Author Archives: weeklysift

Doug Muder is a former mathematician who now writes about politics and religion. He is a frequent contributor to UU World.

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.

To Save Democracy, End the Filibuster

American democracy only works if the Senate works.

At the moment the two biggest stories in American politics are the impeachment of Donald Trump and the long-anticipated inauguration of Joe Biden. Both stories, at their root, are about the continuance of democracy.

Biden’s inauguration may be sparsely attended, socially distanced, and observed by enough troops to conquer a medium-sized country, but fundamentally it will be a celebration of the peaceful transfer of power. In spite of a long list of bad-faith challenges, culminating in a right-wing mob attacking the Capitol itself, the American People will get the president they elected.

Trump’s impeachment is in some sense the flip side of that same coin. When a president tries to hang on to power in spite of the People, even to the point of inciting violence against the government he supposedly heads, there must be consequences. One lesson of history is that democracies must be willing to defend themselves. Letting would-be authoritarians walk away and try again only validates anti-democracy propaganda: that democracies are fundamentally weak, and that advocates of democracy secretly admire and envy the self-styled Leader and his followers for their love of country and the courage of their convictions. “If we got away with this,” the anti-democratic forces wonder, “what else can we get away with?”

So count me among those who approve of both these stories. But at the same time, I recognize that each offers our constitutional republic only a short-term salvation. The longer-term problem is the widespread perception that our system is not working, and that it grows more dysfunctional year by year. If Trump is convicted, American fascism might be stuffed back into its box for a few years. And if Biden uses his powers wisely, he may spark a short-term rise in the nation’s self-confidence. Certainly, he should be able to quickly reverse the corrosive effect of the last year, when our president appeared to have lost interest in a plague that killed (and continues to kill) thousands of Americans each day.

But long-term, the health of any democracy relies on public faith in one simple idea: The most effective and most legitimate way to seek change is to convince other citizens to agree with you, so that the public will elect a government that will achieve the changes you seek. Conversely, a democracy is in trouble if its citizens begin to see elections as empty spectacles that change nothing.

Now it only takes 60 votes, but the same principle applies.

Legislative failure. In the past several cycles, Democrats and Republicans have each won wave elections that left the party in control of the presidency and both houses of Congress. But neither produced an FDR- or LBJ-like list of legislative accomplishments. Instead, each managed only one big thing: ObamaCare for the Democrats and the Trump tax cut for the Republicans.

In spite of broad support from their voters, the Democrats couldn’t pass cap-and-trade to fight climate change, ObamaCare’s public option, any significant gun control, or immigration reform. Republicans couldn’t repeal ObamaCare, pass an infrastructure program, or fund Trump’s wall.

Voters on both sides were left wondering: What was all that for?

Admittedly, both parties faced obstacles beyond the Senate filibuster. Obama thought he had more time: His filibuster-proof 60-Democrat Senate didn’t last two years, but only half a year; Republican lawsuits delayed Al Franken’s arrival in the Senate until July, and the next January the Democrats unexpectedly lost the Massachusetts seat vacated when Ted Kennedy died. (Only a parliamentary maneuver allowed ObamaCare to become law.)

Trump’s GOP suffered from a lack of real programs to pass. “Repeal and replace ObamaCare” turned out to be an empty slogan; neither Trump nor any other Republican had a replacement plan, and three Republican senators wouldn’t vote for repeal without one. Trump eventually announced an infrastructure plan, but couldn’t get his own party to buy into it.

Each party suffered from the implacable opposition of the other. It is striking to look back at big legislation of the past. Medicare got 70 votes in the Senate, including 13 Republicans. Social Security got 77 votes (16 Republicans), and the Voting Rights Act got 77 (30 Republicans; the main opposition came from Southern Democrats). The National Environmental Protection Act (which, among other things, established the EPA) passed unanimously. But both ObamaCare and the Trump tax cut were party-line votes.

In part, the polarization of the Senate is due to the polarization of the voters. But the polarization of each party’s special interests is also an important factor. Polls show considerable bipartisan support for giving some kind of legal status to the Dreamers (undocumented immigrants brought into the US as children, many of whom remember no other country), for simple gun-control measures like universal background checks, for limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, and a number of other measures. But base voters oppose them, and so do organizations like the NRA or the National Trial Lawyers. So they don’t pass, to the great frustration of the majority of Americans.

Issues that used to be negotiable have now been cast as matters of principle. Republicans cannot support any tax increase, no matter what concession they might get in exchange. Many Democrats draw a line in the sand on entitlement reform. As recently as 2013, the Senate could pass a bipartisan immigration reform bill. But today that bill (which might also have passed the House if Speaker Boehner had allowed a vote) seems like a relic from a bygone era.

But all these factors come back to how easy it is to block things in the Senate. In a polarized environment with powerful special interests, it’s hard to get 60 votes for even the most popular bills. One of the levers that previously induced senators to compromise was the argument: “This bill is going to pass anyway. You might as well get on board and see if you can win any concessions in exchange for your support.” (This still works for must-pass bills like the ones that keep the government open.) But if the bill is likely not going to pass, why risk the attack ads that a yes-vote might generate?

Filibusters have become the rule, not the exception. The filibuster has existed since a rule change in 1806, which is sometimes blamed on the villainous Aaron Burr. It is not in the Constitution. On the contrary, the Constitution explicitly requires Congress to have supermajorities only for a few highly significant actions: removing a President or other official via impeachment, passing a constitutional amendment, and ratifying a treaty. But the Founders never intended a supermajority requirement to apply to ordinary legislation. In Federalist #22, Alexander Hamilton railed against those who would ask for a supermajority provision:

The public business must, in some way or other, go forward. If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good. And yet, in such a system, it is even happy when such compromises can take place: for upon some occasions things will not admit of accommodation; and then the measures of government must be injuriously suspended, or fatally defeated. It is often, by the impracticability of obtaining the concurrence of the necessary number of votes, kept in a state of inaction. Its situation must always savor of weakness, sometimes border upon anarchy.

… When the concurrence of a large number is required by the Constitution to the doing of any national act, we are apt to rest satisfied that all is safe, because nothing improper will be likely TO BE DONE, but we forget how much good may be prevented, and how much ill may be produced, by the power of hindering the doing what may be necessary, and of keeping affairs in the same unfavorable posture in which they may happen to stand at particular periods.

Filibusters were purely theoretical until the 1830s, and fairly rare thereafter. The Senate tended to think of itself as a gentlemen’s club; grinding business to a halt was ungentlemanly behavior. For years, filibusters were reserved for only the most important issues. For example, Southern senators used them to stifle civil-rights legislation, which they saw as a direct threat to the white supremacist society of the Jim Crow states. (Filibustering was, in essence, an alternative to seceding again.) But then the frequency of filibusters took off.

Today, the press simply takes for granted that everything will be filibustered, and routinely reports that it takes 60 votes to get anything through the Senate. For example, the post-Sandy-Hook-massacre effort to get background checks through the Senate failed 54-46, with the 54 voting for it. This was reported as if it were business as usual. Effectively, the Senate now has the supermajority requirement that Hamilton so opposed, with exactly the unfortunate results he predicted.

Spreading effects of Congressional dysfunction. People from both parties (or neither) frequently complain about two other unfortunate trends in American governance: the imperial presidency and the ever-expanding reach of the Supreme Court. Both of these developments are promoted by the dysfunction of Congress.

Increasingly, presidents push the boundaries of executive orders. It’s easy to criticize Trump’s excesses, like the phony emergency he declared in order to redirect money to his border wall. But it’s also instructive to note Obama’s overreaches, like DACA, which protected the Dreamers from deportation and allowed them to work legally, and the DAPA program that would have covered parents of American citizens if the Supreme Court had allowed it.

In Obama’s remarks announcing DACA, he pleaded for Congress to turn a popular cause into a law.

Now, let’s be clear — this is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix. This is a temporary stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people. … Precisely because this is temporary, Congress needs to act. There is still time for Congress to pass the DREAM Act this year, because these kids deserve to plan their lives in more than two-year increments. And we still need to pass comprehensive immigration reform that addresses our 21st century economic and security needs.

He stretched the power of executive orders because the American people supported something that Congress refused to do, or even bring to a vote. This is a common pattern in executive orders: Something needs to happen and Congress is log-jammed, so the president just does it on dubious authority.

Trump’s trade wars followed the same pattern. Tariffs are supposed to be set by Congress, but an obscure and seldom-used clause of a law delegated that power to the president under extreme circumstances. Trump decided those conditions were met and abused this power. But getting tougher on foreign imports was popular, so Congress did nothing to reclaim its prerogatives.

