Tag Archives: MAGA

Elon Musk And The Public/Private Dilemma

Alexandra Petri recently had a gloriously snarky opinion piece in the Washington Post,comparing Elon Musk to her toddler. Titled “Things both my toddler and Elon Musk do that are signs of genius, apparently” it included things like “Constantly yelling at people to change things that cannot be changed” and “When presented with slow, patient explanations of why things are not possible, just screams louder;” and “Likes to seize nice things and ruin them because of a fundamental misunderstanding of what they are for.”

And of course, “Wants to be center of attention at all times.”

It’s disturbing enough when a man-child (“man-toddler?”) has enough money to buy and control what had been a significant mode of communication, but its terrifying to discover that this petulant child has the power to interfere in matters of global war and peace. As multiple media outlets have reported, Musk’s SpaceX refused to allow Ukraine to use its Starlink internet services to launch an attack on Russia last September–a decision that undoubtedly prolonged the conflict and benefitted Russia.

Musk has defended his decision as an effort to prevent possible nuclear war. Whatever your opinion of that excuse, or his action, the episode raises a profound question: should a single private citizen–even one less mercurial and self-aggrandizing than Musk– have the power to decide such questions? 

We live in a very weird time. Government evidently gets to decide what I do with my uterus, but not how the U.S. will assist in the defense of its allies….

I know this will come as a shock to several self-satisfied “captains of industry,” but having a lot of money does not necessarily translate into superior knowledge or nuanced understanding. Musk is actually a poster boy for that disconnect–as David French (who spent years as a First Amendment lawyer) recently wrote in the New York Times,

Despite his loud and frequent protestations, Elon Musk may be the worst ambassador for free speech in America. To understand why, it’s necessary to look at X, the website formerly known as Twitter, which he owns and rules over like the generalissimo of a banana republic….

Instead of creating a platform for free speech, Musk created a platform for Musk’s speech — or, more precisely, Musk’s power. First, he has demonstrated that he’s perfectly willing to take action against people or entities that challenge him or challenge X. As my friends at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (where I used to serve as president) have detailed, he has used his authority to suspend accounts, to throttle (or limit the traffic of) competitors and reportedly to boost his own voice.

As French quite accurately notes, rather than making Twitter (now X) into a free speech paradise, Musk has turned it into the generalissimo’s playpen, where the generalissimo’s values shape everything about the place.

X is Musk’s company, and he can set whatever speech rules he wishes. But do not be fooled. When Musk defends his decisions by shouting “free speech,” I’m reminded of the immortal words of Inigo Montoya in the movie “The Princess Bride”: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Musk isn’t promoting liberty; he’s using his power to privilege many of the worst voices in American life.

Power and privilege. Those two words are–or should be– at the heart of the public/private distinction. Once again, we come back to that fundamental question: what is government for? What functions are properly left to the private sector–to the individual, to the marketplace, or to the wide variety of nonprofit and voluntary organizations–and which must be exercised by a democratically-elected government? 

Right now, that essential inquiry is mired in a host of very serious concerns about the declining health of democratic decision-making, and the increasingly obvious effort of MAGA Republicans to turn America into an autocratic, White Christian Nationalist state. If they are successful, American government will no longer be legitimate under any definition of that term, and the allocation of power between those privileged by the regime and the rest of us will be moot.

If we do manage to salvage democratic governance–if voters come out in 2024 and deal a sufficiently robust defeat to the MAGA Confederates still fighting the Civil War–we will need to turn our attention to the necessary divisions between public and private power.

Governments can and do make grievous mistakes, but that is no reason to allow individuals–even individuals considerably more mature and informed than Elon Musk–to usurp decision-making in realms that must be subject to public accountability.

From Your Mouth To God’s Ears…

My grandmother had a favorite response whenever one of us made a rosy prediction. That phrase– “From your mouth to God’s ears!”–was her way of expressing hope that the prediction would come true.

