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.

—–0—–

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, 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.

—–0—–

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.

—–0—–

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.

GOP, Idaho Politics

Idaho’s Déjà vu … 

The Idaho Republican Party is divided, deeply divided. The incumbent governor faces a serious primary challenge from the far right. The challenger is a favorite of what was once considered the party’s “fringe,” and benefits from a grassroots movement to take the party back from its more moderate wing.

The governor can – and almost constantly does – boast of a booming economy that he contends happened only because of his careful management of the state budget.

The challenger counters that the incumbent is not a true conservative and is out of touch with the party, claiming “If I am elected, the office of governor will become a place where the governor listens.”

The governor recently signed controversial legislation that has drawn condemnation from many quarters. The legislation has been challenged in court and will certainly be an issue in the coming election.

The Republican Party’s ideological battle lines are further defined by the role of the party’s last presidential candidate, a charismatic and deeply controversial figure who some worship, cult-like, as a political savior and others condemn as a threat to American democracy.

Overall voters are in a sour mood. The economy is strong, but inflation is problematic. The Democratic president is unpopular. Federal spending is a concern and Washington is consumed by a little understood war in a far-off place. The conflict has international implications that threaten to pull the country ever deeper into the conflict. In many ways it’s a difficult time to be an incumbent.

Idaho in 2022? Yes.

But also, Idaho in 1966, the last time an incumbent Republican governor was seriously challenged within this own party.

Today the names are Brad Little, Janice McGeachin and Donald Trump. Fifty-six years ago, the names were Bob Smylie, Don Samuelson and Barry Goldwater. The parallels between the two elections are, frankly, a bit eerie.

Barry Goldwater campaigns in Boise in 1964

History does not repeat, at least not precisely. But, if history were to repeat, incumbent Governor Brad Little would be losing sleep, as his predecessor Bob Smylie did toward the end of his 1966 Republican primary.

Smylie, a three-term incumbent and a moderate, was coming off two major accomplishments: he had engineered passage of the first ever Idaho sales tax and in the wake of a Supreme Court mandate had championed a sweeping reapportionment of the state legislature. Both remain part of Smylie’s very impressive legacy during his 12 years as governor, and each also contributed something to his downfall.

Samuelson, a Sandpoint state senator and darling of the far right, was a little-known legislative backbencher when he announced, at the urging of some of the party’s most fervent Barry Goldwater supporters, that he was going after the governor of his own party. Hardly anyone gave Samuelson, a big, backslapping politician with a flattop haircut, any chance. Many ridiculed his less than polished speaking style. He had no legislative record to run on short of opposing Smylie’s sales tax measure. Still, he had what often counts for a lot in politics. Samuelson was in the right place at the right time.

Much like Brad Little now, Smylie barely acknowledged in 1966 that he had an opponent. He touted the economy on his watch and pretended to be above the bitter controversy roiling the Republican Party. A good deal of that controversy related to Goldwater’s candidacy in 1964, when the very conservative Arizona senator lost the presidency in a landslide, but arguably became the most consequential loser in American political history. As William F. Buckley famously quipped: Goldwater lost the presidency to Lyndon Johnson but won it for Ronald Reagan in 1980 when the most conservative wing of the GOP established itself as the dominant force in Republican politics.

The fight raging in Idaho now will help determine if the party goes even farther right and embraces the most militant elements of the right, the foot soldiers and Trumpy loyalists who power Janice McGeachin’s insurgent campaign. In words that fit today’s circumstances one Democratic Party leader called the 1966 Republican race: “a melodrama complete with confusion and terror.” Maybe history does repeat.

Smylie realized too late that basically ignoring Samuelson’s challenge was a mistake. The two men got into a squabble over whether Goldwater had effectively endorsed the incumbent – Goldwater said he hasn’t – which made Smylie look a bit desperate. By late July – Idaho primaries were held in August at the time – Smylie, the polished political pro, was playing defense with Samuelson attacking him on the oldest issue in the Idaho political playbook: water. Smylie had complete control of the state water resource board, Samuelson charged, and was constantly overriding the board’s “wise and important” decisions. The implication was clear. Smylie wasn’t protecting Idaho’s water. (Paging Mike Simpson.)

The other millstone around Smylie’s neck was that old and fatal political disease: the voters were sick of him and ready for change. Combine the substantial and frequently warranted criticism Little has received for his lack of management of Covid-19 with the reality that he has been, as lieutenant governor and governor, at the top of Idaho’s political ladder for 14 straight years, his sell by date could be a factor next month.

Don Samuelson, the guy very few took seriously as a challenger to an entrenched incumbent, absolutely crushed Bob Smylie in the Republican gubernatorial primary in 1966, winning more than 61% of the vote. He went on to win a close contest in November that featured an up-and-coming young Democrat from Orofino by name of Cecil Andrus, as well as controversial third-party candidates – another parallel with 2022, perhaps.

Four years later, Andrus came back and defeated Samuelson who had been a barely competent chief executive. That election ushered in 24 consecutive years of Democratic control of the governor’s office. Here’s where the parallels break down – maybe.

McGeachin is a profoundly flawed candidate who has demonstrated she can’t manage the low six figure budget of her own office let alone the state’s billion-dollar finances. She’s also advanced wacky positions on education and public health, any of which ought to be disqualifying. Yet she has the Trump’s endorsement. And as for wacky positions, if those were disqualifying a lot of Republicans would be looking for work.  

Little, a lackluster campaigner, is sitting on a lead hoping to run out the clock, never a smart political play. A month out from the May primary he must be considered the heavy favorite, if only because a lot of Idahoans see him as a safer choice than a candidate who associates regularly with white supremacists and militia radicals. Little is, in other words, the lesser of evils, a McGeachin lite in blue jeans with many of the same policies packaged more presentably. It’s probably enough to get him across the finish line.

Then again lots of people said the same about Bob Smylie.

—–0—–

Additional Readings:

A few more things I hope you will find of interest …

The guy who brought us CRT panic offers a new far-right agenda: Destroy public education

Hard to believe, but believe it – some on the far right, well-funded and passionate, are out to destroy public education.

