Dystopia Now

That which is a sin within a certain set of religious beliefs is to be made a crime for all.

– Margaret Atwood, “I invented Gilead. The Supreme Court is making it real.

This week’s featured post is “White replacement is MAGA’s unified field theory“.

This week everybody we tried not to talk about our one million dead

If you’d told anybody at the beginning of this pandemic that one million Americans would die in it, their almost certain reaction would have been that we should do whatever we can to avoid that outcome. But we didn’t.

It was the Trump administration, so of course the existence and seriousness of the disease turned into a political issue, and the country polarized into those who wanted to do what we could and those who wanted to ignore the whole thing and get on with life.

The one thing Trump did right was support vaccine development, and once he got into office Biden pushed every way he could to get the country vaccinated. But the political polarization got in the way, as well as the by-then well established networks of medical disinformation. So almost a year and a half after vaccines were approved, only 78% have received any vaccination at all, 66% are considered fully vaccinated, and a mere 31% have gotten a vaccine booster. (I got my second booster a week ago. I’ve been fortunate; none of the four shots have led to any adverse reaction beyond a little soreness at the site of the injection.)

Mask mandates are gone almost everywhere, and voluntary mask usage is way down. (I still wear one when I’m indoors in public.) It’s like we’ve all given up.

As the virus evolves, the vaccines no longer do that good a job of preventing infection, but they’re still very effective at preventing serious illness or death.

Right now, cases are surging: The 90K reported cases is almost certainly an undercount. I personally know people who tested positive at home, had only minor symptoms, and quarantined until they got better. Their cases never made it into the official statistics.

Deaths are harder to ignore, so the numbers are more accurate. They’re staying down; they’ve been in the 300s per day for more than three weeks. Hospitalizations are up, but only 21% in the last two weeks.

so instead we talked about the shooting in Buffalo

The featured post is about the Buffalo race massacre on Saturday, how it resembles past race massacres, and the White Replacement Theory that has motivated all of them.

The Buffalo shooting overshadowed another shooting: six people got shot in a church in California.

and Russia’s bad week

https://theweek.com/political-satire/1013456/russias-bees-nest

Putin’s original plan, I imagine, was for his stunning military success in Ukraine to set NATO on its heels. The old Warsaw Pact countries and once-Soviet Baltic republics would tremble with fear, doubting that the US or Germany had the resolve to stand by them in a crisis. Conquest of Ukraine might be the hammer-blow that shattered the European alliance.

Instead, Ukraine has exposed the weakness of the Russian military machine, NATO has banded more tightly together, and the NATO countries have provided the Ukrainians with billions in advanced weaponry.

And now Finland and Sweden, which had no plans to join NATO before Putin’s Ukraine invasion, are about to apply for membership. Finland’s president and prime minister announced their intention to apply Thursday, and Sweden is expected to apply sometime this week. Accepting new members requires unanimous approval from the existing members (which makes sense, considering that everyone will be obligated to defend the new members once they join), and Turkey is expressing doubts; but most speculation is that Erdogan is looking to get some concessions, not that he really wants to block the new members.


The first Russian offensive had to retreat from Kyiv, and now the second is pulling back from Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv.

Another military failure this week happened Tuesday, when Ukrainian artillery destroyed a pontoon bridge Russian forces were using to cross the Siverskyi Donets river in eastern Ukraine. Reports seem to show an entire battalion wiped out, including dozens of tanks and other vehicles. Retired Australian Major General Mick Ryan did a tweetstorm on military river crossings in general and this disastrous one in particular.


Saturday, as their colleague Rand Paul delayed President Biden’s Ukraine aid package, Republican senators visited Kyiv, producing this photo op for Moscow Mitch and his buddies.

Folks on Twitter competed to caption the photo. The hands-down winner is Amy Berg: “This is the closest Russian operatives have gotten to Zelensky since the invasion started.”


Berg’s caption is a little unfair, given the mostly bipartisan support Ukraine has received in Congress so far. But the Sharpie-writing is on the wall, and Ukraine’s fight for survival will soon become a partisan issue. Back in March, only three GOP congresspeople refused to stand up to Russian aggression.

Little by little, however, with each proposal, a few more Republicans would sign up: eight Republicans opposed suspending trade privileges for Russia in mid-March; 17 Republicans opposed a resolution supporting Moldova, whose leaders fear their Ukraine-bordering nation could be Putin’s next target; 19 opposed a similar resolution in support for Georgia.

Then, on April 27, 55 House Republicans opposed legislation to build secure telecommunications networks in Ukraine and neighboring nations. Finally, on Tuesday,, 57 Republicans opposed President Biden’s request for $40 billion in weapons and humanitarian aid

Friday, Trump came out against the $40 billion. Who knows? He may yet get to build Trump Tower Moscow.


The WaPo points out that we’re experiencing mission creep in Ukraine. Originally, we were aiding the Ukrainians in hope that Russia wouldn’t take over the whole country. Now our rhetoric has shifted towards a Ukrainian victory.

and reactions to the prospect of losing abortion rights

https://www.michiganradio.org/commentary/2022-05-06/auchters-art-a-ruined-talking-point

The Senate failed to pass a bill codifying abortion rights at the federal level. The bill got 49 votes, with Joe Manchin and all Republicans voting against it.

The featured post covers the link between abortion (especially Senator Daines’ weird comparison to sea turtles and eagles) and White Replacement Theory. Fear for the future of the white race justifies the push towards a Handmaid’s Tale dystopia. (A fertility crisis was the presenting problem in the novel, if you remember.) We need to take away women’s rights, the theory goes, because White women are not doing their job. Recall the advice once given to British women with unappealing husbands: “Close your eyes and think of England.


This 2019 Onion article isn’t a joke any more: “Abused 12-Year-Old Alabama Girl Doesn’t Think She Can Handle Being A Mom On Top Of Everything Else“.


The Republicans’ most effective talking point against the Democrats’ codify-Roe bill concerns third-trimester abortions, which anti-abortion activists describe as “partial birth” abortions.

These abortions poll badly, largely because the public has been sold a false picture of them. It’s important to understand two things about late-term abortions.

  • They’re rare. In 2019, the CDC tabulated 4882 US abortions after 21 weeks of gestation, out of 491,901 total abortions, or less than 1%. An study from 2018 estimated that only about 160 happened after 28 weeks.
  • Each one is a special case, often involving unforeseen medical problems that either threaten the health of the pregnant woman or presage some hellish future for the fetus after birth.

NPR recounts the example of Dana Weinstein, whose doctors told her that her fetus’ brain was not developing properly:

“[We were told] that our baby would have seizures 70% of the time — that was a best-case scenario; that when we delivered her, that we’d need to have a resuscitation order in place because she would most likely seize to death,” Weinstein said.

Almost a decade later, Weinstein and her husband are the parents of three active children — a boy and two girls. She’s 48, living in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and working for a nonprofit.

She still tears up when she talks about that diagnosis and the difficult decisions that surrounded it. Fearing a short and painful life for their baby, Weinstein and her husband chose to travel to Boulder, Colo., to end the pregnancy, at one of the few clinics in the country that offer third-trimester abortions.

Weinstein has been speaking publicly about her experience for years. But she decided to tell her story again recently, amid renewed national debate over decisions like hers.

“I just don’t understand why and how this is so front and center in the national debate,” Weinstein said. “I would have given anything to have been able to help our baby live if she could have lived. But she was going to be incapable of that.”

Under the bills anti-abortion activists want to pass on the state level, Weinstein would have been forced to give birth and watch her daughter die painfully.

When you look at such real examples rather than hypotheticals, their messy complexity points out why these decisions have to be made case-by-case, by the people who are actually involved, and not by legislators dealing in abstractions or bureaucrats crafting one-size-fits-all rules.

Pete Buttigieg expressed things well in a 2019 Fox News town hall.

So, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a woman in that situation. If it’s that late in your pregnancy, that means almost by definition you’ve been expecting to carry it to term.

We’re talking about women who have perhaps chosen the name, women who have purchased the crib, families that then get the most devastating medical news of their lifetime, something about the health or the life of the mother that forces them to make an impossible, unthinkable choice.

That decision is not going to be made any better, medically or morally, because the government is dictating how that decision should be made.


Clarence Thomas says the leak of Alito’s draft opinion “changes the institution fundamentally. You begin looking over your shoulder.” @PopeHat seems not to have forgotten Anita Hill:

Yeah, imagine being constantly afraid a coworker would do something inappropriate

and primaries

Fascinating race on the Democratic side in Pennsylvania, which votes tomorrow. Rep. Conor Lamb is a model of the kind of Democrat party leaders like to run in swing states: “a congenial, manicured candidate straight from Hollywood central casting who could appeal to voters turned off by Trump while still wary of the party that opposed the 45th president”. Ex-military, a former prosecutor with moderate positions on wedge issues, he won his seat in Congress in a swing district special election in early 2018, and then held the seat in the 2018 fall election and in 2020.

But the polls say he’s losing badly to Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who takes more liberal positions on issues, but also is more of a character. One voter says he “has the ‘it factor’. I find him lovable.” Six-foot nine, wandering around in a Carhartt hoody and gym shorts, Fetterman says what he believes in very blunt, simple terms, and isn’t afraid to campaign in rural areas where Democratic candidates are seldom seen.

According to the longstanding right/left view of American politics, Lamb should be the better general-election candidate because he’s closer to the center on issues. But Fetterman has the common touch. The two candidates’ messages to swing voters are very different: Lamb isn’t crazy (like the Republican candidates are) and doesn’t take positions at odds with White working-class values (as Fetterman sometimes does). But Fetterman wants those voters to say, “He doesn’t always agree with me, but he gets me.”

I’d like to think that approach works. (It’s more-or-less what Jon Tester does. His views look centrist to Democrats nationally, but he’s way left-of-center for Montana.) I guess we’ll see in November.


As if all that wasn’t interesting enough, Fetterman suffered a stroke Friday. His campaign claims he is on his way to a full recovery. In a video taken in the hospital, Fetterman speaks clearly, but lets his wife do the bulk of the talking. (They’re cute together. She takes credit for making him get his symptoms checked out. “Because I was right, as always.”)


The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that it wanted to make endorsements on the Republican side of tomorrow’s primary, but “we can’t” because so many Republican candidates aren’t “operating in the same reality” where the Inquirer lives. In particular, they had a hard time getting Republican candidates to admit that Joe Biden had won the 2020 election.

How do you find points of agreement when you can’t reach common ground on facts so basic that they could be used in a field sobriety test?

Case in point, on the national level: Third-ranking House Republican Elise Stefanik. (Remember? She replaced Liz Cheney as the token woman in the GOP leadership team when Cheney decided to be honest about January 6.) These days her whole Twitter feed is about the baby-formula shortage, and one tweet begins

The White House, House Dems, & usual pedo grifters are so out of touch with the American people

This is where the GOP has gotten: Members of leadership can associate the President and Democrats in general with pedophilia, without the slightest justification. Because, like, facts — who needs them?


BTW, about that baby formula shortage. One major cause is one of the Trump administration’s proudest achievements: the United States Canada Mexico Agreement. Remember? USCMA replaced that horrible NAFTA deal with an almost-identical deal that was great because it had Trump fairy dust sprinkled on it.

