Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no credentials in the public health field, has found favor with the current president because as a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force he says what the Egoist-in-Chief wants to hear when he listens to scientists. Dr. Atlas is not an idiot, in other words – he’s an ego masseuse, an important qualification as far as the current president is concerned.
White House medical advisor Dr. Scott Atlas delivers his remarks during a press conference on September 16, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. Official White House photo by Tia Dufour.
What follows is a very short list of doctors and scientists, some better than others, to be sure, but all more or less qualified for the Man Baby’s pandemic science team.
Bill Nye, better known as Bill Nye the Science Guy, at the May, 2017, Montclair Film Festival in Montclair, New Jersey. Photo from the Montclair Film Festival.
Phil McGraw, better known as Dr. Phil, in a stock photo.
Mehmet Oz, better known as Dr. Oz, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 27, 2012. Photo from World Economic Forum.
Robert Young as Dr. Marcus Welby in the television program Marcus Welby, M.D.. 1973 publicity photo from ABC Television.
DeForest Kelly as Dr. Leonard ‘Bones” McCoy in the television program Star Trek. 1970 publicity photo from NBC Television.
Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, seated at a desk covered with his books. 1957 photo by Al Ravenna for the New York World Telegram and Sun newspaper.
Jonathan Harris as Dr. Zachary Smith poses next to the Robot in the television program Lost in Space. 1967 publicity photo from CBS Television.
Color lobby card for the 1931 black and white film Frankenstein, directed by James Whale and featuring Colin Clive as Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Boris Karloff as the Monster. Card from Universal Studios.
A Dr. Evil impersonator at a Dell Computers presentation in January, 2007. Photo by Flickr user Edans.
The Muppet Show characters Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his laboratory assistant, Beaker, at a March, 2007, event for the Muppet Mobile Lab. photo by Flickr user Dawn Endico.
Groucho Marx as Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush in the 1937 film A Day at the Races, directed by Sam Wood and starring the Marx Brothers. Publicity photo by Ted Allan for MGM Studios.
In this scene from the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, directed by Stanley Kubrick, Peter Sellers plays both Dr. Strangelove and President Merkin Muffley, and George C. Scott plays General Buck Turgidson. The current president is not at all like President Muffley in his reasoned assessment of the options available to him in a crisis, but more closely resembles General Turgidson, whose simple-minded grasp of issues is limited to his primal and self-serving interests.
The Democratic Party establishment is in a panic after Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s convincing victory in the Nevada presidential primary on February 22. An easy way to gauge the reaction of the Democratic Party old guard is to watch their mouthpieces spout off on MSNBC, the network that pretends to be at the forefront of liberal politics but in reality protects the interests of corporate Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. MSNBC is, with some reservations due to being more grounded in the real world, the opinion molder for many Democrats in a similar fashion to how Fox News affects Republicans.
This year the Democratic Party establishment had the fix in for former vice president Joe Biden the same way they had the fix in for former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2016. She lost the election, but hey, she won the popular vote! So what? So a surplus of a few million people, mostly in California and New York, voted for Hillary Clinton. It didn’t matter because their votes didn’t count as much as the votes of a few tens of thousands of people in Rust Belt states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. So the Democratic Party establishment had decided to do it all over again, this time with Joe Biden as their old guard hack.
A banner displayed by striking Chicago teachers in September 2012 questioning the real interests of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and his Democratic Party colleagues. Photo by Flickr user Groupuscule.
The old guard claims their anointed one is the most electable in the general election, a higher priority than ever now that everyone has had nearly four years experience of the alternative, the current president. Everyone, progressive and corporate Democrat alike, agrees four more years of that will destroy the republic as well as the Democratic Party. The old guard deploys fear of four more years of the current president to maintain themselves in power at whatever cost in lies and money. Claiming that only their front person has electability in the general election didn’t work in 2016, and it won’t work in 2020.
