Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Monday, May 29, 2023

All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

The 2022 version of All Quiet on the Western Front is a decent war film. I just wish it wasn't called All Quiet on the Western Front, because it keeps only the basic framework of the novel and makes significant changes that weaken the core story. That's a shame, because this is the first German film version of the justly famous German war novel by Erich Maria Remarque, and I was intrigued to see it.

Directed by Edward Berger and cowritten by Berger, Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell, the story still centers on Paul Bäumer, a German teenager who is inspired to volunteer for the army along with several of his classmates because of the patriotic speeches of one of their teachers. Their idealism is quickly crushed by the brutal realities of the conflict that came to be known as The Great War and later World War I. Paul and his friends do find a bit of luck in being looked after by an older, veteran soldier, Stanislaus Katczinsky, nicknamed "Kat," who has an uncanny knack for finding food in a war zone and has a host of useful survival tips. Paul and the others experience the terror of trench warfare and bombings, charging across no man's land against machine guns, awful and scant food, rats, cold weather, and the wounding, maiming or even death of their friends and comrades.

All Quiet on the Western Front is well-shot, with some memorable, haunting images. The score is mostly avant-garde, minimalist, and not period, but its main, three-note riff is effectively disconcerting, and earned composer Volker Bertelmann (a.k.a. Hauschka) an Oscar. One of the key sequences from the book, Paul faced with the prospect of killing a man to preserve his own life, is nicely done, capturing the fear and regret of the whole encounter. Multiple harrowing incidents and gruesome deaths leave no doubt that war is not glorious. (Some of the war scenes are quite effective, but I did find myself pulled out by others. 'How can he still be walking after that wound?' 'Why do those tanks have no support?' and so on.) The standouts in the cast are Felix Kammerer as Paul, Albrecht Schuch as Kat, and Daniel Brühl as Matthias Erzberger, a German politician (and real person).

The filmmakers often opt for spectacle and shock rather than more subtle human experiences. For instance, a character who in the novel is struggling to imagine life after the war with a missing limb dies in a nasty way instead. Taken on its own, the shock is effective, but we get plenty other similar moments in the movie, and lose a different color that could have deepened the story.

The novel stays focuses on Paul and his comrades, but this version shows German officials (most notably Erzberger) negotiating with the French for peace, and shows a German general hell-bent on seizing territory in the last hours before the armistice takes effect. The French are mostly depicted as cruel bastards at the negotiating table and on the battlefield. (And arguably in civilian encounters, too.) The scenes are interesting in that they're invented by the German filmmakers and postulate the roots of World War II, suggesting that the more right-wing German elements, especially in the military, blamed the German politicians and the intractable French for Germany's disgrace. Such attitudes certainly did exist at the time – shortly after the war, Erzberger was assassinated by a right-wing group, and Hitler and others enflamed their followers with the stab-in-the-back myth, or Dolchstoßlegende. So getting a contemporary German perspective on these past events was intriguing, but the film really seems to lay it on thick in villainizing the French. Likewise, the filmmakers' choices in changing the ending seem problematic symbolically. (I would hope the symbolism was unintentional, but if so, why didn't it occur to them?)

The ultimate fate of key characters in this film version versus the book remain the same even if the particulars differ, and the general idea that war is often pointless and full of needless suffering does come through. The exact ending of the novel is also admittedly somewhat difficult to convey on film, although the 1930 adaptation does a pretty good job of devising a visual and emotional equivalent. Still, some of the particulars of the original ending are arguably rather important. The filmmakers opt to convey the idea that violence and hatred are cyclical, and passed down, which is all well and good, if an add-on. But much of the strength of the novel, and 1930 film, hinges on the bond between Paul and Kat. We do spend time with them in this film, but we really get to know and like them in the novel and the 1930 film. That gives the older movie much more emotional heft. One of the cardinal rules of good adaptation is that, if you change something, make it better. Perhaps you need to translate a moment into the new medium (as, for instance, The Lord of the Rings trilogy often does). The 2022 version of All Quiet on the Western Front strays from the central story to make other commentary, which would be fine in another film, or perhaps a better adaptation could have handled both elements. But here, the significant changes feel like unforced errors and a waste of stronger and more compelling source material.

U.S. and U.K. critics generally liked the film; it was nominated for nine Oscars and won four, including Best International Feature Film, and was nominated for 14 BAFTAs, winning seven. German critics were less kind, feeling it was deliberate Oscar-bait, historically inaccurate and did a disservice to the novel, a staple of many German school curricula. The most scathing critique probably came from Hubert Wetzel, who said "you have to ask yourself whether director Berger has even read Remarque’s novel." I'm guessing he read it but didn't understand the heart of the story. This version definitely feels like it's capitalizing on the famous title to make a different film. I do think that different film is still worth a look with appropriately lowered expectations, but given the title and the hype, I was hoping for better.

It's been years since I read the novel and saw the 1930 film (I haven't seen the 1979 TV adaptation), so I decided to watch it again. Directed by Lewis Milestone, it won him Best Director and Best Picture at the Oscars. It holds up fairly well and is a pretty faithful adaptation. The talkies era was still relatively new, and microphones not great. Some of the acting is theatrical and dated. Other moments, especially silent facial expressions, are quite effective. Many of the shots, including a wide shot of a town and the battle scenes, are very technically impressive for the era. About 50 minutes in, there's a roughly 10-minute sequence of an attack on the trenches and a counterattack, with long dolly shots moving one way and then back, with machine guns sputtering away and men charging and falling, that remains a marvel of storytelling and technique. It is harrowing, it is shocking, it is relentless, it is moving. (Steven Spielberg reportedly watched every war movie he could find before making Saving Private Ryan, and he definitely watched the 1930 version of All Quiet on the Western Front.) There's a bit in the novel about Paul's group of soldiers talking about taking their dying friend's nice boots, which might seem ghoulish to those back home, but they reason that someone else would just steal them and he'd have preferred that one of his buddies get them instead. In the 1930 film, this bit is rendered as a scene and a short, wordless montage. Read the passage and then see the movie sequence and you'll recognize it as a fine piece of adaptation and cinematic storytelling. The film's biggest strength is its emotional core, which depends not just on the combat scenes but the human relationships. Katz, played by Louis Wolheim, rather than being the tough-as-nails veteran scolding the new guys that we've seen in countless movies, is disarmingly compassionate, even when a greenhorn soils his pants in fear. We really get to like Katz, Lew Ayres as Paul, and some of the rest of the squad. I admired and appreciated some of the scenes in the 2022 film. But I was honestly much more moved by the 1930 film. There's no reason you can't watch both (and read the novel as well), but unless you can't stand old movies, if you could see only one version, I'd go with the 1930 one. (The Universal Blu-ray is a nice transfer, and it's remarkable to think that the film is almost 100 years old.)

