Wednesday, September 23, 2020

September 22, 2020

More institutions

I was reminded that there are institutions in need of repair other than the Supreme Court and the ones I discussed on September 11.   Respect for  Justice Ginsburg should postpone  discussion of the Court.

1.  The news media

In a way, it’s difficult to evaluate the news media, because the nature and even definition of those entities is in flux. Fox no longer can be grouped with legitimate news organizations, having become a right-wing propaganda outlet.  Some, such as Facebook, would not qualify  by any normal definition, but are the prime source of information for far too many.  Various web sites scatter tales of conspiracies so ridiculous that the proper response would be laughter, but many swallow the bile.  In a sense, the sad state of information dissemination brings us back to the sad state of the people, of their political and cultural ignorance and bias. 

However, let’s look at the mainstream media, which still have standards and a sense of responsibility.  The fact that Trump refers to them as enemies of the people demonstrates that they are paying attention to his failings and, to some degree, challenging them.  I am most familiar with The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Seattle Times and NBC-TV, so my comments will refer to them.

As I’ve noted before, all of them, notably NBC, have been reluctant to mention climate change, even when reporting extreme weather.  The western forest fires have forced some departure from that policy, but more direct, critical attention is required.

Another area in which there has been some change is the usual tendency of news reports to create false equivalence by presenting nonsense as sensible comment, in an attempt to achieve balance (or avoid attacks). The Trump administration is so vile, corrupt and incompetent that news articles, notably in The New York Times, often have been telling it like it is. 

However, an example, although a marginal one, of the more usual approach appeared in The Seattle Times on Sunday.  A long front-page article profiled the Republican candidate for Governor, Loren Culp.  He is police chief of Republic, a town of about 1,300 people. (Due to budget cuts, Culp is now the entire police force).

The article notes many negative aspects of Culp’s views, actions or associations.  However, it in effect brings him into the mainstream and confers respectability by describing him as “a proud conservative.”  He is, more accurately, a right-wing extremist.  (The article notes that “Culp has maintained associations with some controversial far-right organizations.”)  

Culp refused to enforce the gun-control mandate of  Initiative 1639.  He also opposes a ban on bump stocks: “I don’t see where the government gets the power to ban any attachment to my car, or an attachment to my rifle.”  He “says government should be small and mostly butt out of people’s lives,” leading him to oppose “mandatory mask orders and shutdowns of businesses meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.”  His campaign has been  “built on rallies across the state flouting COVID-19 restrictions.” 

Culp’s campaign paid $7,000 in June, for reasons not clear, to Peter Diaz, founder of a group called American Wolf, which “has sent armed civilians to act as self-appointed, pro-law-enforcement ‘peacekeepers’ at protests against racism and policing.” Elsewhere American Wolf was described as an “armed far right group” which “has aggressively inserted itself in a quasi-policing capacity into protests addressing the murder of George Floyd.”1

Use of the “proud conservative” label might be justified on the ground that conservatism has fallen so far that Culp legitimately can be so described.  (An indication that this may be so is an ad by Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., which claims she’s “more conservative than Attila the Hun.” She has a “100% Trump voting record.”)2 However, I think that any genuine conservative would be offended by the suggestion.   

The Culp article leads us to another institution in serious need of reform.

2. Law enforcement agencies

There is a group known as the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) which, among other odd views, has an inflated notion of the authority of sheriffs.  It asserts: “Arrest of citizens or seizure of persons or property without first notifying and obtaining the express consent of the local sheriff” “will not be allowed or tolerated.”  It opposes gun control; also among the acts which will not be allowed or tolerated is “Registration of personal firearms under any circumstances.”3 It opposes federal ownership of land, demanding that it be transferred to the states. 

The opposition to gun control, while dangerously illogical for a law enforcement agency, is not unusual.  Thirteen Washington sheriffs announced that they would not enforce the control provisions of Initiative 1639.  As noted, Loren Culp takes that view, for which, the Times reported, he was named “Police Chief of the Decade” last year by the CSPOA.

