Watch This

In a recent post, I indicated that I wasn’t going to refer to the hearings of the U.S. House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack unless I was driven to write by outrage at the revelation of a particularly-egregious traitorous act by former President Donald Trump or his cohort. 

Below there is a link to a recording of the Committee’s June 23 hearing.  To be candid, while watching it, I felt no outrage, because it was simply confirmation of what I was already confident – and was already confident before January 6 – that Mr. Trump was capable of; however, if you haven’t already done so, I most strongly encourage you to watch the hearing in its entirety.  I know you’re busy, but suspect that sometime this weekend, you have planned to spend a few hours watching a movie or a ballgame.  Your time is better spent watching this.  Snippets you have seen on newscasts offer the headlines but not the full essence.  Hopefully, you have a screen bigger available than your phone.  You may well find it shocking or unnerving, but you won’t be bored.

The January 6th Committee Hearings

One benefit of retirement is that it will enable me to watch most if not all of the upcoming hearings of United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack, the first of which will proceed this evening.  Anyone who has followed these pages for any length of time – and seen the analogies drawn between the activities of former President Donald Trump and his cohort and passages in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf – knows the deep antipathy for and concern I have about what the former president and his co-conspirators have done, have attempted to do, and are continuing to do to our country.  That said – and subject to the caveat that outrage at the revelation of some particularly-egregious traitorous act may drive me to write – I plan to enter very little here about the evidence presented by the hearings, for reasons I expressed in a note in early January:

“The almost certain:  that the House … Committee … will [set] forth damning evidence showing that … former President Donald Trump and his traitorous cohort sought to overturn … a free and fair election and instigated the Capitol insurrection.  I believe that the political ramifications … will be … nil. … [T]hose citizens with – to paraphrase the Lord – eyes to see and ears to hear already know that Mr. Trump and his acolytes are guilty of sedition.  Those who willfully and steadfastly reject this fundamental and blatantly obvious truth will be unmoved by whatever the Committee brings forth.”

Noteworthy but not surprising is that many in the latter group won’t even see what the Committee brings forth, because Fox News – with its wide conservative audience – isn’t televising the hearings.  (I have seen one wag tweet that such failure is Fox claiming its Fifth Amendment right not to testify against itself.) 

In reviewing my earlier post, however, I do believe that the hearings might ultimately have some effect, to the benefit of Democrats and, ironically, “organization” Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:  it may weaken Mr. Trump’s hold on sensible Republicans and conservative independents (who I think will watch some, if not all of the hearings), thereby widening what already seems be a developing schism between Trumplicans and those who wish to move on from him.  Any such schism will help Democrats in 2024, if not this year, and – for good or ill, and whether or not Democrats hold the White House in 2024 – facilitate the return of control of the Washington GOP to Mr. McConnell and party regulars.

A Palliative Is Worse Than Nothing

Pal’-li-a-tive.  (Of a medicine or medical care) relieving pain without dealing with the cause of the condition.

  • Oxford Languages

As all are aware, there were multiple incidents involving firearms across our nation this past weekend that met the Gun Violence Archive’s definition of a “mass shooting”:  four or more people shot (injured or killed) in a single incident, at the same general time and location, not including the shooter.  I was out of town, visiting with friends.  On several occasions, we visited public venues.  I don’t know how many of them glanced around, considered — and then, out of necessity, dismissed – the thought I had:  that if a shooter entered the premises while we were there, we had few avenues of escape.

It’s being reported that given the recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, a bipartisan Senate Committee led by Democratic U.S. CT Sen. Chris Murphy and Republican U.S. TX Sen. John Cornyn is considering so-called “gun legislation.”  Sen. Murphy, an ardent advocate of gun control, has apparently indicated that any product of the bipartisan negotiation will NOT ban assault weaponry, expand background checks, or raise the age at which firearms can be purchased.  Republicans, reportedly, instead wish to emphasize school security and mental health measures.  One Wall Street Journal account has noted, “Many Democrats, worn down after repeated failures to advance new laws, have said they are willing to settle for even a small bipartisan deal.”

As all who care are aware, Sandy Hook Elementary School, the scene of the deadliest elementary school mass shooting – including 20 children between the ages 6 and 7 — is located in Mr. Murphy’s state of Connecticut.  He took his seat in the Senate in 2013, less than a month after the Sandy Hook massacre.  Throughout his time in the Senate, he has worked tirelessly – and tragically, fruitlessly — for effective American gun control measures.  No one can have anything but complete admiration for his efforts.

At the same time, even the most pressing issues with the most obvious solutions – a pandemic, or in this case, the unspeakable slaughter of innocents – now somehow become political.  I didn’t want to sully the recent posts relating to the Buffalo and Uvalde mass shootings with any reference to their political ramifications.  I would now submit that for Democrats, what the Republicans are apparently willing to enact – in the Journal’s words, “a small bipartisan deal” – is a sucker’s bet.  They seem likely to take it.  They shouldn’t.

