The Library And The Culture War

Over the years, I have come to admire two professions above most others: social workers and librarians. The social workers I’ve come to know are simply wonderful human beings–compassionate, caring and non-judgmental. (If we admire traits we personally lack, that would explain my awe about that “non-judgmental” thing…) The librarians I know are dedicated protectors of the First Amendment, and absolutely fearless defenders of our right as individuals to access whatever information interests us.

The traits of both professions are obviously anathema to the White Christian Nationalists who control today’s GOP . Those culture warriors are especially intent upon controlling what other people can read, and that single-minded devotion to cultural control brings them into fairly regular conflict with librarians and the mission of the nation’s libraries, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked by a recent headline from The Guardian: US library defunded after refusing to censor LGBTQ authors: ‘We will not ban the books.’

A small-town library is at risk of shutting down after residents of Jamestown, Michigan, voted to defund it rather than tolerate certain LGBTQ+-themed books.

Residents voted on Tuesday to block a renewal of funds tied to property taxes, Bridge Michigan reported.

 The vote leaves the library with funds through the first quarter of next year. Once a reserve fund is used up, it would be forced to close, Larry Walton, the library board’s president, told Bridge Michigan – harming not just readers but the community at large. Beyond books, residents visit the library for its wifi, he said, and it houses the very room where the vote took place.

“Our libraries are places to read, places to gather, places to socialize, places to study, places to learn. I mean, they’re the heart of every community,” Deborah Mikula, executive director of the Michigan Library Association, told the Guardian. “So how can you lose that?”

What was the library’s sin? It refused to remove materials about sexual orientation from its shelves–materials that the residents asserted were “grooming” children to adopt a “gay lifestyle.”

The controversy in Jamestown began with a complaint about a memoir by a nonbinary writer, but it soon spiraled into a campaign against Patmos Library itself. After a parent complained about Gender Queer: a Memoir, by Maia Kobabe, a graphic novel about the author’s experience coming out as nonbinary, dozens showed up at library board meetings, demanding the institution drop the book. (The book, which includes depictions of sex, was in the adult section of the library.) Complaints began to target other books with LGBTQ+ themes.

One library director resigned, telling Bridge she had been harassed and accused of indoctrinating kids; her successor, Matt Lawrence, also left the job. Though the library put Kobabe’s book behind the counter rather than on the shelves, the volumes remained available.

“We, the board, will not ban the books,” Walton told Associated Press on Thursday….

The library’s refusal to submit to the demands led to a campaign urging residents to vote against renewed funding for the library. A group calling itself Jamestown Conservatives handed out flyers condemning Gender Queer for showing “extremely graphic sexual illustrations of two people of the same gender”, criticizing a library director who “promoted the LGBTQ ideology” and calling for making the library “a safe and neutral place for our kids”. On Facebook, the group says it exists to “keep our children safe, and protect their purity, as well as to keep the nuclear family intact as God designed”.

I’m sure the person who wrote that had spoken to God personally about the threat. (That’s sarcasm. I admitted I’m judgmental…)

Apparently, libraries across the country are facing a surge in similar demands to ban books. The American Library Association has identified 729 challenges to “library, school and university materials and services” just in the last year–and an estimated 1,600 challenges or removals of individual books. That figure was up from 273 books the year before.

“We’re seeing what appears to be a campaign to remove books, particularly books dealing with LGBTQIA themes and books dealing with racism,” Deborah Caldwell-Stone, head of the ALA’s office for intellectual freedom, told the Guardian last year.

There is certainly “grooming” going on, but those responsible aren’t trying to sell small children on the glories of homosexuality, or destroy what’s left of the nuclear family. The real “grooming” has been done by hate-mongers like Alex Jones, the late and non-lamented Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson and his fellow-travelers on Fox News–aided and abetted by fundamentalist churches and  various Rightwing organizations.

The GOP’s groomers play to the racism, misogyny and homophobia of their White Christian Nationalist base, encouraging them to direct their hysterical fear of cultural change at the nation’s libraries.

