The Editorial Board

Jamie Raskin boxes Republicans in before stomping the box

Guy Reschenthaler’s face looked beat up. I almost felt sorry for him. The Pennsylvania congressman was forced to explain Thursday what he and his conference were doing in the House after Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin, in short order, tore three of them down.

By the time Raskin was finished with Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, the carnage was so bad Reschenthaler demanded that Raskin’s word “be taken down.” That’s a House rule disciplining members who use “inappropriate words in debate.”

(In this case it was over passage of the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend Lease Act, a $33 billion aid package requested by the president to continue helping Ukraine fight and repel the invading Russian army.)

Raskin conceded that he used “unparliamentary language to make my point.” Though Raskin was scolded, it was Reschenthaler who looked warmed over. Before moving on, he explained that his conference wasn’t debating the substance of the bill. (It has majority support, he said.) His conference was merely debating the rule leading to passage.

OK then.

In truth, Elise Stefanik of New York, James Comer of Kentucky and Greene of Georgia were following a play devised by colleague Jim Jordan. The idea, according to a leaked memo, was making everything about immigration for the benefit of the viewers of rightwing media. So they were long on “open border policy” and the “invasion of the southern border” and short on anything having to do with Ukraine.

It was like Raskin saw that bullshit coming.

In what looked like a masterclass on defusing and dismantling rightwingers and their fascist rhetoric, Raskin 1) put the Republicans in a broad context with the highest of stakes, in this case Ukrainian democracy against Russian autocracy; and 2) found a Republican, in this case Marjorie Talyor Greene, who has said things you say only when your love of democracy is subordinate to your lust for power.

Raskin boxed them in.

Then he stomped the box.

The following is a lightly edited transcript of Raskin's response to statements made by Stafanik, Comer and Greene, in that order.

Responding to Elise Stefanik

I think that all of these efforts to distract us from the issue at hand are meant to cover up the very clear pro-Russian and pro-Putin faction at the heart of their side of the aisle.

Last month, the very distinguished gentlelady from Georgia went on a radio show called The Voice of Rural America. She followed Donald Trump’s sickening appeasement of Vladimir Putin and blamed Ukraine for the situation.

She said, “You see, Ukraine just kept poking the bear and poking the bear, which is Russia, and Russia invaded. There is no win for Ukraine here. Russia is successful in this invasion.

When members of Congress, who are cheerleaders for Vladimir Putin, and are voices have nothing but defeatism, fatalism and pessimism for democracy in Europe – so they try to distract us with a lot of phony rhetoric about other issues.

She also said, “NATO has been supplying the neo-Nazis in Ukraine with powerful weapons and extensive training on how to use them. What the hell is going on with these NATO Nazis?”

My friends, we got to decide which side we're on.

When Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt looked at what was happening in Europe during World War Two and they saw Nazis marching down the street, they did not see very fine people on both sides of the street.

They did not start cheerleading for Mussolini and Hitler and Franco.

Yet we have people here who speak on the side of Vladimir Putin and on the side of Russia. Let's pass this Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend Lease Act to show where America is.

We are not cheerleaders for Vladimir Putin.

We are not going to follow the Trump-Putin axis down the road towards autocracy and kleptocracy and sedition and insurrection and corruption and coups in the United States.

That's not where we're going.

This is the land of the free, the home of the brave.

We stand for democracy here.

Not Vladimir Putin.

Responding to James Comer

We're here to talk about aid to Ukraine, how to streamline and expedite aid to defend the people of Ukraine. And they will talk about anything but.

I was willing to believe the distinguished gentlelady from Georgia, and several other members, were isolated in their conference.

Now I'm starting to think maybe they're speaking for the whole conference.

I wonder if my good friend from Pennsylvania would explicitly repudiate some of these statements made by the gentlelady from Georgia.

Does the minority conference agree that NATO has been supplying “neo-Nazis in Ukraine” with powerful weapons?

Does the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania support or dissociate himself from the argument that the aid that we sent to Ukraine falls “into the hands of Nazis”? – a statement made by the gentlelady from Georgia echoing Putin’s filthy claim that his war on the sovereign democracy of Ukraine is in fact an attempt to de-Nazify the country.

We hear distinct echoes in everything that we get from the erudite gentlelady from Georgia.

Does the minority agree that Putin invaded because Ukraine repeatedly poked the bear?

I can't understand why they won't talk about defending Ukraine. That's what this legislation is about. That's what this rule is about.

They want to talk about anything other than that. We can debate all of those other important issues in other contexts at the right time. This is how the House of Representatives works.

But why are they covering up for the pro-Putin faction within their conference? I would like them to dissociate themselves from the people who were blaming Ukraine for Russia's bloody imperial invasion and war of human rights violations and atrocities against the people.

Responding to Marjorie Taylor Greene

Mr. Speaker, the United States of America just witnessed the most astonishing spectacle.

We are here to debate aid to the people of Ukraine defending themselves against a massive invasion by Vladimir Putin and his army.

Then, the minority puts up the distinguished gentlelady from Georgia who does not mention Ukraine once. She does not mention the thousands of Ukrainian civilians who’ve been slaughtered by Putin's army.

She does not mention more than 100 Ukrainian children who've been shot and killed by the [Russian] army.

Instead, she talks about a massive invasion at the border, a massive invasion which their own speakers have said today hundreds of thousands of people have been apprehended in.

That's very different from a military invasion.

The one in Ukraine, of course, the gentlelady is not going to talk about that.

She had a lot to say the other day when she heckled me continuously. When I came to the floor, it was like the Rocky Horror Picture Show in here with her chanting about the Russia hoax and Russia this and Russia that.

