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Barrett’s Association With Trumpism Will Never Fade. We Should See to It

I’ve got a question that Democratic senators might have considered posing to Amy Coney Barrett on the occasion of last week’s hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee: What’s a nice woman like you doing keeping company with a bunch of fascists like this?

That’s perhaps a bit flip, but the substance remains: At what point does someone like Amy Coney Barrett — at what point do all the judges to whom Trump has granted lifetime appointments — take responsibility for who made them? More important, to what extent can citizens trust the jurisprudence of people who, like Barrett, swallowed hard and accepted these appointments from someone so obviously illiberal, so clearly unfit for the job, someone who (lest we forget) was impeached not 9 months prior, someone who subsequently mismanaged and repeatedly lied to our faces re. a public health crisis (out of pure political self-interest, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of Americans dead), someone who (according to Mueller report) would have been charged with 10 counts of obstructing justice were he not a sitting president, someone who refuses to disavow white supremacists, someone who apparently ran up hundreds of thousands in tax bills to foreign countries while paying next to no taxes in his own (during his presidential term!), someone who is essentially an unindicted co-conspirator in a felony to secure a second term by stopping the count of mail-in/absentee votes — something he has told us he is going to do! He also awarded Rush Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom. A superb judge of character, our president.

It would be naïve to ask, “What does it say about Trump that he has openly cited the need for Barrett to be on the high court in time to provide him a 5-4 decision, a la Bush v. Gore in 2000, should a disputed election be flung into the courts?” We know why. He’s incorrigible. But this misses the larger, more immediate point. What does it say about Barrett that she’d accept this man’s nomination — then refuse to discuss her recusal during the Senate’s advise and consent process?

Should we succeed in unseating Il Douché, we as a people will be obliged to confront the incredible damage he and his administration (and his followers) have to done to the United States, its culture, its comity, its government, its legal norms and infrastructures. Addressing and mitigating this damage is already underway — witness the discussion of SCOTUS expansion, of 18-year terms on the high court, of statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico (to remedy the undemocratic concentration of power in 20-odd sparsely populated farm states, many of them literally manufactured in the late 19th century to, wait for it, boost the electoral power of the Republican Party). There is little question from either side that Biden will win the popular vote in two weeks time. If we are fortunate enough to see that vote reflected in the Electoral College (our most troubling monument to dead Confederates), there will surely be a roll-back of executive actions this administration has backed — a fairly common occurrence when one administration is replaced by another.

But the undermining of U.S. law and legal precedents by Trump appointees extends to the government bureaucracy and its courts. This man’s enablers, those he installed, must be identified and held to account. Amy Coney Barrett is a good place to start.

I’m 56 years old. Reckoning with this successful attempt to pervert and circumvent our legal system will dominate our politics for the remainder of my lifetime. I recognize the Federalist Society and movement conservatism predate Trump’s inauguration. But the president has bared and magnified the naked, reductive politics at play here, for all to see. As such, for decades to come there will be ongoing reference to and spotlighting of the 300-odd judges that Trump nominated and Mitch McConnell forced through the hyper-politicized Senate from 2016-2020 (after slow-walking Obama nominees for 8 years).

What we do with Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, Barrett and their Trump-nominated, lower-court brethren remains to be seen. But their lifetime appointments, from Trump, expose them to a different sort of long-term scrutiny. It’s not going to go well.

Some individual judges will perhaps adjust and move away from Federalist Society-approved originalism and other specious stances undergirded by right-wing, white supremacist, and moneyed interests (methinks Judge Roberts is doing this right now). Others will not. Dealing with this latter group of true believers, and their blinkered attitudes toward precedent, and the legacy of the demonstrably fascist figure who nominated them, will be difficult.

But it will have to be done and the particular case of Amy Coney Barrett is a logical, timely place to begin this effort. If it requires her tarring and feathering, so be it. She has made her bed.

Some senator should have urged her to simply withdraw. “You don’t want to be the face of Trumpism going forward,” Amy Klobuchar should have told her on Monday, Oct. 12, the day hearings began. “You seem like a nice person. Don’t put your family through this. Because, you know, there’s a name for people who do the bidding of fascists and accept their patronage… They’re called fascists.”

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We Can’t Have Law and Order with Apples this Bad

I’ve now read and heard dozens of reports on the Breonna Taylor case. Her killing, the result of a no-knock warrant in March, took place in a Louisville apartment building full of witnesses. Who, if anyone, is responsible and who, if anyone, should be charged in her death boils down to this nugget from the grand jury testimony made public by the District Attorney on Oct. 2: “Eleven of 12 witnesses on the scene that night said they never heard the police identify themselves. One of them said he heard the group say ‘police’ just once.”

The three cops who broke down the door and traded fire with Taylor’s boyfriend claim they did announce and identify themselves as police. They have not been charged and according to the District Attorney, will not be charged. In not bringing any charge connected to her killing, the D.A. has chosen to believe these three officers who, had they failed to identify themselves (as 11 of 12 witnesses have attested), would likely be facing manslaughter charges today, at the very least. So, even if they aren’t lying about having completed this simple and mandatory identification procedure, we can agree the cops continue to have a very strong incentive to lie — unlike those 11 witnesses, who don’t have any such incentive.

