Category Archives: Articles

Simone Biles vs. Sports Culture’s Toxic Masculinity

https://theweek.com/political-satire/1003145/still-the-goat

Real athletes aren’t supposed to have mental blocks, or yield to physical injuries. They’re also supposed to be men.


Simone Biles is widely acknowledged as the greatest female gymnast in the world, maybe the greatest ever. She entered the Olympics as the favorite to win gold medals in several different events, to go along with the Olympic medals she already has. Instead, she pulled out of the team competition on Tuesday, and then from subsequent events as they became imminent.

Biles has explained that she is suffering from what gymnasts call “the twisties”, an unpredictable (and usually temporary) loss of “air sense”.

The twisties are a mysterious phenomenon — suddenly a gymnast is no longer able to do a twisting skill she’s done thousands of times before. Your body just won’t cooperate, your brain loses track of where you are in the air. You find out where the ground is when you slam into it.

Nobody knows whether the twisties are physical, psychological, or some combination of the two. All the gymnast knows is that some unconscious process she had relied on has stopped functioning.

Similar mind/brain failures happen in other sports, and not just to world-class athletes. Several years ago, I was playing a pick-up basketball game when the unconscious fine-tuning process that usually targets my jump shot went poof. I would leap, twist in the air to sight the basket, and then wonder “What am I doing up here?” as if I had never shot a basketball before. The next time I played, the unconscious process was back. Was it a mini-stroke? Something I ate? An emotional issue? I never figured it out.

In golf, this is known as “the yips“. One famous baseball case is the pitcher Rick Ankiel, who had started a promising career when suddenly he lost the ability to target his pitches. It never came back (but he did work his way back up to the major leagues as a hitter).

In most sports, the main risk of continuing on in spite the yips (or whatever you call them) is the embarrassment of failure. Golfer Ernie Els once six-putted from three feet out. I ended up flinging the ball at the basket with my conscious mind and hoping it would go in. The result was pretty much what you would expect from someone who had not spent hours and hours practicing shooting until it became unconscious.

But I can barely imagine the terror of a gymnast, upside down in the middle of a flip, when the unconscious process fails and she thinks “What am I doing up here?” That’s a life-threatening situation.

So Biles was absolutely right to pull out of the competition and face all the resulting disappointment and criticism. In some ways, that took more courage than just going out and hurting herself. I wonder how many other gymnasts would have invented some invisible physical injury — a groin pull, say — rather than be honest and deal with what Biles has been subjected to this week.

Reaction to Biles’ decision was not, strictly speaking, political, but it did tend to break along liberal/conservative lines.

Following superstar gymnast Simone Biles citing concerns of mental health after shockingly pulling out of the women’s team competition, a number of conservative media figures and pundits attacked her on Tuesday for supposedly being a “quitter” and “selfish sociopath” who had brought “shame on her country.”

Conservatives do love to attack Black athletes — going after LeBron James, Steph Curry, Colin Kaepernick, etc. was a go-to move whenever Trump wanted to rally his base — and they also have problems with strong women. (There’s a reason why Kamala Harris gets targeted more viciously than Joe Biden.) But I think this particular case is less about racism and sexism than hyper-masculinity, which holds that will-power and “character” are supposed to blast through mental difficulties and even physical injuries. (See Curt Schilling’s “bloody sock game“.)

The idea that you’re supposed to play hurt and risk more serious injury is one important piece of football’s concussion problem.

Unfortunately, due to [toxic masculinity], many concussions go unreported, or mishandled as a result of the athlete playing it down, pretending it didn’t happen, or simply not knowing that they actually have a concussion.

White male NFL quarterback Andrew Luck took a lot of grief for retiring young, in spite of this clear explanation.

For the last four years or so, I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab, and it’s been unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and offseason. And I felt stuck in it, and the only way I see out is to no longer play football. It’s taken my joy of this game away.

Lacking a race or gender stereotype to beat Luck up with, Fox Sports’ Doug Gottlieb chose a generational smear:

Retiring cause rehabbing is “too hard” is the most millennial thing ever #AndrewLuck

Gottlieb has also criticized Biles, but resents CNN characterizing him as a “white male talking head”. He has claimed not to be a Trump supporter, but googling “Doug Gottlieb politics” led me to a series of conservative-leaning opinions.

Toxic masculinity is not a purely conservative problem, but there is a high correlation. (One much-admired Trump trait is his “strength”, which mainly manifests as a stubborn refusal to admit any mistakes.)

Biles’ decision was more-or-less the opposite of toxic masculinity. She faced reality, and admitted that she is not always as she would like to be. In the world of sports, that was a heresy of high order.

So like any heretic, she had to be denounced. If you happened to be conservative, the opportunity to dis a strong Black woman was just a bonus.

After the Fall

Ben Rhodes raises a hard question: How did America get from the pinnacle of our Cold War victory to this sorry place?


The Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, five days before Ben Rhodes‘ 12th birthday. The wall’s demise was the culmination of a series of large and (mostly) bloodless revolutions that brought down nearly all the Soviet-imposed governments of Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union itself was looking shaky, and would officially dissolve into its constituent republics in 1991.

Rhodes’ teen years were a period of undisputed American triumph. Not only were we the sole surviving superpower, but our political vision (representative democracy with constitutionally protected human rights) and economic vision (market economies gradually merging into a global free-trade zone) had also triumphed to such an extent that a US-style political economy was seriously put forward as the end-point of history.

The distant origins of the present volume lie in an article entitled “The End of History?” which I wrote for the journal The National Interest in the summer of 1989. In it, I argued that a remarkable consensus concerning the legitimacy of liberal democracy as a system of government had emerged throughout the world over the past few years, as it conquered rival ideologies like hereditary monarchy, fascism, and most recently communism. More than that, however, I argued that liberal democracy may constitute the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution” and the “final form of human government,” and as such constituted the “end of history.”

… The most remarkable development of the last quarter of the twentieth century has been the revelation of enormous weaknesses at the core of the world’s seemingly strong dictatorships, whether they be of the military-authoritarian Right, or the communist-totalitarian Left. From Latin America to Eastern Europe, from the Soviet Union to the Middle East and Asia, strong governments have been failing over the last two decades. And while they have not given way in all cases to stable liberal democracies, liberal democracy remains the only coherent political aspiration that spans different regions and cultures around the globe. In addition, liberal principles in economics – the “free market” – have spread, and have succeeded in producing unprecedented levels of material prosperity, both in industrially developed countries and in countries that had been, at the close of World War II, part of the impoverished Third World. A liberal revolution in economic thinking has sometimes preceded, sometimes followed, the move toward political freedom around the globe.

Today, though, liberal democracy seems to be in retreat around the world, to the point that America itself has a flourishing fascist movement. Last winter, Donald Trump attempted to stay in power after losing the election, and even instigated a riot in an attempt to intimidate Congress away from recognizing Joe Biden’s victory. For a moment it appeared that he had finally gone too far, and that his own party would now turn against him. But within weeks, he had reasserted control of the GOP, which is now working to craft tools for a better coup against democracy in 2024.

But it’s not just us. Russia appeared to be democratizing in the 1990s, only to become the model of the new fascism under Vladimir Putin. Similar nativist authoritarians have since taken power in Hungary, India, Brazil, and several other countries.

China’s communist leaders once looked like dead-enders. By suppressing their own democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989, China appeared to have staked out a position on the wrong side of history. Both Bill Clinton and the two Presidents Bush believed that opening up trade with China would increase the pressure on its leaders to democratize. A growing Chinese middle class, Americans of both parties agreed, would soon insist on political rights commensurate with its prosperity. Hong Kong, which Britain yielded to China in 1997, looked like a Trojan Horse. Surely the freedom and prosperity of Hong Kong would change China more than China changed Hong Kong.

Today, President Xi has more power than any Chinese leader since Mao, hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs are held in camps that could be a model for a new dystopia, Hong Kong is being brought to heel, and Chinese influence is spreading not just in Asia, but in Africa as well. Worse, numerous studies indicate that the Chinese middle class fears political change that might rock the boat of Chinese prosperity.

After the Fall. In his new book After the Fall: Being American in the World We’ve Made, Rhodes discusses the state of democracy around the world, and how we got here. He recounts his conversations with democracy activists in places where authoritarianism is ascendant: Hungary, Russia, and Hong Kong. Always in the background is the ghost of his younger self, who visited these places in happier times, and proudly imagined that his own democratic America was the model all other countries aspired to imitate.

Another ghost is the idealistic Rhodes who wrote speeches for Obama and believed that the 2008 landslide marked a sea change in US politics and governance. Present-day Rhodes is constantly confronted with how his work has been undone, turned around, or made meaningless.

In the final section, Rhodes humbly comes back to the US to analyze where we went wrong and what those foreign activists might have to teach us about democracy.

One thing Rhodes does well is to look past the bright shiny object that is Donald Trump. He has no illusions about what Trump represents or what a disaster his administration was for democracy and for America’s place in the world. But the anti-democracy movement in the US is part of a global anti-democracy trend that Trump did not start.

From our post-Cold-War apex, when democracy seemed to be a lesson the whole world wanted to learn, how did we get to a point where a Trump presidency was even possible?

First mistake: failing the fledgling post-Soviet democracies. Vladimir Putin did not come out of nowhere. He rose to power because the Yeltsin government in Russia was inept and corrupt. Privatizing the Soviet government’s assets and creating a capitalist economy was supposed to bring prosperity. Instead, it created a class of billionaire oligarchs and impoverished the general population. Democracy was supposed to give the people a voice in government, but instead the oligarchs bought the major media and spent lavishly to re-elect Boris Yeltsin in 1996. The legitimacy of Russia’s 1996 election was widely doubted.

These events produced a cynicism about democracy, markets, and America that is now deeply embedded in the Russian consciousness. The Yeltsin disaster didn’t just happen, it had American fingerprints all over it. American economists were everywhere in Russia in the 1990s, pushing privatization. American political consultants helped shape Yeltsin’s 1996 campaign, and President Clinton was clearly rooting for Yeltsin to prevail. At the same time, when the world price of oil collapsed and took Russia’s economy with it, the US and other Western democracies were stingy with aid.

