Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

RIP Lance Mannion

(One of the Lance Mannion portraits on his blog.)

I was sad to see that one of my favorite bloggers, Lance Mannion (the nom du blog for David Reilly), died in late April. If you've read his work, you know that his hallmark was thoughtfulness. He covered politics, but also wrote often about books, movies, culture in general, history, and his own life. He observations were insightful and grounded in humanity.

I didn't know him terribly well and we never met in person, although if you read his blog regularly I think you got some sense of the person he was. We corresponded a bit in e-mail and chatted some on his blog. I linked his work fairly often. I made a small donation to his site every year and have a magnet from him on my fridge.

Tom Watson, who knew Lance/David in real life, wrote a nice remembrance that covers Lance/David as a writer, early blogger, and friend. It also touches on the health issues Lance/David and his beloved wife Adrianne faced in the past decade or so, which he sometimes wrote about on his blog.

Blogger Susie Madrak organized a fundraiser for Lance/David's family, which has met its goal but is still open for donations.

His memorial service was live-streamed on Facebook and can be viewed here. The lovely post his son shares is "Robin's last arrow," which Lance posted in 2006.

Here are his Twitter account, and most importantly, his website. It's well worth reading.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

National Poetry Month 2021

Happy National Poetry Month! This year, I thought I'd go with an unconventional pick. Michael Collins, one of the three Apollo 11 astronauts, died this week at the age of 90. In a short interview for the Smithsonian in 2016, he was asked about STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math), and put in a plug instead for STEAM, which adds the arts, and praised poetry in particular. Collins was a self-effacing guy with a good sense of humor, and the whole thing is worth watching, but the part I've transcribed starts around 3:16:

Interviewer Marty Kelsey: Tell me about the importance of STEM.

Michael Collins: Well, I am very much in favor of science, technology, engineering, and math, but I think that's a rather incomplete description of what should be STEAM. S-T-E-A-M, with the emphasis on English. Perhaps I've known too many inarticulate engineers in my time, but I think a firm background in English is important no matter what particular career field you're in. And I'd even push it one step beyond just English and just say poetry, for example. I mean, I like so much poetry – John Milton comes to mind. Paradise Lost, you know it? You know the plot?

Kelsey: Barely.

Collins: Okay, well, what the plot was in STEM language, it's: some guy fell off a cliff, and maybe God pushed him. In STEAM, it is – you know what it is in STEAM?

Kelsey: No.

Collins: Him the Almighty Power
Hurld headlong flaming from th' Ethereal [Skie]
With hideous ruine and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire,
Who durst defie th' Omnipotent to Arms.

So. See I like the second version better than the first version. But that's my story; that's my anecdote.


Collins substitutes "heights" for "skie," but I really enjoy his spirited rendition and that he memorized this. Interviews are sometimes rehearsed and somewhat planned, but if this was off the cuff, Collins' clever STEM plot summary of Paradise Lost, contrasting the power of Milton, is all the more impressive. I do like science and math, but favor a broad and deep liberal arts education (let's not forget history and the social sciences), and my strongest love is for the arts. I'm often frustrated that the arts are not only underappreciated in the United States, but often under attack. Americans tend to treat artists very well if they become famous and successful, but are less supportive of general arts funding, and conservatives since at least Ronald Reagan have threatened to defund the arts and sometime have. The miniscule budgets of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities are a disgrace. Certainly during this pandemic many people have devoured films, TV shows, music, books, and other creative works at a greater rate than usual, and those did not magically spring up out of the aether without considerable labor. I appreciate that Collins, who carries gravitas in the STEM world, puts in such a great plug for the arts in this interview. I hope he got through to some people who might not have absorbed this wisdom otherwise.

You can read more of Milton's Paradise Lost here.

My past posts on poetry feature some more extensive pieces.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

2020 Film Roundup: The Oscars

This is the first year since I started watching the Oscars that I hadn't seen any of the nominees. (I probably started watching at five years old, not that I was allowed to stay up for the whole event.) Normally this post is also "The Year in Review," linking my reviews of all the films I've seen for the year in question. Because of the pandemic, I didn't see many films in theaters before everything closed in March 2020, and I didn't spring for specific streaming services or pay-per-view screenings. I did watch a ton of movies and TV shows on disc.

I thought some of the speeches were nice, although this year none of the winners were played off and some tended to go on too long. The most charming speech for me was from 73-year-old, South Korean Yuh-Jung Youn, who won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Minari. (This article gives some good background on her, but does give away a key plot point of the movie.)

Harrison Ford had a funny bit presenting the Oscar for Best Editing, reading negative feedback from screenings of Blade Runner. (He almost certainly skipped rehearsal, though, because he read from a crinkly paper and all that text could have been fed into the teleprompter instead.)

The montage of death (in memoriam segment) is normally very well done, and a moving highlight of the ceremony. This year, it was the most rushed I can remember – each person was shown for only one single second (I counted) until the montage finally slowed down a bit at the end. Perhaps, due to the pandemic, more people died and have to be included in this installment. Or because the audience was smaller than usual, the usual applause wasn't going to be audible, so the show producers opted for this approach. But I thought it was a shame.

I was particularly appalled that Best Actress and Best Actor were the last categories presented, after Best Picture. (I would also keep Best Directing as the penultimate award presented.) The leading theory is that the show producers thought that popular actor Chadwick Boseman, who died tragically last year, was going to win Best Actor and that would end the night on a high note. If so, that choice was full of hubris and stupidity; there's no sure thing, as Oscars nights of recent years have repeatedly shown. (Winner Anthony Hopkins didn't attend, making the night even more anticlimactic, but recorded a gracious thank you from Wales, including a nice mention of Boseman.)

Regardless of whether Boseman played a role in the producers changing the order of the categories, it remained a really dumb decision. Why highlight individual performances over the best films of the year? It reminded me of the 2012 Screen Actors Guild Awards, which ran some self-congratulatory ads that boasted it was "The only award show where every award goes to an actor." Because who cares about the other, little people who make movies? Some actors are lovely people in real life, but as a group… they do deserve their reputation as the vainest, most self-absorbed people in the film business (even if some directors and producers come close). For the love of cinema, it's a horrible idea to encourage the mentality that actors are more important than the movie itself. Filmmaking is about more than who's on camera, and although a great performance can make a film and should be celebrated, that's rarely been a problem; actors already get more recognition than everyone else involved. The best films are team efforts. In this specific case, switching the order also stole attention from a pretty remarkable story: Nomadland won Best Picture, and its director, Chloé Zhao, became only the second woman to win an Oscar for Best Directing and the first woman of color. She was born in Beijing but was mostly educated in the U.S. and lives here now, and coverage of her and Nomadland has been partially censored by the Chinese government. That's quite interesting stuff. So it's possible that Steven Soderbergh and the other Oscar producers were trying to manufacture a big moment and undercut some good, organic ones instead. I had mixed feelings about the two sound awards being combined into one. On the one hand, sound editing and sound mixing are different jobs. On the other hand, Oscar voters repeatedly did not understand the difference between the categories and even entertainment reporters would explain them incorrectly. (Most simply, the editing is the sound effects, including ambience and Foley work, and the mixing creates the overall soundscape of elements, balancing dialogue, effects, and music.) I would also say the voters botched their choices repeatedly – the nominees, which are determined by a smaller group of sound people, have been consistently good, but the majority of Oscar voters are actors and would often give best mixing to the best editing job and vice versa, or give both awards to the same film, normally the one with the most conspicuous music or loudest noises, not necessarily the best job.

The problem is that most good sound jobs are unobtrusive and not meant to be noticed; nonprofessionals will notice the grandeur of the score and spectacular sound effects for a film like Star Wars, but typically not pick up on more subtle work. It's pretty rare that a film ever won a sound Oscar for a bad sound job – as my sound mentor explained, Jaws (1975) won despite not having great dialogue work, but the award at the time was "Best Sound" and was understood to be for best use of sound, and Jaws was highly memorable on that count. Likewise, for films in 2018, I wrote that "Bohemian Rhapsody [which won both awards] featured some great sound work (I've included links with my review), but I would have given Best Sound Editing to First Man for the tension-ratcheting sounds of its space program and Best Sound Mixing to Roma for its lovely (and occasionally disturbing) soundscapes." I think First Man and Roma did their jobs so well nonprofessionals didn't notice the quality of the work, but Bohemian Rhapsody was a worthy winner in both categories nonetheless.

