Live Not By Lies: The Right-Wing Version
I finished the final manuscript of Live Not By Lies in early to mid-March. Covid was just taking off, and the George Floyd killing was yet to come. Though my book did not appear in stores until late September, the deadline for changing the text passed in late March. I have had some readers ask me why I didn’t write more about Covid, or anything about George Floyd, in the book. It’s a reasonable question, given the September 29 publishing date, but the way book production goes, nearly all books are editorially locked months before they are printed.
I don’t know when the paperback version will be out. Live Not By Lies is selling well, still, so I imagine it will be some time yet. But when it does come back, I will add a chapter that addresses what the Covid response has taught us about the themes in the book, and what the George Floyd reaction has done as well. And I will also talk about the way the pre-totalitarian phenomena that Live Not By Lies identify as primarily on the Left manifested in a major way this year on the Right in 2020 and beyond.
I didn’t meet my first QAnon believer until about a month before the final version of my manuscript was finished. I knew it was a thing, QAnon, but it took having a lengthy conversation with a true believer to wake me up to how serious the phenomenon was. The man I talked to was to all appearances intelligent, wealthy, and worldly — but was a serious believer in QAnon. I thought for a while he was pulling my leg, but it turns out he meant it. Back home, I told my college-age son about the conversation, and he said, “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for a while: you’ve got to take this more seriously than you do.”
There’s no need to recount what played out this year with QAnon. What interests me the most is what has happened to the Right since Trump lost the election. As a religious conservative, watching the MAGA Religious Right rally at the Jericho March was a red pill experience for me. (I wrote about it first here, then answered some of the criticism here.) The joining of religious faith to conspiracy theory, and the juicing it with nationalist fervor, and Trumpist cult of personality — it was radioactive. The core, from a Live Not By Lies standpoint, was Gen. Michael Flynn exhorting the crowd not to listen to their minds, but rather believe what their gut tells them is true. That, plus emcee Eric Metaxas and other speakers saying that God told them this and that, and that when God tells you something, you have to do it.
As you know if you read my book, Hannah Arendt said the willingness to believe things that are not true, or that defy rationality, is part of what opens one up to totalitarianism. From Live Not By Lies:
To grasp the threat of totalitarianism, it’s important to understand the difference between it and simple authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is what you have when the state monopolizes political control. That is mere dictatorship—bad, certainly, but totalitarianism is much worse. According to Hannah Arendt, the foremost scholar of totalitarianism, a totalitarian society is one in which an ideology seeks to displace all prior traditions and institutions, with the goal of bringing all aspects of society under control of that ideology. A totalitarian state is one that aspires to nothing less than defining and controlling reality. Truth is whatever the rulers decide it is. As Arendt has written, wherever totalitarianism has ruled, “[I]t has begun to destroy the essence of man.”
In Live Not By Lies, I give example after example of the Left trying to do this. Since Election Day, though, we have seen many on the Right succumb to this too. Just the other day I spoke to a friend who is a Trump supporter, and who is convinced the election was stolen. Nothing moves my friend’s mind; this conclusion is unfalsifiable. But what about what the courts have said? I went on. Are they all in on the conspiracy?
My friend responded calmly but firmly: “I just have a feeling that Trump really won.” I understood that any evidence that contradicts that feeling, my friend dismisses, and anything that confirms it, my friend accepts without question. Because, like Gen. Flynn said, you need to go with your gut.
Arendt wrote about the pre-totalitarian masses (I quote this in my book):
They do not believe in anything visible, in the reality of their own experience; they do not trust their eyes and ears but only their imaginations, which may be caught by anything that is at once universal and consistent with itself. What convinces masses are not facts, and not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably part.
I also wrote in Live Not By Lies about how so many on the Left today accept things they surely must know to be falsehoods, but who endorse these principles because they want to be on the side of the Oppressed. From LNBL:
You can surrender your moral responsibility to be honest out of misplaced idealism. You can also surrender it by hating others more than you love truth. In pre-totalitarian states, Arendt writes, hating “respectable society” was so narcotic, that elites were willing to accept “monstrous forgeries in historiography” for the sake of striking back at those who, in their view, had “excluded the underprivileged and oppressed from the memory of mankind.” For example, many who didn’t really accept Marx’s revisionist take on history—that it is a manifestation of class struggle—were willing to affirm it because it was a useful tool to punish those they despised.
Think of the Republican establishment figures today who know that the President lost the election, and who know perfectly well that he is tearing apart our democracy in his desperate attempt to hold on to power. Some of them are cynics who are trying to jockey for Trump’s voters in the next presidential contest. Others — not just lawmakers, but all kinds of conservatives — may simply hate liberals more than they love truth. More from Live Not By Lies:
Arendt’s judgment of the postwar elites who recklessly thumbed their noses at respectability could easily apply to those of our own day who shove aside liberal principles like fair play, race neutrality, free speech, and free association as obstacles to equality. Arendt wrote:
The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in the past forced their way into it.
As you can see, I used Arendt’s conclusions to pass harsh judgment on liberals and progressives for their embrace of identity politics. But we are seeing some on the Right embrace the same kind of thing, for MAGA’s sake. Here’s a grifty fundraising text that Sen. Ted Cruz sent out today (a friend received it; I have removed his name):
Over the weekend, as you know, the president was recorded threatening the Georgia Secretary of State, like some two-bit gangster, in an effort to get him to falsify the election results. I think Trump might really believe the conspiracy theories. But what excuse do his supporters in Congress and among conservative voters have?
Yuval Levin published a powerful, powerful essay about the “failures of leadership in a populist age” today at National Review. Levin says that conditions have degenerated with Trump to the point where a basic question of reality is front and center. He says that populists won’t get anywhere at changing things that they rightly think should be changed if they continue to allow themselves to be preoccupied with crackpot conspiracy theories. Excerpts:
If the Right is likely to continue to do well in politics, it should get better at governing, and that cannot help but mean getting better at dealing with reality, including those realities that some voters don’t want to face.
The election was not stolen, and the vice president doesn’t get to choose the next president. There isn’t anything Congress can do to change that. But Congress could do some things to protect religious liberty, to lift some of the burdens weighing on Americans struggling to raise children, to push back against the radicalization of higher education, to take the threat of Chinese power more seriously, to help Americans yearning for meaningful economic security or more stable employment, to make more opportunities available to Americans who don’t go to college, to secure our borders and improve the immigration system, and in other ways to help more Americans lead dignified lives in a decent and prosperous free society. Legislative action can’t simply achieve any of these things, but it could meaningfully help, even while a Democrat is president. And politicians who knew how to operate as legislators and (when a Republican is elected president again) executives could also more effectively restrain and reverse some of the worst excesses of the Left. Working toward those ends would make for a stronger electoral argument, too, with the potential to broaden the Republican coalition in the coming decade. But as long as Republican politicians choose to spend their time acting out futile fantasies while letting their capacity for governing atrophy, they are failing the voters they say they want to serve.
And they are failing their voters in a more fundamental way, too. By lying to these voters in order to benefit from their outrage, Republican politicians are living down to the view these voters have of our country’s leaders — precisely the view those politicians claim to channel and share. They are affirming too many voters in their low opinion of American politics, and they are leaving them doubtful that the incoming president is legitimate and that our larger system of government is too.
No amount of macho fighting talk can cover up this simple fact: To play along with the president’s lies about the election is a profound failure of leadership, a dereliction of responsibility, and a disgrace.
I do not believe the threat to our liberties from the soft-totalitarian Right is remotely as strong as it is from the soft-totalitarian Left, simply because the Left controls institutional power in this country, especially in the media. But “the Left is worse” is not an excuse to indulge in the same kind of insanity. Republican lawmakers and influencers who know better but who are riding the conspiracy into what they hope will be greater power and influence are especially culpable here. No, we are not going to see a right-wing authoritarian state, and certainly not a right-wing totalitarian one. But the Right’s inability to live in reality is going to weaken it in the face of the Left’s increasing radicalization of the institutions, and is going to give left-wing would-be totalitarians the excuses they want to suppress dissent.
