Culture

US television host Larry King dies at age 87: CNN

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. broadcaster Larry King, 87, has died, CNN reported on Saturday. (Reporting by Susan Heavey and Scott Malone)

Corporate media needs to look at their own role in how we got here: media critic

Media seem to have finally found the line they won't abide crossing. After both sides–ing the political situation for four years of Donald Trump, the storming of the Capitol by an armed rebellion incited by Trump himself has brought out swift and strong words.

WaPo: Trump caused the assault on the Capitol. He must be removed.Washington Post (1/6/21): "Those who sought to benefit from Mr. Trump's mob-stoking rage…will always bear the stigma of having contributed to the day's shameful events."


"Trump Caused the Assault on the Capitol. He Must Be Removed," declared the Washington Post editorial board (1/6/21). "Responsibility for this act of sedition lies squarely with the president, who has shown that his continued tenure in office poses a grave threat to US democracy," they wrote. "He should be removed." They continued:

The president is unfit to remain in office for the next 14 days. Every second he retains the vast powers of the presidency is a threat to public order and national security. Vice President Pence, who had to be whisked off the Senate floor for his own protection, should immediately gather the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment, declaring that Mr. Trump is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."

The Post deplored GOP lawmakers like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley who continued to press their baseless attempt to overturn the election, and praised Mitch McConnell, who "to his lasting credit" did not join them, even if, as they noted, "almost all" GOP members "bear some blame for what occurred on Wednesday." The Republicans, the paper wrote, have an "overriding responsibility to the nation: stopping Mr. Trump and restoring faith in democracy."

It's a surprisingly forceful position. At the same time, imagine if the paper—and the rest of the establishment media—had taken the GOP's threat to democracy seriously before it reached the point of the president inciting an armed insurrection on Capitol Hill. Yesterday's events were the logical outcome of years of the GOP and Trump casting aside institutional rules and norms one by one with increasing boldness, as the press corps described this increasingly authoritarian behavior as "us[ing] all of the levers of his power" (FAIR.org, 10/15/20), and years of giving Trump and his allies space to make their bogus claims of election fraud (FAIR.org, 9/15/20). The media's long history of both sides–ing the issue of purported election fraud (Extra!, 11–12/08, 10/12; CounterSpin, 10/21/16) paved the way for Trump's mythology that has seduced a breathtakingly—and dangerously—large proportion of the public.

Imagine if corporate media didn't praise McConnell, Lindsey Graham or any other Republicans who propped up Trump's dangerous lies for so long, for finally turning on him. Do they really believe we could have gotten to this point if McConnell and the rest of the party hadn't gone along with Trump's dangerously escalating lies–not just for the last several weeks, but for the last four years? If you keep your foot on the gas as the car speeds toward a cliff, but jump out a few seconds before you reach the edge, do you really deserve "lasting credit" for that?

The real test of corporate media will be not whether they are able to forcefully condemn a president's seditious acts, but whether they go back to business as usual after Trump is gone, pretending that the GOP, a disturbing number of whose members in Congress still pushed to overturn the election after the armed insurrection, is a democratic party that can be counted on to restore faith in democracy.

NYT: Trump Still Says He Won. What Happens Next?


New York Times (1/5/20): "More than 150 Republican lawmakers have signed on to reject the votes of tens of millions of Americans."

The Times editorial board, while silent so far after the events of yesterday, did publish a fairly benign opinion the day before ("Trump Still Says He Won. What Happens Next?"—1/5/20), whose optimism clearly didn't take seriously the extensive planning underway in broad daylight on right-wing websites: "The Republican effort to derail Congress's electoral vote count on Wednesday will fail, and President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in at noon on January 20, as the Constitution commands."

The Times could only muster the courage to say that "there is a strong argument" for impeachment (linking to an op-ed they published on January 4) without actually making that argument themselves; the piece concluded by praising Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for resisting Trump's corrupt attempts at overturning the election results, and lamenting, "If only that weren't extraordinary in the Republican Party today."

What's missing so far is a mea culpa from the media for its own role in normalizing the GOP's long-term efforts to drag this country toward authoritarian rule—and their cynical enjoyment of the ratings bonanza provided by the enthralling spectacle of Trump's assault on democracy (FAIR.org, 3/1/16). Instead, we have the editor of Columbia Journalism Review (11/4/20) castigating the press for spending too much time in the past four years on Trump's "infinite faults," and not enough trying to understand Trump supporters (FAIR.org, 11/16/20).

Kudos to the Washington Post for finally calling for a political reckoning. Now it's time for you to call for a media reckoning.

'Dumbest man in America': Joe Scarborough mocks Josh Hawley after Simon & Schuster cancels his book deal

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough did not hold back when he scorched Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) after revered book publisher Simon & Schuster announced its plan to sever ties with the senator and drop his book deal due to his involvement in President Donald Trump's post-election coup which led to the disturbing breach of the U.S. Capitol.

On Jan. 7, the publisher released its statement confirming Hawley's book deal had been canceled. The publisher also criticized Hawley's actions on Capitol Hill.

"We did not come to this decision lightly," said Simon & Schuster in a statement. "As a publisher, it will always be our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints: At the same time we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat." While Simon & Schuster has severed ties with the junior Senator from Missouri, conservative publisher Regnery has already expressed interest in Hawley's book, with president and publisher Tom Spence saying that if Simon & Schuster canceled Mr. Hawley's book deal, "

After the publisher announced its intent, an angry Hawley took to Twitter with a statement addressed to the "woke mob at Simon & Schuster" as he described their decision as "Orwellian."

In his statement, he wrote, "Simon & Schuster is canceling my contract because I was representing my constituents, leading a debate on the Senate floor on voter integrity, which they have not decided to redefine as sedition."

However, Scarborough has a different perspective on the whole ordeal. On Friday, Jan. 8, he weighed in with his critical opinion of Hawley. The MSNBC host insisted that the Republican senator "just may well be the dumbest man in America," despite having degrees from both Stanford University and Yale Law School.

Scarborough also argued the Hawley apparently cannot decipher the difference between the federal government and the private sector.

He added, "He keeps confusing the actions of private industry, of private enterprises, with the federal government. He keeps confusing the fact that if you are a profit-making center, you can do what the hell you want to do as far as publishing. Because the first amendment grants you that right. You can do what the hell you want to do with who you sign up to write a book."

Scarborough also offered a hypothetical example of how a contract could be canceled saying: "Then I decide to commit treason against the United States of America. I decide to commit acts of sedition as Josh Hawley did. I decide to lead an insurrection against the United States of America and inspire actually the ravaging of the United States…I think my publisher has the right to cancel my contract. That's free enterprise at work."

Top 10 reasons why making year-end lists won't save America

As always, the end of one year and the beginning of another is a time of lists.

There are "best of" lists for music, film, books, TV shows, video games and other aspects of popular culture "that mattered" in 2020, as deemed by the professional critics and others who supposedly have the elevated taste and habitus to make such pronouncements.

Other prominent voices, the gatekeepers, will proclaim that "these are the moments that mattered" in the year 2020 as they create a narrative for the year that was. Lists of that sort are a type of status-signaling — an exercise in social capital in which the truth rains down from the chorus of the elect onto the regular people below.

And of course, with Joe Biden (in all likelihood) being inaugurated on Jan. 20 and the Age of Trump in its present form mutating into some new monstrosity, there are lists of Donald Trump's foibles, most embarrassing moments and other low points. For those Americans and others smothered by Trumpism, in some cases literally, such lists are a way of celebrating his defeat. They function as a form of symbolic and temporary catharsis.

Ultimately, in this new year 2021, lists are being made by people everywhere. In their various forms they embody people's hopes, desires, promises, dreams, regrets and disappointments. Lists are also a way of maintaining control of one's life and destiny in the face of uncertainty.