In any case, the new category seems to have expanded the nominee limit; it seems to be five now, versus three before, so the key members of the sound team can share the win, as they did this year for Sound of Metal. This Hollywood Reporter article summarizes the sound community's reaction well, and I agree the category might be better named as Best Sound Design.

I thought all five Best Original Song nominees were pretty good, which is often not the case. The winner, "Fight for You" by H.E.R., Dernst Emile II and Tiara Thomas, was a solid pick. Leslie Odom Jr. did a lovely job singing on "Speak Now," which he cowrote; "Hear My Voice" has a neat vibe; "Io sì (Seen)" is a fairly typical Diane Warren ballad, albeit in Italian (and with too much reverb for my tastes), but it's nice enough; and Molly Sandén shows off some amazing pipes on "Husavik (My Home Town)."

Anyway, if nothing else the Oscars nominations and winners make a nice list of viewing recommendations. I'm planning to see Nomadland, Judas and the Black Messiah, Sound of Metal, Minari, Promising Young Woman, One Night in Miami, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Father, Onward, Soul, Wolfwalkers, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, the Borat sequel, and Mank.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Kurosawa's Birthday 2021

(On the set of Red Beard. From right to left, Akira Kurosawa, Toshiro Mifune, Reiko Dan, and Yoshio Tsuchiya.)

Akira Kurosawa's birthday was March 23rd. It would have been his eleventy-first, as Bilbo Baggins would put it. For the occasion, I decided to watch two Kurosawa films I hadn't seen yet over two nights, Drunken Angel (1948) and Red Beard (1965). They make an interesting pair because both have doctors as main characters, and they're Toshiro Mifune's first and last films with Kurosawa; they made 16 together.

The title character in Drunken Angel is played by Takashi Shimura, another Kurosawa regular, as a crotchety but civic-minded, unshaven, alcoholic doctor named Sanada working in a slum near swampy water. He yells at the neighborhood kids not to play near the water or they'll get typhus; they yell back at him but momentarily comply. He still follows up with one of them about a medical condition he treated and is gruff but dedicated to his other patients. His assistant, Miyo (Chieko Nakakita), tries to keep him out of trouble and he's likewise protective of her – she used to be the girlfriend of a possessive gangster, Okada (Reizaburô Yamamoto), and wants to stay clear of him. One night, the gangster Matsunaga (Toshiro Mifune) seeks medical treatment from Sanada. He claims he injured his hand in an accident, but Sanada fishes out a bullet. He also discovers Matsunaga has tuberculosis and urges him to get an X-ray of his lungs to confirm its severity. Matsunaga is dismissive and violent, but does eventually comply and return to Sanada for treatment. The two often fight, and although Matsunaga tries to follow Sanada's medical advice to help his lungs heal (no booze or sex, among other things), he's pulled astray by his sometime girlfriend and performer at the dance hall, Nanae (Michiyo Kogure). He also feels pressure to live it up in front of Okada, his old mentor, who's been released from prison and is eager to get his old turf back, as well as Miyo (not that he's sticking to one woman). Matsunaga likes to boast about how he's Yakuza and they have a code of honor, but as his health worsens, he discovers limits to the loyalty of his fellow gangsters.

(Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune.)

Shimura is good as always. In his book Something Like an Autobiography, Kurosawa explains how he and cowriter Keinosuke Uekusa originally tried to write the story as a contrast between the doctor, a model citizen, and the gangster, who was anything but. But essentially the doctor character was too boring and they couldn't get the story to work. When they rewrote him as flawed, based on a real, grizzled, imperious and boozing doctor they met, everything flowed. That approach certainly gives Shimura more to play with – Sanada is a bit of a mess, and often intemperate, but devoted to the well-being of his patients nonetheless. It's particularly interesting to see Mifune, who was 28 when the film came out. As Matsunaga, he's mostly clean-shaven, sometimes dapper, sometimes bedraggled and ill, and looks significantly different from his appearances in other roles for Kurosawa, even though Rashomon came out just two years later. Regardless, Mifune's energy and charisma shine through. This was only his third film; in his first, Snow Trail (1947), he and Shimura play bank robbers on the run in snowy mountains. (Kurosawa did not direct it, but wrote the screenplay.) Shimura and Mifune became friends on that film, with Shimura, who was 15 years older, supposedly becoming something of a mentor to Mifune. The two definitely have good screen chemistry.

I wouldn't rank Drunken Angel with Kurosawa's best, but it's a solid film and well worth a look if you're a fan of Kurosawa, Mifune or Shimura. Miyo oddly disappears near the end of the film, although two other minor but significant female characters feature in the ending. As usual, Kurosawa's social commentary flows from his humanism and interest in the characters themselves and their situation. It's less visually flashy than some of his films, with a notable exception – the climatic confrontation centering on Matsunaga (Mifune) is a gripping, vertiginous, bravura piece of camerawork and filmmaking. In his book Something Like an Autobiography, Kurosawa explains that Drunken Angel came about because Toho Studios had built a large street set for a film by Kurosawa's mentor, Yamamoto Kajiro, and wanted to get more use of it. (Kurosawa worked on over a dozen films for Yamamoto, mostly as an assistant director.) Given that genesis, it's a fairly interesting project.

A few pages later in Something Like an Autobiography, Kurosawa describes seeing Toshiro Mifune for the first time:

On the day of the interviews and screen tests I was in the middle of the shooting of No Regrets for Our Youth, so I couldn't participate in the judging. But during lunch break I stepped off the set and was immediately accosted by actress Takamine Hideko, who had been the star of Yamamoto Kajiro's Horses when I was chief assistant director. "There's one who's really fantastic. But he's something of a redneck, so he just barely passed. Won't you come have a look?" I bolted my lunch and went to the studio where the tests were being given. I opened the door and stopped dead in amazement.

A young man was reeling around the room in a violent frenzy. It was as frightening as watching a wounded or trapped savage beast trying to break loose. I stood transfixed. But it turned out that this young man was not really in a rage, but had drawn "anger" as the emotion he had to express for his screen test. He was acting. When he finished his performance, he regained his chair with an exhausted demeanor, flopped down and began to glare menacingly at the judges. Now, I knew very well that this kind of behavior was a cover for shyness, but the jury seemed to be interpreting it as disrespect.

I found this young man strangely attractive, and concern over the judges' decision began to distract me from my work. I returned to my set and wrapped up the shooting early. Then I proceeded to look in on the room where the jury was deliberating. Despite Yama-san's strong recommendation of the young man, the voting was against him. Suddenly I heard myself shouting, "Please wait a minute."

p. 160


Kurosawa and Yamamoto carry the day and Mifune joins the film company. Kurosawa continues:

After joining the company, Mifune appeared in Sen-chan's To the End of the Silver Mountains [also known as Snow Trail] as the roughest and most violent of the three bank robbers who were the villains of the story. He playing with amazing energy. Right after that he had the role of a gangster boss in Yama-san's New Age of Fools [also known as These Foolish Times and These Foolish Times II], and here he played with an opposite kind of cruel refinement. I became deeply fascinated by the acting abilities Mifune showed in these two films, and decided I wanted him to play the lead in Drunken Angel. I realize that many people think I discovered Mifune and taught him how to act. That is not the case. As can be seen from the sequence of events I just described, it was Yama-san who discovered the raw material that was Mifune Toshiro. From that raw material it was Sen-chan and Yama-san who fashioned the actor Mifune Toshiro. All I did was see what they had done, take Mifune's acting talent and show it off to its fullest in Drunken Angel.

Mifune had a kind of talent I had never encountered before in the Japanese film world. It was, above all, the spped with which he expressed himself that was astounding. The ordinary Japanese actor might need ten feet of film to get across an impression. Mifune needed only three feet. The speed of his movements was such that he said in a single action what took ordinary actors three separate movements to express. He put forth everything directly and boldly, and his sense of timing was the keenest I had ever seen in a Japanese actor. And yet for all his quickness, he also had surprisingly fine sensibilities.