US government and non-government advisors were so entranced by the vision of Russia joining the global market economy that we didn’t pay much attention to how it happened, or whether it was good for the Russian people.

We set the stage for Putin to raise Russian identity politics and restore national pride. And if he also turned out to be corrupt, his message that all governments are corrupt is very plausible. His elections are unfair, but no democracy plays fair. He provides order and protects Russia from foreign dominance. What more could the people expect?

Russia and the other post-Soviet republics were part of a larger pattern: Again and again, the vision of a borderless world economy trumped democratic ideals. China in particular did not have to raise its human-rights standards to get into the world economic club. There was money to be made from China’s billion-person market and its bottomless well of cheap labor, so we could overlook a few transgressions against human rights. Surely that would all get fixed after China became prosperous.

Second mistake: abandoning our principles after 9-11. America’s message abroad has always been two-sided. On the one hand, we promote democracy and human rights as universal values. On the other, we have often supported cruel dictators like the Shah of Iran or Saddam Hussein (until he invaded Kuwait).

But after 9-11, the Bush administration took the attitude that national security justified anything. We could invade any country we wanted, and launch attacks anywhere we believed the terrorists were hiding. We could ignore the Geneva Conventions and hold prisoners in legal limbo in Guantanamo, where they were protected by neither the laws of war nor American jurisprudence. American citizens could be declared “enemy combatants” and vanish into military prisons. Intelligence services could scoop up Americans’ private communications and sift them for terror-related keywords. We could even torture people if we thought they could tell us about terrorist plots.

In its post-9-11 zeal, the Bush administration created a rhetorical template for authoritarian governments around the world. If their opponents could be labeled “terrorists”, then any action against them was justifiable. Is China herding Uyghurs into concentration camps? Doesn’t matter, they’re terrorists.

Third mistake: the 2008 banking collapse and its aftermath. From the beginning, globalization had winners and losers. Opening a national economy to foreign trade both created jobs and destroyed them. Immigration simultaneously added vigor to an economy and increased competition for low-level jobs. Financial deregulation both created wealth and increased risk. The argument was that the gain outweighed the pain.

That argument was always a tough sell among working-class people, who benefited little from a rising stock market, but saw their once-secure jobs move overseas. They could buy cheap manufactured goods at Wal-Mart, but could never hope to be employed making them.

2008 underlined a problem: The gain-over-pain argument held in theory if everyone followed the same rules. But if there was one set of rules for the rich and another for everyone else, the wealth at the top would never trickle down. If bankers can profit when risky investments succeed, but get bailed out by the government when they fail, then the whole system is rigged.

Outside America, 2008 showed that globalization made local economies vulnerable to mistakes and corruption abroad, particularly in the US.

No one was ever brought to justice for the corruption behind the banking collapse. That never sat right with working-class people both in America and abroad. “I lost my job and my home,” people told each other. “What did Bank of America lose?”

Fourth mistake: Trump. The election of Donald Trump was both a cause in its own right and an effect of the previous three causes. He followed the Putin model of combining cynicism with nationalism and nativism: He was a liar and a conman, but (in his view) so was everyone else. If the system was already rigged, why not elect someone who promised to rig it in your favor?

Within the US, Trump dismantled the rules and traditions that protect democracy against authoritarianism and government corruption. He ignored the Constitution’s emoluments clause by running businesses and dues-collecting clubs that anyone seeking a favor could patronize. He bulldozed the barriers that kept the Justice Department from becoming a political weapon. His emergency declarations usurped Congress’ power of the purse. He pardoned his co-conspirators in exchange for their silence. His failure to stay in power after losing the 2020 election was more frightening than reassuring, and his supporters in state legislatures have been paving the road to make a 2024 coup proceed more smoothly.

Outside the US, Trump destroyed the idea that America is a reliable ally or a champion of democracy. He undermined NATO. He invented reasons to impose tariffs on Canada. He put the world on notice that the US would not cooperate to fight climate change. He praised dictators and denigrated democratically elected leaders. Human rights played no part in his foreign policy. If China wanted his favor, it should buy more soybeans, not allow Hong Kong the independence promised in China’s treaty with the United Kingdom.

Worse, he raised the fear (both here and abroad) that America might simply go crazy. However reasonable Joe Biden might sound today, who knows what some future president might do? Foreign leaders would be foolish to follow America’s lead or put much stock in American promises.

We’re not alone. None of the activists Rhodes talked to has yet succeeded: Putin and Orlov are still in power, and Hong Kong continues to lose its freedom. So he doesn’t conclude with a five-steps-to-restore-democracy chapter. Perhaps the central thing Rhodes learns is that the struggle against autocracy is so similar in such disparate places.

He ends up thinking we need to internationalize that struggle: Hong Kongers, for example, are not protesting for their rights; they’re protesting for human rights. We in American should take inspiration from the fact that they’re not giving up, in spite of facing oppression far beyond what we currently have to deal with. I’m reminded of an idea I’ve seen attributed to Jesse Jackson (but can’t quote from memory): You shouldn’t be fighting just to make sure that your people aren’t forced to the back of the bus. You should fight to make sure that nobody is forced to the back of the bus.

Rhodes wants to rehabilitate the notion (debased by hollow post-9-11 rhetoric) that democracy and human rights are universal values. It’s fine that Hungarians want to achieve Hungarian democracy and Americans want American democracy. But it would be so much better if, as human beings, we wanted democracy for everyone.

He closes with the idea that America might still have a key role to play. In spite of Trumpist rhetoric, there are no “real Americans”. We are a collection of peoples gathered from all corners of the Earth. If we can overcome nativism and white supremacy here, we might finally become the beacon of hope we used to believe we were.

The Cleveland Indians/Guardians: a teachable moment?

One of the eight Guardians of Traffic on Cleveland’s Hope Bridge

Systemic racism might be easier to grasp in a setting that doesn’t threaten anybody’s safety or livelihood.


Next year, the Cleveland major league baseball team will begin calling itself the Guardians rather than the Indians. This is the culmination of a long process of protest and negotiation, and unsurprisingly, not everyone is happy about it. But whether you love or hate the change, it pulls many of the issues surrounding systemic racism together into one easy-to-grasp package.

Unlike more fraught battlegrounds like policing or affirmative action, changing the name of a baseball team does not affect anyone’s safety or livelihood. No one will die because Cleveland calls its team the Guardians, or would have died if they had continued as the Indians. Feelings on both sides may be heartfelt, but they are clearly feelings rather than material interests. To steal a phrase from Thomas Jefferson, the logo on Shane Bieber’s jersey “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg”.

That said, the next thing to acknowledge is that the feelings on both sides are easy to understand and even sympathize with.

This is especially true of the Native Americans who dislike being turned into mascots. Native Americans were minding their own business in 1915 when a newspaper contest picked Indians as the new name for the Cleveland Naps, who had just traded their defining player, Nap Lajoie, to Philadelphia.

Imagine being a Native American parent who is trying to instill a sense of cultural pride in your children. Now picture White people running around in headdresses and warpaint while they root for a team that (in most seasons) has no actual Native American players. Let’s just say it doesn’t help. After your kids see random people at the mall wearing the stereotyped Chief Wahoo logo, it’s going to be hard to convince them that their heritage is serious and worthy of respect.

Admittedly, this constant low-level ridicule isn’t the worst thing that ever happened to Native Americans. It’s not on the same scale as, say, genocide or having the continent taken from them by force. But like those injuries, it’s an imposition from the outside; they did nothing to invite it or deserve it.

https://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/10/cleveland-indians-fans-dressing-up-as-chief-wahoo-world-series-racist

Once you’ve pictured that point of view, you may be tempted to declare Native Americans the good guys and those who love the Indians the bad guys. But that oversimplifies the situation.

Instead, try stretching your empathy to encompass Indians fans without pulling away from Native Americans. Being a fan may not be as central or immutable as a racial identity, but after more than a century, it also is a heritage. To the team’s fans, the Indians are Tris Speaker and Bob Feller and going to extra innings with the Cubs in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. The Indians may be one of the few enduring connections you made with your Dad, something you can still talk about when you visit him in the nursing home. Maybe what you remember when you think of the Indians is being 10 years old, and sneaking a radio under your covers to listen to a west coast night game after you were supposed to be asleep.

And racism? The Indians became the first American League team to integrate when Larry Doby joined the team only months after Jackie Robinson became a Dodger. Doby and Satchell Paige were key players in the Indians’ last championship in 1948.

But now, it seems, people are trying to make you remember all that with shame rather than nostalgia.

https://theathletic.com/875177/2019/04/04/top-25-moments-in-progressive-fields-25-year-history/

Back in 1915, making a mascot out of Native American heritage was a sin of obliviousness, not malice. It wasn’t about insulting any actual tribes, it was letting yourself forget that the tribes still existed or might care.

What’s more, probably no one who participated in that newspaper poll is still alive. Everyone who feels attached to the Indians today came to love a team already in progress. Many developed that attachment when they were too young to understand stereotypes or racism. The Indians were the family team; Chief Wahoo was their symbol. That’s all.

Nobody consulted you about it. You never made a decision to root for the team with the racist trappings. You rooted for the team that your parents or big brother or friends at school rooted for. Years later, people started telling you that it was a disrespectful misappropriation of somebody else’s cultural heritage. But that’s never what it meant to you. So why do people want you to feel guilty about it?

Welcome to systemic racism.

The main thing to understand about systemic racism is that trying to assign individual fault and guilt misses the point. Saying that a problem is systemic means that it doesn’t reduce to good guys and bad guys. Something in the structure of institutions pits well-meaning people against each other, and there’s no way to resolve the issue without hurting somebody.

Good guys vs. bad guys is dramatic. Systemic racism is tragic.

