Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Two Roads, Diverging


Joe’s running. It’s not his age that’s of concern; it’s concern about his age, the perfect distraction from what’s important. President Biden’s multiple years and Trump’s multiple indictments will be horserace headlines above much more crucial text. The 2024 election – no hyperbole – will decide, probably permanently, whether the remains of our republic can endure continued attempts by MAGA Republicans to finish it off. It’s not looking good.

In my medical career, I recognized the approach of death. But one needn’t be a doctor to note democracy’s agonal breathing, its thready pulse. Come 2024, it’s either a last-minute lifesaving operation or pull the plug.

Evidence is everywhere. Satisfied they’ve terminally poisoned elections in their favor, red state legislators feel no compunction in dismantling bedrock American principles. In Texas, their Senate just passed bills forcing every classroom in public schools to display the Ten Commandments and to set times for prayer and Bible study. They must believe the carefully-curated, Mitchified majority of religiously zealous legislators on the US Supreme Court will favor them when the inevitable lawsuit arrives, pre-decided, as those who bankrolled their nominations and vacations intended.

Aware that voting by educated young people threatens their antidemocratic agenda, Republicans are making it as difficult as possible. They’re not hiding it. Cleta Mitchell, a top GOP lawyer, abettor of Trump’s unlawful attempts to overturn a lawful election, is speaking to Republican state legislatures about the need to impede student voting. It’s Democrats that have done the rigging, she says, which is a perfect inversion of reality. She is, after all, addressing legislators in states so gerrymandered that Republican lawmakers far outnumber Democrats, despite their populations favoring the latter. They aim to keep it that way, not only by hindering students’ access to the ballot, but that of everyone who disfavors their monolithic plans.

2024 won’t be about choosing between an aged candidate who’s turned the economy around and overseen record-breaking job creation and the end of devasting pandemic mismanaged by his predecessor, running against a nearly as old mis-manager of pretty much everything else but the impenetrable wall he got Mexico to pay for. It’ll be about the dramatically divergent directions in which the parties they represent would take our country. It’ll be about which one voters prefer. Republicans know, and are desperate to keep people distracted. Democrats, less cynical at messaging, need to make the choice clear, as never before.

Which party is responsible for the Oklahoma woman bearing a devasting molar pregnancy, fatal for the fetus and potentially fatal for her, who was told she’d have to wait until her life was threatened before obtaining the necessary abortion she’d have already had in a rational state? Legislatures of which party are criminalizing transgender care, not just for children but, in some, for all ages? Which party’s candidates are fomenting hysteria over a non-existent threat from such people? Being gay or transgender isn’t communicable. They threaten no one. Pretending they do, to deceive and capture voters, is despicable. And, for decades, modus operandi.

Following President Biden’s announcement of running again, two videos were released; one a frightening view of a future based entirely on lies Republicans have been telling about his and Democrats’ accomplishments since the non-stolen, decisive election ; the other a positive vision for our country, calling for action on actual problems, in belief that, together, they can be solved.

Subtracting twenty percent credibility on general principles, the differences still couldn’t be more stark; nor could they say more about the right-wing messages with which we’ll be bombarded in the coming months, till we can’t stop screaming. Or about how each party sees its voters: gullible, bitter, and fearful; or clear-eyed, willing, and ready.

There’ll be many who believe the dishonest, distorted, disdainful Republican view. But, because they’re not enough to swing an election, even when promised more top-end tax cuts, punishing the poor, and being told that accepting differences among and offering help to fellow humans (God’s children) is abhorrently “woke,” Republicans will continue to resort, federal, state, and local, to totalitarian self-preservation.

They’ll ban more books, more topics of education, more speech. They’ll prevent more people from obtaining needed medical care. And voting rights. They’ll continue making America an un-Christian Christian theocracy. They’ll keep threatening economic mayhem. They’ll keep making you fear your neighbor, further loosen gun restrictions and child labor laws.

They’ll continue telling you drag shows are more dangerous than climate change. Their judges will continue to favor polluters. Bent on dismantling the singular threat to their agenda – democracy -- they’ll keep choosing election-deniers and anti-everyone-but-us Christian nationalists at all levels. That’s what 2024 is about. Not President Biden’s age. Not Trump’s criminality. It’s about cliffs or cures. 