The Age of Trump, with its resurgent fascism, white supremacy, violence, plague, death, attacks on democracy and civil rights and other forms of evil — and the larger social and political conditions that made Trumpism possible — is a world-historical event. There was a time before Trump and there will be a time after Trump, but Trumpism will be more than a footnote in modern American history. It will be the moment of a great pivot toward either the worst (another version of American fascism) or something much better (the beginning of a project of American renewal).

Whichever the outcome, lists collapse against the weight and meaning of world-historical events. How does one rank Trump and his regime's crimes against democracy, humanity, the environment and overall human decency?

Is the worst crime the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are dead because of the Trump regime's sabotage of coronavirus relief efforts? What of the many lives ruined and lifespans shortened, both directly and indirectly, through the resulting economic destruction and the Trump regime's willful negligence? How do we rank those horrors against the thousands of nonwhite migrants and refugees brutalized in Trump's concentration camps? What of the children stolen from their families (and likely to never be reunited with them) by Border Patrol and ICE agents? Where do we rank the Trump regime's empowerment of white supremacist and other right-wing extremists and their acts of political terrorism? Where on a list should we put Trump and his movement's undermining of American democracy and the common good? What of Trump and his inner circle's treasonous and seditious behavior, such as their ongoing coup attempt against the democratically expressed will of the American people? Should ranking the Trump regime's turpitude focus on the defamation done to the country's ideals and values, or the literal number of dead bodies and treasure lost and stolen?

Lists and other such heuristic devices are an attempt to assert one's agency, an effort to impose order or disorder. But the Age of Trump is not just one horrible thing, but many horrible things both overlapping and simultaneous.

At the Columbia Journalism Review, Jon Allsop writes: "History will surely view Trump's COVID fecklessness as among his very worst disgraces, if not his worst — yet for now, the suffering is so vast that it's hard to keep it adequately in perspective at all, let alone in terms of clear political accountability."

Quoted in a new essay at The Atlantic, sociologist Arlie Hochshild, author of "Strangers in Their Own Land," offers cautionary words about the true dimensions of Trumpism and the challenge ahead:

But the UC Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild believes that Trumpism is intimately tied — for now at least — to its namesake, because it exists beyond the logic of policy. It exists in the dreampolitik realm of feelings. "If there's one thing I think the mainstream press still gets wrong about Trump, it's that they are comfortable talking about economics and personality, but they don't give a primacy to feelings," Hochschild told me. "To understand the future of the Republican Party, we have to act like political psychiatrists."…
Hochschild is telling us that Trumpism is not just a garland of public-policy proposals that any other Republican can drape around his or her neck. And it is more complex than a personality trait, or a talent for saying mean stuff on Twitter. Rather, Trumpism is an emotional planet that orbits around Trump's star. Breaking the connection between Trump and the better part of the GOP will require either that Trump disappears (an unlikely proposition) or that a larger star emerges from the Republican backbench (also unlikely).
At the end of our conversation, I asked Hochschild what she's learned from the past four years. "I used to think of political identity as something more solid," she said. "I now think of political identity as like water that's always going somewhere, that needs to go somewhere, but where it goes depends on the lay of the land, the rock formations that stand in its way," she told me. She's still waiting to see where Trump moves the mountain.

To begin to properly make sense of the Age of Trump and its true dimensions will require critical distance and deep, slow thinking. This moment also demands that the full truth be revealed through public hearings, committees and other investigations.

To move forward properly, and to prevent another fascist authoritarian such as Donald Trump from taking power, the American people, in conjunction with responsible elites, must wring out every possible bit of truth from the soiled rag that is the Age of Trump.

Of course, some already want to cast that rag into the abyss of a memory well, never to be seen or discussed again. There will be many voices declaring that we must "let the past go," "heal and unify," resist "hysteria" or "forgive and forget." We will be told that President Biden is here to restore normalcy and it's time to "focus on the future."

At some point very soon and perhaps even on Inauguration Day, some pundit or other professional smart person who is a member of the "Church of the Savvy" will begin the work of "organized forgetting" by cannibalizing Abraham Lincoln's famous words: "With malice toward none, with charity for all."

That will not do. America needs a great reckoning to heal the damage caused by Trumpism and its followers, acolytes and leaders. That process will be time consuming. It will not be neat. In a country and society obsessed with speed, where selective forgetting and grand myths are core to the nation's character and political culture, there will be an enormous temptation to forget the Age of Trump almost immediately.

Thus, the compulsion by many Americans — especially those who are privileged because of their skin color and other identities — towards simple stories and superficial understandings of the country's past, present and future. Some future historian or other observer may well look back at these years and conclude that America's embrace of simple and easy solutions, in the service of organized forgetting, blinded it to the complex problems that would lead to the final downfall of a once-great democracy.

How segregated is your culture consumption? It's time for a year-end gut check

If you're white, it can be all too easy to normalize your whiteness. The powers that be put whiteness at the dead center of our politics and culture—think about how often white people are framed as the real Americans or the most meaningful voters in our politics—and you, a white person, could go through your life thinking that's an accurate reflection of the world around you. It's not. But it's on us white people to try to undo that in our own lives, and culture can be a key part of that, a way to stretch beyond simple opposition to overt racism or dutiful nods to diversity.

Let's be clear here that structural racism is far more important than whether you as an individual white person personally listen to or watch or read culture produced by people of color. But the two issues aren't completely detached, either. For one thing, there are industries involved here. According to a recent analysis, 95% of fiction published by the top U.S. publishers between 1950 and 2018 was by white authors, and it wasn't just the early years of that sample skewing things: 89% of the books published in 2018 were by white authors. Unless you think that writing skill is that unevenly distributed, there's a racist imbalance within the industry that you can help do something about by eliminating the "we just publish what sells" excuses.

In the movie industry, diversity is improving in front of the cameras, but not so much in writing and directing roles. That can lead to situations like the one actor Leonard Roberts recently wrote about in Variety, in which the diversity of the cast on the television show Heroes did not translate to equity. Roberts, as a Black man, saw his role diminished and his voice unheard, and was ultimately fired because his white female costar refused to be professional, let alone decent, about working with him, and the producers chose her over him.

On an individual level, how do you know where structural racism is erasing vast swaths of life in the U.S. from your view if you don't look? Nonfiction is of course invaluable here, but many of us take in more art and culture, and the latter can offer shades of feeling and experience that nonfiction won't. (You can also try talking to your nonwhite friends, but you're going to want to be really careful not to force them to be your teacher and absorb your ignorance out of friendship. Also, your specific Black or Brown friends do not speak for all Black or Brown people. Neither does any given book or movie or other work of art, but you can check out a lot of those.)

So, white people: What books by people of color have you read in the past year? What movies have you seen? What music have you listened to?

This year the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic and the election, as well as a case of shingles that robbed me of a month or so of reading time, reshaped this list. For much of the year, at the end of a day of reading and writing about the news, I just didn't have the mental space for many nonfiction books.

All this said, let me be clear: These are books I like or at least value, even if they're difficult. I'm not suggesting that white people read books by people of color as a dreadful chore. I'm suggesting that other white people, too, can go out and find books (or movies, or music) that you like that will provide you with a lens onto how the world you inhabit is shaped by your whiteness. Now, if you can't find any art or culture created by people who aren't just like you that you enjoy, that might be a conversation to have with yourself.

As an additional note, I've often written about my love of romance novels. I'm so glad to see them increasingly getting recognition as something other than not just a guilty pleasure but a shameful one. Five of the books here—Farrah Rochon's The Boyfriend Project, Mia Sosa's The Worst Best Man, Alisha Rai's Girl Gone Viral, Jasmine Guillory's Party of Two, and Sonali Dev's Recipe for Persuasion were on NPR's best books of 2020 list, and Courtney Milan's The Duke Who Didn't was a New York Times notable book.

