hate speech

In what police said was an “intentional” and “malicious” attack, a person or persons “open fired” on the transformers, leaving behind more than two dozen shell casings from a “high-powered rifle.”

Investigators initially said there was no evidence linking the attack to “a local drag show that had been targeted with threats of violence and calls to cancel the show in recent weeks,” reported USA Today.

There’s still no hard evidence linking the events, but investigators appear now to be broadening their perspective, setting the attack, according to CNN, “in context with the growing tensions and armed confrontations around similar LBGTQ+ events across the country.”

They are looking at “writings by extremists on online forums encouraging attacks on critical infrastructure” as well as “a series of recent disruptions of LGBTQ+ events by domestic extremists.”

CNN reported that paramilitaries have for the last two years used online forums to discuss attacking critical infrastructure, including the power grid, and to encourage individuals to act. These paramilitaries “posted documents and even instructions outlining vulnerabilities and suggesting the use of high-powered rifles.”

A government report from 2013 determined that attacks on 17 transformers in Silicon Valley were the result of sniper fire. More than 100 bullets were expended over 20 minutes, leaving scores of thousands without power and costing the public utility $15 million.

The Seattle Times reported today the investigation of at least five rifle attacks on electrical substations in Washington state. The damage was similar to the damage in North Carolina. Authorities there said it was a “deliberate physical attack,” though the newspaper reported it was unclear whether they caused service disruptions.

That, my friend, is three related events. It’s not a fad.

It’s a trend.

“Normal reality”

It’s also an example of the friction between democratic politics and an established political order (white power) that refuses to yield to democratic politics. That friction can be healthy, but more often than not in this country a consequence of it has been political violence.

It bears repeating at this point that the greatest locus of friction was probably when Americans elected their first Black president. Given that white power was “normal reality” to most white Americans, Barack Obama’s ascendance was a perversion of the natural order.

I don’t find it surprising that a person or persons fired on 17 electrical substations after Obama was reelected in 2012. If democratic politics couldn’t stop “normal reality” from being turned upside down, political violence was justified in returning us to “normal reality.”

But the attack on critical infrastructure was, in 2013, an outlier.

Most of the political violence we have seen since then has been inflicted on people. As I have said before, every shooting massacre is a reaction to white people’s perceived loss of racial status. There have been so many mass shootings, in fact, that if they happened anywhere else in the world, they would be called an insurgency.

If the attackers were Black or brown, yes! Then that’s an insurgency! But we don’t call it that. Most people in this country are white and most white people can’t see a political insurgency in front of them, even when it erupts in schools, even when it mows down children

Property over people

Maybe that will change given this new trend.

This is America, after all. Here, the rights of property have historically superseded the rights of people, as is evidenced by Republican legislators bent on outlawing gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth, banning certain trans-related books in public schools and forbidding the discussion of LGBT-plus topics in the classroom.

All of that is jim-dandy, as is the massacre of innocents, but taking out the power supply? That crosses the line. Crosses! The! Line!

There’s no hope for gun control as long as the Republicans don’t want it – and they won’t want it when the status quo is mere mass death.

The Republicans, however, are the party of property, of business, of old white people. Power outages cost time. Time costs money. And money is the entire point of living a once-only existence on Earth.

I’m not the only one who sees a crack in the GOP’s united front. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said Tuesday:

“When we look at all the money that’s being lost by businesses here at Christmastime, when we look at threats to people in nursing homes having lost power, hospitals having to run off generators and not being able to do certain kinds of operations at this point – all of those are deep concerns here, and we can’t let this happen” (italics mine).

I’m not holding my breath, but if this new trend gains some momentum, we might see a few Republicans actually stand up to the paramilitaries among them and put an end to this insurgency.

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Who can recognize the bad faith amongst white evangelicals?

Among the many problems endemic to the Washington press corps is the dearth of reporters and producers born into ultra-conservative religious traditions but had, by the grace of God, found a way out.

If there were such people involved in deciding what’s news, we would scarcely see stories about the difficulties facing white evangelical Protestants when it comes to voting for people like Donald Trump and his offspring, such as former football star Herschel Walker.

We would not see opinion pieces laboring to explain why white evangelical Protestants are hypocrites for supporting a Republican candidate who has admitted to paying for abortions in addition to fathering a covey of children with multiple women he did not marry.

READ MORE: For white evangelical Protestants, power is religion and Herschel Walker is their vessel

We would not see, in other words, a Washington press corps grown complicit in a decades-long effort by white evangelical Protestant leaders to gaslight America into thinking their zealotry is not at all dangerous to democracy despite all appearances to the contrary.

The bad faith of white evangelical faith

Two days ago, National Public Radio aired a piece with this headline: “Evangelical voters grapple with Herschel Walker's controversial image.” “Grapple” connotes soul-searching, but the interview subject, Timothy Head of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, didn’t seem as vexed by the choice as much as he was vexed by press corps scrutiny of it.

NPR clearly does not have anyone in key positions who was born into ultra-conservative religious traditions but left. If it did, the radio network would not have given Head a chance to explain why white evangelical Protestants are still good people though their vote for Walker signals their deep desire for a return of Jim Crow caste.

READ MORE: 'Democracy has won': Herschel Walker’s ex-girlfriends are celebrating his Senate runoff defeat

That person, in a news meeting, would have said whoa hold up. These people are going to vote for a Republican no matter who it is. Religion has nothing to do with it, unless by “religion” we mean the political power to protect social hierarchies that give white people advantages. In that case, sure, it’s about religion, but let’s say that. Let’s not give an ultra-conservative zealot a chance to gaslight us.

That person, though holding unfamiliar news judgment, would have seen their premonition bear out. Incumbent Raphael Warnock won Georgia’s run-off, but Walker gleaned 48.6 percent of votes, most of it from rural areas dominated by white evangelical Protestants.

NPR isn’t alone.

The Times ran this howler: “‘Saved by Grace’: Evangelicals Find a Way Forward With Herschel Walker.” That’s pure comedy gold to anyone who grew up in an ultra-conservative religious tradition but left.

Why? Because that person would say anything can be rationalized by a religion that’s predicated on the idea that it is right and all others are wrong. Their choices are right before they have made them. Walker was toxic, but voting for him was right, because they are.

When white evangelical Protestants “find a way forward,” it’s not because they are wrestling with hardship, controversy, whatever. The decision has been made. The “finding a way” is justification. Sure, they vote according to the demands of their faith, but it’s bad faith.

Perhaps the worst offenders are liberal intellectuals possessing no conception of the bad faith undergirding white evangelical Protestantism. They then judge politics according to liberal values. The Guardian ran this Tuesday: “Georgia Senate voters have a moral choice. White Christians are choosing hypocrisy.” [Hard groan.]

No, “white Christians” are not choosing hypocrisy. They are overwhelmingly unconcerned with intellectual integrity. If they contradict themselves, so be it. They’re right. Their vote is right.

Instead, they are choosing a Republican who will preserve “their way of life” – or bring back a two-tiered system of law and democracy according to which white people get to step on everyone else and everyone else is forced to put up with it. That’s not hypocrisy.

That’s saying what you want.

Having it both ways

Anyone who was born into but left such ultra-conservative religious traditions knows this. Alas, such special people are virtually absent from the ranks of the Washington press corps. The obvious result is endless reporting about religion as if religion had nothing to do with politics – as if bad faith were not central to white evangelical faith.

If the press corps had more special people like this, perhaps we’d see reporting on how white evangelical Protestants are being held morally accountable for their choices in addition to more stories about real moral “grappling” as a result of being held accountable. In that alternative reality, they’d learn that true freedom isn’t what you can do to other people. It’s what you can do for yourself and others.

As it is, white evangelical Protestants have it both ways.

READ MORE: Laura Ingraham has on-air meltdown in wake of Herschel Walker's defeat in Georgia

Donald Trump's 'heresy' gave the game away

Last weekend, the criminal former president got his groove back. He said that the US Constitution ought to be terminated. No, really.

“A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude,” Donald Trump wrote, “allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”

This is nothing but sour grapes, yet Trump’s critics couldn’t help themselves. That says more about them than it does Trump, and that’s good information. It’s a good reminder that most Americans, with encouragement from the Republicans, believe the Constitution stands above democratic politics, as if untainted by human sin.

READ MORE: Trump Organization found guilty on all 17 counts of criminal tax fraud

The opposite is reality, though.

The Constitution has been used for achieving political ends just like anything else that’s politically useful. Those ends might be empowering democratic politics to expand liberty, equality and happiness. Those ends might be stopping democratic politics from challenging the status quo. Alas, that’s more often the case.

Yet we cling to it as if we’d surely perish without it – as if a piece of paper were the only thing standing between the people and tyranny. It isn’t. Believing otherwise is foolish. We should put faith in the outcomes of democratic politics, not things said to stand above it.

Oh, the outrage!

READ MORE: Watch: Mitch McConnell again refuses to say that he will not support Donald Trump in 2024

On the one hand were conservatives who don’t want Trump to run in 2024. Here's the Post’s Marc Thiessen: “This is many things, but it’s not conservatism. Respect for the Constitution and its original meaning is the bedrock of the modern conservative movement … For someone seeking the Republican presidential nomination to call for the Constitution’s termination is nothing short of heresy.”

On the other were Trump’s critics saying see see tolljah! The Post’s Jennifer Rubin: “In a healthy democracy with two sane, stable and pro-democratic parties, it never would have come to this.”

Neither side seems to understand the truly radical thing about Trump’s statement, which is this: nothing, not even the United States Constitution, is untouchable. Nothing is or should be immune to democratic politics. In denouncing him, critics want him to stop acting politically. But Trump understands politics never stops.

Sorry, not sorry, he’s right.

Anti-democracy

Granted, this is pretty extreme, even for Trump. It’s not everyday you hear a former Republican president belittle what most Republican voters believe is a sacred text akin to the Ten Commandments.

But it’s not extreme because most Republican voters believe it’s a sacred text. It’s extreme because it sabotages why most Republican voters say it’s a sacred text. They say that because appeals to the Constitution slow down, encumber or stop democratic politics. The more the GOP can stop democratic politics, the more they win.

Think about it.

Democratic politics is a numbers game. The more people who want X, the better chance of X becoming a reality. That includes the law, government policy and amending the United States Constitution.

The Republicans, by their nature, are a minority party. They represent mainly the very obscenely rich, religious zealots, paramilitary cranks and a smattering of intellectuals. That’s it. If politics were just about numbers, the Republican would lose.

So they have a huge incentive to bring into democratic politics, or protect what’s already there, ideas and concepts that they can present as untouchable by humans - as if they were given to us by God Himself, the unquestionable referee of politics. If God says X, it’s X, and the GOP, by some miracle, always knows what God wants.

With these ideas and concepts, the Republicans can say that we, as a government of the people, can’t do something, and by saying that we can’t do something, they are serving and protecting the orders of power that democratic politics always seeks to weaken by flattening. You can see why accusing Trump of heresy isn’t about ideology.

His heresy was giving the game away.

Does it do what we say it does?

If Trump is a heretic, so are the Supreme Court’s Six.

They have done plenty to give the game away by throwing out legal precedent, fabricating history and otherwise making things up.

As destructive as Trump has been to “constitutional conservatism,” the Six have been more so. In effect, they admit in their written opinions that the Constitution isn’t a covenant between and among consenting members of a free community. It’s a weapon of the GOP for slowing down, encumbering or stopping democratic politics.

Given that, shouldn’t we rethink what we say we believe about the Constitution? So far, not so good. A bipartisan chorus of voices rose up to defend the Constitution as if it needed defending from Trump.

New York Congressman-elect Mike Lawler told the Associated Press: “The Constitution is set for a reason, to protect the rights of every American. I think the former president would be well-advised to focus on the future, if he is going to run for president again.”

Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, went even farther, laying it on thick by saying that the Constitution “is a sacrosanct document that for over 200 years has guaranteed that freedom and the rule of law prevail in our great country. Attacking the American Constitution and all it stands for is anathema to the soul of our nation.”

I mean, I get why the White House said this, but c’mon. The Supreme Court’s Six don’t buy that. Why should we? Does the Constitution “protect the rights of every American”? Does it guarantee “that freedom and the rule of law prevail in our great country?” Mmmm.

Uh-huh

That’s hard to square with a new report by the Post showing that fatal shootings by police officers have increased, even as many go unreported. Does the Constitution stop police from killing people? Did the Constitution prevent police powers from killing George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and others?

In anything, the Constitution can be, and has been, used to rationalize giving agents of the state more power, even to the point of manufacturing legal immunity so they can kill even more people.

If not the Constitution, what then? What is the bulwark against tyranny? Normal, ordinary democratic politics – raising organized hell, strategic pressure on key decision makers – does more to prevent agents of the state from crushing people than much else.

What then is the White House talking as if democratic politics were bad by way of the Constitution standing above it? Part of me thinks it comes from continuing to believe people like Marc Thiessen and their bad faith. He said: “Respect for the Constitution and its original meaning is the bedrock of the modern conservative movement.”

Uh-huh.

Because its original meaning was anti-democratic.

READ MORE: 'Spineless Republicans' show their 'cowardice' by ignoring Trump’s war on the Constitution: conservative

We should drop the idea of the United States of America being one country

Among the Editorial Board’s myriad mandates, as I see them, is bursting dogma, flaying stigma, and otherwise defenestrating ideas that make cohering American politics harder than necessary.

For instance: The United States is one country.

Nope.

READ MORE: House Democrat rips Republicans for refusing to condemn Donald Trump's 'full embrace of fascism'

That we are not one country is evident to anyone who has traveled widely around the country, who has lived and worked in various parts of the country or who has bothered to learn the country’s history.

Indeed, we are held together loosely by a constitution, but our founding document has been used to sow division as much as, or more than, to cement unity. Meanwhile, there isn’t really an America so much Americas that pretend to be more in line than they are. They pretend because those Americas might be different if they stopped.

Real sovereign units, made-up bigger one

That we are not one country is evidenced also by the early party primary states. Iowa (first) is different from New Hampshire (second), which are different from South Carolina (third) and Nevada (fourth).

Sure, voters there call themselves Democrats, but they are so distinct by geography, culture and politics as to be semi-autonomous zones. Their states, moreover, are more like countries in the European Union, nation-states inside a larger, overarching and made-up unit.

The differences quickly present themselves. Iowa Democrats want the party's national leaders to address climate change and secure human rights. South Carolina Democrats rarely share lofty goals. Theirs are defensive – eg, preventing GOP-controlled state governments from making their lives harder than they already are.

READ MORE: House Republican: 'I'll fall in behind' Donald Trump in 2024 despite call to suspend the Constitution

The national Democrats are rethinking the order of primary states. According to the Post, the president wants South Carolina first, New Hampshire and Nevada second, Georgia and after that Michigan.

But beyond the symbolic, which isn’t nothing, this order or that order probably doesn’t matter. Democrats in South Carolina are going to vote like Democrats in South Carolina, not like Democrats in Iowa.

We pretend the order influences the outcome, but it really doesn’t, because that would require the United States to be one country.

Nope.

A fictional community

If you do not understand that the United States not one country, you may find yourself confused and asking why, when national polls show overwhelming support for reproductive rights, the GOP is dead-set on the opposite. They seem bent of the ruination of young women’s bodies for the sake of protecting cell clusters that aren’t human yet.

A poll showing national support for, say, bronco busting, while popular in regions like Texas and the American southwest, won’t mean a thing to the highly concentrated and densely packed residents in the tristate area that links Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. If they outlaw bronco busting, nothing can stop them, though it contravenes the will of a national democratic majority.

States that have outlawed or restricted abortion don’t care – don’t need to care – about what a majority of Americans believes is right and good in a national survey, because a national survey measures the opinion of a political fiction, not a real political community.

Liberals by their nature envision a true e pluribus unum, but liberals should remember that that is, and may always be, an work in progress. Unity is a noble aspiration, not a concrete fact. As long as the United States is a de facto federation of (maybe) a dozen political zones – though not legal ones – unity might always prove elusive.

An artifice of law

Even the concept of states distorts reality.

There’s 50, but what’s the practical difference between Mississippi and Alabama, or Connecticut and Rhode Island or the Dakotas?

I’m sure residents there have strong opinions. But I’m also sure that, to national political figures, those distinctions are invisible. From a national viewpoint, there aren’t 50 states so much as (maybe) dozen political regions that, when cobbled together, form the United States.

The United States as one country comprising 50 states is an artifice of law and political convenience more than it is a description of how we function politically in our respective politically communities.

Don’t believe it? Why is the Mason-Dixon line where it is (the southern border of Pennsylvania and the northern border of West Virginia and Maryland)? It’s not a land mass like rivers or mountains.

It’s merely line drawn on the map – a legal and political demarcation – that once separated non-enslaving states from enlaving states. It is a product of democratic politics, not the result of natural causes.

Indeed, all borders are thus.

That goes for borders, too

What’s the difference between a border dividing American states and a border dividing nation-states, like the United States and Mexico?

None that are serious. They are fakes drawn for the convenience of leaders and communities to make sense of and identify themselves coherently, to administer and enforce respective laws and so on.

If you’re going to have a nation-state, which is what western countries have been doing since the Enlightenment, that nation-state requires national borders. Otherwise, there’s little point to it. Nation-states aren’t always artificial. (Eg, England.) But their land borders always are. They are products of politics, first and last.

Donald Trump was fond of saying that you don’t have a country if you don’t have borders. But Borders are the least important aspect of the character of any country, because they are legal and political fictions.

We pretend – well, fascists like Trump pretend - that the US-Mexican border is natural, as if God gave it to us, as if an abomination to tamper with it, as if a weak defense were a sin.

But the only thing natural about the US-Mexican border is the Rio Grande, and given the river dries up every year, it’s not even that.

We act like billions sent to the border, for the purpose of “securing it,” will somehow protect American values, identity, even destiny. That’s a lot to ask for, because the border was arbitrarily created.

Like the United States.

That the United States is not only one country doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think of it that way. But whatever utility there is to that idea is undermined by today’s United States Supreme Court.

It’s like the court won’t allow us to be one nation, indivisible.

The court’s rightwing supermajority has been on a tear lately, as in tearing up federal laws and federal court precedents like Roe that had in effect served as the glue that held the 50 states together as one.

The trend started in 2013 with the Shelby ruling. That’s the one that said states with a history of racial animus in government policy no longer have racial animus. Where once those states had to get clearance from the US Department of Justice before changing their elections laws, they can go ahead and so whatever they want.

Since then, states (mostly southern) have enacted laws that erode the power of racial minorities, deepen the white-power status quo and lay the foundation for what are becoming quasi-apartheid states that are being organized to deprive majorities of their political power.

The court has also aided in quasi-apartheid states by allowing them to gerrymander themselves so they can be run by a ruling minority party that does not fear the consequences of democratic politics.

This fact alone – that states such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas and Florida barely reach a definition of republican government – is another reason for the rest of us to drop the idea of the United States being one country. There is no America. There are Americas.