As those that follow these pages are aware, I generally maintain an incrementalist philosophy toward legislation:  if you see that you don’t have the votes to get the whole loaf, take what you can get.  While I can’t dismiss the possibility that President Joe Biden acquiesced to a sweeping Democratic domestic legislative agenda in areas such as voting rights, immigration reform, and the “Build Back Better” initiative because such was necessary to maintain the support of his party’s avid progressive wing, if the so-called “Go Big” strategy was his choice – if he saw himself as either a Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson – he may have squandered an opportunity during his first year in office to get small but popular measures passed, such as childcare relief and a path to legal status for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

Even so, in the area of gun control, I think that Democrats should refuse to settle for a measure that fails to address any of the currently unaddressed evident root causes of many of these massacres.  Such a measure will enable Republicans in swing areas to soften swing voters’ outrage at the GOP’s intransigence by allowing them to loudly proclaim that they “did something” while simultaneously maintaining the support of gun rights advocates.  Democrats should want the issue, in its rawest form, if all they can get is a palliative.  They should want certain voter segments, such as those suburban Republicans who in 2020, because they could no longer stomach former President Donald Trump, either voted for Mr. Biden, or didn’t vote at all, to remain acutely uncomfortable.  (Making a negotiation breakdown appear to be the Republicans’ doing should be simple; all it would take would be the introduction into the talks of a generally-popular provision, such as institution of universal background checks.)  If Democrats think that after a modest measure is passed, bringing more aggressive bills – to ban assault weapons, to impose universal background checks, etc., etc. — to the floors of the Houses of Congress and making Republicans vote against them will have any political value whatsoever, I fear that they’re kidding themselves.

A close friend recently called my attention to a Politico article (linked below) in which a number of professional politicians opine that gun control is not the type of campaign issue that will sway a determinative number of voters.  While this assessment is certainly true in deep- (perhaps better described as, “dead-”) red areas – and arguably gained credence when the Republican U.S. Congressman representing suburban Buffalo, Chris Jacobs, announced on June 3 that he would not seek re-election after facing backlash for indicating that he would support an assault weapons ban — I did note that the piece reports that a Global Strategy Group poll has found that 58% of registered suburban voters in swing states, including Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, support more restrictive gun laws.  If I was the Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Senate nominee running against Ron Johnson in a close election – and not expecting to garner any votes from ardent Republicans, as Mr. Jacobs needed to keep his seat – I’d rather have Mr. Johnson on the record as opposing all gun reform than enabling him to assuage the uneasiness of conservative independents and moderate Republican suburban women by asserting that he did indeed vote for a “gun law” — which, on a relative scale to what needs to be done, did precious little to protect our children, our grandchildren, or ourselves.

There is No “Why”:  a Second Postscript

There were a number of thoughtful comments to this post, some entered on these pages, some provided through other means.  They warrant a postscript, since I remain unaware – and at this point, think I always will be unaware 😉 – how many that read these notes see the comments besides me.

It’s best at the outset to correct a couple of misimpressions I apparently inadvertently left with this post.  One observer suggested that by limiting the note’s focus to an assault weapons ban, I had failed to adequately reference our need to continue and enhance the ongoing activities by various public and private mental health agencies to identify and treat those who may be prone to contemplate undertaking a mass shooting.  Such was not my intent.  I have no doubt that we would be suffering even greater levels of carnage but for our mental health professionals’ dedicated efforts, and absolutely support increasing funding for this work.  An experienced and gifted mental health professional, while agreeing that we need more regulatory constraint on access to assault weapons, expressed a concern that my broad-brush reference to “crazies” in the post’s concluding paragraph had the potential to perpetuate stigmas about the mentally ill, the vast majority of whom are nonviolent and are more likely to be the victims than perpetrators of violence.  Again, I had no intent to reinforce false stereotypes.  The twin shocks of the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, combined with my fervent belief regarding our need to restrain the manufacture, sale and use of assault weapons, caused me to overlook clarifications that I should have added to my assertions.

In the post, I noted that it had been reported the Uvalde shooter had been “engaged by law enforcement” before entering the school.  We now know he wasn’t, and that law enforcement took an interminable amount of time to meaningfully respond.  While the incompetence and/or cowardice of the law enforcement at Uvalde adds to the excruciating agony of the parents and the outrage of the rest of us, I fear that focus on the Uvalde law enforcement performance creates a distraction to enable gun rights apologists to deflect attention from the fact that the primary cause of this tragedy was that an 18-year-old could legally buy two assault weapons and a bunch of ammunition without effective legal restraint.  I do have a lot of sympathy for the vast majority of our law enforcement officials across this nation who would have run in to save these children – and are now undoubtedly concerned that the general public considers the rank-and-file officer not only racially-biased but an incompetent coward.  I would venture – and am pretty sure that most officers would agree — that if a cop isn’t willing to brave physical danger in these types of emergencies, s/he should find another line of work.

