To understand the American authoritarian mind, look to evangelical Christianity

Michelle Goldberg is a superlative Times columnist. To my way of thinking, she's a quintessential liberal. I mean that in ways positive and negative. Positive in that she's a warrior for liberty, morality and self-government. Negative in that Goldberg does not, and probably cannot, understand the authoritarian mind, nor its perennial threat to us. Liberals are right to have sympathy for the devil. But there's such a thing as too much.

In her newest column, Goldberg talked about her experience reading Michael Bender's book about the 2020 presidential election, Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost. Bender, who's a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, recounts not only "White House disarray and Trump's terrifying impulses," Goldberg writes, but "the people who followed Trump from rally to rally like authoritarian Deadheads."

Bender's description of these Trump superfans, who called themselves the "front-row Joes," is sympathetic but not sentimental. Above all, he captures their pre-Trump loneliness. … There are many causes for the overlapping dysfunctions that make contemporary American life feel so dystopian, but loneliness is a big one.

Goldberg suggests strongly that loneliness might be the cause of the current drift in the United States toward authoritarianism. She quotes The Week's Damon Linker, who cites Hannah Arendt: "Lonely people are drawn to totalitarian ideologies." "'The chief characteristic of the mass man is not brutality and backwardness, but his isolation and lack of normal social relationships,' Arendt said in The Origins of Totalitarianism, describing those who gave themselves over to all-encompassing mass movements."

I love Arendt, but she's wrong here. She has things in reverse. I don't know if the chief characteristic of the mass man is brutality and backwardness, but I do know that loneliness is the result of brutality and backwardness. In other words, authoritarianism causes alienation, not the other way around. Democracy does not, and cannot, constitute "normal social relationships" to the authoritarian way of thinking, because democracy, to the authoritarian way of thinking, is a moral perversion of the natural order of things, which is to say, "normal social relationships": God over Man, men over women, black over white, etc. Democracy always runs against the grain of "God's law." The authoritarian is always already alienated—from her nation but mostly from herself.

Goldberg cites the American Enterprise Institute's Daniel Cox, who found a link between loneliness and support for the disgraced former president. The "share of Americans who are more socially disconnected from society is on the rise," Cox said. "And these voters disproportionately support Trump." His survey found that "17 percent of Americans said they had not a single person in their 'core social network.'" He added that these "socially disconnected voters were far more likely to view Trump positively and support his re-election than those with more robust personal networks."

Like I said, Michelle Goldberg is a quintessential liberal. She's reading Cox's findings as loneliness causing authoritarianism. It's the reverse, though. How can I be so sure? If loneliness causes authoritarianism, what are potential solutions? Among them would be more social networks, more community, more human bonding, and so on, right?

Guess what? White evangelical Protestants are very social, very communal and very bonded by religion and conviction. God over Man, men over women, black over white, etc.—God's law is the basis for their "normal social relationships." White evangelical Protestants are, moreover, united by their collective authoritarian belief that they have been chosen by God to rule America in God's name for the purpose of hastening the End Times, so that anything is justified as long as it serves Him. Put more plainly, nothing matters but authority and power. There are plenty of lonely people in this world, but making them less lonely isn't going to make many of them less fascist.

How can the authoritarian be alienated from her nation but especially herself while at the same time appear to find connection in communities like white evangelical Protestants? That's a very good question! It gets to the heart of the real problem. The authoritarian mind is taught to never ever ever come to its own conclusions about the world. Truth is whatever Dear Leader says, not what your eyes and ears tell you. This "education" begins before birth and lasts a lifetime. As a consequence, there's no such thing as independent thinking. There's no such thing as freedom of choice. In the collective, there's no such thing as you. As a result, you will always be lonely. Big rallies might seem communal, but they're illusory. You're filling a hole that can't be filled.

Goldberg again cited Hannah Arendt who "described people shaken loose from any definite place in the world as being at once deeply selfish and indifferent to their own well-being: 'Self-centeredness, therefore, went hand in hand with a decisive weakening of the instinct for self-preservation.'" Goldberg said the pandemic did that. It shook people loose from "any definite place in the world." No, it didn't. The covid, the lockdowns, the isolation—these did affect authoritarian minds like they did all other minds. The difference, however, is that the authoritarian mind was already shaken loose from its definite place. And their always already-present anxiety rose to ever more feverish pitches the more democracy prepared to overthrow their fuhrer. We should not ease this mind with sympathy. We should break it with more democracy.

Again, it's the reverse. Being "shaken loose from any definite place in the world" does not necessarily make you "deeply selfish and indifferent to their own well-being." Not if you're already there. If so, already being "deeply selfish and indifferent to their own well-being" is what shakes you loose "from any definite place in the world." Indeed, you aren't selfish so much as selfless in the most literal sense, as in there's no daylight between you and the collective. You have no sense of self-preservation because you never developed a self to preserve. This makes it very easy for authoritarian people to throw their lives away for the leader. And that's what Michael Bender's reporting shows.

"Toward the end of Bender's book, Saundra reappears," writes Goldberg, referring to a Trump supporter mentioned earlier. "She'd just been at the Capitol for the Jan. 6 insurrection and seemed ready for more. 'Tell us where we need to be, and we just drop everything and we go,' she says. 'Nobody cares about if they have to work. Nobody cares about anything.'1 If you give people's life meaning, they'll give you everything." I don't know why we should read this in any way that's not literal. Saundra says she doesn't care about anything, because she doesn't. Sympathy won't change that.

The thing about quintessential liberals like Michelle Goldberg is they don't imagine, probably because they can't imagine, human relationships completely devoid of the principle of political equality between and among individuals. They can't imagine being uncertain of who they are in the absence of authority. When you don't or can't imagine such a life, the authoritarian mind can seem so confounding that you search for some concrete reason for its suicidal behavior. To the liberal, loneliness seems to be rational cause for authoritarianism. The truth, however, is far uglier, scarier and more dangerous to democracy than most people, not just liberals, seem to know. Nothing causes authoritarianism. It has always been here. It always will be here.

The cynicism in much of the American press plays right into the GOP's hands

Earlier this month, I introduced you to the concept of the Very Serious Debate Club. This is about half the pundit corps in Washington, I guessed, columnists and talking heads who believe everything in politics is as good or bad as everything else, and that nothing matters except whether or not they appear to be on the winning side. They are immensely clever, highly educated, almost always born successful and hence respected. At the same time, they don't really care about much of anything they say, because the point of debate isn't being wrong or right but instead the glorification of the debater.

In short, they are cynical, opportunistic and amoral. If politics has clear moral sides—for instance, whether free and fair elections are central to the identity of a country like ours that claims to be a democracy—members of the Very Serious Debate Club will strive mightily to ascertain ways of muddying up the moral picture so that those who do take sides seem to be the real culprits since extreme points of view, however moral or immoral, are presumed bad bad bad, even if an extreme view is pro-democracy.

The president took a clear moral side in a speech Tuesday. He went so far as to name the enemies of the republic. "There's an unfolding assault taking place in America today, an attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote in fair and free elections," Joe Biden said. "An assault on democracy, an assault on liberty, an assault on who we are as Americans. … Bullies and merchants of fear, peddlers of lies are threatening the very foundation of our country.1 It gives me no pleasure to say this. … But I swore an oath to you, to God, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. That's an oath that forms a sacred trust to defend America against all threats, both foreign and domestic."

The speech arose from efforts by state Republicans to codify into state law Donald Trump's Big Lie about voter fraud being the reason he lost the 2020 presidential election. Anyone reading between the lines, which is to say anyone can read between these lies, could see that Trump and the Republicans are those domestic threats.

This provoked a fiery response from Henry Olsen, a columnist for the Post who I normally regard as a conservative but harmless polemicist—"harmless" in the sense that he occasionally said fascism was bad during Trump's one and only term. But it appears I was wrong. In his column on Wednesday, Olsen wrote that the president is just as bad as the former president in that his speech was "demagogic and dangerous."