The fact that Republicans did surprisingly well in the election despite the president’s loss ought to be a sign of hope. But the GOP cannot and should not prevail as the party of conspiracy theory. In Live Not By Lies, I quote Solzhenitsyn saying that people who think what happened in Russia cannot happen in their country are wrong: it could happen anywhere on earth. Similarly, there is no reason to think that the ideological madness that is overtaking liberal institutions, and the Democratic Party, won’t be repeated in a right-wing version among conservatives. It’s happening right now. I didn’t write a book called Live Not By Left-Wing Lies, you know.
UPDATE: On today’s show, Eric Metaxas says that Trump was elected president, and if you don’t believe there is mountains of evidence proving it, you should jump in a lake. And, you are deceived by the devil.
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The Coming Fake Liberal Religion Boom
Yesterday, Twitter was having a blast making fun of Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Kansas) and his dopey woke prayer to open the new Congressional session. Cleaver, who is an ordained United Methodist minister, prayed to “the monotheistic god,” then invoked Brahma (one of the many Hindu gods) “and God known by many names by many different faiths,” then said “amen, and awomen.” I told a friend about this, and he accused me of making it up. Nope, it really happened:
Where do you even begin with this? Not all religions are monotheistic. How can a Christian believer — much less a Christian pastor! — pray in the name of a non-Christian god? Is Cleaver so ignorant of and disrespectful to non-Christian religions that he believes we’re all praying to the same deity, just under different names? Is he really so thick that he believes “amen” is a gendered English word (it’s a Hebrew word meaning “so let it be”)?
This prayer was an illustration of every conservative’s parody of woke religion. But again, it really happened.
Perhaps we will be expected to give Cleaver the benefit of the doubt, because he is a pastor in the black church. Jonathan Lee Walton, head of Wake Forest’s divinity school, says that attacks on Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock, a Baptist pastor, misrepresent the black church. Excerpt:
The attacks misconstrue African American progressive and prophetic religious protest. Informed by the evangelical strand of the social gospel, this tradition places an overwhelming moral emphasis on society’s most vulnerable and oppressed. It demands that Christians bear witness and ameliorate the suffering of others, as set forth in the parable in Matthew 25 where Jesus likens our treatment of God with how we treat those without food and shelter, or those who are sick and imprisoned: “Truly I tell you,” Jesus says of those who enter God’s kingdom, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Indeed, in his December debate with Loeffler, Warnock said: “I’m a Matthew 25 Christian.”
Well, unless one of the least of these is an unborn child. In that case, Rev. Warnock calls protecting the right to exterminate that child in the womb “reproductive justice” (earning the public rebuke of other black pastors in Georgia).
Be that as it may, far be it from any conservative Christian to fault a pastor involving himself in politics. In fact, I don’t think the criticism of Warnock is coming from people on the Right who believe religious folks should not be involved in politics. It’s criticism of his religious and political beliefs. And why not? If you are going to mix religion with politics, then you invite that criticism. It’s perfectly fair.
The hypocrisy here is not Warnock’s, but the media’s. Newspapers like the Washington Post, The New York Times, and other major outlets never lack for condemnation of “theocrats” on the Right, for allegedly using politics to impose their religious views on the nation. The Times just published a favorable profile of Warnock, the pastor-politician, because his church takes progressive political stands.
The aggravating part is the absence of principle here. When conservative religious folks involve themselves in politics, they are covered as a threat to the country. But when liberals religious folks — especially liberal black preachers — do it, gosh, ain’t that a glorious thing! And in The New Republic, a once-important voice on the Left, we are told that to criticize the political stances that this political candidate, Warnock, has taken means that you are a bigot who hates the black church and its positions. Well, what if someone genuinely disagrees with a theological stance taken by Warnock or others in a black church? Does the color of their skin mean they can’t be criticized on theological grounds?
The Guardian is thrilled that a liberal Catholic is about to become US President, and wonders if liberal Christians are about to have their moment. The answer is no, they’re not. Remember how when Pope Francis was elected, some progressive commentators, both Catholic and secular, prophesied that having a more liberal pope would bring young people to the Church. Didn’t happen. The purpose of liberal Christianity seems to be to baptize whatever political and cultural progressives want this week, however little it coheres with Biblical, historical Christianity. What is the point of liberal Christianity, as it exists in the US today? How many liberal Christians parents pass the faith on to their children? I didn’t say “want to pass the faith on to their children;” I mean succeed at it.
According to data presented by political scientists Paul Djupe and Ryan Burge, the Religious Left is only a very small part of the American Christian scene, but it draws far more attention than its size merits because it is by far the most politically involved of any US Christian demographic.
There are no guarantees that your kids will practice the faith in their adulthood, but if they don’t see their parents practicing the faith, they are far more likely not to practice it either in their adulthood. That’s why the steep decline in the number of self-identified progressives who attend church weekly bodes ill for the liberal church (though it did rise somewhat after Trump took over):
We always read things in the papers forecasting the rise of the Religious Left, but it’s mostly wishful thinking on the part of journalists. Djupe and Burge write:
The religious left does exist and it is growing. However, it still makes up a very small part of the American population. It’s fair to say that just one in twenty Americans could be classified as highly religiously involved and politically liberal – our definition of religious left. But, their voices are louder than their numbers as a function of how active they are in politics. In a future post, we’ll assess the issue agendas of the religious left, anticipating that it is highly fragmented given the religious and racial diversity within the group.
It’s important to put these numbers in perspective, though. While ~5% of people can be classified as the religious left, that’s just one third of the size of white evangelicals or one sixth the size of the religiously unaffiliated. That’s not to say that they can’t have an impact on politics, especially at the state and local level, but it’s fair to say that they cannot match the size and power amassed by the religious right.
For purposes of my post, the key words are “highly religiously involved.” In post-Christian America, if you are not highly religiously involved, the odds are long that your kids will be highly religiously involved as adults. Nobody wants to hear that, but it’s true. Here is Burge’s projection for what religious life in the US will look like over this next decade: collapse of the Mainline, stagnation and slight decline for everybody else, and skyrocketing numbers for the religiously unaffiliated.
What is much harder to predict is where religious belief will be farther out than a decade, as young people who may affiliate with church now stop attending. In the piece where he offered that graf, Burge said it can’t account for black swan events that affect churchgoing. Covid-19 has been just such an event. We’ve all heard doom-and-gloom predictions from pastors saying that once churchgoing is normal again, they fear many in their congregations won’t come back. These were the nominal believers who just came out of habit. I think this will add to the Nones category.
The thing about Nones is not that their beliefs aren’t sincere, but that they’re watery. They are not attached to a tradition, to a way of life, to institutions. Therefore, they can’t be passed down to the next generation. This is something most American Christians of all kinds don’t seem to understand: the faith has to be embodied. If it’s nothing but a series of abstract propositions requiring mental assent, it can’t stand. We’re all familiar with the person who says, “I don’t need to go to church to find God. I find him out here on the beach/with my horses/in my quiet time on my back porch/etc.” It is true that God is everywhere present … but this is beside the point. The purpose of going to church is not to have an individual experience of God (though one hopes for that).
We live in a culture that conditions us to privilege individualism, including individual emotional experiences. The “spiritual but not religious” mindset is perfect as an expression of the age. But it won’t last, because it can’t last. Neither can a religious mentality that substitutes political engagement for substantive religious belief and disciplined commitment. If you hear the voice of conservative Christian triumphalism in this blog post, then you are not listening to me clearly. A major theme of my work these past few years has been that all Christianity, not just liberal Christianity, is facing destruction, because it hasn’t found a way to defy the acid bath of liquid modernity, the font of which is Expressive Individualism. We conservatives will outlast the liberals, but without some sort of deep conversion to a countercultural way of life, it’s just a matter of time for us too.
Last year, I wrote about shocking new research findings showing that only a fraction of American Catholics both know what the Catholic Church teaches about the Eucharist, and believe it. It is hard to overstate to those outside the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox Church) how important this is. It represents a colossal failure on the part of the institutional church, and of parents, to pass a core element of the Catholic faith on to their kids. Catholicism is collapsing in Italy too, you I found social science research in Italy showing that only a small minority of Italians describe themselves as “active and practicing” their Catholic faith, and of that number, only 22 percent report having adult children who are following in their path.
Think about that: even the most devout and engaged Italian Catholics lose four out of five of their children to the faith. This, in a country where the cultural infrastructure of Catholicism is incomparably greater than the Christian (Catholic and non-Catholic) equivalent in the US.
