2020 Election, Politics

Our Existential Moment…

A terrifying thing about democracy facing existential crisis is that it’s entirely possible – perhaps even natural – to miss the flashing red warning lights.

We have arrived at such a moment. 

There are many and varied reasons for the American decline into tribalism, nationalism, embrace of conspiracy and profound distrust of public institutions. The important thing is that it has happened. 

A non-profit called “More in Common” has released a new report that should send shivers down the spine of every American. The organization is dedicated to battling political polarization, but it’s pushing a huge rock up a very steep hill as it attempts to make progress. 

Polls show that on many big issues from health care to climate Americans are in remarkable alignment, but our partisanship drives massive division

“Every democracy,” the group said in its report, “depends on a threshold level of trust among its citizens and in its key institutions of government, business, and civil society. Currently however, the United States falls short of that ideal.” According to the group’s research “less than one in four Americans believe the federal government, American corporations, and national media to be honest. This distrust is not limited to institutions either: fewer than two in five Americans feel ‘most people can be trusted.’” 

So, we not only distrust government, business and the media, we distrust one another. The center is not holding and the evidence, if you care to see it, is all about.

As this is written it seems almost certain that the U.S. Senate will refuse to undertake a bipartisan investigation of the deadly attack on the Congress on January 6. A proposal to form a 9-11-type commission to investigate the insurrection was approved on a bipartisan basis in the House of Representatives after a senior member of the Republican Party negotiated the details with his Democratic counterpart. This is normal. What is not normal is blocking the investigation for purely partisan reasons, which is happening in the Senate. 

The legislation that passed the House with 35 Republican votes is modeled on the commission that examined the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The leaders of that commission, Republican Tom Kean and Democrat Lee Hamilton, support of the proposal that seems destined to die in the Senate.

“The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was one of the darkest days in the history of our country. Americans deserve an objective and an accurate account of what happened,” Kean and Hamilton said. 

A supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump carries a Confederate flag through the U.S. Capitol rotunda in Washington on Jan 6. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Senate GOP Mitch McConnell’s stand in opposition has the moral equivalence of saying December 7, 1941 was no big deal, or that the politically motivated break in at the Watergate complex in 1972 was merely “a third-rate burglary.” Congress, of course, conducted extensive investigations of both events, not to mention that congressional Republicans investigated the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi for months. Why wouldn’t we want to get at the instigators of those who chanted “hang Mike Pence” on that horrible day? 

The Senate vote to investigate Watergate was 77-0.

Failure to act today in light of January 6th is simply incitement to more political violence. 

Meanwhile the steady drumbeat of conspiracy mongering about a stolen election continues unabated. Conservative legislators in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and a dozen other states are restricting voting rights. As Myrna Perez, the director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Right program says, “Rather than competing for voters, they are trying to fence some voters out and make it harder for them to vote.” 

This is a breakdown of democracy. 

In a number of states, including Idaho and Montana, lawmakers are recklessly flaunting the rule of law in pushing flagrantly unconstitutional legislation and then squandering taxpayer money trying to defend their indefensible work in front of judges who are increasingly criticized for following the law. 

This is trashing the rule of law. 

A year after a white police officer murdered George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis many state legislators want to prohibit teaching about racism. There were twelve mass shootings last weekend in the United States, and another earlier this week

This is a country in crisis yet is unwilling to deal with that crisis. 

Columnist Stuart Rothenberg correctly says that those of us who thought the fever of blind partisanship, insane fakery and grievance politics would end after a decisive presidential election were flat out wrong. In fact, Rothenberg says, things have gotten worse. “Instead of laying the ground for a more thoughtful, less partisan discussion of the challenges facing this country, the past six months have raised additional questions about our country’s future and the rule of law.” 

This is a flashing red-light moment for everyone who loves the idea of America democracy, and an especially fraught moment for people not in politics but still in positions of influence. 

Businesses, for example, need to shut off the flow of campaign cash to every single politician in both parties who won’t abide by the normal and long-established rules of political behavior. If they are spinning fantasies to keep or gain power or won’t accept election results, cut them off.

