Telling It Like It Is

Sometimes, a single observation accurately explains an otherwise confounding situation. Such an observation was included in a guest essay in last Wednesday’s New York Times.

The author began by citing survey results showing that Republicans are far more unhappy with their party’s lawmakers than Democrats are with theirs.

He then wrote:

The problem isn’t that Republicans don’t win legislative victories. It’s that legislative victories can’t answer the party’s underlying discontent, which is less about government policy than about American culture. Democrats worry about voting rights, gun control, climate change and abortion — enormous challenges, but ones that congressional leaders can at least try to address. What Republicans fear, above all, is social and demographic changes that leave white Christian men feeling disempowered, a complex set of forces that Republicans often lump together as “wokeness.”

When Donald Trump won the Presidency, those of us who attributed his support to racism were excoriated for oversimplification–characterizing all Trump voters as bigots was clearly unfair! Suggesting that votes for Trump and embrace of his MAGA message were evidence of White Supremacist attitudes oversimplified a complicated landscape and overlooked the impact of economic factors!

In the years since, however, numerous studies have confirmed that the single most reliable predictor of a vote for Trump was “racial resentment.” (As my youngest son has put it, only two kinds of people voted for Trump: those who agreed with his racism, and those who did not consider that racism disqualifying.)

The essay also cited to research identifying the GOP base as the population most upset by the current state of American culture.

Despite Republican power in Washington, these shifts have produced a deep gloom among the party’s base. A 2021 poll by the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life found that white evangelical Protestants — the heart and soul of the modern Republican Party — hold a bleaker view of America’s future than any other major racial or religious group. They’re more than 30 points less optimistic than Black Americans, the Democratic Party’s most reliable voting bloc. As the conservative writer David French noted in 2019, “one of the most striking aspects of modern Evangelical political thinking is its projection of inevitable decline.”

This pessimism is inextricably bound up with demographic change. A poll last year by the University of Maryland found that more than 60 percent of Republicans want to declare the United States a Christian nation. But according to the Pew Research Center, the share of Americans who identify as Christian has dropped to 64 percent as of 2020 from 90 percent in the 1970s. Almost 60 percent of Republicans believe that “American customs and values” will grow weaker if white people lose their demographic majority. But non-Hispanic white people now constitute only about 60 percent of the population, down from around 80 percent in 1980, and already make up a minority of Americans under the age of 16.

It is no secret that the frantic opposition to immigration–especially immigration from the country’s Southern border–is an expression of racism.But as the essay points out, even if the United States totally stopped all immigration tomorrow, legal or illegal, the White share of the population would keep declining, because White Americans are much older than the population at large.

And the Court decision in Dobbs overturning Roe v. Wade–a long-held aspiration of the hard Right–will not and can not reverse the changes in the gender norms of American society, changes that have empowered women and infuriated the MAGA base.

 A 2020 survey by the research firm PerryUndem found that Americans who oppose abortion rights are also deeply hostile to the #metoo movement and believe that “most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist.” Overturning Roe won’t change the fact that most Republicans think American society discriminates against men.

Bottom line: Looming over all of the other problems faced by a self- emasculated Kevin McCarthy is the real nature of the GOP’s discontent. McCarthy can’t return America to the 1950s or even the 1980, but ultimately, that’s what the MAGA warriors want. The impossibility of that demand is why today’s GOP has no agenda, no philosophy and no platform. The (very slim) Republican House majority can only continue to engage in performative antics, throwing tantrums and acting out.

For today’s GOP, nostalgia for lost privilege is everything. Governing is entirely beside the point.


Reptiles And Invertibrates

America is about to embark on two years of legislative chaos–introduced by the embarrassing spectacle of Kevin McCarthy’s total surrender to the craziest MAGA members of the Republican caucus. His eventual “victory”–if you can call securing a title via total emasculation a victory–was facilitated by the remaining caucus members who were too spineless and/or venal to object.

One of the best descriptions of the House Republicans came from Bret Stephens, in his weekly back and forth with Gail Collins in the New York Times.

A few honorable exceptions aside, the G.O.P. is basically split between reptiles and invertebrates. McCarthy is the ultimate invertebrate. He went to Mar-a-Lago just a short while after Jan. 6 to kiss the ring of the guy who incited the mob that, by McCarthy’s own admission, wanted to kill him. He hated Liz Cheney because of her backbone. But he quailed before Marjorie Taylor Greene because she has a forked tongue. He gave away the powers and prerogatives of the office of speaker in order to gain the office, which is like a slug abandoning its shell and thinking it won’t be stepped on. A better man would have told the Freedom Caucus holdouts to shove it. Instead, as a friend of mine put it, McCarthy decided to become the squeaker of the House.

Among McCarthy’s numerous concessions were promises to put some of the most prominent members of the lunatic caucus in charge of committees and “investigations.” It’s hard to choose the most appalling. Jim Jordan at Judiciary is certainly a contender, but for sheer shamelessness, Scott Perry is hard to beat.