Much judicial overreach is similar. Take, for example, John Roberts’ rewrite of the Affordable Care Act. He was part of a conservative majority that ruled (wrongly, in my opinion) that the law’s insurance mandate couldn’t be justified by previous Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause. Roberts, however, recognized that Congress has sweeping constitutional power to tax, so he reinterpreted the mandate’s penalty as a tax, allowing ObamaCare to stand.

In earlier eras, the Court might simply have voided the law, but delayed the implementation of its ruling to allow Congress to adjust. After a simple legislative fix — change the word “penalty” to “tax” — the program would have gone forward. But Roberts knew that in the current era, legislation only passes when the planets align. Voiding ObamaCare for any reason would have meant ending it for the foreseeable future. He wasn’t willing to be the reason why tens of millions of Americans lost their health insurance, so instead he rewrote the law himself.

A similar pattern accounts for the various administrative changes Obama made during the implementation of the ACA. It is common for big new programs to need fine tuning, because nothing complicated ever works exactly as its designers expect. In past eras, Congress would quickly pass such changes, recognizing that they improved an ongoing program. But ObamaCare’s opposition wanted to see it crash, and would not allow any legislative fine tuning. So Obama stretched his executive power to make the program work.

In the Founders’ vision, Congress is the vehicle for channeling public opinion into action. But that channel is blocked, so the other branches of government expand their power to compensate. This is not healthy for democracy: The expanding power of the president tilts us in the direction of an elected dictatorship, while the the Supreme Court’s extended range of action removes power from the political system entirely. But complete inaction in the face of well-recognized problems is also not healthy for democracy.

Stop the decay. The danger in this process should be obvious, because we see it happening all around us: People are becoming more cynical, and losing faith in the power of their vote. If passing, say, Medicare for All requires electing 60 Democratic senators, what’s the point of trying? Even expanding ObamaCare is more likely to happen via a Biden executive order than by an act of Congress. And if you oppose that executive power grab, you will look to the Supreme Court to save you, not Congress.

The filibuster is far from the only anti-democratic provision in our system. The Senate itself allows a collection of small states that represent far fewer than half the country to gain control. The Electoral College makes it possible for a minority to elect the president. Gerrymandering and voter suppression make the House undemocratic.

But the simplest and most direct way to restore the vitality of Congress is to end the filibuster. If you can convince enough people to agree with you to elect majorities in both houses, you should be able to get legislation passed. If that legislation turns out badly, a new majority should be able to get it repealed. That’s what makes elections meaningful.

If elections stop being meaningful, people will not stop seeking change. They’ll just have to promote it through undemocratic means. Eventually, a Caesar will come and sweep the whole jammed system aside. And the People will probably cheer, just as the People cheered Caesar.

The Orwellian Misuse of “Orwellian”

TrumpSpeak sends the word’s original meanings down the memory hole.

A theme I return to now and then is how the Right takes a word that has been effectively used against it and breaks that word through repeated misuse. I’m not sure when this practice began. Probably it had already been going on for some while before I noticed it; I was reading Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, a 2008 book whose apparent purpose is to destroy any notion a reader might have of real fascism. (Did you know Hitler was a vegetarian? Take that, liberals!)

Word-breaking doesn’t always work — the Bush administration and its apologists never did completely break the word “torture” — but far too often it does. One of the great recent successes of conservative word-breaking is “fake news“, a once-useful term that originally referred to serious-looking links invented to be social-media clickbait and attributed to websites that purported to be newspaper sites, but weren’t. (For example, there is no Denver Guardian.)

Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign was a major beneficiary of viral fake news, like the Denver Guardian’s “FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apartment murder-suicide” which was shared on Facebook more than half a million times, in spite of being a complete fiction that had been reported by no actual news organizations. Promoting fake news was, in fact, one of the primary ways Russia supported Trump. Obviously, this wasn’t something Trump wanted people to talk about, or even think about. Something had to be done.

So by repeated misuse, Trump captured “fake news” and redirected it to refer to accurate news stories he didn’t like. As a result, “the fake-news media” no longer brings the Denver Guardian to mind. Instead, it now encompasses The Washington Post, The New York Times, and CNN.

Today, if you use “fake news” in its original sense, no one will know what you mean. Mission accomplished.

We’re currently witnessing a multi-year campaign to break “socialism“, a word George Orwell sometimes used to describe his own political philosophy. But in a world where Joe Biden and Jon Ossoff are “radical socialists”, how can you even start a conversation about public ownership of the means of production? Such a thoughtcrime is not yet impossible, but it is becoming increasingly difficult.

“Religious freedom” and “religious liberty” are likewise broken. Now they primarily refer to Christian privilege. So Christians can ignore anti-discrimination laws because they have “religious liberty”. Meanwhile, the rest of us only have “religious liberty” in situations where conservative Christians agree with us. For example: A Christian pharmacist’s “religious liberty” is violated if he has to fill a birth-control prescription, and so a pharmacist of some other religion might claim a similar privilege. On the other hand, a Hindu waitress who doesn’t want to serve steaks should just find another job; firing her would not create any kind of religious-liberty issue.

But the latest word the Trump and his allies are trying to break is particularly ironic: “orwellian”. Vox explains:

When Josh Hawley and Trump Jr. use the term “Orwellian,” they are indulging in precisely the kind of lazy and dishonest obfuscation Orwell railed against. They are taking the haze of imprecise associations that have accumulated around the word — bad, dystopian, someone somewhere overreaching probably? — and trying to attach them to such urgent issues for human rights as a politician losing his book contract after a scandal and the most powerful man in the world getting kicked off a social media platform. They are, to put it in terms of which Orwell would approve, lying. They are pretending that very reasonable actions from private corporations are the same as the government kidnapping citizens and shoving their faces into cages full of rats to brainwash them. And they are trying to convince their followers to pretend the same thing, until the pretense becomes real and everyone agrees to believe the lie. [links added]

Originally, “orwellian” had a variety of related meanings, all of which derived directly from George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984. The word might, for example, refer to a bold lie that completely inverts the truth, like the 1984 party slogans: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.”

Rudy Giuliani’s statement “Truth isn’t truth” — which supposedly explained how an honest man like Trump might commit perjury if he testified under oath — is orwellian in this sense. But so is Trump’s claim that Democrats are stealing the 2020 election, because that claim is itself the center of Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election. The related lie that Democratic “election fraud” centered in majority-Black cities like Detroit, Atlanta, and Milwaukee is similarly orwellian, because inner-city Blacks are precisely the people most likely to be disenfranchised by Republican tactics like gerrymandering and voter suppression.

“Orwellian” might also legitimately refer to an authority’s demand that you believe what you are told rather than what you can see for yourself. That usage derives from this 1984 quote:

The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.

So Trump was being orwellian when he told a VFW convention: “Just stick with us, don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. … Just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

But probably the purest meaning of “orwellian” would apply to the process I’m describing here: breaking a word so that the idea it once captured so well becomes inexpressible. As Orwell wrote in “The Principles of Newspeak“:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. … This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever.

If Trump and his allies succeed in breaking “orwellian”, they will have gone a long way towards removing this thought from the public mind. Then “orwellian” will have lost all substantive content, and will simply become a way to cast shade: “You said something I don’t like.”

And we will have lost any term that expresses what just happened.

The Monday Morning Teaser

It’s difficult to do the Sift on days when news might suddenly break in one direction or another. Today is not an ordinary Monday, but the Martin Luther King holiday. Wednesday is the Biden Inauguration. Since the invasion of the Capitol, we’ve all been on pins and needles, waiting to see if protests planned for this weekend would turn violent. So far, they have not, and have not even drawn many peaceful protesters. But there’s still a day left. An attack might happen at any moment, or we might all end the weekend wondering why we were so wound up.

It’s tempting to make the case for the Trump impeachment, which will go to trial after he leaves office. But other people have done a good job of that, so I think I can just point you to them. Today’s two featured posts will cover issues that may not have as much immediate importance, but that I hope will point your attention in directions it might not otherwise go.

The first is finished and should post almost immediately: “The Orwellian Misuse of ‘Orwellian'”. For years, I’ve been calling attention to the way that conservatives break words through intentional misuse. The Bush administration did its best to break the word “torture”, but failed. “Fascism” was an unusable word for a while, but during the Trump administration liberals went to considerable effort to rehabilitate it. “Socialism” is currently under attack: How can we have any reasonable discussion about socialism when loud voices call Joe Biden a “radical socialist”?

But by far the most ironic attempt to break a word is the current misuse of “orwellian” to apply to things that aren’t even remotely orwellian, like Josh Hawley losing his book contract after he promoted an insurrection. If conservatives succeed in making “orwellian” meaningless, that will truly be orwellian.

