John Stoehr

America does not have to wait for the next insurgency. We're living in one

Daniel Block is a brilliant young editor at the Washington Monthly. In the latest print edition of the magazine, which I encourage you to read and support,1 he explores the possibility of prolonged, acute civil violence in the wake of an authoritarian president's downfall and his failed attempt to overthrow the results of a free and fair election.

Research suggests that a growing number of Americans believe that political violence is acceptable. In a 2017 survey by the political scientists Lilliana Mason and Nathan Kalmoe, 18 percent of Democrats and 12 percent of Republicans said that violence would be at least a little justified if the opposing party won the presidency. In February 2021, those numbers increased to 20 percent and 28 percent, respectively. Other researchers have found an even bigger appetite for extreme activity. In a January poll conducted by the American Enterprise Institute, researchers asked respondents whether "the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it." Thirty-six percent of Americans, and an astounding 56 percent of Republicans, said yes.

"Could the United States experience prolonged, acute civil violence?" Block asks.

I spend a lot of time here at the Editorial Board thinking about ways of seeing familiar sociopolitical issues differently so that we, the free people of this republic, might discover new ways of solving the old problems we all live with. I would like to suggest something that may seem odd at first, but once you think about it, it makes sense. Indeed, once you think about it, it will, I hope, seem so obvious that you might wonder why we hadn't thought of it before. After reading Block's piece, it occurred to me that we're not so much going to experience "prolonged, acute civil violence" after the January 6 insuregency. We are already experiencing it and have been for years.

The American Civil War began formally when Confederate forces shelled Union troops at Fort Sumter off the coast of South Carolina. But there was plenty of informal violence beforehand. Block tells the story of Jacob Branson, a Kansas abolitionist, who got into an argument over land rights with Franklin Coleman, a slavery advocate. One day, a friend of Branson's accosted Coleman. Coleman took out his gun and shot him.

It was the start of what's now called "Bleeding Kansas," which has become shorthand for the period of bloody unrest that prefaced formal war. "A group of abolitionists led by John Brown killed five proslavery settlers in Franklin County," Daniel Block wrote. "Hundreds of slavery supporters retaliated by attacking an antislavery settlement in the town of Osawatomie, murdering several locals and burning most of the settlement to the ground. Abolitionists then drove proslavery forces out of Linn County. Slavery proponents next pulled 11 antislavery settlers from their homes and shot them down."2

Maybe we're seeing our own "Bleeding Kansas." Maybe we're seeing our own period of bloody unrest that prefaces formal war. The challenge wouldn't be asking whether a period of "prolonged, acute civil violence" is coming. It would be recognizing that it's already here. I woke up this morning to news of yet another shooting massacre, this one in Indianapolis.3 Turns out it was the third mass shooting in the city in the last month. Nationally, it came after massacres in Atlanta, Boulder, Colorado, and Orange County, California. CNN ran a graphic this morning showing mass shootings that have taken place over 30 days. There were so many they nearly burst the frame.4 Thousands of Americans have died in massacres. The political violence is here.

We are seeing so many massacres, because there are so many guns in circulation. And we are seeing so many guns in circulation, especially guns designed to kill quickly, because our government has militarized civil society by way of deregulation. Why has our government militarized civil society? Because, as I have said before, democracy stopped producing desirable outcomes. The GOP did not randomly start obstructing popular gun control measures. There was a reason. They started after the Sandy Hook Massacre, which was after the 2012 election, which showed the GOP that normal democracy could no longer be trusted to stop a Black man from being president.

That was when the Republican Party fully abandoned republican democracy. That was when norm-busting and constitutional hardball became requirements. That was when political violence started to become acceptable. Make no mistake: that's what these shooting massacres are. They seem chaotic. They seem arbitrary. Their motives are often unclear. But considered in the long stretch of history, it seems to me obvious that each of them, in their unique ways, was a reaction of some kind to the outcomes of republican democracy, outcomes that have given power and respect to people who had been considered unworthy of them—Black people, people of color, LGBTQ people and women. Democracy could not stop them. The only political options left were violent.

It was started out slowly, at first, but since that mind-shattering and heartbreaking moment, when 20 first-graders were shot to pieces after which the Republicans showed not a care in the world, political violence has grown in popularity. It has grown such that a huge majority of Republican voters believes the sacking and looting of the US Capitol was just peachy,5 because they believe Donald Trump was robbed. They don't need a reason, though. Stealing the election is beside the point. Political violence, even to the point of treason, has already been established as optional. We don't have to wait for the next insurgency. We're still living in the first one.

There's a profound moral problem that the pro-life movement ignores

Once upon a time, I was a straight news reporter freelancing for a new national religion publication. My assignment was to attend religious services in my area to see what faith leaders were saying on the Sunday before the 2012 presidential election.

I decided to go to a Roman Catholic Church here in New Haven that offers mass in English, Polish and Latin (obviously, not at the same time). The Latin Mass, if you've never experienced it, is truly moving what with the incense and cathedral setting and so on. I was enjoying myself all the way up to the homily. It was in English. I got my notepad. "Abortion is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our lifetimes," the priest said. The message was clear: don't vote for the (Black) candidate supporting infanticide.

