Sunday, December 31, 2023


Did you know about this gas station in Tennessee that hosted a Nazi fight club? Until now, I didn't.
The Nashville gas station whose "actual literal Nazi" owner hosted a far-right hand-to-hand combat facility upstairs will now join a local chain of convenience marts, The Tennessean reported.

The Lewis Country Store, the restaurant and fill-'er-up where the Southern Poverty Law Center discovered a white supremacist fighting gym in June, will become part of Tennessee's Tri Star Energy's holdings. Tri Star told the local paper that the sale will likely go through the day after New Year's, and the facility will be "company-owned and -operated" going forward.

“Anytime we acquire a store, we fold them into our culture and run them as our stores,” an executive told The Tennessean.

That likely means the end not just of the white supremacist mixed martial arts ring, but also its notorious LED exhortations to motorists that they "Never Forget Benghazi," "#Trump That Bitch," and bring comedienne Kathy Griffin's head in exchange for a $50,000 reward.

... The store continued to provoke with its defiance of local COVID-19 regulations in 2020, and its owner's proud declaration that he is an "actual literal Nazi" after the SPLC report came out this year.
I can see why the 2016 news stories about the Lewis Country Store didn't go national -- they were published shortly before Election Day 2016, and the owner seemed like just a normal Trump voter, not a Nazi.
Two weeks ago, the [Nashville] Scene reported on a scrolling digital sign at a gas station, Lewis Country Store. The sign had apparently been scrolling pro-Trump and anti-Clinton messages for months, but its latest iteration had been brought to our attention by someone concerned about children seeing the language used: "Trump Just Said It. Bill Clinton Did It! The Only P*$$y Trump Ever Grabbed Was Paul Ryan! #TrumpThatB*tch."

Lewis Country Store is a Shell gas station, and we asked the oil company what they thought about their brand being associated a particularly nasty piece of political rhetoric.

... Shell's investigation has apparently led the company to decide being associated with Lewis Country Store is not a good look.
Shell withdrew its branding from the Lewis Country Store, but business went on as usual otherwise. Then in early June of this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported on the Nazi fight club that was using a gym above the Lewis Country Store:
White nationalist groups are using a private gym above a store in Nashville, Tennessee, to network and train for hand-to-hand combat....

Sean Kauffmann is the leader of the Tennessee Active Club, which is part of a national network of white power hate groups....

On May 21, an administrator of the group’s Telegram channel forwarded a message from Lewis Country Store that mocked the reactions of community members to the store’s bigoted signage. About an hour later, a message on the channel asserted that the group has a working relationship with the store’s owner.

“This dudes cool as fuck,” [sic] the message states, “he lets us train at his private gym upstairs! Fuck this commie government!”

... According to video and photographs the Tennessee Active Club posted online, the gym above Lewis Country Store was used at least three times in 2023.
After the SPLC report was published, a local NPR station reported that
the owner of the store, Brad Lewis, went on a white supremacist podcast, where the host asked him about the report published by “the commie scumbags from the SPLC.” Lewis responded by confirming that he allows people to train in the space above his store.

“I’ve got some guys that are ex-MMA pros that have been training with me for, gosh, 15 years now. We’re getting some younger, younger white men in there,” he said.

... The day after the report was published, Lewis posted on Telegram: “I’m not a cuckservative, I’m an actual literal Nazi.”
... the Lewis Country Store posted a photograph of the [Tennessee Active Club] giving the Hitler salute outside Lewis Country Store with “Fuck the SPLC!!!” as the caption.
That was in June. Did you know about it?

I didn't. But imagine if the situation were reversed. Imagine if a popular store that posted anti-Trump messages were found to be associated with a hate group that embraces a murderous racist ideology. It would be all over Fox News for weeks. There'd be dozens of stories. The owner would be famous.

But there's no media outlet that will really pound a story like this the way Fox does. No media outlet trusted by liberals makes a habit of highlighting right-wing evildoers, unless those evildoers are part of the political, business, or media elite and the stories can be used to make high-minded points about governance, democracy, foreign policy, or high-level corruption.

This matters because identifying an endless series of low-level enemies is one of the key ways the right-wing media keeps viewers angry at liberals and Democrats, and thus loyal to the Republican Party. Our side's preferred media sources are much too high-minded to do this. And so even when a proudly public Trump supporter identifies himself as a Nazi, it won't become big news, even for a moment. I'm all for serious journalism, but this outrage gap is helping the GOP.

Saturday, December 30, 2023


I don't have much to say about the New York Times article asking whether efforts to remove Donald Trump from presidential ballots will help him or hurt him. I notice that the article finds two Democratic voters who have qualms.
But on a recent sunny Friday afternoon in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, Deena Drewis, 37, a copy writer, and Aaron Baggaley, 43, a contractor, both of whom have consistently voted for Democrats, expressed a queasy ambivalence over such an extraordinary step.

“I’m really just conflicted,” Mr. Baggaley said. “It’s hard to imagine he didn’t fully engage in insurrection. Everything points to it. But the other half of the country is in a position where they feel like it should be up to the electorate.”
I don't know where these people were found -- every Democrat I know (except for me) thinks ballot removal is an awesome idea.

I won't rehash my previous post on this, but one thought I've had recently is: Why is this being done now? I think Republican and Republican-curious voters are likely to believe that both the criminal cases against Trump and the ballot removal movement are designed to deny them democratic choice -- yet I understand why it took a long time to mount the criminal cases. But why couldn't the ballot removal movement have started in January 2021?

Imagine if, when the insurrection was fresh in people's minds, anti-Trumpers had gone to court to argue that Trump would undoubtedly try to run for president again, but shouldn't be allowed to because of the Fourteenth Amendment. Most ordinary voters weren't thinking about 2024 then. We could have hashed the question out before the 2024 campaign got under way, and Republicans could have had a real open primary season.

I think the Trump base still would have felt that this was an anti-democratic movement -- but maybe other voters, including Republicans who weren't Trump superfans, might have accepted the process a bit more readily.

And if not in early 2021, then why not do it in the summer of 2022, after the first hearings of the House January 6 committee?

I understand why some people look at the ballot removal movement and conclude that it's an effort to get the guy who's leading in both the primary and general election polls off the ballot because he's leading in the primary and general election polls. I know that's not why it's happening now and you know that's not why it's happening now, but I get why other people think that's why it's happening now.

The reason there weren't ballot challenges in 2021 or 2022 is that right-thinking people found it hard to believe that this awful man could possibly run again and be a successful candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, as well as a serious threat to Biden's reelection. Americans couldn't possibly vote for this low-class ruffian, could they? Not after this! It was inconceivable!

That was a failure of imagination. And now trying to enforce the Constitution seems, to some voters, like trying to pull a fast one.

Friday, December 29, 2023


At a campaign appearance this week, Nikki Haley was asked to explain the cause of the Civil War and refused to say it was slavery. This is a gaffe, but not because she gave a bad answer.

It's a gaffe because she's running in Republican primaries, and if you want Republican voters to vote for you, you have to own the libs, not be owned by the libs. Haley is on the defensive now. She's backpedaled, saying at a subsequent campaign appearance, "Of course the Civil War was about slavery." When we liberals are tearing our hair out because you're getting away with something we don't like, you're winning. Republicans love the way Donald Trump makes us apoplectic. But we're scolding Haley now. We have the upper hand. Republican voters know that, and they'll think less of her for that reason.

(This is what happened to Sarah Palin starting in mid-September 2008. Republicans thought she owned the libs with her convention speech and her lack of self-doubt, but then she was asked uncomfortable interview questions and it became clear that we were no longer afraid of her. When Tina Fey started imitating Palin on Saturday Night Live, it was all over. We were the ones doing the owning. See also Ron DeSantis's 2023 campaign arc.)

