A disaster for journalism raises disturbing doubts for the Republic

On Sunday, NBC's "Meet the Press" interviewed United States Senator Ron Johnson. ABC's "This Week" interviewed House Minority Whip Steve Scalise. CBS's "Face the Nation" interviewed United States Senator Lindsey Graham. "Fox News Sunday" interviewed United States Senator Rand Paul. They're Republicans and they had a message for a combined television audience of millions: Donald Trump won.

Not in those exact words, but that was the clear implication. This thing or that thing—it didn't really matter what thing—meant in their "view" that the former president was robbed and the legitimacy of the current president, Joe Biden, is somehow suspect.

I bring this up not because yesterday was a disaster for journalism and the integrity of the public square (though it was that). I bring this up because it seems to me an answer to the question that haunts democratic discourse: How does a republic deal with parties that lie so intensely, so voluminously and so shamelessly? Some say we should afford them the same respect we ourselves would expect. If we call them liars, that might encourage them to lie more given the outrage of being called liars. Better to check their facts, state the truth and move on in hopes that they behave in kind.

This was certainly the thinking behind Frank Bruni's latest, titled "Must We Dance on Rush Limbaugh Grave?" The Times columnist said Sunday that while the radio broadcaster, who died last week, was a white-power racist, sexist, fear-mongering, homophobic crank (not his words), it's crude and rough and, worse of all, "screechy" to say as much about a man recently killed off by the cancer. It's one thing to speak ill of the dead, Bruni wrote, "but the pitch of that ill-speak needn't be screechy. The manner of it needn't be savage. It has more credibility—and I think, more impact—when it's neither of these things. And we preserve some crucial measure of civility and grace."

For four decades, Rush Limbaugh had the biggest media megaphone through which he spit poison every day straight into the ears of 20 million Americans. He lied and lied, and he lied and lied. If there were no Limbaugh, there would be no President Trump, who himself told more than 30,500 lies, falsehoods and misleading claims during four years. Their canon of lies included lies about the covid pandemic, culminating in a death toll now exceeding half a million. Their repertoire of lies included lies about the election, culminating in the worst attack on our government since September 11, 2001. Their stockpile of lies included The Big One repeated Sunday by three GOP senators and one GOP House leader to the detriment of millions of television viewers. How does a republic deal with parties that lie nonstop? There's never been an easy answer. Whatever it is, it's not "civility and grace" alone, because they alone do not work.

It's not that I think Bruni is wrong to remind people to follow the Golden Rule. He's correct, in a purely abstract sense, to say that, "If you're going to fling your opinions at the world, you must be braced for the world to fling its reaction back at you. Those are the terms of the contract." But we are not talking about public morality in the abstract. We are talking about public morality in this place and in this time and in the spirit of defending our republic from ghouls conspiring, and still conspiring, to bring it down. Moreover, a Golden Rule that's wholly decontextualized and dehistoricized can be a gag preventing us from speaking the truth and silencing all but the most powerful.

You know who Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is. During last week's deep freeze in Texas, she started a fundraiser that has raised, as of this writing, more than $4 million to alleviate hunger and suffering in the Lone Star State. She was doing for Texans what you'd think Texans would do for her (and other New Yorkers). But instead of gratitude, the Texas Republican Party answered generosity with slander: "The gesture is appreciated, but it doesn't remove the fact that her Green New Deal philosophy failed Texans," wrote Chairman Allen West. Fact No. 1: The Green New Deal is Ocasio-Cortez's policy idea. It's not anything more yet. Fact No. 2: Texas has nothing to do with her policy idea. Fact No. 3: Wind power accounts for 10 percent of energy use in Texas. Conclusion: West is smearing Ocasio-Cortez even as she's trying to help.

This is clear later when he writes that Ocasio-Cortez's charity is not charity. What appears to be the Golden Rule is actually something sinister. West wrote: "What Texans found out this week is that wind energy, and solar, are not reliable, dependable, and available energy resources. Therefore, ma'am [Ocasio-Cortez], you're not going to buy off Texans for your green new deal energy pipe dream for $2 million" (my italics). Ocasio-Cortez did not blame Texas politicians for the straits they're in. Her pitch has not been "screechy," as Frank Bruni wrote. Her manner has not been "savage." She has been living up to the Golden Rule according to Bruni's advice. But what does she get in return? Lies, slander, contempt, and rancid accusations of trying to "buy off Texans."

Ocasio-Cortez (as well as Beto O'Rourke, who's also raised impressive sums) is modeling what Texans could expect from a government of, by and for the people. That's a threat to corrupt parties like the Texas GOP. It's therefore in the interest of people like West to run Ocasio-Cortez down, even if he comes off as gauche in the process. Fact is, coming off as gauche might be a good thing, as a lack of manners and etiquette and decorum tends to look like authentic strength, and when that's set side-by-side with kindness, authentic strength usually wins though it's a lie. The real problem, West might as well said, isn't that Texas is corrupt. The real problem isn't that the state's government failed its people. The real problem is carpetbaggers and their "New York values" coming down here, making us look bad. That's not nice.

As I said, Bruni isn't wrong in terms of substance. He's wrong in terms of engagement. He's so aloof as to be extraterrestrial. This is the world we live in. This is the world we struggle to change. It's not going to change if truth stops at the border of politeness.

The trials of Ted Cruz -- and why he thought he'd get away with it

The trials of Ted Cruz continue. The junior United States senator from Texas was caught flying to Cancun, Mexico, the same week the Lone Star State experienced the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Harvey four years ago. Cruz has blamed his daughters for the decision. (They wanted to get away from the cold, you see, and he wanted to be a good dad.) He tried suggesting he was merely accompanying his wife and daughters for the plane ride, but that was quickly revealed as a howler.