Friday, April 28, 2023

National Poetry Month 2023

April is National Poetry Month, and before it's over, I wanted to feature a poem. As usual, I'll link the wonderful Favorite Poem Project. I'll also link the Academy of American Poets website, one of the better poetry sites available. The organization posts poems on Facebook occasionally, but from time to time donors get a poem in the mail as well. I received the one below and quite liked it. Ada Limón is the current national poet laureate.

Instructions on Not Giving Up
By Ada Limón

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Happy National Poetry Month!

Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Oscars for the Films of 2022

The pandemic has certainly changed movie-going, at least for me. I used to see 20 to 30 films a year in the theater (more in earlier decades), but in 2022, didn't see any. I did catch several Oscar nominees via streaming services or on disc.

This year's Oscar recipients included at least two comeback winners and another two long-time stalwarts finally getting recognized, making for a pleasant night.

Jimmy Kimmel delivered a decent opening monologue. Despite a hoarse voice, Elizabeth Banks was funny copresenting the Visual Effects award with an actor in a bear costume, a nod to her recent film, Cocaine Bear.

Charlie Mackesy and Matthew Freud were charming and Britishly self-effacing while accepting their win for Best Animated Short, "The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse." (I haven't seen it yet, but it's got a cool, lovely style in the clips.) Freud started by saying, "I know the protocol is to say 'thank you' a lot, but I'm British, so I'm more comfortable saying 'sorry.' "

Ke Huy Quan opened the night on a strong note with an emotional, grateful speech for winning Best Supporting Actor. Viewers of a certain age may remember Quan fondly from 80s films Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies, and he gives a memorable, affecting performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once. It makes for a nice comeback story. Meanwhile, one of his costars, Jamie Lee Curtis, who's been working and good for ages, gave a gracious speech thanking her crew and everyone with the refrain, "We won an Oscar."

Rounding out the acting categories, Brendan Fraser gave a moving, emotional speech about his career and how thankful he was for its resurgence. Fraser's acting chops were probably somewhat overlooked in his earlier, bohunk days, but he's always been solid, and particularly memorable in Gods and Monsters, the fun and eminently watchable The Mummy and a great episode arc on the TV show Scrubs. I was happy to see him win. As a long-time fan of Michelle Yeoh, I was likewise glad to see her win and hear her speech, thanking parents, speaking to "all the little boys and girls who look like me," and saying, "Ladies, don't let anyone tell you you are ever past your prime."

Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert ("the Daniels") took the stage three times, first for Best Original Screenplay , giving a warm shout-out to teachers. The second time was for Directing, and the speeches thanked parents, film crews, and expressed support for LGBT kids and immigrants. The third time was with the rest of the cast and crew for Everything Everywhere All at Once winning Best Picture. I need to see the film again, but I liked it overall. I thought it went on a bit long and became somewhat repetitive, but I appreciated its originality, energy, and willingness to be silly, bizarre and sometimes flat-out bonkers. It was also enjoyable to see 94-year-old cast member James Hong making the awards circuit, getting a Hollywood star, and talking about how much things have changed for the better for Asian actors in Hollywood.

Sarah Polley gave an eloquent speech accepting the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Besides thanking her cast, crew, and loved ones, she said, "Miriam Toews wrote an essential novel about a radical act of democracy in which people who don’t agree on every single issue manage to sit together in a room and carve out a way forward together free of violence. They do so not just by talking but also by listening." I've liked Polley since her days as a child actress in the The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, liked her performances as a young adult in Go and The Sweet Hereafter (also her singing in that one), and I've been glad to see her become successful as a writer and director.

The Oscars' montage game is typically strong, and this year featured a nice one celebrating Warner Brothers 100th anniversary. Disney was celebrating 100 years, too, but unfortunately chose to use its time to hawk its live-action remake of The Little Mermaid instead.

Musically, David Byrne and Lady Gaga both started surprisingly off during their best nominated song performances, with Byrne being off-key and Gaga sounding pretty rough, although both seemed to recover. I thought the best nominated song was "Lift Me Up" from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, cowritten and performed by Rihanna, and Danai Gurai gave the song a nice introduction honoring Chadwick Boseman, gone too soon. Still, it was neat to see a Bollywood nominee win, "Naatu Naatu," and its team gave a rousing performance during the Oscars. Meanwhile, Lenny Kravitz did a lovely job performing "Calling All Angels" during the Montage of Death.

All in all, it was one of the more enjoyable Oscar ceremonies of recent years. I like seeing good work recognized and people whose work I like getting awards. This year, I was particularly pleased to see that one of the honorary Oscars went to Australian director Peter Weir. It's well worth checking out Jeff Bridges' introduction and Peter Weir's speech, because they can speak for 10 to 15 minutes and tell some great stories. You could also check out some of Weir's superb movies, including Galipoli, Witness, The Year of Living Dangerously, Dead Poets Society, Fearless, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

No epic film roundup this year, but I might post some film reviews later and link them here. It can be harder to see more independent fare on streaming services, and I still order discs, but the 2022 films I saw were Everything Everywhere All at Once, The Fabelmans, Women Talking, All Quiet on the Western Front, Death on the Nile, Glass Onion, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder, Prey, and Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. I'll be seeing Living later this year and probably Triangle of Sadness. Feel free to pass on any film recommendations.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Conservatives Are Still Awful (Feb. 2023 Edition)

The state of the union and its responses earlier this month were revealing for both rhetoric and policy. President Joe Biden started his state of the union speech on a collegial tone, saying nice things to the conservative Republicans in Congress. He did draw distinctions between their policies, and Republicans booed and yelled at him at times, but that said more about them than Biden. He repeatedly spoke about working together, and in at least one poll, 72 percent of viewers had a positive reaction to the speech.

In sharp contrast, in the official Republican response, Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders quickly shifted to a right-wing, hyperbolic, cultural war speech designed to rile up Fox News viewers and the conservative base, not to persuade anyone else. A few sentences in, she claimed that "Democrats want to rule us with more government control," and the core of her speech consisted of even more straw men and bullshit:

[Biden's] the first man to surrender his presidency to a woke mob that can't even tell you what a woman is. In the radical left's America, Washington taxes you and lights your hard-earned money on fire, but you get crushed with high gas prices, empty grocery shelves, and our children are taught to hate one another on account of their race, but not to love one another or our great country. Whether Joe Biden believes this madness or is simply too weak to resist it, his administration has been completely hijacked by the radical left. The dividing line in America is no longer between right or left. The choice is between normal or crazy. 