I had a very similar reaction to a column by Greg Sargent in the Washington Post. Sargent asserted that a MAGA “doom loop” would defeat Trump and the GOP next year–an outcome I devoutly hope to see. His thesis is as follows: Republicans continue to defend and embrace Trump’s authoritarianism. That backfired when voters responded by defeating the predicted Red wave in the 2022 midterms and continuing to defeat Republican candidates in multiple ensuing special elections.
 Subsequently–as Sargent accurately reports–rather than learning the rather obvious lesson from those defeats, Republicans have dug in. They’re going even further Right, responding to electoral losses “with even more flagrantly anti-democratic maneuvers all around the country.”

The pattern is becoming clear: Even as voters are mobilizing to protect democracy at the ballot box, Republicans are redoubling their commitment to the former president’s anti-majoritarian mode of politics. And this, in turn, is motivating voters even more.
Call it the “MAGA doom loop.” It’s playing out in state after state.

Sargent supports his thesis by surveying the disarray and infighting in several state-level Republican parties–notably, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin (where the GOP is threatening a bizarre, anti-democratic response to the electoral loss of a state supreme court seat.)

As Sargent predicts about Wisconsin,

Democrats will surely be able to use those MAGA-approved tactics to mobilize voters against Trump and Republicans in 2024. “The threat to overturn an election through impeachment pushes MAGA attacks on democracy to the top of voters’ minds,” Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler told me.

He also reminded readers of the recent shenanigans in Ohio, where Republicans tried to  raise the threshold for amending the state constitution to 60 percent of votes cast, in order to head off an almost-certain victory for reproductive rights in an upcoming referendum. Despite scheduling the vote on this single, arguably technical issue for August, turnout was robust, and the change was defeated by a crushing 14-points.

Research confirms that Issues become salient for voters when elites talk about those issues a lot, and in the U.S., concerns about democracy have increasingly taken center stage. A newsletter I subscribe to recently and helpfully included a partial list of current GOP threats to democracy:

In May, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed into law a measure that will create a commission that can punish and remove prosecutors, saying it will curb “far-left prosecutors.” That includes a certain prosecutor pursuing the case against former President Donald Trump.

In April, Iowa’s Republican-led legislature introduced a bill that restricted information the state auditor—the only Democratic Statewide office holder—could access. “Let’s be clear about this, this is the destruction of democratic norms,” State Auditor Rob Sand said.

Immediately after last year’s nonpartisan Ohio State Board of Education election created a majority of members aligned with the Democratic party, conservative legislators moved to transfer the body’s power to a new department under the governor’s authority. While the bill failed during that year’s session, a similar bill passed in the Senate in January of this year and was introduced into the House in March (it’s currently in committee).

In 2021, Republicans in Arizona, using the state budget, stripped the Arizona Secretary of State—a Democrat–of the right to defend the state’s election laws in court—handing it over to the attorney general who happens to have been—you guessed it—a Republican. Any pretense that it was done as a move to strengthen some legal principle was undermined by the fact they intended the move to expire simultaneously with the end of the term of the secretary of state. Taking aim at secretaries of state is no accident, as these officers have authority over how elections are conducted. Legislators similarly trimmed the power of secretaries of state in Georgia and Kansas. In fact, Republicans have moved to take control over the election process in at least eight states.

In recent years, after Democrats were elected to statewide offices in North Carolina , Wisconsin, and Michigan, Republican-led legislatures and governors moved to severely weaken their powers.

This doesn’t even begin to address the gerrymandering and the changing of rules over the last decade or so to make voting harder, more complicated, and less likely, especially among people of color, including restrictive voter ID laws and aggressive voter purges.

The “chattering classes” tell us that democracy is on the ballot in 2024. They’re correct–it is. 

I just hope Sargent’s “doom loop” thesis proves to be equally correct…..


It’s Still Kool-Aid

Trying to figure out social trends while you are living through them is sort of like being in the eye of a hurricane and trying to predict which way the wind’s blowing.

