Archive for January, 2024

Looking at the issues that divide us and the “alternative facts” that propel them

Thursday, January 18th, 2024

As the Presidential Primary season moves forward, it appears two main issues are top of mind for voters, especially Republican voters: illegal immigration at the southern border and the economy.

There are other issues Republicans rant about, such as crime (it’s been dropping for the last 20 years), Joe Biden’s age (he’s three and a half years older than Trump — they’re both old), government being too large (I’ll give you that one), white people being disadvantaged economically and educationally (they’re not; and from 2011 to 2021, the percentage of adults age 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased from 34.0% to 41.9% for white America), anti-wokism (we can debate that one), and, of course, the absence of racism in America (if you believe that, I have some land in Florida I’d like to sell you after the tide goes out).

But the two the big issues, immigration and the economy, are gaining traction nationally, meaning Republicans have discovered what they consider winning issues, especially immigration.

The immigration issue

No one can deny our southern border is decidedly porous with thousands of families trying to get across it. Never mind that these families are fleeing untenable situations of violence, persecution and natural disasters in the northern Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, and El Salvador. These countries are among the most unstable and dangerous on Earth, with high rates of crime, gang activity, political repression, and sexual violence. Yet the immigrants moving north walk a perilous journey, men, women and children, over many hundreds, even thousands of miles (Ecuador is more than two thousand miles from the U.S. Mexican border) — many in flip flops the entire way.

So, yes they come. Republicans say it’s all Joe Biden’s fault. He has “opened the border” to them. Yesterday, the House of Representatives approved a resolution condemning the administration’s border and immigration policies. The legislation denounces President Biden’s “open-border policies.”

Are they? Let’s dig a little bit.

At this moment, unless many Americans come their senses, Donald Trump is on track to be the Republican Party’s nominee for President in November. He will face incumbent Joe Biden. Given all the hyperbole, it seems fair to compare Trump’s record on securing our border with Barack Obama’s, his predecessor, and Joe Biden’s, his successor. In this comparison, let our yardstick be the one Republicans cite — the “open borders policy.”

Let us not forget Donald Trump’s signature issue after coming down the golden escalator in 2015 — repelling illegal immigrants. You remember? He would build a wall and Mexico would pay for it (neither ever happened). And then we elected him President.

According to the right-leaning Cato Institute, Trump did a terrible job removing/deporting illegal immigrants to the U.S. He compares woefully to Barack Obama’s eight-year record before him, as seen below. If stopping illegal immigration is your yardstick, Obama’s first four years compared with Trump’s four years are a hands down win. And Obama kept it up in his second term.

Moving on, how does Trump’s immigration record stack up to Joe Biden’s? Not well. Once again, according to another Cato Institute paper, Trump released a greater percentage of immigrants crossing the border into the U.S. interior, and removed/deported a smaller percentage than has the Biden Administration, as seen in this Cato chart.

Yet, the main issue Republicans have latched onto for the coming battle for the White House is Joe Biden’s awful performance on immigration. Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts” once again are on full display.

However, the facts here don’t matter. The Biden Administration wants to do better on immigration and has asked for funding increases to make that happen, funding increases the Republican-led House refuses to approve, thereby allowing everyone to wallow in the status quo. Yesterday, Senate negotiators announced they were close to a bi-partisan proposal for border security, but Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, says it is working against any Senate proposal. Last night, Speaker Johnson criticized the plan prior to seeing it.

Immigration will be a fight right up until election day, about nine months from now.

What about the economy?

The economy may offer a stronger case for Republicans, because it appears highly perplexing. On the larger metrics, our economy is rebounding well. Inflation is now approaching the Fed’s optimum rate of 2%, and the Fed has indicated it may begin dropping interest rates at its March meeting. Wages, real wages, are up, and unemployment is down to 3.7%, which is just about full employment. Federal Reserve Governor Christopher Waller calls the current situation, “Almost as good as it gets.” The Fed’s latest estimate of GDP growth, released today, after factoring in inflation, is 2.4%, which is quite good.