Books I read:

Forget 'The Stand' – 'Alice in Borderland' is the wild dystopian ride we've been waiting for

Dystopia became our reality in 2020, and it feels nothing like so many movies and TV shows predicted. Zombies haven't overrun our cities. Roving marauders have been in short supply, relatively speaking. An airborne plague is the source of our woes, but the atmosphere is otherwise breathable. Mostly.

Those fortunate enough to ride this out at home watch the nation come apart on TV screens, marveling at how slowly time moves when everything cracks. This is part of the reason depictions of the COVID age left us wanting. Shows designed to reflect our new Zoom existence – "Connecting," "Love in the Time of Corona," "Social Distance" – arrived, and nobody cared.

Movies like "Outbreak" and "World War Z" surged in popularity at the beginning of the pandemic, but more than half a year later and with no end in sight to quarantine living, Amazon failed to successful tap into our anxiety with "Utopia, " a show set in the midst of pandemic. AMC's long-running post-apocalypse soap "The Walking Dead" returned to close out its season and netted its lowest ratings ever.

And a week ago, CBS All Access debuted its highly anticipated, star-studded updated version of "The Stand" to a resounding "meh."

Evidently we'd rather tune out reminders of the ways the world as we know it is falling down. Then again, maybe the issue is with how these stories are filtering our current reality. The "distanced" series failed to consider the audience's Zoom fatigue into the equation. "Utopia" is too messy and convoluted. Whether "The Stand" is a hit or miss depends heavily on the depth of a viewer's love for all or most things Stephen King, but its central conflict between light and darkness plays out onscreen as banal.

Thus I was utterly surprised to be drawn in by "Alice in Borderland," Netflix's recently released eight-episode suspense thriller directed by Shinsuke Sato and based on a manga series. This description automatically eliminates a vast swath of America from its potential viewership. For some reason we'd rather not deal with subtitles unless it's attached to a show featuring Klingons, Jawas, dragons, barbarians or Danish detectives.

To make direct comparison with "The Stand," "Alice in Borderland" handles the mechanics of introducing its characters more effectively and it doesn't throw off the audience by leaning heavily on flashbacks. What glimpses it shows of its characters' pasts are solely presented to contextualize their action in the present. Knowing the type of people they were before they tumbled into its dystopia is important, but unlike "The Stand," the "before" profiles aren't extensive to the point of dragging on the story's progress.

On the other hand, "The Stand" is a gentler story, which says plenty about the vicious nature of "Alice in Borderland" and may further narrow its appeal.

Unless, I should say, you're a fan of the 2000 cinematic cult classic "Battle Royale," the story of a busload of schoolkids who are knocked out and wake up on an island, at which point they are informed that by law they must now hunt and kill each other until only one of them remains. This Netflix show hints at what a series adaptation of that film could look like, albeit one influenced by "Ready Player One" and sprinkles of "Lost" thrown in for good measure.

"Alice in Borderland" doesn't flow like some simple pop culture mash-up or behave expressly as an eight-hour, end of days action blast. The slaughter is over the top, yes. Lots of rooms and buildings explode, and the bullets fly freely. By no means is it a culture-shifting epic, either; the script makes the same dumb missteps other shows like it trip over. (I was especially irritated by a scene threatening sexual violence against a main female character in order to highlight Arisu's impotence. Surely Sato watched "Game of Thrones," right?)

"Alice in Borderland" also endeavors to say something about the conditions that lead to a society losing its humanity, eventually asking its protagonists, and the audience by proxy, how they want to live once they've made it through whatever nightmares they have to survive.

That's the question posted to Arisu, this story's Alice (Kento Yamazaki) and an avid gamer who refuses to get a job or contribute to society in any meaningful way. "If only we could reset reality," Arisu sighs after his father kicks him out, which happens at the same time his friends Karube (Keita Machida) and Chota (Yuki Morinaga) suffer misfortunes of their own making. They meet up, blow off steam by goofing off and eventually dash into a train station toilet.

When they emerge, the city streets are inexplicably empty and without power. Not even their phones work. Then a digital sign suddenly appears on the side of a nearby skyscraper that directs them to their first game where they quickly learn by doing and barely surviving.

That Arisu doesn't believe in his own cleverness and worth is central to the first couple of episodes until circumstances force him to find some purpose in this violent world. To make it out of this world alive, he has to use his wits.

Game types correspond to playing card suits: Spades are physical competitions. Clubs require teamwork. Diamonds favor intelligent, logical players. Hearts are downright evil because they force players to toy with and betray each another.

None of the rules in this upside-down hellscape are negotiable. Giving up is not an option, because refusal to participate means game over by way of laser execution.

Why would anyone living amid an era defined by a senseless death watch something like this? For the same reasons we flock to Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" series, "Logan's Run," "The Running Man" or any grim vision of humankind's tendency to be inhumane to other people. Watching under-resourced and outgunned heroes overcome the odds is eternally satisfying – and as Arisu insists, every game has a solution.

In the same way "Battle Royale" was not expressly about cruel violence for diversion's sake, "Alice in Borderland" runs on a mystery hiding a critique of societal divisions enabled by technology and expanded as a result of other systemic failings.

Before "Borderland" Arisu spent most of his time in online battle royale games, the kind that foster thriving virtual economies and attract millions of player who use the space to socialize. (Think "Fortnite.") You can spend the majority of your waking life in these virtual spaces without physically engaging with real people and the world around you. Most gamers don't do that, but enough do to make it a culturewide problem.

Such games became massively popular in recent years and not for nothing. On Dec. 10, the same day "Alice in Borderland" debuted on Netflix, the Los Angeles Review of Books published an essay by writer Brendan Mackie that spells out why such games appeal to hundreds of millions of players, the majority of whom are under 25 years old.

In his estimation, they are the result of the broken promise of supposed neoliberal meritocracy. A good education no longer guarantees that a person will secure an income that helps build wealth, let alone pay the bills. Hard work does not necessarily equal economic advancement either, not in a society whose decks are stacked to favor the one percent. Hence Mackie's thesis:

"Battle royale games are the stories kids tell themselves about this culture of cutthroat competition. Just like the real world, in battle royale games only the one percent win. But these games are a fantasy in which this unequal outcome is produced transparently and equitably, albeit violently, a fairy tale about how the meritocracy should really work. Though it is tough, brutal, and difficult, it is fair; and though you have only a small chance of winning, the forces that oppress you are not unseen — they are clear and distinct. The decks are not stacked: everyone has the same health, the same armor, the same access to weapons and upgrades. You'll probably die. But you will live and die on your skills alone."

The writer goes on to explain that even this is an illusion. Games and rules are constantly expanding shifting, and there are always bigger and more powerful weapons to find and buy.

The "Alice in Borderland" plot draws upon this concept, in that there is no obvious pathway to the ultimate goal when Arisu, Karube and Chota first set out on their journey. Eventually we discover that players don't necessarily share a common goal. Most of whom they encounter are only focused on survival, and more than a few are dressed like salarymen, corporate drones slogging through dead-end careers.

Several also wonder aloud what's the point of surviving if there isn't anything else to live for beside earning free time in an empty, lawless city.

This is where this show endeavors to do something beyond plying the audience with spectacles of violence. A strain of pondering the difference between survival and living hums throughout the first eight episodes that clicks with conversations lots of people are having right now: Who do we want to be when this is all over? How will society change?

"Survive" and "survival" are said so frequently throughout "Alice in Borderland" that when someone mentions "living," it stands out, and that's probably intentional.

Arisu's chance meeting and eventual alliance with an athlete named Usagi (Tao Tsuchiya) firms up this notion; one of the first questions she asks of him is, "Do you want to live?" They're not inside of a life-or-death contest when she asks it; he's collapsed on the ground and professes he wants to die, and she has just picked up a copy of Henry David Thoreau's "Life in the Woods."

