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Republicans try, but fail, to create chaos with California recall effort

On the eve of the Trump Party purge of heretic Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican gave a stirring speech on the House floor in which she proclaimed her unyielding fealty to the Constitution and the rule of law and declared:

Today, we face a threat America has never seen before. A former president who provoked a violent attack on this Capitol in an effort to steal the election has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him. He risks inciting further violence.

That's putting it as starkly as I've ever seen it and she isn't wrong.

This article was originally published at Salon

It's also important to remember that it isn't just Cheney who faces stigmatization. Republicans all over the country are purging their members who dare to speak out against Donald Trump. They are using every lever at their disposal to usurp the democratic process in order to pave the way for a Trump restoration.

This is mostly happening in red and purple states where they either dominate or at least share political power and they're ruthlessly using it to manipulate the vote and the voting systems to tilt in their favor. But it should be noted that they are also trying to create chaos in blue states wherever they can as well. The shenanigans the Trump administration pulled with COVID supplies and testing in order to help Trump's re-election effort are one example, but the most notable attempt post-election has come from GOP operatives trying to recall California's Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom.

Everyone remembers that back in 2003, the Republicans succeeded in recalling Governor Gray Davis ostensibly over a hike in car registration fees (which were mandated by law.) Davis was remarkably unpopular, with a 24% approval rating just before the recall was approved. And everyone knew that a mega-movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was very likely to enter the race which made the whole thing into an entertainment spectacle that a guy whose name was Gray (and had a personality to match) just wasn't going to be able to survive.

Republican gadflies have been circulating petitions to recall Newsom practically since the moment he was inaugurated and they did the same with Jerry Brown, his predecessor who was also a Democrat. Considering the sad, moribund state of the California GOP, creating chaos is about all they are capable of. This time, with the state reeling from the pandemic, they were able to get enough signatures to qualify for the recall which may take place next fall, just one year from the regular election, which makes it even more absurd.

The petition first got traction when it was reported that Newsom had gone to dinner with health care lobbyists at a very fancy restaurant during COVID. There was some question as to whether his attendance actually circumvented the lockdown rules that were in place at the time but Newsom did apologize for failing to model good public health behavior and acknowledged that it was a mistake, which it was. The petitioners further accused him of exempting a wine property he owns with his family from the rules last summer but on closer examination, it's clear that the rules in place at the time were according to the public health guidelines and his property was one among many in the Napa Valley that was not fully closed until the big winter spike that shut down everything in the state.

As you can see, these are Republican claims of liberal "hypocrisy" which, considering their worship of Donald Trump who was holding super-spreader rallies throughout the COVID pandemic, is fatuous nonsense but they form the basis of the recall complaints. Californians are like everyone else in the country, sick of COVID restrictions and desperate to get back to normal so it figures that more than a few people probably signed the petitions just to register their frustration.

At one point Newsom's approval rating had dipped below 50% (a long way from the 24% Gray Davis had at the same point in the process) but it's ticked up to 54% in the latest polls as the vaccination process has been successful and the state is looking to completely open up next month. That poll also showed that the Big Name Star the Republicans are offering up this time, Caitlyn Jenner, isn't drawing any support despite hiring such GOP luminaries as former Trump campaign chairman Brad Parscale.

That is not to say that Newsom doesn't have a full plate and plenty of challenges that the voters are anxious to see confronted as the crisis wanes. Much like other states, California is facing a desperate homeless crisis in the cities, a sharp rise in crime during the pandemic year, and perhaps most importantly, a terrible housing crisis that is threatening the well-being of the state.

On the other hand, Newsom has some very effective tools in his toolbox to try to go about dealing with all that.

California has a great big 75.7 billion dollar surplus. You see, unlike most states, California taxes capital gains the same as money made from wages and salaries. Surprisingly, the state's super-wealthy people have decided to stay in the state despite being forced to share a portion of their vast wealth. Imagine that. After all, it's not as if they can't spare it. So Newsom announced this week that he plans to rebate 8 billion dollars to lower and middle-income Californians in the form of $600 checks which will no doubt be very welcome to the vast majority who didn't do quite as well as the super-rich during the pandemic. (One of the most amusing ironies about that is this rebate is actually required by law as part of the Republican tax revolt of the 1970s that nearly bankrupted the state in earlier days.) He will also pay 100 percent of the back rent owed by some low-income renters and will spend $2 billion to help people pay overdue utility bills. He's committed more billions on expanded child care subsidies and drought and wildfire mitigation and he's asking the legislature to approve $12 billion over and above what has been budgeted for homelessness over the next two years. And that's just for starters.

Perhaps the Republicans will be able to find enough angry voters in the state to oppose taxing the super-rich and complain about all that help for ordinary working families and people in need but I doubt it. California is the beating heart of blue America and this time the Terminator isn't going to be on the ballot, the state isn't in a perpetual state of crisis over funding and the California Republican Party is a joke. If Newsom survives they'll shriek that the vote was rigged but that's really all they've got.

The Trump cult is convinced that it is literally impossible for them to legitimately lose elections

Over the weekend, the Virginia Republican Party held its convention at which it was supposed to choose its candidates for the off-year election this fall. The three top candidates for governor have been described as "Trumpy, Trumpier and Trumpiest," so you can easily see where Virginia Republicans are positioning themselves in the GOP circular firing squad.

This article was originally published at Salon

In their zeal to model their allegiance to their Ultimate Leader, Republicans went out of their way to restrict the voting process to assure "the integrity" of the vote. According to NBC News' Alex Seitz-Wald it didn't go very well:

At issue is a decision to quietly allow voters to participate in their complicated primary process even if they left blank parts of the application, including required fields that asked for their state-issued voter ID number and a signature, according to documents and an audio recording of a call obtained exclusively by NBC News. Republicans in the state say the nominating contest has been a logistical nightmare.

Their own activists couldn't traverse all of the GOP's newly-imposed "voter integrity" verifications. Evidently, a whole bunch of people didn't know how to fill out the necessary paperwork so they left whole portions blank which, under the new strict vote-counting rules the Republicans are pushing, should result in throwing out the ballot or registration form.

The right-wing gubernatorial candidate who calls herself "Trump in heels," (and is widely considered the Trumpiest of the lot) Amanda Chase is not standing for it. She wrote this to her supporters:

"DO NOT TRUST THE PARTY TO DELIVER ACCURATE RESULTS. Who should you go to for the proper results? Me and my campaign! My campaign will be monitoring the voting and data entry on election night. If they are accurate, we will tell you. If they are not, I will be prepared to sue in court to force a public count."

She means it:



They don't expect the vote to be fully tabulated for some time and since it's a ranked-choice voting process, there will undoubtedly be a runoff. Is there any doubt that Chase will deny the validity of the vote count if she doesn't make the runoff? After all, she is the Trumpiest and we know what that means:

He won that year. And we all know what happened when, four years later, he didn't.

So judging from what's going on with election laws around the country and the lockstep belief among the faithful, I think it's fair to assume that we can expect more of it. As you can see from the Virginia example, one problem with these draconian voting restrictions is that they will affect Republican voters the same way they will affect the Democrats. It's possible they'll affect them even more since the GOP has been pushing absentee voting for years for their older constituents, the very people who may be most confused by the changes. Perversely, that will provide even more fodder for the losers to contest the election results and further degrade their own voters' faith in the system. After all, the last election results were certified by Republican officials and Republican judges all over the country, yet Republican voters still believe it was fraudulent. It won't matter in 2022 and 2024 that it was Republicans who instituted the rules that disadvantage their own voters.

Keep in mind that the new voting restrictions are not where this ends.

Republicans are also doing their usual tricks of "purging" voters from the rolls and "caging." But there are some newer very troubling moves, starting with the new expansive rules in 20 states for "poll watchers" which basically means that fanatical Republican extremists will be free to harass and intimidate voters as they are trying to cast a vote. This technique is thought to be more effective in precincts with more minority voters but Republicans may be surprised. Everyone knows what they're up to now so Democrats are highly unlikely to be intimidated by MAGA yahoos at the ballot box.

Because we are also seeing the entire party from Ted Cruz, R-Tx., and Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga, to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., all buying into the notion that Trump's Jan. 6th gambit to overturn the election was legitimate, it's clear that's become conventional wisdom in the GOP as well. At this point, it appears that they have all decided to treat the insurrection itself as a somewhat overzealous but nonetheless valid response to having had the election "stolen."

Trump made a serious run at getting the election overturned. He cared nothing for legitimacy, openly and blatantly threatened, cajoled and intimidated state and local elections officials to refuse to certify the results based upon sloppily made-up evidence and conspiracy theories. For months he bellowed that mail-in votes were fraudulent and 6 weeks before the election he stated outright that he wanted Amy Coney Barrett confirmed because he expected the court to decide the election and he needed that extra vote just in case.

As it happened those local officials and judges around the country refused to cooperate. Today those officials are all being purged from the party. All these voter "integrity" bills will eventually be challenged and we'll see if the courts are still independent or if conservative jurists are now on the Trump train as well. After all, it all seemed like a stunning assault on our tradition of a peaceful transfer of power at the time. Something like this had never happened before. Will they feel the same way if it happens again?

Even more unnerving is the growing perception that all this supposed "rigging" leaves the GOP with no choice but to refuse to vote to certify any more presidential elections if they have the power to do it. There is unfortunately a decent chance that McCarthy might just be the Speaker of the House in 2025 and if Trump is on the ballot, as he probably will be, does anyone believe he would dare defy him again?




It is almost inevitable that "stop the steal" will be an ongoing GOP rallying cry.

Whatever misgivings the Republican establishment may have had about Donald Trump's strategy to usurp democracy, they have rapidly come around to being his servile minions once again. With three more years of banging this drum, the Trump cult will be thoroughly convinced that it is literally impossible for them to legitimately lose elections. And GOP officials will be happy to let them believe that as long as it means they can stay in power.