I don't think abortion is murder, but I can see why others do. I can see why people see it as a "humanitarian crisis." I can even see why some think of the pro-life movement as a civil-rights movement. For these believers, life begins at conception, meaning a person becomes a person at what they believe is a sacred moment. Even if you don't think it's murder, you might credit the view with having a profound moral weight.

Yes, yes. I know. Anti-abortion politics is really about putting women back in their place in the natural order of things.1 It's about maintaining the local authority of white man, for the most part, and their dominance over women, especially the women in their lives. This, to me, is transparently true. Even so, abortion is what it is. It's not like the pro-life movement is based on nothing serious. There is a moral foundation, no?

What if it's not what you think it is? The energy driving 40 years of partisan politics, to strike down Roe, has been described as a moral crusade. The moral dimension has been strong enough to wedge apart liberals and social-gospel Catholics, wrote Christopher Jon Sprigman. "But for so many I knew, the struggle over abortion overwhelmed their other political commitments. For many, it was the Supreme Court's constitutionalization of abortion that turned disagreement into a great moral schism."

Again, what if it's not that? What if the question is not centered on the morality of ending a pregnancy but on something quite different? Most liberals don't even bother asking the question. They just deny the premise of the argument. They deny a fetus is a person. But what if a fetus is a person, as pro-lifers say? Then what? Well, then we have a titanic ethical dilemma no serious person in the pro-life movement talks about. And by refusing to talk about it, they give up the game. This isn't really about babies.

Think about it. The pro-life movement wants the government to outlaw access to abortion, the result being women carrying out pregnancies. Put this together with the belief that a fetus is a person. What are pro-lifers asking for? That the government force one person to permit another person to use her body. Though it's true this person requires another person's body for its survival, that doesn't change the fact that forcing one person to permit another person to use her body for its survival is a moral question as profound as the question of whether ending a pregnancy is good or bad.

Even if you think ending a pregnancy is bad, on account of your belief that a fetus is a person, you should be downright disturbed by the idea of the government forcing one person to allow another person to use her body for its survival. These are different moral problems, sure, but they are equally problematic. If the pro-life movement is not ignoring one in favor of the other, it's deciding one is OK while the other is not. And the consequential burden of either decision falls entirely on who? Pregnant women.

If abortion really were a "great moral schism," its opponents would be struggling to untangle the vexing moral knot of a government forcing one person to use another person's body. But I don't see serious abortion opponents doing that. What I do see is what everyone else sees—debate over whether the US Supreme Court will strike down Roe, or enfeeble it, out of the profound moral conviction that abortion is wrong.

But abortion is not a "moral debate." It's a one-sided moral debate. It's a debate over which one side won't look at the moral implications of winning the debate. Or it's a debate over which one side understands the moral implications and accepts them, because accepting them is in keeping with its view of the natural order of things. What's sacred isn't so much the life inside the mother as her presumed social role.

The GOP acts as an insurgency within the United States

The White House said Tuesday it was preparing to announce the full withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021, two decades after the terrorist attacks that launched the invasion and occupation of that country. The president made sure reporters understood there were no conditions attached to the exit of US forces. Though there will be consequences to leaving, Joe Biden believes the time has come.

That same evening, militarized police officers in the city of Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb, continued for a third night assaulting residents protesting the murder of a Black man, Daunte Wright, at the hands of white cop during a traffic stop. Police officers were wearing body armor and helmets, carrying ballistic shields and bombarding protesters with tear gas, pepper-spray and "non-lethal projectiles." At one point last night, according to video captured by an observer, police rolled out a tank.

I set these side-by-side to demonstrate their connection—or their moral mirroring of each other. On the one hand, military power is being extracted. On the other, military power is being entrenched. With one, the enemy is the Taliban. With the other, the enemy is American. With the former, a real nation occupied a real nation. With the latter, an imaged nation occupied a real one. If we saw what's going on in military terms, everything would make more sense. We don't, though. We just call it normal.

Brooklyn Center is a metaphor for what the United States will be at some point this century. It is a white-minority city. Its mayor is a Black immigrant. Yet its police force is predominantly white. While democracy produced outcomes befitting of a political community exercising the rights to freedom and self-determination, those same outcomes have aroused fears inside the police force, as they have aroused fears inside the country at large, seeking to reassert dominance by any means, including violence.

I believe there exists in the United States an imagined nation-within-a-nation, a confederacy of the mind and spirit where "real Americans" believe they are blessed by God to rule the whole of the country by force if need be. In Real America, the problems of democracy cannot be solved democratically, because democracy was the problem in the first place. In Real America, all political problems can be solved with violence or threats of it. Since Sept. 11, 2001, we have militarized the police. We have militarized civil society (guns everywhere). We witnessed the near-overthrow of the republic. When cops hoisted a "thin blue line" flag above the Brooklyn Center police station, they were not only saying "Blue Lives Matter." They were saying this town is ours.

