Tag Archives: McConnell

Don’t Know Much About History…

Time Magazine recently reported on what it called America’s “history wars.” The article began by reporting on the results of a survey fielded by the National Institute for the Humanities, and revealed–I know you’ll be shocked–that while 84% of Republicans believe that history classes should “celebrate our nation’s past,” 70% of Democrats think history should question it.

The article took pains to say that the divisions over teaching history weren’t all partisan.

White respondents are more than twice as likely as people of color to feel that the histories of racial and ethnic minorities garner too much attention. Those with a college degree see men dominating the thoughts of historians at nearly twice the rate that non-degreed respondents do. Age is likewise a factor, with people in the 18-29 bracket calling for more attention to LGBTQ history by a 19-point margin, relative to those in the 50-64 age range. The “history wars” are thus polarizing beyond the party affiliations within which they are typically framed.

Of course, as political scientists might point out, people of color, people with college degrees and younger Americans are more likely to be Democrats these days, so the stark differences do map onto party affiliation.

Republicans are doing what they can to add the teaching of history to their arsenal of culture war issues. Thirty-six Republicans joined with Mitch McConnell in sending a scathing letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, accusing him of endorsing a “politicized and divisive agenda” in the teaching of American history. 

Historian Heather Cox Richardson explained the genesis of that accusation.

On April 19, the Department of Education called for public comments on two priorities for the American History and Civics Education programs. Those programs work to improve the “quality of American history, civics, and government education by educating students about the history and principles of the Constitution of the United States, including the Bill of Rights; and… the quality of the teaching of American history, civics, and government in elementary schools and secondary schools, including the teaching of traditional American history.”

The department is proposing two priorities to reach low-income students and underserved populations. The Republicans object to the one that encourages “projects that incorporate racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives into teaching and learning.”

This assault comes on the heels of the GOP’s hysterical objections to the New York Times 1619 project. The Times describes the Project as an ongoing initiative that began in August 2019, a date chosen because it was the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. The project “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”

It is certainly possible that historians might quibble over this or that element of the Times curriculum, or that different scholars might bring different perspectives to aspects of America’s history. Those scholarly disputes, however, are not what is animating the GOP assault. 

The current battle over the teaching of history is a battle between two utterly unreconcilable world-views: a semi-religious hagiography/mythology grounded in White supremacy, on the one hand, and an insistence that the study of history be an accurate accounting of where we’ve been–both good and bad– on the other.

As the Time Magazine article noted, and as many students can verify, history classes–especially in high schools (where they are often taught by coaches whose interests are more focused on playing fields) are too often taught as dry collections of dates and facts, rather than as a form of inquiry, an unfolding story in which event A led to reaction B and consideration of how that reaction shaped still other events and attitudes. Accurate history–including good faith scholarly debates over the importance, description or impact  of past episodes– can illuminate how America came to be the country it is, and help us navigate the future.

National myths have their place, but that place isn’t history class.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Perfect Representative

Okay–I can’t resist. Let’s talk about Matt Gaetz–not because of his evident sexual misdeeds, but because even without considering those, he is an almost perfect example of  the caliber of individual representing today’s GOP.

Gail Collins captured his essence in a recent New York Times column.

As it stands, Gaetz is a spectacularly unproductive Florida Republican who never managed, during his first two terms in the House, to get a single bill that he sponsored signed into law. (We are still crossing our fingers for that post-office-naming he co-sponsored.) Meanwhile, by Forbes’s count, he has appeared on Fox News at least 179 times since taking office.

Collins had a lot of snarky fun comparing Gaetz’ current situation to past scandals (Tidal Basin, anyone?), but most of those involved people who had actually accomplished something–people of at least some substance who betrayed their promise or otherwise fell from grace.

Gaetz–whom Collins accurately calls a “fanboy”–spent the Trump years with his attention  focused on building his “personal brand,” rather than on learning the intricacies of legislating, or  forging relationships in Congress. He was much more interested in getting on television and getting close to the new president.( He was especially interested in being on what one colleague called “The Trump Train.”) There are multiple reports that he bragged about his relationship with Trump and about his own sexual “exploits”–including reports that he repeatedly showed Congressional colleagues pictures of naked women with whom he claimed he’d slept.

A CNN article listed some of the reasons Gaetz is considered “unserious” by even his Republican colleagues. (“Unserious” is a nicer word than “asshole.”)