Some noted the sad practical political reality that Congress will do nothing significant to restrict access to and use of assault weapons (a comment on this below), while others urged a more aggressive limit on the right to firearms than I had proposed.  One loyal follower – a mother, nonviolent and quite progressive by nature — gently berated me for stopping short of a call for a ban on all firearms other than used by military and law enforcement, with offenders to be “fined, jailed, and kicked in the nuts.”  Although her sentiments are unlikely to find their way into American law and one of the consequences she proposes probably violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment, I understand her visceral passion. 

At the same time, despite my earlier declaration that there is no “Why” to mass shootings, I have concluded that there is, indeed, a “Why” – not to any particular incident, but to why assault weapons have been allowed to proliferate within our nation although it is glaringly obvious that legally limiting our citizens’ access to such weapons would reduce the number and severity of such incidents.  In a sense, I’ve known for decades. 

Over 30 years ago, I attended a professional conference at a very posh Washington, D.C. hotel.  One morning, I called for room service, and soon my breakfast was delivered by an elderly, white-haired African American gentleman, twice my age, wearing formal tails with white gloves.  I felt very uncomfortable having him wait on me, and attempted to take the tray; he would have none of it, carried it into the room, pulled out a sideboard that I hadn’t even seen, motioned for me to sit, arranged the tray in front of me, put the napkin on my lap.  I had never been waited on like that, and was a bit unnerved by it.  Being a political junkie and sitting in a D.C. hotel room, it occurred to me soon after he departed why so many of our representatives strive so hard to hang onto their jobs.  While Messrs. Ted Kennedy and Herb Kohl (then in the Senate), rich men, would receive such service for the rest of their lives, a member of Congress of average means served as I had just been was likely to transition from initial discomfort, to liking it, to expecting it, to, finally, fearing being deprived of it – terrified of no longer being Cinderella, of having his/her carriage turn into a pumpkin … to having to return to living just like the rest of us.

Lately, I’ve been rereading essays in The Federalist.  As Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, taking turns as “Publius,” sought to persuade Americans to support ratification of the new Constitution, their essays turn time and again to the concept of checks and balances.  “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” Mr. Madison observed in “Federalist No. 51.”  Put aside for a moment current perspectives of privilege and diversity; it is clear from reading The Federalist that all three authors implicitly assumed that anyone elected to Congress would already be prominent; he wouldn’t seek office primarily to become prominent.  Powerful men don’t countenance having their prerogatives trampled.  Mr. Jay stated it most directly in “Federalist No. 3”:  “When once an efficient national government is established, the best men in the country will not only consent to serve, but also will generally be appointed to manage it … [a] general and extensive reputation for talents and other qualifications will be necessary to recommend men to offices under the national government ….”

In the aftermath of Uvalde, a PBS NewsHour correspondent reported that he had asked Republican U.S. ND Sen. Kevin Cramer about the prospects of the Senate enacting gun control legislation, and Sen. Cramer, while acknowledging gun control advocates’ concerns, intimated that supporting such legislation would have a significant adverse impact on his career.  Republican U.S. LA Sen. Bill Cassidy, when asked about assault weapons regulation, responded, “If you talk to the people that own [an AR-15], killing feral pigs in the middle of Louisiana, they wonder why you would take it away from them.  [They say,] ‘I’m law-abiding, I’ve never done anything, I use it to kill feral pigs.  The action of a criminal deprives me of my right.’”

One could infer from the report of Mr. Cramer’s comments that he will not support significant gun control legislation due to potential political repercussions, although he perhaps well sees a need for it.  Mr. Cassidy is a physician.  He clearly possesses discernment — it should fairly be noted, he was one of a few Republican Senators with the courage to vote to convict former President Donald Trump in his last Senate impeachment trial – and he can’t help, as one who presumably subscribes to the Hippocratic Oath, but to privately understand that citing his constituents’ need for assault weapons to shoot feral pigs is an absurd ground upon which to rationalize the failure to limit Americans’ access to war weapons that have destroyed an unconscionable number of innocent human lives in a matter of seconds.     

While Republican legislators should be removed who sincerely hold that largely unfettered gun rights for Americans supersede the need to protect the public from unprovoked mass gun attacks, I feel no anger toward them; they simply lack the capacity to think critically.  What I find despicable are the Republican legislators whom I truly believe make up their majority – avowed “conservatives” — who recognize that meaningful assault weapon regulation would save lives, and yet fail to act out of political self-preservation.  We rightly criticize any police officers ultimately proven to have failed to act to protect children because they feared for their lives – since they understood when donning the badge that such risks were part of the job – but we seem too ready to accept at face value the notion that legislators who know better – successors to men who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to found a nation — are somehow justified in failing to limit ongoing mortal danger to Americans because they want to protect their hallowed positions

As I’ve previously noted in these pages, Eighteenth Century Anglo-Irish Statesman Edmund Burke, ironically considered one of the founding fathers of modern conservative thought, once declared to his Parliament constituents: 

“[A representative’s] unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living.  Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

So on this issue, as with others, there is a “Why,” the root rot of the troubles we face:  we are subject to the Tyranny of Cowardice.