Still, prices are up in many areas and are causing hurt to average Americans. Gas prices are down, but going into a grocery store presents people with instant sticker shock.

In my area of the Berkshire mountains, the nearest city is Pittsfield, Massachusetts, population 43,310. The newly-elected mayor and city council are facing a difficult situation.  The city budget, at $205 million, is up 9 percent from fiscal year 2023, following a 5% rise in that year. Water fees are up 12% and sewer bills by 25%. The average residential property tax rate has risen 25% over the last three years. People are feeling economic pain.

However, notwithstanding the pain, more voters now say they see signs of improvement in January compared to October, according to a January Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll of 1,000 registered voters, released on 9 January.

These voters are not wrong. Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist and columnist for the New York Times, says we need to be patient. Wages are growing faster than inflation and have been doing so since mid-2022. He points to this Federal Reserve chart to prove his point.

If the country continues on its current track, it will become more and more apparent that the economy really has turned around, because people will feel it. It won’t matter to Trump’s MAGA cult, but it will absolutely matter to average Americans like those living in Pittsfield. As James Carville so eloquently put it back in 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid.” That got Bill Clinton elected.

Who will the economy elect on the 5th of November?



Now, with Iowa out of the way, we can begin the real campaign.

Tuesday, January 16th, 2024

Last night, in an expected result in Iowa, Donald Trump swept to victory in the 2024 Republican caucuses for the right to represent the Party in this year’s presidential election. That’s one down and a whole lot to go.

In a sparse turnout (only 15% of voters slogged through the sub-zero temperatures), the former president, who is facing 91 charges of criminal conduct, won 98 of the 99 counties in the state and 51% of the 117,000 votes cast.

Networks called the result well before the polls closed, which did not sit well with the DeSantis or Haley camps. Actually, it didn’t sit well with the Trump camp either, because when it happened there was no one except a few staffers at his campaign celebration venue as the results splashed onto all three of the giant TVs behind the stage.

Long after the vote had been called, Tony Decoupil, reporting for CBS Evening News, was doing a stand-up at a high school gym turned into a voting precinct while voters were listening to campaign speeches by candidate surrogates prior to voting. Ouch.

Since 2000, only George W. Bush (in that year) and Donald Trump (in 2020, as an incumbent) have won the Iowa Caucuses, gone on to be the Republican nominee, and captured the presidency. In 2004, there were no Republican Iowa Caucuses. They deferred to Bush. In 2008, 2012, and 2016, the Iowa winners were Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and Ted Cruz. None of them became the nominee, let alone the President. Why? Because Iowa is different. According to the Pew Research Center, 70% of Iowa’s Republicans call themselves conservative. PRRI (the Public Religion Research Institute) reports white evangelical and mainline protestants make up 48% of the state’s population, as opposed to 31% nationally. So, Iowa is conservative and deeply religious.

Moreover, except for Iowa, every other state conducts its primary the old fashioned way — voters go to a polling place, enter a voting booth, and cast a secret ballot. Iowans, on the other hand, meet in groups, discuss the candidates, caucus among themselves, and vote by secret ballot. Last night, about 1,600 caucus groups met in designated precinct locations across the state.

In its entrance and exit polling, the Wall Street Journal today reported that 62% of last night’s Republican caucus voters identify as members of the “MAGA Movement,” and 63% believe to this day that Joe Biden was not elected legitimately to the presidency in 2020. When asked to opine on the criminal charges facing Donald Trump, 80% of the respondents agreed with this statement: “They’re political attempts to undermine Trump.”

Next up, a week from today, is New Hampshire, where Pew reports 62% of Republicans identify as conservative, a full 8% fewer than Iowa.

White evangelical protestants make up only 9% of New Hampshire’s population, with white mainline protestants comprising 17%.

New Hampshire is far more representative of Republican voters across the country. Since 2000, every winner of New Hampshire’s Republican primary has gone on to be the Party’s nominee in the general election.

