Monday, November 18, 2019

Hooterville 15 Years Later - Keeping On Keeping On

As I was looking back at some of my old blog posts, I realized that yesterday was my 15 year Blogiversary. It took me back to how I felt when I began writing this blog. After waking up the day after the 2004 election to find that Dubya was still in the White House, I was dazed and disoriented. I had never written anything before, but in reading other blogs, I wanted to try writing myself as a way to deal with the insanity that I felt all around me, and maybe experience a little catharsis in expressing how I felt, and to connect with other people who felt like I did.

It became one of the most rewarding things I've ever done, and along the journey I met so many amazing people who I never would have known in my regular life, but who inspired me greatly.  It became a way for me to get into positive action and activism, and motivate and be motivated by my fellow bloggers and readers. Up until then, I had not been especially political or informed, even though I have always been a Democrat. But I found that in talking about what was happening in our country, and reading what other people were writing about, that it moved me to become involved in my local politics and it showed me that every action you take in service of what you believe makes a difference, no matter how small.

The difference between a small action and a large action is nothing; the difference between action and inaction is everything.

Becoming a blogger helped me to clarify what I believed America was about, what democracy was about, and it showed me that I could be a part of something vitally important - active citizenship. The greatest danger to citizenship is apathy, and when you feel like your voice is not heard, that what you do or say doesn't matter, then it often follows that you don't bother trying anymore and withdraw. "Why should I bother voting? It won't make a difference either way."

When that happens, you've given your power away.

But if you take action, no matter how small or large, you gain power.

I want to stand up for my progressive values. I have learned that whether or not you obtain your objective doesn't matter. The ONLY thing that matters is that you fight for what you believe in. It's easy to fight if you have hope that you're going to get what you want. But what about when you don't have hope? Hope is all very well, but hope is just an emotion. All the important advances in our rights - the abolition of slavery, civil rights, women's rights, worker's rights, child labor - have been fought for and in many cases died for by people never saw the causes they fought for come to pass.

But they did come to pass because of the people who never saw the victory.

We need to do that too. It seems hopeless sometimes when the overwhelming forces of money and power are arrayed against us.

But it does not matter.

The only thing that matters is that we fight for what we know is right.

When we do, we lay the groundwork for those that will come after us, even if we don't prevail today.

So, don't give up because it seems there's no way to win. Reach out to others. Join in with those who are calling and writing and donating and knocking on doors and organizing and marching and running for office. Find a candidate you like and do whatever you can to support them. BE a candidate. It will always be a constant battle. But if we keep on working for justice, we have already won.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

I Know Why The Caged Republican Sings

Tweet, tweet!




Charge of the SCIF Brigade



Attorney General Bill Barr’s speech at Notre Dame chilled me to the bone, because it was as upfront and direct about how this particular religious sector of the right really feels about Democrats and the left in general as I’ve ever seen publicly stated.
Militant secularism, he said, is to blame for the country’s greatest ills, including drug use, mental illness and “an increase in senseless violence.” Given such crises, Barr urged his audience to fight back against “so-called ‘progressives’ ” and others who insist upon respecting America’s pesky, constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.
“This is not decay,” Barr said. “It is organized destruction. Secularists, and their allies among the ‘progressives,’ have marshalled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”

It speaks to what seems to me to be the real core issue that drives the Republicans in power right now — that, to them, liberal values and the Democrats who hold them are fundamentally illegitimate and should have no place in American government.

The article I wrote last year (Legitimacy is at the Core of Republican Hypocrisy) touched on this. It’s the only explanation that makes sense of why Republicans are acting the crazy way they are acting. These people are not, as many progressives like to think, all stupid. Not all of them are exactly rocket scientists, of course, but many of them are Harvard grads, Rhodes scholars (like Louisiana senator John Kennedy) and first in their class at West Point (like Mike Pompeo). They truly believe that progressive values and policies are dangerous and destructive and, for the sake of American freedom, prosperity, morality and stability, must be eliminated from the public sphere. They see the left as a literal existential threat to the United States of America.

They really do believe this.

They really do.

That’s why the people who believe this feel morally justified in blatantly lying, cheating and saying batshit-crazy things all day every day with a straight face and a clear conscience.

If you are fighting an existential threat, there are no “bridges too far”. It is not hypocrisy, it is any tool available with which to defend yourself, your country and your way of life.

The idea of Democrats in power is beyond terrifying to them.

We need to be very, very aware of this.

I cannot overstate its importance.

This is a belief that has been held among many (but not all) Republicans for decades, but has been gradually gaining ascendancy and seizing power since Newt Gingrich (with the help of Frank Luntz) spelled it out in his “Contract with America” in 1994. He said out loud to the entire country what was usually said only among like-minded people. Liberals and liberalism was what was wrong with America and must be stomped out. Democrats were not the “loyal opposition”; they were a threat to be vanquished.

