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

How Democrats (And Honest Republicans) Can Defeat The Next Coup Attempt

In 1980, because I was an idealistic conservative eager to do my bit for democracy, I volunteered for my local Republican Party as a poll watcher. When polls closed, election officials asked us to gather around as they opened the backs of the machines one by one and tallied the votes. We could all see what was happening, and we all gave our assent that the totals were correct.

It was a glimpse into the ordinary yet extraordinary system we've devised over decades and centuries to ensure that elections are performed honestly and securely. Each state has developed its own procedures, but they're all broadly similar. The results of each polling location are delivered to the precinct and then on to the canvassing board. Election administrators are observed by partisans of both parties, and the results are often counted more than once.

Our voting systems in America have not always been perfect — the most glaring flaw being the disenfranchisement of many African Americans until the mid-20th century — but we corrected that, and over time and in most places, we've conducted free and fair elections every two years.

Today, that stability is at risk.

Across the country, candidates who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 election are seeking office in order to prepare the ground for the next election contest. Pardoned Trump ally Steve Bannon is encouraging MAGAites to run for local posts with authority to count votes. Bannon uses his popular podcast to tout "taking over the Republican party through the precinct committee strategy ... It's about winning elections with the right people — MAGA people. We will have our people in at every level."


At least 23 candidates who deny the outcome of the 2020 election are running for secretary of state in 19 states. Among those are battleground states that Joe Biden won narrowly: Michigan, Nevada, Georgia and Arizona. Trump has endorsed candidates in Georgia, Arizona and Michigan, the only time in history that a former president has bestirred himself over races so far down the ballot. "We're seeing a dangerous trend of election deniers lining up to fill election administration positions across the country," Joanna Lydgate, chief executive of the States United Democracy Center, told The Guardian. States United also tallies 53 election deniers seeking governorships in 25 states, and 13 election deniers running for attorney general in 13 states.

Additionally, death threats and intimidation from MAGA extremists have caused one in five election administrators to say they will leave their posts before 2024. The most common explanation is that too many politicians were attacking "a system that they know is fair and honest" and that the job was too stressful. A February survey of 596 local election officials found that they spanned the political spectrum pretty evenly — 26% identified as Democrats, 30% as Republicans and 44% as independents. A majority said they were worried about attempts to interfere with their work in future elections.

While MAGA types are beavering away, attempting to stack election boards and other posts with election-denying zealots, what are other Americans doing? The clock is ticking.

Democrats are likely to have a tough election in November — not that widespread Republican victories will cause election deniers to reconsider their belief that the 2020 race was stolen. But while Democrats are likely to lose seats in the House and Senate, local elections may not be so lopsided, particularly if the craziness of some of these candidates is highlighted. Kristina Karamo, for example, the Trump-endorsed secretary of state candidate in Michigan, claims that she personally witnessed fraudulent vote-counting in 2020, that Trump won her state (Biden won it by 154,000 votes) and that left-wing anarchists attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Some Republicans, it should not be forgotten, continue to uphold the integrity of elections; a handful of honest Republicans saved the country from a potentially disastrous constitutional crisis in 2020.

If past is prologue, Democrats will probably pour money into unwinnable races over the next few months. Remember Amy McGrath? She was supposed to dethrone Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. Democratic donors gave her $88 million. Remember Jaime Harrison? He was going to defeat Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. Donors shoveled $130 million his way. Harrison lost by a 10-point margin. McGrath lost by nearly 20 points. The list goes on. Beto O'Rourke, anyone? (Republicans do this, too. Just look at the money wasted in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's district.)

This year, donors are spending millions in an attempt to unseat the execrable Marjorie Taylor Greene. Sigh. Trump won Greene's district with 75% of the vote. This. Won't. Work.

Democrats, independents and sane Republicans should focus instead on the critical local contests that will determine who counts the votes in 2024. Those unsexy races for local positions and administrative posts like secretaries of state could make the difference in 2024 between an election and a coup.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is "Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense." To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Why Saving Democracy May Mean Supporting A Conservative

Fighting Republican authoritarianism means sometimes delaying political gratification.

The Utah Democratic Party did something extraordinary last week: They threw their support behind a Republican. Well, a former Republican, anyway. Evan McMullin, who ran for president as an independent in 2016, is now seeking to unseat Sen. Mike Lee.

At the Democratic Party convention, held at Cottonwood High School in Murray (don't you love democracy?), some delegates were uncomfortable. One told the Deseret News that he "never imagined my fellow Democrats would disenfranchise me," adding that "Democrats need to be on the ballot." But most delegates were swayed by the arguments of former Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams, who vouched for McMullin's integrity and urged that he would help "heal the divide" in Washington. Besides, he said, McMullin has a real path to victory. The Democrats agreed and, with 57 percent voting in favor, elected to join a coalition that also includes the United Utah Party to endorse McMullin.

Now, cards on the table, it isn't as if any Democratic nominee would stand a ghost of a chance. Utah hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate in more than 50 years, and Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state 5-to-1. But McMullin is a political unicorn — a former Republican, CIA veteran and conservative who garnered 21% of the vote in Utah when he made his quixotic presidential bid in 2016.

Lee was swept into office by the Tea Party wave of 2010. He defeated incumbent Republican Bob Bennett in the primary by arguing that Bennett had lost his edge after years in Washington. Lee claimed that he, by contrast, was a "constitutional conservative." His website boasts that he has "spent his career defending the fundamental liberties of all Americans and advocating for America's founding constitutional principles."

Unless those principles conflict with his personal ambitions. Maybe that's in the small print.

Lee was among the last holdouts at the GOP convention in 2016, hoping to deploy procedural rules to deny Trump the nomination. In July of that year, adverting to Trump's "authoritarian" tendencies, he shot back at a MAGA radio host, "Don't sit here and tell me that I have no reason to be concerned about Donald Trump. ... I mean we can get into the fact that he accused my best friend's father of conspiring to kill JFK."

Over the following years, like every other leading Republican except those you can list on two hands, Lee immolated his constitutional principles on a pyre. As Amanda Carpenter itemized, the recently revealed text messages to Donald Trump's White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reveal a senator not only willing to overlook a little authoritarianism now and again but also an active participant in a behind-the-scenes effort to overturn a free and fair election. On Dec. 8, 2020, for example, Lee texted to Meadows that "If a very small handful of states were to have their legislatures appoint alternative slates of delegates, there could be a path."

Lee, you see, wanted the coup to be by the book. If the states (only the ones Trump lost, of course) submitted alternate slates of electors, why, then, according to the Constitution and the Electoral Count Act (which Democrats should have repealed and replaced by now), the MAGA forces could stall and possibly prevent the certification of Biden's victory. Lee later texted to Meadows that he was on the phone "14 hours a day" discussing whether state legislators were going to submit "clean" slates for Trump. After the texts leaked, he told the Deseret News, "At no point in any of those was I engaging in advocacy. I wasn't in any way encouraging them to do that. I just asked them a yes or no question."

It didn't occur to Mr. Constitutional Conservative that phone calls from a United States senator to state legislators asking questions might be interpreted as signals or even possibly as threats? He certainly knew that Trump was engaging in every possible ploy to overturn the election. What business did a Utah senator have even calling legislators from Pennsylvania or Michigan? And he wasn't troubled by the utter fallaciousness of the election fraud claims, rejected by something like 63 courts, that would be the foundation of any effort to submit alternative slates? That's the nub of it. It was a lie — a blatant, stinking lie.