There is No “Why”: a Postscript

I’ve gotten a number of thoughtful comments on yesterday’s post which warrant a postscript.  Even so, the video linked below was called to my attention, and demands to stand by itself.  While perhaps lacking the eloquence of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, and despite the fact that this gentleman is patently hawking his wares, I would submit that the vehemence he exhibits is a fair reflection of my feelings. on Twitter: “Wow. Texas Paul just said what needed to be said. (warning: language)” / Twitter

There is No “Why”

On Tuesday night into Wednesday, I couldn’t sleep until the very late (or very early) hours; after watching President Biden’s speech to the nation, I resorted to escapism:  I reread a couple of the James Bond novels in my cherished but now rarely-visited set.  Arguably an odd choice given the events of Uvalde; but in every adventure, Bond ultimately dispatches evil and in some way saves innocents.

No one is dispatching evil and saving innocents in Congress today.

In these pages, I try when I can to offer a different perspective – at the very least, a thought that occurred to me about an issue before I heard it spoken elsewhere. 

On the issue of gun control, that’s obviously impossible. 

Subject to the exception below, “assault weapons” should be banned in America for all but military use and law enforcement.  Now. 

[In this post, I mean “assault weapons” to include any weapon (and attendant high-capacity magazines) designed or reasonably modifiable to kill a lot of people in a short amount of time, as needed for use in war.  I don’t know enough about weapons to make finer distinctions, and lack the patience to quibble with gun rights apologists.  If a reasonable case can be made for a weapon’s inclusion within the definition, it’s included.]

Let’s take the Constitution first.  For those that hear a lot about the hallowed “Second Amendment,” but have better things to do than delve into arcane legal jargon, Amendment II to the Constitution of the United States of America, ratified along with nine other Amendments constituting our Bill of Rights, provides as follows:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Although this Amendment was written when we had a tiny standing army and our legendary Minute Men had only laid down the weapons they wielded against the British about six years earlier – for context, then no further in the past for them than the Trump-Clinton presidential campaign is to our current day – put aside any question you may have as to whether an amendment, drafted to ensure that our ordinary citizens could have weapons at the ready (to form a “militia”) at a time when it was reasonable to assume that we might again need them to defend our nation, has any application or relevance today.  Forget about it.  It’s been decided.  In District of Columbia v. Heller (“Heller”), written by Justice Antonin Scalia for a 5-Justice majority including present Justices (Chief) John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court held that an individual has the right to bear arms, apart from service in a militia, for lawful purposes such as self-defense.  At the same time, Justice Scalia — a hero to younger conservative jurists such as current Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett – was ultra-conservative, but he wasn’t crazy.  Toward the end of the Heller opinion, he gave the Court and himself some leeway for the future gun rights cases he knew would inevitably arise: 

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.  From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.  … [N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.  We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms.  [U.S. Supreme Court decision United States v. Miller, 1939] said … that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.”  … We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’ …  It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. … It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. … But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right [i.e., that the right is not “unlimited”]. [Emphasis Added]”

Although Justice Scalia’s language can only be described as tortuous, courts have interpreted his words to uphold state bans on assault weapons such as AR-15s (akin to the M-16s he referred to in his opinion).  The reason we have not had a federal ban since 2004 is because Congressional Republicans lack the guts to enact one.

There is not time in this lengthy note to address all of gun rights advocates’ supposed concerns; just three of my favorites:

Citizens need assault weapons to protect themselves against an impending government takeover.  Let’s put aside reason, dive into the weird world of the Conspiracy-Obsessed, and communicate on their plane:  Dude [or Dudette 😉 ], for years, we killed terrorists in the Middle East – smarter, and better equipped than you will ever be — from tens of miles away.  If the President decides to take you out, the AR-15 won’t save you.  You’ll be vaporized while standing in front of your house, wearing your helmet, waving your weapon and pounding your chest.  You won’t even see it coming. 

Let’s give guns to the good guys in churches, schools, and stores, and they’ll defend themselves against the bad guys.  Put aside the fact that most religious, educators, and shop keepers don’t want to assume the responsibility to defend those within their purview from perpetrators with firearms.  How can they reasonably be expected to defend themselves and others in situations that are sometimes beyond the capabilities of trained officers?  Aaron Salter, a retired Buffalo police officer, although armed, was outgunned by an 18-year-old in protective gear, and died attempting to defend Tops patrons.  It has been reported that the Uvalde shooter was “engaged by law enforcement” before entering the school, but he still got in.

 If we start to regulate guns, where does it stop?  This … makes one blink.  Across this country, citizens have had to register their motor vehicles at the state or local level for many decades; this hasn’t resulted in government or anybody else taking our cars away.  One obeys traffic lights and speed limits; these regulations haven’t surreptitiously limited anybody’s operation of his/her car.  From time to time, for the public good, one needs to demonstrate driving proficiency to maintain your legal right to drive – a right, unlike the use of firearms, that many literally rely upon to sustain their livelihoods — and no one objects, although the number of victims in the vast majority of negligently-caused automobile accidents pales in comparison to the number of victims of many mass shootings. 