In this fight, my money is on the librarians.

 

They Aren’t Even Pretending Anymore

It is becoming impossible for any honest person to deny the transformation of America’s Republican Party into a racist, anti-Semitic, anti-gay, misogynistic authoritarian cult.  At the recent CPAC meeting in Dallas, speakers and attendees were “out and proud” about that transformation–wildly applauding no less a Neo-Nazi than Viktor Orban.

Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister who has consolidated autocratic power with hard-right opposition to immigration and liberal democracy, addressed a crowd of thousands of American admirers in Dallas on Thursday with a red-meat speech that could have easily been delivered by any Republican candidate on the campaign trail this year.
 
 Orban presented the two countries as twin fronts in a struggle against common enemies he described as globalists, progressives, communists and “fake news.”

The former GOP would have uninvited Orban after his delivery of a widely reported and truly horrifying speech in which–among other things– he railed against Europe becoming “mixed race.”  In the wake of that speech, one of his  close advisers resigned in protest, calling the speech “pure Nazi.”

Among Republicans In the U.S., however, there was nothing but agreement;  Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson and Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance applauded the speech, and Trump referred to Orban as his “good friend.” 

As the Guardian noted, the assembled crowd “roared, whooped and gave Orban a standing ovation.”

Calling for Christian nationalists to “unite forces”, Orbán told CPAC: “Victory will never be found by taking the path of least resistance. We must take back the institutions in Washington and in Brussels. We must find friends and allies in one another. We must coordinate the movements of our troops because we face the same challenge.”

He noted that US midterm elections will be later this year followed by the presidential contest and European parliamentary elections in 2024. “These two locations will define the two fronts in the battle being fought for western civilisation. Today, we hold neither of them. Yet we need both.”

Rarely has the alliance between nationalist parties across the Atlantic been so bold, overt and unshackled. CPAC was once the domain of cold warrior Ronald Reagan. But in recent years guest speakers have included the Brexit cheerleader Nigel Farage and Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, niece of the far-right French politician Marine Le Pen.

A Washington Post column by former Republican Max Boot described the speech and the response.

All you need to know about the state of the Republican Party today is what happened at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas on Thursday. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been destroying his country’s democracy, received a standing ovation less than two weeks after he gave a speech in Romania in which he endorsed the white supremacist “replacement theory” and denounced a “mixed-race world.”

One of Orban’s longtime advisers quit over what she described as a speech “worthy of Goebbels” before backtracking a bit. But Orban hasn’t recanted his repugnant views, and right-wingers in Dallas thrilled to his denunciations of immigration, abortion, LGBTQ rights and “the Woke Globalist Goliath.” He even excoriated Jewish financier George Soros, a Hungarian native, as someone who “hated Christianity.” The racist and anti-Semitic signaling was not subtle.

Boot took to task the observers who see the primary victories of Georgia’s  Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger as evidence of Trump’s waning influence in the party.

That was an aberration. In other races across the country, Republicans are nominating far-right fanatics who claim that the 2020 presidential election — and any election that they lose, for that matter — was “rigged.” By refusing to accept electoral defeat, they embrace authoritarianism…

Taking a cue from Trump, the winners of Republican primaries traffic in authoritarian imagery and rhetoric. Guns have become a de rigueur accessory in GOP campaign commercials. Arizona U.S. Senate nominee Blake Masters wants to lock up Anthony S. Fauci for trying to slow the spread of covid-19. And Arizona gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake wants to lock up her opponent for certifying Biden’s election victory.

Boot is hardly the only former Republican appalled by the extremist takeover of the party and the abandonment of long-held principles.

The libertarian-leaning Republican Party I grew up with in the 1980s is long gone and not coming back. Republicans still use the language of “freedom,” but their idea of freedom is warped: They want Americans to be free to carry weapons of war or spread deadly diseases but not to terminate a pregnancy or discuss gender or sexuality in school….

