The Political Press Should Stop Playing Fortune Teller -- And Just Report

The Political Press Should Stop Playing Fortune Teller -- And Just Report

Here is my big prediction for November, 2024: the Arkansas Razorbacks will not lose to Alabama in football.

The two teams don’t play each other.

Otherwise, I’ll leave the prognostication to the football-obsessed guys on SportsTalk radio. In Little Rock, where I live, they talk of nothing else for weeks and months at a time. As a card-carrying Yankee living in SEC country, I’ve long wondered what is wrong with these people? It’s pretty much all college football, all the time. Many act as if their lives depend upon it.

Even as a guy who begins every day with the sports page, married to a (baseball) coach’s daughter who thinks it’s normal to watch a ballgame pretty much every day, and who often watches with me, these people wear me out. It’s one reason I’ve made relatively few friends among Southern men.

Hey, y’all, lighten up. It’s supposed to be fun. You know, a game.

When it comes to guessing the future, however, even the most perfervid SEC football fan has nothing on the national political press. Day after day, we’re told who’s trending up or down, and which candidate is most apt to win the 2024 presidential election. Pollsters are treated like oracles, seers who can envision future political events and tell us what’s going to happen.

The cable TV news networks are, if anything, even worse. With hours to fill every day, they bring us oddsmakers and necromancers of every kind and description, pronouncing upon who’s trending up, down and sideways. Has Nikki Haley edged ahead of Ron DeSantis? How is Joe Biden trending today as compared to yesterday? Literally. Political websites such as and Real Clear Politics consist of little else.

And yet the most remarkable thing about the lot, as my old friend James Fallows has pointed out on his “Breaking the News” Substack, is how relentlessly wrong most of them are most of the time. Never mind the widely predicted congressional “Red Wave” of 2022 which simply failed to materialize. Consider this month's election results in Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia.

In the supposedly “red” state of Ohio, voters passed an amendment by a strong margin putting reproductive rights into the state’s constitution. In equally red Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear was re-elected easily over a Trump-endorsed opponent, while Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s plan to push for a 15-week abortion ban in Virginia was stymied when voters there turned over both houses of the state legislature to Democrats.

None of these results was widely forecast to happen.

The Ohio abortion-rights referendum, Fallows writes “was one of many ‘surprisingly’ large victories for Democrats and progressives in post-2016 elections, and of similarly ‘unexpected’ setbacks for GOP culture-warriors once exposed to voters outside the MAGA base. What should the press learn from these repeated surprises?”

Basically, to quit playing fortune teller and do some real reporting about what’s going on in the country. “The political press” Fallows notes “is very bad at forecasting how elections will turn out. Its track record is worse than for other professional groups whose supposed expertise is predicting future outcomes. Weather forecasters, let’s say. Or bookies. Or economic analysts or military strategists. And the gap appears to be widening. Weather forecasts are stunningly more precise than a generation ago. Political prognostications seem if anything worse.”

Consider, for example, the big play given by the New York Times to a poll published one year before the 2024 election showing Joe Biden losing to Donald Trump in a half-dozen “swing” states. (Going back to the Clinton administration, you can pretty much depend on the allegedly liberal newspaper to rain on any Democratic parade.)

Fallows brings history to bear on the topic. In 1983, for example, Ronald Reagan trailed Democrat John Glenn by eight points according to Gallup. In 1984, he won a thunderous majority.

In 1995, polls gave Bill Clinton little chance of being re-elected. He won by nine points in 1996.

According to Gallup, Barrack Obama trailed a “generic Republican” rival by eight points one year before the 2012 election. He defeated Mitt Romney comfortably.

None of which means Joe Biden has re-election in the bag. What it does show is that telephone polls have never meant much this far out from an election, and that given peoples’ widespread reluctance to answer unknown callers, they’re now probably less useful than ever. You’d do about as well using wooly bear caterpillars or persimmon seeds to predict the winter weather. Huckleberry Finn’s magic hairball also comes to mind.

Given the number of imponderables out there in the world—the U.S. economy, the Hamas-Israeli war, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and so on —expending time and energy on political opinion polls would be sheer folly. Better some real reporting about what’s going on in people’s lives and how they’re coping than the latest horse race tips from Fox News or CNN.

Gene Lyons is a former columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, a winner of the National Magazine Award, and co-author of The Hunting of the President.

troubled Trump

Biden May Have Lost A Step -- But Trump Is Dazed, Confused And Kooky (VIDEO)

So here’s my story: I’m a year younger than President Biden, two years and change older than Donald Trump. Healthwise, I’ve always been lucky. Having turned 80 last September, it’s still all systems go.

My most annoying physical disability is called plantar fasciitis, in vernacular terms a sore heel that comes and goes. There are basically two treatments: no more walking in Crocs, and stretching. Given the rate at which my contemporaries are vanishing over the event horizon, it’s practically a blessing.

But I do keep forgetting the term “plantar fasciitis,” and have to consult my wife or Google from time to time to recall it.

A couple of weeks ago, I drove the whole gang down to the Dog Park for their daily outing. It’s mandatory. They all four know exactly what time it is, and when we’re supposed to go.

No Dog Park, no peace. The excitement grows as get closer, ending in a crescendo of canine vocalization. The big dog, Aspen, allegedly a collie/Great Pyrenees mix I’m beginning to think is more husky than collie, points his nose at the sky and howls like a wolf. The two basset hounds mimic him. Marley, the cowboy corgi and the brains of the operation, yaps maniacally.

Getting them safely through the gate without breaking your own leg can be a challenge.

So the reader will perhaps understand how I came to leave the key in the ignition and the motor running for the duration of our two hour visit the other day. Given the rate of auto break-ins and pilferage, it’s a wonder the vehicle was still there—although it does have rather a pungent odor.

Even so, the blunder left me shaken. I felt like an idiot.

I also no longer drive on the freeway. I simply don’t see well enough to go 70 miles per hour. I’ve lost confidence.

So no, somebody like me does not need to be president.

And neither, I’m afraid, does Joe Biden. Yes, he has aides to define plantar fasciitis as necessary, and doesn’t do a lot of his own driving anymore. The contrived videos they show constantly on Fox News very much exaggerate his verbal and physical slips. Anybody can trip. Saying “Iraq” when you mean “Ukraine” is also understandable, so long as you correct yourself.

That said, although he appears in excellent health, the odds of Biden’s remaining hale and hearty for five more years are worsening by the day.

Nobody wants to see the 25th amendment invoked, least of all, I should think, the president himself.

Then there’s Trump. Chances are, as former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, also a one-time U.S. Attorney, tried to inform jeering Republican loyalists recently, that the former president will be a convicted felon, and possibly an inmate in a federal penitentiary by Election Day 2024.

But even if he escapes conviction, Trump’s own age-related infirmities have become ever more visible of late, to the point where even some Republicans have begun to notice. In speeches he babbles, confusing names and places and stumbling over words on the teleprompter. During recent court testimony, Trump alibied that he’d been too busy managing foreign affairs crises to pay serious attention to a 2021 financial statement.

Nice try.

But in 2021, of course, Trump was no longer president.

ABC News’ Jonathan Karl has pointed out that until quite recently, the former president has gotten a free ride, as our esteemed national media can only imagine one gaffe-prone politician at a time. The former president, he noted “confuses basic facts, says some rather strange things, but there isn’t much attention paid.”

But leave it to that great humanitarian Ron DeSantis to step in. Professing to be sad to see the great man stumble, his campaign posted an online compilation of “fumbles, accidents and confused moments” by Trump so far this year. Taken together, it’s almost shocking even to a connoisseur of the former president’s manifest incompetence like myself.

It's one thing, for example, for Trump to confuse the Catholic strongman of Hungary (Viktor Orban) with the Muslim dictator of Turkey (Recep Tayip Erdogan.) His subsequent remarks, moreover, made it clear that he has no idea where each country is located on a world map—claiming they both border on Russia. Neither does.

Trump confused the Bush brothers, blaming Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for invading Iraq. Um, that would be former President George W. Bush.

He boasted of having defeated President Barack Obama in 2016, and claimed that only he could prevent World War Two, which even most Trump supporters know ended in 1945, a year before he was born.

Trump gave an effusive greeting to GOP voters in Sioux Falls, South Dakota while actually speaking in Sioux City, Iowa. Understandable, perhaps.

But if Biden had done it?

No wonder, DeSantis says, Trump’s handlers won’t let him debate.

But then why would he?

Gene Lyons is a former columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, a winner of the National Magazine Award, and co-author of The Hunting of the President.

Mike Johnson

Does Johnson Really Believe All That 'Biblical' Shuck And Jive? Nah

Everybody in the South has known somebody like House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA): an amiable, polite, well-dressed religious crackpot who’s either completely out of his mind or pretends to be for career purposes. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

If you’re an ambitious politician someplace like his hometown of Shreveport, there’s no penalty for professing belief in all manner of absurdities calculated to reassure God-intoxicated true believers in backwoods churches that you’re one of them. Everybody understands, especially the people who put up the money.

