The damning evidence against Trump and his allies is just the tip of the iceberg

We have arrived at the one year anniversary of January 6, 2021, when supporters of the president waged war against a co-equal branch of government. Over the past few months, the public has been receiving piecemeal information about both this violent insurrection and the quieter plots that preceded it. While there are many unknowns, here is what is certain: there was an attempted coup on American soil.

In the weeks leading up to January 6, Trump and allies plotted to overturn the election and undemocratically seize power from President-elect Joe Biden. Then, on January 6, Trump supporters attacked the Capitol, potentially delaying certification.

Many have viewed these two threads – the ostensibly soft coup and the hard coup – as perhaps independent events. It’s important, now, to outline what we know and what questions are outstanding about the extent to which these various plots – from quiet proceduralism to violent insurrection – were intertwined.

The Eastman plot
In the weeks before January 6, 2021, Trump and allies mounted a multipronged scheme to overturn the election. Their command center was a “war room” at the Willard Hotel, in Washington, DC. Between November and January, the team mounted multiple legal challenges.

Trump pressured state election officials, as well as his own attorney general. Parallel to these efforts was the scheme outlined by John Eastman, in a now infamous memo: On January 6, Vice President Mike Pence could throw out electors from several key states if these states had proposed alternate electors, kicking the election to Trump.

As January 6 approached, however, Trump’s ability to carry out this plot became more tenuous. Why? Many Republicans in the states in question were willing to comply, but they needed more time.

Coordination
At this point in time, there is no public evidence that Trump and his allies were coordinating with the insurrectionists with the explicit goal to stage an attack. We have not seen, for example, text messages where a Trump ally has said, “We want you to storm the Capitol.”

We do, however, have plenty of other evidence that paints a chilling portrait of possible, if not likely, coordination.

The insurrectionist groups mingled with Trump’s team in the days before January 6. For example, members of the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Stop the Steal were gathered at the Willard Hotel on the night of January 5. The Oath Keepers also served as personal security to Trump’s ally Roger Stone on January 5 and 6. At least one of the Proud Boys has admitted their plot was to stop the transfer of power.

Members of these same groups were also in contact with Trump’s allies in Congress, prior to January 6. In December, Ali Alexander, founder of Stop the Steal, texted Mo Brooks, a Republican representative, writing that “January 6 is a big moment in our Republic” and that his group would be in DC to “stand ready to help.”

Alexander also told Brooks that Michael Flynn would be in contact. Other organizers of the Stop The Steal rally allegedly met with “close to a dozen” Republican lawmakers or staff prior to January 6.

Additionally, January 6 rally organizers allegedly bought burner phones (cheap, pre-paid and disposable) to communicate with officials connected to Trump. One such organizer, Kylie Kremer, had formed a Facebook group “urging boots on the ground.”

Katrina Pierson, a Trump ally who was organizing the January 6 rally, arranged for the most extreme members of the pro-Trump crowd — such as Alex Jones and Ali Alexander — to give speeches on January 5.

That evening, Alexander inspired the crowd to chant “Victory or Death!” In early December, Alexander tweeted “I am willing to give my life for this fight.” He was then retweeted by the Arizona GOP, who asked: “He is, are you?”

Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, sent an email on January 5 informing an individual that the National Guard would “protect pro Trump people.” There is also evidence of contact between insurrectionists and Mark Meadows. According to a House report, Meadows “exchanged text messages with, and provided guidance to, an organizer of the January 6 rally … after the organizer told him ‘[t]hings have gotten crazy and I desperately need some direction.’”

Finally, we know that, once the attack was underway, John Eastman attempted to exploit the violence to further the coup. He wrote to Mike Pence’s lawyer during the insurrection and declared, “The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary.”

Keli Ward, head of the Arizona GOP, tweeted, “Congress is adjourned. Send the elector choice back to the legislatures.” Later that evening, Eastman wrote to Pence’s lawyer again, arguing that, given the debate had exceeded the allotted time, Pence should proceed to reject the electors from Arizona, just as was outlined in Eastman’s memo.

The military
When we’re talking about coups, we have to talk about the military.

The details of what, exactly, was going on with the military between November 3, 2020, and January 6, 2021, remain murky. What we do know, however, paints a portrait of internal conflict, such that members of Trump’s team repeatedly attempted to exploit hard power in their coup attempt, whereas other members of the military took extraordinary measures to prevent this same action.

On November 9, 2020, Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper for insufficient loyalty and replaced him with Christopher Miller, who then served as Acting Defense Secretary. Trump also installed Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a Michael Flynn ally, to the position of Undersecretary for Intelligence and Security. Trump made other changes at the Pentagon, including installing a man who had called for Trump to declare martial law in a top position.

After Esper was fired, Gina Haspel, the CIA director, voiced concern about Trump’s extensive restructuring of Pentagon power, allegedly telling the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley: “We are on the way to a right-wing coup.” Her concerns were well-founded.

During this same period, Michael Flynn contacted the newly installed Watnick-Cohen to request that the DoD begin to “effectuate orders and seize ballots.” There would be, Flynn said, “an epic showdown over the election.” Sydney Powell, a lawyer advising Trump, also called Cohen and tried to enlist him in a plot to detain Haspel in Germany. Powell allegedly cited a Qanon conspiracy that Haspel was on a secret mission to destroy evidence of rigged voting machines. When speaking to Watnick-Cohen, Powell asked for a special operations mission to detain and force a confession from the CIA director.

Meanwhile, Acting Defense Secretary Miller and Chairman Milley were increasingly concerned about what would unfold on January 6, though their theories of violence diverged. Milley was concerned that troops, if placed on the streets in DC, could be redirected by Trump to do his bidding. Miller had a different fear: he did not necessarily believe Trump would redirect the military, but, rather that Trump supporters would goad troops into a “Boston Massacre Type Situation.”

The big picture
This is all just the tip of the iceberg. What we know is this: Trump and allies plotted a coup. They were in frequent contact with the individuals who would ultimately attack Congress. At the very least, Trump and allies knew this attack would advance their aims while it was underway. Trump and allies also repeatedly resorted to pressuring the Department of Defense to involve itself in their seizure of power. Some at DoD may have supported this scheme; others resisted it.

In the coming months, as we learn more information, it is crucial to tie these threads together, because, unfortunately, the Republican Party now has what they ran out of last January: time. They are using this time to restructure state elections and install Trump loyalists, thus laying the groundwork to make their next coup more successful.

Trump's coup failed when the clock ran out -- next time America might not be so lucky

Gina Haspel, the CIA director, voiced concern about Trump’s extensive restructuring of Pentagon power, allegedly telling the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley: “We are on the way to a right-wing coup.” Her concerns were well-founded.

We have arrived at the one year anniversary of January 6, 2021, when supporters of the president waged war against a co-equal branch of government. Over the past few months, the public has been receiving piecemeal information about both this violent insurrection and the quieter plots that preceded it. While there are many unknowns, here is what is certain: there was an attempted coup on American soil.

In the weeks leading up to January 6, Trump and allies plotted to overturn the election and undemocratically seize power from President-elect Joe Biden. Then, on January 6, Trump supporters attacked the Capitol, potentially delaying certification.

Many have viewed these two threads – the ostensibly soft coup and the hard coup – as perhaps independent events. It’s important, now, to outline what we know and what questions are outstanding about the extent to which these various plots – from quiet proceduralism to violent insurrection – were intertwined.

The Eastman plot

In the weeks before January 6, 2021, Trump and allies mounted a multipronged scheme to overturn the election. Their command center was a “war room” at the Willard Hotel, in Washington, DC. Between November and January, the team mounted multiple legal challenges.

Trump pressured state election officials, as well as his own attorney general. Parallel to these efforts was the scheme outlined by John Eastman, in a now infamous memo: On January 6, Vice President Mike Pence could throw out electors from several key states if these states had proposed alternate electors, kicking the election to Trump.

As January 6 approached, however, Trump’s ability to carry out this plot became more tenuous. Why? Many Republicans in the states in question were willing to comply, but they needed more time.

Coordination

At this point in time, there is no public evidence that Trump and his allies were coordinating with the insurrectionists with the explicit goal to stage an attack. We have not seen, for example, text messages where a Trump ally has said, “We want you to storm the Capitol.”

We do, however, have plenty of other evidence that paints a chilling portrait of possible, if not likely, coordination.

The insurrectionist groups mingled with Trump’s team in the days before January 6. For example, members of the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Stop the Steal were gathered at the Willard Hotel on the night of January 5. The Oath Keepers also served as personal security to Trump’s ally Roger Stone on January 5 and 6. At least one of the Proud Boys has admitted their plot was to stop the transfer of power.

Members of these same groups were also in contact with Trump’s allies in Congress, prior to January 6. In December, Ali Alexander, founder of Stop the Steal, texted Mo Brooks, a Republican representative, writing that “January 6 is a big moment in our Republic” and that his group would be in DC to “stand ready to help.”

Alexander also told Brooks that Michael Flynn would be in contact. Other organizers of the Stop The Steal rally allegedly met with “close to a dozen” Republican lawmakers or staff prior to January 6.

Additionally, January 6 rally organizers allegedly bought burner phones (cheap, pre-paid and disposable) to communicate with officials connected to Trump. One such organizer, Kylie Kremer, had formed a Facebook group “urging boots on the ground.”

Katrina Pierson, a Trump ally who was organizing the January 6 rally, arranged for the most extreme members of the pro-Trump crowd — such as Alex Jones and Ali Alexander — to give speeches on January 5.

That evening, Alexander inspired the crowd to chant “Victory or Death!” In early December, Alexander tweeted “I am willing to give my life for this fight.” He was then retweeted by the Arizona GOP, who asked: “He is, are you?”

Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, sent an email on January 5 informing an individual that the National Guard would “protect pro Trump people.” There is also evidence of contact between insurrectionists and Mark Meadows. According to a House report, Meadows “exchanged text messages with, and provided guidance to, an organizer of the January 6 rally … after the organizer told him ‘[t]hings have gotten crazy and I desperately need some direction.’”

Finally, we know that, once the attack was underway, John Eastman attempted to exploit the violence to further the coup. He wrote to Mike Pence’s lawyer during the insurrection and declared, “The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary.”

