Skip to content

The Cynical Racism of Nominating Herschel Walker

Herschel Walker

There is something truly odious about the decision by Georgia Republicans to nominate Herschel Walker to replace Raphael Warnock as senator. Walker is manifestly unqualified for the office, as evidenced by his preposterously incoherent statements, his obvious ignorance of the issues, and his frequent lies about his own resume and personal history. But the malign cynicism of his nomination goes much deeper. It simultaneously allows a virtually all-white party to set up a black face as cover for an ongoing effort to suppress black voters and, perhaps more important, express their contempt for black people and for the institution of the Senate itself. I can just hear in my mind the whoops of self-congratulatory laughter among the Georgia Good Ol’ Boys when Trump gave them their brilliant idea.

It’s easy to see why they did it. Walker is good-looking and famous. Football is King in the South and especially in rural and suburban Georgia where there isn’t much else happening and where the reliable Republican votes are, especially among white people. He was a legend on the idolized University of Georgia football team, which he left after the 1982 season (before graduating) to sign with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL, which was bought in 1983 by Donald Trump. He then played for the Cowboys, Vikings, Eagles, and Giants before retiring after the 1997 season. He then lived in Texas until this year, when he moved to Atlanta to start his senate campaign, which was pushed by Donald Trump who had put Walker on his President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition.  Once Walker announced his senate candidacy with Trump’s backing, other prospective candidates just melted away.

Walker offers white voters a kind of self-absolution for racism, while assuring them that it doesn’t exist and that nothing needs to change.  How many times will this sentence (or a less genteel variation) be uttered or thought: “I’m not racist, I voted for that black guy, Herschel Walker”? The growing litany of Walker’s misrepresentations, outright lies, revelations about sexual abuse and unacknowledged children, and bumbling gibberish (to use Leonard Pitts, Jr.’s word) makes no difference. Indeed, it’s kind of a plus because it feeds a pernicious stereotype and provides something to laugh at surreptitiously–a contemporary version of what historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. calls the “visual rhetoric of white supremacy”. It makes the Senate race into a kind of minstrel show for the amusement of white folks. All the better that Walker’s opponent occupies the pulpit that once belonged to Martin Luther King, Jr.! What could be better than to use a black man to oppose the battle against persistent institutional racism in American society that Dr. King fought and continues to be waged by real leaders like Rafael Warnock?

It appears that most black voters understand what’s going on and are not deceived. The New York Times could find almost no black people who will vote for Walker in his home town of Wrightsville, Georgia, which has a football stadium and a street named after him. But in Georgia, where vote margins are often razor-thin, it doesn’t take much to flip an election.

Those cynical Good Ol’ Boys in the Georgia Republican Party may well have the last laugh.

A Unified Theory for the Age of Trump

snyder book

Of everything I’ve read since the rise of Donald Trump, The Road to Unfreedom by Timothy Snyder comes closest to providing a unified theory for understanding the bewildering events of the past decade. Snyder is a professor of history at Yale with a distinguished resume of books and other publications on modern European history. This book was published in 2018, well before the January 6 coup attempt or the Big Lie about the 2020 election or the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, but reading it brings these and other shocking recent events into clear focus–not as isolated “Black Swan” incidents but as part of a much broader pattern with clearly discernible antecedents. The problem was that few were paying attention.

Americans tend to think of what happens here as largely unrelated to political and intellectual movements elsewhere in the world.  We’ve all been inculcated since birth with the idea of American exceptionalism . We were also taught to believe in the inevitability of American progress and the sacred invincibility of our democratic institutions, culminating in the triumphal notion of the “end of history” that circulated in the 1990s. Part of the brilliance of Snyder’s analysis is that it shifts the point of view so that the US is no longer at the center as the main protagonist, but rather more on the periphery as a powerful presence but more acted upon than driving the action.

Instead, the focus of this book is Russia and Europe, particularly Ukraine, and it is organized chronologically covering the years from 2011 through 2016. First, however, is a sort of prologue covering the early years of Putin’s reign starting in 1999 with the fall of Boris Yeltsin–the years when Vladimir Putin really became Putin and consolidated his power over a corrupt oligarchy with himself at the center deciding who gets what. With the collapse of Communism and then the failure of democracy to take root in Russia, Putin needed a new national myth to replace the discredited “inevitable triumph” of Communism. He found it in the writings of a long-dead Russian fascist named Ivan Ilyin who had fled to Switzerland during the Soviet era, only to be resurrected and rehabilitated posthumously by Putin. Ideas, even crazy ones, can be powerful once they gain traction.

Ilyin’s central notion was that Russia was divinely ordained to be the center and leader of the vast Eurasian continent stretching from Kamchatka to Portugal organized around Christian fascism. In his view, Western liberal democracy (and the West in general) was the enemy, and Russia was eternally innocent–justified in doing anything to defend itself and advance its power. Ilyin saw Communism as something imposed on Russia by the decadent West. He insisted that Russia was an “organism of nature and the soul”, not something confined within boundaries. Among other things, he denied that Ukraine had any separate existence outside of the Russian organism. Allowing Russians to vote in free elections, according to Ilyin, was like allowing embryos to choose their species. The “redeemer” at the head of the nation was mystically in tune with the people, so there was no need for any institutions that might restrain his actions.

I readily admit to having been ignorant of all this, but Snyder presents it (persuasively, in my view) as the intellectual underpinning and justification for what came next–that is the 2014 military invasion of Ukraine and the massive cyber attacks on democratic governments in Europe and the US as well as the brutal repression of democratic movements within Russia itself. The importance of these events and how they were accomplished went largely ignored in the US news media.

First Putin had to cripple his domestic opposition. In December 2011 he manipulated an estimated 26% of the vote into a majority for his United Russia party in the Russian parliament. Large popular demonstrations ensued, but in March 2012 with the help of massive cyber election fraud, Putin was elected President. To quell popular protests over the fraud, he needed a phantom enemy. The result was a virulent government-sponsored campaign against gays, using the trope that homosexuality was a weaponized import from the West which had infiltrated and manipulated the anti-Putin opposition.  Snyder observes that “the purpose of the anti-gay campaign was to transform demands for democracy into a nebulous threat…voting=West=sodomy.” This was combined with a blitz on Russian media claiming that those protesting election fraud had been unleashed by Hillary Clinton and were paid by Western governments and institutions. New laws were passed limiting free speech, and a law banning insults to religious sensitivities made the state police the enforcers of the Russian Orthodox church. Putin specifically exalted Ilyin’s loony ideas about a mystical Eurasia, led by Moscow.

In January 2012, Putin published an article in which he declared that Russians and Ukrainians would never be divided and threatened war against those who failed to understand. The new doctrine challenged the notion that Ukraine was a sovereign nation, which legitimized Russian political meddling and covert cyber operations at a time when Ukraine was seeking association with the European Union–something that Putin was determined to prevent. Putin also elevated to prominence on Russian media other writers and personalities who espoused similar ideas about a kind of Eurasian “manifest destiny” under Russian hegemony and fostered a new think tank called the Izborsk Club that generated and promulgated such notions about Western sexual decadence and anti-semitism which became the intellectual hub of a new Russian Orthodox Christian nationalism. About the same time, Putin was doubling the Russian arms budget.

In 2013, Putin stepped up his efforts to cultivate right-wing Western politicians that opposed the EU like Nigel Farage in the UK and Marine Le Pen in France, providing them a media home on the state-owned network RT (formerly Russian Today), which was broadcast widely in Western Europe in English, Spanish, German, and French. It was also around this time that Russians in Putin’s orbit glommed onto Donald Trump (then fully engaged in the “birther” lie) as a future US presidential prospect.

Snyder argues that the grand strategy here has been to weaken the EU and the US by promoting internal discord and division, deploying media and–better yet–Internet resources that Western countries with a tradition of open discourse were ill-equipped to resist and exploiting existing tensions and fissures in Western societies.

But the immediate objective was Ukraine, where the venal and Moscow-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych was being subjected to increasing pressure from Putin, who had visited Kyiv in July 2013 and declared that Russia and Ukraine were “one people”. But Yanukovych (who had hired future Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to advise his 2010 election come-back) was also under intense popular pressure to sign an association agreement with the EU, which most Ukrainians saw as protection against being re-absorbed by Russia. On November 13, 2013 Yanukovych (after speaking to Putin) suddenly announced that he would not sign the EU agreement. That set off massive protests in Kyiv’s Maidan square, which only grew through the winter months in numbers and tenacity after Yanukovych used violence to try to quell them and introduced Russian-style dictatorship laws in January 2014. The standoff in Kyiv produced a change in Russian objectives which a policy paper re-defined in February as control over the industrial complex in the eastern Donbas region and the gas transport system in the entire country. The paper also concluded that Yanukovych was finished politically and had outlived his utility. After a final outburst of killing protestors on the Maidan, Yanukovych fled to Russia.  Just a few days later, on February 24, 2014 Russia seized Crimea. After a sham election, Putin accepted “the wishes of the people of Crimea” and asserted Russian sovereignty over the region. Then in March, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov used the killing of a Ukrainian by a Russian in the Donbas as the pretext to justify Russian intervention in that region, all the while denying that Russian military forces were involved.

