What’s WRONG With These People?

Whatever your opinion of him–positive or negative– today’s Republican Party is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan. Today’s GOP is the party of Marjorie Taylor Green (MTG), the party of “Jewish space lasers,” “pizzagate,” and QAnon, a party that accommodates Senator Tommy Tuberville’s belief that Democrats are an actual “satanic cult.”  The takeover isn’t confined to Congress, where preoccupation with looney-tune theories and efforts to return the country to 1950 (or earlier) have brought governance to a standstill–it has permeated Red state legislative bodies as well.

I just read about yet another example of Republican legislators standing firm against the 21st Century: the new war against—wait for it–lab-grown meat.

The only way you’re allowed to eat a burger is if a live animal first had to burp and die for it. That, apparently, is the battle cry of red-state Republicans, who are working to ban the fledgling “lab-grown meat” industry.

Scientists and entrepreneurs are developing new technologies to create meat from animal tissue cultivated in labs. This is different from Beyond Meat, tofu or any other meat substitute made from vegetarian ingredients. These are cells harvested from actual animals and then grown into edible flesh with the help of nutrients such as amino acids. The idea is to replicate the texture, taste and nutritional content of the delicious meats consumers already know and love.
This process would address a number of longstanding problems, including the need for more humane treatment of animals, less use of antibiotics, and reduction in huge quantities of greenhouse gas emissions. (Livestock agrifood systems are estimated to account for 12 percent of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.)
It sounds like a great idea–but it doesn’t exist yet.
As the linked article points out, the process faces  serious financial and technological challenges that must be overcome before these products can become commercially viable. But the fact that this technology is still largely theoretical hasn’t deterred the GOP’s culture warriors.
Republican politicians in AlabamaArizonaTennessee and Florida are considering legislation that would ban the sale, distribution or import of any “cell-cultured food product” intended for human consumption. Depending on the state, penalties could include everything from a million-dollar fine to prison time.
In Florida, both legislative chambers have already passed a bill criminalizing the sale of lab-cultivated meat, and Ron DeSantis has indicated that he’ll sign it, declaring that lab meat is part of an “ideological agenda.” (Evidently, lab-grown meat is “woke.”)

To be clear, this is not about a left-wing nanny state forcing the sale or consumption of lab-grown meats. It’s about a conservative nanny state prohibiting the voluntary consumption and sale of these products (which again, mostly don’t yet exist).

What happened to the Republicans who wanted the free market to choose winners and losers? Where is the party of limited government?

Granted, there’s a “follow the money” aspect to this; GOP lawmakers who are sane and merely corrupt want to protect the interest groups threatened by the prospect of lab-grown meat. But the effort to forestall any change in the way meat is produced is coming largely from the culture warriors who have turned the party of Dick Lugar into the party of MTG.

Today’s Republicans evidently believe that Donald Trump reads the bible. They openly admire Putin’s war on Russia’s LGBTQ+ community. They embrace the anti-sex prudery of the Comstock Act. They are clearly spooked by the very existence of trans people, and enraged by the notion that women and Black people might be entitled to equality, let alone personal autonomy. They believe Jews are working to “replace” them (when we aren’t starting forest fires with our space lasers), and that there really are “Satanic cults.”

They are basically terrified of any and all change, and frantic to reverse it.

We’ve seen this fear play out in Indiana’s General Assembly, where our lawmakers (like those in Congress) routinely ignore actual issues facing actual citizens (housing? gun violence?) in favor of banning abortion, attacking higher education (they just know those sneaky professors are turning out liberals!), and sending millions of our tax dollars to religious schools via vouchers.

I titled this post “What’s WRONG With These People?” My conclusion isn’t particularly kind, but it’s inescapable.

They’re nuts. And if we keep electing them, so are we.


Why Does Anyone Support This Buffoon?

I don’t get it.

Read a recent, snarky Dana Milbank column in the Washington Post. It began with a visit to Trump-speak–a language bearing less and less relationship to American English.

