Category Archives: Random Blogging

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.

 

Negative Partisanship

Us versus Them–tribalism– seems to be a constant in human nature. It’s a primary motivator of war, a significant element of policymaking, a constant of religious strife–and the primary tool of campaigns to get out the vote.

Political polarization and what political scientists call “negative partisanship” get more people to the polls than reasoned appeals based upon policy promises.

I still recall a conversation with another politician back when the GOP was still a political party and not a theocratic cult; I had criticized one of our candidates , and he responded  “He may be a nutcase, but he’s our nutcase.” It was a perfect expression of what has since become the defining trait of the Republican Party. (Democrats—being far less cohesive–are somewhat more forgiving of intra-party criticism.)

Time Magazine article written after the first public hearing held by the January 6th committee considered that insistence on group solidarity as it is currently being applied to Liz Cheney.

In GOP circles, two things are true at once. First, large majorities of Republican voters disapprove of the January 6 rioters. At the same time, large majorities still approve of Donald Trump, and Liz Cheney—the Republican most prominently intent on investigating and exposing what happened—is less popular with Republicans than renowned conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene.

In fact, Cheney might now be the least popular Republican in the entire Republican Party, in spite of her consistently conservative voting record and her support for Donald Trump’s re-election in 2020. The reason is simple. She has violated the prime directive of negative partisanship. Even if she’s right to be upset by the riots, she’s attacking her own team. It’s the responsibility of GOP politicians to always, always train their fire on the left.

And that rule–that your guns must always be trained on the other guy–is why, as my kids might say, we Americans can’t have nice things.

Negative partisanship is a simple concept with profound implications. At its most basic, it means that “the parties hang together mainly out of sheer hatred of the other team, rather than a shared sense of purpose.” When negative partisanship dominates, a political coalition is united far more by animosity than policy. The policy priorities are malleable and flexible, so long as the politician rhetorically punches the right people.

Negative partisanship is why Republicans in the Senate voted against the PACT Act after voting for it–in identical form–just a few weeks earlier. (They did grudgingly reverse that vote in the wake of a huge blowback.) The vote had absolutely nothing to do with the Act itself, and everything to do with a spiteful “We’ll show you!” response to the deal hammered out between Schumer and Manchin.

Negative partisanship helps explain Republican acceptance of conspiracy theorists like Marjorie Taylor Greene. The same polling that shows Cheney underwater with Republican voters shows Green with a slight positive rating, despite her constant stream of utterly bizarre and baseless claims. As the article explains, she fights the left, and the left despises her, and for millions of Republicans that’s all it takes to earn their approval.

Negative partisanship also played a significant role in America’s vaccine hesitancy. Republicans were literally willing to risk death in order to “own the libs.”

Of course, Democrats disapprove of Republicans just as much as Republicans detest Democrats. But people like me, who would love to see the current hostilities replaced by genuine efforts to work across the aisle, are stymied by the reality that today’s parties are not morally equivalent. Germany really was an “evil empire” in the thirties, and the current GOP really has morphed into something other than a traditional, flawed political party.

And that something is malignant.

We Americans who live in what the George W. Bush administration dismissively called “the reality-based community”  find ourselves between the proverbial rock and hard place. We don’t want to paint the entire GOP with a broad and unforgiving brush, but we also don’t want to be so naive that we ignore the very real threat posed by a party now dominated by White Christian Nationalists and wacko conspiracy theorists.

Can that scorned “negative partisanship” come to our rescue?

If Democrats were to turn out in Kansas-like numbers this November–spurred by the GOP’s unremitting attacks on constitutional  liberties and democratic norms–a historically-improbable midterm defeat might begin the process of returning the GOP to its roots as a political party. As the Time article put it, the threats to America’s constitutional order currently come from the Right–and it’s the Right that must put its house in order.

If that happens, Americans of good will can focus their efforts on combatting tribalism and negative partisanship. If it doesn’t, all bets are off….

 

About That Third Party…

There’s a new party on the scene. According to The Week,

Dozens of former Republicans and Democrats have joined forces to launch Forward, a new centrist political party. Its founders include Andrew Yang, the onetime Democratic presidential candidate; Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican governor of New Jersey; and David Jolly, a former GOP congressman from Florida.

“Political extremism is ripping our nation apart, and the two major parties have failed to remedy the crisis,” Yang, Whitman, and Jolly wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post. In the last two years, there has been a “spike in political intimidation,” they said, and “if nothing is done, the United States will not reach its 300th birthday this century in recognizable form.” The op-ed cited a 2021 Gallup poll that found half of U.S. adults identify as independent and 62 percent believe the Democratic and Republican parties “do such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed.”

It’s hard to argue with the criticism–but not at all difficult to criticize the remedy. Third parties in the U.S. face formidable challenges, and–if history is any guide–virtually all efforts to provide a third-party option have managed only to be “spoilers.” (No matter what  Ralph Nader says, his third-party run gave us George W. Bush.)

