Waco was a pilgrimage, not a rally, for the far-right's newest martyr

Did we need another sign that Donald J. Trump is mobilizing antigovernment white supremacists in his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination? Not really. But we have one.

Over the weekend, and facing criminal indictments in the coming weeks, Trump held his first big campaign rally in Waco, Texas. As Julia Manchester at The Hill characterized it, Waco was “friendly territory” for Trump. This is something that could not be said unequivocally about Austin, Houston or San Antonio, cities with far more liberal voting constituencies.

As (or more) importantly, Waco is a sacred place for the extreme right in the United States, its recent history a dog whistle for white, religious, domestic terrorists.

READ MORE: New analysis points out the real issue with Trump's first rally in Waco

The Branch Davidians

On February 28, 1993, a joint task force of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began to surround a compound outside Waco operated by David Koresh, a charismatic cult leader of the Branch Davidian Church.

Why would the federal government attack a religious group?

US Attorney General Janet Reno knew the Davidians were stockpiling weapons, many illegal for civilians to own. But what is said to have pushed her to confront Koresh and his followers was an informant’s report that children were being sexually abused in the compound.

READ MORE: Experts: Trump is encouraging violence with Waco campaign rally on 30th anniversary of deadly siege

Although Reno, in the face of the post-siege public relations disaster, said she was mistaken about child sexual abuse, in fact, she was not wrong.

Girls as young as 11 or 12 were taken and “married” to Koresh. Children also told investigators they were routinely beaten for minor infractions.

In addition, Koresh was setting the group up for a mass death event, not unlike the 1978 Jonestown Massacre. According to a recent book by Texas journalist Jeff Guinn, the heavily-armed Davidians were not just prepared to die. They welcomed death. Until they were dead, Koresh had told them, they could not be resurrected as God’s army. The last time I looked, both murder and suicide were illegal.

In other words, there were plenty of good reasons to break up a criminal organization under the delusion that its leader and membership were religious visionaries. And so, 30 years ago, after mercilessly harassing the Davidians with loud music and bright lights for weeks in an attempt to get them to surrender voluntarily, the FBI delivered an ultimatum.

Although some cult members had escaped, federal negotiators warned that unless another 20 were released from the compound by 4 pm, they would move armored vehicles into the perimeter in preparation for an assault.

No additional members emerged.

Thus began a three-week armed siege. It ended with the compound engulfed in flames on April 19. It was the early days of cable, and as news cameras recorded the battle, millions watched it play out. White supremacists from around the country gathered around the perimeter to bear witness and pray for the safety of Koresh and his followers.

During the battle, four ATF agents were killed and 16 wounded. Eighty-two Branch Davidians died, 76 of whom were in the building when it burned.

It was a horrible screw-up on the part of the Clinton administration, one that followed two decades of dithering about the rise of organized white violence in the United States. As Kathleen Belew points out in her book about the growth of the modern white power movement, the Waco disaster was partly caused by the federal government’s reluctance to confront the emergence of a growing and violent network of anti-government groups.

Those groups still exist.

They are a core element of Donald Trump’s base.

Of course, Trump did not tell the crowd that assembled to hear him that violent, spectacular death was part of the Branch Davidian plan all along. He did not tell MAGA faithful that Koresh was not only a serial rapist who targeted little girls, but that he also forced male cult members to abstain from sex so that he would have exclusive access to their wives.

I reiterate this point to emphasize that a narrative about actual federal violence can be successfully massaged to feed a populist antigovernment narrative. But it is also crafted to co-exist comfortably with rightwing falsehoods that children are currently endangered by teachers and doctors who “sexualize” and “groom” them with honest talk about sex and gender.

Waco beget Oklahoma City beget January 6

Haunting Trump’s invocation of Waco is another galvanizing event for the Christian nationalist right: the battle with survivalist Randy Weaver and his family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, that occurred on August 21-30, 1992.

There are important differences between the two events about which, inarguably, federal agents ought to have made better decisions, even in the face of an armed threat. Unlike the Branch Davidians, the Weavers, who were living off the grid in anticipation of the Apocalypse, intended to survive that event. They did not want to die. They wanted to be left alone and safeguard themselves from what they believed was the chaos to come.

In addition, Randy Weaver did not abuse members of his family unless you consider pulling your kids out of school and making them live without modern conveniences to be a form of abuse. The pretext for Weaver’s arrest was very different, too. He was obtaining what cash the family needed by dealing in illegal, converted, long guns.

Weaver sold one to an undercover agent, failed to show up in court, and the agents who initiated the confrontation were serving a warrant.

Yet both have two important elements in common.

They feature government injustice, martyrdom and mass grievance.

These iconic incidents have galvanized the Second Amendment Sanctuary Movement and have made antigovernment violence a cornerstone of the American right over the last 30 years.

Among other things, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was committed by two men who marked the two-year anniversary of Waco by murdering government workers and their children.

Arguably, the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, in which organized Trump supporters intended to kidnap and kill elected officials, has its roots in grievance subcultures that formed around Waco and Ruby Ridge.

But more importantly, Trump is fighting back against the government forces closing in on him by taking his place in the scary patriarchal firmament of men who, like Koresh and Weaver, are widely perceived as martyrs on the extreme right.

It’s really only a baby step at this point.

“God’s battering ram”

As many have remarked, the Former Guy is already perceived as a sacred figure and a martyr by his most fervent supporters. Worshippers speak of him as the equivalent of a modern Jesus, a man anointed as a Messiah by God.

In other words, Trump went to Waco to say he is one of them and to officially take command of America’s violence-prone, grievance-ridden far-right.

If we needed any further proof, the Branch Davidians, who still exist, were delighted that the man they call “God’s battering ram” came to Waco to revive their cause.

So you can think of today’s event as a campaign rally if you want. But it isn’t.

It’s a pilgrimage.

It’s a tacit embrace of antigovernment violence by a former president. And it is Trump’s call for war against the democratic system.

What remains to be seen is whether the entire GOP is going to follow the increasingly loony, embattled Trump down this rabbit hole.

READ MORE: Fact-checker zings Donald Trump for his Waco flub contradicting himself in the same speech

People have moved on from 9/11. Is that really so terrible?

September 11, the anniversary of the three terrorist attacks on the United States, this year passed almost unnoticed. Granted, it was the 21st anniversary, which is not a milestone. But more importantly, the news media was also oversaturated with coverage of a dead queen.

Queen Elizabeth II began a long, winding passage to her final resting place as pundits wrestled with the meaning of monarchy, surely one of the more idle (although endlessly fascinating) topics if you are not an English taxpayer.

Then, the Ukrainian Army crashed into Russian lines and splintered them, advancing to the border in some areas as panicked soldiers abandoned their equipment, stole bicycles and hot-footed it back to the Motherland. And football season began.

READ MORE: 'Something weird is going on': Donald Trump quietly flew to DC on Sunday night and nobody knows why

Yet you would think that if Americans wanted to remember the day they promised to “never forget” — and if news corporations thought there was a market for September 11 memories — yesterday’s news coverage would have been different.

Although Joe Biden laid a wreath, and there were memorials around the country, these events received little-to-no coverage. My social media feeds, usually full of elegant short essays about where people were, how they learned about the planes crashing into the Twin Towers, and what they did, contained almost no posts on the topic, and the ones that did pass through my feed seemed … obligatory.

I was not moved to write one either: I have said those things, felt those feelings and I no longer have anything else to say on the topic.

The question is: why?

READ MORE: 'Never again': Progressive lawmakers observe 9/11 with calls to 'do better and learn from our mistakes'

I don’t know, but here are some theories.

