Tag Archives: Big Lie

“Crazy” Isn’t Just A Song By Patsy Cline

I wish I had a dollar for every well-meaning liberal who is preaching the importance of listening to “the other side.” I grant you that such advice is reasonable when the “other side” is rational–when the “other guy” wants policy X and you want policy Y.

But I constantly read about the people who vote Republican these days, and I defy anyone to enter into a civil, reasoned conversation with individuals who hold these particular views.

Just two examples:

The first is from a report in The Washington Post about a Tennessee pastor named Greg Locke.  Locke, who is  45, is head of something called the Global Vision Bible Church, and he has–according to the Post– millions of followers, “many of them online.”  He gained national attention during the coronavirus crisis “when he kept his church open and defied the mask mandates of the ‘fake pandemic.'”

Locke is an “ambassador” of a movement where he and other pastors around the country appear at rallies and tent revivals preaching Donald Trump’s fraudulent claims that the election was stolen as a new holy war, according to Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, an organization dedicated to religious freedom.

Locke was on the Capitol steps on January 6th. He’s divided his small town on the outskirts of Nashville, “most recently with a book burning where he and followers threw copies of the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series and Disney villain merchandise into a giant bonfire. He has declared he now wants to “deliver” people from demonic influences and witchcraft.”

There’s much more, and it’s all pretty horrifying to those of us who neither burn books with which we disagree nor believe in demons and witchcraft.

If that isn’t enough crazy for you, I highly recommend this column by Dana Milbank, titled “I Tried Trump’s Truth Social So You Don’t Have To.” (“Truth Social,” you will recall, is Trump’s competitor to Twitter, which banned him. It has “truths” rather than “tweets” and has been mired in technical glitches.)

And what did Milbank “learn” from visiting “Truth Social”?

Hunter Biden is involved in building and running biolabs in the country.

The CIA and National Institutes of Health are both “deeply involved” in the Ukrainian biolabs.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was set in motion by a CIA false-flag operation that was funded by George Soros.

The covid-19 pathogen originated not in China but in Shpyl’chyna, a village in Ukraine.

The bioweapons developed in Ukraine specifically target the “Abrahamic Bloodline.”

Neo-Nazis from Ukraine joined with the FBI to infiltrate the Capitol on Jan. 6 and participated in the insurrection.

Ukraine was planning to use drones to attack Russia with pathogens from the U.S.-funded bioweapons labs.

President Biden has been using Ukraine to launder money.

Ukrainian neo-Nazis controlled the Ukrainian city of Mariupol before Russians invaded.

Russia’s alleged war crimes were staged.

I also found many posts calling President Biden a pedophile (or a “groomer” in the new parlance of QAnon). I found badly photoshopped images of Vice President Harris in sexualized situations. I found ceaseless attacks on trans people, an edited video of a cat attacking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attacks on Disney for opposing Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, references to satanic sacrifice by the “deep state,” a few racist epithets and endless accusations about Hunter Biden’s laptop and drug abuse.

When Milbank looked for “hashtag Ukraine,” he found posts produced by Russian state propaganda, and a variety of doctored images–one showed Trump holding a sign saying “Zelensky is the Avenatti of leaders,” another was a doctored video of Putin saying “Let’s go, Brandon.” There were also posts accusing Ukrainian leaders of being corrupt, and a claim that Ukraine is “defending the NWO” — New World Order.

If you have the stomach for it, I encourage you to click through and read both the report on Locke, the Christian Nationalist preacher, and the column by Milbank. Then tell me how a rational person can have a respectful, productive exchange of views with people who firmly believe that LGBTQ+ people are the spawn of Satan (and that Satan is real!) and that Donald Trump really won the 2020 election,  (those inconvenient seven million more Biden votes were all fraudulent)….

I’m perfectly fine with the fact that many reasonable, sane people disagree with me on issues ranging from national health care to minimum wage to First Amendment jurisprudence. I promise that I can listen to those people, and engage in civil discourse with them.