The Very Stable Genius is glitching again.

This week, he announced that he is not — repeat, NOT — planning to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He apparently forgot that he had vowed over and over again to do exactly that, saying as recently as a few months ago that Republicans “should never give up” on efforts to “terminate” Obamacare.

“I’m not running to terminate the ACA, AS CROOKED JOE BUDEN DISINFORMATES AND MISINFORMATES ALL THE TIME,” the Republican nominee wrote this week on his Truth Social platform. Rather, he said, he wants to make Obamacare better for “OUR GREST AMERICAN CITIZENS.”

Joe Buden disinformates and misinformates? For a guy trying to make an issue of his opponent’s mental acuity, this was not, shall we say, a grest look.

Milbank offered some additional examples of Trump-speak: “We’ll bring crime back to law and order,” “We just had Super Tuesday, and we had a Tuesday after a Tuesday already,” and “You can’t have an election in the middle of a political season.”

Whenever I am reminded of Trump’s intellectual lapses and/or his inability to use the English language, I marvel that this is the guy MAGA folks think should control the nuclear codes….

Much of Milbank’s column was focused on Trump’s selective memory. When he recently recited the time-honored political question “are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Milbank theorized that he’d “forgotten all about the economic collapse and his administration’s catastrophic bungling of the pandemic.”

As the Supreme Court was hearing arguments about banning the abortion pill, Trump also conveniently “forgot” his previous emphatic support for that ban, and his proposal to ban it fortuitously disappeared from his web site. Given that polling shows some 7 in 10 Americans opposed to such a ban, the Heritage Foundation also experienced a website “glitch” that conveniently obscured that part of the Foundation’s Plan for 2025.

As Milbank wrote,

The Heritage Foundation-run Project 2025, to which Trump has unofficially outsourced policymaking for a second term, said that a “glitch” had caused its policies — including those embracing a mifepristone ban — to disappear from its website. The Biden campaign said it was “calling BS on Trump and his allies’ shameless attempt to hide their agenda,” and the missing documents returned — including the language calling abortion pills “the single greatest threat to unborn children” and vowing to withdraw regulatory approval for the drugs.

Evidently, the House Republicans didn’t get the polling memo.

The extremism isn’t just at Project 2025, stocked with former Trump advisers. The House Republican Study Committee, which counts 80 percent of House Republicans as members, put out a budget last week that would rescind approval of mifepristone, dismantle the “failed Obamacare experiment” and embrace a nationwide abortion ban from the moment of conception.

Sometimes its a convenient loss of memory; other times, it’s obvious mental illness compounded by jaw-dropping ignorance. Take Trump’s “explanation” of why Truth Social’s stock wasn’t listed on the New York Stock Exchange:

He said he didn’t list the company on the New York Stock Exchange because it would be “treated too badly in New York” by Democratic officeholders. So he instead listed the company on Nasdaq, which is based in … New York. Trump said the “top person” at the NYSE “is mortified. … He said, ‘I’m losing business.’ ” As CNN pointed out, neither the president nor the chair of the exchange is a “he.”

Then there’s the most recent grift: selling bibles.

Trump is getting kickbacks for selling the Gospel — marketing God the same way he sold Trump-branded “Never Surrender High-Tops” sneakers last month for $399 a pair and, before that, digital trading cards showing Trump as a superhero.

“All Americans need a Bible in their home, and I have many. It’s my favorite book,” Trump said in the video promoting his new bible hustle.

Trump’s campaign shows a video at rallies announcing that “God Gave us Trump,” and he has called himself “the chosen one.” He’s shared a post calling him “the second greatest” after Jesus. And Milbank reports that Trump recently posted a verse from Psalms, topped by a message likening Trump’s suffering in the fraud case to the Crucifixion. 

There’s much, much more–but it all begs the question: who in their right mind looks at this pathetic sociopath with his limited (and rapidly declining) intellect and his God complex and says “yes, that’s my guy!”?  Is giving his supporters permission to express their racism and hostility to “elitists” really enough to outweigh the daily evidence of his manifest unfitness?