The recent killings and other assaults on blacks have exposed racism and other serious flaws in police departments, which must be addressed and resolved. Greater federal oversight probably is necessary, although any meaningful effort along that line must await another administration.  The foolish defunding reaction won’t solve the problem.

3.  Our health care system

One of Trump’s lies, in this case a continuing fraud, is that he will replace the Affordable Care Act with something “better.”  (The mere fact that it is called Obamacare would be enough to persuade Trump to oppose it). After four years, nothing has appeared. 

Meanwhile — in the midst of a heath crisis — he supports an effort to persuade the Supreme Court to find the ACA unconstitutional.  This is another example of the tendency by Trump and company to do or say things which, in a rational world, would be self-destructive.  As a Republican strategist put it, it’s “pretty dumb to be talking about how we need to repeal Obamacare in the middle of a pandemic.”4  This ploy is so irresponsible and harmful that eyes finally may be opened. 

As to that pandemic, Trump had another typically brilliant observation: the virus  “would go away without the vaccine.”  How?  Well, “you’ll develop herd — like a herd mentality. It’s going to be — it’s going to be herd-developed, and that’s going to happen.”5  Presumably he meant herd immunity, but correcting his diction would not erase the fact that, without a vaccine, many more would die in order to reach that goal.

(Trump’s blunder prompted a pertinent comment by Andy Borowitz: “Scientists Believe Congressional Republicans Have Developed Herd Mentality. According to a study, G.O.P. lawmakers have developed ‘near-total immunity’ to damning books, news reports, and audio tapes.”)

Although the ACA has improved our health care system, the failings of that system are no secret; in short, it produces worse results at greater cost than in comparable countries.  The job losses due to the pandemic have provided another indication that we cannot rely on employer-provided coverage.  Some form of universal medical insurance is needed. Whether the best answer is Medicare for all or something else is can be debated once we have a government which cares about the health of its citizens.


<br>1. sparks-need-for-thorough-investigation/

<br>2. a9b19b 3d785e


<br>4. supreme-court.html

<br>5. mentality-line-isnt-verbal-flub-its-mass-death/

Saturday, September 12, 2020

September 11, 2020
The state of some of our institutions

1. The electoral college
There isn’t much to say here, other than to lament that we choose presidents through that antiquated mechanism.  There’s no realistic chance of ridding ourselves of it. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement among states to award their electors to the candidate who wins the national popular vote, would in effect subject the electoral vote to the popular.  It would take effect when states with a total of 270 electoral votes (the winning number) adopt it, but it’s stuck at 196. 

2. The Supreme Court
The situation here is one of contrasts, the Court at times performing well, at times going badly astray.  I’ll attempt to sort that out later.

3.  The Senate
The world’s greatest deliberative body has become the graveyard of legislation.  The principle of unlimited debate permitted obstructive filibusters, but at least actual speech once was required.  Now the equivalent of a filibuster is achieved merely by stating an intention to filibuster — or by placing a “hold,” apparently — which can be overcome only by finding sixty votes for cloture.  In effect, sixty votes now are required to pass most bills.  That must end.                          

4. The Republican Party and the political right
The dismal condition of the GOP, leading to the nomination of Trump and to the Party’s mindless support of him, can be traced, in the medium term, to the 1960s.  Several recent books tell this story.

