Salon

The free rider problem: Republicans are reveling in their own recklessness as the country suffers

Late Thursday night, the Washington Post published leaked documents from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) which showed the data used to draft the new federal recommendations that vaccinated people in COVID-19 hot spots wear masks in indoor public spaces. The scientific information is sobering, to say the least, showing that the "delta variant of the coronavirus appears to cause more severe illness than earlier variants and spreads as easily as chickenpox" and "vaccinated individuals infected with delta may be able to transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated."

To be clear, the vaccines are still highly effective and breakthrough infections are relatively rare, so this is not, as some of the more hysterical or anti-vaccination voices on social media are suggesting, evidence that the vaccines don't work. Moreover, even if a vaccinated person does get a breakthrough infection, it is likely to be relatively mild. The new masking recommendations from the CDC are not so much to protect the vaccinated, as they are to protect the unvaccinated. As one federal health official explained to the Washington Post, "Although it's rare, we believe that at an individual level, vaccinated people may spread the virus, which is why we updated our recommendation."

As President Joe Biden explained in a press conference Thursday, "the existing vaccines work to prevent death, serious illness, and hospitalization," and if "every American is vaccinated, in fact, we would be out of the woods."

While some Americans — kids under 12 and a few people with medical conditions — cannot get vaccinated right now, the real problem is perfectly eligible adults who simply refuse to get the shot. If those folks all got the shot, the pandemic would likely be winding down. These biological details about the delta variant are alarming, but the fundamental reality has not shifted: In this era of effective vaccinations, the continuing pandemic is more a social phenomenon than a biological one.

The delta variant is just a mindless virus. The real problem is our fellow human beings who, as political science professor Scott Lemieux wrote recently, confuse "free riding with freedom — letting people do what they want with no consequences even when the consequences are borne by other people as well." The problem, as I've written about more times than I care to think about, is political. Put bluntly, a huge percentage of Donald Trump's America is refusing to get inoculated, to stick it to the liberals and undermine Biden's presidency.

As far as trolling goes, this is a particularly risky way to go about it. While rates of hospitalizations and death remain lower than they were over the winter, there are still over 300 people dying a day of COVID-19 — and nearly all are unvaccinated. But, as a recent Politico article made clear, that just shows how much right-wing America is running on spite these days, with half of them choosing to roll the dice with COVID-19 rather than admit that Biden and the Democrats are right about anything, even something as scientifically inarguable as "vaccines keep you safe."

No doubt, the resurgence of mask recommendations and even mandates is minor compared to the severe social distancing requirements — which left many people adrift and lonely — needed to control the virus pre-vaccine. But what makes the current situation so frustrating is how unfair and unnecessary it is. This isn't about people pulling together to fight back against a natural threat to humanity. This is about people being asked to make more sacrifices so that a third of Americans — mostly Trump-voting Americans — can keep refusing to do anything at all.

To make it even more maddening, the people being the biggest crybabies about the new restrictions are the very same people who are the cause of the new restrictions. This was amply demonstrated on Thursday when Republican members of the House of Representatives threw a tantrum (which they called a "protest") over new mask requirements. Requirements, mind you, that they caused with their own unbelievably childish levels of irresponsibility.

As David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo pointed out, "The Senate is almost universally vaccinated," but the "House remains a COVID cesspool," because so many Republicans in that body refuse to get vaccinated. They are protesting a problem they continue to cause with their own recklessness. There was a similar situation in Missouri this week, when, as Salon's Jon Skolnik reports, the "acting director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health alleged that he was verbally and physically assaulted at a Tuesday City Council meeting after encouraging the council's members to enact a mask mandate." The thing is, he wouldn't feel the need to recommend a mask mandate if people would just act like adults and get their shots.

The GOP is supposedly the party of "personal responsibility," but it's quite clear that it's a party of whiny brats who expect everyone else to do everything for them so that they never have to do even the bare minimum. Now they are freaking out about facing the consequences of their own actions. Unfortunately, everyone else is also paying the price for their irresponsibility.

The solution, as it usually is with free riders, is to stop asking nicely and start forcing. We don't ask people not to speed and drive drunk. We punish them with fines and jail time. Taxes are not a suggestion. And so it should be with vaccines. Anyone who wants to live in society and benefit from it should do their part. If you don't like mask mandates, it's time to get the shot, so we can be rid of the masks already.

Biden is getting bolder on this front, instituting a new vaccine-or-regular-testing mandate for federal employees. The military is moving "quickly" in the same direction, according to Deputy Pentagon press secretary Jamal Brown. These are good moves. Still, things are moving far too slowly. Banning people who haven't been vaccinated from flying, for instance, would move things along much faster.

Mask mandates would go down a lot more smoothly for vaccinated America if there was some assurance both that it was a temporary set of affairs and that the real cause of the problem, which is vaccine refusal, was being taken care of. Mask mandates without vaccine mandates simply are unfair and ineffective. The delta variant is alarming, but our biggest problem — bratty Trumpers — hasn't changed. We can't make them be better people. But local, state and federal government entities can work together to keep them from continuing on as dangerous free riders. That needs to happen sooner rather than later for all of our sake.

Democrats are celebrating the bipartisan infrastructure deal — but it looks like McConnell's latest trap

On Wednesday night, the Beltway press was abuzz with excitement at the announcement of a $1 trillion infrastructure deal made by Senate Democrats, Joe Biden's White House, and a handful of Senate Republicans. No, not because it's a well overdue investment in American infrastructure that has been crumbling from decades of neglect. The political press cannot be bothered with mundane concerns as "what Americans actually need" and "the continuing economic health of the nation." The main reason for all the elation was that the bill is bipartisan. (Cue gates of heaven opening, a chorus of angels singing.) When Democrats are in charge, bipartisanship is not only the singular obsession of the Beltway media but seen as exclusively the duty of Democrats to uphold.

"Biden ignores the 'shiny objects' and nears a bipartisan win," gushed Politico's headline. In the article, the bill is described as "the type of bipartisan win he's dreamed about since launching his campaign for the presidency." Other Democratic leaders are portrayed as optimistic that the bill can "fulfill Biden's campaign promise that he could work with GOP leaders even as they vowed to kill his agenda."

The whole thing is surreal, and not just because it comes the very day after grim hearings in the House about the January 6 insurrection incited by Donald Trump, a man who those GOP leaders Biden is so keen on working with continue to support. It's that this is all happening against a backdrop of impending doom for not just the Democratic party's future, but for democracy itself. Republicans in state legislatures continue to quietly line things up so that Donald Trump can steal the 2024 election from Biden, through a combination of voter suppression, gerrymandering, and changing election laws so that Republicans can simply void out election results they don't like.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are standing by and letting it all happen.

Democrats could, if all their Senate members wanted, pass bills that block all the movement in state legislatures to grease the wheels for Trump to steal the 2024 election. Bills like the For the People Act would kneecap most, if not all, of the slow-moving coup that Republicans are arranging for the 2022 and 2024 cycles. But those bills keep getting filibustered by Republicans, who don't want small things like "voting rights" and "free and fair elections" to get in the way of their plans for permanent one-party minority rule. Senate Democrats could, in theory, overturn the filibuster and start passing bills to protect democracy. Unfortunately, some centrist Democrats — most notably, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — refuse to provide the votes necessary to end the filibuster. Their reason? That familiar belief in "bipartisanship" and an apparently bottomless faith that they're one happy hour with Republicans away from hammering out a deal that will make Republicans suddenly start caring about preserving democracy.

