Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Would I kill him if I could?

January 27, 2022

A radio interview with scientist Robert Sapolsky shocked me. My humanist book group was currently discussing his tome on human behavior. Sapolsky spoke of his fantasy of killing someone. Not just killing — but with torture, described in graphic detail.

The “someone” was Hitler.

Sapolsky’s fantasy might seem innocuous because of course Hitler is already dead. But if this were 1944?

Capital punishment opponents deem killing always morally unacceptable, no matter how bad the person. Yet I believe some people deserve the ultimate punishment, as a matter of justice.

So with Sapolsky: fantasizing himself an avatar of justice. However, torture adds a problematic dimension; it must entail mindful cruelty by the torturer, a corruption of their soul, and of the moral legitimacy of whatever authority sanctions it.

There used to be a widespread fetish in academia denouncing “judgmentalism,” with categorical judgments considered always suspect. Of course that’s turned completely around, now academia embraces judgmentalism with a vengeance, punishing viewpoints not in lockstep with the catechism of the day. But without going to such extremes, the former anti-judgmentalism was surely wrong. Humans are built to be judgment machines; life is all about making judgments. We are also programmed to be justice seekers. Thus Sapolsky vis-a-vis Hitler.

My own judgment app is set on “high.” A lifetime of hard thinking about issues confronting us makes me feel, at this point, pretty strong in what I judge good or bad, right or wrong.

Certain personages are on the wrong side of that judgment, earning the sort of hatred Sapolsky evinced toward Hitler. This is not hate as a baseless prejudice (as with, for example, white racial hatred). To the contrary, its salient characteristic is being justified by sound rational considerations. Thus I hate Putin; Assad; Maduro; Lukashenko; Ortega; Erdogan; Kim Jong Un; Xi Jinping; Min Aung Hlaing; alas the list goes on, it’s far too long. I hate them for the evil each has perpetrated.

There’s one person I hate more than anyone, ever. (You knew where this was going.) A hatred burning with a pure incandescent flame. Yet this too is no irrational prejudice, but its exact opposite. A deeply considered moral judgment grounded in facts. The crimes are not in the Hitler-Stalin-Mao class; however, unlike the other mentioned cases, this one for me is personal. Because it concerns my own country, which I have profoundly loved for what it represented and stood for. Which this evil monster has damaged beyond calculating. Maybe wrecked forever.

So do I fantasize like Sapolsky? Or would I actually do the deed if I had some opportunity? In fact, no. It would be self-immolation. He’s already caused me so much suffering — heartache, anxiety, literal lost sleep. He can destroy my country, but I would not let him destroy my life itself. And assassination would make him a martyr in many eyes, throwing gasoline on America’s political dumpster fire.

However, I do harbor a fantasy, every morning, when I retrieve our newspaper and open it. A fantasy of a big black headline. It might not be justice; after all, everybody dies. And even if it’s from natural causes, conspiracy theories would run wild, and millions of his cultists would expect him, Christlike, to return. But he could do no more harm. And maybe, just maybe, most of America could recover its sanity.

Biden in The Winter of Our Discontent

January 18, 2022

The commentariat’s hair is on fire over the seeming failure of President Biden, his administration, and his Democratic party, with polls showing dismal approval ratings.

What we’re really seeing is the worsening systemic failure of America’s body politic and civic culture, long in the making, but accelerating since 2016.

A former Republican, I strongly supported Biden in 2020, to save the country from Trumpian catastrophe. That by itself was a considerable achievement. Nevertheless, I harshly criticized Biden’s Afghanistan debacle, and not fully unwinding Trump’s reprehensible immigration and refugee policies. But the reality remains that if Trump and Republicans are the alternative, Biden and Democrats are saviors.

We’re told he hasn’t fulfilled his campaign promises; mainly to unite the nation. As if any president actually could. Jesus returning could not. Republicans are so far gone there’s no bringing them back into some kind of common fold. Have you seen the ubiquitous Trumposphere’s deranged demonization of Biden?

But we imagine a president waving some magic wand to make our troubles go away, and sulk if it doesn’t happen. Take inflation. I remember Nixon thinking he could master it, with wage and price controls. What a (predictable) disaster. And Ford’s “Whip Inflation Now” buttons. Didn’t work either. Inflation results from deep economic forces generally beyond a president’s powers.