“The man in question is Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Since he helped elevate CRT into a national culture war in 2020, Rufo has frequently been cast (or cast himself) as the new master strategist of the right, playing three-dimensional chess as he lays out his battle plans publicly and counts every media mention of them as a win. In the spring of 2021, he famously crowed on social media that he’d ‘successfully frozen’ the CRT ‘brand’ as the overarching ideology behind almost everything conservatives dislike. This January he tweeted about his new goal to ‘bait the Left into opposing [curriculum] ‘transparency,’ in order to trigger conservative suspicions that public schools have something to hide.”

Be worried. These jokers are serious.


Ginni Thomas Is Not A Liar

Politico has a provocative look at the ideology – and belief system – of the wife of the most prominent Supreme Court justice.

Justice Thomas, his very politically active wife and some guy I can’t place

“[Ginni] Thomas’ fervid text messages to then-Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and others, urging vigorous efforts to halt Biden’s ascension to the presidency and keep the incumbent in place, have some evidentiary value to the House’s select Jan. 6 committee as it develops a chronology of events leading to the deadly mayhem on Capitol Hill.

“The Thomas texts, however, are far more revelatory as psychological disclosures — a breathtaking window into the mind of a Trump believer. In that sense, there are three distinct ways in which the Thomas texts illuminate the broader historical moment.”

Worth your time.


In the Judiciary Wars, Republicans Like Lindsey Graham Play Dirtier Than Democrats

Speaking of the judicial branch. From Bill Scher in The Washington Monthly.

“Politics ain’t beanbag, and that’s doubly true for judicial politics. But let’s have a clear-eyed assessment of how both parties have waged battle. 

“Democrats have been more selective in their targets, aiming to block far-right ideologues and set high standards regarding past sexual misconduct. Such an objective does require harsh treatment of individuals. Republicans have sought to deny Democrats the ability to fill seats with anyone.”

Read the entire piece.


The Notorious Legends and Dubious Stories of 10 Literary Deaths

Emily Temple on how some writers left us, like say Evelyn Waugh.

“His body was found in the bathroom, by some accounts with a gash on his forehead and water in his lungs.”

From LitHub.


Thanks for reading. Stay in touch.

Civil Rights, GOP, Judiciary, Supreme Court

The GOP Goes Back in Time …

On September 5, 1922, a very conservative Republican from Utah, George Sutherland, was nominated by Republican President Warren Harding to the U.S. Supreme Court. In many ways, Sutherland was a natural choice: a former state legislator, congressman, senator and a diplomat.

Sutherland’s family eventually left the LDS Church, but he attended what was then Brigham Young Academy and made a reputation as a lawyer defending members of the faith indicted under federal anti-polygamy statutes.

On the afternoon his appointment was submitted to the Senate, Sutherland was confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest court. Quickest confirmation in history. No hearing. No FBI background check. No questions. Harding wanted it. It happened.

Mr. Justice Sutherland

Say this much for George Sutherland: he looked the part of a judge. Trimmed white beard. Regal bearing. And a resume seemingly ideal for a Republican president wanting to maintain a conservative court. Sutherland served as a justice for 18 years, came to be known as one of the “four horsemen,” the ultra conservatives who made the Supreme Court in the 1920’s and 1930’s the most conservative Court since, well, since now. As one legal scholar has noted, Justice Sutherland’s “predominant tendency was to cleave to the past when assessing issues before him.”

I thought about George Sutherland, a Supreme Court justice largely assigned to the judicial history dustbin this week, as a host of Republican senators took turns trying to denigrate the nomination of the first African American woman to the nation’s highest court. Those conservatives had a field day, or at least they tried to have a field day, at the expense of an obviously supremely qualified, supremely patient, supremely measured judge.

The larger context here is the rollback of American jurisprudence, “to cleave to the past.” The ghost of Justice Sutherland stalks the modern Republican Party.

And you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, getting a jump on hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, actually previewed his line of attack days ago on social media. Hawley, most famous for his show of support for Capitol insurrectionists on January 6, sought to paint the judge as “soft on child pornography.”

Hawley, a Stanford and Yale trained lawyer, broadly distorted the judge’s sentencing record, so misrepresenting the facts as to be accused of “a smear” campaign. The conservative National Review called Hawley “a demagogue,” a charge that has the benefit of being true.

Predictably others – Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Tom Cotton and Marsha Blackburn – helped advance the smear, causing CNN White House correspondent John Harwood to remark that “GOP senators shaped their attacks on a Supreme Court pick [with a] sterling resume to appeal to the kinds of people who fantasize about Democrats running a child sex trafficking ring out of a Washington pizzeria because loons like that play such an important role in GOP politics.”

And there was more. Cruz, channeling his inner Joe McCarthy, tried to make Judge Jackson responsible for every book used at the Washington, D.C. private school where she serves on the board. It’s just the kind of school Cruz’s children attend. The judge patiently explained her board doesn’t deal with curriculum, but the attack allowed Cruz to slime the nominee as an advocate of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Right on cue the Republican National Committee distributed a photo of Judge Jackson with her initials replaced with CRT.

As dog whistles go, this level of demagoguery and race baiting makes the tactics of the Senate’s southern segregationist’s of the 50’s and 60’s seem downright mild.

Blackburn asked the witness for a definition of a “woman” before slipping slimily into an attack on transgendered athletes. Lindsey Graham, another attorney, berated Jackson for her role as a defense attorney for detainees at Guantanamo, literally suggesting that some accused of crimes under our system aren’t entitled to representation in court. The subtext of Graham’s sleaze is, of course, the image of a Black woman defending a Muslim terrorist.

Make no mistake, these attacks on Ketanji Brown Jackson are not about her ten-year record as a judge or as a universally praised member of a national commission to review federal sentencing guidelines. No matter her record or what she says to questions based on grievance and the past, Jackson will be lucky to get two Republican votes for confirmation.

The attacks on her are centered squarely on stoking grievance and furthering racial division. This might have been a time for bipartisan celebration of the career of an accomplished woman of color, but that’s not where most in the conservative base live. And while the attacks this week were particularly odious, brutal and fact-free they hardly represent a new page in the conservative playbook. Grievance and culture combat has been and remains the party line.