There’s nothing in the Bible, for example, that compels Johnson to profess disbelief in climate change—although he could probably manufacture something, if challenged. There are, however, plenty of oil and gas wells around the Ark-La-Tex, as the area around Shreveport and Texarkana is called, and the people who own them mean to extract every cubic centimeter from the ground and turn it into cash. The bulk of Johnson’s campaign funds come from the petrochemical industry.

Never mind that finding oil requires hiring geologists that understand the actual age of the earth, some 13.8 billion years, rather than the 6600 decreed by Answers in Genesis, the Kentucky theme-park Johnson once represented, with its life-sized Noah’s Ark exhibit and sea-faring brontosauruses. The congressman has insisted that the Bible story represents historical truth.

It’s the same with evolution. As a creationist, does he take his children to physicians who reject biological science as a Satanic lie? Even in Shreveport, those can be hard to find. So, it’s all a shuck and a jive. Almost everybody who’s been to college—Johnson has two degrees from Lousiana State University—understands the rules of the game, and everybody plays along.

In media interviews, Johnson is anything but shy about advertising his piety, recently describing himself to Fox News propagandist Sean Hannity as “a Bible-believing Christian.” To understand his views, he said “pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.”

A skeptic might observe that Scripture has been interpreted in rather a lot of different ways over the centuries. To Johnson, however, it’s only in Southern Baptist churches in North Louisiana that perfect fealty to God’s word has been achieved. All others are heretics or worse.

Also during his interview with Hannity, however, Johnson displayed a newfound willingness to accept political reality. He told his host that gay marriage is a settled issue and that there’s no national consensus on abortion. In the past, he has blamed legal abortion for mass shootings: also, feminism, no-fault divorce laws, and the “sexual revolution.”

"When you break up the nuclear family, when you tell a generation of people that life has no value, no meaning, that it’s expendable,” he told a New York magazine interviewer in 2015, “then you do wind up with school shooters.”

Because to the fundamentalist mind, only two possibilities exist. Either you agree with them on every issue, or you’re “of the devil” and an enemy of God. Indeed, Johnson has compared same-sex marriage to the right of "a person to marry his pet."

Which come to think of it…

Who starts purring madly when I climb into the marital bad at night? My wife or Martin the cat? Who gets up early to read the newspaper, and who stays wedged by my side? Have I chosen the wrong gender and species?

But I digress. Rep. Johnson claims firmer views. See, when the U.S. Constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” it really means that Protestant fundamentalism rules.

Similarly, when Thomas Jefferson wrote that “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are 20 gods or no God,” he really meant to establish a Biblical republic based upon a literalist reading of scripture. That this is absurdly ahistorical matters hardly at all. It’s called “Christian Nationalism,” and millions in the so-called Red States have chosen to believe it.

Theirs is an embattled faith. According to Johnson, “it is only and always the Christian viewpoint that is getting censored. The fact is the left is always trying to shut down the voices of the Christians.”

And yet God has elevated a champion. “I believe God has ordained and allowed each one of us to be brought here for this specific moment,” he said during his first speech upon being elected Speaker.

And that champion’s main purpose, he has made clear, will be elevating, Donald J. Trump, that thrice-married, career adulterer, pussy-grabber and adjudicated rapist to the presidency. Johnson was one of the prime movers among GOP congressmen trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election, crafting absurd legal arguments even the Republican-majority Supreme Court rejected out of hand.

Think about it: Trump re-installed in the White House.

Wouldn’t that be a glorious day for the Lord?

Gene Lyons is a former columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, a winner of the National Magazine Award, and co-author of The Hunting of the President.

Iowa's Little Tyrants Have Actually Banned Orwell's ​​​"1984," Because Sex​​​

Iowa's Little Tyrants Have Actually Banned Orwell's ​​​"1984," Because Sex​​​

Show me a book-banner, and I’ll show you a would-be tyrant. The same applies to individuals who seek to promote mandatory speech: What you’re forbidden to read; what you must say. Almost always, such efforts involve everybody’s favorite pastime: judging the intimate lives of others.

Here in Arkansas, Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently went to war against what she described as “woke nonsense” supposedly belittling real women like herself, a mother of three. Arguing that “the left” has “decided ‘woman’ is a dirty word” she issued an executive order—in Iran they’d call it a fatwa—banishing from public documents a bunch of words nobody’s ever seen there.

Rather than “chestfeeding,” Sanders decreed, public documents must use “breastfeeding.” Instead of, “birthing person,” they should say “birth mom.” And so on. During her press conference, the governor became annoyed with a reporter who asked where she’d found the forbidden terms. She cited a Health Department statement warning “pregnant people” to avoid contaminated water.

Good advice, most would think.

Skeptics wondered if Sanders might be trying to distract voters from a ludicrous controversy involving the state’s purchase of a $19,000 lectern from her own PR consultants, not previously known to sell office furniture. Some have noticed that the cost—several times what a similar item sells for on Amazon—closely matches the round-trip, business class airfare from Little Rock to Paris, where the same consultants recently enjoyed the governor’s hospitality during a French air show.

But nobody knows, and the absurd controversy, also involving suspect emails and doctored invoices, goes on even as Gov. Sanders safeguards Arkansas women from “woke” jargon nobody’s ever heard.

Up in Iowa, meanwhile, that state’s aggressively “Christian” governor has signed a bill requiring public schools to remove books depicting a “sex act”—vague language that, as reported by Greg Sargent in the Washington Post, has sent librarians around the state into a fear-based frenzy of book banning.

A short list of classic novels removed from school libraries around Iowa includes Ulysses by James Joyce, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Brave New Worldby Aldous Huxley, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and Forrest Gump by Winston Groom.

But the one that really caught my eye was George Orwell’s 1984, the anti-totalitarian classic and the most politically influential novel of the 20th century—unless it was Orwell’s Animal Farm—and one that until quite recently was required reading on high school curricula. I’d go so far as to say that an enemy of that book is an enemy of democracy.

But yes, Orwell believed that the thing that would most horrify readers about Big Brother’s tyrannical government was its intrusion into peoples’ intimate relations. So 1984 tells the story of a doomed love affair between the protagonist, Winston Smith, a re-write man in the Ministry of Truth who alters historical documents to agree with party dogma, and Julia, a co-worker who wears the sash of the “Junior Anti-Sex League” to disguise her secret life.

Their clandestine meeting in the woods outside London is described in terms suitable for a family newspaper: “Their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory,” Orwell wrote. “It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act.”

Alas, there’s a video screen in their slum hideaway so the lovers get arrested and tortured for their sins. 1984 is anything but an endorsement of eroticism.

No matter, the book is banned from Iowa schools, about as sinister and farcical a literary event as one can imagine.

Do the pious religious exhibitionists of Iowa imagine that adolescents are being corrupted by reading novels in the library? Do they not understand that most are carrying internet-capable cell phones in their pockets? If they want to read Orwell or watch pornography during study hall, that will be no problem.

Not that pious conservatives are the only literary scolds on the scene. I have recently spent the better part of two weeks enthralled by Robert Galbraith’s 941-page epic The Running Grave: A Cormoran Strike Novel, and regret only that it’s over. Show me a man who hasn’t got a crush on the British detective’s resourceful partner, Robin Ellacott, and I’ll show you a man who has never loved an imaginary woman.

Galbraith, of course, is the pseudonym of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, probably the best-selling English novelist in history. But you won’t find The Running Grave reviewed in any of the usual places, because the author has sinned against left-wing dogma on “transgender” issues and been relegated to “un-person” status among the bookish.

It all started in a dispute over whether a transgendered woman who’d committed rapes as a man should be incarcerated among biological women in a Scottish prison. Rowling thought not, and as she appears to rather enjoy public controversy, has made herself a pariah on the gender-obsessed left.

It’s always people’s sex lives, isn’t it?

Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner, a former columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and co-author of The Hunting of the President.

Israel Wants Revenge On Hamas -- But Netanyahu Shares The Blame

Israel Wants Revenge On Hamas -- But Netanyahu Shares The Blame

For all his personal eccentricity, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats said it best in his 1919 poem The Second Coming. In the wake of Hamas’s monstrous atrocity against Israeli civilians, it appears that “the best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are filled with passionate intensity.”

Which is exactly how the murdering lunatics of Hamas, would-be suicidal martyrs, wanted it. The instinct is for tribal revenge. “We are fighting human animals,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in announcing Israel’s intention to cut off electrical power, wate,r and food to Gaza’s civilian population as its bombing campaign began.

Beasts, that is, not human beings.

Traveling Israel in the immediate aftermath of the massacre, New York Times correspondent Isabel Kirshner found author Dorit Rabinyan, whose 2014 autobiographical novel All the Rivers, sparked controversy by describing a love affair between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian Muslim man.