More sensible Democrats on Capitol Hill have been pressuring Manchin and Sinema to wake up and see that "bipartisanship" is a joke. Republicans not only block everything they can, but the GOP, under Trump's leadership, is becoming increasingly anti-democracy. Efforts are being mounted to get these two to embrace some kind of filibuster reform that would, at least, make it harder for Republicans to stop voting rights bills.

But the passage of this bipartisan infrastructure package is likely the last nail in the coffin of any hope that Manchin or Sinema would seriously consider filibuster reform.

Both Manchin and Sinema have been at the center of negotiations for this bill, and no doubt their already massive egos are quadrupling in size, fueled by the belief that they are proving their critics wrong and that "bipartisanship" is totally a real thing that they are totally capable of achieving.

There's been some wonder in the Beltway press at the fact that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is the architect of the Republican strategy of using the filibuster to obstruct every piece of meaningful Democratic legislation, not only allowed this deal to go forward but even voted himself to allow debate. But it really should be no surprise, as this deal is all upside for McConnell.

For a mere $1 trillion, he gets insurance against Manchin and Sinema ever changing their minds about the filibuster. By tricking Manchin and Sinema into believing that the filibuster needs to stay put, he blocks any future possibility of meaningful voting rights legislation, ensures that voter suppression and gerrymandering will squeeze Democrats out of power on what may be a permanent basis, and helps pave the way for Trump 2024. Plus, McConnell gets some roads and bridges that Trump can start taking credit for starting in 2025 — just after he's inaugurated.

Already, the illusion that Republicans are people who can be worked with is paying off dividends for the right. Sinema is already making noises about how she can't back the larger $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill that Democrats have been planning to pass through a party-line budget reconciliation vote, which is their rare chance at skipping a GOP filibuster altogether. McConnell is ecstatic at how much he has Sinema in his pocket, flattering her as "very courageous," no doubt so she will continue to do his bidding by obstructing progress in the name of "bipartisanship."

Yet plenty of Democrats are full of praise for Biden's supposed wizardry at the bipartisan negotiation thing.

"Maybe professional politicians are actually good at politics," Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii told Politico, gushing over Biden. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said that "it turns out that decades' worth of expertise and relationships and pattern recognition are really helpful to getting a big result like this done."

But the pattern that is not being recognized is how Republicans are singularly focused on amassing as much power as possible without having to answer to voters. By letting this one bill get through, and propping up the illusion that "bipartisanship" is real, Republicans just bought themselves assurance that more important bills, such as the For the People Act, will never pass.

Let's be real: The person who really showed his experience and chops here is Mitch McConnell, who once again outmaneuvered Democrats and got his party closer to their long-term goal of permanent power without having to win free and fair elections.

This Democrat got big money from Big Pharma — and turned against lower drug prices

Rep. Scott Peters, a low-profile California Democrat now serving his fifth term in the House, two years ago supported a landmark bill that would have substantially lowered the cost of life-saving drugs for Americans. Now he's the apparent leader of a group of centrist Democrats who oppose that very same bill, and who have collectively received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry.

Peters' apparent flipflop, reported by Stat last week, centers on H.R. 3, a Democratic House bill that would save American consumers billions of dollars on costly drugs for life-altering diseases like cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

Chief among the bill's provisions is a rule that establishes what is called "international reference pricing," effectively capping the price of a drug in the U.S. at 120% of the average price paid in Australia, Japan, Canada, Germany, France and the U.K. With that cap in place, the Secretary of Health and Human Services would then be mandated to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies, establishing a fixed price for a given drug that would apply to employers, private insurers and Medicare recipients.

H.R. 3 has been estimated to yield $120 billion in savings for consumers over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It's no surprise, then, that 90% of American adults support the bill's policy of letting the government negotiate with drug producers.

But when it comes to drug pricing in recent years, popular opinion has repeatedly has been thwarted or ignored by Big Pharma, which has fought aggressively against H.R. 3 by locating and supporting sympathetic members of Congress — which now evidently include Scott Peters.

In early May, Peters — who has represented California's 52nd district, in and around San Diego, since 2013 and was once named "biotech legislator of the year" — assembled a coterie of 10 moderate House Democrats to sign a vaguely-worded letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urging her to consider a balance between "innovation and affordability."

"As we have just seen with the lifesaving, record-breaking development of COVID19 vaccines and therapies, America benefits from the most innovative and capable researchers in the world, and from public-private partnership that encourages world-leading biomedical research and development," the caucus wrote, adding: "To achieve this, we must garner bipartisan, bicameral support, with buy-in from a majority of Americans and stakeholders in the public and private sector."

The letter never specifically mentions H.R. 3, but there is little doubt that's the target. The lawmakers' rhetoric echoes a favorite Big Pharma talking point: that government regulation of drug prices will disincentivize research and development.

In late 2019, however, when the bill was first introduced, Peters praised the measure. He did express concerns that it might make drug development "particularly challenging for small and emerging companies in California" and introduced an amendment to support innovation, but ultimately agreed to back the bill.

After that, the pharmaceutical industry began to flood Peters with campaign cash.

The Center for Responsive Politics found that during the 2020 election cycle Peters received nearly $230,000 from pharmaceutical and health companies, many of whose products would be directly targeted by the measure. According to FEC filings reviewed by Salon, Peters received money from Abbvie, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Merck, Amgen, Johnson & Johnson and Gilead Sciences — an array of big-name pharmaceutical companies, none of which could plausibly be described as "small" or "emerging."

During that same period, Peters' emerging coalition of Pharma-friendly moderate Democrats likewise took in significant donations from companies in the sector, according to a report by Brick House. Among the major recipients were Rep. Tony Cárdenas of California ($144,735), Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon ($144,252), Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida ($120,912), Rep. Lou Correa of California ($98,125) and Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey ($96,228) — all of whom had originally voted to approve the bill back in 2019.

Just last month, Peters announced his opposition to H.R. 3, specifically objecting to international reference pricing, a provision of the bill that had not changed from 2019 to 2021.

"I will not vote for that," Peters said in an interview with Roll Call. "If you institute it, you won't have cures because you'll dry up all the private investment that does that research."

Immediately after the letter to Pelosi from Peters and his allies, he once again received thousands of dollars in contributions from pharmaceutical interests, raking in $66,400 between May 4 and June 30 from executives associated with Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Bristol Myers Squibb, Merck and the industry trade group PhRMA, according to a Stat analysis.

None of this has gone unnoticed by advocates for patients and Social Security recipients. Over the last month, both Social Security Works and Patients for Affordable Drugs Now have run ads calling out Peters' apparent flipflop, as well as the campaign cash he's received from Big Pharma.

Alex Lawson, the executive director of Social Security Works, told Salon that while the donations might help Peters get re-elected in the short term, they will damage his long-term political prospects.

"Scott Peters' doomed campaign to keep Americans paying the highest drug prices in the world is fully funded by the corporations who make billions off of those high prices," Lawson said by email. "Being the paid mercenary for the corporations that profit off of withholding drugs to sick people might seem like a good way to make a lot of money, but Peters is going to learn that it is actually the best way to lose his job."

David Mitchell, the founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, echoed Lawson, saying that the Big Pharma donations were "the only precipitating event" that could conceivably have prompted Peters' reversal on H.R. 3.