So: A long time ago, things got set up so that the civic pride of Cleveland would conflict with the ancestral pride of Native Americans. That conflict is entirely artificial: There’s no inherent reason why saying “Yay, Cleveland!” has to carry a sense of “Boo, Native Americans!” Things just wound up that way. And while we could go round and round about the intentions of the people who started it all, that’s just a distraction, because they’re dead. We’re not a jury discussing their punishment; we’re heirs trying to sort out their legacy.

That legacy, though, is not dead and buried like the people who created it: It causes an ongoing injury. The most obvious ongoing injury is to Native Americans, but there is also an injury to Cleveland and its baseball fans. Those five-year-olds who love their Chief Wahoo caps and jerseys will one day be 15-year-olds who look back and say, “Wow, that’s really racist.” What should be purely warm memories of childhood and family will instead be tainted.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

And that’s a key lesson to learn about anti-racist activism: The point isn’t to assess blame or demand that people feel guilty or apologize. The point is to make the injustice stop. Change the structure of things so that well-meaning people are no longer drafted into an artificial conflict. [1]

So: Keep your fond memories of Sam McDowell’s unhittable fastball, or the incredible 1995 lineup of Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, and Manny Ramirez, or even (if you go back that far) the amazing pitching rotation of Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Mike Garcia. Nobody needs you to feel bad about any of that.

The activists who campaigned to change the Indians name don’t benefit from your shame. They just want to make the ongoing injury stop. And renaming the Indians achieves that goal, both for Native Americans and for Cleveland. Native Americans get back a chunk of their heritage. And the five-year-olds who receive Guardians jerseys next year won’t ever have to reassess what they mean.


[1] I am not trying to say here that all racial conflicts are artificial. Clearly, some people actively seek the benefits that come from white supremacy, and a smaller number glory in pushing other races down, even when they get no benefit from it. But we will have come a long way if we can eliminate the purely systemic racial conflicts, which individuals are often surprised to discover they participate in.

What makes the Cleveland situation a good example is that it is so purely artificial. Attachment to the Indians has very little to do with hostility to Native Americans.

In many other examples, teasing legacy systemic racism away from active malicious racism can be tricky. Take the response to President Obama, for example. Americans had never seen a Black president before, so no matter what he did, it looked “unpresidential” to a lot of people, even if his White predecessors had done exactly the same thing. The lack of any prior images of Black presidents is a systemic problem, but at the same time, malicious political operatives were doing their best to stoke the unconscious reaction that there was something vaguely wrong about Obama being president, like maybe he wasn’t really born in America or something.

Ordinarily, systemic racism is hard to separate from the active individual racism that builds up around it. But with the Indians, it’s not so difficult.

DACA: One More Example of Broken Democracy

https://www.usatoday.com/picture-gallery/opinion/cartoons/2012/11/28/editorial-cartoons-on-pop-culture/1733923/

The judicial and executive branches tussle over a bone that belongs to legislative branch. But in spite of near unanimous pro-Dreamer public opinion, Congress has wasted nine years doing nothing to protect them.


Friday, a Bush-appointed federal judge in Texas issued an injunction that stops the Department of Homeland Security from approving any new DACA applications. The judge’s opinion reviews the main arguments against the legality of the program from the beginning, but his ruling stopped short of removing its protections against deportation, and Dreamers will still be able to hold jobs. The order undoubtedly will be appealed, and will eventually end up at the Supreme Court.

In short, this was yet another incident in a very tangled legal history. President Obama established DACA by executive order in 2012 in order to protect undocumented immigrants who had been brought to the US as children. He tried to extend the program to their parents via another executive order in 2014, but the courts blocked that plan. President Trump tried to end DACA by executive order in 2017, but the courts stopped him too. Now a judge appears to want to end the program himself.

I’m tempted to do what I usually do with significant court rulings: explain in layman’s terms why the judge is right or wrong. But that kind of article would miss the point. The larger and more important story is that democracy shouldn’t work this way. And the root problem isn’t with the two dogs barking at each other: It’s not that Obama or Trump overstepped, or that the courts should or shouldn’t have let them. The problem is with the dog that hasn’t barked: Congress.

How this started. I doubt President Obama ever imagined that DACA would still be around nine years later. In the speech that announced the program, he prodded Congress to pass the DREAM Act, or take some other action to supersede his order:

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. It is the right thing to do.

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

At the time, passing the DREAM Act didn’t seem like a heavy lift. DACA immigrants, a.k.a. Dreamers, are the poster children of the undocumented. Their parents brought them to the US as minors, when they had little choice in the matter. They have grown up here, stayed out of trouble, and gotten an education. Most speak English like natives and are full participants in American culture. Hundreds and hundreds of them have served in the US military.

Some did not know they were undocumented until it came time to apply for a driver’s license or a Social Security card.

Freshman year is when I first found out I was undocumented. I was waiting at registration and when the clerk was going through my paperwork, she asked if I knew my Social Security number. I told her I’d get it from my mom later. When I got home, my parents had told me about my “story”.

Many have little connection to their country of origin.

I haven’t been to Mexico since I left as a 3-year-old, more than 25 years ago. I have no memory of the place, and I’m culturally American — I would feel more like an outsider there than I do here. I have no clue how I would make a living, or where I would go. I had the opportunity to take some Spanish classes in college, but I speak it with an Alabama accent and can’t read or write the language well.

As Obama said back in 2012:

Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life — studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class — only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak.

In short, deporting the Dreamers to Mexico (or wherever else they might have been born) would be an obvious injustice. In poll after poll, large majorities of Americans recognize this. And while many right-wing politicians are anti-immigrant, few step up to lead an anti-Dreamer movement. Even President Trump purported to be rooting for them. As President-Elect in 2016, he told a Time interviewer:

We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud. They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.

Dysfunction. So if everybody is for you and nobody is against you, you should be OK, right?

Not so fast. In September of 2017, Trump and Democratic leaders in Congress briefly seemed to have a deal, but it quickly fell through. The problem: As much as Trump claimed to sympathize with the Dreamers, they made great hostages, and he never thought Democrats were paying enough to ransom them. As late as last summer, he kept naming a price and then backing away from it:

Trump has previously offered legislative proposals that would give Dreamers permanent legal protections in exchange for some of his hard-line immigration priorities, including cuts to legal immigration and border wall funding. But the offers failed in part because the president himself backed away after facing opposition from immigration hawks who accused him of going against his own campaign promises.

Some version of the DREAM Act has passed the House more than once, most recently on March 18. Once again, though the anti-democratic nature of the Senate looms:

The American Dream and Promise Act is the latest version of the Dream Act, which Senate Republicans have filibustered five different times to prevent the taking of a vote. This year, Democrats have edged out Republicans for control of the Senate, but a sixth filibuster is all but certain as it takes 60 votes to defeat a filibuster.

But the filibuster hasn’t been the only problem. Back in 2013, the stars aligned in the Senate, but not the House, largely because Speaker Boehner enforced a different anti-democratic process: the Hastert Rule, which allowed nothing to come up for a vote without the support of a “majority of the majority”. The rule worked like this: Republicans held 234 of the 435 seats in the House, so a mere 118 Republicans would constitute a “majority of the majority”. So 27% of the House could block the other 73% from accomplishing anything.

That anti-democracy feature built on top of another one: Gerrymandering was the only reason Republicans had a House majority at all. In the 2012 elections, John Boehner’s Republicans got 47.7% of the vote, and Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats 48.8%. In other words, Republicans representing on 24% of the country held veto power over the other 76%.

So nothing happened.

Power abhors a vacuum. If you read much about American politics, you will often run into complaints about the imperial presidency, or judicial activism. Presidents of either party, and liberal or conservative judges alike, are grabbing too much power, power the Constitution never intended them to have. Examples are easy to find.

But the problem isn’t executive or judicial strength, it’s legislative weakness.

When the People want something, and Congress can’t act because it has tied itself in knots, presidents will look for a way to make it happen. (That’s where DACA comes from.) If Congress can’t wield the war power, presidents will. (Congress still hasn’t repealed or replaced the Authorization for the Use of Military Force it passed after 9-11. Maybe it will soon.)

When laws are vague, or become obsolete as times change, and Congress refuses to clarify or update them, judges will find a way to read meaning into the laws they have. (This is basically the problem with the Second Amendment, which no longer means anything independent of judicial interpretations. How does that text give you the right to own an AR-15, but not a bazooka or an exocet missile? Did the Founders really anticipate that distinction?) No judge is going to tell plaintiffs and defendants “Hell, I don’t know.” And once you have to start making something up, why not make up something you think is good according to your own lights?

So we shouldn’t be arguing year after year about whether the Supreme Court is interpreting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act properly. Congress should look at the Court’s interpretation of the old law and pass a new one that better captures the People’s will. Those debates should be happening in committee hearings, not in amicus briefs to judges.

Conversely, when powerful interests in the country want something to happen and Congress won’t stop them, they’ll get their way by manipulating the bureaucracy. If unscrupulous presidents know Congress won’t enforce the limits on their power, and that they can violate any law without fear of impeachment, bad things will happen. And whose fault will that be?

American democracy had a near-death experience the end of the Trump administration. There is no lack of good thinking about how to tighten up the constraints that protect us against future usurpations. But will any of that happen? Of course not.

In a year or two, we may be back to deporting people who know no other country than this one, and who show every sign of the potential to be good citizens. Hardly anybody wants that to happen. But the body whose job it is to stop it is broken.

Vaccines versus Variants

https://theweek.com/political-satire/1002377/5-cartoons-about-the-rise-of-the-delta-variant

Ever since the Delta variant of Covid-19 emerged as the most virulent strain yet, public health officials have been talking about a race between the vaccines and the virus. In the US, the vaccines have been winning that race since the post-holiday-season peak in mid-January, which, conveniently for President Biden, coincided almost exactly with his inauguration.

But then the tide started to turn again. Cases began trending upward. New cases per day hit a low around 11,000 in mid-June, but now are back up to 19,000.