We Americans talk a lot about bad apples, how many there really are, and what percentage of the bunch they might reasonably despoil. But we can agree that lying — in police reports, in sworn testimony to grand juries — is something police officers do quite routinely. I know this from working with police departments as a reporter and city editor. We all know this from simply following the news today, in an age when smart phones and body cams make plain these lies after the fact. [If the body cam footage has been misplaced, you can be sure it will likely contradict a falsified police report.] Cops lie individually, to cover their own wrongdoing. They do it in strategic concert with prosecutors to “solve” criminal cases and get them off the books, or to make prosecutions stick where available evidence cannot. And they lie on behalf of each other, largely refusing to call each other out for this lying, which is a clear and conscious subversion of law and order. This awkward relationship U.S. cops can have with the truth is something the African-American community has been talking loudly about — but white America has largely dismissed — for centuries.

It’s not clear to me whether Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Williams, is counted among the 12 witnesses cited above. But he too claims not to have heard the police announce themselves. Is he lying? He certainly reacted like someone who had genuinely NOT heard anyone at his door identified as police — because when they broke down his door and entered the apartment, Williams immediately shot one of them. Shooting anyone is a risky enterprise. If you know they’re cops (because they’ve effectively announced themselves as such) it’s almost ludicrously risky.

And here the grand jury report reveals still more curious behavior from the District Attorney Daniel Cameron: Williams clearly shot a cop, who clearly claims to have announced himself before entering the apartment, despite so much witness testimony to the contrary. And yet Williams has not been charged with a crime either. In this respect, it seems the D.A. is inclined to believe Williams and his right to defend himself, in his home, against an intruder, with lethal force. Indeed, if the D.A. were convinced that Louisville police had effectively announced themselves, it seems fair to ask why Williams wasn’t charged with shooting one of those cops.

Finally, what is anyone who has studied this case and the grand jury report to make of the overall conduct, capability and character of these particular cops? The grand jury report is damning in multiple respects. The three officers at the door are sticking to their story: They announced themselves. They broke down the door. They were immediately fired upon. In returning fire, they killed Taylor. Once inside the apartment, two officers fired a total of 32 rounds, at least six of which struck Taylor.

Walker, Taylor’s boyfriend, told the grand jury that immediately after the shooting, an officer told Walker he was going to jail for the rest of his life. The the officer asked him, “Were you hit by any bullets?” Walker said no. The officer responded by saying, “That’s unfortunate.” Grand jurors, increasingly aware of just how shoddy this police work had been, asked whether the officers executing the warrant were aware that police had already found Jamarcus Glover, an ex-boyfriend of Taylor’s who was the target of the drug investigation. The report includes no answer from police. Glover was in fact in custody by the time the police raided Taylor’s apartment.

According to the NYT report from Oct. 2: “They asked if the police had recovered drugs or money from the apartment; the detective said no, and that the police had not searched the apartment for drugs or paraphernalia after shooting Ms. Taylor. [Italics mine] They asked whether he had diagrams of the scene (no) and why the officers’ body cameras were not activated (the detective said he did not know).” To call this a botched operation from underperforming police personnel is to spruce it up quite a bit.

There was a fourth cop who, once the shooting started, went outside and proceeded to “discharge his service weapon” randomly into Taylor’s apartment (and other units) from outside the apartment building, on the street. This additional example of substandard policing could not be explained away apparently. That officer has been charged with wonton endangerment and dismissed from the force, though none of the bullets from his weapon appear to have harmed Taylor or anyone else.

This is the brand of policing and grand jury investigation we are told to support, without question.

Trump’s subconscious is desperately trying to tell us something

I’m starting to wonder whether Donald Trump, in the early years of this century, might have killed some young woman. Not sexually assaulted her; that’s something he’s apparently been doing, repeatedly, since the early 1980s. I mean killed a woman outright.

I worry about this, as an American, because he’s the president — and because he keeps accusing MSNBC host Joe Scarborough of this exact crime, from this very period in time. Naturally, as has become custom, Trump makes this allegation publicly, without a shred of evidence. But this particular accusation worries me in another way because, as we’re learning, it’s part of a pattern — the outrageous lie that falsely accuses or smears someone else, but actually projects the president’s own anxiety about his having already committed the same crime, or embodying the identical character flaw.

This habit of the president’s, what I have dubbed projection lying, is not to be confused with his reflexive, everyday, run-of-the-mill lying (what he himself calls, in his book Art of the Deal, “truthful hyperbole” — the sort of thing you do when selling condos). This form of fabrication he unleashes almost continually.

Ethically, even psychiatrists aren’t supposed to diagnose the most obvious sociopaths from a distance. But I’m not a psychiatrist (!). And let’s face it: As American citizens in the here and now, we are more or less obliged to scrutinize the president’s lies, to sort them into various categories, subgroups and classifications, then collectively wonder what sort of psychiatric phenomenon leads to all this lying, all these different types of lies. He is our head of state, after all. And other than lies, we don’t get many other types of communication from the man.

