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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

How Do Florida Republicans Cope With Climate? Put Heads In Sand

As I write, backbiting and finger-pointing have begun among Florida politicians about the timing of evacuation orders previous to Hurricane Ian. Having made a dreadfully ill-timed joke in this column about the kind of divine retribution often cited by religious cranks as the cause of natural disasters, I’m inclined to be forgiving. Mistakes were made because the storms are inherently unpredictable.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis scolded CNN for stationing its correspondents too far north, in Tampa.

And ain’t he a piece of work?

Of course, if people had any damn sense, they wouldn’t have been living in mobile homes on recently-drained swamps near the Gulf of Mexico in the first place. Much less building three-story McMansions on offshore islands and expecting government to rush in when the ocean wrecks the causeway. The highway was a boondoggle to start with.

I’m so old, I can remember when people built flimsy shacks and wooden bridges near the ocean, understanding that storms would eventually destroy them. I also have vivid memories of a charismatic Rutgers professor of physical geography warning a lecture hall filled with Jersey boys that allowing urban development on the state’s Atlantic Ocean front was dangerously short-sighted and a day of reckoning would surely come.

Although a liberal arts major, I took the course because I thought it might be useful to understand how the world works in terms of geology, landforms, ocean currents and climate. An Air Force pilot in Korea, Prof. Melvin G. Marcus showed us aerial photos of the string of barrier beaches—images satellites provide today--separating the Atlantic Ocean and a series of shallow bays all along the New Jersey coastline.

Comes a serious hurricane, he warned, and scores of New Jersey resort towns would be washed into the ocean. Erecting permanent structures on such terrain was an exercise in futility. Better to preserve the barrier beaches as public parkland. Build nothing on sand that you can’t afford to see pounded to splinters by the sea, was his advice.

(The same applies to floodplains far from the sea. Anybody who builds on level ground near running water in Arkansas, where I live, is just asking for trouble. How do you suppose the terrain got so flat? I’ve seen several 500-year floods in the fifty years I’ve lived around Little Rock.)

So, although I’m no climatologist, I can read a damn map. Sanibel Island, Florida is a barrier beach off Fort Myers, a fancy resort community build on a sandbar. Its destruction was inevitable. It ought to be a state park. (Much of Fort Myers itself was once a mangrove swamp.) Rebuilding an expensive causeway for wealthy snowbirds from Ohio to access their retirement homes by automobile would be an act of sheer folly.

So, you know the contracts are already being negotiated.

Top headlines of the day:

"Florida death toll continues to climb as historic cleanup looms"

“More Americans are moving into hurricane zones even as climate risks

mount."

Look, Florida has two essential industries: Tourism and real estate speculation. OK, three: Drug smuggling. Politicians there know better than to stand in the way of property development. An estimated 1000 people a day move there; the state’s population has grown from 5 million to 22 million since 1960. They’ve basically turned it into New Jersey with palm trees.

Speaking of which, when Hurricane Sandy made my late Rutgers professor a prophet back in 2013, Florida governor DeSantis, then a freshman congressman spouting Tea Party rhetoric, voted against federal disaster aid. He derided what he called the “credit card mentality” that had those states begging for help.

But because he isn’t stupid, and grew up near Tampa on Florida’s west coast, DeSantis certainly understands that hurricanes are a natural phenomenon as common as blizzards in Buffalo, and has long since changed his tune. I think it’s safe to say he won’t be flying a planeload of Venezuelan refugees from Texas to Joe Biden’s Delaware home, as had been the rumored plan before Hurricane Ian struck Florida.

“Ironically,” former Florida GOP congressman David Jolly told the Washington Post, “there’s nobody in America that Ron DeSantis needs more than Joe Biden.”

For his part, Biden loves playing President Magnanimous. “He [DeSantis] complimented me. He thanked me for the immediate response we had,” Biden said the other day. “This is about saving people’s lives, homes and businesses.”

DeSantis explained to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, that “when people are fighting for their lives, when their whole livelihood is at stake, when they’ve lost everything — if you can’t put politics aside for that, then you’re just not going to be able to.”

Feckless Yankees are going to keep emigrating to Florida. Ever-more powerful storms are also a certainty. There are ways to protect them from themselves—mainly enhanced building codes and environmental regulations.

But will Florida politicians act? Maybe so. Probably not.

Melodrama And Meltdown Among Trump's Conspiracy-Peddling, FBI-Hating Cult

I used to think self-styled “progressives” and Black Lives Matter activists had coined the dumbest political slogan of the twenty-first century: “Defund the Police.” Democratic strategist James Carville called it “the three worst words ever in the English language.” Not for nothing has President Biden gone out of his way to declare, as reported by the New York TimesCharles Blow, that “when it comes to public safety in this nation, the answer is not ‘defund the police.’ It’s ‘fund the police.’”

Ordinary citizens may have mixed feelings about cops, but everybody wants help fast when they dial 911—a point so elementary only the smuggest kind of intellectual could fail to understand it.

So, naturally, MAGA Republicans have gone them one better. “Defund the FBI,” chants Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. The Georgia Republican insists that “Joe Biden has weaponized the FBI and DOJ against President Trump and his supporters.”

She’s selling T-shirts and ball caps with the motto for $30 each on her campaign website. Amazon has a page offering anti-FBI gear for half that price. Be the first on your block to offer support for bank robbers, kidnappers, Russian spies, and your friendly neighborhood terrorist cell.

Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-Co), Paul Gosar (R-TX) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and other members of the Mighty Trump Art Players have endorsed similar notions. There’s even a guy running for the Florida legislature who posted a notice on Twitter to the effect that “Under my plan, all Floridians will have permission to shoot FBI, IRS, ATF and all other feds on sight!”

Remember when Texas led the nation in deluded right-wing cranks? The Sunshine State’s definitely catching up.

Maybe that’s why God sent this hurricane to wet them down.

See, anybody can play at being a prophet, ascribing divine intent to random, unconnected events. All that’s necessary is absolute shamelessness. There’s an irreducible number of superstitious fools who need End Times melodrama to keep them stimulated.

Me, I prefer baseball.

But speaking of melodrama, there’s Donald J. Trump, the former president who can’t seem to make up his mind. One minute he says he’s being persecuted by FBI agents who planted classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate, and the next he tells Fox News’s Sean Hannity that “If you’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying, it’s declassified. Even by thinking about it, because you’re sending it to Mar-a-Lago or to wherever you’re sending it.”

Never mind that, historically speaking, the FBI has long been by far the most politically conservative agency of the U.S. government. Even if you buy the mental telepathy angle, these things cannot both be true.

A rational observer would see Trump’s alibi as a de facto confession.

So naturally Trump has turned away from rational observers and toward QAnon, the religio-political millenarian cult that claims, among other things, that the Democratic Party and the “Deep State” are controlled by a cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles led by Hillary Clinton, and that Trump (along with long-deceased John F. Kennedy, Jr.) is leading a heroic, clandestine war against it.

Things were supposed to have come to a head on Inauguration Day, 2021—the “Great Awakening” adepts called it—when Trump would be re-instated, JFK Jr. would emerge from hiding and Hillary’s monstrous allies would be arrested and publicly executed.

Needless to say, the failure of this prophecy occasioned a certain amount of re-calculating, but True Believers throughout history have risen to the challenge. Cults tend to fade out gradually; rarely all at once. Over time, ridicule has greater force than reason.

With Citizen Trump leading the parade, QAnon is currently riding high. No doubt partly due to his growing legal peril—the Jan. 6 grand jury investigation, the New York lawsuit aimed at putting the Trump Organization out of business, and the DOJ’s criminal probe into stolen Top Secret documents—the former president’s political rallies have grown increasingly other-worldly.

He, his family and his supporters, Trump told an impassioned crowd last week in Wilmington, N.C., all face “torment, persecution and oppression.” Recorded music similar what some called “the QAnon theme song,” induced hundreds to raise their arms in a one-finger salute signifying unity.

“Where we go one, we go all,” cultists assure each other.

Absent clinical paranoia, it’s not clear how Trump’s impassioned followers imagine themselves personally threatened. Nevertheless, millions do imagine exactly that. But are they prepared to go to war for him? To threaten large-scale civic violence to rescue his mangy orange hide from criminal prosecution? That’s the implied threat.

I, for one, seriously doubt it. QAnon is essentially an online phenomenon, an aggregation of cranks sitting at home alone getting all worked up over silly fantasies. Political pornography. Nobody with anything to lose is going to risk it to save Trump from himself.

Soon enough, he’ll be history, and QAnon with him.

Elizabeth Wasn't Bad, But The World Is Losing Its Taste For British Royalty

As a person whose eight great-grandparents were born in Ireland, my enthusiasm for British royalty is rather limited.