The usual pattern in Covid surges has been that hospitalizations and deaths lag a little, but eventually follow the case-number trends. (That makes intuitive sense when you think about how a Covid death plays out: First you get sick, then you are hospitalized, then you die.) Now hospitalizations have turned (up 11% in the past two weeks), though deaths are still (for now) trending downward. As treatments improve, we might hope to see a less solid link between hospitalizations and deaths, but we won’t know for another week or two which way the death trend will go.

It’s not hard to see why the graphs turned. Initially, vaccination was a logistics problem. Large numbers of people, like me, were eager to get vaccinated, and it was just a matter of producing and distributing enough doses. I would happily have taken my first shot in January, but (being just below the age-65 cutoff) I ended up waiting until April. Vaccinations increased as the logistics problems were handled, and peaked at over four million doses per day in early April.

But then they started to fall, as the number of eager unvaccinated people dwindled. Around half a million shots are still being given every day, but the Biden administration fell just short of its 70%-by-July-4 goal, and it’s not clear how much above 70% we’ll ever get.

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/01/28/960901166/how-is-the-covid-19-vaccination-campaign-going-in-your-state

Politics and risk. Like masks and other public health measures that would have been nonpartisan in previous eras, vaccines have become political. Former President Trump himself may be vaccinated, and may even mildly encourage his followers to get vaccinated, but Trump Country has become the center of vaccine resistance, which Trump Media actively promotes. The result is a wide divergence of vaccinations by state. Blue states like Vermont (66%) and Massachusetts (62%) have the largest percentages of their populations fully vaccinated, while red states like Alabama (33%) and Mississippi (33%) the least. (These numbers are not directly comparable to Biden’s 70% goal, which was a percentage of adults getting at least one shot, not the percentage of the whole population fully vaccinated.)

Unvaccinated people are like dry tinder to the virus: The fire doesn’t start until a spark comes, and the exact spot where that will happen is unpredictable. The center of the current outbreak is along the Arkansas/Missouri border.

the rise in cases seemed to be caused by three factors: the area’s low vaccination rate, the arrival of the Delta variant and Springfield [Missouri]’s recent decision to lift its mask mandate. Ninety percent of Covid patients at Cox Medical Center South in Springfield have the Delta variant, and they are trending younger

https://twitter.com/deAdder

Taney County, Missouri is the site of the Branson tourist-resort area. It currently has 26% of its people fully vaccinated and only 30% with at least one dose. It is averaging 84 new cases per day per 100,000 people, compared to the national average of 6.

Over the last 16 months, we’ve seen numerous news reports about hospitals overwhelmed by Covid patients. The current ones are coming from Springfield — the first city up US 65 from Branson.

Many other counties are just as vulnerable, but have lesser outbreaks. The list of states where cases have doubled in the past two weeks is: Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida, and Mississippi. All are Trump states with low vaccination rates. (In fairness, Florida is just slightly below average: 47% fully vaccinated compared to 48% nationally.)

Delta and the vaccines. One part of the story of the recent surge is that the virulent Delta variant has become the dominant strain of Covid in the US. That has started people wondering how effective the vaccines are against Delta. Data from Israel is mildly discouraging: The Pfizer vaccine Israel used (the same one I got) is effective against Delta, but less so than against earlier strains.

Vaccine effectiveness in preventing both infection and symptomatic disease fell to 64% since June 6, the Health Ministry said. At the same time the vaccine was 93% effective in preventing hospitalizations and serious illness from the coronavirus.

The ministry in its statement did not say what the previous level was or provide any further details. However ministry officials published a report in May that two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine provided more than 95% protection against infection, hospitalization and severe illness.

But other studies report higher numbers:

In Britain, researchers reported in May that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had an effectiveness of 88 percent protecting against symptomatic disease from Delta. A June study from Scotland concluded that the vaccine was 79 percent effective against the variant. On Saturday, a team of researchers in Canada pegged its effectiveness at 87 percent.

The article goes on to note that assessing effectiveness in the field is harder than in a controlled study. (That’s why medical researchers use two different terms: Controlled trials measure “efficacy”, while field data measures “effectiveness”.) One key difference: In real life, vaccinated people know they are vaccinated, so they may behave differently.

One speculation is that the different results might reflect how long ago someone got vaccinated.

The Israeli data also raise an important question that it may be too early to ask: Does the declining effectiveness rate have to do with waning protection among the vaccinated given how early Israelis began receiving their shots?

Pfizer is now collecting data on booster shots that would be given six months after the initial vaccination. Experts are conflicted over whether to recommend that the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine be followed by a booster. It seems like a good idea, but hasn’t been tested thoroughly yet. Getting a Pfizer or Moderna shot on top of a J&J vaccine is likewise untested.

Not as much data is publicly available about the Moderna vaccine (which my wife got) and Delta. Like the Pfizer, it seems to be effective, but less so.

My conclusion: If you’re vaccinated, don’t fret, but don’t get cocky. You’re like a soldier with a good helmet and armored vest; protected, but not invulnerable.

South Dakota and Vermont. One red state that isn’t seeing an outbreak right now is South Dakota. Ashish Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, explains how two states, Vermont and South Dakota, took very different paths to arrive at the same result: the lowest-risk (green) category for Covid infections.

The two states are similar in some demographic ways: small states, mostly rural, older population, similar median incomes. But they achieved high levels of Covid immunity in different ways: Vermont vaccinated three-fourths of its people compared to South Dakota’s half. But South Dakota acquired immunity the old-fashioned way: by getting a large percentage of its people infected. 40 out of every 100,000 Vermonters have died of Covid, compared to 230 out of every 100,000 South Dakotans.

Governor Noem appears to be proud of that record of getting her constituents killed unnecessarily. She bragged about her Covid response at CPAC Sunday, and questioned the “grit” of Republican governors who enacted mask mandates and closed businesses.

Here’s a rule of thumb: Whenever Republicans pat themselves on the back for having the “courage” to “make the tough decisions”, you can be pretty sure that someone is about to die.

Rhode Island and Mississippi. Looking at the long-term state data shows other interesting patterns. Early in the pandemic, before anybody really knew what they were doing, Covid ravaged the Northeast. So if you looked at death totals per capita a year ago, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island were at the top of the list by a wide margin.

They still are, but Mississippi, Arizona, and Alabama are catching up. (They’ve already passed Connecticut.) Mississippi (2500 deaths per million) may soon edge out Rhode Island (2577) for fourth place. Rhode Island still hasn’t reported a death in July, while Mississippi is averaging 3 per day, a number which is likely to increase.

In terms of total cases per million, Rhode Island is the only northeastern state still in the top ten, which otherwise is entirely made up of red and purple states like the Dakotas, Utah, Iowa, and Arizona. New Jersey is down at 13, New York 17, and Massachusetts 31. (The Northeast had its cases early, when treatment was much less advanced. Hence: more deaths per case. Also, Covid tests were hard to get early on, so it’s possible that the number of cases in the Northeast was underestimated.)

My assessment: The Northeast learned from its experience, and has been more rigorous about shutdowns, mask mandates, distancing, etc. Red states in the South and West refused to learn from the example of the Northeast, so they have had to repeat the experience.

Northeasterners died because they were surprised by something new. Red staters are dying of stubbornness.

Kill your audience. One reason red states are slow to learn is that conservative leaders in politics and the media seem to be actively trying to get their followers killed.

Up until now, the primary mode outside the true fever-swamp precincts has been Just Asking Questions—or, in Tucker Carlson’s case, Just Asking Questions about why no one is allowed to ask questions, which in turn leaves the viewer believing there are not just questions to be asked but answers that are bad, even though we’re still actually dealing in questions about questions.

But the rhetoric keeps escalating, as these things tend to do. This week, in a particularly egregious exploitation of his audience’s presumed stupidity, Carlson observed that most people dying of Covid in Ohio had already outlived their life expectancy, so the pandemic itself (which has killed more Americans than combat in World War II) is “overhyped“. I have to wonder how many of Tucker’s viewers looked at the graphic below and concluded that Covid might help them live longer.

“This is the — I think, I honestly think is the greatest scandal of my lifetime by far,” he said with all of the expected breathlessness. “I thought the Iraq War was; this seems much bigger than that.”

The “this” at issue? That the government would “force people to take medicine they don’t want or need” — something that the government is not doing. That President Biden said a few hours earlier that public health professionals might go into communities to offer the coronavirus vaccine to those limited by time or mobility from seeking it out themselves was misinterpreted by commentators like Carlson to suggest that government patrols would soon be seizing people off the streets to inoculate them.

And if “they” can go door-to-door offering vaccines that you can refuse, but which might save your life, why couldn’t they go door-to-door to impose all kinds of tyranny? Here’s Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina.

Think about the mechanisms they would have to build to be able to actually execute that massive of a thing. And then think about what those mechanisms could be used for. They could then go door to door and take your guns. They could go door to door and take your Bibles.

Of course, the DC mayor’s office is already sending volunteers door-to-door, without any complaints of Bible or gun seizures.

During a CNN interview, Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger (who already burned his bridges in January by voting for Trump’s second impeachment) denounced this kind of rhetoric as “insanity”.

What President Biden said is: We’re willing to come to your house to give you the vaccine. At no point was anybody saying they’re going to break down your door and jam a vaccine into your arm despite your protests. This is outrage politics that is being played by my party, and it’s going to get Americans killed.

But outrage politics works in certain circles, which is reason for conservatives to celebrate it. At CPAC this weekend, vaccine refusal was an applause line:

“Clearly, they were hoping — the government was hoping — that they could sort of sucker 90% of the population into getting vaccinated,” Berenson said. “And it isn’t happening,” he said as the crowd applauded people rejecting the safe, effective, and free vaccines.

Nobody is saying this part out loud, but I see a pretty cold calculus at work: If conservatives can get another Covid wave started, not only would that make Biden look bad, but it might spark another round of mask mandates and business closures. Then in 2022 Republican candidates can run against the “tyranny” that they themselves made necessary.

That plan may be evil, but it shows grit, and the courage to make the tough decisions.

The Trump/Weisselberg Tax Evasion Scheme

https://theweek.com/political-satire/1002234/crime-scene

It wasn’t just dishonest. It was dumb.