What’s the exception to the ban I would impose?  Citizens ought to be able to retain the assault weapons they already own.  The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution provide that no person shall be deprived of property “without due process of law.”  That said, in addition to a ban on all future manufacture and sale of assault weapons except for and to military and law enforcement authorities, Congress should pass legislation that provides: for a national registry of all assault weapons; that an owner’s failure to register any such weapon(s) within a year after the effective date of the law is a federal crime, making the weapon subject to confiscation and the violator to mandatory fine and jail time; a specific purchase price scale, annually adjusted for depreciation and inflation, at which the government would be obligated to purchase any registered assault weapon offered for sale by its owner; a ban on the sale or other disposition (e.g., by inheritance) to any private party of any registered assault weapon, with a proven violation resulting in weapon confiscation and a fine and jail time for the violator; and since the perpetrator of an injury caused by an assault weapon would almost certainly be beyond civil recourse, a repeal of any laws shielding manufacturers or sellers of assault weapons from civil liability for loss caused by the weapons they manufacture and/or sell, combined with a provision granting anyone suffering physical and/or emotional injury caused by an assault weapon a federal cause of action against the maker or seller of the assault weapon.  In order to collect from a defendant under the latter provision, a claimant would need to establish only (i) injury (ii) and that the injury was caused by an assault weapon made or sold by the defendant.  Any judgments would not be subject to discharge in bankruptcy. 

Such laws would have no effect on citizens’ unlimited rights to purchase, keep and bear multiple handguns, shotguns, or rifles.  Even I can see that a citizen might consider more than one handgun necessary for defense of his/her home and a hunter stalking bear would require a more powerful weapon than s/he would use to hunt deer or fowl.

Are any of the proposals set forth in this note going to happen?  Obviously not.  Are they too extreme?  Certainly not.  Although it is unrealistic to suggest that banning all assault weapons would have prevented all of the losses suffered by all of the victims of mass shootings that we have witnessed over the past decades – an expert with a long-range rifle can obviously inflict significant damage upon a crowded area — it is fatuous not to recognize and acknowledge that such a ban would have avoided a significant share of the loss and grief – the agony which will never go away — arising from these tragedies.  Although it is for the Almighty, and not for me, to judge, I would nonetheless venture that the blood of some of these victims stains the hands of the politicians, who out of fear and ambition have failed for almost 20 years to enact strict controls on assault weapons, every bit as surely as the blood of innocent Ukrainians festers on the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin.   

“So for one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin.”

  • Jas 4:17.  From the Bible’s only recorded Letter of James, the man referred to as the “brother of the Lord” in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark.

Quite some time ago, I received a comment from a follower of these pages, who suggested that some of these notes perhaps provide me a measure of catharsis, a means through which I address internal conflict regarding issues over which I have no control.  There was more than a little truth to that observation, and I admit that such has never been more so than with this post, which borders on rant.  Still, I think of these babies, wiped away for nothing.  On the morning after the Uvalde shooting, we saw an obviously extremely distraught television reporter indicating that authorities were seeking to determine why the shooting had happened.  Despite my complete sympathy for his obvious emotion – he was on the verge of tears – I considered his point irrelevant.  I don’t care, “why.”  With these terribly disturbed perpetrators, there is no “why.”  If there was ever a good faith belief that we could control this risk to our children and ourselves by identifying the crazies, our experience has made a mockery of that belief.  We’ll never identify all the crazies.  We can’t do worse than we have been by instead doing what we can to keep these terribly destructive weapons out of their hands.

Where Do Sen. McMorrow and I Fit on the Alt-Right Compass?

On April 19, 2022, MI State Sen. Mallory McMorrow, describing herself as a “straight, white, Christian, married, suburban Mom,” having been attacked by a Republican adversary for “grooming and sexualizing children,” took to the floor of the Michigan State Senate and delivered a blistering response to the attack that proceeded to go viral.  You may well have already seen it.  A link to a YouTube video of her speech is set forth below.

On April 30, 2022, The New York Times published a detailed article on the manner and messages of Fox News Channel Commentator Tucker Carlson.  Mr. Carlson is apparently the highest-rated host on cable news channels.  (It appears from the report that Mr. Carlson’s audience is almost exclusively white and “overwhelmingly” older.)  I have neither the strength of stomach nor sufficient remaining life space to devote attention to Mr. Carlson’s broadcasts, and thus, cannot independently vouch for the veracity of the Times’ account; with that disclaimer, the gist of the Times article seems to align with numerous other reports I have seen of Mr. Carlson’s program over the last several years.  (Mr. Carlson has reportedly relished rather than disputed the Times report.)  A link to the online version of the Times piece is also set forth below; hopefully, you can access it.

The Times indicates (and demonstrates through video) that Mr. Carlson frequently makes use of a “You – They” dichotomy in his monologues:  You for his viewers, and They for those he calls the “Ruling Class” that he claims seeks to denigrate, among others, whites and men:  the Ruling Class that hates You, that wants to control You, that wants to replace You with malleable (colored) immigrants.  Feeding fear and dissatisfaction has made his ratings go higher and higher (arguably akin to setting up a salt lick for deer hunting).  (I did find it particularly cruelly hypocritical for Mr. Carlson to call the Mainstream Media a “Propaganda Machine” for describing the January 6 Capitol uprising as an “insurrection,” when it is patently obvious to anybody with at least one eye that the riot was, indeed, a Trumplican insurrection.)

