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kottke.org posts about politics

America’s Abstract Freedom

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2021

This is quite a paragraph from David Bentley Hart’s Three Cheers for Socialism in Commonweal:

Americans are, of course, the most thoroughly and passively indoctrinated people on earth. They know next to nothing as a rule about their own history, or the histories of other nations, or the histories of the various social movements that have risen and fallen in the past, and they certainly know little or nothing of the complexities and contradictions comprised within words like “socialism” and “capitalism.” Chiefly, what they have been trained not to know or even suspect is that, in many ways, they enjoy far fewer freedoms, and suffer under a more intrusive centralized state, than do the citizens of countries with more vigorous social-democratic institutions. This is at once the most comic and most tragic aspect of the excitable alarm that talk of social democracy or democratic socialism can elicit on these shores. An enormous number of Americans have been persuaded to believe that they are freer in the abstract than, say, Germans or Danes precisely because they possess far fewer freedoms in the concrete. They are far more vulnerable to medical and financial crisis, far more likely to receive inadequate health coverage, far more prone to irreparable insolvency, far more unprotected against predatory creditors, far more subject to income inequality, and so forth, while effectively paying more in tax (when one figures in federal, state, local, and sales taxes, and then compounds those by all the expenditures that in this country, as almost nowhere else, their taxes do not cover). One might think that a people who once rebelled against the mightiest empire on earth on the principle of no taxation without representation would not meekly accept taxation without adequate government services. But we accept what we have become used to, I suppose. Even so, one has to ask, what state apparatus in the “free” world could be more powerful and tyrannical than the one that taxes its citizens while providing no substantial civic benefits in return, solely in order to enrich a piratically overinflated military-industrial complex and to ease the tax burdens of the immensely wealthy?

I mean, when you put it like that…

The US Isn’t Ready for Another Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2021

Olga Khazan writing for The Atlantic:

After an inept coronavirus response, will the United States do better when the next pandemic strikes? Experts generally agree that America learned from the past year, and that the next public-health crisis won’t be quite as bewildering. But America’s pandemic preparedness still has major gaps, some of which are too big for any one administration to fix. In recent weeks, I’ve called back many of the experts I interviewed over the past 18 months about masks, testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and more. I asked them, “Are we ready for another one?” The short answer is “Not quite.” The long answer is that being truly “ready” will be harder than anyone realizes.

The Trump administration mishandled the American response to Covid-19 so completely that it’s tempting to pin most of the pandemic carnage on him. But the more I read about the pandemic (Michael Lewis’s The Premonition is a recent example), the more I have come to believe that the majority of the American pandemic deaths were baked in, no matter who was President. Trump was definitely a worst-case scenario, but even a more competent person in the White House in Jan 2020 (like Clinton or Sanders or Romney) would not have done so much better. Poor public health infrastructure, politicized government agencies, no mandatory paid leave, an overpriced healthcare system that only works for some, uncoordinated national response (+ federalism), years of defunding government programs, a reactive (rather than proactive) CDC, unhealthy populace, poverty, systemic racism in medicine, entitled individualism, high rate of uninsured people, growing anti-science sentiment — the pandemic was destined to race through the United States like a brush fire no matter what.

Even the European Union, whose member nations do not share many of America’s aforementioned challenges (but have other issues), did only marginally better than the US in preventing Covid deaths. The UK did worse:

a chart showing the cumulative covid deaths per million of the US, UK, EU, and world

Inside the Insurrection on Congress

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2021

This is an incredible video investigation by the NY Times of the January 6th attack on Congress by terrorists, rioters, and supporters of Donald Trump. They analyzed hundreds of videos, police bodycam footage, and police communications to reconstruct a minute-by-minute account of the Capital breach.

From the accompanying article of six takeaways from the investigation:

Most of the videos we analyzed were filmed by the rioters. By carefully listening to the unfiltered chatter within the crowd, we found a clear feedback loop between President Trump and his supporters.

As Mr. Trump spoke near the White House, supporters who had already gathered at the Capitol building hoping to disrupt the certification responded. Hearing his message to “walk down to the Capitol,” they interpreted it as the president sending reinforcements. “There’s about a million people on their way now,” we heard a man in the crowd say, as Mr. Trump’s speech played from a loudspeaker.

The call and response didn’t stop there. We found evidence of his influence once the violence was well underway. In one moment, a woman with a megaphone urged rioters to climb through a broken window by asking them to “stand up for our country and Constitution” — echoing the language in an earlier tweet from Mr. Trump. In another, as the police were pushing to clear the mob off the building, a rioter screamed at officers: “I was invited here by the president.”

It is astonishing to me how close we came to having a hostage or assassination situation with members of Congress and the Vice-President — like literal seconds and minutes away — and how is this not the only topic of conversation over the past 6 months in our country? And not only that, it’s clear that we’re not really going to do anything about it, aside from beefing up Capitol security and imprisoning some of the insurrectionists. This isn’t over — as the video’s narration states near the end: “The forces that brought them there have not gone away.”

Update: From Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources newsletter:

But Rangappa could have also been talking about CNN’s efforts in court to obtain riot footage; or ProPublica’s recent investigation that indicated “Senior Trump Aides Knew Jan. 6 Rally Could Get Chaotic;” or Just Security’s new “clearinghouse” for riot research. Her broader point is spot on: Newsrooms have been putting the January 6 puzzle pieces together, creating a detailed rough draft of history, in spite of partisan efforts to bury that history.

Germany Came to Terms with Its Nazi Past. Why Can’t America Do the Same with Slavery?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2021

For the Washington Post, Michele Norris wonders what it will take for the US to finally and fully acknowledge its history of slavery.