In the main, Trump lies largely for the same reasons anyone else does — to deflect blame, to immunize himself from harm (when possible), to shirk responsibility, etc. We’re talking the mother lode of deflection and shirking here.

However, even while taking into account the president’s magisterial portfolio of lies and dissembling styles, I am fascinated and troubled in particular by the president’s projection lying — the assertion of something clearly false that nevertheless and quite astutely reveals something manifestly true about Trump himself. Here’s a banal example: When he prefaces a statement with, Believe me when I tell you, he’s really saying, “I’m preparing to lie to you. In fact, I’m doing it right now.”

We are sadly conditioned to this phenomenon by now, like a proverbial frog being slowly boiled to death. As noted above, the man sold condos when he wasn’t doing the impossible: bankrupting casinos (all this prior to starring in a “reality” series that celebrated his business acumen!). At this advanced stage, it’s as if we expect him to lie to us… And yet Trump has taken this projection lying to a new, dangerous and strangely fascinating place in 2020 — because so many of his lies do reveal what the man’s id, his inner voice, what passes for his soul, is trying desperately to tell us. That’s why the Scarborough lie/smear is so arresting, almost macabre.

The president clearly reckons that if a nemesis like Scarborough were first framed up for murder, Trump could better argue that he was being framed up — or that maybe killing someone isn’t so terrible after all (so long as it was done, perhaps on 5th Avenue, by someone famous enough).

See here a brief catalogue of the variations on this dissembling projection theme. In most every case, it’s pretty obvious what Trump and his subconscious mind are trying to tell us — things we kind of knew to be true already:

  • A lot of people are saying = I’m making this up.
  • She can’t be trusted = You’d be a fool to trust me.
  • How has he not been indicted by now? = I’m quite sure I’ve committed several high crimes or misdemeanors — just in the last 3 days.
  • The president cannot be indicted = I’ve committed several indictable acts in the last 48 hours (but I’m going to keep repeating this because Bob Barr says it’s so).
  • She can’t be trusted with state secrets = I cannot be trusted with state secrets.
  • He’s a security risk = I am a security risk (and so are my children)
  • Nobody knows [insert subject matter here] better than me = I know next to nothing about [insert identical subject matter here]
  • Who knew health care was so complicated? = I just thought about health care policy for the first time this morning.
  • I’ve been treated very badly = I’ve committed a crime and/or shattered a longstanding norm and now I’m dealing with the inevitable consequences.
  • Witch hunt = Constitutionally mandated Congressional oversight
  • Perfect call = Shakedown
  • She’s not my type = Yeah, I raped her.
  • He’s lying = I’m lying.
  • I guarantee you that conversation never took place = That conversation is digitally recorded.
  • I don’t know the guy = We have, in fact, vacationed together.

I could go on. For days! (the Washington Post recently tallied the president’s lies and purposely misleading statements, since January 2017, at more than 20,000). But you get the point.

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Why Politics So Often Trumps Piety: It’s Baked Right In

“The Good Shepherd” by James Tissot

Confused by stalwart evangelical Christian support for Donald Trump? Don’t be. Organized religious movements, especially those of the Christian variety, are only nominally “religious” or faith-directed. They are, in fact, political movements (always have been; they started that way). We aren’t confused by U.S. Chamber of Commerce support for Trump, for example. These captains of industry don’t like the guy either; it’s not clear they ever respected him as “a businessman” (I mean, who bankrupts casinos? That’s really hard to do). But the Chamber anticipated that Trump, as president, would deliver policy outcomes that would keep American corporate interests rich and powerful. The Chamber’s support for Trump doesn’t confuse us at all.

The president’s evangelical Christian support is identically political and transactional.

To be fair, the president’s evangelical support is even more politically on the nose because, as it happens, the world’s two most prominent monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam, were both founded as uniquely, overtly political movements — and so they remain. The disconnect and confusion come when something like ‘evangelical Christianity’ is viewed as a movement or phenomenon of faith. As such, its support for someone sporting such a “rich” history of bigotry, sexual predation, white supremacy and transgressive plutocracy would be totally mystifying.

However, when evangelical Christianity is rightly viewed as a political movement, the hypocrisy and our confusion about it fall away. Or they should.

Look at what Trump has promised and, in part, delivered to this political constituency of his: not enlightenment or even a righteous example but rather the appointment of judges who are likely to rule against abortion and gay rights (though the latter backfired on the evangelical right last week); the channeling of taxpayer money to private, largely religious, certainly segregated schools; recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, thereby laying the groundwork for the fulfillment of biblical prophecy; and restoration of an America that is ruled by white Christian men, despite a population that is ever more diverse. Quite apart from Trump and Republican Party policies, evangelical Christians also tend to be strongly supportive of American militarism abroad, race-based immigration policy, and authoritarian policing, three more things that make it darned near impossible to, among other things, love they neighbor as thyself.

We can agree nearly all of these priorities as maintained by Trump’s evangelical base don’t touch on faith much at all; even the fulfillment of prophecy serves only Christians themselves, not the breadth of God’s human family. Many of these political goals demonstrably transgress New Testament teachings. Instead they are far more concerned with the wielding of power, social influence and control, and money — the stock in trade of most political movements.

