Heritage Makes It Explicit

When I was much younger, I would have bristled if someone told me to vote a straight ticket. I was one of those scolds who insisted that one’s duty as a citizen was to research the bona fides of all candidates, from President to coroner, and vote accordingly. And in a perfect–or even marginally better–world, I would probably stand by that assertion.

But we are in uncharted territory. Thanks, ironically, to decades of weakening political party structures and influence, the voting public has separated itself into two blocs, one of which is a more-or-less normal political party spanning a fairly wide range of policy preferences and engaging in relatively typical intra-party disputes, while the other has morphed into a cohesive racist cult that threatens the most fundamental bases of the American Idea.

The accuracy of that last paragraph is demonstrated by the fact that I don’t have to tell you which is which.

A vote for anyone in the cult is a vote for the goals of Project 2025, because even Republicans who are personally conflicted about or even opposed to the MAGA zealots have shown zero willingness to confront the crazies who are firmly in control of their party. Those who recognize the threat and retain their spines have all declared their intent to vote Democratic.

And let’s be quite clear about that threat. 

Heather Cox Richardson has described it accurately and succinctly:

Project 2025 stands on four principles that it says the country must embrace: the U.S. must “[r]estore the family as the centerpiece of American life and protect our children”; “[d]ismantle the administrative state and return self-governance to the American people”; “[d]efend our nation’s sovereignty, borders, and bounty against global threats”; and “[s]ecure our God-given individual rights to live freely—what our Constitution calls ‘the Blessings of Liberty.’”

In almost 1,000 pages, the document explains what these policies mean for ordinary Americans. Restoring the family and protecting children means using “government power…to restore the American family.” That, the document says, means eliminating any words associated with sexual orientation or gender identity, gender, abortion, reproductive health, or reproductive rights from any government rule, regulation, or law. Any reference to transgenderism is “pornography” and must be banned. 

The overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized the right to abortion must be gratefully celebrated, the document says, but the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision accomplishing that end “is just the beginning.” 

Dismantling the administrative state starts from the premise that “people are policy.” Frustrated because nonpartisan civil employees thwarted much of Trump’s agenda in his first term, the authors of Project 2025 call for firing much of the current government workforce—about 2 million people work for the U.S. government—and replacing it with loyalists who will carry out a right-wing president’s demands. 

The plan asserts “the existential need” for an authoritarian leader to dismantle the current government that regulates business, provides a social safety net, and protects civil rights. Instead of the government Americans have built since 1933, the plan says the national government must “decentralize and privatize as much as possible” and leave “the great majority of domestic activities to state, local, and private governance.”

It attacks “America’s largest corporations, its public institutions, and its popular culture,” for their embrace of international organizations like the United Nations and the European Union and for their willingness to work with other countries. It calls for abandoning all of those partnerships and alliances. 

The current head of the Heritage Foundation, Kevin Roberts, has remade what was formerly a Rightwing think tank into an organization focused upon “institutionalizing Trumpism.” Heritage has negotiated a formal partnership with Viktor Orban and is working to bring the neo-fascist policies of Hungary to the United States.

Unlike members of the MAGA base, Heritage and other Rightwing activists are well aware that Trump is an ignoramus wholly incapable of ushering in their desired policies; he’s basically a convenient tool.

In January 2024, Roberts told Lulu Garcia-Navarro of the New York Times that Project 2025 was designed to jump-start a right-wing takeover of the government. “[T]he Trump administration, with the best of intentions, simply got a slow start,” Roberts said. “And Heritage and our allies in Project 2025 believe that must never be repeated.” 

The only thing that will stop the completion of the January 6th coup and the remakng of America along the lines of a Rightwing wet dream is a massive and comprehensive rejection of the GOP, from top to bottom. 

If the French could do it, surely we can.


The Hoosier Theocrats

Sometimes, what’s intended as dark humor isn’t very funny.

During a discussion with a cousin who shares most of my political views, I admitted that the possibility of a Trump victory–especially now that the Supreme Court has eviscerated the rule of law–keeps me up at night. He counseled me to dial it back, to live with what comes. “And besides, we won’t have to worry for long, because they’ll line the Jews up and shoot us.”

Ha ha.

The folks that the late Molly Ivins dubbed the “chattering classes” are mostly focused on the very real threat of autocracy, of dictatorship should Trump prevail. Fair enough: the MAGA base doesn’t really have a coherent philosophy other than their firm belief that White Christian men should run the country and all we “Others” should go back to subordinate status (or–in the case of gay folks– the closet). Less attention has been paid to the theocrats in the movement–those who do have a specific and frighteningly clear agenda that revolves around using government to impose their fundamentalist religious beliefs on everyone else.

