2024 Election, Idaho Politics, Law and Justice, Trump

The Second Big Lie …

The Trump Era – and, of course, the convicted felon himself – have done potentially irreparable harm to American democracy by perpetuating the greatest lie in our history, namely that a presidential election was fraudulent.

By repeating this lie over and over and over again an idea has been deeply embedded in the minds of millions that no election save the one Donald Trump wins is legitimate. All the court cases, the indictments and convictions for election interference, all the fraud of this big lie has reshaped American politics.

One poll earlier this year found one-third of Americans continue to believe the lie, and apparently there is no dissuading them.

Supporting Trump after his felony conviction is the gist of the second big lie

The January 6, 2021 insurrection at our nation’s Capital was a natural outcome of this enormous lie. People who believed Trump and his fellow lie spreaders, and some who clearly wanted to believe, attempted to halt the peaceful transfer of power, a bedrock concept of American democracy that was never before in doubt, even in the tumultuous days before our Civil War.

Now comes Trump’s second big lie, namely that his recent conviction in a New York state court on 34 felony counts was a rigged process perpetrated by a “weaponized” U.S. Justice Department acting at the direction of the president of the United States.

This lie, as with the other big one, has now been amplified by nearly every Republican member of Congress, many of them with law degrees, providing at least a modicum of evidence that they know better, but still they lie.

Idaho: One State’s Embrace of the Big Lies

Consider the stunning pandering to Trump of former prosecutor now senator James E. Risch.

“As a former prosecutor,” Risch said, “I learned early the importance of our constitutional right to the due process of law. Due process is simply basic fairness … New York’s mock trial did not attempt even an appearance of fairness.”

Or Mike Crapo, a Harvard educated lawyer, who took to social media to proclaim that “a politically motivated prosecutor has ashamedly and unprecedentedly weaponized the legal system against a former United States President.” A “dangerous move,” the senator said, “threatening the security of our entire justice system.”

Or Congressman Mike Simpson, in full MAGA dudgeon and singing from the Trump script, also invoked the term “weaponized.” Trump’s unanimous guilty verdict, Simpson thundered, was the result of an “absurd political trial.”

Or Congressman Russ Fulcher: “Americans are awake; the current president’s unjust sham trial of a political opponent has mobilized an army of freedom-loving Americans to take our country back!” Fulcher actually attempted a twofer with his denunciation of the justice system, for good measure throwing in a reference to “unsecured elections.”

Let’s unpack the views of this Grand Old Party of “law and order,” as it once could call itself, by remembering an old saying that has never seemed more pertinent: “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

First, and most strikingly, no Republican, least not the four mentioned here, proclaimed Trump’s innocence. None dealt with the actual charges brought against him, including falsifying business records to hide a hush money payment related to his one night stand with adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Through this illegal scheme, prosecutors argued, and a 12 person jury agreed, Trump was determined to keep the tryst with a porn star secret from voters by paying hush money. The timing of these acts matter because at the time they happened the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, where Trump bragged of grabbing women’s genitals, had recently been released.

This second big lie, like the first, can’t be bothered by evidence presented or the deliberate judicial process that brought 12 jurors to a unanimous decision. None of this was manufactured. Donald Trump did this to himself.

Then there is the Trumpian charge that Joe Biden engineered all this – “the current president’s unjust sham trial” – simply to get his political opponent. Again the facts are inconvenient.

New York prosecutor, Alvin Bragg, is a state prosecutor not answerable to the Justice Department. Biden didn’t appoint him. New York voters elected him just as Ada County voters elected Risch back in his prosecutor days. Trump might have been prosecuted in federal court for his crimes, but he wasn’t. It was a state-level prosecution based on state law.

And what of the “weaponized” Justice Department of a Democratic administration? Maybe Republicans are referring to the “weaponized” prosecution of the president’s son, Hunter Biden, by the U.S government.

Or perhaps Republicans are thinking of the “weaponized” prosecution on federal corruption charges, again by the Biden Justice Department, of two Democratic – New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez and Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar. Menendez is being prosecuted for, among other things, accepting payoffs from foreign governments, a charge problematic enough for Democrats that they risk a safe Senate seat as a result. Yet, Biden’s “weaponized” Justice Department is pressing the case against a high profile Democrat.

And what of those 12 New York jurors? It was telling that Trump trial judge, New York County Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, told potential jurors at the outset of jury selection that anyone who didn’t want to be considered for the Trump jury could simply leave. Many did, presumably some of them not eager to run the risk of being harassed, or worse, by Trump and his followers.

The remaining jurors, including all those selected for the trial, were subject to vetting by Trump’s defense team. The dozen selected, at least before the verdict, satisfied those lawyers.

Imagine their responsibility: The first former president indicted and convicted of a felony. That these jurors took their civic duty as a solemn, patriotic responsibility of citizenship deserves not only respect but deference.

Calling the Trump trial an “absurd political trial,” as Simpson did, or a “mock trial,” as Risch has done has one particularly pernicious outcome. It denigrates the American citizens who served on that jury – the people who actually heard the evidence and had the duty to sift through all of it – despite knowing they might well jeopardize their own personal safety by signing on for the responsibility.

And what are these Idaho elected officials saying by playing their own voters for such rubes? How do they credibly dismiss 34 felony convictions? And what of the 54 charges still pending against Trump? Is each and every one a manufactured “absurd political trial” where “mock” justice will play out?

We know – all of us know – why Risch and Crapo and the rest are behaving as they are. They are afraid.

Afraid of Trump.

Afraid of the MAGA mob.

Afraid of a future primary opponent.

Afraid of losing a job.

Afraid, as former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has discovered, that one can be cast out of the party of “law and order” for simply saying that Americans should respect the outcome of a trial.

The second big lie joins the first as Trump’s contribution to America’s future. Recovery from these lies will not be easy or quick, and the next few months will determine whether recovery is even possible.

This November we will not merely elect a president. We will conduct a referendum on whether American institutions, including courts and judges and juries, can again be respected and defended.

Tragically, many Republicans have already voted NO.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other items of note …

A Republican Election Clerk vs. Trump Die-Hards in a World of Lies

Remarkable story here about how the lies have impacted a long-time county clerk in a rural county in Nevada.

“This is actually insane,” said Angela Jewell, the deputy clerk. “This is how democracies end. There must be some way to reason with a few of these people.”

Link to full story here.


The MLB just integrated its records. The Pulitzers should follow baseball’s lead

“Now and then since 1974, the Pulitzer Prize Board has offered special citations to figures, mostly in music and the arts. These have included Black artists such as Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Scott Joplin and Aretha Franklin, who joined white honorees such as George Gershwin, Bob Dylan and Hank Williams.

“The work of those Black artists could certainly be joined with future Pulitzer Legacy Prize winners which, over time, would create a coherent historical, literary, cultural, and journalistic record that would fill out the story of America’s greatness.”

Great piece from Poynter.


The death and life of the great British pub

I’m a sucker for this kind of story.

“Dave Murphy was 11 in 1978, the year his parents signed their first lease at the Golden Lion, and moved the family in to rooms on the building’s upper storeys. Their previous home, in Holloway, had backed on to a prison. Now Dave got to tell school friends he lived in a pub. Before remaking himself as a landlord, John Murphy, originally from Cork, had worked for years in London as a bus driver. Mary, from Galway, had been a nurse. ‘You’re nursing the sick. And suddenly you’re nursing the drinkers,’ Mary recalled, of the transition. ‘I don’t think I found it too difficult.'”

From the archives of The Guardian.


Thanks for reading. Always good to hear from you. And all the best.

2024 Election, GOP, Trump

The Appeal of Our Authoritarian …

(NOTE: This column was filed before a New York City jury on Thursday returned guilty verdicts on 34 felony charges against Donald Trump.)

—–

Well, it isn’t as though we haven’t been warned.

Some of us, believing that common sense — even common decency — would ultimately prevail, continue to expect the best in the face of the worst. The good old USA has been through a whole lot, they say, and we’ll get through this.

Others, believing their political opponents are always wrong and seething with anger at the changing faces of their country, talk of “derangement syndrome.” They are willing to pass off former President Donald Trump’s vulgar threats to judges, insults to women, “Muslim bans,” “Mexican rapists” and unhinged suggestions that a gulp of bleach could end a deadly pandemic. His boast that a third term, the Constitution notwithstanding, is part of his plan doesn’t faze them.

Our felon-in-chief …

Still others believe our courts will enforce the rule of law against our authoritarian and his lawless acolytes, even as he stood outside his courtroom mouthing the endless lies of a lifelong con man who promises to pardon the men and women convicted of mounting an insurrection to overturn an election he lost. He knows democracy works on the honor system and he has none.

Some contend the old man in the White House is the problem. President Joe Biden is too feeble, too liberal, a destroyer of some idealized vision of America that never was and never will be. It’s all about the economy, they say. But after a prolonged pandemic that our authoritarian mishandled with deadly consequences, the U.S. economy is doing quite well.

As The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell notes: “In reality, the U.S. economy has been growing consistently for nearly two years, even after accounting for inflation. By virtually every benchmark, in fact, we’re exceeding growth expectations. The U.S. economy has been outperforming other advanced economies. We’re also doing better than pre-pandemic forecasts had situated us by now, both in terms of gross domestic product and the number of jobs out there. This generally isn’t true elsewhere in the world.”

But those are facts, not the hard liquor of grievance that powers authoritarian politics.

It’s not as though Trump hasn’t told us he plans to be a dictator — only for a day he confidently proclaims — and such talk is easy for some to dismiss, but only if you don’t listen to the detailed plans for his second term. He’s really not going to destroy the nonpartisan civil service, is he? Those mass deportations and internment camps are just campaign season talk, aren’t they? Withdrawal from NATO: Can he do that? Wholesale pardons? Surely not.

Sure he provides a platform for white nationalist racism and posts a video saying all liberals will die when he’s back in power, but that’s just the way he talks, right? Claims of total immunity? Not to worry. The courts won’t let anything really, really bad happen, will they?

He talks of “human scum” and tells supporters he will deport all the pro-Palestinian protesters while courting Wall Street and Big Oil with promises of more tax cuts and more warming of the climate. But he was good for business, wasn’t he? At least his tax cuts worked for the people who frequent his golf courses.