Haley has tried to regain her footing by blaming the question on a "Democratic plant," but you can't combine that with an admission that the hated libs were right and expect to remain viable in a GOP contest. If she felt the need to acknowledge slavery as the cause of the war, she should have said that the enslavers were members of the "Democrat Party" and that she belongs to "the party of Lincoln."

But Haley can't do any of that, because her brand is "reasonable-seeming Republican." She's polling best in New Hampshire, where members of any party (or no party) can vote in the Republican primary, and where the Republicans are, on average, more moderate than they are in most of the country. Angry wingnuttery might alienate these voters, so she's ruled it out.

Or maybe this is just a South Carolina thing. It's a very right-wing state, but it's a state that values politeness and the appearance of gentility. I'm a liberal from a part of the country where it's okay to admit you're angry, so I find this combination hypocritical, but I see it in Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott as well as Haley. Unfortunately for Haley, it doesn't work in a national GOP campaign.

Thursday, December 28, 2023


In The New York Times today, Jane Coaston interviews Tim Alberta, a political journalist who's written a book on evangelicals and Donald Trump. At one point, Alberta -- who's the son of a prominent evangelical minister -- tells a story about Cal Thomas, who had a long career as a right-wing pundit, and who's now in his eighties.
Alberta: For the book, I spoke with Cal Thomas, who had been one of Jerry Falwell Sr.’s lieutenants in the Moral Majority, and he talked to me in these really broken, regretful tones. He was very emotional talking to me about how during his years with Falwell and the Moral Majority, how he knew that they were just ripping these people off.
Alberta says that, according to Thomas, the practice at the Moral Majority was to "to pick the pockets of these sweet little old ladies in Tulsa, Okla., or Topeka, Kan., or wherever," while "sneering at the simple-mindedness of these people who they’re taking advantage of."

Thomas worked with Falwell from 1980 to 1985. He told Alberta he knew then that Falwell was corrupt. He subsequently left Falwell's employ and became a pundit.

So if Falwell's behavior troubled Cal Thomas as far back as the 1980s, how do you explain what Thomas did in 2014?
Syndicated columnist, author, and political commentator Cal Thomas visited Liberty University on Thursday to donate his personal collection of columns to the university archive at the Jerry Falwell Library.

The collection spans 30 years, comprising more than 3,000 articles....

Thomas’ long relationship with the university began under Liberty founder Dr. Jerry Falwell. Between 1980-85, Thomas was the vice president of communications for the Moral Majority, Falwell’s conservative political lobbying group. Several of Thomas’ children and grandchildren have attended the university throughout the years, a trend he expects to continue through succeeding generations.

“This is a university that I am happy to be identified with, and have my columns identified with,” Thomas said. “I think this is where the future is for serious believers, and it is just great to be back here. It’s exciting and full of energy, and I’m very proud to be associated with it.”
Here's Thomas speaking at Liberty University in 2011, and again in 2012, 2015, and 2019. Thomas says now that he thought Falwell was sleazy, but speaking at Falwell's university was good for Thomas's career, so he kept doing it.

Falwell's son and namesake, who was also corrupt, ran the university from 2007 until he was forced to leave in 2020 because of a sex scandal involving a pool boy. In a subsequent column about Falwell Jr.'s departure, Thomas criticized evangelicals who seek political power, while downplaying the sexual aspects of the scandal.

And now, through the magic of the Coaston's column, Thomas has elite secular readers believing that he always knew the Falwell empire was bad. Can we call this Timeswashing?

Thomas is an LGBTQ-basher and an Islamophobe. In a 2014 interview, he described public schools as "the enemy’s re-education camps where [children are] taught they evolved from slime and their nearest relative is down at the zoo and that’s why they like bananas on their cereal." But now Times readers think he's a decent guy. Excellent work!

Wednesday, December 27, 2023


I'm back. Thank you, Yas and Tom, for posting while I was away -- although I don't agree with quite a bit of what you wrote, and you're not going to like what I have to say about the Colorado Supreme Court ruling on Donald Trump's eligibility to run for president again. The rest of you won't like it either.

I agree with most commentators that the Supreme Court will overturn Colorado's removal of Trump from the presidential primary ballot. I don't think this will happen because the six Republicans on the Supreme Court want Trump to win -- I don't think all of them regard him as their first choice, and maybe none of them do. I think most would prefer a bog-standard Kochite Republican like Nikki Haley, preferably if she agrees to pursue at least some of the agenda of the Heritage Foundation (purging and politicizing the civil service, banishing federal agencies to hinterland locations in red America in order to reduce the number of Democrats voting in northern Virginia).

I think the Supremes will overturn the ruling for two reasons. First, they don't want to die. Colorado Supreme Court justices are now receiving death threats, and the members of the U.S. Supreme Court don't want to go through the same experience. They have better protection, so you'd think they'd be less worried, but I think fear will be a major reason they'll rule in Trump's favor.

Second, they don't want to weaken the anti-Biden coalition. Right now it consists primarily of MAGA voters, many of whom fail to show up at the polls when Trump isn't on the ballot, along with Republicans who don't worship Trump but hate Democrats and liberals with the fury of a thousand suns, just the way Fox News and talk radio and national Republican officeholders in the post-Gingrich era have taught them to do. The Supremes will be concerned that some of the former voters won't turn out if Trump is removed from state ballots, or might even write him in (whether or not we've been told that Trump write-in votes won't be counted), while the latter voters will mostly choose Haley or Ron DeSantis or whoever gets the nomination if it's clear that Trump is ineligible. This vote-splitting would seem to be very bad for the GOP.

So what Colorado's high court did is constitutionally sound but practically useless. And this is where I start saying things you won't like.

I don't care about the Constitution or the rule of law.

No, that's not what I mean. I care about the Constitution and the rule of law. But I care more about defeating Trump, Trumpism, and the larger Republican project of locking in permanent minority rule more than I care about the Constitution and the rule of law. I believe the legal pursuit of Trump is making it harder to defeat Trump and the GOP.

You know who would have been the ideal opponent for President Biden to face in 2024? The Trump of November 2022. The one who was blamed for the lack of a "red wave" in the midterms, and who was struggling to hold off Ron DeSantis in primary polls. He seemed weak and tired.

And unindicted.

Yes, I'm one of those people who thinks that Trump's rise in the polls -- primary polls and general election polls -- is directly traceable to his indictments. The ballot-removal movement is an indictment by other means. It tells voters, particularly those who might have otherwise walked away from Trump, that "they" must be really afraid of him, otherwise they wouldn't be trying so hard to keep people from voting for him. Also, the legal pursuit of Trump tells Fox-addled voters, including the ones who might have moved on to other candidates, that the way to make the hated libs howl is to vote for Trump. Which is incredibly motivating to those voters.

I wish there'd never been any indictments, or if they were necessary, I wish the prosecutors had recognized the need to get to court in 2023 at the latest, even with weaker cases. Trump will appeal any guilty verdicts that come down next year. He may succeed in delaying the trials. I don't rule out the Supreme Court granting him immunity. It all makes him look like the man the establishment loves to hate -- which makes him, in a fed-up country, the strongest candidate in the race.

But isn't the pursuit of justice, without fear or favor, necessary for the survival of the Republic?

Oh, please. We fail to pursue justice all the time in this country, and the Republic survives. How many people should have gone to prison for the 2008 financial crisis and didn't? How many people responsible for conceiving and planning the Bush-era torture regime should have gone to prison? How many cops who are guilty of police brutality get away with it? And even Trump has gotten a free pass on his flagrant violations of the Constitution's emoluments clauses.