Impeachment is one effort to defend democracy, but the second featured post looks at a longer-term fix: abolish the filibuster. When the Senate doesn’t function, Congress doesn’t function. The presidency and the Supreme Court compensate by claiming powers they shouldn’t have, and the American People lose faith in their ability to change things by voting. Eventually, a Caesar will sweep the whole dysfunctional system away, and the People will cheer (as the Roman People cheered Caesar). “To Save Democracy, End the Filibuster” should post around 11 EST.

That leaves the weekly summary to cover impeachment, what we’re finding out about the Capitol invasion, the plans Biden has announced, the virus, and so on. (And Yes, there will be an absurd closing.) Let’s predict that to appear around 1.

Post and Pre

Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place.

– Timothy Snyder “The American Abyss

This week’s featured posts are “Sedition and Free Speech” and “The Capitol Invasion is Both an End and a Beginning“.

This week everybody was talking about the Trump insurrection

Most of what I have to say on this topic is in one of the featured posts. But I only briefly touched on the friendly reception the insurrectionists got from some of the police, and didn’t mention the racial angle at all.

Joy Reid nailed that point, contrasting her own experience in Black Lives Matter protests with the untroubled demeanor of the Capitol invaders:

The reason these people were so unafraid of the cops … the reason they could so easily and casually, with their cameras on, film themselves throwing things through the walls of our Capitol, our property, going inside the Capitol, sitting in Speaker Pelosi’s office, casually take pictures of themselves, have that played on Fox News — they know that they are not in jeopardy. Because the cops are taking selfies with them, walking them down the steps to make sure they’re not hurt, taking care with their bodies — not like they treated Freddie Gray’s body.

White Americans aren’t afraid of the cops. White Americans are never afraid of the cops, even when they’re committing insurrection. Even when they’re engaged in trying to occupy our Capitol to steal the votes of people who look like me. Because in their minds, they own this country. They own that Capitol. They own the cops; the cops work for them. And people like me have no damn right to try to elect a president. Because we don’t get to pick the president, they get to pick the president. They own the president. They own the White House. They own this country.

So when you think you own it, when you own the place, you aren’t afraid of the police, because the police are you. And the police reflect back to them: “We’re with you. You’re good. We’re not going to hurt you, ’cause you’re not them.” I guarantee you if that was a Blacks Lives Matter protest in D.C. there would already be people shackled, arrested, or dead.

As soon as they realized the attack on the Capitol — which everyone in the world saw coming — was a public-relations disaster, Trumpists began blaming it on Antifa, inventing the ridiculous story that antifascists impersonated Trumpists and committed all the actual crimes. The Washington Post traced the provenance of this conspiracy theory.

The genesis for the assertion appears to be an article published by the right-wing Washington Times that claimed that a “retired military officer” had provided information from a firm called XRVision that used facial recognition software to identify several people who invaded the Capitol — and that two of them were linked to antifa. A third was “someone who shows up at climate and Black Lives Matter protests in the West.”

XRVision spokesperson Yaacov Apelbaum corrected the story:

“XRVision didn’t generate any composites or detection imagery for the Washington Times nor for a ‘retired military officer,’ ” Apelbaum said, “and did not authorize them to make any such representations.”

What happened, Apelbaum explained, was that the firm “performed an analysis on the footage” and, in doing so, was able to identify three people. “We concluded that two of individuals … were affiliated with the Maryland Skinheads and the National Socialist Movements,” the firm determined. “These two are known Nazi organizations, they are not Antifa. The third individual identified … was an actor with some QAnon promotion history. Again, no Antifa identification was made for him either.”

XRVision did create graphics comparing people who had been at the Capitol with other photographs, Apelbaum said, which “were distributed to a handful of individuals for their private consumption and not for publication.”

One of the graphics includes a photograph of two people that can also be found on the website Philly Antifa. As noted by Twitter user Respectable Lawyer, though, the reason the photo of those people is on the website isn’t that they are antifa, but that they were believed to be fascists.

So: the people identified were fascists, not anti-fascists.

and removing Trump

My post on the Capitol invasion ends with the idea that democracy needs to defend itself vigorously against fascism. We can’t even appear to give in to the attitude Joy Reid posits: that the fascists “own this country”.

That idea has two pieces: The identifiable people involved in the attack need to be charged and sent to jail, and there has to be some kind of consequence for Trump inciting that riot. The first piece got off to a bad start, when rioters were allowed to mingle in front of the Capitol for hours and then head for home on their own, rather than being arrested. But law enforcement and the social-media hive mind are identifying a bunch of these people now, and some are being arrested. We’ll see if they get what’s coming to them.

As for Trump, Democrats are insisting that he not be allowed to leave office honorably: He needs to resign or be removed by Pence using the 25th Amendment, or get impeached again. Republicans want to just let his term run out, and are trying to play the “unity” card. Keven McCarthy tweets:

Impeaching the President with just 12 days left will only divide our country more. I’ve reached out to President-elect Biden today & plan to speak to him about how we must work together to lower the temperature & unite the country to solve America’s challenges.

This spirit of unity was nowhere to be found when McCarthy voted to disenfranchise millions of Democrats Wednesday, even after Trump had incited a violent insurrection. Any Republican who puts forward such an idea needs to be challenged: What are you going to do to promote unity? What concessions is your side offering to make peace?

You want to lower the temperature, Kevin? Get Trump to resign. That would save a lot of grief all around. In the meantime, Democrats should continue with impeachment. McConnell will no doubt drag his feet to delay a vote past January 20 and then claim the case is moot. But that’s on him. Democrats should at least try to do the right thing.

Some conservative voices are joining the chorus. American Enterprise Institute Fellow Matthew Continetti writes in National Review:

There will be time to sort through the wreckage of the conservative movement and the Republican Party. There is not as much time — a little less than 14 days — to constrain the president before he plunges the nation’s capital into havoc again. Incitement to trespass, harassment, and destruction cannot go unanswered. The Constitution offers remedies. Pursue them — for no other reason than to deter the president from escalation. There must be a cost for reckless endangerment of the United States government. Trump must pay.

and the post-Christmas Covid surge arrived

Friday, new cases topped 300K for the first time, coming in at 315K. The previous day, deaths topped 4K for the first time, coming in at 4027. The 7-day average on deaths is now 3200, and still going up. In general, deaths lag cases by a week or two, and track at about 1.5% or so. So the 300K cases is consistent with 4,500 daily deaths before the end of the month.

I have hopes that the cases and deaths will start to drop sharply before long. I base this not on the vaccine, which continues to roll out slowly, but on my bargain-with-God theory. I think a lot of people knew they were taking irresponsible risks over Christmas, but offered God a deal: “Just let me get through the holidays, and I’ll be good.” I think masking, staying-at-home, and social distance compliance is probably picking up now.

and free speech (and its consequences)

The other featured post discusses the implications of Twitter banning Trump, and Josh Hawley losing his book deal.

and oh, by the way, the Democrats captured control of the Senate

Wednesday was a busy day. I woke up to find that Raphael Warnock had won his race against Kelly Loeffler, and Jon Ossoff was ahead of David Perdue. Later that day Ossoff’s race was called, producing a 50-50 Senate that VP Harris will tilt to the Democrats. The late vote-count increased the margins in both races, with Ossoff ahead now by 1.2% and Warnock’s margin over 2%, big enough that a recount is not necessary. Georgia law allows Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger until January 22 to certify the results, after which both new senators should be sworn in.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a nice ring to it.

and you also might be interested in …

The editor of Forbes calls for “a truth reckoning”, which requires consequences for Trump’s hired liars. Ordinarily, a White House press secretary stands to make millions after rejoining the private sector. Trump’s should not.

Let it be known to the business world: Hire any of Trump’s fellow fabulists above [Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Stephanie Grisham, Kayleigh McEnany] and Forbes will assume that everything your company or firm talks about is a lie. We’re going to scrutinize, double-check, investigate with the same skepticism we’d approach a Trump tweet. Want to ensure the world’s biggest business media brand approaches you as a potential funnel of disinformation? Then hire away.

This has got to hurt: The Professional Golfers Association doesn’t want Trump’s baggage.

“The PGA of America Board of Directors voted tonight to exercise the right to terminate the agreement to play the 2022 PGA Championship at Trump Bedminster,” said Jim Richerson, PGA of America president, in a statement. Holding the tournament at Trump Bedminster, Richerson said, would be “detrimental” to the PGA of America’s brand and put the organization’s ability to function “at risk.”

As if to bookend the images of white domestic terrorists freely roaming the Capitol, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced that the officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times would not be charged with any crime.