And yes, we’re fed up with Covid. But blaming Biden? It would be much less bad now if we’d had halfway sane competent leadership when it began. Trump’s fecklessness made things so much worse. Biden did yeoman work in overcoming that ghastly legacy. Maybe one can imagine doing even better. In some perfect world. And the main problem now is the idiocy of vaccine refusal — mostly by Republican Trumpers — and their governors like Abbott and DeSantis actually working to undermine vaccination and masking. Yet Biden is blamed?

(While on Saturday, Trump declared whites are being discriminated against for Covid vaccines and treatment. “If you’re white, you go right to the back of the line.” Another vile lie — as if that needs stating.)

Then there’s Biden’s ambitious legislative agenda — more promises deemed unkept. In fact he did get the infrastructure bill passed — a very very big deal. And a huge Covid economic stimulus, greatly reducing U.S. poverty. Both virtually miraculous achievements given the wall of obstructionism by Republicans dead set on making Biden a failure. (They call themselves “patriotic.”)

The “Build Back Better” and voting rights bills are blocked by two nominally Democratic senators whose votes are needed. (Remember that Democrats have the barest Senate majority only thanks to unexpectedly winning both Georgia runoffs last January.) On BBB, why not just tell Manchin: “Okay, YOU write the bill. Whatever you’ll support. Then we’ll all vote for it.” (I doubt Sinema would still refuse.)

Meantime, why must everything, including the proverbial kitchen sink, be in one giant bill? Might have been good political theater — had it passed. But it can’t. So why not break it apart and mount separate legislative efforts for the climate, family leave, child care, college, immigration, health care, and tax proposals, et cetera? Some should be individually popular and achievable. This is a classic case of the perfect as the enemy of the good.

The Republican war on voting rights makes legislation on that front critical, so I share the frustration of many others at the inaction. But the intransigent Republican blockage means nothing can pass without filibuster reform, and Democrats just don’t have the votes for that. End of story.

All these legislative roadblocks make Biden look weak. There’s an idea that a president can overcome them just by pushing really really hard. It isn’t so.

I started out speaking of the body politic and civic culture. We’re losing concepts of ethics, character, community, and responsibility in civic life. The whole system then unsurprisingly undermined by a collapse of trust. American voters are behaving politically like spoiled children, having tantrums; not grown-ups. Making facile superficial judgements, with no understanding of what’s really going on and what’s at stake. Many crippled in their grasp of reality.

And if Biden and Democrats are failing, it’s because of Republicans. The Gordian knot can be slashed only by electing more Democrats to the Senate in particular. Making filibuster reform — and thus all else — possible. But America seems set instead on returning Congress to Republican control.

That’s simply insane, and not just because it will guarantee government paralysis for two years. Republicans are no longer even a legitimate political party (as we used to understand it). They’re a cult gaga for an evil psycho and his highly pernicious big lie that the 2020 election was a fraud. Responsible for the attempted coup of January 6. Making them enemies of democracy and the fundamental ideals that have guided America’s trajectory since its founding. And Republicans controlling Congress will mean their reinstalling that monster as president, regardless of citizen votes.

Biden is imperfect. But the alternative is the abyss.

Trumpism and religion: God help us

January 11, 2022

Nobody is a better advertisement for atheism than Trump.

A man many evangelicals view, despite all his demerits, as God’s instrument for achieving their triumph. That’s how they justify backing such a person. But it’s actually ruinous for the religion they profess to serve.

So argues Jennifer Rubin in a recent Washington Post commentary. Writing about people “in the throes of white grievance and an apocalyptic vision,” seeing America under attack from socialists, immigrants, and secularists. Leading to “an ends-justify-the-means style of politics in which lies, brutal discourse and violence” are embraced. And their rejection of objective reality.

Also their rejection of democracy itself. A democratic culture means not just elections, but acceptance of a pluralism in which diverse voices all have legitimate roles. That in particular they hate, seeing it as a threat. Thus, for all their invocations of “patriotism,” they reject the very meaning of America — the ideas of the Declaration of Independence — in favor of exclusionary blood-and-soil white nationalism.

One might have thought the advent in 2021 of a more conventional, lower-key national administration, of serious purpose, would calm the waters. And that the horror of January 6, a violent attempt to overthrow American democracy, would be electoral poison for Republicans whose deity and his Big Lie instigated it. Yet the opposite has happened. The crisis of our democratic soul has intensified.

