Our Upside-Down Politics
Plus: Bulwark readers sound off.
“Hard times create strong men.
Strong men create good times.
Good times create weak men.
And, weak men create hard times.”
― G. Michael Hopf, Those Who Remain
Happy Super Bowl Sunday.
Our pregame festivities today begin by pointing out once again the inversion of the polarities of our politics. The party of Law and Order is now cheering on illegal protests; America Firsters have morphed into Blame America Firsters.
Here’s today’s weirdest flex, courtesy of Rand Paul, whose family has done so much to re-inject crackpottery into the bloodstream of the Right. Via Axios:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said this week that he hopes anti-vaccine protestors in trucks "clog up [U.S.] cities."
"I’m all for it," said Paul, a vocal critic of masking and vaccine mandates. "Civil disobedience is a time-honored tradition in our country, from slavery to civil rights to you name it. Peaceful protest, clog things up, make people think about the mandates."
"I hope the truckers do come to America, and I hope they clog up cities," Paul told the conservative Daily Signal in an interview Thursday.
And here is Sean Hannity, aghast at the idea that law enforcement might actually enforce the law. “If they dare send the military in or the cops or law enforcement in to arrest these guys, that’s on them. Whatever the result of that is will be on them.”
In other words, he would blame any violence on the members of the police and the military who would be doing their jobs — not on the protesters who were holding an international bridge hostage. This is perhaps not as surprising as it would once have been, given that, as Michael Gerson writes in the Wapo, “Support for seditious acts is now a normal and accepted element of Republican identity.”
But one suspects that Hannity et al. would have a rather different view of the situation had the bridge been seized by, say, BLM activists. (Discuss among yourselves.)
Once upon a time, conservative Republicans enthusiastically embraced Jeane Kirkpatrick’s stirring 1984 speech: “Blame America First.” At her first ever GOP convention, Kirkpatrick leveled a brutal critique of the left’s penchant for always blaming the U.S. for international tensions.
Somehow, they always blame America first.
When our Marines, sent to Lebanon on a multinational peacekeeping mission with the consent of the United States Congress, were murdered in their sleep, the "blame America first crowd" didn't blame the terrorists who murdered the Marines, they blamed the United States.
But then, they always blame America first.
When the Soviet Union walked out of arms control negotiations, and refused even to discuss the issues, the San Francisco Democrats didn't blame Soviet intransigence. They blamed the United States.
But then, they always blame America first.
When Marxist dictators shoot their way to power in Central America, the San Francisco Democrats don't blame the guerrillas and their Soviet allies, they blame United States policies of 100 years ago.
But then, they always blame America first.
The American people know better.
Ah, but that was then.
These days, as Vladimir Putin threatens to unilaterally invade a neighbor, Tucker & Co. insist that the real responsibility falls on… (well, you know how this works).
And, while we are at it, where are all those anti-war protesters these days?
Don’t even get me started on the whole “But her emails” thing.
Morning Shots is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin
But now, it’s official, and it’s going to be stupendous.
KEWASKUM – State Rep. Timothy Ramthun entered the race for governor Saturday, ensuring 2022 will be all about 2020.
The Campbellsport Republican brought election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell to a high school auditorium to make his pitch to voters, an argument that relies on the impossible and illegal endeavor of revoking Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes for President Joe Biden.
Here’s an indication how this will play out. During the announcement rally, the name of Democratic incumbent governor, Tony Evers, was scarcely ever mentioned. Most of the rhetoric and the loudest boos were reserved for fellow Republicans who refused to go along with the bizarre notion of rescinding Wisconsin’s electoral votes.
And, of course, this Cheesehead descent into insanity would not have been complete without a virtual appearance by Michael Flynn:
Supporters flashed signs that read "Decertify Now!!" on one side and "Toss Vos" on the other.
Lindell kicked off the three-hour rally, telling the hundreds of supporters from across Wisconsin that Ramthun could shift Wisconsin's electoral votes to former President Donald Trump more than a year after the 2020 election. The event also featured a phoned-in endorsement from Michael Flynn, who briefly served as Trump's national security adviser.
Words Actually Do Matter
“If we continue to throw words around without knowing what they mean, and try merely to squeeze incantatory power from them for sheer effect, we will numb ourselves to real threats,” he writes in his latest newsletter. “We can only cry wolf so many times before we cease to care about wolves—or lions, or bears, or real enemies at the gates.”
