Considering Discrimination

Review of Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic’s Book

Critical Race Theory

Review by Joseph Langen

Initial impressions and getting started

I have heard quite a bit about Critical Race Theory and am also aware of conservative ire about the term and what it means. I have heard from conservative parents that this is now part of the school curriculum and is designed to get people to hate whites and love blacks. I thought there must be more to it than that and decided to find out for myself.

I ordered the book from the library but in the meantime was able to download a sample from Amazon which did not leave me any more enlightened. What I found seemed unclear and not very helpful to my understanding of what this is all about.

I also read the Amazon reviews which seemed almost evenly divided between those by people who loved the book and those who hated it. Nobody seemed neutral.

Then the book arrived from the library. At first, I feared that I would be similarly disappointed as I was with the summary. Yet I was not disappointed and found the book very helpful in understanding what is involved and what its goals are in discussing Critical Race Theory.

The nature of Critical Race Theory (CRT)

First of all, what is Critical Race Theory? The authors point out that it is a graduate school level of discourse among scholars about “race, racism and power.” It is a consideration of these three factors with regard to economics, history, setting, group and self interest as well as how we feel about all this and how we feel about it. From this description, it is clear that this not a finalized teaching but an area of inquiry regarding race, racism and the effects on society.

The first consideration was that no person has a single unitary identity. Nobody is just white, nobody just black or other shade of skin. Everyone has other identities such as gender, sexual orientation, occupation, parental status, and many other complementary and sometimes contradictory contributors to their overall sense of identity. In light of this, the conversation includes people of all colors, both genders, all sexual orientations, the variety of immigrants, the poor, and the disadvantaged. 

There are some common understandings among those who are exploring the implications of this theory. They include the following:

  1. Racism is not just in the mind of individuals. It affects “the usual way society does business.” In other words, racism is part of the fabric of American society with far-reaching implications.
  2. There seems to be general agreement that white dominance has significant benefits for those who enjoy being part of that class of people.
  3. Those who study CRT profess that the idea of race is not based on genetics or biology but is a social construct favoring the dominant group.
  4. The dominant group considers “lower” groups in terms of the labor market at any given time in terms of how to take advantage of them.
  5. No person has an identity with just one facet.
  6. Minority groups have an understanding of their condition and its implications which whites are not likely to understand but could learn through dialog.

The book goes on to describe this history of institutional racism and its effect on society. It also addresses limitations in how both conservatives and liberals have often missed the point in considering racism and what is needed to remedy it. One thing we can do is to study what it means to be white for people identified as white and what it means to be in categories other than white as well as everyone learning to respect each others’ experience.

Areas of concern and the future

  1. Race, class, welfare and poverty.
  2. Policing and criminal justice.
  3. Hate speech, language rights and school curricula.
  4. Affirmative action and color blindness.
  5. Globalization and Immigration.
  6. Voting rights.

The authors suggest three possible outcomes in the future:

  1. A bleak outlook until a non-white majority emerges in the next few decades.
  2. The critical race agenda may lead to a violent confrontation such as in South Africa.

They also suggest likely responses to the Critical Race Theory (CRT) movement:

  1. CRT may become the New Civil Rights Orthodoxy.
  2. CRT theory could be marginalized and ignored.
  3. CRT could be analyzed and then rejected.
  4. CRT could be partially incorporated into the way we conduct the future of our society.

You should be able to conclude after reading this book that CRT is not an effort to get anyone to hate people who identify as white. Hopefully you can see that CRT is an ongoing discussion about the significance of “racial” considerations in forming the future of America. This is something we need to study carefully as we share our wants, needs and difficulties across groups in our society. The goal is benefit all of us in order to insure the future of our democracy.

Personal thoughts

In my opinion, the term Critical Race Theory has become controversial and raises people’s hackles. I wonder whether a different term might be more useful in leading us away from fighting with each other in favor of dialogue. We need to have something to bring us together as a nation rather than something to fight about. Could this be our opportunity?

About Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory: A Brief History

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Written by Jacey Fortin and published in the New York Times July 27, 2021

About a year ago, even as the United States was seized by protests against racism, many Americans had never heard the phrase “critical race theory.”

Now, suddenly, the term is everywhere. It makes national and international headlines and is a target for talking heads. Culture wars over critical race theory have turned school boards into battlegrounds, and in higher education, the term has been tangled up in tenure battles. Dozens of United States senators have branded it “activist indoctrination.”

But C.R.T., as it is often abbreviated, is not new. It’s a graduate-level academic framework that encompasses decades of scholarship, which makes it difficult to find a satisfying answer to the basic question:

What, exactly, is critical race theory?

The person widely credited with coining the term is Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a law professor at the U.C.L.A. School of Law and Columbia Law School.

Asked for a definition, she first raised a question of her own: Why is this coming up now? “It’s only prompted interest now that the conservative right wing has claimed it as a subversive set of ideas,” she said, adding that news outlets, including The New York Times, were covering critical race theory because it has been “made the problem by a well-resourced, highly mobilized coalition of forces.”

Some of those critics seem to cast racism as a personal characteristic first and foremost — a problem caused mainly by bigots who practice overt discrimination — and to frame discussions about racism as shaming, accusatory or divisive.

But critical race theorists say they are mainly concerned with institutions and systems.

“The problem is not bad people,” said Mari Matsuda, a law professor at the University of Hawaii who was an early developer of critical race theory. “The problem is a system that reproduces bad outcomes. It is both humane and inclusive to say, ‘We have done things that have hurt all of us, and we need to find a way out.’”

Critical race theorists reject the philosophy of “colorblindness.” They acknowledge the stark racial disparities that have persisted in the United States despite decades of civil rights reforms, and they raise structural questions about how racist hierarchies are enforced, even among people with good intentions.

Proponents tend to understand race as a creation of society, not a biological reality. And many say it is important to elevate the voices and stories of people who experience racism.

But critical race theory is not a single worldview; the people who study it may disagree on some of the finer points. As Professor Crenshaw put it, C.R.T. is more a verb than a noun.

“It is a way of seeing, attending to, accounting for, tracing and analyzing the ways that race is produced,” she said, “the ways that racial inequality is facilitated, and the ways that our history has created these inequalities that now can be almost effortlessly reproduced unless we attend to the existence of these inequalities.”

Professor Matsuda described it as a map for change.

“For me,” she said, “critical race theory is a method that takes the lived experience of racism seriously, using history and social reality to explain how racism operates in American law and culture, toward the end of eliminating the harmful effects of racism and bringing about a just and healthy world for all.”

Opponents of the academic doctrine known as critical race theory protesting outside the Loudoun County School Board office in Ashburn, Va., on June 22.Credit…Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Like many other academic frameworks, critical race theory has been subject to various counterarguments over the years. Some critics suggested, for example, that the field sacrificed academic rigor in favor of personal narratives. Others wondered whether its emphasis on systemic problems diminished the agency of individual people.