Jim Wright explains:

Three (or four, depending on your point of view) American companies control 90% of the global infant formula market, chief among them is Abbott Nutrition. When a Chinese company announced it was investing in a Canadian manufacturing facility to make powdered baby formula from excess Canadian skim milk powder (Canada makes a lot of butter, so they have a lot of leftover skim milk), Abbott and the US diary industry spent millions lobbying congress to change the trade rules — claiming increased Canadian production of formula would “negatively impact U.S. dairy trade and jobs.”

… And so, when the Trump Administration backed by a Republican congress wrote and implemented the USCMA to replace NAFTA, they imposed new regulations restricting commercial importation of baby formula from Canada

… So when Abbott contaminated its production line and was forced into a massive recall, well, for Americans, there just ISN’T any other place to get infant formula. And you can thank the dairy industry, and their lackies in Congress (and, yes, the [Trump] White House) for that.

Wright points out that you can import Canadian formula for personal use, but you might get into trouble if you resell it for a profit.

But whatever caused the shortage, Stefanik and Fox News have a piece of the solution: The US government should starve the immigrant babies in its custody.

The most charitable way to look at this argument is that the Republican politicians and Fox hosts making it don’t really want Biden to starve migrant babies to death – they are just cynically using the specter of fed migrant babies to anger desperate American parents for political gain and ratings.

and some other things you might be interested in …

On second thought, maybe Elon Musk won’t buy Twitter. Or maybe he will.

https://jensorensen.com/2022/05/04/what-does-the-billionaire-think/

This weekend it got hot in Texas. Who could have foreseen such a thing? Not the people who manage the state’s power grid. Friday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas put out a statement asking people to turn their thermostats up to 78 and avoid running major appliances.

Industry groups of all sorts frequently sponsor studies about the cost of government regulations. Well, this is the cost of not having government regulations. In the free market, it’s always tempting not to prepare for unlikely scenarios. If they don’t happen, your quarterly numbers look better and your stock goes up. And by the time luck runs out, maybe you’ll have sold your shares or moved on to your next job.


Think you’ve worked for your company too long? This guy just turned 100, and he’s still with the company he joined when he was 15.


Fox News is furious at new White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre because in 2020 she called the network racist.

That’s known as “telling it like it is”. Fox would rather she be “politically correct” and spare its viewers’ sensitive feelings.


Remember John Durham and his assignment to investigate the people who had the temerity to investigate Donald Trump for colluding with Russia? Well, he’s still on that job — his investigation has already lasted more than a year longer than Bob Mueller’s.

And today he’s finally bringing a case to trial: He charges that lawyer Michael Sussman lied to the FBI when he brought the FBI information about suspicious internet traffic between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, which is owned by Russia. Not that he lied about the traffic; no, he’s supposed to have lied by claiming he wasn’t giving them the data on behalf of a client.

If you really care, Marcy Wheeler analyzes what a thin reed this indictment rests on. And TPM’s Josh Kovensky summarizes its significance:

If Durham secures a win, it’s not clear what would come next.

As Harry Sandick, a former federal prosecutor, told me, the case that Durham made against Sussmann doesn’t quite match up with traditional up-the-chain prosecutions, in which lower-level defendants flip on higher-ups.

“It seems to me less like a logical first step in an up-the-chain prosecution, and more like an attempt by a prosecutor to justify a tremendous amount of time and expense in an investigation,” he said.

and let’s close with puppies

It’s been a hard week. We deserve some puppies. These 11 golden retrievers are just one of 210 puppy photos from Bored Panda.

White replacement is MAGA’s unified field theory

https://theconversation.com/we-cannot-deny-the-violence-of-white-supremacy-any-more-86139

Republicans used to unite around the interests of the rich. Now they unite around a conspiracy theory that has repeatedly inspired mass shootings.


This weekend, we learned all over again that ideas have consequences. When people believe terrible ideas, they do terrible things.

The idea this time is White Replacement Theory: A conspiracy of Jews and liberals is trying to “replace” Whites as the dominant race in America and Europe by bringing in as many non-white immigrants as possible, by encouraging Black people to breed quickly, by diluting the white race through interbreeding, and by depressing white birth rates. The ultimate goal is the extinction of the white race, an outcome also known as white genocide. [1]

If someone really believed such a theory, what might they do? We found out Saturday:

18-year-old Payton Gendron parked his car in front of the entrance to a Tops Supermarket in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. Exiting the car wearing metal armor and holding an assault rifle, he shot and killed a female employee in front of the store, and a man packing groceries into the trunk of his car. After entering the store, he murdered the store’s guard, and by the end of his killing spree, he had shot 13 people, killing 10 of them.

Eleven of the people he shot were Black, and two were white. As the manifesto he left behind makes clear, this was fully intentional. The first listed goal in his manifesto was to “kill as many blacks as possible”.

Gendron lives in rural New York state, but (according to the manifesto he posted online) drove three hours to find a zip code with a large black population. So he wasn’t seeking revenge against particular Black people that he blamed for his real or imagined problems. He was striking a blow for the white race.

Surely now people will see … Sunday, Pete Buttigieg tweeted:

It should not be hard, especially today, for every elected official and media personality in America—left, right, and center—to unequivocally condemn white nationalism, “replacement theory,” and all that comes with it.

That might seem like a small thing to ask. After all, the Buffalo shooting feels like the kind of horrifying crime that should scare everybody straight. Sure, a news-channel entertainer like Tucker Carlson might pimp WRT to juice his ratings, a politician like Donald Trump might motivate his base by hyperbolically describing immigration as an “invasion“, and countless ignorant folks on social media might pass on these ideas to justify the racism they’ve carried all their lives. But Payton Gendron has shown us that this isn’t a game. When crazy ideas are thrown around loosely, crazy people latch onto them and do terrible things. Surely everyone will realize that now, and everything will change.

That feeling should last for at least another day or two. Enjoy it.

Because we’ve been here before, and nothing changed. We were here when Dylann Roof, 21, killed nine Black Christians during a Bible study class at the Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston (a city he also picked because of the large number of Black people living there). And when Patrick Crusius, also 21, drove from his Dallas suburb to a WalMart in El Paso, where he tried to shoot as many Mexicans as possible; he ended up murdering 23 people of various races and nationalities and injuring 23 more. John Earnest,19, hoped to kill as many Jews as possible in Poway, California, but he wasn’t very good at it; he only murdered one and wounded three others before his gun jammed. Robert Bowers, in his 40s, also went after Jews, killing 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Those were all White Replacement Theory massacres. We know because the killers were only too happy to explain their actions. Posting a manifesto has become a standard part of a WRT massacre.

There have been WRT massacres in other countries as well. In New Zealand Brenton Tarrant attacked two mosques, killing 51 people. In Norway Anders Breivik’s murder spree was at the youth camp of Norway’s Labor Party; he killed 77 people in all, most of them White teens who were growing up liberal.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/15/us/replacement-theory-shooting-tucker-carlson.html

If conservative promoters of WRT were going to be scared straight, it would have happened by now. It might have happened after Charlottesville, when only Heather Heyer died, but the nation saw the spectacle of violent white supremacists marching down the streets chanting “Jews will not replace us.

Remember? Then-president Trump responded by telling us that there were very fine people on both sides.

Nudges and dog whistles. Elected Republicans and Fox News hosts never explicitly tell anyone to go kill Blacks or Hispanics or Jews. But they do regularly say things that, if taken seriously, would logically result in race massacres. Why, for example, did Patrick Crusius take military weaponry to the biggest city on the US/Mexican border? Because he believed his country was being “invaded” by Mexicans, just as President Trump was saying.

When an army of foreigners invades your country, what can a heroic young man do other than go to the border and kill them? That’s what Ukrainians are doing now, and we all praise them for it.

The nudges these young men get from high-profile Republicans rarely mention race explicitly, but the meaning is not hard to decode.

In just the past year, Republican luminaries like Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and Georgia congressman, and Elise Stefanik, the center-right New York congresswoman turned Trump acolyte (and third-ranking House Republican), have echoed replacement theory. Appearing on Fox, Mr. Gingrich declared that leftists were attempting to “drown” out “classic Americans.”

Would it surprise you to discover that some interpret “classic Americans” as “White people”?

Similarly, Tucker Carlson seldom talks about white and black in antagonistic terms. Instead, he looks into the camera and says “you” and “them”, leaving those terms open for his almost-entirely-white audience to interpret as they see fit. [2] But occasionally he almost comes right out with it.

He was more explicit in a video posted on Fox News’s YouTube account in September. Carlson said President Biden was encouraging immigration “to change the racial mix of the country, … to reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here, and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly arrived from the Third World.”

His Fox News colleague Laura Ingraham

told viewers in 2018 that Democrats “want to replace you, the American voters, with newly amnestied citizens and an ever-increasing number of chain migrants.” During a monologue on her program last year, she called immigration an “insurrection [that] seeks to overthrow everything we love about America by defaming it, silencing it, and even prosecuting it.

In her ads, Rep. Stefanik repeats the “insurrection” theme.

Radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION. Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.

She is no doubt aware that false conspiracy theories on the internet claim millions of illegal immigrants are already voting. By describing a path to citizenship (which doesn’t yet exist and would take years to walk) as an “INSURRECTION”, she justifies violence, like the violent attempt to keep President Trump in power after the voters rejected him in 2020.

Again, what would a heroic young White man logically do if he bought what Stefanik is selling? Someone is plotting an “insurrection” to “overthrow” his people. Is registering to vote or sending in $20 really an adequate response to that challenge?

The underground root system. Coincidentally, I was already planning to write something about WRT before Saturday, because this week it had shown up in an odd place: the Senate debate over codifying abortion rights through legislation. Republican Senator Steve Daines from Montana made a somewhat curious argument against that bill:

Why do we have laws in place that protect the eggs of a sea turtle or the eggs of eagles? Because when you destroy an egg, you’re killing a pre-born baby sea turtle or a pre-born baby eagle. Yet when it comes to a pre-born human baby rather than a sea turtle, that baby will be stripped of all protections in all 50 states under the Democrats’ bill we will be voting on tomorrow.

Most of the commenters on my social media feeds were mystified: What do sea turtles and eagles have to do with anything? Daines seemed to be talking in wild non sequiturs — unless you could fill in his unstated connection.

White replacement is the Rosetta Stone here: If laws protect sea turtle eggs and eagle eggs (I haven’t checked whether Daines was making that up), it’s because those species are endangered. You know what else is endangered? The white race, because White women are failing to reproduce at replacement rate. That is, in fact, why American women’s rights need to be taken away: because they’re not doing their primary job. They’re aborting their fetuses rather than producing the healthy White babies the race needs to avoid extinction.

Abortion isn’t the only issue with a hidden connection to WRT, as Gendron spelled out in his manifesto.

Gendron also argues that Jews are behind the movement for transgender inclusivity, supposedly sponsoring transgender summer camps for “Scandinavian style whites”.

Likewise, accepting same-sex relationships lowers the birth rate of Gingrich’s “classic Americans”. And then there’s the demoralizing effect of critical race theory.

The section ends by blaming Jews for creating “infighting” between people and races. The example Gendron’s manifesto provides is that “Jews are spreading ideas such as Critical Race Theory and white shame/guilt to brainwash Whites into hating themselves and their people”.

From the outside, the issues that motivate the MAGA wing of the GOP seem like an incoherent mess. But white replacement is an underground root system that connects them all.