Pretending otherwise warps our ability to make sense of ourselves.

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We can't have both democracy and political violence, huh? What about [waves hands widely at everything]?

The Times’ editorial board, not to be confused with the Editorial Board, is running a series of editorials on political violence. In the main, these are exceptional pieces, deeply researched, densely packed with relevant, illuminating facts, and dispassionately argued.

Editorials rarely move public opinion, but even so, I’m grateful. Our culture too often fails to recognize the injuries of political violence. Perhaps this series will elevate public awareness, at least a little.

That said, the editorial writers have a recognition problem of their own – and it’s right there in the latest installment’s headline: “America Can Have Democracy or Political Violence. Not Both.”

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This dichotomy of either-or runs throughout the editorial, but the following shows its most distilled form: “It is unacceptable in a democracy for organized groups of men armed with military-style firearms and dressed in body armor to appear regularly at political rallies or to act as security for public officials and office seekers.”

My question is this – seriously? Why is it unacceptable? To whom? We can’t have democracy and political violence? Who says so?

Such assumptions suggest the Times’ editorialists need to get out of Manhattan more often. If they do, and if there’s enough effort, they might recognize a reality the rest of the country inhabits but usually does not recognize because it constitutes those “democratic norms.”

Seriously?

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Political violence is familiar and ordinary. It’s all around us. It is the consequence of democratic politics running against the grain of the white-power status quo, or the white-power status quo merely maintaining “democratic norms.” Whenever there’s change, there’s political violence. Whenever there’s a reaction, there’s the same.

So the question isn’t whether there’s political violence and what elected officials must do about it. It’s whether the political violence is politically acceptable or politically unacceptable.

Examples of politically acceptable political violence: when a police officer wrestles to the ground, or even kills, an armed suspect; when a police department disperses an unlawful political rally; even when a white cop murdered George Floyd. Normally, that would have been acceptable if not for the confluence of democratic politics and luck.

Examples of politically unacceptable political violence: when a man beats his wife, when a mother beats her children, when an uncle molests his niece, and so on. We rarely admit it, but each presumes the rights of top-down authorities over the bodies of innocents.

When democratic politics challenges these democratic norms – eg, see Black Lives Matter, the MeToo movement or any advancement by the LGBT-plus community – there is a violent political reaction that deepens existing levels of political violence. A violent reaction that itself concedes to its unacceptability deepens its political nature.

Why so absurd?

When we understand political violence as a democratic norm, rather than the exception to democratic norms, we can see why headlines like the one above are absurd. We can’t have democracy and political violence, huh? Well, what about [waves hands widely at everything]?

It’s absurd to claim that it’s “unacceptable for organized groups of men armed with military-style firearms and dressed in body armor to appear regularly at political rallies.” Why? Because such things are happening in a country that claims to call itself a democracy. It’s just weird to say something is unacceptable when there are enough people around, a majority in some states, who say yeah, no.

The Times gets grief for sucking up to those in power. But in this one way, it’s liberal. It holds to liberal standards the great many illiberal Americans who think husbands should rule their wife, that children should obey their mothers and that a niece had it coming to her when she tempted a grown man. Why would a newspaper otherwise known for its sobriety do something that absurd? Liberals say it’s one or the other, not both. Everyone else is like where you been, son?

The editorial writers are right say there are “four interrelated trends that the country needs to address.” They are “the impunity of organized paramilitary groups, the presence of extremists in law enforcement and the military, the global spread of extremist ideas and the growing number of GOP politicians” who pander to them.

But they stop short of identifying the thing that’s the biggest thing that makes all these things “interrelated.” No, it’s not extremist ideologies. It’s the opposite of extreme. It’s the force shaping all of our lives, because it’s the force that constitutes “the way things are.”

I’m talking about white power.

Keep it real

That said, the editorial writers are correct in saying that something really is different. Political violence is normal, but these days it’s spectacular: “Some of the most spectacular recent episodes of political terrorism are etched into the nation’s collective memory: mass shootings in El Paso and Buffalo, bomb and arson attacks against mosques and synagogues, a plot by a paramilitary group to kidnap Michigan’s governor, the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6.”

Instead of saying democracy is incompatible with normal political violence, we should say it’s incompatible with abnormal political violence, that the balance of power in society is out of balance, and that this social imbalance threatens to cut out democracy’s legs.

That I buy. It’s real.

We don’t need more bullshit.

READ MORE: Did some of our federal police conspire to overthrow the United States?

Another GOP 'civil war'? We know how that story ends

Mitch McConnell’s chief skill, above strategic cynicism, is the ability to look deeply concerned about matters of grave consequence.

He had his “grave face” on Tuesday. He said: “There is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism, for white supremacy. Anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, is highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States.”

The allusion was to Donald Trump. The criminal former president dined over the weekend with Nick Fuentes and Kanye West, two of the highest profile Jew-haters. (Fuentes is particularly repugnant.)

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The headlines were good for Trump, who needs the antisemite vote, and for the antisemites. Rarely have they gotten as much attention since the days of Charles Lindberg and Father Charles Coughlin.

McConnell’s remarks, with those of leading Republicans, seem to suggest that the gap between them and Trump is widening apace.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who’s less “grave face” than “avuncular face,” told CNN that “it’s not a good idea for a leader that’s setting an example for the country and the party to meet with [an] avowed racist and antisemite. … You want to diminish their strength, not empower them. Stay away from them.”

But the gap isn’t a gap. Nor is it widening.

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We’re seeing political people acting politically. That’s all it is. After a midterm but before an election, no one knows who among the Republicans will lead. Make no mistake, though. When a leader becomes apparent, recent moral clarity will melt into the air.

“Anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, is highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States,” McConnell said. There’s good reason for skepticism.

There’s also good reason why that reason might not be apparent. The Washington press corps does things to justify doing what they want to do. First, pretend history didn’t happen. From there, they can tell the story – again – about a civil war inside the Republican Party, with Trump on one side and “establishment Republicans” on the other.

Reruns are never as exciting as the original, though.

We know why the Republicans are acting this way. We know what they will do in the end. We’ve already seen it. Lindsey Graham had said that “if we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it.” Then the senator became Trump’s leading confidante.

Which is to say, they’ll get behind the winner.

For the moment, that’s not Trump.

Some Republicans say he lost three in a row: the 2018 midterms, the 2020 presidential election and the 2021 Georgia run-off. (Others add a fourth, the lower-than-expected gains in the 2022 midterms.)

But this three-time loser story has a subtext – the fast-ascending status of Ron DeSantis. The Florida governor crushed his Democratic opponent. That fueled breathless talk of a 2024 presidential bid.

Reasonsreasonsreasons

This binary lies beneath recent stories about Trump supporters second-guessing their support. Rolling Stone reported that white evangelical Protestants, Trump’s staunchest supporters, seem unsure. They got what they want from him – Roe fell – but suddenly they see reasonsreasonsreasons for “staying on the sidelines.”

The Times reported Israel hardliners previously in Trump’s corner also seem unsure. That dinner with antisemites is suddenly one of those reasonsreasonsreasons. “I am a child of survivors. I have become very frightened for my people,” Morton Klein, head of the rightwing Zionist Organization of America, said. “Donald Trump is not an antisemite. He loves Israel. He loves Jews. But he mainstreams, he legitimizes Jew hatred and Jew haters. And this scares me.”

Yeah, well.

The same thing could be said – the same thing was said – in 2017 after Trump appeared to, um, legitimize Jew hatred and Jew haters.

He said throngs of white-power protesters in Charlottesville weren’t all that bad. Sure, they chanted “the Jews will not replace us” but that was, evidently, enough to dampen enthusiasm by ultra-rightwing Jewish conservatives who’d yet to get something about of his tenure.

These people, like leading Republicans, are not “Trump defectors.” Yes, the press corps keeps hinting hard at that. What they are doing is merely repeating 2015 – waiting to see where the GOP base goes, especially its spokesmen at Fox and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. Wherever the base goes, the leaders of the party go, too.

There’s only one reason the Republicans and allies are not all-in for Trump. It’s not because of anything Trump did, like dining with antisemites. It’s that an alternative seems to have presented itself.

Savior of the Republican Party?

I mean, sure. Florida loves DeSantis. But Florida is Florida. It’s not the rest of the country, nor is it the rest of the Republican Party. And anyway, the presumption is that, during the Republican primaries, DeSantis would beat Trump in his own state. Why? Because Ron DeSantis is its governor? I don’t see why that presumption is wise.

It seems to me the Republicans are waiting to see who’s going to emerge stronger even as they process more data coming out of the midterms. If the base picks Trump over DeSantis, the GOP might lose the support of what I call “respectable white people,” those voters who made Democratic victories possible three times in a row.

Perry Bacon said Sunday that “the surprisingly strong performance of Democrats in the US House and in many gubernatorial and Senate races was in large part because the pro-Democratic suburban surge of the 2018 and 2020 elections didn’t ebb too much in 2022.”

Bacon’s suburbanites are my respectable white people.

Wherever they go, so go national elections.

Savior DeSantis might not be enough.

READ MORE: 'A strange no-eye-contact oddball': Who is the real Ron DeSantis?

What the left-liberal reactions to Twitter's new owner reveal about progressives

I have said what I want to say about Monsieur Muskrat’s takeover of Twitter. I don’t want to give him more of my attention than what’s necessary for doing my job. I don’t want to, by giving him my attention, give you the impression that he’s all that important.

But I do want to attend to, and therefore bring your attention to, the left-liberal reaction to his enfeebling of America’s premiere public forum. There seem to be two camps, possibly a third. I see plenty of overlap among them. Each tells us something about ourselves.

The professionals

READ MORE: Is Twitter a lost cause?

The first I’d describe as the professional critics. These are the pundits, journalists, scholars and writers who regularly participate in the public square, and who in turn influence lay participants. Call them “influencers” if you like. In any case, they, including me, spend most of their time doing stuff normal people don’t have time for.

This camp doubted Monsieur Muskrat’s claim of bringing free speech back. Never did they believe, as he does, that Twitter was being used as a weapon to silence “unpopular opinions.” But they did believe it was, as the top forum for democratic politics, useful for flattening the orders of power that constitute what most people see as normal.

Some went to extremes, but most practiced ordinary democratic politics. They argued against hate speech. They pressured the right people. They called for pushing the demagogues and anti-democrats to the distant margins of public discourse, where they belong. In time, key decision-makers in key positions at Twitter, Inc., agreed.

I have my share of disagreements with this camp, for instance, making a fetish of Monsieur Muskrat’s ongoing devolution into fascism. The man’s a billionaire. We know he’s dangerous. We don’t need to be told about each time he swallows a “red pill.” Democracy will not live or die according to the rigid fixedness of our focus.

READ MORE: Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes could become the new face of MAGA

Even so, the professionals have the basics right. Twitter houses democratic counter-speech. Those whose claim to fight for “free speech” and against “cancel culture” and “censorship” mask their real intentions – to silence voices they deem threatening and restore the public square’s social standing as the voice of the status quo.

The partisans

The second I’d describe as the popular partisans. These are people with huge followings on Twitter who say, basically, one thing – the Republicans are bad. They are genius at finding various and sundry ways of saying one thing. But make no mistake, it’s always one thing.

The popular partisans have more influence than the professional critics, because they don’t bother with things like intellectual integrity, social realities, clear reasoning, clearer writing, etc. They don’t care about the process so much as the outcome. If the outcome of their labors keeps the Democratic faithful in line, job well done.

While the popular partisans are useful – they can bring attention to deserving people and issues that professional critics cannot – I think they often do more harm than good. They frequently hold the GOP to standards only the Democrats commit to, then announce to their Twitter armies that they can’t believe what that Republican said!

Unbelievable!

Why more harm than good? Because such behavior warps political reality. The Republicans do what Republicans do, mmm? This is not only not unbelievable. It’s expected. If we can’t believe what the Republicans do, there’s not much point to democratic politics.

The same applies to Twitter. The platform no longer enforces rules that were designed to prevent users from making and spreading misinformation and lies. It has allowed back some of those aforementioned demagogues and anti-democrats. The popular partisans will tell us that this is an outrage! But it’s all quite believable, or should be, as tilting public opinion in the direction of elite interest is what elites have done in America since forever.

This wouldn’t be so bad, I suppose, if it weren’t for a big deleterious consequence. I’m talking about an attitude toward democratic politics according to which the only way to advance progressive issues is by stopping the Republicans from doing what they do.

Why is this deleterious?

It’s preemptive surrender.

It puts the fate of democracy, freedom, equality and liberal republican values in the hands of people who will abuse them all – if not smother them in the cradle. When you make abusers responsible for democracy, you can pretty much expect them to do what they do.

Believable!

The popular partisans send, in effect, an anti-democratic message (perhaps without knowing it). That message is, alas, that democracy depends on bad people choosing to do good things. If anything is unbelievable, it’s that. No, democracy depends on what it’s always depended on – democratic people practicing democratic politics.

The spectators

What’s the third group? Well, I suppose it’s not a group as much as a tendency, but let’s call them the amused spectators. These people might be political cynics or political realists. They are definitely not political idealists. Not surprisingly, they are often Black. For instance, they believe voting is a defensive maneuver first. Ideals come later.

Their tendency is to hope for the best, but expect bad people to do bad things. It expects good people to do good things, too. It believes democracy’s greatest threat isn’t the bad people who hate it. It’s the good people who can’t or won’t believe believable things can happen.

Meanwhile, the amused spectators take pleasure in watching professional critics pushing their idea-boulders uphill while the popular partisans make those idea-boulders all the heavier.

They are not surprised to see that a billionaire born unaccountable to consequences everyone else is accountable to is busy tilting public opinion in the direction of elite interests. Elites have done it before. They do it now. They’ll do it again. The answer isn’t empty outrage.

It’s democratic people practicing democratic politics.

READ MORE: Tucker Carlson's Fox News producer is an out gay man helping 'ramp up' hate: LGBTQ journalist

So much mass death: The insurgency we refuse to see

There was another mass shooting last night, this one in a Chesapeake Bay-area Walmart. Using a pistol, the gunman shot dead six people, wounded five more, then killed himself. Police say the suspect was an employee at the store. They say the shooting began in a break room.

We don’t know the shooter’s identity yet, but we do know last night marked the seventh mass shooting in seven days, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit group that tracks and makes available information on gun-related violence. Investigators are still determining a motive for the violence. Honestly, it doesn’t matter.

The gunman’s motive doesn’t matter because whatever it is in detail, the urge to murder expressed itself from inside a political context that’s already highly tolerant of spectacular rates of political violence. The Gun Violence Archive reports an estimated 600 gun-related incidents of mass death so far this year. That’s nearly two daily.

READ MORE: 'Gays Against Groomers' founder predicts more anti-LGBTQ+ violence until 'we end the evil agenda'

Whether, over 20 years, the bodies piled skyward came from criminals shattering the peace or from police officers “keeping the peace” – one way or another, it’s political violence. No matter the Walmart shooter’s goals, his actions are political violence, too.

Yet we pretend it isn’t.

Why?

“Commonsense” is senseless

READ MORE: How the GOP's 'folk libertarians' and 'cynical irreligious right' clashed in the midterms: historian

In any other time and place, in any other part of the world, seven mass shootings in seven days, nearly two every day of the current year, would not be called “senseless,” “insane” and “barbaric.” Why?

Because in any other time and place, in any other part of the world, seven mass shootings in seven days, nearly two every day of the current year, would be seen as acts of political violence demanding a political solution. We don’t do that, though. We say it’s “senseless.”

We say the solution is “commonsense.”

No, “commonsense” is senseless.

Because political violence is never senseless! It has an objective! If we stopped denying what’s in front of our eyes for a moment, we’d see why there’s so much mass death in such short periods of time.

This is an insurgency.

Rule of law as the enemy

One way or the other, mass death is a consequence of liberal democracy head-banging with the hierarchies of white power that have constituted the political order of America since the start.

Democratic politics, which never stops pressing forward, triggers a reaction from the status quo, which never stops defending itself. One kind of politics irritates another kind. Occasionally, they collide. Political violence is the outcome. Mass death is one variety of it.

Precisely, the Republicans favored democratic politics as long as democratic politics was in line with “the natural order of things.” Then democratic politics produced a Black president. That was it.

Not only has the GOP retreated since then from democratic norms and democratic institutions. They have retreated from the rule of law. They permitted guns to deluge communities. The sheer volume empowered white men to take the law into their own hands. Equal treatment under law was no longer an ideal. It was the enemy.

Soft targets

Since 2008, but especially since 2012 (with Barack Obama’s reelection), the paramilitary wing of the Republican Party has continued to grow, as has the political culture around it that allows men of any color to solve their personal problems with a gun.

No matter the shooter’s identity, his actions are political violence arising from a political context in which people seek political goals. The main one is weakening the perceived grip liberal democracy has on the United States for the purpose of “taking their country back.”

This paramilitary insurgency – which, by the way, operates inside and outside the ranks of law enforcement; which, by the way, includes freelancers unrelated to the GOP – cannot succeed, ie, would fail fantastically, if viewed as an armed internal threat.

In that case, GOP guerrillas would risk open warfare with the government, a confrontation they’d lose and never recover from.

So these partizans hit soft targets – schools, churches, nightclubs, Walmarts – anything that can’t fight back. They foment anarchy. Spread chaos. Create an air of insanity. Such is the status quo upheld by establishing an atmosphere of fear that’s designed to prevent reformers from using democratic politics to reform the status quo.

The problem is obvious

As I said, in any other time and place, in any other part of the world, the paramilitary wing of the Republican Party would be seen for what it is – an armed faction that can’t get what it wants democratically and instead uses violence to bring back political conditions in which democratic politics is again in line with “the natural order of things.”

Why don’t most Americans see that?

That’s obvious.

Most of us are white.

White power serves white Americans such that a paramilitary insurgency can’t possibly exist. Something like that happens in South America or Asia, not these United States! There must be another reason – any reason! – that does not call on us white Americans to rethink our political advantages or, God forbid, be responsible for choices we make that altogether uphold the white-power order.

It must be the Republicans’ fault! It’s all those guns!

No, the problem is us.

We just won’t see it.

READ MORE: Saying 'trans people deserve to be alive' is political

Saying 'trans people deserve to be alive' is political

Ben Collins is a reporter for NBC News. He’s known for covering the “dystopian beat.” On MSNBC this morning, Collins talked about the Colorado mass shooting over the weekend. A 22-year-old white man had entered an LGBT-plus bar, killed five and wounded 25. Anderson Aldrich was indicted Monday on charges of murder and hate crimes.

Collins was clearly moved by the incident. After reading a long series of headlines, about the threats to America’s LGBT-plus community by the Republicans, rightwing demagogues and redhat propagandists (those are my words), he asked:

What could I have done different?

Seriously. As reporters, what can we do different? Because there are five dead people in a strip mall. That’s the only place they felt safe as gay or trans people in Colorado Springs. …

I think we have to have a come to Jesus moment as reporters. Are we more afraid of being on Breitbart for saying trans people deserve to be alive? Or are we more afraid of the dead people?

