The More We Learn, the Worse It Looks

Wednesday could have been even worse. From The Guardian:

Two men who were seen carrying plastic “zip tie” handcuffs during the deadly riot at the US Capitol, suggesting plans to kidnap lawmakers in an attempt to overturn Txxxx’s election defeat, were arrested on Sunday. . . .

The news came as more graphic details of violence and brutality emerged. Before the arrests announced on Sunday, prosecutors had filed 17 cases in federal district court and 40 in District of Columbia superior court for offenses ranging from assaulting police officers to entering restricted areas, stealing federal property and threatening lawmakers.

Alarming footage of the riot continued to emerge. Some captured a bloodied officer crushed in a doorway and screaming. Other officers were reportedly beaten with pipes; one was seen tumbling over a railing into a crowd below. The officer had been body-slammed from behind.

Brian Sicknick, 42 and a 12-year veteran, died after he was struck in the head with a fire extinguisher while “physically engaging” the rioters, according to a statement from Capitol police. . . . 

Police arrested one man alleged to have brought guns and explosives to Washington; another was heavily armed and allegedly threatened to kill House speaker Nancy Pelosi. Chants of “Hang Mike Pence”, the vice-president, were heard during the riot. . . . 

Prosecutors said additional cases remained under seal and dozens were sought by federal agents. The US attorney in Washington vowed that “all options were on the table” for charges, including possibly sedition.

According to the Secretary of the Army, domestic terrorism cases are being opened. Among the items recovered on Wednesday were long guns, Molotov cocktails and other explosive devices.

The Washington Post reported that confrontations between the mob and members of Congress and Capitol staff were imminent:

A mob nearly breached the Speaker’s Lobby with access to the House Chamber while [representatives] and staff were sheltering inside;

There was a similar moment when a right turn instead of left would have taken another mob straight to the Senate chamber; 

Eight staffers huddled together under a table in a conference room, one door away from the terrorists rummaging through Nancy Pelosi’s office;

Behind another door, Senate aides heard a woman praying loudly for “the evil of Congress to be brought to an end”.

Maybe the mob simply wanted to discuss election security with their elected representatives.

A member of the Capitol Police told BuzzFeed that he heard about the coming assault in a message from a friend:

“I found out what they were planning when a friend of mine screenshot me an Instagram story from the Proud Boys saying, ‘We’re breaching the Capitol today, guys. I hope y’all ready.’”

That was a heavily trained group of militia terrorists that attacked us,” said the officer, who has been with the department for more than a decade. “They had radios, we found them, they had two-way communicators and earpieces. They had bear spray. They had flash bangs … They were prepared.

Tonight, CNN has a new video. Someone who’s watched it says it shows “a MAGA rioter (in white hat and backpack) grab a DC Metro officer and pull him down Capitol steps, where he is stomped and beaten with an American flag pole”. These are the “patriots” the president “loves”.

The story that’s slowly being told is that nobody who works for the federal government or the District of Columbia anticipated an attack on the Capitol. They supposedly thought there would be another demonstration, similar to the one on December 12th, during which nothing much happened until after dark, when a few roving bands of the president’s supporters turned violent. That would imply that no government departments were monitoring the discussions on social media and right-wing messages boards that featured detailed discussions of the impending attack (see this article from Pro Publica).Or that whoever is supposed to keep track of domestic terrorism didn’t take the threats seriously. Or that they purposefully kept information about the threat to themselves. The issue will be investigated and at least some of the truth will be revealed.

Meanwhile, Business Insider reports that there are foreign observers who think the lack of security on Wednesday indicates that this was an actual attempted coup by elements in the government:

Insider spoke with three [European] officials on Thursday morning: a French police official responsible for public security in . . . central Paris, and two intelligence officials from NATO countries who directly work in counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations . . . 

They said the circumstantial evidence available pointed to what would be openly called a coup attempt in any other nation. None were willing to speak on the record because of the dire nature of the subject.

While they did not furnish evidence that federal agency officials facilitated the chaos, . . .  America’s international military and security allies are now willing to give serious credence to the idea that [the president] deliberately tried to violently overturn an election and that some federal law-enforcement agents — by omission or otherwise — facilitated the attempt. . . .

“These are not subtle principles” for managing demonstrations, “and they transfer to every situation,” the [French] official said. “This is why we train alongside US federal law enforcement to handle these very matters, and it’s obvious that large parts of any successful plan were just ignored.”

A Conservative Confesses

Matthew Sheffield is a conservative journalist who admits there’s something radically wrong with most “conservative” media. He wrote this on Twitter a few days ago:

As a former conservative activist and journalist, it has been so frustrating to see my former compatriots spreading wild and unchecked claims about “voter fraud.”