Last night, Trump wannabe Vivek Ramaswamy, after garnering 7.7% of the Iowa vote, dropped out of the race. The biotech entrepreneur, who loaned his campaign $10.5 million (the majority of what he raised), immediately endorsed his hero Trump. That leaves two still standing — barely: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and South Carolina former governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

As they move to New Hampshire, Haley seems to have more momentum and appears to be leaving DeSantis eating dust behind her. Her problem is she’s also eating some dust, a lot of it. Right now, it looks inevitable that come November it’ll be Biden versus Trump, or, as that great American philosopher Yogi Berra used to say, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

But in election year politics, anything can happen. You might consider the 1948 presidential election and a certain New York governor named Tom Dewey, and you’ll know what I mean.

Next Tuesday night should be enlightening.

Florida being Florida — Again

Thursday, January 11th, 2024

Dictionaries, Ron? Really? Well, yes, really.

Admit it, now. When you were a kid, blooming into puberty, did you and your friends ever sit down with a Merriam-Webster unabridged dictionary to look up words adults told you you weren’t supposed to say? Well, I don’t know about you, but my friends and I did, after which we had quite the laugh. “That’s a word in the dictionary?”

Fast forward to the present, specifically, the present in Escambria County, Florida, population 324,878. It’s the 22nd most populous of Florida’s 67 counties.

Like all Florida’s counties, Escambria has an elected school Board of Education, which has the final say on what happens in the county’s 69 schools with their 37,804 students.

The Escambria School Board is now in the middle of figuring out how to deal with Florida’s new law, HB 1069, the “Let kids be kids” bill, signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis on 17 May 2023.

HB 1069 follows on the heels of SB148/ HB7, the “anti-woke” legislation much beloved by Governor DeSantis. This is the legislation called “positively dystopian” by Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker, as he blocked key provisions of it in his 139-page decision in November 2022.

HB 1069 covers a lot of ground. For example, a few points emphasized by the Governor in a press release, dated the day of the signing, are that “HB 1069 protects students from having to declare their pronouns in school. Additionally, this bill expands parental rights in education by prohibiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in Pre-K through 8th grade.”

The bill also prohibits anyone from knowingly admitting a minor to “an adult performance” (Read—Drag Queen shows), prohibits gender reassignment surgery or puberty blockers for minors, and requires all public restrooms “to designate separate facilities based on biological sex or to provide one-person unisex facilities.”

Many people have taken issue with all this anti-woke stuff, but far more important to me is that HB 1069 gives residents the right to demand the removal of any library book that “depicts or describes sexual conduct,” as defined under Florida law, whether or not the book is pornographic.

Two things have happened consequent to the passage of HB 1069. First, a number of Floridians have stepped up to demand removal of a number of books because of perceived sexual content. These book-banning demands have been led by Moms For Liberty, a right-wing organization that gathered steam in early 2022, but has been declining lately, especially since the Tampa Bay Times scooped that one of the organization’s co-founders, Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler, and her husband, Christian Ziegler, Florida’s GOP chairman, admitted to a threesome sexual tryst. It didn’t help their case when the third member of the swinging threesome filed a complaint alleging Christian Ziegler had raped her.

The second thing that followed the passage of HB 1069 was County school boards becoming fearful about violating any of it, especially the “sexual content” part. They began worrying about all the raunchy stuff that might be between the covers of the thousands of books in their school libraries. So, each County hatched its own plan for what to do about it. In Escambria County, the School Board ordered the removal of more than 2,800 books from the shelves so they could be “reviewed” by “qualified media specialists.”

As Judd Legum, at Popular Information, reported yesterday morning, these books included — get ready for it — dictionaries (you were wondering when I was going to get back to dictionaries, weren’t you?). Meriam-Webster now sits in storage waiting to be reviewed, along with eight different encyclopedias, two thesauruses, and five editions of The Guinness Book of World Records. Biographies of Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, Nicki Minaj, and Thurgood Marshall are also locked away.

So far, only 67 of the more than 2,800 have been reviewed. Many school libraries are closed, because there are no books for students to read or take out.

