The limitations of getting the facts

I have written that investigators are doing the best job of just about anyone at responding to the January 2021 Capitol putsch. I find Marcy Wheeler, and her rebuttals to many particular complaints about the Department of Justice, very credible.

I think that no outcome of even the most successful investigation is, by itself, going to save America’s democracy. I also think that the standard for “getting the facts,” “establishing beyond reasonable doubt,” etc., as applied to so many things seems much like a mirage, forever visible on the horizon but never actually closer no matter how far you go in its direction.

Republicans’ effort to pressure Georgia’s election officials into fraud, more than a year ago, seem like an illustration verging on caricature of this reality.

Trump’s telephone harangue of Brad Raffensperger on January 2 seems like it amounted to illegal solicitation of election fraud, or else nothing ever could. But more to the point the phone call lasted one hour. The whole call was recorded, and published almost immediately. How much time can you spend investigating a one-hour conversation?

Read More →

Nemesis, brain worms & other stories

Yesterday I completed a very, very rough draft of another book, or of something. I don’t know if it’s drivel, or catharsis, or just a couple hundred pages of crying?

The planned main title is Nemesis. In my own mind, at least, it also has a couple of alternate titles; one is The World of Yesterday, because in many ways it was obsolete before I began writing, and the other is The Giant Rat of Sumatra, because paradoxically I suspect this is at the same time “a tale for which the world is not yet ready.”

I am ridiculous and I know that, yet, dear heaven I absolutely can not quite be at the depth of absurdity which prevails so widely.

I don’t mean to keep picking on The Morning, although today’s was another clunker, but in entirely mainstream ways. It is by no means just two or three NYT knobs with this fixation on “overturning a presidential election” as such a dire possibility that every other concern about democracy—voting rights, fair districts, campaign finance of course, you name it—must be jettisoned to prioritize a sacred bipartisan updated Electoral Count Act.

This is partly elite myopia, and partly just mad.

Read More →

When is democracy out of danger?

I want to return one more time to The Morning email from January 6, and one particular idea: that democrats and especially Democrats should make enormous sacrifice for now, with relief to come “Once the authoritarian threat has receded.”

A lot of people maintain some form of this premise, and for my part I have touched upon this question before. But I feel like it’s worth addressing specifically in these terms.

Setting aside the practicality of still stopping the authoritarian threat to America, at this late hour, what is the “after” condition when America moves our democracy off the endangered list? What does that look like?

This seems like a very important and obvious question, because a lot of us would have said that we entered the “after” condition a year ago, yet here we are.

Read More →

Elites for Oligarchy

I wrote a reply to the “Republicans for democracy” feature in today’s The Morning email newsletter. Partly I was just reacting to the ongoing stupidity of this elite fantasy about a “grand coalition” in which democracy is saved by teaming up with anti-Trump Republicans. This is fan fiction, and bad fan fiction at that. But, I think my efforts to compose a relatively tight response helped clarify some concepts which are important. So here’s my email.

I appreciate The Morning emails. They are frequently informative and often thoughtful.

“Republicans for democracy” is really not good analysis.

One, your premise of a crucial division between the Republicans of Trump and the Republicans of Cheney is entirely arbitrary. Trump aspired to use procedural mumbo jumbo to overturn democracy; Bush and Cheney actually did so (as did Trump 16 years later), it’s called The Electoral College.

“But The Electoral College is a legitimate institution,” except it’s an antidemocratic and [as employed since the 18th century] extra-Constitutional institution, which the Cheney Republicans were and undoubtedly remain ready to delegitimize the instant that it might disfavor them instead of Democrats.

20 years before Trump did so, the Bush-Cheney team ginned up a mob to storm and disrupt official post-election processes. You pooh-pooh this precedent as mere “hardball,” and insist that the greater violence of Trump’s mob makes it “not consistent with American democratic traditions.” Yet in the very sentence before you insist that violence and supportive lies are firmly out of bounds, you insist that lying the nation into an entire war is firmly in bounds. Please.

Read More →

Jan. 6, 2022: the cupboard is bare

There is not a lot I can add, a year after the January 6, 2021 Capitol putsch, aside from perhaps the sense that everyone who does not want fascism to win seems at a loss for what to do.

As I posted on Twitter a few days ago, I give points to the investigators in the US House and the Department of Justice for surpassing that dismal average. Despite all the people screaming at them, they’re doing their part and doing better than I expected against the thicket of lying, stalling and obstruction.

That, by itself, is not going to preserve democracy, though. I repeat this phrase again and again, but on January 6, 2021, a horde of Republicans decked out in the defeated Republican president’s flags and banners invaded the US Capitol to break shit and attempt a violent insurrection. What’s more, one year on, the Republican Party is even more allied to the insurrectionists than it was then. For all that Republicans scurry and squirm to keep details of January 6, 2021 secret, there is logically no hidden link or smoking gun more damning than what has been right in front of us for a year.

Politics is not entirely logical, granted. But no matter what the investigators come up with, I don’t think they can transform all of American politics by themselves, and to all appearances they’re on their own.