Graham, who admitted he goes “to church probably three times a year,” pressed Judge Jackson on her faith, even asking her to rank how important her spiritual beliefs are on a scale of 1 to 10. The judge described herself as a non-denominational protestant, and wisely observed that there is no religious test in the Constitution.

Good thing Mr. Justice Sutherland, the lapsed Mormon, never met Lindsey Graham.

Also make no mistake that there is much more at play here than the historic confirmation of one Black woman to the Supreme Court. Indiana Republican Senator Mike Braun spilled those beans when he told an interviewer this week that in his opinion Roe v. Wade had been improperly decided in the 1970’s. Such issues should be left to the states, Braun said. Pressed on whether that kind of judicial philosophy might extend to interracial marriage or state-level bans on the use of contraceptives, Braun opened the alt right kimono.

“You can list a whole host of issues,” Braun said. “When it comes down to whatever they are, I’m going to say that they’re not going to all make you happy within a given state, but that we’re better off having states manifest their points of view rather than homogenizing it across the country, as Roe v. Wade did.”

Braun quickly walked back his comments about interracial marriage saying he misunderstood the question – he clearly did not based on the videotape of his answer – while assuring us, very unconvincingly, that he is all for protecting individual rights.

Indiana Senator Mike Braun before he walked back his comments about interracial marriage

With this line of thinking – remember Judge Jackson was also questioned about Supreme Court decisions on contraceptives and same sex marriage – when Roe is overturned it follows naturally that other landmark court decisions ensuring individual rights will be ripe for re-assessment. Braun didn’t misspeak, he telegraphed the hard right’s judicial playbook for the next decade.

Roe v. Wade will be just the beginning. A Justice Jackson will make history. The most conservative court since George Sutherland’s day will too.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Some additional items you may find of interest …

Was it inevitable? A short history of Russia’s war on Ukraine

Several pieces from various angles on Putin’s continuing war.

“This war was not inevitable, but we have been moving toward it for years: the west, and Russia, and Ukraine. The war itself is not new – it began, as Ukrainians have frequently reminded us in the past two weeks, with the Russian incursion in 2014. But the roots go back even further. We are still experiencing the death throes of the Soviet empire. We are reaping, too, in the west, the fruits of our failed policies in the region after the Soviet collapse.”

From Keith Gessen in The Guardian.

* * * * *

Putin Lives in Historic Analogies and Metaphors

A scene of the carnage outside a shopping area in Kiev

And I found this piece particularly good.

“Political scientist Ivan Krastev is an astute observer of Vladimir Putin. In an interview, he speaks of the Russian president’s isolation, his understanding of Russian history and how he has become a prisoner of his own rhetoric.”

From the German publication Spiegel International.

* * * * *

Assassinating Putin Won’t Work. It Never Has for America

The aforementioned Senator Graham of South Carolina blustered recently about “taking out” the Russian president. The great historian of the CIA, Steven Kinzer, says it’s really a pretty bad idea.

“Americans are impatient by nature. We want quick solutions, even to complex problems. That makes killing a foreign leader seem like a good way to end a war. Every time we have tried it, though, we’ve failed — whether or not the target falls. Morality and legality aside, it doesn’t work. Castro thrived on his ability to survive American plots. In the Congo, almost everything that has happened since Lumumba’s murder has been awful.”

Kinzer writes in Politico.


The Growing Blight of “Infill” McMansions

I quote Mike Lofgren, a long-time congressional staffer, in my book about the 1980 election. He’s found life after Capitol Hill as a writer, and this Washington Monthly piece on the new wave of McMansions – huge and often very ugly homes – in old, established neighborhoods is both well written and spot on.

“While the sheer size of the structure guarantees disharmony with the local houses, the eye-lacerating incongruity of its style brings it to a new level. The structures resemble the architecture of the Loire Valley, Elizabethan England, or Renaissance Tuscany—as imagined by Walt Disney, or perhaps Liberace. As with McMansions everywhere, the new owners could have obtained a sounder design for less, but they prefer the turrets, portes-cochères, and ill-proportioned Palladian windows that they bought.”

Read the whole thing.


John Clellon Holmes on the Funeral of His Longtime Friend Jack Kerouac

The cover of the book that features four essays on Kerouac

My old and dear pal, Rick Ardinger – along with his wife and partner, Rose – have re-published a great book length piece on the celebrated “beat” generation writer Jack Kerouac by Kerouac’s friend John Clellon Holmes.

The book was excerpted recently at the LitHub site. Read the excerpt here and please consider ordering the book.


The LaLee, London: ‘A menu designed for well-heeled tourists’ 

And finally, I am a sucker for the snarky restaurant review. This one is pretty good, or bad …

“It’s attempting to be a thrilling destination restaurant, when in truth it should just be the utilitarian dining option in a fancy boutique London hotel. As a result, it’s neither.”

All righty, then. Here’s the link.


Thanks for following along. Stay engaged. Democracy is on the ballot this year. All hands on deck.

GOP, Trump, Ukraine

A Matter of Character …

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s historic speech to a joint session of Congress properly received a great deal of attention this week. The former comedian turned international leader reminds us not only of the stakes in a country under siege, but that courage and character in the face of great adversity is the very essence of political leadership.

Zelensky’s incredible performance, literally under fire, has summoned comparisons to Winston Churchill’s leadership in 1940. As the Financial Times noted, Zelensky “never aspired to be a war leader. Yet it is precisely his empathy and communication skills, teamed with exceptional guts, that have turned him into the voice of his people and their resistance, and a symbol of modern Ukrainian identity.”

Ukrainian president Zelensky with some of his soldiers

A remarkable gesture by the prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia received less attention, but the dangerous rail journey to Kiev undertaken by the eastern European leaders not only demonstrated solidarity with Zelensky but was also noteworthy for the courage and character the leaders displayed. Both moments will live in history.

If only we could count on a bit more character and courage in our own politics.

Yet, having said that I detected something genuinely encouraging amid all the usual partisan brawling and useless backbiting. Some courage and character broke out.

Utah senator Mitt Romney spoke again, as he has in the past, in support of American democracy, and specifically in support of courage and character. At a fundraising event for embattled Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney, Romney received a standing ovation when he said, “People of character and courage have stood up for right at times when others want to look away. Such a person is Liz Cheney.”