Collins’ point is well taken. Journalists must have the courage to say what needs saying – that trans people have a right to life, liberty and happiness like everyone else. Journalists also need the backing of their employers. Sadly, because employers often share the opinions of Republicans, reporters often get thrown under the bus.

READ MORE: NBC reporter urges 'come to Jesus moment' for media in wake of Colorado Springs anti-LGBTQ mass shooting

So far, Collins is lucky.

And I disagree.

Courage is good, politics is better

The problem isn’t about courage or lack of it. It’s more fundamental. If we don’t understand the fundamental – especially if journalists don’t understand it – we can hardly come up with a good solution.

READ MORE: 'Very dark': Reporter nails Fox News for going right back to hate speech that sparked Colorado massacre

What’s the problem? An underlying assumption.

What assumption?

That journalists’ choices are made in a vacuum.

They are not. They are choices made among other choices made that altogether constitute what our society considers to be “normal.” These choices are political on account of having been made by and among other human beings who are themselves making choices according to their values, prejudices, preferences and interests.

Journalists who are employed by right-leaning employers are deathly afraid of accusations of bias. But accusations of bias assume that the status quo (“the way things are”) is politically neutral. The status quo is never politically neutral. This claim is evidenced by those who accuse reporters of bias. Their accusations protect the status quo.

Journalists’ choices are made among other choices made. The question isn’t about bias, because the entire concept of bias is made meaningless when seen in an always already political context.

The question isn’t about the choices reporters make and whether they are “politically neutral.” (That’s make-believe.) The question is about the nature, character and purpose of the politics in question.

“Trans people deserve to be alive,” Collins said.

His point about courage is good.

But his politics is better.

“Fleeing a displeasing truth”

Reporters shouldn’t fear being on Breitbart or other rightwing media, Collins said, “for saying that trans people deserve to be alive.” They shouldn’t fear, because there’s nothing political about saying it.

Seems like commonsense, doesn’t it?

It isn’t.

It’s denial.

Saying “trans people deserve to be alive” is totally political on account of rightwing politics believing it to be. Neither Collins nor anyone is going to stop rightwing politics from being what it is. Separating “good people” who deserve reward from “bad people” who deserve punishment, well, that’s the point of rightwing politics.

Collins means well, I have no doubt.

But saying “trans people deserve to be alive” is a choice. Choices are the product of politics. This choice refuses to see “a displeasing truth,” philosopher Lewis Gordon once said. It hopes to avoid confrontation by make-believing that it’s not confrontational.

Without meaning to, Collin contributes to the “bad faith” that’s central to the rightwing project and that ultimately constitutes the “edifice of how oppression is constructed,” Professor Gordon said.

“Bad faith is a flight into a pleasing falsehood in order to avoid a displeasing truth,” he said. “That avoidance – that evasion – actually plays a role in maintaining those systems of oppression.”

Insisting that politics isn’t political affirms the claim that the status quo is politically neutral. That, in turn, empowers the accusers of bias. That protects a status quo that produced five dead people.

Collins is right in that journalists must have courage.

But it’s courage to face “a displeasing truth.”

READ MORE: 'I did what I had to do': Army veteran who tackled suspected Club Q gunman shares haunting details

Gun control is not enough: The white power status quo is killing us

A 22-year-old white man in Colorado Springs walked into an LGBT-plus nightclub over the weekend and opened fire. Anderson Lee Aldrich killed five and wounded 25 more before a patron subdued him. The shooter survived and was indicted on Monday on five counts of murder as well as hate crimes charges.

But others aren’t waiting around. Critics say that a young white man doesn’t bring an AR-15-style semiautomatic weapon, a handgun and extra rounds of ammunition into an LGBT-plus venue, located in a relatively conservative city, if he doesn’t hate the people in it.

Others say the shooting is an example of what experts sometimes call “stochastic terrorism” or the incitement of violence against an individual or group. The Editorial Board’s Rod Graham put it this way:

If a group of people hear from Republican authority figures and thought leaders that Democrats are satanic pedophiles, somebody is going to eventually grab a hammer and march over to the residence of their local Democratic representative.

READ MORE: Update: Suspect named in mass shooting at Colorado gay nightclub that killed at least five

Rod was referring to the recent attack of Paul Pelosi, the spouse of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The assault has been described as an attempted assassination. I think I can speak for Rod when I say we can swap out “Democratic representative” for any minority group, like the LGBT-plus community, and come to the same conclusion.

I agree with all the above, but I want to add an observation.

When we talk about “hate crimes” and “stochastic terrorism,” we should bear in mine an underlying assumption, and by bearing it in mind, we can see that the challenge before us requires solutions far greater than demanding that Republican rhetoric, which inspired Aldrich to murder, be toned down. That assumption is twofold.

One, that the status quo – what’s “normal” – is politically neutral.

READ MORE: White liberals are not free – but they are protected by white power

Two, that the status quo is nonviolent.

It is neither.

Political violence is normal

The way things are is not just the way things are. It’s a product of politics and history, all the choices made before us, and by us, coalescing into a knowable moment that we experience as the now.

The politics of the past is the politics of the present, just as the politics of the present will be the politics of the future. This is the true way of things. To deny this is to deny our humanity. To deny this is to run away from the freedom of making choices that suit us collectively. It’s to escape the responsibility of having made them.

The status quo is not politically neutral.

Neither is it politically nonviolent.

Hard as it is to say, violence is a force that shapes our norms. Some violence we deem legitimate, as when police keep the peace. Others we deem illegitimate, as when criminals breach the peace. But both shape what’s “normal.” The difference is the degree of acceptability.

However, because the status quo is political, and the status quo is shaped by violence, legitimate and illegitimate, political violence is an expression of the status quo. And given that white power (rule by heterosexual, Christian, preferably rich, white men) is the status quo, political violence is expression of white power. Put another way:

• The status quo (what’s normal) is white power.

• White power is political violence.

• Political violence is normal.

Anderson Lee Aldrich committed an act of political violence.

It’s going to take more than gun control to address that.

One way or another, we have, and everyone before us has, decided that one kind of violence is good while the other kind is bad. These choices are political. They were made in a political context. Their consequences, which we all live with unawares, are political, too.

To deny the politics of these choices is to deny the cause and effect of history – to ignore the material consequences that come with decision-making. To deny that is to throw up our hands and say whatever has happened and is going to happen is in God’s hands.

That’s what most of us do.

Running from freedom

Political violence is an expression of the status quo – of white power, of rule by straight white (and rich) men. Whether we think it’s good (police keeping the peace) or bad (criminals breaching the peace), it’s political violence. Why, then, does political violence surprise us?

I think there’s more going on than the natural horror of witnessing bloodshed – more than the despair at witnessing bloodshed over and over, as we have for the past 20 years. I think it’s about expectations.

And who has them.

When something is working for you, you don’t think about it. That it’s working is what’s expected. But when it fails to work, indeed harms you, that’s surprising, maybe even shocking. It’s supposed to work!

White power works for white people (who are most people in America). We never think about it. We don’t have to. It works! But occasionally, the political violence that is white power doesn’t work. It harms us, kills us! It causes young white men to go on rampages.

Yet we continue to be surprised. We continue to be, because we – meaning white people – won’t rethink the problem. We won’t make different political choices. We won’t even recognize, and admit, that we have already made choices. We won’t, because white power works. We think political violence can’t be a feature. It must be a bug!

It’s not a bug. Indeed, the question isn’t whether there is or isn’t political violence. (Political violence is the force that shapes our norms.) The question is how much. The answer is a lot. We tolerate political violence – heaps of corpses – because that’s easier than rethinking political choices that go into maintaining white power.

If we admitted responsibility, we’d have to do something.

White power normally works, though.

So we don’t.

By refusing to accept that we (white people) have already made choices that together produce the status quo, we are denying our humanity. We are running from freedom. We rather throw up our hands and say whatever has and is going to be is in God’s hands.

But the choice is ours.

Not God’s.

READ MORE: White-power violence inevitably comes for 'respectable' white people

By destroying Twitter, Elon Musk reveals contempt for democracy

Helaine Olen’s column last Friday came a week early.

Word got out last night that Twitter could shut down imminently on account of owner Elon Musk telling workers to love it or leave it (ie, to go “extremely hardcore” with no change in pay or go). Turns out some are leaving – “some,” as in thousands. It’s enough to make you wonder about the whole billionaire worship thing, Helaine wrote.

“I’m not denying that some billionaires are brilliant entrepreneurs,” Helaine wrote in the Post. “But they are way less special than they are frequently told. (Some are just heirs, or lucky Powerball winners.)"

READ MORE: Twitter in the edge of collapse as workers revolt against 'notorious union-buster' Elon Musk

She continued:

As our men of business become more prominent and wealthier, they enter a feedback loop. Sycophants flatter instead of challenging them. This impacts their ability to hear criticism. And that leaves them more likely to cling to toadies who feed their now inflated self-image. All too often, the end result is ever larger mistakes and more ethically dubious behavior.

Of course, Helaine is right. Billionaires are human. To err is human. To err spectacularly, and destructively, is billionaire-level human.

That’s why there’s more at stake than a “peculiarly American form of worship,” as Helaine calls it. There’s more at stake than even the collapse of America’s premier public forum. We’re witnessing a democratic abomination injure democratic politics, because democratic politics is the only thing that can keep him in check.

Musk deserves ridicule, true, but he deserves more democratic contempt. Why? Because of his contempt for democratic politics.

READ MORE: Former Twitter VP urges companies pull advertising from platform — citing Elon Musk’s 'toxic takeover'

Destroying Twitter proves it.

Musk was born into wealth in his native South Africa. The dead granted him power and privilege that he neither earned nor deserved. The day he accepted his inheritance was, moreover, the day he participated in the deprivation of other people’s political equality, which they are entitled to for the fact of being born.

Musk became a billionaire in these United States. To become a billionaire is to commit political crimes that would be otherwise impossible without a federal government of, by and for the people permitting them to happen or at least looking away while they do.

Musk then harnessed that power and privilege to shape and mold the very same federal government that initially allowed the political crimes that animate his power and privilege. To be the world’s richest man – to exist as such alone – is to profane not only political equality but the republican principle of equal treatment under law.

He is, therefore, a democratic abomination.

But that’s not all.

For all its flaws, which are many, Twitter remains the premiere public forum in America. That’s because its nature is democratic. It puts downward pressure on the orders of (white, patriarchal) power established long before Elon Musk was born but from which he still benefits. Twitter is, in other words, democratic politics in action.

As such, Twitter has played a huge role in democratizing virtually every part of society that previously had been shielded and defended by those with the most to lose from democratic politics. These parts included politics, journalism, sports, religion, business, you name it. Elites who otherwise would not have faced accountability did in part because Twitter is a public forum where the people can be heard.

Sure, Twitter can be chaotic. It can really feel like it’s everything everywhere all at once. But ultimately, Twitter gave voice to people who rarely have a voice – look up “Black Twitter” – and it flattened the (white, patriarchal) orders of power that have shaped, influenced and dominated every human society since humans stood upright.

Twitter can be democratic politics at worst – for instance, an angry mob in search of victims. But it can be democratic politics at its best – freedom of speech for the weak and powerless, accountability for the rich and powerful, and a valuable indicator of the public mood.

Good or bad, Twitter is politics from the ground up.

That’s why Musk hates it.

There are many theories as to why Elon Musk bought Twitter for billions more than it’s worth. The simplest answer is that he really believes Twitter is used as a weapon to silence unpopular points of view – and that someone (a hero!) had to do something about it.

In other words, Musk appears captive to the accusation, popular among elite white men, that these days you can’t say boo without offending someone, and that this fact is a violation of free speech.

While there are many exceptions to the rule, the rule is still pretty clear to an honest reader of the First Amendment. Twitter is not a weapon to silence people. It is, however, a source of counterspeech. It’s a place in which people who never before had a say have a say.

Pre-Twitter, elite white men could say boo while safe in the knowledge that anyone who had a platform high enough to criticize them looked just like them. Post-Twitter, not so much. Then suddenly anyone off the street could read them the riot act.

For Elon Musk and his ilk, it’s not the silencing that’s the problem. The problem is a matter of who’s doing the silencing. Pre-Twitter, elite white men could say virtually anything. They could shut up points of view they didn’t like. Democratic politics was a nuisance but it didn’t threaten their rank, nor did it call on them to answer to it.

Post-Twitter, they’re being held responsible – and they’re being held responsible by people – Black, LGBT-plus and women, for God’s sake – who have no right to hold them responsible. Worse of all, they can’t do anything to shut them up. For the powerful to be made powerless is a grievous injury. It’s enough to make you want to buy Twitter.

Then kill it.

It may be too soon to say Twitter has gone to ground. But whatever form it takes, it will likely be, in Musk’s view, a restoration of the “natural order of things” by which political elites can do and say whatever they want and the rest of us just have to put up with it.

That’s why rethinking the myth of billionaire greatness – that “peculiarly American form of worship” – isn’t enough. Musk is making choices, which are informed by politics, the kind of politics that not only has contempt for democracy but wants the people to shut up.

It’s not enough to say stop worshiping them.

We need to hold them in contempt, too.

READ MORE: Critics trash 'Twitter troll' Ted Cruz after he blames John Kerry for litter along the southern border

Respectable white people return to the Democrats

The Republicans reached the 218-seat threshold late last night to officially take over the House of Representatives. The vote-counting continues. We don’t yet know how big their majority will be. We do know it will be teensy. (About six races are pending, per the AP.)

We also know the Republicans would have lost without aggressive gerrymandering in Florida and interference by the US Supreme Court in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana. The Democrats should have won the Congress. As it is, “voters delivered a split verdict.”

“Despite concerns about Biden’s handling of the economy and the prospects of a recession,” reported Bloomberg, “voters delivered a split verdict over who was to blame and how much weight to put on issues such as abortion rights and election deniers’ threats to democracy.”

READ MORE: 'One country. One destiny': House Speaker Nancy Pelosi steps down from Democratic leadership

But was that split really despite economic concerns?

As I said Wednesday, “the economy” isn’t only the economy. “The economy” can include abortion, which is, to many, another “kitchen table issue.” “The economy” (inflation, jobs) and abortion are not mutually exclusive. So did the Democrats overperform in spite of it, as Bloomberg reported? Or did they overperform because of it?

If I’m wrong, consider that independent voters determined the midterms. They favored the Democrats by two points. That doesn’t happen. Since 1986, the in-party has lost independents while the out-party has won them. (2002 is an exception.) They said “the economy” was their primary concern. So one of the following:

1. Indies thought of “the economy” as the economy (inflation, jobs) or

2. Indies thought of “the economy” as including abortion.

READ MORE: How Ron DeSantis’ badly gerrymandered congressional map helped Republicans flip the House: report

Either way, they thought the Democrats were better.

This is important to work out. Independent voters are not merely people refusing formal party alignment. They are that great globular middle of American politics – respectable white people, that is, white people who care about looking respectable to white people, who themselves care about looking respectable to other white people.

I call this class of Americans “globular,” because they can be pushed and pulled, depending on the context at election time. They are fickle. They believe they are immune to the consequences of politics. But they can be shamed, as respectability among other white people, who are the people who really matter, is a key motivator for them.

I suspect abortion is central to their concept of respectability. After all, half are women. I think the other half associates respectability with the social status of businessmen, as this is an affluent class of Americans that identifies with owners more than workers, and while inflation is good for wages, it’s bad for the bosses who pay them.

So “the economy” (abortion, jobs, inflation) is their No. 1 issue.

This is important to work out for another reason. These people determine which party wins elections. I don’t like it either, but fact is, respectable white people have always been a critical voting bloc.

As David Winston wrote convincingly Wednesday for Roll Call: “Independents were without question the most critical voter group in this election. In fact, they made up 31 percent of the electorate, the largest percentage going back as far as the 1980 election.”

Winston doesn’t call them respectable white people (though that’s who they are). He said indies are more important than “the youth vote” and “angry women.” “We have not seen evidence that either young voters or women voters turned out in greater proportion of the electorate than we’ve seen in other off-year elections,” he said.

Under-30 Americans voted at percentages similar to past elections, he said. As for women, he said that, “Republicans actually improved with women voters, losing them by only 8 points (53 percent Democratic to 45 percent Republican) after a 19-point deficit in 2018.”

Among polemicists like me, it’s fashionable to say that swing voters are extinct and that the key to victory is driving out the base. While the base is important, these midterms should force us to rethink.

Abortion alone didn’t win.

“The economy” (abortion, jobs, inflation) did.

Respectable white people – swing voters – still matter.

And this is important to work out, because respectable white people, wherever they are on the political continuum, represent the center of US politics, which is to say, the center of the political order.

After the triumphs of civil rights and the failures of the Vietnam War, respectable white people, who had previously been OK with the postwar liberal consensus, found their preferences on the right.

Where once, before 1965, they had given the Democrats the benefit of the doubt, they now gave it to the Republicans, whose policies privileged markets over governance, and who promised, though obliquely, to prevent democratic politics from competing with them.

Now respectable white people have witnessed some 20 years of shocks: The Iraq War, a Black president’s election, a 2007-2008 panic, a fascist president’s election, a covid pandemic and a coup d’etat.

Over the same period, the Republicans got worse and worse. They were supposed to prevent democratic politics from competing with respectable white people. They weren’t supposed to blow it all up.

Joe Biden won more votes than any presidential candidate in our history. That suggested to me a shift among respectable white people, away from the Republicans and toward the Democrats. But last week’s congressional elections confirmed it – to me, anyway.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

The midterms were supposed to be a “red wave,” not a “split verdict.” They were supposed to reward the out-party, not the in-party. Respectable white people were supposed to vote for Republicans. (That they didn’t, I think, stunned the GOP as much as anything.)

There’s a reason the percentage of indies is the biggest it’s been since 1980, the last time one political order ended and another began. By degree, respectable white people have stopped calling themselves Republicans. They haven’t yet begun calling themselves Democrats.

They will, though.

READ MORE: Democrats made history with state-level gains. That could be crucial for democracy

The Democrats didn’t perform well in spite of inflation. They performed well because of it

The criminal former president said last night that he’d run for a third time for the White House. It came a week after he “dragged down the [GOP] in three consecutive elections,” Chris Christie reportedly said.

Donald Trump’s announcement is an occasion to ask if the twin themes of “American carnage” – crime and immigration – will resonate this time around, and if inflation will be a potent addition to his arsenal?

2024 is a million years from now, but it’s important to ask after last week’s midterms. Trump wasn’t on the ballot, but congressional Republicans (and gubernatorial candidates) decided to tie Joe Biden and his party to the “crime wave” (there wasn’t one), the “open border” (there isn’t one) and rising prices, especially energy.

READ MORE: Mitch McConnell beats Rick Scott for control over Senate GOP caucus

So the question, it seems to me, is this. Do these issues work (or not) because of (or in spite of) Trump? Will his challengers from within the Republican Party adopt them? Moreover, are these issues the Republicans’ alone? Do voters trust Biden and the Democrat to fight crime? Do they trust them on immigration and the cost of living?

