Tuesday, October 17, 2023

October 16, 2023
Whither the Court

A rogue, irrational, anti-democratic Republican Party is bad enough; a politicized Supreme Court may be worse.  It remains to be seen whether the Court, now with six conservatives, will move drastically to the right, but there is reason to worry.  

Even before the advent of the supermajority, the Court already had made a number of bad decisions. They include  District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago on gun control, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission on political spending, Shelby County v. Holder on discriminatory redistricting, Rucho v. Common Cause on gerrymandering, and Bucklew v. Precythe on the death penalty.  Together they made the nation less safe, less democratic and less civilized.[40]

The Court’s record was not all bad.  It rejected efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election and denied his attempt to prevent the January 6 Committee from obtaining records from his tenure.  However, on the whole, it was moving to the right, a move which now may accelerate.

One of the devices employed to justify conservative decisions is originalism, the notion that the Constitution must be interpreted as it would have been at the time the provision in question was written, or adopted, or ratified.  This does not make sense; the Constitution, in addition to creating a structure, sets out a set of principles; There is a difference between principles and applications or interpretations.  The latter are artifacts of the time, but the former are guides for decision or action in different times and different contexts. Originalism pretends that the creators of the Constitution intended that we be trapped in their time.  In effect it denies the possibility of intellectual and moral progress and even of changed circumstances.

In addition originalism is an invalid theory of interpretation because of its history and because its underlying premise is flawed.  The underlying premise of originalism is that the original understanding of a passage can be found; however, “For the vast majority of constitutional issues that arise, there is not a clear original meaning. With so many people involved in drafting and ratifying any given provision, there cannot be.”[41]

Originalism has a dark history. It underlies the infamous Dred Scott decision. which held that
neither slaves nor free Black people could be citizens. . . .  Dred Scott relied on what later would be called “originalism”. . . .[Chief Justice] Taney picked through founding era documents, laws passed in the early republic, and views of the framers to claim they intended the United States to grant rights only to white people throughout the country.[42]

In the Court’s hands, originalism is a flexible instrument; the Justices are selective as to what precedent to cite.  Heller is an example. The opinion allegedly adopts this principle: "Constitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them . . . .” However, rather than finding the intent, the scope, of the Second Amendment in its text, the opinion dismisses part of it as a mere preface and instead finds the alleged original intent in an English statute of 1689.

Heller was extended and originalism employed in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which limited gun-licensing laws by the practices allegedly common at the time the Second Amendment was adopted.

A recent development which does nor bode well is the frequent use of the shadow docket, orders issued without briefing or argument.  These began as procedural orders, but have become vehicles for substantive decisions.  
    . . . Since the mid-2010s, there has been a radical shift in how (and how often) the justices use the shadow docket — not just to manage their workload, but to change the law both on the ground and on the books.  From immigration to elections, from abortion to the death penalty, from religious liberty to the power of federal administrative agencies, the Supreme Court has, with increasing frequency, intervened preemptively, if not prematurely, in some of our country’s most fraught political disputes, through decisions that are unseen, unsigned, and almost always  unexplained.[43]

Thus far, the supermajority’s record has been mixed.  On the plus side, the Court upheld a decision that threw out Alabama’s maps for its seven congressional districts, which included only one with a majority of Black voters.[44]  It was a notable ruling for a court which has not been friendly to the Voting Rights Act.  The Court also stayed a lower court’s ruling which struck down a government regulation of ghost guns.[45]  On the negative side, in addition to Bruen, the Court went out of its way to overturn Roe. .

