Tag Archives: culture wars

The January 6 hearings are accomplishing more than you think

https://jensorensen.com/2022/06/22/january-6-hearings-democracy-cartoon/

You may not see it, if you don’t understand how conservatives change their minds.


After more than two years of Covid, persistent inflation, and a year or so of Democrats failing to either eliminate the Senate filibuster or pass anything significant in spite of it, lots of us have gotten depressed. One result of that widespread depression is that every news story is seen through a lens that is dim to the point of blackness: Nothing good is happening, because nothing good can happen. That’s just how the world is. Even stuff that looks good for a while will ultimately turn out badly.

So it’s no wonder that even the January 6 hearings — which have contained startling new information and dramatic testimony, presented with considerable narrative skill — are often being construed as yet another disappointment, yet another example of America’s endemic hopelessness: Sure, the ratings have been better than expected, but the only people watching are the people who don’t need to watch. They were already convinced Trump was guilty. That’s why they’re watching.

Fox News, on the other hand, is pretending the hearings aren’t happening, and the MAGA cultists are averting their eyes. Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson are talking about Biden falling off his bicycle or some other trivia. So what’s being accomplished?

Let me suggest a radical reinterpretation of these facts: MAGAworld refusing to engage is a good sign. This is exactly what you should have expected to see if things were going well.

https://www.gocomics.com/garymarkstein/2022/06/18

That reframing depends on understanding two things: First, nothing gets watched by everybody, and yet somehow the information gets out. You didn’t have to watch the Super Bowl to learn that the Rams won. People who have never seen Star Wars know who Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader are; if you talk about a “flaw in the Death Star”, they’ll get the metaphor. Hit songs you don’t like nonetheless get into your head. Personally, I have done my best not to keep up with the Kardashians, but there seems to be no way to avoid it.

So don’t think Trumpists aren’t learning anything from these hearings.

https://theweek.com/political-satire/1014494/if-a-tree-falls

But the more important thing you need to appreciate is how conservatives change their minds. They do it without ever admitting they were wrong. Typically the process goes like this:

  1. “I believe X, and anybody who denies X hates America.”
  2. Silence.
  3. “I never believed X. The people behind X were never true conservatives.”

Blocking out the hearings is Step 2. They’re looking away because they know they have no answers. If they thought they could take on this argument and win, at least in their own eyes, they’d be all over it. Fox News could be doing nightly counter-programming, tearing apart the committee’s witnesses and letting John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani and Jeff Clark explain their side of the story. Mike Pence and Pat Cipollone could be begging to testify under oath, so they could refute all the other witnesses’ testimony.

It’s not happening. Even the most blinder-wearing Trumpist understands that his side doesn’t dare take the field in this battle. Even if they don’t understand why, it’s got to be undermining their confidence.

Instead, there’s silence. Step 2.

The clearest historical example of the three-step process is White Evangelicals and segregation. During the 50s and 60s when the issue was being decided, White Evangelicals almost unanimously defended Jim Crow. Jerry Falwell, for example, preached in 1958:

If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision [to desegregate public schools] would never have been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.

Today, if you look, you can still find openly white-separatist branches of Christianity. But they’re on the fringes. No big-name preacher of the Religious Right would denounce Brown v Board of Education in the stark terms Falwell used.

But you know what you won’t find? A come-to-Jesus moment when some major preacher announced that he had been wrong about race, begged God’s forgiveness for his errors, and implored his congregation to turn themselves around in a similar way.

It never happened.

Instead, sometime in the 70s most right-wing preachers just stopped talking about the bad old days of Jim Crow. (Falwell’s segregationist sermons quietly disappeared from his church’s web site. Today, the only place you’ll find the quote above is in anti-Falwell articles.) And years later, when they started talking about the Civil Rights movement again, they had always been on the right side of it. After all, Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist, right?

Same thing with George W. Bush and the Iraq War. In 2002, nobody was hotter to invade Iraq than conservatives, and after the initial invasion overran the country quickly with few American casualties, right-wingers were arguing about just how high Bush should rank on the list of our greatest presidents. (Probably not in the Washington/Lincoln stratosphere. But maybe in the Reagan/Truman tier.)

Sometime during his second term, though, they started to go silent about Bush’s greatness, and by 2010, the Tea Party was claiming that Bush had never really been a conservative at all. Bush went from the highest presidential approval rating ever recorded — 90% in 2001 — to one of the lowest — 25% in 2008. During that whole time, though, I don’t remember hearing anyone admit that they’d been wrong about him.

There was no I-have-seen-the-light moment about Iraq comparable to Walter Cronkite turning against the Vietnam War. Conservatives just went silent for a while, and when they spoke up again, it was to claim that they had always been on the other side. Donald Trump is a perfect example. At first he was for the invasion. Then he thought it was a good idea that Bush had screwed up. Then he had always been against it.

So if you’re depressed that no MAGA types are facing up to the way that Trump fooled them, don’t be. That was never going to happen. But it doesn’t mean that Trump won’t someday be a friendless pariah.

I feel very confident in predicting that there will never be a we-were-wrong-about-Trump moment, either for the GOP in general or for your cousin who posted all those MAGA memes on social media. But you know what could happen? They might focus their outrage on something else for a while — critical race theory or transgender people or something — and then at some point start saying, “Trump did a lot of good things, and I like his Supreme Court picks, but I never bought all his bullshit.”

That could be happening right now.

Three Supreme Court decisions with long-term consequences

https://claytoonz.com/2022/06/26/scotus-erode-us/

Scrapping abortions rights got the headlines. But don’t ignore the Court’s assault on gun regulations and the separation of church and state.


Late June tends to be a big time for the Supreme Court. Like freshmen who have put off writing their term papers until the last minute, the Court typically unleashes a flurry of decisions just before leaving town for the summer.

The end of this term has been more significant than most. Last week, three major decisions were published, along with several lesser decisions. The Dobbs decision reversing Roe v Wade was immediately consequential, as abortion has already effectively become illegal in a number of states, with more to follow soon. But it also laid the groundwork for future decisions reversing a number of rights: the right to marry someone of the same sex or a different race, to access contraception, or to choose (with your consenting partner) your own sexual practices.

The week’s other two decisions had fewer immediate consequences, but similarly looked like the first steps down a long road. Carson v Makin directly affects only a few families in rural Maine, but announces the Court’s intention to drastically redraw the line between Church and State. NY State Rifle & Pistol v Bruen tosses out a New York gun regulation that has stood for a century, but similarly calls all gun regulations into question.

Let’s take them one by one.

Abortion. Justice Alito’s majority opinion striking down Roe v Wade has barely changed since I wrote about the draft that leaked out in May. So I won’t repeat that material, but instead will focus on the concurrences and dissents from other justices.

Justice Alito’s majority opinion tried to minimize the consequences of this decision, which on the surface only [only!] reversed Roe, but also created a blueprint for throwing out all the substantive-due-process rights. Justice Thomas, on the other hand was explicit about where he wants the Court to go next:

in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is “demonstrably erroneous,”, we have a duty to “correct the error” established in those precedents. After overruling these demonstrably erroneous decisions, the question would remain whether other constitutional provisions guarantee the myriad rights that our substantive due process cases have generated.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/06/24/first-domino/

Thomas forgot to mention one other substantive-due-process case: Loving v Virginia, which makes his own interracial marriage legal. (I can see how that might start a difficult conversation: “Sorry, honey, but we were never really married.”) Given the anti-miscegenation laws that existed when the 14th Amendment passed in 1868, it’s hard to see how Loving survives the kind of historical analysis the Court did this week in both Dobbs and Bruen.

Leaning the other way, Justice Kavanaugh not only ignored future reversals, but tried to gloss over the radical nature of this one:

On the question of abortion, the Constitution is therefore neither pro-life nor pro-choice. The Constitution is neutral and leaves the issue for the people and their elected representatives to resolve through the democratic process in the States or Congress—like the numerous other difficult questions of American social and economic policy that the Constitution does not address.

The obvious implication of that statement is that Kavanaugh would not overrule Congress if it did codify reproductive rights. However, given how duplicitous Kavanaugh has already been on this issue, I wouldn’t count on him following through if such a case reached the Court.

He also waxed philosophical:

The Constitution does not grant the nine unelected Members of this Court the unilateral authority to rewrite the Constitution to create new rights and liberties based on our own moral or policy views.

I’ll be interested to see if Kavanaugh stands by this position the next time a corporate personhood case comes before the Court. The Constitution says nothing about corporations, and yet conservative judges have had no trouble reading between the lines to find “new rights and liberties” for these wealthy and immortal beings.

As I predicted in March, Chief Justice Roberts concurred in upholding Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks, but not in overturning Roe completely.

Our abortion precedents describe the right at issue as a woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy. That right should therefore extend far enough to ensure a reasonable opportunity to choose, but need not extend any further—certainly not all the way to viability. Mississippi’s law allows a woman three months to obtain an abortion, well beyond the point at which it is considered “late” to discover a pregnancy.