Cheney, of course, is under assault from the fact-free Trumpian alt right and the former president for having the gumption to stand up to our own home-grown anti-Zelensky. Cheney seems determined to get the full story of the January 6 Capitol insurrection no matter where the truth leads.

Here at home, Romney said, “what has kept us from falling in with the same kind of authoritarian leader as Vladimir Putin are the strengths of our institutions, the rule of law, our courts, Congress, and so forth.” That so forth includes character and courage.

Another prominent western Republican had much the same message this week. Writing in the Washington Post, two-term Montana governor and former Republican National Committee chairman Marc Racicot said: “Rarely stopping to inventory the essential qualities in human character, we all know them when we see them: decency, honesty, humility, honor and faithfulness.”

Racicot said his purpose in speaking out about the unfitness of the “leader” of the Republican Party “was to urge all Americans of good sense and honest purpose to confront, define and vindicate the truth. Sometimes that truth has sharp edges, but nonetheless, it is still the truth. This is one of those times.

“And so it must be said again: Donald Trump does not possess the essential qualities of character to lead this nation, most especially in a time of crisis.”

Racicot, typically a measured, quiet man not given to overstatement, was scathing and specific in denouncing Trump’s truly disgusting comments about Putin’s war on Ukraine. “If the former president’s recent remarks about Ukraine had amounted to just another ration of narcissistic self-indulgence, it would have been briefly noted, but not thoroughly examined. Such patent nonsense has become, after all, predictable and expected.”

The former Republican chairman went on: “The vicious actions of the Russian president have been universally condemned by decent people everywhere. But not by Trump. To the contrary, the former president could express only his admiration of the Russian president’s tactics — describing them as ‘savvy,’ ‘smart’ and ‘genius.’

“There is no record of anybody else, other than Trump, anywhere, at any time during this Russian massacre, who has described Vladimir Putin’s actions as ‘savvy,’ ‘smart’ and ‘genius.’”

Racicot said the former president’s remarks display a shocking “lack of maturity and morality” as Putin’s artillery and missiles rain down death on hospitals and schools in Ukraine.

The conclusion of Racicot’s piece in the Post spoke directly to those politicians who duck and cover rather than confront the character and courage issues that confront their party and our county.

Putin: not savvy, but he does have really long tables

 “Those who, during this painful moment in human history, find any redeeming value or humor in the former president’s remarks; or who continue to ignore his profound lack of knowledge or intellectual curiosity; or who excuse his lack of regard for the truth; or who consciously or unconsciously modify the priorities of their own character or moral imperatives to secure his favor, or the favor of his disciples, might do well to remember the words of author J.M. Smith: ‘If you dance with the devil, then you haven’t got a clue, for you think you’ll change the devil, but the devil changes you.’”

Donald Trump did not create the deep fissures that have contributed an America that is more divided, less civil, more mean and less committed to truth. Those attributes, sadly, have long been features of a sprawling, diverse nation that has too rarely confronted its own contradictions.

But Trump, his willing accomplices and those afraid to speak truth about him have exploited division and distrust for the basest of reasons – power and punishment. Maybe the Trumpian fever is about to break – we can hope – since Trump endorsed candidates in several states are floundering.

Still, hoping the stench goes away naturally does not absolve Republicans in Congress, statehouses and city councils from the moral decisions they have made to tolerate this intolerable man and the damage he has done to American democracy. By lack of courage, they have made lack of character acceptable in the highest office of the land.

We cannot predict the future of the brave people of Ukraine or that of their determined president. The future may well hold much more death and destruction with implications far beyond eastern Europe. There is little reason for optimism, but at this historic moment Volodymyr Zelensky and the country he leads reminds us of what truly matters – courage and character.

Celebrate that. Embrace that. Demand that of our leaders.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other items that may be of interest …

MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement fails to address players’ biggest grievances

I’m eager for baseball, but really frustrated by the owner’s lockout and the agreement that – finally – emerged. A good explainer here from Victor Matheson, a sports economist at Holy Cross.

Spring training finally got going this week

“Baseball junkies will notice several cosmetic changes to the game right away: an expanded postseason, sponsor advertisements on jerseys and a designated hitter in the National League. The agreement also opens the door for rule changes in 2023 that include larger bases, limits on defensive shifts and a pitch clock. Other than some real improvements to the salaries for the league’s lowest-paid players, however, the economics of baseball’s underlying labor model remains as flawed as ever.”

Read the whole thing:


“I can help them” – one man’s journey from Portland to Ukraine’s frontlines

A Portland man heads home to fight for Ukraine.

“Sergey is one of about 66,000 Ukrainians returning home to help fight the Russian invasion following President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call for Ukrainians abroad return to the homeland to fight the Russians. Korenev, whose family is Jewish, is one Ukrainian in the US answering the call.”

From The Guardian:


How the North Beat the South, Morally and Economically

A very interesting new book on dueling economies during the Civil War.

“The South was bountiful but impervious to change. In the decade before the war, cotton production jumped from 2.8 million bales to more than 4 million, and the value of its four million slaves doubled. This industry was centered in four hundred mostly contiguous counties of loamy soil that was essentially a monoculture. In the North, farmers sought to improve varieties of wheat and corn. They invested in farm and machinery. Southern planters felt no need to innovate. There was scarcely any patent activity in cotton and little investment in machines. They scarcely invested in capital goods. It was cheaper to breed Negroes.”

The book is Ways and Means: Lincoln and His Cabinet and the Financing of the Civil War by Roger Lowenstein.

Here is the link to an excerpt:


Cooking with Dorothy Sayers

Miss Dorothy L. Sayers, the famous author, whose radio play introducing Christ as a character has caused widespread controversy, is seen here Feb 6, 1942 in London signing a visitors’ book where she addressed the lunch- time service congregation at St. Martin’s-In-The-Fields. (AP Photo)

Loved this piece from The Paris Review.

“Dorothy Sayers was said to enjoy both food and drink in great quantities. And her characters do as well.”

The link:


That’s it for this week. Thanks for following alone. Stay well and be in touch.

