Has the real meaning of America been lost?

Opinion By Robert Reich, San Francisco Examiner, February 24, 2018 https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/reich/article/Has-the-real-meaning-of-America-been-lost-12628521.php

When Donald Trump and his followers refer to “America,” what do they mean?

Some see a country of white, English-speaking Christians.

Others want a land inhabited by self-seeking individuals free to accumulate as much money and power as possible, who pay taxes only to protect their assets from criminals and foreign aggressors. Others think mainly about flags, national anthems, pledges of allegiance, military parades and secure borders.

Trump encourages a combination of all three — tribalism, libertarianism and loyalty.

But the core of our national identity has not been any of this. It has been found in the ideals we share — political equality, equal opportunity, freedom of speech and of the press, a dedication to open inquiry and truth, and to democracy and the rule of law.

We are not a race. We are not a creed. We are a conviction — that all people are created equal, that people should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, and that government should be of the people, by the people and for the people.

Political scientist Carl Friedrich, comparing Americans to Gallic people, noted that “to be an American is an ideal, while to be a Frenchman is a fact.”

That idealism led Abraham Lincoln to proclaim that America might yet be the “last best hope” for humankind. It prompted Emma Lazarus, some two decades later, to welcome to America the world’s “tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

It inspired the poems of Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes, and the songs of Woody Guthrie. All turned their love for America into demands that we live up to our ideals.

“This land is your land, this land is my land,” sang Guthrie.

Pleaded Hughes:

That idealism sought to preserve and protect our democracy — not inundate it with big money, or allow one party or candidate to suppress votes from rivals, or permit a foreign power to intrude on our elections.

It spawned a patriotism that once required all of us take on a fair share of the burdens of keeping America going — paying taxes in full rather than seeking loopholes or squirreling money away in foreign tax shelters, and serving in the armed forces or volunteering in our communities rather than relying on others to do the work.

These ideals compelled us to join together for the common good — not pander to bigotry or divisiveness, or fuel racist or religious or ethnic divisions.

The idea of a common good was once widely understood and accepted in America. After all, the U.S. Constitution was designed for “We the people” seeking to “promote the general welfare” — not for “me the narcissist seeking as much wealth and power as possible.”

Yet the common good seems to have disappeared. The phrase is rarely uttered today, not even by commencement speakers or politicians.

There’s growing evidence of its loss — in CEOs who gouge their customers and loot their corporations; Wall Street bankers who defraud their investors; athletes involved in doping scandals; doctors who do unnecessary procedures to collect fatter fees; and film producers and publicists who choose not to see that a powerful movie mogul they depend on is sexually harassing and abusing women.

We see its loss in politicians who take donations from wealthy donors and corporations and then enact laws their patrons want, or shutter the government when they don’t get the partisan results they seek.

And in a president of the United States who has repeatedly lied about important issues, refuses to put his financial holdings into a blind trust and personally profits from his office, and foments racial and ethnic conflict.

This unbridled selfishness, this contempt for the public, this win-at-any-cost mentality, is eroding America.

Without binding notions about right and wrong, only the most unscrupulous get ahead. When it’s all about winning, only the most unprincipled succeed. This is not a society. It’s not even a civilization, because there’s no civility at its core.

If we’re losing our national identity it’s not because we now come in more colors, practice more religions and speak more languages than we once did.

It is because we are forgetting the real meaning of America — the ideals on which our nation was built. We are losing our sense of the common good.

© 2018 Robert Reich

Robert Reich, a former U.S. secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at UC Berkeley. To comment, submit your letter to the editor at SFChronicle.com/letters.

Moral movement against guns is gaining steam now

By Robert Reich, San Francisco Chronicle, February 28, 2018

Excerpt… most Americans also want gun controls. Ninety-seven percent support universal background checks, and 70 percent favor registering all guns with the police. Preventing gun violence is coming to be seen less as an issue of “gun rights” and more about public morality… The moral void of Trump has been a catastrophe for America in many ways, but it’s contributing to a backlash against the systemic abuses of power on which so much of the violence in American life is founded… If Americans can’t be secure from someone packing an assault rifle, or from the predatory behavior of powerful men, or from the police, we do not live in a functioning society.

Make no mistake. This is all about power — a powerful political lobby that has bullied America for too long, powerful men who haven’t been held accountable for their behavior, police who for too long have been unconstrained.

A moral movement is growing against the violence perpetrated by all of them, making it necessary for both government and business to take action.

It is being led by people whose moral authority cannot be denied: students whose friends have been murdered, women who have been abused, the parents and partners of black men who have been slain.

It is already having a profound impact on America.

Full text – sfchronicle.com

For years, big corporations had welcomed the opportunity to accumulate more customers by giving discounts to NRA members. Yet in the aftermath of the shootings in Parkland, Florida, and the activism of high school students, corporations are bailing out of their deals with the NRA.

As we’ve seen with the corporate firings of sleazebag movie moguls and predatory television personalities, nothing concentrates the minds of CEOs like a moral protest that’s gaining traction.

Since Donald Trump became president, the NRA has behaved like a subsidiary of the alt-right. At last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference, NRA President Wayne LaPierre cloaked his pro-gun address in paranoia about a “tidal wave” of “European-style socialists bearing down upon us,” telling his audience “you should be frightened.”

Most Americans know this kind of talk is bonkers. Not incidentally, most Americans also want gun controls. Ninety-seven percent support universal background checks, and 70 percent favor registering all guns with the police.

Preventing gun violence is coming to be seen less as an issue of “gun rights” and more about public morality. “Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” President Obama asked in 2012 after 20 first-graders were massacred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Obama got nowhere, of course, but now change seems to be in the air. Why? I think Trump deserves some credit.

Trump’s response to the slayings in Parkland has been to urge schools to arm teachers. It’s a proposal that’s not only wrongheaded — more than 30 studies have shown that additional guns increase gun violence and homicides — but profoundly immoral.

If the only way to control gun violence is for all Americans to arm themselves, we would all be living in a Darwinist hell.

The moral void of Trump has been a catastrophe for America in many ways, but it’s contributing to a backlash against the systemic abuses of power on which so much of the violence in American life is founded.

The Parkland students are insisting that adults stand up to the immorality of the NRA. Corporations are responding. So are politicians. “We get out there and make sure everybody knows how much money their politician took from the NRA,” said David Hogg, one of the students.

Similarly, the #MeToo movement is insisting that America wake up to the immoral behavior of powerful predatory men.

More by Robert Reich

Has the real meaning of America been lost?

Harvey Weinstein and his ilk aren’t killers, but they are accused of assaulting or even raping women whose careers depended on them. For years, these women didn’t dare raise their voices. They were told this was the way the system worked, much as we’ve been told for years that there’s no way to take on the NRA.

Would the #MeToo movement have erupted without the abuser-in-chief in the Oval Office? Maybe. But Trump’s personal history — 19 women have accused him of sexual misconduct — has helped fuel it.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement predated Trump, but our racist-in-chief, who attacks black athletes for protesting police violence, has given it new meaning and urgency as well.

The NRA’s position that everyone should carry a gun contrasts with the reality that a black man brandishing one is likely to be shot and killed by the police.

The cumulative and growing force of these three intertwined movements comes from a basic premise of our civic life together, which Trump’s moral obtuseness has brought into sharp focus.

In order to survive, people need several things — food, water, a roof over our heads. But the most basic of all is safety. That’s why governments were created in the first place.

If Americans can’t be secure from someone packing an assault rifle, or from the predatory behavior of powerful men, or from the police, we do not live in a functioning society.

Make no mistake. This is all about power — a powerful political lobby that has bullied America for too long, powerful men who haven’t been held accountable for their behavior, police who for too long have been unconstrained.

A moral movement is growing against the violence perpetrated by all of them, making it necessary for both government and business to take action.

It is being led by people whose moral authority cannot be denied: students whose friends have been murdered, women who have been abused, the parents and partners of black men who have been slain.

It is already having a profound impact on America.

© 2018 By Robert Reich

Robert Reich, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley. To comment, submit your letter to the editor at SFChronicle.com/letters.

How political parties influence our beliefs, and what we can do about it

Science Daily/Cell Press, February 20, 2018

Summary: Fake news is everywhere, but why we believe it is still unclear. Psychologists suggest that valuing our identity more than our accuracy is what leads us to accept incorrect information that aligns with our political party’s beliefs. This value discrepancy can explain why high-quality news sources are no longer enough–and understanding it can help us find strategies to bridge the political divide.

Full text

How political parties influence our beliefs, and what we can do about it

Cell Press, February 20, 2018

Summary:

Fake news is everywhere, but why we believe it is still unclear. Psychologists suggest that valuing our identity more than our accuracy is what leads us to accept incorrect information that aligns with our political party’s beliefs. This value discrepancy can explain why high-quality news sources are no longer enough–and understanding it can help us find strategies to bridge the political divide.

We can also work to reduce the effects of identity. One way is by creating a superordinate identity: getting people to think of themselves as citizens of a nation or the world rather than as members of a political party. But we also have to pay attention to how we engage with people of different political persuasions. “It turns out that if you insult them and publicly criticize them, their identity needs increase, and they become threatened and less concerned about accuracy. You actually need to affirm their identity before you present information that might be contradictory to what they believe,” Van Bavel says.

Currently, Van Bavel is working on empirical studies that will reaffirm the generalization of these neuroeconomics principles to our beliefs. In the meantime, though, and especially in today’s political climate, he believes the message is simple: “Our partisan identities lead us to believe things that are untrue. So, we need to step back and critically evaluate what we believe and why.”

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation and a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Fake news is everywhere, but why we believe it is still unclear. Drawing on neuroeconomics research in an Opinion published February 20th in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences, psychologists suggest that valuing our identity more than our accuracy is what leads us to accept incorrect information that aligns with our political party’s beliefs. This value discrepancy, they say, can explain why high-quality news sources are no longer enough — and understanding it can help us find better strategies to bridge the political divide.

“Neuroeconomics has started to converge on this understanding of how we calculate value. We’re choosing what matters to us and how to engage with the world, whether that’s which newspaper we pick up in the morning or what we have for breakfast,” says senior author Jay Van Bavel, a psychologist at New York University. “And so we started to think, it’s when our goals to fit in with certain groups are stronger than the goal we have to be accurate that we are more likely to be led astray.”

This is what he calls his identity-based model of belief. The idea is that we assign values to different ideas based on what matters to us most at the moment and then compare those values to decide which idea we believe is true. Because our political parties can provide us with a sense of belonging and help us define ourselves, agreeing with them can bolster our sense of self. And that can sometimes matter more to us than accuracy about an issue, even if accuracy is something we normally do care about. When that happens, we’ll likely believe the ideas that align with our party’s views, no matter how plausible.

This can mean that the sources of information we normally rely on to shape our views have less of an impact. “Having a really high-quality news source doesn’t matter that much if we think the people producing it belong to a different group than us,” Van Bavel says. “They might have the best writers, the best investigative journalists, the best editorial standards, all the stuff that we would normally care about.” But we stop valuing those things, which would normally lead to a high likelihood of accuracy, and instead focus on the group we think the news is aligned with.

Still, Van Bavel does believe that his model offers strategies that can help bridge the political divide. “Our model really doesn’t pick a side,” he says. “What it argues for is increasing the value of truth or else finding ways to reduce the effects of identity, whether on the left or the right.”

Being put into a role that requires someone to be accurate, like being summoned for jury duty, can give people criteria with which to evaluate information and help them be better at thinking critically. Even more simply, Van Bavel says we can increase the value of accurate beliefs by asking people to put their money where their mouth is. “When you are in a disagreement, ask your opponent, ‘You wanna bet?’ And then their accuracy motives are increased, and you can see right away whether they were engaging in motivated reasoning. Suddenly $20 is on the line, and they don’t want to be proven wrong,” he says.