That’s typical Roberts, as you’ll see below in the Carson case. He also would destroy Roe, but do it over a period of years by pecking it to death. In this dissent, he makes a doctrine out of that approach:

If it is not necessary to decide more to dispose of a case, then it is necessary not to decide more.

Going back to the corporate personhood example, Roberts didn’t recommend this kind of restraint in Citizens United.

The Court’s three liberal justices — Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor — wrote a common dissent. Interestingly, they agreed with Thomas that abortion rights are tied to all the other substantive-due-process rights.

The lone rationale for what the majority does today is that the right to elect an abortion is not “deeply rooted in history”: Not until Roe, the majority argues, did people think abortion fell within the Constitution’s guarantee of liberty. The same could be said, though, of most of the rights the majority claims it is not tampering with. The majority could write just as long an opinion showing, for example, that until the mid-20th century, “there was no support in American law for a constitutional right to obtain [contraceptives].” So one of two things must be true. Either the majority does not really believe in its own reasoning. Or if it does, all rights that have no history stretching back to the mid-19th century are insecure. Either the mass of the majority’s opinion is hypocrisy, or additional constitutional rights are under threat. It is one or the other.

The dissent challenges the legitimacy of ignoring stare decisis to reverse the Roe and Casey precedents.

No recent developments, in either law or fact, have eroded or cast doubt on those precedents. Nothing, in short, has changed. … The Court reverses course today for one reason and one reason only: because the composition of this Court has changed. Stare decisis, this Court has often said, “contributes to the actual and perceived integrity of the judicial process” by ensuring that decisions are “founded in the law rather than in the proclivities of individuals.” Today, the proclivities of individuals rule.

It attacks Alito’s history-alone reasoning. If “liberty” means exactly what it did in 1868, that has a lot of unfortunate consequences, particularly for women.

The Court [in Casey] understood, as the majority today does not, that the men who ratified the Fourteenth Amendment and wrote the state laws of the time did not view women as full and equal citizens. A woman then, Casey wrote, “had no legal existence separate from her husband.” Women were seen only “as the center of home and family life,” without “full and independent legal status under the Constitution.” But that could not be true any longer: The State could not now insist on the historically dominant “vision of the woman’s role.”

https://theweek.com/political-satire/1014636/open-carry

Guns. In Bruen, Justice Thomas writes for the six conservative justices. Thomas is the justice whose thought process seems most alien to me, and here he loses me early on:

In keeping with Heller, we hold that when the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct.

Heller is the 2008 case in which Justice Scalia invented an individual right to bear arms, independent of any notion of “a well-regulated militia”, as if the Founders just threw that phrase into the Second Amendment on a whim.

Judges and legal scholars before Scalia had laughed at this interpretation, which had not figured in any previous Supreme Court decision since the beginning of the Republic. In 1990, retired Chief Justice Warren Burger, who had been appointed by Richard Nixon and at the time was not anyone’s idea of a liberal, called such an interpretation of the Second Amendment “a fraud on the American public“. John Paul Stevens, who wrote the primary dissent in Heller, called it “the Supreme Court’s worst decision of my tenure“.

And then we get to “the Second Amendment’s plain text”. I have explained previously (and at length) why I don’t think the text of the Second Amendment means anything at this point. (Briefly, the Founders’ vision of the role of the militia bears no resemblance to any institution that currently exists: not the National Guard, and certainly not self-appointed yahoos who run around in the woods wearing camo. History just went a different way. The Second Amendment, basically, is a signpost on a road not taken.) So the idea that the Second Amendment has a “clear text” that “covers” something in today’s world — that’s just wrong. If we can’t repeal it and start over, the most sensible approach would be to ignore it.

Anyway, Heller is the archetypal “originalist” decision: It does some grammatical sophistry that has basically nothing to do with the issues the Founders actually cared about, and then — surprise! — deduces that the Founders agreed with the author.

This is what Thomas is building on.

Thomas follows the statement above with:

The government must then justify its regulation by demonstrating that it is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. Only then may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s “unqualified command.”

The regulation in question in this case is New York’s state law that requires gun owners to have a license, and which denies licenses for people to carry guns outside their homes unless they “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.” The two New Yorkers bringing suit claim that it should be up to them to decide if they need a gun for self-defense, not up to the state.

Thomas then has to judge whether this regulation is “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation”. But he then edits that history in a very convenient way: Pre-colonial English history is too early to matter (though it wasn’t when assessing abortion laws in Dobbs). Gun regulations in the Wild West come too late. Even colonial and federal-era history can be swept away with the proper hand-waving.

Thus, even if these colonial laws prohibited the carrying of handguns because they were considered “dangerous and unusual weapons” in the 1690s, they provide no justification for laws restricting the public carry of weapons that are unquestionably in common use today.

And two post-Civil-War cases in Texas “support New York’s proper-cause requirement”, but they can be dismissed as “outliers”. When the Kansas Supreme Court upheld a “complete ban on public carry enacted by the city of Salina in 1901”, its decision was “clearly erroneous”. And the New York law Thomas is overturning was passed in 1911. (Justice Breyer’s dissent correctly sums up Thomas’ historical analysis as “a laundry list of reasons to discount seemingly relevant historical evidence.” The dissent in Dobbs makes fun of how Thomas’ cramped view of history in this case contrasts with Alito’s expansive citation of sources back to the Middle Ages in Dobbs. Thomas, naturally, signed on to Alito’s opinion, and his concurrence did not correct Alito’s historical analysis.)

Thomas’ whole historical method ignores the possibility that early American legislators believed they had a perfect right to regulate firearms, but didn’t see any special need at the time. (Breyer: “In 1790, most of America’s relatively small population of just four million people lived on farms or in small towns. Even New York City, the largest American city then, as it is now, had a population of just 33,000 people. Small founding-era towns are unlikely to have faced the same degrees and types of risks from gun violence as major metropolitan areas do today, so the types of regulations they adopted are unlikely to address modern needs.”)

And so, having adopted Heller’s interpretation of the Second Amendment and eliminated any conflicting examples from consideration, Thomas reaches his conclusion.

At the end of this long journey through the Anglo-American history of public carry, we conclude that respondents have not met their burden to identify an American tradition justifying the State’s proper-cause requirement. The Second Amendment guaranteed to “all Americans” the right to bear commonly used arms in public subject to certain reasonable, well-defined restrictions. Those restrictions, for example, limited the intent for which one could carry arms, the manner by which one carried arms, or the exceptional circumstances under which one could not carry arms, such as before justices of the peace and other government officials. Apart from a few late-19th-century outlier jurisdictions, American governments simply have not broadly prohibited the public carry of commonly used firearms for personal defense. Nor, subject to a few late-in-time outliers, have American governments required law-abiding, responsible citizens to “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community” in order to carry arms in public.

Justice Breyer’s dissent raises the central failing of Thomas’ dogmatic approach.

The question before us concerns the extent to which the Second Amendment prevents democratically elected officials from enacting laws to address the serious problem of gun violence. And yet the Court today purports to answer that question without discussing the nature or severity of that problem.

In other words, Thomas loses himself in estimating how many angels could dance on a pinhead in the 1790s, without any concern for what is happening today. (Alito’s concurrence berates Breyer for even daring to consider the present-day problem the law in question is trying to address.) Breyer finds that “decisions about how, when, and where to regulate guns [are] more appropriately legislative work”, and that judges should show “modesty and restraint” in overruling legislatures who take on that work. And he raises this key question:

[W]ill the Court’s approach permit judges to reach the outcomes they prefer and then cloak
those outcomes in the language of history?

I think we know the answer to that one.

https://www.reformaustin.org/author/nick-anderson/

Church and State. Because John Roberts doesn’t sign on to decisions like Alito’s reversal of Roe, he has gotten an image as the “moderate” on the Court. I don’t think that’s exactly true. Roberts is every bit as radical as the five who signed Alito’s opinion. He just moves towards his extreme goals in a stealthier, more step-by-step fashion. Roberts is like the thief who doesn’t strip your whole orchard in one night; but he leaves a hole in the fence and keeps coming back.

Campaign finance is a good example. Roberts didn’t destroy Congress’ ability to control political contributions in one fell swoop. He ate away at it over a period of years.

His majority opinion in Carson v Makin is similarly one of a series of cases that eats away at separation of church and state. On the surface, this decision doesn’t do much: A handful of families who live in rural areas of Maine will be able to get state support to send their children to conservative Christian schools, in spite of the Maine legislature’s attempt not to fund such schools. (And even they won’t get support for the schools they want, because Maine’s law also disqualifies schools that discriminate against gays and lesbians.)

To get that tiny result, though, Roberts blows a big hole in the wall between church and state. New cases will be coming through that hole for years to come, and the principles established in Carson will funnel more and more public funding to the Religious Right.

Here’s the background: Some rural areas of Maine have so few students that it’s not worth supporting a public high school. Instead, some of them contract with high schools in neighboring districts to take their students. But some don’t even do that. If you live in one of those, you can get tuition reimbursement from the state to send your children to a private high school that meets certain requirements. One requirement is that the school be “nonsectarian”. That condition was added in 1981, after the state attorney general ruled that paying tuition to a sectarian school would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Maine has a fairly narrow definition of “sectarian”. It’s OK for a school to be founded by or associated with a church or other religious organization. But public money was banned from going to a school which

in addition to teaching academic subjects, promotes the faith or belief system with which it is associated and/or presents the material taught through the lens of this faith.

