The Path to Unity

No Sift next week. The next new posts will appear on February 1.

All Donald Trump has to say to calm tensions down is one sentence: “The election was not stolen.

Rep. Ted Lieu

This week’s featured posts are “The Orwellian Misuse of ‘Orwellian’” and “To Save Democracy, End the Filibuster“.

This week everybody was talking about impeachment

The Economist sums up pretty well why Trump must be convicted by the Senate:

Stand back, for a moment, and consider the enormity of his actions. As president, he tried to cling to power by overturning an election that he had unambiguously lost. First, he spread a big lie in a months-long campaign to convince his voters that the election was a fraud and that the media, the courts and the politicians who clung to the truth were in fact part of a wicked conspiracy to seize power. Then, having failed to force state officials to override the vote, he and his henchmen whipped up a violent mob and sent them to intimidate Congress into giving him what he wanted. And last, as that mob ransacked the Capitol and threatened to hang the vice-president, Mike Pence, for his treachery, Mr Trump looked on, for hours ignoring lawmakers’ desperate pleas for him to come to their aid.

… The proper place to defend the constitution is the venue the constitution itself provides: Congress. That is why the House was right to vote to impeach Mr Trump and why the Senate should move fast to convict him.

… His supporters argue that impeachment is divisive just when America needs to become united. That is self-serving and wrong. Nobody has sown discord as recklessly as Mr Trump and his party. You do not overcome division by pretending that nothing is wrong, but by facing it. Were Mr Trump to be convicted, the healing might genuinely begin.

Here’s an example of what can happen when a democracy fails to defend itself against an authoritarian threat.

In 1924, after his first attempt to take power by force, Hitler served only eight months of an already lenient five-year sentence for treason. (He used the down-time to write Mein Kampf.) When he was released, The New York Times printed “Hitler Tamed By Prison“. It opined that the “demi-god of the reactionary extremists” had learned his lesson.

He looked a much sadder and wiser man today … It is believed he will retire from public life and return to Austria, the country of his birth.

The root of the fascist claim to power is that democracy is too weak and corruptible to defend das Volk — in America, straight white Christians — from domination by a sinister Other (Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, blood-drinking pedophiles …). When fascists fail to overthrow democracy and are treated leniently, that very lenience is seen as evidence in favor of their claim: Democracy cannot even defend itself, much less the People.

If the insurrectionists — from Trump on down to the buffalo-horn guy — walk away unscathed, they will be back, and will strike harder next time.

Watching the business community pull away from Trump and his supporters, I am reminded of Mafia history. American organized crime has long understood that it is a parasite on the larger society, and so needs to stay in its niche, lest it either kill its host or provoke an immune response. From time to time, then, the bosses turn on one of their own who is getting out of hand. Such overreach, they say, is “bad for business”.

Two examples: In 1935, Dutch Schultz was under pressure from Tom Dewey, a special prosecutor who had been appointed to crack down on organized crime in New York City. (On the strength of his crime-fighting reputation, Dewey would later become governor and eventually the Republican nominee for president in 1944 and 1948.) When Schultz started plotting to have Dewey killed, New York’s other crime bosses decided he was going too far, and had him killed instead. They had no love for Dewey either, but killing him would only have incited a larger anti-crime campaign.

Ironically, the mobster who told the bosses about Schultz’s planned assassination of Dewey eventually became a second example: Albert Anastasia, head of the legendary Murder Incorporated. By 1950, he was killing people unrelated to organized crime, more or less on a whim. When he killed Arnold Schuster, who tipped the police on how to find escaped bank robber Willie Sutton (an independent operator with no Mafia connection), the other bosses decided the attention Anastasia was drawing was bad for business. So he also was killed.

Anyway, that’s my interpretation of, say, Charles Koch and other big conservative donors pulling away from the Republicans who backed Trump’s effort to overturn the election. It’s not that they’ve suddenly seen the light about democracy. Charles and his brother David (before his death in 2019) were major backers of the GOP’s push for minority rule through gerrymandering, voter suppression, and taking advantage of the undemocratic nature of the Senate and the Supreme Court. But sending a mob to attack the Capitol is bad for business.

Wondering if there are 17 Republican senators willing do to their duty and convict Trump, I feel like Abraham hoping there might be ten righteous people in Sodom.

Ben Sasse might be one of them. In the Atlantic, he at least says the right things: The problem isn’t just one man or one event, but a series of bad decisions that started some while ago.

Until last week, many party leaders and consultants thought they could preach the Constitution while winking at QAnon. They can’t. The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them. Now is the time to decide what this party is about.

Trump has been blowing up our norms of government for four years. Former Deputy Director of National Intelligence Susan Gordon suggests a norm Biden should blow up: allowing his predecessor access to intelligence briefings.

and just how bad the Capitol invasion was

The best article on the topic is Luke Mogelson’s “Among the Insurrectionists” in The New Yorker. The video he shot with his phone became public yesterday, and it is mind-boggling. One thing becomes clear from Mogelson’s reporting: We may never know exactly what percentage of Trump voters were motivated by racism, but the folks willing to take up arms to keep Trump in office after he lost the election are overwhelmingly white supremacists. BuzzFeed agrees.

