Never Thought I’d Live To See This…

One of the dubious benefits of living a long time is that you live through really striking cultural and institutional changes. During my lifetime, I’ve seen changes I consider very positive–the expansion of women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights, an internet connection to virtually all of human information, ease of global travel…I could go on and on.

But I’m also around to see the backlash to all of that. And even weirder, I’ve lived to see a Republican Party that once rabidly opposed Communism and “the evil empire” embrace authoritarianism and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

A while back, I shared a folk song from the Sixties  that made fun of the John Birch Society and its habit of seeing “commies”  under every bush. (“If mommy is a commie then you’ve got to turn her in.”) Back then, the political Right was focused–frequently far too focused–on the dangers of totalitarianism and authoritarianism and government control of the economy.

If you had told me back then that the GOP would “evolve” into a party of pro-Russian apologists, I’d have asked you what you were smoking. But here we are.

A recent discussion at Persuasion was titled “When Hatred of the Left Becomes Love for Putin,” and contains the following observations:

According to Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will quickly end the war in Ukraine if he is elected, by refusing “a single penny” of aid and effectively forcing the country’s capitulation to Russia. The statement, which followed Orbán’s meeting with Trump last month, is a stark reminder of the extent to which the Trumpified GOP is becoming the anti-Ukraine party, a far cry from early bipartisan support for Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression. And while opposition to aid to Ukraine doesn’t necessarily entail support for Vladimir Putin—common rationales include that the United States must focus on domestic problems or on the more dangerous threat from China, or that Ukraine can’t win and prolonging the war only means more death and suffering—Putin-friendly themes have been increasingly prominent on the right. At this point, pro-Putinism is no longer an undercurrent in right-wing rhetoric: it’s on the surface.

Granted, not all Putin-lovers are similarly motivated.

For some, their hatred of the American left overrides any feelings they have about Putin. Others are more ideological: they oppose the Western liberal project itself. Untangling these different strains is key to explaining why so many on today’s right embrace views that, until recently, would have gotten them branded Kremlin stooges by other conservatives.

The article references Tucker Carlson– his recent, adoring trip to Moscow and his fawning interview of Putin.

The interview was a two-hour lovefest in which Putin and his lies went unchallenged except for some polite pushback on Evan Gershkovich, the American journalist held in Russia on phony spying charges. Then, Carlson topped this with gushy videos extolling the wonders of the Soviet-built Moscow subway and of Russian supermarkets.

And it cited an article from the Federalist published the day after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:

Author Christopher Bedford, former head of the Daily Caller News Foundation and a prolific contributor to right-of-center media, not only bluntly stated that “a lot of us hate our elites far more than we hate some foreign dictator” but admitted finding a lot to admire in said dictator—for instance, Putin’s unapologetic defense of Russia’s “religion, culture and history,” while Western elites denigrate and apologize for theirs.

Today’s GOP has abandoned even the remnants of genuine conservatism; today, the party is hysterically “anti-woke”–a cult focused on culture war efforts to return straight White Christian males to social dominance.

It’s hardly news by now that many American right-wingers see Putin’s Russia as the antithesis of Western “wokeness.” This is especially true with regard to sexual and gender norms: I noted the beginnings of this trend in 2013, when several right-wing groups and conservative pundits praised a Russian law censoring “propaganda” of homosexuality. Discussing the phenomenon recently in the context of the GOP’s anti-Ukraine turn, David French pointed to such examples as far-right strategist Steve Bannon’s praise for Putin’s “anti-woke” persona and Russia’s conservative gender politics, or psychologist Jordan Peterson’s suggestion that Russia’s war in Ukraine was partly self-defense against the decadence of “the pathological West.”…

The article notes that, for some Republicans, pro-Putin rhetoric indicates a radical rejection of liberalism, even the classical  liberalism of John Locke and John Stuart Mill. It quotes the “near-panegyric” to Putin in a 2017 speech by Claremont Institute’s Christopher Caldwell at Hillsdale College, and notes that both Claremont and Hillsdale are “intellectual hubs of Trumpist national conservatism.”

