Sunday, January 8, 2023

January 7, 2023
Decline, and the way back

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that we are a culture in decline.  There are elements of decline, such as the corruption of the language (look at the daily crosswords) which have no connection to politics, but important problems relate to policies, biases and behavior on the right.

A president attempts to retain power illegally, relying on lies about fraud, a mob attacks the Capitol and 147 Congressional Republicans vote to reject legitimate electoral results.  Politicians and others on the right play on fears and resentments, making them worse, encouraging tribalism.  The Republicans are so much in thrall to their right wing that it takes fifteen ballots and numerous concessions to elect a Speaker of the House.

The economy has rewarded business, not working people, as shown by charts published by the EPI.[1]   One reveals that, beginning in the early 1980s,  wages have lagged behind productivity.  Another shows that “fatter profit margins have played a historically outsized role in driving price inflation.”  A third reveals that  the federal minimum wage today is worth 27% less than in 2009, 40% less than in 1968.  (Not surprisingly, another is captioned: “Without government programs, millions more would be in poverty.”)   Republicans, serving business and only pretending to aid ordinary folks, will do nothing to change this pattern.

A serious contribution by the right to societal illness is its opposition to gun control.  There were more than six hundred mass shootings last year. A chart published in The New York Times illustrates an especially appalling development: “Gun violence recently surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death for American children.”[2]  A measure of the flood of guns is the number detected by TSA at airports; it reached a new high in 2022.  As of December 16, TSA had intercepted 6,301 firearms — more than 88% were loaded — up from 5,972 the previous year.[3]   Another measure is the number of states, now 25, which allow carrying a gun without a license.[4]  The right’s love of guns turns its tendency toward separatism into a looming menace.  Republicans will not do anything to solve that problem; indeed, they are determined to make it worse  An article in The New York Times last May illustrated their orientation: “ more than 100 television ads from Republican candidates and supportive groups have used guns as talking points or visual motifs this year. . . .as candidates praise the Second Amendment, vow to block gun-control legislation or simply identify themselves as ‘pro-gun.’ ”  

These trends cannot be allowed to continue, and the GOP will not reverse them.  Democrats must regain control of Congress, but to do so, they must find a way to persuade voters that they are on their side, that they are not the privileged elites of right-wing propaganda, that government is not the enemy.


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Thursday, December 29, 2022

December 29, 2022

    Christmas is a time to reflect on many things, including where we are as a society and what Christianity means to us, which are not unrelated.  Whie watching a Christmas Eve church service (streaming on my computer), it occurred to me how tragic it is that Christianity’s message of love and forgiveness is so often lost in the misuse of the faith for political ends, where it has become a force for division, aggression and domination. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

December 12, 2022
Parallel downward paths; one may be near the end.

The plunge into darkness by Donald Trump and the Republican Party dominate the political picture.  The Party has been unraveling for many years, but its attachment to Trump accelerated its decline through endorsement of his methods and lack of principles.  One effect was his encouraging the worst Republicans to be still worse. Now he is weakened politically and the Party must decide whether to abandon him, in the sense of opposing his renomination, but also whether to repudiate the positions and attitudes which came to dominate Republican politics during his presidency.  The former is looking increasingly likely, the latter much less so.       

The move toward rejection of Trump the candidate accelerated after his meeting with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, due to their anti-Semitic views and West’s praise of Hitler.  Mitt Romney’s reaction to that meeting  was brutally frank: “I think it has been clear that there’s no bottom to the degree to which President Trump will degrade himself and the nation.”[66]    Some of the critics drew a line between Trump’s behavior and the Party; Senator Cassidy put it this way: “President Trump hosting racist antisemites for dinner encourages other racist antisemites. These attitudes are immoral and should not be entertained. This is not the Republican Party.”[67]   RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel did not criticize Trump, but declared: “There is no place for Kanye, Fuentes, or their views inside the Republican Party.”[68]   They may be right that the Party, as an institution, does not tolerate such bias, but holding the GOP up as a model of political virtue is a stretch.

Dismissing Trump is complicated by Republican attacks on those attempting to call him to account, including the January 6 Committee, the DOJ and state prosecutors.  It is an exercise in opposing Trump with one hand while defending him with the other.