We can also work to reduce the effects of identity. One way is by creating a superordinate identity: getting people to think of themselves as citizens of a nation or the world rather than as members of a political party. But we also have to pay attention to how we engage with people of different political persuasions. “It turns out that if you insult them and publicly criticize them, their identity needs increase, and they become threatened and less concerned about accuracy. You actually need to affirm their identity before you present information that might be contradictory to what they believe,” Van Bavel says.

Currently, Van Bavel is working on empirical studies that will reaffirm the generalization of these neuroeconomics principles to our beliefs. In the meantime, though, and especially in today’s political climate, he believes the message is simple: “Our partisan identities lead us to believe things that are untrue. So, we need to step back and critically evaluate what we believe and why.”

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation and a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship.


Story Source:

Materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Jay J. Van Bavel, Andrea Pereira. The Partisan Brain: An Identity-Based Model of Political Belief. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2018.01.004

Cell Press. “How political parties influence our beliefs, and what we can do about it.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 February 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180220123127.htm>.

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The “Conservative” Label is a Misnomer

by Jeffrey P. Kimball, historynewsnetwork.org, 2/18/18 http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/168094

EXCERPT – Conservative: holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics and religion…. the origins of contemporary American conservatism can be traced to the 1920s, only to fade during the New Deal. Its subsequent resuscitation is probably best dated to 1950s and 1960s. Some key historical signposts then and after include the following: The founding of the National Review magazine in 1955, and the publication of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in 1957. White Southern reaction to the Civil Rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960sThe revived political activism of conservative Evangelicals… opposition to legalized abortion. The Republican Party’s nomination of “Mr. Conservative,” Barry Goldwater, as its presidential standard-bearer in 1964…Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” The creation and articulation of the Vietnam War…legend…which blamed America’s miring and ultimate defeat in Vietnam on liberals, Democrats, the antiwar movement, and the press. The ascension of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. The launching of Rush Limbaugh’s national radio talk show in the 1988 and of Fox News TV Network in 1996. The ascension of Newt Gingrich to the US House of Representatives speakership (1995-1999). The emergence of the Tea Party in 2008. The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010. The forming of the so-called House Freedom Caucus in 2015, and the surfacing of Donald Trump’s 30-something percent “base” of supporters in 2016….These definitions are unhelpful and misleading. Self-proclaimed political and social conservatives are not necessarily inclined to support or maintain the “traditional” social order – that is, long-standing majority views, conditions, institutions, or legislation. …Nor do many self-proclaimed conservatives embrace the 242 year-old, traditional proposition in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” …as Americans later discovered through war, political activism, and moral evolution. Moreover, so-called conservative Constitutional “originalists,” such as the late Justice Antony Scalia, were and are ever ready to reinterpret the US Constitution to serve their prejudices or benefactors….Although many conservatives express opposition to “big government,” their anti-statist stances have varied widely, depending on the issue at hand. When it serves their interests, they do not hesitate to use the apparatus of the Federal government to achieve their ends – just as Senators and Representatives from Southern slave states did when enacting and enforcing the Federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Full text

The “Conservative” Label is a Misnomer by Jeffrey P. Kimball, historynewsnetwork.org, 2/18/18 http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/168094

Jeffrey P. Kimball, Miami University professor emeritus, has written articles and books on several topics, including ideology. His latest book, co-authored with William Burr, is Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War (2015).

Conservative: holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics and religion.

Modern Western conservatism came into being in response to the American and French Revolutions. Like liberalism, it has waxed and waned as a political movement during the decades since. According to some historians, the origins of contemporary American conservatism can be traced to the 1920s, only to fade during the New Deal. Its subsequent resuscitation is probably best dated to 1950s and 1960s.

Some key historical signposts then and after include the following: The founding of the National Review magazine in 1955, and the publication of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in 1957. White Southern reaction to the Civil Rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, which ultimately led to majority-white affiliation with the Republican Party. The revived political activism of conservative Evangelicals during that same period, which would include – along with the Catholic Church – opposition to legalized abortion. The Republican Party’s nomination of “Mr. Conservative,” Barry Goldwater, as its presidential standard-bearer in 1964, followed four years later by Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” The creation and articulation of the Vietnam War stab-in-the back legend by President Nixon and pro-war hawks, which blamed America’s miring and ultimate defeat in Vietnam on liberals, Democrats, the antiwar movement, and the press. The ascension of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. The launching of Rush Limbaugh’s national radio talk show in the 1988 and of Fox News TV Network in 1996. The ascension of Newt Gingrich to the US House of Representatives speakership (1995-1999). The emergence of the Tea Party in 2008. The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010. The forming of the so-called House Freedom Caucus in 2015, and the surfacing of Donald Trump’s 30-something percent “base” of supporters in 2016.

But what is political “conservatism”? And are self-styled conservatives really conservative? Merriam-Webster defines conservative” as “tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions.” Similarly, the Oxford English Dictionary defines a conservative as “a person who conserves or preserves something; an adherent of traditional values, ideas, and institutions; an opponent of social and political change.” Wicktionary pithily defines the conservative as “a person who favors maintenance of the status quo.”

These definitions are unhelpful and misleading. Self-proclaimed political and social conservatives are not necessarily inclined to support or maintain the “traditional” social order – that is, long-standing majority views, conditions, institutions, or legislation. These include government regulation of corporations, banks, and Wall Street, progressive income taxes, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, civil rights, voting rights, environmental regulations, and public-lands conservation. Self-identified conservatives also oppose other traditional institutions, practices, and measures, such as the United Nations, international standards for the treatment of prisoners of war, labor unions, collective bargaining, fair labor standards, and, for some, public fluoridation of water. The measures conservatives oppose were legislated, created, or practiced 50 to 100 or more years ago.

Nor do many self-proclaimed conservatives embrace the 242 year-old, traditional proposition in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” – i.e., “men” as in “all humans,” including people of color and women – as Americans later discovered through war, political activism, and moral evolution. Moreover, so-called conservative Constitutional “originalists,” such as the late Justice Antony Scalia, were and are ever ready to reinterpret the US Constitution to serve their prejudices or benefactors. This was the case, for example, in the 5-4 conservative majority decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) decision, which, along with other decisions, applied a loose interpretation of the Second Amendment by asserting the individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, while also limiting the state’s power to regulate arms.

Although many conservatives express opposition to “big government,” their anti-statist stances have varied widely, depending on the issue at hand. When it serves their interests, they do not hesitate to use the apparatus of the Federal government to achieve their ends – just as Senators and Representatives from Southern slave states did when enacting and enforcing the Federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Nor are self-proclaimed conservatives always opponents of social and political change if overturning current social and political norms serves their own beliefs and interests. Abraham Lincoln made this point in February 1860 in his address at Cooper Institute, when he asked: “What is conservatism?” In answer, he pointed out that self-styled Southern conservatives “spit upon” the old policy toward slavery in order to “insist on substituting something new.” The present-day conservative Dinesh D’Souza defended such conservative behavior, arguing that “if the existing society is hostile to conservative beliefs . . . , it is foolish for a conservative to attempt to conserve that culture . . . . The conservative must . . . . be philosophically conservative but temperamentally radical.”

To be sure, there are factions of conservatives: the far Right (e.g., American Nazis, fascists, and Breitbart owners, writers, and readers), paleocons, neocons, the religious right, libertarians, Tea Party populists, the Freedom Caucus, “moderate” Republicans, certain corporate elites, NRA executives and many NRA members – along with other factions. Their views and goals vary on specific issues. Nonetheless, somewhere in their minds, they share a common conservative core of ideas, notions, and emotions. In his book, The Reactionary Mind, political scientist Corey Robin argues that there is a fundamental “reactionary thrust” in conservatismnamely, the conviction that “some are fit to rule others.” Quoting George Nash, he adds: conservatism is “resistance to certain forces perceived to be leftist, revolutionary, and profoundly subversive of what conservatives at the time deemed worth cherishing, defending and perhaps dying for” – and which challenges their perceived self-interest. Conservatism in all its forms is oppositional and reactionary at its core. As Karl Mannheim argued, they oppose “other ways of life and thought that appears on the scene.”

It would be better for all if self-styled conservatives heeded the advice of the early nineteenth-century English churchman and academic, Arthur Stanley, who observed that “conservatism . . . destroys what it loves because it will not mend it.”

 

How the Republicans rigged Congress

 — new documents reveal an untold story – By David Daley, salon.com , February 6, 2018 – Referencing “The GOP Targets State Legislaturesby Karl Rove, published in Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2010

excerpt from How the Republicans rigged Congress: … Thomas Hofeller unveiled the audacious strategy that would soon transform American politics…a presentation called “Redistricting 2010: Preparing for Success.” … explains why the Republican Party now dominates all levels of American politics despite a polarized and closely divided electorate that generally tends to favor Democrats. It was the GOP strategy to reinvent the gerrymander…. district lines rigged to guarantee the GOP a built-in advantage….…. district lines rigged to guarantee the GOP a built-in advantage….Those kinds of results — Democrats winning more votes, Republicans holding more seats — have become almost commonplace this decade. It’s not a coincidence. The visionaries …managed to look far beyond the short-term horizon. They designed an audacious and revolutionary plan to wield the gerrymander as a tool to lock in conservative governance of state legislatures and Congress….It will take years to recover.” Indeed, even while Democrats sense momentum as we draw closer to the 2018 midterms, the path back to power is steep. Republicans control nearly 70 percent of all state legislative chambers…National polls suggest that Democrats … need to maintain an improbable advantage even to have a shot at winning a majority of the seats… Thomas Hofeller unveiled the audacious strategy that would soon transform American politics…a presentation called “Redistricting 2010: Preparing for Success.” … explains why the Republican Party now dominates all levels of American politics despite a polarized and closely divided electorate that generally tends to favor Democrats. It was the GOP strategy to reinvent the gerrymander…. district lines rigged to guarantee the GOP a built-in advantage….Those kinds of results — Democrats winning more votes, Republicans holding more seats — have become almost commonplace this decade. It’s not a coincidence. The visionaries …managed to look far beyond the short-term horizon. They designed an audacious and revolutionary plan to wield the gerrymander as a tool to lock in conservative governance of state legislatures and Congress….Now new court documents, previously unrevealed emails and once-secret internal documents — most revealed here for the first time — uncover how early the Republican planning began, how comprehensive the redistricting strategy was and how determined conservative operatives were to dye America red from the ground up. It’s the story of how strategists wooed deep-pocketed donors to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars (often in untraceable dark money) and convinced them that winning state legislative seats offered the best opportunity for enduring GOP control at a bargain-basement price. It’s the behind-the-scenes narrative of how Republicans set their sights on 107 state legislative seats in 16 states, with the goal of pushing dozens of U.S. House seats into their column for a decade or longer. It captures their glee as 2010 turned into a big red wave year, and GOP strategists defended all their state chambers, expanded their push deep into Democratic country and caught the other side [Democrats] flat-footed in a deeply consequential year. Success like this breeds many narratives. … 2010 was another story: It was a census year, and a redistricting year. Somebody had to be in charge. Hofeller wanted it to be his side. “Not playing,” he told the room, was “not an option.” Whatever the results of redistricting turned out to be, “we live with them for five elections.”Republicans, Hofeller said, must be fully prepared and engaged on multiple fronts … and suggested how meaningful it could be to be the only people in the room…. When Ed Gillespie took charge of the RSLC, however, targets expanded from direct-mail small-fry to boardroom big-shots… looking to reel in $30 million from GOP whales…By early 2010, the presentation had become sophisticated and precise. Its opening pages, revealed here, are titled “Congressional Redistricting: Drawing Maps for the Next Five Elections,” and it begins with a question: “How do we create 20-25 new Republican Congressional districts over the next five cycles and solidify a Republican Congressional majority?” The answer? “…What will it take to dominate redistricting?… “We were prepared for the fights of the past,” …Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee …We could have done a better job of communicating to stakeholders what 2010 meant. When you’re in a legislative world you assume everyone knows.” Republicans made no such assumptions… “What happens in state legislative races in 2010 will directly impact and shape the political landscape in Washington for the next 10 years.”…Obama had no idea just how decisive it would prove: Republicans would hold the House for the rest of his presidency….It will take years to recover.” Indeed, even while Democrats sense momentum as we draw closer to the 2018 midterms, the path back to power is steep. Republicans control nearly 70 percent of all state legislative chambers…National polls suggest that Democrats … need to maintain an improbable advantage even to have a shot at winning a majority of the seats…

Full text of How the Republicans rigged Congress — new documents reveal an untold story By David Daley, salon.com , 02.06.2018

Delegates to the 2009 Republican Legislative Campaign Committee’s national meeting stayed in style at The Hermitage, Nashville’s magnificent Beaux-Arts landmark and one of the most storied luxury hotels in the world.

