Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦 🇺🇦 🇺🇦

Nothing special, one post at a time since 2012

What Democrats Could Do

Lots of people are giving Congressional Democrats advice. One such person is Perry Bacon. He writes for The Washington Post. Here’s his suggestion (with commentary from me):

The Republican Party isn’t fit to lead, and most voters know it — that’s why Joe Biden won the presidency. But all those 2020 Biden voters shouldn’t be expected to turn out for two more years of Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) blocking most legislation in the Senate, sometimes joined by moderate Democrats in the House….

Democrats should level with voters. . . . There was never really a Democratic “trifecta,” because Manchin and Sinema are more independents than they are Democrats.

They should be clear about the solution: a Senate with at least 52 Democrats and a House with at least 218 Democrats [they would actually need more than 218, since that would give every Democrat in the House veto power, just like Manchin and Sinema have had in the Senate for the past two years]. If they get that, they can say, they will pass a specific agenda, something like this:
  1. Eliminate the filibuster.
  2. A national law guaranteeing a right to an abortion in the first trimester and in all cases of rape and incest.
  3. A democracy reform law mandating independent commissions to draw state and congressional districts lines free of gerrymandering; vote-by-mail and two weeks of early voting; proportional representation through multi-member congressional districts; and measures to prevent election subversion.
  4. ban on the sale of military-style weapons such as AR-15 rifles and high-capacity magazines, along with universal background checks for gun sales.
  5. A minimum income tax of at least 20 percent on billionaires.
  6. A ban on members of Congress buying individual stocks.
  7. National marijuana legalization.
  8. A climate change plan that puts the United States on a path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
  9. A required civics and life-skills course for high school seniors, with the same curriculum throughout the country.
  10. Voluntary term limits of 12 years in Congress for all Democrats (six terms in the House, two in the Senate) [A better idea would be a voluntary retirement age, say 70 years — airline pilots have to retire at 65, some state judges have to retire at 70]
  11. What connects these ideas? First, many of them are already popular….

Second, they directly confront America’s biggest problem: the radicalized Republican Party and how our political system gives a small bloc of GOP voters, the party’s donors and its elected officials veto power over the preferences of most Americans, including many Republicans.

Third, they acknowledge this stark reality: The United States is experiencing a non-military, uncivil war that the Democrats must win.

The Republican agenda of expanding gun rights, narrowing voting rights and functionally abolishing abortion rights doesn’t seem coherent or logical until you view it as an agenda of White male Christian hegemony. Then it fits together perfectly. The Democrats must stop trying to duck the so-called culture wars and instead fight hard to win them. There is no middle ground between White male Christian hegemony and multiracial, multicultural social democracy — and the Democrats shouldn’t be shy about using their power to impose the latter, since it’s what a clear majority of Americans want.

[These proposals would be] an acknowledgement that America’s economic and political establishments have failed and need to be changed.

Unquote.

Mr. Bacon didn’t include any strictly economic proposals or any ideas for court reform, although he mentions “the proposal of legal writer Elie Mystal to create a 29-member high court” (others have suggested a smaller number, like 13 or 15). But it’s a pretty good list and would remind some voters what would be possible with more Democrats in Congress. 

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.

Let’s Not Think About It

After reading a couple opinion pieces in The Washington Post, I was thinking about presenting one or both of them here. One, by Max Boot, is “We’re in danger of losing our democracy. Most Americans are in denial”. The other, by Margaret Sullivan, is called “Democracy is at stake in the midterms. The media must convey that”.

I assume you know the problem. Despite the January 6th insurrection (or because of it), most Republicans want the leader of their cult to run again in 2024. In various ways, they’re trying to make sure he becomes president again whether or not the Democrat gets more votes. What the mob tried to achieve on January 6th, 2021, millions of Republicans would like to accomplish in 2024 using their official powers to restrict voting rights, manipulate elections and change the Electoral College result.

Quoting Margaret Sullivan:

A growing chorus of activists, historians and political commentators have spoken of “democracy on the brink” or “democracy in peril.” What they mean is that, thanks to a paranoid, delusional and potentially violent new strain in our nation’s politics, Americans may not be able to count on future elections being conducted fairly — or the results of fair elections being accepted.