And now we are swiftly moving into a situation here in America in which small-o orthodox Christians who cannot cooperate with progressive ideology (on LGBT, race, and/or abortion) are going to be de facto barred from certain professions. Middle-class conservative Christians do not want to hear this, because they are accustomed to thinking of the Christian faith as an adjunct to worldly success. Those days are over. If you don’t wake up now and start preparing yourself, your family, and others in your congregation for the world as it is, and as it soon will be, you will find your children having to choose between a career as a lawyer, physician, etc. — and their faith. It’s a hell of a choice to put onto a young person, especially a young person who has been given no firm basis on which to choose faith (when it brings suffering) over worldly success.
To return to the reason for this post: our secular media are going to find all kinds of reasons to praise progressive Christianity, and to demonize those Christians who reject it (“Racists!” is what they call Christians who criticize progressive black churchmen.) There is no future for progressive Christianity. There is also no future for conservative Christianity that construes itself as little more than MAGA at prayer. I’m a conservative Christian who would walk away from a church like that, not in spite of being conservative, but because of the things that mark me out as a traditionalist within Christianity. One thing to keep in mind, though, from Djupe and Burge’s research, is that self-identified liberal churches are far more political than self-identified conservative churches. It’s just that they don’t get a lot of press coverage because the secular liberal media neither fear nor loathe them.
No one can presume to know where a person truly stands with God. One can be publicly devout, but have a cold hellbound heart. One can be a hot mess religiously, but be mysteriously close to the Kingdom (see the phenomenon of “holy fools”). But we can know about people by their public statements and actions, and it’s fair to judge how well a person’s words and actions match what they profess to be true (this, as distinct from saying, “Ultimately, sir, you are going to heaven/hell”). It would be newsmaking if Joe Biden took a single political stand on behalf of his Catholic faith, that conflicted with liberal political goals. I don’t think he will, but we are going to be subjected to four years of, “See, even devout Catholic Joe Biden believes that you can support same-sex marriage, sex changes for children, and unlimited abortion, and still be a Catholic in good standing. Why can’t you say the same?”
Put another way, get ready for newspaper and TV profiles of the Religious Left, press attention that will vastly overstate their size and influence. As with the Religious Right, the media see what they want to see.
I wonder how many of Joe Biden’s descendants are regular massgoers. His son Beau is dead, and Hunter — well, it doesn’t appear that he darkens the door of the church too often. But what about the grandkids?
UPDATE: Forgot to say that for those who are interested in reading my daily newsletter, which focuses on religion, ideas, and culture, but without the polemical edge (and no politics!), it is now available for subscription only. Click here for more information. Tonight’s issue will focus on a new Dante online exhibition, among other things.
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Trump’s Crackpot Phone Call
In the weeks after Election Day, Donald Trump has proven that he is everything his enemies say he is. Here’s a Washington Post exclusive about a crackhead phone call he had with the Georgia Secretary of State, in which he tried to intimidate the man into finding votes for him. Excerpts:
President Trump urged fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat in an extraordinary one-hour phone call Saturday that election experts said raised legal questions.
The Washington Post obtained a recording of the conversation in which Trump alternately berated Raffensperger, tried to flatter him, begged him to act and threatened him with vague criminal consequences if the secretary of state refused to pursue his false claims, at one point warning that Raffensperger was taking “a big risk.”
Throughout the call, Raffensperger and his office’s general counsel rejected his assertions, explaining that Trump is relying on debunked conspiracy theories and that President-elect Joe Biden’s 11,779-vote victory in Georgia was fair and accurate.
“The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry,” he said. “And there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.”
Raffensperger responded: “Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong.”
At another point, Trump said: “So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”
Trump’s conversation with Raffensperger put him in legally questionable territory, legal experts said. By exhorting the secretary of state to “find” votes and to deploy investigators who “want to find answers,” Trump appears to be encouraging him to doctor the election outcome in Georgia.
But experts said Trump’s clearer transgression is a moral one. Edward B. Foley, a law professor at the Ohio State University, said that the legal questions are murky and would be subject to prosecutorial discretion. But he also emphasized that the call was “inappropriate and contemptible” and should prompt moral outrage.
“He was already tripping the emergency meter,” Foley said. “So we were at 12 on a scale of 1 to 10, and now we’re at 15.”
Just jaw-dropping stuff here, from a President of the United States:
His desperation was perhaps most pronounced during an exchange with Germany, Raffensperger’s general counsel, in which he openly begged for validation.
Trump: “Do you think it’s possible that they shredded ballots in Fulton County? Because is what the rumor is. And also that Dominion took out machines. That Dominion is really moving fast to get rid of their, uh, machinery. Do you know anything about that? Because that’s illegal.
Germany responded: “No, Dominion has not moved any machinery out of Fulton County.”
Trump: “But have they moved the inner parts of the machines and replaced them with other parts?”
Trump: “Are you sure? Ryan?”
Germany: “I’m sure. I’m sure, Mr. President.”
Read it all — and listen on the story to the audiotaped excerpts. The Secretary of State got fed up with it after an hour and more or less hung up on Trump.
This is beyond disturbing. If Trump weren’t going to be replaced in a couple of weeks, this would surely be impeachable. If on Tuesday the Republicans lose the Georgia Senate races because of the childish tantrums Trump is throwing, the cost is going to be immense.
What a humiliation for the United States. All those Senators who have said they’re going to contest the Electoral College result, they are enabling this destruction.
Read the transcript. The president is unhinged.
It was kinda Trump’s job not to solicit election fraud so maybe that is the headline here. pic.twitter.com/foIW89yNoY
— Peter Spiliakos (@petespiliakos) January 3, 2021
UPDATE.3: Sen. Tom Cotton is too hawkish for my tastes, but he got this one right. Bravo!
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Reader Giuseppe Scalas, in Milan, tipped me off to something that’s chef’s-kiss perfect. Behold, “Ciao 2020,” a Russian television New Year’s Eve homage to cheesy Eighties-era Italian variety shows. Giovanni says that in the Eighties, Italian TV shows and music were all the rage in the Soviet bloc. The Russians pulled the whole thing off entirely in Italian. You don’t have to speak a word of Italian to appreciate this insanely fun, loving ’80s tribute (the show begins after a 90-second Russian introduction):
Here’s something else fun from the Italian pop culture past: Adriano Celantano singing “Prisencolinensinainciusol”. It’s a nonsense song, meant to mimic the way English sounds to Italian ears. These aren’t actually words, just English-sounding syllables. The chorus is irresistible. When my children were younger, they used to chant “prisencolinensinainciusol, all right!” when they listened to it.
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The Awful Trump Truth
Andrew McCarthy was a Trump voter, but he says the way the president has behaved since his election loss has made him realize that he made a bad bet. The stuff Trump and his minions have been doing is going to come back and hurt us conservatives, he writes. Excerpts:
The Trump fanatics notwithstanding, the case for Trump, in 2020 as in 2016, was never based on the comparative merits and demerits of the man. It was Trump as opposed to whom? That’s still the most sensible way to look at it. It is, of course, why few anti-Trump conservatives framed their opposition as positive support for the Democrats, even if that was its de facto effect.
The hard part in this family squabble is not diagnosing the weakness of the other side’s argument. It is grappling with the weakness of my own. The problem with “Trump as opposed to whom?” is that we who’ve supported the president on that basis are less the bottom-line realists we see ourselves as, and more like riverboat gamblers. And what we’re gambling with is the country.
Yes, exactly. More:
This is the biggest point the Trump diehards miss. How is it possible that a zilch like Biden could garner 12 million more votes than the charismatic Obama got in 2008? They emote this question as if the very asking proved the gargantuan but somehow elusive election fraud. As if the nation’s population had not grown by 25 million since 2008. As if Biden’s haul is inherently fishy but Trump’s 12 million-vote improvement over his total from just four years ago is perfectly natural.
Biden may be a trademark hack, but that’s not why he stayed in his basement. He did that because he and the president had the same idea: Make the election all about Trump. The president started out in 2017 as one whom 54 percent of the country had voted against. He remained personally unpopular with over half the country throughout his term, especially when the pandemic erased his surging economy while highlighting his incorrigible foibles. It is not at all hard to see how Biden could collect a record-setting 81 million popular votes. In the main, they were votes against Trump, not for Biden.