Irish Times columnist Patrick Freyne may have put it most succinctly: “Having a monarchy next door” he wrote in 2021, “is a little like having a neighbor who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window, and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbor who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.”

That said, I never took it personally. I’d pretty much overdosed on ethnic nationalism by age 12 or thereabouts, tired of being told there was a proper“Irish” opinion on every imaginable topic, and that it agreed with my maternal grandfather’s. I don’t recall how he answered when I asked why he spent so much time talking about a foreign country he’d never visited. It was a rhetorical question. Many of my classmates at school had grandparents with one foot in the Old Country — Ireland, Italy, Poland, wherever. We were American kids.

Even so, at our wedding, to give you some idea, my mother demanded to know of Diane’s family, “What nationality are you people, anyway?” (Louisiana French.) They were flabbergasted. Indeed, my wife was never forgiven for not being named Ginger O’Grady. But that was nothing to do with me.

But no, I never held all that sad history against Queen Elizabeth. So her ancestors caused mine to die of famine. Nothing she personally could have done about it. Insofar as I could tell, she played the hand she was dealt with grace and dignity. Even back when she was Princess Elizabeth, driving ambulances during the London Blitz and giving radio pep talks to British children.
She reigned a very long time.

Out of curiosity, I checked the front page of the Irish Times on the day she died. The lead story was the arrival in Dublin of country singer Garth Brooks for a series of shows. He’s hugely popular there; the Irish love ballads. The queen’s death was relegated to the bottom of the page. Coverage was respectful, but muted, in contrast to the worshipful spectacle on American TV.

No matter. What the English have given us — Irish, American, Canadian,Australian, Indian, et al.— is their language: The language of Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Austen, Tolkien and Orwell. Also of Jefferson, Twain, Joyce Carol Oates, andTa-Nehisi Coates. If you love books, you’re pretty much an Anglophile, as I certainly am.

My English friends vary from stridently anti-monarchist to mildly sarcastic about the Royal Family. “It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true,” Orwell wrote in 1941, “that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during God Save the King than of stealing from a poorbox.”

“Unquestionably,” indeed.

“Bloody royals,” snarls my friend Lawrence from his garden on the Isle of Wight. Useless parasites all, he insists. He even quarrels with my observation that Duchess Kate is terribly beautiful. Too scrawny, he thinks. He’d surely agree withTwain’s suggestion that they be replaced with a family of cats.

“They would be as useful as any other royal family, they would know as much, they would have the same virtues and the same treacheries,” Twain wrote, “they would be laughable, vain, and absurd and never know it, they would be wholly inexpensive, finally, they would have as sound a divine right as any other royal house.”

Indeed, millions around the world find themselves riveted by the ongoing soap opera that is the Royal Family. All those castles, all the tiaras and crowns, and the Queen’s kin are every bit as crazy as your own: complete with racist
grandad, adulterous uncle, his doomed, betrayed wife, a second funny uncle with a lech for underaged girls, not to mention grandson’s preening, Drama Queen wife…

The British royals behave every bit as badly as the inhabitants of any Arkansas trailer park or New Jersey tenement. Millions derive great comfort from that.

Upon Queen Elizabeth taking the throne in 1952, Churchill described the monarchy as“the magic link, which unites our loosely bound but strongly interwoven commonwealth of nations.” If anything, she presided over its steady, inevitable demise. Born to the globe-spanning British Empire, she leaves her son and heir King Charles III pretty much all that’s left of the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Even that may not last, leaving Charles ruler of a small island nation in the North Atlantic. Even so, Elizabeth left it better than she found it. Had I been born to her privileges and burdens, I’d also have chosen to spend my time on a country estate surrounded by dogs and horses, to all appearances the best of the lot.

Yes, MAGA Bullies Are 'Semi-Fascist' -- And They're Big Crybabies Too

Show me a bully, I’ll show you a crybaby. Few recent events have demonstrated the accuracy of that observation like the caterwauling on the right in response to President Biden’s speech warning voters against “semi-Fascist MAGA Republicans.”

An awful lot of them appear to have gotten their little feelings hurt. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was prominent among the aggrieved. “He basically called us bad people,” she complained. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens objected that “Biden has decided the best way to seek partisan advantage is to treat tens of millions of Americans as the enemy within.”

Poor babies. It’s tempting to say “Bleep your feelings,” and leave it at that. Republicans whining about Joe Biden’s bad manners? Please.

Besides, the president made it perfectly clear who he was talking about. Not them.

“MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution,” he said. “They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people.

“They refuse to accept the results of a free election. And they’re working right now, as I speak, in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies.”

Truth is, the F-word carries little bite any more. Newt Gingrich has been calling Democrats “fascists” for years, starting with Bill Clinton. Tucker Carlson can hardly get through a show without using the word. MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan posted a Twitter video of Fox News personalities—Carlson, Girgrich, William Barr, White House factotum Stephen Miller, etc.—using it regularly to describe Democrats.

If Biden really wanted it to stick it to the MAGA crowd, maybe he should have turned his speech into a Jeff Foxworthy-like comedy routine.

“If you’ve ever worn MAGA hat to church… You might be a Nazi.”

“If you’ve ever stabbed a cop with a flagpole…”

“If you’ve kidnapped a Democratic governor…”

I could go on.

But Biden wasn’t talking to Trump cultists, he was trying to persuade everybody else what’s at stake. He specifically urged “Democrats, independents, [and] mainstream Republicans” to band together to save American democracy. People like Nikki Haley and Bret Stephens. In other words, conservative Republicans who may inwardly shudder when the Big Man promises to grant blanket pardons to the January 6 insurrectionists, calls Biden himself an “enemy of the state” and denounces Justice Department attorneys and FBI agents as "vicious monsters."

But who keep their indignation relatively restrained.

Patriots, that is, who understand that the United States government isn’t a pro-wrestling spectacle pitting make-believe good against theatrical evil. People who are capable of understanding that the Republican Party started going off the rails at least as far back as the Clinton Administration, when Gingrich compiled his famous list of Manichean insults to be hurled at Democrats--“sick,” “bizarre,” “pathetic,” “traitors,” etc.—and Rush Limbaugh broadcast them to the nation.

What is QAnon, after all, but Jerry Falwell’s “Clinton Chronicles” overlaid with an aura of necromancy and superstition? If a prominent holy man cam depict the president and first lady drug smugglers and murderers, then why not a worldwide conspiracy of pedophiles?

Me, I didn’t start getting hate mail and death threats from crazy people when Trump took office, but when Clinton did. The more lurid the allegation, the greater some peoples’ need to believe it. The professional wrestling crowd, that is. And a very large crowd it is.

And then came Fox News, a 24/7 propaganda operation superficially resembling a news broadcast: anchormen, streaming headlines, blondes on couches, etc. A Donald Trump, basically a pro-wrestling shill on steroids, was bound to arrive. Alas, he turned out to be infinitely more reckless than the politer sorts of Republican imagined.

What’s more, when Trump finishes self-destructing—or equally likely, dies in the saddle—another would-be strongman will surely come along.

By this time, the MAGA audience demands one.

Unless, that is, Joe Biden can persuade a clear majority of voters to reject Trumpism at the polls, and by so doing help the Republican Party save itself. That’s what his “semi-Fascist” speech was all about. If Biden can turn the 2022 mid-term elections into a referendum on Trump (instead of on himself, it’s fair to say) then the Republican Party may be able to begin healing.

Early indications are that it could be working. A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken a few days after Biden’s Pennsylvania speech showed a majority of Americans agreeing that Trump’s MAGA movement represents a unique threat to American democracy. 58 percent of respondents, including 25 percent of Republicans, see Trumpism as a danger to the constitution. Fully 60 percent of Republicans say they don’t think the MAGA movement represents a majority of their party.

How political parties heal is by losing elections. If President Biden can pull this off, the Bret Stephens and Nikki Haleys of the GOP will owe him more than they’ll ever be willing to admit.

GOP 'Whataboutism' Won't Save Trump If He Faces Federal Indictment

Temporarily anyway, Donald J. Trump resembles the Br’er Rabbit of the Joel Chandler Harris tales, flung into the briar patch by the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago country club. Not only has the former president gotten to star in his favorite role as heroic martyr by loudly denouncing the Justice Department’s seizure of stolen documents, but he's reduced his Republican rivals for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination to bit players.

Meanwhile, the grift goes on. Yesterday, I received two solicitations, one for “Official Donald J. Trump Fine Point Markers” just like those the great man used in the White House. Only $18. The second offered an “Official 2022 ULTRA MAGA MEMBER” decal for $45. I haven’t been so excited since receiving my very own glow-in-the-dark Flash Gordon magic decoder ring when I was eight.

MAGA cultists, of course, will buy anything. Trump’s reported to be pulling in a cool million bucks a day on this junk, not to mention the cash pouring into his legal defense fund. That’s the main reason he keeps hinting at declaring his candidacy but never crossing the line. Because the minute he does, campaign finance laws prevent him putting the cash in his pocket.

