Stealth school board candidates are everywhere: But 'Stop the Steal' isn't working for them

As in an antidemocratic fever dream of Ralph Reed, a slew of conservative Christians, white nationalists and QAnon followers are running for school boards across the nation.

Many are doing so as quietly as possible, not admitting to voters who they really are, but hiding behind anodyne campaign slogans for "parental rights" and "school accountability." Former Christian Coalition leader Reed, who spoke of duping voters in this way as far back as 1992, must be proud.

Some of these parents might be running independently, given the stresses experienced by both parents and children during the pandemic. But many of the school-board candidacies by conservatives appear to be coordinated, much in the same way that Republican bills (and, uh, fraudulent election documents) are written as templates and sent out to state legislators.

In some states, conservatives are asking that school board campaigns, against tradition and even current law, become more partisan, with candidates declaring their political affiliations. Tennessee has already passed such a law. Their thinking must be that in some red states, a candidate with no affiliation, or a D next to their name, won't do as well. As they reflexively do with every criticism, conservatives claim that liberals and progressives are the real stealth candidates. In this case, their I know what you are but what am I? schoolyard taunt is particularly fitting.

As Salon's Kathryn Joyce exclusively reports in a three-part series, Hillsdale College, a private Christian college in Michigan, is the center of the right-wing effort to undermine — they would likely say "rescue" or "transform" — America's public education system by creating charter schools all over the country which will be "classically based," with emphasis on teaching traditional Christian values and a bowdlerized American history to make every student proud. Speaking of Tennessee, Joyce notes that the Volunteer State has put in an order for 50 of the charter schools.

RELATED: Salon investigates: The war on public schools is being fought from Hillsdale College

Meanwhile, current school board members across the country continue to face harassment and even death threats from political and religious zealots, according to a recent special report from Reuters, which makes for some very disturbing reading (and listening).

But with stealthiness, that major Trumpist ploy is necessarily missing — claims beforehand that if their preferred candidates do not win, the elections are rigged, and claims afterward that voter fraud stole the election. (Oh, yes, or if the candidate actually prevailed, that he would have won even more bigly. I almost forgot that last one.)

In fact, Trump is so big on pre-stolen elections, he's got his minions around the country working to fix the next one and to make the United States a sham democracy.

The Republican poor loser's "If I don't win, the thing was rigged" is just a step away from the autocrat's "Vote for me. Or else." But, of course, many Republicans these days seem to have no problem with autocrats. With all the dirty money of Russian oligarchs trading hands in the West, one wonders how many Republicans in Congress are really working for their constituents. Think of how often, and in how many ways, they and their disgraced, twice-impeached president have heaped praise on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Recently, the former president admiringly said Putin's strategy in declaring parts of Ukraine independent was "genius" and saying it showed his "savvy" (while, as always, working in his unsubstantiated claims about the 2020 election having been rigged). Just the other day, he openly asked Putin — the man who is destroying the lives of Ukrainians and reducing their cities to rubble — to help him dig up dirt on the Bidens.

It's more uncomfortable to do this stuff now, but they're still shamelessly at it.

Still, maintaining your stealth status as a candidate for the school board keeps you from complaining like that, at least before the election, lest you reveal yourself. But the Christian right has long understood the value of a hidden agenda. In the aftermath of Bill Clinton's elecction in 1992, they set out furiously to take over the Republican Party, by putting up stealth candidates and flooding the precincts with voters to overwhelm their opposition.

In 1996, Reed, noting the importance of local control for the Christian right, wrote, "I would rather have a thousand school-board members than one president and no school board members." The fight then was to "save the country" by stopping the teaching of evolution and sex education and mandating school prayer. The battle lines drawn now by conservative political operatives and fundamentalist leadership are about mask mandates, critical race theory (well, American history in general) and gender identity.

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As Salon contributor Paul Rosenberg writes, in an excellent piece on the well-funded Astroturf movement in Colorado by Christian conservatives to take over school boards, "If secular liberals and progressives are to successfully fight back, they need to understand what they're up against."

Groups like Red Wine & Blue and Run for Something are stepping up to speak up and encourage people to run for school boards who don't have a hidden antidemocratic, religious or conspiracy-based partisan agenda.

But I wonder when it will happen: When will the first conservative loser of a school board election claim voter fraud? Will school districts have to go to the expense of conducting multiple recounts of the vote?

Perhaps even these stealth candidates understand that in the "full forensic audit" of the vote in Maricopa County, Arizona, pushed by Trump and the Arizona Republican Party, Biden garnered 99 additional votes, while Trump lost more than 261. In fact, the only instances of voter fraud that have turned up have been minuscule and have largely belonged to Republican voters. Most recently, Mark Meadows, Trump's former chief of staff, is under investigation in North Carolina for voter fraud.

Conservative candidates hiding their true intentions is just another form of voter fraud — or fraud against the voters — is it not? Many of them may be against masking to protect the public's health, but they're apparently quite happy to put on a mask to run for office.

