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Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Is the U.S. Supreme Court the Biggest Threat to Our Democracy?

 By JIM SMITH

Conventional wisdom and conventional teaching of history tells us that the U.S. Supreme Court is the supreme law of the land, that the only branch of government which isn’t elected can tell the other two branches of government what is and is not constitutional.

But Thom Hartmann took his readers to school on this topic in his Oct. 20th column, The Hartmann Report.

According to Hartmann, “There is literally nothing in the Constitution that gives the Supreme Court the exclusive right to decide what the Constitution says or means and impose it on the other two branches of government, or on the rest of America. That is a power the Supreme Court took onto itself in that 1803 decision of its own, Marbury v Madison.

Hartmann continues:

“Instead of putting the Supreme Court in charge of American laws, the Framers of the Constitution did the opposite: they put Congress in charge of the Supreme Court.

“As they wrote in Article 3, Section 2 of the Constitution:

“[T]he Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

“Republicans know this well…. Most recently, in the wake of the Obergefell gay marriage decision, Republicans in Congress offered a law stripping from the Court its power to rule that gay people could get married. The Marriage Protection Act, which passed the House of Representatives on July 22, 2004 but failed in the Senate, explicitly says:

“No court created by Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, section 1738C or this section.”

[End of Hartmann excerpts]

We have heard that Congress has the power to increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court, but it turns out, according to the Constitution, that it has complete power over the Supreme Court and how it functions.

Now the Court has been overtaken by rightwing extremists poised, among other things, to make gay marriage illegal, to validate the power of the 30 Republican-controlled state legislatures to ignore presidential balloting and send electors of their choice to the Electoral College, to abolish all forms of local gun control, to end affirmative action by private colleges, and to further gut the 1967 Voting Rights Act.

If that sounds extreme, just consider what the Court has already done:

>   It overturned Roe v. Wade.

> In Citizens United, it allowed unlimited political donations by corporations and their billionaire owners.

> It gutted the power of the EPA to regulate carbon and water pollution.

> It gutted the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.

> It approved extreme gerrymandering in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Alabama that demonstrably disenfranchised voters of color.

> It eliminated the right of citizens to sue police officers who don’t read them their Miranda rights.

> It eliminated protection against unreasonable search and seizure by the Border Patrol or other federal officers within 100 miles of any border, including the ocean. No warrant necessary!

All those decisions and the ones to come in the Supreme Court’s current term are based on that 1803 decision in Marbury v. Madison in which the court empowered itself to overrule both Congress and the Presidency.

The backlash against Marbury was so great that the Court didn’t rule on the constitutionality of laws again for over 70 years. But today, it’s routine.

Congress has the power to rein in the Supreme Court, revoke its right to overrule its laws and even change the number of justices. Hartmann maintains in his Oct. 20th column that the time is now, because “if we fail, 2024 may be this nation’s last [popular] election for president.”

You can read the full Hartmann column at https://hartmannreport.com/p/are-scotus-republicans-in-on-a-plot.

 

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A Timely Reminder of Thomas Paine

   Last Sunday, Thom Hartmann reprised his 2006 review of Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye. I was not familiar with that book, but it’s on my reading list now.

Thomas Paine was best known for his books Common Sense and The Rights of Man, which were “best sellers” during the time of our country’s founding. His undoing, according to Kaye, was a third book, The Age of Reason, which Hartmann describes as “a finely tuned attack on organized religion.” It’s never been a good idea!

Here’s an excerpt from Hartmann’s review:

¨ It wasn't FDR who first seriously promoted the progressive income tax in the USA: it was Thomas Paine.

¨ It wasn't LBJ who invented anti-poverty programs by introducing Medicare, housing assistance, and food-stamp programs: Thomas Paine proposed versions of all of these.

¨ It wasn't Jack Kennedy who first talked seriously about international disarmament: it was Thomas Paine.

¨ And Teddy Roosevelt wasn't the first American to talk about the “living wage,” or ways that corporate “maximum wage” wink-and-nod agreements could be broken up: it was Thomas Paine.