Now she has the opportunity to tell the world what her views about Russia are. I put them out there, exactly what she said.

She said that the aid that the taxpayers of America are sending to the people of Ukraine to defend themselves against Vladimir Putin and the Russian Army falls into the hands of Nazis.

I want to see her proof.

Where's her evidence?

She talks about NATO Nazis.

Does the minority believe our allies in NATO, who are trying to defend the people of Ukraine, are Nazis?

Has to come to this?

Gentlelady talks about a massive invasion – we had a massive invasion of our own chamber.

She continued to be a cheerleader for the insurrection.

Democracy asks 'the people' to think of themselves as 'a people. ​Americans rarely do

Some of us cling to the idea of democracy being the rule of the majority. We do this, I think, because we fac the likelihood in the near term of the rule of the minority. In doing so, however, we lose sight of something bigger, wrote Paul Woodruff. Rule by and for the people.

“What is democracy?” wrote the professor of history and philosophy at the University of Texas-Austin. “Pundits have been writing recently that democracy is majority rule, but that is wrong, dangerously wrong.”

There’s your problem.

Some Americans, some white Americans, will never share democracy. They will therefore move heaven and earth to prevent themselves from being bound by the same laws as Americans they refuse to share democracy with. Equality under law isn’t ideal. It’s tyranny. Democracy by and for the people is not an antidote. Minority rule is.

But “the Demos” needs more than equal treatment, Woodruff wrote January 22 for the Oxford University Press blog. “Also important is a concept of the people as a people. For the people to rule, and to do so in their interests as a people, they must think of themselves as a people.”

There’s your problem, again. Woodruff wrote:

As I was reading your post, I thought there must a subtext. Is there?

If our country is going to function, we Americans need to know a lot more than we do about the essential nature of democracy. And we need to take steps to preserve what we have while moving further toward democracy. I’m afraid of what will happen if we try to write a new constitution, so I am not recommending that. But there is a lot we can do with what we have — better education, better systems for electing representatives, better ways of serving our goal of equality.

I wrote the post on January 6 this year. I was struck by the resemblance between what happened on January 6 last year and what happened in ancient Greece. The best-known civil war from classical times began with an armed incursion into the council chamber where conservatives who favored oligarchy killed the leaders who favored democracy. It’s a horrible story.

I was thinking about what caused that, about how the oligarchs wanted rule by the few rather than rule by the many. They had reason to think they could not defend their interests except by violence, because they felt that the majority was trampling on their rights, their property rights, to be specific. So they felt they had no good choice except to take power violently from the majority.

On January 6, I had been reading about progressives trumpeting the value of majority rule. People need to be warned that majority rule can turn into a dictatorship of the majority and lead to violence.

The framers feared that most. They didn't care even for the word “democracy,” because it connoted violence or mob rule.

I think we need to understand that democracy is rule by a government of the people, not a government of the majority. A successful democracy has to maintain the rule of law, and this rule of law has to be set up so citizens think of themselves as a people. That was very much on my mind. Also that our politics as well as our racial history make it hard for us to think of ourselves as a people.

Has that ever been the case in the United States?

The idea that we Americans are a people is one that comes and goes. That wonderful expression “we, the people” refers to the people, but it doesn't specify exactly what the founders meant by that. They probably weren't thinking about women or poor people or enslaved people. Even so, “we the people” is a very powerful expression.

I'm 78. I went to school at a time when all of the male teachers were veterans of World War II. In those years, it felt to me there was a strong sense of what it meant to be an American. It was something special. Of course, and sadly, it didn't apply equally to racial minorities. But there was a sense of unity. I've seen it evaporate over the years.

I'm not the only one who's noticed how easily this has been lost. You're quite right. The American Civil War is an instance of just what I'm talking about: most white people in the south was terrified of majority rule. Anti-slavery sentiment grew in the north and west. We often forget the south attacked the north. They were afraid of majority rule.

Has the unity you’re talking about – the one that was popular but not universal – behind the meaning of “American” become corrupted?

It has never been clear.

Think about people's reactions to immigration in history. In the mid-1800s, it was thought Irish Catholics could not be Americans. You had to be a Protestant. Successive waves of immigration often provoked similar responses. I think that's fairly clear among people on the far right. To be a true American, for them, you need to be basically a white Protestant, a descendant of the original English settlers.

It’s a very divisive idea, though it's probably always been present to some extent. It seems to be moving more people to action now.

We have a concept of rights but, because of the way the Bill of Rights was written, we think of rights as a set of restrictions on government action. The German constitution, the new one made after World War II, as I understand it, is based on a more positive concept. The very first expression in the German constitution refers to human dignity.

It requires that human dignity never be violated – an idea from the great philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Human dignity must never be violated. That goes beyond telling the government what it can't do. It tells us what we should be accomplishing. Valuing all human beings.

I think that if you start with that positive concept, you can think of rights in a more positive way. You can understand better why hate speech should be restricted. Not because the government has some right to restrict hate speech. Not because of anything to do with First Amendment rights. But because of the value of human dignity.

So there's room for individual responsibility. The right of free speech doesn't ask for that. I think a reason “southern fascists” have succeeded so well is because they narrow the frame of discussion such that you're free in a very one-dimensional way. You're not free in any affirmative way in which you have to be responsible to yourself, to your community, to your country.

I quite agree. You're younger than I am but you probably remember. I never heard any complaints about the existence of “big government” until the federal government got involved in enforcing integration.

It started with George Wallace, the first one to articulate complaints about the overreach of government. That was about race. You probably know better than I that FDR couldn't get his reforms through unless they were adjusted in such a way that they were less likely to benefit Black people – unless Social Security was denied to Black people.