Many Americans are thrown by this — the inability of nominal Christians to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s (Romans 13:1). Even religiously observant onlookers get stuck on the hypocrisy of the situation — to a point. Trump’s personal behavior would surely offend lots of evangelicals were he raising their grandchildren or coaching their son’s Little League team, for example. But he’s not doing that. He’s delivering political power and influence, and that trumps all. Apparently. Evangelical Christians are no different from any other political constituency in their search for return on investment — a return they frankly didn’t realize from many Republican presidents up to now.

What has changed with Trump is the extent to which individual members of the religious right wing attempt to cloak these plainly political aims in religious vestments. That is to say, under Trump that practice has fallen away almost entirely — and this should help the rest of us better understand what has always been true: that organized religious movements don’t give a fig about salvation (yours, theirs, anyone’s), not when earthly power, influence, social control and money are at stake.  

Listen to the way Steven E. Strang, founder of the Christian publishing house Charisma Media, reckons this political calculus today:

“I believe that God answered our prayers in a way we didn’t expect, for a person we didn’t even necessarily like,” he told The New York Times last winter. “Christians believe in redemption and forgiveness, so they’re willing to give Donald Trump a chance.” Strang added that those who talk about Trump tarnishing the evangelical brand “are not really believers — they’re not with us, anyway.”

One thing is clear: This fellow Strang is not concerned with souls.

Neither is Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, an evangelical organization formed to frame the 2018 midterm elections (to potential donors) as a civilizational struggle. Referring to Trump, she said, “His family can talk to him about issues of character.”

“Certainly we are all embarrassed,” Linda Leonhart, who is active in the women’s ministry at her suburban Dallas church, told  The Times in March 2019, citing the president’s serial lying, pettiness, impulsiveness, profanity and name calling. “But for the most part he represents what we stand for.” Not the Gospels, in other words, but the political gathering and wielding of earthly power, influence, social control and money.

These folks are not concerned with the teachings of scripture, much though former Attorney General Jeff Sessions might have tried to cite it in defense of this xenophobic policy or that one. Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted these same diversions. In 2020, it should be clear that Americans Republicans are more concerned with using scripture in the derivation and deployment of political identity and power, reflecting a Christian tradition that is nearly 2,000 years old.

The mere acknowledgement that Trump may be less than ideal morally — but that he delivers things like Brett Kavanaugh and protections for Christian health workers — is itself a tacit acknowledgement, on the part of Christian voters, that political concerns are equally important, if not more important, than matters of personal faith. For them, it’s a simple exercise in compartmentalism, a word that does not appear in the Bible, for the record. I doubt very much these folks would want Trump for a son-in-law (faith). But they love what he’s doing as president (politics).

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Unprecedented? Nope. Modern GOP Still Harking Back to the ’80s — the 1880s

With word that President Donald Trump plans to resume his in-person political rallies on June 19 — that’s Juneteenth, a commemoration of slavery’s end and black America’s biggest secular holiday — in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it seems clear the era of Republican dog whistles is finally over.

Tulsa was, of course, site of the so-called ‘race riots’ that slaughtered of hundreds of African-Americans over a two-day period in 1921. That was the height of Jim Crow America, when pogroms like these were sadly unremarkable. This is the symbolism our Republican administration is clearly reaching for and by now it should not surprise us.

From the moment Ronald Reagan launched his 1980 presidential campaign — in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights activists had been murdered and buried in an earthen dam back in 1963 — the GOP has positioned itself as the party of white folk. The symbolism was clear enough from Day 1, and effective enough to lure white southern Democrats (the “Dixiecrats” who fled the Democratic Party during the Civil Rights era) into the once-anathema Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln. The Trump presidency and the scheduling of this July rally neatly complete the circle.

In light of the protests that have gripped American cities in wake of George Floyd’s May 29 killing, we are now free to drop all pretenses. Indeed, it’s time to retire all sorts of presumptions, including the idea that Trump and his white-nationalist “Christian” support is somehow unprecedented. On the contrary: We have been here before.

But first, by all means, let’s also dispense with any and all pearl-clutching from progressives and centrists. Donald Trump understands the nature of his political support and, by now, so should we. To be fair, he’s been remarkably consistent re. the nature of his vision for this country. “Why is it always about race with you people,” his supporters serially countered in pre-Floyd America. Because, as has been confirmed the last 2 weeks (which only confirms what the war on drugs and mass incarceration showed us decades before), it’s always been about race.

Let’s further dispense with our vaguely snarky musing on the Trump movement’s signature rallying cry. When he and his followers pledge to “Make America Great Again”, they really do mean to make it white again — or rather, to restore white citizens to their longstanding, “rightful” place of privilege and power in the face of an ever more diverse citizenry and electorate. It’s time to retire this rhetorical question and simply accept it as demonstrable fact.

We can also stop with the lengthy magazine think pieces and earnest video documentaries that explore the economic nature of Trump’s support. Yes, plutocrats love Trumpism. They may indeed be pulling some of these strings. But there is no economic explanation for the white working-class embrace of Donald Trump. And here’s a good rule to follow at all times but particularly in this one: When we perceive our fellow citizens to be repeatedly voting against their own self-interest, we have almost certainly failed to effectively divine that self-interest.