I can’t–and won’t– sit down with the crazies.

What terrifies me is how many of them there are.

 

 

it Always Comes Back To Racism…

Let me begin today’s discussion with a disclaimer: I’m fully aware that–at least in the context of public policy and governance–nothing is simple and linear. When it comes to humankind’s longstanding bigotries, for example, there’s ample evidence that they come to the surface more forcefully in times of economic downturn and/or unease, and can be triggered by recognition of demographic change.

But that said, there is also a veritable mountain of research confirming that today’s civil discord is primarily grounded in racism. We may not be having a “hot” civil war, but it is abundantly clear that the most prominent and damaging elements of our current dysfunctions are rooted in the same moral sickness that prompted the original one.

Recently, Thomas Edsall surveyed some of that evidence for the New York Times. Here’s his lede

Why is Donald Trump’s big lie so hard to discredit?

This has been a live question for more than a year, but inside it lies another: Do Republican officials and voters actually believe Trump’s claim that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election by corrupting ballots — the same ballots that put so many Republicans in office — and if they do believe it, what are their motives?

A December 2021 University of Massachusetts-Amherst survey found striking links between attitudes on race and immigration and disbelief in the integrity of the 2020 election.

Surveys have found that 66 percent of self-identified Republicans agreed with the statement that “the growth of the number of immigrants to the U.S. means that America is in danger of losing its culture and identity.”  (I have actually been amused–in a “black humor” sort of way–by the GOP’s recent laments about the dearth of workers, especially in the hospitality and food industries. They seem utterly clueless to the rather obvious link between severely depressed immigration numbers and the “inexplicable” lack of people willing to pick crops and be restaurant servers. But I digress.)

Edsall shared the following paragraph from an essay by four political scientists, further emphasizing the link between racial attitudes and unfounded beliefs.

Divisions over racial equality were closely related to perceptions of the 2020 presidential election and the Capitol attack. For example, among those who agreed that white people in the United States have advantages based on the color of their skin, 87 percent believed that Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate; among neutrals, 44 percent believed it was legitimate; and among those who disagreed, only 21 percent believed it was legitimate. Seventy percent of people who agreed that white people enjoy advantages considered the events of Jan. 6 to be an insurrection; 26 percent of neutrals described it that way; and only 10 percent who disagreed did so, while 80 percent of this last group called it a protest. And while 70 percent of those who agreed that white people enjoy advantages blamed Trump for the events of Jan. 6, only 34 percent of neutrals did, and a mere 9 percent of those who disagreed did.

In his column, Edsall traced the scholarly dispute between researchers who believe that poll respondents claiming to believe The Big Lie really do know better, and are using their purported agreement as a way of signaling that they are part of the tribe/cult, and those who think these respondents have actually imbibed the Kool Aid. He also quotes Isabell Sawhill of The Brookings Institution, who suggests that there is a dynamic at work here– that what was originally an “opportunistic strategy to please the Trump base” has had the effect of solidifing that base.

It’s a Catch-22. To change the direction of the country requires staying in power, but staying in power requires satisfying a public, a large share of whom has lost faith in our institutions, including the mainstream media and the democratic process.

In response to an inquiry from Edsall, Paul Begala wrote

Trump lives by Machiavelli’s famous maxim that fear is a better foundation for loyalty than love. G.O.P. senators don’t fear Trump personally; they fear his followers. Republican politicians are so cowed by Trump’s supporters, you can almost hear them moo.

Elected officials who know better may lack both the backbone and integrity to oppose the party’s Trumpist base, but–as a professor from MIT pointed out–there’s a reason the base loves Trump, and it’s simple: racial animus and Christian millennialism.

No wonder they engage in an unremitting culture war.

As a sociologist at N.Y.U. described our current, dangerous political dynamic: “In capturing the party, Trump perfectly embodied its ethno-nationalist and authoritarian tendencies.”