Now, however, Rabinyan seeks revenge.

“I know it’s not noble of me,” she told the reporter. “I know there is suffering on the other side, but the other side took hostages and slaughtered so violently, with so much passion, that my compassion is somehow paralyzed.”

The novelist doubtless speaks for millions of Israelis, those who consider Prime Minister Netanyahu a bigot and a fraud, and who protested his Likud government’s policy of encouraging so-called “settlers” to seize Palestinian property in the West Bank and expel impoverished former owners to Gaza, the world’s largest prison camp.

Tribal instincts once aroused are hard to subdue.

Perennially warlike Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton was even less ambivalent. “As far as I’m concerned, Israel can bounce the rubble in Gaza,” the Republican lawmaker told Fox News, “Anything that happens in Gaza is the responsibility of Hamas—Hamas killed women and children in Israel last weekend.”

Exterminate all the brutes, he may as well have said.

And then what?

Messianic and insane, Hamas hopes to provoke Israel into committing crimes against humanity. Its goal is not so much to liberate Palestine as to exterminate Jews. The terror group’s charter recapitulates every anti-Semitic slur dreamed up since the Middle Ages. Hamas blames Jews for everything from the French and Russian revolutions to World War Two—all part of a Jewish conspiracy to usher in that ancient delusion. One World Government.

Me, I’ve never encountered a Jewish person naïve enough to believe such a preposterous fantasy was either possible or desirable.

Based upon his own history, there’s no reason to think Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can restrain himself from a massacre of innocents. He’s too compromised, too captivated by Israeli religious fanatics, too weak.

(Indeed, even as I write, news comes that Israel may have bombed a hospital in Gaza, killing hundreds of civilians—if true, a war crime worthy of Vladimir Putin. Israel's defense ministry denied bombing the hospital and said that a misfired Hamas or Islamic Jihad rocket caused the explosion.)

While it’s hardly mentioned by American cable news channels promoting “Israel at War,” the Times of Israel has reported that the Egyptian government says it gave pointed warnings to Netanyahu that Hamas was planning a big attack, and that he basically blew them off. He claims it never happened. It appears, however, that the embattled Prime Minister, facing trial on criminal corruption charges, may have imagined that a terrorist attack would make him stronger.

“For years,” the newspaper explained, “the various governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu took an approach that divided power between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank—bringing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to his knees while making moves that propped up the Hamas terror group.”

The idea was to weaken Palestinian moderates trying to negotiate a “Two-State solution” while trying to buy off Hamas fanatics. Netanyahu was quoted at a Likud party function in 2018 “saying that those who oppose a Palestinian state should support the transfer of funds to Gaza, because maintaining the separation between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza would prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Haaretz, Israel’s oldest newspaper, editorialized: “The disaster that befell Israel on the holiday of Simchat Torah is the clear responsibility of one person: Benjamin Netanyahu.” The prime minister, they wrote, failed by “establishing a government of annexation and dispossession…while embracing a foreign policy that openly ignored the existence and rights of Palestinians.”

According to Noga Tarnopolsky in the New York Times, “[f]ormer prime minister and former Israeli army chief Ehud Barak blamed Netanyahu on Sunday for ’the greatest failure in Israel’s history.’ That same day, Moshe Yaalon, an opposition legislator and former Israeli army chief of staff, said in an interview that ‘every day that Netanyahu remains in power puts Israel in danger.’”

Party politics aside, in a small country like Israel, these are widely-respected figures of real authority. Polls show that Netanyahu’s support has cratered.

If he had any integrity, the Prime Minister would resign, and take his arrogant and stupid policy of playing games with homicidal lunatics with him.

Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of The Hunting of the President.

Mike Huckabee

Why Violent Threats Are Driving Our Politics Now

Maybe I’m losing my mojo. For all the chatter about political violence out there, this column hasn’t drawn a death threat in months. Maybe not even this calendar year.

They used to come in fairly regularly. One time, a junior high gym teacher in Pennsylvania said he was coming to get me over a smart-aleck joke about the baleful effects of civics education by football coaches. Another guy used to send handwritten letters threatening to rape and mutilate my wife.

Then there was the Special Forces veteran who imagined I’d written something disrespectful about Irish Catholics. (There are a lot more war heroes among angry emailers than the public at large, I’ve noticed.) Perhaps intemperately, I advised him to get lost.

“Your basically a coward,” he responded.

What is it about right-wing soreheads and apostrophes, I wonder? MANY ALSO PREFER TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES IN ALL CAPS. Another mystery. I see something written that way, I press delete. Doesn’t everybody?

But let’s get serious. Out in the real world, there’s growing evidence that threats of violence are playing an increasing role in political decision-making. No less an eminence than Mike Huckabee — onetime Baptist preacher, former Arkansas governor, current TV quack-remedy peddler — has warned that unless Donald Trump is declared the winner of the 2024 presidential contest, the nation will turn from “ballots to bullets” to settle the issue.

TV preachers just love alliterative wordplay, which rarely fails to arouse the influential Moron-American community.

In Little Rock, the Huckster’s daughter, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, recently failed to overhaul the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which was supposedly necessary to protect her family from threats from “the radical left.” (In Arkansas, the radical left is anybody that believes in speed limits and stop signs.) Cynics thought Sanders was more aggravated by the Blue Hog Report, a blog that used the law to show that she’d commandeered a state police airplane to travel from Fayetteville to Rogers — adjoining cities. Documented flight time: 11 minutes. Queen Sarah, some call her.

Anyway, the GOP-dominated state legislature denied Sanders her FOIA overhaul, passing a significantly scaled-down version instead.

More seriously, though, Sen. Mitt Romney says that his recently announced retirement from politics results, in part, from an increasing barrage of death threats. Romney told biographer McKay Coppins that he’d recently been forced to spend $5,000 a day on private security for his family.

According to Coppins, as quoted in The Atlantic: “One Republican congressman confided to Romney that he wanted to vote for Trump’s second impeachment, but chose not to out of fear for his family’s safety. The congressman reasoned that Trump would be impeached by House Democrats with or without him — why put his wife and children at risk if it wouldn’t change the outcome?”

Put that way, it’s hard not to sympathize. It’s one thing to be an obscure newspaper columnist who goes unrecognized at the dog park, and another to be a Washington politician whose face appears on national TV.

Almost needless to say, these threats emanate almost entirely from the spiritual descendants of Oklahoma City truck bomber Timothy McVeigh: racially obsessed white nationalists. Former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney has spoken of similar fears, as has former Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer. Both aroused right-wing ire by speaking out against the Trump-inspired MAGA rioting at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

No need to kid ourselves about where it’s coming from. Pretty much all mass shooters turn out to be infected with right-wing dogma. According to Philip Bump in the Washington Post, “Analysis from the Anti-Defamation League published this year found that, in the past five years, there have been more than 170 deaths linked to right-wing extremism. Three have been linked to extremism on the left.”

Last year, Sen. Lindsey Graham predicted that there would be “riots in the streets” if Trump was indicted for willfully and deliberately storing top-secret nuclear weapons documents in a publicly accessible country club bathroom. Trump himself, of course, was only too happy to amplify the remark. He continues to hint that outrage about his upcoming criminal trials will spark violence.

And yet nothing has happened. Why? Well, at the expense of sounding like a pre-Trump conservative, because the authorities have been ready. In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot, two things have become clear: First, you’ll lose the battle; second, you’ll end up doing serious time in a federal prison.

All the plotting and posing by Proud Boys chieftain Enrique Tarrio got him 22 years in the slammer.


Look, this is America. Of course, there will be violence. Shocking, sickening violence. But the Trump/McVeigh faction is still going to lose.

Reprinted with permission from Sun Times.

No, Biden Isn't Terribly Unpopular (And He Polls Better Than Trump)

No, Biden Isn't Terribly Unpopular (And He Polls Better Than Trump)

Time was when getting caught in a malicious lie about a rival would have ended an American politician’s career. We no longer live that way. Just the other day, Donald Trump unleashed a series of falsehoods attacking President Biden that would have shamed a carnival barker.

Speaking to a rally in South Dakota, Trump delivered a series of mocking claims, beginning with the allegation that the administration was using made-up jobs numbers when the truth is that only 2.1 million jobs have been created during the president’s 30 months in office. The actual statistics show somewhere over 13 million—including near-record growth in GDP (Gross Domestic Product) during the recovery from the 2020 Covid slump.

Then Trump got personal. “He makes up these stories, like there’s a picture of a fighter jet…[mocking] You know like ‘I used to be a fighter jet pilot.’ Then there’s a picture of a truck. ‘I used to drive a truck.’ The worst is, did you ever see his golf swing? He said he’s a six-handicap! A six handicap is a good golfer. This guy can’t hit a ball… I think that’s the biggest lie of all, if you want to know the truth.”