As the co-creator of NewsBusters, the most prominent anti-media website, I was part of a decades-long tradition of complaining about media elites being “unfair” to conservative views. There is still much to that argument, but eventually I saw that I was missing context.

What I did not realize until I began expanding my work into creating actual media and reporting institutions such as the Washington Examiner (I was the founding online editor) was that U.S. conservatives do not understand the purpose of journalism.

This became evident to me as I saw that conservative-dominated media outlets were MUCH more biased than outlets run by liberals. The latter had flaws that arose from a lack of diversities (note plural) but they operated mostly in good faith. That’s not how the former operated.

I eventually realized that most people who run right-dominated media outlets see it as their DUTY to be unfair and to favor Republicans because doing so would some how counteract perceived liberal bias.

While I was enmeshed in the conservative media tradition, I viewed lefty media thinkers like @jayrosen_nyu as arguing that journalism was supposed to be liberally biased. I was wrong. I realized later that I didn’t understand that journalism is supposed to portray reality.

This thought was phrased memorably by [Stephen Colbert] as “reality has a well-known liberal bias”, which is an oversimplification but is more accurate than the conservative journalist view which is that media should promote and serve conservative politicians.

I also discovered as I rose through the right-wing media ranks that most conservative media figures have no journalism training or desire to fact-check their own side. I also saw so many people think that reporting of information negative to [Republican] politicians was biased, even if it was true.

If you would like to get a great look at the tensions and origins of conservative journalism, there is a wonderful, fabulous book by my friend [Nicole Hemmer], Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics, which I cannot commend enough. My career was an updated version of what she chronicled.

People ask sometimes if conservative media figures like Sean Hannity or anyone associated with the Federalist could actually be so credulous as to believe unfounded and non-specific allegations of “voter fraud.” But the reality is that they don’t actually even think that far.

Truth for conservative journalists is anything that harms “the left.” It doesn’t even have to be a fact. Trump’s numerous lies about any subject under the sun are thus justified because his deceptions point to a larger truth: that liberals are evil.

This assumption is behind all conservative media output. They never tell you what their actual motives are. Most center-left people don’t realize just how radical many conservative elites are, largely because they don’t wear it on their sleeves.

Just as a for-instance of this point, most people have no idea that the top two Trump White House figures, Mike Pence and Mark Meadows, think that biological evolution is a lie.

This is an extraordinarily dangerous viewpoint in light of the SARS2 coronavirus epidemic because the entirety of virology and epidemiology is based on evolution. If you think it’s “fake” then you’ll believe ludicrous nonsense like “herd immunity.”

The same thing is happening with right-wing media and specious claims of voter fraud. Conservatives are willing to believe them even if there is no evidence, simply because anything negative about liberals is true. This mentality extends to the very highest ranks.

Newt Gingrich, William Bennett, and a bevvy of GOP elected officials have no problem parroting unverified rumors as fact because conservative journalism is about supporting conservatives, not about finding facts.

I tried for over a decade to inculcate some standards of independence and professionalism among conservative writers but my efforts made me enemies, especially when I argued that the GOP should be neutral on religion, instead of biased toward Christians.

I began work on a manuscript in 2012 fearing that Mitt Romney would lose his election because conservatives had not learned how politics actually works and that we should adapt to serve public needs and make peace with secular people.

I showed my manuscript to several people who I thought were my friends because I wanted to get the perspective of religious conservatives. Instead of helping me, some of them began trying to expel me from the conservative movement.

I eventually realized that many conservative activists were committed to identity rather than ideas. One of my friends literally told me in 2016 that he would support Senator Ted Cruz because “that’s what the Christians are doing.”

We’re at a critical moment in U.S. politics right now because the Christian identity politics that is the edifice of Republican electioneering is teetering. Millions of Americans have for decades thought that their countrymen are evil.

You can watch this play out right now on a television stage when you tune into Fox News as they cover the election. Fact-based journalists have finally realized that the identity rage of the GOP is going into a raging crescendo.

On an hourly basis now outside of the rage-filled lie-fests of primetime, Fox reporters are gently trying to explain to guests that they need actual evidence before accusing people of crimes. The guests, such as Gingrich, have NEVER been challenged like this on Fox.

Bret Baier, Chris Wallace, Martha MacCallum, and others are trying to save conservatism from itself. It’s like watching a modern-day adaptation of Aeschylus or Sophocles. Sadly, the rest of us are not just spectators in this tragedy.

How American conservatism dies is the most important story, by far, of this moment. Conventional media will never tell this story because their business is built on the lie that Trump is an aberration rather than apotheosis. . . .

