“God’s Anointed”

Talking Points Memo recently considered the response of the “Christian” Right to the FBI’s execution of a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago.The article described a “smorgasbord of persecution complexes, whataboutism, conspiracy theories, lies, and misinformation about law enforcement and the judicial process.”

The Christian right and its GOP allies are counting on their base consuming a steady diet of these radio shows, podcasts, social media posts, and email blasts, tuning out any coverage that conflicts with their image of Trump as both a virile hero and a victim besieged by radical leftists at the FBI. For them, God anointed Trump, choosing an “unlikely” leader to restore Christian America. It is precisely because Trump is singularly capable of resurrecting the Christian nation, this thinking goes, that the radical leftists of the deep state want to bring him down. 

For those of us who remain residents of the reality-based community, the belief that any God worth worshipping would choose Donald Trump to “resurrect” anything is utterly gobsmacking. Yet the article went on to quote prominent figures of the Christian Right–Tony Perkins, who runs the Family Research Council and Franklin Graham, son of Billy– ranting about the perfidy of the FBI. (Graham invoked the 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge, and the conspiracy theory, evidently pervasive in right-wing circles, that “funding in the Inflation Reduction Act to boost collection of taxes owed by the wealthy was “a step in weaponizing the IRS to act against anyone voicing dissent against the government.)

If the Talking Points Memo report wasn’t sufficiently horrifying, a recent description of Trump supporters in David French’s newsletter certainly was. (French, by the way, is a conservative.)

French begins by differentiating between Republicans who voted for Trump in 2016 and those who currently support him. He says that voters in 2016 were populist (a nicer word than racist…) but that today’s case for Trump is different– and even more harmful for American politics

Here’s the new narrative—and I have no doubt that a number of readers have heard all or much of it from their MAGA friends and family members—goes something like this:

The Trump presidency exposed the true evil of the left. They persecuted Trump more than any other president in history. First, there was the Russia hoax, then the impeachment hoax, then they shut down the economy and schools to destroy Trump; they shut down churches to destroy the Church. They burned cities. They hollowed out our police forces. They were tyrants. They forced us to wear masks that didn’t work and to take an experimental vaccine that has killed tens of thousands of vulnerable Americans.

They hated Trump because Trump was God’s anointed leader to save the nation, and it’s no surprise that the forces of hell came against him.

Even then, they knew they couldn’t beat him. So they changed election rules. Dead people voted. Thousands of “mules” stuffed the ballot boxes, and then they tried to stop Trump from investigating fraud. And if anyone’s to blame for January 6, it’s Nancy Pelosi for leaving the Capitol unguarded. They just let people walk in, and now they’re holding political prisoners in solitary confinement. Second impeachment was a joke, another hoax. But still they can’t keep Trump down. Joe Biden is senile. He can barely walk or talk. Trump is coming back, and they know it, so they’re attacking him again.

The inescapable fact that there are millions of Americans who actually subscribe to this loony-tunes view is nothing short of terrifying. But as French says, once you become aware of this narrative, you see evidence of it is everywhere. He points to wild claims that 44 percent of pregnant women in the Pfizer COVID-vaccine trial miscarried; accusations that a Pennsylvania Senate candidate is “satanic;” and a new book by a right-wing radio host arguing that the COVID lockdowns and other public-health measures were “the worst evil in our history” and the “worst oppression in global history since the Third Reich.”

Meanwhile, well-meaning liberals urge Red and Blue Americans to engage in civil discourse. Really? The likelihood of having a respectful discussion with people who hold such views is somewhere between zero and “are you kidding?”

French says there are tens of millions of Republicans who don’t hold these views  (or at least don’t hold them as intensely), but as he points out, those who do hold them intensely are reliable Republican primary voters.

This changes what it can mean to tack right in the primary and then move to the center for the general. The story above is so dire and so radical that tacking right often precludes moving left. Where do you go after you’ve declared the election stolen or after you’ve declared that your opponents are pure evil?

And where do the rest of us go?


What Can We Do About The Supreme Court?

It’s no longer possible to avoid recognizing the extreme radicalization of the United States Supreme Court.  As an email from the Center for Inquiry accurately characterized the latest ruling, it was “not the act of a secular court but of a religious tribunal.” 

