Political Health

Strengthening Democracy’s “Gut Health”

Our politics is a battle of immune systems

A human lymphocyte cell. Source: commons.wikimedia.org Public Domain

Written by Joel Ombry and published in Medium.com

Strengthening Democracy’s “Gut Health”

Our politics is a battle of immune systems

A human lymphocyte cell. Source: commons.wikimedia.org Public Domain

One way I’ve been thinking about our current politics lately is as a battle of immune systems.

On the one hand, we have our democratic system that is designed with a strong anti-authoritarian immune system. Rebelling from a king, the founders designed the system to entrust governing power with representatives of the people and to separate that power among different branches of government with different governing functions. They codified citizens’ rights in a written constitution and set up a court system to peacefully resolve disputes.

On the other hand, we have MAGA which is designed to protect and promote the interests of former President Trump. I’m moving away from using the terms “conservative” or “Republican” to describe Trump supporters as it’s not descriptive of the current reality. Genuine conservatives exist, as do members of the Republican party that are faithful to that organization’s founding values and ideological principles. However, the current elected class and most media on the right is a cult of personality, where position in the power hierarchy is determined by one’s relationship to one person— it’s about Trump and Trump alone. They are MAGA.

Daily Beast columnist David Rothkopf’s characterization of MAGA in the wake of Liz Cheney’s loss in the recent GOP Wyoming primary, planted the notion of an immune system in my mind.

Source: Twitter.com

While I agree with Rothkopf that the MAGA immune system is effective at isolating and destroying truth-tellers within the GOP, the potential scope of that system is larger, and more dangerous than he suggests.

Liz Cheney’s loss marks the maturation of this immune response within the Republican Party, but it’s still an open question as to whether it will triumph over our democracy’s anti-authoritarian immune system.

The key is attacking accountability institutions

The true danger of the MAGA immune system is that it not only targets dissent within its ranks, it also targets the accountability mechanisms our country has in place against authoritarianism. Like our body’s immune system protects our organs and other systems from disease, our democracy’s laws, and political norms protect our institutions from corruption for personal and political gain. The MAGA immune system is in direct conflict with our democracy’s anti-authoritarian immune system. It’s a zero-sum contest, both cannot co-exist.

Writing about Cheney’s defeat in the Washington Post, Greg Sargent captures it well:

The true reason he (Trump) worked to oust her is to help secure absolute impunity for his crime spree against democracy — to clear the way to do it all again.

For Trump, the targeting of Cheney is very much about debilitating the institutions that are struggling to preserve U.S. democracy against his movement’s assault on it.

…it’s about disabling mechanisms of accountability that threaten to fully expose Trump’s wrongdoing.

Opinion | Trump just revealed exactly why Liz Cheney’s loss is so dangerous

After losing the Republican primary for Wyoming’s House seat by more than 30 points to a candidate enthusiastically…

www.washingtonpost.com

Strengthening democracy’s “gut health”

Based on the above, the key question in my mind is “How do we ensure democracy’s immune system wins?”

Our body’s immune system is reliant on our “gut health” — the ecosystem of “good” bacteria in our digestive tract that helps us absorb nutrition and water and strengthens our body’s ability to fight disease. Through this lens, the question becomes, “how do we help strengthen our democracy’s ‘gut health’”?

I think it’s very possible, as does the just defeated Cheney in her concession speech from Sargent’s article:

“As we leave here, let us resolve that we will stand together — Republicans, Democrats and independents — against those who would destroy our Republic. They are angry, and they are determined. But they have not seen anything like the power of Americans united in defense of our Constitution and committed to the cause of freedom.”

While I’m optimistic, the threat is formidable. The majority of a major political party has gone authoritarian, while the remainder is cowed into silence. Democracy’s immune system also has a structural weakness that MAGA exploits — its insistence on freedom of speech and due process. Sean Iling, co-author of “The Paradox of Democracy”, notes,

“The history of democratic decline is a history of demagogues and autocrats exploiting the openness of democratic cultures to mobilize people against the very institutions that sustain democracy itself.”

Our democratic and law enforcement organizations can’t clamp down on MAGA arbitrarily and without due process or we become the very thing we oppose.

Supporting democracy’s “gut health” means strengthening our democratic institutions at all levels — national, state, and local — but particularly the latter two. Much of our attention is often focused on the national level because it makes for splashier headlines. However, as we learned in the fight over the 2020 election results, the state and local levels are crucial. This is where election systems are designed and operated, votes counted, and results certified.

Secretaries of state, canvassing boards, and other similar bodies are the institutions that determine democracy’s “gut health.” Each one by itself has an impact limited to its municipalities and states. But in total, they comprise our electoral system and determine the integrity of elections for every level of government. MAGA learned its lesson in 2020 and is now actively targeting these institutions. Election deniers have won nominations to these types of offices in multiple battleground states for the midterm election.

The best way to strengthen our democracy’s “gut health” is to ensure pro-democracy candidates, not election deniers, win these key state and local positions. This means voting all the way down the ballot. There’s a phenomenon in elections called “roll-off.” It is the difference between the number of votes for the “top of the ticket” — high profile races like president or governor — and those “down-ballot” — like secretaries of state, county commissioners, and election boards. The lower the “roll-off” number, the more people filled out the ballot completely. Our goal for the 2022 midterm election must be zero “roll-off.” A vote for the top of the ticket is weakened without a vote for the bottom.

I was talking to a friend recently about how to communicate this idea in a mail piece with limited space. “Fill out the whole frickin thing” came to mind. We’re still working on it.

The Nine Tribes of American Politics

There’s so much more than “Red versus Blue”

Photo by Harry Quan on Unsplash

Written by Daniel Mcintosh and published in Medium.com 5/2/2022

The American political system, a “first past the post” system of elections, leads to unnatural division in American politics. Republican and Democratic, Red and Blue, one of the few beliefs all share is they have a fundamental disagreement about core American values. To some degree, that’s true. But these two groups are also coalitions of people with disagreements among themselves. They have more in common than they believe, and many people do not fit into either side.

The Pew Research Center has studied the American electorate for decades. Pew’s public opinion research began in the early 1990s. It tracks economic, social, and demographic trends. It monitors social media. Pew manages an American Trends Panel of over 10,000 adults selected at random from across the U.S. whose attitudes are tracked over time. The methods are complex and surveys are “raked” to compensate for the known variations in the population. It’s expensive to do. It’s cross-checked. And it’s the most reliable picture of the American public.

And guess what? It doesn’t fall into simple categories of “Red” and “Blue”.

The nine tribes

To make sense of the values of the American people requires a typology of no less than nine distinct groups. Some are part of the Republican coalition. Some vote with the Democrats. Some are political independents. Some refuse to get involved with American politics at all. If you wonder which group you fall into before we proceed, take this quiz. There are no “right” or “wrong” answers — they are questions of perceptions and values. The quiz shows where you are most comfortable among the nine tribes of American politics.

Pew’s labels for the nine tribes, their distribution among the general population, and their involvement with the political parties are:

Pew Research Center, Creative Commons

It may not be so clear to their political opponents that “committed conservatives” have deep differences with the “populist right,” and both are uncomfortable with “flag and faith conservatives.” There are “never Trump” Republicans. “Democratic mainstays” have deep differences with “establishment liberals” and both are uncomfortable with the “progressive left.” Both Joe Manchin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticize Joe Biden — but from very different perspectives.

And the “stressed sideliners”? Fifteen percent of the public has a mix of liberal and conservative views but shares a minimal interest in politics. Most are women. Most are White. They have less formal education and live in lower-income households. They also have a lower than average sense of social trust. Only ten percent of them bother to vote. For many of them, it doesn’t seem to be worth the effort. When they vote, they split their votes between both coalitions.

The Republican coalition

The Republican voters are three very different conservatives, plus libertarians who voted for Trump but want him to leave.

Flag and faith conservatives are the most likely to say that any political compromise is “selling out on what you believe in.” They are, as the name implies, the most likely to believe that government should promote and protect (their) religion and its values. White and Christian, they are also firm believers in American exceptionalism: God places the U.S. above all other nations and America has a responsibility to lead the world from a position of strength. They are an important part of the Trump core, more likely to say the 2020 election was stolen, and least concerned with the January 2021 attack on the Capitol. Many of those who stormed the Capitol were from this group.