Since the Republicans have long turned psychological projection into their modus operandi, given their re-energized claims that Democrats are pedophiles, why shouldn't we be worried about conservative Christian school board members being around our kids? After all, it has been conservative-leaning organizations like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts that have infamously been deeply embroiled in sexual abuse scandals.

Given the GOP's obsession with pedophilia, shouldn't we be worried about right-wing school board members being around our kids?

Indeed, given the GOP's remarkable history of this psychological projection, when senators the likes of Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz confront Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on being soft on child pornography — something even a contributing editor at the conservative National Review called "meritless to the point of demagoguery" — what, again, are we to think about them?

Our strength as a nation lies in our diversity and our diverse thought. Parents who want their children to get a religious education — that so-called "classical" education of what they consider "the good, the true and the beautiful" — certainly have the right to do that. The rest of us are happy with science, history, free speech and human rights. We enjoy the freedom to have our own conceptions of what is good, true and beautiful.

In short, those parents have no right to try to destroy public education in this country for the rest of us, who do not have any desire to live in a theocracy.

The main claim they point to, that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, is not true. As Garry Wills writes in his masterful "Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America":

Almost all the framers of our government were Deists. Their influence was not, for a crucial period, countered by a strong Evangelical counterweight. This goes against a myth fondly held by modern Evangelicals — that America was founded in a time of deep religiosity and that this religious fervor has been cooling ever since. The truth is exactly the opposite.

As a one-time Presbyterian and a grandson of a minister, I do understand the appeal of religious belief and sometimes wish I could access it myself. But as an American I strongly say, God save us from the fervor of the religious right.

Just as a practical matter, look at how Russia was doing economically even before Putin's terror war on Ukraine. With a huge landmass and an abundance of natural resources, Russia nonetheless has a very limited economy, almost totally based on oil and natural gas, with massive side hustles in spewing disinformation, election interference, cyber-attacks and money laundering. If you want evidence of how America would fare under a Trumpian or a DeSantian white nationalist Christian autocracy masquerading as a democracy, look no further.

I have a note here that I should mention that we live in the best country that has ever existed on this planet. A country with a troubled history, yes, but even so, a great country. The note says, "Work that in, because it's true." And the main reason it is true is the separation of church and state. As Wills puts it: "Disestablishment was a stunning innovation. No other government had been launched without the protection of an official cult. This is the only original part of the Constitution."

And, yes, it all starts at school. Members of the Christian right say that they don't want children indoctrinated, but that is precisely what they want for their children, and yours.

None of this is about religion; it is about power. It should be noted here that in this country, most distinguished by its separation of church and state, we somehow find ourselves with a majority of conservative Catholics on the Supreme Court.

Getting back to the local stealth candidates, I say they ought to at least consider claiming voter fraud. A school board candidate in my town is emphasizing "Stop the Slide," in terms of academics, which seems a clever bit of signaling. In any case, crying "Stop the Steal" even at the local level would be consistent with the overarching political philosophy of today's GOP, who have proven themselves to be a bunch of losers, no matter what the election outcome.

Won't someone stand up to protest Putin's biggest fanboy?

Recently, the world watched with a mixture of astonishment, delight and concern as an employee of Russian state television Channel One interrupted the evening news program by coming onto the set, shouting "Stop the war! No to war!" while holding up a large handmade sign that said: Don't believe the propaganda. They're lying to you here.

News editor and producer Marina Ovsyannikova rushed out behind a female anchor (reportedly a Putin favorite), who was presenting the national state-sanctioned "news," with a sign decrying the lies being told there about Putin's war against Ukraine.

She also released a pre-recorded video, in which she opens by saying, "What is happening right now in Ukraine is a crime, and Russia is the aggressor. And the responsibility for this aggression lies on the conscience of only one person. This man is Vladimir Putin." She then notes that her father is Ukrainian and her mother is Russian and calls what Putin is doing a "fratricidal war."

She movingly calls on her fellow Russians to follow her, to stand up for what is right. Many have already been doing just that.

For her courageous act, Ovsyannikova said she was interrogated for 14 hours and has been fined. She faces an unknown fate — conceivably years in a Putin prison.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised her for the brave act of defiance, for telling the truth in the face of Putin's demand that his war against Ukraine be called a "special military operation" in support of Ukraine.

My question is, who will stand up for journalistic integrity here at home behind Tucker Carlson, the most vocal Putin cheerleader on Fox News? It immediately became a meme, but who will actually do it?

You know, Master Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson, pretend populist, who grew up rich because members of the actual proletariat were eating his stepmother's TV dinners; Tucker-of-the-Inevitable-Bowtie Carlson, who somehow manages to get U.S. males whipped up by strategically fretting about men being emasculated; Tucker of the Perpetually Confused Expression, who happily weaponizes stupidity; the Fox News "host" who, with a lot of competition among his colleagues, has stepped up as Putin's No. 1 apologist in the United States — so much so, that the Kremlin has noted how important it is for their propaganda efforts to showcase Carlson's work as often as possible.