I know it sounds as if I am overpraising Mifune, but everything I am saying is true. If pressed to find a defect in him as an actor, I could say his voice is a little rough, and when it's recorded through a microphone it has a tendency to become difficult to understand. Anyway, I'm a person who is rarely impressed by actors, but in the case of Mifune, I was completely overwhelmed.

p. 161


(In 35 mm film, 10 feet is a little under 7 seconds and 3 feet is 2 seconds.)

The one other problem with Mifune, according to Kurosawa, is that he was so strong a presence he could overpower his partners and unbalance a film. Kurosawa explains, "The drunken-doctor performance Shimura gave was a superb 90 percent, but because his adversary, Mifune, turned in 120 percent, I had to feel a little sorry for him." Shimura is just fine, but Mifune has the flashier role and supposedly Drunken Angel made him a star. IMDb lists 185 acting credits for him.

Meanwhile, Red Beard (1965) is a superb film, even a masterpiece. As with Drunken Angel, the title character is a doctor who serves the poor, but this time, it's Mifune who plays the doctor. He was 45 at the time the film came out but is made to look older, helped by some makeup but also a full, bushy beard. It's the 19th century, and a young doctor, Noboru Yasumoto (Yûzô Kayama), has studied with Dutch doctors in Japan. Through family connections, he believes he can become the personal doctor to the Shogun, really the flashiest medical position possible. Instead, he's assigned to a public clinic in the countryside serving poor patients. The head of the clinic is Kyojō Niide (Mifune), also known as "Red Beard." Yasumoto chafes at his position, refuses to wear the clinic robes and generally acts immaturely, but his experiences gradually and profoundly change him. He witnesses death up close. He assists with a bloody operation and faints. He confronts the limitations of his schooling and his many erroneous assumptions. He comes to care for the patients in a human and not just medical sense, most of all an abused young girl, Otoyo (Terumi Niki), an almost feral orphan adopted and mistreated by a brothel madam; Niide rescues Otoyo and puts her in Yasumoto's care (and vice versa, as you'll see). Red Beard is just over three hours, and in that time it convincingly shows us Yasumoto's growth, but also provides a number of engrossing side stories and vignettes. Some characters appear for only a scene or two, yet still are affecting and memorable. At the center of it all Niide/Red Beard, and Mifune radiates gravitas and wisdom throughout, another strong mentor character in a Kurosawa film.

(Dr. Noboru Yasumoto brooding, played by Yûzô Kayama.)

Visually, Red Beard isn't as kinetic with its camerawork as, say, Seven Samurai or Yojimbo. Kurosawa opts more for masterful compositions – you'll frequently see someone reclining on the floor, sometimes with another character standing, the vertical contrasting the horizontal. (If you want to see cool diagonal compositions, check out Kurosawa's version of The Lower Depths.) Kurosawa does employ some artful dolly work, not as intricate as in his film High and Low, but some really nice staging for the camera as we tour the clinic or Niide and Yasumoto walk and talk, crossing paths, turning, continuing, and forming new compositions. Most of this is subtly done, not drawing attention to itself. Surprisingly, Red Beard does have two fights, both with a funny side. Both had me howling with amazed enjoyment – the first has some intricate, lightning-fast stunt work and is beautifully staged, and the second is more about solidarity. (I don't want to spoil anything.) There's also a haunting, stunning scene where the calls of women echo as the camera plunges into a well. And of course Kurosawa includes shots of rain. He mostly opts for a restrained, stately style in Red Beard, but picks good moments for bravura flashes. It's an approach that serves him well for most of his later films, including Dersu Uzala, Kagemusha, Ran and Dreams.

Kurosawa films tend to center on male characters, and although Red Beard has two male leads, it notably presents a number of female characters, some of whom only appear briefly but nonetheless leave a powerful impression. Okuni (Akemi Negishi) is the daughter of a patient who only really appears in one scene, but delivers a heart-wrenching story to Niide. Niide's compassionate response opens Yasumoto's eyes, and it's a fine, moving performance by Negishi. Kyôko Kagawa plays a character known as "The Mantis"; she's confined to a small house because she's supposedly dangerous, and tells an arresting tale of being abused by a series of men that pulls on our sympathies, although she proves to be a complex figure. We see Onaka (Miyuki Kuwano) in the flashback tale of a dying patient, who explains their complicated love story. Osugi (Reiko Dan) is a kind-hearted servant at the clinic who nurses a secret love for Doctor Handayû Mori (Yoshio Tsuchiya) – but not secret enough, because her female colleagues are fond of teasing her about it. The key female character, though, is the orphan Otoyo, and young actress Terumi Niki is captivating as she portrays Otoyo's transformation from a traumatized child who won't speak and lashes out into a conscientious, kind soul. Her scenes with Choji (Yoshitaka Zushi), a street urchin boy, are particularly memorable, and Kurosawa coaxes fine performances from his child actors as well as the rest of the cast. Although Kurosawa adapted Red Beard from a collection of short stories by Shūgorō Yamamoto, Kurosawa claimed his film was significantly different. The Otoyo storyline, for example, was inspired by a novel by one of Kurosawa's favorite authors, Dostoevsky, Humiliated and Insulted. Regardless, the final mix is highly effective.

(Terumi Niki at Otoyo and Yoshitaka Zushi as Chôji.)

Unfortunately, Red Beard caused Mifune and Kurosawa to have a serious falling out; reportedly, they eventually reconciled decades later. As film historian Donald Richie explains in a piece on Red Beard, it took nearly two years to film, in part because Kurosawa got sick twice and Mifune and Kayama both got sick once. I've read that Mifune became frustrated because the full, natural beard he grew meant he couldn't act in other films during the period. It's a shame, though, because the Kurosawa-Mifune collaboration is one of the great ones in the history of cinema and yielded much of the best work either would do. And whatever pains it took to make, Red Beard is an excellent film, a fine accomplishment for Kurosawa, Mifune and everyone else involved. (It's also nice to see Takashi Shimura in a small role, essentially a cameo.)

While watching Red Beard, I enjoyed it so much I occasionally felt regret I hadn't seen it yet and wondered why, although I had heard of it of course, I hadn't seen it get the acclaim of other Kurosawa films. But not seeing it before wasn't entirely accidental. I had held off on watching Red Beard because I was waiting for Criterion to put out a Blu-ray and also because I sometimes put aside well-regarded movies I haven't seen yet for special occasions. There's also a special thrill in having artists you like and seeing something else from them for the first time, and a slight pang of loss at the prospect of such experiences ending. I received DVDs of High and Low and The Bad Sleep Well as birthday presents in separate years, and held off on watching them for a while because I wanted to savor the experience and my list of "Kurosawa films I haven't seen yet" was dwindling. Delaying is somewhat silly in that I enjoy rewatching movies, and good movies yield more with repeated viewings. But not knowing the outcome of scenes or the whole movie does change the viewing dynamics, and I do think there's much to be said for planning to give certain movies special and more focused attention.

Although I love many directors and actors, Kurosawa and Mifune are among my all-time favorites and hold a special place for me. I think I was nine years old when my dad took me and my siblings to see Yojimbo and Sanjuro in a double feature at the much-missed Biograph Theater in Washington, D.C. Over the next few years, I saw Yojimbo again, as well as Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress and Seven Samurai for the first times. I saw Ran when it was released in theaters in 1985; it definitely benefits from repeated viewings. One of the virtues of our current age is it's easier to find older movies on disc or streaming services, including foreign films.

In any case, I can recommend both Drunken Angel and Red Beard. At 185 minutes, Red Beard is more of a time commitment and yields more subtle rewards than some of Kurosawa's other films (think Ikiru more than Seven Samurai or Yojimbo), but it's a fine piece of work.

(My most extensive post on Kurosawa is this one from 2008.)

References
(other than the linked ones)

Kurosawa, Akira. Something Like an Autobiography. Vintage Books, New York, 1982.

(A still from Red Beard's haunting well shot.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Camp Auschwitz

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

During the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on 1/6/21, a man later identified as Robert Keith Packer was photographed wearing a "Camp Auschwitz" t-shirt. The front also said "Work brings freedom," one translation of the infamous "Arbeit macht frei" slogan atop the entrance to Auschwitz and other concentration camps. The back of the shirt said "Staff."