Trump shakes his head in feigned disbelief as the crowd laughs and applauds. (Never mind that there’s a best-selling book by veteran sportswriter Rick Reilly called Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump describing how he races down fairways in his golf cart, kicks opponent’s balls into ponds, drops his own onto the green, etc. Filled with interviews of golf pros and caddies, it’s actually quite funny.)

So is Trump’s performance, or would be if you didn’t know—South Dakota isn’t exactly a golfing hotbed—that every single word of it is a malicious lie. Joe Biden has never claimed to be a truck driver or a fighter pilot. Don’t you think you’d have heard?

Biden has mostly made self-deprecating jokes about his golf game, commenting that “the course record remains intact” after his initial outing as president. Back in 2018 he carried a USGA handicap of 6.7, according to Golf News Net, which is pretty good—no surprise as Biden was an accomplished athlete as a young man. But he’s never boasted about it.

Anyway, who cares? As a politician, Trump himself is treated by audiences and reporters alike as a stand-up comic. Which would be fine if he stuck to stage performances. Alas, polls show that millions of gullible Americans believe even the most absurd of his inventions. Deep-thinking pundits are writing columns about Biden’s great unpopularity, which reality-oriented blogger Kevin Drum shows is largely a function of false memories.

I like Drum because he’s an engineer by training who lives in Orange County, California and is congenitally immune to inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom. Recently he posted a graph comparing the “favorability” ratings of the last several presidents at the equivalent point in their respective administrations. It turns out that they all hovered in the forties. It comes with the territory. Biden’s in no worse shape politically than Clinton, Obama, or Trump.

Only George W. Bush, thanks to the strong patriotic surge in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was in better shape. However, Dubya’s disastrous second term drove his approval down to 24 percent by 2008.

So, no President Biden isn’t deeply unpopular with the public, and certainly not in comparison with Trump, whose negatives are markedly worse even in Fox News surveys. That said, polls mean very little at this point in the election cycle, and have pretty much failed to predict the results in any of the last several national contests.

Remember the vaunted “Red Wave” in 2022? Never happened. People pretty much don’t answer their phones unless they know who’s calling. The whole business of public opinion polling is an increasingly shaky enterprise.

I suspect it’s pretty much the same with the whole Fox News-generated Hunter Biden saga. Supposedly a majority of Americans believes Joe Biden has violated the law in his dealings with his wayward son. Apart from not paying his taxes on time, however, it isn’t even clear what crimes the younger Biden’s alleged to have committed. It’s not against the law to work for a foreign corporation, nor to drop Daddy’s name in business meetings.

If it were, there wouldn’t be a Trump sibling walking around free, much less cashing humungous checks from Saudi Arabia.

Doting father that he is, I quite doubt that Joe Biden fills out Hunter’s IRS form 1040. Nor that after decades in public life with no sign of financial impropriety, he suddenly got greedy in his 70s. However, Fox News imagineers appear to have persuaded millions of viewers that with all the manure they’ve shoveled, there must be a pony.

Gullible cynicism regarding politicians is always fashionable. But if they go ahead and impeach the president, they’d better produce that pony.

Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of The Hunting of the President.

The 'Woke' Satire Of Jonathan Swift Stings Ron DeSantis Where It Hurts

The 'Woke' Satire Of Jonathan Swift Stings Ron DeSantis Where It Hurts

Being something of a smart aleck, I’ve sometimes joked that while I may look white, actually I’m Irish. All eight of my great-grand parents were born there. Indeed, there was a time during the Great Potato Famine of 1845-52 when my ancestors were treated rather worse than Black slaves in America. Millions of Irish peasants starved even as the country exported plentiful foodstuffs guarded by British soldiers.

As valuable property, Black slaves never died of hunger.

So, the Irish fled to America in “coffin ships,” so-called because many thousands failed to survive the journey. The best way I know to understand this historical tragedy is to read Joseph O’Connor’s terrific novel Star of the Sea.

(Joseph is the older brother of Sinead O’Connor, the singer whose recent death was mourned all over Ireland. A talented family, the O’Connors of Glenageary.)

Nor were the Irish, being Catholic, particularly welcome in America. But so what? None of that has affected my own life in any practical way. Nor have I noticed that Irish-Americans behave better than anybody else when it comes to race.

(In the old country, of course, they’ve only recently quit murdering each other over what’s basically a 17th century religious quarrel.I once asked a correspondent in Belfast how they could tell each other apart, as on TV they all looked like my uncles and cousins. The shoes, she responded. The shoes!)

My first great literary hero was the immortal Irish satirist, Jonathan Swift. The first time my wife saw tears in my eyes was visiting his tomb in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. He’d died in 1745, author of perhaps the most penetrating anti-racist essay in the English language. An Anglican clergyman marooned for life in his native Ireland, Swift thought of himself as an Englishman.

But the appalling poverty of the native Irish troubled him, so he wrote A Modest Proposal, a pseudonymous essay proposing a useful reform: “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasee, or a ragoust.

The author expressed confidence that his proposal would be well received by absentee English “landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.

The 1729 pamphlet was published anonymously, because had its authorship been proven—although pretty much everybody in Ireland could guess who’d written it—Swift could have been imprisoned, or worse.

Anyway, here’s where I’m going with all this: Because I am, in fact, white, and because Irish history threatens no vested American interests, nobody has ever suggested that my studying it is in any way improper. Nor, certainly, tried to ban it. Had Swift been a Black man, I’m sure, his works would be illegal in Florida. Arkansas too.

Consider the scene in Gulliver’s Travels where the gigantic hero extinguishes a fire in the Lilliputian Queen’s chambers by pissing on it. (The author’s response to Queen Anne’s ingratitude for services done the crown.) Not to mention the scene where enormous teenaged Brobdingnagian girls perch tiny Gulliver on their nipples. Whoa, Nelly!

Moms for Liberty, which is what they’re calling the United Daughters of the Confederacy these days, would banish the novel from every library in the land.

I think my favorite moment during the absurd controversy over Florida and Arkansas’ efforts to ban Advanced Placement African-American History classes from being taught in public schools, was when Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Department of Education published a letter claiming that “The content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law" [my emphasis].

Meaning they can’t explain it. Not what they intended to say, I suspect. This is what happens when you enlist semi-literate ideologues to defend us white folks from…

Well, from what?

As near as I can tell, from history itself, and from the idea that Black citizens of a state where chattel slavery was legal until 1865 and Jim Crow segregation laws replaced it right up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and where race riots and lynchings were not uncommon just might have a perspective on its history different from the white majority’s.

DeSantis’ slogan is literally “Florida is where woke goes to die.”

In Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Sanders too derides the very idea of an African-American perspective as “critical race theory,” and “indoctrination.” Black people have no legitimate point of view and it’s literally illegal to say otherwise in a public-school classroom. Here in the United States of America.

So where does that leave somebody like me, an aging white man whose education in these matters has been sadly neglected?

Thinking maybe I need to take that African-American history course.

Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of The Hunting of the President..

How Sarah Sanders Is Trying To Bring Back The Bad Old Days In Arkansas

How Sarah Sanders Is Trying To Bring Back The Bad Old Days In Arkansas

Sometimes pictures do tell the story. When Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders staged a photo op for the signing of her vaunted LEARNS Act, an education “reform” shoved through a rubber stamp legislature with virtually no debate, she chose a private school in North Little Rock. Not a single Black face was in evidence. Most prominent were a half-dozen handsomely dressed little white boys wearing neckties.

The staging was clearly no accident, and the message was obvious.

The main purpose of the bill is to boost Arkansas private schools at the expense of public education by awarding tax-paid “vouchers” of up to $7000 a year to help parents pay tuition at what it’s considered rude to call “seg academies.” Most will go to well-heeled suburban families.

Indeed, the bill's long-term impact is clear: It would re-segregate Arkansas schools by, race, by class and by religion.

As former Little Rock school superintendent Baker Kurrus put it in the Arkansas Times, for most kids in under-funded rural and inner-city schools, “a school voucher might as well be a coupon for half off at Tiffany’s.”

Exceptions for talented athletes would surely be made. Otherwise, it’s back to 1956, which appears to be when America was last great in the minds of Huckabee/Trump Republicans determined to restore a lost Golden Age.

That’s the year before President Dwight Eisenhower dispatched the 101st Airborne to escort nine brave Black students into Little Rock Central High School in the face of a howling mob summoned by Gov. Orval Faubus, to the state’s eternal shame.

Today, there’s a statue of the Little Rock Nine on the state capitol grounds, clearly visible from the governor’s office. There’s also a fine museum on the Central High campus run by the National Park Service, commemorating the traumatic event, which fixed the state’s image as a bigot’s paradise for a generation. I have seen native Arkansans burst into tears upon viewing the exhibits.

Herself a Central High graduate, Sanders has expressed pride about a fine speech her father, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, gave there during a 40th anniversary celebration. He outshone President Bill Clinton.