The estimable blogger Digby Parton thinks this is good news for the Biden administration. “Trump is the gift that keeps on giving—for Democrats” she writes. “[T}he drumbeat of Trump, Trump, Trump, has turned the midterm election from a standard referendum on the president to a choice between the undisputed leader of the Republican Party and the leader of the Democratic Party. And while it’s true that Biden’s popularity numbers are low, Trump’s are even worse.”

Exactly what the former president had in mind hoarding Top Secret documents is impossible to say. According to the New York Times, boxes seized during the Mar-a-Lago search “related to some of the most highly classified programs run by the United States.” The Washington Post describes papers “relating to nuclear weapons,” while the Wall Street Journal reported that “information about the ‘President of France” was listed on the FBI’s three-page receipt of items confiscated at Trump’s country club hide-away.

“Sacre bleu!”

But unless you believe Trump’s mutually contradictory alibis—the FBI planted the evidence, the president declassified it with his own magic decoder ring, Hillary Clinton got away with much worse, etc.—the Big Man would appear to have some explaining to do.

For Trump’s sake, it had better not take place in a federal courtroom, given the poor quality of lawyers he’s hired. (That’s what happens when you get a reputation as a deadbeat client.) Anyway, the time to petition for a Special Master to monitor the DOJ’s examination of the evidence was two weeks ago. It's just a stalling tactic now.

As for Trump’s magnanimous offer to help Attorney General Merrick Garland calm public anger after two weeks of yelling about the government’s “Gestapo” tactics, that’s particularly rich.

You do know, don’t you, that Kenneth Starr had the White House living quarters searched for Rose Law Firm billing records? Including Hillary and Chelsea’s underwear drawers. Also, when the records eventually turned up where an aide had misplaced them, they showed exactly what Hillary said they would.

As for the 30,000 “missing” emails Trump urged the Russians to find (knowing perfectly well, thanks to Wikileaks, that the Kremlin had already stolen them), they turned out to contain, according to FBI director James Comey, exactly eight containing “Top Secret” information.

Seven talked about CIA drone strikes that had already been in the newspapers. The eighth was about the secretary of state’s conversation with the president of Malawi.

And that’s why even the grandstanding Comey couldn’t find anything to charge her with.

Under what I used to call the “Clinton Rules,” however, reporters would skip over Hillary’s exoneration, scold her for acting suspicious, and move on to the next accusation.

Meanwhile, even ostensibly respectable Republicans are employing classic “whataboutism” to rewrite history in Trump’s favor. Writing in the New York Times, National Review editor Rich Lowry asks what if George W. Bush’s Justice Department had ordered Al Gore’s office searched? Would Democrats have said “Let’s wait, and see?”

Who knows? It never happened.

More tellingly, Lowry parrots Trump’s characterization of the “Russia investigation” as a “national fiasco that brought discredit on the F.B.I. and everyone who participated in it. The probe prominently featured a transparently ridiculous dossier generated by the Clinton campaign.”

This is simply false. Robert Mueller’s probe documented more than 70 meetings between Trump staffers and Kremlin operatives, including, let us recall, a sit down in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

It had almost nothing to do with the infamous “dodgy dossier.”

Trump hasn’t been charged with any crimes. But if that happens, it will be in a real courtroom, with real evidence.

The Sudden And Remarkable Resurgence Of 'Sleepy Joe' Biden

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

To readers of a certain age who grew up watching cowboy movies on TV, that timeless phrase signals a major plot development. Maybe the scheming rancher with the mustache is ordering his henchmen to saddle up. Alternately, a hero in a white hat may be entering the fray.

Either way, somebody’s about to get a surprise.

Sometimes politics works that way too.

One year ago, I posted the following on my Facebook page: “Regarding Biden's speech about the Afghan collapse: I haven't seen such passionate unanimity among the DC commentariat since they went all-in on the absolute necessity of invading Iraq.”

Pretty much from that day, Joe Biden has been depicted in the national political press as the proverbial Dead Man Walking. “Sleepy Joe” as Donald Trump dubbed him, was headed for a mid-term shellacking.

Come November 8, 2022, resurgent Republicans would take over both houses of Congress and spend the remaining two years of Biden’s futile presidency investigating his troubled son, Hunter. Maybe Hillary Clinton too.

In retrospect, the Afghan retreat wasn’t such a catastrophe after all. After Trump surrendered to the Taliban, agreeing to leave Afghanistan without consulting its U.S.-backed government, the die was cast. Biden either needed to re-escalate or get out fast. One thing you won’t hear today is anybody keen to go back in. It’s both unthinkable and un-thought.

Then came sky-high gas prices and commodity inflation, making the president’s political future look dim. No matter which channel you watched, every TV news broadcast featured somebody griping at a gas pump or bitching about expensive eggs. On supposedly liberal CNN, Wolf Blitzer practically snarled “inflation” at every Democrat he interviewed.

And it was all Biden’s fault, particularly the parts he had absolutely no control over, such as the worldwide price of crude oil.

Let’s Go, Brandon.

Back at the ranch, however, Brandon got going. Or something. Due to additional circumstances beyond the U.S. president’s control, such as China’s sputtering economy, oil prices --and with them the cost of gasoline -- began to drop. And largely due to actions by the Federal Reserve, also outside Biden’s jurisdiction, inflation began to level off.

Syndicated columnist Froma Harrop noticed the supposedly liberal New York Times—sometimes I think that should be the newspaper’s official name—giving the president grudging praise: “Slowing inflation gave Biden a reprieve but high prices remain a political problem."

Still high, yes, but moving in the right direction.

Job growth, meanwhile, remained strong. Fully 500,000 Americans found new jobs last month. The news media started to notice that the national unemployment rate had reached a 50-year low. With gas prices dropping, how long before Americans noticed that the U.S. economy is actually quite strong? In politics, momentum counts.

And then came the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, essentially ruling that citizens in different states have different constitutional rights, and that women have fewer of them than men. Kansas voters turned out in record numbers to show what middle America thought of that—an electoral thunderbolt that imperils far-right Republicans.

“The situation has changed with astonishing speed," wrote New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait. “In the span of a few weeks, Biden’s presidency is back from the dead and looking something close to triumphant.”

Even before the Democrats’ recent extraordinary legislative achievements —the Inflation Reduction Act, enacting higher taxes on profitable corporations, enabling Medicare to bargain down drug prices, giving the IRS resources to pursue wealthy tax cheats, and boosting green energy while supporting fossil fuel production in the meantime—polls had begun to show a marked shift in the Democrats’ direction.

Yes, a lot of it’s due to Sen. Joe Manchin’s extraordinary change of heart, but it was old Sleepy Joe who urged Democrats to understand where the West Virginian was coming from. Many progressive Democrats wanted to purge him. Fat lot of good that would have done.

Democrats have even gained a lead over Republicans nationwide in the so-called “generic ballot” asking voters which party they’re inclined to support in congressional elections. As the Washington Post’s Dana Millbank points out, it’s “the first time in the modern era" that “momentum has shifted toward an incumbent president’s party at this point in a midterm election year.”

Of course, polls are only polls, and anything can happen between now and November. The Biden administration has also gotten a lot of help from Republicans. Whatever possessed GOP Senators to vote against health care for veterans sickened by military “burn pits?” Or to kill legislation capping the price of insulin for diabetics?

Then there’s Old Unreliable, Donald J. Trump forcing himself into the spotlight again, the spittle-flecked face of Republican rage. So, what’ll it be, America? Steady Old Good-Government Joe or the Sideshow Ape Man, hooting and flinging feces?

America made this choice once, and decisively.

Must we really do it again?

Kansas Landslide Showed Most Americans Still Value Liberty -- And Privacy

That Kansas voted to protect abortion rights guaranteed in its state constitution didn’t surprise me, although I certainly never expected a landslide. The original “Jayhawks,” after all, waged a guerilla war to prevent Missourians from bringing slavery into the Kansas territory, a violent dress rehearsal for the Civil War. A good deal of the state’s well-known conservatism is grounded in stiff-necked independence.

In the popular imagination, Kansas has always signified heartland values and rustic virtue. Superman grew up on a farm there, disguised as mild-mannered Clark Kent. So did Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz, a spunky young woman with an adventurous spirit. But cartoonish fantasies have little to do with the real world. My favorite Kansas politician was always Sen. Bob Dole, war hero, Senate majority leader, 1996 GOP presidential nominee, and unmistakably his own man.

Pondering a photo of the then-three living ex-presidents, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon, Dole quipped “There they are: see no evil, speak no evil…and evil.”

Regardless of party, how can you not appreciate a politician like that? After the 2020 presidential election, Dole accepted Joe Biden’s victory and allowed as how he was “all Trumped-out.”