Journalism, real journalism, in all its forms is under assault, many times from bad faith actors, but also from those who want to make a quick buck trafficking in anger and grievance. Not surprisingly, reporters and editors struggle to navigate a world where a former president still has most of his supporters believing the biggest lie ever told in American politics. The one thing journalists must do in this fact-free word is to go to work every day determined to protect democracy and speak truth to power, especially to those who repeat lies that only divide.

Still, even as we are plagued with profoundly inadequate political leadership from the Potomac to Portland, we need the principled leaders we have to recognize and then address a nation at war with itself. This is a moment to double down on respect for the rule of law, protect democratic institutions and embrace civility.  

“Nothing is free, not even disillusionment,” Robert Stone wrote in an essay more than 35 years ago that he entitled “Does America Still Exist?” “God doesn’t manifest himself in history; men do,” Stone said, as he argued for Americans to live up to its ideals or admit that if we fail to do so we will have betrayed “the noblest vision of civil order and probity that this imperfect world, and the cautious optimism of Western man, will ever be capable of producing.” 

It is our existential moment. Which way do we turn? 


Additional Reading:

A couple of other things worth your time…

Remembering Pat Moynihan

A great Joe Klein piece in The New York Times about the public intellectual turned U.S. senator.

Pat Moynihan in 1971

“Twenty-five years later, we live in a world that was Moynihan’s nightmare: Postmodern tribes — with their own fake ‘facts’ — have gone virtual; affinity groups are organized by cable news networks and social media platforms. Cynicism about government’s ability to do anything useful abounds. It remains to be seen if Joe Biden’s postindustrial version of the New Deal — which Moynihan would have voted for enthusiastically, as it reduces inequality with a minimum of social engineering — will heal the wounds. He would, I suspect, be busily foraging for statistics to prove that tax increases have little or no impact on economic growth. Both George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton proved that (and even Ronald Reagan raised taxes when few were looking).”

Great piece…read it here:

The Unreconstructed Radical

Amid all the rightwing nonsense about “critical race theory” denying the need for examination of America’s racist roots, and the continuing reality of racism, it is good to explore history many of us don’t know.

In fact, that may be the point. So, a new biography of Thaddeus Stevens, a radical if ever there was one.

“Arguing for the disfranchisement of traitors after the Civil War, Stevens counseled a policy of no mercy. Defeating the Confederacy, he knew, meant yanking out root and branch the economic system of slavery and the racial bigotry underlying it. He warned that the failure to fully address the causes of a rebellion against democracy would sooner or later lead to its recurrence. Levine’s study of the neglected, much maligned Stevens offers an opportunity to reflect on what this country might have been—and the merest glimmer of hope for what it might still be.”

Another very good read.

Thanks for reading. Be involved. Stay engaged. All the best.

GOP, Governors, Idaho Politics

A Little Giant…

Given the current dominance of the Republican Party in Idaho it is difficult to remember it wasn’t always so. 

When Wilder, Idaho onion farmer Phil Batt was elected in 1994 as Idaho’s 29th governor he became the first Republican governor in 24 years. Batt defeated a popular incumbent attorney general, and the man some – including his political adversaries – call “the little giant” deserves the lion’s share of the credit for rebuilding a party that had fallen on hard times in the early 1990’s. It was a sea change moment. 

A new book just out celebrates Batt’s life and legacy. The little volume is a timely reminder of a better, more civil, more accomplished time in the state’s politics. Without meaning to do so the book also casts light on how reactionary and radical the state’s dominant political party has become in the last quarter century. 

Phil Batt at the time he was Idaho’s governor from 1995-1999

(The book – Lucky: The Wit and Wisdom of Phil Batt – has been published by Caxton Press, the venerable Idaho publisher based in Caldwell. All sale proceeds will benefit the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights.)

The book’s author, Rod Gramer, a long-time Idaho journalist who now heads Idaho Business for Education, a group trying to push the state’s education system into the 21st Century, conducted a series of interviews with Batt and also commissioned several essays about the man who broke the string of six consecutive Democratic gubernatorial wins. 