The reason is lack of broad appeal to potential voters who are inclined to sit on the sidelines instead of getting behind a corporate Democrat like Joe Biden. The Democratic Party establishment persists in under counting and under cutting the progressive, Socialist portion of the party because it scares off their backers on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms. The country, and the Democratic Party in particular, are more liberal than the establishment and the corporate media will admit.
Woody Guthrie wrote and performed “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh (Dusty Old Dust)” in 1935. The policies and appeal of the president at the time, Franklin Roosevelt, would not look out of place today in the campaign of Bernie Sanders, yet conservative corporate interests in politics and in the media persist in portraying Senator Sanders and his supporters as fringe radicals.
The resulting propaganda from outlets like MSNBC convinces some voters that a presidential candidate such as Bernie Sanders would represent only a fringe of the Democratic Party, while Joe Biden or Michael Bloomberg or Pete Buttigieg would represent the mainstream of the Party, and therefore would be the only electable choice for the more conservative general populace. That’s not true. Look at the results in Nevada.
Like the mantra “location, location, location” in real estate, there may be an operative phrase in political elections, and it is “turnout, turnout, turnout”. One year away from the 2020 presidential election, centrist, party-line Democrats are most concerned with “electability”, and before the primary season has begun they have anointed Joe Biden as the most “electable” candidate. Their overriding concern for electability is understandable considering the crucial importance of the 2020 presidential election. What they don’t seem to account for is how their idea of an electable candidate may depress turnout, an outcome that tends to favor Republican candidates.
Democratic voters outnumber Republican voters, and therefore high turnout elections tend to favor Democratic candidates. The reason low turnout elections favor Republicans is because the percentage of eligible Republican voters who turn up at the polls does not vary as much as the percentage of eligible Democratic voters who actually vote. One can get deeply into the weeds on the demographics behind this behavior, but it is sufficient to note here that it is a long standing trend and will likely continue on Election Day in 2020.
A line of people turned out to vote in Brooklyn, New York, in the November 2008 election. Photo by Flickr user April Sikorski.
In the 2016 election, the Democratic Party establishment crammed down the throats of Democratic voters a candidate who did not generate widespread enthusiasm. The Democratic Party since the days of Franklin Roosevelt has included a more diverse coalition of voters than the Republican Party, and Democrats as a result are less interested in toeing the Party line for the sake of an election than are Republicans. Some Democrats who were lukewarm on Hillary Clinton either defected to third party candidates or did not vote at all. That she nonetheless won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes was not a statement for her popularity as much as it was a statement about the unpopularity of her Republican opponent.
The erroneous polls leading up to Election Day in 2016 also were a factor in Ms. Clinton’s loss in the real decider of presidential elections, the Electoral College. Polls predicting not only a Clinton victory, but a possible landslide, were perhaps a factor in depressing Democratic turnout around the country enough that it made a difference in the outcomes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, swing states that the Republican candidate won by a total of less than 100,000 votes, tipping the Electoral College in his favor. The demographics of Democratic voters are such that they are more likely than Republican voters to skip voting for a variety of reasons, among them being the appearance from polls that their candidate already has the election in the bag.
Overconfidence will likely not be a stumbling block this time around since everyone who has been paying attention even a little bit to developments in this country since January 20, 2017, should be well aware by now of the high stakes involved in the next presidential election. It is not hyperbole to state there has not been as crucial an election for the continuance of our democracy since the election of 1860. The corporate, centrist minority of the Democratic Party is determined to trot out yet another corporate, centrist Democratic candidate in the 2020 election, whether that be Joe Biden or, in case he falters in the primaries, Pete Buttigieg. The Democratic Party establishment keeps hammering away on “electability”, even more now than in 2016 because the mental case currently despoiling the country from the Oval Office is a known quantity after three years and for the sake of the country must not be allowed to continue in power past January 20, 2021.
“Do It Again” by Steely Dan, from their 1972 album Can’t Buy a Thrill.