It’s a particular expression of authoritarianism, and it’s why many of them are pushing the “unitary executive” theory (provided, of course, it’s the right kind of executive.) As a generalization, conservatives are attracted to what Dr. George Lakoff calls the “Strict Father” frame, which emphasizes a hierarchical leadership structure with a leader at the top who must be obeyed by those below him. This must be a particular kind of leader — not any old leader will do (sorry, President Obama.) This must be a leader who leads by intimidation, who will brook no disobedience and rule with a firm hand. If this leader is obeyed, everyone obeying him shares in the benefits (and power) of this firm structure. They must support him unquestioningly in order to partake of his power. More moderate Republicans who did not ascribe to this mindset were slowly being pushed out of the Republican power circles. Many of them said, “I didn’t leave my party; my party left me.”

This belief structure has been here for a while. It did not start with Trump, but Trump weaponized it to an unprecedented degree.

The Trump phenomenon is multifaceted. There was an extant political space that went from Newt’s “conservative renewal” to the neocons of the Bush years, to the Tea Party of the Obama years, the ascendancy of unapologetic evangelical nutball Sarah Palin and the refusal of Republicans to acknowledge the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency, which evidenced itself with birtherism. This was where Trump inserted himself into the national political sphere.

He made his bones with his vile and racist birther attacks. Republicans of the authoritarian bent loved how he took on their hated “Obummer”.

He had other factors going for him at the same time. The popular reality show The Apprentice cast him as practically an emperor of business, where he sat on his gilded throne in his gilded palace and judged those below him who were desperately vying for his approval. Celebrity Apprentice was even more appalling, with actual celebrity-types groveling at his feet in pursuit of money for their pet charities (which Trump acted like he was magnanimously donating from his own pockets, but as is his way, took credit for it while the money came from the show), saying, “Yes, sir, Mr. Trump, sir! I respect you so much, Mr. Trump, sir!” (He loves him a good Sir Story.)

The fact that in real life he was anything but successful and self-made, with inherited wealth and real-estate connections which insulated him from the consequences of his shockingly poor judgment, numerous bankruptcies, fraudulent businesses and shady financial dealings made no difference in the way he was seen by the swath of America which was impressed by symbols of wealth and grandeur. But it was his imperious “You’re fired!” that spoke to the heart of these people who were entranced by the appearance of a strongman who said and did whatever he wanted without apololgy or consequences.

The appeal of the “prosperity gospel” — the idea that God rewards those in His favor with earthly riches — was what enables the megachurch pastors to flaunt incredibly gaudy and ostentatious lifestyles, with opulent mansions, fleets of private jets, and gold-plated everything. In fact, the more ostentatious and over-the-top their conspicuous consumption, the more their followers love them and support them with their donations from their own, more meager stores. It’s because there is a deep-seated, unconscious feeling that lives inside many people that says “wealth equals morality”. The idea that the more you have, the more righteous you are and the more that God approves of you is what makes pastors like Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Ted Haggard, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen (to name a few) so very successful and looked up to by their flock.

The ostentation of Trump engenders similar feelings of respect and admiration among people of this persuasion. And to combine the gaudy ostentation with the aggression towards his enemies and willingness to call names, insult anyone and everyone who crosses him say whatever he thinks without regard for anyone else ratchets that admiration up into a fevered love and fierce, aggressive loyalty.

And since that kind of rabid adulation is what he has longed for all his life, he reflects that back to them in his rallies, which he needs like oxygen.

Don’t forget, also, for those of us who are not Fox watchers, that for years he was a regular guest on Fox. The Fox viewers knew him long ago — he was a familiar, highly entertaining and trusted figure who had the imprimatur of the Fox gods like Hannity and O’Reilly and the close-knit family of Fox and Friends. For Fox viewers he was a known and beloved friend years before he announced his intention to run for President.

When the circuit is complete between Trump and his base, a synergistic kind of power is engendered. A social dominator like Trump is just manna to authoritarian followers, and they are violently attracted to one another. Trump truly loves his base (as a group, not individual people) in a way that he has probably never loved anything or anyone else. He soaks up the roars and chants and I think it’s probably the only time he is really, genuinely happy. You certainly never see him happy anywhere else.

The three most basic traits of the authoritarian follower personality, as defined by Theodor Adorno in his groundbreaking study of authoritarianism after World War II and the Holocaust, are:

Conventionalism: the tendency to accept and obey social conventions; adherence to the traditional and accepted

Authoritarian Submission: submission to authorities and authority figures. This includes acceptance of inequality as something that is a natural consequence of wrong action.

and (most important to this discussion)
Authoritarian Aggression: an aggressive attitude towards individuals or groups disliked by authorities; particularly those who threaten traditional values.

This is a key point right here.

As I mentioned earlier, the Trump phenomenon has many components. It is a “perfect storm” of confluence. He has many spheres of dominance. One section wants and needs him because he is a vehicle to deliver a permanent Republican majority by way of the judiciary, which these Republican legislators such as Mitch McConnell know will be influential long after Trump is gone. These people are not his “followers” in that respect; most of them no doubt loathe him like poison but recognize that, being basically an empty vessel with no political agenda — or even political interest whatsoever — he is Grover Norquist’s “working digits”, his Sharpie at the ready, his policies directed by those in a place to influence him. A real politician with real personal policy ideas and ideals of their own cannot be managed so easily. And the theocratic right has embraced him as a “flawed vessel” who is delivering God’s will to America. These are the people like Bill Barr and Mike Pompeo who believe that government should be ruled by Christians and are working diligently to make that happen. Trump is coming through for them in a big way — more than any other Republican president. Not St. Ronnie, and not even the true evangelical Dubya.