Why the Right Went Wrong finds that the “condition of today’s conservatism is the product of a long march that began with a wrong turn, when first American conservatives and then the Republican party itself adopted Barry Goldwater’s worldview during and after the 1964 campaign.”1  It was a reaction against the New Deal and against the moderation and accommodation of President Eisenhower. (Senator Prescott Bush, father of George H.W. Bush, described the Eisenhower philosophy as “progressive moderation” or “moderate progressivism.”)2

“It is a mark of the success of the Goldwater movement that in the ensuing decades, it did more than simply drive liberals and moderates out of the Republican Party.  It also beat back alternative definitions of conservatism that were more temperate, more inclined to shape rather that resist cultural change, and more open to a significant role by government in solving problems.”3  

Rule and Ruin4 also traces the rightward shift to the movement centered on Goldwater, again comparing it to the Eisenhower administration.  In contrast to its earlier character, “the GOP has for all intents and purposes become a uniformly ideological party unlike any that has ever existed in American history.” That observation, apparently written in or before 20115 is, in a sense, not true at present: the Party has many ideological characteristics but, in its Trump phase, it has become a party with no operative ideology other than submission to an autocrat.  This certainly is true: “It has also become a party that has cut itself off from its own history, and indeed has become antagonistic to most of its own heritage.”6

Part of the ideology on the right is — to use an overworked term — populist resentment.  The author points to conservatives’ rejection of Nelson Rockefeller  in the 60s: it “reflected an angry and enduring American populism that abominated the Rockefellers along with the East Coast, bankers, cities, Jews, immigrants, cosmopolitans, modernism, ethnic diversity, and other perceived alien forces.”7 Allowing for some hyperbole, and assuming that abomination of ethnic diversity refers to racist resentment, that could describe the “populist” segment of Trump’s base.  To another author, the racist impulse has made the GOP a “white grievance party”8 

The tendencies which are traceable to the Goldwater campaign did not all come to fruition all at once.  Nixon is a transitional figure, endorsing some liberal policies but, in adopting Goldwater’s southern strategy, turning the Party to the right politically. Some degree of moderation persisted in subsequent Republican administrations. Only under Trump did the GOP surrender entirely to its baser elements.

To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party9 carries the story back to the Party’s founding.  The author finds that the GOP almost immediately changed for the worse after Lincoln’s death, and that only Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, among later Republican Presidents, lived up to its founding principles.

In the beginning, “The Republican Congress passed [an] income tax — as well as a spate of other taxes — and went on to create a strong national government.”  By the end of the Civil War, “the Republicans . . . had invented national banking, . . . provided schools and homes for poor Americans, and had freed the country’s four million slaves.”

At the turn of the century, when “corporations dominated the economy,” Roosevelt “called for government to regulate business, prohibit corporate funding of political campaigns, and impose income and inheritance taxes.” Another half-century later Eisenhower “called for government funding for schools, power plants, roads and hospitals.”10

It’s been downhill since then.

An earlier study, The Paranoid Style in American Politics takes another path to demonstrate that certain characteristics now prominent on the right have a long history.  The Goldwater campaign again is a reference point: “Although American political life has rarely been touched by the most acute varieties of class conflict, it has served again and again as an arena for uncommonly angry minds. Today this fact is most evident on the extreme right wing, which has shown, particularly in the Goldwater movement, how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority.”  However, it did not begin there: “Behind such movements there is a style of mind, not always right-wing in its affiliations, that has a long and varied history. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.”11  That describes the present as well.

Hofstadter offered, as an example of the style, Senator McCarthy’s claims, such as this: “How can we account for our present situation unless we believe that men high in this government are concerting to deliver us to disaster? This must be the product of a great conspiracy, a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man.”12  Today’s right wing are McCarthy’s children.  Consider the bleating of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican House candidate in Georgia (who, running in a conservative district, may well be elected).  She recently informed us that “Hate America leftists want to take this country down. Our country is on the line. America needs fighters who speak the truth. We need strong conservative Christians to go on the offense against these socialists who want to rip our country apart. Americans must take our country back. SAVE AMERICA. STOP SOCIALISM. DEFEAT THE DEMOCRATS!”13  The Senator would be proud. 

Ms. Greene is a fan of QAnon, the demented conspiracy narrative. What does Trump think of Qanon?  “I’ve heard these are people that love our country. So I don’t know really anything about it other than they do supposedly like me.”  The last, of course, is the ultimate test. 