All of those things are travesties of justice, but the country survives them. It would have survived a failure to pursue Trump legally. But we all agree that it may not survive a Trump victory.

I'm being cynical and pragmatic here. We made Trump an increasingly popular martyr, and we won't even manage to throw him in the clink. We're constantly aggrandizing him in other ways -- how many stories have now been published about one social media post in which Trump reproduced a word cloud from Daily Mail poll respondents describing him with words like "revenge" and "dictatorship"? Republican voters want to see the libs owned and we just keep telling them, every day, "YES, TRUMP REALLY OWNS US! WE ARE SO OWNED BY THESE THINGS TRUMP HAS DONE! HERE'S ANOTHER STORY ABOUT SOMETHING TRUMP HAS DONE THAT HAS US SO ANGRY WE CAN'T SEE STRAIGHT!" That's true of a meaningless media-baiting Truth Social post and it's true of his -- yes -- very real crimes. We're not going to get him legally. We're not going to keep him off the ballot. But we might have beaten him and sent him back into exile if we'd treated him like a has-been -- and not like our worst nightmare.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023



As Tom Scocca was not the only one to point out, there was an actual Rubicon-crossing episode when Trump sent his irregular army of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers to the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

When Julius Caesar took a single legion, the 13th, across the river Rubicon, crossing the border just north of Rimini between Cisalpine Gaul and Italy proper, in 49 B.C.E. (a capital offense in Roman law, by the way—nobody but an elected official, consul or praetor, was allowed to command troops, i.e. to serve as an imperator, in Roman territory, and Caesar was neither; among the first things he did when he got to Rome was to have himself named dictator for the next six months by the Senate, and set himself up to be elected consul by the People as well), he launched the five-year civil war that ended with his unprecedented naming as dictator for life, and his assassination a few weeks later. It also ended, of course, with the end of the Roman Republic, which was to be transformed into an Imperium, a military autocracy, by his nephew Octavian over the coming years.

There's a tendency to use "crossing the Rubicon" as an expression of a personal story, when somebody takes a gigantic gamble (Julius supposedly said, quoting the Greek comedy writer Menander but in Latin, Alea iacta est, "The die is cast"), but it really should be noted that it was also the historical moment in which the Roman constitution was broken. 

When Donald Trump ordered his Boys to the Capitol in his Ellipse speech on January 6 (climaxing a whole series of exhortations starting December 19 with the "will be wild" tweet), to disrupt the ritual of the joint session of Congress formalizing the naming of a new president to be inaugurated on January 20, in the words supplied by Stephen Miller ("everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard"—you can recognize Miller's hand by the tell-tale meaningless alliteration), but you knew what he meant by the 20-plus uses of the verb "fight"—

The American people do not believe the corrupt, fake news anymore. They have ruined their reputation. But you know, it used to be that they'd argue with me. I'd fight. So I'd fight, they'd fight, I'd fight, they'd fight. Pop pop. You'd believe me, you'd believe them.... And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.

—there was little likelihood that he would succeed, as Jonathan Chait put it, in "securing an unelected second term in office", but you have to admit the ambition is pretty Caesarish even in those dry terms.

And the action, taken together with Trump's unsuccessful attempts to bring the National Guard in on his side 

Trump turned to acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller and asked him if he was “set” for Jan. 6.... “You’re set for the 6th and all that and you got a plan and, you know, protect my people and all that. Right?” Milley said. “And I’m silent. I’m just listening and I’m like, hmm.”

together with his apparently successful efforts to stop the National Guard from intervening against his mob it its first hours

"Chief Sund, his voice cracking with emotion, indicated that there was a dire emergency on Capitol Hill and requested the immediate assistance of as many guardsmen as I could muster."... Walker said he "immediately" alerted Army senior leadership of the request. He was not informed of the required approval from then-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller until 5:08 p.m., he said — "3 hours and 19 minutes later."

were absolutely intended to break the Constitution. That's what an "unelected second term" would have done, and that's how the sending of a paramilitary force (however disorganized and stupid) was intended. I don't see how Chait could argue otherwise, given that he accepts the premise.

While the Colorado plaintiffs and their lawyers and the judges were clearly seeking a way of taking the Rubicon-crossing back, of reversing it, of bringing the story back within the confines the Constitution lays out. The thing about Section 3 of the 14th Amendment is that it's in the Constitution. The thing about Trump's behavior since the 2020 election is that it isn't.

"Tens of millions" will no doubt see restrictions on Trump's participation in the election as "a negation of democracy". But if Trump's behavior is "obviously unforgivable... and very likely criminal", as Chait says, why should we be in such a hurry to forgive him? Still more tens of millions will disagree! What about their democracy?

I forgot to move this paragraph from Thomas Zimmer into the previous post:

Democracy does not just mean elections. In widely accepted parlance today, democracy is defined, as a minimum, as a system of institutionalized popular sovereignty that plays by majoritarian rules and treats all citizens as equals. An election outcome that undermines that system – because it empowers forces that are explicitly vowing to install minority dominance via autocratic rule, for instance – is therefore very much not good for democracy. These are not hypothetical scenarios: Many autocrats got to power by legal, democratic and/or constitutional means and then set out to transform the system into something that was no longer democratic. Think Victor Orbán in Hungary today, as an example.

Our Constitution makes an extraordinary effort to protect the rights of minorities, by which the original document (along with The Federalist correspondence and so forth) largely means political minorities, not the racial or sexual or religious minorities whose rights are so often rightly seen as being threatened today, unrecognized until the 14th Amendment after the Civil War and abolition. Just the jerks who lose elections!

It's crazy to treat the Republican minority with so much respect that they stand a chance of overthrowing the constitutional dispensation we have.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Jon Swift Roundup


Happy Boxing Day!

It's time for the annual Jon Swift Memorial Roundup of the year's best blogposts as chosen by the bloggers and curated by Batocchio at his blog Vagabond Scholar. Don't miss it! 

Monday, December 25, 2023

Christmas Post


New Substack post

Democratic Militancy



NSDAP meeting at the Bürgerbräukeller, Munich, 1923. Photo by Heinrich Hoffmann, via Wikimedia Commons.

In October 1923, as everybody knows, a conspiracy of members of the National Socialist German Workers Party, its SA paramilitary force, and some rightwing army officers marched on the Munich headquarters of the German VII Military District (covering the state of Bavaria), with the plan of taking over the city militarily and using it as the base for a march on the national capital of Berlin, in emulation of Benito Mussolini's March on Rome of exactly a year earlier, in the hope of replacing Germany's five-year-old attempt at democracy with a Mussolini-style autocracy. The ensuing battle with the police and a group of loyalist soldiers did not work out very well for the Nazis, who lost 15 dead, but not so badly for their leader, 34-year-old Adolf Hitler, who earned a five-year sentence of Festunghaft, a particularly mild form of imprisonment, later reduced for good behavior to eight months (the same as the time Dinesh D'Souza did!), all the time he, Emil Maurice, and Karl Hess needed to draft Mein Kampf, published in 1925-26.

One other upshot of the incident for Hitler was his determination that next time, if there was a next time, he'd do it entirely by the book, as he told a courtroom in 1930: "The National Socialist Movement will seek to attain its aim in this state by constitutional means. The constitution shows us only the methods, not the goal. In this constitutional way, we will try to gain decisive majorities in the legislative bodies in order, in the moment this is successful, to pour the state into the mould that matches our ideas." (Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 1998) "Now we are strictly legal!" exclaimed Goebbels.