I thought I was immune to the myth of Trump the Great Businessman. But reading the indictment of the Trump Organization and its CFO Allen Weisselberg left me shocked and appalled. For some reason, I had expected their tax-evasion scheme to be clever and sophisticated. Maybe it would push the law’s ambiguous boundaries. Maybe it would involve a complex web of shell companies and offshore accounts. Whatever it was, I was sure it was something the guy who owns your local bagel shop could never pull off.

I was wrong.

The Trump Organization paid Weisselberg (and unnamed other executives) partly in cash and partly by covering his personal expenses. Then they lied to the IRS and claimed that the cash payments were his full compensation. They kept two sets of books, one false set for the tax people, and another internal set where they recorded everything.

The scheme wasn’t just dishonest, it was stupid. It would only work if nobody looked at it. But the Manhattan District Attorney looked, and so they’re caught.

Your local bagel-shop owner would know better.

The company and Weisselberg both pleaded not guilty to the 15 felony counts in the indictment. But the public statements Trump and his people are making don’t even deny the charges. David Frum comments on the Trump Organization’s official statement:

Here is what is missing from that statement: “I’m 100 percent confident that every investigation will always end up in the same conclusion, which is that I follow all rules, procedures, and, most importantly, the law.” That’s the language used by former Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke when he was facing ethics charges in 2018. Likewise, when Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe was accused of violating campaign-finance laws in 2016, he too was “very confident” that “there was no wrongdoing.” Plug the phrases very confident and no wrongdoing into a search engine and you will pull up statement after statement by politicians and business leaders under fire. For some, their matter worked out favorably; for others, not so much. Either way, everybody expects you to say that you’re confident you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s the thing an innocent person would want to say. So it’s kind of a tell when it goes unsaid.

Speaking at a rally in Sarasota Saturday, Trump — the same guy who in 2016 said “I know our complex tax laws better than anyone who has ever run for president and am the only one who can fix them” — pleaded ignorance.

They go after good, hard-working people for not paying taxes on a company car. You didn’t pay tax on the car or a company apartment. You used an apartment because you need an apartment because you have to travel too far where your house is. You didn’t pay tax. Or education for your grandchildren. I don’t even know. Do you have to? Does anybody know the answer to that stuff?

Yes, people know. They’re called accountants, and the Trump Organization probably employs a lot of them.

Like their father, the Trump sons have been claiming that this is a “fringe benefits” case, the kind of thing that is occasionally pursued as a civil complaint, but hardly ever prosecuted as a criminal matter. Don Jr. said on Fox News Primetime:

After … 3 million documents, countless witnesses and hours of grand jury testimony, outside forensic auditors, this is what they come up with: they’re going to charge a guy who’s 75 years old on crimes of avoiding paying taxes on a fringe benefit.

Prior to the indictment becoming public, Trump Sr. said investigators were focusing on “things that are standard practice throughout the U.S. business community, and in no way a crime.”

Just Security debunks that claim. There actually are tricky fringe benefit tax issues that business owners will recognize: If your company provides you with something like a car or a laptop computer that you use for work, but also for personal matters, it can sometimes be difficult to determine exactly what part of the cost is a corporate business expense, and what part is personal income. Some companies and their executives push those boundaries a little, and it’s true that they are almost never charged with a crime.

That’s not what’s happening here.

A great deal of what Weisselberg received had no conceivable business use. OK, his car, maybe. But his wife’s car? His son’s apartment? His grandchildren’s tuition? Those aren’t Trump Organization business expenses, not even in part.

Calling bundles of cash and the provision of flat screen televisions in employees’ vacation homes “fringe benefits” – especially when they are not extra pay, but replace ordinary paycheck salary, dollar for dollar – would appear to leave no employee compensation outside the term’s potential scope.

If this stands, in other words, there’s no reason why businesses should pay any of their employees taxable salaries. If you make, say, $50,000 a year, your company could just give you a corporate credit card with a $50,000 annual limit as a tax-free “fringe benefit”.

That’s not “standard business practice”, that’s tax fraud.

Just Security’s dollar-for-dollar claim brings us to the stupidest part of the scheme: They wrote it all down.

During the time of the scheme, Weisselberg was making a fixed salary in the neighborhood of $900K per year. Instead of paying all that in cash, the company rented a New York City apartment for Weisselberg, rented cars for him and his wife, paid private school tuition for their grandchildren, and covered a bunch of other personal expenses. And the company kept a spreadsheet deducting all that from his salary, but not adding it to the W-2 forms reported to the IRS and New York state, as if Weisselberg’s personal expenses were Trump Organization business expenses. (The Trump Organization should also have been paying payroll taxes on this money, but didn’t.)

All in all, the company helped Weisselberg hide about $1.7 million of income and avoid more than $900K of federal, state, and local taxes. That’s not fudging a little on your taxes. That’s grand larceny. The Washington Post quotes law professor Dan Hemel: “If you pay your employees under the table, a good rule of thumb is not to write it down.”

On The Wire, Stringer Bell made the same point more forcefully: “Is you taking notes on a criminal fucking conspiracy? What the fuck is you thinking, man?”

The deeper into the indictment you read, the stupider the scheme gets. The rental agreement on Weisselberg apartment lists him and his wife as the sole occupants, and says it’s their primary residence. But Weisselberg didn’t tell New York City he lived there, and so skipped out on NYC income tax. Just Security explains that NYC residency is not just a personal choice:

It is a widely-known fact among New York-area taxpayers – and not just those with specific tax and accounting knowledge, like Weisselberg himself – that, if one has an apartment in New York City (as he did) and is in the City for at least a part of more than 183 days in a given year, then one counts for that year as a City resident. This is not an issue that turns on any broader (or other) facts and circumstances. Under the indictment’s stated facts, therefore, Weisselberg unambiguously was a New York City resident for all of the years from 2005 through 2013, based on an objective black-letter rule that is hardly arcane or obscure.

And then we get to the penny-ante stuff, the kind of scam you only try if you’re already in the habit of cheating:

It was a further part of the scheme to defraud that Weisselberg received unreported cash that he could use to pay personal holiday gratuities. Specifically, Weisselberg caused the Trump Corporation to issue corporate checks made payable to a Trump Organization employee who cashed the checks and received cash. The cash was given to Weisselberg for his personal use. The Trump Corporation booked this cash as “Holiday Entertainment,” but maintained internal spreadsheets showing the cash to be part of Weisselberg’s employee compensation.

Is that a “common business practice” in your experience? Did your boss ever make out a check to you, and then tell you to cash it and bring the money back to him? In any job I ever held, I would have found that a bit odd.

Finally, at least one part of the scheme seems to have broader implications: About $400K of Weisselberg’s annual income is an end-of-the-year bonus, which comes from a different Trump company as a consulting fee. This allowed Weisselberg to claim he’s self-employed — so he started a Keogh plan (a more-generous IRA for the self-employed) to avoid more taxes.

This resembles the consulting fees the NYT traced to Ivanka Trump — who likewise is simultaneously a well-paid executive and a consultant for Trump companies. This has led numerous observers to speculate that maybe this whole scheme wasn’t devised for Allen Weisselberg’s benefit. Maybe he was just piggybacking on a scheme created to benefit the Trump children.

There’s precedent for such schemes, as the NYT outlined in a 2018 article exposing the source of Trump’s wealth

Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes. He and his siblings set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents, records and interviews show. Records indicate that Mr. Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions worth millions more. He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.

These maneuvers met with little resistance from the Internal Revenue Service, The Times found. The president’s parents, Fred and Mary Trump, transferred well over $1 billion in wealth to their children, which could have produced a tax bill of at least $550 million under the 55 percent tax rate then imposed on gifts and inheritances.

The Trumps paid a total of $52.2 million, or about 5 percent, tax records show.

This suggests that Don Jr.’s is-that-all-they-have ploy might just be whistling in the dark. This indictment is the Manhattan DA’s first shot. The second one might be aimed at him and his siblings.

Apart from the legal considerations, and whatever effect these charges might have on whether Weisselberg or some other executive flips on Trump, I have to wonder what this is doing to the Trump image.

To his fans, Trump above all is a smart businessman, and this scheme is not at all smart. In addition to working-class people, who have no choice about what appears on their W-2s, small businessmen are also a key part of the Trump base. If they look at this indictment at all, they have to be thinking “Even I would know better than to try that.”

Climate Change is Here

https://theweek.com/science/1002139/melting-space-needle

When it’s 116 in Portland and 108 in Seattle, something is wrong.


For a long time, you could only see global warming if you knew what you were looking for. It wasn’t something that announced itself in your everyday experience.

Wherever you might live, it continued to be warmer in the day and cooler at night, hotter in summer and colder in winter — the same as it ever was. Whether summers had been hotter or winters colder years ago was a topic for old people’s boring stories about the Blizzard of ’78 or the Drought of ’54.

You had to be a statistician — or trust statisticians whose work you couldn’t check — to get any coherent view of the trends in global temperature. Think of the millions of measurements, and thousands of adjustments to those measurements, necessary to produce a graph like the one below. Who made those measurements? Who compiled those statistics? Why should you trust them? If you had the resources and the will, you could find your own way to parse the data so that it said something different. Why shouldn’t you do that, or decide to trust somebody who did, rather than trust NASA or NOAA or some international consortium of scientists?

The situation was even worse if you tried to look to the future, because then you were dealing with computer models. What were they assuming? Who did the programming? Again, the graphs looked very impressive and scary. But if you didn’t want to believe them — and who did, really? — nobody could make you.

And without predictions decades into the future, climate change was no big deal. Maybe it was already a degree or two hotter than in your grandparents’ day, but so what? Life went on, people adjusted. The climate was always changing.