Rep. Scott Perry said that being under investigation shouldn’t disqualify him from taking part in any examination of federal investigators conducted by newly empowered House Republicans.

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” the Pennsylvania Republican said: “Why should I be limited, why should anybody be limited, just because someone has made an accusation? Everybody in America is innocent until proven otherwise. I would say this, the American people are really, really tired of the persecution and instruments of federal power being used against them.”

Perry pooh-poohed the notion that allowing him to investigate the investigators poses a conflict of interest, suggesting that all elected officials get accused of things, and implying that accusations against him fall within the “it’s just politics” category. As the linked article notes, however,

Perry, the head of the House Freedom Caucus, has been under investigation in relation to the Jan. 6 Capitol riots and other efforts to keep former President Donald Trump in office after he lost the 2020 election; the House select committee on Jan. 6 referred Perry for a review by the House Ethics Committee. His phone has been seized by the Justice Department.

He doesn’t have to worry about the House Ethics Committee–the GOP intends to abolish it.

Following the 15 votes that finally installed McCarthy,and his merry band of reptiles and invertebrates, Jennifer Rubin reflected on the evening’s speeches, observing that “Jeffries governs in poetry, Biden in grace — and the GOP in thuggishness.”

After quoting from Hakeem Jeffries lyrical speech (if you haven’t listened to it, you really should–it was inspiring), Rubin wrote:

All the more impressive for speaking without notes or a teleprompter, Jeffries set a tone for Democrats that was both contemporary and high-minded, fun and sophisticated. With the cadence of a preacher and erudite vocabulary of a professor, he perfectly encapsulated the difference between his party’s optimism and accomplishment and his opponents’ bitterness even in victory.

As she said, in a Congress that is likely to see very little legislating thanks to an unhinged and chaotic majority, Jeffries filled the void with inspirational words and a values-based message.

As Rubin notes, there is an enormous difference  between the very human and compassionate vision consistently displayed by President Biden and now echoed by Hakeem Jeffries and that of today’s Republican Party.

Violence (whether inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, or inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2023) and toxic masculinity seem to be endemic to a party that scorns the police who defended them two years ago and minimizes the brutality of the mob.

This is a crowd that delights in mocking the vulnerable and bullying the defenseless, persecuting refugees, elevating their selfish aims over the needs of others and fanning bitterness and vengefulness….

The Republican Party aim is to define America as a White Christian nation, bolstered by an apocalyptic fear of the Great Replacement conspiracy and a perpetual sense of victimhood….

One doesn’t even need to know the two parties’ policy positions to know there is a world of difference in their vision and character. Poetry and grace on one side, thuggishness and fury on the other. Americans cannot say they lack a stark choice.



The Party’s Over

Okay. I was waiting for the spectacle to conclude before commenting on the ongoing sh*t show in the House of Representatives, but I can no longer restrain myself. 

Let me begin with points made by observers more astute and informed than I am.

After day one, Robert Reich wrote that we are witnessing the “mindless hostility of a political party that’s lost any legitimate reason for being. For all practical purposes, the Republican party is over.”  

The party line became confused, its message garbled, its purpose unclear. It thereby created an opening for a third and far angrier phase, centering on resentment and authoritarianism…

Today’s Republican base is fueling hate. It is the epicenter of an emerging anti-democracy movement.

What we are seeing played out today in the contest for the speakership of the House involves all of these phases – what remains of the small-government establishment, the cultural warriors and the hate-filled authoritarians – engaged in hopeless, hapless combat with each other.

In the Washington Post, Matt Bai focused on McCarthy’s multiple deficits.

During the Boehner era, which now seems like some distant eon when woolly mammoths roamed the Earth, the future of the Republican Party was said to belong to three of his younger colleagues. They called themselves the “young guns,” but a better metaphor now would be the three little pigs.

The pigs were Cantor, Ryan and McCarthy. The first two left when the “MAGA wolf” blew their houses down.

Unlike the other two, who got by on guile and smarts, McCarthy’s gift was his easy charm. No one was going to mistake him for a Mensa candidate, but he was fun and flexible.

If McCarthy emerges with the title by ceding effective control to the crazies, he will  be neutered.  As Bai points out, appeasement of extremists never works . Acquiescence to irrational demands just encourages more irrational demands.

As McCarthy’s humiliation continued through day two, Reed Galen of the Lincoln Project wrote (no link)

This is not a clash of ideals on what kind of tax policy or health care is best for our country. It is a bare-knuckle brawl for power – and given Democratic control of the White House and Senate, all the GOP can do is cause chaos — it is a brawl that is not going to end well for America.

Do you, reading this email, think letting Lauren Boebert fire the Speaker on a whim is a good idea? What about letting MTG, Gaetz, and others have their own private lawsuit power? That’s what the crazies are asking for in their “negotiations.” Not policy. Not representing their constituents. Personal power to take this thing off a cliff and try to hang it around Joe Biden’s neck.

If there is any doubt about that desire to take America off a cliff, one holdout was  quoted as saying he wouldn’t vote for McCarthy without a commitment to shut the government down rather than raise the debt ceiling. He defined that commitment as “a non-negotiable item.”  If that isn’t insanity, it’s a close relative. 