Since the election, we’ve had two months of a president publicly insisting the election was rigged while hoping no one noticed that his campaign expressly declined the invitation to prove massive fraud and illegality in Wisconsin. In Pennsylvania, Trump’s team did not just formally drop fraud charges, they explicitly represented to federal courts that they were not alleging fraud. Yet Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) now vows to join Trump’s House allies in objecting to the counting of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes. And other states’ votes, too. Even Hawley does not claim that the election was stolen or that any known departures from Pennsylvania’s election laws would have changed the outcome. He just wants to “raise these critical issues.”
Don’t faint when the Democrats start to “raise critical issues” too. If the election was rigged, for example, is that why Republicans did so much better than expected in the down-ballot contests? If Republicans are going to press the president’s claims, why wouldn’t Democrats target all those congressional seats and state houses won by the GOP?
Four years from now, what’s to stop Democrats from delegitimizing an election some Republican has won by mimicking Trump’s own lines of argument? Conservatives can scream bloody murder while Democrats, relying on today’s House Republicans, insist that Vice President Kamala Harris has the unilateral authority to decide which states’ electoral votes to count, and which to invalidate as too suspect. Try to keep a stiff upper lip, too, when Democrats cite Trump arguments in support of their quest to dispense with the Electoral College altogether — reasoning that a state’s popular election is irrelevant if enough elected Democrats decide the winner should be the Democrat who, the media will dutifully point out, has won the popular vote nationally.
Anti-Trump conservatives always maintained that, despite its policy successes, the Trump presidency would prove to be a boon for Democrats. I bet that they were wrong. On November 3, that wager looked better than it does at the moment. The last two months have been bad. It may take a few years to quantify how bad.
Read it all. It’s a sobering column. And a truthful one. Nothing has made the president deserve his 2020 election loss like the lack of character he has shown since Election Day.
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Hawley’s Insane Move
As regular readers know, I’ve been excited to see first-term Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley take on more populist stances than one is accustomed to seeing in Republican lawmakers. It was really disappointing to see him hoist the Trump “Stop The Steal” standard, though. Hawley announced that he is going to formally challenge the Electoral College results, forcing a Senate vote on whether or not to confirm the vote (there will be a similar vote in the House, thanks to Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama).
There is no chance that Hawley and Brooks will prevail, but their move forces Republican lawmakers to declare where they stand on Trump. This is pretty clearly Hawley’s bid to snap up the loyalty of Trump voters in the event he decides to run for president in 2024. But his GOP colleagues hate that he’s doing this because it forces them to take a public stand against Trump — which is to say, against the activist base of the Republican Party. CNN reports that Mitch McConnell called Hawley out in a conference call over it, but Hawley wasn’t on the call:
The conference call discussion comes after McConnell had discouraged members from objecting in the first place. But now that Hawley has made clear he is going ahead, members will have to decide for themselves whether to agree to the certification of a state’s electors or not. There are 19 Republican senators who are facing reelection in 2022. Republicans have to defend 21 seats.McConnell privately warned Republicans weeks ago that going down the path of objecting would put colleagues in the position of having to vote against President Donald Trump, or against the clear winner of the election with no basis for doing so. Given Trump’s pull with the party, it would create an untenable position, particularly for those GOP senators soon to face reelection.
WHAT HAPPENS ON JANUARY 6th
In November, 160 million Americans voted. On December 14, members of the Electoral College – spread across all 50 states and the District of Columbia – assembled to cast their votes to confirm the winning candidate. And on January 6, the Congress will gather together to formally count the Electoral College’s votes and bring this process to a close.
Some members of the House and the Senate are apparently going to object to counting the votes of some states that were won by Joe Biden. Just like the rest of Senate Republicans, I have been approached by many Nebraskans demanding that I join in this project.
Having been in private conversation with two dozen of my colleagues over the past few weeks, it seems useful to explain in public why I will not be participating in a project to overturn the election – and why I have been urging my colleagues also to reject this dangerous ploy.
Every public official has a responsibility to tell the truth, and here’s what I think the truth is – about our duties on January 6th, about claims of election fraud, and about what it takes to keep a republic.
1. IS THERE A CONSTITUTIONAL BASIS FOR CONGRESS TO DISMISS ELECTORAL COLLEGE VOTES?
Yes. A member of the House and the Senate can object and, in order for the vote(s) in question to be dismissed, both chambers must vote to reject those votes.
But is it wise? Is there any real basis for it here?
Absolutely not. Since the Electoral College Act of 1887 was passed into law in the aftermath of the Civil War, not a single electoral vote has ever been thrown out by the Congress. (One goofy senator attempted this maneuver after George W. Bush won reelection in 2004, but her anti-democratic play was struck down by her Senate colleagues in a shaming vote of 74-1.)
2. IS THERE EVIDENCE OF VOTER FRAUD SO WIDESPREAD THAT IT COULD HAVE CHANGED THE OUTCOME OF THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION?
For President-Elect Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College victory to be overturned, President Trump would need to flip multiple states. But not a single state is in legal doubt.
But given that I was not a Trump voter in either 2016 or 2020 (I wrote in Mike Pence in both elections), I understand that many Trump supporters will not want to take my word for it. So, let’s look at the investigations and tireless analysis from Andy McCarthy over at National Review. McCarthy has been a strong, consistent supporter of President Trump, and he is also a highly regarded federal prosecutor. Let’s run through the main states where President Trump has claimed widespread fraud:
* In Pennsylvania, Team Trump is right that lots went wrong. Specifically, a highly partisan state supreme court rewrote election law in ways that are contrary to what the legislature had written about the deadline for mail-in ballots – this is wrong. But Biden won Pennsylvania by 81,000 votes – and there appear to have been only 10,000 votes received and counted after election day. So even if every one of these votes were for Biden and were thrown out, they would not come close to affecting the outcome. Notably, Stephanos Bibas (a Trump appointee) of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled against the president’s lawsuit to reverse Biden’s large victory, writing in devastating fashion: “calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”
* In Michigan, which Biden won by 154,000 votes, the Trump team initially claimed generic fraud statewide – but with almost no particular claims, so courts roundly rejected suit after suit. The Trump team then objected to a handful of discrepancies in certain counties and precincts, some more reasonable than others. But for the sake of argument, let’s again assume that every single discrepancy was resolved in the president’s favor: It would potentially amount to a few thousand votes and not come anywhere close to changing the state’s result.
* In Arizona, a federal judge jettisoned a lawsuit explaining that “allegations that find favor in the public sphere of gossip and innuendo cannot be a substitute for earnest pleadings and procedure in federal court,” she wrote. “They most certainly cannot be the basis for upending Arizona’s 2020 General Election.” Nothing presented in court was serious, let alone providing a basis for overturning an election. (https://www.azcentral.com/…/federal-judge-throws…/6506927002)
* In Nevada, there do appear to have been some irregularities – but the numbers appear to have been very small relative to Biden’s margin of victory. It would be useful for there to be an investigation into these irregularities, but a judge rejected the president’s suit because the president’s lawyers “did not prove under any standard of proof” that enough illegal votes were cast, or legal votes not counted, “to raise reasonable doubt as to the outcome of the election.” (https://www.8newsnow.com/…/judge-no-evidence-to-support-vo…/)
* In Wisconsin, as McCarthy has written, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled against President Trump, suggesting that President-Elect Biden’s recorded margin of victory (about 20,000 votes) was probably slightly smaller in fact, but even re-calculating all of the votes in question in a generously pro-Trump way would not give the president a victory in the state. (https://www.nationalreview.com/…/biden-won-wisconsin-but-i…/)
* In Georgia, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation complete audit of more than 15,000 votes found one irregularity – a situation where a woman illegally signed both her and her husband’s ballot envelopes.
At the end of the day, one of the President Trump’s strongest supporters, his own Attorney General, Bill Barr, was blunt: “We have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” (https://apnews.com/…/barr-no-widespread-election-fraud-b1f1…)
3. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE CLAIMS OF THE PRESIDENT’S LAWYERS THAT THE ELECTION WAS STOLEN?