GOP, Trump, Ukraine

The Ukraine Memory Hole …

“We have the evidence to prove President Trump ordered the aid withheld, he did so to force Ukraine to help his re-election campaign … we can and will prove President Trump guilty of this conduct and of obstructing the investigation into his conduct.”

California Congressman Adam Schiff during the Trump impeachment trial concerning Ukraine


Military analysts, and most famously the Prussian Carl von Clausewitz, have long referenced the “fog,” or uncertainty that always surrounds war. Given the best planning and skilled execution, battles never unfold the way they are envisioned on a map in a secure location.

Wars become a blur. Information is unreliable. People make mistakes. Supplies get destroyed or sidetracked. Leaders and followers stumble around in the dark amid death, destruction and dread.

A fog of war descends.  

One suspects Vladimir Putin has lived in this state for two weeks now. The war crimes this “small, feral-eyed” man – that’s Senator Mitt Romney correctly describing Putin – has perpetrated in Ukraine will live in infamy. The heinous crimes are visible to all. The former KGB man is doomed. The only questions are how long it will take to be rid of him and how many innocents will die while the world waits.

Putin’s War on Ukraine involves bombing hospitals (NBC photo)

Yet, while we wait and contemplate what Putin has done to a mostly peaceful post-war Europe, at least a Europe where NATO never seriously faced off against a nuclear armed Russian, and before Americans become consumed with gas prices rather than crimes against humanity, we should confront some hard truths about our own Ukraine back story.

Tribal politics have done much to damage the United States. Good faith in our civic life has become as rare as $2 regular at the pump. Lies and misinformation dominate seemingly every debate. The work is underway, therefore, to rewrite the Ukraine narrative in the interest of sparing many conservative politicians of any accounting for how cavalierly they treated issues in eastern Europe when their guy was running the show.

As good a place to start to plug the memory hole is Paul Manafort, the Republican political operative and lobbyist who lived a high life and made millions, as NBC reported in 2017, “working for a corrupt pro-Russian political party that repeatedly disparaged America’s most important military alliance” – that would be NATO.

Just to jog your memory, Manafort “volunteered” for no salary to work on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign even though he was reportedly in dire need of cash.

[Personal observation: political consultants are some of the most money conscious people in our system. They are always afraid the political client will run out of money and they won’t get paid. To work for the pleasure of being associated closely with a world-class narcissist is, to say the least, unusual.]

Manafort did several things during his time with Trump. He engineered a remarkable change in the Republican platform. As the Washington Post reported in July 2016: “The Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington.”

One Republican who opposed the platform sight of hand was Diana Denman, a Texas delegate to the 2016 convention. Her comments in 2016 read in the context of Putin’s war today are little short of stunning. “The Ukrainian people are trying to come out of the past and stay free,” Denman said. “We owe to those who are fighting for freedom still to give them a helping hand.”

“I’m very passionate and supportive of the Reagan foreign policy of peace through strength,” Denman said.

Since there are no coincidences in politics it’s not a stretch to believe the GOP platform switch was orchestrated to please Manafort’s once and potentially future Russian clients. The change in longstanding Republican policy was simply a very cheap gift to Vladimir Putin, who Trump made no secret – then or now – of admiring, indeed emulating.

Paul Manafort, arrested, charged, convicted … pardoned by Trump

We also know, despite ongoing efforts to whitewash the truth, that Manafort gave sensitive Trump campaign polling information to one of his Russian contacts at the very time Putin was engaged in a massive social media disinformation campaign designed to influence the presidential election, and sow division in the American electorate.

[Another reminder: a bipartisan report of the Senate Intelligence Committee detailed the Russian interference. It was no hoax.]

Trump and his cult now claim he was tough with Putin. It’s a lie. Trump essentially endorsed Putin’s annexation – steal – of Crimea. Trump sided with Putin rather than U.S. intelligence agencies on the matter of Russian election interference, infamously saying in Helsinki in July 2018, “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Trump embraced the fiction that Ukraine had meddled in the election, a move he made after Ukrainian records implicated Manafort in a financial scandal that led to his conviction. Manafort was, of course, pardoned by Trump.

Then came the “perfect call” between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, a conversation that was so imperfect as to warrant Trump’s first impeachment. To again plug the memory hole: Trump tried to shake down Zelensky by withholding military assistance from the newly elected president in exchange for a storyline that Ukraine was investigating Joe Biden.

At a time when Ukraine needed building up, Trump did Putin’s bidding.

[Another reminder: remember the Portland hotelier Gordon Sondland? He was U.S. ambassador to the European Union and was in the middle of the Trump shakedown. He testified to the truth of a central fact in Trump’s impeachment. Watch it again and wonder how history might have changed had Republicans senators done their duty.]

Republicans, like Idaho’s Jim Risch and Washington’s Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who minimized and excused Trump’s “drug deal” approach to Ukraine in 2019 are now shamelessly acting like all this history never happened. They had a chance to rid themselves of this cancer on conservatism by convicting Trump of abuse of power. They punted.

“Trump didn’t care about the people of Ukraine—their lives or their democracy,” Amanda Carpenter wrote recently in The Bulwark. “He simply understood that he had power over them and could abuse this power to help his re-election. And his fellow Republicans, almost to a person, either helped him with this blackmail or defended it once it came to light.”

Biden’s handling of Putin’s war has hardly been perfect. He, too, suffers in the fog or war, but Biden has succeeded, at least so far, in uniting and re-invigorating NATO and the European Union, the one really big thing Putin sought, with Trump’s help, to destroy.

The endgame of this crisis, as serious as any in Europe since the 1930’s, is far from clear. What is clear is that one political party, a party once with a tradition of hardheaded national security policy, willingly enabled the dangerous impulses of a failed real estate developer who has never made a secret of his admiration for a dangerous dictator.

While we pray for the people of Ukraine we should remember how far into deceit and depravity that party was willing to take the country – and the world.

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Additional Reading:

A few other items you may find of interest …

Our local-news situation is even worse than we think

A sobering serious from the Columbia Journalism Review.