Committed conservatives also express conservative views across all issues, but without the stridency. They are open to compromise on issues of immigration and have a more nuanced understanding of America’s role in the world. They are the most likely to see the business of America to be business and to accept that a global economy requires a global perspective.

The populist right is noteworthy for having less formal education and being the most likely to live in rural areas. They are very critical of both immigrants and corporations. They are also a core of the Trump base and are sometimes willing to take violent action on his behalf.

The ambivalent right is the youngest group, and the least committed to the Republican party. They agree with pursuing small government, but that’s because they believe the role of government is to leave them alone. Market-oriented, they see issues of race and gender as better left to emergent social change than government intervention. More libertarian than other groups, they voted for Donald Trump but have no respect for him as a person. Unlike other groups, they support legal abortion and the decriminalization of marijuana. The largest group in the Republican coalition, it is also the least religious.

The Democratic coalition

The four tribes in the Democratic coalition range from political moderates to democratic socialists.

Democratic mainstays are unshakable supporters of the New Deal and the legislation of the 1960s and 1970s to protect women and minorities. However, they see little reason to further extend these reforms, believing that America has no need for radical change. The oldest of the Democrats, most identify as moderates. They are more comfortable with FDR and JFK than they are with AOC or Karl Marx. They fight for social security and against affirmative action. The largest group in the Democratic Party sometimes fears the Party is too busy pandering to the Left to listen to them and their needs.

The establishment liberals share with the democratic mainstays a distrust of radical change. Preservation of what they have achieved — always. Experimentation with reforms to better reach the promise of political and economic equality, yes, but never at the risk of radicalism. They agree that there are problems that need to be addressed, but one step at a time. These are the people willing to entertain reform of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) but oppose the creation of a national health care system similar to those common in Europe.

The progressive left rejects what is and supports fundamental structural changes to address injustice based on race, sex, gender, or sexual orientation. Many see Europe as a model for the future of the U.S. They are the best-educated group, relatively young, and the only tribe in the Democratic Party that has a majority of non-Hispanic Whites. They also include the emerging democratic socialist bloc in the Congress and the Party.

The outsider left, like the ambivalent right, are both the youngest members of the coalition and the ones with the least personal loyalty to it. While they voted as a bloc for Joe Biden, they feel frustrated with the political system. They aren’t so much pro-Democrat as anti-Republican. If the ambivalent right is where one is most likely to find right-libertarians, the outsider left is the place to find left-libertarians. Both groups want personal liberty, but the outsider left believes the only way to achieve it is to use government as a countervailing force to compensate for the inequities built into the economic and political system, while the ambivalent right sees the government as a cure worse than the disease.

What are they fighting about?

Pew identifies two issues as the dividing lines in American politics: racial injustice and the size of government. The Republican coalition either does not see racial inequality or sees it as something that is beyond political intervention. The Democratic coalition unites in perceiving a serious problem with racial inequality but differs over how much change is required to deal with it: working within the system or changing the system at its roots.

Pew Research Center, Creative Commons

Within each coalition, the differences are as great as the common ground. While Democrats are more likely than Republicans to prefer a larger government, only the progressive left favored that services be greatly expanded. The Republicans agree that government should be smaller. They differ on what it should do: enforce traditional values, or get out of the way.

Is there room in the middle?

The differences within each coalition and, in particular, the loyalties and values of the youngest members of each coalition suggest there is a middle ground that could form the core of a new political party. The populist right differs from the rest of the GOP over issues of taxes and economic policies. In their views on corporate profits and taxes on the wealthy, this group has more in common with the Democrats than they do with the Republicans.

Pew Research Center, Creative Commons

Another area of common ground regards the standing of the U.S. in the world. Six of the nine tribes — ranging from establishment liberals to the populist right — describe the U.S. as among the best countries in the world. Only a majority of the faith and flag conservatives believe the United States stands above all other countries. Only in the progressive left and the outsider left are a majority willing to say there are countries better than the U.S.

The greatest number of self-identified independents, people who could serve as the core of a third political party — among the outsider left, the stressed sideliners, and the ambivalent right — poll near the center of American politics: conservative on economic issues, libertarian (left and right) on social issues. These young people are located to become the cohort to replace the democratic mainstays at the center.

Pew Research Center, Creative Commons

Unfortunately, these are also the people with the least engagement with American politics. Perhaps they are waiting for somebody who speaks for them. But the leaders of each of the major political parties have worked for decades to institutionalize themselves as the only choices available to the voters. We’re less likely to see a new party emerge than a capture of one by elements of its coalition, followed by a migration of other members of each coalition to adapt to the new political realities.

What do Americans have in common?

In global terms, the United States is a deviant case. Whether that deviance is a positive thing or negative depends on which of the nine tribes you are in.

The World Values Survey (WVS) is an international effort to identify people’s values and beliefs all around the world. Begun in 1981, it has grown from a Eurocentric study into a network of social scientists conducting surveys in almost 100 countries that enables one to trace the relative positions and movements of cultural civilizations. They plot their findings across two dimensions:

  • traditional versus secular, and
  • survival versus emancipation

Tradition emphasizes deference to authority in religion, tradition, family, and nation. Traditional cultures are local, nationalistic, exclusionary, and prefer stability over change.

Secularism emphasizes reason, experimentation, acceptance, and change.

Survival values economic and physical security. It also includes ethnocentrism, intolerance, and low levels of trust.

Emancipation and self-expression values give priority to reason and tolerance (or celebration) of diversity and equality among peoples, sexes, genders, and sexual orientations. They encourage the protection of the environment, as well as greater participation in political decisions and civic life.

Researchers plot these values at right angles: tradition to secularism on the X-axis, survival to emancipation on the Y-axis.

Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map — World Values Survey 7 (2020), Creative Commons

The general model of the survey is that modernization is important, but only in how it relates to religious and cultural traditions. While the position of any country on the map changes with time, it drifts slowly. Our history and our culture shape us. For example, while protestant Europe is less religious than ever before, it maintains values that shape its citizens and socialize its immigrants.

American politics and culture wars

It also is why “culture wars” have become so important in American politics. Note that the United States is less secular than most of Europe, and more oriented to self-expression than most of the rest of the world. It lies near the intersection of the English-speaking world, Catholic Europe, and Latin America. That means it is more likely to get into arguments about matters of values, and more likely to tie those value arguments to religious positions. Hence we have the conflict between “faith and flag conservatives” who might support a constitutional amendment requiring a president to be an evangelical Christian and a “progressive left” that rejects any notion of public policy grounded in (and for) any religion.

So while America is unique, because it sits in a special region of the global distribution, it also varies in terms of the two dimensions. Within the global chart, we can make a similar chart for the nine American tribes:

McIntosh, 2022, Creative Commons

The midpoint between tradition and secularism is the dividing line between the Democratic and the Republican coalitions. Midway between survival and emancipation values is the dividing line between those who see their way of life at risk and those who do not. The American “political spectrum” runs diagonally, from the bottom left (radical fundamentalists) to the upper right (radical progressives).

Again, this is not the full range of possible political ideologies or values. You don’t see serious calls for Islamic theocracy or a return to monarchy. America as a whole is near the middle of the map between tradition and secularism and left of the center in emphasizing personal empowerment over group stasis. There is also an extensive region in the center of the American political map where it is possible for parties to compromise and agree, even if the radicals at each end of the spectrum perceive all of “the other” as the enemy.

America needs a conversation among its tribes

America needs a variety of perspectives because each points to one of a series of fundamental truths that Americans ignore at their peril. The conservatives are right: society is miraculous and more fragile than most people believe. Humans are not insects: we have not evolved to live and function in large groups. Our saving grace is we have developed the capacity for culture: tradition, religion, laws, norms. Culture makes modern society possible and maintains it.

But the progressives are right, too: the culture we have is not the only culture possible, nor is it the best in terms of the emancipation of human potential as individuals and as a society. In addition, as circumstances change, cultures must adapt. Experiments are sometimes required. Diversity is not something to deny or repress, but to celebrate. It is our diversity, as well as our traditions, that provides the foundation that makes resilience possible. Experiments are important. Change is necessary.

