Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦 🇺🇦 🇺🇦

Nothing special, one post at a time since 2012

What the Hell Is Their Problem?

I mean, what’s going on with these people?

Theda Skocpol, a sociologist and political scientists, explains the roots of right-wing resentment in America in this interview from The Atlantic:

Starting in 2008, a widely circulated conspiracy theory was that Barack Obama was not actually born in America…. Proof of this theory was never a requirement for subscribing to it; you could simply choose to believe that a Black liberal with a Muslim-sounding middle name was not one of us….

The country has not changed much…. Now, as then, you can take the right’s scramble for evidence of fraud with a grain of salt, she told me. The election deniers who say they are perturbed by late-night ballot dumps or dead people voting are actually concerned with something else.

“‘Stop the Steal’ is a metaphor,” Skocpol said, “for the country being taken away from the people who think they should rightfully be setting the tone.” More than a decade later, evidence remains secondary when what you’re really doing is questioning whose vote counts—and who counts as an American…..

Elaine Godfrey: Tell me what connection you see between the Tea Party movement that you studied and the T____-inspired Stop the Steal effort.

Theda Skocpol: There’s a definite line. Opinion polls tell us that people who participated in or sympathized with the Tea Party … were disproportionately angry about immigration and the loss of America as they know it. They became core supporters of T____. I’m quite certain that some organizations that were Tea Party–labeled helped organize Stop the Steal stuff.

T____ has expanded the appeal of an angry, resentful ethno-nationalist politics to younger whites. But it’s the same outlook.

Godfrey: So how do you interpret the broader Stop the Steal movement?

Skocpol: I don’t think Stop the Steal is about ballots at all. I don’t believe a lot of people really think that the votes weren’t counted correctly in 2020. They believe that urban people, metropolitan people—disproportionately young and minorities, to be sure, but frankly liberal whites—are an illegitimate brew that’s changing America in unrecognizable ways and taking it away from them. Stop the Steal is a way of saying that. Stop the Steal is a metaphor. And remember, they declared voting fraud before the election.

Godfrey: A metaphor?

Skocpol: It’s a metaphor for the country being taken away from the people who think they should rightfully be setting the tone. [Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate] Doug Mastriano said it in so many words: It’s a Christian country. That doesn’t mean we’ll throw out everybody else, but they’ve got to accept that we’re the ones setting the tone. That’s what Hungary has in mind. Viktor Orbán has been going a little further. They’re a more muscular and violence-prone version of the same thing.

People [in Wisconsin] in 2016 who were otherwise quite normal would say, There’s something wrong with those votes from Milwaukee and Madison. I’d push back ever so gently and say, Those are big places; it takes a while to count the votes. I’d get a glassy-eyed stare at that point: No, something fishy is going on.

They feel disconnected from and dominated by people who have done something horrible to the country. And T____ gave voice to that. He’s a perfect resonant instrument for that—because he’s a bundle of narcissistic resentments. But he’s no longer necessary.

Godfrey: Elaborate on that for me.

Skocpol: He’s not necessary for an authoritarian movement to use the [Republicans] to lock in minority rule. The movement to manipulate election access and counting is so far along. I think it’s too late, and we’re vulnerable to it because of how we administer local elections.

What’s happened involves an interlocking set of things. It depends not just on candidates like T____ running for president and nationalizing popular fears and resentments, but also on state legislatures, which have been captured, and the Supreme Court. The Court is a keystone in all of this because it’s going to validate … manipulations that really are about locking in minority rule. In that sense, the turning point in American history may have happened in November 2016.

Godfrey: The turning point toward what?

Skocpol: Toward a locking-in of minority rule along ethno-nationalist lines. The objective is to disenfranchise metro people, period. I see a real chance of a long-term federal takeover by forces that are determined to maintain a fiction of a white, Christian, T____pist version of America.

That can’t work over the long run, because the fastest-growing parts of the country are demonized in that scheme of things. But a lot of things liberals do play into it: Democrats are the party of strong government, and they’re almost as fixated on the presidency as T____ists are…. The hour is late. This election this fall is critical.

Godfrey: Why so?

Skocpol: We’ve got about five pivotal states where election deniers—the culmination of the Tea Party–T____pist strand of the [Republican Party]—are close to gaining control of the levers of voting access and counting the results. If that happens, in even two of those places, it could well be enough. The way courts are operating now, they will not place limits on much of anything that happens in the states.

Godfrey: So what would you say is on the ballot in 2022?

Skocpol: The locking-in of minority authoritarian rule.

People talk about it in racial terms, and of course the racial side is very powerful. We had racial change from the 1960s on, and conservative people are angry about Black political power. But I wouldn’t underestimate the gender anger that’s channeled here: Relations between men and women have changed in ways that are very unsettling to them…..

This is directed at liberal whites, too. Tea Partiers talked about white people in college towns who voted Democratic the way the rulers of Iran would speak of Muslims that are liberal—as the near-devil.