On Martin Luther King Jr Day, I listened to a wonderful performance of his famous speech on August 28, 1963, which my brother and my cousin actually heard. They were there. Dr. King said it’s been 100 years since the Emancipation Proclamation and we're still not free. He checked off the ways in which Black people were not yet free.

He insisted not on a gradual approach but on a quick method of addressing the failure to deliver the freedom promised 100 years earlier. Well, now it's been almost 60 years. We’ve made a little progress, but the points he made have not been addressed properly.

There is a passage from – I forget which speech. He said for every small step for black Americans, there's a larger white backlash.

You saw that after the election of Obama. I shouldn't have been so surprised at the virulence of the response. I served in Vietnam and made a friendship with a southerner, who had views opposite to mine. We stayed in touch. On an email list, I saw what he and his friends were saying about Obama. I couldn't believe it. I was shocked.

I would not have said such things about any president until our most recent one, but he deserved the worst. Imagine inciting a mob to attack the Capitol. I couldn’t imagine such a thing until it happened

Back to your your post where you talk about why the culture of a democracy must be inclusive, how the idea of inclusion is a check against the tyranny of the majority. That culture seems fragile.

We don't have anything like an adequate approach to educating people about government, about civic engagement, about democracy.

My oldest granddaughter is 16. She says they learn very little in school about how our government works, and they're not learning anything about other governments. We need to know more about other democracies. No postwar constitution has followed the American model. Yet our students know nothing about this.

Violence has now become a more common feature of anti-mask and anti-vaccine protests

Violence has now become a more common feature of anti-mask and anti-vaccine protests GoToVan https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Trump admitted he tried to execute Eastman’s plot to steal the 2020 election. Republicans still want to rewrite history

Last week, ex-president Karen reminded us that it’s so hard to get good help nowadays. Donald Trump asserted January 30 that Mike Pence had the power to overturn the election and lamented that he didn’t do it. “Unfortunately, [Pence] didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!” Trump wrote in a statement.

The ensuing flood of negative attention was so intoxicating Trump upped the ante. Like an aggrieved customer leaving a bad Seamless review, he proclaimed that Congress should investigate Pence for failing to steal the election for him.

Trump’s sinister passivity is in keeping with a series of bombshell stories that reveal that the former president was intimately involved in a multifaceted plot to overturn the election, and that he was constantly scheming to get someone else to break the law for him.

As Commander-in-Chief, Trump could have given an illegal order to military forces to seize voting machines. Trump’s underlings even presented him with a draft executive order that would have authorized their seizure by the National Guard. Instead of signing the order, Trump got Rudy Giuliani to ask Ken Cuccinelli at Homeland Security to do something about it. Cuccinelli let the matter drop.

Last week’s statements about how the former vice president should have stolen the election are tantamount to a confession that Donald Trump executed John Eastman’s plan for Pence to steal the election during the certification ceremony of January 6, 2021.

The evidence that Trump and Eastman tried to act on the plan detailed in Eastman’s notorious memos was overwhelming even before Trump’s tacit admission. Trump and Eastman publicly and privately lobbied Pence to throw out electoral votes from Biden swing states, and when that didn’t work, they pressured him to somehow send the election “back to the states,” where they hoped the GOP-controlled legislatures of Biden swing states would execute multiple mini-coups from their respective capitals.

Once again, Trump was looking for others to take the risk for him. Pence had no legal power to send the election anywhere. Furthermore, all states have laws allocating their electoral votes based on the popular vote. Trump and his minions tried to sell hundreds of state legislators on a pseudo-legal theory that state legislatures can simply declare elections null and avoid and choose their electors themselves.

Trump had some success convincing his followers to break the law to keep him in power. The fraudulent GOP electors who signed fake electoral vote certificates were among the hapless followers who were willing to break the law for Trump. They now find themselves under investigation by state authorities, the Department of Justice and the J6 committee. The J6 insurgents also broke the law for Trump, storming the Capitol at his urging, but without Pence’s cooperation Eastman’s scheme came to naught. Team Trump sent fake electoral vote certificates to Pence. Eastman’s memo makes it clear that these fraudulent slates were an integral part of the plan to overturn the election.

The fact that Pence, Cuccineli and swing state legislators declined to break the law for Trump shouldn’t lull us into a false sense of security.

Trump is already promising to protect those who break the law for him in the future. He recently promised to pardon the J6 insurgents if reelected. The Republican National Committee underscored Trump’s message by passing a resolution at its annual convention deeming the J6 insurgency to be “legitimate political discourse” and accusing the select committee of persecuting ordinary citizens. The committee also censured GOP reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for participating in the investigation.

Meanwhile the J6 committee appears to be dithering while the Republicans attempt to rewrite the history of that horrible day. The public hearings the committee promised have yet to materialize.

If Trump and his enablers don’t face real consequences for attempting to overturn a free and fair election in 2020, we can be confident that there will be people lining up to break the law for him next time.

Whoopi Goldberg engaged a difficult conversation she didn’t understand. Suspending her doesn’t help the fight against bigotry

The last few weeks have seen a significant amount of antisemitism. People were taken hostage at a synagogue. There was a neo-nazi rally in Florida wth blood libel chants. And an important work about the Holocaust, Maus, was banned in a Tennessee school district.

The controversy dominating the news the past few days has been an incorrect comment on the Holocaust from Whoopi Goldberg. She Goldberg said the Holocaust wasn’t about race. “This is White people doing it to White people,” she said on “The View.” (ABC, which broadcasts the program, suspended the co-host for two weeks.)