In October 2020, Lee famously tweeted "We're not a democracy." It's a familiar conservative talking point. We are a republic. True. A democratic republic. Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution that Lee claims to revere guarantees to each state a "republican form of government." A republican form of government depends utterly on votes being counted legally and properly. Otherwise, the Constitution's guarantee becomes a dead letter, rather like the sham elections in Russia or Cuba. It seems that Lee wanted to use the Constitution as a fig leaf for a naked power grab. Yes, he ultimately voted to certify Biden's victory, but only after granting the coup plot legitimacy with his backroom maneuvering.

The Utah Democratic Party has demonstrated flexibility, too rare a trait in today's politics. Utahans now have a rare opportunity to strike a blow for democracy and the Constitution. A McMullin victory would signal that there are consequences for betraying your oath and making a mockery of appeals to the Constitution.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.


Tucker Carlson And The Crisis Of Masculinity

Tucker Carlson's foray into testicle toasting is only the latest (and possibly most amusing) example of the right wing's masculinity obsession. The manliness theme keeps reappearing. Trump's strutting tough talk was imbibed greedily by fans eager for affirmation of the manly virtues.

Trump and his acolytes didn't invent this; insecure masculinity is an old phenomenon.

In the early years of the 20th century, Europe experienced something of a masculinity crisis. Popular writers, physicians and journalists began to fret that young Englishmen, Frenchmen and Germans had become soft after so many uninterrupted years of peace. In her magisterial history of the period, The War That Ended Peace, Margaret MacMillan traced the currents that coursed through European society in the years before the Great War. Francois Coppee, a French nationalist, worried that "Frenchmen are degenerating ... too absorbed in the race for enjoyment and luxury to retain that grand subordination of self to great causes which has been the historic glory of the French character." In Great Britain, Gen. Robert Baden-Powell founded the Boy Scouts in part because he feared the emasculation of England's youth.

In America, too, many feared that urbanization and industrialization had feminized men. Theodore Roosevelt glorified and personified the "strenuous life."

It's a universal worry. Russian President Vladimir Putin has portrayed himself shirtless on horseback, defeating opponents in hand-to-hand judo combat and shooting tigers (staged, of course). In 2021, the Chinese government banned "effeminate men" from TV and instructed broadcasters to "resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal aesthetics." They were to depict only "revolutionary culture."

It's tempting to dismiss all of this as the pathetic bleats of hollow men who merit only derision. But as anthropologists, psychologists and historians alike can testify, the male need for validation is universal, and when societies fail to offer constructive paths for masculine expression, they court backlash. The negative aspects of masculinity are always lurking just beneath the surface.

In the past 60 years, America and the rest of the developed world have witnessed dramatic and precedent-shattering changes in women's status and in relations between men and women. Not all have been positive. Boys and men have felt neglected in the march toward "girl power" and "woman power." Cutting back on recess denies children not just an outlet for restless limbs but crucial social and emotional learning.

Girls are now outperforming boys at nearly every level of education. They earn 60 percent of bachelor's and master's degrees, and comprise 70 percent of high school valedictorians. Women are also dominating many workplaces. Women today hold a majority of the nation's jobs, including 51.4 percent of managerial and professional jobs — up from 26.1 percent in 1980.

The sexual and feminist revolutions of the 1960s delivered mixed signals to men. At first, the message was: "Women were just as randy as men, and sex was a romp and a frolic." Then it was: "No, wait, failing to get consent for every caress and kiss was assault." Masculinity itself was not a constitutive part of humanity; it was "toxic."

The other great upheaval of the past half-century is the decline of the two-parent family. The great dividing line in American life is not progressive versus conservative, urban versus rural, or black versus white. It's married versus not. For example, African American husbands have higher labor force participation rates than white bachelors. The upper third of the income distribution, who tend to marry and stay together, also tend to raise thriving children. By contrast, the lowest third, who mostly have revolving-door relationships without marriage, tend to have kids who don't. The middle third is more like the bottom than the top. Children in homes with a non-relative adult are 11 times more likely to be the victims of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse than those living with their biological or adoptive parents.

Boys are more disadvantaged than girls when they are raised by single mothers. Two MIT economists studied pairs of siblings in Florida between 1992 and 2002. They found that "Fatherless boys are less ambitious, less hopeful and more likely to get into trouble at school than fatherless girls." Being raised by a single mother significantly decreased the likelihood that a boy would attend college but had no similar effect on girls.

A significant percentage of American men are growing up without models of manliness in the form of fathers. They don't see a man shouldering responsibilities for his wife and children, helping with expenses (or covering them), joking with Mom, taking out the trash, tossing a ball with his kids, helping with homework or preparing a meal. Without a balanced picture of masculinity based upon their life experience, they search for masculinity elsewhere and often find a tawdry version offered up by the Carlsons and Putins of this world.

So, in a sense, we do have a masculinity crisis. We have large numbers of men who never marry, never support their kids and are loosely attached to the community. They are insecure about their masculinity for good reason — and that presents a problem for us all.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Printed with permission from Creators.

Is There Any Way To Isolate Political Extremists? Yes

There is probably no easy cure for the Marjorie Taylor Greene phenomenon. She's a repellent clown whose presence on the national stage has yielded nothing but degradation — except for the guffaw she afforded us when denouncing Nancy Pelosi's "Gazpacho police."

And she has lots of company. Her colleagues in the House include Paul Gosar and Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert and Louie Gohmert and, sigh, many more. And even among the members who probably do know the difference between the Nazi secret police and a summer soup, there are alarming numbers who are extremist-adjacent. There are, for example, more sitting GOP congressmen who voted not to certify the 2020 election than there are Republicans who voted for a resolution to support NATO.

Democrats are not immune to the extremism virus either. While the Democratic Party hasn't lost its bearings in the way the Republican Party has, it is skewed by its own zealots. In the 2020 presidential primaries, for example, progressive activists pushed candidates to impose a moratorium on deportations, to abolish private health insurance and to ban fracking, among other demands. Those issues weren't top of mind for average Democrats, let alone for average voters.

In the pre-Internet era, our political parties seemed to be bulwarks of stability. But that has long since ceased to be the case. Rather than forming, directing and discipling their members, these institutions have become hollow shells. Unable to control fundraising due to the rise of small-dollar, internet contributions, and stripped even of the formerly coveted power of attaching earmarks to legislation, the parties, as Yuval Levin has argued, are mere soapboxes that permit members to flaunt their personal brands.

The party duopoly empowers the most extreme voters and leaves the vast middle unrepresented and feeling that in general elections they must choose the lesser of two evils. As Katherine Gehl, founder of the Institute for Political Innovation, notes, about 10 percent of voters (those who vote in primaries) determine the outcome of 83 percent of congressional races. And because primary voters tend to be more ideological and extreme than others, candidates pander to them to get elected and then to remain in office. The term "primary" became a verb only in the last decade or so, as the power of the party zealots became a cudgel to use against any member who even considered compromising with the other party.

There's one more factor aggravating the lurch to extremism, at least among Republicans (Democrats have different rules), and that's the winner-take-all system in presidential primaries. In 2016, Donald Trump lost Iowa and then won New Hampshire with 35 percent of the vote. A solid majority, 57 percent, was divided among five other candidates.

So, are we doomed to be at the mercy of the mad and bad? It's possible, but then again, one reform that seems to be getting traction is ranked-choice voting (also known as instant runoff elections).

It's already the law in Alaska and Maine for state, congressional, and presidential contests and has been adopted by more than 20 cities. In Virginia, the Republican Party used a ranked-choice system to choose its gubernatorial candidate in 2021, with the result that Glenn Youngkin rather than Amanda Chase ("Trump in heels") secured the nomination. In New York City, predictions that the city's 5.6 million voters would find the ranked-choice system confusing were not borne out. Turnout was up compared with the last contested mayoral primary, and 95 percent of voters said the system was easy. There were no differences among ethnic groups in understanding the system, and the winner was a moderate former cop.