The two families that brought suit against this policy live in Glenburn (population 4,648) and Palermo (1,570). They want Maine to help them pay tuition to schools that clearly are sectarian. For example, one of the schools, Temple Academy, has as its mission statement:

Temple Academy exists to know the Lord Jesus Christ and to make Him known through accredited academic excellence and programs presented through our thoroughly Christian Biblical world view.

It goes on to pledge

To provide a sound academic education in which the subject areas are taught from a Christian point of view.

To help every student develop a truly Christian world view by integrating studies with the truths of Scripture.

So Temple is not like a nominally Catholic or Baptist school where students of other faiths might opt out religion classes or worship services. Students who attend any classes at all are being indoctrinated in a conservative Christian worldview, and part of every teacher’s job is to promote a particular version of Christianity.

Also, the Maine law is not like a voucher program, where the legislature delegates choice of schools to parents, understanding that some parents will choose sectarian schools. Maine’s legislature tried NOT to fund religious indoctrination; but Roberts’ decision says that it MUST.

This is new, and it is radical.

Justice Breyer’s dissent (Breyer, who is retiring and will be replaced next term by Ketanji Brown Jackson, is going out with a bang) is a good introduction to how the Court has historically interpreted the First Amendment, which bars any government “establishment of religion” but also guarantees individual citizens “free exercise” of their religious faith. Breyer says that these two clauses are “often in tension” but express “complementary values”. Quoting previous Court decisions, Breyer imagines what motivated the amendment’s two religion clauses.

Together they attempt to chart a “course of constitutional neutrality” with respect to government and religion. They were written to help create an American Nation free of the religious conflict that had long plagued European nations with “governmentally established religion[s].” Through the Clauses, the Framers sought to avoid the “anguish, hardship and bitter strife” that resulted from the “union of Church and State” in those countries.

“Conflict” is a bit of an understatement here. In England, the Anglican/Catholic/Puritan struggle dominated the 1600s, resulting in the beheading of Charles I, a long civil war, and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. On the Continent, the Thirty Years War killed at least 4.5 million people. The Founders knew this history and desperately wanted to avoid repeating it.

Previous Courts held that the tension between the two religion clauses created “play in the joints”. In other words, states had room to navigate between them. One state might choose to draw the line in a different place than another.

States enjoy a degree of freedom to navigate the Clauses’ competing prohibitions.

Roberts started taking that freedom away when he wrote the majority opinion in the 2017 Trinity Lutheran case, where Missouri was forced to include religious schools in a grant program to make playgrounds safer. Breyer can live with that outcome (in 2017 he wrote a partial concurrence), but doesn’t think that decision forces this one.

Any Establishment Clause concerns arising from providing money to religious schools for the creation of safer play yards are readily distinguishable from those raised by providing money to religious schools through the program at issue here—a tuition program designed to ensure that all children receive their constitutionally guaranteed right to a free public education. After all, cities and States normally pay for police forces, fire protection, paved streets, municipal transport, and hosts of other services that benefit churches as well as secular organizations. But paying the salary of a religious teacher as part of a public school tuition program is a different matter.

It’s striking that in this case (as in the gun case above) it is Breyer and the liberals, not Roberts (or Thomas) and the conservatives, who are defending states rights.

We have never previously held what the Court holds today, namely, that a State must (not may) use state funds to pay for religious education as part of a tuition program designed to ensure the provision of free statewide public school education.

The cases Roberts cites as precedents, Breyer says, don’t justify this shift from permission to requirement.

In the majority’s view, the fact that private individuals, not Maine itself, choose to spend the State’s money on religious education saves Maine’s program from Establishment Clause condemnation. But that fact, as I have said, simply permits Maine to route funds to religious schools. It does not require Maine to spend its money in that way.

This particular decision may not affect many Americans. But Breyer sees clearly where Roberts is headed.

What happens once “may” becomes “must”? Does that transformation mean that a school district that pays for public schools must pay equivalent funds to parents who wish to send their children to religious schools? Does it mean that school districts that give vouchers for use at charter schools must pay equivalent funds to parents who wish to give their children a religious education? What other social benefits are there the State’s provision of which means—under the majority’s interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause—that the State must pay parents for the religious equivalent of the secular benefit provided? The concept of “play in the joints” means that courts need not, and should not, answer with “must” these questions that can more appropriately be answered with “may.”

And doesn’t Roberts’ policy implicitly favor more popular religions?

Members of minority religions, with too few adherents to establish schools, may see injustice in the fact that only those belonging to more popular religions can use state money for religious education.

After all, who but Christians will be able to find a market for religious schools in rural Maine? This is a problem I have had with the conservative view of “religious freedom” all along: In practice, it only gives rights to conservative Christians — or, completely by accident, to other religious groups who happen to agree with conservative Christians on a particular issue like abortion or homosexuality.

So it may be amusing to imagine how this ruling might someday be used to make Evangelical taxpayers support a Muslim madrassah, or some other school they would abhor. But I question whether such a thing will ever happen. This Court’s sectarian majority believes in special rights for Christians. It will find ways around extending those rights to anyone else.

Here’s how Sherry Kolb put it in “Are Religious Abortions Protected?“, where she examines the argument (raised in a recent lawsuit filed by a Florida synagogue) that a Jewish doctor may feel religiously obligated to perform an abortion in situations where a state has banned them.

Despite appearances to the contrary, this Court is not especially friendly to Free Exercise claims. … Its rulings instead reflect its friendliness to conservative Christianity and, accordingly, to Judaism and Islam where the ask is minimal or the traditions happen to be the same. Christians can violate the anti-discrimination laws for religious reasons because they are Christians. The sooner we come to understand that the Court is all about Christianity rather than some capacious vision of religious liberty for all, the sooner we will begin the process of finding solutions to our modern-day theocracy problem that do not ask the Court to behave with integrity or consistency.

White replacement is MAGA’s unified field theory

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His Fox News colleague Laura Ingraham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

What Alito wrote

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

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


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

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

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

This is how I summarized the situation in March:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally he dismisses stare decisis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jill Lepore went further in The New Yorker:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lepore notes the opinions that Alito does not cite:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harvard Law Professor Mary Ziegler thinks it probably is:

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

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

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

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

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

MAGA 2.0

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elon and Twitter

https://theweek.com/political-satire/1012516/elon-the-puddy-tat

Will Elon Musk buy Twitter? Should he? What if he does?


Wednesday, when Elon Musk announced a $38 billion offer to buy the 90.8% of Twitter stock he didn’t already own, the news feeds I follow erupted in two very different directions:

  • Political commentators began assessing the implications of the world’s richest man gaining sole control of one of the world’s most influential social-media platforms.
  • Financial writers skeptically asked, “Is this really going to happen?”

The financial question seems logically prior to the political question, so let’s start there. Better yet, let’s start with some general background.

Who is Elon Musk? Musk is a high-tech entrepreneur whose start-ups have struck gold several times, with the proceeds getting rolled into ever-bigger efforts. As a result, he is now believed to be the richest person in the world, with a net worth recently estimated at $273 billion (a figure that fluctuates with the stock market). He is most famous (and richest) from his investment in the electric automobile company Tesla. But he also founded and owns a large chunk of the satellite-launching company SpaceX. He has founded and sold off businesses that became part of Compaq and PayPal.

Born in South Africa, he moved to Canada as a teen-ager to avoid serving in the South African army, which was then fighting to defend the apartheid system. From Canada he moved to the United States and became a US citizen in 2002. (If you hope or fear that he might become president someday, naturalized citizens aren’t eligible.)

His political views are a mixture of right and left: He takes climate change seriously, and Tesla plays an important role in the electrify-everything strategy to reduce carbon emissions. He also has a strong libertarian streak, opposing most government regulation and boosting cryptocurrencies. But libertarianism hasn’t stopped him from taking advantage of government programs when he can. He opposes raising taxes on rich people like himself. He moved to Texas to avoid California taxes.

He has used his 81-million-follower Twitter account to spread Covid misinformation, and he resisted shutting down Tesla’s California factory during the lockdown. He is anti-woke. and anti-cancel-culture. His stated motive for buying Twitter is to protect free speech, but he does not seem worried about Twitter’s disinformation problem.

His public image is larger than life. If you like him, he fits the billionaires-will-save-us model of Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark, or perhaps Hank Rearden. If you don’t, he’s a James Bond villain waiting to make his move — BitCoinFinger, maybe.

Why Twitter? If you want to acquire influence on America’s (and the world’s) politics and culture, Twitter gives you more bang for your buck than any comparable platform. Buying other social media giants like Meta (owner of Facebook and Instagram) or Alphabet (owner of Google and YouTube) would cost more than even an Elon Musk can hope to come up with. Meta has a $570 billion market capitalization, and Alphabet’s is $1.7 trillion.