I used to think it was funny how Trump followed this procedure backwards, starting his political career by getting elected to the presidency more or less legitimately, and ending it with an illegal adventure even more ill-planned, shambolic, and doomed than the Beer Hall Putsch. 

But then he didn't (so far) get sent to prison, and there's a very strong possibility he'll get a second chance to do it the constitutional way, as his friends, increasingly drawn from the normie Republican world of the Heritage Foundation, Claremont Institute, Hillsdale College, and the like, develop an increasingly sophisticated understanding of how to make government work, or not work, in the case of the replacement of the career civil service with an army of political Schedule F hires who I assume will be charged with tearing down the regulation of everything from the financial system to the environment. They are prepared to turn IRS from auditing billionaire tax cheats back to auditing EITC recipients who filled out their paperwork in a public library and made a mistake on the form. They are prepared to transform the Justice Department into the agency for retribution against those whose loyalty to Emperor Trump is suspect. They have ideas for using the military to stamp out peaceful resistance. They have a bespoke Supreme Court ready to back them up on some of these designs and refuse to interfere with others (it won't let them get away with everything, no doubt, and it will defend its own prerogatives). The mold to pour the state into is largely in place. 

Or at least that's the substance of the leaks they've been planting in Politico and the legacy media. Why do they keep leaking it anyway? Are they all like Christopher Rufo, comic book villains who can't refrain from bragging publicly about their evil plans? Or is it a variant of the technique Trump's attorneys use to get the worst news out early to start normalizing it so that it's "old news" by the time it should be becoming a scandal?

Anyway, it struck me as worth thinking about how strange it is that democracy should extend a hand to antidemocracy in this way, offer it an opportunity to wrestle and win, according to the rules. Everything Hitler did from the general election of July 1932 to the abolition of the sovereignty of the federal states in January 1934 was something the Weimar constitution allowed him to do, with only two unconstitutional steps needed (the abolition of the upper house of parliament, and eliminating the office of president after Hindenburg died in August) before his dictatorial power became absolute. How far can Trump's people carry him, or rather themselves, without rousing serious resistance from a different branch?

This is a question raised by the Colorado ruling on Trump's presence on the state Republican party ballot, as the German historian Thomas Zimmer has been suggesting, under the assumption that the Supreme Court will overturn the state court's decision: 

... the discussion has disproportionally focused on the risk of doing something and tended to neglect the considerable dangers of doing nothing.

Beyond the question of who will be helped in an immediate political and electoral sense, the same is true for the broader discussion over how to assess the legal offensive against the ex-president normatively, as either good or bad (or anything in between) from a democratic perspective. The case against holding Trump accountable in Court rests on the very real dangers of acting in this way – but it doesn’t pay enough attention to the dangers of inaction. Although “inaction” is not even the right term: Not holding Trump accountable in court for his role in the attempt to nullify a democratic election, not enforcing the constitutional provisions against him *is* an active decision. And that action also has consequences.

If he were to be prevented from running in Colorado for the Republican nomination, it could be interpreted as interfering with the voting rights of his supporters (though not really, since, as Jeff Ryan pointed out in comments, nobody has a "right" to vote for an unqualified candidate, whether they're insurrectionists or just 13 years old) and this will harm people's trust in our democratic institutions. But if he isn't prevented, that's telling people attempting to nullify a democratic election is OK. And inviting him, or Tom Cotton or Josh Hawley, to try it again. It's not OK!

Zimmer offers a thought that originated in Germany, after the Third Reich: of a militant democracy, a democracy that is ready to fight (streitbare Demokratie), which would be more capable of defending itself against antidemocratic tendencies, as in Germany's own postwar Basic Law, which allows the censorship of material that is considered "hostile to the constitution", and even ban parties outright, although the conditions a court has to satisfy are extremely strict—

That these parties “seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany” is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for a ban. Before a party can be outlawed, two further conditions must be met: The party “must also take an actively belligerent, aggressive stance vis-à-vis the free democratic basic order”; and, crucially, “specific indications are required which suggest that it is at least possible that the party will achieve its anti-constitutional aims.”

—and it's only happened twice in the 75 years since the founding (banning the current fascist menace party, the Allianz für Deutschland or AfD, has never been considered, I don't think).

But also nothing has happened in Germany over the last 75 years comparable to what the Trumpers did after the 2020 election. Nor has anything in American history since the 1860s, and the worst war our country has ever endured, and issues that are still not revolved 160 years later.

Zimmer has nothing specific to offer for the very different constitutional regime of the US, beyond pointing out that the 14th Amendment Section 3 is a specific constitutional remedy. But he does clarify how important it is.

What if a decision like the one the Colorado Supreme Court just issued were to lead to a terrible “backlash” – to a violent response by Trump loyalists and MAGA fanatics? That is a distinct possibility. But let’s acknowledge that this isn’t an argument about the decision being “undemocratic” or the courts taking power away from the people. That’s just an indication of how severe the danger already is.

And the rhetoric of white supremacy and strongman rule coming from the Trump campaign and all the Republican presidential campaigns isn't coming in a vacuum, it's coming out of that. We probably can't do it the German way, and we probably wouldn't even want to, but we need to find something.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Vivisecting Section 3


I'm still kind of dubious about the magical qualities of the 14th Amendment Section 3, as I was back in September, but I should add that I'm a lot more impressed than I was expecting to be by the case Colorado's Supreme Court makes for reversing the original district court ruling, which had concluded that Donald Trump did indeed "engage in" an "insurrection" against the United States, but 14/3 didn't apply to him, because as president he was not an "officer under the United States", as the Amendment specifies:

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.

The president isn't an officer? Even though he holds the Office of the presidency and swears to execute the Office faithfully when he is inaugurated and can be removed from Office if he's impeached and convicted? Not to get all originalist on you, but that's what "officer" meant in the 18th century, what we more often call an official, somebody who holds an office in an organization, and of course the president of the United States is one. Imagine a law that removes all the other officers, in Congress or the judiciary or the civil service, it they've taken part in a rebellion against the government, but doesn't disqualify the big cheese? That won't let Lieutenant Henry Numbnuts of the former Confederate Army serve as a section head in a customs office, but it's OK for Jefferson Davis to be president? No.

And so the Colorado Supreme Court reversed that, unsurprisingly, but there was no reason to mess with the main part of the decision, which was very solid, and it's intact in the new ruling. Unless you were working on such a tight deadline that you didn't have time to read it, as apparently happened to Jonathan Chait:

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

More Excellent News for John McCain

I don't know if Colorado booting Trump off the ballot (if it stands) is a good thing or a bad thing. I suppose I lean slightly toward the former, on the basis that more courts recognizing the seriousness of what he did might tend to make non-MAGA-diehards pay attention...but that could be wishful thinking. But I am extremely skeptical of the instant conventional wisdom, which can be summed up in the title of today's piece by Jonathan Last: The Colorado Decision: Heads Trump Wins. Tails America Loses.

It's actually a very good piece, worth quoting at length:
Have you ever noticed how, whenever Trump does something terrible, there is always an argument that holding him accountable can only help him?

You can’t impeach him in 2020, because it’ll just make him stronger.

You can’t impeach him in 2021, because you’ll turn him into a martyr.

You can’t raid Mar-a-Lago to take back classified documents, because you’ll rile up his base.

You can’t prosecute him for crimes X, Y, and Z, because it’ll make Republican voters love him more.

There is a strange, self-limiting, helplessness to that thinking: A wicked man does immoral and illegal things—and society’s reaction is to say that we must indulge his depredations, because if we tried to hold him accountable then he would become even worse.
And, while he doesn't mention Murc's Law, he clearly understands the concept:
I want to close by noting yet another asymmetry in American life.