Packer, a resident of Newport News, VA, who apparently has a history of extremism, was arrested, but later released without criminal charges or paying any fines. He was merely ordered to stay away from D.C. unless summoned there. Other insurrectionists also expressed pro-Nazi, pro-Holocaust, anti-Semitic, white supremacist or bigoted views.

Several people, including Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger in a personal and moving statement, directly linked the hatred and violence of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to Kristallnacht, "the Night of Broken Glass" of 1938, when German Nazis smashed the windows of Jewish stores and synagogues.

One of the most powerful responses came from Andrew Brandt, who was following the story of Robert "Camp Auschwitz" Packer and posted a thread about a family photo:



The entire thread is worth reading. This is real history; these are human stories. And not only did Brandt never get to meet most of the people in his family photo, even some of their names are lost, because they were murdered by the Nazis.

I wonder if people like Packer and the rest of the Nazi contigent at the U.S. Capitol have more than a childish understanding of the Holocaust. Presumably, they know some basic events, probably from a bigoted source, and they approve of the genocide. But there's a leering, smug immaturity to many right-wing authoritarians in addition to their seething hatred. They want to provoke, to offend, to transgress tenets of basic respect and dignity. They aggressively deny the humanity of their chosen scapegoats. They willfully blind themselves with rage to broad swaths of the human experience. They could look at Andrew Brandt's family photo, hear his story, and not see anything, somehow not be moved.

We've seen and will continue to see excuses for and downplaying of the insurrection, for the failed attempted coup. And not every right-wing authoritarian, white supremacist or bigot proudly identifies him or herself as a Nazi. But we can't pretend that right-wing extremism doesn't exist in the United States and isn't a dangerous force. Many conservatives who don't identify as bigots or white nationalists have nonetheless supported their more extreme kindred or even voted them into office. And they continue to be enabled by a group of dogmatic centrists addicted to blaming "both sides" equally. As Rebecca Solnit observed in "On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway":

Nevertheless, we get this hopelessly naïve version of centrism, of the idea that if we’re nicer to the other side there will be no other side, just one big happy family. This inanity is also applied to the questions of belief and fact and principle, with some muddled cocktail of moral relativism and therapists’ “everyone’s feelings are valid” applied to everything. But the truth is not some compromise halfway between the truth and the lie, the fact and the delusion, the scientists and the propagandists. And the ethical is not halfway between white supremacists and human rights activists, rapists and feminists, synagogue massacrists and Jews, xenophobes and immigrants, delusional transphobes and trans people. Who the hell wants unity with Nazis until and unless they stop being Nazis? . . .

In the past four years too many members of the right have been emboldened to carry out those values as violence. One of the t-shirts at the #millionMAGAmarch this weekend: “Pinochet did nothing wrong.” Except stage a coup, torture and disappear tens of thousands of Chileans, and violate laws and rights. A right-wing conspiracy to overthrow the Michigan government and kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer was recently uncovered, racists shot some Black Lives Matter protestors and plowed their cars into a lot of protests this summer. The El Paso anti-immigrant massacre was only a year ago; the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre two years ago, the Charlottesville white-supremacist rally in which Heather Heyer was killed three years ago (and of course there have been innumerable smaller incidents all along). Do we need to bridge the divide between Nazis and non-Nazis? Because part of the problem is that we have an appeasement economy, a system that is supposed to be greased by being nice to the other side.


It's crucial to call out right-wing authoritarians and to hold them accountable. It's also important to excoriate any knee-jerk "both siders" who, intentionally or not, work to deny that accountability, or habitually attack honesty and accuracy in the name of politeness and civility. Finally, it's essential to remember our own humanity and to recognize the same in others fighting against right-wing authoritarianism, and to remember and honor the very human victims of its violence. Andrew Brandt's family photo and story remind me of a poem I've cited before, from Auschwitz survivor Charlotte Delbo:

Marie

Her father, her mother, her brothers and sisters were all gassed on arrival.
Her parents were too old, the children too young.
She says, "She was beautiful, my little sister.
You can't imagine how beautiful she was.
They mustn't have looked at her.
If they had, they would never have killed her.
They couldn't have."


Monday, January 18, 2021

MLK Day 2021

This year, for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it seems most appropriate to focus on voting rights. I've featured this passage before; "Bourbon interests" refers to white, Southern conservatives, mostly Democrats, who wanted to keep social and economic control. In an 1965 speech, titled "Our God is Marching On!" but often known as "How Long, Not Long," Martin Luther King, Jr., observed:

Our whole campaign in Alabama has been centered around the right to vote. In focusing the attention of the nation and the world today on the flagrant denial of the right to vote, we are exposing the very origin, the root cause, of racial segregation in the Southland. Racial segregation as a way of life did not come about as a natural result of hatred between the races immediately after the Civil War. There were no laws segregating the races then. And as the noted historian, C. Vann Woodward, in his book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, clearly points out, the segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land. You see, it was a simple thing to keep the poor white masses working for near-starvation wages in the years that followed the Civil War. Why, if the poor white plantation or mill worker became dissatisfied with his low wages, the plantation or mill owner would merely threaten to fire him and hire former Negro slaves and pay him even less. Thus, the southern wage level was kept almost unbearably low.

Toward the end of the Reconstruction era, something very significant happened. That is what was known as the Populist Movement. The leaders of this movement began awakening the poor white masses and the former Negro slaves to the fact that they were being fleeced by the emerging Bourbon interests. Not only that, but they began uniting the Negro and white masses into a voting bloc that threatened to drive the Bourbon interests from the command posts of political power in the South.

To meet this threat, the southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer this development of a segregated society. I want you to follow me through here because this is very important to see the roots of racism and the denial of the right to vote. Through their control of mass media, they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved in the Populist Movement. They then directed the placement on the books of the South of laws that made it a crime for Negroes and whites to come together as equals at any level. And that did it. That crippled and eventually destroyed the Populist Movement of the nineteenth century.

If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. He gave him Jim Crow. And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. And he ate Jim Crow. And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, their last outpost of psychological oblivion.

Thus, the threat of the free exercise of the ballot by the Negro and the white masses resulted in the establishment of a segregated society. They segregated southern money from the poor whites; they segregated southern mores from the rich whites; they segregated southern churches from Christianity; they segregated southern minds from honest thinking; and they segregated the Negro from everything. That’s what happened when the Negro and white masses of the South threatened to unite and build a great society: a society of justice where none would pray upon the weakness of others; a society of plenty where greed and poverty would be done away; a society of brotherhood where every man would respect the dignity and worth of human personality.

I particularly like this passage because King sharply intertwines race with class, and links it to the right to vote. And voting rights have been a prominent issue the past few years in King's home state of Georgia. In 2018, Stacey Abrams, a black Democrat, ran for governor and narrowly lost to Brian Kemp, a white Republican. Kemp was Secretary of State at the time, meaning he controlled the voting rolls and was partially refereeing a contest he was competing in. Politifact states that there's no proof of voter suppression in the 2018 race, but as NPR reported in 2020:

In 2018, while Abrams was running for governor against then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, she showed up to her polling place and was told she couldn't cast a ballot, because, according to their records, she already had voted.

"I told them I would have recalled that," Abrams told NPR's Weekend Edition. "And we were luckily able to solve the problem, but I know I'm not the only person who faced that challenge."

Between 2016 and 2018, at least 17 million voters were purged from the voter rolls, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice. In just one month alone — July 2017 — more than half a million voters were removed from Georgia's voter rolls, many because they didn't vote in previous elections, according to an investigation from APM Reports, Reveal and NPR member station WABE.

"We have to understand that purging does not simply occur because someone has died or has moved out of the state," Abrams said, adding that then-Secretary of State Kemp purged hundreds of thousands of voters from the rolls. "The use of this purging led to a disproportionate number of communities of color being disenfranchised. And many didn't know they were purged until they showed up to vote."

The specific race is less important than the ongoing trend of a significant faction of conservatives working to suppress the vote. As a November 2020 post revisited:

In 1980, Paul Weyrich, who co-founded the right-wing Heritage Foundation, the so-called Moral Majority and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), told his fellow conservatives, "I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

The good news is that Stacey Abrams and other liberal-leaning political activists worked hard the past few years to register Georgia voters, particularly African-Americans. That work helped Joe Biden win Georgia in the presidential race, the first Democrat to do so since Bill Clinton in 1992. And Georgia wound up electing two Democratic senators in run-off elections, Jon Ossoff, who is "the first Jew since 1974 to win statewide national office in the South" and Raphael Warnock, Georgia's first black senator, only the second black Southern senator since reconstruction, and "the first Black Democratic senator from the South in the nation’s history." And in a neat connection, Warnock has been the pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was co-pastor.