The Democratic Party establishment refuses to see a move to the left as an opportunity in the coming election. Why would they, since that is not where the corporate masters want them to go? Voter demographics, however, are leaving behind the Democratic Party establishment as currently constituted, as well as leaving behind the Republican Party more generally. Whether that will have an enough of an effect at the polls on Election Day 2020 to make a difference depends on turnout, and that depends on enthusiasm for a Democratic candidate as much as it does disgust about what the presumptive Republican candidate has done to the country and will continue to do if re-elected. Demographic changes won’t make a bit of difference in moving the nation to the left or in booting out of the Oval Office the cancerous tumor currently infesting it if the people representing those changes don’t show up at the polls and vote. — Ed.
“And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singin’ a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may think it’s a movement.” — Arlo Guthrie, from his song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”.
Progressive Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, newly elected Representative from New York’s 14th Congressional District, have their work cut out for them even before they take their seats in January as they battle the Old Guard within their own party. The Old Guard of the Democratic Party, led by Nancy Pelosi in the House and Chuck Schumer in the Senate, are working to co-opt, minimize, and undermine the incoming progressives so that business as usual shall continue after January. The Old Guard appears to have little interest in understanding that business as usual by corporate Democrats such as themselves is what brought this country to the precipice of authoritarian rule by the current president and his accomplices in Congress and the judiciary over the past two years.
Harriot Daley, standing, was appointed telephone operator at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., in 1898 when there were only 51 stations on the switchboard. On July 30, 1937, when this photo was taken, Miss Daley was Chief Operator and supervised a staff of 37 operators as they answered calls from 1200 extensions. Library of Congress photo by Harris & Ewing.
Corporate Democrats are a better option for leading this country than fascist Republicans in the same way that a kick in the behind is marginally better than a kick in the groin, but that’s hardly a hearty endorsement of their policies and practices. That is not a positive view of the future for young people starting out and raising children of their own into the world. There has to be a better option still, one that is outside the stale choice between the lesser of two evils, both of them more interested in serving corporate interests than those of the people at large. The Old Guard of the Democratic Party will continue trying to scare progressives into backing down from real change by claiming they are splintering the Party and allowing the minority party, the Republicans, to win votes in the House of Representatives and pass their agenda.
There’s truth in their argument, too, particularly since Republicans historically are more likely than Democrats to maintain lock step with their colleagues in the face of opposition and subsume their differences, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that progressives should move to the center and join ranks with the corporate Democrats instead of the other way around. What’s needed to convince corporate Democrats to drop Old Guard methods and beliefs, besides not re-electing them time after time, is pressure from ordinary citizens that builds to a point overpowering their allegiance to corporate money.
Phone calls. E-mails. Snail mails. Attendance and vocal presence at town halls. Boycotts of corporations making large political donations. Taking to the streets. Voting in local elections for school board and county supervisor and city council seats. Knocking on doors to get out the vote and helping people register to vote. Speaking up when someone among your friends, family, or neighbors expresses hateful ideas counter to our democratic principles. Refusal to participate in the national security state by calling for the repeal of the PATRIOT Act and the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and condemning the persecution of whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and John Kiriakou.
The presentation in Frank Capra’s 1939 movieMr. Smith Goes to Washingtonprobably strikes most people today as corny, but that should not overshadow the principles of good government and citizen participation it espouses and their relevancy today.
Starting and supporting statewide initiatives such as California’s Proposition 11 in 2008 which took legislative district reapportionment away from partisan politicians and gave that power to the people. There are many more ways to convince business as usual Democrats in Congress and across the nation that the future for them and us lies in their scooting over to the left, in the direction this country came from before it swung too far right in the last generation, rather than stubbornly obstructing progressives in order to better serve their corporate masters. Getting up off the couch and making phone calls and doing the other things is the only way to make it happen.
The headlines in the corporate media after the Democratic primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York’s 14th congressional district on June 26 often omitted her name in favor of touting the loss by her opponent, establishment Democrat Joseph Crowley, whom the corporate media did name. Brushing aside the intentional or unintentional slight of the old boys’ club in the corporate media and Democratic party establishment, the victory of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez in the 14th district in New York, a district encompassing the eastern Bronx and part of the Queens boroughs of New York City, was a major step forward for the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), of which she is a member.