The reason Twitter is comparatively cheap (i.e., tens of billions rather than hundreds of billions) is that it hasn’t exploited surveillance capitalism as effectively as the other major social-media platforms. Not that it hasn’t been trying, but it hasn’t had the same level of success.

In the surveillance-capitalism model, the purpose of offering free internet services is to accumulate data about the people who use them. That data, in turn, can be used to exploit or manipulate the people who inadvertently provided it. Targeted advertising is the most obvious (and one of the most benign) uses of this data. Facebook, for example, has figured out that I’m learning to cook, so it shows me ads for air fryers and carbon-steel skillets. This beats the less-well-targeted old days, when spam email tried to sell me viagra and pictures of underage girls.

But the data can also be used to make the platform itself more addictive, and to design disinformation that individual users will be most likely to believe and act on. Unfortunately for democracy and civil society, the most addicted users are the ones who have gone down some conspiracy-theory rabbit hole. So that’s where the algorithms lead.

Twitter’s comparatively poor financial performance relative to Facebook and Google is one reason why Musk skeptics are alarmed by his ambition to “unlock” Twitter’s “enormous potential”.

Will Musk really buy Twittter? Musk announced on March 14 that he had bought 9.2% of Twitter. At first there was speculation that he wanted a seat on the board, or for the company to agree to some list of changes. But Wednesday he announced an offer to buy the whole company for a price that puts Twitter’s value at $43 billion. That would make Twitter a private company, and Musk could do whatever he wanted with it.

Financial types were immediately skeptical. Sure, Musk says he wants to spend another $38 billion buying Twitter stock. But Musk says a lot of things.

[J]ust because Elon Musk says something doesn’t mean it’s so — even when he’s talking about his own money. Musk is, at a minimum, maddeningly inconsistent. In 2018, for instance, he announced — on Twitter — that he wanted to turn Tesla into a private company and that he had “funding secured.” Which turned out not to be true.

The next question was whether Musk even has $38 billion. He’s certainly worth much more than $38 billion, but (as any rich-on-paper homeowner knows) that doesn’t mean he has cash. He could raise cash by selling or borrowing against his Tesla and SpaceX holdings, but does he really want to do that? Such a move might risk him losing control of the rest of his empire at some point down the road.

And then there’s the possibility that Twitter may fight to stay out of Musk’s control. Friday the Twitter board adopted a proposal that would make it more expensive to acquire.

Twitter said on Friday it adopted a poison pill that would dilute anyone amassing a stake in the company of more than 15% by selling more shares to other shareholders at a discount. Known formally as a shareholder rights plan, the poison pill will be in place for 364 days.

Just how much more money Musk would have to commit depends on how the existing shareholders respond to the plan, and how much capital they could come up with. There’s also the possibility of a rival bid emerging.

It’s also possible that Musk never intended to buy Twitter, but instead anticipates burnishing his crusading reputation after the company fends off his bid. In other words: He tried to save us, but the corrupt system defended itself.

Finally, Musk may be engaging in an elaborate market manipulation. Sometimes would-be takeover targets offer greenmail to make predator capitalists go away. Or if Musk’s offer elicits an rival offer for a higher price, he could walk off with a considerable profit on the shares he already owns.

But what if he succeeds? Whether you think Musk is the answer to Twitter’s problems depends on what you think those problems are. Voices from both the Left and Right worry about social media platforms forming a bottleneck that limits political discussion, but they frame that problem very differently.

If the problem is Big-Tech political bias, then Musk could be the answer. Conservatives see any institution they don’t control as biased against them, so they cast Twitter and Facebook as powerful allies of “cancel culture” and “woke-ism”. (Whether Big Tech actually is biased against conservative beliefs is questionable. But any anti-disinformation effort is going to affect conservatives more than liberals, because conservatives spread more disinformation.)

So Tucker Carlson, a powerful disinformation-spreader himself, is rooting for Musk to take over Twitter. MAGA types anticipate Trump getting his Twitter account back. (He lost it after using Twitter to promote the January 6 coup attempt.) And given how badly Trump’s copycat Truth Social platform is going, getting back on Twitter must look good to him, in spite of his claims to the contrary.

But if the problem is the bottleneck itself, Musk just makes it worse. A small number of corporations have an inordinate influence on what can be discussed and how widely a given point of view spreads. As public companies, those entities are accountable at least to their stockholders, and (to a lesser extent) to the public. A Musk-owned Twitter, by contrast, would be accountable to him alone. Trusting the world’s richest man to look after the public interest seems incredibly naive. (I am reminded of sci-fi humorist Terry Pratchett’s description of the system of government in Ankh-Morpork: “Ankh-Morpork had dallied with many forms of government and had ended up with that form of democracy known as One Man, One Vote. The Patrician was the Man; he had the Vote.”)

Another piece of the nightmare is what Musk (or any unfettered individual) could do with the kind of data Twitter collects (or could decide to collect in the future). This is not just tweets, but perhaps also the location data from smartphones running the Twitter app. If you always knew who was with who when, how much blackmail material would you have?

https://jensorensen.com/2022/04/08/the-marketplace-of-ideas-media-conspiracy/

Could competition emerge? Conservative attempts to respond to their perception of Twitter’s bias by creating their own platforms, like Parler and Truth Social, have so far not taken off. (I have to wonder whether conservatives really want their own platform. Isn’t the whole point to troll liberals?) Whether liberals would be any more successful is anybody’s guess.

Attempts by one Big Tech corporation to invade another’s territory have also done badly. Google launched Facebook alternative Google+ with much fanfare in 2011, but shut it down in 2019.

The basic problem is a network effect: Any social network where people already gather for a specific purpose has a huge advantage over a new network attempting to fill the same niche. The problem is especially difficult when the existing service is free, preventing competition on price.

However, imagine if Musk’s “free speech” alterations make Twitter all but unusable. Tweets you actually want to see might get buried under disinformation and hate speech. Posting anything at all might open you up to abusive attacks and cyber-stalking. (In other words: Like now, but moreso.) A better curated platform might become attractive enough that a deep-pocketed competitor might emerge. (What if, for example, Amazon started a paid-subscription model, but the cost was folded into Amazon Prime membership?)

What’s the real problem? My own feeling is that trying to fix America’s “free speech problem” (as Musk claims to want to do), is misguided, because the root problem is actually much bigger. Free speech, bad faith, incivility, disinformation, and a simultaneous lack of public trust and public trustworthiness are all part of the same picture. We’re not going to solve one of those problems without thinking about all of them.

What if public schools were the target all along?

http://www.progressive-charlestown.com/2014/05/wal-mart-money-drives-charter-school.html

Maybe the point of stoking phony issues like “critical race theory” is to make the whole notion of a public education seem untenable.


Every now and then, conservative pundits give Democratic politicians “helpful” advice, a practice related to concern trolling. Democrats could have so much more success, they tell us, if only we’d stop acting like — you know — Democrats. Give up on unions. Stop annoying White people by talking about racism, or men by calling out sexism. Abortion rights, climate change, police reform, gender equality, universal health care … it’s all just so much baggage. If Democrats would dump it and stand for nothing-in-particular, then we could appeal to that broad segment of the electorate that also stands for nothing-in-particular.

Or so they tell us.

Such advice should not be confused with actual Democrats lobbying for their priorities. No single campaign can be about everything, so there are always going to be debates about whether to emphasize your issue or my issue. And there’s always going to be a messaging discussion between those who want to focus on the next step (universal background checks) and those who would rather talk about the ultimate goal (stopping gun violence). Or whether some widely misunderstood slogan (“defund the police”) needs to be better explained, or maybe replaced with something that doesn’t need so much explanation.

That’s all normal intramural jostling. The Helpful Conservative, on the other hand, is usually suggesting some issue where we should just surrender: Write off the gays or the trans folk or the rights of Muslims; they’re unpopular, so you’d be better off without them.

The Helpful Conservative may or may not have read Sun Tzu, but he’s practicing The Art of War‘s most potent advice: The supreme strategy is to win without fighting. If liberals can be tempted into abandoning some part of their agenda, that victory that costs conservatives nothing.

While you should never take the Helpful Conservative at face value, there is still one good reason to pay attention to him: Sometimes his advice can help you cut through the confusing rhetoric of the moment and understand what the other side really wants.

Imagine no public schools. Earlier this month, Discourse, a journal published by the Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University, produced a classic piece of oh-so-helpful advice: “Dear Democrats: Here’s How to Save the Republic” by Robert Tracinski.

He sounds like such a nice man.

I am not one of you, but I would like to vote for you.

Of course you would, Robert. I believe you. I also believe that hot young babes want to be my Facebook friends. I’m sure they look just like the pictures they post.

More to the point, I would like independent voters—not to mention whole sections of the restive base of the two parties—to have a reasonable alternative to turn to, a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.

We need you to save the republic,

That’s great, Robert. Every night I drift off to sleep fantasizing about how I’m going to save the Republic. It’s so validating to hear that you also fantasize about me saving the Republic.

and here are my ideas for how to do it.

So by now the sugar-coating has dissolved in our stomachs and we start to digest the actual medicine.