In a former life Usagi climbed mountains with her father, a famous pro who vanished after a scandal and is presumed dead. Through Usagi refusal to let Arisu give up, she shows a determination to live within this world as she survives each trial. This may also increase her odds of "winning," whatever that means.

Watch closely and you may notice that she and other players who clear impossible games and navigate dangerous alliances share a drive to move forward as opposed to being motivated by the chance to return to their old lives.

Nearly every poor soul drawn into this terrible place is motivated to return to the original world, but only the ones who think like a game master as opposed to a powerless gamer have a chance. They win because they focus, determinedly, on the value of existing as opposed to surrendering to paralysis by fear which, in this scenario, is death. And the way this plays out forher is dark, and wild, but also bizarrely thrilling.

"How will you live in this world that's full of despair?" asks someone who happens to be one of the smarter and more skilled players in the game. We could, and should, be asking that of ourselves in this reality and more to the point, be determined to solve that puzzle.

"Alice in Borderland" is currently streaming on Netflix.

Karens are everywhere -- so where are all the Kens?

We all know a Karen. We've seen them in America's tree-lined, manicured suburbs asking to speak with the manager because the grilled chicken on their Caesar salad is too cold. Sporting Kate Gosselin's haircut circa 2009, the most benign Karens lambaste part-time Home Depot employees for having the wrong shade of taupe paint; the worst Karens leverage their white privilege to harass people of color. Entitlement, whiteness, privilege, always having to be correct — and being a woman — embody the idea of the "Karen," a pejorative that was coined in online discourse in the late 2010s but became prominent in 2020. Sarah Miller, writing in the New York Times, defined Karens as "middle-aged white moms who are always asking for the manager and calling the police on perfectly fine pool parties and wondering why kids are so obsessed with their identities."

Like any cultural phenomenon, much Karen name-calling and Karen-shaming is waged online. In articles, memes, and artifact-ridden JPEGs posted on Twitter and Facebook, Karens asking to speak with the manager run rampant across our laptop screens and beyond. The concept of the "Karen" has entered the popular lexicon to the extent that it is making its way into public policy. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed the "CAREN Act" (Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies) in July, an allusion to the pejorative. Women with the name Karen are reportedly less likely to get dates online because of the stereotypes associated with their name.

While the origins of the Karen meme are unclear, some believe it originated from a Dane Cook comedy special that aired in 2005. Yet the term also has connections to the phrase "Miss Ann," a term was used by African-American slaves to refer to a condescending European-American woman, as André Brock, a professor at Georgia Tech, told CNN. As Karen Attiah further explained in an op-ed for the Washington Post, "Becky and Karen memes and jokes should be understood in this context, part of a long tradition to use humor to try to cope with the realities of white privilege and anti-blackness." Indeed, the pejorative's history is rooted in the many horrible ways white privilege can be weaponized by white women.

Recently, the term has begun to transcend gender. Anyone can be a Karen, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk, if their appearance is feminized and amended with the Gosselin bob. Last month, when Musk seemed to misunderstand how his COVID-19 test worked, a scientist mocked him and called him "Space Karen."

But as the Karen meme entered the mainstream, it mutated. Specifically, it's gone from being hyper-specific to a slur that has become synonymous with merely "bad," "shrill," "a woman I don't like," or perhaps "a man who acts like an entitled woman."

Much as the word "socialism" has become meaningless to much of the right, spouted as a catch-all slur for anyone or anything on the left they don't like, a certain (mostly male) subset has begun Karen-baiting any women they don't like — even if she doesn't embody Karenesque traits.

Yet Karen-ifying everyone these days is often a dodge. In many cases, memes about Karens come off as instances of bald-faced sexism, disconnected from the original meme, distracting from the issues that made "being a Karen" a problem in the first place — problems that have nothing to do with Karen's gender and everything to do with her behavior.

So if Karen has devolved into the go-to pejorative to describe anyone who makes a fuss about or questions anything, one wonders why isn't there a man's name — like Ken, Donald, Kevin, or (dare I say) Elon — that we can call white men when they're demanding to speak to the proverbial manager, and acting like their needs are above everyone else?

Lest you think the call for a male or gender-neutral "Karen" is tantamount to feminism run amok, I should note that we had this cultural conversation about hurricanes decades ago. In the 1950s, the U.S. decided to give storm systems female names only. This had a peculiar trickle down effect: "Once these storms took on female names, weathermen began talking about them as if they were women," Becky Little writes for History.com. "They used sexist clichés to describe their behavior—saying that this one was 'temperamental,' or that another was 'teasing' or 'flirting' with a coastline." A feminist campaign to give storm systems male names too was won in 1979, leading to the gender-alternating system we have today.

Just as with hurricane naming systems, it's not the name specifically that is sexist, but how it is being used—and who's using it. Considering a woman with a blonde bob memed with the overlay "Felt cute. Might talk to the manager later," it's worth asking why men who exhibit similar entitlement aren't subjected to the same kind of scrutiny.

Indeed, many Karen memes depict said Karens as shrill, nagging — sexist stereotypes, disconnected from any larger racial or class discourse. These are merely the same misogynist stereotypes that have stuck to women for decades.

There is no shortage of white-male names that could serve as a male spin-off of Karen. But a male-equivalent of a "Karen," standing alone throwing a fit at Walmart demanding to speak to the manager, is not something we have the recognizable stereotype of, nor is this meme popular.

Maybe it's time to popularize "Ken," Karen's male equivalent. Or maybe this is just another story about how internet neologisms often devolve into sexist stereotypes.

The horrifying American roots of Nazi eugenics

Hitler and his henchmen victimized an entire continent and exterminated millions in his quest for a co-called "Master Race."

But the concept of a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed master Nordic race didn't originate with Hitler. The idea was created in the United States, and cultivated in California, decades before Hitler came to power. California eugenicists played an important, although little known, role in the American eugenics movement's campaign for ethnic cleansing.

Eugenics was the racist pseudoscience determined to wipe away all human beings deemed "unfit," preserving only those who conformed to a Nordic stereotype. Elements of the philosophy were enshrined as national policy by forced sterilization and segregation laws, as well as marriage restrictions, enacted in twenty-seven states. In 1909, California became the third state to adopt such laws. Ultimately, eugenics practitioners coercively sterilized some 60,000 Americans, barred the marriage of thousands, forcibly segregated thousands in "colonies," and persecuted untold numbers in ways we are just learning. Before World War II, nearly half of coercive sterilizations were done in California, and even after the war, the state accounted for a third of all such surgeries.

California was considered an epicenter of the American eugenics movement. During the Twentieth Century's first decades, California's eugenicists included potent but little known race scientists, such as Army venereal disease specialist Dr. Paul Popenoe, citrus magnate and Polytechnic benefactor Paul Gosney, Sacramento banker Charles M. Goethe, as well as members of the California State Board of Charities and Corrections and the University of California Board of Regents.

Eugenics would have been so much bizarre parlor talk had it not been for extensive financing by corporate philanthropies, specifically the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune. They were all in league with some of America's most respected scientists hailing from such prestigious universities as Stamford, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. These academicians espoused race theory and race science, and then faked and twisted data to serve eugenics' racist aims.

Stanford president David Starr Jordan originated the notion of "race and blood" in his 1902 racial epistle "Blood of a Nation," in which the university scholar declared that human qualities and conditions such as talent and poverty were passed through the blood.

In 1904, the Carnegie Institution established a laboratory complex at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island that stockpiled millions of index cards on ordinary Americans, as researchers carefully plotted the removal of families, bloodlines and whole peoples. From Cold Spring Harbor, eugenics advocates agitated in the legislatures of America, as well as the nation's social service agencies and associations.

The Harriman railroad fortune paid local charities, such as the New York Bureau of Industries and Immigration, to seek out Jewish, Italian and other immigrants in New York and other crowded cities and subject them to deportation, trumped up confinement or forced sterilization.