Gaetz courted controversy in numerous ways, earning him notoriety in the House — along with television appearances in conservative media.

In 2018, he was criticized after he invited a conservative troll with a history of Holocaust denial to the State of the Union.

A year later, Gaetz threatened Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen ahead of his 2019 House testimony, tweeting, “Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat.”

He was admonished by the House Ethics Committee and investigated and cleared by the Florida Bar over the tweet, which he deleted and apologized for.

During the House’s first impeachment inquiry, Gaetz led a band of Republicans in a stunt to “storm” the House Intelligence secure committee spaces where the impeachment interviews were being held. And last year, Gaetz wore a gas mask on the House floor to vote on a coronavirus funding package.

 In other words, Gaetz is a perfect representation of today’s Republican Party. He is obviously uninterested in governing. Instead, he seems intent upon performative “conservatism” aka “culture war.”  

In that–if not the behavior that led to his current legal problems–he is a typical Republican.

An opinion piece by Ezra Klein included a perfect description of today’s iteration of the GOP. Klein was trying to explain Joe Biden’s unanticipated willingness to forsake efforts to persuade Congressional Republicans to engage in genuine bipartisanship. 

In a discussion of Mitch McConnell’s role in GOP intransigence, Klein wrote.

Over the past decade, congressional Republicans slowly but completely disabused Democrats of these [bipartisanship] hopes. The long campaign against the ideological compromise that was the Affordable Care Act is central here, but so too was then-Speaker John Boehner’s inability to sell his members on the budget bargain he’d negotiated with President Barack Obama, followed by his refusal to allow so much as a vote in the House on the 2013 immigration bill. And it’s impossible to overstate the damage that Mitch McConnell’s stonewalling of Merrick Garland, followed by his swift action to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, did to the belief among Senate Democrats that McConnell was in any way, in any context, a good-faith actor. They gave up on him completely.

Today’s Congressional GOP is a marriage between terminally unserious “culture warriors” like Gaetz, Nunes, Jim Jordan and their ilk and those who–like Mitch McConnell–are willing to ignore the common good and the needs of the country in their pursuit of self-aggrandizement.

There’s no negotiating with either faction, because they aren’t there to govern.

 

 

McConnell And Asymmetric Polarization

I have previously made my opinion of Mitch McConnell very clear–he has been far more destructive of American constitutional governance than Trump.

America actually lucked out with Trump–a self-engrossed buffoon too incompetent, too ignorant, and too mentally-ill to do the permanent damage to which he aspired. McConnell, on the other hand, understands government and how to manipulate the arcane rules of the Senate to achieve truly evil results.

In the wake of the Georgia special election that allowed the Democrats to take control of the Senate, Jennifer Senior wrote a column for the New York Times that echoed my own reaction:

So tell me, Mitch, in these, your final hours as Senate majority leader: Were the judges and the tax cuts worth it?

Were they worth the sacking of the Capitol? The annexation of the Republican Party by the paranoiacs and the delusional? The degradation, possibly irremediable, of democracy itself?

Those close to him say that Mitch McConnell has his eye on his legacy, now more than ever. But I wonder whether he already understands, in some back bay of his brain where the gears haven’t been ground to nubs, that history will not treat him well.

Senior points out that McConnell plays the “long game,” and that he never does anything unless it serves his personal interests.

He’s methodical in his scheming, awaiting his spoils with the patience of a cat. So if hitching his wagon to a sub-literate mob boss with a fondness for white supremacists and a penchant for conspiracy theories and a sociopath’s smirking disregard for the truth meant getting those tax cuts and those conservative judges … hey, that’s the cost of doing business, right?

Suddenly, incomprehensible as it must seem to him, McConnell is being out-eviled from the right. And that reality is finally beginning to dawn on the media outlets that have aspired to “fairness” by framing contemporary politics with a patently false equivalence–ignoring the fact that the GOP has been moving to the right much, much faster (and much, much farther) than the Democrats have moved to the left, in what political scientists term “asymmetrical polarization.”

(Actually, the Democrats are simply returning to their previous position(s) after also moving right in a misconceived effort to out-Republican the GOP. See, among other things, Bill Clinton and welfare reform…)

Senior writes that, chief among the reasons for this state of affairs is  that the G.O.P. has run what she calls “a decades-long campaign to delegitimize government. Run against it long enough, and eventually you have a party that wants to burn the system to the ground.”