Rubin’s main focus is again on the religious dimension. She quotes Peter Wehner (an evangelical Christian and G.W. Bush advisor), discussing a recent speech by Donald Trump Junior. Its message, says Wehner: “The scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers.” Jesus’s teachings have “gotten us nothing.” Indeed, have handicapped prosecuting the culture wars against the left. “Decency is for suckers.”

This, Rubin says, helps explain “the MAGA crowd’s very unreligious cruelty toward immigrants, its selfish refusal to vaccinate to protect the most vulnerable and its veneration of a vulgar misogynistic cult leader.” While “their ‘faith’ has become hostile to traditional religious values such as kindness, empathy, self-restraint, grace, honesty and humility.”

Vaccine refusal not only does trash basic religious ethics, but also reflects a perverted notion of freedom, disregarding that freedom doesn’t mean a right to harm others. That harm is a reality vaccine resisters refuse to believe (killing them in droves). While it’s their dogma that the 2020 election was stolen — also thoroughly proven false. Together showing the astonishing depth of this insanity.

I heard one January 6er on the radio declare he’d taken “an oath to God” that Trump would remain president. “An oath to God!” he repeated, almost shrieking.

Religion is a fundamental divorcement from reality that paves the way for further ones. If you believe in heaven and hell, you can believe nonsensical anti-vax and election fraud lies. If you believe in the man in the sky, it’s but a small step to believing Trump is his instrument. The history of religion is full of suckers falling for what are obvious con men, blind to being manipulated for bad ends. That’s the Trump story.

Rubin’s key point is that while all this “has done immeasurable damage to our democracy,” it also “has had catastrophic results for the religious values evangelicals” supposedly hold. Their God-talk and Jesus-talk has become hollow, their belief systems hijacked by the rotten-hearted Trumpism that cheers making orphans of migrant children.

And this travesty does not go unnoticed by Americans with sanity still intact. It drenches religion in shame. Makes all its pious moralistic prattling a cruel joke. It’s a big reason why younger Americans especially are turning away from religion. Polls show numbers soaring for those saying their religion is “none.”

Republicans, with deranged ferocity, accuse Democrats of somehow, literally, wanting to destroy America. But Rubin concludes that evangelical Republicans are turning it into “a country rooted in neither democratic principles nor religious values. That would be a mean, violent and intolerant future few of us would want to experience.”

America’s Catilinarians

January 5, 2022

The Catilinarian Conspiracy was a notorious episode in Roman history.

Rome’s (probably mythical) founding king, in 753 BC, was Romulus — who with his brother Remus had been suckled by a she-wolf. Eventually the monarchy was overthrown, having become so hated that none of Rome’s later Emperors, for all their grand titles, ever dared call himself “king.”

For half a millennium, Rome was a republic. Power resided in the Senate and a hierarchy of elected officials, topped by two consuls, chosen annually. It’s not clear exactly how those elections were conducted, but apparently the “common” people played a role.

Lucius Sergius Catilina — “Catiline”* — was a politician fiercely ambitious for a consulship. There were actually two “Catilinarian Conspiracies.” The first, in 65 BC, entailed dubious claims of election fraud, and a consequent failed plot to overthrow the consuls. This story is murky and Catiline’s role is doubtful — perhaps a case of “guilt by association” from the second Catilinarian Conspiracy.

That was in 63 BC, when Catiline campaigned hard for a consulship, spending a lot of money (that he didn’t have) and posing as a populist champion of Rome’s “forgotten people.” But he came in third, losing to Marcus Tullius Cicero and Gaius Antonius Hybrida.

Catiline couldn’t stand losing the election, and plotted, with other disgruntled allies, to overturn it and seize power. The plan entailed an army of Catiline’s supporters storming the capital, with Cicero assassinated.

Cicero got wind of the conspiracy and deployed bodyguards to foil the would-be assassins. Then he denounced Catiline in the Senate. Catiline claimed innocence but skedaddled out to the army he’d gathered. A battle ensued; the Catilinarians were defeated, their leader killed. Having earned himself a singularly black name in Rome’s history.

The republic was saved. But not for long, its civic norms having been fatally weakened. Soon came Julius Caesar’s dictatorship, his assassination, and civil wars, with Augustus emerging as the first emperor. Consuls continued to be installed annually, but with no power.