So naturally, Trump skipped his 2021 funeral. All class, that guy.

Although nominally anti-abortion during most of his career, Dole was also a realist who was leery of single-issue zealots and political purity tests. Suffice it to say they aren’t making Republicans like him anymore.

All of that is a roundabout way of saying the Kansas result shouldn’t have astonished anybody. After all, the state currently has a Democratic governor, Laura Kelly. Another Democrat, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, was elected there in 2002 and reelected in 2006. Indeed, as Stuart Rothenberg points out in Roll Call, Democrats have won four of the last eight gubernatorial contests in the state and six of the last 11.”

It follows that this blue state/red state business based strictly on presidential elections tells you relatively little about a place and its retail politics. More broadly, Justice Samuel Alito and a handful of religious zealots on the Supreme Court can argue that there’s no right to privacy in the Constitution, but they will never persuade a majority of Americans to believe it.

Specifically, how is it even the government’s affair to know who’s pregnant and who’s not? How is it yours? How is it anybody’s except the woman herself? Truly, it’s hard to imagine a more fundamental freedom than the decision whether or not to give birth.

Almost needless to say, women voters in Kansas appear to have felt this more keenly than men. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal some 33,000 new voters registered in Kansas in the weeks immediately following the court’s decision overturning Roe vs. Wade, some 70 percent of them women. That’s a lot in a state with just under two million registered voters, enough to push the state’s abortion referendum into landslide territory: 59 to 41 percent.

What the Kansas vote mainly signified to me was bedrock Americanism: essentially, “You’re not the boss of me, and it’s none of your damn business.”

“For decades,” writes the New Yorker’s John Cassidy, “the Republican Party has largely owned and exploited the language of individual liberty and freedom, even as many of its policies have favored the rich and powerful— from gunmakers to Big Pharma and Wall Street—over individual middle-class Americans.”

It's time to call their bluff. Everywhere you look these days, politicians calling themselves “conservative” are banning books, pushing teachers around, threatening school boards and businesses, suppressing voting rights, attacking the freedom to love and marry, elevating gun rights over basic human rights, and doing their best to turn American women and girls into brood mares, knocked up and locked up.

What they are is authoritarian. In a word, bullies.

Writing on Twitter, Sen. Chris Murphy, of Connecticut has some advice for fellow Democrats up for election this fall. (He’s not on the 2022 ballot.) “Run on personal freedom,” he urges. “Run on keeping the government out of your private life. Run on getting your rights back. This is where the energy is. This is where the 2022 election will be won.”

Polls show that the majority of likely voters are preoccupied with economic issues, inflation in particular. But the Kansas referendum resulted from right-wing activists seeking to impose a total ban on legal abortion: an intrusive effort to extend government control into citizens’ most intimate life decisions.

And voters there rejected it about as decisively as it’s possible to do. It appears that Americans—and for what it’s worth, Kansans are overwhelmingly white and Christian—have no wish to live in a judicially-imposed theocracy and will turn out in droves to prevent it. Overall voting totals were extremely high for a primary contest, reflecting strong motivation.

Perhaps Chris Murphy’s optimism is mistaken. But it’s definitely the right fight to have.

Why Conspiracy Theories Are Now So Lethal To Families -- And Nations

Notice how you never hear anybody talk about “the information Superhighway” anymore? The creation of the Internet marked a big advance in human ingenuity, yes. As a lifelong reader who feels claustrophobic in libraries, it’s been an enormous boon to my existence. I spend hours online every day.

The convenience of, say, being able to sit in Arkansas reading the Boston Globe’s coverage of the Red Sox over my morning coffee—What? they traded Christian Vazquez for two minor league pitchers? What were they thinking? —makes my days more rewarding. Last night, I looked up an old friend who’s still teaching at Wake Forest University—and getting rapturous student evaluations.

Much of the rest of my time online, however, I spend reading about politics. And politically speaking, the Internet is pretty much a disaster, a spewing fountain of misinformation and delusion. Novelist Scott Turow may have put it best: “The Internet has bred defiant communities of lunatics who once huddled in shamed isolation with their unsettling obsessions.”

There have always been conspiracy theorists in the United States, mostly right-wing, paranoid and racist. From the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s to the Cold War era John Birch Society, they’ve mostly been a product of loneliness, ignorance and fear of the other. The Birchers, for example, described President Dwight Eisenhower as “a dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy.” Only a traitor, you see, would have dispatched the 101st Airborne to bring about the “forced integration” of Little Rock Central High School.

It wasn’t until California gubernatorial candidate Ronald Reagan characterized the Birchers as a “lunatic fringe” in the mid-Sixties that the organization faded from view.

But even the Birch Society was relatively sane compared to the mad imaginings of QAnon, their online spiritual descendants. According to National Public Radio, “a December poll by NPR and Ipsos found that 17 percent of Americans believed that the core falsehood of QAnon — that 'a group of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media' — was true.”

Even more alarmingly, another “37 percent said they didn't know whether the baseless allegation was true or not.”

People, that’s a bare majority. Alas, there aren’t enough psychiatric wards in the country to hold them all. So, I’m hoping the second number is more a reflection of polling inadequacies and ignorance of QAnon than genuine confusion. Because otherwise, we’d all be doomed.

Let’s put on our thinking caps: Is it reasonable to think that Hillary Clinton participates in Satanic sex rituals, murders kidnapped toddlers, and drinks their blood? Or is that the delusional product of a twisted mind?

Gee, I can’t decide.

Make that many twisted minds, actually, torqued by online social media. Writing in The Atlantic, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt points out that in the Q&A portion of the manifesto he published (where else?) online, the Buffalo supermarket shooter asked himself:

“Where did you get your current beliefs?

“Mostly from the internet. There was little to no influence on my personal beliefs by people I met in person.”

The killer, Haidt points out, “could not have found such an extreme…group in his small town 200 miles from Buffalo. But thanks to social media, he found an international fellowship of extreme racists who jointly worshipped past mass murderers and from whom he copied sections of his manifesto.”

Of course, the anecdote cuts both ways. In real life, as opposed to Online Fantasyland, the Buffalo shooter found no kindred spirits. Then too, maybe I lead a sheltered life, but I don’t know a single person who would admit to believing that Hillary Clinton’s a Satan-worshipping cannibal.

Of course, I don’t go around asking.

Haidt also suspects that unhinged, unregulated social media are partly responsible for a retreat from democratic values—more tribalism, more violent rhetoric, and less respect for law—pretty much around the world.

Thanks to the growth of social media, he adds, “[p]eople could spread rumors and half-truths more quickly, and they could more readily sort themselves into homogenous tribes. Even more important…was that social-media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook could now be used more easily by anyone to attack anyone.”

Tell me about it. Back in 2016, I got threatening emails from Russian operatives claiming to have visited a defunct greasy spoon with the same Zip code as mine, gathering intelligence to hunt me down. Not Vladimir Putin’s A-team, I figured.

Maybe just as dangerous to our collective well-being as QAnon, however, is the phenomenon I’ve seen described as “The University of Facebook School of Medicine.”

Frightened by the Covid-19 epidemic, many who barely passed tenth-grade biology began doing what they called “research” online—googling loaded topics like the perils of vaccines, the miracle drug Ivermectin, and kindred myths. Disdaining “elitists,” that is, doctors, epidemiologists and public health experts, there’s no telling how many gullible souls they pushed into an early grave.

Does 'Pro-Life' Have To Be Mean And Stupid? It's Starting To Look That Way

You’d think they’d be ashamed, these self-infatuated pundits and tin horn politicians who made bogus pronouncements on Fox News and elsewhere about the ten-year-old Ohio rape victim and the Indiana doctor who mercifully ended her pregnancy.

By any rational standard, their actions were farcical and ugly. But reason has nothing to do with it. Cruelty and stupidity are exactly the point. Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, the bullies are in charge, and they’re making damn sure everybody knows it.

The episode began in the Indianapolis Star, a one-source story, to be sure, but a named source with first-hand information and a great deal on the line. Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an obstetrician-gynecologist with Planned Parenthood, had personally performed the procedure. She wanted people to understand what Ohio’s draconian new anti-abortion laws were doing: forcing a fourth-grader to flee her home state to end a potentially life-threatening pregnancy.

Now me, I had no trouble believing the Star’s account and neither did my wife. For years, Diane was an administrator at a children’s hospital. She participated in regular meetings about cases apt to draw the attention of cops or reporters. The terrible things people do to children, you never want to believe. A ten-year old rape victim would scarcely raise an eyebrow.

Indeed, after Ohio Attorney General David Yost went on Fox News to say that he hadn’t heard a whisper about such a crime, and said it was likely a “fabrication,” the Ohio Capital Journal went to work. A search of Columbus police records since March, it reported “uncovered 59 reports of sexual assaults of girls 15 and younger that, based on the information available, could have resulted in pregnancy.” Maybe Yost just wasn’t listening.