There are many different approaches to ranked-choice voting, and experimentation will determine which is best. But even with the small sample we have, we can judge that the incentives seem better. Among the three GOP senators who voted to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, only one is up for reelection in 2022 — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Murkowski could uphold the norm of confirming the other party's qualified nominee and not fear a Trumpist primary challenger because Alaska now holds an open primary in which anyone from any party can participate. The four candidates who win the most votes go on to the general election. Voters rank their choices. If one candidate gets over 50 percent, he or she is the winner. If not, the bottom polling candidate is dropped, and the second choices on ballots are distributed, and so on until someone has a majority.

Not only does the ranked-choice system disempower party extremists; it also discourages candidates from savage personal attacks, the persistence of which arguably keeps some fine people out of politics altogether.

The two-party system has not proven to be a solid foundation for democracy. Time to disarm the crazies.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the Beg to Differ podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Democrats Need To Get Better At Politics, And Fast

When voters are dissatisfied with the state of things, they punish the party in power, and Democrats seem poised for a thumping. This may be bad news for the health of democracy, but it is understandable as a matter of electoral politics because Democrats have forgotten what they grasped in 2020 when they united behind Joe Biden: the overriding obligation to win. That's right — not to pass generational reforms, not to save the planet, but just to govern in a fashion that prevents the QAnon-indulging, Putin-friendly, truth-optional, insurrectionist party from returning to power.

It isn't that Democrats have done nothing popular. They just haven't advertised it. In fact, they've buried it. Included in the American Rescue Plan was one policy that really was life-changing for many Americans — the child allowance. Parents of 60 million of America's 73 million children began receiving a check from the IRS of $300 a month for young children and $250 a month for older ones. Under Biden, child poverty reached its lowest rate in American history.

Have you heard about this dramatic accomplishment? Biden mentions it from time to time, but it should have been shouted, broadcast, trumpeted and crowed over. Sadly, the program has now lapsed, a victim of Democratic infighting.

Nor have Democrats talked up the good economic numbers. With the exception of the inflation rate, the economic story is remarkably good. The unemployment rate dropped from 6.2 percent when Biden took office to 3.9 percent today. Skeptics might attribute that mostly to the waning of COVID-19, but that shouldn't stop politicians from bragging. They get blamed for things they aren't responsible for, so they might as well take credit for things they didn't really affect. Hiring is robust, wages are rising, unemployment is low, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is at 35,000.

How about that bipartisan infrastructure bill? All of the lead pipes in America are going to be replaced, saving God knows how many kids from brain damage. The legislation will begin the important process of mitigating the effects of climate change by building dikes, dams and other infrastructure. It will repair roads, bridges and airports, and do much more. Have you heard about it?

Yet the dominating story of Biden's first year-and-a-half was that Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema were traitors who stood in the way of a different bill that was never described in any way except as a price tag. A bunch of progressives wanted to spend another $2 trillion. Ninety percent of the attention has gone to what Democrats were (unrealistically) shooting for rather than what they achieved. So they drowned their own accomplishments in a miasma of recriminations.

Nor have Democrats competently pushed back on "defund the police" and "abolish ICE" and other left-wing slogans that Republicans have employed to great effect to tar their whole party. Yes, Biden had a good one-liner in his State of the Union address. "Don't defund the police. Fund the police." But it should have been said 3,000 times, and not just by Biden but by Vice President Kamala Harris and his cabinet members and leaders in Congress and surrogates of every kind.

They used to be better at this.

As someone who was on the other side for decades, I well recall that when Paul Ryan supported a plan that would permit Americans to funnel up to 40 percent of their Social Security taxes into private retirement accounts, interest group ads depicted him as a ghoul who was willing to wheel Granny off a cliff. I also recall the Obama campaign commercial that falsely pinned responsibility for a woman's cancer death on Mitt Romney's firm.

All of that was scurrilous, and I would never — truly never — suggest that Democrats lie about Republicans. But why can they not tell the truth?

Sen. Rick Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is out with a plan that explicitly calls for raising taxes on 57% of American households. Could Democrats make something of that? And if not, what are they doing in politics?

Finally, at least one reason that Democrats are perceived to be out of the mainstream is that the right-wing information ecosystem relentlessly "nut picks" the most outlandish things any Democrat says or does and magnifies it out of all proportion.

By contrast, Democrats have utterly failed to elevate the profiles of sinister figures like Reps. Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorn or Lauren Boebert. Where are the Democratic ads pointing out that the way you get in trouble in today's GOP is by standing up for the rule of law and the Constitution (see Cheney, Liz and Kinzinger, Adam), but not for attending a conference organized by a Holocaust-mocking white supremacist? We used to say "the ads write themselves," yet the Democrats can't seem to manage it.

Get better Democrats. The stakes couldn't be higher.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Is It Really Racist To Help Ukraine — And Ukrainians?

"Many in Mideast See Hypocrisy in Western Embrace of Ukraine," read an Associated Press headline this week. Salon asked: "Whose Lives Really Matter?" and answered its own question in the next breath — "How Racism Colors Coverage of the Crisis in Ukraine."

On social media, a tweet by Ayo Sogunro, a Nigerian human rights lawyer, has been shared tens of thousands of times: "Can't get it out of my head that Europe cried about a 'migrant crisis' in 2015 against 1.4 million refugees fleeing war in Syria and yet quickly absorbed some two million Ukrainians within days, complete with flags and piano music. Europe never had a migrant crisis. It has a racism crisis."

I beg to differ. In fact, Americans and Europeans have expended quite a lot of blood and treasure over the past several decades to defend or help non-whites and non-Christians. The most directly analogous case to Russia's invasion of Ukraine was Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The coverage of Kuwait's suffering at the time was heartrending, including stories about hospitals being plundered and civilians imprisoned, raped and tortured. Far from countenancing this assault on a non-white nation, the U.S. assembled an international coalition of 35 nations to drive Iraq out of Kuwait in what became the First Gulf War.

In 1992 and 1993, a civil war had devastated Somalia. A U.N. relief operation had run aground. President George H.W. Bush offered to send 25,000 U.S. troops to keep order so that the humanitarian aid could be distributed. What followed under the Clinton administration was the infamous "Black Hawk Down" episode in which 19 Americans were killed and 70 injured by al-Qaida-trained militants.

The U.S. took military action on behalf of Muslims six times in the past 30 years — in Kuwait, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, and participated (if only from behind) in the military operation that removed Moammar Gadhafi from power when he seemed poised to destroy the city of Benghazi. So call it seven. Say what you will about the wisdom of the Iraq invasion (or the other interventions), there is no doubt that they were undertaken with the goal of freeing people from a dictator, not imposing one. Those who make facile comparisons between our wars and the Russian invasion might want to reflect that no Ukrainians are mobbing the Russian embassy in hopes of visas and no Ukrainians are hanging onto Russian jets. You don't have to agree that the Iraq war was good policy or the long occupation of Afghanistan a wise use of resources to concede that we tried awfully hard to help both countries.

As for the different treatment of Ukrainian versus Mideast refugees, let's remember that Europe accepted more than 1 million refugees from Syria and the U.S. accepted several thousand, despite non-trivial fears that ISIS and al-Qaida elements might be among those asking for asylum. Arguably, the strain those immigrants placed on European societies — because they did include some terrorists — led directly to the rise of far-right parties. And while we're thinking of Syria, let's not forget that Russia also intervened in the conflict — on the side of Bashar al-Assad, helping to reduce Aleppo and other cities to rubble and further immiserating that nation.