I used to imagine such bloody ancient history had no resonance for modern America. But now we see ominous parallels, with our own Catilinarians — Republicans deluded that they’re righteous “patriots” saving the country from evil others. And they’ve torn down the guardrails that once delineated acceptable, honest, decent civic behavior. January 6 was our first “Catilinarian conspiracy.” The second looms. During Trump’s presidency, I felt hopeful we’d turn the page. Now I’m fearful Republicans will turn it back, determined to do so by any means necessary.

This is not a “conspiracy theory,” but reality. I’ve been trying to sound the alarm; and Barton Gelman writes in The Atlantic detailing how Republican-controlled legislatures in several key states have already put in place the apparatus for overturning the 2024 election. The New York Times daily briefing has also highlighted this threat. Which frankly most Democrats seem asleep about.

The plan is for legislatures to set aside popular votes in those states (on some phony fraud pretext), and appoint Trump electors instead. They’ll be counted if Republicans control Congress. But in any case, and even if they only hold the House of Representatives (looking likely), they can simply block the electoral vote certification. That would throw the election to the House, which will vote Trump in. A perfectly constitutional coup. And the end of American democracy.

On January 6, 2021, Trump’s Catilinarians stormed the Capitol in a failed attempt to stop the electoral vote count. Four years later, they’ll need no resort to violence if they control the House of Representatives.

Will defenders of democracy storm the Capitol to stop them?

* Alternately spelled “Cataline” (as in the newspaper version of this commentary). Further research indicates “Catiline” is preferred.

Don’t Look Up!

January 1, 2022

Kate, a grad student working with astronomer Randall, discovers a new comet. Will hit Earth in six months. Twice as big as the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.

That’s the start of the recent Netflix film Don’t Look Up. I wonder if it confuses comets and asteroids. But never mind.

Kate (Jennifer Lawrence) and Randall (Leonardo DiCaprio) sound the alarm through proper channels, resulting in a meeting with President Orlean (Meryl Streep). Here the fun begins. Orlean is somewhat distracted by a media circus surrounding her, ahem, unconventional Supreme Court nominee. She’s a goofball president (her equally silly son Jason (Jonah Hill of course) is chief of staff). And they cavalierly blow off the comet thing.

Kate and Randall nevertheless actually still think something should be done regarding humanity’s imminent extinction. They land an appearance on one of those morning “news” happy-talk shows. Its vacuous bubbliness deliciously rendered. Though Kate’s spiel is not exactly happy talk — after much silliness by the hosts, she manages to blurt out, “We’re all gonna die!” This killjoy is quickly gotten rid of. While Randall inadvertently manages to make a more favorable impression. Becoming a celeb — an AILF (substituting “astronomer” for “mother”).

Anyhow, it comes out that President Orlean’s been sleeping with her court pick, sending him “cooch pictures.” To distract from that mess, she has NASA organize a space mission to nuke the comet. But moments after the dramatic launch, it reverses course. Because, they’ve just learned, the comet contains trillions worth of rare minerals.

This is revealed by Peter, a billionaire tech guru, with an arresting aw-shucks false-naif persona. Mark Rylance steals the movie portraying this strange character, you can’t take your eyes off him. So Peter introduces, instead of destroying the comet, an alternate (ultra-capitalist) scheme of harvesting its riches, enough to solve all human problems. Assuming any humans will remain alive.

This film is deemed a climate change allegory — you know, humanity’s fecklessness in the face of coming catastrophe. Much commentary finds it smugly overdone. While our climate response can certainly be faulted, it’s nothing like the film’s pervasive idiocy. But I think it really sends up America’s whole current civic landscape. Evoking the movie Idiocracy, which I’ve written about. That one’s target was mainly cultural; the comet film is more pointedly political.

Of course there’s comet denialism, calling it a big hoax, to take away our freedom, our guns, or some such nonsense. The politicization explodes when, as the comet nears and is now visible in the sky, “Just look up!” becomes a catch-phrase meme. Countered, naturally, by “Don’t look up!” The parallel to anti-mask and anti-vaccine lunacy is all too obvious.

President Orlean holds a very Trump-like Don’t-look-up rally. With blatantly asinine rhetoric making this another us-against-them issue. But suddenly noticing the comet unignorably looming above, the crowd turns on her, shouting “Liar!” (If only life could imitate art.)

My wife and I agreed in foreseeing no happy ending; the planet would not be saved. Peter’s dicey scheme inevitably fails. Moments before the apocalypse, a final broadcast on the Foxlike “Patriot News” network tries to change the subject to some celebrity gossip.

