2022 Election, GOP, Trump

Character Test …

We all knew that the Age of Trump was going to end up being a character test for Republican officeholders.

Way back in 2015 – remember those simpler days – most of these politicians knew the guy who bankrupted casinos, swindled contractors and cheated on his several wives was devoid of that central element of personal and political leadership: character.

But they were tribal, they wanted to win, and, after all, their supporters wanted to send a big message to the libs and the elites, so the GOP’s own elites tucked their reservations in a vest pocket and got on the Trump Train.

When he attacked John McCain, a decorated war hero, as a loser they bit their tongues. He is crude and mean and boorish, but the base loves him. When he slandered a Hispanic judge or the Gold Star parents of a Muslim solider, they looked away. When he praised Putin, they decided no big deal. When he attempted to extort the Ukrainian president in order to manufacture dirt on his political opponent, they let it slide.

When Trump attacked McCain … it was mostly crickets from GOP politicians

When he surrounded himself with cranks and grifters and fellow con men, and when the few with any character left or were fired, it was just business as usual. They got a tax cut for the millionaires and billionaires, after all. When he pardoned the sloppy, seditious Steve Bannon and repugnant, reprehensible Roger Stone, as well as a host of others, ensuring their silence, the characterless were busy elsewhere.

When he began, without a scintilla of evidence, to sow doubt about the election, always suggesting that unless he won the whole deal was rigged, they took their own election victories in stride. They knew it was a joke. But, hey, nothing to see here.

When he summoned the mob, incited the mob and embraced the fiction of a stolen election many Republican officeholders actually helped advance the Big Lie. They are still lying. They know it, you know it, but in for a penny, in for a pound after all.

Impeach and disqualify him from ever polluting the White House again? Not on your life. It’s all just “politics.”

But there is a funny thing about squandering the notion that character in public life really does matter. The smell of it sticks like stink on you know what. And it really stinks when someone from your own ideological tribe exhibits real character.

We saw it this week in the form of a conservative Republican, a Mormon graduate of BYU, and the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives. Rusty Bowers might have been called from central casting for his role before the January 6 investigation, that is, before the Malice from Mar a Lago made character as completely fungible as a degree from Trump University.

“Look, you are asking me to do something that is counter to my oath when I swore to the Constitution to uphold it,” Bowers told Rudy Giuliani, the shameless Trump lackey who was pressing a fellow Republican to create fake electors in order to pervert a presidential election.

“I also swore to the Constitution and the laws of Arizona,” Bowers told Rudy. “You’re asking me to do something against my oath. And I will not break my oath.”

The Republican speaker of the Arizona House told the truth about Trump

“What makes a conservative Republican resist Trump and his deranged and fact-free election conspiracies?” Walter Shapiro asked recently in The New Republic. “Where do political figures like Bowers and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger [another witness before the congressional committee] find their courage while the likes of Kevin McCarthy and Lindsey Graham become spineless Trump toadies?”

The answer is character, and character is what you do when you care more about the country than your tribe, or the next election or your own power.

Donald Trump pressured Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, “to find 11,780 votes” to reverse the electoral will of the state’s voters. It was shakedown full of Mafia boss-like threats and bluster. Raffensperger refused. Since then he’s been subjected to death threats and some loser broke into the home of his widowed daughter-in-law apparently seeking to intimidate him. He resisted.

We are living through the greatest peril of American democracy since the Civil War. Like southern Democrats in 1860, most in today’s Republican Party are willing to tolerate the threats, intimidation and corruption because they have rejected the notion that character counts.

There was a massive Trump directed conspiracy to overturn the last presidential election. Only an American living in a Fox News bubble or trolling the dark corners of Facebook can deny what happened. Republican after Republican witness is telling us. The witnesses of character are speaking to both the threats we face and to our better angels.

“Obviously Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, and the rest of the Kracken lunatics are incapable of shame,” writes Never Trump conservative Sarah Longwell. “As are some of the 147 Republicans who refused to certify the 2020 election. But I’ve got to believe that there are many Republicans who – despite claiming they’re not paying attention to the hearings—are watching the testimony of people like [Georgia election worker Shaye] Moss, Brad Raffensperger, and Rusty Bowers with a gnawing sense of dread. Aware, perhaps with renewed clarity, that by carrying water for Trump’s lies, they had a meaningful hand in unleashing devastation on many people’s lives. Including Rusty Bowers daughter, who, we learned yesterday, was dying of a terminal illness while her family was attacked because Bowers refused to betray his oath. I hope those realizations keep them up at night.”

“I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible,” said the conservative congresswoman from Wyoming, Liz Cheney, speaking to the boneless wonders of the modern GOP. “There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

That’s the thing about surrendering any principle and squandering any sense that character matters – you have to find a way to live with yourself.

That stain is permanent; the stink never goes away.

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Additional Reading:

A few more suggestions …

Watergate’s Ironic Legacy

Amidst the January 6 hearings, the fiftieth anniversary of Nixon’s scandal reminds us that it has only gotten harder to hold presidents accountable.

“On June 22, 1972, a few days after the Watergate break-in, President Nixon met with H. R. Haldeman, his chief of staff. ‘It sounds like a comic opera,’ Nixon said, so poorly executed that no one would think ‘we could have done it.’ Haldeman agreed, picturing well-dressed men installing wiretaps with rubber gloves, ‘their hands up and shouting ‘Don’t shoot’ when the police come in.’ Yet the arrests raised concerns at the White House. With less than five months before Election Day, Nixon and his advisers worried that the FBI investigation of the break-in might reveal other illegal activities.”

A good piece by Stuart Streichler in Boston Review.


How to Decolonize the Capitol

Art historians, legislators, and activists have long decried themes of White supremacy in the art collection of the U.S. Capitol. Can this place be decolonized?

The U.S. Capitol rotunda: scene of insurrection and lots of art

“Ever since John Trumbull was commissioned to paint four monumental history paintings for the Rotunda in 1817, Congressmen have used the Capitol Art Collection to tell a simple and seductive story — indeed, given its location, the official story — about America. Like all forms of government propaganda, this artwork was designed to justify and to persuade, laundering ideological positions into ‘history.’ But as the federal government diversifies, this story will likely be challenged more forcefully than it has been in the past. Nearly a quarter of the 117th Congress, which came into office in 2022, comprises lawmakers who identify as racial and/or ethnic minorities, making this Congress the most diverse in history.”

You’ll find this piece on a terrific architecture, landscape and urban design website – Places. Check it out.


‘I changed kids’ perspectives’: Muggsy Bogues, the 5ft 3in star who broke NBA norms

A wonderful little story about the shortest player in NBA history.

“This year marks the 35th anniversary of one of the most striking picks in the NBA draft’s long history. In 1987, the Washington Bullets picked Muggsy Bogues – all 5ft 3in of him – with the 12th overall pick.”

From The Guardian.


Thanks for following along. All the best. Stay safe.

Civil Rights, Civil War, Human Rights

Conflict Entrepreneurs … 

“It is clear to us based on the gear that the individuals had with them, the stuff they had in their possession and in the U-Haul with them, along with paperwork that was seized from them, that they came to riot downtown,” said Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White.

It’s not every day you see a Pacific Northwest law enforcement official make such a statement. Get used to it. You’ll see something similar again soon, likely many similar things.

The 31 members of the white supremacist group calling itself Patriot Front who were arrested last week at a northern Idaho Pride Day celebration may seem, at least at first blush, to be little more than a handful of neo-Nazi losers and cranks, white men who hate the idea that the United States is a nation of ethnic and religious diversity. But it would be a mistake to dismiss these dangerous men as anything less than what they are: domestic terrorists.

Patriot Front members arrested in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Patriot Front’s “manifesto” states the group’s aspirations in language that would please the old Aryan Nation’s bigot, Richard Butler. “A nation within a nation is our goal. Our people face complete annihilation as our culture and heritage are attacked from all sides.”

The leader of the group – its membership is estimated at a few hundred young men spread across the country – is a Texan named Thomas Ryan Rousseau. Rousseau first came to prominence in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 when some of his followers participated in the infamous “Unite the Right” rally.

Not long after that shameful racist gathering – then-President Donald Trump excused the violence as a protest against removal of Confederate monuments even as one life was lost as torch bearing marchers chanted anti-Semitic slogans – Rousseau said: “America our nation stands before an existential threat. The lives of your children, and your children’s children, and your prosperity beyond that, dangle above a den of vipers. A corrupt, rootless, global, and tyrannical elite has usurped your democracy and turned it into a weapon, first to enslave and then to replace you.”

Charlotteville 2017

Trump’s comment that at Charlottesville there were “some very bad people … but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides” was widely condemned, but also entirely excused by most Republican politicians. Since Charlottesville, Patriot Front and similar groups – the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, for example, who led the January 6 attack on the Capitol – have grown more aggressive and more violent.

These radical, rightwing groups have become, as political scientist Barbara F. Walters has written, “conflict entrepreneurs,” who exist to create the kind of confrontation, provocative and potentially violent, that was barely avoided in Coeur d’Alene.

Walters, in her recent book How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them, writes alarmingly of the United States nearing the point where radical right groups engage in sustained violence, often marked by assassination attempts, ambushes and attacks on police or the military. They seek chaos, Walters believes, in order to destabilize a fractious and already troubled democratic system.

Author Barbara F. Walters and her new book – a strong warning to the U.S.

Walters and other scholars have documented the rise of such groups and their tactics around the world and contend the U.S. is entering a period of sustained rightwing violence, something the FBI has issued warnings about for years. Think of the sectarian “troubles” in Northern Ireland that fractured that divided land for a generation, or the tribal violence in Rwanda, or the still raging civil war in Syria.

Only a failure of imagination based on a clear-eyed understanding of what rightwing terrorism is capable of prevents most Americans from understanding the depth of this threat.