Cover of the new book about Batt

I’m honored that Rod asked me to write one of the essays about Batt, a man I’ve known and observed in a variety of roles since 1975. Former governors Butch Otter and Dirk Kempthorne also contributed, as did former Batt staffer Lindy High, journalist Randy Stapilus and long-time political analyst Dr. Jim Weatherby. The book is a fine contribution to Idaho political history. 

Several things distinguish Batt – now 94, a bit frail, but as sharp as ever – particularly when his life and career is considered side-by-side with what passes for Idaho conservatism these days. His legacy really comes down to two big ideas: advancing human rights and resisting an often unaccountable federal bureaucracy. 

In the first instance Batt was – and remains – the state’s foremost advocate for the Human Rights Commission. He championed the creation of the state agency, helped nurture it in its infancy and supports expanding its authority. Batt told Gramer that he supports, without conditions, the long-delayed adoption of human rights protections related to sexual orientation. “They should not be discriminated against,” Batt said in usual terse, authoritative style. 

This position is, of course, at odds with the vast majority of Republicans in the state legislature who have refused with blind determination to even discuss the issue of human rights protections for LGBTQ citizens. 

Batt, the conservative farmer, also insisted on providing worker compensation insurance coverage for farm workers. “Why should a farmworker have to put up with injurious practices when nobody else had to do it,” he asks. 

Batt came by his human rights views in the old-fashioned way: he observed the Jim Crow South up close while in the military in Mississippi. “I saw Blacks forced off the sidewalk to let Whites go by,” he told Gramer. “Separate toilets. Separate drinking fountains. Blacks forced to the back of the bus. Just totally unacceptable, but most of the people didn’t think it was. I thought it was totally unfair. I didn’t like it. It did make an impression on me.” 

The other major piece of Batt’s legacy is the agreement he forced the U.S. Department of Energy to accept that gave Idaho legal leverage over nuclear waste clean-up and further waste storage at the Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho. No other state has such a comprehensive, binding agreement that protects the ground water, health and livelihood of Idaho. Tellingly, Republicans in the congressional delegation and the legislature have been trying to undo the deal every day since Batt signed the agreement in 1995 with the support and encouragement of his friend and occasional political adversary former Democratic Governor Cecil Andrus. 

Batt with his always friend and occasional adversary Cecil D. Andrus

Batt is clearly in the last lap of his long and productive life, and he is correctly predicting that his nuclear waste handiwork will be further eroded when he takes leave. Idahoans will rue the day that happens. Given the arrogance and ignorance of the current ruling class, count on the fact that after the final tributes have been paid to the former governor they’ll do what they can to destroy the best protection Idaho ever had from the overreaching hand of the federal government. 

There is much else to be said about Phil Batt. He can tell and take a joke. He is a farmer who plays a mean jazz clarinet and plays it well enough to have jammed with legendary pianist Gene Harris and guitarist Chet Atkins. He can write – speeches and newspaper columns and humorous essays. He was, as Andrus often said, as honest as the day is long, a man of his word, a giant. 

The two former governors enjoyed a mutual admiration society. As different in their politics as they were in their physical appearance, Batt and Andrus were totally alike in understanding that when practiced by honorable, candid, decent people politics is the way we get things done in our world. You work things out. You make a deal. You compromise. You understand what the other guy needs and find a way forward. 

So much of the modern Republican Party has slipped from the political moorings of a conservative like Phil Batt as to make one wonder if the guy who served in both houses of the legislature, became the leader of the state senate, then lieutenant governor, party chairman and finally governor could win a Republican primary today. He might be too pragmatic, too committed to the process of politics and problem solving to navigate in the land of conspiracy, misinformation and anger that now passes for conservatism.  

“The current political climate is a shameful thing,” Batt told Gramer. “I don’t have an answer for it, but it has badly damaged our country worldwide and can get a lot worse.” 

He’s right, of course, and if Idaho wants a model for how to rescue the state’s politics from the white supremacy, nationalism and fact-free grievance that now consumes the majority party they could do no better than to look to the life and legacy of the committed conservative from Wilder, Idaho. 


Additional Reading:

A couple of other items worthy of your time…

Trump’s place in history? He is the supreme American demagogue

A piece from the Los Angeles Times on The Former Guy’s place in history.