Here is a partial list of things we are often told must be done in order to prevent Americans from choosing to elect a manifestly unfit, aspiring authoritarian:

  • National Democrats should stop talking about certain issues that matter to them. 
  • Congressional Democrats should have crossed the aisle and saved Kevin McCarthy. 
  • Local Democrats should stop governing in ways which their liberal communities prefer so as to avoid offending Republicans in other states. 
  • The Manhattan district attorney should not have brought an indictment against Donald Trump. 
  • Privately-held corporations should conduct themselves so as to be pleasing to white, working-class voters and should abstain from marketing themselves in ways that might appeal to disfavored groups. 
  • Joe Biden should pass even more bipartisan legislation. 
  • Joe Biden should not have tried to forgive federal student loans. 
  • Joe Biden should replace his vice president, even though she has conducted herself honorably. 
  • The Colorado Supreme Court should have allowed Donald Trump to be on the state’s presidential ballot. 

It is (we are told) because of actions like these that tens of millions of Americans will vote to make Donald Trump president 11 months from now.

Note what is not on that list: Anything that is imperative for Republican elected officials or Republican voters to do in order to cause the electorate to reject Trump.

It is simply assumed that those people lack agency. That they are automata who can only be expected to do one thing: that they will make their decisions about the future of the United States purely in reaction to inputs from their betters.

They simply have to vote for Trump because the girl at Starbucks has a nose ring and a name tag with pronouns. Or because Disney put a gay kid in Strange World. Or because the Colorado Supreme Court issued a ruling they neither liked nor read.

This is a profoundly paternalistic, bigoted view of Republicans.

But also, maybe it’s true?
I'll just leave you with a comment from Matt Gertz that sums it all up nicely:

Tuesday, December 19, 2023


I know no one comes here for cheer, but I sincerely wish everyone a happy and cheerful holiday season. I'm traveling earlier than usual, so I'll be taking a break from posting over the next week or so. There'll be guest posts here, I think, so please stop by. I'll see you December 27.

Monday, December 18, 2023


ProPublica has a new Clarence Thomas story that effectively establishes what seemed likely from the outlet's previous Thomas stories: that Thomas squeezed money out of right-wing billionaires by threatening to resign from the Supreme Court if they didn't pay for the lifestyle he wanted.

Here's Thomas in early 2000 on his way home from a Georgia resort, where he spoke at a right-wing conference:
He found himself seated next to a Republican member of Congress on the flight home. The two men talked, and the lawmaker left the conversation worried that Thomas might resign.

Congress should give Supreme Court justices a pay raise, Thomas told him. If lawmakers didn’t act, “one or more justices will leave soon” — maybe in the next year.

At the time, Thomas’ salary was $173,600, equivalent to over $300,000 today. But he was one of the least wealthy members of the court, and on multiple occasions in that period, he pushed for ways to make more money.

... in the years that followed, as ProPublica has reported, Thomas accepted a stream of gifts from friends and acquaintances that appears to be unparalleled in the modern history of the Supreme Court. Some defrayed living expenses large and small — private school tuition, vehicle batteries, tires. Other gifts from a coterie of ultrarich men supplemented his lifestyle, such as free international vacations on the private jet and superyacht of Dallas real estate billionaire Harlan Crow.
On the right, there was real concern about Thomas.
Thomas’ comments in 2000 were to Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns, a vocal conservative who’d been in Congress for 11 years and occasionally socialized with the justice. They set off a flurry of activity across the judiciary and Capitol Hill. “His importance as a conservative was paramount,” Stearns said in a recent interview. “We wanted to make sure he felt comfortable in his job and he was being paid properly.”

... Former Sen. Trent Lott, then the Republican Senate majority leader, recalled in a recent interview that there were serious concerns at the time that Thomas or other justices would leave.
Supreme Court justices' salaries are still very low compared to salaries at elite law firms in the private sector. But Thomas developed a network of sugar daddies -- not just Harlan Crow, but also "David Sokol, a former top executive at Berkshire Hathaway, and H. Wayne Huizenga, a billionaire who turned Blockbuster and Waste Management into national goliaths," as well as "oil baron Paul 'Tony' Novelly," ProPublica has previously reported.

But, based on the new story, let's not omit Rupert Murdoch from this list.
During his second decade on the court, Thomas’ financial situation appears to have markedly improved. In 2003, he received the first payments of a $1.5 million advance for his memoir, a record-breaking sum for justices at the time.
Who published this book, titled My Grandfather's Son? It was the book publisher Murdoch owned (and still owns), HarperCollins.

The book was published in 2007. A paperback edition is still in print, and an ebook and audiobook became available in 2021, yet the Daily Beast has noted that Thomas failed to declare any royalties from the book for at least fourteen years. He should have received at least a few small payments in that time -- unless Murdoch's company paid him such a large advance on his per-copy royalties that he's never received any additional money, which would mean the company overpaid for the book.
... judicial ethics experts tell The Daily Beast that even the most benign and plausible explanation—that the memoir simply hasn’t sold enough copies to “earn out” beyond his huge advance—raises ethics concerns that apply to the justices more broadly.

... The $1.5 million advance on royalties from HarperCollins towered over the previous book deals given to his peers on the bench. It was also the first major personal windfall for Thomas, who The New York Times reported was still one of the poorest justices even after the advance....

Ethics rules require justices to disclose any advances and royalties they receive above $200. Retired Justice Stephen Breyer’s final financial disclosure, covering 2022, includes $2,418.98 in royalty income from Penguin Random House, in addition to royalty income of $150,000 and about $42,000 from other works. On the same form ... [Neil] Gorsuch reported ... $308.44 in royalties from a 2009 academic work....

Still, Thomas has gone 14 years without reporting any royalties on a memoir that topped the charts....
Yes, My Grandfather's Son was a #1 New York Times bestseller, so I guess it wasn't crazy for HarperCollins to publish it, and pay big bucks for it.

Yet the book doesn't appear to have actually been profitable for Murdoch.
According to Publisher’s Weekly, Thomas had sold more than 242,000 copies of My Grandfather’s Son as of this August. That number bumps up against the magic 250,000 “earning out” mark floated earlier this year by Fix The Court’s Gabe Roth, a judicial reform advocate who has testified as an expert before the House and Senate.
If the book still hasn't "earned out" sixteen years after its publication date, and twenty years after it was signed up, it might be worth asking the reason for the overpayment to Thomas. If Rupert Murdoch just wanted to do Thomas a solid for services rendered from the bench, he wasn't the only right-wing billionaire so inclined.

Sunday, December 17, 2023


Alexandra Petri, The Washington Post's humor columnist, writes a sharp piece about Republicans and abortion:
Huh! It turns out “Well, with luck, you probably won’t die being forced to give birth to a nonviable fetus over the objections of your doctor!” — even if you say it in a warm, human-sounding way ― is not actually what people want to hear when deciding how to cast their votes. Fascinating!

... Maybe what Republicans need is a better slogan. “Sometimes, too many rights are actually a burden” and “Do you ever get tired of making decisions for yourself?” and “Relax: We’ve got it! But let us know if you think you’re bleeding to death” turn out not to be winners, as far as slogans go. Same for, “You Don’t Get a Say, and We Don’t Care if You Die,” even if you say it with a lot of warm eye contact. Also bad: “You Don’t Get a Say, We Will Laugh at What Your Doctor Says, and We Want You to Do Everything But Die.”
There's one problem with this piece: It's not clear that the party's stance on abortion will hurt them in the next election, even though it's hurt them in elections for more than a year. The party's all-but-certain presidential nominee, Donald Trump, is ahead in the polls by several points. On the generic congressional ballot, Republicans continue to hold a small lead.