For the last 24 hours or so, Cruz has been making the rounds, doing damage control on local and statewide media. He's been casting himself as a dutiful father taking care of his family during a crisis. None of that holds water when you bear in mind one thing: United States senators are not normal people. A normal person has no higher obligation than family. A senator does have higher obligations. (Or should.) There are as many claims on Cruz's time and attention as there are people in Texas. That's the burden of high office. That's the price Cruz's family pays for power. In saying he was just being a good dad, Cruz is in effect confessing to being an irresponsible senator.

There's another reason Cruz's excuse is leaky. It's related to the first. Senators are not normal, furthermore, because they are exquisitely sensitive to their public images. (This might go double for Cruz given his ambition to be president.) Put another way, senators live in a state of interminable fear of their reputations being out of their control. This is a good thing. Democracy benefits when voters frighten politicians. Yet Cruz flew commercial. Airports are public. He's high-profile. Everyone knows him. A senator exquisitely sensitive to his public image as a man of presidential ambitions seemed to think it'd be fine to jet off to Cancun while voters suffered in the cold. That doesn't tell me Cruz is dumb. He's not. That tells me he felt he had nothing to fear.

Why would he? Cruz is among nearly a dozen Republican senators who voted against the certification of Electoral College votes on January 6 that determined that Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump. Cruz stood against the republic after the former president had sent his white-power goon squads to sack and loot the United States Capitol. He stood against the republic even though he knew the lives of the vice president, the House speaker and other lawmakers had been endangered. Then Cruz voted to acquit Trump of treason for the second time. If anyone has no reason to fear democracy, it's Cruz.

Cruz is not afraid of voters, moreover, because he's one of the architects of the Big Lie totalizing the hivemind most Republican voters inhabit. As long as they live there, he'll probably be fine. He encouraged the lie that Barack Obama wasn't a citizen ("the most lawless president in US history," Cruz said); that the covid wasn't a big deal; that Joe Biden stole the election from Donald Trump; and so on. The Big Lie always says the Democrats are always bad, the Republicans always good. US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez complained about Cruz's complicity in threats made against her life on January 6, but Cruz, a master at perverting the truth, blamed her. "There's a lot of partisan anger and rage on the Democratic side," he said. "It's not healthy for our country."

The Big Lie is so strong I have zero doubt saying virtually no one on the Republican side will give credit and due respect to Ocasio-Cortez for raising a million dollars in one night to alleviate suffering in Texas. They can't give her credit and due respect, because giving her credit and due respect would cancel a Republican article of faith—that brown people only want to take what is rightly mine; that the east coast is full of "liberals" who hate me; that "liberals" want to disenfranchise the makers who built this country from nothing; that when they are suffering, as they were after Hurricane Sandy bit off a piece of the Jersey Shore in 2012, they are only suffering as a means of manipulating me into feeling sorry for them and thus enabling my own mugging. Ocasio-Cortez is saying, no, that's wrong. Here's a million dollars to prove it. Believing the truth is too painful, though. Cruz knows it. So he keeps encouraging the Big Lie.

The thing about inhabiting a hivemind almost totally made up of lies is that, at some point, you start believing the lies almost totally. They numb you to the truth. They numb you to what you should fear. They numb you to the point where you think constituents would be fine with your going to Cancun while 4 million Texans go without power, food and water. Cruz will probably survive this scandal, but be clear about the lesson: The truth will set you free, but the Big Lie puts you in a cage.

Rush Limbaugh's lies will be killing people long after he's in the ground

Unitarian Universalists like me try to remember every day, and put into practice every day, a set of seven principles. I'm telling you this, because the first principle has been on my mind since hearing news of the death of Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing broadcaster. Perhaps no one in the United States, not even Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, is more responsible for poisoning of the public mind, for the revival of fascist collectivism, the tolerance of cruelty and violence, the appetite for meanness, and the near-impossibility of solving social problems everyone faces in this country.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

The first principle of Unitarian Universalism is "the inherent worth and dignity of every person." This isn't dogma. It's a commitment toward a more fully realized morality. Not a private morality, mind you, though that too is important. For Unitarian Universalists like me, morality arises from the bonds of human relations, so we really are indebted to each other even if it's simply seeing, recognizing and honoring our shared humanity. These seven principles, as I see it, are a modern revamp of the ancient pre-Christian creed of doing unto others as I would have done unto me.

You can see why I'm troubled. I would not want anyone to say, after I'm gone, that the country is better off. I would not want anyone to say, after I'm gone, that my legacy can't follow me into the ground fast enough. There is a pronounced tension between my desire to treat everyone equally and speak truthfully about evil men. So I find myself returning to the principles of UUism, not because they will resolve the tension (I don't think it can be), but because thinking about them, setting them side-by-side in this place, in this time for this purpose might be of some use to someone somewhere.

The fourth principle of Unitarian Universalism is "a free and responsible search for truth and meaning." This is designed to be vague so as to apply to every unique person with unique histories and unique ways of understanding the world in which we all live. But as it applies to Rush Limbaugh, that principle takes on a ghastly specificity.

In the beginning of his career, Limbaugh operated in accordance with the "fairness doctrine," a federal rule requiring equal airtime for political opinions. The Ronald Reagan administration did away with that in 1987. Under the old order, Limbaugh had to be responsible. He had to keep up the public square. He had to take care of the truth. Under the new order, he was "liberated" from responsibility. And given this is Rush Limbaugh we're talking about, that meant going to the ends of the earth to make bigotry desirable, sadism acceptable, and most of all lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie and lie. In the process, he got very obscenely rich and spawned three generations of imitators.