Sarah Sanders wouldn’t give that speech. Like her patron Donald Trump, she’s most comfortable on the attack. Back in 2017, you may recall, she told reporters inquiring about the firing of FBI Director James Comey that the White House had gotten messages from “countless” FBI agents who’d lost faith in his leadership. (Trump himself celebrated in the Oval Office with Russian diplomats.}

Asked under oath by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators, Sanders admitted there were no such messages. She blamed “a slip of the tongue.”

Because that’s exactly who she is.

Everybody who disagrees with her educational reforms, Sanders goes on Fox News to say, is a member of “the radical woke left mob” she’s protecting Arkansas schoolchildren from. "I think the best thing that conservatives can do, that are living in blue states,” she added, “is move to Arkansas. It's really simple…[W]e're going to make sure that the kids are protected and that they're in good learning environments."

Protected from stuff like transgender bathrooms, which if you think were ever a significant problem in the state…

Well, as Mark Twain put it, “you don’t know Arkansaw.”

Something else Sanders thinks students need protecting from is Black history. On the day before schools opened across the state, her Education Department abruptly ruled that it would not award course credits and wouldn’t fund an Advanced Placement course in African-American history administered by the College Board—a course offered in more than 700 schools in 40 states.

Sanders explained: “We've got to get back to the basics of teaching math, of teaching reading, writing, and American history. And we cannot perpetuate a lie to our students and push this propaganda leftist agenda, teaching our kids to hate America and hate one another. It's one of the reasons that we put into law banning things like indoctrination and CRT [critical race theory]”

Got that? Black history is, by definition, a subversive lie that it’s forbidden to tell.

Then came a surprise. Little Rock Central High School announced that it would offer the course and find private funding. It was quickly followed by North Little Rock and public high schools in the state’s academic communities: Fayetteville, Jonesboro, and the Air Force base city of Jacksonville. The University of Arkansas announced that it will award course credit for students scoring well on the exam.

In response, Sanders’ Secretary of Education—a Ron DeSantis acolyte—has demanded that the schools submit their lesson plans to prove they are not breaking state laws against “indoctrination.” Black History being inherently subversive, you see. At this writing, it’s not clear whether the schools will comply.

Either way, this one appears headed to federal court, where the Sanders administration will lose on First Amendment grounds.

It’s an Arkansas tradition.

Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of The Hunting of the President.

Why That Blowhard Bully's Conspiracy Trial Must Be Televised

Why That Blowhard Bully's Conspiracy Trial Must Be Televised

Here’s the thing about Donald Trump: he’s not a real mobster, just a mouthy blowhard who plays one on TV. A trust-fund preppie surrounded by bodyguards all his life. Bodyguards and lawyers, not gangsters and hit men. It’s a good bet the big man himself has never so much as had a fistfight. Never even played a contact sport. A country club bully and notorious golf cheat.

So when he tries to intimidate people — judges, prosecutors, witnesses, whoever — it’s always over the telephone or in ALL CAPS social media posts in the middle of the night, weasel-worded to preserve deniability.

“IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!” he tweeted the other night after carefully behaving himself in Judge Tanya Chutkan’s courtroom. Basically meaning he’ll run his mouth in the hope of inspiring some weak-minded MAGA fool to do something crazy.

Let’s you and him fight. That’s how Trump rolls. Remember back on January 6 when he urged the mob to march down to the U.S. Capitol to “fight like hell, because if you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have a country anymore?” He also promised he’d be marching with them. But, of course, he was a no-show; watching the riot for hours on TV while aides begged him to act.

Trump’s idea of a fight is a scripted professional wrestling event.

Comes the trial in Judge Chutkan’s court, it will be more of the same. Because he doesn’t dare face cross-examination, Trump won’t be testifying, and will need to restrain himself lest the no-nonsense jurist lock him up for contempt. No courtroom outbursts and no mugging for the cameras.

No stupid red MAGA hat.

Which is pretty much why this trial—arguably the most consequential criminal trial in US history—must be televised nationwide, (hell, worldwide), so that Trump’s deluded supporters, can witness his humbling. I agree with Court TV founder Steven Brill, who argues in a New York Times op-ed that “Americans Will Believe the Trump Verdict Only if They Can See It.”

Although federal court rules currently forbid cameras, those rules are not graven in stone. The Founding Fathers clearly meant for jury trials to be public. That’s why courtrooms have large galleries, just not large enough, in this instance, when the potential audience numbers in the millions, a legal Super Bowl.

“The last thing our country and the world needs,” Brill writes “is for this trial to become the ultimate divisive spin game, in which each side roots for its team online and on the cable news networks as if cheering from the bleachers.”

The process of changing the no-TV rule begins with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who should definitely recognize the potential harm to the judicial system’s prestige, and ultimately its legitimacy, if Trump’s trial were to devolve into a contest among cable news spin doctors.

Already, Trump apologists argue that he has a First Amendment right to say anything he pretends to believe about who won the 2020 presidential election. But that’s not what he’s charged with. Trump can (and surely will, albeit not under oath) say anything he likes about that.

What he can’t do, however, is enter into a conspiracy using fraud and deceit to prevent the votes from being tabulated and certified in violation of the Electoral Count Act of 1887. Unless he goes with an insanity defense, his subjective delusions don’t matter.

Prosecutor Jack Smith has compiled scores of examples of Trump being credibly informed that his allegations of fraud had been investigated and dismissed. Almost without exception, the witnesses will be Republican elected officials, Trump supporters, most of them, who, like Vice President Mike Pence, put country above party. Smith’s indictment quotes one such GOP official to the effect that “it’s tough to own any of this when it’s all just conspiracy shit beamed down from the mothership.”

Kevin Drum explains that “The prosecution doesn't have to prove that Trump knew he was lying…The standard of proof stops short of requiring mind reading: "Reckless disregard of whether a statement is true, or a conscious effort to avoid learning the truth, can be construed as acting 'knowingly.' "

No, not everybody will be persuaded. Many in the MAGA cult are clearly beyond reason. But if nothing else, the sheer tedium of a weeks-long federal trial will wear down all but the most deluded.

As for Boss Trump’s mobster act intimidating witnesses, that’s not happening. Most have already defied him in person—there’s a tape of Trump threatening to prosecute Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger for refusing to play ball—and have previously testified to the January 6 Commission.

Tough sentences handed down against January 6 rioters have also had a calming effect. Nobody’s eager to do prison time for a loudmouth politician in a baggy suit.

Americans have every right to witness this spectacle live.

Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of The Hunting of the President..

Trump and Biden

Trump v. Biden In 2024? I'm Not Betting On It

Maybe it’s my advanced age talking, but I doubt very much that the conventional wisdom regarding the 2024 presidential election will play out as expected: that is, as a Joe Biden-Donald Trump rematch with the Democratic incumbent winning another relatively close reelection bid.

As The Washington Post’s Megan McArdle has put it: “We appear to be heading for a rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump that almost no one wants except the candidates.”

Maybe so, but I’d say the odds are against it. Possibly that’s because I’m also a serious baseball fan, and I’ve noticed that the experts are most often mistaken. The New York Mets were supposed to be serious World Series contenders; instead, they’re holding a trade-deadline fire sale. It takes more than high-dollar free-agents — especially ones over age 35, who tend to get hurt a lot ...

But speaking of old age, back to the presidential contest. With several months remaining before even a single vote is cast — although you’d never know it from the daily media racehorse coverage — from a strictly actuarial point of view, there are any number of things that are quite likely to happen that would change everything.

At the rate that 70- and 80-something-year-old public figures are, let us say, leaving the conversation, you’d be extraordinarily foolish not to notice. Living in her hometown, where she went to school and college, my sainted wife keeps in touch with a lot of old friends. Suffice it to say that for the high school class of 1961, the news is largely medical, and most of it is bad.

President Biden graduated from high school in 1961; former President Trump in 1964. Both appear in good health, but that could literally change in a heartbeat. Of course, we’re all hostages to fate, but it’s strange nevertheless watching the American political system churn heedlessly onward as if the most obvious thing in the world can’t possibly happen.

Headline in The New York Times: “Can the Race Really Be That Close? Yes, Biden and Trump Are Tied.” According to a Times/Siena College poll of registered voters, the two old-timers are deadlocked at 43 percent. This has a fair number of Democrats running scared.

My friend Michael Tomasky of The New Republic speaks for them all: “There is still a reasonably good chance,” he writes, “that this madman, even if convicted of federal crimes, will win next November. About 35 percent of the country adores him. Another 12 or 13 percent will vote for him against Joe Biden (or any Democrat) simply because they’re Republicans.”

Although I could list several Democrats I’d prefer should Biden somehow falter, I think Tomasky’s wrong. The Trump who spends most of the next year and a half as a criminal defendant can’t help but emerge a much-diminished figure. On trial, Trump goes from actor to acted upon. From subject to object. He can’t swagger sitting at the defense table, and he can’t wear his ridiculous red hat.