Again, 2024 is a long time from now. The issues overshadowing that election may not be the same as those that overshadowed the midterms. Then again, these are boilerplate Republicans themes. They have accused the Democrats of being “soft on crime” since Richard Nixon’s day. It’s pretty likely they will stay the course.

There’s another reason I’m asking these questions. It’s the annoying habit of the press and pundit corps of latching on to any theory claiming to explain the midterms’ outcome. The Republicans failed to meet expectations. Ergo, that must mean that abortion rights - and the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe – is the reason.

It’s as good as any other explanation, I guess, but as I said last week, there’s probably no one big thing that explains the midterms’ outcome. If there is one big thing, it’s everything. Yet news people prefer putting issues in discrete boxes. They prefer writing the name of one but not the other party on each box. So if the GOP didn’t win on inflation, that means the Democrats won on abortion rights.

READ MORE: How the Supreme Court controlled the midterms

Humans don’t work like that.

We’re complicated. We muddle through complications. We care about more than one thing at the same time. We often believe a true thing and false thing are right or wrong at the same time. Lumping people into categories is convenient in the high-pressure job of journalism.

But labels are not human.

Humans are human.

The conventional wisdom – yes, it’s only been a week – tells us that the Democrats performed better than expected in spite of inflation (or the economy) being the biggest worry. “The National Election Pool exit poll found that [abortion] was second only to inflation as the top concern driving people to vote, and in some places, such as Pennsylvania, it was the No. 1 motivating factor,” said Businessweek.

I don’t see why one comes at the expense of the other.

The press corps encourages us, by way of putting issues in discrete boxes, to think of inflation and abortion as mutually exclusive. So if a voter cites abortion, they don’t vote for a Republican. If a voter cites inflation, they don’t vote for a Democrat. This is make-believe.

“Inflation” as a campaign issue is about the rising cost of goods and services. That can include pretty all things involving money. (To some people, it’s a “kitchen table issue.”) Since women in states that ban abortion have to go to states that don’t, abortion is about money.

To be sure, the backlash against a renegade Supreme Court mobilized midterm voters against state referendums. Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont voted broadly to “enshrine reproductive freedom” in their constitutions. A referendum to put “no right to an abortion” in the Kentucky constitution failed, too.

Voters can care about both, however, in spite of the Republicans.

Michigan Republican John Gibbs, who ran for Congress, told Bloomberg News in October that he’s “100 percent pro-life in all cases” and that Michiganders are focused “more on kitchen-table issues,” he said. “Can I afford to buy groceries?” That he lost to a Democrat has been interpreted as abortion besting inflation.

But humans are human, remember?

The same individual voter can conclude that abortion and inflation are equally critical, then chose a Democrat over a Republican.

And if abortion can bleed into inflation, inflation can bleed into other campaign issues typically identified as the Republicans’ alone.

Turn the conventional wisdom on its head. Instead of the Democrats performing better than expected in spite of the cost of goods and services, maybe they performed better than expected because of it.

When asked what happened, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, a Republican, told CNN that though midterm voters were worried about Biden, they were more worried about something else.

“Fix policy later, fix crazy now,” he said.

But the Republicans, crazy as they are, did offer policies.

Senator Rick Scott said his party, if given the chance, would reform Medicare in a way that jeopardizes it. Senator Lindsey Graham said his party, if given the chance, would enact a national abortion ban.

Fix the crazy, sure, but these are crazy policies.

Did voters separate crazy and policy? I doubt it. If they thought, as Sununu said, that the GOP was crazy, they thought its policies were, too. If they thought that its policies were crazy, the GOP was, too.

Will independent voters – those respectable white people who determine electoral outcomes – believe the Republicans are competent, not crazy? Or have the Republicans ruined their reputation among respectable white people, some of whom surely recall when Republican leadership cared about sane policies.

That used to be a given. Not anymore.

“After covid, Trump, recession, supply-chain disruptions, inflation, war and insurrection, voters wanted a return to normalcy, not more chaos,” said Simon Rosenberg of the New Policy Institute on Twitter.

Will voters trust Biden and the Democrats to fight crime? Will they trust his party on issues like immigration and the cost of living?

Well, compared to what? The crazy? Crazy policies?

“Voters wanted a return to normalcy, not more chaos.”

The midterms say yes.

READ MORE: 'She did nothing': Ruben Gallego blasts Kyrsten Sinema for letting fellow Democrats down in the midterms

The GOP will take the House. Time to get back to work

All right. It’s been a week since Election Day. There’s been enough time for high-fiving and fist-bumping. Time to get back to work.

Sure, the Democrats held the Senate. (By winning the Georgia run-off, they’ll have 51 senators.) Sure, the Republicans failed to trigger a tsunami of overwhelming victories. But while the count continues, it looks like they’re going to take the House by a nose.

I know, I know. There was “supposed” to be a “red wave.” That’s indeed cause for some celebration. But there's a reason we shouldn’t get too giddy. Two reasons, actually: one, the Democratic machine in California and New York are corrupted and need purging fast. GOP insurgents took advantage of the rot and turned blue districts red.

READ MORE: 'Selling the Big Lie': Reporter unloads on Kari Lake after her campaign ends in defeat

Roll Call reported the other reason. “Republicans … held on to their advantage in redrawing congressional maps and got some key rulings from courts,” reporter Michael Macagnone wrote. “Experts said Republicans used the redistricting process after the 2020 census to retain a small, but measurable, advantage over Democrats.”

Sure enough, the US Supreme Court “allowed Alabama to use a map that a lower court ruled had violated the Voting Rights Act for having only one Black [district]. Following that ruling, pending a broader argument over the VRA, the court allowed Louisiana and Georgia to move forward with maps found to similarly violate the VRA.”

“We are now looking at the second election in recent memory where an intervention by the Supreme Court helped put Republicans in power,” tweeted the New Policy Institute’s Simon Rosenberg.

No, yeah, we did good.

READ MORE: Republicans’ asinine theory on why single women vote for Democrats

But gerrymandering and judges, you know?

Let’s get back to work.

The Republicans are going to have a majority of just one or two seats, but that will be enough for their primary objective (other than grandstanding, fundraising and otherwise beclowning themselves.)

That objective is wounding Joe Biden before Election Day 2024. For others, it will be wounding Biden for Donald Trump’s sake. (The criminal former president is expected to announce a rerun today.)

There will be a joint effort from inside and outside the Congress to put the squeeze on Biden. But to do that, there will have to be a preliminary squeeze play on House speaker hopeful Kevin McCarthy.

McCarthy, according to Businessweek’s Joshua Green, sold his soul to the devil (my words) for a second shot at being speaker. He’s so craven that after blaming Trump for the failed paramilitary takeover of the US government, he flew to Mar-a-Lago to meet with him.

“Kevin came down to kiss my ass,” Trump told Bob Woodward.

At the same time, McCarthy somehow convinced GOP mega-donors (or they convinced themselves, Green suggests) that as speaker he could “keep a lid on the most extreme elements of the House caucus.”

That’ll be tricky, Green writes. Conference members like Marjorie Taylor Greene are not motivated by policy goals that would require unity to achieve. Motivating them is “their celebrity and social media stardom, ambitions that all but necessitate fomenting angry conflict.”

That “angry conflict” is likely to culminate in Biden’s impeachment.

Or attempts at it.

Ten Republicans have already introduced or sponsored articles against Biden. McCarthy has said that “the country doesn’t like impeachment used for political purposes at all.” But “he’s not going to have a choice,” said podcaster Steve Bannon. (Bannon was sentenced last month to four months in prison for contempt of the Congress.)

It’s too soon to say whether McCarthy will be speaker, but it’s not too soon to say that if he is, he’ll be between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, he’ll face a vengeful Trump, who’s already asking how many times Biden will be impeached. On the other, he’ll face the odds of asking the Democrats to save his conference from itself, as his predecessor John Boehner did. And like Boehner, that will doom him. McCarthy would be the “Republican Liz Truss,” Green wrote.

The president claims that, in a nearly evenly divided House, he can gain support for his economic agenda from a few reasonable Republicans. That remains to be seen, but in all likelihood, this is the end of the president’s winning streak until the next Congress.

That – and no doubt the prospect of (multiple) impeachments – is why James Bennet, The Economist’s Lexington columnist, said that Biden shouldn’t run for a second term. Too many Republicans bow before the former guy. Meanwhile, Kevin McCarthy, as speaker, will be “preoccupied with placating … the rest of the berserker caucus.”

"By saying he would not run again, Mr Biden would not surrender political leverage so much as enhance his chance to reach at least some deals,” he wrote. “And he would make any Republican investigations of him and his family seem like malicious irrelevancies. … By declining to run, Mr Biden would concentrate the public glare on Mr Trump’s egotism and his party’s extremism."

I don’t know which House GOP Bennet is referring to, but it’s not the one that wants to impeach Joe Biden for winning the 2020 election. It’s not the one that wants to avenge Trump. It’s not the one that refuses to recognize Biden’s legitimacy. Why would they bargain with an illegitimate president just because he decided not to run again?

Amazingly, Bennet said that by bowing out, Biden can put “the public glare on Mr. Trump’s egotism and this party’s extremism.” It seems to me that the Republicans are capable of doing that all on their own.

Egotism and extremism were magnified by a failed coup. They were magnified by an anticipated “red wave” that didn’t materialize. (They certainly fueled the ferocious gerrymandering and court decisions that enabled a takeover of the House by the barest of margins.)

Most of all, egotism and extremism will be magnified by a House conference bent on impeaching Biden for reasonsreasonsreasons.

But Biden doesn’t have to act. He certainly doesn’t have to bow out of running again. Sure, “the country wants to move forward, to discard the nihilist tenets of Trumpism – election denial in particular – and Mr. Trump, too.” But that doesn’t depend on Biden’s stepping away.

It depends on Biden running for reelection.

It’s time for more democratic politics, not less.

That includes squashing harmful media fictions.

Let’s get back to work.

READ MORE: The top midterms takeaway: The electorate has swung to the left

The top midterms takeaway: The electorate has swung to the left

It’s the Tuesday after Election Day. The counting keeps on keeping on. We know the Democrats will hold the Senate. Catherine Cortez Masto’s victory secured control before the Georgia run-off. If Raphael Warnock beats Herschel Walker, the Democrats will have 51.

We still don’t know about the House. We do know that credible predictions give either party a one- or two-seat majority. I’m still bullish on the Democrats eking out a win, but let’s be real: If the GOP takes the lower chamber, we’re going to see hella more fresh hell.

Some say the midterms have humbled the GOP. They cite Murdoch media, party actors and even some elected Republicans blaming the criminal former president for endorsing losers and botching an expected “red wave.” But Donald Trump was never the cause of GOP fascism. He was and is an outcome of it. Without him, a Republican House majority, however thin, would still be anti-democratic.

READ MORE: Democrat Katie Hobbs is the projected winner of Arizona's gubernatorial race

Still, I agree with those sensing a subtle shift in the Republican leadership’s thinking, as if they realize (at least for now) that Trump isn’t the asset they thought he was. It’s no overstatement to say he’s the reason for defeats in 2018, 2020 and this year. Does that mean he’s a liability? It’s too soon to say. That party elites seem excited by Ron DeSantis suggests they’re open to alternatives, though.

“Ron DeSantis is the MAGA/GOP frontrunner. He has displaced Donald Trump. Trump is an intuitive player. He knows his world was remade this week. He is alone and afraid. He has been abandoned by Jared and Ivanka. He is spiraling. It’s over,” said Steve Schmidt.

Mmm, maybe.

The press corps seems eager to tell the story of a chastened GOP, but I think the real story is about unity. Some of the base will go wherever the elites go. Some of the base will go wherever Trump goes. If elites pick DeSantis over Trump, we can expect a rupture.

READ MORE: Republicans 'are confused and frustrated and angry right now': reporter

A crack-up would be good for the republic (I think neither Trump nor DeSantis would beat Joe Biden), but that won’t prevent the GOP from causing more injury. As historian Thomas Zimmer said Saturday:

The right-wing offensive against democracy is not coming from a sense of strength. It’s animated by a sense of weakness, so fully on display … by a feeling of being under siege, of running out of time to preserve what is the only acceptable order.

This is the main reason why I am so skeptical of the idea that the result of the midterms will lead to moderation. Every defeat, every crisis only heightens the sense of being under siege, is answered by calls for more drastic measures, more radical steps.

That siege mentality is already manifest.

Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio are rigged so that overwhelming turnout is the only thing that could overcome entrenchments favoring the GOP. Wisconsin Democrats won 51 percent of the vote but won only 30 percent of the state House. As The Economist’s G. Elliott Morris said: “There is no reasonable definition by which the Wisconsin state legislature counts as a [small-r] ‘republican form of government.’”

Issues that failed in the congressional elections – immigration, crime, “wokeness,” gender – will continue working in states whose residents are already predisposed to authoritarian leadership. The weaker the Republicans get at the national level, by way of some kind of intraparty civil war, the stronger it’s likely to get in state capitals.

That, however, might be the best-case scenario. Thomas Zimmer: “If the ruling minority is willing to keep curtailing the rights of opposing groups, to further restrict their ability to take part in the political process, to mobilize state power and to enable paramilitary/vigilante forms of violence, minority rule can absolutely be sustained.”

Still, here we are. We have seen three elections in a row for which a majority of Americans – the largest turnout ever for a midterm – made the right choice. Yes, the House is still pending, but even if the Republicans win a one- or two-vote majority, that doesn’t change the fact that the electorate has shifted leftward its center of gravity.

“This should have been a huge red wave,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican. “It should have been one of the biggest red waves we’ve ever had. It’s basically the third election in a row that Donald Trump has cost us the race, and it’s like, three strikes and you’re out.” He added: “I’m tired of losing. That’s all he’s done.”

“Trumpy Republican candidates failed at the ballot box in states that were clearly winnable,” the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page said. “Since his unlikely victory in 2016 against the widely disliked Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump has a perfect record of electoral defeat.”

That’s the biggest takeaway.

Not that Trump is a loser.

That the electorate has changed.

We can talk about what the GOP did wrong, what the Democrats did right. We can talk about the issues that informed voter choices. We are going to talk, nonstop, about how this affects the coming presidential election. But let’s not lose sight of this fundamental.

It’s hard to say why it’s changed.

But you don’t win three in a row without it.

The electorate has changed in ways that may force the GOP either to return to some semblance of a democratic party or to double down on their fascist trajectory – to commit, as Thomas Zimmer said, to being a minority ruling party ready to turn the US into Florida.

Conversely, this electorate may force the Democrats to continue evolving from a centrist to a popular liberal party, one that can govern while protecting democracy against the Republican Party.

READ MORE: 'Insecure small people': McConnell, Rick Scott allies point fingers over scope of GOP Senate failure

'Division' and 'polarization' are how we got here. Are they our way out?

Perhaps the Washington press corps should embark on a pilgrimage to a desert wilderness in the Levant where they can learn to defy the temptations of “objectivity” the way Christ defied those of Satan.

Until that time, we must suffer the likes of Susan Page.

USA Today’s DC bureau chief managed to write Wednesday more than 1,000 words about last week’s congressional elections without saying who did what to whom. Her posture was the familiar “view from nowhere.” She drew straight from the lexicon of “objectivity:"

On Election Day 2022, Americans were unhappy with the present, pessimistic about the future and not fully enamored with either party. Their anxious, angry mood helps explain why campaign appeals turned mostly not on aspirational promises – on exploring space or ending poverty, say – but on ominous warnings about the dangers of supporting the other wide.

The polarization that has marked US politics for a generation has become more toxic, even more than during the era of anti-war protests and political assassinations in the 1960s. Not only do the two parties offer contrasting views on policy and conflicting visions for the country, but some candidates are even refusing to commit to accept the elections' outcomes.

READ MORE: 'People want the circus to stop': Lauren Boebert's Democratic opponent still believes there is a chance to unseat her

If it feels like you’ve read this before, you have.

It tells you nothing.

It warps everything.

“Division” and “polarization” have been the leitmotif of the Washington press crops since at least 2008, when half the country refused to recognize the legitimacy of the first Black president. While “division” and “polarization” are strictly accurate, the way they’re used in reporting democratic politics is fantastically misleading.

READ MORE: Is this the end of our national Trump bender? Yeah, we've heard that one before

Saying that democratic politics is dividing and polarizing America is like saying water is wet. Water has been wet. It is currently wet. It will be wet. Wetness is water’s nature and history. Likewise, “division” and “polarization” are deeply rooted in America’s nature and history.

To say “deep division and politics of fear set the tone for 2024” is accurate but those qualities set the tone for every election. Water is wet. Politics divides. Accurate but doing more harm than good.

Are “division” and “polarization” self-evidently bad? Page appears to think so. But why would the Washington bureau chief of a big national newspaper believe that? “Division” and “polarization” are neither good nor bad on their own. It depends on the context.

If “division” and “polarization” are driving authoritarian politics, that’s bad. But if they are driving democratic politics, that’s good. Purveyors of “objectivity,” however, refuse to say which is which.

Presenting “division” and “polarization” as newsworthy on their own impresses on the audience, by way of merely talking about them, that “division” and “polarization” are somehow abnormal – that they are bad, wrong, extraordinary, even deviant, eliciting fear and dread.

“Division” and “polarization” seem like something out of the ordinary when they are actually in the ordinary. Such an upside down treatment of democratic politics warps our understanding of it, hindering a democratic people from seeking change democratically.

It’s news rhetoric.

It’s what?

Listen.

God did not hand down the lexicon of “objectivity” the way he handed Moses the ten commandment. The lexicon is the product of choices, which is the product of politics. That’s news rhetoric.

Because it’s arises from choices made in a political content, the lexicon of “objectivity” cannot represent the view from nowhere.

There’s a somewhere out there.

It’s the status quo.

Susan Page said the midterm campaigns were negative. They were rife with dire warnings about the dangers of voting for the other side. In a tenor of lamentation, she said candidates did not run “on aspirational promises.” She gives two examples of “aspirational promises.” They are “exploring space” and “ending poverty, say.”

These are allusions to two presidents and two major points in history that baby boomers are now remembering, in late age, as far more harmonious than they were. John Kennedy launched the so-called “space race.” Successor Lyndon Johnson initiated federal programs together were called “the Great Society” to combat social ills.

But neither Kennedy nor Johnson united Americans any more than any other president had. Sure, there were compromises, bargaining. But suggesting, as Page does, that democratic politics is more “divisive” and “polarizing” now than it used to be is just nostalgia – for that uncomplicated time when everyone seemed to get along.

Which never was.

By portraying today’s democratic politics as if it were abnormal, or bad, compared to yesterday’s, Page is defending the status quo, specifically, a status quo as understood by others in her generation – white Americans who don’t care for how these United States have changed and who’d rather things go back to the way they used to be.