What it came down to, for a lot of Americans, was one more example of people with advanced degrees telling them what to do. And that might be fine if they were telling you to do something you want to do — like get a good night’s sleep, or spend more time in the sunlight. And it’s even OK if their advice is unpleasant, but matches your common sense — compound interest means you should start saving for retirement when you’re young, smoking isn’t good for you. But here the eggheads were telling you to stop driving and flying and running the air conditioner, or even to close down the mines your town depended on, the one that had employed your family for generations. And the evidence was all stuff you couldn’t touch: Look at this graph and don’t ask too many questions about how I made it, or else the world will be a hellscape after we’re all dead.

Americans already had religions based on things they couldn’t see that made threats and promises after death. They didn’t need another one.

And then visible things started to happen, maybe, sort of.

Right around the time Hurricane Katrina mauled New Orleans in 2005, you might think you were starting to see climate change in anomalous weather events. But what is “anomalous”, really? When Superstorm Sandy hit New York City in 2012, we all had a gut feeling that hurricanes aren’t supposed to go that far north. But weird weather events have been happening forever. What about the Great New England Hurricane of 1938?

The Midwestern floods of 2019 were so intense, and so close to previous major floods, that they drove the phrase “hundred-year flood” out of our vocabulary. Nobody knows what a hundred-year flood is any more. And sure, that’s strange, but is it proof? Maybe we’re just in some kind of weird flood cycle.

We got used to these kinds of arguments, to the point that they became almost ritualized: The weather would do something incredible — a big wildfire, an intense hurricane season, or a heat wave in Siberia — and somebody would immediately say: “See? Climate change.” But then somebody else would say, “You can’t really say that about one event. It could just be bad luck.” Then either people would start yelling at each other, or the conversation would bog down in the technicalities of probability — neither of which accomplished anything. Everybody continued to believe whatever they had started out believing.

The series of weird weather events should have chipped away at climate-change-deniers’ skepticism, but in fact it did the opposite. Once you’ve explained away Katrina and Sandy, it gets easier, not harder, to shrug off Harvey and Irma and Maria all happening the same year. The weather gets weird sometimes; that doesn’t mean the world is ending.

Even so, last year’s western wildfires were a little hard to account for. Not only were they record-breaking in terms of acreage and cost, but Portland suburbs had to be evacuated, Seattle had an air-quality emergency, and the smoke gave me colorful sunsets all the way out here in Massachusetts. And only a few months before, Australia had record-breaking fires of its own.

For decades, climate-change deniers have derided activists as “scare mongers” who made “apocalyptic” predictions. But you know what? Those fires in Australia looked pretty apocalyptic.

Smoke-choked Sydney in December, 2019

Still, people pointed to multiple possible causes for wildfires: over-development, say, or power lines. President Trump blamed bad forest management, echoing absurd suggestions he had made about raking in 2018.

Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary for natural resources, pressed Mr. Trump more bluntly. “If we ignore that science and sort of put our head in the sand and think it’s all about vegetation management, we’re not going to succeed together protecting Californians,” he told the president.

This time, Mr. Trump rejected the premise. “It’ll start getting cooler,” he insisted. “You just watch.”

“I wish science agreed with you,” Mr. Crowfoot replied.

“Well, I don’t think science knows, actually,” Mr. Trump retorted, maintaining a tense grin.

Well, it’s a year later now, and guess what? It’s not getting cooler.

Monday, it was 116 in Portland, Oregon, beating the previous all-time record (set in 1965 and 1981) by nine degrees. The heat wave covered the entire Northwest: 108 in Seattle, 109 in Spokane, 116 in Walla Walla, and 117 in Pendleton. Strangest of all was the small town of Lytton, British Columbia, where the heat wave peaked at 121 degrees, an all-time record for the nation of Canada.

121 in Canada. That’s not right.

Heat and drought have set the stage for another bad wildfire season, and it’s already starting in Canada and Washington and Oregon and Idaho and California. On the other side of the country, the Atlantic is already up to its fifth named storm of the season, Elsa. We’ve never gotten to E this fast before, and the previous record was set last year.

It’s happening. Global warming is here. It’s not just statistics and computer models any more. You can see it. You have to work not to see it.

That doesn’t mean things go straight to hell from here. The western heat wave finally broke. Today’s predicted high in Portland is 86. Next winter, it will get cold in lots of places, and if some oil-financed politician wants to bring a snowball to the floor of the Senate, he’ll be able to find one. “Damn,” one cold person will say to another, “we could use a little of that global warming about now.”

And while the quantity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will continue to go up every single year, not every year will be hotter than the previous one. 2016 and 2020 were the hottest years on record, but so far 2021 isn’t quite so bad, at least not globally. Fossil fuel spokesmen, including the politicians the oil companies pay for, will tell you that means it’s all over. Global warming ended in 2020, they’ll say, just like they said it ended in 1998.

https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide

Don’t believe them. Believe what you can see.

For a long time, believing what the scientists said about the climate required trusting in the invisible, and the future horrors they predicted seemed too far away to take seriously.

Not any more. Global warming is here. It’s visible. It was 116 in Portland Monday.

That’s not right.

Four Narratives of America

George Packer’s new book diagnoses our divisions.

Americans today don’t need anyone to tell us that we’re deeply divided. Less than half a year ago, we saw our Capitol invaded and the certification of our election disrupted — not by a foreign power, but by our own citizens. Those citizens thought of themselves, and have been hailed by many other Americans, as patriots — even as I, and many Americans like me, see them as traitors to everything America stands for or should stand for.

During the campaign leading up to last fall’s election, it was common to hear from either side that if the other one won, America as we have known it would be seriously threatened. I said as much myself in this blog. In the popular press, it has not been unusual to hear comparisons to the period before the Civil War, or speculations about a new civil war.

Even if peace is maintained, democracy does not work well without a governing consensus. It’s fine for elections to be close, or for power to shift back and forth between rival parties, as long as large majorities agree on basic principles, and share a broad vision of what the nation is and where it should be trying to go. Disputes about tax rates or how to organize our healthcare system are on a different level from disputes about who we are.

In 2000, we had an election so close that many Americans still doubt that George W. Bush really won. And yet, few argued that the Republic could not survive either a Bush or a Gore presidency. For many, the larger problem was that the two parties were too similar. Ralph Nader based his third-party candidacy on the argument that it would make no real difference whether Republicans or Democrats were in charge. Under either Bush or Gore, America would continue to be America.

Is there some way to recover that kind of consensus?

George Packer’s new book Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal is an attempt to address that question. (The theme of that book is condensed into an article in The Atlantic, “How America Fractured into Four Parts“.) I see two main points in his analysis.

  1. We’re divided by narratives. We’re not divided into tribes, at least not yet.
  2. The root division is not Red vs. Blue, because each of those sides has its own division. Four narratives, not two, are competing for dominance.

The significance of the first point is that narratives are fluid, while tribes are fixed. You currently tell one story about your life, but a few years from now you could be telling a different one. A Trumpist might have a transformative experience and become a social justice warrior, or vice versa. But a Serb will not so easily become a Croat, or a Palestinian an Israeli. Perhaps you have multiple stories that rise and fall depending on the situation. (Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas? is largely the story of how people with a political identity as union workers shifted to identify primarily as Evangelical Christians.) Over time, the stories might blend and merge, or new stories might develop.

Packer describes the main political narratives of the 1960s like this:

Through much of the 20th century, the two political parties had clear identities and told distinct stories. The Republicans spoke for those who wanted to get ahead, and the Democrats spoke for those who wanted a fair shake. Republicans emphasized individual enterprise, and Democrats emphasized social solidarity, eventually including Black people and abandoning the party’s commitment to Jim Crow.

The two narratives were shifts in emphasis, rather than diametric opposites. You could, for example, focus on getting ahead yourself inside a system that offered everyone a fair shake, or look to government to guarantee you a fair shake while not resenting the people who get ahead. (Maybe it’s fine if the Rockefellers are filthy rich, as long as I can have a secure job that pays a fair wage.)

But you will notice that neither narrative says much about our current culture wars. Abortion, sexuality, and religion play no role. The culture wars began their rise to prominence in the 70s, along with a White backlash to the advances Black people made during the civil rights era. In the decades since, the gap between rich and poor has grown, and new kinds of monopoly power have emerged. Packer names our current four narratives (with my elaboration):

  • Free America. America is the beacon of individual freedom. This narrative is the legacy of the Reagan era: low taxes, light regulation, low domestic spending. At the same time as it restricts government at home, America is a strong military power with a global agenda promoting capitalism and free trade. Championed by Republicans currently out of power within the party, like Paul Ryan and Liz Cheney.
  • Smart America. The narrative of the meritocracy. (Basically, Bill Clinton’s neo-liberalism.) Wise but complex government policies, designed by experts, help everyone go as far as their talents can take them. This narrative is optimistic, pro-technology, and comfortable with increased global interconnection and interdependence.
  • Real America. The populism of Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. White, Christian, small-town people are the backbone of America, but they’ve been left behind by both capitalism and the meritocracy.
  • Just America. The narrative of anti-racism, Me Too, and defund-the-police: Multiple systems of oppression are deeply embedded in America, and rooting them out should be our central concern. This is the narrative of a generation that grew up post-911, in the shadow of the 2008 banking crisis, carrying a huge debt load, and anticipating a climate-change catastrophe. It is cynical and deeply suspicious of anyone in power.

Red America is the uneasy alliance of Free and Real America, while Blue America is an equally uneasy alliance of Smart and Just America.

Each of the narratives has problems that prevent it from becoming dominant. The Free America policies of the Reagan-Bush years destroyed the middle class and offer no way to restore it. Smart America’s meritocracy never worked all that well, and has become increasingly corrupt as the educated classes develop new ways to pass their advantages on to their children. Real America can’t offer full equality to non-Whites, non-Christians, or people with non-traditional sexuality or gender identity; at its worst, it leans towards blood-and-soil fascism. Its antipathy towards Smart America makes it suspicious of expertise in general. (See, for example, the conspiracy theories about Dr. Fauci.) Just America offers Americans little to be proud of and little to look forward too. If almost everyone is an oppressor of one sort or another, who can you trust?

In addition to these four well-conceived frames, the value of Packer’s vision lies in his ability to look beyond the debates between the four Americas and ask: What do we need in a national narrative?