What’s more, WRT explains the intensity of the MAGA movement, which otherwise is also a mystery. How can a bland figure like Joe Biden incite the kind of hatred and panic we’ve seen? Why would the prospect of a Biden administration be so scary that people styling themselves as “patriots” would invade the Capitol and threaten to hang the vice president rather than permit an orderly transfer of power?

And no matter how many revelations come out about the crimes of the Trump administration and the threat to democracy it posed, why are only a handful of Republicans ready to make a clean break with him?

Because the perceived alternative is racial extinction. Otherwise it makes no sense.

Historically, American political parties have gone into the wilderness for a period of time after a disastrous administration. That’s where the GOP should be post-Trump, but it is being held together by white anxiety about the demographic trends. WRT channels that anxiety into positions on issues and energy for campaigns. And that’s why Republicans can’t walk away from it, even though it regularly and predictably leads to race massacres.



[1] I refuse to go down the rabbit hole of arguing that this is false. I’ll leave that to Farhad Manjoo and Chris Hayes. I will point out one thing: No matter how lily-white you may appear to be today, chances are your people met exactly the same kind of suspicion and hostility when they came to America. My people, the Germans, started arriving in large numbers in the 1700s, and Ben Franklin worried that we were so different we would never assimilate into the Pennsylvania colony. Hence the origin of the Pennsylvania Dutch (i.e., “Deutsch”).

[2] More than a year ago, Charles Blow pointed out something Carlson skips over:

[R]evealingly, he is admitting that Republicans do not and will not appeal to new citizens who are immigrants.

There’s no racial essence that predestines groups of people to vote a certain way. Black voters, for example, were loyal Republicans until FDR started to win them over in the 1930s. In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower still got nearly 40% of the Black vote, compared to the 8% Trump got in 2016.

If Republicans would abandon race-baiting and try to win over immigrants of all races and ethnicities, they might succeed. Demography is not destiny.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Saturday we had yet another race massacre, this one in Buffalo. We don’t have to debate about the killer’s motives, because posting a manifesto about “white replacement” or “white genocide” has become a standard part of such killing sprees.

The mainstream media tends not to point out this trend, instead focusing on “troubled” young men with “mental health” issues. But it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the real issue is much simpler: The killers believe what Republicans are telling them.

I started putting this together after the El Paso shooting in 2019. I can’t say whether or not Robert Crusius was mentally ill when he targeted Hispanics at a WalMart, because his actions made perfect sense if you took seriously what Trump had been saying over and over: Mexicans are invading our country. If your country is being invaded, isn’t the most obvious response to take military gear to the border and kill the invaders? What’s mentally ill about that?

Same thing here. Payton Gendron has been told time and again that there’s a plot to take America away from the white race, and that this plot will eventually result in racial extinction. If he believes that, what’s the logical response?

High-profile people like Trump, Tucker Carlson, and Elise Stefanik may not explicitly tell people to go out and kill Blacks or Hispanics or Jews, but how does anything less deal with the problem they describe?

This would be a perfect time for Republicans to purge their ranks, to openly reject white replacement theory and the people who promote it. But they won’t, because WRT is the underground root system that connects all their issues. Without white replacement, the MAGA playbook is an incoherent mess.

Today’s featured post will flesh out that argument. I’m still working on it, so it’s hard to predict when it will appear.

That leaves a lot for the weekly summary to cover: America has had its one-millionth Covid death. Russia had a very bad week, both in Ukraine and diplomatically. Women (and the men who care about them) continued to react to the prospect of the Supreme Court taking their rights away. There’s an important primary in Pennsylvania tomorrow. John Durham’s endless political witch hunt is finally bringing someone to court this week. Texas got hot this weekend — who could have imagined? — and the electrical grid strained to cope.

The schedule is out the window today. Things will post when I get them done.

Deny and Disparage, Pervert and Betray

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

– U.S. Constitution, Ninth Amendment

To use a history of discrimination to deny people their constitutional rights is a perversion of logic and a betrayal of justice. … Women are indeed missing from the Constitution. That’s a problem to remedy, not a precedent to honor.

– Jill Lepore, “Of course the Constitution has nothing to say about abortion

This week’s featured posts are “What Alito Wrote” and “Who’s to blame for overturning Roe?

This week everybody was talking about overturning Roe v Wade

For Mother’s Day, my mom would like the activism of her youth not to be for nothing.

One featured post goes through what Justice Alito’s draft opinion says. Another lists the people to blame for this finally happening, assuming it does. Here I’m going to discuss the politics of the decision.

Republicans have been oddly silent about the approaching culmination of their decades-long effort to overturn Roe. At a rally in Pennsylvania Friday, Donald Trump talked for almost 90 minutes and mentioned abortion only in passing.

The reason they’re restraining their urge to crow is obvious: Yes, the GOP has accomplished something, but it’s not something the American people want. (How they managed that in a country widely regarded as a democracy is discussed in one of the featured posts.) For decades, people who favor at least some level of abortion rights have greatly outnumbered those who don’t, but anti-abortion voters have been more fervent. Many on the Right considered a politician who wanted to preserve Roe unacceptable, a baby-killer. But on the Left, abortion was somewhere in the middle of a laundry list of issues. Republican politicians talked endlessly about ending abortion, but for most swing voters life went on as before. The upshot was that, in spite of the polls, standing against abortion might win you more votes than it lost you.

https://news.gallup.com/poll/350804/americans-opposed-overturning-roe-wade.aspx

Now that it’s actually happening, though, things are getting real. Parents in about half the states have to wonder: “What happens if my daughter gets pregnant?” Will she have to drop out of college to raise her rapist’s baby? Will she marry that guy she never should have gone out with in the first place? Can she really go through nine months of pregnancy and then give the child away? What if there are major birth defects? What if the pregnancy endangers her life? What if she gets desperate enough to seek out an illegal abortion, and then something goes wrong?

Younger women are realizing that their lives are no longer their own. A failure of birth control can wreck all their plans for the future. Married couples can no longer decide not to have children (as my wife and I did), and be confident their decision will stick.

All along, abortion has been a deal-breaking issue for the religious Right. Now it’s becoming a deal-breaker across the board.


But polls on abortion vary wildly, depending on how you ask the question. Asking about preserving Roe, as Gallup has in the graph above, is basically a proxy for maintaining the status quo, whatever it is. People who don’t understand exactly what Roe means are really saying, “I can live with things the way they are.”

Other polls get different results, though, because most Americans’ views on abortion are complicated. Practically no one (including a lot of people who will tell you otherwise, I suspect) really believes that an IUD commits murder when it prevents a newly fertilized ovum from implanting in the uterus, or that a clump of cells sitting in an IVF clinic’s freezer is a “baby”. A similarly small number are comfortable with the idea of a healthy woman aborting a healthy fetus that is only a few days away from a normal birth. Most of us sympathize with a woman who wanted a baby but whose life will be in danger if she carries her fetus to term. We have less sympathy for one who just couldn’t be bothered to use birth control.

So the answers you’ll get depend largely on the examples people imagine when they hear your question. Most women who get an abortion don’t publicize it, so until now the Right has largely been free to paint whatever picture it wants, especially to captive audiences like Evangelical congregations. But as more and more women are forced to bear children against their will, or start dying from illegal abortions, the real situation will be harder to hide. “What ever happened to Jenny?” you ask, remembering the bright ten-year-old you taught in Sunday school. And then someone tells you.


Based on little more than intuition, I suspect a large majority of Americans could accept this general framework, which is not terribly different from the status quo:

  • The moral value of life in the womb increases with time. A newly fertilized ovum evokes little empathy, a ready-to-be-born fetus a great deal.
  • Before the abortion option is closed off, a woman deserves a fair chance to discover that she is pregnant, to consider her situation, and to discuss the matter with people she trusts.
  • Given the growing significance of the fetus, the woman has a responsibility to make a timely decision.
  • She should be allowed to reconsider if significant new information becomes available about her own health or her potential child’s quality of life.

My own preference would be to keep the government out of the decision entirely, but I could live with this kind of compromise.


NPR’s “7 persistent claims about abortion, fact-checked” is essential to having an intelligent discussion of this issue. The part I found most surprising was the graph of abortions per 1,000 women of child-bearing age: The number of abortions did rise sharply between 1973 and 1980, but has been declining ever since. Today, there are fewer per capita abortions than in 1973.

The reason, if you chase their link to data from the Guttmacher Institute, is fewer pregnancies, presumably leading to fewer unwanted pregnancies. This is consistent with the abortion-prevention strategy that has been so successful in the Netherlands: Don’t drive abortion underground by banning it, but make contraception readily available and teach everyone how to use it. (That is, of course, the polar opposite of what the Religious Right wants to do in America. I have to suspect that they don’t really care about fetuses; they just want to control women’s sexuality.)


One of the more bizarre takes on the end of Roe came from the NYT’s Ross Douthat:

Worth noting that in the 50 yrs since Roe, men have become less likely to find a spouse, less likely father kids or live with the kids they father, and less likely to participate in the workforce.

Equally worth noting is that in less than two decades after Roe was decided, America won the Cold War.

If Ross thinks he can beat me in a non-sequitur contest, he needs to think again.


Because they don’t want to accept responsibility for the consequences of what they’ve done, Republican politicians want the national discussion to be about whoever leaked the Alito’s draft. The leak certainly violates normal court procedure, and deserves to get somebody fired or even disbarred. But unless you work at the Court, the leak’s significance doesn’t compare with being forced by law to carry a fetus to term.

In the cartoon below, Nick Anderson pokes at the hypocrisy of cheering a leak when an enemy of America does it to favor a presidential candidate (and potentially put the next president in his debt), but being outraged by the much less serious leak of Alito’s draft. (I would also point to the “Climategate” leak, where illegal hacking was just fine when it provided fodder for climate-change denial.)

If you do care about the leak, which I mostly don’t, the most solid theory I’ve heard is that there were actually three leaks: a conservative leaking the result to the Wall Street Journal, a leak to Politico of which justices voted which way, and then a liberal leaking Alito’s draft opinion to Politico.

and primary elections

Tuesday got us into primary election season. In Ohio, J. D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, won a tight race for the Republican senate nomination with 32% of the vote. Vance’s win showed both the power and the limits of a Trump endorsement. 32% is not that impressive, but second-place Josh Mandel (24%) claimed to be even Trumpier than Vance. Matt Dolan, a non-Trump but not anti-Trump Republican, got only 23%.

Meanwhile, Democrats united around Tim Ryan (70%), who faces an uphill race in what is increasingly a red state.

and the pandemic

The numbers keep getting worse: new cases are up 50% in the last two weeks. Hospitalizations are up 21%. And the longest-lagging statistic — deaths — has turned upward as well, up 1%.

I would expect this wave to turn around first in the Northeast, because it started there earlier. But so far it hasn’t.

I also wonder how accurate these new-case numbers are, now that we have access to home tests. I think many people test positive, have mild symptoms, and just wait it out at home. Their cases never get into the statistics.

and Esper’s book

Trump’s final Defense Secretary Mark Esper has book coming out, titled A Sacred Oath. In it, he relates a number of anecdotes about President Trump that make him appear even more unfit for office than we already thought he was.

  • Trump proposed shooting missiles at drug labs in Mexico and denying we did it. “No one would know it was us,” Trump improbably suggested. Maybe it was one of those other missile-shooting countries.
  • In response to the George Floyd protests of police brutality that erupted in D.C., Trump wanted to put 10,000 troops on the streets. About the protesters, he asked: “Can’t you just shoot them?”