If attendees arrived depressed, with Democrats newly moved into the White House and controlling both branches of Congress, they partied like reigning rock stars. State legislators and lobbyists dined on $84 Chateaubriand with burgundy and mushroom sauce at Jimmy Kelly’s steak house, the historic oak-walls-and-oil-painting clubhouse for Nashville’s power set. They tasted the New South at Flyte World Dining and Wine, where the fabled bar snacks included Pad Thai popcorn with sambal caramel and the Carolina Gold Rice Risotto trimmed with a sweet corn and truffle custard.

Corporate sponsors at the $40,000 level were treated to a special Capitol Grille lunch at the Hermitage, where the Porter Road dry-age specials once roamed free among the spring-fed creeks of the hotel’s 250-acre Double H Farm. Everyone could tee off from the Hermitage’s President’s Reserve Golf Course, or gaze upon Elvis Presley’s solid-gold Cadillac limousine at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

When the Republicans were not enjoying the manicured links or the hand-crafted cocktails, however, there was serious business on the agenda.

A few minutes before 8 a.m. on Monday, June 8 — awfully early for any delegate who’d indulged in one too many Jack’s Mules or Fat’s Smashes at the Hermitage’s Oak Bar the night before — Thomas Hofeller unveiled the audacious strategy that would soon transform American politics.

Hofeller, the master GOP mapmaker and white-haired veteran of the most important decennial wars in politics, delivered a presentation called “Redistricting 2010: Preparing for Success.” What he laid out that Monday morning, apparently for the first time before Republican state legislators, explains why the Republican Party now dominates all levels of American politics despite a polarized and closely divided electorate that generally tends to favor Democrats. It was the GOP strategy to reinvent the gerrymander.

If there is to be a blue wave in 2018, it will need to overcome a red seawall that was exactingly designed beginning a decade ago and has proven impermeable in state after state ever since. Even in Virginia last November, Democrats won nearly a quarter of a million more votes than Republicans — and it still wasn’t enough to overcome district lines rigged to guarantee the GOP a built-in advantage. In Alabama, where Doug Jones recently became the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in decades, disgraced GOP candidate Roy Moore still carried six of the state’s seven gerrymandered congressional districts.

Those kinds of results — Democrats winning more votes, Republicans holding more seats — have become almost commonplace this decade. It’s not a coincidence.

The visionaries at the Republican State Leadership Committee, who designed the aptly-named strategy dubbed REDMAP, short for Redistricting Majority Project, managed to look far beyond the short-term horizon. They designed an audacious and revolutionary plan to wield the gerrymander as a tool to lock in conservative governance of state legislatures and Congress.

It proved more effective than any Republican dared dream. Republicans held the U.S. House in 2012, despite earning 1.4 million fewer votes than Democratic congressional candidates, and won large GOP majorities in the Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina state legislatures even when more voters backed Democrats.

Now new court documents, previously unrevealed emails and once-secret internal documents — most revealed here for the first time — uncover how early the Republican planning began, how comprehensive the redistricting strategy was and how determined conservative operatives were to dye America red from the ground up. It’s the story of how strategists wooed deep-pocketed donors to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars (often in untraceable dark money) and convinced them that winning state legislative seats offered the best opportunity for enduring GOP control at a bargain-basement price.

It’s the behind-the-scenes narrative of how Republicans set their sights on 107 state legislative seats in 16 states, with the goal of pushing dozens of U.S. House seats into their column for a decade or longer. It captures their glee as 2010 turned into a big red wave year, and GOP strategists defended all their state chambers, expanded their push deep into Democratic country and caught the other side flat-footed in a deeply consequential year.

Success like this breeds many narratives. Politico finds REDMAP’s roots in a mid-2009 meeting in former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie’s office in Alexandria, Virginia. They credit Gillespie, then chair of the RSLC and more recently the GOP candidate defeated by newly-elected Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, with the idea. In my book “Ratf**ked,” which traces REDMAP and its state-by-state consequences, RSLC executive director Chris Jankowski remembered reading a summer 2009 New York Times story suggesting that 2010 governors’ races provided Republicans a road back, saying that he then understood the opportunity an unpopular president and a redistricting-year midterm wave might present.

It turns out that both of these origin stories obscure the actual start of these efforts by almost a year and a half.

Thomas Hofeller’s presentation at the Hermitage on June 8, 2009, came six weeks before the New York Times story that inspired Jankowski. Gray-haired and wearing rimless glasses, Hofeller debuted a history-shaping PowerPoint that walked Republicans through their path back to power.

Sure, the 2008 election, in which Barack Obama had swamped John McCain and Democrats expanded their majorities in both the House and Senate, hadn’t gone the way anyone in the room had hoped. But 2010 was another story: It was a census year, and a redistricting year. Somebody had to be in charge. Hofeller wanted it to be his side. “Not playing,” he told the room, was “not an option.” Whatever the results of redistricting turned out to be, “we live with them for five elections.”

Republicans, Hofeller said, must be fully prepared and engaged on multiple fronts — and he told state legislators that they would play the starring roles. He explained how in more than 40 states, state legislatures drew both their own state House and Senate districts, along with the vast majority of the 435 U.S. House seats. He walked through the importance of being in the room when the new lines were drawn. He emphasized that the state legislative elections in 2009 and 2010 represented the party’s last chance to influence its position at what he called the “redistricting table” when line-drawing began after the census — and suggested how meaningful it could be to be the only people in the room.

Hofeller reminded the legislators that the Democrats had dominated this process in 1990, with complete control over 172 seats while Republicans owned merely five. By 2000, GOP prospects had improved, narrowing the GOP edge to 135-96. Republicans, Hofeller said, could do even better in 2010. Along with Lynn Westmoreland, a Georgia congressman, he laid out the details: The party would target control of state legislative chambers that either party held by five or fewer seats. They’d double down on states where the governor had veto power over the maps. And there would be plenty of money to fund key campaigns, upgrade technology, recruit and train candidates — and then to guarantee that every state legislature had a redistricting lawyer and litigator.

That money, these newly revealed internal RSLC documents reveal, began flowing from early 2008 fundraising appeals that were already focused directly on post-2010 redistricting.

“The more Republicans we can elect to state house chambers this year, the stronger our Party will be as we confront the redistricting decisions that will follow the 2010 Census,” wrote Scott Ward, then the RSLC’s president. Ward hoped to raise $1.5 million before April 2008. This would be a “’must win’” battle,” he continued, “and we must start now to gain the upper hand!”

When Ed Gillespie took charge of the RSLC, however, targets expanded from direct-mail small-fry to boardroom big-shots. These new documents reveal the first two PowerPoints that Gillespie brought on the road, looking to reel in $30 million from GOP whales: Big Oil, Altria, Walmart, AT&T and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The first, from December 2009, was primitive and unpolished. It even suggested that the 2010 census would take place in 2011.

Perhaps its most important detail is buried in the appendix: Thirty-eight legislative chambers in 19 states will control the drawing of 253 congressional seats. This report even laid out the number of credible candidates and credible targets in each of those state chambers. But the goal was clear: Gillespie and Jankowski explained to donors that they were “drawing maps for the next five elections” and that “whoever controls that process controls the drawing of maps — shaping the political landscape for the next 10 years.”

By early 2010, the presentation had become sophisticated and precise. Its opening pages, revealed here, are titled “Congressional Redistricting: Drawing Maps for the Next Five Elections,” and it begins with a question: “How do we create 20-25 new Republican Congressional districts over the next five cycles and solidify a Republican Congressional majority?” The answer? “

“Maps matter,” the RSLC presentation continues. It calls maps the first tool in winning elections. In Texas, it explains, Democrats controlled the congressional delegation by a margin of 17 to 15 before the GOP won back the state legislature. Once Republicans had the pens in their own hands, that swung to 21-11 in the GOP’s favor the very next election.

The same process played out in Pennsylvania, where 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats had represented the state in 2000, before reapportionment cost the Keystone State two seats. Republicans controlled the legislature and “drew maps that put two Democrat Congressman into the same district and another in a heavy Republican district.” The result? A 12-7 GOP delegation on the new maps in 2002. In Georgia, however, which also received two extra seats after the 2000 reapportionment, Democrats ruled redistricting. The result, according to the RSLC? “Total Democrat control and a desire to maximize black Democrat representation resulted in a highly gerrymandered map.”

What will it take to dominate redistricting? Gillespie lays it out as an equation: Republicans can win 20 to 25 new seats in Congress for each of the next five electoral cycles with a $31.5 million investment on state legislative races in 2010. The cost of not acting? If the Democrats controlled those seats, or they remained swing districts, he estimated that mounting competitive campaigns in those 20-25 districts would cost $255 million over the next decade.

That $31.5 million would be spent micro-targeting state legislative districts that Republicans identified as crucial to winning state legislative chambers and dominating redistricting. There would be 6,000 state legislature races nationwide in 2010. The RSLC zeroed in on 107 of those in 16 states. Win those, according to the report, and Republicans could “fully control or affect the drawing of 9 new Congressional districts” awarded during reapportionment in Florida, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. They could also affect the redrawing of maps in five states that were losing six districts after the census: Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

Finally, the RSLC proposed “strengthening Republican redistricting power by flipping 15 chambers from Democrat to Republican control” and defending nine other GOP majorities. The key targets: Alabama’s House and Senate, both chambers in Colorado, the Indiana and Iowa House, the Nevada and New York Senate, both chambers in North Carolina, Ohio’s House, the Oregon Senate, the Pennsylvania House and both chambers in Wisconsin.

If Republicans didn’t make this investment, the Democrats — who were “organized,” “well-funded” and “focused on state campaigns” — just might. Unions had spent $126.6 million on state elections in 2008, he cautioned, and donated just under $5.4 million to Republicans.  What Gillespie and his team could not have known was that the highly prepared RSLC had already figured out Pokemon Go, while equivalent groups on the Democratic side were trying to get a stickball game going. Democrats lacked the imagination to see redistricting in a new way and failed to play defense in those 107 districts — even after a March 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed by Karl Rove laid out the plan.

“We were prepared for the fights of the past,” Jessica Post, now the executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and a key leader behind the 2017 Democratic special election wins, told me for the epilogue of my book. “We could have done a better job of communicating to stakeholders what 2010 meant. When you’re in a legislative world you assume everyone knows.”

Republicans made no such assumptions. Gillespie presented the PowerPoint before movers and shakers in D.C. and nationwide, making the case that redistricting provided the GOP’s path back to power — at a discount-store price. “There is a lot at stake this year with state election results determining which party will draw U.S. House district boundaries in 2011,” Gillespie wrote the moneyed in-crowd invited to one such event, a redistricting breakfast at the powerful Nixon Peabody law firm. “What happens in state legislative races in 2010 will directly impact and shape the political landscape in Washington for the next 10 years.”