I planned to give some examples of Carlson's fawning for Putin, but where does one begin? So many times has Tucker lavished praise on Putin or attempted to undermine Putin's critics that he is being called the "TuckyoRose" of his generation, and some call for him to be investigated by the Department of Justice.

A recent personal favorite of mine was his whining, dexterous double-pandering of "Has Putin ever called me a racist?" (Hm. That he was whining may mean that it was actually a triple pander. Let's enumerate: one, to his main man, Vlad; two, to white supremacists in his viewership; three, to the generally aggrieved viewership of Fox nation, for whom whining — especially by white men — elicits a Pavlovian response.)

Speaking of which, suffice it to say that when it comes to all things Vladimir, Tucker — much like our former president — is like that squirmy little dog that rolls onto its back (occasionally going so far as to pee itself) to show the dominant dog due obeisance. (Imagine that dog wearing a spiffy bow tie.)

No one feels animosity for such a dog, only pity. In the human realm? Well, the feelings may vary.

The question of the moment is this: How can democracies defend themselves against all the weapons utilized by authoritarians? Weapons like relentless propaganda and disinformation campaigns, attacks on journalists and the free press in general, and lawless oligarchs laundering their money in London, Amsterdam and New York while cozying up to officials with charitable giving and political donations.

Atlantic writer Anne Applebaum, author of "Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism," who also wrote "The Autocrats Are Winning" last December, will testify to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about what must the world's democracies must do to fight back against what she calls "Autocracy Inc," the loose but potent affiliation of autocrats who want to stay in power. What is needed, she writes, is a complete rethinking of our approach.

First among Applebaum's suggestions is to do a much better job of fighting disinformation. Which naturally brings us back around to the case of Tucker Carlson and his ever-growing ilk.

The founders of our republic knew that democracy had to have an informed citizenry to survive. How can it survive the massive dose of misinformation, disinformation, outright propaganda and bizarre conspiracy theories spewed by Fox News, Newsmax and OAN every day?

Should the First Amendment protect those who constantly muddy the waters — and steal the very possibility of citizens becoming better informed — with blatant lies?

The difference between a real journalistic enterprise and a faux journalistic enterprise, such as the channel perfectly named for a furtive mammal known for its cunning, its whining vocalizations and for pouncing on its prey, is that a misstatement of fact by a real journalistic enterprise is typically inadvertent and will be rectified. Misstatement of facts by Fox News hosts is a fundamental part of the business plan.

And, yes, Fox does have real journalists in its employ — veteran video journalist Pierre Zakrzewski, who was working for Fox, and freelance journalist Oleksandra Kuvshynova were recently killed covering Putin's war in Ukraine, while British reporter Benjamin Hall was seriously injured — but the journalism practiced at Fox provides cover for the network's provide cover for their true work, that of Carlson and Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity and Maria Bartiromo, who, as Salon's Amanda Marcotte recently noted, launder conspiracy theories in the Fox News­–QAnon feedback loop, through seemingly innocently bringing the theories up, trusting their viewers will then go online to dig in the garbage.

It is all so over-the-top treasonous that SNL recently cold-opened with a "Fox News Ukrainian Invasion Celebration Spectacular, from Mar-a-Lago," hosted by cast members playing Carlson, Ingraham and Donald Trump.

Comedians, including the truly heroic Zelenskyy, are doing their utmost to save democracy. Can our leaders do as much? And who will step up to be America's Ovsyannikova before the cameras at Fox News?

A 'Freedom Convoy' we can all support: Send the truckers to Russia!

In any negotiation to stop Vladimir Putin's unprovoked terror war against the Ukrainian people, may we add one small demand — that he open his borders to anti-Americans here at home?

This article first appeared in Salon.

I think he would be good with that.

I know I would.

I'm talking about the gun-toting, flagpole­-wielding insurrectionists, those faux-truckers with their faux demands for faux freedom from wearing masks they weren't wearing anyway — at least not over their noses — and all those folks who want to push their religious beliefs or unbelievably idiotic conspiracy theories on the rest of us, the reasonably educated "elite."

RELATED: The "People's Convoy," like Trump's social media platform, is a right-wing grift gone bust

Anyone who (at least until very recently) has openly praised Putin as being a stronger leader than their own president.

A jury just reached the first conviction of a Jan. 6 insurrectionist, and he will be sentenced in June. Given that there are something like 750 cases coming up for the Justice Department to deal with, some have suggested that the judge in that case will hand out a severe sentence to encourage others to make a plea deal.

What if these defendants were given the freedom to make a different choice — one that would save the country the expense of a trial and likely incarceration? They could emigrate to Mother Russia. (It might be more appealing if Putin rebrands that as "Daddy Russia," given the general misogyny and repressed erotic longing found on the American right.)