What really struck me about Senior’s column was her recitation of things I hadn’t previously known about McConnell–what you might call philosophical U-Turns if you are gullible enough to believe that McConnell ever genuinely embraced a moral agenda. She notes that he had “a youthful fling” with the civil rights movement, before enthusiastically embracing Nixon’s southern strategy, and that he was once pro-choice (!).

Those of us who follow public policy already knew that McConnell had joined the majority of Congressional Republicans in abandoning the GOP’s purported concern over deficits in favor of tax breaks for the rich and subsidies for favored businesses. And then…

When preserving power prerogatives overtook his party’s concerns about the former Soviet Union? No problem. McConnell refused to hear out warnings about Russian interference until weeks before the 2016 election (at which point he buried them), and he refused to consider bipartisan legislation that would attempt to curb foreign meddling until he earned himself the moniker “Moscow Mitch.”

When his party went from free trade to nativist populism, powered by xenophobia and racist resentment? Not a problem. He’d side with the populists, including their dangerous Dear Leader, until his workplace was overrun, five people were dead and the Constitution itself was among the critically injured.

Norman J. Ornstein, as usual, is analytically spot-on, describing McConnell and the radical Republicans who followed and then eclipsed him in perfidy as embracing an “ends-justify-the-means philosophy” in which winning is more important than governing.

It’s true that American politics is polarized. It is demonstrably not true that the Democrats have gone far to the left. It may look that way to the casual observer because, next to today’s semi-fascist GOP, sanity looks “left.”

We are looking through an Overton Window. It needs to shift.

 

Trust

In 2009, I published a book with Prometheus Press. It was titled “Distrust, American Style: Diversity and the Crisis of Public Confidence,”  and in it, I explored–and disagreed with–the then popular political science theory that America’s growing levels of social distrust and corresponding loss of social capital were a reaction to the country’s growing diversity, and the increasing numbers of neighbors who didn’t look like “us.”

My contrary conclusion could be summed up by an old adage:  fish rot from the head. 

By 2009, the failures of our social institutions had become more and more obvious–we had just had the Enron and Worldcom scandals, the Catholic Church was dealing with publicity about priestly child molestation, there were scandals in major league sports…and much more. Furthermore, as I wrote in the book, thanks to the Internet and the 24-hour “news holes” on cable television, it was the rare American who wasn’t bombarded daily with news of corporate malfeasance, the sexual escapades of “pro family” legislators and pastors, and the identity of the latest sports figure to fail a drug test.

At the same time, the Bush Administration was engaging in what then seemed an unprecedented assault on competent governance (who knew it could get worse?), exemplified by, but not limited to, the war in Iraq and the administration’s disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina.

In the face of so much evidence that Americans couldn’t trust our country’s most important institutions to operate honestly and effectively, is it any wonder that people were becoming wary, skeptical and distrustful? 

To say that things haven’t improved since 2009 would be an enormous understatement.

This lack of trust matters. It has allowed Trump’s accusations about “fake news” to resonate, it has encouraged acceptance of conspiracy theories and dismissal of warnings about the pandemic. The incredible growth of internet propaganda and social media since 2009 has only added to the cacophony of sources, voices, points of view–and levels of distrust. Too many Americans no longer know who or what to believe. (For many of those Americans, the Supreme Court’s predictable dismissal of Texas’ ridiculous lawsuit yesterday probably came as a surprise.)

I recently read an article comparing contemporary features of what the author called our “post-truth society” to Dante’s Inferno. The article pointed out that, to Dante, anyone who corrupted or discredited the institutions that support society was doing something gravely wicked, and would surely be consigned to the lowest circle of hell, the 9th. (The 9th, as I recall, is for treachery, and it is where Satan lives…)

Granted, the image of Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump dealing with Satan in that lowest circle gives me a “warm and fuzzy,” but I really don’t think Americans should defer remediation based upon belief in a just afterlife. We need to work on repairing the here and now.

When citizens cannot rely on the integrity of government officials, when they no longer expect those officials to enforce the rules against corporate and business malfeasance, when they see McConnell’s Senate confirming judges chosen in the belief they will be willing to corrupt the impartiality of the bench and tilt the scales of justice in the GOP’s favor–who should they trust?