Patriot Front has demonstrated in Philadelphia, leafleted in Vermont and the campus of the University of West Virginia and led anti-immigrant protests in California. In Brooklyn a year ago, members vandalized a George Floyd statue and defaced a mural in Richmond commemorating Black tennis great Arthur Ashe. Patriot Front members have been involved in anti-abortion rallies, as well.

The group’s national reach and level or coordination is obvious given that those arrested in northern Idaho came from at least 11 states and just happened to show up packed into a rented U-Haul truck wearing hoods and carrying shields and apparently some weapons. The objective was clearly to provoke a confrontation, create chaos, grab headlines and then slink out of town.

So, what should Idaho officials be doing about these dangerous radicals? First: take them seriously – absolutely seriously. No longer ignore them. Do not fail to name what they are doing or denounce what they profess to stand for. This demands a full-on mobilization of state and local law enforcement and aggressive prosecution.

Instead, Idaho Governor Brad Little issued a mealy-mouthed statement extolling everyone’s right to peaceful protest and praised the police response. Little did not deplore the white supremacist agenda of Patriot Pride. The governor did not link the radicals to a growing national movement to disparage members of the LGBTQ community. And Little did not summon the courage to be outraged by members of his own party cheering on white supremacists and hate spreaders.

As Rebecca Boone of the Associated Press reported, “a lawmaker from the northernmost region of the state, Republican Rep. Heather Scott, told an audience that drag queens and other LGBTQ supporters are waging ‘a war of perversion against our children.’” That is an outrageous, untrue and dangerous accusation that deserves only censure.

The non-response by Idaho conservatives is a big tell. Brad Little and most Republicans are afraid of the radical right because they realize they constitute the growing racist and hateful wing of the GOP. They will come to rue their inaction because inaction will foster more hate.

Consider this: One of those arrested in Coeur d’Alene came all the way from Alabama. Doug Jones, a former Alabama senator and one-time prosecutor who finally brought to justice the racist Klan murderers of four little Black girls in a Birmingham church in 1963, issued a stern warning during an interview with the Idaho Capital Sun.

“There’s a reason they felt like they could do this. There’s a reason that a guy from Alabama went all the way out there,” Jones said. “There are gay pride events going on all over the country. Why did they pick Idaho? It’s because of a conservative government that they felt like they could do it and they would be part of the community as opposed to being an outlier. And … I believe all people in Alabama and Idaho are much better than that, and they believe in decency, civility and giving everybody equal opportunities.”

Maybe. We should hope so. But it’s equally possible the opposite is true. It was once said that “Idaho is too great for hate,” but hate now seems to be the state’s brand and Republican elected officials are empowering the hate.

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Additional Reading:

A few other items I came across this week that may be of interest …

How the Crazy Plays in Wisconsin

A scathing piece here from the Wisconsin Examiner about the crazy “election fraud” investigation of a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, Michael Gableman. For months now Gableman has engaged in an expensive, nonsensical exercise to show that there was fraud in Wisconsin’s handling of the 2020 presidential election. The Big Lie has turned into a Big Con, as Gableman has spent hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars to only ensnarl himself in litigation, controversy and, as seems increasingly likely, legal contempt for not responding to demands for records.

Reporter Ruth Conniff:

“What is Gableman hiding? Keystone Kops-style incompetence, wasting money and coming up with nothing are the hallmarks of his ridiculous probe, which he and [Wisconsin House Speaker Robin] Vos justify as an effort to increase ‘transparency’ and public confidence in Wisconsin elections. We already know Gableman used the taxpayers’ funds to attend a conspiracy theory conference hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and to visit Arizona to inspect its discredited audit.”

Clowns will clown. Here is the link.


Steve Bannon and the Politics of Bullshit

And speaking of bull excrement – Steve Bannon!

Damon Linker on the full-time provocateur and danger to the Republic.

“Bannon knows what he hates. Liberals. Progressives. The left. China. But what’s the alternative? It can’t be anything that resembles the Republican Party of the past, because he hates that, too. What then? He can’t really say. In place of a vision of a better world, he offers only negation. His ‘ideal’ future is one of leveling destruction—like the skyscrapers collapsing, one after another, in the final scene of the movie Fight Club. What comes after the skyline has been reduced to rubble, Bannon hasn’t a clue. All he knows is that he wants to be the one to place and detonate the TNT.”

Discount him as a crank, a grifter, an unmade bed of radical, neo-fascist garbage, but don’t think he is not one dangerous SOB. As Charlie Sykes of The Bulwark once said of Bannon: “A clown with a flamethrower still has a flamethrower.”

Link to Linker.


Trump’s useful thugs: how the Republican party offered a home to the Proud Boys

I stumbled across this excellent piece from 2021 in researching this week’s column.

Armed and violent

“Dwindling enthusiasm for the militias and Patriot movement during the Bush era was transformed by the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and the development of the Tea Party, which according to the journalist David Neiwert, became ‘a wholesale conduit for a revival of the Patriot movement and its militias.’ This convergence proved fertile ideological ground: the radical libertarianism of the Tea Partiers intermingling with the chauvinism of the militias and their white nationalist allies, bonded with the conspiracy theories of Alex Jones, Fox News propaganda and what the historian Greg Grandin once described as ‘an almost psychotropic hatred of Barack Obama.’

“Many members of these groups would go on to become staunch Donald Trump supporters, and while the Republican party has traditionally sought to maintain a certain plausible deniability in its relationship with the fringe right, the Trump campaign threw open Pandora’s box, welcoming the avowed white supremacists, antisemites and fascists who stalked the ideological fringes of US politics.”

This Guardian story will help you understand the growing radical base of the modern GOP.


The January 6 Committee’s Fatal Connections

Garrett Epps in the Washington Monthly outlines why the January 6 hearings really, really matter.

“If I am right about this narrative strategy, future public hearings will show us a desperate, unmoored Trump reaching out for violent helpers—a through line between the president and the two neofascist street gangs, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, who were the most aggressive and organized part of the mob that sacked the Capitol on January 6. On the one hand, we have the fascist leaders conferring in a parking deck; on the other, we have a president who seems to know that something big is about to go down.”

I do hope people are paying attention. Here’s the link.


Buchwald in Paris: Letters from Steinbeck, and an Invite to the Most Famous Wedding in the World

I’ve forever been a fan of the legendary humor and political columnist Art Buchwald.

Didn’t he LOOK like a columnist?

For a long time I had a Buchwald quote on my desk: “Lunch is the power meal in Washington, D.C.,” he once wrote. “It’s over lunch that the taxpayer gets screwed.”

I can’t wait to read this new biography of the man called Funny Business. This excerpt deals with the years Buchwald and his wife lived in Paris while he writing for the International Herald Tribune.

“They mingled with Ingrid Bergman; Audrey Hepburn; Lena Horne; Mike Todd and his beautiful young wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor; and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Ann and Art spent one bizarre evening with the Windsors when the Duke played recordings of ‘patriotic German songs’ and sang along with great delight. ‘He was a dimwitted man,’ Buchwald later wrote, ‘and I always believed England [owed] Wallis [Simpson] . . . for making him give up the crown.'”

Good stuff. The author is Michael Hill.


Back next week – God willing and the creek don’t rise. Be well. Thanks for reading.

Democracy, Insurrection

Heed the Signs …

How can an American know that democracy at home is under assault, and may even collapse?

Listen.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, February 3, 2021:

“There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.

“The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president and having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.

“He did not do his job. He didn’t take steps so federal law could be faithfully executed and order restored.”

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Idaho Republican Senator James E. Risch, February 10, 2021:

“[Trump] said I need you to get out there and fight for me, well you know, what politician hasn’t said that to his supporters? You know, I need you to get out there and fight for me. Now it’s a really slippery slope to say that you hold a political rally and you give fiery speeches and then somebody goes out and does something you didn’t intend and then they hold you responsible for it. That’s not right.”

Wyoming Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, February 10, 2021:

“Republicans used to advocate fidelity to the rule of law and the plain text of the Constitution. In 2020, Mr. Trump convinced many to abandon those principles. He falsely claimed that the election was stolen from him because of widespread fraud. While some degree of fraud occurs in every election, there was no evidence of fraud on a scale that could have changed this one. As the Select Committee will demonstrate in hearings later this year, no foreign power corrupted America’s voting machines, and no massive secret fraud changed the election outcome.

“Almost all members of Congress know this – although many lack the courage to say it out loud. Mr. Trump knew it too, from his own campaign officials, from his own appointees at the Justice Department, and from the dozens of lawsuits he lost. Yet, Mr. Trump ignored the rulings of the courts and launched a massive campaign to mislead the public.

“Donald Trump not only sought to destroy the electoral system through false claims of voter fraud and unprecedented public intimidation of state election officials, but he also then attempted to prevent the peaceful transfer of power to his duly elected successor, for the first time in American history.”

January 6, 2021

Journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who investigated Richard Nixon’s crimes that came to be known as Watergate:

“In a deception that exceeded even Nixon’s imagination, Trump and a group of lawyers, loyalists and White House aides devised a strategy to bombard the country with false assertions that the 2020 election was rigged and that Trump had really won. They zeroed in on the Jan. 6 session as the opportunity to overturn the election’s result. Leading up to that crucial date, Trump’s lawyers circulated memos with manufactured claims of voter fraud that had counted the dead, underage citizens, prisoners and out-of-state residents.

“On that day, driven by Trump’s rhetoric and his obvious approval, a mob descended on the Capitol and, in a stunning act of collective violence, broke through doors and windows and ransacked the House chamber, where the electoral votes were to be counted. The mob then went in search of Pence – all to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Trump did nothing to restrain them.

“By legal definition this is clearly sedition – conduct, speech or organizing that incites people to rebel against the governing authority of the state. Thus, Trump became the first seditious president in our history.”

Capitol Police Staff Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, June 7, 2022. Gonell was permanently injured in the attack on the Capitol that claimed seven lives.