I guess labeling the GOP as “ethno-nationalist” is nicer than calling it out as irredeemably racist. But it means the same thing.

 

If It’s The Economy…

The “Big Lie” has worked so well with the GOP base (polls show some 58% of Republicans believe that Trump really won the election) that they’ve extended the tactic. If James Carville’s famous 1992 motto–“It’s the Economy, Stupid” was right, then lying to an astonishingly credulous  base  about the economic performance of the Biden Administration should be a no-brainer.

Granted, the criticism bears virtually no relationship to reality, as a slew of economists routinely document and as Jennifer Rubin recently pointed out in the Washington Post. But facts are clearly irrelevant to Republican party “leaders” who insist–in the face of millions of deaths worldwide– that COVID is a hoax. Also that California’s wildfires were set by Jewish space lasers, and that Democrats eat small children.

The 64-Thousand-Dollar question, of course (young people, Google the reference…) is whether Carville’s insight was right. Do verifiable economic facts on the ground influence voters, or is misinformation being sold by politicians with an ax to grind a more potent motivator?

Rubin begins by reminding readers of the success of the stimulus.

Quite simply, stimulus packages kept the economy and workers afloat during the pandemic, setting the stage for an economic surge when employees could return to work. The Post reports, “The U.S. economic recovery from the covid pandemic was the strongest of any of the big Western economies. That is in large part thanks to the multiple rounds of government stimulus that totaled at least $5.2 trillion.”

Without a single Republican vote, Biden passed an economic plan that, coupled with the Federal Reserve’s near-zero interest rate policy, proved to be precisely the recipe needed to help stave off a long-term recession. The Post reports, “The Biden stimulus pushed the bank accounts of even the lowest-income Americans to unexpected heights. On average, they had more than twice as much in their savings accounts as they did when the pandemic began.”

The effects of the stimulus are only a part of the story. The job market–responding to pent-up demand–is more favorable than it has been in a long time. Unemployment is 4.2 percent, and according to The Wall Street Journal, applications for unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, have trended near five-decade lows. Jobless claims are at the lowest level since 1969.

Perhaps the best news is that workers — especially low-wage workers — have been the biggest beneficiaries of this surprisingly robust economy. Rubin quotes Steven Ratner, who noted that, as the economy rebounded from the pandemic,

the size of wage increases began to recover, especially for less-well-off Americans, in part because of increases by some states in their minimum wages. The many Covid-related federal stimulus programs helped push the growth rates in pay for many workers to levels not seen since the early 2000s. Thanks in part to these programs, wages are growing fastest for the bottom 25 percent of workers.

Rubin notes that this data contradicts Republican’s longtime insistence that wage increases mean fewer jobs–an insistence increasingly at odds with that pesky thing called “evidence.” Not only that,  the past year has seen some notable successes in unionizing, allowing American workers to demand both higher wages and better working conditions.

If Rubin and multiple economists are correct, what accounts for the evidently widespread belief that economic times are bad? Paul Krugman asks–and answers–that question.

Overall the economic picture looks pretty good — indeed, in many ways this looks like the best economic recovery in many decades.

Yet consumers appear to be feeling very downbeat — or at least that’s what they tell surveys like the famous Michigan Survey of Consumers. And this perception of a bad economy is clearly weighing on President Biden’s approval rating. Which raises the question: Are consumers right? Is this a bad economy despite data showing it as very good? And if it really isn’t a bad economy, why does the public say it is?…

One clue is that there’s an incredible amount of partisan skew in the responses. Republicans say, bizarrely, that current economic conditions are much worse than they were in March 2009, when the economy was losing 800,000 jobs a month…

Another clue is that you get very different answers when you ask people “How are you doing?” rather than “How is the economy doing?” The Langer Consumer Confidence Index asks people separately about the national economy — where their assessment is dismal — and about their personal financial situation, where their rating is high by historical standards.

