• Pence Makes Clear Where He Stands (or, Really, Where He Kneels)
• Poll: Americans Don't Want Transgender Women Competing in Women's Sports
• Gross Out
• News from the Foreign Affairs Desk...
Let's take a look at what happened to ten of the most extreme leaders of the last century, in chronological order by date of death:
- Benito Mussolini: Executed by firing squad; body defiled
- Adolf Hitler: Committed suicide to avoid Mussolini's fate
- Hideki Tōjō: Executed by hanging
- Idi Amin: Died in exile
- Mohammad Reza Pahlavi: Died in exile
- Nicolae Ceaușescu: Executed by firing squad
- Pol Pot: Died in prison
- Slobodan Milošević: Died in prison
- Saddam Hussein: Executed by hanging
- Muammar Gaddafi: Captured and killed by Libyan militants
The point here is that he who lives by the sword often dies by the sword. Once a politician, or a political movement, commits to the notion that rules don't matter, that might makes right, and that all that counts is that you feel you're entitled to power, then Pandora's Box has been opened. Because, at that point, if you're not going to play by the rules, then why should your opponents do so? Or, for that matter, the more fanatical members of your own movement? Even those folks who avoided joining this list—Joseph Stalin, Francisco Franco, Hugo Chávez, etc.—had to be constantly on the lookout for threats, often to the point of paranoia. This is the life that Vladmir Putin is leading right now.
The Republican Party has grown consistently more extreme, sometimes daily it seems, over the last 25 years or so. In fact, if you want to extend that to 50 years (Richard Nixon), we wouldn't argue much, though things really started to pick up speed with the ascendancy of Newt Gingrich to the Speakership of the House. The impeachment of Bill Clinton, in particular, was an abuse of power that, we would guess, history will deem to have opened the floodgates to all sorts of subsequent abuses, from the Valerie Plame scandal to the firing of U.S. Attorneys under George W. Bush to the theft of the Merrick Garland Supreme Court seat to "stop the steal" and the 1/6 insurrection. And note, because it will be important later, that the trend hasn't been completely one-sided. Democrats usually aren't willing to go first, but they will sometimes step into the breach once it's already opened, as with Harry Reid ending filibusters for federal judges.
We bring this up because the Republicans took another giant lurch rightward this weekend. We refer specifically to Texas Republicans, at their annual state convention. They voted on a variety of resolutions and changes to the state party platform that can only be described, in the aggregate, as frightening. Among them:
- A declaration that the election of Joe Biden was not legitimate
- A rebuke of Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and the other Republican senators who are negotiating on gun control
- A call to repeal several existing gun laws, like the Gun Control Act of 1968
- A declaration that homosexuality is "an abnormal lifestyle choice"
- Another one decreeing that trans people suffer from "a genuine and extremely rare mental health condition"
- A call for a law requiring schoolchildren "to learn about the humanity of the preborn child"
- A proposal to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment (federal income tax)
- Another one to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment (direct election of senators)
- Yet another one to abolish the Federal Reserve
- Opposition to any and all "clean energy" programs
- An affirmation of Texas' right to secede from the Union
The votes on the resolutions and changes to the platform still have to be counted, but it is unusual for any proposal to be rejected. Here is what the Texas Republicans' platform will look like, assuming everything is approved, if you would like to see it for yourself.
It is true that events like state conventions tend to attract the most extreme partisans and also that the platform is not, in and of itself, binding on anyone or anything. Nonetheless, this document speaks to a political faction that is, to be blunt, out of control. And while it might be a minority of Texas Republicans that agrees with the above planks, it's a minority that is very loud, and that donates money, and that a Republican politician must have if they hope to win statewide. And, truth be told, we're not so sure it's a minority.
Before the Texans got to work on their platform, some of them provided an object lesson in the dangers of a party out of control. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) is a decorated war veteran, and he toted plenty of water for Donald Trump over the course of the past several years. However, the Representative was unwilling to declare the 2020 presidential election to be illegitimate. He was slurred by Fox's Tucker Carlson as "Eyepatch McCain," and on Friday, the first day of the Texas GOP convention, Crenshaw and some of his staff were assaulted by Republican partisans who were shouting—what else?—"Eyepatch McCain."