Since the ascension of Mitch McConnell’s hand-picked culture warriors, we have seen a steady stream of decisions laying waste to the legal underpinnings of American liberties. I have written before about the terrifying implications of the abortion ruling,  and why it threatens a much broader array of personal liberties than reproductive autonomy. (In his concurring opinion in Dobbs, Thomas made that threat quite explicit.) The Court has continued its assault on genuine religious liberty, which requires separation of church and state. And its wholesale abandonment of previous precedents on gun legislation–including even the pro-Second-Amendment decision in Heller written by “originalist” Antonin Scalia–is further evidence of a Court majority intent upon rewriting and re-imagining two hundred years of constitutional jurisprudence.

A reader asked me to comment on a report from the Brennan Center proposing changes to the way jurists are elevated to the high court. It is worth emphasizing that the Center issued this paper in 2019, and that it is only one of numerous proposals published during decades of scholarship addressing increasing concerns about the Court’s operations– the analysis was not written as a response to the recent blitz of appalling decisions.

Perhaps the thorniest issue raised by the current operation of the Court involves what the Brennan paper calls “democratic accountability.”

Judicial accountability is different from legislative or executive accountability; the whole purpose of lifetime appointments to the federal bench was to insulate the judiciary from the political passions of the moment–to avoid the sort of “accountability” to political pressure that the other branches  quite properly experience. The Executive and Legislative branches were created to be (more or less) directly answerable to “we the people,” but judges were expected to make thoughtful and considered decisions based on the law and facts as they saw them. (Electing judges, as some states do, is a repudiation of that foundational intent.)

On the other hand, the courts certainly weren’t meant to be untouchable quasi-legislative bodies. (Remember when Republicans screamed about “Judicial Activism” and “Imperial Courts”?) There are several ways to insure appropriate democratic accountability without abandoning the original purpose of lifetime appointments.

As the Brennan report noted,

Two funda­mental flaws in the Consti­tu­tion’s appoint­ment system must be fixed. First, there is no regu­lar­ized system for Supreme Court appoint­ments. Because pres­id­ents can appoint new justices only when a sitting justice resigns or dies, justices are appoin­ted unevenly, so that some pres­id­ents have many appoint­ments, while others have few or even none. In addi­tion, because justices now serve longer on aver­age than their prede­cessors, there are signi­fic­antly fewer appoint­ment oppor­tun­it­ies. These devel­op­ments fray the only formal link between the court and the people — nomin­a­tion by an elec­ted pres­id­ent and confirm­a­tion (or not) by elec­ted senat­ors. In the early days of the repub­lic, when the court was viewed as weak, such defects caused little harm. But today, with the court hold­ing immense power, the lottery appoint­ment system under­mines the court’s consti­tu­tional legit­im­acy and erodes the court’s connec­tion to our demo­cracy.

Second, life tenure permits justices them­selves to stra­tegic­ally time their retire­ments so that an ideo­lo­gic­ally like-minded pres­id­ent can appoint their successor. Recently, this has become the norm. Such ideo­lo­gical control of a Supreme Court seat was never contem­plated by the founders. In addi­tion, some justices have remained on the court after a severe decline in their mental or phys­ical capa­cit­ies, in hopes of last­ing until a pres­id­ent who shares their legal and policy pref­er­ences takes office. Such ideo­lo­gical control of a Supreme Court seat was never contem­plated by the founders when they wrote the Consti­tu­tion.

In the current system, some pres­id­ents appoint an outsized number of justices, some justices outlive the offi­cials who appointed them by many years, and  justices can time their retirements to ensure the ideo­logy of their successors. Worse still, a majority of Justices on the current Court were appointed by Presidents who had lost the popular vote.

As a result, today’s Court lacks democratic legitimacy. 

Correcting the two flaws described in the linked report would require a constitutional amendment prescribing regular appointments coupled term limits. (Constitutional scholars argue that 18-year terms should be adequate to insulate judges from political pressure.)

Given the daunting barriers to passage of constitutional amendments–not to mention the lengthy timeframe of even successful efforts– several legal scholars advocate enlarging the Court. Changing the number of Justices can be done by statute, and in fact, has been done before. Suggestions for enlarging the Court long preceded the current Court, and were prompted primarily by workload concerns–more recent Courts hand down far fewer decisions than previous ones did.