It's nice to see Republican support for Ukraine's struggle against Russia's war — after a fair amount of initial hedging — and polls show a vast majority of Americans say they are willing to deal with increased gas prices to support the overall effort. But there is no doubt that Republican leadership will start blaming President Biden for rising gas prices the moment they think they can get away with it — oh wait, they never stopped—as if he, or any president, has any control over the price at the pump.

But to all true-red Putin fanboys, like Fox News "personality" Tucker Carlson, and those who, like him, see in Russia or Hungary a model for our future, I say: Go. Democracy makes you feel very uncomfortable, like reading some generally beloved literature. And lots of science. And a good deal of history. And, now, gender studies.

The problem with you is that your oft-stated desire to "be free" is mostly about imposing your religious beliefs on others and curtailing your fellow citizens' freedom to life, liberty and the pursuit of their own happiness — including the liberty and happiness one feels as a citizen in casting a ballot, exercising democratic responsibility and feeling that fundamental sense of agency in the world.

Your idea of freedom is that everyone is free to think like you do. (How Putin-esque!) Are your antidemocratic impulses a good fit for living in the increasingly diverse United States of America in the 21st century? Let me put it in a way you'll comprehend: Nyet.

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Perhaps the AARP magazine should include Russian Federation states and allied countries in upcoming features on the best places to retire. You know, the AARP staff could provide additional categories for aging Americans with pro-Putin leanings to consider. Along with the standard categories of taxes, recreation and health care, they could include how adeptly officials in the region suppress protesters, women and journalists, or how helpful they are to folks who want to launder money in the West. Some wealthy Americans might choose to retire to, say, Belarus or Kyrgyzstan instead of Florida (and not go through the current endless hassle of turning Florida into Belarus or Kyrgyzstan). For less affluent Russia lovers, "Borscht-ing on a Budget" and "Surviving — and Thriving — in a Siberian Winter!" are a couple of feature story ideas that immediately come to mind.

Here at home, we would also love to be free of your endless trolling — which is an impulse, come to think of it, that could stand you in good stead in the Russian Federation or its allied states. As would that strong desire you seem to have lately to suppress the vote, rat on your neighbors and turn them in to the authorities (which, OK, can sometimes backfire).

You would have the freedom to live in a land where books don't need to be banned or burned, because they simply aren't published in the first place; where LGBTQ rights are unknown, partly because such acronyms, as well as human rights in general, remain unworkable in Russian; and where women and people of color know better than to raise their voices as full human beings.

You know, those good old "real American" values!

We can save the nation, and the union, while not breaking it up by states or counties — or ceding our reddest counties to the protectorate of Putin's lame alt-NATO, the CSTO. You and your fellow Putin admirers, along with evangelicals (who don't comprehend the First Amendment), gun fetishists (who don't comprehend the Second Amendment) and white supremacists (who don't understand the 14th, the 15th and — well, any number of amendments, as well as the life and message of Jesus) can live in a country much better suited to your zealotry and fervent beliefs.

As Christian historian Jemar Tisby, author of the bestselling "The Color of Compromise" and "How to Fight Racism," has extensively discussed, American white Christians being hellbent on white nationalism is nothing new. Writer, farmer and philosopher Wendell Berry called our deep reluctance to acknowledge our racist history America's hidden wound, and the right is very busy now further covering it up.

But fear not, Republicans — Putin has your back. His form of Christianity is said to be more about power and ideology than theology. And many Americans on the right, who have been encouraged to fear an "elite" left and to hate their political opponents for advocating diversity and inclusion in our pluralistic, multicultural democracy, greatly admire any "strongman" who might make it all go away, with a big assist from a like-minded Supreme Court.

The horrific human scenes of devastation we are witnessing from cellphone and amateur video coming out of Ukraine may be momentarily silencing most Putin aficionados and apologists in the United States, but don't think for a moment that they don't still love him.

Watching courageous Ukrainians pushing back against the little Russian tyrant, with their lives and homeland on the line, and an empathic and competent American president methodically working with the leaders of a strengthened NATO against him, should make us appreciate the strength inherent in the American promise — which is painfully slow, yes, but still a promise, a worthy aspiration — of greater justice for all, as well as the creative energy that comes from our blessed diversity of thought and cultures.

I want to feel as proud of my homeland as the Ukrainians obviously do theirs.

That trucker convoy was an AstroTurf bogus protest, but a "freedom convoy" of insurrectionists and QAnoners and authoritarian-loving Putin-stooges in Congress and the media packing up and heading straight out of this country would be the real thing.

Let's forge a moment of rare bipartisan consensus and make your freedom convoy — and ours — a reality.

A modest proposal: Chunks of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi can join Putin's faux-NATO group -- it's a win-win!

Let me make this short, and I hope, sweet. I'm addressing all the true patriots out there. You know who you are.

About that dicey Ukraine situation: What if Vladimir Putin could be mollified by gaining his own NATO-like foothold next to the United States? Like, right next to it. Or sort of inside it.