She was correct about the last part, but not in the way she meant. The rest of her speech featured plenty of other charged and ridiculous rhetoric:

Upon taking office just a few weeks ago I signed Executive Orders to ban CRT, racism, and indoctrination in our schools, eliminate the use of the derogatory term 'Latinx' in our government, repealed COVID orders and said never again to authoritarian mandates and shutdowns. . . .

After years of Democrat attacks on law enforcement and calls to defund the police, violent criminals roam free, while law-abiding families live in fear. . . .

We are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn't start and never wanted to fight. Every day, we are told that we must partake in their rituals, salute their flags, and worship their false idols, all while big government colludes with Big Tech to strip away the most American thing there is, your freedom of speech.

Perhaps her most outrageous moment was invoking the Little Rock Nine, the black students who faced harassment in 1957 for attending the previously segregated, whites-only Little Rock Central High School. On PBS the night of the speeches, Jonathan Capehart reacted strongly to the hypocrisy and gall of Huckabee Sanders:

This speech, I'm, I'm, trying not to levitate from my chair, because there were so many, she leaned so hard into the culture wars that she just slid right into ignorance. And for her to say, to revel in the fact that an alum of Little Rock Central High School, and lauding the Little Rock Nine, and their stature, they're memorialized – when the Republicans, particularly in Florida, but I guess now in Arkansas, are going to make it illegal for students to learn about why the Little Rock Nine are significant and in bronze, in Little Rock. This speech was entirely offensive.

Another poll reported that viewers found Huckabee Sanders' speech more extreme and divisive than Biden's. It's hard to imagine that many people outside the conservative base found her compelling.

The most striking moment for policy – and issues of accuracy – in the state of the union was Biden saying, "Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans – some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. I'm not saying it's a majority…" He was shouted down by Republicans, most notably Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who yelled "Liar!" But of course, Biden was telling the truth. As political historian Heather Cox described the scene the next day:

Biden did something astonishing. He tricked the Republicans into a public declaration of support for protecting Social Security and Medicare. He noted that a number of Republicans have called for cutting, or even getting rid of, Social Security and Medicare. This is simply a fact—it is in Senator Rick Scott's (R-FL) pre-election plan; the Republican Study Committee's budget; statements by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Ron Johnson (R-WI); and so on—but Republicans booed Biden and called him a liar for suggesting they would make those cuts, and they did so in public.

Seeming to enjoy himself, Biden jumped on their assertion, forcing them to agree that there would be no cuts to Social Security or Medicare. It was budget negotiation in real time, and it left Biden holding all the cards.

The Hill provided a nice roundup of specific statement from conservative Republicans in support of cutting Social Security and Medicare, and Chris Hayes and Seth Meyers presented good video segments. (The most striking may be Senator Mike Lee of Utah saying, "It will be my objective to phase out Social Security, to pull it up by the roots and get rid of it.")

Wanting to gut the social safety net, and Social Security and Medicare in particular, are nothing new for conservatives and Republicans. Sticking just to this century, in 2005, George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security, but failed because his plan was wildly unpopular, not to mention awful policy that would have shifted the program from a social guarantee to gambling on the market.

Former Speaker of the House, Republican Paul Ryan, proposing cutting both programs for years. In 2012, Ryan became Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate, and Romney adopted Ryan's polices for his campaign. The "Stealthy Extremist" section of a 2012 post, "The Four Types of Conservatives," provides a bevy of links and passages analyzing Paul Ryan's policies attacking the social safety net. Read it for far more detail, but the key point may be Paul Krugman's: the objections to Ryan's plans weren't solely that they were cruel; Ryan's plans were "disingenuous and fraudulent." Not only were his goals immoral, Ryan constantly lied about the numbers. Of course, that's a feature, not a bug, of many conservative policies. They're awful on the merits, and don't fare well when discussed honestly and accurately.

On the PBS News Hour this month, conservative Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), spoke about the federal budget and cutting "entitlements," meaning Social Security and Medicare, and insisted that cutting military spending was not the answer. Cole managed to sound more reasonable than many of his fellow conservatives to casual viewers, even agreeing to a question about raising taxes that "revenue would have to be on the table." Cole omitted plenty, though, and it's one thing to pretend to be a reasonable conservative to the PBS and NPR crowds and another thing to act accordingly. In 2017, Cole voted for the Trump tax cuts, which were a budget-busting, funneling of more money to the wealthy. And the best way to lower the costs of Medicare and Medicaid would be to join the civilized nations of the world and pass universal health care. Cole was practicing the classic conservative starve the beast strategy – run up the debt with tax cuts for the rich and military spending, and then claim the debt requires gutting the social safety net.

It's worth pointing out that the problem is not solely Republicans, but conservatives, a group that includes many political figures the mainstream press calls "centrists" and "moderates." In 2010, Barack Obama asked Republican Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles to head up a commission to look at fiscal reform. The commission never managed to agree on official recommendations, but that didn't stop Simpson in particular from publicly advocating for particular policies, most notably cutting taxes on the wealthy and cutting the social safety net. This is the same crap peddled since at least the Reagan era, whether it's called supply-side economics, voodoo economics, trickle-down economics, or just conservative economics. Strangely enough, for Simpson and many other "very sensible centrists," giving more money to the rich and powerful is never a problem – plutocracy and oligarchy are just fine – but social programs that will help the vast majority of Americans are somehow clearly unsustainable. (Digby wrote quite a bit about the Simpson and Bowles gambits at the time, and has since written about their successors.)

On February 18th, Heather Cox Richardson followed up her initial take on the state of the union with a great summary of conservative and Republican policies – their paucity, their unpopularity, and their history. Here's a lengthy quotation, but you should be reading Richardson regularly anyway and it's an excellent primer:

Republican leaders are recognizing that the sight of Republican lawmakers heckling the president of the United States didn't do their party any favors.

It not only called attention to their behavior, it prompted many news outlets to fact-check President Biden's claim that Republicans had called for cuts to Social Security and Medicare or even called to get rid of them. Those outlets noted that while Republicans have repeatedly said they have no intention of cutting those programs, what Biden said was true: Republican leaders have repeatedly suggested such cuts, or even the elimination of those programs, in speeches, news interviews, and written proposals.