If we recognized this nation-within-a-nation, if we recognized this "confederacy" is incompatible with a free union, then police officers wearing body armor, shooting "projectiles" at citizens and rolling out tanks would not just look like military units. They would be military units. They would be seen, as I said Monday, as small armies occupying American cities the way American troops occupied Afghanistan, only instead behaving according to a military code of honor, these "troops" extract tribute and extort communities by threatening to withhold security services in the face of public protest. If we understood who is doing what to whom, and why and how they are doing it, I suspect we'd never tolerate it, and the solution would be obvious to all. We must demilitarize America the way we are now demilitarizing Afghanistan.

But the Republicans don't want that. For the GOP, republican democracy has not produced desirable results for over a decade. Since Sept. 11, the party has worked to create martial conditions by militarizing law enforcement, militarizing civil society (guns everywhere) and militarizing patriotism itself such that the Republicans no longer bother honoring their oath to the Constitution but pledge allegiance to a military leader, a Republican Commander-in-Chief. This is how it's possible for someone like Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, to still think of himself as a patriot even after twice leading the acquittal of a rogue president who tried defrauding the people before mounting an insurgency against the United States. McConnell's first loyalty is not to America. It's to the imagined confederacy within it.

In this context, we should understand not only the rise in fascist domestic terrorism but the plague of shooting massacres we have witnessed, especially since 2012 when it was clear to the Republicans that democracy could not stop a Black president from winning reelection. Fascist terrorism and shootings massacres are two sides of the same coin. They are expressions of the confederacy and a reaction to democratic outcomes that challenge it. As María Isabel Puerta Riera has written, there's evidence showing the Republicans have paramilitaries inside and outside law enforcement. In this, the GOP is similar to an insurgency that the US spent a trillion dollars fighting. Just as the Taliban threatens from the inside the sovereign government of Afghanistan, so does the GOP threaten the sovereign government of the United States. If we saw this for what it is, the solution would be simple. But we don't. We think it's normal.

How Joe Biden and the Democrats have the media in a panic

Maybe it's just me, but I'm detecting a whiff of panic from the Washington press corps. For one thing, the Biden administration is, so far, running pretty smoothly. Sure, there are serious border problems to manage. One of the vaccines is proving a bit problematic. But otherwise, public servants dedicated to government of, by and for the people under the law and with reverence for the United States Constitution seem to be delivering. After four years of trumpery, White House reporters must be jonesing.

For another, the press corps is having difficulty seeing, understanding and, therefore, reporting the fundamental shifts that have taken place in the last six months alone. The Republicans, it goes without saying, have declared massive resistance to all things Biden even when all things Biden are Godsends to constituents back home who are impatient for the day when the government finally starts delivering for the people. The president and the Democrats, meanwhile, seem nonplussed. They knew they weren't going to get help from the Republicans. They have majority numbers to do without.

You have to understand that for most, perhaps even all, reporters in Washington, they have never seen the parties so demarcated. More importantly, as it pertains to the whiff of panic I'm talking about, reporters have never seen a day when they did not get under the skin of a Democratic president by laundering right-wing propaganda. That has historically gotten a reaction from Democratic presidents going back to Bill Clinton, because Democratic presidents bent over backwards to demonstrate being in touch with the majority of the American people, because a majority of the American people really were more in line with the views and preferences of the Republican Party.

That's just not the case anymore, and because that's not the case anymore, laundering right-wing propaganda through neutral political reporting isn't having the effect it once did. In fact, the president and the Democrats, in letting laundered propaganda roll off their backs, are acting like they know something the Washington press corps do not know—and that, my dear friend, is the most terrifying thing of all when you're reporting from the heart of power in the United States. The whiff of panic I'm talking about is the fear and awesome dread of discovering you're on the outside looking in.

What do the Democrats know? First, the Republicans don't have concrete policies to offer. They lost faith in the democratic republic that's creating a country that most of them don't want to live in. Second, and related to the first, the GOP no longer has a feel for what the whole of the country wants. (They still insist the Trump tax cuts were a winner when they were a loser.) The Democrats never lost faith. They never lost that feel. Moreover, policies like green energy, which were unpopular the last time they had unified control of the government, are now popular. If the president is acting like he doesn't need the Republicans, it's because he doesn't need the Republicans. And because he doesn't, the president really is redefining what "bipartisanship" means.

Let me put this another way. The Republican Party is the anti-government party. It has been for decades. During the Trump era, however, the party crossed a moral threshold many GOP voters would not. The Republicans became the party of treason. It literally acquitted the former president's attempt to overthrow the United States government. At the same time, a vast majority of Americans, all living under the smog of the covid pandemic, realize government action was the only way out of the emergency. They couldn't turn to the Republicans a) because the former president was most responsible for allowing the emergency to become the worst among rich counties and b) because they were the party of anti-government before they became the party of treason.