And the moderates have something equally important to add: many experiments fail. Too great a step in any direction, too quickly, risks catastrophe. Either it does not cope well with the changes in the world (including both the physical world and other cultures), or it prompts a reaction that swings a society to fundamentalism that claims to bring the society “back” (by jihad, or by Trump) to a mythological “golden age” when it was “great.”

We try to avoid these failures by anticipating consequences. We apply political ideologies and the best science available. But the reality is too complex to foresee, too sensitive to initial conditions, and so influenced by unanticipated consequences that a prediction (any prediction) is little more than a guess. Humans get things wrong, and we have to plan for that. The conservatives remind us we are on unsure footing. The progressives remind us we have to keep moving forward. The moderates remind us to take small steps and be ready to pull back when the path gives way.

America needs the insight of every tribe if it is to survive and improve. And except for a few criminals and sociopaths, most people are good. They mean well, even if they disagree on what the good life is, or how to best achieve it. An honest conversation between them, with compassion for fears and dedication to facts, is our best chance to create an America where both survival and emancipation are real, and traditions can coexist within a larger secular framework.

Political thoughts

Sharing Our Thoughts about Politics

Written by Carolyn Bertolino and published in Medium.com 4/15/2022

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

After public pressure and the Facebook whistleblower coming forward last year, social media has come under scrutiny for the massive amount of disinformation shared on the platform. That’s good, but I think it’s also important to help Americans determine reliable sources of information.

The culture wars are heating up in anticipation of this fall’s midterm elections. As usual, Republicans are a couple steps ahead of Democrats on “messaging”, having successfully convinced an alarming number of regular Americans that reading a book about two moms or dads is equivalent to teaching them about sex. They don’t really think first graders are being taught about sex, it’s just an attempt to distract from beneficial Democratic legislation like the Infrastructure Law and the Affordable Insulin Now Act.

Even so, I’m optimistic about the future. Trump and his henchmen are out of the White House and laws are being passed to do things like fix dangerous bridges, mitigate climate change, and quit forcing poor children to drink water containing lead.

Still, it’s discouraging to see so many people buying into harmful misinformation. COVID was an eye-opener in terms of how dangerous fake news can be. It was truly frightening to see so many people die because they believed a lie and refused the free, safe, life-saving vaccine. We also saw the Big Lie about the election culminate on January 6, 2021, with the violent attempted overthrow of our country.

The battle against disinformation is beginning to show some small, encouraging results. Cable news, the most biased source of political commentary, has been seeing a steep decline in its viewership. That phenomenon is in fact borne out by a recent study. When Fox viewers were paid to watch CNN instead, they were less likely to believe fake news, and the results began in as little as three days.

It’s usually pretty easy to verify things, but a lot of people don’t know that. Sometimes those of us who are skilled at and used to seeking out reliable sources forget that a lot of people have never really learned how to do it. This can lead to major breakdowns in communication. If we want to reduce the decisiveness, we need to work toward a standard fact-checking skills curriculum in public schools. We also need to learn how to help our friends, families, and acquaintances stop falling victim to misinformation machines like QAnon, Fox, and Newsmax.

I used to be really judgmental of people who believe conspiracy theories. Then I started reminding myself that some of them are smarter than me in other ways, and most people aren’t out to harm anyone. With those things in mind, it got easier to find common ground and help them question those phony sites and shows for themselves. When that happens, it’s easier for people to form their own opinions based on facts rather than rhetoric or even lies.

It doesn’t even cross a lot of people’s minds to cross-check their sources, to make sure they’re not receiving self-serving information from that source. An example would be a website run by the fossil fuel industry claiming to deliver official information about climate change. Once you find out that page was written by the very industry that profits from people’s misunderstanding, then you can check with NASA or NOAA, actual scientific agencies who specialize in that field, to get the facts.

It’s also beneficial to learn how to use government websites to verify statistics, budget facts, and how congresspeople voted. Of course, you’ll probably run into people who say they don’t believe anything from any governmental agency, but that’s a different topic. Most people will be receptive to something like “Well, we can check the actual bill or law by going to www.whitehouse.gov or www.congress.gov.” If you want to know the truth about the deficit or budget, go to www.cbo.gov. It may sound obvious to go to those websites, but it never occurs to people who’ve either forgotten or never been taught.

An early example that comes to my mind was the Affordable Care Act debate. That’s when I first noticed people from my hometown become armchair political pundits after not having cared about politics before. If you wanted to know the tax penalty for not having health insurance, you could do a Google search for “Obamacare penalty”. Then when you looked through the results for websites ending in .gov, you would have come across the one highlighted here. It’s still there today, with updated information to show that the penalty has been discontinued. If you want to know the facts about what’s in a bill or law, the website ending in .gov is the one to choose from your Google search.

A lot of people were convinced that they were going to have to pay a penalty if they didn’t have health insurance. They simply didn’t know that the fine had all kinds of exceptions to keep from penalizing regular people. Hardly anyone had to pay those fines because most people making that much money already had health insurance through their job, and if they didn’t, not only did the fine have an income threshold, but was not applicable unless the available plan was less than a certain dollar amount compared to your income. Knowledge about how hard it is to find people who had to pay the penalty helps you make an informed opinion based on something other than the Fox lie about how many were actually affected.

And these are not stupid people. These were people I knew from my hometown, school, or previous jobs, as opposed to the social media connections I’ve only met online either from political groups or shared activity interests. Most of these connections originating from real life had passed the same classes, at least in high school, that I had, requiring research from credible sources. But back then the only sources we had to choose from were newspapers, magazines, and books.

They, like me, also got most of their formal education before 24- hour cable news and the internet. After technology took over, we no longer had to go to the library, and we also had more “news” stations to choose from than just the standard networks. I believe it was this 24-hour news cycle that got a lot of people interested in issues they didn’t really care about before. Unfortunately, that 24-hour news cycle has only one goal: to keep viewers engaged. And nothing is more universally engaging than controversy.

When I’m talking with people who want to develop good research skills, I tell them one good way to start is to go to websites that end in either “.gov” or “.org”. The first ending means it’s a government website that’s got reliability requirements overseen by a legally bound inspector general. Websites that end in “.org” are those of non-profit organizations. Granted, there are some questionable nonprofit organizations, but it’s a good starting place. If the organization isn’t something widely known such as www.americancancersociety.org or www.worldwildlife.org, additional things to look for in the site or article could include links to government agency websites or other well-known non-profits.

Another thing I recommend using the Associated Press and public, or non-cable, news sources. Those networks, ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS, still hold themselves to internal standards from the Fairness Doctrine they were subject to from 1949 until 1987. Cable news was never subject to any of that, which is why it’s important to check the sources of info from them. I always verify through one of the three networks or a government watchdog website.

People who get their news from questionable sources are grossly uninformed about the recently passed Infrastructure Law and the Build Back Better bills being planned by congressional Democrats and the president. Both bills are incredibly popular, but a lot of people still honestly don’t know that the infrastructure law doesn’t raise taxes at all, and the Build Back Better bills don’t propose any taxes on people making less than 400,000 per year. And what’s really sad is that so far at least one Republican who voted against the extremely popular Infrastructure Law is already claiming they voted for it. All anyone has to do to see if those congresspeople are lying about their support is to go to the congressional website. I got there by typing “how congress voted on infrastructure bill” in Google and then put “.gov” behind it.

Now Biden is talking about a special billionaire tax. Judging by current standards, there will be a lot of misinformation surrounding it, which is another good example of why it’s so important to steer people toward reliable sources. It might be a little harder for the conspiracy theorists and Republicans to drum up opposition to the billionaire tax, because Democrats are actually calling it what it is, as opposed to the inaccurately nicknamed Defund the Police. Hopefully they’ll remember the lesson they learned on that one.

I hope things have gotten better in the debate on how to help people avoid fake news since I attended a presentation about fake news at my local library. It was given by a panel including a representative of a local TV station, someone from our state public radio, and a journalism professor from our local university.

They kept saying the only way to hear any truth was to subscribe to a print newspaper. When I got the mic, I asked for ideas on how to educate kids on reliable internet sources, because they and their parents don’t buy newspapers. I told them that even as a middle-aged adult, I don’t subscribe to print newspapers, but I know how to verify info online by checking with reputable news sources like ABC, the Des Moines Register, or the congressional budget office website. They looked down their noses at me and literally told me that if I was unwilling to pay for a print newspaper, I was buying into fake news. I really hope they have since evolved. This was 2017, at the height of the Trump-era fake news heyday.