 The author of the Brennan report dismisses that remedy as too partisan, but–as I noted previously–his paper was written before Amy Coney Barrett joined the Court, bringing to five the number of radical religious culture warriors (with the frequent concurrence of the Chief Justice) intent upon dismantling years of constitutional jurisprudence. And five is enough to get the job done.

If the addition of justices is seen as partisan, so be it. The current Court is a thoroughly partisan religious tribunal–and a clear and present danger to the Republic. Ignoring that fact is not an option.


The GOP’s Christian Soldiers

It isn’t just Pennsylvania–but most of the GOP candidates in that state’s primaries were terrifying and all-too-representative of whatever it is that the Republican Party has become.

All of the GOP’s primary candidates were Trumpers, but Doug Mastriano, who won the Republican gubernatorial primary by twenty points, is probably the most representative of the Christian Soldiers and White Supremicists who now dominate the party. He was described by Talking Points Memo as 

the Trumpiest of the Trumpists, having received the former president’s “Complete and Total Endorsement” on Saturday. It’s not just because he has enthusiastically promoted Trump’s stolen election lie, participated in the January 6 insurrection, and signaled his intent to abuse his power as governor to overturn any Democratic presidential victory in Pennsylvania in 2024. It’s because Mastriano believes he is on a mission from God — and has an energized Christian nationalist movement at his back.

In the GOP’s Senate primary, Cathy Barnett (a Black right-winger too weird and Trumpy even for Trump) appealed to Christian Nationalists with all-out bigotry.  CNN has reported that Barnette argued for discriminating against Muslims and compared rejecting Islam to “… rejecting Hitler’s or Stalin’s worldviews.” She has also said that accepting homosexuality would lead to the acceptance of incest and pedophilia. She called a transgender person “deformed” and “demonic.” Barnett lost, but took an all-too-respectable portion of the primary vote.

The Christian Right has long been an important part of the Republican base, but as Talking Points Memo reports, that constituency has become more highly radicalized, “a trend that was validated and accelerated by Trump’s candidacy and presidency — and especially by his stolen election lie.”

A movement that elevated Trump to messianic status and shielded him from his 2019 impeachment was able to convince millions that satanic forces had robbed God’s man in the White House of his anointed perch as the restorer of America’s white Christian heritage. Their duty, as patriotic spiritual warriors, was to go to battle on his behalf.

Mastriano, a state senator, has not only ridden the wave of this radicalized movement, he has openly embraced it. He spoke at the December 12, 2020, Jericho March on the National Mall, which promoted the stolen election lie and pledged to rally a spiritual army to overturn the election results. Earlier this year, he announced his run for governor at a Christian nationalist event at which a shofar was blown, an increasingly commonplace occurrence as a symbol of Trump’s victory over satanic forces, otherwise known as our democracy. As Brian Kaylor and Beau Underwood detail in their newsletter, A Public Witness, Mastriano has been campaigning at events like Pennsylvania For Christ, whose organizers claim their goal is to “reestablish the kingdom of God in PA,” and Patriots Arise for God, Family, and Country, where he pledged, “in November, we’re going to take our state back. My God will make it so.”

According to an article in the Washington Post, Mastriano is part of a far-right group that calls itself the “Thursday Night Patriots.” The group originally promoted a variety of far-right conspiratorial beliefs: that the coronavirus vaccine is causing cancer,  that President Biden’s election was suspect and that racism is being overblown in public schools. Then participants began using an ahistorical “curriculum” for studying the Constitution “that emphasized self-defense, free enterprise and above all the belief that America was founded to be — and should remain — a Christian country.”

Christian nationalists fervently believe that America had a divine, Christian founding, and that it is their job as patriotic believers to rescue it from secular and satanic forces–i.e., from the rest of us. Mastriano is one of them, and he is now the official Republican candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania. If that doesn’t make your blood run cold, I don’t know what would.

The Talking Points Memo article identified some “key inflection points”–events that we now understand operated to integrate this Christian zealotry  into Republican presidential politics. John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin, a charismatic Christian, was one.