What are America’s Global Interests?

December 28, 2021

After their December 7 video call, President Biden said Putin got the message “loud and clear” that invading Ukraine (again) would incur a big price.

The actual message: the price would be tolerable.

Economic sanctions? Pah! Putin doesn’t give a turd about that. He’d care about a military bloody nose. But Biden made clear we won’t meet force with force.

Russia casts us as aggressors, pulling Ukraine from its ancient ties. Actually Russia was building a partnership with the West under Yeltsin, but Putin took it elsewhere; and bullied Ukraine into enmity instead of cultivating their historic affinity.

The seven decades after WWII saw a rules-based world order, with the most basic rule being no invasions. Major advanced nations no longer attacked each other. This was huge. Not only curbing war’s death and devastation, but promoting wealth-expanding world trade, driving global prosperity up and poverty down.

The architect and guarantor of this world order was America. Exemplified by treating Japan and Germany not as conquered domains, but building them up as our partners; the Marshall Plan to resuscitate Europe; and so much more. This was a new concept in world annals. And it reflected not just airy altruism, but self-interest, properly understood. Realizing we ourselves were primary beneficiaries, making a world better for us to live in.

Then it began to unravel. Perhaps starting when President Obama declared a red line regarding Syrian chemical weapons use, only to muff it. And in 2014 the system took a big hit when Russia got away with grabbing Crimea. Incurring economic sanctions that were, for Putin, mere annoyances.

Trump, ignorant of our true global interests, shredded them. Telling the world we could no longer be looked to, or trusted. Didn’t even understand what side we’re on. And whatever Biden does to patch things up, it’s clear there’s no longer a U.S. political consensus behind it, our global role now beholden to the whims of bloody-minded voters. Trump or his like could return. Congressional partisanship stymies our global engagement by blocking even many ambassadorial appointments. And Biden’s gestures are contradicted by the Afghanistan fiasco, making America look undependable.

The biggest looming test is Taiwan. Which China insists belongs to it. In fact, Taiwan is effectively an independent (and democratic) nation; and previously, except for 1945-49, was held by Japan, not China. Yet China asserts a right to seize Taiwan by force. And has been methodically assembling the means.

After Russia’s Crimea crime, it may be too late to get this genie back in the bottle. China’s raping Taiwan would be the death-blow for the post-WWII global order. Would America act to defend it? Militarily?

Our commitment to Taiwan was always left fuzzy — “strategic ambiguity” it’s been called. But Biden recently said we would indeed defend Taiwan. Yet China might not be deterred, skeptical that America today is up for such a battle. Taiwan means much more to China than (seemingly) to us. And it’s increasingly doubtful a Chinese invasion could be beaten.

In a recent gabfest, a friend (no dummy) said we’re tired of being the world’s hegemon — let some other country do it now. As if that might be one like Switzerland — not China! Other serious voices echo this. Words like “limits of power,” and “restraint” resonate. There’s a growing feeling that overseas engagement, like in Afghanistan, is doomed to futility. A creeping defeatist fatalism. One foreign policy maven on the PBS Newshour advocated resolving our “strategic ambiguity” regarding Taiwan by announcing we would not defend it. (An open invitation for China to invade.)

Few Americans seem to grasp the big picture of what’s at stake. The Economist has said that after the global order’s demise, “Americans themselves may be surprised to discover how much they benefited from it.” We won’t like living in a world built to China’s blueprint.

Supreme Court Follies #2: Guns

December 23, 2021

The Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision said no Black person can have any rights. That set a high bar for decisional badness. But today’s court seems determined to clear it, careening toward an unfettered right for anyone to tote guns anywhere, with no regulation or restrictions.

The Dred Scott case was soon countered by constitutional amendments abolishing slavery and giving its victims citizenship and equal protection of the law. But in today’s political dysfunction, no amendment on guns is possible. Even though an overwhelming majority of Americans favor limits on gun rights.

Constitutionally, the coming decision will be an extremist and idiotic application of the Second Amendment. It’s a fundamental principle that no rights are ever absolute, they’re always subject to some restriction to protect the public. The classic illustration is shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Nor does freedom of speech cover slander or libel, or divulging state secrets. Freedom of religion does not include human sacrifice. And so forth. Yet the Second Amendment is now to be held virtually absolute, allowing no restrictions on carrying guns.