There has been so much to distract us, and those things have included a lot of death. First, in that 21 years, we have had two failed wars that killed nearly 500,000 people in Iraq and Afghanistan, over 6,000 Americans in Afghanistan, and more than 4,200 in Iraq. In addition, tens of thousands more American lives have been ruined because of military service in these war zones.

Second, mass shootings skyrocketed after 9/11.

Third, there were four years of Donald Trump, which felt like an ongoing national emergency, topped off by the first coup attempt broadcast live on TV.

Finally, there were two years of the covid crisis, during which the daily death rate sometimes exceeded the casualties on 9/11.

Since that day, more and more Americans have been forced to remember an event that is growing less and less distinct in their minds — or that they never saw in the first place.

Twenty-one and a half million Americans never experienced this event because they weren’t born yet; another 21 million were younger than four years old: that’s over 10 percent of the population.

Students who complete college next spring will be the first graduating class to have been born after the terrorist attacks, and take it from a college teacher: 9/11 is about as meaningful to them as Pearl Harbor was to me.

I don’t mean to diminish either event.

I recall being darkly fascinated by World War II and even thrilled by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words on that day, but only because living history had passed into the realm of romance and fantasy.

And I worry today that any of us writing about 9/11 will increasingly be writing in the realm of romance and fantasy.

Another obvious point is that 20 years is a long time.

The attacks are simply a less direct experience for anyone who was not on the spot or who did not lose a loved one on that day or from the aftereffects of the attack.

Although September 11, 2001, felt deeply personal to many of us who did not lose someone or were not in New York, that feeling faded over time — and for most, it was only ever a mass-mediated event. But the vast majority of us who did experience 9/11, either in person or by watching those endless loops on television, have moved on.

In 2011, the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Reuters reporter Mark Egan already saw signs of this happening in New York.

“Don’t call it Ground Zero, don’t use the term 9/11 widow, and don’t read the names of the dead,” some — even Mayor Michael Bloomberg — told him, while survivors resisted being defined by the day’s events of that day.

Describing the area around the recently completed memorial plaza as “trendy,” Egan reported that Americans had already accepted the more dangerous and surveillance-ridden world that 9/11 made.

It seems that the promise to “never forget” might be more meaningful at the moment of a calamity than it is decades down the line when it is hard to know what, or who, we are not forgetting.

And maybe forgetting is not such a terrible thing.

READ MORE: 9/11 survivors’ exposure to toxic dust and the chronic health conditions that followed are ongoing failures

Here's why I can't wait to see John Fetterman in the Senate

John Fetterman is a gigantic, progressive Democrat in a hoodie, tattoos, and cargo shorts. Currently the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, he hopes to replace Republican Pat Toomey in the United States Senate in November. Toomey is retiring, and with Donald Trump’s blessing, Pennsylvania Republicans made their lives far more difficult at the end of May by choosing the wrong candidate: they spurned former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick, who might have picked up independents in this generally moderate state, in favor of TV doctor Mehmet Oz.

You probably know about all the baggage that Oz brought into the race. A skilled cardiologist at one point in his life, he turned his back on medicine to become a talk show host, wellness guru, and shill for the diet and supplements industry. Want to sleep better? Oz can sell you a $2,500 mattress for that, as well as sheets, pillows, weighted blankets and everything else that will guarantee a good night’s sleep.

Republicans literally have nothing to say for themselves, having actually done nothing of any real moment since George W. Bush left office. Following Donald Trump’s lead, the party’s comms are relentlessly dark, mean, critical and often cruel.

OK, if you have ever suffered from a sleep disorder, you know that’s a lie. But there’s more — perhaps you are feeling fat? Maybe you should consider System Oz, a wellness, intermittent fasting and exercise program that will help you lose weight in an amazingly short time. It will cause you to need a great many dietary supplements from Dr. Oz’s business partnership with iHerb. Want to be young? Beautiful? Have whiter teeth? Less Alzheimer’s?

READ MORE: Mehmet Oz's campaign blames John Fetterman's stroke on his diet

Oz has you covered.

There will be more supplements involved. Lots more.

Oz’s financial disclosure pegs his fortune between $75 and $300 million.

So, Mehmet Oz knows supplements. What he doesn’t know much about is politics, campaigning or governing. He’s one of the mini-Trumps running around the country — JD Vance in Ohio, Blake Masters in Arizona — whose sole qualification for office is that he is rich.

READ MORE: How Mehmet Oz is scrambling to save his 'floundering' campaign: report

Bizarrely, the poor, non-college-educated, working-class white people who identify as MAGA Republicans seem to love voting for people who are insanely rich and who know nothing about government.

Due in part to the horrible campaign Oz has run, Fetterman currently has a comfortable, nine-point lead, according to fivethirtyeight.com. Despite the fact that he was felled several months ago with a heart attack and a stroke, had to come off the campaign trail, and is only now re-emerging on a limited schedule, Fetterman’s lead has shrunk a bit in recent weeks, but not much. Why?

Here is the answer you will not hear from any other pundit.

His comms — politico-speak for “communications” — are so funny.

Fetterman’s style is a breath of fresh air in a line of work that seems to attract every Gloomy Gus in America, not to mention every Ivy League graduate who wants to tell you that your life is no longer worth living because Joe Biden is president. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Ted Cruz.)

For the last five years, the GOP has made every day on social media into some kind of funeral. Republicans literally have nothing to say for themselves, having actually done nothing of any real moment since George W. Bush left office. Following Donald Trump’s lead, the party’s comms are relentlessly dark, mean, critical and often cruel.

Take five recent tweets issued from the Republican Party’s official Twitter account, @GOP:

  • On foreign policy: “One year ago today, 13 American HEROES were killed in Afghanistan.”
  • On student debt relief: “Typical Biden White House: more spending, no saying who will pay for it.”
  • On immigration: “Joe Biden has been on vacation 95 days just this year and still hasn’t made time to visit the southern border.”
  • On back-to-school: “It’s back-to-school season, and Democrats are bringing back their anti-science mandates.”

I corrected the punctuation where necessary, but you get the point. Republicans never say anything nice about anybody—even their own voters. And Mehmet Oz has followed suit.

In a recent tweet, he painted a bleak picture of life in Pennsylvania: “Record homicides. Murderers released onto the streets. The progressive policies of the Biden-Fetterman agenda have caused chaos in the streets and left law-abiding citizens terrified. It’s time to return law and order to our cities — I will do just that.”

The Biden-Fetterman agenda? Really?

And how about this: “I believe in individualism, John Fetterman believes in collectivism.”

In perhaps the nastiest attack I have seen, much less from a physician, Oz snapped that if Fetterman “had ever eaten a vegetable in his life,” he wouldn’t have had a stroke.

We will return to the vegetable theme in a minute. But the Fetterman response was pitch-perfect, speaking directly to Pennsylvanians about a condition that someone in nearly everyone’s family has had — and often made a full recovery from.

“I had a stroke. I survived it,” Fetterman tweeted. “I’m truly so grateful to still be here today. I know politics can be nasty, but even then, I could never imagine ridiculing someone for their health challenges.”

Oz is running one of the worst campaigns I have ever seen. He is an excellent argument for getting money out of politics, since had he not loaned the campaign upwards of $8 million of his own money, he would never have gotten this far.

But he also does stupid things.

Recently, Oz released an ad about inflation, in which he cruised the vegetable aisle in “Wegners” (no, it’s Wegman’s) looking for ingredients for his wife’s “crudités platter,” something the MAGA base can totally relate to, and purchasing salsa to dip the vegetables in, which no one in Pennsylvania would ever do (chips, duh!)

Fetterman responded with a video in which he held up a $7.95 pre-packaged collection of sliced vegetables and dip, and shrugged: “In PA, we call this a veggie tray! If this looks like anything but a veggie tray to you, then I am not your candidate. And I’m serious, Dr. Oz doesn’t even know the name of the grocery store that he’s in!”