¨ Even Woodrow Wilson’s inheritance tax, designed to prevent family empires from taking over our nation, was the idea of Thomas Paine, as was the suggestion for old-age pensions as part of a social safety net known today as Social Security.

    Paine thought that the best way to build a strong democracy was to tax the wealthy to give the poor bootstraps by which they could pull themselves up.

    And unlike most of our “founding fathers,” Paine never owned a slave and in fact railed against the practice. That’s another reason he lost favor.

 

GOP Control of Either House in 2024 Will Be a Sh*t Show


It’s a good thing that the likelihood of Republicans gaining majority control of the House of Representatives or Senate is fading. It was looking pretty inevitable until, for starters, the U.S. Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade. You’ve heard the quote, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” and the conservative members of the Supreme Court — one-third of them appointed by President Trump — has triggered that fury in one simple decision.

I’m not saying that maintaining Democratic control of both houses of Congress is a slam dunk, but let’s hope that it’s now a possibility.

Passing right-wing legislation, such as a national ban on abortion, is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the result of Republican control. Moreover, the right-wing legislation they pass would have to overcome a presidential veto for at least the next two years. The bigger part of that iceberg is what the various committees might do under Republican chairs.

Can you imagine the investigations that they would conduct if, for example, Rep. Jim Jordan becomes chairman of the House Judiciary Committee?

Last week, Jonathan Nicholson of HuffPost compiled a list of investigations we might expect if Republicans take control of either house. Democrats haven’t gone overboard in the way that we can expect their GOP counterparts to go.

Picture, for example, investigations of all their favorite enemies, from Anthony Fauci to Hillary Clinton to the Vice President and President themselves — and their families.

You’ve probably heard Republicans refer to the “Biden Crime Family.” Given Republican control, QAnon and Tucker Carlson might as well be in charge of setting the congressional agenda. That will delight their followers, but what about the rest of us and the future of our country?

How much attention do you think Donald Trump paid to his job between election day and Biden’s inauguration? Was he reading the Presidential Daily Brief each morning? (Not that he read it regularly before becoming preoccupied with staging a coup.)

It has been refreshing to have a president who takes his job seriously, who devotes his waking hours to the country’s business, not his own.

Ditto for the Democrats in Congress. They have been focused on serving our country, not on the country serving them. Isn’t that a pleasant change? I’d hate to lose that focus after next month’s mid-term elections.

 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Majority Rule Is a Bit of a Constitutional Myth in America

By JIM SMITH

Among the many things we have come to know about American history, thanks to Donald Trump and his allies, is that the United States of America was not created as a democracy or even as a democratic republic. The anti-democratic provisions of the U.S. Constitution have been exploited by the right to assure that minority rule remains our country’s ongoing reality.

The origins of minority rule can be found in the compromises agreed to at the founding constitutional convention, which was called to replace the original “Articles of Confederation,” which were tilted even more toward minority rule. Those articles gave each of the 13 original states one vote and required unanimous agreement to amend them.

The U.S. Senate, which gives equal power — two votes — to every state regardless of population, preserved that undemocratic principle. Thus we have a situation where Wyoming has the same number of votes in the Senate as California, even though the latter has 65 times the population of the former.

With the less populated states having vastly different values and politics than the most populated states, the result is what we have today, where Senators representing 40 percent of the population outnumber Senators representing 60 percent of the population.

This will never change, because the process of amending the Constitution also has at its endpoint a situation in which all states carry the same weight in ratifying any amendment.

The most offensive violation of voting equality is found in the District of Columbia, where 705,000 Americans — more than live in Wyoming or Vermont — have no voting representation in either the House or Senate.

Then, of course, we have the Electoral College created in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which is anti-democratic in the number of electors assigned to each state. And it gives discretion to each state as to how it appoints its electors. All but two states have adopted a winner-take-all rule for appointing electors, which is about as anti-democratic as it can get.

But wait, there’s more!  The Constitution allows any state, through its legislature, to ignore the presidential vote of its population and send whoever it wants to the Electoral College. Thanks to gerrymandering, most legislatures could go completely against the will of its citizens if it so chooses.

