It Seems There IS A “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy”

Remember when Hillary Clinton was widely ridiculed for alluding to the existence of a “vast Right-wing conspiracy”? It turns out she wasn’t wrong. She wasn’t even exaggerating.

And it explains a lot of what’s happening now.

A number of articles over the past couple of years have pointed out that Trump didn’t suddenly turn a once-respectable political party into the MAGA cult with which we’re now dealing. As Maureen Dowd recently wrote in the New York Times, in a column about our corrupt Supreme Court, there has long been “a determined group of religious zealots with a long-term master plan to pack the court with religious zealots.”

“These conservative Catholic and evangelical Christian operators believed they were fighting the biggest moral battle of the modern age, and forced America to debate on their terms,” they wrote. “But despite their public appeals, they did not convince broad swaths of Americans of the righteousness of their cause. Instead, they remained a minority, and leveraged the structures of American democracy in their favor, building a framework strong enough to withstand not only the political system but also a society moving rapidly against them. They took power to remake the nation in their image. And they were far more organized than their opponents or the public ever knew.”

Emerging reporting and research confirm the allegations. Talking Points Memo recently described one such organization–a secret, men-only right-wing society with members in influential positions around the country, intent on recruiting a “Christian government.”

More recently, a study by the American Association of University Professors documented the manufacture of the recent backlash against institutions of higher education. It uncovered a network of  Right-wing “think tanks” that has been laying the foundation for those attacks for many years. In a chapter titled “Culture War, Think Tanks, and the Dark Money that Funds Them,” the scholars identified twenty-six national think tanks. Among them were the Center for Renewing America, the Conservative Partnership Institute, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and–of course–the Heritage Foundation.

The report also listed thirty-eight state-Level think tanks, and forty-three organizations it categorized as “Cultural Conservative Think Tanks (including the Claremont Institute, a think tank that figured prominently in efforts to overturn the 2020 election).

Given the purpose of the study, the report focused on eleven of the think tanks that have participated in the culture war by attacking educational institutions.

Many of these think tanks work closely with one another, often sharing personnel and board members, amplifying each other’s work, pushing the same messaging, and supporting shared political objectives. As demonstrated in Appendix 2, this level of coordination is unsurprising given that these think tanks also receive money from the same libertarian and conservative megadonors. Furthermore, as described in the second section, seven of the eleven think tanks are members of the State Policy Network (SPN), an umbrella organization that networks national and state-level libertarian think tanks.

Appendix 2 identifies the wealthy individuals funding these organizations.

The report analyzes a number of “model” bills that aim to impose a conservative Christian worldview on public education and promote election denial, and it describes several of the most extreme–and effective–organizations. One of those is the Manhattan Institute, which “houses Christopher Rufo, Ron DeSantis’ favored “educator.”

Rufo–who is largely credited with weaponizing the term “critical race theory”

started his anti-CRT campaign in a City Journal column in July 2020 where he wrote about diversity training offered by Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights. Since then, Rufo has published over one hundred columns in City Journal, many focused on critical race theory, DEI efforts in schools, woke-ness, so-called gender ideology, and “left-wing radicals” in K-12 and higher education. He claims that “critical race theory is becoming the operating ideology of our public institutions.

DeSantis appointed Rufo to the Board of Trustees at the New College of Florida, Rufo where he helped end the college’s gender studies program (which he deemed “ideological activism”).

After his appointment to the board, Rufo tweeted: “We are now over the walls and ready to transform higher education from within. Under the leadership of Gov. DeSantis, our all-star board will demonstrate that the public universities, which have been corrupted by woke nihilism, can be recaptured, restructured, and reformed.” 

The report–with copious citations–is 148 pages long, and for those with the patience to read it all, revelatory. 

The White Christian Nationalists who emerged from the shadows to support Donald Trump have been working for a very long time to reassert what they believe to be the proper world order: a society dominated by White Christian men, in which Blacks, women, non-Christians and LGBTQ+ citizens are kept in their deservedly “inferior” places.

They are indeed a “vast Right-wing conspiracy.”


Could You Pass That Test?

According to several news outlets, a Justice Department inquiry into Hillary Clinton (launched some  two years ago at the insistence of conservatives unsatisfied with the results of multiple previous investigations) has effectively ended. Investigators found no wrongdoing, and (off the record) law enforcement officials said they never expected the effort to produce much of anything.

This inquiry was conducted by a Trump Justice Department headed by Bill Barr, not exactly a friendly group of investigators.

I’ve lost track of the number of investigations that have been conducted into Hillary Clinton’s activities. Whitewater. Bengazi. “But her emails!”

When I saw the headlines confirming that–once again–the investigators had come up empty, all I could think about was a joke my mother used to tell: an elderly woman goes into the butcher shop. She picks up a chicken, lifts each drumstick and sniffs under it; then she smells under each wing. Finally, she smells the cavity, turns to the butcher and says “Mr. Butcher, this bird stinks.”