“To be honest, I just want the truth. I mean, like I said on my testimony back in last year, I had a feeling at the moment when I was fighting those people that this was well-coordinated. And from revelations that we have seen coming out from the investigations and through the court system, it has – and it was coordinated from the top down, from the president down. This was no coincidence of what happened. I believe that since the election, everybody who supported the president – most of them – they had a handle on it in terms of coordinating it, planning it, orchestrating it, including downplaying it after the fact, even though on January 6 they were running for their lives.”

Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan reacting to reports on June 8 that a heavily armed 22-year-old man who had threatened members of the Supreme Court was arrested near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Maryland home and charged with attempted murder:

“I call on leaders in both parties in Washington to strongly condemn these actions in no uncertain terms. It is vital to our constitutional system that the justices be able to carry out their duties without fear of violence against them and their families.”

Garnell Whitfield Jr. speaking before a congressional committee, June 7, 2022. Whitfield’s 86-year-old mother died in a mass shooting carried out by a white supremacist in Buffalo, New York:

“My mom’s life mattered. Your actions here will tell us if and how much it mattered to you.  

“On that fateful day in Buffalo we realized the danger of allowing hatred in, any form, in our country to fester. It tears at the overall fabric of our democracy. Will we be better at being a multicultural nation?”

Historian Heather Cox Richardson, June 7, 2022:

“The Department of Homeland Security today issued a new bulletin in the National Terrorism Advisory System, stating that the U.S. ‘remains in a heightened threat environment.’ It noted that ‘[t]he continued proliferation of false or misleading narratives regarding current events could reinforce existing personal grievances or ideologies, and in combination with other factors, could inspire individuals to mobilize to violence.’ Stories that the government is unwilling or unable to secure the southern border and the upcoming Supreme Court decision about abortion rights might lead to violence, it said. 

“Also, it noted: ‘As the United States enters mid-term election season this year, we assess that calls for violence by domestic violent extremists directed at democratic institutions, political candidates, party offices, election events, and election workers will likely increase.’”

Pay attention.

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Additional Reading:

A few other items that may be of interest …

Two Stories Illustrate the Ongoing American Battle Over Education

The first from South Dakota where, as in many “red” states, the educational agenda is be framed by national conservative groups who aim to target teachers and destroy – not too harsh a word – public education.

Excellent reporting here from South Dakota News Watch.

And this from the Wisconsin Examiner. “Over the past few months, some Wisconsin Republican legislators have been scouring school libraries in their districts for potentially ‘inappropriate’ books … GOP lawmakers appear to be setting the stage for debates around what books should be restricted, and whether staff should be held accountable for providing them to students.”

The culture wars are raging.


Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire

This review of historian Caroline Elkins’ latest book is proof positive of why the effort to dumb down history by focusing only on the glories and not also the tragedies is so darn dangerous.

“Her detailing of [the violent] reality [of the British Empire] involves a deconstruction not only of the self-delusion, seductive mythology and doublespeak of the largest empire in human history, but also the deliberate official destruction of large parts of its historical record.”

From The Guardian.


“We’re Living in an Era of Extraordinary Corporate Power”

An interview with Katie Curran O’Malley, a candidate for attorney general in Maryland, who is vowing to focus on the growing anti-competitive nature of American business.

From Washington Monthly.


The Kystriksveien: Earth’s most beautiful road trip?

A travel piece from the BBC.

A part of Norway’s spectacular coastal road

“Seeming to wrap itself around the country like a protective shield from the freezing Arctic, Norway’s coastline appears to have shattered under the strain, riven as it is with islands and fjords cutting deep fissures inland. Along such a coast, it seems impossible that a road should exist here at all. In short, it seems like a miracle.”

The road is a “triumph of human ingenuity and perseverance.”


On that lovely note I’ll say thanks … and do what you can to speak out and defend our democracy. All the best.

Guns, Politics

The Lies We Tell About Guns …

In May 1995, former president George H. W. Bush declared he was done with the National Rifle Association (NRA). In a terse letter written in the wake of the domestic terror bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Bush resigned his life membership in the NRA.

Wayne LaPierre, the nation’s number one loudmouth apologist for guns in all their forms, had finally, at least in the eyes of the former president, gone too far. It ticked off Bush that LaPierre, the NRA’s top executive, had called federal agents – including some like those killed in the Oklahoma bombing – “jack-booted thugs,” no better than Nazis in their attacks “on law abiding citizens.”

Bush’s resignation made headlines across the country, and as a gesture of opposition to the gun lobby it had, at least, some fleeting impact. What went less noticed was the former president’s focus on the NRA’s lies. LaPierre’s baseless charges, Bush said, “deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor.” He called it “slander.”

Letters to the editor of the Orlando Sentinel in May 1995

Nearly thirty years later here we are drowning in lies about guns, about the Second Amendment, about our unending political inability to stop the carnage that blows away ten-year-old kids and their teachers.

America’s fixation with guns, and the conservative rightwing embrace of a culture that celebrates guns over the lives of little Americans, exists only because of the lies.

The Catholic bishop of Brownsville, Texas, near the most recent gun outrage in Uvalde, has spoken eloquently – and truthfully – about the “sacralization” of gun ownership, as though owning a weapon like that used to murder children last week is some God given right.

“We have kind of sacralized the whole idea of the individual right,” Bishop Daniel Flores said last week, “such that it trumps any communal concern. It becomes an untouchable aspect in the discourse, that the common concern for the good of the vulnerable is not in any way sufficient to limit the individual right to determine whether or not I want to own this kind of a gun, or that kind of gun, or, you know, a hand grenade for that matter.”

Here’s some truth: God didn’t create a right to own an AR-15. Rather it was the United States Supreme Court – and, of course, the NRA – that has, over time, created the myth that the authors of the Bill of Rights intended for Americans to “keep and bear arms” in every conceivable circumstance. The inventors of the Second Amendment could not have in their worst dreams imagined what transpired at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

James Madison’s idea of a gun was a one-shot musket that took thirty seconds to reload.

More truth: more guns don’t make us safer. That is simply a nonsensical argument invented to deflect from the reality that death by guns is really the ultimate measure of American exceptionalism. The Gun Violence Archive tracks these morbid statistics and has documented 18,000-gun deaths in the United States already this year – 8,000 murders and the rest suicides. There have been more than 230 mass shootings, defined as gun incidents involving at least three people.

Good lord, America, there have been at least 18 mass shootings since Uvalde.

The NRA, as Poppy Bush came to realize, is only able to exist, and the gun culture is only able to thrive, if the lies flow like a mountain stream in the spring.

Good guys with guns don’t protect people from bad guys with guns. The tragedy in Texas should put the lie to that lie once and for all. The reprehensible Ted Cruz, Republican apologist for the mass murder of children in his state, has been bloviating about “hardening” schools, as if a place of learning and social interaction was some military target to be protected by surface-to-shooter missiles.

Cruz’s answer to the outrage in his state is to only have one entrance to a school building. This man is an actual United States senator. For Cruz to tolerate gun violence on such a massive scale requires that he lie about solutions that are laughably insincere and ridiculously unworkable.

Certainly, we need more state and national resources devoted to mental health, but you’ll go crazy waiting for serious movement on this talking point from the NRA and it’s wholly owned subsidiary, the Republican Party. Show us the money. Detail the programs. Then you’ll demonstrate some seriousness of purpose. Otherwise, it’s just spin.

One of the biggest lies is the claim that there are so many guns in this country that there is nothing that can be done to begin to lessen the death and injury caused by those guns. It’s a lie.

First move: stopping selling weapons of mass killing, battlefield like guns of the type used in Texas massacre, to immature 18-year-old boys. We don’t let them drink at that age or buy cigarettes. They can’t rent a car and auto insurance companies charge a premium to cover them. But these kids can buy a semi-automatic weapon and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

As political scientist Brian Rosenwald noted recently there is ample evidence that increasing the purchase age will have a significant impact. “There is one glaring connection between the Uvalde massacre and the racist shooting of 10 at a Buffalo supermarket on May 14,” Rosenwald wrote in the New York Post. “Both shooters were 18-year-old men. And this isn’t unusual. The shooter who killed 17 at a Florida high school in 2018? A 19-year-old man. The killer who ended nine lives in a Charleston, South Carolina church in 2015? A 21-year-old man. And it was a 20-year-old man who took 26 lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, only months after a 24-year-old man killed 12 and wounded 58 in Aurora, Colorado.”

To change this age limit is a no-brainer. Doing nothing – again – is insanity.

By overwhelming margins Americans, including many gun owners, favor higher age limits, better background checks, limits on high-capacity magazines and, yes, bans on assault rifles. If you take the position, or support a politician who takes a position, that there is nothing to be done to try and prevent the next school, or supermarket, or church shooting you are effectively aiding and abetting the next slaughter.

In the wake of George H.W. Bush’s truth telling about the gun lobby in 1995, columnist Dan Thomasson wrote this: “The NRA has succeeded in convincing huge numbers of Americans that their Second Amendment rights are in peril if there is any control of any kind of weapon, even those designed only for war and totally out of place in an urban society. No larger perversion of the truth exists and the NRA knows it.”

Keep accepting the lies and the murder of innocent kids in classrooms will surely continue. Reject the lying and we have a chance, and only that, to step back from the hellscape that so many guns have brought to America.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other reads you may find of interest …

What Bullets Do to Bodies

A Huff Post profile of Dr. Amy Goldberg, the chair of the surgery department at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. As you can imagine she has treated many, many gunshot victims.

Dr. Goldberg

“In her first or second year of residency at Temple, when she was in her mid-20s, she helped treat a young boy who had been shot in the chest by his sibling who picked up a loaded gun that was lying around. The doctors couldn’t save him. The senselessness made her so angry. Goldberg listened as a senior resident informed the boy’s mother. ‘I’m sorry,’ the resident said, ‘he has passed.’ The mother didn’t react; she didn’t seem to understand what she had just heard. Goldberg spoke up. ‘He died. We’re so sorry. He died.’ It was a lesson: Be direct. ‘You have to find a very compassionate way of being honest,’ she said.”