So he reminds us what certain words mean — and what they do not mean.
What it is not: Any government that lies. Any government that is horrible. Any regime that uses political violence. Any regime that engages in ugly repressive measures or censorship. Any political party that tells you to do things you don’t like to do.
Totalitarianism and fascism, in sum, are not “anything you don’t happen to like.”
What it is not: Any rules you don’t like. Any laws you don’t like. Any election that you didn’t like. Anything that inconveniences or annoys you. Anything that limits you doing whatever you want, whenever you want, in any way that you want. Paying your taxes, obeying speed limits, or wearing a mask in a store are not “authoritarianism.”
Authoritarianism, in sum, is not “anything you don’t happen to like.”
What it isn’t: High taxes. A generous welfare state. Government participation in the economy. Government shareholding in business. Government control of some natural resources. Natural monopolies owned by the government (like the military). Government investment.
Policies in which the government does something large for the good of society isn’t “socialism.” Regulating your workplace isn’t socialism; nationalizing your workplace, seizing it from its owners, and making you an employee of the government is socialism.
In sum, socialism is not “anything you don’t happen to like.” (Perhaps you’re sensing a theme here.)
Bonus: I made a similar point about “Jim Crow” in Friday’s newsletter.
I was reacting to the remark that a recent SCOTUS decision was “no longer like Jim Crow. This IS Jim Crow.”
Segregated waiting rooms in bus and train stations were required, as well as water fountains, restrooms, building entrances, elevators, cemeteries, even amusement-park cashier windows.
Laws forbade African Americans from living in white neighborhoods. Segregation was enforced for public pools, phone booths, hospitals, asylums, jails and residential homes for the elderly and handicapped.
Some states required separate textbooks for Black and white students. New Orleans mandated the segregation of prostitutes according to race. In Atlanta, African Americans in court were given a different Bible from white people to swear on. Marriage and cohabitation between white and Black people was strictly forbidden in most Southern states.
It was not uncommon to see signs posted at town and city limits warning African Americans that they were not welcome there.
Now, for the record, I think the Supreme Court got this wrong, but here’s what it did (via the NYT):
If the court follows its usual practices, it will schedule arguments in the Alabama case for the fall and issue a decision months later, meaning that the 2022 election would be conducted using the challenged map.
Alabama has seven congressional districts and its voting-age population is about 27 percent Black. In the challenged map, Black voters are in the majority in one district. The lower court, relying on the Voting Rights Act, had ordered the State Legislature to create a second district in which Black voters could elect a representative of their choice.
In a concurring opinion on Monday, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, joined by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., said that “the stay order does not make or signal any change to voting rights law.” It was necessary, he wrote, because the lower court had acted too soon before a coming election.
Again, I wish the court had upheld the lower court ruling. But, ahem, this is not literally Jim Crow. The case was about gerrymandering, which is a serious issue. But it did not impose poll taxes, literacy tests, or strip any voter of their right to cast a ballot.
I understand the temptation to routinely set your hair on fire, but there’s a price to be paid for constantly using over-heated rhetoric. And, in this case, invoking “Jim Crow” or using terms like “Jim Crow 2.0” both devalues the term and does a disservice to the reality and ugly history of the actual Jim Crow.
In other words: Jim Crow is not anything you don’t happen to like.
We Get Mail
Keep your rants, raves, darts, and laurels coming to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wouldn't be surprised to hear you talking about this as the republic continues its slide toward authoritarianism.
I am just a citizen asking a simple question: Why aren’t conservatives breaking from the currently-dangerous Republican party and starting a new national party for conservatives and moderates who accept the rule of law and care about the future of the Republic? It seems to me an overlooked tactic.
Whenever “third party” talk comes up, you hear about how they are not successful. But “success” is a function of what is defined as success. In the current situation, with the Republican party in the hands of authoritarian extremists for the immediate future (this is increasingly incontrovertible, in spite of wishful thinking), anything that can stem that tide is desirable.