A panoramic view of the antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes against a starry night sky. The Moon and the Milky Way are visible across the center of the sky. Photo by Babak Tafreshi. The Democratic Party establishment keeps looking for new stars to lead it, ignoring the new leaders emerging from the grass roots and pushing them aside.
Fox News blowhard Sean Hannity posted the following list on his television show of the points in Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s platform, no doubt with the idea of horrifying his viewers with her plan for destroying America, if not all of western civilization:
Medicare for all
Housing as a human right
A federal jobs guarantee
Gun control / Assault weapons ban
Criminal justice reform / End private prisons
Immigration justice / Abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Solidarity with Puerto Rico
Mobilizing against climate change
Clean campaign finance
Higher education for all
Curb Wall Street gambling / Restore Glass Steagall
Actually, that all sounds pretty good! Thanks, Mr. Hannity! With that agenda, it’s no wonder Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the DSA are worrying not only the retrograde part of the electorate represented by Sean Hannity, but the Democratic Party establishment lately represented by Joseph Crowley. Let’s look forward to that agenda catching on with voters and being pushed by them across the country in areas beyond the Democratic Party stronghold of New York’s 14th congressional district.
The ending of Ron Fricke’s 1992 film Baraka, with music by Michael Stearns.
In the first of two presidential campaign debates in 1988, when Vice President George H.W. Bush referred to his opponent, Democratic Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, as a “card-carrying member of the ACLU” (American Civil Liberties Union), he was actually citing Governor Dukakis’s own words from his speeches during the Democratic primaries, when he wanted to appeal to the left wing of the party. Governor Dukakis’s choice of words were unfortunate for him given the connotations of the phrase “card-carrying member” ever since the red-baiting days of the early 1950s Joseph McCarthy era, and the Bush campaign probably couldn’t believe their luck in that Governor Dukakis handed them such a juicy gift with which to smear him.
They knew and counted on the reality that most of the public do not delve deeply into the true meaning of things, and instead are all too eager to fall back lazily on shorthand terms. Conservative independents, to the extent they understood at all what the ACLU was about, had only to hear that the organization had the words “civil liberties” and “union” in it, and that Governor Dukakis was a “card-carrying member” of it, to jump to the conclusion that the man from Massachusetts with the foreign sounding name was practically a Communist, resulting in their bolting toward Vice President Bush. Governor Dukakis spent the rest of the campaign explaining himself regarding that and other blunders, and once he went on the defensive the campaign was over. Ever since then, mainstream Democrats have been careful to define themselves as Republicans Lite, rather than being card-carrying members of any organization other than Corporate America.
A public service announcement from the ACLU in reaction to the use in 1988 by the Bush campaign of the phrase “card-carrying member” as a smear tactic. Interesting to note the mentions of the ACLU defending Oliver North.
In good news for people who would still like to work within the Democratic Party but who see it as hopelessly beholden to corporations while cynically throwing identity politics bones to the left wing in order to appease them, candidates for local and state offices around the country who are endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) are having success in elections since 2016. The DSA is not a political party. It is an activist movement within and sometimes without the Democratic Party, and it endorses candidates who push its policy goals such as a $15 an hour minimum wage and getting the corrupting influence of corporate money out of politics. Michael Harrington founded the DSA in 1982, and the organization had not seen much success until the past two years, when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders openly avowed socialist principles in his presidential campaign, for many people doing away with the stigma of socialism that Governor Dukakis had tried to wipe off himself in 1988.
Noam Chomsky in a 1989 speech analyzes the 1988 election “card-carrying member” smear.