"When Scott Peters expresses strong opposition to H.R. 3, contrary to the support and proud vote he offered in 2019, he is standing with the pharmaceutical industry, which has given him a hell of a lot of money against the will of the American people," Mitchell told Salon in an interview. "And that, to us — that's unforgivable. Absolutely unforgivable."

Salon asked Peters' office for clarification on his evident change of heart. Peters declined an interview request, but his office provided the texts of two of his floor speeches from 2019 and his vote on an amendment to H.R. 3 that same year, saying that all three "show his longstanding concerns with the international [reference] pricing element of HR3."

In fact, none of those materials make clear Peters' position on international reference pricing. Peters' own amendment to the bill, introduced in 2019, does not address that issue.

Peters' office further suggested that the lawmaker's reversal on H.R. 3 was a question of political strategy and calculation: "H.R. 3 had no chance of moving through the Senate in 2019 without fixing the index pricing piece. The same is true today. Now is exactly the right time – both sides are motivated to lower drug costs and there is momentum to fix this. If we don't make progress on this piece we run the risk of making no progress at all and that helps no one."

Removing international reference pricing, however, fundamentally changes the nature of the bill. Without a price cap in place, the federal government is in a vastly weaker position to negotiate with drug manufacturers.

As to the industry's central claim that drug price controls will harm innovation, policy experts are skeptical. In a letter last month to the San Diego Tribune, Peters wrote that "accounting for failures, developing one new drug costs a company $1 billion to $2 billion." Estimates that high, as the New York Times has reported, are generally products of abstruse corporate methodologies that account for amorphous expenses like opportunity or "time" costs. Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy nonprofit, found back in 2014 that drug companies actually spend an average of $161 million on R&D per new drug.

Peters also claimed in his letter that "H.R. 3 would signal to potential investors that they might not be able to recoup their investment even if a product succeeds." But the expenses associated with one truly innovative drug sometimes take only weeks for companies to recoup in profits, as The New Republic noted.

Pro-pharma lawmakers — as Peters evidently is now — tend to frame price reductions as an unquestionable death blow to innovation. In fact, it's "incredibly hard to predict how reductions in pricing may affect the future of drug development," said Kristi Martin, who provides health care policy expertise to the Commonwealth Fund.

"In the last decade we have seen a significant increase in drug costs in the U.S. and during that same period of time, generally all drugs coming to market relied on some portion of public funding for R&D," Martin told Salon by email. "While several innovative drugs have come to market, most new patents granted are for modifications to existing drugs and not new drugs."

Martin directed Salon to a 2018 study by the Journal of Law and the Biosciences, which found that the vast majority of drugs introduced the global market are in fact retreads of drugs already on the market. This is largely the result of "evergreening," a legal strategy in which drug companies make minuscule tweaks to existing drugs in order to renew their patents. In other words, most drugs introduced to the market are only "innovative" in their ability to generate endless streams of revenue.

The solution, Martin said, is straightforward: "If we change the incentives and reward truly inventive, innovative advancements in treatments and increase funding for R&D, we can still have a robust pipeline that is driving toward effective cures and treatments."

Scholars have also noted that pharmaceutical companies routinely spend more on lobbying and marketing than on R&D, another reflection of the fact that Big Pharma's principal interest is in selling their products, rather than improving them. Just this month, the House Oversight Committee found that 14 pharmaceutical giants spent $58 billion more on buybacks, dividends and executive compensation than on R&D from 2016 to 2020.

It's definitely possible that the introduction of international reference pricing "would be a pretty significant reduction in revenue in the U.S." for the pharmaceutical industry, Andrew Mulcahy, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, told Salon. But Big Pharma is still "going to do very well in terms of a return," he added, because its profits are already so immense.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, between 2000 and 2018, 35 major drug companies received combined revenue of $11.5 trillion, with gross profit of $8.6 trillion. This amounts to a whopping 75% gross profit margin, nearly 10 times higher than the average profit margin found across U.S. industries, according to an NYU analysis.

Numbers like that reflect a market dynamic that is "out of whack," said Mitchell, the founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs Now.

"We need both innovation and affordability, because drugs don't work if people can't afford them," Mitchell said. "We believe there is plenty of room to lower prices and to ensure that we can continue to get the innovation we need and prices we can afford." The "innovation scare tactic" used by the industry, he added, "feels like someone putting a gun to my head and saying, 'It's your money or your life.'"

Republicans won't admit the true reason they're angry about the Jan. 6 investigation

Morally, of course, the worst part about the Republican response to the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection is that they're trying to undermine the group's work at the behest of Donald Trump, the man who incited the violent riot in a last-ditch effort to throw out the results of his 2020 election loss. But I fully admit that, on a purely personal level, I'm deeply disgusted by just what sniveling cowards Republicans are being as they go about this.

Perhaps the most grating fact is that not one person in the party, not even the loudest mouthed jackasses or most shamelessly fascistic Republicans, will just come right out and say it: They don't like the January 6 commission because they disagree with the committee's basic premise that fascist insurrections are bad. Instead, Americans are being treated to a whirlwind of deflection, gaslighting, victim-blaming, and even victim-mockery — all in an attempt to fill the discourse with noise meant to give Republicans the space to back Trump while pretending that doesn't include backing his attempted coup of the 2020 election or any coups he may attempt in the future.

Republican leadership in the House of Representatives kicked off the efforts to undermine the hearing early on Tuesday, with a bizarre press conference that involved Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York playing the your-fault-for-wearing-a-short-skirt card against Rep. Nancy Pelosi, accusing the San Francisco Democrat of bearing "responsibility as Speaker of the House for the tragedy that occurred on January 6th."

Pelosi, of course, was actually one of the primary targets of the insurrectionists, who were braying for her blood and ransacking her office in a frenzy of misogynistic loathing for one of the highest-ranking woman in the federal government.

But once the hearing itself got underway, the evidence presented exposed the GOP's gambit as the pathetic grasping that it was.

Metropolitan police officer Daniel Hodges — the victim of a vicious assault as rioters attempted to crush him in a door that day — reminded observers that there "were over 9,000 of the terrorists out there with an unknown number of firearms." It's a joke to argue, as Republicans are, that some minor tweaking of Capitol security was going to overcome what Capitol Police officer Aquilino Gonell memorably described as "a medieval battlefield."

After the powerful hearing, the deflections from Republican leaders got even dumber.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio both pretended to reporters that they were too busy to watch the hearing, the Washington Post reported, and Stefanik refused to say if she watched it. She somehow still had opinions about the thing she won't say she watched. Stefanik went on Fox News to complain that the hearing is about "trying to shame over 70 million Americans who were standing up for constitutional and election integrity," which is, of course, Republicans' code for Trump's Big Lie.

The shamelessness of Stefanik is breathtaking. She's defending conspiracy theories meant to bolster the belief that Trump is entitled to stay president despite losing an election, but doesn't have the courage to come right out and admit it, hiding instead behind voters who supposedly believe those conspiracy theories. Words like "integrity," in Stefanik's mouth, simply mean the opposite of their commonly held definition in American English. Stefanik and other Republican leaders continue to make apologies for the Big Lie and minimize the insurrection, but like cowards, they are pretending this somehow isn't the moral equivalent of supporting Trump's efforts to overturn the election or the violence that resulted from it. This is really one of those rare moments in life where there's no nuanced middle ground. Continuing to support Trump means supporting fascist insurrection, and no rhetorical games played by Republicans can change that.