As much as these guys wanted to, they weren’t going to be able to bring back print newspapers any more than they can bring back the horse and buggy or coal power plants. And when they claim the only source or correct news is print newspapers, they’re doing society and democracy a real disservice. They were basically discouraging families and our education system from teaching kids how to find reliable sources.

Young people seem to be getting more educated in their fact-checking, on a lot of political issues, and I think part of the reason is because they’re living the consequences of cable news lies. They’re the ones who have to do active-shooter drills in school and then can’t afford their rent or to put themselves through school even while working full-time. I commend today’s young people for taking it upon themselves to stand up against the lies, and it gives me hope for the future. At the same time, I see it as an unfortunate sort of “chickens coming home to roost.”

Now the Democrats are passing laws that will help bring us closer to the prosperity our parents and grandparents enjoyed before cable news reared its ugly head. If we help our friends and neighbors reach their own conclusions based on facts rather than lies, we’ll be able to keep the freedoms we have and restore the ones we’ve lost.

How Civilizations Collapse — And Ours is Beginning To

This Is Why the World Is Spinning Out of Control

Photo from Unsplash

Written by Umair Haque and published in Medium.com 2/21/2022

You and I woke up to a terrifying new world today. War in Europe is now all but a reality again, after a lifetime of peace. War by a major military power, seemingly bent on Nazi style dominance and aggression.

That was only the second relevant fact of the day. The first?

Our governments have basically given up on Covid — to the desperate pleas of doctors and scientists, all of whom know that doing so will only prolong the pandemic, and make it much worse. We are as little as nine letters of DNA away from a truly terrible variant — one that makes Delta look like a walk in the park. That’s what science knows — not politics says.

What is really going on here? If you feel that all this is deeply frightening, chilling, that’s because it is. You are probably, like most of us, consumed with dread, which is the “freeze” part of the trauma response. That’s psychology. But the more urgent question is about our world.

So what happens from here?

In every great collapse, there are roughly three stages. We might call them something like neglect, decadence, and implosion. Sure, I’m oversimplifying — but all models do that. We are just trying to explain the present and predict the future a little bit, its general contours, its shape and weight.

Where we’ve been is cycling through the first two stages of collapse, neglect and decadence. And now we are approaching the event horizon of implosion. That is the last and final stage of collapse.

What happens in the “implosion” stage of collapse? Things spin out of control. They reach a point where they can no longer be managed. The conventional systems and orthodoxies and paradigms stop working. Tipping points are hit, and dynamics accelerate into implosive trajectories, which, by and large, become unstoppable.

Does it feel like the world is spinning out of control right about now? That is because we are at the edge of the “implosion” stage of collapse. We are dancing right at its verge. That is the point at which control is well and truly lost, and then things really go to hell.

I know that sounds dire. Please take a moment to hear me. I don’t tell you these things because I want to “doomsay,” which I’m often accused of. My motivations are always under question and attack. Do you know why that is? Because they hard to understand under our capitalist system and its values. I warn you because I genuinely care about you. That’s baffling to most because in our system, it’s not supposed to happen. People are supposed to do what’s profitable, not what’s right. Listen. I walked away from a lucrative career being a typical pundit because I couldn’t bear it. The good matters to me. I never want any being — you, a little animal, anyone — to suffer. I warn you because I care. That is totally incomprehensible to pundits, within the capitalist system, and that is why they constantly attack me with ad hominems.

I digress because I really want you to understand my motivations at this point in our relationship. I value our trust and community a very, very great deal. It is a wonderful and beautiful thing to experience every day.

We have built a community here that is pure of heart and rich in caring, intellect, wisdom, truth, goodness. But in that way, it is completely different from the corrupt and malicious world which surrounds us.

That world is now spinning out of control. And that loss of control is the hallmark of the “implosion” stage of collapse.

Let’s do a couple of examples to bring this little framework — three stages of collapse — home. Think of the canonical example, Rome. My little framework is very much along the lines of Toynbee, the great scholar of Roman collapse. Rome fell through, first, neglect. Its great public goods were underinvested in — whether aqueducts or fountains or squares and temples. People grew poor as a result. And finally, democracy collapsed. Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and took over, in a desperate, misguided attempt to become Rome’s saviour — and tyrant. He failed — thanks to Brutus and the Senate. But then nobody saved Rome — and the negligence only continued. Augustus became its first emperor, as democracy waned.

So then, because the negligence never ended, came the period of decadence. A hundred short years after Caesar crossed the Rubicon, Caligula was emperor. And his corruption, his orgies, his horse in the Senate — all these have become the stuff of legend. Fifteen year later came Nero, and his fiddle.

Negligence bred decadence. Instead of deciding to address the negligence which was bringing Rome to the point of ruin — leaving people impoverished, desperate, the empire crumbling at the edges — inequality had now spiralled to the point where Rome’s elites simply stopped caring at all. They preferred their orgies and wine and villas to trying to restore order and justice and prosperity. Who cared if their civilization was crumbling? Surely it would last another millennium or five anyways.

And decadence bred, at last, implosion. The empire flew apart. Its enemies marched and attacked it. Cults grew. The average person lost faith in it. Its once proud democracy was now a distant memory. Its armies could not keep the peace, or even secure its borders. Bang. A century after Nero came Commodus — the witless fool under whom Roman implosion has become the stuff of legend.

Why am I going through this retelling of history with you? Imagine life at each of these three stages. In the period of neglect, life wasn’t too bad. Sure, maybe your local aqueduct didn’t work very well, or your town square was in need of maintenance. But society’s basic systems — security, food, water, medicine, democracy — they all still worked.

Nobody much, in that era, would have predicted the ugliness and sordid humiliation of what was to come just a few short decades later, under Caligula and Nero. That Caligula would try to put his horse in the Senate, to drive the point home that Roman democracy was a joke. That basic systems like democracy, food, water, security, medicine would all have begun to break down. That Rome itself would burn, while its emperor fiddled. Life in that age? The age of decadence? It was brutal and desperate and ugly, for the average person. It was beginning to become a desperate battle for self-preservation and survival, while elites mostly laughed and partied and ate fine desserts.

But even then, few could have predicted what was to come next. The age of implosion. What was life like then? Society as Romans once knew it had basically stopped existing. The most basic guarantees — rights, security, stability, systems for food and water and money, had simply stopped working. You didn’t know when your village might be invaded, when life might simply fall apart into shattering violence and brutality and irrevocable ruin.

Life at each of these stages got worse — in special ways. Dramatically worse. Worse in ways that the last stage didn’t predict, and largely laughed at the warning of. And so much worse, by the end of it, that everything was out of control. By Commodus’s era, Rome could not manage its problems. Its mechanisms of order didn’t work anymore. It couldn’t impose control. Its armies were shattered. Its fields were barren. Its great waterways were crumbling ruins. And so on. Everything had spun out of control.

Now. Maybe you begin to see where we really are as a world. We have gone way, way past the age of neglect. Past the age of decadence. Now we are at the edge of the age of implosion.

Let me walk you — quickly — through how each of those stages played out for us. The age of neglect for us? We had a chance, my friends. We could have spent the surplus of our civilization doing things that genuinely expanded the human good. Like educating every single child on the planet, and giving every adult a thorough education, too — inoculating ourselves against fascism. Like giving every life on the planet healthcare — preventing today’s pandemics. Like creating a democracy that genuinely worked for the globe — not just ones that were still contested by fanatics globally — a democracy that let the world’s once abundant resources be shared fairly, and thus used wisely. Such a democracy would have prevented the economies of the richest nations, like America, from being based solely on overconsumption.

We had a century or more to do that. But we didn’t do that. And so we entered the age of decadence. That age was when the entire global economy’s point was to supply goods and services for Americans to overconsume. Our consumption ratio as a civilization is far, far too high: 80% of our economy is consumption. Any farmer can tell you: you can’t reap 80% and only plant 20% and hope to have a harvest for very long. But the entire global economy was predicated on this. China and India became labour centers which basically supplied Americans with huge cars and cheap steel and pointless gadgets and so on. Walmart and Amazon became the way station of this economy.

