Tag Archives: evil

Anti-Woke Jim Banks

Contemporary American politics can be described in many ways–few of them complimentary. One of the most analytically accurate terms would be stupid–bringing to mind  Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Theory of Stupidity.”

As an article from the Big Think recently paraphrased that theory, the stupid person is often more dangerous than the evil one. The article quotes an old internet adage on the subject:

“Debating an idiot is like trying to play chess with a pigeon — it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory.”

According to the article,

Once something is a known evil, the good of the world can rally to defend and fight against it. As Bonhoeffer puts it, “One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion.”

Stupidity, though, is a different problem altogether. We cannot so easily fight stupidity for two reasons. First, we are collectively much more tolerant of it. Unlike evil, stupidity is not a vice most of us take seriously. We do not lambast others for ignorance. We do not scream down people for not knowing things. Second, the stupid person is a slippery opponent. They will not be beaten by debate or open to reason. What’s more, when the stupid person has their back against the wall — when they’re confronted with facts that cannot be refuted — they snap and lash out.

Which brings me back to Hoosier politics, and the depressing likelihood that Indiana  Congressman Jim Banks will become Senator Banks.

I don’t know Banks personally, and I am clearly unable to determine whether he is evil or stupid, but I’m pretty sure he falls into one or both of those two categories. Banks has generated a trail of Rightwing evidence, but perhaps the best illustration that he is unfit for public office was his January announcement of plans to create an “anti-woke” caucus in the House of Representatives.

The Republican representative from the Hoosier State is first out of the gate in a race that many believe will be filled with other conservatives. But Banks has his whole policy-absent catchall ready to go: He’s promising to form an “anti-woke caucus” in Congress just in time for him to run for election.

Banks now represents Indiana’s reliably Red Third district; he first entered politics via the Tea Party in 2010, and served six years in the Indiana State Senate. During that time, he voted against Medicaid Expansion, co-sponsored bills to drug test welfare recipients and  defund Planned Parenthood, and helped pass an anti-choice bill requiring women to bury or cremate fetal remains. (This was, obviously, before Dobbs.) He was widely known as the Hoosier errand boy for ALEC, after carrying that organization’s deceptively-named right-to-work legislation.

The linked article describes Banks as “a classic modern Republican,” thanks to his votes against impeaching Trump, and his insistence that the 2020 election results be overturned by the Supreme Court.

HIs campaign video highlights his service as a veteran and his reportedly working-class upbringing. It also highlights how Banks has fought against China for “for stealing our jobs and for giving us COVID.” … Over the weekend, Banks went on Fox News to explain: “Most Republicans are now awakened to this fact that wokeness is weakness, it’s a cancer that is eating America from the inside-out.” He goes on to talk about “girls sports,” and you know where that’s headed.

Which brings me back to Bonhoeffer, who says that the problem with stupidity is that it often goes hand-in-hand with power. Bonhoeffer writes,

Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or of a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity…

More harm is done by one powerful idiot than a gang of Machiavellian schemers. We know when there’s evil, and we can deny it power. …But stupidity is much harder to weed out. That’s why it’s a dangerous weapon: Because evil people find it hard to take power, they need stupid people to do their work.

 Bonhoeffer says we should get angry and scared when stupidity takes reign.

Since stupidity does not disbar people from holding office or wielding authority, “History and politics are swimming with examples of when the stupid have risen to the top (and where the smart are excluded or killed).” Bonhoeffer posits that the nature of power requires people to surrender certain faculties necessary for intelligent thought — faculties like independence, critical thinking, and reflection.

We should never give power to people like Jim Banks. But of course, this is Indiana….



We Can’t Just Pass The Popcorn…

I sat down to begin this post intending to write about what I see as an upcoming fight for the soul of the Republican Party. But then, I realized that the once “Grand Old Party” no longer has anything remotely resembling a soul.

Let’s just say that–following their less-than-stellar performance in the midterms– it looks like Republicans will  be witnessing a no-holds-barred, down and very dirty fight for the status of GOP Big Dog.