The story by Jason Fagone is from 2017, but it is just as current, unfortunately, as this morning’s headlines.


Nazi or KGB agent? My search for my grandfather’s hidden past

“Every family has its ghosts. Ancestors who disappeared by their own hand, or by the hands of others; relatives who never fully revealed themselves while they lived. In the lands that we call eastern Europe – from Estonia in the north to Ukraine in the south – these ghosts are especially common. These are the “bloodlands” of Europe, as the historian Timothy Snyder calls them – territories that spent the past few centuries passing from one occupying power to another, where cemeteries and mass graves dot the land.

“Here, my grandfather’s story of collaboration and disappearance is unusual, but it is not unheard of.”

Fascinating story from The Guardian.


Building the “Big Lie”: Inside the Creation of Trump’s Stolen Election Myth

Supporters of former President Donald Trump rally in front of the Legislature on Jan. 6, 2021.
(David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

“ProPublica has obtained a trove of internal emails and other documentation that, taken together, tell the inside story of a group of people who propagated a number of the most pervasive theories about how the election was stolen, especially that voting machines were to blame, and helped move them from the far-right fringe to the center of the Republican Party.”

If you don’t believe that our democracy is in danger you simply haven’t been paying attention. ProPublica has the receipts.


The mysterious, mercurial world of baseball fandom

“When you’re a kid, a year is an eternity—especially when it gives you extra time to wallow in your team’s crushing defeat the season prior. Baseball came back in April of 1995, but by then I had started to drift away from the Phillies. I still liked baseball, and I still watched it quite a bit, I just took more of a bird’s-eye view. I wished Cal Ripken Jr. well that September, when he broke Lou Gehrig’s seemingly untouchable record of 2,130 consecutive games played. In summer 1998, I got as caught up in the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home-run race as anybody. But over that strike year my heart had hardened and I wasn’t sure I would ever open it up so completely to a specific team again. The cost was too great.”

I’m kind of obsessed with baseball these days. It’s good therapy and this story is good.


Thanks for reading. Share these posts if you are inclined and please do stay in touch.

Ukraine

Isolationism: So Old It’s New Again …

Montana’s hard rightwing Republican congressman Matt Rosendale has likely never been compared to a influential progressive politician who figures prominently in his state’s history. At first blush there is precious little about Rosendale, a disciple of Donald Trump and opponent of almost everything, that is remotely like New Deal era Montana senator Burton K. Wheeler.

Montana’s isolationist Senator Burton K. Wheeler

Wheeler was a pro-union, anti-big business western progressive. He was a driving force behind big Montana public works projects like Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River. He fought corruption in the Justice Department during the 1920’s and battled Franklin Roosevelt, a president of his own party, over an ill-advised scheme to “pack” the Supreme Court.

Rosendale is known, to the extent he is known, for often being in a tiny minority of House members who vote NO on many things, including infrastructure spending. Rosendale is an outspoken member of the hard right “Freedom Caucus,” traffics in conspiracy theories, and recently observed that he found it ironic that Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the same year the Supreme Court issued it decision legalizing abortion.

But in one important respect Rosendale and Wheeler, who left the Senate in 1947 and died in 1975, are similar. They are unapologetic isolationists. Wheeler was the acknowledged leader of isolationist or non-interventionist forces prior to World War II. Wheeler, along with Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator, became the chief spokesmen for the America First movement, an umbrella group that attracted both passionate pacifists and disgusting anti-Semites.

Idaho’s Mike Crapo, a very conservative Republican senator not known for his foreign policy expertise or even interest, is also displaying isolationist instincts. So, too, Utah Republican Mike Lee and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and a handful of other conservatives. All three senators joined with eight others recently to vote NO in the Senate on a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine. That aid was nevertheless approved and will, like previous assistance, continue to allow Ukraine to hold off, and indeed turn back, a brutal, unnecessary war started by Vladimir Putin.

Trump, with his threats to pull the United States out of the NATO alliance and his actual withdrawal from trade and other agreements, popularized – again – the notion of America First, perhaps knowing the slogan would become a rallying cry for the far right, as well as serving as a dog whistle for anti-Semitism and pro-authoritarianism.

This neo-isolationism from the far right is not exactly new in American politics. Figures like Ohio senator Robert Taft in the 1950’s and more recently conservative gadfly Patrick Buchanan embraced the notion that the United States should essentially retreat from world leadership and focus more completely on domestic concerns. Buchanan wrote a book claiming it was Winston Churchill’s blunders rather than Adolf Hitler’s megalomania and desire to dominate Europe that sparked World War II.

This is the kind of revisionist, pro-Putin, anti-democratic, white supremacy nonsense that is being widely embraced in the dark corners of Internet and the increasingly dark corners of American conservatism.

Republican J.D. Vance, the opportunist Ohio Senate candidate who rejected Trump before embracing him, has become a key figure among the neo-isolationists. In one of the greatest political non-sequiturs ever, Vance recently said, “I will be damned if I am going to prioritize Ukraine’s eastern border right now when our own southern border is engulfed by a human tsunami of illegal migrants.”

If Vance wins in November he will, fittingly, occupy Bob Taft’s old Senate seat.

Another would-be leader of the neo-isolationists is Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, who clearly hopes to be president one day and knows just how to push the most powerful alt right buttons. “We don’t need any more globalism, left or right. We need realistic, robust nationalism,” Hawley said recently. Whatever that means it apparently appeals to Trumpers everywhere. Hawley also voted NO on the Ukrainian aid package.

As the online news site Axios reported recently: “Republican lawmakers – following former President Trump’s lead – are working with a wide range of conservative groups to pull back American support for Ukraine, the Middle East and Europe.”

The money and influence behind this neo-isolationist surge is powered by a permanent alt right infrastructure that includes the Koch Brothers, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and others. (This same network funds state-level anti-public school and tax cut advocacy from groups like the Idaho Freedom Foundation.)

Fox News personality Tucker Carlson champions neo-isolationism, while playing to the white nationalist sympathies of his audience.

After acknowledging that Putin’s war against Ukraine is illegal and has been clouded by vast lying from the Kremlin, the Cato Institute dismisses the war for the future of Europe with this: “it is a tragedy that neither the United States, nor NATO, nor Ukraine itself made a serious effort to discover whether there was a diplomatic way to prevent this invasion.”

That single sentence neatly sums why the neo-isolationists are as wrong today as they were in 1941.

Senator Wheeler, in many ways a heroic character, misread completely the state of the world as Hitler sought to dominate Europe, and like the neo-isolationists in the modern Republican Party, Mike Crapo, Mike Lee and the loathsome Rand Paul, he opposed the American aid to England that became known as Lend-Lease.

“We sympathize with the oppressed and persecuted everywhere,” Wheeler said, channeling Montana’s current congressman, “We also realize that we have great problems at home, that one-third of our population is ill-fed, ill-housed and ill-clad, and we have been told repeatedly, upon the highest authority, that unless and until this situation is corrected our democracy is in danger. I fully subscribe to this view.”

Wheeler’s views about Nazi aggression, had they prevailed rather than Franklin Roosevelt’s, might well have allowed Hitler to control Europe for a generation or more. Imagine our world today had that happened.

The same can be said for those turning their backs on Ukraine. What is their alternative: a Europe dominated by Putin? NATO rendered obsolete? Turning the other way as the ex-KGB agent kills and plunders a sovereign nation and U.S. ally?

Mike Crapo worries, apparently, about the country spending too much to defend democracy in a place far away. But he’s never met a tax cut he didn’t love. So, the fiscal responsibility argument is about as specious as justifications coming from the Kremlin for this unjustifiable war. Crapo’s stand, oddly, also puts him at cross purposes with Idaho’s other senator, James Risch who has steadfastly supported Ukrainian aid.

Crapo and the rest should know that Ukraine’s fight is our fight, too. The history of appeasement of dictators with territorial ambitions is not at all promising. We should have learned this in high school.

A great benefit of studying history is the insight past experiences provide for the present. This is surely such a moment. Why would a Crapo or Rosendale take such a blinkered view of history? Why, indeed, would these folks turn their backs on 80 years of history?

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Additional Reading:

Some other items you may find of interest …

Thoughts and prayers of a different kind

I’m numb and exhausted. I suspect most of us are.

And perhaps that is what the gun nuts at the National Rifle Association (NRA) have been after all these years. What if they actually sought to so normalize gun violence, including murdering ten-year olds in their classrooms, that those of us who reject the culture of more guns all the time just became numb to the death, dishonesty and deflection? It seems to be working.

Outside the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas

I don’t think a society that is healthy, meaning rational and caring, tolerates what happened this week in Uvalde, Texas, but here we are again. And where will we be next week or next month? A town in Idaho, or Oregon to Michigan?

The only thing we know for sure is that we will see this again … and again.

To be brutally honest, I’m so tired of the small-minded jerks like Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott I could puke. They literally make me sick to my stomach. That they get away with their nonsense about guns is infuriating.

Having said that: I am also a realist. We have a Supreme Court that has invented a Second Amendment that was nothing like what the Founder’s envisioned. Conservative judges made up “rights” related to guns and we live with that, or die with it.

We have 400 million – 400 million – guns in America. So many that even if we decided tomorrow to regulate them in some way its unlikely we could.

And we have a political system that pays lip service to caring about kids, but really doesn’t. We are caught in a doom loop of guns, and killings and worst of all a widespread willingness to accept it all.

There is a sickness in America about guns. I’m all for hunting and sport shooting and protecting your home, but 18-year olds no questions asked buying battlefield weapons and high capacity magazines – that is not remotely sane.

Our gun sickness is not rational or normal and it does not place a priority on children’s lives – or any life. It is a deep and profoundly ugly failing. America is truly exceptional, at least when it comes to killing with guns.

The last thing I wrote about the gun lobby was posted in 2019, how many mass shootings ago? Here’s that piece – “The NRA is a Fraud” – I’m sorry to say it is still relevant.

