How To Destroy A Government

Any lingering doubts about the good faith, patriotism or even sanity of the current Speaker of the House of Representatives can be put to rest. Mike Johnson is every bit as horrifying a culture warrior as many of us suspected. The fact that the Democrats stepped in on two occasions to save his Speakership was not evidence that they’d noticed some mitigating factors to his religious zealotry–it was, as many said at the time, an effort to keep government functioning at even its current minimal level.

Johnson has repaid that effort with a move that is unbelievably destructive–a move that is likely to destroy America’s intelligence capacity and erase any lingering trust our allies place in the United States.

I’ll let the Washington Post explain.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Wednesday appointed Reps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Ronny Jackson (R-Tex.), two Trump loyalists who denied the results of the 2020 election, to the House Intelligence Committee, granting them oversight of the U.S. intelligence community and sensitive government material.

Seats on the committee are highly sought after in Congress and closely watched, as members have access to some of the nation’s most classified information and are charged with overseeing the spy agencies — including the intelligence gathering within the FBI — activities for which former president Donald Trump has routinely expressed disdain.

In case you’ve missed the “backstories” on these particular cult members, the Post has thoughtfully reminded readers.

First, Perry.

Perry, a hard-line Republican who previously served as the chair of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, played a key role in promoting false claims of election fraud and pushed the Trump White House and Justice Department to investigate baseless claims and prevent the transfer of power to President Biden. The FBI seized Perry’s cellphone records in 2022 as part of the criminal investigation into Trump’s efforts to subvert the election, and Perry sought to block what the federal investigators would be able to access on his phone. In December 2023, a federal judge ordered that Perry disclose nearly 1,700 records from his cellphone to the investigation being conducted by special counsel Jack Smith. Perry’s lawyer has said that U.S. officials never described Perry as a target of their ongoing investigation in their discussions with the congressman, and he has not been charged.

Then, Jackson.

Jackson, a retired U.S. Navy officer who joined Congress in 2021, served as the physician to Presidents Barack Obama and Trump. He was demoted in rank from retired rear admiral to captain in July 2022 following a damaging Pentagon inspector general’s report that substantiated allegations about his inappropriate behavior as a White House physician. Jackson has denied the report’s allegations and claimed they were politically motivated.

Johnson isn’t even trying to hide what he intended to accomplish by appointing extremist goofballs and devoted MAGA cult members to this extremely sensitive panel. The appointments came one day after he threatened a “three-pronged approach” to retribution for Trump’s trial loss, and outlined his plan for allowing the Republican majority to “target the Justice Department, New York and other jurisdictions for investigating Trump — using, among other things, House oversight powers.”

As one House member was quoted,

“Neither of these two gentlemen is qualified for the intelligence committee. Neither should ever be near the intelligence committee. And it’s going to make cooperation between our counterintelligence operations and the intelligence services and the Congress much more complicated.”

Former Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger, who served on the House select committee that investigated the january 6th insurrection, called the appointments “insane.”

So here we are, incredible as it may seem.

A once-respectable center-right political party–a party that used to fly under a banner of patriotism and “law and order”– is willing to compromise the security of American citizens, tell our allies we’re unreliable, and signal to our enemies that we are no longer serious about defending our place in the global order, all to demonstrate its loyalty to a convicted felon who cares nothing about America, or about anything but himself and his need for vengeance.

I shudder to think of the damage these unqualified clowns can do between now and November–and even after, if Republicans continue to hold power in either house of Congress. Continued GOP control of either the House or Senate would take us further down the road to failed nationhood.

Even assuming we avoid the unthinkable disaster that would be a second Trump administration–continued “leadership” by members of this White Christian Nationalist cult would mean we can kiss goodby to the America most of us grew up in.


RFRA For The Rest Of Us…

Indiana’s ACLU has filed a second challenge to the state’s ban on abortion, and this is a challenge focused squarely upon the blatant hypocrisy of the U.S. Supreme Court’s  purported concern for “religious liberty.”

In a series of cases, the Court has handed down decisions favoring Christian fundamentalist doctrines that are at odds with the beliefs held by more liberal Christian denominations, let alone by adherents of other religious traditions. Justice Alito, who authored the decision in the Hobby Lobby case as well as Dobbs, has clearly signaled his belief that his particular definition of “religious belief”  deserves priority–and he now has four other theocratically-inclined colleagues who agree.

Alito’s definition of “religious freedom” as freedom for state-level lawmakers to impose conservative Christian dogma on Americans who hold very different “sincere beliefs,” is inconsistent with both constitutional jurisprudence and common sense. It’s “freedom for me, but not for thee”–and a not-so- tacit endorsement of the MAGA Republican claim that the United States is a “Christian nation” that should be dominated by their particular version of Christianity.

Ironically, the ACLU has filed this lawsuit under the state’s RFRA law–a law originally ballyhooed by those same Christian Warriors.

“Indiana’s RFRA law protects religious freedom for all Hoosiers, not just those who practice Christianity,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana Legal Director. “The ban on abortion will substantially burden the exercise of religion by many Hoosiers who, under the new law, would be prevented from obtaining abortions, in conflict with their sincere religious beliefs.”

The complaint points out that the new law violates the beliefs of the Muslim, Unitarian Universalist and Episcopalian faiths, as well as those who follow Paganism. (Rather obviously, it also violates the liberties of  the growing numbers of non-religious Americans.)

As I have previously argued,  a very large number of Americans believe that “liberty” is defined as the right of all citizens to follow the doctrines of their particular religions. When applied to the issue of abortion, any rational understanding of liberty means that people whose beliefs prohibit it are protected from measures requiring it, and people whose beliefs allow (or even, in some situations, require) it are equally free to follow their beliefs.

A free country–a country that takes liberty seriously–does not empower legislators to  decide what prayer you say, what book you read, who you marry, or whether and when you procreate. Perhaps the most eloquent statement of that constitutional principle was that of Justice Jackson in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette. In a much-quoted portion of his decision, Justice Jackson wrote:

The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials, and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.

Justice Alito’s decision in Dobbs essentially reverses Jackson’s 1943 definition of the meaning and  intended operation of the Bill of Rights–a definition that has been endorsed by the courts for decades. Jackson’s definition has been taught in the nation’s law schools and is firmly embedded in the popular culture. In America, We the People make lots of decisions about our governance.  We vote on who will represent us in our various legislative bodies, and–depending upon the state– participate in referenda and recalls.

We don’t vote on fundamental rights.

As any first-year law student (or anyone who took any of my  Law and Public Policy classes) will confirm, the Bill of Rights is taught as a “counter-majoritarian” document. That means that, while a majority of voters can influence innumerable policies, that majority does not get a vote on whether it is permissible to deny other Americans the fundamental rights protected by the Bill of Rights.

We don’t get to vote on our neighbors’ First Amendment right to the free exercise of their religion.

A contrary decision by Indiana Courts would confirm Alito’s profound departure from and disrespect for the essential purpose of the Bill of Rights–and his obvious contempt for people who hold religious beliefs contrary to his own.

It would also highlight the hypocrisy of those Hoosiers who defended RFRA on the grounds that it protected “sincerely held” religious beliefs.