So Long, America–It Was Nice Knowing You…

The New York Times summarized the rogue Supreme Court’s immunity ruling in a sentence: “the Supreme Court has extended sweeping legal protections to presidents that apply to no one else in the country.”

In other words, in the most recent of a string of appalling and unprecedented rulings, this disgraceful Court has eviscerated the essence of the rule of law: that no one is above the law. Sources close to the Rightwing extremists behind Project 2025 immediately began planning how to use the Court’s decision to help them implement their unAmerican policy agenda, and Trump immediately called for jailing his political opponents.

The Court has demonstrated the naiveté of those Republican voters who justified sticking with Trump because “there are guardrails–laws that will keep him from doing the craziest shit.” Not anymore, there aren’t.

Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

I have never been so afraid for my country. Lest you think I am over-reacting, I will turn the rest of this post over to the considered reactions of people I respect.

There were the pundits, of course, many of whom bring solid legal credentials to the discussion. I can sum up their reactions by citing to Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, whose opinion piece was titled “God Save Us from this Dishonorable Court” and was subtitled “An egregious, unconscionable ruling on presidential immunity from the Supreme Court.”

But the most incisive and horrified analyses came from the scholars. 

Historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote:

This is a profound change to our fundamental law—an amendment to the Constitution, as historian David Blight noted. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that a president needs such immunity to make sure the president is willing to take “bold and unhesitating action” and make unpopular decisions, although no previous president has ever asserted that he is above the law or that he needed such immunity to fulfill his role. Roberts’s decision didn’t focus at all on the interest of the American people in guaranteeing that presidents carry out their duties within the guardrails of the law….

There is no historical or legal precedent for this decision. The Declaration of Independence was a litany of complaints against King George III designed to explain why the colonists were declaring themselves free of kings; the Constitution did not provide immunity for the president, although it did for members of Congress in certain conditions, and it provided for the removal of the president for “high crimes and misdemeanors”—what would those be if a president is immune from prosecution for his official acts? The framers worried about politicians’ overreach and carefully provided for oversight of leaders; the Supreme Court today smashed through that key guardrail…

Today, observers illustrated what Trump’s newly declared immunity could mean. Political scientist Norm Ornstein pointed out that Trump could “order his handpicked FBI Director to arrest and jail his political opponents. He can order the IRS to put liens on the property of media companies who criticize him and jail reporters and editors.” Legal analyst Joyce White Vance noted that a president with such broad immunity could order the assassination of Supreme Court justices, and retired military leader Mark Hertling wrote that he was “trying to figure out how a commander can refuse an illegal order from someone who is issuing it as an official act.” 

Lawyer and legal scholar Robert Hubbell minced no words:

Today, the Supreme Court overthrew the American Revolution and anointed the US president as a modern-day king. Their betrayal of the American revolutionaries, Founders, and Framers is all the worse because they did so to promote the most corrupt, dangerous, depraved person to disgrace the office of the presidency…

Trump v. United States will be overruled. The decision is so bad it will not stand. Like Dred Scott (holding that enslaved people are not citizens entitled to judicial protections), Plessy v. Ferguson (upholding segregation), Koramatsu v US (upholding the Japanese internment camps), today’s decision will be overturned by the acclamation of history in due course. It will be remembered as a mark of shame for the Roberts Court just as Dred Scott tarnishes Chief Justice Taney’s legacy to this day.

It may take a few years or decades to overturn Trump v. US, but the American people are the ultimate power under the Constitution. Majorities in the House and Senate can pass a bill to expand the Supreme Court, and a Democratic president can sign it. The reactionary majority can be overwhelmed by the appointment of four new justices, although expanding the Court by eight or more would be appropriate given the nearly hundred-fold growth in the US population since six justices were appointed in 1789.

The problem is, if Donald Trump wins in November–or if MAGA neo-fascists control either the House or Senate– there won’t be a United States in which the judicial process can self-correct. 

America as we’ve known it will be gone.