The Rockefeller Foundation helped found the German eugenics program and even funded the program that Josef Mengele worked in before he went to Auschwitz.

Much of the spiritual guidance and political agitation for the American eugenics movement came from California's quasi-autonomous eugenic societies, such as the Pasadena-based Human Betterment Foundation and the California branch of the American Eugenics Society, which coordinated much of their activity with the Eugenics Research Society in Long Island. These organizations--which functioned as part of a closely-knit network--published racist eugenic newsletters and pseudoscientific journals, such as Eugenical News and Eugenics, and propagandized for the Nazis.

Eugenics was born as a scientific curiosity in the Victorian age. In 1863, Sir Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, theorized that if talented people only married other talented people, the result would be measurably better offspring. At the turn of the last century, Galton's ideas were imported into the United States just as Gregor Mendel's principles of heredity were rediscovered. American eugenic advocates believed with religious fervor that the same Mendelian concepts determining the color and size of peas, corn and cattle also governed the social and intellectual character of man.

In an America demographically reeling from immigration upheaval and torn by post-Reconstruction chaos, race conflict was everywhere in the early twentieth century. Elitists, utopians and so-called "progressives" fused their smoldering race fears and class bias with their desire to make a better world. They reinvented Galton's eugenics into a repressive and racist ideology. The intent: populate the earth with vastly more of their own socio-economic and biological kind--and less or none of everyone else.

The superior species the eugenics movement sought was populated not merely by tall, strong, talented people. Eugenicists craved blond, blue-eyed Nordic types. This group alone, they believed, was fit to inherit the earth. In the process, the movement intended to subtract emancipated Negroes, immigrant Asian laborers, Indians, Hispanics, East Europeans, Jews, dark-haired hill folk, poor people, the infirm and really anyone classified outside the gentrified genetic lines drawn up by American raceologists.

How? By identifying so-called "defective" family trees and subjecting them to lifelong segregation and sterilization programs to kill their bloodlines. The grand plan was to literally wipe away the reproductive capability of those deemed weak and inferior--the so-called "unfit." The eugenicists hoped to neutralize the viability of 10 percent of the population at a sweep, until none were left except themselves.

Eighteen solutions were explored in a Carnegie-supported 1911 "Preliminary Report of the Committee of the Eugenic Section of the American Breeder's Association to Study and to Report on the Best Practical Means for Cutting Off the Defective Germ-Plasm in the Human Population." Point eight was euthanasia.

The most commonly suggested method of eugenicide in America was a "lethal chamber" or public locally operated gas chambers. In 1918, Popenoe, the Army venereal disease specialist during World War I, co-wrote the widely used textbook, Applied Eugenics, which argued, "From an historical point of view, the first method which presents itself is execution… Its value in keeping up the standard of the race should not be underestimated." Applied Eugenics also devoted a chapter to "Lethal Selection," which operated "through the destruction of the individual by some adverse feature of the environment, such as excessive cold, or bacteria, or by bodily deficiency."

Eugenic breeders believed American society was not ready to implement an organized lethal solution. But many mental institutions and doctors practiced improvised medical lethality and passive euthanasia on their own. One institution in Lincoln, Illinois fed its incoming patients milk from tubercular cows believing a eugenically strong individual would be immune. Thirty to forty percent annual death rates resulted at Lincoln. Some doctors practiced passive eugenicide one newborn infant at a time. Other doctors at mental institutions engaged in lethal neglect.

Nonetheless, with eugenicide marginalized, the main solution for eugenicists was the rapid expansion of forced segregation and sterilization, as well as more marriage restrictions. California led the nation, performing nearly all sterilization procedures with little or no due process. In its first twenty-five years of eugenic legislation, California sterilized 9,782 individuals, mostly women. Many were classified as "bad girls," diagnosed as "passionate," "oversexed" or "sexually wayward." At Sonoma, some women were sterilized because of what was deemed an abnormally large clitoris or labia.

In 1933 alone, at least 1,278 coercive sterilizations were performed, 700 of which were on women. The state's two leading sterilization mills in 1933 were Sonoma State Home with 388 operations and Patton State Hospital with 363 operations. Other sterilization centers included Agnews, Mendocino, Napa, Norwalk, Stockton and Pacific Colony state hospitals.

Even the United States Supreme Court endorsed aspects of eugenics. In its infamous 1927 decision, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…. Three generations of imbeciles are enough." This decision opened the floodgates for thousands to be coercively sterilized or otherwise persecuted as subhuman. Years later, the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials quoted Holmes's words in their own defense.

Only after eugenics became entrenched in the United States was the campaign transplanted into Germany, in no small measure through the efforts of California eugenicists, who published booklets idealizing sterilization and circulated them to German officials and scientists.

Hitler studied American eugenics laws. He tried to legitimize his anti-Semitism by medicalizing it, and wrapping it in the more palatable pseudoscientific facade of eugenics. Hitler was able to recruit more followers among reasonable Germans by claiming that science was on his side. While Hitler's race hatred sprung from his own mind, the intellectual outlines of the eugenics Hitler adopted in 1924 were made in America.

During the '20s, Carnegie Institution eugenic scientists cultivated deep personal and professional relationships with Germany's fascist eugenicists. In Mein Kampf, published in 1924, Hitler quoted American eugenic ideology and openly displayed a thorough knowledge of American eugenics. "There is today one state," wrote Hitler, "in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of immigration] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States."

Hitler proudly told his comrades just how closely he followed the progress of the American eugenics movement. "I have studied with great interest," he told a fellow Nazi, "the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock."

Hitler even wrote a fan letter to American eugenic leader Madison Grant calling his race-based eugenics book, The Passing of the Great Race his "bible."

Hitler's struggle for a superior race would be a mad crusade for a Master Race. Now, the American term "Nordic" was freely exchanged with "Germanic" or "Aryan." Race science, racial purity and racial dominance became the driving force behind Hitler's Nazism. Nazi eugenics would ultimately dictate who would be persecuted in a Reich-dominated Europe, how people would live, and how they would die. Nazi doctors would become the unseen generals in Hitler's war against the Jews and other Europeans deemed inferior. Doctors would create the science, devise the eugenic formulas, and even hand-select the victims for sterilization, euthanasia and mass extermination.

During the Reich's early years, eugenicists across America welcomed Hitler's plans as the logical fulfillment of their own decades of research and effort. California eugenicists republished Nazi propaganda for American consumption. They also arranged for Nazi scientific exhibits, such as an August 1934 display at the L.A. County Museum, for the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association.

In 1934, as Germany's sterilizations were accelerating beyond 5,000 per month, the California eugenics leader C. M. Goethe upon returning from Germany ebulliently bragged to a key colleague, "You will be interested to know, that your work has played a powerful part in shaping the opinions of the group of intellectuals who are behind Hitler in this epoch-making program. Everywhere I sensed that their opinions have been tremendously stimulated by American thought.…I want you, my dear friend, to carry this thought with you for the rest of your life, that you have really jolted into action a great government of 60 million people."

That same year, ten years after Virginia passed its sterilization act, Joseph DeJarnette, superintendent of Virginia's Western State Hospital, observed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "The Germans are beating us at our own game."

More than just providing the scientific roadmap, America funded Germany's eugenic institutions. By 1926, Rockefeller had donated some $410,000 -- almost $4 million in 21st-Century money -- to hundreds of German researchers. In May 1926, Rockefeller awarded $250,000 to the German Psychiatric Institute of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, later to become the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Psychiatry. Among the leading psychiatrists at the German Psychiatric Institute was Ernst Rüdin, who became director and eventually an architect of Hitler's systematic medical repression.