Still, the dumb games go on, and not just with Republican leadership.

On Fox News, the networks' top primetime hosts rolled out more sleazy rhetorical techniques to signal support for Trump's Big Lie and the insurrection, all without having the courage to come right out and say what they meant bluntly. Instead, they mostly mocked the police officers who testified. Tucker Carlson sneeringly suggested the officers were exaggerating the trauma of January 6, while Laura Ingraham called the hearing "performance art." They're counting on viewers not watching the hearing in the first place. If they had, they would have heard that one of the police officers suffered a heart attack and traumatic brain injury, another had an emotional breakdown, another was seen on video being crushed in a door, and another provided photos of his extensive injuries from that day.

The most overtly fascist fringe of the Republican party is, it must be said, gliding closer to coming right out and saying they think that January 6 was a good thing.

As Zachary Petrizzo of Salon reported Tuesday, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA, Matt Gaetz, R-Fl, Louie Gohmert, R-Tx., and Paul Gosar, R-Az., attempted to hold a press conference as counterprogramming to the hearing, in which arrested insurrectionists were portrayed as "political prisoners." The presser fell apart, however, when protesters made a mockery of the situation. But while these folks are generally treated as a "fringe" of the party, it's important to remember they are on exactly the same page as Trump himself. And he has been spouting the same talking points painting the insurrectionists as the good guys.

But even Trump is too much of a coward to come right out and say that he thinks violent insurrection is good. Instead, he's been in full gaslighting mode for months, denying that the riot was even a riot, instead saying, "it was zero threat" and that the insurrectionists were "hugging and kissing the police and the guards." For his part, officer Gonell directly retorted during the hearing Tuesday, "I'm still recovering from those 'hugs and kisses' that day that he claimed that so many rioters, terrorists, were assaulting us with."

Trump's attempted coup failed. But Republicans in state governments across the country are lining up to make sure, next time he tries to steal an election, he succeeds. What's going on here is not mysterious. All these Republicans are betting that Trump will soon ascend to the dictatorial powers he aspires to, and they want a piece of the pie when that happens. But, until the day comes that a newly inaugurated Trump is declaring January 6 a federal holiday of the glorious revolution, they continue to fear that it's bad politics to just come out in favor of fascist insurrections. So here we are, in a sea of gaslighting and deflection and victim-blaming. Because Republicans aren't just villains — they're cowards.

'​Fascism in its pure ideological form': Experts dismantle Trump's 'big lie'

On Jan. 6, Donald Trump attempted a coup to nullify the results of the 2020 presidential election. Thousands of his followers attacked the U.S. Capitol with the goal of preventing the certification of the Electoral College votes, a ceremonial procedure that would formally make Joe Biden the next president of the United States.

Five people died as a result of the Capitol attack. Capitol Police and other law enforcement fought bravely before being overrun by Trump's cult members, political goons and right-wing street thugs and paramilitaries. If not for the valiant efforts of those officers that day, the halls Congress could have been turned into a bloodbath. Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others deemed by Trump and his followers to be traitors could easily have been murdered.

Trump's attack force made no attempt to hide their faces. They carried white supremacist flags and other regalia. They assembled a gallows in the park across the street from the Capitol. They carried a Christian nationalist cross and participated in group prayers before attacking the Capitol. The MAGA flag was viewed as a substitute for the American flag, if not as something superior. These terrorists believed themselves to be "patriots" who were defending the "real America" and of course the man they viewed as its true leader.

As we saw that day, fascist movements claim a special love for the police and military but will eagerly purge them for acts of "disloyalty" to the cause.

Only 543 or so members of Trump's attack force have been arrested by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies so far. Most will not be charged with serious crimes, and very few will face felony charges that could result in substantial prison time. The coup plotters and enablers — most notably Donald Trump and Republican members of Congress — will likely never be arrested or otherwise held properly accountable.

On Tuesday, the House select committee held its first hearings on the events of Jan. 6. Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, Officer Michael Fanone, Officer Daniel Hodges and Sgt. Harry Dunn shared their experiences of fighting to defend the Capitol from Trump's attack force.

They told the committee and public how they were attacked and beaten by rioters. They were clubbed, tased, crushed, blinded with pepper spray and other irritants, verbally abused (in Dunn's case, with racial slurs) and forced to confront the fear of death, overwhelmed and alone. The unifying theme in their testimony was that various kinds of fanaticism and rage, fueled by white supremacy, conspiracy theory, religious fundamentalism and cultlike devotion to Donald Trump propelled his attack force forward.

Despite the heroism of those officers and others, the coup continues. Jan. 6 was but one stop in a journey by Trump supporters, the Jim Crow Republicans, and the larger neofascist movement aimed at overthrowing multiracial democracy.

Donald Trump himself spoke at a rally in Phoenix on Saturday. He continued to threaten political violence against the Democrats and others who "stole" the 2020 election from him and his followers. The "Big Lie" was reinforced with a new conspiracy theory about "routers." Trump channeled numerous tropes of white victimology; his thousands of devoted followers basked in their collective sociopathy. The rally was clearly invigorating for Trump's broken and alienated followers, if only for a few hours. Such is Trump's power over his cult following, for whom he acts as a human intoxicant.

The mainstream media largely chose to treat Trump's rally in Phoenix as a sideshow not worthy of extensive coverage. This reflects a logic where if Trump and his neofascist movement are ignored, the danger to the country will go away. It will not. In hopes of better understanding Donald Trump's escalating threat to American democracy and the growing power of his fascist cult and movement, I asked several experts from a range of backgrounds for their thoughts on his speech in Phoenix.

Jennifer Mercieca is a professor of communication at Texas A&M, and the author of "Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump."

Former President Donald Trump is America's first "pretender to the presidency." We've never had a president claim to be president when he is not. We've never had a former president insist that he won the election when he did not. His speech in Arizona was for his partisans only, it wasn't meant to persuade anyone who doesn't already agree with his view of reality. It was awash in conspiracy theories. Trump's main message is "politics is war and the enemy cheats." That claim informs Trump's whole view of politics, including his election conspiracy claims. Trump's "pretender to the presidency" speech was dangerously anti-democratic.

Norm Ornstein is an emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a columnist and contributing editor for The Atlantic and co-author (with E.J. Dionne Jr. and Thomas E. Mann) of "One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported."

Donald Trump has tried to overturn a legitimate presidential election ever since last November. He incited a violent and deadly insurrection at the Capitol. He has lied every day, and is a traitor to his own country. Trump's speech in Arizona took the next step by trying to get the state's Republicans to decertify their 2020 election results, another step to undermine our system and divide us further. And of course, Trump is thoroughly corrupt. He does not belong in civil society.

Federico Finchelstein is a professor of history at the New School for Social Research, and the author of several books including "A Brief History of Fascist Lies." His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico and the Guardian.

The Arizona speech made clear that Trump desires to be a fascist. He represents a return to the key elements of fascism: a style and substance steeped in political violence, a leader's cult, dictatorial aims and practices (remember the coup), a politics of hatred, religious fanaticism, militarization of politics, denial of science and totalitarian propaganda. Trump lies like a fascist. Fascists believe their lies and try to transform reality to resemble their lies. This is what Trump expected of his public in Arizona.

Dr. David Reiss is a psychiatrist, expert in mental fitness evaluations and contributor to "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump."

