Sexual Morality, Republican Style

If you’ve avoided the fascist sewer that Republican politics has become, you may not have heard they’re now referring to Democrats as the party of pedophiles and groomers. The principal “basis” for this claim is the existence of sex education in public schools. The “idea” is that after learning about sex or hearing that not all healthy people are heterosexuals, it’s only a matter of time before our children become prey to nasty Democrats or turn all gay or something. In similar fashion, Republican senators tried to paint Biden’s new Supreme Court nominee as “soft” on pedophilia. You can read more about this recent shift in right-wing propaganda here, here, here or here.

I wasn’t going to mention this new development in American politics until I read about an online list of Republicans who either are, or have been accused of being, sexual predators. I don’t know who is maintaining the list, how far back the incidents go, or if the list is completely reliable, but, just as our former president loves to project his own illegal or unethical behavior onto other people (“lock her up”), it shouldn’t be a surprise when the “family values”/”moral majority”/”real Americans” crowd accuses their political opponents of sexual bad behavior.

Item 1 on the list is:

Donald Trump is accused of sexual assault by multiple women (and has admitted doing it). He is accused of raping a 13-year-old girl and bragged of walking in on underage girls at pageant. (Wikipedia).

Item 415 (yes, 415) is:

Man linked to Trump transition charged with transporting child pornography (Washington Post).

Item 828 (that’s right, 828) is:

Tesla rich guy Elon Musk, who recently announced he’s a Republican, was accused of exposing himself to a SpaceX  flight attendant (Business Insider).

This proves nothing, of course, but projection is a well-known psychological phenomenon and, as some clever person once said, “where there’s smoke, there’s something else”.

PS:  And wouldn’t you know? The Houston Chronicle reports today:

Bombshell 400-page report finds Southern Baptist leaders routinely silenced sexual abuse survivors.

It’s Time To Use the Other F-word

In his weekly Big Tent newsletter, Brian Beutler says the time for nuance is over:

[Since] a neo-Nazi adherent of the Great Replacement conspiracy theory massacred 11 people at a grocery store in Buffalo, NY’s, black community, . . .  zero elected Republicans who have espoused or played footsie with the same fascist libel recanted or renounced the lie that elites—usually (((elites))) in their telling—have orchestrated a mass influx of non-whites to the U.S. in order to breed the white race out of political relevance, if not actual existence. [Meanwhile] Republicans nominated a fascist named Doug Mastriano to run for governor of Pennsylvania—largely, it seems, because Mastriano has promised to overturn future elections when Democrats win them. . . .

We’ve reached a juncture where few Republicans will renounce the Great Replacement lie, where many will embrace it, even as it drives violent fascists to commit mass murder; where they close ranks around an enemy of democracy like Doug Mastriano, knowing there cannot be a free-and-fair presidential election so long as he’s in power; where Republicans in Congress purge all truth-seeking members, but provide safe harbor for any and all fascists in the House of Representatives (so long as they don’t drop a dime about the Washington GOP’s secret moral deviancy).

It’s more than fair to say that the [Republican Party] has been captured by a fascist movement, and if that’s what you want people to take away from the shit-flooded-zone of politics, you’re better off saying so than meekly gesturing in that direction. . . .

Republicans are of course happy to tell all kinds of egregious lies about their opponents, particularly in the Trump era. But the idea isn’t to just turn the tables. It’s to make voters hear accurate warnings about the modern GOP at least as often as they hear GOP agitprop about socialism or “grooming” or whatever the latest slander is.

And this is why I think simple, forceful, resonant messages will serve Democrats much better than over-researched ones or excessively specific ones. Precision is important for getting tenure but it’s often the enemy of solidarity.

Liberals (because they’re liberals) like to parse the fascism question into dust. Perhaps it’s safer, to avoid the wrath of fact-checking gods, or to play it safe with more all-encompassing terms like authoritarianism, or more refined ones like Christian nationalism. But we are by no means playing a Price is Right-style game where the goal is to lay the GOP bare with as much nuance as possible, without going even $0.01 over the perfectly accurate description. For one thing, there is no perfectly accurate description; for another, pinpointing various shades of fasc-ish authoritarianism makes it hard to convey the critical fact, which is danger: racial supremacy, violence, Orwellian lies, dictatorship.