America experienced 246 years of slavery before it was officially ended with the passage of the 13th Amendment. That was followed by decades of legal segregation and oppression under Jim Crow, followed by a period of willful blindness and denial. A tourist from a foreign land might well conclude that the Confederacy had actually won the Civil War, based on the number of monuments, buildings and boulevards still named for heroes of its defeated army. The real truth of our shared history was a casualty of that war and, like any wound left untended, the results can be catastrophic.

A full accounting of slavery is one of terror and trauma, and for decades the natural inclination was to ask, why would anyone want to claim that history? But at a moment when the United States is dangerously divided, when we are having bitter and overdue conversations about policing, inequality and voting rights, when marauders fueled by white-nationalist rhetoric can overwhelm the Capitol, proudly waving the Confederate battle flag, the more important question is this: What happens if we don’t?

She uses Germany’s remembrance and examination of Nazism and the Holocaust as an example of a country that has properly faced up to its terrible past in order to move fully forward.

Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung refers to Germany’s efforts to interrogate the horrors of the Holocaust and the rise of Nazism. It has been a decades-long exercise, beginning in the 1960s, to examine, analyze and ultimately learn to live with an evil chapter through monuments, teachings, art, architecture, protocols and public policy. The country looks at its Nazi past by consistently, almost obsessively, memorializing the victims of that murderous era, so much so that it is now a central feature of the nation’s cultural landscape. The ethos of this campaign is “never forget.”

I visited Germany back in 2018 and its efforts to engage with past horrors were quite noticeable and stood in stark contrast to American activity along similar lines.

In particular, as a nation the US has never properly come to terms with the horrors it inflicted on African Americans and Native Americans. We build monuments to Confederate soldiers but very few to the millions enslaved and murdered. Our country committed genocide against native peoples, herded them onto reservations like cattle, and we’re still denying them the right to vote.

As Norris convincingly argues, “it is long past time to face where truth can take us”.

The Last Free Election in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2021

Yale historian Timothy Snyder has been one of the most prominent & insistent voices warning against the rise of authoritarianism & fascism in the United States in recent years — you may remember his 20 lessons from the 20th century on fighting authoritarianism from November 2016 and his more recent piece on the right’s coup attempt on January 6th.

Over the weekend, Snyder published a short piece about what he believes will happen as a result of the 1/6 insurrection and the Republicans’ ongoing effort to push their Big Lie about election fraud — basically the end of democracy in America.

I have the Cassandra feeling this spring because it is so obvious where all of this is heading. President Trump tells a big lie that elections are rigged. This authorizes him and others to seek power in extra-democratic ways. The lie is institutionalized by state legislation that suppresses voting, and that gives state legislatures themselves the right to decide how to allocate the electoral vote in presidential elections.

The scenario then goes like this. The Republicans win back the House and Senate in 2022, in part thanks to voter suppression. The Republican candidate in 2024 loses the popular vote by several million and the electoral vote by the margin of a few states. State legislatures, claiming fraud, alter the electoral count vote. The House and Senate accept that altered count. The losing candidate becomes the president. We no longer have “democratically elected government.” And people are angry.

No one is seeking to hide that this is the plan. It is right there out in the open. The prospective Republican candidates for 2024, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley, are all running on a big lie platform. If your platform is that elections do not work, you are saying that you intend to come to power some other way. The big lie is designed not to win an election, but to discredit one. Any candidate who tells it is alienating most Americans, and preparing a minority for a scenario where fraud is claimed. This is just what Trump tried in 2020, and it led to a coup attempt in January 2021. It will be worse in January 2025.

Like he says, so obvious and out in the open. As far as I’m concerned, this is a done deal and there’s not a lot that can be done to stop it. The horse left the barn some time ago and most people can’t even tell the door is open, much less that it needs closing.

QAmom

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 03, 2021

Sean Donnelly’s mother got sucked into the world of QAnon conspiracy theories, so he made a little video about it, including documenting some bets he made with her about whether or not Biden would still be in office 3 months after the inauguration or if Tom Hanks & Oprah would soon be arrested for pedophilia. Remember when Baby Boomers were all concerned that the internet was going to be harmful for their Gen X and Millennial children and grandchildren? And now all these Boomers are getting brainwashed by Facebook and Fox News? Good stuff. :|

See also QAnon, Conspiracy Theories, and the Rise of Magical Thinking, What Can You Do About QAnon?, Sacha Baron Cohen Says Tech Companies Built the “Greatest Propaganda Machine in History”, Living in a Conspiracy Nation, In Search of a Flat Earth, and My Dad, the Facebook Addict. (via waxy)

“If Democracy Is Dying, Why Are Democrats So Complacent?”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 26, 2021

For The Atlantic, Luke Savage writes that Democrats have to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to protecting American democracy.

If you’ve followed recent Democratic messaging, you’ll have heard that American democracy is under serious attack by the Republican Party, representing an existential threat to the country. If you’ve followed Democratic lawmaking, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the threat is actually a rather piddling one. The disconnect, in this case, isn’t attributable to Democratic embellishment, but to inexcusable complacency.

Without meaningfully reforming the rules of the Senate, the Biden administration & Congressional Democratic leadership basically gets to pass one substantial bill per year (through budget reconciliation). That’s it. If Democrats lose the House in 2022, which seems likely or even certain without the passage of a federal voting rights bill, then it’s only one or two bills. And then maybe Democrats don’t see the White House, a Senate majority, and a House majority for a generation and we’ll all have to ask ourselves whether we actually like living in a de facto nationalistic one-party state.

