Tell the Story

Probably the story of our time in politics is that the Republican Party is radicalizing around an explicitly anti-democratic violent white nationalist ideology, and that most of elite establishment media is uninterested or editorially incapable of accurately telling that story

Brian Murphy

This week’s featured posts are “The Biden Blitz” and “The Republican Party Chooses Not to Change“.

This week everybody was talking about the Biden administration

One featured post goes through the flurry of executive orders that Biden has already issued. For the most part they are important orders that turn the country in the right direction. But to really be successful, Biden has to get legislation through Congress. The first item on his agenda is his Covid relief plan. It provides economic relief to individuals, sends money to states to use distributing vaccines, funds the changes necessary to reopen schools, and institutes a national testing-and-contact-tracing plan.

Ten Republican senators — exactly the number needed to overcome a filibuster — have approached Biden with a much smaller effort: $618 billion rather than $1.9 trillion. I’m not sure exactly what the differences are. Biden is meeting with the senators today.

Biden has three avenues open: Pass something small with bipartisan support (assuming all ten of these senators stay on board, which I regard as a large assumption); pass something large through the reconciliation process with only (or almost entirely) Democratic votes; or pass a small bipartisan bill now and then come back with a larger Democratic bill later. (This would give Republicans cover: They voted for something and opposed something.)

I’ve been pleased that so far Biden has been unwilling to close off his options without getting any concessions back. If he had pledged, say, not to use reconciliation, then I doubt Republicans would be making a counter-proposal.

Chuck Schumer did something similar with the filibuster.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about why the Senate should abolish the filibuster. (My argument transcended any particular legislation that might get filibustered: If a tiny slice of the electorate — say, small majorities in the 21 smallest states — can block what most of the country wants, the American people are going to lose faith in democracy.)

Well, this week Mitch McConnell essentially filibustered to save the filibuster: He blocked the organizing resolution that would allow the Democratic majority to replace the Republican committee chairs, holding out for a stipulation that the Senate would not alter the filibuster during these next two years. Chuck Schumer held out for the agreement Tom Daschle and Trent Lott worked out the last time there was a 50-50 Senate, which made no such promises.

Schumer held his ground and McConnell yielded. What McConnell got instead of an amended resolution was that two Democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, repeated filibuster-supporting promises they each made when they were elected in 2018.

It’s important to understand that this all about appearances: Whatever the organizing resolution says, and whatever individual senators might pledge, Democrats can end the filibuster any time they want — if they are unanimous. The question is how the politics would shake out: Will Manchin and Sinema look bad to their voters if they change their minds? Would the entire Democratic Senate majority look bad if they had passed a resolution defending the filibuster and then later reversed themselves?

And the answer to those questions is entirely situational: What will McConnell use the filibuster to block? That partly depends on how clever Democrats are in using the filibuster-avoiding maneuver known as reconciliation (which is how Republicans passed the Trump tax cut and nearly repealed ObamaCare).

If some very important, very popular legislation gets filibustered, that creates an opportunity for Manchin and Sinema to say “When I supported the filibuster, I never imagined Republicans would misuse it like this.” (Both say they’re not open to changing their minds, but who knows if they will? Neither comes up for reelection until 2024, and by then the filibuster could be ancient history.) Or maybe Schumer will come up with some trick for negating the filibuster in that particular case without getting rid of it completely, giving Manchin and Sinema some cover.

In short, this is not the best time fight this battle, and Schumer wouldn’t have the votes to win right now even if he wanted to fight it. That explains why the party’s progressive wing isn’t pushing too hard for it right now. At the moment, it’s an abstract battle about Senate procedure. Soon the terrain will shift to something voters care about, and then the situation will change.

Having the option of eliminating the filibuster pushes the Republicans to negotiate in good faith. Democrats should not give that up without getting something back.

and impeachment, which is all about where the Republican Party is going

Most of what I had to say about this is in one of the featured posts. But a few odds and ends didn’t fit.

The trial starts a week from tomorrow. But Trump is having a hard time finding lawyers willing to defend him.

Former President Donald J. Trump has abruptly parted ways with five lawyers handling his impeachment defense, just over a week before the Senate trial is set to begin, people familiar with the situation said on Saturday. … Mr. Trump had pushed for his defense team to focus on his baseless claim that the election was stolen from him, one person familiar with the situation said.

And that’s a problem because, unlike the Republican Party, the legal profession has standards.