If you were a little hazy on how this all transpired, you might be forgiven, because it was only sketchily covered by US news organizations. Governments in the US and Europe were in shocked disbelief that Russia would actually take over territory in another country, even though it had already done so in Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and reduced its own internal Republic of Chechnya to ruins to crush a rebellion there, and Putin had telegraphed his intentions publicly. Analysts and commentators were confused about how to interpret what happened. Maybe Russia was right about Ukraine really wanting being part of a single Russia (though months of huge protests in the Maidan clearly indicated otherwise). Maybe the Maidan really was a “right-wing coup” as Russian media insisted. The fact that many Ukrainians spoke Russian as their primary language was assumed to mean that their national allegiance lay with Moscow as well. The Donbas region under Russian control was constantly referred to in the media as a “separatist” or “break-away” region, implying that the choice to be under Russian control was homegrown and spontaneous. (Snyder deals with all of these questions with nuance and precision). In any case, the Western response was limited to economic sanctions, and pretty soon it all disappeared from the news–in this country, at least.

Snyder contends that “the Russian invasion of southern and then southeastern Ukraine involved the most sophisticated propaganda campaign in the history of warfare.” As Dmitry Kiselev, the head of the Russian state agency for international news, stated: “Information war is now the main type of war”. Internally, Russian media had been thoroughly bludgeoned into submission as independent journalists were beaten, killed, or driven into exile, so what Russian citizens read or heard was largely under state control. In March 2014, Russian television began showing maps of an area in eastern and southern Ukraine labeled Novorossiia (New Russia). What is now so striking about that map, is that “Novorossiia” covers almost exactly the areas that Russian forces succeeded or attempted to seize in the second Russian invasion in 2022!

The problem was how to deal with the outside world. Putin and his surrogates simply denied what had occurred and Western editors dutifully repeated his lies. As time went on and new incidents penetrated the veil of Western indifference, like the shoot-down of a Malaysian airline in June 2014, the Russian propaganda machine would spew out lies and completely fabricated stories to deflect blame onto Ukraine or Western countries. It didn’t matter that the stories were obviously false and often self-contradictory. They were out there in the ether and inevitably some of it stuck as it was repeated and amplified–as Snyder puts it, a campaign of “implausible denial”.

This was accompanied by what Snyder calls the “broadest cyber offensive in history” against Ukraine, shutting down the power grid, railways, and television, among other things. This got little attention in the West until later in 2014 when Russian hackers penetrated the email networks in the White House, State Department, and Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was about this same time that Cambridge Analytica, the Mercer-financed cyberdata firm then headed by Steve Bannon, started testing messages about Putin on the American public. European targets were also hit, including the German Bundestag and Angela Merkel’s CDU party. Snyder notes also that almost immediately after Merkel announced that Germany would accept millions of refugees fleeing the Middle East, Russian bombers began dropping non-precision bombs on Syria, thereby precipitating an even larger surge of refugees into Western Europe as well as a predictable backlash among voters in Germany and elsewhere. Russian propaganda memes were taken up by Europeans and Americans on the far right, as well as some leftist and libertarian figures such as Stephen Cohen and Katrina vanden Heuvel (writing in The Nation) and Ron Paul (father of senator Rand Paul).

Only in the last 60 pages of the book does Snyder tackle the subject of Donald Trump, who was “openly and exuberantly” backed by Russian officials. Trump’s dealings with shady Russians goes back to the 1980s, when they started buying apartments in his buildings, presumably to launder money, But it wasn’t until the 2000s that figures from Putin’s Russia really started to take an interest in him as someone who could be potentially groomed, and that interest seemed to pick up sharply when Trump became the principal peddler of the “birther” lie–something that RT had been energetically spreading around. Much of what follows will be familiar to anyone who paid attention to the botched Mueller Report or the plethora of investigative reporting during the 2016 campaign and the next several years, but there are nuggets here that I (who really did try to pay attention) don’t remember seeing previously.  For example, that “in June 2015 when Trump announced his candidacy, the [Russian] Internet Research Agency expanded to include an American Department. About ninety new employees went to work on-site in St. Petersburg, while others were sent on missions to the United States.  The Internet Research Agency also engaged about a hundred American political activists who did not know who they were working for.” Or that “[Jared] Kushner failed to mention, after his father-in-law’s election victory, that his company Cadre held a weighty investment from a Russian whose companies had channeled a billion dollars to Facebook and 191 million to Twitter on behalf of the Russian state.”

But Snyder’s narrative doesn’t depend so much on any single data point as it does on their cumulative weight. While you may have been aware of most of these elements, simply seeing them laid out in relentless chronological order is stunning and overwhelming. As Michael Morell, former acting head of the CIA wrote in a New York Times op-ed in August 2016, “In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.” Whether it was indeed “unwitting” we may never know with certainty. Snyder notes that “much of what Russia did was to take advantage of what it found. Hyperpartisan stories on Fox News or outbursts on Breitbart gained viewership thanks to retransmission by Russian bots. Russian support helped fringe right-wing sites such as Next News Network gain notoriety and influence. Its videos were viewed about 56 million times in October 2016.”

A lot has happened in the four years since this book was published. But based on the patterns that Snyder has laid out, not much of it should be surprising. You don’t need to believe that Trump is under orders from Putin to see the parallels between what Putin did in Russia and what Trump attempted–and to a considerable degree succeeded in doing–in the US. He came astonishingly close to overturning a election that he decisively lost and has convinced his party to pretend that he actually won. He has gotten them to implement measures that could insure, if he does run again, that he might well win regardless of the vote. As I have written previously, Putin is Trump’s business model.

Perhaps even more damaging has been the destruction of public trust in democratic institutions, starting with faith in the integrity of elections. If elections are all rigged, why bother to vote? If the courts are all politicized, then the constitution is up for grabs. If a former president can get away with a breathtaking list of crimes up to and including sedition, why should anyone respect the law? It is in this sense that Putin’s aggressive nihilism has had its most spectacular success, taking root and metastasizing in America. In Europe, as well, anti-democratic Christian nationalist forces have gained strength. Brexit happened, weakening the EU. In France, Macron narrowly survived a challenge from Putin acolyte Marine Le Pen. In Italy, hard right Giorgia Meloni, leader of a party with post-Fascist roots, is poised to take over the government. Hungary’s Viktor Orban has consolidated his power in a virtual dictatorship and has become a icon for rightist parties around the world, specifically including the US Republican Party.

Not everything has gone in that direction, of course. Ukraine’s heroic and increasingly successful resistance to Russian aggression in 2022 surprised Western skeptics and rallied most of Europe in its defense, while decisively disproving the “one people” myth. If Ukraine wasn’t a coherent nation before, it certainly is now. Joe Biden’s election has at least temporarily halted the slide into the Trumpian abyss. And yet, there is a pervading sense that we are teetering on the edge where things could fall either way.

The one quibble I have with Snyder’s analysis is with his framing duality between what he calls the “politics of inevitability” and “the politics of eternity”. The first is like faith in the inexorable triumph of Communism or, alternatively, of democracy and the free market–the “end of history”, if you will. The second requires a dispirited sense that things won’t ever get better, that everything is an endless cycle of humiliation, death, and rebirth. Both use a kind of quasi-religious iconography, and both produce a kind of blindness to reality. I can see what he’s driving at, but I also think that these concepts are too amorphous and confusing to be very helpful and are really unnecessary.

That one nitpick aside, this is a stunningly brilliant and prescient analysis of our current world, impressive in both its Big Picture insight and in the meticulous detail of his argumentation. At under 300 pages (excluding endnotes), it’s not a difficult read, and it will give you an understanding of how we got to where we now find ourselves. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Is White America Fascist at Its Core?


In America, Negroes do not need to be told what fascism is. We know.” –Langston Hughes

Americans usually think of fascism as something that happened somewhere else–in Europe, or Latin America, not in the United States. But as the country lurches toward the all-too-possible prospect of being under the control of an increasingly fascist Republican Party, it’s time to re-think that.  Fascism is actually as American as apple pie–many scholars argue that it originated in the American South–and it has ebbed and flowed throughout our national history. What’s different now is that it is starting to affect nice white people, who in the past could look the other way and either ignore it or call it something else.

In the wake of the January 6 insurrection and coup attempt, which Republicans now dismiss as inconsequential or even normal, a group of eminent historians met with President Biden last week to warn that American democracy is seriously endangered. Republicans and the radical right ecosystem unanimously erupted in outrage that the FBI had carried out a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago for classified documents whose possession by Trump was clearly illegal. This week, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks published a thumb-sucking piece arguing that prosecuting Donald Trump for his crimes could make it more likely that he will be re-elected. Nothing that Trump did or does seems to shake his hold on white Americans, a large majority of whom remain his ardent supporters. In the 2020 election, after being impeached, Trump received the votes of an estimated 61% of white men and 55% of white women. Immediately after the January 6 insurrection, 147 members of Congress–all Republican and all but 2 of them white–voted against certifying the election results. For most of White America, Donald Trump is its champion.

Its high time to recognize this for what it is: Fascism, which is not an ideology, but rather a style of politics based on racism, hyped grievances, and the threat or actuality of violence.