“Every Child on Their Own Trampoline”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 20, 2021

I suspect that if you read this site with any regularity, the pandemic has you thinking about our society’s prioritization of the rights & desires of the individual versus the needs of the community. Using the purchase of a backyard trampoline for his kids as a jumping off point, Jeremy Williams wonders if we haven’t “tipped too far towards private consumption”.

Capitalism pushes us towards private affluence. We aspire to acquire our own things. Shared things are seen as second best, something of an inconvenience. Politics responds accordingly, prioritising economic growth and ‘more money in your pocket’, rather than shared goods and services. So everyone has their own lawnmower while the grass grows long in the park. People get their own exercise bikes or rowing machines, and the gym at the local leisure centre starts to look tired and under-funded. The wealthy pay for childcare or hire a nanny, but the early years nursery closes down.

Having access to your own things looks like progress, but there is a cost. Community is one of the victims. Shared spaces are places where community happens, where people mix and meet. Nobody makes new friends on their own rowing machine, in front of the TV. Inequality is another. Those who can afford their own won’t notice, but those on lower incomes rely much more on shared resources. When a library closes, it’s those on the margins of society who lose access to books, internet access, or a warm place to sit and do their homework. There is also an environmental cost, as private ownership means endlessly duplicated goods, many underused objects across many owners rather than a few well used objects that are shared.

(via dense discovery)

Rick Steves: Germany’s Fascist Story

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2021

Rick Steves’ travel shows and videos typically highlight the positive aspects of travel destinations in Europe and around the world. But more recently, he’s also been making shows about Europe’s unpleasant past. In 2019, he did an hour-long TV special about the history of fascism in Europe

Because Steves hosts a travel show, they visit some of the places where this history played out, including Nuremberg, Auschwitz, and Rome, talk to historians and tour guides, and discuss fascist and anti-fascist art, including Picasso’s Guernica.

And earlier this year, Steves made a similar show that focused just on Germany, embedded above.

Traveling across Germany, we learn how fascism rose and then fell, taking millions of people with it. Visiting actual locations — from Munich to Nürnberg to Berlin — we trace the roots of Nazism in the aftermath of World War I, when masses of angry people were enchanted by Hitler. We explore the totalitarian society Hitler built, and see the consequences: genocide and total war. Learning from Germany’s fascist story, we can recognize that hateful ideology as well as the tricks of wannabe dictators in our own age.

(via open culture)

A Reevaluation of Jimmy Carter’s Presidency

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2021

A new documentary film called Carterland and Jonathan Alter’s biography His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life (ebook) are among the recent media attempting to reconsider and recontextualize the presidency of Jimmy Carter. From Megan Mayhew Bergman in The Guardian:

“Here’s what people get wrong about Carter,” Will Pattiz, one of the film’s directors tells me. “He was not in over his head or ineffective, weak or indecisive — he was a visionary leader, decades ahead of his time trying to pull the country toward renewable energy, climate solutions, social justice for women and minorities, equitable treatment for all nations of the world. He faced nearly impossible economic problems — and at the end of the day came so very close to changing the trajectory of this nation.”

Will’s brother, Jim, agrees. “A question folks should be asking themselves is: what catastrophes would have befallen this country had anyone other than Jimmy Carter been at the helm during that critical time in the late 1970s?”

I’m gonna need a three-episode series about Carter on You’re Wrong About, stat. If there’s any justice in the world (wait, don’t answer that), in 50 years’ time Ronald Reagan’s presidency will be considered the disaster that is was and Carter’s will look better in comparison.

If you’re interested in seeing Carterland, it looks as though it’s not out widely quite yet — the only place I could even find a trailer is on this Atlanta Film Festival page (click “Play Trailer” at the bottom of the page).

‘Private Choices Have Public Consequences’

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2021

This is a very good and bracing essay from David Roth for Defector about a certain type of knee-jerk libertarian response to the pandemic in the US.

In place of any actually ennobling liberty or more fundamental freedom, contemporary American life mostly offers choices. But since most of these are not really choices at all in any meaningful way, it might be more accurate to say that we’re offered selection. The choice between paying for health insurance and running up six figures of non-dischargeable debt because you got sick, for instance, is honestly less a choice than a hostage situation. But because the second outcome is still extremely possible even if you choose to pay for health insurance, it’s more correct to say that the choice is already made, and that the decision is more about choosing from an array of variously insufficient and predatory options the one whose name or price or risk you like most. Sometimes there isn’t even that, and the choice is a binary one between something and nothing. None of this is really what anyone would choose, but these ugly individuated choices are what we get.

And then:

The broader complacent and unreasoned acceptance that props up our otherwise untenable status quo is shot through all these facile “it’s a private matter and a personal choice” formulations; if you have accepted that mostly useless choices between dreary outcomes are all you could ever get as a citizen in the wealthiest and most powerful country on earth, then you have also accepted that these choices are actually very important, and that making them is the thing makes you free. None of these personal choices actually make anything better for the person making them. In the case of the vaccine, those choices have devastating downstream impacts for all the people who glance off the choice-maker as they carve their personal hero’s journeys through the world. None of this matters as much as the idea that the choice is theirs to make.

The Advantages of Political Buffoonery

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2021

From a short piece riffing on Idi Amin and the political utility of being a buffoon by Mark Leopold, author of an Amin biography:

What, then, are the advantages of political buffoonery? Off-hand, considering Amin’s career, I can think of at least five:

1) It leads opponents to underestimate the ability and intelligence of the buffoon.