“Trump is not going away. The Republican leaders who have disregarded the truth to enable him should know what future historians are going to say about the former president — and them, by association. He will be showcased for decades to come as the greatest symbol of American demagoguery of all times. Compared with Trump, demagogues like Huey Long and Joseph McCarthy will become footnotes.”

Read the entire thing:


 How the Mexican revolutionary turned to the movies.

“Convinced he could follow and defeat the federals at will, Villa paused in Chihuahua City to act as self-appointed state governor. He issued a decree that all hacendados in the state would have their lands confiscated; profits from their operation would now engorge the public treasury, providing Villa with a steady source of money to pay his soldados. After Huerta was defeated, the land would be divided up among all the people of Chihuahua.”

Fascinating story:

Thanks for hanging around here. All the best.

GOP, Guns, Politics

Rejecting Character…

There was an almost perfect alignment on the political right this week of two seemingly disconnected issues, and where things head with both will tell us a lot about the future of the Republican Party and American democracy. 

At issue in both cases is what was once called character – moral and ethical behavior as a necessary condition for public leadership. Conservatives made a choice, whether they realized it or not, when they embraced as their leader a congenital liar with the ethics of an alley cat, and I know that is damning to alley cats everywhere. 

There are a multitude of reasons why American democracy is imperiled, but one political party abandoning character is pretty high on the causation list. 

So, two examples right now: 

In a Dallas courtroom this week a federal judge ruled that the National Rifle Association (NRA) could not use a bankruptcy proceeding to shift its operations from New York to gun friendly Texas simply in order to avoid governmental oversight. The NRA has been sued in New York in an effort by the attorney general there to shut down the powerful and powerfully corrupt outfit. 

Wayne LaPierre, executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, U.S. February 28, 2021. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

“The NRA’s influence has been so powerful that the organization went unchecked for decades while top executives funneled millions into their own pockets,” New York attorney general Letitia James said when she filed the lawsuit last year. 

The Texas judge essentially agreed that the NRA defense against fraud charges was itself fraudulent. Now, as the New York litigation proceeds, we will almost certainly get a detailed look at the millions and millions of dollars of blood money that have gushed for years through the NRA, enriching charlatans like Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s chief mouthpiece. This money, ginned up by gun manufacturers and gullible Americans who have bought the fiction that any restrictions on guns is tantamount to a commie plot, has allowed an allegedly non-profit organization to make the Republican Party its wholly owned subsidiary. 

LaPierre testified during the bankruptcy proceeding, as the New York Times noted, “that he didn’t know his former chief financial officer had received a $360,000-a-year consulting contract after leaving under a cloud, or that his personal travel agent, hired by the NRA, was charging a 10 percent booking fee for charter flights on top of a retainer that could reach $26,000 a month for Mr. LaPierre’s globe-trotting travel to places like the Bahamas and Lake Como in Italy. Mr. LaPierre’s close aide, Millie Hallow, a felon, was even kept on after being caught diverting $40,000 in NRA funds for her son’s wedding and other personal expenses.” 

The judge was astounded that LaPierre had cooked up the bankruptcy ruse without consulting many top NRA executives or informing most of the organization’s board of directors. In the “all politics is local” department: former Idaho Senator Larry Craig has been on the NRA board since 1983 and a former executive director of the Idaho Republican Party has run the public relations shop at the NRA for years. Both have had front row seats on the alleged corruption. Expect to hear more about their roles. 

Almost everyone even vaguely familiar with the NRA over the last 40 years should have seen its corruption was hiding in plain sight. Lavish spending on its executives and sweetheart contracts with law and marketing firms were part of the grifting, as were the political contributions flowing to Republican candidates and doubling as protection money.

Republicans nevertheless kept cashing the NRA checks because, well, why not. And stoking anger about Democrats coming for your guns has proven to be good politics even if the weekly mass shootings are kind of difficult to explain. In other words: character be damned. 

A few hours after the fraud and corruption at the NRA was made even more obvious, Republicans in the House of Representatives sacked from her leadership position the not-so-gentlewoman from Wyoming, Liz Cheney. Cheney’s crime was, of course, to take issue with the biggest lie – and the biggest liar – in the history of American politics. Fundamentally Cheney was calling out the GOP’s abandonment of character. 

Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney speaks to reporters minutes after losing her House leadership job over her criticism of the former guy

“Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,” Cheney said before her cowardly colleagues, including Idaho’s two House sissies, sent her packing on a wimpy non-recorded voice vote. “I will not participate in that,” Cheney said. “I will not sit back and watch in silence, while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”

Cheney understands that there are bigger things at stake here than retaining political power. She’s playing a long game, hoping enough conservatives come to their senses and realize the party’s future shouldn’t involve the guy who incited an insurrection over the lie that an election was stolen. 

Lord help her. She’ll need it

“The pattern is striking,” Jeff Greenfield wrote recently in Politico, “if you want to survive as a Republican official, you will support the former president; if you support the former president, you will support laws that reflect his conviction that the election was stolen; if you enact those rules, you are making it more possible that he will win a second term. The party is talking with one voice; the voice is Trump’s, and it’s one that plenty of Americans are still perfectly receptive to.”

Once you accept the proposition that character is fungible, that lying to your supporters is the price to be paid for re-election and that your office in the Rayburn Building is more important than resisting an open attack on democracy, what’s left? 

In a host of ways many conservatives, maybe even most have made their deal with the devil in his many forms. In the near term the bet looks pretty good. You can fool some of the people all of the time, after all, and maybe even win back the House next year. 

In the longer run, by abandoning character, honesty and facts as the foundation blocks of democracy you’re left with a political movement that believes in nothing – except power. A Republican Party that continues to embrace the NRA and reject a Liz Cheney is precisely such a political movement. 


Additional Reading…

The Secret Papers of Lee Atwater, Who Invented the Scurrilous Tactics That Trump Normalized

This is a very good story by a very good reporter, Jane Mayer. I would only quibble over whether Lee Atwater “invented” his approach to politics. I argue in my latest book that he adapted his style from an even earlier group of conservative activists, but Atwater certainly perfected the scurrilous tactics.

Lee Atwater (right) with Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, three guys who helped create the anger, grievance and fear tactics that now dominate the political right

“In the nineteen-eighties, [Lee] Atwater became infamous for his effective use of smears. Probably his best-known one was tying Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, Bush’s Democratic Presidential opponent in 1988, to Willie Horton, a Black convict who went on a crime spree after getting paroled in the state. A menacing ad featuring Horton was a blatant attempt to stir fear among white voters that Dukakis would be soft on crime. At the very end of his life, Atwater publicly apologized to Dukakis for it. But Atwater’s draft memoir makes clear that he had already mastered the dark political arts as a teen-ager. In fact, it seems that practically everything Atwater learned about politics he learned in high school. It’s easy to see the future of the Republican Party in the anti-intellectual dirty tricks of his school days.”

Read the whole thing:

The Republican War Against Trans Kids

“Across the country, 33 states have introduced more than 100 bills that Chase Strangio, the deputy director for transgender justice at the ACLU, argues have a clear-cut goal in totality—’to stop people from being trans.’ Notably, the bulk of these bills focuses on kids: Some would prevent trans kids from using the restroom or locker room that corresponds with their self-identification; some would ban trans kids from participating in same-gender youth sports; others would outlaw gender-affirming health care for minors; and still others would essentially ban LGBTQ issues from being taught in classrooms. In April, the Florida state house even passed a bill that would allow for genital inspections of trans student athletes.”

Read the story here and another related piece here.

Seeking Stillness and Sunlight: On the Art of Fly-Fishing

The fishing life…

“Angling is about anticipation and planning trips far in the future, but it also has a storied history. This sport has been practiced since Izaak Walton’s Compleat Angler was published in 1653, in ways that are, to the naked eye, fairly unchanged today, like a Shakespeare play performed on a thrust stage. Some people justify fly fishing with claims that it’s poetic, and, yes, there are moments of pure poetry, but the pleasures of fishing are also tactile and immediate. The theoretical considerations tend to enter my mind, sometimes against my will, when I’m not catching anything..” 

If you love to fly fish you’ll enjoy this piece. David Coggins on the fishing life. 