That First Amendment is so last century….

Here in Indiana, the Republican statewide ticket is uniformly theocratic; Micah Beckwith, candidate for Lieutenant Governor and Jim Banks, candidate for U.S. Senate, are “true believers.” Mike Braun, the gubernatorial candidate, hasn’t demonstrated any core beliefs other than his obviously firm conviction that he’s entitled to be important–apparently, he’ll happily echo whatever policy positions are most likely to win him public office, much like our embarrassing Attorney General, Todd Rokita, who is running for a second term. Rokita has made pandering to the MAGA base into an art form. In Indiana, since pandering requires obeisance to the MAGA theocrats, the entire ticket can legitimately be labeled theocratic.

How concerned should we be?

In a recent opinion piece in the Indianapolis Star, James Briggs considered a question posed by a reader: “how scary is Micah Beckwith.” His response:

I caution against treating political figures as scary. There’s enough to worry about in life without catastrophizing politicians.

That said, the media, myself included, have correctly framed Beckwith as an extreme figure on the right. He is an avowed Christian nationalist who believes in harnessing political and governmental power to enact an agenda in line with his rigid interpretation of Christianity. He’s also uniquely effective at pursuing that agenda, in large part because he has charisma and communication skills honed by his work as a pastor.

Briggs argued that, in the event the GOP wins Indiana in November, what Hoosiers have to worry about, “in order of greatest to least probability,” are

  • State government will get worse.
  • Beckwith will embarrass Indiana.
  • Laws could get more extreme.
  • Beckwith could become governor.

It’s hard to believe our legislature could get worse….

As Briggs notes, elective office means a wider audience. “When Beckwith says crazy things going forward — like that God sent the Jan. 6 rioters — people across the U.S. will hear about it and assume Indiana is just a bunch of Beckwiths. That’s embarrassing.”

Yes, Beckwith is a true believer and a loose cannon, but Jim Banks isn’t far behind.

Known as Focus on the Family’s man in Washington, when he isn’t using loose fundraising rules to amass personal wealth, Banks uses his position as a Congressman to pursue decidedly theocratic goals. He wants a “godly country” where federal law bans all abortions, with none of those wimpy exceptions for rape, incest or life of the mother, and other laws reflect his vicious ongoing vendetta against LGBTQ+ people and especially trans children.

Well, at least Beckwith and Banks are sincere fundamentalist theocrats.

I have repeatedly posted about Todd Rokita, Indiana’s despicable Attorney-General. In his case, devotion to MAGA theocracy is transparently based upon political utility–my guess is that if he were to be politically active in a Blue state, his positions would align with those of Bernie Sanders. Of course, he isn’t in a Blue state, so he has consistently demonstrated his fidelity to the Beckwith/Taliban portion of the Republican party, hounding the doctor who performed an abortion on a ten-year-old rape victim, making an effort to obtain women’s private medical records, and endorsing a variety of far-Right, theocratic positions.

Indiana is often characterized as a state where voters will vote for a rutabaga if it has an R next to its name. In November, we’ll see whether that flippant description holds, or whether the extremely autocratic and theocratic positions of the GOP candidates causes Hoosier voters to turn to the competent, middle-of-the-road candidates nominated by Indiana’s Democrats.

I’ll post evidence of their bona fides after the Democratic state convention.


The Things We Know That Just Aren’t So…

Michael Hicks is an economist on the faculty of Ball State University. He recently published two columns in the Indianapolis Star that deserve widespread attention.

Hicks documents two inconvenient facts: more people move into high-tax areas than into low-tax precincts, and economic conditions in Blue cities and states are significantly better than conditions in Red parts of the country.

Hicks makes that first assertion in a column discussing the repeated mantra of candidates for Indiana’s legislature--elect me and I’ll cut property taxes! High property taxes are why Indiana keeps losing population! He points out that–despite the popularity of these proposals, property tax cuts would be highly unlikely to grow population, employment, GDP or household incomes. The data shows that population growth tends to cluster in high-tax places.

In Indiana, the 10 counties with the highest effective property tax rates alone accounted for 27,105 new residents since 2020, a whopping 61.3% of the state’s entire population growth. The 10 counties with the lowest effective property tax rates saw only 878 new residents, or less than 2% of the state’s growth.

I know many readers will recoil at this challenge to a long-held notion that lower taxes cause growth. However, it is a cold, hard fact that both population and employment growth is positively correlated with tax rates on income and property.

In Indiana, a 1% increase in the average tax rate leads to a 2% increase in population growth. That is simple mathematics.