2) It provides deniability — “it was only a joke.”

3) It appeals to core supporters (many Africans loved Amin’s teasing of the former colonial masters).

4) It serves as a distraction from the more serious, perhaps frightening or incompetent, actions of the leader, what we now call the “dead cat” tactic.

5) It leads to ambiguity (was it a joke or not?), producing confusion and uncertainty about how to respond.

Behind all this is clearly what Freud recognized as the aggressive nature of joking. I suggest that buffoonery is, at root, a quintessentially masculine characteristic.

If you’ve lived though recent UK and US politics, I expect you’re furiously nodding your head at all this right now. (via sam potts)

America’s Vaccine Glut and “Vaccine Diplomacy”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2021

After the Biden administration announced they will have enough Covid-19 vaccine supply to cover every single adult in the country by the end of May, I got to wondering about what they were going to do with the tens & hundreds of millions of surplus doses already procured for the remainder of the year. “Oh,” I thought, naively, “We’ll be able to distribute it to countries that can’t easily procure or manufacture vaccines of their own!” And I’m sure some of that will happen, if only for PR purposes. But it’s perhaps more likely that America will practice vaccine diplomacy and use the stockpile to reestablish its global leadership.

The United States has backed away from the world. This isn’t a Clinton thing or a W Bush thing or an Obama thing or a Trump thing or a Biden thing, but instead a United States thing. The American people lost interest in playing a constructive role in the world three decades ago, and America’s political leadership has molded itself around that fact. Trump may have been instinctually and publicly hostile to all things international, but Biden is only different in tone. Biden’s Buy-American program is actually more anti-globalization than Trump’s America-First rhetoric as it is an express violation of most of America’s international trade commitments. TeamBiden says it wants to reestablish America’s global leadership…but it plans to do so without any troops or money. Sorry, but that’s not how it works.

Which makes the possibilities for vaccine diplomacy wildly interesting. The United States has no responsibility to provide COVID vaccines to the world. It can — it will — distribute them, but it will want something in return.

Even if you disagree with some of the analysis here, it will be interesting to watch where America’s stockpile ends up. Given Biden’s rhetoric of “listening to the science” when it comes to the pandemic, I hope that at least some of that supply goes to places that need it most to make certain the pandemic doesn’t sputter on for years, generating potentially dangerous new variants, even if it’s politically disadvantageous.

Update: Countries now scrambling for COVID-19 vaccines may soon have surpluses to donate by Jon Cohen and Kai Kupferschmidt for Science magazine:

Like three dozen other countries, the United States contracted with multiple vaccine companies for several times the number of doses needed to cover its population. No one knew at the time which, if any, of the candidate vaccines would work or when they might prove safe and effective. But by now, most of the prepurchased vaccines appear to offer solid protection — which means many countries will receive far more vaccine than they need. The excess doses the United States alone may have by July would vaccinate at least 200 million people.

A chart in the article notes that the US has procured enough vaccine to cover almost 1.5 billion people after fully vaccinating its entire population.

Why Does Vladimir Putin Want Alexei Navalny Dead?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2021

After Vladimir Putin, dictatorial leader of Russia for over 20 years now, had seemingly insulated himself against losing power through control of the media, law, elections, and the wealthy allies, a lawyer named Alexei Navalny began to expose the corruption in Putin’s regime with a series of posts to his blog and on YouTube. Navalny continued his investigations, gaining public popularity and running for public office. Putin imprisoned him and tried to have him killed. This Vox video explains in more detail why Putin wants Navalny dead.

More reading on Navalny: Vox explainer, Masha Gessen on recent pro-Navalny protests in Russia. (via open culture)

E.B. White on the Meaning of Democracy

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2021

In response to a request from the Writers’ War Board in the summer of 1943, in the midst of World War II, E.B. White wrote this short piece for the New Yorker.

We received a letter from the Writers’ War Board the other day asking for a statement on “The Meaning of Democracy.” It presumably is our duty to comply with such a request, and it is certainly our pleasure.

Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in the rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.

My favorite line is “Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth.” Initially I read it as poetically referring to the first part of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 — which is lovely, no doubt — but upon further reflection he probably meant baseball. (via daring fireball)

Conservatism and Who the Law Protects

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2021

I’ve seen this quote, or ones very much like it, a few times in recent years:

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

The original quote is from Frank Wilhoit — it’s worth reading what he wrote in full in a comment on this blog post. He begins by stating that conservatism is the only political philosophy that has ever existed and goes on to say that liberalism or progressivism isn’t the answer or counterpoint to it, anti-conservatism is.

So this tells us what anti-conservatism must be: the proposition that the law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone, and cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.

Then the appearance arises that the task is to map “liberalism”, or “progressivism”, or “socialism”, or whateverthefuckkindofstupidnoise-ism, onto the core proposition of anti-conservatism.

No, it a’n’t. The task is to throw all those things on the exact same burn pile as the collected works of all the apologists for conservatism, and start fresh. The core proposition of anti-conservatism requires no supplementation and no exegesis. It is as sufficient as it is necessary. What you see is what you get:

The law cannot protect anyone unless it binds everyone; and it cannot bind anyone unless it protects everyone.

I wonder what such a system of law and governance would even look like? (via @koush)

How to Turn Your Red State Blue

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 16, 2021

portrait of Stacey Abrams

I posted this as a Quick Link earlier today but decided it needed its own post. Stacey Abrams & Lauren Groh-Wargo of Fair Fight have written an opinion piece in the NY Times about how they increased Democratic votes in Georgia over the past decade, leading to flipping both Senate seats in the 2020 election. They are sharing their approach and framework so that others can apply it in their states.