I have nothing even remotely original to say any longer about this massive nonsense, so I suggest you read my friend Darrell Ehrlick in The Daily Montanan.


On the Ball: In Memory of Roger Angell, 1920-2022

I went to a game in Milwaukee last Sunday – before the tragedy in Texas and before the pathetic governor of that state showed up to a news conference wearing what looked like a Texas Ranger shirt (the cops not the ball club) – and I thought about the late, great Roger Angell.

His life and work is a joyful memory amid the awfulness of this week. Here’s the writer Michael Lindgren.

“Roger Angell’s sensibility was emotionally generous, and his subjects sensed this and responded with great warmth. (In his unshowy way, he was one of the great interviewers of his or any time.) He wanted to see the players and managers and fans in their best light; in doing so, he showed us ourselves in our best light. There will not be another like him.”


I’ll leave it there. It’s been a long week. Be safe.

2022 Election, Idaho Politics

The Crazy Continues …

Idaho avoided a full-on political catastrophe this week as the state’s Republicans largely decided who will hold public office. 

But by no means has Idaho shed the ongoing influence of an ultra-conservative, authoritarian Republican Party.

Idaho voted and Little will change

Pick your metaphor. The bullet was dodged, but the glass is half empty. Consider:

  • Brad Little, an incumbent Republican governor, riding a wave of economic expansion and sitting on massive budget surpluses, won renomination with, hum, less than 53% of the vote. Not exactly a ringing endorsement from his party, particularly when you consider that the governor’s principal opponent is a serial embracer of the most odious positions floating around the alt right universe. At least take heart that there will not be Proud Boys providing security at the inauguration next January.
  • A competent, serious, civil secretary of state candidate, Phil McGrane – you should thank your lucky stars – was selected to oversee Idaho’s elections. McGrane’s two election denying opponents garnered 57% of the primary vote. Had this been a two-way race – a sane and sober conservative versus a Trumpified “stop the steal” clown – the clown would have won. This bullet was caught in the teeth.
  • A very conservative speaker of the house, the longest serving speaker in state history, received just over 51% in a contest for lieutenant governor against a candidate so loathsome her own colleagues censured her for misconduct in a rape case.
Incumbent governor Brad Little won his primary in underwhelming fashion
  • A mostly invisible state school superintendent lost to a much more competent challenger who received less than 40% of the vote in a race where the second-place finisher, a former Democrat turned alt right favorite, was cited in April by a Washington state judge for “contempt of court on four occasions related to the custody agreement with his ex-wife.” The ex-wife also accused him of child abuse.

And that was the good news. There is ample bad news.

The state legislature seems almost certain to be as radically right as it has been and depending on leadership elections and committee assignments a swing farther right seems entirely possible. While it is true that some of the most irresponsible right wingers lost in what was generally a blood bath for incumbents, and support for public education may – may – have been bolstered, the trend line of crazy stuff was hardly bent and certainly not broken.

Idaho will come to rue the day it handed over the attorney general’s office to a political provocateur who made his reputation, such as it is, by repeatedly battling his party’s leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives. Raul Labrador really doesn’t want to run state government’s law office, he wants to be governor and he will spend the next four years employing every scheme he can devise to make Governor Brad Little’s life miserable.

The state’s expensive penchant for quixotic but performative legal battles will now only increase. Labrador will surely move out many of the career lawyers who have made the office a largely non-partisan source of legal advice and representation. His chief argument against long-time incumbent Lawrence Wasden, who will be remembered as one of the most effective and least political AG’s in recent history, was that Wasden refused to sign on to the bogus legal challenge Texas mounted against the 2020 presidential election.

Labrador will enter office running for governor and he’ll bully and bluster his way to the front of that line. Few politicians in recent Idaho history have been so thoroughly disliked by his peers, but now he again has a platform. Watch him use it, use it to the determent of the state and its taxpayers.

So, what should a Brad Little do now to lead this troubled party and divided state ?

Well, he’s entitled to a few moments of satisfaction that he defeated an opponent who openly courted white supremist support, denied a deadly pandemic, did her part to destroy public education, brandished her Bible like a light saber and was endorsed by the malignant force from Mar a Lago, but then what?

Barring some remarkable and exceedingly unlikely outcome in November, Little will have four more years to make his mark on Idaho. What will he do? After all, there are only so many regulations you can eliminate, tax cuts for the wealthy you can engineer, or draconian abortion bills you can sign.

He might take his “mandate” as a call for a return to sanity in the state’s conservative world. He could use the presence of militant, government hater and independent gubernatorial candidate Ammon Bundy on the general election ballot to isolate Bundy and his type. Call them out for what they are – a threat to democracy. It’s past time for yet another reckoning of Idaho’s reputation for harboring dangerous nuts like Bundy. Little could lead the repudiation, and at no cost to his political future.

He could address, forcefully and candidly, the intolerance and ignorance that goes with banning books in school libraries, and he could shame the alt right efforts to intimidate educators and health care workers. He could speak out against the shameful targeting of trans kids.

He could disown the Idaho Freedom Foundation and its blatantly disruptive and dishonest agenda. They hate him. He should make them an example.

The governor could make an early trip to Coeur d’Alene to meet with the new board of the venerable community college there that, momentarily at least, has been rescued from the clutches of the crazy wing of his own party.

A governor who cared about Idaho could appeal to the better angels that certainly must be lurking out there. If he wanted to, he could.

Like most of America, much of Idaho is crying out for real, principled political leadership – from the right and the left. Not slogans or appeals to the worst in us, but real substance about real things.

The Idaho primary settled nothing about the overall direction of the state’s politics, which will, barring real leadership, continue to wander, neck deep, in a swamp of conspiracy and grievance.

Rejoice for a moment that some of the absolute worst did not happen this week but take no comfort for little is likely to change.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Other items that may be of interest …

No sea serpents, mobsters but Tahoe trash divers strike gold

“Cleanup organizers say one of the things locals ask most is whether they’ve found any gangsters’ remains near the north shore. That’s where Frank Sinatra lost his gaming license for allegedly fraternizing with organized crime bosses at his Cal-Neva hotel-casino in the 1960s.

The recovered debris mostly has consisted of things like bottles, tires, fishing gear and sunglasses.”

For a pretty pristine lake there is a lot of trash at the bottom of Lake Tahoe.


Forgetting the apocalypse: why our nuclear fears faded – and why that’s dangerous

Have we forgotten the danger?

“The horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made the whole world afraid of the atomic bomb – even those who might launch one. Today that fear has mostly passed out of living memory, and with it we may have lost a crucial safeguard.”

Daniel Immerwahr in The Guardian.


TEXAS’ WHITE GUY HISTORY PROJECT

“The 1836 Project will perpetuate stubborn 19th-century myths that will not die: Texas, for instance, has always stood on the side of freedom and liberty. Hard work alone inevitably leads to success. “Business-friendly” tax breaks make for a prosperous populace without the need for a robust social safety net and social services.

“In reality, thanks to its stingy government, Texas has the fourth-lowest literacy rate in the U.S., the highest rate of medically uninsured people nationwide, and ranks eighth in income inequality. The governor wants to stop teaching noncitizen children who attend public schools—an idea as cold-hearted as it is illogical and dumb. Forget our obesity epidemic, infrastructure failures, and militarized border.”

The Lone Star State experience with the cultural war over teaching history is both a joke and a warning. From Texas Monthly.


Being Gabe Kapler: Inside the mind of the San Francisco Giants’ nonconformist manager

Giants manager – and non-conformist – Gabe Kapler

Long-time readers know I’m a Giants fan, have been since Willie Mays was roaming centerfield at Candlestick Park. I’m biased, but the club by the Bay (with apologies to the A’s) is a fascinating collection of personalities and talents, and somehow under the leadership of the Zen-like manager Gabe Kapler – the Phil Jackson of baseball? – it works.

From Tim Kweon at ESPN.


Thanks for reading. Please share this posts with anyone you think might find them of interest. All the best.

2022 Election, Andrus, GOP, Idaho Politics

Idaho is Indeed a Patsy …

In the fading twilight of Friday afternoon – March 30, 1990 – then-Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus walked across State Street, the avenue running behind the Idaho Capitol building in Boise, and entered a conference room in the glass-sided state office building that houses the Department of Commerce and other state agencies.

Normally the Democratic governor would make public announcements from his own office on the second floor of the Statehouse, but this announcement was different. A large room was necessary to accommodate the dozens of out-of-state reporters and television crews on hand to hear what Andrus would say. Many seats in the room were occupied by activists and advocates on both sides of what may have been the most contentious single political and cultural issue in modern Idaho history – abortion.

When Cecil Andrus vetoed anti-abortion legislation in 1990, a strong majority of Idahoans exhaled with relief. The state wouldn’t be swept into a protracted and incredibly expensive effort to overturn the landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe V. Wade, that had been the law of the land since 1973. And Idaho would not forever be identified with legislation so punitive to women who had been raped or victims of incest as to be, as Andrus said, lacking in all compassion.

Idaho State Capitol building and a bust of Cecil Andrus on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

As one who worked for Andrus, I simply could not envision how Idaho’s politics would unfold after that veto. Andrus, whose own views held that abortion was tolerable only in extreme cases, was vilified by all-or-nothing anti-abortion forces. He was accosted by protesters at nearly every campaign appearance during that election year, some demonstrators even showing up in a cold, damp potato field in eastern Idaho to try to get the attention of a network TV crew airing a segment on the state’s signature product.

Yet, when all the shouting subsided Andrus won a fourth term in a runaway – nearly 70 percent – against an opponent who accused him of being a “baby killer.” Two Democrats were elected to Congress in 1990, the first time that had happened since the 1960’s. A brilliant young lawyer and member of the Pawnee Nation, Larry Echo Hawk, was elected attorney general, the first Democrat in that post since the early 1970’s. Democrats commanded a majority on the state land board, and Democrats won enough seats in the state senate to share power with Republicans.