Confronting History…

In one particularly harrowing scene in A French Village, a brilliant television series that became a sensation when it first aired in France, the town’s principal returns to his school just after a train filled with Jews has left the village, bound we know not where. 

The deported, most of them French, have been housed in the crowded school, separated from their children, in deplorable conditions. The principal pauses briefly among the jumble of possessions left behind – bedding, clothing, suitcases, photos – and calmly orders two young men to clean up the mess. 

The message is clear: Life must go on, and A French Village makes it clear that at all times “to live is to choose.” And the choosing makes all the difference. 

A French Village – must see television for the history and for our moment

The series, now available on several streaming services, is intoxicatingly addictive, beautifully constructed and features an ensemble cast of actors who dramatize, both believably and in historically correct detail, a story of how the Nazi occupation during World War II affected the population of one small French town. To say the least it is complicated. 

It might seem that the events of 1940’s France have little or nothing to do with our tumultuous times and our struggle to understand our own history and disabuse our own myths, but I have found myself pondering the lessons of acceptance, collaboration and denial that are explored in the series. There is much to learn. 

The German occupation of France from the summer of 1940, when a collaborative French government surrendered to the Nazi, to the summer of 1944 when Allied armies, with help from Free French forces, liberated the country, remains a period of fascination and endless debate. 

One reviewer has suggested A French Village became a sensation in France “because it was the first major French television series seriously to address collaboration during the Nazi occupation,” but there is more to it than that. At its core the story probes, uncomfortably most of the time, what it means to resist

Some in the small village push back, but still accept. One gruff old French police officer attempts in his own way to merely obstruct and disrupt the Nazis before he begins to openly share information that is valuable to the underground resistance. A young French police chief, his chances for promotion linked to his willing collaboration with his German counterparts, embraces a role aiding the Nazi until his own feelings for a Jewish refugee get in the way. 

The mayor’s wife, an aspiring artist played by the French actress Audrey Fleurot, enters into an affair with the top Nazi intelligence official, breaks it off and then goes back to him. Even members of the underground resistance, many of them Communist – we are nonetheless predisposed to applaud their courage and patriotism – are maddeningly unlikeable at times. 

For fascism to flourish in Europe in the 1930’s, average, run of the mill people in Italy, Germany, Spain and elsewhere, the dominant, privileged white middle class, had to believe they were victims of something dangerous that was out to get them. They were made to believe that “extremism” and constant “emergencies” were daily threats. 

The Vichy government of Marshal Henri Petain (left) collaborated with the Nazis to deport Jews, stifle domestic opposition and even sent troops to fight along side the Germans

When fascism came to France in 1940 in the form of the authoritarian Vichy government, the population had to be convinced to accept the same ideas. Many did, and for often complicated reasons. They worried about making a living. They worried about social status. They believed that a strong man at the head of the state would bring order out of chaos. Many were willing to see democracy suspended, indeed destroyed in order to feel secure. 

“Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given,” the historian Timothy Snyder writes in his book On Tyranny. Snyder asks, “does the history of tyranny appeal to the United States?” Or are we somehow immune to the disease that has infected so many others? 

At another level the series about the French in their 1940’s village forces a confrontation with history. Does it really matter what happened 80 years ago? Surely the anti-Semitism at the center of A French Village is no longer a concern of ours. When politicians demonize “others” on the basis of race, religion, gender, sexual identity or political belief, we Americans have no stake in that fight, correct? 

Separating refugee children from their parents doesn’t happen any longer, right? And why should we worry about the effects on the kids and the parents, they’re just nameless, faceless people from another county after all. 

Welcoming, indeed embracing lies told by authoritarians who are obsessed with power can’t warp our politics, can it? Allowing police to act beyond legal accountability isn’t something we need worry about, correct? Refusing to act in the face of pure evil is not a choice we need to make, or is it? 

While conservative state legislatures across the land attempt to limit what teachers can talk about in classrooms – go light on the whole slavery and racism business – and as heavily armed neo-fascist militias show up at political rallies to provide “security” for their chosen leaders and as some on the conservative right equate the Black Lives Matter movement with extremism and socialism are there any lessons to learn from history? 