By saying democratic politics is worse now than it was “during the era of anti-war protests and political assassinations” (!), Page creates a fictional standard in comparison to which democratic politics can’t help but be bad, wrong, extraordinary, dreadful, even deviant.

The politics of the status quo gave rise to Donald Trump and today’s toxic climate. Yet the press corps often suggests that we go back to that uncomplicated time when everyone seemed to get along, deploying a news rhetoric preferred by their boomer bosses.

No, we shouldn’t go back to a time that never existed.

Neither should we hold on to a decaying status quo.

“Division” and “polarization” are how we got here.

“Division” and “polarization” are how we get out.

READ MORE: Nobody knows why the Democrats did so well because there was no one big thing

Nobody knows why the Democrats did so well because there was no one big thing

The counting continues to continue. We won’t know the final results of the midterms for a few more days. That hasn’t stopped partisans and pundits from telling tales explaining why the Democrats defied history (or returned to it, as I argued Wednesday). Perhaps surprisingly, the fingers are pointing straight at Donald Trump.

The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, the frontpage of the New York Post and some Fox talking heads blamed the criminal former president for endorsing flawed candidates and otherwise depleting the party’s momentum. Attention turned to the election two years hence. “If Donald Trump announces he’s running for president again, the 2024 election is over,” the Journal declared.

The Journal’s editorial page is the elite voice among Rupert Murdoch’s many rightwing voices. The hope seems to be moving Trump aside for someone else, namely Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Well before Tuesday, when he crushed Charlie Crist, DeSantis had been raising his profile and consolidating power. The weaker Trump gets, the more GOP elites seem to long for an unblemished face.

READ MORE: 'We are on the right path': Biden takes victory lap over 'unabashedly good' economic news

The problems here are many. First, Joe Biden will win reelection no matter who the Republican nominee is. He’s the incumbent. His achievements are titanic. His party defied midterm history (or returned to it). If nothing else, Tuesday showcased the president’s strength. (That’s despite his low aggregated job approval rating.)

Second, it doesn’t matter what elite rightwing media says about Trump, good or bad, because his legions aren’t going to listen.

He has conditioned them to ignore “the enemy of the people.” Some elected Republicans are adding their voices, saying the party needs to get beyond Trump. But we’ve seen this before. We’ve seen the party fuss before Trump goes to war. Then the party surrenders.

Byron York, the Washington Examiner’s chief shill, pushed an NBC News poll showing more support for the party than for Trump among GOP voters. “Result: Trump 30 percent, GOP 62 percent. Lowest-ever Trump number; highest-ever GOP number,” he said.

READ MORE: 'A strong repudiation of Trumpism': Seth Meyers brutally mocks GOP’s midterms losses

But York, who knows better, is pretending these numbers won’t melt into the air the moment Trump takes the GOP lickspittle to the wall. They almost certainly will. Party leaders haven’t dared resist him.

Even if they do get behind DeSantis, that’s not going to stop Trump. Remember, this is the man who refused to concede defeat so much that he led an attempted paramilitary takeover of the US Capitol. Even if party elites committed themselves, the DeSantis wing of the party would eventually collide with the Trump wing. Then what?

Then you’d have an enfeebled candidate limping out of the wreckage of a national convention into a general election against a powerful incumbent. It would be similar to George McGovern’s ass-kicking in 1972. The Democrats nearly ate themselves alive before sending their exhausted nominee to slaughter by the president, Richard Nixon.

Murdoch and other GOP elites are right. Trump won once, but since has lost again and again and again. But by losing, one could argue, he’s become more powerful among Republicans who see him as God’s tribune, the chosen one who’d save them and their country. The cult of Trump, which is fascism by another name, won’t end now or two years from now. Cults do not end, not until their leader dies.

Abortion

The Democrats did so well, because women are mad about the Supreme Court striking down Roe, ending federal abortion rights.

It’s been a day, but already that’s the conventional wisdom.

The Republicans themselves are giving it credence. Axios reported this morning on “the blame game” and how independent Republican actors are “zeroing in on the party's lack of an abortion message.”

Is that right? Mmm, maybe.

Exit polling is notoriously unreliable. Even if it were, it wouldn’t provide a full explanation as to why “the red wave” never crashed.

By far, the biggest concern among voters was “the economy” and inflation. Forty-seven percent of voters said that was the top issue facing the country. Meanwhile, according to the AP, only 9 percent said it was abortion. (All other issues were in the single digits.)

But when asked about the most important issue facing them, respondents gave a different answer. Thirty-one percent said inflation, 27 percent abortion, 11 percent crime and gun policy, respectively, and 10 percent immigration. While this data shows that GOP messaging was just terrible (immigration and crime were major themes), it’s clear that abortion did not dominate the midterm.

The most accurate answer is probably a mix of things. Some people may think abortion is an economic issue. Some may think “the economy” includes Biden’s advanced child tax credit program. Others might report that inflation is top of mind but not fault the Democrats for it. The point here is that, so far, nothing points to one big thing.

“The youth vote”

No one is saying the “youth vote” is a big thing, but some are connecting dots that don’t exist or can’t be connected.

Tufts’ Center for Information and Research said a record number of people under 30 showed up, 27 percent. “It’s clear that young people had a major impact on the 2022 midterms,” the center’s report said.

No, it’s not clear.

Only 12 percent of all midterm voters were under 30, according to the AP. (Twenty-one percent were 30-44; 30 percent were 45-64; and 28 percent were 65 and up. In comparison, the “youth vote” is gravy.) That 12 percent no doubt helped the Democrats, as races are often won at the margins. But “major impact”? Mmm, I don’t see it.

Some say young people showed up because of the president’s student debt relief program, but that’s a leap of faith more than proof-finding. I haven’t found a connection, though debt relief might have been bundled up with top concerns about “the economy.”

Voters under 30 have many concerns, like everyone else. But saying the Democrats won because of the youth vote, and the youth vote showed up because of student debt relief – those are empty words.

It’s better to say the youth vote contributed to Democratic victories by greater numbers than in the past, which is true. The Center for Research and Information said the midterm election featured “the second-highest youth voter turnout in almost three decades.”

That’s good enough.

Perhaps the Washington press corps should embark on a pilgrimage to a desert wilderness in the Levant where they can learn to defy the temptations of “objectivity” the way Christ defied those of Satan.

Until then, we must suffer the foolishness of reporters like Susan Page, USA Today’s Washington bureau chief. She managed to write hundreds of words today about Tuesday’s congressional elections without telling us much about them, perhaps out of fear of coming to a conclusion that might offend the interests of one of the parties.

On Election Day 2022, Americans were unhappy with the present, pessimistic about the future and not fully enamored with either party. Their anxious, angry mood helps explain why campaign appeals turned mostly not on aspirational promises – on exploring space or ending poverty, say – but on ominous warnings about the dangers of supporting the other wide.

If it feels like you’ve read this before, you have.

The press corps theme of “division,” “polarization” and “fear” has been dominant since at least 2008 when nearly half the country refused to recognize the legitimacy of the country’s first Black president.

Susan Page is trying to avoid giving agency to one party or the others – dodging the responsibility of telling us who is doing what to whom – but such “objectivity,” while accurate, is fantastically misleading.

Saying that “division” and “polarization” are tearing apart the country is like saying that water is wet. Water has always been wet. It is currently wet. It will always be wet. That is its nature and history.

Likewise, “division” and “polarization” are unexceptional. They are America’s nature and history. It’s accurate to say that “restless voters, deep division and politics of fear set the tone for 2024” – the subhead to Page’s piece – but “accuracy” like that does more harm than good.

You might ask: why can’t we get along? You may not know, and reporters may not know, that Americans has never gotten along. Not getting along the baseline of this country. When we do get along, that’s a product of democratic politics – or just plain dumb luck.

Even the founding generation could not agree. The “division” and “polarization” between northern and southern states resulted in the profound paradox we all inhabit today: a republic established on the ideals of liberty and equality as well as the evils of chattel slavery. (Don’t let anyone tell you that compromise is always a good thing.)

The theme of “division” and “polarization” is a convenience of storytellers, but it also fabricates an injurious false standard: America should be united. America should be one. America should be a democracy.

READ MORE: 'Don't underestimate the power of a pissed off generation': Young voters overwhelmingly turned out for Dems

Why the 2022 midterms signal a return to Democratic dominance

The vote counting continues. The Democrats appear poised to hold on to the Senate, 50 plus one, after John Fetterman beat Mehmet Oz. The House is a toss-up, but Democratic votes usually take longer to count. (There’s more of them.) All in all, Tuesday was a good night.

These midterms signal a return to the norm.

Didn’t they defy the norm?

READ MORE: Here’s where MAGA election deniers failed and prevailed in the midterms: report

Sure – if your definition of normal goes back to 2004. That was the start of the current pattern by which the party that controls the White House loses the Congress in the president’s first term.

But if you go back farther, all the way to 1900, you can see that Tuesday’s elections didn’t defy the norm so much as affirm it.

For the entire 20th century, how many times did the Congress flip?

Six times.

READ MORE: 'An absolute disaster': Fox News pundit calls GOP midterm performance a 'searing indictment of the Republican Party'

Wut.

I said what I said.

Other than those half dozen, the norm was nothing changing.

Nothing changed in 1902, 1906, 1914, 1922, 1926, 1930, 1934, 1938, 1942, 1950, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1990 and 1998.

Nothing changed 76 percent of the time in 100 years.

It’s early yet. As I said, the counting continues.

But so far, there’s a good chance that the Congress doesn’t flip. In that case, the midterms would signal a departure from the new norm of the last 18 years and a return to the old norm of the prior 100.

But why were those 18 years exceptional?

Well, as I’ve been saying, those 18 years were probably a period of transition between different and opposing political gestalts – a volatile buffer zone marked by crisis and uncertainty between the old regime in which the Republicans prevailed most of the time and a new regime in which the Democrats may prevail most of the time.

The era of William McKinley gave way to the era of Franklin Roosevelt. The era of Franklin Roosevelt gave way to the era of Ronald Reagan. And Ronald Reagan’s era seems to be giving way to something new. Whether that’s Joe Biden’s is to be determined.

While the press corps is fixated on who controls the Congress, these midterms are about much, much more. They indicate larger, more important political currents in American history. It’s been said that the midterms mark Trumpism’s end. (Many of Donald Trump’s endorsements failed.) But it’s more like the end of a global order.

This is why I’ve made such a fuss over 1982. That was the last year, more or less, of the postwar liberal consensus that formed the contours of the Cold War and that fell apart in the jungles of Vietnam. 1982 was the hard open of a new gestalt, neoliberalism, the privileging of militarism over diplomacy, markets over statecraft.

(Any time you hear a Republican candidate call for cutting taxes to stimulate economic growth, that’s neoliberalism – or, as Paul Krugman calls it, “zombie economics.” Though it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, and never has, Republicans always call for it.)

This theory of political time, one regime giving way to another, will hold true, I suspect, even if the GOP manages to squeak out a one-seat majority in the House. Why? Because the conventional wisdom, based on 18 years’ worth of electoral patterns, said the Republicans would wipe out the Democrats the way they did in 2010.

Yeah, nah.

It wasn’t a blue wave, mind you. But for reasons to be discerned (the fall of Roe, probably, and/or the J6 insurrection), the Democrats’ energy was equal to or (fingers crossed) greater than the GOP’s energy. That wasn’t supposed to happen. Neither was the president supposed to double down on democratic values and Democratic accomplishments. Biden was supposed to run away from it all.

That none of this was supposed to happen but did happen indicates something huge: a new regime in which a majority favors the ideas and policies of the Democrats over those of the Republicans.

Perhaps the biggest exponent of regime change is the Republican Party itself. It used to care about policy. It used to care about appearing to care about policy. But none of the candidates this cycle bothered much with keeping up appearances. They turned the Democrats into the enemy. Vote for us because we’re not them.

The Republicans also dropped their faith in democracy. Not long after Barack Obama’s election, it was clear the GOP could win by protecting the white-power syndicate that benefits most white people. (That’s what the so-called “Tea Party” revolt was about.)

But it wasn’t until the Supreme Court cut down parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that state legislatures enacted election laws that would in effect water down the power of Democratic (Black) voters.

Since 2013, the question hasn’t been how to bring people into the fold. The question has been how to box them out of the franchise.

All of this depended on the continued support of respectable white people – or swing voters reliable enough to vote Republican most of the time but fickle enough to vote for Democrats some of the time. They are for civil rights, mostly, but not Black equality and the policies that demands. Neoliberalism depended on this balance.

Then something happened.

Whatever it was (the fall of Roe, probably, and/or the J6 insurrection), it pushed 2 percent of white women, who are unaffiliated with either party, to choose Democratic candidates.

These are respectable white people. These are the Americans who determine which party establishes and maintains a political regime. The GOP has lost the support of respectable white people in a year when they would normally rely on them. If they don’t have that support now, they won’t have that support two years from now.

These midterms signal a return to the norm.

They signal a return to Democratic dominance.

READ MORE: Here are 5 of the GOP’s biggest 2022 midterms disappointments

Gird your loins: The election is not over until every ballot is counted

Gird your loins, friend, for today is Election Day. Prepare to endure reasonsreasonsreasons for why people voted one way or the other.

I don’t want to hear it, frankly.

The only thing people needed to know before voting is democratic and deeply moral, to wit: The very worst Democrat is better than the very best Republican. Everyone should have voted accordingly.

READ MORE: 'Should not be normalized': Warnings issued after Trump calls Pelosi an 'animal' on eve of election

Everyone will not have voted accordingly.

Instead of accepting moral responsibility for choosing, most of us will find reasonsreasonsreasons for why we had to choose against choosing. We will wrap our decisions in myth, fairy tale and lies, as if to say to ourselves that we had to vote one way or the other.

No, you didn’t.

You made a choice.

READ MORE: 'My voice will not be silenced': Philly voters scramble to cast replacement mail ballots after court ruling

You could have voted for a Democrat if you wanted federal and state governments that are accountable to the people as well as the common good; if you wanted a Congress prepared to devise policy solutions to policy problems affecting everyone; if you wanted a government that maximizes opportunity while minimizing suffering.

You could have voted for a Republican if you wanted to hurt people who you believe deserve hurt; if you wanted to defend and protect the political advantages of white power against the political threats of liberal democracy; and if you didn’t want to put in the effort of competing with nonwhite people who are putting in twice the effort.

You made a choice.

Individuals are responsible for their choices. Everyone is responsible for everyone’s choices, matter of fact. This is a democracy, after all.

No one likes hearing that.

So we come up with reasonsreasonsreasons.

Election night

There’s no such thing.

“Election night” is a fabrication of a press corps for the convenience of a press corps whose chief objective is seizing our attention spans.

Fact is, the results of today’s election will not be fully known until all the votes have been counted. Counting all the votes can take days.

This is important in two ways.

One is that Democratic votes take longer to count than Republican votes. There’s more of them. (This midterm might break the pattern of Republicans voting early and Democrats voting on Election Day.) There will be moments when the Republicans seem to be winning.

This so-called “red mirage” is the second reason why it’s important to understand that “election night” is a creation of the press corps.

The Republicans, egged on by the former president, will exploit “election night”’s “red mirage” to argue that votes counted after “election night” are invalid. These claims will be the basis for additional claims of the Democrats cheating. For some, the fact that Democratic votes keep coming in will prove the GOP’s fraud claims.

All of that is obviated when we drop the fiction of “election night.” All of that is obviated when we bear in mind that people are counting the votes, which is to say, human beings functioning within a discrete period of time according to discrete levels of focus and energy. God does not tell us who the winners and losers are. Humans do.

So, in the absence of deus ex machina, let’s remember that counting votes takes time. Let’s remember as well that knowing election outcomes within a single night is as new as the technology that the press corps has used to determine winners within a single night.

Taking the time to count the vote is the rule, not the exception. The exception, historically, is knowing results on “election night.”

Political violence

Expect it.

Organized (white) paramilitaries will intimidate voters waiting in line to vote. So-called “election police” will harass voters waiting in line to vote. Whack jobs across the nation will shoot up churches and schools, because Democratic voters waited in line to vote.

The recent attempted assassination of the speaker of the House was not an exception to the rule. It proved it – wherever there are democratic people willing to use democratic institutions to achieve democratic outcomes, there will be political violence in reaction.

Democratic politics is normal in a democratic republic. Therefore political violence in reaction to democratic politics is normal. It’s always already present, so the question is not whether there will be political violence, but to what degree will there be political violence.

And how much are we willing to tolerate?

1982

I have argued that the outcome of 2022 might resemble the outcome of 1982. Both midterms featured inflation. Both featured high interest rates (though they were much, much higher in 1982). If historical patterns hold, 2022 might, as 1982 did, result in no change. The party that controlled the Congress will continue to control the Congress.

More importantly, though, both midterms signaled regime change.

1982 was probably the end of the New Deal/Fair Deal/Great Society regime and the beginning of a so-called “neoliberal regime.” Low taxes, low regulation, market capitalism – these were hallmarks of Ronald Reagan’s revolution against the old regime that were consolidated by Bill Clinton and followed by presidents since.

Regimes turn amid crisis, though. Our crisis is almost certainly the covid pandemic. Everything we thought was right – ie, neoliberalism – was wrong after the coronavirus reordered political foundations. Now even the Republicans support the “government intervention” of the economy. They had to. On that foundation Joe Biden and the Democrats rested the most aggressive “intervention” of my lifetime.

I hope the Democrats prevail. I hope 2022 is like 1982. But even if they lose, the tide has turned. There’s no going back. The stage is set for the Democrats to dominate this new era of political time.

Hating democracy

Democrats, especially white Democrats, have a hard time accepting that lots of Americans hate democracy. That can’t be right, they say, because America is based on democratic values, freedom, etc. etc.

I don’t know why these people don’t trust their eyes. It could be the middle-class habit of insisting that aspirational values are the only values, thus permitting themselves to deny political reality.

Whatever the reason, we need clarity. America is not one country. Democracy is not national. Division is baked in. Conflict is inevitable. Somebody is going to lose. We’re really not all in this together. Progress does not happen on its own. We’re all responsible for it.

So, if the Republicans win the House, they will have done so with the blessing of Americans who’d rather trade in democracy for protection of a white-power syndicate that has served them well.

To that end, the Republicans, if they take the House, will almost certainly – well, let’s say certainly – impeach Joe Biden. They might even impeach him twice, thus draining the process of its solemnity and cheapening the twin impeachments of the former president.

The indictment will not be factual. It will be based on lies that have become “true” with repetition. The indictment will not prevail in the Senate. (Conviction requires two-thirds of senators.) But it will suck all the air out of the public square, as the Republicans’ interest aligns with the press corps’ interest in seizing our attention spans.

All the Republicans need is reasonsreasonsreasons.

READ MORE: Democratic turnout trounces GOP in early voting in 3 states — and analysts see something is 'different'

Democracy is not on the ballot, but some democracies are

Look, you should vote for a Democrat. There’s no question in my mind. The worst Democrat is better than the best Republican. That is, if you want a government to govern, if you want leaders to lead, if you want policy solutions responsive to policy problems. If you don’t want any of those things, well, be my guest. Vote for a Republican.