Since the 2020 elections, media mentions of QAnon have abated. Those of us who shook our heads over gunmen raiding pizza parlors and “patriots” attacking the U.S. Capitol have been inclined to breathe a sigh of relief, assuming that lack of sightings meant diminishing numbers of believers.

Of course, it’s never that simple, as a recent article in the Guardian explained.

QAnon appeared in 2017 and quickly spread through the far right, before beginning to wane in the wake of Joe Biden’s inauguration.

But it hasn’t disappeared entirely, and understanding the conspiracy theory’s rise and fall – and the awful legacy it has left us – reveals a great deal about the modern landscape of partisan paranoia. It also offers some clues on how best to fight back.

QAnon seized the public’s imagination in 2017, exploding from an anonymous forum on one of the internet’s most notorious websites and becoming a popular conspiracy theory. The figure of “Q” first appeared on the message board 4chan – a website where anonymous users posted hardcore pornography and racial slurs – claiming tobe a high-level intelligence officer. (Later Q would move to the equally vile site 8kun.)

QAnon posited a conspiracy by the so-called deep state–composed, in several versions, of Democratic pedophiles who drank children’s blood. (The child trafficking had to involve sexual abuse and ritual murder so that the participants could harvest a chemical “elixir of youth,” called adrenochrome.) The deep state was intent upon undermining the presidency of Donald Trump – but that dastardly effort was being countered by someone called Q and other “patriots.”

I think I hear the music from “Twilight Zone”….

QAnon borrows heavily from the rhetoric of the  End Times–a rhetoric that evidently prompted something  in 1844 called the “Great Disappointment”–so named because thousands of people had prepared themselves for the Second Coming of Christ. It’s also in the apocalyptic fiction of the Left Behind series.

In the days before the 2020 election, a Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that fully half of Trump’s supporters believed that top Democrats were “involved in an elite child sex trafficking ring” and that Trump was working to “dismantle” that same Democrat-led conspiracy. And despite the ludicrous and defamatory nature of the conspiracy theory, Trump seemed to embrace it; during a town hall event in October of 2020, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie repeatedly offered him a chance to denounce the movement and Trump refused.

Speaking of “Great Disappointments,” it became harder to sustain the QAnon fantasy after Trump was removed from office. As one pundit noted, “unleashing the purge of the deep state over Twitter doesn’t really work when he’s not the president any more, and he’s not on Twitter any more.” But..

even as the original storyline “came to a natural end”, there was immediately “the emergence of the stolen election movement, and they found their next thing. It really went really seamlessly from one thing to another.” The movement no longer needed “the codes and the drops and the props and the cryptic stuff”. And without the mystic clues and portents, many of the ideas that first gained strength through Q drops have gone mainstream. They have percolated into the public discourse, embraced by many in the Republican party, and no longer need to involve any actual reference to Q or 4chan.

People who were vulnerable to QAnon idiocy are now part of the MAGA mainstream, and elements of the conspiracy theory have been absorbed into Rightwing talking points.

Last week, the Florida governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis told supporters at a barbecue in New Hampshire: “We’re going to have all of these deep state people, you know, we are going to start slitting throats on day one.”

While such violent rhetoric is primarily directed at Democrats, the article reminds readers that “QAnon, like many other conspiracy theories, traffics heavily in antisemitism: tropes about “puppet masters” controlling everything, along with constant references to George Soros and the Rothschild family.”

Karl Popper coined the term “conspiracy theory” in the 1940s, explaining that it is a quasi-theological outlook.

While a shadowy cabal controlling your every action from behind the scenes may seem terrifying, it offers a narrative and an explanation for the way the world works. And this is what QAnon was and continues to be to its believers: proof that there’s a plan (even if not entirely divine), which in turn gives them hope, and meaning.

As the article concludes, “That’s a far more powerful drug than adrenochrome, and weaning adherents off of it will take real work.”