Also, Tucker will be fine. Once he learns to speak Russian.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Standing On Shaky Ground

Permit-less concealed carry and “stand your ground” laws: the deadliest possible combination. Yet, cahooting with the NRA, the Republican Party is doing everything it can to exacerbate it. It’s a party gone nuts. At this point, we may as well assume that everyone we encounter is packing and pissed; and that if we do anything considered threatening, like, for example, breathing, we could be killed.

Maybe it began with the stand-your-ground, get-out-of-jail card and subsequent lionization of George Zimmerman after he killed Trayvon Martin for carrying... Skittles. If that was lionization, what’s happened to smirking, money-begging Kyle Rittenhouse, murderer of unarmed demonstrators, is deification. A frequent guest on Fox “news,” he was just featured in a personal “Trigger Time” adventure, auctioned off by the Idaho GOP.

Going even further, Texas Governor Abbott is itching to pardon the cop who, after publicizing his intent to kill BLM protestors, did so. Because he was afraid of a man who approached him after he deliberately drove into a crowd. It’s like a MAGA credo: claim fear, stand your ground, murder at will. Or try to.

An unarmed, sixteen-year-old Black kid knocks on the wrong door, gets shot in the head by the white homeowner, likely having stepped momentarily away from watching Fox “news.”* A twenty-year-old woman is killed for pulling her car into the wrong driveway. A cheerleader is shot, critically, for accidentally stepping into the wrong car in a parking lot. Could it be because right-wing leaders, their media (to get votes), and the NRA (to sell guns) are pushing fear and paranoia onto their followers like dealers selling fentanyl?

Among America’s mass murders, more in 2023 than days elapsed, one was committed by a transgendered man. Capitalizing on Trumpism’s latest ginned-up, vote-getting scapegoat for all of society’s ills, twice-impeached, two-time popular vote loser, indicted Donald Trump, promised, at the NRA convention, “Upon my inauguration, I will direct the FDA to convene an independent outside panel to investigate whether transgender hormone treatments and ideology increase the risk of extreme depression, aggression and even violence. I think most of us already know the answer.” “Ideology,” he called it. “The answer,” he said.

The smell of exploded gunpowder barely dissipated after the nearby murder of schoolchildren, and after arrogantly expelling two Black legislators demanding gun regulation, the Tennessee legislature voted down proposed red flag laws. Take that, woke liberals!

But it’s not just committers of gun violence that Republican lawmakers are grooming. It’s people like 21-year-old Jake Teixeira, who damaged our country by stealing and sharing critical military secrets. Unlike Daniel Ellsberg, who, pilfering the Pentagon Papers, intended to expose lies about the Vietnam War, that kid just wanted to impress his online gamer pals. Nevertheless, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Tucker Carlson, among other Trumpic lovers of Putin and his criminal war, proclaimed him a hero. To MTG, it’s because he’s “white, male, christian (sic), and anti-war.” Unmentioned, but likely equally appealing, were his racist and anti-Semitic postings.

Uninformed isn’t enough, though. Because knowledge and critical thinking are MAGA’s enemies, the ultimate goal is uneducated. Not satisfied with banning books that teach empathy and history, Republican legislatures are defunding public libraries. State officials in Louisiana asked lawmakers to ban the study of racism at universities, citing “divisive, inglorious aspects of US history.” Florida just expanded bans on teaching about gender and sexuality to include high school. In several red states, laws are being passed to disallow college ID for voting registration, and to remove polling places and drop boxes from campuses.

It’s not hard to understand why. The same goes for love for Putin and his governing style. It’s MAGA Republicans’ vision of future America: Silencing dissidents and journalists, creating and lying about enemies, having a single ruling party, an above-the-law leader, tightly-censored public education, and state-run media; ensuring perpetual power. Everything they’re doing is in service to that aim. Which, in their case, includes extremist theocracy.

Speaking of MAGA love objects, a word about the Dominion v. Fox lawsuit settlement: Disappointing. Yes, Fox will give Dominion a ton of money, and similar suits are still pending. But they weren’t required to admit their lies. In fact, so far, they’ve barely mentioned the result. Tucker, Sean, Laura, Maria, and Jeanine should have been required to state, live on their shows, every day for months, that they’ve been lying for years. To the contrary, Fox’s public (not on-air) announcement included: “This settlement reflects Fox’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.” That their offices weren’t immediately swallowed by the earth could be seen by some as proof that God doesn’t exist. Or that he’s Rupert Murdoch.