Hence Oz’s grumpy jab about Fetterman not eating vegetables.

Undeterred, the Fetterman campaign is continuing to own the vegetable theme and having fun with it. Last weekend, a pair of canvassers went out dressed as broccoli. As you can see, one is carrying a sign that says: “I’m afraid Dr. Oz will dip me in salsa.”

Fun, right? This is what I want to emphasize.

Fetterman is introducing a new kind of campaign, producing ads that are effective because they are less negative than they are funny, human and often kind. We have gone for years watching perfectly nice Democrats scraping their jaws off the floor as Republicans lie, barrage them with insults and insist that Americans live in a crumbling country.

But Fetterman meets the MAGA challenge, countering GOP foolishness with humorous trolling. For example, having a plane drag a banner down the Jersey shore on a hot weekend, welcoming Oz back to the state.

Yes, although Oz has some history in Pennsylvania, he has lived in New Jersey (it is one of his 10 homes, none of which are in Pennsylvania) for decades. When he decided to run for Senate, Oz re-registered to vote from his in-laws’ address in Bryn Athyn, a wealthy suburb outside of Philadelphia. This has provided rich fodder for the campaign.

Hence, my favorite Fetterman trolls are about Oz’s home in New Jersey. For example, Fetterman has started a petition to get the good doctor into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, intended to honor residents of the Garden State for their accomplishments. Oz was a presenter at the 2019 inductions, saying proudly when interviewed, “I’m from New Jersey.” The Fetterman campaign has circulated this video, too.

Better yet, two working-class kids from New Jersey who made good, Bruce Springsteen sideman Stevie van Zandt and “Snookie” of Jersey Shore fame, have filmed videos emphasizing Oz’s ties to the Garden State. “You do not wanna mess around with John Fetterman,” Van Zandt warns. “Trust me. He’s a little outta your league. Nobody wants to see you get embarrassed. So come on back to Jersey where you belong.”

The beauty of these ads is that they call Oz a carpetbagger without calling him a carpetbagger.

“I heard you moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to look for a new job,” Snookie says in her high, nasal whine. “Personally, I don’t know why anyone would wanna leave Jersey, `cause it’s like the best place ever, and we’re all hot messes … but I just wanna let you know, Jersey will not forget you.”

The Fetterman campaign has learned something important about how to get ordinary people re-involved in politics: Entertain them. Don’t attack, don’t be cruel — just get your message across in a way that is funny and real.

I just can’t wait to see this guy in the Senate.

READ MORE: 'A massive gaffe': Mehmet Oz scrutinized for saying abortion is 'still murder’ at any pregnancy stage

The 'lost' Secret Service texts are part of Donald Trump’s rolling coup

On January 6, 2021, armed MAGA supporters swarmed the US Capitol in a bid to stop the electoral count that would transfer the presidency to Joe Biden. Secret Service agents, who were detailed to protect Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, stayed in touch with each other, and with their supervisors, by cell phone.

Like everyone else that day, they were sending text messages.

But as with so many government documents generated by the Trump administration, the public – and the House select committee to investigate the J6 insurrection – will probably never see them.

READ MORE: New analysis breaks down Mitch McConnell’s strategic erosion of U.S. democracy

Joseph Cuffari, the Trump-appointed Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the Secret Service, doesn’t want to talk about those missing text messages.

On January 27, 2021, Congress told all departments to preserve their records. When subordinates at DHS reported to Cuffari’s chief of staff in April, 2022 – 15 months after a search was initiated – to say that the texts had been permanently deleted in a data migration, that memo was never seen again. Congress was finally informed by a July 14 report saying that these documents may be permanently lost.

Was it a coincidence?

Of course, we cannot know what these texts would or would not add to our understanding of a former president’s rolling coup attempt.

READ MORE: 'Fire to burn': Criminologist warns Trump supporters could react violently if he is indicted

But it isn’t hard to imagine that an even marginally competent IT professional would have routinely backed up devices prior to such a migration. Nor is it too much to expect that the loss of these texts should have been reported, particularly since multiple House committees issued directives for the preservation on January 16, 2021 – eleven days before the alleged data migration took place.

Why? Because records requests now routinely include phone data. These devices report not only what we communicate, but when, and from where, those communications were sent. Digital communications provide a dense, real-time record. And computerized devices don’t do things by accident, or without warning. Permanently deleting such evidence requires either extreme premeditation or extreme negligence.

Text messages speak to witnesses’ state of mind, and decisions made in the moment. Think of the ones we do have: panicked texts from MAGA pundits like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, or the numerous Facebook posts by Stop the Steal activists, have helped tell a vivid story about January 6 that are seared in our memories.

On July 21, we learned the poignant fact that Pence’s Secret Service detail, trapped and hearing the crowd’s chanted death threats, used their cell phones to call their loved ones to say goodbye.

The missing Secret Service texts were important historical documents, but they might also corroborate testimony by Trump and Pence aides about what their bosses did, and said, on J6.

Curiously, however, the data migration that reportedly erased the Secret Service texts from that day occurred on January 27, 2021, two days after the House of Representatives forwarded articles of impeachment to the Senate, accusing the former president of inciting the attack on the Capitol, and one day after Trump was issued a summons notifying him to prepare for trial.

A coincidence? You decide.

Incompetence or malice?

But let’s be clear: Cuffari’s first move on J6, even without a request from Congress, should have been preserving the records of all DHS personnel on duty at the Ellipse, the Capitol and the Oval Office.

There were 24 Secret Service agents engaged that day, 10 guarding then-President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Their phones should have been secured as soon as they went off duty. Although the messages they held might have also documented these agents’ valor, Cuffari’s job is to anticipate problems and mistakes.

Inspectors general are supposed to proactively investigate for failure, sometimes identifying a conflict of interest before a legal violation has occurred. That’s why they are nicknamed “watchdogs.”

Instead, Cuffari has been Trump’s fox and DHS his hen house.

He had already refused staff recommendations to investigate potentially improper conduct by the Secret Service and the Border Patrol, in 2021. So the Counsel of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, an interagency group that oversees inspectors general, launched an investigation into Cuffari’s unwillingness to do his job. On August 12, Republican senators, led by Missouri’s Josh Hawley, announced that they want that investigation to end.

This points us to a much larger pattern in Trump nominees, from Cabinet-level to administrative jobs: filling important positions with candidates whose history suggested they would dismantle, or disable, the government agency they were appointed to run.

For example, after almost 30 years of enhanced federal intervention in education, a Republican-led Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos, a longtime proponent of defunding public schools through voucher programs, as the secretary of education.

Health and Human Services Secretaries Tom Price and Alex Azar, both of whom became the focus of unrelated scandals, were tasked with reducing government-funded healthcare by weakening administrative provisions of Obamacare.

Surgeon and former presidential candidate Ben Carson retracted Obama-era policies designed to help poor renters and that required suburban districts to track enforcement of racial equity in housing.

Of course, hyper-partisanship at the top is partially offset by nonpartisan civil service employees, tens of thousands of workers, protected by federal law, that remain in place regardless of the party in power.

Yet Republicans have a plan for them too: Should Trump be reelected in 2024, he will come in armed with a plan, which he implemented in late 2020 and Joe Biden rescinded, to target 50,000 civil service workers for dismissal and replacement with party loyalists.

The fight goes on

It would be a mistake to think that Donald Trump’s power grab has been fully defeated, or that the story of the missing Secret Service text messages is only about one Trump partisan’s misplaced loyalty to a defeated president. Cuffari’s refusal to do his job is yet another chapter in the attack on the foundation of our democratic state.

The coup is not over.