Probably some of the invaders just got swept up in the moment, and may not have gone to Trump’s rally with any clear intention of what they would do next. But others may have intended to capture or kill members of Congress and/or Vice President Pence. (Sources disagree about this.) At times the mob was only a short distance away from people they intended to harm.

In addition to whatever action is taken against Trump, Congress has to investigate whether its own members were involved in the insurrection. New Jersey Democrat Mikie Sherrill claims that some of her Republican colleagues were giving “reconnaissance tours” to insurrectionists the day before.

Some evangelicals see how far astray their movement went in backing Trump. And some don’t.

Slate verifies something I noticed whenever I channel-scanned through Fox News this week: They just aren’t talking about the riot at the Capitol. On Fox, the lead news story was how horrible it is that Twitter decided to stop helping Trump incite violence.

and what Biden wants to do about Covid

Using FEMA and the National Guard to set up more vaccination sites, invoking the Defense Production Act to knock down any bottlenecks in the production process, a new round of stimulus, money to help schools reopen safely, expanded testing to find not just asymptomatic carriers but new strains of the virus, a national contact-tracing effort, … what amazes Ezra Klein is not that it’s so brilliant, but that it’s so obvious. “Most elements of the plan are surprising only because they are not already happening.”

but you should pay more attention to Trumpist attempts to change the language

That’s the topic of the featured post “The Orwellian Misuse of ‘Orwellian’“.

and you also might be interested in …

The NRA filed for bankruptcy Friday. Like Trump’s many bankruptcies, this seems to be a move to stiff creditors and evade oversight, rather than organizational death. The NRA is incorporated in New York, and faces a lawsuit from the New York attorney general alleging management fraud and self-dealing. It plans to dissolve in New York and reincorporate in Texas. Whether the same management will continue to scam NRA members in the same ways remains to be seen.

In August, I used that lawsuit’s charges to illustrate the industry of grifters set up to fleece the gullible conservative faithful in “The NRA and the Long Con“.

I admit, it’s petty to focus on stuff like this. But Ivanka and Jared not letting the Secret Service use any of their half-dozen bathrooms, and the $100K the government has spent to rent agents a nearby room of their own, is so in tune with my general impression of what it means to be a Trump.

It has taken more than six years, but former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is finally facing some kind of accountability for his role in the Flint water crisis, in which 12 people died of Legionnaire’s Disease and 6,000-12,000 Flint children were exposed to high levels of lead.

Snyder has been charged with willful neglect of duty, a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year in prison.

Ordinarily, we think of police shootings when we hear the phrase “Black lives matter”, but it also refers to situations like this, where officials are slow to notice harm done to communities that are predominantly Black, and slow to respond after they do notice. A report from the Michigan Civil Rights Commission

says one theme was common in the hearings where the public spoke. People said predominantly white cities like Ann Arbor or Birmingham, near Detroit, would have been treated differently by the state. The report quotes a resident who said: “If this was in a white area, in a rich area, there would have been something done. I mean, let’s get real here. We know the truth.”

and let’s close with something absurd

The Yes classic “Roundabout”, performed by the characters from Peanuts.

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  • Michel S.  On January 18, 2021 at 1:48 pm

    > “I admit, it’s petty to focus on stuff like this. But Ivanka and Jared not letting the Secret Service use any of their half-dozen bathrooms, and the $100K the government has spent to rent agents a nearby room of their own, is so in tune with my general impression of what it means to be a Trump.”

    I’m getting flashbacks of the country I left, where it’s common for ‘the help’ to have separate bathrooms (like in the US South up to the Jim Crow era), and … business tycoons want special access to COVID vaccines:

    All humans are equal, but some [think they are] more equal than others

  • George Washington, Jr.  On January 18, 2021 at 8:27 pm

    What will prevent GOP Senators from voting to convict Trump are two things – either the fear that they will be primaried in their next race by a Republican viewed as more loyal to Trump, or that their constituents will assassinate them.

    • weeklysift  On January 19, 2021 at 5:34 am

      You might be right. Not that I expect any of them to be honorable, but I think it’s worth stating what the honorable course is: Not everybody has the courage to stand up to the threat of violence, and I don’t blame people who don’t. I’m not sure I would, having never had to face a serious threat. But if you realize you can’t do the right thing in the face of a violent threat, you should resign and hope the next person to hold your office has more courage.

  • vog46  On January 19, 2021 at 6:34 pm

    I don’t know if they are genuinely afraid or using this as an excuse but whatever.
    The angst felt in this county has diminished as the social media sites clamped down on TRUMP and his most fervent supporters.
    When the DC riot happened my first thought was OMG those guys in cammo and carrying guns just lost their right to bear arms cause doing this is insurrection, a felony. To make matters worse, they were in the most “surveilled” city in the world with cameras everywhere hooked up to facial recognition software. When they were called domestic terrorists the Patriot Act kicked in and big brother smashed their right to privacy on the internet.
    But I do have a problem with this right being smashed to a certain degree.
    The Christian community sure went silent when this all happened – Their savior Donald Trump committed a crime that is causing other rights to get set aside. Funny how that is………

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