More on the Plot to Wreck America’s Elections

There is Big Money pushing the Big Lie. Charles Pierce of Esquire comments on a new report explaining how and why reactionaries with money are funding the attack on the 2020 election and elections to come: 

Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, indefatigable dark-money gumshoe, has made another major bust, this time in the area of The Big Lie and the lushly financed ratfcking infrastructure of the American right. She begins with the extended farce that is dragging on in Arizona, largely because it has been designed to drag on in Arizona, and elsewhere. She points to Patrick Byrne, the founder of Overstock.com, as one of the major sugar daddies behind this particular exercise in weaponized futility. But Mayer also emphasizes the fact that the entire conservative dark-money machine has been turned away from some of its traditional purposes and put behind a national effort not only to suppress the franchise, but also to delegitimize the electoral process itself. One engine supplies the power to the other.

Ralph Neas has been involved in voting-rights battles since the nineteen-eighties, when, as a Republican, he served as the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. He has overseen a study of the Arizona audit for the nonpartisan Century Foundation, and he told me that, though the audit is a “farce,” it may nonetheless have “extraordinary consequences.” He said, “The Maricopa County audit exposes exactly what the Big Lie is all about. If they come up with an analysis that discredits the 2020 election results in Arizona, it will be replicated in other states, furthering more chaos. That will enable new legislation. Millions of Americans could be disenfranchised, helping D____ T____ to be elected again in 2024. That’s the bottom line. Maricopa County is the prism through which to view everything. It’s not so much about 2020—it’s about 2022 and 2024. This is a coördinated national effort to distort not just what happened in 2020 but to regain the House of Representatives and the Presidency.”

And, it should be said, to perpetuate that control for the purposes of shoving more of the national wealth upward and keeping it there. Because, for all the high-falutin’ talk about conspiracy theories and democracy, this is now and always has been about establishing a permanent oligarchy and, if a kind of fascism comes along with it, well, bonus, right, folks?

Although the Arizona audit may appear to be the product of local extremists, it has been fed by sophisticated, well-funded national organizations whose boards of directors include some of the country’s wealthiest and highest-profile conservatives. Dark-money organizations, sustained by undisclosed donors, have relentlessly promoted the myth that American elections are rife with fraud, and, according to leaked records of their internal deliberations, they have drafted, supported, and in some cases taken credit for state laws that make it harder to vote.

For example, the Heritage Foundation is in on the game, according to Mayer and to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who is bulldogging the money power in all our political institution. [Right-wing legal activist] Leonard Leo, not content with having warped the federal judiciary unto the generations, is now turning his dark arts to screwing with elections. But Mayer also follows the money back to its source, which happens to be in this case, the most usual of usual subjects.

These disparate nonprofits have one thing in common: they have all received funding from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Based in Milwaukee, the private, tax-exempt organization has become an extraordinary force in persuading mainstream Republicans to support radical challenges to election rules—a tactic once relegated to the far right. With an endowment of some eight hundred and fifty million dollars, the foundation funds a network of groups that have been stoking fear about election fraud, in some cases for years. Public records show that, since 2012, the foundation has spent some eighteen million dollars supporting eleven conservative groups involved in election issues.

I know people in Wisconsin who have spent their entire public careers fighting the poisonous influence of the Bradley Foundation, the reek of which prevails in almost all of the state’s major institutions—including, alas, my beloved alma mater. It was one of the major engines behind the rise of Congressman Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny-starver from Janesville, and behind Scott Walker, the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage their midwest subsidiary once known as the state of Wisconsin, and behind Ron Johnson, the continuing blight of the United States Senate. So the Bradley Foundation has managed to damage the national government in so many different ways, including the promotion and election of woeful statewide candidates.

An animating force behind the Bradley Foundation’s war on “election fraud” is Cleta Mitchell, a fiercely partisan Republican election lawyer, who joined the organization’s board of directors in 2012. Until recently, she was virtually unknown to most Americans. But, on January 3rd, the Washington Post exposed the contents of a private phone call, recorded the previous day, during which Trump threatened election officials in Georgia with a “criminal offense” unless they could “find” 11,780 more votes for him—just enough to alter the results. Also on the call was Mitchell, who challenged the officials to provide records proving that dead people hadn’t cast votes. The call was widely criticized as a rogue effort to overturn the election, and Foley & Lardner, the Milwaukee-based law firm where Mitchell was a partner, announced that it was “concerned” about her role, and then parted ways with her. Trump’s call prompted the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, to begin a criminal investigation.

Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. Jane Mayer has found the taproot. It isn’t about Donald Trump, or about the My Pillow dumbass, or even the people who attacked the U.S. Capitol. It’s about the money, and who has it, and who wants to keep it, and, here’s a revelation, it’s probably not you.

Here are the closing words of the New Yorker article:

Polls show that, although the Arizona audit is wildly popular among Republican voters in the state, it alienates independents, who constitute approximately a third of the state’s electorate—and whose support is necessary for statewide candidates to win.

For now, though, conservative groups seem to be doubling down on their investments in election-fraud alarmism. In the next two years, Heritage Action plans to spend twenty-four million dollars mobilizing supporters and lobbyists who will promote “election integrity,” starting in eight battleground states, including Arizona. It is coördinating its effort with the Election Transparency Initiative, a joint venture of two anti-abortion groups, the Susan B. Anthony List and the American Principles Project. The Election Transparency Initiative has set a fund-raising goal of five million dollars. Cleta Mitchell, having left her law firm, has joined FreedomWorks, the free-market group, where she plans to lead a ten-million-dollar project on voting issues. She will also head the Election Integrity Network at the Conservative Partnership Institute, another Washington-based nonprofit. As a senior legal fellow there, she told the Washington Examiner, she will “help bring all these strings” of conservative election-law activism together, and she added, “I’ve had my finger in so many different pieces of the election-integrity pie for so long.”

Back in Arizona, where the auditors are demanding still more time, [Republican member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors] Bill Gates believes that the Big Lie has become a “grift” used to motivate Republican voters and donors to support conservative candidates and political groups. “The sad thing is that there are probably millions of people—hardworking, good Americans, maybe retired—who have paid their taxes, always followed the law, and they truly believe this, because of what they’ve been fed by their leaders,” he said. “And what’s so dispiriting is that the people who are pushing it from the top? They know better.” 

The My Pillow Guy’s Plot to Wreck America

Anne Applebaum is the author of Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. She’s an historian and writes for The Atlantic. This is most of an article she wrote about meeting one of the Big Lie’s key supporters. She came away believing he’s a nice guy and a threat to our democracy:

When you contemplate the end of democracy in America, what kind of person do you think will bring it about? Maybe you picture a sinister billionaire in a bespoke suit, slipping brown envelopes to politicians. Maybe your nightmare is a rogue general, hijacking the nuclear football. Maybe you think of a jackbooted thug leading a horde of men in white sheets, all carrying burning crosses.

Here is what you probably don’t imagine: an affable, self-made midwesterner, one of those goofy businessmen who makes his own infomercials. A recovered crack addict, no less, who laughs good-naturedly when jokes are made at his expense. A man who will talk to anyone willing to listen (and to many who aren’t). A philanthropist. A good boss. A patriot—or so he says—who may well be doing more damage to American democracy than anyone since Jefferson Davis.

I met Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, in the recording studio that occupies the basement of Steve Bannon’s stately Capitol Hill townhouse, a few blocks from the Supreme Court—the same Supreme Court that will, according to Lindell, decide “9–0” in favor of reinstating Donald Trump to the presidency sometime in August, or possibly September. . . .

Last January—on the 9th, he says carefully, placing the date after the 6th—a group of still-unidentified concerned citizens brought him some computer data. These were, allegedly, packet captures, intercepted data proving that the Chinese Communist Party altered electoral results … in all 50 states. This is a conspiracy theory more elaborate than the purported Venezuelan manipulation of voting machines, more improbable than the allegation that millions of supposedly fake ballots were mailed in, more baroque than the belief that thousands of dead people voted. This one has potentially profound geopolitical implications.

That’s why Lindell has spent money—a lot of it, “tens of millions,” he told me—“validating” the packets, and it’s why he is planning to spend a lot more. Starting on August 10, he is holding a three-day symposium in Sioux Falls (because he admires South Dakota’s gun-toting governor, Kristi Noem), where the validators, whoever they may be, will present their results publicly. He has invited all interested computer scientists, university professors, elected federal officials, foreign officials, reporters, and editors to the symposium. He has booked, he says variously, “1,000 hotel rooms” or “all the hotel rooms in the city” to accommodate them. (As of Wednesday, Booking.com was still showing plenty of rooms available in Sioux Falls.) . . .