This year, the debates have spilled far beyond the pages of academic papers.

Last year, after protests over the police killing of George Floyd prompted new conversations about structural racism in the United States, President Donald J. Trump issued a memo to federal agencies that warned against critical race theory, labeling it as “divisive,” followed by an executive order barring any training that suggested the United States was fundamentally racist.

His focus on C.R.T. seemed to have originated with an interview he saw on Fox News, when Christopher F. Rufo, a conservative scholar now at the Manhattan Institute, told Tucker Carlson about the “cult indoctrination” of critical race theory.Use of the term skyrocketed from there, though it is often used to describe arange of activities that don’t really fit the academic definition, like acknowledging historical racism in school lessons or attending diversity trainings at work.

The Biden administration rescinded Mr. Trump’s order, but by then it had already been made into a wedge issue. Republican-dominated state legislatures have tried to implement similar bans with support from conservative groups, many of whom have chosen public schools as a battleground.

“The woke class wants to teach kids to hate each other, rather than teaching them how to read,” Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said to the state’s board of education in June, shortly before it moved to ban critical race theory. He has also called critical race theory “state-sanctioned racism.”

According to Professor Crenshaw, opponents of C.R.T. are using a decades-old tactic: insisting that acknowledging racism is itself racist.

“The rhetoric allows for racial equity laws, demands and movements to be framed as aggression and discrimination against white people,” she said. That, she added, is at odds with what critical race theorists have been saying for four decades.

In 1980, Derrick Bell left Harvard Law School.

Professor Bell, a pioneering legal scholar who died in 2011, is often described as the godfather of critical race theory. “He broke open the possibility of bringing Black consciousness to the premiere intellectual battlefields of our profession,” Professor Matsuda said.His work explored (among other things) what it would mean to understand racism as a permanent feature of American life, and whether it was easier to pass civil rights legislation in the United States because those laws ultimately served the interests of white people.

After Professor Bell left Harvard Law, a group of students there began protesting the faculty’s lack of diversity. In 1983, The New York Times reported, the school had 60 tenured law professors. All but one were men, and only one was Black.

The demonstrators, including Professors Crenshaw and Matsuda, who were then graduate students at Harvard, also chafed at the limitations of their curriculum in critical legal studies, a discipline that questioned the neutrality of the American legal system, and sought to expand it to explore how laws sustained racial hierarchies.

“It was our job to rethink what these institutions were teaching us,” Professor Crenshaw said, “and to assist those institutions in transforming them into truly egalitarian spaces.”

The students saw that stark racial inequality had persisted despite the civil rights legislation of the 1950s and 60s. They sought, and then developed, new tools and principles to understand why. A workshop that Professor Crenshaw organized in 1989 helped to establish these ideas as part of a new academic framework called critical race theory.

OiYan Poon, an associate professor with Colorado State University who studies race, education and intersectionality, said that opponents of critical race theory should try to learn about it from the original sources.

“If they did,” she said, “they would recognize that the founders of C.R.T. critiqued liberal ideologies, and that they called on research scholars to seek out and understand the roots of why racial disparities are so persistent, and to systemically dismantle racism.”To that end, branches of C.R.T. have evolved that focus on the particular experiences of IndigenousLatinoAsian American, and Black people and communities. In her own work, Dr. Poon has used C.R.T. to analyze Asian Americans’ opinions about affirmative action.

That expansiveness “signifies the potency and strength of critical race theory as a living theory — one that constantly evolves,” said María C. Ledesma, a professor of educational leadership at San José State University who has used critical race theory in her analyses of campus climate, pedagogy and the experiences of first-generation college students. “People are drawn to it because it resonates with them.”

Some scholars of critical race theory see the framework as a way to help the United States live up to its own ideals, or as a model for thinking about the big, daunting problems that affect everyone on this planet.

“I see it like global warming,” Professor Matsuda said. “We have a serious problem that requires big, structural changes; otherwise, we are dooming future generations to catastrophe. Our inability to think structurally, with a sense of mutual care, is dooming us — whether the problem is racism, or climate disaster, or world peace.”

Does America Have a Future?

Review of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s book, How Democracies Die

Reviewed by Joseph Langen

It would be comforting to think that our American experiment in democracy can survive its current dangers as it has in the face of past threats. Yet our survival is not assured in today’s socially and politically turbulent climate.

How Democracies Die places our current challenge into the context of previous and more

current democracies which failed or at least struggled with their own crises. The authors report that in the past, democracies have collapsed in the face of violent attack.

More recently, democracies have crumbled due to insidious challenges from within. They see America as facing the second type of challenge.

They point out that the Constitution gives us basic rules to support the US democracy. Our society is further bolstered by unwritten norms, the most important being mutual toleration of rivals as a legitimate part of our society and restraint from attacking those with rival approaches to managing our society.

They note that American factions coexisted fairly well before the Civil War. Our country broke into open conflict during the Civil War and remained in conflict until the end of Reconstruction. After that we had another period of relative cooperation until the 1960’s Civil Rights Act. Cooperation has been declining since then, leaving us with racial equality on the books. Yet polarization has worsened over the years culminating in the Trump fiasco.

It appears that both sides cooperate better when racial equality is off the negotiating table, a sad state of affairs. Battles over civil rights, especially with regard to racial equality, have been joined by conflict over migration, religious beliefs and the nature and purpose of culture.

The book discusses three possible outcomes of our polarized society.

  1. First is a recovery of democracy. Trump and Trumpism fall or fade into irrelevance in the face of public disgust.
  2. Second is continuing and worsening of the divide with no tolerance or forbearance related to issues which divide us. At some point this trend would result in the death of a functioning democracy. This second possibility is on the horizon if Trumpian Republicans manage to control the presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court with anti-democratic power.
  3. Third is continuation of polarization and disregard of unwritten conventions keeping a modicum of peace, resulting in political warfare with an uncertain outcome. Whether a blend of individual freedom and egalitarianism would survive remains to be seen.

For us to survive as a nation, we must restore the endangered guardrails of tolerance and forbearance as well as overcoming polarization and fair elections. This will require compromise and softening of stances by everyone on both sides, particularly with regard to political rhetoric in both the major political parties. We must also address the needs of those neglected in our society as well as developing social policies favorable to everyone rather than just those favored by the political side in power at the moment.

Will we be able to come together as a society despite our differences? That remains to be seen. Can we set aside our partisan ideals or at least soften them while we focus on building a society supportive of all its members?  This book clearly lays out the existential problems facing us, possible outcomes and what we need to do for our democracy to survive, Our future lies in the balance. Get ready to do your part.

The Link Between Texas’s New Abortion Law and its New Voting Laws

For decades, Republican strategists have seen exploiting both issues as a way to hang on to power.