Keli Ward, head of the Arizona GOP, tweeted, “Congress is adjourned. Send the elector choice back to the legislatures.” Later that evening, Eastman wrote to Pence’s lawyer again, arguing that, given the debate had exceeded the allotted time, Pence should proceed to reject the electors from Arizona, just as was outlined in Eastman’s memo.

The military

When we’re talking about coups, we have to talk about the military.

The details of what, exactly, was going on with the military between November 3, 2020, and January 6, 2021, remain murky. What we do know, however, paints a portrait of internal conflict, such that members of Trump’s team repeatedly attempted to exploit hard power in their coup attempt, whereas other members of the military took extraordinary measures to prevent this same action.

On November 9, 2020, Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper for insufficient loyalty and replaced him with Christopher Miller, who then served as Acting Defense Secretary. Trump also installed Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a Michael Flynn ally, to the position of Undersecretary for Intelligence and Security. Trump made other changes at the Pentagon, including installing a man who had called for Trump to declare martial law in a top position.

After Esper was fired, Gina Haspel, the CIA director, voiced concern about Trump’s extensive restructuring of Pentagon power, allegedly telling the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley: “We are on the way to a right-wing coup.” Her concerns were well-founded.

During this same period, Michael Flynn contacted the newly installed Watnick-Cohen to request that the DoD begin to “effectuate orders and seize ballots.” There would be, Flynn said, “an epic showdown over the election.” Sydney Powell, a lawyer advising Trump, also called Cohen and tried to enlist him in a plot to detain Haspel in Germany. Powell allegedly cited a Qanon conspiracy that Haspel was on a secret mission to destroy evidence of rigged voting machines. When speaking to Watnick-Cohen, Powell asked for a special operations mission to detain and force a confession from the CIA director.

Meanwhile, Acting Defense Secretary Miller and Chairman Milley were increasingly concerned about what would unfold on January 6, though their theories of violence diverged. Milley was concerned that troops, if placed on the streets in DC, could be redirected by Trump to do his bidding. Miller had a different fear: he did not necessarily believe Trump would redirect the military, but, rather that Trump supporters would goad troops into a “Boston Massacre Type Situation.”

The big picture

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. What we know is this: Trump and allies plotted a coup. They were in frequent contact with the individuals who would ultimately attack Congress. At the very least, Trump and allies knew this attack would advance their aims while it was underway. Trump and allies also repeatedly resorted to pressuring the Department of Defense to involve itself in their seizure of power. Some at DoD may have supported this scheme; others resisted it.

In the coming months, as we learn more information, it is crucial to tie these threads together, because, unfortunately, the Republican Party now has what they ran out of last January: time. They are using this time to restructure state elections and install Trump loyalists, thus laying the groundwork to make their next coup more successful.

How mainstream media distorts the reality of Biden's agenda

President Joe Biden's polling appears to be in a slump. His approval average is 43 percent, with 52 percent disapproving.

These numbers are perplexing, given a majority supports his legislative agenda. For example, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll recorded Biden's approval at 41 percent, whereas support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill was 63 percent and Build Back Better was 58 percent. The same poll also found that the GOP midterm advantage is higher than it's been since 1981. All despite the fact that Republican representatives largely oppose the agenda that voters support.

These polling trends are likely due to multiple causes.

Typically, new presidents start with high approval ratings. Those ratings fall as voters shift to favoring the out-party in midterms. So part of Biden's slump may just be typical political dynamics.

READ: 'You were gullible': Federal judge torches Trump's election lies — and a rioter who believed them

However, the decoupling of the president's approval and his agenda is unprecedented in modern American politics. Both previous presidents — Barack Obama and Donald Trump — experienced approval ratings that slumped in tandem with opposition to their legislative agendas.

So what's going on?

One cause may be the economy.

Current inflation may be temporary, but it is causing real stress for many Americans and voters will typically assign responsibility to the party in power. Additionally, Democrats could improve messaging, such that it may be true that Biden could have done a better job attaching his own face to his agenda by doing more public appearances. Finally, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema likely did Democrats no favors by stalling popular legislation in Congress.

READ: Watch: Ahmaud Arbery prosecutor delivers devastating closing argument with this simple test for the jury

Another player driving this odd mismatch: the media.

Blaming the media can seem like an easy scapegoat. However, given the current set of circumstances, there are good reasons to question whether the press corps — those who are meant to convey information about legislation to the public — are doing a good job.

First, we have to understand the media environment, including our own role as news consumers. The press should not be presidential cheerleaders. Its job is to critically relay facts and analyses. That said, the media and media consumers are subject to a level of negativity bias that can drive public perception in irrational directions.

Humans are more likely to engage with negative information. In terms of Biden's agenda, this means reporting has focused on more negative, rather than more positive, news. In one recent interview, for example, after the House of Representatives passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill, a journalist asked Biden if his next bill, Build Back Better, was "doomed" due to the lack of Republican support.

READ: The Pentagon budget exposes Manchin and Sinema's hypocrisy

The reporter did not mention, in the exchange, that the public overwhelmingly approves of the legislation. Reporters don't need to say, "Build Back Better is awesome," but their reporting would, in fact be more neutral if they added objective facts, such as the bill's popularity, rather than focusing on gloom in the legislative process.

Crucially, social science research has shown that disproportionate negative coverage actually shapes human perception in a way that does not match the political reality. This has real consequences for voters' decision-making in a democratic society.

That the media has some role to play in Americans' perception of Biden's legislation is supported by evidence. Multiple polls have indicated Americans' have only a sparse understanding of the Build Back Better bill. When the bill still stood at $3.5 trillion dollars, one October poll from CBS News indicated that Americans had heard most about the price tag (59 percent) and tax increases (58 percent).

In contrast, only 46 percent had heard about universal pre-K and only 40 percent had heard about Medicare Coverage for dental, vision and hearing, as well as lower Medicare drug prices. In the same poll, respondents expressed whopping support for federally funding these same provisions. Sixty-seven percent supported universal pre-K, 84 percent supported expanded Medicare coverage and 88 percent supported lowering prescription drug prices.

READ: Tucker Carlson's 'nakedly fascist propaganda' leads to resignations, internal outrage, public fury — and a silent Murdoch

So there appears to be a disconnect between voters' perceptions of the president and his agenda. Is this entirely the media's fault? Of course not. But it's difficult to ignore the connections between reporting and public awareness. As the Columbia Journalism Review observed, there's been a demonstrable breakdown in media communication if 59 percent have heard about the cost of the Build Back Better bill and far fewer have heard of its popular provisions.

In addition to negativity bias and lack of coverage on legislative content, there's another problem: the erasure of Republican agency.

Democrats are attempting to actually govern. Such attempts will always involve negotiations between various political actors and interests. Yet these negotiations are hammered away as being signs of "Democrats in disarray." Meanwhile, there has been very little said about Democrats being frequently reliant on two obstinate senators precisely because they cannot rely on any Republican support. Republicans refuse to take on the messy process of engaging in democracy and then manage to slip past the media's negativity-biased radar, all while Democrats are portrayed as feckless and chaotic.

In concrete terms, this asymmetrical coverage creates conditions in which Democrats are punished for legislating, the popularity of their agenda gets relegated to the shadows, and, worse, Republicans' own opposition is rarely conveyed to voters. One striking example of this can be seen in a recent ABC News report featuring disappointed Biden voters. One such voter, an 82-year-old Pennsylvanian, said economic stress was stretching his social security thin and, given these circumstances, he was intending to vote Republican in the midterms.

READ: 'No evidence of fraud, you know that': CBS News' Margaret Brennan shuts down Ted Cruz's election lies to his face

This voter's pain is real and he deserves to be heard, but other things are true as well: Build Back Better would cap his drug expenses, provide elder care and expand Medicare. It's also true that Republicans are fighting against these same provisions and have a well-known antipathy towards expanding Social Security, which was the issue most affecting the featured voter. None of this is mentioned in the article.

Consider, for just one moment, how voters' perception of the political reality would shift if clearer, more balanced frames were provided when discussing the current political debates. For example, imagine the following headlines, all of which include concrete details of Democrats' agendas, as well as Republican opposition:

"Majority of Republicans oppose Biden's bipartisan infrastructure agenda, which is supported by 63% of Americans."
"Majority of Republicans oppose Biden's plan to fix bridges, replace lead pipes and bring broadband to rural communities."
"House Republicans oppose childcare subsidies, expansion of the childcare tax credit and universal pre-k."
"House Republicans voted against Medicare for dental care, capping insulin costs and putting a limit on seniors' out-of-pocket drug spending."

Changing journalistic frames does not require advocating for Democrats or bashing Republicans. Reducing disproportionate negative coverage and highlighting Republican agency would actually give voters a more objective sense of political reality. Democrats want to fix bridges, provide childcare and lower drug costs. Republicans don't. These are political facts and voters should be aware of them.

Biden's sinking approval ratings are, again, likely determined by multiple factors. That said, the decoupling between Biden's personal approval and support for his agenda is a real cause for concern.

READ: Watchdog warns of 'serious problems' with 'fundamentals of democracy' in US

The media is not responsible for improving Biden's polling, but it should be aware of the role it has to play in educating citizens.

Relentless negativity, paired with the omission of objectively positive facts, doesn't neutrally describe reality; it non-neutrally distorts perception. If this media environment persists, citizens will go to vote based on fogs and shadows, rather than actual legislative content.

This will have real consequences not just for their own personal lives, but for our democracy itself. The press will be partly culpable.

Republicans declare war over race in public schools — and Black kids get left out of the discussion

Over the past year, Republicans have declared a war on how race and racism are addressed in public schools. This enmity was forefront in the gubernatorial election in Virginia, as well as battles over school boards across the country. In the past few months, at least seven states have banned so-called "critical race theory" from curricula. Over a dozen more are moving similar bans through state legislatures.

It would be naïve to expect more from the Republican Party. It requires an ongoing and bloody culture war to win. But there is another party with a role to play, who might be receptive to correction: the media.

Overall, the media's coverage of the battle over education has been, let us say, "deeply problematic." Reporting on the issue has overwhelmingly featured white parents describing the discomfort their children felt in discussions about racism.