"Whose Lives Really Matter?" asks Salon. Well, African lives do. That's why the United States launched PEPFAR under George W. Bush's presidency, the largest commitment by any nation to fight a disease in history. The fund has already spent $100 billion and saved an estimated 20 million lives that would have been lost to HIV/AIDS.

So what has triggered this rash of commentary about Ukraine proving the racism of the West? On the BBC, a former Ukrainian official confessed that "It's very emotional for me because I see European people with blue eyes and blond hair ... being killed every day." An Al Jazeera anchor said, "These are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East."

Those comments were stupid, but the reason I recited the history above is that you can't write whole nations off for the stray remarks of a few. In fact, identification with those most like us — in appearance, culture, religion, nation, whatever — is part of human nature, and no one of any color is completely immune. Arabs are more concerned about Palestinians than about the Rohingya or Sudanese. That's not racism, it's just fellow feeling.

Europeans and Americans have responded to Ukraine's plight with empathy and anger and admiration and love. And so have Kenyans and Japanese and Mexicans and Egyptians and billions more. We all have our tribal tendencies and must strive to recognize that all God's children are of equal moral worth. But looking at our recent history, we've done pretty well on that score. So let's not tar this moment of moral clarity with the racism brush.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Slow Down Trans Policy -- And Let Trans Science Catch Up

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas recently used his executive authority to declare that puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgeries for those under 18 meet the legal standard for child abuse in Texas, a ruling that authorized the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents who had sought such treatment for their children. This is malice masquerading as policymaking.

Progressives, for their part, anathematize anyone who questions the new orthodoxy about gender. Not to go all kumbaya, but it just might be the case that both sides in these controversies have valid perspectives.

Progressives are right that transgender people used to be treated with some contempt. It's important to correct that. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity. But conservatives are right that we've rushed into radical approaches to medicating children with gender dysphoria because the medical establishment and large parts of the opinion-shaping commentariat have treated this as a social justice matter rather than as a question of what's best for kids.

Over the past couple of decades, the percentage of kids identifying as transgender has skyrocketed. A recent survey found that 1.8 percent of children under the age of 18 identify as trans, which is twice the number from 10 years earlier. Brown University public health researcher Lisa Littman published a study speculating that peer contagion was part of the reason groups of teenage girls were coming out as trans, and Abigail Shrier's book followed up with insights into the social media influencers on YouTube and Tik Tok who encourage unhappy kids to consider that path.

LBGTQ advocates vigorously oppose the group contagion theory, but it's obvious that behavior and mental health are affected by social cues. Emile Durkheim showed that suicide was contagious more than 100 years ago, and other mental health issues like eating disorders and cutting are associated with particular groups (white, middle-class females). Positive behaviors like volunteering and charitable giving are also influenced by group dynamics.

While we can't rule out the possibility that trans people are coming out of the closet for the same reasons that gay people did in previous decades — declining stigma — there are reasons to be more cautious about the trans trend.

First, there is the complicated matter of why people seek to transition. Studies have shown that the majority of youth with gender dysphoria who go through natural puberty become lesbian, gay or bisexual nontransgender adults. Surely clinicians have a duty to help young people explore their sexuality before prescribing hormones and other body- and brain-altering treatments.

Second, recognizing one's sexual orientation doesn't entail the risks of surgery or infertility, while gender therapy does. The "gender affirmation" model of treatment, the nearly universal approach of American gender clinics, requires that children who express gender dysphoria be recognized by family, friends and teachers as the other sex. They are encouraged to dress, style their hair, change their names and pronouns, and conduct themselves in every way as the other sex. They are given puberty-blocker drugs to retard the onset of puberty until they are "ready" to decide what they really want to be. And thereafter, they are prescribed cross-hormone treatments (lifelong) along with surgery, if desired.

Advocates say puberty blockers and other early treatments are fully reversible, but that's debatable. As The New York Times noted, few studies have followed adolescents receiving these drugs into adulthood. Puberty blockers impede bone development and, if administered early in puberty, cause permanent infertility.

Besides, children go through stages, and it seems ill-advised to make decisions about treatment that will have irreversible effects.

Studies of patients who have de-transitioned after hormone or surgical treatment or both reveal that most feel they received inadequate counseling before being prescribed hormones. A quarter said they realized as adults that their discomfort with being gay drove them to transition, and 38% said that trauma, abuse or other mental health issues caused them to transition.

Clearly, children who have true gender dysphoria need sensitive and compassionate care and full respect. In some cases, it may be best to adopt aspects of the gender affirming approach. But interfering with their bodies and brains before they reach maturity seems drastic, particularly when surgeries are performed on teens younger than 18.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

The Ukraine Speech Biden Should Deliver Now

President Joe Biden should deliver an Oval Office address. Here is a suggestion:

My fellow Americans, our country has been through several tough years. The pandemic was a severe blow. But even more serious than the disease was the fraying of our national spirit. We've been so polarized that we've forgotten our core identity as a country — that we stand for democracy and freedom.

In the past few years, some Americans have lost faith in those things. So this is a moment to refocus. When Russian tanks rolled into Ukrainian territory on the night of Feb. 24, the savage attack on a peaceful neighbor reminded the world of what autocracy looks like.

This is what can happen when a strongman exerts his will unrestrained by free elections, the rule of law, public opinion, a free press or a loyal opposition. This horror — young men killed; civilians deprived of food, water and power; families separated — the entire heartbreaking story — is the face of autocracy.

But here's another thing we've been reminded of — the war on truth. Through relentless lies and propaganda, and by suppressing all outlets that tell the truth, Vladimir Putin has been able to persuade millions of Russians of an alternate reality. His state media have said that the war is defensive. They've claimed that Ukraine was preparing to commit genocide against Russians, that it was ruled by a Nazi clique and that only military targets are being struck. All lies. Vicious, cynical lies.

Most people are peaceable and fair. They won't support wars of aggression. No, the only way to get assent for evil acts is to propagandize people and convince them that up is down and black is white.

On the subject of righteousness, let's not forget the brave Russians who have seen through Putin's alternate reality and are risking everything to protest the atrocity that is being perpetrated in their name. Tens of thousands of ordinary Russians have taken to the streets to protest this war, and thousands have been detained — because speaking the truth is a crime in Russia. The regime calls it "fake news." That has a familiar ring.

Putin believed that the world's democracies were weak and decadent. He could not have been more wrong. He misjudged the Ukrainians. He misjudged his own military. He misjudged NATO. And he misjudged the United States.

Putin thought NATO was on its deathbed. Today, he is staring at an alliance that is rearming, reuniting and reconfirming its determination to defend freedom. And it may soon welcome new members.

Those supposedly weak and divided democracies have managed to resupply the Ukrainians with Stingers and Javelins and rifles and grenades and machine guns and moral support. Those putatively decadent Westerners have reduced the ruble's value to a fraction of a penny. The Russian stock market has been closed for three weeks, fearing a complete collapse. The ostensibly feckless West has deprived the oligarchs of their yachts and their London mansions, and frozen half of the country's foreign reserves.

Putin has clarified certain realities. He has reminded the NATO alliance and everyone who lives in freedom of how precious democracy is. What was Ukraine's offense? Ukrainians wanted to be like Europe and the United States, free and democratic, not like Russia.

Putin's war has already brutalized that brave nation. And we cannot ignore the additional harms this war will cause. A world just starting to recover from two years of a pandemic will now endure more disruptions and more shortages and more inflation. I have been so moved that Americans have responded to the prospect of higher prices with resolve. As many Americans have affirmed: "It's a small price to pay for freedom."

Let's talk a bit more about energy: Putin believed that the democracies couldn't get along without his oil and gas. The world is sending the opposite signal, but we must use all of the clean power available to us. There would be no more painful outcome for Putin and other autocrats around the globe than for us to embrace clean, safe nuclear energy. And the climate would thank us, too.