To which the butcher replies, “Lady, could you pass that test?”

Partisans and others are certainly entitled to dislike Hillary Clinton, or to criticize her demeanor or campaign. Disagreement with her policy positions is clearly fair. But the intensity of the animus she arouses, and the persistence with which Republicans have hounded her–and continue to demonize her three years after she lost the election and (from all appearances) retired from political life– are so hysterical and disproportionate that you have to wonder just what is going on.

The obsession isn’t new, and it didn’t begin with her campaign for the Presidency. Throughout her public life, Clinton has been held to a standard that wildly exceeds expectations applied to male political figures. I can think of any number of male politicians who have exhibited every behavior and characteristic for which Clinton has been excoriated; none of them excited the level of vitriol that has been directed at her.

It is also worth noting that a substantial number of those male politicians have been found guilty of various levels of misbehavior–including crimes–while the incessant investigations into Clinton have uncovered nothing more culpable than occasional carelessness.

It is just impossible to see this relentless campaign as anything other than rank misogyny.

I am hopeful (although not entirely convinced) that Clinton generated that level of sexism simply because she was in many ways the first: the first First Lady to reject the traditional decorative and submissive role, the first to carve out a high-profile political career separate from that of her husband after leaving the White House; and the first woman to be the Presidential nominee of a major political party.

I am hopeful (although unconvinced) that in the wake of Clinton’s candidacy, the passage of time, the number of women in the Democratic Presidential primary, and the explosion in the number of women elected to positions at all levels of government have combined to moderate the sexist hostility that prompted the tsunami of vitriol directed at Clinton.

I am fearful that I’m wrong.

Donald Trump’s base is composed almost entirely of white Christian men who see Trump as their protector against the uppity blacks and pushy women whose demands for equality threaten their historic dominance. They became unhinged when an African-American was elected President, and it’s likely they will be equally threatened if it looks as if a woman is about to be elected.

Meanwhile, Hillary has emerged exonerated from yet another actual witch hunt– conducted by men who most definitely couldn’t pass that test.


Nancy, Hillary And The Year Of The Woman

According to the media, this is “the year of the woman.”

More women are running for public office than ever before. The dramatic increase in political activism following the election began with Women’s Marches that turned out truly astonishing numbers of people, and political scientists who have studied the ongoing Resistance report that middle-aged suburban women are providing its backbone.

Many of these reports make it seem as if the dearth of female presence in Congress and Statehouses around the country is due to women’s previous lack of interest in running for office. Then America elected a male chauvinist pig as President, that election roused the sleeping maiden(s), and the surge in their political participation is the result.

If you accept that explanation, I have some swampland in Florida to sell you…

I’m not a fan of people who whine about victimization, but really, it takes a certain kind of obtuseness not to recognize the differences in the way political men and women are perceived and treated– the extra hurdles women candidates face, and the vicious demonization of those few who rise to positions of power.

Paul Krugman recently considered the case of Nancy Pelosi. He began by looking at the issues being raised by Republican Congressional candidates, noting that they weren’t running on the unpopular tax bill or even more unpopular trade war.

Instead, Republicans’ attack ads have increasingly focused on one of their usual boogeymen — or, rather, a boogeywoman: Nancy Pelosi, the former and possibly future speaker of the House.

So this seems like a good time to remind everyone that Pelosi is by far the greatest speaker of modern times and surely ranks among the most impressive people ever to hold that position. And it’s interesting to ask why she gets so little credit with the news media, and hence with the general public, for her accomplishments.

Krugman goes through a list of those accomplishments, which compare favorably to past Speakers we consider great (and which absolutely tower over the performance of Paul Ryan). Krugman notes that, compared with more modern House speakers–Gingrich, Hastert, Boehner, Ryan– Pelosi is a giant among dwarfs. But you’d never know that from her media coverage.

It’s quite a record. Oh, and whenever you hear Republicans claim that Pelosi is some kind of wild-eyed leftist, ask yourself, what’s so radical about protecting retirement income, expanding health care and reining in runaway bankers?

It’s probably also worth noting that Pelosi has been untouched by allegations of personal scandal, which is amazing given the right’s ability to manufacture such allegations out of thin air.

So why is Pelosi always portrayed as “divisive.” Why is she the preferred target of GOP attacks?

I mean, it’s true that she’s a political partisan — but no more so than any of the Republicans who preceded and followed her. Her policy stances are far less at odds with public opinion than, say, Ryan’s attempts to privatize Medicare and slash its funding. So what makes her “divisive”? The fact that Republicans keep attacking her? That would happen to any Democrat.

Or maybe it’s just the fact that she’s a woman — a woman who happens to have been far better at her job than any man in recent memory.

Ya’ think?

Hillary Clinton has been demonized for thirty years. It is certainly fair game to fault her campaign for miscalculations, or to recognize that she isn’t as charismatic as her husband. It’s fair to disagree with policy stances she’s taken. But she has performed admirably in every government position she’s held, and despite being constantly investigated, has never been found to have broken any law. Male officeholders routinely exhibit the behaviors for which she is excoriated, and almost never excite the same animosity.