Watching Graveley’s statement to the press as it happened, I was not in a position to immediately confirm or refute the points he was making. But I was struck by the tone: He was speaking as a defense attorney for the cops, trying to persuade the public rather than inform it.

The great NYT reporter Neil Sheehan died this week, freeing The Times to publish the full story of how he got The Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg.

and let’s close with the best new thing of 2020

Rachel Maddow used to close her show with an upbeat segment called “The Best New Thing in the World”. The new things were usually off-beat and not terribly momentous, but just made you feel good to think about them. I have such a new thing here: In March of 2020, the South Philippine Dwarf Kingfisher had its photo published for the first time in the 130 years since the species had been described. “It has eluded scientists for over a hundred years because of its behavior. It is difficult to see as it perches quietly and darts invisibly from perch to perch.”

The Capitol Invasion is Both an End and a Beginning

Naive Trumpism is dead, but the right-wing insurrection is just getting started.

A history of violence. Of course the Trump administration would end in violence.

Trump’s brand of populism has had a violent undercurrent from the beginning, and Trump himself has done little to reject that tendency or even tone it down. Only a couple months after he descended the escalator in 2015, he made excuses for two of his fans beating a homeless Hispanic man with a metal pole, describing his supporters as “very passionate … They love this country and want it to be great again.” When neo-Nazis chanted racist and anti-Semitic slogans in Charlottesville, and one of them murdered a counter-protester, he talked about the “very fine people on both sides“. He gave a presidential shout-out to Kyle Rittenhouse’s self-defense claim, ignoring the fact that people were chasing Rittenhouse because he had already killed someone.

I won’t attempt a more complete accounting of Trumpist violence — the guy who mailed all the pipe bombs, the guy who took Trump’s “invasion” rhetoric so literally that he murdered Hispanics in an El Paso mall, the plot to kidnap Michigan’s governor — because Vox already did that.

Of course, politicians never have complete control over their followers. But there are responsible and irresponsible ways to react when your people cross the line. Bernie Sanders, for example, said this in 2017:

I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign. I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be: Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.

You will search in vain for a similarly unequivocal rejection by Trump of pro-Trump violence. After a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was foiled, Trump muddied his denunciation of the plot with criticism of Whitmer and an endorsement of the plotters’ political goals.

I do not tolerate ANY extreme violence. Defending ALL Americans, even those who oppose and attack me, is what I will always do as your President! Governor Whitmer — open up your state, open up your schools, and open up your churches!

Occasionally, handlers have pressured the President into putting some kind of distance between himself and the most thuggish elements of the MAGAverse. But his heart has never been in it — such statements became known as Trump’s “hostage videos” — and he would quickly walk them back with much more fervor, lest any of his brownshirts feel unappreciated.

And then he lost the election.

It wasn’t close. Biden’s 7-million vote victory wasn’t quite as big as Obama’s 2008 landslide, but before that you have to go back to Bill Clinton in 1996 to find a similar margin. The Electoral College rigs presidential elections in Republicans’ favor, but even that outcome was convincing: 306-232. The media’s delay in calling the election was due to the Covid pandemic and the number of mail-in votes, not any narrowness in the results.

Trump has long threatened violence if he didn’t get what he wanted. In March of 2016 he warned that “you’d have riots” if the Republican Party found a way to deny him the nomination. That fall, he would only commit to accepting the election results “if I win“. Asked in September of 2020 if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power in case he lost, Trump replied “We’ll have to see what happens.” When challenged to break with the violent white-supremacist Proud Boys, Trump told them to “stand back and stand by“.

Stand by for what? Wednesday we found out.

The Big Lie. Even more pronounced than his affinity with violence has been Trump’s habit of saying things because he wants them to be true, a self-serving exaggeration of the power-of-positive-thinking religion he was raised in.

Some of his self-flattering fictions have been petty and inconsequential, like his insistence that his inaugural crowd was larger than Barack Obama’s. Others have been more significant, like his claim that 3-5 million non-citizens voted illegally in 2016, a total that conveniently accounted for Hillary Clinton’s margin in the popular vote. He wanted the Mueller report to “totally exonerate” him, but it did not. And we will never know exactly how many additional Americans died because of Trump’s lies about the coronavirus — that it was just the flu, that doctors inflated the death statistics, that it was under control, that masks don’t work, that business closures aren’t necessary, that hydroxychloroquine is a miracle cure — but it’s probably in the tens or hundreds of thousands.

Among his tens of thousands of lies since taking office, his claim that he won “by a landslide” in the election that he actually lost by a wide margin, but that his victory was “stolen” from him by Democratic fraud, was Trump’s Big Lie, the kind of lie Hitler described in Mein Kampf.

in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

Historian Timothy Snyder made the connection to the current situation:

The force of a big lie resides in its demand that many other things must be believed or disbelieved. To make sense of a world in which the 2020 presidential election was stolen requires distrust not only of reporters and of experts but also of local, state and federal government institutions, from poll workers to elected officials, Homeland Security and all the way to the Supreme Court. It brings with it, of necessity, a conspiracy theory: Imagine all the people who must have been in on such a plot and all the people who would have had to work on the cover-up.

Trump’s electoral fiction floats free of verifiable reality. It is defended not so much by facts as by claims that someone else has made some claims. The sensibility is that something must be wrong because I feel it to be wrong, and I know others feel the same way. When political leaders such as Ted Cruz or Jim Jordan spoke like this, what they meant was: You believe my lies, which compels me to repeat them.

Trump was already setting up this lie before the election even happened, telling his supporters that he could only lose by fraud, and that voting by mail was inherently rife with fraud. On election night, he falsely claimed victory, and subsequently, as recounts, hand recounts, signature audits, and every other kind of verification knocked down his baseless allegations, his claims just got wilder. In the January 6 speech that sent the mob heading towards the Capitol, he told lies already long refuted: that in Pennsylvania “You had 205,000 more ballots than you had voters.” In Detroit, “174,000 ballots were counted without being tied to an actual registered voter.”

The conspiracy to deny him a second term grew and grew: It now had to include not just Biden’s people, not just Democrats, but his own appointees like Christopher Krebs and Bill Barr, Republican election commissioners, Republican secretaries of state and governors, and ultimately even Mike Pence.

The attack on the Capitol. Even the most talented liar sometimes faces a confrontation with reality that can’t be explained away. A key part of Trump’s Big Lie wasn’t just that he should have won, or that the Democrats had stolen the election, but that they would not get away with it. The fraud would be exposed, the election results reversed, and a Trump second term inaugurated on January 20.

Something had to give eventually, because on January 20 Trump either would or wouldn’t start a second term. For two months, the date of MAGA salvation kept getting pushed back and the mechanism changing. At first, the story was that Trump’s election-night lead in key states would hold. When that didn’t happen, he claimed that the states would refuse to certify Biden’s win. When they did — even the ones like Georgia and Arizona with Republican officials — he said the courts would intervene, culminating in a showdown before a Supreme Court with three Trump appointees and a 6-3 Republican majority. When the Supreme Court wanted no part of his scheme, he told his followers that Republican state legislatures would throw out the elections and appoint Trump electors. But on December 14, Biden’s 306 certified electors voted, and there was only one remaining possibility to overturn the People’s will: when Congress counted the electoral votes on January 6.

At that point, new elements of the fantasy emerged: Congress had the power to throw out a state’s certified electoral votes, in spite of the 12th Amendment, which empowers it only to “open” and “count” the votes sent by the states. As the official presiding over this opening and counting, Vice President Pence had the power to recognize alternative slates of Trump-supporting electors — a power that, if it existed, would guarantee that no party in power ever lost the White House. In 2001, Al Gore could have recognized the Democratic electors from Florida and declared himself president. Joe Biden could have tossed Trump’s slates in 2017 and appointed Hillary Clinton.

Imagine that you believed all this nonsense, and think about how your anger might have risen as you heard that Mike Pence was refusing to exercise his power to count the votes however he wanted, and Mitch McConnell would not rally Republican senators to “stop the steal” of Trump’s landslide. Cowardly Republicans refused to seize this moment, and instead would let Joe Biden’s radical socialism destroy America.

Unless the People rose up.

From the beginning, Trump’s January 6 “Save America” rally had violence written all over it. When Trump promoted it in a December 19 tweet, he said “Be there, will be wild!” After Trump stooge Louie Gohmert lost his insane lawsuit to disenfranchise millions of Americans, he said the court’s message was “You have to go to the streets and be as violent as antifa, BLM.” Violent pro-Trump groups plotted openly on social media platforms.