It's bad enough that Trump is telling his minions he won the election, causing them to distrust our elections process. Biden's overheated accusations push his followers to the same conclusion. We can't have a functioning democracy if activists in both parties neither trust nor accept the outcome. Next year's elections will be free and fair in every state, just as they were in 2020. It's a shame that Biden, who says he wants to heal the country, is instead adding his voice to those that tear it down.

This is what the Very Serious Debate Club does so very well. It takes an immoral act—like restricting universal suffrage in states like Georgia with "election integrity measures" designed to address a theoretical crime that does not exist in any way meaningful to election outcomes—and equates it with a moral act—in this case, Biden demanded that the Congress pass two pieces of legislation that would shore up and expand voting rights as maximally as possible. These two things are not the same. That fact is obvious to any morally sentient being. But the Very Serious Debate Club makes a living pretending simple things are complex, complex things are simple, and in the process invents a "moderate position" that adds partisan heat but no political light.

Olsen adds his own twist by accepting without thinking the Republican position with respect to "election integrity measures" (those are his actual words) and by soft-balling what Georgia's election laws actually do. Read it for yourself, but I found the biggest holler to be when he said this is one of the most expansive voting access laws in the world. Sure! If you ignore completely the fact, according to Post's Peter Stevenson, that they expand "voter access, particularly in ways that will be visible in rural areas"! In other words, according to Stevenson's explanation of Georgia's laws, they are likely to make voting "disproportionately more difficult for poorer voters and voters of color."

That Olsen has to reach for fraud to make a case that the president's speech was "demagogic and dangerous" suggests it takes a dangerous demagogue to know a dangerous demagogue (meaning Olsen). But I don't think he is. I think he's just another member of the Very Serious Debate Club. He's clever enough to see that Biden's speech is a time for the old canard. "Making the GOP the fall guy for Trump's despicable post-election lies—and claiming the party is anti-democratic as a result—seems to be their solution," he said. "This may not succeed with the people they need the most: the educated suburbanites who used to vote Republican before Trump."

So—don't get mad at the Republicans for their immoral behavior or you might end up losing Republican voters who are not nearly as mad. That's not just a canard. That's a deeply cynical canard, which is why the Very Serious Debate Club, even though its members include plenty of liberals, is fundamentally in the service of the Republicans. The more Americans believe that nothing matters, that the game is rigged and that morality has nothing to do with winning, the worse things are for normal people and the common good, which is better for the Republicans. That's why the right and patriotic response to the Very Serious Debate Club is democratic contempt.

Republicans are caught flat-footed as Biden makes inroads to the heart of Trumpism's appeal

The GOP has been historically against sending money directly to people. They are ideologically opposed to it, but there are practical partisan considerations, too. When a majority of normal people receive aid and comfort from the government, a majority of normal people tends to think highly of it and, in turn, support that government with votes. The Republicans are not stupid. They know that means the Democrats win.

For this reason, it was a stroke of genius, I would say, that the president and the Congressional Democrats built into the American Relief Plan Act the ability to send advance child tax credit payments directly to normal people's bank accounts. To be clear, the amount of money isn't that much more than what the status quo had been. Americans with kids over 6 had gotten $2,000 per kid; now they get $3,000. But because all this was sorted out at tax time, most people didn't feel it the way they are now feeling it this week as direct payments arrive. I'm guessing lots of people did not even know the cash was coming until they checked their accounts and their eyes popped out.

You can't buy that kind of reaction. Nor can you buy the partisan loyalty that comes with it. You can only do that by thinking politically, which is why the Republicans, even when they come out in favor of "welfare," always insist that it be built into the federal tax code so that people don't really feel the government's support, as it's all wrapped up with getting tax returns filed. In truth, some people might end up owing the government, depending on their earnings for that year. But that won't change the impact being felt this week. At tax time, they'll be too busy getting their taxes done.

The Republicans are responding by raising the boogeyman of "Big Government." I won't bother quoting anyone. (Fine, if you insist, google "Marsha Blackburn"). But the boogeyman isn't what he used to be. It was based on two linked ideas. One, that there's only so much money to go around. Two, that undeserving (non-white) Americans are cheating deserving (white) Americans out of their fair share. The GOP dominated most of the last 50 years with that linked combo. The covid pandemic unlinked it. The government had to step in. It had to float the economy. Sure, there are still white people worried about being cheated, who oppose non-white people getting any help. But plenty more won't care as long as they are getting their fair share. They are.

Advance payments being sent directly to the bank accounts of normal people are probably going to scramble the effect of the Republican's rhetoric. Think about it. The disgraced former president pretty much campaigned on the idea that you better vote for me or the far-left socialist-communist-totalitarian Democrats are going to win, tank the economy and send us all to the bread lines. All that nonsense was really racist coding. They wouldn't dare smear Barack Obama as a Black man but they did call him a socialist when they weren't calling him a food-stamp president, a post-colonial Kenyan Marxist or denying that he was an American at all. Dog-whistling (or bull-horning) is highly effective when there's a widespread belief that there's only so much money to go around. The pandemic changed that. There is plenty of money with the right political will. And that political will is not coming from the Republican Party.

I don't think the Republicans quite understand this. I don't think most people quite understand the inroads being made by Joe Biden and the Democrats into "populist" terrain previously held by the disgraced former president. Again, think about it. Donald Trump tapped into that great populist strain that's always already present in American politics. He invoked the powerful and enduring image of "the common man." He got average Joes to think of themselves in hard opposition to political elites in both parties. (Hillary Clinton was Trump's antipode. Mitch McConnell is.) At the end of the day, though, he never delivered for "the common man." Not even once. To be sure, he delivered a "good feeling" of seeing "us" stomping "them." But he never delivered materially, not in ways Joe Biden and the Congressional Democrats are delivering, soon with a $4.1 trillion infrastructure package, now with cash money.

Steve Bannon, though evil, was astute when he insisted at the beginning of the former president's one and only term that he push for a $1 trillion infrastructure package. According to Trump's then-advisor, that was key to Trump's "economic nationalism" and to cementing his hold on "the white working class." He said that while the Democrats mewled and puled about racism—what we would now call "cancel culture" and "wokeness"—the president, as "tribune of the people," would deliver in ways no Republican president delivered before, thus rewriting the rules of Washington. That never happened, obviously. For one thing, Bannon got the boot. For another, the Republicans in the Congress didn't want any of that. They kneecapped the president, leaving in their wake endless jokes about the imminence of "Infrastructure Week."

Bannon didn't fear socialism the way most Republicans feared socialism as long as it was a socialism for white people only. In this, he was renewing, or trying to renew but failing, the old Jacksonian democratic spirit, flipping the social and political order, putting the Herrenvolk on top. Joe Biden is similarly but universally "populist." Instead of excluding most people, he and the Democrats are including most people. They are expanding the economic pie, taking populist politics and making it popular so only the cast iron-shelled bigots and ideologues among us feel like an injustice is being done.

With enough normal people feeling enough support from the government over a long enough period of time, it's not hard to imagine the former president's supporters, the ones who are not completely indoctrinated, falling away, perhaps wondering even if all that talk was just talk. At the very least, they might think before voting about how it felt to have a government on their side compared to a government that only said it was.

For white evangelical Protestants, the degradation of democracy is not regrettable -- it's desirable

Members of the pundit corps seem to believe white evangelical Protestants (WEPs) have politicized their faith. They seem to believe the disgraced former president is the reason why. To be sure, there is something to this. After all, some adherents, especially younger ones, have fled congregations, decreasing the ranks of mainline churches, according to the latest Pew poll. But on the whole, the idea that WEPs have politicized their religion overlooks a reality few are capable of seeing: It's always been politicized.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

Jennifer Rubin argued Monday that white evangelical Protestants are "panicking," as their numbers shrink and they lose purchase on democratic politics. As a result, the Post columnist said, WEPs are embracing the Republicans anti-democratic efforts. As WEP "churches turn into MAGA political clubs, many who otherwise may have found a spiritual home with them have fled because they are alienated—if not horrified—by the politicization of their faith and the abandoning of values such as inclusion and empathy," she said. "The price of politicizing religion is therefore bad not only for our politics (by heightening polarization and converting policy disputes into existential crises), but also for religious communities that chase away potential adherents."