Another was then-Texas governor Rick Perry’s enormous prayer rally in Houston’s professional basketball stadium in 2011, on the eve of his announcement of his 2012 presidential run, where speakers focused on spiritual warfare, obedience to Jesus, and reclaiming a Christian America.

The article in Talking Points Memo ends with an obvious–but terrifying–observation:

If Trump’s religious acolytes are elected to offices from which they can unlawfully manipulate election outcomes because God told them to, election subversion in 2024 could, even more than in 2020, be wrapped in a flag and a cross.


The Sad Morphing Of The GOP

Last weekend, I ran into an old acquaintance from my days in Republican politics. When the conversation turned political, this former longtime Republican ward chair said he was now an Independent –and hadn’t voted for a Republican in several years.

Anecdotes, as we all know, aren’t data, but I’ve had numerous, similar discussions with friends I made during my 35 years in Republican politics, including several former Indiana office-holders. All of them echoed my own assertion that “I didn’t leave the party–the party left me.”

The bottom line is that–whatever you want to call today’s GOP–it is absolutely nothing like the party we all worked for those many years ago.

I don’t think “regular” people–those who haven’t followed partisan politics very closely or routinely taken note of the policy positions of candidates over the years–realize just how radically different  today’s GOP is from the party of Hoosier Republicans like Richard Lugar, Bill Hudnut, and Bill Ruckleshaus. (Occasionally, when I was teaching, a student would come across my first book–“What’s a Nice Republican Girl Like Me Doing at the ACLU?”–and express shock that I’d been a Republican. I’d assure them that the GOP they saw –the only GOP they’d experienced–was a dramatically different animal from the one I’d once worked for.)

Catherine Rampell recently remarked on that dramatic about-face in a column for the Washington Post.She noted that the GOP no longer argues that free markets, rather than government, should choose “winners and losers.” Instead, for today’s Republican politicians, the role of the state isn’t to get out of the way. It’s to reward friends and crush political enemies.

Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham expressed the new ethos in a recent monologue threatening companies that advocated for LGBTQ rights, ballot access, racial justice and sundry other political stances that are anathema in today’s GOP.

“When Republicans, they get back into power, Apple and Disney need to understand one thing: Everything will be on the table,” Ingraham warned. “Your copyright, trademark protection. Your special status within certain states. And even your corporate structure itself. The antitrust division at Justice needs to begin the process of considering which American companies need to be broken up once and for all for competition’s sake, and ultimately for the good of the consumers who pay the bills.”

As Rampell notes, this philosophy isn’t limited to Fox News pundits. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis–irate at Disney’s criticism of his “Don’t Say Gay” bill–is threatening to cancel Disney’s status under a Florida law that has enabled the company to effectively govern itself within the bounds of its theme parks for some 50 years.

Similarly, last year, DeSantis signed a (likely unconstitutional) law to punish tech companies for privately determined content-moderation decisions, and another law that fines private companies that attempt to set vaccination requirements in their workplaces.

In other states, such as Georgia, GOP politicians have punished private companies for taking supposedly “woke” stands on issues such as gun violence. Republicans in Congress have likewise tried to use antitrust enforcement and other government levers to punish companies whose public stances on voting rights or internal policies on content moderation they dislike.

Trump, of course, understood the Presidency as a platform for rewarding his friends and punishing his (many) enemies. And the GOP–now the party of Trump– is “attempting to codify these responses into law, using the power and weapons of the state against those who disagree with them.”

Perhaps the most striking departure of today’s GOP from the party that used to bear that name is the nature of those disagreements. Today’s GOP has no discernible economic or social policy agenda–only culture war. What was once a political party is now a White Nationalist cult waging war on non-fundamentalist Christians, non-Whites, LGBTQ people and, of course, those despised “elites” (i.e., educated Americans of any race or religion.)

So–will the sad and pathetic remnants of a once “Grand Old Party” go the way of the Whigs? The Hill recently considered the possibility, giving several reasons for anticipating such an outcome.  One was that both pro-Trump and anti-Trump folks are departing, (the former finding the party insufficiently Trumpian). Another was the fact that corporate and major donors are fleeing the party.