The election of 1990, in the wake of an abortion battle, constituted the modern era high-water mark for Idaho Democrats.

The front page of The Idaho Statesman – April 1, 1990 – where a fellow says of Cece Andrus: “Last night, we should have appointed him governor for life.”

Nothing with politics lasts forever, of course, and with the perfect hindsight of 32 years and, while looking at the state’s disordered, increasingly authoritarian and dangerously militant politics, it is easy to see that Idaho’s flirtation with bipartisanship was as fleeting as a spring snowstorm.

Three decades after what appeared to be a Democratic breakthrough in 1990, Idaho is defined increasingly as a haven for white supremists, an intolerant sanctuary for book banners – one Idaho school district this week voted to “forever” ban 22 books from a high school library, including titles by Margaret Atwood, Sherman Alexie and Toni Morrison – and a place, as a friend once observed, where you must be born, while you’re alive no one is going to help you and if you screw up, they kill you.

Oh, Idaho – how far you have fallen.

A radical right candidate for lieutenant governor continues to flaunt the state’s public record disclosure law as she attempts to cover up her morally bankrupt involvement in what ultimately became another Republican legislator’s rape conviction.

While running for the top job the current lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin, overspent her office budget and lied repeatedly about it. She courts militia and neo-Nazi support and assaults public education. McGeachin, a supremely malignant, barely coherent radical endorsed by Donald Trump, also recently demanded a special session of the legislature to outlaw abortion even for rape and incest victims, as if the criminal penalties for health care providers in existing Idaho law were not dystopian enough.

The radical Republican candidate for attorney general was, while in Congress, a ringleader of the Freedom Caucus that has done so much to poison national politics. Wait until he becomes the state’s top law enforcement officer and takes his marching orders directly from Texas, or indirectly from the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Two of the Republican candidates for secretary of state are election deniers who would, if elected, finally destroy the Idaho tradition of non-partisan election administration. Meanwhile, vast amounts of out-of-state campaign money floods the state, surely coming from national groups determined to cement Idaho’s reputation as an easy laboratory for more radical right experimentation.

The former president has attempted to play in the Idaho governor’s race, endorsing the current lieutenant governor over the incumbent who has moved sharply to the right in response

In this mess of rightwing rot also sits the incumbent governor, Brad Little, a man seeking a second term who was once celebrated as a policy wonk and a non-crazy conservative. But the tidal wave of stupidity that has pushed the Idaho GOP to the brink of insanity has fully swept Little along. The state’s new Democratic Party chair, Boise state representative Lauren Necochea, perfectly captured the state of radical politics in Idaho when she told The Guardian recently: “The difference between Little and McGeachin is really more style than substance. She personifies the far-right extremism while he panders to it.”

Little’s pandering has never been more on display than when he signed the state’s latest anti-abortion legislation even while speculating out loud that the proposal to allow a rapist to collect a cash bounty when a victim seeks an abortion was likely unconstitutional. Little was man enough to worry that the legislation just might have “unintended consequences” for “victims of sexual assault,” but still servile enough to the radicals to put his name on garbage.  

Ironically, whether he intended to or not, Little used almost exactly the same language in signing a draconian abortion bill in 2022 that Cecil Andrus used to veto one in 1990. One big difference: Andrus had the guts to do the right thing for Idaho despite what might have been serious personal political fallout, while Little did what he hopes will be the right thing for his re-election.

And that neatly sums up the modern Republican Party in Idaho and across the country. These folks stand for little, pardon the pun, beyond staying in power. The governor’s policy agenda is confined exclusively to cutting taxes and eliminating regulation. Idaho is sitting on a bulging budget surplus but gives no thought to urgently needed investments in public and higher education, or affordable housing or a dozen other needs. The policy is simply to pander to the extremes.

When Andrus vetoed that awful abortion bill in 1990, he famously said that outside forces believed Idaho could be a convenient patsy in their plan to overturn Roe. But Idaho was “no patsy,” Andrus said, in a quote that was published around the country. Three decades on Idaho has indeed become precisely the kind of patsy Andrus sought to prevent – a breeding ground for rightwing radical politics that have already warped the state in ways that will require years of recovery, if indeed recovery is remotely possible.

With this crowd of misanthropes in power you can count on one thing. It will only get worse.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

How Putin’s invasion returned Nato to the centre stage

A deep dive into the history of the alliance that Trump threatened to end and Biden has strengthened.

Current Nato members with Finland and Sweden likely to join soon

“Nato’s return to the spotlight has been accompanied by a renewed debate about its history. Every interested party has a different story to tell. For Moscow, Nato has long been a project to subjugate Russia and reduce its influence to a memory. For Washington, Nato began as a way of protecting western Europeans from themselves and from the Soviet Union, but in the 90s it became a forward operating vehicle for democracy, human rights and capital. For eastern Europeans, Nato is the sacred pledge to keep Russian tanks at bay. For most western European states, Nato has provided a bargain-price American nuclear umbrella that allowed them to fund social welfare rather than armies, when they were not using their Nato obligations to justify austerity. For the rest of the world, Nato was once an Atlantic-based, defensive alliance that quickly transformed into an ever-farther-afield, offensive one.”

From The Guardian.


The Southwest is on fire, with iconic deserts and towns at risk

New Mexico and Arizona are facing a dangerously early fire season. It has left neighborhoods in ashes and is having such devastating effects that President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration for New Mexico. Over 600 fires had broken out in the two states by early May, and large wildfires had burned through hundreds of homes near Ruidoso and Las Vegas, New Mexico, and Flagstaff, Arizona.

A Q-A with University of Arizona fire scientist Molly Hunter.


How Lady Bird Johnson Saw the President Die

An excerpt from what looks to be a fascinating new book about Lady Bird Johnson.

Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office standing between his wife and the widow of the man he replaced

“November 22, 1963, the day in Dallas that, as Bird described it in her first diary entry, ‘all began so beautifully,’ had ended with a flight back to Washington with Lady Bird, the surrogate, now the new First Lady, Lyndon the president, Jack in a coffin, and Jackie a widow.”

The author is Julia Sweig who writes about America’s most famous second lady-turned-first.


The Korean Immigrant and Michigan Farm Boy Who Taught Americans How to Cook Chow Mein

La Choy soy sauce bottles and canned bean sprouts are a familiar sight in American grocery stores, but behind this hundred-year-old brand is a story fit for Hollywood.

And some great Muppet commercials, too.

The whole story of La Choy is perhaps more complex than the flavors of its sauces.


Thanks for reading. Be careful out there.

2022 Election, GOP, Nixon

The Grievance and Hostility of the Culture Wars

Republicans are heading into the mid-term elections in November wielding two broad swords that they hope will whack them back into control of Congress.

The first weapon is a standard issue version of the political logic that the party in control of the White House almost always loses congressional seats in a mid-term election. Only twice in modern political history has this logic failed – 1934 during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt and 2002 when George W. Bush was in the White House. Since the partisan margins are currently so close a betting person would put money on the GOP picking up seats.

The rare mid-term where the party in the White House wins seats. Los Angeles Times, November 7, 1934

The other thing going for the party out of power is their skillful exploitation of your anger, your grievance over, well, you name it. Don’t like a little inflation? Blame the president. Gas prices too high? It’s not Putin, but Biden. Tired of a pandemic that has killed a million Americans? Fauci works for the administration, lock him up! (Spoiler: he worked for the last one, too.)

Grievance is really the conservative’s biggest weapons. They’ve been perfecting it as a political tool longer than most of us have been able to vote. Who lost China? Harry Truman, George Marshall and the squishy Democrats, that’s who. Joe McCarthy made a career of exploiting grievance. Sunny Ronald Reagan did, as well.

Reagan seized a one-off story of a “welfare queen” – Black, of course – who he alleged exemplified what was wrong with the country. Welfare. Those in his audiences were upset with too much inflation, too much federal spending or too much government, but that stuff is hard to personify. A Black woman in a Cadillac, now that was a symbol.

There was, of course, a kernel of truth to Reagan’s single example, but it was the grievance he was really after. You should be upset, mad even that your tax money, well, all of us can finish the sentence. There ought to be a law!

Don’t like the fact that this multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation where white folks have long dominated politics, the economy and popular culture, while controlling most of the wealth is changing? Blame Black Lives Matter. What’s their beef, after all?

Upset that our long national struggle come to grips with the original sin of slavery makes some of us uncomfortable? Angry when a person of color points out that racism is literally baked into everything from zoning laws to college admission polices? Blame Critical Race Theory, whatever that is. Talking about the sin is, after all, more egregious than trying to understand it.

Wonder why thousands of migrants put themselves in harm’s way, facing injury and even death to get to the United States? To hear conservative members of Congress – or a former president – tell it they are scum of the earth. It’s easy to ignore that the vast majority are fleeing a life of poverty or persecution in hopes of a better life for themselves and their children. Having a mad on about these people just feels more natural than trying to understand what is actually going on.

Few modern-day Republicans acknowledge, or even know, the origins of their politics of grievance, but they own a debt to the master of political anger, Richard Nixon. As Garry Wills wrote of the brooding, insecure loner, “Every campaign had taught Nixon the same lesson: mobilize resentment against those in power.” That strategy has worked for Republicans for a long, long time, and may very well work again this year.

Democrats certainly have given their opponents openings, and they seem institutionally unable to talk about how their very real accomplishments, arrived at with no support from conservatives by the way, have helped the country. An historic infrastructure program is barely understood by most voters. Leadership of the remarkable international coalition defending democracy in eastern Europe is little acknowledged by Americans angry about the price of milk. Still, it’s past time to call out the grievance and the growing hate.

Listening to major Republican figures will give you a strong sense that Disney, your local library, the young woman who teaches second graders at the neighborhood elementary school, public health workers and immigrants, of course, are the real problems in America.

By the way, if you really believe librarians – and libraries are a big problem – it’s you that has the problem.