Written by Sue Halpern and published in the New Yorker 9/3/2021

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Insurance companies, taxi-drivers, friends, donors to nonprofits, health-care workers—any and all people with even a minor role in enabling an abortion are potentially liable. The law is not only a radical departure from convention, it’s a repudiation of due process, granting standing to individuals who otherwise wouldn’t have it. A more judicious Court, rather than one with a majority of Justices selected because of their ideological opposition to abortion, would have halted the implementation of the Texas law for this reason alone.

The Roe decision took a calendar approach to abortion, allowing a woman to terminate a pregnancy for almost any reason during the first two trimesters, with some state regulation of abortion allowed after the first trimester, and more after the second trimester, at which point a fetus is viable outside the womb, and a state’s interest in protecting it becomes “compelling.” Even so, anti-abortion activists used the trimester timetable to chip away at Roe. The Court’s 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey upheld a constitutional right to abortion, but eliminated the trimester timetable, which opened the door for states to determine their own standards surrounding fetal viability. Scores of restrictive statutes followed.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice nonprofit, between January, 2011, and July, 2019, states enacted four hundred and eighty-three new abortion restrictions. The Texas law, S.B. 8, is the most recent and extreme iteration of these. At six weeks, many women do not know that they are pregnant, but, according to anti-abortion activists, that is when a fetal heartbeat is first discernible. Medical professionals, though, say that this is misleading, because at six weeks, though the cells that will eventually form a heart may have begun to emit electrical signals, a fetal heart will not fully develop for about another fourteen weeks. Nevertheless, S.B. 8 penalizes health-care providers who fail to search for a signal or who continue to treat the patient if they detect it.

Texas was already one of the most difficult places in the country to obtain an abortion. Guttmacher reports that there was a twenty-five-per-cent decline in the number of abortion clinics in the state between 2014 and 2017. In 2017, ninety-six per cent of Texas counties had no abortion facilities. Last year, Governor Greg Abbott issued a temporary ban on certain health-care procedures, including abortions, ostensibly because of the coronavirus pandemic. If the ban had been long-term or strictly implemented, women in the state would have had to travel an average of four hundred and forty-seven miles, round trip, to obtain abortion services.

What makes the Texas law especially odious is that, by empowering random individuals to enforce it rather than leaving that to officials, the authors of S. B. 8 have complicated the ability of abortion-rights advocates to block the law in court, as there is no state agent to sue. As Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his dissent, “The desired consequence appears to be to insulate the State from responsibility for implementing and enforcing the regulatory regime.” This clever subterfuge gave the Court’s conservatives an opportunity to make the disingenuous claim that they were allowing the law to stand because it was not yet clear that the defendants in the case “can or will seek to enforce the Texas law against the applicants in a manner that might permit our intervention.” The Justices further claimed that they were not ruling on the merits or the constitutionality of the law—though it is unconstitutional, according to the protections afforded by Roe—and suggested that the plaintiffs could, in theory, challenge S.B. 8 going forward. In a stinging dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “Taken together, the act is a breathtaking Act of defiance—of the Constitution, of this Court’s precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas.” And what of those women? According to a report in the Texas Tribune, the day before the law went into effect, a clinic in Fort Worth saw more than a hundred women right up to the midnight deadline. The next day, they had to turn away patients who no longer met the new restrictions.As the challenge to S.B. 8 was working its way through the courts, Republicans in the Texas legislature were busy writing similarly draconian laws to make it harder to vote, especially for people of color. S.B. 1, the bill that inspired Democratic legislators to flee the state earlier this summer in order to deprive their Republican colleagues of a quorum, was finally passed this week, and was sent to Governor Abbott for his signature. Among its provisions, the law requires monthly citizenship checks; entitles partisan poll watchers to move freely within polling sites and makes it a criminal offense to obstruct their observation of election workers; and eliminates twenty-four-hour and drive-through voting. Though the two laws address different domains, they are connected: in Texas and elsewhere in the country, a ligature of racism connects efforts to deny people of color their right to vote and women—disproportionately women of color—their right to terminate a pregnancy.

The Roberts Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, enabled Republican legislatures to pass hundreds of laws, such as S.B. 1, in Texas, to make it harder for people—again, particularly people of color—to vote. (The Voting Rights Act was intended to rectify the long history of denying Black Americans all the benefits of citizenship, including the right to cast a ballot.) Well before Shelby, in the nineteen-eighties, Republican strategists, most notably Paul Weyrich, who famously said that “our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down,” understood that to hold on to power Republicans had to do two things: keep Democrats from voting and find new Republican allies.

People of color were a suitable target for their first aim, since they tended to vote, overwhelmingly, for Democrats—hence the various attempts to suppress the vote in the years before Holder, such as gerrymandering and the multitude of laws passed in its wake. Meanwhile, some evangelical Christians, who had largely eschewed politics, turned out to be ripe for conversion when they found themselves unable to obtain tax-exempt status for “segregation academies”—schools that followed what they claimed to be a Biblical mandate to keep the races apart. According to the historian Randall Balmer, in 1979, six years after Roe, Weyrich encouraged Jerry Falwell and other evangelical leaders to seize “on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term . . . because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools.”

It is undeniable that there are sincere people with a deeply held belief in the sanctity of life, which, for them, overrides a woman’s right to control her own body, but that is not the motivation of the authors of S.B. 8. If it were, we would see those legislators apply the same standard to gun control, abolition of the death penalty, enforcement of public-health mandates, and a commitment to the social welfare of children, especially children born into poverty. Instead, those legislators appeal to “the right to life” in the same way that they invoke the term “voter fraud”—in order to consolidate their power and pursue an anti-democratic agenda.

President Biden responded to the Supreme Court majority’s decision to abet this ploy by stating that his Administration would be launching “a whole-of-government effort to respond . . . to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe, and what legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas’ bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties.” Others reacting to the Court’s dereliction have renewed calls to add more Justices and to end the filibuster. There are also calls for Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act in order to create a federal abortion law to override S.B. 8 and other anti-abortion state statutes. Still, though any of these measures has the potential to reinforce the protections codified by Roe, none of them will help the women who are being turned away from clinics now, and they won’t shield their supporters from the bounty hunters who have been authorized to track them down. And, given the glacial pace of congressional “action,” these measures likely won’t prevent other states from passing copycat anti-abortion statutes. (Within twenty-four hours of the law’s going into effect, the president of the Florida state Senate said that he was considering introducing similar legislation.)

By doing nothing to stop S.B. 8, the Court has effectively sanctioned extortion. Days before the Texas law went into effect, an activist on TikTok posted a computer script designed to overwhelm a Web site created by an anti-abortion group to report those who have violated the law; the script allows users to inundate the site with fake claims. How pathetic that a few lines of code may have temporarily offered the most effective way to protect the rights of Texan women.

Are Democrats Fading?