READ MORE: 'A pattern of conduct to destroy federal record': CREW urges DOJ to probe missing Jan. 6 texts

Laws like Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill 'harms students who are not queer' too

Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the man responsible for leaving so many children without grandparents and parents, as he allowed the covid to run rampant in the state, decided to drop the gloves. He went straight for the children themselves.

On Monday, an excellent day to launch a culture-war bomb into the news cycle, DeSantis signed HB 1557, the "Parental Rights in Education" bill, popularly known by its critics as “Don’t Say Gay.”

Passed earlier in March, the law will take effect in July, giving the parents of LGBT children plenty of time to sell their houses and move to another state.

What does HB 1557 say?

I suggest that you read it for yourself. There is so much more at stake than what to teach children about gender and sexuality.

The legislation:

Requires district school boards to adopt procedures that comport with certain provisions of law for notifying student's parent of specified information; requires such procedures to reinforce fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding upbringing & control of their children; prohibits school district from adopting procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying parent about specified information or that encourage student to withhold from parent such information; prohibits school district personnel from discouraging or prohibiting parental notification & involvement in critical decisions affecting student's mental, emotional, or physical well-being; prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels; requires school districts to notify parents of healthcare services; authorizes parent to bring action against school district to obtain declaratory judgment; provides for additional award of injunctive relief, damages, & reasonable attorney fees & court costs to certain parents.

I, too, have been focused on the threat to LGBT children and Florida’s attempt to ban all information about gender and sexuality from kindergarten through third grade. Perhaps the almost exclusive focus on this issue is part of the GOP plan. It is emotional on both sides.

It is an issue about which reasonable and ill-informed people might also disagree. I am not talking about the extremes: parents who send their children to pray away the gay versus open and affirming parents.

I am talking about ordinary people who are still working these things through, parents who worry that a child sexed male at birth who loves dresses and dolls might become aware of medical transitions before they have adult powers of reason. I am talking about parents who may prefer to take this journey with their child in private instead of in concert with a curriculum created by a consultant and delivered by a teacher not fully trained to address the backlash that LGBT materials can create for queer kids.

Of course, the legislation doesn’t address any of these familial and social problems, nor does shutting down the conversation.

But the new law does ensure that a child mocked for seeming queer cannot be defended by either the teacher or the school. It ensures there cannot be positive education that prevents such bullying.

Yet news stories do not make clear that failure to address homophobia and transphobia in schools harms students who are not queer.

As sociologist CJ Pascoe explained in Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School (2011), for boys, the creation of a masculine identity is framed by rejecting anything that might cause them to be identified as a “fag.”

This includes admitting weakness, the desire for intimate friendship with other boys and the aggressive creation of a heteronormative persona through female conquest.

Instead, the punishment of “faggotry” in other boys encourages violence, shame and isolation.

But I want to underline that my initial concern about the high focus on sexuality in this legislation is because it is a broad attack on children going well beyond sex education. It seeks to eliminate a student’s right to privacy.

In other words, it affirms “parents’ rights” at the cost of eliminating children’s rights.

While it is unclear what “specified information” schools must notify parents about, this category could include a wide range of things:

  • reading books that a parent has not approved in advance;
  • expressing opinions that are at odds with the parents’ values;
  • embracing or rejecting forms of religious practice, or activities such as meditation and yoga to which some religions might object;
  • dressing in ways that parents have not approved;
  • seeking needed health care, discussing sexual health, or reporting parental abuse;
  • or expressing political interests that are at odds with parents’ own political commitments.

Use your imagination: the list could get longer.

But it all comes down to one thing:

The “Don’t Say Gay Bill” is only superficially about restricting conversations about gender and sexuality.

In reality, it is about weakening the power of civic institutions to offer protection to children from their families and, most importantly, vacating the rights of minors to constitutional protections.

Manchin worries free education will turn Americans into moochers. Students are left in the dust

With barely a whimper, free community college for all Americans bit the dust, at least for now.

Already stripped from the pared-down Build Back Better bill proposed by the Biden administration in October, free community college will not re-emerge as a free-standing bill in 2022.

An initiative that has been implemented successfully in 19 states as different as Arkansas and California, you might think that two years of free college might have been a model for elevating successful local initiatives as federal policy.

But apparently it was one thing for states to shoulder the burden of creating an educated workforce and another for the Biden administration to make that investment.

First Lady and community college professor Dr. Jill Biden was tasked with presenting the disappointing news to the 2022 Community College National Legislative Summit last week. She spoke of the human cost of this failure.

"These aren't just bills or budgets to me, to you, right?” Biden told colleagues who had hoped for a $45.5 billion infusion of federal money. “And it was a real lesson in human nature that some people just don't get that."

It’s no surprise that Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and their Republican allies don’t “get that.”

They believe that a $45.5 billion investment in technicians, health care workers and other skilled laborers we desperately need is an unaffordable “handout” that weakens Americans’ moral fiber.

New Hampshire’s Republican Governor Chris Sununu also rejected the plan. Students who didn’t pay, he argued, would not commit seriously to education.

The bill had other enemies. One was inside the house all along.

Private colleges and universities, and at least one major, public four-year institution, saw the plan as a direct threat to their bottom lines.

As early as last October, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities withheld its support because the idea was “untested” and government could better help students by increasing Pell Grants.

But federally funded free community college is neither new nor untested: many were free for almost a century.

Part of an education reform plan, two-year colleges would, University of Chicago president William Rainey Harper argued in the 1890s, make Morrill Act public education funds available to more Americans.

These “junior colleges” would be situated in public high schools and would relieve four-year colleges and universities from teaching basic college-level skills and general education courses.

As an example of what this could look like, Harper divided his own tuition-driven university into a “junior college” and a “senior college” in 1892. But it was a high school principal, in Joliet, Illinois, who, in 1901, took up Harper’s challenge to first offer college-level courses for free and then establish an independent, public junior college.

The junior college movement expanded heterogeneously before World War II. Some, as in California, were public and free, and usually an extension of high school. Others, like the private, tuition-driven Harcum Junior College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, established in 1915 to educate middle-class women, were intended as a launching pad for a university education.

But by the mid-century 20th century, that status of community colleges declined in many states. As college enrollment expanded dramatically under the 1944 GI Bill, Harvard president James Bryant Conant argued that junior colleges — now known as “community colleges” because of their democratic to local education — were primarily for students with modest, vocational goals.

Similarly, all community colleges were never free, but they were free in places where the desire for economic growth and democratic social mobility merged.

Native Floridians paid no tuition until 1969. Similarly, post-secondary schools in California, the largest educational system in the country, offered post-secondary education to in-state students for free until 1978.

Its 73 community colleges also served as feeder schools to four-year institutions. By providing skilled labor, free community and four-year colleges fueled both states’ growth as national hubs for the aerospace and military industries.

Although the United States is currently faced with worker shortages across its skilled labor force, there is hard evidence that reviving tuition-free community college could be the remedy.

In 2008, Knoxville, Tennessee, made this move, a program that became statewide in 2014, funded by a combination of taxpayer dollars and private donations. Mentorship and apprenticeship programs that complement course work have boosted poor students into well-paying jobs.

So, what are the barriers to supporting two-year schools?

First, as their opposition to the Biden plan reveals, public and private four-year colleges and universities remain fatally dependent on tuition dollars that would be diminished if students who wanted a four-year degree could complete two of them for free.

Despite the economic vulnerability that became evident during the first months of the covid crisis, these institutions and the politicians that support them have no immediate plan to replace tuition with more sustainable income streams, like taxes.

As importantly, Joe Manchin’s anxiety that Americans will become moochers, and Chris Sununu’s belief that students will only be disciplined learners if they have skin in the game, reflect a national divide on whether public goods should be shared or earned, and whether the nation benefits from educated workers.

But voters, not surprisingly, break along ideological, class, age and racial lines.