A brilliant essay by Sarah Churchwell published in 2020 in the New York Review of Books explores the origins of American fascism. Since it’s behind a paywall (albeit a very inexpensive one), I’ll try to summarize it here.

Churchwell cites academic experts on fascism, who note that “fascism can never seem alien to its followers; its claims to speak for ‘the people’ and to restore national greatness mean that each version of fascism must have its own local identity….Historically, fascist movements were also marked by opportunism, a willingness to say almost anything to get into power, rendering definitions even murkier.” This is why a rigorous definition of fascism is such a slippery problem. But there are features common to all such movements, which include: “nostalgia for a purer, mythic, often rural past; cults of tradition and cultural regeneration; paramilitary groups; the delegitimizing of political opponents and demonization of critics; the universalizing of some groups as authentically national, while dehumanizing all other groups; hostility to intellectualism and attacks on a free press; anti-modernism; fetishized patriarchal masculinity; and a distressed sense of victimhood and collective grievance. Fascist mythologies often incorporate a notion of cleansing, an exclusionary defense against racial or cultural contamination, and related eugenicist preferences for certain “bloodlines” over others.” Is this starting to sound more familiar now?

At the time of Hitler’s rise to power, African-American newspapers recognized the similarities between Nazism and Jim Crow and also drew causal connections. The Pittsburgh Courier wrote in 1933 that “German universities under the new regime of the Third Reich were explaining that they drew their ideas from ‘the American pathfinders Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard,’ and that “’racial insanities’ in America provided Nazi Germany with ‘a model for oppressing and persecuting its own minorities.’ The African-American New York Age similarly wondered if Hitler had studied “under the tutelage” of Klan leaders, perhaps as “a subordinate Kleagle or something of the sort.” Historians have revealed how Hitler used American race laws as models for the Nuremberg Laws. W. E. B. DuBois also made the connection in his 1935 Black Reconstruction in America, and more than a generation later, Amiri Baraka wrote in 1991 that the end of Reconstruction “heaved Afro America into fascism. There is no other term for it. The overthrow of democratically elected governments and the rule by direct terror, by the most reactionary sector of finance capital… Carried out with murder, intimidation and robbery, by the first storm troopers, again the Hitlerian prototype, the Ku Klux Klan, directly financed by northern capital.” It took a while for white historians to catch up. It wasn’t until 2004 that Robert O. Paxton in his book The Anatomy of Fascism observed that the Ku Klux Klan can be viewed as the world’s first fascist movement. At its height in the mid-1920s the Klan had about 5 million members.

In the 1930s, there were other American groups modeled after Mussolini’s Black Shirts and Hitler’s Brown Shirts whose purpose was to threaten and intimidate blacks, Jews, and Catholics. Then there was the Canadian-born self-proclaimed “fascist” Catholic priest, Father Charles Conklin, whose radio broadcasts from Detroit reached an audience of 30 million Americans with their anti-Semitic propaganda and defended Kristallnacht as just retribution for Jewish “crimes”. And Louisiana governor Huey Long who “imposed local martial law, censored the newspapers, forbade public assemblies, packed the courts and legislatures with his cronies, and installed his twenty-four-year-old lover as secretary of state.” Roosevelt feared he would become a Hitler-type candidate for president, but he was killed during an assassination attack in 1935. More than 200,000 people attended his funeral. Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here about a fascist American president, was modeled on Long, who once told Lewis’s wife that “American Fascism would never emerge as a Fascist but as a 100 percent American movement; it would not duplicate the German method of coming to power but would only have to get the right President and Cabinet.” FDR’s vice president Henry Wallace wrote in 1944 that “American fascism will not be really dangerous, until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information, and those who stand for the K.K.K. type of demagoguery.” Which is pretty much what we have now.

Churchwell notes some of the obvious examples of fascist markers during the Trump presidency, but adds that “American fascist energies today are different from 1930s European fascism, but that doesn’t mean they’re not fascist, it means they’re not European and it’s not the 1930s. They remain organized around classic fascist tropes of nostalgic regeneration, fantasies of racial purity, celebration of an authentic folk and nullification of others, scapegoating groups for economic instability or inequality, rejecting the legitimacy of political opponents, the demonization of critics, attacks on a free press, and claims that the will of the people justifies violent imposition of military force.” Fascism is propelled more by feelings than thought, and it needs to mobilize passions, which partly explains why Trump’s support base never wavers. She concludes: “Trump is neither aberrant nor original. Nativist reactionary populism is nothing new in America, it just never made it to the White House before. In the end, it matters very little whether Trump is a fascist in his heart if he’s fascist in his actions.”

In the two years since Churchwell’s essay was published, we have seen The Big Lie metastasize and become the sacred text of the Republican Party, which has closed ranks around Trump and dares not cross him in any meaningful way for fear of retribution from the faithful base. Republicans in states they control have gerrymandered themselves into permanent supermajorities to the point that they can’t lose elections. Republican-controlled state legislatures are passing laws that potentially would allow them to overturn elections, including presidential elections, and have nominated candidates for secretaries of state (who control the election machinery) who endorse the Big Lie. Republican-controlled states are passing laws imposing criminal penalties for teachers who deviate from the sanitized and white-centric approved curriculums for history, civics, and even math. Control measures about concealed or open carry of firearms have been eliminated in many Republican-controlled states, as radical right militias proliferate and grow and the stockpile of military-grade weapons in private hands has reached frightening levels. A decades-long campaign to dominate the court system by installing rightist judges at the state and national level has now reached fruition with complete control of the Supreme Court. The list of these fascist-style measures already in force or in the works goes on and on.

Trump is the essential symbol and catalyst for the movement, but he’s no longer necessary to be its actual leader. He works just as well as a virtual deity in the metaverse and/or as a martyr, and there are plenty of mini-me’s like DeSantis or Abbott or Hawley or Cruz vying to seize the reins and take it to a new level.

The reversal of Roe v. Wade may have finally startled some white people into a realization of what is actually happening. Suddenly, it’s not just blacks, or gays, or Muslims, or undocumented immigrants who are being targeted. Before, nice white people could tut-tut about what a shame it was that “those people” were being mistreated, but now it’s hitting us! Whether it’s already too late to stop being sucked into the black hole of fascism is now the existential question.

This morning on the CBS show Sunday Morning, there was a segment in which Ted Koppel talked to passengers on a tourist bus in Mount Airy, North Carolina–which lives off its fame as the real-life setting for the fictional Mayberry of the nostalgic Andy Griffith Show of the 1960s. The passengers were all white, mostly in their 40s through 70s. Koppel asked them if they believed Biden had won the 2020 election legitimately. Only two raised their hands. The rest had clearly bought into the Big Lie and weren’t at all shy about saying so. I’m sure all the people on that bus consider themselves good, decent folks and would be mightily offended at being called fascists. But if fascism takes power in America, they will be the reason why.

Chronicle of the Death of Roe Foretold


Reading the entire 213 pages of the Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Center (the case that killed abortion rights by reversing the 1973 Roe v Wade) may seem like masochism for a non-lawyer like me, but for a case as momentous as this one, it seemed worth the effort. If nothing else, it shows clearly that on truly critical cases like this it’s not really about the law, but rather about political philosophy and power. The justices know where they’re going to come down, their opinions are merely the window-dressing–bits of argument and citations of precedents carefully selected to buttress the decision they’re already made. When you read the text, you realize that constitutional law is definitely not rocket science. You can understand it perfectly well. This is a long post, but stick with me. It’s important.

At least in this case, the opinions also reveal a lot about the inner dynamics of the Court and how each justice wants to present him- or herself to the American public, or at least that segment of it that cares about such things. More revealing than the majority opinion or even the dissents, are the concurrences where justices add further thoughts about the matter in question. This case has all of that in spades.

Boiling it all down isn’t easy, but here goes:

The Majority.  The ruling opinion written by Samuel Alito closely follows the draft that was leaked weeks ago, and is an extreme example of the “originalist” judicial philosophy championed by the late Justice Anton Scalia. This line of argument maintains that legal opinions must adhere to the thinking of the men (and they are almost always men) who wrote the Constitution and its amendments at the time they were written. It rejects the idea that our understanding or interpretations of the meaning of such documents can evolve over time to accommodate changing circumstances and knowledge. This school of thought is analogous to religious fundamentalism, which it frequently overlaps, and ascribes a virtually divine origin to the Constitution. Thus, unless something isn’t present in the actual language of the Constitution, it probably isn’t constitutional. 

Alito and his cohort baldly assert that Roe was “egregiously wrong” from the outset (even though five of the justices on the Court who voted for it in 1973 were Republican appointees) and that “Roe was on a collision course with the Constitution from the day it was decided.” The argument is essentially that abortion isn’t in the constitution and has been illegal throughout most of American history, that is, until Roe. Therefore it cannot be a right protected by the Constitution because it is not mentioned in that document or “deeply rooted” in tradition. There are pages of citations regarding the illegality of abortion in 1868, when the 14th Amendment was passed. This is important, he argues, because Roe held that  that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides a fundamental “right to privacy”, which protects a pregnant woman’s right to an abortion. Alito insists that this is nonsense because the 14th Amendment doesn’t mention any “right to privacy” and anyway abortion was illegal in 1868. Therefore, the supposed right to have an abortion is simply made up and has no constitutional basis. 