Hovering over the Court is the question of ethics, both in terms of questionable behavior and the absence of rules.
40. My more extended comments on these decision are here: Heller July 6, 2008 and December 19, 2015;   McDonald July 14, 2010; Citizens United February 6, 2010; Shelby County July 1, 2013; McCutcheon May 13, 2014; Rucho October 8, 2019; Bucklew April 13, 2019.
41. Erwin Chemerinsky, Worse than Nothing: The Dangerous Fallacy of Originalism, Yale University Press (2022), p. 51.
42. Michael Waldman, The Supermajority: How the Supreme Court Divided America, Simon & Schuster (2023) p. 22
43. Stephen Vladeck, The Shadow Docket Basic Books (2023), pp. 12-13
44. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/06/08/supreme-court-alabama- redistricting-voting-rights/
45. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/supreme-court-temporarily-allows-ghost-gun- regulations_n_64d271a0e4b0677e5044cfc1

Friday, September 22, 2023

September 22, 2023
The house is crumbling
            Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided                     against itself
will stand. . .
            Matthew 12:25

Lincoln used the house-divided metaphor in describing the situation of the United States prior to the Civil War.  It applies as well today.  It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the division is so great today that our society, our culture, our democratic political system are in danger of collapse. There is no consensus on basic facts, let alone policies, and the Republican philosophy (stance, attitude) is one of  opposition based on fantasy.  The resort to fantasy is partly of necessity, as they have few legitimate complaints about the Biden administration, but that has not prevented the move to impeach him.  Having no positive program, they indulge in destructive posturing.  As Speaker McCarthy said of some of his colleagues, they “just want to burn the whole place down.”[37]

Much of the political Right is trapped in a self-imposed flight from reality. a sort of self-imposed insanity. Pretending that there is no climate change or that it has no role in current climate extremes or that the glut of guns is not a major factor in mass shootings is daffy enough.  Opposing Covid vaccines in the face of evidence that they save lives is not only ignorant; it is suicidal.
[38]   What sort of political philosophy leads people to refuse life-saving medical aid?   

A weekly newsletter from Media Matters lists claims by media figures or politicians on the right which are so ludicrous that it seems impossible that they believe what they say. The newsletter includes, appropriately, the categories “This week in stupid”,  “This week in scary” and “Excuse Me?” listing comments especially inane.   A column in The Washington Post
[39] set out many examples from Republicans in the House, some offered during a “hearing” which praised January 6 rioters.

The craziness reaches one of its peaks in talk of separation and even civil war. Much of this is prattle, but it feeds feelings of resentment and oppression, and there are too many people out there who will take such talk seriously.  Another peak is the tendency on the right toward authoritarianism, aided by vote suppression

The Donald, apparently proud of his mug shot, is using it as a fund-raising vehicle. He has posted it on the site mysteriously known as X.  The brief text includes “ELECTION INTERFERENCE,” no doubt intended as a claim that the indictment damages his re-election campaign.  Ironically, it also refers to the charges against him.  Apparently he thinks that the head-lowered, scowling pose portrays strength and determination, the image of a strongman, the leader of the new authoritarian state.  What it really shows is a petulant, defiant child saying “you can’t make me.”  

If enough voters see that, we may not elect him.  However, some of the crazies might take his defeat as the trigger for violent overthrow.  We have a long way to go to rebuild that house.   

37 https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/sep/21/government-shutdown-latest- spending-vote-mccarthy-republicans
38 The same actually could be said of the first two as well.
39. Dana Milbank, “As Trump is arrested, Republicans honor the insurrectionists."

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

August 20, 2023
Is Trump fading? (episode three)

Although Trump continues to dominate the Republican primary field, that is as much due to the lack of serious competition as to his continued appeal.   Despite his attempts to paint the indictments as political revenge, I think that they will have some negative effect on his popularity.  His legal troubles make him even more prone to outbursts, some of which may drive people away.

The news media, for all of their supposed liberal  bias, have not been especially kind to Biden and have  not been optimistic about his chance of reelection.  However, recent polls shows him at least even with Trump, and it seems to me that the trend will be away from the Donald.  He hopes to use the indictments and trials to play the martyr, rallying outraged fans.  Many will so respond, but he may lose others who will finally realize that he is not going to change the world for them..