This age of decadence is best exemplified by the American McMansion. By the 90s, American culture had become a quest for a certain kind of life — a McMansion and a fleet of huge cars, in some giant suburb, at the end of some giant highway. Who really needed to live like this? If everyone in America was going to live like a king — then the truth was that it was costing the planet. Democracy. Life on it.

Instead of investing those resources in educating the planet or giving it healthcare or rights or freedoms…the entire point of global political economy became to let Americans live the lifestyles of mindless ultra-consumption. The very ones for which they became scorned and mocked around the globe as selfish, thoughtless idiots. Could any civilization like this really last? Americans numbered 300 million people or so — and the resources of an entire planet, from its raw materials to its labour, were basically pressed into service so they could live like kings.

Decadence. In Rome, in any civilization, the age of decadence is about a kind of corrosive inequality. How was it fair that if you were in 90% of the world, you’d be consigned to a life of poverty and poor education and illness…while America took all the world’s gains and goods, in a way that was about excess, greed, selfishness, narcissism?

The opposite of decadence is intellect, goodness, truth, justice, equality. We didn’t build a world like that. We built one where Americans could live flashy lifestyles of complete and utter excess — huge houses, multiples of huge cars, multiple air conditioners, huge debts — while the entire rest of the world was neglected. And so, ultimately, was America itself.

The next stage of decadence was American elites growing rich while its own working and middle class fell into penury. Remember how Roman elites partied and were fed grapes and had orgies while their citizens fell into poverty, unable to find work, feed themselves, educate their kids? That was more or less exactly what was happening in America. Go to Manhattan or DC or San Francisco, and you’d see huge, huge mansions or penthouses in the sky rising — by the hundreds. But go to any town or smaller city, and you’d see devastation, poverty, drug addiction, despair, and blight. Decadence had spread from America versus the world, to American elites versus their own average citizens.

And now we are at the stage of implosion. Things are spinning out of control. Precisely because we underinvested for so long. We didn’t give every life on earth healthcare — from poor people to animals — and so we are getting pandemics. And because our leaders cannot find a way to manage them, we are simply giving up. War is breaking out in Europe again, as demagoguery rises — the very same demagogue starting that war is the one who destabilised America, too. Not a coincidence. Decadence. Neglect. Breeding implosion.

I could go on with plenty of examples. We’ve barely bothered to do anything about climate change — and within a decade now, swathes of the planet will be uninhabitable. The consequences will make Covid’s lockdown look like cakewalks. People won’t have homes to be locked down in. Economies will have to bear the immense costs of cities sinking, regions burning, provinces turning into Fire or Flood Belts, refugees fleeing, businesses closing for good, harvests failing.

That’s not even the big one. Then comes mass extinction — life on this planet beginning to die off at the species level. It is happening now, but we will feel it when one species critical to a certain chain is gone — and bang, that chain suddenly stops working. There goes our food. Water. Medicine. There go our oceans, rivers, forests, fields. The world as we know it no longer exists then. Remember not being able to get stuff on the shelves when Covid hit? Now imagine that, but permanent. That is the future we’re heading into.

I need to warn you about this. And you need to plan for itI don’t mean that you should turn into Glenn from the Yukon on that one survival show I like to watch. Run for the hills! You can if you want, but the truth is that isn’t going to work for most of us. We need to exist in collectives and communities — not just as rugged individuals.

You need to begin thinking all this through nowHow will I survive the age of implosion? How will I educate my kids? Where will my income come from? Where will I put my savings? Do I have a way to feed my family, if things fail for a time? I even mean simple things like wearing masks, because yes, they work, even cloth ones, and a worse variant is coming. Or simpler things, too, like saving more and spending less, because lean times are coming.

I can’t tell you what your plan should be. But I can tell you that you are going to need one, now. It could involved leaving a failing state — like moving out of America, if you have the resources. That is a very wise thing to do. It could mean thinking of a new career altogether. It could mean retiring, and building a more independent life in a working country, even if your kids don’t understand why yet. Or it could mean listening to your kids, who are often far more attuned to all this than we adults are, and asking them for their answers.

We are going to have to make these plans. And share them. So that we become communities and collectives. It only works that way. Yes, you can survive in a shack by yourself with a gun and knife — not a problem. But we are talking about something bigger. Not just surviving, but retaining some aspect of civilization. Surviving with goodness, grace, truth, nobility. With art and science and literature and culture and society intact. We cannot do that as individuals.

So we need to, in my opinion, begin making plans and sharing them. This is how I’m going to deal with implosion. This is how I’m going to. Oh, that’s a great idea. I didn’t think of that before! Thank you. May I join you? Sure you can — let’s join hands and do it together. You bring the art, I’ll bring the science. We are stronger together.

Our future, my friends, is in community. Communities which let civilisation survive a dark age. We need to start building them now. It’s not going to be easy, and I don’t have a magic wand. We just have something even stronger. Each other.

The Politics of Supreme Court Retirements

Written by Isaac Chotiner and published in The New Yorker 6/22/21

 “It has been a little odd when people think that the best way to convince a Justice to retire is to write an open letter,” Noah Feldman says.Photograph by Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg / GettyLast Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear that if Republicans recapture the Senate next year, they would likely reject any Supreme Court nominee that President Biden put forward in 2024. This position is consistent with McConnell’s stance after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, in 2016, when he prevented President Barack Obama from filling the seat. (About the possibility of the Senate confirming a nominee in 2023, McConnell was noncommittal.) His comments increased the pressure on Justice Stephen Breyer, who is eighty-two, and who many progressive activists hope will retire this year, before the midterms. But Breyer has indicated that he believes the timing of his retirement should not be dictated by politics. Judges, he stated at a lecture in April, “are loyal to the rule of law, not to the political party that helped to secure their appointment.”

To discuss this issue, I spoke by phone with Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School. In a recent column for Bloomberg, he argued that the Justice “can be trusted to do the right thing—provided liberal law professors don’t box him in by declaring that he ‘must’ resign. . . . Every column or television comment—the more prominent, the worse—traps Breyer into having to stay out so as not to appear to be acting as a partisan.” During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed whether Breyer should make his decision based on who is President, what we might learn from Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, last year, and whether it made sense to view the Supreme Court as a political institution.

Are the reasons you believe that people should not be telling Breyer to retire substantive as much as practical? In other words, is your fear solely that telling him to retire will make him want to do the opposite so as not to appear political, or do you also think that there are good reasons that he should not retire immediately?

I think the retirement decision is overwhelmingly personal, and I would not presume to tell a Justice that he or she should stay in the job if he or she wanted to retire—that’s for sure. Then, like every other observer who cares about the living Constitution, I hope that Joe Biden has an opportunity to nominate someone to the Court who shares that broad preference, and we know that, if the Republicans were to take power in the Senate, it’s very unlikely that they would confirm such a nominee.

You say it’s personal, but it’s not personal in the sense that it affects millions of people.

Well, the way you put the question was, Do I think there’s a reason for him to stay on? There might be circumstances in which you could imagine that a Justice really wants to step down and you say to that Justice, “Gee, I think you owe it to the Republic to stay in your post.” Indeed, some of Justice [David] Souter’s former law clerks said that to Justice Souter during the George W. Bush Administration, when he would say that he was ready to throw in the towel. I can imagine circumstances like that do arise, but we’re not in those circumstances now.

But, if you thought that people telling Justice Breyer to retire would have the effect of getting him to retire, is that something that you would approve of?

I would think that if someone really wanted a Justice to retire, the logical way to do that would be to communicate that privately to the Justice. I think it has been a little odd when people for whom I have a lot of respect—important scholars and academics or public figures—think that the best way to convince a Justice to retire is to write an open letter.

If Patrick Leahy or Chuck Schumer ran into Justice Breyer and said, “I think you should retire,” would that be appropriate, or would that be too partisan?

Well, that raises a different question, because those are members of a different branch of the government. I don’t think it’s appropriate for members of the executive or the legislative branch of government to say to a sitting Supreme Court Justice, “I think you should retire.” I think that’s a form of judgment or etiquette largely shared by most people. But I was talking about law professors and people like that, some of whom wrote pieces saying that Justice Ginsburg should retire, and some of whom have written pieces saying that Justice Breyer should retire.