Not every effort was focused on the well-connected. The RSLC sent robocalls into Texas in June 2010 issuing the blunt message to Republicans that a Democratic majority in the Texas legislature could mean four more “Democrat Congressmen” in Washington. “Republicans only have a three-seat majority in the Texas House and there is a real possibility that Democrats could take the majority and elect a liberal Democrat speaker,” the taped call warned. “And then they’ll be in charge of the important redistricting process that will occur after the 2010 Census.” The call included three asks: The first at $75 or $100, the second at $50 or $60, the third, in order to “fight against Washington and President Obama,” settled for a smaller amount: “Can we count on you for $25 or would $30 be better today?”

But a goal of $30 million meant tapping deep pockets, and by late spring 2010, the big money was arriving. The 2010 national meeting of the RLCC was held in Atlanta from June 13 through 15 at the St. Regis Hotel. This time, agendas and calendars reveal, even the special sponsors breakfast required a $40,000 membership, and some of the biggest names in corporate America — Comcast, Coca-Cola, Altria, Archer Daniels Midland — were on board.

Gillespie presented at the State Leadership Luncheon and walked attendees through a June 2010 report, unreported until now, that included four tiers of state targets, focused on Michigan, Ohio and Texas — “where Republicans could gain as many as 14 new House seats” — as well as the New York Senate and Pennsylvania state House, where he suggested a pick-up of four seats was within reach. In all, Gillespie suggested the GOP could control 25 new House seats, while also picking up or holding eight state chambers. Eight additional chambers were toss-ups, with 16 more in play. “These predictions,” he added, a message to the money-men in the room, “assume REDMAP is fully funded.”

The roadshow roared through the South in June and July. Art Pope, a deep-pocketed and influential benefactor of conservative politics and ideas throughout North Carolina, hosted one event in Raleigh. Pope’s invitation, previously seen only by invited guests, was fiery: “As you know, in North Carolina, the Democratic Party drew gerrymandered Congressional and legislative districts, to rig the election results so that the Democrats won the majority of the seats, even when the majority of the people voted Republican,” he wrote. “We cannot stand by and let this happen again in 2011.”

Pope would put forth $36,500 of his own money for the RSLC that summer. The RSLC, meanwhile, sent $1.25 million to a group within Pope’s powerful network, Real Jobs NC. As detailed by The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, Real Jobs NC filled North Carolina’s airwaves with negative ads. Pope and groups closely related to him spent some $2.2 million targeting 22 Democratic legislators who were crucial to defeat if Republicans wanted to take control of state government. They beat 18 of them.

In his previously unseen thank-you note to Pope, Gillespie raved that their efforts were “a success and would not have been possible without your leadership and active participation.”

Other wealthy donors earned a more personal touch. Dr. John M. Templeton, president of the $28 billion John Templeton Foundation, would often write six-figure checks to conservative causes, especially those battling same-sex marriage. Understandably, Tim Barnes, the RSLC founder and finance chair, spent part of his summer reeling in this big fish. A previously unseen memo he sent Templeton on July 6, 2010, shows how Republican strategists framed their plans for the funders they needed most.

Barnes opens with down-ballot victories in 2008 and 2009: The GOP had registered 61 special election wins since Obama’s inauguration, plus off-year gains in New Jersey and Virginia. He described what the RSLC had already established in 2010: Seventy-two campaign schools for candidates and staff, a centralized data center for polling data and opposition research, the $14 million already in the bank.

But more would be needed for real change. Perhaps twice as much, Barnes confided; 2010 was looking good, “with the potential to be great.” That’s when he pivoted to REDMAP, a “program dedicated to winning state legislative seats that will have a critical impact on redistricting in 2011.” Barnes expressed optimism about the political climate. “It is only July and it is clear the GOP will hold every state legislative chamber that was thought to be in danger just 12 months ago,” he wrote, naming the Texas and Tennessee House and Michigan Senate as newly safe.

“If REDMAP accomplishes its goals (107 key races in 16 states) we can gain control of up to 25 congressional seats in redistricting — a key advantage going into 2012 congressional elections,” he concluded.

By the July 2010 report to donors, the RSLC could also report stellar political and fundraising results. In the group’s first political report to donors and others, it’s clear that REDMAP would be fully funded and that a Republican wave was taking shape. The RSLC could already predict to insiders that Democrats would not take control of a single state legislative chamber in 2010. Four GOP pickups appeared solid. Twelve Democratic chambers were in play. Better still, they wrote, key swing districts could be wiped off the table: “Nearly half of the traditionally swing districts,” they boasted, “will be redrawn by Republicans before the 2012 election cycle.”

There was even better news for the private September 2010 briefing, these new documents reveal. The RSLC predicted it would hold every GOP chamber, pick up at least 10 Democratic chambers, and place another 17 in play — all of them then held by the Democrats. “Because all GOP Chambers are ‘safe,’ number of key races is expanded to 119 races in 17 states.” That’s up from the 107 key races in 16 states from the original REDMAP plan. “The congressional redistricting impact is increased to 30 seats.”

Republicans spent October executing the final step of the plan: A negative-ad blitz dropped on Democratic state legislators during the last six weeks of an already challenging electoral cycle. REDMAP would spend more than half of its $30 million after Labor Day. As all the late money and negative ads hit, Democratic incumbents across Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin were buried. Republicans took both chambers in Wisconsin, which would become a laboratory for conservative governance in a purple state. They walked away with both houses in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. Republicans captured Alabama’s legislature for the first time in decades. North Carolina fell their way, as did Indiana. In total, 680 state legislative seats changed hands. It was, as President Obama called it at the time, a “shellacking.”

Obama had no idea just how decisive it would prove: Republicans would hold the House for the rest of his presidency. Jankowski, however, realized exactly what it meant. Before going to bed that night, he told an Associated Press reporter that Democrats “will not soon recover from what happened to them on a state level on Tuesday. It was significant. It was devastating in some areas. It will take years to recover.”

Indeed, even while Democrats sense momentum as we draw closer to the 2018 midterms, the path back to power is steep. Republicans control nearly 70 percent of all state legislative chambers. Democrats have not flipped a congressional seat from red to blue during this entire decade in such ostensible swing states such as North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Those states alone currently send 49 Republicans and 20 Democrats to Washington — a 29-seat edge that’s larger, all by itself, than the overall current GOP House majority.

Democrats bled nearly 1,000 state legislative seats nationwide during the Obama era. They hold fewer than 40 percent of the lower-House seats in those five crucial purple states, with the sole but instructive exception of Michigan. In that state, Democrats have gotten more aggregate state House votes than Republicans in each of the last three statewide cycles but nevertheless have been unable to win more than 42 percent of the seats.

National polls suggest that Democrats have a significant lead on the 2018 generic congressional ballot — but multiple scholarly models suggest they’ll need to maintain an improbable advantage even to have a shot at winning a majority of the seats. Such an edge can dwindle fast: In October 2016, Democrats held an edge of 7 to 10 points in similar polls conducted by Reuters and NBC. Three weeks later, Republican candidates won more votes. How important are maps? Well, just to put this in context, the big GOP wave in 2010 was produced with 51.7 percent of the vote — far less than what Democrats will need this year.

That proved to be the right wave at the right time, with the right strategy. But the Republicans did not stop on Election Day and that explains why their advantage has proven so durable all decade. According to previously unreported meeting minutes, December brought a senior leadership retreat to get moving on 2011 and 2012, with an agenda including “what changes, what stays the same, amount of travel and where, other assistance, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, etc.” There was discussion about funders who proved very nervous to be identified with such a project: “We talked briefly about the disclosure issue in raising money for REDMAP. The extent at which companies and individuals were concerned about disclosure . . . was far greater than expected.”

After that it was time for another PowerPoint for the 2011 fundraising road show: “Many commented on how well organized and good the REDMAP PowerPoint was during 2010, looked like we were ahead of DLCC, knew what we were doing, etc.” The PowerPoint had to be ready for March. Fundraising needed to be underway by April. Nothing would be taken for granted.

Jankowski and Gillespie scheduled another Nixon Peabody breakfast to let the legislative leaders know that the RSLC would assume the advisory role on redistricting usually handled by the Republican National Committee. According to the previously private invitation, Gillespie and Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, the former REDMAP chairman, would “discuss the important impact our efforts will have in securing and increasing the Republican majority in the U.S. House.”

The RSLC’s 527 arm, the State Government Leadership Foundation, stood ready to help and to foot the bill. REDMAP’s ultimate success, after all, would come not from winning in 2010, but from capitalizing on that victory for the next decade. They retained “seasoned redistricting experts” — led by Hofeller, the presenter of that original 2009 PowerPoint in Nashville — who would stand by, “happy to assist in drawing proposed maps, interpreting data, or providing advice.”

While one side of the operation focused on maps, the RSLC communication wing drafted op-eds under the name of Reynolds and his congressional colleague Bill McCollum of Florida, among others. They argued that Democrats faced oblivion at the state level because voters consistently rejected liberal policies. “It’s not about the maps, it’s about the message,” the RSLC argued. For more than two years, in one PowerPoint after another, from Nashville to Houston to Louisville, in fundraising pitches to zillionaires and small donors, the message was simple: Maps matter. Once victory was in hand, the message pivoted 180 degrees.

Gillespie took his victory lap at a private thank-you gala alongside RSLC’s legislative leaders. The “REDMAP Appreciation Luncheon” was held on March 7 at the tobacco giant Altria (formerly Philip Morris). The invitation spells out just how much Republicans had to celebrate. “In the 70 congressional districts that were labeled by National Public Radio as ‘competitive’ in 2010,” Barnes wrote, “Republicans now control the redrawing of at least 47 of those districts.” Behind closed doors, of course, maps still mattered.

Gillespie’s final talking point that day: “Conclude with thanking the RLCC corporate members for their investment. We did not spill a drop, [and] made maximum impact.”

David Daley is the author of “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count,” a senior fellow at FairVote and the former editor-in-chief of Salon.

More from  David Daley

 

 

 

The GOP Targets State Legislatures by Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal, March 03, 2010 http://www.rove.com/article/the-gop-targets-state-legislatures-16130 -

This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, March 3, 2010.

…The political world is fixated on whether this year’s elections will deliver an epic rebuke of President Barack Obama and his party. If that happens, it could end up costing Democrats congressional seats for a decade to come.

Some of the most important contests this fall will be way down the ballot in communities like Portsmouth, Ohio and West Lafayette, Ind., and neighborhoods like Brushy Creek in Round Rock, Texas, and Murrysville Township in Westmoreland County, Pa. These are state legislative races that will determine who redraws congressional district lines after this year’s census, a process that could determine which party controls upwards of 20 seats and whether many other seats will be competitive.

Next year, legislatures in the 44 states with more than one congressional seat will adjust their districts’ boundaries to account for changes in population.

Some 18 state legislatures could have an additional task. As many as 10 states will have to combine districts as they lose House seats. Eight states are expected to gain at least one seat each.

Seats will almost certainly move out of Democratic states (such as Michigan, New York and Massachusetts) and into Republican-leaning, faster-growing states (such as Arizona, Georgia, Texas and Utah). Battleground states such as Iowa and Ohio might also lose seats. This process will be marked by a historic event: For the first time since joining the union in 1850, California will probably not get any additional seat in Congress.

Control of the state legislature matters whether a state loses or gains seats. Take fast-growing Texas, which is expected to pick up as many as four seats next year. Democrats had a 17-13 edge in the state’s congressional delegation after the 2000 elections. Republicans won control of the Texas House in 2002 and redrew the state’s congressional map. As a result, the GOP now controls 20 congressional seats in Texas while Democrats control 12. Similarly in Georgia, following the 2000 census Democrats redrew district lines to give themselves control of the state’s two new congressional seats.