Hofstadter cited examples of paranoid fears in this country stretching back to the Eighteenth Century, but drew a distinction between those earlier eras and more modern ones: “The spokesman of those earlier movements felt that they stood for causes and personal types that were still in possession of their country—that they were fending off threats to a still well-established way of life in which they played an important part.”  They were defending the established order. “But the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion.”  Like their descendants, they were  Making America Great Again by reliving the past.  “The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals,” the notorious liberal elites; “the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialist and communist schemers,” and on and on.  Hofstadter added, “Important changes may be traced to the effects of the mass media.”14  Little did he know.

Where does this leave us?  Long-term trends and deep-seated tendencies do not disappear easily or entirely, People are not going to abandon such reactions unaided.  That requires leadership, but to install positive leadership in government brings us back to the people.  A national majority, in the daft way that we measure it, must send Trump packing, and voters in key state must undo the Republican majority in the Senate.  In the Party, however, an uprising among ordinary members and supporters isn’t likely, so someone must step forward.  There have been small signs: Romney voting to convict, John Kasich, Christine Todd Whitman,  Susan Molinari and Meg Whitman speaking at the Democratic convention, and endorsement of  Biden by the Lincoln Project and many other Republicans.15       

If we survive November, there is hope.

5.  The Christian church
Marjorie Greene’s appeal to “strong conservative Christians” points to another institutional crisis, the state of American Christianity.  Her reference implies that such people will support her political fantasy which, unfortunately, may be true.  To be sure, not all Christians have become political right-wingers, but a disturbingly large number have done so.  Usually those who have moved rightward are described as “evangelical,” or more precisely “white evangelical.”  Perhaps they still deserve the latter part of the label, but the former seems to control their political orientation. Certainly support for Trump is inconsistent with morality, Christian or otherwise, and destroys their credibility.  


1. . E. J. Dionne Jr., Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism from Goldwater to Trump and Beyond (2016), p.4

2. Ibid., p. 102
,br>3. Ibid., p. 5

4.  Geoffrey Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (2012)

5. An Afterword, written in 2013, recites that the text had been completed in early 2011.

6.Ibid., p. xix

7. Ibid., p. 84

8. Stuart Stevens, It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump (2020), p. 11

9.. Heather Cox Richardson (2014)

10. Ibid., p. ix-x

11.  Richard Hofstadter, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” (1963) collected in Hofstadter, Library of America (2020), p.503

12. Ibid., p. 506-07

13. with-rifle-alongside- democratic-lawmakers_n_5f529381c5b62b3add405430

14. Ibid., p. 520

15. Many are listed here:

Saturday, September 5, 2020

September 4, 2020
We’re in trouble
A satire by Andy Borowitz seems to sum up where we are:
Queen Offers to Restore British Rule Over United States
“This two-hundred-and-forty-year experiment in self-rule began with the best of intentions, but I think we can all agree that it didn’t end well,” she said.
Defeating Trump in November is of crucial importance.  However, many problems will remain.  Those problems, their origins and possible solutions may raise the question I’ve speculated about before: does the fault lie in our leadership, our institutions or the people?  Those categories are not mutually exclusive; leaders are chosen by the people (or by an institution: a political party or the electoral college); leaders influence tendencies among the people, and so on.  However, we can analyze them as separate, if not entirely independent units.  One of the areas of overlap is between the people and organizations  which they form, such as political parties, and movements to which they adhere, such as the political right.  I’ll discuss institutions, including those phenomena, another day.

Trump has demonstrated, negatively, that leadership is a crucial element.  In brief, and leaving aside his personal deficiencies and administrative failures, he has fomented division when the country is in desperate need of reconciliation and unity; he has wrecked our foreign policy and our international reputation, playing up to dictators, trashing international institutions and agreements.  