The most apt phrase for this American authoritarianism is the New Fascism, and it is fast becoming the dominant trend on the right. If the GOP gains power in Washington, all of America will be in danger of being Orbanized.

Ironically, Orban and the GOP embody their own “globalism”–that  of the fascist Right.

 

P.S.

Yesterday, in addition to the post I planned to share, I accidentally posted what was meant to be today’s blog, about the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago–so today, I’ll just follow up by pointing to some of the rather obvious holes in Trump’s howls about being the focus of a “witch hunt.” (Actually,  witches are female–if this investigation really was just political theater, it would be a “warlock” hunt. But I digress.)

Heather Cox Richardson, among others, has joined those reminding folks that federal search warrants require the sign-off of a judge who–after reviewing the evidence provided by prosecutors–agrees that there is substantial probable cause to believe both that a crime has been committed and that a search will provide evidence of that crime.

She also reminded readers that, although the FBI cannot legally release such search warrants, the individual targeted  for the search must be given a copy, and is free to release it. If this were truly  a “warlock hunt”  and the search warrant was evidence of the absence of probative probable cause supporting the search, you can be sure Trump would have released it .

Legal analysts have pointed out that the law also requires the FBI to give Trump an inventory of what they found and confiscated–and according to several reports, agents removed ten boxes of materials found during the search. Those ten boxes were in addition to the fifteen boxes that Trump formerly returned after repeated demands from federal archivists. Trump could also release that inventory if it bolstered his claim that he is being unfairly targeted.

Trump’s retention of all these materials was a clear violation of federal law–but just as clearly, violating federal records law would not have been considered a sufficient violation to support the issuance of a search warrant for a former President’s residence.

Whatever the suspected crime, it ‘s clearly far more serious.

As usual, there has been an unhinged response from the “law and order” Right. As The Washington Post reported,

For months, right-wing agitators with millions of followers have peddled the idea that a moment was coming soon when violence would become necessary — a patriotic duty — to save the republic.

With the FBI search Monday of Donald Trump’s compound in Florida, that moment is now, according to enraged commentators’ all-caps, exclamation-pointed screeds urging supporters of the former president to take up arms. Within hours of the search at Mar-a-Lago, a chorus of Republican lawmakers, conservative talk-show hosts, anti-government provocateurs and pro-Trump conspiracy theorists began issuing explicit or thinly veiled calls for violence.

“Today is war. That is all you will get on today’s show,” right-wing podcaster Steven Crowder announced Tuesday to his nearly 2 million followers on Twitter, referring to the program that goes to his YouTube audience of 5.6 million.

Robert Hubble’s daily letter addressed that hysteria, and the media’s widespread coverage of Trumpist rage. He reminded readers that–despite the avalanche of threats of violence and even civil war on Twitter and other social media platforms –the people leveling those threats represent a small percentage of the American public.

The Post was less sanguine.

If the goal is to normalize vigilante violence as a political response, studies show that the tactic seems to be working.

A recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found that about 1 in 3 Americans say they believe violence against the government can at times be justified, the largest share to feel that way in more than two decades. Other studies similarly have found a growing tolerance of violent ideologies that historically were confined to fringe elements.

Hubble wasn’t recommending that we dismiss the threats. As he conceded,

The reaction on the right is serious because of what it says about the unraveling of the Republican Party. The outlandish and unhinged threats (including calls for secession, civil war, dissolution of the FBI, and gutting of the DOJ) show that the Republican Party is opposed to the rule of law and the institutions of state necessary to maintain peace and security. In their opposition to the federal government, Republicans are deadly serious and dangerous—whether Trump wins in 2024 or not.

I am confident that Garland did not err in choosing to execute a search warrant rather than issuing a subpoena. Indeed, given his overly cautious nature, my belief—rank speculation, I admit—is that Trump removed documents vital to national security or military alliances that could be devastating if they fall into the wrong hands.

Every Republican rallying to Trump’s defense must be secretly thinking, “Oh, God! What did he do? I hope it isn’t really bad!” Trump could dispel some of that uncertainty by releasing the search warrant—an omission that must be ominous for Trump’s defenders.