In Pennsylvania, Republicans controlled 11 congressional seats and Democrats 10 before reapportionment cost the Keystone State two seats in 2001. Afterward, the Republican legislature redrew the map to the GOP’s advantage, creating 12 Republican seats and seven Democratic ones. (Democrats later picked up some of those GOP seats.)

To understand the broader political implications, consider that the GOP gained somewhere between 25 and 30 seats because of the redistricting that followed the 1990 census. Without those seats, Republicans would not have won the House in 1994.

Control of redistricting also has huge financial implications. The average winner of a competitive House race in 2008 spent $2 million, while a noncompetitive seat can be defended for far less than half that amount. Moving, say, 20 districts from competitive to out-of-reach could save a party $100 million or more over the course of a decade.

There are 18 state legislative chambers that have four or fewer seats separating the two parties that are important for redistricting. Seven of these are controlled by Republicans and the other 11 are controlled by Democrats, including the lower houses in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Republican strategists are focused on 107 seats in 16 states. Winning these seats would give them control of drawing district lines for nearly 190 congressional seats. Six of these states are projected to pick up a total of nine seats, and five are expected to lose a combined six seats.

Nationally, the GOP’s effort will be spearheaded by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC). Funded by 80,000 donors, it spent more than $20 million in the last election cycle on legislative races and for attorney general, lieutenant governor and secretary of state campaigns.

The group recently announced that former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie will serve as its chairman and former New York Rep. Tom Reynolds will serve as both the group’s vice chairman and chair of a special redistricting effort.

Democrats already have a galaxy of at least six national groups coordinating on state legislative races. Among them are the union-based Foundation for the Future, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and the Democracy Alliance. The last group has distributed $110 million for down-ballot races in recent years.

Over the past year and a half, Republicans have picked up six seats in the Virginia House of Delegates and one seat in the New Jersey Assembly and won 48 state legislative special elections, for a net gain nationally of 19 seats.

If the president’s dismal approval ratings cost his party additional state legislative seats and with them control of redistricting this fall, there will be plenty of Democrats bitter about how Mr. Obama has brought low his party’s fortunes. It seems that no Democrat, at any level, is immune to the politically poisonous effects of the Obama presidency.

This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, March 3, 2010.

The GOP Targets State Legislatures by Karl Rove

March 03, 2010 http://www.rove.com/article/the-gop-targets-state-legislatures-16130

The political world is fixated on whether this year’s elections will deliver an epic rebuke of President Barack Obama and his party. If that happens, it could end up costing Democrats congressional seats for a decade to come.

Some of the most important contests this fall will be way down the ballot in communities like Portsmouth, Ohio and West Lafayette, Ind., and neighborhoods like Brushy Creek in Round Rock, Texas, and Murrysville Township in Westmoreland County, Pa. These are state legislative races that will determine who redraws congressional district lines after this year’s census, a process that could determine which party controls upwards of 20 seats and whether many other seats will be competitive.

Next year, legislatures in the 44 states with more than one congressional seat will adjust their districts’ boundaries to account for changes in population.

Some 18 state legislatures could have an additional task. As many as 10 states will have to combine districts as they lose House seats. Eight states are expected to gain at least one seat each.

Seats will almost certainly move out of Democratic states (such as Michigan, New York and Massachusetts) and into Republican-leaning, faster-growing states (such as Arizona, Georgia, Texas and Utah). Battleground states such as Iowa and Ohio might also lose seats. This process will be marked by a historic event: For the first time since joining the union in 1850, California will probably not get any additional seat in Congress.

Control of the state legislature matters whether a state loses or gains seats. Take fast-growing Texas, which is expected to pick up as many as four seats next year. Democrats had a 17-13 edge in the state’s congressional delegation after the 2000 elections. Republicans won control of the Texas House in 2002 and redrew the state’s congressional map. As a result, the GOP now controls 20 congressional seats in Texas while Democrats control 12. Similarly in Georgia, following the 2000 census Democrats redrew district lines to give themselves control of the state’s two new congressional seats.

In Pennsylvania, Republicans controlled 11 congressional seats and Democrats 10 before reapportionment cost the Keystone State two seats in 2001. Afterward, the Republican legislature redrew the map to the GOP’s advantage, creating 12 Republican seats and seven Democratic ones. (Democrats later picked up some of those GOP seats.)

To understand the broader political implications, consider that the GOP gained somewhere between 25 and 30 seats because of the redistricting that followed the 1990 census. Without those seats, Republicans would not have won the House in 1994.

Control of redistricting also has huge financial implications. The average winner of a competitive House race in 2008 spent $2 million, while a noncompetitive seat can be defended for far less than half that amount. Moving, say, 20 districts from competitive to out-of-reach could save a party $100 million or more over the course of a decade.

There are 18 state legislative chambers that have four or fewer seats separating the two parties that are important for redistricting. Seven of these are controlled by Republicans and the other 11 are controlled by Democrats, including the lower houses in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Republican strategists are focused on 107 seats in 16 states. Winning these seats would give them control of drawing district lines for nearly 190 congressional seats. Six of these states are projected to pick up a total of nine seats, and five are expected to lose a combined six seats.

Nationally, the GOP’s effort will be spearheaded by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC). Funded by 80,000 donors, it spent more than $20 million in the last election cycle on legislative races and for attorney general, lieutenant governor and secretary of state campaigns.

The group recently announced that former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie will serve as its chairman and former New York Rep. Tom Reynolds will serve as both the group’s vice chairman and chair of a special redistricting effort.

Democrats already have a galaxy of at least six national groups coordinating on state legislative races. Among them are the union-based Foundation for the Future, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and the Democracy Alliance. The last group has distributed $110 million for down-ballot races in recent years.

Over the past year and a half, Republicans have picked up six seats in the Virginia House of Delegates and one seat in the New Jersey Assembly and won 48 state legislative special elections, for a net gain nationally of 19 seats.

If the president’s dismal approval ratings cost his party additional state legislative seats and with them control of redistricting this fall, there will be plenty of Democrats bitter about how Mr. Obama has brought low his party’s fortunes. It seems that no Democrat, at any level, is immune to the politically poisonous effects of the Obama presidency.

How Wobbly Is Our Democracy?

By STEVEN LEVITSKY and DANIEL ZIBLATT

This is how democracy died in Chile. Before the 1973 coup, Chile was Latin America’s oldest democracy, buttressed by vibrant democratic norms, including a well-established “culture of compromise.” Chileans liked to say that there was no political disagreement that could not be settled over a bottle of Chilean cabernet. But beginning in the 1960s, Chile’s culture of compromise was shattered by Cold War polarization. Mutual toleration eroded, and political parties eschewed forbearance for a “win at all cost” strategy. Chilean democracy fell into a death spiral, culminating in a bloody coup. (The intervention of the United States accelerated but did not cause this death spiral.)

Could it happen here? It already has. During the 1850s, polarization over slavery undermined America’s democratic norms. Southern Democrats viewed the antislavery position of the emerging Republican Party as an existential threat. They assailed Republicans as “traitors to the Constitution” and vowed to “never permit this federal government to pass into the traitorous hands of the Black Republican Party.”

Norm erosion alters the zone of acceptable political behavior. Partisan violence pervaded Congress. Joanne Freeman, a historian at Yale, counted more than 100 incidents of violence (including fistfights, canings and the pulling of knives and pistols) on the floor of Congress between 1830 and 1860. Before long, the republic would be broken — and Americans would be killing one another in the hundreds of thousands.

Levitsky, Ziblatt Posted at 6:50 pm on January 28, 2018

nytimes.com/2018/01/27/opinion/sunday/democracy-polarization.html

How Western civilisation could collapse

By Rachel Nuwer | 18 April 2017
BBC
http://churchandstate.org.uk/2018/01/how-western-civilisation-could-collapse

It should come as no surprise that humanity is currently on an uncertain path – but just how close are we to reaching the point…

The political economist Benjamin Friedman once compared modern Western society to a stable bicycle whose wheels are kept spinning by economic growth. Should that forward-propelling motion slow or cease, the pillars that define our society – democracy, individual liberties, social tolerance and more – would begin to teeter. Our world would become an increasingly ugly place, one defined by a scramble over limited resources and a rejection of anyone outside of our immediate group. Should we find no way to get the wheels back in motion, we’d eventually face total societal collapse.

Such collapses have occurred many times in human history, and no civilisation, no matter how seemingly great, is immune to the vulnerabilities that may lead a society to its end. Regardless of how well things are going in the present moment, the situation can always change. Putting aside species-ending events like an asteroid strike, nuclear winter or deadly pandemic, history tells us that it’s usually a plethora of factors that contribute to collapse. What are they, and which, if any, have already begun to surface? It should come as no surprise that humanity is currently on an unsustainable and uncertain path – but just how close are we to reaching the point of no return?

While it’s impossible to predict the future with certainty, mathematics, science and history can provide hints about the prospects of Western societies for long-term continuation.

Safa Motesharrei, a systems scientist at the University of Maryland, uses computer models to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that can lead to local or global sustainability or collapse. According to findings that Motesharrei and his colleagues published in 2014, there are two factors that matter: ecological strain and economic stratification. The ecological category is the more widely understood and recognised path to potential doom, especially in terms of depletion of natural resources such as groundwater, soil, fisheries and forests – all of which could be worsened by climate change.

That economic stratification may lead to collapse on its own, on the other hand, came as more of a surprise to Motesharrei and his colleagues. Under this scenario, elites push society toward instability and eventual collapse by hoarding huge quantities of wealth and resources, and leaving little or none for commoners who vastly outnumber them yet support them with labour. Eventually, the working population crashes because the portion of wealth allocated to them is not enough, followed by collapse of the elites due to the absence of labour. The inequalities we see today both within and between countries already point to such disparities. For example, the top 10% of global income earners are responsible for almost as much total greenhouse gas emissions as the bottom 90% combined. Similarly, about half the world’s population lives on less than $3 per day.

For both scenarios, the models define a carrying capacity – a total population level that a given environment’s resources can sustain over the long term. If the carrying capacity is overshot by too much, collapse becomes inevitable. That fate is avoidable, however. “If we make rational choices to reduce factors such as inequality, explosive population growth, the rate at which we deplete natural resources and the rate of pollution – all perfectly doable things – then we can avoid collapse and stabilise onto a sustainable trajectory,” Motesharrei said. “But we cannot wait forever to make those decisions.”

Unfortunately, some experts believe such tough decisions exceed our political and psychological capabilities. “The world will not rise to the occasion of solving the climate problem during this century, simply because it is more expensive in the short term to solve the problem than it is to just keep acting as usual,” says Jorgen Randers, a professor emeritus of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School, and author of 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years. “The climate problem will get worse and worse and worse because we won’t be able to live up to what we’ve promised to do in the Paris Agreement and elsewhere.”

While we are all in this together, the world’s poorest will feel the effects of collapse first. Indeed, some nations are already serving as canaries in the coal mine for the issues that may eventually pull apart more affluent ones. Syria, for example, enjoyed exceptionally high fertility rates for a time, which fueled rapid population growth. A severe drought in the late 2000s, likely made worse by human-induced climate change, combined with groundwater shortages to cripple agricultural production. That crisis left large numbers of people – especially young men – unemployed, discontent and desperate. Many flooded into urban centres, overwhelming limited resources and services there. Pre-existing ethnic tensions increased, creating fertile grounds for violence and conflict. On top of that, poor governance – including neoliberal policies that eliminated water subsidies in the middle of the drought – tipped the country into civil war in 2011 and sent it careening toward collapse.