Another in the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute's eugenic complex of institutions was the Institute for Brain Research. Since 1915, it had operated out of a single room. Everything changed when Rockefeller money arrived in 1929. A grant of $317,000 allowed the Institute to construct a major building and take center stage in German race biology. The Institute received additional grants from the Rockefeller Foundation during the next several years. Leading the Institute, once again, was Hitler's medical henchman Ernst Rüdin. Rüdin's organization became a prime director and recipient of the murderous experimentation and research conducted on Jews, Gypsies and others.

Beginning in 1940, thousands of Germans taken from old age homes, mental institutions and other custodial facilities were systematically gassed. Between 50,000 and 100,000 were eventually killed.

Leon Whitney, executive secretary of the American Eugenics Society declared of Nazism, "While we were pussy-footing around…the Germans were calling a spade a spade."

A special recipient of Rockefeller funding was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics in Berlin. For decades, American eugenicists had craved twins to advance their research into heredity. The Institute was now prepared to undertake such research on an unprecedented level. On May 13, 1932, the Rockefeller Foundation in New York dispatched a radiogram to its Paris office: JUNE MEETING EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS OVER THREE YEAR PERIOD TO KWG INSTITUTE ANTHROPOLOGY FOR RESEARCH ON TWINS AND EFFECTS ON LATER GENERATIONS OF SUBSTANCES TOXIC FOR GERM PLASM.

At the time of Rockefeller's endowment, Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer, a hero in American eugenics circles, functioned as a head of the Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. Rockefeller funding of that Institute continued both directly and through other research conduits during Verschuer's early tenure. In 1935, Verschuer left the Institute to form a rival eugenics facility in Frankfurt that was much heralded in the American eugenic press. Research on twins in the Third Reich exploded, backed up by government decrees. Verschuer wrote in Der Erbarzt, a eugenic doctor's journal he edited, that Germany's war would yield a "total solution to the Jewish problem."

Verschuer had a long-time assistant. His name was Josef Mengele. On May 30, 1943, Mengele arrived at Auschwitz. Verschuer notified the German Research Society, "My assistant, Dr. Josef Mengele (M.D., Ph.D.) joined me in this branch of research. He is presently employed as Hauptsturmführer [captain] and camp physician in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Anthropological testing of the most diverse racial groups in this concentration camp is being carried out with permission of the SS Reichsführer [Himmler]."

Mengele began searching the boxcar arrivals for twins. When he found them, he performed beastly experiments, scrupulously wrote up the reports and sent the paperwork back to Verschuer's institute for evaluation. Often, cadavers, eyes and other body parts were also dispatched to Berlin's eugenic institutes.

Rockefeller executives never knew of Mengele. With few exceptions, the foundation had ceased all eugenic studies in Nazi-occupied Europe before the war erupted in 1939. But by that time the die had been cast. The talented men Rockefeller and Carnegie financed, the institutions they helped found, and the science it helped create took on a scientific momentum of their own.

After the war, eugenics was declared a crime against humanity--an act of genocide. Germans were tried and they cited the California statutes in their defense. To no avail. They were found guilty.

However, Mengele's boss Verschuer escaped prosecution. Verschuer re-established his connections with California eugenicists who had gone underground and renamed their crusade "human genetics." Typical was an exchange July 25, 1946 when Popenoe wrote Verschuer, "It was indeed a pleasure to hear from you again. I have been very anxious about my colleagues in Germany…. I suppose sterilization has been discontinued in Germany?" Popenoe offered tidbits about various American eugenic luminaries and then sent various eugenic publications. In a separate package, Popenoe sent some cocoa, coffee and other goodies.

Verschuer wrote back, "Your very friendly letter of 7/25 gave me a great deal of pleasure and you have my heartfelt thanks for it. The letter builds another bridge between your and my scientific work; I hope that this bridge will never again collapse but rather make possible valuable mutual enrichment and stimulation."

Soon, Verschuer once again became a respected scientist in Germany and around the world. In 1949, he became a corresponding member of the newly formed American Society of Human Genetics, organized by American eugenicists and geneticists.

In the fall of 1950, the University of Münster offered Verschuer a position at its new Institute of Human Genetics, where he later became a dean. In the early and mid-1950s, Verschuer became an honorary member of numerous prestigious societies, including the Italian Society of Genetics, the Anthropological Society of Vienna, and the Japanese Society for Human Genetics.

Human genetics' genocidal roots in eugenics were ignored by a victorious generation that refused to link itself to the crimes of Nazism and by succeeding generations that never knew the truth of the years leading up to war. Now governors of five states, including California have issued public apologies to their citizens, past and present, for sterilization and other abuses spawned by the eugenics movement.

Human genetics became an enlightened endeavor in the late twentieth century. Hard-working, devoted scientists finally cracked the human code through the Human Genome Project. Now, every individual can be biologically identified and classified by trait and ancestry. Yet even now, some leading voices in the genetic world are calling for a cleansing of the unwanted among us, and even a master human species.

There is understandable wariness about more ordinary forms of abuse, for example, in denying insurance or employment based on genetic tests. On October 14, America's first genetic anti-discrimination legislation passed the Senate by unanimous vote. Yet because genetics research is global, no single nation's law can stop the threats.

Edwin Black is the author of "IBM and the Holocaust" and "War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race," from which the following article is drawn.

John Lennon still lives among us

Forty years ago, headlines screamed, "John Lennon Gunned Down by Stranger." Yet, for assassin Mark David Chapman, John Lennon was no stranger. Although he had never come within a hundred miles of the former Beatle until that winter, Chapman knew John Lennon very well; so well, in fact, he often believed that he was John Lennon.

The teenage Chapman wore his hair like Lennon's, learned to play guitar, and joined a rock group. He sang Lennon's songs over and over. Like Lennon, Chapman married an older Japanese woman. As a security guard at a Honolulu condominium, he even taped Lennon's name over his own on his ID tag. On the day he quit, Chapman signed out as "John Lennon," crossing the name out with the final stroke of his pen. The murder he was about to commit was a partial suicide.

"Although decades have passed since Lennon was murdered, my emotions remain raw."

John Lennon was killed by the sinister side of the same force that makes millions of people still mourn him and other dead media icons: a sense of personal connection to selected strangers fostered by media that simulate the sights and sounds of face-to-face interactions.

As with real-life friends, we feel bound to our "media friends," not simply because of what they have accomplished and can do but based on a more personal set of feelings about who they are — how their very "presence" in our lives affects us. The natural mental space for a hero is at a distance on some pedestal. The imagined space for a media friend is at our sides — hanging out at home, walking down a street, riding in a car.

The more we see and hear them, the more musicians, actors, sports figures, newscasters, political figures, and talk-show hosts become part of our extended network of social ties. They provide a sense of intimacy, but one without any risk of embarrassment or physical harm. Some of them are there to say, "Good morning;" others to say, "Good night." They sing in our ears as we jog. They hover near us even in the most private scenes of our lives.

We follow the personal and public dimensions of media friends, and their life stages often become key signposts we use to mark and recall periods in our own lives. Conversations among real-life friends often refer to shared media friends. Ironically, relationships with media friends often outlast our relationships with many of our actual friends, neighbors, co-workers, lovers, even spouses.

When a widely shared media friend dies unexpectedly and "before their time," the unusual nature of the relationship explodes in the public sphere. To banish the demons of grief and helplessness, thousands of people spontaneously gather in streets or parks, or hold vigils near the media friend's home or place of death.

That's what happened when John Lennon was gunned down. Strangers embraced and wept. Crowds stood in silent witness or chanted the dead hero's words or songs. Such pain is paradoxical — it feels personal yet is strengthened by the extent to which it is shared with the crowd.

Ironically, but appropriately, the media that give birth to these relationships also provide the most ritualized settings for mourning a media friend's death. Radio and television present specials, retrospectives, and commentaries. "Never before seen" photos and videos are a kind of cultural séance, extending the connection past the grave.