Why America’s Losing Faith in the Democrats

What Biden’s Plummeting Approval Rating Really Means

Written by Umair Haque and published in 8/31/2021

You don’t have to look very hard to see something troubling. Joe Biden’s approval ratings are beginning to plummet. They’ve fallen 16 percent since the beginning of the summer. That’s a tremendous decline. Just 46% of Americans now approve of the job Biden’s doing, while 55% disapprove.

This is a stunning reversal in political fortunes. Biden rode to power on a remarkable wave of goodwill, at least from the centre outwards. And while the question of “approval” is in a very real sense a reductive and foolish one, still, American politics is made of such folly. So: is Biden’s reversal of fortune a blip — or trend?

Let me begin on a note of caution. Biden’s fans are becoming something of a cult. They brook no criticism, and don’t want others to, either. They expect an atmosphere of relentless positivity, not free thinking and reason. This is going to be a critical essay, like most essays should be. It is not going to go easy on Biden. As much as I like the man, reality is what it is, and Biden’s approval ratings are indeed cratering. And so, even if his most ardent fans don’t want it to be, the question now urgently needs to be asked: why is America beginning to disapprove of Joe Biden?

Pundits will tell you that this is probably no mere blip. They’ll point to three key areas of disapproval. The disastrous exit from Afghanistan, which has humiliated America around the world. Yet another wave of Covid, surging across the nation, Red States again becoming some of the world’s hottest plague zones. And the economy, which, despite appearances, beyond headline statistics, is still a thing of daily strife and struggle for the vast majority of Americans, who are underpaid, overworked, exploited, demeaned, devalued, and made to feel (and end up being literally) worthless.

On the surface, those three answers are correct. Biden has misjudged these three crises. And yet the issues here cut much, much deeper than that. How deep? Existentially deep, for the Democrats.

The Democrats won the last election not because Joe Biden was Joe Biden. But because he wasn’t Donald Trump. There is a very big difference between those two things. The nation wasn’t particularly hungry for Joe Biden as much as it was disgusted by the fetid, rank taste in the mouth left after the fascism, corruption, and obscenity of the Trump years. Joe Biden pitched himself — smartly — as the anti-Trump: calm, competent, friendly, kind.

Through all that, the Dems managed something remarkable — at least for American politics. They cobbled together a coalition of the centre and the left. Of young and old. Of black and white and beyond. This was a true “big tent,” as the phrase goes. There was room, it seemed, for everyone who wanted to be in — even if tensions simmered once they stood awkwardly shoulder-to-shoulder under the canopy.

This was a remarkable feat because it very, very rarely happens in American politics. It’s business as usual in Europe and Canada — the centre and left are smart enough there to know that they must be united to defeat the right. Yet there “centre” and “left” mean different things, too, just as in America, right wing basically means “gun loving fascist,” or close enough to it. The Dems rode to power by pulling off, at least for American politics, a minor-league political miracle — they united the centre and left, who are usually at each others’ throats.

Usually, what happens in American politics is the opposite. If the Dems do make inroads, and win power, it’s by winning over the right. They tack right, as Clinton did, turning punitive and harsh, saluting free markets, and celebrating individualism and materialism. Uniting the centre and left is so rare in American politics that the Dems should be given credit for doing so.

But not too much credit. I don’t say that to be mean, just to be realistic. America — at least half of it or so — was literally ready to vote for anyone who wasn’t Trump. It’s a testament to how weak the Dems appeal really is that they didn’t do better at the last Presidential election, which wasn’t a landslide, even if it was a decisive victory. It wasn’t the sweeping rejection of fascism America needed, in just that way. A majority of white Americans still voted for Trump — that is how badly Biden is and was rejected.

If you grasp all that, then you should also see the following conclusion coming. For the Democrats to retain power — and that means both winning the House and another term for Biden — they have to keep on pulling off a political miracle in America. They need to keep their fragile coalition of centre and left, of young and old, of black and white, from shattering.

That’s no easy task. Because these two groups under the same big tent — center and left — have very, very different agendas. Often opposing ones. Ones that are in direct conflict with each other. And right about now, what is happening is that those differing agendas and visions of these two wings of the party are coming into direct conflict — and the Democrats’ fragile coalition is starting to splinter.

Let’s take the issue of Afghanistan. American leftists are giddy that the war is over. They celebrate the end of “imperialism” (which is wrong, because the Taliban is one of America’s imperial armies, one which spun out of control, but that’s a different topic.) But the centre is not so sure. They wonder about Biden’s competence. His backbone. His will and vision and purpose. Did it have to be this way, they ask? I’ll come back to that, in just a moment, in case it’s not clear.

Then there’s the economy. The centre seems alright, if not overjoyed, with the job Biden’s doing. They like the infrastructure plans and stimulus and all those big headline numbers that pop up often now. They are optimistic and excited by America investing in itself again.

But the left has been waiting for more — much, more. And it’s sharply disappointed that the Dems have caved on several key issues. They haven’t cancelled student debt. They haven’t raised the minimum wage — at least not fast or far enough. The left understands, too — at least the smarter elements in it — that those big headline numbers aren’t enough. Not to bring American investment levels to Canadian or European levels. That, comparatively, they lift American investment by a tiny 5% or so, if that — when it needs to rise by 25%.

Then there’s Covid. The left believes firmly in mask mandates and basic public safety measures. It goes further than that — and its more intelligent elements, again, believe that vaccines should be a true global public good, not a patent protected money-making scheme America defends at the WHO because billionaires stand to make even more. The centre, though, seems largely complacent. It seems resigned to the idea that Covid will go on forever, that everyone will need a booster shot, that it will be a bonanza for capitalism, that nothing much more can — or should — be done about it. The centre has little will to continue taking on Covid.

I could go on. The left wants bold, direct investment in “climate change” — sorry, I mean global warming — a Green New Deal. The centre is complacent and reluctant to kill the golden goose of the American economy, which is plastic junk and carbon emissions. And so forth.

What does all that mean, though? What does it say?

Something like this.

Fractures are beginning to crack through the Democrats’ fragile coalition. Ones which were there, from the very beginning — mere ripples, threatening to harden and widen into true fissures. Now all that is becoming very real.

The left is growing embittered and disillusioned on one side, and the centre on the other. More precisely, exactly what embitters and disillusions the left is what pleases and satisfies the center — and vice versa. Afghanistan — left, leave, center, not so sure. Climate — left, invest, center, don’t kill the golden goose. Economy — left, more, center, that’s enough, thanks. And so on.

The natural opposition between left and centre is arising again. It’s the issue which has bedevilled American politics from time immemorial. Yesteryear’s leftists were profoundly opposed to slavery and segregation — and the centrists shrugged, called it wrong, profited from it, and blithely let it all go on anyways. You see the problem. A divided left and centre are why America is such a backwards country — and a united centre and left are, by contrast, why Europe and Canada are able to make real progress, over and over again.

