Republicans won't admit the true reason they're angry about the Jan. 6 investigation

Morally, of course, the worst part about the Republican response to the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection is that they're trying to undermine the group's work at the behest of Donald Trump, the man who incited the violent riot in a last-ditch effort to throw out the results of his 2020 election loss. But I fully admit that, on a purely personal level, I'm deeply disgusted by just what sniveling cowards Republicans are being as they go about this.

Perhaps the most grating fact is that not one person in the party, not even the loudest mouthed jackasses or most shamelessly fascistic Republicans, will just come right out and say it: They don't like the January 6 commission because they disagree with the committee's basic premise that fascist insurrections are bad. Instead, Americans are being treated to a whirlwind of deflection, gaslighting, victim-blaming, and even victim-mockery — all in an attempt to fill the discourse with noise meant to give Republicans the space to back Trump while pretending that doesn't include backing his attempted coup of the 2020 election or any coups he may attempt in the future.

Republican leadership in the House of Representatives kicked off the efforts to undermine the hearing early on Tuesday, with a bizarre press conference that involved Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York playing the your-fault-for-wearing-a-short-skirt card against Rep. Nancy Pelosi, accusing the San Francisco Democrat of bearing "responsibility as Speaker of the House for the tragedy that occurred on January 6th."

Pelosi, of course, was actually one of the primary targets of the insurrectionists, who were braying for her blood and ransacking her office in a frenzy of misogynistic loathing for one of the highest-ranking woman in the federal government.

But once the hearing itself got underway, the evidence presented exposed the GOP's gambit as the pathetic grasping that it was.

Metropolitan police officer Daniel Hodges — the victim of a vicious assault as rioters attempted to crush him in a door that day — reminded observers that there "were over 9,000 of the terrorists out there with an unknown number of firearms." It's a joke to argue, as Republicans are, that some minor tweaking of Capitol security was going to overcome what Capitol Police officer Aquilino Gonell memorably described as "a medieval battlefield."

After the powerful hearing, the deflections from Republican leaders got even dumber.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio both pretended to reporters that they were too busy to watch the hearing, the Washington Post reported, and Stefanik refused to say if she watched it. She somehow still had opinions about the thing she won't say she watched. Stefanik went on Fox News to complain that the hearing is about "trying to shame over 70 million Americans who were standing up for constitutional and election integrity," which is, of course, Republicans' code for Trump's Big Lie.

The shamelessness of Stefanik is breathtaking. She's defending conspiracy theories meant to bolster the belief that Trump is entitled to stay president despite losing an election, but doesn't have the courage to come right out and admit it, hiding instead behind voters who supposedly believe those conspiracy theories. Words like "integrity," in Stefanik's mouth, simply mean the opposite of their commonly held definition in American English. Stefanik and other Republican leaders continue to make apologies for the Big Lie and minimize the insurrection, but like cowards, they are pretending this somehow isn't the moral equivalent of supporting Trump's efforts to overturn the election or the violence that resulted from it. This is really one of those rare moments in life where there's no nuanced middle ground. Continuing to support Trump means supporting fascist insurrection, and no rhetorical games played by Republicans can change that.

Still, the dumb games go on, and not just with Republican leadership.

On Fox News, the networks' top primetime hosts rolled out more sleazy rhetorical techniques to signal support for Trump's Big Lie and the insurrection, all without having the courage to come right out and say what they meant bluntly. Instead, they mostly mocked the police officers who testified. Tucker Carlson sneeringly suggested the officers were exaggerating the trauma of January 6, while Laura Ingraham called the hearing "performance art." They're counting on viewers not watching the hearing in the first place. If they had, they would have heard that one of the police officers suffered a heart attack and traumatic brain injury, another had an emotional breakdown, another was seen on video being crushed in a door, and another provided photos of his extensive injuries from that day.

The most overtly fascist fringe of the Republican party is, it must be said, gliding closer to coming right out and saying they think that January 6 was a good thing.

As Zachary Petrizzo of Salon reported Tuesday, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-GA, Matt Gaetz, R-Fl, Louie Gohmert, R-Tx., and Paul Gosar, R-Az., attempted to hold a press conference as counterprogramming to the hearing, in which arrested insurrectionists were portrayed as "political prisoners." The presser fell apart, however, when protesters made a mockery of the situation. But while these folks are generally treated as a "fringe" of the party, it's important to remember they are on exactly the same page as Trump himself. And he has been spouting the same talking points painting the insurrectionists as the good guys.

But even Trump is too much of a coward to come right out and say that he thinks violent insurrection is good. Instead, he's been in full gaslighting mode for months, denying that the riot was even a riot, instead saying, "it was zero threat" and that the insurrectionists were "hugging and kissing the police and the guards." For his part, officer Gonell directly retorted during the hearing Tuesday, "I'm still recovering from those 'hugs and kisses' that day that he claimed that so many rioters, terrorists, were assaulting us with."

Trump's attempted coup failed. But Republicans in state governments across the country are lining up to make sure, next time he tries to steal an election, he succeeds. What's going on here is not mysterious. All these Republicans are betting that Trump will soon ascend to the dictatorial powers he aspires to, and they want a piece of the pie when that happens. But, until the day comes that a newly inaugurated Trump is declaring January 6 a federal holiday of the glorious revolution, they continue to fear that it's bad politics to just come out in favor of fascist insurrections. So here we are, in a sea of gaslighting and deflection and victim-blaming. Because Republicans aren't just villains — they're cowards.

Pelosi outmaneuvers McCarthy on Jan. 6 commission as Capitol police undercut GOP stunt

Earlier this month, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made the entirely sensible decision that the select committee to investigate the insurrection of January 6 should not include pro-insurrectionists. So she declined two nominations made by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., of Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, two Republicans who did not even bother to hide the fact that they planned to sabotage the important work of the committee. McCarthy, who has for months resisted this effort to investigate the attack that targeted members of Congress, including himself, responded by feigning outrage that Pelosi was denying him his god-given right to make a mockery of the committee and pulled all of his nominees.

McCarthy's tantrum initially worked. Pelosi's "no assclowns" rule, reasonable to any person whose basic sense of decency hasn't been hobbled by years of hack punditry, actually angered a number of people in the press. Most notable among them was the famously well-heeled hack of the Beltway press Chris Cilizza of CNN, who wrote a smarmy piece headlined "Nancy Pelosi just doomed the already tiny chances of the 1/6 committee actually mattering." Never mind, of course, that it was McCarthy who was playing games. Republicans are never treated by the Cilizzas of political punditry as having autonomy, responsibility, or culpability for their actions. Cilizza's terminal case of "bipartisan brain" convinced him that what an investigation into a very real and violent attempted coup needs is a bunch of saboteurs running the show.

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On Tuesday, we had the first hearing of what will hopefully be many into the events of January 6. Four police officers, two from the Capitol Police and two from the D.C. Metropolitan police, offered bracing and frequently heart-breaking testimony about what it was like to spend hours fighting both for their lives and to keep members of Congress safe from the rampaging mob intent on overthrowing democracy.

"I was electrocuted again and again and again with a Taser," D.C. police officer Michael Fanone, who suffered a heart attack and a traumatic brain injury from the attack, testified. "I'm sure I was screaming, but I don't think I could even hear my own voice."

Capitol police officer Harry Dunn spoke movingly about the racist abuse he received from the rioters, who called him the N-word repeatedly. He testified about sobbing after the attack and asking, "Is this America?"

Needless to say, the day proved Pelosi's critics wrong.

The proceedings did not, in fact, lack gravitas due to the lack of a coatless Rep. Jordan rolling up his sleeves and screaming incomprehensible conspiracy theories about "antifa" at the officers. The day would have not have been improved by having McCarthy's other saboteurs insult the officers or imply that they were lying under oath. No one's life was negatively affected by denying Republicans an opportunity to retraumatize these four men, who were incredibly brave to step forward, despite the ongoing threats from the followers of the fascist orange gaslighter the GOP is still in the thrall of.

The notion that the committee is not bipartisan, of course, is a joke. There are two Republicans on the committee — Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — who were chosen because they met the baseline requirement of believing fascist insurrections are very bad. The idea that these two don't "count" is inseparable from believing that to be a Republican necessarily means supporting Trump and his insurrection. And neither of them, who are both incredibly conservative despite their anti-insurrection views, are conceding that as of yet.

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But ultimately, it doesn't matter how "bipartisan" the committee is. As Tuesday's hearing showed, the facts are sturdy enough to stand up even under the relentless partisanship of Republicans who would rather support a seditious ex-president than admit that Democrats are right about something. The videos showing the violence, the righteous anger of the officers who are sick of being told they didn't experience what they clearly went through, and the raw emotions as these men spoke of the terrors of that day: It all speaks for itself.

That people who continue to support Trump after January 6 should be ashamed of themselves is a given. But so should any journalist or pundit who thinks that "bipartisanship" matters more than the blunt facts of what happened on January 6 and who is responsible. (That would be Trump.) And it's clear that the committee does not need to cater to the Beltway media's fetish for bipartisanship to do its job. All they need to do is continue to uncover the ugly truth about the attack on our democracy.

Here's how the GOP's race to the bottom became a 'worst person' contest

J.D. Vance is getting desperate. The author of a book now famous for being adapted into the worst Netflix movie of all time is running for Senate in Ohio, hoping to use the same down-home country boy cosplay that effectively fooled both country club Republicans and the Hollywood liberals who bought "Hillbilly Elegy" to gain the trust of actual Ohio Republican voters. So far, however, the Yale law school-educated venture capitalist with a campaign bankrolled by one of the most sinister Silicon Valley financiers, Peter Thiel, has not received the open-armed welcome he clearly expected. The fight between Vance and the other Republican candidates, Josh Mandel and Jane Timken, has turned into a battle of who can be the Trumpiest. Vance's air of being a try-hard — compared to the more authentic racist pandering that emanates from Mandel — has left him falling way behind in the polls. Even moves like apologizing abjectly for past Trump criticism just end up being a reminder that, even though Vance is every inch the hardline authoritarian, he is bad at hiding what political science professor Scott Lemieux described as "his disdain for members of the Appalachian working class who have not shared his good fortune." And so, to gain ground, Vance has turned to a tactic that has become the primary form of discourse in the GOP, post-Donald Trump: trolling.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Largely, the competition takes place on Twitter, where Vance says dumb and annoying stuff in an attempt to attract liberal outrage and mockery, and ideally, get journalists to write pieces framing him as a pre-eminent triggerer of the liberals. So far, Vance has pretended that he wasn't familiar with New York City and wondered if it was "like Walking Dead Season 1 or Season 4." (He ended up staying in the Hamptons.) He has tried to frame support for universal adult suffrage in the U.S. as a matter of "global oligarchy," an unsubtle head nod to racist conspiracy theories fueling the most fascist fringes of the GOP. And he pathetically joined in on the right-wing dunking on Gen. Mark Milley for his comments suggesting that racism is bad.