Read the entire essay. This isn’t remotely the GOP of my youth…..and it’s scary.


Othering And Mothering

Nearly fifty years ago, a woman named Jean Manford convened a small meeting of 20 people in a NYC church basement, and started an organization– parents, friends and families of lesbians and gays. PFLAG currently has over 250,000 members and supporters. Manford had a gay child, and every mother can understand her fierce love for, and affirmation of, her child. Mothers affirm the child they have–the child as he or she is–even when that child is different from the one they originally expected.

Well, perhaps not every mother….or father.

I belonged to PFLAG for several years, after one of my sons came out. It was a different time. LGBT folks–Q and plus were a ways off–were just coming out of the closet, and were still subject to hurtful stereotypes and the hatred of “righteous, bible-believing” Christians, who recommended “cures” and dismissed the considered opinions of experts who had determined that homosexuality was simply another human characteristic, and not a psychiatric or otherwise “deviant” condition.

We’ve come a long way since the days when Jean Manford fought back to protect her child. Research confirms widespread acceptance of LGBTQ+ folks; some seventy percent of Americans approve of same-sex marriage.

So today, those “bible believing” folks are focusing their fear-mongering on trans children. After all, most Americans today know gay folks; fewer know trans people, who comprise barely over 1% of the population.

What made me think of the partial nature of this victory over bigotry and fear of difference was a story in the local press about an Indiana couple who lost custody of their child. They are appealing to the Supreme Court.

Indiana passed controversial legislation restricting transgender youth’s access to health care in 2023.

The statehouse also considered a failed bill last year that would have prevented courts from allowing the Indiana Department of Child Services to remove children from homes that do not support their gender identity or access to gender-affirming care.

The bill featured a court case between DCS and the parents of a transgender child — named A.C. in court records.

The case involves a “deeply religious, devout Christian” couple who believe that children should be raised based on their sex at birth, and that using pronouns and names that are opposite to their sex at birth is “immoral and harmful.” After their teenage child came out to them and said that she identifies as a girl, DCS began to receive allegations of abuse triggered by the child’s gender identity. The agency conducted an investigation, confirmed the abuse, and ultimately removed the child from the home.

The parents argue that they have a Constitutional right to raise their child however they see fit and in a manner consistent with their religious views. The lower courts upheld the DCS determination. While they agreed that parents have the right to express their religious beliefs, they ruled that parents cannot exercise those rights in ways that demonstrably harm their child. 

The more things change, the more they stay the same…

Back when Jean Manford founded PFLAG, many parents reacted very badly to the different sexual orientation of their children. Among a number of social and cultural changes that have softened (albeit not eradicated) that particular bigotry was the American Psychiatric Association’s recognition that homosexuality was not “deviance” or mental illness, but simply difference.

The APA has now issued a similar statement about children who are nonbinary, and has strongly endorsed their right to receive appropriate care.

This policy statement affirms APA’s support for unobstructed access to health care and evidence-based clinical care for transgender, gender-diverse, and nonbinary children, adolescents, and adults.

Furthermore, this policy statement addresses the spread of misleading and unfounded narratives that mischaracterize gender dysphoria and affirming care, likely resulting in further stigmatization, marginalization, and lack of access to psychological and medical supports for transgender, gender-diverse, and nonbinary individuals.

The entire policy statement can be accessed at the link.

Jean Manford wouldn’t have needed to read the policy statement. Neither would the thousands of mothers and fathers who joined PFLAG and worked for fair treatment and equal rights for their gay children.

I will readily admit that I don’t understand people who are willing to sacrifice the well-being of their own flesh and blood for…what? Religion? Social acceptance? I do understand the politicians–like Indiana’s Jim Banks–who are perfectly willing to use these children as political wedge issues. These unfeeling, self-centered political actors are willing to dismiss expert opinion and abuse defenseless children, calculating that playing to constituents’ fears and prejudices will produce votes.