Repulsive Ron DeSantis won re-election by a big margin in Florida. The size of that margin was an unsurprising consequence of outrageous gerrymandering, “post-Ian” election regulations that made it easier to vote in overwhelmingly Republican areas but not Democratic ones, and various types of voter intimidation–including show arrests of ex-offenders  who’d been told by election officials that they could vote.

His win sets up a contest with Trump for leadership of a semi-fascist GOP.

DeSantis is evil, but far smarter and smoother than Trump, with a vocabulary that exceeds the 70 or so words Trump knows and the ability to make bigotry sound marginally less despicable. He is thus better able to mine the GOP’s culture war against uppity women, non-Christians, Black and Brown people and LGBTQ folks.

Trump, on the other hand, knows how to fight dirty.

According to press reports, in the wake of DeSantis’ win, Trump announced that he intends to reveal “damaging information about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis should he decide to challenge the former president for the Republican nomination in 2024.”

“I will tell you things about him that won’t be very flattering,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal on his private jet after departing a rally in Dayton, Ohio, on Monday. “I know more about him than anybody other than perhaps his wife, who is really running his campaign.”

“I don’t know that he’s running,” Trump reportedly said on Monday. “I think if he runs he could hurt himself very badly.

In a Fox “News” interview on Election Day, Trump also said that Senate Republicans should oust Sen. Mitch McConnell as their leader, because McConnell was “lousy” at his job, and has been “very bad for our nation.” (Well, there you go–I actually agree with something Donald Trump said! McConnell has indeed been “very bad for our nation.” Unfortunately, that’s because he is very good at what he perceives to be his job…)

A friend reacted to these initial attacks by suggesting that blackmail is, and has been, Trump’s “secret sauce.” As he traced the repeated trajectory, It goes like this: a Republican officeholder speaks out against Trump, subsequently visits him in Florida, and does a sudden U-turn.

My friend’s theory is that Trump has access to Putin’s KGB files on US Leaders. Once he threatens the recalcitrant Republican with the dirt he has, the defector is back in line. (Sure would explain “Miss Lindsay”…)

I don’t know whether there’s any factual basis for my friend’s version of a conspiracy theory, but even if the information doesn’t come from Russia, and even if Trump is simply threatening to turn his mindless troops against an opponent via accusations he invents, the one thing we do know is that he never exhibits any behavior approximating fair play or decency.

For his part, we can expect DeSantis to deploy every bit of ammunition he is able to amass against Trump…and thanks to various state-level investigations and the work of the January 6th Committee,  he’ll have access to plenty.

Watching these two repulsive egomaniacs fight for dominance will be interesting. The sixty-four thousand dollar question is: will their battle be enough to finally, fatally splinter the Republican Party?  “Professional” Republicans–elected officials, strategists, etc.–are likely to prefer DeSantas. He’s evil but not crazy. The QAnon mob is unlikely to desert Trump, who is both.

Of course, if Trump is indicted (which I expect), that will throw a wild card into the battle…

Here’s the thing:

The rest of us can’t just retire to the sidelines and watch the wrestling match while eating popcorn. We’ve just been given a reprieve, but not a decisive victory. We have to work hard between now and the 2024 election. We have to continue the battles against gerrymandering and vote suppression and we have to explain what is at stake to the sizable number of Americans who still fail to cast ballots.

Eventually, if we keep at it and are even moderately successful, today’s semi-fascist GOP will fade into history, and we will once again be able to choose between center-Right Republicans and center-left Democrats (no matter what the GOP claims, American Democrats are anything but “Left” as other countries define”Left”….)

We may be able to choose between two parties with souls.




Modernity, Ambiguity..And Polarization

Back when I was in college (many years ago!), one of “the” raging intellectual arguments concerned the absolute versus relative nature of evil. We weren’t far removed from WWII and the discovery of Hitler’s “Final solution,” and “relativism” was a dirty word. Most Americans looked askance at people who suggested that different cultures might judge behaviors differently.

