My Mother Was Right…

As I used to tell my own children, you should always listen to your mother.

My sister and I were the products of a politically “mixed marriage.” Mother was a Republican and Dad was a Democrat, and they often ended up casting votes that cancelled each other out. There was a limit to our mother’s political conservatism, however–she was deeply suspicious of what she called the “fringe Right,” the Birchers and others who were then seen by the broad majority of the party as kooks and crazies.

Mother didn’t live long enough to see those kooks and crazies complete their takeover of the Republican Party and chase out the more moderate folks we used to lump together as “country club Republicans”– some who were philosophical conservatives and others whose business interests had turned them into anti-tax, “trickle-down” true believers.

Everything my mother thought about what was then the far-Right “fringe” has turned out to be correct. Only worse.

I was reminded of her long-ago criticisms when I read a recent article in Talking Points Memo. (Apologies if this is one of the articles behind the paywall for subscribers only.) The article began:

Whiplash-inducing breaks from long-held party positions have become the norm in today’s Republican Party.

From former president Donald Trump to emerging voices such as Senator J.D. Vance, presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, and North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Mark Robinson, a wave of politicians and activists have signaled an abandonment of Republican orthodoxy on issues that once defined the party.

The party of free trade has become protectionist. The party of Cold Warriors has increasingly backed Russia and opposed aiding Ukraine. The party of less government has grown conflicted about where it stands on Social Security and Medicare.

How can not just a party, but its voters, suddenly change direction on so many bedrock issues?

Or have they?

Ben Bradford, who wrote the column, hosts a podcast series called “Landslide.” He proceeded to answer his own question,  asserting that the current Republican Party does not, in fact, represent a change or reversal of course–rather, in his opinion, it represents an evolution. “What seems like a shift on fundamental issues” he says, “is the latest expression of the same underlying force that has propelled voters for nearly half a century.”

Bradford takes readers back fifty years, to the mid-1970s and the “New Right,” reminding us of their opposition to a “range of the era’s social and cultural changes: school integration, new textbooks, gun laws, the women’s rights movement, gay and lesbian rights, and — eventually — abortion.”

New Right organizations included Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and the NRA’s further-right cousin, the Gun Owners of America. It also included many of the same conservative groups that push policy positions and drive national debates today: the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and the National Right-to-Life Committee, to name just a handful. These groups shared many of the same founders. Harper’s Magazine described their organizational charts as “an octopus shaking hands with itself.”

Two things that were “new” about the New Right were direct-mail fundraising and–especially– culture war.

The New Right was organized around social and cultural backlash. It created a link between activists working for seemingly unrelated causes–for example, opponents of abortion and opponents of gun laws. Howard Phillips described the goal of the New Right as “organizing discontent.” At a time when the major political parties were still trying to downplay hot-button social and cultural issues, the New Right created a coalition based upon voters’ backlash to culture change.

The article argues that it was a tactic that changed the nature of American conservatism.

Bradford goes on to document how the New Right saved Ronald Reagan’s campaign–a campaign animated by a backlash against a changing culture.

The message of a better past endangered by a changing culture would not feel out of place coming from Republican candidates today. And, the issues they emphasize — opposing the contents of textbooks, the use of race in school admissions, and transgender rights, among others — are the modern descendants of those 50 years ago.

As my mother would have added, that “backlash” coalition wasn’t just angry about social change; it was also a hotbed of bigotry–it was racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynistic. If it ever gained power, she warned us, Americans who weren’t straight White Christians would be endangered.

Well, they’ve gained power– and proved her point.


Ron “Contempt For The Constitution” DeSantis

Yesterday’s blog post noted that Florida man Ron DeSantis is a favorite of the New Right. A recent judicial opinion, striking down one of his many outrageous attacks on the Constitutional rights of Florida citizens explains why.

A federal judge on Thursday halted a key piece of the “Stop-WOKE” Act touted by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, blocking state officials from enforcing what he called a “positively dystopian” policy restricting how lessons on race and gender can be taught in colleges and universities.

The 138-page order from Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker is being heralded as a major win for campus free speech by the groups who challenged the state.

Among other “dystopian” provisions of DeSantis’ anti-woke law were rules about what university professors could–and could not–say in the classroom. As the Judge noted in his opinion, the law gave the state “unfettered authority to muzzle its professors in the name of ‘freedom.'”

Florida legislators passed DeSantis’ “Individual Freedom Act” earlier this year (a label reminiscent of George W. Bush’s anti-environmental “Blue Skies” Act..). The law prohibits schools and private companies from

leveling guilt or blame to students and employees based on race or sex, takes aim at lessons over issues like “white privilege” by creating new protections for students and workers, including that a person should not be instructed to “feel guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” due to their race, color, sex or national origin.

The judge ruled that such policies violate both First Amendment free speech protections and 14th Amendment due-process rights on college campuses.