Why would that be? As Hicks concedes, no one looks at tax rates and says “Let’s move to where taxes are higher.” What they do look at are indicators of quality of life–public services and amenities that will be available to them.

These are places where families judge themselves better off. If you live in a state where families are moving from low- to high-tax regions, your state is underinvesting in local amenities such as schools, parks, and public safety.

That reality–anathema as it is to those who view all taxation as evil–goes a long way toward explaining another phenomenon Hicks has discussed–the difference between the economic performance of Red and Blue areas of the country.

Nationwide, it is unambiguously clear that the U.S. economy is performing historically well. On every important measure — employment, wages, GDP, or wealth — the overall economy is not just performing at record levels, but also outperforming the rest of the world.

Robust national economic performance has benefits for every county and small town, but that does not mean every place shares equally in economic growth. There are plenty of places that continue to do poorly.

And the gap between them is growing. Rich places are, for the most part, getting richer and poor places poorer–in contrast to what has typically happened before. Moreover,

poor places are increasingly governed by Republicans and rich places by Democrats. The gap between rich and poor places might help explain the partisan differences in perceptions of the economy.

The regional differences are compelling across dimensions of rural and urban places, as well as between cities and rural areas.


Words and Meanings

Can we Americans talk to each other? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be no, and the intentional misuse of language is one reason we can’t.

I think it was GOP strategist Frank Luntz who first advised his party to obscure its goals by using phrases that softened/concealed meaning; he even wrote a book back in 2007 titled “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.” As Deborah Tannen pointed out in 2003 (link unavailable),

Take the repeal of the estate tax. An “estate” sounds like a large amount of money. Indeed, before President Bush persuaded Congress to legislate a phase out of the estate tax, only the largest 2 percent of estates were subject to this tax. But change the name to “death tax” and many more Americans become sympathetic to repeal. After all, everyone dies. Death is bad enough without being taxed.

How many would get all worked up about an exceedingly rare abortion procedure (that the Alan Guttmacher Institute estimated represents less than one-fifth of 1 percent of all abortions performed in the United States in 2000)? But attach the name “partial-birth abortion” and a second-trimester fetus becomes a half-born baby. 

Who among us wants to call ourselves anti-life? Win the name game and you’re more than halfway toward winning the battle. Win enough naming battles and you’re on your way to winning the war.

Since the demise of Roe v. Wade, we’ve all become familiar with arguments about what it means to be “pro life.” Nice human beings all want to be supportive of life, but Red state legislators are rather clearly unconcerned with the lives of rape victims or women with dangerous pregnancies; they are also unconcerned with the health and wellbeing of those babies they’ve “saved” once they’re born. (And how “pro life” is the GOP’s all-in support for gun “rights”? Is defense of permitless carry really consistent with calling oneself “pro life”?)

The use of language to mask what’s really going on is hardly limited to the abortion debate. Take the indiscriminate use of the word choice. Choice is a great term; it can be positive–as in citizens’ ability to choose a religion, a marriage partner, or whether to procreate (choices the GOP’s Christian Nationalists oppose), or it can be a word that masks less positive “choices”–destroying the public school system via “school choice,” or “choosing” not to open your place of business to Blacks or gays. 

That latter “choice” brings me to another highly contested term: religious liberty. Who isn’t for religious liberty–the right to believe or live as one’s conscience dictates?

What today’s MAGA GOP means by religious liberty, however, is their right to remake the law of land in order to privilege fundamentalist Christianity–to return women, gays, non-Whites and non-Christians to the subordinate status in American society that their religion dictates. Requiring obedience to civil rights laws violates that dominance. (Serving that slice of pizza to a gay person clearly imposes upon their religious liberty…) 

The publication of Project 2025 provides evidence that intentional misuse of language continues to shape far-Right discourse; for example, the effort to destroy the civil service is presented as a path toward “efficiency.” (In this case, that may even be a proper use of language–dictatorships are usually more efficient than messy democracies.)

Project 2025 is also strong on “family values”–another term favored by a political party that certainly doesn’t value “those” families. What Project 2025 calls “family values” are policies that discriminate against LGBTQ+ citizens and women, and emphasize the importance of traditional nuclear families.

There are other words that obscure rather than illuminate. A recent favorite is “weaponization”–an accusation hurled at government officials applying existing laws to Republicans. Another is actually a new word: “woke.” Woke-ism is basically a commitment to fundamental fairness for all American citizens, which raises the question why it produces so hysterical a negative response.