As Legum write yesterday:

Classic texts like Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, The Adventures and the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, and Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile are no longer available to Escambia County students. Twenty-three novels by Stephen King have been removed. The dragnet has also swept up books popular with the political right including Atlas Shrugged and two books by conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly.

And, in case you’re wondering, yes, the Bible was one of the books removed from Escambria County school libraries over concerns about accounts of sexism, sex, violence, genocide, slavery, rape and bestiality, all of which were grounds for removal. However, after ferocious blowback from the Christians of Escambria County, the school board ordered the book returned to the shelves.

Now, students have at least one place to get their shot of sex. They might check out the Song of Solomon 7. Perhaps these opening lines could get them started:

How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince’s daughter! the joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman.

Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies.

Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins.

But wait. There’s more!

The Florida 2023 statutes contain another little item of interest, especially for the more prurient minded. Consider this.

Chapter 847

847.011 Prohibition of certain acts in connection with obscene, lewd, etc., materials;

(2) Except as provided in paragraph (1)(c), a person who knowingly has in his or her possession, custody, or control any obscene book, magazine, periodical, pamphlet, newspaper, comic book, story paper, written or printed story or article, writing, paper, card, picture, drawing, photograph, motion picture film, film, any sticker, decal, emblem or other device attached to a motor vehicle containing obscene descriptions, photographs, or depictions, any figure, image, phonograph record, or wire or tape or other recording, or any written, printed, or recorded matter of any such character which may or may not require mechanical or other means to be transmuted into auditory, visual, or sensory representations of such character, or any article or instrument for obscene use, or purporting to be for obscene use or purpose, without intent to sell, lend, give away, distribute, transmit, show, transmute, or advertise the same, commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

According to s.775.082, a “misdemeanor of the second degree” will get you 60 days in jail. 

What this means, of course, is that if you happen to subscribe to, oh, let’s see… Playboy Magazine, or, God forbid, Hustler, and peruse either in the alleged sanctity of your home, and if the cleaning lady happens to see either and turns you in, you can end up in the hoosgow — in Florida. Perhaps you should consider the Song of Solomon, instead.

I think Donald Trump was on to something when he labeled Florida’s Governor, “Ron DeSanctimonious.”

Is Liz Cheney a modern day Laocoön?

Tuesday, January 9th, 2024

The story of the Trojan Horse appears in Book Four of Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. Written around 800-850 BCE, it was altered, adjusted and amended over the succeeding centuries, but the kernel of the story never changed.¹

As we all know, in the tenth year of the Trojan War, in order to trick the Trojans, the Greek Epeius builds a gigantic wooden horse, a “thing of guile,” in the belly of which the bravest Greek warriors conceal themselves under the command of Odysseus. The rest of the Greeks pretend to quit the fight. They burn their camp, board their ships, and pretend to sail away for home, only to hide in waiting behind a nearby island. The Trojans, streaming out of Troy, find the horse, but don’t know what to do with it. A Greek spy named Simon, a relative of Odysseus, convinces the Trojans that the horse is a gift to their brave warriors and urges them to bring it through the Gates and into the city of King Priam.

It is at this point that Laocoön, a Priest of Apollo, appears at the Gates with his two sons to tell the Trojans it’s all a trick. He comes rushing down from the citadel crying in alarm, “Are you mad? Do you think the foe has gone? Do not believe this horse, whatever it may be. I fear the Greeks, even when bearing gifts.”

Laocoön throws his spear with all his strength at the flank of the horse. It lands hard and pierces the shell, causing the Greek warriors inside to begin to whimper and the townspeople to begin to suspect a Greek trick.

But here, the gods intervene. Two serpents rise out of the sea, snake over land, wrap themselves around Laocoön and his sons, and choke the life out of them.

The Trojans take the death of Laocoön as a sign, drag the horse into the city, and that night, Troy falls.