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) told Alexander Bolton of The Hill that Republicans should stick to "reasonable and enduring policy" proposals. "I think we're missing an opportunity to differentiate," he said. "Focus on policy. If you get that done, it will age well."

But therein lies the Republican Party's problem. What ARE its reasonable and enduring policies? One of the reasons Biden keeps pressuring the party to release its budget is that it's not at all clear what the party stands for.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to issue any plans before the 2022 midterm election, and in 2020, for the first time in its history, the party refused to write a party platform. The Republican National Committee simply resolved that if its party platform committee had met, it "would have undoubtedly unanimously agreed to reassert the Party's strong support for President Donald Trump and his Administration." So, it resolved that "the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President's America-first agenda."

Cutting Social Security is a centerpiece of the ideology the party adopted in the 1980s: that the government in place since 1933 was stunting the economy and should be privatized as much as possible.

In place of using the federal government to regulate business, provide a basic social safety net, protect civil rights, and promote infrastructure, Reagan Republicans promised that cutting taxes and regulation would free up capital, which investors would then plow into new businesses, creating new jobs and moving everybody upward. Americans could have low taxes and services both, they promised, for "supply-side economics" would create such economic growth that lower tax rates would still produce high enough revenues to keep the debt low and maintain services.

But constructing an economy that favored the "supply side" rather than the "demand side"—those ordinary Americans who would spend more money in their daily lives—did not, in fact, produce great economic growth or produce tax revenues high enough to keep paying expenses. In January 1981, President Ronald Reagan called the federal deficit, then almost $74 billion, "out of control." Within two years, he had increased it to $208 billion. The debt, too, nearly tripled during Reagan's term, from $930 billion to $2.6 trillion. The Republican solution was to cut taxes and slash the government even further.

As early as his 1978 congressional race, George W. Bush called for fixing Social Security's finances by permitting people to invest their payroll tax themselves. In his second term as president in 2005, he called for it again. When Republican senator Rick Scott of Florida proposed an 11-point (which he later changed to a 12 points) "Plan to Rescue America" last year, vowing to "sunset" all laws automatically after five years, the idea reflected that Republican vision. It permitted the cutting of Social Security without attaching those cuts to any one person or party.

But American voters like Social Security and Medicare and, just as they refused Bush's attempt to privatize Social Security, recoiled from Scott's plan. Yesterday, under pressure from voters and from other Republicans who recognized the political damage being done, Scott wrote an op-ed saying his plan was "obviously not intended to include entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security—programs that hard-working people have paid into their entire lives—or the funds dedicated to our national security." (The online version of the plan remains unchanged as of Saturday morning.)

Scott attacked Biden for suggesting otherwise, but he also attacked Mitch McConnell, who also condemned Scott's plan, accusing them of engaging in "shallow gotcha politics, which is what Washington does." He also accused "Washington politicians" for "lying to you every chance they get." Scott's venom illustrated the growing rift in the Republican Party.

Since the 1990s, Republicans have had an ideological problem: voters don't actually like their economic vision, which has cut services and neglected infrastructure even as it has dramatically moved wealth upward. So to keep voters behind them, Republicans hammered on social and cultural issues, portraying those who liked the active government as godless socialists who were catering to minorities and women. "There is a religious war going on in this country," Republican Pat Buchanan told the Republican National Convention in 1992. "It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as was the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America."

A generation later, that culture war has joined with the economic vision of the older party to create a new ideology. More than half of Republicans now reject the idea of a democracy based in the rule of law and instead support Christian nationalism, insisting that the United States is a Christian nation and that our society and our laws should be based in evangelical Christian values. Forty percent of the strongest adherents of Christian nationalism think "true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country," while 22% of sympathizers agree with that position.

Scott released his 11-point plan because, he said, "Americans deserve to know what we will do when given the chance," and his plan reflected the new Republicans. Sunsetting laws and tax cuts were only part of the plan. He promised to cut government jobs by 25% over the next five years, "sell off all non-essential government assets, buildings and land, and use the proceeds to pay down our national debt," get rid of all federal programs that local governments can take over, cut taxes, "grow America's economy," and "stop Socialism."

But it also reflected the turn toward Christian nationalism, centering Christianity and "Judeo-Christian values" by investing in religious schools, adoption agencies, and social services and calling for an end to abortion, gender-affirming care, and diversity training. It explicitly puts religion above the law, saying "Americans will not be required to go against their core values and beliefs in order to conform to culture or government."

The document warned that "[a]n infestation of old, corrupt Washington insiders and immature radical socialists is tearing America apart. Their bizarre policies are intentionally destroying our values, our culture, and the beliefs that hold us together as a nation." "Is this the beginning of the end of America?" it asks. "Only if we allow it to be."

That new worldview overlaps with the extremist wing that is trying to take over the Republican Party. It was at the heart of the far-right challenge to House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). It informs Florida governor Ron DeSantis's abandonment of small-government Republicanism in favor of using the power of the state government to enforce a "Christian" vision, including on businesses.

Conservative economic policies don't need to overlap with authoritarianism and (in America and some other countries) Christian nationalism, but they do so quite easily, and Richardson is wise not to look at efforts to gut the social safety net in isolation. Put another way, to quote a post from last December, "U.S. conservatism focuses on fighting for power and privilege; it believes in bullying to defeat merit, and sometimes democracy itself. It is almost always plutocratic, often bigoted, and sometimes authoritarian (which intertwines quite naturally and toxically with the first two)." (The same post looked at how many conservatives and Republicans supported the January 6th, 2021, insurrection and support similar efforts in the future.)

As has been the case for decades, all that U.S. conservatives and the Republican Party can seem to offer the American people are spite, fear, lies, and awful policies that hurt the middle class and the poor. But the unequal, unfair, oppressive power structure they're fighting for is even more dangerous than their policies themselves.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Jon Swift Roundup 2022

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

( A Jon Swift picture.)

Welcome to the 2022 edition! It's been an interesting year for elections and investigations, among other things.

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.

The late Lance Mannion provided the definitive description of our endeavor:

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 2010–2021 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.) 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 #jonswift2022.

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:

Bark Bark Woof Woof
"Nancy Levis Williams – 1929-2022"
Mustang Bobby (aka Philip Middleton Williams): "My farewell to my mom."

Crazy Eddie's Motie News
"The story of Loving vs. Virginia on Loving Day"
Pinku-Sensei: "This post tells the story, real and dramatized, of the Lovings, on the 55th anniversary of the 1967 United States Supreme Court decision Loving vs. Virginia, which struck down state laws against interracial marriage. This has been one of the most consistently popular posts I wrote this year, earning at least 250 page views every month since I posted it on June 12th, so my readers chose it as much as I did."