The New McCarthyism

Americans have long demonstrated a distrust of bureaucracy–generally seeing the growth of that managerial cohort as exclusively governmental, although it is typical of any large corporation or organization. More recently, MAGA Republicans have deepened the hostility to government workers by accusing civil servants of being a malevolent “deep state.”

That “deep state” of MAGA imagining is a cabal of anti-American “woke-ism,” dedicated to helping “those people” and restricting the God-given rights of the good White Christian men who are the only “real Americans.” Any government officials with the temerity to block one of Trump’s fever dreams is clearly a member of that “deep state.”

And according to Project 2025, the denizens of the “deep state” must be removed.

The public is gradually becoming aware of Project 2025, the detailed, thousand-page “transition plan” produced by a consortium of far-Right think tanks led by the Heritage Foundation. These culture warriors have (accurately) determined that their Presidential candidate– profoundly ignorant of government and rapidly losing touch with reality–would, if re-elected, be even more incapable of ushering in their desired changes than he was during his first term, so they have come together to provide a road-map.

That road map is filled with horrifying policy positions, a large number of which are (currently) unconstitutional. One of them, as described in the linked report from Talking Points Memo, takes aim at that hated “deep state.” (When I read it, it triggered a vision of Joseph McCarthy waving a paper and claiming he had the names of multiple Commies working for the government…)

The Heritage Foundation is funding the creation of a blacklist of federal government workers who MAGA loyalists claim might obstruct the Trump II agenda, the Associated Press reported Monday.

The work of compiling the list of names of some 100 government employees is being done by a Kentucky fellow named Tom Jones and his American Accountability Foundation. The work is being financed with the help of a $100,000 “Heritage Innovation Prize” from the Heritage Foundation, long a bastion of Reagan conservatism in DC but now fully in MAGA mode. Heritage announced the prize winner back in May, referring to “the presence of anti-American bad actors burrowed into the administrative state.”

In announcing the prize, Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts touted it as effort to expose the “Deep State”:

“The weaponization of the federal government under President Joe Biden is only possible because of the deep state of entrenched Leftist bureaucrats in the White House and its agencies. I am proud to support the outstanding work of AAF in their fight to hold our government accountable and drain it of bad actors determined to undermine our constitutional republic and weaponize government against the American people, our economy, and our institutions.”

Notably, the plan is to publish the list online. A doxxing in the public square as it were, with all the obvious historical echoes, as the AP rightly notes:

The public list-making conjures for some the era of Joseph McCarthy, the senator who conducted grueling hearings into suspected communist sympathizers during the Cold War. The hearings were orchestrated by a top staffer, Roy Cohn, who became a confidant of a younger Trump.

As for the criteria used to determine who makes the list and how those criteria are applied, the AP provides this chilling methodology: “They’re relying in part on tips from his network of conservative contacts, including workers.”

Civil service protections are only one of the many, many elements of American government that would be jettisoned by Project 2025. If even a small number of the desired changes were to become law, America would be a profoundly different place–and far less hospitable to women, non-fundamentalist Christians and minorities.

As Congressman Jared Huffman explained,when he announced the creation of a Stop Project 2025 Task Force:

“Project 2025 is more than an idea, it’s a dystopian plot that’s already in motion to dismantle our democratic institutions, abolish checks and balances, chip away at church-state separation, and impose a far-right agenda that infringes on basic liberties and violates public will.

Project 2025 advocates placing all government workers– including employees of independent agencies like the Department of Justice– under direct presidential control, allowing the president to “efficiently” implement policies in a number of areas. Civil service employees would be replaced by “loyal” political appointees.

In other words, Separation of Powers would be replaced with a “streamlined” dictatorship.

So much for those silly Founders, and their devotion to “checks and balances”…Meanwhile, people upset with Biden’s debate performance want to replace him, a mere ten weeks before early voting starts.  They are mimicking Nero, who–you will recall– fiddled while Rome burned.


Deconstructing America

The Founders would be dumbfounded.