And speaking of God, given Republicans’ continued attacks on being “woke,” we end by noting that of all historical figures, none was more so than Jesus.
* Update: I wasn't wrong 

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Is The Tide Turning?

Few who know me would call me a political optimist. But it may be, might be, could possibly be within the realm of imagination, that something I’ve hoped for, written about, hallucinated, has become, to some extent, in moments unburdened by the signs and sounds of democracy’s death-knell, thinkable.

As Republicans have no positive agenda other than tax cuts, voter suppression, and vengeance, nothing to offer average Americans beyond a tsunami of lies and anger, I’ve thought it possible they’d eventually overplay their hand. They’d mistake the undying devotion of the Foxified thirty percent for a free pass. They’d loose upon us such outrageously undemocratic and repugnant behavior that reasonable people, formerly inclined in their direction, would awaken to the danger they represent to our teetering democracy. If there’s a glimmer of hope, we have the Tennessee legislature, Jim Jordan, Texas’ Federal Judge Kacsmaryk and Governor Abbott to thank. Among others.

In Tennessee, after what was then (no longer) the latest mass murder, school children and their parents marched on the capitol to demand action. From the floor of the legislature (how dare they?) three of the greatly outnumbered Democrats showed their approval, raising their fists Josh Hawley-J6-style and, worse, shouting. Given several less punitive options for reprimanding the besmirching of hallowed ground, Republicans unanimously expelled the two male Democrats whose skin color differed, darkly, from the female other and from their own.

Intra- and outrĂ©- state outrage was immediate. And, to all but those legislators, so sure of their God-given power to do whatever they wanted, predictable. Because even among today’s Republicans, there are some who favor democracy and at least minimal gun regulations. Then, improbably, their pro-gun governor announced support for background checks and red flag laws. It took the murder of a friend of his wife, but still...

No such epiphany has found Texas Governor Abbott. Almost before the courtroom was empty, he promised to pardon an off-duty cop convicted of murdering a BLM protestor. The officer’s “stand your ground” defense was considered and rejected, unanimously, by a jury. Among other things, the murderer had previously announced his intent to kill protestors and, accordingly, deliberately drove his car into a peaceful group of them.

The victim, though legally armed, had not reached for his gun. Which was unchambered. That the protestor shared melanin with the Tennessee Two goes without saying. So does the falsity of Abbott’s party’s claim to favor “law and order.” As in Tennessee, it’s blatant playing to the racism he assumes Texans share with him. Even there, it can’t stand forever.

Then there’s Trump-appointed, unqualified, rabid anti-abortion, anti-LGBT, specifically-chosen Judge Kascmaryk, who, based on unsupported and unscientific claims by a group of hand-picked “doctors” filing in just the right courtroom, ruled the FDA erred, twenty-three years ago, when it declared a medical abortion drug safe. In fact, time has shown it safer than Tylenol. Pending appeal, his ruling would make it unavailable nationwide, even in states where abortion is legal. The party which once railed against activist judges cheered their judge declaring decades of proven science invalid. His inclusion of religious language in his ruling, where it had no place, only made them happier.

In another example of religious-based rejection of science and appealing to the ignorance and fears of their base, Republican-led legislatures are criminalizing gender-affirming care for trans people; in most, but not all cases, for minors. Taking difficult family decisions away from parents and doctors, it’s the biggest of big-government interference, about which that party hypocricizes continually. Parents, they say, should be in charge of what their children learn about America and gender, but not, evidently, of what is among the most difficult parenting issues, ever.

As repellent as are the preceding examples, there’s no comparison, in terms of displaying contempt for norms, for his presumed supporters and for the Constitution, to Jim Jordan’s weaponization of government disguised as an investigation into weaponization of government. Or his making of Congress into a dedicated law firm for twice-impeached, twice-popular-vote-losing, indicted defendant Donald Trump. Demanding, from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, information to which he’s not entitled, blatantly interfering with a state’s lawful pursuit of presumed criminal activity, he’ll marsupialize hearings in NYC on “rampant crime” which he blames on Mr. Bragg. Surely he knows that NYC is safer than many red state cities, and that crime there has been steadily decreasing. Facts, though, are never his point.  

Limited space requires ignoring Governor DeSantis and his “surgeon general” faking statistics to malign covid vaccines. And the cancel-culture hilarity of transphobic Trumpists blowing up cans of Bud Light (which is to beer as pea-shooters are to bazookas.)