The Republicans turned their backs on the whole of the country when the whole of the country most needed the government to take action. The primary consequence of this, I contend, has been to make government action popular all by itself, regardless of any particular policy. Virtually everything Joe Biden is calling for is putting government in action and virtually everything he's been calling for has proven popular. Even things that used to be political liabilities, like spending trillions and raising taxes on large corporations, is popular—even, or especially, among those same large corporations.

The Republicans, I suspect, understand this better even than the press corps does. They see a future that's seemingly inhospitable to the old-school politics of "limited government." Some Republicans are trying. They're competing with the Democrats in the realm of government action. United States Senator Josh Hawley is chief among GOP fascists calling for the government to punish Fortune 500 companies that openly oppose anti-democratic election laws. Most Republicans, however, seem unwilling to rethink the old-school politics. They'd rather punch down on "culture war" issues like trans rights. They're retrenching locally even as they retreat nationally. And that's fine for a Democratic president who thinks being popular is better than being bipartisan.

I hope the press corps understands that in time.

A potential fix to police violence is staring us in the face

Look, I'm no expert on, well, pretty much anything! But there is one thing I do know. There is one thing anyone can know if they are willing to see. It's that the people we all trust to keep the peace in this country aren't doing a good job of it. What's more, the people we entrust to keep the peace are often themselves responsible for the violence. It's getting to the point where I'm thinking it's a good idea to take away their guns.

Yes, I know. Taking guns away from local law enforcement officials sounds crazy. But think about it. Is it any more absurd than what we are seeing right now? How many times does a Black man have to die at the hands of a police officer who is looking for a reason—any reason—to use deadly force during a routine traffic stop? How many times does that have to happen before we start distrusting people with such power?

The crazy is worse than you think. After Daunte Wright, 20, was shot and killed Sunday by a cop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, the community was outraged. People started organizing. They started protesting outside the police station. They started demanding justice. Cops responded by arming themselves in riot gear and forming a thin line around the building as if civilization itself would collapse if it didn't hold.

There's more. Not only did police come out ready for battle, the mayor ordered a curfew, which was just the excuse the "warriors" needed to start assaulting unarmed American citizens with tear gas and "pepper bombs" and other "non-lethal" weaponry that can tear human flesh and cause serious injury. And that made the people who were demanding justice even more pissed off, which in turn provided another excuse to these militarized agents of the state to commit what would otherwise be felonies.

And this is only the beginning of the crazy. At some point, it's nearly certain, the family of Daunte Wright will bring the city of Brooklyn Center to court, claiming damages of a certain dollar amount. While criminal juries almost never hold police officers criminally accountable, civil juries are far more likely to award civil damages. That costs the city money that cities usually do not have. So they sell debt to Wall Street. In order to repay Wall Street, cities must raise revenues, which means raising taxes on city residents, which include members of the family of Daunte Wright. Seriously, is taking cops' guns away more absurd than all of this? I don't think so.

If we're not going to take their guns away (and we won't), then we should take away some of the power we have given them. Why? Because no one should be trusted with that much power. Police departments across the country have become, in effect, small occupying armies unaccountable to the democratic will that can, and that do, extract tribute1 in the form of loan repayments from residents they claim to serve and protect. This isn't just institutional racism. It's institutional racism that neuters republican government. It's institutional racism that, in the end, puts every one of us in a cage.

If we're not going to take their guns away (and we won't), then we need to rethink the amount of public trust we give them. We need to demand police officers understand what the 21st century demands on policing services. I'd say we should indoctrinate cops into believing in truth, justice and the American way, but since that's probably asking too much, political communities can do the next best and practical thing.

If they can't stop cops from acting like "warriors," then they outlaw these "warriors" weapons of war. Take them all away except a sidearm. Give them back to the federal government. If you can't stop police unions from being organized crime syndicates, then cities and states, with the right moral leadership, can ban pepper-spray, tear gas, body armor and other materiel. They can ban "routine traffic stops" if need be, except under strict, narrow and legally defined circumstances enforced under penalty of law. They can and should make lying on incident reports a crime deserving prison time.2

These would be pipe dreams if most cities were run by Republicans who believe police power is the solution to most social problems. But most cities are run by Democrats. Most cities are in states run by Democrats. Even Brooklyn Center's mayor, though independent, is a Liberian-American. His city is minority white. The political power is available if he's willing to find it democratically. It will take hard work, though,

And there's the rub. It's easier to give in to police departments, as Hizzoner did when he ordered a curfew, which gave armored cops an excuse to assault citizens legally. It's harder to push against entrenched interests however absurd they might be. Taking cops guns away would be hard, too, but don't tell me it's crazy, because now's crazy?

Newly revealed Trump administration emails show depravity and conspiracy against the country

The select subcommittee in the United States House of Representatives that is now investigating how the federal government managed the country's response to the covid pandemic released emails Thursday showing top officials in the Trump administration knowingly, carefully and deliberately sabotaged public understanding of the disease.

According to the Post's Dan Diamond, "The documents provide further insight into how senior Trump officials approached last year's explosion of coronavirus cases in the United States. Even as career government scientists worked to combat the virus, a cadre of Trump appointees were attempting to blunt the scientists' messages, edit their findings and equip the president with an alternate set of talking points."