The rigged-election story is beginning to fade; numerous leading Republicans, including presidential candidates, acknowledge that Trump lost.[34]  A Newsmax host announced this month that “Newsmax has accepted the election results as legal and final.”[35]

The Special Counsel will attempt to show that Trump knew that he lost which, if successful, should further undermine his support as well as aiding the prosecution.  According to testimony to the January 6 Committee, Trump acknowledged to staff that he had lost.  He is quoted as saying, referring to Biden: “can you believe I lost to this effing guy?”[36] There may be more such evidence and the Georgia indictment creates even more peril, legally as well as politically.

I may be too optimistic in predicting a decline in Trump’s support, but it does seem that he is nearing the point at which his image will collapse and at least some of his popularity with it.  

34.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/08/08/gop-trump-2020-loss/?utm_campaign=wp_ politics_am&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_politics
35.  https://www.mediamatters.org/eric-bolling/after-airing-interview-donald-trump-newsmax-host-clarifies- network-has-accepted
36. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/oct/13/trump-admission-election-aides-january-6-panel

Thursday, July 20, 2023

July 20, 2023
The Trump enigma

All of the accounts of the decline of the Republican Party and the rise of Trump, enlightening as they are, have left me still wondering how so many people could have supported Trump.  That many still do, even after his post-election behavior and indictment is still more puzzling.

Chris Christie recently offered this description: Trump is “a petulant child when someone disagrees with him.”[25]  His reference was to Trump’s tendency to vilify former aides and supporters, for example saying that his White House chief of staff John Kelly “pretended to be a ‘tough guy,’ but was actually weak and ineffective, born with a VERY small ‘brain’.”[26]  Trump also attacked Bill Barr as a “ ‘disgruntled former employee’ & lazy Attorney General who was weak & totally ineffective,” and a “Gutless Pig.”[27] Barr responded, in terms similar to Christie’s: “[Trump is] like a 9-year old, a defiant 9-year-old kid who’s always pushing the glass towards the edge of the table, defying his parents from stopping him from doing it.” Barr  added that “our country can’t be a therapy session for a troubled man like this.”[28]

Why do people follow someone like that?  There are the insurrectionists, who seem to see Trump as an autocratic leader, but they are (I hope) a small fraction of his followers.  There are many unhappy, resentful people who are uninformed politically and willing to believe that the system is rigged against them —  that no one is on their side[29] — who therefore will follow a demagogue, but the question remains: why would they see Trump as their champion?   According to one pollster, “the fighting back, I found, is what attracts [Trump] to Republican primary voters.”  Again, referring to the contest for the GOP nomination, Trump  has “the edge, because it looks like he’s this tough guy, and the other Republican candidates just don’t have what it takes.”[30]  

It is true that he strikes the pose of a brawler, one who will fight for all those unhappy people but does he really help them?  In no small part it’s simply that he has been willing to play to their fears and resentments, and has some skill in doing so.  The fact that he is, or at least once was, an outsider may appeal to their sense that government is the enemy.

A recent variation on the theme is that he is in legal trouble because he is protecting the people.  His campaign website proclaims: “They’re not after me, they’re after you … I’m just standing in their way!”[31]   In a recent speech he charged: “Every time the radical-left Democrats, Marxist [sic],  communists and fascists indict me, I consider it a great badge of courage. I’m being indicted for you, and I believe the you is  more than 200 million people that love our country.”[32]

One description, if not quite an explanation, is this: “Fervent enthusiasm for Trump has never been about logic, however often Trump and his allies try to backstop his assertions with hastily constructed rhetoric. Trumpism is an emotional movement and that fireproofs it against things like” Barr’s comment  that the documents indictment ‘came about because of reckless conduct of the president.’ ”[33]  It seems that some follow Trump, without in any way admiring him, simply because he has become the symbol of opposition to the liberal establishment they imagine is ruining the country.