I started with the courts for a reason. From where I sit, the single-most telling fact is that there a giant gulf between what President Trump and his allies say in public – for example, on social media, or at press conferences outside Philadelphia landscaping companies and adult bookstores – and what President Trump’s lawyers actually say in courts of law. And that’s not a surprise. Because there are no penalties for misleading the public. But there are serious penalties for misleading a judge, and the president’s lawyers know that – and thus they have repeated almost none of the claims of grand voter fraud that the campaign spokespeople are screaming at their most zealous supporters. So, here’s the heart of this whole thing: this isn’t really a legal strategy – it’s a fundraising strategy.
Since Election Day, the president and his allied organizations have raised well over half a billion (billion!) dollars from supporters who have been led to believe that they’re contributing to a ferocious legal defense. But in reality, they’re mostly just giving the president and his allies a blank check that can go to their super-PACs, their next plane trip, their next campaign or project. That’s not serious governing. It’s swampy politics – and it shows very little respect for the sincere people in my state who are writing these checks.
4. WAIT, ARE YOU CLAIMING THERE WAS NO FRAUD OF ANY KIND THIS YEAR?
No. 160 million people voted in this election, in a variety of formats, in a process marked by the extraordinary circumstance of a global pandemic. There is some voter fraud every election cycle – and the media flatly declaring from on high that “there is no fraud!” has made things worse. It has heightened public distrust, because there are, in fact, documented cases of voter fraud every election cycle. But the crucial questions are: (A) What evidence do we have of fraud? and (B) Does that evidence support the belief in fraud on a scale so significant that it could have changed the outcome? We have little evidence of fraud, and what evidence we do have does not come anywhere close to adding up to a different winner of the presidential election.
5. BUT ISN’T IT IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST TO INVESTIGATE THESE CLAIMS MORE THOROUGHLY? DOESN’T IT HELP GUARANTEE THE LEGITIMACY OF OUR ELECTORAL PROCESS?
I take this argument seriously because actual voter fraud – and worries about voter fraud – are poison to self-government. So yes, we should investigate all specific claims, but we shouldn’t burn down the whole process along the way. Right now we are locked in a destructive, vicious circle:
Step 1: Allege widespread voter fraud.
Step 2: Fail to offer specific evidence of widespread fraud.
Step 3: Demand investigation, on grounds that there are “allegations” of voter fraud.
I can’t simply allege that the College Football Playoff Selection Committee is “on the take” because they didn’t send the Cornhuskers to the Rose Bowl, and then – after I fail to show evidence that anyone on the Selection Committee is corrupt – argue that we need to investigate because of these pervasive “allegations” of corruption.
We have good reason to think this year’s election was fair, secure, and law-abiding. That’s not to say it was flawless. But there is no evidentiary basis for distrusting our elections altogether, or for concluding that the results do not reflect the ballots that our fellow citizens actually cast.
6. DO ANY OF YOUR COLLEAGUES DISAGREE WITH YOU ABOUT THIS?
When we talk in private, I haven’t heard a single Congressional Republican allege that the election results were fraudulent – not one. Instead, I hear them talk about their worries about how they will “look” to President Trump’s most ardent supporters.
And I get it. I hear from a lot of Nebraskans who disagree with me. Moreover, lots of them ask legitimate questions about why they should trust the mainstream media. Here’s one I got this morning: “We live in a world where thousands and thousands of stories were written about the Republican nominee’s alleged tax fraud in 2012, but then when Harry Reid admitted – after the election – that he had simply made all of this up, there were probably three media outlets that covered it for thirty seconds. Why should I believe anything they say?” As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has watched for four years as lies made up out of whole cloth are covered as legitimate “news” stories, I understand why so many of my constituents feel this in-the-belly distrust. What so much of the media doesn’t grasp is that Trump’s attacks are powerful not because he created this anti-media sentiment, but because he figured out how to tap into it.
Nonetheless, it seems to me that the best way we can serve our constituents is to tell the truth as we see it, and explain why. And in my view, President-Elect Biden didn’t simply win the election; President Trump couldn’t persuade even his own lawyers to argue anything different than that in U.S. federal courts.
…WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
The president and his allies are playing with fire. They have been asking – first the courts, then state legislatures, now the Congress – to overturn the results of a presidential election. They have unsuccessfully called on judges and are now calling on federal officeholders to invalidate millions and millions of votes. If you make big claims, you had better have the evidence. But the president doesn’t and neither do the institutional arsonist members of Congress who will object to the Electoral College vote.
Let’s be clear what is happening here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there’s a quick way to tap into the president’s populist base without doing any real, long-term damage. But they’re wrong – and this issue is bigger than anyone’s personal ambitions. Adults don’t point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government.
We have a deep cancer in American politics right now: Both Republicans and Democrats are growing more distrustful of the basic processes and procedures that we follow. Some people will respond to these arguments by saying: “The courts are just in the tank for Democrats!” And indeed the President has been tweeting that “the courts are bad” (and the Justice Department, and more). That’s an example of the legitimacy crisis so many of us have been worried about. Democrats spent four years pretending Trump didn’t win the election, and now (shocker) a good section of Republicans are going to spend the next four years pretending Biden didn’t win the election.
All the clever arguments and rhetorical gymnastics in the world won’t change the fact that this January 6th effort is designed to disenfranchise millions of Americans simply because they voted for someone in a different party. We ought to be better than that. If we normalize this, we’re going to turn American politics into a Hatfields and McCoys endless blood feud – a house hopelessly divided.
America has always been fertile soil for groupthink, conspiracy theories, and showmanship. But Americans have common sense. We know up from down, and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We need that common sense if we’re going to rebuild trust.
It won’t be easy, but it’s hardly beyond our reach. And it’s what self-government requires. It’s part of how, to recall Benjamin Franklin, we struggle to do right by the next generation and “keep a republic.”
What a gift this is to the Democrats. Ruth Marcus, the liberal Washington Post columnist, writes:
It is doomed to fail — except, perhaps, at its scarcely disguised purpose of winning Hawley favor in the eyes of the Trumpian base. Think of it as the first act of Hawley’s all-but-inevitable 2024 presidential campaign. Think of it as what it is: a stunt.
Yet while irresponsible, Hawley’s move is not necessarily a terrible development. It forces a vote that will have the salutary effect of requiring his Republican colleagues to decide — and to put on the record —whether their loyalty is to President Trump or to the Constitution. Better to know than to guess. Better to inflict some accountability rather than to enable dodging.
If these people were trying to destroy the Republican Party over some strong and defensible principle, that would be one thing. But over an election Donald Trump lost — and over cases that he’s lost, over and over, in courts, even courts presided over by judges he appointed? It’s insane.
UPDATE: A number of Republican senators have now joined Hawley. A reader objects to this post:
Hello Rod – I read your posts everyday and thoroughly enjoyed your book Live Not by Lies. I find it hard to believe, however, that you fall for this nonsense from Sasse. He is a poseur for propriety and process, while blind to the reality that propriety and process were discarded by Democrats in this election.
Sasse states that, “All the clever arguments and rhetorical gymnastics in the world won’t change the fact that this January 6th effort is designed to disenfranchise millions of Americans simply because they voted for someone in a different party. We ought to be better than that. If we normalize this, we’re going to turn American politics into a Hatfields and McCoys endless blood feud – a house hopelessly divided.”
Sorry, but Hawley’s effort is not designed to disenfranchise anyone. He knows he has no chance of prevailing. Rather, it is a move designed to prevent the normalization of the radicalized 2020 election process. When news is so overtly and tightly controlled by our corporate information overlords, an event such as the one on Jan 6 must be used to trumpet the truth.
Trump is a sideshow in this. At stake is the future of our election process. Hawley succinctly stated two reasons for his move. The fact that several states improperly circumvented their state legislatures to amend election practices, and that corporations that control the modern flow of information intervened to support Biden. Those are his only stated reasons. They both need to be seriously addressed. If the event on Jan 6 is the only way to do so, then I’m all for it because the press will continue to bury these abuses and Republicans like Sasse seem more concerned about following rules of engagement that his opponents have made up on the fly to rig the game.
Every change made using the pretext of Covid resulted in a degrading of the chain of custody of voters ballots. Widespread vote by mail, vote harvesting, postal unions endorsing Biden and then collecting and transporting ballots, easing of voter identification standards, caused this election to be less secure and honest. In a time of hot passions the election process should have been made more secure, not less. With people like Sasse in the lead this new process will become the norm, while the corporate mainstream media blacks out any contrary narratives. In fact, they are already proclaiming 2020 as the most secure election ever! Mark my words, if Republicans seriously campaign against vote by mail and vote harvesting they will be accused of “suppressing” the vote. A guy like Sasse will not raise a peep about it and the rot will spread.