Most of the peopleinspired to become members of the DSA by Senator Sanders’s example, even though he himself had never joined, were not yet born in 1988 when the Bush campaign found it incredibly easy and profitable to brand Governor Dukakis an extreme leftist and make it stick with the public. For these downwardly mobile Millennials, some of them highly educated and many of them underemployed, the myth of capitalism raising all boats is for suckers. These were the people who formed the core of the Occupy movement in 2011, and when the establishment in the Democratic Party pushed everyone to accept their Republican Lite candidate, Hillary Clinton, while using subterfuge to undermine Senator Sanders’s candidacy, leading ultimately to the debacle of the general election, some of these same politically active young Democrats turned to the DSA to work to change the Democratic Party from the grass roots on up.
As the 2018 mid-term elections approach, Cenk Uygur delivers an astute analysis of the Democratic Party establishment from a perspective to the left of the mainstream. As always in keeping a wary eye on politics and politicians, it is good advice to follow the money.
The national Democratic Party establishment is too compromised and seduced by corporate money to listen to what working class and middle class people in places like western Pennsylvania are concerned about, the same people who essentially cast protest votes for Orange Julius in 2016, as ill-advised as that may have been. The Democratic establishment will try to make the 2018 midterm elections a referendum on Orange Julius, and to a certain extent they should, but what they are missing in their tone deafness to the needs of Americans in places like western Pennsylvania and Flint, Michigan, and the dairy farms of Wisconsin, is the desire of citizens there to see Democrats demonstrating real intentions to implement policies once they are in office that will improve the lives of the majority, instead of just big money corporate donors. The national Democratic Party establishment is hopelessly out of touch with those citizens. Card-carrying DSA members, working with local and state candidates, understand positive change will only come by listening to and serving citizens directly, and ignoring the cumbersome Democratic Party establishment, which is interested only in perpetuating itself by offering the easy way out by criticizing the current president’s disastrous administration, and in replacing his corporate water carriers with their own.
The departure of advertisers from Laura Ingraham’s show on Fox News after a boycott of their products and services was proposed by David Hogg, the Parkland, Florida, shooting survivor Ms. Ingraham gratuitously mocked on Twitter, is not censorship, as Fox News executives claim, but the simple economic result of a self-inflicted wound. No one disputes Ms. Ingraham’s First Amendment right to make hateful, idiotic remarks. Furthermore, no one claims that Ms. Ingraham cannot disagree with Mr. Hogg on gun control. As a public figure, however, with a forum that allows her to generate revenue through television viewership ratings that are often as not in her case driven by the outlandishness of her hateful, idiotic remarks, and ad hominem attacks on those she disagrees with, she cannot expect there will be no repercussions. Boycotting her advertisers is simply hitting her where she and Fox News are most vulnerable.
Rosa Parks in 1955, with Martin Luther King Jr. in the background. Ms. Parks was instrumental in starting the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. Photo by the United States Information Agency (USIA).
There’s a world of difference between the costs paid by Ms. Ingraham for her free speech and that paid by someone such as Juli Briskman, the woman who lost her job after flipping off Supreme Leader’s motorcade last October. Ms. Briskman was not a public figure at the time, and she undertook her action on her own account, with no connection made by her between that action and her employer. Still, her employer, a federal contractor, fired her after it became widely known she worked for them. Ms. Briskman had no thought of ginning up popularity and revenue for her or her employer, far from it. People like Laura Ingraham are well aware their speech will generate controversy, because controversy translates into money. Ms. Ingraham and other public figures like her are the television wrestlers of punditry, throwing metal chairs and bellowing insults while they stomp around the arena doing their best to incite the crowd.
The boycott is a time honored method for expressing disapproval and trying to effect change in public policy or the behavior of public figures. People on both sides of the political spectrum engage in boycotts, as the Reverend Franklin Graham demonstrated recently when he called for a boycott of Target department stores on account of what he sees as their overly liberal transgender restroom policy. Everyone votes with their dollars, for the simple reason that in our capitalist society it is the easiest and most effective way of getting the attention of the powerful. Whether a boycott is undertaken for frivolous or nasty reasons is in the eye of the beholder, but it has to be respected because it too is a form of free speech. The object of a boycott may weather it with enough counter support from people who perceive the boycott as unfair. At any rate, the economic effect is often secondary to the real aim of the boycotters, which is to bring a matter to widespread public attention, causing the boycotted company or public figure to explain or justify their actions, policies, or remarks.