To wit, Trumpism is not an economic movement. It is a white, nationalist, extra-scriptural Christian movement. In four years’ time, it has produced a great many things we can fairly call “unprecedented”. But MAGA isn’t one of them. With a bit more than 5 months remaining before the 2020 election, it’s critical that “the rest of us” recognize this.

What’s more, as we’ll establish here, it’s important to recognize this is not the first time white Americans have found themselves on the wrong side of a demographic equation, i.e. trying to maintain political power and privilege in a society where voters of color roughly equal if not outnumber them.

We have indeed been here before. It’s called the Post-Reconstruction South, where the identical demographic situation resulted in the identical political response. To a remarkable degree, the policies articulated by Trump during his campaign and those instituted by his administration these past 40 months are the spiritual godchildren of those initiated by post-Reconstruction southern whites in the late 19th century — for the same desperate and obvious demographic reasons.

No one bothered to ask late 19th century southern white men why they effectively demonized, disenfranchised and, where possible, criminalized black citizens, black voters. No contemporaneous journalists from the agitating north went looking for the economic foundations of Jim Crow. It was obvious to all, north and south, what they were doing and why. Institutional racism was essential and obvious to the white fight for political power in the former Confederacy. The political motivations of white southerners post-1877 had nothing to do with economics, government intrusion, faith, the opioid epidemic, flyover country resentment of coastal elites, etc. It also lasted the better part of 100 years.

And so, in this sense, it should not surprises us that it remains front and center in U.S. politics. It’s all about race. It’s always been about race. Not exactly the race of some urban African-American or that of some border Latinx, but rather the so-called white race, “our” race, and its prospects for enduring power in this country. The demography of an immigrant nation has finally caught up to white America, and a lot of them (40 percent by most counts) don’t like it much. It’s time we all accepted this and set about wrestling with it properly.

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Bernie, Biden & DNC ennui all obscure the point: Get out the vote

Now that Bernie Sanders has been rebuffed and a credible centrist path forward has been laid for Democratic voters, I just want to say: 1) Don’t think for a minute there is anything inevitable about Joe Biden’s nomination; 2) I’m all in for whoever earns that nomination; and 3) I have real reservations about propping up today’s Democratic Party beyond Nov. 3.

Clearly, the only sensible thing for Democrats to do over the next four months is go get the vote out. In such hyper-polarized times, this makes more sense than you may realize. More on that in a moment.

Because a funny thing happened on the way to this new, hastily constructed Biden consensus: In the 3 weeks between the N.H. Primary and Super Tuesday, I along with millions of left-leaning Americans were all obliged to come to terms with the idea of Bernie Sanders leading us into the arena against Trump.

We did this for several reasons. Biden on the stump in 2020 is rather corpse-like (with a verbal dexterity to match); Bernie had dominated him and the other centrists in the field. Following the victory in Nevada, Bernie was clearly the front-runner. Suddenly, in the space of 3 weeks, it had all become very real.

The last Republican I voted for was Bill Weld (when he ran for Massachusetts governor in 1990), a fact that doesn’t make me a liberal firebrand. I never voted for Nader, nor any Green candidates. Obama was probably more cautiously centrist than I’d have liked. But I did vote for Sanders during Tuesday’s Maine primary. Having rationally gone through his platform — over and over again, often beside scandalized centrists in need of reassurance — I did come to terms with the good sense it largely represents. The polls that show him faring as well or better vs. Trump in November didn’t hurt.

It tickles me to hear moderate Dems and conservatives (who have resisted the snake-oil charms of our president) detail their fear of and disdain for the “crazy left-wing” ideas advocated by Sen. Sanders. “Wacky” is another word they use. When pressed for examples, Medicare for All always heads the list — despite the fact that expansion of this existing U.S. program is essentially the operative model for nationalized healthcare systems in every industrialized nation on Earth but ours. Mind you, these are models that all deliver care for less cost per citizen than the private system now deployed here. In other words, not crazy.

[Free public college education usually comes next: “Another socialist fantasy!” Oh yeah? From 1945 to 1980, this country essentially had a public university and community college system that was so affordable as to verge on free. Tuition was so minimal it could be dispatched via summer jobs and winter-spring vacation gigs — that is, until we made the conscious, Reagan-enabled decision to stop socializing the cost of such things. Today, a year at UMass costs $30,000. “Oh, and you’re just gonna forgive all that student debt I suppose?” Yeah, I would. It’s crippling the middle-class striving of 70 million Millennials. And seeing as colleges (for-profit and otherwise) cynically pocketed all those Pell Grant billions, leaving these consumers holding the bag, some manner of redress is warranted. The Green New Deal? Yeah, it’s such a whack-job, pinko fantasy that the European Union — a common market representing 300 million consumers — just this week declared a target of net-zero carbon by 2050 and halving emissions by 2030. The outcry there? It’s not aggressive enough. Bernie’s agenda is typical of centrist and center-left governments across the industrialized world in Europe and Asia. Three weeks of coming to terms with his front-runner status made this plain. Not. Wacky. At. All.]