He follows this with an extended discussion of the question of fetal viability, which Roe used to determine at what stage of pregnancy an abortion would be legally permissible. Basically, Roe divided a pregnancy into three trimesters. During the first trimester (weeks 1 -12), abortion was unrestricted by government intervention. During the second trimester, the state could regulate abortion regulate abortion if the regulations were reasonably related to the health of the pregnant woman. During the third trimester, the state could prohibit abortions unless an abortion was necessary to save the life or health of the woman. Thus the key point was that at which a fetus became “viable” or capable of surviving outside the womb. That question had been revised somewhat in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v Casey, in which the Supreme Court created a general standard based on fetal viability (understood to be around 28th week of pregnancy but not rigidly defined) while upholding the constitutionality of Roe. [Note: Dobbs also overturns Casey.] Alito attacks the very idea of such an “arbitrary line”, arguing that viability has changed with medical advances, and questions whether a State can even make such a judgment. This suggests that a state could set the dividing line at virtually any point in a pregnancy or not have one at all.

Alito notes that viability also depends on the quality of available medical facilities and then asks rhetorically, “On what ground could the constitutional status of a fetus depend on the pregnant woman’s location?” [Ironically, this is precisely the situation that the elimination of Roe has produced, i.e., without a national standard, states can and will apply different standards for when an abortion can be obtained or prohibit abortion at any stage.]

Next, Alito attacks the concept of “undue burden” which obstacles imposed by states would place on a woman seeking an abortion, claiming this is too ambiguous and therefore all but impossible to adjudicate.

Then he devotes a few paragraphs to the practical effects of overturning Roe (“reliance interests”), but airily concludes that those are impossible to determine “in any practical sense” and thus the whole question of abortion should be left to state legislatures. And besides, women have the right to vote and “are not without political or electoral power”.

Then, on page 74, Alito dismisses any concerns that this case could also impact other rights based on the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment–like contraception, gay sex, or gay marriage. Abortion is different, he declares, because it terminates a life or potential life, and thus is “inherently different from marital intimacy,” “marriage,” or “procreation”. “And to ensure that our decision is not misunderstood or mischaracterized, we emphasize that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.” Trust us. 

Finally, Alito gets around to the sticky question of “stare decisis“, the legal doctrine that established laws should remain in effect absent some compelling reason to get rid of them. He notes that neither Roe nor Casey ended controversy over abortion. He doesn’t identify any cogent reason to overturn Roe other than the alleged deficiencies in its constitutional basis and that ” 26 States expressly ask us to overrule Roe and Casey and to return the issue of abortion to the people and their elected representatives.” After all, he asks piously, what if Plessy v Ferguson hadn’t been overturned by Brown v Board of Education? “We can only do our job, which is to interpret the law, apply longstanding principles of stare decisis, and decide this case accordingly. We therefore hold that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion. Roe and Casey must be overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives.”

But wait, there’s more. Alito goes back yet again to the impact on Griswold, Eisenstadt, Lawrence, and Obergefell, i.e., those cases based on the Due Process Clause dealing with contraception, sex, and same-sex marriage. We already explained how those are different, he says, “and it is hard to see how we could be clearer.” But, he warns that can’t be turned around, because “a right to abortion cannot be justified by a purported analogy to the rights recognized in those other cases or by ‘appeals to a broader right to autonomy’.” Obviously, a sore point here (more on this below). 

Finally, he turns to the concurrences by the other justices, or more precisely one of the concurrences, that of Chief Justice Roberts. I’ll discuss that below, but here I just want to comment on the tone of Alito’s dismissal of Roberts’ argument, which is dripping with contempt. Alito writes, “The concurrence’s most fundamental defect is its failure to offer any principled basis for its approach” and “would do exactly what
it criticizes Roe for doing: pulling ‘out of thin air’ a test that ‘[n]o party or amicus asked the Court to adopt’.” He ends: “In sum, the concurrence’s quest for a middle way would only put off the day when we would be forced to confront the question we now decide. The turmoil wrought by Roe and Casey would be prolonged. It is far better—for this Court and the country—to face up to the real issue without further delay.” In other words, the Court will end the controversy over abortion by making it a political issue in every state of the Union. The absurdity of this argument is stunning. 

Roberts may still be Chief Justice, but the radicals clearly have no respect for him. It’s not the Roberts Court any more. 

Clarence Thomas. The concurrence written by Thomas goes straight for the jugular. Yes, he writes, the Due Process Clause does not secure the right to abortion, because it does not secure any substantive right. The Dobbs decision doesn’t affect decisions like Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell, but that’s only because “no party has asked us to decide whether our entire Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence must be preserved or revised”. He goes on: “For that reason, in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is “demonstrably erroneous,” …, we have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents.” He continues: “After overruling [emphasis added] these demonstrably erroneous decisions, the question would remain whether other constitutional provisions guarantee the myriad rights that our substantive due process cases have generated. For example, we could consider whether any of the rights announced in this Court’s substantive due process cases are “privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

This is truly chilling. Thomas is saying that all of those cases should be overruled–he’s already decided that–and here he is openly soliciting cases that deal with those decisions so that can happen. There are a number of states that will be happy to oblige by generating cases to send forward to SCOTUS.

So, according to Thomas, those assurances in Alito’s opinion are nonsense and mean nothing. In previous concurrences and dissents, Thomas has openly stated his hostility to gay rights and same-sex marriage in particular. Now he seems to think he has a court that will let him take those away. He may well be right.

Kavanaugh. Brett Kavanaugh’s rather odd concurrence takes the Pontius Pilate approach, essentially washing his hands of the issue. According to him, the Constitution is completely neutral on the question of abortion, neither for nor against.  Therefore it’s up to “the people and their elected representatives to resolve through the democratic process in the States or Congress—like the numerous other difficult questions of American social and economic policy that the Constitution does not address.” Roe was wrong because it took a side in favor of abortion, but he emphasizes that “the Court’s decision today does not outlaw abortion throughout the United States.” It’s up to Congress or the states to decide. 

He then goes into the stare decisis issue. “This Court establishes that a constitutional precedent may be overruled only when (i) the prior decision is not just wrong, but is egregiously wrong, (ii) the prior decision has caused significant negative jurisprudential or real-world consequences, and (iii) overruling the prior decision would not unduly upset legitimate reliance interests.” Based on that, he agrees that Roe should be overruled, but supplies nothing regarding meeting the second or third criteria–presumably he just accepts the “egregious” part. Then there’s a dutiful reference to the wrongness of Plessy v Ferguson, etc, etc...

On the Due Process issue, Kavanaugh simply repeats what Alito said: “I emphasize what the Court today states: Overruling Roe does not mean the overruling of those precedents, and does not threaten or cast doubt on those precedents.” Perhaps the justice doth protest too much. 

So what’s the point of Kavanaugh’s concurrence? To me, it looks like image repair. The message is: See, we’re not vindictive meanies! It’s simply not up to us, so go sort it out for yourselves. And don’t worry, we’re not going after the gays. Yet.

Roberts. The concurrence by Chief Justice Roberts is more interesting, but ultimately looks like wanting to have it both ways or, better yet, put off making any comprehensive ruling. Its point of departure is essentially a procedural question: Did the Court go way beyond what the case initially asked it to do?

Roberts tries to find some middle course that straddles the gap between the anti-abortion zealots and abortion rights defenders. “The Court’s opinion is thoughtful and thorough, but those virtues cannot compensate for the fact that its dramatic and consequential ruling is unnecessary to decide the case before us.” 

Ultimately, however, he goes along with the Alito majority opinion. Robert’s says the “viability test” should be discarded entirely as unworkable, but doesn’t say what should replace it. He argues that the Court didn’t have to completely eliminate the right to abortion afforded by Roe. Interestingly, he notes that Mississippi initially only asked the Court to “clarify whether abortion prohibitions before viability are always unconstitutional” and added that “the State made a number of strong arguments that the answer is no” which Roberts found “persuasive”. It was only after the Court agreec to review that case, that Mississippi “changed course” and in its principal brief argued for overturning Roe and Casey. Roberts then implicitly rebukes the Court for “rewarding that gambit” by accepting the revised basis for review when it didn’t have to. Instead, it should have adhered to the principle of “judicial restraint” rather than “overruling Roe all the way down to the studs: recognize that the viability line must be discarded, as the majority rightly does, and leave for another day whether to reject any right to an abortion at all.” 

He goes on that the Court could have overruled a “subsidiary rule” (about viability) and allow “abortions up through fifteen weeks, providing an adequate opportunity to exercise the right Roe protects. By the time a pregnant woman has reached that point, her pregnancy is well into the second trimester. Pregnancy tests are now inexpensive and accurate, and a woman ordinarily discovers she is pregnant by six weeks of gestation.” 

Roberts states that “The Court’s decision to overrule Roe and Casey is a serious jolt to the legal system—regardless of how you view those cases. A narrower decision rejecting the misguided viability line would be markedly less unsettling, and nothing more is needed to decide this case.” He then continues in that vein at some length.

But regardless of all that, Roberts concurs in the ruling anyway.