The journalist and cultural historian Alan Riding has observed of France during and since its Nazi occupation that “probably no other country better illustrates the perils assumed by a population that is educated to revere theories: it becomes fertile ground for extremism.”

The French were – and are – a cultured, sophisticated people, exceptional in many ways and see themselves as many Americans see themselves: chosen and special. Yet so many so easily collapsed into collaboration with abject evil and today France flirts openly with a new generation of fascists

In his book How Fascism Works, historian Jason Stanley notes that the role of French police in arresting and deporting French Jews to certain death is well documented. It’s been taught in the schools. But the leader of France’s far right party, Marine Le Pen, as recently as 2017, blamed what she called dominant liberal culture for teaching French children “that they have all the reasons to criticize [the country], and to only see, perhaps, the darkest aspects of our history.” So, she said, “I want them to be proud of being French again.” 

If much of the conservative right in America gets its way our children and grandchildren won’t have to grapple with our messy, complicated past. We are seeing that facts, with minimal effort, can be whitewashed, while enduring myths only need burnishing. 


Additional Reading:

For your consideration…some items I found of interest and you might, as well.

Miracle and Tragedy of the 2020 Election

A deep dive in The Journal of Democracy into just what went on during the voting in the contentious 2020 election.

“In the midst of a pandemic posing unprecedented challenges, local and state administrators pulled off a safe, secure, and professional election. This article discusses metrics of success in the adaptations that took place—record-high turnout, widespread voter satisfaction, a doubling of mail voting without a concomitant increase in problems often associated with absentee ballots, and the recruitment of hundreds of thousands of new poll workers. However, a competing narrative of a “stolen election” led to a historically deep chasm between partisans in their trust of the election process and outcome.”

Read it and be prepared to disagree with your Trumpian relative who will certainly have an alternative view.

Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke

I recent came across this marvelous photo – Churchill and, as he called them, “the architects of victory,” the top British military leaders of World War II.

Lord Alanbrooke is to the PM’s right and he is sporting a rare smile

I’ve long been fascinated with Alanbrooke, that him to Churchill’s immediate right, who was Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the British counterpart to U.S. General George Marshall. Another Brit general, Bernard Montgomery, a man with a famously outsized ego, said Alanbrooke was the single best soldier the war produced.

Alanbrooke, an Ulsterman, fought with distinction on the western front in The Great War, was a corps commander at the time of Dunkirk and is credited with helping save much of the British Expeditionary Force that was thought to be trapped in France.

He later became Churchill’s top military advisor, a job that almost surely would have been demanding and unrelenting. Above all he was a damn good leader.

“Alanbrooke’s unrelenting focus, work ethic, and ability to manage stress, particularly in the days and weeks around the seemingly imminent German invasion of Great Britain in 1940, sets a standard that any contemporary policymaker would do well to emulate.”

A fine review of Alanbrooke’s wartime diaries, notes and observations he kept – thank goodness he did – despite rules to the contrary.

The GOP Delenda Est

I find myself thinking – often several times a day – how can it be that I am so concerned about the future of American democracy and so many of my fellow citizens see determinedly caught up in efforts to destroy that same democracy.

At the risk of being alarmist – OK, I am alarmed – millions of Americans have bought into a Big Lie about the election and they seem ready to double down on more really, really crazy stuff. They were perfectly comfortable with an effort to steal a presidential election and they seem determined to make sure they can succeed next time.

I highly recommend this piece by Richard North Patterson in The Bulwark. He’s blunt: the GOP can’t be reformed, worked with or ignored. It must be destroyed.

“This political Petri dish redefines conservatism as extremism. The appallingly stupid and bigoted Marjorie Taylor Greene enjoys a plus-16 approval rating among Republicans; for the sin of denouncing Trump’s behaviors on January 6, the staunch conservative Liz Cheney is underwater by 32 percent. Recent panelists at CPAC included representatives Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs, both tied to extremist groups; the gun-toting Lauren Boebert, who tweeted ‘I am the militia‘; and the creepy far-right demagogue Matt Gaetz.”

Here’s the link:

Thanks for reading. I love to hear from you. Drop a line: mcjohnson2232@gmail.com