Esper also tells about bizarre suggestions from Trump advisor Stephen Miller, who wanted 250,000 troops sent to the southern border to meet refugee caravans, and proposed mutilating the corpse of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

What Esper doesn’t say is that he ever went to Vice President Pence and offered his support in invoking the 25th Amendment, which to me seems like the most rational response to his experiences. When NPR asked him why he didn’t resign, he said that he feared some “uber loyalist” would get his job and do the bad things he was stopping Trump from doing.

I am reminded of what James Comey wrote three years ago:

[Trump’s] outrageous conduct convinces you that you simply must stay, to preserve and protect the people and institutions and values you hold dear. Along with Republican members of Congress, you tell yourself you are too important for this nation to lose, especially now. …

Of course, to stay, you must be seen as on his team, so you make further compromises. You use his language, praise his leadership, tout his commitment to values.

And then you are lost. He has eaten your soul.

I have not read Esper’s book, but I suspect a better title would be How Trump Ate My Soul. It would probably also sell better.

and you also might be interested in …

The Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine continues, but we’re also hearing about Ukrainain counter-offensives. It’s hard to know who’s winning.

Many suspected that Putin would use the annual commemoration of the Russian victory over Nazi Germany to make some major announcement about the war, but he seems not to have.


Anonymous American “senior defense officials” have been taking some credit for Ukrainian successes. American intelligence helped sink the Moskva, and also has helped target Russian generals.

I share Josh Marshall’s trepidation about this:

What I take from these leaks is that there is a specific message the U.S. is trying to send the Russians. They have decided that these leaks are the best way to send that message. I’ve heard it suggested that the message is somehow connected to the May 9th Victory Day celebrations which many fear will be the pivot point for Putin declaring a national mobilization and expansion of the conflict. I have no idea whether that’s true. But this isn’t loose lips. It’s not bragging. It’s strategic and intentional. This is clearly a specific message being sent. I wish I knew what that was. Because on its face it seems like a very bad idea.


Student loan forgiveness is a topic that rings a lot of people’s bells, both positively and negatively. On the one hand, it’s crazy that getting an education costs students so much, and that we expect them to go into debt to cover it. The nation needs educated people, and the benefits go well beyond the students themselves. (When I go to my doctor, for example, I hope she got a good education.) Forgiving debt would be a way of acknowledging the mistake we’ve been making in the way we structure our educational system.

On the other hand, the issue seems almost tailor-made for the conservative politics of envy: Somebody who is already better off than you (because they went to college) is going to get a benefit you’re not getting.

The easiest target for envy is someone who is just slightly better off than you (or someone slightly worse off who might be gaining on you). Corporate welfare and trillion-dollar tax cuts for the ultra-rich seem abstract, but the idea that your cousin who went to college is going to get some debt forgiven, or that you could have gotten debt forgiven if you’d just waited longer to pay it off — it boils people’s blood.

Personally, I know that I got my education cheap, because I graduated from high school in the 1970s. Government contributed a lot more of a university’s budget in those days, so my parents were able to cover my state-university expenses without me taking on debt. In grad school, I got a fellowship from the NSF. So again, no debt.

Primarily, that’s not some virtue of mine, it’s the luck of when I was born. So I don’t begrudge student debt forgiveness now.

https://claytoonz.com/2022/04/30/trust-fund-fairies/

This farewell exchange between Fox News’ Peter Doocy and press-secretary-about-to-leave Jen Psaki reminds me of the old kind of politics, when competition didn’t imply personal animosity. Reporters didn’t used to be part of that political game, but the game was played like this.

and let’s close with something photogenic

Apple has an annual contest for macro photography. My favorite of the winners is this photo of strawberries dropped into a carbonated beverage.

Though I also like this close-up look at sea glass.

Who’s to blame for overturning Roe?

https://www.timesfreepress.com/cartoons/2022/may/07/overturned/5402/

There’s plenty of blame to go around.


The two featured posts today look at the leaked Alito opinion overturning Roe v Wade through two very different lenses. The other post goes through the text of the opinion and examines its claims and arguments. This one considers the question: How did we get here?

In particular, whose fault is it that women in about half the states are going to lose their right to bodily autonomy, and their ability to plan their lives?

Let’s start with those most directly responsible.

Justices Alito, Barrett, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Thomas. Or, as Stephen Colbert described them: “four old dudes and a woman who thinks The Handmaid’s Tale is a rom-com”.

Sometimes when we start assessing secondary blame, we lose sight of the primary blame. (Yeah, you shouldn’t have left your keys in the ignition, but the main reason your car got stolen was that some thief stole it.) Let’s not do that here: Roe is being overturned because five Supreme Court justices are putting their personal religious opinions above their duty to respect established precedents.

Now, as Justice Kavanaugh rationalized during the oral arguments, it’s not unheard of to reverse a precedent, and reversals have been some of the Court’s best decisions.

But a reversal is typically done after the Court has tried and failed to make the precedent work. That’s what happened, for example, when Brown v Board of Education (1954) reversed the “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v Ferguson (1893). In a series of cases from 1938 to 1950, the Court ordered students admitted to previously segregated white schools because the separate educational path provided for Black students was not really equal. In Brown, the Court drew a conclusion from that experience: Separate-but-equal schools were unworkable, because states with segregated schools would never provide a truly equal education to Black students.

But (in spite of what Alito claims, which I discussed in the other post) nothing about Roe and Casey has proven to be unworkable. The only major thing that has changed since Roe was decided in 1973 and upheld in 1992 is the composition of the Court. Alito, Barrett, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Thomas are overturning Roe because they want to.

What’s more, they were all deceptive about this in their confirmation hearings. It’s arguable that they did not “lie”, depending on how tightly you define that word. (Thomas, I would argue, clearly did lie, though his lie may not be provable. It is simply unbelievable that, even though he was in law school when Roe was decided, he never participated in a discussion about it.) When asked about their approach to the Roe precedent, all five gave lawyerly answers that, in retrospect, were designed to deceive. If they could be cross-examined somewhere about their statements (which they can’t be, short of an impeachment hearing), all would have to say something similar to Bill Clinton’s “It depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.”

And we already knew that Brett Kavanaugh lied repeatedly during his confirmation.

It is ironic, in my opinion, that these five deceivers are now trying to claim the moral high ground. They do not deserve it.

Donald Trump. It isn’t just that Trump appointed Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. It’s that he turned the Court over to the anti-abortion Federalist Society. Judges up and down the court system were selected by Leonard Leo, and rubber-stamped by Trump

Mitch McConnell. The reason Trump got to appoint three justices in four years is that McConnell played shenanigans in the Senate.

When Antonin Scalia died 11 months before the end of President Obama’s term, Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Court. This was in no way a radical choice: Garland was already the chief judge on the most powerful appeals court in the country; he had been confirmed for that job by 73 senators; he was widely regarded as a moderate; and at the age of 63, he would probably only hold the seat for about 20 years, rather than 30 or 40.

In short: Obama was bending over backwards to be reasonable.

McConnell knew he could not present a valid reason not to confirm Garland, so he simply refused to hold hearings or bring the nomination to a vote, which is the process the Constitution calls for. The reason he gave was that an election was coming up, and the American people should have a chance to weigh in on this decision. (They did: Hillary Clinton got millions more votes than Donald Trump, but Trump got to make the appointment, who turned out to be Neil Gorsuch.)

McConnell also pushed Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, and rubber-stamped the sham investigation of the sexual assault charge against him. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died two months before the 2020 election, McConnell completely reversed his 2016 rhetoric about giving the American people a voice, and rammed Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination through in record time to give Trump his third justice.

https://www.reformaustin.org/political-cartoons/mitch-mcconnell/

The anti-democratic structure of the Senate. If the Senate were a democratic institution, Mitch would never have been majority leader to begin with, because the GOP would not have achieved a Senate majority any time in the last 24 years.

Here’s how that works: Every state gets two senators, no matter how many people it has. So Wyoming gets one senator for every 140,000 registered voters, while California gets one for every 11 million registered voters. In other words, it takes about 70 California voters have as much influence on the Senate as one Wyoming voter.

Sounds fair, right?

But you might be thinking: “Sure, blue California is under-represented compared to red Wyoming, but red Texas is also under-represented compared to blue Vermont. So maybe it all washes out.”

It doesn’t wash out. If you run the numbers, the last time Republican senators got more votes (over a complete 6-year Senate election cycle) than Democratic senators was 1994-1998. But in the 24 years since 1998, Republicans have held a Senate majority for 12 years: half the time.

In 2016, for example, when Mitch McConnell was using his Republican “majority” to keep President Obama from appointing Merrick Garland, sitting Democratic senators had gotten 50.7% of the total six-year Senate vote, compared to the Republicans’ 44.1%.

In a democratic country, Mitch wouldn’t have been majority leader at all, and Merrick Garland would be on the Court instead of Neil Gorsuch.

Similarly, during the Trump and Bush years, a democratic Senate would have had a Democratic majority. Bush probably could have gotten Alito and Roberts through anyway, because in those rose-colored days senators were not as partisan about the Court. (Alito was approved 58-42, and Roberts 78-22.) But Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett would not have been confirmed.

Next, you might be wondering how we got such a skewed Senate. Historical accident, right?

No. Republicans in the late 1800s intentionally packed the Senate by admitting new states with tiny populations. As historian Heather Cox Richardson explained to Bill Moyers:

After 1888, when we get the installment of Benjamin Harrison in the White House, he loses the popular vote by about 100,000 votes. But he’s installed thanks to the Electoral College. The Republicans under Harrison between 1889 and 1890, they let in six new states in 12 months. That was the largest acquisition of new states in American history since the original 13 and it’s never been matched again. They let in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, and then Idaho and Wyoming to go ahead and make sure that they would continue to control the Senate, and the Electoral College. And they’re not hiding this. They actually go onto their media which is their equivalent of the Fox News channel at the time and say, by letting in these states, we’re going to hold onto the Senate for all time and we’re going to make sure we hold onto the White House for all time.

So if you’ve ever wondered why one Dakota wasn’t enough, that’s the reason: Republicans were packing the Senate. The Senate remains skewed in their favor to this day.

It’s almost impossible to unmake states, and hard to imagine passing a constitutional amendment to give larger states more senators, so the easiest way to change the Senate to better reflect the voting public would be to grant statehood to Puerto Rico and D.C., which presumably would elect four Democrats to the Senate. (If Democrats wanted to imitate Republicans, they could give statehood to East and West Puerto Rico, each of which could have a population roughly equal to the two Dakotas put together.) That won’t happen, McConnell says, because eliminating the Senate’s Republican bias would be “full-bore socialism“.

Also, admitting Puerto Rico and D.C. would let a lot of Hispanics and Blacks cast meaningful votes, so that’s a non-starter.

https://claytoonz.com/2022/05/03/goodbye-to-womens-rights/

The Electoral College. Like Benjamin Harrison, Donald Trump was never elected by the American people; he was installed by the Electoral College. In 2016, he got 46% of the vote, almost 3 million votes less than Hillary Clinton’s 48%. But his 46% produced 304 electoral votes to Clinton’s 227.