He said, per the Times, that "advocates for the homeless were 'compassion fascists,' women who defended abortion rights were 'feminazis,' environmentalists were 'tree-hugging wackos.' He called global warming a hoax and cruelly ridiculed Michael J. Fox, imitating the tremors that were a symptom of the actor's Parkinson's disease." David Neiwert said: "He ran a segment saying he was going to show welfare recipients going about their day, then ran video of apes of various kinds playing and lazing about in a zoo." Chris Hayes said: He presented "a giddy celebration of the deaths of gay people with AIDS set to Dionne Warwick's 'I'll Never Love This Way Again.' (Get it?)" Mehdi Hasan said: He once "played the song 'Barack the Magic Negro' on his show."

Perhaps worst of all, Limbaugh had vast powers to spread lies faster and deeper into the American psyche than anyone else. His radio audience ran into the tens of millions, dwarfing those of all the shows on Fox. He alone could replace political reality with political fiction so embarking on "a free and responsible search for truth and meaning" could inspire one's assassination. Barack Obama was not a citizen. The probe into Donald Trump's ties to Russia was a hoax. The covid is no worse than the flu. Joe Biden stole the election. By the time lung cancer got him, Limbaugh's lies were still killing people long after he helped foment insurrection against the United States.

Naturally, Limbaugh's friends and allies are now reliving memories of the man they remember. But those memories are themselves a product of the Big Lie that the man spent a lifetime building—an "alternate-universe-on-the-air," according to the Times, in which "alternative facts," as Kellyanne Conway once said, are true. Joining the effort to remember him kindly would be in effect refusing to meet lies with facts, and refusing to meet lies with facts would be complicity in the lie. I won't do that as a journalist. I won't do that as a Unitarian Universalist. Honoring "the inherent worth and dignity of every person" calls for holding people responsible for their choices. Limbaugh never once faced accountability in life. Perhaps he will now in death.

Mitch McConnell's very own 'big lie': Here's why we shouldn't blame Democrats for 'botching' Trump impeachment

Sunday is my day of rest, but there's no rest for the weary in the wake of Donald Trump's acquittal by the Senate on the charge of inciting insurrection against the United States. Seven Republicans sided with the prosecution, making the former president's second impeachment trial the most bipartisan in US history. The vote was 57-43, but not enough to reach the two-thirds supermajority needed to convict him.

Trump got off on a "technicality" invented out of thin air by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and endorsed by most of the rest of his conference. That's what Stacey Plaskett told CNN's Jake Tapper this morning. She's one of the Democratic impeachment managers with a bright future ahead of her. And Plaskett was right.

Well, mostly right. I wouldn't call it a technicality. I'd call it a Big Lie. After the vote, McConnell said during a floor speech the Senate could not prosecute and convict a former president. If the article of impeachment were delivered before Joe Biden's inauguration, well, that would've been different, he said. As it was, it was too late. So, he said, prosecuting and convicting Donald Trump would have been unconstitutional.

The Big Lie has two parts, actually. One, McConnell refused to accept delivery of the article of impeachment before Inauguration Day. This is well known, and he failed to mention that in a floor speech blaming the Democrats for failing to get the article to the Senate on time. The other part of the lie is that the question of constitutionality had been settled by a bipartisan vote in the United States Senate. Before Inauguration Day or after—timing of delivery was irrelevant. But McConnell make-believed it was.

"I know that people are feeling a lot of angst and believe that maybe if we had (a witness) the senators would have done what we wanted," Plaskett told Tapper. "But, listen, we didn't need more witnesses. We needed more senators with spines."

Here's what happened with witnesses.

On Friday, CNN reported late in the evening that Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader, had asked Trump to call off rioters storming the United States Capitol on January 6. Trump said no, they aren't my people. They're antifa. McCarthy said, no, they're your people. Then Trump said: "Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." We already knew some of the details, but they were expanded and confirmed by Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican representative, who took detailed notes of the phone call. The impeachment managers were ready to rest their case before CNN's report. Afterward, they said they'd be calling witnesses to testify.

The Senate Republicans saw an opportunity. Some threatened to filibuster any vote to call witnesses. Others said they'd filibuster Joe Biden's Cabinet nominees and virtually anything else his administration wanted. Moreover, the Democrats started to worry about unpredictable news coverage of witnesses, including Beutler herself, and the inevitable threats to her life. Jamie Raskin and the other impeachment managers had already established what the former president was thinking in the middle of the insurgency, that he incited it while at the same time failing to stop it once it began. Calling Beutler to testify was a gamble that might not have produced the desired effect. At the last minute, Raskin reversed course, setting off a firestorm of criticism.

Ralph Nader, Brian Beutler and other prominent lefties are railing against Raskin and the Democrats for caving to Republican intimidation tactics. They are wrong. First, because they do not know what they cannot know, and they cannot know that witness testimony would have moved 43 Republican senators to convict. Walter Shapiro, the dean of American politics who's right on virtually everything as far as I can tell was way out on a limb saying witnesses would have gotten more attention from voters and thus put more pressure on Republicans. There's just no way we can know that's true. Odds are, voters would have been as equally checked out as they were beforehand. Or worse, they would have been rubberneckers to the Senate Republicans' 10-car pile-up.

Ralph Nader, Brian Beutler and other prominent lefties are wrong, second, because they understate the very real risks to calling witnesses, particularly that the Republican could have used the process to muddy and obscure what is and has been an open-and-shut against Trump. Third, because in railing against the Democrats for not following through with legislature procedures they are entitled to follow, they ignore that 43 Republicans are traitors to the republic. That's what we should be talking about.

Moreover, that's what Mitch McConnell himself was admitting. In his floor speech, he excoriated Trump. He blamed him for the insurrection. He was "practically and morally" responsible, McConnell said. The violence was predictable and foreseeable, he said. Trump could have stopped it but chose instead to look on with glee, he said. McConnell sided in every way, shape and form with the Democratic prosecution. (He even used some of the same language they used.) In effect, McConnell said the Democrats did their job. They lived up to their constitutional obligations. The only reason they failed was because Mitch McConnell invented a reason they would.

