Taking The Country Down With Them

In the run-up to electing a Speaker of the House, Moira Donegan considered the underlying reason for the GOP’s chaos. She wrote that “Republicans have no interest in public service, an ideological hostility to functional government and an insatiable thirst for attention.”

As Donegan also noted, there are few, if any, adults in the GOP’s room.

The “adult in the room” is a person willing to make difficult compromises, a person willing to sacrifice vanity for pragmatism, a person with a clear eye of their own priorities and needs and more determination to achieve them than a desire to make a point.

What the Republicans need, she wrote, is

someone more level-headed and serious, someone willing to accept imperfect compromises and to subvert his own ego for the good of the party, someone who might even possess a quality that passes for dignity.

Evidently, someone who isn’t currently a Republican.

Donegan was writing before the House GOP settled on someone who is emphatically not the adult she described. Instead, the GOP chose a previously-unknown theocrat with a dubious past, a set of extreme rightwing bigotries and a total lack of any leadership experience.

Donegan’s essay was written just after Jordan and Scalise had both failed to grab the brass ring, and she pointed out that these men– both “extremists and election deniers, comfortable with white supremacy and willing to discard democratic principles.”–had “ascended to what counts for leadership in the Republican conference, not in spite of the depravity of their positions, but because of them.”

They are the products of rightwing political, fundraising and media apparatuses that incentivize candidates to move further and further to the right – and which have left the Republican party itself both unable and unwilling to impose discipline on its politicians…

In a project that spanned decades, Republicans and their allies built a vast conservative media infrastructure and developed an impressive skill for shaping and whetting the ideological appetites of their audience, creating a more and more conservative base.

And as we now know, Republicans proceeded to elect extremist and election denier Mike Johnson as Speaker. Johnson was aptly desscribed by Jamelle Bouie as a right-wing fever dream come to life.

Mike Johnson is neither a moderate nor an institutionalist. Just the opposite. A protégé of Jordan’s, he comes, as you have doubtless heard, from the far-right, anti-institutionalist wing of the congressional Republican Party. And while he was not a member of the Freedom Caucus, he did lead the Republican Study Committee, a group devoted to the proposition that any dollar spent on social insurance is a dollar too much….

And what does Johnson believe? He is staunchly against the bodily autonomy of women and transgender people and supports a nationwide ban on abortion and gender-affirming care for trans youth. He is also virulently anti-gay. In a 2003 essay, Johnson defended laws that criminalized homosexual activity between consenting adults. In 2004, he warned that same-sex marriage was a “dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that could doom even the strongest republic.” Last year, Johnson introduced legislation that has been compared to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, and he continues to push to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015.

If Johnson is known for anything, however, it is for his tireless advocacy on behalf of Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

As Bouie accurately notes, Johnson is Jim Jordan in substance but not Jim Jordan in style, which was evidently enough to win him the coveted title. Media, which had previously ignored Johnson, has begun an “after the fact” investigation.

The Guardian, for example, found that Johnson is “a believer in scriptural originalism, the view that the Bible is the truth and the sole legitimate source for public policy.”

Chalk up his elevation to the speakership as the greatest victory so far within Congress for the religious right in its holy war to turn the US government into a theocracy.

Since his fellow Republicans made him their leader, numerous articles have reported Johnson’s religiously motivated, far-right views on abortion, same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ rights. But that barely scratches the surface. Johnson was a senior lawyer for the extremist Alliance Defending Fund (later the Alliance Defending Freedom) from 2002 to 2010. This is the organization responsible for orchestrating the 303 Creative v Elenis legal arguments to obtain a ruling from the supreme court permitting a wedding website designer to refuse to do business with gay couples.

There’s much, much more.

This delusional ideologue is Speaker of the House at a time when the U.S. faces a government shutdown and the global imperatives of two hot wars.

I suppose it could get worse, but I’m not sure how…..


Ship To Shore

We are a bit over halfway on our cruise across the Pacific–by far the longest such trip these old folks have ever taken–and the days at sea have allowed me to maintain a certain distance from the news of the day. Not that we can escape knowing about the wars–both the actual ones in Ukraine and Israel and the political ones in the United States–but the time differences and internet interruptions allow for a bit more space for reflection.

Most of the passengers on this voyage are–like us– elderly, and the entertainment tends to cater to our age cohort. For example, one night, as we were visiting islands in French Polynesia with their breathtakingly beautiful landscapes (and obvious reliance on tourism dollars), the ship’s “World Stage” substituted the 1958 film “South Pacific” for the usual live entertainment.

It had been quite a while since I’d last seen South Pacific, and what struck me most forcefully was how very contemporary its message has remained. If my math is correct, it has been 65 years since the movie was filmed, but the issues it addressed remain uncomfortably relevant: war, of course, but especially bigotry –the ways in which that bigotry gets transmitted and the ways in which it distorts our perspectives and our relations with other human beings.

If I had to guess, I’d assume that every regular reader of this blog is familiar with Lt. Cable’s famous lament, “You have to be taught to hate.”

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught from year to year,
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear—
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a different shade—
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate—
You’ve got to be carefully taught!
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

We haven’t come very far in those 65 years….

There have been several other “lessons” I’ve gleaned from being on a ship that is most often far from land. One is the recognition of just how dependent we passengers are upon the safety and sea-worthiness of that ship and the competence and care of its crew.

As I have measured my steps along the Promenade Deck, I’ve seen members of the crew working non-stop to keep the vessel in safe and seaworthy condition. Whenever we’re in port, the entire crew participates in safety drills–some focused on the lifeboats, others I don’t begin to understand–all of which they clearly take very seriously.