A less extreme miscarriage of democracy happened in 2000. That election has often been described as “close”, but it really wasn’t that close: Al Gore got half a million more votes than George W. Bush, so there was no doubt who the People chose. But after Florida was adjudicated in his favor (the vote in Florida really was close), Bush’s fewer votes turned into a 271-266 Electoral College win. (Sixteen of those electoral votes come from the aforementioned Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and the two Dakotas. If they were all one state, it would have 5 million people, or 9 electoral votes; Bush loses.) Bush went on to appoint Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts.

Minority-vote presidents aren’t an accident; that’s what the Electoral College was designed to do: make some Americans’ votes count more than others. So in 2016, a few thousand voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania overruled much larger majorities in states like California, New York, and Illinois. If you’re a Californian, your vote just doesn’t matter as much as a purple-state vote. Sucks to be you.

Why did the Founders curse us with this unjust system? In a word: slavery. Votes in slave states were supposed to count more than votes in free states.

In 1787, the slave states wanted federal power comparable to their full populations (including slaves), but for obvious reasons they didn’t want to give the vote to slaves (or women, or men who didn’t own enough property). In school, most of us learned about one result of this desire to wield power in the name of people whose rights you totally deny: the 3/5ths Compromise. In setting the number of representatives a slave state got in Congress, its slave population would be included, but at a 40% discount.

That settled the House. The Senate was already undemocratic, so no problem there. But that left the presidency: If presidents were elected by the People, states that let more people vote would have more influence on the outcome.

Can’t have that, so the Electoral College was born. Each state got one electoral vote for each senator or congressman. So no matter how few people a state let vote, its influence on the presidency was guaranteed.

As Shakespeare had Marc Antony say: “The evil that men do lives after them.” Slavery ended with the 13th Amendment in 1865, but the blatant injustice of the Electoral College lives on. Women can thank it for the loss of their bodily autonomy.

https://ifunny.co/picture/evangelical-christians-actual-aclump-of-children-cells-gedxH7mc8

Theocrats. There are people who honestly believe that an ovum acquires a complete human soul the instant it bonds with a sperm. That sounds nutty to me (and it’s completely non-Biblical, so don’t tell me it’s the “Christian” position). But your religion is your own; it doesn’t have to make sense to me.

Where I lose patience is the point where people decide that their theological speculations give them the right to interfere in other people’s lives. You can believe whatever you want about fetuses and souls and abortion. But if you’re not the pregnant woman, what happens to the pregnancy is not your decision. And if no pregnant woman is asking for your advice, your opinion doesn’t matter.

The gullibility of purportedly pro-choice senators. Susan Collins isn’t the only one, but she is definitely on the poster.

My favorite Susan Collins joke describes how she gets lunch in the Senate cafeteria: She studies the menu for half an hour, and then orders the same thing as Mitch McConnell.

That’s pretty literally what happened during the Kavanaugh confirmation. Collins was one of the last senators to commit to Kavanaugh, who was confirmed 50-48. (Collins and Democrat Joe Manchin were the deciding votes.) For weeks, her agonizing decision process had us all speculating about what she would do. In the end, though, after all that dithering, she voted with Mitch McConnell, just as she had on the deficit-busting billionaire-boosting Trump tax cut, and as she did on Trump’s first impeachment. (She said Trump had learned “a pretty big lesson” from being impeached, and predicted that “he will be much more cautious in the future”. She voted to convict on his second impeachment, and says she’s “very unlikely” to support him in the 2024 Republican primaries. But in the general election? She leaves it open. Maybe failing to overthrow democracy on 1-6 taught him something.)

During her speech advocating Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Collins recounted her conversations with the nominee.

Our discussion then turned to the right of privacy, on which the Supreme Court relied in Griswold v. Connecticut, a case that struck down a law banning the use and sale of contraceptives. Griswold established the legal foundation that led to Roe eight years later. In describing Griswold as “settled law,” Judge Kavanaugh observed that it was the correct application of two famous cases from the 1920s, Meyer and Pierce, that are not seriously challenged by anyone today. Finally, in his testimony, he noted repeatedly that Roe had been upheld by Planned Parenthood v. Casey, describing it as “precedent on precedent.” When I asked him would it be sufficient to overturn a long-established precedent if five current justices believed it was wrongly decided, he emphatically said “no.”

Kavanaugh had obviously lied numerous times during is confirmation hearings, but Collins took his affirmations of Roe’s status at face value. Now she describes Kavanaugh’s apparent vote to overturn Roe as “completely inconsistent” with what he told her, but she accepts no responsibility for being such a stooge.

https://www.reddit.com/r/PoliticalHumor/comments/68x91p/but_her_emails/

Pro-choice voters who refused to vote for Hillary Clinton. Who could have foreseen that electing Donald Trump might risk ending abortion rights? Well, everyone, actually. This is from an AP article written in May, 2016:

Scalia’s death was a shock, but the next few years are almost certain to produce more vacancies. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83, Justice Anthony Kennedy turns 80 in July and Justice Stephen Breyer will be 78 before the end of the summer. A Trump nominee in any of those seats would cement conservative domination of the court for years, if not decades. By contrast, a victory by the Democrats in November probably would lead to the most liberal Supreme Court in a half-century. …

Advocates on both sides of the abortion debate were quick to react in ways that pointed to the importance of the presidential election. “Donald Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees are a woman’s worst nightmare. Their records reveal a lineup of individuals who would likely overturn Roe v. Wade if given the chance, gutting what’s left of abortion access in this country and heaping punishment on women,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. On the other side of the issue, Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said Trump’s list was especially strong and stood in contrast to judges Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton would choose. “There is no question Clinton would only nominate judges who stand in lock-step with the abortion lobby and would strike down even the most modest abortion limits,” Dannenfelser said.

But here’s what Bernie-supporter H. A. Goodman was writing in November, 2015 in a Salon article “Hillary Clinton is on wrong side of everything: Stop telling me I have to vote for her because of the Supreme Court“:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is fine and the New York Times writes that she has “no interest in retiring.” Justice Scalia isn’t stepping down from the U.S. Supreme Court soon and will only contemplate retirement when he “can’t do the job well.” Anthony Kennedy is in “no rush” to leave the Supreme Court. Justice Breyer has no plans to step down but will “eventually” retire one day.

The paranoid legions, frightful of voting their conscience and actually upholding our democracy, can rest assured that all four Supreme Court justices mentioned are still capable of lasting four more years.

It turned out that Scalia didn’t last six months. But even after his death reminded everyone that you never know, here’s an article advocating that gay progressives vote for Jill Stein, because even if those votes did happen to cost Hillary the election, “Trump would be an acceptable setback for the ultimate greater good.”

Many are quick to point out that this election is actually about who gets to nominate Supreme Court judges and I agree that it is better to elect a candidate who would nominate liberals to these positions.

But anyone who knows politics knows that all of the potentially vacant seats are currently occupied by conservatives, so in the worst case scenario, after Obama nominates, liberals will still have a 5-4 advantage.

That worked out great, didn’t it? Obama would choose Scalia’s replacement, Ginsburg would live forever, and Kennedy was already a “conservative”, so nobody needed to worry about a Federalist Society extremist replacing him. Supreme Court? Not a problem.

Every pro-choice American who has treated abortion as a secondary issue. For nearly fifty years, pro-choice politicians have hidden behind the Supreme Court, and pro-choice voters have let them do it.

Now that Roe is being overturned, Democrats are beginning to work on protecting abortion rights through federal legislation. But given their narrow majority in the Senate and a few Democratic senators’ unwillingness to end the filibuster, they will be unable to pass that legislation.

But Democrats have had Senate majorities about half the time in recent decades, and for about six months during the Obama administration, they had a filibuster-proof majority. Roe could have been codified then. Or the filibuster could have been eliminated long ago, when the party had a few votes to spare, and then Roe could have been codified.

Even if they could not pass legislation, they could have made Republicans vote it down again and again. They could have challenged those legislators to explain that vote to their constituents.

But it was easier to rely on the Court. As a result, after the Supreme Court’s protection of abortion rights ends, there is no second line of defense. Abortion rights are already gone in Texas, and will vanish in many other states in June.

It didn’t have to be this way.

What Alito wrote

https://www.ajc.com/opinion/mike-luckovich-blog/54-mike-luckovich-going-going-gone/PW5FT437ZJENHNII5YQRL2STFM/

A summary of his arguments, and how they might be used to take away other constitutional rights.


A week ago, Politico released a leaked draft of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion overturning Roe v Wade. Politico claimed this was to be the majority opinion, representing not just Alito, but supported by Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett as well. The draft dates from February, and we do not know what revisions may have been made since. The decision on the case (Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health) is expected to be released before the Court’s current term ends in June.

The case concerns a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks, in violation of the existing Supreme Court precedents. The Court has three basic options:

  • Respect the Roe and Casey precedents by invalidating the Mississippi law.
  • Create a loophole that allows the law to take effect, and chips away at abortion rights in general, but does not overturn Roe in its entirety.
  • Overturn Roe, allowing states to regulate or ban abortions as they see fit.

This is how I summarized the situation in March:

So it’s clear which approach Roberts will favor: Don’t make headlines by reversing Roe, but chew away at it by creating a loophole for Mississippi, maybe by changing the definition of “viability”. The language of such a decision could subtly invite states to push the boundary further, until a woman’s right to control her own pregnancy would have little practical meaning. Roe would continue to stand, but like a bombed-out building without walls or a roof, would protect no one.

That probably won’t happen, though, for a simple reason: When Barrett replaced Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Roberts lost control of the Court. He is no longer the swing vote, so he loses 5-4 decisions when he sides with the Court’s three surviving liberals.

And I warned that reversing Roe would not be the final chapter of this saga.

Roe doesn’t stand alone. It is part of a web of substantive due process decisions on a variety of issues. Reversing Roe will send ripples through the whole web, putting all those rights up for grabs.

So here we are. Unless something inside the Court has drastically changed since February, the constitutional right to abortion, which has existed for 49 years, will vanish sometime in June, and a number of other rights will be in doubt, including the right to use birth control, for consenting adults to choose their own sexual practices, and for two people of any race or gender to marry.

What does Alito’s ruling do? Alito has written an unambiguous reversal of Roe.

We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision. … Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences.

Unenumerated rights. No one claims that the word “abortion” appears in the Constitution. But there are several places where a judge might find implicit protection for rights not specifically listed:

  • The Ninth Amendment, which says “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This recognizes the existence of rights beyond those the Constitution mentions, but provides little basis for identifying them.
  • The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees “any person” within the jurisdiction of the states “the equal protection of the laws”. Judges at many levels have, for example, rooted same-sex marriage here — same-sex couples are guaranteed the equal protection of the marriage laws — but Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell gave equal protection a secondary role.
  • The Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, which says that no one can be deprived of “liberty” without due process of law. Abortion and the related privacy rights have been rooted here, in a doctrine called “substantive due process”, which I described in March.

Another place to look for an unenumerated right is in Supreme Court precedents themselves. Under the doctrine of stare decisis, the Court will usually stand by a previous decision, even if the current justices believe the case was wrongly decided. For example, corporate personhood arises from a bad decision the Court made in 1886. It continues to be upheld despite the fact that the word “corporation” does not appear in the Constitution.

His arguments. Alito dismisses the equal-protection option like this:

[I]t is squarely foreclosed by our precedents, which establish that a State’s regulation of abortion is not a sex-based classification and is thus not subject to the “heightened scrutiny” that applies to such classifications. The regulation of a medical procedure that only one sex can undergo does not trigger heightened constitutional scrutiny unless the regulation is a “mere pretext designed to effect an invidious discrimination against one sex or the other.”