As if the Constitution doesn’t do enough damage to the principle of one person/one vote, the Senate’s filibuster rule makes it impossible to pass critical legislation approved by up to 59 of its 100 members. And that’s a rule which the Senate imposes upon itself. Since no law goes to the President for his signature without a vote of both houses of Congress, the U.S. Senate routinely kills legislation approved by the majority of Representatives in the House and even by the majority of its members.

So here we are. America has a form of government that is less democratic than most countries in the “free world.” And now, as we are learning from the Select Committee on the January 6 Assault on the Capitol, the Republican Party is taking maximum advantage of the Constitution’s anti-democratic provisions to cement minority rule in the United States.

What I haven’t mentioned above is the origin and reasons for the anti-democratic provisions of the Constitution. It was all about white supremacy. The creation of a Senate which gave the southern slave states the same number of votes as the more populous northern states, was all about preserving slavery as a southern institution.

In my July 28, 2022, column (which you can find at www.TalkingTurkey.online)  I describe how the Constitution was written to protect and preserve slavery. There was in fact slavery in all 13 colonies, and the majority of “founder fathers” were slaveholders. The Declaration of Independence expressed some nice sentiments and railed against King George for “making slaves” of colonists, but when it came to forming a government, the colonists chose to protect their own institution of slavery.

We are aware by now that racism is the “original sin” of the United States, and that systemic racism has been and continues to be a factor in our political life. And since any change to our Constitution must follow the rules of that document, we are in fact shackled by it into a future of minority rule.

While right-wing extremists like to brandish their AR-15s (as they did in the Michigan statehouse) and talk of civil war, they could probably relax, because our Constitution and our courts are on their side.

 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Let’s Look at the Christian Evangelical Aspect of Trumpism

 By JIM SMITH

At a recent open house, I had an interesting exchange with a professed Christian woman and Trump supporter. I asked her if she was concerned about the anti-democratic and fascist actions and statements coming from the Trump wing of the Republican Party.

She replied that she was not concerned because “God is in control. It will all turn out fine.”

Really?  Is Jesus’ hand on the wheel, and he’ll keep us from crashing and dying?  (Oops, I forgot — our afterlife with Jesus will be better, so why worry about dying?)

But let’s say we don’t want us, our country, or democracy to die. Can we really count on being saved by divine intervention? I don’t think so, and my answer is, like hers, rooted in my Christian and spiritual training. It has to do with “free will.”

I was taught that God may forgive us for our sins, but he gave us free will to commit them. Jesus certainly didn’t have his hand on the wheel when Hitler implemented the “final solution” of exterminating all Jews.

I believe, for example, that God charged us with stewardship of the our planet, but we are free to destroy it.  And therefore I believe that those fighting to address pollution and climate change are the ones doing “God’s work,” as he commanded us to do.

When asked by the wife of Philadelphia’s mayor at the time of the constitutional convention whether we have a republic or a monarchy, Benjamin Franklin famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” The mayor’s wife, Elizabeth Powel, shot back, “And why not keep it?” to which Franklin replied, “Because the people, on tasting the dish, are always disposed to eat more of it than does them good.”

Social media have supercharged that “over-eating” because it allows and encourages our God-given free will to spread lies that destroy trust in government, blur or purposely distort facts, and, when combined with the current misinterpretation of the 2nd Amendment, embolden the kind of armed insurrection we saw on January 6th and likely will see again.

Karl Marx famously called religion “the opium of the people,” and there is no better manifestation of that dictum than the Christian right and “Christian nationalism.” As with opium, they can’t be talked out of their addiction.

To quote the headline of my May 28, 2020, “Talking Turkey” column, “Forgiveness is an important trait, and Trump supporters get to practice it a lot.” They have forgiven Trump, I wrote, for failing to criticize the Charlottesville demonstrators who chanted “Jews will not replace us.” They forgave him for the Access Hollywood tape and having his fixer pay off a porn star with whom he committed adultery. And that was just the beginning of his trespasses for which he never attended church to confess his sins — only losers would do that! — and seek God’s forgiveness. 