The analogy sort of writes itself.

We’re all passengers on two other, larger ships: the ship of state, and “spaceship Earth” –and we aren’t tending to either one with even a fraction of the attention and craftsmanship being displayed daily by the crew of this cruise ship.

My husband and I would not have boarded a ship run by a cruise line noted for its rejection of reality–a line managed by people who pooh-poohed the dangers of weather and navigation. I rather imagine that the people who comment here are equally cautious when choosing modes of transportation. We expect that airline pilots and ship’s captains will be trained professionals, that the mechanics and other crew members will have the requisite expertise and that they all will take their jobs seriously.

America’s Congress just elected a Speaker of the House who insists that the Earth is 6000 years old, that climate change is a hoax, and that all Americans should abide by his biblical beliefs. The systemic failures that led to his election will impede efforts to address the warming of the planet, and may well sink the ship of state.

I wouldn’t board a ship captained by someone who trusted his version of deity to steer a course. I wouldn’t board a ship being maintained by an untrained crew–especially one that inhabited an alternate reality in which the sea’s dangers went unrecognized. I wouldn’t board a ship on which the captain and crew cared only about the safety and well-being of passengers who looked like them and shared their religious beliefs.

I’m very much afraid, however, that both of those larger ships we humans share–the global one and the political one– are sailing in turbulent and life-threatening waters.


The Southern Strategy

Speaker of the House Michael Johnson is the latest product of Richard Nixon, Kevin Phillips and what we now refer to as “the Southern Strategy.”

Speaker Johnson is an avowed Christian Nationalist, an Evangelical who attributes his election as Speaker to God.

Johnson was formerly counsel to the Alliance Defense Fund–a far-right, Christianist organization deeply committed to the culture wars. (He authored the ADF’s brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, representing the baker who argued that baking a cake for a gay couple’s wedding would violate his religious freedom.)

As many media outlets have reported, Johnson was counsel to Louisiana Right to Life before starting his own legal firm, Freedom Guard, to “defend religious liberty, the sanctity of human life, marriage and the family.”

After the Supreme Court decided Obergefell, Johnson wrote for the magazine of the creationist organization Answers in Genesis that Christians would be increasingly “pressured to choose between their conscience and conformity.” He urged readers to read the Bible to discover “how God intends for us to live out our faith in a hostile world.” And “despite the radical secularists’ efforts to convince the public otherwise,” he argued, “it is not ‘bigotry’ to remind people of God’s claims on our lives and biological reality.” He also offered free legal services, through Freedom Guard, to any government officials, like justices of the peace, who feared they would “compromise their faith by issuing marriage licenses or solemnizing marriages under circumstances that conflict with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

There’s much more (he’s also a Young Earth climate denialist), but why do I connect his  theocracy to the Southern Strategy? Answer: because it is all cut from the same cloth–the conviction that God intended America to be dominated/ruled by White (“European”) Christians.

Jamille Bouie outlined the Southern Strategy in an essay for the New York Times.

Phillips had worked as a strategist on Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign, the experience of which supplied much of the material for his book. His argument was straightforward: Nixon’s victory wasn’t just a momentary triumph but the beginning of an epochal shift in American politics, fueled by a latent conservatism among many members of the white middle class. These voters were repulsed, Phillips wrote, by the Democratic Party’s “ambitious social programming and inability to handle the urban and Negro revolutions.”

The latter point was key. “The principal force which broke up the Democratic (New Deal) coalition is the Negro socioeconomic revolution and liberal Democratic ideological inability to cope with it,” Phillips declared. “The Democratic Party fell victim to the ideological impetus of a liberalism which had carried it beyond programs taxing the few for the benefit of the many (the New Deal) to programs taxing the many on behalf of the few (the Great Society).”

If one tallied Nixon’s share of the national popular vote, at 43.5 percent, and added it to the share won by the governor of Alabama, George Wallace, at 13.5 percent, then you had, in Phillips’s view, the makings of a conservative majority.

The Republican Party was revamped to wage culture war, to appeal to voters who see the world as an existential struggle between “us” and “them.”  The Southern Strategy defined “us” as White and “them” as people of color, and that racist element remains central, but it has been joined by bigotries against a wide variety of other “thems.” Jews, of course (history’s most durable villains); Muslims, LGBTQ people…Anyone who isn’t a White Christian Nationalist.

Every credible academic study done after the 2016 election confirmed the importance of racism to Trump’s (Electoral College) victory. Every subsequent poll and/or study has corroborated the deep divisions between values held by ordinary Americans and those held by respondents who self-describe as White Evangelical Christians.

During the 1968 Presidential campaign, Kevin Phillips reportedly told the journalist Garry Wills,“The whole secret of politics is knowing who hates who.”

Before he died, Phillips became a fierce critic of the Republican Party he’d done so much to create, but by then, hate had become part of the party’s DNA. As Bouie concluded his essay,

The Republican Party did not just win the white South in the years and decades after Phillips wrote “The Emerging Republican Majority.” Nor did it just become the party of the white South — or at least its most conservative elements. No, what happened is that the Republican Party Southernized, with a politics and an ideology rooted in some of the most reactionary — and ultimately destructive — tendencies of that political tradition.

So here we are– with a Speaker of the House who fully embraces those destructive, reactionary beliefs–a Speaker intent upon substituting White Christian Nationalism for a Constitution profoundly influenced by the Enlightenment.

It’s not a good omen….