As Kate Zernike of The New York Times notes, abortion rights referendums have done well even in red states, so well that Republican elected officials are trying to keep them off the ballot.
... Republicans around the country — the same people, in many cases, who once complained about Roe blocking the democratic process and imposing a one-size-fits-all rule on abortion nationwide — have turned much of their energy to keeping the issue away from voters.

Republican-controlled legislatures, shocked by the results of ballot measures that put the question of abortion directly to the people, are trying to make those measures harder to pass, and even abolish them as an option.
But anti-abortion Republican candidates are still winning elections in states where voters have supported abortion-rights referendums. Yes, Ohio's abortion referendum was approved by a double-digit margin. But in 2022, a few months after the Dobbs decision was released, Republicans in Ohio easily won the governorship, a Senate seat, and ten of fifteen House seats. In Kansas last year, an abortion rights referendum was approved by nearly twenty points in the summer of 2022; a few months later, the pro-choice Democratic governor won reelection, but Republicans swept all other statewide offices.

Campaigning on abortion rights can lead to election victories in red and purple states -- but it's not automatic. Earlier this year, Janet Protasiewicz won a special election for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court by double digits, running as a supporter of abortion rights. But a year earlier, months after Dobbs, the vehemently anti-abortion Ron Johnson won reelection to the U.S. Senate.

So as Zernike notes, an increasingly pro-choice America can't change anti-abortion laws in many states because the voters in those states still vote for a lot of Republicans:
Victories for abortion-rights groups on ballot measures haven’t necessarily resulted in changes to the law, or opened up access to abortion. In Kentucky, even as voters rejected a ballot measure attempting to say there was no right to abortion, and then re-elected a Democratic governor who campaigned on his support for abortion rights, a court has upheld a near-total ban on abortion passed by the Republican legislature.
The reason is obvious.
... Republican voters are not showing an inclination to make abortion the deciding factor in their vote: While Democrats say abortion is more likely to drive their votes post-Dobbs, Republicans say it is less so. Republicans who support abortion rights probably aren’t going to vote against their party if they still agree with it on taxes. The American tradition of straight-ticket voting endures.
But are Democrats treating those GOP loyalties as an inviolate law of nature when they should be trying to flip some of those GOP voters?

There are clearly moderate voters who don't agree with their party's absolutism on abortion. Many of them don't agree with the party's absolutism on guns either. And it's actually not obvious that they agree with the GOP on taxes: polls show that many people across the political spectrum now believe the rich and big corporations don't pay enough in taxes.

I say this all the time: Democrats need to tell these Republican-voting moderates that nothing will change on these issues as long as Republicans are in power. They need to ensure that voters know about Republican absolutism on these issues.

I'm not convinced that every voter in America understands what can happen to abortion rights if Donald Trump is elected again. He's selling himself as an abortion moderate -- and Democrats aren't pointing out that if he's elected, every judge (and Supreme Court justice) he appoints will be an anti-abortion zealot. They aren't pointing out that he (or his running mate if he wins and then leaves office early) would probably sign a national abortion ban into law if a Republican Congress passed one.

Voters need to know that electing any Republican increases the threat to abortion rights. Democrats avoid making sweeping negative statements about the GOP, even if those statements are accurate -- and the country becomes more right-wing as a result.

Saturday, December 16, 2023


The New York Times tells us that we don't really have to worry about Moms for Liberty anymore -- the group's influence is waning, in part because of a sex scandal involving one of its founders, and in part because of resistance to its agenda.
Moms for Liberty ... was born in Florida as a response to Covid-19 school closures and mask mandates. But it quickly became just as well known for pushing policies branded as anti-L.G.B.T.Q. by opponents.

So when one of its founders, Bridget Ziegler, recently told the police that she and her husband, who is under criminal investigation for sexual assault, had a consensual sexual encounter with another woman, the perceived disconnect between her public stances and private life fueled intense pressure for her to resign from the Sarasota County School Board.

... as Moms for Liberty reels from the scandal surrounding the Zieglers, the group’s power seems to be fading. Candidates endorsed by the group lost a series of key school board races in 2023. The losses have prompted questions about the future of education issues as an animating force in Republican politics.

Donald J. Trump ... makes only passing reference in his stump speeches to preserving “parental rights” — the catchphrase of the group’s cause. Issues like school curriculums, transgender students’ rights and teaching about race were far less prominent in the three Republican primary debates than abortion rights, foreign policy and the economy.
I'm wary when I'm told that a right-wing group's influence is waning. For years we were told that the larger religious right was "finished," and then the Dobbs decision came down, accompanied by an anti-LGBTQ backlash.

Maybe Moms for Liberty really is a spent force. Or maybe it should just tweak a few of its policies and rebrand itself as a center-left organization.

I say this because I've been reading the comments in response to Michelle Goldberg's latest Times column. Goldberg writes about former liberals and leftists -- Naomi Wolf, Matt Taibbi, Robert Kennedy Jr., and others -- who've moved rightward in recent years, along with ordinary people who've done the same. Her column is a response to an In These Times essay by Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet on the same subject.

The essay and Goldberg's column are well worth reading. However, Goldberg's commenters leave me despairing for the future of liberalism. I've sorted the comments so I can read the most highly recommended ones, and they include these:
I have always considered myself pretty far left, yet I'm repulsed by cancel culture and much of DEI ideology, so I have found myself drifting to the center on social issues and sometimes even nodding in agreement with the right.


I think most of us who have left the left have not joined the right, contrary to what this column implies. Most of us have simply become politically homeless. The right is of absolutely no appeal to me, as I am pro-choice, pro-immigration, in favor of a robust social safety net, in favor of environmental regulation, etc.....but I have come to detest the left's obsession with race and gender identity, and I think it is seriously damaging American institutions and public discourse. Covid policies advocated by the left were also quite shocking to me. So I am nowhere. I know many others who feel the same.


I have two children, girls, in elementary school.

The school district has decided to teach them novel, incoherent ideology about race and gender. The school board thinks this is the role of public education.

I disagree. So, I'm telling my children that I don't believe what the school is telling them, and they don't have to either. When they ask why the school is teaching that, I'm honest: people with an agenda think more people will believe what they want them to believe, if they can get to them while they're young. It's manipulative.

When I was a young progressive, I never thought I'd be in the position of criticizing the left for trying to brainwash kids. I thought only the racist, evangelical Christian conservatives did that.


I think many of us are just bored with the endless demands for "Societal Change" and outright condemnation of any suggestion that personal responsibility might still be a factor in determining the quality of one's life. Being told that the world needs to adjust to each individual has really gone to seed and just sounds like white noise I'd really like to turn off, and my empathy for those making the demands is drying up quickly.


I think this piece misses the most important part of the story. As a retired academic, I can testify to the pressure for ideological conformity that takes place in universities that has only worsened in the years since my retirement. We are no longer individuals when we teach and write- we are representatives of the categories we belong to. We can write about victimization and white privilege and masculine privilege and cis-gendered privilege but we will always be suspect if we belong to the wrong social categories. There is no way of escaping this suspicion. If you're not a conscious racist or sexist, then you're an unconscious racist or sexist. Moral impunity exists only for those who belong to the categories of the most oppressed. But of course, these hierarchies themselves are constantly changing.