When what pleases one faction of the party is also exactly what angers and causes resentment and rage in the other, a political coalition is unlikely to be able to hold. That is the true challenge the Dems face — navigating this Scylla and Charybdis of American political waters. Few have been able to do it (and even more viciously, those few who have, like JFK and Lincoln, were killed as a reward for it.)

The Democrats’ nightmare scenario goes like this. Their coalition goes on fracturing, and finally splinters. At the next set of elections — Presidential and Congressional — an embittered, resentful left stays at home. That means young people and minorities, who don’t turn out. Meanwhile, some portion of the vast majority of American whites go back to their long-standing pattern — they vote Republican again, as they and their parents and grandparents always have. The right wins easily, and — hey presto — Trump’s back in office.

The Dems don’t know what hit them. Just like that — snap! — Joe Biden’s a one term President.

We’re not there yet, at the nightmare scenario. But we’re moving one step closer to it, day by day. The fragile Democratic coalition is fracturing. The natural tensions between left and centre are not being resolved. They are simmering into open conflict. Meanwhile, Biden’s much-vaunted competence is being called into question, which creates doubt among all those centrists, who want just want a polite, competent enough middle manager of a declining empire, not a man on a moral crusade to change the world.

The resentment and bitterness among the left is growing each and every day. And on those issues where the Dems please it — like the chaotic departure from Afghanistan — they manage to alienate and sow the seeds of doubt in everyone else.

In the end, it might not be possible to hold together a coalition as fragile as this. The American left is impatient, demoralized, and angry — while the American centre is craven, overcautious, compromise on anything and everything, from rescuing a dying planet to investing enough in the future, as long as they get their big TVs and SUVs and low, low taxes.

Many have tried walking this tightrope before. Few have succeeded. And like I said, those tiny, tiny few who did succeed? Well, they were killed for it, anyways. Those are the stakes, my friends.

My feeling? Biden has the toughest job in the world — and it’s only going to get harder from here.

Confronting Trumpian Fascism

Americans Still Need to Confront the Truth That Trumpism is Fascism

America’s Not In Less Danger — It’s in More Danger, From a Belligerent Fascist Movement Dedicated to Ending Democracy

Written by Umair Haque and published in 8/5/2021

Photo by Gabriela Palai on

Mary Trump — Donald’s niece — said something worth hearing recently, as she so often does. Listen: “Still arguing about whether or not to call Donald a fascist is the new version of the media’s years-long struggle to figure out if they should call his lies lies.” She’s got a new book coming out, and part of her mission is to spread awareness that, yes, it’s well past time to call Trumpism what it is: fascism.

Let’s think about her central point for a moment: American media, and by extension, American society and culture, which take their cues from America’s pundits and columnists and analysts and so on, is failing at a central challenge. Simply saying that, yes, Trumpism is fascism.

Why is that important? Why does it even matter? Americans exist in a weirdly nihilistic culture is the first thing you have to understand. By and large, Americans don’t grasp how much matters to really call fascism fascism. That’s not their fault — nobody educates them. About much of anything. Their media is a disgrace, their public intellectuals mostly a sham, and their culture missing in action. So they think that “fascism” is “just a word.” And why should it matter at all what words we use?

Some of the better-hearted Americans imagine that speaking the correct words is a matter of being kind and polite. That saying fascism is some kind of slur, and for this reason, it’s important to be a little offensive, a little challenging. Alas, even that misses the point.

Why should we call it fascism? I want to cut to the heart of this issue. Is it just to be kind and polite? I mention that because that appears to be what most American liberals think. They don’t seem to think it matters that the word “fascism” is said at all, or its corollaries, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, theocracy, and so forth. They don’t think saying these words matters because they think they are “just words” we say for the sake of feelings. Liberals, being materialists, don’t care about feelings — and they can’t bring themselves to see that in fact there is something much deeper at stake here entirely.

But this isn’t why we should say fascism — for the sake of feelings.

So why should we say fascism?

For the sake of the truth.

It’s that simple, and, many Americans are sure to remind me — that idealistic, too.

Let me unpack that a little.

America’s now a society where Big Lies run rampant. They’ve brought Trumpism back to life. The election was “stolen.” Jan 6th was a pleasant tourist visit — not a deadly coup. If there was any violence, it was self-defense, citizens perfectly justified in defending their own rights to “visit” their Capitol. Vaccines are harmful and dangerous. Trump alone can save America’s white working class. Immigrants and foreigners and women and gays are impure. They’re the cause of the woes of pure of blood and true of faith. Society’s mission is therefore one of social cleansing and purification. If it can’t happen consensually — so what? It should happen through open aggression and violence, because, well, this land, this soil, belongs to “real” Americans in the first place.

Did you get all those Big Lies? Yet the Big Lies go further than that, still. Now let me recount the ones even liberals believe. No, Russia wasn’t involved in installing Trump to President. Nope, there wasn’t a detailed plan from the Kremlin that we now know of through official leaked documents to elevate him to power because Russia’s goal was to collapse American politics and society. Nope, Trumpism is dead now, and it won’t come back to life. Trumpism wasn’t really that bad, if you think about it — the abuses of power can be forgotten, those concentration camps and family separations and kids in cages and minorities being hunted in the streets. American institutions prevailed — it’s not that a tiny, tiny handful of brave officers intervened and American democracy escaped by the skin of its teeth.

Wherever you look, American society and culture are now in the grip of Big Lies. Worse, both sides believe their own Big Lies. Yes, Trump’s Big Lies are of course worse. But the Big Lies American liberals believe very much exist, too.

How are these two sets of Big Lies related?

Now let’s come back to fascism. What is it? The dictionary definition you were taught in school — if you’re American — goes like this: “the concentration of state and corporate power,” or something along these lines. That definition is wrong. It’s the definition of socialism. Americans are taught the wrong definition of fascism to begin with.

Let me make that clearer. Fascism is about annihilating hated social groups who are regarded as subhuman. Yet the definition Americans are taught — in grade school, high school, college — neatly elides this fact. Instead, Americans are taught a boneheaded definition of “fascism” that could include — the convergence of state and corporate power — everything from Britain’s NHS to Canada’s CBC to the French union and collective bargaining system. Quite obviously, those things aren’t fascism. Why not? Well, they’re not killing anyone — instead, mostly, they’re enhancing and elevating Europeans’ and Canadians’ quality of life.

There’s a very good reason that Americans are taught the wrong definition of fascism, one that equates it with any kind of public investment or good, like having, say, a functioning healthcare or pension system. Because America’s still fighting the Cold War. During the Cold War, it was easy to understand why Americans were taught that fascism is socialism. It’s a convenient way to conflate two things, and make American kids believe that socialism equals fascism.

And all that leaves the average American in a bizarre haze of confusion and uncertainty. They aren’t able to fully distinguish that Trumpism is fascism because they’ve never been well educated or informed about what fascism actually is.