Elise Stefanik is a shameless political shapeshifter — making her the perfect person to push fealty to Trump

I had never heard of congresswoman Elise Stefanik, R-NY, until the House of Representatives hearings for Trump's first impeachment. She stormed into the national consciousness by repeatedly whining that Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff was refusing to let her speak and became an overnight sensation. (He was not — she just used the opportunity to rant about how unfair the process was, instantly endearing herself to Republicans all over the country.) Donald Trump was so impressed with her obnoxious behavior that he tweeted: "A new Republican star is born!"

And her star has been rising ever since.

But as it happens, Stefanik was a woman in a hurry long before her breakout role as a pugnacious Donald Trump defender. Prior to volunteering as a Trump henchwoman, she had been seen as a moderate from New York, someone who with reservations about his leadership. She had the perfect GOP establishment resume, having attended Harvard, worked on staff in the Bush White House, on Mitt Romney's presidential campaign and participated in such projects as the 2014 Republican "autopsy" which had recommended that the Party moderate and work to appeal to women, and racial and ethnic minorities. She was considered on the moderate side of the dial although she partnered with Congresswoman Liz Cheney at one point on a bill to halt the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan which put her firmly in the right-wing hawk camp. She's always had her bases covered.

But according to NPR reporter Brian Mann, who covered her since she first ran for congress in 2014, despite the stellar DC resume, Stefanik downplayed her credentials. Her pitch to the voters in her first race in 2014 was that she grew up in a small town in the district but it turned out that nobody there knew who she was. She was an excellent campaigner, however, who won her seat handily, and in the process making it clear to all the powers that be in the party that she was seriously pursuing a national profile.

2016 was a setback with the election of Donald Trump and she carefully calibrated her message to criticize while not making enemies. She sold herself as a "maverick" from a district that had long elected moderates but had voted for Trump by double digits. She voted against the Trump tax cuts, backed equal rights for LGBT citizens and supported the DREAM act. But in Trump's GOP she was going nowhere with that agenda.

So she switched gears and by the time the first impeachment came around she had become an enthusiastic Trump sycophant, a junior member of the exclusive club of important Trump henchmen like Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows and Devin Nunes. She found a way to leverage her "bipartisan" record as a selling point by fatuously proclaiming that her support for Trump was particularly credible because it came out of her fealty to the Constitution, which is as Trumpy as it gets. By the time 2020 rolled around, she was one of the most vociferous purveyors of the Big Lie, even when some of the others were tiptoeing around the subject. As Mann put it on Twitter:

"Throughout the process [Stefanik] showed steady ambition, an ability to adapt and evolve her politics, and a willingness to shed old loyalties and allies while amplifying factual untruths when necessary. Her brand may be a perfect match for the modern GOP"

It's clear that she is a shameless political shapeshifter. But it turns out that her real talent is demagoguery and flamboyant outrage which, again, makes her the perfect woman for the moment.

During Trump's first impeachment trial, after her star turn on the Intelligence Committee, she was chosen to be on Trump's team of defenders (as opposed to his defense team) along with Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York and Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina. They would gather in the basement of the Capitol every day with members of the press eager to hear their latest broadsides against the Democrats and "the process." They were obviously working hand in glove with the White House and the defense team to spin the trial although they insisted they weren't.

The 2020 election found Stefanik in loony Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood territory when it came to The Big Lie. There were lots of Republicans hemming and hawing, trying to walk the line between Trump's petulant refusal to accept his loss and the reality that they had to move on. But Stefanik was all in, even going so far as to issue a statement explaining her decision to vote against certifying the election on the morning of the January 6th Insurrection, in which she lied blatantly about the vote count in Georgia:

This week she went on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon's podcast and enthusiastically backed the asinine Arizona recount in which an outside group is currently examining ballots for signs of bamboo in the paper in order to prove that they were part of a ballot-stuffing scheme sponsored by China.

It was a short trip from maverick, bipartisan, modern Republican to flagrant Trumpian liar in just a few years. Of course, she isn't alone. Freedom Caucus members like Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan used to pretend to care about "fiscal responsibility" until Trump came along and made GOP politics solely about media attention, owning libs, and fighting the culture wars. (That's what it had been for a very long time but Trump freed them from having to pretend otherwise.)

So now Stefanik is poised to join the leadership of the party by taking the place of Liz Cheney, the party's human sacrifice to their angry god, Donald Trump. Both House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his deputy Steve Scalise of Louisiana have thrown their support behind Stefanik and Trump released a statement on Wednesday giving her his "COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement," calling her a "tough and smart communicator" so she's pretty much a shoo-in.

There are some distant rumblings from the ragged remnants of the right-wing conservative movement, like Ann Coulter and The Club for Growth, because of her record of squishiness on issues they care about such as immigration and tax cuts. In fact, her voting record is far more moderate than Cheney's.

But that's not really relevant, is it?

The Republican party is no longer concerned with old-fashioned notions like "issues." This is about fealty to the Big Lie and The Big Liar to be sure. But it's really about maintaining power for its own sake, by any means necessary. Elise Stefanik is a woman who instinctively understands that and has proven over and over again in her short career that she is willing to do whatever it takes.

Here's the insidious reason Liz Cheney angers Republicans

The biggest news in Washington continues to be Liz Cheney's ongoing refusal to bend the knee to the former president and formally repudiate her inexplicable fealty to the truth. It's one thing to be investigated by the FBI for paying for sex with minors or to be a blatant white supremacist — these are human foibles that can be forgiven — but to unapologetically assert that Donald Trump's insistence that the election was stolen is a Big Lie simply cannot be tolerated.

I've written before that I believe regardless of whether she is truly incapable of swallowing this election nonsense, Cheney also has a strategy. There is an open "lane" for a Republican woman, especially one with a pedigree like hers, to be the tough conservative who stood up to Trump in the event the magic veil ever falls from voters' eyes. So far that lane looks like it gets narrower every day, but kicking her out of the leadership for telling the truth in the face of massive dishonesty can only add to her heroic luster in the long haul. The worst thing that happens is she is remembered as the Margaret Chase Smith of her day, after the brave senator from Maine who denounced the Wisconsin demagogue Joseph McCarthy long before anyone else had the nerve. There are worse fates for a politician than that.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Republican establishment continues to run around in circles clucking furiously like a brood of barnyard hens, trying to keep Trump and his cultlike following happy. They appear to have decided that their voters require human sacrifices for the cause so Cheney must be thrown over the cliff. (And to think "Democrats are in disarray" used to be a perennial trope. They're amateurs compared to the GOP.)

But when I read Salon's Sophia Tesfaye's piece about former House speaker Paul Ryan, who reportedly really doesn't care for Donald Trump and his shenanigans yet remains glued to his chair in the Fox boardroom, unwilling to utter a peep about what's going on with his party, it occurred to me that it's giving them far too much credit to simply call them cowards. They are much more craven than that. It's not that they are afraid of their Trump-loving constituents who are metaphorically brandishing pitchforks and torches against anyone who dare call the Big Lie a big lie. It's that they are seeing the upside for them personally.

While Washington officials clutch their pearls about Liz Cheney's apostasy, consider all the anti-democratic activity that's taking place around the country which these people are either explicitly or tacitly endorsing.

The Republican Attorney Generals Association has been in turmoil since January 6th when some members objected to the group's sponsorship of the violent insurrection. The chairman resigned last month after being unable to handle the internal strife and is to be replaced this week by a hard-core Trump supporter who has promised to "take a blowtorch to Biden's agenda." In Florida, a state Trump won handily, they are nonetheless busily enacting voting restrictions which they belatedly realized might even suppress their own vote. They did it anyway. Ohio Republicans decided this week to censure Republican politicians who voted to impeach Donald Trump even though they are from other states. And the New York Times reports that the Texas GOP is now eating its own over "pandemic and voter-fraud conspiracy theories."

But the big story is in Arizona, where the state Senate has hired an untried company led by a man with a history of floating vote fraud conspiracy theories to "audit" last November's vote in Maricopa Country, which was won by Joe Biden. Despite the fact that the county was recounted twice by hand and found to match the machine count perfectly, Trump-supporting volunteers are laboriously examining the ballots without any proper monitoring, determined to prove that the election was stolen. The good news is that the Space Force is supposedly on alert to ensure that everything is done properly.

For his part, Trump is reportedly obsessed with this recount. He apparently believes it will prove the election there was stolen and that other states will follow. Here he is last week pontificating before his paying guests at Mar-a-lago:

What all these supposed successful "audits" would add up to is not immediately clear, but on Tuesday Trump did say, "I think people are going to be very, very happy when I make a certain announcement," so perhaps he believes having a bunch of his loyal fanatics falsely testify that they finally "found" the votes he wanted will somehow launch him back into the White House in 2024.

According to Tierney Sneed of Talking Points Memo, the Trump team expect these audits to take place elsewhere, starting next with Georgia:

Peter Navarro, a Trump White House advisor and the author of several reports asserting mass election fraud, told OAN last week that he believed the Arizona audit could precede a similar audit in Georgia, where the scale of voter fraud was, in his universe, "much larger." Speaking to Steve Bannon Thursday, Trump supporter Boris Epshteyn said that if the audit shows "even a small fraction" of what the former president's devotees expect, "the freight train of audit is coming down the way. It's on the train to Georgia."

All of this may very well be why even the Republicans who obviously know this is nuts are all climbing on board that crazy train. If they can stage one of these "audit" pageants in a place like Georgia they might just juice their turnout for 2022 and take out newly-elected Democratic Sen. Rafael Warnock. And there are dozens of House districts where that dynamic could play itself out as well.