Trump has outsourced his plans for another term, such as they are, to the Heritage Foundation, which has produced “Project 2025,” an ultra-right-wing manifesto that proposes to be the playbook for an authoritarian American state: Eliminate public education, white Christian Nationalism, further restrict abortion, deport millions and institute a loyalty test for anyone in the federal government. The “project” is our “Mein Kampf” for the 21st century.

Of course, it’s not like he has any real plan to improve anything. But that’s not the point, is it? He makes some of us feel really good by saying outrageous things and giving a middle finger to all the old complications of democracy. He speaks for me, some say, when he speaks of hatred and revenge and attacks a “crooked” legal system that strangely is best exemplified by his Supreme Court, which reeks of the entitlement, arrogance and elitism that his supporters believe he’ll eviscerate.

After promising to destroy 50 years of established law concerning abortion, he now has no straight answer about whether he’d support a national ban or how he feels about contraception. Testimony at his recent trial confirmed he didn’t wear a condom with the porn star, so perhaps we have his views on the subject.

As Marianne Levine wrote in The Washington Post: “In under 48 hours this week, Donald Trump’s social media account promoted a video featuring a term frequently associated with Nazi Germany and later removed it. He suggested he was open to states restricting access to contraceptives and then walked that back. He falsely accused President Biden of being ‘locked & loaded’ to ‘take me out.’ And in between, he was in court as his legal team rested its case in his ongoing criminal trial.”

It isn’t as though we haven’t been warned.

“His campaign speeches these days ring with Nazi rhetoric,” The Guardian’s Margaret Sullivan wrote this week, “as he claims that immigrants are ‘poisoning the blood of our country’ and that his political opponents are ‘vermin.’ ”

Trump recently posted a video calling for a “unified Reich.” This language isn’t any longer a mere dog whistle, it is a blaring claxon. And it is working with many of his followers who willingly embrace his brand of American fascism.

George Orwell wrote knowingly of the appeal and danger of authoritarians

To understand the appeal of what has happened one must understand the history of authoritarian movements, as the great British journalist and writer George Orwell understood them in the 1930s and later.

In his famous 1940 review of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto — the aforementioned “Mein Kampf” — Orwell wrote: “The initial, personal cause of his grievance against the universe can only be guessed at; but at any rate the grievance is here. He is the martyr, the victim, Prometheus chained to the rock, the self-sacrificing hero who fights single-handed against impossible odds. If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon.”

The appeal of the authoritarian is visceral and very personal, Orwell said, for “Hitler could not have succeeded against his many rivals if it had not been for the attraction of his own personality, which one can feel even in the clumsy writing of ‘Mein Kampf,’ and which is no doubt overwhelming when one hears his speeches. … The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him. One feels it again when one sees his photographs … a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way, it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified, and there is little doubt that that is how Hitler sees himself.”

Our authoritarian has, of course, repeatedly compared himself to Jesus.

It isn’t as though we haven’t been warned.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other items worthy of your time …

How Paul Manafort Tried to Make Money With a Project Supposedly Tied to the Chinese Regime

I grant you that it is difficult to keep track of all the con men, grifters, low lifes and convicted felons in Trump World. But never forget Paul Manafort, among the sleaziest bottom feeders in American political history.

Manafort before he was pardoned by Trump

Manafort, convicted of assorted felony crimes during the Trump Administration, was ultimately pardoned by Trump largely, one assumes, for keeping his mouth shut concerning the role he played in handling Trump campaign material, including polling information, over to a known Russian agent. Someday we may know the full story. Today we know Manafort is back in Trump World, as greasy as ever. David Corn has a summary.

“A more recent Manafort business venture—unknown to the public—raises further questions about him and his attempt to return to the Trump fold. According to documents obtained by Mother Jones—including a memo written by Manafort—two years ago, Manafort was trying to orchestrate a $250 million deal to create a streaming service in China in a project that he asserted was blessed by the Chinese government and that was partnering with a Chinese telecommunications firm sanctioned by the US government.”

Read the full story.  

Is this the point where we recall that Trump World spends almost as much time fixated on China as it does the southern border, yet a guy reported to be helping Trump at this summer’s GOP convention is trying to do big dollar deals in … China?


Trump supporters call for riots and violent retribution after verdict

While most of us continue to live our lives with some belief that all the wild talk is just that – wild talk. I submit this is a mistake. This stuff is increasingly serious, increasingly ugly and increasingly dangerous.

“After Trump became the first U.S. president to be convicted of a crime, his supporters responded with dozens of violent online posts, according to a Reuters review of comments on three Trump-aligned websites: the former president’s own Truth Social platform, Patriots.Win and the Gateway Pundit.”

And this: “Jacob Ware, a co-author of the book ‘God, Guns, and Sedition: Far-Right Terrorism in America,” said the violent language used by Trump’s followers was testament to the former president’s ‘ironclad ability to mobilize more extreme supporters to action, both at the ballot box and through violence.'”

The story from Reuters. It not like we haven’t been warned.


Mansfield and Dirksen

I was interviewed for another podcast this week, this time for the New Books Network.

Here is a link.


And speaking of podcasts …

I’ve really been enjoying the 99% Invisible podcast episodes are the remarkable Robert Caro book The Power Broker.

The series host Roman Mars is joined by the incredibly funny and articulate writer and comedian Elliott Kalan to dissect the massive book about New Yorker Robert Moses, the man who made or remade New York City from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Caro published The Power Broker in 1974 and won the Pulitzer Prize for his examination of how Moses, with the innocuous sounding title of parks commissioner, amassed vast political power and used it, at times, viciously, to create the Big Apple.

The series is extraordinarily interesting. Here’s a link to the website.


Thanks for reading. Take this political moment very seriously. All the best.

2024 Election, Supreme Court, Trump

The Week That Was …

This is the week that was.

The governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, boasts in a book about herself that two decades ago she took the family dog, reportedly a rambunctious 14-month-old wirehaired pointer named Cricket, to a gravel pit on the family farm and shot the pup. For good measure, Noem also shot and killed a goat she didn’t like. Both animals had clearly annoyed her.

Noem, angling to play second fiddle as vice president to her political idol, Donald J. Trump, drew a few headlines for these confessions.

Considering the pre-release publicity, I’d say the title is pretty accurate

“Politicians and dog experts vilify South Dakota governor after she writes about killing her dog,” said The Associated Press.

“South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem stands by decision to kill dog, shared it in new book,” said CBS.

And my personal favorite in USA Today: “‘That was rough:’ Steve Bannon, Donald Trump Jr. criticize Kristi Noem for killing her dog.”

The two MAGA A-listers amplified:

“Kristi Noem, I think, is maybe a little too based,” Bannon added. “Shooting the puppy in the gravel.”

“Too based,” I’m informed, is slang for someone who maybe, just maybe, is a little too willing to speak their truth.

“That was not ideal,” Donald Trump Jr. responded. And both men laughed.

“Not ideal,” Trump Jr. said. “I read that and I’m like: ‘Who put that in the book?’ I was like ‘Your ghost writer must really not like you if they’re gonna include that one. That was rough.’ ”

But, if you are a puppy-shooting, right-wing governor, you never, ever admit a mistake. Blame the “fake news” Right?

No, really, right?

For Noem, the week that was continued into a second week. The headlines tumbled out. Including a new round of “what the hell was she thinking” when there were reports that she claimed she once met with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un. She didn’t. She lied.

Noem’s vice presidential chances seem as dead as a dog in a, well, you can finish the sentence.

Fun fact: Noem’s book has its official release May 8, but Amazon has already discounted the $30 cover price 37%. If you are interested in a copy of the book I would advise waiting, it will get cheaper, rather like the story it tells.

This was the week that was.

For the first time in American history, which, if my math is correct, is quite a long time, a former president continued to stand trial involving felony charges that he allegedly falsified business records in order to distribute hush money to make sure his affair with a porn star didn’t interfere with his 2016 presidential campaign. Just months before the alleged affair occurred, Trump’s wife, Melania, had given birth to their son, Barron. But don’t get bogged down in details.

The best comment on that trial so far — this will be famous — came from Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, who clearly is having trouble with the position of the defendant in this case.

“You don’t pay someone $130,000 not to have sex with you,” said Romney, a former LDS bishop.

Oh, the humanity.

Oh, the absurdity.

Trump on trial … and we are on trial, too

And since the defendant simply can’t keep his Big Mac hole shut, the judge in the so-called “hush money case” fined the former president $9,000 for violating an order that prohibits attacks on people involved in the case, you know, people like witnesses, for example.

So, taking stock: The first former president to be indicted — I forget how many counts there are in four separate cases — becomes the first former president to be fined for trying to threaten and intimidate witnesses in his porn star payoff case. Got it? And you thought “The Godfather” movies were really great.

Meanwhile the defendant attacked the judge — again.

This was the week that was, or perhaps the week after the week that was.

For the second time involving a case featuring the former president of the United States, the Supreme Court, to which the former guy appointed three of nine members, struggled mightily to avoid confronting the actual Trump case they were asked to consider.

You’ll recall a while back that the six Trumpy justices on the nation’s highest tribunal backflipped their way to a decision that a single state, in this case Colorado, even in the face of the clear language of the Constitution, simply could not prevent an insurrection-inciting former president from running and potentially winning the White House again. It was deemed essentially too messy by the justices to confront the real issue, the 14th Amendment language prohibiting an insurrectionist from holding high office. We had a Civil War around some of these issues, but the Supreme Court is meh.

That case, if you love historical footnotes, featured many references to Salmon P. – the “P” stands for Portland – Chase, a former senator, Treasury Secretary and Supreme Court chief justice. Chase, like all who make it to the highest tribunal, was a supremely ambitious man. He wanted to be president so badly he campaigned for the Free Soil ticket and sought the presidential nomination of the Republican Party and finally the Democratic Party. He never made it. A salmon swimming upstream.

Chase’s name came up in the Trump disqualification case because of a case he decided while sitting as a circuit judge. Chase’s ruling in 1869, as legal analyst James D. Zirin noted, “refused to vacate a criminal conviction because the trial judge had fought for the Confederacy.” Zirin pointed out that the ruling was hardly a grand precedent, particularly for a Supreme Court presented with a former president who actually instigated an real insurrection on January 6, 2021.