As regular readers of my daily rants know, I’m not a fan of organized religion–quite the contrary. And I’m definitely not a fan of the faux “Christianity”– more properly identified as Christian Nationalism–that permeates the MAGA movement.

But I am a fan of some actual Christians–especially the members of the clergy desperately working to remind their colleagues and congregants of the basic messages of the Christian faith. I have several personal friends who fall into that category, and I follow a couple of others on social media. One of the latter is John Pavlovitz, and I was so impressed with a recent “sermon” he delivered via the Internet that I’m going to quote rather copiously from it.

The title of the piece was “No, I Won’t Agree To Disagree About You Supporting Trump. You’re Just Wrong.” The ensuing message did two important things: it underlined the ways in which MAGA Republicanism is inconsistent with traditional Christian teaching; and it explained what all those nice people who want to bridge American political disagreements fail to understand–these arguments aren’t political. They are deeply moral–and accordingly, unbridgeable.

As Pavlovitz writes, we can’t simply “agree to disagree” because that would be tantamount to a declaration that “we both have equally valid opinions, that we’re each mutually declaring those opinions not so divergent that they cannot be abided; that our relationship is of greater value than the differences”–and as he says, that really isn’t an accurate description.

We are not simply declaring mismatched preferences regarding something inconsequential. We’re not talking about who has the best offensive line in the NFL, or whether Van Halen was better with Dave or Sammy, or about what craft beer pairs best with a cheesesteak, or about the sonic differences of CDs and vinyl. On such matters (though I will provide spirited debate), I can tolerate dissension.

We’re not even talking about clear misalignments on very important things: how to best address climate change or what will fix our healthcare system or how to reduce our national debt or what it will take to bring racial equity. Those subjects, while critically important, still have room for constructive debate and differing solutions. They are mendable fractures.

But this, this runs far deeper and into the marrow of who we each are.

At this point, with the past few years as a resume, your alignment with the former president means that we are fundamentally disconnected on what is morally acceptable—and I’ve simply seen too much to explain that away or rationalize your intentions or give you the benefit of the doubt any longer.

Pavlovitz understands what allegiance to Trump and MAGA tells us about those loyalists: that they don’t value the lives of people of color or women, that they distrust/dismiss science, and that they are willing to distort and betray the faith they loudly profess.

I now can see how pliable your morality is, the kinds of compromises you’re willing to make, the ever-descending bottom you’re following into, in order to feel victorious in a war you don’t even know why you’re fighting.

That’s why I need you to understand that this isn’t just a schism on one issue or a single piece of legislation, as those things would be manageable. This isn’t a matter of politics or preference. This is a pervasive, sprawling, saturating separation about the way we see the world and what we value and how we want to move through this life.

Agreeing to disagree with you in these matters, would mean silencing myself and more importantly, betraying the people who bear the burdens of your political affiliations— and this is not something I’m willing to do. Our relationship matters greatly to me, but if it has to be the collateral damage of standing with them, I’ll have to see that as acceptable.

Your devaluing of black lives is not an opinion.
Your acceptance of falsehoods is not an opinion.
Your defiance of facts in a pandemic is not an opinion.
Your hostility toward immigrants is not an opinion.
These are fundamental heart issues.

As he concludes:

I believe you’re wrong in ways that are harming people.
You’re wrong to deny the humanity of other human beings.
You’re wrong to justify your affiliation with this violence.
You’re wrong to embrace a movement built on the worst parts of who we are.

Pavlovitz refuses to “agree to disagree” about such profound moral differences.

To which this atheist says: AMEN.


DeSantis Again…Sorry

I really hadn’t planned to write again about DeSantis–after all, the longer he campaigns, the worse he polls. Even in a field of distasteful alternatives, he’s unlikely to be the Republican nominee. But–as a Facebook meme recently put it–“Don’t complain about your problems. Some of us live in Florida!” 

DeSantis has succeeded at one thing: making Florida an example of what he and the MAGA GOP want to do to the rest of the country.