Funny enough, in this election, Sasse believes that there was fraud but not enough to turn the result. What about next time? Does Sasse think that fraud just becomes self apparent? It is very, very difficult to untangle election fraud after the voting is complete. In fact, it’s almost impossible. That is why we have always had a robust process in place before the votes are cast centered on a clear chain of ballot custody and up to date voter rolls. That chain has been broken, and all of a sudden we are conditioned to believe that vote by mail is a very secure way to vote, when it has always been shown to be otherwise. It’s pure gaslighting. Sasse expresses no concern over this.
He also completely ignores Hawley’s point about the role of social media platforms and corporate media in the election. They actively suppressed conservative content and dishonestly buried the Hunter Biden laptop story. When 40% of Americans get their daily news feed from Facebook that constitutes a meddling in the election far beyond the Russian efforts in 2016.
You fight tooth and nail for your religious convictions but seem nonplussed about the degradation of our electoral system. I’ll stand with Hawley on this. I hope his action and concerns are legitimate and not cynical. I can’t read his mind, but he is on the side of truth in this matter. If it’s not debated in public the debasement of the election process will be gaslighted and memory holed and normalized. It is too important for that to happen unopposed.
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West Point & Critical Race Theory
Did you know about the West Point cheating scandal? The US Military Academy takes honor very, very seriously — or used to. USA Today broke the story, and followed up with a piece about how the Army was breaking its own policy to let some of the accused cheater play in a bowl game:
The majority of the cadets involved in the worst academic cheating scandal at West Point in 45 years are athletes, including 24 members of the football team that is scheduled to play in a bowl game on Thursday, according to West Point officials.
In all, 55 of the 73 cadets accused of cheating on a calculus final exam in May are athletes, including 17 who remain on the football team, according to figures released to USA TODAY by West Point.
A few have played in football games this season after having been accused of cheating. Some of those players could dress and play in the Liberty Bowl on Thursday, according to Army Lt. Col. Christopher Ophardt, a West Point spokesman.
They’re allowed to play because West Point’s superintendent in October suspended a policy that limited or prevented cadets found in violation of the academy’s honor code from representing the academy in public, including athletes at sports events.
We see here once again that sports matters more than honor. USA Today reported in November that my alma mater, Louisiana State University, allegedly turned a blind eye to sexual assault and related violations by its star athletes. Now LSU faces an NCAA investigation that could be a massive catastrophe for the university and its athletic program. This is what happens when athletic success matters more than decency and honor. If the allegations are substantiated, the LSU deserves to have the hammer come down on it hard for this disgrace.
From the original USA Today story:
Army Col. Mark Weathers, West Point’s chief of staff, said in an interview Monday that he was “disappointed” in the cadets for cheating, but he did not consider the incident a serious breach of the code. It would not have occurred if the cadets had taken the exam on campus, he said.
So the West Point chief of staff is willing to cut them a break because they cheated at home?! They say character is what you do when you know that nobody is looking.
So we know that West Point bent the standards to allow accused athletes to play football. Worse, here’s an eyebrow-raising aspect of the West Point cheating story, from USA Today:
Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, the superintendent, in an Oct. 23 memo, wrote to the faculty that the policy “has resulted in an inequitable application of consequences and developmental opportunities for select groups of cadets.” USA TODAY obtained a copy of the memo.
Wait, “inequitable”? Whenever you see the word “equity” in contemporary discourse, that’s usually a sign that it has to do with race. West Point has not named the accused cheaters (most of whom have admitted to having done so). When it does, I certainly hope that it does not emerge that a disproportionate number of them are black. That would mean that Lt. Gen Williams, the superintendent of West Point, believes in a double standard of honor, based on race. If it emerges that by “inequitable application of consequences,” Lt. Gen. Williams meant that many, or even most, of the cheaters were black, and he withheld punishment for politically correct reasons, then he should be dismissed at once.
You should know that “equity,” in the language of Critical Race Theory, means that outcomes must be proportional to racial representation. In plain language, the West Point superintendent might be saying that if an unusual number of the alleged cheaters are black, then it would be “inequitable” — racist — to punish them.
Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, but I don’t know what else Lt. Gen. Williams could have meant by “inequitable application.” We will see. If he’s not talking about race here, then what is he talking about? What makes me particularly suspicious is that wokeness has come to West Point — see my post here, and then here. In the second post, a reader wrote:
I graduated from West Point in [date] and currently still serve. I was dismayed, but honestly not very shocked, with the 40-page manifesto fired at the Academy by the disgruntled former cadets. There has been a gradual shift at West Point in recent years to become more progressive, to include:-In 2018, inviting Ta-Nehisi Coates to spend two days at the academy, speaking to cadets about a variety of topics, with an emphasis on race. This is the same Ta-Nehisi Coates who wrote in regards to the police and firefighters who died on 9/11 “They were not human to me. Black, white, or whatever, they were menaces of nature.”-In 2017, Spenser Rapone, an avowed communist, was allowed to graduate from West Point. On his way out, he ensured everyone knew his world views in the form of a Che Guevara t-shirt under his uniform and a “Communism Will Win” sign in the cap he threw upon graduation.-This year, a “coalition” of graduates fired off a letter to the Class of 2020, blasting President Trump for “politicizing” the military in response to the protests, and urging them to question any orders that don’t fit their world view.All of this is truly dangerous, as we are creating generations of entitled, embittered junior officers who will reflect those values and spread them within the Army. As I read this list of grievances outlined in the manifesto, I kept asking myself “And then what happened?”
Has West Point’s lurch to the cultural left resulted in the decay of its honor code?
Here is why it’s such a big deal. USA Today reported:
The scandal strikes at the heart of the academy’s reputation for rectitude, espoused by its own moral code, which is literally etched in stone:
“A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”
Tim Bakken, a law professor at West Point, called the scandal a national security issue. West Point cadets become senior leaders the nation depends on.
“There’s no excuse for cheating when the fundamental code for cadets is that they should not lie, cheat or steal,” Bakken said. “Therefore when the military tries to downplay effects of cheating at the academy, we’re really downplaying the effects on the military as a whole. We rely on the military to tell us honestly when we should fight wars, and when we can win them.”
The reader who tipped me off to this writes:
It could very well signal the end of our military’s respect and admiration. Every student who cheated should be expelled. The honor the Army and the United States demands it. A cheater is a low and dirty creature not to be tolerated in an organization where responsibility and rank are based on merit. Cheaters threaten the success of the entire institution. If you don’t hate dishonesty and cheaters, you shouldn’t be an officer in the Army. And if our Army can’t do any better than this, may as well hand the keys off over to China and save us the future embarrassment.
He’s right about that. If — if — it turns out that Lt. Gen. Williams did alter his reaction because the honor code violation disproportionately affected black cadets, then this country ought to have an honest reckoning with Critical Race Theory and its power within institutions. If you are allowed to be a cheat and get away with it at West Point because of the color of your skin, then who can respect West Point? And if you can’t respect West Point, where the best of the best are formed… .
UPDATE: A reader writes:
You mentioned Spenser Rapone in your latest blog entry. I came across this 2017 story that reveals just how bad that entire affair was:
The Army officer who outed himself as a radical Marxist had been reported back in 2015 for publishing inappropriate and outright anti-American views online, according to a scathing report obtained by The Daily Caller.
The report gave details on 2nd Lt. Spenser Rapone’s insubordination at the U.S. Military Academy and out-of-regulations online activity. Rapone graduated almost two years later in 2016.
The statement leaves readers with the idea that Rapone’s chain of command (and indeed the academy at large) was unaware of his radicalism and frequent Uniform Code of Military Justice violations. It turns out a senior officer reported Rapone to his chain of command nearly two years ago.
In a social media post that concerned retired Army Lt. Col. Robert Heffington, an Academy history professor at the time, Rapone wrote, “F*ck this country and its false freedom.”
When I first heard the story in 2017, it sounded as though Rapone’s views were mostly a secret until he graduated. As it turns out, the Army not only knew years before, but it still permitted him to remain in service and at the academy!