The so called “culture wars” cooked up on the radical right and pumped into the national bloodstream by the likes of Tucker Carlson, Marjorie Taylor Greene and a grifting former real estate developer are nothing more than the hog fuel of grievance. These merchants of hate are playing you.

Tucker Carlson mocks coverage of his grievance filled nightly rants

The attacks on the LGBTQ community, on health professionals, on non-existent “groomers” of children are beyond reprehensible. And it must be confronted, which is exactly what a young, white, Christian, mother – and Michigan state senator did recently. Senator Mallory McMorrow was accused by a Republican colleague – the colleague was fundraising of course – of desiring to “groom and sexualize kindergarteners or that 8-year-olds.” A hideous and heinous allegation that McMorrow refused to let pass.

In a passionate statement that made national headlines, McMorrow did what more Democrats should try. She got mad and called this nonsense precisely what it is – hateful and harmful.

“I know that hate will only win if people like me stand by and let it happen,” McMorrow said. “So I want to be very clear right now, call me whatever you want; I hope you brought in a few dollars; I hope it made you sleep good last night. I know who I am. I know what faith and service means and what it calls for in this moment. We will not let hate win.”

This big, sprawling, diverse nation with its serious problems of racism, growing income inequality and for many lack of access to health care and decent housing is hard enough to keep together without one political party constantly throwing more logs on the cultural war bonfire.

Sure, debate real policies. Argue over how to improve education or solve homelessness. But check the hate. Put away the grievance. Go visit a librarian or try to understand the life of a public school teacher. They aren’t the enemy.

By the way, I met a young fellow recently who is an immigrant from Lebanon. He appeared to be a jack of all trades having worked for TSA, done construction, repaired cars and been a salesman. He was joyous, smart and engaging. An immigrant. I asked him why he had worked so hard for so many years, eight years he said, to come to America. A better life was his answer.

That’s the country I love. Let’s try to live up to it.

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Additional Reading:

Some other items you may find of interest …

Republicans could rue the Supreme Court ending abortion rights

Pro-choice supporters protest outside the Supreme Court on May 3, 2022.

My good friend Rob Saldin, a political scientist at the University of Montana, and I co-authored a piece for the Washington Post this week on the politics of abortion.

 “If the court overturns its line of decisions protecting abortion rights in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, it will leave a very different set of Americans aggrieved. Supporters of abortion rights will fume over something long taken for granted being suddenly stripped away. And a fight in deeply conservative Idaho three decades ago indicates that their anger could scramble the politics of abortion.”

Remembering a landmark election more than three decades ago.


Laying siege to Idaho education isn’t a home-grown war. It is imported by conflict entrepreneurs

Idaho is just one of many states where anti-public school forces are trying not just to change public education, but destroy it. I linked to this piece above, but want to highlight it since I believe it’s that important.

“To fully comprehend this attack on education in Idaho one must first realize this is not a home-grown war, but one that has been imported into our state by wealthy and influential out-of-state interest groups whose goal is to first destroy the credibility of public education and ultimately weaken and privatize our local schools and higher education institutions.”

The author is Rod Gramer, an old and dear friend, who is fighting the good fight against the forces on the far, far right who would destroy public education. Here’s the link to Rod’s full piece.


The last phone boxes: broken glass, cider cans and – amazingly – a dial tone

From The Guardian, a deep dive into the British phone box.

Covent Garden London England telephone boxes

“At the end of my wayward quest, I decided that if I couldn’t see someone make a call from a phone box, I could at least hear one ring. They must have rung so often, once. All those queues; a time slot long arranged for a parent to call a child who’d moved to the city; lovers waiting to hear each other’s voices. I texted my mother. Call me on this number! I’m in a phone box!

“She didn’t reply, probably busy. I waited for 10 minutes until the awkwardness of standing in a phone box doing nothing became overwhelming. I texted her again and told her not to worry – the combination of technology and communication once again proving itself to be an imperfect work in progress. To scratch the itch, I ended up ringing the phone box from my mobile, and there it was, the tinny little sound of potential connection, drifting into the street.”

Really good story.


Mimi Reinhard obituary

“Mimi Reinhard, who has died aged 107, was a prisoner at the Płaszów Nazi labour camp in a suburb of Kraków in Poland when in 1944 she was asked to help out with the preparation of a document for the camp commander Amon Göth.

“It was a list of people in the camp who would be sent to work in a munitions factory owned by an industrialist called Oskar Schindler, where they would be housed in barracks, away from the extreme cruelty of the camp. The record that Reinhard helped to compile, and typed up, later became known as Schindler’s list.”

Quite the life. Read her obituary.


The Night Kennedy and Nixon Were Bunkmates

When Jack and Dick went to McKeesport.

“Seventy-five years ago this month, before they were political rivals, they were political arrivals who developed a respectful, even amicable working relationship at a time when societal and partisan divisions were raw and deep. Their first debate, 13 years before their legendary televised duels, is a fleeting and little-known chapter of American political history. It is also a reminder of a time when members of opposite parties, without teams of handlers and policy aides to run interference or shape their message, could disagree vehemently about major issues and yet still place the need to inform and persuade the public above their own political differences.”

Read this good political history and then realize this likely could not happen today.


Thanks for spending some time here. Be well.

2022 Election, GOP

“The Rot Within” – A Conservative Drama in Three Acts

The stories of Utah Senator Mike Lee and California Congressman Kevin McCarthy, both Republican grandees, represent the perfect end to Act Two of the play entitled “The Rot Within,” a fable in three parts that will shape the future of our country.

This gripping drama – utterly compelling for anyone who believes a disgraced, debased former president should never again be anywhere close to the Oval Office – is now playing in several new books, many newspapers, on National Public Radio and on a few cable outlets. Don’t miss this show it if you enjoy watching the crumbling foundation of American democracy.

Just to catch you up on the plot: Lee, once thought to be a serious and sober Constitutional conservative and a forthright member of the Mormon Church, was caught red handed conspiring with Donald Trump’s White House to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

“Please tell me what I should be saying,” Lee texted to the White House as they sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election

Lee’s text messages to then-Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, first breathlessly desperate and finally, reluctantly resigned, indicate, as the Salt Lake Tribune reported, that the senator was a player in a “plot to help former President Donald Trump overturn his 2020 election loss.”

The text messages show Lee repeatedly urging the White House to pursue the Constitution shredding strategy of convincing several state legislatures to reverse correct and legal decisions to certify Joe Biden’s election.

“Even if they (state legislatures) can’t convene,” Lee wrote in one message, “it might be enough if a majority of them are willing to sign a statement indicating how they would vote. And I’ve been working on doing that all day today.” In another message Lee literally begged Meadows to tell him what he should be saying publicly about the plot.

Consistent with the central focus of our play – “The Rot Within” – Lee first went mum about the messages he clearly thought would never become public. Then he justified that this bit of light treason was merely a suggestion that Trump and his collection of legal charlatans exhaust all available avenues to contest the election outcome. There were, of course, no legal avenues to contest as court after court after court ruled.

Near the end of Act Two, Lee could be heard mumbling the by now hackneyed words of the GOP playwright: “I knew what a disaster Joe Biden would be.” There you have it friends of political drama, the ultimate conservative rationale for a coup in the night.

Meanwhile, entering stage right is the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy is rather like another disgraced Kevin – Spacey. At one time earnest, seemingly sincere, yet with a menacing side. Beneath the veneer of respectability lurks something fundamentally fraudulent and, well, sleazy. With McCarthy – as with Spacey – you know he’s not what he seems to be. He’s always worse.

The man and his man

In our Act Two of the drama our Man from Bakersfield, who would, Macbeth-like kill to be speaker, acts out a vast jumble of deflections, numerous bald-faced lies and, of course, ultimately just sleazy rot. Ah, but the lies are the thing.

Two New York Times reporters, Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, wrote a book – part of our play is based on their story – where McCarthy, in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, said he was so done, so over with Donald Trump that he was washing him right out of his hair.

As Burns and Martin wrote: “Mr. McCarthy went so far as to say he would push Mr. Trump to resign immediately: ‘I’ve had it with this guy,’ he told a group of Republican leaders.” When that story got out, McCarthy issued a categorical denial. Never happened. Made up. Fiction.

It wasn’t.

Burns and Martin had it all on tape, and richest of all – our playwrights are flirting with farce here – McCarthy said he was done with Trump in a conversation that included Wyoming congresswoman Liz Cheney, one of the few Republicans immediately after the Capitol attack vowing to hold Trump to account. McCarthy, of course, never followed through on Trump, but instead drummed Cheney out of Republican leadership, attacked her patriotism and is hoping to prevent her re-election.

At first McCarthy’s obvious world-class lying seemed to put his leadership position in question, but that’s not how this conservative drama rolls. Our Kevin dismissed his prevarications as just typical old efforts to divide Republicans ahead of the November election. In other words, McCarthy lied about lying, then lied about why he had lied.

I know it’s difficult to follow the plot, but just know that lying is what it’s all about in this play. To explain just how contemporary this drama is you must understand that such fable-making was once, in a democracy far, far away, a disqualifying action by such senior and seasoned actors. Now, getting caught on tape saying one thing while doing another in public or denying the content of text messages you wrote is just the conservative brand.

We need to stay tuned for Act Three to see how this production ends, but here is a spoiler. Politicians like Lee and McCarthy are nothing more or less than what they appear to be, and they never change. The craven, opportunist given to manipulation and lying to keep status, or power or to save face is a standard character on stage. Shakespeare had many such louts – Iago, Cassius and Richard III – and the modern conservative movement does, as well.

But in our drama, it’s the bit players who bear watching in Act Three, the silent, striving senators like Risch and Crapo in Idaho and Daines in Montana and the get along-go-along members of Congress like McMorris Rodgers in eastern Washington, Rosendale in Montana and Simpson and Fulcher in Idaho. These minor, but still important characters knew back at the beginning of Act One, back when the lying conman at the center of our drama rode down his escalator, that this could all be a horror show. Many of them said so at the time, but then the plot shifted, and craven became cozy. Looking away became commonplace.