I agree with Stuart Stevens, who was Mitt Romney’s chief strategist in 2012. Stevens was quoted as saying that it is “extraordinarily difficult to get on the ballot. It is extraordinarily difficult to create a party structure from nowhere. My greatest fear about this is that it is going to detract and distract people from what is really the greatest crisis we have, which is stopping an autocratic movement. I hate to say, it sounds harsh, [but] it’s sort of a vanity project.”

There’s a reason that the two third-party Senators currently serving–Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine —caucus and vote with the Democrats.

A political historian, writing in the Guardian, came to the same conclusion.  The author found the Forward party to be ” ill conceived, based on a faulty idea of how to fix America’s descent into political madness, and likely to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.”

At the core of the party’s justification for its own existence is the suggestion that both of America’s two major parties are to blame for the country’s dysfunction, and that the only way to move forward is to replace them with something new. This is a misleading and self-serving diagnosis. Whatever gripes one might have with its policies, the Democratic party is the only one of the two major parties committed to basic democratic and liberal norms. The problem that ails America is that Republicans are not.

The absurdity of this attempt to create a false equivalence becomes even clearer when the new party’s founders talk details. They argue that “most Americans” agree neither with “the far right’s insistence on eliminating gun laws” nor with “calls from the far left to confiscate all guns and repeal the Second Amendment”. But these two things are not the same: the first is what is actually happening in America right now, whereas the second is a view that was attributed to Kamala Harris as part of a fabricated smear on Facebook and enjoys approximately zero support in the Democratic party.

On abortion, the party’s founders similarly contrast “the far right’s quest to make a woman’s choice a criminal offence” with “the far left’s extreme views on late-term abortions”. Once again, the false equivalence is startling. It’s thanks to the mainstream Republican party, not the “far right”, that abortion is now illegal in eight states, with many more expected to follow. “Late-term abortion”, meanwhile, is a medically meaningless term used by conservatives to imply that women who have life-saving surgery late in their pregnancy are in fact having elective abortions, cheered on all the way by baby-killing liberals.

America’s problem is that the current GOP isn’t a reasonable alternative for sane people who disagree with Democratic policies. They have nowhere to go.

Since Yang seems to be the only identifiable Democrat involved, Forward could be that alternative–especially since there are a number of Republicans in addition to Whitman and Jolly. If we’re lucky, Forward may end up just being a refuge for unhappy Republicans, pulling disproportionately from the GOP. (Fingers crossed…)

Meanwhile, The Nation’s justice correspondent wants to know what the new Party stands for.  As he tweeted: “Do these people have an actual *platform* with, like, POLICIES and stuff … or is it just an amalgam of people too conservative to win a Dem primary but not racist enough to win a GOP one?” 

Good question.

 

 

About That Civil War

I’ve been brooding a lot over the fragmentations and hostilities of American life, and the gloomy predictions of a “civil war”. Since America’s divisions tend to fall along lines of urban and rural, a traditional “war” featuring some sort of widespread armed conflict is unlikely and impractical, but the “sides” are pretty clearly arrayed, and we seem incapable of talking to or understanding each other.

I especially thought about the growing differences of Americans’ realities a couple of weeks ago. We were driving home from South Carolina, where for the past forty-plus years our family has enjoyed a summer week at the beach. We used to take the  state’s (relatively) major roads from our place at Litchfield Beach to Columbia, where we accessed the interstate, but since the advent of GPS, we’ve been able to save time by following directions along the lines of “take a right through farmer Brown’s sorghum field, then go 500 feet and turn onto narrow, scary unpaved county line road…(Okay, that may be a bit exaggerated, but it is amazing how desolate some parts of our country remain, and how long you can drive without encountering human habitation…)

What isn’t exaggerated is the isolation through which the GPS took us. We would go miles and miles without passing a gas station or seeing anything remotely resembling a town. We would, however, occasionally pass a trailer that had seen better days, often with an equally-dilapidated truck or van sitting in an un-mowed yard. Other times, we would pass a more substantial small home sitting forlornly in a field, alone and–so far as we could tell– far from neighbors or shops.

I cannot help wondering about the people who live in these homes. Do they have internet access? Television? Where is the nearest school, and do they have children who attend that school? Is there a library anywhere close? Where’s the nearest grocery? (Given the number of churches we pass on these trips–far, far more numerous than gas stations– I do know there’s a church near by, although I have no idea whether it is the “right” church…)

So here’s the thing.

Living in the heart of a mid-sized city, my experience of American life is radically different from the experience of the folks who inhabit these precincts. It isn’t a matter of “better” or “worse” (although we all have our prejudices)–it’s a matter of really dramatic distance. The skill sets of people who must fix their own cars, grow much of their own food, and rely on their immediate families and fellow religious congregants  for the bulk of their human interaction is obviously different from that of city dwellers who live near multiple other people–most of whom don’t go to their church or share their backgrounds or experiences.