A recent Pew study reveals that 85 percent of Democrats, and only 36 percent of Republicans, believe public colleges should be tuition-free.

But over half of non-college educated Republicans under 50 do support taxpayer-funded community colleges. So do Americans under 30 by an overwhelming 73 percent.

And while only 51 percent of white Americans are in favor of canceling tuition, Black (86 percent), Hispanic (82 percent) and Asian American (69 percent) citizens support democratic access to post-secondary education.

And best of all, tuition-free community college does have a track record. It creates satisfying and sustainable lives for American families, and a robust economy that can respond to the needs of tomorrow.

What mainstream media is getting wrong about the centerpiece of Biden's agenda

Last week's election results, which showed modest Republican gains across the nation, set off alarm bells in America's pundit class about the power of progressives in the Democratic party.

Democrats promised change, the Times contrarian Maureen Dowd complained, and instead offered "wokeness" and infighting. Bloomberg's Ramesh Ponnuru warned that even though the Virginia governor's race normally means nothing, former Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe's loss was a "portent" and "bad news" for the national party as it moved forward on a human infrastructure package.

Why? As the editorial board of the New York Times warned, with Joe Biden's $1.75 trillion Build Back Better framework, Democrats were moving too far to the left. "The concerns of more centrist Americans about a rush to spend taxpayer money, a rush to grow the government," the Times wrote, "should not be dismissed."

Indeed, a recent Gallup poll argues that 52 percent of Americans prefer a smaller government, up an alarming 11 percent since last year. But does this mean Biden should scale back his aspirations?


It means Americans are radically underinformed.

In every industrialized country but the United States, government programs perform an essentially moderate task. By supporting workers, they support business. They create vital economies that support well-paying jobs. They keep workers healthy, and vulnerable family members safe. They lower tuitions, train workers so that employers don't have to, and make it possible for students to pay back modest loans at affordable rates.

And best of all — if you are one of those centrists — government programs keep people at work. There is no more graphic example of how the United States has failed at this than the number of healthy Americans who cannot, or will not, return to their jobs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of mid-October, 10.4 million jobs are unfilled. More than 1 million of those workers are mothers who cannot find, or afford, childcare. Some missing workers — 80,000 truck drivers, for example — mean American consumers face shortages of everything from paper towels to covid tests as container ships bob offshore. And prior to the pandemic, school districts in the United States were already short 110,000 teachers.

So how would Build Back Better make American business stronger?

Republicans, and some centrist Democratic senators, such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, argue it won't. Government "giveaways," we are told, will only make Americans dependent and cripple the economy with higher taxes.

Manchin complains the US will move "toward an entitlement mentality" if Americans who can care for themselves without government help don't. And Sinema, who has raised almost $1 million in donations from lobbying groups, has given a thumbs down to higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, making Build Back Better even harder for deficit hawks in the Democratic Party.

But it isn't clear what Republicans know that conservatives in other countries don't. The United States is the only industrialized country that does not offer paid family leave, and universal childcare, healthcare, and eldercare. In the United States, not only new parents, but sick and injured workers, are back on the job long before they are ready and able to work. And those who can't pay someone to care for family members have to cut back on consumption: experts estimate that American business may be leaving $28.5 billion a year on the table when families re-budget to account for a lost salary.

There is no question that all these policies are moderate because they benefit business. They keep families consuming, and they bring valued workers back on the job rested, healthy and focused. Similarly, knowing that elders and children are well cared for, at an affordable cost, means that families can plan for the big items that drive a healthy economy: houses, cars and appliances, and the thousands of skilled jobs the market in durable goods support.

But perhaps the biggest categories of government spending that could drive the United States economy are healthcare and education. These economic categories are not only a leading cause of national consumer indebtedness, but also of corporate spending. The cost of college doubles every nine years, and medical debt is currently pegged at $140 billion. Worse, healthcare costs are expected to rise almost 6 percent through 2028, well above the projected GDP of 4.3 percent.

Why is this bad for business? Because the employers who offer healthcare coverage for over 23 million American workers spent almost $14,000 per employee in 2020. That's over $3.2 trillion.

That number is only slightly less than President Biden requested to pay for a capacious package of universal programs, a number that has been whittled down to half that amount. And corporations spend billions more to administer these programs.

Last Friday, the House finally passed the $1.2 trillion hard infrastructure framework: it had yes votes from Manchin, Sinema — and even Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney, 17 other conservative senators and 13 House Republicans. Why?

Because it was bold in its scope but moderate in its vision. Businesses know they can't compete in a global economy without modern transportation, roads, technology and data security, and that only federal spending and coordination makes national projects possible.

Human infrastructure — healthcare, eldercare, childcare, education and family stability — is also good for business.

It's not progressive. It's just common sense.

Politicians could regulate Facebook -- but they'd have to admit ugly truths about themselves too

When 37-year-old Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before Congress on October 5, she brought thousands of stolen documents with her. They are the most conclusive evidence yet that the top social media company knows it profits from harming the public.

Like many whistleblowers, Haugen — a member of the civic integrity team — took an exciting job only to be implicated in what she believes to be an ethical catastrophe. Much has been made of her statement on "60 Minutes" that teenage girls who use Facebook are more likely to suffer from depression and self-harm. Endangering children rightly grabs the public's sympathy and concern.

But what about the consequences to democracy? Haugen is the latest expert to directly implicate Facebook in the tsunami of disinformation that was instrumental to Donald Trump's victory in 2016 and, more recently, his attempts to overturn the 2020 election. Yet, shortly after November 3, as the political crisis that would culminate in the January 6 insurrection was building, Facebook dissolved the civic integrity team.

Six months later, a third of American voters still believed that Donald Trump won the election. Facebook has been implicated, not just in the spread of global illiberalism, but in gun violence, youth suicide, genocide and a contemporary contagion of conspiracy theories. And, except for listening to Haugen's testimony, Congress has done nothing.


Although the right fulminates about censorship, and the left about Facebook's monopolistic practices, neither Republicans or Democrats seem content to let the company — which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram — regulate itself. Yet Haugen has revealed little that we, and presumably, Congress, did not know about Facebook already.

Since 2018, media experts like Jaron Lanier and Siva Vaidyanathan have explained that Facebook promotes dark and destructive content because it is "sticky," keeping users on the platform for longer sessions that reap greater profits for the company. In their 2021 book An Ugly Truth, Times reporters Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, using interviews with anonymous and named sources, recounted Haugen's charges in detail.

To understand why the political class does nothing, one could start with Federal Election Commission filings: Facebook employees donated almost $20 million to political campaigns in the 2020 cycle alone. While over 80 percent of that went to Democrats (Joe Biden was the top draw at over $1.5 million), Republicans got their share too. Facebook's PAC, the company's official political donor arm, consistently donates more money to Republicans than Democrats.

But there is, I suspect, something larger in play than money.

Facebook and other forms of digital marketing that would inevitably be affected by regulating Facebook have transformed politics. It was Republican John McCain who mounted a brief, but robust, challenge to the powerful Bush money machine in 2000 by engaging voters live on a website with rudimentary video technology. In 2004, the almost unknown Howard Dean became a contender for the Democratic nomination by raising hundreds of millions in small donations in a few months, connecting to voters on blogs and organizing supporters in states other candidates didn't visit on MeetUp.com.

And in 2008, Facebook entered national politics through the back door. Co-founder Chris Hughes took a leave from the company to organize digital marketing for Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. Following his victory, the right took notice: in 2010, the Tea Party movement mobilized almost exclusively on Facebook to fight the Affordable Care Act, endorsing 129 Republican candidates for the House and nine for the Senate. A third of those candidates won, delivering the House of Representatives into the hands of a Republican majority also stripped of many moderate incumbents.