But it does no good to criticize the man. We need to focus on those who propagate his insanity, like Steve Bannon, or who, as elected officials, refuse to disavow Trump’s Big Lie because they fear retribution if they acknowledge the facts as they know them.

We have countless Republican candidates running for election and re-election who are committed to the Big Lie, and committed to lying about the next election if they lose. I recall that shortly after the 2020 election, when Donald Trump began asserting the election was stolen, one astute TV commentator said that what he feared most was that Trump would run again in four years, lose again, and say again that the election was stolen.

We have always trusted our electoral system — until one president with a cult-like following said it could not be trusted. Enough people believed his lie that a statistically significant percentage of the population no longer trusts our electoral system. And those people are armed to the teeth with assault weapons! We “trusters” haven’t seen the need for assault weapons, so we are at their mercy if they assert the next election was stolen and choose to stage a coup.

God may save the King, but only we can save ourselves. When the “other side” controls the courts (they already control the Supreme Court) and get elected to the positions responsible for certifying elections, we are all screwed. They’ll call it God’s will. Yes, because it will be man exercising the free will with which God endowed them.

Click here to read comments on this column from my own minister and from a retired Lutheran pastor who read this column prior to publication. Your comments are welcome too!

(https://www.jimsmithcolumns.com/TalkingTurkey/Sept22Comments.pdf)

 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

We Can Thank Trump for Waking Us, Not Just the Alt-Right

For the past several years I have felt like I was back in college. As a history major, I didn’t learn anywhere near as much about American history, racism, fascism and politics as I have learned over the last six years.

It became clear right away that having a sympathetic figure in the White House emboldened the alt-Right, as demonstrated by the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, but that event in turn woke the rest of us up to the existence of those previously closeted forces in our country. You can draw a straight line from that rally to the events of January 6, 2021.

I remember how Barack Obama’s election in 2008 represented to many the arrival of a “post-racial America,” but now we realize that it simply awakened the sleeping giant of racism, which entered its fullness with the election of Donald Trump just 8 years later.

Those forces are in the minority, but they are highly energized and, thanks to the courts, they have enough military grade weapons to intimidate the rest of us into submission. But will they?

This “course” we’re all taking has a reading list. Books that I’ve read and recommend include: How Fascism Works, by Jason Stanley; Fascism: A Warning, by Madeleine Albright; Too Much and Never Enough, by Mary Trump; White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson; Rage and Fear, both by Bob Woodward; Disloyal, by Michael Cohen; A Warning, by Anonymous; and The 1619 Project, by Nikole Hannah-Jones. I could also cite countless articles in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The Guardian.  (When you click on the links for those books, you'll see recommendations of books similar to them, many of which I have also read.) 

So, what have I learned from this course of study? For starters, I gained a far more complete understanding of slavery and racism in America and how both were embedded in the U.S. Constitution. As I learned from The 1619 Project, one motivation for our revolutionary war was to preserve slavery. (See last week's blog post for details.)  I learned how the 13th Amendment, which abolished chattel slavery, provided for inmate slavery, which was utilized by former slaveholders to continue slavery by leasing convicts who were imprisoned for petty or fabricated crimes in Southern jurisdictions. (The 13th Amendment reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”)

I have learned how Trump and his minions have followed the fascist playbook. For most of my life I was puzzled by how middle and lower-income Americans would vote against their own interests, but now I realize that emotional interests can trump financial interests, and that fear of immigrants and persons of color and fear of socialism (undefined, and equated with communism) are proven tools utilized by fascists. The manipulation of working class Americans by Trump (who boasted that he loves “poorly educated” voters) is a textbook case in point.


I also learned from Hannah-Jones’ book that fascist inspiration was a 2-way street.  Hitler’s American Model, by James Q. Whitman, describes how Hitler got inspiration from the Jim Crow racism in 20th Century America.

A 2021 book, When People Want Punishment: Retributive Justice and the Puzzle of Authoritarian Popularity, by Lily L Tsai, addresses this very dynamic. Although China is her case study, the final chapter brings the topic home to our domestic situation.