Georgians deserved better, so we devised and began executing a 10-year plan to transform Georgia into a battleground state. As the world knows, President Biden won Georgia’s 16 electoral votes in November, and the January runoff elections for two Senate seats secured full congressional control for the Democratic Party. Yet the result wasn’t a miracle or truly a surprise, at least not to us. Years of planning, testing, innovating, sustained investment and organizing yielded the record-breaking results we knew they could and should. The lessons we learned can help other states looking to chart a more competitive future for Democrats and progressives, particularly those in the Sun Belt, where demographic change will precede electoral opportunity.

We realize that many people are thinking about Stacey’s political future, but right now we intend to talk about the unglamorous, tedious, sometimes technical, often contentious work that creates a battleground state. When fully embraced, this work delivers wins — whether or not Donald Trump is on the ballot — as the growth Georgia Democrats have seen in cycle after cycle shows. Even in tough election years, we have witnessed the power of civic engagement on policy issues and increases in Democratic performance. This combination of improvements has also resulted in steady gains in local races and state legislative races, along with the continued narrowing of the statewide loss margin in election after election that finally flipped the state in 2020 and 2021.

The task is hard, the progress can feel slow, and winning sometimes means losing better. In 2012, for example, we prevented the Republicans from gaining a supermajority in the Georgia House of Representatives, which would have allowed them to pass virtually any bill they wanted. We won four seats they had drawn for themselves, and in 2014 we maintained those gains — just holding our ground was a victory.

The steps toward victory are straightforward: understand your weaknesses, organize with your allies, shore up your political infrastructure and focus on the long game. Georgia’s transformation is worth celebrating, and how it came to be is a long and complicated story, which required more than simply energizing a new coterie of voters. What Georgia Democrats and progressives accomplished here — and what is happening in Arizona and North Carolina — can be exported to the rest of the Sun Belt and the Midwest, but only if we understand how we got here.

This piece, and the plan it describes, is excellent. You can see how their potent combination of vision, planning, and methodical execution were able to yield big results over time — success is the application of patience to opportunity.

Bic ballpoint portrait of Stacey Abrams above by Claire Salvo. Prints of similar portraits of AOC, RBG, and John Lewis are available.

How Reporters Should Cover Government Going Forward

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 02, 2021

Press Watch’s Dan Froomkin imagines a speech that new editoral leadership at large American newspapers should give to their political reporters.

It’s impossible to look out on the current state of political discourse in this country and think that we are succeeding in our core mission of creating an informed electorate.

It’s impossible to look out at the looming and in some cases existential challenges facing our republic and our globe — among them the pandemic, climate change, income inequality, racial injustice, the rise of disinformation and ethnic nationalism — and think that it’s OK for us to just keep doing what we’ve been doing.

He continues:

First of all, we’re going to rebrand you. Effective today, you are no longer political reporters (and editors); you are government reporters (and editors). That’s an important distinction, because it frees you to cover what is happening in Washington in the context of whether it is serving the people well, rather than which party is winning.

Historically, we have allowed our political journalism to be framed by the two parties. That has always created huge distortions, but never like it does today. Two-party framing limits us to covering what the leaders of those two sides consider in their interests. And, because it is appropriately not our job to take sides in partisan politics, we have felt an obligation to treat them both more or less equally.

Both parties are corrupted by money, which has badly perverted the debate for a long time. But one party, you have certainly noticed, has over the last decade or two descended into a froth of racism, grievance and reality-denial. Asking you to triangulate between today’s Democrats and today’s Republicans is effectively asking you to lobotomize yourself. I’m against that.

Defining our job as “not taking sides between the two parties” has also empowered bad-faith critics to accuse us of bias when we are simply calling out the truth. We will not take sides with one political party or the other, ever. But we will proudly, enthusiastically, take the side of wide-ranging, fact-based debate.

Government reporters. Yes, exactly. Worth reading in its entirety.

Hypocrisy and the Filibuster

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2021

For the NY Times, Jamelle Bouie writes about the history of the filibuster in the Senate and how it (unsurprisingly) differs from Mitch McConnell’s comments about it.

The truth is that the filibuster was an accident; an extra-constitutional innovation that lay dormant for a generation after its unintentional creation during the Jefferson administration. For most of the Senate’s history after the Civil War, filibusters were rare, deployed as the Southern weapon of choice against civil rights legislation, and an occasional tool of partisan obstruction.

Far from necessary, the filibuster is extraneous. Everything it is said to encourage — debate, deliberation, consensus building — is already accomplished by the structure of the chamber itself, insofar as it happens at all.

In the form it takes today, the filibuster doesn’t make the Senate work the way the framers intended. Instead, it makes the Senate a nearly insurmountable obstacle to most legislative business. And that, in turn, has made Congress inert and dysfunctional to the point of disrupting the constitutional balance of power.

I’d like to highlight something else from the article’s title and reiterated in the text by Bouie: “I’m not actually that interested in McConnell’s hypocrisy.” Yes, exactly. I see a lot of calling-out of the hypocrisies of “the other side”1 on social media and it just seems worthless to me at this point. This sort of thing just doesn’t work when you’re dealing with people who are cynical and without shame in a very polarized media environment. Like, if you’ve read anything about McConnell at all, you know that he cares about power and he’s going to say what he needs to say to get it or keep it, regardless of self-contradiction. Pointing out his flip-flops doesn’t accomplish anything because he’s not actually switching his position! He didn’t really believe the thing he said before and he doesn’t really believe the thing he’s saying now. He just wants what he wants. Focusing on the facts and historical context of the issue, as Bouie does here (and in his explanation of the Electoral College on You’re Wrong About), is the way to go.