People are expressing the opinion that Donald Trump is deteriorating, be it emotionally and/or cognitively. I have not evaluated him, so I have neither a clinical baseline nor an acute clinical opinion. But I know what I see and what I hear. This all leads me to one conclusion: As a person and regarding any possible "diagnoses," Trump is mostly unchanged. Unhappier? Almost certainly. Angrier? Without a doubt. He also appears to be vengeful, vindictive and sadistic to a dangerous level. What is new about that?

Trump has always relied on inventing reality extemporaneously to fit his mood and to connect with his audience. He has always had an expertise in that area, such that by now it comes naturally and without planning. He has always been very "strategic" in the moment — but not much further down the road than a few minutes into the future.

CNN recently featured a headline that read "This is the most unhinged Trump rant about the 2020 election yet." Trump is lying more, but Trump is not "more unhinged." Trump has always responded to being uncomfortable with reality by inventing his own reality to meet his needs. He is more uncomfortable with objective reality since Nov. 4, so of course he is increasingly inventing different "realities" that are even less grounded in reason and reality than the ones previously.

Jean Guerrero is an investigative reporter and author of "Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda." Her writing and other work has been featured by the New York Times, PBS and NPR. She is currently an opinion columnist at the Los Angeles Times.

Trump's speech was pure gasoline on the flames of white extremism. While much of it sounded like incomprehensible and presumably improvised gibberish, the speech also included the trademark pseudo-intellectualism of his former speechwriter Stephen Miller, with the latter's mastery of white supremacist talking points.

The most disturbing element was Trump's calculated and deliberately vague promise that Democrats plan to "get rid of" certain people, dog-whistling a meme that has been spreading on far-right social media called "Ten Stages of Genocide," which implies that liberals are plotting to exterminate Trump supporters. Trump began his presidency persecuting Mexicans, Muslims and Central Americans while conjuring false visions of their violence to justify that persecution, then expanded to target Black Lives Matter protesters and anti-fascists with the same strategy. Trump is now making it clear that if he returns to office he will be going after all liberals and encouraging his supporters to do the same.

He is inciting political persecution against his critics by promoting delusions of persecution among his armed, white supremacist, violence-loving base. It can be tempting to write off white grievance politics as a joke, but as Trump's own DHS acknowledged, it remains among the top threats to homeland security, as embodied in conspiracy theories about white genocide that Trump is openly embracing.

Trump's claim that "woke politics takes the life and joy out of everything" speaks to the fact that his happiness appears to hinge on the ability to freely scapegoat and persecute others without accountability. We can't be complacent about the threat that Donald Trump continues to represent to democracy and the American people's collective grip on reality.

Jason Stanley is a professor of philosophy at Yale University, and author of "How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them" and "How Propaganda Works."

Trump's speech in Arizona brilliantly structured the themes in American politics that are gradually coming into greater clarity as a fascist social and political movement centering on Trump as leader. In fascist ideology, communists are supposedly seeking to destroy the nation by opening the borders to immigrants who will dilute the majority population and give power to ethnic and sexual minorities (currently, transgender persons are the most vilified by the far right worldwide, and Trump's speech was no exception). Fascism requires minorities to vilify to create panic and fear among the dominant majority. The fascist leader represents himself as the nation's savior and only hope against these threats. In the case of the United States, fascist ideology has always taken the form of exaggerating threats to the dominant white Christian population. The fascist leader presents the options as total loyalty to him or subservience to the communist agenda. All of these fascist themes were front and center in Trump's speech.

The Democrats are supposedly controlled by communists and are letting crime and nonwhite immigration run rampant. Cities run by Democrats, such as New York and Chicago, are "worse than any war zone in the world"; "it's a crime wave the likes of which we've never seen before." The Biden administration is controlled by "the extreme left" and nepotistic and corrupt. Immigration is supposedly out of control. The themes of white supremacy are front and center here ("they're coming in from Yemen. They're coming in from all over the Middle East. They're coming in from Haiti. Large numbers are coming in from Haiti. They're coming in from all parts of Africa."). The communists with their "critical race theory" are threatening our children at their most vulnerable, in schools. And most of all, of course, there was fascist projection — the "big lie" was not that the election was stolen, it was that the election was fair.

In reality, of course, the election was fair. New York City in July had one of its lowest homicide rates in history. Violent crime is not sharply up, and certainly not high given historical trends. None of this relevant in Trump's world, where loyalty to his version of reality is the only possible way of expressing American patriotism. This is fascism in its pure ideological form.

Washington Post editorial board calls on Democrats to subpoena Ivanka Trump

The Washington Post editorial board is calling on the Democrats' January 6 select committee to subpoena Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

"Top of the list is precisely what then-President Donald Trump did before, during and after the attack," they wrote in a Tuesday op-ed. "How did he prepare his speech preceding the insurrection, in which he told the crowd to fight? What did he anticipate his audience's reaction would be? When did he know the pro-Trump mob was threatening the Capitol?"

The board added: "Answering such questions calls for subpoenaing former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows; Mr. Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner; and other White House aides with useful information."

According to a forthcoming book by the Washington Post journalists Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker, Ivanka Trump attempted to calm the former president down on the day of January 6, encouraging him to call off the violent riot – a request Trump repeatedly rebuffed.

"I'm going down to my dad. This has to stop," she reportedly told her aides while spending "several hours walking back and forth" from the Oval Office in an effort to defuse the situation.

In their op-ed, the Post's editorial board also called on the select committee to investigate a number of top Trump allies in Congress, including Reps. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Mo Brooks, R-Ala., Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala, all of whom, the Post reports, may have interacted with Trump on the day of the insurrection. McCarthy, who voted in favor of overturning the 2020 election, has been adamantly opposed to the Democratic-backed select committee and has often downplayed Trump's role in the insurgency. However, back in February, just a month after the riot, CNN reported that Trump and McCarthy had gotten into a "shouting match" over the former president's refusal to tell the rioters to stand down.

"Well, Kevin," Trump told McCarthy over the phone. "I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are."

"Who the f--k do you think you are talking to?" the lawmaker responded.

CNN also reported that Rep. Tuberville spoke with Trump on the day of the riot, calling the former president via phone to announce that Mike Pence, the former vice president, had been evacuated in time to avoid the violent horde.

The phone call has since come under scrutiny in the light of Trump's tweet attacking Pence less than ten minutes after the call.

It's not clear whether Rep. Brooks spoke with Trump on the day of the riot. However, the Alabama lawmaker did deliver a White House-approved speech during the "Stop the Steal" rally just outside the Capitol building, where he bandied Trump's election lies and told Trump's supporters: "Today is the day American patriots start taking down names."

Brooks has since personally disavowed the riot, directly attributing Trump for inciting the violence on January 6.

The Post's editorial board also argued that lawmakers should put the leaders of far-right extremists groups on the stand – particularly leaders "at the center of the violence" – as well as

Justice Department and Capitol Police officials who "failed to anticipate the riot."

Months after the riot, it was reported in various media that the Pentagon had denied multiple requests to deploy the National Guard, even as the chaos was unfolding. Capitol Police also reportedly had extensive intelligence that there would be violence on January 6, but the former Capitol Police chief dismissed the concerns as alarmist.