Along with Bannon, Giuliani, and the rest of the conspiracy posse, he is helping create profound distrust in the American electoral system, in the American political system, in the American public-health system, and ultimately in American democracy. The eventual consequences of their actions may well be a genuinely stolen or disputed election in 2024, and political violence on a scale the U.S. hasn’t seen in decades. You can mock Lindell, dismiss him, or call him a crackhead, but none of this will seem particularly funny when we truly have an illegitimate president in the White House and a total breakdown of law and order.

Lindell had agreed to have lunch with me after the taping. But where to go? . . . Because Lindell is famously worried about Chinese Communist influence, I thought he would like to pay homage to the victims of Chinese oppression. I booked a Uyghur restaurant.

This proved a mistake. . . . Once we got there, he didn’t much like the food. He picked at his chicken kebabs and didn’t touch his spicy fried green beans. More to the point, he didn’t understand why we were there. He had never heard of the Uyghurs. I told him they were Muslims who are being persecuted by Chinese Communists. Oh, he said, “like Christians.” Yes, I said. Like Christians.

He kept talking at me in the restaurant, a kind of stream-of-consciousness account of the packet captures, his mistreatment at the hands of the media and the Better Business Bureau, the dangers of the COVID-19 vaccines, and the wonders of oleandrin, a supplement that he says he and everyone else at MyPillow takes and that he says is 100 percent guaranteed to prevent COVID-19. On all of these points he is utterly impervious to any argument of any kind. I asked him what if, hypothetically, on August 10 it turns out that other experts disagree with his experts and declare that his data don’t mean what he thinks his data mean. This, he told me, was impossible. It couldn’t happen:

“I don’t have to worry about that. Do you understand that? Do you understand I’ve been attacked? I have 2,500 employees, and I’ve been attacked every day. Do I look like a stupid person? That I’m just doing this for my health? I have better things to do—these guys brought me this and I owe it to the United States, to all, whether it’s a Democrat or Republican or whoever it is, to bring this forward to our country. I don’t have to answer that question, because it’s not going to happen. This is nonsubjective evidence.”

The opprobrium and rancor he has brought down upon himself for trying to make his case are, in Lindell’s mind, further proof that it is true. Stalin once said that the emergence of opposition signified the “intensification of the class struggle,” and this is Lindell’s logic too: If lots of people object to what you are doing, then it must be right. The contradictions deepen as the ultimate crisis draws closer, as the old Bolsheviks used to say.

But there is a distinctly American element to his thinking too. The argument from personal experience; the evidence acquired on the journey from crack addict to CEO; the special kind of self-confidence that many self-made men acquire, along with their riches—these are native to our shores. Lindell is quite convinced, for example, that not only did China steal the election, but that “there is a communist agenda in this country” more broadly. I asked him what that meant. Communists, he told me, “take away your right to free speech. You just told me what they are doing to these people”—he meant the Uyghurs. “I’ve experienced it firsthand, more than anyone in this country.”

The government had taken his freedom away? Put him in a reeducation camp? “I don’t see anybody arresting you,” I said. He became annoyed.

“Okay, I’m not talking about the government,” he said. “I’m talking about social media” . . . .
It is true that there has been some organized backlash against MyPillow, which is indeed no longer stocked by Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s, and other retailers. But I suspect that this reaction is every bit as red-white-and-blue as Lindell himself: Plenty of Americans oppose Lindell’s open promotion of both election and vaccine conspiracy theories, and are perfectly capable of boycotting his company without the aid of Chinese bots. Lindell’s lived experience, however, tells him otherwise, just like his lived experience tells him that COVID-19 vaccines will kill you and oleandrin won’t. Lived experience always outweighs expertise: Nobody can argue with what you feel to be true, and Lindell feels that the Chinese stole the election, sent bots to smear his company, and are seeking to impose communism on America. . . .