I haven’t encountered replays of that particular debate lately, but a recent newsletter from Pew brought it to mind. The newsletter–reporting on studies conducted by Pew’s Research Center–included the following paragraph:

About half of U.S. adults (48%) say that most things in society can be clearly divided into good and evil, while the other half (50%) say that most things in society are too complicated to be categorized this way, according to a new analysis of data from a recent Pew Research Center survey. Highly religious Americans are much more likely to see society as split between good and evil, while nonreligious people tend to see more ambiguity.

Ah–either/or. Good or evil. Right or wrong. If only the world was that simple…

Back in those youthful college days, most of us ended up by concluding that the fight between relativism and certainty was being vastly oversimplified. Although certain behaviors (genocide, for example) could undoubtedly be labeled “evil” no matter the culture, the real world confronts us daily with situations in multiple shades of gray. It might be comforting to believe in an accessible bright line that divides always good from always evil, but in the messy reality of the world we occupy, that line is often very fuzzy–and what lawyers like to call “fact-sensitive.”

There’s certainly wise versus unwise, wrong versus right… and then there’s good versus evil….

I still recall my first conversation with an Episcopal clergyman who later became a good friend, in which we discussed the positive and negative role of religion in helping people cope with the growing complexities of modern life, helping them navigate an increasingly complicated social and technological environment in which affixing unambiguous labels like “good” and “bad” was increasingly fraught. He saw his job as helping his congregants deal with the inevitable ambiguities of modern life–helping them ask the right questions, rather than insisting that they accept simple, pre-ordained, one-size-fits-all “right answers.”

My youngest son insists that this is the test of good versus bad religion–the good ones help you wrestle with such questions; the harmful ones insist they have the only acceptable answers….I think it’s fair to say that the growing number of “unchurched” and secular Americans is attributable in no small measure to the large number of religious denominations that  insist on acceptance of a particular, doctrinal, always-right “answer.” 

The Pew analysis does provide illumination of a fundamental (pun intended) reason for Americans’ current polarization. Whether based on religion or a semi-religious political ideology, the emotional need to categorize other humans–the need to divide an increasingly complex world into simple categories of “good” and “evil” that corresponds with “us” versus “them”–is a significant contributor to our current inability to communicate, let alone live together with at least a measure of civility and mutual respect. 

After all, if progressive policies are evil, rather than simply “unwise” or “mistaken,” then the “good” people–the Godly warriors who have affixed that label– are justified in ignoring democratic processes and the rule of law in order to counter that evil.

And as horrifying as it may seem, that’s where we are–reliving a throwback to pre-modern times, and to the religious wars the nation’s Founders they thought they were avoiding by erecting that wall of separation between church and state.

I’ve always realized that there were some folks who needed that bright line, the high degree of moral certainty that characterized simpler times–but Pew’s study found 48% of Americans endorsing that pre-modern mindset.

That explains a lot..and it doesn’t bode well for e pluribus unum.






Words Utterly Fail….

A few days ago, I posted about the excellent bill Congressional Democrats have introduced to begin the overdue cleanup of corrupted democratic processes. The bill includes curbs on gerrymandering and safeguards against vote suppression, among other things.

The one element of the bill that I figured was unlikely to be controversial was the proposal to make Election Day a national holiday. Good government groups have been lobbying for this for years. I mean, how can you argue against making voting easier for people who work long hours and have other problems getting to the polls?

Mitch McConnell–aka the most evil man in America–just answered what I thought was a rhetorical question. He has labeled the proposal “a power grab.”

I suppose if you are convinced that facilitating citizens’ ability to cast their votes will lead to  higher vote totals for your political opponents–if you know, in your heart of hearts that you and your party are historically unpopular– that might seem like a power grab…Still, it’s hard to imagine McConnell offering this argument with a straight face.

There has been a lot of outrage expressed in the wake of McConnell’s chutzpah, but I think Ed Brayton’s response at Dispatches from the Culture Wars is my favorite.