Big Business, the check-writers and legislation-writers, know full well that Democrats do not believe that the interests of business should come first, that “what is good for GE is good for America.” They have spent fortunes over the decades to insure that money is speech and whoever has the most money has the loudest voice. The twin devils of taxation and regulation will strangle them if they are not in a position of control.

And Republicans also realize that, if they lose Trump, they all lose their power. Not only that, they will be unable to stop the existential threat of a Democratic administration and/or majority. The idea of that fills them with horror.

It is usually not expressed in the public sphere that way (Barr being a breathtaking exception) because it is so deeply un-small-d-democratic, so antithetical to our stated American values of freedom and equality and separation of church and state — in a word, un-American. But please believe that this is the underlying truth. This is what they feel.

They don’t believe that Democrats can be trusted to do what’s right for the country. They believe that power should rest in the hands of those qualified to wield it — themselves. Real small-d democracy doesn’t work. It’s much easier to control policy when you have an autocrat — which is basically what they mean by unitary executive.

These are the yummy carrots that keep the Republicans in Trump’s iron-fisted control, and willing to do and say anything to protect him.

But there is also a big, ugly stick that packs a real wallop — the aggression of his base.

As I mentioned above, these three main traits of authoritarianism are right in line with Trump’s base.

Trait #1: They long for a return to “traditional values” and a time that only exists in their imagination. This is MAGA. The present is horrific, the imagined past is golden, and he’s the guy to take them back there.

Trait #2: They long for a strongman to whom they can submit (as is outlined in much of fundamentalist Christianity). When everyone stays in their place, the world runs right. Children submit to their parents, wives submit to their husbands, their husbands submit to God — or God’s designated authority. The God of the fundamentalists is often a punishing, angry God when he doesn’t get his way, and a rewarding God if only you obey him unconditionally. Trump gives them all of that in spades. He loves to be kowtowed to, and rewards them with his love.

And Trait #3 is authoritarian aggression. This is where they attack whoever their authority dislikes. We have seen it on so many fronts — in his rallies and online, from hateful speech to physical aggression, anyone Trump targets (and he loves to target and aim his followers at his enemies like an AK-47) receives anything from vicious insults to death threats, and sometimes more than speech, such as the guy with the Trump-festooned van who sent bombs to the targets of Trump’s invective.
They are empowered by Trump, who delights in their attacking of his enemies. That is the loyalty that he craves and demands but does not get from the people around him.


And if Trump targets a Republican who doesn’t toe his line for any reason, you had best believe there are serious consequences meted out by his base. A mean tweet from Trump can ruin someone’s life and all the Republicans know this. It sounds ridiculous on its face, but this is a reality that they are all too aware of. Ask anyone who’s been targeted online. Death threats are common, and you can’t discount the possibility of one of them being more than a threat.

So, there is every reason in the world to stay in Trump’s corner no matter what, no matter how insane you have to get — carrots and sticks.

The up side is that you share in the power and your long-term political goals of protecting America from the threat of the godless commie hell the Democrats are waiting to plunge you into are within reach. Or, if your concerns are more, shall we say, personal with regards to your financial interests, the guy whose number one priority is the almighty dollar is in your corner. The other guy or gal is ready to snatch your hard-earned goodies away to give to some lazy freeloader.

And, of course, the down side is being cast into the darkness of the Trump attack machine, from which none emerge unscathed.

Plus, there’s the “sunk costs”. From the first time Republicans excused Trump’s egregious and disgusting behavior on the campaign trail — mocking the disabled reporter, the Access Hollywood tape, the insulting of Megyn Kelly, Carly Fiorina’s appearance, Ted Cruz’s wife, Ted Cruz’s father, too much more to even list — from the moment they first excused his vile conduct in service of their own political interest, they took a step down a path they can no longer come back from. The have continued, step after step with no road back. How can they criticize anything he does now after allowing so much grotesque behavior to go unchecked and unremarked — even supported and justified?

They have sunk every bit of credibility they ever had down the black and gaping maw of Trump’s venality, narcissism and outright lawlessness.

I can honestly see why they are behaving as they are — answering every Trump lie with a lie of their own to serve and protect him, to aggressively go after his enemies in classic authoritarian follower fashion. As Trump careens headlong into chaos and endangers our national security and cedes our sovereignty to Vladimir Putin, Republicans are left with no option but to “go big or go home”, as Gordon Sondland told Marie Yovanovich. They literally have no other choice. They squandered their moral authority from the start in exchange for what they thought would be the long-term benefit, and they have nothing left. All of the off-ramps are closed to them now.