How about a second example? This one isn't from Texas, but it is from a state not too far away, namely Missouri. U.S. Senate candidate Eric Greitens (R) released a campaign commercial that is every bit as frightening as the Texas Republican platform:
If you want to watch it, you should do so ASAP, because it's already been banned by Facebook, and YouTube may soon follow. If you don't want to watch it, it starts with Eric Greitens offering to send his supporters a RINO hunting permit (what a clever pun!) and then shows the would-be senator and a bunch of guys dressed in camouflage breaking into the house of... some Republican, presumably. Greitens promises that the "permit" will not expire until "we save our country."
We have no doubt that the people who have encouraged this lawless, violent behavior—starting with Donald Trump—care not one whit if Democrats are targeted. But once you go where the modern Republican Party has gone, you can't guarantee that it will only be "the other side" that is targeted. These days, Republicans who aren't sufficiently extreme enough are the enemy, too—just as bad as Democrats. Or maybe worse. And would anyone be the slightest bit surprised if, one of these days, a Rep. Liz Cheney (R-RY) or a Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) is assassinated by some MAGA fanatic?
And when we consider the extremists listed above—Mussolini, Hitler, etc.—they operated in systems where their will was absolute. Sometimes they found the government that way, sometimes they remade it. And all of them were willing to do... whatever it took to retain their hold on power. The folks who lead the Republican Party today are still constrained by American law, and none of them has the steel of an Idi Amin or a Saddam Hussein. Regaining control of the Party will be difficult. Perhaps impossible.
And finally, let's just say a word or two about the Democrats. There are 150 million of them, give or take, in the United States. And it just takes one or two of them to decide that they are entitled to get violent. Think of the person who shot Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), or the person who was plotting to assassinate Brett Kavanaugh.
We doubt that many Democrats will go down that road. Maybe no more will. But, more broadly, Democratic voters and officeholders are not likely to sit idly by and let "fu** the rules" be unilateral. Imagine a world in which, for example, Donald Trump runs for reelection in 2024 and wins Kansas. The former is a possibility and, if it comes to pass, the latter is a certainty. Do you think that Gov. Laura Kelly (D-KS) is a slam dunk to sign the election certification? "I have examined the text of the Fourteenth Amendment, have concluded that Donald Trump was not eligible to run for office, and so cannot put my signature to a document I consider to be unlawful." And if it's not Kelly, then maybe it's Gov. John Bel Edwards (D-LA) or Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY) or Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC).
The upshot is that when people like Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) run roughshod over the laws and the rules and the customs that protect the folks on the other side of the political aisle, they run the risk of losing those protections for themselves at such point that they might need them. And again, it's not just the other side that's a threat, it's also the more radical folks on your side. Maybe the Republicans will hold it together for the 2022 cycle, and maybe they'll even hold it together for the 2024 cycle. But it won't be easy and, even if they do, they day will likely come when the piper will have to be paid. You could ask Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi about that, but they've already been compelled to cash that particular check. (Z)
Just in case you were under any illusions that Mike Pence might have turned over a new leaf, and that he might help pull the Republican Party back from the brink, the former VP helpfully disabused us of that notion yesterday. He gave a speech at the University Club in Chicago, and while he was there, he sat for an interview with former Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow. The interview and speech took a total of about an hour, and during that time Pence said some eyebrow-raising things.
To start, Pence praised Donald Trump's record as president. The former VP said he will "always be proud" to have served alongside the 45th president, and that Trump "never stopped fighting every day to deliver on the promises that we had made to the American people." This would be the same Donald Trump who encouraged mobs to seek out the vice president, and who spoke approvingly of the possibility of Pence being hanged.
Pence also had some thoughts about the current president. He accused Joe Biden of "squandering" the gains made during the Trump years. The former VP offered up the standard Fox-style attack on Biden:
Joe Biden has always been a liberal but, in a very real sense, he has embraced the politics of the radical left that are crushing this life under this economy, stifling American energy, eroding American credibility on the world stage, and the only antidote to that is to elect freedom-loving majorities to the Congress and to statehouses around the country and I believe we will.