The right wing offers respite from this shaming. But of course it's a false comfort. They propagate their own brand of political correctness and they are as draconian in their rejection of apostates as their so-called enemies on the left.
I'm not dismissing all these complaints, but I wonder just how radical the gender message really is in the schools attended by the daughters of the fourth commenter, and I also wonder whether the perception of all the commenters that the left has an "obsession with race and gender identity" is driven in part by the media's obsessive coverage of the left's alleged excesses.

The Moms for Liberty article points out that the group "was at one time particularly strong in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, where education issues helped spur Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, to victory in the 2021 governor’s race." I'm not surprised. Northern Virginia is seen as a liberal enclave, but I'm sure it's full of people who are as ready to move right as these commenters.

The upcoming second Trump presidency is going to make these people nostalgic for the days when their worst problem was pressure to include pronouns in their work email signatures. In the meantime, Moms for Liberty can probably just make a few tweaks in its book-banning policies, then retarget its message to upscale Democrats after buying a mailing list from the Times. Bonus: The new recruits will probably be totally cool with at least the consensual aspects of the Zieglers' three-way.

Friday, December 15, 2023


I want to write about the central arguments of James Bennet's novella-length denunciation of "illiberalism" at The New York Times, but I'm distracted by what Bennet regards as a lapsed golden age at the Times.

The Times, in Bennet's view, was great in the early 1990s, when he first worked there. Early in the piece, he praises the paper's publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, for his early work as a reporter "covering the American Midwest as a real place full of three-dimensional people." That's an awfully low bar for excellence, isn't it? To recognize that Midwesterners are people? (The problem with so much Times "heartland" coverage is that the paper's reporters and editors think that's enough and stop there. They think you humanize heartlanders by sentimentalizing them, even if they're Nazis like Tony and Maria Horvater, the subjects of a deservedly criticized 2017 Times story that Bennet, of course, defends.)

Bennet goes on to praise his own education as a Times reporter. See if you can spot what's wrong with this. (Bennet can't.)
Metro was the biggest news desk. New reporters had to do rotations of up to a year there to learn the culture and folkways of the paper.... I was brought on as a probationary reporter, with a year to prove myself, and like other new hires was put through a series of assignments at the low end of the hierarchy....

After joining the permanent staff, I went, again in humbling ignorance, to Detroit, to cover the auto companies’ – and the city’s – struggle to recapture their former glory. And again I had a chance to learn, in this case, everything from how the largest companies in the world were run, to what it was like to work the line or the sales floor, to the struggle and dignity of life in one of America’s most captivating cities....
Bennet praises Sulzberger for venturing out into the wilds of the Midwest and discovering that Midwesterners are flesh-and-blood human beings. Now here he is, sent to the hinterlands himself, specifically the outer boroughs of New York City and its suburbs, and the point of the exercise is not to treat the people who live there as people (though he claims he did some pretty good work), but to "learn the culture and folkways of the paper." What an awesome way to respect the proles -- send the greenest reporter you have to cover them, and say that his real assignment is to learn all the secret Times handshakes. And then an equally ignorant Bennet repeats the process in Detroit.

Bennet is then assigned to a politcal beat:
I began to write about presidential politics two years later, in 1996, and as the most inexperienced member of the team was assigned to cover a long-shot Republican candidate, Pat Buchanan. I packed a bag for a four-day reporting trip and did not return home for six weeks. Buchanan campaigned on an eccentric fusion of social conservatism and statist economic policies, along with coded appeals to racism and antisemitism, that 30 years earlier had elevated George Wallace and 20 years later would be rebranded as Trumpism. He also campaigned with conviction, humour and even joy, a combination I have rarely witnessed. As a Democrat from a family of Democrats, a graduate of Yale and a blossom of the imagined meritocracy, I had my first real chance, at Buchanan’s rallies, to see the world through the eyes of stalwart opponents of abortion, immigration and the relentlessly rising tide of modernity.
For starters, Buchanan's "fusion of social conservatism and statist economic policies" isn't "eccentric," it's bog-standard fascism (or, in the present day, Orbanism). Beyond that, Bennet, assigned to cover a conservative politician, is gobsmacked to discover that conservatives exist. Maybe a system that asks reporters to learn on the job by writing about subjects they know nothing about would be improved if those young reporters were hired in part for knowledge of the subjects they write about.

Bennet thinks it's best if reporters bring nothing to the table, because then they're blank slates and can learn to see all aspects of a subject. But what if they don't? What if these blank-slate reporters (and their blank-slate editors) miss important points because of their ignorance?

Bennet assails the critics of post-2016 "heartland" coverage in the Times:
It became a cliché among influential left-wing columnists and editors that blinkered political reporters interviewed a few Trump supporters in diners and came away suckered into thinking there was something besides racism that could explain anyone’s support for the man.
I happen to agree that the people in those diners harbor additional grievances besides racism. (They hate white liberals, too.) I also believe that they're not going to be frank about their grievances just because a big-city reporter from a newspaper with a liberal reputation -- a reporter who, like Bennet, is probably a cradle Democrat and an Ivy Leaguer -- asks them to be frank.

What's more, they're probably not going to talk about where they get their ideas. Bennet's essay runs for sixteen thousand words, but the word "Fox" doesn't appear even once; the only allusion to Murdochism in Bennet's essay is a snarky reference to the long-abandoned Fox slogan "fair and balanced," used in reference not to Murdoch but to (in Bennet's view) bad news consumers, many of them liberal, who want their media of choice to reflect their biases.

The people in those diners believe what they believe about the evil nature of liberals and Democrats in large part because the right-wing media -- talk radio, Fox, right-wing websites -- tells them liberals and Democrats are evil. Bennet's blank-slate reporters never grasp this because they come in knowing nothing. Bennet still doesn't know it.

The main thrust of Bennet's piece is that it's bad for reporters and readers to want the Times to take stands. But the people who want an openly liberal Times feel that way because they understand how powerful conservatism is, an awareness that Bennet and his fellow "objectivity" purists don't share. Bennet wants a Times that gives equal weight to left and right arguments -- but the other dominant media organ in America, Fox News, has no such balance of content. If you agree that the Times is one of the two most influential media outlets in the country, then you can see that a balanced Times plus Fox as it's been constituted since its inception adds up to a media elite that's 75% right-wing -- all of Fox and half of the Times.

In the real world, conservatism also dominates, as it has since 1980, except on some social issues. Yes, we have a strong LGBTQ rights movement and an ongoing sexual revolution and legal weed. But apart from that, taxes on the rich are low, inequality is high, and unionized workforces are still rare. We've barely begun dealing with climate change in earnest and might never do so. Black people can still be killed by the cops for a busted taillight. Gun violence is rampant and curbs on firearms are politically unthinkable in most of the country. And the rollback of abortion rights is just beginning.

The principal bad guys of Bennet's essay -- the Times employees who denounced the Tom Cotton op-ed he greenlighted that called for military troops to be deployed against Black Lives Matter protesters -- live in the real world, where the right runs rampant. Bennet doesn't seem to want them to bring this real-world knowledge into the newsroom; he wants reporters who show up with no knowledge, as he did. But maybe the country wouldn't be on fire if the elite media hired more people who could see what was happening because of prior knowledge. Maybe what James Bennet wants for news is precisely what got us into this mess.

Thursday, December 14, 2023


David Remnick of The New Yorker just interviewed Liz Cheney -- as if she needs more publicity, or New Yorker readers still need to be persuaded that Donald Trump is bad. Remnick writes:
In a political party that has evolved into a personality cult, her apostasy resides in her refusal to worship its leader and in her defense of the Constitution.
Has the Republican Party evolved into a personality cult? Everyone will disagree with me on this, but I don't think so.