Any defense attorney holds a broad obligation to represent his or her client zealously. That’s a crucial part of our adversarial justice system. But there are limits on what a defense attorney can argue. For example, per the American Bar Association, it would be unethical for any attorney to raise an argument “that he knows to be false.” The “rigged election” narrative certainly fits that description.

According to the NYT, something similar happened as early as November 12: Trump’s lawyers told him there was no fraud on a scale sufficient to flip the election in his favor, so they parted ways and Rudy Giuliani took over.

Thursday the 12th was the day Mr. Trump’s flimsy, long-shot legal effort to reverse his loss turned into something else entirely — an extralegal campaign to subvert the election, rooted in a lie so convincing to some of his most devoted followers that it made the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol almost inevitable.

Conservatives sometimes try to divert attention from Majorie Taylor Greene with the “What about left-wing radicals in Congress?” ploy. But Democrats are responding with a bring-it-on attitude. And they should: AOC, like Bernie Sanders, is more liberal than some Democrats want to be, but I think everybody understands that she lives in the real world. Progressives want the US to be more like Denmark, not Camelot. Denmark is a real place that is doing fine.

Greene, on the other hand, does not live in the real world.

Another typical whataboutist move diverts discussion of the Capitol Insurrection by bringing up the violence associated with the George Floyd protests (most of which were peaceful). The best description of the difference between those two incidents comes from Tom Robinson on Quora:

One of these things was protesting murder while the other was protesting Democracy.

Typically, an American political party that loses the presidency by seven million votes asks how it can appeal to a larger slice of the electorate. The GOP is asking how it can stop Democrats from voting.

An MTG-endorsed conspiracy theory (about how Jewish-funded space lasers caused a California wildfire) makes this Mel Brooks clip timely again.

and Christianity has some introspecting to do

An Atlantic article on impeachment-supporting Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger focuses more on his criticism of his church than of his party.

The problems that led to the January 6 insurrection are not just political. They’re cultural. Roughly half of Protestant pastors said they regularly hear people promote conspiracy theories in their churches, a recent survey by the Southern Baptist firm LifeWay Research found. “I believe there is a huge burden now on Christian leaders, especially those who entertained the conspiracies, to lead the flock back into the truth,” Kinzinger tweeted on January 12.

I think conservative Christians won’t solve this problem until they realize how deep it goes. The original “fundamentalists” in the early 20th century were reacting against two developments in modern thought: Darwinian evolution and the “higher criticism” of the Bible, which applied to scripture the techniques of interpretation scholars had invented to understand ancient texts like the Homeric epics. The fundamentalist response was to avoid these challenges by encouraging the development of bad thinking habits among Christians. Any kind of denial or logical fallacy was fine if it came to the right conclusions.

Well, a century later, those bad thinking habits have been exploited by purveyors of all kinds of nonsense: climate-change denial, Covid denial, QAnon, “Stop the Steal”. The conservative Christian mind is now like a poorly designed software application; it has back doors that allow hackers to circumvent the usual protocols and make the app serve purposes unrelated to its designers’ intent. That’s how we arrive at the situation Kinzinger diagnoses so clearly:

There are many people that have made America their god, that have made the economy their god, that have made Donald Trump their god, and that have made their political identity their god.

Christianity in general is not going to fix this problem until until it goes back to the source: It needs to figure out how to deal with the reality of evolution, and with the uncanny resemblance of the Bible’s oldest sections to many other texts from the same eras. A few of the more liberal sects did this work a long time ago, but the bulk of the movement would rather build a fortress around its errors than change.

and you also might be interested in …

What if an electric car could recharge in five minutes?

Ever since the Inauguration, the Bernie meme has been everywhere. This is my favorite. collected some other Bernie-in-space images. He’s also been in famous paintings, at historic events, and in classic movie scenes.

Several writers have tried to explain what this phenomenon “means”. Like, why is it happening? Why Bernie? Why this particular image? I think it’s not hard to understand: The original Bernie-at-the-Inauguration photo captured a truth we all recognized: Wherever Bernie goes, he’s still Bernie. The historic grandeur of an inauguration doesn’t change him, so why would anything else?

Biden had a phone conversation with Putin.

In his first phone call with Vladimir Putin since taking office, President Biden pressed his Russian counterpart on the detention of a leading Kremlin-critic, the mass arrest of protesters, and Russia’s suspected involvement in a massive cyber breach in the United States.

In short: we’re an independent country again. Our president is no longer under the thumb of the Russian president.