Nations, like individuals, tell stories in order to understand what they are, where they come from, and what they want to be.

And like individuals, nations require stories with some element of positivity and hope, balanced by a realistic humility. “I suck” is not a narrative that will get you far in life, and neither is “I am a helpless victim.” But “I am perfect” requires too much denial of reality, and too much repression of the voices that will point out your failures.

The history of America has plenty of positive and negative material to work with. We both enslaved people and freed them. We went to the Moon. We achieved wealth and tolerated poverty. We ended Hitler’s genocide, but committed one of our own. We out-lived Soviet Communism without giving in to the temptation of nuclear war. We enunciated high ideals that we have still not fully implemented.

If we are going to be a democratic self-governing people, we also need a story that allows us to trust each other, and to form institutions that wield legitimate power. Packer critiques Ronald Reagan’s city-on-a-hill vision like this:

The shining city on a hill was supposed to replace remote big government with a community of energetic and compassionate citizens, all engaged in a project of national renewal. But nothing held the city together. It was hollow at the center, a collection of individuals all wanting more. It saw Americans as entrepreneurs, employees, investors, taxpayers, and consumers—everything but citizens.

We need to resist narratives that define us as competitors in a zero-sum game, as well as ones that stop us from owning up to injustices and fixing them. We need to reward individual achievement, but not abandon those who can’t compete. We need to make use of all our talents. We need to both trust and be trustworthy. We need our story to tell us that we’re all in this together.

Wanting such a national narrative is still a long way from having one. But it’s hard to find something until you start looking for it.

Cleaning Up After Trump

https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/cartoons/donald-trump-justice-department-bill-barr-20200217.html

Voting Trump out of office stopped the bleeding, but the Republic isn’t out of danger yet.


The Boston Globe ran an important series this week: “Future-proofing the Presidency“. Over four years, the Trump administration shredded the laws, institutional norms, and political norms that we had previously trusted to protect the Republic from a corrupt or power-hungry president.

The fact that the voters managed to throw Trump out after four years should only comfort us up to a point. Because of the Trump precedents and the roadmap his administration provides, the next unscrupulous president — who could be Trump himself in 2025 — will begin his assault on democracy with a head start.

The Globe series proposes reforms to turn norms into laws and give teeth to the laws Trump ignored. The specific problems it diagnoses are: financial conflicts of interest, nepotism, immunity from prosecution, ability to shield co-conspirators, and power to obstruct congressional investigations. And the reforms it recommends are

  • require presidents to divest from all businesses and investments that could pose a conflict of interest
  • require presidents to publish their tax returns
  • require an explicit congressional waiver before a president can appoint a relative to office — even if that relative foregoes a salary
  • strengthen protections for government whistle-blowers, and extend those protections to political appointees
  • root congressional subpoena power in legislation, so that subpoenas served to the executive branch can be enforced more easily and quickly
  • allow a president to be indicted while in office, but delay the trial until the presidency ends
  • pass a constitutional amendment voiding a president’s power to pardon personal associates

The series concludes with “The Case for Prosecuting Donald Trump“. Congress’ impeachment power is broken, and can no longer be trusted to hold presidents accountable.

If Congress had played the role the Founders envisioned, by removing Trump from the presidency after his criminality became clear in the Ukraine affair, that might have been enough of a deterrent to scare future presidents straight. But lawmakers didn’t.

So now there is only one way left to restore deterrence and convey to future presidents that the rule of law applies to them. The Justice Department must abandon two centuries of tradition by indicting and prosecuting Donald Trump for his conduct in office. …

The reluctance to prosecute presidents is deep-rooted, and extreme caution does make sense. (The last thing that the country needs is for Trump to be charged, tried, and then acquitted.) But it cannot be the case that there is no line — no hypothetical act of presidential criminality that would not rise to the level of seriousness that merits setting aside our qualms. And if one accepts that there is a line, it’s hard to imagine Donald Trump didn’t cross it.


Two other of this weeks’ news stories underlined the importance of The Globe’s proposed reforms: We found out that the Trump administration subpoenaed the phone metadata of two Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, and the transcript of Don McGahn’s testimony to Congress was released.

The two lawmakers in question — Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell — were outspoken administration critics that Trump frequently attacked on Twitter. (“Shifty Schiff” was one of his playground insult names.) Swalwell became a Democratic presidential candidate. At the time, the Intelligence Committee was engaged in an investigation of Trump’s collusion with Russia.

Not only were they targeted, but so were their family members, including their children. What’s more, a gag order has kept Apple from revealing its cooperation until recently, so the congressmen did not know they were under this kind of scrutiny, and neither did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“President Trump repeatedly and flagrantly demanded that the Department of Justice carry out his political will and tried to use the Department as a cudgel against his political opponents and members of the media,” Rep. Schiff told Recode in a statement. “It is increasingly apparent that those demands did not fall on deaf ears.”


The transcript of Dan McGahn’s testimony to the House Judiciary Committee on June 4 was released Wednesday, in accordance with the agreement that led to that testimony (after two years of legal wrangling that saw the courts refuse to back up congressional subpoenas). The transcript is 241 pages, and the main thing you can learn by reading large chunks of it is that McGahn was indeed a hostile witness. Releasing only a transcript (rather than video) means that his evasiveness will not be appreciated by the general public.

The pre-interview agreement limited questions to

one, information attributed to Mr. McGahn in the publicly available portions of the Mueller report and events that the publicly available portions of the Mueller report indicate involve Mr. McGahn; and, two, whether the Mueller report accurately reflected Mr. McGahn’s statements to the Special Counsel’s Office and whether those statements were truthful

In the early questioning, McGahn frequently claimed not to remember the events in question until his questioner noted a passage in the Mueller Report. McGahn would then respond with something like “what you’ve read in the report is accurate”. He tried hard not to introduce any new information. I also have to wonder if he used the interview’s ground rules to hide relevant conversations with Trump without perjuring himself. For example:

Q: Did you advise the President as to whether he personally could call Mr. Rosenstein about the investigation?
A: I may have at some point in time. Do you have anything in particular? I mean, I was on the job quite a while so —
Q: Understood. I’ll direct you to page 81, bottom of the paragraph.

Like Trump himself, and so many other people in his administration, McGahn seems not to recall a number of events that most other people would think of as memorable.

Q: On June 14, 2017 … The Washington Post reported for the first time that the special counsel was investigating President Trump personally for obstruction of justice. Do you recall your reaction to that reporting?
A: I don’t recall my reaction to it, no. No.
Q: You don’t recall your reaction, as a White House counsel, to learning that the press had reported that the President of the United States was under personal investigation by the special counsel?
A: I don’t recall my subjective impression on the evening of June 14th about a news report. No, I don’t.
Q: Do you recall speaking to the President that evening?
A: I do recall speaking to him, yes.
Q: Can you describe that conversation?
A: I don’t have a crisp recollection of it.

Again and again, McGahn claimed that his memory had been fresher when Mueller questioned him, so he yielded to whatever description was in the Mueller report. That raises an obvious question: Instead of questioning McGahn about Mueller’s summary of McGahn’s testimony, why doesn’t the Judiciary Committee just look at the transcripts of those interviews? And the answer is that they can’t, at least not yet. Like the McGahn subpoena itself, this was the subject of a long legal wrangle, which the Supreme Court put off deciding until after the election. So at the moment, Congress doesn’t even have access to the still-redacted portions of the Mueller report.

After Trump lost the election, the grounds for releasing grand jury records to Congress changed completely, so Congress suspended its pursuit to coordinate with the new Biden administration. In part, McGahn’s appearance was supposed to be a substitute for the grand jury material.

So that’s where the House investigation into Trump’s obstruction of justice has led: McGahn finally appeared, but under rules that allowed him to do little more than point to quotes in the Mueller report and verify that he actually said that.


Meanwhile, Rachel Maddow has been waging an almost nightly campaign for Attorney General Merrick Garland to expose and reverse Trump administration abuses in the DoJ.

About the Schiff/Swalwell subpoenas, she commented:

Given that those officials that knew about this are still in the Department right now, why did it take a New York Time article about this abominable behavior to spark an inspector general investigation today? I mean, this scandal wasn’t known to any of us in the public, but it was known to multiple officials inside the Justice Department. None of them thought to peep about it? …

It is clear that the Justice Department under President Biden does not want the job of investigating and rooting around what went rotten inside their own department under the previous president. But even if they don’t want that job, that is the job they have now. … Wake up, you guys! You’re going to work in an active crime scene, and there’s no other cops to call.

You have to fix this. You’re the only ones who can.

Trump and Bill Barr have provided the next would-be despot with a detailed plan for turning the Justice Department into a sword to attack enemies and a shield to protect corrupt friends. If there are no consequences for what they did, either to them or to the lower-level officials who went along, the danger has not passed.

Critical Race Theory is the New Boogeyman

https://twitter.com/gathara/status/1400475732300677120

Conservatives can’t tell you what it is, but they know it’s destroying America.


As I’ve explained at length before, conservatives regularly create boogeyman phrases — strings of words that never get defined, but are somehow the source of the current evil: political correctness, socialism, cultural Marxism, cancel culture, and now critical race theory. [1]

The purpose of imbuing these scapegoat phrases with demonic power isn’t to debate a point, it’s to create a label and give it a sinister aura. Such a phrase is supposed to invoke emotions — to cast shame on liberals, and raise outrage for conservatives — not point to an idea. Rather than contribute to discussions, these phrases end them. And so, there is no need to consider the wisdom or folly of Medicare for All; it is “socialism”, so it is evil. End of story.

If the labels were defined, the corresponding concepts could become two-edged swords. Conservatives might, for example, have to explain why it’s not “cancel culture” to drive Colin Kaepernick out of the NFL. But being undefined, the boogeyman phrases simply have usages: Kaepernick isn’t a victim of right-wing cancel culture, because that’s not how the phrase is used. The conservative faithful can simply laugh when “cancel culture” is turned back on them, the way native speakers of English might laugh when a foreigner misuses some common word.