That said, democracy is not on the ballot. It’s more accurate to say criminals are on the ballot. Many Republicans, perhaps a majority of them, won’t swear to live by the will of the people. People who say they can be trusted only if they win are blackmailers, extortionists and thieves. As “winners,” we can trust them to defy the rule of law.

But if criminals are on the ballot, doesn’t that mean democracy is, too? No, and you better understand what that is. It’s Democratic propaganda. Propaganda has its uses, good and bad, but let’s remember that it’s a tool of politics, not politics itself. Tools are means of achieving ends. They are not ends themselves. Not if you’re someone who wants a government of, by and for the people.

READ MORE: House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn warns that 'democracy will be ending' if Republicans win

Democracy is not on the ballot, because democracy does not exist in America in a singular national form. There is not one democracy, just as there is not one America. There are Americas packed into these United States. There are democracies packed into them, too. (There are literally governments packed into them, not a big-g government.) “Democracy is on the ballot” is true if and only if we are one people, united. Do I need to explain why that has never been the case?

“Democracy is on the ballot” is good for two groups. One is the Democrats. They must drive voters to the polls. More power to them, I say. The Democrats should use all the forms of propaganda that are available to them. Here’s House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn:

This country is on track to repeat what happened in Germany when the greatest democracy going elected a chancellor who then co-opted the media, like this past president who called the press the enemy of the people – that’s a bunch of crap and we know it. That’s what’s going on in this country.

But are we really on track to repeat the fall of the Weimar Republic? I don’t see it. Again, there are Americas, there are democracies and there are myriad governments packed into these United States.

Our system is centralized at the federal level and decentralized at the state level. Such redundancies prevent, or at least minimize, the chances of one layer dominating and suppressing the other. Federalism has its downsides, for sure. But there are upsides, too.

READ MORE: 'It's about character!' CNBC panel erupts over 'election deniers' taking control of Congress

As long as there is a democratic people willing to use democratic institutions – like state governments – to achieve democratic ends, democracy as it applies to those democrats will keep muddling along. However, if there is an authoritarian people willing to use democratic institutions to achieve authoritarian ends, democracy won’t muddle along. It will function as those authoritarians want it to function.

With these distinctions in mind, it should be clear that news headlines like this one from the Post are just silly – “Midterms pose fresh test for American democracy after two years under fire.”

Yes, the Washington press corps is the other group benefitting from “democracy is on the ballot.” That’s conflict, drama, nail-biting suspense! (“You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll hurl!”) But c’mon. A test?!

Even Chris Hayes, who was good till MSNBC ruined him, said: "What [Democrats are] saying is, ‘If you don't elect us this time, if you don't keep them out of power, you may never be able to elect us again.’ Or in short, ‘Vote to preserve your right to throw the bums out.’”

Please, come on, Chris. Please!

The midterms are many things, but indicators of success and failure aren’t among them. In some parts of the country, it could turn out to be impossible to throw the bums out. In other parts, though, it will still be. Hayes and the Post – the entire press corps, really – talk as if a political fiction were real – as if these United States were a singular national democracy. Why do I need to explain to educated people who should know better that that has never been the case?

In the American system, democracy won’t pass or fail.

It will turn liberal or illiberal, though. It will be helpful or harmful.

It will become good or bad.

That’s why the worst Democrat is better than the best Republican.

Even the best Republicans, whoever they may be, still wishes harm on a political majority of the people for the benefit of a political minority that believes in democracy as long as democracy serves them. Even the best Republican vows to protect the political advantages of white power, even to the point of insurrection.

We should ditch these political fictions – or at least stop believing our own propaganda – because after the midterms, when it becomes clear that democracy did not collapse, what are we going to say?

Whoops?

“Democracy is on the ballot” is good for two groups – partisans and the press people. It is not good for democracy. Talking as if a political fiction were real only helps the criminals who are on the ballot.

READ MORE: Kellyanne Conway pitches fit at Democrats for 'vomiting' out warnings about 'protecting democracy'

Affirmative action isn’t discrimination. It’s politics right-wing justices abhor and will strike down

The Supreme Court appears ready to end affirmative action, or the use of race in college admissions. If the hoopla among liberals is any indication, the pending decision is a BFD. But let’s pause a minute.

First, consider what the Editorial Board’s Rod Graham said recently. Our neighborhood sociologist said the actual number of college students who’d be affected by a negative ruling is small, because the number admitted as a consequence of affirmative action is small.

Whatever the court decides, Rod said, colleges and universities will continue diversifying the racial constitution of their student bodies because it’s in their interest to. If the court rules against affirmation active, as appears to be the case, admissions officers will carry on. They will, Rod suggested, find other ways of achieving the same goal.

READ MORE: 'The wrong debate': Robert Reich takes aim at mainstream media's affirmative action panic

Second, consider the question at the center of the case.

Then dismiss it.

That question is this: Is it discriminatory to use race as a factor in college admissions? The plaintiffs think yes. The rightwing justices seem to think so, too. But that question presumes something.

That’s what we should focus on. Not the question. But the question’s presumption, which is this: the status quo is politically neutral.

READ MORE: Columnist likens U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing supermajority to a ‘junta in long black robes’

Yeah, nah.

The status quo is not “the way things are.” Saying so is itself a political statement. Why? Because, however we choose to define it, the status quo is the sum of history, a product of all decisions made before us, all the choices that arose from the politics of their particular time and place. Politics begets politics begets politics.

To say the status quo is “the way things are” is to say that any attempt to change the status quo – any attempt at politics – is inherently suspect on account of it being abnormal when compared to the normal. Instead of politics versus politics, which is what challenges to the status quo are, it’s the status quo (or “custom and tradition”) versus dark forces threatening God, country and family.

America was founded as a republic for rich white men. Therefore, each generation, brandishing the flag of liberal democracy and wrapping itself in the Declaration of Independence, has had to fight against an entrenched status quo to secure their constitutional rights and privileges. In America, the status quo is white power.

At each juncture, the status quo (white power) tried to depoliticize the fight, first by accusing advocates of liberal democracy of being troublemakers bent on smashing “custom and tradition,” as if custom and tradition were not themselves products of history and politics.

Eventually, defenders of the status quo resort to slander, smears and even sporadic violence. In one case, defenders broke apart the republic. To the confederates, the stakes were just too high to compromise. Slavery was democracy. Free the slaves, as they alleged Abraham Lincoln would, and enslave free white men. This wasn’t politics versus politics. This was the end of politics. This was war.

Normally, though, a majority of people – especially, a majority of elite stakeholders – recognize that the status quo, rather than standing up for “customs and traditions,” was standing against liberal democracy – and all the business opportunities that liberal democracy makes possible. Defenders of “customs and traditions” end up reconciling with challengers’ demands, thus establishing a new status quo.

The point here is that one kind of politics battles another kind before they come to terms. It’s politics versus politics, not good versus evil. When it’s politics versus politics, upright citizens can make political choices. When it’s good versus evil, as was the case in the antebellum south, there is no political choice. It’s the end of politics. It’s war.

Some allege that affirmative action is discrimination based in race. That seems right – if you forget about history and all the political choices made in the past that inform the present. In other words, the allegations ring true only if you take the humans out of history. Since that’s impossible, we are then forced to recognize an obvious truth.

Affirmative action is not discrimination.

It’s the opposite.

Indeed, it’s a compromise of one kind of politics (the civil rights movement) fighting and defeating another kind (Jim Crow apartheid). Its purpose, in the beginning, when Lyndon Baines Johnson initiated the policy, “was to overcome at least some of the accumulated human damage caused by 350 years of slavery and Jim Crow, and to ensure further progress toward equality,” wrote historian Nick Kotz.

Conservatives who trust you’ll forget history have made affirmative action seem like a social evil. Kotz wrote in 2005 that affirmative action programs have been “vigorously attacked in Congress and the federal courts and criticized for ‘discriminating’ against the white majority.” Kotz added: “With conservatives dominating the federal government, civil rights groups and other liberal organizations have waged a mostly defensive battle to protect the gains of the 1960s.”

In other words, the status quo (white power) never liked affirmative action on account of affirmative action challenging the status quo. And until this week, white power had no hope of defeating it.

That hope is now in sight, but only because white power managed to take affirmative action out of the political arena and put it in the courts, where justices who dislike affirmative action are going to say that it’s a social evil, rather than what it is, a product of politics.

Politics begets politics begets politics. So the fight to “ensure further progress toward equality,” as Kotz said, will continue – short of war, it never ended. It will carry on in different shapes driven by different motives. As Rod Graham said, it’s not like the Supreme Court’s decision will stop colleges from doing what’s in their interest to do. They have chosen to defend what is, to them, a new status quo.

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Recycling political time: Why 2022 could be 1982 all over again

I want to ask whether public opinion surveys, in advance of next week’s elections, might be wrong, but first let me say this: Serious pollsters aren’t biased. Even partisan pollsters work hard to produce reliable numbers. Though they are partisan, the party actors who pay for their information want information that’s more or less accurate.

So let’s set aside conspiratorial thinking.

Let me also say that by asking whether public opinion surveys might be wrong, I risk encouraging magical thinking. Fact is, the GOP does have a historical advantage. (For two decades, the party controlling the White House loses the House.) They have structural advantages, too (gerrymandering, voter suppression laws). We should expect the expected – that the Congress is the Republican Party’s to lose.

READ MORE: The midterms are a chance to reject the GOP and its redundant gothic politics

So work like hell to stop them.

Let me also say that by asking whether public opinion surveys are wrong, I don’t presume to know more about them than you do. I’ll leave that to election authorities like Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein. He recounted three ways polling could be wrong.

  • There are fewer pollsters than there used to be. “Fewer polls heightens the chance that the estimates will be off,” he wrote.
  • Polling is harder these days. More people use mobile phones, fewer use landlines. More people refuse to talk to pollsters or if they do, fewer speak truthfully. “The old way of doing things that persisted for some 50 years is pretty much gone.”
  • Who’s voting and how? Some states expanded voting. Others restricted voting. “All of this changes how likely different groups are to vote, but not necessarily in predictable ways.”

Finally, there’s the matter of turnout. It was big for the GOP when Donald Trump was on the ballot. It was smaller when he wasn’t. It was big for Democrats when he wasn’t, bigger when he was. Anyway, “horse-race polls close to the election also incorporate ‘likely voter’ screens that are really just educated guesses,” Bernstein said.

So when I ask whether public opinion surveys might be wrong in advance of next week’s elections, it’s not because I think pollsters are biased. It’s not because I think magically. And it’s not because I have knowledge of them that comes from more than press reports.

READ MORE: What if the midterms change nothing?

However, I do think all of these things fit beneath a larger rubric.

That rubric is political time.

There are actually two kinds of time, according to political scientist Stephen Skowronek. One is “secular time.” In it, all presidents act as problem-solvers. I take “secular time” to be the time we’re all making a fetish of. It’s the stuff that we read about, that we debate and that operates in tandem with a separate, hard-to-see kind of time.

Skowronek called that time “political time.”

“Political time measures the years that unfold between periodic resets of the nation’s ideological trajectory,” Skowronek wrote in 2016. “It tells of the state of the political movements contesting national power, of the expectations of the mobilized polity.”

“Secular time” is the trees in the forest. That’s where most of us are right now. That’s where we argue about whether public opinion surveys, in advance of next week’s elections, might be wrong.

“Political time,” however, gets us out of the trees.

It gives us a 30,000-foot view of the forest.

The last time political time was reset was in 1981, Skowronek wrote, with the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan. “The Revolution of 1981 thrust a conservative insurgency into control of the national agenda, and Reagan’s first budget followed up with a programmatic breakthrough that was designed to lock in movement priorities.”

Reagan’s reset “fits well-known historical patterns,” Skowronek said:

Think for example of the rise and fall of Jacksonian Democracy between 1830 and 1860, or the rise and fall of New Deal liberalism between 1930 and 1980, each of which followed a similar rotation of alternating victories for the party that carried forward the received political orthodoxy and the party at odds with it.

Skowronek’s words, written in 2016, turned out to be prescient:

If the election of 2016 follows the patterns of the past in lockstep, we would expect the inauguration of a Republican president in 2017 and with that, a third iteration of orthodox innovation.

Because Joe Biden has favored government intervention into civil society, the Republicans say he’s like Jimmy Carter. He’s going to tax and spend his way into a one-term presidency. Just as Carter did.

But the real Jimmy Carter is Donald Trump. Carter was the third interaction of Roosevelt. Trump was the third interaction of Reagan. Both were one-term presidents. The electorates had had enough.

What does that make Biden?

History suggests that he’s like Reagan in that he seems to have reset political time. (We can’t know for years, though.) More people voted for Biden than for any candidate, ever. His election was, like Reagan’s, “a populist intervention, a purge of the entrenched, a thoroughgoing reconstruction of governmental operations,” as Skowronek wrote. “Performance in political time is about reconfiguring government to conform to a particular political ideal or reform principle."

If historical patterns hold, this year’s midterm will bring the country full circle back to the beginning of the current cycle of political time.

Reagan’s first midterm was in 1982. Biden’s is in 2022. In 1982, inflation was high. In 2022, inflation is high. But the midterms changed nothing in 1982. Will history say the same of 2022?

We’re about to find out.

READ MORE: Biden’s approval rating is where Reagan was ahead of 1982’s midterms: report

The midterms are a chance to reject the GOP and its redundant gothic politics

In August, I argued for what I think is a more pragmatic way of looking at this year’s midterms. Instead of one party winning or losing, perhaps we should see the possibility of nothing changing.

I argued that, until 1994, flipping the Congress was relatively rare for most of the 20th century. Power changed hands after a total of six midterms. That’s 19 out of 25 cycles over the course of a century.

Flipping took on speed after 1994 but especially after Sept. 11. Afterward the GOP succeeded in making all things liberal seem, to the public imagination, treacherously in league with Al-Qaeda. The trend gained even greater speed after 2008 when a man who “looked like a Muslim,” aligned with America’s enemies, won the presidency.

READ MORE: New analysis exposes years of far-right GOPers' staging of disturbing attacks against Pelosi

That’s where things have stood for the most part. That’s also where the conventional wisdom has stayed, to wit: The party that controls the White House loses a chamber of the Congress in a midterm.

At some point, there will be a reaction against the half-century dominance of the Republican Party. That’s why I’m still bullish on 2022 being similar to 1982. That year was the start of our current cycle of political time, ushered in by Ronald Reagan. That midterm featured high inflation, too. Nonetheless, it produced no change.

A midterm producing no change would be a return to a historical norm after a long period of gothic politics, as I’m going to call it.

By gothic, I’m talking about a political and cultural milieu in which the ubiquity of greed, decadence and decay evoked a feeling of things being upside down, backwards and prolapsed. It made good things bad, bad things good. The concrete became unknowable. The unknowable became concrete. It atomized society, alienated individuals, disillusioned citizens, all with a dread-awe of doom.

READ MORE: 'Republicans’ secret plan': New op-ed explains why Democrats should expose the real GOP agenda

The signs of gothic politics are many. The economy is still growing, unemployment has rarely been lower, but the press corps is focused with fears of inflation and a subsequent recession. Meanwhile, voters who want to choose the Republicans, but need a reason, have convinced themselves that the political party that ushered in the 2007-2008 financial panic would be better economic stewards.

Crime rates have rarely been as low as they are. But a majority of Americans, 56 percent, according to Gallup, believes crime rates are climbing in their communities. A stunning 78 percent thinks there’s rising crime nationwide. Their worry about specific crimes – like children being assaulted at school – has also grown significantly.

Right-wingers are purging school boards, who are banning books, on suspicion that teachers are indoctrinating students into trans culture or “critical race theory.” Fact is, students are usually assaulted by people they know, and indeed brainwashed into thinking that violence is love when perpetrated by uncles, fathers and brothers.

The right-wing reaction to gains made after George Floyd’s murder turned the term “woke” from a hallmark of antiracism into a political trope in wide circulation that’s infused with gloom and horror, an ominous miasma of mystery and death inherent to gothic politics.

The result has been a word that no one can define accurately but everyone, even defenders, can feel acutely. A feature in gothic literature is an atmosphere of suspense that feels so cringe-y that instead of sticking around to engage, most people want to flee. That, to me, is pretty much how things pan out when “woke” comes up.

More people have died from COVID-19 in GOP-controlled counties than in Democrat-controlled ones, according to two studies. Many Republicans believe face masks were intimations of treason and that vaccines symbolized disloyalty or even surrender to the enemy.

A new report shows that people die younger in counties controlled by Republicans than in those controlled by Democrats. It “revealed changing state policies to fully liberal could have saved more than 171,000 lives in 2019, while changing them to fully conservative may have cost over 217,000 lives,” according to a USA Today report.

The GOP says crime, death and disease are attributes of liberalism and the big urban centers drawing from it. But like all gothic politics, it’s the diametric reverse that’s true. The more rural a region, the more likely it is to see its residence die sicker and younger.

But perhaps the greatest achievement in gothic politics has been transmogrifying, in the minds of those in thrall to gothic politics, a potential life – such as an embryo – into a life so vivid and insistent that some states have banned access to abortion, forcing some women to carry dead babies in their wombs until their due dates.

The rhetoric of “pro-life” may be the most gothic form of gothic rhetoric, as it focuses the mind on the upside-down, backwards and prolapsed nature of gothic politics such that it reaches new levels of aesthetic experience, something close to a sublime grotesque.

This age of gothic politics, which I’m describing, began in 1994. That was the year that the Republicans took the House for the first time in decades. Their success has been traced to House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s style of discourse, which was to transmogrify real people – Democrats – into avatars of corruption and graft, allowing anyone to pour all their free-floating fears, terrors and sorrows into them.

Once established, it was only a matter of time before gothic politics permitted the Republicans to hurt their own – for instance, by refusing to adopt provisions from the Affordable Care Act in states run by Republicans – if that’s what it took to hurt the Democrats.

Now, in the months leading up to this year’s midterms, gothic politics has reached peak purity in the hands of the Republicans. They need not campaign on anything concrete, like an actual policy or piece of legislation, but on nothing more than gothic politics itself.

In time, all things come to an end.

Let’s hope the midterms close the age of gothic politics.

READ MORE: Why democracy will live on even if Republicans sweep the midterms

Why democracy will live on even if Republicans sweep the midterms

Some polls are showing that the Republicans are edging out the Democrats in a midterm election cycle that already favors the Republicans. These polls are jim-jamming nervous white liberals.

Why? Obviously, it has a lot to do with winning and losing. But it has more to do with certain expectations, I think, that white liberals have of other white people. The options are clear: a party that can govern or a party that can bulldoze, to borrow Jonathan Bernstein’s framing.

But here we are with polls showing that the Republicans are advancing in generic Democrat-or-Republican opinion surveys.