Ossoff and Warnock's wins represent significant social progress. Their opponents, Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, reeked of corruption, but still almost won. Although the Democratic Party has its issues, the Republican Party has been almost entirely plutocratic and corrupt for a long time now. Ossoff and Warnock both ran on helping their fellow Georgians, and were able break through some of the repressive and divisive dynamics King described back in 1965 and which were still partially at play in the recent Georgia elections. It would be a mistake not to keep working on voter registration and voting rights restoration for the 2022 midterms and for the longer term. But the elections in Georgia represent a significant victory and are worth celebrating on MLK Day.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Jon Swift Roundup 2020

(The Best Posts of the Year, Chosen by the Bloggers Themselves)

(A Jon Swift picture that captures the spirit of 2020.)

Welcome to the 2020 edition. This year was much, much more eventful than most of us would have liked.

This tradition was started by the late Jon Swift/Al Weisel, who left behind some excellent satire, but was also a nice guy and a strong supporter of small blogs. As usual, I'll quote Lance Mannion, who nicely explains:

Our late and much missed comrade in blogging, journalist and writer Al Weisel, revered and admired across the bandwidth as the "reasonable conservative" blogger Modest Jon Swift, was a champion of the lesser known and little known bloggers working tirelessly in the shadows . . .

One of his projects was a year-end Blogger Round Up. Al/Jon asked bloggers far and wide, famous and in- and not at all, to submit a link to their favorite post of the past twelve months and then he sorted, compiled, blurbed, hyperlinked and posted them on his popular blog. His round-ups presented readers with a huge banquet table of links to work many of has had missed the first time around and brought those bloggers traffic and, more important, new readers they wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed.

It may not have been the most heroic endeavor, but it was kind and generous and a lot of us owe our continued presence in the blogging biz to Al.

Here's Jon/Al's massive 2007 and 2008 editions (via the Wayback Machine). Meanwhile, our more modest revivals from 2010–2019 can be found here.

If you're not familiar with Al Weisel's work as Jon Swift, his site (via the Wayback Machine) features a "best of" list in the left column.

Thanks to all the participants, and apologies to anyone I missed. (As always, my goal is to find the right balance between inclusive and manageable.) Special thanks to DougJ at Balloon Juice for hosting a submissions thread. You still can join in, by linking your post in the comments. Whether your post appears in the modest list below or not, feel free to tweet your best post with the hatchtag #jonswift2020.

This has been a rough year for many of us, and in addition to the usual political insights, this year's crop of posts features a number of personal reflections and remembrances. As in Jon/Al's 2008 roundup, submissions are listed roughly in the order they were received. As he wrote in that post:

I'm sure you'll be interested in seeing what your favorite bloggers think were their best posts of the year, but be sure to also visit some blogs you've never read before and leave a nice comment if you like what you see or, if you must, a polite demurral if you do not.

Without further ado:

Mock, Paper, Scissors
"October Surprised"
Tengrain: "This post showed the intersection of the 2020 Election and pandemic news as the story was breaking fast that Prznint Stupid had caught the disease that he refused to deal with. Karma is a bitch."

You Might Notice a Trend
"What If: Think Of the Future Heading Into Bidenworld"
Paul Wartenberg: "Musing over what needs doing when Biden enters the Presidency, and the potential damage trump and McConnell will throw up to obstruct Biden's rebuilding efforts."

The Rude Pundit
"Oh, Fuck You, Trump Voters. Just Fuck You"
Lee Papa: "The stupidity of Trump voters is wrecking the country, and they should never be forgiven for that."

The Rectification of Names
"A Senate Trial"
Yastreblyansky: "It seems so long ago that Donald Trump was sort of tried for his crimes of attempted bribery and obstruction of Congress and sort of acquitted that we can look back on it almost with nostalgia. My reaction was a 1930s song parody ("A Fine Romance") that didn't get a lot of attention at the time, but I think it was pretty good, plus there's video of Ginger and Fred."

This Is So Gay
"Scripture and Karen Armstrong"
Duncan Mitchel: " Karen Armstrong is a best-selling popularizer of an ecumenical, pan-denominational American style of religion. It may be less socially harmful than some varieties, but it's still wrong."

Just an Earthbound Misfit, I
"J'accuse"
Comrade Misfit: "Musings on why I will never again vote for a Republican."

Brilliant at Breakfast Rebooted
"What will American society look like when this is over?"
Jill: " COVID first wave musings on what "new normal" will look like in post-pandemic America."

Poor Impulse Control
"Underneath A Red Moon"
Tata: "Get yourself some stamps and get in touch with the people who know you for the giant doofus you are: your actual friends."

The Way of Cats
"The Rescue Imperative"
Pamela Merritt: "A random event led to me adopting two feral kitten brothers. I explain it was because I followed a Law of the Universe: The Rescue Imperative."

his vorpal sword
"The Festival of Mendacity™ — Law & Order Edition"
Hart Williams: "Anti-intellectualism threatens the very soul of our democracy: describing (presciently, as it turns out) the fall campaign and the modern GOP by looking at their bizarro-world "convention" – including Matt Gaetz modeling for a DEVO album cover."

David E's Fablog
"The Biggest Loser and His Lawn Jockey Twins"
David Ehrenstein

Show Me Progress
" Edited for Accuracy*"
Michael Bersin: "Nine months later – nothing has changed."

Darwinfish2
"What I love about the Democratic Party"
bluzdude: "In response to a Republican meme intimating that the only thing Democrats have going for them is the hatred of Trump, I wrote a post listing the myriad of reasons I love the Democratic Party."

Lotus – Surviving a Dark Time
"Death in the time of COVID-19 is different"
Larry Erickson: "My usual pieces report on or analyze some public issue, but something happened in the spring that caused me to write something very personal. I don't know if it's my best of the year, but it's the one means the most to me."

[this space intentionally left blank]
"Shit Mountain Blues: Anti-masking, Open Carry, and the Right to Do Harm"
Dallas Taylor: "How is refusing to mask like open carrying a long gun? Both are assertions of a positive right to do harm, both an affirmation of hierarchical power and a desperate attempt to preserve it in the face of the long arc of history. Neither is doing anyone any good."

Strangely Blogged
We've Seen This Before
Vixen Strangely: "Trump and friends might find their little "coincidences" funny, but I'm not laughing."

Infidel753
The two nations and the new migratory politics
Infidel753: "The United States has become two mutually-hostile nations. The solution is not political separatism, but colonization."

Hysterical Raisins
Corned Beef and Cabbage
nonnie9999: "This is not the snark I usually write. Instead, it is a tribute to my mom and the post dearest to my heart."

annieasksyou.com
"Why I See Kamala's Racial Attack on Joe as a Positive Seminal Moment for Our Country"
Annie: "Many people (myself included) were offended when Kamala Harris attacked Joe Biden during the first Presidential debate for his position on school integration decades earlier. I believe Biden's selecting her as his running mate—and her acceptance—demonstrate fine qualities about them both and bode well for our nation."

M.A.Peel
"The Songs Our Mothers Sang to Us"
Ellen O'Neill: " Yoko Ono told an extremely moving story on Desert Island Discs about her mother in crisis and a song she taught Yoko as a child. My mom taught me the same song, Seems unlikely, but music unites the world. Plus a fabulous rendition by Linda Rondstat and the Muppets.

First Draft
"If Life Were a Capra Movie"
Peter Adrastos Athas: "A Trump removal/impeachment trial reverie."

God's Spies
" '95% Effective' May Not Mean What You Think It Means"
Thomas Neuburger (Gaius Publius as was): " Excessive haste could have fatal consequences, since public trust and wide vaccination are the only ways any vaccine, even the best ones, can work."

World O' Crap
"The Masque of the Orange Death"
Scott Clevenger: "Meet Henry Tifft Gage, the wildly petty and incompetent California governor who showed Donald Trump how to bobble a plague."

driftglass
"The Reagan Revolution at 40: Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!"
driftglass: "The ruin you see all around you is not because we're four years into the Trump administration. It's because we're 40 years into the Reagan Revolution."