Full repudiation became somewhat more likely when Trump moved to the next-to-last position in his bizarre attempt to regain the presidency: proposing that we abandon the Constitution.  (The last position would be armed insurrection, already hinted at by many of his supporters and rehearsed on January 6).  Here is Trump’s proposal, referring, of course, to the imaginary election fraud in 2020: “A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”[69]   That radically irresponsible proposal drew immediate criticism, so Trump attempted to back out, babbling in his usual fashion:

 The Fake News is actually trying to convince the American People that I said I wanted to “terminate” the Constitution. This is simply more DISINFORMATION & LIES, just like RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA, and all of their other HOAXES & SCAMS. What I said was that when there is ‘MASSIVE & WIDESPREAD FRAUD & DECEPTION,’ as has been irrefutably proven in the 2020 Presidential Election, steps must be immediately taken to RIGHT THE WRONG. Only FOOLS would disagree with that and accept STOLEN ELECTIONS. MAGA![70]

Of course he said more than that, but never mind.  Again an attempt was made to separate Trump from the GOP; Senator Romney: “Well, the Republican Party is the Constitution party. So when he calls to suspend the Constitution, he goes from being MAGA to being RINO.”[71]   At some point, leading Republicans must take as hard a look at their Party as at Trump.


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Saturday, November 26, 2022

November 26, 2022
Is Trump fading?  (Episode 2)

He has announced that he is running again.  The threshold question is why.  He has lost two popular elections, likely would lose again, and can’t count on the peculiarities of the electoral college to rescue him a second time.  Even he must know that the stolen-election gambit won’t work.  His fragile ego would be damaged by another loss, so why risk it?  Two reasons occur to me.

The first is the hope that re-election, or even candidacy, would insulate him from his legal exposure, including potential  indictments.  The former might well have that result, but the latter is likely to be, at best, only partially effective.  However, Trump could use his candidacy to claim that the suits and prosecutions are politically motivated, that evil liberals are out to get him, that fairness requires dismissal..

The second reason is that, even though he might lose again, from now until election day, or at least until he loses the nomination, he can hold rallies, be the center of attention and bask in the adulation of his fans.  That seems to be his greatest need.   (If he fails to be nominated, he might run as an independent or third-party candidate for the same reasons).

What are his chances of being nominated?   There are signs that his support is declining.  An early November poll which asked “Do you consider yourself to be more of a supporter of Donald Trump or more of a supporter of the Republican Party?” found 62% choosing the Party, 30% going for Trump.  In August 2021, the corresponding numbers were 50% Party, 40% Trump; in January 2021, it was 46% each; in January 2019, 51% Trump, 38% Party.[53]  

The much-hyped red wave failed to materialize in this month’s elections, and many are blaming Trump, whose favored candidates did not fare well.  Some of his prominent allies have abandoned him or waffled.  Rep. Mo Brooks declared recently that it would be a mistake for Republicans to  nominate  Trump again, adding “Donald Trump has proven himself to be dishonest, disloyal, incompetent, crude and a lot of other things that alienate so many independents and Republicans.”[54]   Much of Trump’s support was transactional, so it is no surprise that his weakness has led to second thoughts.  

He has lost the support of the Murdoch media empire,[55]  and some donors have backed away.   Losing the support of evangelicals would be especially damaging, and there is some indication that may be happening.

We may be rid of him eventually, but that’s not enough; the Party needs to change.


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Monday, October 31, 2022

October 31, 2022
Boredom, then a bombshell

The final broadcast session of the January 6 Committee on October 13 was not a hearing —  there were no live witnesses —  but, as specified by Chairman Thompson, they held “a formal committee business meeting so that, in addition to presenting evidence, we can potentially hold a committee vote on further investigative action based upon that evidence.”.  It was designed as a summary of the information presented during the hearings as a basis for the surprise (to me, at least) vote at the close to subpoena Donald Trump to testify.

Commentary about the meeting has been generally favorable, but I thought that it was poorly organized and repetitious.  There were some new facts, but mostly the Committee offered a recapitulation of evidence presented at prior hearings.  Presenting it in segments by several Committee members created overlap and confusion, some of the references were obscure, and it all went on for so long that it took some determination to stay until the end.

