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Why Was George Santos Wearing That AR-15 Pin?
Plus: Elon traffics in Russian propaganda
I apologize in advance for my underwhelming interest in tonight’s SOTU, but my jadedness (if that is a word) has been hard won. For well over 40 years, I’ve watched the pomp, ceremony, and hype of the crucial-make-or-break-bully-pulpit pageant, and I frankly can’t remember anything from any of them, except for the theatrical sideshows. (“You lie!”)
I’m sure Joe Biden will give a workmanlike speech, full of substance, lists of accomplishments, and poignant stories of people in the galleries, but he will be speaking to a performative House majority that wouldn’t know actual substance if it was zapped in the face by a Jewish space laser.
And whether GOP congressmen decide to rock their new AR-15 pins.
ICYMI, at least two of our nation’s solons — Rep. George Santos and Rep. Anna Paulina Luna — have been wearing lapel pins featuring the weapon of mass destruction, which they apparently got from gun dealer turned congressman Andrew Clyde.
Here’s a very partial list of the AR-15’s greatest hits:
Feb. 14, 2018: Shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida leaves 17 people dead.
Oct. 1, 2017: The Las Vegas slaughter of 58 people.
Nov. 5, 2017: The Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting that claimed 26 lives.
June 12, 2016: The Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., that left 49 dead.
Dec. 2, 2015: The San Bernardino, Calif., shooting that killed 14 people.
Dec. 14, 2012: The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that took 27 lives.
The choice of the AR-15 pin, writes Will Bunch, “is on-brand for a nihilistic party that prides deadly individualism over problem-solving.”
Imagine members strutting around the corridors of Congress in late 2001 with a Boeing 747 lapel pin, or wearing a spiky replica of the coronavirus when New York City’s morgues were overflowing in the spring of 2020. Explain to me how worshiping an AR-15 — when the blood stains are still being scrubbed off a dance studio in Monterey Park, Club Q in Colorado Springs, or a bus in Charlottesville — is any different, really?
So why are they wearing it? And, in particular, why George Santos?
Obviously, the pins are designed to troll and trigger. But, there’s something else going on here as well. Santos (and Luna) find themselves in spirals of scandal and disgrace, and desperately need a tribe, because political tribes provide protection.
And what better way to signal tribal fealty than this?
In a different context David French describes the importance of tribal identity.
The instant that a person or an institution becomes closely identified with one political “tribe,” members of that tribe become reflexively protective and are inclined to write off scandals as “isolated” or the work of “a few bad apples.”
Conversely, the instant an institution is perceived as part of an opposing political tribe, the opposite instinct kicks in: We’re far more likely to see each individual scandal as evidence of systemic malice or corruption, further proof that the other side is just as bad as we already believed.
The distinctive attraction of a post-shame MAGA is that virtually any sort of miscreant, charlatan, or snollygoster can shelter beneath its wings.
So Santos’s choice of new friends is not an accident.
I’ve written about this before. For someone like Santos, the New Right’s moral universe — and its various media tributaries — offer liberation and redemption, where mediocrity and venality can shelter together under a pugnacious amorality.
Think about the wretched refuse who have been drawn into that orbit: Crooks like Steve Bannon, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Bernie Kerik. Bigots like Darren Beattie, Stephen Miller, MTG, and various drecks on cable television. Grifters like Diamond and Silk, Jenna Ellis, and Dinesh D’Souza. Sleazoids like Jason Miller, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and Matt Gaetz. And, of course, nutjobs like the My Pillow Guy, Sidney Powell, and Michael Flynn. And don’t forget Rudy Giuliani.
None of this is really a secret. What is the attraction of TrumpWorld for the worst people in the world?
In return for the requisite fawning and tribal signaling, MAGAworld created a moral free-fire zone, a force field against accountability. Too dumb, corrupt, or sleazy for the rest of world? Not a problem.
This is definitely a club that George Santos wants to belong to.
Elon’s Russian propaganda
Not only did Elon Musk allow this bit of obvious Russian disinformation on his site … but he amplified it with his own response.
Needless to say, the whole thing is utter bullshit. Thousands of NATO soldiers have not been killed in Ukraine. But Musk eagerly took the bait, anyway.
ICYMI: Popping the Red Balloon
Come for the great intro theme music… stay for the thought experiment at the end…
1. Wisconsin Supreme Court Race a Test for Democracy
Bill Lueders with a long look at one of the most important races in the country. (I’ll have more to say on this later this week.)
There’s a small chance that a low-turnout election in Wisconsin in a couple weeks will shape if not determine the future of American democracy. It probably won’t happen, but here’s how it could:
Along with 37 other states, Wisconsin has its voters elect justices to its high court; as in 13 other states, its contests for the seats are nonpartisan. The February 21 primary election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court will decide which two of four candidates will advance to the April 4 general election. There are two conservatives, Daniel Kelly and Jennifer Dorow, and two liberals, Janet Protasiewicz and Everett Mitchell, on the ballot. All are serious contenders: It’s possible the vote will split evenly enough that either the two conservatives or the two liberals are the top two vote-getters.
That means the all-important question of the Wisconsin court’s ideological balance could be settled in the primary, when turnout can be as low as a third of the general election vote. This sliver of the electorate could decide whether liberals or conservatives have a majority as the court heads into a critical moment in its history.
The next court will likely hear a lawsuit brought by the recently re-elected governor and attorney general against the state’s 1849 law banning abortion, meaning it will decide whether Wisconsin will remain among the 13 states that have effectively ended all abortions. It will also decide important questions regarding the extreme gerrymandering that has allowed Republicans to dominate the legislature in a state that is otherwise evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans—and on the inevitable attempts by partisans to manipulate the electoral process and quibble with the results of the country’s next general election in 2024.
2. Police Should Chill the F**k Out
Mona Charen writes that police profanity isn’t just impolite—it poisons the relationship with the public.
Police reform is hard. Not that there’s any shortage of smart proposals. In the wake of the shameful beating death of Tyre Nichols, we’ve seen a number of promising reform ideas, including dramatically increasing training and disempowering police unions, both of which I support. But, the world being what it is, resources are finite, special interests are powerful, and inertia always stands in the path of reform like an enormous boulder in the road.
But I’d like to propose my own modest idea that will not cost a dime, will not require any changes in law, and can be implemented immediately: Let’s police the language police use.