More than 80% of the top posts on TheDonald on Wednesday about the Electoral College certification featured calls for violence in the top five responses, according to research from Advance Democracy, an independent, nonpartisan organization. And it wasn’t just fringe websites. On Twitter, Advance Democracy found more than 1,480 posts from QAnon-related accounts about Jan. 6 that contained terms of violence since Jan. 1. On TikTok, videos promoting violence garnered hundreds of thousands of views.

Trump certainly could or should have known all this when he spoke to the crowd he had assembled and instructed it to march on the Capitol. Quite likely he did know. But he spoke to rile the crowd up, not to keep it under control. After the violence began, he resisted for hours requests that he call the mob off. When he did ask them to go home, he did not denounce what they had done, but repeated the Big Lie that motivated them.

We now know that the incident could have been far worse than it actually was. A scaffold was set up, and some of the invaders chanted “Hang Mike Pence.” They killed a Capitol policeman. What might they have done if they’d gotten hold of people Trump frequently has demonized, like Speaker Pelosi or Rep. Adam Schiff?

They went into the Capitol, as Congress was counting electoral votes, equipped to take hostages—to physically seize officials, and presumably to take lives. … If the rioters had been a little quicker through the doors; if senators and representatives hadn’t just moved from their joint session into separate chambers to debate the Arizona challenge and had instead still been packed into one harder-to-evacuate room; if any number of things had happened differently, the three people next in the line of succession for the presidency might have been face to face with those zip-tie guys. And then: Who knows.

The Republican divide. The overt violence at the Capitol, putting the lives of even Republican members of Congress at risk, means that it is no longer possible to ignore what Trumpism is. “Naive Trumpism”, the idea that Trump throws a lot of red meat to his base, but that traditional Reagan/Bush Republicans can work with him within the constitutional order to cut taxes and appoint judges, is dead now. If you’re still a Trumpist today, you support ending democracy and overthrowing the constitutional order.

Historian Timothy Snyder divides the GOP into “gamers” (like Mitch McConnell) and “breakers” (like Trump).

Right now, the Republican Party is a coalition of two types of people: those who would game the system (most of the politicians, some of the voters) and those who dream of breaking it (a few of the politicians, many of the voters). In January 2021, this was visible as the difference between those Republicans who defended the present system on the grounds that it favored them and those who tried to upend it.

Until Wednesday, opportunists like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley could blur that distinction and appear to be on both sides. Going forward, such a position will no longer be tenable. The people who invaded the Capitol are either freedom fighters or traitors. There is no middle ground.

Democracies have to defend themselves. This is one of the lessons I glean from my reading about Hitler’s rise to power. The Weimar Republic fell, at least in part, because it lacked the will to defend itself, or to defend the government’s monopoly on the use of force. Hitler himself first drew national attention by leading the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in 1923. It was his first attempt to take power, and it earned him a five-year sentence for treason. He was released after nine months, having learned that treason against the democratic government was just not that big a deal.

In subsequent years, brownshirt violence was often winked at by German law enforcement, which tended to be conservative and to dislike the same people the Nazis were beating up. Similarly Wednesday, while most police at the Capitol risked their lives to defend Congress, at least a few policemen seemed to be on friendly terms with the invaders.

The Capitol Insurrection may mark the end of naive Trumpism, and split the GOP into gamers and breakers. But it also marks the beginning of a darker campaign of right-wing violence that the Biden administration will have to confront. We don’t know what further violence may erupt on Inauguration Day, or between then and now. But the end of Trump will not be the end of the movement. The Whitmer kidnapping plot may be a model for future actions, and I’m sure others have noticed that a 50-50 Senate can be flipped back to Republican control with a single bullet.

Paul Krugman’s first column after Wednesday’s riot didn’t invoke Hitler or the Nazis by name, but warned:

if history teaches us one lesson about dealing with fascists, it is the futility of appeasement. Giving in to fascists doesn’t pacify them, it just encourages them to go further.

I hope Joe Biden has learned that lesson.

Sedition and Free Speech

Conservatives are claiming that companies like Amazon and Twitter are violating their First Amendment rights. They’re wrong, but their situation points to a deeper problem in our public discourse.

The First Amendment says that the government can’t punish you for speaking your mind. It doesn’t say that anyone in the private sector has to maintain their relationships with you if you say something they don’t want to be associated with. I find this analogy useful: Free speech is like a bar you can drink at. But no one has to sit next to you, listen to what you say, or join in when you start singing.

In particular, a number of US corporations have decided that their brands would be damaged by association with the invasion of the US Capitol and the attempt to maintain Trump in office by force.

And so Josh Hawley, the Fascist senator from Missouri (F-MO), lost his book contract with Simon & Schuster after he raised his fist in support of the violent mob that was about to invade his workplace. His Twitter bio describes him as a “constitutional lawyer”, so he must understand that what he tweets here to “the woke mob at @SimonSchuster” — a metaphoric mob as opposed to the literal mob Hawley encouraged — is nonsense:

This could not be more Orwellian. Simon & Schuster is canceling my contract because I was representing my constituents, leading a debate on the Senate floor on voter integrity, which they have now decided to redefine as sedition. Let me be clear, this is not just a contract dispute. It’s a direct assault on the First Amendment. Only approved speech can now be published. This is the Left looking to cancel everyone they don’t approve of. I will fight this cancel culture with everything I have. We’ll see you in court.

The libertarian site Reason points out what should be obvious:

Hawley has no right to publish a book with Simon & Schuster, using Simon & Schuster’s resources, without Simon & Schuster’s consent. … In light of this, there is nothing Orwellian about any part of this episode. We all have a right to refuse to associate with those who are repugnant to us, and none of us have a right to associate with those who don’t want to associate with us.

In a similar but more significant case, Twitter decided it didn’t like seeing its platform used to foment insurrection against the United States, and so it removed Donald Trump’s account “due to the risk of further incitement of violence”.

Trump tried to get his tweets out through other accounts, which Twitter shut down in whack-a-mole fashion. “If it is clear that another account is being used for the purposes of evading a ban, it is also subject to suspension.”

After Facebook decided that some conservative users were consistently violating its “community standards” (which I also occasionally run afoul of, for reasons that escape me), many of them emigrated to Parler, a social media platform more accepting of racism and incitement of violence. Much of the planning for the Capitol riot apparently happened over Parler, though much of the really violent stuff was discussed on sites like, where people are still calling for Trump to declare martial law and stay in power by force. In a visit of less than a minute, I noticed this:

State legislatures failed, governors failed, secretary of states failed, judges failed, congress failed and the highest court in the land failed. If there was ever a time to use the Insurrection Act right now would be arguably the reason why we have it.

Again, major corporations don’t like being associated with fascist insurrection. So Google and Apple removed the Parler app from their app stores, making it hard for new users to join. But the big blow came when Amazon Web Services (AWS) decided to stop hosting Parler’s site.

AWS provides technology and services to customers across the political spectrum, and we continue to respect Parler’s right to determine for itself what content it will allow on its site. However, we cannot provide services to a customer that is unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence against others. Because Parler cannot comply with our terms of service and poses a very real risk to public safety, we plan to suspend Parler’s account.

As a result, Parler CEO John Matze estimates that the site could be offline for about a week, while it rebuilds its infrastructure. Like Hawley, he protests against censorship.

Concentration, not censorship. There actually is an issue here, but has nothing to do with the First Amendment. It’s antitrust and monopoly, a topic that fits badly inside a conservative worldview that makes a fetish of the “free” market.

The national discourse now depends on a fairly small number of corporations like Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter. If you look beyond the internet and social media, the number doesn’t get much bigger: Disney, Time-Warner, AT&T, Comcast, ViacomCBS, and a few others control the major TV networks and most of the major magazines. Local newspapers and TV stations have been gobbled up by chains like Gannett and Sinclair, and few newspapers beyond The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal have national scope or a national readership.

The problem isn’t “censorship” or “media bias” however you interpret those terms. And it’s not targeted at conservatives, in spite of all their whining and howling. (I believe that if Biden ends his term by attempting a violent coup, Twitter will probably shut him off as well.) The problem is that we have allowed our media infrastructure to develop choke points, which are controlled by corporations or individuals whose interests are not necessarily the public interest, and whose decisions are beyond public appeal.

That’s a complex problem that can’t be solved by a lawsuit or a new interpretation of the First Amendment. It’s going to require some real thought and some wise public policy.

Democracy and free speech. The essence of the problem is that the relationship between democracy and free speech has changed in recent years. Rather than Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare of too little speech, where no one is in a position to contest the government’s narrative, we now arguably face too much speech. “The Truth is Out There” according to the poster in Fox Mulder’s office, but how will you find it, or recognize it when you do? Disinformation has replaced ignorance as the primary threat to democratic public discourse. Truth is not kept secret so much as buried under mountains of bullshit.