The remaining question is why there are so many unhappy, resentful, suspicious, gullible people, so many potential Trump followers.  Explanations usually focus on race, on white fears of loss of status and control.  That is an element, but it doesn’t strike me as an full explanation.  Another reason almost certainly is fear and resentment of cultural change, a belief that society is falling apart. The “woke”nonsense is designed to play on those feelings.

Whatever the explanation, unrest among many ordinary Americans is a political fact, and Democrats must concentrate on persuading voters that they, and the government, are on the people’s side, working for their benefit, making their lives better, along with demonstrating that the Republicans, for all their pretense, are not.  
25. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/chris-christie-donald-trump-petulant-child-024_n_648f440be4b025 003ee4fa0f
26. https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/4053954-trump-fires-back-at-kelly-after-scared-s-less- remarks/
27. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/06/12/trump-barr-analysis/
28. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/william-barr-trump-child-cbs-interview_n_648fcea3e4b027d92f94 5386
29. One writer refers to it as a sense of abandonment:                                                                                     https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/07/17/donald-trump-gop-voters-2024-race/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_opinions&utm_campaign=wp_opinions
30. https://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/3978590-why-gop-voters-are-so-loyal-to-trump/
31. https://www.donaldjtrump.com/
32. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/06/26/trump-republicans-indictment-gop-base/? utm_campaign=wp_politics_am&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_politics
33. See footnote 3.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

June 11, 2023
How far we have strayed

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,
    establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common
    defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty
    to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for
    the United States of America.        

What a quaint idea: domestic tranquility in a perfect union.  Instead we have division, agitation, resentment, suspicion and threats.  

A more apt description of our present state was set out in 1907 by Henry Adams: “Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.”[20]   Until recently, I would not have thought that to be a fair description, but now it fits, at least when applied to the Right.  The Left has contributed to  the polarization of our politics through controversial policies and attitudes.  Whatever their merit, the Right has used them in stirring up resentment of liberals, of elites (carefully selected), of government, of  “the system,”  descending into that systematic organization of hatreds.

A politics of hatred leads to insurrection and violence, as we discovered on January 6.   Leaders of the mob believed they were commencing a revolution, reflected in slogans like  “1776,”  or “Winter Palace,” the latter referring to the storming, in 1917,  of the seat of the provisional government of Russia by the Bolsheviks.[21]  

Political violence is encouraged by casual, irresponsible references to firearms, such as the assault-rifle pins worn by some Republicans or the proposal by Republican Representatives that the AR-15 be designated the national gun.[22]  

An irony of our present situation is that conservatives want control but have little in the way of a program, and that little largely is hidden, as it favors the wealthy.  Lacking a constructive agenda, they have substituted opposition, obstruction and inane “investigations” feeding fuel, however artificial, to the blaze of hatreds.  This is not a new development; as one recent author put it, referring to the Clinton years, “With a Democrat in the White House, congressional Republicans adopted a politics of destruction, concerned less with legislation than with investigation and obstruction.”[23]

Public knowledge and understanding of politics and government have declined, partly a result of the attacks on government, partly an educational failure.  This is a potentially fatal trend; a democracy requires informed citizens. It depends on voters operating with a common set of facts, but the  tribal attitude on the right, and the tendency to find conspiracies to explain events, have polluted the political atmosphere to the degree that a majority of Republicans believe, on no evidence, that Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election.   

We must somehow find our way back.