It isn't new for Republicans to say that Democrats are illegitimate. They used to say that President Clinton only won with a plurality in a three-way race, so his presidency wasn't really valid. And we all know that Trump himself pushed the grotesque Birther lie which claimed that Barack Obama wasn't born in the U.S. and was therefore not qualified to be president. But this is taking all that to a much higher level. Republicans no doubt realize that this flurry of anti-democratic activity in the states —ostensibly on behalf of Donald Trump and his Big Lie — is really going to pay off for them.

So the House GOP's leadership apparent decision to purge Liz Cheney from their ranks is their way of telling all these rabid Trumpist activists in the states to have at it, the GOP establishment is with them all the way. They aren't afraid of Trump voters. They're grateful to them.

Beware Liz Cheney 2024: If you think that's a big improvement on Trump, think again

I have thought for a long time that it wasn't at all improbable that the first woman president would end up being a Republican. I know that seems absurd considering the right's patriarchal ideology and their strong reliance on ultra-conservative, white evangelical voters. But it isn't. After all, some of the most successful anti-feminist activists, such as Phyllis Schlafly, were women with important public careers, even when that was extremely unusual in American society. As we now know, Republican adherence to the tenets of "traditional family values" is much more malleable than anyone suspected. After all, GOP "base" voters remain big fans of the dishonest, profane, crude, thrice-married ex-president to this day.

I wrote about this for Salon a couple of years ago, suggesting that while former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley looked perfect on paper — an experienced Southern politician, a person of color, the child of immigrants, even a respected member of the Trump administration — she was not likely to be that first Republican woman nominated for president. I'm afraid that person-of-color, child-of-immigrants thing is a serious liability for a white nationalist party.

Haley left the administration on good terms and has tried to walk a fine line between being someone the suburbs could vote for as a mainstream candidate while also pandering to Trump's whims. But it's pretty clear at this point that the best she could hope for would be to become his 2024 running mate. Recently, she declared that she wouldn't enter the race if Trump did, which shows what a bind she's in.

But there is a different path, and it's being taken by another Republican woman, who I also wrote about back then: Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. I characterized her at the time as "a white woman who's an authoritarian nationalist with a Republican establishment pedigree a mile long," which makes her a very good fit for the modern GOP. I also suggested that she "eagerly marches in lockstep" with Trump, based on her clever tactic of letting him take the heat for the crude racism the base craved, while she went after his enemies with a complementary set of attacks.

At the time, Trump had just directed the four members of the "Squad" to go back where they came from, prompting the usual denunciations from the Democrats and the press. Cheney got into a protracted back and forth with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York over the latter's use of the words "concentration camp," fatuously implying that AOC was being antisemitic. Then she took to the microphone to offer this:

As I pointed out then, Republicans complaining about this, while serving the man whose inaugural address is commonly referred to as "American Carnage" — and who has insisted for 40 years that the U.S. is a loser nation, run by fools who have made it the laughing stock of the world — is so dissonant it makes your head spin. But there she was, subtly distancing herself from his crudest commentary but nonetheless joining in the dishonest assault.

Cheney made little mention of Trump in those days. She didn't condemn the racism, that's for sure. In fact, she ostentatiously voted against an "anti-hate" piece of legislation, reportedly mystifying GOP leaders who had proposed it. It wasn't until Trump lost the election that she spoke up.

Today Liz Cheney is widely hailed as the Last Good Republican, repeatedly defying Donald Trump and standing solidly in front of the GOP caucus daring them to dethrone her. Her leadership post was threatened after her comments about Trump's culpability and her vote to impeach him for the events of Jan. 6. She survived because the caucus took the vote on a secret ballot, betraying the fact that a substantial majority of House Republicans were on her side but were simply too cowardly to say so in public, thereby raising her reputation as the brave maverick even more.

Just this week at the Republican retreat in Florida (they still need to be near Dear Leader, evidently), Cheney and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy locked horns once again over Trump and the events of Jan. 6. Politico reported that it was virtually all the attendees were talking about, which says something about the state of the party in itself.

McCarthy wants Cheney to shut up about Jan. 6. He's doing everything in his power to shut down any meaningful inquiry into the matter by insisting on throwing in a kitchen sink's worth of poison pills. She disagrees, and thinks it needs to be thoroughly and impartially investigated. He's begged her to stop criticizing Trump and she refuses, saying that support for Trump's bogus challenges to the 2020 election should disqualify any 2024 GOP presidential nominee. That puts a lot of people on the sidelines, in particular Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, both of whom voted not to certify the electoral votes — after the Jan. 6 insurrection — along with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who backed Trump's ridiculous lies to the hilt.

This week Cheney herself refused to rule out a 2024 presidential bid, and it's obvious her strategy is to run on her new reputation as the tough conservative woman who stood up to Donald Trump. It's not a bad plan. Cheney understands politics and realizes that her only hope for the presidency is to be the anti-Trump, in the hopes that his star fades or he decides not to run and she can emerge as the GOP standard-bearer who might be able to lure back some of those suburban women and college-educated white men who had been staunch Republicans until the Trump circus came to town. It may not work, but it makes sense for someone to make that bet.

But let's not get carried away with tributes to her great integrity and courage. After all, she's just saying what we should expect any elected official to say if the entire Republican Party hadn't turned itself into a cult of craven Trump sycophants. I have no idea if Liz Cheney truly believes what she's saying. Maybe she does. But it doesn't change the fact that she is also a far-right hawk who, just like her father (who is said to be her most trusted adviser), has never met a war she didn't eagerly back, a military budget she didn't want to hike or a tax she didn't want to cut. She's as hardcore conservative as it's possible to be. Being her daddy's daughter that includes being completely comfortable with illegal domestic surveillance, torture and unilateral military action. (Her father was also, you might recall, perfectly willing to usurp the Constitution to maintain his own power, so her paeans to democracy ring just a bit hollow.)

If you want a president who combines the worst aspects of Dick Cheney and Margaret Thatcher, then you'll love President Liz Cheney. And if you think that's an improvement over Donald Trump, it really isn't.

Why Joe Biden's popularity baffles the media and angers the opposition

I'm sure you all remember the endless media forays into so-called Trump country after the 2016 election to find out what "the country" was really thinking. The media were fascinated by the fact that Donald Trump managed to pull off his narrow electoral win in places none of them had ever been so they sent out intrepid reporters to rural towns and small cities in the rust belt to find out what Real Americans™️ were thinking. And they went back every few months for years to take the temperature of these folks who always said the same thing: they just loved Trump and supported him no matter what. Trump's supporters believed with all their hearts that everything the press reported about him was a lie and the whole country was really with them if only the media would tell the truth about it. After all, just about everyone they knew and everyone on Facebook were in total agreement.

This article was originally published at Salon

So sure, the media was fascinated by this phenomenon and that's understandable to some extent. It was quite weird. But one might have thought it would be at least somewhat interesting to check in with the other side to see what they were thinking in the months after the recent election. It was quite eventful, after all. Yet you probably won't be surprised to learn that there haven't been many forays into the same states that Biden narrowly won. When NBC News did take a trip into the wilds of Pennsylvania recently to see how Biden voters are faring, they found that rather than the worshipful adoration of the Trump voters, most Biden voters have a very different reaction:

Robin Westcott remembers her joy when Joe Biden was elected last fall. Not only had Biden won with a narrow victory in Pennsylvania, but he also had carried Erie County, where Westcott has lived for most of her 62 years. Once reliably Democratic in presidential elections, the voters here in 2016 broke for Donald Trump — the first time they favored a Republican White House hopeful since Ronald Reagan in 1984. The county, which pokes out from the northwesternmost corner of the state and into Lake Erie, became something of a Rorschach test for the Rust Belt...
Nearly 100 days into the Biden presidency, voters who backed him in this political battleground-within-a battleground say they feel a sense of relief.

Or, as one man told NBC News pollsters last week:

"I don't have to think about what Joe Biden is doing every day," said a North Carolina man who voted for Biden. "The best thing about Joe Biden is I don't have to think about Joe Biden."

In line with those anecdotal sentiments, a spate of public polls was released this past weekend in the run-up to Biden's 100-day mark, and they all show Biden to have an approval rating ranging from 52% in the ABC poll to 58% in the CBS poll. There is widespread approval for his COVID response, his infrastructure policy and the economy. Unsurprisingly, Biden does poorly on immigration and guns, both of which are intractable issues that have critics among both Democrats and Republicans. And he hasn't managed to unify the country which is, of course, something he should have been able to do with a flick of his wrist — or maybe a magic wand?

All in all, Biden is doing well, particularly considering that he was given almost no transition time to prepare and had to hit the ground running to deal with a historic catastrophe that killed over half a million people and isn't over yet. His handling of this issue, about which the vast majority approve, is an impressive accomplishment considering how badly the previous administration handled the crisis and the ongoing lack of cooperation from red-state governments.

One of the more disturbing results in these polls is the fact that so many Republican voters are still resisting the vaccine and frankly, don't seem to be willing to reconsider. If they don't, the U.S. is going to have a much more difficult time getting the caseload down to an acceptable level which could, perversely, affect the public's opinion of the rollout. The same dynamic that blames Biden for the GOP's refusal to cooperate in Congress could be at work here, but with much more lethal consequences.

That dynamic should also be informing the media's understanding of why Biden is not able to achieve the kind of approval rating that the presidents before Donald Trump were able to achieve in their first 100 days. Unfortunately, it isn't. ABC's headline, for instance, was:

Biden's 100 days: Low-end approval, yet strong marks on pandemic response. His April approval is lower than most of his predecessors, save Trump and Ford.