A new center-right, pro-democracy party can help break the fever. For those who are real conservatives, holding their noses and voting Democratic may not be very appealing, nor staying home. Having an actual place to stand which is an actual party, closer to one’s political beliefs than what many can find in the Republican party today, can accomplish several goals:
It gives the 30% or whatever that number is, of non-Trumpist Republicans a real option, a banner to stand under, a party structure and primaries outside the reach of those who only believe in fealty to Trump.
It can attract a significant donor class – what better way for a corporation to support both its interests and democracy? Give them a place to express their support of democracy.
Those “former Republicans,” like George Conway, Tim Miller, Charlie Sykes, Bill Kristol, Evan McMullin, Christine Todd Whitman, Miles Taylor – you get the idea – would love it (or should!). Reagan & Bush Republicans as well – they are out there, really.
A significant number of current Independents would join.
Most importantly, it can syphon off votes from Trumpist candidates in 2022 & 2024. This is a powerful tactic to ward off the potentially disastrous wins by the current party. Like the Conservative Party in NY of my youth, it can endorse non-Trumpist Republican candidates, run their own, depending on local situations.
This party can bring conservative views back into the national conversation. This Trumpist-Republican party is not interested in governing. Democrats would welcome the reemergence of a “loyal opposition,” rather than what is happening now.
Final point: Hopefully it will no longer be needed in the future (how long is unclear). Today, however, we need to break the glass and all do everything we can – from the left, center and right -- to get through this. (Democrats can’t do this themselves.)
I wouldn’t presume to list the planks in this party – that is a function of their first convention – other than a commitment to the peaceful transfer of power, belief in the rule of law and adherence to the Constitution. That is not what the current Republican party represents, amazingly enough.
As Jelani Cobb wrote in the New Yorker:
“The Federalists collapsed because they failed to expand their demographic appeal; the Whigs because of internal incoherence over what they stood for in the nation’s most crucial debate. Among the more striking dynamics of the Trump-era Republican Party is the extent to which it is afflicted by both of these failings.”
Thank you for helping spread this idea. I’d love to see it gain traction.
Anti-vax protesters have been camped out at New Zealand’s parliament for days now.
As in Canada, the Trump influence is obvious. If you open this link and scroll down, you’ll see a photo of Trump flags flying on the NZ parliamentary lawn.
For context, 95% of the population 12+ is fully vaccinated and kids between 5 and 12 are 43% (the drive to vaccinate kids only started last month. As a small country, we’re not at the head of the queue for vaccine access.)
The anti-vaxers here are a tiny minority, again as in Canada. But they’re creating an out-sized nuisance.
As in the US, journos are being targeted with violence. This is not normal in NZ.
It took me nearly six years to find you!!
I was a Republican for 50 years. In 2016, when Donald J Trump became the Republican candidate for President, I realized that I could no longer be a member of the Republican Party. I am currently unenrolled (independent with a lower case i, registered to vote but not a member of any political party).
I believe the Republican Party needs to be torn down and rebuilt under the guidance of wise, honest, thoughtful conservatives who understand and respect the Constitution and the unwritten rules that nearly every modern President prior to Trump has respected.
I just listened to “Charles Sykes: How the Right Lost its Mind” at the Commonwealth Club.
Please provide directions to your “little desert island.”
Robert G Rains
Charlie and Tim,
I've read your pieces on mask wearing. I've listened to all of your points on the recent pods. I agree about much of what you say about hypocrisy and some other points. However, I disagree and I'm angry on some points.
Right now, the death rates are 80% unvaccinated, 20% vaccinated high risk. Because of my mild cerebral palsy, I'm in the high risk group. I just got my 4th shot. I've had to go back into lockdown because of the omicron surge. Only 1 type of monoclonal antibodies work with it (GSK). The Pfizer anti-virals are impossible to acquire right now. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/are-pfizers-covid-pills-going-highest-risk-patients-us-rollout-rcna13847
Please remember that there are many of us out here, doing the right things, trying to stay safe, who are still at high risk. I have to worry about chain of transmission each day. I have to limit my contacts to safe outdoor interactions and I must cancel most social gatherings. I have to forget about plane trips, indoor restaurants, movie theaters, manicures, dental appointments, medical appointments, etc Until omicron and BA2 recedes and there are therapeutics available, MY life, like Tim and yours, is significantly IMPACTED. I'm tired of COVID and the restrictions too. Many of us in my boat are as fatigued as well.
Please don't forget us, Please.