Then no sooner had President Joe Biden expressed some of his trademark empathy toward the victim--"Imagine being that little girl, ten years old” he said—than Fox News talking-heads pushed the fabrication angle. Tucker Carlson, Jesse Watters, and Laura Ingraham used terminology like “hoax” and “politically timed disinformation.” How many bamboozled viewers bought it is hard to say.

The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial headlined “An Abortion Story Too Good to Confirm.” “The tale is a potent post-Roe tale of woe for those who want to make abortion a voting issue this fall,” it said. “One problem: There’s no evidence the girl exists.”

Even Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler wrote a persnickety column expressing skepticism on the grounds that the Indianapolis Star’s version was “a very difficult story to check.”

On his Media Nation website, Dan Kennedy points out that both Kessler and the Journal studiously ignore “that the media don’t identify rape victims, let alone those who are 10.”

Most readers know what happened next. The Columbus Dispatch broke the news that the child’s rapist had been arrested, charged, and confessed to police. During his arraignment prosecutors said that his victim had become pregnant, but traveled to another state for an abortion.

The newspaper also reported that similar cases were more common than people would like to believe. Ohio health department records showed that there had been 52 abortions performed on children 15 and under there during 2020-- basically one a week. Many are rapes by definition.

So you’d think Republican politicians might have been chastened. But no. The very next day, Indiana's Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita went on—where else?—Fox News—to denounce the real villain in the story: Dr. Caitlin Bernard. He called her “an abortion activist” with a suspect history.

Rokita gave no particulars, but added that “We’re gathering the information, we’re gathering the evidence as we speak and we’re going to fight this to the end, including looking at [Bernard’s] licensure, if she failed to report. In Indiana it’s a crime…to intentionally not report.”

Big “if” pal. Is it even necessary to say that Rokita, a former GOP congressman, was talking out his…

Well, blowing smoke is a gentler way to put it.

Courtesy of Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo website, we learn “that a local Fox affiliate in Indiana was able to find out through a simple public records request that Bernard not only filed the report on the termination of the pregnancy but also reported that the patient was a victim of abuse — even though the abuse occurred not in Indiana but the neighboring state of Ohio, where it was also reported to authorities by the girl’s physician.”

Even a cursory check of public records easily available to both attorneys general would have saved them the embarrassment. A public defender who turned up in traffic court so farcically unprepared would soon be out of a job. Too many voters, however, like them mean and stupid

Soon enough, pregnant children are going to die, and women suffering miscarriages too. These laws are barbarous and the people enforcing them too filled with partisan zeal to deal with mere reality.

Far-Right Bible-Thumpers Have Already Overplayed Their Hand

Two thoughts: First, the Republican dog has finally caught the car it’s been chasing for years. A band of right-wing zealots in judge’s robes has given them the power to fulfill their reactionary daydreams. Hence their political self-destruction looks assured. It’s just a question of time. They won’t be able to help themselves.

Second, things are going to get worse, possibly much worse, before they get better. How shocking would it be, for example, to learn that a deranged young man murdered twenty citizens standing in line to vote with his trusty AR-15?

It would hardly even be surprising.

Nor to hear police explain, as Kevin Drum puts it, “that they knew there was a guy with an AR-15 hanging around outside the mall/school/courthouse but they were constrained from so much as approaching him. Hanging around a mall with an assault rifle is perfectly legal, after all.”

Because the Supreme Court says so. Never mind that the phrase “well-regulated” appears in the actual text of the Second Amendment. As I’ve pointed out in other contexts, nothing so excites the fundamentalist mind as contradicting scripture. The Founding Fathers clearly intended frequent mass shooting events. Wasn’t it Jefferson who wrote that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”?

Also, schoolchildren and parade goers, apparently.

Anyway, here’s where triumphalist Republicans are coming from, as reported by Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post. It’s Gov. Tate Reeves, of Mississippi: “Today we wake up in a state where the church doors are open and the abortion clinic’s doors are closed. All the Glory to God the Father! Amen!”

Politicians like Reeves are the reason we have a long-standing proverb over here in Arkansas: “Thank God for Mississippi.” Because whatever embarrassing statistics make us look like the 49th worst state in the union—poverty, illiteracy, child mortality, etc.--Mississippi will normally be marginally worse.

During the 50 years I’ve lived here, far-right Bible beaters have always made most of the noise during Arkansas political campaigns. And lost most of the elections. (Remember, Arkansas elected Bill Clinton governor six times; Democrat Mike Beebe was elected as recently as 2014.) People act as if “red states” are a fixed and permanent thing. Not so.

But I digress. My point is that most Americans have no ambition to live in a country where the religious right holds the high cards. Indeed, they’re almost guaranteed to rebel. In my view, the GOP has already overplayed its hand.

After some crawfishing around, I thought President Joe Biden got it right last week when he denounced the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision as "an exercise in raw political power.” He criticized Justice Samuel Alito’s written opinion “for playing fast and loose with the facts,” adding that “even 150 years ago, the common law…did not criminalize abortion early in pregnancy.”

Quite right. Biden added that the Dobbs decision "practically dares the women of America to go to the ballot box and restore the very rights they’ve just taken away.”

Ah, but will they? Rubin cites a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute that makes it seem likely. Altogether, 65 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal almost all the time.

Granted, the Republican base of white evangelical Protestants disagrees. “By contrast,” the poll reports, “64 percent of white Catholics, 69 percent of white mainline (non-evangelical) Protestants, 75 percent of Black Protestants, 75 percent of Hispanic Catholics, 82 percent of non-Christian religious Americans, and 84 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans support abortion legality in most or all cases.”

Several historians have cited the nation’s experience of Prohibition during the 1920s as an example of what can happen when moralistic zealots try to regulate people’s private behavior. Eventually, the public will rebel. To enforce the kind of national abortion ban the keener Republican moralists are proposing, writes Michael Kazin, a Georgetown University historian, “would require a very different citizenry from the one that inhabits 21st-century America.”

It wouldn’t take a whole lot of stories about “teenagers forced to bear children that resulted from rape and…health workers jailed for helping desperate poor women end their pregnancies,” Kazin thinks, to “make the anti-abortion movement seem more sadistic than virtuous.”

True enough. But corruption-riddled and widely ignored as it was, legal prohibition lasted more than a decade, from 1919 to 1933. Some of us wonder if we have that long before the authoritarians have taken control.

Republicans wielding the Senate filibuster pretty much make it impossible, short term, to pass meaningful legislation restoring women’s reproductive autonomy. So, Democrats plan to make Republican congressmen vote on smaller bills—such as one preventing states from enforcing brazenly un-American laws forbidding women from traveling out of state to end unwanted pregnancies. Put GOP congressmen on the record and make them defend their votes come November.

Will it work? Short term, doubtful.

Longer term…Well, it had better.

When Will Americans Push Back Against Tyranny Of The Minority?

In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Even so, I’m willing to go on record as saying people predicting an impending civil war or the imminent breakup of the United States are quite mistaken.

For all the turmoil and bad feeling abroad in the land, not to mention on the Internet, the things that bind Americans together as a people are far stronger than the things that divide us. Which is the main reason I believe that a partisan Supreme Court’s efforts to impose what amounts to a “tyranny of the minority” upon the nation as a whole are destined to fail.

One way or another, people just aren’t going to have it.

Now my own sense of patriotism may differ from yours. If I never again hear that dreadful, chest-beating Lee Greenwood song, it will be too soon. I’ve come to dislike the unholy racket of July Fourth celebrations almost as much as my poor terrified dogs. (Even Martin, my orange tabby sleeping companion, came running in around midnight, slinking about two inches off the floor.) The infernal noise went on for another hour.

It doesn’t help that here in Arkansas the temperature’s always somewhere between 95 and 100 on Independence Day — the absolute worst time of year.

So, when do I experience patriotic zeal? Well, March Madness, the opening weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, never fails to inspire me with Woody Guthrie-style emotion. All those striving teams from all those far-flung American places. What a wonderful country!

It’s been a while, but I used to drive every summer from Arkansas to an old friend’s ranch outside Livingston, Montana— 26 hours each way, intoxicated by the beauty of the unfolding landscape. Nothing made me happier than stopping for a greasy truck-stop breakfast somewhere in western Nebraska. Have you seen the remote beauty of the Sand Hills? You should.

Having grown up in overcrowded New Jersey, I’ve always loved wide open spaces. Accompanied by a couple of slumbering basset hounds, I’d be singing to myself all the way:

This land is your land, this land is my land.

From California to the New York island.

This land was made for you and me.

One year, I rented a cassette tape of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove from a bookstore in Cody, Wyoming for the drive home. Pulling into Little Rock two days later with a couple of hours remaining, I was tempted to roll on to Memphis just to learn how the story ended.