Alongside the American business boosterism, Lindell’s thinking contains a large dose of Christian millenarianism too. This is a man who had a vision in a dream of himself and Donald Trump standing together—and that dream became reality. No wonder he believes that a lot of things are going to happen after August 10. It’s not just that the Supreme Court will vote 9–0 to reinstate Trump. It is also that America will be a better place. “We’re going to get elected officials that make decisions for the people, not just for their party,” Lindell said. There will be “no more machines” in this messianic America, meaning no more voting machines: “On both sides, people are opening their eyes.” In this great moment of national renewal, there will be no more corruption, just good government, goodwill, goodness all around.

That moment will be good for Lindell, too, because he will finally be able to relax, knowing that “I’ve done all I can.” After that, “everything will take its course. And I don’t have to be out there every day fighting for media attention.” He won’t, in other words, have to be having lunch with people like me.

Alas, a happy ending is unlikely. He will not, on August 10, find that “the experts” agree with him. Some have already provided careful explanations as to why the “packet captures” can’t be what he says they are. Others think that the whole discussion is pointless. When I called Chris Krebs, the Trump administration’s director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, he refused even to get into the question of whether Lindell has authentic data, because the whole proposal is absurd. The heavy use of paper ballots, plus all of the postelection audits and recounts, mean that any issues with mechanized voting systems would have been quickly revealed. “It’s all part of the grift,” Krebs told me. “They’re exploiting the aggrieved audience’s confirmation bias and using scary yet unintelligible imagery to keep the Big Lie alive, despite the absence of any legitimate evidence.”

What will happen when Lindell’s ideological, all-American, predicted-in-a-dream absolute certainty runs into a wall of skepticism, disbelief, or—even worse—indifference? If history is anything to go by … nothing. Nothing will happen. He will not admit he is wrong; he will not stop believing. He will not understand that he was conned out of the millions he has spent “validating” fake data. (One has to admire the salesmanship of the tech grifters who talked him into all of this, assuming they exist.) He will not understand that his company is having trouble with retailers because so many people are repulsed by his ideas. He will not understand that people attack him because they think what he says is dangerous and could lead to violence. He will instead rail against the perfidy of the media, the left, the Communists, and China.

Certainly he will not stop believing that Trump won the 2020 election. . . .

Lindell mostly speaks in long, rambling monologues filled with allusions and grievances; he circles back again and again to electoral fraud, to the campaigns against him, to particular interviewers and articles that he disputes, some of it only barely comprehensible unless you’ve been following his frequent media appearances—which I have not. . . . I asked him about the events of January 6. He immediately grew more precise. “I was not there, by the grace of God,” he said. He was doing media events elsewhere, he said. Nor did he want to talk about what happened that day: “I think that there were a lot of things that I’m not going to comment on, because I don’t want that to be your story.”

Not too long after that, I suddenly found I couldn’t take any more of this calculated ranting. (I can hear that moment on the recording, when I suddenly said “Okay, enough” and switched off the device.) Although he ate almost nothing, Lindell insisted on grabbing the check, like any well-mannered Minnesotan would. In the interests of investigative research, I later bought a MyPillow (conclusion: it’s a lot like other pillows), so perhaps that makes us even.

When we walked outside, I thought that I might say something dramatic, something cutting, something like “You realize that you are destroying our country.” But I didn’t. He is our country after all, or one face of our country: hyper-optimistic and overconfident, ignorant of history and fond of myths, firm in the belief that we alone are the exceptional nation and we alone have access to exceptional truths. Safe in his absolute certainty, he got into his black SUV and drove away.

In No Uncertain Terms

What kind of language does the current moment deserve? Some prefer measured, unemotional words. Others prefer something more. 

Steve Schmidt is a conservative political strategist who is severely critical of today’s Republican Party. He was John McCain’s senior strategist in the senator’s losing presidential campaign (should we blame Schmidt for the rise of Sarah Palin?). He was one of the founders of the Lincoln Project and is active on Twitter. Here’s some of what he had to say this weekend:

Please watch this and share. I am absolutely fucking outraged and enraged by the nihilistic vandalism of our country for the sake of sustaining T____s’ ONGOING campaign to hold political power at the price of burning it all down. (Twitter)

The immorality of it all is beyond grotesque. It is depraved. It is cowardly. It is shameful and despicable conduct at an epic level. There is a rot, a deep rot within our politics that can only be fixed by purging people like @marcorubio from public life by rebuking them in an election and then silencing them with shame.