Thomas Edsall discusses the problems (but offers little in the way of solutions) in “Have Trump’s Lies Wrecked Free Speech?” My own view, which still needs a lot of work to flesh out, is that we are experiencing a market failure in the marketplace of ideas. (I believe this novel application of the term “market failure” comes from Richard Hasen, whose book Cheap Speech should be worth reading when it comes out.)

The original theory of free speech and its role in a democracy is that Truth eventually wins out in the marketplace of ideas, if it is allowed to compete. That seems to be in doubt now.

But the marketplace of ideas, like all markets, is a human construction, not something that occurs naturally. Markets work or don’t work depending on how they’re set up. The marketplace of ideas, as currently constituted, is not working. Edsall quotes Lawrence Lessig:

There’s a very particular reason why this more recent change in technology has become so particularly destructive: it is not just the technology, but also the changes in the business model of media that those changes have inspired. The essence is that the business model of advertising added to the editor-free world of the internet, means that it pays for them to make us crazy. Think about the comparison to the processed food industry: they, like the internet platforms, have a business that exploits a human weakness, they profit the more they exploit, the more they exploit, the sicker we are.

It’s still possible to imagine a world where Truth rises to the top and disinformation sinks out of sight — maybe by some crowdsourced method rather than by the decision of either a government bureaucrat or an officer of some corporate monopoly. It’s possible to imagine a world where people are encouraged to feed their minds a healthy diet of information with some relationship to facts and logic, rather than violence-inducing conspiracy theories. But such a model will need to be constructed, promoted, and consciously chosen. Simply wishing we had one will not be enough.

The Monday Morning Teaser

Looking back on what I wrote last week, I find myself in the strange position of having been simultaneously prescient and naive. On the one hand, this quote from last week’s featured post looks pretty good:

Fortunately, this effort to turn America fascist will fail on Wednesday, with both the House and the Senate declaring Biden the winner. Trump’s supporters will probably riot in response — so much for law and order — but they will achieve nothing.

On the other hand, though, I completely failed to foresee that the rioters could actually penetrate the Capitol and make our elected representatives hide in fear of their lives. As a number of articles have made clear since, we were minutes away from a disaster far beyond the national shame we actually suffered. What if the rioters had gotten hold of Nancy Pelosi or Mike Pence? What if there had been no obvious way for Congress to reconvene to certify Biden’s win? If a rump Congress had counted the electoral votes in some high school gym, with dozens of members captive or missing or dead, the narrative of Biden’s illegitimacy would only have grown.

So anyway, I think the lesson is to keep looking ahead, but with humility.

Two featured posts are coming today. The first was a note for the summary that grew to such unwieldy proportions that it had to become a separate post: “Sedition and Free Speech”. In the wake of the Trump insurrection, companies like Amazon and Apple are disassociating themselves from platforms that helped incite the violence, like Parler. Conservatives are claiming censorship and invoking the First Amendment, which clearly does not apply to private-sector corporations. There is a problem back there somewhere, but it has to do with the large-scale infrastructure of our current marketplace of ideas. My thinking on this is still in process, but I’ll put my half-formed thoughts out there because of timeliness. That post is just about done and should be out shortly.

The second post tries to put Wednesday’s events in a useful context: “The Capitol Invasion is Both an End and a Beginning”. What is ending, I think, is what I call “naive Trumpism” — the idea that Trump says a lot of wild stuff, but is still someone more traditional Republicans can work with inside a democratic system. What is beginning is an open insurrection that appeals to violence rather than the Constitution. Let’s say that gets out by noon EST.

Finally, the weekly summary is left to consider “minor” events like the Democrats winning the Senate, or the post-Christmas Covid surge pushing death totals to new highs. Interesting times. Let’s project that for around 1.

Against the Nation

Right now, the most serious attempt to overthrow our democracy in the history of our of country is underway. Those who are pushing to make Donald Trump President, no matter the outcome of the election, are engaged in a treachery against their nation. You cannot, at the same time, love America and hate democracy.

Senator Chris Murphy

This week’s featured post is “The Increasingly Desperate Attack on Democracy“.

This week, everybody was talking about the Republican attempt to steal the election for Trump

As I explained in this morning’s Teaser, I resent that Trump is continuing to make me pay attention to him. The world and the country face real issues that have nothing to do with him, his ego, and his prospects of going to jail. I would like to start focusing on them. But his attempt to intimidate Georgia’s secretary of state into throwing the election, and his supporters’ effort to block (or at least de-legitimize) Biden’s victory, can’t go unnoticed.

This attempt to establish an American autocracy should be a black mark that all these people wear for the rest of their lives. I agree with Jennifer Rubin:

These spurious challenges to an election should remind us that the GOP has become an authoritarian, unprincipled party whose only purpose is to retain power by whatever means possible. It should permanently disqualify these Republicans from holding office.

I discuss the details in the featured post.

and about vaccine distribution

Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, writes bluntly in the Washington Post: “Vaccination is going slowly because nobody is in charge.”

Let’s start with a quick recap: As recently as early October, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said we’d have 100 million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020. One month later, that was reduced to 40 million doses. As recently as Dec. 21, Vice President Pence, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, said that we were on track to vaccinate 20 million Americans by Dec. 31. Unfortunately, 20 million doses haven’t even gotten to the states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that we have vaccinated about 2.6 million people. Assuming the reporting lags by a few days, we might be at 3 or 4 million total. …

How did we get from 100 million promised doses to just a few million people vaccinated? It is a lesson in misunderstanding American federalism and a failure of national leadership. The federal government and Operation Warp Speed saw their role as getting vaccines to the states, without considering what supports states would need to get vaccines to the people.

State public health departments are already worn down by pandemic, and the money appropriated in the CARES Act last spring is long gone. The Covid relief package just passed by Congress has new funding for states to spend on vaccination programs, but the new money, plus a plan for what to do with it “should have happened in October and November”.

In the face of this unforced error, Trump is doing what he always does: blame somebody else. The slow delivery of the vaccine is the states’ fault, he claims. (In a remarkable coincidence, all 50 of them are failing in exactly the same way.) In a tweet, Trump makes this systemic failure sound like his personal success.

The vaccines are being delivered to the states by the Federal Government far faster than they can be administered!

One of the most frustrating thoughts I have about the whole botched pandemic response, beginning to end, is that this is precisely the kind of thing Hillary Clinton would have been good at: a difficult organizational problem with a lot of details, requiring an understanding of how the various parts of government work and how they fit together.

The pandemic seems to have leveled off at a horrifying plateau, as we wait to see the size of the post-Christmas surge. We’re currently averaging about 220K new cases per day and 2600 daily deaths, and have been for more than two weeks. The total number of American deaths has passed 350K.

and the Georgia senate runoffs

I haven’t posted much about this because I don’t know what to say. I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen.

The election is tomorrow. After November, I’m not trusting small margins in polls, but 538’s polling average has both Democrats narrowly ahead, with neither polling over 50%. For what it’s worth, polls in Georgia did pretty well in November. 538 had Biden winning by .9%; he actually won by .2%.

Two Senate seats will be decided. If Democrats win both of them, they will control a 50-50 Senate by virtue of Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. Otherwise, Mitch McConnell continues to be majority leader.

Even if both Democrats win, it’s a mistake to expect much out of the Senate. The filibuster is still in place, and to get rid of it Schumer would need all 50 Democratic votes — something that’s unlikely to happen. The main advantage that would come from controlling the Senate would be deciding what comes to a vote. For the last two years, Pelosi’s House majority has been passing legislation about voting rights, Covid relief, DC statehood, and all sorts of other worthy causes. The Senate should have to vote on these things. If it does, some watered-down version might even pass.

Also, a Republican Senate will spend most of its time launching spurious investigations into whatever Biden conspiracy theory they can come up with.

But the idea that a 50-Democrat Senate will enable some kind of “socialist agenda” is just Republican propaganda.

and you also might be interested in …

Nancy Pelosi gets another term as speaker.

Congress overrode Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. Efforts to up the $600 payments in last week’s Covid relief bill to $2000 went nowhere in the Senate.

Patrick Cage knew about Q-Anon before most of the rest of us did, because he makes regular bets on PredictIt, the political stock market. Back in 2018 he started noticing anomalies in the prediction markets: People were willing to bet money on prospective events that nothing in the news pointed to: say, that Hillary Clinton or Jim Comey or Barack Obama would be indicted by a certain date. After he won a few bets against these positions, he started studying the comments sections for explanations of what the bettors were thinking. And that’s how he discovered Q.

The followers of Q, it turns out, don’t just trade theories on social media. Some of them think they have real inside knowledge that they can use to make money. Cage has become a student of Q-Anon theories so that he can bet against them. He claims he hasn’t lost an anti-Q bet yet.