So what are we to make of this? The one thing that seems obvious is that the right-wing majority has the bit in its teeth and is no longer accepting guidance from Roberts, at least on core issues important to the Republican base. The radicals aren’t interested in compromise. Roberts now looks increasingly like an impotent figurehead, trying desperately to bridge an unbridgeable gap. But in the end, he goes along with the Jacobins. 

The Dissent by Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. To read the vitriolic language in the Alito opinion, one might think that the defenders of Roe and Casey were helpless to produce any coherent rationale for either. However, the robust 65-page dissent proves otherwise. I would urge everyone to read it for yourself. 

Reading the majority opinion, I was struck by the utter lack of any consideration of the impact of this decision In Real Life–the “reliance interests” so cavalierly dismissed by Alito. (Indeed, this is a common aspect of virtually all the major decisions by the conservative majority in recent decades from Citizens United to the recent decision banning restrictions on carrying guns in public.) Their decisions reject such concerns as either unknowable or inconsequential, when in fact they are neither. The discussion is framed in terms of abstract principles and citations of precedents and other “authorities”, not the enormous and very predictable Real World implications. The logical conclusion is that their willful ignorance of such consequences means that the drafters of these rulings actually welcome the IRL consequences of their decisions. Indeed, those consequences are usually precisely what the Republican party wants.

The dissent in this case addresses at length the foreseeable damage and chaos that the decision will cause and its impact on currently and potentially pregnant women across the country. “Above all others, women lacking financial resources will suffer from today’s decision. In any event, interstate restrictions will also soon be in the offing. After this decision, some States may block women from traveling out of State to obtain abortions, or even from receiving abortion medications from out of State. Some may criminalize efforts, including the provision of information or funding, to help women gain access to other States’ abortion services.” Of course, this is already happening. It continues: “Most threatening of all, no language in today’s decision stops the Federal Government from prohibiting abortions nationwide, once again from the moment of conception and without exceptions for rape or incest. If that happens, “the
views of [an individual State’s] citizens” will not matter…Whatever the exact scope of the coming laws, one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens.”

The dissent then addresses the exact threat raised by Thomas’ concurrence: “And no one should be confident that this majority is done with its work. The right Roe and Casey recognized does not stand alone. To the contrary, the Court has linked it for decades to other settled freedoms involving bodily integrity, familial relationships, and procreation. Most obviously, the right to terminate a pregnancy arose straight out of the right to purchase and use contraception… In turn, those rights led, more recently, to rights of same-sex intimacy and marriage…They are all part of the same constitutional fabric, protecting autonomous decision-making over the most personal of life decisions.” In other words, the remaining liberals on the Court are agreeing with Thomas that cases like Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell are based on the same legal foundations as Roe. If Roe is invalid, why wouldn’t the others be threatened as well? As for the assurance that it’s only Roe that is affected, the dissent later points out the fragility of that claim, calling it “Scout’s honor”. 

The dissent points out that “The lone rationale for what the majority does today is that the right to elect an abortion is not ‘deeply rooted in history’…[but] The same could be said…of most of the rights the majority claims it is not tampering with…So one of two things must be true. Either the majority does not really believe in its own reasoning. Or if it does, all rights that have no history stretching back to the mid-19th century are insecure. Either the mass of the majority’s opinion is hypocrisy, or additional constitutional rights are under threat. It is one or the other.” 

It then addresses stare decisis: “The legal framework Roe and Casey developed to balance the competing interests in this sphere has proved workable in courts across the country. No recent developments, in either law or fact, have eroded or cast doubt on those precedents. Nothing, in short, has changed. Indeed, the Court in Casey already found all of that to be true. Casey is a precedent about precedent. It reviewed the same arguments made here in support of overruling Roe, and it found that doing so was not warranted. The Court reverses course today for one reason and one reason only: because the composition of this Court has changed.” The dissent returns to this point later, after a long and detailed discussion of the Constitutional basis of Roe and other rights deriving from the Due Process Clause, observing: “The majority has overruled Roe and Casey for one and only one reason: because it has always despised them, and now it has the votes to discard them. The majority thereby substitutes a rule by judges for the rule of law.”

The rest of the dissent is a point-by-point rebuttal to the majority’s arguments, including casting ridicule on Kavanaugh’s blithe declaration that the Court is neutral on abortion. I won’t go into more detail here, but I find the dissenters’ argument compelling.

Finally, the dissent returns to the impact of the ruling IRL, which is indeed the crux of the matter. “The majority claims that the reliance interests women have in Roe and Casey are too ‘intangible’ for the Court to consider, even if it were inclined to do so…This is to ignore as judges what we know as men and women. The interests women have in Roe and Casey are perfectly, viscerally concrete. Countless women will now make different decisions about careers, education, relationships, and whether to try to become pregnant than they would have when Roe served as a backstop. Other women will carry pregnancies to term, with all the costs and risk of harm that involves, when they would previously have chosen to obtain
an abortion. For millions of women, Roe and Casey have been critical in giving them control of their bodies and their lives. Closing our eyes to the suffering today’s decision will impose will not make that suffering disappear. The majority cannot escape its obligation to ‘count[] the cost[s]’ of its decision by invoking the ‘conflicting arguments’ of ‘contending sides’…The majority’s refusal even to consider the life-altering consequences of reversing Roe and Casey is a stunning indictment of its decision.” There’s a fundamental principle at stake here as well: “Rescinding an individual right in its entirety and conferring it on the State, an action the Court takes today for the first time in history, affects all who have relied on our constitutional system of government and its structure of individual liberties protected from state oversight.”

Finally, the dissent addresses the impact of this decision on the Court itself and respect for the legal system in general: “We fear that today’s decision, departing from stare decisis for no legitimate reason, is its own loaded weapon. Weakening stare decisis threatens to upend bedrock legal doctrines, far beyond any single decision. Weakening stare decisis creates profound legal instability. And as Casey recognized, weakening stare decisis in a hotly contested case like this one calls into question this Court’s commitment to legal principle. It makes the Court appear not restrained but aggressive, not modest but grasping. In all those ways, today’s decision takes aim, we fear, at the rule of law.” Take a second and consider the gravity of that statement.

The dissent ends with a bitter indictment of the majority who endorsed this decision: “Now a new and bare majority of this Court—acting at practically the first moment possible—overrules Roe and Casey. It converts a series of dissenting opinions expressing antipathy toward Roe and Casey into a decision greenlighting even total abortion bans…It eliminates a 50-year-old constitutional right that safeguards women’s freedom and equal station. It breaches a core rule-of-law principle, designed to promote constancy in the law. In doing all of that, it places in jeopardy other rights, from contraception to same-sex intimacy and marriage. And finally, it undermines the Court’s legitimacy.”

It concludes: “In overruling Roe and Casey, this Court betrays its guiding principles. With sorrow—for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection—we dissent.”

One more thing–The elephant in the room. There is a fundamental dishonesty in this entire discussion, and that involves the total absence of any acknowledgement of the centrality of religion in this entire Court decision. The opposition to abortion is mostly based on religious belief–specifically Roman Catholic dogma and that of certain fundamentalist Christian sects. The five Justices–Alito, Kavanaugh, Barrett, Gorsuch, and Thomas–who are the driving force behind the majority decision constitute a group that should rightfully be called the Court’s Religious Majority. All of them are Catholics, except Gorsuch (who was raised Catholic and whose mother Ann Gorsuch, who headed the EPA under Reagan, was Catholic and a staunch foe of abortion).  They consistently write and endorse decisions that have thoroughly eroded the separation of Church (Christian, specifically) and State. This decision is no different. It amounts to the imposition of a specific religious belief on the entirety of American society. 

Does The Country Care about the January 6 Hearings?

Jan 6 hearing

Will the January 6 hearings make any difference? I hope they will, but I am very doubtful. Last night’s opening provided compelling detail–some of it new–but what we saw was not all that different from what was presented during Trump’s second impeachment a year and a half ago, and we all know what happened then. Nothing.

The truth has been in full view for any who have eyes to see. On various occasions during the 2016 election campaign and during his presidency, Trump was asked repeatedly whether he would accept losing an election. His response was always evasive, which clearly signaled that the true answer was “No”.

When it actually happened, he did everything possible to overturn the election and stay in power illegally. A few Republican “leaders” like Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy initially expressed shock and dismay calling Trump’s actions “unacceptable”. Simultaneously, however, eight Republican senators and 139 Republican representatives voted against certifying Biden’s election on January 6—AFTER THE INSURRECTION. When it counted–at the impeachment trial–every single Republican senator except Mitt Romney voted against impeachment, thus signifying that what had happened was, in fact, acceptable. And, indeed, something to be defended.

Since then, the Great Lie about the “stolen election” has had a year and a half to metastasize and become a battle cry in MAGA land. Cults are impervious to reason and facts. Faith doesn’t demand proof; the faithful just believe. The Republican Party’s position is absolutely clear. Whose mind is going to be changed now?

I vividly remember watching the Watergate hearings in the summer of 1973. It was a different country then. Americans might have been divided over Vietnam, but they still found Nixon’s actions shocking, even though what he did was utterly trivial compared to staging a coup in order to remain in power. The country paid attention, in part because there were only three networks and all of them broadcast the hearings live.