He can’t give judges derisive nicknames, and no way can he bully an experienced federal prosecutor like Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith. As he can’t possibly stand up to cross-examination, Trump’s lawyers would be mad to let him testify. Given the voluminous documentary evidence against him in the purloined documents case, an ordinary defendant would be well-advised to cop a plea and hope for mercy.

Even so, as former Texas GOP Rep. Will Hurd argues, Trump’s mainly running for president to avoid prison. The problem there is that even if you buy the constitutionally absurd proposition that a newly elected president could pardon himself from federal crimes, he can’t evade state charges for trying to fraudulently overturn Georgia’s 2020 election. No easy way out there.

Somewhere along the way, the Trump cult could abruptly collapse — a far likelier outcome than the former president being acquitted in the documents case, much less in the even more consequential January 6/2020 election charges. You can find Republicans who pretend to believe this is all a “Deep State” conspiracy against Trump, but in the watches of the night, most know better.

A left-wing FBI? Not on this planet.

Meanwhile, you’d think that the recent revelation about Trump’s political action committee — the one soliciting cash from small donors to finance his election campaign, but instead spending some $40 million paying the supposed billionaire’s criminal defense lawyers — would put a crimp in his fundraising. It certainly won’t help.

Conservative columnist Henry Olsen thinks it’s reasonable to see Trump as a victim of Democratic hostility, but also believes he’s apt to withdraw his candidacy: “Even a man of his colossal ego and willpower might eventually decide to save his own skin rather than press his luck.”

Quit and admit defeat? He’ll move to Moscow and campaign from the Kremlin first.

But one way or another, I suspect that the dread Biden-Trump II rematch isn’t going to happen.

Reprinted with permission from Sun Times.

George Orwell

In Orwell's 'Junior Anti-Sex League,' A Premonition Of Moms For Liberty

Something tells me I have seen this movie before. Back in my own elementary school days, we read about Dick and Jane. Even at that tender age, it was clear to me that they were Protestants and Republicans, although I had only the foggiest idea what those things were.

Dick and Jane lived out in white bread America, where there were no corner taverns in which grandpa spent his afternoons, and nobody’s grandma spoke Yiddish or Italian in the home. People didn’t keep spittoons in the front room, and it all seemed kind of boring, actually.

On TV, there was something called the Army-McCarthy hearings where the nation was being saved from communist subversion, the white bread version of monsters under the bed, and that struck a child as pretty silly. Who believed in monsters?

So now we have this bunch called “Moms for Liberty,” yet another iteration of white bread America’s fear and hostility toward anything more unsettling than Leave it to Beaver. This time it’s queers under the bed, and the preposterous idea that the nation’s public-school librarians and grade school teachers are plotting the sexual subversion of small children.

(I think I was maybe ten when I first noticed that my teacher Miss Peach was kind of cute, but that’s another story.)

Back in the Seventies when a former Miss Oklahoma named Anita Bryant and the Rev. Jerry Falwell were running a similar scam, they used to say that because “homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children…they must recruit our children.” That’s not actually true, of course, but it sounded right to a lot of yokels.

But back to the Moms. I love how they call it “Liberty” when they’re demanding censorship and conformity. In Florida, where the group got started—a well-financed uprising about as spontaneous as a “DeSantis for President” committee—they resembled a coven of spokes-models auditioning for a spot on a Fox News couch. Trolling for the network’s core audience of angry old men.

(Me, I’m an old man with a crush on CNN’s Erin Burnett, whose courageous reporting from Ukraine has left me in awe.)

Florida’s authoritarian little governor passed a law forbidding K-3 teachers from talking about homosexuality, which why would they unless, of course, somebody in the class has two mommies. Then teacher’s put on the spot, but needn’t get clinical about it.

But I digress. Gov. Ron DeSantis has also passed laws pretty much forbidding even college professors from hinting that maybe Black Floridians haven’t always gotten a fair shake in the Sunshine and Slave Market State.

The Moms would probably call that “Liberty” too.

Fact is, sexual puritanism is a prominent feature of authoritarian movements everywhere—left and right. Indeed, Moms for Liberty greatly resembles Big Brother’s “Junior Anti-Sex League” from George Orwell’s prophetic novel 1984.

“Not love so much as eroticism was the enemy,” Orwell wrote. ”Sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema.”

Winston and Julia’s love affair temporarily makes them feel free: “Desire was thoughtcrime…Their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory. It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act.”

Then comes the voice from the hidden video screen in their rented hideaway in the slums: “You are the dead.”

Busted! It turned out that the landlord worked for the Thought Police. It’s off to Room 101 for the unfortunate lovers.

So anyway, here we go again. Out there in white bread America, pretty much the same superstitious ninnies who stay worked up about the End Times have begun besieging school boards and public libraries in search of sexual subversion. A recent Wall Street Journal article depicted Republican voters living on the edge of hysteria, with fully 80 percent telling pollsters that “the Democratic agenda, “if not stopped, will destroy America as we know it.”

No less an authority than Kevin Roberts, president of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, told Journal reporters that it’s almost too late: “We have lost our K-12 schools to radical-left activists. We’ve certainly lost our universities to the same, and other institutions,” including large businesses and even churches. “Everyday Americans,” he said, are being forced “to bend your knee to the rainbow flag.”

Oh, grow up. Faddishness aside, nobody but NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been punished for not bending his knee to a flag, and it sure as hell wasn’t a rainbow banner. But it’s all about control, the terrible fear that you, and people like you are losing prestige and power. When all you’re really being asked for is bit of sympathetic understanding toward a misunderstood group of fellow Americans who didn’t choose their desires any more than did you or I.

See, that’s what’s really scary to the authoritarian mind. Because people don’t choose their sexuality; it chooses them.

Gene Lyons is an award-winning author and syndicated columnist who lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.. He is the author of several books and co-author (with Joe Conason) ofThe Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, which was made into a documentary film in 2004.

Timothy McVeigh

Tracing America's Political Poisoning Back To Timothy McVeigh

You’d like to think that in the wake of the farcical and failed January 6, 2021, uprising to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election, even the Republican Party had sobered up and right-wing conspiracy theories were fading from prominence in the United States.

Ain’t happening.

But then you’d also like to think that the malign influence of Fox News would have receded since the network agreed to pay more than three-quarters of a billion dollars to Dominion Voting Systems after numerous talking heads and ranking executives admitted under oath that they knowingly broadcast thunderous lies about the “stolen” 2020 election.

Also not happening. Despite some slippage of media outlets even further out on the fringe and the purging of “white replacement” conspiracy maven Tucker Carlson, Fox News remains highly profitable and influential. A substantial proportion of Americans, it appears, simply want to be lied to if it flatters their incipient paranoia.

You’d imagine, as well, that a former president who publicized the private address of another former president, enabling and encouraging an armed crackpot to stalk his neighborhood with lethal intent, would find himself shunned and essentially disqualified from seeking public office by members of his own party, who preach law and order.

After all, what would happen to any other criminal defendant who broadcast naked threats against prosecutors and their families?

Yet, with the signal exception of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who hasn’t the proverbial snowball’s chance, Teflon Donald Trump’s GOP rivals remain discreetly mute.

Instead, Trump appears to have a substantial lead for the GOP nomination. “NOW THAT THE ‘SEAL’ IS BROKEN ...,” began one all-caps outburst on his Truth Social account recently — a pointed allusion to the Book of Revelation (although it’s unlikely Trump’s ever read it). He ended up vowing retribution against Democrats he accuses of maliciously destroying the country.

It’s more like a professional wrestling spectacle than an American election campaign. Even the Mini Mussolini currently running second in polls promises to purge the nation of heretics. He uses the word “die” a lot.

So, have a substantial proportion of Republicans simply gone around the bend and abandoned reason altogether? Alas, many have, yes. And whether they acknowledge it or not, their movement’s patron saint is Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber.

I come by this opinion after reading Jeffrey Toobin’s extraordinary new book, Homegrown: Timothy McVeigh and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremism. A terrific reporter with legal expertise and a knack for vivid storytelling, Toobin has written several excellent books about criminal trials — including a bestseller about the O.J. Simpson case.

Toobin originally covered McVeigh’s trial for murdering 168 people (including 19 children) with a truck bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, for The New Yorker. He describes having a flashback in 2020 while reading about the militia loons who plotted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and try her for treason in a kangaroo court.

“I know these people,” he said to himself, recognizing that the self-styled patriots’ motives were essentially identical to McVeigh’s a quarter-century earlier. Indeed, much of McVeigh’s deadly plot was conceived on a remote Michigan farm belonging to co-conspirator Terry Nichols’ family.

In one sense, McVeigh was a classic American loner, a juco dropout who failed in an attempt to become a Green Beret and left the Army without a profession or a purpose. It was, Toobin writes, “a shattering defeat ... he had no plan B.”