According to the Roman writer Pliny, the sculptors Hagesandros, Athenodoros and Ploydoros, created this famous sculpture of Laocoön and his sons being attacked by the serpents in the later first century BCE. It has been housed in the Vatican Museum since its discovery in Rome in 1506.

The story of Laocoön and the Trojan Horse makes me think of Liz Cheney, a Republican leader from Wyoming, first elected to Congress in 2017 and exiled by the Party in 2021 for speaking truth in a House full of lies. Daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, she has always been steadfastly conservative. Following the insurrection of January 6th, she recognized  Donald Trump for the grifting, cunning, cancer-on-the- country he is, fully responsible for the death and mayhem that day brought. And she recognized the insurrection for what it was — a treasonous assault on the Republic.

As Chair of the House Republican Conference, Cheney was the third highest officer in Republican House leadership, a position now held by New York’s Elise Stefanik. More about her in a moment.

After agreeing to serve as Vice Chair on the House Committee investigating the events of January 6th, Cheney was stripped of her House leadership role by the Kevin McCarthy-led Republican House minority. This is the same Kevin McCarthy who, two days after the attempted insurrection said rioters “overtook” the Capitol. He said they broke a window in his office, could have kidnapped or even hung members of Congress, and called the mob attacking the Capitol “un-American.”

And whom did the former Speaker blame for the mayhem? Why, Donald Trump, of course. Here’s what he said on the House floor in the days following the attack.

This rational, reasonable, and, frankly, patriotic position is one McCarthy sped away from as soon as he realized the MAGA base and nearly all House Republicans disagreed with him. On 28 January, 17 days later, he was at Mar-a-Lago begging Trump’s forgiveness.

But Liz Cheney never wavered. Democrats may not agree with her conservative views — she voted with the Trump-led Republican Party positions 93% of the time² — but how can anyone question her patriotism? She sacrificed her entire political career and future for it. In her new book, Oath and Honor, published by Little, Brown & Company, she writes, “So strong is the lure of power that men and women who had once seemed reasonable and responsible were suddenly willing to violate their oath to the Constitution out of political expediency and loyalty to Donald Trump.”

Cheney’s Republican Party is gone, and so is she. How much has it changed? Well, consider her “replacement,” Elise Stefanik, now chair of the House Republican Conference since Cheney’s ouster in 2021.

On Sunday, appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, she was asked about her views on the many hundreds of people convicted and imprisoned  for crimes relating to their actions on January 6th, (convicted by juries of their peers, by the way). In reply, she said, “I have concerns about the treatment of January 6 hostages.”

“Hostages” is the exact word Trump has been using lately to describe the people who stormed the Capitol looking to “hang Mike Pence” and find Nancy Pelosi — “Where’s Nancy,” they called as they stormed her office while her staff hid silently behind locked doors.

And “hostages” is a word we’ve heard and read many times in media coverage since the Hamas deadly attack on Israel on 7 October, an attack that still leaves more than a hundred people languishing, as “hostages” somewhere in Gaza, an attack that tears at the soul of Israeli families who don’t know if their loved ones are alive or dead. I find it disgusting that Trump and Stefanik (probably to be followed by other Trump sycophants in the days ahead) conflate the two diametrically different groups.

Six days from now, Iowans will begin the process of picking someone to challenge Joe Biden. Every pollster on God’s green earth predicts that someone will be Donald Trump. Liz Cheney and other patriotic Republicans, the ones who still yearn for the Party of Abraham Lincoln, will do all they can to stop that from happening. Will they succeed? I have no idea, but the odds are heavily not in their favor.

But this much I do know. Liz Cheney and Laocoön have much in common. Serpents destroyed them both.


¹ The full story of the Trojan Horse that accomplished the fall of Troy took shape in Virgil’s Aeneid, completed in 20 BCE.

² FiveThirtyEight, a politics-focused website developed by statistician Nate Silver, said Cheney voted with Trump 92.9% of the time he was in office from 2017 to 2021. Her votes clashed with Trump’s positions 13 times, according to the website’s tally. These were mostly in the area of defense funding and Trump’s reluctance to impose sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea.