Christian nationalism is not a good thing, when you know what it is—but if you don’t know what it is, the words don’t convey the horrors Republicans would like to impose on the country. Which explains in part why the far-right is so fond of it: There are a lot of Christians in America, and most Americans don’t have uniformly negative associations with the word nationalism. “Since [Charlottesville], there has been a major shift among far-right groups, white nationalists, and militias toward espousing Christian nationalism, much like the Ku Klux Klan did,” Alexander Reid Ross, a scholar of radical-right movements, told the New Yorker last year. “The tactic has been to use Christian nationalism to cool down the idea of fascism without losing the fascism.”

. . . Not every Republican in Congress uses fascistic rhetoric or seeks fascistic power. [But they are all comfortable saying] “the radical Democrat socialist party blah blah blah” and out the other side shoots endless handwringing over whether Democrats have moved too far left.

. . . Almost every Republican in elected office has acted irresponsibly since D____ T____ took over. . .  It’s fair to say of them that their irresponsibility—whether driven by fear or ambition or both—has included putting party over country. [Even if] they haven’t embraced the ethos of fascist slime, the time has come for them to take sides. Do they subscribe to the the same ideology as the Nazi who massacred the grocery store or not? Their colleagues are fascists—what are they going to do about it?

Toying around with terms like “ultra-MAGA” is a way of getting at this same distinction by speaking in code. But after everything we’ve been through, who honestly believes allusion is a more persuasive tactic, a better way to drive narratives, than just shouting from the rooftops.

The good news for Democrats [is] they can note that Doug Mastriano will steal elections from voters, and [his Democratic opponent] Joshua Shapiro will not; Mastriano will sign a bill banning abortion; Shapiro will veto it. The Republican wants to crush our freedoms to govern ourselves, our bodies, our families. What does that sound like to you?

It’s Out in the Open Now

Leading Republicans are holding a conference in Budapest because, as history professor Andrew Gawthorpe explains, Hungary’s authoritarian regime, “unconstrained by an independent media, democratic institutions or racial diversity – isn’t a cautionary tale, but an aspiration”. From The Guardian:

Long a safe space where conservatives [no, the neo-fascists of the radical right] could say what they really thought, this year the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is hosting an event in Budapest, its first ever on the European continent. Attendees will be treated to panels about “western civilization under attack” and be addressed by American [right-wing] luminaries including the former T____ chief of staff Mark Meadows and media figures like Tucker Carlson and Candace Owens. That Hungary has become an authoritarian state whose leader, Viktor Orbán, has deconstructed Hungarian democracy and become a close ally of Vladimir Putin doesn’t seem to faze anyone involved. In fact, it’s the whole point.

The embrace of Orbán as a role model by many on the right seems at first glance puzzling. . . .  But . . .  for years, Orbán has been playing out the fantasies of CPAC’s attendees, unconstrained by the independent institutions, impartial media and racial diversity which American conservatives see as their foils at home. Where Orbán has gone, American [reactionaries] want to follow. And increasingly, they are doing so.

Central to Orbán’s appeal is that he is a fighter who has turned his country into, according to the organizers of CPAC, “one of the engines of Conservative resistance to the woke revolution”. In some ways Orbán resembles T____, but in the eyes of many [neo-fascists] he’s better understood as the man they wished T____ would be. Where T____ was a thrice-married playboy who boasted of sleeping with porn stars and managed to lose the 2020 election, Orbán seems both genuinely committed to upholding [reactionary] cultural values and has grimly consolidated control over his country, excluding the left from power indefinitely.

Among the terrifying implications of the American right’s embrace of Orbán is that it shows that the right would be willing to dismantle American democracy in exchange for cultural and racial hegemony. Many of Orbán’s admirers . . . see “traditional American culture” as so far degenerated that it may be necessary to wrest power away from a corrupted people in order to make America great again. They count among Orbán’s victories his clampdown on gay and transgender rights and his refusal to allow Muslim refugees to enter Hungary. Upholding a particular set of “Christian” (actually nationalistic and bigoted) values is seen as worth the damage to democracy – the latter might even be necessary for the former.

Things get even more sinister when we consider that America is a vast continent-sized country of enormous cultural and racial diversity. Imposing a conservative monoculture on such a country could only be achieved through one means – governmental coercion. The desirability of doing just that is now openly discussed on the right. Over the past several years, many have been advocating “common-good constitutionalism” – an idea put forward by the [Republican] legal thinker Adrian Vermeule which holds that America should embrace a new interpretation of the constitution focused on, among other things, a “respect for hierarchy” and a willingness to “legislate morality”. As surely as such ideas underpinned the Jim Crow south, such ideas mesh easily with, indeed are required by, any attempt to bring Orbánism to the United States as a whole.