So, here is the point of all this:

If we — Dems, the left, progressives, whatever — do not recognize that the real issue here is not any of the stuff we’re arguing over, but the underlying premise that Democrats should be eliminated from the public sphere because their beliefs and policies are immoral and dangerous for America, then we will continue to tilt at ever-shifting windmills. Does every Republican believe this? No, but the ones currently in power do. The Republican goal at this juncture, with reasonable, bipartisan Republicans an endangered species, is a permanent Republican majority.

They haven’t achieved it yet, but it is still very much a goal.

Ask Bill Barr.



Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Above The Law

I'm really worried.

For all the dramatic proclamations that "no man is above the law", it is looking to me like someone definitely is.

As this president continues to flout every norm and even law that he doesn't like, he is getting away with it.

I wish I could be as optimistic as some, such as my husband, who continues to believe that Trump is digging his own grave, and with every grotesquerie he commits, every vile offense he perpetrates, that people will see how heinous he is and reject him – in one way or another; either by impeachment or at the ballot box. "Look what he did today! He's going down now!" But then, he didn't think that Trump could possibly be elected. He was sure that the American people would not let that happen.

A while back, I had some sort of dim hope that the special counsel's investigation, and the SDNY prosecutions, would be a means of holding him responsible for his actions and checking him. But with the installation of Bill Barr as attorney general, all of those investigations and prosecutions were quickly and quietly nipped in the bud. 

Now, in addition to the Republican Party which has completely accepted and embraced every horrific thing he does, he has the highest law enforcement officer in the country protecting him from any and all consequences, and rendering the rest of us unable to do anything to stop him as he launches a sustained attack on the very foundations of our democracy and our place in the world. 

I'm not even going to bother to enumerate his many offenses. We all know what they are, from the picayune to the undeniably criminal to the dangerously authoritarian/wanna-be totalitarian. He is insulated by congressional Republican utter unwillingness to do anything to jeopardize their jobs or their political dominance, and the benefits accrued from them – the tax cuts, the deregulation, and especially for the evangelicals, real inroads into dismantling the right to an abortion. They love him because he has delivered unto them these things that St. Ronnie promised and then ignored, and what even a true evangelical like George W. Bush could not deliver. They operate on the 'flawed vessel' concept – that no matter how repugnant and immoral Trump is, he is being used by God to bring about His will (that is, what they want). And they're not really wrong. 

And those who aren't motivated by greed are motivated by fear. If he indicates that he dislikes someone in his own party, that person is liable to be attacked by his horde of rabid Twitter followers, hounded out of office or inundated with death threats. They will do that, and have done that. It's easier to stay on the 'winning team' than to leave it only to be savaged by his base. 

So, we're unable to charge him, much less convict him of any crimes that the overwhelming evidence points to him committing, because 'the president can't be prosecuted for crimes while in office', and he can't even be charged because he can't defend himself in court against accusations. So that's ruled out.

Impeachment, one of the few options that Democrats can avail themselves of, seems to be off the table as well, in practice if not in theory. Since there is no chance of conviction in the Republican-held Senate, it would seem to be a futile political exercise that could strengthen the president's position and weaken the Democrats ("They couldn't impeach me, so I've done nothing wrong.")

And you can't use legal means when the country's top law-enforcement officer, who is in charge of what gets prosecuted, declines to uphold the law when it comes to the president. So, this makes him, in effect, "above the law."

But here's the thing – in addition to the Repubs and Bill Barr, we also have to contend with the fact that the Russian hacking of our elections is deliberately being ignored by this administration. Even though the entire intelligence community agrees that Vladimir Putin interfered in the 2016 presidential election, the Trump administration understands that they benefited from that interference, so they have absolutely no incentive to do anything to prevent it from happening again. 

So even if the will of the majority were to prevail at the ballot box, there's an excellent chance that the tactics used by the Russians in 2016 – social media microtargeting using stolen personal data, hacking into county databases which hold voter rolls that could be deleted (preventing those voters from voting), hacking into the DNC and Clinton campaign servers, stealing emails and releasing them to the public in order to sow dissension within the Democratic Party – will be used again, perhaps even more, because Trump has made it slavishly clear to Vladimir Putin that he does not believe that Russia interfered with the election that put him in the White House, and therefore there would be no attempt to prevent it again.

Even if you did believe that there may have been Russian interference in the election but that it had no effect on the actual outcome (I do not), that alone should impel you to take immediate and drastic action to make sure it doesn't happen again. That is, if you were acting in good faith. But there has been no action taken in that direction.

So – where does this leave us in terms of checking this lawless president? 

The courts? 

Not while Bill Barr is attorney general. Even if other parts of the department of justice were to want to take him to court, as long as Bill Barr is in charge of it, there will be no prosecutions. And if somehow there were, Trump would challenge it all the way to the Supreme Court, where his two ill-gotten selections for the bench, which created a conservative majority, owe him "big-league" and would be very likely to not bite the hand that fed them.

So, the argument goes, the courts aren't the proper remedy for dealing with a president. The way you deal with an errant president is through impeachment. Well, we see where that is going. Or not going, as the case may be.