Now Vance, grasping for headlines, has started to argue that childless adults should not have the right to vote. The excuse for this is that the childless have "no physical commitment to the future of this country." He targeted Vice President Kamala Harris, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as people who, because they are childless, should be blocked from the franchise. Notably, three of the four are people of color and one is gay, underscoring how much this gambit is about appealing bluntly to the MAGA belief that only people that are like them deserve to have a say in government.

This move is unlikely to bolster Vance's chances, in no small part because he just is bad at hiding how much he doesn't believe his own B.S. (Like most in his elite social class, Vance waited until his early 30s to have children.) But the fact that he went there is troubling in and of itself because it illustrates just how much Republican politics have turned into a trolling contest. The result is the rapid decline into authoritarianism and even fascism among the GOP base.

Vance is doing this because he's running well behind Mandel, whose platform can basically be summed up as "Gilead was actually a utopia." That sounds hyperbolic, but no, for real, he's been arguing that we "need a Judeo-Christian revolution in this country" and that a belief in God should be enforced "in the classroom, in the workplace, and throughout society." Mandel's got a leg up, however, because he comes across as more sincere in his fanaticism.

But even though Vance's strategy won't work for him, it still injects real poison into the political bloodstream.

Fox News picked up on Vance's idea and had a segment where they pretended to "debate" this notion, but really, the point was to gin up jealousy in their audience of supposedly hedonistic childless liberals who are living it up while you, Fox News viewer, had the hard life of diapers and paying for band camp. It was more grist for the spite mill that has become the whole of right-wing politics these days.

Vance, of course, is just part of the larger Republican troll-industrial complex, in which Republicans attract attention and money from the base by competing to see who can be the worst. Recent examples include Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas (and, of course, Trump himself) whining that Cleveland's baseball team dropped a racist mascot, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis selling anti-vaccination gear at his campaign website, and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene calling Air Force veteran Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a "traitor" because of his outspoken opposition to the fascist insurrection on January 6.

These kinds of tactics work to get support from the GOP base. DeSantis has become a favorite for Trump's running mate if/when he runs for president again in 2024. Cruz is both one of the most hated men in D.C. and one of the strongest fundraisers, filling his coffers with eff-the-liberals dollars. And Taylor Greene, whose bug-eyed ravings regularly attract liberal dunks and outrage, is one of the biggest fundraisers in the House.

The problem, of course, is that constantly upping the ante in a shitbird contest means spreading political ideas that have real impacts on real people. For instance, Republicans like DeSantis got into a contest over who could be the most hostile to efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic. The result was that Republican voters decided the best way to show their right-wing bona fides was to refuse the vaccine. Now COVID-19 rates are soaring — and Florida is leading the pack with new infections.

Vance's rhetoric contributes to the larger push of Republicans getting increasingly radical in the belief that people who aren't like them have no right to vote. It really amped up during Trump's drawn-out, failed coup after the election, which he repeatedly justified by insinuating that voters in cities like Philadelphia and Detroit were inherently illegitimate. Unfortunately, long after Vance is gone from the political scene, his "helpful" illustration of who doesn't deserve the right to vote — three politicians of color and one gay politician — will linger in right-wing rhetoric, having been validated by his status as a member of GOP elite and, sadly, a best-selling author. As Republicans in state government continue to look for ways to kick people off voter rolls and declare urban voters illegitimate, people like Vance help justify their efforts.

Here, of course, is where readers will ask, "What can I do to fix this?"

I wish I had better answers. Because this is mostly about intra-Republican politics, it's hard for outsiders to do much. The only thing liberals can do is strive to not reward these tactics by providing the outrage or the dunks that someone like Vance is using to burnish his liberal-triggering credibility. If you must draw attention to it (as I'm doing here), the only approach is to go meta — explain what he's doing and why, instead of simply arguing back or getting angry, which is what he's trying to bait progressives into doing. But outside of this, the Republican race to the bottom may have to be something we're stuck with until it plays itself out, which could get very ugly indeed.

Of course Trump stalled the Brett Kavanaugh probe: Republicans never cared about #MeToo

It may be hard to remember after the roller coaster of a news cycle we've all been riding for the past few years, but during the 2018 confirmation hearings for Donald Trump's Supreme Court appointee Brett Kavanaugh, Republicans actually bothered trying to create the appearance that they took allegations of sexual assault seriously. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were clearly concerned about looking like they were being dismissive or rude to the woman who stepped forward to accuse Kavanaugh of attempted rape in high school, Christine Blasey Ford. They were so worried, in fact, that the male-only Republican side of the panel hid behind a female interlocutor, Rachel Mitchell, who was hired to question Blasey Ford for them.

The whole thing was just an act, of course. That was obvious at the time, because the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee, while allowing Blasey Ford to testify, refused to call other potential corroborating witnesses, including a woman who claimed to have had a similar encounter with Kavanaugh in college. But a new report this week underscores the phoniness of Republican claims to take allegations of sexual assault seriously.

The supposed FBI investigation of Kavanaugh that the Trump White House and Senate Republicans ordered — and then used to claim Kavanaugh was exonerated — is looking more sham-like. The newest revelation is that, while the FBI got over 4,500 calls on their tipline about Kavanaugh, the ones deemed relevant were merely passed onto Trump's White House, who almost certainly tossed them in File #13.

"If the FBI was not authorized to or did not follow up on any of the tips that it received from the tip line, it is difficult to understand the point of having a tip line at all," a group of Democratic senators, led by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray. Whitehouse followed up with a Twitter thread, making clear how much he believes this "investigation" was a hatchet job:

I charged that the "tip line" was really a tip dump, with all the tips going straight into the dumpster without investigation. In fact it was a tip dump where all the tips went straight to White House Counsel without investigation. Same difference.
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) July 22, 2021

In the months and years after the Kavanaugh hearing, it's become common wisdom on the right that Kavanaugh was done dirty and that the whole situation was proof that the #MeToo movement had gone "too far". But, critically, not because conservative America believed Blasey Ford was lying. It was much more that they didn't care if she was telling the truth. That's why they didn't bother to find out, either way. The grim reality is that, as a general rule, Republicans simply don't think it matters in many cases if a man has a history of sexual abuse. This wasn't a "we don't believe he did it" situation. This was a "who cares if he did it?" situation.

The Potemkin investigation of Kavanaugh's background illustrates this ugly reality. Republicans believed it was politically important to look like they care about sexual assault, so they made a big show of "investigating" it. But they do not actually care about sexual assault and have nothing but contempt for people who do care about the issue. And so it was about propping up an illusion of concern, while not actually doing anything substantive at all.

No surprise, of course. These are the same folks who backed Trump — and not just in 2016 and 2020, either. They are gearing up to put him on the ballot again in 2024. As a reminder, this is a man has not only been accused of sexual assault and abuse by 26 women, but two — his first wife Ivana Trump and journalist E. Jean Carroll — of them told harrowing stories of rape. (Ivana Trump later recanted the word "rape" during the nasty, lawyer-heavy divorce.)

Even for those who refuse to believe women, no matter how many steps forward, the case against Trump is about as ironclad as it gets, due to the completely voluntary taped confession he made to Billy Bush on the set of "Access Hollywood" in 2005. You know the one, of course, where he brags about how he likes to "grab 'em by the pussy" and that, "When you're a star, they let you do it."

The fact of Trump's history of sexual assault isn't really up for debate, but his support has only grown among Republicans in the five years since the "Access Hollywood" tape came out. Most of them don't even pretend to believe it's all a frame job, because again, taped confession/bragging session. They simply don't care. Being a sexual predator does not disqualify men from having positions of incredible political power, in Republican eyes. And the fact that Trump bragged about it is a reminder that some men even see assaulting women as something to be proud of.

The idea that Kavanaugh is the victim of overzealous feminists and opportunist Democrats has less to do with a belief that he's innocent and more about a belief that it shouldn't matter if men do things like this. It's all tied up with the ongoing outrage on the right about "cancel culture" and "wokeness." The anger flows from a conservative sense of entitlement to do and say awful things without having to face any consequences for it. You see a similar dynamic in the fights over what the right falsely describes as "critical race theory." Few deny that the U.S. has a history of slavery, segregation, or lynching. Conservatives just want liberals to quit talking about it, because, ultimately, they don't see why it should matter. And, in fact, they're annoyed that "woke" people keep insisting that these things do matter.

On a similar front, conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly is waging a war to silence Andrea Mackris, who accused him of sexual harassment when they were both working at Fox News and settled out of court in 2004. No one mistakes this as a situation of an innocent man trying to clear his name. This is just one of at least five sexual harassment lawsuits that Fox News settled on O'Reilly's behalf. And legal documents have lengthy transcripts from conversations Mackris apparently taped with O'Reilly.

This fight isn't about the facts. Letting women go on TV to tell their stories of being victimized is signaling that women matter and that sexual abuse is serious, and that, above all other things, is what people like O'Reilly cannot countenance.

It's good that Whitehouse and his fellow Democrats have stayed on this scandal, even as most D.C. power players have moved on. The #MeToo movement was, indeed, a seismic shift in how our country talks about sexual abuse, and a lot of people really did wake up to the fact that it's much more common than they thought. But it's important to remember that, for all that progress, we still have a sizeable number of Americans who flat out do not think most sexual abuse is a serious issue and resent people who say otherwise. Changing that attitude is going to require a lot more than education about the facts.

Here's how DC media got punked by Kevin McCarthy on the Jan. 6 commission

The most important thing to remember about the formation of the select committee to investigate the January 6 Capitol riot is this: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gave Republicans multiple opportunities to act as good faith investigators who want to help reveal the truth, instead of as insurrection co-conspirators who are running interference for Donald Trump.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Democrats tried to create a bipartisan committee through official congressional legislation, but Republicans stopped them. Democrats then went at it by themselves, creating a select committee with the House leadership powers, yet still decided to invite Republicans onto the commission as an act of good faith. All Republicans needed to do was act like adults who believe fascist coups are bad business, instead of a bunch of clowns whose only goal is to disrupt the proceedings. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, however, could not pass this basic "adults or clowns?" test. He picked clowns, including Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who has a pair of the biggest shoes and some of the thickest greasepaint in the highly competitive field of authoritarian buffoons of the GOP. Picking the QAnon shaman would have been a more subtle effort at sabotage, but "subtle" isn't exactly a popular aesthetic in Republican circles today. And so Pelosi did what any sensible person who wants a real investigation instead of a conspiracy theory circus would have done: She said no thank you to Jordan and Jim Banks, R-Ind., who honks his nose less loudly than Jordan but is no less a far-right saboteur.

In turn, McCarthy, proving once more he is not adult enough to handle the responsibilities Pelosi entrusted to him, threw a tantrum and declared that he and the Republicans are going to have their own investigation, where they can unpack the clown car full of all the "antifa did it!" and "beating cops is peaceful protest" lies that they want.

"There are people who want to derail and thwart an investigation and there are people who want to conduct an investigation," Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., made clear to the New York Times. "That's the fault line here."