In Syria’s case – as with so many other societal collapses throughout history – it was not one but a plethora of factors that contributed, says Thomas Homer-Dixon, chair of global systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada, and author of The Upside of Down. Homer-Dixon calls these combined forces tectonic stresses for the way in which they quietly build up and then abruptly erupt, overloading any stabilising mechanisms that otherwise keep a society in check.

The Syrian case aside, another sign that we’re entering into a danger zone, Homer-Dixon says, is the increasing occurrence of what experts call nonlinearities, or sudden, unexpected changes in the world’s order, such as the 2008 economic crisis, the rise of ISIS, Brexit, or Donald Trump’s election.

The past can also provide hints for how the future might play out. Take, for example, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. By the end of the 100BC the Romans had spread across the Mediterranean, to the places most easily accessed by sea. They should have stopped there, but things were going well and they felt empowered to expand to new frontiers by land. While transportation by sea was economical, however, transportation across land was slow and expensive. All the while, they were overextending themselves and running up costs. The Empire managed to remain stable in the ensuing centuries, but repercussions for spreading themselves too thin caught up with them in the 3rd Century, which was plagued by civil war and invasions. The Empire tried to maintain its core lands, even as the army ate up its budget and inflation climbed ever higher as the government debased its silver currency to try to cover its mounting expenses. While some scholars cite the beginning of collapse as the year 410, when the invading Visigoths sacked the capital, that dramatic event was made possible by a downward spiral spanning more than a century.

According to Joseph Tainter, a professor of environment and society at Utah State University and author of The Collapse of Complex Societies, one of the most important lessons from Rome’s fall is that complexity has a cost. As stated in the laws of thermodynamics, it takes energy to maintain any system in a complex, ordered state – and human society is no exception. By the 3rd Century, Rome was increasingly adding new things – an army double the size, a cavalry, subdivided provinces that each needed their own bureaucracies, courts and defences – just to maintain its status quo and keep from sliding backwards. Eventually, it could no longer afford to prop up those heightened complexities. It was fiscal weakness, not war, that did the Empire in.

So far, modern Western societies have largely been able to postpone similar precipitators of collapse through fossil fuels and industrial technologies – think hydraulic fracturing coming along in 2008, just in time to offset soaring oil prices. Tainter suspects this will not always be the case, however. “Imagine the costs if we have to build a seawall around Manhattan, just to protect against storms and rising tides,” he says. Eventually, investment in complexity as a problem-solving strategy reaches a point of diminishing returns, leading to fiscal weakness and vulnerability to collapse. That is, he says “unless we find a way to pay for the complexity, as our ancestors did when they increasingly ran societies on fossil fuels.”

 

Also paralleling Rome, Homer-Dixon predicts that Western societies’ collapse will be preceded by a retraction of people and resources back to their core homelands. As poorer nations continue to disintegrate amid conflicts and natural disasters, enormous waves of migrants will stream out of failing regions, seeking refuge in more stable states. Western societies will respond with restrictions and even bans on immigration; multi-billion dollar walls and border-patrolling drones and troops; heightened security on who and what gets in; and more authoritarian, populist styles of governing. “It’s almost an immunological attempt by countries to sustain a periphery and push pressure back,” Homer-Dixon says.

Meanwhile, a widening gap between rich and poor within those already vulnerable Western nations will push society toward further instability from the inside. “By 2050, the US and UK will have evolved into two-class societies where a small elite lives a good life and there is declining well-being for the majority,” Randers says. “What will collapse is equity.”

Whether in the US, UK or elsewhere, the more dissatisfied and afraid people become, Homer-Dixon says, the more of a tendency they have to cling to their in-group identity – whether religious, racial or national. Denial, including of the emerging prospect of societal collapse itself, will be widespread, as will rejection of evidence-based fact. If people admit that problems exist at all, they will assign blame for those problems to everyone outside of their in-group, building up resentment. “You’re setting up the psychological and social prerequisites for mass violence,” Homer-Dixon says. When localised violence finally does break out, or another country or group decides to invade, collapse will be difficult to avoid.

Europe, with its close proximity to Africa, its land bridge to the Middle East and its neighbourly status with more politically volatile nations to the East, will feel these pressures first. The US will likely hold out longer, surrounded as it is by ocean buffers.

On the other hand, Western societies may not meet with a violent, dramatic end. In some cases, civilisations simply fade out of existence – becoming the stuff of history not with a bang but a whimper. The British Empire has been on this path since 1918, Randers says, and other Western nations might go this route as well. As time passes, they will become increasingly inconsequential and, in response to the problems driving their slow fade-out, will also starkly depart from the values they hold dear today. “Western nations are not going to collapse, but the smooth operation and friendly nature of Western society will disappear, because inequity is going to explode,” Randers argues. “Democratic, liberal society will fail, while stronger governments like China will be the winners.”

Some of these forecasts and early warning signs should sound familiar, precisely because they are already underway. While Homer-Dixon is not surprised at the world’s recent turn of events – he predicted some of them in his 2006 book – he didn’t expect these developments to occur before the mid-2020s.

Western civilisation is not a lost cause, however. Using reason and science to guide decisions, paired with extraordinary leadership and exceptional goodwill, human society can progress to higher and higher levels of well-being and development, Homer-Dixon says. Even as we weather the coming stresses of climate change, population growth and dropping energy returns, we can maintain our societies and better them. But that requires resisting the very natural urge, when confronted with such overwhelming pressures, to become less cooperative, less generous and less open to reason. “The question is, how can we manage to preserve some kind of humane world as we make our way through these changes?” Homer-Dixon says.

During the formative years of the World Health Organization (WHO), broad consensus existed among United Nations member countries that overpopulation is a grave public health threat and would be a major cause of preventable death not too far in the future. One of the founding fathers of the WHO, the late Milton P. Siegel, speaks to public health doctor Stephen Mumford in 1992. He explains how the Vatican successfully stymied the incorporation of family planning and birth control into official WHO policy. This video is available for public viewing for the first time. Read the full transcript of the interview here.

 

It May Actually Be Worse Than You Think: Assessing the Integrated and Funded Machine We Are Up Against

by Cynthia Kaufman, Common Dreams, September 06, 2017

… learning about the vast right wing conspiracy and how it functions. I read Jane Mayer’s Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, and Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean. And now I am more deeply afraid for our future than I have ever been in the past.

Neither book overstates its claims or veers into speculative conspiracy theory. The two books are very well researched, incredibly clear, and factual. Dark Money focuses on the network of organizations that have been funded by Koch and Scaife money.  Democracy in Chains is a deep dive into the influence of James Buchannan, a Nobel Prize winning economist, who was one of the leading thinkers behind the Koch enterprise. The punch line of books is that we are up against an unprecedented level of organization and funding by a right wing that is more extreme than anything seen in the modern period.

We are not up against the old, pro-capitalist business elite, which uses the constitution to ground its actions in the rule of law, and which seeks more than anything, a stable environment in which business can operate. The goals of this new extreme right wing are an end to taxation, which they see as an infringement of liberty; and end to the social welfare state; and a shrinking of any aspect of government that has to do with taking care of the environment and social needs. The Kochs are oil people and maintaining reliance on fossil fuels is crucial to their plan.

Charles Koch, the brains, and main funder, behind the operation, is an incredibly successful and ruthless businessman. And he has brought those skills to the political arena. The network he dominates is horizontally and vertically integrated, deeply strategic in is approach, extremist in its goals, and almost infinitely well-funded. And we ignore it at our peril…. Everything good we have in the country has come as a result of the hard work of social movements

I think of US politics as generally working that way: popular forces mobilize and sometime they win concessions from a largely pro-capitalist political system…It relies for its electoral successes on giving the people civil rights, environmental protection, and a social safety net. The Republican Party, on the other hand has been even more beholden to pro-capitalist forces, and, ever since Nixon, has used coded racism to build popular support for policies which were in the interest of the wealthy.

What is new, in the present period is that the pro-capitalist, but stability seeking, Republican Party has now been taken over by a well-integrated machine. That machine has no interest in democracy, the constitution, or stable condition in which business can operate, or even stability of the climate upon which all life depends. And it doesn’t play by the old rules.

The Koch machine helped put Pinochet into power in Chile, and rewrite its constitution… They have invested millions of dollars in paying for positions at universities for professions would support their views. They have set up powerful and well-funded think tanks to propagate their views, even founding the  discipline of “law and economics” and establishing it as many law schools, to develop scholarship that looks at law through the lens of libertarian economics…

They gave a start to James Buchannan who got a Nobel Prize in economics for taking the view of human beings as fundamentally self -interested that dominates the discipline of economics, and applying it to an understanding of how government bureaucracies operate. This has helped propagate the view, now widespread, that government programs are a problem in people’s lives as opposed to a means for solving problems. They funded the work of Charles Murray, who made the case that welfare makes its recipients psychologically dependent, and funded its propagation.

And they are the forces behind the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent propagating climate change denial. Again, academic and think tanks they support have flooded the intellectual sphere enough to have a tremendous impact.

Between 2010 and 2012 their non-profit legislative arm, ALEC, had sponsored over 180 bills in forty-one states to restrict who could vote. The Koch’s have funded “think and do” tanks in all fifty states which are networked through the State Policy Network. The Michigan affiliate, the Mackinac Center, proposed the policies that led to the disaster of the poisoning of the water of Flint Michigan.

This network is in it for the long game…until the election of Obama, they had tried and failed at achieving general popular support for their views. The move that changed that was the Tea Party. Their think tanks developed the propaganda and talking points used by that movement. And they paid huge sums of money to right wing media outlets and personalities, such as Bill O’Reilly, to whip up enthusiasm for their anti-government point of view.

Their next move is to come after public employee unions, as union political power is one of the strongest counterforces to the money of the “kochtopus.” …The politics of right wing populism prey on the resentments that can be mobilized to divide working class people from each other.

This network did not at first support Donald Trump. They saw him as too liberal and unreliable. And yet,  his form of fact-free pseudo populism is exactly what the Koch people and their allies unleashed with their Tea Party movement. Trump is not who we should be focusing on. He is likely to be a passing symptom of a much larger and deeper disease.

If you have the stomach for more of this I suggest you watch the recent film, Get Me Roger Stone, and read The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert O. Paxton as well as Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, written by David Daly. Get Me Roger Stone focuses on one ruthless Republican operative who is the king of fake news, as the brains behind the birther lie, and the one responsible for the relentless hammering into the minds of the public of the idea of Hilary Clinton as criminal. The Anatomy of Fascism explains in detail how the Nazis were able to consolidate state power. Finally Ratf**ked, is a detailed examination of the gerrymandering the congressional seats in the recent past, which has led to it being very difficult for democrats to win a majority in the house of representative.

Of course the deep pessimism I feel today could all be washed away in the 2018 midterm elections. It may be that the Republicans have gone too far. There seems to be about one third of the electorate that is addicted to the drug of self-flattery, who are willing to let any lie go by as long as it makes them feel like they are righteous people who are being milked by the government in the interest of underserving others, may never sway from support of people like Trump.  

But even with gerrymandering, support from that one third can only get you so far if, enough other people vote. But of course that is the crux of what happened with the 2016 presidential election. It was not the case that more reactionary white people voted than in previous elections. What lost Clinton the election was that fewer low-frequency voters came out to vote for her.

And so the question for our electoral system is what would it take for the large number of progressive minded people who don’t vote to engage with the electoral system? But at this point it also looks as if the Democratic Party is not willing to give disenfranchised people enough of a reason to vote to get them engaged. And that scares me more than Trump does.

www.commondreams.org/views/2017/09/06/it-may-actually-be-worse-you-think-assessing-integrated-and-funded-machine-we-are

 

One Year Later: The Political Cancer Metastasizes

By Neal Gabler, billmoyers.com, Democracy & Government, November 10, 2017 http://billmoyers.com/story/one-year-later-political-cancer-metastasizes/

America was never what it had purported to be.