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has observed that–while every Republican Congressperson isn’t the same as Jim Jordan or Matt Gaetz– virtually all of them rely on a coalition of voters that supports Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz. Today’s GOP is a “balkanized party made up of elected officials who either are Jim Jordan or aren’t willing to cross Jim Jordan.”

As if the chaos, dysfunction and sheer insanity on display aren’t worrisome enough, Robert Hubbell has highlighted an even more ominous development

McCarthy made a smidgen of progress that may have secured an additional vote or two on Wednesday evening. But that progress came at a deeply disturbing cost that should concern every American. The details of the agreement negotiated by McCarthy are complicated and obscure—deliberately so because they involve a “treaty” between two dark money PACs that fund GOP candidates for the House. The fact that the election of a constitutional officer—the Speaker of the House—is being brokered by dark money PACs is an insult to the rule of law and an open wound on democracy…

To use a technical term, the agreement “stinks to high Heaven.” 

At the end of day three, it turned out that even this unprecedented intervention by the GOP’s dark money donors wasn’t enough to move the lunatic caucus. As I write this, there have been eleven votes, and the House still has no Speaker. 

Disarray is too mild a description. We are watching the death throes of an American political party. The question now is: what comes next?


A Perfect Candidate For The Fact-Free Party

I haven’t commented on the increasingly bizarre stories that continue to emerge about George Santos, the Republican candidate who won a Congressional race in New York, and was later “outed” as a serial liar–or, as several articles like to label him, a “fabulist.”

Initially, I ignored the story. After all, the media was all over it and it was unlikely that anyone who follows political news would be unaware of it. But a recent recap in the New York Times yesterday– just before Santos was scheduled to be sworn in– made me realize that Santos is the candidate who really epitomizes the current state of the once Grand Old Party.

On the off-chance that readers are unaware of the extent of Santos’ fraudulent biography, I’ll share part of the Times’ very abbreviated description:

Mr. Santos has said that he grew up in a basement apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens. Until Wednesday, Mr. Santos’s campaign biography said that his mother, Fatima Devolder, worked her way up to become “the first female executive at a major financial institution.” He has also said that she was in the South Tower of the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and that she died “a few years later.”

In fact, Ms. Devolder died in 2016, and a Brazilian community newspaper at the time described her as a cook. Mr. Santos’s friends and former roommates recalled her as a hardworking, friendly woman who spoke only Portuguese and made her living cleaning homes and selling food. None of those interviewed by The Times could recall any instance of her working in finance, and several chalked the story up to Mr. Santos’s tendency for mythmaking.

His apparent fabrications about his own life begin with his claims about his high school. He said he attended Horace Mann School, a prestigious private institution in the Bronx, and said he dropped out in 2006 before graduating and earning an equivalency diploma. A spokesman for Horace Mann said that the school had no record of his attending at all.

There is much, much more: his claim to be Jewish and a descendant of Holocaust survivors, an attendee of universities that have no record of his ever being a student, an employee of firms that never heard of him…it goes on. He is evidently still wanted by the police in Brazil, where he admitted to stealing checks from an elderly man.

The extent of his fabrications was uncovered by the Times after the election, which raises all sorts of questions about the failures of both opposition research and the media covering the race. (A tiny Long Island paper, The North Shore Leader, had raised timely questions about his claims, but was ignored.)

Whatever lessons we may want to draw from those failures is one thing. More to the point, what  the revelations really do is shine a bright and unforgiving light on the increasing disaster that is today’s GOP.

Kevin McCarthy has refused to comment on Santos’ deceptions, because he desperately needs the new Congressman’s vote for Speaker of the House–a vote he has thus far been unable to secure despite prostrating himself to the lunatic caucus. There’s a down-and-dirty fight for the position of Chair of the RNC–a fight featuring arguments over who has the most fidelity to Trump, and “serious “candidates like The Pillow Guy.

Santos’ campaign evidently focused heavily on his presumed (invented) bona fides–a perfect representation of the current Republican Party, which has abandoned even the pretense of policy advocacy in favor of a full-blown dependence upon identity politics.

I know that very few voters actually read the party platforms that have routinely been produced by the parties until now, but the significance of the Republicans’ refusal to even bother creating one is obvious. Today’s GOP relies for support on two groups: rich people who don’t want to pay taxes, and White Christian Nationalists frantic not to be “replaced” by Jews and/or people of color. Its subservience to both doesn’t need to be spelled out in a platform.

Really, when you think about it, Santos is a perfect representation of today’s GOP–a party devoted to the Big Lie(s) perpetrated by a more successful con man. Like Trump, Santos won an election by pretending to be something he isn’t–in Trump’s case, a successful businessman–and has evidently used campaign dollars to enrich himself.

It remains to be seen whether Congress will be stuck with this character for the entirety of his two-year term, or whether he’ll be forced out. Either way, I think it’s safe to say that the next two years will feature the inevitable implosion of the current iteration of the Republican Party.

Pass the popcorn.