You write about Breyer, “He is the one of the great pragmatist justices ever to have sat on the Supreme Court. . . . Breyer also knows Capitol Hill, having worked there three separate times,” and you add, “What Breyer needs and deserves is room to maneuver, to find the best and most rational way to satisfy the complex competing interests around his retirement.” This implies that the decision is complex and requires expertise. Do you think it is?

It’s certainly a complex decision. First, you have the personal considerations that anyone has when retiring from a position that he or she has been in for a long time. Second, you have the legitimate desire on Justice Breyer’s part, or at least I believe Justice Breyer has, to insure that the Supreme Court does not appear to be a partisan institution. To retire the moment that you have a Democratic President and a Democratic-controlled Senate might, to some people, look like you were saying that the institution is in some sense partisan, and Justice Breyer strongly rejects that idea. What’s more, at a moment when many people are insisting the Supreme Court is partisan, he has been giving lectures and is in the process of writing a book trying precisely to make a point that the institution isn’t partisan. So he has a vested interest in not sending that message. Third, of course, is the pragmatic reality he understands perfectly well that, in the new political situation that we live in, a Democratic President who doesn’t control the Senate is very unlikely to get anybody through, and that raises the risk that you might have a Republican President choosing someone whose constitutional vision or legal vision is super different from Justice Breyer’s. He’s a pragmatist, and he knows that.

Could you imagine someone like Breyer making the argument that it’s inappropriate to even consider the possibility that a Republican Congress might not let a replacement through?

Justice Breyer is a highly rational person, and he’s a realist.

Yes, in the piece you say,“The liberal legal commentariat should stand back and let the master operate.”

That’s true. I believe that, but what I’m also trying to say is that, in the course of his entire body of jurisprudence, I can’t think of a single case in which he relied on a formalism that required him to ignore reality. He thinks that reality has weight in the world and one should take account of it. So I can’t imagine Justice Breyer believing that it would be entirely inappropriate for him to, in any way, take account of political reality. That’s not the kind of viewpoint that I would attribute to him. Among other things, Justice Breyer has a concern for the Supreme Court to function well. And, in a world where a Republican Senate won’t confirm any nominee put forward by Democratic Presidents, if a Justice stepped down or had to step down in that circumstance, that would leave an empty Supreme Court seat, and that would not be good for the Supreme Court’s functioning.

You wrote another column last July, in which you claimed, “The consequences of the 2020 vote on the Supreme Court, and the country, could not be greater.” That implies that Breyer needs to retire, right? If the future of the Court hinged on who was going to win the 2020 election, then it seems like whoever won should have a chance to appoint as many Justices as possible.

Right now, the Court has a 6–3 conservative majority. If there were to be a Republican President elected in 2024, and that person had a Republican Senate, there’s a real possibility that, if Justice Breyer had to retire during that period of time, we would go to a 7–2 conservative majority, which is very different from a 6–3 majority. So, from my perspective—of someone who favors a Supreme Court that has as many Justices as possible who believe in the living Constitution—that would be a devastating consequence. That said, the current 6–3 conservative majority can already potentially reach decisions that will themselves be devastating from the standpoint of protecting fundamental rights. That could happen even if the Court remained at 6–3. Did I write that before or after Ginsburg died?

It was before Ginsburg died.

I wrote that under those conditions when it was a 5–4 Supreme Court. Things do look a little different once the Court goes to 6–3.

Right, but the reason the Court went from 5–4 to 6–3 is that Justice Ginsburg didn’t in fact retire, and died. So then how do you view her decision not to retire when there was a Democratic President?

I desperately wish that Justice Ginsburg had retired when Barack Obama was President and the Democratic Party controlled the Senate. Her health had not been good at all, and that was known to the world, and of course known to her. I am deeply saddened that she did not.

So you think waiting too long is a fair critique of a Justice?

Look, I think it’s always situational, right? When should Thurgood Marshall have stepped down? He tried really hard to make it through eight years of Reagan and four years of George H. W. Bush, and he just didn’t quite make it. [Marshall retired in 1991 because of health issues.] But should he have stepped down under Carter, almost ten years before he actually passed away? That’s a pretty tough call to make, and it is not at all clear that he should have done.

He was in his seventies, not his eighties, in the Carter years, right?

Yeah, there was a big difference of age. But, yes, I think if there’s a Justice who cares about his or her legacy, and recognizes the possibility that that legacy could be disastrously undercut if he or she did not step down, it’s sensible for the Justice to take that into account and to step down. I have a pragmatist view of it.

I’m curious about this idea, which you’ve been circling in your answers, of viewing the Supreme Court as a political institution. I understand why in theory perhaps its not being a political institution would be a valuable thing for our country. But it seems clear to me that it is a political institution and that denying that reality seems to get us not necessarily in a better place. Do you agree?

I would like to draw a sharp distinction between the Supreme Court as a political institution and the Supreme Court as a partisan institution. Hard cases that come in front of the Supreme Court, whether they’re constitutional or statutory, involve subtle judgments about how to interpret the Constitution and how to interpret the laws, and those inevitably implicate deeply held political beliefs. When the Supreme Court decides those close cases, politics unquestionably come into its decision-making process, and, in that sense, the Supreme Court is a political institution. Look, the Justices are appointed by the Presidents of different parties and confirmed by the Senate, so therefore the Justices are appointed through a political process, and, in that sense also, the Supreme Court is a political institution.

But the Supreme Court ideally should not function as a partisan institution in the sense that the Justices should not be deciding cases based on what outcome would benefit one political party or the other. That’s hugely important as a value that all the Justices should, in principle, hold. Does that mean that every Justice has been wholly nonpartisan? Of course not, but the aspiration to be nonpartisan has the effect of constraining decision-making.

Bush v. Gore happened, and when it was decided, it looked to many observers like a partisan decision, and that was very costly to the legitimacy and reputation of the Supreme Court. In subsequent years, a good number of the Justices have tried hard not to make decisions that would make the Supreme Court look partisan. An example of how this constraint can operate does not require us to go very far back in history. Just think of how the Supreme Court operated during the 2020 election. There were many people in the country, including, it would seem, the President, Donald Trump, who imagined and hoped that the Supreme Court would intervene in the election and, against established precedent, decide some case or set of cases in a way that would enable Trump to win the election even though he’d lost, and reasonable observers were worried about that.

That perception itself is very harmful to the Supreme Court. But the very good news is that the Supreme Court Justices did not go that way. Those Justices did not decide, say, the Pennsylvania case in a way that would have thrown the electoral outcome into doubt. Instead, the Justices overwhelmingly voted in a nonpartisan way that was consistent with the rule of law. We who are not on the Supreme Court should be doing everything we can to encourage the Justices in their commitment to the ideal—and it’s an ideal—of deciding cases without reference to partisanship.

I’d concede that there were a lot of overwrought claims that the conservative majority would just hand the election to Trump, and those turned out to be completely wrong. It doesn’t seem to answer the question, though, of how they would have behaved in an election that was as close as Florida in 2000. About that, I have absolutely no confidence that they would not have acted in a partisan way.

As I said, Bush v. Gore did happen, so I can hardly say that it’s inconceivable that a 5–4 majority could intervene in the way that they did intervene in Bush v. Gore. But the fact is that constraints on Justices are not there only for the cases in which they might not work. They’re still valuable the rest of the time. I thought that people’s saying the Supreme Court was going to hand the election to Trump was an overwrought view, but neither I nor anybody else could be absolutely certain of it, and the reason that our judicial system works when it works is because not only the Justices but the lower federal-court judges, too, are people who, on the whole, actually believe in the rule of law. And that set of beliefs is really important, even if we, as critical outsiders, are not naïve and admit that politics come in. Their belief, nevertheless, is importantly constraining.

You mentioned different kinds of political decision-making, and I wonder about a certain kind, beyond partisanship, which is when people work backward, consciously or not, to the decision that they want. It’s very easy for Justices to tell themselves that they’re just calling balls and strikes, as Chief Justice [John] Roberts famously said in his confirmation hearings, and maybe he consciously believes that. But I can often guess where the Justices will end up on certain Court cases, and it’s not just because I studied their judicial philosophy and understand the constitutional issues involved. It’s because I know which were appointed by Republicans and which by Democrats. Is that too glib?