We've heard lots of cheap talk in the United States in recent years about strength. Some have even admired Putin's brand of autocracy because he was supposedly a strong leader.

But here's what Putin has reminded us of — strength alone is not a virtue. Only strength used for good is admirable. Volodymyr Zelenskyy is what true toughness looks like: strength in the service of good.

We Americans have made some mistakes, but all in all, we use our power to enhance freedom and human dignity. We use our power to keep the peace. We use our power to uphold the truth. And we will remain a beacon of liberty and democracy for the world.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.com

Thank God Trump Isn’t President Right Now

President Joe Biden is not very good at his job, and yet, I thank God every day that Biden is president. In the Ukraine crisis, he has redeemed the hopes of those who voted for competence. The administration's warnings to Moscow were unambiguous without being hysterical. Our revelations of intelligence unmasking Russian disinformation and false flag narratives were on the nose. Biden's coordination with European allies was a skillful presentation of unity (special kudos to Secretary of State Antony Blinken).

There were some missed opportunities. The president should have placed the invasion of Ukraine in a broader historical context and outlined how the struggle between democracy and authoritarianism is the defining issue of our time, whether abroad or at home. And he ought not to suggest or pretend that Americans can be spared any hardship, even higher gas prices, during this fight.

But Biden sees clearly what sort of menace Russian President Vladimir Putin is. Only the most obtuse or twisted soul could fail to see it ... which brings us to the president's predecessor.

A quick refresher on former President Donald Trump's relations with Putin and Ukraine leaves little doubt that far from deterring Putin, he was Putin's most reliable "useful idiot."

Trump wasn't the first president to go soft on Putin, of course. Barack "Tell Vladimir I'll have more flexibility after the election" Obama plowed that ground very well. But at least Obama knew what he was doing. He chose diffidence and called it wisdom. Trump was a dupe and a dope, a walking refutation of the adage "you can't kid a kidder."

At Trump's first meeting with Putin, he accepted the Russian's denials of election interference and announced the creation of "an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe." The plan to let the fox guard the henhouse was dropped after GOP senators exploded.

Trump demanded that the translators take no notes at their meetings, but it is clear from the public record that Trump often repeated Putin's talking points.

At the Helsinki summit, Trump infamously endorsed Putin's version of the election interference story over that of America's own intelligence agencies. Later, speaking to Tucker Carlson, Trump revealed the other ways Putin had been poisoning his mind, planting ideas about NATO countries. "Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people. ... They are very strong people. They are very aggressive people, they may get aggressive, and congratulations, you are in World War III." Who believes that Trump had ever heard of Montenegro, far less formed views about their supposed aggressiveness, before that meeting?

Trump got other ideas from his conversations with Putin and dutifully lobbied our major trading partners in the G7 to invite Russia back into the fold. They declined.

In 2019, defending his decision to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan, Trump offered this little potted history about Russia's engagement with that country: "(T)he reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there."

As with the other Putin nuggets he regurgitated, Trump said this with perfect ingenuousness.

Throughout his presidency, Trump hinted and blustered about withdrawing from NATO, which would fulfill Putin's dearest wish. When his aides objected that this might be harmful politically, Trump conceded the point, as Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker report, saying "Yeah, the second term. We'll do it in the second term."

As for Ukraine, Putin gave Trump the idea that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that had interfered in the 2016 election. As New York Magazine reported, "Trump repeatedly told one senior official that the Russian president said Ukraine sought to undermine him." Trump further believed in a mysterious "missing server" that was hidden in Ukraine containing the missing emails. In his infamous 2019 shake-down call with Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump alluded to it: "I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike ... I guess you have one of your wealthy people ... The server, they say Ukraine has it."

In 2016, Trump suggested that Russian ownership of Crimea be recognized and again repeated a factoid that seems likely to have come directly from Putin. "The people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were," he told ABC News. The GOP platform was changed to omit endorsing arms for Ukraine.

Trump is a disturbed human being who is constantly revealing his attraction to violence and "strength." Even as Putin was smashing his tanks into Ukraine, Trump fawned over his "genius" and then boasted that "I know him very, very well." He said it was "wonderful." He backtracked after a day or two, but doubtless only after being advised that it was politically unwise.

But if, God forbid, there were ever a second term, political considerations wouldn't be dispositive, and the most sinister and credulous man ever to disgrace the Oval Office would be unconstrained.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

How Did Trump Flub China Policy? Let's Count The Ways

Was Trump right about China? No. Let's count the ways.

One: Trump's entire conception of the China challenge was fallacious. Trump thought the problem China posed was that it sold us too many things, resulting in a bilateral "trade deficit," which meant that China was "winning" and we were "losing."

While it is true that some industries lost jobs to Chinese competition over the past two decades, it is also true that other industries gained jobs due to trade with China and other countries, and lower-income consumers were particularly enriched by the abundance of inexpensive goods China and others supplied. So were manufacturers who were able to use less expensive Chinese imports. One in five American jobs is devoted to exports, which often rely on imported components.

Two: Trump focused exclusively on one figure, the trade deficit. He wailed that the trade deficit with China amounted to "rape" and promised that under his "America First" leadership, we would "fight for America's blue-collar workers." Economists nearly unanimously consider the trade deficit to be a useless statistic for many reasons, including: 1) a trade deficit reflects the fact that Americans have lots of money to spend; 2) it fails to consider that when China sells us goods and we pay in dollars, those dollars come back to us in the form of capital investment; 3) it's super complicated to figure out bilateral balances of trade because so much trade in the 21st century involves multiple countries; and 4) trade deficits are associated with economic growth, not decline.Under his leadership, the U.S. trade deficit was the largest in a decade — a failure, by Trump's lights.

The data are also now in on Trump's own "momentous" 2020 trade deal with China. As part of his strategy to get this supposedly history-making deal, Trump had imposed tariffs (taxes) on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. China retaliated with tariffs on $110 billion in American products, particularly targeting farmers. Trump incessantly claimed that China was paying those tariffs, but as a new report for the Peterson Institute for International Economics underlines, that was untrue. Trump's import taxes were paid entirely by American businesses and consumers. This brought the Treasury $66 billion, almost exactly the amount Trump paid out to U.S. farmers to compensate them for lost exports. Had the trade war never started, the PIIE estimates, U.S. exports to China would have been nearly 20 percent higher in 2020.

The tit-for-tat tariffs continued throughout the Trump presidency until the great 2020 trade deal negotiated with his "very, very good friend Xi Jinping." The deal, Trump blustered, was "incredible ... one of the largest deals ever."

The actual results? It was a flop. Trump said the Chinese government would remove its tariffs. They didn't. Trump said they would buy $200 billion in U.S.-manufactured goods. They purchased only a little more than half of that, which did not equal U.S. exports to China from before the trade war.

Three: Trump should have seized upon the golden opportunity available at the start of his term to enhance U.S. exports and rein in China — the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Instead, one of Trump's first acts was to withdraw from the TPP. Sadly, the Democratic Party has also abandoned free trade.

None of this is to say that we shouldn't negotiate with China to curb their unfair trade practices, only that the ideal way to do so is with allies who share our values. In any case, the emphasis on trade misses the point: China is a bad international actor in many ways, and frankly, when you consider Hong Kong and Taiwan and the export of surveillance technology to brutal dictatorships and the Uyghurs and the alliance with Russia, well, trade is pretty far down on the list of sins.