Newsweek's headline was similar: "Joe Biden Approval Rating Beats Only Donald Trump and Gerald Ford's 100-Day Score: Poll"

What a bizarre way of spinning it after four years of a president who could never get above 45% (and even that was very rare.) It shouldn't have to be said that none of the previous presidents came into office in the middle of a global pandemic with their predecessor spreading a Big Lie that the election was stolen and inciting an insurrection just days before the inauguration. Neither did any of those presidents have to deal with a level of political polarization not seen since the civil war, thanks to the radical partisanship of the opposition. I'd say that having a 53% approval rating under those circumstances is something of a miracle. Apparently, we are just going to pretend that Donald Trump was an anomaly and that nothing he did had any serious effect on the political system that might not make this administration directly comparable to what came before.

Still, there is some good news in all this. The media can pretend that Joe Biden's approval rating is a terrible disaster all they want. But nothing will make it as bad as Donald Trump's, which is currently at 32% in the NBC poll. That's a drop of 8 points since January, which is unusual because ex-presidents usually gain back some popularity after they leave office. Yet he will maintain control of the party with the supporters he has. And that's very bad. According to the CBS poll:

Republicans still do not say Biden was the legitimate winner of the election, and six in 10 of former President Trump's voters now want to see their congressional representatives oppose Biden at every turn. This isn't just politics. That particular group who wants opposition — while constituting a minority of Americans — also has very different views on issues from most Democrats, moderates and independents as well. For instance, most of them think efforts at racial equality are making American society worse; they say illegal immigration should be the top priority, as opposed to the pandemic or even the economy.

That isn't enough people to win elections legitimately. But Republican officials are happy to do whatever it takes to please them since they do represent the base of the party. Joe Biden could have a 70% approval rating and it wouldn't reduce their power. It would be nice if the media spin didn't obscure that fact.

Is the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict a sign of progress?

30 years ago last month I was watching the 11 o'clock news in LA and a grainy black and white video came on that shocked me and shocked the conscience of the entire world. It showed a group of policemen, bathed in the harsh glare of their vehicle headlights, viciously tasering and beating a Black man on a deserted street while several others stood by and watched. There had been police beatings on television before, of course. We saw many of them during the civil rights and Vietnam War protests. But this was different. This video showed what the police did when they thought no one was looking, validating their victims' accusations of police brutality, which were routinely dismissed as the complaints of combative criminals who resisted arrest.

This article was originally published at Salon

We soon knew the name of the victim: Rodney King, a name which will go down in history because of that awful incident and everything that happened afterward. The Los Angeles Times chronicled the escalating horror as the nation grappled with what we were seeing and the reaction from the leaders of the community was swift. The mayor, the city council and even the police chief, a notorious fellow named Darryl Gates, all called for the cops to be prosecuted, an unusual response to say the least. That videotape put into doubt the officers' initial account of what happened that night in which they described a wild man they suspected of being on PCP, spitting and violently resisting arrest. Rodney King got out of his car and almost immediately laid face down on the pavement. A witness said, "the officers were all laughing and chuckling, like they had just had a party."

The four cops who meted out the worst brutality on King were put on trial in a suburban enclave known for being the home of half of the LAPD. The blue wall of silence was strong and the cops on the scene defended their colleagues' actions, insisting that King was resisting and the accused were justified in their actions. The defense made the case that you cannot believe your eyes when you see something on video by slowing it down, offering alternative explanations for their clients' actions.

The sympathetic jury found the cops not guilty and everyone knows what happened next. All of us who were living in LA at the time have stories to tell about what the next few days were like. Let's just say the city exploded and nobody in it was shocked except the police.

I've been thinking about that time ever since George Floyd was murdered almost a year ago in Minneapolis. Once again we only know what happened that day because the incident was videotaped by a bystander and we were able to see and hear exactly what happened. The police report was just as dishonest as the report in the Rodney King case three decades before and even more inexplicable since the cops in Floyd's case knew their actions had been recorded. They must have believed they were immune from the law they were charged with upholding.



This time the reaction to the tape sparked global protests against police brutality, following the precepts of the already established Black Lives Matter movement. The authorities took quick action and indicted Derek Chauvin, the man who stared at the camera with dead eyes as he ground his knee into George Floyd's neck for over nine minutes, snuffing the life from him. The police reform movement took on new urgency as this grotesque display of authoritarian brutality, echoed by dozens and dozens of previous such incidents filmed by witnesses and police body cams, seemed to be the last straw.

But when I thought of the Rodney King beating and everything that happened after, I had to wonder whether we'd made any progress in that time other than providing witness to the violence, sort of the way people used to gather to witness executions by the state (or lynchings by the KKK). Yesterday, I think we got an answer. Yes, there has been a little progress after all.

The trial of Derek Chauvin was impressive. They managed to seat a jury that accurately reflected the community. The defendant had professional counsel. The judge was fair and the prosecution did its job which is often not the case in cases where police are on trial since prosecutors and cops see themselves as being on the same team. Perhaps most importantly, the blue wall evaporated and police testified against Chauvin with clear compelling testimony, declaring that what he did was unacceptable. (If only one of the cops on the scene had raised those objections and knocked Chauvin off of Floyd's neck, the man might be alive today.)

In other words, we saw a fair trial of a police officer. And instead of the video being used to create reasonable doubt as the defense successfully did in the Rodney King case, the video was the star witness and it convicted Derek Chauvin.

Crowds gathered all over the country last night upon word of the verdict. Rather than the days of rage we experienced in 1992, this time people were able to hug each other in relief that a little bit of justice was done for once. They could hold candlelight vigils and silent marches for George Floyd and instead of feeling impotent in the face of this ongoing struggle for equality and dignity for Black Americans they could feel a little hope that maybe it's just possible that things can change.

But nobody in those crowds felt this verdict meant that the job was done. President Biden and Vice President Harris both gave eloquent, heartfelt speeches promising to take up the mantle of police reform. Civil rights leaders and politicians pledged to keep the pressure on. But most impressive were the people in the streets yesterday telling the media that they planned to keep protesting, keep filming, keep demanding that this country finally live up to its purported ideals and create a system of justice in which all people are treated equally and fairly. None of them think it is going to be easy. But they are not going to stop trying.

People gathered at the scene of the outbreak of the Rodney King uprising in South Central Los Angeles yesterday too. And they said some things were better:

It shouldn't have taken 30 years to get there but considering it's a centuries-old problem, at least it's a start.

Marjorie Taylor Greene is a problem Republicans want

If you had any doubts that the Republican Party had a full-blown white nationalist faction ready and willing to let their freak flags fly, the last few weeks have to have disabused you of them. From Fox News' highest rated prime time host Tucker Carlson endorsing the far-right "great replacement" theory on national television to Kevin Williamson of the National Review, following in the tradition of its founder William F. Buckley, theorizing that we need "fewer — but better — voters," it seems as if right-wing extremism is getting a whole lot of airtime.

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene put the white icing on Republican's racist cake last week when she floated the idea of the new Trump-supporting American First Caucus, which caused even House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to issue a mild rebuke for its obvious references to white power. Among those who said they were part of the project were far-right Reps. Paul Gosar of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Louis Gohmert of Texas. The rock has been turned over and all the white supremacists are crawling out, eyes squinting, ready to seize their rightful place in the Republican Party.

Greene's plan was reported by Punchbowl News last Friday as a new group dedicated to following in "President Trump's footsteps, and potentially step on some toes and sacrifice sacred cows for the good of the American nation." This is defined as preserving "Anglo-Saxon political traditions" with a goal of limiting legal immigration "to those that can contribute not only economically, but have demonstrated respect for this nation's culture and rule of law." It's unclear exactly how such "respect" can be demonstrated but it's not too hard to imagine. Being a huge Trump supporter certainly wouldn't hurt. It's also interesting that they have moved on from the "Judeo-Christian ethic" trope they used for the last few decades to this weird colonial throwback term "Anglo-Saxon culture," but it's no mystery as to why they would have done that, is it?

One aspect of the agenda that got a lot of attention was its support for infrastructure "that reflects the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture." There were plenty of chuckles over that one, imagining what Greene and Gohmert would consider appropriate architecture. After wondering for a bit who they would consider to be their Albert Speer, I realized it was right in front of our nose: the great builder and designer of ostentatious, gold-plated kitsch himself: Donald Trump.

But really, it's less hilarious than it sounds. Anyone who knows anything about the history of the Third Reich knows how much importance they attached to the "classical aesthetic" and in recent years there has been a movement among various alt-right types, including Neo-Nazis and Identity Evropa, to take up a new aesthetic as the perfect expression of white culture. Hettie O'Brien of The New Statesman wrote about the trend in 2018:

While the Nazis thought neoclassical architecture an authentic expression of German identity, today's far right updates this doctrine for the social media age. As Stephan Trüby, an architectural historian at the University of Stuttgart, told me, right-wing populists have begun to sharpen their focus on architecture. In Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland party has spawned a revivalist movement of far-right isolationists who revere folk mythology and Saxon castles. Trüby writes that, "Filled with disgust at any kind of metropolitan multicultural way of life," these settlers retreat to rural Germany to rehearse the "preservation of the German Volk". [...]
As Trüby noted, in Germany certain terms camouflage far-right identity politics. "Words like 'tradition' and 'beauty' are used to establish ideas of a unified people and nation, which excludes migrants and many parts of the population." Beauty is infused with connotations of blood, soil and a Volk.

It's not just a European thing. You may recall the marchers in Charlottesville in 2017 were chanting "blood and soil."

Within 24 hours, Greene and Gosar had backtracked on their caucus plan, suddenly claiming that it wasn't really their thing and that a staffer was responsible for an early draft they hadn't approved of. Greene went hysterical on Twitter over the controversy:

Greene's spokesman, Nick Dyer, had issued a statement on Friday saying to "be on the look out for the release of the America First Caucus platform when it's announced to the public very soon." By Saturday he was saying Greene would not be launching anything. In the interim, some members of the most far-right caucus in the House, the Freedom Caucus, which counts Greene and the others as members, had publicly expressed their disapproval.