Hakeem Jefferson on this weekend’s snowstorm:

DC’s so white today the GOP might vote to grant it statehood.

and let’s close with something musical

I can’t decide between a good-bye-Trump or a hello-Biden song, so I’ll post one of each. On the last day of the Trump administration, James Corden did this wonderful send-up of “One Day More” from Les Miserables.

And after President Biden suggested that Janet Yellin — the first female Treasury Secretary — should get a musical just like the first male Treasury Secretary did, Marketplace got Dessa, a member of the hip-hop collective Doomtree and one of the artists who contributed to “The Hamilton Mixtape” working on it. That led to “Who’s Yellin Now?

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  • Wade Scholine  On February 1, 2021 at 5:24 pm

    With respect to the Christians reforming themselves to reject conspiracy theories, I believe this will prove to be one of those fields where progress occurs one funeral at a time.

    Christian fundamentalism, as I understand it, was intended to be an “intellectually respectable” counter to various elements of modernism but most especially a refutation of Darwin. It foundered upon the rock that “refuting Darwin” proved to be roughly equivalent to “refuting that the Earth is basically spherical in shape.” There can be no “intellectually defensible” refutation of Darwin along the lines of Biblical inerrancy. So that goal was abandoned in favor of promoting various kinds of sophistry.

    I do not think it is plausible that Christian leaders who attempt to tell their flocks “Everything you think you know about theology is really a pack of nonsense that was intended to win arguments rather than arriving at the truth” will retain their leadership status for very long.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On February 2, 2021 at 12:21 pm

      It doesn’t have to be a binary choice between “the Bible is literal truth” and “the Bible is nonsense.” It should be possible to arrive at an understanding where, like any work of literature, the Bible can express universal truths without being literally true, same as Hamlet or Moby-Dick can. This is already the direction more liberal churches have gone; it remains to be seen whether the more fundamentalist ones can do the same, or, as you say, change will be “one funeral at a time.”

      Part of the problem isn’t religious at all, but political. To take one example, there is nothing in the Bible even remotely addressing abortion, but opposition to abortion rights has been fundamentalist doxy for decades. The same holds for opposition to LGBT rights, gun control, environmentalism, and government regulation. As long as Christian fundamentalism is predominantly a political movement, Biblical interpretation is virtually irrelevant.

      • Wade Scholine  On February 3, 2021 at 1:46 pm

        It should be possible to arrive at an understanding where, like any work of literature, the Bible can express universal truths without being literally true

        You’d think that, but the issue is that there are lots of people who disagree with you. We can maybe do something to help make fewer such people in the future, and maybe a few can be convinced otherwise, but by and large the people who disagree with you will go to their graves without changing their minds.

        The intellectual tradition we’re talking about already faced the choice you suggest and said “no, not that.”

        The fundamentalist/evangelical commitment to “biblical inerrancy” long predates their involvement in politics. For a very long time, “bible-believing” Christians were apt to eschew politics altogether because it’s such a cesspit of unrighteousness. By and large they were indifferent to issues like gun control and abortion and environmentalism. Jimmy Carter broke ground that hadn’t been touched by national politics for a long time, when he explicitly made a big deal of being a born-again Christian in the ’76 campaign. In 1976 Southern Baptist leaders were fine with Roe v. Wade.

      • George Washington, Jr.  On February 3, 2021 at 6:31 pm

        You’re right about the initial response to Roe v. Wade. At one time, you could tell the difference between Catholics and Protestants by their views on contraception and abortion. It was only when pro-segregation leaders like Jerry Falwell shifted their emphasis from racism to the “culture war” (basically, opposition to abortion and LGBT rights) that opposing abortion became a religious issue. There’s nothing in the Bible that even implies abortion is wrong or even an issue worthy of attention.

  • vog46  On February 3, 2021 at 10:31 am

    If you leave out the abortion rights argument what do Christians have to complain about? Trump has done nothing legislatively to restrict abortion,
    Let’s face some rather unpleasant facts abortion WAS used as a contraceptive of last resort in the past but that has ended with low cost IUDs and pills
    What Christians don’t WANT to believe is that many Christians have lost their moral compass while criticizing those who have abortions. Case in point Bristol Palin. Promoted abstinence as a true Christian then had children out of wedlock. Hobby Lobby did NOT want to have contraception mandated by the ACA but also didn’t want abortion and they sure as heck didn’t want to support the unwed mothers who followed their corporate advice.
    Christian are unwilling to admit that they, like other religions have failed to instill the moral turpitude in their young believers that the Bible espouses on.

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