The Trump Coup Is Ongoing -- And 'Moderate' Republicans Enable It

Some look back on the events following Donald Trump's 2020 election loss and think we dodged a bullet: There was a coup attempt, and thankfully it failed. Others believe that the whole thing has been overblown. Even as evidence piles up that the coup was far more extensive than siccing a mob on the Capitol, those two takes seem unshaken. There is another way to look at it: The coup is ongoing. With every new revelation about how extensive Trump's efforts to overturn the election were — and they are arriving on an almost daily basis — the flaccid response of Republicans makes the next coup that much more thinkable.

Trump, we now know, paged through the federal departments and agencies looking for willing insurrectionists. He explored the possibility of having the Justice Department seize voting machines in swing states (Bill Barr shot down the idea), and then considered installing Jeffrey Clark as attorney general in Barr's place (a threatened mass resignation stayed his hand). He then turned to the military and considered using his emergency powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to permit the Pentagon to seize voting machines and other records.

Things had gone as far as the drafting of a presidential "finding" about nonexistent fraud. Trump also tested the waters at the Department of Homeland Security, asking Rudy Giuliani to see whether the (unlawfully appointed) acting deputy secretary, Ken Cuccinelli, would seize the voting machines under that department's auspices. Cuccinelli begged off.

This comes on the heels of revelations about phony slates of electors. Eighty-four Republicans from seven states signed bogus documents claiming that Trump had won their states and sent these fake Electoral College certificates to the National Archives.

Trump was busier attempting to undo the election than he had ever been as president. He summoned the leaders of the Michigan legislature to the White House after the election to convince them to certify that their state, which voted for Biden, had voted for him. He cajoled and threatened Georgia's secretary of state to "find" 11,780 votes. He phoned local election officials to pressure them to say they found fraud, buzzed the Arizona governor repeatedly even up to the minute he was signing his state's certification, and strong-armed the vice president to, in Trump's own words, "overturn the election."

A little-noticed feature of the stories about Trump's thus-far unsuccessful efforts to stage a coup is that even among the MAGA crowd, some things were considered beyond the pale. Barr was willing to swallow a lot, but he couldn't go along with lying about imaginary vote fraud. The high-ranking lawyers at the Justice Department were Trump appointees, but they would resign en masse rather than see Clark subvert the department for plainly unlawful ends. Brad Raffensperger voted for Trump but refused to lie for him. Cuccinelli was Trump's loyal immigration hawk, but he couldn't see his way to using his Homeland Security post to confiscate voting machines and commit fraud. And though Mike Pence, pressed hard by Trump for the last full measure of devotion, wavered (he phoned former Vice President Dan Quayle for advice), in the end, he did what he knew was right.

A healthy body politic, like a healthy physical body, needs antibodies. It needs certain automatic defenses. The actions of those Republicans were the vestigial antibodies of a healthy democracy. The people who made those crucial decisions were acting out of a sense that anything less would be dishonorable and would be perceived as such by the whole society.

But would they make the same decisions today? Every single time a Republican suggests that what Trump did and attempted to do was anything less than a five-alarm fire, they are weakening our immune system.

Sen. Susan Collins was asked whether she could support Trump in 2024. She declined to rule it out.

Just think about what message that sends to the rank and file about what is beyond the pale and what isn't. If Collins might even support Trump, maybe it's not such a big deal.

On the anniversary of January 6, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sneered at what he called "nauseating" remembrances, adding that "it's an insult to people when you say it's an insurrection." Another blow to the concept that something truly awful happened that must never be repeated.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has not hesitated to appear on the John Fredericks radio show since his inauguration. Fredericks was the host of a rally in October that featured an American flag that had been carried at the "peaceful" January 6 protest. Fredericks also ladles out big helpings of election falsehood to his listeners.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has announced a new podcast, hosted by Sen. Rick Scott, to help 2022 GOP senate candidates. First scheduled guest: Donald Trump.

It was not just an attempted coup. The steady sapping of republican virtue continues.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the Beg to Differ podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Everybody Gets ‘Critical Race Theory’ Wrong — Except Most Americans

In 2020, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., included so-called whiteness traits in its "Talking About Race" online portal. The museum advised that traits like "hard work" and "objective thinking" were vestiges of "whiteness." When this created a stir, the museum (which is fantastic, by the way) removed the online post and apologized.

That isn't the way things normally roll here in 21st-century America. No, our more typical response is spittle-flecked outrage, misleading accounts and imprecations.

There are problems with the critical race theory, or CRT, approach favored by some progressives. And yes, it is also the case that some Republicans and conservatives are making bad-faith arguments and blowing on the embers of racism. So, let's attempt a little tidying up.

The laws some Republican-dominated states are passing to curtail CRT and its progeny are bad ideas for many reasons. But the depictions of those laws in big outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post are frequently wrong or incomplete. A recent CNN report about Florida's new law that would prohibit teaching methods that make people "feel discomfort, guilt, anguish" mangles the facts. CNN described critical race theory as "a concept that seeks to understand and address inequality and racism in the US."

Not quite, though CNN is hardly alone. It is common to see anti-CRT bills described as "efforts to restrict what teachers can say about race, racism and American history in the classroom." It's much more than that.

In their book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic state forthrightly that "Critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law." Robin DiAngelo, author of "White Fragility," declares that "White identity is inherently racist."

CRT adherents favor teaching techniques that most Americans believe violate our commitment to colorblindness, such as "affinity groups" wherein people are segregated by race to discuss certain issues. In Massachusetts, the Wellesley public schools hosted a "Healing Space for Asian and Asian-American students and others in the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community." An official email explained that, "This is a safe space for our Asian/Asian American and Students of Color, not for students who identify only as White."

In Virginia's Loudoun County, teacher training materials encouraged educators to reject "color blindness" and to "address their whiteness (e.g., white privilege)." Each teacher was exhorted to become a "culturally competent professional who acknowledges and is aware of his or her own racist, sexist, heterosexist, or other detrimental attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and feelings."

Democrats often object that CRT is "not taught in K-12 schools," which is evasive. It's true that third graders are not being assigned the works of Kimberle Crenshaw or Ibram X. Kendi, but CRT-adjacent ideas are making their way into classrooms. New York City has spent millions on training materials that disdain "worship of the written word," "individualism" and "objectivity" as aspects of "white-supremacy culture."

Some Republicans have made things even worse. A conservative group is suing a school district in Tennessee because its second grade curriculum included a "Civil Rights Heroes" module that included a picture book about Ruby Bridges. Other bad-faith actors like Christopher Rufo are attempting to taint many views they disagree with as CRT, which Rufo describes as "the perfect villain."

In fact, large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats favor teaching about slavery, racism and other sins of American history. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans favor teaching that slavery was the cause of the Civil War. Ninety percent of Democrats and 83 percent of Republicans believe textbooks should say that many Founding Fathers owned slaves. That is not the picture of a nation (or even one party) that is refusing to grapple with the history of racism. Where you do find partisan divergence is on whether schools should teach the concept of "white privilege." Seventy-one percent of Democrats say yes, but only 22 percent of Republicans agree.

The Republicans are right on this. This is not to say that white privilege doesn't exist, but teaching it in schools may have the opposite effect of what proponents hope and opponents fear. What's the likely result of telling white students, with their varying incomes and backgrounds, that they are the bearers of "white privilege"? I don't think most of them are going to feel guilty. They're going to get angry. They're going to feel alienated from their Black classmates. Teaching like that sets up an inter-group victim sweepstakes in which everyone loses.

The goal of teaching about slavery, racism and other sins is to tell the truth. For the same reason, schools should teach about the admirable progress we've made in moving toward a more just multiethnic society. If we're hoping to elicit the right feelings from students — and we should — then the feelings we're after are sympathy, understanding, and solidarity, not guilt.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

How Much Blame Does Biden Deserve For Inflation Woes?