So what is fascism? Let me give you a formal definition, and then a very, very simple one. The formal one is: “the abuse of state institutions by fanatics and extremists to advance an ideology of supremacy and subjugate and repress hated social groups at the bottom of hierarchies of power who are regarded as subhuman to the point of annihilation.”

There’s a moral and ethical dimension, too: “The strong should prevail, and the weak perish. Who are the strong? The ones who can violently repress and subjugate the weak. What gives them the obligation to do so? They see themselves as long-suffering victims who are in fact the chosen people, pure in blood and true in faith. Who are they victims of? Hated social groups, who are scapegoated and demonised for the woes of the pure and true.”

Now, if you follow all that, you should immediately see how illogical fascism is. The hated social groups who are demonised and scapegoated for the woes of the “real” people don’t have any real social power to begin with. The average person is indeed going through troubled times of struggle — fascist episodes are triggered by economic desperation, usually. But the fault is usually that of negligent, greedy, and foolish elites — not the Jews, Muslims, Mexicans, Latinos, women, gays, or whomever else times of strife are usually blamed on.

That’s a complicated definition — at least by American standards. You have to think about quite a bit. Politics, society, ethics, morality. How societies turn to scapegoats in times of trouble. Who leads them there — demagogues like Trump. So let me give you a simpler one.

If it looks like fascism, it probably is. We all know fascism instinctively when we see it. Is some poor, usually helpless social group being scapegoated? Are they being demonised as “vermin” and “parasites” and so forth? Is there an extremist faction rising who wants to annihilate them? Is it contesting power for the institutions of state power — promising openly to abuse those power to “get rid of” or cleanse away the impurity of hated subhumans, which are “infecting” or “corrupting” the average person, who’s romanticised as a long-suffering hero? Is violence ennobled and sanctified and legitimised? Is there an atmosphere of guffawing stupidity, a cult of devotion to an authoritarian leader, a perfect Father leading the mindless masses in rituals of mass hatred? Is the goal to end democracy, because only some people are considered human in the first place?

Then it’s probably fascism. Let me give you a few further criteria. Has the society in question suffered a recent economic shock — that really did push the average person to the brink of poverty, or past it? Has life become struggle, strife, and trouble? Does a mood of pessimism prevail? Are people turning to superstitions and conspiracy theories to explain why life never seems to get better, but only worse? Those are all preconditions for fascism.

Now. It’s easy enough to see all that applies in spades to America — and especially to Trumpism. Economic trouble? Sure — around 2010, after decades of stagnation, the middle class imploded. That spelled fascism to those of us who study how societies collapse. Trumpism’s a perfect exemplar of a mass movement which scapegoats minorities for the woes of a working class which regards itself as pure and true, and wants to abuse the institutions of the state to effectively end democracy, purify society, and create a nationalist supremacist state.

It’s not exactly rocket science, is it. Of course Trumpism is fascism. That’s why way back when Trump was elected, Germanys most famous magazine openly mocked him as another Hitler. The rest of the world can see it very, very well. But America can’t. Mary Trump is perfectly right to point that disjuncture out.

Now let’s come back to why it really matters to call all this fascism. It’s not just for the sake of feelings, pointless intellectual debates, or some kind of point-scoring precision. None of those things are why.

Truth is why. Reality’s why. When we don’t call fascism fascism, truth and reality cease to matter. Not in some kind of abstract way. But in a brutally direct one.

Let me give you an example that should make your blood run a little cold.

Dems won’t call what happened on Jan 6th a fascist coup. The only Dem who really has is Rep Jamie Raskin — and he deserves credit where its due. But as a party, Dems use a strange, strange language — and associated set of concepts, history, and thinking — to describe it. It was an “insurrection,” they say. By “rioters.”

Where does that lead? To a very different place than “this was a fascist coup.”

If it was a fascist coup, then presumably special mechanisms of justice should be set up, because this is an emergency. Mechanisms like modern-day Nuremberg Trials. Investigations should be swiftly held to see how deep the conspiracy went — which there obviously was. All those should be open and public, like the Nuremberg Trials were.

But the Dems chose a very different course. Many of those responsible for the coup have gotten off with wrist-slaps — because, of course, they’re mere “rioters,” responsible for a bit of property damage, and maybe trespassing…not fascists in a coup, out for blood, intending to kill and kidnap and massacre. Don’t take it from me, that’s what they wanted, take it from Officers Hodges, Dunn, and Fanone.

But there are no special justice mechanisms happening in America. Instead, the fascists are mostly getting away with it. A few foot soldiers here and there are getting wrist slaps. Do you really think that’s going to deter the movement? Of course not. So there Trumpism, openly escalating, hardening, and retaliating.

It’s openly dedicated to another Jan 6th. It’s openly espousing the violent end of democracy. Figures like Marjorie Taylore Greene and Lauren Boebert and Josh Hawley — the new wave of rising Trumpists in control of the GOP — openly champion violence and authoritarianism. The Trumpist base openly and ardently believes the election was stolen from them, and therefore, Jan 6th was perfectly justified. The calls for vengeance — now coming from a resurgent Trump himself — are growing louder.

American fascism is hardening. That’s because nobody punished it. Nobody punished because nobody much in power was brave enough to say it was fascism in the first place. So what was there to punish? What was there to hold accountable? What was there to deter and break the back of? You can’t do any of those things to something that doesn’t exist.

That’s what Orwell and Arendt were trying to warn us of. Not just that “fascists twist the truth.” But something much, much deeper — and more dangerous still. That when fascism comes around — and it always does — the natural instinct of a society is to shrug and say something devastatingly foolish, and yet all too human:

It can’t happen here. It isn’t happening here.

That’s how the fascists really win. Not just because they twist the truth into sets of Big Lies — those people are subhumans who are responsible for our woes, the election was stolen from us, our Fuhrer alone can save us, and so on. But because truth itself ceases to matter. Reality itself ceases to count. Because grand institutions, elites, power centers — they all grow too weak, afraid, or stupid to say fascism is now happening in plain sight. By failing to “say” fascism — fascism effectively disappears. And having disappeared — what is there to punish, check, deter, break, challenge, eliminate? Nothing.

That’s how the Nazis failed in their first coup attempt — but succeeded at the second. In the intervening years, the threat of fascism was disappeared. Minimized, erased, denied. The mood of “it’s not happening here” prevailed. Institutions from government to press to society fell strangely, oddly silent. As if nobody was to mention the tide of death rearing up above everyone’s heads.

That’s why it matters to say fascism. For the sake of truth and reality. Without truth and reality, fascism is free to disappear. And then it’s not happening. It can’t be happening here. That strange, strange mood comes to prevail — everybody ignores the giant tsunami looming over everyone’s head. How are you today, my friend? Just fine, thank you! There’s no giant wave of ruin about to crash over us — heavens, no. Let’s politely ignore that — maybe if we ignore it long enough, it’ll just go away.

