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.

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.

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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.

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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.