Americans’ ability to trust each other depends upon the ability of our governing and social institutions to keep faith with the American values set out in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Those values include equal treatment and fair play, and especially fidelity to the rule of law–the insistence that no one is above the law and that the same rules should apply to everyone who is in the same circumstances (or as we lawyer types like to say, everyone who is “similarly situated.”)

Allowing the rich and connected to “buy” more favorable rules is a massive violation of those values, yet that is what millions of Americans see happening every day. 

When governments and important social institutions all seem corrupt, trust evaporates, taking  social and political stability with it.  If the Biden Administration restores visible competence and  integrity to government, it will be the beginning of a long and urgently needed process of Institutional repair.

And hopefully, a restoration of trust.

 

Every Day In Every Way

it gets worse and worse. It has even been suggested that this is a strategy: the reason so few of the administration’s scandals remain “front page” reports for long is that they are superseded on a daily basis by evidence of even more damaging corruption.

Just the other day, in an effort to distract from the growing numbers of pandemic cases and deaths, the White House staged an event to announce the continuing exploitation of the environment. A bright red crane was set up on the south lawn and was shown “lifting the weights of regulation” while “the burden of regulation” was shown weighing down a blue truck.

When Trump spoke, he said they had cut “25,000 pages of job-destroying regulations,” saved the oil industry and cut auto standards, making cars cheaper and also “better, they’ll be stronger, and they’ll be safer.”

But what pleases him the most is that he’s “brought back” incandescent lightbulbs and improved the shower experience: “We made it so dishwashers now have a lot more water, and in many places, in most places of the country, water is not a problem … it’s called rain.”

Trump’s fossil fuel cronies at the EPA and the Department of National Resources have done incalculable damage to the environment. At the Department of Justice, William Barr is busily upending longstanding policies in favor of the “unitary executive” theory beloved by radical rightwing lawyers and former Vice-President Dick Cheney. 

As if Trump hadn’t done enough damage to America’s international reputation, his Secretary of State– Christian fundamentalist Mike Pompeo– is embarrassing us further.

Human rights advocates denounced as “dangerous” a draft report released Thursday by the U.S. State Department’s controversial Commission on Unalienable Rights that paints property rights and religious liberty as “foremost among the unalienable rights that government is established to secure” while casting doubt on other liberties, including reproductive freedom.

“Make no mistake: this report was not designed with principles of equality, justice, and rights in mind. Instead, it serves as another stepping stone in the White House’s radical, isolationist, anti-rights, anti-scientific, religious agenda,” Serra Sippel, president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), said in a statement.

As those of you who follow such things know, Pompeo’s version of “religious liberty” is anything but the government neutrality required by the First Amendment’s religion clauses. If he had his way, the law would give all citizens the “liberty” to follow Evangelical Christian “moral” dictates. As Heather Cox Richardson described the document,

The report lays out a version of American history and human rights designed to appeal to the evangelicals who count Pompeo as their own. It begins by stating that the primary tradition “that formed the American spirit” was “Protestant Christianity… infused with the beautiful Biblical teachings that every human being is imbued with dignity and bears responsibilities toward fellow human beings, because each is made in the image of God.”

And don’t get me started on Betsy DeVos’ assault on the very idea of public education…

This broad-based attack on representative democracy and the common good isn’t just being enabled by Trump and his corrupt and incompetent cabinet. 

Greatly assisting in the demolition of constitutional government is the Most Evil Man in America: Mitch McConnell. 

Consumer and workers’ rights advocates are warning that new details of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to shield businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits show just how far the Republican leader is willing to go to ensure corporations are not held accountable for endangering public health and safety.

“Congress must reject this dangerous proposal,” the National Employment Law Project said in response to a draft (pdf) of McConnell’s plan obtained by Politico and other outlets on Friday….

As the Associated Press reported, the Republican plan “offers a broad shield by requiring heightened pleading standards, stiffening burden-of-proof standards, and capping damages on awards. Employers would also be shielded from investigations by federal agencies.”

Every day, there’s a new report, making it virtually impossible to keep up with these assaults on the rule of law, fair play and what used to be considered basic American principles. 

Assuming–as hopeful people must–a blue tsunami in November, I hope someone is figuring out what we can do to keep Trump and his “best people” from blowing up the world between November 3d and January 21st.