It’s looking as if we may have passed the “tipping point” when it comes to reversing the effects of climate change. Have we also passed the tipping point when it comes to saving democracy? As you and I have learned in this “course,” the U.S. Constitution allows for state legislatures, so many of which are ruled by Republican election deniers thanks to gerrymandering, to overrule the will of the people.

The U.S. Constitution does not dictate how states choose the slate of presidential electors. This has changed over time, but most states — except Nebraska and Maine — send a slate of electors, all of whom are committed to the candidate who got the most votes, no matter how close the vote count was. The U.S. Constitution does not care how a state’s constitution or statutes determine how its slate is constituted.

There’s a real possibility that those Republican-controlled state legislatures may ignore their state’s popular vote and send the electors of their choice to the Electoral College in 2024. That’s a development we all should fear.

 

 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

‘Critical Race Theory’ May Not Be Taught in K-12, But Perhaps It Should Be

 By JIM SMITH

I have received quite an education from reading The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story about the history of slavery and racism in America. As a “history major” in college, I’m embarrassed at how little I knew about this aspect of American history.

Republicans, at least the Trumpers, would like to burn this book, and have succeeded in getting it banned from schools and libraries, because, for them, ignorance is bliss. They don’t want Americans to know their history.

I think this is an essential book that every student (and grown-up) should read and study.

Did you know that the capture and return of escaped slaves was primary to the creation of many police departments, especially in the South?

Did you know that 10 of our first 12 presidents were slave owners? That of the 84 clauses in the U.S. Constitution, six deal directly with the enslaved and their enslavement, and five more hold implications for slavery? That the Constitution prohibited the federal government from intervening to end the importation of slaves from Africa for a term of 20 years and allowed Congress to mobilize the militia to put down slave revolts and forced states that outlawed slavery to turn over escaped slaves to their enslavers in other states? That slavery existed in all 13 colonies, not just the South?

I was fascinated by the story of Virginia’s royal governor, the Earl of Dunmore, a slave owner himself, who warned colonists taking up arms that he would “declare Freedom to the Slaves,” prompting hundreds of slaves to join the British. Indeed more slaves joined the British than joined the colonists during the Revolutionary War.

It’s generally understood that the U.S. Constitution went against the noble statements in the Declaration of Independence regarding “all men being created equal,” but check out this excerpt from Chapter One:

“Thomas Jefferson spoke for other white Americans when he stated in the largest and angriest complaint in the Declaration of Independence, that Dunmore’s emancipation proclamation was a major cause of the American Revolution,” [Woody] Holton writes. Or, as historian Michael Groth put it, “In one sense, slaveholding Patriots went to war in 1775 and declared independence in 1776 to defend their rights to own slaves.”

Holton was referring to the last grievance in the Declaration of Independence that “He [the King] has excited domestic insurrections amongst us,” a specific reference to insurrections by slaves against their enslavers.

Another quote I highlighted:

As Frederick Douglass would explain in 1849, the Constitution bound the nation “to do the bidding of the slave holder, to bring out the whole naval and military power of the country, to crush the refractory slaves into obedience to their cruel masters.”

Northerners (like myself) were led to believe that racism, racial segregation and discrimination of all sorts was a Southern phenomenon, one which children born after the 1970s or 1980s might totally accept. But this book reminds readers that white politicians in the North implemented policies that segregated Blacks into slum neighborhoods and all-Black schools, and “Whites Only” signs were common in Northern businesses. California was among the non-Southern states which barred interracial marriages. It was the FHA which introduced (and mandated) racially tinged redlining to the mortgage industry.

This is history which all Americans need to know. And we need to know that right-wing opposition to teaching American history is anti-American. (Or perhaps we should label it “highly American,” given our history.)

The 1619 Project provides insight regarding the members of the Supreme Court who call themselves “originalists.” To be an originalist in that context means to support not just denying women the vote but supporting slavery and systemic racism.