The Professional Left Podcast
"Ep 577: Political University #6 – Define The 'Center' "
Blue Gal chose this episode of her podcast with Driftglass: "Just because Steve Schmidt registered as a Democrat (Welcome to the party, pal!) does NOT make him a "Centrist." We don't let the Right decide what is center, American, or reasonable any more after Donald Trump, period. Also, we are noted experts on the use of the eff bomb."

Perrspectives
"You Can't Put a Mask on My Liberty"
Jon Perr: "My personal law firm of Mr. AR and Mr. Glock are all I need to know my constitutional rights. That means no waiting to get into your store, no keeping six feet away from anyone else and, for damn sure, no face mask."

Balloon Juice
"Pandemic Paranoia Open Thread: Presenting the 'New' Wuhan Coronovirus"
Balloon Juice readers nominated Anne Laurie's series of COVID-19 posts, which started with this one.

Bark Bark Woof Woof
"Philip Williams 1926–2020"
Mustang Bobby: "A tribute to my father who died on May 25, 2020 at the age of 93, due to Covid-19. He loved his family and his four children, and as my mom wrote to us, 'please keep his memory enshrined by going forward as he would have you do... giving back and making sure that wherever you are you’re not just sitting, but marching.' "

The New World
"Randy Newman and the Golden Horde"
Gary Koutnik: " 'The New World' began in April as a project to give me something to do, and keep me writing, during what was shaping up to be a very long and strict quarantine (70 y.o., hypertension, etc.). It's thoughts and speculations about what the new world might be like – the world after the pandemic is all over. I began by comparing our journey through the pandemic to Columbus' journey in 1492, and came back to that analogy many times (but not in this post)."

Battle Born Econ
"The Invisible Hand is Wearing PPE"
BattleBornEcon: "My goal as a blogger is to apply my economics background to help people who don't have that understanding grasp what's going on and why. This post is my best example of that. I break down the basics of game theory for a lay audience and relate that to our current COVID reality to explain exactly what we've been seeing since this post was published in May."

The Debate Link
"The Cycle of Republican Acquiescence to Authoritarianism"
David Schraub: "For every GOP lurch towards authoritarianism, a predictable pattern emerges. Prior to the fact, Republican apologists are appalled that anyone would suggest they'd do something so outrageous. Then Trump supports the authoritarian, and Republicans are put in a position of opposing their leader. Then it becomes plausible that the step would succeed, and Republicans are tempted by the allure of ill-gotten authoritarian power. Then they acquiesce. And then the cycle restarts."

Mark Painter
"Chadwick Boseman and Black Panther"
Mark Painter: "My thoughts on the passing of Chadwick Boseman and the meaning of Black Panther to white people."

Bluestem Prairie
"Baldurshof: Third Hof of the Asatru Folk Assembly setting up in Murdock, Minnesota"
Sally Jo Sorensen: "After a tip from a reader in tiny Murdock, Minnesota, I broke the story of a white supremacist pagan band, deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, establishing a little hof on the prairie. The ongoing saga drew national media attention."

Mad Kane's Political Madness
"Non-Deal-Maker-In-Chief (2-Verse Limerick)"
Madeleine Begun Kane: "My 2-verse limerick about Trump's belated interest in the Covid Relief Bill."

Lance Mannion
"Joe among the poets"
Lance Mannion: "Where Joe Biden, Seamus Heaney, Thomas Hardy, and I meet. "So we go back emptied,/ to nourish and resist/ the words of coming to rest:// "birthplace, roofbeam, whitewash,/ flagstone, hearth,/ like unstacked iron weights// afloat among galaxies."

Roy Edroso Breaks It Down
Hillbilly Effigy
Roy Edroso: "Sometimes a movie is so bad it can only be reviewed as a parody."

Vagabond Scholar
"Punishment Conservatives"
Batocchio: " 'Law and order' conservatives don't really support the law, due process or civil rights. They just want to see the people they hate punished."

Thanks again, folks. Happy blogging and everything else in 2021, which we can hope is a happier year.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving 2020

Happy Thanksgiving! Arlo Guthrie announced his retirement earlier this year for health reasons; you can read his statement on his website here. I saw him perform a few years back and at least half a dozen times over the years, most often with Pete Seeger. It's too bad he can't tour anymore, but he's currently 73 and started young, so he been performing for over 50 years, which is pretty impressive. His story/song "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" starts with a real story about Thanksgiving and a closed garbage dump. Here's the original 1967 version, from Arlo's debut album, Alice's Restaurant:



Arlo performed the massacree on tours only every decade or so, and I was happy to hear it live. He added some funny stuff about Nixon, and later rerecorded his entire debut album, including his updated version, plus pretty arrangements of the other songs. From 1996:



Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Armistice Day 11/11/20

(Click on the comic strip for a larger view.)

In 1959, Pogo creator Walt Kelly wrote:

The eleventh day of the eleventh month has always seemed to me to be special. Even if the reason for it fell apart as the years went on, it was a symbol of something close to the high part of the heart. Perhaps a life that stretches through two or three wars takes its first war rather seriously, but I still think we should have kept the name "Armistice Day." Its implications were a little more profound, a little more hopeful.

You said it, brother.

Thanks to all who have served or are serving, on this Veterans Day, or Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day.

This post is mostly a repeat I run every year, since I find it hard to top Kelly. (No new post this year.)

Back in 2009, I wrote a series of six related posts for Armistice Day (and as part of an ongoing series on war). The starred posts are the most important, but the list is:

"Élan in The Guns of August"

"Demonizing of the Enemy"

"The War Poetry of Wilfred Owen"

***"Giddy Minds and Foreign Quarrels"

"The Little Mother"

***"War and the Denial of Loss"

The most significant other entries in the series are:

"How to Hear a True War Story" (2007)

"Day of Shame" (2008)

"The Poetry of War" (2008)

"Armistice Day 2008" (featuring the war poetry of Siegfried Sassoon).

"They Could Not Look Me in the Eye Again" (2011)

"The Dogs of War" (2013)

"The Courage to Make Others Suffer" (2015)

"The Battle of the Somme" (2017)

I generally update these posts later with links to appropriate pieces for 11/11 by other folks as I find them. If you've written one, feel free to link it in a comment. Thanks.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Punishment Conservatives

As far as this problem of law and order is concerned, I am for law and order.
– Richard Nixon, accepting the Republican presidential nomination in 1968.
I remember this guy, [reporter Ali] Velshi, he got hit on the knee with a canister of tear gas, and he went down. He didn't, he was down. 'My knee, my knee.' [Crowd laughter] Nobody cared, these guys didn't care. They moved him aside. [Crowd laughter] And they just walk right through. It was like, it was the most beautiful thing. [Crowd hooting] No, because after we take all that crap, for weeks and weeks, they would take this crap, and then you finally see men get up there and go right to, didn't, wasn't it really a beautiful sight? [Crowd cheers] It's called law and order, law and order.
– Donald Trump, at a September 19th, 2020 rally.


Conservative claims often can't be taken at face value. Almost all of the time, when they say "freedom," they really mean privilege. And when they say "law and order," they likewise mean something else. They don't really support the law, because they don't support due process, and they certainly don't support the First Amendment rights of peaceful protesters or reporters or anyone else they view as Other. They do care about "order," not in the sense of a fair, equal, just system, but meaning their preferred hierarchy, with themselves on top, and punishment enforced against anyone uppity enough to step out of line.

Possibly the only good thing about Donald Trump is that he sometimes says the quiet parts out loud. Digby covered the September Trump rally in more depth – including its blatant racism – but Velshi responded, "So, @realDonaldTrump, you call my getting hit by authorities in Minneapolis on 5/30/20 (by a rubber bullet, btw, not a tear gas cannister) a "beautiful thing" called "law and order". What law did I break while covering an entirely peaceful (yes, entirely peaceful) march?" The footage of cops using tear gas and then rubber bullets on Velshi and others for no good reason is chilling. Velshi reflected, "I’ve since said to colleagues, if we were covering this somewhere else, we’d be saying, 'An authoritarian regime was silencing opposition and targeting media.' That’s what it felt like. That’s not the way it’s supposed to go here." Police brutality remains a serious problem on its own, but it also reveals a significant problem about the conservative base. The violence against Velshi and others was unnecessary and arguably unlawful. And Trump was reveling in it, as was the crowd, who he egged on. The conservative base views journalists reporting the news factually and doing their jobs as one of their many enemies. They might approve of Velshi or other being arrested, but what they really want to see is violence inflicted on the people they dislike. Whether that's legal or a good, sustainable system doesn't matter to them; they just want to know that the right people are being hurt and pushed around. Instead of being "law and order" conservatives, they can be more accurately described as punishment conservatives.