Remember what you learned (maybe) in high school government class about the three “co-equal” branches of government? Well, our rogue Supreme Court says that was wrong–that judges should be the imperial, all-powerful arbiters of national life, because they know far better than the experts serving in various government agencies what government can (or really, cannot) do about elements of our common lives like air and water quality, unfair competition…you name it.

I have previously explained what was at stake in a case challenging what is called “the Chevron doctrine.” But Robert Hubbell’s Substack letter explains better than I could the appalling, immensely negative consequences of Friday’s decision over-ruling that doctrine, and I am going to quote liberally from his explanation/diatribe.

You will be able to tell your grandchildren that you lived through a judicial revolution that rewrote the Constitution to suit the financial interests of corporate America and the social agenda of an extremist minority that fetishizes guns, hates government, and seeks to impose their narrow religious views on all Americans. The open question in 2024 and beyond is whether we will reverse that revolution. The first step is to understand the earth-shaking consequences of the Court’s ruling…

The Roberts Court has anointed the judiciary as the ascendant branch of government. The person of the president—not the executive branch—is nearly omnipotent in Roberts’ schema. Congress has been neutered…

The US economy is the largest in the world by a wide margin. That size is attributable in no small measure to (a) the orderly markets and business conditions created by federal regulations and (b) the comparatively corruption-free nature of the US economy (also attributable to federal regulations).

Managing and maintaining the immense US economy is a monumental undertaking. We need regulations that control how and when fish stocks can be harvested, where medical waste can be stored, how thick concrete must be on bridge spans, what type and color of insulation must protect electrical wires, what temperature meat must be kept at when being transported across the country, and what type of information can be collected and stored in a retail transaction.

Multiply those issues by a million, and you will have a vague sense of the complexity and scale of the US economy….

Those millions of regulatory decisions demand broad and deep expertise by career professionals with advanced degrees and years of experience in their field of regulation. That expertise resides in the federal agencies housed in the executive branch under the president..Businesses hate federal regulation because they impose a trade-off: protecting the health and safety of Americans by reducing the maximum profits unrestrained businesses could earn in the short term in an unregulated economy.

The so-called “administrative state” of federal agencies has been wildly successful. It is why all international airline pilots speak English when flying between countries across the globe. It is why the US dollar is the world’s currency. It is why the world’s science, technology, and innovation hubs are located in the US. It is why every Chinese corporation that goes public in China has the goal of transferring from the Chinese stock exchanges to the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq, and the Chicago Options Exchange as soon as possible…

As Hubbell writes, Friday’s decision dramatically reduces the power of Congress by requiring that legislation be as specific as an instruction manual. Under Chevron, when Congress directed the Executive Branch to achieve a desired goal, agency personnel with deep expertise in the relevant area would determine how best to reach that goal. If a regulation was challenged, the Court could strike it down if evidence showed it was unreasonable, but absent such evidence, the courts  deferred to the agency’s interpretation.

Hubbell provides an example:

If the Court requires Congress to specify the precise number of salmon that can be taken from the Klamath River each year rather than saying that the NOAA Fisheries Department shall establish fishing quotas to maintain healthy fish populations in inland waterways, Congress’s work will grind to a halt. Members of Congress have neither the time nor expertise to determine a healthy fish population for each inland waterway in the US. In the absence of “the administrative state,” Congress (or the courts) must serve as the regulators of the millions of daily transactions governed by federal regulations.

In the future, when a business challenges a regulation, federal judges rather than agency experts will interpret and apply–or more likely, overturn– the regulation. We’ve seen the arrogance and fact-free behavior of recent, ideologically-driven judicial appointees. 

The Trump judges on the Supreme Court have accomplished things near and dear to the Rightwing heart. In addition to dramatically undermining the liberties protected by the Bill of Rights, they have substantially deconstructed the checks and balances of the Founders’ government structure. They certainly aren’t “originalists” in any sense that matters.