Show Me Progress
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D) and Trudy Busch Valentine (D) – Gladstone, Missouri – GOTV Rally – October 29, 2022"
Michael Bersin: "Immediately after the August 2022 primary and up through to the general election we covered Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Trudy Busch Valentine (D) at fourteen out of her many retail campaign events across the state. Conventional wisdom and old media mostly ignored this campaign, missing the human contact, empathy, and joy in the battle of the candidate and her campaign staff. Trudy Busch Valentine (D) received 42% of the vote, losing to Eric Schmitt (R) by 13 points.."

First Draft
The Puppetmaster?
Peter Adrastos Athas: "Donald Trump blames his legal problems on everyone but himself. There's one man he blames most of all, Andrew Weissmann: the Puppetmaster. Bow down before the Puppetmaster and his dog Innis."

his vorpal sword
"GOPaganda and the Civil War"
Hart Williams: "Why the Right has taken up the cry of 'Civil War!' and how off-kilter that actually is. I had reviewed this author on this subject once before: mendacity galore!"

Constant Commoner
"Joni Mitchell Left and Then She Came Back"
Ramona Grigg: "Joni Mitchell's triumphant return to the Newport Folk Festival after 53 years away got me thinking about our national treasures and what it is that makes them endure. They're not treasures by accident."

Mock Paper Scissors
"News That Will Drive You to Drink, Ken Starr Edition"
Tengrain: "The one in which we eulogize Ken Starr, because someone has to set the record straight."

"The End of Roe"
bluzdude: "Initial reaction to the leak about overturning Roe."

Strangely Blogged
"Jesus, Guns, Babies, and American Exceptionalism"
Vixen Strangely: "A simple political slogan gives insight into an entire Christian-right worldview."

The Rectification of Names
"Opinions We Never Finished Reading. I"
Yastreblyansky: "Cheating a little, this is part I of a six-part reaction to Justice Alito's leaked opinion for Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, in particular his view that a right to abortion is not "deeply rooted in the Nation's history and traditions", which turns out to be based on the questionable assumption that there have never been any women in our nation's history and traditions. The whole series takes you from an abortion performed in the 5th or 6th century by St. Bridget of Kildare to an effective recipe for a herbal abortion published by founding father Benjamin Franklin, and is more entertaining that most of this dismal year's stories."

You Might Notice a Trend
"Dreading The Oncoming Storm"
Paul Wartenberg: "One of my co-workers honestly asked me, 'Are we going to have another civil war?...' Given the nature of the partisan division there really is no safe place in America when (not if) the extremism of the Far Right – either in denial of a Democratic midterm victory or in vindication of a Republican one – triggers a series of violent acts..."

The Debate Link
" 'Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative' Will Always Decay into Fascism"
David Schraub: "One of the enduring mysteries of American politics is why no party occupies the supposedly popular "economically liberal, socially conservative" quadrant. The answer is simple: shorn of socially liberal commitments to egalitarianism, "economic liberalism" simply means that the coercive power of the state is deployed to redirect wealth, power, and resources towards preferred ingroups – i.e., fascism."

"The destruction of sex"
Infidel753: "Sexuality in America is being twisted into something ugly, disgusting, and painful. Pornography is the proximate cause, but we should also look at who stands to gain from this."

"I No Longer Recognize My Country"
Annie: "In these precarious times for our fragile democracy, I explore the expression so many of us feel—"I no longer recognize my country" and find a way to respond. I close with a remarkable July 4th video: a gift to US from the Ukrainian people."

The Rude Pundit
"Tucker Carlson Has an Orgasm: A Fantasia"
Lee Papa (the Rude Pundit): "Ever wonder what gets Tucker Carlson off? No? Well, I did. And it's not fun."

Lotus – Surviving a Dark Time
"Transgender youth know who they are"
Larry E (Whoviating): "Amid increasing attacks on the very right of trans youth to exist, research says trans youth know who they are."

Just an Earthbound Misfit, I
"Legitimacy and Why It Matters, or 'Nice Little Representative Democracy You Have Here. Pity If Something Were To Happen to It.' "
Comrade Misfit: "How Clarence and the Supremes are ruining a leg of the Federal government and why it matters."

Bluestem Prairie
"Scott Jensen to speak—again—at "vaccine awareness" Global Health Freedom Summit"
Sally Jo Sorensen: "Bluestem Prairie broke this story about MNGOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen ten days before the rest of Minnesota media sort of caught up. Unlike most other accounts, Bluestem reported that this scheduled speaking event was a repeat appearance and Jensen's anti-vaccine positions weren't confined to COVID-19 jabs, but all vaccines."

The Professional Left Podcast
"Ep 634: Maybe Joe Biden Is Simply A #@%^ing Democrat!"
Blue Gal (and Driftglass): "People in the media insisting Biden move to the center - wherever that is, punch a hippie or do a "Sista Soldja" moment - are just in the habit of hating plain ordinary progressive Democrats. We think their advice is wrong. [NOTE: F-words are used in this show.]"

"Charles Foster Kane and the Four-Quadrant Podcast"
driftglass: "Take if from your Unca driftglass kids, the key to political podcasting fame and fortune is to make damn sure check all four audience boxes!"

Mad Kane's Humor Blog
"Limerick Ode To Elon Musk"
Madeleine Begun Kane: "My two-verse limerick mocking Elon Musk's impressively fast-paced destruction of Twitter."

Self-Styled Siren
"John Wayne and the Six Security Men"
Farran Smith Nehme: "Did John Wayne attempt to assault Sacheen Littlefeather in 1973, only to be held back by six security men? An attempt to trace an old story."

"Aid & Comfort Conservatives"
Roy Edroso: "In the old-fashioned blog style I took down some evidence of how conservatives were trying to distort history at it happened – in this case, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which many of them applauded. If nothing else it's good to remember what they were trying when they thought they might get away with it."

Roy Edroso Breaks It Down
"Alex gets with it"
Roy Edroso: "Scenes from Family Ties if it had been transported from the Reagan era to today."

"Mitt Romney Is In Denial"
Jon Perr: "Mitt Romney never misses an opportunity to be an opportunist. So it is with his latest paean to both-siderism."

Jill Dennison
Jill Dennison: "Choices. We make decisions every day about how to spend our time, our energy, our money. We expect our elected government to do the same, to prioritize what is in the best interest of the people ... ALL the people. But do their priorities match ours?"