Yet something else happened when I walked through all this, over and over again, trying to explain how electing Bernie Sanders wouldn’t destroy the Democratic Party and this country: I questioned anew what it was about the Democratic Party in 2020 that was so worth preserving.

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Fifteen Months into NFL boycott, Life Continues Remarkably Unchanged…

So, I hear the Patriots are no longer unbeaten. I gather the NFL has deigned to grant Colin Kapaernick an audience — and Antonio Brown is officially old news? I know the basic outlines of this stuff despite the fact that, for the second season running, I’m abstaining from football. I’m not reading anything on the subject, not watching NFL games, nor college games (which barely register in my Yankee world), or even Patriots games on TV. I’ve found it instructive that a conscientious objector like myself need not actively follow the nation’s most popular sport in order to know with whom Josh Gordon has latched on, who’s been accused of sexual assault, and which guys you should probably activate in your fantasy league this week. That’s one of the big take-aways here: The NFL is so dominant in our culture that one is effectively buffeted by news of all this stuff, non-stop, via the dribs and drabs of interpersonal conversations, serial web impressions and daily newspaper headlines (the one made of real paper), whether one wants to be or not. Love it or hate it, such is the NFL’s omnipresence in 2019. Americans routinely absorb its competitive results and attendant news/outrages almost by osmosis.

It’s difficult for me to profess, definitively, that I ever came to dislike the NFL or football in general. Indeed, that’s part of the problem: I quite like it — as exhibited by my 40-plus years of fandom and three decades as a sports writer, including multiple essays published in this space (see here and here) and elsewhere. But the arguments for opting out of the NFL just kept stacking up, like the arguments against smoking — or those advocating more cardiovascular exercise. Or flossing. The smoking example is best: NFL fandom was something that undeniably amused me but was pretty obviously bad for me.

I was riding in a Lyft down in Philadelphia a couple months back when the middle-aged driver and I mused for a time about the Sox-Phillies series then taking place at Citizens Park. We quickly moved on to Celtics-Sixers before taking up the inevitable: the Eagles’ Super Bowl win over the Patriots in February 2018. A great game, despite the result, I admitted. But when he asked what I thought about Antonio Brown’s brief dalliance in New England, or how long I thought Tom Brady might keep playing, I explained that I’d checked out of football starting the year before. He appeared sorta dumbfounded by this and asked me why. It wasn’t a long ride-share we’d ordered; my wife and daughter were in the backseat. I provided him only a cursory explanation. For you, dear reader, a complete set of well wrought justifications appears below.

Taken together, they make it ever more clear — to me, for me — that football generally and the NFL in particular were bad for me, like trans-fats. Or cocaine during the 1980s. Or fascism any ol’ time. But the NFL (and college football, it must be said) are frankly worse because trans-fats, for example, don’t seep unbidden into one’s body or consciousness via the culture at large, beguiling conscientious objectors and devotees alike with the same prurient, mass-produced id-candy.

Please believe me when I tell you this essay is not an exercise in virtue signaling. Like someone who stops drinking for the month of January, or perhaps indefinitely, I found it edifying to write this stuff down — to better process and perhaps defend (to myself) the quality of the decision-making involved. So, in no particular order of importance, let it be known that I’ve sworn off the NFL because:

1) It can kill you apparently. Not everyone who plays NFL football (or college football, or high school football) develops CTE-induced aphasia and dies, of course. But enough of them have, and enough exhibit these debilitating cognitive effects in the long term to make a compelling adverse case. Roman gladiators may have been the all-pro middle linebackers of their time, but eventually they were borne from the arena in pieces. Free will allows anyone the license to play that game, but I’m free to opt out of that sort of spectacle… How parents can allow their children to play the game, knowing what we now know, I truly do not understand. Create for yourself a Google alert for “High School Football Spinal Cord and Head Injuries” and witness the sickening news trickle in each Friday night, often via the live-Tweets of sportswriters who witness yet another ambulance on the field, under the klieg lights of small town America. It’s no shock to learn participation is falling across the country. I predict that, in 20 years, no public high school in the nation will have 11-man, tackle football teams, because no public school system will have the money to cover the liability insurance. Kids will continue to play football, or course, but only via private clubs. Like Rollerball.

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Hello, World. Welcome back to The Middle Kingdom

There’s a reason China has long referred to itself as The Middle Kingdom, and Daryl Morey, the NBA and frankly much of Western Civilization is beginning to understand why.

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Morey is the general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets and, until last week, he was known primarily as one of the league’s most savvy operators, an early, successful adopter of advanced hoop metrics and a keen, innovative judge of talent in a league turning inside-out (read: the NBA’s new, stat-backed reliance on 3-point shooting). He’s also politically aware, apparently, something he exhibited last Friday when he tweeted his support of Hong Kong protesters in their running battle with China’s central government. “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” he wrote.

Well, with that seemingly innocuous digital bromide (the political equivalent of “Boston Strong”), Morey has pissed off that central government, in Beijing. In the process, he may have inadvertently clued much of America into the fact that the unilateral, post-Cold War Era is over.