Corporate PACs are once again funding the GOP's 'Sedition Caucus' as hearings on Capitol riot begin

Republican members of Congress who supported Donald Trump's Big Lie and voted against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election have received more than $1.5 million in campaign contributions from corporate PACs since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Many corporate PACs vowed to pause their contributions after 147 Republicans voted to block the certification just hours after a mob of Trump supporters attacked Capitol police and overran the halls of Congress to interrupt the vote. Several police officers involved in the response testified on Tuesday before the first hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.

But while corporate donations largely dried up in the months immediately following the attack, they have rapidly picked up over the summer as campaigns seek to accumulate funds for next year's midterm elections. Some companies have funneled money to Republican committees that help fund individual campaigns — thereby remaining at arm's length from specific members — the latest round of campaign finance disclosures show that some corporate giants have resumed direct contributions to members of the GOP's "sedition caucus."

The aerospace giant Boeing said after Jan. 6 that it would pause all political contributions and "evaluate future contributions to ensure that we support those who not only support our company, but also uphold our country's most fundamental principles." Duke Energy, one of the largest utilities in the country, also paused all federal contributions to evaluate candidates' "values and actions to ensure they align to our values and goals."

But both companies have resumed political donations in recent weeks and have steered tens of thousands to Republican members who voted against certifying the results. The Boeing Company PAC in June donated $39,500 to 19 Republicans who joined the effort, according to FEC records compiled by the progressive watchdog group Accountable.US. The Duke Energy Corporation PAC has contributed $41,500 to 11 such Republican members since May.

Defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics have also steered tens of thousands to Republican election objectors, as have prominent corporations like Koch Industries and Elon Musk's Space X.

"The violent assault on the Capitol and attempt to reject the results of a free and fair election will forever be etched in the public conscience, but many corporations were disturbingly quick to forgive and forget," Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, said in a statement to Salon. "If these corporations truly value democracy, how can they possibly justify massive donations to the Sedition Caucus from their affiliated PACs?"

No PAC donated more money to members of the "sedition caucus" than the American Crystal Sugar Company PAC, a big campaign contributor that vowed not to punish candidates it supports over a "single vote." The PAC contributed $140,000 to Republican objectors in the second quarter, according to FEC records. The Western Sugar Cooperative PAC, another large beet sugar producer, kicked in $43,000.

Though defense contractor donations quickly evaporated in the aftermath of the Capitol riot, some of the biggest companies in the defense sector have since restarted investing in members who tried to block certification. The General Dynamics Corporation PAC has contributed $81,000 to dozens of Republican objectors and the Lockheed Martin Corporation Employees PAC gave another $78,500 since April. The L3Harris Technologies PAC, representing another major defense contractor, gave $72,000.

Koch Industries, the eponymous energy and manufacturing giant founded by the Koch family, also had a busy quarter, contributing $45,500 to Republican objectors even after the Koch network vowed that lawmakers' actions in the riot would "weigh heavy" on its financial decisions.

The Space Exploration Technologies Corp. PAC, the PAC for Musk's spacecraft startup Space X, resumed donations in May, giving $41,000 to Republican objectors.

"Supporting those who perpetuate the Big Lie and encourage insurrection," Herrig said, "sends a disturbing message to their customers, shareholders and employees that they value holding political influence above all else, democracy be damned."

While many companies have avoided giving directly to the 147 Republicans who tried to block election certification, business trade groups have continued to funnel money to the group. CULAC, the PAC of the Credit Union National Association, has given $68,000. The National Association of Realtors PAC gave $56,500. Others include the National Federation of Independent Business PAC ($49,500), the National Cattlemen's Beef Association PAC ($49,000), the Associated Builders and Contractors PAC ($48,500), the National Electrical Contractors Association PAC ($48,500), the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors PAC ($45,500), the National Sports Footing Foundation ($42,500), the National Automobile Dealers Association PAC ($37,500), and the National Association of Convenience Stores PAC ($36,500).

Many companies that have avoided donating directly to individual members of the "sedition caucus" have steered money toward leadership PACs, which have spread the wealth around. The Majority Committee PAC, which is affiliated with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has donated $120,000 to the individual campaigns of 12 Republican objectors. The New PAC, which is affiliated with Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., an enthusiastic Trump supporter, has contributed more than $91,000. The House Conservatives Fund, the political arm of the conservative Republican Study Committee, has donated $66,000. The CMR PAC, which is affiliated with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., gave $63,500. Take Back the House 22, a joint fundraising committee for several members of Congress, has donated more than $51,000, including over $13,000 to Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo. The Value in Electing Women PAC, which supports female Republicans, donated $45,000.

Accountable.US called on companies that have donated money to Republicans who tried to block the certification of legitimate election results, without any evidence of fraud or irregularities, to reconsider their decisions.

"The leaders, companies and trade groups associated with these PACs," the group's report said, "should have to answer for their support of lawmakers whose votes that fueled the violence and sedition we saw on January 6."

'Sick and cynical': Rising GOP leader bizarrely tries to blame Nancy Pelosi for Capitol riot

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., tried to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for Trump supporters invading the Capitol in a hunt for lawmakers on January 6.

Ahead of the first hearing by the select committee investigating the attack on Tuesday, Stefanik, who objected to the certification of election results after the riot, blamed Pelosi for security failures at the Capitol. Although a mob of Trump supporters attacked police officers and broke into the complex to stop a vote on the certification of President Joe Biden's election win after former President Donald Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally to stoke false election fraud claims, Republicans — nearly all of whom voted against an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol riot — took turns at a press conference ahead of the January 6 committee's first hearing criticizing Pelosi.

Stefanik, who was elected by the party to replace Rep. Liz Cheney as the head of its conference after the Wyoming Republican voted to impeach Trump over the riot, claimed that Pelosi blocked the appointments of Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Jim Banks, R-Ind., to the panel because she "doesn't want the American people to know the truth or learn the facts."

"It is a fact that on that December of 2020, Nancy Pelosi was made aware of potential security threats to the Capitol, and she failed to act," Stefanik said.

"The American people deserve to know the truth — that Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility as Speaker of the House for the tragedy that occurred on January 6th," she continued. "And it was only after Republicans started asking these important questions that she refused to seat them."

Republicans have increasingly tried to claim that Pelosi oversees the Capitol Police and blame her for the security problems that allowed the mob to invade after Trump held a massive rally to push his election lies. But as an Associated Press fact-check explained, Pelosi has no day-to-day oversight of the department. Pelosi after the attack faulted a "failure of leadership at the top" and the top three security officials at the Capitol resigned over the security failure.


Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, called the Republican smear "sick and cynical."

"We know that the person primarily responsible for the insurrection that occurred on Jan. 6 is the former, twice-impeached President of the United States Donald Trump, who incited that riot; urged people to march on the Capitol; [and] whipped them up by perpetrating the big lie — which by the way, he still hasn't walked away from," he told reporters on Tuesday.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., also said at the news conference that "leadership at the top failed" to protect Capitol officers, though he did not respond to questions about why Pelosi bears responsibility but not then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

"Now that the bipartisan Select Committee is beginning its work, the only tools left in House Republicans' arsenal are deflection, distortion, and disinformation," Pelosi's office said in a statement.

"Those rioters, those protesters, were there in part to assassinate Nancy Pelosi," Jeffries told reporters. "What does Kevin McCarthy not get about that?"

Jeffries added that the "notion that Speaker Pelosi is concerned about what a few crackpots might have endeavored to contribute to the seriousness of the inquiry because she's concerned about what it may reveal about herself is ludicrous, it makes no sense."