I don’t see that happening now. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the mobilization against the fascist direction that the Republican party is trying to take us? The mood of the country seems to me to be one of sullen, cowed resignation. There are too many distractions available. People don’t want to be bothered. Everyone expects the Democrats to lose the midterms. Biden is unpopular and has become a late-night punching bag. Gas costs too much! Nobody cares that every day isn’t a new scandal like it was when Trump was in the White House. Maybe we kind of miss it. At least it was entertaining, and entertainment is what we all want. Does anyone think Trump wouldn’t win in 2024? If not Trump, then there are plenty of Trump Mini-Me clones waiting in the wings.

We don’t believe that government can work for the people anymore, because it doesn’t. We can’t even raise the legal age to buy AR-15s to 21 following two horrific massacres—that would be too “radical”. The campaign waged by Republicans (with some Democrats’ assistance) for the last 50 years to discredit government has succeeded. The MAGA crowd has been convinced that the last election was rigged, and Republican-dominated legislatures across the country have been working diligently to insure that the next one WILL be rigged—in their favor. Then elections won’t even matter anymore.

I think we are living in an American version of the Weimar Republic, when our democratic institutions are perilously fragile and vulnerable and everyone is too distracted or exhausted or just trying to get by on crap wages to give a shit. We are getting dangerously close to the black hole of fascism and may already have passed the point of no return. I really hope I’m wrong.

Winter is Coming

This is a sick, sick country. The mass murder in Buffalo brings together two of the most virulent diseases infecting America: white supremacy and gun worship.  I no longer have any hope that I will see anything constructive done about gun violence in my lifetime. Meanwhile, the Republican Party has made white supremacy the bedrock of its appeal to voters, and too many white people seem to be buying it. I think the two are tightly intertwined. Republicans traffic in racial fear, and fear fuels the proliferation of firearms.

There has been plenty of commentary about how the spread of propaganda on right-wing media about “white replacement” (and the linked hysteria about “critical race theory”) have fed into the fever dreams of infantile psychos like Dylann Roof, Kyle Rittenhouse, and now Peyton Gendron, who see themselves as heroes of White America–and who are indeed accepted as such within the MAGA crowd. There really isn’t any doubt that this is true. This pernicious nonsense is Republican dogma now–covertly for some, overtly for a growing number of others.

What I don’t see is any serious effort to do anything about guns. Democrats have basically given up on that. In state after state, the trend is to loosen, not tighten, access to firearms with new open- and concealed-carry laws that have increased the likelihood that the dude at the next table in a restaurant or at the next pump in a gas station is packing heat. Nothing makes any difference–not Sandy Hook, not Pulse nightclub, not Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, not Sutherland Springs, not Columbine, not the El Paso Walmart, not Las Vegas, and now not Buffalo. We are no longer surprised or even much shocked by mass shootings; indeed we hardly notice most of them. So far just this year, there have been almost two hundred shootings in the US involving at least four victims shot or killed, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

The US is an outlier in this regard among advanced countries. Racism exists to a greater or lesser degree everywhere, but only in the US do we see it manifested in lethal gun violence at anywhere close to the scale we experience in this country. Why? Because there are way more guns.

TV crime procedural dramas always talk about means, motive, and opportunity. Well, opportunity for an armed person to shoot people in a public place is everywhere and anywhere. Maybe we could do something about motive if the Republican Party and its enablers changed their tune, but we know they’re not going to as long as it’s working for them, which it is. We certainly could do something about means if there were enough political will to reduce the number of guns in private hands and eliminate access to firearms of mass destruction. But there is no such will, and it’s not going to happen. There will be other Buffalos, just like there have been other Sandy Hooks. It’s just maddening and infuriating, but we all know nothing is going to change because our government simply doesn’t work.

This country is in a sour, mean mood, for all sorts of different reasons. We are in our own Weimar Republic, and I fear that what comes next won’t be pretty.

On Making Juneteenth a National Holiday

Lincoln Park 1

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy that June 19, or Juneteenth, has been made a federal holiday to commemorate the emancipation of America’s slaves. 

What bothers me is the narrative that is being constructed around the Juneteenth holiday. Why is it that Republican lawmakers in Congress, who universally support their party’s unceasing and increasingly successful efforts to suppress the votes of Black and other minority Americans and who have made Critical Race Theory a conservative bogeyman to scare white people, should so eagerly embrace making Juneteenth a holiday? Could there possibly be another agenda here?

Of course there is. If we now have not one but TWO holidays that celebrate Black America, that means that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in this country, doesn’t it? It’s all fixed, right? Nothing to see here, folks, so let’s just move on. Look, we gave you another day off! America isn’t a racist country, and this proves it. After all, that was the rationale for the Supreme Court’s 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act:  We don’t have a problem anymore, because all of that was in the past–now it’s all fine. Hey, Walmart is selling the t-shirt!

The critic Hilton Als, in a 1999 essay on the great comedic and dramatic talent Richard Pryor, observed: “People are quick to make monuments of anything they live long enough to control.” Kaitlyn Greenidge cited that aperçu in a New York Times op-ed, saying “I can’t help but think this is the impetus behind the rush to canonize Juneteenth as a national holiday. I worry the lessons of Juneteenth will become lost because we have seen the promising visions of Black freedom-dreaming co-opted before.” Just look at how Martin Luther King, Jr. and even Malcolm X are now piously–and very selectively–cited by politicians who would have regarded them with the same fear and loathing that most of white America did when they were alive and active.

Back in the segregated Texas of my childhood, Juneteenth was the one day out of the year when black folks could go to the public parks and zoos (not swimming pools, however), and of course, white people stayed strictly away. It’s facts like these that are in danger of being whitewashed away in the Disneyfied version now being promulgated. 

Ironically, this is exactly why Critical Race Theory and initiatives like The 1619 Project are needed even more if we as a nation are ever to understand and come to terms with this country’s ugly racial history. Instead, what do we get? A concerted Republican effort to suppress study and teaching of America’s real racist culture as being “divisive” and “unpatriotic”. Teaching of Critical Race Theory has been banned from being taught in public schools in Texas, Florida, and at least 3 other Republican-governed states, and several other states have similar bans in the works. Texas Senator Ted Cruz proclaimed that “Critical race theory is bigoted, it is a lie, and it is every bit as racist as the klansmen in white sheets.” If Republicans can suppress the black vote, why not continue to suppress black history? After all, the holiday itself commemorates the suppression for two years of the news that slaves in Texas had been emancipated.

So yes, let’s make Juneteenth a holiday. But we can’t use another holiday to pretend that we’ve fixed the problem of structural racial injustice in our society. 



Is Cryptocurrency the New Cocaine?


On June 4, an overflow crowd jammed the Mana Convention Center in Miami’s trendy Wynwood district to attend Bitcoin2021, sponsored by the leading cryptocurrency and headlined by such Silicon Valley luminaries as Jack Dorsey, the founder and CEO of Twitter, there to make the case that the blockchain technology is world’s best tool for achieving financial freedom and fighting government censorship. “We don’t need the financial institutions that we have today,” Dorsey said. “We have one that is thriving … that is owned by the community.” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez opened the conference, declaring his goal was to make Miami the “Bitcoin, blockchain and mining capital of the world.” 

The campaign seems to be working. Only the day before, Suarez announced that, whose digital platform lets users buy, sell, and trade Bitcoin and other forms of digital payment, would be moving its headquarters from New York to Miami. Earlier in the week, Atlanta-based Borderless Capital announced the creation of the Borderless.Miami fund, which will use $25 million to “seed startups using the Algorand blockchain and Algo coin. It is also creating an Algorand Miami Accelerator in collaboration with Circle, another heavyweight in the crypto world.” Then on Bitcoin2021’s opening day, eToro, the world’s second-largest exchange by number of weekly visitors, announced it is seeking office space in Miami for a 50-person U.S. hub that will share duties with its current U.S. location in Hoboken, New Jersey.

To top it all off on that same day, the former American Airlines Arena–the home of the Miami Heat–was officially renamed the FTX Arena, part of a 19 year, $135 million renaming deal with FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange founded and headed by a little-known 29-year-old billionaire named Sam Bankman-Fried. It almost overshadowed news coverage of several mass shootings in Miami-Dade County during the same week.

If, like most Miamians, you had never heard of FTX and have only the vaguest idea of what a cryptocurrency is, you might well wonder what all of this is about. It sounds so cool and cutting-edge, but who are these people really? And what does this purported financial revolution mean for the city and the country? 

There is remarkably little information readily available about FTX or its wunderkind founder, and there is no evident connection to Miami. The company, founded in 2019, is based in Hong Kong and incorporated in Antigua and Barbuda, a Caribbean island nation that sells its citizenship for as little as $100,000 (plus processing fees). Forbes did a fanboy interview with Bankman-Fried in May, that ticked off the basic (and oft-repeated) milestones in his bio–MIT, working for Jane Street Capital, founding Alameda (“a crypto quantum trading firm”), and then FTX. “I wanted to incorporate the buyer, the seller, and the exchange. So we launched FTX in spring of 2019 and built it from nothing to where it sits today as the fourth largest global crypto currency exchange based outside of China.” The Forbes interviewer showed no curiosity about the source of the capital that fueled this meteoric rise, focusing instead on Bankman-Fried’s self-proclaimed “effective altruism”, comparing him to Victorian utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham.