Apparently, no one has thought it relevant to consider the experiences of Black children. This is regrettable as it's impossible to cover a story about race in education while amplifying exclusively white voices.

How would the coverage change if the media approached the topic with an eye to informing citizens? To answer that question, consider just a few relevant data points.

First, Black kids experience racism before they enter school.

Research has shown that Black children are aware of racism usually before age five. Black kindergarteners are far more cognizant of their own race than their white counterparts. They are also keenly aware of racism, though they can't always name the experience.

Black children's awareness of racism is not illusory. It is based on empirically demonstrated lived experiences that are shaped by interactions with peers and teachers. White teachers are more likely to direct Black kids to special education and less likely to recommend them to gifted classes, even when their performance is at the same level as their white peers. Punishments for similar behaviors are more severe, resulting in Black children being systematically humiliated, in addition to being more frequently detained and suspended.

As they age through the school system, Black children report feeling more and more isolated. It's not in their imagination. Even Black 5-year-olds are more likely to be described by their white teachers as angry or threatening than their white classmates. White teachers are more likely to perceive Black children as older than they are, which contributes to teachers responding to them in age-inappropriate ways. White children get comfort. Black children get punishment.

And I've only talked about preschool and kindergarten

Black children are often unfairly disadvantaged by their dialect and linguistic discrimination. When children enter primary school, they begin the process of learning to read. This requires mapping alphabetic visual symbols onto the sounds we use when we speak.

Many Black children are speakers of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), a dialect of our language that is just as rich and systematic as any other. However, because this dialect differs from the standard dialect, Black children who speak AAVE are told that they have a "home language" and a "school language."

The former has no place in the classroom and the distinction between "home" and "school" inevitably plays into linguistic stereotypes of AAVE as somehow inferior or sloppy. White children are rarely told the dialect they speak is not befitting of a school environment, even when their dialects also differ from the standard.

Further, Black students who speak AAVE are given little help in making the bridge from their dialect to the "standard" demanded of them. The systematic differences in their dialect are not noted; these differences are more commonly just characterized as "wrong." Consider how terribly confusing that must be for a 6-year-old child.

At this point, we've just talked about play and reading.

Despite the repeated falsehoods on the right, it is extremely rare for a curriculum to devote considerable attention to racism as a systemic and ever-present problem. Rather, the opposite is usually taught: that racism and racists are far, far away and that children are color-blind.

Combine such lessons — no racists here! — with Black children's empirically demonstrated experiences of racism and it's hard to imagine a more comprehensive and vicious form of gaslighting.

It is unsurprising many Black children develop chronic stress as a result of overt and covert racism. This chronic stress, in turn, has not just been linked to social, emotional and academic outcomes, but also to physical health. Black children experience elevated levels of cortisol throughout the school day, a physiological state that not only leaves children exhausted, but also impedes their ability to work.

Discrimination results in the prevalence of "stereotype threat" among Black children, adolescents and college students, such that if attention is brought to their race by a white educator, their performance on a task will decrease. Racism — from childhood to adulthood — is and will be a constant assault on both the body and mind.

The fact that Black people are so invisible from our public framing of the education debate shows just how intellectually impoverished the conversation is. They exist primarily as objects of discussion in the imagination of white Americans. A subject to debate, not people to listen to. This rendering of Black Americans as invisible is, perhaps, an argument for teaching more about racism in society, not less.

The GOP is waging a race war. We shouldn't expect them to care about Black kids. We should, however, demand that the rest of us place Black children within the scope of our conversation about education.

How Facebook exploited our cognitive flaws and biases — for profit

The public has been given insight into Facebook's business practices. Many of these disclosures have come from a whistle-blower, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee who, in her testimony before Congress, stated: "I am here today because I believe that Facebook's products harm children, stoke division, and weaken our democracy."

The Facebook leaks have shown, among other things, that the company provided a breeding ground for right-wing extremism. For example, Facebook's own researchers determined that a fake user who was tagged as "Conservative, Christian, Trump-supporting" would be hit by a deluge of conspiratorial and racist propaganda within days of joining the platform. Similarly, in India, over the course of only a few days, a fake user was inundated with anti-Pakistani rhetoric, such as, "300 dogs died now say long live India, death to Pakistan."

How did Facebook's algorithms radicalize users across the globe?

We don't have the complete answers, but here's what we do know: Facebook designed algorithms that played upon a web of human cognitive biases and social dynamics to maximize engagement and derive profit. And the very factors that made these algorithms profitable also made them a veritable petri dish for extremism.

To understand this, we can first reflect on the underlying psychological mechanisms that the company exploited.

We, as social creatures, are subject to multiple forces that shape the information we consume and our social interactions.

  • Confirmation bias: We seek out information that confirms our beliefs rather than that which would falsify them.
  • Congeniality bias: We seek out supportive behavior from others who affirm our beliefs.
  • Emotional bias: We favor emotional information over neutral information in general. We favor engaging with negative content over positive content, especially on social media.

These biases then lead us to self-select into groups. We want to interact with people who agree with us. We want affirmation. We bond over powerful emotions, rather than neutral facts.

Once we join groups of like-minded people, we are subject to multiple effects that arise from our interactions with other group members. Within a group, we are less likely to express dissenting opinions than we are to express agreement. Further, we are driven to not just agree, but to rather make more elaborate points. These tendencies can be benign, or even productive, but research has also shown that, over time, the confluence of agreement and elaboration can be detrimental: specifically, the more members of a group speak about a topic about which they all agree, the more extreme their rhetoric becomes.

None of us are immune to these pressures, including myself. I'll hesitate before expressing dissent within a given social group, whereas I'll feel bolstered when I express agreement. When I express agreement, I'm rarely enticed to say, "Yes, I agree;" rather, I feel inclined to offer an elaboration. This is all ordinary human behavior.

However, biases and behaviors become pernicious within the domains of bigotry and conspiracy theories. If a group rewards members for bigotry, they will engage in more frequent and extreme acts of bigotry. If the group rewards members for the brilliance of a conspiracy theory, members will increasingly elaborate on the conspiracy theory.

What does all of this have to do with Facebook?

Facebook made specific algorithmic choices that not only facilitated these psycho-social phenomena, but exploited and amplified them. Why? Because appealing to biases and group behavior leads to user engagement. User engagement, in turn, leads to greater profit.

Facebook is still not fully transparent about its algorithms, but here is what we do know: Before a user views a given piece of information — whether it's a news report or a post from another person — that information gets filtered to maximize the user's engagement.

To achieve this, the algorithm evaluates a person's profile and provides them with information that conforms to a user's identity. It also down-weights — or, frankly, suppresses — information that disconfirms the user's priors. This entails that if a user expresses doubt about vaccines, they will see more doubt about vaccines rather than pro-vaccine arguments. If a user expresses bigotry, they will see more bigotry, rather than anti-bigotry arguments. This aspect of Facebook's algorithm thus relies heavily on confirmation bias to engage users.

But the algorithm's cognitive tricks don't end there.

In 2017, Facebook made the decision to give five times more weight to posts that elicited extreme emotional reactions — such as rage or love — than posts that elicited mere likes. This decision exploited biases towards emotional valence. The company also decided to double down on promoting group membership to combat a decline in engagement. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, wrote: "There is a real opportunity to connect more of us with groups that will be meaningful social infrastructure in our lives . . . that can strengthen our social fabric."

At the same time, researchers warned that Facebook's group dynamics could be a hotbed of extremism. In 2018, one researcher went so far as to state group algorithms produced bot-like behavior among humans and introduced "radicalization via the recommendation engine."

As we know from psychology, if you are in a social group, you are societally rewarded for increasingly extreme behavior. But, on Facebook, you're not just rewarded by other members of the group, you're also rewarded by the company itself. When you get a lot of likes from your group, Facebook rewards you. When you post something that elicits more extreme responses, such as anger, Facebook rewards you even more. As one internal Facebook report stated, "Our algorithms exploit the human brain's attraction to divisiveness."

Furthermore, Facebook decided to show group members unrelated posts from other members of the same group. This inevitably led to an interconnected web of extremist ideologies. Research has shown that once a Facebook member joins one extremist group — such as flat-earthing — Facebook will recommend they join interconnected groups, such as those pertaining to anti-vaxxing or chem-trails.

And, if group membership correlates with white supremacy, users will start to see that, too. As one researcher put it, "The groups recommendation engine is a conspiracy correlation index."

When we look at all of this, it becomes clear how Facebook's specific choices to maximize engagement facilitates a snowball of interconnected conspiracy theories and radicalization. Users are shown information that confirms their beliefs. They are encouraged to engage with others who share those beliefs. They are furthermore rewarded for increasingly extreme posts. And, then, when they engage in one extremist group, they will be exposed to several others.

Perhaps, one could argue, Facebook shouldn't be held too accountable here. They are a company that is trying to make money. Their ability to make money is dependent on engagement. They didn't design the algorithm with the explicit purpose to encourage radicalization.

This excuse falls apart the moment one realizes that, for years, Facebook was warned by people both inside and outside the company that their algorithms led to the rise of right-wing extremism globally.

What we now know is that Facebook drew people in based on their relationships with friends and family, and then it exploited specific cognitive biases in order to maximize engagement with other content.

We know the company made choices it was warned could lead to radicalization globally. The company not only ignored these warnings, but suppressed evidence by their own researchers that demonstrated dire predictions about the algorithm were coming to fruition.

We know radical content led to more engagement, which, in turn, was good for the company's bottom line. Facebook is therefore culpable of not only exploiting human beings' ordinary cognitive biases, but knowingly encouraging political extremism for profit.

Joe Manchin is making a big mistake about what it means to be 'entitled'

Joe Biden's human infrastructure bill (aka Build Back Better) promises the largest expansion of the social safety net since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. It is also one of the most pro-women and pro-child bills in US history. Among its progressive provisions are expanded child tax credits, paid leave and assistance with childcare expenses.

According to Axios, one reason the bill has stalled in Congress is due to US Senator Joe Manchin's demand that only one of these progressive provisions be included in the final version of the bill.