While it looks like McConnell was trying to have it both ways (defending Trump while seeming principled), what he was really saying is something the rest of us should amplify—that being a traitor to the republic is jim-dandy. Indeed, given how easily it is to debunk his Big Lie, McConnell might not care if the rest of us see him as one. As far as he's concerned, the 43 Republican senators who stand behind a former president who literally committed treason democratically represent and serve the interests of the roughly two-fifths of Americans who would kill off the republic if given half a chance. Don't blame Raskin and the Democrats for trying but failing to hold Trump accountable for his actions. Blame the traitors, all of them, who got in their way.

Senate Republicans humiliated after Trump's bumbling lawyers accidentally expose their authoritarian thinking

I know what Mitch McConnell said, but I'm not a fool. Neither are you. He continues to leak information about "his thinking" to reporters who in turn tell us the Senate minority leader believes a vote for Donald Trump's guilt or innocence is a matter of conscience in his party, not a foregone conclusion anyone with eyes can see coming.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

According to Bloomberg, "his thinking" suggests some of the 44 Republicans, who said with their vote Tuesday night that prosecuting a former president is unconstitutional, could be persuaded to convict him on the strength of the evidence against him.

This is hard to square with a couple of things. One, that McConnell has said openly he's not an impartial juror. Two, that he and all but six Republicans said moving forward was unconstitutional. It does not matter how persuasive the Democratic impeachment managers are. It does not matter how much proof they marshal in support of their allegation. The fix is in. Mitch McConnell is pretending it's not.

Kevin Cramer, from North Dakota, said opponents of the impeachment trial won't likely change their minds. "It's going to be a hard mental trick to convince yourself that, on the one hand, this is an unconstitutional exercise and, on the other hand, I should be open to conviction. That's a pretty tough turn for smart people to make."

Yeah, it's not, though. Smart people who are engaging morally and democratically in a republican government predicated on the universal principles of equality and freedom—in that order—ought to be able to subordinate themselves to the will of the majority. A smart person whose mind is truly open to the world should find little, if any, tension between believing in an answer strongly and conceding that the question is settled.

That's what happened yesterday. Let's be very clear about that. Half a dozen Republicans joined all 50 Democrats to declare in bipartisan fashion that the United States Senate has the constitutional right to prosecute a former president who was impeached during his final days. It's settled. There is no higher authority on these matters. The trial will proceed, lasting seven to 10 days. A smart person should be able to accept that in order to move on to judgment based on the power of the arguments.

What is a "pretty tough turn," however, is voting against proceeding with Trump's trial without being able to point to anyone with a good argument against proceeding with Trump's trial. That, too, happened yesterday. Again, let's be very clear. The former president's attorneys, Bruce Castor and David Schoen, were bad. The former was your great uncle telling a story about the glory days of high-school football while looking for his car keys, forgetting where he was in the story, and starting over from the beginning. The former was … I'm not sure, really. But he was very, very aggrieved.

A smart person whose mind is truly open to the world could conclude the prosecution was good while the defense was bad, the result being victory for the prosecution. That was Bill Cassidy's thinking. The Republican senator from Louisiana was the only one to break from Senator Rand Paul's previous motion holding that Trump's trial was unconstitutional. Cassidy had voted for it, but after witnessing Bruce Castor and David Schoen's incoherence, he decided evidently it was best to base his vote Tuesday on a coherent argument, which the Democrats provided, rather than an incoherent one.

Which is what the Republicans were really complaining about when they complained about Castor's and Schoen's performance. On the one hand, Castor was rambling. On the other, Schoen was gravid with lies. If either of them had offered an argument at least good enough, they might have given 44 Republicans, who already decided to vote against proceeding with the trial, enough cover to disguise the fact they already decided to vote against proceeding with the trial. Instead, their cover was blown. Worse, they were humiliated. They had to magically believe Castor and Schoen persuasively defended Trump even as they complained about their performance.

There is one last thing they could complain about. Castor and Schoen exposed a kind of authoritarian thinking that should be detrimental to Republicans trying hard not to appear authoritarian in a republic increasingly hostile to authoritarianism. Castor and Schoen were unpersuasive. Yet 44 Republicans make-believed they were. That tells us they came to a preferred conclusion—that the Senate can't prosecute Trump—and were seeking means of rationalizing their way back toward that conclusion. Castor and Schoen failed to provide that means, revealing 44 Republicans as intellectual frauds.

It's more than dishonesty, though. In refusing to concede to settled questions—whether it's the constitutionality of prosecuting a former president or whether Donald Trump should remain president—the Republicans are being antidemocratic but also disrespectful of things everyone else respects. They don't recognize the authority of a democratic majority, of a democratic process or of empirical reality itself, because they won't. They refuse to. The authority they recognize is theirs. They are hard at work acting like they believe in this thing called a republic. You don't have to believe it.

This is what Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jim Jordan are really afraid of

Last night, nearly a dozen Republicans joined all the Democrats in the House to strip Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Donald Trump protégé from Georgia, of her committee appointments, in particular her place on the powerful House Budget Committee. This was in response to her incendiary speech and fear-mongering before taking office. In effect, they neutralized her. If you don't have a seat at the table, especially the big government money table, you don't have much in the way of leverage or bargaining.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

You could say, however, this was her second neutralization. The first she did herself. As Jonathan Bernstein noted this morning, it's not like Greene went to Washington to govern. Her role is demagogic. Leverage and bargaining, bills and laws—these are beside the point. The main point is creating conditions in which she can appear to be in a near-total state of persecution to speak for Americans who feel the same way.