Here's the thing: Everyone knows Raskin is telling the truth. Democrats know it. Republicans know it. The journalists covering this know it. And yet, because the slow decline of our democracy is like a horror movie where the scantily clad young woman is ignoring audience pleas not to go down that dark hallway, the mainstream media is framing this as a "both sides" problem — or worse, as somehow the fault of Democrats for wanting adults to act like adults when investigating such a serious matter as an attempted coup.

"Pelosi Bars Trump Loyalists From Jan. 6 Inquiry, Prompting a G.O.P. Boycott," reads the New York Times headline. The text describes the dispute as a "partisan brawl" that illustrates "how poisonous relations have become between the two parties," sidestepping how this is singularly the fault of Republicans for choosing Trump over democracy itself.

"Bipartisan House probe of Jan. 6 insurrection falls apart after Pelosi blocks two GOP members," declared the Washington Post headline. "Both parties have attacked the other as insincere and uninterested in conducting a fair-minded examination of the attack," without noting that only one side, the Republicans, are lying about this.

The media's coverage of McCarthy's stunt so far has been an extreme example of what the bloggers at Lawyers, Guns, and Money deemed "Murc's law": "the widespread assumption that only Democrats have any agency or causal influence over American politics." In this case, the assumption is that it's somehow Pelosi's fault that McCarthy and his fellow Republicans are singularly focused on covering up for Trump and his crimes. These men are adults who think they're entitled to run the government, and yet they apparently can't be held responsible for their rejection of truth, the law, or the integrity of the electoral system they've sworn to uphold. Nah, it's somehow Pelosi's fault for not somehow massaging these fascist cover-up artists into better people.

A corollary assumption, though one that does not yet have a cute nickname, is that "bipartisanship" should be a goal above all others, one that all other values should be sacrificed to, including values like integrity, decency, and a belief that public servants should serve the public. Again, only Democrats are expected to sacrifice core values for "bipartisanship." Republicans can do what they want, burn any bridge, even continue to back the man who attempted a coup, but any failure of "bipartisanship" is laid at the feet of Democrats.

CNN's Chris Cillizza coughed up a particularly gross example:

The attitude, common in the Beltway press, is obnoxious enough when Democrats are being chastised for putting their campaign promises on infrastructure spending ahead of letting the GOP sabotage them in the name of "bipartisanship." But now the media fetish for bipartisanship is being weaponized by Republicans to justify, and this cannot be stated firmly enough, covering up for an attempted fascist overthrow of the U.S. government. And because they want the man who instigated it to have another bite at the apple, no less.

As Crooked Media editor-in-chief Brian Beutler pointed out on Twitter, the problem is that the media treats Republican "dirty dealing as a constant," as if it's the weather and not the actions of autonomous actors. They, therefore, end up acting like the only people whose actions deserve scrutiny are Democrats. The result is Democrats get blamed for things completely out of their control, such as McCarthy's choice to favor Trump over democracy.

The result, he added, is that the media is ignoring "one of the most incredible stories in U.S. history," which is that "an organized mob of the president's supporters attacked the Capitol and his party is trying to cover up the connections between the two." It's certainly a more interesting story than "Democratic leader fails to make Republicans act better," and yet, here we are.

Adam Serwer of the Atlantic diagnosed the problem by tweeting, "'The committee on the insurrection needs both pro and anti insurrection members, for balance is an expression of how uncomfortable mainstream objective journalists are in the current environment and how badly they want to get back to the pre-Trump equilibrium."

The irony of this is that the most effective thing the press could do to get that pre-Trump equilibrium back is to hold Republicans accountable for covering up for Trump. Pretending the fascists aren't fascist — or that they would somehow be less fascist if the Democrats were nicer to them — only helps the Trumpists get more power and helps keep Trump at the center of GOP politics. If there's any hope of the Republicans leaving Trump in the past, it goes through making it hard for them to keep hanging on. That starts with reporting the news honestly, instead of putting this Republican-coddling spin on events.

The reality is that Pelosi, by drawing the "no clowns" line in the sand for committee appointments, made the committee better. As Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman at the Washington Post wrote, "The less involved McCarthy is with this committee, the more likely it will be to undertake a genuine and comprehensive accounting."

Odds are that, for all the caterwauling about "bipartisanship," the press will end up giving more favorable coverage to the findings of the official Democratic-run committee than whatever joke of a committee the Republicans throw together. Not, of course, because mainstream journalists want to take Democrats more seriously. Clearly, they are so desperate to take Republicans seriously they're always throwing them a handicap. It's just that the Democrats will produce something that can be reported on seriously. McCarthy's nose-honkers, on the other hand, are likely to churn out some Breitbart newsletter-style conspiracy theories about "antifa" that the press will gently decline to cover widely, ironically to protect the illusion that Republicans are serious people.

Not that Republicans care. Whatever they produce is going straight into the Fox News propaganda machine. It was what Republicans intended to hijack the real committee to do: Produce selectively edited clips of Jordan raving at witnesses to distribute in their propaganda channels. Now they just won't waste Democrats' time in doing it.

By blocking the sabotage trolls, Pelosi gave the committee a fighting chance at producing something genuinely interesting, newsworthy, and focused on the real causes that led to the insurrection. She gets abused by the press for acting as the only adult in the room, but someone has to do it. And the same press that's bagging her for not doing more to accommodate insurrection cover-up artists will benefit from her choice. They're now going to get to cover committee findings that are both stronger and more interesting than the kneecapped version a more "bipartisan" committee would have produced. They may actually get people to click and read their stories, instead of ignoring the weak sauce headlines a report that caters to snowflake-sensitive pro-insurrectionists would have produced. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.

Here's the real reason Republicans suddenly seem to be taking COVID seriously

Amid a rising media furor over the steady stream of vaccine disparagement from GOP politicians and Fox News talking heads, a number of prominent Republicans spoke up in favor of vaccines early this week.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters, "shots need to get in everybody's arm as rapidly as possible" and asked that people "ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice." House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, got the vaccine after months of delay and then publicly said, "there shouldn't be any hesitancy over whether or not it's safe and effective." And Fox News host Sean Hannity, in a widely shared video, declared, it "absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated." This was treated in the press as an unequivocal endorsement, even though the use of the word "many" was clearly meant to let the Fox News viewers feel like he's talking about other people getting vaccinated.

Is this an exciting pivot among the GOP elites? Are they abandoning the sociopathic strategy of sabotaging President Joe Biden's anti-pandemic plan by encouraging their own followers to get sick? Are the millions of Republicans who keep telling pollsters they will never get that Democrat shot going to change their minds now?

Ha ha ha, no.

All this shows is that GOP politicians and pundits still know how to manipulate the mainstream press's endless desire to believe the Republicans aren't really as bad as the #resistance tweeters are saying. But while clips of prominent Republicans saying pro-vaccine stuff might be enough to get the press off their backs — or keep Biden from accusing them of "killing people," as he did (correctly) to Facebook — it won't be enough to actually get vaccine-hostile Republican voters to change their minds. Indeed, this should be understood more as a P.R. move to quell press criticism than a sincere effort to get reluctant people to get vaccinated.

Unlike most journalists — who merely watch clips from Fox News, often ones pre-selected for them by the Fox News P.R. team — Matt Gertz at Media Matters and Aaron Rupar at Vox actually put in the miserable work of watching entire shows on the network. And both reported on Tuesday that, despite the hype around Hannity's viral clip, the overall tenor of Fox News this week has still been that getting the vaccine is a very bad thing that no red-blooded Republican worth his MAGA hat should ever do. Indeed, the out-of-context Hannity clip comes from an episode that was overall anti-vaccine. The Hannity clip "came in the middle of a segment in which he railed against colleges and universities that are requiring their students to get their shots," Gertz writes. He also points out that Hannity's show "is bracketed between those of Carlson and Laura Ingraham," and both of those hosts went hard on the vaccines-are-terrible-and-doctors-are-lying-to-you messaging.

Here are some screenshots from the program before Sean Hannity's viral vaccine monologue last night.
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) July 20, 2021
Here are some screenshots from the program after Sean Hannity's viral vaccine monologue last night.
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) July 20, 2021

As Rupar points out, "the viral clip of Hannity talking about vaccines came immediately before he pivoted to a story about a college athlete who was temporarily paralyzed after she took a different sort of vaccine in 2019."

Similarly, Fox morning host Steve Doocy got good press for encouraging vaccines, but, as both Rupar and Gertz point out, it was in a segment where his co-host Brian Kilmeade framed vaccine refusal in terms of "freedom" and told viewers "make your own decision." The actual message one gets from watching the whole segment: People who get vaccines are sheep, and "free" people who make their own decisions can prove it by refusing the vaccine. So while liberals and journalists were swooning over Hannity's supposedly reasonable tone from the clip they saw on Twitter, actual Fox News viewers were getting a very different message: Vaccines are dangerous and evil and unpatriotic and don't you dare get the COVID-19 shot.

Pro-vaccine messages from Republican politicians should be taken with a similar grain of salt.

McConnell's words mean nothing to the GOP base, which he likely understands. After all, he's hardly a popular figure with the base, like Donald Trump or their beloved Fox News pundits. He's mostly viewed in GOP circles as a charisma-free villain who is good for obstructing Democrats, but not exactly someone people swoon over. Where McConnell has real power is as the leader of the Republican caucus in the Senate. On that front, he appears to be doing nothing to improve the situation. He's well aware of prominent members of his caucus are out there, stoking conspiracy theories and discouraging vaccination. He seems wholly uninterested in doing anything substantive to discourage the behavior. Indeed, the junior senator from his home state of Kentucky, Sen. Rand Paul, is one of the most prominent COVID-19 minimizers on Capitol Hill. While McConnell was giving his limp pro-vaccine statements, Paul was getting into a far more exciting tiff with top Biden health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci during a Senate hearing. It's quite likely Republicans understand that clips that can be used to demonize Fauci — and therefore demonizing the vaccine Fauci promotes — will likely get a lot more interest from the GOP base than anything McConnell has to say.

Indeed, this looks very much like a two-pronged strategy, where the Beltway press gets a "GOP loves the vaccine" message, while the actual base is still getting blasted with a "vaccines are bad" message. Scalise getting the shot is part of this. Scalise is famous to journalists since he's the second-highest-ranking Republican in the House. But most of the GOP base probably couldn't pick him out of a crowd, even after being reminded he was the guy that was shot by the unhinged Bernie Sanders supporter in 2017. So while it's a very big deal to the Beltway press that Scalise is getting Pfizered, the typical GOP voter will neither know nor care.

The good news is that some in the mainstream press are suspecting this might be more of the usual GOP media manipulation.

After an initial bout of gushing praise for this supposed "pivot," some of the coverage has noticeably shifted in a more skeptical direction. CNN's Reliable Sources newsletter noted that while as "optimist might say, innocently, that the Fox machine is raising awareness about vaccines," a "cynic might say that Fox is trying to score PR points." (And only fools fail to be cynics when it comes to Fox News coverage.) The New York Times headlines Wednesday morning highlighted that "G.O.P. Lawmakers Allow Vaccine Skepticism to Flourish" and the "mixed messages" on Fox News.