His first suggestion is to get more housing built by eliminating environmental regulations, and I’ll just let that one pass without comment. (If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you can probably guess what I think.) But what caught my eye is the second suggestion: “End the School Wars”.

The “progressives” have tried to turn the schools into centers of indoctrination, pushing a tendentious narrative about “systemic racism.” The right has reacted with their own counter-attempt to control the schools, restricting discussion of certain ideas, policing school libraries and offering bounties to informants.

But most voters don’t want to be drafted into the culture wars. They want to be left alone, and they really want their kids to be left alone. The party that can offer a truce in the school wars will earn a lot of votes.

I have put forward one suggestion: school choice.

That “one suggestion” link goes to another Tracinski/Mercatus article that spells out what “school choice” means.

Imagine that instead of just shunting everyone into the public schools, your state government offered you a voucher or tax credit to spend on your child’s education. Do you want your kids to be inculcated with traditional values? Send them to a private religious school of the denomination of your choice. Do you want them to be so woke they can’t get to sleep at night? Fine, you can do that, too, and there are plenty of private schools that will accommodate you. Or, like the majority of us, do you want a school that will just teach the three R’s and leave you and your kids to iron out your political loyalties on your own? I suspect there will be quite a large market for this.

In other words: Do away with the public schools.

Just do that simple thing, and — poof! — all that bickering about Critical Race Theory and school mask mandates and book-banning and don’t-say-gay vanishes! All the right-wing demagogues will just have to go home! Fox News won’t know what to do with itself!

But on the other hand, maybe right-wingers will accept our surrendered territory and move on to the next battle, as Sun Tzu might suggest. The book-banning conflict, for example, could move on from the school library to the public library. (And look! There’s a plan to privatize all of them too.)

Once you start dissolving the ties that define a community, slowing transforming it into an atomized Ayn Rand sovereign-citizen utopia/dystopia, where do you stop? Managing any public resource leads to disagreement, and disagreement can lead to conflict. If someone fans that conflict to create division and hatred, they can always make a plausible case for disbanding the public resource so that we can all go our separate ways in peace. [1]

But what if that was the point of stoking the conflict to begin with? What if Mercatus isn’t making a helpful suggestion, but in fact is delivering the oligarchs’ ransom demand: Give up your public schools, and we’ll let the rest of your town live in peace.

The Siege of the Public Schools. I’m far from the first person to notice that the current conservative assault is taking its toll on public schools and their teachers. A week ago, a long Washington Post article detailed how confusing teachers in several states find the new anti-CRT laws.

Since the laws’ descriptions of what can’t be taught were written in terms of misconceptions spread by right-wing propaganda rather than by referencing actual curricula, it’s hard for teachers to know what they mean, or to be sure that tomorrow’s lesson plan won’t land them in a disciplinary hearing, or in court. Some bills vaguely prohibit teaching “divisive concepts“, while others set standards that are openly subjective: Students “should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race.” [2]

Some new laws imitate the Texas abortion ban by authorizing parents to enforce curriculum bans through the courts.

“What we’ve seen recently is, you can legislate things, like the Parents’ Bill of Rights, and sometimes the school districts don’t always follow it,” [Florida Governor Ron] DeSantis said. “We are going to be including in this legislation, giving parents private right of action to be able to enforce the prohibition on CRT and they get to recover attorney’s fees when they prevail.”

In New Hampshire, Moms For Liberty is offering a $500 reward to the first parent who catches a teacher breaking the state’s anti-CRT law, which could result in that teacher losing his or her license. There’s no wanted-dead-or-alive poster, and least not yet, but I’m sure teachers are picturing them.

Think about what this court-regulated system means in practice: There is no way to pre-clear your lesson plan or reading list. Because it doesn’t matter what your principal or superintendent or school board thinks “divisive concepts” means; you have to guess how some yet-to-be-assigned judge will interpret it.

So to be safe, teachers should teach nothing at all about race, or the history of racism in America. [3]

Ditto for sex and gender. A school board member in Flagler County, Florida filed a criminal complaint with the sheriff about the queer memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue being in high school libraries. Somebody, she thinks, should be prosecuted for that.

Florida’s Don’t-Say-Gay law, which is backed by Gov. DeSantis and seems on its way to passage, not only bans discussions of sex and gender that are not “age appropriate” (another concept that the law doesn’t define), but also requires teachers and school counselors to rat out kids who have confided in them about gender and sexual-preference thoughts they haven’t discussed with their parents. Parents can sue if they think the law is being violated.

Kara Gross, the legislative director and senior policy counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, provides another example: Elementary school students are assigned to draw pictures of their families and present them to their class. If a child being raised by a same-sex couples draws a picture of their two dads, Gross says, their teacher may face a decision between allowing the child to participate—and opening themselves and their school up to lawsuits—or excluding them from the exercise.

Again, it’s safest just to avoid talking to students about their lives outside of school. Stick to drilling them about the multiplication tables and spelling, or making them memorize dates of historical events rather than considering how those events shape the world they see around them.

The end result is that if you want your children to engage with schoolwork, and to understand that education isn’t just a set of hurdles to jump, but actually means something about their lives, you’re going to want to pull them out of public school.

And maybe that’s the point.

Whose agenda? When you begin to suspect that the public schools themselves are the target, you need to take a step back and ask: Whose target?

Because it’s crazy to argue that every angry parent who denounces “critical race theory”, whatever he or she means by that, is part of the conspiracy. Most of them are probably exactly what they appear to be: relatively normal folks who have come to imagine that something nefarious is happening inside their children’s schools.

Even that McMinn County school board member, the one who argued to kick the Holocaust graphic novel Maus out of the curriculum with this bizarre conspiracy theory:

So, my problem is, it looks like the entire curriculum is developed to normalize sexuality, normalize nudity and normalize vulgar language. If I was trying to indoctrinate somebody’s kids, this is how I would do it.

probably does not intend to destroy the public schools. Quite the opposite: He thinks he’s saving the public schools from a vast conspiracy to “indoctrinate” kids and “normalize” sexuality, nudity, and vulgarity.

But where do people get ideas like that? And how did so many parents all over the country come to all get upset about the same things at the same time, and to label their bête noire with an obscure law-school phrase that appears nowhere in the curricula they’re protesting? How did legislatures all over the country so quickly put forward virtually identical bills to fight this scourge that hardly anybody had heard of a year ago?

There’s definitely a spontaneous element to this movement, but the overall shape of it is not spontaneous at all. There’s money behind this, and organization. Who are the funding-and-organizing people? What do they want?

I think they’re telling us what they want. They’ve whipped up a mob with lies and deception, and now they’re sending some pleasant well-mannered folks to tell us what we can do to make that mob go away.

Until they want the next thing, and then the mob will be back. Because the oligarchs never run out of dark fantasies they can spread, or gullible people who will believe them.


[1] Ignoring, of course, the Hobbesian war of all-against-all that is bound to follow, once we stop viewing each other as members of the same community.

[2] I suspect that in practice such laws will only protect White students. What if some Hispanic students are made uncomfortable by lessons about the Alamo or the Mexican/American War? Will their concerns get equal attention?

[3] Try to come up with an acceptable way to talk about slave-owners in the pre-Civil-War slave states. If you say that many of them were decent people doing the best they could inside an unjust system, you’re teaching “systemic racism”, which is banned. And the alternative view is what? That each one of them, individually, was an evil bastard? Might some descendants of slave-owners “feel discomfort” when they hear that?

The only option left, then, if decent White people were individually responsible for slavery, is to teach that enslaving people isn’t necessarily bad.

The Emotional Roots of Political Polarization

Some deeper introspection into how I got trolled.


At first I couldn’t figure out what was so annoying about the article.

Maybe you saw it; for a few days this week it was the most-read post on The Atlantic’s site: “Where I Live, No One Cares About COVID“.

The author, Matthew Walther, lives in rural southwestern Michigan and usually writes for Catholic and conservative outlets. The gist of his article is summed up well by the title: In Walther’s world, people already live as if the pandemic is over.

This was not news to me. This week my wife and I have been (very carefully) making our way down the East Coast to re-establish the decades-long Christmas-with-friends-who-now-live-in-Florida tradition that lapsed last year. We’ve seen the mostly unmasked travelers at the rest stops. (My college roommate and his wife caught Covid in 2020 after their own very careful road trip; they blame the rest stops.)

In North Carolina, we were the only diners who chose to sit on the restaurant’s outdoor patio. A Florida lunch spot had only one outdoor table, which no one else wanted. In South Carolina, we bought the instant Covid tests that no CVS back in Massachusetts could keep in stock. When we asked about a limit on how many we could buy, the clerk looked at us strangely, as if we didn’t understand that the whole point of retail is to sell as much as you can.

Believe me, the number of people living as if Covid isn’t happening any more has not escaped my attention.

So why do I feel trolled by Walther’s article? He isn’t denying evident reality, as so many Covid minimizers do. He acknowledges that the virus is still spreading, and that hospitalizations are high, though they “are always high this time of year without attracting much notice”. He backhandedly acknowledges the existence of variants, but claims not to be paying much attention.

COVID is invisible to me except when I am reading the news, in which case it strikes me with all the force of reports about distant coups in Myanmar.