Diamond's story is about "political interference" in what should have been the neutral administration of public health policy in the face of a once-a-century plague. That framing of the issue will likely be adopted by the Washington pundit corps. That framing has been adopted by the House investigators, too. "Our investigation has shown that Trump Administration officials engaged in a persistent pattern of political interference in the nation's public health response to the coronavirus pandemic, overruling and bullying scientists and making harmful decisions that allowed the virus to spread more rapidly," said House Whip James Clyburn, the subcommittee chair.

But while the press and investigators are right to be careful with language, the court of public opinion, which may be the only court demanding justice in the end, need not be so careful. Let's not obscure the body-count reality of what Michael Caputo and Paul Alexander have done with gauzy abstractions like "political interference." As of this writing, the covid has killed over 573,000 Americans. These men, along with others, including the former president, were engaged in crimes. The question shouldn't be whether this was "political interference." It should be whether this was homicide.

Trump-appointed officials with more background in rhetoric than in infectious disease literally rewrote public statements released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in ways that minimized the deadly risk of the covid, especially with respect to schools, and maximized the risk to the economy. They did, in other words, what their boss wanted of them, which is what he's good at. They put right-wing propaganda in the mouths of public health authorities and called it "the truth."

Those same authorities, including then-CDC director Robert Redfield, played along. Redfield "repeatedly claimed last year that the agency's reports had been protected from political interference," the Post reported. Indeed, he testified under oath to a committee in the United States Senate: "At no time has the scientific integrity of the [The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports] been compromised. And I can say that under my watch, it will not be compromised." That was a gigantic, Janus-faced lie.

Caputo was Donald Trump's choice to head public affairs at the US Department of Health and Human Services. Alexander was Caputo's hand-picked "science advisor." If they didn't get what they wanted, they'd undermine the CDC's findings by writing op-eds packed with misinformation. On the one hand, they empowered lies. On the other, they kneecapped the facts and the public's health. Diamond wrote: "Pointing to one change—where CDC leaders allegedly changed the opening sentence of a report about spread of the virus among younger people after Alexander pressured them—Alexander wrote to Caputo, calling it a 'small victory but a victory nonetheless and yippee!!!'"

Remember, too, that the Trump administration, all the way up to the president, knew the reality of the covid. Thanks to Bob Woodward's reporting, we know they knew it was airborne. We know they knew it was highly contagious. We know they knew it was killing the old and the sick and the feeble. We know they knew the coronavirus had the potential of bringing the US economy to a halt. And now we know they decided anyway to sabotage public understanding of the disease. They were not only involved a scheme to commit negligent homicide. They were involved in a conspiracy to commit treason.

Will Caputo and Alexander be held accountable for this? Not likely. But that doesn't mean the public should not demand some kind of justice. For one thing, Redfield lied under oath. That's a crime. For another, Caputo and Alexander were communicating using government email accounts as well as personal email accounts. Crimes like that goosed the FBI into taking action before the 2016 election when it was discovered that former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been using a personal email server. The FBI cleared her eventually, but not before moving heaven and earth to do it.

The FBI should move heaven and earth again, but this time, there's much more at stake. Hillary Clinton was trying to avoid arduous security protocols required by the government. (That's why she set up her own secure network in her basement.) Caputo and Alexander may have used their personal email accounts to avoid criminal liability. (Remember, we know they knew what they were doing and what the outcome, mass death, would be.) We should presume they're hiding incriminating evidence of their involvement in a conspiracy leading to 573,000 dead until it's proven they aren't.

Here's what Mitch McConnell's sudden backflip over corporations in politics really means

Mitch McConnell must be feeling sore after this week's backflipping. On Monday, the Senate minority leader said, "My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics." He warned of "serious consequences" if they become "a vehicle for far-left mobs." On Tuesday, McConnell said, "It's quite stupid" for major firms "to jump in the middle of a highly controversial issue." But on Wednesday, he was like oops, my bad! "I didn't say that very artfully," he said. "They're certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are. My principal complaint is they didn't read the darn bill."

You might think he's responding to the idea of being a hypocrite. After all, no one in the United States Senate rivals McConnell when it comes to being the lickspittle of corporate power. He has devoted his career to ensuring corporations are permitted to spend as much money as they want—all in the name of free speech. Telling companies like Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola and Home Depot to butt out of the pro-democracy debate over Georgia's voter suppression laws would seem like the height of hypocrisy.

But if there's one thing we know about McConnell it's that he does not feel shame. He has no moral core. He does not recognize the authority of higher-order values. What moves McConnell is power, and what moves power is money. His backflipping wasn't to save face. It was in response to someone telling him to back off. His backflipping can be seen as a reflection of the fundamentals tearing him apart in front of our eyes.