Remembering a modern day of infamy

Friday, January 5th, 2024

Tomorrow is the third anniversary of one of the most horrific days in American history — the storming of the U.S. Capitol during an insurrection instigated by Donald Trump in a treasonous attempt to remain in power despite losing the 2020 presidential election by about seven million votes.

Like the September 11th attack in 2001, most of us were glued to our television screens as a riotous mob desecrated the building whose design President George Washington had commended for its “grandeur, simplicity and convenience,” on April 5, 1793. Five months later, Washington laid the cornerstone, with Masonic ceremonies. Since then, the  building has been built, burnt, rebuilt, extended and restored.

The Capitol’s construction was laborious and time-consuming: the sandstone used for it had to be ferried on boats from quarries in Virginia; funding for its construction was inadequate; and workers had to be persuaded to leave their homes to come to the relative wilderness of Capitol Hill with its mosquito-infested, malaria-producing, summertime tropical heat.

Over the next seven years, the entire work effort was concentrated on the building’s north wing, so at least it could be ready for government occupancy as scheduled in 1800. At the end of that year, Congress, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, and the courts of the District of Columbia took up residence in the brand new U.S. Capitol. The circle was closed in November of that year when John and Abigail Adams began living in the not-yet-completed White House.

In 1851, Congress, realizing it was outgrowing the Capitol, decided to enlarge it. Under the direction of Philadelphia architect Thomas U. Walter, workers began a 14-year project to renovate the existing building and begin construction of the northeast corner of the House wing. The original sandstone had weathered badly, so Walter replaced it with marble, quarried from Lee, Massachusetts, 12 miles west of where I sit writing this panegyric to the center of our government.

Momentous events have happened beneath the Capitol’s dome, good laws, bad laws, triumphs, and  tragedies. Abraham Lincoln’s body lay in state in the center of the Capitol’s Rotunda after his assassination in April, 1865. He was the first to be so honored. Since then, 12 Commanders in Chief have done the same.

And three years ago, a rabid mob of insurrectionists broke its way into this hallowed symbol of America to defile and ravage it. They went looking for Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. If they had found either, God knows what would have happened. Republican Senators and Representatives, many of whom seem to have forgotten the profanity of the event, ran for their lives, hid under chairs, and blockaded doors.

Nine people eventually died because of what happened that day. Since then, the federal justice system has completed more than 725 prosecutions and in excess of 450 people have gone to prison for what they did, nearly 200 of them saying they did it because Donald Trump told them to.

And yet, although all of us watched the horror unfold while the mob violently assaulted heroic Capitol Police and built an actual gallows just outside the building, Donald Trump has continued spewing the lies that led to the terror in the first place. And the vulnerable among us have listened and believed.

A new  Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, released this week, should concern all of us. In the poll, twenty-five percent of Americans say it is “probably” or “definitely” true that the FBI instigated the January 6th attack on the Capitol. This, of course, is false. It is a lie promoted by Trump, his sycophants, and fawning right-wing media. The Department of Justice, law enforcement around the nation, and Trump’s own advisors, like former Attorney General William Barr, have repeatedly debunked and proven the claim wrong.

And yet, they believe.

It should be obvious to everyone that Donald Trump’s MAGA supporters will never change their minds about any of this. Any facts, any empirical evidence will be taken as false. Facts are only facts if they are the “facts” that conform to their ideology. This is terrifying.

Perhaps it is fitting to end this Letter from the Berkshires with the words John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail in 1800 at the end of his first day residing in the yet-to-be-completed new White House. Franklin Roosevelt had the words engraved onto the mantel of the White House State Dining Room in 1945. Adams wrote, “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” 

Adams would have wept at the thought of a Donald Trump ever ruling “under this roof.”


Prepare for a bumpy ride. 2024 is here.

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2024

The 118th Congress won’t return from recess for its second year until a week from today, 9 January. What can we expect?