It’s not a question of glibness, but it is a question of subtlety, of differentiating jurisprudential commitments from politics. Now, jurisprudential commitments include some political beliefs. In fact, when the late, great Ronald Dworkin talked about what we call jurisprudential beliefs, he said that they were grounded in what he called “political morality.” He was acknowledging that there is a morality that is connected to people’s political values and beliefs. Again, that is, to some degree, inevitable in constitutional decision-making in high-stakes cases, but it should be separable from who happens to be the President now, and whether you like the legislation or not like the legislation.

Chief Justice Roberts did indeed cast the decisive vote not to overturn the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act case, and I don’t think that’s because he loved Obamacare. I think it’s because he really believed that, in light of the doctrine, there was a constitutional way to uphold the individual mandate. It doesn’t matter so much whether that was totally constrained by belief or whether his desire was to appear as though he was being nonpartisan. Who knows? You have to be deep in his psyche to know that. Even he might not know. But the result was a distinctly nonpartisan decision.

Could one make the argument that one side’s partisanship changes the rules of the game for the other side? I worry that the ship has left the harbor. This is now a partisan institution. Republicans act like it’s a partisan institution and will play very tough, and so, even if there’s something in theory to say for Breyer trying to establish nonpartisanship, in theory it’s naïve.

Stephen Breyer is one of the least naïve people I have met in my life, and I have very little worry that his decision-making process would be naïve. And if I did think that he were naïve, I would not think that his consciousness could somehow be raised to realism by op-eds. That said, the appointment process now is absolutely wholly partisan. That is absolutely true. We have entered a new era in the nature of the appointments process. That is different from whether the Supreme Court, in terms of the decisions of the Justices from their perspective, needs to be partisan. Notice the distinction.

You wrote a column last year about Amy Coney Barrett, in which you stated, “I disagree with much of her judicial philosophy. . . . Yet despite this disagreement, I know her to be a brilliant and conscientious lawyer. . . . Those are the basic criteria for being a good justice. Barrett meets and exceeds them.” You also called her a “sincere, lovely person,” and wrote, “Barrett is also a profoundly conservative thinker and a deeply committed Catholic. What of it? . . . I’m going to be confident that Barrett is going to be a good justice, maybe even a great one.” The Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar famously wrote in support of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, before the sexual-assault allegations against Kavanaugh became public. Is there too much focus in the legal profession on the quality of the Justices’ reasoning or how lovely they are as a person, when what is really important is how they’re going to vote on key issues?

When I wrote that piece, it was a hundred-per-cent certain that Justice Barrett would be confirmed by a majority-Republican Senate. The point that I was trying to make in the piece was not that any particular Democratic senator should vote for her confirmation. I’m not a senator, and I didn’t have to take a position on that. What I was saying is that it is and was unnecessary to vilify a Supreme Court nominee who is on her way to confirmation solely because one deeply disagrees with her judicial philosophy and is very likely to disagree with decisions that she reaches.

We do better by fostering a judicial and political culture in which we can acknowledge the sincerity and the good qualities even of people with whom we deeply disagree, and who will do things that we think are constitutionally wrong, and the reason we do better when we’re able to do that is that it doesn’t weaken our own beliefs or our own commitments. Rather, it encourages us and encourages them to remember that we’re all in this thing called living under the Constitution together, and that if we’re all in this thing together and we’re not evaluating every issue at the personal level from a partisan political perspective, then, when the stakes are very high, as indeed they were going to be just after Justice Barrett joined the Court, in the 2020 election season, we will increase the odds that those Justices who are confirmed share the belief that I have in the ideal of nonpartisanship.

Couldn’t you flip that the other way and say that, by arguing being respectful to people changes how they behave, you are arguing that people are inherently political, and that they respond to incentives and they respond to how they’re treated, or they respond to people badgering them—

No, no. No, Isaac, I don’t think so at all. Take a social practice, such as kindness to other people. If I say that if I’m kind to you, it increases the odds that you’ll be kind to me because we’re both committed to a belief in kindness. I’m not saying that kindness is an empty value. All social values have some components of self-interest, including kindness, including goodness, including nonpartisanship. I want a legal system in which Justices are nonpartisan because otherwise the vote might go against me sometime, and [one in which] the person on the other side also believes in nonpartisanship and in its value because the vote might go against her sometime. So it’s not undercutting that commitment; it’s a reinforcing of that ideal, and that’s true of kindness, it’s true of politeness, and it’s true of nonpartisanship.

That totally makes sense, although it goes against what Justice Roberts would say about calling balls and strikes, because the whole point of being an umpire is that you’re not supposed to care how people treat you.

You’ll notice that I’ve never embraced the balls-and-strikes analogy. But you’re a sports fan, and so you know that statistical analysis shows that different umpires have different strike zones. So we know that even the analogy is referring to an underlying reality that is, in fact, not objective. Umpires do call balls and strikes, but it turns out each of them calls them differently, on the basis maybe not of their political beliefs or commitments but based on some incompletely expressed idea of what’s a ball and what’s a strike. So there is no genuine objectivity with respect to balls and strikes as long as human beings are making the call.

There’s a Word for What Trumpism Is Becoming

The relentless messaging by Trump and his supporters has inflicted a measurable wound on American democracy.

Written by David Frum and published in The Atlantic 7/13/2021

 “I became worse.” That’s how double impeachment changed him, Donald Trump told a conservative audience in Dallas last weekend, without a trace of a smile. This was not Trump the insult comic talking. This was the deepest Trump self. And this one time, he told the truth.

Something has changed for Trump and his movement since January 2021. You can measure the difference by looking back at the deadly events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Trump made three statements about those events over four days. He was visibly reluctant to speak negatively of the far-right groups. He praised “fine people on both sides” and spread the blame for “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.”

Trump’s evasions triggered a national uproar. As Joe Biden complained in an essay for The Atlantic at the time:

Today we have an American president who has publicly proclaimed a moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and Klansmen and those who would oppose their venom and hate.

But if Trump refused to single out the far-rightists for criticism, he also refrained from praising them. Whatever he felt in his heart, he was constrained by certain political and practical realities. His non-Twitter actions as president were filtered through bureaucracies. He had to work with Republican congressional allies who worried about losing seats in Congress in the next election. He himself was still basking in the illusion of his supposedly huge victory in 2016, and hoping for a repeat in 2020. Outright endorsement of lethal extremism? That was too much for Trump in 2017. But now look where we are.

Shadi Hamid: Americans are losing sight of what fascism means

In the first days after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, Trump supporters distanced themselves from its excesses. The attack had nothing to do with Trump, they argued. He had urged only a peaceful demonstration. If anybody did any harm, that person was a concealed agent of antifa. But in the months since, the mood has shifted. Once repudiated, the attacks are now accepted, condoned, and even endorsed.

In the past few days, leading pro-Trump figures and even non-Trump conservative figures have endorsed a startling Twitter thread by a previously boutique podcaster, Darryl Cooper. Tucker Carlson read the thread aloud on his show.

The thread argued that the January 6 protesters were right to believe that they had been cheated out of power they deserved. They were right to believe that the government and the law were conspiring against them. They were right to believe that their opponents were capable of anything, even assassinating Trump. The implication: They themselves were equally entitled to go just as far. It’s long, but I’ll quote two key passages.

The entrenched bureaucracy & security state subverted Trump from Day 1, b) The press is part of the operation, c) Election rules were changed, d) Big Tech censors opposition, e) Political violence is legitimized & encouraged, f) Trump is banned from social media. 34/x

They were led down some rabbit holes, but they are absolutely right that their gov’t is monopolized by a Regime that believes they are beneath representation, and will observe no limits to keep them getting it. Trump fans should be happy he lost; it might’ve kept him alive. /end

The tweet thread began by claiming that Donald Trump himself shared these beliefs. You might wonder how the podcaster would know. The answer arrived on Sunday morning, when Trump phoned into Maria Bartiromo’s Fox News show to deliver his most full-throated endorsement yet of the January 6 attack on Congress.

The ex-president praised Ashli Babbitt, the woman slain as she attempted to crash through the door that protected members of Congress from the mob that had invaded the Capitol: “innocent, wonderful, incredible woman.” He praised the insurrectionist throng: “great people.” He denounced their arrest and jailing as unjust. And he implied that Babbitt had been shot by the personal-security detail of a leading member of Congress. “I’ve heard also that it was the head of security for a certain high official. A Democrat. It’s gonna come out.”