Whoever told McConnell to shut it is suggesting that corporate leaders are not going to budge from the position they have taken with respect to voting and democracy. And that position is absolute. "The right to vote is sacred," said Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Airlines, based in Atlanta. "It is fundamental to our democracy and those rights not only need to be protected, but easily facilitated in a safe and secure manner." Arthur Blank—the founder of Atlanta-based Home Debut, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and a billionaire who yields to no one in matters of conservative principle—said almost exactly the same thing. "The right to vote is simply sacred," Blank said. "We should be working to make voting easier, not harder for every eligible citizen."

Such an absolute position suggests another thing. These corporate leaders understand clearly the utility of appearing to be loyal to the practice of democracy, and that the Republican Party's current trajectory puts them on the opposite side of that. Business leaders, who want to sell products and services to as many people as possible, can recognize the liability of being associated with anti-democratic behavior. This is, after all, why McConnell and others have worked so hard over the years to allow the very obscenely rich to spend billions influencing politics while keeping their names secret.

This loyalty to democracy (or at least the appearance of loyalty to democracy) is running headlong into another force—loyalty to the former president. According to the Times, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the political arm of the House Republicans, is raising money for the coming midterms in ways that test supporters' loyalty to Donald Trump. If donors opt out of regular monthly donations, the Times reported, then Trump will be told that "you're a DEFECTOR." Given how many Republican voters still believe the current president stole the election, it's not overstatement to suggest these forces, one for democracy and one against it, are struggling for control of the Republican Party and the outcome is unpredictable.

Meanwhile, more than 704 million coronavirus shots have been given, according to Bloomberg. The Biden administration is sending another round of stimulus checks, this time 156 million of them. (They include money for Social Security beneficiaries.) The Democrats in the Congress are debating a massive jobs and infrastructure bill that would rebuild the country. They have, moreover, given voters incentive to keep them in power. The huge health insurance discounts included in the nearly $2 trillion in covid relief package enacted recently are set to expire right before the midterms.

While the Republicans threaten to snitch when supporters fail the test of loyalty to a one-term president, the Democrats make no such threats at all. Indeed, they are sweetening the deal with good governance, renewed commitments to democracy and cash. It's paying off so far. The number identifying as Republican or lean Republican dropped to 40 percent, according to Gallup. The number identifying as Democrat or lean Democrat rose to 49 percent. That nine-point spread "is the largest Gallup has measured since the fourth quarter of 2012," the pollster said. "In recent years, Democratic advantages have typically been between four and six percentage points."

The last time a president's party won the midterms was 2002. As George W. Bush was seen to lead America out of the crisis of 9/11, Biden seems on track to being seen as leading the country out of another calamity. Meanwhile, the Republicans appear to be retreating from national politics. They are digging in their heels locally by ginning up outrage over trans rights and "voter fraud," while obstructing everything in the Capitol. What we're seeing is what Adam Kinzinger foresaw. "If it doesn't want to be changed, that's a decision Republicans get to make," said one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Donald Trump. "If that's the case long-term, I think we will lose elections, and will be a regional party that won't compete on the national stage."

Republicans' ridiculous rhetoric shows their fear of being on the outside looking in

Why did the Republicans enact laws suppressing the vote in Georgia? Because the former president made a big stink about "voter fraud" being the reason he lost. Why did the former president make a big stink? Well, for one thing, because Donald Trump is a sadist and fool. For another, because the Republicans in Georgia and other (mostly southern) states had been making a big stink about "voter fraud" since 2013. They had worked very hard to convince state residents that the problem was real. Given such a context had already been established, Trump's false allegations seemed almost true.

Why did this start in 2013? That's when the United States Supreme Court gutted part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It had required "pre-clearance" with federal authorities any time state and local legislators, especially in the South, changed their election laws. With that out of the way, Republicans in the South, worried that democracy was getting out of their control, decided to limit maximally but legally who can participate. Ergo, they invented a problem—voter fraud—the solution to which was voter ID laws.

So what's happening in Georgia is like a scene in a bit of absurdist theater in which cause-and-effect are not really cause-and-effect. It's more like effect-and-effect. Less than a decade ago, Peach State Republicans decided what laws they wanted to enact, but at the same time knew the real reason for enacting those laws, voter suppression, would not be tolerable to a majority of people in their state, even other Republicans.

So they fabricated an end to justify the means of getting there. (Just to be clear, voter fraud does not exist anywhere in any widespread and, therefore, worrisome way.) But imagine their surprise when a fascist president used the same fake reasons to bring hell and fury down on them for the fact that he lost Georgia. Now, post-election, in order to appease his supporters, who stand ready to oust them from power for their "betrayal," they have to double down on the big lies they've been telling all along.

This time is different. Before 2020, the big lie seemed like a legitimate cause requiring a legitimate effect. (Voter fraud caused restrictive voting laws.) After 2020, the big lie just looks like a big lie. There is no real and legitimate cause to justify enacting even more suppressive voter-suppression laws. There is only effect. Thanks to a fascist president who used those fake reasons to bring hell and fury down on Georgia, it's clear the problem for these Republicans was never voter fraud. It was democracy.