Well, if it’s anything like its first year, not much. In 2023, our divided and very partisan government passed 27 pieces of legislation (the previous Congress passed 362), three of them major, and they were crisis-driven: two short-term extensions of funding to keep the government open and one to raise the U.S. government’s debt ceiling — essentially so the government could pay the bills Congress had already directed it to spend. Other than that, the fruits of our hard-working representatives were such things as naming some Veterans Affairs clinics and commissioning a commemorative coin for the 250th anniversary of the Marine Corps.

The major legislation passed during the Biden Administration, for example, 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act and 2021’s bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, were passed well before the current bunch arrived and busied themselves with taking 15 votes and five days to elect Kevin McCarthy Speaker, passing the aforementioned debt ceiling bill, kicking out Kevin McCarthy for passing the aforementioned debt ceiling bill, electing Louisiana’s Mike Johnson Speaker, repeatedly telling Americans how bad things are (they’re not), and stiffing Ukraine while making cat-on-the-hot-tin-roof demands about our southern border.

And who is this Johnson fellow, anyway? Why, he’s the very rookie Speaker of the House whom the National Association of Christian Lawmakers’ (NACL) asked to give the keynote address at its annual meeting and awards gala on 5 December, which was attended by the organization’s members and supporters across 33 states.

In his speech, Johnson compared himself first to Moses and then to Moses’s brother Aaron. Aaron, you may recall, is the man God told to speak to Pharaoh for Moses, because Moses stuttered. Johnson told the crowd, “This is a Red Sea moment. And so I work to get Steve Scalise elected Speaker, that didn’t happen. And then Jim Jordan, who is like another big brother of mine. No, that didn’t happen. Ultimately, 13 people ran for the vote. And the Lord had told me to wait, wait, wait. So I waited and waited and then, at the end, when it came to the end, the Lord said, ‘Now, step forward.'”

All that was missing was a burning bush.

Next week, when Congress returns, it will immediately face, once again, the debt ceiling issue it put off when McCarthy still ran the show. It will have ten days to act on the first of two spending bills that must be passed to avoid shutting down the government and defaulting on our debt. If the past is prologue, we’re in for a rough ride.

It will also face the urgent need of funding for Ukraine. Failure to do so could be globally catastrophic. Perhaps our new Moses, or Aaron, or whoever he is, will see that as a real Red Sea moment.

A Republic…if you can keep it

At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Secretary of War James McHenry recorded in the journal he kept during the Convention that politically and socially prominent Philadelphian Elizabeth Willing Powel had asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well Doctor what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”  McHenry wrote that Franklin replied, “A republic . . . if you can keep it.”

A Republic is representative government without a monarchy. In a republic, a written constitution limits the majority and provides safeguards for individuals and minorities, which is what America’s Founders wanted.

As we enter 2024, the 236th anniversary of our Republic, representative rule is threatened. It’s been threatened before, most notably during the Civil War. At that time our “better angels” triumphed.

Today, we face a different kind of threat: authoritarian nationalism. Our 118th Congress is smack dab in the middle of this, and much of its membership has decided the preferred action is to throw more gasoline on the fire. Many seem to yearn for authoritarian nationalism, another name for Fascism.

We have faced Fascism before, of course. In the 1930s, the German American Bund dragged itself out of the muck to genuflect to Adolph Hitler. In 1939, twenty-thousand of them gathered in Madison Square Garden to hear Bundesfuhrer Fritz Kuhn wax eloquent about the benefits of Nazism. At this biggest Nazi rally ever held on American soil, he told them, “The Bund is open to you, provided you are sincere, of good character, of White Gentile Stock, and an American Citizen imbued with patriotic zeal. Therefore: Join!” The Garden crowd consistently booed President Franklin D. Roosevelt and chanted, “Heil Hitler.”

Fritz Kuhn proved to be a non-entity. The German American Bund imploded on itself, and after Pearl Harbor was heard no more. But other fascist groups consistently popped up over time. All of them lacked one important thing — a galvanizing, charismatic leader.

Enter Donald Trump.

“A Republic…if you can keep it.”