And it probably will, with those voters who are equally void of humanity.


Then And Now

A week or so ago, my husband and I watched an American Experience episode titled  “Nazi Town”–a PBS documentary about the extent of pro-fascist opinion in the United States in the run-up to World War II.

The documentary left me both saddened and (unexpectedly) hopeful.

I  was saddened–to put it mildly– to learn of the enormous numbers of Americans who had embraced Nazi ideology. Until recently, I had assumed that the great majority of Americans actually believed in democratic government and the protection of civil liberties. I knew, of course, that a minority of my fellow-citizens harbored less comforting views, but I had no idea of the extent to which the American people endorsed truly horrific hatreds and were ready–indeed, eager–to hand the country over to a strongman who would relieve them of any responsibility for political decision-making.

In the 1930s, the nation had dozens and dozens of “Nazi camps,” where children were indoctrinated with White Nationalism. The German-American Bund enrolled hundreds of thousands of Americans who affirmed the notion that the country was created only for White Protestant Christians, and endorsed a “science” of eugenics confirming the superiority of the Aryan “race.” Racism and anti-Semitism were rampant; LGBTQ folks were so deep in the closet their existence was rarely recognized.

All in all, “Nazi Town” displayed–with scholarly documentation and lots of footage of huge crowds saluting both the American flag and the swastika –a very depressing reality.

But the context of all that ugliness also gave me hope–even in the face of the MAGA Trumpers who look so much like the Americans shown giving the “heil Hitler” salute.

I’m hopeful because we live in a society that is immensely different from that of the 20s and 30s.

During those years, the country experienced a Depression in which millions of Americans were jobless and desperate.  America was also in the throes of Jim Crow, and most White and Black Americans effectively occupied separate worlds. Thousands of people–including public officials– wore white robes and marched with the KKK. Europe’s age-old, virulent anti-Semitism had not yet “matured” into the Holocaust, and Hitler’s invasion of Poland–and knowledge of what came after–were still in the future. Few Americans were educated beyond high school.

World War II and discovery of the Holocaust ultimately ended the flirtation with fascism for most Americans, and in the years following that war, the U.S., like the rest of the world, has experienced considerable and continuing technical, social and cultural change. As a result, the world we all inhabit is dramatically different from the world that facilitated the embrace of both fascism and communism. (In fact, it is the extent of those differences that so enrages the MAGA culture warriors.)

Today, despite the contemporary gulf between the rich and the rest, America overall is prosperous. Unemployment has hit an unprecedented  low. Many more Americans are college educated. Despite the barriers that continue to face members of previously marginalized populations, people from different races and religions not only live and work together, they increasingly intermarry. Many, if not most, Americans have gay friends, and some seventy percent approve of same-sex marriage. Television, the Internet and international travel have introduced inhabitants of isolated and/or homogeneous communities to people unlike themselves.

Although there is a robust industry in Holocaust denial and other forms of racial and religious disinformation (I do not have a space laser), Americans have seen the end results of state-sponsored hatreds, and even most of those who harbor old stereotypes are reluctant to do actual harm to those they consider “other.”

The sad truth is that many more of my fellow Americans than I would have guessed are throwbacks to the millions who joined the KKK and the German-American Bund. The hopeful truth is that–even though there is a depressingly large number of them–they are in the minority, and their numbers are dwindling. ( It’s recognition of that fact, and America’s changing demography, that has made them so frantic and threatening.)

I firmly believe that real Americans reject the prejudices that led so many to embrace Nazi ideology in the 20s and 30s.

Today, most of us understand that real Americans aren’t those who share a preferred skin color or ethnicity or religion. Real Americans are those who share an allegiance to the American Idea–to the principles enumerated in the Declaration, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

In order to send that message to today’s fascists and neo-Nazis, we need to get real Americans to the polls in November.


How Hateful Can They Be?