The most significant new information indicated that Trump knew and, on a few occasions, admitted or let slip that he had lost.
    Alyssa Farah,  White House Director of Strategic Communications: “I remember maybe a week after the election was called, I popped into the Oval just to like give the President the headlines and see how he was doing. And he was looking at the TV and he said, can you believe I lost to this effing guy?
    Three comments by Cassidy Hutchinson:
    On December 11, 2020, in a meeting with Trump and Meadows: “the President said I think — so he had said something to the effect of, I don't want people to know we lost, Mark. This is embarrassing. Figure it out. We need to figure it out. I don't want people to know that we lost.”
    On the 18th of December, 2020, “I said [to Mark Meadows] look, does the President really think he lost? And he said, you know, a lot of times he'll tell me that he lost, but he wants to keep fighting it. He thinks that there might be enough to overturn the election, but you know, he — he pretty much has acknowledged that he — that he's lost.”    
    In a meeting after Trump’s January 2, 2021 call to Secretary Raffensperger: “I said, Mark, you can't possibly think we're going to pull this off. Like, that call was crazy. And he looks at me and just started shaking his head. He was like, no, Cass, you know, he knows it's over. He knows he lost, but we're going to keep trying. There's some good options out there still. We're going to keep trying.”

The Committee has issued its subpoena.[53]  It was accompanied by a letter, signed by the Committee Chair and Vice Chair, which is an odd combination of deference and accusation.  The former is in the polite salutation: “Dear President Trump.”    The rest of the letter reads like an indictment.     Here is a sampling:

As demonstrated in our hearings, we have assembled overwhelming evidence, including from dozens of your former appointees and staff, that you personally orchestrated and oversaw a multi-part effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and to obstruct the peaceful transition of power. This multi-part effort included, but was not limited to:

    • Purposely and maliciously disseminating false allegations of fraud related to the 2020 presidential election in order to aid your effort to overturn the election and for purposes of soliciting contributions;
    • Attempting to corrupt the Department of Justice, including by soliciting and enlisting Department officials to make false statements and aid your effort to overturn the presidential election;
    • Without any evidentiary basis, illegally pressuring state officials and legislators to change the results of the election in their states:
    • Orchestrating and overseeing an effort to obtain and transmit false electoral certificates to Congress and the National Archives;
    • Despite knowing specifically that it was illegal, corruptly pressuring your own Vice President to unilaterally refuse to count electoral votes during Congress's joint session on January 6th; . .

After summing up with a reference to “your central role in the multi-part effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power,” the letter ends with what must be taken as another courtesy, as it certainly was not a realistic hope: “The Select Committee looks forward to your cooperation with this subpoena.”      

The subpoena calls for Trump’s appearance on November 14, and demands production by November 4 of a wide range of documents pertaining to the election, the events of January 6, contacts with Committee witnesses and “fundraising efforts based on claims of election fraud or a stolen election.”

Leaving the oddity of the letter aside, issuing a subpoena to Trump seems to me to have been a questionable move.  It is unlikely that he will appear or produce documents, and already he has taken the opportunity, in a letter to Chairman Thompson, to denounce the Committee and play the martyr.  Here is the muddled opening of  his letter:  

The same group of Radical Left Democrats who utilized their Majority position in Congress to create the fiction of Russia, Russia, Russia, Impeachment Hoax #1, Impeachment Hoax #2, the $48 Million Mueller Report (which ended in No Collusion!), Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine, the atrocious and illegal Spying on my Campaign, and so much more, are the people who created this Committee of highly partisan political Hacks and Thugs whose sole function is to destroy the lives of many hard-working American Patriots, whose records in life have been unblemished until this point of attempted ruination. . . . [54]

If Trump were to appear, he would make the same sort of speech; giving him a platform might undermine what the Committee has accomplished.  On the other hand, Trump might make boasts that amount to confessions; he isn’t know for subtlety or caution.  On balance, though, I think that the Committee should not have issued the subpoena.  The case against Trump is clear enough.


Friday, October 21, 2022

October 21, 2022
The new nationalism

“Nationalism” has a bad name today, thanks in part to various forms of misuse on the American right, including “white nationalism.” It needn’t be so and, at times, the term has had a positive connotation.