It's tempting to see that as a sign they were truly appalled by Greene's overt white nationalism. But that's unlikely. This is actually an old strategy by right-wingers that inexorably mainstreams their beliefs in a way that allows many of them to escape responsibility. They do it every few years. Some rump right-wing group organizes itself within the party, attracts some attention for its extremism and then ends up being the tail that wags the dog — at least until another even more right-wing rump group organizes itself and does the same thing, moving the previous group into the mainstream. They usually tend to gain steam when the Democrats are in power.

This goes way back but, as with so much else, it has accelerated since the early 1990s when Newt Gingrich and his backbench wrecking crew took over the GOP after rabble-rousing through the previous decade. They were once the loudmouthed extremists and then suddenly were the mainstream and elected their rabble-rousing leader to be the Speaker of the House. (Listening to former Speaker John Boehner bemoan the rightward surge of the GOP is laughable. He was among those original Gingrich revolutionaries.) Later came the Freedom Caucus, a group known for its obstructionism and "burn the house" down purity. Trump raised them up into the corridors of real power, spawning such GOP superstars as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Devin Nunes, R-CA, Jim Jordan, R-OH, and Matt Gaetz, R-FL all of whom are current or former Freedom Caucus members.

With the help of Fox News, Marjorie Taylor Greene is taking that same strategy to the next level. It works out well for all concerned. By parroting the emergent white nationalist rhetoric being mainstreamed by Tucker Carlson, she manages to raise a lot of money. And by delicately distancing themselves from her, the Freedom Caucus get to appear to be safe to establishment Republicans (just like John Boehner was when he became speaker) who can in turn appeal to the suburban voters who abandoned the party.

I think you can see the problem here.

This latest iteration of far-right wingnuttia is going in a very dangerous direction. I don't think we'll see Marjorie Taylor Greene elected speaker of the House but there's every chance that at some point someone with her toxic ideology will be seen as such a mainstream Republican that he or she is a perfectly viable candidate. Trump already came very close. I honestly don't know how much lower they can go from there.

Trump did one thing right and Biden is following suit – but now it’s driving Republicans insane

There were many bizarre moments during the Trump administration but one of the oddest has to be that time he spontaneously invited the Taliban to Camp David on the anniversary of 9/11 in 2019. The story went that the peace talks preceding withdrawal were on the verge of bearing fruit and President Trump wanted to have a big ceremony like Jimmy Carter did with the Camp David Accords — only much bigger and better. The New York Times reported that during a meeting with various advisers the idea was floated to invite the Taliban to the U.S. and Trump, of course, was thrilled. He could smell that Nobel Peace Prize finally coming home to papa.

This article was originally published at Salon

There were quite a few people who were just a tad appalled by this idea, needless to say. There may be no choice but to leave Afghanistan in the hands of the Taliban but considering the history of the past 20 years, the idea of inviting them to the U.S. for a big party wasn't a welcome one. Doing it on the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, attacks which were enabled in part by these same people, sent shudders through those who knew how that would be received by the 9/11 families and the military. And while a majority of Americans are in favor of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, rewarding the repressive, violent, fundamentalist authoritarian Taliban, who the U.S. government officially designates a terrorist organization, with a dazzling ceremony a la Kim Jong Un is not something anyone wants to see. The plan fell apart when the Taliban insisted that the deal be announced before they came to the U.S. while Trump insisted that it be announced after so that he could take the credit for negotiating the deal personally at Camp David. And that was that.

Nobody would have even known the plan existed except that Trump inexplicably decided to tweet about it on a Saturday night and let the cat out of the bag. He soon lost interest in Afghanistan when it became clear that he wouldn't have his big celebration, but withdrawal negotiations continued with a final agreement to an American withdrawal in May 2021. Trump sporadically made promises on the issue that he didn't keep, the last one being an announcement that all troops would be home by last Christmas. Needless to say, that didn't happen and there's no way of knowing if he would ever have followed through.

Perhaps the only thing Trump has in common with the current president is that Biden's also been an Afghanistan skeptic for years and was known as a voice pushing for ending American involvement within the Obama administration. He said very clearly that he intended to end that war if he won the election. Upon taking office the administration set up a policy review on the subject and for good reason. Who knows what kind of diplomatic landmines the Trump administration had left lying all over the place? That review is still ongoing but on Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that Biden had made a decision to extend the May 1st deadline to leave until September 11th, but leave he will do regardless of whether the Taliban and the Afghan government come to an agreement.

He is scheduled to make the announcement today. According to Spencer Ackerman at the Daily Beast, the Biden administration hopes that a hastily drawn-up summit in Istanbul can bring the two parties together to agree on a power sharing deal before the May 1st deadline and help soothe any ruffled feathers from the Taliban over the short delay. (The Taliban leaders said late Tuesday that they would boycott any such summit until the U.S. completely withdraws, so it remains to be seen whether this will mark a collapse in the ongoing talks or not.)

The New York Times' David Sanger reported that Biden and his staff had to work hard to get the Pentagon on board with this plan but that he was unwilling to bend in his desire to make a date certain announcement despite their insistence that it should be conditional. It's not hard to see why. American withdrawal has been contingent on various conditions being met for nearly two decades and somehow it just never seems to happen. The US must make the decision and follow through unless it intends to be a permanent occupying force, something for which the American people have no appetite.

Trump's desire to withdraw from Afghanistan was always one of his few positive foreign policy objectives although I don't think anyone expected that he would succeed. He had no understanding of the complexities and only saw it as a way to burnish his reputation as a "winner" and a "deal maker." But in a way, his ignorance helped drive the decision beyond the typical hawkish national security dogma to put in place a serious negotiation to finally end America's presence there. He got Fox News people to start talking about the need to end the "forever wars" and soured most of the GOP base on the relics of the post-9/11 War on Terror.

And his vendettas against his enemies have led to a fracturing of the Republican foreign policy establishment. Trump's enemy number one, super-hawk Liz Cheney is predictably leading the charge to oppose Biden's decision to withdraw at all, while Trump acolytes are struck unable to do the same since Trump's only criticism of the deal must be that it's delayed. The usual screeching about "cutting and running" is muted, giving Biden much more room to make this move than any Democrat normally would have. It may be the one good thing Trump ever did.

As Sanger put it in the Times:

Mr. Biden is declaring that war is over — no matter what, and even though the United States is leaving with most of its goals unmet, and Afghanistan's stability deeply in jeopardy. If there is no terrorist attack launched from Afghan territory again, no echo of Sep. 11, 2001, Mr. Biden may well have been judged to have made the right bet.

Let's hope so. But it's a risk that he must take if we want to turn the page and face the challenges of the future. The War on Terror was a mistake from the beginning. It's long past time to admit that and move on.

Tucker Carlson and his white supremacist allies are going to be replaced -- by a generation repelled by his ideology

Tucker Carlson's at it again.

As Salon's Kaity Assaf reported last week, the unctuous Fox News host delivered more grotesque, racist commentary last week, this time explicitly endorsing the hardcore white supremacist "great replacement" theory on his top-rated TV show. Throwing it out there in a discussion of the assault on voting rights around the country Carlson said, "the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate" with "new people, more obedient voters from the Third World." It's a line Carlson has been called out for before.

Back in 2019, in the wake of the mass murder of mostly Latinos at an El Paso Walmart by a violent racist who quoted great replacement theories in his manifesto, Carlson declared that "white supremacy" is "a hoax" that is "used to divide the country and keep a hold on power." I wrote then about Carlson's affinity for the belief system that inspired the killing and explained the crude fundamentals of the theory:

[T]he "Great Replacement" theory is a big deal among white nationalists worldwide. Essentially it comes down to two intersecting ideas. They believe that "the west" is threatened by immigrants from non-white countries resulting in white people being "replaced." And the whole thing is part of a secret Jewish conspiracy to rule a one-race world. The Fox News "mainstream" American version doesn't fully embrace the second idea, at least not publicly. But they are all-in on the first one, cleverly couching it in partisan political terms as a Democratic Party strategy to deny Republicans (who are, as we all know, nearly all white) their God-given right to be a majority of this country.

You can see why so many Jewish groups were appalled by Carlson repeating his comments again last week, this time blithely insisting that "left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term 'replacement.'" Yes, people do get a little bit upset when major TV celebrities use their platform to sell anti-Semitic drivel to their viewers.

The Anti-Defamation League demanded that Carlson be fired, but there is no word yet as to whether any action will be taken. Just because these toxic beliefs have influenced the recent mass murderers at an El Paso Walmart, a Pittsburgh synagogue and a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, along with the Nazi marchers in Charlottesville Virginia who were literally chanting "Jews will not replace us" apparently doesn't mean that Fox News has a responsibility to not spread them further.

It's important to note here that the gunman in El Paso also criticized corporations, which made many observers scratch their heads at the time, but it shouldn't have. White supremacists who believe in the great replacement theory consider corporations enemies, but not for economic populist reasons, as I wrote at the time of the Walmart shooting:

They see anti-corporatism and environmentalism as necessary to save Western civilization, not because corporations are sucking the life from working people and killing the planet but because corporations and climate change are creating conditions that make brown and Black people migrate to countries with predominantly white populations. And among the "ecofascist" alt-right and the neo-Nazis, environmentalism is based upon reverence for "the land of your people" which explains the Charlottesville marchers chanting the Nazi slogan "Blood and Soil." Carlson hasn't gone that far but these people are all walking in the same direction.

Carlson's recent rant also tied the great replacement into one of the hoariest, right-wing tropes of all: the insistence that the only reason Democrats want to have humane immigration laws is that they believe immigrants will vote for them and make it impossible for so-called real Americans to be represented in "their own country." He said, "if you change the population, you dilute the political power of the people who live there. So every time they import a new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter."