One wonders if Pence's speechwriter wrote that themselves, or if they just copied and pasted from a transcript of Hannity.
That wasn't all that Pence had to say about Biden, either. It's not bad enough that the 46th president is doing a terrible job, as it turns out. Adding insult to injury is that the current president is also an inveterate liar. In response to a (very leading) question from Kudlow, the former VP decreed that no president has ever uttered more falsehoods than Biden has, and that "there has never been a time in my life where a president was more disconnected from the American people than we see today." Again, this is a man who spent 4 years serving as VP to Donald Trump, who lied at least 30,000 times while in office.
As to the 1/6 Committee, in particular, Pence made quite clear that he does not support what they are trying to do. He explained to Kudlow that he (Pence) will not allow the Democrats to use 1/6 to "distract" from "their failed agenda." He also made clear that he thinks the 2020 election was fishy, and that he had hopes the courts would step in and fix things, but that he was just not in a position to fix the election on his own authority.
In the end, the word that came to mind when we read about all of this was "pathetic." First of all, if Pence thinks he has any shot of being president—and, in particular, if he thinks he can heal his relationship with the Trumpers—he is absolutely delusional. Read the item above; if Pence had showed up at the Texas Republican convention this weekend, he most certainly would not have been greeted warmly, and he might well have been assaulted or killed. There's no coming back from that.
Beyond that, Pence spent 4 years licking Trump's boots, and his reward was to be slurred as a traitor and a RINO and to face a real threat against his very life. And how does the former VP respond to that? He goes right back to licking Trump's boots. Dear God, man, even if you don't care about democracy, don't you have at least a little respect for yourself? Apparently not. (Z)
Let us start with two observations. The first, if we may use this metaphor for a second time today, is that Pandora's Box has been opened when it comes to trans Americans. Trans folks are not going away, and are not going back into the closet. Young people are overwhelmingly tolerant of the full spectrum of gender identities, and eventually those young people will run the country. The day will come when a trans person will be no more a cause for comment or concern than a woman voting or a Black person sitting next to a white one at the movie theater.
The second observation is that while change is coming, the country is not there yet. A lot of Americans, on both sides of the political aisle, are really, really bothered by trans people. We're talking on a visceral level. And those who have studied their history cannot be too surprised by this. Like women voting or the integration of Black people, the existence of trans people fundamentally challenges people's notions of "the way things are." For generations, Americans were taught that women were fundamentally different from men, that Black people are inherently inferior to white people, and that there are exactly two genders and the line between them is bright red. Some people can adapt to a new way of looking at things pretty easily, but for others, a challenge to one of their fundamental understandings of the world is a challenge to many or all of their fundamental understandings of the world. "If mom/dad/my church leaders/my political leaders/my teachers/etc. were wrong about [X], then what else were they wrong about?" is the basic question. Many people would prefer not to ponder that, and so they dig in on the notion that mom/dad/my church leaders/my political leaders/my teachers/etc. were NOT wrong about [X].
A new poll speaks to this. Together with the University of Maryland, The Washington Post conducted an online survey asking American adults how they feel about trans athletes competing in girls' and women's sports. By a margin of almost two-to-one, they are against having trans athletes compete in competitions reserved for girls and women. The argument is even if an athlete has completely transitioned and has had gender-confirmation surgery and years of hormone therapy, having undergone male puberty gives that person a bigger heart, bigger muscles, and other advantages over people who have always been girls and women. And that doesn't begin to deal with athletes who have not taken any concrete steps to transition, but simply say they identify as women.
So what's the political angle here? Most Democratic politicians support the idea of allowing athletes to compete in competitions of the gender they identify with, regardless of how much hormone treatment they have had and without regard to surgery. Most Republican politicians oppose this. So even though the number of cases where this comes up is small, it looms large as an emotional political issue that favors the Republicans. By supporting such an unpopular cause, even if history will eventually come down on their side, Democrats are hurting themselves.
Sports, of course, is in a different category than almost everything else. Nobody thinks that a trans lawyer or banker or engineer has an advantage over everyone else. Physical strength does not matter in most activities. And in ones it does, it is easy enough to see if someone seeking a job as a lumberjack or lumberjill is able to cut down trees. Sports is unusual in this regard.