But dealing with the clear facts of January 6 was just too on point for our Supreme Court, so the justices invented an approach to effectively ignore a key provision to the Constitution they are sworn to uphold.

Oh, and there is this: The wife of one of the justices actively participated in the planning of that January 6 coup, but that justice — Clarence Thomas — opined on the case nevertheless, upholding the rights of the insurrectionist. You don’t have to be right, apparently, but you do have to have power.

These politicians in robes are fixing to do the same thing with a second Trump case on the question of whether a former president has immunity from prosecution for crimes allegedly committed while president. The smart money is on a ruling of no absolute immunity, but a ruling containing just enough delay so as to remove the prospect of any legal consideration of an insurrectionist running for president before the November election.

No man is above the law, but if you know the right people …

Remember when conservative politicians used to rage against “activist” judges who made things up to arrive at a desired political outcome? Yup. I remember that, too.

This was the week that was.

Let’s end on high note. Time magazine is out with a big story about the former president’s plans once he’s back in the White House. The author of the piece, Eric Cortellessa, who did two lengthy interviews with the former president, said Trump would, among other things, “gut the U.S. civil service, deploy the National Guard to American cities as he sees fit, close the White House pandemic-preparedness office and staff his Administration with acolytes who back his false assertion that the 2020 election was stolen.”

There is more, lots more: concentration camps for migrants, a prosecution of Joe Biden, a federal takeover of education (so much for local control), an abandonment of NATO, and tariffs to make your inflation worries seem like so much background noise.

You really should read the whole article if only to see in one place how deranged and deluded the Grand Old Party of Lincoln has become under its indicted leader-king.

Time included the full transcripts and a piece fact-checking Trump’s assertions,” historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote. “The transcripts reflect the former president’s scattershot language that makes little logical sense but conveys impressions by repeating key phrases and advancing a narrative of grievance. The fact-checking reveals that narrative is based largely on fantasy.”

That was our week.

More attention, generally speaking, was paid to a poor 14-month-old puppy shot dead in a South Dakota gravel pit by a once rising star of the MAGA world than to a mad would-be king in a New York courtroom. But somehow it all fits together.

Shooting a dog apparently is the “red line” no right-wing politician should cross. Flaying the Constitution, on the other hand, is the party platform.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other items of interest …

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at 200

The birthday of the fabulous Ninth.

The composer who still fascinates

“The composer insisted upon conducting the symphony from a conductor’s stand. The official conductor at the concert, Michael Umlauf, had instructed the musicians – a Viennese orchestra and choir – to ignore Beethoven, who was completely deaf and who theoretically could not be relied upon to keep time.

“The performance was interrupted several times by rapturous applause from the approximately 2,000 attendees, but Beethoven could not hear the reaction. According to eyewitnesses, the composer “threw himself back and forth like a madman” and fell several bars behind in his “conducting.'”

Read the entire piece.


Political Hell-Raiser Coming in Paperback

My good friends at the University of Oklahoma Press are planning on issuing my book on the legendary (and still controversial) Senator Burton K. Wheeler of Montana in a paperback edition later this summer.

I could not be happier.

The book, my first, was nominated for the Western Writers of America Spur Award, and tells the story of Wheeler’s life from his Quaker roots in Massachusetts to the rough and tumble mining town of Butte, Montana where he settled. Wheeler won a Senate seat in 1922 and served until 1947, 24-years of big battles and bigger controversy, including fights with Franklin Roosevelt over packing the Supreme Court and American foreign policy prior to World War II.

Wheeler was a Democrat, but his political and personal friendships ranged over the ideological spectrum – Louis Brandeis, Norman Thomas, Robert LaFollette and Harry Truman.

Never dull, Wheeler was always in trouble.

Here’s the link to the most recent OU Press catalogue. Lots of good stuff here.


The Wolves of K Street review: how lobbying swallowed Washington

A new book on the fourth branch of DC government – lobbying.

Brody Mullins, a Wall Street Journal investigative reporter and Pulitzer prize winner, and his brother, Luke Mullins, a contributor at Politico, deliver a graduate seminar on how lobbying emerged and became a behemoth, an adjunct of government itself, taking its collective name from the street north of the White House where many of its biggest earners sit.

“Smoothly written, meticulously researched, The Wolves of K Street informs and mesmerizes.”

From The Guardian.


And … more on money and politics

I was delighted to be interviewed recently for an NPR podcast series called “Landslide.” The whole series, produced by Ben Bradford, is well worth your time if you care to delve into the long history of how the conservative American right began to transform in the 1970s into the party that gave us Donald Trump.

The segment I participated in deals with political money. You can listen here.


More soon. Thanks for reading. Stay in touch.

2024 Election, GOP, Trump, Ukraine

RIP: The Party of the Gipper …

It never occurred to me, at least before Donald Trump rode down his escalator, that the Republican Party would, all in my lifetime, embrace the sunny optimism and national security mantra of the actor-cum-President Ronald Reagan and then turn on a dime and completely bury Reagan and the GOP he built.

Authoritarian cults are mighty powerful draws, apparently.

In a new book, Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism, John Kenneth White, a professor of politics at Catholic University, attempts to explain what has happened to the party of the Gipper. His brutal assessment is made all the more damning by its stark truth.

An important new book from the University Press of Kansas

“After consecutive losses in 2018, 2020, and 2022, Republicans should be entering a period of reflection and reconciliation,” White writes. “But Donald Trump will not permit either to occur. Instead of redefining conservativism for a twenty-first century audience composed of multicultural and multiradical voters, Republicans are fixated on stoking their angry base of older white Baby Boomers who once defined the nation’s past but not its future. Instead of reckoning with the Trump presidency and the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, Republicans are determined to erase the latter from their collective memories. Rather than rejecting election deniers, Republicans elevated them to positions of power.”

There is something within the DNA of the Republican Party, as White concludes after detailing the history both before and since Reagan, “that makes it prone to conspiracy theories, election deniers, and top down presidential leadership that is fraught with danger.”

Fraught with danger, indeed, particularly given the widespread willingness of Trump backers and their elected representatives to ignore the mountain of damaging facts about the former president — what one writer calls Trump’s “kaleidoscopic corruption” — while embracing the nonsense that stokes that angry baby boomer base.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu is the latest A-list example to go full in on the nonsense. Sununu, son of former conservative governor and one-time White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, appeared recently on ABC’s Sunday morning TV show.

As interviewer George Stephanopoulos questioned the once harsh Trump critic, he finally put to Sununu the only question that really matters for every Republican officeholder, not to mention voter.

“So just to sum up,” Stephanopoulos said to Sununu, “you would support (Trump) for president even if he is convicted in classified documents. You would support him for president even though you believe he contributed to an insurrection. You would support him for president even though you believe he’s lying about the last election. You would support him for president even if he’s convicted in the Manhattan case. I just want to say, the answer to that is yes, correct?”

Sununu’s response: “Yes, me and 51% of America.”

Setting aside the fact that Trump has never polled higher than 48% in the average of all national polls, in other words set aside that the governor is lying about Trump’s level of support, Sununu says nothing matters other than electing a Republican president. Nothing matters: not the lies, not the law, not the Trump promise of retribution for his opponents. Nothing matters but political power.

It’s also worth remembering that Sununu, as Peter Wehner noted in The Atlantic, has in the recent past — while trying to help Nikki Haley in GOP primaries — referred to Trump as a “loser,” an “asshole” and “not a real Republican.” Sununu, before debasing himself on ABC, said the country needs to move past the Trump’s “nonsense and drama.” Speaking of the legal morass Trump faces, Sununu said last year, “This is serious. If even half of this stuff is true, he’s in real trouble.”

The real trouble here is the obscene obsequiousness of politicians such as Sununu, the enablers and apologist for what passes for a political party led by the most flawed man to ever sit in the Oval Office.

Pick an issue — book bans, diminishing education, abandoning international leadership — the party of Reagan is dead, buried like Trump’s ex-wife on the back nine of a golf course where the GOP nominee goes to cheat.

Reagan spins in his grave as Trump demands congressional Republicans refuse critical military aid to Ukraine, the same country he attempted to coerce into manufacturing political dirt on President Joe Biden, a brazenly un-American scheme that earned Trump his first impeachment.

The country Reagan deemed “an evil empire” is now run by a truly evil man arguably worse than any Russian leader since Joseph Stalin. Yet many in the GOP embrace Vladimir Putin, mouth his propaganda and take his money. The white Christian nationalists who now define the party’s policy agenda, such as it is, are beholden not to a Reagan or a George W. Bush or even a Dwight Eisenhower philosophy. Instead they praise Hungary’s strongman, Viktor Orbán, and the new right-wing crackpot, Javier Milei, who is running Argentina over a cliff.

A majority of House Republicans opposed additional aid to Ukraine, effectively siding with Putin

The party that fought ten thousand elections with a call to outlaw abortion finally became the dog that caught the car and from Arizona to Idaho to Alabama, the fruits of that “victory,” delivered by an ideologically politicized U.S. Supreme Court, has created a maternal health crisis.

Arizona’s current total ban abortion law dates to the Civil War era, before Arizona was a state and long before women could vote, and Republicans there have refused to entertain any change.

In Idaho, many OB/GYN docs have left for fear the state’s extraordinary restrictions on abortion not only imperil the lives of patients with pregnancy complications but hold a real risk of sending doctors to jail. The overwhelmingly Republican Legislature in Idaho recently adjourned after ignoring any fix that might have slowed the physician exodus, while protecting women’s health.

Meantime, stoking fear and grievance with the Trumpian base, governors from Republican states spend millions of their taxpayer’s dollars to send state police and National Guard personnel to the southern border in what is nothing more than a performative act made for cable television.

Republicans had a chance earlier this year with bipartisan border security legislation to do something that would actually address border concerns, but at Trump’s behest they opted for performance over substance.

This is not a serious political party, which makes it truly dangerous. Real political parties have real policy proposals based, of course, on an ideology, but also rooted in facts and realism. You want to “fix the border”? Tell us how you would do it. You support Ukraine? Show us the plan.

Real political parties don’t let people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz or George Santos assume outsized influence. Real political parties consign the quarrelsome clowns to the deepest back bench and ignore them. Republicans now elect them speaker of the House. Or run them for president.