Sen. McMorrow’s remarks and the Times’ report of Mr. Carlson’s premises have caused me to revisit reflections I’ve had since the political rise of former President Donald Trump upon the contradictions implicit in the way that the political alt-right views some of those who do not adhere to its views.

Sen. McMorrow clearly thinks enough of public service to have placed herself in the political arena.  TLOML and I have been voting and paying taxes for longer than Ms. McMorrow has been alive, have held down jobs, attended town halls, church socials, and parent-teacher meetings, coached Little League and led Brownie Troops.  We shovel our snow and mow our lawn (sometimes, we even fertilize).  Like Ms. McMorrow, we are straight, white, Christian, married, and parents.  (We are also grandparents.)  [I do fit in the “overwhelming older” segment of the Fox audience 😉 ].  By these measures, all three of us are presumably upstanding Fox Nation Real Americans.

That said, while I feel no guilt about being white, I certainly don’t feel under attack because of it; it’s pretty obvious that at least in America, it’s easier to be white than not.  Although white birth rates are declining, I have yet to hear of any white couples who say that they have had fewer children than they wished because immigrants of other colors invaded their homes and forcibly kept them apart.  I feel no threat from those of other races and ethnicities attempting to get ahead; this is America.  (I favor equal treatment, not favoritism – in either direction.)  I don’t feel under attack because I’m straight; again, in America, and I suspect in just about everywhere else in the world, it’s easier to be straight than not.  If those of other gender and sexual orientations find solace in expressions that seem unusual to me, I don’t see how such harms me.  (I find the notion that “unconventional” gender and sexual orientations are not inherent, but rather, can be “taught,” to be – stated tactfully – misguided.)  I don’t feel that my Christian faith is succumbing to non-Christian elements; even aside from my personal belief that Christianity is but one of many paths to the Almighty, of one thing I’m absolutely certain:  He (please excuse the male pronoun) can take care of Himself.  On top of that, I’m male.  Again, I feel no guilt about it, but certainly don’t feel threatened because of it.  I don’t think that any foreigner has stolen any of my testosterone.  If any of Mr. Carlson’s male viewers feel so endangered by the advance of women in our society that they would prefer to be female – and assume the burdens of dealing with oblivious males, conflicting societal expectations, etc., etc. — the line forms to the right. While Mr. Carlson is absolutely correct that those in our country with greater opportunities have frequently exploited those with fewer advantages, I would also suggest that some who focus on their disadvantages refuse to recognize that they didn’t always see or seize the opportunities available to them to better their situations. 

Sen. McMorrow is one state legislator in one state’s legislature.  I have been rereading approvingly – ever more so as the alt-right intensity has seemingly increased since the 2020 election — The Federalist articles of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay and the discourses of John Locke and Winston Churchill – odes to the “Western Civilization” that Mr. Carlson claims to be under siege.  Even so, neither Ms. McMorrow nor I look like the “Ruling Class” to me.  Despite Mr. Carlson’s rants, I don’t hate – and sincerely doubt she hates — the ordinary Carlson viewer.  I don’t wish – and sincerely doubt she wishes — to control the ordinary Carlson viewer.  I don’t want – and sincerely doubt she wants — to replace the ordinary Carlson viewer.  We simply believe that the promise of America embraces more than a single race, a single gender preference, a single faith.

So where do she and I fit within the Alt-Right Compass, given our Whiteness, our Straightness, our Christianity, our Good Citizenship, and the fact that we obviously don’t rule anybody?

Sen. McMorrow called it in her speech, either deliberately or inadvertently invoking Mr. Carlson’s framework:  “[Because I have a different view than my Republican adversary] … you dehumanize and marginalize me … I am one of them.”

In his book, Anti-Pluralism, William Galston quotes Mr. Trump as saying at a May, 2016, rally:  “The only important thing is the unification of the people … the other people don’t mean anything.  [Emphasis Added]”  In Foxconned – a book given me by a close friend detailing the Republican-fostered Wisconsin debacle that merits more extensive treatment in these pages before the 2022 elections — Lawrence Tabak quotes former WI Gov. Scott Walker as saying that it was a “flawed argument” that “a vote in [progressive] Madison [where TLOML and I reside] counts the same as a vote in a very rural community or in a suburban community.”

So it’s not enough even if one is, demographically, what the alt-right claims to appreciate.  Those that don’t think like they do can’t “mean anything,” their votes can’t “count,” elections lost by alt-right candidates must be “stolen” … because good people wrapping themselves in rhetoric such as Mr. Carlson’s would otherwise have to admit, even to themselves, that they no longer believe in democracy.