Rubin has been right more often than not since 2016. In this, however, she's dead wrong. She continues giving WEPs a kind of benefit of the doubt that so-called "exvangelicals"1 would never give, because they know better. WEPs are not panicking. They are not embracing anti-democracy out of fear of losing their place in the republic. WEPs are anti-democratic because that's what it means to be a white evangelical Protestant. Young adherents are leaving not because the faith has become politicized but because they have realized how deeply political the faith already was.

What exvangelicals know that normal people like Jennifer Rubin cannot know, because they did not emerge from that religious tradition (I think she's Jewish), is that WEPs believe they are God's chosen (or will be). They tend to believe the United States was given to "real Americans" by God to be ruled in His name. Those who are not God's chosen are pretty much disposable. (After all, He knows who the righteous are.) The WEP identity is furthermore based not so much on what they are but on what they are not. We are not them. They are enmeshed in the world. We live here temporarily until The End. They represent a multiracial republic. We believe Christ is our King. The degradation in democracy isn't regrettable. It's desirable. Theocracy is the goal.

You can be in the in-group (God's chosen) and not realize what you are supporting. That seems to be the case for Michael Gerson, a Post columnist. He's a white evangelical Protestant who appears genuinely stunned by what he's witnessing from his co-religionists. On Monday, he scolded anti-vaxxers in the Republican Party, especially demagogues like United States Senator Ted Cruz, for putting politics over Americans' lives. He didn't call out WEPs by name, but he might as well have, given that white evangelical Protestants are the base of the Republican Party. Gerson wrote that:

Fox News's conservative anti-vaxxers gain advantages—in viewers and influence—by feeding conspiratorial fears that can kill their viewers. Standing outside politics for a moment, is this the sum of their ambitions? Is this a reason to get out of bed in the morning? How does someone look in the mirror and say: Today, I will purposely misinform people in ways that increase their risk of hospitalization and death?2

How does someone look in the mirror? That's easy. Morality is obedience to God's authority. Morality is not doing to others what you would have done to you. (If that's the lesson Michael Gerson learned, he obviously learned the wrong lesson.) As long as white evangelical Protestants obey God and His law, they will remain His chosen. More importantly, they won't become one of them. They deserve whatever's coming to them. We rejoice in seeing God's will be done. Sure, white evangelical Protestants get sick and die, too, but that means little to the authoritarian mind. Fox News, Ted Cruz and the disgraced former president are not instilling terror any more than they are politicizing religion. They are merely vivifying what was always already there.

The normal people reading this column might think these people are insane for refusing to get vaccinated and not doing their part to end the pandemic. That's what Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger seems to think. The GOP representative was on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday to support the president's plan to knock on doors to spread the word about vaccines. He called out fellow Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene for calling door-knockers "medical brownshirts." "It's absolute insanity," he said. "At no point was anybody saying they're going to break down your door and jam a vaccine in your arm despite your protests. Listen, if you are a Republican voter, do not listen to people like Marjorie Taylor Greene. The vaccine is safe. Covid is real."

What if it's sane, though? What if it's rational? What if all this is being done according to a coherent set of principles by which members of the in-group are right even if members of the in-group die by the covid like everyone else? What if a huge chunk of America won't ever concede that everyone is created equal even in the face of a Great Equalizer like a once-a-century plague. If that were the case, perhaps we wouldn't be asking how these people can look at themselves in the mirror in the morning. We might instead be doing everything we can to stop them from destroying the republic.

A disturbing fact about our current media environment has been exposed by a bizarre polemic against grilling

Josh Barro is a columnist for Business Insider. He's a member of what I'll call the Very Serious Debate Club. The VSDC constitutes, and I'm guessing here, probably half of the pundit corps in this country. These are men, and they are usually men but not always, who don't have anything original to contribute to our national discourse but thanks to the accidents of their birth have managed to convince others they do.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

Barro's name might ring a bell. He's the author of a column posted before the July 4 weekend about grilling. Yes, not only do members of the Very Serious Debate Club believe what they have to say is so important the rest of us must hear it. They believe they have the authority to adjudicate pretty much anything. For Barro, who typically writes at the intersection of business, economics and politics, that includes grilling.

"Grills run at high heat, and food burns onto the grates," Barro said confidently. "Like with pots and pans, burned-on food is tough to remove from grill grates. But admit it: You don't even really try. … Every time you grill, you're putting your new food right on top of the burned old food from last time, so it crusts onto your new food."

Now, I'm of the opinion that the worse a grill looks the better the food is going to be. But my opinion here isn't relevant. Neither are the opinions of those who responded to Barro's column, from the bougies who agree to the righteous majority that disagrees to those who question his citizenship in these here United States. The irrelevance of all these opinions is my point. For the Very Serious Debate Club, the subject of debate isn't as important as the debate itself, and the debate itself isn't as important as the point of it, which is the glorification of the members of the Very Serious Debate Club.

I have no doubt Josh Barro would deny this, but it's worth asserting that for him and the VSDC, debating grilling is the same, morally speaking, as debating democratic policy. It's the same as debating anything. The point is glorification, after all, not service to the greater public good. So backyard grilling is the same as health care. Health care is the same as foreign policy. This subject is as good or as bad as that subject, and nothing really matters except the extent to which the debate glorifies the VSDC.

Most normal people can't afford such nihilism. For most of them, there are real stakes in this real life. There are consequences. They live in the same political community everyone else lives in. Normal people have problems needing solutions. They turn to people in authority to solve them. Nihilism, however, is one of the great exquisite luxuries that comes with the privilege of being a member of the Very Serious Debate Club. It's baked in, because the only two problems facing members of the VSDC are 1) how to appear as if they have beaten their opponents, whoever they might be, and 2) preventing normal people from knowing they don't care about anything they say.

Importantly, the VSDC isn't conservative or liberal or of any ideological stripe. Members come from all quarters. Consider Bret Stephens, for instance. The Times columnist is a boot-licking propagandist for America's very obscenely rich. He's not part of the VSDC, though. He cares about convincing normal people that his betters are just like them. Stephens is a boil on the republic's ass, but we know he always stands on the wrong side. The Very Serious Debate Club cannot be similarly pinned down. They might rail against climate change. They might cast doubt on it. They just don't care. They will be slaking their heat-domed thirst with brunch-time mimosas.

The Very Serious Debate Club is, for this reason, more dangerous even than the fascism currently coursing through the body of the Republican Party. To be sure, the VSDC does not stand with the fascists. But they do not stand with the anti-fascists either. Extremes are taboo to these super-serious thinkers, though the extremes are currently between fascism and democracy, white supremacy and equality, and the truth and a bald-faced lie. That members don't stand with traitors to the republic isn't an indicator of moral-political principle any more than the fact that they don't stand with anti-racists. To pick a side is to risk being held accountable, and what's the point of that when the entire point of being a pundit is reassuring yourself that you matter?

That's the dirty secret of the Very Serious Debate Club. Members like Josh Barro were born successful. His parents are Harvard professors. He went to Harvard himself. He worked briefly on Wall Street. He's moved from BI to the Times back to BI, to New York then back to BI again. He never worked his way up. He was already up. Like the rest of the club, he seems terrified of being exposed by people who earned their authority, by people who did the work and respect others who did too, by people who would never pretend to be something they are not, even over trivial things, like backyard grilling, because pretending to be something you are not disrespects the people who are.

Members of the Very Serious Debate Club want us to believe they have something to contribute to the national discourse in the interest of the greater public good. They don't, though. What they have they did not earn. What they say they believe they don't really believe. And they don't believe it, because there's no point in believing anything when you did not earn it. Everything is as good or bad as everything else, and nothing really matters. Not even themselves. It's a paradox that normal people can live without.

The will of the American people is becoming less important than the will of a Republican high court

The United States Supreme Court issued a 6-3 ruling this morning that upholds voting restrictions in Arizona. It overrules a lower court's finding that two Arizona laws discriminated against minority voters. The high court's decision pretty much guts Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that forbids discrimination based on race.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

The Post summed up the ruling in its breaking news alert: "The justices reviewed two laws in Arizona that a lower court said hurt minority voters in the state, even though they are widely used elsewhere in the country. One throws out the ballots of those who vote in the wrong precinct, even if some races—such as for governor or president—are not dependent on precinct location. The other restricts who may collect ballots cast early for delivery to polling places, a practice detractors call 'ballot harvesting'."