Near the end of his book, White quotes conservative jurist Michael Luttig: “The Republican Party has made its decision that the war against America’s Democracy and the Rule of Law it instigated on January 6 will go on, prosecuted to its catastrophic end.”

That is where the one-time party of Reagan stands in the early 21st century. It’s a scandal. It’s dangerous. Only voters can fix it.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other newsy items worthy of your attention …

The potential boondoggle of Greater Idaho

Make no mistake there are reasons for rural Americans to feel abandoned and unheard on a host of important issues. But also make no mistake their elected leaders, generally speaking, have zero real answers for the tough issues rural America faces. So, the default is to stoke the grievance. Case in point the pointless effort to create “a Greater Idaho.”

Rebecca Tallent pokes holes all over the idea in this piece from The Idaho Capital Sun.

“Greater Idaho’s organizers claim there will be a $170 million per year benefit to Idaho, but without major industry and declining existing industries, how does this make sense?

“This means current revenue dollars would need to be stretched even more thinly to support roads, provide health and human services, license certain professions, education for both K-12 and higher education, land management, regulating alcohol and other products, and many other aspects of government. Idaho’s Legislature currently has trouble doing this for the state’s existing land mass, what if Idaho almost doubled its size?”

As Tallent points out in just one example there is a university and three community colleges in eastern Oregon. Idaho can hardly afford to support its existing higher education system. How could it absorb even more institutions?

Link here:


The Greatest Book a Politician Ever Wrote

Bob Graham, the former Florida governor and senator, died recently at 87, still perhaps the most popular politician the state has ever produced. Michael Grunwald has a fond remembrance of a good leader, the fascinating book he wrote about working in dozens of different jobs and how Graham practiced a better kind of politics.

The late Florida governor and senator in one of his many, many jobs

“You don’t have to be fascinated by people to be effective in the political arena, but it helps” Grunwald writes. “I happen to believe, and I’m not alone, that Al Gore could have won Florida and changed history in 2000 if he had chosen Graham as his running mate. I also believe, and on this I may be alone, that if Graham hadn’t suffered some heart issues in 2003, he might have beaten John Kerry for the Democratic nomination and ousted George W. Bush. He was a centrist swing-state Intelligence Committee chair who opposed the war in Iraq on the grounds that it was crippling the war on terror.”

Worth your time.


Five years after the Mueller report into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election on behalf of Trump: 4 essential reads

You still see a lot of nonsense related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, most recently from a disgruntled NPR editor who blasted his (former) employer for various (mostly untrue) allegations that the network hyped the Russian story. You know who, of course, still refers to the entire episode as “a hoax,” but it wasn’t a hoax.

I rely on The Conversation, a great news site that features deeply sourced and thoughtful coverage from genuine experts – historians, economists, social scientists, etc. – on all kinds of issues. I was struck by this recent piece.

“Over the past five years, the Conversation U.S. has published the work of several scholars who followed the Mueller investigation and what it revealed about Trump. Here, we spotlight four examples of these scholars’ work.”

Read it for yourself.

And don’t forget the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian election interference. As Roll Call reported in 2020:

“The Senate Intelligence Committee … released the final report on its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, finding numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow posed a ‘grave’ counterintelligence threat.

“’We found irrefutable evidence of Russian meddling,’ Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement, directly refuting President Donald Trump’s repeated assertions that Russian interference was a ‘hoax’ perpetrated by Democrats.”

Here’s a link to the key findings of that Senate report that seems to have all but disappeared from our collective memory. A key finding, never fully fleshed out, was that Paul Manafort, a Trump campaign aide in 2016 and a lobbyist for Russian friendly Ukrainians – Manafort is reportedly back helping Trump prepare for the Republican convention – was in regular contact with known Russian agents during the 2016 campaign and “shared sensitive internal polling data or Campaign strategy” with his contacts.

Manafort, you may recall, was convicted of bank and tax fraud (he had a secret foreign bank account) and sentenced to more than seven years in prison. Trump pardoned Manafort after the 2020 election.

Which kind of brings us full circle, doesn’t it.

Marco Rubio has become one of the Trumpiest defenders of the man whose campaign, at a minimum, maintained numerous contacts with Russian agents in 2016 – Rubio actually led the investigation into this mess – and that same man is now on trial for another attempt to influence the 2016 election, a sleazy scheme to pay off a porn star to bury a sex scandal that might well have ended his campaign.

Rest in Peace … the Gipper.


Thanks for reading. All the best.

2024 Election, Mansfield, Trump, U.S. Senate

The Senate’s Great Cynic …

It’s not for nothing that the best biography of Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky senator who recently announced the end of his long run as Senate Republican leader, is titled The Cynic.

There may have been more destructive personalities in the Senate’s long history — John C. Calhoun prior to the Civil War or Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s — but it’s hard to think of a single American legislator who has contributed more than McConnell to the despair so many voters feel about their government.

Cynic to the end, McConnell went out with the same disdain of sincerity and good faith that marked the arc of his long political life. That life took him, as The Cynic author Alec MacGillis tells us in his biography, from being a moderate Republican supporting abortion rights and public employee unions to the GOP leader who viciously — and correctly — lashed former President Donald Trump to the crimes on Jan. 6, 2021, and then pivoted cynically to endorse the man the entire world knows he detests.

John C. Calhoun, senator, Cabinet member, vice president … a rival for historically evil influence

McConnell once said of Trump: “His behavior during and after the chaos (of January 6) was … unconscionable, from attacking Vice President Mike Pence during the riot to praising the criminals after it ended.”

McConnell’s Senate speech after Jan. 6 detailed the very definition of insurrection, he even called what happened an insurrection. “Fellow Americans beat and bloodied our own police. They stormed the Senate floor. They tried to hunt down the speaker of the House. They built a gallows and chanted about murdering the vice president. They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth because he was angry he lost an election. Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

In response, Trump used racist language to disparage McConnell’s Taiwan-born wife, Elaine Chao, went years without speaking to McConnell and regularly referred to him as an “old broken down crow,” “a piece of shit” and a “dumb son of a bitch.”

McConnell knows better than almost anyone what a reprehensible, incompetent, Constitution-crashing boob the former president is. His wife resigned from Trump’s Cabinet in protest after Jan. 6. Yet none of that matters to McConnell or, in Trump’s telling, his “China loving wife.”

The Associated Press called the Trump endorsement “a remarkable turnaround” by McConnell. But that’s not the correct term. Everyone knew the level of crassness McConnell would eventually employ. Everyone knows a cynic doesn’t change. Power, partisanship and personal self-interest are the cynic’s only motivations.

“I love the Senate. It has been my life,” McConnell said as he announced that he will step down from leadership at the end of the year. “There may be more distinguished members of this body throughout our history, but I doubt there are any with more admiration for it.”

What’s the saying? You always hurt the one you love.

McConnell’s professed admiration for the Senate as an institution is in reality just window dressing for his cynical use of raw partisan power to corrode — even destroy — the fabric of an institution that by its very nature demands compromise, consensus and comity.

McConnell’s one historic accomplishment, securing his place in the history books, has been to weld in place for a generation or more a hard rightwing Supreme Court populated with activist judges who, as Republicans have so long accused Democrats of doing, use their positions to make partisan political decisions. The Supreme Court has become so extremely political that its recent decision ruling that Colorado could not unilaterally remove Trump from that state’s presidential ballot was followed by days of analysis about what the McConnell Court really had said with its ruling.

One thing Mitch’s judges did not touch in that Colorado ruling is the real point of the 14th Amendment case brought against Trump by Colorado voters — namely, did he foment an insurrection? You may have missed it in the coverage of the McConnell Court’s ruling, but a Colorado court actually considered the insurrection question, heard from witnesses, examined what happened on Jan. 6 and concluded — yes, Trump is an insurrectionist.

McConnell’s contribution to American political life also includes, lest we forget, the single most cynical act involving a Supreme Court nominee in the nation’s history. That would be McConnell’s blocking of Barack Obama’s nomination in 2016 of a moderate and highly respected jurist, Merrick Garland, who was denied a hearing on his merits in McConnell’s beloved Senate.

The upshot of that truly historic and indefensible use of partisan power surely means that no future Democratic president will ever be successful in confirming a Supreme Court nominee in a Republican-controlled Senate. And after leaving Garland to twist in the hot winds of the Senate for months before the 2016 presidential election, McConnell, cynicism be praised, rammed through the nomination of Justice Amy Coney Barrett in 2020 in near record time and days before another presidential election.

It takes a special kind of personality to square these circles and attempting to do so while holding a straight face is another part of the McConnell legacy.

Trump and Mitch in their co-dependent days …

“If you would have told me 40 years later that I would stand before you as the longest serving Senate leader in history — I would have thought you’d lost your mind,” McConnell said recently. He takes great pride in that longevity record, but even that accomplishment is tinged by cynicism.

A more impressive record than the raw years McConnell held party leadership is the record for most years as a majority leader and that distinction is still held by Montana Senator Mike Mansfield, who was a Senate leader for 20 consecutive years and majority leader for 16 straight years.

McConnell, despite his warm remembrances of Mansfield’s years of principled leadership — he praised the Montanan last year in a lengthy tribute — is really the un-Mansfield. The Montanan was universally respected while McConnell isn’t.

The lack of comment from fellow Republicans when he announced McConnell was stepping down was remarkable and entirely unlike what happened when Mansfield retired in 1977. Then-Republican leader Hugh Scott choked up, saying of Mansfield, “I have never known a finer man.”

The quiet, egoless Mansfield insisted on protecting the Senate as an institution even as members of his own party — Southern Democrats during the Civil Rights era — labored to bring the Senate into disrepute. Mansfield never resorted to tricks or raw power to manipulate senators. He practiced restraint, selfless bipartisanship, absolute candor and completely rejected the politics of attack and insult.

By contrast, with his cynical endorsement of Trump, McConnell couldn’t help but take a gratuitous swipe at the current president, a man he knows well and served with in the Senate. It was the kind of partisan slap that Mansfield never used or likely considered, even when the president was Richard Nixon whose conspiracy to cover up his political crimes Mansfield helped expose.

Mansfield modeled the civil and decent behavior he hoped others would embrace. The Senate of today is an often ugly reminder that many current senators have accepted McConnell’s approach of partisanship first, last and always.