Due-process rights not otherwise mentioned in the Constitution, Alito writes, have to pass what is called the Glucksberg Test:

[T]he Court has long asked whether the right is “deeply rooted in [our] history and tradition” and whether it is essential to our Nation’s “scheme of ordered Liberty.”

He concludes that the right to abortion does not pass this test.

Until the latter part of the 20th century, there was no support in American law for a constitutional right to obtain an abortion. Zero. None. No state constitutional provision had recognized such a right. Until a few years before Roe was handed down, no federal or state court had recognized such a right. Nor had any scholarly treatise of which we are aware. …

Not only was there no support for such a constitutional right until shortly before Roe, but abortion had long been a crime in every single State.

Much of the opinion’s 98 pages consists of a long history lesson about state laws and common law cases.

Alito also addresses the possibility that a right to abortion is part of a broader right to privacy, which does pass Glucksberg.

Casey described it as the freedom to make “intimate and personal choices” that are “central to personal dignity and autonomy”. Casey elaborated: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

Alito also dismisses this justification in what is by far the weakest part of his argument, consisting mostly (in my opinion) of question-begging and because-I-said-so.

Our nation’s historical understanding of ordered liberty does not prevent the people’s elected representatives from deciding how abortion should be regulated. … This attempts to justify abortion through appeals to a broader right to autonomy and to define one’s “concept of existence” prove too much. Those criteria, at a high level of generality, could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.

What sharply distinguishes the abortion right from the rights recognized in the cases on which Roe and Casey rely is something that both those decisions acknowledged: Abortion destroys what those decisions call “potential life” and what the law at issue in this case regards as the life of an “unborn human being.” None of the other decisions cited by Roe and Casey involved the critical moral question posed by abortion. They are therefore inapposite. They do not support the right to obtain an abortion

And finally he dismisses stare decisis.

In this case, five factors weigh strongly in favor of overruling Roe and Casey: the nature of their error, the quality of their reasoning, the “workability” of the rules they imposed on the country, their disruptive effect on other areas of the law, and the absence of concrete reliance.

I found this part bizarre. Alito’s first two factors just reiterate that he disagrees with the original decision, which is a precondition for stare decisis being relevant at all. (If you agree with a precedent, you don’t need a doctrine to tell you to follow it.) His examples of the “unworkability” and “disruptive effect” of the Roe framework (as adjusted by Casey) are mostly examples of state legislatures persistently attempting to find loopholes that allow them to harass women seeking abortions, and engaging in bad-faith efforts to sneak harassment in as health regulations, building codes, and other Trojan horses.

Would Alito find gun-right decisions (like Heller) “unworkable” if blue states persistently harassed gun owners and forced courts to keep striking down bad-faith laws by the dozens year after year? I doubt it.

And as for “reliance”, I look at my own reliance on Roe (which I explained ten years ago): My wife and I planned our life together around the assumption that we would not have children. We took precautions to prevent pregnancy, but ultimately we could not have fully trusted our plans if abortion had not been an option.

This is not something special about us. Around the nation, women are planning their lives and careers based on the belief that they will not have to carry a fetus, give birth, or raise a child until they decide to do so. In a very real sense, women are not equal to men in a world without abortion.

More critically, since any form of birth control can fail, women whose lives will be in danger if they get pregnant will have to give up sex if abortion is not available.

So Alito’s assertion that there are no “reliance interests” in Roe is just absurd. He doesn’t rely on Roe, so he thinks no one does.

The problem with “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition”. You know what definitely is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition”? Sexism, racism, and bigotry of all sorts. If “liberty” is going to be defined by what that word meant when the 14th Amendment passed in 1868, then only straight White Christian men will ever have unenumerated rights protected by substantive due process. Justice Kennedy acknowledged as much in his Obergefell opinion:

If rights were defined by who exercised them in the past, then received practices could serve as their own continued justification and new groups could not invoke rights once denied.

Jill Lepore went further in The New Yorker:

There is nothing in [the Constitution] about women at all. Most consequentially, there is nothing in that document—or in the circumstances under which it was written—that suggests its authors imagined women as part of the political community embraced by the phrase “We the People.” There were no women among the delegates to the Constitutional Convention. There were no women among the hundreds of people who participated in ratifying conventions in the states. There were no women judges. There were no women legislators. At the time, women could neither hold office nor run for office, and, except in New Jersey, and then only fleetingly, women could not vote. Legally, most women did not exist as persons.

… Women are indeed missing from the Constitution. That’s a problem to remedy, not a precedent to honor.

Think about the common-law authorities Alito cites, and some of their other opinions. In addition to opinions about abortion, for example, Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England also includes this assessment of a wife’s personhood:

By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing; and is therefore called in our law-french a feme-covert; is said to be covert-baron, or under the protection and influence of her husband, her baron, or lord; and her condition during her marriage is called her coverture.

And Thomas Hale, who, in addition to sentencing two women to death for witchcraft, also had a lasting impact on the law unrelated to abortion, which became known Hale’s Principle:

but the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract.

Lepore notes the opinions that Alito does not cite:

Alito cites a number of eighteenth-century texts; he does not cite anything written by a woman, and not because there’s nothing available. “The laws respecting woman,” Mary Wollstonecraft wrote in “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” in 1791, “make an absurd unit of a man and his wife, and then, by the easy transition of only considering him as responsible, she is reduced to a mere cypher.” She is but a part of him. She herself does not exist but is instead, as Wollstonecraft wrote, a “non-entity.”

So Alito’s litany that prior to the 20th century abortion rights can be found in

no state constitutional provision, no statute, no judicial decision, no learned treatise

is much less impressive when you realize that no woman had any input into these documents. I find it hard to argue with Lepore’s conclusion:

To use a history of discrimination to deny people their constitutional rights is a perversion of logic and a betrayal of justice.

How should we justify unenumerated rights? History is a fine tool to use when judging what unenumerated rights the Constitution implicitly guarantees to individuals and groups who were enfranchised and empowered at the time (such as straight White Christian men). But in order to keep those rights from further enlarging the unfair advantages those individuals and groups already have, we need to combine those historical findings with a generous respect for the equal protection of the laws.

Justice Kennedy recognized just such a conjunction of prinicples in Obergefell:

The Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause are connected in a profound way, though they set forth independent principles. Rights implicit in liberty and rights secured by equal protection may rest on different precepts and are not always co-extensive, yet in some instances each may be instructive as to the meaning and reach of the other. In any particular case one Clause may be thought to capture the essence of the right in a more accurate and comprehensive way, even as the two Clauses may converge in the identification and definition of the right.

For example: Do men have a traditional right to bodily autonomy, even when someone else’s life is at stake? Of course they do. American law has never forced a man to, say, donate a kidney to someone who will die without it. That would be absurd. But if a woman can be forced to risk her own lives to save the life of a fetus, does she enjoy the equal protection of the laws? I don’t think so.

Many of the same men who would force a woman to give up months of her life or even risk death for a fetus also believe that the Constitution protects them against the comparatively trivial inconvenience of a vaccine shot that might save not just their own lives, but the lives of the fellow citizens that they might otherwise infect. This is not equality under the law.

And about that history … A number of authors suggest that Alito’s reading of the history of abortion is biased. One of the more amusing examples of the historical acceptance of abortion in America is Ben Franklin’s abortion recipe, which he published in 1748 as part of a textbook.

And a brief prepared for this case by the American Historical Association contradicts Alito:

The common law did not regulate abortion in early pregnancy. Indeed, the common law did not even recognize abortion as occurring at that stage. That is because the common law did not legally acknowledge a fetus as existing separately from a pregnant woman until the woman felt fetal movement, called “quickening,” which could occur as late as the 25th week of pregnancy. This was a subjective standard decided by the pregnant woman alone and was not considered accurately ascertainable by other means.

Are other rights at risk? Alito explicitly denies that his reasoning leads to the end of other rights associated with substantive due process:

As even the Casey plurality recognized, “abortion is a unique act” because it terminates “life or potential life”. … And to ensure that our decision is not misunderstood or mischaracterized, we emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.

While it is true that lower courts cannot directly quote Alito’s ruling to support eliminating other privacy rights, anti-abortion extremists also describe the pill, Plan B, and IUDs — and basically all birth control other than barrier methods — as “abortificants”. If states can ban abortion, they can ban these as well.

A bill currently advancing through the Louisiana legislature would define personhood as beginning “at fertilization”, which would make the use of an IUD attempted murder. This law would probably pass muster with Alito, who says that abortion laws going forward need only pass a rational basis test, the loosest possible legal standard.

And nothing stops these same five justices from walking the same path for a different issue on a different case. Consider what Alito writes about a right to abortion:

Not only are respondents and their amici unable to show that a constitutional right to abortion was established when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, but they have found no support for the existence of an abortion right that predates the latter part of the 20th century — no state constitutional provision, no statute, no judicial decision, no learned treatise.

This statement is equally true if you replace “abortion” with “same-sex marriage” or “interracial marriage” or “sodomy”. Why would the radical conservative justices not make that substitution in some future case?

Vox’ Ian Millhiser points out that Alito has already made a similar argument against same-sex marriage.

Though Alito’s Dobbs opinion largely focuses on why he believes that the right to abortion fails the Glucksberg test, there is no doubt that he also believes that other important rights, such as same-sex couples’ right to marry, also fail Glucksberg and are thus unprotected by the Constitution. Alito said as much in his Obergefell dissent, which said that “it is beyond dispute that the right to same-sex marriage is not among those rights” that are sufficiently rooted in American history and tradition.

Every issue, when you come down to it, is “unique” in some way. If criminalization in 1868 shows that a right does not exist, then clearly the right of consenting adults to choose their own sexual practices, for example, is not “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” or “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty”. Neither is the right to marry the person of your choice.

This is where it matters that Alito and his fellow conservative justices made so many misleading and deceptive statements during their confirmation hearings. Could Alito’s statement that he does not “cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion” be one more deceptive reassurance that will only last until the five radical justices find a more convenient opportunity to take away other rights that contradict their conservative interpretations of Christianity?

Harvard Law Professor Mary Ziegler thinks it probably is:

The Court can draw whatever distinctions it likes and dodge the cases it doesn’t. But the draft of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization stresses that states were criminalizing abortion. True enough. But in the late 19th century, Congress passed the Comstock Amendment, which criminalized contraception. States criminalized same-sex intimacy.

The draft suggests that abortion is different because of the state’s impact on fetal life. This language — and the draft’s historically questionable narrative about the doctors who originally pushed to ban abortion — will encourage antiabortion leaders to ask the conservative justices to declare that a fetus is a rights-holding person under the Fourteenth Amendment — and that abortion is unconstitutional in blue as well as red states.

If this is where a final opinion ends up, the Court has painted itself into a corner — and maybe by design. Whether abortion is different or not, the Court will not likely send this back to the states for good. It will simply invite conservatives back for the next round.

In short, anyone who trusts Alito’s statement, and so believes that birth control (Griswold), same sex marriage (Obergefell), interracial marriage (Loving), and homosexuality (Lawrence) are secure, is a fool.

We know who Samuel Alito is, and he is not trustworthy.

The Monday Morning Teaser

This week’s Sift is going to center on the Supreme Court and abortion.