According to one report, Bankman-Fried is now the second most wealthy “blockchain billionaire”–up from being nowhere on the list the previous year. The stunning rise of FTX seems to correlate to a large investment in December 2019 by Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, founded by CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao in China, but later moved offshore to a succession of locations reportedly including Malta, Seychelles, and the Cayman Islands. Zhao now reportedly claims that Binance has no headquarters. In May, Bloomberg News reported that Binance was under investigation by the IRS and Justice Department. 

In the world of cryptocurrency, no one seems concerned by such things, but the Miami Herald editorial board expressed some serious qualms in an editorial entitled “Forgive us, but the heady prospect of Miami as a crypto hub makes us a little queasy“: 

“It’s an exciting time. It’s scary, too. To those of us without a Bitcoin to our names, it feels kind of unreal. Don’t get us wrong. We hope cryptocurrency — and the flashing neon welcome mat we’ve set out for the tech industry — elevate this city to new prosperity. We’d love it if this heady new world has real staying power, especially if it can provide the fuel for the gritty, unglamorous things this city needs, like affordable housing, ways to combat sea level rise and better transportation. We hope virtual currency and the underlying blockchain technology provide scads of jobs in this community. Just don’t blame us for being a bit wary.

“Because Miami has history, folks. We’ve been a smugglers’ paradise, the epicenter of the cocaine trade, a mecca for money laundering, ground zero for mortgage fraud, home to the biggest Medicare black market in the United States. When the “frothy” housing bubble burst in 2007, Miami’s overheated market got hurt badly.”

Indeed. Back in the ’80s–the days of Miami Vice–the flood of unbelievable amounts of cocaine cash fueled the local economy and built the glittering skyscrapers that line Brickell Avenue, but it came at a great price in crime and corruption when Miami became the US epicenter of the cocaine wars. No one is suggesting that the influx of cryptocurrency money will bring 80s-style gun battles in the streets. But there are serious concerns about where all of the money bankrolling these companies is coming from and who is paying whom on these platforms. Not to mention questions about whether the entire cryptocurrency phenomenon is just another bubble that will pop and leave another financial disaster in its wake. 

There are also serious concerns about adverse effects of unregulated cryptocurrency on society at large. The near-untraceability of cryptocurrency transactions makes it the ideal medium of exchange for organized crime, money laundering, terrorist activity, tax evasion, and cyber crime.  To cite only the most recent big example, when cybercriminals shut down the Colonial Pipeline last month causing panic buying and fuel shortages throughout the eastern US, the company reportedly paid the $4.4 million ransom in Bitcoin.

Technically, cryptocurrency transactions are not absolutely anonymous, but rather pseudonymous, i.e. the identity of the parties involved is masked by a public key which is published on the bitcoin blockchain and a private key or “signature” known only to the user. It is therefore theoretically possible to identify parties to transactions through cluster analysis of patterns in the keys, but there are also ways of evading this scrutiny, e.g., by using a different key for each transaction. Some cryptocurrency exchanges and digital “wallets” require some minimal level of personal information in order to set up an account. But there are also a number of cryptocurrencies whose primary selling point is that they offer enhanced security features or options that help to keep users’ identities and activities concealed. The bottom line is that it remains extraordinarily difficult for law enforcement or national treasuries and central banks to identify the parties to any given transaction and the odds of detection are extremely small, especially if someone takes measures to conceal his identity. So for all practical purposes, almost all cryptocurrency transactions are indeed virtually anonymous.

If you look for the one thing that most distinguishes cryptocurrency from fiat currency like the dollar, euro, yen, or pound, it would be precisely its secrecy and absence of oversight by government agencies. Since there are no intermediaries like banks that are subject to scrutiny and regulation, there is no entity to police what happens on the cryptocurrency exchanges other than the exchanges themselves, which have little or no incentive to do so.  That is exactly what makes it so attractive to individuals and organizations that don’t want their activities revealed. It takes little imagination to see applications in politics, like dark money payments to influence elections (already hard enough to trace) or bribery of public officials by opening up a cryptocurrency wallet invisible to prying eyes. 

To be fair, advocates claim that cryptocurrencies can do some things that traditional currencies can’t and are intrinsically more democratic by being available to people who lack access to traditional banking. For example, they assert that cryptocurrencies offer a safe way to store monetary value in countries that lack a stable currency, like Venezuela. The problem is that upon closer examination, these arguments start to melt away and seem more a specious rationalization for a medium best suited for illicit activities. A desperate Venezuelan may indeed see a cryptocurrency as a way to get money out of his country’s abysmally failed economic system, but access to an exchange would be largely limited to the richer strata of society, not those who have seen their meager savings vanish and have to scramble daily for necessities. Moreover, the value of individual cryptocurrencies themselves is highly volatile and subject to abrupt swings. For example, Elon Musk’s remark on Saturday Night Live last month that dogecoin, a bitcoin rival that he had been pushing, was really “a hustle”, sent its value immediately plummeting by 40 percent.

Still, it’s easy to understand the allure of speculation in cryptocurrency when the overall trend in the market value of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin continues to rise, fueled by the speculation itself and the belief that this is The Next Big Thing. Many people have made a lot of money by betting on Bitcoin and its rivals. At this point, however, the market value is based on faith and faith alone, which is why things like naming rights to Miami’s biggest sports arena become important. If the Heat are playing in the FTX Arena, it must be real, right?

What could make it Not Real is if the US Government decides to impose regulations that would pull back the veil of anonymity in cryptocurrency transactions. This is why it is critical now to get political support for the free-wheeling status quo and project an aura of both inevitability and Too Big to Fail. It’s no accident that Sam Bankman-Fried gave $5 million to the Biden campaign–the second-largest individual donation after Mike Bloomberg’s.  The party affiliation is unimportant, as long as politicians see the “industry” as legitimate and its survival to be in their interest. Any effective regulation is viewed as a threat that could bring the whole thing crashing down. The prevailing ideology in the cryptocurrency world is Libertarian where any regulation is a bad regulation. 

Governments and central banks around the world have been slow to react to the cryptocurrency phenomenon or recognize its implications. As long as cryptocurrency represented only a tiny fraction of financial activity, it could be essentially ignored as insignificant. But if, say, a quarter or a third of financial transactions took place with cryptocurrency, that would represent an existential threat not only to the established banking industry but also to governments’ ability to impose effective monetary and fiscal policy because an enormous chunk of economic activity would be beyond their control. That may be Jack Dorsey’s Libertarian dream, but it would be Janet Yellen’s nightmare. 

So far, the US government has not really tackled cryptocurrency-related issues. Back in February 2020, then-Treasury Secretary Mnuchin told Congress that regulations were being developed at Treasury for cryptocurrencies, which he cited as “a major threat”, but then nothing happened. The crypto industry has created its own lobbying force to try to insure that nothing does happen. There is even a bi-partisan “Blockchain Caucus” in the House of Representatives, whose website says “we believe in the future of blockchain technology” and “as a Caucus, we have decided on a hands-off regulatory approach, believing that this technology will best evolve the same way the internet did; on its own.” In May, Treasury announced that any crypto transfers greater that $10,000 would have to be reported to the IRS, adding that “cryptocurrency already poses a significant detection problem by facilitating illegal activity broadly including tax evasion.” It was unclear, however, how this could be enforced. China has also called for a crackdown on cryptocurrency trading and mining. 

As if all this weren’t enough, it turns out that “mining”–the computer processes that create and manage the blockchains that are the essential element of cryptocurrency trading–is a huge environmental threat because of the enormous amounts of electrical power that it requires. According to one study, the energy expended on this worldwide already equals the entire energy consumption of Sweden or Argentina. Moreover, powerplants are being put online specifically to power mining, which increasingly is being done by largescale “mining rig” farms rather than the decentralized individual computers of crypto mythology. About 70 percent of mining takes place in China.

There is a TV series now trending on Netflix called “Start Up“, which coincidentally takes place in Miami and involves a bitcoin-like cryptocurrency created by a brilliant young Cuban-American woman and the efforts taken by her and her associates to find the capital to realize it as a successful business venture regardless of what it takes. Without being too much of a spoiler, let’s just say that it doesn’t end well. But, of course, that’s fiction. In real life, she’d have the backing of the Mayor, and her company’s name would be going up on the Miami Heat’s downtown arena. Right?


The Biggest Lie of All: White Supremacy

capitol riot 1

Amidst all of the commentary on the assault on the Capitol and American democracy, we should not lose sight of one important thing: This was an insurrection by white Americans to preserve white dominion in this country. White supremacy has always been the bedrock beneath Trump and Trumpism. Sometimes it lurks beneath the surface, sometimes it crops up in plain sight, but it is always there. 

The Big Lie of white supremacy is implicit in Trump’s preposterous claim that he “won the election in a landslide”. What do the battle cries of “take back your country” or “stop the steal” really mean? Take it back from whom? Stop the steal by whom? Who is “stealing” the country and the election? Obviously, it’s the Democrats, but who are they but a mongrel coalition of black and brown people, immigrants, and their perfidious white liberal allies who want to trample all over the rights of Real Americans, i.e., white people.