Heck, so many Republicans think of him as a great white, er, powerful leader — as opposed to those socialist, secular, pluralistic (sorry, I know that word is hate speech for some of you) Demoncrat presidents, like "let's go Brandon" and Barack Hussein Obama. So why don't we allow a Russian-led military alliance to incorporate certain selected parts of America — say, large swathes of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi? You know, our already-red territory.

They could join Putin's second-rate cognate to NATO, the seldom-remarked-on Collective Treaty Security Organization (CTSO) of former Soviet states. Like NATO, the CTSO is apparently open for new states to join — perhaps including your very own county!

Averting a prolonged war between Russia and Ukraine, as well as another civil war between Americans? Done, and done!

You're welcome.

In this proposed scenario, the actual United States would of course retain all major metropolitan areas. as well as cities and towns with universities, no matter how small, so long as they have a functioning library. (Americans would air-drop newspapers, periodicals, and newly published books into what we would designate NATO-protected "Literacy Zones.") Miami is ours, as are Gainesville, Tuscaloosa and Jackson. Orlando is perhaps to be negotiated — a demarcated and divided city, like Berlin after the war, only with way worse architecture.

But all of that is a plus for you guys, right? You're tired of all those elites and eggheads anyway. Your favorite politicians (most of whom went to Yale and Harvard) have been badmouthing people with fancy educations for decades now. And the endless publishing of books that need to be inspected for banning? Ugh!

Socialists! Libtards! Health care "experts"! Librarians!

And, hey, even more on the plus side: under the terms of the CTSO protectorate, Russian-style censorship and mistreatment of journalists could begin where you live almost immediately. (Mistreatment of other groups would be phased in — and, we know, you "don't have a racist bone in your body," and think that powerful women are strangely hot.)

After the last four years of our former president's indefatigable work in undermining NATO and righteously belittling our so-called allies, you must be outraged to witness Joe Biden's smarmy collegiality with the leaders of the NATO countries — you know, Jolly Olde England, "Freedom Fries" France, er, Germany and, uh, those others (Slovenika? Marzipan?) — and that imposter president even being trusted to occasionally speak on their behalf.

So much attention being spent on other countries is, yes, yet another outrage!

Oooh, and you won't have to put up with that gosh-darned socialist U.S. Postal Service, or the fleet of electric vehicles draining your vital fluids. As you can see, the benefits of the plan just keep on coming. It's not a win-win; it's a win-win-win-win-win.

Look, you've fallen deeply under the spell of the insurrection-fomenting, divide-and-conquer former president and his enablers. We understand that now. So why not take it to the next level, and submit to the guy who appears to be his daddy?

I'd love to take credit for this idea, but as we all must admit, many other people share in the glory:

  • We all remember that a group of true Republicans traveled to Moscow to spend July 4, 2018, starting us on the path of closer ties with our Russian friends. In his "PREVAIL" column on Substack, Greg Olear offers an engaging piece on the "Prostrate Eight" and their secret meetings with Russian officials on America's Independence Day.
  • How could we forget that Russian oligarchs quietly funneled massive amounts of cash through the NRA in order to protect our God-given Second Amendment rights — and our elections!
  • Look, it's not like Mitch McConnell got the nickname "Moscow Mitch" for nothing.
  • And what have our friends at Fox News been telling us all along about who the strong leaders really are? That's right! And this, too! In these times of, you know, books and public health rules and women wanting rights to control their own bodies, men should be strong like bull!

So, freedom fighters of Jackson County, Alabama — if you are male — shake hands with your new confederates in Belarus (tip: always maintain eye contact)! Patriots of Union County, Mississippi, given that you may be unfamiliar with the languages spoken in Tajikistan, maybe just a tip of the ol' MAGA cap! And fellow QAnoners in Okaloosa County, Florida, жоғары бестіктер (that's "high fives" to you) with your pals in Kazakhstan!

Perhaps this is too heady a dream for you to consider right away? The CTSO could allow your county to kind of have a look-see, with observer status. They did that with Serbia, another nation whose glorious recent history resembles your own. But why would you want to be a blushing violet at this point? You know what you want!

It will be a true red, white and OK-not-blue liberation for you all to feel completely protected, once again, from the tyranny of democracy.

Why has Republican rhetoric gotten so unhinged?

Some Republicans have dialed up the hyperbole to express their indignation about President Biden's vaccine mandates. Here are two tweets from South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster:

The American Dream has turned into a nightmare under President Biden and the radical Democrats. They have declared war against capitalism, thumbed their noses at the Constitution, and empowered our enemies abroad.
Rest assured, we will fight them to the gates of hell to protect the liberty and livelihood of every South Carolinian."

Hearing Republican politicians speak about the American dream while voting against a livable minimum wage and undermining unions and consumer protection, is always, well, a little rich.

This article first appeared in Salon.

In this little tirade, McMaster was merely piling on while reacting to the supposed tyranny of Biden's recently announced mandates for vaccinations or testing in the workplace and in school.