On Politico’s Report of SCOTUS’ Impending Reversal of Roe v. Wade

As all are aware, on May 2 Politico published a February draft U.S. Supreme Court decision, apparently having the support of five conservative Supreme Court Justices, which would overrule previous Court rulings, the most famous being Roe v. Wade, that have opined that women have a constitutional right to abortion during certain stages within a pregnancy. On May 3, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a statement that confirmed the draft’s authenticity but indicated that it did not constitute a final and definitive ruling by the Court.

While there is talk both that the leaker is liberal, seeking by the leak to galvanize public opinion against the decision, and that the leaker is conservative, seeking by the leak to solidify any potentially wavering conservative Justice(s), such is obviously pure speculation.  The leaker must recognize that it is almost inevitable that his/her identity will ultimately become known.  While not a compromise of a classified document, this was a breach of such a sacrosanct confidentiality obligation within the Court that the leaker, if a lawyer, must have felt that the act was worth risking his/her career. (Of course, if the leaker is conservative, s/he may have a more profitable future as a Fox News pundit.)

I have previously noted in these pages that notwithstanding my legal background, I have no knowledge of the relative merits of the legal Constitutional arguments surrounding abortion rights beyond that of any layperson who tries to stay informed regarding public affairs.  I have also noted that while I am personally opposed to abortion, I consider that belief to be literally a matter of faith.  I understand that my Roman Catholic creed is not shared by all faiths, nor by many Americans who do not have any religious belief, nor by a significant segment of the scientific community.  I accordingly support a woman’s right to abortion because we are not supposed to be running a theocracy here; it is not mine to impose my religious beliefs on another where there is a rational basis for dispute.  It is up to the Almighty to ultimately judge, not me.  [I have plenty enough to worry about how He (please excuse the male pronoun for a spirit without gender) will judge my transgressions.]

That said, and in addition to the direct effect on women’s abortion rights, several potential consequences seem to me likely to result from the Politico report and/or from any Supreme Court decision with the effect of that in the Politico report.

The first is terribly corrosive but not original.  Any outright reversal of Roe and its progeny will eviscerate any vestige of confidence remaining in our citizenry that the Court decides cases on the law and precedent and not on personal political philosophy and preference.  If a member of the Court, even if I felt that Roe and its progeny were truly wrongly decided, I would, given the potential impact on the Court’s credibility, find it difficult to overturn them outright.  (That said, the balancing of such considerations necessarily retains a significant element of subjectivity; the Court was obviously both legally and morally correct to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 precedent that had upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine.) 

The second is tragically negative.  The hyper-partisan paroxysm that will now grip our polity for the foreseeable future will undoubtedly distract us from all other issues – most notably, our support for Ukraine’s ongoing fight for freedom.  Virtually all I’ve seen anybody talk about since the Politico story broke is The Draft and The Leak.  Overnight, they’ve seemingly done what neither Russian President Vladimir Putin nor vaccines could do – eradicate Ukraine and COVID. I fear that the political conflagration surrounding abortion will taint what has been, up to now, a generally amicable and bipartisan support of American’s assistance to Ukraine.  Citizens of democracies cannot afford that.

The third is purely surmise.  While the draft fosters the notion that states are free to deal with abortion rights differently, its author, Justice Samuel Alito, also declared, “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives [Emphasis Added].”  I had this thought before I saw it mentioned, so feel free to add it here:  it doesn’t take much prescience to suggest that if Republicans gain control of both houses of Congress this fall – more on this below — they will immediately abandon their professed allegiance to states’ rights and seek to construct and pass a federal law banning abortion nationwide.  For 2023 and 2024, our federal regime will resemble what we Wisconsinites have had throughout WI Gov. Tony Evers’ term:  a Democratic executive (President Joe Biden) needing to regularly veto Republican partisan pandering legislative spasms. It is not hard to envision what might occur if Republicans control both Congress and the White House.

The last is perhaps counterintuitive.  I would preliminarily venture that the Politico publication has shifted the emotional goal posts for the Court’s upcoming abortion decision.  Until the Politico report, a Supreme Court ruling upholding Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks was viewed as a likely incremental win by conservatives and a lamentable defeat by liberals, but given the Court’s conservative complexion, such a result was – to borrow a phrase frequently used to describe Wall Street’s assessments of the effects of the Federal Reserve Board’s prospective interest rate moves on stock market valuations – already “baked into” the parties’ November electoral prospects.  I ventured in these pages in January that if the Supreme Court declared that there was no Constitutional right to abortion:  most or all states with Republican governors and legislatures would outlaw abortion within their jurisdictions, either de jure or de facto; and that such a decision would provoke such liberal and progressive backlash and generate sufficient unease among Independents and Republican moderates that Democrats, despite all historical trends and the way 2022 political winds have appeared to be blowing, would retain their majorities in Congress.  In reading that post now, I think I may have been a little strong; the House of Representatives may now be so populated by gerrymandered Republicans that even the most frenetic Democratic reaction may well not be enough to stave off a GOP takeover of the House.  However, although I’ve heard analysts express doubt about this contention, I continue to believe that if the Supreme Court overrules Roe during this term, the inevitable state-by-state aftermath will so arouse liberals and progressives and disturb Independents that swing state Democratic Senatorial and Gubernatorial candidates will largely prevail.  Taking an example from close to (my) home:  I would submit that in Wisconsin, such a decision will ironically hurt Republican Senator Ron Johnson’s re-election prospects and aid Mr. Evers’.  On the other hand, if conservatives, now anticipating total victory in the abortion dispute, end up with what they perceive as only half a loaf – i.e., the Supreme Court upholds a woman’s Constitutional right to abort for some specified period of time – they will be infuriated and liberals, relieved; but such reactions will help Republicans at the polls in November. 