Much of Homegrown reads like a Jack Kerouac novel about a demented loner driving aimlessly through the American outback in search of somebody to kill: from his native upstate New York to Arkansas to the Michigan north woods to Arizona and the Flint Hills of Kansas. Basically, from one gun show to another.

And as he drove, he listened to Rush Limbaugh touting the political nostrums of the fellow he called “Mr. Newt.” When Gingrich urged Republicans to describe Democrats as “sick,” “pathetic,” “traitors,” “radical” and “corrupt,” McVeigh heard him. When Limbaugh talked about a “second violent American revolution,” he thought that sounded like a great idea.

But what really caught McVeigh’s attention was a prophetic potboiler called The Turner Diaries, a novel describing an uprising against a tyrannical government of Blacks and Jews who were taking away patriots’ guns. McVeigh was all about guns. He built his bomb based on the novel’s detailed instructions.

McVeigh never expressed an ounce of regret; he died defiant, a hero to himself. And thanks to the Internet, as Toobin makes clear, the sick, racially obsessed gun nuts like him are no longer alone. And then, after Trump became president, Toobin writes, “the wolf pack had a new leader.”

Reprinted with permission from Suntimes.

Mexican Army

Do Republicans Really Think Bombing Mexico Will Win Drug War?

There is no border in the world anything like the one between the United States and Mexico: a wealthy industrialized nation sharing a 2,000-mile frontier with a developing country barely able to raise its millions above subsistence-level poverty. It’s as if France were to border directly upon Algeria, or Germany upon Somalia.

American writers from Ambrose Bierce, who vanished during the Mexican revolution of 1913, to Cormac McCarthy, whose All the Pretty Horses depicted Mexico as a place of enchantment and deadly violence, have always seen it as a land of extremes. Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 film The Wild Bunch dramatizes near-phantasmagoric violence.

The brilliant Mexican poet and essayist Octavio Paz maintained that mutual incomprehension between the two countries was permanent and inevitable. America’s legacy, Paz wrote in The Labyrinth of Solitude, “is Democracy, capitalism and the Industrial Revolution,” while Mexico’s is “the counter-reformation, monopoly, and feudalism.”

The American belief in the inevitability of progress doesn’t really exist there, although half the Mexican population would probably emigrate to “el Coloso del Norte” if they could.

I once visited the home of a seasonal worker in a remote, picturesque village in Jalisco, whose mother insisted the whole town would follow him to California if they could.

“Todos, todos, todos,” she said. “No hay nada para nosotros en Mexico.” (“All of us. There is nothing for us in Mexico.”)

So naturally, Republicans want to bomb them. Because, of course, nothing has ever succeeded like America’s vaunted war on drugs, and looking manly and warlike is Job One among GOP politicians. Writing in The Atlantic, former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum compiles an alarming list of conservative politicians who think the best way to fix the eternal crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border is to bomb and/or invade that country.

Supposedly, presidential candidate Donald Trump has asked his advisers for a plan of attack. His mini-me rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, has proposed a naval blockade of Mexican ports. The idea is to interdict chemicals Mexican drug cartels use to manufacture fentanyl. (Suggestion: Take a look at a map showing that country’s thousands of miles of coastline on the Caribbean Sea, the Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico. DeSantis’ suggestion is absurd on its face.)

GOP senators are breathing smoke and fire. Last year, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote a New York Times op-ed arguing: “We can also use special operators and elite tactical units in law enforcement to capture or kill kingpins, neutralize key lieutenants, and destroy the cartel’s super labs and organizational infrastructure. We must work closely with the Mexican government ... but we cannot allow it to delay or hinder this necessary campaign.”

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham argues that “Our nation is being attacked by foreign powers called drug cartels in Mexico ... They are at war with us. We need to be at war with them.”

Somebody will have to tell me where and when a nation has bombed its way out of a drug addiction crisis. But then, I had the great advantage of riding in Mexican Army helicopters more than 40 years ago during “Operación Condór,” back when the drug killing Americans was heroin and the cartels were mainly a regional problem in the state of Sinaloa.

I thought they ought to call it “Operación Pato Muerto,” i.e., dead duck, because the authorities had no chance of eradicating heroin poppies grown by destitute campesinos from a remote area in the Sierra Madre as large as California, where government authority scarcely existed.

Indeed, I’ve never met a Mexican who believes that country’s government has either the will or the ability to eradicate drug smuggling as long as we Yanquis keep buying the stuff. Not even Roberto Montenegro, the courageous Mexican reporter who arranged my helicopter ride and who was murdered on the cathedral square in Culiacán a couple of months after I left.

This, too, as Frum astringently points out: Mexicans do have a democracy, and they do get to vote. What’s more, they know a whole lot more about us than we know about them, and most feel that we’ve corrupted them more than the other way around. No Mexican politician can afford to be seen as countenancing a U.S. insult to that country’s sovereignty.

“Mexicans are dying,” Frum points out, “because of American drug purchases. Mexico has about one-third the population of the United States but four times the homicide rate.” Most are dying in gang wars over market share. “Does Mexico do too little to halt the flow of opioids northward? The United States does nothing to halt the flow of guns southward.”

Every Mexican citizen knows this proverb: “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States.”

Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of The Hunting of the President.

Reprinted with permission from Sun Times.

Trump and Biden

Americans May Not Approve Of Biden -- But They Despise Trump

To hear pundits tell it, the 2024 presidential contest is shaping up like an Alabama vs. Texas football game. That is, one in which most people wish both teams could lose. (Substitute your own two least favorite teams if you like.) Right now people tell pollsters they dislike both putative nominees—Donald Trump and Joe Biden—in equal numbers.

According to polling averages compiled by Real Clear Politics, both candidates hover around 40 percent positive and 55 percent negative, with Trump a couple of points worse.

A few caveats: First, polls mean little so early in the election cycle. Most voters aren’t paying attention. Second, no politician in the RCP averages polls positively, reflecting public grumpiness more than anything else. Most aren’t even close. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for example, clocks in at 20 percent positive.

Third, and maybe most important, polls tell us very little about the intensity with which certain figures are disfavored. Trump, for example, is feared and detested by many Americans, while Biden is merely disliked by all but fervent partisans.

That said, the president’s approval rating among Democrats in the most recent Quinnipiac poll stood at 84 percent. It’s the fence-sitters he’d have to win over.

You know, people who keep saying they want bipartisanship and compromise, but are perennially disappointed when they get it.

The “meh” vote normally favors the incumbent.

I was moved to these observations by colloquy between New York Times podcaster Ezra Klein and former Barack Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau. Based upon their own experience of life, does anybody think Joe Biden will be up to the rigors of the presidency when he’s 86, the age he’d be during the last year of his second term?

Klein reports a recent Times focus group in which not a single participant raised a hand to indicate that they thought so.

Favreau countered by pointing out that at age 80, Biden “is still doing multiple events per day. He goes on these foreign trips, and he’s up at all hours. He did that surprise trip to Ukraine where he’s on the train for many hours, and he’s barely sleeping.”

He tells a story about a recent White House visit where the president recognized his family (Favreau’s father-in-law was an Obama-appointed federal judge), took them up to the Oval Office, and regaled them with jokes and stories for more than an hour.

“He was incredibly kind, gracious with his time, very sharp…remembered everything,” Favreau said.

Did some of Biden’s stories run long? Apparently so. “I think this gets to the age thing” Favreau said. “He’s always been like that. When he was vice president back in 2009, ‘10, when I first got to the White House, he was telling long, long stories, right? The stutter that he deals with has always been there. His tendency to gaffe [sic] has always been there…I came away thinking, the guy’s still pretty sharp.”

The president is visibly older. “But as far as mental acuity,” he added, I did not see any reason for concern.”

Indeed, observing a couple of Republican acquaintances carrying on recently about Biden’s imagined dementia, I was reminded of the only funny bar fight I ever saw: on Staten Island back in the day between a college friend who’d been 197 lb. wrestling champion of Pennsylvania and a local greaser who kept yelling threats about what he was going to do after the grappler turned him loose. Which he did, with prejudice, on the hood of a car. The threats ended there. Nobody got seriously hurt.

Just so Joe Biden, who after depositing GOP Speaker Kevin McCarthy on the hood of a metaphorical car during recent budget negotiations, praised him as a worthy and patriotic adversary, rendering him more or less speechless.

Historically, Ezra Klein points out, it’s not unusual for presidents to have high negatives during their first term. Both Presidents Reagan and Obama hovered in the forties, but won re-election handily. Klein wryly recalls how pundits kept insisting that Obama “should drop the dead weight of Joe Biden and bring the political juggernaut of Hillary Clinton in as his vice president.”

In practical terms, Favreau recommends a kind of rope-a-dope strategy in which Biden does what he’s started doing: appearing before friendly audiences touting his legislative accomplishments—the infrastructure deal, the CHIPS Act, the Violence Against Women Act—and reminds them of all the terribly unpopular things Republicans have in mind: regulating childbirth, interfering in personal medical decisions, censoring schoolbooks and jailing librarians, the whole right-wing authoritarian playbook.