So: You will fight sensible policies in an ongoing global health crisis — one that has already taken at least 660,000 lives of your own countrymen — to the gates of hell? Beyond the obvious morbid jokes that statement naturally elicits (e.g., Trevor Noah: "Normally, that statement is hyperbole, but with COVID you might actually get the chance."), where can McMaster now go if he wants to further ratchet up this rhetoric?

  • Before I listen to you, you'll see me do-si-do with Satan himself!
  • Do so, and you'll be up the River Styx without a paddle, pardner!
  • I'd rather traverse down all nine levels of Dante's Inferno, with a poet, than be bipartisan with the likes of you!

And how about that use of "thumbing their noses"? With that aged locution, the good governor is, without doubt, speaking directly to his demographic.

If one wanted to use old-fashioned phrases or words, one might ask: What is it with this ceaseless perfidiousness from the right? Merriam-Webster defines "perfidious" as "untrue to what should command one's fidelity or allegiance." Synonyms include faithless, false, disloyal, treacherous and traitorous.

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One need only consider the Republican votes during the two impeachment trials of Donald Trump, or their Trumpian adherence to the Big Lie about the 2020 election, or their whitewashing of the deadly insurrection at the Capitol, to understand the word. It might be a fun game to connect the most apt synonym with specific members of the House or Senate.

For decades the Republican game has been to claim that liberals and progressives are out to ruin the country with their unholy desire to see a bit more sharing of wealth and resources. But the rhetoric they're employing lately seems truly biblical, end-times unhinged, of the "If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore" variety. And it all seems to be a psychological projection of their own desire to bring the American experiment as a democratic republic to an end.

The left now understands (let us hope) that like the British aristocracy of the 18th century, the GOP is going to war to retain power by any means. We need a modern-day Paul Revere (and a William Dawes, who didn't get a mention in the famous Longfellow poem) to raise the alarm. Their signals in the Old North Church today might be: "One if by gerrymandered land, and two if by voters put out to sea."

Our modern-day Revere, Stacey Abrams, can see those three lanterns glowing, day and night. Even with her eyes shut.

Strangers on a train: The dark bargain that destroyed the Republican Party

As the Republican Party continues on its march toward fascism, it's easy to find yourself making political connections — even when you are trying your best not to think about politics.

This article first appeared in Salon.

Recently I was reading about astrophysics (understanding only an infinitesimal amount) and saw the Republican Party's implosion into Trumpism as akin to the formation of a black hole in space, where truth (instead of light) is unable to escape the event horizon.

I found myself in the same frame of mind while watching Alfred Hitchcock's 1951 classic "Strangers on a Train," about a couple of men falling into a conversation and making an unholy bargain, which one of them thinks is a macabre intellectual exercise not to be taken seriously.

Falling back into the dream of the film, I could not help but see the conniving, unhinged Bruno Antony (brilliantly played by Robert Walker) as a precursor of Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Ron Johnson and their ilk, those who have managed to kill off the old Republican Party and who are hard at work to murder majority-rule democracy — both through voter suppression and by inciting actual violence. For me, Guy Haines (played by Farley Granger) represented Republicans I understood, at least to a degree: Nelson Rockefeller, George H.W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Liz Cheney. To me, those Republicans might have been willing to take advantage of others and perhaps stretch the law to avoid taxes or otherwise enrich themselves, but they would likely have ruminated over it and made sure to attend church service soon after banking the profits. In any case, they believed in the necessity of compromise, the work inherent in politics.

These are the so-called RINOs, or "Republicans in name only," a term which — now that I consider it — was always a form of gaslighting and projection. That term has been used to attack actual Republicans and make them seem like another group Trump voters could despise and blame for their failings and bad impulses — another "other." Newt Gingrich and his chortling crew sent the Republicans who understood that compromise was the way of politics (and who, it ought to be said, also took their oaths of office seriously) the way of the Oldsmobile. It was a Swift Boat operation done on their own people. We could all see they were Republicans, but we were told they were somehow not Republicans, or at least not real Republicans — they were RINOs. The fake Republicans pushed out the real ones.

And there it was: Gaslighting — the favored authoritarian manipulation of "don't believe what you see with your own eyes" — so named for the 1944 film "Gaslight" (directed by George Cukor with Hitchcockian flair), in which a criminal, played by Charles Boyer, purposively undermines the mental health of his wife (Ingrid Bergman, who won an Oscar for the role) by lying to her endlessly and saying that things she has seen with her own eyes are not true. You know, like Donald Trump has done to the public for years — indeed, for his entire adult life.

The overarching gaslighting that the modern Republican Party continues to perpetrate on the American public is that good old yarn about how lowering taxes for the wealthy and corporations will boost the economy — the so-called trickle-down theory, which George H.W. Bush memorably called "voodoo economics," before he was selected as Ronald Reagan's running mate, at least partly to shut him up. It always brings to mind something economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote:

The modern conservative is not even especially modern. He is engaged, on the contrary, in one of man's oldest, best financed, most applauded, and, on the whole, least successful exercises in moral philosophy. That is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

The actual Republicans — who we are told by the likes of Matt Gaetz are not the actual Republicans — must have thought back in the Tea Party days that the Gingrich plan, the treat-the-opposition-as-your-enemy, shut-down-the-government, win-at-all-costs faction, would be a temporary thing, something to be countenanced for a short time. They clearly felt the same way about the antics of Donald Trump. It was all just kind of an unsettling joke, as Guy Haines thought of Bruno's proposed bargain to trade murders.