The Mansfield Senate became what the Senate must be in order to succeed — more restrained, more respected, more serious and vastly more accomplished than the institution McConnell remade in his own cynical image.

Invoking Mansfield’s approach to political leadership — he was the “more distinguished” senator as McConnell must know he will be considered — is more than a nostalgic reminder of a time past. Mansfield’s greatness reminds us that some things — the Constitution, basic decency, honesty and respect for restraint — are vastly more important than the fleeting political advantage of this week or this term or this presidency.

McConnell will go down in history for sure, but it won’t be for his length of service or his cynical manipulation of the Supreme Court nomination process. He’ll be remembered for cementing Senate dysfunction, breaking American politics and then enabling a budding authoritarian to again grasp for the chance to destroy American democracy.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other items I found of interest …

How a lack of local reporting affects the Supreme Court

A fascinating and also infuriating story about basic facts that eluded the Supreme Court in several recent cases.

“Last year the court ruled for a wedding website designer, Lorie Smith, who felt that including LGBTQ language on a website would violate her religious beliefs, even though the only evidence her lawyers produced that anyone had asked her to do so was a letter from a man named Stewart saying that he wanted her to design a website for his wedding to a guy named Mike. It turned out that Stewart was not gay, had been married to a woman for fifteen years, and did not write the letter. Also, Stewart turns out to be a website designer himself, so even if he had been gay and planning to get married, he wouldn’t need outside help.”

The Court deals in the “law,” not in the “facts” and therein is a problem. You might ask, how could they get things so very wrong … you could ask that.

From the Columbia Journalism Review.


How to End Republican Exploitation of Rural America

It is an article of political faith that Democrats have lost most of “rural” America.

“With the rural/urban political divide as stark as it is today, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always this way. In fact, for much of our history, rural and urban Americans did not vote all that differently in the aggregate; Republican presidential candidates would usually outpoll Democratic candidates by just a couple of points in rural areas. Beginning with the 2000 election, however, rural and urban votes began drifting apart, and that separation is now a chasm.”

The authors of a new book White Rural Rage: The Threat to American Democracy argue that, while it’s mostly true Democrats have abandoned rural America, Republicans have, too, offering no real policy of approach to dealing with the real problems of real people. Therein lies an opportunity.

From Washington Monthly.


Humanity’s remaining timeline? It looks more like five years than 50: meet the neo-luddites warning of an AI apocalypse

Since everything is going so well how about a little doomsday reporting on artificial intelligence? This piece about about “the luddites” pushing back on AI. Put me down as “interested.”

“Are we doomed? Or is there hope? Will this generation of protesters be remembered in 200 years’ time for their interventions – or will there simply be no one to do the remembering by then? The new luddites I speak to come at these questions with varying degrees of optimism or catastrophising.”

From The Guardian.


Well, spring training is in full flower and March Madness is upon us. Can we make it to opening day? Sure … play ball.

Thanks for following. And share with a friend if you are inclined. All the best.

2024 Election, Fascism, Trump

Our Fascist Government in Waiting …

“It’s in vain to recall the past, unless it works some influence upon the present.”

                                                            – Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

———-

American democracy increasingly resembles the frog placed in a pot of tepid water not realizing that as the water temperature slowly rises it’s being boiled to death.

Our temperature is rising. Too few of us are paying attention.

Just in the last two weeks the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has broadly outlined the authoritarian agenda he will implement if he gets another grab at power. The agenda – and don’t buy the nonsense that what Donald Trump says differs from what he does – is profoundly un-American, combining the worst of Know Nothing nativism from before the Civil War with the innuendo laced radicalism of Joe McCarthy’s Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.

Increasingly the con man who would be president again sounds like a beer hall agitator in Munich. And a vast army of enablers are goose stepping to his commands.

As widely reported and confirmed by Trump advisers in numerous interviews and documents, the former president, and this is a partial list, intends to:

  • Dismantle the federal civil service system that has been in place since James Garfield was president
  • Conduct wholesale deportations of millions, including people who have been living in the United States for years, or in some cases their entire lives
  • Create vast detention camps
  • Populate the federal government with thousands of cranks and seditionists who, unlike his first time, will not be dissuaded by the Constitution or law from targeting political opponents through a totally politicized justice system
  • Purge the U.S. military of officers unwilling to carry out illegal orders
  • Dispatch the National Guard to patrol major American cities and use the power of the federal budget to direct local policing
  • Eliminate the federal Department of Education and exert unprecedented control over local schools and colleges
  • Enact – again – a ban against Muslims entering the country
  • Pardon the guilty of January 6 and lock up any resisters
  • Re-evaluate – read withdraw – from NATO, the western alliance that has provided security for much of Europe in the post-World War II era
  • End U.S. aid to Ukraine, ensuring that his Russian authoritarian role model, will be able to do to Poland and the Baltic states what he has tried to do to Ukraine

Meanwhile, Trump – a profoundly ignorant man, but at the same time a highly skilled propagandist – is continually conditioning his most ardent followers to their own embrace of his distorted and deeply dangerous approach to American politics. He no longer walks to the edge of inciting violence, but routinely destroys any boundary.

In what the Atlantic called a “dystopian, at times gothic speech” that “droned on for nearly 90 minutes,” Trump told a crowd of his Florida followers recently that he will eliminate the “liars and leeches” who have been “sucking the life and blood” out of America.

Who are these people, these liars and leeches? Mitt Romney? Career prosecutors in several states and the federal government who have investigated Trump’s actions and proven corruption – stands indicted 91 times – and attempt, as the law and our Constitution demand, to hold him accountable? Are the judges charged with administering justice the liars and leeches? Is he talking about former four-star generals who have pronounced him ignorant, unstable and unfit?

Like a Mussolini praising Hitler, he touts as role models the murderous Putin and the strongmen of Hungry, China and North Korea.

This must be called what it is – a fascist government in waiting. The supreme leader’s language no longer hints at the prospect of fascist actions to come, but rather confirms them.

“In honor of our great Veterans on Veteran’s Day,” Trump said on social media, “we pledge to you that we will root out the Communists, Marxists, Fascists, and Radical Left Thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country, lie, steal, and cheat on Elections, and will do anything possible, whether legally or illegally, to destroy America, and the American dream.”

“This is straight-up Nazi talk,” writes New Republic editor Michael Tomasky, “in a way he’s never done quite before. To announce that the real enemy is domestic and then to speak of that enemy in subhuman terms is Fascism 101. Especially that particular word.”

That word would be vermin. What decent, Constitution loving American calls other Americans “vermin?”

Whether Trump knows it or not, and one suspects he does and certainly his speechwriters know this language – down to the same words – were often employed in Nazi Germany in the 1930s to justify the wholesale eliminate of European Jews. This is solely the language of division and hatred. The language of a man and a movement willing to jettison any respect or deference to the rule of law and the Constitution. It is the language of fascism.

A singular feature of fascist governments through modern history is to demonize a class of people as “subhuman” – Jews, indigenous people, migrants, LGBTQ individuals, Muslims, on and on. Demagogues must have a target. Anyone “different” from their mass of followers or any critic is fair game. The fascist leaders of history – in Italy, Germany, Spain – required an enemy, even one casually defined, to focus the hatred and channel the grievance and fear of his followers.

During a recent rally in New Hampshire Trump pledged to “root out … the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country … The real threat is not from the radical right; the real threat is from the radical left, and it’s growing every day, every single day. The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous, and grave than the threat from within. Our threat is from within.”

The threat is from within. Really? But who, exactly? Who are these vermin? Career educators trying to teach history? Librarians who reject book banning? Newspaper columnists who deplore the ugliness and historical import of such deranged, unhinged talk from a person in a position of power and influence? Maybe you are the “vermin” – watch yourself – lest you be intimidated and frightened into silence. This is how the authoritarian consolidates his power.

“He’s telling us exactly what he intends to do — like it or loathe it,” write Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen in Axios. “And this time, he’ll have prefabbed institutional muscle to turn pugilistic words into policies and action from the get-go.”

This is not a new story, but it may be history too many Americans have failed to understand or heed.

The pot is boiling. There can be no mystery where this is headed. Recall the past. Fight against un-American words and actions by hateful, ignorant people. Embrace democracy and the Constitution.. Influence the present.

A democracy is too important to lose.


Additional Reads:

A few suggestions from across the world wide web …

Note-taking Lessons From America’s Greatest Biographer

An exhibit on the biographer Robert Caro is now open at the New York Historical Society.

Caro in his New York office

“We mere mortals can peek behind the scenes of his work by visiting the oldest museum in New York City—the New-York Historical Society. It acquired the rights to Caro’s archives and turned them into a permanent exhibit, with plans to rotate the collection of documents over time. The exhibit displayed different stages of his writing process, from interviewing to outlining, so I picked some highlights to share below.”

If you care about history – and writing it – this is a must read. Link here:


Basketball Season: Requiem of a Mississippi cheerleader

The novelist Donna Tartt remembers her young life as a cheerleader.

“The gymnasiums were high-ceilinged, barnlike, drafty, usually in the middle of some desolate field. We were always freezing in our skimpy plaid skirts, our legs all goose-pimples as we clapped and stamped on the yellowed wooden floor. (Our legs, being so much exposed, were frequently chapped from cold, yet we were forbidden to put lotion on them, Cindy and the older girls having derived a pathological horror of “grease” from—as best as I could figure—the Clearasil ads in Tiger Beat and Seventeen—this despite the fact that grease was the primary element of all our diets.)”

Excellent piece of writing.


Inside the $1.5-Trillion Nuclear Weapons Program You’ve Never Heard Of

I found this piece both fascinating … and deeply unsettling.

A Minuteman missile in South Dakota

“Since the advent of plutonium production, less than a century ago, some parts of the U.S. have borne more of those costs than others. This past summer I drove to the city that’s still making the weapons it was supposed to eradicate the need for; to the plains where nuclear missiles control local economies; to a mine 2,000 feet underneath the desert floor where much of America’s plutonium waste from weapons production goes to rest. My hope was to hear from people who live in those communities to better understand where that era has left them as we teeter on the edge of a new arms race.”

Makes me want to dust off the plans for the bomb shelter. From Scientific American.


Thanks for reading. See you again soon.