“As reporting staffs have shrunk, the American population has grown. Since 2004, the number of newspaper newsroom staff per 100,000 people—a measure we might call “coverage density”—has dropped by a staggering 62 percent. This shows statistically what we knew anecdotally: reporters are spread far thinner than they used to be. It also helps explain the rise in ‘ghost newspapers,’ more than 1,000 publications that have lost more than half of their staff in recent years.”

Link to the series


Charter school program favored by Tennessee governor rewrites civil rights history

Good example here of why local news coverage is so darn important.

“If Governor Bill Lee gets his way, Tennessee will become a major player in a network of taxpayer-funded charter schools set up by a Michigan college with close ties to former President Donald Trump.

“Lee calls Hillsdale College’s approach to teaching civics ‘informed patriotism.'”

Some conservatives are worried about kids being “indoctrinated,” and that is exactly what they really want to do. It’s not history, but “informed patriotism.”

Good reporting from Nashville’s NewChannel 5:


Billionaire-backed group promotes hunt for voter fraud, uses discredited techniques

The big lie continues, perhaps even picks up steam in Wisconsin.

“Ever since Trump failed to convince the world that he lost the 2020 election because of fraud, like-minded people across the country have been taking up the same rallying cry, revisiting that vote with an eye toward what will happen in 2022.

“Now, a new group is stepping into a more conspicuous role in that world by providing easily accessible tools for people in Wisconsin, other Midwest battleground states and, eventually, the entire country to forge ahead with a quest to prove election irregularities.”

The money is coming from the hard right Wisconsin industrial family, the Uihleins, part of a network of deep pocketed activists who are keeping the big lie alive. Great reporting from Pro Publica and the Wisconsin Examiner.


Pulitzer winner Walter Mears dies, AP’s ‘Boy on the Bus’

A great tribute to a remarkable political reporter.

Jimmy Carter and the AP’s Walter Mears

“Walter’s impact at the AP, and in the journalism industry as a whole, is hard to overstate,” said Julie Pace, AP executive editor and senior vice president. “He was a champion for a free and fair press, a dogged reporter, an elegant chronicler of history and an inspiration to countless journalists, including myself.”

Read the obit for a glimpse into Walter Mears’ ability to “nail the lead.”


That’s all I got. Thanks for reading. Stay safe.

GOP, Militias

The GOP’s Militia Problem …

Across the vast expanse of the American West the Republican Party has a militia problem. Most Republican elected officials are either in denial that a real problem exists or they are quietly hoping it somehow goes away.

It isn’t going away, and its existence should worry everyone who cares about the future of our democracy.

Journalist Heath Druzin has been reporting on anti-government militia groups in the West for years. He knows and frequently speaks with the leaders and members of groups like The Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters. Druzin keeps tabs on Ammon Bundy, the rancher turned politician who led the armed takeover of an eastern Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016 and who was until this week a Republican candidate for governor of Idaho. Bundy now says he’ll run as an independent.

Heath Druzin’s podcast – “Extremely American” – is a first-class primer on the militia movement

Druzin’s current NPR podcast – “Extremely American” – focuses on what he calls “the ascendent patriot movement,” a collection of “militia members and far-right activists who are simultaneously preparing to fight the government and become part of it.”

Druzin’s reporting, and ample evidence on the ground in Idaho, Montana, Washington and elsewhere, demonstrate the increasing connections between the so called “militia movement” and the Republican Party.

“More and more I started seeing these guys in the Statehouse not out in the mountains shooting guns,” Druzin told me recently. “They were walking into a representative or senator’s office – that is different. They are extremely distrustful of the government, but now they are trying to be part of it.”

The evidence is impossible to ignore.

While Bundy runs for governor in Idaho, Eric Parker, founder of a group he calls “Real 3%ers Idaho,” is a Republican candidate for a state senate seat. Parker’s polished campaign website features a photo of the candidate with Idaho lieutenant governor Janice McGeachin, who has close ties to various militia groups and leaders and is running against incumbent governor Brad Little. Parker has endorsed McGeachin.

Parker’s website has the obligatory bio and statements about his positions. He will base his legislative votes, Parker says, on the Constitution, and he pledges to “work to address all constitutional breakdowns and to re-establish checks-and-balances to our State government.” Parker claims his group helped expand gun rights in Idaho and he wants more state control over public lands and more school choice.

Parker has repeatedly insisted his group – he says it has 2,500 members – is not a militia, and his political rhetoric, laced with references to the Constitution and demanding absolutist rights for gun owners, represents a typical issue mix for a very conservative western Republican. But missing, not surprisingly, from Parker’s bio is any mention of his guilty plea for obstructing a court order related to his involvement with another Bundy family standoff in Nevada in 2014. A widely circulated photo of Parker during the encounter shows him aiming his rifle at federal agents from behind a barricade.

Parker ran for the legislature in 2020. He lost but still gathered nearly 44% of the votes in his south-central Idaho district that ironically includes the liberal enclave of Sun Valley, the tony ski and summer resort. The legislative district’s boundaries were recently redrawn and a credible, establishment Republican is also running for what will be an open seat, so it remains to be seen if Parker has a real path to the state senate.

Representative Chad Christensen, a Republican representing a district in extreme southeastern Idaho, found his political path in 2018. Christensen proudly lists his membership in the John Birch Society and the Oath Keepers on his legislative website and says he’s serving in the legislature “to protect the God-given rights and freedom of people. It doesn’t matter who the foe might be, foreign enemies, groups against liberty, or our very own government.”

Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keeper’s leader, is charged with seditious conspiracy

The Oath Keepers have been a major focus of the Justice Department’s investigation of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The group’s leader, Stewart Rhodes a former paratrooper with a Yale law degree, was arrested in January and charged with seditious conspiracy for what has been described as a wide-ranging plot to storm the Capitol to stop the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election.

“We aren’t getting through this without a civil war,” Rhodes wrote on the encrypted chat app Signal that was included as evidence for his indictment. “Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body, spirit.” Small wonder the FBI describes the Oath Keepers as a “paramilitary organization,” a definition the Southern Poverty Law Center expands to include “promoting their own form of vigilante justice.”

Javed Ali, a former senior director of the National Security Council and a counterterrorism official at the FBI, told CBS’s 60 Minutes in June 2021, that among the loosely connected militia groups the Oath Keepers is the most troubling.