Far from being limited to the trolls at CPAC or obscure writers, such an approach to governing is already being implemented by [Republicans] up and down the country. State laws which ban teaching about race or gender issues in schools have passed in many states, and Republicans have continued their assault on businesses which speak out on these issues. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has moved to use the power of the state to punish Disney for its stance on gay rights. In the face of cultural change which [reactionaries] dislike, the principle of free speech has gone out of the window, and the heavy hand of the state is knocking at the door.

The recently leaked US Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade is perhaps the clearest indication of the danger that this trend poses. By removing a fundamental individual right and once again enabling [the radical right] to impose their own moral views on women’s bodies, the decision – if passed as written – will be seen on the right as a landmark in how the power of the state can be used to discipline a degenerated culture and regulate morality. Further crackdowns are sure to follow. Locked out of power on the Supreme Court and facing steep challenges to winning power in America’s unbalanced electoral system, defenders of liberalism will struggle to fight back.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Orbánism, with its rejection of democracy and its willingness to use coercion to enforce a narrow cultural and religious agenda, defines the danger posed by modern American conservatism. The danger is greatest when the two elements come together. Unable to win the approval of the people on whom they wish to force their values, [Republicans] will be tempted to proceed further and further down an undemocratic path. That path has already taken them all the way to Budapest. The fear now is that they will ultimately bring Budapest back to America.

Unquote.

A headline from The Guardian: “Viktor Orbán tells CPAC the path to power is to ‘have your own media’” and that right-wing propaganda like Tucker Carlson’s program should be broadcast ‘24/7’.

From journalist David Roberts on Twitter:

CPAC [is] in Hungary, openly celebrating Orban’s defeat of democracy, openly planning to do the same in the US … it’s just all out in the open now. And still the media can’t seem to convey it clearly to the public. [Unlike the left], the right [with Rupert Murdoch’s money] built a propaganda machine that now effectively immunizes it from consequences no matter what it does. . . . 

It’s important for Americans to understand that Orbán did not defeat democracy with any dramatic police action or coup. There were no troops in the streets. In most ways, the formal *appearance* of democracy is still in place. There are still campaigns; people still vote.

Orbán just gradually exerted more and more control over media, until they are all beholden to him. He ensured that private companies loyal to his regime profited and that those that didn’t suffered. . . .

You might say Hungary still has the body of a democracy, but the soul of democracy is gone. The free flow of information, the level playing field, the fair competition among candidates, it’s all gone, but if you’re not LGBTQ or otherwise marginalized, it can still FEEL normal.

This is the new blueprint for the right: not some dramatic overthrow, but steady erosion of the mechanisms of democracy until only a hollow shell is left and one-party control is, if not inscribed in law, ensured in practice.

In many ways this is *more* dangerous than an explicit bid for autocracy. It deprives opponents of singular, dramatic events around which to rally. It’s incremental, each step a little further than the last, nothing that trips alarms or sparks organized resistance.

Unquote.

Finally, from Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post:

Turnout in midterm elections is traditionally much lower than in presidential years. Voters who are appalled at what the [Republican Party] has become [it’s no longer a normal political party] can send a powerful and definitive message by abandoning their traditional nonchalance this November and voting in huge numbers. We can reject T____ism, both for its cultishness and for its proto-fascism. We can take a stand. It’s up to us what kind of country we want to live in.

They’re Not Communists, They’re Fascists

History professor Timothy Snyder says Putin and his associates are fascists (NY Times). No kidding:

Fascism was never defeated as an idea. . . . It was only on the battlefields of World War II that fascism was defeated. Now it’s back — and this time, the country fighting a fascist war of destruction is Russia. Should Russia win, fascists around the world will be comforted.

We err in limiting our fears of fascism to a certain image of Hitler and the Holocaust. Fascism was Italian in origin, popular in Romania — where fascists were Orthodox Christians who dreamed of cleansing violence — and had adherents throughout Europe (and America). In all its varieties, it was about the triumph of will over reason.

Because of that, it’s impossible to define satisfactorily. People disagree, often vehemently, over what constitutes fascism. But today’s Russia meets most of the criteria that scholars tend to apply. It has a cult around a single leader, Vladimir Putin. It has a cult of the dead, organized around World War II. It has a myth of a past golden age of imperial greatness, to be restored by a war of healing violence — the murderous war on Ukraine.