2024 Election, Democracy, GOP, Trump

Trump’s Mafia …

It was news in South Dakota this week, a state that has become as red as Donald Trump’s neckties, that the state’s two Republican United States senators won’t be attending an upcoming Trump rally scheduled in the Black Hills.

Among those RSVPing regrets is John Thune, the number two Republican leader in the Senate. Thune and South Dakota’s other GOP senator, Mike Rounds, have done what few other high profile Republicans have done – think Idaho’s Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch or Wyoming’s John Barasso, for example – and finally put distance between themselves and the party’s cult leader.

The South Dakota senators, about as conservative as they come, have endorsed South Carolina Senator Tim Scott for president. Hardly worth a profile in courage award, but better than the vast majority of Republican officeholders who act like backing the party’s leading presidential candidate – or carefully avoiding any comment on his many indictments and proven criminality – is totally normal.

It is not totally normal. Nothing about American politics at the moment is remotely normal. Nothing about the Republican Party’s embrace of a much indicted sociopathic serial liar is normal. Nothing is normal, as the Morning Consult poll found this week, in the fact that three of five Republican voters say they’d vote for a convicted sexual abuser even if he’s behind bars on Election Day next year.

Nothing. Normal. About. Any. Of. This.

As The Bulwark’s Jonathan Lash wrote recently:

Pretend we could go back in time, to January 2017, and tell people that in six years:

  • Trump will have been impeached twice.
  • He will have been found guilty of rape by a jury of his peers.
  • He will have been soundly defeated for re-election, but refused to concede the loss.
  • In an effort to remain in power he will put in motion a vast conspiracy to overturn the result through extralegal methods.
  • When this conspiracy fails he will incite a violent insurrection in which he directs his armed supporters to invade the Capitol and prevent the certification of Electoral College votes.
  • He will be indicted in four separate criminal cases.
  • He will seek a return to the White House explicitly for the stated purpose of ‘retribution.’
  • And he will be leading the Republican field by >30 points.

The party of Lincoln, and TR and Eisenhower is now a stewing cesspool of grievance and denial willingly embracing neo-Nazis and a wide array of conspiracists. The party leader’s legal team – many of them indicted in Atlanta this week – are a mockery of Republican appeals to law and order.

The degradation and destruction of the once Grand Old Party is both stunning and frightening, but mostly frightening.

Frightening in that Trump’s mesmerized supporters believe in him, and his avalanche of demonstrable lies more than they believe their own friends, family and religious leaders. As the CBS News-YouGov poll recently discovered these folks cling to the lies and rabid misinformation more than ever in the face of Trump’s grand jury indictment for attempting to overturn the presidential election in Georgia. Making off with the nation’s secrets for whatever reason and defying not only the law but common sense in refusing to return them deepens their regard for this shallow, foul man.

Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him continues to metastasize in the conservative body politic. The devotion to that enormous lie is the single biggest reason more Republican officeholders refuse to do what the senators from South Dakota have done, namely move on from the fabulist-in-chief. The Crapo’s and Risch’s of American politics know it’s all bull, but they won’t really confront it because they are afraid … of their own voters.

There have been so many turning points in this American melodrama – the Access Hollywood tape, Trump’s persistent praise of the murderous Russian thug, the grifting of the presidency through a gaudy Washington hotel, the Unite the Right neo-Nazi spectacle in Charlottesville, the serial departures of Cabinet secretaries who thought they could contain the fabulist and discovered they couldn’t, the name calling, the threats, the incitement of insurrection.

And It will only get worse, while the GOP elected elite works to delist grizzly bears or neuter the IRS.

Amid all this crazy, outrageous and full on dangerous behavior, history is likely to record as one of the most egregious acts in presidential history, Trump’s mafia-inspired efforts to shakedown Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in order to manufacture dirt on his political opponent.

All of Trump’s venality and disdain for American – and European – democracy was on clear display in his telephone call to the man who now tries to save the independence of his country against the brutal aggression of The Donald’s pal, Vlad. Simply put, Trump was eager to intimidate another democracy to help destroy one at home. Meanwhile, the GOP edges closer to Putin, while most of the rest of the world shuns him as never before.

There is a perverse symmetry that on the same day Rudy Giuliani was indicted in Georgia the leader of the Russian militia that provided Putin’s only effective fighting force against Ukraine died, likely on orders from Donald’s pal. Rudy with the light brown hair dye was, of course, Trump’s Ukrainian bagman charged with assembling dirt on Joe Biden. Meanwhile, the fabulist says he could end the brutal aggression against Ukraine with one phone call. Right.

This farce become tragedy is as if the script for The Godfather or GoodFellas had been substituted for the shredded ruminants of the rule of law, or any sense of decency in the GOP. Trump is the Vito Corleone of our politics, keeping it all in the family, fronted by corrupt lawyers and evil politicians willing to do anything to protect his own skin and the family business. Just don’t get caught.

Forget the pundits who tell you there is future salvation for the Republican crime family and all of its enablers. There isn’t. Won’t happen. The only way to banish this level of corruption is to take them to trial, convict them in front of a jury of their peers and vote the enablers into the inglorious history they so richly deserve.

Imagine your political legacy being that you couldn’t bring yourself to call bull on this BS.

Michael Corleone, to play out the mafia analogy, eventually tried to go legit, but the stink of the family crimes never left him.

There is simply no washing or wishing away these crimes.

—–O—–

Additional Reading:

A few other items worthy of your time …

No OB-GYNs left in town: what came after Idaho’s assault on abortion

Montana journalist Kathleen McLaughlin writes about how Idaho’s anti-abortion laws have impacted the state’s medical care, including doctors like Amelia Huntsberger, an OB-GYN in northern Idaho who has had enough.

“The raft of extreme abortion laws left doctors like Huntsberger unsure if they could continue to practice any kind of family medicine in Idaho, where untrained political figures now have greater say over medical decisions than physicians. Across Idaho, doctors are leaving, looking to practice in safer states. After months of weighing their options, including many sleepless nights, the Huntsbergers finally decided the risks and anxiety were too much. It was time to leave.”

Read the entire story from The Guardian.


How the PAC-12 scramble will impact WSU’s athletics

I confess to having less and less interest in college football. The massive realignment chasing massive money has ruined conferences and will almost certainly destroy rivalries. The PAC-12 – the Conference of Champions – is no more with several schools including Washington State and Oregon State left as orphans.

Here’s Nicholas K. Geranios on the impact on WSU.

“College sports isn’t cheap. Washington State, one of the thriftier programs amid the so-called power-conference teams, will spend more than $84 million on athletics in fiscal 2024. Other schools spend far more.”

Read the full piece:

And here’s an idea from Joe Matthews – an all California conference. It makes too much sense, so will never happen.


Shameless Self Promotion

As you likely know, I have a new book out – Mansfield and Dirksen: Bipartisan Giants of the Senate – and I’m about to go into full book tour mode with events early next in Boise and then across Montana, Mike Mansfield’s home. In October, I’ll be in Illinois for a few days to visit Ev Dirksen country.

And … some nice coverage of the book already.

A really enjoyable visit with Oregon legislator and excellent interviewer Ben Bowman on his Oregon Bridge podcast. Here’s that link.

A very generous review here from Jim Heffernan, an Oregonian who gives the book a very close read. Jim says: “I do not often order a book before publication. But the subject and the author compelled me to take the risk. I am very glad I did. Marc Johnson is a very good writer and historian, and he did not disappoint me.” Here’s that link.

Thanks Jim.

And a nice piece with reporter Tim Shelley with the Peoria, Illinois NPR station. Tim said: “The politicians of today’s U.S. Senate could stand to learn a thing or two from Everett Dirksen and Mike Mansfield.”

He’s not wrong. And here’s that link.


More soon. Thanks for reading. Hope to see you …

2024 Election, Britain, Trump

The Narcissistic Howl …

There is only one reason why a twice impeached, once defeated, twice indicted serial liar continues to threaten the very foundations of American democracy and seems almost certain to be the Republican presidential candidate again next year.

And the sole reason cannot be placed at the less than humble feet of the Peach Prince of Mar a Lago.

Donald Trump was always going to be Donald Trump. The people who have known him for years knew of Trump’s narcissistic personality disorder, a condition that requires him to always and forever be at the center of everything. He must always be right and if challenged for being wrong there is but one possible response: lie, exaggerate and bluster in hopes of getting out of the corners he inevitably paints himself into.

We knew Donald scammed contractors at his less-than-successful hotels and casinos. We knew the man broadly embraced by evangelical Christians was certain to brag about his sexual conquests and, of course, he did. One of those “conquests” ended in a recent Trump civil conviction for sexual abuse and defamation. When Trump subsequently called the victim (and the winner of the case) “a whack job,” E. Jean Carroll sued him again and a judge ruled that that case could proceed.

Donald Trump in court in a civil case were he was found guilty and fined $5 million

His former attorney general and defense secretary say the top-secret government documents Trump secreted away to a bathroom (among other places) in his gaudy Florida club is all the proof needed that the man they once worked for it a serious threat to national security. But we knew that long ago.

Trump proved he’s a threat when he stood side-by-side with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki in 2018 and embraced Putin’s propaganda over the analysis of his own intelligence agencies. He proved it again when he tried to shake down the president of Ukraine to manufacture dirt on his political opponent and again when he summoned the mob to attack Congress and his own vice president to prevent certification of an election he clearly lost.

But as the old saying goes: don’t blame the cat for not being a dog. Or in the present case, don’t blame a life-long con man – former attorney general Bill Barr calls Trump a “fundamentally flawed person who engages in reckless conduct that leads to situations, calamitous situations” – for being a life-long con man.

Here’s who we blame: the gutless, shameless enablers and character deficient toadies in the American conservative movement who could have sent Trump permanently back to Mar a Lago on any number of occasions and punted at every single opportunity. These folks, the senators and congressmen, the political straphangers, the consultants and campaign hacks, the big money donors, the podcasting grifters, the Tucker Carlson-types who made money and soiled reputations, those folks are the true guilty parties.

Rather than dispose of the cancer growing on American democracy, a cancer now spread to the most important of the nation’s political institutions, including the Supreme Court, the guilty ones fed the disease, acting like character and facts and basic honesty were as fungible as a phony degree from Trump University.