President Joe Biden's standing with voters has taken a beating on multiple fronts. He is perceived as not focusing on issues they care about, particularly inflation.

Inflation is a president slayer. Richard Nixon imposed wage and price controls. When they were lifted, prices soared even higher. Would Nixon have been removed over Watergate if the economy had been better?

Gerald Ford issued red and white lapel pins proclaiming "WIN," which stood for "Whip Inflation Now." Inflation was unimpressed. Ford got whipped by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election.

Inflation dogged the Carter presidency as well. Carter did eventually appoint a determined inflation hawk, Paul Volcker, to lead the Federal Reserve. He threw the nation into a recession by hiking interest rates. Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in 1980.

Does Biden deserve the blame for inflation? Not to the degree people are saying.

Senate Republicans held a press conference in July blaming the "insane tax and spending spree of President Biden and the Democrats for six straight months of raging inflation." In December, Sen. Mitch McConnell tweeted: "It is unthinkable that Senate Democrats would try to respond to this inflation report by ramming through another massive socialist spending package in a matter of days."

Whoa. Biden did pass a large COVID-19 bill early in his term, but the rest of the "socialism" Republicans are fulminating about did not pass.

Republicans are suddenly crying "socialism!" but let's be fair. While the government has been pumping money into the economy at a record clip over the past 14 years, most of that has been the work of the Federal Reserve, and former President Donald Trump was the most vociferous proponent of easy money we've ever seen.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, the Federal Reserve has been shoveling money out the door with pitchforks, and in the wake of COVID-19, both the central bank and the federal government have been "dropping money from helicopters," to use the image coined by Milton Friedman.

Many economists believe the Fed was right to do this as a response to the financial crisis of 2008. The controversy arises about when it was time to stop. Arguably, the Trump years were the right time. But that's not what the Trump-led GOP favored.

Trump's money gusher began in 2017 with the $1.9 trillion tax cut that wasn't matched with any spending cuts.

Trump appointed Jerome Powell to the Fed but quickly soured on him when he didn't increase the money supply quickly enough for Trump's taste. Powell was soon on the receiving end of Trump tweets. He argued that "we need rate cuts and easing" (exactly the opposite of what we needed).

If Republicans were worried about inflation, they might have spoken up about Trump's attempt to flood the economy with easy cash (to say nothing of eroding the norm about political influence on the Fed).

Then came COVID-19. Most people think the big federal cash infusion, the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, was a necessary response to the emergency. It saved many from destitution. But that money, combined with the trillions of dollars of quantitative easing and near-zero interest rates over the past decade and a half, certainly set the stage for inflation. Congress passed an additional $900 billion in December of 2020 — which Trump signed — for a grand total of over $3 trillion in COVID-19 relief.

Again, all of this money sloshed into the economy before Biden took the oath of office.

Was it wise for Biden to pass yet another COVID-19 relief package, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, in 2021? I don't think so. But did it cause the inflation we're experiencing now?

The annual inflation rate for most things Americans buy was already at the highest level in a decade before Biden entered the White House. And inflation is global. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, inflation among its 38 member states is running higher than at any point since 2008.

So, even if Biden is only partially responsible for the inflation we've got, there are steps he can take. One would be to remove the Trump-imposed tariffs, which are taxes that raise the price of goods to Americans. Another would be to promote more legal immigration. We are suffering a severe labor shortage in all areas. More labor would ease bottlenecks at ports and in transportation. Make keeping schools open a priority. Remote learning has been terrible for kids, and many parents cannot work if their kids are not in school.

Biden should forthrightly address what's on voters' minds. He's gotten tangled up in internecine fights with other Democrats over matters voters don't know or care about and that he can't even win. If they sense he's not really engaged in controlling the inflation menace, it could well do to him what it has done to other presidents.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.com

Did The January 6 Coup Fail?

January 6 should have been the point of no return, the pivot point at which even the most blinkered sugar-coaters of Trumpism recoiled in disgust from what they had wrought.

For everyone who had convinced themselves that, whatever Trump's flaws, the true threat to the American way of life lay on the left and only on the left, January 6 was a blaring klaxon. Yes, he was a buffoon and incompetent and unfamiliar with the levers of power — and yet this clown nearly brought a 244-year-old democracy to its knees.

The most threatening aspect of January 6 was not the ferocious attack on the Capitol but the response of Republican officeholders thereafter. Even after the unleashing of medieval mob violence, 147 Republican members of Congress voted not to certify Joe Biden as the winner of the presidency. The transformation of the GOP from a political party into an authoritarian personality cult became official that day.

In the year since, most Republicans (with some extremely honorable exceptions) have descended further into cultishness. They blocked the creation of an independent January 6 commission, attempted to pack the congressional January 6 committee with Trump Dobermans like Rep. Jim Jordan, and engaged in flagrant gaslighting about the events of that day. Now, with the arrival of the first anniversary of the most shameful day in recent history, Republicans and right-wing opinion leaders returned to their comfort zone: Blame the media.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who showed uncharacteristic independence that day, has retreated to media bashing. "I know the media wants to distract from the Biden administration's failed agenda by focusing on one day in January," he told Fox News.

Radio host Erick Erickson tweeted that "there is a genuine obsession in the press about it. It was a bad day, but it doesn't outweigh crime, inflation, COVID, school closures, etc. for voters." Erickson was at pains to emphasize that he isn't now minimizing what happened at the Capitol, but merely responding to a "press corps obsessed with it as the worst thing ever."

This is not to say that there's no such thing as press overreaction or hysteria, but the right has been engaging in evasion for years with the "but the media" trope. In the wake of January 6, it looks not just dishonest but absurd. January 6 is not an "issue" like crime or COVID-19 or inflation. It's the heart of our system. Without bipartisan allegiance to the verdict of voters and the willingness to cede power to those you oppose, no other "issues" can ever be addressed.

Encounter Books editor Roger Kimball mocked the gravity of January 6. "Was it an effort to overthrow the government? Hardly." The trouble, of course, is the media: "To listen to the establishment media and our political masters, the January 6 protest was a dire threat to the very fabric of our nation."

In fact, Kimball claims, the media narrative amounts to a "January 6 insurrection hoax" to pair with the "Russia collusion hoax."

Unlike some of those cited above, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat is not an apologist for Trumpism. He doesn't blame the media, but he doubts that Trump has the wherewithal to subvert our system. Yes, Trump did try to steal the election, Douthat writes, but the courts and state legislatures failed to do his bidding.

That's a comforting thought, but it fails to grapple with two things. One is the GOP's systematic purging of officials who did the right thing in the 2020 election. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has been removed from the board overseeing election certification and is being primaried, as is Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. Across the country, Republican officials who stood in the breach when it counted and did the right thing are being hounded from office. Members who voted to impeach are resigning or close to resigning.

It's true that Trump didn't quite know where the pressure points were last time, but he's learning. He has supported secretary of state candidates who deny the validity of the 2020 result in four swing states. Meanwhile, Republican-controlled legislatures in a number of states have passed laws withdrawing power over election certification from local election administrators and handing it to legislatures.

But the most profound reason to fear a repeat of something like January 6 is that Trump has corrupted the minds of a substantial percentage of Republican party members.

The polls consistently show that about two-thirds of Republicans believe the Big Lie that the election was stolen. Nearly a third believe that "Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country." Among rank-and-file Republicans, January 6 is not even viewed as regrettable. One poll found that 52% identified those who entered the Capitol as "protecting democracy."Institutions are not self-sustaining. They are composed of people, and if people have lost faith in them or have given themselves permission to break the rules, they will crumble.