In a short 20 years, it has become possible for "outsiders" who represent the most energetic factions in both parties to succeed, and career politicians in both parties to fundraise as if they were outsiders. Facebook is the linchpin of a digital universe where it is always election season.

What would political campaigns even look like if social media platforms were, for example, uniformly restrained by standards of truth, restrictions on emotional content and algorithms, or the collection and sale of user data? How would the myriad small donations that power all campaigns, but particularly insurgent progressive and right-wing candidates, be collected? What new methods could mobilize grassroots supporters to demand, or refuse, change?

In a world where only 25 percent of twenty-somethings watch the news — but 70 percent of adults use Facebook — how would politics even happen if social media's reach was blunted?

Since Donald Trump was kicked off Facebook and Twitter, conservatives have complained the loudest about Big Tech's power. But the truth is politicians are not just facing questions about regulation, public health and civic disorder when they confront Facebook's unethical behavior. They are facing questions about a political environment that has been transformed by the internet.

And they are facing ugly truths about themselves.

How the GOP overplayed its hand in Texas

The Texas Heartbeat Act (SB 8), which went into effect on September 1 when the conservative majority on the United States Supreme Court declined to review it, packs a big political punch.

The law is rife with misinformation. A fetus, for example, has no heartbeat at six weeks. It has no heart. The law ignores the fact many women are unaware they are pregnant at six weeks. It is also designed to sap the morale of progressives, who have collectively spent half a century of time and treasure defending reproductive rights.

But SB 8 is also a calculated political move. Determined Democratic organizing, millions of new voters and explosive urban growth in its increasingly cosmopolitan cities has made Texas a wobbly brick in the GOP's southern wall. Governor Greg Abbott's Trumpian refusal to take sensible public health measures against covid create a opening for Texas Democrats to make new gains in 2022.

To Republicans nationwide, of course, the law demonstrates that the GOP, now mobilized almost exclusively by zombie Reaganism and culture wars, has the power to deliver a policy, one that has been at the center of the New Right's agenda since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. It may even reassure Trump supporters smarting from 2020 that, by seizing the Supreme Court, the party won after all.

But Texas may also have overplayed its hand.

As the Pew Research Center noted in May 2021, public support for legal abortion remains high. Today, 59 percent of Americans support the procedure in "all or most cases," and 39 percent do not. But unlike other issues, those numbers are not fully defined by political party affiliation: 22 percent of conservative Republicans, and a whopping 59 percent of moderate Republicans believe in reproductive freedom.

SB 8 and the threat it poses to reproductive rights in other states is, in other words, a gamble for a party that, in 2020, lost the women's vote by 13 points, the Black vote by 65 points and the Hispanic vote by 33 points. And the 18-40 demographic, people of childbearing age who represent 40 percent of the national electorate? The Republican Party lost those voters by a combined 40 points.

The Texas legislature may cynically imagine women of means will access the procedure, and vote as they always have. Poor women who cannot get a legal abortion, targeted by the voter suppression bill Abbott signed on September 7, won't be voting in the fall. Right?


This isn't 1977 when — against the wishes of feminist allies — Democrat Jimmy Carter signed the Hyde Amendment, banning the use of federal dollars for abortion. Since then, poor women have given birth to unplanned children at a higher rate than middle class and wealthy women. Democrats went on the defense, trying and failing to serve the need for abortion through private philanthropy. Politically, Democrats, presumed that abortion could be preserved by retaining the Supreme Court's liberal majority. And the strategy that evolved out of this was to fight for the presidency, not the country.

But today's Democratic party — the president, the House Majority and its razor-thin Senate voting majority — is united in the belief that universal health care is a human right. Democrats believe that abortion is a personal, not a political, decision, and a keystone of reproductive health. This includes fighting for accessible clinics (Planned Parenthood is a leading provider for men's sexual health services); sex education; contraception; and the maternal care that produces healthy, planned births.

It's also an overstatement to say money solves the abortion problem. True, in the pre-Roe years, women of means could access a "therapeutic" abortion if a sympathetic doctor was willing to fudge the paperwork. But Republicans might be shocked to know how many older women in their party vividly recall the shame and isolation of an accidental pregnancy, the trip to a dodgy abortionist; and being spirited away from high school to deliver a baby they never saw again.

SB 8 will have real-life consequences for real-life women, regardless of party or class. Within hours of it taking effect, many were flocking to neighboring states. That this makes access unequal is part of what activates the reproductive rights movement. "Traveling for an abortion may be impossible for women who would struggle to find childcare or take time off work," a Houston reporter explained. "And for those without legal US status along Texas' southern border, traveling to an abortion clinic also entails the risk of getting stopped at a checkpoint."

But because of this glaring inequality, the new abortion fight will mobilize a Democratic party that has not foregrounded social policies so dramatically since 1965 to win in 2022.

Furthermore, this new fight for reproductive rights will activate the same voters that the GOP is working to silence. It will not just draw on feminists who have fought this fight for over 50 years. It will draw on woman of color mobilizations that the Roe generation only dreamed of: activists mobilizing against anti-Asian hate crimes, #Fightfor15 organizers, the Movement for Black Lives, immigration activists, and grassroots LGBTQ groups who understand the links between abortion and legislation that targets them.

Finally, the law is also a sign of how rudderless, and desperate, the GOP has become. While SB 8 will please the base, it will bring the intensity of a presidential election to the 2022 midterms — not just in Texas, but everywhere there is a Senate or a House seat in play.

What Liz Cheney is really aiming for

United States Representative Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, must be banking on the notion that much can happen between now and 2022, and even more by 2024. Why else would she have gone out of her way last week to fist-bump President Joe Biden at the joint-session of Congress, an image that will return to haunt her in a Wyoming primary, where former president Donald Trump is working to defeat her?

Although Cheney says she can win that primary, in 2022, the numbers currently say no. "She wanted to be speaker," a conservative political consultant told me today. "And it's all going up in flames." But could Cheney be setting her sights higher than that?

The daughter of Dick Cheney has refused the conspiracies that fueled the Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021. She has taken a lonely and tough stance against Trump's position as either the GOP's king or its kingmaker. Despite being censured by the Wyoming GOP after the House impeached Trump, she won't repudiate that vote.

The fist bump sent another message. Liz Cheney is an old-school Republican who has clear differences with Democrats but a shared commitment to the democratic process. Given every opportunity to repair her relationships with Trump loyalists, Cheney has doubled down on a simple truth: Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.

Cheney retaliated after Trump said on Gab that, "The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!" Six out of 10 Republicans agree, but not Cheney. "Anyone who claims it was is spreading the BIG LIE," she tweeted, "turning their back on the rule of law and poisoning our democratic system."

Later that same day, at an American Enterprise Institute event, Cheney repeated herself. Support for the election conspiracy theory was "disqualifying" for any Republican, she emphasized, but particularly those with presidential aspirations.

Cheney is betting the farm that ordinary conservative Republicans will, in the end, support that position—and perhaps her, too. Not so long ago, she was a rising star in the GOP. "She kind of reminds you of Margaret Thatcher or somebody like that in history," United States Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, told Politico right before the 2020 election: "a strong person, in a big position, a woman who stands her ground in an otherwise male-dominated conference."

Now, Cheney has allies in her conference, but none of them supports publicly standing her ground against a lie that is a GOP moneymaker and that placates the angry man at Mar-a-Lago. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's patience with Cheney has been dwindling since April when Cheney, in an interview with a New York Post reporter, repeated her assertion that support for the Big Lie was "disqualifying." Importantly, when asked, Cheney refused to rule out a presidential run for herself in 2024.

Whether it's Cheney's unwillingness to accept the lie or the hint that Cheney is eyeing the presidency, McCarthy (who saved her leadership position) is under increasing pressure to demote her. In a news conference Tuesday morning, McCarthy signaled that a vote to replace Cheney in the conference leadership could happen next week.