The message was clearly on display during the Republican National Convention in August, where one after another, Trump’s acolytes took the podium to scream alarm that if Joe Biden won the election those people from the crime-ridden war zones of Democrat-run cities [i.e., black people] would be coming to destroy America’s idyllic [white] suburbs. There would be uncontrolled rioting in the streets, “mob rule”, and “no one will be safe in Biden’s America”, as Trump himself proclaimed. Rudy Giuliani could barely contain himself, calling–literally–for locking more people up and portraying New York City as a cartoonish Gotham City where criminals rule the streets and chaos reigns.

Trump’s claim that he would win by a landslide unless the election was rigged rests on the belief that the champion of white people can’t lose. And millions of Americans–overwhelmingly white people–have bought into that idea. No evidence can shake that belief. Trump and his minions traffic in fear, and their lies fall on ears primed to believe them. As columnist Leonard Potts, Jr. correctly observed:

But for all the other things that riot was, it was also an expression of fear — the panic of those who find themselves outnumbered. One cannot overemphasize a simple fact: In only one of the eight presidential elections since 1993 — Bush v. Kerry in 2004 — has the Republican Party won the popular vote. Seven times, the majority of voters have sided with the Democrats. GOP leaders — and the resentful white voters who are their core constituency — understand what this means. They know they’ve lost the debate over LGBTQ rights, immigration, race and all the other issues marking the line between left and right. They realize the nation’s population of angry white people is dwarfed by its rainbow coalition of white, Black, Asian, Hispanic, Islamic, Jewish, LGBTQ and others who demand, in the words of the pledge we learned as children, liberty and justice for all.

It certainly wasn’t lost on the virtually all-white mob that invaded the Capitol–or on Trump and the rest of those whipping them up–that they had just lost two senate seats in Georgia the previous day by a bigger margin than Trump’s own loss in that state. Or that Georgia had elected its first ever black senator, a man who holds the pulpit in Martin Luther King Jr.’s church. It’s also no coincidence that Trump’s first public appearance after cowering for five days in the White House will be to inspect The Wall he built on the Texas-Mexico border–his monument to white fear of Latino immigrants.

From its earliest days, America was built on the lie of White Supremacy. It justified displacement and genocide of Native Americans. Our Founding Fathers enshrined it in the Constitution. Our Civil War was fought because of it, and even the victors more or less believed it. The defeated South created an entire “Lost Cause” myth based on it, imbuing it with specious nobility and religious sanction. It rationalized legal apartheid and terrorism against black Americans to keep them from full citizenship, as well as the myriad more subtle instruments of institutional racism that still pervade American society. And that lie elected Donald Trump, who again in 2020 got a majority of the votes cast by white Americans–both male and female.

Reduced to its essence, the rationale for Trump’s absurd claim to have “won by a landslide” rests on the idea that the votes of black people are inherently illegitimate and shouldn’t count–a notion that until fairly recently in our history was reality in the United States. Without any evidence whatever, the legal challenges thrown out by court after court made unfounded allegations against specific urban counties with large black populations, not against the same entire states which were operating under identical rules. The Republican congress members who “objected” to counting the state-certified electoral votes on January 6 certainly knew that their arguments were lies and nonsense, but they are ready break the system if that’s the only way they can win. 

As historian Timothy Snyder wrote in the New York Times Magazine, “Thanks to technological capacity and personal talent, Donald Trump lied at a pace perhaps unmatched by any other leader in history. For the most part these were small lies, and their main effect was cumulative. To believe in all of them was to accept the authority of a single man, because to believe in all of them was to disbelieve everything else. Once such personal authority was established, the president could treat everyone else as the liars; he even had the power to turn someone from a trusted adviser into a dishonest scoundrel with a single tweet.” Some of those lies were big enough to matter a great deal, however. And when he delivered the big one, millions were ready to believe it. “The claim that Trump was denied a win by fraud is a big lie not just because it mauls logic, misdescribes the present and demands belief in a conspiracy. It is a big lie, fundamentally, because it reverses the moral field of American politics and the basic structure of American history.”

I think I understand what Snyder is getting at here, i.e., that the “moral field” and “basic structure” of US history has been towards respect for rule of law and increasing inclusiveness for all Americans–the “moral arc” of Dr. King, if you will. Where I would take issue is that in fact Trump’s Big Lie is firmly embedded in the even bigger lie that runs counter to that “moral arc” throughout American history, namely the Great Lie of white supremacy.

What we saw at the Capitol on January 6 is just the latest manifestation of that Great Lie. It won’t be the last. 

It’s Still the Party of Trump

attack on Capitol

Democrats keep dreaming that Republicans are going to see the light and abandon Trump, but we need to wake up and realize that’s only a dream. Never mind that he incited an deadly insurrection that trashed the Capitol in order to stop the electoral vote count, or that he was recorded threatening Georgia election officials if they didn’t alter the vote count in Georgia. THEY DO NOT CARE! To quote the Rachel Maddow mantra: Watch what they do, not what they say.

Two days after the riot at the Capitol, Republican officials held a party conference at Amelia Island, FL. As the New York Times reported: “Party members, one after another, said in interviews that the president did not bear any blame for the violence at the Capitol and indicated that they wanted him to continue to play a leading role in the party.” The party chair Ronna McDaniel lamented the attack, but “neither she nor any other speaker so much as publicly hinted at Mr. Trump’s role in inciting a mob assault on America’s seat of government.”

Only hours after the attack on the Capitol, 147 Republican members of Congress persisted in “objecting” to the counting of electoral votes, in a quixotic attempt to stop the count and overturn the election results. This represented a majority of the Republican members in the House including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. (McCarthy is the guy who in 2016 was caught on tape opining to the congressional Republican leadership that Trump was controlled by Putin.) Florida senator Rick Scott (who has not been particularly closely tied to Trump) voted–in the middle of the night when no one was watching–to disqualify the Pennsylvania electoral votes.

Mitch McConnell got praise in the media for accepting the election results and not voting for disqualification of state electoral votes (a low bar indeed), but he continues to protect Trump from efforts to remove him from office. As Democrats move to re-impeach Trump, McConnell let it be known (in a memo obtained by The Washington Post) that the Senate would not take up impeachment until January 19, meaning that the Senate trial could not begin until after Trump leaves office on the following day (and, of course, McConnell is no longer Majority Leader).

VP Mike Pence, who has been personally attacked by Trump and his minions for doing his duty and presiding over the electoral vote count in Congress, refuses to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump, despite a growing chorus of voices–including Rupert Murdock’s Wall Street Journal editorial page–that Trump is dangerous and must be removed. Meanwhile, cabinet members like Elaine Chao and Betsy DeVos have resigned their posts, insuring that they will never be forced into voting on removing Trump.

The official GOP line is becoming clear: What a shame that the Capitol was attacked, but Trump had nothing to do with it. No one even mentions that Trump was recorded blatantly suborning the Georgia Secretary of State to alter election results, and threatening him if he didn’t do it.

Off the record, individual Republicans may mumble into their sleeves that maybe Trump went too far and perhaps needs to be held accountable, but still they remain loyal. Republican office holders like Lisa Murkowski or Ben Sasse or Mitt Romney, who have publicly said Trump should go, can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

The reason for their cowardice is glaringly obvious: The Republican Party has become a cult of personality and Republican voters are not voting for the party, they are voting for Trump. Those 75 million votes that went to Trump in November were for him, not the party. If Republicans splinter to form another party or leave the party altogether, no one is going to follow. The calculus is simple. If Republican politicians want to keep getting elected, they must stick with Trump.

We keep reading about the demise of the Republican party, but it’s not dying, it’s just mutating. The so-called “moderate Republican” is all but extinct, and the traditional wing of the party knows which way the wind blows and is adjusting quite easily to the new reality. Just look at Ron Johnson! Marco Rubio does his usual thing of muttering gobbledygook to suggest that he has “reservations” about what just happened, but he always falls into line in the end. Lindsey Graham has shed his skin more times than a copperhead, but he’s still backing Trump. There are few, if any, significant differences on policy between the Trumpistas and the traditionalists, and the latter see that Bolshevik tactics work so they’re fine with it. 

The lesson has been learned by the jackals who now set the tone for the party’s style and tactics: Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Jim Jordan, Tom Cotton, Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz, etc. They are smart, glib, slick, and utterly amoral, willing to utter any lie with a straight face if it advances their agenda. For now, they follow along in Trump’s wake, feeding on the carcasses.  They are the future of the Republican Party, and it’s a frightening prospect. 

For them, as for Mitch McConnell, it’s all about power. I think the tensions in the party that we see are purely about personal power, not direction or substance. The only real fundamental principle of the party is white privilege. As Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. wrote: ” It is being framed, and not without reason, as the ultimate statement of white privilege; a white mob allowed to ransack the Capitol — virtually none was arrested and some even took selfies with police — in the same city where peaceful protesters asserting that Black Lives Matter were met with military force. But for all the other things that riot was, it was also an expression of fear — the panic of those who find themselves outnumbered.”

So forget the pipe dreams about the Republican Party self-destructing. Instead, we need to see clearly what we and the country face: A Republican Party that is mutating into neo-fascism and willing to use any means necessary to keep itself in power.  

I would love to be proved wrong.