The decision comes a week after United States Attorney Merrick Garland said the Justice Department would sue Georgia over its similar voting restrictions. That effort faces an even steeper hurdle now that six GOP-appointed justices have masticated Section 2, virtually rewriting voting rights legislation. Justice Elena Kagan, speaking for the liberal minority, suggested as much. In her written opinion, she said that:

The majority writes its own set of rules. … The majority gives a cramped reading to broad language. And then it uses that reading to uphold two election laws from Arizona that discriminate against minority voters. What is tragic here is that the Court has (yet again) rewritten—in order to weaken—a statute that stands as a monument to America's greatness, and protects against its basest impulses.

The decision is the latest example of what Editorial Board member Christopher Jon Sprigman has called "moves to intervene in democratic decision-making." "Rule-by-judges," he wrote in April, is "aggressive judicial supremacy [that] has empowered lawyers, disempowered citizens and turned what could be democracy-enhancing political debates into arid and divisive legal wrangling. … The reason we have partisan judging is because judges have too much power. If we want to fix the problem, we have to find ways to cut back on courts' ability to intervene in our democracy."

As for my part, I'll point out that Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority, has internalized the former president's Big Lie. In his written opinion, Alito said: "One strong and entirely legitimate state interest is the prevention of fraud. Fraud can affect the outcome of a close election, and fraudulent votes dilute the right of citizens to cast ballots that carry appropriate weight. Fraud can also undermine public confidence in the fairness of elections and the perceived legitimacy of the announced outcome."

That's pretty much Donald Trump talking. But the former president didn't come up with it. Voter fraud has been the pretext for shrinking down state electorates to sizes prejudicial to the Republicans since 2013. That's when the Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required federal authorities to "pre-clear" changes to state and local election laws in states with histories of racial discrimination, aka the former states of the Confederate States of America. With that provision out of the way, states raced to enact restrictive voting laws—all in the name of preventing a crime that never happens in any way meaningful to election results.

Which is to say the GOP's Big Lie predates the former president's Big Lie. And just as Big Lie No. 1 was turned into law (voter ID laws are now ubiquitous), Big Lie No. 2 is being turned into law—with aiding and abetting by a United States Supreme Court that's quickly moving "to intervene in democratic decision-making." The will of the American people is becoming less important than the will of the Republican court.

But there's a Big Lie that came before Big Lies No. 1 and No. 2. Let's call it the Big Ur-Lie. That's the idea that the United States is a white man's country and always will be a white man's country, and any challenge to that authority means all's fair, because now all's war. In this context, you can see that voter fraud isn't when a man pretends to be his dead mother so he can vote for Donald Trump twice in one election. It's more fundamental than that. Voter fraud is when illegitimate people exercise their constitutional rights to freedom and self-government, and you're an illegitimate person if you were not born with the hereditary right to rule a white man's country.

When the former president's supporters say that "all legal votes matter," as you can see from the above image taken of a roadside billboard in Branford, Conn., they are doing more than mocking and ridiculing Black Lives Matter. They are saying that Black lives—and the lives of other Americans of color—not only do not matter. They are also illegal. They are not illegal, of course. No life is illegal. But they can be made illegal enough with enough lying and with enough effort to enshrine lies in the common law.

Why the GOP still can't quit the confederacy

Ricky Davila is a musician with a big Twitter following. When he's not talking about songwriting, he's talking about politics. Last night, Davila said: "The same racists who continue to criticize Black athletes, like the King LeBron James, for speaking out or for peacefully protesting, like Olympian Gwen Berry and Colin Kaepernick, are those who support sedition, treason, insurrection, using flags as weapons to injure police." In response, MSNBC's Joy Reid said: "What, I wonder, is the connective tissue here?"

It's not clear what Reid was hinting at with her monocle-sporting emoji. If I had to guess, I'd say she meant racism ties these factors together. If so, I'm less than satisfied. I don't think racism fully captures what's happening in this country. It certainly doesn't explain why 147 Republicans voted to overturn the results of the election after the former president's paramilitaries sacked and looted the United States Capitol. It doesn't fully explain why the Senate Republicans blocked legislation creating an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate. To be sure, racism is central. It can't be avoided. But even the racists among us can be scandalized by the sight of support for "sedition, treason, insurrection, using flags as weapons to injure police."

So how do we explain the paradox more thoroughly? How can some white people criticize hammer-thrower Gwen Berry, who stepped away from the flag Saturday while the national anthem played during Olympic trials in Oregon, while being jim-dandy with the former president continuing to lie about losing the election? How can some people, more specifically, be outraged by perceived disrespect of local police but be unmoved by the fact of a Capitol cop dying to protect the Congress? You could say, as a lot of people say, that this is plain-old cognitive dissonance. Some white people are able to believe two contradictory things at the same time without much discomfort. That's fine, but it relegates politics to the realm of the private and the therapeutic.

In any event, "cognitive dissonance" doesn't satisfactorily explain why 120 Republican members of the United States House of Representatives voted last night against removing from the Capitol statues memorializing members of the old Confederacy. The Confederates were literal traitors. The Confederate States of America invaded the United States in an attempt to replace (an increasingly) democratic republic with a feudal slave regime. To give Confederate "heroes" a place of honor is, at the very least, to recognize legitimacy where there should be contempt. And yet 120 Republicans went on record to say these traitors were actually commendable and worth honoring.

That touches on what's going on more fully and more satisfactorily, I think. While the Confederate States of America are blessedly dead, the idea of a confederacy lives on to such a degree that lots of Americans, whether in the South or elsewhere, act like they are still living in it and will, buh Gawd, insist on living in it. This confederacy of the mind and spirit is where "real Americans" are chosen by God to rule this country in His name. As long as democracy moves in their direction, everything's jake. When it moves against them, however, as it did in 2008, democracy is no more deserving of deference than it was in the run up to the Civil War. The constitutional order itself is forfeit. The president can form a secret police. Republican governors can order armies to the border. GOP legislatures can outlaw acts of free speech, free thought and free inquiry. These are permissible, to the neoconfederates, because democracy has betrayed them.

It's often suggested that anti-racism—wokeness, as some call it—is somehow anti-American. It is often suggested that it's somehow unpatriotic. To kneel during the national anthem in protest of the way Black Americans and Americans of color are treated by law enforcement, for instance, is seen as intolerable. It "disrespects" the flag. But former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick wasn't just protesting police brutality. He was demanding the rights to equality and equal justice that are his to demand. That's the real point of conflict but it's not clear unless you see it through the lens of the confederacy of the mind and spirit. Anti-racists like Colin Kaepernick are not anti-American. They are all-American. His critics aren't outraged because he's unpatriotic. They're outraged because his anti-racism is exquisitely patriotic. The last thing a neoconfederate is going to do is share the republic with the "illegitimate."

My point is racism doesn't explain why the same people criticize Black athletes for "disrespecting" the flag while also supporting a goddamn insurrection. The confederacy of the mind and spirit, however, does. It makes everything clearer. Moreover, racism alone obscures a critical nuance: the difference between loyal Americans and disloyal Americans, the difference between people who stand for liberty and justice for all, despite being racist, and those ready to go to war with equality, because they are racist. Lots of racists hate anti-racism, but they aren't going to abandon democracy. Other racists, however, will abandon democracy, because they're too entitled to share.

A massive exposé reveals the moral character of the obscenely rich

ProPublica is doing the Lord's work. Specifically, investigative reporters Jesse Eisinger, Jeff Ernsthausen and Paul Kiel are doing it. Two weeks ago, the nonprofit news group published the first in a planned series of pieces revealing, in exquisite detail, the moral character of the very obscenely rich. The series will be based on "a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation's wealthiest people, covering more than 15 years." It's a goddamn truth-bomb:

It demolishes the cornerstone myth of the American tax system: that everyone pays their fair share and the richest Americans pay the most. The IRS records show that the wealthiest can — perfectly legally — pay income taxes that are only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions, if not billions, their fortunes grow each year.