No healthy country can have @GOPLeader @marcorubio @mattgaetz @tedcruz @laurenboebert @RepMTG and too many more to conceivably mention in positions of public trust. The cynicism, lying, extremism, weakness, insanity and cowardice combines to create a putrid stench that simply beggars belief. It’s despicable fucking conduct that’s so breathtaking there is no word that comes to mind. The depraved indifference and utter, shocking disregard for the lives of the American people is an act of corruption unequaled in American history.

There are hundreds of Thousands of dead Americans who would be alive but for the stupefying incompetence, carelessness and stupidity of T____, his government, his cabinet secretaries, aides, propagandists, financiers and congressional accomplices. 620.000 Americans are dead yet, the assault on sanity continues unabated. It never ever fucking never ever EVER takes a day off, ever.

Here we are today, the Delta variant raging, the pandemic reignited by an unvaccinated population that has been lied to, deceived by, disoriented by and confused by the deliberate, purposeful premeditated lying of Murdoch, Fox News, Carlson, and hundreds of lesser demagogues and liars. More will die because of this nihilism. Evil.

The country will be consumed by Covid again so that T____, @GOPLeader and all the rest of his nest of nationalists, autocrats, extremists, Racists, fascists and conspiracy loons can blame it all on Biden. They are happy to burn everything down around them for power, including us. Every normal person in this country should be deeply frightened by this. Deeply. I know I am. We have to fight back against the lies and malice that have become virtues to our elected political arsonists. They call themselves Republicans, but that is a disguise for what they have become.

The snarling white faces frozen in photos, screaming in rage and spitting on black children trying to walk into a schoolhouse would no doubt be awestruck at the capacity of technology to allow their children and grandchildren to virtually spit on the greatest champion in the history of her sport, all the way to Tokyo. They would be slack jawed at the progress we have made in America. Their kids and grandkids don’t even have to call black Americans the N word anymore. They just say CRT [Critical Race Theory].

The next chapter of the story, a tragic and deadly farce will be the Blame it all on Biden part. The arsonists will be gleeful in their attacks on the firefighters who are fighting to save lives and extinguish the conflagration. We have to bury this in the next two elections. If we don’t , we lose the country. We will lose it to madness, nihilism; cynicism, greed, hate, racial animus. We will lose it to terrible people, the depraved and extreme, the corrupt and sinister. We will lose it to the T____ family and we won’t get it back next time.

Next:

I’ve driven 1000 miles this week . . . and thought about a lot of things. I’m not sure this is a fair criticism as I’m working through the wretchedness of this dishonest moment and the nihilistic craziness of the overwhelming majority of elected Republican leaders (Twitter).

Many news stories and a great deal of present moment journalism cover our political free fall through a lens that captures each appalling moment, often deeply and compellingly. The stories are framed around an event, something that just occurred, rather than as a puzzle piece, which gives context to a larger, fluid story unraveling before our eyes.

Let’s look at two people as examples. Each has spoken out against T____ in the past. They were precise in their worry and condemnation of his exquisite awfulness. Each knew exactly who T____ was. The one thing T____ deserves great credit for is his absolute consistency, steadfastness and commitment to the truth of sharing who he really is. They all knew what T____ was because they told us. Then they collaborated and discarded every principle they claimed to hold.

We all know this is true. I know it. You know it. They know it and every journalist who ever interviews them knows it.

They are titanic frauds, elected weasels who share a talent for shamelessness, built on a foundation of cynicism and stone cold belief that their supporters are marks, a type of feeble prey that are either too stupid to notice the contradictions and hypocrisy of literally every spoken word or are too lazy and slug-like to care about being abused by constant gaslighting.

How should this be covered? Lie by lie, or is the story the journey of the liar and their deepening commitment to an autocratic movement. For me that is the story. It is a continuum that is dynamic and continually unfolding. This puts a different frame around the consideration @EliseStefanik should be given when she says really stupid and dishonest things like @SpeakerPelosi was the real 1/6 villain and @Liz_Cheney, the pristinely conservative Republican Congresswoman from Wyoming, is a Pelosi Democrat. Why should anyone pretend that @EliseStefanik is on the level about anything? Even she knows she is lying and she knows exactly why she is doing it.