That's right. The people who are moving heaven and earth to suppress voting all over the country in the wake of Donald Trump's Big Lie, are being disenfranchised by voters who don't look like them. People like Carlson and Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham have been selling this line forever, but it is finding new life being tied in with the great replacement.

The funny thing is that as ridiculous as it is to believe that immigrants are "replacing" real Americans in a country where the only people in it who aren't the descendants of immigrants are Native Americans, there actually is a sort of great replacement going on —but it's coming from within the country.

Those corporations the white supremacists hate for creating the conditions that incentivize migration have responded to the tax incentives offered by conservative states and have relocated there, bringing a bunch of those loathsome progressive social values with them. It's one of the reasons some of those former red states have been turning purple. And the recent corporate activism on voting rights has been driven at least in part by the last few decades of diversity in hiring which means that many of them have high-level Black and Hispanic executives who bring their own experiences to the job and they are influencing policy. The Texas Monthly reported that the state GOP is becoming quite agitated by the influx of Californians who have recently invaded their state. Tucker Carlson is agitated about it too:

In December, [Governor Greg Abbott] made a comical appearance on Tucker Carlson's popular Fox News show. Carlson, a San Francisco–born, San Diego–raised pundit, congratulated Abbott, who grew up in Wichita Falls and Longview, on Texas's population growth. But why, Carlson wondered, had Abbott let in so many coastal elites?
Above a characteristically calm chyron—"The Next California: Onlookers Horrified by Recent Texas Trends"—Carlson argued that Californians would be the death of Texas. "We've seen this across the country, where people flee a collapsing, crummy state and then wreck the state they go to," he said. "Are you worried that all these Californians will bring their values and degrade the state of Texas?"

Apparently, the great replacement isn't just a threat that immigrants are going to replace God-fearing real Americans. Californians (as well as residents of other blue states, of course) are also threatening to replace God-fearing real Americans by moving to their states and "degrading" the place with their presence. What do you suppose Carlson has in mind to put a stop to that?

The fact is that we are all going to be "replaced" by the generations that come up behind us. And I'm afraid that Tucker Carlson and his white supremacist allies are going to be replaced by a generation that is overwhelmingly repelled by his ideology and everything it stands for. That, of course, will be really, really great.

Joe Manchin learned all of the wrong lessons from the Capitol riot

Those of us who've been watching politics for a while knew that the 50-50 Senate was going to be a challenge for the Biden administration. Yes, it's much, much better to have the majority and be able to set the agenda. But passing legislation with such a narrow margin is always very difficult. It's usually worse for Democrats because the small, conservative, rural state advantage in the US Senate makes it impossible to gain a majority without at least a few right-leaning showboaters who feel the need to demonstrate their "independence" from the libs who dominate the party.

This article was originally published at Salon

Republicans have their "moderates" too, as we know, but generally, Democrats have a much more difficult task in these situations because they are actually trying to accomplish something rather than simply confirm judges, cut taxes and pretend to repeal popular legislation over and over again. Even when Democrats hold a large majority, the conservative senators in the caucus seem to always flex their muscles and make passing popular initiatives very difficult.

When Jimmy Carter was president and had a 57 vote majority in the Senate, his signature legislation was thwarted by Democrats who watered it down to almost nothing, stymying Carter's big initiative for the U.S. to attain energy independence. In 1993, when President Bill Clinton became the first Democratic president in 12 years, also with a 57 vote margin, the Democrats tried once again to raise taxes on the wealthy and pass a broad-based energy tax, this time in the name of "deficit reduction," and it was fought tooth and nail by different Democrats representing the same interests. Karen Tumulty writing for the LA Times back in 1993, wrote about the reaction of two Democratic senators, Oklahoma's David Boren and Louisiana's John Breaux, to Clinton's plan:

Sen. David L. Boren will happily admit to being the biggest thorn in President Clinton's right side. "Right now," he says, "I am perfectly at peace with my position." By virtue of his seat on the Senate Finance Committee, the Oklahoma Democrat holds the vote that could kill Clinton's economic program, and he believes he can use his extraordinary leverage to help redirect a presidency that has veered badly off course.
Also on the panel is Sen. John B. Breaux (D-La.), Clinton's longtime political ally and one of the earliest backers of his presidential campaign. He, too, has served notice that he will not support the plan unless it undergoes major revisions. Both senators insisted in interviews this week that their struggle goes far beyond their objections to an energy tax that could hurt industries in their states. They see it as nothing less than a war with the left for the soul of Bill Clinton's presidency.

Does that sound at all familiar?

Fast forward 16 years to President Barack Obama, who also enjoyed a large Democratic majority in the Senate. and I'm sure we all recall the drama surrounding the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Not one Republican voted for it and the negotiations among Democrats were brutal with Senator Joe Lieberman, I-CT, successfully nixing the public option and Democratic members of the House holding up the bill over its provisions to provide abortion coverage. In the end, the Democrats passed the bill but lost 33 House Democrats and Sens. Blanche Lincoln, D-AR, Ben Nelson, D-NE and Mark Pryor, D-AR.

The point is that unless there is an emergency, "bipartisanship" on major legislation has been a pipe dream for a very long time. The political establishment harps on it like it's the norm but with the exception of some early bipartisan victories in the Reagan era, it hasn't been true for more than 40 years.

That brings us to Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, the man of the hour.

Every political observer in the country has been waiting with bated breath to see which way the wind is blowing with him because he is the most conservative Democrat in the 50-50 Senate and he has made it clear that he has no compunction about dictating what the Biden administration will be allowed to accomplish legislatively. Theoretically, any senator could have this power and there have been rumblings from Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema and a few others, but Manchin is the man in the spotlight. Whether it's to provide the 50th vote to reform the filibuster or provide the 50th vote to pass a bill using reconciliation, it appears that he will be the decider in this congress.

This is not good news. He recently told Arthur Delaney of the Huffington Post that he believes congressional voting reform efforts in Congress should be designed to make Trump voters happy:

"The only thing I would caution anybody and everybody about is that we had an insurrection on January 6, because of voting, right? And lack of trust in voting? We should not, at all, attempt to do anything that would create more distrust and division."

Actually, we had an insurrection because the president propagated a Big Lie and incited his followers to storm the U.S. Capitol. I'm pretty sure that the only thing that would appease those people would be to remove Joe Biden from the White House and install Donald Trump. But Manchin, who told CNN, "January 6 changed me," seems to think insurrectionists are simply seeking bipartisan comity:

"So, something told me, 'Wait a minute. Pause. Hit the pause button.' Something's wrong. You can't have this many people split to where they want to go to war with each other."

I think it's fair to say that Manchin has somehow absorbed the circular GOP's talking points justifying their flurry of legislation to restrict voting all over the country in order to "restore trust in the system" after Trump lied about the election being stolen from him. Can Manchin be so naive that he doesn't know that this was on the GOP agenda long before Trump came down that escalator?

As with every Diva Democrat I mentioned in the fraught negotiations above, the big question always is, "what do they really want?" Is he posturing his mavericky independence image for the folks back home? Does he have a specific policy goal that he's negotiating for? Is he playing some multi-dimensional game in which he is acting as though he's demanding concessions from the Democrats but actually is forcing the GOP to demonstrate their obstruction so he can say he tried before voting with his party? Or does he believe the drivel he spouts about bipartisanship and just loves all the attention?

We really don't know. But it's always simplest to just take a politician at his word in cases like this and that would mean the op-ed he wrote for the Washington Post on Thursday is very bad news for the Democrats. In it, Manchin declared unequivocally:

There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster. The time has come to end these political games, and to usher a new era of bipartisanship where we find common ground on the major policy debates facing our nation.

It is very hard to see how he backs off from a Shermanesque statement like that and if he doesn't we are looking at total gridlock for the next two years and a probable wipe-out of the Democratic majorities in 2022.

Mitch McConnell has made it clear time and again that his philosophy in opposition is to block everything and then blame the Democrats for failing to get anything done. He has not changed his mind. Sure, they will pretend they want to negotiate but there will never be 10 Republicans willing to break a filibuster to pass major legislation under a Democratic majority. It's been completely unrealistic to expect that for the past 40 years. That Joe Machin thinks it is possible with the Trumpified GOP is downright delusional.

Republican supremacy: Inside the GOP's plot to hijack American democracy

Let's be honest, America has a long history of vote suppression going back to the founding of the republic. It tends to come in waves, usually following one of our regular paroxysms of racist hysteria. In the bad old days of Jim Crow, vote suppression was enforced by physical violence. Thankfully that hasn't happened in recent years. But our current surge of suppressive activity includes various forms of intimidation, from unscrupulous "poll watchers" to armed guards patrolling voting places as well as lots of propaganda and disinformation to confuse voters and try to frighten them out of voting. The most aggressive forms of vote suppression we face today, however, remain the same as they ever were: The law is still used to make it difficult for people of color to vote.

In the wake of Donald Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election, Republicans have gone into overdrive, using his pathetic inability to admit he lost as an excuse to enact voting restrictions in the name of "restoring trust" in the electoral system. The Brennan Center reports that as of March 24, Republican legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states:

Most restrictive bills take aim at absentee voting, while nearly a quarter seek stricter voter ID requirements. State lawmakers also aim to make voter registration harder, expand voter roll purges or adopt flawed practices that would risk improper purges, and cut back on early voting. The states that have seen the largest number of restrictive bills introduced are Texas (49 bills), Georgia (25 bills), and Arizona (23 bills). Bills are actively moving in the Texas and Arizona statehouses, and Georgia enacted an omnibus voter suppression bill last week.