The first hearing by the January 6 committee made clear why Republicans have been so eager to derail the investigation and deflect blame. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who is Black, recounted being bombarded with a "torrent of racial epithets" by Trump supporters and describing Trump as the "hitman" who "sent them." Metropolitan police officer Daniel Hodges described rioters carrying "thin blue line" flags who attacked police as "terrorists" who attempted to "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion."

Metropolitan police officer Michael Fanone described being beaten, tased, and threatened with his own gun by the pro-Trump mob and lit into Republicans who have tried to downplay the attack.

"The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!" he said, slamming his desk. "Nothing — truly nothing — has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day, and in doing so, betray their oath of office. Those very members whose lives, offices, staff members I was fighting so desperately to defend."

Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell said the officers did everything they could to protect everyone at the Capitol but Trump "instead of sending the military, instead of sending support or telling his people, his supporters, to stop this nonsense — he egged them to continue fighting."

Trump recently described the bloodhungry mob as a "loving crowd."

"It's upsetting," Gonell said when asked about the comment. "It's a pathetic excuse for his behavior, for something that he himself helped to create — this monstrosity. I'm still recovering from those hugs and kisses that day."

Inside the GOP's race to the bottom

J.D. Vance is getting desperate. The author of a book now famous for being adapted into the worst Netflix movie of all time is running for Senate in Ohio, hoping to use the same down-home country boy cosplay that effectively fooled both country club Republicans and the Hollywood liberals who bought "Hillbilly Elegy" to gain the trust of actual Ohio Republican voters. So far, however, the Yale law school-educated venture capitalist with a campaign bankrolled by one of the most sinister Silicon Valley financiers, Peter Thiel, has not received the open-armed welcome he clearly expected. The fight between Vance and the other Republican candidates, Josh Mandel and Jane Timken, has turned into a battle of who can be the Trumpiest. Vance's air of being a try-hard — compared to the more authentic racist pandering that emanates from Mandel — has left him falling way behind in the polls. Even moves like apologizing abjectly for past Trump criticism just end up being a reminder that, even though Vance is every inch the hardline authoritarian, he is bad at hiding what political science professor Scott Lemieux described as "his disdain for members of the Appalachian working class who have not shared his good fortune." And so, to gain ground, Vance has turned to a tactic that has become the primary form of discourse in the GOP, post-Donald Trump: trolling.

Largely, the competition takes place on Twitter, where Vance says dumb and annoying stuff in an attempt to attract liberal outrage and mockery, and ideally, get journalists to write pieces framing him as a pre-eminent triggerer of the liberals. So far, Vance has pretended that he wasn't familiar with New York City and wondered if it was "like Walking Dead Season 1 or Season 4." (He ended up staying in the Hamptons.) He has tried to frame support for universal adult suffrage in the U.S. as a matter of "global oligarchy," an unsubtle head nod to racist conspiracy theories fueling the most fascist fringes of the GOP. And he pathetically joined in on the right-wing dunking on Gen. Mark Milley for his comments suggesting that racism is bad.

Now Vance, grasping for headlines, has started to argue that childless adults should not have the right to vote. The excuse for this is that the childless have "no physical commitment to the future of this country." He targeted Vice President Kamala Harris, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as people who, because they are childless, should be blocked from the franchise. Notably, three of the four are people of color and one is gay, underscoring how much this gambit is about appealing bluntly to the MAGA belief that only people that are like them deserve to have a say in government.

This move is unlikely to bolster Vance's chances, in no small part because he just is bad at hiding how much he doesn't believe his own B.S. (Like most in his elite social class, Vance waited until his early 30s to have children.) But the fact that he went there is troubling in and of itself because it illustrates just how much Republican politics have turned into a trolling contest. The result is the rapid decline into authoritarianism and even fascism among the GOP base.

Vance is doing this because he's running well behind Mandel, whose platform can basically be summed up as "Gilead was actually a utopia." That sounds hyperbolic, but no, for real, he's been arguing that we "need a Judeo-Christian revolution in this country" and that a belief in God should be enforced "in the classroom, in the workplace, and throughout society." Mandel's got a leg up, however, because he comes across as more sincere in his fanaticism.

But even though Vance's strategy won't work for him, it still injects real poison into the political bloodstream.

Fox News picked up on Vance's idea and had a segment where they pretended to "debate" this notion, but really, the point was to gin up jealousy in their audience of supposedly hedonistic childless liberals who are living it up while you, Fox News viewer, had the hard life of diapers and paying for band camp. It was more grist for the spite mill that has become the whole of right-wing politics these days.

Vance, of course, is just part of the larger Republican troll-industrial complex, in which Republicans attract attention and money from the base by competing to see who can be the worst. Recent examples include Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas (and, of course, Trump himself) whining that Cleveland's baseball team dropped a racist mascot, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis selling anti-vaccination gear at his campaign website, and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene calling Air Force veteran Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a "traitor" because of his outspoken opposition to the fascist insurrection on January 6.

These kinds of tactics work to get support from the GOP base. DeSantis has become a favorite for Trump's running mate if/when he runs for president again in 2024. Cruz is both one of the most hated men in D.C. and one of the strongest fundraisers, filling his coffers with eff-the-liberals dollars. And Taylor Greene, whose bug-eyed ravings regularly attract liberal dunks and outrage, is one of the biggest fundraisers in the House.

The problem, of course, is that constantly upping the ante in a shitbird contest means spreading political ideas that have real impacts on real people. For instance, Republicans like DeSantis got into a contest over who could be the most hostile to efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic. The result was that Republican voters decided the best way to show their right-wing bona fides was to refuse the vaccine. Now COVID-19 rates are soaring — and Florida is leading the pack with new infections.

Vance's rhetoric contributes to the larger push of Republicans getting increasingly radical in the belief that people who aren't like them have no right to vote. It really amped up during Trump's drawn-out, failed coup after the election, which he repeatedly justified by insinuating that voters in cities like Philadelphia and Detroit were inherently illegitimate. Unfortunately, long after Vance is gone from the political scene, his "helpful" illustration of who doesn't deserve the right to vote — three politicians of color and one gay politician — will linger in right-wing rhetoric, having been validated by his status as a member of GOP elite and, sadly, a best-selling author. As Republicans in state government continue to look for ways to kick people off voter rolls and declare urban voters illegitimate, people like Vance help justify their efforts.

Here, of course, is where readers will ask, "What can I do to fix this?"

I wish I had better answers. Because this is mostly about intra-Republican politics, it's hard for outsiders to do much. The only thing liberals can do is strive to not reward these tactics by providing the outrage or the dunks that someone like Vance is using to burnish his liberal-triggering credibility. If you must draw attention to it (as I'm doing here), the only approach is to go meta — explain what he's doing and why, instead of simply arguing back or getting angry, which is what he's trying to bait progressives into doing. But outside of this, the Republican race to the bottom may have to be something we're stuck with until it plays itself out, which could get very ugly indeed.

How Donald Trump is creating one of 'the most dangerous moments in this nation's history'

Thousands of members of the Trump cult waited outside for hours in the summer heat of Phoenix on Saturday, before gaining entrance to a Turning Point USA event where their personal god and savior appeared as part of his 2021 revenge tour. It was a political rally, a gospel revival, a rock concert, a carnival and a family reunion all in one.