The bottom line, Favreau thinks, is making people feel that the president’s on their side. “You don’t have to like Joe Biden to vote for him. He doesn’t have to be your dream presidential candidate. But he’s a tool against letting Trump and Republicans like Trump back into power, and that that’s fundamentally the choice.”

And that should be good enough.

Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of The Hunting of the President.

Book-Banning 'Moms For Liberty' Remind Me Of 'Harper Valley PTA' (And '1984')

Book-Banning 'Moms For Liberty' Remind Me Of 'Harper Valley PTA' (And '1984')

Here we go again. What we have here is a classic moral panic, a repeating theme in American public life.

Remember the McMartin preschool trial in Los Angeles back in the 1980s? Bizarre allegations of satanic sexual abuse were made against a family-run day care center in Manhattan Beach. Replete with sensational media coverage, the investigation and two criminal trials ended up lasting for seven years and costing almost $15 million — the longest criminal trial in U.S. history. A total of seven day care workers were charged with 321 counts of sexual abuse involving some four dozen children.

Prompted by true believers using anatomically correct dolls, little kids too young for kindergarten told fantastic tales involving flying witches, hot air balloons, dinosaurs and secret tunnels that children accessed by being flushed down the toilet before being abused by famous movie stars.

In the end, not a single episode of child molestation was ever proven, and there were no convictions, although some of those accused spent years in jail. All charges were eventually dropped. In the end, the mother whose accusations prompted the original probe was diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia and died of alcohol poisoning.

Lawrence Wright’s terrific book Remembering Satan tells a similarly horrific tale of “recovered memory syndrome” that convulsed Olympia, Washington, around the same time. Father-daughter incest, orgies, unholy rites and mass infanticide — under the right circumstances, it appears, suggestible individuals can be persuaded to confess to almost anything.

If all that sounds reminiscent of the QAnon cult belief that Hillary Clinton conducts murderous satanic rituals in the basement of a Washington pizza restaurant (that has no basement), then you must be paying attention. Exactly why Americans are so prone to these repeated episodes of collective hallucination is hard to say. But fundamentalist Christianity appears to be the common denominator.

Which brings us to "Moms for Liberty" and their impassioned crusade against, yes, public librarians. Exactly what these women think the word “liberty” means is not clear. They are censors and book-banners of great passion and determination. Rather like the Junior Anti-Sex League in George Orwell’s 1984.

In Arkansas, near Little Rock, the Saline County Republican Women have even erected billboards declaring war on “X-RATED LIBRARY BOOKS.” Judging from the examples cited on the related website, most are R-rated at best. They’re largely earnest tomes such as Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human. It is shelved in the “Young Adult” section of the library.

“The opinion/instruction in this book directly and continuously opposes Christianity and the Word of God,” readers are told. The group accuses the county library staff of pushing “the LGBTQ agenda” and sneers that they should instead serve “the people of Saline County, not the interests of people in California.”

California, which gave the nation Ronald Reagan, is now synonymous with Sodom and Gomorrah among the GOP elect.

How many young women in Saline County become pregnant during high school for lack of understanding of what used to be called “the facts of life,” I can’t tell you. But I can assure you they learn more about sex in pickup trucks than in the public library.

Seriously, how many libertine librarians have you known? A less subversive cohort would be hard to imagine.

Even granting that the institution known as “Drag Queen Story Hour” has got to be the dumbest example of liberal folly since “Defund the Police,” the notion that junior high librarians — of all people — have dedicated their careers to “grooming” children for sexual purposes ... well, it’s just too silly to talk about.

Besides, if you follow the news, it’s in the churches, not the libraries, where all the action is. Scarcely a week passes around here without some preacher being busted for sexual misconduct.

Well, coaches and English teachers, too.

During my own long-ago youth, the naughtiest book I read was Peyton Place, the scandalous 1950s bestseller that lifted the lid off a small New England town. I certainly didn’t borrow it from the library. Paperback copies were everywhere.

The novel portrayed sexuality as fascinating, yes — also intoxicating, ubiquitous and dangerous. Kind of scary, actually. If anything, the women were worse than the men. After the lights went down, hardly anybody in Peyton Place, it seemed, was who they pretended to be.

That’s why Jeannie C. Riley referenced the novel in her classic country song Harper Valley PTA: “This is just a little Peyton Place/And you’re all Harper Valley hypocrites.”

I can’t help but start humming the tune whenever the Moms for Liberty take the platform.

Anyway, I could tell you what I think these pious crusaders do when they get back home after reading aloud naughty passages from library books to audiences of fellow Holy Housewives. (Assuming they do go home, instead of checking in at the No-Tell Motel for a couple of hours.) But never mind. Imagine it yourselves. I’m sure you can.

Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President.”

Reprinted with permission from Suntimes.

Donald Trump

The Woman-Hating Narcissist Who Wants To Be President, Again

Time was when people calling themselves journalists were in the business of reporting news, not creating it. However, we no longer have political journalism in this country; instead, we have TV. And what TV is about, almost regardless of what it pretends to be about, is celebrity.

Oh, and money. Ratings, celebrity and money.

As quoted by Michael Tomasky in The New Republic, CNN chief executive Chris Licht professed the highest motives when he took over the network: “I think we can be a beacon in regaining that trust by being an organization that exemplifies the best characteristics in journalism: fearlessly speaking truth to power, challenging the status quo, questioning ‘groupthink’ and educating viewers and readers with straightforward facts and insightful commentary ... First and foremost, we should, and we will be advocates for truth.”

Instead, he gave us The Donald Trump Show, staged as a “town hall” in an ersatz New Hampshire village populated by credulous zombies. Not journalism at all, but a pseudo-event bearing the same relationship to political reality that professional wrestling bears to real sports. A Trump campaign event, paid for by a self-styled news network. Basically, a campaign donation from CNN.

This placed moderator Kaitlan Collins in the unenviable role of WWE referee, charged with correcting Trump’s voluminous lies with little hope of even slowing him down. The man lied about everything while the MAGAs yukked it up and cheered him on. He lied about the 2020 election. He lied about the Jan. 6 insurrection and his role in it. He lied about the abortion issue. He lied about classified documents that he left lying around at Mar-a-Lago while he lied to the government about hoarding them. He lied about his efforts to pressure Georgia officials to reverse his electoral loss in that state.

Asked about his infamous phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Trump brazenly claimed, “I didn’t ask to find anything. I said, ‘You owe me votes.”’

Why Collins didn’t then confront him with an audio recording of the call, in which he suggested that Georgia election authorities should disqualify thousands of supposedly fraudulent ballots, I can’t imagine.

“I just want to find 11,780 votes,” Trump told Raffensperger, one more than he would have needed to claim the state’s electoral votes. In reality, Georgia recertified its presidential votes three times with the same result.

The GOP nominee lost every time.

I also can’t imagine why Collins didn’t just haul off and slap the big blowhard across the face when he called her a “nasty” woman. Him, a dirty old man in elevator shoes, a corset and more makeup than Dolly Parton.

It would have made great TV.

But the woman Trump really defamed — all over again — during his 70 minutes of bizarre ranting was E. Jean Carroll. This was a bit more than 24 hours after a federal jury found that Trump had sexually assaulted her in a New York department store and was liable for $5 million in damages for repeatedly calling her a fantasist and a liar.

He repeated the same claim that the jury had rejected: that Carroll was a total stranger and a “whack job” who conspired with friends to make up a phony story for money. He added that the total stranger owned a cat named “Vagina.”

And if you believe that, well, you’d probably vote for the crazy scoundrel all over again.

Yes, I wrote “crazy.” His niece Mary Trump is far from being the only qualified mental health professional who has diagnosed the former president as a textbook example of narcissistic personality disorder. Most shrinks prefer not to get involved because of professional taboos — well-founded, for the most part — against diagnosing people they haven’t examined personally.

Narcissism On Display

By now, however, we’ve all seen quite enough of Trump to draw some conclusions, particularly in highly revealing contexts like the CNN town hall. More, in fact, than many therapists see of clients they have no hesitancy about diagnosing. Simply put, Donald Trump is a classic case of a criminal psychopath.

According to what’s known as the DSM-5 (the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition”), narcissists display “arrogant, haughty behaviors,” “a sense of entitlement” and a “grandiose sense of self-importance.” Markedly “lacking empathy” for others, they believe that they are special and unique, require “excessive admiration,” and are characteristically “interpersonally exploitative (taking advantage of others to achieve their own ends).” Lying, cheating and stealing come as second nature to such persons, many of whom end up in penitentiaries.

Unless, that is, they inherit hundreds of millions of dollars from Daddy, and with that fortune, legal immunity. The average “thug,” to use one of Trump’s favorite words, would still be in prison for what he did to E. Jean Carroll.

Instead, we make him a “star.”

Columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of The Hunting of the President.

Reprinted with permission from Sun Times.