It’s not the first time Ukraine has been the object of fascist war. The conquest of the country was Hitler’s main war aim in 1941. Hitler thought that the Soviet Union, which then ruled Ukraine, was a Jewish state: He planned to replace Soviet rule with his own and claim Ukraine’s fertile agricultural soil. The Soviet Union would be starved, and Germany would become an empire. He imagined that this would be easy because the Soviet Union, to his mind, was an artificial creation and the Ukrainians a colonial people.

The similarities to Mr. Putin’s war are striking. The Kremlin defines Ukraine as an artificial state, whose Jewish president proves it cannot be real. After the elimination of a small elite, the thinking goes, the inchoate masses would happily accept Russian dominion. Today it is Russia that is denying Ukrainian food to the world, threatening famine in the global south.

Many hesitate to see today’s Russia as fascist because Stalin’s Soviet Union defined itself as antifascist. . . .  Its opposition to fascism, however, was inconsistent.

Before Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, the Soviets treated fascists as just one more form of capitalist enemy. Communist parties in Europe were to treat all other parties as the enemy. This policy actually contributed to Hitler’s ascent: Though they outnumbered the Nazis, German communists and socialists could not cooperate. After that fiasco, Stalin adjusted his policy, demanding that European communist parties form coalitions to block fascists.

That didn’t last long. In 1939, the Soviet Union joined Nazi Germany as a de facto ally, and the two powers invaded Poland together. Nazi speeches were reprinted in the Soviet press and Nazi officers admired Soviet efficiency in mass deportations. But Russians today do not speak of this fact, since memory laws make it a crime to do so. World War II is an element of Mr. Putin’s historical myth of Russian innocence and lost greatness — Russia must enjoy a monopoly on victimhood and on victory. The basic fact that Stalin enabled World War II by allying with Hitler must be unsayable and unthinkable.

Stalin’s flexibility about fascism is the key to understanding Russia today. Under Stalin, fascism was first indifferent, then it was bad, then it was fine until — when Hitler betrayed Stalin and Germany invaded the Soviet Union — it was bad again. . . .Soviet anti-fascism, in other words, was a politics of us and them. . . . 

A time traveler from the 1930s would have no difficulty identifying the Putin regime as fascist. The symbol Z, the rallies, the propaganda, the war as a cleansing act of violence and the death pits around Ukrainian towns make it all very plain. The war against Ukraine is not only a return to the traditional fascist battleground, but also a return to traditional fascist language and practice. Other people are there to be colonized. Russia is innocent because of its ancient past. The existence of Ukraine is an international conspiracy. War is the answer.

Because Mr. Putin speaks of fascists as the enemy, we might find it hard to grasp that he could in fact be fascist. But in Russia’s war on Ukraine, “Nazi” just means “subhuman enemy”— someone Russians can kill. Hate speech directed at Ukrainians makes it easier to murder them, as we see in BuchaMariupol and every part of Ukraine that has been under Russian occupation. Mass graves are not some accident of war, but an expected consequence of a fascist war of destruction.

Fascists calling other people “fascists” is fascism taken to its illogical extreme as a cult of unreason. It is a final point where hate speech inverts reality and propaganda is pure insistence. It is the apogee of will over thought. Calling others fascists while being a fascist is the essential Putinist practice. . . .

We understand more about fascism than we did in the 1930s. We now know where it led. We should recognize fascism, because then we know what we are dealing with. But to recognize it is not to undo it. Fascism is not a debating position, but a cult of will that emanates fiction. It is about the mystique of a man who heals the world with violence, and it will be sustained by propaganda right to the end. It can be undone only by demonstrations of the leader’s weakness. The fascist leader has to be defeated, which means that those who oppose fascism have to do what is necessary to defeat him. Only then do the myths come crashing down.

As in the 1930s, democracy is in retreat around the world and fascists have moved to make war on their neighbors. If Russia wins in Ukraine, it won’t be just the destruction of a democracy by force, though that is bad enough. It will be a demoralization for democracies everywhere. Even before the war, Russia’s friends — Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orban, Tucker Carlson — were the enemies of democracy. Fascist battlefield victories would confirm that might makes right, that reason is for the losers, that democracies must fail. . . .

Unquote.

Meanwhile, from The Guardian:

Hungary’s nationalist leader, Viktor Orbán, will be the star speaker at an extraordinary session of America’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to be held in Hungary this week, in an effort to cement bonds between the radical right on both sides of the Atlantic under the banner of the “great replacement” ideology.