If you haven’t been on Mars or under a rock, you know that a draft of a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade and eliminating constitutional protection for abortion rights came out Monday night. This is a big deal, both in itself and in what it presages about future decisions. We can expect red states to pass not only laws banning abortion (which are already on the books in many of them), but also challenges to birth control, same-sex marriage, and other previously accepted constitutional rights. This decision may not immediately validate such laws, but the logic it uses could be repurposed to overturn other Supreme Court precedents.

I’ve written two featured posts that consider this issue from different angles. The first, which should be out shortly, is a legal analysis of what Justice Alito’s draft says, assuming that it becomes the opinion of the Court next month. The second asks how we got here, and more specifically “Who’s to blame for overturning Roe?” That should appear around 10 EDT.

Even that doesn’t finish covering the issue, though, so the weekly summary will take up the political implications going forward.

Also in the summary: Today is Victory Day in Russia, and yet the new offensive in Ukraine continues to go badly. Trump Defense Secretary Mark Esper has a book giving new reasons to believe Trump is/was unfit to be president, and that we dodged a bullet by getting him out of office without even greater damage to the Republic. The pandemic continues to heat up again. The debate about what to do about student loans continues. And a few other things are going on.

I’ll try to get that out by noon.

WWRJD?

Ask yourself this question: If Russian journalists, who are losing their livelihoods and their freedom for daring to report on what their own government is doing, if they had the freedom to write any words, to show any stories, or to ask any questions, if they had, basically, what you have, would they be using it in the same way that you do? Ask yourself that question every day, because you have one of the most important roles in the world.

Trevor Noah, at the White House Correspondents Dinner

This week’s featured post is MAGA 2.0.

During my week off, I spoke at the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois (my hometown). I converted the Sift post “How did Christianity become so toxic?” into a sermon “Where Christianity Went Wrong”. The text is here and the audio there.

This week everybody was still talking about Musk and Twitter

https://www.ajc.com/opinion/mike-luckovich-blog/427-mike-luckovich-soon-to-hatch/Z54QNZBSNBCVFDEMUYX2SVAAME/

So far it looks like Musk’s takeover is really happening, though it still could fall through.

Like Adam Serwer, I am skeptical of Musk’s “free speech” rhetoric.

The fight over Twitter’s future is not really about free speech, but the political agenda the platform may end up serving. As Americans are more and more reliant on a shrinking number of wealthy individuals and companies for services, conservatives believe having a sympathetic billionaire acquire Twitter means one less large or influential corporation the Republican Party needs to strongarm into serving its purposes. Whatever Musk ends up doing, this possibility is what the right is actually celebrating. “Free speech” is a disingenuous attempt to frame what is ultimately a political conflict over Twitter’s usage as a neutral question about civil liberties, but the outcome conservatives are hoping for is one in which conservative speech on the platform is favored and liberal speech disfavored. …

The fact that conservative concerns about Big Tech vanish the second a sympathetic billionaire buys a social-media platform, however, illustrates the shallowness of their complaints about the power of Silicon Valley. Conservatives are not registering their concern over the consolidation of corporate power so much as they are trying to ensure that consolidation serves their interests. Put simply, conservatives hope that Twitter will now become a more willing vehicle for right-wing propaganda.

An issue that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention is that Musk-ownership links Twitter’s interests to Tesla’s. And Tesla builds and sells a lot of cars in China. What happens when the Chinese government demands favorable treatment on Twitter (or deplatforming of its critics), and threatens to shut Tesla down? If Musk thinks he’s too rich to push around, he should have a talk with Alibaba’s Jack Ma.

and more January 6 revelations

Few stories illustrate the corruption of the Republican Party like the recent Kevin McCarthy tapes. It started with a report in the new book “This Shall Not Pass” by NYT reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, that shortly after the 1-6 insurrection, House GOP Leader McCarthy told other members of the leadership team that he was going to tell President Trump it was time to resign. McCarthy branded the report “totally false and wrong”, and his spokesman said “McCarthy never said he’d call Trump to say he should resign.”

Except that he did, and it’s on tape.

McCarthy has long since come crawling back to Trump, of course, and now he hopes for Trump’s support in becoming Speaker, should the GOP take the House majority this fall. You might think that Trump would be angry to find out that McCarthy was saying such things in private, but in fact he’s not.

Trump doesn’t need Republican leaders to believe in him. He just needs them to be spineless, and McCarthy is.


Texts exchanged before the election between Sean Hannity and Mark Meadows came out. Meadows, who was then White House chief of staff, gave Hannity instructions about what to stress on his radio show, to which Hannity replied “Yes sir.”

The texts show the kind of political subservience that CNN fired Chris Cuomo for. But Fox News’ standards are much lower, and Hannity has not been disciplined in any way.


The Manhattan grand jury investigating Donald Trump for possible fraudulent bank and tax fraud is expiring without issuing an indictment, making such charges unlikely, though the DA says investigations will continue. The Washington Post has published a summary of the various Trump investigations and where they stand.

and the line between church and state

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of a football coach who led players in prayer on the 50-yard-line after games. His claim is that his prayers are private religious acts protected by the First Amendment’s free-exercise clause. I’m not sure why this private act needs to happen on the 50-yard-line, but the Court’s conservative majority didn’t seem bothered by this.

I will be more interested in the Court’s reasoning than in the decision itself. Whatever standard the justices use to find in the coach’s favor, does it apply to non-Christians, or is this yet another special right that Christians have and no one else does? It seems entirely implausible to me that we would be having this discussion if the coach were performing a Muslim or Hindu ritual.

The best thing I read about this case appeared in Baptist News Global, where the coach’s case was related to another recent story about Christians who turned a commercial air flight into a hymn-sing.

The common thread is performative Christianity that operates out of a place of assumed privilege. That is a privilege so taken for granted that the average American Christian has no clue they are swimming in it.

… The parallel to this, of course, is the thousands of evangelicals who have been trained — literally trained — to use places like airplanes to evangelize their seatmates. What Christians may see as a God-ordained witnessing opportunity, the poor seatmate may see as religious assault.

Such attitudes and actions from Christians are not evil, but they are misguided. And they originate from a place of assumed privilege. As I’ve written before, there’s an easy test to understand this: What if the roles were reversed and you, dear Christian, were seated next to an evangelizing Muslim or Hindu or Mormon or atheist? Would you afford them the same assumed privilege you claim for yourself? I don’t think so.

Modern Christians must understand that we live in an increasingly pluralistic society and that assuming Christian privilege actually does more harm than good. If you want to be a good witness for Jesus, this is not the way to do it. It is tone deaf and arrogant and rude — pretty much the opposite of every virtue of love described in 1 Corinthians 13.


Chaz Stevens, whose Twitter handle describes him as “stunt activist“, is responding to a new Florida law giving parents more input into school decisions by asking school districts across the state to ban the Bible.

On the one hand, he’s pushing precisely the point I was making above: The law needs to apply to Christians the same way it applies to everyone else. And he’s absolutely correct that the Bible describes murder, adultery, sexual immorality, and infanticide — stuff that would absolutely get any other book banned from Florida schools.

But at the same time, this tactic points out a strategic weakness in the secular position: We want to defend public schools, while Christian nationalists are looking for excuses to privatize them. Any tit-for-tat that drives public support away from the schools hurts us in the long run. If we ban their books after they ban ours, we’re still losing.


Meanwhile, Marjorie Taylor Greene says of Catholic Relief, an organization that assists immigrants: “Satan’s controlling the church.


In previous weeks, I’ve talked about the right-wing takeover of the public library system in Llano County, Texas, which resulted in firing a librarian who wouldn’t cooperate. Last week, residents sued in federal court, charging that books are being removed without public hearings or any other due process.


The Texas school district in Southlake got bad publicity last fall when an administrator was taped advising teachers to “balance” books about the Holocaust with opposing perspectives.

The school district has come up with a way to make sure that doesn’t happen again: A “non-disparagement clause” has been added to teachers’ contracts. The problem isn’t what the administrator said, it’s that somebody snitched to the press.

and the war in Ukraine

It’s too soon to draw a firm conclusion about how Russia’s Plan B — advance in the Donbas rather than try to take Kyiv — is going, but the early reports look familiar: slow progress and heavy losses.


The Economist has a fascinating article about the Russian army’s radio problems. They know how to make secure hard-to-jam radios, but they didn’t procure enough of them, so only elite units have them. When those units try to coordinate with less-elite units, they end up reverting to more primitive equipment, including off-the-shelf walkie-talkies. The Ukrainians intercept their communications, and sometimes jam them by broadcasting heavy metal music on the same frequencies.

This is one example of a larger logistical problem: Apparently the Russian procurement system is even less efficient and more corrupt than ours.

“They put a lot of money into modernisation,” says [retired Czech] General [Petr] Pavel. “But a lot of this money was lost in the process.”

and the pandemic

Reported cases per day in the US have doubled since they bottomed out at 26K on April 3. They’re now up to 56K. Hospitalizations turned up about two weeks later, as they usually do. They bottomed at 14.8K on April 18, and are now at 17.1K. The number of Covid patients in ICUs bottomed at 1886 on April 22, and is now 1985.

Deaths are still dropping, about four weeks after case numbers turned up, and more than a week after ICU patients bottomed. An average of 321 Americans are dying of Covid each day, down considerably from 2652 on February 1. I thought that might be unusual, but it appears not. The last time deaths turned upward was on November 30, 20 days after hospitalizations bottomed, and 18 days after ICU patients bottomed. That would suggest that we’re about 10 days from deaths beginning to increase.

and you also might be interested in …

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner was held Saturday. Trevor Noah’s monologue is worth the time.


Solar energy is booming in both Texas and California, but in different ways that reflect different styles of government.

Texas solar projects often come with a “batteries not included” designation. In the Lone Star State, among Interconnection Agreement-signed projects expected to reach COD through 2024, only 28% of the 120 solar projects with completed are solar + battery projects. Again, this compares to nearly 99% of solar projects in California.

California is aiming towards a future where renewable energy replaces fossil fuels, and that requires batteries. Otherwise, you still need fossil-fuel or nuclear plants to generate electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.

https://jensorensen.com/2022/04/20/accurate-political-labels/

and let’s close with something bookish

Back in the old days, the stereotypic librarian was a dowdy woman shushing anybody who spoke above a whisper. These days, though, a big part of a librarian’s job is doing silly things to encourage reading. Electric Lit has collected librarian music parodies, like “Unread Book” to the tune of “Uptown Funk”.

MAGA 2.0

https://www.ajc.com/opinion/mike-luckovich-blog/422-mike-luckovich-mickey-and-ronald/472WF6YUX5AHJLNSUV2HPYQ5CU/

What if Trump isn’t the worst of our problems?


To many Americans, what’s been going on in Florida lately must seem so bizarre as to be almost comic. It’s gotten increasingly difficult to tell real headlines from stories in The Onion.

The witchhunt against critical race theory has gotten so out of hand that math textbooks are being banned. Public-school teachers who tell their students about the mere existence of same-sex marriages or people who transition from one gender to another (facts that may be necessary to understand other students in the classroom or their families) are not just breaking the law, they are said to be grooming the students for abuse by pedophiles. And if you object to that law, you too are probably grooming kids for pedophiles.

When the Disney Corporation came out (too late) against the law, the DeSantis administration punished it by getting the legislature to reverse the company’s completely unrelated tax advantage — a move which might be illegal, but otherwise will put two Florida counties on the hook for a billion dollars of debt.