As I said yesterday, stay tuned……

 

About That FBI “Raid”

The “usual suspects” are pontificating and Democrats are engaging in what appears to be enjoyable speculation. (Trump has been selling state secrets to the Saudis/Russians/Extra-terrestrials…)

We don’t know.

In fact, we wouldn’t know that the FBI had executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago had his Orangeness not begun fundraising off his own announcement of the search. What we do know is that this wouldn’t have occurred absent a really well-documented belief that serious lawbreaking had occurred.

As Josh Marshall recently put it at Talking Points Memo: 

The best assumption is the obvious and initial one: we’re dealing with three key players (Garland, Wray and a federal judge) each of whom would bring a distinct and deep-seated resistance to taking such a step absent evidence of serious criminal conduct and specific circumstances which made the need for a surprise search compelling and necessary. That strongly suggests that there is more afoot here than we yet know.

I will note again what I referenced last night. If you read the reports from the biggest national news organizations what is most striking is how little they seem to know. They believe it’s tied to the 15 box document retention investigation which goes back like a year. But even that seems vague and they don’t seem to know much more. As I said above, this isn’t our first rodeo. Usually after an event like this the most sourced reporters are able to put together a pretty full picture pretty quickly. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. At least not based on the stories I’ve read. That speaks to an extreme secrecy uncommon even in the most delicate and politically-charged investigations.

The Wall Street Journal  notes that authorization for the raid required approval of the “highest echolons” of the Justice Department. 

Before the FBI search, a federal magistrate would have approved a warrant for FBI agents to search the property, indicating investigators may have believed there was additional classified information at the location.

The search also would likely have required signoff from the highest echelons of the Justice Department, including Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was appointed by President Biden, and Christopher Wray, the FBI director appointed by Mr. Trump in 2017, current and former department officials said. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment Tuesday. Mr. Garland has said little publicly about any of the Justice Department’s Trump-related investigations other than noting to reporters that no one is above the law.

One of the most pointed descriptions of the FBI’s execution of its search warrant came from Wired, which reported:

Monday’s search of the former president’s Mar-a-Lago property in Florida was surely one of the most significant, sensitive, and politically explosive actions the US Justice Department and FBI have ever taken. It’s one of a tiny handful of times the DOJ has ever investigated a president. And it’s an action that likely indicates the FBI and prosecutors had specific knowledge of both a definable crime and the evidence to back it up.

 The actual search warrant, which would list specific crimes being investigated, has not been released yet. According to Monday night news reports, however, the search focused on questions about a number of boxes of classified documents that Trump took from the White House to his Florida mansion after leaving the presidency.

While it may take months to learn more about the underlying investigation, the fact that the FBI launched such a high-profile search already tells us a great deal about the state of the Justice Department’s case.

 Federal search warrants aren’t fishing expeditions. The FBI’s warrant had to be approved  at the highest level of both the FBI and the Justice Department, and approval would have required substantial evidence of probable cause. The Journal acknowledged that previous FBI scandals have made the bar for probable cause and sign-off by the department’s upper levels even higher.

The Justice Department’s 2016 decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for her sloppy handling of classified materials as secretary of state raises the bar for any prosecution stemming from Trump’s handling of classified documents….which means that in order to pursue this Trump investigation, there would have to be more serious (and criminal) concerns than there were in the investigation of Clinton.

 Thus, we’re left with the big question the FBI is ultimately trying to investigate right now: Who would have benefited from Trump taking home these particular documents—and why?

As the Wired article concludes :

Wray, Garland, and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco have made it clear throughout their careers and public statement that they are institutionalists. Far from being aggressive, partisan investigators, all three have shown themselves over the past 18 months to be reserved, careful, and legally and evidentiarily conservative.

The bottom line of Monday’s search is that the FBI and the Justice Department must have been inordinately clear that they had the goods—and someone’s legal trouble is just beginning.