Unfortunately, the Washington Post is still going with the credulous headline, "Growing number of Republicans urge vaccinations amid delta surge." The rhetoric is portrayed as a "shift," even though there's no evidence that the most popular anti-vaccination voices out there have any intention of backing down, much less admitting they were wrong.

This is almost certainly not a "shift." It is mostly an ass-covering exercise by Republicans who want to confuse the press about who, exactly, is to blame for the low rates of vaccinations among GOP voters. Journalists should not be snookered by this. It's very unlikely we'll see a sudden spike in vaccination rates, which is what would happen if the "Republicans get vaccinated now" message was actually getting through to the people who need to hear it. Instead, we'll likely see the rate stay steady or even continue to decline.

I hope that I'm wrong, of course. Still, Republican voters may be rubes, but they are better at interpreting "mixed messages" from GOP elites than the press is, and they know they're meant to hear the anti-vaccine messages while disregarding the pro-vaccine ones. Republican elites haven't suddenly grown a heart. It's just a lot harder to pin the blame for the continuing pandemic on Biden if the press is, correctly, blaming Republicans for it. What we're seeing is likely just Republicans getting the media off their scent, and not a move that will do much, if anything, to get more shots in arms.

Fox News has inadvertently revealed the staggering level of contempt that conservatives have for each other

On air, the Fox News attitude about COVID-19 vaccines is one of pure loathing. Popular prime time hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham routinely suggest that the vaccines don't work, which is flatly false. In almost 60% of their segments about the vaccine, a recent analysis found, the network has pushed an anti-vaccination message, falsely implying the shots are dangerous or unnecessary.

This article was originally published at Salon

Fox News has framed the vaccine in highly emotional culture war terms, with the shot presented to viewers like other made-up panics, such as "cancel culture" or "critical race theory." They are all a direct threat to the precious but poorly defined "freedom" that liberals supposedly want to snatch away. Viewers are made to feel that, by rejecting the vaccine, they are proving their conservative bona fides, sticking it to the liberals, and being the best MAGAs helping to make America great again.

But when the cameras are off at Fox News, suddenly everything changes. The vaccine is no longer regarded as a dangerous threat to Mom and apple pie, but a common-sense health intervention backed up by medical science. As CNN reported on Monday, Fox News — while decrying "vaccine passports" on-air — has been using a vaccine passport among their own staff since early June. Vaccinated employees who get what is called the FOX Clear Pass "are allowed to bypass the otherwise required daily health screening" and basically return to normal life inside the Fox offices.

This reporting caused rounds of completely justified outrage among liberals online, with "hypocrites" being the preferred term thrown around. But really, what the folks at Fox News are up to is much worse than garden variety hypocrisy. The whole thing is a dark reminder that the well-heeled pundits and corporate executives at Fox News have almost bottomless contempt for their own viewers, who they see as a bunch of gullible rubes to be exploited and discarded as needed for profit and political gain. Indeed, they hold their viewers in such low regard that they will happily talk their viewers into contracting a highly contagious, extremely dangerous, and easily prevented disease — for no other purpose than creating headaches for a Democratic president and, quite likely, the cheap thrill of having so much power over other people.

The worst part is that the numbers are only giving the Fox News elites more justification for the derision they have for their viewers. Polling shows over 86% of Democrats have gotten at least one vaccine, while only 45% of Republicans have. To make it worse, only 6% of Democrats reject the vaccine outright, whereas 47% of Republicans say they are unlikely to get vaccinated.

We all have heard over and over about the grave dangers of "liberal condescension," which is commonly blamed for Republican misbehavior as if Republicans weren't full adults responsible for their own decisions. In a recent piece for National Review Online, Michael Brendan Dougherty laid the blame for vaccine rejection at the feet of those promoting vaccines, writing that "attempts to answer skepticism or understand it end up poisoned by condescension" and that outreach to anti-vaxxers "feels like lowering themselves to answer people they believe to be less intelligent."

Dougherty, in a feat of truly spectacular bad faith, failed to acknowledge the two-ton elephant in the room, even as its manure is filling up the joint and getting people killed: That the main reason Republicans aren't getting vaccinated is that both Republican politicians and right-wing media are basically telling them not to. Oh, sure, they rarely come right out and say, "Don't get the shot." But Fox News is very good at getting that message across all the same, with segments that frame the shots as ineffective, dangerous, and a threat to "freedom".

"These segments amount to permission slips for unvaccinated viewers, telling them that they have good reasons not to get their shots and that the people trying to convince them otherwise are just trying to control them," Matt Gertz at Media Matters writes, citing recent segments on Fox News in which talking heads lied and told viewers the shots don't work very well and COVID-19 isn't that dangerous anyway.

Liberal condescension may be a factor, but the ugly truth is that it's utterly dwarfed by the condescension — indeed, outright contempt — that conservative elites have for consumers of right-wing media. On Monday, morning host Brian Kilmeade came right out and said that if unvaccinated people are dying of COVID-19, then that's "their choice." Laura Ingraham gleefully distorts statistics to argue that there are doubts about "the efficacy of the vaccine itself among adults." There are not — over 99% of people hospitalized or dying are unvaccinated — but Ingraham, full of contempt for her audience's intelligence, assumes they can't or won't engage the actual statistical evidence.

And Tucker Carlson, the biggest anti-vaccine voice on Fox News, clearly thinks this is all a fun game he's playing with people's lives.

Carlson's answer to @CharlotteAlter appears to be yes, he is vaccinated, but wants to take fake offense rather than saying it:
— Edward-Isaac Dovere (@IsaacDovere) July 15, 2021

To be certain, the viewers of Fox News are not blameless ciphers, innocently doing what they're told out of an abundance of trust for their beloved TV personalities. Like all good con artists, the pundits at Fox News know to target the worst instincts in their marks — venality, egotism, and sadism. The anti-vaccine propaganda on Fox News works so well because it lures their viewers into believing they're in on the con. Viewers are led to believe that, by refusing to get the shot, they're getting one over on those namby-pamby Democrats. They're so caught up in the liberal-triggering that they fail to notice that the people being fed to the virus are themselves.

That's why this dynamic is so toxic.

It's hard to feel sorry for the rubes that make up the Fox News audience, because their mean-spirited nature is what makes them such easy marks. No doubt that's also how the Fox News elites sleep at night, by convincing themselves that the people they're bamboozling have it coming. Hard to argue against the contempt they have for their audience, when their audience is driven by such contemptible impulses.

Liberals often talk down to conservatives like they're stupid, no doubt. But liberal condescension towards conservatives cannot hold a candle to the contempt that conservatives have for each other, especially when we're talking about the contempt that Republican elites have for their everyday voters. They see each other as soulless assholes driven by pettiness and greed — and they often have a point. But the problem here is that it's causing a rat's nest of bad people talking other bad people into making bad choices, all feeding on each other's ugliest instincts. And now it's spiraled so out of control it's turned into a death cult.

Trump's fake Arizona 'audit' is confusing, idiotic, and endless — which means it's working as intended

The first thing to know about the fake Arizona vote "audit" that was the subject of an equally fake state senate "hearing" last Thursday: It's nearly impossible to follow what the hell is happening.

This article was originally published at Salon

A lot of wild claims about voting "irregularities" are being flung about, and so are the fact checks, in a dizzying array of information that will cause even the most avid QAnoner's eyes to glaze over. Over the weekend, Donald Trump put out three separate statements full of so many false claims about the "audit," that it's nearly impossible to keep track of and debunk every lie. Associated Press reporters must surely be commended for their efforts in doing so.

The second thing to know about the fake audit is that everything about it is pure theater. It is agitprop meant to create the illusion of information-gathering while the people involved are doing everything in their power to distort reality.

Take for instance Doug Logan, a conspiracy theorist masquerading as a security "expert," whose firm, Cyber Ninjas, is running the fake audit. He pretended to testify last week about the so-called audit in an environment done up to look like a senate hearing. In reality, as the Arizona Republic reported, "it was not a hearing of any committee," and no one was allowed to ask questions but Arizona Senate President Karen Fann and Sen. Warren Peterson, two Republicans who have been involved in propping up this fake audit from day one.

The third thing to know is that, even though the "audit" was supposed to be wrapped two months ago, it's quite clear now that it will be dragged out for a long time, and may never really be concluded.

Logan has a pre-existing conclusion — that the election was "stolen" from Trump — and so Logan wants to keep digging even though he has yet to have turned up any real evidence, because it didn't happen. He is now asking if his "auditors" can go door to door, using "canvassing" as cover for what is obviously going to be a racialized harassment campaign against Arizona voters.

This Arizona fake audit is incoherent, fact-free, and apparently endless, which has led to some amount of liberal gloating about what a disaster the whole thing has turned out to be. Indeed, some Republicans in the state are starting to get a little anxious about the whole thing, worried that it's such a clown show that it will backfire on them. The fake audit and the false claims that the election was "stolen" from Trump are dominating the GOP primary for a Senate nominee to challenge incumbent Democrat Sen. Mark Kelly. One Republican operative even complained to CNN that the "audit is an albatross around the neck for every Republican running in the state of Arizona."

But the sad truth of the matter is that every aspect of the fake audit that is so frustrating — the confusion, the B.S., and its interminable nature — is very much by design. While Trump and his more sane allies likely understand that there is no pathway to getting Joe Biden removed from office and Trump installed any time in the next three and a half years, their eyes are on the 2024 election. Trump likely can't win that one honestly, either, but he doesn't really intend to. Instead, this fake audit is all about laying the foundation for what Trump hopes will be a more successful coup effort than his failed one in 2020.

Trump apologist and disgraced lawyer Alan Dershowitz gave the game away on Fox News Thursday night, admitting that it's "fact that Joe Biden is the president of the United States," but insisting "we have to move forward to make sure that future elections have transparency."

"Transparency" is, of course, Trumpist code for sowing doubt and confusion about the election results, creating a pretext for Republican election officials and judges to simply vacate any election results they dislike. And that is what the Arizona fake audit is all about, generating an endless stream of confusing B.S. that can be leveraged for future claims that the elections are too "corrupt" to actually be counted. As Charles Pierce at Esquire notes, this fake audit is "a political perpetual-motion machine that is designed never to finish its purported 'job.'"

All part of the scheme: Logan's future plans to sue the state repeatedly with false accusations and the hopes for a door-to-door voter "canvassing." It's all about generating more press releases, more confusion, and, if they actually get to start harassing individual voters, more racist scare tactics implying that U.S. citizens are "illegal" voters.

Information overload is part of the strategy. Logan, Trump, and other fake audit proponents are pouring out lies and false allegations of irregularities so fast that fact-checkers can barely keep up. It's very much a variation of the GOP's "Benghazi" playbook: Flood the zone with so much confusing information that most people don't bother trying to understand it. Instead, many will assume that where there's so much smoke, there must be a fire.