God's Spies
"Our Rolling Civil War"
Thomas Neuburger: "The civil war that's brewing in this country is a rolling affair, a badly led, mixed amalgam of many elements. It's a revolt against the way Big Money screws almost everyone else. The professional left has abandoned its leadership to serve the status quo. Fun times ahead."

Left Jabs
"The Dumbing Down of Russia Looks Painfully Familiar"
LeftJabber: "Written almost a month after Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, this article points out the striking parallels between Putin’s brainwashing of the Russian people and Republicans’ similar efforts in the United States. Both rely heavily on the gullibility and ignorance of their constituents."

This Is So Gay
"Exchanging the Truth for a Lie"
Duncan Mitchel: "Conservative Christians are still trying to present themselves as reasonable and loving in their crusade against gay people and gender nonconformists; here's my discussion of a recent example. (Full disclosure: I have neglected my blog this year, and this post is a runner-up for my best of 2021; I hope to do better next year.)"

Vagabond Scholar
"The Worse Demons of Our Nature"
Batocchio: "The most popular political figures for the conservative base are those who give them permission to deny reality and to behave awfully toward their fellow Americans."

Thanks again, folks. Happy blogging and everything else in 2023.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Worse Demons of Our Nature

In calling for passage of the Voting Rights Act, LBJ was summoning what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature. He was asking – no, he was demanding – that we transcend bigotry and make good at last upon the promises we made to each other in declaring our nationhood and professing our love of liberty. The political process responded, as it should when big ideas come along, to ride the current of history.
Gerald Ford, speaking at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in 1997.
When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Donald Trump, announcing his run for president in 2015.

If progress sometimes depends on successfully appealing to "the better angels of our nature" of kindness, compassion and a sense of equality to extend rights, respect and aid to those less privileged, then regressive and oppressive forces often rely on the worse demons of our nature, appealing to fear, anxiety, greed, bigotry, jealousy, spite and the urge to domineer others. Unfortunately, for decades, U.S. conservatives and the Republican Party have stood for plutocracy and bigotry. Meanwhile, their authoritarian strain has grown stronger, to the point that a significant faction is threatening democracy itself in the United States. The most popular political figures for the conservative base are those who give them permission to deny reality and to behave awfully toward their fellow Americans.

Donald Trump remains a prime example. Although some conservatives and Republicans have tried to disown him, he's no aberration, and instead acts firmly in the conservative tradition. (See the post linked above for more, and also for "conservative" versus "Republican"; this post will treat the terms pretty interchangeably unless the distinction matters.) Trump is just less stealthy and more likely to say the quiet parts out loud, lumbering and lashing out as the monster from the conservative id. A bully and a bullshitter, he heavily traffics in spite, and the conservative base loves him for it. He stands for power and privilege over merit, in many noxious flavors – plutocracy, bigotry, self-aggrandizement, political party over country, and authoritarianism over empiricism. He wants to be praised even when he does a poor job, wants his ass kissed at all times, and denies any reality he doesn't like. A few key incidents exemplify his rotten character and the destructive traits he's encouraged in his supporters, from the rabid fans to the more quietly complicit.

Trump's 2015 announcement of his presidential run put his bigotry front and center, a longstanding personal trait and a central part of his appeal to his voters. Sean Spicer's first press conference for Trump occurred shortly after Trump's inauguration, which drew a much smaller crowd than Obama's. Spicer aggressively lied to please Trump's ego, falsely claiming that "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe." It was a bizarre performance. Trump wanted everyone to accept and repeat his obvious lie, kissing his ass as he was used to, and like other sycophants, Spicer was happy to feed Trump's vanity. That spectacle was appalling enough on its own, but it's particularly remarkable that Trump and Spicer apparently, delusionally, thought they could bully the press into playing along. (Afterward, Trump campaign strategist Kellyanne Conway infamously denied that Spicer was lying, but was instead offering "alternative facts.") Anyone who wasn't already alarmed by Trump and his cronies should have been by that incident. (Anyone who cheered it was troubling.)

In 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico, causing billions of dollars in damage. The Trump administration's response was underwhelming, but Trump bragged about what a "great job" he had done, sought praise, blithely compared the disaster's death count to other disasters, and complained about any criticism. In 2019, Trump tweeted about Puerto Rico as if was another country instead of a territory of the United States, lied about the aid given to it, and fought against giving any more aid, even though it was sorely needed. In this case, Trump's fixation on vanity over reality had more dire consequences than the Spicer press conference. The same was certainly true about the Trump administration's abysmal response to the global COVID-19 pandemic; a Lancet study released in February 2021 concluded that the U.S. could have avoided a staggering 40% of its COVID-19 deaths.

Conservatives and Republicans largely haven't cared about Trump's broken promises and lack of accomplishments, and signaled this attitude even before the election. A June 2016 article in The Washington Post found that "Many of Trump’s fans don’t actually think he will build a wall — and they don’t care if he doesn’t." Trump's aspirations, and anger directed at people they hated, were enough for them. Trump himself might have wanted a wall, but was too lazy to actually do the work to get one. (One that didn't fall over or wasn't easily scalable, anyway.) His supporters apparently – shockingly – haven't even cared if Trump's negligence and the conservative noise machine's persistently anti-science, anti-vaccine messages have made them sick or even killed them. The data show that "pro-Trump counties continue to suffer far higher COVID death tolls." When the Republican Party was first being called an "authoritarian death cult," it might have been slight hyperbole, but sadly, the pandemic showed the label was dismayingly accurate. After seeing everything Trump and his administration did and failed to do, more Americans voted for him in 2020 than in 2016. The most accurate statement Trump has probably ever made was him bragging in 2016 that "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and wouldn’t lose any voters."

One of the most telling incidents about Trump, conservatives and the Republican Party was the October 2016 leaking of the 2005 Access Hollywood tape with Trump bragging about his fame allowing him to sexually assault women and get away with it. ("When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. . . . Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.") The tape should have sunk his campaign, and some conservatives and Republicans condemned Trump, but the majority of them (including some critics) still voted for him in 2016. (Conservative claims of higher moral values than their political opponents have always been bullshit, of course.) Trump apologized when the tape came out, but by November 2017, he started pretending that the tape was a fake and it wasn't him. This is batshit crazy stuff (as several people pointed out), or more to the point, it's authoritarian behavior – Trump once again telling those surrounding him that he wants them to kiss his ass, deny objective reality, and agree with a lie favoring him.