Goldberg’s comments show a clear misunderstanding of antisemitism and the Holocaust, but that isn’t surprising considering the attempts to ban teaching accurately about race and history in this country.

In reality, race makes no sense. So it's no surprise that racism is inconsistent and nonsensical or that talking about it is confusing.

There is a lot to unpack when trying to understand race, antisemitism, and white supremacy. Antisemitism predates modern conceptions of race and racism, and Jews as a community don’t fit neatly into contemporary categorizations of a religion or even ethnicity.

If you get three Jews in a room, you’ll get five opinions on this topic. So it’s understandable that people can make good-faith mistakes about complicated topics regarding .2 percent of the world’s population.

Additionally, the history of the Holocaust and antisemitism in general is very badly taught in the US. New laws limiting what teachers can say in class will only deepen the misunderstanding. Racism and antisemitism are embedded in Ameirca’s white supremacist culture. The only way to combat them is by confronting them head-on.

One of the reasons all of this is so hard to understand is because the entire concept of race is an arbitrary modern social construct. There is absolutely no scientific basis for racial categorizations.

Take a step back and try to define race. How would you separate people into different categories?

Would you base it on skin color? If so, how would you explain that East Asian people, often with very light skin, are a different race from “white” or caucasion people? Or that South Asian people with darker skin are actually included in the caucasian racial distinction?

Courts trying to determine objective racial characteristics for miscegenation cases fell short in providing consistent criteria. Anthropologists, biologists, medical doctors, even hairdressers were called to testify in cases that required a racial determination.

Ultimately these decisions came down to a common understanding of who was white and who was not. Such racial distinctions were just as arbitrary, as if we separated people based on height or hair color.

Even though race is a social construct, the effects from that social construct are real and acutely felt. We cannot pretend, because race doesn’t scientifically exist, that it also doesn’t socially exist.

White supremacy is built on a hierarchy of exclusion that’s often fluid depending on what serves that hierarchy best. While antisemitism predates race and racism, it has been absorbed into white supremacy which is often Christian centered even if not particularly religious.

Jews as a group, no matter their race, are a target of white supremacy.

Jewishness isn’t a race or a religion or an ethnicity. Even the term “ethnoreligion,” often applied to us, doesn’t do our community justice.

Ashkenazi usually describes an ethnic group that’s mostly white and that ended up in Eastern Europe. Sephardic is the term for the group of Jews that were in the Iberian Peninsula. Mizrahi refers to Jews from Western Asia and North Africa. Ethiopian Jews are obviously African.

While these terms do illuminate ethnic conversations around Jewishness, they are far from sufficient. When someone converts to Judaism, they become fully Jewish and part of our people.

Adoption or intermarriage can racially diversify Jewishness. Not all Ashkenazi Jews have white skin. Many Jews of color are also Ashkenazi. We consider all Jews “ethnically” Jewish and part of our people.

How we define ourselves as Jews, however, means little to white supremacists. I have very white skin and have white-skin privilege, but that doesn’t stop white supremacists from saying they want to kill me.

Also most white supremacists aren’t very smart. I’m often faced with harassment from Twitter accounts telling me Jewishness is a race because Ashkenazi shows up on DNA tests. Of course, they seem to forget that “French” would also show up on a DNA test. I don’t think they’re claiming French people are a different race.

When Hitler and the Nazi Party developed their plan to exterminate Jews and build an Aryan race, they were absolutely acting out of white supremacy and racism. Antisemitism in Europe had a long history of racializing Jews and not seeing Judaism as just a religion.

The Holocaust was not just about religion –converting to Christianity, or only being “part” Jewish, did not protect people from the Nazis. The Holocaust aimed to exterminate undesirables to build a master race.

It was focused on Jews but it also Roma, Black Germans, the disabled, and gay and gender non-conforming people. White supremacy doesn’t just want to exclude racially undesirable people, but anyone who could “pollute” the white race with disability or “deviant” sexual behavior. Jews are also often seen as contributing to such pollution through encouraging deviant sexual behavior in non Jews.

Goldberg is right that white-skinned Ashkenazi Jews are not a distinct race, but that doesn’t mean the Holocaust wasn’t about racism. So if you’re confused about race and Jews and the Holocaust, you’re not alone. This is all very confusing and none of it is consistent or logical.

Othering and bigotry aren’t logical. They exist to support hierarchical thinking and oppression. But as long as racism and antisemitism exist, we need to take them seriously and respond to the continued oppression and harm. This is why actions like banning Maus or Beloved are so harmful. They limit the tools we have to understand the harm.

Suspending Goldberg doesn’t help. All it does is punish someone for engaging a difficult conversation and misunderstanding some of it.

Goldberg did exactly what we want people to do when they make a mistake. She listened to experts. She apologized.

Please pay a little more attention to blood-libel claims and a little less to someone making an honest mistake.

​How the right wing uses the Constitution and the Supreme Court to squeeze liberty out of Americans they don’t like

Yesterday, I described a situation in which local boards of education are being squeezed between two separate but related forces. On the one hand are shadowy nonprofit organizations funded by the very obscenely rich that are staging "protests" against masks, vaccines, the teaching of anti-racism and other things they don't. I call them the death-threat squads. They harass, intimidate and threaten board members in such numbers as to trigger waves of resignations. Their goal isn't changing minds. It's silencing enemies. The tactic works.

But it only works due to the help of a tandem force in question. On the other hand are local law enforcement officers, even whole police and sheriffs' departments, who do not or will not enforce the law in order prevent such crimes from being committed. Why? Because they are sympathetic to the interests of those who are committing the crimes. For this reason, a national school board group called on the president to help. The US attorney general is now taking steps to investigate.