Mahatma Gandhi coined the term “satyagraha” to explain his view on the right way to conduct non-violent efforts for change. Satyagraha means truth (satya), and grasp or hold onto (graha), or holding onto the truth. When people hold what they believe to be the truth, they actively try to get someone or some group who is obstructing their aims to see that truth as well, so that in the end they will step out of the way without the threat of violence. Of course, we all believe we hold the truth, with the possible exception of media pundits who cynically exploit political arguments for personal gain, in which case it’s hard to say whether they believe their own nonsense or not. It doesn’t really matter.
An assembly of moments from the 1982 Richard Attenborough film Gandhi, with Ben Kingsley, showing some of the Mahatma’s methods and philosophy.
For everyone else, with their own truths (not their own facts), it is important to treat those who disagree by the light of their own truths with respect and consideration during the contest for change. The boycott throughout history has been an instrument of change used by the weak against the strong, and today is no different. It’s unseemly then for the strong to veil themselves in the First Amendment in a cynical attempt to elevate the debate into the same arena where Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Cesar Chavez fought for their rights, when they brought this public criticism upon themselves as a consequence of abusing their public forum in the interest of spewing vitriol in pursuit of dollars.
It is one thing to be ignorant, and quite another to be militantly, defiantly proud of that ignorance. To be clear, ignorance is not the same thing as stupidity. Ignorance can be rectified through education of one sort or another, while stupidity is almost always a life long condition. A person can be proud of their stupidity, which would be an unfortunate attitude but not something others could condemn that person for, given that a stupid person is apt to adhere to stupid beliefs. An otherwise reasonably intelligent person who persists in ignorance, on the other hand, exhibits a moral failing.
A cheeky take on the typical evolution of humans illustration, which in this instance has been altered by the inclusion of a parody of The Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover, indicating that may have been the climax of our evolution. Photo composite by Flickr user possan.
Since before the election of the Vulgarian-in-Chief, observers of the American political scene have marveled at how his supporters – believers, really – have stuck with him no matter what. As the Vulgarian himself noted fairly early in the campaign, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue [in New York City] and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Why is that? With all his lies, evidence of misogyny, racism, narcissism, greed, corruption, nepotism, and, since his election, his evident inability to govern competently, why do roughly one third of the American electorate stay on his side regardless of all that?
The best guess hearkens back to why those people voted for him in the first place. Throughout the campaign, his voters kept saying that he ‘tells it like it is” and “he’s his own man and not an establishment insider.” Neither of those core beliefs, nor many of the others his supporters expressed about him, were entirely true, but that made no difference to them. What made a difference to them was that the language he used appeared to make those things true, and they desperately wanted to believe. He had snake oil to cure them, and they were eager for his cure. Telling it like it is meant he was prepared to advocate politically incorrect positions in the culture wars, and being an establishment outsider had no more real traction than his complete lack of experience in organized politics.
On these slim assumptions they voted for him, because the assumptions became beliefs. Don’t confuse them with the facts. It was enough that their Chosen One appeared to give a middle finger to the politically correct and to the Washington establishment. Once he got into office, he continued displaying his middle finger, and whether or not that has had a salutory effect on his ability to govern effectively appears immaterial to his core supporters, who are more concerned with what they are against in the culture wars and in government.
A clip from the 1960s television situation comedy Hogan’s Heroes, featuring the German Sgt. Schultz, whose catch phrase was “I know nothing.”
In a cult of personality, what matters is the perception of the believers, rather than the reality. Any attempt to dissuade them from their delusions has the effect of making them more adamant. Nothing can be done for most of them, who see nothing wrong with themselves. Because it is in his nature to do so, there is no question that their preferred Strong Man will continue to exploit the opportunity they have afforded him, in a multitude of venal ways which will continue until the day he leaves office. One might as well expect the leopard to change its spots as expect him to evolve into a respectable and respected statesman. All that can be done is to resist and to continue bringing evil into the light, much as it often seems that only the choir hears the preaching. Today more than ever, the choir can amplify and magnify and sing out what they hear, and they too can tweet.