Will it work? It's hard to say this early on.

Trump spraying a shotgun's worth of false claims about the Arizona election certainly is bolstering his supporters and appears, so far, to be making his allies even more confident lying about the results of the 2020 election. But the larger question is whether it's enough for the longer-term goal of setting up Republican-controlled state legislatures or even a Republican-controlled Congress in 2024 to simply throw out a Democratic win in 2024. Or to get the Supreme Court to do it for them.

Trump's election lawyer, Jenna Ellis, certainly hinted in that direction on Newsmax Thursday night, saying that the nonsense that Logan was spewing — which was immediately debunked live, on Twitter, by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors — was enough to justify her claim that Congress should not have certified Biden's win on January 6. Of course, Congress was then controlled by Democrats, so these lies were never going to matter. But Republicans may very well control Congress in 2024. By then, there will four years of lies being generated by this false audit. Worse, there may be false audits in other states, if Republicans get their way. The crush of lies that get repeated over and over until they are GOP canon could very well give Republican-controlled states and a Republican-controlled Congress the pretext they need to evacuate the results of an election that didn't go their way.

The good news is some Democrats in Congress seem to finally be taking this threat seriously. As Zachary Petrizzo in Salon reports, "the House Oversight and Reform Committee have launched a probe into the Arizona 'audit firm 'Cyber Ninjas.'" They explained in a letter requesting documents that they are worried this whole fake audit "could undermine the integrity of federal elections and interfere with Americans' constitutional right to cast their ballot freely and to have their votes counted without partisan interference."

Of course, undermining the integrity of federal elections is the entire point of the "audit." It's not clear how much House Democrats can do, and there's always a risk that adding more fact checks to Trump's lies just increases the amount of chaos Trump is trying to cause. But it's certainly better than standing by and letting this farce just go on without an answer. Unless there's a way to shut the whole thing down, the fake "audit" will likely be dragged out for months or even years, generating more lies and confusion that Trump is counting on to fuel a transparent bid to steal the 2024 election. Ignoring the situation is no longer feasible for Democrats on a national level. The Arizona "audit" may look like a big joke, but it's a very serious threat to democracy.

Here’s the disturbing reason conservatives are hopelessly addicted to their own stupid COVID-19 lies

On Thursday, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy did something no surgeon general has done before: He issued a warning — not about what people are consuming with their bodies — but with their minds.

"I am urging all Americans to help slow the spread of health misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond," Murthy asked in the health advisory titled "Confronting Health Misinformation." At a White House press conference Thursday, Murthy reserved his harshest criticism for tech companies, who he said "allowed people who intentionally spread misinformation — what we call disinformation — to have extraordinary reach" and whose algorithms are "pulling us deeper and deeper into a well of misinformation." White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: "We've increased disinformation research and tracking within the Surgeon General's Office. We are flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation."

This advisory may not seem like it, but it's a very big deal.

From the highest levels of the federal government, such a warning is an official recognition of how, now that vaccines are widely available, COVID-19 spreading should be understood more as a social phenomenon than a biological one. Murthy also wisely centered how much this false information is being deliberately spread by bad actors and zeroed in on the fact that the tech companies are letting lies spread on social media because it's profitable to do so.

But that last point really underscores why the spread of disinformation is such a sticky problem, and why fact-checking and better health information is probably not enough to convince people, especially Republicans, to get vaccinated. Misinformation isn't really the cause of people refusing the COVID-19 vaccination. It's just the excuse people are wielding to justify an extremely stupid choice to risk their own health to demonstrate their tribalist loyalties to the Republican Party and their hatred of the Democrats. In this particular chicken-and-egg situation, the rejection of the vaccine comes first, and the lies are spread to rationalize a decision that's already been made.

In much of the media coverage of anti-vaxxers, the tendency is to frame them as passive victims of misinformation, as if they saw some scare story on Facebook about vaccine dangers and decided, based on that, to reject the vaccine. The Washington Post, for instance, published a piece on Thursday about the COVID-19 outbreak in Springfield, Missouri, which is happening because of widespread rejection of vaccines in the area. Folks who spoke to the reporters had a million excuses for why they weren't vaccinated yet, and all were presented in the article at face value. One 30-year-old man claims he's safe because he "works an overnight shift at Walmart and has little interaction with other employees or customers." Another (who died of COVID-19) was "worried about side effects as a result of her complicated medical history." Another who is "pregnant with their second child, declined to get vaccinated because she wasn't sure how the shots would affect the pregnancy." But her husband, who is not pregnant, insisted he also didn't need the vaccine because "it's no worse than the flu," which is something that health experts also recommend vaccinating against annually.

I'm not a mind reader, but let's face it: This is honking nonsense. Folks aren't getting vaccinated because they have real concerns. It's because they live in right-wing America and have been made to feel that getting the vaccine is disloyal to Donald Trump, disloyal to Fox News, and above all else, a great way to stick it to the liberals. That's why political affiliation predicts anti-vaccination sentiment better than pretty much any other factor. What the Washington Post reporters diligently recorded from these Missouri anti-vaxxers was not reasons, but rationalizations. And that, more than any other factor, is why misinformation about vaccines is so wildly popular on social media.

People, especially conservatives, love reading and sharing lies that justify their worldview. And, by and large, they aren't too concerned about the moral implications of lying or spreading lies. On the contrary, the widespread victim mentality on the right allows many of them to feel justified in spreading lies, as it feels like some sort of payback to know-it-all liberals.

Murthy is right that lies tend to be profitable for social media companies and this is why: Lies are in strong demand, especially on the right. Conservatives who share this stuff aren't passive consumers. They tend to reward people who tell them lies, which is why someone like Tucker Carlson has such high ratings and only gets more popular the more full of shit he is.

A recent study out of MIT confirms this frustrating reality about why people spread misinformation. Researchers fanned out on Twitter, looking for people sharing "any one of 11 frequently repeated false news articles." With excruciating politeness, the researchers corrected the false information, with replies like, "I'm uncertain about this article — it might not be true. I found a link on Snopes that says this headline is false," with a link to the true information.

How did people react to being politely corrected?

Not like folks who mean well and are embarrassed at being caught mistakenly spreading a falsehood, that's for sure. Instead, as researcher Mohsen Mosleh noted, "they retweeted news that was significantly lower in quality and higher in partisan slant, and their retweets contained more toxic language." In other words, people know that what they're sharing online is garbage. They just don't care, and, in fact, they will double down as a defensive reaction if they're called out for it.

As the researchers found, this problem was shared across partisan identities, which shouldn't be surprising to anyone who has gently tried to correct a progressive friend who is a fan of some of the more noxious #resistance grifters out there. But there should also be no doubt that the misinformation problem is much worse on the right, as other research has consistently shown. And when it comes to misinformation about vaccine safety, it's almost exclusively a right-wing problem.

So Murthy is right that social media companies need to do more to crack down on misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine spreading rampantly on their platforms. Putting little disclaimers on posts that send people to the CDC website ain't it. That would work if people were sharing bad information in good faith, and were open to being gently corrected by more scientifically sound information. But the reason that lies perform well on social media is not that people are being duped, but because people — especially conservatives — love lies and gobble them down like candy. The only thing that will work is cutting them off entirely.

Misinformation is not the cause of anti-vaccination sentiment, but that doesn't mean that stopping lies is a waste of time.

Conservatives are using these vaccination lies — like propaganda is generally used — to stiffen their resolve, reaffirm their tribal identity, and develop talking points to bat away concerns from relatives and friends who are trying to get them to protect their health. Understanding how such misinformation functions is crucial to combat its effect. The real issue here is that vaccines are being talked about in ways that are politicized and emotional, instead of as a banal bit of health care. As long as getting the vaccine is associated with liberalism, huge swaths of the country will be dug in against doing it. Crushing misinformation is crucial, but only part of what needs to be a larger effort to de-politicize the COVID-19 pandemic.

GOP's pro-virus campaign is a success

After months of sliding downwards, COVID-19 transmission rates are now beginning to creep back up. The reasons for the backslide given in the media are often biological — lots of talk about how the delta variant is more contagious, for instance — but this surge was much more political. From the moment that President Joe Biden stepped into the White House, Republican leaders have understood that he will be blamed if the pandemic isn't brought under control. And so they've set out to sabotage his efforts by encouraging their followers to risk their own health and reject getting vaccines in an effort to get the COVID-19 numbers up.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

The GOP's pro-virus campaign has been wildly successful.

While 86% of Democrats have been vaccinated, only 45% of Republicans have gotten a shot. Nearly all of the currently unvaccinated Republicans flat-out refuse to do it ever. So COVID-19 is quickly becoming a regional disease, with hotspots concentrated in deeply Republican areas of the country. And while the delta variant is more contagious, the main reason it's spreading is because of low vaccination rates, as 99.7% of new cases have been among the unvaccinated.

I've been writing about this Republican scheming to use the bodies of their own people as disease vectors for months, but only in recent days has the mainstream media started to wake up to this grim reality.

On CNN on Wednesday, Erin Burnett played a supercut featuring Republican leaders like Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado screeching "don't come knocking on my door with your Fauci ouchie" and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin falsely suggeting the shot kills people. On the same day, another CNN anchor, Chris Cuomo, got angry with Republican Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas for being "OK with this kind of jackassery that has absolutely led to a deficiency among Republican people in this country taking the vaccine." There's been a lot of attention paid to Republicans shutting down vaccine outreach to young people in Tennessee. The Washington Post released a video showing that Republicans who supported the vaccine while Donald Trump was in office immediately switched to dissing the shot the second the president was a Democrat:

Why did it take so long for the mainstream media to admit that Republican leaders are intentionally encouraging infection? As has happened repeatedly in the past, it comes back to a reluctance to accept that Republicans really are as bad as they seem. It was just plain easier to imagine that those who said that Republicans were pro-virus are merely #resistance hysterics until the numbers made the truth undeniable.

But that Republicans really are terrible enough to spread disease for political gain is unsurprising to those who have been paying attention to the sexual health wars. For decades, Republicans have done everything they can to discourage preventive sexual health care, including cutting off access to birth control and condoms and lying about the usefulness of various methods. The claim was that this was all justified to promote "abstinence," but the result, time and again, was just more disease and unwanted child-bearing.

Megan Carpentier at Dame Magazine took a deep dive on Wednesday on the Republican war on a vaccine for HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that causes many kinds of cancer, most notably cervical cancer. Pressuring parents to forgo this vaccine for their kids has been wildly successful at keeping preventable cancer rates high, Carpentier writes, as "the American Cancer Society predicts that 14,480 people will be diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer in 2021" and "more than 4,000 people will die from cervical cancer this year."

Republicans happily promote policies to kill these people because they think it serves their political interests. Spinning their followers up about the supposed evils of women's sexual freedom has been the bread and butter of right-wing politics for decades: These women's lives are being sacrificed for conservative propaganda.