Here's data from a poll of Michigan Republicans:

Nearly two thirds of the respondents would be either enthusiastic or satisfied if Ron DeSantis were the party's nominee rather than Trump. Half would be enthusiastic or satisfied if it were Nikki Haley rather than Trump. They clearly prefer Trump by a wide margin, and we know some of them treat him worshipfully, but they'd be perfectly content with someone else.

We saw something similar last month:
More than 60 percent of Trump primary voters said there is “at least some chance” they would support a candidate other than former President Trump in the Republican presidential primary, according to a survey from Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll....
Does this mean Trump can be beaten in the primaries? No. He's going to win every contest in a landslide. But many Republican voters who think he's the best choice clearly don't think he's the only choice.

These voters want someone who can beat President Biden, and most of them really want someone who drives liberals crazy. And who drives liberals crazier than Trump? We admit it! He horrifies us!

If anyone drove liberals crazier than Trump, that person could seriously challenge Trump for the nomination. (Trump is lucky that the foreign-born Elon Musk is ineligible to be president.)

Imagine if first-term Trump had collaborated on an infrastructure bill with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, or agreed to allow DACA recipients to stay in the country permanently and pursue citizenship -- things many people thought he might do. He probably would have been abandoned by large portions of his base in 2020, like George H.W. Bush in 1992. Instead, he kept pissing off liberals, so much so that he's unbeatable in the primaries.

That's not really cult worship. It's just high job approval.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023


Wisconsin senator Tammy Baldwin could have a tough reelection fight in 2024: The Cook Political Report, Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball and other election observers rate the race as "Lean D" rather than "Solid D," and one May poll (admittedly from a GOP polling firm) showed Baldwin losing to a generic Republican by 3 points.

But Baldwin's opponent might not be a generic Republican, if by that "generic" you mean right-wing but bland and presentable. Her opponent might be this shitposting, trash-talking attention addict:
PPP’s newest Wisconsin Republican primary poll finds 52% want Sheriff [David] Clarke to be their Senate nominee next year compared to 7% for Eric Hovde and 6% for Scott Mayer. In head to heads Clarke leads Hovde 51-10 and Mayer 52-6.

Clarke ... has 65% name recognition and 52% see him favorably to 13% with a negative opinion.
A previous Public Policy Polling survey, in June, had Clarke at 40% vs. Congressman Mike Gallagher, who subsequently announced that he won't run for the Senate seat. In that poll, Clarke was beating Gallagher by a two-to-one margin.

In other words, Wisconsin Republicans really, really like David Clarke, the cowboy-hat-wearing Black right-winger who, as a nominal Democrat, used to be sheriff of Milwaukee County, at least on paper. (His full-time job, then as now, seemed to be making appearances in conservative media.)

Wikipedia has some of the highlights of Clarke's career:
He has criticized Planned Parenthood, suggesting instead that it be renamed "Planned Genocide"....

In 2015, Clarke received criticism for his statement on his podcast: "Let me tell you why blacks sell drugs and involve themselves in criminal behavior instead of a more socially acceptable lifestyle: because they're uneducated, they're lazy and they're morally bankrupt. That's why." ...

In 2017, Clarke attracted attention and criticism for trading racial insults with Marc Lamont Hill, an African-American CNN commentator; on Twitter, Clarke used a racial slur ("jigaboo") to insult Hill....

He has ... claimed that Black Lives Matter would eventually join forces with ISIS in order to destroy American society....

In 2015, Clarke traveled to Moscow on a $40,000 trip, with all expenses paid by the National Rifle Association of America, Pete Brownell (an NRA board member and CEO of a gun-parts supply company) and "The Right to Bear Arms", a Russian pro-firearms organization, founded by Maria Butina, a Russian national, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to being an unregistered Russian agent.... During the meeting, Clarke met the Russian foreign minister and attended a conference at which Russian official Aleksander Torshin, a close ally of Vladimir Putin, spoke....

In 2018, Clarke attracted attention for using Twitter to promote a conspiracy theory about the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida; Clarke tweeted that "The well ORGANIZED effort by Florida school students demanding gun control has GEORGE SOROS' FINGERPRINTS all over it", suggesting that the students from Parkland were being manipulated by Soros to organize for gun control....

Clarke has called for the suspension of habeas corpus in the United States in a December 2015 appearance on his radio program, where he asserted that there were "hundreds of thousands" or "maybe a million" people who "have pledged allegiance or are supporting ISIS, giving aid and comfort", and stated that "our commander in chief ought to utilize Article I, Section 9" to imprison them at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp "and hold them indefinitely under a suspension of habeas corpus"....

The Milwaukee County Jail turned the water off to inmate Terrill Thomas's cell, resulting in his death by dehydration on April 24, 2016. According to inmates, the water was turned off for six days and the staff refused to provide water to Thomas. On September 15, 2016, the Milwaukee medical examiner ruled Thomas's death a homicide....

In July 2016, a pregnant inmate at the jail with serious mental illness went into labor and the newborn baby died. The mother filed a federal lawsuit against the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office, stating that she was denied medical attention before her pregnancy, had medical appointments canceled, received prenatal vitamins only once, and was "laughed at" by guards after going into labor.
In 2013, he urged residents of Milwaukee County to take the law into their own hands:
In the radio ad, Clarke tells residents personal safety isn't a spectator sport anymore, and that "I need you in the game."

"With officers laid off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option," Clarke intones.

"You could beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed, or you can fight back."

Clarke urges listeners to take a firearm safety course and handle a firearm "so you can defend yourself until we get there."

"You have a duty to protect yourself and your family. We're partners now. Can I count on you?"
On a radio show in 2020, a few days after Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two people in Kenosha, Clarke recommended extrajudicial violence:
DAVID CLARKE (GUEST HOST): The question is when is government going to do something? Inaction is not a plan. You know what happens with inaction? People take the law into their own hands. Government is leaving them no choice. No choice. I don’t advocate for some of the stuff that’s starting to happen, but I am certainly done -- I am through with condemning it. I’m done with that.

I’m just telling people, “Hey, you’re on your own." Think about it, have a plan. Act reasonably. You have to act reasonably. Then you’re going to have to articulate what you did afterwards. But you can’t have government officials and law enforcement executives telling people, “Do not take the law into your own hands." Well, you’re forcing them to!

... Have a plan, think it through, be able to articulate it, and be reasonable. It’s all the law requires. You have the right to defend yourself, you don’t need permission from the police or a sheriff.
In 2017, Clarke praised Donald Trump's response to the deadly neo-fascist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia:

Clarke also spoke at a QAnon convention in 2021.

If Clarke runs -- he's sent signals that he's thinking about it seriously -- he's likely to be the GOP nominee. That should be good news for Baldwin -- at least I hope it is.

But Democrats need to hang Clarke around the neck of the rest of the Republican Party. They need to send the message that Donald Trump isn't the GOP's only extremist. Radicals who are likely to run statewide races next year include Kari Lake, Arizona's likely GOP Senate candidate, and Mark Robinson, who's all but certain to be the Republican gubernatorial candidate in North Carolina. (Robinson calls homosexuality "filth" and told Black followers on social media that the movie Black Panther was "created by an agnostic Jew and put to film by [a] satanic marxist ... to pull the shekels out of your Schvartze pockets.")

Notice how Republicans use the demonization of Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Adam Schiff, Chuck Schumer, and others to drive turnout. Even with much more radical opponents, Democrats rarely do anything comparable, except with regard to Trump. There's no excuse for that. The GOP is rapidly becoming a party in which most officeholders are like Trump, Lake, Robinson, and Clarke. Democrats need to start saying that.