There is space, however, to note that apples can, indeed, fall far from trees: cf. Robert Kennedy, Jr.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Running On Emptiness

So Trump was indicted (or, as he spelled it, “indicated”) and now we know the particulars. And we know that he reveled in it, was fundraising over it; even, having been deprived of an official mugshot, created one printed on a t-shirt he’ll send you “free of charge” with a minimum $47 donation. Preferring the spectacle, he declined the opportunity to do it remotely. To his idolaters, he’s more heroic than ever.

The facts are undisputed, which explains the rightwing response. From the outset, they’ve attacked Alvin Bragg, President Biden, George Soros, and the commies behind the prosecution. Filling the air are claims that “This isn’t America anymore,” “We’ve become a banana republic,” “It’s communism.”

In fact, it’s what separates America from dictatorships: Potential crimes were investigated, evidence was presented to twenty-three members of a grand jury, which recommended indictment. The accused was presented with the charges, a generous amount of time was granted before the next court appearance (eight months), and, eventually, in a court of law, appearing before a jury of fellow citizens, he’ll have the opportunity to defend himself; after which he’ll be acquitted or found guilty.

In countries to which Trump et cultum are comparing the process, he’d have been arrested and imprisoned on the spot. Or executed. Our system is one of many things that MAGAlready. It’s “political” or “election interference” only to the extent that he chose to run, hoping to avoid indictments. Too bad Al Capone didn’t think of it.

In other news...

There’s been another demonstration interrupted by rioting, overturned vehicles, broken windows, arson, and multiple injuries. Again, BLM and Antifa... weren’t involved. It was mainly white college kids, celebrating winning the NCAA b-ball championship, to do with which they had nothing. Shall Congress investigate?

Speaking of weaponizing government, following the indictment, Representative Jim “Gym” Jordan (R-OH) of the Weaponization of Government subcommittee, is calling for defunding the FBI and DOJ. He’s forgotten, evidently, how he and all Republicans campaigned on the (very few, not leaders) Democrats who called for defunding the police after the murder of George Floyd. Back home at Mar-a-Lago, Trump called, amongst the usual lies, for the same.

Days after the latest massacre of school children with legally-obtained AR 15s, Ron DeSantis signed a permitless-carry law in Florida. The event was atypically closed to the public and press. Present were legislators who wrote the bill and – get this! – representatives of the NRA. Well, at least Running Ron doesn’t hide to whom he’s beholden and to whose concerns he listens.

Regarding that mass murder in Tennessee, about which the US Representative from the district where it occurred said there was nothing to be done about it, masses of school children and their parents – more than showed up supporting Trump in NYC -- protested at the state capitol, demanding that the overwhelmingly Republican House of Representatives take action on guns. Three Democratic representatives joined the crowd. Comparing the noisy but nonviolent demonstration to January 6, Republicans proceeded to remove those Democrats from committees, deactivate their access cards, and are in the process of expelling them entirely. Such is their love of democracy and free speech. Such is their characteristic abuse of power.

Putting into words the symbolism of DeSantis’ NRA-honoring signing ceremony, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) said “We’ve done about as much as we can” about gun control. Left unsaid was the implicit end of the sentence: “... and still collect bribes from the NRA and votes from our gunly-paranoid base.”

In heavily-gerrymandered Wisconsin, where, as in Tennessee, Republicans disproportionately outnumber Democrats in their legislature, a liberal judge just won election to their Supreme Court, decisively, giving it a liberal majority. This will have enormous impact on abortion rights, gun control, and election fairness, as well as national Electoral College prospects.

Gerrymandering doesn’t work for elections in which state-level candidates are selected by all voters. Which is why Democrats still hold the US Senate. But not Wisconsin’s.

Asa Hutchinson, former Republican Governor and Representative from Arkansas, manager of the Clinton impeachment, announced he’s running for president. He’ll lose of course, and not just because he’s the only Republican who dared to defend the process by which Trump was indicted, urging people to wait and see. A definitional conservative, he’s a throwback outlier in today’s Republican party.

Running through it all is a common theme: Trumpism. It’s been systematically tearing down the Constitutional foundations of America, infecting every state, but especially the red ones. Maybe DeSantis’ wildly unpopular permitless carry law and Tennessee’s fascistic, undemocratic legislative bullying will become a bridge for Republicans to cross the Rubicon back in this direction, back to rationality, rejoining the democracy they claim to love, instead of destroying it step by step.

Right. And Trump will stop lying.

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