 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The ‘Big Lie’ Is the Gift That Keeps on Giving — for a Man With No Shame

By JIM SMITH

We learned last week that Donald Trump conned his small-donor followers out of $250 million on the pretext that the money would be used by an “election integrity committee” to fund challenges to Joe Biden’s election, when in fact no such committee existed and none of the money was even used for ballot recounts. It went to his hotels, the Jan. 6th rally, and mostly to his political campaign. His donors are, simply, suckers, reminding me of how he said that he loves uneducated voters and his “deplorables.” (Yes, although he attacked Hillary Clinton for using that term, he used it himself to describe his rightwing and racist followers.)

Whether or not he intended to use it long-term, when Trump saw the fundraising potential of the Big Lie, he decided to double down on it. Money, however, is not the only way the Big Lie has paid off for him.

Because his supporters believe anything Trump tells them and have been inoculated to dismiss any fact-checking as “fake news” paid for by the likes of George Soros, the Big Lie has generated the kind of misguided enthusiasm that could propel the Trump Party (formerly the GOP) to victory. The Democrats don’t yet have as much get-out-the-vote enthusiasm, and turnout is what wins any election. Besides, will getting the most votes even matter?

Steve Bannon brilliantly conceived a precinct strategy built upon the Big Lie and has already showed impressive success in getting Trump’s true believers to take over grass roots Republican precinct committees and school boards and to win nominations for the Secretaries of State who run elections.

The Supreme Court, with its 6-3 conservative (and Catholic) majority is dismantling abortion rights and the separation of church and state. Five of those six were nominated by presidents who did not win the popular vote.

The Trump Party is following the playbook of fascist movements in the past, convincing supporters that any fact-checking by mainstream media is part of the conspiracy against their beliefs because those media are owned by the “radical socialist Democrats.”

The latest strategy is to include a mention of Snopes and Factcheck.org within their emails, warning readers that they “will tell you this is not true, but don’t believe them!”

How can that many Americans be so easily conned into believing what the rest of us know to be obvious untruths?

Have we passed the tipping point in the rightwing takeover of our country? We’ll know that for sure if the Trump Party takes control of both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives and wins Secretary of State races in battleground states. That’s all that’s required to steal the 2024 presidential election. After all, the US Constitution does allow for state legislatures to go against the popular vote and send their own electors to the Electoral College.

If they pull that off, Americans will be “up in arms” figuratively, but they will be outgunned literally by the storm troopers armed with AR-15 rifles, so I suspect it won’t matter. Death threats and the threat of violence are highly effective political tools.

Consider the following item from Heather Cox Richardson:

Today, June 20, 2022, a Republican candidate for the Senate in Missouri, disgraced former governor Eric Greitens, released an advertisement threatening those Republicans he considers too moderate, the so-called Republicans In Name Only… In the ad, Greitens is armed with a shotgun and flanked by military personnel as they burst into a house. “Today, we’re going RINO hunting,” he says. “The RINO feeds on corruption and is marked with the stripes of cowardice,” he continues. “Join the MAGA crew. Get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.”

Of course, it’s the Trumpers who are the true RINOs.  The above excerpt is a tacit acknowledgement that only the non-Trump Republicans can save us, but will they? On June 6, 1954, Boston attorney Joseph Welch brought down Sen. Joseph McCarthy with his televised line, “Have you no decency, sir?” When will other Republicans join Rep. Liz Cheney and speak out?  When will they defy the death threats, stand up and say, “Have you no shame, sir?”

————

My thanks to the readers who support this column through my GoFundMe campaign at www.FundTalkingTurkey.com

 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

If They Loved America, Wouldn’t Anti-Trump Republicans Speak Out?

  I’m reminded by the silence of mainstream Republicans of a quote often attributed to Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

I hesitate to use the word “mainstream” because it appears that the Republican Party is now the party of Trump and that the values (or lack of them) of Donald Trump have been adopted by the Republican mainstream. The rest of us should be frightened.

Thom Hartmann, the radio host and newsletter writer I admire for his articulate coverage of the decline of American democracy under the spell of Donald Trump, wrote a particularly cogent newsletter this Monday.