I'm summarizing yesterday's column, because I want to stress this pattern — the squeeze play — that's between active agents of the very obscenely rich and passive agents of the state. I want you to be aware of how these lawless forces work in tandem, though not necessarily in explicit coordination, to shape not only our views of politics but our understanding of freedom, too. I want you to see more fully that what they are doing now is how they want America to be, a nation in which the in-group can harass, intimidate and threaten the out-group, and the out-group is legally and constitutionally bound to put up with it.

Consider an upcoming case to be heard before the United States Supreme Court. It's the biggest case on Second Amendment rights since Heller in 2008. Heller established the right to self-defense. The state is forbidden to outlaw guns for personal use and safety. In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, plaintiffs hope to take Heller a step further to establish the right to conceal one's weapon.

It's important to understand the context of Bruen. Heller was decided before America elected its first Black president. After the election, the "gun-rights" movement sprang into action. I said this yesterday, but didn't say why. It's because democracy "unexpectedly" empowered non-white people. For many white people, empowered non-white people, especially Black people, means disempowered white people.

Something had to be done. Since American democracy could no longer be trusted, they turned to their guns. They turned to tactics to fight the feeling of being "enslaved." Thanks to Heller, they could legally carry their guns in public, in places where they'd never need a gun, like the library. They said they were exercising their rights. They were lying. They were doing exactly what the school board death-threat squads are doing now. (Local law enforcement officers said then as now that nothing can be done.) They were harassing, intimidating and threatening people they don't like. They were doing that because harassing, intimidating and threatening people makes them feel free.

The need among some white people to feel "free" in the face of a treacherous democracy that empowered non-white people — thus robbing white people of their freedoms — was so fierce that a day that might otherwise have triggered a national reckoning on gun violence was barely noticed. While most Americans saw the slaughter of 20 innocents at Sandy Hook as an overwhelming reason to increase gun regulation, the "gun-rights" movement was focused on something else: the 2012 reelection of Black president and chief avatar of tyranny.

I used to say the Republican reaction to the Sandy Hook massacre was the rapid expansion of laws deregulating access to firearms and their use. I was wrong. Those laws, including concealed carry laws, were a reaction to Barack Obama's reelection. They were a reaction to American democracy betraying white people for a second time. (The good guy with a gun is not just a good guy who shoots back. He's a white guy who's "free" to shoot whomever he pleases. That's what makes him good.) It is the expansion of these laws, and all they symbolize, that's set to be heard by the Supreme Court. I don't have reason to doubt this court will establish a concealed carry right. Once that happens, the right to military weapons might not be far behind.

Thus the high court will do its part in squeezing freedom out of Americans. On the one hand, the in-group gets to harass, intimidate and threaten the out-group with guns, concealed and/or open. One the other, local law enforcement gets to shrug, pointing helplessly to the Supreme Court and its interpretation of the Constitution. The out-group does indeed have the right to equal protection. What we're seeing, in stages, is a slow-motion conspiracy to pretend otherwise.

Which is the point. Freedom for the out-group is equal to tyranny for the in-group. More accurately, freedom for the in-group is dependent on the out-group living in fear of the in-group. Without that fear, the in-group just doesn't feel free enough. That's why freedom isn't and can't only be doing whatever you want. Freedom must mean harassing, intimidating and threatening the out-group while enacting laws and interpreting the Constitution so the out-group can't fight back.

Mini-insurrections: Right wingers cynically declare war on teachers and nurses after one big failed coup

This week, Attorney General Merrick Garland convened a task force to combat the recent spike in violence and intimidation against school board members, school administrators and teachers. Earlier this year, the Justice Department announced a structurally similar initiative to investigate violence against election officials. These task forces are desperately needed as the Republican Party's strategy to retake power shifts from one big insurrection to many mini-insurrections.

But what's really needed is a holistic approach. Threats against school board members, election workers and public health officials are the same threat in different guises: The right-wing assault on democracy.

School board meetings are being systematically and sometimes violently disrupted by right-wing activists with shifting grievances, from critical race theory to trans bathrooms to mask mandates.

A school board in Vail, Arizona, was forced to call the police and flee its meeting room after an unmasked mob forced its way into the building. Having forced the elected officials to depart for their own safety, in a move that echoed the January 6 insurrection, the mob proceeded to hold its own fake "election" of school board candidates.

Last month, men with military-grade zip ties burst into an Arizona elementary school principal's office and threatened to kidnap her over the school's mask and quarantine policies. A few days earlier, a Florida man attacked a student who criticized him for not wearing a mask.

In late September, the National School Boards Association sent a letter to President Joe Biden begging for help with what it called the "immediate threat" posed to the nation's public education system.

The violence against school board members is reminiscent of the intimidation campaigns that are being waged against election overseers and public health officials. Reuters uncovered hundreds of incidents of threats and harassment against election workers and officials nationwide. Since the start of the pandemic, public health officials have been subjected to a range of tactics, from death threats to armed protests at their homes, prompting a wave of resignations.

The chaos is the point. The Republican Party is hoping to sweep back into power by stoking and exploiting grassroots rage. They are trying to replicate the model of the Tea Party where local cells propelled the Republicans to big wins in the midterm elections.

This strategy is being implemented by big names in GOP politics. According to its website, Charlie Kirk's Turning Point USA "is helping parents and students engage the American Culture War head-on at their local school boards." The Koch-funded Independent Women's Network is organizing parents to resist mask mandates in schools.