Manchin said he opposes these elements of the bill. He said: "I don't believe that we should turn our society into an entitlement society. I think we should still be a compassionate, rewarding society."

So what does Manchin mean when he says Biden's human infrastructure bill would transform our "rewarding society" into an "entitlement society"? And would that be so bad?

"Entitlement" has potent negative connotations in US politics. Entitlements are, above all, undeserved. Listeners, upon hearing the word, are invited to imagine lazy slobs leaching off those who actually work. It conjures images of free-riders and "welfare queens," the latter being another example of how conservatives skillfully use language as a tool of oppression. Thus, calling a policy — any policy — an "entitlement" is a convenient way to disparage it, requiring none of the work usually associated with policy criticism.

Yet what the term denotes — that individuals in a society have rights to certain provisions — is extremely positive. It is fundamental to liberalism, and even found in the work of conservative intellectuals.

Friedrich Hayek, beloved icon of Paul Ryan, said: "There is no reason why in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has … the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom. … [T]here can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody."

Hayek's argument is not unlike that made by President Roosevelt while advocating for the Social Security Act of 1935: "If, as our Constitution tells us, our Federal Government was established … to 'promote the general welfare,' it is our plain duty to provide for that security upon which welfare depends." Thus, the idea that citizens are entitled to certain societal security is not a foreign or toxic concept.

While the US lags behind in securing its citizens the means to thrive, the few major programs it does have are extremely popular.

Social Security ensures that citizens receive financial assistance so they do not have to work until they die. Medicare and Medicaid provide healthcare for the elderly, poor, and disabled. Public education provides every child at least 13 years of education.

What more does President Biden believe American children and their parents are entitled to receive? To answer this question, consider the status quo, Manchin's "compassionate" and "rewarding society."

Childhood poverty:

  • In 2019, one out of seven American children lived in poverty. In West Virginia alone, Joe Manchin's home state, 17 percent of parents reported their children don't eat enough because the family couldn't afford food.
  • On average, across the country, childhood poverty costs $700 billion a year. That's 3.5 percent of GDP.
  • Children who experience poverty early in life are less likely to finish high school and more likely to be unemployed later.
  • Only 8 percent of children raised in the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution rise to the top 20 percent as adults, a rate of upward mobility that lags behind other democracies
Childcare:
  • US families, on average, spend 40 percent more of their income on childcare than what The Department of Health and Human Services considers affordable.
  • The cost of childcare rose 37 percent between 2000 and 2012, while the average middle income for families fell by 8 percent. Post-2012, these costs have only continued to rise.
  • Parents spend roughly $11,000 a year on care for a single child, more than the cost of public college in 33 states.
  • The cost is indeed so immense that three out of five millennials report delaying having a child due to financial reasons.
  • Prior to the pandemic, 42 percent of American children under the age of 5 lived in a "childcare desert," where no childcare was accessible. The pandemic only exacerbated this crisis.

The childcare crisis also has significant economic consequences, reducing productivity and market participation:

  • Women frequently leave the workforce to care for children and are twice as likely as men to say this time off hurt their careers.
  • Leaving the workforce for five years of childcare is estimated to cost American women 20 percent of their earning potential.
  • On average, businesses lose an estimated $12.7 billion annually due to childcare problems, such as when a worker must take time off to care for a sick child.
  • Lack of childcare in general is estimated to cost the US economy $57 billion every year.
  • When parents leave the workforce to care for their children, childcare centers close and childcare workers — primarily working class women — lose their jobs.

This is Manchin's "compassionate" and "rewarding society."

Women choosing between raising children and pursuing careers. Couples, facing economic security, waiting to start a family, if they start one at all. Impoverished adults giving birth to impoverished children who later become impoverished adults, perpetuating a cycle of suffering. Our "compassion," apparently, extends just far enough to ensure that few in poverty actually starve to death. So "rewarding" is our society that children born to wealthy parents are rewarded with the security of wealth. Children born to poor parents are rewarded with the insecurity of poverty.

So how would Biden's human infrastructure bill change things?

Recall the bill's more progressive provisions: an expanded child tax credit, paid leave and childcare. These, you'll notice, are responsive to exactly the problems facing American families. These "entitlements" would, of course, improve the welfare of countless America citizens.

But, as the economic data indicates, they also serve to strengthen society overall by increasing the labor force, increasing economic output and market participation and, importantly, caring for children.

Additionally, if Americans who want children are unable to do so for financial reasons, we risk a lopsided population crisis such that, in a generation, there will be fewer workers to participate and pay taxes to support the programs we already have, such as Social Security.

The word "entitlement" has long carried negative connotations. But it shouldn't. We should be proud that, as a society, we have decided the elderly are entitled to financial assistance. We should be proud that we have decided that children are entitled to an education. And, now, Joe Biden and other Democrats should be proud that they are arguing that women are entitled to freedom and children are entitled to care.

Democrats should fight to preserve every pro-family aspect of the human infrastructure bill. And individuals like Joe Manchin should be challenged as to why they argue for the vicious status quo.

A status quo that hurts individuals and the economy. A status quo that rewards few but punishes many, especially women and children.


Mainstream media's 3 big failures are concealing the reality of Joe Biden's agenda

In the 1960s, President Johnson waged one of the most consequential battles in US history: The Great Society. It was a package of legislative reforms that would touch almost every aspect of American life, from healthcare to civil rights to education. Headlines were admirably clear. The New York Daily News: LBJ'S BLUEPRINT: Billions for Schools; Aged; Medicare & War on Poverty. The Los Angeles Times: "LBJ's 'GOOD FIGHT': Pledges War on Hate, Poverty." The Times covered the philosophy underlying it: "President urges new federalism to 'enrich' life" and "Johnson Pledges Great Society; Will Visit 4 Needy Areas Today."

In this coverage, Johnson was described as an agent — a passionate one — engaged in an ideological, even visionary, battle. What Johnson was fighting for was clearly delineated: alleviating poverty, investing in schools and enriching American life. The societal circumstances that merited this battle were also identified. The country needed to be rebuilt. Both individuals and communities were vulnerable.

Contrast this to the press coverage of President Biden's Human Infrastructure Bill, which, if passed, would be the greatest expansion of the social safety net since Johnson's Great Society. The Times: "As Senate Democrats return to Washington, divisions remain over a spending bill." ABC News: "Panel OKs Dems' $3.5T bill, crunch time for Biden agenda." Politico described the current week of legislative battles simply as, "Joe Biden, Welcome to the Thunderdome."

In these headlines, Biden is rarely described as an ideological warrior advocating for a specific vision of American society; rather, the president, if assigned any agency at all, is depicted dispassionately as negotiating with recalcitrant senators. When Johnson said his agenda was aimed to "enrich life," this made the front pages. We've seen fewer bold citations of Biden's proclamations that "investment in our physical and human infrastructure are inextricably intertwined" or that he desperately wants to give "breathing room to families."

Overall, there have been three main problems in coverage of Biden's proposal, as well as the congressional battle.

First, the big picture is obscured. As was the case with Johnson's Great Society, the overarching concept of "Human Infrastructure" is revolutionary: Democrats are arguing that the structures that allow our society to function are not limited to highways and bridges, but extend to human networks. These structures must be buttressed by investing in human welfare. When individuals suffer, society suffers. The bill thus represents not only a paradigmatic shift in American political policy, but also an existential battle about the proper role of government in ensuring human welfare and a functioning society.

The second problem with the coverage is that significant details of the proposal are glossed over or ignored. Critical provisions of the bill are rarely mentioned in headlines. Universal pre-K. Childcare for working families. Tuition-free community college. Support for small businesses. Investments in school infrastructure. Workplace development and job training. Affordable housing. Investments in clean energy. Drought and forestry investment to reduce carbon emissions and prevent wildfires. The list goes on and on. And yet these stakes seem often absent from media portrayals of the congressional battle.

The third problem with the press coverage is that the economic impact of the bill is badly misrepresented. Although headlines focus on the package's $3.5 trillion cost, few reports note that this cost would be spread over a decade. And even fewer mention the bill's possible long-term economic benefits. Consider how its provisions would actually save Americans money and generate revenue.

  • Climate Change. The economic toll of climate change far exceeds $3.5 trillion. It's only going to get worse: The cost of 2021's Hurricane Ida was $95 billion. 2017's Hurricane Harvey cost was $125 billion. In 2020, the cost of drought in just the southwest was estimated to be between $515 million and $1.3 billion, not counting forest fires. In 2018 alone, California wildfires cost the US more than $148.5 billion.
  • Education. High-quality early education for disadvantaged children can return four to nine dollars on every one dollar spent. Children who go to preschool are more likely to graduate from high school and ultimately go to college. Those who graduate from high school will earn more money and, therefore, participate more in the market economy, as well as pay more taxes. Furthermore, investments in K-12 education are estimated to increase GDP by between $32-$76 trillion over the next few decades. Community college, included in the bills, has been correlated with higher earnings and reduced need for social services, saving the economy $46.4 billion a year.
  • Childcare. Childcare subsidies boost labor force participation, especially among low-income mothers. Childcare helps businesses. Lost earnings, revenue and productivity due to lack of childcare are estimated to total $57 billion dollars every year.
  • Housing. Investments in affordable housing benefit virtually everyone. According to a 2015 National Low Income Housing Coalition report, over half a million jobs were either created or sustained through housing investments. The creation of just 100 affordable rental homes would generate almost $12 million in local income and $2 million in taxes.

Those who consider themselves fiscally responsible should enthusiastically consider the proposal on these merits alone. People hear the Human Infrastructure bill's price — $3.5 trillion — and probably assume that if it doesn't pass the country is spared $3.5 trillion more in debt. But in reality, the price of inaction is far higher. In this sense, the Washington press corps is failing on a basic empirical metric. If you cite the cost, you must also consider the benefit.

There is one more consideration worth noting: the function of journalism in our democracy. The press's role is to inform Americans about the democratic process, including the content of legislation that could meaningfully transform their lives. Farmers should know, right now, that Congress is debating how much to help them survive the devastating effects of climate change. Coastal communities should know Congress is debating how to protect their homes from extreme weather. The adult children of elderly parents should know Congress is debating providing assistance for eldercare to relieve families of the painful strain. Parents of young children should know Congress is trying to relieve strain on their end, too, by providing childcare assistance. None of this has been well-conveyed to the public.