“… I offer the Krauthammer Conjecture:  In sports, the pleasure of winning is less than the pain of losing. … For every moment of triumph, there is an unequal and opposite feeling of despair.”

  • Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, June 30, 2017

If Mr. Krauthammer were still alive – and I unfortunately only came to appreciate his sagacity after reading The Point of It All, a compilation of his columns published after he had passed away – I’m pretty sure that he would agree that it is not inapt for me to apply the Krauthammer Conjecture to our political maelstrom, which has, regrettably, degenerated into another sports maxim he quoted in his column, well known to us in the land of St. Vincent Lombardi:  “Winning isn’t everything.  It’s the only thing.”

Ten Years of “Unique” Stupidity in American Life

I continue [not surprisingly 😉 ] to have plenty of notions about the Ukrainian conflict and various domestic issues we face, and hope to return to publishing fairly regularly in the not-too-distant future.  That said, MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning included an interview of Dr. Jonathan Haidt (pronounced, “Height”), author of The Righteous Mind, the book that I suspect that I have cited in these pages more than any other.  Dr. Haidt discussed his recent article in The Atlantic, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” an essay describing how social media has affected our polity and our children and how it has been exploited (on the edges of both sides of the political spectrum).  Apparently, Billionaire Jeff Bezos tweeted recently that he considered the essay well worth reading, albeit long.  I wholeheartedly agree (on both counts; although as all are well aware, I’m in no position to criticize lengthy pieces  🙂 ]. 

A link to Dr. Haidt’s article is below.

Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid – The Atlantic

The State of the Union

If counseling President Joe Biden on the strategy for tonight’s State of the Union address, I would advise that he focus on the primary challenge facing the future of global democracy:  the poisonous partisan divisions within America eating away at our national core.  That said, such would have to be done obliquely.  He should seek to leverage Americans’ overwhelming support for Ukraine in its struggle against Russia by devoting more than half of the speech to the Russian invasion, and assert that the attack is on the freedom of all democracies, an assault on all free peoples.  As I suggested in an earlier note, he must make it “real” for Americans:  what Russia is doing is the same as if Canada simply decided to take Alaska; I would remark that I had seen a commentator compare Ukrainians’ toughness to Texans, and note what would happen if somebody tried to invade Texas – intentionally invoking the support of two of our states politically inhospitable to him.  I would quote Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s declaration, “I need ammunition, not a ride.”  He should note how he and his team have worked with our NATO allies to stand up to a ravenous aggressor.  He should note how the Western nations’ combined economic sanctions are crippling Russia, and that we are shipping Ukraine all the military equipment we can.  Then – creeping up on the point – he might declare that no matter where an American might stand on gun rights, abortion rights, vaccines and masks, or whatever, these are differences of opinion that a free people can have – as contrasted with the Ukrainians’ fight for actual freedom:  that they’re throwing themselves under Russian tanks to slow the Russian advance; that they’re ready to die rather than be swept back behind the Iron Curtain; that they want real elections, not Russian mockeries.  I would recommend that he be so bold to declare that anyone that defends Vladimir Putin or the Russian actions is providing aid and comfort to tyrants.  He should tell our citizens that he was going to talk straight with them:  that although his Administration will do all it reasonably can to soften the impact of inflation – and call on Congress to suspend the federal 18-cent gasoline tax through the remainder of 2022 — it is likely that while this battle rages inflation could worsen.  We cannot commit soldiers to the Ukrainians’ struggle for freedom, but we can do this.

While he should make references to his Build Back Better Plan, to COVID, to Climate Change, to his recent nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, he shouldn’t dwell on these or other domestic issues.  He needs to evoke Americans’ visceral feeling for freedom.  If he can keep the majority of Americans on his side on this critical point, it creates a rallying point, something for all of us to be against – Russian aggression — that we desperately need.

Fiery, inspirational speeches are obviously not Mr. Biden’s forte.  Frankly, I’d have him spend the last hour before the speech watching clips of John F. Kennedy’s delivery and of President Zelenskyy’s recent speeches from bunkers.

I have no illusions that this crisis or even the best speech of Mr. Biden’s life will be a panacea for what besets us; our partisan divisions are too deep.  Even in much more congenial times, George H. W. Bush was defeated for re-election after a term that saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and a resounding military victory in Desert Storm.  That said, if Mr. Biden can use this moment to get at least some of our people to recognize the difference between real freedom and the faux freedom now at the center of our domestic strife, and to focus us as a people on a common and true enemy, it’s a start.