20.  Henry Adams; Oxford Dictionary of Thenmatic Quotations, p.296
21.  The January 6th Report, pp. 512, 511
22. https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2023/02/26/lauren-boebert-george-santos-co-sponsor-bill-to- make-ar-15-the-national-gun/?sh=448db8006432
23. Hemmer, Partisans, p. 8 (2022)
24.  https://www.forbes.com/sites/alisondurkee/2023/03/14/republicans-increasingly-realize-theres-no- evidence-of-election-fraud-but-most-still-think-2020-election-was-stolen-anyway-poll-finds/?sh=68fd965028ec

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

May 10, 2023
Steps toward and away from the brink

    In mid-April, I referred to several shooting incidents which seemed to represent the ultimate in our firearm insanity.  Almost immediately it became clear that it could, and did, get worse.     
    There were more mass shootings in public places.  They happen so often that any list of them is almost immediately out of date.  According to The Gun Violence Archive, there have been 208 this year.  This must stop. As an email from Gabby Giffords put it, “Americans should not have to live in fear of a mass shooting when they are going about their Saturdays, shopping, running errands, and living their lives.”
    Other incidents were, in a way, even more indicative of social breakdown because they were impulsive reactions to perceived  intrusions onto the shooter’s property, yet another extreme in firearm madness. Stand-your-ground statutes and similar laws, NRA propaganda, repeated claims that criminals are all about us, and a general tendency to divide into hostile camps all help to plant the notion that one must have a gun; in short: we live in a dangerous society.  That the glut of guns is a large factor in creating the danger doesn’t seem to penetrate, nor does the fact that many who own guns obviously are not competent to have them.
    We cannot continue down this path.
    Small steps from the brink have been taken. In Washington Governor Inslee has signed HB 1240, which generally prohibits “the manufacture, importation, distribution, selling, and offering for sale of assault weapons,” although it will not prohibit possession by those who already have such guns, and House Bill 1143 “requiring a permit to purchase firearms, firearms safety training, and a 10-day waiting period, prohibiting firearms transfers prior to completion of a background check, and updating and creating consistency in firearms transfer and background check procedures.”
    In Michigan, the Governor signed bills that will “create universal background checks for all firearms and mandate safe storage requirements around children.”
    In Colorado, two “new laws will raise the age to buy any firearm from 18 to 21 and install a three-day waiting period between the purchase and receipt of a gun. A third will strengthen the state’s red flag law . . . .”
    This state-by-state movement is important, but we need legislation at the federal level.
Following the most recent mass shooting, in Allen, Texas, President Biden made the case:
    Too many families have empty chairs at their dinner tables. Republican Members of Congress cannot continue to meet this epidemic with a shrug. Tweeted thoughts and prayers are not enough.
    Once again I ask Congress to send me a bill banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Enacting universal background checks. Requiring safe storage. Ending immunity for gun manufacturers. I will sign it immediately. We need nothing less to keep our streets safe.

16.  https://www.governor.wa.gov/office-governor/official-actions/bill-action
17.  https://www.cnn.com/2023/04/14/politics/governor-gretchen-whitmer-gun-violence-prevention- michigan/index.html
18. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/colorado-governor-signs-gun-control-bills-after-massacre_n_ 644bf673e4b03c1b88cd0d3c
19. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/05/07/
statem ent-from-president-joe-biden-on-the-shooting-in-allen-texas/

Saturday, April 15, 2023

April 15, 2023
The brink of collapse

    There are clear signs that American society is in danger of a fall from which it will not recover.  One indicator is the continuing cost of our love affair with firearms.
    Another school shooting occurred on March 27 in Nashville.  There the attacker fired 152 rounds, killing three 9-year-old students and three adults.  The awfulness of that incident was enhanced by the fact that it is only one in an endless series.  Before we could absorb the horror of that event, another mass shooting occurred on April 10, this time in Louisville, where five people were killed at a bank where the shooter worked.   According the The Gun Violence Archive, there have been 155 mass shootings in the U.S. this year.[13]
      Perhaps the ultimate demonstration of the gun menace occurred in Newport News, Virginia on January 6, where  a six year old child brought a gun from his home to school and shot his teacher.
    In a rational world, such events would cause us to conclude that, since we cannot remain peaceful and safe with so many guns in private hands, we should start limiting that number and restricting their use and availability. However, the Republican response to these shootings has been, for the most part, indifference or active worsening,
    Taking another step toward the edge, Governor DeSantis of Florida signed a bill on April 3 which allows carrying a concealed gun without a permit.[14]  Again, this development is made worse by its not being original.  Florida becomes the twenty-sixth state to allow that.  In Kentucky. a bill to make that state a “Second Amendment sanctuary” has been enacted; it prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from enforcing “any federal laws or regulations enacted on guns, ammunition and accessories since Jan. 1, 2021.”[15] 
    Right on cue, the NRA convention opened, with potential Republican presidential candidates in attendance.