Constituents from Georgia's most conservative corner didn't send her to the United States Congress to represent them, to fight for their interests or their share of the big government money, to "bring home the bacon." They sent her to Capitol Hill to die on that hill, like Jesus Christ on the Cross at Calvary, in order to reenact the suffering of God's chosen at the hands of His enemies. Her job is to manufacture crisis in the absence of one. "The whole point of evangelicalism is that you get to constantly be persecuted," said Chrissy Stroop, "and you enjoy moral superiority from that."

A worldview in which you're always persecuted is a worldview in which you're never responsible, because being responsible would mean you're possibly to blame, which is impossible, because the persecuted are always blameless. Acting out some measure of contrition, when absolutely forced to, is an opportunity to show why you're always persecuted. Before the vote last night, Greene said she was being wrongfully accused, and because of that, the Democrats should be apologizing to her, not the other way around, which totally makes sense given they're the enemies of God's chosen people.

"I was allowed to believe things that weren't true, and I would ask questions about them and talk about them, and that is absolutely what I regret," Greene said. "Because if it weren't for the Facebook posts and comments that I liked in 2018, I wouldn't be standing here today, and you couldn't point a finger and accuse me of anything wrong."

A worldview in which you're accountable to God only, rather than to people of equal worth and dignity with whom you share responsibility in human affairs, is a worldview inherently hostile to a free republic. It will not tolerate diverse interests, nor will it tolerate a republic's tendency to flatten hierarchies of power and privilege. But "demographic change," as the thinking goes, is not the only reason for this hostility.

Marjorie Taylor Greene did not go to Washington to represent the will of the people, because, to God's chosen, representing the will of "the people" is an abomination. Authority does not arise from below, from the consent of the governed. It descends from above, from God. It doesn't matter to Greene that she was removed from committees—that the tools of lawful democratic engagement with other human beings worthy of dignity and respect were taken away—because democracy is the problem. To engage democratically in a republic of equals is to make nice with the enemy.

Jim Jordan, the House Republican, made a lot of noise the day before Thursday's vote. On Fox, he portrayed accountability for Greene as a "slippery slope." "Who's next?" he said. If the Democrats "keep attacking people, their First Amendment free speech rights, where does it end? … It won't stop with Republicans. It'll go to all of us. If we don't stop it now, every single American is at risk. And that's what concerns me."

Jordan, Greene and most of the rest of the Republicans do fear a slippery slope, but it's not a slippery slope into tyranny. It's a slippery slope into freedom—for all. What they aim to preserve is a social hierarchy that protects but does not bind the privileged few while it binds but does not protect the unprivileged many. What they want is a state in which the small in-group and the huge out-group are separate and unequal. What they fear is a slippery slope threatening to bring liberty and justice to everyone else.

Marjorie Taylor Greene has torn the mask off the GOP and exposed its true purpose

I mentioned Marjorie Taylor Greene in passing this week, just long enough to say people like her can be trusted completely to piss on the graves of murdered children. The representative from Georgia has since accumulated quite a news cycle, thanks to some great sleuthing by CNN and others. I'm compelled to return, though I'd prefer not to, because she's quickly taking on the form of an emblem, one capturing all in one person the essence of the Republican Party and its twin politics of sadism and masochism.

As you may know by now, Greene is the loudest and most prominent advocate for the QAnon conspiracy theory in the United States Congress. That's the idea that the Democrats, and pretty much anyone Donald Trump considered to be an enemy, are in cahoots with a global cabal of satanist cannibalistic pedophiles. Turns out, however, that QAnon lie was just for starters. A look at her long digital footprint before she took office last year reveals there was no smear, falsehood or lie she did not like, adopt, promote or advance. Like her mentor, the one-term twice-impeached former and fascist president, there's nothing Greene won't say to take power and keep it.

Sadism is the ability some people have of seeing suffering—of recognizing it—but adding to it by denying it.

After CNN and others dug up old videos of Greene stalking and harassing a teenager who survived the Parkland massacre as well as endorsing on social media "a bullet to the head" as a solution to Nancy Pelosi, the focus of the Washington press corps has turned to whether the House Republican leaders will punish Greene the way they punished former Congressman Steve King for his white-power comments. Apparently not. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy promised a talking-to. Steve Scalise, the whip, denounced her remarks. Liz Cheney, the conference chair, did too. But unlike King, who was stripped of his committee appointments, Greene has so far gotten off scot-free. The takeaway? Though Trump is gone, his grip on the Republicans remains iron.

This takeaway, however, presumes something true about the Republicans that's false. What presumption? That the Republicans would participate in the governing of the country if they didn't fear the wrath of the former president, his minions in the Congress, and his loose network of white-power vigilantes prepared to take the law into their own hands. That totally misunderstands the point of being a Republican.

The point of being a Republican is not accomplishing things for the greater good of the country. The point is creating conditions in which accomplishing things for the greater good is impossible. If the point were constructive, rather than destructive, they would have accomplished more than they did when they controlled the government for two years. Virtually all they did was pass tax cuts benefiting the very obscenely rich. They lost control after 2018, but that didn't matter. They had the Senate to mass-produce federal judges. Their current job is the same one they had in 2010, before Trump, which is the same one they will have if they retake the House: sabotage.

The Republicans can't come out and say sabotage is their reason for being. So they became adept at wrapping it in respectable mantles with which to convince the press corps that no, they don't intend to starve poor people to death; they just have a difference of opinion over the responsible use of government funding. Doing all that work surely took the fun out of hurting people. The difference Trump made in the Republican Party is that. He took the party's inherent sadism and went public.

Now hurting people is fun! Not only that, it's rewarding! Greene built a following out of saying the most hurtful things she could, for instance, telling David Hogg, who witnessed the murder of his classmates, that his real motive in seeking gun reform is canceling her Second Amendment rights, that his suffering is a fraud intended to replace her, that his presence in the world endangers her. Sadism is the ability some have of seeing suffering—of recognizing it—but adding to it by denying it. Greene isn't facing punishment because why should she? She's doing what she's supposed to do.