“I think what makes the Oath Keepers unique and challenging,” Ali said, “beyond the fact that they are a formal group with chapters all over the country, is that a large percentage have tactical training and operational experience in either the military or law enforcement. That at least gives them a capability that a lot of other people in this far right space don’t have.”

The group also has friends in high Republican places ranging from Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone, who is frequently accompanied by armed Oath Keeper members, to Montana far right Congressman Matt Rosendale. Rosendale spoke at an Oath Keepers’ event in 2014 before he was elected to Congress, but now dismisses any connection with the group. “Didn’t see it, doesn’t impact me,” Rosendale said when asked about the charges against Rhodes.

Matt Rosendale, now a Montana congressman, at an Oath Keepers rally in Kalispell in 2014

The Republican Party Chairman in Wyoming, William “Frank” Eathorne, is both an outspoken opponent of his state’s GOP congresswoman Liz Cheney and, according to leaked Oath Keepers documents, a member of the group. Eathorne hasn’t addressed publicly his affiliation, but he been busy undercutting the congressional investigation, including leading the charge to formally condemn Cheney and Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger due to their role investigating the January 6 attack.

The leaked Oath Keepers documents identified at least 28 Republican elected officials as members. Two of them – state representatives Mark Finchem of Arizona and David Eastman of Alaska – were part of the January 6 protest, although neither has been charged as a result.

Once upon a time identifying as a Bircher or being a member of gun-toting groups advocating violent political action would have gotten you ostracized by the Republican Party. Now leaders of the party – governors, senators, state legislators – have chosen silence over repudiation even as evidence of political violence grows daily.

In Idaho, Governor Little has even endorsed legislation that would repeal the state’s 95-year-old ban on private militias.

Republicans who should know better have made a dangerous calculation. By adopting a strategy of appeasing the radicals they have made it even more likely the militant fringe will ultimately prevail in taking over the party.

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Additional Reading:

Some other items you may find of interest…

How Thatcher and Murdoch made their secret deal

Before Rupert Murdoch, the Fox News impresario – some would say a principle in the downfall of modern media – became a huge force in American politics, he was pioneering his ruthless style in the U.K. This story was originally published in 2015, but it’s worth a fresh read.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch in 1981

“Successive governments of both parties, scared when they could have been stalwart, have done no better in dealing with Murdoch. Parliament expresses its determination to protect free speech and plurality but it appears that ministers try hard to live up to Murdoch’s classification of politicians as invertebrates.”

The author is Harold Evans, a legendary name in British journalism. Here is the link.


How Democrats Can Win in White Working-Class Districts

Some Democrats, it seems, aren’t interested in the question of how to appeal again to white, working class voters. If the party doesn’t figure it out – and pretty quickly – it’s in for a world of hurt. From Washington Monthly:

“As Sasha Issenberg pointed out in his book The Victory Lab, George W. Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004 conducted ‘search and rescue’ operations to find Republican voters in strong Democratic communities like Duluth, Minnesota. Democrats should do the same, and start by investing in training local volunteers in canvassing and phone techniques. Research has shown that local volunteers are more effective than people brought in from the outside, but they need to be properly trained. And as this magazine has documented, even in the reddest districts there are cadres of loyal Democrats eager to help, if only someone would ask.”

Good piece on the practical nuts and bolt of politics.


American Literature is a History of the Nation’s Libraries

I believe more than ever that our libraries are a bedrock institution of democracy.

Here is what the great Kurt Vonnegut wrote:

“I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles. So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries.”

A superb little essay on the public library.


Thanks for following along here. Be well. Thanks for reading.

Conservation, GOP, Pandemic

Same Song, Second Verse…

Forty-eight years ago this week Republican president Richard Nixon signed into law the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a landmark piece of legislation that, as Nixon said, gave our government tools to protect “the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.”

This most unlikely environmental president, a guy who walked the beach in wing tips, proclaimed the protection of nature “a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans.”

Nixon on the beach in wing tips

The ESA was largely written by scientists, passed Congress with huge bipartisan majorities, and while it became a controversial law, nearly constantly under attack from the political right, it has worked to preserve many species. I regularly, and happily, watch a healthy population of bald eagles soar past my living room window.

The Endangered Species Act is as good a jumping off point as any to assess the state of the county, particularly the widespread rejection of science and how we have come to politicize absolutely everything. We have gone from a broad consensus about the role of science in public policy to some people attacking health care workers and burning face masks to demonstrate their “freedom.”

Just one example makes the case for the incoherence of the moment. Five Republican dominated states – Arkansas, Iowa, Florida, Tennessee and Kansas – have decided to provide unemployment benefits to workers who have lost jobs for refusing to get a free and very effective vaccine against a disease that in two years has killed nearly 820,000 Americans. Talk about perverted science. We are incentivizing people to get sick, and in many cases die.

And the stories continue to accumulate of people who refused a life-saving medicine believing the disease would never catch them, but then did.

For 75 years or so, the conservative movement in America held at bay its most reactionary, violent and conspiracy addled adherents. Beginning with the witch hunting demagogue Joseph McCarthy, the Republican Party flirted with, embraced but ultimately rejected the dividers and the poison spreaders.

William F. Buckley, once regarded as the intellectual godfather of modern conservatism, read the John Birch Society out of the Republican Party in the 1960’s, but the conspiracy crowd never went away. Goldwater lost in a historic landslide, but remains the godfather of the modern GOP.

Now the crowd that would have supported him in the 1960’s is in control, and armed, full of grievance and wallowing in a pond of scummy nonsense.

No state has ridden this wave more shockingly than Idaho. The state has always been a conservative bastion, only infrequently trusting a Democrat with high office. An argument can be made that the seeds of the state’s current hard right lurch were sown in 1964 when Idaho Republicans largely rejected the moderate leadership of then-governor Robert Smylie. Two strands of Idaho Republican politics – conservative and utterly reactionary – have been at war ever since.