Impeachment?

It seems to be contingent upon an impossible standard - that Republicans will go along with it. Since that will not happen, there doesn't seem a way forward there. And also, we are almost upon the election year, in which the claim will be made that you can't do anything like that so close to the election.

Legislation?

Not while Mitch McConnell is Majority Leader and has bragged that he will allow no Democratic legislation to even be brought to the floor. He has already subverted the prerogative and duty of the last president by not allowing Barack Obama to nominate a Supreme Court justice to fill a vacancy left open for a year, claiming that it wasn't right to fill the seat during an election year, so that "the American people" would be able to choose. He has also stated, with a chuckle, that were a Supreme Court vacancy to occur in this election year, of course he would allow Trump to fill it.

Election?

See above. I have no confidence that our election will be more secure than before; I'm betting on less. In addition to the Russian interference I referenced, there are serious concerns about the security of electronic voting machines, which more states are using. Hand-counted paper ballots are the least-hackable voting mechanism available. But even if the voting machines themselves were completely secure, there is the possibility that hackers who hack into the county voter rolls can remove voters from the roster.

Combined with gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics, I am not at all sure that our votes will be counted. And, sadly, this is the exact result that the Russian attacks on us are trying to achieve. I do know this – if Trump does not win, he's going to scream that the Dems cheated and stole the election (most likely by the millions of 'illegals' that just waltz into the voting booth and cast a felonious vote, assisted by eager Dems) and will likely be very difficult to remove. 

So what we're left with is a circular set of options – what about taking him to court? Can't do that, gotta impeach him. What about impeaching him? Can't do that unless the Republicans agree. Can't prove that he broke the law because you can't take him to court. Can't impeach him because it wasn't proven that he broke the law. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Maybe something will happen that will change my mind. I really hope so. I wish with all my heart that I could be wrong about this. But right now, it seems clear to me that Trump is, in fact and in deed, "above the law." 

He's getting away with it. 

And no one is stopping him.

And that scares the bejesus out of me. 


Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Legitimacy is at the Core of Republican Hypocrisy

The arrogance of Republican hypocrisy is breathtaking. Trump, of course, is the most visible, blatant, and audacious, but it has been going on much longer than Trump has been on the scene. 

The most recent (as of this morning) has been the Eric Schneiderman debacle. After credible witnesses and contemporaneous corroboration of physical, mental and emotional abuse from someone who has been an outspoken advocate for #MeToo, Democrats rightly called for Schneiderman to step down, which he did. And Twitter was ablaze with the pearl-clutching condemnation of Republicans who were shocked and disgusted that a man in public office could behave so reprehensibly, and who must immediately be removed from that office.

But when confronted with abuse and assault accusations of their own, they stubbornly insist that A) all of the accusers, no matter how credible, are lying; B) the accused are denying any wrongdoing so must be believed; and C) that regardless of the truth or falsity of the accusations, their guy was elected by the people so it doesn't matter.

This extends to every corner of political and public life, from the accusations of corruption and self-dealing from the White House on down, to evangelical support of the most egregious moral failings of the President, and any kind of transgression that they would excoriate Democrats for. They lambasted President Obama for wearing a tan suit, which they accused of being 'disrespectful of the office', while giving a pass to the most vile insults that the current resident of that office throws around at anyone he doesn't like, including mocking a disabled reporter. They berated Michelle Obama for wearing a sleeveless dress, while giving the current resident's wife a pass for nude photographs.

It has always puzzled me, because it's not just the 'low-information' base and die-hard Trump fans who do this - it's smart, well-educated Republicans in and out of public office who do the same. How can they possibly keep a straight face? How can they constantly excuse and justify bad behavior of their own while being outraged over the slightest transgression - real or imagined - of any Democrat? How can they rail against the speck in their brother's eye while ignoring the beam in their own? How can they justify this to themselves?

I am thinking that it comes down to the issue of legitimacy.

In 1994, Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist, with the help of pollster Frank Luntz, came up with the "Contract with America", a manifesto of conservative ideology and Republican campaign platform wish list that painted Democrats and liberals as not just misguided but illegitimate - not just wrong but immoral. They made the case that conservative values must prevail, not just to improve the economy or strengthen America, but in order to keep liberal values out of the public sphere altogether. This document referenced traditional Republican ideas such as cutting taxes, slashing the safety net, a balanced budget amendment, tort reform, term limits, cutting regulations, etc. Along with that came language that encouraged the Christian Coalition to consider it a legitimization of their 'place at the table' of government legislation and a rejection of the separation of church and state.

Frank Luntz helped Newt to make the case that America itself was conservative, and therefore anything non-conservative was, by definition, un-American. Luntz gave Newt a treatise on language to define his position and denigrate the opposition, telling Republicans to use words like choice, children, common sense, confident, duty, family, freedom, liberty, opportunity, precious, prosperity, protect, rights, strength, tough, truth. And he told them to use words to define Democrats like abuse of power, betray, bizarre, bureaucracy, cheat, coercion, corrupt, decay, destroy, fail, greed, hypocrisy, ideological, intolerant, liberal, lie, obsolete, punish, radical, selfish, shame, steal, threaten, traitors, unionized, waste, welfare.