Their first report, published on June 8, exposed the very obscenely rich as the greatest tax dodgers of them all. But before I get into it, let me say two things. One, Eisinger et al. do more than reveal the truth. They reveal the extent to which the very obscenely rich go to hide it. Two, the very obscenely rich keep lying as the truth is being revealed. I don't see how one can avoid coming to the conclusion that the tax system not only privileges the very obscenely rich. It gives them incentive to lie about their privilege. There's so much lying, in fact, you wonder if being a billionaire means being a liar.

To normal people (that's you), the money that comes in is income. Importantly, income is what you earn with your labor. Sure, you might have some investments here and there yielding a few dividends. Your net worth probably includes the (hopefully increasing) value of your house. But otherwise, by and large, the vast bulk of the money coming into your household is earned, and the word you use to describe that is income. Nearly all the money coming into your household is subject to tax by the US government.

The very obscenely rich are not normal people. To be sure, they have "income" but the vast bulk of the money coming into their households "derives from the skyrocketing value of their assets, like stock and property," Eisinger et al. wrote. Importantly, "those gains are not defined by US laws as taxable income unless and until the billionaires sell." So they rarely sell. They hold onto their assets and they do "labor" for them. Unlike normal people, whose income is what they earn with their labor, the very obscenely rich's "income" is what their assets earn with their asset's "labor." The moral difference between income and "income," and the moral difference between earning and "earning," is the moral difference between normal people and the very obscenely rich.

None of this would be a BFD if the very obscenely rich paid their fair share. They do not. Yes, they pay income tax on income. But, again, the vast bulk of the money coming into their households is not taxable. So the vast bulk of their money is not taxed. In fact, it's impossible to know their real share. Eisinger et al. had to get creative. "To capture the financial reality of the richest Americans, ProPublica undertook an analysis that has never been done before. We compared how much in taxes the 25 richest Americans paid each year to how much Forbes estimated their wealth grew in that same time period," they reported. "We're going to call this their true tax rate." While the median household ($70,000 a year) paid 14 percent, and while couples earning more than $628,300 are going to pay this year the highest rate of 37 percent, the 25 richest paid a total of $13.6 billion in income taxes or "a true tax rate of only 3.4 percent."

To put this in perspective, you have to keep in mind what "earning" means. By the end of 2018, Eisinger et al. wrote, the richest 25 Americans "were worth $1.1 trillion." It would take "14.3 million ordinary American wage earners put together" to earn that much money. In other words, it would take nearly 14 and a half million normal people to work normal hours to earn with their labor what 25 people "earn" not with their labor but with the money they already have. And instead of paying $1.9 billion in income taxes (at the rate the very obscenely rich enjoy) normal people would have to pay $143 billion. Unsaid in the ProPublica report, but worth saying clearly, repeatedly and loudly, is that the US tax system encourages idleness while discouraging actual work. I'm sure Jeff Bezos works very hard but it's not humanly possible to earn with one's labor what Bezos is reportedly worth. To the very obscenely rich, "earning" is meaningless.

It encourages lying, too. Warren Buffett is the sixth-richest person in the world. He's usually seen as an enlightened centibillionaire. Yet the ProPublica report, specifically his reaction to it, shows the Sage of Omaha isn't wise so much as fraudulent. Even as he publicly supported tax reform so that people like his secretary don't pay more in income tax than he does, Buffett was privately hiding his "true tax rate," as determined by ProPublica. It is 0.10 percent. This is possible, because Buffett owns so much of the stock of his company, Berkshire Hathaway, and his company doesn't pay dividends.

Buffett tried justifying that he pays almost nothing in federal income tax by saying he has paid what he legally owed and saying he's going to give away his fortune. "I believe the money will be of more use to society if disbursed philanthropically than if it is used to slightly reduce an ever-increasing US debt," he wrote to ProPublica.

This is adding insult to injury. First, because Buffett knows full well that raising the income tax on the very obscenely rich, a move he has advocated, would mean squat when the very obscenely rich don't earn incomes with labor, but instead with their assets, which are untaxed as long as they are not sold. If he wanted to reform the tax code, he'd advocate taxing capital gains (the very obscenely rich's assets). But then he'd lose a lot of money. Being a reformer is one thing. Pretending to be is more lucrative.

Buffett's response to the ProPublica report adds insult to injury in a second way—by expressing contempt for democratic accountability. I have no doubt he thinks philanthropy serves society better than government redistribution does, but it's really not up to him. It's up to the will of the American people and their representatives in the government. Like other very obscenely rich people, Buffett is saying without saying that he's separate from and unequal to the rest of us, an attitude coming from the world's sixth-richest person that a free republic should hold in equal contempt.

Trump transcended class divisions between white people -- but now GOP governors are inflaming them

The idea that the Republicans are the party of the working class is now conventional wisdom among some members of the Washington press corps. That has bothered me for a variety of reasons, but I don't recall reporting the following annoyance. If the Republicans are the party of the working class, what does that mean in terms of class? We don't know, because most of the press corps does not bother asking the question.

Instead, we are left to read between and among the lines. The working class is drawn to the Republicans on account of the Republicans standing against things and people and ideas that the working class stands against. Those "things and people and ideas" have a certain color and a certain gender such that the Republicans are the party of the working class less in terms of class and more in terms of bigotry and prejudice. We are not talking about a working class so much as a whites-only working class. This is what lurks between and among the lines but the press corps never comes out and says it.

There are intimations of class, though. The people who twice broke for Donald Trump were largely the very obscenely rich as well as Americans believing they deserve to be very obscenely rich but for whatever reason are not. They live in every city and town. They are businessmen, property-owners and church members. They are respected and admired. They work hard and give back. They didn't go to college, which to the press corps means they are working class. To everyone else, they are the local upper crust.

That's not usually reported either. Neither is the root of the local upper crust's support for their idol. The Republicans, when they had control of the Congress, did one thing. They passed tax cuts benefiting the very obscenely rich. To the extent they benefited a petty bourgeoisie that's resentful of not being very obscenely rich, it was by treating the petty bourgeoisie as if they were very obscenely rich. That they got little or nothing materially is beside the point. The point was being seen as being like Donald Trump.

In this, the former president was a unity figure. In him was embodied the right combination of "cultural" factors that were capable of transcending real class divisions between the whites-only working class and the whites-only petty bourgeoisie for whom the whites-only working class worked. By "cultural," of course, I mean bigotry and prejudice. In this context, I think, we would profit from reconsidering the relationship between class and race (and other identifiers). To the whites-only working class, Trump was their hero. To the whites-only petty bourgeoisie, he was their ideal. To both, I'd suggest, he was the means by which they either stayed white or got whiter.

We're all familiar with the idea of upward mobility. If you work hard and play by the rules, the American dream can be yours. But what if, as Editorial Board member Kaitlin Byrd has argued persuasively, the US economy was built in accordance with white supremacy? Then class and upward mobility, in reality, are indistinguishable from systemic racism. That would mean the whites-only working class panics when the economy crashes. Being white no longer protects them. They need a savior. That would mean the whites-only petty bourgeoisie rejoices at the sight of their idol signing massive tax cuts for the very obscenely rich. Though they are not and never will be very obscenely rich, it doesn't matter. They got to be like Trump. They got to be whiter.

Seen from this perspective, one has to wonder how the whites-only working class is feeling in 25 states, where the Republican governors have shut off pandemic relief funding at the behest of a whites-only petty bourgeoisie that does not want to pay more in wages than the whites-only working class is receiving in unemployment benefits. Where Trump was capable of transcending the real class divisions between these camps with appeals to their whiteness, these GOP governors are inflaming divisions by taking whiteness away from one while maintaining it for the other.

We don't usually talk this way, because the (mostly white) press corps doesn't talk this way. It doesn't have, or doesn't want to have, the language with which to convey these felt realities. Instead, it talks about class as if it were only about class. It talks about race as if only Black people had a race. I hope someday we will all have access to a new American social vocabulary. In the meanwhile, I'll have to settle with being annoyed.