The final irony, then, is that in many ways, the media friend never dies. The only means through which most people came to know him or her — media images and sounds — remain available forever. When a media friend dies, the relationship is embalmed rather than destroyed. Nevertheless, the sense of loss is profound.

John Lennon was fearless in speaking about peace and justice and asking us to imagine a better world. You still can feel and hear both his presence and his painful absence at every antiwar rally, environmental action, and police brutality protest over the last forty years. Indeed, his songs are often part of the soundtracks for progressive political action.

Of course, ties to media friends are often commercially fabricated. And yet, these relationships are still very human, very caring. No analysis of these unreal, but real relationships can explain away or weaken their emotional power. We may never have seen them in the flesh, and they would never have taken note of our own deaths, but when our media friends die or are killed, we feel pain. We worry about their widowed spouses and fret over the children who have lost a parent. We dwell on ways the tragedy could have been avoided. Sometimes, we even feel partly responsible, as if we could have saved or warned them.

I understand the absurdity of many aspects of the relationships with media friends, yet I have also felt all these things. Although decades have passed since Lennon was murdered, my emotions remain raw. Yes, I never really knew him. Yes, he was not even aware of my existence. Yet I found my political voice with his help, and he has inspired millions around the world not to be silent in the face of militarism and injustice. The simple truth is, I still feel him marching beside me now — and I still miss him.

The Mason-Dixon line is psychological this time in the GOP's new civil war

They didn't bother with writing articles of secession this time. No, Ken Paxton, the disgraced attorney general of the state of Texas, did that for them when he filed a lawsuit directly with the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the presidential election. On Wednesday, Missouri and 16 other states filed a brief with the court seeking to join the Texas lawsuit, which alleges that the four decisive swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia violated the Constitution by allowing mail-in voting in the November election. On Thursday, a majority of the Republican caucus in the House, 126 members of Congress, signed on to the lawsuit along with the instigator in chief, Donald Trump. Twenty-five states and territories signed a brief opposing the Texas lawsuit. Friday evening, the Supreme Court rejected the suit out of hand.

The 18 states and 126 members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, are seceding from democracy. It amounts to nothing less than an act of sedition by the entire Republican Party, 70 percent of whom believe that Joe Biden's election was illegitimate, according to a Quinnipiac poll released on Thursday. In contrast, 98 percent of Democrats think Biden's victory was legitimate, along with 62 percent of independents.

The last time anything like this happened was in 1860, when the election of Abraham Lincoln led almost immediately to declarations of secession by seven states between Dec. 20, 1860 and Feb. 1, 1861. Two months later, on April 12, the bombardment of Fort Sumter began, and the Civil War was underway.

It's not a shooting war — yet — but Texas didn't just file a lawsuit this week, it set a match to the Constitution of the United States. It isn't just that these Republicans don't recognize Joe Biden as our next president. They don't want to be part of the democracy that this country was founded on. They don't respect the votes of their fellow citizens. They don't want what more than 80 million people wanted when they cast their votes in this election. They want what Donald Trump wants.

Thankfully, it's not the whole country. The Quinnipiac poll found that 60 percent of registered voters think that Biden's victory was legitimate. But it wasn't the whole country in 1860, either. It was only after the election of Lincoln that the Southern states seceded from the Union over the issue of slavery.

This time there isn't a single issue, there's a single man: Donald Trump. In this way, what's happening right now in this country is eerily similar to what happened in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s with Adolf Hitler's rise to power. Trump has identified and used the same sort of mass hysteria Hitler did — a sense of resentment among his supporters that somehow they have been left behind and misunderstood and humiliated, and that only he, Trump, understands them and is willing to stand up for them and will bring back their rightful way of life.

So far, Trump has only played around with the kind of violence that Hitler made use of to achieve power and then consolidate it. Trump used implied violence in the chants of "Lock her up" that energized supporters at his rallies in 2016 and throughout the campaign of 2020. By staying silent this year when armed protesters occupied the State Capitol in Michigan, Trump implied his support, and his exhortations to "liberate" states that were mandating lockdowns to fight COVID were taken by many as invitations to violence.

Now armed protesters have gathered outside the home of the Michigan secretary of state, and Georgia election officials report that they are receiving death threats and racist voice mails. The Republican Party of Arizona has retweeted exhortations from those who say, "I'm willing to give up my life for this fight," suggesting it's time to "die for something." The New York Times reported this week that the chair of the Wisconsin Elections Commission has said that "people on Twitter have posted photographs of my house." Another tweet mentioned her children and threatened "I've heard you'll have quite a crowd of patriots showing up at your door."

The conservative website The Bulwark reported this week that far-right websites have been posting addresses and other personal information about Republican elected officials in Georgia, superimposing target crosshairs over images of their faces. Right-wing Republicans are in full cheerleader mode trying to turn Kyle Rittenhouse, who is accused of murdering two people and wounding another at a Kenosha, Wisconsin, protest, into a hero of the Trump cause. A Democratic state representative in Pennsylvania told the New York Times that "we've been getting emails all the time, all hours of the day and night," and that "they're getting more angry, and a lot of calls are saying we won't be forgetting."

This kind of stuff is not a joke. The fantastic lie that has gripped the Republican Party started out with everyone going along with Trump's fantasy and kind of humoring him. But now it's taken a deadly turn. Trump has been calling Republican state representatives on the phone and pressuring them to go along with his demands that they ignore the votes that have taken place in swing states and appoint electors that will vote for him. If they step out of line, they're branded as traitors, cowards, RINOs. He's doing this kind of stuff to his own people, to loyal Republicans who have voted the party line since they were in short pants.

When you add in what's been happening in red states with COVID, it's jaw-dropping. Governors and Republican-controlled state legislatures are so intimidated that they won't pass mask mandates and bar closures, not to mention rules against mass gatherings. COVID cases and hospitalizations in red states are off the charts. They are lining up refrigerated trucks outside hospitals in states like North and South Dakota. Republicans are killing their own people in craven attempts to keep Donald Trump from attacking them on Twitter. God only knows what's going to happen in those states when the COVID vaccines become widely available, although we're getting some idea with reports of people standing up at meetings of county commissioners pledging not only that they won't wear masks, they'll also refuse to be vaccinated.

The Mason-Dixon line is psychological this time. These people have lost their minds. They have seceded from sanity and reason. This Civil War isn't being fought with rifles and pistols. It's a war fought with lies and delusions. This week it passed the number of Americans killed in World War II, and its victims are just as dead as the bodies buried at Anzio and Normandy. Americans are dying every time Mitch McConnell stands up and blocks a COVID relief bill. They are dying every time a Republican senator like Ron Johnson presents testimony from an anti-vaxxer as if it were a sane person instead of an outright idiot. They're dying by the thousands with their mask-less hubris. They're dying for Donald Trump, but at least for now, our democracy has not died with them.

There's no comfort and joy in Melania Trump's bleak and impersonal Christmas decor

On Nov. 30, the White House unveiled Melania Trump's last Christmas decoration scheme. Not only was this lame-duck hall-decking her final expression of holiday pomp as First Lady, despite what her husband publicly proclaimed, but it came tinted with her own admission of hostility. On Oct. 2, her former friend and senior advisor released audio from 2018 in which Mrs. Trump states, "I'm working my ass off on the Christmas stuff, that you know, who gives a f**k about the Christmas stuff and decorations? But I need to do it, right?"

The décor, to the disappointment of snarky cultural commentators and Twitter, was a non-starter. Unlike the seasons past with their grim barren branches and "Handsmaid's Tale" cosplaying red trees, Trump's 2020 Christmas was as generic and unmemorable as this year has been unprecedented and difficult. "America the Beautiful" was the announced theme, a jingoistic phrase used as a title for everything from documentaries on the sexualization of American youth to the 50 designs of state quarters. The Christmas trees, in the familiar pine style, look ready for a stock photo shoot. Red glass spheres, gold ribbon garland, white lights. A family photo background with no family present, only a woman in gold examining the work of the unpaid help.