It's the same story with all other sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV, which conservatives have long exploited to stigmatize LGBTQ people. And the same story with unwanted pregnancy and childbirth, which is useful to conservatives who want to demagogue about how girls today are a bunch of sluts and feminism is the reason. They need people to get sick and get pregnant against their will, so, with great deliberation, Republicans embraced policies and rhetoric designed to get people to forgo simple prevention measures. They slash funding for sexual health care every chance they get, often redirecting it to groups that will lie to people about the efficacy of contraception. In public schools, health classes across the country have long been forced to distribute anti-contraception propaganda. When the Affordable Care Act included copay-free coverage for contraception — a measure that, as predicted, reduced unintended pregnancy and abortion rates — Republicans lost their minds with rage. And they will lie and lie and lie about the supposed dangers of contraception and other preventive care.

Trump's vice president, Mike Pence, was deeply invested in the spread-disease-and-despair agenda, back when the targets were mostly women and LGBTQ people. In 2002, as a congressman from Indiana, Pence gave an interview where he falsely claimed that "condoms are a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases." Later, when Pence was governor of Indiana, he gutted the HIV prevention systems in the state. When this predictably led to a surge in HIV transmissions, Pence fought against every effort to curb the infection rate, ensuring that the virus spread for months before he reluctantly did anything about it.

Republicans justify this anti-prevention stance by claiming they promote sexual abstinence. The goal itself is unworthy — the government should not be in the business of pushing anti-sex religious dogma on the public — but, as Pence's experience in Indiana shows, it doesn't even work. All anti-prevention policies do is lead people to have unprotected sex. Abstinence-only programs in high schools are linked with higher teen pregnancy rates. Cutting contraception funding doesn't lead to women forgoing sex, but it does lead to a surge in unintended childbirth. And, as Carpentier's piece shows, replacing life-saving prevention tools like condoms and HPV vaccines with a "just say no" lecture leads to people dying.

Republicans know this. They have seen the studies. They, like Pence, watched over and over as undermining prevention measures just leads to more disease and unwanted pregnancy. They just keep doing it anyway. After a certain point, it becomes hard to deny that they simply don't care if people are suffering. On the contrary, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies serve the GOP agenda, because all that misery can be exploited for propaganda about the supposed evils of modernity, feminism, and gay rights. Republicans have a long history of hurting people's health to serve a larger political agenda. So of course they were well-prepared to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic and encourage disease transmission for political gain. Anyone who watched Republican responses to sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy knows this playbook well. The only thing that's changed now is that they're doing it to their own people.

Trump supporters think they're players — but they're still just pawns

Do Donald Trump supporters actually believe the Big Lie?

We know they certainly like telling pollsters they do. The latest polling from Monmouth University shows that 63% of Republican voters continue to insist that Joe Biden only won the 2020 election because of voter fraud. But is this something they really believe, or something they simply say out of tribalist loyalties because they believe that repeating the lie is useful justification for the GOP war on voting?

On Sunday night, we got strong evidence that, for the most part, Republican voters understand that the Big Lie is indeed a lie. They just repeat it because they view themselves as co-conspirators in perpetuating it.

In his speech at the second "annual" Conservative Political Action Conference of the year, Trump bragged about how he lies about polls and elections when he doesn't win them. "You know, they do that straw poll, right?" Trump asked, referring to the 2024 GOP nominee straw poll CPAC conducted of attendees. "If it's bad, I say it's fake. If it's good, I say, that's the most accurate poll perhaps ever."

The "humor" of this not-actually-a-joke is due to being a sly reference to the Big Lie — an admission on Trump's part that he didn't win in 2020 and is merely saying otherwise for political gain. And it's no surprise that Trump went there. He loves to brag about how much corruption and crime he gets away with.

What is perhaps more important is the audience's reaction to this not-a-joke.

Trump got a huge laugh from the CPAC crowd, despite the death and destruction the Big Lie has already caused. As the clip went viral, there was no outraged reaction from GOP voters, no anger that he lies to them in order to enlist their support for an authoritarian coup. Trump supporters aren't mad about Trump admitting he lied for one simple reason: They don't think they're the ones being lied to. They think they're in on it. They know why the Big Lie has been propped up, first to justify Trump's failed coup and now for the ongoing efforts by the GOP to steal the next election. They see themselves as co-conspirators, and thus knowingly laugh at this in-joke about the conspiracy.

But just because the typical GOP supporter thinks he's in on the con doesn't mean he's not a dupe. On the contrary, Trump and other right-wing leaders deeply understand the adage that you can't cheat an honest man. Letting GOP voters believe they're in on the authoritarian schemes is the way that Trump and other leaders trick these folks into being their pawns.

This was clearly illustrated by another disgusting moment at CPAC over the weekend, when Alex Berenson, an anti-vaccination conspiracy theorist, celebrated his success at persuading so many right-wing Americans to reject the shots that have otherwise proven successful at safely preventing COVID-19.

"The government was hoping that they could sort of sucker 90% of the population into getting vaccinated," Berenson said, "and it isn't happening."

I'm just one of a handful of commentators who have been saying, for months, as Brian Beutler of Crooked Media noted in his latest newsletter, "that the right would try to sabotage recovery from the plague under a Democratic president." In this view, every transmission, every hospitalization, and every death is a victory, because it keeps COVID-19 in the news and denies Biden his ability to say he beat it. And if they have to use their own bodies to make that happen, well, so be it.

That may sound paranoid, but as Beutler points out, these are the same conservative leaders who "sought to destabilize the [Affordable Care Act's] marketplaces by encouraging young people to forego health insurance altogether, to accept enormous personal risks for the good of the larger goal of damaging the Obama presidency and discrediting government for the common good." Killing people, even their own people, is seen as an acceptable price to pay for partisan warfare.

Again, what is telling is the crowd's reaction at CPAC — cheers and applause. They're thrilled at their success at undermining Biden's goals and delighted that case counts are rising in red areas in the country. This reaction shows that, for conservatives, refusing the vaccine is really more about being part of a larger war to undermine Biden's presidency, and not so much the result of sincere concerns about the vaccine's safety.

Of course, refusing the vaccine means offering your body up to a virus that can be extremely brutal and is often deadly. But conservatives are too tickled by getting one over on Biden to pay attention to the fact that they're the ones taking the serious physical risks. Once again, the best grift works by convincing the mark that they're part of the con.

The martyrization of Ashli Babbitt is the grossest, most obvious version of this. Babbitt's history of online delusions suggests she may have been one of the rare right-wingers who really was duped by the Big Lie. Either way, she's dead now and it's all Trump's fault because he's the one who incited the insurrection that led to Babbitt dying. But Trump, sociopath to the core, has no remorse. Instead, he's cynically exploiting her death — a death he caused — by propping her up as a martyr to convince others to follow in her footsteps and die for the Big Lie.

Most of the Trumpists who have started to venerate Babbitt as their own Horst Wessel know full well that they are gaslighting when they claim that she was an innocent victim shot in cold blood. Her death was taped from multiple angles, making it quite clear that she was shot because she was attempting to lead a charge to run down the clearly visible fleeing congressional members. But they repeat the lie about her innocence, again and again, because most of them view themselves as part of the propaganda effort.

But, of course, all these self-appointed mini-Goebbels are actually the patsies.

Trump clearly doesn't care how many of his own followers get arrested, shot, or injured on his behalf. As his phony exaltations of Babbitt show, he would just see their losses as his gain. And they will go down for him, time and again, mistakenly thinking they're Trump's fellow travelers, never admitting to themselves that he's using and discarding them like he does to everyone.

Entitlement and delusion are the driving force behind the GOP's preposterous tantrums

Every so often, a right-wing pundit drops his guard a little and reveals to the world the incel-ish inclinations and bitterness toward women that undergirds so much conservative "intellectualism." This week, it was Manhattan Institute fellow Eric Kaufmann, with a prolonged whine in the National Review about the massive social problem that desirable women apparently don't desire Donald Trump voters. Kaufmann's ostensible point was to warn about the dangers of "progressive authoritarianism" supposedly "infringing rights to equal treatment or free speech." As many folks pointed out on Twitter, however, the evidence offered of such civil rights violations was centered around the low rates of "non-Trump-supporting students willing to date a Trump supporter," the statistic that "87 percent of all female college students wouldn't date a Trump supporter" and the claim that "Trump supporters get the short end of the dating stick."

This article was originally published at Salon

Kaufmann inserted a CYA statement up top about how "people are free to discriminate however they wish in dating," but the rest of the essay paints a clear picture of rage that Trump voters are being denied romantic or sexual opportunities. But Trump voters' belief that they should be entitled to date liberal women is about more than just what one Twitter wag called "Universal Basic Intercourse." It's about the ego benefits of having a girlfriend: The praise, the respect, the adoration, even — feelings that Kaufmann knows the women he's scolding do not and cannot authentically feel towards Trump voters. It's about entitlement to a woman's flattering lies.

Kaufmann's dumb essay is an extreme example, but the grim truth is that such entitlement oozes out of every corner of the conservative movement. Indeed, the driving force of the modern right is a belief that, when they look out in the world, they should only see flattering lies reflected back at them, and that anyone who speaks the truth is somehow oppressing them.

Last week, the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin had a book event scheduled with the authors of "Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of An American Myth," which exposes an often-ignored history about how central white rage at the Mexican ban on slavery was to the Texas revolution. Upon finding out about the event, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick immediately got it canceled and bragged on Twitter that "this fact-free rewriting of TX history has no place at the Bob Bullock Museum."

Of course the problem was not that the book is "fact-free," but exactly the opposite. Patrick's fury is clearly about the authors daring to utter truths. This is about stomping out historical facts about white supremacy. What is truly amazing, however, is how unapologetic Patrick is. He simply feels entitled to scrub unpleasant facts from history or lie about the lying to justify his behavior.

Patrick has a long history of gleefully stomping on free speech rights in the name of having his prejudices flattered. Just a few months ago, he announced that a top legislative priority would be to pass a law literally forcing sports arenas to play the national anthem, a reaction to the Dallas Mavericks quietly removing the practice from their pre-game program. No one actually missed the anthem, because people go to basketball games to have fun, not to perform half-hearted displays of patriotism that are somehow both needlessly contentious and boring. But Patrick wants to force people to do it, and he's happy to violate their First Amendment rights for a mandatory pantomime of his preferred flavor of "patriotism."

That attitude is exactly what's driving the nationwide tantrum over "critical race theory," based on lies both about the content of critical race theory (which is not actually about "hating white people") and whether it's being taught in public schools (it's not). It's fashionable on the left to mock conservatives for "not knowing" what critical race theory is, but that's not quite what's going on. Conservatives who use the term aren't referencing the academic framework used in graduate programs so much as they're deploying a code for what they actually object to, which is teaching historical facts about racism. It's about demanding that schools set aside truth in favor of cloying fables, just as Patrick demanded that the Bullock Museum set aside the truth about the Texas revolution in favor of a fanciful story that turns a violent, racist tantrum into a heroic act.