  1. Examples: “The ‘pro life’ party did nothing while 400,000 people died from the pandemic.” and “If you’re ‘pro choice’, why do you want to limit the 2nd amendment right of people to carry guns?” Etc. etc.

USA Downgraded from Democracy to Anocracy (“Part Democracy and Part Dictatorship”)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2021

Using the POLITY data series, The Center for Systemic Peace has downgraded the system of government of the United States of America from a democracy to an anocracy, a “regime that mixes democratic with autocratic features”. From a notice on the front page of the CSP website:

The USA has dropped below the “democracy threshold” (+6) on the POLITY scale in 2020 and and is now considered an anocracy (+5). It has also lost its designation as the world’s oldest, continuous democracy; that designation now belongs to Switzerland (171 years), followed by New Zealand (142) and the United Kingdom (139). Further degradation of democratic authority in the USA will trigger an Adverse Regime Change event.

The downgrade can be tied directly to the Trump administration’s actions over the past four years:

In 2019, CSP changed the USA code for Executive Constraints from 7 to 6 due to the executive’s systematic rejection of congressional oversight; dropping its POLITY score to +7 and resetting its DURABLE score to “0”. In 2020, the coding for Executive Constraints will fall another point or two due to the executive’s systematic purge of “disloyalists” from the administration, forceful response to protest, vilification of the main opposition parties; and undermining public trust in the electoral process, reducing the USA POLITY score in 2020 to +5 (anocracy).

Their analysis also places the US at “high risk of impending political instability (i.e., adverse regime change and/or onset of political violence)” and designates “the ongoing efforts of the USA executive to circumvent electoral outcomes and subvert democratic processes as an ‘attempted (presidential) coup’”.

Goodbye to Our White Supremacist President

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2021

For the occasion of Donald Trump’s last day as President, Ta-Nehisi Coates revisits his essay published in the October 2017 of The Atlantic, The First White President, which argued persuasively that Trump is a white supremacist. In a new introduction, he writes:

It was popular, at the time of Donald Trump’s ascension, to stand on the thinnest of reeds in order to avoid stating the obvious. It was said that the Trump presidency was the fruit of “economic anxiety,” of trigger warnings and the push for trans rights. We were told that it was wrong to call Trump a white supremacist, because he had merely “drawn upon their themes.”

One hopes that after four years of brown children in cages; of attempts to invalidate the will of Black voters in Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Detroit; of hearing Trump tell congresswomen of color to go back where they came from; of claims that Joe Biden would turn Minnesota into “a refugee camp”; of his constant invocations of “the Chinese virus,” we can now safely conclude that Trump believes in a world where white people are — or should be — on top. It is still deeply challenging for so many people to accept the reality of what has happened — that a country has been captured by the worst of its history, while millions of Americans cheered this on.

Madam Vice President

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2021

Kamala Harris

At 11:42 AM EST today, Kamala Harris was sworn in as Vice President of the United States of America. She is the first woman to hold that office. She is the first Black Vice President. She is the first person of South Asian descent to be Vice President. All good things to celebrate on this momentous day.

“He Ended Up As Nothing”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2021

Roxane Gay, The Last Day of Disco(rd):

I am tired of reciting all his crimes, misdeeds, and failures. Trump was a cruel, petty tyrant of a president who surrounded himself with similarly terrible people, slobbering sycophants, and political operatives who knew they could advance their agendas so long as they told him what he wanted to hear.

Trump is the living embodiment of shamelessness. He cannot be shamed. He does not care about the 400,000 dead Americans he has barely acknowledged. He does not care about the suffering he has caused. He does not care about anything that happens beyond the country’s borders. He does not care that he has disrupted the peaceful transfer of power. He is a catastrophe and he does not care. His children are exactly like him. His wife is exactly like him. I wish nothing but the very worst for them, for the rest of their days.

Biden/Harris Inauguration Livestream for Kids

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2021

Today beginning at 10am ET as part of the official inauguration festivities, Keke Palmer will host a special livestream geared toward kids (embedded above).

The livestream, hosted by award-winning entertainer and advocate Keke Palmer, will feature a special message from Dr. Jill Biden; commentary from historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Erica Armstrong Dunbar; a segment on presidential pets produced by Nickelodeon; excerpts of student voices from PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs “We the Young People” programming; trivia questions, including some asked by Doug Emhoff; segments produced by the Library of Congress; and other special features.

This sounds way better than whatever the talking heads on CNN will be going on about. For more information on the inauguration, check out the official site.

What Can You Do About QAnon?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2021

Over the past several months, documentary filmmaker Kirby Ferguson has been making a series of videos about conspiracy theories, including This is Not a Conspiracy Theory, Trump, QAnon and The Return of Magic (which I posted about here), and Constantly Wrong: The Case Against Conspiracy Theories, as well as this analysis of the tactics of infowar. Just before the election, he made a video for the NY Times (embedded above): What Can You Do About QAnon?

In particular, Ferguson singles out humiliation by ridicule as something to avoid when attempting to bring QAnon supporters back to reality. Instead, he suggests staying in contact, sharing relevant information, asking questions, and being patient. But as Open Culture points out: “After the violence of January 6, however, it’s reasonable to ask whether we need something more than coddling and patience.” (via open culture)

This Is a Wake-Up Call

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2021

This video from Matthew Cooke is an excellent and succinct plea for Republicans and Trump supporters to come back to reality.