Excerpt…There will come a time, no doubt, when professional historians look back on these times and assess what happened to America, and I don’t think the assessment will be pretty. They will think of it as a period of national derangement, a time when America lost its bearings.

One year ago, Donald Trump, through the vicissitudes of our bizarre electoral system, beat Hillary Clinton… Trump’s victory broke with the idealism in America’s history, traditions and values. There was a feeling in some quarters that those of us who felt that way were being alarmist… You could hope that the Americans who supported Trump would come to their senses and that those who opposed him would create a countermovement. Happily, to some degree, that has indeed happened. …Many voters … enthused over Trump’s promise to destroy America as they had come to know it, which was the America of civility and tolerance and diversity, but also the America of elites and economic inequality and condescension.

That promise, however, was predicated on something else: that having blown up the country, Trump’s demolition would rediscover the old America underneath…About the only thing he is likely to accomplish is a massive tax redistribution from the middle class to the upper classes, under the guise of “tax cuts,”…

After last Nov. 8, this suddenly became a different country than it had been. Not only had the skeletons come out of the closet, they were leading the parade. No, America was never what it had purported to be. The idealism was always better in theory than in practice. We were always too self-congratulatory, too fixated on American exceptionalism, on ideas like The Greatest Generation, overlooking a fundamental fissure.

That fissure opened because the country was formed over conflicting concepts of freedom and equality. We like to think of ourselves as champions of equality: a tolerant, charitable, compassionate egalitarian people, showing one another respect and decency, and sometimes we are. This is, I believe, the very foundation of American liberalism. But we also like to think of ourselves as free from constraints, independent and self-sufficient, less concerned with compassion than with what we regard as personal justice. This, I believe, is the foundation of American conservatism.

Throughout our history, these two forces have continually vied with one another and at best tempered one another. The country operates in a kind of equilibrium between community and individualism, between sacrifice and self-interestedness. Trump has upset that equilibrium. By foreswearing equality entirely, he turned us from a community into, as many observers are now saying, a group of tribes, each focused only on its own prerogatives. Trump turned us against one another. He created a new, cold civil war between an expiring America where freedom was paramount and an ascending one where equality was paramount. He arrested history… His tweets are aimed squarely against immigrants and minorities who he believes have stolen the country away from the white Americans (white male Americans) who rightfully should control this country…. He has stressed might over morality. In short, his is the authoritarian playbook.

…. It is the single most radical political change, I believe, in the country’s history.

So the idea that Trump is just some bump in the road, or a contagion that will pass, is, I think, a fool’s dream. He now owns the Republican Party lock, stock and barrel…We cannot and should not ignore that nearly 40 percent of Americans — basically the entire Republican Party — will walk in lockstep with him wherever he leads. That should terrify us…. Trump, while no genius, certainly realizes how little he has to do to redeem himself just enough to keep his hate crusade afloat…That is also from the authoritarian playbook. Egomaniacs don’t care about other people’s lives.

I wrote here a year ago that there would be no coming back from this — that no matter what happened subsequently, we had crossed a threshold… the country is damaged, its values are damaged and repair will be a long time coming, if ever.

Trumpism now owns that dark and malignant strain in American life that has long sabotaged the ideals we prefer to celebrate ….White supremacists are not likely to forget that one of their hatemongers took the presidency…We can enjoy Tuesday’s triumphs as a rebuff to Trump, which they most certainly were. We can and must remain vigilant to contain the malignancy. Still, we cannot erase the fact that Trump’s rampage has left our country deeply wounded, perhaps fatally. He blew up America. A year later, there is no great old America underneath for the Trump-supporting nostalgists. There is instead rubble. And he is not done yet.

Full text

One Year Later: The Political Cancer Metastasizes By Neal Gabler, billmoyers.com, November 10, 2017

America was never what it had purported to be.

Exactly one day short of one year after the election of Donald Trump, the fog finally seemed to lift and the skies brightened. On Tuesday, voters rejected Trumpism in New Jersey and in Virginia, where establishment Republican Ed Gillespie embraced Trump’s racism and nativism, indicating how deeply the president’s poison has penetrated even the precincts of the party that should be vigorously in opposition to it.

In Maine, voters approved an expansion of Medicaid that their right-wing governor had rejected several times. In Washington state, Democrats won the upper house of the legislature. Meanwhile, GOP members of Congress are deserting the ship, one by one. As Steve Bannon marshals his “alt-right” forces to defeat mainstream Republicans, his primary candidates may be so far off the political spectrum next year that they could derail the Republicans’ Senate hopes. Across the board, Democratic prospects in 2018 look promising, if the Democrats don’t manage to screw things up, which is a very big if.

And yet, before anyone gets too sanguine, consider where we are. There will come a time, no doubt, when professional historians look back on these times and assess what happened to America, and I don’t think the assessment will be pretty. They will think of it as a period of national derangement, a time when America lost its bearings.

One year ago, Donald Trump, through the vicissitudes of our bizarre electoral system, beat Hillary Clinton, and one year ago I wrote a valedictory to the America I had known and loved, quoting lines from W.H. Auden’s September 1, 1939, in which he described the cataclysm of Hitler’s armies marching into Poland and launching World War II. America had flirted with disaster in the past, but we prided ourselves on not having succumbed to it, save with the Civil War. Somehow alleged good sense and solid institutions kept us from going over the precipice. Somehow.

And then, last Nov. 8, we did.

I wrote then of the peril the nation faced, of the way Trump’s victory broke with the idealism in America’s history, traditions and values. There was a feeling in some quarters that those of us who felt that way were being alarmist — that Trump would either normalize himself to fit the contours of our politics or that he would be normalized by the inhibitions of American democracy, where inertia exerts far more power than movement, especially since the great divide between the conservatives and liberals. You could hope that the disruption Trump represented would be mild, and it would be brief. You could hope that the Americans who supported Trump would come to their senses and that those who opposed him would create a countermovement.

Happily, to some degree, that has indeed happened. Even before Tuesday, recent polls showed a sense of buyer’s remorse. Many voters no doubt had felt glee at upending the applecart of modern America, and they enthused over Trump’s promise to destroy America as they had come to know it, which was the America of civility and tolerance and diversity, but also the America of elites and economic inequality and condescension.

After last Nov. 8, this suddenly became a different country than it had been. Not only had the skeletons come out of the closet, they were leading the parade.

That promise, however, was predicated on something else: that having blown up the country, Trump’s demolition would rediscover the old America underneath. Trump was supposed to be a political archeologist, digging down to another epoch. He was supposed to restore America to a halcyon past of white supremacy, on the one hand, and populism, on the other.

But Trump has betrayed that promise, even as he continues to give lip service to it. About the only thing he is likely to accomplish is a massive tax redistribution from the middle class to the upper classes, under the guise of “tax cuts,” which is something any old establishment Republican could have accomplished. In short, as a policymaker, Trump is less than nil, and that probably wouldn’t matter much to his supporters, who really don’t give a damn about policy, if it weren’t for the fact that Trump sold himself as a doer, and he is also nil there.

Still, that is just policy. Trump’s real accomplishment goes far deeper and is far more destructive than his attempts to repeal Obamacare or revoke environmental protections or banking regulations or any of the other dozens of things he has tried to do and sometimes did. After last Nov. 8, this suddenly became a different country than it had been. Not only had the skeletons come out of the closet, they were leading the parade. No, America was never what it had purported to be. The idealism was always better in theory than in practice. We were always too self-congratulatory, too fixated on American exceptionalism, on ideas like The Greatest Generation, overlooking a fundamental fissure.

That fissure opened because the country was formed over conflicting concepts of freedom and equality. We like to think of ourselves as champions of equality: a tolerant, charitable, compassionate egalitarian people, showing one another respect and decency, and sometimes we are. This is, I believe, the very foundation of American liberalism. But we also like to think of ourselves as free from constraints, independent and self-sufficient, less concerned with compassion than with what we regard as personal justice. This, I believe, is the foundation of American conservatism.

Throughout our history, these two forces have continually vied with one another and at best tempered one another. The country operates in a kind of equilibrium between community and individualism, between sacrifice and self-interestedness. Trump has upset that equilibrium. By foreswearing equality entirely, he turned us from a community into, as many observers are now saying, a group of tribes, each focused only on its own prerogatives. Trump turned us against one another. He created a new, cold civil war between an expiring America where freedom was paramount and an ascending one where equality was paramount. He arrested history.

When he is called the “divider-in-chief,” the label goes beyond his incendiary rhetoric to a zero-sum blame game. Whatever ails his supporters, he says, is the result of someone having taken something from them. His tweets are aimed squarely against immigrants and minorities who he believes have stolen the country away from the white Americans (white male Americans) who rightfully should control this country.

He nurses grievances, he advances conspiracy theories, he exacerbates angers, he scapegoats. He has opened wounds that had taken a century to begin to heal. And globally, he has given the middle finger to the rest of the world while lowering the nation’s standing and offending our allies while embracing our biggest enemy. He has stressed might over morality. In short, his is the authoritarian playbook.

The idea that Trump is just some bump in the road, or a contagion that will pass, is, I think, a fool’s dream. He now owns the Republican Party lock, stock and barrel.

A recent article in The Boston Globe looking at divisions in York, Pennsylvania, provides a powerful microcosm of how thoroughly Trump has splintered this country in only a year. He may not be the cause of this change, only its product. But no major candidate in any major party ever provided the opportunity he has to loose these divisions and ignite these hatreds.

I think of Trump’s America as a kind of Opposite Day — the game we played in grammar school where everything said was interpreted as the opposite. In a remarkably Orwellian fashion, Trump has taken whatever was good in this country and said and did the opposite. Nothing is what it used to be. Everything seems turned inside out. That is the country in which we now live. It is the single most radical political change, I believe, in the country’s history.

So the idea that Trump is just some bump in the road, or a contagion that will pass, is, I think, a fool’s dream. He now owns the Republican Party lock, stock and barrel. Those few who speak out against him, like Jeff Flake, only do so when they know they cannot win a primary against a Trump-backed candidate. Failure emboldens them. The others pretend to ignore him when it comes to legislation, but they know that while Trump is ignorant of and less than engaged with policy — all he wants are victories, regardless of policy — he is the electoral 800-pound gorilla in Republican primaries.

Rank-and-file Republicans still love him, not because of any ideological affinities but because of their emotional ones. We cannot and should not ignore that nearly 40 percent of Americans — basically the entire Republican Party — will walk in lockstep with him wherever he leads. That should terrify us.

Moreover, Trump, while no genius, certainly realizes how little he has to do to redeem himself just enough to keep his hate crusade afloat. We have already seen how the media practically canonized him for shooting some missiles at Syria, or how they gave him kudos for seeming to make a budget deal with Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Trump dread is so deep in most of the country that even his refraining from tweeting for a few days would raise his stock and elicit praise that he was now “presidential.” Similarly, as I have written here, a war against North Korea would make him a short-term hero in many quarters and would certainly rally much of the country behind him. That is also from the authoritarian playbook. Egomaniacs don’t care about other people’s lives.

1 How Fake News Works: Tens of Millions of Americans Would Flunk Any …
2 GOP Tax Cuts Won’t Pass This Year — Or Maybe Even Next
3 Interactive Timeline: Everything We Know About Russia and President …
4 One Year Later: The Political Cancer Metastasizes
5 Moyers and McKibben: Time Is Running Out for the Planet
1 One Year Later: The Political Cancer Metastasizes
2 How Fake News Works: Tens of Millions of Americans Would Flunk Any …
3 Trump Nominee Kathleen Hartnett White Ignores Climate Change In Her …
4 Moyers and McKibben: Time Is Running Out for the Planet
5 Farewell, America

I wrote here a year ago that there would be no coming back from this — that no matter what happened subsequently, we had crossed a threshold. Once you know that those old institutions won’t inhibit a leader who hired Michael Flynn, a Russian acolyte, as his national security adviser (!), who threatens the press, who enriches himself in direct violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, who promotes white supremacism, who insults government professionals, including members of his own Cabinet, declaring, “I am the only one who matters,” or who… well, you know the litany. You also know that the country is damaged, its values are damaged and repair will be a long time coming, if ever.