It's easy to dismiss this year's decorations because, even in the best-lit official White House photography, they're instantly forgettable. We know there's a lot on the Trump family's docket right now, with all the pardoning and undermining of American democracy, and Christmas decorating was clearly not the First Lady's favorite responsibility in the first place. If there was a year to phone it in, 2020 was the right pick.

But in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot cut into the official holiday 59-second video, that creepy East colonnade hallway of creepy Christmas past returns. This year it is packed with urns. Fifty, to be exact, said to display foliage from each state. With zero holiday context, the black urns evoke a sea of funeral arrangements. It's easy to overlook in the banality of the other rooms and trees with inoffensive subjects like Transportation and Wildlife. Until you notice, deep in the notes, that the crimson-walled Red Room decorations have been dedicated to first responders. As the official White House press release briefly explains, "We salute America's everyday heroes who serve as first responders and frontline workers. Handmade ornaments highlight the many professionals and volunteers who serve their communities with a spirit of generosity." As each day brings more COVID-19 cases, more deaths, more strain on our healthcare system resources, the White House cannot even mention the calamity by name with its small token tree.

Our Nightmare Before Christmas queen is right back at it.

In years past, Twitter and memes have laughed off Melania's bleak holiday decorating schemes as sad Soviet throwbacks. She grew up in Slovenia in the 1970s and '80s, which was at that time governed by the League of Communists of Yugoslavia. As an atheistic socialist state, Slovenia, with the rest of the Balkan nations, followed the USSR's lead in discouraging the celebration of Christmas on Dec. 25. This official stance remained until Slovenia's independence in 1991, five years before Melania immigrated to the United States on a visitor's visa.

This forbidding of Christmas, including a ban on decorated trees, has led to the false assumption by Westerners that Eastern Europeans and Russians dislike the holiday in the same humorless, utilitarian way we use to stereotype their disposition ("In Russia, television watches you!"). In fact Slovenia has a rich history of embracing and influencing the Christian traditions we're so familiar with here in the States. Their cities are covered in thousands of lights, often shining down on a thick blanket of snow. The holiday markets, hives of food, drink and gifts during Advent, are large and grand enough to rival those in Germany. Like Italy's panettone and England's fruitcake, Slovenia even has their own traditional Christmas bread — the potica, a sweet rolled Bundt-style cake filled with nuts, fruits and cinnamon. When faced with the Soviets and their Christmas cancellation, Slovenians didn't abandon their celebrations. They just scooted them down a week to New Year's, calling their gilded evergreens New Year's Trees and eliciting a big shrug from the powers that be.

Blaming barren, disturbing holiday decorations as being lost in translation doesn't shake out. Slovenian culture gives many f**ks about Christmas. Where, then, does this aesthetic hostility come from? And what does it mean?

Christmas decorating has been an official First Lady duty since 1961, when Jacqueline Kennedy unveiled the first themed tree in the Blue Room. She chose The Nutcracker ballet, and commissioned a collection of handmade ornaments depicting toys, birds and ballerina angels. Tracing the evolution of the White House Christmas tree and its decorations follows along in perfect symmetry with the styles and sensibilities we associate with each era's zeitgeist. In 1967, Lady Bird Johnson's tree echoed a more natural, handspun philosophy in line with hippie counterculture expanding its influence into the mainstream. The wildly colorful blue spruce was adorned with popcorn strings, daisy strands and cranberry garland. Ten years later, Rosalynn Carter worked with special needs Americans to create a tree exclusively of their artwork. In the 1980s, Barbara Bush's tree represented characters from children's books, tying into her personal literacy work. Michele Obama's first Christmas tree emphasized the need for environmental sustainability, using LED lighting and recruiting the National Parks Service to replant the trees after the holiday season.

Although the decorations have evolved significantly over the decades, they have consistently represented the nation at the moment. They do not represent the individual woman or the First Family; the focus is shifted onto groups or causes deemed worthy of attention. The point was to be inclusive, a festive arrangement for the nation.

This tradition veered off the tracks in 2017, when the Trumps came into power on a populist wave. Their administration made no secret that their main focus and priorities remained in their personal circles of family and loyalists. Keeping in step with her husband and well-appointed stepchildren, Melania made the 2017 holiday White House over in her own aesthetic. In a dress as white as her dead tree branches she wandered through a cursed forest throwing clawing, ominous shadows up the walls. The theme, "Time-Honored Tradition," was as contemptuous as her "I Really Don't Care, Do U?" Zara coat.

Because that's what is on full display here in the dead branches, the blood-red trees and the funeral urns. Trump doesn't simply fail to give a f**k about Christmas. Many Americans don't celebrate or enjoy the Christmas season. It's a fraught time of year packed with impossible expectations, the irrepressible rise of the past, and an obsessive focus on togetherness that is unavailable to so many of us. Loving the holidays isn't a prerequisite for being a compassionate and capable presidential spouse. It's safe to assume that, in the over five decades of Decembers since Kennedy's first master-plan, the White House has been home to a few women who have no personal fondness for gingerbread or tinsel.

However, each of these women allowed their staff and volunteers to create a representative display because it was an American tradition. A constant through years holding personal and national tragedies for all citizens. There is a comfort to seeing this ubiquitous landmark displaying the trappings of winter, of celebrating another year gone. These decorations hold space for that most idealistic of visions that one day out of 365 can be magical. It is one of the only days most Americans are sure to have off work, to spend with our favorite people — or at the very least, with our favorite takeout and streaming shows. It's about as close to peace as we get.

By centering the image of the official United States White House Christmas into her own aesthetic, Trump harnesses yet another tool in the First Family's arsenal to attack the concept of a collective union. The past doesn't matter because it doesn't feed the tastes and ego of present power. The norms that have been unwritten for generations of leaders, decorum and expectations that are vital to keeping a nation of millions on an even keel, aren't just ignored. They're gleefully torched to the ground.

Tradition should not be immovable. Reinvention of our customs and adaptation is important. We should celebrate changes that make our winter celebrations more inclusive. It's important to continue honoring other holiday observances that go beyond a Judeo-Christian mentality. Conversations on how we can adapt the trappings of the season to be more sustainable are worth having. In nearly six decades of White House Christmas themes, there is an evolution of the familiar into the present. As important as it is to remain relevant to the wide United States audience, reinvention must be done in the spirit of expansion, not funneling the focus down to the aesthetics of one ruthless family that is openly hostile to any "non-believers."

Trump's contempt for our traditions is on full display not just in her first years of inhospitable decorating, but even in this, the supposed generic answer. The inoffensive trees, identical to those placed next to Santa at every suburban mall from East to West coast, are a phoned-in effort in a year the country needs extreme comfort. Not caring in her recordings, and in her practice. There is an emptiness that fails to pull focus. I've been staring at these photos for hours, and I still can't commit to memory what they look like. As unremarkable as the White House tennis pavilion project completed this week, joining the Rose Garden make-under as her permanent, pointless contributions to the grounds. It's a minor void of leadership in a staggering line of leadership voids, but it is another willful abandonment of the rhythms of American democracy and public ceremony.

A few steps away from the token First Responder tree, down the funeral home hallway, President and Mrs. Trump have chosen to continue hosting large holiday gatherings with a full calendar of December social events. As "America's everyday heroes" beg people to stay home and ease our overloaded healthcare system, the Trumps won't even condescend to requiring guests to wear masks. Melania doesn't need haunted, gothic arrangements to communicate her apathy for Americans. After all, what is materialistic hatred when you can put your heart into action this Christmas?


Tabitha Blankenbiller

Tabitha Blankenbiller is the author of "Eats of Eden," a collection of essays about food, writing, family, sex, coming-of-age, and overcoming personal odds to live your best life. You can follow her on Twitter @tabithablanken.