“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” ― Jesus Christ, quoted in Matthew 22:21 (King James Version).
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . “
― excerpt from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The two quotes above seem straightforward in their meaning, even if some people with self-serving agendas insist there is room for interpretation in both. Some religious groups, but by no means the majority, chafe at the straightforward interpretations and would rather see the federal government allow them to get involved in partisan politics while maintaining their tax exempt status. They applaud any effort to roll back enforcement of the Johnson Amendment to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code, which forbids charitable or non-profit organizations with tax exemptions from directly endorsing political candidates. In May, the current president signed an executive order relaxing those restrictions, essentially directing the IRS to use discretion in enforcing the Johnson Amendment. Since the law would have to be changed by Congress, court challenges to the executive order will probably crop up, though none have as of yet.
The simple solution for religious groups who want to submerge themselves in the American political process is to forgo tax exempt status. That appears not to be an option they care to consider. They want their cake, and to eat it, too. The Johnson Amendment, added to the IRS code in 1954 by Lyndon Johnson, at the time a Democratic senator from Texas, has always been laxly enforced by the IRS, revoking the tax exemptions of only the most egregious violators. That’s not good enough for some people. They want the wall separating church and state torn down.
President Lyndon B. Johnson hosts the President of Mexico, Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, at his Texas Ranch in 1964; photo by Yoichi Okamoto.
But not necessarily torn down completely. Muslims, in the view of the Christian Right, should probably not be included in a law respecting an establishment of religion by allowing them to funnel their congregants’ money to chosen political leaders, just like their Christian counterparts. Not so sure about the Jews, either. Catholics? We’ll have to think about that one. Once we start making exemptions for the exemption, we have to decide who gets it and who doesn’t. What would Jerry Falwell do? His son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Liberty University President and leader of the evangelical Christian Right, believes the Johnson Amendment has to go because it infringes on the free speech rights of religious leaders.
In this scene from the 1980 film Caddyshack, Bishop Pickerling, played by Henry Wilcoxon, plays golf during a thunderstorm, with groundskeeper Carl Spackler, played by Bill Murray, serving as his caddy. The Bishop exercises his free speech rights at the end, with consequences. Note that the music quotes the score from the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments.
That argument ignores the reality of religious leaders already expressing themselves freely, just not being allowed to funnel money to candidates while maintaining their own tax exempt status. What religious leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr., really appear to mean is that the Johnson Amendment is an infringement on their free speech rights in the sense that was addressed by the Supreme Court in the 2010 Citizens United decision, which found that the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) was violating the free speech rights of corporations, both for profit and non-profit, when they limited campaign contributions. Money talks. Now some religious groups, such as Mr. Falwell’s, want the same kind of special dispensation, while also maintaining their exemption from paying taxes. That’s called the Sweet Deal!
George Carlin, a man who really did “tell it like it is”, in a bit from his 1988 performance What Am I Doing in New Jersey? Warning: foul language.
For the week beginning August 21, Americans United for Separation of Church and State is organizing what they call Hometown Congressional Visits to express support for the Johnson Amendment. This is a country of many faiths and to allow one vocal minority – regardless of it’s billing of itself as “The Moral Majority” – to usurp the voices of the many would be not only wrong now, but unconstitutional from the founding of the republic.
“All politics is local.” ― An old saying, most famously uttered by former Speaker of the House, Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill
This fall the Supreme Court will hear the case of Gill v. Whitford, a partisan gerrymandering case from Wisconsin, where redistricting lines drawn up by Republicans in the state legislature in 2011 after the 2010 census resulted in grossly unbalanced election results, such as in the 2012 election when, despite a majority of the votes statewide going to Democrats, Republicans nonetheless won sixty of the ninety-nine State Assembly seats. While the case is specifically about the redistricting lines drawn for state elections, there are implications for national elections because state legislatures also draw the lines for federal congressional districts. National election results have similarly tilted toward Republicans winning more seats in the House of Representatives than simple vote tallies warrant, and Democrats typically gain fewer seats than vote totals should grant them.