Godfrey: What are the roots of that resentment?

Skocpol: The suspicion of cities and metro areas is a deep strand in America. In this period, it’s been deliberately stoked and exploited by people trying to limit the power of the federal government. They can build on the fears that conservatives have—about how their children leave for college and come back thinking differently. As soon as you get away from the places where upper-middle-class professionals are concentrated, what you see is decay. People see that. They’re resentful of it.

Anti-immigrant politics is very much at the core of this. Every time in the history of the U.S., when you reach the end of a period of immigration, you get a nativist reaction. When the newcomers come, they’re going to destroy the country. That’s an old theme in this country.

Godfrey: The 2016 election was surrounded by a lot of discussion about whether T____’s supporters were motivated by racism or economic anxiety. What’s your view on that?

Skocpol: That whole debate tends to be conducted with opinion polls. I’m in a minority, but I don’t find them very helpful for understanding American politics…. In American politics, everything is about the where.

If you drive into a place in Iowa or Nebraska where immigration is happening, it’s changed the shops downtown, it’s changed the language, it’s changed the churches, it’s changed the schools. And people’s jobs have changed—so it’s also about economics. In our 2011 interviews, Tea Party members were angry about immigrants. I’m not saying everybody in those communities is angry at newcomers, but it creates tensions that rabble-rousing politicians can take advantage of.

We know that T____ supporters, Stop the Steal supporters, are much more likely than other Republicans and conservatives to resent immigrants and fear them. In my 2017–2019 period of research, I visited eight pro-T____ counties. Tea Party types were just furious about immigrants. T____’s emphasis on immigration interjected the idea that the debate is about what the nature of America is.

T____ism is nativism. It’s also profoundly resentful of independent women, and it’s resentful of Black people whom it considers out of place politically. T____channeled that and fused it into one big, angry brew.

Godfrey: How organic have these movements been? At a certain point, we heard a lot about how the Tea Party movement became a Koch-funded operation, not a true grassroots movement.

Skocpol: The Tea Party was not created by the Koch brothers; it was taken advantage of by the Kochs. But the Kochs were not anti-immigrant. The Tea Partiers really were. The Kochs didn’t control the results. The Kochs didn’t select D____ T____. They didn’t even like him. Marco Rubio was their guy. The Chamber of Commerce crowd wanted a Bush. Both were easily dispatched by T____.

Republican leaders could have done something—and they still could. The real story is about Republican Party elites and their willingness to go along with what they’ve always known was over the top. That’s a mystery that’s a little hard to completely solve. A lot of the opportunists think they can ride that tiger without it devouring them, even though sometimes it does. But nobody seems to learn…..

The War Between the States Continues in November

Today’s first post dealt with the prelude to the Civil War. This one deals with the Civil War’s unresolved division. From Mark Danner for The New York Review of Books:

Amid the blaring, pulsating hype of American culture, every election is routinely proclaimed the most important in our lifetime. Now the flood of heart-stopping news this summer—the Uvalde school massacre, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the January 6 revelations—has brought us face to face with an exceptional problem: What if this one really is? What if this time, like the boy who cried wolf, we find ourselves screaming that the emergency is real—and no one pays attention?

The 2022 election will be the first held in the shadow of an attempted coup d’étata nearly successful and still-unpunished crime against the state. It will be the first held after a Supreme Court decision that not only uprooted a half-century-old established right but that threatens the rescinding of other rights as well. And it will be the first in which it is clear that, from Republican legislators’ relentless efforts to change who counts the votes, the very character of American governance is on the ballot.

American voters have not confronted so grave a choice since 1860. Now as then, two dramatically different futures are on offer. By undermining the right to privacy, the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision not only allows government to force women to carry pregnancies to term—as more than half the states will likely soon do—but foreshadows a country in which a state or the federal government can deny people contraception or indeed the right to love or marry whom they choose. By limiting the regulation of firearms, the Bruen decision ensures that increasing numbers of Americans, including children in classrooms, worshipers in churches, and marchers on the Fourth of July, will die in shootings. By calling into question how votes are counted—or whether they should matter at all—the January 6 coup and the persistent “Big Lie” behind it augur a country where the candidate fewer Americans voted for not only can become president (as he did in 2000 and 2016) but can be awarded the electoral votes of a state not as the choice of its people but as a diktat of its legislature.

This America of the future will be an ever more authoritarian place where government maintains the right to intervene in personal decisions, even the most intimate—except when it comes to firearms, in which case anyone, young or old, sane or unbalanced, can go about as heavily armed as a combat soldier. The coming election can either accelerate the country’s move toward this kind of authoritarianism or begin to slow it down. If any election cried out to be nationalized—to be fought not only on the kitchen-table issues of inflation and unemployment but on the defining principles of what the country is and what it should be—it is this November’s.