Trump's former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo — who has thoughts of a 2024 presidential campaign of his own — embodied this attitude over the weekend, launching this tweet:

If we teach that the founding of the United States of America was somehow flawed. It was corrupt. It was racist. That's really dangerous. It strikes at the very foundations of our country.
— Mike Pompeo (@mikepompeo) July 5, 2021

What is remarkable here is the blasé sense of entitlement to a truly preposterous lie, which is that the founding of America — or of any country, really — could be flawless. That's even before we get to indisputable facts, such as the one about slavery being both legal and enshrined in the Constitution, which make the assertion that the U.S. was racist as banal (and true) as saying that the U.S. is located in North America. Pompeo's stance is a repudiation of history itself, a demand that it be entirely replaced with myths. Worse, his view is increasingly the one shared across the entire Republican Party.

No wonder, then, that Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election is so quickly becoming GOP canon. As a recent analysis from the Washington Post shows, of the nearly 700 Republicans who have already filed paperwork to run in 2022, "at least a third have embraced Trump's false claims about his defeat." And that's just the ones who repeat the lie — many, if not most, of the others feel like they can't object to it in any way, lest they face the fate of Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

A similar situation is unfolding with the Jan. 6 insurrection. As Media Matters detailed in a lengthy report for the six-month anniversary of that event, right wing media has spent the past half-year spinning out all manner of preposterous narratives to deny that the event was violent or insurrectionary or fascistic, even though the whole country saw, with our own eyes, an unbelievable amount of evidence that proves it was all those things. This is particularly encapsulated in the efforts to claim Ashli Babbitt, a rioter who was fatally shot in the melee, as some kind of victim and martyr — a narrative that Donald Trump, unsurprisingly, is now embracing. Babbitt's shooting was captured on video from multiple angles, making it indisputable that she lost her life because she was leading a mob intent on running down and attacking members of Congress. Yet she is being canonized on the right as "proof" that they're the ones being oppressed, even after they literally tried to steal a democratic election.

Do proponents of the Big Lie or insurrection revisionism actually believe their own nonsense? That's beside the point. Truth simply has no value to these folks. All that matters is power — and one way to exert power is to force the official narrative into the shape of a lie, untouched by even well-documented facts.

In a sense, this is nothing new. The right has long had an interest in replacing facts with its own bellicose myth-making. Evolutionary theory is attacked, because conservatives would rather imagine themselves in "God's image" than as primates. Climate change must be denied, because admitting that we should stop driving gas-guzzling pickups and SUVs is too much to bear for the fragile right wing ego. And heaven forbid anyone talk about how Martin Luther King Jr. had political views beyond that one line in his "I Have a Dream" speech.

But there should be no doubt that these narcissistic tendencies on the right have metastasized into a sense of overwhelming entitlement, a need to be swathed in thick blankets of lies such that not even a hint of unpleasant facts can even touch snowflake-fragile conservative egos. Trump's flagrant personality disorders have operated, over the years, as a permission slip to his followers to emulate his example. As we've seen over and over, he has petulantly demanded that all information around him be shaped into a flattering mirror, and believes no truth is too powerful not to be crushed to suit his overblown self-image. Now we are cursed with millions of mini-Trumps, staging tantrums at school boards and CDC ads about vaccines, in an endless narcissistic rage that anyone would dare rattle their world by saying stuff just because it's true.

Biden didn't fall short of July 4 vaccination goal — he was sabotaged by Republican trolls

By most measures, President Biden got surprisingly close to his goal of 70% national vaccination by July 4 that he set early on in his administration's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. We're reportedly now at 67%, which is pretty darn good, especially considering how little of a plan Donald Trump even pretended to have before leaving office. But the mainstream media, always eager to prove to conservatives (who will never believe them) that they're just as hard on Democrats as Republicans, pounced eagerly on this minor shortfall, running headlines focusing on this "failure" rather than the much bigger story of success.

"U.S. falls short of Biden's July 4 COVID-19 vaccine goal," read the headline at CBS News.

"Biden misses July 4 vaccine target as nation's 'independence' from virus remains elusive," echoed a similar headline at ABC News.

"Biden heralds U.S. emergence from the pandemic, but he risks celebrating too soon," warns a headline at the Washington Post.

As the ABC News piece admits, this dour framing conceals a lot of genuine progress made against COVID-19, including "a 90% drop in deaths and hospitalizations since January." On July 5, the number of new reported transmissions was slightly more than 5,000, a small fraction of the cases seen at the January apex of the pandemic, when those numbers sometimes topped 250,000 a day.

Despite this success, however, it is indisputable that after months of watching the virus seemingly fade from the landscape, cases are starting to creep back up again. While many are eager to blame the CDC for rolling back mask-wearing and social distancing recommendations for vaccinated people, those who've gotten the shot are not the ones spreading this disease. The real problem is that the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus is tearing through parts of the country where people clearly would rather die than get an inoculation they associate with a Democratic president. 00:00

There are many reasons for vaccine hesitancy, of course, including conspiracy theories that are dissuading folks of all political persuasions. But if we pull back and look at the bigger picture, it's clear is that the main driver of vaccine rejection, by far, is plain old right-wing trolling. Trump supporters are so angry and bitter at Biden that they have weaponized their own bodies to sabotage his efforts to end the pandemic. Maybe it feels to them as if refusing vaccination is a good way to stick it to the liberals — who admittedly are exasperated by this behavior — the main result is that the pandemic is raging out of control in "red" areas of the country, while blue states and regions are getting back to normal.

Some sobering statistics: A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that while 86% of self-identified Democrats have gotten at least one shot, only 45% of Republicans have done the same. If it weren't for the high rates of inoculation among seniors, in fact, the proportion of vaccinated Republicans would be even lower. As it is, most of the unvaccinated Republicans currently say that they have no plans to get the shot.

The result, as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on NBC on Sunday, is that the pandemic surge is a "regional" problem. A new report from Johns Hopkins about geographical rates of COVID-19 underscores his point.

"States with below-average vaccination rates have almost triple the rate of new Covid-19 cases compared to states with above-average vaccination rates," CNN reports. In Arkansas, "where less than 35% of residents were fully vaccinated," the rate of transmission is roughly five times higher than the national rate. As the Washington Post reported over the weekend, only 3% of outbreaks are occurring in counties where more than half the population is fully vaccinated.

"To put it bluntly: Polarization is killing people," as German Lopez of Vox wrote on Tuesday.

To put it even more bluntly, Republicanism is killing people. On the Democratic side of the aisle, polarization is not a problem. If anything, it probably saved lives, because many Democratic voters made it a point of pride to get vaccinated as soon as possible. All 18 of the states that have surpassed Biden's 70% goal voted for him in the 2020 election.

The rising caseload of the last couple of weeks has caused some panic on liberal social media, with some folks clamoring for a return to lockdown restrictions and mask mandates. But considering that the only places with the political will to do such a thing are also the places where vaccination rates are high and virus transmission is low, that's probably not the answer. Returning to such restrictions in blue areas, while many red states continue to ignore the problem, is a little like putting a bandage on your left hand when the wound is on your right. It might feel like you're doing something, but it's basically useless.

Conservatives no doubt feel that refusing the vaccine feels like a good way to give the finger to liberals, a message that Fox News reinforces regularly and enthusiastically. But even some Republican governors are now admitting that actually, their own voters are the ones paying the price for valuing liberal-triggering over their lives, their health and their families.

"Politics is becoming religion in our country," complained Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah, a Republican, in a Saturday appearance on CBS, adding that "it's caused us to make bad decisions during this pandemic."

The Republican governor of West Virginia, Jim Justice, was even blunter on ABC, accusing people who aren't vaccinated of being in a "death lottery." He admitted that the reason people aren't getting the shot is they "are very, very conservative in their thinking," but added that "they're not thinking right."

Of course there's nothing inherently "conservative" about refusing to protect yourself and other people by getting vaccinated. This is only a problem because Donald Trump somehow convinced his supporters that refusing to take the pandemic seriously was central to their identity. To make things worse, Fox News, eager to find a way to sabotage Biden's pandemic efforts (and his entire presidency), has convinced its viewers that only hated liberals get the shot. So the vaccines have become aligned with vegan cookery, "critical race theory" or driving a Prius: Something Republicans are convinced is sinister and will somehow infect them with socialism.

As long as vaccination rates are tied up with media assessments of Biden's success as president, Republican voters — and the propagandists of right-wing media — will have an incentive to keep refusing the vaccine. They weren't quite able to steal the election for Donald Trump, but they can offer their own bodies up as sacrifices to keep the virus circulating in an effort to make Joe Biden look bad. But this problem falls outside Biden's power to fix. If anything, the harder he pushes people to get vaccinated, the more Republicans will dig in their heels and refuse. So it's time for the media to stop blaming Biden and put the blame where it squarely belongs: On Trump, on spiteful, embittered Republicans and on the right-wing media, which would rather kill off its own viewers than give a Democratic president a legitimate win.

Sinema is 'refusing to do what's needed to save her own seat' by choosing filibuster over democracy

Is Kyrsten Sinema a troll? There's been disturbing signs in the past that the senior senator from Arizona gets cheap thrills by provoking outraged reactions from her fellow travelers in the Democratic party. Most notably, of course, there was the time Sinema threw a cute little cursty while voting against a minimum wage raise she claims to "support," predictably drawing thousands of angry responses. She then released a photo provoking large swaths of Democratic voters at the height of their anger at her unwillingness to vote to end the filibuster Republicans use to block all meaningful legislation. In the photo, Sinema is seen flashing a ring that reads "f*ck off" with a smile. And then, in a move any 4chan user would envy, she dramatically increased the rage-sputtering on the left by declaring it "sexist" to be mad at her for any of this.

This article originally appeared at Salon.

Sinema again pulled her signature gaslighting move — piously claiming to support legislation while actively blocking it — after the Supreme Court upheld a racist voting suppression law in her very own state on Thursday:

Again, it's worth wondering if Sinema is simply trolling here.

She knows full well that Republicans unanimously blocked voting rights legislation from even being debated in the Senate just last week. She also knows she and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia are the only two Democratic senators who refuse to strip this near-absolute veto power away from Republicans. Being a co-sponsor of the bill is a meaningless gesture when she is the person keeping voting rights bills from even being debated in the upper chamber.

Sinema's sanctimonious declarations of meaningless "support" for bills that she's blocking from the floor isn't just bizarre trolling — it's also self-defeating.

Forget about the high-minded talk about saving democracy or protecting voting rights, what's really weird here is that Sinema isn't worried about Republicans openly trying to cheat her out of winning re-election in 2024. By refusing to budge on the filibuster she is refusing to do what's needed to save her own seat.