No other civilized nation countenances such gun madness. America, with 4% of the world’s population, has 46% of its privately owned guns. And while gun nuts are often the same people hammering on “law and order,” they themselves make “law and order” a problem, with gun violence killing tens of thousands annually. It’s why most Americans, as noted, favor basic gun regulations.

Yet the Court is about to expand gun rights while curbing women’s reproductive rights — in both cases defying strong public opinion, in service to political agendas. Very destructive for the court’s legitimacy as a bulwark for rule of law and democracy.

Columnist Paul Waldman, in November, pointed out that while a small minority of Americans revel in gun culture, other communities cherish a culture too, one wherein freedom from the gun menace is important. And while the Supreme Court is sanctifying gun lovers’ rights, it’s trampling those of everyone else — saying to every American, “You live in Oklahoma now.”

And what is the psychology behind this gun obsession? A recent survey found pro-gun views correlate most strongly with belief in Satan. As if bullets could be effective against supernatural evil.

Note that this is not about sporting or hunting use of guns, which nobody has a problem with, and which are not affected by the kind of regulation at issue before the Court. Let’s be real. This is about shooting not at targets, animals, or Satanic demons, but at human beings.

That indeed is what captivates the imagination of the gun nuts. They fantasize blasting “bad guys,” manfully protecting themselves and their families, if not at the OK Corral. Never mind that the vast majority of persons actually shot by those guns are not criminals (let alone supernatural foes) but their own family members, their children, and often the gun owners themselves. Such realities are not allowed to intrude upon their gun fantasies, enwrapped in macho ideas of manhood.

Real men don’t need guns.

Another Waldman column ties all this to the Republican party’s growing bedazzlement with violence. With ideations of violently taking down enemies; wearing T-shirts depicting Trump shooting guns. Recall Congressman Gosar’s creepy video showing him killing Biden and AOC. And it’s not just fantasizing, but an all too real danger, as we saw on January 6. Which GOP politicians are increasingly unapologetic about.

For a lot of Republicans, guns have become integral to their personal sense of identity. Thus lionizing Kyle Rittenhouse for shooting three people. With a gun he was not even lawfully carrying. So much for “law and order.” Watch for Rittenhouse in a featured speaking slot at the 2024 GOP National Convention. His inexplicable exoneration can only encourage more vigilante violence.

All this — Republicans abetting their supporters’ “most savage impulses,” Waldman wrote, “is utterly repugnant and a threat to the very idea of a civilized democracy.”

The coming Supreme Court gun decision — frankly an insane decision — plays into this. Playing with fire. The country is cracking up. Future historians, chronicling America’s downfall, will wonder “what were they thinking?”

Supreme Court Follies #1: Abortion

December 19, 2021

I use the word “follies” not in the fun sense, but as the plural of “folly.” The Supreme Court is plunging headlong toward great follies, as if calculated to shred public respect. Part of a broad Republican assault on the integrity of the institutions undergirding our democratic society and rule of law.

There’s been much talk of somehow reforming the Court, like adding justices or term limits. But forget it. No such change can get through Congress.

Several justices last summer toured around insisting the Court is not actually (to quote Justice Barrett) “a bunch of partisan hacks.” Methinks they did protest too much.

The local NPR station head has long said they’re “bought and paid for.” I used to hate that cynicism. Sure, you dance with the one who brung you; but Supreme Court judges have lifetime tenure and, once installed, are free to do the right thing.

Even Bush v. Gore I did not see as partisan. That election was, in effect, a tie; the Court had to resolve it; and with any different decision, it would not have been Gore elected, but chaos, a constitutional crisis. The judges acted wisely.

But their ambit to do the right thing can also allow serving personal agendas. And that’s what most Republican appointees are now doing. Chief Justice Roberts’s efforts to restrain this and save the Court from itself are failing. So it will either overturn Roe v. Wade or else otherwise gut it.

The religious right will celebrate their great triumph, decades in the making. How did they achieve this, in the teeth of clear majority public opinion? Undemocratically of course. They illegitimately blocked President Obama from appointing one Supreme Court judge (Merrick Garland) and then rammed through a third Trump appointment in the last days of his doomed administration. Both by an undemocratically structured Senate, with small rural states overrepresented.