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To white liberals, democracy itself is on the ballot. That’s what the president said. Anyway, Americans are supposed to believe in democracy. Yet a white majority, in swing states like Pennsylvania, seems ready to put the fascists in power, democracy be damned.

Beneath it all is something else that’s working white liberals’ last good nerve: despair – or the dread-awe of discovering that white people, whom you thought would make the good choice if it were clear, have found reasons to make the bad choice.

The people whom you thought were not racist – anyway, not as racist as The Racists – are turning out to be exquisitely receptive to the GOP’s midterm messaging: vote for us and we’ll save you the effort of having to compete with nonwhite people putting in twice the effort. Vote for us and we’ll re-rig the system so you get the best cuts.

Are we surprised?

READ MORE: Democrats see 'ominous signs' and are becoming worried about Florida as midterms approach: report

Democracy is hard work in the end. Voting for Republicans, however, is easy-peasy. White people already have political advantages. The GOP is just protecting them. Even so, white liberals seem to be let down by a majority of white people who are turning out to be as racist as nonwhite people have said they would be. The feeling grows deeper knowing that racism is the lazy American’s road to tyranny.

Bu bu but what about the economy?

To be sure, polls have found that large numbers of voters are worried about “the economy” more than they are about the endurance of democracy and the fall of Roe. “The economy” just so happens to be the same talking point that the Republicans are pitching. There’s also the none-too-suble hint that Democrats stand against white people. Put these together and it looks – I am shocked – like recent polling.

Inflation is a serious thing, but it’s not due to anything that the Democrats did or didn’t. (It’s related to the covid pandemic, supply chains and the war in Ukraine.) But since there’s a public cost to supporting someone who has no business running for the US Senate (ie, Mehmet Oz), it’s better to cite another reason, any reason. Inflation is visible and, well, it’s enough to fool even oneself.

All this points to the problem of hope.

Hope is anarchical, and it tempts us from the future. We go to it. Hope isn’t a story with an anticipated and emotionally satisfying end. Even so, white liberals tend to believe, I think, that racism is a figment of history, not a precursor informing our vision of the present. Such a story tells of an America purified of its original sin, so that we can believe in it again. Take that away, what do you have?

Whatever it is, it’s not hope.

Hope is almost certainly not what we think it will be. We almost certainly won’t recognize it, though it may be right in front of us. I think hope is rooted in lived experiences of human lives, and in their consequences, and in a particular time and particular place. Hope is, as in Hebrews 11:1, a political exercise in religion: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

White liberals are telling themselves a story about democracy and what’s at stake in these midterms. It’s not that that’s wrong, but that’s also not right. Stories are tools of politics, not politics itself. What matters is doing the work to get preferred candidates elected. It’s messy, loud, and anarchical. Democracy is almost always like that.

Even if the Republicans take the House, democracy will not end. America is not one nation. It will endure where the people want it to. It may wither where the people want it to. Democracy will live on, though it may be in form rather than in spirit, because the GOP is by nature prone to keeping up appearances. Even in a desiccated husk of democracy is hope. From there, good people can do good work.

The most democratic thing we can do is presume that the polls are wrong, raise a lotta hell and get out the vote. Democracy is an open practice, not a theory alone. When time comes, put in the work and create quality conditions for self-rule. Oh, and one more thing.

Hope we are lucky.

READ MORE: Why are voters choosing 'the economy' over democracy

The face of liberal democracy’s enemy is white

The Times is virtuosic not only for its ability to bring us news from around the world, but for its ability to talk about the politics of white power without mentioning “white,” “power,” “politics,” “the” or “of” in any combination – or those benefitting from its built-in advantages.

In the absence of a vocabulary that might otherwise accurately characterize the political landscape that we inhabit, it invented a value-free vernacular to do two things: avoid talking about the white people who are most afraid of losing their built-in advantages to the rise of liberal democracy; and two, avoid talking about, to any serious degree, the real consequences of what they will do to protect them.

Case in point is a news report published in the Sunday Times with this hed – “Their America Is Vanishing. Like Trump, They Insist They Were Cheated” – and this dek – “The white majority is fading, the economy is changing and there’s a pervasive sense of loss in districts where Republicans fought the outcome of the 2020 election.”

READ MORE: The GOP's foremost concern is the protection of white power

The content of the piece is familiar. White people feel anxiety about changes to the American national character. Those changes are rooted in demographics, economics, religion and culture. But the details of the story, which I’m not bothering to recount, are not important compared to its broad contours, which are this: white people don’t like change so they’re voting for the Republicans.

But “change” and “loss” and “the economy” – as well as “working class” and “middle American” and “non-college voter” – are words in the Times’ value-free vernacular, that others replicate, that obscures who is doing what to whom. For that, we must turn to the pull quotes, as we journalists call them. Here they are in order of appearance:

One: “In Fort Bend County, Texas, things are changing.”

Two: “Mosques and Hindu temples draw thousands, farmland is giving way to suburbs and some Republicans feel their county is becoming more like majority-minority Houston.”

READ MORE: How a radical third of the electorate dictates the terms of American democracy

Three: “Once predominantly white, Fort Bend has quickly become one of the most diverse places in the country. Its congressman is an outspoken denier of Donald J. Trump’s defeat.”

If there is a way of saying that white people in Fort Bend County, Texas, are prepared to go to war with liberal democracy in order to protect the political advantages built into the politics of white power, these three quotes, in order of appearance, are the closest we’ll get.

That is, unless an authoritative source of spells it out:

Because they are more vulnerable, disadvantaged or less educated, white voters can feel especially endangered by the trend toward a minority-majority, said Ashley Jardina, a political scientist at George Mason University who studies the attitudes of those voters.

'A lot of white Americans who are really threatened are willing to reject democratic norms,' she said, 'because they see it as a way to protect their status.'

Actually, that’s close but not close enough.

The face of liberal democracy’s enemy is white.

Perry Bacon doesn’t go that far, but the Post’s columnist has come the closest, as far as I can tell, to naming names. Most Republicans are white, he wrote recently. White people dominate the electorate. Most white people, by way of supporting the GOP’s assault on democracy, and are doing so without being held accountable by the press. Bacon:

Because white people are likely to be the majority of voters for at least two more decades, America is in trouble. Across the country, GOP officials are banning books from public libraries, making it harder for non-Republicans to vote, stripping away Black political power, aggressively gerrymandering, censoring teachers and professors and, most important, denying the results of legitimate elections. The majority of America’s white voters are enabling and encouraging the GOP’s radical, antidemocratic turn by continuing to back the party in elections.

It’s not, as much of our political discourse implies, that the Democrats have a working-class or Middle America or non-college-voter problem. The more important story is that America has a white voter problem. And there is no sign it’s going away anytime soon.

An apparent counterpoint is that white people are not afraid of losing the built-in advantages of white power so much as afraid of the rising costs of energy, groceries and so on. These are much-talked-about “kitchen table” issues that are always presented as if they have nothing to do with the political landscape that we all inhabit.

Economic issues are cited, by the far right and far left, as reason for Donald Trump’s election and the rise of redhat fascism around the country. But when you look closer, even “race-free” concepts like inflation and “being left behind” are rooted in white power politics.

Kevin Seefried and his son Hunter were sentenced to two years in federal prison Monday for their role in Donald Trump’s attempted paramilitary takeover, on January 6, 2021, of the US government. Kevin Seefried became a household name after a photo (above) circulated of him carrying a Confederate flag into the US Capitol.

Jeremi Suri recounts the moment in the introduction of his latest work of American history, Civil War by Other Means:

Like many others in the mob, Seefried brought his son, Hunter, to the insurrection. It was a proud moment for a father who had spent many of his years in and out of work, living in an economically depressed area two hours from the Capitol. He and his son were taking back their country, showing that they could make a difference, standing up for fellow working-class families who felt forgotten. They would not accept a president elected by nonwhite voters. The Confederate flag was their battle flag.

It’s here that we get to the real meat of the issue – the real reason white people are prepared to abandon liberal democracy in order to protect their precious privileges built into our political system.

It’s not that they love their country. It’s not that they love the Constitution. Their opposition to liberal democracy, and all that it costs them politically, does not rest on positive principle.

It rests on laziness.

Most white people don’t want to compete.

They don’t want to compete for jobs, for resources or for political representation in a republican government of, by and for the people. They would rather use their already existing advantages to get out of working harder in the public square, the marketplace of ideas or a truly fair and level political economy. The Republicans are saying, in effect, vote for us. We’ll save you the effort of competing with people who are putting twice the effort into participating in a democracy.

That’s what truly frightened them after 2008.

“Sussex County, Delaware, where the Seefrieds resided in a rundown house, fit the pattern,” Suri wrote in Civil War by Other Means.

This rural region of chicken farms entered a tailspin that triggered higher crime and drug dependence, lower incomes, and diminished expectations for the future. Everything seemed to be going the wrong way, and the election of the first African American president in 2008 only made things feel worse. Barack Obama symbolized an emerging country that the Seefrieds believed they could never enter. They lacked the education and pedigree to compete in a multiracial meritocracy that promised so much for some, leaving many others out. Obama’s diverse supporters were winning, while the traditional white families in Sussex and other rural counties were not. The Seefrieds felt like losers (my italics).

Liberal democracy’s white-faced enemy is lazy.

That doesn’t mean they will fail in the coming congressional elections. The white-faced enemy has many things on its side.

Even the Times.

READ MORE: Conservative columnist regrets ever supporting the GOP and blasts its 'toxic discharge of bigotry'

How a radical third of the electorate dictates the terms of American democracy

USA Today runs a daily poll on its frontpage. On Friday, the public survey results were on gun laws. “If it were harder to obtain guns legally, Americans think there would be ____ mass shootings.”

Sixty-six percent said there would be far fewer or somewhat fewer mass shootings. Nearly 30 percent said no difference. (A smattering of cranks, 5 percent, said there would be more or somewhat more.)

I bring this to your attention not so much to bolster the prospect of tighter gun laws (though it does), but to point out a pretty common demographic pattern – that a radical third stands against the majority with respect to issues concerning us all. Whether gun control, abortion or “indoctrination” in public school, there’s always about a third of the country representing the country’s shame.

READ MORE: Dark money groups have pumped $1 billion into GOP effort to retake the Senate

This alone isn’t noteworthy. After all, every country has its yokels and yahoos. But not every country has a political setup that gives yokels and yahoos more practical power than the majority. Very few countries, if any, give voters in sparsely populated farming areas an effective veto over densely populated areas with large urban centers.

That setup – or the political advantages of it – are apparent when the Republicans slander cities, and in the slandering, they protect those same advantages. Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan said last week: “Do you feel safe in cities controlled by the Left? Cities that defunded the police? Cities that ignore police staffing issues. No. No. No.”

The dynamic of political power between urban and rural is obviously asymmetrical. That’s by design. It’s to prevent liberal democracy from flourishing fully. The thinking at the time of the founding was that a fully flourishing liberal democracy would inflict tyranny on the minority. In the case of the founders, rich white men like them.

But the problem is and has been the opposite.

READ MORE: 'Just out here watching boxes': Armed Arizona 'poll watchers' raise fears of right-wing voter intimidation

A radical minority dictates the terms of American democracy.

I suspect that even people with something better to do than pay attention to politics get this. The Electoral College stands against democracy. So does the US Senate. The courts, especially the Supreme Court, do, too. We liberals say “it’s a republic, not a democracy” is wrong, but we don’t consider whether right-wingers have a point. Saying they’re wrong is more theoretical than empirical.

We should consider something else that’s more theoretical than empirical – the idea that political violence is an exception to the rule. Precisely, that political violence is random, irrational, senseless: something that deviates from the norm. It’s nothing of the sort.

Its origins have always been here.

It’s that place, demographically speaking, where the minority believes, say, that tighter gun laws will make no difference to shooting massacres, even amid mass death, even amid murder rates in Republican-controlled state outstripping those of all other states.

What respect is the truth (or anything) owed when a third controls contramajoritarian institutions built into the system by design? What respect is the political majority owed by a political minority? Why would the politically strong give respect to the politically weak?

But sometimes those contramajoritarian institutions fail (or appear to). If and when they do, this radical third of America is entitled, on account of having political advantages, to resort to violence in order to maintain those same political advantages. While democracy is the point for the political majority, with violence the exception, violence is the point for the political minority, with democracy the exception.

So when a school kid is sent a letter like the one above (regarding the child’s mother, a Loudoun County, Virginia, school board member), it should not be seen as extraordinary, because it’s actually ordinary. After all, what’s more common? People discussing hard topics like “critical race theory” in public school? Or people losing their minds over things they don’t understand and don’t want to understand?

The radical third has been living among us since the founding. They had kids. Their kids had kids had kids. This is how they think. This is what they do. The difference is of degree, not kind. As long as the contramajoritarian institutions hold, all’s well. If they don’t, well …

According to USA Today, “bomb threats at [historically Black colleges and universities] had swelled to at least 57” since February, “leaving administrators and students on edge and rekindling a history of violence aimed at Black students seeking educational advancement.”

The FBI said that it had focused on six subjects in 2021, but arrested no one, according to USA Today. In the meantime, however, “the menacing behavior continued into the next school year.”

“If we allow people to feel like they can continue to do this without being held accountable, they will always be able to be disruptive,” Walter Kimbrough told the newspaper. “We’re the only group where there have been threats, and nobody has been caught” (my italics).

If it isn’t apparent, the source of these threats is the radical third of America, where democracy is undeserving of respect and where the rule of law applies only if it maintains baked-in political advantages.

A radical third dictates the terms of American democracy.

It’s empirical, not theoretical.

READ MORE: Are SCOTUS Republicans in on a plot to end Democratic presidencies forever?

The Republican danse macabre: Trashing the economy even if they suffer too

The House Republicans will hurt themselves to hurt their enemies more. That should have been the takeaway from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s recent interview with Punch Bowl News.

McCarthy said that his conference is set to refuse raising the US debt-ceiling if the party takes the House after November’s midterm elections, as most expect. McCarthy made it sound like the gambit was nothing out of the ordinary. “You can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt,” he said Tuesday.

What would happen if the US defaulted?

READ MORE: Wages are dampening inflation, not supercharging it

The Editorial Board’s political economy correspondent Noah Berlatsky explained: “Refusing to raise the debt ceiling would create a massive financial collapse while simultaneously preventing the US from providing aid to those most in need,” Noah wrote Tuesday. “The cost in human suffering would be nightmarish and long-lasting, permanently weakening global faith in the US economy.”

By one estimate, $15 trillion in household wealth would poofthph.

The conventional wisdom appears to be that the House Republicans don’t really mean what they say. This is all political theater, the thinking goes. There’s no earthly way the Republicans would push the global economy into the valley of the shadow of death. At the very least, they have incentive not to hurt their own, who would be ensnared in the cataclysm just like everyone else in the world.

Why would anyone believe that?

READ MORE: Republicans want to use the debt limit to wreck the economy. Will Democrats stop them?

These are the same people who voted twice against indicting the criminal former president. They voted to overturn the results of the last presidential election. They have subsequently pushed the Big Lie deep into the connective tissue of the body politic, so much so that 45 percent of Republicans say they’ll doubt the midterm results.

In word and deed, the Republicans tell us they can’t be trusted to care for democracy. Why would we trust them to first do no harm to the global economy and hundreds of millions of people? McCarthy suggested that, ackshully, doing harm is the first thing they’ll do.

As far as the incentive to avoid hurting their own – lol wut? These people said the covid was little more than a case of influenza Español, that wearing a face mask was tantamount to nutting a man, and that chugging babyshit brown worm paste was as good as the vaccine.

More people have died of the covid in counties won by the criminal former president than in counties he lost. Another analysis, by the Post, found that the number of white people dead from the covid surpassed every other group in late 2021 and never stopped.

Not only have the Republicans lost the benefit of the doubt. They have lost, or should have, the presumption that they won’t do harm.

The new presumption should be that harm is their goal, because the only thing that makes rank-and-file Republicans feel good about themselves is the sight of suffering by those they think deserve it.

Yes, even if they suffer, too.

So anyone talking about incentives as if rational choice theory had any bearing is ignoring the Republican’s politics of the macabre.

Politics of the macabre?

More precisely, danse macabre.

“Danse macabre” is a literary, musical and artistic genre originating in medieval Europe that invoked the feeling of life as fleeting and the recognition that efforts to attain power and glory are vain. I like the way Wikipedia puts it. It’s the personification of death, a skeleton or cadaver, that reminds us that in time death comes for everyone:

A personification of death [summons] representatives from all walks of life to dance along to a grave, typically with a pope, emperor, king, child and laborer. The effect was both frivolous and terrifying; beseeching its audience to react emotionally.

I don’t know about you, but there’s a certain frisson – or thrilling shudder of recognition – to the application of danse macabre. If nothing else, I think we can agree that threats to the US debt ceiling, not to mention mass death for political gain, is something we can react to emotionally, as they’re “both frivolous and terrifying.”

To be sure, the Republicans don’t care about the universality of death. They don’t care about the universality of anything. They believe inequality is God’s plan, as are sociopolitical hierarchies, and that democratic politics threatens to pervert “the natural order.”

So not all deaths are equal.

If a few thousand GOP voters die in order to defeat “the enemy” – an inescapable conclusion if the Republicans take the Congress – those deaths will be neither tragic nor vain. They will instead be celebrated as heroes who sacrificed their lives in order for living Republicans to dance macabre to the music of the suffering of those “deserving” it.

Yes, even if they suffer, too.

It’s frivolous and terrifying.

The danse macabre has wide application.

To the body as well as the mind.

After Roe’s fall, states passed laws banning or nearly banning abortion. A consequence was a Texas woman who was forced to carry her dead baby to term for fear of running afoul of the law. “I was left wanting to get either so sick that my life was at risk or that my baby's heart would stop beating so it could be over,” she said.

A Missouri woman’s water broke long before her due date. The baby’s chances of survival at that point were zero. Doctors would have recommended termination. Then the state banned abortions. According to a report in the Springfield News-Leader, “the couple wanted to be able to grieve the loss of their daughter, not sit at home or in a hospital ‘with a baby dying inside me,’” the mother said.

A school district, also in Missouri, decided to reinstate beating children’s bodies (ie, padding) to uphold discipline. The policy states that, "When it becomes necessary to use corporal punishment, it shall be administered so that there can be no chance of bodily injury or harm. Striking a student on the head or face is not permitted." Not only are kids terrorized with violence or threats of it. They’re lied to, too. Beating a kid is harmful. It leaves deep psychic wounds. And yet schoolkids are told there’s “no chance of bodily injury or harm.”

Not only are they beating kids, they’re preventing kids from being who they were born to be. According to Bloomberg, there are at least 40 bills proposed “in around two-dozen Republican-controlled states that would sharply limit or outright ban gender-affirming and transition-related health care, often specifically for minors.” What happens when law prevents children from becoming themselves?

Let’s just say it’s macabre.

Then there’s lying.

The Republicans lie so much, so frequently, with such veracity that it’s understandable when people think it’s so normal as to be OK. But the scale is not harmless. Neither is the point merely to fool you.