When was the last time a Republican governor declared war on a corporation that employs 75,000 of his constituents?

If you think DeSantis’ actions don’t fit any American model of political behavior, you’re right. But that doesn’t mean they’re completely unprecedented. As Zack Beauchamp observed in Vox, the model is Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal democracy” in Hungary. And it may be the next step in the evolution of Trumpism.

The difference between Orbánism and traditional conservatism. The central message of traditional American conservatism is that government needs to get out of the way so that the private sector can create prosperity. So: low taxes, limited regulation, limited government services for the people. What working people miss in public goods (like parks, public education, healthcare, and economic security) supposedly will be more than balanced by all the good-paying jobs that will trickle down from unfettered capitalism.

That rhetoric was never fully embodied in conservative policy, which was fine with government intervention that subsidized oil exploration, the defense industry, and other big-corporate interests. But in spite of occasional inconsistencies, it was a reliable first guess at how conservatives would view an issue.

Traditional conservatives nodded in the direction of the culture war, but their hearts were never in it. Instead, they made cynical use of social/cultural issues to win elections, so that they could assemble enough power to push their small-government economic agenda, as Thomas Frank described in What’s the Matter With Kansas? in 2004.

The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.

Orbánism, by contrast, uses social/cultural issues as a way to increase government power and entrench the Orbán regime’s hold on that power. Beauchamp explains:

Orbán’s political model has frequently employed a demagogic two-step: Stand up a feared or marginalized group as an enemy then use the supposed need to combat this group’s influence to justify punitive policies that also happen to expand his regime’s power. Targets have included Muslim immigrants, Jewish financier George Soros, and most recently LGBTQ Hungarians.

Whoever the current scapegoat is, the ultimate enemy is always the same: the “cultural elite”.

Broadly speaking, both Orbán and DeSantis characterize themselves as standing for ordinary citizens against a corrupt and immoral left-wing cosmopolitan elite. These factions are so powerful, in their telling, that aggressive steps must be taken to defeat their influence and defend traditional values. University professors, the LGBTQ community, “woke” corporations, undocumented immigrants, opposition political parties — these are not merely rivals or constituents in a democratic political system, but threats to a traditional way of life.

In such an existential struggle, the old norms of tolerance and limited government need to be adjusted, tailored to a world where the left controls the commanding heights of culture. Since the left can’t be beaten in that realm, government must be seized and wielded in service of a right-wing cultural agenda.

The difference between Orbánism and Trumpism. At its root, Trumpism has always been a personality cult. If that wasn’t already obvious in 2016, it certainly had became so by 2020, when the Republican Convention refused to update its platform, replacing it instead with a resolution whose only substantive point was

RESOLVED, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda

In other words: The Republican Party stands for whatever President Trump chooses to announce. The party’s position on healthcare, education, foreign policy, immigration, and everything else is whatever Trump says it is.

Since Trump lost the 2020 election and tried (unsuccessfully) to stay in power anyway, Trumpworld has gotten even more culty: Where you stand in MAGA-land depends not on your support or opposition to any political philosophy or policy proposal, but what you say about Trump. Liz Cheney has been tossed out of the Wyoming Republican Party because she denies that Biden stole the election and holds Trump responsible for the 1-6 coup attempt. Marjorie Taylor Greene is at the center of the movement, because she has never breathed a word against the Orange One. If Brad Raffensperger had “found” the 11,780 votes Trump needed to win Georgia, he’d have Mar-a-Lago’s full support. But he didn’t, so Trump is campaigning against him.

Trump has become associated with both social conservatism and traditional conservatism, but the relationship is almost entirely opportunistic: Trump says things to his crowds, and if they respond he uses the line again. In the course of the 2016 campaign, these applause lines evolved into slogans, like “Build a Wall”. After he took office, underlings were tasked with turning those slogans into policies. The policies often seemed half-baked because they were: Candidate Trump never had any idea how he would implement his applause lines.

But in hindsight we often overlook all the times when candidate Trump floated liberal ideas, like when he told 60 Minutes that his healthcare plan would cover everybody and “the government’s gonna pay for it”. Or when he said his tax plan would raise taxes on the rich. If his stadium crowds had responded to those proposals the way they responded to building a wall or banning Muslims, he would happily have stolen Bernie’s agenda, and underlings would have been tasked with turning those slogans into programs.

The point was never policy. It was big, beautiful crowds cheering for Trump.

He got elected as a Republican, so he staffed his administration with Republicans and leaned on Republicans in Congress to create legislative victories for him. That was as far as his governing vision went. Paul Ryan already had a tax plan — one that handed trillions of dollars to corporations and the very rich — so that got passed. No two Republicans in Congress had the same vision of how to replace ObamaCare, so nothing happened.

Trump ended up appealing to the same kind of voters Orbán targeted — the racists, sexists, homophobes, xenophobes, and Islamaphobes Hillary Clinton labeled a “basket of deplorables” — so Trumpism started converging towards Orbánism. But it never completely got there, because ultimately Trumpism could only be about Trump. Beauchamp explains:

During his presidency, many observers on both sides of the aisle compared Trump to the Hungarian autocrat — and not without some justification. But after a 2018 visit to Hungary, I concluded that Trump was not competent or disciplined enough to implement Orbán-style authoritarianism in America on his own. The real worry, I argued, was a GOP that took on features of Orbán’s Fidesz party.

In the end, Trump is Trumpism’s biggest weakness: It’s the personality cult of a man with an unappealing personality. No wonder over 80 million Americans turned out to vote against him in 2020.

The law as a weapon. One point of convergence between Trump and Orbán is the use of boogeymen: Trump’s invading migrant caravans, for example. But it’s never been in Trump’s character to go full apocalyptic: There are villains in the world, but none of them are a match for Trump. His worldview is ultimately too episodic to support a death-struggle against the Apocalypse. Every day is a new story in which he defeats his enemies. He wins today, he won yesterday, he’ll win tomorrow. Anybody who tells you he’s not winning is peddling fake news.

Orbánism is much darker. Satanic forces threaten our entire way of life, and only a government much stronger than the current one can stand against it. Norms of civility and fair play can’t be allowed to stop us from defending society from the existential threat.

What’s hardest to grasp from a traditional American point of view is that the law, whatever it says, is just a weapon to use in the apocalyptic struggle. It does not embody ideals or principles of any kind. It’s nothing more than a stick you can use to club your enemies.

Trump sometimes used laws this way, but denied he was doing it — illustrating the adage that hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue. Title 42 is a good example: A 1944 public health law allows the government to keep asylum-seeking immigrants from entering the country during a public-health emergency.

We know, of course, what Trump thought about the Covid pandemic: He repeatedly and consistently played down the idea that it was an emergency requiring drastic action, and encouraged his followers to behave as if nothing unusual were happening. When state governors took emergency anti-Covid actions, Trump tweeted things like “Liberate Michigan” while armed protesters surrounded the state capitol and conspirators plotted to kidnap Governor Whitmer.

But he wanted to shut down immigration, and Title 42 was a law that allowed him to do it. So for that purpose, and that purpose only, the Covid pandemic was an emergency.

In the Orbán model, by contrast, there is no need for hypocrisy or denial. Society is in a death struggle, so you pick up whatever weapon happens to be lying around and use it without apology.

That’s what DeSantis is doing against Disney. There is no cover story that lays out a connection between the Reedy Creek Improvement District and the Don’t Say Gay law. Nor does DeSantis claim that his sudden interest in Disney’s tax status is coincidental. Disney has sided with the pedophiles threatening to destroy American society, so it must be punished. (And other corporations must be warned what can happen if they step out of line.)

It’s not about ideology or the spirit of the laws; it’s about clubbing your enemies.

It’s worth pointing out that a government powerful enough to keep corporations in line by threatening reprisals is precisely the nightmare scenario of traditional conservatives. It is almost certainly illegal to use state power this way. But will courts packed with conservative judges say so? And if they do now, what if a President DeSantis gets to appoint even more judges?

That’s how events played out in Hungary. Here’s Beauchamp again:

This use of regulatory power to punish political opponents is right out of Orbán’s playbook. In 2015, Lajos Simicska — an extremely wealthy Hungarian businessman and longtime Orbán ally — turned on his patron, using a vulgar term to describe the prime minister.

In retaliation, the government cut its advertising in Simicska’s media outlets and shifted contracts away from his construction companies. After Fidesz’s 2018 election, Simicska sold his corporate holdings (mostly to pro-government figures). He moved to an isolated village in western Hungary; his last remaining business interest was an agricultural firm owned by his wife.

Technically, that was all probably illegal under Hungarian law too. But by then, the judiciary was under control.

The broader movement. DeSantis’ move to Orbánism did not come from nowhere. The Hungarian model has been widely praised and publicized in conservative circles for some time now. Tucker Carlson has broadcast his show from Hungary. Later this month, CPAC will hold a meeting in Budapest, with Viktor Orbán as its featured speaker.

This week, the New York Times has been running a series on Tucker Carlson and his message. Part 3 focuses on just how dark and apocalyptic that message has become.

Night after night, the host of the most-watched show in prime-time cable news uses a simple narrative to instill fear in his viewers: “They” want to control and then destroy “you”.

A key part of the Carlson worldview is “replacement theory”, that Democrats want to import a new electorate that can be counted on to outvote the previous White majority. He also uses the “grooming” smear to legitimize violence:

I don’t understand where then men are. Like, where are the dads? Some teacher’s pushing sex values on your third grader. Why don’t you go in there and thrash the teacher? This is an agent of the government pushing someone else’s values on your kid about sex. Where’s the pushback?

Moving on? Already, we are seeing stories about how the Republican Party is “moving on” from Trump. That buzz might gain momentum if Trump-endorsed candidates underperform in the upcoming GOP primaries, or if the January 6 Committee’s public hearings in June capture public attention. As the 2024 presidential cycle begins, Democrats, moderates, and traditional conservatives alike may be tempted to sigh with relief if some alternative to Trump emerges.

But we need to be careful not to relax too quickly. Most likely, the Trump alternative will not be some Liz Cheney or Mitt Romney-like traditional conservative, or represent a Lisa Murkowski or John Kasich-ish move back towards the political center. The alternative could be DeSantis himself, or some other MAGA 2.0 figure. We’ll need to pay attention to the darkness of the rhetoric and the commitment to the rule of law. If people believe what this candidate is saying about the threats to our way of life, what will they be willing to do to win? Or do to their enemies after they win?

The Monday Morning Teaser

The most important thing I read this week was an article in Vox: “How Ron DeSantis is following a trail blazed by a Hungarian authoritarian“. The reason it’s so hard to make sense out of what DeSantis is doing is that he’s not imitating Trump or following any other American model; he’s translating a Hungarian model of fascism into an American context. This article fits well with a series that the New York Times is doing on another American Orbánist, Tucker Carlson. This week’s featured post ties the two together in “MAGA 2.0”. It should be out between 10 and 11 EDT.

The weekly summary has a lot to cover: the Russian offensive in Eastern Ukraine continues, the pandemic is now clearly on the upswing, Elon Musk’s bid for Twitter appears to be succeeding, the Supreme Court appears ready to knock a few more bricks out of the wall separating Church and State, and GDP shrank in the first quarter. Plus, a lot of insightful things were written about the future of American democracy, and I’ll link to the talk I gave during my week off.

The summary should appear by 1.