But here’s the problem: The seven states I drove through--Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana—have a combined 14 U.S. Senators: thirteen conservative Republicans, and Montana Democrat Jon Tester.

Their combined populations add up to roughly 12 million, give or take.

California and New York alone have around 60 million citizens between them, and just four U.S. Senators, all Democrats.

The Founding Fathers couldn’t have anticipated that any more than they could AR-15 assault rifles. There are small states that lean Democratic, yes. But the power imbalance between what H.L. Mencken called “The Cow States” and the nation’s urban population has created sustained partisan gridlock in Washington. Add the undemocratic filibuster, and it becomes increasingly difficult to get anything useful done.

Hence the tyranny of the minority.”

“Our current system,” writes Jamelle Bouie in the New York Times, “favors geography over people and the interests of the minority over those of the majority.” The January 6 insurrection along with “the partisan lawmaking of the Supreme Court have thrown those counter-majoritarian features of the American system into sharp relief.”

By overturning Roe v. Wade, the court has created a crisis of legitimacy, Bouie adds, where “the fundamental rights of hundreds of millions of Americans are functionally overturned by an unelected tribunal whose pivotal members owe their seats to a president who won office through the mechanism of the Electoral College, having lost the majority of voters in both of his election campaigns.”

As I write, several Cow State Republican governors have found themselves unable to answer reporters’ questions about whether a ten-year-old girl in Ohio should be forced to deliver her rapist’s child. Children having children.

The tyranny of the minority, indeed.

Actually, there’s no real constituency anywhere in America for such a grotesque policy. But it’s amazing none of these politicians had thought up a sensible answer. They haven’t had to, partly because the Supreme Court’s Roe ruling was written by partisan hothouse flowers with little experience of the outside world.

So now the Supreme Court has announced its intention to delve into what’s called the “independent state legislature theory,” according to which GOP-dominated legislatures could override their own states’ voters in presidential elections—pretty much what soon-to-be-disbarred Trump lawyer John Eastman tried to pull off in 2020.

One way or another, the American people won’t let that happen.

Ostentatious Public Displays Of Prayer Promote Tribalism, Not Christianity

Just one week after declaring pregnancy a sacrament, the Supreme Court announced a bold ruling in favor of performative Christianity. Never mind this tiresome business about no establishment of religion, the very holy Republican majority in their priestly robes have liberated the nation’s public school football coaches to get on with the serious business of saving souls.

Can I get an amen?

The court ruled in favor of a coach in Bremerton, Washington who had lost his lawsuit against the school board that let him go after he refused to stop holding post-game prayer meetings with his players at the 50 yard-line after high school football games. The justices held that Coach Joseph Kennedy’s showboating for Jesus was exactly like “a Christian aide…praying quietly over her lunch in the cafeteria.”

As near as I can determine, the author of the decision, Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch, never attended a public school: a total academic hothouse flower. In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor whose life experience is considerably broader, took the rare step of attaching photos from the evidentiary record by way of demonstrating that what Gorsuch characterized as private devotional moments were, in fact, public spectacles.

She added that athletic coaches have considerable influence over their young charges: “Students look up to their teachers and coaches as role models and seek their approval,” she wrote.

“Students also depend on this approval for tangible benefits. Players recognize that gaining the coach’s approval may pay dividends small and large, from extra playing time to a stronger letter of recommendation to additional support in college athletic recruiting.”

If the coach holds a prayer session, what sophomore quarterback will feel free not to drop to his knees? And if he’s a Jew, a Muslim or a Hindu? As Jay Michaelson put it in The Daily Beast, such devotionals tend to be about “as official as a fire drill.”

Remember, this is a public school, not a private religious academy.

Here’s how a Republican-appointed justice at the Ninth Circuit described the evidence in rejecting the coach’s appeal: Coach Kennedy “prayed out loud in the middle of the football field” at game’s end, “surrounded by players, members of the opposing team, parents, a local politician and members of the news media with television cameras recording the event, all of whom had been advised of Kennedy’s intended actions through the local news and social media.”

Starting with the coach’s own Facebook page. In short, he staged a religious publicity stunt at a public high school where students are supposed to be free from government-sponsored proselytizing.

Here’s what Coach Kennedy’s Lord and Savior said about theatrical displays of religiosity in Matthew 5: 5-6: “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and at street-corners that they may be seen by men… But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father…and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

No matter. Nothing more excites a certain kind of zealot more than ignoring the plain meaning of what they otherwise affirm as divinely-inspired scripture. Also, some pious exegete can no doubt be found who will construe the meaning of “your room” as “football stadium.”

Blessed are the linebackers, for they shall stand strong.

For the rest of us, the clear message of this dreary little episode is that in the United States Supreme Court, it’s not about facts and evidence. It’s about who’s got the votes. It’s as rigged as the College of Cardinals. If Justice Gorsuch describes a come-to-Jesus pep rally at a homecoming game as a quiet devotional, and if five of his like-minded colleagues agree, then ecclesiastical ceremonies can commence all across the country.

And no doubt they will, particularly in red states and rural communities where religious minorities already know their place. Because it’s only partly about religion to begin with. Mostly it’s about tribal identity: who belongs, who’s in charge, who’s a Real American, and who is merely tolerated. There is no chance—zero—that this Supreme Court would have ruled in favor of a religious minority.

And if you don’t like it, Pilgrim, well tough.

Christian nationalism is what it’s called, a perversion of both patriotism and faith. How you can tell is that Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), the second-dumbest person in the U.S. Congress, is all excited about it.

As reported in the Denver Post, Boebert told a Colorado religious gathering “the church is supposed to direct the government. The government is not supposed to direct the church. That is not how our Founding Fathers intended it.”

She spoke of her disgust with “this separation of church and state junk that’s not in the Constitution. It was in a stinking letter,”

The stinking letter, of course, was written by Thomas Jefferson.

Biden Is A National Hero, But He Shouldn't Run Again In 2024

As far as I’m concerned, Joe Biden is a national hero: the savior of our democracy, and as decent a man as has ever occupied the Oval Office. They ought to put up his statue on courthouse squares across America.

But Biden should not run for re-election in 2024.

It’s time for those of us born during the FDR administration to stand down. I’d favor a constitutional amendment requiring the president to be not just over 35 but under 75.

As fit and lively as he is—every other over-70 bicyclist I know who’s taken a fall has been hustled straight to the emergency room—Biden will be 80 on his next birthday. He’d be 82 during the 2024 campaign, and 86 at the end of his second term.

Assuming he lives that long, which Biden’s more apt to do if he’s taking walks on the beach with his grandchildren instead of flying off for stressful meetings in Saudi Arabia or South Korea.

Biden shouldn’t do it to himself, and he shouldn’t do it to the country. As I wrote in 2019 urging him not to run against Donald Trump: “Anybody in their mid-70s who tries to tell you they don’t feel the transmission slipping as time’s winged chariot draws nearer is definitely bluffing. Maybe your judgment’s sounder, but your memory’s not what it was, solving complex problems is more difficult, and new ideas are harder to absorb.”

But you know what? Biden was right about being the only Democrat who could defeat Donald Trump in 2020, and I was wrong.

Hard to believe, I know. But also a fact.

None of this is to endorse the poisonous slanders of Republicans portraying the president as a feeble-minded marionette whose strings are being pulled by George Soros, Antifa, “The Squad,” or whatever other puppeteers the right-wing imagination has conjured. If my emails are any indication, embittered Trumpists will believe anything, the crazier the better.

Joe Biden demented? Get back to me when he recommends injecting bleach as a Covid-19 cure, talks about Revolutionary War airports, or brags about imaginary big-league tryouts with Hall of Fame first-basemen.

But yes, the president’s approval ratings have sunk to near Trumpian levels. Former Obama strategist David Axlerod put it this way in a New York Times interview:

“Biden doesn’t get the credit he deserves for steering the country through the worst of the pandemic, passing historic legislation, pulling the NATO alliance together against Russian aggression and restoring decency and decorum to the White House…And part of the reason he doesn’t is performative. He looks his age and isn’t as agile in front of a camera as he once was, and this has fed a narrative about competence that isn’t rooted in reality.”

Alas, to millions of Americans, government is TV show, and they’ve always got the remote in their hands, anxious to change channels. Many have already forgotten that Biden took office in January 2021, Covid was killing thousands of Americans every day, unemployment was rampant and the economy in steep recession.

Today, the pandemic is pretty much under control, and the job market is the strongest in more than fifty years. Thanks in large part to the Democrats’ post-Covid stimulus plan, tens of millions have paying jobs who didn’t have them two years ago, and worker shortages are a serious problem in some sectors of the economy.