Right-wing pundits are freaking and accusing Garland of attacking their entire movement. Which says a lot about how they conceive their movement. They are afraid the Justice Department will expose the links between violent protests and national Republican groups. The probe is threatening their most valuable asset: plausible deniability.

The National Review denounced the probe as "an appalling crackdown" and accused the AG of trying to send a message to "one side of the debate." It's funny how only one side of the debate needs reminding not to threaten local officials. Debates over covid safety, election integrity, anti-racism and trans rights are all hugely contentious. Passions run high on the left and the right, but only the right is engaged in a concerted bid to intimidate and threaten local officials. Having failed at one big coup on January 6, the Republicans have regrouped to launch countless mini-insurrections on softer targets.

The local officials who run our schools, our elections and our health departments are doing the hard work of administering a functional democracy. They don't have bodyguards and they open their own mail. They are easy targets, because they are our neighbors. The right wing has cynically declared war on them in the hopes that they will quit out of fear or frustration. The Attorney General is right to muster the power of the federal government to defend them, because these harassment campaigns are an attack on democracy itself.

How California’s recall vote does violence to the spirit of American election law

As a reporter, I have to know who the governor of California is. He, or she, is the chief executive of a state where one out of every eight Americans lives, and has an economy that would be one of the world's largest if California were a country. When it comes to who the governor of California should be, I have no opinion that matters. I am a former California resident, who has long voted in other places. What California voters choose, they get.

As an American, however, I do have an opinion about the process the state is undergoing right now. The law that sets out the mechanism for removing a Golden State governor is anything but golden. It is bad for democracy, bad for California and only encourages bad behavior among opposing political forces.

In the days after September 14, some 40 million Californians and 290 million of the rest of us will find out if Gavin Newsom keeps his job. To drag him in front of the state's voters once again took a massive signature-gathering effort, requiring the collection of at least 12 percent of the total vote cast for the office in the previous election. When the secretary of state, California's chief election officer, certified the collection of more than 1.7 million signatures, the lieutenant governor was required to schedule an election in 60 to 80 days. Inside the state, this machinery is pretty familiar. It was used to unseat another Democratic governor, Gray Davis, and replace him with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003.

The choice of the largest single portion of voters can say with their ballots, "We do not want to remove this governor," only to find themselves "outvoted" by a fraction of that number.

The recall is, crucially, a two-step process. It asks the voters, in effect, a) "You want this guy to keep his job?" and b) "If you don't, who then?"

That's where it starts to get really difficult.

The first vote requires a sitting governor to attract 50 percent-plus-one vote of the total cast. The second vote is first past the post. The winner is the person who garners the most votes in Round Two. So, it is not entirely out of the question for Newsom to attract 49 percent of the vote, losing his seat, to be replaced by one of the 46 second round candidates who is "chosen" governor by 15 percent of the voters.

The great free-for-all of California's referendum system makes it very easy for anybody who thinks they might see a future governor in the mirror to run in the second part of the ballot, but bars the governor himself, or herself, from appearing there.

Thus, the choice of the largest single portion of voters can say with their ballots, "We do not want to remove this governor," only to find themselves "outvoted" by a fraction of that number.

Newsom opponents, the California GOP, and people who just like to watch this car-wreck unfold, will tell you this is all according to the rules. And they're telling you the truth. The signature drives, the enormous number of candidates, the two-step procedure, it's all set out in state electoral law. Newsom attempted to get his name into the second round but missed a filing date and on appeal was barred from appearing on it.

John Cox, the Republican who lost to Newsom in the last gubernatorial race by nearly 24 percent, is on the second-round ballot. So is Caitlyn Jenner, former world-ranked athlete, reality-television star and political neophyte. Larry Elder, a radio talk-show host and late entrant into the scrum, is among the top polling candidates to replace a governor polling around the 50 percent mark, with around 20 percent of the vote.

Regardless of party affiliation, regardless of who the individual personalities are and individual calculations of advantage, one thing is clear: when a small number of voters can thwart the will of a much larger number of voters, especially on the question of removing a legally elected office-holder, it does violence to the spirit of American election law. And yeah, yeah, yeah, not to the letter of the law.

The recall process, like California's famous or infamous ballot measure system, is a legacy of the Progressive Era of a century and more ago. Vast in size and potential wealth and small in population, California tried to empower voters against the industries that held disproportionate power there, including railroads, mining and oil interests.

If an executive, or legislator, was sent to Sacramento and found not to be doing the people's will, why not have the machinery to replace him? (And to be sure, back then it was always guaranteed to be a him.) These vast earthquakes in state government can be triggered on a whim, by an individual citizen ready to spearhead an effort to remove a disdained official, by a homeowner with a fire in his belly about property taxes, a millionaire pissed off about bilingual education, or now, by a deep-pocketed business ready to spend high to keep its costs low.

The recall process can create a coalition of the aggrieved: Newsom may be disliked by some for his breezy Bay Area liberalism, his climate change proposals, or his approach toward controlling the COVID-19 outbreak in the nation's largest state. By triggering the vote in a time away from primaries or elections for other offices, Newsom's opponents need only arouse the most motivated voters, while arguably millions of California's rank-and-file stay home, or fail to mail in a ballot that might save Newsom's governorship.

If Newsom survives the onslaught, he might want to make sure a future governor does not face his current predicament. Tinkering with the machinery of the recall process, for example, to require that an unsuccessful incumbent seeking retention automatically appears on the second round ballot, would go a long way toward preventing next week's entirely possible trashing of the principle of one person, one vote.

By long custom, we elect officials to serve in their offices for set terms. There are no snap elections called by prime ministers, no ability for voters to suddenly decide they only like a US senator for four years instead of six, or a mayor for three years instead of four. Don't like the job he, or she, is doing? We've been trained by long experience to simply look elsewhere when the end of a term rolls around.