Trump transcended class divisions between white people -- GOP governors are inflaming them again

The idea that the Republicans are the party of the working class is now conventional wisdom among some members of the Washington press corps. That has bothered me for a variety of reasons, but I don't recall reporting the following annoyance. If the Republicans are the party of the working class, what does that mean in terms of class? We don't know, because most of the press corps does not bother asking the question.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

Instead, we are left to read between and among the lines. The working class is drawn to the Republicans on account of the Republicans standing against things and people and ideas that the working class stands against. Those "things and people and ideas" have a certain color and a certain gender such that the Republicans are the party of the working class less in terms of class and more in terms of bigotry and prejudice. We are not talking about a working class so much as a whites-only working class. This is what lurks between and among the lines but the press corps never comes out and says it.

To the whites-only working class, Trump was their hero. To the whites-only petty bourgeoisie, he was their ideal. To both, he was the means by which they stayed white or got whiter.

There are intimations of class, though. The people who twice broke for Donald Trump were largely the very obscenely rich as well as Americans believing they deserve to be very obscenely rich but for whatever reason are not. They live in every city and town. They are businessmen, property-owners and church members. They are respected and admired. They work hard and give back. They didn't go to college, which to the press corps means they are working class. To everyone else, they are the local upper crust.

That's not usually reported either. Neither is the root of the local upper crust's support for their idol. The Republicans, when they had control of the Congress, did one thing. They passed tax cuts benefiting the very obscenely rich. To the extent they benefited a petty bourgeoisie that's resentful of not being very obscenely rich, it was by treating the petty bourgeoisie as if they were very obscenely rich. That they got little or nothing materially is beside the point. The point was being seen as being like Donald Trump.

In this, the former president was a unity figure. In him was embodied the right combination of "cultural" factors that were capable of transcending real class divisions between the whites-only working class and the whites-only petty bourgeoisie for whom the whites-only working class worked. By "cultural," of course, I mean bigotry and prejudice. In this context, I think, we would profit from reconsidering the relationship between class and race (and other identifiers). To the whites-only working class, Trump was their hero. To the whites-only petty bourgeoisie, he was their ideal. To both, I'd suggest, he was the means by which they either stayed white or got whiter.

We're all familiar with the idea of upward mobility. If you work hard and play by the rules, the American dream can be yours. But what if, as Editorial Board member Kaitlin Byrd has argued persuasively, the US economy was built in accordance with white supremacy? Then class and upward mobility, in reality, are indistinguishable from systemic racism. That would mean the whites-only working class panics when the economy crashes. Being white no longer protects them. They need a savior. That would mean the whites-only petty bourgeoisie rejoices at the sight of their idol signing massive tax cuts for the very obscenely rich. Though they are not and never will be very obscenely rich, it doesn't matter. They got to be like Trump. They got to be whiter.

Seen from this perspective, one has to wonder how the whites-only working class is feeling in 25 states, where the Republican governors have shut off pandemic relief funding at the behest of a whites-only petty bourgeoisie that does not want to pay more in wages than the whites-only working class is receiving in unemployment benefits. Where Trump was capable of transcending the real class divisions between these camps with appeals to their whiteness, these GOP governors are inflaming divisions by taking whiteness away from one while maintaining it for the other.

We don't usually talk this way, because the (mostly white) press corps doesn't talk this way. It doesn't have, or doesn't want to have, the language with which to convey these felt realities. Instead, it talks about class as if it were only about class. It talks about race as if only Black people had a race. I hope someday we will all have access to a new American social vocabulary. In the meanwhile, I'll have to settle with being annoyed.

The right-wing created their 'culture war' out of a mountain of lies

The culture war" is so familiar I don't need to explain what it is. It has been part of the Republican Party's rhetorical repertoire since at least Robert Taft's time. What most people do not understand, however, is nearly every moment in which "the culture war" flares up—over abortion, guns, sexuality, etc.—is rooted in a lie. If more people understood the centrality of lying to "the culture war," more might understand the goal of the GOP's "cultural war" repertoire is making some Americans seem illegitimate.

Consider the case of Mara Gay, a member of the Times' editorial board.1 She was on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Tuesday. The subject of table discussion was Max Boot's new op-ed in the Post on how too many people in this country are still underestimating the dire threat posed by the Republican Party to democracy and the American union.

Joe Scarborough, the co-host, said there's a need to stop being surprised by the GOP's anti-democratic posturing. Gay agreed. "We need to start taking it seriously," she said. When it comes to creating an independent bipartisan body to investigate the sacking and looting of the United States Capitol on January 6, she said the Democrats in the United States Congress should stop asking for the GOP's permission and act alone.

"The reality is that we have a large percentage of Americans … who continue to believe their rights as citizens are under threat by the simple virtue of having to share democracy with others," Mara Gay said. "I think that as long as they see Americanness as the same, as one, with whiteness, this is going to continue. We have to figure out how to get every American a place at the table … [and] separate Americanness—America—from whiteness. Until we can confront that, this is really going to continue."

Gay illustrated her point with an anecdote: "I was on Long Island this weekend," she said, "and I was really disturbed. I saw, you know, dozens and dozens of pickup trucks with explicatives [sic] against Joe Biden on the back of them, Trump flags, and in some cases just dozens of American flags, which is also just disturbing … Essentially the message was clear: This is my country. This is not your country. I own this."

It was this anecdote that made news, not the context the anecdote was attempting to illustrate. More accurately, it was the lie about the anecdote that made news. And it's such lies, I contend, that constitute the foundation for virtually all "culture war" discourse, whether about "political correctness," "cancel culture," "wokeness" or anti-racism. With rare exception, all national debate over topics of interest to the liberal cause rest on countless small sedimentary layers of falsehood. Making it much worse, in my view, is a Washington press corps knowing the truth, but not speaking it.

Here's what made the news Tuesday, all day. Headline: "NYT, MSNBC's Mara Gay: 'Disturbing' to see 'dozens of American flags' on trucks in Long Island. Subheadline: "New York Times board member: There needs to be conversation about 'Whiteness'." The media source was Fox. Fox's headline was repeated by expected outlets, such as the New York Post and National Review, but also surprising outlets, like Yahoo News and RealClearPolitics. And, of course, Breitbart: "Times columnist Mara Gay said Tuesday that she noticed trucks with American flags and was 'disturbed' by what she saw."

The key here isn't just repeating the lie. It's getting a response to the lie, as a result of the repetition, and then getting a third-party to respond to the response. (Again, Fox: "NYT panned for Mara Gay defense following her 'disturbing' American flag remarks: 'Every word here is a lie'." Who accused the Times of lying? A senior editor at The Federalist who was, you know, lying.) Once this pattern has been established, there exists a legitimate controversy worthy of the press corps' attention as well as of public debate between opposing views from across the spectrum. All that might appear to be natural, normal and healthy except for this fact: The entire discourse is based on a lie.

This pattern is everywhere once you see it. It's present even in matters of more complexity than what a Times editorial board member did or did not say. Since Joe Biden took office, we have seen numberless attempts to examine "cancel culture," "wokeness" or anti-racism. Most have been from the point of view of their critics, not their practitioners, or worse—they are predicated on the small sedimentary layers of misrepresentation, distortion and lies about them. The takeaway: So much of what counts as "debate" begins and ends with what liberalism's enemies say liberals say.

Lying is a bug, though. Ideology is the feature. Liberals like Mara Gay can't be right about America, but critics can't turn to history to prove it, because history points in the direction of Mara Gay being absolutely right. So they lie about what she said, thus detaching the issue from shared reality, thus making her seem to confirm what they already believe to be true without bothering to prove it, which is she hates America.

Yet Gay's comments, more than anything else, were grounded in love of country. The anti-democratic forces threatening us are the same ones that sacked and looted the United States Capitol, and as long as being white is seen as the same thing as being a legitimate American—as long as being non-white is seen as the same thing as being an illegitimate American—our democratic union will always face threats from the inside.

Gay never said she was disturbed by flags. She said she was disturbed by the historical fact, symbolized to her by the side-by-side flying of Trump flags and American flags, that "a large percentage" of white Americans continue to look at her Black and wise and beautiful face and refuse to see her as a legitimate American. That Fox and others lied about what she said is a continuation of the history that disturbs Mara Gay, and while that's bad enough, she said, there's something else even more concerning.