A people deluded and propagandized cannot be trusted to uphold the pillars of the democratic process. Trump failed at his improvised coup, but he succeeded in warping enough of the electorate to make another attempt — and even success — all too possible.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

How Democrats Made An Unnecessary Manchin Mess

"Joe Manchin Just Killed the Biden Agenda," lamented a headline in The Week. The funereal tone was echoed in much of the coverage of Sen. Manchin's blunt declaration on Sunday that he would not support the Build Back Better legislation in its current form. Even President Joe Biden's White House has stooped to insulting Manchin. Congressional progressives, from Sen. Bernie Sanders to Rep. Pramila Jayapal, issued severe warnings to Senator Red State that this time he had gone too far. They were going to take their complaints directly to the people of West Virginia!

On CNN, Sanders thundered:"Ask the people of West Virginia whether or not they want to lower the cost of prescription drugs. You ask them whether they want to expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing and eyeglasses. ... On all of those issues, I suspect people of West Virginia, like every other state in this country, will say, yes, do the right thing for working families."

As The Bulwark's Tim Miller so expertly explicated last week, this threat is hollow. "Joe Manchin knows that those who think passing BBB will help him in WV are completely and totally out of touch with his electorate."

The people of West Virginia are not just red; they are scarlet. Trump got a bigger percentage of the vote (68.6) in West Virginia in 2020 than he did in Texas or Louisiana or Oklahoma or Utah or Alabama. Whatever bedtime fairy tales the progressives are telling themselves about the voters of West Virginia, Manchin knows the reality.

Many a Democratic lawmaker and pundit has also whined about how unfair and undemocratic it is that one senator representing such a small state should be able to hold up legislation that the whole country wants so desperately.

Please. The rules are the rules. Our system was not designed to be a pure democracy. The Electoral College and the Senate give disproportionate power to some voters over others. You can gnash your teeth about it and shake your fists at the heavens, but to what end? Better to figure out how to woo gettable voters in swing states and win — as Biden did in 2020.

Correspondingly, when the Senate is evenly divided, every single senator becomes a potential majority maker or saboteur. That's math. The Democrats were lucky to squeak to 50, for which they can thank two people. The first was Donald Trump. Because of his tantrum about mythical election stealing, some 752,000 Georgia Republicans who voted in November failed to show up for the runoff in January. That was just enough to elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. The second person was Manchin, who has successfully threaded the needle of maintaining his credibility in a conservative state while still voting with his party most of the time.

What the Democrats, starting with Biden, ought to have done on January 21, 2021, was to sit down with Manchin and ask, "What can you support?" If that meant Manchin basically had veto power over some Democrats' priorities, so be it, because, ladies and gentlemen, he had it anyway, and now he has used it — except almost a year has been wasted.

The Democrats look weak and divided as well as petty and ineffectual. They're being branded by what they failed to do rather than by what they did.

This is political malpractice. The Democrats have actually passed quite a lot of legislation in the last 11 months, starting with the American Rescue Plan Act. They extended the Paycheck Protection Program, made Juneteenth a federal holiday and passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. That legislation contained a number of longtime progressive priorities, such as $39 billion for public transit, $47 billion for climate change mitigation and cyber security, $15 billion for electric vehicle charging stations and $55 billion for upgrading water infrastructure, including replacing all of the lead pipes in the nation (a matter of keen interest for poor people who are the most likely to live in places relying on old, lead pipes, which are known to cause brain damage in children).

Whatever you think about the merits of these bills (and I have my doubts about the American Rescue Plan), these accomplishments are certainly enough to give the Democrats bragging rights. And if new reports are right, Manchin was and possibly remains willing to sign onto a $1.8 trillion spending package that includes universal pre-K fully funded for 10 years, massive allocations for climate change, and expansions of the Affordable Care Act.

A competent political party would be taking yes for an answer, passing Manchin's bill and turning to more urgent priorities like cheap, abundant COVID-19 tests, reform of the Electoral Count Act and increasing legal immigration to cope with our severe labor shortage. There is still time, but not much.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the Beg to Differ podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.


Fighting The MAGA Perversion Of Patriotism

In September, an Arizona student who tested positive for COVID-19 was ordered to quarantine for several days. Seems normal, no? No. The boy's father barged into principal Diane Vargo's office and demanded the kid be allowed back into school immediately. Vargo was alarmed when the intruder told her that others were on their way, warning, "If you keep doing this, we're going to have a big problem." Two other men did arrive, one carrying military-style zip-ties. They told Vargo that they were going to make a "citizen's arrest."

As it happens, the intruders were the ones arrested — by the police.

The same month, in Michigan, a meeting of the Barry-Eaton District Board of Health was disrupted when a man threatened to make a citizen's arrest of a county health official after a school mask mandate was announced. That was mild compared with the death threats Genesee County officials have received over masks. And that, in turn, was less serious than what happened in Kent County, where someone tried to run a health official off the road.

Stories of threats and violence aimed at ordinary Americans who are simply serving on school boards, supervising elections or holding public office are not new. It's a mashup of pandemic-induced mania, social media misinformation, Trump-incited disinhibition, and something in the water.

The citizen's arrest has become a theme running through some of the most sinister of the recent plots. It has a long pedigree, originating in English common law. In the U.S., it has been codified in a number of ways by states. But the invocation of the citizen's arrest as an excuse for political violence is new. Former President Donald Trump set this table with his "lock her up" chants and accusations of treason against anyone who damaged his fragile psyche. His 2019 Twitter tantrum at Rep. Adam Schiff was the gold standard: "I want Schiff questioned at the highest level ... Arrest for Treason?"

Back in 2020, when a gang of 14 right-wing nuts plotted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, they claimed they were effecting a "citizen's arrest." In a normal world, such a claim would be instantly dismissed as risible. But we're not in that world. We're in the world where the sheriff of Barry County, Dar Leaf, seemed to think it had merit. "It's just a charge, and they say a 'plot to kidnap' and you got to remember that," Leaf told a local Fox affiliate. "Are they trying to kidnap? Because a lot of people are angry with the governor, and they want her arrested. So are they trying to arrest or was it a kidnap attempt?"

"A lot of people are angry with the governor," he said. And then, as if the next words flowed logically, he added, "and they want her arrested." Right, because when we dislike the policies of duly elected officials, we arrest them?

The threats are proliferating. The Washington Post reported that lawmakers were subjected to 3,900 threats in 2017. By 2020, that had more than doubled to 8,600, and in 2021, the rate rose even faster. As Tim Alberta noted in his Atlantic profile of Rep. Peter Meijer, the fear factor in Republican politics has changed. Republicans displayed a total lack of political courage in dealing with Trump from 2015 to the present. But because they didn't stand up to him when the consequences would have been merely political, they/we now face a very different climate: fearing for their safety and that of their families. Describing a colleague who said he couldn't vote to certify the 2020 election, Meijer said: "Remember, this wasn't a hypothetical. You were casting that vote after seeing with your own two eyes what some of these people are capable of. If they're willing to come after you inside the U.S. Capitol, what will they do when you're at home with your kids?"

Many members of the January 6 mob didn't conceive of themselves as coup plotters (in contrast to those in the Oval Office). They thought they were vindicating democracy, not destroying it. As they were storming the Capitol, they were exchanging messages that reflected the treason talk Trump had normalized. "You are executing a citizen's arrest. We have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud."

There is a substrate of perverted patriotism here. The invocation of the citizen's arrest signifies a wish for legitimacy. They yearn to be responsible citizens, upholding the law and the duties of the individual. They have been corrupted — all the more reason for the rest of Americans to assert their uncorrupted patriotism. They must defend the election workers, health care workers, school board members, journalists, politicians, and anyone else who is being abused by the mob. If patriotism animates only the worst among us, we are lost.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.