The law that the Supreme Court upheld is a 2016 Arizona law banning ballot collection and the use of provisional ballots. As the New York Times editorial board pointed out, lower courts found "clear evidence that the laws make voting harder for voters of color — whether Black, Latino or Native American," which should be seen as a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, "which bars any law that discriminates on the basis of race, whether intentionally or not." The decision opens the door to all manner of voter suppression laws that are meant to target minority communities that tend to lean Democratic — especially in Arizona, where Joe Biden's presidential victory has kicked off another round of anti-voting fervor in the GOP-controlled state legislature.

The impact of voter suppression laws on presidential elections has gotten the most attention, but equally important is the way that Republicans are using these laws to gain control of Congress, particularly of the Senate. Sinema only beat her Republican opponent, incumbent Sen. Martha McSally, by a hair — around 56,000 votes in an election where 2.3 million people voted. In 2020, the Democratic candidate for the other Arizona Senate seat, Mark Kelly, beat McSally by about 79,000 votes out of nearly 3.4 million cast. Republicans understand that they don't need to keep the majority of voters of color from the polls to steal elections in that state. Even keeping just a fraction of non-white voters from accessing the ballot will be enough to throw elections to Republicans.

Republicans are openly trying to cheat Sinema out of her own seat, and instead of fighting back, she's openly inviting them to do it. This is hardly some noble self-sacrifice for the greater good. Instead, Sinema is undermining her own political future to defend the filibuster, an archaic practice that only exists because of a historical accident, which has been largely used for the purpose Republicans use it now, to protect and promote white supremacy.

Worse, there's evidence that Sinema used to agree with the majority of Arizona voters that passing bills is more important than preserving the filibuster. In a recently unearthed video from 2010, Sinema can be heard calling the filibuster "false pressure to get to 60" votes to pass bills. This was a much different tune than the one she's been singing lately, such as in her infamous Washington Post op-ed where she claimed that the filibuster encourages "bipartisanship," which is the only way to "achieve durable, lasting results."

(In reality, as the inability to pass voting rights legislation shows, the filibuster is a good way to achieve nothing but a more rapid decline into authoritarianism.)

The change from someone who wanted to pass progressive legislation to someone happy to given control to the Republican minority, even to the detriment of her own political future, has spurred all manner of speculation about Sinema's dark motivations. But unlike Manchin, who really does have strong ties to right wing corporate interests, there's really not a lot of evidence that Sinema is in thrall to pro-filibuster industries like the fossil fuel industry.

The alarming possibility is that she really is just a person who has more ego than sense.

Tim Murphy published an in-depth profile of Sinema for the July/August issue of Mother Jones, and in it, he traces her enthusiasm for the idea of bipartisanship to a political victory early in her career in the Arizona state legislature, when she joined a bipartisan group that successfully defeated a 2006 ballot provision to ban same-sex marriage. Rather than making appeals for LGBT equality, her group's strategy "decided to emphasize the impact the referendum would have on straight couples," due to its provision that stripped legal rights away from all domestic partnerships, gay or straight.

In Murphy's telling, this was the moment that Sinema's entire attitude towards politics changed. She became enamored of the idea that she's some brilliant strategist who can manipulate "bipartisanship" to achieve progressive ends. It really may be that her self-image as a mastermind at playing 11th level chess is what's driving her to think she's smarter than nearly every other Democrat on Capitol Hill. She's likely unwilling to see that the strategy that worked against this single-ballot initiative 15 years ago is not going to work against the obstructionist politics that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R- Ky., has embraced to great success for at least as long. Of course, if Sinema thinks she's smarter than McConnell, she's wrong.

Last week, Sinema was repeatedly photographed with President Biden and a bipartisan group of senators to announce a "deal" struck on an infrastructure bill that would supposedly attract enough Republican votes to overcome the filibuster. In the photos, Sinema's grin has an unmistakable air of gloating. No doubt she was thrilled to believe she had proved her critics wrong and demonstrated that she really is the bipartisan negotiation ninja she imagines herself to be.

Within hours, however, Republicans produced the pretext to blow up the bill. They feigned outrage that Biden, as he always said he was going to do, was working to attach Democratic priorities left out of the bipartisan bill to a budget reconciliation bill that only needs a 51-vote majority to pass. Republicans did what everyone who has been actually paying attention to D.C. politics said they were going to do: Waste Democratic time by pretending to negotiate a bipartisan bill, only to find some excuse to blow it up at the last minute. It's the GOP's time-honored "running out the clock" playbook and entirely predictable. But Sinema thinks she's smarter than everyone else, and so she walked right into the Republican trap.

It's cold comfort, knowing that Sinema will likely pay for her outsized ego by losing her re-election campaign. While no one deserves it more than she, the problem is that losing her could very well mean Democrats lose control of the Senate. If the vote suppression also returns the White House to Republican hands, the kind of immoderation that Sinema claims to oppose will only run rampant. McConnell will get right back to an agenda of slashing taxes for the rich and stuffing the courts with right-wing radicals, all without having to worry one bit about being stopped by that filibuster that Sinema rates as more important than democracy itself.

Sinema may be the egotistical dingbat in this situation, but it's the nation that will pay the price for her hubris.

Another Trump henchman takes a fall as his delusional supporters refuse to admit that loyalty to him is a foolish gamble

Once again, we are reminded of eternal truth this morning: Loyalty to Donald Trump is a fool's game.

On Thursday, Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg surrendered to authorities after a grand jury indicted him personally and the Trump Organization generally for alleged financial crimes. As has been exhaustively demonstrated by journalists at the New York Times, the Trump family and their company engaged in extensive tax fraud for literally decades, so much so that it would be safe to call their business a tax evasion scheme more than the real estate firm Trump portrays it as. The former president expects his henchmen to take serious risks and even commit crimes, but he himself will always keep his hands clean and leave others to take the fall. That's why it was Weisselberg, not Trump, who had to show up in court under federal charges. Trump himself is barely literate and believes bleach injections are sound medical care, yet he's somehow clever enough to slip the noose, again, leaving another lackey to take the fall.

Weisselberg is just the latest in a long line of people who found that loyalty is a one-way street with Trump. His longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen: convicted for campaign finance fraud for which Trump avoided legal consequences. His replacement lawyer, Rudy Giuliani: his law license was recently suspended and he is now under federal investigation. Former campaign manager, Paul Manafort: imprisoned for years, until Trump gave him a last-minute pardon.

As Trump's three wives discovered, the man has no gratitude and no loyalty. He repays such things by screwing you over. He only issued some pardons of cronies at the last minute because he thought it would serve his own personal interests. For instance, Roger Stone got convicted of doing crimes for Trump, got his sentence commuted, and went straight back to the business of doing Trump's dirty work, as evidenced by the way his name keeps cropping up in court filings about the January 6 insurrection. But, as a general rule, the reward for sticking your neck out for Trump is that he will leave you out to hang while he runs off to play some more golf, secure in his belief that someone else will always pay the price for his crimes.

And according to Politico, that's what's happening yet again.

Trump's reaction to watching his long-time CFO Weisselberg do the perp walk on his behalf was not regret nor sorrow nor guilt. Nah, he was reportedly "thrilled by what he saw as light charges," according to a source still close to Trump who says he "was emboldened by the news," believing he can spin it "as a political witch hunt that would backfire on Democrats." Trump's apparently shared not a single shred of concern for a loyalist who is in serious legal trouble — only glee at his own ability to make others suffer consequences that should be coming down on him.

Trump doesn't limit his tendency to screw over loyalists to those in his immediate circle, either. He expects all his followers, down to the most anonymous voter, to take serious personal risks to prove their loyalty. And when they get in trouble, he inevitably abandons them. We saw this with the people who stormed the Capitol on January 6. Trump openly tricked them into believing he would be joining them, declaring from the podium that "I'll be there with you" as they rampaged through the building. However, as soon as he left the stage, Trump reportedly told his staff that he wasn't speaking "literally" and then he returned to the safety of the White House while his pawns staged an attack that left four of them dead. Now hundreds of them have been arrested, some on very serious charges, while Trump himself gets to spend his days freely wandering Mar-A-Lago. He's down there just soaking up attention by crashing weddings, memorial services, and other events.

An even larger scale of sacrifice is what Trump asked of his supporters in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump decided early on to frame the pandemic as a "hoax" perpetrated by the mainstream media to ruin his presidency. His supporters got the message and proceeded to act as if any acknowledgment of the dangers of COVID-19 was an act of disloyalty to Trump. They rebelled against masks and social distancing as Trump egging them on every step of the way. Now Trump supporters across the country are even rejecting the vaccinations to a degree that vaccination rates map closely to partisan loyalties across the country. Trump never explicitly asked them to avoid the shot, but that doesn't matter. He made it clear that loyalty to him means pretending the virus is no big deal, so they refuse to take even this precaution against the disease.

The result is that Trumpers are paying for their loyalty to their orange messiah with their lives.

Of the people hospitalized for COVID-19 in May, 99.9% were unvaccinated. Of those who died of the virus that month, 99.2% were unvaccinated. Trump himself got a severe case of COVID-19 in October, but unlike his followers, he had a team of doctors working tirelessly and bending every rule to get him care, allowing him to survive the kind of case that the less fortunate simply die from.

Trump supporters have eyes and ears. They know that their leader uses people and then throws them away. So how is he able to get people — literally millions of people! — to keep blindly following him anyway?

Like all good grifters, Trump's talent is not in convincing people that he's an honest dealer, which is impossible. It's in convincing them that they're in on the con. It's about using people's egos against them, convincing them that they're special, unlike all those other morons Trump has cheated in the past.

We see this most clearly in the case of Giuliani, who clearly thought of himself as some kind of criminal mastermind, making it especially delicious when he discovered that nope, he's just another Trump patsy! And we see it with all the Capitol rioters who cheerfully posted pictures of their insurrection on social media, so confident that they'd pull this off that they never paused to consider that their own images would only end up being evidence of their guilt in criminal court.

Trump is hardly the first person to figure out that the right is full of people with outsized egos who falsely think they're smarter than everyone else, leaving them vulnerable to fraud. Conservative media has long been funded by fools who can't wait to be parted from their money. Engaging right-wing media, whether it's mailing lists or cable news or Infowars, means being constantly bombarded by ads for useless supplements, survivalist "kits," and gold investment schemes, all various levels of scam that prey on typical conservative's foolish desire to believe he has an edge over the "sheeple."

But there's no doubt that Trump has a particular talent for tricking stupid people into thinking they're smart, and then picking their pocket while they toot their own horn. Maybe it's his combination of narcissism, ignorance, and sociopathy that gives him a deep understanding of the worst impulses of others. Whatever it is, it's something that his former lawyer/fixer, Michael Cohen, openly warned Republicans about in 2019, during House testimony offered after he pled guilty to crimes committed for Trump.

"I did the same thing that you're doing now for 10 years," Cohen warned, saying, "I can only warn people. The more people that follow Mr. Trump as I did blindly are going to suffer the same consequences that I'm suffering."

Trump followers don't listen. They all think they're the ones who will be by his side, skipping away while some other idiot is stuck with the consequences. Their egos will never let them see that the only person that Trump protects is Trump, and time and time again, they pay the price for their delusions.

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