As they did with the Great Society, the press should inform the electorate about the existential battle at hand. They should be clear about the various motivations of the political agents. There is no need to call Biden a "warrior," but there's also no need to obscure his stated intention to help families as well as to combat climate change.

Furthermore, the American citizens — including children, parents and the elderly — who will be affected by these policies should be highlighted. The potential cost-saving and revenue generation of the bill's provisions should be mentioned just as much as its initial cost.

In the 1960's, Johnson's vision was for a "Great Society." He was fighting for "needy communities" in a "war" against poverty. Now, 60 years later, by advancing Human Infrastructure, who does Biden claim he is fighting for? And what is his vision? The press is failing to tell us.


Why anti-vaxx attitudes fit so perfectly with far-right ideology across the globe

It is increasingly clear that much resistance to vaccination in the United States is driven by partisanship. Fox News has spent months comparing vaccination efforts to apartheid and forced sterilization. Conservative politicians have been vaccinated in private, if at all. GOP voters have declared that their opposition to vaccination is driven by opposition to liberals. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, hundreds of thousands have participated in anti-vaccination protests throughout Europe. Many far-right politicians in Europe have aligned themselves with these movements. In France, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen has called mandatory vaccination for health workers an "indecent brutality," while her Italian counterpart, Giorgia Meloni, has described vaccination passports as "totalitarian."

This swell of international activity has left some journalists wondering, why is anti-vaccination emerging as a distinctly right-wing phenomenon across the globe?

The answer is multiply determined, as is typical of socio-political phenomena. There is, nonetheless, a clear explanatory variable for much of this trend: anti-vaccination sentiment is perfectly aligned with extant populist ideology, particularly within the far-right.

The meaning of "populism" is contested. It's often used imprecisely and may denote a variety of things. However, populism is commonly associated with a cluster of concepts. Populism is a superficial or "thin" ideology, meaning it rarely reflects deep thinking about policy.

Populist movements characteristically embody the pathos of the masses in opposition to an imagined "elite." The "masses" are, typically, not representative of the public at large, but rather ethnically and culturally homogeneous. Populists are bound together by strong cultural identity and moral superiority and perceive their values as under perceived threat. The populist's opponents—including politicians, academics, scientists, ethnic and religious minorities—are not only corrupt, but actually evil. They are, quite literally, enemies of the people.

From this perspective, it is hardly surprising that anti-covid vaccination movements have become associated with far-right populist movements. The two are made for each other like adjacent pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Within the context of public health, especially vaccination, the quintessential populist themes of victimization, moral righteousness and distrust of authorities are all simultaneously afforded opportunity for expression.

Consider, for example, some recent expressions of anti-vaccination sentiments.

The Holocaust and related symbols are being coopted by anti-vaxxers. Protesters and politicians alike are decorating themselves in golden stars, symbols of Jewish persecution. Some blithely compare vaccination efforts to the cruel pseudoscience of genocidal torturers, such as the Nazi doctors. A Republican Senate candidate in Oklahoma tweeted a photo of Anthony Fauci donning a Hitler mustache in front of the words, "Faucism: Scare them into Submission; Profit from the Panic." In the UK, Kate Shemirani, an ex-nurse, gave an anti-vax speech in Trafalgar Square in which she compared the vaccination efforts of the NHS to experimental torture by Nazi Doctors, shouting to a cheering crowd, "Get their names. … At the Nuremberg trials, the doctors and nurses stood trial and they hung."

In Poland, rather than relying on symbolism of the Holocaust, some anti-vax groups have taken the route of blaming Jews for the pandemic, an old technique that merges bigoted tropes about Jews and infectious disease with those about Jews and global control. Another Polish anti-vax group recently expressed themselves by burning down an inoculation clinic.

Notice also how, in the United States, Donald Trump and the Republican Party have been actively weaving the threads of populism throughout their own response to the pandemic, from anti-lockdowns, to anti-masking, to anti-vaccines. And they haven't stopped at merely casting doubt on science and inspiring rage towards public health. Trump has declared that those who doubt the vaccine do so because they believe the 2020 election was illegitimate, thus explicitly tying anti-science to political loyalty, as well as to distrust in government, and, indeed, in distrust of democracy itself.

Tellingly, this distrust in science extends beyond sowing doubt about vaccines. For example, when Trump was contradicted by scientists about the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine, he dug deeper in his advocacy for the treatment. Now, effective anti-virals have been developed, yet far rightists continue to tout the benefits of hydroxychloroquine, some even claiming it as part of their personal treatment. Thus, as is the case with anti-vaccination, a dubious treatment has itself become a symbol of populist resistance. Hydroxychloroquine, doubted by scientists, is glorified. Vaccination, validated by scientists, is portrayed as a tool of Nazi-esque torture.

To be sure, the marriage of populism and the anti-vaccination movement is not a recent development. The French, German and Italian far-right were already turning towards anti-vax rhetoric even prior to the arrival of covid. The pandemic has, however, certainly strengthened the union.

The marriage also has limits. Anti-vaccination sentiment is a powerful tool for fomenting social discord, and undermining trust in government and institutions of the "elite'." This is useful for budding authoritarians seeking to gain power or secure more of it. It is less useful for those who are already powerful enough to be held accountable. This logic is supported by the facts.

For example, leaders in power who rely on populist rhetoric have approached vaccination differently. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro once hypothesized that the Pfizer vaccine would turn people into crocodiles, but has since changed course. Polish President Andrzej Duda was anti-vax in 2020 when that was politically advantageous during an election. Now that the election is over, Duda has expressed doubts about mandates, but has generally toned down any vaccine skepticism. Meanwhile, Viktor Orban, of Hungary, is advocating for limited vaccine mandates. And Rodrigo Duterte, of the Philippines, is threatening unvaccinated people with jail or forced injections of anti-parasitics used to treat animals.

The US domestic context also demonstrates the complex relationship between the possession of political power and the proclivity to exploit anti-vax sentiments. Federalism affords state-level officials finite plausible deniability. The response of right-wing governors is therefore far from uniform. Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has condemned the unvaccinated. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has declared he regrets his support of a ban on mask mandates. Meanwhile, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis continues to wage war against private companies who wish to enforce vaccinations. All of these politicians have, to some extent, engaged in anti-government and anti-science populist rhetoric during the pandemic. Some, like Ivey, are adjusting in the face of the delta variant and others, like DeSantis, are recalcitrant.

What happens next? Some near-term predictions are possible. In terms of public health, strict mandates and negative incentives—such as barring unvaccinated people from large public events—are likely necessary. Those who have made anti-vaccination a crusade of the virtuous against the corrupt are unlikely to be convinced by mere rhetoric. Populism is, again, a thin ideology, motivated by rage over reason.

It is much harder to say, with any confidence, what the mid-to-long term future holds. The marriage could end. Populists could abandon the anti-vaccination movement the moment it ceases to further their agenda. Alternatively, anti-vaccination could become an enduring feature of our politics, endemic as the virus itself. Perhaps it, like anti-immigration sentiment, will soon enough be a staple of the far-right. This raises serious public health concerns, far beyond covid.

It's hard to know how things will develop. The future is uncertain. But the marriage between the far-right and the anti-vaccination movement is no mystery.

Vaccination was always going to be fodder for right-wing populists.

Who is going to call Mitch McConnell's big bluff?

Last week, United States Senator Kyrsten Sinema expressed ongoing support for the filibuster, arguing that "it is a tool that protects the democracy of our nation" and prevents our country from "[ricocheting] wildly every two to four years back and forth between policies." Then, over the weekend, Joe Manchin echoed a similar sentiment, writing that Democrats have "attempted to demonize the filibuster and conveniently ignore how it has been critical to protecting the rights of Democrats in the past."

Sinema and Manchin have been rhapsodizing over the filibuster and the virtues of bipartisanship for months, so these arguments are far from surprising. One obvious problem is they fly in the face of overwhelming evidence that bipartisanship is (mostly) dead. However, there's another, more troubling problem that warrants our attention.

Sinema and Manchin maintain that the filibuster protects not only our democracy, but also the Democratic Party. If we rely on a mere majority for legislation, the thinking goes, any leftward movement will be met with an equal rightward shift when the GOP inevitably returns to power. Thus, we are to believe that the filibuster not only ensures stability, but, in the long run, actually protects Democratic Party's legislative interests.

This analysis presumes that both parties are equally interested in passing legislation and that both equally benefit from a procedure that impedes democratic change. A moment's reflection on the contemporary GOP shows these assumptions to be false.

Consider this question: why didn't Mitch McConnell nuke the legislative filibuster during the first two years of Trump's presidency when the Republicans held control over both chambers of Congress? The Senate majority leader—with the support of Senate Republicans—happily abolished the filibuster for Supreme Court justice nominees. This was after McConnell had refused to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, essentially hobbling another branch of government. At the time, McConnell even declared: "One of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy."

So is there something about the legislative filibuster's role that's more valuable to McConnell than other norms he's broken? No. He only wants to maintain the legislative filibuster because, despite what Sinema and Manchin claim, the procedure ensures an imbalance of power that benefits Republicans while harming Democrats.

A 60-vote threshold would benefit any conservative party over a progressive counterpart by minimizing change. Even if a conservative party desires regressive change—such as the privatization of a public entitlement (e.g., Social Security or Medicare)—their next priority is, at the very least, maintaining the status quo. The GOP is thus well-served by a procedure that favors inaction at the federal level.

The asymmetrical benefit of the filibuster doesn't stop there. The GOP doesn't want to build anything. They want to either destroy the safety net we have or, at the very least, ensure it doesn't get more expansive. This predictably results in congressional gridlock. Major legislation is rarely passed, which makes distinguishing the two parties' agendas difficult. And guess who benefits from this state of affairs?

Republicans.

An amorphous mass of congressional inaction fuels voter apathy which, in turn, negatively impacts Democrats more than Republicans among key constituents, such as young voters. Why vote in the midterms if neither party does anything meaningful?