Georgia and Arizona are both states Trump narrowly lost. Texas Republicans sense an ominous shift in power with the formerly GOP-voting white suburbs voting Democratic for the past few cycles. Georgia's bill has gotten the most national attention, largely because Trump's crude attempts to strongarm the Republican election officials into cheating on his behalf became big news. Rather than praising the integrity of their state's election process, the state Republican-controlled legislature reacted by making it harder to vote.

The resulting decision by major Georgia corporations Delta and Coca-Cola to publicly protest these moves and Major League Baseball moving the All-Star game to Denver shows the highly controversial nature of the state's actions. It's 2021 not 1921, and a majority of the public does not approve of these actions. If corporations care about their brand and their bottom line they can't afford to not weigh in. These undemocratic, racist policies are being enacted after 60 years of public awareness of voting rights as a moral issue in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and a majority of the country is appalled.

This seems to have confused the Republican party. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the man who believes so strongly that corporations have a right to spend as much money as they choose to influence politics he took a case all the way to the Supreme Court, said on Monday, "my warning to corporate America is to stay out of politics!" He quickly added, "I'm not talking about political contributions," which is absurd. Basically, he is saying that corporations may support Republicans but not oppose them.

What this illustrates most vividly is not just the collapse of any ideological consistency in the Republican party — we've had plenty of examples of that recently — but also that their shamelessness knows no bounds. The power of that attitude is likely going to empower the GOP in ways that will test our democracy beyond the familiar vote suppression methods like intimidation.

The New York Times' Nate Cohn wrote a controversial analysis of the Georgia voting law that seemed to give short shrift to the immorality and total unacceptability of its attack on voting rights because it may have the unintended effect of boosting turnout among Democrats as a backlash ensues. It was a thoughtless take in many ways, suggesting somehow that the opportunity costs of voting rights groups having to expend massive amounts of energy and Black voters having to jump through ridiculous hoops, particularly based upon the lie that they are cheaters who must be restrained, was good for them. Voting should be simple, easy and accessible for every eligible citizen. All of these restrictions are nothing more than undemocratic, racist attempts by Republicans to hold on to power, even in the minority, by any means necessary. So Cohn wrote a follow-up analysis that makes a number of very important observations about the Republican efforts to hold on to power. In it he wonders what would have happened if Donald Trump had been successful in his attempt to get Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" the 11,789 voted he "needed"? We don't know. But we do know that Georgia has moved to make it more likely that someone will succeed in the future:

[T]rying to reverse an election result without credible evidence of widespread fraud is an act of a different magnitude than narrowing access. A successful effort to subvert an election would pose grave and fundamental risks to democracy, risking political violence and secessionism.
Beyond any provisions on voting itself, the new Georgia election law risks making election subversion easier. It creates new avenues for partisan interference in election administration.

Cohn goes into the details of the bill, showing exactly how it might have been used to overturn the 2020 election on Trump's behalf. It's chilling. And it's happening all over the country, not just in Georgia. He recalls that after the November election, "a majority of Republican members of Congress and state attorneys general signed on to efforts that would have invalidated millions of votes and brought about a constitutional crisis."

As we know, Trump had it in his head on January 6th that the vice president could refuse to certify the election and "send it back" to the state legislatures because someone told him they might overturn the results. That belief didn't come out of nowhere. The concept that state legislatures have supremacy over the state courts and other officials is one that's gaining currency on the right since they have managed to gerrymander themselves into majorities in many states. In places like Wisconsin if a Democrat wins the governorship they simply pass veto-proof laws that remove the governor's powers to do much of anything, In Kentucky last month, Mitch McConnell worked with the Republican-controlled legislature to remove the power of the sitting Democratic governor to name a temporary replacement to the Senate should the seat become vacant. It too was passed over the governor's veto.

This behavior demonstrates that they would not have any reluctance to use their power to overturn elections either. They are quite clearly setting the table to enact an "Independent State Legislature Doctrine" that would make that much more possible. Election expert Richard Hasen calls this "a ticking time bomb."

Unfortunately, as Nate Cohn points out, the big voting rights bills in Congress don't address this problem at all. The "For the People Act" was conceived before the 2020 election debacle and I don't think anyone anticipated Republicans' actions would be quite this extreme. The Democrats need to consider how to deal with it or all the provisions to protect voting won't be worth anything if partisan state legislatures have the power to throw out their votes after they've been counted.

The entire Trump campaign was a scam — and it is not over

During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Donald Trump happened to be in the middle of a major federal class-action lawsuit spanning several states over an allegedly fraudulent operation called Trump University. You may recall that one of his first racist scandals during the 2015 primary campaign came about after he claimed the judge in that federal fraud case was biased against Trump because of his Hispanic heritage. The Trump University suit was a big story during that campaign but, as always, there was so much chaos surrounding Trump that I'm not sure people really understood what it was all about. It should have been the biggest story because it was unfolding during the campaign and illustrated everything the people needed to know about Donald Trump. It showed, in living color, that Trump was a real, bonafide con artist, in the literal sense of the word.

This article was originally published at Salon

The grift was pretty simple. It started off as an online operation that quickly morphed into one of those bait and switch operations where they entice you to come to listen to a free lecture from some "expert" to teach you the tricks of the trade (or tell you the secret of life) which turns out to be nothing more than a sales pitch to buy more expert lessons in the same subject — which also turn out to be sales pitches. It's what a lot of multi-level marketing schemes and frankly, cults, do to bilk people out of their savings. A 2017 report from the Center for American Progress explains further:

Near the end, Trump University focused almost exclusively on the seminars, both running them and licensing the brand name out to an organization called Business Strategies Group. These seminars often began with a free session to get people in the door. Once individuals arrived, salespeople often tried to upsell them the "Trump Elite Packages," ranging from the Bronze Elite Package for $9,995 up to the Gold Elite Package for $34,995.

Trump, of course, had a TV show in which he pretended to be a genius businessman and that was enough to get a lot of naive fans to sign on, apparently believing the lies in the brochures, which said that Trump had personally chosen the instructors and the so-called courses were credentialed by major universities like Stanford and Northwestern. The court case showed that none of that was true. And according to the Washington Post, Trump was personally involved in all the advertising that made those claims.

And despite pressure from the leaders of the seminars to write favorable reviews of the "course" there was an unusually high refund request rate from unsatisfied "students." Time magazine reported that it was 32% for the three-day seminar and 16% for the Gold Elite package.

Trump eventually settled the fraud case for $25 million after the election, successfully shutting it down before it reached a courtroom. In the end, 6,000 customers were eligible for a piece of the $25 million settlement.

How in the world could an advanced democracy ever elect someone who was so blatantly a con man? It wasn't as if it was far in the past or there was some serious dispute as to whether or not it was really a scam. It was obvious to anyone who looked at the case that there was no "university" and Donald Trump was running a grift. It wasn't the first or the only one but it was being litigated right in the middle of the campaign.

I was reminded of that astonishing story this weekend when I read Shane Goldmacher's shocking New York Times report on the Trump campaign's fundraising practices. If anything, they were even more deceptive than the Trump University con.

Goldmacher reported that the campaign and its online fundraising platform WinRed hustled its most loyal supporters out of tens of millions of dollars with deceptive donation links on their emails and websites. It's unknown to this day how many people unknowingly signed up for weekly recurring donations and "money bombs" (agreements to donate a lump sum on a future date), but there were so many requests for refunds that at one point, 1-3% of all credit card complaints in the U.S. were about WinRed charges.

The credit card companies told the Times that they were inundated with complaints and requests to cancel cards:

"It started to go absolutely wild," said one fraud investigator with Wells Fargo. "It just became a pattern," said another at Capital One. A consumer representative for USAA, which primarily serves military families, recalled an older veteran who discovered repeated WinRed charges from donating to Mr. Trump only after calling to have his balance read to him by phone.

The unintended payments busted credit card limits. Some donors canceled their cards to avoid recurring payments. Others paid overdraft fees to their bank. There is no way of knowing how many people just paid the bills, either thinking they had no recourse or failing to notice it.

The Times compared the GOP's WinRed donation platform to the successful Democratic site ActBlue that it is modeled on and the GOP's practices leading up to the 2020 election were much more unscrupulous. The refund request rate wasn't even close. In fact, "the Trump/RNC operation issued more online refunds in *December 2020* than the Biden/DNC operation issued in all of 2019 and 2020." But then WinRed itself is a product of Trump-affiliated henchmen who made their platform for profit, unlike the non-profit Act Blue, and even kept their fees when people demanded a refund which Act Blue does not. They made a lot of money on this scheme.

The sheer number of refunds to Trump donors amounted to a huge no-interest (and profitable for WinRed) loan to the campaign — a loan which required that the people loaning the money go to a great deal of trouble to get money back which they didn't consciously agree to "loan" in the first place. Trump's post-election "Stop the Steal" fundraising at least partially went to pay off those "loans" from the campaign making the whole scheme very "Ponzi-esque."

It wasn't just the Trump campaign that did this. GOP candidates who used WinRed all used the same tactics including the Republicans in two Senate runoff campaigns in Georgia. There were many many requests for refunds of donations to both Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the Times reported.

For his part, Trump is still doing it. He's been telling his supporters not to send money to the RNC and to send it to his Save America PAC where he can do pretty much anything he wants with the money. The PAC uses WinRed. Anyone who decides they want to throw money into that black hole should read the fine print very carefully. They could be signing up to give the billionaire Donald Trump a weekly donation for life.

Don't blame Facebook: How Fox News became the beating heart of the white nationalist movement

Political analysts are still trying to figure out just what has caused the Republican Party in this country to move so far to the right in recent years, and there are many theories. Much has been made of the Trump-loving white working class's perceived loss of economic success due to outsourcing and international trade and we've endlessly discussed their various grievances about losing the status and privileges they believe they are entitled to. We try to understand their confusion about changing cultural norms and the cascading disinformation that permeates social media. In the end, all we really know is that they are very upset and Donald Trump gave voice to their overwhelming anger and disdain for their fellow Americans.