Not only that, the Army tolerated behavior completely unbecoming and totally unacceptable of an officer. His wokeness is just icing on the cake, it’s obvious this guy had no business wearing a uniform:
In November 2015, after being removed from his Ranger battalion for violating standards, Rapone was a cadet in his final year at the academy. According to the report obtained by TheDC, after the latest in a series of incidents involving Rapone’s penchant for insubordination, Heffington became aware of Rapone’s radical leftist activity on social media and notified the cadet’s chain of command.
This reaction is merely one of many indications that Rapone’s activism, radical views and immature opposition to authority were well known around the academy — and especially obvious to his chain of command. According to a former head of the Military History and International History divisions at the U.S. Military Academy, Rapone’s plebe year history professor also reported him to the chain of command.
This is all the more infuriating by the fact that the military recognizes it has a right-wing extremist and White nationalist problem in its ranks. I can only take their word on just how bad the problem is, but their total disregard and complete tolerance of Spenser Rapone is evidence only a certain kind of extremism isn’t tolerated in the service. Mind you, I can tell you from personal experience the military is full of people who either don’t love the country all that much or define patriotism as your willingness to throw your country under the bus. The military’s just a job, a means to an end, and they know wearing a uniform gives them a level of credibility and deference in society that they can’t get elsewhere. Twitter is full of Woke SJW-types who are also veterans, along with some milder examples. Still, large numbers of veterans and civilians alike who’re employed or otherwise associated with the military are openly partisan (while also decrying partisanship on the other side) and openly ascribe to wokeness or allegiance to political movements like BLM.
What’s happening to the military’s also an example of how the supposed “moderates” are the enablers of this madness. The transition to wokeness has been, as a reader described it, gradual, driven by people who lack the militant activism of the far left, but nonetheless think along the same lines. These include those who worked in the Pentagon during the Obama administration, but it also includes the aforementioned who make up the broader national security intelligentsia. A perfect example of this was seen this past summer, when the Pentagon banned all flags not relevant to the U.S., the 50 states, and the military, to include both the Confederate flag and the LGBTI+ “Pride” flag. The banning of the latter generated a storm of protest from people who think the Pride flag should be granted an exception and permitted to be openly displayed on military installations. The invitation of people like Ta-Nehisi Coates was enabled by those who believe White supremacy is “baked in” the military and whose respond to opposition to inviting people like Coates with a simple, “What’s the harm? Aren’t you against racism?”
What you have is a military that exists to serve Woke, revolutionary causes. What you’ll end up with is a force that looks upon itself, its servicemembers, and, eventually, its own country with contempt, scorn, and self-loathing, if not outright hatred. Militaries, to a large extent, represent the sociocultural foundation of a nation. So we shouldn’t be surprised at what’s happening to the U.S. armed forces, because it’s what’s happened to the nation at-large. The military and the broader national security community, like the whole country, has become a massive university campus, except everyone gets paid and they make choices that have profound effects on the country.
This all puts what both of us have said about parallels between what’s happening in the U.S. today and what happened and continues to happen in Spain into greater perspective. The good news to all this is that neither left-wing totalitarians or right-wing authoritarians can use the military to pull off a coup d’état or wage civil war. A military subverted for revolutionary ends is one that cannot fight. The bad news is that there’s no institution out there able or willing to stop the totalitarian onslaught. Ultimately, it comes down to those outside of our institutions with little in the way of cultural power to stand up to the revolutionary forces, but that merely opens us up to malicious actors on our own side.
Of course, we all saw this coming and they told us we were angry at change or crazy. The law of “merited impossibility,” as you put it.
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A Lesson From The Spanish Civil War
Y’all know that I am a big advocate of studying the Spanish Civil War, looking for insights about where we in the US might — might — be headed, and how we can avoid Spain’s fate. If you haven’t yet watched this six-part 1980s-era British TV documentary on YouTube, please do — even if it’s just the first episode (prelude to war).
Many Americans don’t realize that the intelligentsia was, and is, heavily biased towards the Spanish Republican side, and against General Franco and the Nationalists. A reader of this blog says that the American academic historian Stanley Payne is the only reliable contemporary chronicler, in English, of the war. She sent me a new piece by Payne, in First Things, writing about the road to revolution. It’s excellent. It begins like this:
The classic theory of revolution was formulated by Alexis de Tocqueville, who observed in The Ancien Régime and the Revolution that “it was precisely in those parts of France where there had been the most improvement that popular discontent ran highest.” Revolution is not generally provoked by deteriorating conditions; rather, complaints tend to increase after conditions have already begun to improve. “The regime destroyed by a revolution is almost always better than the one that immediately preceded it, and experience teaches us that the most hazardous moment for a bad government is normally when it is beginning to reform.” The absolutist government of Louis XIV had provoked less resentment than did the milder rule of Louis XVI.
Tocqueville’s observation has been borne out by history. Modern revolutions take place not in the most traditional societies, but in polities in which a certain degree of reform and modernization has already occurred. The preliminary revolution, called by Jonathan Israel the “revolution of the mind,” consists of rising expectations. Once such attitudes have taken hold, some new crisis or setback, which may or may not be important in itself, can trigger revolution.
Revolutions succeed only where the old order is relatively weak. Because the existing regime offers little resistance, the revolution’s initial stages may be comparatively easy, not accompanied by great disorder or bloodshed. Over time, though, the revolutionary process leads to greater radicalization and greater carnage, often involving civil or foreign war. It may stimulate violent opposition and, in some cases, a counterrevolutionary movement that may be almost as radical, though with a very different program.
Spain provides the only example of a full-scale, mass, violent collectivist revolution developing out of a modern Western liberal democratic polity. The Second Spanish Republic of 1931–39 had created the first liberal democratic system in the country’s history, with, at first, impartial elections based on universal suffrage and broad constitutional guarantees of civil rights. This achievement did not prevent revolution and civil war.
Payne writes about how in the Republic, the Left refused to allow parties of the Right to participate fully — and particularly tried to repress the Catholic Church. When the Republican government in 1934 included more right-of-center parties, leftist radicals staged bloody insurrections, which were put down by the state:
In fact, the republican government enforced the mildest repression after a major revolt in Europe since the Paris Commune of 1871. But the revolutionary insurrection was justified in the press as an act of defending democracy against fascism. This agitation, international in scope, marked the beginning of the mythification of the revolutionary process in Spain, an attitude that persists in some quarters to the present day. The portrayal of revolutionary insurrection as a defense of democracy followed Trotsky’s maxim in his History of the Russian Revolution: To have the best chance, revolutionaries must appear to act on the defensive when seizing power.
The failure of direct insurrection required a change in strategy. The left began to seize absolute power through the democratic process itself, advancing revolutionary aims under the cover of legality.
After the 1936 elections revealed a Spain more polarized than ever, leftist groups began staging more violent actions. This time, though, they held institutional power:
Though they were still divided among themselves, for the next five months the revolutionary movements participated in a prerevolutionary offensive with destructive zeal. Spain was roiled by violent demonstrations, strikes, mob outbursts, acts of arson and property destruction, and the direct seizure of farmland. Local governments under socialist control often abetted and sometimes led such actions. The socialists sought to use the republican government as cover for promoting violence and social breakdown, hoping that a weak-armed reaction from the right might provide justification for a socialist-dominated revolutionary government with broad power.
After the suspicious death, in state custody, of the spokesman for the parliamentary opposition, elements of the army, led by Gen. Franco, revolted. Spain was now plunged into a savage civil war. Read it all.
Payne concludes with this lesson for us:
Revolution is not an event but a process, and a complex one. Radicals who fail to overthrow a constitutional system by force may find it useful to exploit that same system. Though their intention is to destroy the regime, they can purport to defend it when its institutions serve their short-term interests. They will invoke free speech as a cover for left-wing violence, even as they deny it to peaceful demonstrators on the right. They will honor votes unless they endanger progressive dominance, in which case the victorious right will be labelled “undemocratic.” In these circumstances, far from being a guarantee against revolutionary takeover, democratic procedures provide cover for its advance.
In Live Not By Lies, I wrote about how the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia in part because the broader middle class would not defend the autocratic system from radical challenge. Of course they were not called to defend a democracy, but autocracy. Yet that autocracy was vastly less bad than what the Bolsheviks brought to Russia. But people didn’t realize that in the pre-revolutionary years. From LNBL:
Arendt warns that the twentieth-century totalitarian experience shows how a determined and skillful minority can come to rule over an indifferent and disengaged majority. In our time, most people regard the politically correct insanity of campus radicals as not worthy of attention. They mock them as “snowflakes” and “social justice warriors.”
