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.