Tinkering with the machinery of the recall process, for example, to require that an unsuccessful incumbent seeking retention automatically appears on the second round ballot, would go a long way toward preventing next week's entirely possible trashing of the principle of one person, one vote.

What is the lesson to a California politician? Granted, they include "don't go to a fancy restaurant for a party that appears to violate your own pandemic lockdown rules." (Noted.) But seriously, after two removals in less than 20 years, what future governor will want to try anything hard? What future governor will ask a state for sacrifice of any kind, when a twelfth of a fraction of the population that votes can force you to face another election in the middle of your term? What governor will lead a state by making necessary, but in the short term unpopular decisions, if she can be forced to scramble to save her job, faced by a candidate who might take it with significantly less support?

It's your state, Californians. It's your constitution and electoral system. Not mine. But democracy belongs to us all. It is looking a little fragile right now, as a US senate caucus chosen by a minority of voters continues to enjoy absolute veto power over the agenda of an opposing caucus, one favored by a far larger share of American voters.

When the normal rules of win-and-lose and try-next-time can be short-circuited by power plays defying the will of the voters, it creates cynicism about the people's will, and how that will is assessed.

In two pivotal states, North Carolina and Wisconsin, state legislatures sought to reduce new governors' powers because the legislative majority opposed them politically. In Wisconsin, the case was even worse, because the Republican majority in the legislature was a creature of map-rigging, an unstoppable force elected by a pronounced minority of voters.

If the beefs that begin in states make their way to the Supreme Court, a petitioner will face a court whose majority was chosen by presidents who won office without winning the popular vote, but had their election ratified by an Electoral College that magnifies the disproportionate power given to small and rural states.

Political scientists and theorists have told us for generations that the genius of the American system is that the minority gets a say. The buy-in of all parties comes from the ability to influence outcomes, and resist brute force majority rule. The founders and framers might have found a lot to like in principle, but I wonder what they would have so say about a winning candidate with 25 percent of the vote "beating" a candidate with 45 percent of the vote.

Watch California closely on September 14.

Exvangelicals and the limits of evangelical empathy

If there's one thing growing up evangelical taught me, it's to be suspicious of kindness from Christians. God may, theoretically, love us unconditionally. (Some restrictions apply). But Christian kindness, particularly from the most conversion-focused Christians, tends to come with goals, expectations and conditions that objectify those receiving the kindness. That is, conversion-focused Christians such as evangelicals treat other human beings as means to an end, rather than as morally autonomous equals. It's not always nearly so obvious as requiring that people listen to "the gospel" before receiving aid from a Christian foodbank or homeless shelter, but in some ways, the less obvious manipulation tactics may be all the more insidious.

In the interdenominational evangelical Christian school I graduated from, I learned about "friendship evangelism" — making friends with non-Christians with the goal of building up the kind of rapport that might allow you to convert them. That practice felt sleazy to me even then. But whether through friendship or other means, parents, pastors, chapel speakers at school and teachers all reinforced the belief that we Christians were all "called" to engage in "witnessing," that is, evangelizing, in order to "lead people to Christ." The pressure to witness caused me a good deal of stress as an empathic introvert, but I nonetheless did it on occasion, even handing out tracts in downtown Indianapolis with my senior Bible teacher and other students as a way of fulfilling one of the class's requirements. It took decades of processing before I could articulate that one of the things that most bothered me about proselytizing — besides the clearly abusive belief that God will torture those who don't "accept Jesus into their hearts" forever in Hell — is that this imperative to proselytize inevitably entails objectifying the people targeted for conversion.

The fact that some evangelicals explicitly teach that empathy is a "sin" generated some buzz recently. While I don't recall ever being taught that exactly, the evangelicalism I grew up in was explicitly anti-pluralist. We had the absolute capital-T "Truth," and anyone who deviated from that was "lost." Meanwhile, while we were taught that God loved us enough to die for us so that we could spend eternity worshiping him in Heaven, we also received the countervailing message that on our own we were inherently worthless and every bit as deserving of eternal conscious torment as "the unsaved." I later recognized these teachings as a kind of "negging," the manipulation technique used by abusive male "pickup artists" to make women dependent on them by undercutting their self-esteem. Indeed, I'm not the only person to point out that the kind of Christianity I grew up in is characterized by the dynamics of abusive relationships. It stands to reason that those who are capable of internalizing all this without facing constant, serious qualms will naturally have their capacity for empathy atrophy, if they ever had much capacity for empathy in the first place.

And this will bring me to the ongoing evangelical moral panic over exvangelicals, those who have left the conservative, mostly white evangelical Protestantism we grew up with for more humane religion or spirituality, or, as in my case, for no religion at all. As Blake Chastain, a podcaster and the creator of the popular #exvangelical hashtag, recently noted, anecdotal experience in online exvangelical communities strongly suggests that those who leave the faith are, more often than not, precisely those who took it the most seriously. In many cases, we tried to push for positive change from inside but eventually realized that was a dead end.

Evangelicals are, as a rule, unwilling to face those facts. Most evangelical responses to exvangelicals are petty and dismissive, invoking simplistic tropes that paint us as intellectually unserious, "angry," and motivated primarily by all that sweet, sweet "sexual sin." As Chastain points out, on a recent episode of Mike Cosper's "The Rise & Fall of Mars Hill" podcast, a Baylor University professor falsely claimed that exvangelicals point to marginal experiences rather than systemic issues. He also asserted that exvangelicals discussing our concerns in public "corrupts" our processing. Of course, that is precisely the sort of attitude that allows all kinds of abuse to proliferate in evangelical communities and institutions. Survivors coming forward and then finding and supporting each other is how rot gets exposed.