And that’s no accident. Do you know why there are two Dakotas? Because Republicans who then controlled Congress divided the sparsely populated Dakota territory into two states just to give them added Senators and electoral votes. That picture is basically repeated throughout the west. And the electoral college gave us three justices appointed by a president who lost the popular vote!

I mentioned public opinion. Most Americans favor allowing at least early-term abortions. Of course the Supreme Court should be guided by the Constitution and law, rather than being a political body swayed by public opinion. Nevertheless, if they do defy it, as here, the judges better have good reasons.

I actually think Roe was bad law and bad politics when decided in 1973. Its critics, arguing before the Court in the current Mississippi case, had a point saying abortion was better left to state legislation than judicial fiat. The latter sparked decades of divisive nastiness, whereas other advanced nations resolved the issue calmly through democratic processes. (Mostly allowing abortion only until 15 weeks or so.)

But in America the toothpaste can’t be put back in the tube. Fact is, for better or worse, for nearly half a century Roe has been part of the fabric of American life. To reverse it now will be incredibly disruptive — indeed redoubling Roe’s politically inflammatory divisive effect. And the societal repercussions will be large. Studies suggest abortion had much to do with falling crime rates over decades, by averting some problem-ridden childhoods that make for potential lawbreakers. Now there will be more unwanted children. And more poverty and other social dysfunction. All imposing greater burdens on taxpayers.

When a fetus becomes a human being, with rights, is a complex debatable issue (though it takes religion to arrive at the extreme answer that it’s the moment of conception). Nevertheless, whatever else might be said of Roe, women able to control their reproductive lives made America a freer, better, more humane country. Part of dismantling an oppressive patriarchal culture that denied women human equality. Now this will actually be the first time the Supreme Court has ever taken away a basic right it previously enshrined.

Of course this reeks of politics and justices masking personal agendas under a guise of legalism. Giving an early fetus not only rights, but rights trumping those of its mother, is not grounded in any traditional legal paradigms, nor science-based, but instead is, again, merely religion-based.

The stance is labeled “pro-life.” But for all the ostensible moralism, there’s no genuine concern for human life. Indeed, fetishizing the unborn is downright weird given the utter disregard for the lives of children once they’ve made the mistake of being born. In states Republicans control, public policies tend to be the worst for child welfare.

And these so-called “pro-life” Republicans are killing many thousands with their Covidiocy — loopy conspiracy theories, anti-science nonsense, and they even actually obstruct public health measures like vaccinations and masking. This is literally, clinically, insane. And shows that Republicans are certainly not “pro-life.” If anything, they’re a death cult.

Their Public Enemy #1 is Doctor Fauci! With Senator Rand Paul in particular on the warpath. If you think Rand is a hero and Fauci a villain, not the reverse, then you are an asshole. But such utter lack of basic human judgment pervades today’s Republican party. Matt Gaetz? Taylor-Greene? McCarthy? Cruz? Gosar? Stefanik? Anyone with sense could see what they are. What Trump is.

Ironically one of their anti-vax slogans is “My body, my choice!” Of course, they don’t apply that to abortion, refusing women any such choice. While pro-choicers refuse to recognize any human life value in fetuses before birth. Alas those two extremist positions shape the debate, while the middle ground, supported by most Americans, gets outshouted.

The Supreme Court is also perverting our legal landscape by refusing to slap down the Texas abortion law vesting its enforcement in vigilante bounty-hunters, a blatant scheme to evade judicial review that could metastasize all over.

And then there are guns. So-called “pro-life” Republicans promote too an insane gun culture that also kills tens of thousands of Americans annually. That’s the subject of another looming Supreme Court folly, which I’ll address soon.

And will the Court, in January 2025, deem perfectly lawful the Republican coup, setting aside popular votes in several states and giving their electoral votes to Trump, returning him to office?

We’re headed off a cliff.


December 11, 2021

As someone vaunting human reason, the 2006 comedy film Idiocracy haunts me. It starts with an upscale couple — intelligent, educated, thoughtful — agonizing about whether to have a child. Then we see a gaggle of lowlife dumbasses reproducing like rabbits. Repeat for a few generations and you get a dumbass nation. An idiocracy.

The president in this dystopian future is of course a crass buffoon (Black — go figure). Back then we could laugh. But politics is incidental in the film, more concerned with a dumbed-down cultural landscape. Epitomized by its most popular TV show — “Ow! My Balls!” Yucks galore. (As if people would still be watching network TV generations hence.)