The law officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints,” wrote Walker. “Defendants argue that, under this Act, professors enjoy ‘academic freedom’ so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves. This is positively dystopian.”

This particular lawsuit challenged the application of the anti-Woke law to colleges and universities; other pending challenges assert that the law is illegal and unconstitutional when applied to  K-12 schools and to the workplace.

In a column discussing the law and the ruling, Jennifer Rubin noted,

The law, for example, bars discussion of the concept that a person “by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity, or inclusion.” During oral arguments, when asked if this would bar professors from supporting affirmative action in classroom settings, attorneys for the state government answered, “Your Honor, yes.”

Walker cited that admission, finding:

Thus, Defendants assert the idea of affirmative action is so “repugnant” that instructors can no longer express approval of affirmative action as an idea worthy of merit during class instruction. … What does this mean in practical terms? Assuming the University of Florida Levin College of Law decided to invite Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to speak to a class of law students, she would be unable to offer this poignant reflection about her own lived experience, because it endorses affirmative action.

The law so blatantly violates the concept of free speech that one wonders if remedial constitutional education should be a requirement for Florida officeholders.

No wonder the so-called intellectuals of the New Right see DeSantis as one of their own. He has consistently used his position and the power of the state to suppress the expression of views he dislikes. Rubin reminds readers of DeSantis’ “don’t say gay” law, his statute banning “critical race theory” in schools and his attempt to fire an elected county prosecutor who criticized his abortion policies. To which I would add his attacks on voting rights and his (successful) gerrymandering efforts.

DeSantis has also regularly flexed his power as governor: excluding media from events, taking public proceedings behind closed doors (including the selection of the University of Florida’s president) and exacting revenge on supposedly woke corporations such as Disney.

DeSantis’s contempt for dissent and his crackdown on critics should not be discounted. This is the profile of a constitutional ignoramus, a bully and a strongman. Voters should be forewarned.

DeSantis, Trump and the New Right sure don’t look anything like the libertarian, limited-government GOP I once knew…The only part of Rubin’s critique with which I disagree is her labeling of DeSantis as a “constitutional ignoramus.” It’s much worse than that.

Unlike Trump, who is an ignoramus, DeSantis knows better. He just doesn’t care.


What The Right Really Wants

Vox recently published an interesting postmortem of the midterm elections, looking to see how right-wing intellectuals (a term which I consider an oxymoron) are responding to the lack of that promised “red wave.”

This New Right “intellectual” movement arose after the 2016 election; its approach to Republican politics is a commitment to relentless, aggressive culture war. (Fortunately–at least in the recent elections–voters have seemed unreceptive.)

The article describes three distinct, albeit overlapping, reactions. One is a call to display what the article calls “some tactical moderation” (most notably by bracketing abortion, which was clearly not a winner for the GOP); another “centers on whether Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis represents the movement’s future, and what reasons there are to prefer one over the other.” The third centers on democracy itself.

A minority of New Right thinkers responded to defeat by suggesting the electorate is too far gone for conservatives to ever triumph — and even questioning the value of democracy itself.

“Democracy did not end slavery, and democracy will not end abortion,” declared Chad Pecknold, a self-described “postliberal” theologian at Catholic University.

The “thinkers” pursuing all-out culture war want to discard the conservative commitment to limited government; they argue that limiting the power of the state “stands in the way of waging an effective counterrevolution.”  They believe that their culture war can only be won “by jettisoning libertarianism and using the levers of policy to roll back the left’s cultural victories. Out with tax cuts, in with bans on critical race theory in schools.”

Abandoning the culture war, on this perspective, is not mere folly but national suicide. For some on the New Right, the idea that their approach to these issues might be unpopular is unthinkable. 

One star of the New Right argues for switching allegiance from Trump to  DeSantis –saying that he “backstops his culture-war agenda with capable governance.” (Granted, no one in his right mind could argue that Trump can even spell governance,  let alone provide it.) This DeSantis partisan believes DeSantis will be more able to deliver on the New Right’s shared goals: “to clean house in America: remove the attorney general, lay siege to the universities, abolish the teachers’ unions, and overturn the school boards.”  In other words,  eradicate “woke-ness.”

If the DeSantis contingent doesn’t terrify you sufficiently, there are the New Right “integralists.” These are “Catholic arch-conservatives who believe that the United States government should be replaced with a religious Catholic state.”

Integralists are a part of a broader “postliberal” trend among right-wing intellectuals that traces the cultural decay of American society back to its ruling liberal political philosophy: the doctrine that government should liberate people to pursue their own visions of the good life. Liberalism, they argue, promotes licentiousness and a corrosive individualism…

Postliberals believe that instead of protecting individual freedom, government should aim to promote the “common good” or “highest good”: to create a citizenry where people live good lives as defined by scripture and religious doctrine. This leads them to support an even more active role for the state than even the national conservatives, endorsing not only aggressive efforts to legislate morality but also expansions of the welfare state.