Morey has since taken the Tweet down but he, the Rockets and the NBA have reaped the 21st century whirlwind.

In response, the Chinese Central Government has announced that Rockets games will no longer be broadcast by Chinese state TV or partner Tencent, which recently agreed to a $1.5-billion deal with the NBA to stream games in China. Last year, some 600 million Chinese watched an NBA game in this fashion. The Rockets themselves just happen to have been the most popular team in the country — mainly because Yao Ming, China’s most successful NBA product, played his entire career in Houston. Today Yao is head of the Chinese Basketball Association. On Monday he severed the CBA’s relationship with his former team.

What we see here is an illustration of why China is known to itself (and to every other historical culture in Asia) as the Middle Kingdom. China so named itself circa 1,000 BCE, when the reigning Chou people, unaware of advanced civilizations in the West, believed their empire occupied the middle of the Earth, surrounded by unsophisticated barbarians.

For the ensuing 3,000 years China has indeed been the center of the universe in Asia, such has it dominated economic and cultural affairs in this region — in a way that has no European, African, Middle Eastern, South or North American analogue really. In Asia, over this long arc of history, China’s military whims were routinely indulged. Its culture effortlessly spilled over into countless neighboring nations. Its outsized market (always a function of its outsized population) routinely bent foreign states to China’s economic will.

North Americas and Europeans have a difficult time grasping this concept — the enormity of China’s power — because recent history doesn’t bear this primacy out. Starting in the mid 1800s (when the English first acquired Hong Kong and its holdings in the Pearl River Delta) and ending with Mao’s victory over nationalist forces in 1949, China was something of a geopolitical and economic pushover.

Here’s the way I’ve always thought of it: China had a bad century. The Chinese call it a “Century of Humiliation”… But one or two bad centuries in 30 isn’t such a terrible batting average. In any case, that blip is over. Its recent “rise” is merely a reinstatement of a longstanding status quo.

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NC Legislature Earns ‘Commendation’ for Self-Hating Political Mendacity

The term Jim Crow is rightly loaded down with racial connotations, but it’s important to recognize that, at its core, Jim Crow was a political system. Yes, a central byproduct was a social system that consigned black folk to second/third class citizenship. But this social construct was enabled and perpetuated by overarching political power. At its elemental core, Jim Crow was a system of voter suppression and nullification that allowed a political minority of white southerners to wield unchecked political power and maintain a culture of white supremacy in their respective states — not merely election to election but for a period of some 100 years.

With this in mind and the November elections behind us (pending a few recounts and lawsuits — you were always a rank choice, Bruce), Republican-controlled legislatures today are busy trying to similarly subvert the will of voting majorities while they still can, however they can. Accordingly, it’s high time we bestowed the next Harris Nightmare Award (HNA) for nakedly self-hating political mendacity.

Our choice for the 2018 post-electoral HNA: The GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature, which, in the face of U.S. Circuit Court rebukes and the failure of state and federal investigations to identify meaningful in-person voter fraud, have succeeded in amending the state constitution to permanently suppress the vote via strict voter ID requirements.

This effort alone would not distinguish the NC legislature from dozens of other Republican-controlled bodies across the nation, but for the fact that November’s election in North Carolina did manifest what appears to actual voter fraud — of a kind that 1) the newly ratified amendment would not begin to address; and 2) appears to have been perpetrated entirely by consultants directly employed by Republican Mark Harris, a U.S. Congressional candidate whose razor-thin victory over opponent Dan McCready was apparently enabled by brazenly illegal efforts centered on absentee ballot vote suppression.

Republicans generally and the North Carolina legislature in particular have cited rampant in-person voter fraud as foundational to their arguments for requiring photo ID. There’s still vanishingly little evidence of such fraud; these claims are rhetorical cover for efforts (in the shameful tradition of Jim Crow) to hold down or nullify the votes of Democrats and independents.

But lo and behold, we’ve finally identified actual voter fraud and it’s specific to NC Republicans themselves!

In a striking note of bipartisan resistance, North Carolina’s State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement — a body comprising four Democrats, four Republicans and one independent — has unanimously voted to postpone certification of the Harris election (which he won by 905 votes) pending an evidentiary hearing scheduled for Dec. 21, 2018.

Named for Dr. Thomas Harris, author of the 1969 pop-psychology treatise I’m OK—You’re OK, The Harris Nightmare Awards call out the cynical, pre-emptively tit-for-tat nihilism that has informed Republican politics since the mid-1990s. In the Age of Trump, this phenomenon has been raised to high art. Hence the need for suitable commendations, like the HNAs.

Most folks will be familiar with the title of Harris’ book, which refers to an optimal state of human relations, one that most of us do indeed strive day-to-day to achieve. “Treat they neighbor as thyself” predates the good doctor’s coinage, but they go together: For one cannot hope to treat his/her neighbor well if, to begin with, one does not possess a decent, ultimately edifying sense of self-worth.

There are two more middling, less healthy states that Harris used to describe people suffering from undue superiority (I’m OK—You’re Not OK) and undue inferiority (I’m Not OK—You’re OK).