Here’s a “what-if.” What if orphans with serious medical problems–say asthma or epilepsy–were intentionally placed with foster or adoptive parents who were devout Christian Scientists or Jehovah’s Witnesses? Parents who would “pray away” attacks rather than provide medical care? What if a federal law required those doing the placements to ignore such parental beliefs on the basis of “religious freedom”? What if refusal to place a seriously ill child with a family that rejected medical science was considered “discrimination”?

I think–I certainly hope–most rational people would be appalled. 

Of course, Indiana Congressman Jim Banks is a culture warrior, not a rational person.

A Republican congressman has proposed a bill to prevent child welfare agencies from turning away prospective foster and adoptive parents who refuse to recognize transgender and nonbinary children’s identities.

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) introduced the bill earlier this month in response to a proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The rule would require child welfare agencies to place LGBTQ-identifying children in homes where they will not be mistreated or abused due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Caregivers for LGBTQ children would be required to receive training on how to provide for any unique needs those youth may have because of their identity.

Banks calls the rule discriminatory. He says it’s unfair to the “loving prospective parents who do not support the idea of transgender identity or who oppose homosexuality based on their religious beliefs.”

Yes, I can just imagine how “loving” those families would be to a child already struggling with both an absence of birth parents and thorny identity issues. Why not place Jewish children with “loving” Neo-Nazi families, or Black children with “loving” racists?

What the hell is wrong with these people?

Banks has instead proposed the Sensible Adoption for Every Home Act (SAFE), which would ensure that families that are headed by parents who hold anti-LGBTQ views are not rejected as foster parents. It would enforce that by prohibiting placement agencies that refuse to place LGBTQ children with otherwise qualified couples from receiving federal funds.

Even though social transition does not necessarily involve medical interventions, Banks — like many Republicans pushing anti-transgender legislation — equates affirmation with pursuing surgical and hormonal treatments.

His bill also seeks to protect parents who oppose psychological treatments or counseling for trans-identifying children, or refuse to use gender-affirming pronouns, from being discriminated against by placement agencies. 

Banks has company. Eighteen Attorneys General (all Republicans, of course) have signed a letter opposing the rule. And of course, the GOP’s rank hypocrisy is once again front and center.

As much as Republicans claim it’s unfair to discriminate against non-affirming parents, 13 states currently have laws that allow placement agencies to reject same-sex couples, single or unmarried parents, older opposite-sex couples, interfaith couples, and other prospective parents based on their purported religious beliefs.

I guess it’s okay to discriminate against people if the”sincerely held religious beliefs” of Republican lawmakers require legislating disapproval of those people. 

I have previously described Jim Banks as a Christian Nationalist’s wet dream. The remainder of the linked article supports that (admittedly unkind but arguably accurate) description.

In Congress, Banks has amassed a record that is hostile to LGBTQ rights.

He previously co-introduced a bill to allow adults who experience “regret” after undergoing transition-related treatments as youth to sue their former doctors.

He introduced another bill earlier this year, in conjunction with Sen. Marco Rubio, seeking to ban transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. military.

Last year, Banks submitted a discharge petition to force a vote on a bill to bar transgender women and girls from participating in female-designated sports. 

Banks was also previously banned from Twitter, prior to Elon Musk’s takeover of the platform, for deliberately misgendering Adm. Rachel Levine, the country’s first transgender four-star admiral with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the Assistant Secretary of Health at HHS.

This is the culture warrior who wants to be Indiana’s next U.S. Senator.

I recently became aware of a PAC established by several of Banks’ current constituents; it’s called the Hoosiers for Common Sense PAC and its “primary goal is to elect a common-sense Hoosier Democrat, Marc Carmichael, and prevent Jim Banks from advancing to the US Senate.” You can contribute here. 

Or you can contribute at Marc Carmichael’s website. Among his other eminently sensible positions, Carmichael wants to put an end to demonizing trans children for political advantage. It’s hard to disagree with his statement that harming innocent children in an effort to garner votes is simply beyond the pale.

Way beyond.