Read More →

2021 Year in Review

At some point, this year, I scribbled the random thought that if 2020 was the year when everything happened, 2021 feels more like a false year when things didn’t happen (though not a year in which nothing happened).

I don’t know. This month I started a year-end letter to a pen pal of some years with “what the fuck.”

When did 2021 even begin? On one hand, it feels (and felt) kind of like everything before Inauguration Day was a collective holding our breath since the previous autumn. The morning of January 20 I had a variety of awful physical symptoms but ultimately concluded that it was just shock at the day actually arriving when the nightmare of President Trump ended. On the other hand, that aside, the nightmare has not really ended.

Personally this was like a good year, in some ways, or at least a prosperous year. This was a decent year for freelancing, including the past several weeks which I expected to be a post-election lull and which have not been. Not only did I replace my car in 2021, with a newer better car that I still really like so far, but somehow my decision to go ahead in early summer rather than wait for the market to clear (lol) actually turned out to be an excellent decision. (WTF?)

Read More →

Twitter Jail 2

I spent the night back in Twitter jail.

Unlike last time, very specific reasons accompanied this lockdown. Wednesday evening, I replied “die pepsico, die (please)” to some dumb bullshit ad polluting my Twitter feed courtesy of the bloated food & beverage corp.

Soon after, I was locked out of my account, pointed toward the offending reply like a naughty child, and given the “option” to delete it. Upon choosing this “option” (over the alternative of losing my account forever), I was restored to Twitter in a kind of ghost state. For 12 hours, I was allowed to see but do nothing else.

Hilariously, this prohibition on interaction extended even to liking. Not only that, but rather than simply disabling these features, Twitter instead programs the app to punish any attempt to use them; click a “like” icon, e.g., and get whisked back to the “you have been naughty and are banned from interacting” page.

This is absurdist.

Read More →

Pessimism and Pushback

Hardly anyone seems very happy, right now, and across most of the center-left, attitudes range from frustration and anger to fear and despair. Probably inevitably, Democrats/democrats are also turning frustration upon one another, as we recognize to one degree or another that we’re stuck in a a corner and paralyzed by divided agendas.

Among what we might call the officers’ ranks, there is an emerging pattern of concern, as well as exasperated pushback. I think the concern is well-placed. The past week, alone, was one of intense misery and nothing stands in the way of more.

The pushback disputes or simply denies the latter. For that reason I think it’s mostly just plain wrong, as well as unhelpful.

There’s a subset of the pushback which does, I think, make a valid and important point. Marcy Wheeler has deployed various rebuttals to the people screaming that Attorney General Garland is failing in his duty to charge and convict the enemies of democracy. But she also agrees with me that, ultimately, the Department of Justice cannot solve the assault on democracy anyway, so outrage from people who perceive the DOJ “letting it happen” is just a fundamentally wrong premise.

Otherwise, the pushback seems mostly out of touch, and a confirmation of how screwed we are rather than any real counter-argument. A Lawyers for Good Government email very literally just listed, at length, major awful circumstances continuing or emerging despite our years of work, then said “that’s why we have to fight and win” without addressing in any way what effective “fight” we are supposed to wage. Indivisible, today, tried out an idea that mocking the weariness and despair—as an easy, alluring indulgence of desire to be lazy, watch tv, etc.—would pep people up. I don’t feel like it works very well. Teri Kanefield makes some of the same points as Wheeler, but mostly just yells at people for somehow manifesting defeat by letting the theft of our rights and democracy make us killjoys.

Read More →

How many refuseniks can a liberal democracy handle?

There’s a saying that goes “if someone owes you $500, that’s their problem; if someone owes you $500 million, that’s your problem.”

Lately I’ve been thinking that if one citizen of a liberal democracy rejects its philosophy, one person has a problem; if one million citizens of a liberal democracy reject its philosophy, society has a problem.

Mostly, this is just me putting a familiar theme into a new bottle, so I won’t dwell on it all that long here.

But it continues to seem like something which we need to confront, and I’m not sure that I have seen anyone doing so:

Even in an impossible scenario of sweeping new political rules to take away all of Republicans’ (currently generous) options for exercising tyranny of the minority, what does liberalism propose to offer them other than the steamrolling of what they value, forever?

Read More →

Studying the news

For about five years I have been “studying the news,” you might say.

After the 2016 election, many of us myself included were grasping at ideas for what we should do in response. I joined organizations, attended protests, got a VPN, started calling Congressional offices… I also took the advice to “keep track of what’s changing around you,” a warning to us that the unthinkable can become “normal” without us even noticing, absent an effort in that direction.

I didn’t actually start until early January, 2017 the file which eventually surpassed half-a-million words of news and events, but over time I entered many earlier occurrences and now is probably as good a time as any to reflect on the experience.

I guess that to start with, I don’t think that there is really any substitute for doing something like this. Plenty of people don’t really pay attention to news, politics, government, etc., but I think even for those who do, the default is essentially passive consumption. I have used the phrase “studying the news,” here, because I think that it’s fundamentally different to spend time taking notes, organizing them, and living with this day after day after day for years.

Read More →