She is doing it for power and self interest. She’s not an actress. She isn’t playing a part in a make believe story. She is an active participant in a movement that is trying to burn down our democracy in both the name of freedom and D____ T____. She is a leader in a movement that has desecrated the compact between us around how we share political power in America. They have rejected the most fundamental aspect of our system of government. What more evidence is needed around her bad faith?

When these members speak they lie. When they lie there seems to be some weird Washington DC courtesy extended in any given story, where whatever it is they are saying is covered through a prism of good faith, despite the accumulation of past statements and gazillions of hours of interviews that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is all an exercise in bad faith.

In short, the individuals who are most effective at demonstrating the depravity of the moment are the collaborators themselves. They indict themselves for the cowards, cynics and opportunists they are with their own words. Shouldn’t the story focus on the cancer that has consumed their public character? American Puritanism turned the question of public character into a sexual one over the last 35 years. Two results followed.

One, previously unimaginable depths of hypocrisy were achieved by @newtgingrich, Ken Starr and legions of others. Second, the concept of public character became so twisted that the behaviors of @EliseStefanik @marcorubio and @LindseyGrahamSC aren’t viewed through a character lens at all. Selling out the country, with purpose and intent for power and self is a betrayal of duty and a despicable act. It is also a plainly obvious one. Why do we have to pretend that the absurdities they utter aren’t easily refutable by them? By their own words.

When @EliseStefanik speaks shouldn’t all of questions that follow be focused on why she is saying the things she is saying as opposed to what she is saying? What is happening in this country is building. It’s gathering. It’s moving, growing and evolving. The signs are everywhere. Yes, a million loathsome moments are all worthy of scrutiny and study. I just wonder if the focus on those moments is causing us to miss the movement towards the destination ahead that while unseen for now is certainly terrible and likely a hellscape from which there is no return. Perspective matters when it comes to orienting to reality and danger.

Sometimes I worry about missing the autocratic forest for the trees.

Finally:

The 1/6/21 attack on America took the form of an insurrection aimed at destroying the Constitutional process that lawfully bestows power to the winner of a Presidential election in the in the the name of the People of the United States who are sovereign in this land. It was incited by a President of the United States and a legion of liars and cynics that include nearly every Republican leader. Of course, that fact alone defines it as the worst and most dangerous attack since the Civil War, but it gets worse (Twitter).

The 1/6 Insurrection by a T____ mob mixed with organized extremist elements including white supremacists, fascists, and violent paramilitary militia groups is the only attack against the nation in our history that has not rallied the whole of the American people to defend America. Instead, tens of millions are broadly sympathetic to the violence and obvious lies that underpin it all. The whole of the Republican Party has weighed in on the matter by siding with the insurrectionists and the defeated disgrace that incited it.

The measurement scale of gauging the insidiousness of their betrayal and collaboration with this Anti-American movement ranges from incitement and active participation in the attack to a dishonest indifference forged by an alchemy of vices; cowardice, fear, ambition, self interest, cynicism and opportunism have overwhelmed any sense of duty, patriotism and love of country.

No other attack against America in our long story has ever produced that response. No other attack has ever produced such sympathy for the attackers. No other attack has ever produced such a fierce determination to deny it occurred at all by politicians who advance their careers on the singularity of their talent to gaslight and deceive the people they swore an oath to serve by preserving and protecting the Constitution of the United States.

There is a name for the Treacherous lot of elected leaders who have forsaken our country. They call themselves Republicans. They serve a master, not an idea or ideal. They serve their leader, T____. The whole world has seen their perfidy. The whole world has seen their rot and the weakness they are spreading in our country. For sure, the Chinese and Russians have seen it.

What they see is a decaying society brought low by the leaders who were elected to strengthen it. They see a country where the lie and truth can stand equally, just like theirs. They must be rejoicing as idealism is being overrun by a cynicism so powerful that it has caused the greatest crisis of faith and belief in the pillars of our Republic since the Civil War. What a tragic moment. It has left us all with a choice. What side are you on?

There are more of us than them but fanaticism, extremism and commitment are on their side. Apathy to the danger through civic disengagement in the name of political exhaustion is what the autocrats are hoping for. Let’s not give it to them.