Trumpism now owns that dark and malignant strain in American life that has long sabotaged the ideals we prefer to celebrate on the 4th of July, at Thanksgiving, and with stanzas of the national anthem and every salute of the flag. What we have learned this year is that Trumpism is now a permanent part of our polity. White supremacists are not likely to forget that one of their hatemongers took the presidency. This Trump cancer may be only a few aberrant cells, but it is a permanent feature of our body politic, threatening to metastasize, even if he is deposed.

We can enjoy Tuesday’s triumphs as a rebuff to Trump, which they most certainly were. We can and must remain vigilant to contain the malignancy. Still, we cannot erase the fact that Trump’s rampage has left our country deeply wounded, perhaps fatally. He blew up America. A year later, there is no great old America underneath for the Trump-supporting nostalgists. There is instead rubble. And he is not done yet.

Religious Freedom is a Progressive Value

By Frederick Clarkson, Winter 2017 edition of The Public Eye magazine. January 3, 2017 http://www.politicalresearch.org/2017/01/03/religious-freedom-is-a-progressive-value/#sthash.95zre6xo.dpbs

One’s beliefs or non-beliefs shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or effect their civic capabilities.             Thomas Jefferson

To read press coverage about it, one might think that religious freedom is a concern only for religious and political conservatives, and not one of the most liberatory ideas in history. One would also think religious freedom and civil rights are at odds with one another.1) Indeed, U.S. history is filled with examples of such competing claims, as resistance to everything from African American civil rights to marriage equality have been cast as matters of religious freedom. But stepping back from the heat of our political moment, there is a different, more fully accurate, story to be told, one I think that as progressives, we need to know and be able to tell.

Religious freedom is a powerful idea—the stuff from which revolutions are sometimes made. It includes the right of individual conscience—to believe or not believe as we choose, without undue influence from government or powerful religious institutions, and to practice our beliefs free from the same constraints. It’s no surprise that the first part of the First Amendment guarantees freedom of belief. The right to believe differently from the rich and powerful is a prerequisite for free speech and a free press.2) Grounding our politics, journalism, and scholarship in a clear understanding of what it means and where it came from could serve as both an inoculation and an answer to the distorted, self-serving claims of the Christian Right.

It was religious freedom that allowed for Quakers, evangelicals and Unitarians to lead the way in opposition to slavery in the 19th Century. Religious freedom also allowed Catholics and mainline Protestants to guide society in creating child labor laws early in the 20th Century, and later made it possible for religious groups and leaders to help forge wide and evolving coalitions to advance African American Civil Rights and women’s equality, to oppose the Vietnam War, and eventually fight for LGBTQ civil and religious rights.

Such coalitions aren’t always easy. When North Carolina Disciples of Christ minister Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, a leader in the progressive Moral Mondays movement, was asked about squaring religious freedom and marriage equality, he looked to the lessons of history and the wisdom of his own religious tradition. Working within a coalition that had long included LGBTQ advocates, Barber noted that the Christian Right was trying to “divide our ranks by casting doubt either among the LGBTQ community or among the African American community about whether our moral movement truly represented them.”

In the last century the NAACP had faced a similar challenge over the question of restrictions on interracial marriage. They ultimately opposed the bans, he wrote, as a matter of upholding “the moral and constitutional principle of equal protection under the law.” Faced with yet another fear-based tactic today, Barber wrote, “our movement’s position had to be the same.” He found his response in the First Amendment, which guarantees the right of churches, synagogues, and mosques to discern for themselves “what God says about marriage,” free from governmental attempts to enforce its preferred religious doctrines.3)

The Revolutionary War era Virginians who created our approach to religious freedom understood religious freedom to be synonymous with the idea of the right of individual conscience. James Madison wrote that when the Virginia Convention of 1776 issued the Virginia Declaration of Rights (three weeks before the Declaration of Independence), the delegates removed any language about religious “toleration” and declared instead “the freedom of conscience to be a natural and absolute right.”4) Madison was joined in supporting the rights of conscience by evangelical Presbyterians and Baptists who also insisted on a separation of church and state for fear that mixing would corrupt both.

Invoking the words of the Founders may seem hokey or sound archaic to some. But they knew that the freedom they were seeking to establish was fragile, and likely to be opposed in the future. Understanding the through line that connects the struggles for religious freedom at the founding of the country to today’s helps us fight to defend the principle from redefinition and cooptation.

Such an understanding helped the United States Commission on Civil Rights in 2016 when it issued a major report on issues involving religious exemptions from the law. “Religious liberty was never intended to give one religion dominion over other religions or a veto power over the civil rights and civil liberties of others,” said Commission Chair Martin R. Castro, who also further denounced the use of religious liberty as a “code word” for “Christian supremacy.”5)

The Commission found that overly broad religious exemptions from federal labor and civil rights laws undermine the purposes of these laws and urged that courts, legislatures, or executive agencies narrowly tailor any exemptions to address the need without diminishing the efficacy of the law.6)

Religious freedom advocates of the colonial era faced powerful entrenched interests who actively suppressed religious deviance and dissent that might upset their privileges. In the Virginia colony attendance was required at the Sunday services of the Church of England, and failure to attend was the most prosecuted crime in the colony for many years. Members of these Anglican church vestries were also empowered to report religious crimes like heresy and blasphemy to local grand juries. Unsurprisingly, the wealthy planters and business owners who comprised the Anglican vestries were able to limit access to this pipeline to political power. Dissenters from these theocratic dictates were dealt with harshly.7) In the years running up to the Revolution, Baptists and other religious dissidents in Virginia were victims of vigilante violence. “Men on horseback would often ride through crowds gathered to witness a baptism,” historian John Ragosta reports. “Preachers were horsewhipped and dunked in rivers and ponds in a rude parody of their baptism ritual… Black attendees at meetings––whether free or slave––were subject to particularly savage beatings.”

This was the context in which Jefferson drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1777, which took nearly a decade to become law. The statute effectively disestablished the Anglican Church as the state church of Virginia, curtailing its extraordinary powers and privileges. It also decreed that citizens are free to believe as they will and that this “shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” The statute was the first in history to self-impose complete religious freedom and equality, and historians as well as Supreme Court justices widely regard it as the root of how the framers of the Constitution (and later the First Amendment) approached matters of religion and government.9)

The principle of religious equality under the law was a profoundly progressive stance against the advantages enjoyed and enforced by the ruling political and economic elites of the 18th Century. Then, for example, as John Ragosta writes in Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, “Marriages had to be consecrated by an Anglican minister, making children of dissenters who failed to marry within the Church of England (or pay the local Anglican priest for his cooperation) subject to claims of bastardy, with potentially serious legal consequences.”10)

Such abuses may seem like a relic of the past, but in recent years some Christians have tried to outlaw the religious marriages of others. In 2012 Christian Right advocates in North Carolina sought to build on existing laws limiting marriages to heterosexual couples by amending the state constitution, using language that would effectively criminalize the performance of marriage ceremonies without a license. This meant that clergy from varied religious traditions, from Judaism to Christianity to Buddhism, would be breaking the law if they solemnized religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. And the motive was explicitly religious. State Senator Wesley Meredith, for example, cited the Bible in explaining, “We need to regulate marriage because I believe that marriage is between a man and woman.”11)

This issue was part of the 2014 case General Synod of the United Church of Christ vs. Resinger, wherein a federal judge declared that laws that deny same-sex couples the right to marry in the state, prohibit recognition of legal same-sex marriages from elsewhere in the United States, “or threatens clergy or other officiants who solemnize the union of same-sex couples with civil or criminal penalties” were unconstitutional.12) It was an historic victory for a progressive version of religious liberty but one soundly rooted in the history of religious freedom. Clergy could now perform same-sex marriage ceremonies “without fear of prosecution,” said Heather Kimmel, an attorney for the UCC.13)

Jefferson and his contemporaries saw religious freedom as the key to disentangling ancient, mutually reinforcing relationships between the economic and political interests of aristocrats and the institutional imperatives of the church: what Jefferson called an unholy alliance of “kings, nobles, and priests”—meaning clergy of any religion—that divided people in order to rule them. He later wrote that his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was “intended to put down the aristocracy of the clergy and restored to the citizens the freedom of the mind.”14)

A quarter-millennium later, we are still struggling to defend religious freedom against erosion and assaults by powerful religious institutions and their agents inside and outside of government. Aspiring clerical aristocrats debase the idea of religious freedom when they use it as tool to seek exemptions from the generally applicable laws of the United States—particularly those that prohibit discrimination.

Religious freedom and civil rights are complementary values and legal principles necessary to sustain and advance equality for all. Like Rev. Barber, we must not fall for the ancient tactic of allowing the kings, nobles and priests of our time to divide and set us against one another.

We have come a long way since the revolutionaries who founded our country introduced one of the most powerfully democratic ideas in the history of the world. The struggle for religious freedom may never be complete, but it remains among our highest aspirations. And yet the kinds of forces that struggled both for and against religious freedom in the 18th Century are similar to those camps today. We are the rightful heirs of the constitutional legacy of religious freedom; the way is clear for us to find our voices and reclaim our role.

References   [ + ]

1. Joe Davidson, “Civil rights or religious liberty — what’s on top?,The Washington Post, September 9, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/09/09/commission-says-religious-liberty-should-not-top-civil-rights/.
2. Frederick Clarkson, When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right, Political Research Associates, January 2016, http://www.politicalresearch.org/when-exemption-is-the-rule-the-religious-freedom-strategy-of-the-christian-right/.
3. The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement, (Boston: Beacon Press, 2016), p. 91.
4. John Ragosta, Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, (Charlottesville:University of Virginia Press, 2013), p. 61.
5. Martin R. Castro, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties, September 7, 2016, http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/Peaceful-Coexistence-09-07-16.PDF, p. 29.
6. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, “The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Releases Report: Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties,” PR NewsWire, September 7, 2016, http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-us-commission-on-civil-rights-releases-report-peaceful-coexistence-reconciling-nondiscrimination-principles-with-civil-liberties-300324252.html.
7. John Ragosta, Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013), p. 40-73.
8. John A. Ragosta, Wellspring of Liberty: How Virgin’s Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution & Secured Religious Liberty, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 5.
9. John Ragosta, Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013), p. 99.
10. John Ragosta, Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013), p. 46.
11. Kay Diane Ansley, Catherine “Cathy” McGaughey, Carol Ann Person, Thomas Roger Person, Kelley Penn, and Sonja Goodman v. Marion Warren, in his Official Capacity as Director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. 2016, Case No.: 3:16-cv-114. The United States District Court For The Western District Of North Carolina Asheville Division, http://www.southernequality.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Ansley-v.-Warren-Complaint.pdf.
12. Max O. Cogburn, “Memorandum of Decision and Order,” General Synod of the United Church of Christ vs. Resinger, October 10, 2014.
13. Anthony Moujaes, “UCC victorious in lawsuit as judge strikes down N.C. gay marriage ban,” UCC News, October 9, 2014, http://www.ucc.org/north-carolina-marriageequality-10102014.
14. John Ragosta, Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013), p. 20.
Frederick Clarkson is a senior fellow at Political Research Associates. He co-founded the group blog Talk To Action and authored Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @FredClarkson.