So–the midterm elections will give us a clue to the proper interpretation of Carville’s axiom. Will people vote their personal economic situations? Or will they vote the faux reality peddled by their political cult?

I guess we’ll find out.

 

 

Living In Wacko World

There is much that I don’t understand about the Americans who continue to support Donald Trump and the Big Lie. There’s even more I don’t understand about today’s GOP, which looks absolutely nothing like the political party to which I devoted some 35 years.

Here’s a smattering of what I don’t get:

  • How do these people explain away the hysterical refusal of the Trump mob to testify to Congress or hand over documents? If they have nothing to hide, why would they act this way? From my lawyering days, I still remember the concern of criminal defense lawyers that a client’s failure to testify would be taken by a jury as evidence that the client had something to hide; in fact, there was a standard (and undoubtedly ineffective) jury instruction to the effect that the jury should refrain from making that obvious assumption.
  • How do they justify the rage and recriminations focused on the few members of the GOP who voted to repair the nation’s decaying infrastructure–especially when Trump tried and failed for four years to have his own “Infrastructure week”? Don’t they drive on our crumbling roads and worry about our failing bridges? How do they explain to themselves and others the GOP insistence that defeating anything  President Biden wants is more important than actually getting things that obviously need to be done, done?
  • What in the world prompts Republicans to threaten “reprisals” for the indictment of Steve Bannon? Bannon was indicted for contempt of Congress. There is no quarrel with the accuracy of the charge: he publicly refused to testify to the committee investigating the January 6th insurrection, and just as publicly refused to provide documents Congress identified. If individuals can ignore Congressional subpoenas, if they can thumb their noses at lawful investigations, we are really in Wild West territory. Yet members of the GOP are warning that Democrats’ efforts to force Bannon to comply “paves the way for them to do the same if they take back the House in 2022.”  According to the Washington Post report linked above, “most high-profile GOP leaders have quickly turned Bannon’s indictment into the latest litmus test for loyalty to the former president.”

This is evidently where we are: if the rule of law gets in the way of partisan loyalties, well, the rule of law must go.

What must also go in this world-view is the First Amendment of the  U.S. Constitution.

Last week, Trump’s disgraced former national security advisor, former General Michael Flynn, spoke at a “Reawaken America” conference in San Antonio, Texas. (According to multiple reports, the conference was intended to reinforce the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, and to support the argument that vaccine requirements infringe Americans’ liberties.) Flynn told the audience: “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God.”

The former national security adviser also characterized the investigation into the riot as “the insurrection crucifixion” and likened House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Pontius Pilate. “This is a crucifixion of our First Amendment freedom to speak, freedom to peacefully assemble. It’s unbelievable,” Flynn said.

Flynn’s speech was one of the more explicit endorsements of what the Rightwing political fringe has clearly wanted–and what respect for the rule of law has impeded–a “Christian” nation. (Actually, a nation ruled by White Christian males.)

This is hardly the first time Flynn gets attention for his statements that seem to go against some of the basic tenets of American democracy. In May, Flynn said at a QAnon conference that a military coup like the one that took place in Myanmar “should happen” in the United States. Flynn was Trump’s national security adviser for less than a month and resigned after it was revealed he lied about conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Flynn twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and Trump pardoned him.

What I don’t get–what I cannot wrap my head around–is how non-mentally-ill Americans (even those who get their “news” from Fox) can look at these and so many other examples of the GOP assault on logic, democracy, reality and the rule of law and tell themselves that they are the behaviors of “true Americans.”

If gerrymandering delivers Congress to the GOP next year, we are going to be living in a very different country than the one in which most of us grew up.

 

Truly Terrifying Data…

Earlier this month, Thomas Edsall investigated the phenomenon that has most reasonable, rational citizens incredulous: the significant number of Americans who believe what has been dubbed “the Big Lie.

Just who believes the claim that Donald Trump won in 2020 and that the election was stolen from him? Who are these tens of millions of Americans, and what draws them into this web of delusion?