Evidently, “uppity” women like Nancy and Hillary offend a lot of people’s notions of “proper womanhood.”

America has a lot at stake in November’s midterms. If–as I hope–there is a Democratic “wave,” a lot of Democratic women will be swept in with it. Along with all the other tasks facing them, they will need to join Elizabeth Warren, and persist— continuing the maddeningly slow process of culture change, normalizing the participation of women in government, and refusing to be stereotyped, demeaned and dismissed.

I hope it will prove to be the year of the woman. But we’re not there yet.


The Election Was, Actually, Rigged

Among the many ironies of the 2016 election was Trump’s insistence that if he were to lose (and evidently only then), it would be evidence that the election was rigged.

The truth, as numerous election officials pointed out, is that tampering with the vote at polling sites–the only sort of “rigging” Trump would understand– is virtually impossible. Vote suppression is far more common.

That said, the actual “rigging” of American elections is quite legal; in fact, it’s baked into the system. I’ve written extensively about some of the more egregious examples, especially gerrymandering. But partisan redistricting isn’t the only structural element frustrating expression of the popular will.

Almost lost in the coverage of the election’s stunning result was the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. She lost in the Electoral College, a structural throwback to a different time that has increasingly distorted national elections and failed to reflect the will of the voters as expressed at the ballot box. This is the second time in 16 years that a candidate has won the popular vote only to lose the Electoral College and the Presidency.

Many of the problems with the Electoral College are widely recognized: the outsized influence it gives swing states, the lack of an incentive to vote if you favor the minority party in a winner-take-all state dominated by the other party, and the over-representation of rural and less populated states.

Whatever the original merits of the Electoral College, it operates today to disadvantage urban voters in favor of rural ones. Hillary Clinton’s voters were women, minorities, and educated Whites, and they were disproportionately urban; Trump supporters were primarily less-educated White Christian males, and they were overwhelmingly rural.

In today’s America, cities are growing and rural areas declining. That decline undoubtedly feeds much of the anger and white nationalism displayed by Trump voters. One can be sympathetic to rural concerns without, however, giving the votes of rural inhabitants (already favored by gerrymandering) greater weight than the votes of urban Americans.

In Baker v. Carr, the Supreme Court famously upheld the principle of “one person, one vote.” The operation of the Electoral College violates that fundamental democratic tenet.

The cost of living is higher in cities, and most of us who choose urban life are willing to pay a premium in return for the benefits offered by more cosmopolitan environments. But a reduction in the value of our vote shouldn’t be one of the added costs we incur.

It is time to get rid of the Electoral College.


Media and Women

I was recently asked by the local chapter of the American Association of University Women to participate in a panel discussion on women’s role in journalism and the 2016 election. Preparing for that panel led me to some gloomy conclusions. (Yes, I know this blog has been getting more and more gloomy as the election season drags on..Sorry about that.)

Obviously, women’s roles and participation in media have both improved over the past decades; today, women anchor television news programs, pen op-eds, have bylines and author blogs. That increased media visibility accompanies other notable improvements in our various roles across the economic terrain.

That said, in my view, any discernible “differential” impact on the media landscape has been swallowed up by the far more consequential changes to that landscape generally. Any effect of an increase in female journalists has been more than countered by the massive losses–the hemorrhaging– in what has been called “the journalism of verification.”

In today’s surfeit of fluff and “click-bait,” celebrity has more influence and range than credibility or gravitas. So we have a buffoon (to put it as kindly as possible) running for President and a media environment in which lunatics like Ann Coulter and Shawn Hannity have as much or more influence as respectable reporters and editorial writers, male or female.

My conclusion to the earnest all-female audience at the panel discussion: I don’t think we can examine the role of women in journalism when we have lost journalism to “infotainment.”

And that reality doesn’t even address the unbelievable misogyny that has made Hillary Clinton virtually unrecognizable–a misogyny that has gone largely unchallenged by reporters of both genders who are worried more about generating twitter followers and “clicks” than about accuracy and context.

If Obama’s Presidency and the Clinton campaign have taught us anything (and that is a real question), it is that the emergence of leaders from previously marginalized groups (blacks, women) generates increased hostility from those who were previously privileged. Much of the opposition to President Obama has been shameful and nakedly racist; Hillary Clinton has been vilified ever since emerging on the political scene for failing to be “properly” feminine and deferential. Most of the vitriol lobbed at both of them has had little or no relationship to their actual flaws and/or missteps.

Although I applaud the notion of more women journalists–not to mention more female lawmakers, CEOs, and law firm partners– I doubt that such an increase will immediately or in the mid-term usher in a dramatic change from that still-sexist reality. Progress will continue to be incremental and–for some of us–agonizingly slow.

Actually, at this point, I’d happily settle for more real journalists–of any gender.