If you have unpopular views in a democracy but want to get and keep power anyway, you need to make it difficult or even impossible for your opponents, the majority, to win elections. You can do that by controlling who gets to vote, who counts the ballots, who reports the news and who runs the legislatures and courts. After January 2025, when the plague could return to the White House, it might take a revolution to restore majority rule. Once it’s lost, it will be hard to regain.

Quoting Max Boot:

The only way to save democracy is to vote for Democrats in the fall. And I say that as an ex-Republican turned independent. It doesn’t matter if you disagree with Democrats on some issues. The overriding issue is the preservation of our democracy. That might sound hyperbolic to some — but that’s precisely the problem. Like so many Ukrainians before [the invasion] on Feb. 24, most Americans remain in denial about the threat to our country.

But I’ve been sounding like a broken record on this topic (it’s an old metaphor that refers to playing the same music over and over). That’s why I decided not to post about it.

So take a look at this:

Drawing

When I was a kid, I came across a puzzle that looked like that. The challenge was to draw a picture just like it, with a rectangle, an X inside it, and triangles around the edges. The challenge was to draw it without lifting my pencil from the paper. In other words, to draw it in one uninterrupted motion.

It was not easy to do. But at some point, I was sure I’d done it. I just couldn’t remember exactly how. My apparent success motivated me, however, to keep trying. That may not have been a good idea.

What I didn’t know at the time, but do now, is that mathematicians have a name for this kind of puzzle. The challenge is to find the “Hamiltonian path”, a sequence that doesn’t retrace its steps. Some patterns have a Hamiltonian path; some don’t. The one on the left does; the one on the right doesn’t.

Drawing2

Computer scientists are trying to figure out how to solve puzzles like this — to identify which patterns fall into which category — without their computers taking too long, possibly forever. One way to avoid thinking about Republicans and elections is to work on the one above that I either did or didn’t solve.

Who’s On Your Side: A Simple Dichotomy?

The White House website has a new page devoted to last year’s very big infrastructure bill.

Untitled

It got Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post thinking about the Democratic Party’s “message”, a phrase that ideally would fit on a bumper sticker:

While Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and a highly impressive Supreme Court nominee afford Biden his first chance in months to break the bad news cycle and to project strength, he still lacks a big picture that ties it all together.

Biden faces several challenges: 1) He can’t do much about the biggest economic concern (inflation) which fairly or not voters blame on him; 2) Voters seem to have taken job growth and a return to post-covid normal for granted; 3) The GOP noise machine of constant conspiracies and baseless accusations effectively manipulates the mainstream media, which regurgitates GOP talking points; and 4) Voters forget how positively nutty the GOP has become and the degree to which its worst elements will predominate if it returns to the majority in one or both houses.

So what can Biden do? At its most basic, Democrats must convince voters they are on the side of regular Americans — making progress and solving real problems (e.g., jobs, covid). They need to remind voters that Democrats are on the right side of the middle class, democracy and law and order. Democrats must leave no doubt as to which party did a lot to clean up the mess left behind by the previous administration and which party understands the real problems left to work on (e.g., inflation, green energy, defending against international bullies).

Republicans? They are bullies and chaos creators (be it attacking the Capitol, letting the country default on the debt, setting up a litigation machine to sue teachers, undermining elections, threatening to take away kids whose parents give them medical care and inviting a truck blockade). Do voters really want to give power back to the crowd that defends violence (“legitimate political discourse”), lets their cult leader extort Ukraine, and goes to bat for big corporations (e.g., allowing them to escape paying taxes, protecting Big Pharma’s price gouging)?

Democrats need to get back to a fundamental message: When in power, they make government work for ordinary people and defend American values (democracy, opportunity, fairness, playing by the rules). They solve real problems. When Republicans are in power, they create division, conflict and chaos. They are not on your side. That’s it. A simple dichotomy.

Unquote.

The problem is that if there are voters out there who don’t already understand the difference between the two parties, they’re probably unreachable. If they bother to vote, they’ll make their choice one of two ways. If they see themselves as a Democrat or Republican, they’ll stick with the party that makes them feel comfortable. If they don’t have a particular political identity, they’ll vote for or against “change” (i.e. for or against the incumbent) depending on their mood that day. The irony is that if voters want meaningful change, they should elect more Democrats. In particular, more Democrats in the Senate would make roadblocks like Manchin and Sinema irrelevant. But since Democrats “control” both houses of Congress, many voters will mistakenly think electing more Republicans will bring about the kind of change they want.

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