Cheney might have insulated herself from controversy had she taken the easy route into the Senate in 2020. Yes, delegates booed former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who as a senator twice voted to convict Trump, at the recent state party convention. Catcalls of "traitor!" and "communist" were hurled from the crowd. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has refrained from criticizing members of his conference who dissent from the Big Lie. It is a position he has said he shares.

Currently, Cheney is an outlier for 2024. Trump is flirting heavily with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, nationally known because of his resistance to mask mandates and keeping the state open for business during the Covid-19 pandemic. But what if there is no Trump—as a candidate, kingmaker or king—in 2024? What then? That GOP would be a party without ballast. Its leadership has invested everything in an elderly, unpredictable man entangled in a series of federal and state investigations.

Cheney is a demonstrably tough leader and excellent fundraiser ready to take charge of the party. United States Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who will retire in 2026, has defended Romney;'s right to depart from Trump. She seems to think so, too. "Liz Cheney is a woman of strength and conscience," Collins told the Washington Examiner. "She did what she thought was right, and I salute her for that."

Can Liz Cheney finish what she has started?

She thinks she can.

Republicans put themselves in a box — after driving the nation into a ditch​

Why, at this time of desperate need, does the Republican leadership refuse to put its fingerprints on legislation that relieves the American people's suffering? Not one Republican in the entire US Congress voted for the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

If you scrolled through right-wing social media last weekend, you'd see the top news was not the increased pace of vaccination or the arrival of $1,400 stimmies. It was Joe Biden's triple-stumble on the staircase to Air Force One. A particularly creative meme tweeted out by Donald Trump, Jr. interspersed video of the former president hitting golf balls, which then appeared to hit Biden in the head and knock him down.

United behind obstructionism so extreme it overwhelmed the need to pass legislation when the GOP controlled both chambers of the Congress, Biden tripping and falling now counts as a Republican win. In fact, over the four years of the Trump administration, exactly one major piece of legislation was passed, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a big unwrapped present to corporations, but not to the American people. Instead, congressional Republicans have unified behind the bizarre theory that Congress must deliver cultural criticism and mean jokes about their colleagues.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell once proudly called himself the "grim reaper" of Democratic legislation. In the last four years, however, he also kept bipartisan legislation—universal background checks for gun purchases, promoting net neutrality, and reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act—off the Senate floor.

In fact, the GOP seems engaged in dismantling the government, a project the 2017 tax package enhanced. Even as the national debt spiraled upwards to $27 trillion by the end of 2020 (a number that will probably go higher when the Covid-19 pandemic is fully calculated), vital government responsibilities like public health, delivering the mail, and monitoring tax returns were starved of funding and personnel.

Yet congressional Republicans, still reeling from their 2020 election losses and in desperate need of a win, don't see helping their own constituents as a way back to power in 2022. In fact, they seem to be willing to absorb as many legislative losses as they need to, including voting unanimously against the nearly $2 trillion covid pandemic relief package that delivers tangible aid to their constituents. Why?

The most obvious answer is that the Republican Party has put itself in a box. It cannot embrace popular right-wing conspiracy theories that Biden is a tired, confused old man fronting for socialists (which seems to be their strategy for 2022) while simultaneously doing business with him. Instead, the Party of No portrays itself as taking a principled stand against obvious—and, importantly, hidden—government interference. As Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) told Fox News, Biden was being deliberately "boring" in his policy approach in order to "hide his radical policy agenda."

Cruz and others also insist, against all evidence, that a nation that is governed least is governed best. Rand Paul has used his medical credentials (he's an ophthalmologist) to oppose government action against the coronavirus since last spring. Famous for misinformed public rants that portray federal health mandates as authoritarian, Paul bullied the covid-czar Anthony Fauci last week in a televised Senate hearing.

Not acknowledging the crisis helps the GOP to obscure its role, and the role of the Trump administration, in driving the nation into a ditch. More importantly, accepting the win of delivering services to their constituents with a bipartisan ARPA would have represented significant ideological backpedaling for a party that, since the Reagan administration, had refused the idea that government aid can ever be a hand up. But surely, you might ask, there is a less nakedly ideological explanation than this?

The answer is yes. With the national government now dominated by Democrats, the GOP is pushing meaningful legislation to Republican-dominated county governments, state legislatures and governor's mansions where they can win. There, a torrent of legislation—from culture-war edicts on school curricula to laws expanding gun ownership, and restricting reproductive and voting rights—is flourishing. When challenged, those laws will go to a US Supreme Court built by Mitch McConnell.

There are Republicans willing to take credit for government spending for which they never voted. "Independent restaurant owners have won $28.6 billion of relief," Senator Roger Wicker tweeted to Mississippi constituents on March 10. But that is also an important clue. Republicans know that even without their support that Democrats will help their constituents, indirectly deflecting voter discontent. Fed and housed by the government while at the same time fired up by GOP accomplishments at the local level, Republicans hope these same voters will return them to power in 2022.

Behind the right wing's nefarious obsession with calling Joe Biden 'senile'

If you haven't heard anyone tell you, with complete confidence, that President Joe Biden is senile and has had numerous strokes, it says something about you.

You have no right-wing friends.

The charge that Democratic leadership was too old has been a coordinated right-wing media strategy since early 2020. In January, pundit Laura Ingraham implied that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had "dementia"; on May 7, Dinesh D'Souza began referring to Biden as senile. As the election grew near, he called him a "senile dotard."

Deliberate falsehoods and wisecracks about Biden's mental state (Tucker Carlson referring to him as "President Houseplant") are not really about age. They imply that Biden, a liberal, is a figurehead being controlled by his party's left wing. This narrative is foundational to the evolving conspiracy theories, and doubts about democracy, that activate far-right partisans today. Biden, they believe, is fronting for the deep state.

Age was worth discussing last year. It featured five of the 10 oldest candidates in American history, four of them Democrats. There were widespread doubts that, at almost 78, Biden could withstand the rigors of a national campaign, or the work of the presidency. Those doubts have proved to be unwarranted. Yet the Republican right remains unshaken. Partisans still comb every second of video for evidence of Biden's decline.

Deliberate falsehoods and wisecracks imply that Biden, a liberal, is a figurehead controlled by his party's left wing.

Donald Trump set things in motion with a nickname: "Sleepy Joe." Invoking the image of an old man nodding off, he implied that Biden's occasional verbal stumbles, many related to a congenital stutter, were signs of decline. "Sleepy Joe doesn't know where he is or what he's doing," he tweeted on March 2, 2020. Three weeks before Election Day, he said Biden was afflicted with "obvious & rapidly getting worse 'dementia.'"

In this narrative, aneurysm repairs that Biden underwent in the late 1980s were "strokes." As Donald Trump, Jr. tweeted, even "two explosions in his brain" did not explain why Biden "can't remember where he is most days." Fox News political analyst Brit Hume imagined a larger deception. Hume "didn't have any doubt that Biden's senile," but warned that such people are adept at concealing their condition.

Such comments lead us to another theory. Portrayals of Biden as senile allowed right-wing conspiracy theories that the election had been "stolen" to thrive. On November 6, the late Rush Limbaugh expressed disbelief that Americans elected "the most socialist, leftist, senile man ever." A columnist for alt-right Taki's Magazine imagined that "when the reality of a dementia patient in the White House becomes more than just a joke" Democrats "push him aside" in favor of a true socialist—like Kamala Harris.

Biden's competence and likability have awakened a desire among some ordinary Republicans for a functioning government. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, assertions that he is fronting for socialists may be a tactical diversion on the part of right-wing operatives. As one partisan fantasized this week, dangerous "leftists" like White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, Pelosi (who is, oddly, no longer senile) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are actually in control of Biden. They "are telling him what to do," this Trump supporter insisted. "The old senile man has no other choice."