This issue is also very different from same-sex marriage. If a man wants to marry a man or a woman wants to marry a woman, nobody else is involved and there is no victim. Nobody else is hurt by allowing such marriages (though that doesn't stop anti-gay marriage activists from arguing that someone else IS hurt; either the children of a gay couple or else the institution of marriage as a whole).
In contrast, when a trans athlete wins a competition against women, there is a "victim." For example, when Lia Thomas won a recent competition 1.75 seconds ahead of Olympic silver medalist Emma Weyant, a lot of people found Weyant to be a victim and the competition to be unfair. If Thomas had been banned, Weyant would have won. You can call the people who don't like this anything you want to, but they get to vote, and by a two-to-one margin people don't want women competing against what they see as men.
Republicans see this as a big opportunity for the Party, and so the battle lines are already being drawn. Half a dozen states have already passed laws banning students from competing in sports reserved for the sex not on their original birth certificate. Most of the laws don't get into the messy details. However, the Ohio House of Representatives has passed H.B. 151 along party lines. It would allow anyone to challenge a competitor's sex, in which case verification would ostensibly be based on: (1) the student's internal and external anatomy, (2) testosterone levels, (3) genetic makeup (i.e., does the person have XX or XY chromosomes).
Note, by the way, that the commission that governs school sports in Ohio already has clear rules that specify under what circumstances a trans girl/woman is entitled to compete as a female. The new law is considerably less clear; for example, it does not yet explain if the student must pass all three tests or just any one of them. If the final law says having a low testosterone level, either naturally or through medical intervention, is enough to be considered female, there is going to be a lot of blowback, and it is almost certain to become a political issue that Republicans will exploit to the hilt. The Ohio Senate is in recess now and will consider the bill when it returns.
The odds are very good that the bill will be approved, since the Ohio legislature rarely lets an opportunity like this pass. There are 1.6 million students in Ohio. Take a guess: How many of them would be subject to the terms of the new law? The answer is... one. There is currently a grand total of one trans girl playing varsity sports in the entire state of Ohio. But, of course, she dominates the competition, which is terribly unfair to the other players in her league, right? Not so much. She's a backup outfielder and catcher who sees the field only occasionally.
Let's add one other example: Elon Musk has a child who was named Xavier Alexander Musk and recorded as male at birth. Said child has petitioned a court for a name change to Vivian Jenna Wilson and also a change of sex to "female." It is not clear from the story if the child has actually transitioned or has any plans to do so. In nearly all circumstances, we would assume the request is 100% legitimate, but the filing has such venom for Musk that we can't be sure this time. If the petition to simply to spite Musk Sr. and that's all (i.e., no actual transition, past or future), the Republicans are going to make hay with this. They are going to scream: "Democrats think you can change your sex legally by just filling out some form." This would be a falsehood, since no prominent Democrat has spoken up, nor are any likely to walk into a trap like this. However, the Republicans and their allies in the media have been very skillful at tarring Democrats with unusual cases, which this one might be.
Ultimately, there are three points here. First is that, if you didn't already know it, these anti-trans bills are just pure pandering. To the extent there is a problem to be solved, the bodies that oversee the various sports can handle it without input from the politicians.
Second is that pandering sometimes works, and this looks like one of those cases. If Republicans can hang this issue around the necks of Democrats, something that the GOP has done very effectively thus far, then it is going to hurt the blue team, at least in the short term. There's a lot of discomfort out there, and that discomfort can be channeled, just as politicians in the past have capitalized in the past with discomfort over various social changes.
Third, and finally, is that this issue won't be a winner forever. Millennials are soon to be the single largest group of voters, generationally, and they are overwhelmingly A-OK with trans people. It may take a couple of cycles for this issue to lose salience, or ir may take a decade. But the new reality is what it is. As Galileo—a fellow who knew something about the backlash that is triggered by those who challenge a fundamental tenet of the status quo—once allegedly noted: Eppur si muove (and yet it moves). (V & Z)
Don't worry. Despite the headline, you can read this item while you eat your breakfast. Al Gross (I), who is poised to finish third in the race to finish Rep. Don Young's (R-AK) term, suddenly withdrew yesterday from both the special election and from the general election for a full term.