Smylie became the target of the hard right when he less than enthusiastically supported Barry Goldwater’s presidential aspirations in 1964. As a governor and former attorney general, Smylie was well known and widely respected nationally and in the West. He was considered, as one regional columnist put it, “one of the shrewdest politicians the GOP has.” Smylie was regularly mentioned as a legitimate vice-presidential candidate or as a cabinet secretary in a Republican administration.

But Goldwaterites took over the party in 1964 and Smylie lost in a Republican primary two years later to one of the most conservative, and as it turned out least capable, candidates to ever reach the governor’s office. After Don Samuelson flamed out doing what the hard right wanted him to do – nothing really – Democrats held the governor’s office for a quarter century. The reactionaries retreated but never went away.

Headline in the Boise Capital Journal after Republican Governor Bob Smylie lost a primary in 1966

In a way, political history is repeating, but this time it’s worse. Many elected Idaho Republicans have embraced an anti-science, anti-public health and anti-education agenda more radical than anything in the 1960’s. More traditional conservatives like a former attorney general, secretary of state and house speaker have been forced to undertake independent efforts to “take back” the state from the modern heirs of earlier Birch Society crackpots.

Meanwhile, a supporter of radical militias and opponent of public education challenges the incumbent governor who has been pushed nearly as far to the right as Samuelson was sixty years ago.

Idaho’s federal delegation, rarely willing to stand against the intolerance and negativity of the most reactionary elements in the Republican Party, has predictably stood idly by while the state’s politics have been polluted and radicalized. The “big lie” about the presidential election has metastasized without so much as a Tweet of opposition from this group of career politicians. They remain more concerned about re-election than the threats of violence that grow louder by the day.

Political courage in the elected ranks of the Republican Party is as endangered as the species that Richard Nixon sought to protect nearly 50 years ago. There is no Bob Smylie, who battled the reactionaries of his day, and few examples to rival that of then-Oregon governor Mark Hatfield who used the big stage of the keynote speech at the Republican convention in 1964 to denounce embittered conservatives.

“There are bigots in this nation,” Hatfield said in 1964, “who spew forth their venom of hate.” He called them out by name – the Birch Society, the Klan and Communist groups. Hatfield, a deeply religious man, was denounced, as the New York Times reported, as “a demagogue and hate monger” who was “anti-Christian.” One critic asked of Hatfield, perfectly in tune with the current moment, “is there no one with courage to make a speech to say ‘I am for white folks?’”

There was a time not that long ago when Idaho Republican leaders tried to foster a broad consensus approach to the state’s governance. Then-governor Dirk Kempthorne, for example, recognized the danger of the state’s shockingly low vaccination rates for school aged children in 1999 and launched a high-profile initiative to educate parents. Do nothing Republican legislators carved up the plan to the point it eventually collapsed into ineffectiveness. Idaho’s vaccination rates remained dismal, and over time resistance turned to denial and then death. Not surprisingly the state’s vaccination rates are the worst in the country.

Twin Falls, Idaho Times-News in 2000

This is not just a failure of politics, but a repudiation of the very concept of government acting in the best interest of the most people. 

In a democratic system the sole reason for political parties to exist is to create a forum for competing policy ideas – ideas based on truth, reason and attainable action that can address real issues. We now have one party unwilling – or unable – to engage rationally on real issues.

So sadly, we leave 2021 where we began this dismal year with American democracy in profound peril. It almost makes you long for the 1960’s.

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Additional Reading:

A few other items for your New Year weekend consideration…

Harry Reid, former Senate majority leader and Democratic kingmaker, dies at 82

Whatever you think of his politics or his approach to legislating, Harry Reid was a figure of monumental importance to modern American politics. His death has occasioned many thoughtful obituaries, none more insightful that this from Megan Messerly in the Nevada Independent.

“Over more than three decades of service in Congress, Reid earned a reputation for fighting relentlessly to protect his home state and everyday Americans. As Senate Democratic leader for a dozen years, he played an instrumental role in passing the Affordable Care Act and shepherding through Congress pivotal economic recovery legislation in the wake of the Great Recession.”

Here is the link to the Independent story with lots of good stuff about Reid’s rather remarkable life.

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid holds an undated photo of him with former Nevada Gov. Mike O’Callahan in his office at Bellagio on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. (Jeff Scheid-Nevada Independent)

Other Reid stories here from my pal Bob Mann.

And this from journalist Zachery D. Carter.


What college football’s past 20 years can teach us about America

Regular readers know I have my issues with college football – too much money, clear evidence of much physical and mental damage to players, too little accountability and much too little to do with higher education.

And, of course, I’ve checked in on a few end of year games. Still, college football is a mess.

“Many college football fans have chosen to just not think about the mounting evidence that the game they love can cause CTE for its players. Such denial not only allows continued enthusiasm for college football but also shapes Americans’ decisions to let their kids play the sport. In 2017, for example, The Wall Street Journal reported that in football-crazy Alabama, the participation rate in high school football had increased by an astounding 40 percent in the previous 10 years, the very same period in which scientists definitively established the football-CTE connection.”

Thoughtful piece here that won’t likely make you feel better about the sport.


Notable People Who Left Us in 2021

A fascinating life story of architect Richard Rogers from The Guardian.

“He was author of the groundbreaking Lloyd’s building in the City of London and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, but his impact was manifest less in his own buildings than in his influence on public policy, which saw a fundamental shift in the perception of inner cities away from being something to endure or escape, to being something desirable to enjoy.”

And Charlie Sykes has a look back at the man who perhaps more than any other remade the modern conservative movement – Rush Limbaugh.

“In the Age of Trump, Limbaugh might not have been the most important figure, but he was a central player in the devolution of the conservative mind.”

Understanding Limbaugh helps explain a whole lot.


People gave up on flu pandemic measures a century ago when they tired of them – and paid a price

You are probably as tired as I am of the pandemic – and reading about it – but this piece is very good. Ironic that many of the people who worry about how history is taught are the biggest spreaders of misinformation about Covid.

History matters.

“If we have anything to learn from the history of the 1918 influenza pandemic, as well as our experience thus far with COVID-19, however, it is that a premature return to pre-pandemic life risks more cases and more deaths.”

Link here to the article by medical historian J. Alexander Navarro.


That’s all I got for you. Except – to a happier New Year. All the best.