Being out in the open with their sadism like this means the Democrats are freed from the obligation of listening to Republican demands. (Chuck Schumer said this week the Democrats will not be suckered the way they were suckered during the Obama years.) That means the Republicans lose twice. They don't get anything they want, presuming they want something constructive, and they can't sabotage the Democrats anymore. That's going to hurt their constituents in various ways, but don't take that as reason for hoping the GOP will reform itself. The more pain constituents feel, the more pain they will demand from others. They will hurt themselves if that means hurting you.

Trump's second impeachment trial in the Senate is more meaningful than you think

It's one thing for normal people to question the patriotism of Republicans going to the wall for Donald Trump. It's another, however, for a president who beat him by 7 million votes amid a ballot-haul greater than any candidate in our history. Joe Biden speaks softly, but through the biggest bullhorn the world has known. With enough time and repetition, most people most of the time are going to see things his way.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

In a presser Tuesday, the president gave an update on the government's progress in containing the covid pandemic, particularly, his goal of distributing 100 million shots in 100 days. Biden stressed the importance of masks in stopping the virus. In doing so, he singled out a House Republican. "He used a very colorful term to say, 'Wearing a mask, tell them to kiss my ear, I'm not going to wear a mask.' Well, guess what? Not very American. The fact is, you want to be patriotic, you're going to protect people."

In fact, Chip Roy, of Texas, tweeted "kiss my ass" in early December when, for the first time, Biden proposed a national mask mandate. In response to being singled out, the congressman said Tuesday his choice of words wasn't very Christian but it was indeed American. That a Republican from Texas—from Texas—is defending his patriotism, instead of his patriotism being taken for granted, is really something to marvel at. Biden is putting him, and people flouting mask requirements, on the other side of safety and commonsense, but also on the other side of loving one's country. He's sorting Americans into baskets. One for patriots. And one for "deplorables."

It's tempting to say Roy is a phony. However, we'd be missing something important if we left it at that. What if he means it? He says he's a patriot, as do the 200 other House Republicans who voted against indicting Trump on a charge of inciting insurrection against the United States. Ditto for the 45 Republicans senators who voted Tuesday against moving forward with Trump's impeachment trial. (They lost.) Let's assume they mean it when they say they're fighting for the love of country. The question then becomes: what kind of country do they love? What kind of country do they protect?

When framed this way, it's clear the difference between Biden and Roy isn't a one of "real" patriotism versus "fake" patriotism but one of competing patriotisms. For Biden, it's love of the whole nation, the actual America, the one we can see and touch and smell. For Roy? If I were to guess, I'd say, as I have many times before (sorry!), that he's fighting for an wholly imagined "nation" inside the real nation, a place where "real Americans" believe they are ordained by God to rule the country in His name.

The difference between these patriotisms was hard to see as long as democracy lent itself to these confederate ends. But democracy and its institutions over the last two decades, especially, has gotten in the way. It has given rights, privileges and political power to people the confederates believe are undeserving of them. Democracy, in giving rights, privileges and political power to undeserving people, is taking something away from "real Americans" ordained by God to dominate the rest of the real America. To defend democracy now is to be complicit in one's own mugging.

The difference between these patriotisms was also hard to see as long as the Democrats trusted the Republicans to act in good faith. Before Trump ascended to power (before the Republicans looked away while a foreign government sabotaged his Democratic rival), the Democrats believed it was important to work with the Republicans in order to serve the whole country, not just its constituent parts. They appear to have learned their lesson from the era of the first Black president. They appear ready to do what they think is right, regardless of what the GOP thinks.

More importantly, I think, they have maneuvered the Republicans into a position in which they are forced to declare their true loyalties—not to the real America for which we should all stand but to a white confederacy dedicated to creating a nation by which the in-group is protected but unbound by law while the out-group is bound but unprotected. The Republicans worked to convict a Democratic president for lying to a grand jury (Bill Clinton), but they are poised to acquit a Republican president for treasonable acts. This is separate and unequal writ large. Yet this might not now be obvious had the Democrats decided to move on "for the benefit of the country."

Even if acquitted, impeaching Trump is meaningful for another reason. Two hundred and forty-six out of 261 Republicans say, in effect, that treason's okie-dokie if you're a Republican. So the Democrats can safely ignore their demands, because there's nothing but downside to negotiating with terrorists and their confederate enablers. That means the GOP, if "owning the libs" remains a goal in itself, risks getting nothing. They might actually like that. Getting nothing from the Democrats feeds into their larger story of Republican fascists being the real victims, and so on. Will that bring them back to power in time? How long can they put up with getting nothing?

Prison time for Trump is the way to stop GOP's descent into fascism

The Washington Post released the transcript Sunday of the president's Saturday phone call with Georgia's secretary of state. The document is a thicket of conspiracy theory, threats and lies. We'll be talking about it for some time. For now, however, I think it's important to focus on one big thing, which is this: Donald Trump broke the law.

I'm not an attorney. I'm not a judge. I'm not a professor of law. But any commonsense yet critical reading of this transcript, done in good faith, should come to the same conclusion. There's one reason and one reason only for a president who lost Georgia to be hounding that state's top election official. There's one reason and one reason only for the president to insist he won the state only to have Brad Raffensperger, the official in question, politely but firmly correct him each and every time. There's one reason and one reason only: to vandalize the supreme sovereignty of the American people.

Federal statute: It is punishable by fine or up to five years in prison for "a person" to "knowingly and willfully" deprive, defraud, or attempt to deprive or defraud "the residents of a state of a fair and impartially conducted election process."