Bang. That’s how societies really collapse into fascism. Not just through the malice of the bad guys. But also through the passivity of the good ones. Not just through the thoughtless brutality of stupid men. But because the intelligent ones are too busy overthinking it. And not just through the cunning of evil men. But through the weakness of all the ones who know better, but don’t stand and fight for and reality, on which everything else good and decent in a society must always rest, because otherwise the Biggest Lie prevails.

And when truth and reality die, my friend, let me tell you a secret. No society stands a chance. At decency, modernity, or progress. All that can ever happen is , into the abyss of all the ugliness and stupidity of history.

Our Fascist Future?

Tucker Carlson Has Seen the Future, and It Is Fascist

Orban’s Hungary is the road map for American authoritarianism.

Photo by Matt Hardy on

Written by Jonathon Chatt and published in The Intelligencer 8/4/2021

In 1919, the progressive journalist Lincoln Steffens visited the nascent Soviet Union and declared, “I have seen the future and it works.” Tucker Carlson’s weeklong visit to Budapest, where he is using his Fox News show as an infomercial for Viktor Orban’s illiberal regime, is being conducted in much the same spirit. “If you care about Western civilization and democracy and families, and the ferocious assault on all three of those things by the leaders of our global institutions, you should know what is happening here right now,” Carlson gushed to his viewers.

Of course, “democracy” is not a category description any small-d democrat would apply to Hungary, a state that has “dropped any pretense of respecting democratic institutions” under Orban, according to Freedom House, which no longer categorizes it as a democracy at all.

These are not mere details, and Carlson is not overlooking them. He is laying down a marker in the highest profile way he can that Orban’s iron fist is the future the Republican Party should want. The splashy imprimatur of a Fox News prime-time personality, who is probably the right’s most influential media figure, is an important milestone in the Republican Party’s long evolution into authoritarianism.

It is certainly not Hungary’s economy that has attracted a growing number of American right-wing admirers. Hungary has fallen behind its central European peers as Orban’s corruption and crude populism have spurred many of the nation’s wealthier citizens to leave. Nor is there much conservative inspiration to be mined from Orban’s pandemic management, which has been simultaneously more heavy-handed and less effective than other European governments’.

The Trump administration lavished Orban with praise. Trump has even likened the Hungarian strongman to himself, calling him a “tough man, but he is a respected man … probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s okay. You’ve done a good job, and you’ve kept your country safe.” Trump’s ambassador in Budapest confessed frankly that his boss envies Orban’s ability to bully and suppress his critics: “I can tell you, knowing the president for a good 25 or 30 years, that he would love to have the situation that Viktor Orbán has, but he doesn’t.”

The right’s entrancement with Orban has emerged fitfully over the last decade. One could find defenses of the Hungarian regime in places like the New York Postthe Federalist, the Heritage Foundation, and National Review. Yet, until recently, open support for Orban’s Hungary was an idiosyncratic minority position on the American right.

Orban’s regime has forged links with the conservative movement, including a lobbying campaign in Washington and a right-wing think tank in Budapest, where Carlson will deliver a speech Saturday. At this point, American conservatives who denounce Orban’s kleptocracy are now the minority.

What makes this alliance especially chilling is that Hungary is the model of democratic backsliding that has loomed largest in their imaginations of internationalist thinkers. Orban’s corruption of a former democracy occurred step by step. He gerrymandered the electoral map to give his supporters an overwhelming advantage, stacked the judiciary with supporters, leveraged state power to force large businesses to support his party, and installed supporters in charge of the country’s largest media organs. (Think about Trump’s efforts to bully Jeff Bezos into putting a leash on the Washington Post by denying Amazon a lucrative Pentagon contract, and you have a picture of the methods Orban has used, with more success.)

Hungary’s democratic backsliding was slow and gradual, without a single dramatic moment when its character flipped from democracy to dictatorship. Even now, it retains the surface trappings of a democracy without the liberal characteristics that make those processes meaningful. If America ceases to be a democracy, it will likely follow a path similar to Orban’s.

The broad lesson of Trump’s presidency is that clumsy, violent efforts to seize power — such as the January 6 insurrection — will meet with intra-party resistance, but subtler power grabs will not. Republicans decided to shrug at abuses like Trump using American diplomacy as a lever to coerce Ukraine to smear his opponent, refusing to accept the election outcome, or using the presidency to line his own pockets. They have enthusiastically joined in state laws to restrict voting and hand power over elections to party hacks.

What they seem to want is a leader who shares Trump’s contempt for democracy, but possesses a subtler touch. That is the vision Orban offers.

The difference between the left-wing American enthusiasts for Soviet communism a century ago and the conservative enthusiasts for Orbanism today is that at least the former were blinded by devotion to an ideal. They believed and hoped the Soviets were building a workers paradise and allowed this dream to blind them to the terror state that actually existed. Carlson is not ignoring Orban’s iron hand. For him, the repression is the very allure.


Photo by Frank Cone on

Ron DeSantis Plays Disaster Politics as Florida Again Reels From Coronavirus

Written by Susan Milligan and published in US News and World report on Aug. 4, 2021.

Disaster politics is part of the job for Florida politicians, and Gov. Ron DeSantis has had his share, responding to hurricane season and meeting with family of those killed in the Surfside condo collapse. And typically, Americans tend to rally around their leaders during a disaster.

Read: DeSantis Won’t Move on Masks as Florida COVID Wards Swell 

But the coronavirus has added an unusually political wrinkle for a governor and potential presidential candidate whose state is now experiencing a dangerous spike in pandemic-related infections and hospitalizations.

new poll released Wednesday showed DeSantis underwater on his approval rating, with 43.7% approving of his performance as governor and 48.5% disapproving, according to a StPetePolls survey of 3,952 Floridians. Surprising pollster Matt Florell, the poll had DeSantis narrowly losing reelection next year to one potential Democratic contender – former Gov. Charlie Crist – with 45.3% favoring Crist to 43.8% who want DeSantis re-elected.

And by a 2-to-1 margin – 62% to 31.9% – Floridians believe schoolchildren should be required to wear masks when they return to the classroom in two weeks, a strong rebuke to DeSantis and his recent executive order banning school districts from imposing mask mandates.

DeSantis has been considered the favorite for reelection next year, in part because he is very popular in his own party and in part because Democrats have struggled for years in statewide races in Florida. His determination to keep Florida commerce, schools and public spaces open during the pandemic brought criticism from some but played well with business owners and parents who didn’t want closed beach bars and schools.

Earlier in the summer, it looked like that tactic was paying off: Both cases of infection and hospitalizations from the virus were trending down, and DeSantis defenders needled those who had argued for tighter restrictions, saying the Florida governor had been proven correct.