But, yes, rising prices are a bigger problem, even if semi-hysterical media coverage has reached downright comic proportions. My favorite blogger Kevin Drum put it this way: “High inflation is damaging, but not nearly as damaging as high unemployment. After all, would you rather have a job along with higher prices, or be unemployed with stable prices? The question answers itself.”

Unless you work for CNN, NBC and the rest. You can’t hardly turn on the TV anymore without seeing somebody fueling up a 5000-pound, $80,000 SUV and whining about the high price of gasoline.

CNN actually ran a recent news feature about the impact of expensive gasoline on the “Van Life” subculture. Datelined, Baja California, Mexico, CNN interviewed couples living in schoolbus-sized RVs on the beach but feeling the pinch. Everybody involved kept perfectly straight faces. (CNN didn’t say so, but gasoline is marginally cheaper in Mexico.)

Anyway, Mr. President, you don’t need this. You’ve done your bit.

Writing the The Atlantic, veteran correspondent Mark Liebovich put it this way: “Biden could instantly burnish his own legacy by opting out of 2024… He would be praised for knowing when to step aside, for putting the interests of his party and country before himself, and for selflessly turning things over to the next acts…. Everyone loves an elder statesman. A historic credit would be due to Joe Biden.”

You never see a Hall of Fame ballplayer retire without tears in his eyes. But when it’s time, it’s time.

The Dilemma Confronting Merrick Garland Is Worse Than You Think

None of us wants to live in the kind of country where losing an election means going to prison. Russia, for example, or the proverbial Banana Republic. Anywhere the powerful can have their freedom taken away, many fear that theirs too is in danger.

Even more oppressive, however, are regimes where the powerful enjoy absolute impunity. Equality under the law is the one right upon which all the others depend.

It follows, then, that Attorney General Merrick Garland faces the toughest of choices. Politically speaking, the only thing worse than failing to indict Donald Trump for his role in the January 6 mob assault upon the U.S. Capitol would be to charge the crazy SOB and fail to convict him.

Conspiracy charges are notoriously hard to prove.

Trump’s trial would be a legal spectacle like none before it. Jury selection alone would be a nightmare, mob violence a strong likelihood.

Too bad former Vice President Mike Pence, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and other cabinet members who talked about using the 25th amendment to remove Trump from office after the insurrection failed to follow through.

A majority vote of Trump’s cabinet signifying that he was non compos mentis on the subject of the 2020 presidential election might have given pause to all but the most delusional members of the Trump cult before their suspicions hardened into dogma.

Non compos mentis as in crazy as a loon, crazier than the proverbial outhouse rat, crazier than a bag of cats, etc. During his videotaped testimony to the committee, Trump's former Attorney General William P. Barr said, “I was somewhat demoralized because I thought, boy … he has become detached from reality if he really believes this stuff.”

When he would try to explain how bizarre some of the voter fraud allegations pushed by cranks like Rudy Giuliani and the My Pillow Guy were, Barr added, “there was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.”

Former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien told the committee that following the election, the former president’s immediate circle separated into “Team Crazy” vs. “Team Normal” and that the president had no use for the normal ones.

Mere reality, you see, has never meant much to Trump when compared to the intensity of his needs. That’s how he managed to go bankrupt running a casino; an airline, a make-believe “university,” etc. If the numbers don’t add up, he invents his own numbers, declares bankruptcy, and then cons somebody into lending him some more.

Anybody want to buy a used golf course?

In the present instance, the House Select Committee has learned that the Trump campaign solicited political donations for an “Official Election Defense Fund,” which happened not to exist.

Instead, Trump put the cash to other uses.

Same as it ever was.

So what are his needs? Well, the diagnostic criteria for “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” are as follows:

“A. Grandiose sense of self-importance or uniqueness, e.g. exaggeration of achievements and talents….

B. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance….

C. Exhibitionism: the person requires constant attention and admiration.

D. Cool indifference or marked feelings of rage, inferiority, shame, humiliation or emptiness in response to criticism…or defeat.”

Also, “entitlement,” “interpersonal exploitativeness,” and “lack of empathy.”

Sound like anybody we all know?

According to his niece, Mary L. Trump, a clinical psychologist and author of Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, Uncle Donald is essentially a textbook case.

Like his cruel, bullying father before him.

Years ago, I wrote a book called Widow’s Web about an Arkansas murderer who turned the state upside down with the help of a showboating elected sheriff and a gullible, sensationalizing news media. Best thing I’ve ever done. Anyway, for a couple of years, the exploits and bizarre alibis of Mary Lee Orsini were all anybody here talked about; another textbook case.

Here’s how I summed her up:

“Criminal psychopaths live as permanent impostors. They know right from wrong; they just don’t give a damn. Their world divides into user and used; morality consists of fear of getting caught. And whatever happens, somebody else is always to blame. To the question: Are psychopaths sick or are they evil? There is just one answer: They are both…. ‘Moral imbeciles’ was the nineteenth-century term. The prisons are full of them.”

Could Trump himself end up in prison? Frankly, I can’t imagine that happening. There’s just no telling what mad acts he and his more enraptured followers would be capable of to prevent that happening. Remember, whatever happens, somebody else is always to blame.

As the evidence accumulates of the former president’s complicity in raising a mob to prevent Congress from certifying the presidential election, Merrick Garland’s dilemma deepens. He’s no rookie, having prosecuted both “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski and Oklahoma City terror bomber Timothy McVeigh. But he’s walking into a snake’s nest now.

Whatever Happens In Midterm, The MAGA Fantasy Isn't Coming True

So, here’s my question for the MAGA crowd, one of several related questions, actually: When was America last great, and what was great about it? Also, when did it quit being great, and why?

To a skeptical observer, it often looks as if restoring the social and political arrangements of, say, Alabama in the 1950s is the movement’s goal. Black people and women in their subservient places, white Protestant men ascendant, and the Cisco Kid and Pancho the only brown people in sight.

To be fair, it’s more the Mayberry of the Andy Griffith Show most of them probably have in mind: more Opie, Aunt Bee, and Barney Fife than Gov. George Wallace and Birmingham’s racial enforcer Bull Connor. Nobody really imagines that racial segregation and police riots are coming back.

For most people, those halcyon days ended at about age twelve, around the time they started reading newspapers, watching TV news, and grokking the adult world. In childhood, life seemed simple, violence and disorder unknown. I can never hear The Judds' saccharine song Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days) on the country oldies station without thinking of Alabama’s hillbilly genius Hank Williams.

The song evokes a bygone era of innocence when “families really bowed their heads to pray/Daddies never went away.” Meanwhile, Hank Williams’ heartbroken songs about drinking, sinning, and running around evoked the world as it was. Grandpa knew, but the children of Mayberry had no idea.

Too many still don’t. Hence MAGA, a fantasy.

That’s an even more roundabout way than usual of saying that regardless of which political party prevails in the November 2022 congressional elections, it would be foolhardy to expect dramatic change of the kind MAGA enthusiasts think they want. They can cheer all they want for a gangster former president who basically called in a hit on his own running mate, but the deck remains stacked against them.

First, it’s not yet clear that Trump is going to get away with it. Should upcoming hearings by the House Select Committee on January 6 prove even halfway as shocking as predicted—a former GOP congressman working as an investigator for the committee describes the evidence as “absolutely stunning”—all Fox News’s horses and all of its men won’t l be able to save him. Also, the former president may yet face criminal indictment, if not by the Justice Department, then by a Georgia district attorney investigating his attempts to strong-arm the state’s electoral process.

A lot can happen between now and Election Day to upset Republicans’ expectations. Should the Supreme Court, as expected, overturn Roe vs Wade, in effect rendering women of childbearing age vassals of the state, voters could turn strongly against them. Many Democratic strategists favor making the 2022 election a referendum on abortion rights, an issue strong enough to overcome voter frustration over inflation and gasoline prices.

“Give us the House and two more senators,” writer Josh Marshall suggests Democrats should say, “and we will make Roe law in January 2023.”

Not that the Republicans have put forward serious plans for dealing with economic woes. Given the customary level of voter superstition that holds the sitting president and his party responsible for things over which they have almost no control—inflation and high energy costs are rampant worldwide—they may not think they need to.

But regardless of what happens in November, the real impediments to making MAGA daydreams come true are the Senate filibuster—the very thing that has stymied the Biden administration’s legislative goals--and equally decisive, the presidential veto.

“No one at the White House will say this out loud, certainly,” veteran political reporter Matt Bai writes in the Washington Post, “but the fact is that losing control of the House (and possibly the Senate) in November would instantly make the presidency a more manageable job.”

Certain aggravating congressional Democrats would lose their megaphones. Also, the last two Democratic presidents to lose control of Congress in mid-term elections were Bill Clinton in 1994 and Barack Obama in 2010. Confronting Rep. Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” Clinton issued 17 vetoes over the next two years, including most significantly in this context, a GOP bill banning so-called “partial-birth abortions.”