One of Trump's favorite terms is "fake news" – which, of course, means true stories that Trump doesn't like. It's hard to quantify to what degree Trump's fans believe him when he claims news is "fake," just as it was hard to tell how many of Rush Limbaugh's listeners believed the constant lies he told, or to what degree Fox News viewers or other heavy consumers of conservative media believe its coordinated propaganda. Many obviously do believe whatever lies they're told, including lies about accurate reporting. But Trump, Limbaugh, and many other conservative figures have always sold both a sense of superiority and one of persecution to their followers; their pitch is that they're much better than their chosen political opponents, who not only treat them terribly unfairly but are a grave threat to the righteous conservative faithful and thus the country. Limbaugh's legacy wasn't just lies, it was his nastiness, an approach that Ann Coulter, Trump, Tucker Carlson and countless conservative commentators and grifters have used for decades. When Trump calls something "fake news," it's not an empirical assessment of accuracy; it's the assertion of an authoritarian leader. He's not simply lying or bullshitting; he's essentially saying "I know you hate these people and I do, too." He's giving his followers permission to hate others, and to reject reality. The professional conservative operatives know that Trump's "fake news" attacks are bullshit, but view them as useful. Within the conservative base, some of them likely know deep down if not consciously that Trump is lying but don't really care. He lets them pretend; he lets them wallow in gleeful spite. To quote a 2020 post:

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.

The white supremacist group the Proud Boys was excited after the first 2020 presidential debate when Trump wouldn't outright condemn them and instead told them to "stand back and stand by." They viewed it as an endorsement and encouragement. More mainstream Trump supporters hold less extreme views, but the core dynamic and Trump's primary appeal remains similar: he encourages the worse demons of their nature, giving them permission to behave horribly toward their fellow Americans and to deny any realities they don't like.

These dynamics became the most dangerous to date with Trump's Big Lie that the 2020 election was somehow stolen from him, and with the resulting insurrection attempt on January 6th, 2021. It's not possible to discuss the insurrection in depth here (check out Digby's extensive archives on the subject), but the House select committee hearings and other reports have established (among other things) that Trump planned to declare victory regardless of the election outcome long before his actual loss, plotted ways to overturn the election, knew that he had lost, collected roughly a quarter of billion dollars to fight the election results, encouraged his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol, approved of their violence, and didn't care if people died, including his own vice president. (Of course, people did die as a result of the insurrection.) If ever the actions of a president were cause for removal from office and other consequences, this was it – trying by multiple means, including violence, to overturn a fair election. Likewise, if ever there was a political morality test "gimme," this was it – condemn the insurrection, stand for democracy, put the country's well-being above other interests, and hold the transgressors responsible. This was a moment for even hyperpartisan hacks to drop their habitual bullshit and heed the better angels of their nature.

Americans as a whole responded better than Republicans. A 2021 Monmouth poll found that 72% of respondents thought "riot" was an appropriate description of the January 6th events, and 56% thought that "insurrection" was appropriate. But 33% also felt it was a "legitimate protest." That's a minority, thankfully, but a significant, disturbing minority. Many conservative commentators have tried to downplay the extremism and danger of the insurrection. A December 2021 Washington Post/University of Maryland poll showed that Republicans as a whole likewise downplayed the violence and danger of the insurrection compared to their fellow Americans. Congressional Democrats impeached Donald Trump for a second time for his "incitement of insurrection," but despite all the evidence, only 10 House Republicans voted for impeachment and 197 voted against. In the Senate, only 7 Republicans voted for conviction and 43 voted for acquittal, so the two-thirds majority required for conviction was not reached. As they often have for decades, Republicans put their party before their country. Adding to those damning actions, in early 2022, the Republican National Committee censured Republican U.S. Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for participating in the House's January 6th committee, claiming that they had (emphasis added) "been destructive to the institution of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican Party and our republic." (Some Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, did object to the censure.) Not content with that degree of Orwellian doublespeak, the RNC also declared that the January 6th insurrection represented "legitimate political discourse." Trump loyalist and Republican Senator Josh Hawley defended the RNC, saying, "Listen, whatever you think about the RNC vote, it reflects the view of most Republican voters." If so, we need to question if the majority of Republican voters support democracy and accountability for trying to overthrow it – and if the answer to the second part is "no," then the answer to the first part is realistically "no" as well, despite any lip service to the contrary. The overwhelming majority of congressional Republicans have failed their country on both counts.

The recent midterm elections offered concerning developments, but also some bright spots. It bears mentioning that good people do exist who identify as conservatives, whether we call them due process conservatives or something else, even if they're significantly outnumbered in the U.S. conservative movement and in the Republican Party. It's heartening that in the midterm elections, Republican candidates who were election deniers, touting Donald Trump's Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was somehow stolen from him, often did not do well. 'Election deniers running for secretary of state were the election's biggest losers,' and election denial hurt the Republican Party overall. Those losses were aided by self-described conservatives and Republicans.

Still, it's very troubling that the Republicans ran 291 election deniers, and 170 of them won. And roughly 70% or Republicans believe Trump's Big Lie. A huge portion of one of America's two major political parties believes a significant, dangerous falsehood (or pretends to). Republicans were building an "army" to overturn election results by "challeng[ing] voters at Democratic-majority polling places," which in actual practice has often meant harassment. In Cochise County, Arizona, Republican officials refused to certify the 2022 midterm election results "despite no evidence of anything wrong with the count" simply because they didn't like Democrats winning some top races. Interestingly, holding out had the potential to backfire on them, because if all 47,000 plus county votes were thrown out, some elections would flip to Democrats. Weeks later, the officials finally complied with a court order and certified the election. (The Republicans might still face criminal charges for their breach of duty.) This is sore loser behavior, childish, petulant, entitled and dangerous.

More alarming, as of May 2022, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, "nearly 400 [voter-]restrictive bills had been introduced in legislatures nationwide," and the chief cause seems to be "white racial resentment." And the conservative-dominated Supreme Court recently heard arguments for Moore v. Harper, a North Carolina gerrymandering case. Conservatives – backed by plenty of dark money – are pushing an "independent state legislature theory,” which means state legislatures could ignore state courts and their own state constitutions, allowing them to rig elections in their favor. It's a batshit theory with "exceedingly thin" evidence, but the North Carolina state legislature is controlled by Republicans, so they think this will solidify their domination even further. They're far from alone; Pennsylvania Republicans have worked to rig the courts to bypass judges who might uphold fair elections instead of favoring Republicans. Similarly, Republican candidate for Wisconsin governor, Tim Michels, vowed that if he won in the 2022 midterms, Republicans would "never lose another election." Michels thankfully lost, but democracy itself shouldn't be imperiled every election.