13.  https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/
14. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/florida-concealed-carry-no-permit-ron-desantis/
15. https://www.wtvq.com/bill-to-make-ky-a-second-amendment-sanctuary-becomes- law/

Monday, April 3, 2023

April 2, 2023

    The constant use of “woke” by the right as a way of describing the evils of liberalism is an indication of their lack of real ideas and of desperation.  However, it’s also a sad reminder of how debased our political discourse has become.
    Although “woke” is tossed around so casually as to become meaningless, it has been defined.  When I first came across it in 2018,
[10] I found that The Urban Dictionary advised us that “Being Woke means being aware. . . Knowing what[‘]s going on in the community.”  More recently. Merriam Webster offered this definition:  “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” However, its current use has less to do with definition than with political warfare; it is used merely as an all-purpose insult and declaration of virtue.
    A thoughtful recent article by Solomon D. Stevens
[11] noted that “woke” is used to refer to a baffling  range of perceived social or political sins. Because of that muddle, “[t]he word ‘woke’ has no clear meaning, but to those who use it to condemn others, that doesn’t matter because the word is just a way of announcing one’s membership in a kind of club or gang.  It is a culture war badge.”
    Stevens refers to George Orwell’s 1945 essay “Politics and the English Language.” 

    Orwell points out that when we use sloppy, imprecise language, our thinking becomes sloppy and imprecise. In that respect, he says, our words can be both a cause and an effect. Our language “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” And that is the problem with using the word “woke.”
     Orwell noted that much writing in his day was characterized by “staleness of imagery” and “lack of precision.”  One falling into such habits may be “almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not.”[12]  So with the use of “woke.”  As Stevens puts it, “It is “employed to vilify others; ‘they’ are not simply wrong, they are enemies of civilization. Those who are ‘woke’ are portrayed as a threat to everything decent and good.”   It is a variation on the old theme on the right that liberals are not real Americans.


10. See my note of October 6, 2018
11.  https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/we-could-use-george-orwells-help-today-with-the-war-on-woke/
12. “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell: Essays, Everyman’s Library (2002), p.956

Thursday, March 23, 2023

March 23, 2023
The January 6th Report
    I’ve just finished reading The January 6th Report, more formally titled Final Report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.
    Following forewords by Speaker Pelosi, Chairman Thompson and Vice Chairwoman Cheney, there is an Executive Summary.  It lists the findings made by the Committee based on its investigation, then provides a 90-page Overview of the Evidence Developed.  In the next section of the Executive Summary “the Committee makes . . .criminal referrals to the Department of Justice’s Special Counsel.” 
    The last section is a list of witnesses; of those for whom a party affiliation is noted, nearly all were Republicans.  In his foreword, Committee Chairman Thompson pointed out that the plan to overturn the election “faltered at several points because of the courage of officials (nearly all of them Republicans) who refused to go along with it.”  Those two facts are beacons of hope in an otherwise dark night for that Party.
    The material which follows the Summary, described as The Narrative, is a further review of evidence, divided into eight chapters.  Because the chapters are topical rather than chronological, it is difficult to keep track of the sequence of events.  There is a good deal of overlap and repetition and a lack of overall scheme.  However, both the Executive Summary and the Narrative add to the record in numerous ways.
    The Report is massively end noted —there are 762 endnotes to the Executive Summary —  which will provide material for scholars.