“The Gerry-Mander”, a political cartoon by Elkanah Tisdale (1771-1835), published in the Boston Centinel in 1812. The district depicted in the cartoon was created by the Massachusetts legislature to favor the incumbent Democratic-Republican party candidates sponsored by Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists.
Gerrymandering has been around since the founding of the Republic, ever since Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution specified that the states had the power to apportion congressional districts based on census results every ten years. There’s nothing in there about how the states should draw the lines, though the 14th Amendment, adopted 149 years ago on July 9, 1868, set guidelines for citizenship and equal protection under the laws for all citizens, and that has been invoked by the Supreme Court to overrule racially motivated gerrymandering. State legislatures have nevertheless taken the broad leeway left in Article 1, Section 2, and run with it, with both parties divvying up the cake as they liked if they had enough votes from their own members to push new district lines onto the books. Once one party or the other established districts in their favor, subsequent elections had the effect of consolidating their power.
There have been partisan gerrymandering cases brought before the Supreme Court in the past, but the Court has always been reluctant to step into what it has deemed politics as usual, and their rulings have always been narrow enough to have little effect on the practice of partisan gerrymandering. The Court has been more willing to rule broadly against racial gerrymandering by applying the equal protection principles of the 14th Amendment. It’s hard to see the ultimate ruling in Gill v. Whitford deviating from past rulings unless one or more of the conservative justices rule against the State of Wisconsin, and by extension the Republican party. The Court is currently split 5-4 along party lines, with Republicans in the majority.
A scene from the 1974 film The Godfather: Part II, in which the gangsters Hyman Roth, played by Lee Strasburg, and Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, discuss divvying up business in Cuba before the revolution.
This gerrymandering case is a reminder of how failure to pay attention to state and local politics can result in a minority party exercising disproportional power. There are more important elections than the presidential one every four years. The party that turns people out for local school board elections, for city council elections, and for state legislature elections every year, year after year, is the party that ultimately takes power in the national elections. Those seemingly insignificant elections lay the groundwork and set the rules for what follows on a grander scale.
Motivated people turn out for elections, and Republicans have done a much better job over the past thirty or more years of motivating their people than Democrats have done with their people. They have done so with with some dubious tactics, it’s true, mainly motivating people through fear and loathing of The Other, whoever or whatever that might prove effective at the moment. That was easily seen in the 2016 election.
On a national scale, where state boundaries do not change, the Electoral College has worked to gerrymander the presidential election result on behalf of the Republican candidate as Democrats lose strength in the small towns and countryside of the middle of the country. For instance California, the most populous state in the nation, and one with a strong Democratic party majority, has 55 electoral votes (53 congressional districts plus 2 Senate seats) to offer the Democratic presidential candidate whether that candidate wins the state with a simple majority of one vote or an overwhelming majority of three million votes.
This is from a network television appearance by George Carlin in the early 1990s. No foul language warning necessary.
In the language of gerrymandering, Democrats are effectively “packed” into California and other highly urban states, mostly on either coast. Getting rid of the Electoral College and deciding the presidential election with a simple nationwide majority vote would eliminate this gerrymandering effect, but with Republicans controlling the Presidency, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, 33 out of 50 governors’ offices, 31 out of 50 state houses, and 37 out of 50 state senates, that won’t be easy.
Magpie Eating Cake, an 1865 painting by Rubens Peale (1784-1865).
It would take working from the grass roots on up instead of snoozing until 2020 and dreaming the current Republican president will be impeached along the way. It would also mean holding the Democratic party establishment to account for selling out the middle and working classes while they chased after financial and professional elites. Since the Democratic party establishment has shown no inclination to change in response to the 2016 election debacle, however, it appears the best course in the years ahead will be to discard the Democratic party apparatus altogether and form an entirely new major party. It’s not like that has never been done before.