At best, it will take years–generations–to undo the damage. At worst, a Trump win in November and implementation of Project 2025, would foreclose any possibility of enlarging or otherwise restraining this rogue Court and beginning to reverse the enormous damage it has caused.

What is truly terrifying is how few Americans seem to understand the stakes.

This election is a choice between an elderly man who has been an exemplary President but a poor debater and an equally elderly man who, in service to his own monumental ego and his rabid White Christian Nationalist base, is intent upon destroying America as we know it. 


Indiana’s White Christian Nationalist Ticket

In November, Americans will choose between/among candidates for various public offices. The potentially dire results of a GOP victory will be especially acute in Indiana, where a Democratic ticket composed of qualified candidates supporting rational policies that would once be considered middle-of-the-road will face off against an extreme, rabid collection of White Christian Nationalists.

It goes without saying that the Christian Nationalists will have more money–Hoosier Democrats are notorious for giving up before the campaign really starts, under the defeatist theory that Indiana is a hopeless case, and sending their dollars to candidates in states where they think the odds are better.

So what is the evidence for my assertion that the GOP’s entire ticket is composed of MAGA theocrats? 

Let’s start with Braun, who is, incredibly, the least scary of the batch. Just a few data points out of the many available:

  • when the surgeon general recently pointed out what everyone knows–that gun violence is a public health issue–Braun and his GOP colleagues immediately introduced a bill prevent the President and the Secretary of Health and Human Services from declaring gun emergencies. 
  • he’s on record supporting the continuing destruction of public schools, via vouchers and legislation to ostensibly shield children from “divisive” concepts.
  • he promises that “woke-ism” and any effort to accommodate diversity, equity and inclusion will have absolutely no place in Indiana government.
  • And of course, he staunchly supports the wholesale denial of reproductive rights to Hoosier women.

I need not elaborate on Pastor Micah Beckwith, a theocrat who proudly self-identifies as Christian Nationalist, supports censorship, wants to ban all abortions–no exceptions– and says that the January 6th insurrection was an “act of God.” (He also says God wanted him to win the nomination…). Beckwith opposes the “woke agenda,” and clearly has no interest in–or credentials for– the actual job of Lieutenant Governor.

Until Micah Beckwith won the nomination for Lieutenant Governor, Jim Banks was the scariest, most extreme member of the GOP ticket. I have previously listed the culture war positions that make him unfit for public office. Several times, actually.

  • He wants a national ban on abortion with no exceptions, not even for rape, incest or life of the mother. 
  • He is opposed to even the most modest efforts to control the proliferation of firearms, supporting concealed carry and opposing background checks for private sales.
  • He calls climate change a “liberal hoax,”
  • He has a zero rating from the AFL-CIO. 
  • He opposes any expansion of healthcare coverage, and rejects medical science, supporting legislation that would ban vaccine mandates. He has voted to repeal the ACA, against legislation that would prevent insurers from discriminating on the basis of pre-existing conditions, and against efforts to fund research into the effects of marijuana. 
  • He created the “anti-Woke” caucus in the House of Representatives and introduced legislation to outlaw any remaining affirmative action in college admissions. He’s been dubbed “Focus on the Family’s Man in Washington,” opposes all Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs and is especially noted for his strenuous opposition to gay rights generally, and for truly despicable attacks on trans children.

And then, of course, there’s Todd Rokita, running for re-election as Indiana Attorney General, about whom I have posted numerous times. That would be the same Todd Rokita who placed a White Supremacy “thin blue line” flag in his office window, the same Todd Rokita who obsessively panders to the GOP’s most extreme Right wing and has enthusiastically thrown the weight of his office behind anti-abortion extremists– the same Todd Rokita who was charged by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission with violating professional conduct rules while conducting an unhinged vendetta against the Indiana University doctor who performed an (entirely legal) abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio.

There is so much more that could be said about these odious, unAmerican candidates. (I’ve previously said a lot of it.) Back when I was a Republican, nominating any of these men would have been unthinkable, but today’s GOP is entirely MAGA–and utterly terrifying.