Monday, February 6, 2023

February 6, 2023
State of the GOP: origins

Commentary on the fallen state of the Republican Party is unanimous that the decline did not begin with Trump, that he merely amplified tendencies already present.  Accounts vary, though, as to when the slide began, or when a crucial change occurred.  Recent books and columns illustrate this.  David Corn, in American Psychosis,[6] sees a turning point in the hostility to Nelson Rockefeller by Goldwater supporters and John Birchers at the 1964 GOP convention. He refers to “two mobs,” the hecklers at that convention and the rioters on January 6, 2021.  “What happened on Capitol Hill was a continuation of the Republican Party’s decades-long relationship with extremism.”  Dana Milbank, in The Destuctionists,[7]  dates the change to 1994 and the influence of Newt Gingrich, who emphasized attacks on the opposition and moved politics toward tribalism.

In a New York Times column last month,[8] Charles Blow traced it to John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008: “Palin exposed a dangerous reality about the Republican base: that it was starving for disruption and spectacle, that it would cheer for anyone who annoyed liberals, that performance was far more important than competence.”  David Von Drehle, in a Washington Post column in December,[9] pointed to 1992: “Many Republicans remember it as the year Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot flew a suicide mission into George H.W. Bush’s reelection campaign. But the first fatal blow to Bush Sr. was dealt by hard-right pundit Patrick J. Buchanan. His angry populist campaign carried all the way to the convention, where he traded a grudging endorsement of Bush for influence over the opening-night program. Buchanan anchored an evening of hatreds and resentments that presaged the politics of today.”

Another sign of decay was the absence of a Republican Party platform in 2020. There might be several reasons for that.  They might have looked at the 2016 platform and concluded, as I did, that it was an extended statement of why the GOP should not be in charge of government. That’s not likely, but they might, in an unusual burst of understanding, have realized that a majority of voters would so decide.  Again, not likely; self-awareness has not been characteristic of the Party in recent years.   They might have decided that there was no point.  Party platforms often are ignored in practice and, with Trump as President, no statement of principle would have much significance.  They may simply have confessed that the only goal of the election was to hold power, not to govern, so why bother with a statement of principles when you have no intention of recognizing any?  In that sense, the absence of a platform could be regarded as a rare burst of candor.

Some of the specific claims made by Trump were echos.  Republicans had made claims of voting fraud during the 2000 and 2008 elections.  They long have exploited grudges, fears and imagined oppression of ordinary folk while serving business.  Gingrich referred to an America in trouble and to a catalogue of catastrophes; Trump spoke of American carnage.  

Most of the accounts note that elements of the present attitudes on the right have even older roots, including the hunt for communists by Joseph McCarthy and others; a recurring theme is the claim that liberals —you know, socialists (now “globalists”) — are not real Americans.  

It’s been a long slide.

6. American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy (2022).
7. The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party (2022)
8. “The Burn-It-All-Down Republican Caucus,” Jan. 4, 2023
9. “The GOP is stuck in a doom loop begun 30 years ago,” December 2, 2022

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.


1. https://www.epi.org/blog/epis-top-charts-of-2022-epis-most-popular-charts-tell-the-story-of-how- pandemic-setbacks-in-income-inequality-were-mitigated-by-pandemic-relief/?mc_cid=d26a73574b&mc_eid=faa04e9f25
2. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/12/14/magazine/gun-violence-children-data-statistics.html? campaign_id=52&emc=edit_ma_20221216&instance_id=80273&nl=the-new-york-times-magazine&regi_id=22748210&segment_id=120008&te=1&user_id=3c8ad60682fc8ebf910291b2246ab6c0
3. https://www.tsa.gov/news/press/releases/2022/12/16/tsa-breaks-record-number-firearms-security- checkpoints-announces-new
4. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/constitutional-carry-half-states_n_63a4beeee4b0d2fe765111df

Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day