Of course, there have always been fundamental differences between the two parties/ideologies, and plenty of partisanship, but even with all that there was the idea of the 'Loyal Opposition' with whom you had vigorous, even heated debate on the floor, but respected as a person and a fellow congressperson. You might completely disagree with your opponent but at the end of the day you did not question their right to be there. Newt and company weaponized disagreement, and promoted the narrative that Democrats and liberal values must be eliminated at any cost from a voice in American government. This is not an exaggeration. They speak of a permanent Republican majority, and warn that if Democrats are allowed to have a say, that America itself is endangered.

This is why you hear things like "a child molester/rapist/felon/thief/traitor in office would be bad, but not as bad as a Democrat."

What has seeped into the subtext of the Republican narrative (obviously not all Republicans personally, but the frame, which is embraced by a large portion of the conservative electorate) is the idea that Democrats do not belong in office, period. That their very ideas are not legitimate and that their policies will harm America.

This gives them the freedom to hold a different standard.

If Democrats are fundamentally illegitimate, any steps to eliminate them from government are acceptable. If you believe that the premise of liberalism is dangerous and destructive and immoral, it is easy to justify doing anything possible to prevent or remove them from office. It's a logical extension of "the ends justify the means."

So, no matter what a conservative may do that is questionable, unethical, immoral or even illegal, the bottom line is that they are in the right. They may not be personally honorable but they are standing with a cause that is honorable and essential for the survival of America, so they are legitimate. Trump is just the most egregious and offensive example of this way of thinking. This is why evangelicals will back him no matter what. If a sinner can further God's purpose, then the sinner is not wrong.

Conversely, if a liberal or a Democrat transgresses, it is a confirmation of their basic illegitimacy. There is no cognitive dissonance there if you consider it within the frame of legitimacy over illegitimacy. A Democrat admitting and accepting responsibility for wrongdoing is proof of their fundamental unfitness. A Republican refusing to admit any wrongdoing is proof of their innocence and legitimacy.

Although there are few Republicans who will consciously attest to this underlying premise, and of course many moderate Republicans who do not subscribe to it, I believe that this is an overall driving force in motivating the actions of the current Republican party. A lie in the service of the truth is no lie.

Until we contend with this directly, I think this toxic dichotomy will continue and intensify. We must address this before we are shut out of our country's political process for good. As long as a Democrat in office is considered worse than a criminal, we will continue to have to fight a war for basic legitimacy itself.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Democrats and Reasonable Republicans Need To Come Together

Let me start by saying that all of us are on a continuum, and our major differences stem from where we sit on that continuum.

As Americans, most of us believe in the same general ideas. For instance, in America we use the tax system to fund our government and the things we use in common that can't be built individually. So it's not that Democrats believe in taxes and Republicans don't; it's where on the continuum we stand on them. We have a set of laws and regulations that define us as a society. If every single thing we do in public or private is regulated by the government, we have no freedom; if nothing is regulated, we have no freedom either.

We're not polar opposites; we are just on different places on the spectrum.

The way our democratic/republic system is supposed to work is that we have input from different points of view, and by negotiation and compromise, we come to a place where there is something for everyone - no one gets all of what they want, but everyone gets some of what they want. We are not an autocracy where everything is determined by one person or party. We are not supposed to be trying to stamp out the other's point of view. It is not good vs. evil.

Somewhere along the line, but brought to a fine point by Newt Gingrich in the 90s with his "Contract with America", came the idea that Democrats were not the loyal opposition but enemies to be eradicated, and that the goal was not a compromise between both parties in the marketplace of ideas, but to usher in permanent Republican rule, as Karl Rove declared. These radicals evolved into the Tea Party, and it's not too strong a statement to say that their aim is not cooperation but permanent political dominance. And this position has gotten more and more extreme, with little to no respect for the other side. Liberalism is not a balancing factor but a dangerous ideology, to be vanquished whenever and wherever possible. Hatred for liberals was a significant factor in Trump's election.

But it has not only been Democrats who have been demonized; it has also been reasonable Republicans. Moderate Republicans have been largely forced out or marginalized by this radical right, which is largely responsible for the inability of the Republicans to pass much significant legislation despite controlling the House, the Senate and the White House. In the meantime, a rogue President goes unchecked.

Reasonable Republicans are in a bind - they don't want to align with the radicals who are clearly out of their minds, who defy facts and science and math, who are racist and misogynist and homophobic and xenophobic and theocratic, who are going against everything that this country stands for - immigration, equal rights, public safety, separation of church and state, the integrity of the vote - yet they are not ready to identify with Democrats, either.