If it were only the Democrats raising awareness of the big lies, the Republicans in Georgia and in the United States Congress could let it roll off their backs. But it's no longer just the Democrats. Now, Republicans everywhere must contend with large corporations that can no longer afford to participate, even tacitly, in the bits of absurdist theater that have brought us all to this point. Even as they benefit from Republican policies—i.e., tax cuts and deregulation—they suffer from even the appearance of alignment with a political party at war with democracy. The CEO of Atlanta-based Delta Airlines is representative: "The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true. Unfortunately, that excuse is being used in states across the nation that are attempting to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights."1

The Republicans, especially Mitch McConnell, understand what it means when huge non-political entities like Delta, Coke, American Airlines, Major League Baseball and others take a stand in favor of full and fair democracy. It suggests to a vast array of people who buy their products and use their services that the Republicans might not be on the same side. Once such a perspective takes root in the public imagination, it will be difficult for the Republicans to uproot. Perhaps they don't have the will or the capacity to. Once a majority suspects that you might stand against them, your side has incentive to treat that side like The Enemy. And that, I think, is what's happening.

Again and again, whenever non-political entities have (even mildly) criticized the Republicans—sports teams, the military, the press, universities, churches and now mass-market firms—the Republicans, following Donald Trump's lead, have reacted by accusing them of being in league with the Democrats. Nikki Haley, the former UN ambassador, said recently that "Big corporations are the new liberal mob. First, they came after Georgia; now, they're coming after Texas.2 We can fight back with the power of our voices—and our wallets—to show them we mean business." Many big corporations pay virtually nothing in federal income taxes thanks to years of GOP effort. The Republicans bailed out the airlines repeatedly during the covid pandemic. Accusing Delta of participating in the "new liberal mob" isn't just ridiculous. It demonstrates the fear among Republicans that they are on the outside looking in.

Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that corporations should stay out of politics. He didn't mean it, though. In the next breath, he said he wasn't talking about political donations. What he wants is for Delta, Coke, the MLB and others to stop talking about democracy in ways that make it appear to a majority of Americans that the Republican Party stands on the other side of it. What he wants is for these non-political entities to stop making it harder for the Republican Party to pursue its anti-democracy agenda. The corporations have, however, endorsed the whole truth, and there's no going back. They have become a political rock against which the Republicans will break themselves.

Why Mitch McConnell is struggling to keep the GOP's central bargain from falling apart

As you know, the Republican Party is the party of business. It has been that way since the late 19th century. What you may not know is that some Republicans have always taken a dim view of corporate power, depending on their brand of conservatism. Prior to Ronald Reagan's ascent, conservatives of the Old Right, as they were sometimes called, saw corporations the way that some leftists do, as potentially dangerous collectives unaccountable to the democratic will. But unlike leftists, who are generally concerned with issues of class, the Old Right was concerned with issues of tradition, order, family, and Christian faith, but especially the local authority of white men.

For the Old Right, national (and then multinational) corporations were not sources of stability, but the opposite. They competed fiercely for customers and they innovated nonstop, creating products and services that destabilized what the Old Right believed was the natural order of things.1 Corporations employed legions, including non-white people, who no longer behaved as they "should," as makers of their own destinies, as rugged entrepreneurs, as independent and free. Instead, the massive working class was beholden to the interests of their employers. As such, they often behaved as social parasites, especially when corporations worked together with the United States government in what I described last week as economics in the national interest.

Worst of all, corporations as the godless, profit-seeking face of modernity always challenged the social control of the white men who constituted this country's petty bourgeoisie. Sam Francis, the Ur-conservative, understood this better than most.

The cosmopolitan elite threatened the traditional values cherished by most Americans: "morality and religion, family, nation, local community, and at times racial integrity and identity." These were sacred principles for members of a new "post-bourgeois proletariat" drawn from the working class and the lower ranks of the middle class. Lacking the skills prized by technocrats, but not far enough down the social ladder to win the attention of reformers, these white voters considered themselves victims of a coalition between the top and bottom against the middle.2

For corporations, and the Wall Street traders who invest in them, the Old Right was a fount of dangerous crankiness. These people were not rational. They were emotional. These people were not forward-thinking. They were backward-looking. These people did not seek wealth through markets. They sought power through division. It took lots of work on the part of people like Bill Buckley and later Irving Kristol to get each side on the same page. Over decades, from the McCarthy era to Reagan's election in 1980, the Old Right bargained with corporate-minded Republicans to forge, later with white evangelical Protestants, what's sometimes called "movement conservatism"—which, as I have said before, was the foundation for what became a bipartisan consensus.

The Old Right's bargain frayed after the Cold War came to an end. It shattered beyond recognition after a Black man was elected president. The "Tea Party movement" as well as Donald Trump's upset victory were not only uprisings against "demographic change." They were uprisings against corporate power's never-ending challenge to the local authority of white men. That both were funded by corporate money is not a contradiction, but a demonstration of the usefulness of a petty bourgeoisie on the warpath. For corporations, it pays to stick with the Republican Party, because, no matter how crazy things get, it's crazy in ways consistent with corporate interests.