I don’t get it.


Barefoot And Pregnant

I am hopeful that women–and men who care about women– will save democracy in November. If so, it will be “thanks” to the ideologues on the Supreme Court, especially Justice Samuel Alito. His profoundly misogynistic and intellectually dishonest decision in Dobbs prompted a renewed national conversation over the consequences when judges and legislators presume to over-rule medical professionals.

In November, however, voters won’t just determine the fate of abortion restrictions. Unbelievable as it may seem, there are serious efforts underway to restrict access to birth control.

First, abortion.

Special elections in Red states have uniformly confirmed that–where reproductive rights are concerned–even political identities take a back seat. A large number of polls confirm that support for abortion bans has plummeted in the wake of Dobbs. Although I’d seen a number of polls showing substantial gains in support for reproductive rights, I was surprised to read that a recent Axios-Ipsos poll found 81% of Americans agreeing with the statement “abortion issues should be managed between a woman and her doctor, not the government.” That number included 65% of Republicans, 82% of Independents and 97% of Democrats.

The dilemma for Republicans is very real, because a substantial portion of their base remains extreme on the issue. A Republican candidate who tries to soften the party’s draconian stance on abortion in order to appeal to voters turned off by  intransigence on the issue will be vilified–and deserted–by the party’s zealots. And since those zealots are the voters most likely to turn out for primary elections, Republicans in Red states will run hard-Right culture warriors in November. Here in Indiana, Republican Senate candidate Jim Banks wants a national abortion ban with zero exceptions. (If the woman dies, well, them’s the breaks, baby…) Even in Indiana, that’s not a popular position.

In November, voters in a number of swing states will face referenda on abortion. Democrats promising to codify Roe and explicitly repeal the Comstock Act should get a boost.

Then there’s birth control.

American women should hope the federal government stays in Democratic hands, because forced birth Republicans aren’t going to be satisfied with banning abortion. They’re coming for birth control too.

It may surprise many people that there is a a concerted effort going on quite literally under their noses—on the screens of their smartphones, tablets, and laptops—to sow distrust, uncertainty, and fear of ordinary birth control among this country’s young people and particularly, young women.

In most instances the folks responsible for fostering this distrust are the same people vehemently opposed to abortion. Their failure to see any dissonance in advocating such contradictory positions might be perplexing—if you didn’t take their motivation into account. It’s the natural fulfillment of what they would consider an ideal society: one where men are in control, and women know their place.

Salon has recently tracked a sophisticated and well-financed Rightwing “information blitz” on social media, warning of the hazards of birth control.

Emboldened by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, they’ve now trained their focus on hormonal birth control, hysterically amplifying its alleged “hazards” to create a narrative of uncertainty ripe for what they see as the conservative-dominated highest court’s next logical step….

Physicians say they’re seeing an explosion of birth-control misinformation online targeting a vulnerable demographic: people in their teens and early 20s who are more likely to believe what they see on their phones because of algorithms that feed them a stream of videos reinforcing messages often divorced from scientific evidence.

One “influencer” candidly shared his motivations:

With fewer women on the pill, more women will become mothers, and some of them will drop out of the workforce and discover fulfillment and happiness as wives and homemakers. This is the real crisis that the Washington Post and the other Left wing rags are worried about. The last thing that the elites want to see is a movement of women fully embracing their own womanhood, and men fully embracing their manhood.

During the fifty years between Roe and Dobbs, most Americans shrugged off the efforts of “pro-life” activists, assuming that the Supreme Court would not overturn a settled constitutional right. Most reasonable people have a similar reaction to warnings that access to birth control will be next. (Those people haven’t read Justice Alito’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case.)

Fanatics who want to take this country back to a time before there were “uppity” women (and gays and Blacks) are a minority. But they are zealous and committed and a lot of them are running for office.

Women aren’t returning to “barefoot and pregnant” status. Voters–male and female– who understand what’s at stake will vote Blue in November. I hope there are enough of them.