In the headline, Hartmann asks, “Is the Anti-Democracy Movement Reaching a Tipping Point in the US and Around the World?

In it he notes: “Ukraine and Taiwan represent possible tipping points for democracy internationally, while Republicans passing laws that allow politicians to ignore the results of elections… could be a tipping point here.”

Hartmann notes that “virtually the entire Republican Party has rejected supporting democracy at home and supporting democratic governments abroad.”

This is no small matter. It is becoming clear that our Constitution is being used against us, and I see no way to avoid the death spiral of democratic rule in America.

Yes, the filibuster, which allows a minority of Senators to frustrate the majority, could be eliminated by a majority vote of Senators, because it is a Senate rule, not embedded in the Constitution. To their shame, two Democratic Senators prevented that from happening so that a voting rights bill they claim to support could pass without any Republican votes.

But even if the filibuster were eliminated, it does not change the structural issue built into the Constitution which gives the same vote in the Senate to Wyoming with fewer than 600,000 residents as it gives to California with over 39 million residents.  And the District of Columbia, which has more residents than Wyoming, has not one vote in the Senate (or in the House of Representatives).

Because our electoral system is under so much discussion since the former president started claiming his election was stolen through massive fraud — the Big Lie, as we call it — we are becoming more and more aware of how fragile our democratic republic is, and I’m not hopeful that there will be a happy ending, even if we see Trump and his cronies go to jail, as they should, for the many crimes that are coming to light thanks to the diligent work of the Jan. 6th committee and multiple prosecutors in New York and now Georgia.

My Republican mother and father, for whom integrity, civility and respect for the law were paramount (and instilled in us children), would be astounded at how our country is being brought down by the opposite traits of a single man who boasted that he could murder someone in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue and not lose a single vote.

The trendlines are all going in the wrong direction. Income inequality is on the rise, with the 10 richest billionaires doubling their wealth during the pandemic, while the government had to print money just to keep the bottom 99% above water. Non-partisan election officials are being terrorized by death threats and their jobs taken over by right-wing partisans. Legislatures are passing laws restricting ballot access and preparing to declare fraud if they don’t like the next presidential vote and send their own slate to the Electoral College. Tucker Carlson is convincing his viewers that we should support Russia instead of Ukraine. Where does this madness end?

As a wealthy white American, I have little to lose as long as I keep quiet in Trump’s new America, but it’s not an America I wish to live in.

 

A stark warning from Martin Baron about threats to truth, science, and democracy

By JIM SMITH

Martin Baron is the former Executive Editor of The Washington Post and a highly respected journalist. On April 21st, he delivered a grim warning to an audience at MIT about the avalanche of lies and falsehoods permeating right-wing media outlets, posing a direct threat to democracy and civil society. 

His comments mirror my own (or vice versa) so I’m going to devote this month’s column to quoting his lecture, reprinting in edited form the following article by Peter Dizikes of the MIT News Office:

Baron focused many of his remarks on lies and misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the 2020 presidential election. “The path we are on today is an invitation to ruin,” said Baron, while delivering MIT’s annual spring Compton Lecture.

Baron, who served as executive editor of The Washington Post from 2013 to 2021, before retiring, focused many of his remarks on lies and misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the 2020 presidential election. Propagation of those kinds of lies, he emphasized, not only undermines public health and governance in the near term, but undercuts our collective use of facts to help organize society.

“The truth is, we may not survive another crisis in public health if we don’t come up with answers,” Baron said. “And we may not survive another crisis in our democracy like the one we’ve faced.”

Champion of independence

Baron has been one of America’s highest profile newsroom leaders for the last two decades. He began his journalism career at the Miami Herald in 1976 and worked for the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times before returning to the Herald as executive editor in 2000. He then served as executive editor of The Boston Globe for over a decade before moving to the Post.

Baron was portrayed by Liev Schreiber in the 2015 film “Spotlight,” winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture. The film depicts the work of the Globe’s investigative reporting team, published in 2002, which revealed decades of covered-up abuse cases in the Catholic Church.