But in the past couple of weeks, the health picture has darkened quickly in the Sunshine State. Cases and deaths are up, and hospitals are at capacity with COVID-19 patients, forcing them to cancel elective surgeries and import nurses from other states to staff the higher caseload.

Unlike other disasters – where the public is more or less united in blaming nature, but less so, the elected officials who manage the rebuilding – the virus presents a bigger risk for DeSantis as he seeks to keep his conservative base happy without having the public health crisis spiral out of control.

In other disasters, “he’s done the right thing. He’s appeared to be empathetically talking with grieving families, picking up a rock and some steel,” says J. Edwin Benton, a political science professor at the University of South Florida. “There’s a lot to be said for that kind of politics everywhere. But is it going to boomerang on him, on the coronavirus?”

President Joe Biden – who just weeks previous had a chummy meeting with DeSantis and others while visiting Surfside and meeting with families – delivered a tougher message earlier this week to DeSantis and other governors banning mask mandates.

READ: Coronavirus Vaccines Highlight a Deadly Political Divide 

“I say to these governors: Please help. But if you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way,” Biden said at the White House on Tuesday. “The people are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.”

DeSantis shot back on Wednesday, veering off during a speech on the Florida economy to talk about coronavirus politics.

“Joe Biden has taken to himself to single out Florida over COVID-19,” DeSantis said in Panama City. Biden is “importing more virus from around the world” by allowing immigrants to enter the country, the Florida governor said.

It was a message meant to appeal to an important constituency – the Donald Trump loyalists who don’t trust the government and don’t want to be told to wear a mask or get a vaccine, though DeSantis more recently has encouraged people to be vaccinated. His words also touch a nerve in a wider group of voters who are simply tired of having their lives changed so dramatically by the pandemic.

“It’s a smattering of folks,” ranging from those who still think COVID-19 is a hoax or think only old people get the virus or just resent government telling them what to do, says Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida. But with hospitalizations rising dramatically, “I think he’s got some problems coming his way,” Binder adds.

DeSantis is in an unusual position in that “he is simultaneously running two campaigns,” one for reelection next year and one for the 2024 Republican nomination for president, says Mac Stipanovich, a veteran GOP consultant and lobbyist in Florida.

If Florida suffers badly – and long-term – from the spike, it could hurt DeSantis among independents and moderate Republicans. “He’s betting on time, that we’ve got a big delta variant surge right now, and Florida is the epicenter. But that will pass,” Stipanovich says.

“He’s counting on how short the memories of people are. He just plays to the base and treads water, waiting for the virus to go away.”

DeSantis does seem to be cognizant of the hit to his approval rating, Florell says, meeting with hospital officials Wednesday after weeks of resisting having such a session. The political fallout for DeSantis will deepen, Florell says, as the increased hospitalization rate keeps extending further, preventing people from getting other kinds of health care or keeping them from visiting loved ones at the hospital.

But the governor has plenty of time to get past it, he says. “Voters have short memories. That’s one thing we’ve learned,” Florell adds.

Hope for Democracy?

Bad week in Trumpland signals hope for American democracy

Written by Austin Sarat and Dennis Aftergut and published in The Hill 8/2/2021

Photo by Rodrigo Souza on

The last five years’ deluge of disinformation and discord make it easy to lose faith in democracy, something never helpful to preserving it. Just when many lamented the Republican pilgrimages to Mar-a-Lago as signs of Trump’s iron-fisted hold on his party, his control visibly faltered last week. Earlier polling had already shown a slip.

Still, Trump’s bad week does not mean that it’s time for foes of authoritarianism to rejoice or for anyone to assume that American democracy is out of danger.

A loosening of Trump’s influence and new steps toward holding him accountable will mean little unless current efforts to enact the For the People Act, or a Manchin-style revision, can cross the goal line. As importantly, Congress needs to adopt the June 21 Senate bill to stop election subversion.

If the measures in Republican-controlled legislatures in battleground states this year allow partisans to exert control over which election officials count the 2022 and 2024 vote, the name of the Republican candidates will not matter. Our democratic republic will be at an end.

For the moment, though, let’s consider the week’s bad news for Trumpland:

  • On Tuesday, Susan Wright, the Texas congressional candidate that Trump endorsed, lost her primary to Jake Ellzey, whose campaign pitched his bipartisan appeal.
  • The same day, Merrick Garland’s DOJ advanced the cause of accountability by ruling that Trump acolyte Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) was not immune from liability in a lawsuit for allegedly inciting the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. That ruling ends the attempt that Trump’s lawyers had already foreshadowed to raise the same defense of the former president in Swalwell’s suit.
  • On Wednesday, even Mitch McConnell, “Dr. No” to Biden legislative success, greenlighted the procedural votes in favor of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal. McConnell did this in direct defiance of Trump’s messages threatening Republicans who signed on — 17 Republican Senators signed on anyway.
  • On Friday, the DOJ reversed Trump Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s decision to withhold Trump’s tax returns from a congressional committee overseeing IRS audits and exploring legislation to correct. Garland’s reversal is another sign that Trump no longer can simply get away with making up his own rules and defying long standing norms.
  • Also on Friday, the Justice Department released to Congress seemingly incriminating notes made by former DOJ officials of phone solicitations from then-President Trump to support his “Big Lie.” The notes indicate that Trump told acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen all he had to do was say that the November election was “corrupt” — “leave the rest to me and the R[epublican] Congressmen.” This seems like a redo from Trump’s playbook with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July 2019 — have someone announce an investigation of Biden so that Trump and his allies could blacken his rival’s name and prospects for success.

Outside of Trumpland, all this is good news — both for accountability and for the possibility that the Republican Party may still be able to fill the country’s need for a conservative-moderate party that is not off the rails in support of delusional extremism.

While progressives have made gains in capturing public support in recent years, the country remains, at heart, moderate to conservative in its politics.

The persuadable middle remains vital to governing the country, as the week’s progress on the infrastructure bill shows. Critically, the bill was kept alive by lobbying from an old-school, moderate-conservative business-labor coalition.

While celebrating pro-democracy events, it is good to keep in mind that even the Founders constantly lost faith in the experiment they had launched in their lab at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

Yet our country has survived the traumas of Civil War, Jim Crow, the Father Coughlins and Charles Lindberghs who would have aligned us with Nazi Germany, and the Sen. Joseph McCarthys who would have imposed his orthodoxy on our political thought.

Last week’s developments offer a glimmer of hope that we will survive Trump too.

To do so, Congress must act to protect the vote and preserve the integrity of our elections.

The key for citizens is never to shy away from facing the brutal truth of our current difficulties, while not allowing it to rob us of faith. As Winston Churchill observed, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Austin Sarat is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College. He is author of numerous books on America’s death penalty, including “Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty.” Follow him on Twitter @ljstprof.

Dennis Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor, currently of counsel at the Renne Public Law Group in San Francisco.

The Politics of Supreme Court Retirements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was before Ginsburg died.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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