In the film, Bruno crashes a party and nearly strangles a woman while re-enacting the murder he has committed, which might remind anyone old enough both of Gingrich's crashing the GOP with his "Contract With America" (often referred to then as "Contract on America") and of the equally oddly named Grover Norquist, co-author of the "Contract," who often said he wanted a government small enough that he could drown it in the bathtub. (That phrasing seemed pretty personal — there's more than a hint of gruesome domestic violence in there.)

What Gingrich and Norquist brought to the party was the end of what used to be called "political comity" — seeing beyond different political positions and working together professionally to reach compromise. You know — pretty much the substance of politics.

There is a scene, both funny and unsettling, in "Strangers on a Train" in which Bruno and his mother (the memorable Marion Lorne, in her film debut) have a chance to catch up, and we learn a good deal about how Bruno became the person he is now. She fusses about his health and his attitude, remarking to her son that at least he had given up on his crazy earlier plan:

Mother: Now, you haven't been doing anything foolish?
[Bruno shakes his head while nuzzling her hand.]
Mother: Well, I do hope you've forgotten all about that silly little plan of yours.
Bruno: Which one?
Mother: About, um, blowing up the White House.
Bruno: Oh, ma, I was only fooling. Besides, what would the president say?
Mother [laughing with relief]: Oh, you're a naughty boy, Bruno! Well, you can always make me laugh.

When the film was made, the politics of the day were focused on the Cold War and distrust of anyone who might be sympathetic to the "other side." Looking at the film today, who could doubt that Bruno, like far too many Republicans, might be a QAnon believer, as well as a delighted supporter of Trump's Big Lie about the election, shrugging off the lack of any evidence while pointing to Chinese and Russian conspiracy websites. (In the film, Bruno works assiduously to plant evidence to tie Granger to the murder that Bruno actually committed.) Bruno would have been delighted to help with the planning for the insurrection of Jan. 6 and would have cheered others on from a discreet distance. And he would just as cheerfully deny everything he'd done. You can never pin down a psychopath. As we all know now, it is not possible to hold the shameless to account. They just cry persecution.

The images of the fight on the merry-go-round — sent into overdrive by a policeman who shoots indiscriminately, killing the carny operating the ride — are unforgettable. Granger's character, like, say, Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney, is trying desperately to hang on as Bruno kicks at his hands and the whole contraption seems about to break apart. It does, at least until a carnival employee crawls beneath the carousel to reach the controls, too late to save the ride and some of its passengers.

One story concerning the making of "Strangers on a Train," as told by Ben Mankiewicz on Turner Classic Movies, is that Hitchcock was haunted by his decision to allow the man to crawl under the frantically spinning merry-go-round. For years afterward, Hitchcock said, he got sweaty palms every time he thought about that day. If Donald Trump is directing this insurrectionist flick now in production from Mar-a-Lago Studios, he's more than happy to sacrifice anyone and everyone.

The old GOP is going the way of that merry-go-round, and even if someone were to try to get to the controls now (Who? The Lincoln Project? The Bulwark?) it seems too late to save anything worthy of a democratic republic. Conservatives who are not pro-white supremacy, pro-conspiracy, anti-science, and chock-full of grievances will need to create a new political party someday — and get themselves out of the carnival business, with its glaring lights, mesmerizing sounds and untrustworthy machinery.

How fascism came to America

It has been said that when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.

This well-known line has been attributed to a number of people — most often to novelist Sinclair Lewis, but also to socialist leader Eugene V. Debs and even to populist Louisiana senator Huey Long — but none of them wrote or said it in precisely the way it has come down to us. It appears to be an aphoristic stone nicely polished by being handled by a lot of people.

To have it reflect our current situation, we need to roughen it up.

When Donald J. Trump was running for president in 2016, Lewis's novel "It Can't Happen Here," written quickly in 1935 as authoritarian leaders were rising in Europe, started to sell out. In it, populist demagogue "Buzz" Windrip, a Democrat (i.e., a pre-Civil Rights Act Democrat, who would be a Republican today), wins the presidency. As Beverly Gage describes it in a 2017 essay for the New York Times, Windrip — who was based on both Long and the anti-Semitic radio priest Father Coughlin — is not exactly Trump, but he's right "there" in a number of respects:

Like Trump, Windrip sells himself as the champion of "Forgotten Men," determined to bring dignity and prosperity back to America's white working class. Windrip loves big, passionate rallies and rails against the "lies" of the mainstream press. His supporters embrace this message, lashing out against the "highbrow intellectuality" of editors and professors and policy elites. With Windrip's encouragement, they also take out their frustrations on Blacks and Jews.