Gross was in full-out campaign mode until just hours before withdrawing. Here is the entire statement he issued to let voters know that he was dropping out:
ANCHORAGE, AK — Al Gross is withdrawing from both the special general and regular elections for U.S. House of Representatives. Dr. Gross is releasing the following statement:
"It is with great hope for Alaska's future that I have decided to end my campaign to become our state's next Congressman. There are two outstanding Alaska Native women in this race who would both serve our state well, and I encourage my supporters to stay engaged and consider giving their first-place vote to whichever of them best matches their own values. Thank you for your support."
The two native women are Mary Peltola (D) and Tara Sweeney (R). In other words: Please don't vote for Sarah Palin (R) or Mark Begich (R).
Why did Gross jump ship? As you can see, his statement offers few clues. Here are the obvious possibilities:
- Some major life event, like his wife falling ill, left Gross without time to campaign.
- Someone discovered a skeleton in Gross' closet, and he bailed out to try to keep the closet closed.
- Gross had polling data that persuaded him he had absolutely no hope of winning.
- Gross had polling data that persuaded him that his candidacy was helping Sarah Palin, and he took one for the team.
Maybe we will learn what happened, and maybe we won't.
While Alaska law is clear that Gross had until this Sunday to withdraw, it's less clear about what happens next. Specifically, there is no question that #1 Palin, #2 Begich, and #4 Peltola will advance to the August 16 ranked-choice runoff for the rest of Young's term. However, will #5 Sweeney now make the cut? Even Alaska election officials don't know the answer to that. And whatever decision they make is likely to trigger a lawsuit. If it does end up as a three-person race, one has to imagine that few Palin voters will rank Peltola #2 and that few Peltola voters will rank Palin #2, which would seem to put Begich in the driver's seat. However, if the race ends up with three Republicans and one Democrat, who knows what might happen?
Meanwhile, the primary for the general election is going to be on the same date (August 16) as the special election runoff. Palin, Begich, and Sweeney are among the 11 Republicans who have declared for the general, whereas Peltola is the only Democrat who will appear on the ballot. Oh, and no Santa Claus, if you are wondering. If the election for a full term ends up with three Republicans and one Democrat in the runoff, again, who knows what might happen? (Z)
There were quite a few interesting developments in international politics over the past few days. To start with, Colombia elected its first ever left-wing president. That would be Gustavo Petro, who is not only a lefty, but is also a former guerrilla. It was a throw-the-bums-out sort of election; voters blamed President Iván Duque for inflation, high gas prices, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, increased crime, and other social ills. Perhaps that list of grievances sounds familiar, though we can find no information about how many trans high school athletes there are in Colombia. Petro's running mate, Francia Márquez, is the second woman and the first Black person to be elected as the nation's vice president.
Meanwhile, turning to France, the returns are in for that nation's parliamentary election. And while Emmanuel Macron may have held onto his job last month, he got poked in the eye this month. His centrist alliance Ensemble is way short of a majority—44 seats short, to be exact. That's the worst showing for a newly elected French president in the 64 years that the current system has been in place. It's not clear where the 44 extra seats will come from; the right-wingers may be unwilling to hitch their fortunes to the unpopular Macron's wagon and the left-wingers may demand too high a price for their cooperation. On top of that, two of Macron's closest allies in parliament lost their seats. The President is threatening to call a new election, but it's not clear whether that is legal or not.
And finally, speaking of new elections, Israel is definitely going to have one. The current ruling coalition, where the only commonality is "we all dislike Benjamin Netanyahu," is no longer working, so Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced yesterday that the government would be dissolved. The election will be held in October or November, and will be Israel's fifth in three years. This leaves open the very real possibility that Netanyahu will, like a phoenix, rise from the ashes and reclaim the premiership. Polls suggest his Likud will win the most seats at the next election, but whether the former PM can piece together a ruling coalition is anyone's guess.
Needless to say, international politics are not exactly our area of expertise, and so if any reader has additional insights about any of these three situations, we are happy to have them. (Z)
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