"I think there is a large percentage of my colleagues in journalism who are invested in some way in pretending that this isn't the threat that it is," Gay went on to say. "That is a real concern. The Trump voters are not going to get on board with democracy, but they're a minority. You can marginalize them long term. But if [her colleagues in journalism] don't take this threat seriously, we're all going to be in bad shape."

The 'Giuliani tape' is a disturbing reminder that Republicans would conspire with foreign leaders to defeat Democrats

For anyone deeply worried about the future of American democracy, nearly all of the focus is on the Republicans and what they are doing in states like Georgia, Texas and Florida to rig elections in their favor with potential for denying the people's will. That's good, but let's not forget the size of the conspiracy against democracy. It isn't just domestic. It's foreign, too. These forces are not working in isolation. At the rate we're going, it won't be long before the Republicans try making it seem wholesome and patriotic to collude with foreign governments to defeat Democrats, who, as I said yesterday, are not real Americans anyway, but instead crimes against real Americans.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

That's my takeaway from CNN's reporting Monday. Time and Buzzfeed had previously reported the existence of, and had reported parts of, a call transcript between Rudy Giuliani and an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. But on Monday CNN revealed for the first time a recording of the call, which was, according to CNN's Matthew Chance and Marshall Cohen, "one of the opening salvos in the years-long quest by Trump and his allies to damage [Joe] Biden and subvert the 2020 election process—by soliciting foreign meddling, lying about voter fraud, attempting to overturn the results, and inciting the deadly January 6 assault on the Capitol."

The details should be familiar. Acting on behalf of the former president, Giuliani offered military aid for Ukraine's proxy war with Russia in exchange for two official announcements by the Ukrainian government. One, that it's investigating corruption related to Joe Biden and his son, who was working for a Ukrainian gas firm during his dad's vice presidency. Two, that it's investigating efforts by corrupt Ukrainian officials to conspire with Democrats to sabotage Trump in 2016. Three days later, the president called Zelensky and said: "Do us a favor, though." That, my friend, is quid pro quo.

Neither of these assertions is true in any way, but the former president wanted them to be true. So Giuliani, on his behalf, tried blackmailing Ukraine's new and vulnerable leader into saying they might have been true enough to warrant an investigation, which would have been good enough for the right-wing media apparatus, which is global in scale, to bend political reality so that Donald Trump would have seemed like the ultimate victim and the ultimate hero, paving the way for his reelection in 2020.

That didn't happen, obviously. In early 2019, the Democrats in the United States House of Representatives indicted the president on charges of involving a foreign government in a conspiracy to defraud the American people, thus violating their popular sovereignty. The Republicans in the United States Senate acquitted him on grounds he didn't do anything warranting removal. But the Ukraine affair was the second instance of quid pro quo. After the acquittal, it was revealed that Roger Stone was the link between the Russian hackers, Wikileaks and the Trump campaign in an effort, in 2016, to undermine Hillary Clinton's campaign. It was moreover revealed that Paul Manafort, Trump's old campaign director, had collaborated with known Russian intelligence officials. All this together says he cheated. He tried cheating again. It didn't work, but before leaving office, he did everything in his power to remain in power, despite the people's will. And he pardoned Roger Stone and Paul Manafort.

Why the audio recording has now been made public is a question deserving an answer. It certainly seems related to the "ongoing criminal investigation into Giuliani and his Ukraine dealings," according to CNN's Chance and Cohen, "including whether he violated lobbying laws while coordinating with ex-officials who gave him dirt on the Bidens. The federal inquiry ramped up when the FBI raided Giuliani's home and office in late April." What's clear, though, is that the recording is indisputable proof that the Democrats were absolutely right to impeach Trump, twice. It's proof that the Senate Republicans were absolutely wrong to find the former president not guilty. In finding him not guilty, the Senate Republicans said, in effect, that foreign interference is OK.

For anyone deeply worried about the future of American democracy, it's important to remember the problem goes much deeper than the Republicans rigging state election laws in pivotal swing states. It's that the Republicans no longer think of Democrats, liberals, independents and anti-Trump conservatives (anyone who's not a Republican) as legitimate Americans. It's that the GOP thinks of them not as rivals but enemies deserving what's coming to them. In refusing to see real Americans as real Americans, the GOP has incentive to conspire with foreign governments, however hostile they may be, to sabotage Democratic candidates—to ensnare them in global disinformation efforts that rewrite history so the Republicans are the story's victims and heroes. Trump ultimately failed, but he provided a model for the Republicans to follow.

Trump's delusion of returning to office isn't a break from reality — it's part of his war against it

It's commonplace and, therefore, uncontroversial to hear stories about "information bubbles." On the one hand are GOP voters who occupy theirs. On the other hand are Democratic voters who reside in their own. The story is neatly balanced and tightly framed, which is desirable for the people telling it. The Washington press corps will insist on equity at the expense of truth. That's why the press corps is anti-moral.

Truth is, these bubbles are not equally moral. Furthermore, they are not equally democratic. (Indeed, the information bubble inhabited by Republicans can't be called that at all.) One bubble functions separately from the rest of the country while the other functions in consonance with it. One defers to the authority of facts and reason. The other defers to no authority not its own. One is open to criticism. The other crushes dissent. One seeks compromise with opponents. One seeks the annihilation of its enemies. Yet both do have something important in common—both are rational.

When I say "rational," I don't necessarily mean good. I don't mean sound. I don't mean judicious or acceptable or sane. That's often what we mean when we say "rational," which is probably a consequence of our living in a highly and economically complex, religiously, racially and culturally diverse, and technologically advanced society, where things that "just make sense" are deemed self-evidently rational. What I want you to understand is there's more going in the story about information bubbles than the difference between rational and irrational. There are two meanings of "rational," and they are at war with each other. Unfortunately, only one side seems to know it.

The former president has been telling anyone who will listen that he expects to be "reinstated" sometime this summer. The news was first reported by the Times' Maggie Haberman. It was confirmed by National Review's Charles CW Cooke.

I can attest, from speaking to an array of different sources, that Donald Trump does indeed believe quite genuinely that he …will be "reinstated" to office this summer after "audits" of the 2020 elections in Arizona, Georgia, and a handful of other states have been completed. I can attest, too, that Trump is trying hard to recruit journalists, politicians, and other influential figures to promulgate this belief—not as a fundraising tool or an infantile bit of trolling or a trial balloon, but as a fact.

Donald Trump will not be "reinstated," but saying he believes so has gotten people to think his mind has broken from reality. I cringe when I hear stuff like this. I don't worry about crazy people. I worry about rational people. I worry more about rational people who have found ways to rationalize evil. What Trump is doing now—saying he'll be reinstated come August—is no more irrational than what he did throughout his presidency. What concerns him are things he thinks will give him an advantage over his perceived enemies. He isn't breaking from reality so much as waging war with it.

Let me illustrate with the democratic nature of facts. Most people will look at the cuppa I'm drinking and say, yup, that's a cuppa. Most people will recognize the ability of other people to do the same. Most people will accept that the fact of my cuppa is experienced individually, socially and democratically, and that the shared experience of that fact is legitimate and worthy of respect. People might have an opinion about it. They might see it as being good or bad. But they won't deny the observable fact of my cuppa, because most people will subordinate themselves to the authority of its being my cuppa. This is the democratic nature of facts. People can engage facts equally.

That's usually seen as rational, but what Trump is doing is no less so. It's just rational in very different, anti-democratic and dangerous ways. The former president does not care whether my cuppa is in fact my cuppa. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Doesn't matter. What matters is my cuppa's politics. If it's for him, good. If it's against him, bad. And if so, there are no limits because none is worthy of respect, not even the fact of my cuppa. "Facts" in this totalizing view are never politically or morally neutral. "Facts" are whatever Trump says they are. "Facts" are self-contained, hermetically sealed and impervious to democratic engagement. Getting people to believe he'll be "reinstated" come August is totally rational, even if being "reinstated" can't possibly happen.