Republicans further benefit from national gridlock because their policies are unpopular. Majorities support Democratic policies on a variety of issues, ranging from gun control to immigration to healthcare. For example, as polarized as we are as a nation, if voters hear a party-neutral description of the public option, 68 percent endorse it. Meanwhile, though Republicans were successful at ginning up opposition to the Affordable Care Act throughout Barack Obama's presidency, their actual attempt to repeal it correlated with increased support for the Democratic position.

So Democratic policies are popular on a national level. Republican policies are not. Republicans know this, which is one among their reasons for maintaining a dysfunctional Congress. Meanwhile, Republican causes are well-advanced on the state and local level, as well as through packing the federal courts with right-wing judges.

Consider abortion. Two months ago, McConnell threatened that, if Democrats abolished the filibuster, Republicans would respond by putting a variety of conservative measures, including a ban of abortion, on the docket once they regained power. McConnell was essentially making a similar argument as Sinema and Manchin: if Democrats abolish the legislative filibuster, Republicans will respond in kind.

McConnell is likely bluffing. A national fight over abortion would be disastrous for the GOP. Fifty-nine percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Younger Americans are pro-abortion by a whopping 69 percent. Pushing an abortion ban through Congress would not only serve to fully differentiate the two parties. It would also likely energize young voters and eliminate Democrats' midterm turn-out disadvantage. There's no better way to get a 25-year-old white guy passionate about voting than by telling him that he'll be stuck with a kid if the condom breaks.

Thus, Republicans are much better served by fighting on the state and local levels while packing the courts. This allows them to chip away at popular policies under the radar while resting peacefully with the knowledge they control the Supreme Court.

Importantly, if the ACA or Roe get struck down by the courts, the GOP won't be directly blamed. The dire consequences would be a step removed. McConnell and other shrewd Republicans recognize this. They know their battles are better fought on furtive ground. They also know that, due to the unpopularity of their policies, congressional gridlock serves as a shield. Voters will see nothing getting done and blame both parties. Apathy—which especially afflicts young voters—will prevail. Democrats and their popular policies will suffer when they're unable to enact them.

Sinema and Manchin overlook the differences between the parties and how these differences are asymmetrically bolstered by congressional inaction. The filibuster doesn't make our democracy more robust; it impedes democratic change, vastly privileging one party's agenda over the other's. Crucially, these benefits occur in an electoral system whose quirks give disproportionate power to Republican senators.

Like many Democrats, I am growing tired of Sinema and Manchin's arguments over the filibuster. The bipartisanship they hail does not exist. Retaining the filibuster won't fix that. Nor does it equally benefit both parties. Republicans know this, which is why the legislative filibuster is the only "democratic norm" they will fight to protect.

Mitch McConnell's big bluff: Here's the real reason he wants to keep the filibuster so badly

Last week, United States Senator Kyrsten Sinema expressed ongoing support for the filibuster, arguing that "it is a tool that protects the democracy of our nation" and prevents our country from "[ricocheting] wildly every two to four years back and forth between policies." Then, over the weekend, Joe Manchin echoed a similar sentiment, writing that Democrats have "attempted to demonize the filibuster and conveniently ignore how it has been critical to protecting the rights of Democrats in the past."

Sinema and Manchin have been rhapsodizing over the filibuster and the virtues of bipartisanship for months, so these arguments are far from surprising. One obvious problem is they fly in the face of overwhelming evidence that bipartisanship is (mostly) dead. However, there's another, more troubling problem that warrants our attention.

Sinema and Manchin maintain that the filibuster protects not only our democracy, but also the Democratic Party. If we rely on a mere majority for legislation, the thinking goes, any leftward movement will be met with an equal rightward shift when the GOP inevitably returns to power. Thus, we are to believe that the filibuster not only ensures stability, but, in the long run, actually protects Democratic Party's legislative interests.

This analysis presumes that both parties are equally interested in passing legislation and that both equally benefit from a procedure that impedes democratic change. A moment's reflection on the contemporary GOP shows these assumptions to be false.

Consider this question: why didn't Mitch McConnell nuke the legislative filibuster during the first two years of Trump's presidency when the Republicans held control over both chambers of Congress? The Senate majority leader—with the support of Senate Republicans—happily abolished the filibuster for Supreme Court justice nominees. This was after McConnell had refused to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, essentially hobbling another branch of government. At the time, McConnell even declared: "One of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, 'Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy."

So is there something about the legislative filibuster's role that's more valuable to McConnell than other norms he's broken? No. He only wants to maintain the legislative filibuster because, despite what Sinema and Manchin claim, the procedure ensures an imbalance of power that benefits Republicans while harming Democrats.

A 60-vote threshold would benefit any conservative party over a progressive counterpart by minimizing change. Even if a conservative party desires regressive change—such as the privatization of a public entitlement (e.g., Social Security or Medicare)—their next priority is, at the very least, maintaining the status quo. The GOP is thus well-served by a procedure that favors inaction at the federal level.

The asymmetrical benefit of the filibuster doesn't stop there. The GOP doesn't want to build anything. They want to either destroy the safety net we have or, at the very least, ensure it doesn't get more expansive. This predictably results in congressional gridlock. Major legislation is rarely passed, which makes distinguishing the two parties' agendas difficult. And guess who benefits from this state of affairs?

Republicans.

An amorphous mass of congressional inaction fuels voter apathy which, in turn, negatively impacts Democrats more than Republicans among key constituents, such as young voters. Why vote in the midterms if neither party does anything meaningful?

Republicans further benefit from national gridlock because their policies are unpopular. Majorities support Democratic policies on a variety of issues, ranging from gun control to immigration to healthcare. For example, as polarized as we are as a nation, if voters hear a party-neutral description of the public option, 68 percent endorse it. Meanwhile, though Republicans were successful at ginning up opposition to the Affordable Care Act throughout Barack Obama's presidency, their actual attempt to repeal it correlated with increased support for the Democratic position.

So Democratic policies are popular on a national level. Republican policies are not. Republicans know this, which is one among their reasons for maintaining a dysfunctional Congress. Meanwhile, Republican causes are well-advanced on the state and local level, as well as through packing the federal courts with right-wing judges.

Consider abortion. Two months ago, McConnell threatened that, if Democrats abolished the filibuster, Republicans would respond by putting a variety of conservative measures, including a ban of abortion, on the docket once they regained power. McConnell was essentially making a similar argument as Sinema and Manchin: if Democrats abolish the legislative filibuster, Republicans will respond in kind.

McConnell is likely bluffing. A national fight over abortion would be disastrous for the GOP. Fifty-nine percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Younger Americans are pro-abortion by a whopping 69 percent. Pushing an abortion ban through Congress would not only serve to fully differentiate the two parties. It would also likely energize young voters and eliminate Democrats' midterm turn-out disadvantage. There's no better way to get a 25-year-old white guy passionate about voting than by telling him that he'll be stuck with a kid if the condom breaks.

Thus, Republicans are much better served by fighting on the state and local levels while packing the courts. This allows them to chip away at popular policies under the radar while resting peacefully with the knowledge they control the Supreme Court.

Importantly, if the ACA or Roe get struck down by the courts, the GOP won't be directly blamed. The dire consequences would be a step removed. McConnell and other shrewd Republicans recognize this. They know their battles are better fought on furtive ground. They also know that, due to the unpopularity of their policies, congressional gridlock serves as a shield. Voters will see nothing getting done and blame both parties. Apathy—which especially afflicts young voters—will prevail. Democrats and their popular policies will suffer when they're unable to enact them.

Sinema and Manchin overlook the differences between the parties and how these differences are asymmetrically bolstered by congressional inaction. The filibuster doesn't make our democracy more robust; it impedes democratic change, vastly privileging one party's agenda over the other's. Crucially, these benefits occur in an electoral system whose quirks give disproportionate power to Republican senators.

Like many Democrats, I am growing tired of Sinema and Manchin's arguments over the filibuster. The bipartisanship they hail does not exist. Retaining the filibuster won't fix that. Nor does it equally benefit both parties. Republicans know this, which is why the legislative filibuster is the only "democratic norm" they will fight to protect.

There's a dark history behind this revealing Fox News chyron

For decades, the GOP claimed the mantle of an economically conservative party and exploited societal issues such as racism and abortion to bolster their electoral support. Yet over the past few years, a reversal has occurred, such that the GOP's cultural identity now eclipses any pretense of an economic agenda. As an example, just this week, Fox News declared, "Critical Race Theory Replaces Economy as Top Issue."

Over the course of the 1980s through the 2000s, American conservative thought was often framed as primarily economically oriented. The Republican Party, however, gained electoral support by appealing to societal resentments. From Ronald Reagan's "welfare queen" to encouraging turnout with anti-LGBTQ legislation, the GOP augmented cultural wars. It knew how to exploit culture to win elections and power.

Yet during all this time, the GOP had an economic agenda—"fiscal conservatism"—that appealed to voters less moved by resentment. This agenda revolved around deregulation of industry, reductions in government spending and tax cuts. The GOP also had an even broader vision: deconstruction of the social safety net as established by the New Deal and the Great Society. From Reagan to Newt Gingrich to George W. Bush, Republican leaders mounted attacks on the safety net, largely centered on privatization and incentives to encourage Americans to choose other options.



The GOP's coalition thus entertained a hodgepodge of interests, ranging from those animated by culture wars to those more concerned with tax policy and their own pocket books. The GOP's image as a fiscally responsible party was primarily catered to the latter group, but their popularity was increasingly reliant on the former.

This dynamic was in full swing during President Obama's first term. To oppose the Democratic president's policies, the GOP leaned into economic complaints about the deficit. Billionaires funded "populist" anti-government uprisings. The success of this opposition was partially, if not primarily, driven by racist backlash against the first Black president, yet to some extent, the GOP seemed convinced they were also winning an economic argument, rather than just subsisting on bigoted fumes.

The GOP miscalculated the nature of the beast they cultivated, a mistake that, in hindsight, was evident during the 2012 election. Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate. Ryan, like Romney, rhetorically focused on economics over culture. At the time, Ryan's star was so bright it was considered almost heretical to question his economic bona fides. And Ryan wasn't just any economic conservative—he was radical. His proposals would effectively launch the safety net back to the 1950s.