Punishment conservatives contrast strongly with the people who believe in due process, which does include some self-described conservatives, such as Alberto Mora and others who opposed the Bush torture regime. Due process conservatives stand with plenty of liberals and self-identified independents in believing in due process, the social contract, the Commons, voting rights, civilization in general, and respecting that representative government can make decisions even if they don't approve of all the actual decisions. But such people are a minority in the conservative movement and the Republican Party and have no real power in them. Many have fled and changed their political party or self-identification.

Conscientious citizens are left with the growing problem of what to do about the conservative base – movement conservatives – punishment conservatives – or whatever they should be called. Perhaps "punishment conservatives" is just another name for authoritarian conservatives or is a subset. But what they believe is more important than their label. They support violence against those they don't like, regardless of its legality. They oppose a free and accurate press. They oppose democracy and universal voting rights. They view any election result they don't like as inherently illegitimate and believe they get to veto any decision by a representative government they don't like. They believe in entrenched inequality and a hierarchy with themselves on top, and have an undying (and unjustified) faith in their own inherent superiority. They dogmatically believe in significant falsehoods and seek to make reality bend to their warped views. Trump is the most prominent and powerful current example of these punishment/authoritarian conservatives, but he's also just one part of a long and dangerous movement.

Consider the conservative response to Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year old who traveled from Illinois to Wisconsin with guns to confront protestors for racial justice and is "accused of fatally shooting two demonstrators and injuring a third"; he has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide. He acted as a vigilante, but quickly became a martyr figure for some conservatives. His mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, received a standing ovation in Wisconsin at a Waukesha County Republican Party event, as relayed by conservative Michelle Malkin, who added that she "was able to talk to Kyle by phone & THANK HIM for his courage!" Other conservatives started fundraisers for Kyle Rittenhouse, and some conservative politicians praised or defended him, including Donald Trump, who could muster condemnation for an anti-fascist accused of a shooting but none for Rittenhouse. Worse than that, "federal law enforcement officials were directed to make public comments sympathetic to Kyle Rittenhouse." Rittenhouse might not have acted lawfully, but that hasn't mattered to his conservatives fans, because he inflicted violence on people they fear and hate.

Consider as well the case of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who, like many other governors, issued stay-at-home guidelines earlier in the year to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. In response, angry conservative activists, overwhelmingly white and many of them with guns, swarmed the state capitol on multiple occasions. Many conservatives have refused to wear masks or follow other safety guidelines to help halt the pandemic, continuing a conservative trend of denying science and fighting ferociously for the bedrock conservative principle that anything I don't like is unconstitutional. Trump, as always making things worse, tweeted in all caps, "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" and repeated the pattern for other states.

In early October, the FBI announced that it had prevented a frightening plot by conservative "militia" groups to kidnap Whitmer, put her on "trial," and murder her. The general national reaction was shock, but conservative media outlets tried to deny that the criminals were conservative, and Michigan Republican candidate Paul M Smith claimed the plot was a "totally bogus sham," a "pre-election stunt" and that "these citizens never did anything illegal." (To its credit, the state party disowned Smith.) Other conservative conspiracy theorists, including Alex Jones, claimed the plot was a false flag operation to make conservatives look bad yet simultaneously approved of the terrorists' alleged actions. Conservative Rick Wiles similarly blamed Whitmer for provoking the plot.

In Whitmer's address on the plot and the crazy situation in Michigan, she condemned "hatred, bigotry and violence" and also public figures who didn't call it out or even encouraged it, including Trump. Rather than tamping things down, Trump responded with another set of angry tweets and then attacked Whitmer again at a Michigan rally. At a subsequent Michigan rally, petulant manchild Trump mused that maybe the kidnapping and murder plot against Whitmer wasn't a bad thing. As usual, the crowd approved of Trump's irresponsible, vindictive attitude. As Digby observed, Trump is openly excusing terrorism now, and she further quipped, "Very fine people can disagree whether it’s a problem to kidnap and execute a sitting Governor because she closed gyms for a couple of weeks and asked people to wear masks. I mean, she probably deserves it, amirite?" The problem is not just Trump, because his many supporters agree. And Trump and his supporters have shown that they approve of cops assaulting protesters, cops assaulting journalists, vigilantes killing protesters, and vigilantes kidnapping and killing duly elected officials doing their jobs trying to protect the public. (On a related note, Dr. Fauci and other health officials have unconscionably received death threats merely for advocating for public health.) We shouldn't make excuses for Trump and his supporters and should assume that they're completely serious about all their authoritarian, violent rhetoric. They should be held to account.

Conservative hostility toward the press goes back decades, at least. Trump has put the press in pens at his rallies and verbally attacked them, leading the conservative faithful in booing the press or otherwise harassing them. It brings to mind the less dangerous but still troubling and illegal "free speech zones" used by the George W. Bush administration for protesters. Timothy McVeigh, 1995's Oklahoma City bomber, killed 168 people and injured at least 680 others, yet in 2002, Ann Coulter said, "My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to The New York Times building." Coulter reiterated her remarks several times and also accused The New York Times of treason for coverage she didn't like. Coulter tries to be shocking, of course, but she has largely gotten a pass throughout her career, and more importantly, she expresses an entitled hatred endemic among the conservative base. At a Trump rally in 2016, a photo made the rounds due to a Trump supporter's t-shirt, which said, "Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required." Such shirts date back to the Bush era at the very least. Such eliminationist rhetoric is common among conservatives, whereas it's pretty rare among liberals and other nonconservatives. As John Dickerson observed in 2006, the left-wing blogosphere wants the press to do a better job, because "when the press gets it wrong, left-wing bloggers believe, the people are ill-informed and democracy suffers." In contrast, "At some level, the right doesn't much like that the press exists. They don't want to fix it, they want to drive a stake through its heart." Authoritarian conservatives don't want the truth – they want the party line. And they'd like to see anyone who doesn't toe that line punished.

Conservatism has always had an antidemocratic strain. Authoritarian conservatives tend to view any election they lose as inherently illegitimate, and approve of conservative voter suppression efforts, other election cheating and any other tactics to undermine outcomes they don't like. (The people's will be damned, unless it happens to match their own.) In 1980, Paul Weyrich, who co-founded the right-wing Heritage Foundation, the so-called Moral Majority and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), told his fellow conservatives, "I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

In 1994, ultraconservative, Republican North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, member of the Foreign Relations Committee, threatened President Bill Clinton, saying in the context of visiting military bases, "Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here. He'd better have a bodyguard." Helms later said he didn't mean to be taken seriously, but the Secret Service felt otherwise. To their credit, other Republicans criticized Helms, but his remarks were telling; Helms went on to say Clinton was not up to the job of commander-in-chief and that he had "serious problems with his record of draft avoidance, with his stand on homosexuals in the military and with the declining defense capability of America's armed forces." Helms further complained that Clinton should not be "immune from criticism," but apparently criticizing Clinton without suggesting that military personnel would or should assault or even kill the president of another party was beyond Helms' moral capabilities.

In 2009, when President Barack Obama addressed a joint session of Congress, Republican South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson shockingly interrupted Obama, shouting "You lie!" In point of fact, Obama was telling the truth that his health care plan would not insure illegal immigrants. Wilson later called the White House to apologize, but refused to apologize on the House floor. He was admonished by the House of Representatives, but the vote was mostly along party lines, so his fellow Republicans sided with Wilson. Wilson received a huge surge in donations after the incident (as did his Democratic challenger at the time), showing that other conservatives and Republicans outside Congress also approved of Joe Wilson's actions. Wilson has had his words used against him by protesters since, but he's still in Congress and the overwhelming favorite to win reelection in 2020. Wilson's interruption was an unprecedented, stunning show of disrespect, and given the subject and speaker, there was a strong undercurrent of bigotry: a white, conservative Southerner putting an uppity black man in his place, to the approval of his party and other conservatives.