If you have Q-Anon friends, you might want to show them this article. One of the best ways to dissuade them, I suspect, would be to get them testing their theories on prediction markets. You can explain away things you said on the internet. But you can’t explain away a steady loss of money. If Q is so smart, why can’t the people who listen to him get rich?

I’ve been resisting the recent trend of paying for subscriptions to individual writers — sorry, Matt Yglesias — but this week I made an exception for David Roberts’ new blog Volts.

Roberts has been writing about environmental issues and their philosophical underpinnings for years. I started reading his stuff when he wrote for Grist, then followed him to Vox. I’ve quoted posts like “The question of what Donald Trump ‘really believes’ has no answer“, and his discussion of “tribal epistemology“. His 2012 exchange with Wen Stephenson about how the mainstream media covers climate change is just as relevant now as it was then.

An example of the kind of thinking I have appreciated from Roberts is his recent Volts post “Why I Am a Progressive“, which includes a critique of philosophy’s famous Trolley Problem (which you may have seen on “The Good Place”). The thought experiment is misguided, he claims, because it implies that the important thing in ethics is to find the right abstract rules, as if the height of ethical achievement is to become the perfect decision-making automaton.

As the Trolley Problem is structured, you, the moral agent, have an utter paucity of knowledge about the situation. You don’t know why you’re there, any of the people involved, any history, any detail. All you know is, one life or five lives. The problem is designed to make the agent (the decider) invisible, to isolate the decision itself away from embedded, embodied experience.  …

All we have are the perceptual and analytic tools available to us, so we should focus on improving them. If you want trolley-style decisions made better in the real world, in real societies, you’re much better off focusing on agents than on any set of final principles. … [W]hat we’d want operating in a real-world case of the Trolley Problem is not the perfect set of principles, but the perfect moral agent — the best possible decision-maker.

By contrast, the world we have now is determined by “harried people making thoughtless decisions based on crude heuristics and mental models”. The surest path to a more moral world, then, is to improve that situation.

And so he winds around to the question he is supposed to be answering: why he’s progressive. People make better decisions, he says, when they have the slack to take a step back and think things through, and they make worse decisions when they’re hungry or afraid or worried about losing their place in the world. They also make better decisions when they have access to high-quality information. So, of course, you educate people about how to think clearly, and you make it easy for them to find good information. And then you create a society where as few people as possible live in fear or under stress.

I finally got around to reading Dan Kaufman’s book The Fall of Wisconsin, which came out in 2018. It tells the story of how Scott Walker and an extreme form of conservatism took over the state where Bob La Follette invented the progressive movement a century ago. The short version is:

  • Walker’s conservatives were backed by limitless amounts of money, which they used not only to overwhelm Democrats during election campaigns, but also to create a permanent infrastructure of organizing groups like Americans for Prosperity. Liberals organized issue by issue, election by election, and candidate by candidate, and so were always a step behind.
  • They had a long-term strategic plan and carried it out, systematically crippling centers of Democratic strength like the unions.
  • They were ruthless about changing the rules in their favor, instituting a voter-ID law that disenfranchised tens of thousands, gerrymandering legislative districts so extremely that repeated Democratic voting majorities can’t dislodge the Republican leadership, and transferring power from the governor to the legislature after Walker was voted out.

But it’s not just a story of diabolical Republican brilliance. The dysfunction of Democrats and progressives in general is a second theme. By taking a short-term non-strategic perspective, Walker’s opposition allowed itself to be picked apart piece by piece. Walker succeeded in turning private-sector unions against public-sector unions, and non-unionized workers against unionized workers. Liberal whites in the small towns often failed to stand up for blacks in Milwaukee or Native Americans protecting the environment near their reservations, and those groups returned the favor. The thought “They’ll be coming for me next” never seemed to register.

The Democratic Party in general showed a similar lack of solidarity, and worried more about losing the news cycle nationally than about supporting grassroot movements that channeled local energy. So in 2011 when Walker was taking collective-bargaining rights away from teachers and other public-sector unions, and tens of thousands of grassroot protesters occupied the state capitol building, President Obama was looking ahead to his 2012 reelection campaign and stayed away.

The lesson I learn from this book is that to be successful, the Democratic Party has to be strong locally, and has to stand for themes that manifest in issues people can see in their lives. Republicans have become the party of fantasy, focused on bizarre conspiracy theories (like Q-Anon), just-so stories (like rich people creating jobs with their tax cuts), meaningless pejorative labels (“socialists!”) and fears disconnected from reality (like transgender acceptance allowing pedophiles to lurk in girls’ bathrooms). Democrats can’t win on that turf.

Democrats have to be the party of real people talking about what’s going on in their lives: my groundwater is polluted, I can’t pay my medical bills or my student debt, you can’t live on minimum wage in this city, and so on. And if those stories sound foreign at first, because in some way we’re different from the people telling them, trusted national figures have to encourage us to stretch our empathy, and explain how we may need others to be there for us someday. National figures need to invest their political capital in local issues, rather than pull back because those stories are not immediately popular.

and let’s close with something restful

In Utah, a wildlife bridge allows for transit over Interstate 80. Back in November, the state Division of Wildlife Resources posted a video of the “traffic”, which includes several deer, as well as coyotes, bears, and a bobcat who snares a mouse.

The Increasingly Desperate Attack on Democracy

In Congress and behind the scenes, Trump and his allies try to hang onto power, in spite of both the voters and the law.

Whenever dealing with a Trump story, I like to take a moment to remember how things were before his regime took power. Otherwise, it’s easy to forget how unusual and un-American these last four years have been.

According to the procedures established in the 12th Amendment and the Electoral Count Act of 1887, every four years a joint session of Congress meets on January 6 to formally receive and tally the electoral votes of the states. Typically this is a non-event; you probably don’t even remember it happening in 2017 or 2013. In 2005, two Democrats — Barbara Boxer in the Senate and Tubbs Jones in the House — used it as a stage to call attention to voter suppression in Ohio. The Senate defeated Boxer’s challenge 74-1, and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry refused to endorse it. No one viewed it as a serious attempt to undo the election.

The only other challenge was in 1969, and concerned whether or not to count the vote of a faithless elector. Whichever side won that challenge, Richard Nixon would become president.

In short, the United States has a long tradition of respecting the elections held in November. Until now.

This is the first time since 1877 that we have arrived at January 6 with the loser of the election claiming that he won, and pressuring the system to put him in office. It is the first time ever that an incumbent president has used the power of his office to push such a claim.

Normally, we have an election in November, the votes are tallied, and the loser concedes as soon as the outcome is clear. It took a little longer to count the votes this time, but the outcome has been clear since November 7. This election was not close: Biden won the popular vote by more than 7 million, and carried the Republican-biased Electoral College 306-232.

But Trump’s effort to hang onto power illegitimately continues on multiple fronts.

The extortion call. Until yesterday, “Trump’s extortion call” would have referred to his July 2019 conversation with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, the one where he asked for a “favor” in exchange for releasing desperately needed military aid appropriated by Congress. He got impeached for that, and would have been removed from office if not for Republican partisanship in the Senate. Susan Collins famously voted to let him off, speculating that he had “learned a pretty big lesson“.

Yesterday, we found out what lesson he really did learn: He can get away with extortion calls.

Sunday, the Washington Post released excerpts, a full recording, and a transcript of a call Trump made Saturday to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who oversaw the certification of the election in which Trump lost Georgia and its 18 electoral votes.

In the call, Trump insists that “I won this election by hundreds of thousands of votes. There’s no way I lost Georgia. There’s no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes.” And he pressures Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we [need to win the state]”. (Trump actually says “have” rather than “need”, but it’s clear what he means.) He tells Raffensperger “there’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.”

In claiming that he’s entitled to these votes, Trump rehashes a laundry list of debunked conspiracy theories, which Raffensperger rebuts:

I don’t believe that you’re really questioning the Dominion machines. Because we did a hand retally, a 100% retally of all the ballots and compared them to what the machines said and came up with virtually the same result. Then we did the recount, and we got virtually the same result. So I guess we can probably take that off the table.

Trump deflects but does not acknowledge reality: Dominion machines did switch votes, he claims, but he doesn’t need those votes because he has other claims, all of which are equally groundless.

He makes a series of vague threats of mob violence in Georgia or prosecution of Raffensperger: “The people of Georgia are angry. … I hate to imagine what’s going to happen on Monday [when Trump has a rally in Georgia] or Tuesday, but it’s very scary to people. … [I]t is more illegal for you than it is for them because, you know what they did and you’re not reporting it. That’s a criminal, that’s a criminal offense. And you can’t let that happen. That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer. … But I mean, all of this stuff is very dangerous stuff. When you talk about no criminality, I think it’s very dangerous for you to say that.”