That's the only conclusion. Raffensperger's office recounted the vote three times, once by hand, each time with the same result. Joe Biden won by 11,779 votes. His office has explained itself to the state House of Representatives. It has explained itself to the state Senate. His office, together with the Georgia General Assembly, has certified the vote. Georgia's electors, along with those of 49 other states, convened Dec. 14 to certify the national Electoral College vote. All but one of Trump's lawsuits have been tossed. (One is pending in state court.) All that remains is for the US Congress to sign off.

Every "i" has been dotted. Every "t" has been crossed. Yet here's the president of the United States calling a state official directly. (Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and three White House attorneys were also on the line.) Why did he call? Only an idiot would ask why. The right question is what federal statutes were violated? I'll leave that to attorneys, judges and law professors, but even 52 U.S. Code § is subject to a commonsense reading. It is punishable by fine or up to five years in prison for "a person" to "knowingly and willfully" deprive, defraud, or attempt to deprive or defraud "the residents of a state of a fair and impartially conducted election process."

Some will quibble about criminal intent. I don't see why. There's one reason and one reason only for a president to call a state election official after every "i" has been dotted and every "t" has been crossed. But, OK, fine. The president said: "So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state." This is as explicit as it's going to get for a man who talks like a mobster. Again, however, this is insulting to everyone's intelligence. Trump tells us what he's going to do. He tells us why. Then he does it. The appropriate response is not asking whether he did something, and why. It's how he should be punished.

The point isn't Trump. The point is putting a damper on raw political incentive. The raw political incentive right now is for the Republican Party to go all-in. Dozens of GOP lawmakers in the US Congress, including a handful of senators, are now planning to object to the certification of the Electoral College vote. That will trigger a phony debate that won't change the outcome. (Biden will be president.) But just because they won't succeed this time in overturning a lawful presidential election doesn't mean they won't succeed next time. All they'd need right now is control of the US House. Do we have good reason to trust they won't do the unthinkable next time around? I don't see it.

The best way to dampen political incentive is prison time. Impeachment won't suffice. We've already seen what the Republicans are willing to do even when faced with a Republican president's treasonable conduct. (All bets are off, however, if two Senate seats from George flip after tomorrow's runoff election.) Sure, Trump might pardon himself, but that would almost certainly trigger a legal challenge from the next US attorney general. (The US Supreme Court would have to decide if a president is or is not above the law; I'm guessing it would choose the latter.) It seems to me the US Department of Justice must act no matter what. Democracy would benefit from it.

Buying off fascist voters : What Josh Hawley is teaching us

Josh Hawley is the junior US senator from Missouri. He made news this morning, saying he'd help the president in his attempt to stay in power by objecting to the certification of electors on Jan. 6. That means the US Senate will debate the merits of the allegations, which are nil, before voting to approve the Electoral College vote.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

Hawley is expected to be one of the leading GOP candidates in the 2024 election. The conventional wisdom says he's doing this to get as much attention as he can from Donald Trump's loyalest supporters. While I'm usually skeptical of the conventional wisdom, I think it's right this time. Hawley isn't going to the wall for Trump. In the end, he'll vote to approve Joe Biden's victory. This is sound and fury, but also nothing.

What's interesting, I think, is Hawley's opposition to Mitch McConnell—or at least the appearance of opposition. The Senate majority leader does not want to go through this song and dance, but instead get on with the business of sabotaging the new president's administration. McConnell knows Hawley's gambit will fail, and fears failing to stop what the president is calling a stolen election might harm Kelly Loeffler's and David Perdue's reelection prospects, which will determine which party controls the Senate.

Hawley opposes, or at least appears to oppose, McConnell is another way. The top congressional Republican does not support giving each American $2,000 per month in covid-related economic relief, because Americans who are suffering are more likely to blame the guy in charge, which is to say Joe Biden, than they are the Republican Party. McConnell did the same thing to Barack Obama. When the former president asked the Republicans for help rebuilding America in the wake of the 2007-2008 financial panic, McConnell said his first priority was making sure Obama was a one-term president.

Hawley, however, does support the House bill appropriating $2,000 per person. And he's not alone. Loeffler and Perdue, who are fighting for their lives in next month's runoffs in Georgia, also support the expenditure. So does Marco Rubio, who's likely to be competing with Hawley in 2024. So what we have here is evidence of the incentive for Republicans to use the government to help Americans who are suffering. One in five people, according to one estimate, don't have enough money to buy enough food. This tack is very different, as I said, from McConnell's preferred tactic, which is to allow widespread suffering if and when suffering lends itself to achieving Republican goals.

But not just any American. Only a fool would believe Hawley and the others care about every one of us. Only a fool would believe they are genuinely concerned about political inequality and its erosion of liberal democracy, freedom and self-government. No, what we're seeing is the Republicans, or some Republicans gesturing broadly, who are sloughing off the old plutocratic ways and embracing a kind of conservative socialism, which is say, the exclusive sort akin to the compromises of the New Deal, in which the government took the side of the common man as long as the common man was white.

Appearances, however, can be deceiving. Trump was also good at appearing to side with the (white) common man before doing pretty much everything in his power to help the very obscenely rich become even more very obscenely rich. That said, he did prove something useful to ambitious Republicans like Josh Hawley: money talks. Specifically, direct cash payments talk. The president hurt farmers with his absurd trade war with China, but offset the pain by funneling billions in subsidies their way. In the past, a Republican might have drawn fire from his party for being so openly profligate. Trump, however, proved fiscal conservatism was a lie. It can be set aside when it's convenient to. Meanwhile, he gave the GOP whatever it wanted (tax cuts, judges, deregulation, etc.). Hawley and McConnell might not be antipodes after all.