Jim Banks And The GOP War On Education…

In case you think I’ve been exaggerating about the Republicans making war on education…more evidence has emerged.

According to a report from CNBC, House Republicans have a long-term plan to strip so-called “elite” universities of government funding and federal student loan dollars.

The plan was communicated to a group of business leaders during a private Zoom call last Friday with Indiana’s MAGA Republican Congressman, Jim Banks.

“The hearing was the first step,” said Banks. “The second step is the investigation, the subpoenas, gathering all of the documents and the records,” he said. “Third, that’s when we defund these universities.”

A recording of the call was provided to CNBC by an attendee who requested anonymity in order to share a private conversation.

Banks’ frank description of lawmakers’ plans offers a previously unreported window into at least some members of Congress’ long-term goals with regards to at least two Ivy League universities and MIT, another elite college. House Education Committee chair, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said in an interview on NewsNation that the committee is also looking at Columbia and Cornell University.

Banks has also embraced the idea of taxing college endowments; he has endorsed a bill introduced by Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio that would impose a tax of 35% on college endowments worth over $10 billion.

The legislation has little chance of passing the current Democratic majority Senate, or of being signed into law by President Joe Biden. But if there is a Republican in the White House and a GOP-controlled Senate in 2025, the calculus could be very different.

As the article notes, the fallout from a bill like Vance’s wouldn’t be limited to Harvard, Penn and MIT. Yale, the University of Notre Dame, Columbia University, the University of Chicago and Duke University all have endowments worth more than $10 billion, and they use earnings from those endowment dollars to subsidize tuition and fees for students who otherwise could not afford to attend.

Furthermore, all universities–not just the elite ones– rely on significant federal funding,  because so many students pay their tuition via federal financial aid. That aid accounts for the lion’s share of federal dollars that go to colleges and universities.

In 2018, 65% of the $149 billion total in federal funds received by institutions of higher education went toward federal student aid. This covers scholarships, work-study and loans given to students for their educational expenses, according to USAFacts, a nonprofit site that collects government data.

Jim Banks–aka “Focus on the Family’s Man in Washington“–wants to be the next U.S. Senator from Indiana. During his tenure in the House, he has made most of his agenda very, very clear: a federal ban on abortion with no exceptions; no recognition of, or help for, trans children; no restrictions on gun ownership; no affirmative action or other recognition of the effects of racial disparities (he wants to ban DEI programs); no funding for Ukraine, and–as this last bit of news confirms– a constant war on education.

Jim Banks is a theocrat’s wet dream. A Hoosier version of Marjorie Taylor Greene. No wonder Donald Trump has endorsed him.

The voters of Indiana absolutely cannot send this specimen of Christian Nationalism to the Senate.

I have posted before about Marc Carmichael, who will be the Democratic nominee. Marc is the absolute antithesis of Jim Banks–a thoroughly nice person who actually wants to do the job and who supports policies that used to be considered mainstream: a woman’s right to control her own reproduction; sensible gun safety laws; rational immigration reform; support for public education; and many others. (You can check out his twelve priorities on his website.)

Even in Red Indiana, if voters know both candidates–if they know who they both are and what they both stand for, Marc Carmichael will be the next U.S. Senator from Indiana. The only impediment to getting that information out to the voters would be inadequate funding.  So once you’ve confirmed the accuracy of my descriptions of these candidates–please send Marc a contribution! (And tell all your friends and families.)

Progressive voters in Indiana have complained for years that the Democrats haven’t produced strong candidates willing and able to take on the GOP culture warriors. This year, they have nothing to complain about–Jennifer McCormick, running for Governor, is first-rate, and Destiny Wells, running against our embarrassing, ethically-challenged Attorney General Todd Rokita is equally excellent. The candidates they will face–no matter who emerges from the current GOP gubernatorial mudslinging contest–are all MAGA enthusiasts, and worse than substandard.

The time has come to overcome progressive defeatism, and prove that there really is more than corn in Indiana!