Raffensperger and his lawyer Ryan Germany calmly rebut all Trump claims, and stand by the accuracy of the election results: Trump lost Georgia. Trump refuses to accept this, and pressures them to release privileged voter data to his lawyers. (I believe this would allow Trump to know how individual people voted.) Germany replies “I don’t think we can give access to data that’s protected by law.” Trump lawyer Kurt Hilbert suggests an illegal work-around: “[I]s it possible that the secretary of state could deputize the lawyers for the president so that we could access that information and private information without you having any kind of violation?”

Crime or insanity? I have to agree with Mark Hamill:

Listening to the entire phone call is like discovering a long-lost episode of The Sopranos.

Trump never says: “I need you to cheat for me and bad things will happen to you if you don’t.” — just like Tony Soprano never says, “I want you to murder that guy.” Instead, the call is full of innuendo and falsehoods: not cheat for me, but believe these outrageous lies and act like they’re true.

Lots of mobsters are behind bars for conversations like this. If the intention is clear, the literal meaning of the words doesn’t necessarily matter. Several legal experts have said Trump violated the law by pressuring an election official to reverse an election. Here’s former Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Bromwich:

Unless there are portions of the tape that somehow negate criminal intent, “I just want to find 11,780 votes” and his threats against Raffensperger and his counsel violate 52 U.S. Code § 20511. His best defense would be insanity.

Lawrence Lessig allows for the possibility that Trump really believes all the nonsense he’s spouting. In that case, insanity would be more than just a legal ploy.

When you listen to the tape, what’s most striking is that he really sounds like he believes that he’s been robbed of the election. Like he really believes there were hundreds of thousands of ballots stolen or reversed — and is pleading with the SOS to reverse a crime. If that’s true, this doesn’t evince a crime. It evinces that the man has no connection to reality. Impeachment isn’t the remedy for that. The 25th Amendment is.

Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein is not a lawyer, but draws the obvious political conclusion:

In any other conceivable moment in US history, this tape would result in the leadership of both parties demanding the immediate resignation of the President of the United States.

Raffensperger. Raffensperger has already spoken out about being pressured by Trump’s allies. In November, he said that Lindsey Graham had pressured him to find a way not to count legally cast mail-in votes. Graham denied doing that, which is why Raffensperger decided to make a recording this time.

So why not record the call with the president, Raffensperger’s advisers thought, if nothing else for fact-checking purposes. “This is a man who has a history of reinventing history as it occurs,” one of them told Playbook. “So if he’s going to try to dispute anything on the call, it’s nice to have something like this, hard evidence, to dispute whatever he’s claiming about the secretary. Lindsey Graham asked us to throw out legally cast ballots. So yeah, after that call, we decided maybe we should do this.”

Raffensperger held the tape until Trump mischaracterized the call:

I spoke to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger yesterday about Fulton County and voter fraud in Georgia. He was unwilling, or unable, to answer questions such as the “ballots under table” scam, ballot destruction, out of state “voters”, dead voters, and more. He has no clue!

As with the Ukraine call, the Raffensperger call is just the one we happen to know about. We can only wonder: How many other calls has he made to pressure election officials into breaking the law for him?

Shenanigans in Congress. On Wednesday, Congress meets to officially receive and count the electoral votes. Ordinarily this is a formality that the public barely notices, but we’ve never before had an autocrat pulling out all the stops to stay in power (and quite likely to stay out of jail). Back in August, when I was considering Trump’s options for overthrowing democracy, I circled this date:

Here’s something I have great faith in: If the joint session of Congress on January 6 recognizes that Joe Biden has received the majority of electoral votes, he will become president at noon on January 20 and the government will obey his orders. Where Donald Trump is at the time, and whatever he is claiming or tweeting, will be of no consequence.

The inauguration itself is a tradition, not a constitutional requirement. Biden has to take the oath, but he could do it in his basement in Delaware. (After the Kennedy assassination, Vice President Johnson took the oath of office on Air Force One.) Congress’ recognition of his election signals to the rest of the government that Biden becomes president on January 20.

It appears there will be a challenge. Dozens of Republican congresspeople have said they will challenge the electors of various states, possibly including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Saturday, seven current Republican senators and four who will take their seats in the new Senate announced their support for Trump’s coup attempt. This is not a formality or a protest: Trump is claiming that he should remain in office in spite of the state-certified election results, and these Republicans are backing that claim.

This has never happened before in American history.

According to their joint statement, the senators are demanding that Congress

immediately appoint an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states. Once completed, individual states would evaluate the Commission’s findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed.

This would keep the drama going right up to January 20, when the Trump and Pence terms end. If no successor has been recognized by then, we’re in uncharted territory. In that scenario, probably Nancy Pelosi has the best claim on the office.

The statement cites “unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities” as a reason for this Commission, which the statement suggests should be modeled on the one that delivered the presidency to Rutherford Hayes in 1876 (as part of a deal that ended Reconstruction and set the stage for the Jim Crow era in the South).

Coyly, the senators make no actual allegations, and provide no evidence that there was any significant fraud — because there is no such evidence. Trump’s allegations have been raised in the appropriate venues and have been rejected at every turn by state and local election boards, secretaries of state, and state and federal courts at all levels. Often, when they get to court, Trump’s lawyers have refused to make the claims Trump makes, or that the same lawyers make to the media. There are, after all, consequences for lying to judges, but none for lying the American public.

Many of the officials who rejected the claims are Republicans (like Raffensperger) and many of the judges were appointed by Republicans, including some by Trump himself. Trump administration officials, including Attorney General Bill Barr, have found no evidence of the kind of fraud that could have decided the election. Trump has urged Republican legislatures to overturn their states’ elections, and none has done so.

Instead, the statement justifies the Election Commission by quoting polls showing that large numbers of Americans believe Trump’s lies — and the echoing lies of some of these same senators — that the election was rigged. Ben Sasse summarizes:

Right now we are locked in a destructive, vicious circle:Step 1: Allege widespread voter fraud. Step 2: Fail to offer specific evidence of widespread fraud. Step 3: Demand investigation, on grounds that there are “allegations” of voter fraud.

Facts don’t matter. It should be obvious that if such a 10-day Election Commission is convened on January 6, on January 16 we’ll be right back where we are now: The Commission might rehash some fanciful tales of fraud, but it will find no evidence (because there is no evidence). No legislatures will replace their electors. Trump will continue to say the election was rigged, and his sheep will continue to repeat his claims. Worse, he and his followers will use the very existence of a commission to claim that there was something uniquely suspect about the 2020 election. Rather than restore public confidence, the Commission would dignify Trump’s conspiracy theories.

If this were a dispute about facts, a fact-finding commission might resolve it. But the facts have been clear for a long time. (Ben Sasse has summarized them pretty well too.) Trump and his followers don’t want to accept the facts, and no one can make them. They want to overturn the election so that Trump can have a second term — and probably stay in office for life. Nothing else will satisfy them, so they will have to go unsatisfied.

Republican pushback. Fortunately, this effort to turn America fascist will fail on Wednesday, with both the House and the Senate declaring Biden the winner. Trump’s supporters will probably riot in response — so much for law and order — but they will achieve nothing.

The effort will fail because not all Republicans are going along with it. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse have been the most vocal critics in the Republican Senate caucus, but Lindsey Graham, Tom Cotton, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski have also made statements against the challenge. Prominent Republicans not currently in office have also denounced the move. Paul Ryan, for example, was blunt:

Efforts to reject the votes of the Electoral College and sow doubt about Joe Biden’s victory strike at the foundation of our republic. It is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than a federal intervention to overturn the results of state-certified elections and disenfranchise millions of Americans. The fact that this effort will fail does not mean it will not do significant damage to American democracy.

And then? Once Congress has recognized Biden’s election, Trump has no more cards to play within the American political system. His only option then is to attempt a violent revolution. This could be why all living former defense secretaries — including Trump secretaries James Mattis and Mark Esper — issued a statement urging current Pentagon officials to cooperate in the Biden transition (which Trump’s people have not been doing).

Acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and his subordinates — political appointees, officers and civil servants — are each bound by oath, law and precedent to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration, and to do so wholeheartedly. They must also refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.

My personal prediction is that Trump will back down from starting an armed conflict that he will lose, just as he has lost everywhere else. Instead, I expect that after Congress votes and the Proud Boys riot, he will enter the bargaining stage of his defeat: We’ll start hearing about all the horrible things he could still do, and what he wants in order to restrain himself from doing them.