At Thursday’s event, Baron was introduced by MIT President L. Rafael Reif , who called the veteran editor a “champion of the independent press and its essential role in American democracy.” He added: “Marty’s distinguished career is a study in integrity, determination, and grace under pressure.”

Sustaining enlightenment

Baron began his talk with some broad historical brushstrokes, emphasizing the 18th-century Enlightenment as the time when a commitment to empiricism and rational inquiry helped form contemporary society. “Not one of you would be here without the values that informed that period,” he said.

That said, Baron added, today “verifiable fact, objective reality, is now under determined, deliberate, cynical, and malevolent assault. I can think of no greater threat to our system of governance, or to the public good.”

As a principal example, Baron cited the stream of lies disputing that former President Trump lost the 2020 presidential election.

“We know that Joe Biden won,” Baron said. “There is a mountain of evidence proving that he did. There is no credible evidence that he didn’t. There were multiple recounts, there were audits, some of them even real ones. There were court challenges to official results that failed one after another, and judges at every level cited lack of evidence.  And yet, as of last December, one-third of the American public, and a stunning 71 percent of Republicans, believe the election was stolen.”

When it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic, Baron observed, we are suffering from a similar wave of falsehoods.

“We know that vaccines work,” Baron said. “For decades, they have rid the world of devastating illness and death. And yet a substantial portion of the public believes vaccines will sicken and even kill you. Nothing could be more threatening to the public’s health than to deceive people about which medicines are safe and effective, and which are quackery, with potentially fatal outcomes. Here at MIT you know that as well as anyone.”

As a result of such large-scale lying, Baron said, the U.S. is losing its ability to properly govern itself.

“Ours is a country that rightly encourages vigorous debate about the problems we face and the policies required to address them,” Baron said. “That is liberty. That is democracy. That is what has distinguished our country in the eyes of people throughout the world.”

However, he added: “What happens when the underpinnings of that democracy are eroded? What happens when instead of debating policies, we find ourselves debating the most basic facts? What happens when we can’t even agree on what constitutes a fact? What happens when all those elements we rely upon for determining what is a fact — expertise, education, experience, and evidence — are routinely devalued, dismissed, and denied? That’s where we are today.”

Decline in confidence

As Baron emphasized, this is not simply a media or governance issue. He noted that there is a widespread decline in public confidence toward both the media and the medical professions, among many other institutions oriented around empirical reality.

“We in the press and you who are in science are in the same leaky, rickety boat,” Baron said.

Observing that there is “a systematic effort to sabotage independent sources of fact,” Baron noted that “the mission of these saboteurs … is not the pursuit of truth. They seek something else: power. Political, personal, and commercial power.”

Baron also listed a series of empirical questions about facticity, knowledge, and communication that he believes are worth pursuing, as one part of a larger societal effort to fight back against falsehoods and the accumulation of power they may abet.

To get us back to a society firmly rooted in objective reality, I believe we will have to come up with answers to some urgent questions,” Baron said. “Here are a few. What makes the human mind susceptible to falsehoods from nonexperts and resistant to evidence-based facts from people with expertise? How can we better signal to the public that knowledge is not static? … How can we get the public to better understand and weigh the risks they face in daily life?”

He added: “How do we better signal that there is a distinction between scientific facts and policy decisions?…  How can reality-based professionals disseminate information in a manner that is more persuasive to more people?”

Impact on ordinary people

During the question-and-answer portion of the event, Baron further discussed the pursuit of truth in journalism, which he characterized as a process of searching for facts while questioning one’s own assumptions.

“It’s not so much maintaining a middle ground, it’s maintaining an independent ground,” Baron said. “Objectivity is a method. You want to make sure that your own preconceptions don’t get in the way of an objective search for the facts.”

[End of article about Baron’s lecture]

From Jim Smith:

It seems obvious to me that one single individual is responsible for this situation, and that is Donald Trump. The Big Lie about the 2020 election only gained a following because he started it. It is his single worst legacy, and one that could bring America down. Shame on him.