By the end of the first act – January 6 – they had so enabled the lying, the conspiracy theorizing and the demonization of all opposition that they found themselves paralyzed by fear. Fear of their own supporters. Fear of losing. Fear of the truth. These characters know the old rule: the weapon that appears in Act One must always be used. And so, it was in the attack on the Capitol.

Act Two, as King Kevin and Mike the Malicious have show us, was about old-fashioned degradation. Humiliation in public in service of advancing the plot.

Act Three will open soon with a great reveal, the documented knowledge that there was a genuine conspiracy afoot to steal an election and degrade democracy, and the conspiracy and degradation continues. The bit players might yet assert themselves, but the playwrights say this show is destined to be a tragedy, so that isn’t at all likely.

But do stay tuned.

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Additional Reading:

If you are inclined to read on … a few suggestions …

Building the “Big Lie”: Inside the Creation of Trump’s Stolen Election Myth

“ProPublica has obtained a trove of internal emails and other documentation that, taken together, tell the inside story of a group of people who propagated a number of the most pervasive theories about how the election was stolen, especially that voting machines were to blame, and helped move them from the far-right fringe to the center of the Republican Party.”

If you want to know how the vast majority of Republican voters came to believe the greatest lie ever told in American politics, ProPublica has the receipts.


The Rise and Fall of World’s Fairs

Smithsonian Magazine has a great piece on the World’s Fair phenomenon and how it’s basically gone away.

Seattle World’s Fair model

“Also known as the Seattle World’s Fair, Century 21 was in many ways no different from its predecessors. Its showcases—designed by architects, corporate leaders and cultural tastemakers—spotlighted a glorious, Cold War–era vision of what the U.S. (and the world) might look like after embracing Space Age technology and mass consumption. Collectively, these displays asserted the strength of the American way of life.”

Great cultural history.


“Everywhere I stop bookshops are thriving”: novelist Jon McGregor tours his latest book by bike

“I am cycling – as well as jumping on the odd train – to as many bookshops as I can get to in a week. Having conducted my last book tour entirely online, it feels good to be outside again: meeting people and holding books and putting miles beneath my wheels. It’s been a while since I’ve been out in the world like this, and I’m interested to know what the place is like. The roads are quiet all the way to Carlisle. There are Ukrainian flags hanging from windows, and builder’s vans outside every other house, and the occasional stink of a lawnmower. The hedgerows are getting ready to come out.”

This is kinda my idea of heaven. From The Guardian.


Thanks a million for following along. Stay in touch. Stay involved.

Great Britain, Journalism, Politics

Political Accountability …

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he of the rumpled suit and head of hair that looks at all times as if he’s just rolled out of his bed, has had a bad few days.

Fined for breaking the law by having a crowded, boozy party at his official residence while all of the UK was in Covid lockdown, Johnson apologized, at least sort of. The mess has been dubbed “Partygate.”

One of Johnson’s parties occurred while Queen Elizabeth, strictly observing the government’s lockdown rules, sat alone at her husband’s funeral. Members of his own party have called on Johnson to step down. He’s adamantly refused.

The British prime minister at “question time”

It’s not difficult to make a 96-year-old hereditary monarch more sympathetic than a boorish and bumbling Boris Johnson, but this one was literally no contest. Boris is the first prime minister in British history to be cited for breaking a law while in office. Potentially even more damaging for the PM is the growing belief that he lied to Parliament about the booze parties. Imagine that – a politician held to account for a lie.

Johnson is additionally under fire for a hare-brained scheme to transport some UK asylum seekers to Rwanda for “reprocessing.” The idea was immediately denounced by, among others, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Church of England. Johnson then privately criticized the archbishop, and the comments leaked. Of course they did.

Meanwhile, Johnson made a much-publicized trip to Ukraine recently to show solidarity with that beleaguered nation’s president and people. The trip was a not so thinly veiled attempt to divert attention from the scandals swirling around Johnson who is this week off to India for the same reason.

Amid cries that Johnson should “pack his bags and go,” the prime minister endured 40 minutes this week of that wonderful British tradition – question time. With support for Johnson eroding among his own Tory Party, but without, at least yet wholesale abandonment of their leader, the opposition pounded away. Oh, to have such debates in our system.

As the Conservative back benchers tried to shout down demands for Johnson’s resignation, opposition leader Keir Stamer couldn’t resist twisting the blade: “The party of Peel and Churchill reduced to shouting and screaming in support of this lawbreaker!”

Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer /Jessica Taylor/via REUTERS

At one level this story confirms that British democracy – and British voters – are every bit as capable as American democracy and voters of electing clowns. But what is different between these two old and venerable democracies is the apparent willingness of the British ruling class – we’ll see soon enough if Johnson survives – to hold politicians to account for their actions, separate from merely relying on voters to eventually correct their silly mistakes.

If Johnson is ultimately forced out of office, it will be because his own party has had enough of him and his nonsense. American conservatives should take note.

The former American president has been credibly accused of inciting an insurrection. There are hours of videotape of what happened after he sent a mob to the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. His words of incitement are on the record. We now have text messages and phone logs confirming much of the basic story line, even a recording of the former guy demanding that election officials change votes to allow him to win in Georgia. A federal judge recently determined that the former president “more likely than not” was engaged in a criminal conspiracy to obstruct Congress and derail the process that certified Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

What Boris Johnson did and eventually admitted to pales in comparison to our recent attempted coup. Nevertheless, the British political system, including elements of Johnson’s own political tribe, are trying to hold him to account. The police already have held him to account, rendering a verdict that the most important politician in the country violated the very law he put in place.

Additionally, as he did this week, the prime minister must stand, uncomfortably and often awkwardly, before his critics and absorb their brickbats. His job is to give back, if he can, a coherent response. It’s all carried live in television. By contrast, we may never hear directly from our own inciter-in-chief about his actions before, during and after January 6.

This American problem of political accountability has metastasized and grown more serious. Most politicians now routinely avoid any regular interaction with journalists or real voters. They gravitate to friendly talk radio shows where a tough question would be “what did you have for breakfast?”

Reporters in Montana have noticed that the state’s Republican governor routinely demolishes his own schedule after it’s been published, showing up an hour early for an event typically including a handpicked audience, and safely avoiding reporters. Veteran Idaho politicians who once would have climbed over their mothers to get in front of a TV camera are stiffing long established debates where they have to face opponents and answer pesky questions. The current occupant of the White House rarely holds a news conference or sits for tough questions.

There are a few notable exceptions that should more correctly be the norm. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden annually holds all-comer town hall meetings in every county in his state, as does Senator Jeff Merkley. Together they have held over 1,500 such events. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley visits every one of the 99 counties in his state every year and is often confronted with pointed questions. The video of many of the exchanges is both informative and gratifying for what it says about political accountability. Good for Grassley that he thinks it’s part of the job to keep showing up.

Grassley did say at a recent town hall that he supports term limits. He’s been in the Senate since 1980 – 42 years.

American democracy has a lot of problems. Too much face time between voters and politicians isn’t on the list. Submitting to pointed questions from journalists isn’t some quaint tradition that can be discarded by someone seeking the public trust.

Holding bumbling public officials to account for mistakes, law breaking and disregard for common sense is the very essence of democracy. Answering questions about their plans and blunders is a minimum requirement for public office. If politicians won’t comply, they don’t deserve your vote. And that is what accountability should look like.

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Additional Reading:

Some suggestions …

Mike Lee’s Role in Trump’s Attempted Coup

Mike Lee and the scandal behind his text messages

This is a truly amazing story about the senator from Utah, one that has received a fraction of the attention it deserves.

“In short: Lee outlined paths for Trump nuts to reverse the election. But, after giving these clowns all his attention, time, and effort, he didn’t, in the end, like how the Trump nuts tried to reverse the election. His disagreement was about tactics, not the mission. But his error was accepting the mission at all.

“And somehow Lee’s defenders look at this and say, ‘BOOM! Hands clean.'”

Here is Amanda Carpenter’s opinion piece from The Bulwark.

And here is a report on the interview the senator gave to his home state newspaper, The Deseret News. Read them both: what happened and the attempt to justify it.

As I said – amazing.


Opinion | The Jan. 6 Committee Can Make a Difference: Simply by Revealing What It’s Found

A good assessment here on what to look for in the public phase of the congressional investigation into the events of January 6.

” … the committee’s principal focus should ultimately be on how to present its investigative findings to the public, irrespective of a referral. The committee may indeed have a good deal of information that the Justice Department does not — depending, again, on the scope and intensity of the department’s work, which even the committee and President Joe Biden do not seem to know. The committee should lay out that information straightforwardly and professionally, just as it did recently in a lawsuit concerning Trump’s legal adviser John Eastman, who tried to withhold emails from the committee.”

I personally think a criminal referral is warranted and necessary, but getting the full story – or as much of it as possible – in front of the public is essential. From Politico.


Will Putin Use Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine?

Hard to believe we are really thinking about this, but we certainly are.

“In plain English, as the Russian war effort to subjugate Ukraine falters and as the West pours in more weaponry, Putin is more than ready to brandish the nuclear saber. This is precisely the kind of development that haunted George F. Kennan during the Cold War—and should haunt contemporary Western statesmen as well.”

A very sobering read from National Interest.


Jackie Robinson was a Republican until the GOP became the ‘white man’s party’

Jackie Robinson’s parents named him “Jack Roosevelt Robinson” after Teddy Roosevelt. Robinson was a Republican until the party moved away from him.

Robinson in October 1960 with then Vice President Richard M. Nixon

“By 1968, Robinson was done with the GOP. He refused to support Nixon when he ran for president again in 1968. He also became more active in the civil rights movement and appeared with King on frequent occasions.

“Robinson also became a prolific writer, including a column for the Amsterdam News, a weekly Black newspaper, where he further developed his fierce opposition to the Republican Party.”

A very interesting piece on Jackie’s politics and activism. What a great American.


All the best. Be well.