The film’s premise of an intelligence collapse was silly. Studies show average human intelligence is actually increasing (the “Flynn Effect”). Yet what’s descending upon us is something darker and scarier than mere innocent dumbness. Imagine another movie:

Though 74 million vote to re-elect a crass buffoon president, he’s unsurprisingly defeated. But his deranged ego can’t accept it. So he makes up a lie that the election was a fraud. Laughed out of court; but instead of hooting him off the stage his cult followers storm the Capitol in support of his attempted coup. After which his hold on his party actually grows, their indignation over the imaginary “election steal” intensifying. And its unprincipled politicians use that as a pretext for every possible underhanded trick to steal the next election themselves and return to power.

Nah, that movie would be too implausible. This is America, not some banana republic (or “shit-hole” country.) Weren’t we made great again?

Meantime, polls show voter support for Biden and Democrats plunging. A lot of the reasons are bogus (“socialism,” “defund the police,” “critical race theory,” “open borders”). Biden is not blameworthy for inflation. And voters are also venting frustrations over the pandemic — perversely, since of course it’s Republicans hugely blameworthy, insanely battling against needed public health measures. Forgotten too is the rest of Trump’s litany of atrocities, even including the January 6 attack upon our democracy itself, and how Republicans have abetted it.

There’s been tons of analysis trying to explain voters. Many just act like bloody-minded nihilists. Maybe it’s idiocracy after all. So as of now, reprobate Republicans (helped too by their gerrymandering) look poised to retake the House of Representatives in 2022.

But if you suppose this would be just another routine swing of the political pendulum, you’re not paying attention. We saw what lengths Trump went to, last time, to overturn the election and keep power. He might have succeeded, if Democrats hadn’t (barely) controlled both House and Senate. Next time, a Republican-led House of Representatives can block certifying electoral votes. Throwing the election to the House itself, where they’ll crown Trump. They’ll have the votes; think they won’t have the balls?

We see country after country where such manipulations prevail. Often just simply fabricating vote counts. Even presidents with real public support skirting zero, like Maduro, Ortega, Assad, and Lukashenko, get “re-elected.”

This is the movie we’re in now. A tragedy, not a comedy. Much darker than Idiocracy, with its mere innocent dumbness.

We won the Cold War, defeating Communism, with democracy ascendant. But now it’s under vicious assault again, as Anne Applebaum writes in The Atlantic, from what has grown into a new alliance of anti-democratic regimes, supporting each other and perfecting the tools of repression. Trump actually aligned with them. If he returns to power, sinking democracy even in America, it’s game over.

I could live in an idiocracy. Not in a trumpocracy.

“Let’s Go Brandon!” and the State of American Political Discourse

December 3, 2021

In case you didn’t know:

“Let’s Go Brandon!” means “Fuck Joe Biden!” The latter phrase was chanted at some NASCAR event and the sportscaster mis-heard it as the former, referring to a race driver named Brandon Brown.

And so a new rallying cry has entered the American lexicon, alongside the likes of “No taxation without representation,” “Fifty-four Forty or Fight,” and “Remember the Maine.”

But notice a difference. Those other slogans each concerned an actual issue. “Let’s Go Brandon!” is, well, something else.

Nevertheless, it has been taken up by Republicans as their great cri de coeur. Flaunted on t-shirts, flags, and bumper strips, even on guns. On “Let’s Go Brandon!” they’re taking their stand. But this is actually something serious. Not merely the reduction of political discourse to a vulgarity.

Democrats do hate Trump for all the very real damage he’s done, though they don’t go around in t-shirts with coded profanity. Republicans may imagine they have corresponding reasons to hate Biden, but by and large those are a witch’s brew of bogus nonsense. Exemplified of course by the great “Stolen Election” lie.

Yet reasons don’t really come into it at all. What “Let’s Go Brandon!” shows is that politics has become — for Republicans at least — wholly tribal. They’re using it as a badge of tribal identity. And the real reason Biden is their bête noire is simply that he’s seen as the avatar of the enemy tribe.

It’s no small irony that for all the passion they invest in the slogan, it actually represents a timidity from openly saying what they really mean. If they’re in favor of a certain procedure being performed on President Biden, fine, it’s their free speech, but why not just say it? What a bunch of pathetic weenies.

Today’s Republican party has dishonesty at its very core. Epitomized by the undisguised disingenuousness of this slogan.

One wonders what Brandon Brown thinks of all this.