Clinton also faced-down a Republican-led government shutdown in the winter of 1995-96 and ended up being re-elected easily the following November.

For his part, President Obama too fought off numerous Republican attempts to repeal his signature Affordable Care Act and won easy re-election. Give these MAGA cranks “a couple of years to show us what kind of government they have in mind,” Matt Bai thinks, "and Biden will look like Abraham Lincoln by comparison.”

My own view is that although he really can’t say so until 2023, Joe Biden probably won’t run for re-election, and shouldn’t. Putting Trumpism on life support is a sufficient lifetime political accomplishment. It’s long-past time for generational change at the top of the Democratic Party.

Young White Supremacist Killers Live In A System Of Delusion

Chances are, deluded mass murderer Payton Gendron doesn’t actually know any Black people to speak of. According to the 2020 census, his home town of Conklin, New York, roughly 200 miles from the Buffalo supermarket where he acted out his deadly fantasies, has an African-American population smaller than one percent. Gendron needed to drive for hours to locate a Black neighborhood to shoot up.

No matter. The killer wasn’t shooting individual human beings. He was shooting symbols, imaginary projections in his own twisted mind.

Republican thinkers today call it “Replacement Theory,” the notion that Democrats are scheming to subvert American democracy by importing non-white immigrants to support leftist ideology. It’s the particular passion of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. The New York Times has documented more than 400 mentions on his program since 2016—keeping his audience of suspicious old coots sitting there anxiously clutching the TV remote.

There’s no sign Gendron was directly influenced by Carlson. This particular delusional system has a long history in the United States. Only the identity of the racial enemy changes. Back in the 1840s, it was my own Irish Catholic forbearers that threatened to contaminate the nation’s precious bodily fluids. According to the Know Nothing party, the Pope was conspiring to destroy America’s Protestant democracy by flooding the country with Irish and German immigrants.

Blacks, of course, were already here centuries earlier. Indeed, the Know Nothings died out as a political party partly because they could never agree about slavery. Abraham Lincoln once wrote a private letter to a friend explaining why he couldn’t join the movement: “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equals, except negroes and foreigners and Catholics.’”

Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was a Know-Nothing as well as a Confederate sympathizer.

The idea of subversive immigrants has never gone away. The Ku Klux Klan exploited many of the same impulses; so did George Wallace’s “American Independent Party” in 1968. More recently, Donald Trump’s “Birther” movement portrayed President Barack Obama as racially and religiously unfit. Indeed, Obama’s election caused millions of bigots to lose their collective minds.

What’s more, you don’t have to be an exponent of Critical Race Theory to notice that as other immigrants (such as the Irish) become honorary white people, Blacks remain permanently suspect to the kinds of losers and lone dementos who populate the fringes of the online, nativist far right.

Which brings us back to 18-year-old Payton Gendron with his soldier costume, his largely-plagiarized 180-page manifesto, and his arsenal of semi-automatic rifles. He’s too young to buy a six-pack, but Gendron had no difficulty arming himself like a one-man infantry platoon.

It’s entirely mad, yes, but it’s also the American Way: The Second Amendment as a constitutional death pact.

“White supremacy is a poison,” President Biden said in an impassioned speech in Buffalo, “and it’s been allowed to fester and grow right in front of our eyes. No more.”

Well, it’s a nice thought.

Alas, I fear that for a substantial fraction of the population, race remains a key component of American identity. Gendron’s online manifesto shows that he avidly consumed what I call “race porn.” In his fractured mind, he saw himself as a heroic figure, linking himself with mass shooters worldwide: the 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand, shooter, who killed 51 Muslims in a mosque; the punk white supremacist who murdered nine Black parishioners in Charleston, S.C in 2015., the anti-Semite who slaughtered eleven Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, and the shooter who killed 23 people in 2019 an El Paso Walmart in an effort to defeat the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

Saner minds, of course, recognize these deadly sad sacks for what they are: fearful weaklings whose only legacy is sorrow and destruction.

Meanwhile, what is there to say about cynical opportunists like Tucker Carlson and his Fox News colleagues who peddle this poison for fun and profit? Laura Ingraham, also a prime-time Fox News host, tells viewers that Democrats are conspiring to “replace you, the American voters, with newly amnestied citizens and an ever-increasing number of chain migrants.”

Supposedly, it’s Hollywood celebrities and shadowy billionaires who are behind the unholy scheme.

Author Ann Coulter peddles the same line. One of her recent books was titled Adios, America: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole. GOP politicians such as J.D. Vance, Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene have gotten aboard as well.

One prominent Republican has dissented. “The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-Semitism,” Rep. Liz Cheney tweeted. “History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse.”

Painting imaginary targets on real people for self-intoxicated young men to shoot.

The 'Great Cuckold' Who Inspired Alito's Contemptuous Opinion

Think about it this way: If Justice Samuel Alito gets his way, and the Trumpist Supreme Court majority voids Roe vs. Wade, many states will be forced to begin criminal investigations of women who suffer miscarriages. Don’t give me that crying act, sweetheart. In this state, abortion is murder.

After all, it’s not as if the police have anything better to do.

Exactly how the authorities are supposed to know who’s pregnant to begin with is a tricky question. Maybe doctors will be required to turn them in. Call them “mandatory reporters,” like teachers who encounter child abuse.

And what about those home pregnancy tests? Maybe they’ll need to be taken under official supervision. Perhaps pharmacists can be deputized.

Hippocratic Oath be damned.

In the spirit of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Republican state legislators are considering prosecuting women who travel, say, from Missouri to Illinois for legal abortions. Can we expect Texas to administer pregnancy tests at the Mexican border—going and coming? Otherwise, there could be as many gynecologists as cut-rate dentists in Juarez.

Look, if all this sounds like a bad joke, I wish it were. Most Americans believe that there’s a right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution. The very austere Justice Alito, however, assures us that’s not so. His draft opinion overturning Roe vs. Wade, the 50-year-old Supreme Court precedent granting American women reproductive freedom, astringently points out that the word “abortion” does not appear in the text.

Of course, neither do the words “cellphone” or “woman.” Women participated in the Constitution’s, pardon the expression, gestation not at all. They played no role in 18th century American political life—one of the many reasons Constitutional “originalism” makes so little sense. Slavery too.

The overall tone of Alito’s draft opinion was best described by Adam Serwer in The Atlantic: "Alito’s writing reflects the current tone of right-wing discourse: grandiose and contemptuous, disingenuous and self-contradictory, with the necessary undertone of self-pity as justification."

In my view, turning government over to law school all-stars was never a good idea. Rationalizing the irrational is what they do. Indeed, I suspect Alito himself is as good a suspect as any for who leaked the fool thing to the media, placing maximum pressure on his colleagues to affirm it.

And speaking of irrationality, Alito’s 92-page opinion relies for much of its historical analysis on 17th century English jurist Matthew Hale, who pronounced the abortion of a “quick child” a “great crime.” (A “quick child” is a fetus whose mother can feel its movements, that is, five or six months along.) Polls show most Americans would agree, but more about that to come.

Among historians and legal scholars, Matthew Hale is notorious for having also decreed that a man can’t rape his wife, as a woman cedes property rights to her womb at marriage. He also presided over one of England’s most notorious witchcraft trials in 1662, sentencing two elderly widows to be hanged.

Some learned authority, no?

Hale's 17th century biographer John Aubrey wrote that the eminent jurist’s first wife “made a great cuckold of him,” but that’s neither here nor there, and I’m ashamed of myself for mentioning it. For whatever cause, he definitely had an attitude about women.

The main reason Americans think there’s a right to privacy is the Fourth Amendment, which affirms that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

Think about it: What could possibly be a person’s own damn business more than the decision of whether or not to bear a child? Do you really want the government to monitor your neighbor's intimate life? Your own? If you’re like most Americans, no, you pretty much don’t.

So often in the forefront, Oklahoma has already imprisoned a woman who had a miscarriage after taking illegal drugs—a Native American woman, naturally. It’s hard to imagine them investigating debutantes.

Regardless, polls have shown that the great majority agrees with Bill Clinton’s formulation that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” More than two-thirds of respondents told a 2018 Gallup poll that they wouldn’t like to see Roe v. Wade reversed. Most favor little or no restriction on first trimester abortion, but feel quite differently about late term procedures—pretty much the standard courts have established in the decades since 1973.

Now minority leader Mitch McConnell tells reporters that a post-Alito Republican Senate “certainly could legislate in that area.” Which can only mean, Michael Tomasky deduces in The New Republic, “that Republicans are contemplating a federal law to make abortion illegal—everywhere.”

New York, California, everywhere.

And what then? President Biden vetoes it, the 2024 presidential turns on it, and the USA ruins a lot of women’s lives and tears itself to pieces.