Stay tuned…

 

 

 

Justice, Justice..

Like many of you, I get the almost-daily newsletter from Heather Cox Richardson, who reliably reports on current events and provides valuable historical context illuminating them.

Last week, Richardson made a “catch” that I had missed–and it provided further evidence of the corruption that was (along with monumental incompetence) a hallmark of the Trump Administration.

Evidently, during a Senate hearing and in response to a question from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, FBI director Christopher Wray  shed light on the Administration’s short-circuiting of the background investigation into then–Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (Note: I’m not sure when that hearing occurred–it may have been one held a year or so ago.) According to that testimony, more than 4500 tips about Kavanaugh that were received by an FBI hotline were “separated out” and transmitted to the White House without investigation. The FBI subsequently interviewed only people designated by the White House.

The agency completed the supplemental background check triggered by the accusations of sexual assault in exactly four days–and FBI agents did not interview either Kavanaugh or Christine Blasely Ford, the woman who publicly testified against him, or the other women who came forward to lodge similar accusations–Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick. 

The lack of clear vetting extended far beyond the allegations of personal sexual misconduct. As the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights pointed out in a letter objecting to his elevation to the Court, Kavanaugh’s judicial conduct was a matter of equal concern.

Judge Kavanaugh’s 12-year record on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as well as his known writings, speeches, and legal career, demonstrate that if he were confirmed to the Supreme Court, he would be the fifth and decisive vote to undermine many of our core rights and legal protections.  In case after case, he has ruled against individuals and the environment in favor of corporations, the wealthy, and the powerful.  He has advanced extreme legal theories to overturn longstanding precedent to diminish the power of federal agencies to help people.  And he has demonstrated an expansive view of presidential power that includes his belief that presidents should not be subject to civil suits or criminal investigations while in office despite what misconduct may have occurred.  Many of our organizations opposed Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit,[1] and our fears and concerns have been realized.  Judge Kavanaugh has not served as a neutral and fair-minded jurist.  He has served as a conservative ideologue who lacks the impartiality and independence necessary to sit on the highest court in the land.

The letter went on to document the cases in which Kavanaugh had displayed his lack of “impartiality and independence,” his lack of commitment to racial justice, and his “extreme and disturbing views about presidential power.” The letter was signed by 180 organizations.

Then there was the matter of the 15 ethics complaints filed against Kavanaugh, alleging judicial misconduct during his tenure as a lower-court judge. Once he was elevated to the Supreme Court, proceedings investigating those complaints were dismissed.  Dismisal was because the ethics rule provides that proceedings may be concluded if the judge charged with conducting them finds that “action on the complaint is no longer necessary because of intervening events.” The intervening event in Judge Kavanaugh’s case was his appointment to the Supreme Court. “That is because the Act covers complaints only about circuit judges, district judges, bankruptcy judges, magistrate judges, and judges of some special courts.”

And so here we are… 

That this very flawed, partisan individual is on the Supreme Court is certainly troubling, but there have been other Justices whose flaws have been widely recognized. (Alito was an example well before Boggs.) What is far more troubling was the corrupt process that led to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. It’s one thing to find, after the fact, that a nominee lacks hoped-for judicial temperament or intellect. (The allegations against Clarence Thomas, for example, were fully aired, and most Americans only subsequently realized that the Senate had believed the wrong testimony.) Refusal to conduct a thorough vetting is a far more serious matter, and it’s pretty clear that short-circuiting a full and fair investigation was a deliberate–and successful– act of the Trump Administration.

I tend to harp on the importance of institutions, because the health of the American polity ultimately rests upon the integrity and ongoing utility of those institutions. Separation of Powers is a foundational element of our system of government, and when one branch can effectively control another by ignoring institutional safeguards in order to place favored individuals in positions of power, that foundational element is violated.

Elevating Brett Kavanaugh and denying Merrick Garland a hearing were two steps in the Right’s determined campaign to eliminate individual liberties and move America toward autocracy.

They have to be stopped.