In fact, let us fight to create a great awakening and fill it with an unyielding resolve to crush the fever dreams of power for people like T____, @EliseStefanik and @marcorubio who have come to hate with deeds what they profess to love with words. Let’s strike them all down in the ballot box. We cannot let freedom slip away in America.

Understanding the Republican Cult of Personality

Paul Krugman explains what social science says about personality cults, such as, oh,  today’s Republican Party, and how these cults support dictatorships around the world:

. . . One paper in particular, by the New Zealand-based researcher Xavier Márquez; I found . . . revelatory.

“The Mechanisms of Cult Production” compares the behavior of political elites across a wide range of dictatorial regimes, from Caligula’s Rome to the Kim family’s North Korea, and finds striking similarities. Despite vast differences in culture and material circumstances, elites in all such regimes engage in pretty much the same behavior, especially what the paper dubs “loyalty signaling” and “flattery inflation.”

Signaling is a concept originally drawn from economics; it says that people sometimes engage in costly, seemingly pointless behavior as a way to prove that they have attributes others value. For example, new hires at investment banks may work insanely long hours, not because the extra hours are actually productive, but to demonstrate their commitment to feeding the money machine.

In the context of dictatorial regimes, signaling typically involves making absurd claims on behalf of the Leader and his agenda, often including “nauseating displays of loyalty.” If the claims are obvious nonsense and destructive in their effects, if making those claims humiliates the person who makes them, these are features, not bugs. I mean, how does the Leader know if you’re truly loyal unless you’re willing to demonstrate your loyalty by inflicting harm both on others and on your own reputation?

And once this kind of signaling becomes the norm, those trying to prove their loyalty have to go to ever greater extremes to differentiate themselves from the pack. Hence “flattery inflation”: The Leader isn’t just brave and wise, he’s a perfect physical specimen, a brilliant health expert, a Nobel-level economic analyst, and more. The fact that he’s obviously none of these things only enhances the effectiveness of the flattery as a demonstration of loyalty.

Does all of this sound familiar? Of course it does, at least to anyone who has been tracking Fox News or the utterances of political figures like [Senator] Lindsey Graham or [House Majority Leader] Kevin McCarthy.

Many people, myself included, have declared for years that the G.O.P. is no longer a normal political party. It doesn’t look anything like, say, Dwight Eisenhower’s Republican Party or Germany’s Christian Democrats. But it bears a growing resemblance to the ruling parties of autocratic regimes.

The only unusual thing about the party’s wholesale adoption of the Leader Principle is that Republicans doesn’t have a monopoly on power; in fact, the party controls neither Congress nor the White House. Politicians suspected of insufficient loyalty to T___ and T___ism in general aren’t sent to the gulag. At most, they stand to lose intraparty offices and, possibly, future primaries. Yet such is the timidity of Republican politicians that these mild threats are apparently enough to make many of them behave like Caligula’s courtiers.

Unfortunately, all this loyalty signaling is putting the whole nation at risk. In fact, it will almost surely kill large numbers of Americans in the next few months.

The stalling of America’s initially successful vaccination drive isn’t entirely driven by partisanship — some people, especially members of minority groups, are failing to get vaccinated for reasons having little to do with current politics.

But politics is nonetheless clearly a key factor: Republican politicians and Republican-oriented influencers have driven much of the opposition to Covid-19 vaccines, in some cases engaging in what amounts to outright sabotage. And there is a stunning negative correlation between T___’s share of a county’s vote in 2020 and its current vaccination rate.

How did lifesaving vaccines become politicized? As Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein suggests, today’s Republicans are always looking for ways to show that they’re more committed to the cause than their colleagues are — and given how far down the rabbit hole the party has already gone, the only way to do that is “nonsense and nihilism,” advocating crazy and destructive policies, like opposing vaccines.

That is, hostility to vaccines has become a form of loyalty signaling.

None of this should be taken to imply that Republicans are the root of all evil or that their opponents are saints . . . But the G.O.P. has become something different, with, as far as I know, no precedent in American history although with many precedents abroad. Republicans have created for themselves a political realm in which costly demonstrations of loyalty transcend considerations of good policy or even basic logic. . . .

Will It Happen Here?