I have been told my definition of rational is too "capacious." It's making too much room for things most people would call irrational—like a former president saying he'll be reinstated when that can't possibly happen. I would counter by saying that the normal definition of rational isn't capacious enough, that it, in fact, denies the reality of the immediate peril we are facing, just as Trump denies the reality of his humiliating defeat. The country isn't divided because one "information bubble" exists alongside another. It's divided because one of them wants to eliminate the other. The more we deny that, the more we fail to see, the more complicit we are in our shared doom.

What Trump's latest humiliating failure tells us about the Republican Party

The former president deleted his blog Wednesday. The reason, according to the Times, was humiliation. After being banned from Twitter and Facebook, a spokesman said Donald Trump would return with "his own platform" that would be the "the hottest ticket in social media" and that would "completely redefine the game."

Turns out it was a blog. It got less attention, according to a Post analysis, "than the pet-adoption service Petfinder and the recipe site Delish. The blog's prospects hadn't improved since, even though Trump had taken to writing on it more." The Times said the former president became "frustrated after hearing from friends that the site was getting little traffic and making him look small and irrelevant." After less than a month online (29 days), "From the Desk of Donald J. Trump" has vanished from the internet.

What can we glean from this? For one thing, Trump seems to need the public square more than the public square needs Trump. Matter of fact, as the philosopher Karl Popper once predicted, the public square is in better health now that it has become intolerant of the highest-profile representative of intolerance. Some warned "de-platforming" a former president would make him stronger. It would seem to prove accusations of being a victim of mainstream censorship. But that's being disproved in real-time. His puny blog isn't why he "looks small and irrelevant." Politics is why.

More specifically, legitimacy is why. Trump doesn't have any, not anymore, and he didn't have much to begin with. He lost the popular vote in 2016. During his entire tenure, his job approval rating never crested 50 percent. (I'm talking about the polling aggregate.) On Jan. 5, 2021, he stood at 42.6 percent approval. By the time he left office, which was after the sacking and looting of the United States Capitol, an insurrection in his name, he stood at 38.6 percent. (Both per FiveThirtyEight.) NBC News ran a poll in late April. It found he had an approval rating of 32 percent. This man may have a grip on the base of the GOP, but he no longer has a grip on the popular imagination.

The Washington press corps brayed and mewled over four years about Trump going to war with it, but make no mistake. There was no better way to sell its wares than for a sitting president to make everyone aware of them. Normal people don't work that way, though. Normal people don't pay attention to things they don't want to pay attention to. (Reporters and producers, however, do.) Once Trump made it clear he stood against democracy itself, a popular view that galvanized at some point between Election Day and Insurrection Day and Inauguration Day, normal people no longer wanted to pay attention. When you stand against democracy, what more do you need to know?

That's my take. To pay attention to Donald Trump again, to the degree we were all paying attention to him, is to recognize his political legitimacy, which most normal people most of the time, if current polling is any indication, are just not willing to do—not after burning up every habit and norm, not after being impeached twice, not after betraying the country. Some of the Republicans are now saying Trump would be the next presidential nominee, easy-peasy. That's plausible. Winning, however, is something else. They appear to seriously underestimate what it would take for most normal people. They appear to seriously underestimate, moreover, the potential for backlash that comes after asking normal people to pay attention to Trump again.

My friend and mentor Walter Shapiro is a confessed optimist. In his latest for Roll Call, the dean of American politics said despite everything, he has faith in the people to choose democracy over tyranny. "I cling to the stubborn belief that American democracy will be saved by an outpouring of voters, in 2022 and beyond, who understand that the nation's freedoms are on the ballot," Mr. Shapiro wrote.

It was this part of his column, however, that really struck me: "In an ideal world, Never Trump Republicans will vote Democratic in the short run because preserving democracy is infinitely more important than honest differences over taxes, government regulation and foreign policy. In an ideal world, GOP efforts to restrict the franchise will inspire record turnout from Black and other minority voters."

In this, I confess to have faith, too, in the American people. Most of them most of the time are now intolerant of the highest-profile representative of intolerance. Most of them most of the time are not going to change their minds about him. This, to me, is the anchor of a paradigm shift, the thing around which future politics will revolve. To pay attention is to recognize as good something unthinkable to most normal people. The more the Republicans lean into Trump, the more they lean into the whirlwind.

Why so many Trump supporters crave apocalyptic bloodshed

Donie O'Sullivan is a reporter for CNN. His beat appears to be American conspiracy theories. He was on Anderson Cooper's show last night with reporting on a QAnon conference last weekend during which former Donald Trump adviser and pardoned traitor Michael Flynn said a Myanmar-style military coup "should happen" in America.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

That some people in this country long for purifying violence to "reinstate" Donald Trump to his "rightful place" is not what got my attention, though. What did was Donie O'Sullivan's editorial remark at the end of his report. This is what he said:

I spend a lot of time reading these pro-Trump forums, reading these QAnon forums online, and speaking to Trump supporters, and I will say of all the conspiracy theories we hear, this talk from Americans about a coup, cheering a coup, and hoping for a coup, in the United States is one of the most chilling things I hear.

Before I go on, I should say O'Sullivan appears to be an immigrant. (I think he's Irish, given his accent.) As such, I don't expect him to be as attuned to American political culture as I'd expect a native-born American to be. Indeed, as a non-native, I'd expect him to be more attuned to the American civic religion than native-born Americans generally are, because fealty to the civic religion is so often demanded of immigrants.

This civic religion believes military coups and their consequent dictatorships cannot happen in the United States. Ordinary Americans do not want them, moreover, because it would be against their civic religion. You can't quite tell from the written version of his remark, but when you watch the clip, you can hear O'Sullivan put a little more stress on "American" when he says he's chilled to hear Americans, of all people on this earth, talking "about a coup, cheering a coup, and hoping for a coup, in the United States." Implicit point: this is what Trump has done to the globe's oldest democracy.

I suspect some of O'Sullivan's remark was showmanship. (He does work for CNN, after all.) But I think some of it, maybe most of it, reflects the conventional wisdom in Washington—that it's shocking to hear Americans talk this way. It's not shocking, though. It's familiar and quite normal when you know where to look. Fact is, lots of Americans believe they are God's chosen people. They believe the end of the world is coming, according to God's divine plan. They believe the US Constitution is a covenant with them only, and that a genocidal purge will preface Christ's return.

This is the End Times I'm talking about, a story about global events culminating in apocalyptic bloodshed that "reinstates" the King of Kings to his rightful place. It's a story millions of Americans tell themselves and their children. It's a story in which the messy and hard-to-understand world around us is no such thing. Instead, it is polarized as conflict between God's friends and God's enemies. The only difficulty is decoding the signs and symbols God lays out. Reality isn't real. Reality is a sinful illusion. What's real is the trail of secrets leading the chosen safely to The End. Argument, language, reasoning—they don't matter. Only they can know The Truth.

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that religion is off-limits. Therefore, the conventional wisdom in Washington does not see, because it will not see, that tens of millions of Americans already believe democracy is getting in the way of God's plan, that democracy is—and I mean this seriously—desecrating the sacredness of the US Constitution. As one critic put it, the Venn diagram showing the overlap of QAnon believers and white evangelical Protestants (and related groups) is actually a circle. When you stand with God against His enemies, you have God's permission to hate.

That's their religion. No, it's not a cult. It's more than that. It's deeper than that. The hate felt by the former president's supporters during four years' worth of political rallies is the same hate for America as it stands, not as they desire it to stand, that right-wing religious radicals have felt since post-Civil War America. That's when Charles Darwin's theories and what they determined about humanity's place in God's divine scheme first gained traction in the United States. Every single intellectual development—from evolution then to Critical Race Theory now—has been met with such hate. I don't understand why the conventional wisdom looks away from history.

Because it's easier, I guess. It's easier to maintain the myth of the civic religion; to be shocked by Americans talking about a military coup; to blame the former president for imperiling the world's oldest democracy. It's easier to respect religion without scrutinizing it too much, and risk discovering it's steeped in hate, which might force the conventional wisdom in Washington to take responsibility. On this one-year anniversary since Trump gassed Americans out of the way for a photo-op of him holding a Bible in front of a church, we need the truth. And that's never been easy.

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