The man who refused to allow even a committee vote on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee for nearly a year so a Republican could appoint the next justice is accusing someone else of a power grab? The fact that he wasn’t immediately struck dead by lightning is powerful evidence that there is no god (or that god is a first-class jerk, take your pick). This is Trumpian-level lack of self-awareness and shamelessness. I can’t imagine how the man sleeps at night, other than on a pile of money.

McConnell was recently described by a historian as “the gravedigger of American democracy,” a description he has clearly earned. (Even Donald Trump, who never met a greedy thug he couldn’t relate to, evidently told aides that McConnell was “meaner than a snake.”)

McConnell has defended his opposition to making Election Day a holiday by claiming it would cost money, because it would require government workers to be paid. In Mitch’s world, the country can easily afford to give billions in “tax relief” to corporations, but can’t manage continuing to compensate government employees for one extra day off.

Hoosiers like to make fun of folks from Kentucky, characterizing them as not-too-smart hillbillies. I’ve always maintained that bigotry–even geographical bigotry–is always wrong. But to the extent that there is  evidence for that characterization of our neighbors to the south, it is that they have repeatedly voted for Mitch McConnell.

Power And Glory And Memory Lane

The Limeliters were one of my all-time favorite musical groups. (My musical tastes definitely mirror those of my generation– the “get off my lawn” category of elderly curmudgeons. If the music is subsequent to the Rat Pack or 60’s folk, I’m probably unfamiliar with it.) Thanks to modern technologies like Pandora, I can stream my embarrassingly old-fashioned choices through my car radio, and the other day, as I was driving to the office, I was listening to the Limeliters–and was struck by the contemporary relevance of the lyrics in  their rendition of Phil Och’s “Power and Glory.”

When I got to work, I Googled those lyrics:

Come and take a walk with me thru this green and growing land
Walk thru the meadows and the mountains and the sand
Walk thru the valleys and the rivers and the plains
Walk thru the sun and walk thru the rain

Here is a land full of power and glory
Beauty that words cannot recall
Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
Her glory shall rest on us all (on us all)

From Colorado, Kansas, and the Carolinas too
Virginia and Alaska, from the old to the new
Texas and Ohio and the California shore
Tell me, who could ask for more?

Yet she’s only as rich as the poorest of her poor
Only as free as the padlocked prison door
Only as strong as our love for this land
Only as tall as we stand

But our land is still troubled by men who have to hate
They twist away our freedom & they twist away our fate
Fear is their weapon and treason is their cry
We can stop them if we try.

Only as rich as the poorest of the poor” resonates today as a reproach to the growing gap between the 1% and the rest of us, to the GOP’s persistent efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare, to deny access to basic medical care to those who cannot afford it by defunding Planned Parenthood and restricting Medicaid, and by heaping punitive restrictions on all manner of public assistance.

Only as free as the padlocked prison door”...Not only does our frequently unjust criminal justice system incarcerate a greater percentage of our population than any other country, the Trump Administration is “padlocking” the border, engaging in crimes against humanity for blatantly political purposes. The other day, in one of his fact-and-logic-free rants, Trump made clear his belief that he benefits politically from the crises he instigates along the border.

“Those pictures are very bad for the Democrats,” he told The [Washington] Post on Tuesday, referring to recent images of migrants.

If he is correct–if the photos of American soldiers gassing refugee women and children are indeed “bad for Democrats” and viewed positively by large numbers of Americans– then we have not only lost any claim to “power and glory,” we have lost any claim to morality or simple humanity.

Fear is their weapon and treason is their cry” could hardly be more contemporary or relevant. The men “who have to hate” still live among us, still vote their fears and hatreds.

Given the age of the song, one thing is clear: evil people aren’t a new problem, and the tools they employ–fear and accusations of treason leveled at critics–aren’t new either.

The songwriter says “we can stop them if we try.”

A lot of us are trying; I sure hope we “stand tall” enough.