He makes no attempt to disguise his hope that Russia will help him win election, the latest signal being the decision by his Director of National Intelligence to suspend in-person briefings to Congress about election security.  Trump’s subservience to Putin would have resulted in immediate impeachment and conviction had political roles been reversed, as would the use of his office to benefit his  businesses.  Here the failure of two institutions, the Senate and the Republican Party, come into play.

His only apparent path to election is his law-and order ploy.  That it involves hoping for disorder and violence was made clear by Kellanne Conway’s parting shot: “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order,” i.e., you-know who.  Protesters must avoid falling into that trap, and the media must expose attempts by Trump and right-wing agitators to create incidents.  

The Presidency, for Trump, is a performance, hence his babbling about ratings for his news conferences.  At times he seems to be imitating an old  Saturday Night Live routine: “Good evening. I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not.”  A few weeks ago it was “I’m the president and you’re fake news,” and at the recent convention/coronation, using the White House as a prop,  he gave us “We’re here and they’re not.”  Having the title, living in the mansion, seem to be the sum of his grasp of the office.  He is a weak man pretending, to himself as much as to others, that he is strong.  He is working out his personal failings at our expense.    

Ultimately, the future of the country is in the hands of the people.  Are we capable of self-government?  November may determine whether democracy can survive.  All of the experts warn that Trump might be elected.  Contemplating that outcome, it is tempting to think that the Founders‘ concerns about popular rule were justified.  

Our reputation abroad has suffered because of Trump, but will it improve with his departure?  To some degree, necessarily, but have Americans demonstrated that, as a people, they are unfit to lead?  Any such conclusion would not be based solely on Trump’s performance or on the fact that we sort of elected him, but on our behavior outside the polling booth. How much respect can there be for people who are so stupid and irresponsible as to gather in packed crowds, unmasked, in the midst of raging infection?
How much for a society which tolerates self-appointed militias wandering about armed with assault rifles?  

Can a large federal republic, with a history of such assertive individualism, survive?  Is our federal system a structural analogy to our destructive individualism?  Can we, despite all that, work together?

Obviously, the people, as voters, bear some responsibility for the mess we are in. Trump’s national popular vote in 2016 was higher than Romney’s in 2012, 62,979,879 to 60,934,407.  The fact that many millions of people chose Trump says something negative about our capacity for self-rule; so does the number of eligible voters who don’t bother to cast a ballot, 41.1% in 2016.

However, we cannot place all of the blame for our present situation on the people.  In 2000 and again in 2016 they made a better choice than the electoral college; only once since 1992 has the Republican candidate for president won more popular votes than the Democrat. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton won 2,865,075 more popular votes than Trump.  She did not win a majority but, including third-party votes, 54.047% voted against Trump.  His share of the vote  was lower than Romney’s, 45.953% to 48.572%, so we can’t fault the electorate as a whole, and the low turnout may be due in part to vote suppression, certainly a potential issue this year.  Trump’s victory depended on the electoral-college votes of three states, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which he won by a total of fewer than 78,000 popular votes, which shows how accidental a President he is.   

On Monday night, in an interview by Laura Ingraham, Trump underscored his inanity and his lack of any sense of proportion in his description of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin:    
“They [the police] can do 10,000 great acts, which is what they do, and one bad apple – or a choker – you know, a choker. They choke. Shooting the guy – shooting the guy in the back many times. I mean, couldn’t you have done something different? Couldn’t you have wrestled him? . . . . but they choke. Just like in a golf tournament, they miss a 3 foot putt.”
 A man is paralyzed; just like missing a putt.  

Donald Trump’s character and mental capacity weren’t entirely a secret four years ago, but are much better known now, so even for lifelong Republicans there will be no excuse for supporting him this time.

We’ll know in November whether the Queen was right.


1. briefings-congress.html

2 erupts-the-better-it-is-for-trumps-re-election-prospects.html

3 Statistics cited were summarized in my post of 12/29/16.

4. news-interview

2. Borowitz posted the Queen’s remark just before the 2016 election; how much more relevant it is now.
Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day