The relentless messaging by Trump and his supporters has inflicted a measurable wound on American democracy. Before the 2020 election, about 60 percent of Democrats and Republicans expected the election to be fair. Since Trump began circulating his ever more radical complaints, Republican confidence in the election has tumbled by half, to barely more than 30 percent, according to polling supported by the Democracy Fund.

The Trump movement was always authoritarian and illiberal. It indulged periodically in the rhetoric of violence. Trump himself chafed against the restraints of law. But what the United States did not have before 2020 was a large national movement willing to justify mob violence to claim political power. Now it does.

Is there a precedent? Not in recent years. Since the era of Redemption after Reconstruction, anti-government violence in the United States has been the work of marginal sects and individual extremists. American Islamic State supporters were never going to seize the state, and neither were the Weather Underground, the Ku Klux Klan killers of the 1950s and ’60s, Puerto Rican nationalists, the German American Bund, nor the Communist Party USA.

But the post-election Trump movement is not tiny. It’s not anything like a national majority, but it’s a majority in some states—a plurality in more—and everywhere a significant minority, empowered by the inability of pro-legality Republicans to stand up to them. Once it might have been hoped that young Republicans with a future would somehow distance themselves from the violent lawlessness of the post-presidential Trump movement. But one by one, they are betting the other way. You might understand why those tainted by the January 6 attacks, such as Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, would find excuses for them. They have butts to cover. But Hawley is being outdone by other young politicians who weren’t in office and seemed to have every opportunity to build post-Trump identities—including even former Trump critics like the Ohio Senate aspirant J. D. Vance. Why do people sign up with the putschists after the putsch has failed? They’re betting that the failed putsch is not the past—it’s the future.

What shall we call this future? Through the Trump years, it seemed sensible to eschew comparisons to the worst passages of history. I repeated over and over again a warning against too-easy use of the F-word, fascism: “There are a lot of stops on the train line to bad before you get to Hitler Station.”

Two traits have historically marked off European-style fascism from more homegrown American traditions of illiberalism: contempt for legality and the cult of violence. Presidential-era Trumpism operated through at least the forms of law. Presidential-era Trumpism glorified military power, not mob attacks on government institutions. Post-presidentially, those past inhibitions are fast dissolving. The conversion of Ashli Babbitt into a martyr, a sort of American Horst Wessel, expresses the transformation. Through 2020, Trump had endorsed deadly force against lawbreakers: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he tweeted on May 29, 2020. Babbitt broke the law too, but not to steal a TV. She was killed as she tried to disrupt the constitutional order, to prevent the formalization of the results of a democratic election.

If a big-enough movement agrees with Trump that Babbitt was “wonderful”—if they repeat that the crowd of would-be Nancy Pelosi kidnappers and Mike Pence lynchers was “great”—then we are leaving behind the American system of democratic political competition for a new landscape in which power is determined by the gun.

That’s a landscape for which a lot of pro-Trump writers and thinkers seem to yearn.

You are living in territory controlled by enemy tribes. You, and all like you, must assume the innocence of anyone remotely like yourself who is charged in any confrontation with those tribes and with their authorities—until proven otherwise beyond a shadow of your doubt. Take his side. In other words, you must shield others like yourself by practicing and urging “jury nullification.”

Those words are not taken from The Turner Diaries or some other Aryan Nation tract. They were published by a leading pro-Trump site, the same site where Trump’s former in-house intellectual Michael Anton publishes. They were written by Angelo Codevilla, who wrote the books and articles that defined so much of the Trump creed in 2016. (Codevilla’s 2016 bookThe Ruling Class, was introduced by Rush Limbaugh and heavily promoted on Limbaugh’s radio program.)

We are so accustomed to using the word fascist as an epithet that it feels awkward to adjust it for political analysis. We understand that there were and are many varieties of socialism. We forget that there were varieties of fascism as well, and not just those defeated in World War II. Peronism, in Argentina, offers a lot of insights into post-presidential Trumpism.

Juan Perón, a bungling and vacillating leader, attracted followers with a jumble of often conflicting and contradictory ideas. He had the good luck to take power in a major food-producing nation at a time when the world was hungry—and imagined that the brief flash of easy prosperity that followed was his own doing. The only thing he knew for certain was the target of his hatred: anybody who got in his way, anybody who questioned him, anybody who thought for himself or herself. An expatriate Argentine who grew up under Perón’s rule remembered the graffiti on the walls, the Twitter of its day: Build the Fatherland. Kill a student. As V. S. Naipaul astutely observed, “Even when the money ran out, Peronism could offer hate as hope.”

After Perón lost power, Peronism became a myth of a lost golden age—a fantasy of restoration and redemption—and always a rejection of the frustrations of normal politics, of the tedium of legality. Who needed policies when the solution to every problem was a magic name? Politicians who hoped for the old leader’s blessing trudged to his place of exile, were photographed with him, and then sabotaged by him. The only plan he followed was somehow to force himself again upon his country, one way or another.

It was pathetic and terrifying, a national catastrophe that produced a long-running international musical.

In the United States, the forces of legality still mobilize more strength than their Trumpist adversaries. But those who uphold the American constitutional order need to understand what they are facing. Trump incited his followers to try to thwart an election result, and to kill or threaten Trump’s own vice president if he would not or could not deliver on Trump’s crazy scheme to keep power.

We’re past the point of pretending it was antifa that did January 6, past the point of pretending that Trump didn’t want what he fomented and what he got. In his interview on July 11—as in the ever more explicit talk of his followers—the new line about the attack on the Capitol is guilty but justified. The election of 2020 was a fraud, and so those who lost it are entitled to overturn it.

I do not consider myself guilty. I admit all the factual aspects of the charge. But I cannot plead that I am guilty of high treason; for there can be no high treason against that treason committed in 1918.

Maybe you recognize those words. They come from Adolf Hitler’s plea of self-defense at his trial for his 1923 Munich putsch. He argued: You are not entitled to the power you hold, so I committed no crime when I tried to grab it back. You blame me for what I did; I blame you for who you are.

Trump’s no Hitler, obviously. But they share some ways of thinking. The past never repeats itself. But it offers warnings. It’s time to start using the F-word again, not to defame—but to diagnose.

David Frum is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy(2020). In 2001 and 2002, he was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

Welcome to My New Site- Joe’s Political Blog

When I look back over my life, I recall many surprises, adventures and wonderful people who have made my life worth living. In simpler days, I basked in all of life’s delights which found their way into my life.

As I grew older, I discovered the challenges which await almost everyone and some fairly unique ones. I thought I knew where my life was headed but was in for a rude awakening. I wrestled with the lifestyle I thought would shape my life, my adventures with the draft board, feeding a family while attending college and graduate school, the effects of mental illness in my family and with the challenges of my career. My greatest challenge was surviving a divorce.

Fortunately I discovered that there is life after divorce, more splendid than I could imagine up to that point in life. I am grateful for how life has turned out for me, I ended up writing a variety of books and many articles over the years. I have tried to focus on the bright side and ways people can enjoy life, each other and themselves. Lately, politics has cast a cloud over everyone I know including me. Some people try to avoid politics, some jump in head first and try to have a positive effect and others seem to have given up on our democratic way of life and have chosen to live in an alternative reality.

I thought about politics very little when I was young and saw them as a mysterious world which had little relevance to me and my sheltered life. That is a long story. Fortunately, I have written about it and published the story of my early years in my memoir Young Man of the Cloth. Check it out if you are interested in my early influences and adventures.

I have been posting articles about politics lately on my blog, Chats with My Muse, along with more positive posts about making the best of life. Recently, I have come to realize that the two do not mix. Dealing with the the stink of politics in the same place where I try to help people stay positive does not seem right, at least not to me. I have decided the two topics need separate arenas, at least as I see it.

With all this in mind, I have decided to continue entertaining my positive thoughts and sharing them in my blog, Chats With My Muse. I will discuss the pros and cons of politics, as I and others see them, in this blog.

I hope you will find both blogs useful and that they might be helpful in clarifying your thoughts and feelings about life as well as your thinking about about politics. Please join me in the adventure.