This is a serious mistake. In radicalizing the broader class of elites, social justice warriors (SJWs) are playing a similar historic role to the Bolsheviks in prerevolutionary Russia. SJW ranks are full of middle-class, secular, educated young people wracked by guilt and anxiety over their own privilege, alienated from their own traditions, and desperate to identify with something, or someone, to give them a sense of wholeness and purpose. For them, the ideology of social justice—as defined not by church teaching but by critical theorists in the academy— functions as a pseudo-religion. Far from being confined to campuses and dry intellectual journals, SJW ideals are
transforming elite institutions and networks of power and influence.
The social justice cultists of our day are pale imitations of Lenin and his fiery disciples. Aside from the ruthless antifa faction, they restrict their violence to words and bullying within bourgeois institutional contexts.They prefer to push around college administrators, professors, and white-collar professionals. Unlike the Bolsheviks, who were hardened revolutionaries, SJWs get their way not by shedding blood but by shedding tears.
Yet there are clear parallels—parallels that those who once lived under communism identify.
Like the early Bolsheviks, they are radically alienated from society. They too believe that justice depends on group identity, and that achieving justice means taking power away from the exploiters and handing it to the exploited.
Social justice cultists, like the first Bolsheviks, are intellectuals whose gospel is spread by intellectual agitation. It is a gospel that depends on awakening and inspiring hatred in the hearts of those it wishes to induce into revolutionary consciousness. This is why it matters immensely that they have established their base within universities, where they can indoctrinate in spiteful ideology those who will be going out to work in society’s institutions.
As Russia’s Marxist revolutionaries did, our own SJWs believe that science is on their side, even when their claims are unscientific. For example, transgender activists insist that their radical beliefs are scientifically sound; scientists and physicians who disagree are driven out of their institutions or intimidated into silence.
Social justice cultists are utopians who believe that the ideal of Progress requires smashing all the old forms for the sake of liberating humanity. Unlike their Bolshevik predecessors, they don’t want to seize the means of economic production but rather the means of cultural production. They believe that after humanity is freed from the chains that bind us—whiteness, patriarchy, marriage, the gender binary, and so on—we will experience a radically new and improved form of life.
Finally, unlike the Bolsheviks, who wanted to destroy and replace the institutions of Russian society, our social justice warriors adopt a later Marxist strategy for bringing about social change: marching through the institutions of bourgeois society, conquering them, and using them to transform the world. For example, when the LGBT cause was adopted by corporate America as part of its branding strategy, its ultimate victory was assured.
What does this have to do with what Stanley Payne wrote about the prelude to the Spanish Civil War?
The cultural left really is marching through the institutions, and using institutional power to marginalize conservatives and moderates, and push us out. This year, we have seen an upsurge in institutional radicalization, with even the books and ideas that do not affirm the Revolution now being cast out of high schools and colleges. This is exactly how a revolution happens, even if the structures are left standing. And nobody protests! Here’s Bari Weiss, who took a costly stand against the mob, calling on people to end their silence:
If the people who understand what is happening, and how the Left is installing a soft totalitarian system while at the same time claiming to be fighting against racism, homophobia, and the rest, then we will fall. The other day I heard from a prominent conservative Christian who told me that Live Not By Lies is right on target, but that everywhere he looks he sees fellow conservative Christians who will not risk discomfort by standing up against this soft totalitarianism.
I know what you’re thinking: “If you think the Left is such a threat, why are you not out there supporting Stop The Steal, the Jericho March, and the Resistance?” The answer is because I don’t trust them at all, and because in truth, they pose no real threat to this increasingly unquiet revolution. It’s all performative with that crowd. They satisfy themselves with, “But he fights!” — ignoring that at best, Trump has only slowed down the takeover. There’s no strategy there, only emoting about God, the flag, and pillows. Instead of a Gen. Franco, a leader who seriously and effectively fought the radical left, they have produced a Gen. Flynn, the crackpot who is now openly promoting the QAnon cult.
The Right needs leadership. Desperately.
Beyond that, all of us need to wake up to where we are going if we don’t stop ourselves. The Spanish Civil War caused terrible scars in Spain, scars that are barely even scars, but still close to open wounds. This is not what we want, Left or Right. But at some point — you see this in that documentary series — the hatred and polarization was such that war was unavoidable. If you think it can’t happen here, you aren’t paying attention.
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Continuing The TAC Conversation
In these waning hours of 2020 — O Year of Infamy! — I’d like to appeal to you readers who are not struggling financially to consider a tax-deductible gift to The American Conservative.
I don’t know how many of you read around on the site, but I do know that all of you read this blog. This morning I’ve been thinking back over the past decade for a roundup post I’m doing, and it occurred to me that I started working at TAC in the summer of 2011. I have worked at TAC for longer than I worked anywhere else. I cannot even begin to count the number of words I’ve written here, but I can tell you that this blog was the birthplace of four books: The Little Way of Ruthie Leming (2013), How Dante Can Save Your Life (2015), The Benedict Option (2017), and Live Not By Lies (2020).
Four books that wouldn’t exist if not for this blog. Four books that wouldn’t exist if not for you faithful readers, especially you donors. That photo above, from TAC’s 2018 fundraising gala, is an example of how this works. See the guy on the right, Viliam Ostatnik? He’s a Slovak grad student who was in Washington as part of his studies. He’s a young conservative, and came to our event. I met him there, and we became friends. The next year, when I was in Bratislava researching Live Not By Lies, Viliam served as my interpreter, opening the door to a new world. I absolutely could not have written Live Not By Lies without him. We met at a TAC event. Here is Viliam, Self, and historian Jan Simulcik in 2019, in a secret chamber underneath a Bratislava house; in that room, for ten years, the underground church printed samizdat prayer books, catechisms, and other material, right under the nose of the Communist secret police. Jan was part of that movement, and is now a historian of it. Viliam translated Jan’s words for me. I write about that room, and Jan’s role in the underground church, in Live Not By Lies.
There you have only one fruit of your investment in cultivating ideas, writers, and community around The American Conservative. There are more!
I hear these days from readers who write to tell me that they used to think of me as an alarmist, but this year, 2020, has convinced them that I was right all along. That pleases me, not in an “I told you so” way, but because I have written my last two books as an alarm to wake up the church and to inspire us to prepare ourselves, individually and collectively, for hard times to come. If not for the fact that TAC has given me a place to write, and to work out my ideas in public before writing about them in books, I am certain that these books would not exist. If you recognize any value in the things I have written in those books, please consider a gift to TAC.
What a privilege it is to be a writer who works for a magazine that will not cancel me for saying what I think! Do you know how rare that is? Nobody at TAC has ever told me what I can and can’t write. That is golden. If TAC went away, it would be impossible for me to get a job in mainstream media, simply because of my stated opinions on identity politics — opinions that haven’t essentially changed since I first became a conservative three decades ago, but which are now forbidden in our mainstream media. TAC has been a home to me for almost a decade, and the home of many other writers whose views now make them persona non grata among the Respectable Establishment Media.
Look, I know you don’t agree with everything I write, or that TAC publishes. I know I make everybody here mad about something from time to time. I write a lot, almost every day. Sometimes I’m wrong (in which case, I appreciate your telling me). I always try to be interesting and challenging. If it’s important to you to keep publications where that kind of thing is possible, then won’t you consider a year-end donation to TAC?
I’ve been to the DC Mothership of TAC three, maybe four times in the past decade. I can tell you without fear of contradiction that it is a shoestring operation. I don’t mean by that “rinky-dink,”not at all, but I mean that your donations really do go primarily into content. When you give to TAC, you’re not supporting DC journalism swamp creatures. You are helping to support writers who really care about ideas, and who could make a lot more money doing something else, but they choose to write for a living because they see it as an important vocation.
I hope you do too, and I hope those of you who have extra to spare this year will consider supporting our vocation here at The American Conservative. I thank you for the votes of faith you have given us with your faithful readership this year and every year, and I especially thank you who have favored us with (tax-deductible!) financial assistance. It means the world. Click here to donate, and to continue the conversation into the new year.