This is a wake-up call for Republicans. America elected Joe Biden by over 7 million votes, and you’re confused because you didn’t see us flock to his rallies and cheer his smackdowns like we were at a pro wrestling event during a global pandemic. We don’t wear matching hats or have “no more malarkey” flags waving from the backs of our trucks. Do you know why? Because Biden is not our tribal warlord. We believe the job of a U.S. President is to represent more than one interest group. That’s why 81 million of us turned out to stop a narcissistic personality cult that embodies all seven of the deadly sins — most of all pride, which you’ve taken to levels of blasphemy, claiming your political leaders are handpicked by Jesus Christ.

This country is called the United States and we have multiple converging crises that need adult supervision but we are being distracted trying to get control over a critical mass of you who no longer believe in reality.

I don’t know if it will be persuasive to actual Republicans, but it’s a solid attempt.

The Long History of Right-Wing Terrorism in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2021

One of the critical things that Luke Mogelson’s must-read piece about the Jan 6th assault on Congress does is define the attack as the latest in a string of right-wing militant actions in DC and across the country, incited by Republicans (and Trump in particular):

In April, in response to Whitmer’s aggressive public-health measures, Trump had tweeted, “Liberate Michigan!” Two weeks later, heavily armed militia members entered the state capitol, terrifying lawmakers.

In her January 16th dispatch, historian Heather Cox Richardson took a quick dive further back into history, connecting the dots between the undercurrent of right-wing authoritarianism that has long been part of the nation’s political landscape, the right’s reaction to the New Deal, the fight against Black rights, the rise of partisan talk radio after the FCC fairness doctrine ended, Waco, Ruby Ridge, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Bundys, etc. It is a story of American self-interest & whiteness that found a home in the Republican Party.

Convinced that he was a hardworking individualist, Bundy announced he did not recognize federal power over the land on which he grazed his cattle. The government impounded his animals in 2014, but officials backed down when Bundy and his supporters showed up armed. Republican Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) called Bundy and his supporters “patriots”; Democrat Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate Majority Leader at the time, called them “domestic terrorists” and warned, “it’s not over. We can’t have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So it’s not over.”

There are many threads she doesn’t explore — America’s lax gun laws, the larger racial context, religion — but the piece does pack a lot into its relatively short length. You can read her whole post here. (thx, meg)

Scenes from the Second Civil War

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2021

In the hours after the January 6th terror attack on Congress, it seemed as though the early understanding was that a bunch of giddy goofballs — oops! — forced their way into the Capitol Building for funsies and photo ops. The stupid coup. As time passes and more photos & videos are released and reporting is done, the picture emerging is of a violent attack on members of Congress, their staff, and Capitol Police & other law enforcement officers by an armed & savage mob who narrowly missed assaulting, kidnapping, or even murdering members of Congress by mere minutes.

This is an account of the rioters’ siege of the Capitol Building from the perspective of the DC police. The terrorists likened their actions to those in 1776; it certainly was a war-like atmosphere:

“We weren’t battling 50 or 60 rioters in this tunnel,” he said in the first public account from D.C. police officers who fought to protect the Capitol during last week’s siege. “We were battling 15,000 people. It looked like a medieval battle scene.”

Someone in the crowd grabbed Fanone’s helmet, pulled him to the ground and dragged him on his stomach down a set of steps. At around the same time, police said, the crowd pulled a second officer down the stairs. Police said that chaotic and violent scene was captured in a video that would later spread widely on the Internet.

Rioters swarmed, battering the officers with metal pipes peeled from scaffolding and a pole with an American flag attached, police said. Both were struck with stun guns. Fanone suffered a mild heart attack and drifted in and out of consciousness.

All the while, the mob was chanting “U.S.A.” over and over and over again.

“We got one! We got one!” Fanone said he heard rioters shout. “Kill him with his own gun!”

This was a “coordinated assault”:

Looking over the chaotic scene in front of him from the Capitol steps, Glover grew concerned as the battle raged. There were people caught up in the moment, he said, doing things they would not ordinarily do. But many appeared to be on a mission, and they launched what he and the police chief described as a coordinated assault.

“Everything they did was in a military fashion,” Glover said, saying he witnessed rioters apparently using hand signs and waving flags to signal positions, and using what he described as “military formations.” They took high positions and talked over wireless communications.

Authorities would later learn that some former members of the military and off-duty police officers from across the country were in the pro-Trump crowd. Glover called it disturbing that off-duty police “would knowingly and intentionally come to the United States Capitol and engage in this riotous and criminal behavior against their brothers and sisters in uniform, who are upholding their oaths of office.”

Blue Lives Matter…until they have the gall to get in the way of what you feel entitled to:

“The zealotry of these people is absolutely unreal,” said Hodges, who suffered from a severe headache but otherwise emerged unhurt. “There were points where I thought it was possible I could either die or become seriously disfigured.”

Still, Hodges said, he did not want to turn to his gun.

“I didn’t want to be the guy who starts shooting, because I knew they had guns — we had been seizing guns all day,” he said. “And the only reason I could think of that they weren’t shooting us was they were waiting for us to shoot first. And if it became a firefight between a couple hundred officers and a couple thousand demonstrators, we would have lost.”

Two of the officers interviewed for this story spoke to CNN for this report:

Officer Michael Fanone found himself in the midst of the insurrectionists and then briefly shielded from harm by some of the rioters after shouting “I have kids”. He had this to say to those who protected him: “Thank you. But fuck you for being there.”

The Storm Is Here

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2021

From Luke Mogelson in The New Yorker, Among the Insurrectionists is an amazing and surreal account of how the January 6th domestic terror assault on Congress1 unfolded. (Note: This piece contains accounts of violence and lots of racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist, homophobic language.)