It’s to make you feel insane.

So insane that you don’t flinch when the Republicans come right out and say that they can’t be trusted to care for democracy, that they will blow up the world economy if that’s what it takes, and that they will keep lying to the American people so that the conventional wisdom in Washington is that they don’t really mean what they say.

Yes, even if they suffer, too.

It’s frivolous and terrifying.

It’s the Republican danse macabre.

READ MORE: ‘Threatening to crash the economy on purpose': GOP to gut Social Security and Medicare if it wins House

In 'correcting' GOP metaphors, liberals reveal their denial

Over the summer, there were record numbers of migrants who had attempted to cross the southern border. We know this because border authorities regularly reported the numbers taken into custody. The Republicans often used them to hammer the president. They claimed Joe Biden was ignoring what they call a “border crisis.”

The liberal reaction tended to zero in on what liberals tend to zero in on – external falsifiable reality. Fact is, there was no “border crisis” on account of border authorities doing what they are supposed to do. Seizing migrants who have crossed the southern border did not indicate an emergency. It indicated a system working as it should.

Liberals were right. But being right didn’t matter. Remember this the next time a pundit tells you the Democrats are doing it wrong in the run-up to November’s election. Again, with feeling: being right is not the same thing as being victorious. Being right is just one of many tools available to partisans when participating in democratic politics.

READ MORE: Republicans want to use the debt limit to wreck the economy. Will Democrats stop them?

To the Republicans, the border is not an international political boundary that has been arbitrarily established to divide two nations and their respective laws. It is not a legal event horizon. It is not a zone of ambiguous constitutional rights. It’s nothing concrete.

The border is a metaphor, a fetish, a symbolic representation of meaning deep and profound as well as impervious virtually to facts, fact-checking and the liberal’s fealty to external falsifiable reality.

Just as a rose in western literature is not a rose, but harmony, romance or honor, the border is not the border but the true soul of America that’s been struggling to manifest what historian Federico Finchelstein called, in a separate but related context, “a transnational ideology that opposes the putative barbarism of liberalism.”

Finchelstein was referring to fascism, but I think his concept aptly applies. To the GOP, the southern border expresses “national traditions as emanating from a specific national self rooted in the souls of individuals.” That is, white people. He added: “Only fascism represented the true intuitive nature of nationalism; liberalism, on the other hand, was an artificial form of conceiving the nation.”

READ MORE: 'Nice political party you got there': Jake Tapper tears apart Marjorie Taylor Greene and her 'crazy talk'

Remember what I said about pundits telling you that the Democrats are doing it wrong in the run-up to November’s election. One of those pundits is Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks. He said Tuesday that the Democrats are going to lose because reasons.

“It looks like we're going to lose the midterms,” he said, responding, I suspect, to Monday’s freakout. “People will look back at Democrat's inability to pass voting rights legislation as the moment we lost everything. Stunning failure of epic proportions. And everyone in DC yawned because they're used to excusing Democratic failures.”

First, never trust anyone who says with authority that something that hasn’t happened can’t happen because of something that didn’t happen. He’s picking your pocket. Given the ambiguous provenance of Uygur’s financial backers, that’s more likely the case than not.

More importantly, however, is that reasons – or external falsifiable reality – will not and cannot overcome metaphor. No matter how many times liberals say that there’s no crisis at the southern border, or that those hyping this fake crisis are exploiting anti-immigrant bigotry, it’s not going to change much, because Republican voters tend to operate according to the laws of a separate political physics.

They believe that the border is under siege and hence the country is being invaded on account of their view of the border as a metaphor for “a specific national self rooted in the souls of individuals,” which is to say, a white nation under God for white people thanks to God.

Meeting metaphor with reality might even deepen its emotional impact given the view that liberalism creates a nation “artificially” rather than “organically” and according to “national traditions.”

At a minimum, liberal fealty to external falsifiable reality can keep the partisans of political metaphor in check. At best, they can erode the metaphor’s power through time-consuming, back-breaking, mind-numbing attrition. But something somewhere at some point has to give. Just hope it breaks in the direction of liberal democracy.

My intuition tells me liberals remain in denial. They don’t want to believe so many Americans, perhaps more than half the country, tend to operate according to the laws of a separate political physics.

More precisely, they fear the work necessary for winning what is essentially a war of attrition. The AP reported that 45 percent of Republicans say they have little or no confidence in the midterms.

It doesn’t matter whether they believe the Big Lie or know the Big Lie is a lie. What matters is that Big Lie is a metaphor for a transcending truth, which is that a “specific national self rooted in the souls of individuals” is under attacked by the “barbarism of liberalism”

Again, it’s not that liberals should abandon their fealty to external falsifiable reality in order to defeat metaphor. I think those who suggest wielding our own are wrong. We don’t need more metaphors. We need more democratic politics. We have to keep on keeping on even when, or especially when, keeping on keeping on is exhausting.

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Why we need more democratic politics and less national myth to win the midterms

CNN ran a story Monday with this headline: “Political mood tilts in Republicans’ favor with economy and inflation top of mind three weeks from midterms.” I can’t say for sure, but that headline seems to have been the source of yesterday’s social media freakout.

The freakout was so intense that US Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii felt he had to talk the freaks off the ledge. The Democrat said: “Look, I get on this website and check the latest polls and worry like the rest of you. But the thing is, these races are all close and will be decided by how hard we work over the next three weeks. So get off this website, pick and campaign and volunteer or call or give. Thanks.”

A couple of things about the story and, more important, the liberal reaction to it. Republicans will bend reality to comport with their myths. (That’s classical fascism.) Liberals cherish myths too, but we do the opposite. We bend myths to comport with reality. But reality is contingent, fickle and ever-changing. When liberal myths don’t keep up with the times, the result, I think, is a wholesale freakout.

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Eventually, however, liberals adjust.

Republicans never will.

OK, so CNN’s headline is, um, imprecise. Far from showing a public mood favoring the Republicans, each poll cited showed a competitive race for control of the US Congress. By competitive, I mean each result of each poll was within the margin of error, which is to say, within the three- or four-point spectrum of shady grayishness.

The report also cited CNN’s aggregated poll of polls. That showed “an even divide in generic ballot polling, with both Democratic and Republican nominees holding 46 percent support among voters.”

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This dead heat was apparently the basis for a headline saying that the “political mood tilts in Republicans’ favor.” In September, CNN’s poll of polls showed “a narrow, three-point tilt toward the Democrats.” Those three points are gone. Hence, claims of the mood tilting.

It’s reports like these that put the lie (or that should put the lie) to the ballyhooed practice of objectivity in American journalism. Why? Because there’s no way to write about polls, or polls of polls, without an act of interpretation, and interpretation is inherently subjective.

How do you describe the Democrats losing three points when those three points were themselves in the gray zone? Well, CNN chose to say the numbers favor the GOP. That’s not objective. It can’t be.

Some of my liberal brethren will accuse CNN of bias. (Given its new leadership, there’s more to that claim than mere speculation.) But charges of bias reinforce the fantasy. Reporters are not god-like chroniclers of human events. They are humans operating in a human context within human constraints amid conflicting human interests.

That’s why fairness and accuracy are more important criteria. Under those, CNN’s headline isn’t quite accurate, but it is nevertheless fair.

Now that we have set aside bias as a phony reason for Monday’s social media freakout, what else explains it? Well, hard as it may be for liberals to accept, America isn’t one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all. Believing that is the root of the problem.

I blame Barack Obama.

To justify his presidency, the first Black president often told a story about a country that began with the evils of slavery but in time found redemption by electing him. Those are my words, but that’s the spirit of his rhetoric, which was, make no mistake, for the benefit of white liberals who were burdened by white guilt. His story “freed” them.

Obama’s story also seemed to reflect the political reality on the ground – a country that was fast evolving into a truly multiracial democracy the likes of which the nation’s founders would scarcely recognize. The GOP war against “demographic change” was not seen not as a war against liberal democracy but instead as a validation of progressive myth.

But as a consequence of unburdening white liberals of their white guilt, I think Obama’s redemption song gave the impression that history moved on its own in one direction and that progress was the inevitable means by which a righteous nation achieves true justice.

So there was an empirical foundation – Obama’s election – from which white liberals could stop thinking of themselves as humans operating in a human context within human constraints amid conflicting human interests. Freed from responsibility, they were now merely along for the ride. What would be was supposed to be.

I suspect last month’s polling – or at least the headlines to stories about last month’s polling – gave the false impression to many white liberals that the course of human events was finally going in the direction it’s supposed to be going and away from authoritarianism. Instead of rethinking Obama’s redemption song, many saw in polling what they wanted to see – that is to say, Obama’s redemption song.

Then came Monday’s headline about the public mood turning to favor the Republicans. That wasn’t supposed to happen. This is America! Here, democracy lives! Here, the law rules! Here, right matters! The Republicans don’t care about any of that. They’d rather bring the whole thing down. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Unlike the Republicans, who never doubt their myths, liberals do, and in that doubting is a great deal of pain. That, I think, was the impetus for Monday’s freak-out. To the Republicans, myth is right. Reality is wrong. So they “fix” reality. For liberals, reality is never wrong. But fixing myth, getting it to comport with reality will take some time.

But liberals should consider dropping their myths altogether.

The myth of the United States being one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all prevents Americans from seeing that lots of other Americans already don’t believe it, because their myths, about America’s “destiny” in the world, tell them that that’s impossible.

Ironically, by insisting on one nation’s universal liberty and justice – by longing for a repeat performance of Barack Obama’s redemption song – liberals inadvertently create political conditions in which achieving liberty and justice for all is difficult verging on impossible.

We need more democratic politics, less national myth, to win the midterms. Monday’s polling, however erroneously reported it may be, should only remind us of unfinished work. We know what needs to be done. We also know it might fail. But either way, we know we must keep on keeping on. There’s no other country for us. This is it.

There’s no reason to freak out.

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Drop the idea that 'no one is above the law' and replace it with meaningful action

The J6 committee stopped short Thursday of saying whether it would send a criminal referral to the Justice Department of Donald Trump’s attempted paramilitary takeover of the US government. (A decision on that is expected by the end of the year, however.)

This sparked yet another round of fear and loathing about the impotence of our justice system. What does “no one is above the law” mean when the Congress won’t tell the Justice Department that Trump is a spectacular traitor who committed spectacular crimes?

It means the system is unfair.

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Does this shock you?

Really?

While I appreciate the fear of Trump getting away for treason, I want to remind us all of our longstanding state of politics and law, in which lots of people have committed crimes out in the open for everyone to see without being held individually and criminally accountable.

An example outside politics: The Sackler family is a BFD here in Connecticut. They own Purdue Pharma, a company that makes and markets opioid drugs like Oxycontin. Purdue conspired for years to unleash an epidemic of opioid addiction. State and federal authorities have extracted billions in damages but only after family members made billions more decimating communities around the country.

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The family knew what Purdue was doing when it was doing it. They knew people were dying. They knew they were cash-cowing as a consequence of mass suffering. Yet not one of them has been jailed.

So before we complain about the criminal former president getting away with treason – before we get super-mad at the J6 committee or the attorney general – let’s not forget that our justice system was, um, problematic before the criminal former president came along.

If we complain now, why haven’t we complained as obstreperously every time a goliath conglomerates gets away with murder? The answer, I think, isn’t that we aren’t paying attention. It isn’t that we’ve gotten used to spectacles of lawlessness. I think the more persuasive explanation is our dogmatic faith in no one being above the law.

I’ll leave the history of rhetoric to the historians of rhetoric, but I suspect that our dogmatic faith arises from the American civic religion, which itself is a subgenre of American propaganda.

It was invented, I suspect, to obscure the fact of “all men are created equal” not including all men (not to mention that the Declaration of Independence not mentioning women). “All men” was understood clearly at the founding to mean wealthy property-owning white men, like those who now own goliath conglomerates like Purdue Pharma.

“No one is above the law” has functioned similarly to “all men are created equal.” Whenever someone complains that actually not everyone is treated equally compared to wealthy property-owning white men, these same beneficiaries of the status quo can say, “Now, now. What’s all the fuss? After all, we’re all created equal.”

Whenever someone complains about, say, a criminal former president getting away with a failed coup d'état, beneficiaries of the status quo can again appeal to civic religion as the reason why Donald Trump is the exception. Of course, being an exception, at the scale of the exception, kinda sorta actually no really does blow up the rule. But so many of us accept “the truth” of our civic religion that we’re prone to believing it in spite of the evidence of our eyes.

It does more harm than good, I think.

The more we cling to the American civic religion – ie, “no one is above the law” – the more disappointed we are when wealthy property-owning white men are held to a lower standard than normal people are held for the same or similar seditious crimes.

This might not be so bad. Disappointment can lead to political reform. But when faced with systemic flaws, Americans (especially white Americans) have a habit of withdrawing. We retreat into cynicism, as if we knew all along, or nihilism, as if the administration of justice were only for fairy tales and the rule of law were a farce.

Things might be better, it seems to me, if Americans recognized that “no one is above the law” is a product of history, that it’s a result of human choices made in a human context, not a product of God’s will. If we don’t like past choices, we are empowered to make new ones. Choices mean nothing if what’s supposed to happen doesn’t happen.

Therefore, “no one is above the law” does not allow for limits. It promises what should never be promised in a human context in which humans choose. When we fail, we don’t recognize our limits. We don’t recognize the need to expand them. Instead, when we fail, we almost seem to blame God. Our dogmatic faith in “no one is above the law” can lead paradoxically to the loss of faith in the rule of law.

So let’s drop the idea.

Let’s replace “no one is above the law” with a practical human-scale commitment to the rule of law in which justice for a criminal former president is proportional to the effort that goes into achieving it and to the legal and political systems by which it’s achieved. If we fail, it’s then a failure of what could have been, not what was supposed to be.

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After Salman Rushdie’s attack, is the United States still a refuge for writers in exile?

Two months have now passed since Salman Rushdie was attacked at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York (not far from where one of us grew up). Assailant Hadi Matar, who has pleaded not guilty, ran onstage and stabbed the novelist multiple times. The author of Satanic Verses sustained serious injuries, including to an eye.

Fortunately, Rushdie was taken off a ventilator shortly after being hospitalized. (A friend said he even cracked jokes.) Unfortunately, nearly all public debate has focused on Matar’s motive in what prosecutors called a “targeted, unprovoked, preplanned attack.”

Remember that we’re talking about a globally acclaimed author who spent years of his life in hiding after Iran’s former political and religious leader put a price on his head for writing Satanic Verses.

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But we haven’t seen any commentary addressing the assumption that underscored his appearance. According to Bloomberg, it was “the United States as a refuge for writers and other artists in exile.”

To be sure, the punditariat recounted Rushdie’s history and speculated on whether Matar was motivated by religious animus. But we seem to be dodging the question: Is the United States still a refuge for writers and other artists in exile? Are we the safe haven that those of who grew up in the Cold War years believe us to be?

Salman Rushdie wasn’t stabbed after emerging in the 2000s from nearly a decade of hiding in London. He wasn’t stabbed afterward while living in Manhattan. He was stabbed in 2022. Joe Biden said, after the attack, that Rushdie stood for “essential, universal ideas. Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear.

“These are the building blocks of any free and open society.”

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That’s true, but is that true of America?

If critics of “cancel culture” are to be believed, the answer is no.

The “woke mob” makes it impossible to speak freely. After the attack, The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood said “over the past two decades … we have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding.”

Commentator Bari Weiss, regarding Rushdie’s attack, said “we live in a culture in which many of the most celebrated people occupying the highest perches believe that words are violence. In this, they have much in common with Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.”

Wood and Weiss might sound persuasive except for the fact that ideas (as well as the truth) are the first victims of rightwing politics.

The criminal former president frequently accused the press corps of being the enemy of the people. He led an attempted paramilitary takeover of the United States government. Rightwing gangs regularly threaten educators with threats of injury and death for the alleged indoctrination of their children. A Republican office holder in Nevada literally murdered a reporter. Even more serious is the trend among red-state governments toward censoring speech and banning books.

“Writers in exile” used to be something that happened in places like Stalinist Russia, Maoist China and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Their governments jailed, disappeared or beheaded poets and writers. Comparatively, the United States was a refuge. Ideas flourished here.

But now?

There’s reason for doubt.

According to the PEN America Banned Book Index, there have been 1,586 decisions to ban books between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022. This includes decisions to ban books in school classrooms, school libraries, both or decisions that are still pending investigation.

Top banned titles: Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe (30 districts); All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson (21 districts); Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison (16 districts); Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez (16 districts); The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (12 districts); Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin (11 districts).

According to the PEN Center, of the books banned:

  • 41 percent have a Black protagonist or a protagonist of color.
  • 22 percent address race or racism.
  • 18 have a Jewish or Muslim protagonist.
  • ⅓ have explicit LGBT-plus characters.
  • 21 percent of address sexual or health subjects, including abortion, teen pregnancy, sexual assault and puberty.

The Tennessee school district banned Maus, a graphic novel about the Holocaust by Art Spiegelman. The 10-member McMinn County School Board voted unanimously to remove the book from its 8th-grade curriculum. They were supposedly concerned about “rough” language and a drawing of a naked woman in a few panels.

These are not books that the left would howl about. If anything, the left would howl about them not being included in school curricula.

Only the right gets to howl.

Only the right gets to enshrine their howling in law.

Anti-CRT bills (anti-critical race theory) might not specifically ban books, but they are attacks on education and classroom censorship. Since January 2021, 42 states have introduced bills or taken significant steps to restrict teaching about racism, sexism and what they call critical race theory (not actual critical race theory).

The bills limit discussions that teachers can have by restricting the teaching of “divisive concepts.” Oklahoma’s board of education punished two schools by downgrading their accreditation for violating a state law banning critical race theory in schools.

This year, Florida passed the “Stop WOKE Act.” The law “prohibits lessons or trainings that teach that individuals are inherently racist or sexist because of their race or sex, that people are privileged or oppressed due to their race or sex, and other related concepts.”

Students must be allowed to access reading material on all kinds of subjects without the knowledge or control of their parents. They should be able to learn about their bodies, explore their sexuality or gender, or even seek out information about sexual assault.

Students are, of course, the future of any free and open society.

Let’s say that “cancel culture” really is a thing. How do we explain, then, why state governments that are banning books – “the building blocks of any free and open society” – are run by Republicans?

How do we explain why state legislatures that are censoring speech and regulating ideas are dominated by Republicans who are said to be censoring speech and regulating ideas for the purpose of protecting “a free and open society” from “howling mobs”?

We can’t.

These are books targeted by rightwing governments that aim to stop make-believe enemies from influencing their state’s schoolkids.

Book bans are part of the larger rightwing project of closing society and oppressing undesirables. Books carry ideas. Ideas carry political risks. In order to minimize risk, or get rid of it, they ban books.

The left’s go-to is counterspeech followed by political compromise. The right’s go-to is violence followed by the force of law. Is the United States still a refuge for writers and other artists in exile?

Maybe.

There’s reason for doubt.

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