In the above context we should understand what's going on in Georgia. The state enacted a passel of voter suppression laws last month. Major League Baseball responded, as did large firms headquartered in Atlanta, such as Coke and Delta Airlines. This reaction triggered a reaction among Republicans, and it's this reaction we should pay special attention to. The Republicans in Georgia and in the United States Congress could have kept quiet. They could have let the companies have their say before getting on with business. They didn't, though. That suggests they see the incentive of attacking corporations when they reflect the opinion of a majority of the people as they must as corporations eager to sell things to the majority of the people. That suggests the relationship between the Old Right, as I'll continue calling it, and corporate power is becoming strained in ways we have not seen in a very long time.

For this reason, I think we should not dismiss Mitch McConnell's statement Monday in which he warned corporations to "stay out of politics" and that there would be "consequences" for butting in. It was indeed performance art, but his statement should be seen as a reflection of the larger, historical forces already at work, and the difficulty that the Senate minority leader is having holding the party's wealthy business wing together with the party's less wealthy but more numerous fascist wing. It should also suggest which side McConnell thinks requires the most appeasing, which is to say, not the side that's rational, forward-thinking and market-oriented. If he's not careful, that side might start seeking a more reliable bargaining partner. Mitch McConnell won't be around forever. Meanwhile, the president and his party are busy changing the world.

How the media got hoodwinked by Republican talking points to smear the Democrats

The Democrats are in power so the Washington press corps, not unreasonably, is on the lookout for ways the people running the country are not living up to their stated beliefs. That's fine by me—if reporters and pundits do the work instead of laundering the Republican Party's propaganda. Alas, the Post, in a Sunday editorial, did just that.

In a nutshell, the Post editorial said some Democrats in the Congress are trying to cut taxes on the rich. How? By seeking to eliminate a provision of the US tax code passed during the first year of Donald Trump's one and only term. The provision capped at $10,000 the amount in state and local taxes you can deduct from your federal tax returns. "The net effect was to reduce the deduction's cost to the government from $100.9 billion in fiscal 2017 to $21.2 billion in fiscal 2019, a savings Republicans used to help cut tax rates for individuals and corporations," the editorial writer said.1

I don't doubt studies showing half the people affected by the cap in state and local taxes (SALT) are in the top 20 percent of income earners nationwide. But the other half matters, too. They live in high-tax states like California, New York and Connecticut. They got hurt. They also did not see the proportional relief the very obscenely rich saw, because this other half outside the nation's top 20 percent is not very obscenely rich. To allege, as the Post did, that getting rid of the SALT cap is cutting taxes for the rich isn't only misleading. It parrots the GOP's rationale for implementing the cap.

It gets worse when you consider what the Republicans knew at the time they passed the Trump tax cuts. They knew they'd be in trouble if they didn't try paying for them in some way. They knew SALT deductions were a big pot of money protected for more than a century. They knew the people most affected by the SALT cap would mostly be people living in blue states in or near big cities. The GOP figured the time had come to reward friends by extracting wealth from their enemies. In fact, they hurt Republican voters, who, in 2018, made sure Susan Collins was the last Republican in New England.

The Post editorial carried GOP water in another way. It said the SALT cap "reduced a nontransparent transfer from the rest of the country to high-tax, high-service states." The implication is these states have been bilking the system, which is exactly what the Republicans want you to think. Fact is, "high-tax, high-service states"2 send vastly more in federal revenues to the US Treasury than they get in return. Because they have economic engines in the form of large urban centers, it is they who subsidize most of the rest of the country, not the other way around. It is they, as a matter of fact, who make it possible at all for low-tax, low-service states to be low tax and low service.

To put this another way, blue states produce so much wealth they can afford to tax themselves and pay for things that, for instance, Kentucky and North Dakota and Idaho can't or won't pay for. This isn't fair, but letting blue-state residents deduct what they pay in state and local taxes from their federal tax returns has made that unfairness at least tenable. It's not anymore. Blue states tend to be more equitable and more just (which not to say equitable and just), because they tax themselves. Under current law, however, state and local officials are under enormous pressure to tax less. That would mean fewer services and a poorer quality of life. In a very real sense, the SALT cap is an outrageous, though hardly mentioned, violation of the sovereignty of blue states.

The Post editorial gave the impression that the Democrats, for all their happy talk of progressive taxation, are hypocrites at least in this one small way. In this, the Post laundered propaganda according to which the Republicans, not the Democrats, are the party of the working class, and that Republicans, not the Democrats, raised taxes on the rich. Fact is, the president wants to raise rates on multinational firms and individuals whose annual household incomes exceed $400,000 in order to pay for half of nearly $2.5 trillion in jobs-and-infrastructure spending. Even if Joe Biden signs off on eliminating the SALT cap,3 he's still aiming to put more of the overall tax burden in this country on the shoulders of Americans most capable of carrying that burden.

If he succeeds, no amount of propaganda is going to change that.


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