So, just a super guy — someone you could really rally around. And shriek. And chant about putting people behind bars.

Apparently, the first iteration of the saying just had the bit about the time-honored false patriotism of wrapping oneself up in the flag. Then the faux-religiosity gambit of cross carrying was added.

I think we must now edit and append it further:

When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapping itself around the flag and holding a Bible upside down. And riding in a golf cart.

Except this fascism is not so much "wrapping itself with" the flag but more like sexually assaulting it.

Trump, a man who received five deferments from military service, seems to think the Stars and Stripes is a great-looking lady he can molest. ("I don't even wait!") I suspect he is less handsy with the gal he clearly respects more, the good old Stars and Bars.

Oh, I forgot the tear gas and rubber bullets. So, we append further:

When fascism comes to America, it will be sexually assaulting the flag, carrying a Bible upside down, riding in a golf cart, and enjoying the fact that tear gas and rubber bullets are in use against peaceful protesters.

OK, that's getting too long. But now, naturally, I'm remembering the time fascism was hiding in his bunker (no, not in 1945 Berlin — the more recent time, in Washington). No harm in trying it out, right?

When fascism comes to America, it will be sexually assaulting the flag, carrying a Bible upside down, riding in a golf cart, and enjoying the fact that tear gas and rubber bullets are in use against peaceful protesters — and then scurrying away to hide in a bunker.

But it just becomes less elegant, more ungainly — and so less memorable. There is so much one could add, beyond hiding in that bunker — incessantly watching "Fox & Friends," tweeting instead of working, lying like breathing — that the mind refuses to latch on to anything. There is no substance, just chaos.

Speaking of chaos, Trump and his gang of enablers have always reminded me of the year I spent in a fraternity. Somewhat to my surprise, I was elected pledge class president, and after a tumultuous year I tried my best to get a dozen young men through the seriously stupid, often dangerous and generally unhinged hazing of Hell Week, so they could, at last, become active members.

I don't care whether they were ever actually in a fraternity or not, but people like Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan and their boisterous, under-thinking ilk — really, nearly all of the Republicans in Congress — are precisely like a bunch of entitled and semi-educated frat boys who are simply used to getting their way. They insist on it, as toddlers will do. Donald Trump is the president of this house, which has to be Delta Iota Kappa, yes, the proud DIK House. To parrot a favorite Trumpian phrase, as everyone knows, those DIKs should have long ago been kicked off campus and had their charter revoked.

OK, now I have to get the frat-boy concept in. It naturally rides with the golf cart, and it expresses so much—about white privilege, about entitlement, about binge drinking and barfing and "boofing" and generally being obstreperous and having one's way with "the babes" — one way or another. (Ask Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh if you need explanation of any of that.)

When fascism comes to America, it will be sexually assaulting the flag, carrying a Bible upside down, riding in a golf cart with various frat-boy buddies, and enjoying the fact that tear gas and rubber bullets are in use against peaceful protesters — and then scurrying away to hide in a bunker.

Oh, and crying about being a victim and about people not liking him. Well, the phrase is already unwieldy enough and even I've grown weary of it.

I know some of you would quibble with my calling this fascism. You might call this neo-fascism or proto-fascism. But I'm too exhausted at this point to look those up. Call it über-fascism or Kentucky Fried fascism or Adderall fascism, or whatever else you'd like.

Of course none of this is funny. Well, maybe it's mordantly humorous, the way you might laugh involuntarily as unmarked militarized police started shooting rubber bullets your way during a peaceful protest in the United States of America.

Though thwarted to date, the Republican assault on the votes of more than 81 million citizens continues. Eighteen 18 Republican state attorneys general, 126 Republican members of Congress, and a bunch of dead-silent Republican senators have proven themselves more than happy to go along with it. So much for their fervent belief in states' rights, and that thing called the Constitution.

And, yes, for the past number of years all journalists writing op-eds about the dangers of putting the grandson of a man named Drumpf in charge of anything are a bunch of Sinclair Lewis' Doremus Jessups, trying desperately to fight a tyrant with a mere pen. One does what one must.

It's an extended Hell Week in America, at least until this guy is out of office. So you better bone up on that Greek alphabet and be ready to "drop trou" (ask Brett about that one, too). Listen up, plebes, they want you to come out on the other end as active members of something bigly, something terrific — something that's definitely not a democracy.

If Trump wants a recount, make him pay up front

Earlier in this dizzying week, Donald Trump's campaign demanded a recount of the Wisconsin vote, even before it was completed. (Now they'd like to recount the entire election, but that's a different problem.) In an interview with MSNBC's Katy Tur, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said that the state has a "safe, secure and reliable" process but that a recount can happen if the vote is within a one-percent margin. He noted that if the vote is within 0.25%, the state pays for the recount; otherwise, the campaign requesting the recount must pay.This article first appeared in Salon.

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