These newer terms join old favorites like “socialism”–the Rightwing’s preferred label for any social program. Social Security and Medicare were originally opposed (and still are) as “socialist.” (Again, as with “efficiency” the label isn’t incorrect–just pejorative. The U.S., like all modern societies, has a mixed economy, with a robust private sector protected by socialized efforts like police, fire protection, garbage collection and other collective services.)

I’m sure readers can come up with other examples. Disinformation would be impossible without the ability to disguise truth  by misusing and distorting language. I believe it was French diplomat Charles Maurice De Talleyrand who famously said that “God gave humans language so they could conceal their thoughts from one another.”

No wonder Americans are having difficulty communicating…. 


Bigotry And Business

Every day, I become more convinced that racism is the foundation of MAGA Republicanism. I do give grudging kudos to MAGA’s activism on behalf of its expansive hatreds–all evidence points to the minority status of these angry White Nationalists, but they are unrelenting–and frequently successful– in their efforts to combat any movement toward civility and inclusion.

Most of us are aware of MAGA’s successful efforts last year during Pride month to cow Target for having the temerity to carry Pride merchandise and thus mortally offending the “Christian” warriors. Those pious folks also rose up to attack Bud Light for working with a transgender person. (Somewhere, there must be an office of “watchers” ready to unleash the troops whenever some business has the nerve to market to “undesirable” folks….)

The most recent example of which I’m aware is a business called Tractor Supply.

Tractor Supply (with which I am wholly unfamiliar) sells animal feed, tractor parts and power tools. It has more than 2,230 stores nationwide, and has been recognized for its inclusiveness; Bloomberg praised it for promoting gender equality, while Newsweek called it one of the best U.S. companies for diversity.

Inclusion was evidently the company’s big sin. The haters came out in force.

The company came under scrutiny this month when conservative podcast host Robby Starbuck denounced Tractor Supply’s diversity and climate policies. An employee recently had messaged him to complain that the company was supporting LGBTQ+ groups, Starbuck told The Washington Post.
Starbuck visited Tractor Supply weekly to buy provisions for his farm in Franklin, Tenn., he said, but wasn’t comfortable with the company putting money toward inclusion programs.
“Start buying what you can from other places until Tractor Supply makes REAL changes,” he wrote on X on June 6.

Other customers responded to say they would join the boycott, and the company’s share price fell by 5 percent in the past month, according to the Financial Times.

Tractor Supply backed off, announcing that it will end all “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion” programs and will no longer support LGBTQ and global warming causes.

That, of course, enraged a different part of the customer base. A number of customers have indicated an intent to stop doing business with Tractor Supply, and several have issued statements indicating disappointment with the company’s willingness to buckle under. As one wrote, “Tractor Supply’s embarrassing capitulation to the petty whims of anti-LGBTQ extremists puts the company out of touch with the vast majority of Americans who support their LGBTQ friends, family, and neighbors.”

Tractor Supply is a predominantly rural enterprise, which means it faces a more formidable challenge than businesses that cater to a largely urban customer base. As a recent study has found, a growing aspect of rural identity has added to America’s political and cultural divide.

Jacobs and Shea pinpoint the 1980s as when this identity began to crystallize. In different regions, cost pressures on family farms and ranches, suburban sprawl, or water inaccessibility squeezed rural communities economically, which coincided with terrible depictions of country life in popular culture. Just as national news outlets emerged through cable and the internet, regional papers closed, and divisive national narratives enveloped local political context. Separate localized identities merged into a national common rural identity

Simultaneously, globalization shuttered small manufacturers central to communities’ economies, so younger generations moved to bigger cities, and social issues and addiction grew. For Cramer, a key component of this rural identity is a resentment from the perception of being overlooked by government. It has furthered party polarization as rural Americans increasingly vote Republican and see the world opposite from group identities associated with Democrats and vice versa. 

Rural America is whiter, older, and more religious than urban America, but the researchers found that–even after controlling for those factors– living in rural America independently added to support for the Republican party. 

One of the most conspicuous aspects of MAGA Republicanism has been the willingness of its adherents to “act out.” In addition to the more-or-less organized bands of truly dangerous crazies like the Proud Boys and other neo-fascist groups,  members of groups like Moms for Liberty and the American Family Association have become increasingly belligerent, increasingly apt to insist that the schools, libraries and businesses they patronize privilege their particular bigotries. They are primarily active in the rural precincts where Republicanism is high and the fact that they don’t represent majority opinion even there is less obvious.

It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for the businesses caught in the middle–damned by MAGA if they stick to their purported principles, and shunned by tolerant Americans if they abandon them.

And we wonder why success in retail is so elusive…..