The America Firsters and other invaders fanned out in search of lawmakers, breaking into offices and revelling in their own astounding impunity. “Nancy, I’m ho-ome! ” a man taunted, mimicking Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” Someone else yelled, “1776 — it’s now or never.” Around this time, Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country. … USA demands the truth!” Twenty minutes later, Ashli Babbitt, a thirty-five-year-old woman from California, was fatally shot while climbing through a barricaded door that led to the Speaker’s lobby in the House chamber, where representatives were sheltering. The congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, later said that she’d had a “close encounter” with rioters during which she thought she “was going to die.” Earlier that morning, another representative, Lauren Boebert — a newly elected Republican, from Colorado, who has praised QAnon and promised to wear her Glock in the Capitol — had tweeted, “Today is 1776.”

When Babbitt was shot, I was on the opposite side of the Capitol, where people were growing frustrated by the empty halls and offices.

“Where the fuck are they?”

“Where the fuck is Nancy?”

No one seemed quite sure how to proceed. “While we’re here, we might as well set up a government,” somebody suggested.

Notably, the piece places the insurrection in the proper context alongside Trump’s campaign of misinformation (which began even before his Presidency and has focused heavily on election fraud) and as part of an escalating series of actions by militant fascist groups in DC and around the country.

In the days before January 6th, calls for a “real solution” became progressively louder. Trump, by both amplifying these voices and consolidating his control over the Republican Party, conferred extraordinary influence on the most deranged and hateful elements of the American right. On December 20th, he retweeted a QAnon supporter who used the handle @cjtruth: “It was a rigged election but they were busted. Sting of the Century! Justice is coming!” A few weeks later, a barbarian with a spear was sitting in the Vice-President’s chair.

Cause, effect. Here are more instances, from various times during the past few months:

It was clear that the men outside Harry’s on December 12th had travelled to D.C. to engage in violence, and that they believed the President endorsed their doing so. Trump had made an appearance at the previous rally, waving through the window of his limousine; now I overheard a Proud Boy tell his comrade, “I wanna see Trump drive by and give us one of these.” He flashed an “O.K.” hand sign, which has become a gesture of allegiance among white supremacists. There would be no motorcade this time, but while Fuentes addressed the groypers Trump circled Freedom Plaza in Marine One, the Presidential helicopter.

During the Presidential campaign, Trump’s histrionic exaggerations of the threat posed by Antifa fuelled conservative support for the Proud Boys, allowing them to vastly expand their operations and recruitment. The day after a Presidential debate in which Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” Lauren Witzke, a Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, publicly thanked the group for having provided her with “free security.”

Early returns showed Trump ahead in Michigan, but many absentee ballots had yet to be processed. Because Trump had relentlessly denigrated absentee voting throughout the campaign, in-person votes had been expected to skew his way. It was similarly unsurprising when his lead diminished after results arrived from Wayne County and other heavily Democratic jurisdictions. Nonetheless, shortly after midnight, Trump launched his post-election misinformation campaign: “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election.”

The next day, I found an angry mob outside the T.C.F. Center. Police officers guarded the doors. Most of the protesters had driven down from Macomb County, which is eighty per cent white and went for Trump in both 2016 and 2020. “We know what’s going on here,” one man told me. “They’re stuffing the ballot box.”

In April, in response to Whitmer’s aggressive public-health measures, Trump had tweeted, “Liberate Michigan!” Two weeks later, heavily armed militia members entered the state capitol, terrifying lawmakers.

During Trump’s speech on January 6th, he said, “The media is the biggest problem we have.” He went on, “It’s become the enemy of the people. … We gotta get them straightened out.” Several journalists were attacked during the siege. Men assaulted a Times photographer inside the Capitol, near the rotunda, as she screamed for help. After National Guard soldiers and federal agents finally arrived and expelled the Trump supporters, some members of the mob shifted their attention to television crews in a park on the east side of the building. Earlier, a man had accosted an Israeli journalist in the middle of a live broadcast, calling him a “lying Israeli” and telling him, “You are cattle today.” Now the Trump supporters surrounded teams from the Associated Press and other outlets, chasing off the reporters and smashing their equipment with bats and sticks.

Mogelson has reported on wars in Afghanistan and Syria — and now in America. You should read the whole thing.

Update: This is an incredible video companion to this article — videos shot by Mogelson during assault on Congress:

  1. I’ve seen many folks and media outlets refer to the events of January 6, 2021 as an attack “on the Capitol”. While that is technically correct, focusing on the venue obscures the true target: Congress. This was an attack on the entire legislative branch of the United States government. Being explicit about that point is important.

Democracy Is a Threat to White Supremacy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2021

This is an astute observation by Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation for Social Justice, in the wake of the 1/6 terror attack on Congress:

I have long believed that inequality is the greatest threat to justice — and, the corollary, that white supremacy is the greatest threat to democracy. But what has become clear during recent weeks — and all the more apparent yesterday — is that the converse is also true: Democracy is the greatest threat to white supremacy.

If you have full-throated democracy in the contemporary American demographic landscape, a white supremacist Republican party can’t win elections in many states. So they subvert democracy itself by disenfranchising voters (what Ibram X. Kendi calls voter subtraction) and, when that fails, they spread misinformation about unfair elections, attempt to cancel hundreds of thousands of lawful votes cast by US citizens, and execute a poorly planned coup to terrorize lawmakers into capitulating to their demands. Either white supremacy goes or democracy does — that’s our choice. (thx, betty)