It is the fourth state, I’m Not OK—You’re Not OK, that is generally reserved for inveterate grumps and outright sociopaths. Go here for a more lengthy treatment of why this phrase so cogently describes today’s GOP and the media apparatus that supports it. In short, right wing media have decided there is more to gain politically, in the long run, by asserting the rampant political motivation and outright fakery of all media. By doing so, they stake out their own position and self-worth quite clearly: “We’re fake; they must be fake.” Or even, “We’re fake because they’re fake.”

I’m Not OK—You’re Not OK.

But this phenomenon extends well beyond right-wing media circles. Hence the need for the Harris Nightmare Awards, our humble attempt to shame the unshameable.

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I’m Not OK—You’re Not OK: Walker Earns Inaugural Harris Award for Political Nihilism

With this communication, we introduce and inaugurate the random presentation of the Harris Nightmare Awards (HNAs). Named for Dr. Thomas Harris, author of the 1969 pop-psychology treatise I’m OK—You’re OK, The HNAs will henceforth call out the cynical, pre-emptively tit-for-tat nihilism that has informed Republican politics since Newt Gingrich executed his hostile take-over of the party in the mid-1990s. In the Age of Trump, this phenomenon has been raised to high art. Hence the need for suitable commendations.

Most folks will be familiar with the title of Harris’ book, which refers to an optimal state of human relations, one that most of us do indeed strive day to day to achieve. “Treat they neighbor as thyself” predates the good doctor’s coinage, but they go together: For one cannot hope to treat his/her neighbor well if, to begin with, one does not possess a decent, ultimately edifying sense of self-worth.

There are two more middling, less healthy states that Harris used to describe people suffering from undue superiority (I’m OK—You’re Not OK) and undue inferiority (I’m Not OK—You’re OK).

It is the fourth state, I’m Not OK—You’re Not OK, that is generally reserved for inveterate grumps and outright sociopaths. Go here for a more lengthy treatment of why this phrase so cogently describes today’s GOP and the media apparatus that supports it. In short, right wing media have decided there is more to gain politically, in the long run, by asserting the rampant political motivation and outright fakery of all media. By doing so, they stake out their own position and self-worth quite clearly: “We’re fake; they must be fake.” Or even, “We’re fake because they’re fake.”

I’m Not OK—You’re Not OK.

But this phenomenon extends well beyond right-wing media circles. Hence our need for the Harris Nightmare Awards, whose first designee is the inimitable Scott Walker, inert presidential candidate from 2016 and two-term governor of Wisconsin now running for a third term. His opponent this fall will be former state superintendent of schools, a Democrat named Tony Evers. Walker remains unfazed.

“I’m not worried about who runs for governor on the Democrat side,” he told a group of followers in Reedsburg earlier this month. “Because they’re all about the same, they’re all just as liberal as the others. What I worry about are outside groups—names like Barack Obama, and Eric Holder’s group, people like Tom Steyer and George Soros, the billionaires from outside the state who are dropping millions of dollars in the state.”

Behold, our first but oh-so worthy HNA designee (because politicking this nihilistic produces no “winners”).

To call Walker’s opposition to out-of-state political spending “highly ironic” would be to spectacularly understate the matter. Since his first run for governor in 2009, Walker has been the pet project of billionaire libertarian donors Charles and David Koch, whose views on campaign-finance laws, among other things, Walker has dutifully promoted with legislation in Wisconsin — for a price. They don’t live in Wisconsin. Since 2009, the Koch’s very own “outside group”, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), has backed Walker’s three runs (he prevailed in a recall election back in 2012) to the tune of untold millions — untold because in our post-Citizens United era (another AFP pet project), we don’t have any idea how much AFP actually provided.

We do know how much the 2018 campaigns of Walker and Evers have spent so far: Outlays on the Republican side since the primary are about $5.4 million compared with roughly $2.2 million for Democrats. The Republican Governors Association (by definition an “outside group”) has reserved $5.7 million in TV ads for the final two months of the race while the Democratic Governors Association (yet another) has booked another $3.8 million. Americans for Prosperity on Tuesday announced a $1.8 million television and digital ad buy.

In Walker’s warning of “outside groups” unduly influencing Wisconsin elections, we see the longstanding, one-sided dynamic that produced the HNAs — one where right-wingers just assume left-wingers operate as mendaciously as they do, as utter movement soldiers. This attempt at immoral equivalence doesn’t wash, has never washed, but has nevertheless informed right-wing charges of left-wing mendacity in the context of campaign spending, gun-control, media bias, labor law and dozens more realms. It stems from this basic tenet, held on the right: Some right winger in a position to favor or otherwise advance a right-wing cause will surely do so, will do whatever it takes — in large part because he/she reasons, cynically and inaccurately, that counterpart left-leaning types are already operating on the same mendacious level.

I’m Not OK—You’re Not OK.

Until last month, no poll had ever shown Walker trailing a declared Democratic opponent by more than a few points in any of his 3-plus gubernatorial races. NBC/Marist released a poll in July showing Evers ahead of Walker by 13 points. Another poll, from Emerson College, had Evers ahead by 7.

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin! Stand up, Badgers sing!