At the same time, the tens of millions of people who vote Republican are not deplorable. They are misled. And the mocking and tribalistic coverage that lefty media often engage in only makes things worse. Only love can defeat hate.

And just to clarify my point about people who are “misled.” It’s the people that Trump referred to when he said “I love the poorly educated.” They are the people who work hard, go to church, and feel they have no future in a secular America.

Not the leaders, but the led.

Unquote. 

Unfortunately, many of our fellow citizens choose to be misled because it makes them feel better. This is a comment I left after reading “Welcome the Txxxx Voters Back”, a piece by a philosophy professor calling on us to be nicer to the president’s supporters (in my comment, I quote the author of the article while making a few changes):

Speaking for the majority of American voters, I hereby welcome the minority to join us in “[cultivating] an information environment in which people [can] distinguish between truth and falsehood, in which expert claims are [not] treated with suspicion, and in which fringe figures and theories are [not] valued more highly than mainstream ones”.

Unless more of the “conservative” minority are willing to do that, it’s not going to make a damn bit of difference whether we in the majority “appreciate the bond of citizenship” [and welcome them back] more than we already do.

Democracy in Chains

Publishers and book critics sometimes say a particular book is one that every American, or every thinking American, or every American who cares about such and such, should read. I’m reading one of them now. If you want to understand U.S. politics, you should read Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. It’s by Nancy MacLean, a professor of history and public policy at Duke University.

MacClean explains how a small group of libertarian and conservative academics began a movement in the 1950s that eventually led to the rightward shift in American politics. So many on the right are so deeply committed to low taxes, privatization, deregulation and making it hard (for some people) to vote because, to borrow a phrase from John Maynard Keynes, they are “the slaves of some defunct  economist[s] … distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler[s] of a few years back”.

This radical right-wing agenda favors property over democracy. They hate the idea that a majority of voters can elect politicians who will interfere with a rich person’s right to accumulate and keep as much stuff as possible. As a result, they look  for ways to dilute the majority’s ability to effect change.

MacClean discusses one case in which the right’s “stealth program” was implemented. The key figure in her book, a Virginia Tech economist named James Buchanan, helped transform Chile after Gen. Augusto Pinochet led a military coup in 1973:

For it was Buchanan who guided Pinochet’s team in how to arrange things so that [Chile’s] capitalist class would be all but permanently entrenched in power….

If Jim Buchanan had qualms about helping to design a constitution for a dictatorship or the process by which [it] was ratified, … he did not commit them to print…

What’s perplexing is how a man whose life’s mission was the promotion of what he … called the free society reconciled himself … to what a military junta was doing to the people of Chile. The new Chile was free for some, … the same kind of people who counted in Virginia in the era when [Buchanan fought desegregation]. It was also, always, a particular kind of freedom the libertarians cared most about. One Chilean [rejoiced] that “the individual freedom to consume, produce, save and invest has been restored”.

… Chile emerged with a set of rules closer to his ideal than any in existence, built to repel future popular pressure for change. [The new constitution] was a “virtually unamendable charter”, … radically skewed by the over-representation of the wealthy, the military and the less popular political parties associated with them. Buchanan had long called for binding rules to protect economic liberty and constrain majority power, and [the constitution] guaranteed these as never before”.

Among the right-wing “reforms” instituted by the Pinochet dictatorship were lower taxes for corporations and the wealthy, devastating restrictions on unions, privatization of the social security system, privatization of health care, a less independent judicial system, limits on the government’s ability to issue regulations, school vouchers in place of funding for public education and forcing state universities to become “self-financing”. If this list of “modernizations” sounds familiar, it should. It’s the public agenda of today’s Republican Party.

Since it isn’t good public relations for a political party or government to say it’s against majority rule, however, the right’s intention to install and maintain minority rule isn’t publicly stated. But after seizing power, Pinochet ruled as a dictator for years. In the U.S., the right-wing justices on the Supreme Court have given more political power to corporations and the rich, while undermining the 1965 Voting Rights Act; and Republican politicians in states like Florida, Georgia and Wisconsin have made it less likely that poor people and certain minorities will vote, all the while claiming they are only interested in fighting a phenomenon, voter fraud, which they know is extremely rare.

The good news is that the resurgent Democratic Party is dedicated to making voting easier and more representative. In addition, there are efforts underway in a number of states to eliminate gerrymandering of congressional districts and to make the undemocratic Electoral College irrelevant. Others are calling for the citizens of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia to be given full voting rights. Changes will come eventually, since the majority still has some power. Meanwhile, if you want to understand our current politics, read Democracy in Chains