Ironically, I think, it's Hawley who's proving something—to the Democrats. The lesson is that fascist GOP voters are, far from being opposed to the federal government's "intervention" into the economy and their personal lives, increasingly open to the idea. As I said, one in five people aren't getting enough to eat, according to one estimate. That's about 50 million Americans, a number that no doubt includes a whole lot of Trump voters. Fascist voters get hungry, too, perhaps so hungry they'd even tolerate liberal democracy empowering Americans they don't like as long as they get a cut.

Which is why McConnell seems poised to lose after he wins. He's winning now. He's blocking, at the behest of his conference, the House bill appropriating $2,000 per person. But I suspect he's going to lose later. Biden has said the last round of economic stimulus was a "down payment." He expects more relief next year. Forty-four House Republicans favor it. Hawley et al. do, too. By the time of Biden's inauguration, the pandemic's death toll could be 5,000 a day. All things being equal, the momentum could be in his favor. If so, Biden and his Democratic Party will get most of the credit, and in the process, they will have bought off many of Donald Trump's fascist voters.

All the better for democracy.

John Stoehr is the editor and publisher of the Editorial Board, a newsletter about politics in plain English for normal people and the common good. He's a visiting assistant professor of public policy at Wesleyan University, a fellow at the Yale Journalism Initiative, a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly, and a contributing editor for Religion Dispatches.

Republicans won ‘the war on Christmas’ -- the result is zero empathy for 300K dead Americans

I think the point of wishing someone a happy holiday season is rooted in one of the themes of Christmas—peace on earth and good will toward all humanity. In other words, empathy. It's a simple consideration for people who might not recognize the messiah but who nonetheless enjoy much-deserved downtime during this time of year. Even the most conservative Christian can understand the virtue in "Happy Holidays."

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

At the same time, many conservative Christians, but especially white evangelical Protestants (WEPs), are told they inhabit a world that persecutes the faithful for believing God sent to earth his only begotten son to redeem the world of Man. Obviously, no one is martyred anymore. Not obvious is that modernity, or modern life, has become a stand-in for Roman Emperors purging the empire of the Cult of Jesus. The more the United States "progresses," assuming that it does such a thing, the more WEPs believe a country that's rightfully theirs to dominate is turning against them.

So right away there is a tension between feeling the need to be generous of heart toward one's fellow human beings during a season invoking peace on earth and good will toward all humanity, and the need to see oneself as being persecuted (because the very idea of being persecuted for one's beliefs has been stitched in one's identity as a Bible-believing Christian). This tension has always been more or less precariously balanced, but it could no longer be balanced, precariously or otherwise, after Fox News and other right-wing propaganda outlets decided to invent a scandal out of thin air.

I'm talking, of course, about "the war on Christmas." It is many things, all of them steeped in bad faith, but most of it is this: the more people say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas," the more persecuted WEPs feel. The more persecuted WEPs feel, the more they're justified in doing anything necessary to "take back their country" from "cultural Marxism," etc. "The war on Christmas" predates Donald Trump by at least a decade. But many WEPs believe God sent the president to save them, according to political scientist Matthew Wilson. "Some evangelicals really do see Trump as an instrument of the Divine Plan," he said. "It stems in large part from the fact that evangelicals see their ideal of America as a godly commonwealth in existential danger." The "war on Christmas" is, therefore, part of another war. On empathy, for one thing.

The decades-long radicalization of the Republican Party has created conditions in which Republicans feel "strong social pressure" to reject the outcome of a lawful democratic election, according to political scientist Elizabeth C. Connors. Similarly, the GOP's radicalization has created conditions in which any gesture of empathy, large or small, is forbidden. They are seen as weakness, betrayal or something equally bad. When God is on your side, He's not on theirs. To feel empathy, therefore—even just wishing someone a "Happy Holiday"—is to stand against God.

For this reason, no one should take "the war on Christmas" lightly. Everyone who cares about the fate of the nation should see it as a deep-seated expression of native-born fascism, which is to say, an outgrowth of the long and soft civil war against our democratic republic. "The war on Christmas" isn't silly. It isn't trivial. It is part of a broader context in which huge swathes of the population reject not only reality but their obligation to other human beings such that the covid pandemic can kill three thousand Americans a day and people are still arguing over whether it's a hoax.

For some, the way to cultivate empathy is to get people to see what the covid does to the body. Maybe then they'd feel more good will toward humanity. "Patients often grow ashen as their body struggles for nutrients," wrote the Post's William Wan and Brittany Shammas. "Their skin becomes mottled with splotches of reddish purple as their heart pumps less and less blood to parts of the body that need it. Often, the room is eerily empty, with nurses and doctors trying to minimize risk of infection. The only constant is the low, steady hum of an oxygen compressor piping air to the patient's nostrils. Amid the silent void, the patients' dying breaths become magnified.

"The hardest thing about it is how alone they are in the end," said Joan Schaum, a nurse with Hospice & Community Care in Lancaster, Pa.

This presumes two things. One, that WEPs and others will derive from empathy the motivation to do more to stop the spread of the covid. However, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, "white evangelical Protestants are the only religious group more likely to say that the outbreak was inevitable (55%) than to say it could have been controlled better (44%)." You can't stop a plague sent down by God, especially since doing so might feel like a betrayal of the leader whom God sent.

Two, that WEPs and others recognize the commonality between people. Fact is, most of them don't. More precisely, most of them won't. To recognize the common purpose between members of a political community such as the United States is to accept that other people have valid and legitimate political interests, which opens the door to thinking God might love people who you believe are persecuting your belief in God. That's a place they will never go, because it challenges their core religious identity.

Witnessing what the covid does to the body is not going to elicit empathy. Indeed, it might radicalize "God's chosen people" more than they already are. For this reason, and in light of the death toll that continues to mount, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that it's over. The Republican Party, and WEPs, have won the "war on Christmas."

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