It didn’t have to be.

Contrast the lickspittle response to Trump’s law and norm trashing by the vast majority of elected Republicans with the British Conservative Party’s recent slashing, decisive and ultimately disqualifying banishment of former prime minister Boris Johnson. Boris is smarter and cleverer at lying than Trump, but the two share the same crude narcissism and penchant for lying that has warped their respective political parties.

The Tories first cashiered Johnson as leader last year during a cascading series of political scandals that culminated with a raft of resignations from government by senior Conservative Party leaders. That happened after Boris initially appeared to survive allegations that he had broken the law and his own government’s Covid health care guidance while drinking Champagne with partying staff at Downing Street.

But because politics in the UK is not yet as broken as it is here in the former colonies that wasn’t the end of the road for the foppish fraud. Parliament commissioned, unanimously by the way, an extensive study of whether Johnson had purposely mislead the House of Commons, and by extension the country, by lying about, well, a whole bunch of stuff.

Boris Johnson, a UK Trumpian figure who unlike Trump came to a bitter end with his own party

Last week Parliament voted 354 to 7 to accept the detailed and damning report, an outcome Johnson telegraphed last week when he resigned as an MP rather than be suspended from the Commons. Johnson’s resignation statement was so over the top, so full of Trumpian bluster and blame shifting – Johnson termed the multi-party investigation a “kangaroo court” – that it caused one female MP to describe it as the “narcissistic howl of a man child.”

Gosh, does that sound like anyone you’ve heard on Fox News lately? Anything to learn here from the new world looking at the old? Apparently not.

One must wonder if Mitch McConnell, now hoping to capture a Senate majority next year with the Trump anchor lashed to his plans, wakes up every day knowing he could have forever cut that anchor free with an impeachment conviction – not once, but twice.

Imagine if Kevin McCarthy, the very temporary owner of the Speaker’s gavel, had lived by his words condemning Trump for the January 6 riot and had done all possible to prevent him from soiling his party and McCarthy’s future.

The enablers could have abandoned a confessed sexual abuser in 2016, and now they have as a leading candidate a cartoon character credibly accused of violating the Espionage Act.

“They have had so many off-ramps and yet they just won’t do it,” says Charlie Sykes, the Never Trump pundit. “Part of it is they engage in this magical thinking. They think that, well, something, something … unicorn and maybe he’ll die and maybe we won’t have to take a stand.”

But magical thinking is just magical thinking. Integrity requires action.

Harriet Harman, the chair of the investigation that led to Boris Johnson’s defenestration by his own party said it best: “Because he was prime minister, Johnson’s dishonesty – if left unchecked – would have contaminated the whole of government, allowing misleading to become commonplace, and thus erode the standards which are essential for the health of our democracy.”

That’s it. That’s the story of the Trumpified Republican Party. It didn’t have to be. And you know who to blame.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A couple of other items worthy of your time …

Hubert Humphrey Was an Isolationist — Until He Went to the Segregated South

“The southbound trip on the Illinois Central, with its terminus in the kingdom of Jim Crow, began the most transformational year in the life of the man who would become an unabashed liberal, Lyndon Johnson’s loyal vice president and the Democratic presidential candidate who lost to Richard Nixon. The political leader he would become in later decades — a champion of civil rights, a fighter against anti-Semitism, and an interventionist in world affairs — took form during the 10 months he lived in Baton Rouge and studied at LSU.”

An excerpt from a new book on Humphrey by Samuel G. Freedman.


From the bookshelf: ‘The ghost at the feast’

Here’s a book I can unreservedly recommend – Robert Kagan’s The Ghost at the Feast, a provocative and intelligent look at American foreign policy from 1900 to U.S. involvement in World War II.

“Kagan argues that global leadership was thrust on America from the beginning of the 20th century by the collapse of the British world order, the rise of Germany and Japan, and ultimately World War I. The US had become the world’s leading economic power and dominated the world economy even more than it would following World War II. The new reality was that the US held the balance of power in world politics and was seen as the only country capable of ensuring a peaceful and democratic liberal world order.”

This book is why I love history


The Koch Network’s Anti-Trump Ads Are Atrocious

This piece by Tim Miller explains a good deal about why the Peach Prince of Mar a Lago will be the GOP presidential candidate – again.

“So, here’s my advice for rich, elderly Republican types who have a billion dollars to burn and want to do their part to ensure they don’t live out their golden years in a Trump autocracy. 

“Either: (A) Man up and do what is required to try to beat him in a primary; (B) Use your resources to help Joe Biden, who has a proven strategy for beating Trump; or (C) Give the money to help poor kids who don’t have enough to eat.”

From The Bulwark.


See you soon. Thanks for reading.

And … my new book is available for pre-order. Here from the University of Oklahoma Press or from the Bezos Empire … or coming soon to independent bookstores. All the best.

Democracy, Trump

The True Believer …

Maybe the best guide to understanding what has become of the modern conservative movement is a modest little book first published in 1951.

The enduring truths contained in Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements simply could not be more relevant to America in the 21st Century.

Dwight Eisenhower thought enough of Hoffer’s book to recommend it to a wounded World War II veteran. Ronald Reagan presented Hoffer with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.

Eric Hoffer, a San Francisco longshoreman by trade and a self-taught philosopher by avocation, might never have predicted that the United States, a country built on at least the language of fidelity to the rule of law, would one day find itself in a situation where one political party would fundamentally reject the authority and seriousness of the American legal system in service to a demagogue.

In fairness, Hoffer likely couldn’t imagine a Donald Trump, at least not 70 years ago amid fresh memories of what authoritarians are capable of. Yet here we are in a nation dominated by the blind idolization of the “base” of the Republican Party for a former president who is about to become the subject of serial indictments ranging from hush money payments to a porn actress to illegally secreting away classified documents to inciting a deadly insurrection.

Long before Trump, Hoffer was able to understand the characteristics of mass movements that propelled charismatic, manipulative, law ignoring charlatans to power in the Europe of the 1920s and 1930s.

The leader of a mass movement, Hoffer wrote, need not be particularly smart or a person of character. In fact, those attributes matter hardly at all. The “main requirements,” for the mass leader, Hoffer concluded, involve “audacity and a joy in defiance, an iron will, a fanatical conviction that he is in possession of the one and only truth.” The successful leader of a mass movement has “a capacity for passionate hatred; contempt for the present; a cunning estimate of human nature; a delight in symbols (spectacles and ceremonials); (and) unbounded brazenness which finds expression in a disregard of consistency and fairness.”

Most of all the leader depends on – this should conjure up an image of a Kevin McCarthy, a Steve Bannon or any number of other alleged modern conservatives who have sold their souls and backbones to a twice impeached serial liar – “a capacity for winning and holding the upmost loyalty of the group of able lieutenants.”

These true believing enablers typically display a certain level of competence – McCarthy found a way to get elected Speaker of the House, after all – and are certainly aware of what they have bought into, but awareness matters little compared to a willingness, as Hoffer put it, to “submit wholly to the will of the leader.”

And what does submitting “wholly” to the leader look like as we gaze on America’s mass movement?

Republican after Republican this week, members of the party that once considered nothing more important than “law and order,” attacked the prosecutor who appears poise to indict the movement’s leader on the advice of a grand jury comprised of American citizens. Meanwhile, the man at the center of this unprecedented situation did what all leaders of mass movements do, he called forth his followers, urging them to protest – for him.

The man from Mar-a-Lago and the porn actress he paid to stay quiet … nothing to see here

McCarthy, who long ago wholly submitted, called the pending Trump indictment “pure politics” and attacked the elected prosecutor for being soft on crime, a curious position for one defending a person alleged to have committed a crime. Other former “law and order” conservatives attacked Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Black man, calling him a “George Soros-backed” prosecutor, a nifty twofer insult that involves both race and anti-Semitism.

A credible reaction from any elected official to the potential indictment of a prominent political figure would be to say that “the justice system needs to be allowed to work.” They could have said the burden of proof is with the prosecution and we need to wait and see what a judge and jury make of the allegations. They could have said “no comment.” Instead, they submitted wholly to the will of the leader who has devoted most of his adult life to skirting the kind of legal and ethical accountability the rest of us take for granted.

There is nothing – nothing – normal about this Republican reaction to alleged criminal conduct by a former officeholder. To normalize attacks on prosecutors is to expand dangerously Trump’s own assaults on judges, law enforcement officials and courts, the bedrock American institutions that still remain, thankfully, as a shaky bulwark against his life-long penchant for criminality.

I find myself in agreement with The Atlantic’s Tom Nichols, a Never Trump conservative, who wrote this week that the porn star hush money case is certainly not the strongest case Trump will confront, but if Al Capone, a man like the former president guilty of many crimes, could be brought down by a tax evasion conviction, why not pursue the illegality of Trump’s payoffs to Stormy Daniels?

Yet the bigger issue, as Nichols noted, is that Trump again summoned the mob to do his bidding. 

Trump “is warning all of us, point-blank,” Nichols wrote, “that he will violate the law if he wants to, and if you don’t like it, you can take it up with the mob that he can summon at will. This is pure authoritarianism, the flex of a would-be American caudillo who is betting that our fear of his goons is greater than our commitment to the rule of law. Once someone like Trump issues that kind of challenge, it doesn’t matter if the indictment is for murder, campaign-finance violations, or mopery with intent to gawk: The issue is whether our legal institutions can be bullied into paralysis.”

That’s what is happening here, the wholesale submission of a class of political leaders to the leader of a mass movement who, at his whim, can call on his followers to help him break the law.

How pervasive is the threat? How deep does this rot go? Look no farther than at the conduct of the senior most Republican on the once prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the junior senator from Idaho, James E. Risch.

When the Trump mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 at the call of the president of the United States, an event utterly unprecedented in all of American history, and resulting – so far – in charges against more than a thousand rioters and the convictions of more than 400, Risch’s very private hideaway office in the Capitol was trashed by the mob.

January 6 rioters trash the office of Idaho’s junior senator

The video of the ransacking, as broadcast by NBC, “shows a rioter – who has pleaded guilty to driving a stun gun into a police officer’s neck, nearly killing him – smashing out Risch’s window overlooking the Washington Monument and the national mall in an attempt to let more rioters into the building. Additional video … shows Risch’s trashed desk, including what looks like a framed campaign image bearing his last name.”