What I want to emphasize in this piece, however, is that even when evangelicals try to address their concerns about exvies in a kinder, more fair-minded way, they fail. Their failure is both one of empathy and one of theology, although which begat which in any given individual is a chicken and egg question. Really listening becomes impossible when one is already deeply emotionally invested in being correct about "the Truth," and that evangelicals are responding to exvangelicals at all is a sign that they feel threatened by our presence.

Believing that everyone else should believe exactly the same things you do about God is exhausting. It tends to result in hyper-vigilance, which is maintained by cultivating unhealthy habits of mind. "The heart is deceitful above all things," evangelicals tell themselves, quoting Jeremiah. And from the New Testament: "The wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight." "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." "Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." These are the verses, memorized early and emphasized ad nauseam, that run through evangelicals' heads when they're confronted with the "temptation" to trust their doubts or open themselves up to the possibility that someone who rejects their beliefs might be worth listening to.

This internalized social disciplinary mechanism is in play when evangelicals consider exvangelicals, along with that objectifying imperative to attempt to convince anyone and everyone to become their sort of Christian. And so, when Pastor Ed Stetzer, a Wheaton College professor and until recently an editor for the prominent evangelical magazine Christianity Today, attempts to play "good cop" in the evangelical discussion of exvangelicals, he still falls short of understanding exvangelicals in something like our own terms, and his prose is rife with rhetoric that objectifies and renders exvangelicals as means to an end.

Stetzer's piece is centered around a discussion of Joshua Harris, a recently minted exvangelical who became an evangelical celebrity when he published what became the quintessential purity culture manifesto, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, in 1997. Stetzer expresses personal warm feelings for Harris as well as regret that he's left the faith, romanticizing Harris's days as "the evangelical boy wonder." And frankly, this is already tone-deaf. Most exvies were not evangelical celebrities, and most of us were harmed in one way or another by the purity culture that Harris has only repudiated within the last few years. To be sure, Stetzer notes that Harris canceled a planned $275 course on deconstructing one's faith after widespread criticism from the exvangelical community, but nowhere does Stetzer consider exvangelical criticisms of purity culture, nor does he discuss why Harris himself came to reject it.

When it comes to the specifics of why people leave evangelicalism, Stetzer prefers to focus on Bart Campolo, the humanist son of progressive evangelical Tony Campolo, because Bart "made it clear that he embraced a Christian community, but not the Christian faith." This hints at the common trope that exvangelicals "were never really saved in the first place," and it is a useful launching point for Stetzer to ask parents whether they are properly "discipling"—the word I would use is "indoctrinating"—their children. But as Chastain so powerfully noted in his commentary linked above, it's far more common for exvangelicals to have been very serious, deeply convinced believers than to have simply participated in church without really having internalized or accepted the beliefs. Stetzer apparently doesn't want to face that.

Bart Campolo's story is also useful to Stetzer in another way, one that clearly illustrates the dynamic of treating people as means to an end. According to Stetzer, "Ironically and importantly, Bart stresses that what led him to identify as a Christian was the love that he saw between the members of the youth group he attended." Stetzer then points out how "love" can be used to win converts. "Loving people is often the first step in seeing them understand and accept the gospel. It can't end there, but even Bart acknowledged that it started there."

I've noticed that sometimes even mainline pastors think this way. Take the case of Ryan Burge, who has the odd distinction of being both a Baptist pastor and a sociology professor, who really showed his cards this summer by arguing that churches should hold get-togethers with free food precisely in order to get people to come to, and stay in, church. "I am a big believer that people come to church for the wrong reasons but they stay for the right reasons, and churches should do a better job giving them a lot of wrong reasons to come, whether it be free food or fellowship or whatever it is," says Burge. The context of his statement indicates he is recommending this condescending, manipulative behavior for what he thinks is people's own good, since the pandemic has many of us desperate for connection "and churches already have that built in." But behind these "good intentions" are clear assumptions of Christian normativity and supremacy, and a paternalistic failure to view as morally autonomous agents those who might prefer to find connection outside of churches.

As for Stetzer, after asserting that he believes Harris "to be earnest," he calls for evangelical self-reflection, which he says "should lead us to be more like Christ and less like our worst instincts." Stetzer then wraps up his comments with what amounts to an endorsement of the objectifying practice of friendship evangelism. "Honestly, many will face that moment when a family member or friend leaves the faith. For me, I plan to stay in relationship, continue to be a friend or family member, stay close to Jesus in my own life, and (yes) share the good news if and when it is appropriate."

At the end of the day, evangelicalism is a type of Christian fundamentalism. And any fundamentalist faith is a type of totalizing ideology, and thus destructive of human empathy and dangerous for democracy. The expectation of total submission to the strictures of the faith makes empathy for outsiders — and especially for former insiders — a threatening thing, and anything that a fundamentalist community insists is "the will of God" is something on which its members will brook no compromise in the political arena.

Because this is the type of fear-based faith that evangelicals espouse, they simply cannot truly listen to exvangelicals, no matter how warm and civil they may try to be in discussing us. Letting us speak for ourselves puts their narrow understanding of reality at risk. It is this totalizing aspect of evangelicalism that, I suspect, most of us exvies object to above all, since, after all, it is the root of all kinds of authoritarian evils. In the North American context, this authoritarian rigidity serves to uphold white supremacist patriarchy. It is also, of course, precisely the one thing evangelicals can't give up while remaining evangelicals.

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