He says (without much concern) that 136 people in his rural county have died of Covid, undermining the whole everybody-knows-everybody image urbanites have of the countryside. (He isn’t saying “Aunt Josie died, but I never liked her anyway.” 136 is just a number to him, like the “statistic” famously attributed to Stalin. I wonder how his Catholic sanctity-of-life sensibilities would react to hearing about 136 local abortions.)

His point isn’t that none of this is happening, but rather that trying to avoid catching and spreading the virus yourself is too bothersome.

What I wish to convey is that the virus simply does not factor into my calculations or those of my neighbors, who have been forgoing masks, tests (unless work imposes them, in which case they are shrugged off as the usual BS from human resources), and other tangible markers of COVID-19’s existence for months—perhaps even longer.

He reports that “from almost the very beginning” he has been attending weddings, taking vacations, and regularly going to indoor bars and restaurants unmasked. His kids belong to a homeschooling group, which they also attend unmasked. They regularly visit (and hug) their grandparents, and did even before vaccination was possible. And while Walther doesn’t disparage the vaccines directly, “The CDC recommends that all adults get a booster shot; I do not know a single person who has received one.”

Well, OK. The people he knows live differently than the people I know. That can’t be what got me roiled.

It also isn’t that his excellent arguments leave me without a coherent response. (We all know how annoying that can be.) Several quick retorts immediately pop to mind.

  • 800,000 of our countrymen are dead. If we’d seen that many deaths in a war, most Americans would be ashamed to admit they had opted out of the war effort, as Walther and his community apparently have.
  • Risk-takers often have long runs of good luck, but that doesn’t prove that the risk isn’t real. Back in the days before they became a personality cult, conservatives understood this.
  • From the beginning of the pandemic, a steady stream of voices have scolded the rest of us for overreacting. And every few days, I hear about another one of those scolders dying.

So no, my annoyance isn’t covering up my embarrassment at finding myself speechless in the face of Walther’s unanswerable logic.

And yet, it was hard to let it go and move on. Why?

I had to do a careful second and third reading, watching my emotions closely, to figure it out: I’ve been reacting not to the content of Walther’s article, but to his tone of personal animus. He doesn’t just think that people like me are being foolish; fools are typically pitied. No, he harbors a deep resentment of us. What I can’t shake is a sense of “What did I ever do to him?”

His resentment expresses itself from the early paragraphs, when Walther’s wife responds to an article explaining how to have a Covid-safe Thanksgiving with an exasperated “These people.” [His italics.]

What people? A few lines later he makes that clear:

the professional and managerial classes in a handful of major metropolitan areas

Nailed me there, didn’t he? I have a graduate degree and live just beyond Boston’s Route 128 beltway. Outside my insulated world, he writes, “Americans are leading their lives as if COVID is over.”

So it isn’t just that the people I know are living differently than the people he knows. Walther’s people are “Americans”, while mine are an elite class isolated in our privileged enclaves.

This conservative culture-war version of the Marxist class struggle appears to be a regular part of Walther’s shtick, also demonstrated here and here.

Never mind the CNN poll released this week showing that a majority of Americans report “still taking extra precautions in your everyday life”. That’s just data, and what’s data compared to the deep intuition of a salt-of-the-Earth, real American literary-magazine editor like Walther?

I wager that I am now closer to most of my fellow Americans than the people, almost absurdly overrepresented in media and elite institutions, who are still genuinely concerned about this virus. And in some senses my situation has always been more in line with the typical American’s pandemic experience than that of someone in New York or Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles.

Put aside for a moment that the people being “absurdly overrepresented in the media” are primarily doctors, epidemiologists, and other people who know what they’re talking about. Even ignoring expertise, Walther is strongly implying that there is something illegitimate about the views of people who live in or near a city. (More than one American in seven lives in the three metro areas Walther calls out. Adding in the similarly elite Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco metro areas gets you up to one in four. That’s a lot of illegitimate opinions.) No urbanite (or even suburbanite like me) can possibly be a “typical American”. We city folk who lower our masks to let acquaintances recognize us when we pass on the sidewalk are “like Edwardian gentlemen doffing their top hats”.

I can see how that kind of lordly behavior might set off a mere peasant like this contributing editor of American Conservative, who is so underrepresented in the media that I am reading his words in The Atlantic.

But you know the worst thing about people like me? It’s not what we’ve done or are doing, but what Walther is sure we will do.

I am afraid that the future, at least in major metropolitan areas, is one in which sooner or later elites will acknowledge their folly while continuing to impose it on others.

Because people like me are like that. No doubt the next time I drive down the coast, I’ll grab the last seat at the bar and insist that some working-class shlub sit out on the patio where it’s safer. Because by then I’ll have realized the folly of trying to avoid a disease that has killed more of my fellow citizens than World War II, but I’ll impose restrictions on the subordinate classes just to lord it over them.

And while I can’t remember ever having done anything like that before, it’s inevitable that I will. Because Walther really has my number.

That’s the kind of argument I have no answer for. It just leaves me wondering what I ever did to him.


It’s tempting to leave the topic there, but I think there’s a deeper lesson to be drawn. What makes culture-war arguments so frustrating generally is that they typically aren’t rooted in facts and logic, but in resentment. Fact-checking has proven to be impotent against Trumpism, for example, and right-wing cultists are never convinced when the absurdity of their logic is pointed out. Because no matter what is true or makes sense, their emotional resentment — wherever it comes from — endures.

That’s why culture warriors who have seen their arguments debunked will just shift to another one rather than change their conclusions. Do hand-recounts prove that Trump’s landslide wasn’t stolen by corrupted voting machines? Well then, it must have been stolen by fraudulent mail-in ballots, or by votes from dead people, or ballots smuggled in from China, or illegal alien votes, or something else.

And if you refute all that, chances are that the argument will circle back around to voting machines — Mike Lindell is still pushing that long-debunked lie — because the elite urban professional class (and their poorer dark-skinned minions) must have stolen the election somehow. There are too many “real Americans” for Trump to have lost, and if the ballots don’t show that, it’s because too many of them came from illegitimate places like Philadelphia or Detroit or Atlanta. How could Trump have lost, when all the White Catholics in rural southwestern Michigan voted for him?

Similarly, QAnoners aren’t bothered when their predictions fail. And even if they were, they could jump to other conspiracy theories that support the same narrative motif: You are part of the red-pilled vanguard party, who are ordinary people’s only hope against the powerful liberal cabal that manipulates the world. Your friends and relatives may not grasp the reality of the conspiracy yet, but someday they too will acknowledge their folly.

The Storm is one way to fantasize mass executions of know-it-all liberals like Dr. Fauci or uppity females like Hillary Clinton, but there are many others.

On Fox News, the lead story shifts from week to week, from critical race theory making White children ashamed of their heritage, to Biden wanting to raise your taxes or take your guns, to vaccine or mask mandates usurping your sacred freedom to die any way you want, to trans women menacing your daughters in bathrooms, to the War on Christmas desecrating your most revered traditions.

Whatever the specifics might be this week, and whether any particular story is true or not, the drumbeat is always the same: Liberals want to take something away from you. That deep resentment you feel against them is justified, because at this very moment they are plotting to destroy your way of life.

So it doesn’t matter whether any particular liberal plot checks out or not, because we must be hatching one. They know what we’re like.


I have to confess that I don’t know what to do about this.

As ridiculous as I find conservative attempts to liken themselves to Jews facing Nazi oppression, there is one particular way in which the current liberal situation resembles pre-Krystallnacht Judaism: When the details of particular plots are allowed to fluidly reshape themselves from day to day, and when you can be held responsible for misdeeds other people believe you are bound to commit, given the kind of person they are sure you must be, then it’s nearly impossible to prove that you are not part of a conspiratorial elite.

That’s where we seem to be.

I am 100% certain that I am not conspiring to destroy the way of life of White Catholics in rural southwestern Michigan. But if some of them want to believe that I am, I have no idea what I can say or do to change their minds.

The Roe v Wade Death Watch

https://www.ajc.com/opinion/mike-luckovich-blog/125-mike-luckovich-no-choice/RLWAWD4BKNGUHMOWE2YYL7TJQY/

Despite numerous claims during confirmation hearings that they would respect precedent, Republican justices look ready to overturn Roe.


Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health, a case that invites the Court to overturn Roe v Wade. Their decision will most likely not be announced until the end of the Court’s term in June, and comments justices make during oral arguments do not always predict what they will decide. But it sure sounded like five of the justices — Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett — were preparing to overturn Roe, while Chief Justice Roberts was looking for a way to uphold Mississippi’s Roe-violating law (that bans abortions after 15 weeks, in open defiance of Roe’s fetal-viability standard) without reversing Roe completely, thereby chipping away at abortion rights rather than instantly ending them. [1]

What is Roe v Wade? When a Supreme Court decision is talked about as much and as often as Roe has been, sometimes the original gets lost in the noise. So I went back and read Roe, which was decided in 1973. If you’ve never read it, or read it so long ago you don’t remember, it’s worth a look.