The idea that Biden is an empty suit also helps the QAnon conspiracy theory hang together as a social movement, even though none of what the mythical "Q" has promised actually occurred. As QAnon defectors explained to CNN earlier this month, friends and family members believe that what appears to be Biden is either an occasionally malfunctioning robot with humanoid skin, or that the president is an actor on a White House movie-set. Either way, the "deep state" has taken control.

As Democrats and Republicans benefit from the $1.9 trillion American Recovery Plan Act, Biden's effectiveness will become harder to dispute. Unless, of course, Americans can be persuaded that, one way or another, Biden isn't even there, that good government is an elaborate deception perpetrated on the American people, and that we are all now living under socialism.

Which makes the image of Joe Biden as a senile old man crucial to keeping alive, not just for right-wing conspiracy theories, but for the Republican party's hope that it can return to power in 2022.

The revenge of the 'liberal tears'

For four years, Donald Trump and his followers mocked Democrats as congenital failures and weepers of "liberal tears." On the 2020 trail, Trump imagined a fistfight he might have with Joe Biden (a famous male weeper), promising his followers that Biden "would go down fast and hard, crying all the way." Madison Cawthorne (R-NC), celebrated winning a Congressional seat last year by tweeting: "Cry more, lib."

It was a ritual in 2020 for Trump supporters to taunt Democrats for crying or, like a bully on a playground, anticipate with delight the tears that would flow from liberal eyes when Trump and his allies scored another victory.

But Biden won, and crying may be back. On Monday, his nominee for attorney general, Merrick Garland testified before some of the same senators who refused him a Supreme Court hearing in 2016. Garland stopped to compose himself as he told the story of his grandparents' flight from antisemitic violence, and his "obligation to the country to pay back" for their lives. While some outlets respectfully described him as "emotional," others noted that Garland was "tearing up" as he spoke.

Of course, this kind of bullying is not entirely conservative. It is also good business. Just as you can purchase bacon-scented gun oil branded as liberal tears, there are coffee mugs for sale that hold "alt-right tears," "white tears," "MAGA tears" and the tears of men who are white, straight, and just plain mediocre.

But history skews towards weeping as a conservative slur. From the 1890s through World War I, Progressive men were taunted by their "red blood" opponents as effeminate "mollycoddles" prone to breaking down in tears. Women were excluded from voting until 1920, and then from office holding for another half-century because their tears were seen as the opposite of reason. A 2019 study showed that one in eight Americans still believe women are too emotional to hold office.

While President Dwight Eisenhower was known to have a good cry when asked to recall the sacrifices of World War II, male tears largely remained a sign of political weakness and failure for most of the 20th century. In 1952, then-Senator Richard Nixon cried when confronted with a fundraising scandal. Jimmy Carter was widely reported to have wept when he lost the 1980 election while the victor, Ronald Reagan, never shed a tear in public and was famous for displays of masculine anger.

That changed with Bill Clinton, who may have done more than any modern liberal to rehabilitate crying and associate it with the Democratic party. While Clinton cried very little as president, photographers often caught him in tears as he watched the former First Lady succeed as a politician after 2000.

The association between crying and authenticity was cemented in the 2008 New Hampshire primary when a TV crew caught the normally restrained Hillary Clinton on the brink of tears, a personal moment that gave her a victory over Barack Obama. By 2016, Obama had cried so frequently in public that it was said to be "revolutionary."

Obama's emotional honesty may have encouraged other men to cry too, even Republicans. John Boehner, who cried when he became speaker of the House in 2010, routinely wept when asked about his bootstrap story. And Glenn Beck, who wept so much— faith, family violence, and George Washington were a few triggers—that he was suspected of faking it and characterized by Trump during the 2016 campaign as a "weird guy" who was "always crying."

Trump hated tears. He announced on the eve of his inauguration that he never cried because he liked "to get things done." Not crying, as if others wept at the drop of a hat, became part of the Trump brand. While Melania Trump was said to have cried in despair when her husband was elected, she never cried in public: Trump once said proudly that she wouldn't cry if he died. Although Ivanka is said to cry when calling editors to have negative publicity retracted, no one in the Trump family has been photographed in tears.

And ironically, the false narrative of Trump's victory still hinges on tears. "Gimme four more years," a white adolescent boy lip-synced on TikTok last week, draped in a Trump flag. "What comes next? Liberal tears." Bumper stickers and tee shirts that used to read "Trump 2020: make liberals cry again" have been updated for an anticipated 2024 campaign.

They are now on sale at Amazon: because the only losers are people who cry.

Here's what makes the GOP so afraid of impeachment

As the United States Senate convenes Tuesday to begin trying Donald Trump for the second time, the vast majority of Republicans will not defend the disgraced president's attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Instead, as they did last time, they will charge that Democrats are "trying to achieve regime change through impeachment."

But is that true? And is regime change always undemocratic?

Progressives usually say yes. As foreign policy, regime change represents a forced political transformation, often by assassination, supporting a belligerent faction, or covert intervention in civil society. Regime change was a critical Cold War strategy by which the United States, the Soviet Union, and eventually China, created spheres of influence without risking direct warfare between nuclear superpowers. Reflecting on this, and the tinkering with other nations' governments that the US has engaged in since 1989, has led one scholar to conclude that regime change "rarely succeeds."

Arguably, Trump's second impeachment is an intriguing parallel. It seeks to purge a despotic figure, one that his own party is unwilling to disavow, from political life. Although he is out of office, a former president usually continues to wield power as the de facto leader of the party. A successful impeachment would decapitate the GOP politically, leave the party rudderless, and cripple its fundraising capacity for 2022.

Regime change also implies an attack on a nation's laws and constitutional government. Indeed, Republicans who support Trump have seized on the fact that the Constitution is silent on the question of impeaching a president after he leaves office: in the words of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Senate trial is "blatantly unconstitutional."

But let's think about regime change another way: what if we're seeing not an effort to topple another group, but a Democratic party renewing its commitment to justice?

More positively, regime change can refer to an institutional transformation that alters the political system. Democrats have much to account for in the compromises they made with conservative economic and governance theories in the 20th century. With the rest of what Occupy Wall Street famously called the 99 percent, Trump's white populist base was impoverished by these decisions, his donors enriched by them.

When, in his 1996 State of the Union, Bill Clinton announced that "the era of big government is over," he was announcing the triumph of a Democratic party consensus that had adapted to Reaganism. Now the party of a "new, smaller government" that would "work in an old-fashioned American way," Clinton Democrats embraced what became known as "neoliberalism": cutting taxes, eliminating social programs, encouraging self-reliance, getting tough on crime, and reducing regulations.

Many of these policies had a particularly devastating effect on Black communities that organized around making Barack Obama, a community organizer, the first Black president. Their success was a stunning form of regime change: electing a Black president of a historically white supremacist nation, but also one who promised to steer Democrats back to progressive, New Deal, and proudly "big," governance. Urging him forward as vice president was one of the Senate's staunchest liberals, Joe Biden.

Now, Biden seeks to complete a regime change within the Democratic party that, backed by a Democratic Congress, could create an ideological change in the political system that Republicans dread. While the president's inaugural address is remembered for its call to national unity, he also argued for the New Deal liberalism, refreshed and improved, that Clinton displaced. It is a vision of government doing big things: curing disease, fighting extremism, rebuilding the middle class, and delivering racial justice.

Is this regime change? You bet it is, and part of what that requires is demonstrating forcefully that the old bipartisan consensus, the one that brought Donald Trump to power, was a corrupt one. Successful or not, putting that information out in public is the most important job that impeachment does. Which is why Republicans fear it.