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.


The Pessimism Of The Elites

A while back, in one of Thomas Edsall’s weekly columns for the New York Times , he surveyed a variety of scholars on the question whether America is at a point of no return– whether crises he described as insoluble (cultural and racial conflict; a two-tier economy, one growing, the other stagnant; inequality and economic immobility; and a divided electorate based on educational attainment) taken together, foreshadow the country’s inevitable decline.

The scholars who responded  were uniformly pessimistic.

As one of them wrote, his concerns were based upon the fact that today’s Americans seem to have lost the ability–critically important to democracies– to reform ourselves and correct mistakes.  What worries him most, he wrote, is

the decline in a common American identity. Americans lead increasingly separate and different lives. From “out of many one” no longer applies. This is truly dangerous, as this is a country founded on an idea (rather than class or demographic homogeneity), and that idea is no longer agreed on, much less widely held. I am no longer confident there is the necessary desire and ability to make this country succeed. As a result, I cannot rule out continued paralysis and dysfunction at best and widespread political violence or even dissolution at worst.

Other respondents pointed to economic stresses, especially the enormous gap between the rich and the rest, and profound shifts in cultural values. Pippa Norris, one of America’s most perceptive scholars, focused on the weaknesses inherent in two-party systems, which are most vulnerable to democratic backsliding when voting publics become polarized.

Where there is a two-party system despite an increasingly diverse plural society and culture, where multidimensional ideological polarization has grown within parties and the electorate and where there are no realistic opportunities for multiparty competition, which would serve as a pressure-valve outlet for cultural diversity, as is common throughout Europe.

Norris noted that political systems struggle to provide outlets for “alternative contenders” who reflect the new issue agendas of the Left and Right.

The longer this continues, the more the process raises the stakes in plurality elections and reinforces us-them intolerance among winners and especially losers, who increasingly come to reject the legitimacy of the rules of the game where they feel that the deck is consistently stacked against them.

She ties the grievances of those “losers” to their willingness–eagerness–to accept false claims.

The most plausible misinformation is based on something which is actually true, hence the great-replacement theory among evangelicals is not simply made-up myths; given patterns of secularization, there is indeed a decline in the religious population in America. Similarly for Republicans, deeply held beliefs that, for example, they are silenced, since their values are no longer reflected in mainstream media or the culture of the Ivy Leagues are, indeed, at least in part, based on well-grounded truths. Hence the MAGA grass-roots takeover of the old country club G.O.P. and authoritarian challenges to liberal democratic norms.

Edsall’s column quotes other, equally pessimistic, responses, offering still other analyses of what is undermining America’s unity and sense of purpose. Adding to the “doom and gloom” predictions, a former member of a Republican administration wrote that,

if the G.O.P. wins in 2024 or even wins enough to paralyze government and sow further doubts about the legitimacy of our government and institutions, then we drift steadily toward Argentina-style populism, and neither American democracy nor American prosperity will ever be the same again.

All of the observations quoted in the column are grounded in contemporary realities. They are based upon thoughtful and considered scholarly reviews of vetted data.


There are definitely aspects of our contemporary situation that are new–challenges that previous Americans didn’t face. That said, however, acknowledging that fact is not the same as concluding that these times and challenges are more dangerous or perilous than those we’ve previously faced and overcome. Goodness knows I’m no Pollyanna (as anyone who reads these daily posts can confirm!), but a reasonable acquaintance with American history might help to put our current hostilities into context. One of the reasons to subscribe to the very popular Substack of historian Heather Cox Richardson is precisely because she offers that context, reminding readers that we have emerged from past conflicts that have also threatened to destroy what I insist upon calling “The American idea.”

If–and I grant it’s a big “if”–America comes through the November elections having rejected the MAGA haters and malcontents, the very best thing we can do to heal our fragmented body politic is strengthen education in accurate American history and especially civics.

It’s hard to encourage citizens to embrace “The American Idea” if they don’t know what that is.