On October 7th, 2020, conservative, Republican Utah Senator Mike Lee tweeted, "We’re not a democracy" and "Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity [sic] are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that." Vox provided the most charitable reading of Lee's comments, placing them in a conservative tradition of selective reading of the founding fathers, which still leaves Lee's claims as utter bullshit on both historical and moral grounds. Mike Lee is not an outlier, and was merely more open than usual about expressing the authoritarianism deeply woven into U.S. conservatism, a dynamic that has become increasingly troubling. The New York Times account of Mike Lee's remarks included a key passage:

The New York University historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat called his comments an "escalation of GOP and WH rhetoric about protestors being a mob and Dems being 'too dangerous to rule,' " adding, "Such talk often precedes ‘exceptional’ and authoritarian gov’t actions. Look for more of this in future."


Mike Lee's statements should be viewed in the context of decades of voter suppression by conservatives. We should also consider Donald Trump's repeated threats about not leaving office even if he loses the election, as if he has a choice. Charles P. Pierce correctly links the Whitmer kidnapping plot to the power grabs of Wisconsin and North Carolina Republican legislators, and observes, "Republicans no longer accept the results of any election they didn't win, nor do they accept the legitimacy of any elected official except their own. That is the one abiding principle left to this listing hulk of a political party, and it's frankly terrifying." In "Trump’s Voter-Suppression Strategy Is a Crisis (Even If It Backfires)," Eric Levitz notes attempts by the Republican Party nationwide to suppress the vote, and points out that even if Biden and the Democrats win, "there is no contradiction between acknowledging that the 2020 election is likely to witness historically high turnout and believing that the election will be tainted by voter suppression. What qualifies as a historically high turnout rate in the United States is just mediocre by international standards." Conservative acceptance of elections and the basic tenets of modern democracy and representative government is conditional at best.

This hostility toward a fair system is by no means a new development – it's definitional for a major strain of conservatism if not the whole movement and ideology. As Steve Benen observed in 2010, when conservatives say "freedom," they don't mean freedom for everyone. As Matt Taibbi observed the same year, conservatives strongly support social spending for themselves but oppose it for Those Other People – in other words, conservatives are "full of shit." They believe in their own inherent superiority and that the people they hate and fear should be treated as second-class citizens, even if they do not explicitly use such language. These attitudes don't necessarily include racism, but unsurprisingly, they often do. Increasingly, American conservatives can be viewed in the European tradition of Herrenvolk republicanism, which reserves social democracy for the white majority. White conservatives have grown increasingly nasty in the belief that their political, financial and cultural power is slipping away.

Conservative policies are completely awful on the merits. But conservatives also want an unfair power structure. These two factors are deeply interwoven – conservatives lie and cheat because they're unlikely to win in an honest discussion of competing policies. But they'd be especially unlikely to succeed in convincing the general public of their core dogma that they should always win; they should always rule; they should always get their own way. Conservative arguments such as Mike Lee's ahistorical claims against democracy, Cheney and Addington's unitary executive theory, the sovereign citizen movement, Ammon Bundy's claims that he can seize public lands and not pay taxes, the theocrats claiming United States was founded as a Christian nation, Mitch McConnell's fabricated and shifting rules for judicial appointments, and hollering that it's unconstitutional to be asked to wear a mask – all of these claims are counterfactual and complete bullshit, but in addition to that, the common thread is the underlying tenet: we can do whatever the hell we want, with no accountability.

It does bear mentioning that American conservatives are constantly lied to, with decades of conservative dark money shaping political discourse, and major conservative media outlets increasingly becoming sheer propaganda. But those lies and propaganda work in large part because conservatives already firmly believe in significant falsehoods. They believe that if they succeed, it's due to their own merits, and if Those Other People succeed, it's because they were given an unfair advantage, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. Liberals are concerned with fairness, whereas conservatives focus on power, so they can use the same terms yet mean radically different things. Conservatives also typically believe that life and politics are a zero-sum game, so they fight for personal or tribal group advantage, not for a fair system for everyone. This brings us to a crucial point:

The conservative base does not hate many of their fellow Americans because they believe false things. They believe false things because they hate many of their fellow Americans. This is one of many reasons conventional fact-checking does not work on them. They have no real commitment to the truth or learning. They believe they already know the truth and have little interest in changing their views.

One of the most telling statements about American conservatism was made in 2019 by a woman who was negatively affected by Trump and the Republican Party shutting down the government for political leverage: "I voted for him, and he’s the one who’s doing this. . . . I thought he was going to do good things. He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting." She said the quiet part out loud. The conservative base, authoritarian conservatives, punishment conservatives, are driven by spite, and this sums up their toxic mix of entitlement and resentment – they want to see their many perceived enemies hurt or put in their place.

How should we think of conservatives? Some self-identified conservatives believe in due process and democracy and civilization and all those good things, and liberals and other nonconservatives can work with them. We share a common foundation in reality and a commitment to building, maintaining and improving a system for everyone (even if some improvements lag woefully behind). Alas, such conservatives are a minority in the movement and have no meaningful power in the Republican Party.

Other conservatives can be thought of decent people with redeeming qualities in other parts of their lives, but bad citizens. Treating other Americans as second-class or being antidemocratic is simply not compatible with being a good citizen. These people may be devoted to their families, for example, but because they view politics as a zero-sum game, they will often fight for their families or insular groups at the expense of larger communities, and thus a normally positive trait fuels negative actions politically. Some of us may be friends with such people, and they can be reached, but it often takes greater life experiences, education, travel, or a labor-intensive, one-on-one approach from a trusted friend or family member.

Some conservatives are pretty awful as people in addition to being bad citizens, unfortunately. And professional political hacks and politicians are generally a lost cause.

Calling out the ills of conservatism is important, but it's been hampered for decades by conservative shouting, as well as the press giving conservatives unearned respectability and trafficking in false equivalences, or "both siderism." Likewise, people who think of themselves as moderates, or centrists, but certainly as reasonable and fair-minded, are often loath to call out their conservative family and friends for their bigotry or extremism. This problem is particularly acute for white people who, say, have fond childhood memories of their Uncle Jim, who's now raving about Pizzagate and other batshit crazy QAnon conspiracy theories. (For more on false equivalencies, check out past posts from Digby, driftglass, Roy Edroso, Balloon Juice, LGM and my own archives.)

Looking at the 2020 general election, if nothing else, it could provide some useful data. Donald Trump is clearly unfit for office. His incompetence has been deadly and glaring, and his corruption has been blatant. Supporting him requires some mix of stupid, evil and crazy.

Trump's conduct raised plenty of red flags before the 2016 election, too, yet close to 92% of self-identified Republicans voted for him anyway. At this point, no one can credibly claim ignorance of his nature or his performance. What percentage of Republicans will vote for him this time, and how many total? What percentage of self-identified conservatives will vote for him, and how many total? What percentage of the electorate will vote for him, and how many people total? Authoritarian conservatives will support almost anything– how many does America have, and how many of them regularly vote? How big is the challenge we face, not just with oligarchs and authoritarian leaders, but their supporters in the general population?

Whatever the outcome of the election, conscientious citizens are left with a significant problem: what is to done about the conservative base – authoritarian conservatives – punishment conservatives? It's important to note that conservatives seek to suppress the vote and rig the system to keep and increase power, whereas the liberal ideal is to have honest, factual discussions, increase voting rights, and provide public education. It is inclusive. None of that's to say that actual liberals are perfect or America wouldn't have a ton of challenges even if it wasn't imperiled by authoritarian conservatism, but the liberal and conservative approaches to democracy and how to make the country better remain radically different. Liberals and nonconservatives are not trying to disenfranchise conservatives, and that's all the more reason that it's critical to show up, speak out, vote, govern responsibly, and keep authoritarian conservatives out of power, regardless of how much they complain. (Characteristically, they're gleeful bullies in power and insufferable whiners out of it.) Voting is a critical tool of democracy, but even if Trump, conservatives and Republicans lose in the 2020 general election, a tremendous amount of sustained work remains to be done.

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo.)