It is no accident that the last time an election was fought this way was also the last time the party holding the White House gained congressional seats in the midterms. Following the September 11 attacks George W. Bush’s Republicans made ruthless use of nationalism and, above all, fear. “Americans trust the Republicans,” Karl Rove told his colleagues, to keep “our families safe.” Though terrorists had killed thousands of Americans on their watch, the Republicans turned around and denounced Democrats as soft on terror. To vote for Democrats—even for heroic veterans like Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, who had lost three limbs in Vietnam—was to vote for Osama bin Laden. The argument was shameless, savage, deeply unfair. It was anything but subtle. And it worked.

Two decades later the United States is again at risk, not from foreign terrorists but from domestic extremists who are working to insert government power between Americans and their most private decisions and who would fundamentally alter the way they choose their leaders. Justice Clarence Thomas in his Dobbs concurrence was forthright enough to state the implications of that decision for the right to contraception, same-sex relations, and marriage equality. The January 6 committee in its well-orchestrated hearings has begun to bring home to Americans the danger posed by the Big Lie for the next presidential election. Still, despite these clear signs of a darker future, for many voters the danger remains unfocused and distant.

Under the threat of this darkness, Democrats have a duty to make crystal clear to voters what is at stake in November. In midterm elections especially, Americans must be given a persuasive reason to vote—a task that is much harder for a party that won the White House only two years before. This year voters are apprehensive about inflation and other lingering effects of the pandemic and demoralized that Democrats, with their narrow majorities, have failed to achieve much of what they promised.

But the January 6 committee, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the Uvalde school shooting have put stark and frightening issues prominently before the public, and if presented clearly and persistently they have a strong potential to drive voters to the polls—especially younger voters, who were so vital to the Democrats’ midterm gains in 2018, and who now, after Democrats failed to pass their climate agenda, desperately need a reason to turn out. This election must be about safeguarding the country they know and the freedoms and rights they cherish. Democrats from President Biden on down need to present these issues clearly and unapologetically:

If you don’t want a government that can force you to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term—vote!

If you don’t want a government that can deny you contraceptives—vote!!

If you don’t want a government that can tell you with whom you can make love and whom you can marry—vote!!

If you don’t want a government that will do nothing to protect your child from a troubled teenager with an assault rifle—vote!!

If you don’t want a government that can ignore the people’s voice at the polling place—vote!!

If you don’t want a government that will do nothing about rising temperatures and the danger they pose to all of us—vote!

. . . During the past months the specter of an increasingly autocratic America has raised its head. Voters who cast their ballots for Democrats must be in no doubt about what they are voting for: the freedom to love and marry whom they wish, the freedom to decide when they want to bear children and to keep those children safe from gun violence—and the certainty that they will go on having a real voice in choosing who leads them. They must be reminded that these rights and freedoms are at risk, that a very different future looms. The most important election of our lifetime is coming. The emergency is upon us. If we are truly to meet it, we must first make bold to say so.

Any Republican President Would Have Been Dangerous

Probably not as dangerous as T____, because that representative of that party was eager to become a dictator. But anyone who was bad enough to win the Republican nomination would have followed Federalist Society recommendations and chosen Supreme Court ideologues just as dangerous as the ones T____ picked. Consider what Alito, Thomas and sometimes Roberts have been able to accomplish in company with Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Coney Barrett.

They allowed states to force pregnant women to give birth, while at the same time denying that Americans have a right to privacy, thus setting the stage to overturn other precedents, including the right to use contraception and the right to marry who we want.

They decided states don’t have the right to regulate guns, making it easier for gun fetishists to stroll around our neighborhoods with dangerous weapons more easily than residents of Wild West towns like Deadwood and Tombstone could do 150 years ago.

They weakened Miranda rights, decided tribal lands aren’t truly sovereign, allowed public school teachers to lead their students in prayer and decreed that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration couldn’t protect workers from COVID-19.

This morning they announced that the Environmental Protection Agency is limited in its ability to follow the Clean Air Act and regulate greenhouse gases, which will probably lead to other Executive Branch agencies not being able to do their jobs.

They’ve allowed Republican legislatures to devise congressional districts that will insure Republicans are elected and have decided to hear a case later this year that may give state legislatures absolute control over elections, to the point where legislators, not voters, can decide won an election, ignoring state constitutions that allow judges to review their decisions.

This is what we get for electing Republicans to high office. Any Republican president would have given us a Supreme Court majority just as bad.

Today, President Biden said he supports changing the Senate’s filibuster rule to reinstate the Roe v. Wade decision that prohibited forced birth. Senators don’t need his permission to fix or abandon the filibuster. They don’t need his permission to protect voting rights and exercise reasonable control over a renegade Supreme Court.

If Democrats fail to add senators or lose the House of Representatives in the next election, the Court will remain free to remake America. Those are the stakes in November.

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?

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