NBC noted that the leader of our mass movement is very popular in Risch’s home state, making it therefore necessary for the senator to wholly submit to the will of the leader. Risch, of course, said nothing at the time about the rioters in his office. He said nothing when confronted with the video evidence.

The true believing senator did what followers do, even when they themselves are the victims of evil. He stayed loyal. He submitted.

—–0—–

Additional Reads:

‘Gone With the Wind’: The Explosive Lost Scenes

A fascinating deep dive into the making of the iconic film.

Undeniably, the movie represented historic achievements in storytelling, color cinematography, production design, acting, orchestration, multidimensional portrayals of female characters, costuming, and efforts to fight the censorship of the Hays Code. But it is equally true that the film had a destructive global influence on the entire world’s understanding of race relations. A French critic once hailed Gone With the Wind as ‘the Sistine Chapel of Movies,’ while director John Ridley more recently summarized it as ‘a film that, when it is not ignoring the horrors of slavery, pauses only to perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color.'”

Read the full piece:

________________

Partygate: Johnson should reject any finding that he broke rules, say allies

Former British PM Boris Johnson – no relation – is in a pickle, again, for allegedly misleading Parliament during Covid lockdown. And Bois acting a lot like someone you probably remember.

“Boris Johnson should refuse to accept the outcome of the privileges committee investigation if it concludes that he intentionally misled the Commons over the Partygate scandal, his allies have said.

“Some of the former prime minister’s supporters believe he should reject the cross-party group’s findings if they decide, based on written evidence and a fractious three-and-a-half-hour evidence session on Wednesday, that he broke strict parliamentary rules.

Here’s the story:

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Is Ron DeSantis the Republican Michael Dukakis?

I always try to read Bill Scher.

“Democrats once nominated a governor for president, fresh off a landslide re-election, who claimed he could do for the country what he did for his home state. His name was Michael Dukakis, and he dubbed his state’s 1980s economic turnaround the ‘Massachusetts Miracle.‘ However, in the 1980s, a right-leaning electorate did not embrace liberal Massachusetts values.”

Good piece from The Washington Monthly:

____________________

Have a good week … and keep reading – everything.

 

Film, GOP, Trump

Some Agreement …

When celebrated Hollywood producer Darryl F. Zanuck made his 1947 Academy Award winning film Gentleman’s Agreement, the United States – and the world – was only beginning to reckon with the horror of the Holocaust. 

Zanuck, a Nebraska boy who served in France during World War I before becoming a movie industry powerhouse, may have been the only Tinseltown big wheel who could have made a feature film about American anti-Semitism. Zanuck wasn’t Jewish.

Anti-Semitism was a potentially explosive issue, even given all that had become known about systematic genocide against European Jews during a horrible war that had ended just two years before the film premiered. With the exception of Zanuck, all the big studios – Warner Brothers and Metro Goldwyn Mayer, for example – were headed by Jewish movie bosses, the same people who had been attacked prior to US entry into World War II for disseminating anti-Nazi, pro-British propaganda.

Nazi Germany had been defeated on the battlefield and the Aryan nationalism – and anti-Semitism – at the core of Nazi ideology seemed to have been forcefully and finally repudiated. But Zanuck knew better. The particularly virulent strain of American anti-Semitism had not been repudiated. It wasn’t even underground, but existing in plain sight, tolerated and perpetuated by “good Americans” who couldn’t conceive that “those people” were really the subjects of widespread discrimination, or worse.

In many places American Jews couldn’t be a member of a country club, attend some colleges or own a home in certain neighborhoods. The US State Department, a Waspish collection of mostly-Ivy League Gentiles, was notoriously anti-Semitic. The radical right in the America of the 1930s and 40s trafficked the fiction that Franklin Roosevelt – a lifelong Episcopalian – was really a secret Jew, the mastermind not of the New Deal, but the Jew Deal.  

Deeply embedded in the American DNA is the old trope that Jews control the media, entertainment and high finance and are foisting a “globalist” agenda on us. The old slurs and hatreds are back with a vengeance, often accompanied by violence. As journalist Alexander Nazaryan noted recently, “Jews are targets of about 60 % of all religious-driven hate crimes across the United States, a fact that is especially surprising since Jews make up only 2.4% of the American population.”

In Gentleman’s Agreement the supremely talented Gregory Peck plays a hot-shot magazine writer, Phil Green, who is commissioned by a big national publication to write a piece on anti-Semitism. Peck’s character, a widower with a young son, struggles to develop an angle for his story. He could cite numbers and official reports, but such an approach would hardly be compelling. Finally, he settles on an approach – he will pretend to all but his immediate family to be Jewish in order to investigate the slurs, discrimination and hatred firsthand.

Predictably reporter Green begins immediately experiencing the sting of discrimination. His son is taunted as a “dirty kike.” His fiancé is one of the “good people” who abhors anti-Semitism, but nevertheless refuses to do much of anything about it. Green’s pal, an Army veteran and a Jew, is assaulted in a bar and struggles to find a home for his family. The hotel where the journalist and his wife plan to honeymoon is “restricted,” no Jews allowed due to an unspoken “gentlemen’s agreement.”

There is much to ponder in this old and important film and much that sadly remains all too relevant, particularly as a once and potentially future American president welcomes to his dinner table the pathetic rapper Kanye West and one Nick Fuentes, perhaps the most loathsome anti-Semitic white supremacist (which is saying something) in today’s radical right.

There is no real point, given all he has done, to further condemn Donald Trump for enabling and encouraging the racist, anti-Semitic right. Trump is what he is. Always has been.

A bigot, a white nationalist and an anti-Semite – certain titles interchangeable

Rather, this moment of anti-Semitic reckoning is about the “good people” who are smart enough to see this hate in technicolor, but still flinch from action, rather like the actress Dorothy McGuire in Zanuck’s film. In her heart McGuire’s character condemns discrimination, but by her inaction she acquiesces to evil.

This old movie story is little different than a host of Republican officeholders who have either remained silent – again – or condemned discrimination without denouncing the perpetrators of such hatred.

An exception is the most prominent Mormon in Congress, Utah Senator Mitt Romney.

“There is no bottom to the degree to which he’s willing to degrade himself, and the country for that matter. Having dinner with those people was disgusting,” Romney said of Trump’s dining companions. “Anybody else” would be a better party leader, Romney said.

“I don’t think he should be president of the United States. I don’t think he should be the nominee of our party in 2024,” he said. “And I certainly don’t want him hanging over our party like a gargoyle.”

But hang he does. In the same way that hate hovers over the radical right stretching from Idaho’s lieutenant governor who appeared at a Fuentes sponsored event earlier this year to Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green who appeared at the same forum. Both used Trump’s lie – I don’t know this person – to excuse associating with Fuentes.

For the record, Fuentes, a big presence on social media, has called for a dictatorship in America with Trump president for life. He wants to prohibit women from voting, and even end elections. He’s the worst of the worst of the racist core of the radical right. Fuentes, says the Anti-Defamation League, “seeks to forge a white nationalist alternative to the mainstream GOP.”

How difficult is that to condemn? How hard is that to ignore? Ask your Republican congressman or your conservative state legislator, your governor. Good luck getting them to respond.

A remarkable feature of Darryl Zanuck’s 1947 film about anti-Semitism was the ease with which the script called out well-known racists of that time. Zanuck sought legal advice as to whether he risked libel by condemning by name notorious Mississippi racists Theodore Bilbo and John Rankin, as well as Gerald L.K. Smith, a white nationalist media star of his day not unlike Fuentes today. In the end Zanuck said, to hell with it.

“Let them sue us,” Zanuck said. “They won’t dare, and if they do, nothing would make me more happy than to appear personally as a witness or defendant at the trial.”

Smith did sue over the film – and lost, a fitting reminder that bigots confronted can be bigots defeated.

For far too long from Georgia to Idaho, from Arizona to Iowa those who make nice with the racist, radical right have gotten a nearly unlimited free pass from “good people” who know better. Their compliancy only begets more hate.

As one reviewer has noted, “Gentleman’s Agreement reaped high rewards for its bravery, intelligence, and entertainment value” and carried away awards for its director, Elia Kazan. Would it be that a bit more bravery and intelligence presented itself now when hatred once again so desperately needs unequivocal condemnation from conservatives.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

A few other items that may be of interest …

Stewart Rhodes’ son: ‘How I escaped my father’s militia’

The Oath Keepers leader, Stewart Rhodes, was convicted this week of seditious conspiracy, a huge development for legal and law enforcement authorities pushing back against the collection of radicals who stormed the Capitol on January 6. This story about Rhodes’ family is, well, something else.

Militia leader and convicted felon Stewart Rhodes

“Family life became Oath Keepers life. Tasha would welcome members into their home; Dakota would answer militia emails and, when he was older, drive his father to and from Oath Keepers events.

“But during long stretches when Rhodes was on the road, the rest of his family felt like life was closing in on them. ‘We were so insular and isolated that the date and time and what day of the week it was, or what year it was, had very little bearing on our internal lives,’ Dakota said.

“Today, Dakota lives in a one-room apartment down a country road outside a small Montana town, not far from the family home he escaped.”

Read the whole thing – from the BBC.


Elon Musk’s Twist On Tech Libertarianism Is Blowing Up On Twitter

You may have heard entirely too much already about about this guy, but this piece by Derek Robertson delves into the libertarian mindset of Musk and his ilk in Silicon Valley.

“Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter is a window into a distinct mindset, common to Silicon Valley but not exclusively of it, that glorifies individual dynamism over group consensus-building.”

I have some other thought, but I’ll leave it at that. Read the piece here.


How Virginia Woolf Shunned—and Then Embraced—T.S. Eliot

Tom and Virginia

“To be taken on by Virginia Woolf was a triumph for Eliot … It meant acceptance by London’s literary elite.”

From LitHub.


The Northwoods Baseball Radio Network Is On The Air

Northwoods Baseball Sleep Radio is a full-length fake baseball game. There is no yelling, no loud commercials, no weird volume spikes. Fans call it “baseball radio ASMR”.

It is the perfect podcast for sleeping or relaxing, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Available wherever you get your podcasts.

Very clever and very funny.


See you next week. Be careful out there. Thanks for reading.