For one thing, Justice Blackmun’s majority opinion assembles an excellent summary of the history of abortion laws going back to ancient times. Anti-abortion arguments often imply that abortion has traditionally been illegal, and that only modern judicial hocus-pocus has created a pregnant woman’s right to choose that option. But in fact the opposite is true: Abortion-producing potions are as old as history, and laws banning abortions prior to “quickening” (when women start to feel the fetus moving) were rare until the late 1800s.

It is thus apparent that at common law, at the time of the adoption of our Constitution, and throughout the major portion of the 19th century, abortion was viewed with less disfavor than under most American statutes currently in effect. Phrasing it another way, a woman enjoyed a substantially broader right to terminate a pregnancy than she does in most States today. At least with respect to the early stage of pregnancy, and very possibly without such a limitation, the opportunity to make this choice was present in this country well into the 19th century. Even later, the law continued for some time to treat less punitively an abortion procured in early pregnancy.

The second thing worth noting is that Roe is a delicate balancing of rights and interests rather than the sweeping extension of judicial authority it is frequently portrayed as. On one hand, “the right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision”, but a state also has legitimate interests that could conflict with an “absolute” right to abortion: “in safeguarding health, in maintaining medical standards, and in protecting potential life.”

That’s where Roe’s trimester breakdown comes from. During the first trimester, Blackmun wrote, abortion is safer than childbirth, so the state’s interest in maternal health can’t justify first-trimester restrictions. The state’s interest in potential life becomes “compelling” at the point of viability.

With respect to the State’s important and legitimate interest in potential life, the ‘compelling’ point is at viability. This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb. State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

Where does the right to privacy come from? Any anti-abortion critique of Roe is bound to assert that the Constitution never specifically mentions the “right to privacy” that justifies a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. In particular, unlike freedom of speech or the right to bear arms, it’s not in the Bill of Rights.

This is an argument Alexander Hamilton anticipated in The Federalist, and why he thought including a Bill of Rights in the Constitution in the first place was “dangerous”: Oppressive governments might use a list the people’s rights to claim that anything not listed was not a right. As Edmund Pendleton wrote to Richard Henry Lee in 1788:

Again is there not danger in the Enumeration of Rights? may we not in the progress of things, discover some great & important, which we don’t now think of? there the principle may be turned upon Us, & what [government power] is not reserved, said to be granted.

The right to privacy has implications far beyond abortion, and had been recognized long before Roe, which provides a long list of previous cases that applied and developed it. One case in particular should resonate with the anti-abortion faction today: Pierce v. Society of Sisters.

In 1925, the Supreme Court struck down an Oregon law that required children to attend public schools. The law was an anti-Catholic measure targeting parochial schools. But if you search the Bill of Rights for a provision that specifically allows parents to choose a Catholic school for their children, you won’t find it. [2] That freedom to choose depends on recognizing a sphere of personal autonomy that governments can’t invade.

Roe does not argue that a right to privacy exists; that was well established by 1973. Rather, the Court concluded in Roe that

This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment‘s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment‘s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.

What about fetal personhood? Blackmun discussed this at length in Roe. He concluded that no occurrence of “person” in the Constitution could plausibly be claimed to include the unborn. If the Court was going to recognize the fetus as a person with constitutional rights, it would have to do so on its own authority. Blackmun was unwilling to claim such authority.

Texas urges that, apart from the Fourteenth Amendment, life begins at conception and is present throughout pregnancy, and that, therefore, the State has a compelling interest in protecting that life from and after conception. We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.

It should be sufficient to note briefly the wide divergence of thinking on this most sensitive and difficult question.

He goes on to describe views of the ancient Stoics, most Jews, and (as was true at that time) “a large segment of the Protestant community” that the moment of conception does not establish an ensouled being with the full moral value that it will have after birth.

Elaborating on that point, I will say that no branch of the US government should be making pronouncements that establish one religious position as superior to another, if there is any way to avoid doing so. The Founders had were well aware of how religious conflicts had torn England apart during the 1500s and 1600s, as one sect and then another claimed control of the government and used it to enforce their views. They wanted no such conflicts in their new country, which is why they wrote a secular Constitution.

Blackmun continues:

In view of all this, we do not agree that, by adopting one theory of life, Texas may override the rights of the pregnant woman that are at stake.

Gaslighting. Comments the justices made Wednesday underlined just how dishonest and disingenuous many of them had been during their confirmation hearings. AP summarized:

During his confirmation to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh convinced Sen. Susan Collins that he thought a woman’s right to an abortion was “settled law,” calling the court cases affirming it “precedent on precedent” that could not be casually overturned.

Amy Coney Barrett told senators during her Senate confirmation hearing that laws could not be undone simply by personal beliefs, including her own. “It’s not the law of Amy,” she quipped.

But during this week’s landmark Supreme Court hearing over a Mississippi law that could curtail if not outright end a woman’s right to abortion, the two newest justices struck a markedly different tone, drawing lines of questioning widely viewed as part of the court’s willingness to dismantle decades old decisions on access to abortion services.

Kavanaugh in particular now makes a virtue out of breaking precedent and ignoring the principle of stare decisis.

If you think about some of the most important cases, the most consequential cases in this court’s history, there’s a string of them where the cases overruled precedent.

That string included landmark cases like Brown v Board of Education, which overturned the prior standard of “separate but equal” schools. [3]

So the question on stare decisis is why, if … we think that the prior precedents are seriously wrong, if that, why then doesn’t the history of this Court’s practice with respect to those cases tell us that the right answer is actually a return to the position of neutrality and — and not stick with those precedents in the same way that all those other cases didn’t?

Maybe he should have told Susan Collins that during his confirmation interview. Or maybe she shouldn’t have been so gullible about what he did tell her.

Dahlia Lithwick thinks it would be “refreshing” if the conservative justices’ new honesty about their intention to reverse Roe meant that the gaslighting is over

After confirmation hearings in which they promised that stare decisis was a deeply felt value and that Roe v. Wade was a clear “precedent of the court” and “the law of the land.” there’s something sort of soothing about knowing the lying to our faces will soon be over. They were all six of them installed on the Supreme Court to put an end to Roe v. Wade after all, and that is exactly what they intend to do. There will be no more fake solicitude for women making difficult choices, no more pretense that pregnant people really just need better medical advice, and no more phony concerns about “abortion mills” that threaten maternal health. There is truly something to be said for putting an end to decades of false consciousness around the real endgame here, which was to take away a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy—rape, incest, abuse, maternal health no longer being material factors. At least now we might soon be able to call it what it is.

Sadly, though, she goes on to point out that the lying continues. Now they’re gaslighting us about the significance of reversing Roe: Kavanaugh pretended that leaving abortion to the states (i.e., giving Mississippi exactly what it wants) would be a compromise. Alito claimed personhood-at-conception isn’t a religious view, because some secular philosophers agree. (Plato believed in the immortality of the soul. Does that secularize the doctrine?) Barrett opined that forced pregnancy is not such a big deal anymore, because (assuming you survive childbirth) it’s easier now to give the child up for adoption. (Why should it bother a woman to devote nine months of her life to the survival of her rapist’s genes?)

But the most extreme gaslighting concerns the implications of overturning Roe: It won’t stop there. The right to privacy undergirds, for example, same-sex marriage, gay rights in general, and the right to use contraception. All of these rights are targeted by the same theocratic faction that put Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett on the Court.

At their [confirmation] hearings, Roe was settled law, the precedent of the court. But now Roe is Plessy, which is why when the justices whisper softly that Lawrence v. Texas, Obergefell, and Griswold are not under threat today, you might wonder why you should trust them. They are all settled law—until they are not. They told us as much at their confirmation hearings and assured us today they were lying then, but aren’t lying now.

Where will abortion be illegal? You might imagine that the only immediate effect of the Court deciding in Mississippi’s favor is that their ban-at-15-weeks law would take effect. But 12 states have already passed abortion bans that are set to apply automatically as soon as Roe is reversed: Mississippi, Texas, Idaho, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah.

https://sportsugar.com/7-maps-and-charts-that-show-what-could-happen-if-roe-v-wade-fell/

But that’s not all. Josh Marshall connects the dots between abortion and the Republican minority-rule project.

Many purple and even blue states are sufficiently gerrymandered at the state level that we should assume they’ll soon outlaw abortion too. I’m talking about states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio.

Wisconsin as so often is an instructive example. Wisconsin is a very closely divided state politically. It usually goes to the Democrats at the presidential level. But it’s always by a narrow margin whoever wins. The state’s governorship is similarly always close, though at the moment there’s a Democratic governor. The Democrats won the governorship in 2018 by a tiny margin. Then Joe Biden won the presidential race there by another very small margin. And yet Democrats struggled in 2020 to prevent Republicans from getting a supermajority in the state legislature. A supermajority!

Given that Republican majorities in purple-state legislatures have successfully insulated themselves from the people, all it takes is electing a Republican governor one time, and abortion rights will be gone for decades to come.


[1] Appearing to respect a law or precedent while gutting it in practice is a very Robertsy thing to do. For example, he didn’t strike down the Voting Rights Act in 2013, he just eliminated the government’s main tool for enforcing it.