To them, I say: it's OK. You don't need to be a Democrat to help us regain what the radical Trumpists have taken from us. I know you worry that by aligning yourself with Democrats you are betraying your core identity as a Republican. But let's be honest - Democrats and reasonable Republicans have more in common than reasonable Republicans and the crazy Trump fringe. We're not asking you to give up your identity or be a Democrat or a liberal. We can agree on common facts and reality. They are in an 'alternative' universe. Which would be fine, except they have taken the power to inflict that alternate reality on us. This is already damaging us both inside our country and with our relationship to the rest of the world. And it can literally lead us to nuclear war. We have never been closer, even during the Cold War, because it would not happen as a deliberate policy decision by a nation, but as a confrontation between two unstable world leaders. Any little mistake, accident or provocation could bring it on.

As firmly as I believe in my liberal ideals, I also believe that my ideas should not be the only ones. I believe that Democrats and Republicans have to work together to temper each other's extremes or excesses. I don't want a permanent Democratic majority. There are good and bad ideas on both sides, and that's what America is to me - a place where everyone has a voice and can work together, a place that was built by and enriched by immigrants from its very inception, a place where one side does not control everything. It should also be a place where we share our common values, and respect facts and science.

So I'm calling on reasonable Republicans, not to become Democrats, but to take your party back from the fact-challenged extremists who are not even conservative. You don't have to give up your beliefs to join us, because at the end of the day we have more in common with each other than with Trumpism.

(I should add that this applies to progressive v. centrist Dems as well - we can hash out differences in party direction later, but right now this is triage. We cannot afford to dilute or fracture our vote and risk losing another election, or at least enough seats to have some kind of say rather than being shut out altogether as we are now.)

Our differences can be debated from a foundation of a shared reality. Not so with the Trumpists. They are neither real conservatives nor Republicans, but authoritarians following a narcissistic, childish despot-wanna-be. It is urgent that we come together to save a place where we can have those differences  - while we still can.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

How About How Liberals Feel, For A Change?

Once again, it's the Left that's being asked to consider the Right's feelings. It's the Left that is, as usual, being asked to do all the compromising for the sake of moving past gridlock. It's the Left that's accused of not respecting the opinions of the Right.

In the wake of the horrific and tragic Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shootings, the ever-temperate and moderate bothsiderist David Brooks tells us that "The people who defend gun rights believe that snobbish elites look down on their morals and want to destroy their culture."

His answer, of course, is that "(i)t’s necessary to let people from Red America lead the way, and to show respect to gun owners at all points." After all, if we snobbish liberal elites would just get off our high horses for a minute and try to understand how the Real Americans of the Heartland™ feel, and not just be hating and thinking we're so superior all the time, then maybe we can all move forward.

And of course, we always do.

Cue the tsunami of articles about Trump voters and how they feel and why they feel and why they're so downtrodden and ignored by the arrogant Left. How, they bemoan, can we understand the Red Staters better? What can we say to them to show them we're not haters? When are we going to show them some respect and stop telling them "who they are and what they think" from our lofty elitist towers?

Oddly, enough, this always seems to be a one-way street.

Have you ever gone to any right-wing sites or read any right-wing Facebook posts asking each other to consider the left-wing point of view? To try to put themselves in a liberal's shoes? To wonder why liberals think the way they do, and maybe understand them better?

Go ahead; I'll wait.

No. I haven't, either.

I can tell you that I have spent a LOT of time 'trying to see the other side's point of view'. In fact, I wrote a whole book trying to figure it out. Before I stopped posting my political viewpoint on Facebook, even in my most angry rants, I tried to show respect for those who believed differently than I did and to acknowledge that they (some, anyway) were trying to be the best people they could be and believed in the righteousness of their position as much as I believe in mine. I asked for those people to have an honest and respectful dialogue with me to see where our beliefs connected and did not connect without insults or attacks.

I can count on one hand the people who were actually willing to have that discussion. There were a few people that would, but they were very much the exception. And it was at my invitation, not theirs.

And I never saw, from those on the right, requests for liberals to explain why they believe as they do. I never saw someone from the right reach out to the left asking for respectful dialogue with an open mind to hear an opposing viewpoint with the approach that we are both people of goodwill trying to understand one another. That doesn't mean that it never happens, of course, but I never saw it and I have looked.

We are both - right and left - accused of operating within our own bubbles, more comfortable with surrounding ourselves with those who share and reinforce our own point of view. And this is pretty much true. But I can tell you that, at least with my own experience, when I try to engage the other side, most of the time I am not met with respect.

There are some people who thrive on argument and conflict and do well with confrontation, and they will go out there and give as good as they get. But I have yet to see an argument on Facebook that has resulted in "Gee, you're right! I need to change my point of view to yours!"

In any political conflict where there are diametrically opposed positions, it is always the left that is asked to capitulate for the sake of breaking a stalemate. It is always the left asked to make concessions to their beliefs. When Republicans are in power, Democrats are expected to compromise - and they do. As opposed as Dems were to George W. Bush's agenda, they gave him most of what he wanted, including a disastrous, unnecessary war. They cannot bear to be seen as 'obstructionist'. They believe that you have to give in order to get - you know, the way that the government worked back in the good old days when Dems and Repubs would argue bitterly on the floor, and then go out for drinks afterwards. But when Democrats are in power, they are treated as illegitimate by the Republican party (thanks to good ol' Newt) so that obstructing the Democratic agenda is seen as a virtue, and to compromise at all is to abandon conservative principles. And, of course, we can't be faulted for standing up for our principles, can we?