Although I’d be the first to admit that I have no way of knowing, I’m pretty sure that the things I fear are not the things these folks fear. It’s also likely that the things I know and am familiar with are very different from the things they know and are familiar with, just as our respective skill-sets are likely to be very different. 

How do we talk to each other as Americans? What does being an American mean to each of us? Are there areas of agreement, of commonality? 

Research confirms that MAGA true believers come disproportionately from these very rural environments, and that many of these inhabitants deeply resent the “elitists” and “woke folks” they think occupy urban America. Urban dwellers can be equally dismissive of rural folks.  

As a 2018 Pew study reported,

Against this backdrop, a new Pew Research Center survey finds that many urban and rural residents feel misunderstood and looked down on by Americans living in other types of communities. About two-thirds or more in urban and rural areas say people in other types of communities don’t understand the problems people face in their communities. And majorities of urban and rural residents say people who don’t live in their type of community have a negative view of those who do.

A 2020 study by scholars at  Washington University found  that the urban-rural political divide is rooted in geography and not merely differences in the type of people who choose to live in these places. How close people live to a major metropolitan area (defined as cities of at least 100,000) and the population density of that urban environment significantly affect political beliefs and partisan affiliations. The researchers found that “The distance we live away from a metropolitan area shapes what we think about the political world and the partisan labels we adopt.”

There really are two Americas, and they are increasingly at odds. Perhaps it isn’t “civil war”–but it’s uncomfortably close. 

 

 

 

It Isn’t Just The Bar Exam…

The New Republic recently printed an essay devoted to one of the many, many less tragic but nonetheless unfortunate consequences of the decisions issued this term by our rogue Supreme Court–the fact that the Court has upended the lives of students studying for the bar exam.

I know whereof the author speaks. A couple of weeks before the essay appeared, I had lunch with a good friend and his daughter, who had just graduated from the University of Michigan law school and was studying for the bar exam. She had been an excellent student, but was now stymied about how to answer questions about what she’d been taught were basic principles of American jurisprudence. What should she do in the wake of the Court’s string of radical departures from what she’d been taught was settled law?

Snark that I am, I suggested starting every answer with “Until this year, the law was…” But of course, that assumes the exam consists largely of essay questions.

As the author of the article in the New Republic put it

Picture the scene: It’s the summer after I graduated from law school and a day that ends in y, which means I’m currently hunched over a workbook, attempting to answer practice questions for the multistate bar exam. Such cramming for the bar is a universal rite of passage in the legal field—one that every lawyer in America remembers going through. But right now, law school graduates across the country are experiencing the ordeal a little differently. Because this year, a lot of the laws we are trying so hard to memorize are, as of just a few weeks ago, no longer actually the law.

The author shared a multiple-choice question that has undoubtedly been on several such exams, and then described the dilemma: of the three choices, “B” was correct. At least it should be correct. Except now, not so fast…

Or, well, “B” used to be the right answer. It was the right answer when we graduated from law school at the end of May. It was the right answer through most of June, as we studied the elements of substantive due process—the principle that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments protect fundamental rights from government interference, like the rights to personal autonomy, bodily integrity, self-dignity, and self-determination. For decades, these interests formed the outline of a constitutionally protected right to privacy, whose framework we’ve spent the summer copying onto flashcards and trying to recount in practice essays.

But this substantive due process right to privacy was just dealt a body blow by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson that the U.S. Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.

After enumerating several of this session’s other dramatic “U turns” to constitutional jurisprudence, he writes:

And the hits keep on coming: Next there’s a question on the “case or controversy” requirement laid out under Article III of the Constitution, stipulating that federal courts only have the power to resolve legal questions arising out of an actual dispute between real parties. That’s been a basic principle of judicial review since 1793, and yet I know that the multiple-choice option I mark for correctly stating this rule completely contradicts the Supreme Court’s disastrous climate decision in West Virginia v. EPA—a case over an environmental regulation that never took effect, no longer exists, and never created any real dispute between actual parties. Then I drop my pencil and put my head in my hands….

In order to practice law, every newly licensed attorney in the year 2022 has to take an exam testing their grasp of legal principles that are no longer legal and laws that are no longer the law. That an unelected panel of ideological extremists could change so many critically important pieces of America’s legal architecture overnight—radically remaking our laws on abortion, separation of church and state, climate change, the rights of criminal defendants, Native American sovereignty, gun control, the capacity of the administrative state to keep us safe, and more—all with zero input from or accountability to the American people, demonstrates how completely unmoored this court is from the principles of democratic governance.

It isn’t only students cramming for the Bar Exam who find themselves suddenly adrift. Pretty much every lawyer I know is gobsmacked..

Me too. I recently collaborated with Women4Change Indiana on a series of civic education videos meant to explain the operation of the U.S. Bill of Rights. The Court’s ahistorical and deeply dishonest departures from what I knew as settled legal principles has made several of those videos inaccurate.

I encourage you to click through and read this very poignant essay--and the author’s very pointed criticisms of the judicial extremists who are decimating the rule of law.