Like the other boogeyman phrases, “critical race theory” started out as an actual thing, which Education Week described like this:

The core idea is that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies. … A good example is when, in the 1930s, government officials literally drew lines around areas deemed poor financial risks, often explicitly due to the racial composition of inhabitants. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to Black people in those areas.

Many of those red-lined areas continue to be segregated ghettos today, as is well described in The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein.

The Washington Post has a similar account of the actual critical race theory.

Critical race theory is a decades-old academic framework that holds that racism is systemic, embedded in government policies and laws that are evident in any serious examination of American history.

But in its boogeyman usage, CRT applies to any notion that White people might participate in racism without consciously hating Black people. Refusing to allow the word “racism” to have any systemic content, the conservative account of CRT has it casting individual moral blame on all Whites.

So, in Education Week’s example of red-lining, the boogeyman usage of CRT would interpret it as accusing all the White loan officers who applied the red-lining rules of consciously hating Black people — which would obviously be unfair, if anyone were actually making that accusation.

That’s how Republicans arrive at the anti-CRT laws they are passing in the red-state legislatures they control. Fortunately, laws have to at least pretend to define the things they are banning. So Oklahoma’s anti-CRT law, which was signed by Governor Kevin Stitt in May, bans any “teacher, administrator or other employee of a school district, charter school or virtual charter school” from teaching that

an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, … an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex, … an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex, … any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex

All these ideas are either gross distortions of anti-racist teachings, or appeal to subjective responses White students or parents might have, especially after Fox News tells them they should feel that way. (What if teaching Oklahoma high school students about the Tulsa race massacre causes some White descendant of the rioters to feel “guilt, anguish, or … psychological distress”?)


But an obvious question to raise at this point is: If that isn’t really what anti-racists teach, what’s the problem? The law just won’t apply. After all, the legislature could ban teaching that the Moon is made of green cheese without affecting any actual astronomy classes. Josh Marshall shrugs the issue off like this:

I’ve now reviewed a wide body of articles, news reports and legislative debates and I can conclude that the public/political debate [about] critical race theory is quite stupid and laws banning it may be hard to enforce since no one has a clear idea of what it is.

He was immediately answered by Jeet Heer:

Surely the goal is not to have enforceable laws but to intimidate teachers from talking about racism. A chilling effect.

A historical model here would be Tennessee’s anti-Darwin law of the 1920s, which led to the famous Scopes Monkey Trial. The law was indeed hard to enforce. (Scopes was found guilty, but the Tennessee Supreme Court set aside his fine on a technicality, and the state decided to drop the case.) But the sheer amount of hoopla that trial evoked — the fictionalized version Inherit the Wind is still streaming, and was remade for TV in 1999 — underlines Heer’s point: What teacher or school district is going to want to start something like that? Wouldn’t it be simpler just to leave out any racially charged interpretations of US history, and skip over historical events that might make White students uncomfortable? (Just about every state that is banning CRT has such an incident to sweep under the rug. Florida, for example, was the site of the Rosewood massacre in 1923. And lynchings, though concentrated in the South, happened almost everywhere.)

The Washington Post quotes sixth-grade teacher Monique Cottman from Iowa, where an anti-CRT law goes into effect on July 1.

I will say it’s already playing out. The White teachers who started doing a little bit more teaching about race and racism are now going back to their old way of teaching. I’ve had conversations with teachers who said things like, “I’m getting so much pushback for teaching Alice Walker, I’m going to go back to teaching what I used to teach.” So all the teachers who would have done a little bit of what I was doing — anti-racism work and culturally responsive teaching — they’re not going to do anything next year. They’re already declaring, “I’m not doing nothing,” or “It’s not safe,” or “I don’t want to lose my job.”

Nonetheless, some teachers are resisting. The Zinn Education Project organized a National Day of Action on Saturday, when

thousands of educators and others gathered virtually and in person at historic locations in more than 20 cities to make clear that they would resist efforts in at least 15 Republican-led states to restrict what teachers can say in class about racism, sexism and oppression in America. … Several thousand teachers have signed a pledge that says: “We, the undersigned educators, refuse to lie to young people about U.S. history and current events — regardless of the law.”


The military is a second front in the Critical Race Theory war. Here CRT stands in for any form of diversity training. [2] The conservative Heritage Foundation is a source of rhetoric for both fronts, having published 17 articles on the topic since Biden took office.

The theme of military anti-CRT arguments is that the US military has been a paradise of racial harmony until now, when CRT-influenced diversity training has begun to stir up racial conflict.

Senior Research Fellow Dakota Wood, for example, is a White male who served in the Marines for 20 years. He didn’t notice any racism or sexism during that time, so obviously there wasn’t any.

The beauty of military service is that the uniform and common objective supplants grouping by individual identities of color, class, gender, or religion. …

What united everyone with whom I served was the singular identity of being a U.S. Marine committed to defending our country, a country comprising every sort of person from countless different backgrounds.

It didn’t matter where you came from. All that really mattered among Marines was whether you were competent in your job, committed to the mission, and were someone your fellow Marines could depend on.

Military service truly is the best example of America as the proverbial great melting pot.

And he repeats the standard conservative slander of what diversity training tries to accomplish.

Programs that emphasize differences among service members, that impose a demand for people to feel guilty about their identity and background, that elevate one group over another, or that seek to subordinate a group relative to another generate resentment, or a sense of aggrieved victimization, or entitlement to special handling.

Such initiatives destroy the fabric of military service that otherwise unites an extraordinarily diverse population in common purpose and identity. Identity politics is a cancer that corrodes good order and discipline and the necessary authorities inherent in a chain of command.

Senator Tom Cotton echoed these sentiments to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday:

Mr. Secretary: We’re hearing reports of plummeting morale, growing mistrust between the races and sexes where none existed just six months ago

Racism and sexism in the military! Who ever heard of such a thing before the Biden administration? Jeff Schogol, writing for the military-focused site Task and Purpose, answered that question.

Dog whistles aside, there is plenty of evidence that racism and sexism within the ranks actually predates the Biden administration. Task & Purpose has documented 40 cases since 2016 of service members and veterans participating in extremist organizations, such as white supremacist groups.

The Pentagon tried to bury a 2017 survey that found nearly one-third of Black service members who responded said they had experienced racism. Moreover, 30% of Black respondents and 22% of Asian respondents felt their chances for promotion would be harmed if they reported the racial harassment and discrimination that they endured. …

As for sexism within the military, there are many examples from before Biden took office in January of commands failing to protect female service members from sexual harassment. A review following the April 2020 murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén also showed that female soldiers at Fort Hood faced an environment so toxic that they constantly lived in “survival mode” 

But clearly, if the armed services just refuse to talk about these problems, they will go away. Diversity training is the problem, not racism or sexism.

So Cotton has proposed a bill to block such training. The press release announcing the bill cites two horrifying recent developments:

Last month, the Navy released a recommended reading list to facilitate the “growth and development” of sailors. One of the books on this list is Ibram X. Kendi’s bestseller [How to be an Antiracist] advocating Critical Race Theory and discrimination on the basis of race.

Separately, the Navy’s Second Fleet created a book club for sailors to read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, a book that claims white people are inherently racist, whether consciously or subconsciously, and that race is the insidious subtext for virtually all human interactions.

Cotton would end such outrages.

This bill would prevent the military from including such theories in trainings or other professional settings, if their inclusion would reasonably appear as an endorsement. It also would prohibit the military from hiring consultants to teach such theories

His ban would extend to any notion that “The United States is a fundamentally racist country” or that “The Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution are fundamentally racist documents.”

As with high school history courses, you have to wonder about the chilling effect of such a law. What instructor would dare to point out, say, the implications of the Constitution counting a slave as three-fifths of a person?


Having given so much time to falsehood, I feel that I have to end by coming back to truth: What is it that anti-racist books and diversity trainings are trying to accomplish? If they’re not trying to convince us that “America is an evil, oppressive place” (as Cotton’s press release puts it), what ideas are they trying to communicate?

Having read a number of the books CRT critics object to, I would boil anti-racism down to a few points (which apply to sexism as well):

  • A culture’s fundamental assumptions get baked into institutions, laws, economic structures, and traditions that live on, even after those assumptions are no longer explicitly taught. [3]
  • For centuries, American culture explicitly promoted race-based rules and racial stereotypes that marginalized non-Whites, and made it either difficult or impossible for them to achieve positions of authority and influence, or even of equality with White Americans.
  • The structures created during those centuries are still with us, and participating in them maintains the effects of historical racism. Present-day Americans need not consciously hold racist beliefs to uphold a racist system.
  • Because their personal experiences do not confront them with the injustices of systemic racism, White Americans have a hard time noticing these injustices, which simply seem like “normal life” to them.
  • Unless systemic racism is brought to conscious awareness and actively countered, it will endure.

Put together, these points explain why the conservative notion of color-blindness, even if put forward in good faith (which it often is not), is inadequate for overcoming America’s racist heritage. None of this implies that “America is evil” or “Whites are inherently racist” or any of the other canards the Tom Cottons are pushing. But neither can we simply ignore racism and hope that it will go away.


[1] Something similar happens with people, who are demonized to the point that anything they might say is already discounted, and conspiracy theories targeting them need no evidence. Hillary Clinton is the longest-standing example. During the Trump administration, large numbers of FBI agents and officials were similarly demonized: Jim Comey, Andy McCabe, Peter Strzok, and Lisa Page. Simply mentioning their names evoked a dark conspiracy whose details never really came into focus. So far, Kamala Harris is the most prominent demon of the Biden administration. How dare she tell the country to “enjoy” the Memorial Day weekend!

[2] Trump ordered diversity training ended across the government, and even in corporations with government contracts, but a federal judge blocked his order, and Biden reversed it.

[3] In assembling these points, I have to note that racist ideas are still being taught in many places. The US has an active white supremacist movement, which many conservative politicians and media figures wink-and-nod at, even while professing color-blindness in public.