We're supposed to feel for the Red-Staters who Brooks quotes as "offended by the lawn signs that said, 'Hate Has No Home Here.' The implication: Hate has no home in my house, but it does in yours." It's understandable, even justifiable, for them to be offended by the slights that they see themselves subjected to by the thoughtless and uncharitable Left - but at the same time, they deride liberals who feel offended by their treatment by the right as being "special snowflakes". The Left are always the 'real racists' if they point out racism, and intolerant if they object to being discriminated against because of religious objections. They are 'haters' if they object to being hated.

As the bleeding-heart, open-minded liberal I am, I am willing - more than willing - to consider or even embrace an opposite point of view if you could empirically prove it to me. If you could really show me that tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations truly make the economy better for everyone, I would change my position on tax cuts. I'm not married to them ideologically - I want results. But of course, it has never been shown to me to work  - but if you had proof to show me, I would not ignore it.

So far, though, I have not been met with either respect, good faith, willingness to listen or empirical truth from the right. Until we get some sort of reciprocity (see what I did there?) from the other side, I am not especially interested in continuing the same dynamic where one side does all the reaching out, all the understanding, all the capitulating. Because it will continue exactly like that as long as we allow it to.

And I am not willing to roll over on a matter of principle as important as preventing mass murder.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Evangelicals Approve of Trump - No Surprise!

Everyone seems to be surprised that far-right evangelicals and fundamentalists, who are so very critical of American society’s immorality and sinfulness, are completely embracing Trump, possibly the least-Christian President ever - venal, profane, vain, envious, greedy, a liar, a cheat, a thief, an adulterer, a glutton - when they howled at the perfidy of a Bill Clinton or even attacked the Christianity of a Barack Obama, surely one of the most scandal-free, family-values men ever to occupy the White House.

It is not so surprising if you know the history of the relationship between evangelicals and Big Business Republicans.

Evangelicals took a drubbing during the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. Even though William Jennings Bryan prevailed against celeb lawyer Clarence Darrow and obtained a conviction against John Scopes for teaching evolution, the evangelical community were ridiculed in the press and painted as ignorant and backward. As a result, they retreated from public life and developed their own commmunity apart from the mainstream culture.

In the 60s, the Republican Party was essentially a business-oriented party, not especially concerned with religion. And the religious right was not interested in engaging in politics, which they considered ‘worldly’ and sinful. But when a 1964 Supreme Court decision removed prayer from public schools, a man named Paul Weyrich envisioned a Christian Right with political power.

It took him some time to convince both Republicans and Christians that they could empower each other. In 1978 the IRS threatened to revoke tax-exempt status from private schools that were not sufficiently integrated, and at this point the evangelicals decided that their isolation could no longer protect them, and decided to accept the help of the Republicans. Paul Weyrich convinced a Baptist minister to organize a Christian protest against the IRS called Christian School Action. Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Jerry Falwell Sr. (who donated his massive direct-mail list) got on board, and Christian School Action was successful in getting the IRS to drop the desegregation plan.

This led to the birth of the Moral Majority, and the joining of the religious right and the Republican Party.

Up to this point, the Big Business Republicans did not have, by itself, the means to dominate the political landscape. And the religious right had no recourse to government power, especially with the separation of church and state. But together, they became a juggernaut, with Republicans utilizing a disciplined, organized and obedient religious voting bloc to achieve their secular ends.

In return, the evangelicals were promised that their religious goals would be prioritized.

Disappointed by the liberal bent of one they considered one of their own, born-again Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter, the religious right mobilized to elect the divorced ex-movie star Ronald Reagan, who although not particularly religious himself, wooed them ardently.

However, although the Repubs talked a good game, the religious right didn’t always get a lot of bang for their buck. The evangelicals always delivered their vote and held up their end of the bargain, but once their guy was in office, the big promises did not materialize. Few evangelicals were appointed to top positions and their issues were not paid much attention to.

Even during the George W. Bush era, who was a genuine born-again Christian, the religious right was not given the legislation and policies they felt their support entitled them to.

The lesson learned for the evangelicals was that a President who was truly religious or who talked the good game was not necessarily going to outlaw abortion or same-sex marriage. Sunday-school teacher Jimmy Carter didn’t. Their beloved patriotic Ronald Reagan didn’t. Their born-again Dubya didn’t.

So - when someone comes along who does pay real attention to what they want, no matter how personally vile and licentious, they could not care less. Their saintly candidates didn’t do squat. So maybe it takes God utilizing an ‘imperfect’ man to produce Godly ends, like King David or King Solomon.

They will embrace and adhere to the one who gives them power - and Trump has done more than any other president to support their agenda.

So don’t expect the hypocrisy to end anytime soon. That will have to wait till the next Democratic president, when they will once again rail at and condemn his or her awful sinfulness.