As a show of loyalty to the Trump death cult, most of the attendees refused to wear masks to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus pandemic and its new, even more contagious delta variant. The Trumpists even went so far as to heckle the news media with chants of "No masks!"

These are the people recently described in a recent Washington Post essay by Michael Bender, who has spent considerable time among Trump's most diehard followers:

They were mostly older White men and women who lived paycheck to paycheck with plenty of time on their hands — retired or close to it, estranged from their families or otherwise without children — and Trump had, in a surprising way, made their lives richer. ...
In Trump, they'd found someone whose endless thirst for a fight encouraged them to speak up for themselves, not just in politics but also in relationships and at work. His rallies turned arenas into modern-day tent revivals, where the preacher and the parishioners engaged in an adrenaline-fueled psychic cleansing brought on by chanting and cheering with 15,000 other like-minded loyalists.

Trump and his neofascist movement inspires such extreme loyalty that his followers are willing to kill or die for him. No one feels that way about Joe Biden and the Democrats.

During his speech in Phoenix, Trump played his familiar roles: bully, mob boss, preacher, public menace, demagogue in waiting and former president who expects to be returned to power by any means necessary. As Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reportedly warned in the weeks after Trump's defeat last November, Trump has channeled the energy and grandiose false claims that propelled Adolf Hitler to power in Germany.

On Saturday night, Donald Trump captivated his audience with a truly Orwellian performance. The event was officially titled, "Rally to Protect Our Elections." But of course the 2020 presidential election only required "protection" from Trump and his allies — protection against voter suppression, widespread lies and subterfuge, an attempted coup against the certification of electoral votes and other attempts to undermine democracy and subvert the people's will.

Trump repeatedly claimed that his "patriotic" movement had been betrayed by the Democrats, President Biden, the news media, social media platforms and other assorted "enemies." He made masterful use of doublespeak, saying, "I am not the one trying to undermine American democracy — I am the one trying to save American democracy."

He even added a new wrinkle to the Big Lie narrative, claiming that votes were supposedly rigged, stolen and otherwise manipulated in Biden's favor — and the truth is to be found in "the routers," the sort of technical-sounding detail that is actually nonsense. Adding new details to a conspiracy theory is an effective way of keeping one's audience engaged, ensuring that the conspiratorial mind finds new channels to follow and new mysteries to be solved.

Trump ramped up his vague threats of political violence, mixing the unsettling and the absurd in vintage style:

  • "Like it or not, we are becoming a communist country. That's what's happening, that's what's happening. We are beyond socialism."
  • "The survival of our nation depends on holding these responsible. ... We have to hold those that are responsible for the 2020 presidential elections scam. It was a scam, greatest crime in history, and we have to hold these people accountable."
  • "These people are crazy. Whatever happened to cows, remember they were going to get rid of all the cows? They stopped that, people didn't like that. Remember? You know why they were going to get rid of all the cows? People will be next."
  • "The Biden administration's action is an outrageous insult to the American people and to our country. The United States of America is the most just and virtuous nation in the world in the history of the world. And I'll tell you, you're not going to have a country very much longer. You're not going to have a country."
  • "Our country is being destroyed by people who have no right to destroy it. People that won an election illegally. People that should not have been elected. They lost in a landslide. Joe Biden and the radical Democrats are wrecking our nation. I don't even believe it's him. I honestly don't believe. I don't think Joe knows where the hell he is. I don't think it's him. Crime is surging. Inflation is soaring. The border is gone. We went from the strongest border ever to the weakest border ever. The border is non-existent. Illegal aliens are pouring in, in record numbers. Critical race theory is being forced into every facet of our society. Free speech is being crushed."

In all, Trump's Phoenix rally was a celebration of lies, white victimology, paranoia and threatened acts of "patriotic" revenge and political violence. Such threats or possibilities are a key attribute of fascism, which proposes scorched-earth tactics to destroy the old social order and create a new one in the image of the leader and the followers.

How did the public respond to Trump's Phoenix rally? The same public voices who have been sounding the red alert about Trump's neofascist movement and its escalating threat to democracy continued to do so. In most important ways, the events of Jan. 6 were just a trial run or harbinger for worse political violence in months and years ahead.

It seems conceivable that the 2022 midterms may be the last "free and fair" national elections in the United States — and given the Jim Crow Republicans' accelerating war on multiracial democracy, that prediction is generous.

Too many voices in the media continue to downplay the dangers to democracy represented by Donald Trump, his movement and the Republican Party. When voices in the mainstream media do speak out, they often lack credibility because they were so late to face the truth about the Trump movement. They may express alarm now, but it's not clear that has much if any impact on public consciousness.

The house has been on fire for several years and now the professional smart people and others with a prominent public platform are finally screaming for help. It is far too late for such belated sounds of alarm to have a real impact on the public's consciousness.

Liberal schadenfreude was in full bloom on social media, which saw a torrent of mockery directed at Trump and his followers, often describing them as ignorant rubes or losers. But laughter will not save America from Trumpism.

In a recent conversation with Salon, physician and psychoanalyst Dr. Justin Frank, author of "Trump on the Couch," described this kind of laughter in the face of Trumpism as "unhealthy humor" and "defensive in nature."

It's defending against anxiety and fear. Specifically, it is a defensive use of contempt. Through it, people can demean and insult Donald Trump, which in turn means they don't have to be afraid of him. One of the ways a person can express contempt is through laughter. Thus it is a denial of one's vulnerability, because contempt means the other person is harmless, therefore he or she cannot hurt you. In that way, Trump is made into a pathetic fool. "If I laugh, it's not going to hurt me."
Ultimately, defensive contempt is a way of dismissing Trump's dangerousness. However, that type of contempt toward Trump is really an attack on reality. It is also an attack on one's own perception because you have actually undermined your own ability to understand just how dangerous Donald Trump is.

Six years into the Age of Trump, the American people cannot claim ignorance of Trump and his movement. They have been warned repeatedly. They have witnessed the consequences. On Twitter, former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt offered these observations after Trump's Phoenix rally:

Ignoring Trump is not an option. Looking away is not an option. Trump is the 2024 presumptive nominee of the GOP. His insanity, conspiracy theories, rage, grievance and lying are dangerous. His words tonight teemed with menace and intimations of violence. Yet, he remains unchallenged except @Liz_Cheney and @RepKinzinger will defy him. He is in complete and total command of the Republican Party and he is waging war on the idea of American democracy. We are at the most dangerous moment in this nations history since the Civil War. Trump is unstable, unfit and addled yet he could be the 47th President. If that happens, we lose the country. We lose our democracy.

Famed Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein told CNN's "Reliable Sources" on Sunday that Trump exhibits "a kind of delusional madness — such as Gen. Milley was talking about — that's on a scale and a scope that we have never experienced in an American president in our history. I think we need to calmly step back and maybe look at Trump in a different context. He is our own American war criminal, of a kind we've never experienced before."

All Donald Trump has to do to command more political violence is to tell his followers the place, date and time. Can anyone doubt they would eagerly follow his orders? The rest of the American people would be shocked. The mainstream news media would tell readers and viewers that this was "unprecedented" and "unimaginable" and that no one could have imagined such a thing in America. Democratic leadership would bray on about "bipartisanship," "democratic institutions," "norms" and "rules." Such reactions are a choice, born of willful ignorance and learned helplessness — a choice that may well doom American democracy.

BRAND NEW STORIES

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.