So, at least in 2012, it looked like the GOP chose the conservative economic message. They relied, as they had for decades, on prejudice for electoral success, but their rhetorical focus was on extreme conservative economics. And then they lost.

In response, the RNC commissioned an election autopsy, which reported that the GOP should moderate itself on cultural issues, such as LGBTQ rights. It recommended the GOP pass comprehensive immigration reform and reach out to minority voters and organizations. Finally, the report stressed the GOP was in an epistemic bubble: "We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people," the authors wrote, before warning the party had "lost the ability to be persuasive" to other voters and risked "driving in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac."

The GOP stayed in the cul-de-sac. In 2016, the party nominated Donald Trump, who ran a campaign fueled by racism and rage, while leaving his economic agenda unspecified beyond rants about China and vague promises about healthcare.

Then Trump won.

After Trump's victory, the GOP held the holy trifecta of the presidency, the Senate and the House and was therefore well-positioned to reanimate the old battles of Reagan, Gingrich and W. Bush. Yet they not only squandered this opportunity, they seemed to be fully unprepared. For example, despite voting for ACA repeal over 70 times while Obama was president, no Republican leader—including the wonky Paul Ryan—had a plan for what to do with healthcare after demolishing the current system. The GOP cobbled together clumsy legislation, which they then failed to pass. It was clear: they had no real conservative economic vision for healthcare beyond "not Obamacare."

The 2017 tax cut legislation had a different outcome, but also served to undermine the GOP's brand as thoughtful economic conservatives. Whereas the ACA battle showed they had no real vision, the tax cuts revealed their eight years of screeching over the deficit was unprincipled pablum. Meanwhile, Trump's presidency was consumed by incompetence, criminality and racism. Though they packed the courts, the GOP didn't rebuild its economic brand in American minds; rather, it chose to defend Trump during endless scandals while embracing the cultural resentments he inflamed.

Both of these actions—the abandonment of any pretense of economic seriousness and the embrace of bigotry—likely contributed to the Republican Party's hemorrhaging of white college-educated suburban voters. This damage to the GOP's coalition facilitated a Democratic sweep of the House in 2018, as well as Biden's victory in 2020. Notably, the GOP made little attempt to win over any voters based on an economic agenda during either election. Instead, again, they chose the path of a culture war, with buzz-phrases such as "socialism," "defund the police" and "law and order."

Since the inauguration, the GOP has made a few flaccid endeavors to gin up opposition through appeals to their old economic standbys: excessive spending and looming deficit. Yet this rhetoric is doing what it did in 2009. Biden is perceived as moderate and, due to his whiteness, is not as vulnerable a target as Obama. It also hasn't helped the GOP that, during the Trump presidency, they chose to deprioritize any real economic messaging, as well as to undermine their previous reputation as conservative intellectuals. Meanwhile, Biden's economic policies remain popular.

So what is the GOP left with? They do not seem to be attempting to appeal to the white-college educated voters they've lost. Instead, they are doubling down on Trumpism as their final political form. They have spent the past months raging against "woke-ism," "critical race theory" and the imagined genitalia of a plastic potato.

The party has clearly decided that a grand culture war, rather than an economic agenda, is how they will maintain power. In this sense, the GOP is becoming almost indistinguishable from radical far-right parties in Europe, groups that also engage in fuzzy economics while focusing their primary rhetoric on nativism and bigotry.

None of this means that the GOP no longer entertains their longer goal of deconstructing the safety net. Many in the party are still deeply committed to this agenda and, once they regain power, they will likely turn once again towards gutting entitlements. However, in terms of messaging, the GOP seems to realize their base is unmoved by this economic agenda. And so they've made yet another choice: to embrace their emerging identity as a party that is fully oriented towards a cultural battle rather than a party with any real vision for the American economy.

There are decades of deceit behind Trump's 'Big Lie'

Since the 2020 presidential election, the phrase "The Big Lie" has been deployed to describe the former president's undermining of American democracy. This phrase has its roots in authoritarian propaganda, most notably in Adolf Hitler's assertion that if you tell a lie often enough, it will become truth in the minds of your audience.

Trump's own "Big Lie" began with a refusal to concede electoral defeat. This deceit was then formalized in frivolous lawsuits and it ultimately inspired an insurrection on January 6, 2021. Since then, members of the GOP have either explicitly endorsed Trump's "The Big Lie" or tacitly allowed it to flourish in the consciousness of their voters, such that 60 percent of Republicans now believe the 2020 election was stolen.

However, Trump's own "Big Lie" is not actually a singular falsehood; rather, it is the culmination of a long attack on our shared reality. The undermining of the democratic process itself is only possible due to the decades of disinformation that preceded it.

Where did the Republican lies begin? The assault on Medicare is a good starting point. In 1961, Ronald Reagan argued that Medicare was a stealthy vessel for complete government control over not only medicine but society. In this narrative, those who claimed to care for the vulnerable were exploiting the same to usher in socialism. Reagan warned that if Medicare prevailed, Americans would soon be telling their children and grandchildren "what it once was like in America when men were free."

The Republican Party followed Reagan's lead. It didn't take long before all government programs were called "socialism" and were framed as inherent threats to freedom. This GOP project was accelerated by the great white backlash against the passing of civil rights legislation in the 1960s. White people should not only fear the social safety net, they were told, but any government intervention to ensure equal citizenship.

After the 1960s, the GOP's attack on truth began to encompass not just antipathy towards government, but a broader rejection of institutions. Consider the issue of climate change: In the 1980s and 90s, there was at least some bipartisan recognition of the problem and support for addressing it.. The Republicans mounted a propaganda campaign in response. They were successful. In 2001, there was a 13-point gap between Democrats' and Republicans' belief in climate change. It's 53 points now. The Republican Party had therefore not only undermined government but science, too.

Since then, the Republicans lied about WMDs in Iraq. They lied about Obamacare, calling the market-based plan "socialism" and warning that it would lead to so-called "death panels." Though many did not explicitly lie about Barack Obama's birthplace, most of the Republicans allowed that lie to fester. It was among the biggest of them all: The president of the United States may not be an American given he's Black.

The GOP's status as the party-of-lies was then accelerated by Donald Trump, who told an estimated 30,573 falsehoods during his presidency. From the moment Trump took office and lied about the crowd size at his inauguration—something we could confirm or deny with our very own eyes—it was clear his presidency would be different. Trump proceeded to lie about things as varied as US intelligence on Russia's interference in the 2016 election to the extraordinary number of men who wept in his presence.

Then came COVID-19. Trump and the Republican Party compared the novel respiratory coronavirus to the flu, rolled their eyes at liberal hysteria, and pushed unscientific treatments with potentially deadly consequences. And, importantly, the Republicans didn't just lie to protect themselves; they actively exploited the crisis for broader cultural and political advantage. This is nowhere more evident than the almost religious fervor they employed to discourage the simple act of wearing a face mask.

Initially, it seemed possible that lying about COVID might finally be the breaking point in the GOP's history of dishonesty. Every other lie the GOP has told had distant effects, allowing them to escape accountability. From attacks on the safety net to climate change, the GOP evaded consequences because the harmful effects of their policies were temporarily distant. It seemed implausible that they could pull off equivalent deceit about COVID. That their falsehoods could overpower the pleas of doctors or the accumulation of hundreds of thousands of dead Americans.

Yet Republican lies took hold even in the face of immediate evidence. The pernicious effects of their disinformation continues. Now, in 2021, the GOP has shifted from being anti-mask to being anti-vaccine, with 43 percent of GOP voters expressing "vaccine hesitancy." Though general anti-vaccination efforts have gained steam over the past decade, there were few partisan divisions prior to COVID. In 2015, for example, Democrats and Republicans both endorsed standard vaccinations in roughly equal numbers. Thus, the political divides about vaccination are relatively new.

It is within this broader context that we should view the "Big Lie." This lie—which strikes at the heart of the democratic process— is only possible because of the GOP's longer assault on truth. Medicare is socialism. Welfare is for greedy, lazy people. Climate change does not exist. The president is Black and therefore not American. Russia didn't interfere in the 2016 election. COVID-19 is just like the flu.

In some ways, it might seem like we have reached the culmination of the GOP's deception. They have so thoroughly radicalized their followers that many no longer value medical advice about their own personal safety, let alone believe the results of a democratic election. How can it get any worse than this? It seems that it can.

Liz Cheney, who committed the crime of recognizing Biden as the legitimate winner of the 2020 election, has been expelled from party leadership. Believers of Q-Anon are clawing their way into Congress. Republicans continue to turn a blind eye, despite the clear anti-Semitic and racist nature of the movement. The rest of the party denies their previous leader, Donald Trump, inspired an insurrection against the US government. Now the House GOP leader says he doesn't support a commission to investigate it.

2020 was not just a year in which many denied the results of an election. They put their own health at risk for a culture war. None of this would have been possible if not for decades of deceit. The "Big Lie" is, in fact, the "Long Lie": the generational priming of minds to reject all evidence and view any authority—from the government to scientists—with hostility and distrust. From lies about Medicare to lies about Obama's birthplace, this project has been long in the making. The entire GOP is responsible.

How the right wing uses language as a weapon

Right-wing operatives have recently mounted a campaign against the idea and practice of "wokeness." The word has the pretense of a neutral reference, but is increasingly used to debase and belittle the underlying meaning of anti-racism and anti-bigotry. Similar rhetorical tactics have a long history in conservatism, as they allow the GOP to obscure policy objectives, while simultaneously evoking negative and positive emotions. Overall, the GOP benefits from imprecise language soaked with connotation. Unfortunately, journalists and some liberals keep falling for it.

In the case of "woke" and "wokeness," conservatives are undermining a positive idea with derisive figurative language. Consider a converse example, in which the Republicans advanced an ugly principle through positive framing: waterboarding. It was described as "enhanced interrogation" by conservatives, and that was repeated by the press corps. However, if you actually describe what's involved in waterboarding—making a person temporarily experience drowning—Americans respond with repulsion. Conservatives knew this, so they chose to be evasive. "Enhanced interrogation" is more palatable than both "torture" and "simulated drowning."