And here we come to the crux of the anti-democratic argument. It isn’t new.

Liberalism–properly defined–rests on a belief that humans are endowed–born with– certain “inalienable” rights that government must protect. The liberal conception of the common good is a society in which government respects those individual liberties to the extent that their expression does not infringe on the rights of others.

A liberal polity will argue–often vigorously–about where that line should be drawn. As I used to tell my students, freedom of religion cannot excuse the ritual sacrifice of your newborn.Figuring out what it can excuse is harder. Every liberty protected by the Bill of Rights has sparked philosophical and legal debate over the extent to which government must respect it–does your freedom of religion allow you to discriminate against people your church considers sinners? Does your Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches prevent government from going through the garbage bag you’ve left on the curb for pickup?

What the New Right wants is statism.  

These “thinkers” assume that they will be the ones who decide what the common good looks like–and they want government, under their control, to enforce their vision. (They’re not so different from the Tech moguls who want to impose their beliefs  by remaking society in their own image.) That approach to governance is incompatible with the cultural assumptions of most American citizens–not to mention the U.S. Declaration, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

You can call this philosophy a lot of things, but it sure isn’t American. 


The Rubber Has Hit The Road

Remember that old saying about “when the rubber hits the road”? Its import was that, when the rubber hit the road, it was time to act, to decide…Well, given overwhelming evidence of the GOP’s attempted coup, the neutering of Congress by use of the filibuster, and the morphing of the Supreme Court into a religious tribunal, it’s fair to conclude that the rubber has indeed hit pavement, and a failure to move quickly to recapture the institutions of American life will turn this country into a place most of us won’t want to inhabit.

In the wake of the Court’s ruling in Dobbs, The Guardian was especially blunt. In an article headlined “How the Christian right took over the judiciary and changed America,” it reported–quite accurately-

The supreme court decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which reverses the constitutional abortion rights that American women have enjoyed over the past 50 years, has come as a surprise to many voters. A majority, after all, support reproductive rights and regard their abolition as regressive and barbaric.

Understood in the context of the movement that created the supreme court in its current incarnation, however, there is nothing surprising about it. In fact, it marks the beginning rather than the endpoint of the agenda this movement has in mind.

 At the core of the Dobbs decision lies the conviction that the power of government can and should be used to impose a certain moral and religious vision – a supposedly biblical and regressive understanding of the Christian religion – on the population at large.

Let me just repeat that last paragraph:

At the core of the Dobbs decision lies the conviction that the power of government can and should be used to impose a certain moral and religious vision – a supposedly biblical and regressive understanding of the Christian religion – on the population at large.

How did this happen? How did White Christian Nationalists effectively take over a major political party and the courts? As the Guardian article notes, answering that question requires looking back at the history of the Christian Nationalist movement, and how it “united conservatives across denominational barriers by, in effect, inventing a new form of intensely political religion.”

Christian nationalists often claim their movement got its start as a grassroots reaction to Roe v Wade in 1973. But the movement actually gelled several years later with a crucial assist from a group calling itself the “New Right”.

Among the many things the New Right opposed were feminism and the civil rights movement. One thing that they were not particularly angry about, at least initially, was the matter of abortion rights. A primary concern was that the Supreme Court might end tax exemptions for segregated Christian schools, but they knew “Stop the tax on segregation!” was unlikely to be an effective rallying cry for their new movement. They needed an issue that could be used to unify the various, disparate elements of the New Right, an issue that could draw in the rank and file.

In many respects abortion was an unlikely choice, because when the Roe v Wade decision was issued, most Protestant Republicans supported it. The Southern Baptist Convention passed resolutions in 1971 and 1974 expressing support for the liberalization of abortion law, and an editorial in their wire service hailed the passage of Roe v Wade, declaring that “religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.”

On the other hand, abortion brought conservative Catholics into the movement with conservative Protestants and evangelicals, and allowed the New Right to blame abortion rights for all manner of perceived social ills of the age – especially women’s liberation .”The issue became a focal point for the anxieties about social change welling up from the base.”

In recent decades, the religious right has invested many hundreds of millions of dollars developing a complex and coordinated infrastructure, whose features include rightwing policy groups, networking organizations, data initiatives and media. A critical component of this infrastructure is its sophisticated legal sphere.

 Movement leaders understood very well that if you can capture the courts, you can change society.

And so here we are. The Courts have been captured; the Congress (thanks to gerrymandering and filibuster Joe Manchin) has been neutered. Over 100 state candidates running for the right to count our votes are “Big Lie” proponents.

The rubber has hit the road.  Americans must turn out in massive numbers this November to  dislodge the theocrats and begin the process of reclaiming  America.

All available research shows a majority of Americans strongly opposed to the Christian Nationalists who have assumed control of our no-longer-so-democratic institutions. All voting history shows that a disastrous number of those Americans won’t bother to vote.

If that doesn’t change in November, the America we know is over.