Fortunately, Hoosiers have excellent alternatives in Jennifer McCormick, Terry Goodin, Valerie McCrae and either of the women running for Attorney General, and I plan to work as hard as I can to help elect them. (One thing I am doing is co-sponsoring a fundraiser for McCormick on the evening of July 30th–if anyone reading this would like to be invited, let me know!)

It’s not just Indiana, of course. If Trump is elected, we not only lose America, we probably usher in WWIII, so moving isn’t an option.

These are perilous times for governance, the Constitution and the rule of law. Not to mention world peace.


OK–Let’s Talk About Virtue Signaling

A few days ago, a commenter dismissed the recent Women’s Strike as “useless virtue signaling.” That contemptuous comment prompted me to consider both the attitude prompting someone to post that condescending taunt as well as the definition and effect of virtue signaling.

I’m at a loss about the attitude, but I have some very definite opinions about what does–and does not–constitute behavior intended to convey one’s “virtue.”

I first encountered the phrase “virtue signaling” several years ago, when I purchased my first Prius, and a colleague–who, I hasten to say, approved of the purchase and who worries about climate change– told me that Toyota depended upon virtue signaling as a marketing tool. Making people feel virtuous for reducing their use of fossil fuel helped them sell their cars. It’s all about the bottom line, baby!

I understood his point; after all, people have been purchasing cars to “send a message” for generations. Until recently, that message had little to do with virtue or the environment–it was more along the lines of keeping up with the Joneses (or letting them know you could afford that Cadillac…)

Wikipedia’s entry on the term distinguishes between virtue signaling that is what we sometimes call “humble bragging” and the other motivations for– and effects of– communicative behaviors. The entry also included the following, very interesting, observation:

Linguist David Shariatmadari argued in The Guardian that the very act of accusing someone of virtue signalling is an act of virtue signaling in itself. The Conversations Karen Stollznow said that the term is often used as “a sneering insult by those on the right against progressives to dismiss their statements.” Zoe Williams, also writing for The Guardian, suggested the phrase was the “sequel insult to champagne socialist“.

The Wikipedia article also suggested that the term is most commonly applied to online expression rather than in-person behaviors and activities.

The dismissal of the Women’s Strike (and presumably the Women’s March that occurred after Trump’s election) as useless “virtue signaling” struck me as not only patronizing but entirely wrong. It utterly misses the point of civic demonstrations, which are an important–and effective– element of social movements and social change.

The first and most immediate effect of a successful demonstration–a strike, a march, or other public display–is communication. Participation in a protest or other public display does two things: first, it tells other people that their concerns are broadly shared, that they are not alone; and second, it sends a message to those who are in a position to correct the problem that generated the event.

When a segment of the population is upset about something–racism, homophobia, misogyny, failure to fix potholes, whatever–concerted public actions that serve to tell individuals that they aren’t alone, aren’t the only people with that particular concern–are extremely important. (If you hold a demonstration and no one comes, that’s an important message too.) Brooding alone about problem X leads to feelings of powerlessness; joining with others who share your concern or anger strengthens your resolve to do something about it.

It also facilitates contact with others who agree with you, making other action more likely.

In states unlike Indiana, where the existence of referenda or the absence of gerrymandering means that legislators actually have to respond to constituent concerns, demonstrations and other public actions alert those in office to matters requiring their remedial action.

It’s true that few of these public protests get prompt positive results.

But even when strikes or marches or other displays of public concern fail to produce immediate results, over time, those expressions of opinion can and do change the culture. Little by little, they produce social change. Where would the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement or the women’s movement be today without the years of “virtue signaling” that John Lewis aptly called “good trouble”?

In any effort to effect social change, there will be good-faith arguments among proponents about the tactics to be employed. Will X be effective or counter-productive? Is this the right time to try Y? What if we plan a march and no one comes? Those are important discussions.

But they have absolutely nothing to do with “virtue signaling.”