Three sources provided The Times with survey data: the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Poll, P.R.R.I. (the Public Religion Research Institute) and Reuters-Ipsos. With minor exceptions, the data from all three polls is similar.

Edsall quotes a political science professor from the University of Massachusetts for a summary of the data:

About 35 percent of Americans believed in April that Biden’s victory was illegitimate, with another 6 percent saying they are not sure. What can we say about the Americans who do not think Biden’s victory was legitimate? Compared to the overall voting-age population, they are disproportionately white, Republican, older, less educated, more conservative and more religious (particularly more Protestant and more likely to describe themselves as born again).

Once again, the evidence connects Trumpism, and the alternate reality inhabited by Trumpets, with racism and fear of the “other.” P.R.R.I. tested for agreement or disagreement with so-called “replacement theory” —the belief that  “Immigrants are invading our country and replacing our cultural and ethnic background” — and found that 60 percent of Republicans agreed, as do 55 percent of conservatives.

Edsall also probed the connection between authoritarianism and opposition to immigration, quoting from a recent academic paper:

Right-wing authoritarianism played a significant role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In subsequent years, there have been numerous “alt-right” demonstrations in the U.S., including the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville that culminated in a fatal car attack, and the 2021 Capitol Insurrection. In the U.S., between 2016 and 2017 the number of attacks by right-wing organizations quadrupled, outnumbering attacks by Islamic extremist groups, constituting 66 percent of all attacks and plots in the U.S. in 2019 and over 90 percent in 2020.

As he explained, the term “social dominance orientation” refers to the belief that society should be structured by group-based hierarchies–that certain groups should be dominant over others. There are actually two inter-related components to the orientation: group-based dominance and anti-egalitarianism. People with a social dominance orientation prefer hierarchies and–importantly–approve of the use of force/aggression to maintain them. Anti-egalitarianism manifests itself as a preference to maintain these hierarchies through means other than violence, through systems, legislation, and social structures.

Studies of the 2016 primaries found that Trump voters were unique compared to supporters of other Republicans in the strength of their “group-based dominance.”

The column quotes from a scholarly paper, “The Existential Function of Right-Wing Authoritarianism,” to answer the question that most baffles the rest of us: why do people embrace authoritarianism?

It may seem ironic that authoritarianism, a belief system that entails sacrifice of personal freedom to a strong leader, would influence the experience of meaning in life through its promotion of feelings of personal significance. Yet right-wing authoritarianism does provide a person with a place in the world, as a loyal follower of a strong leader. In addition, compared to purpose and coherence, knowing with great certainty that one’s life has mattered in a lasting way may be challenging. Handing this challenge over to a strong leader and investment in societal conventions might allow a person to gain a sense of symbolic or vicarious significance.

Furthermore,

perceptions of insignificance may lead individuals to endorse relatively extreme beliefs, such as authoritarianism, and to follow authoritarian leaders as a way to gain a sense that their lives and their contributions matter.

In other words, right-wing authoritarianism, serves an existential meaning function–it provides reassurance “that one’s life matters.”

Political psychologists tell us that individuals who are “cognitively inflexible and intolerant of ambiguity” are more likely to become “captive audiences for ideological, political or religious extremists whose simplistic world-views gloss over nuance.”

It’s worth reminding ourselves that–while today’s threats are mostly from the Right, Leftwing zealots are cut from the same cloth. Fanatics are fanatics.

Edsall quotes other academics who confirm the connection between authoritarianism and racism, and he explores what the research tells us about intellectualism versus anti-intellectualism, the conflicts between individuals with different moral commitments, and the elements that may lead to radicalization–especially the willingness to use violence in furtherance of one’s moral commitments. What, in other words, distinguishes those who hold extreme views from those who violently act on them?

I encourage you to click through and read the entire essay, which explains a lot. What it doesn’t explain, unfortunately, is what we can do to salvage the American Experiment.