“It always happens” doesn’t imply “it will always happen”. With that correction in mind, Adam Gopnik makes an interesting point about democracy and autocracy in The New Yorker:

We are told again and again that American democracy is in peril and may even be on its deathbed. Today, after all, a defeated yet deranged President bunkers in the White House contemplating crazy conspiracy theories and perhaps even martial law, with the uneasy consent of his party and the rabid support of his base. We are then told, with equal urgency, that what is wrong, ultimately, is deep, systemic, and Everybody’s Fault. Perhaps there is a crisis of meaning, or of spirit; perhaps it is a crisis caused by the condescension of self-important élites. (In truth, those élites tend to be at least as self-lacerating as they are condescending, as the latest rounds of self-laceration show.)

Lurking behind all of this is a faulty premise—that the descent into authoritarianism is what needs to be explained, when the reality is that . . . it always happens. The default condition of humankind is not to thrive in broadly egalitarian and stable democratic arrangements that get unsettled only when something happens to unsettle them. The default condition of humankind, traced across thousands of years of history, is some sort of autocracy.

America itself has never had a particularly settled commitment to democratic, rational government. At a high point of national prosperity, long before manufacturing fell away or economic anxiety gripped the Middle West—in an era when “silos” referred only to grain or missiles and information came from three sober networks . . .—a similar set of paranoid beliefs filled American minds and came perilously close to taking power. . . . [A] sizable group of people believed things as fully fantastical as the Txxxx-ite belief in voting machines rerouted by dead Venezuelan socialists. The intellectual forces behind Goldwater’s sudden rise thought that Eisenhower and J.F.K. were agents, wittingly or otherwise, of the Communist conspiracy, and that American democracy was in a death match with enemies within as much as without. (Goldwater was, political genealogists will note, a ferocious admirer and defender of Joe McCarthy, whose counsel in all things conspiratorial was Roy Cohn, Dxxxx Txxxx’s mentor.)

Goldwater was a less personally malevolent figure than Txxxx, and, yes, he lost his 1964 Presidential bid. But, in sweeping the Deep South, he set a victorious neo-Confederate pattern for the next four decades of American politics, including the so-called Reagan revolution. Nor were his forces naïvely libertarian. At the time, Goldwater’s ghostwriter Brent Bozell spoke approvingly of Franco’s post-Fascist Spain as spiritually far superior to decadent America, much as the highbrow Txxxx-ites talk of the Christian regimes of Putin and Orbán.

The interesting question is not what causes autocracy (not to mention the conspiratorial thinking that feeds it) but what has ever suspended it. We constantly create post-hoc explanations for the ascent of the irrational. The Weimar inflation caused the rise of Hitler, we say; the impoverishment of Tsarism caused the Bolshevik Revolution. In fact, the inflation was over in Germany long before Hitler rose, and Lenin came to power not in anything that resembled a revolution—which had happened already under the leadership of far more pluralistic politicians—but in a coup d’état by a militant minority. Force of personality, opportunity, sheer accident: these were much more decisive than some neat formula of suffering in, autocracy out.

Dxxxx Txxxx came to power not because of an overwhelming wave of popular sentiment—he lost his two elections by a cumulative ten million votes—but because of an orphaned electoral system left on our doorstep by an exhausted Constitutional Convention. . . .

The way to shore up American democracy is to shore up American democracy—that is, to strengthen liberal institutions, in ways that are unglamorously specific and discouragingly minute. The task here is not so much to peer into our souls as to reduce the enormous democratic deficits under which the country labors, most notably an electoral landscape in which farmland tilts to power while city blocks are flattened. This means remedying manipulative redistricting while reforming the Electoral College and the Senate [or by making the Electoral College irrelevant]. Some of these things won’t be achievable, but all are worth pursuing—with the knowledge that, even if every box on our . . . wish list were checked, no set-it-and-forget-it solution to democratic fragility would stand revealed. The only way to stave off another Txxxx is to recognize that it always happens. The temptation of anti-democratic cult politics is forever with us, and so is the work of fending it off. . . .

Unquote.

It’s hard for most Americans to believe it might happen to us. We haven’t had a king or dictator since the United States was created 240 years ago. That’s why Sinclair Lewis called his novel about fascism coming to America It Can’t Happen Here. Our country isn’t destined to become an autocracy, but the past four years show that we have work to do — to make sure it doesn’t happen here.