Let me begin by acknowledging that Florida insanity didn’t begin with DeSantis. Since 1987, the state has had a law forbidding cities and counties from passing regulations that are stricter than the state’s NRA-friendly firearms laws. The DeSantis administration has enthusiastically enforced that preemption–local officials have been threatened with $5,000 fines if they pass gun regulations, and a 2011 amendment that made it illegal to “mess” with gun laws–including discussion or resolutions by local councils.

When several communities filed suit against the portion of the law that penalized discussion, the DeSantis’ administration vigorously defended it and the state’s GOP-dominated Supreme Court upheld it.

It’s hardly news that DeSantis and MAGA Republicans are owned by the NRA. That’s been true for years. What is arguably new is the party’s abandonment of older “dog whistle” tactics in favor of out-and-proud bigotry.

DeSantis recently aired an anti-gay campaign ad that even some Republicans found offensive. According to Talking Points Memo, DeSantis attacked Trump for remarks TFG had made that–OMG!– seemed to be supportive of LGBTQ Americans.

The one minute and 13 second video starts off with a clip of Trump giving a speech at the 2016 Republican convention, saying, “I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens.” That comes alongside a montage of photos, screenshots of headlines and tweets and two Trump clips where he seemingly shows support for the LGBTQ+ community.

About 25 seconds in, the video takes a bizarre turn. As the background music changes we start seeing a montage of photos and videos of Desantis alongside images of shirtless men with six packs and scenes from several movies with over-the-top masculine male characters, including the 2004 movie “Troy” featuring Brad Pitt as Achilles, one of the greatest warriors in all of Greek mythology.

The Log Cabin Republicans (a group I find mystifying)  found it homophobic, and several journalists called out the spot’s weirdness.

“Truly one of the weirdest videos I’ve ever seen a politician put out. Also, splicing images of DeSantis alongside images of shirtless and masked men… does not quite send the anti-LGBTQ message apparently intended,” New York Times reporter Jonathan Swan tweeted.

The New Republic also considered DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ advertisement, concluding that “even by GOP standards, it’s frightening,” and predicting that it would usher in an era of ever-more blatant GOP bigotry.

Pete Buttigieg, as usual, said it best:

“I just don’t understand the mentality of somebody who gets up in the morning thinking that he’s going to prove his worth by competing over who can make life hardest for a hard-hit community that is already so vulnerable in America.” 

Well, ugly people do ugly things. But nicer people can and do respond appropriately. As Robert Kuttner reports in The American Prospect,

Florida stands to lose massive amounts of convention business. Much of that lost business, ironically, is concentrated in places like Miami and Orlando, which don’t share DeSantis’s views. The latest to pull out is the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, which had planned a fall convention for Miami, and has now moved it to Chicago, incurring a stiff penalty from the hotels.

Planners tend to be liberals, but lots of groups far removed from politics want to disassociate themselves from DeSantis’s crusade. The Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) has moved its planned 2027 Global Surgical Conference & Expo from Orlando to Philadelphia. Around 7,000 nurses and exhibitors will no longer be helping the local economy. The organizers of Con of Thrones, a convention for fans of the HBO fantasy epic, canceled their Orlando convention, planned for the Hyatt Regency Orlando in August. The National Society of Black Engineers will also not be coming to Orlando in 2024, for a convention that would have brought 15,000 to the Sunshine State.

Kuttner identifies several other groups. He also distinguishes Florida’s situation from  the “bathroom bill” episode in North Carolina, where similar cancellations killed that measure.

In Florida, the culture war against LGBTQ people is purely a stunt by DeSantis, as the centerpiece of his national presidential campaign. It is hard to see how he might backtrack or compromise without looking even more like a lame opportunist…

The cancellations come on the heels of reports that Florida is also losing thousands of agricultural workers, thanks to DeSantis’ anti-immigration law.

So–don’t complain! You could live in Florida!