Language can be exploited to great political effect. Words convey meaning two ways. By denotations, the actual real-world reference of a given word or phrase. And by connotations, the feelings they evoke. The GOP systematically uses language that obscures denotation and advances connotation. The case of "wokeness" is not so different from "enhanced interrogation," but, in this case, the underlying denotation—awareness of social injustice—is good whereas the connotations are unfortunately negative. As they did with "enhanced interrogation," conservatives are using figurative language to obscure deeper principles and create a fog of feeling, rather than reason.

The GOP's use of such language—figurative, imprecise, but laden with connotation—gained prominence in their backlash to the civil rights movement. After a certain point, it was of little benefit to conservatives to explicitly state they were opposed to equal rights for Black Americans, so they adopted fuzzy terms. This strategy was famously outlined by the late Lee Atwater, a chief architect of modern GOP rhetoric:

You start out in 1954 by saying, '[n-word], [n-word], [n-word].' By 1968 you can't say '[n-word]'—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states' rights, and all that stuff, and you're getting so abstract. Now, you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. … 'We want to cut this' is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "[n-word], [n-word]."

Here, Atwater specifically argued that, to advance racism, conservatives should embrace abstractions, given that racial slurs no longer confer electoral success. This tradition of linguistic manipulation continues to pervade our discourse. From "illegal alien" to "states' rights" to "politically correct" to now "woke," the Republicans have perfected the art of language devoid of concrete specifics, but charged with big feels.

That language has this power presents a challenge for journalists. Reporting should be informative and neutral. Yet with increasing frequency, the press corps uncritically adopts whatever linguistic frame has currency. The result, predictably, is neither informative nor neutral. What do Republicans actually mean when they criticize "wokeness?" It's unclear. Yet journalists repeat their rants without clarification.

Consider what "woke" actually denotes. The origin of the expression is unknown, but references to "staying woke" in African-American English can be traced back to Lead Belly's recording of "Scottsboro Boys," a song about young Black men who were falsely accused of rape. Recently, "woke" gained prominence during the 2014 Ferguson protests when it was used to signal awareness of anti-Black racism. "Woke" then proliferated online where its meaning broadened to describe anyone who was aware of systemic racism. Finally, the meaning shifted to encompass an awareness of bigotry in general. Now, lexicographers define "woke" as "aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)."

While the current use of "woke" arose from African-American English, "awake" as a metaphor for awareness has deep cross-cultural roots. Wakefulness as revelation is referenced throughout both Buddhism and Christianity as well as in the work of poets and playwrights. It is, in fact, the same metaphor underlying the "Age of Reason"—or the Enlightenment—such that Kant wrote, "Enlightenment is the release of man from a state of bondage. … Have the courage to use your own understanding!" "Wokeness" was present in American political movements long before BLM. Republicans—proud descendants of Abraham Lincoln—might be interested to learn that an early anti-slavery faction within their own party called themselves "The Wide Awakes."

So, what "wokeness" denotes is overwhelmingly positive: awareness of bigotry and concomitant opposition. Yet, recently, as conservatives have co-opted it, the term has become derisive. "Woke" people are unserious. You're allowed to roll your eyes at them, because they are sensitive and sanctimonious. In this sense, "woke" has unfortunately become a dysphemism. Whereas euphemisms soften underlying meaning (the dead "passed away," for instance, or the woman is "with child"), dysphemisms do the opposite (the dead "croaked', for instance, or the woman got "knocked up").

What's denoted by "woke" has been eclipsed by connotations. When we hear "woke" now, we do not think of its history as a metaphor for awareness. We certainly do not think of the Enlightenment. We think of pious scolds. And then, perhaps unwittingly, we transfer this pejorative connotation to the underlying principles of social justice.

We can't expect rhetorical honesty from the GOP, but we can ask more of the press corps that reports on conservatives' use of "woke." When reporters repeat the GOP's derision of "wokeness" without explaining the underlying denotation of the word, they are serving as a conduit of conservative propaganda. Such reporting is neither informative nor neutral. The meaning of what's said is, at best, obscure and imprecise. Failure to report the underlying meaning allows the negative connotations to prevail.

So, if an elected official claims "wokeness" is bad, journalists should ask them what they mean! Journalists could ask, for example: "Is anti-racism bad? What about anti-bigotry in general?" If they refuse to define what they intend when they deride "wokeness," journalists should do it for them by citing the dictionary definition.

We are in an existential battle. The forces of bigotry are strong, and, in many ways, our electoral system allows them to flourish. However, the evidence is clear: the actual principle of "wokeness"—the broad "awareness of social injustice"—is increasingly popular. We cannot let conservative rhetorical manipulations muddy this fact.

Here's why Republicans are suddenly panicked by the free market they used to love

Did Mitch McConnell cancel the market? Answer: No. He was never a real fan.

For the past few decades, the GOP's interests aligned harmoniously with those of corporations. Businesses amassed wealth while staying out of social issues. The GOP, in turn, rewarded businesses with tax cuts. The status quo was fine.

This state of affairs allowed the Republican Party to reward itself with the mantle of the "pro-market" party. However, as society has become more socially liberal, businesses are adapting to their customers' evolving preferences. A longstanding symbiosis has been upset and the Republicans have begun panicking.

The Senate minority leader issued an ominous warning to corporations who stood in opposition to voter suppression laws in Georgia, stating, "My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics," adding these corporations would "invite serious consequences if they became a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country."

Many noted that McConnell's stance was blatantly hypocritical. How can a conservative party that has argued that corporations deserve the rights of speech now be telling these same entities to shut up? And, certainly, one wouldn't expect the party of markets to be troubled by corporations responding to customer preferences. So what happened to the Good Old GOP, champions of markets and freedom?

The answer is simple. The Republicans never defended markets on principle. It was always an alliance of opportunity. The rhetoric of markets was a useful instrument—an anti-government cudgel—wrapped in the language of freedom. The GOP's claim, since Reagan, was that the markets promote freedom and the government does not. Thus: lower taxes and shrink the government. Start with eroding protections for civil rights.

The branding was effective. The GOP is widely perceived as the pro-market and pro-liberty party by conservatives and liberals alike. But, if you start to poke beyond this veneer, a different picture emerges. Its love of markets, it seems, is as sincere as its periodic despair over the deficit, which reliably animates opposition to Democratic policies, but recedes as soon as the resident of the White House is a Republican.

To understand the GOP's relationship with the market, we need only to consider its entire platform since Reagan. Republicans have consistently advanced policies that facilitate what economists call market failure. Such failures occur when conditions, such as monopolies, information asymmetries, and externalities, prevent the market mechanism from operating properly. By this measure, the GOP does not fare well.

Consider, first, how the GOP's deregulatory policies proliferate negative externalities. The predictable result? Depletion of resources, increased pollution, and poisoned communities. In these cases, the Republican Party seems conveniently unconcerned about personal responsibility. They're happy to have businesses impose costs on the rest of us, and eager to ensure that responsible parties escape accountability.

The second issue stems from the GOP's cavalier attitude toward monopolies. While some Republicans opine about anti-trust when it suits their interests, the party as a whole continues to encourage monopolies. For example, few Republicans have expressed any qualms about Sinclair—a rightwing group—buying up local media stations, thus creating an information monopoly. While the GOP may wax poetic about the marvel of markets, their favored policies hamper their proper function.

That the GOP's commitment to markets is disingenuous—tenuous and unprincipled—is elsewhere apparent. For example, markets could better improve people's welfare if wealth and income wasn't so concentrated. Yet the GOP's fiscal policies reliably produce income inequality, as if by design. This correlates with lower market participation. Rather than using markets to improve lives, the GOP prioritizes the returns of a tiny minority. Or, to take another example, consider the GOP's resistance to increasing the labor force, such as investing in childcare. They favor policies that keep individuals in perpetual debt, unable to engage in a variety of markets, such as housing. They also oppose legislation that alleviates job lock, such as the ACA.

We should not believe this party ever cared about markets. They loved the rhetoric of markets. It was useful. It allowed them to adopt a faux neutrality in their opposition to civil rights. Their hostility towards government could be dressed up as principled support for freedom. Yet they have stood by while markets crumbled, content to encourage the accumulation of wealth, as others drowned in bankruptcy and poverty.

Despite all of this, the GOP is regarded as pro-market. Their rhetoric worked. Why? Because American consumers were largely content with the social status quo. There was little reason for corporations to take a stand on social issues. Thus the happy symbiosis between Big Business and the party of corporate tax cuts was preserved.

But now the times are changing. The GOP hasn't undergone a reformation, nor have CEOs developed a collective sense of social conscience. The real shift is occurring within American society. The market reflects this. It has become relatively unpopular to be a bigot. Majorities of Americans now support same-sex marriage and pluralities support the Black Lives Matter movement. Of course, let's not overstate the point. The country still has a problem with bigotry (we elected Trump, after all) and much of the anti-bigot movement might be performative or aesthetic. But, overall, people who identify as non-bigots are in the majority, especially among the younger generations.

Big businesses recognize this shift and its implications. They see how the path to profit has changed. They don't necessarily oppose the Georgia voter suppression laws because of deeply held moral principles. They just see the writing on the wall. Customers prefer companies that oppose bigotry and stand up for civil rights. Businesses, to survive, are doing what the GOP has always said they should: listening to the market. But the message of the market has changed. The GOP can't accept it.

As corporations have come out against Georgia's voter-suppression laws, Republican voters have launched their own boycotts. If the pro-market party truly cared about the freedom of the market, they would say, as they always have, "let the market decide." But now, given they're unhappy with the market's decision, they can't say that. The market is becoming less useful. The marriage of convenience is over.

So what is the GOP left with? Not much. Since they won't adapt to changing preferences—of consumers or voters—they'll resort to something else. There is already some indication of what's to come. They might deploy more of the empty populist rhetoric that served the previous administration. Or they might try to find some middle ground. They might argue, as The Wall Street Journal did in an editorial last week, that "markets" are still sacred; but the heads of business are nefarious. Perhaps they'll ultimately settle on a strategy. But at the moment, the party is panicked.

The GOP's future is uncertain. What's clear, however, is that the party will continue to do whatever it takes to pursue their actual goals: bigotry, wealth and power.