An example is the New Nationalism proclaimed by Theodore Roosevelt in a speech in 1910.  His program has been described as follows: “[A]n espousal of active federal intervention to promote social justice and the economic welfare of the underprivileged. . . . His program called for a great increase of federal power to regulate interstate industry and a sweeping program of social reform designed to put human rights above property rights.”[48]

Nationalism is not merely a set of policies, but an attitude toward one’s country and its people.  An illustration was set out in a recent column by David Brooks, referring to Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion: “They are winning because they are fighting for a principle which has two parts: The first is liberalism, which promotes democracy, individual dignity, a rule-based international order.  The second idea is nationalism. Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a nationalist. He is fighting not just for democracy but also for Ukraine — Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian land, the Ukrainian people and tongue.”[49] 

Combining liberalism and nationalism seems illogical today; we think of them as political opposites.  That view is not entirely without foundation but, as Brooks points out, there are two kinds of nationalism: “the illiberal nationalism of Vladimir Putin and former President Donald Trump,” and the liberal nationalism of Zelenskyy. “The latter nationalism is forward-looking, inclusive and builds a society around the rule of law . . . .”       

The alleged nationalism of the contemporary American right is, rather, a form of tribalism.  It does not include us all, but is divisive, resentful and frequently involves racial, religious or ethnic bias.  It has two forms.  The first is essentially insurrectionist, aiming to seize or retain power by deceit, falsehood or force.  The events surrounding January 6, 2021 illustrate this form.  

The second is separatist, either by preference or as a fall-back if controlling the country proves impossible.  This form is, in no small part, the old South in modern dress: exclusive, defiant, rebellious, ready to separate and set up a rival regime.  Several states have taken a step in that direction by toying with nullification of federal laws. The League of the South combines faux nationalism with tribalism: it is a “Southern nationalist organization . . . whose ultimate goal is ‘a free and independent Southern republic’.“[50]  Some Republican politicians  have talked of secession.[51]  It is not a coincidence that January 6 rioters carried Confederate flags; at times we seem to be reliving the mid-nineteenth century.

 However, it is not only those on the right who have given up on America.  Polls show that Democrats and independents also toy with the idea of seceding.  Rather than reforming the nation, too many people are ready to destroy it.  

Liberals should not reject the concept of nationalism.  In their better moments, they revere the Constitution, but often fail to remember that it created not merely a set of individual rights, but a society, a more perfect union.     We must somehow recapture that view and save that union. 






Saturday, October 1, 2022

September 30, 2022
Another challenge for the left

    Two or three sermons I have heard recently have emphasized stewardship.  It is an element of religious belief which is important in many ways, notably in the current climate as a way of directing attention outward, toward helping others, rather than inward, focusing on grievance.  Unfortunately, too much of what currently passes for Christianity in the public arena follows the latter path.    
    I’ve noted my puzzlement at the willingness of so many people to follow Trump.  The tendency of many Christians to do so seems even odder, but the explanation may be the same as for others: a rebellion against a culture that no longer reflects their values and beliefs.  As Michael Gerson puts it:, “From one perspective, the Christian embrace of populist politics is understandable. The disorienting flux of American ethical norms and the condescension of progressive elites have incited a defensive reaction among many conservative religious people — a belief that they are outsiders in their own land. . . .They fear their values are under assault by an inexorable modernity, in the form of government, big business, media and academia.”[46]  As I noted on September 23, I think that criticisms of liberal culture are to some degree valid, but have been exaggerated and manipulated by politicians on the right, in this case with aid from some religious leaders.
    Another possible explanation for the support of Trump by some evangelicals is simply that they are political conservatives first, Christians second or, as John Danforth put it, “We have a strong inclination to let our politics determine our faith rather than the other way around.”[47] 
    In any case, following Trump has a price: Gerson refers to “the perverse and dangerous liberties many believers have taken with their own faith. Much of what considers itself Christian America has assumed the symbols and identity of white authoritarian populism — an alliance that is a serious, unfolding threat to liberal democracy.”   
    It might be tempting for those on the left simply to dismiss or denounce religious belief because of its politicization, but that would be a mistake.  As with working families, Democrats need to reconnect to those of faith, and do so with a message of stewardship toward each other, toward future generations and toward the planet. 


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47  Faith and Politics (2006), p. 213
Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day