In a speech on Monday, Orbán made explicit reference to the ideology, which claims there is a liberal plot to dilute the white populations of the US and European countries through immigration. Increasingly widespread among US Republicans, the creed was cited by the killer who opened fire on Saturday in a supermarket in a predominantly black area of Buffalo, New York.

Orbán is also in the news because he opposes Sweden and Finland joining NATO and has stopped the European Union from banning imports of Russian oil. Putin must enjoy having an ally in Hungary.

The Terrorists Among Us

In the aftermath of the massacre in a black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, on Saturday, it’s worth noting a study produced by the Anti-Defamation League. They found that in the ten years between 2012 and 2021, 75% of the murders in the US that were connected to political extremism were committed by the radical right (otherwise known as upstanding members of the Grand Old Party). From David Leonhardt of the NY Times:

Over the past decade, the Anti-Defamation League has counted about 450 U.S. murders committed by political extremists.

Of these 450 killings, right-wing extremists committed about 75 percent. Islamic extremists were responsible for about 20 percent, and left-wing extremists were responsible for 4 percent.

More than half of the murders were specifically tied to white supremacists:

As this data shows, the American political right has a violence problem that has no equivalent on the left. And the 10 victims in Buffalo this past weekend are now part of this toll. “Right-wing extremist violence is our biggest threat,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the ADL, has written. “The numbers don’t lie.”

The pattern extends to violence less severe than murder, like the Jan. 6 attack on Congress. It also extends to the language from some Republican politicians — including [the former president] — and conservative media figures that treats violence as a legitimate form of political expression. A much larger number of Republican officials do not use this language but also do not denounce it or punish politicians who do use it; Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, is a leading example.

. . . The precise explanation for any one attack can be murky, involving a mixture of ideology, mental illness, gun access and more. In the immediate aftermath of an attack, people are sometimes too quick to claim a direct cause and effect. But it is also incorrect to pretend that right-wing violence and left-wing violence are equivalent problems.

If you talk to members of Congress and their aides these days — especially off the record — you will often hear them mention their fears of violence being committed against them.

Some Republican members of Congress have said that they were reluctant to vote for [the ex-president’s] impeachment or conviction partly because of the threats against other members who had already denounced him. House Republicans who voted for President Biden’s infrastructure bill also received threats. Democrats say their offices receive a spike in phone calls and online messages threatening violence after they are criticized on conservative social media or cable television shows.

People who oversee elections report similar problems. “One in six elec­tion offi­cials have exper­i­enced threats because of their job,” the Brennan Center, a research group, reported this year. “Ranging from death threats that name offi­cials’ young chil­dren to racist and gendered harass­ment, these attacks have forced elec­tion offi­cials across the coun­try to take steps like hiring personal secur­ity, flee­ing their homes, and putting their chil­dren into coun­sel­ing.”

There is often overlap between these violent threats and white supremacist beliefs. White supremacy tends to treat people of color as un-American or even less than fully human, views that can make violence seem justifiable. The suspect in the Buffalo massacre evidently posted an online manifesto that discussed replacement theory, a racial conspiracy theory that Tucker Carlson promotes on his Fox News show.

“History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse,” Representative Liz Cheney, one of the few Republicans who have repeatedly and consistently denounced violence and talk of violence from the right, wrote on Twitter. “The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and antisemitism,” Cheney wrote, and called on Republican leaders to “renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”

A few other Republicans, like Senator Mitt Romney, have taken a similar stance. But many other prominent Republicans have taken a more neutral stance or even embraced talk of violence.

Some have spoken openly about violence as a legitimate political tool — and not just [the party’s leader], who has done so frequently.

At the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 attack, Representative Mo Brooks suggested the crowd should “start taking down names and kicking ass.” Before she was elected to Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene supported the idea of executing Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats. Representative Paul Gosar once posted an animated video altered to depict himself killing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and swinging swords at Biden.

Rick Perry, a former Texas governor, once called the Federal Reserve “treasonous” and talked about treating its chairman “pretty ugly.” During Greg Gianforte’s campaign for Montana’s House seat, he went so far as to assault a reporter who asked him a question he didn’t like; Gianforte won and has since become Montana’s governor.

These Republicans have received no meaningful sanction from their party. McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, has been especially solicitous of Brooks and other members who use violent imagery.

This Republican comfort with violence is new. Republican leaders from past decades, like Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, Howard Baker and the Bushes, did not evoke violence.

“In a stable democracy,” Steven Levitsky, a Harvard political scientist, told me, “politicians unambiguously reject violence and unambiguously expel from their ranks antidemocratic forces.”