Conservative opposition to fair play is nothing new. To look just at this past decade, after Barack Obama's re-election in 2012, some Republicans discussed changing their approach, given that demographic trends did not favor them. Any such renouncing of the evils of plutocracy, bigotry or unfair play was thrown out, however, when a perfect storm of factors and an outdated, idiotic electoral system allowed Donald Trump to be elected president in 2016 over Hillary Clinton despite losing the popular vote. Republicans, who had engaged in unprecedented obstructionism in blocking judicial nominees under Obama, were happy to turn around and appoint as many conservative and far-right judges as they could, including stealing two supreme court seats. (They also came up with self-congratulatory, alternative realities of those events to justify their actions.)

This general, dishonorable approach is not likely to change, regardless of the Republican leadership. Now that Trump apparently cost Republicans victories in the midterms, some Republicans have suggested moving past him, but we've seen this dance before; they're sure to embrace him again if he wins the nomination for 2024, or happily go with Ron DeSantis and his similarly awful policies and comparable cult of personality. (On the PBS NewsHour on 12/16/22, conservative commentator David Brooks cited a USA Today poll saying that, "by 2-1 margins, [Republican voters] want Trumpism, his approach, but they don't want Donald Trump." Notice Brooks trying to distance Trump from conservatism, too.) Trump is horrible, but he's symptomatic of a much deeper rot in American conservatism and the Republican Party. If current trends continue, any candidate who promises power and sells spite is likely to do well.

If major Republican nominees for the 2024 elections aren't reality-deniers, bigots or authoritarians, it'll be a relief, albeit clearing an awfully low bar. Even when conservatives and Republicans don't directly imperil democracy, when they get in power, unfortunately, things typically get much worse for the vast majority of Americans; the system is increasingly rigged against them. The George W. Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 primarily benefitted the most wealthy Americans, as intended, just as Ronald Reagan's tax cuts in the 1980s were. The Trump tax cuts were similarly plutocratic, funneling even more money to the wealthiest Americans to please rich donors. Contrary to Republican claims, the corporate tax cuts did not trickle down and the tax plan did not pay for itself; they just gave rich people more money. Conservative economic policies, whether they're called supply-side, trickle-down, Reaganomics or something else, have never delivered, as decades of evidence show. It strains credulity to pretend that conservatives actually believe that their policies work for anyone other than the rich. (It also would be nice if mainstream political coverage more prominently covered the actual consequences of policies, considered the corruption angle, and didn't pretend that conservatives really believe the bullshit they spout.) But on this subject and many others, conservatives and Republicans publicly deny reality. It's rarely as blatant as denying an election, but it's still harmful.

It's not as if conservatives' awful economic and fiscal policies are an outlier, either, or that their echo chamber is something new. In 2010, self-described libertarian Julian Sanchez wrote several posts bemoaning "epistemic closure" in conservative discourse, for example, sticking with Fox News and rejecting information from mainstream, credible outlets like The New York Times, even among supposed conservative elites. A few conservatives agreed with Sanchez whereas many others didn't, and either didn't really understand or truly engage with the critique. Sanchez' take was welcome but utterly unsurprising for anyone who followed conservative media (including the blogosphere) in previous years. (For a more detailed look at conservative policies, see a 2018 post, "What's to Be Done About Conservatives?") Trump supporters merely continued the epistemic closure trend, living in "an alternative universe" and loving his rage and rejection of any media outlet he didn't like.

So where do we go from here? Although it's heartening that American democracy has survived the 2020 elections, the 2021 insurrection, and the 2022 midterm elections, it shouldn't be at risk in every election. And the country's well-being shouldn't be imperiled every time conservatives gain power, even if they abide by election results. We can always expect conservatives to try to rebrand themselves as they've done frequently, and trying to call mainstream American conservatism "Trumpism" as if it's some new aberration and not the continuation of past awfulness is just the latest example. The Democratic Party has plenty of problems we've discussed before and will again, but the Republican Party is almost completely toxic and corrupt, and now often explicitly antidemocratic. It needs to lose for about 20 years before its leaders consider changing their approach. Unfortunately, even that won't be sufficient, because conservative billionaires, think tanks and dark money organizations are always playing a long game to make the U.S. more conservative, including overturning laws and principles that most citizens quite reasonably believe long settled. The conservative-dominated Supreme Court's decision to ignore precedent and sound medical practice to overturn Roe v. Wade after nearly 50 years is the most glaring recent example, but it's hardly the only one, nor is it likely to be the last one.

I'm not sure a conservatism exists that is truly beneficent, helping the majority of people, and better than other political philosophies, but it does seem that as an ideology, or as actually practiced by real people, conservatism has less harmful strains than the current ascendant one. The people critiqued in this post don't need to be this horrible; it's a choice. U.S. conservatism focuses on fighting for power and privilege; it believes in bullying to defeat merit, and sometimes democracy itself. It is almost always plutocratic, often bigoted, and sometimes authoritarian (which intertwines quite naturally and toxically with the first two). To reference two older posts, in terms of "The Four Types of Conservatives," the Sober Adults are in ever shorter supply, and the Reckless Addicts, Proud Zealots, and Stealthy Extremists have even more power. Conjunctions of stupid, evil and crazy have become increasingly common. Meanwhile, liberals and other nonconservatives cannot directly fix conservatism or the Republican Party, either (despite occasional pundit whining that somehow they should). Conservatives have to do that themselves. In the meantime, it's the job of everyone else to hold conservatives accountable, keep them out of power (through democratic means, naturally), and work for a fairer and more functional system.

This isn't the cheeriest post, but hope still exists. The midterm election presented some encouraging results. And in August in conservative Kansas, 59% of voters "rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment . . . that would have said there was no right to an abortion in the state," in a sharp rebuke of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. The pandemic exposed how many workplace practices and other rules are bullshit, even if many labor and human rights fights still need to be won. It's also easy to forget about some lasting social progress. Support for same-sex marriage now stands at 71%, up from a mere 27% in 1996. That is truly extraordinary. Some of that is the result of positive peer pressure, but it also shows how people's fears can evaporate when they're shown to be ridiculous, and how powerful it can be to recognize others' humanity. Conservatives are attacking LGBTQ rights and need to be defeated, but U.S. society as a whole is increasingly not with them.

Abraham Lincoln ended his 1861 first inaugural address, after several states had seceded from the Union but before the Civil War officially started, on a conciliatory, optimistic note. He soon faced a more open and much more deadly conflict than we currently do. But it still seems that the best way to fight our worse demons as a nation is by investing in our better angels.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

(Cross-posted at Hullabaloo.)