If you look at the broad sweep of Roberts’ career, he wants to achieve partisan objectives without tarring the Court’s non-partisan image.

[2] You also couldn’t claim that the Founders intended to include such a protection. Some of the Founders were virulently anti-Catholic. In a 1774 letter to Parliament, which I believe was written by John Jay, the Continental Congress described Catholicism as “a religion that has deluged your island in blood, and dispersed bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.”

[3] It’s worth pointing out that the Court didn’t reverse the Plessy standard of separate-but-equal just because the 1954 justices had different views than the 1896 justices. The intervening half-century had brought a long series of cases to the Court in which states claimed that their segregated schools were “equal”, but they really weren’t. In Brown, the Court concluded from experience that the Plessy standard wasn’t workable; separate schools for Black students were always going to be unequal.

Nothing similar has been happening with respect to Roe. The only difference between 2021 and 1973 is that different people are on the Court.

Does America Need an Anti-Cancel-Culture University?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_School_of_Athens

Will the University of Austin promote “the often uncomfortable search for truth”, or create a new safe space for traditional biases?


Last Monday, the former president of another educational institution announced that he and a collection of intellectuals who feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in academia (as it is currently constituted) were forming a new University of Austin in Texas. “We can’t wait for universities to fix themselves,” wrote Pano Kanelos, the former head of St. John’s College in Annapolis, “so we’re starting a new one.”

His essay is dotted with high-minded phrases like “the fearless pursuit of truth”, “freedom of inquiry and civil discourse”, and “the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.” It includes stirring rhetoric like: “We can no longer wait for the cavalry. And so we must be the cavalry.”

Many of his criticisms of existing universities are hard to argue with: “At our most prestigious schools, the primary incentive is to function as finishing school for the national and global elite.” Four in every ten students who enter a college or university leave without graduating. The soaring cost of higher education has left students with $1.7 trillion of debt — much of it owed by that 40% that didn’t even manage to buy a marketable credential. “[A]n increasing proportion of tuition dollars are spent on administration rather than instruction.” Those who do graduate learn “ever-more-inaccessible theories while often just blocks away their neighbors figure out how to scratch out a living”.

Kanelos’ conclusion that “something fundamental is broken” is not one I’m inclined to dispute. Too many college classes, particularly introductory ones, belong in a credential-producing factory, not a successor to Plato’s Academy. Like Kanelos, I feel the romance of a school “where there is no fundamental distinction between those who teach and those who learn, beyond the extent of their knowledge and wisdom”.

But beyond the educational theory and his nostalgia for Golden Age Greece, Kanelos’ truly motivating concern seems to be the “illiberalism” that “has become a pervasive feature of campus life”. One factor unites the truly impressive list of names Kanelos gives us: original co-founders Niall Ferguson, Bari Weiss, Heather Heying, Joe Lonsdale, and Arthur Brooks, later joined by “university presidents: Robert Zimmer, Larry Summers, John Nunes, and Gordon Gee, and leading academics, such as Steven Pinker, Deirdre McCloskey, Leon Kass, Jonathan Haidt, Glenn Loury, Joshua Katz, Vickie Sullivan, Geoffrey Stone, Bill McClay, and Tyler Cowen” not to mention “journalists, artists, philanthropists, researchers, and public intellectuals, including Lex Fridman, Andrew Sullivan, Rob Henderson, Caitlin Flanagan, David Mamet, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Sohrab Ahmari, Stacy Hock, Jonathan Rauch, and Nadine Strossen.” They’ve almost all been critics or self-styled victims of “cancel culture”. [1]

That’s the context through which I read Kanelos stated goal: producing “a resilient (or ‘antifragile’) cohort with exceptional capacity to think fearlessly, nimbly, and inventively.” Today’s university students, with their trigger warnings and safe spaces and whatnot, Kanelos seems to imply, are snowflakes. Austin U won’t cater to such whimps, but will forge tough-minded students who can take the rough-and-tumble of real debate.

That vision is undercut, though, by one of the surveys Kanelos quotes to bolster his argument about the current campus illiberalism. He summarizes a survey by Heterodox Academy as saying that “62% of sampled college students agreed that the climate on their campus prevented students from saying things they believe”. However, if you dig into that survey, you’ll find the main reason students give for suppressing their opinions is that “other students would criticize my views as offensive”. In other words, I keep quiet because other students might respond to my free expression with their own free expression. [2]

So who’s the snowflake?

Which makes me wonder: Will Austin U really have more “free inquiry and discourse”, or will it just be a safe space for those who like to say things that are racist, sexist, transphobic, or otherwise offensive to people who didn’t previously complain because they didn’t previously have a voice? Kanelos’ essay may criticize institutions that “prioritize emotional comfort over the often-uncomfortable pursuit of truth”, but looking at his list of participants, I have to ask if the University of Austin will just prioritize the emotional comfort of a different set of people. [3]

The more I think about “free inquiry” the more I’m reminded of “free markets”. We may imagine that such freedom occurs naturally whenever authority gets out of the way. But in reality, neither discussions nor markets can be “free” without a substantial structure of rules and values and habits and institutions. The “natural” freedom idealized by pre-revolutionary philosophers like Locke and Rousseau happens in the wilderness. Bringing freedom into society requires structure.

There are questions a community can’t discuss without undermining the discussion itself. At German universities in the early 1930s, for example, Jewish students and professors (before they were banned completely) had to face discussions of “the Jewish question“, or even “the Jewish problem” — whether or not they should have a place in German society at all. How freely could they discuss that topic, or whatever topics might follow?

Or suppose I freely state my opinion, and the next person uses his freedom to suggest that people who think like me should be killed — and, by the way, here’s Doug’s home address for anybody whose plans might require that information. How long will that discussion stay free?

We need to understand that freedom inside society can never be pure or absolute. We can only be free in certain ways, and only because we accept limitations on certain other aspects of our freedom. My freedom to drive across the country depends on giving up my freedom to drive on the left side of the highway.

In particular, the kind of “free inquiry” Kanelos champions can only happen if all the participants retain their safety and dignity. This is easy to grasp when your own safety or dignity is threatened — as Austin U’s prospective faculty apparently believes theirs has been. But it is more difficult to appreciate how your own freedom may need to be reined in to accommodate others. Maybe an American university should discourage debate over the genetic inferiority of its Black students, or whether its gay and lesbian students are sick and need to be cured. Maybe women on campus can’t be kept safe from harassment and rape without men yielding some of the benefit-of-the-doubt they have historically been granted. Maybe respecting the dignity of trans students requires using their chosen pronouns, rather than insisting that you know more about their gender than they do.

And so on.

An age-old adage says that your freedom to swing your fist ends at my nose. Until recent decades, though, large classes of people understood that they just needed to keep their noses out of the way, because other people’s fists had to remain free.

That has changed — not everywhere and not completely, but moreso on college campuses than most places — and if you belong to one of the previously dominant classes you may feel disoriented. What a repressive world it suddenly seems to be, when you have to look all around before you start swinging your arms! How can you still be free, when the people you have been offending for years acquire their own freedom to respond?

There actually is intellectual work to be done here: I don’t think anyone perfectly understands yet exactly where the boundaries ought to be. Perfectly free discussion and inquiry is a myth; as long as we live in society, we will have to live within rules. But what rules, values, practices, and institutions do the best job of creating the environment we want for our universities, one where people of all descriptions can come closest to achieving the Socratic ideal?

That seems to me to be exactly the kind of question that universities ought to work on. And if they do that thinking well, they may become models for the rest of society.

So if the founders and supporters of the University of Austin truly have something positive to contribute to that discussion, I wish their experiment success. But if they just want to turn the clock back to a time when they felt more personally comfortable, I doubt they’ll do much good, even for themselves.


[1] I’d say “all” rather than “almost all”, but I’m not willing to do the research necessary to back that up. I recognize many of the names from various controversies and anti-cancel-culture manifestos.

MSNBC’s Katelyn Burns describes the U of A backers as “a group of self-described ‘heterodox’ academics and journalists (who all happen to have the same opinions on the the two topics they collectively discuss most often, trans rights and racism)”.

[2] A question worth asking: How many conservative students’ fears are justified, and how many have been manufactured by Fox News’ anti-cancel-culture propaganda?

[3] The Intelligencer’s Sarah Jones compares U of A to conservative Christian universities like Jerry Falwell’s Liberty U.

Falwell was no outlier. The right has long dreamed of alternatives to traditional higher education. The televangelist Pat Robertson founded Regent University for similar reasons. Michael Farris, the founder of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, founded Patrick Henry College in 2000 to shelter homeschool graduates and funnel them into Republican politics. Hillsdale College has assumed a sharply right-wing political identity over time, and rejects federal funding “as a matter of principle.” (A Hillsdale professor sits on the University of Austin’s board of advisers.) These schools exist as laboratories for right-wing thought; they are committed not to free expression but to indoctrination. The University of Austin will be no different.

I will add that Fox News’ founding rhetoric sometimes sounded as idealistic as University of Austin’s: It would be the “fair and balanced” alternative to the “liberal bias” of the mainstream media.