Last week there was yet another congressional hearing with the top social media executives, this one focusing on the role of their companies in promoting extremism, misinformation, and cyberbullying. Republicans were most concerned about the companies censoring right-wing voices (although interestingly, they didn't complain much about Donald Trump's expulsion from all the platforms) and Democrats complained about disinformation and extremism being allowed to flourish on the platforms.

We don't really know at this point how much of that affected the 2020 election. As Kevin Drum pointed out, we are still awaiting data to tell us just how much people relied on social media for their political information during the election but judging by past analysis of election campaigns, it really isn't as influential as we might assume. There's no doubt that Facebook and Youtube and to some extent Twitter can lead people down the conspiracy rabbit hole, and there's little doubt that right-wing extremism has had a very comfortable home on all those sites. But according to the analysis that Drum cites, TV and talk radio are still where the action is. Fox and OAN and Newsmax may pick up ideas that percolate up through the fever swamps to social media. But really, it mostly goes the other direction.

Journalist Peter Slevin spent some months in Iowa before and after the election to get a sense of what the mostly rural, Republican voters were thinking. He reports in this piece in the New Yorker that basically, they are awash in disinformation and as a result have come to believe that Democratic voters are hardly even Americans anymore. Their own form of "identity politics" has been distilled down to "I am a Republican" in opposition to their enemies.

They believed that Donald Trump was the only person who could control the violent, socialist mob that was threatening their way of life. And they believed everything he said:

I met Kimberly Pont, the vice-chair of the Fayette County G.O.P., at a Mexican restaurant in the small city of Oelwein, and asked her what drove local residents to vote Republican. She said, "People could see the news. They could watch for themselves what was going on, when you have a party that's not going to denounce rioting." Pont believes covid-19 death figures are inflated, mail-in voting is dangerous, Biden is a "figurehead," and Harris is unqualified. "I'm terrified," she told me. "She is the most left-leaning of all the senators." When I caught up with Pont this month, she told me that the failure by the courts to identify widespread election fraud left her "disappointed and disillusioned."

Slevin noticed that in every house and business, right-wing talk radio was on in the background and the likes of the late Rush Limbaugh were saying things like this:

Obama's been running the Democrats' show since 2016. He ran the operation against Trump. He ran the Russia sting. He ran the Russian coup. He ran everything, and he's running this."

None of that is QAnon weirdness or Alex Jones and Infowars. It is standard issue mainstream conservative media, which millions of Republicans listen to every day and watch on Fox News and the lesser cable channels at night.

Throughout the Trump administration, there was an ongoing question about whether Fox News was the president's brain or vice versa. I came to believe that it was a feedback loop with disinformation coming from both sides. There were numerous examples of Trump tweeting out some outlandish insult or idea just seconds after it had aired on the network. And the Fox News universe was dedicated to ensuring their audience saw Trump as their savior, often cleaning up his misstatements and amplifying his most effective messages to the faithful. They were a team.

Trump has begun to call into the shows again, clearly unable to keep out of the spotlight any longer. He checked in with Laura Ingraham a few days ago and made this stunning comment about January 6th:

You will note that at the end he said of "the left": "they truly hate our country." That is the message those people in Iowa hear from him and all the talkers on the radio and right-wing cable news.

The question is where they go from here. It's unknown if Trump will maintain his influence. He intends to, of course, and unless he fades, these blatant lies will continue to be believed by tens of millions of people. He can draw an audience. But he can't last forever and there's little reason to believe that his offspring have whatever it is he has that appeals so much to these folks. But one Fox News celebrity is laying out a roadmap:

You'll note that this is all predicated on the notion that the liberals are making them do it. Carlson is the most flagrant white nationalist of the big-name Fox News celebrities and he gets the biggest ratings, which I suspect is not a coincidence. Before this guest joined Carlson, the host was nearly hysterical about the migrants at the border. He said:

You'd think that if you'd caused a crisis of this magnitude that was going to change your country forever, possibly for the worse, you'd feel a moral obligation to learn a lot about it because it's your crisis. You own it, you did it. But Biden hasn't."

A moral obligation to learn about a crisis? This is the same person who backed Trump's COVID response to the hilt and has been recently pushing anti-vax propaganda.

If you want to know what's fuelling right-wing extremism, you don't have to dig deeply into obscure corners of the dark web. Look no further than Fox News. It isn't just a ratings game for them and it isn't all about money. Fox News is the beating heart of the white nationalist movement in the United States and they are indoctrinating millions of people day in and day out. In fact, Donald Trump himself is one of those people, he just doesn't know it.

How Fox News became the beating heart of the white nationalist movement

Political analysts are still trying to figure out just what has caused the Republican Party in this country to move so far to the right in recent years, and there are many theories. Much has been made of the Trump-loving white working class's perceived loss of economic success due to outsourcing and international trade and we've endlessly discussed their various grievances about losing the status and privileges they believe they are entitled to. We try to understand their confusion about changing cultural norms and the cascading disinformation that permeates social media. In the end, all we really know is that they are very upset and Donald Trump gave voice to their overwhelming anger and disdain for their fellow Americans.

Last week there was yet another congressional hearing with the top social media executives, this one focusing on the role of their companies in promoting extremism, misinformation, and cyberbullying. Republicans were most concerned about the companies censoring right-wing voices (although interestingly, they didn't complain much about Donald Trump's expulsion from all the platforms) and Democrats complained about disinformation and extremism being allowed to flourish on the platforms.

We don't really know at this point how much of that affected the 2020 election. As Kevin Drum pointed out, we are still awaiting data to tell us just how much people relied on social media for their political information during the election but judging by past analysis of election campaigns, it really isn't as influential as we might assume. There's no doubt that Facebook and Youtube and to some extent Twitter can lead people down the conspiracy rabbit hole, and there's little doubt that right-wing extremism has had a very comfortable home on all those sites. But according to the analysis that Drum cites, TV and talk radio are still where the action is. Fox and OAN and Newsmax may pick up ideas that percolate up through the fever swamps to social media. But really, it mostly goes the other direction.

Journalist Peter Slevin spent some months in Iowa before and after the election to get a sense of what the mostly rural, Republican voters were thinking. He reports in this piece in the New Yorker that basically, they are awash in disinformation and as a result have come to believe that Democratic voters are hardly even Americans anymore. Their own form of "identity politics" has been distilled down to "I am a Republican" in opposition to their enemies.

They believed that Donald Trump was the only person who could control the violent, socialist mob that was threatening their way of life. And they believed everything he said:

I met Kimberly Pont, the vice-chair of the Fayette County G.O.P., at a Mexican restaurant in the small city of Oelwein, and asked her what drove local residents to vote Republican. She said, "People could see the news. They could watch for themselves what was going on, when you have a party that's not going to denounce rioting." Pont believes covid-19 death figures are inflated, mail-in voting is dangerous, Biden is a "figurehead," and Harris is unqualified. "I'm terrified," she told me. "She is the most left-leaning of all the senators." When I caught up with Pont this month, she told me that the failure by the courts to identify widespread election fraud left her "disappointed and disillusioned."

Slevin noticed that in every house and business, right-wing talk radio was on in the background and the likes of the late Rush Limbaugh were saying things like this:

Obama's been running the Democrats' show since 2016. He ran the operation against Trump. He ran the Russia sting. He ran the Russian coup. He ran everything, and he's running this."

None of that is QAnon weirdness or Alex Jones and Infowars. It is standard issue mainstream conservative media, which millions of Republicans listen to every day and watch on Fox News and the lesser cable channels at night.

Throughout the Trump administration, there was an ongoing question about whether Fox News was the president's brain or vice versa. I came to believe that it was a feedback loop with disinformation coming from both sides. There were numerous examples of Trump tweeting out some outlandish insult or idea just seconds after it had aired on the network. And the Fox News universe was dedicated to ensuring their audience saw Trump as their savior, often cleaning up his misstatements and amplifying his most effective messages to the faithful. They were a team.

Trump has begun to call into the shows again, clearly unable to keep out of the spotlight any longer. He checked in with Laura Ingraham a few days ago and made this stunning comment about January 6th:



You will note that at the end he said of "the left": "they truly hate our country." That is the message those people in Iowa hear from him and all the talkers on the radio and right-wing cable news.

The question is where they go from here. It's unknown if Trump will maintain his influence. He intends to, of course, and unless he fades, these blatant lies will continue to be believed by tens of millions of people. He can draw an audience. But he can't last forever and there's little reason to believe that his offspring have whatever it is he has that appeals so much to these folks. But one Fox News celebrity is laying out a roadmap:



You'll note that this is all predicated on the notion that the liberals are making them do it. Carlson is the most flagrant white nationalist of the big-name Fox News celebrities and he gets the biggest ratings, which I suspect is not a coincidence. Before this guest joined Carlson, the host was nearly hysterical about the migrants at the border. He said:

You'd think that if you'd caused a crisis of this magnitude that was going to change your country forever, possibly for the worse, you'd feel a moral obligation to learn a lot about it because it's your crisis. You own it, you did it. But Biden hasn't."

A moral obligation to learn about a crisis? This is the same person who backed Trump's COVID response to the hilt and has been recently pushing anti-vax propaganda.

If you want to know what's fuelling right-wing extremism, you don't have to dig deeply into obscure corners of the dark web. Look no further than Fox News. It isn't just a ratings game for them and it isn't all about money. Fox News is the beating heart of the white nationalist movement in the United States and they are indoctrinating millions of people day in and day out. In fact, Donald Trump himself is one of those people, he just doesn't know it.

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