And why would average Americans want to identify as Republicans? Soon, they must defend a party that acquitted their president after he incited a deadly insurrection to overturn a certified election based on his “Big Lie.” The Republican identity crisis is defined by its new “membership card slogan” reading, “We stand for shredding the Constitution’s impeachment clause and nullifying lost elections.”

It’s pretty clear that something has to give. The unanswered question is: will that something be America’s constitutional democracy– or today’s GOP?


Answering Norris

A few days ago, Norris Lineweaver left a question prompted by my partisan history.

Once upon a time, you were an active Republican. What were the pillars of Republican ideas then versus now? What pillars of Democrat thinking (at large) attracted you to make a change? What major shifts took place in the Republican Party that define them today?

Fair question, and Norris isn’t the only one who has asked it. Every so often, a student would come across my book What’s a Nice Republican Girl Like Me Doing at the ACLU? and confront me with a version of “You were a Republican?” It’s difficult to convey to younger people, especially, the immense difference between today’s GOP and the party to which I once belonged.

Here’s a clue: In 1980, I ran for Congress. I was pro-choice and pro-gay-rights (although LGBTQ issues weren’t the subject of much discussion back then, a story in NUVO made my position clear). I WON a Republican primary. Convincingly. That just wouldn’t happen today.

It’s difficult to overstate the extent to which the Republican Party has become radicalized. 

I became politically active in 1960. A Facebook meme that looked at the Republican Party platform from 1956 was found “mostly true” by Politifact.  That platform endorsed: Providing federal assistance to low-income communities; Protecting Social Security; Providing asylum for refugees; Extending the minimum wage; Improving the unemployment benefit system to cover more people; Strengthening labor laws so workers can more easily join a union; and Assuring equal pay for equal work regardless of sex.

Today’s Republican Party rejects all those positions–although it still gives lip-service to protecting Social Security. There’s a reason so many of us “old” Republicans insist we didn’t leave the GOP–the GOP left us.

As Republicans began their transformation into culture warriors, those of us who considered ourselves “traditional” Republicans differentiated ourselves by protesting that we were “social liberals and fiscal conservatives.” For most of us, being fiscally conservative meant being prudent–neither profligate spenders nor pious “conservatives” for whom fiscal conservatism was code for cutting social programs and enacting tax breaks for the rich. 

As the GOP continued its war on reality and sanity–not to mention Black and Brown people–I was one of many who concluded the disease was terminal, and I left.

As Tom Nichols recently wrote in The Atlantic,  today’s Republicans find themselves in their own version of end-stage Bolshevism– members of a party “exhausted by its failures, cynical about its own ideology, authoritarian by reflex, controlled as a personality cult by a failing old man, and looking for new adventures to rejuvenate its fortunes.”

The Republican Party has, for years, ignored the ideas and principles it once espoused, to the point where the 2020 GOP convention simply dispensed with the fiction of a platform and instead declared the party to be whatever Comrade—excuse me, President—Donald Trump said it was….

A GOP that once prided itself on its intellectual debates is now ruled by the turgid formulations of what the Soviets would have called their “leading cadres,” including ideological watchdogs such as Tucker Carlson and Mark Levin. Like their Soviet predecessors, a host of dull and dogmatic cable outlets, screechy radio talkers, and poorly written magazines crank out the same kind of fill-in-the-blanks screeds full of delusional accusations, replacing “NATO” and “revanchism” with “antifa” and “radicalism.”

Nichols compares today’s GOP to the final “aggressive and paranoid” Soviet-era holdouts in the Kremlin, and notes  that they blame their failures at the ballot box on fraud and sabotage rather than admit their own shortcomings. 

And then, of course, there’s the racism. As the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank observed,

Trump’s overt racism turned the GOP into, essentially, a white-nationalist party, in which racial animus is the main motivator of Republican votes. But in an increasingly multicultural America, such people don’t form a majority. The only route to power for a white-nationalist party, then, is to become anti-democratic: to keep non-White people from voting and to discredit elections themselves. In short, democracy is working against Republicans — and so Republicans are working against democracy.

Bottom line: Today’s Republican Party has absolutely nothing in common with the party I joined in 1960, or even the party whose nomination I won in 1980. The Democrats certainly have their problems, but at least most Democrats are sane.

Hope that answers Norris’ question.