Conservatives Are Asking You To Disbelieve Your Own Eyes

“The numbskulls who stormed the Capitol, some of whom are facing modest prison sentences for their role in the clownish putsch, didn’t show up by happenstance. “All of them—all of them were telling us, ‘Trump sent us,'” according to recent testimony at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing by a U.S. Capitol police officer who fought back the insurgents.

Not every participant in the day’s sordid events engaged in violence or vandalism, of course, and whatever punishments the courts mete out should fit the particular crime. But this was no tourist visit gone awry. Not every person who joined in left-wing attacks in Portland committed crimes, either, but I don’t suppose Trump supporters would cut those folks slack.

The Trumpsters’ silliest argument is that Antifa, the fascistic “anti-fascists” who turned portions of U.S. cities into rubble, were behind the Capitol event. Conservatives touted that narrative immediately after January 6. Apparently, that loose-knit movement runs so meticulously that it recruited thousands of volunteers who acted exactly like Trump supporters.

Why believe your own eyes? Sure, a few lefties might have infiltrated the pro-Trump mob. That doesn’t make it an Antifa riot. The Portland scene wasn’t a right-wing event because a few right-wing infiltrators may have joined in the action. I’ve attended many protests and guarantee that they attract all sorts of nut jobs. It’s not hard for anyone to gain admission.

Despite GOP efforts to rewrite history, my eyes confirm the conclusion drawn by conservative writer David Frum: “The January 6 attack was incited by the head of the American government, the man who had sworn to protect and defend that government. It was the thing most feared by the authors of the U.S. Constitution: a betrayal of the highest office by the holder of that office.”

Here’s the problem. It portends dangers for the future if so many conservatives refuse to cop to the obvious truths of that day. If we can’t all agree on basic, obvious facts about an event that unfolded before our eyes, then we’re headed toward a well-trod path of internecine struggles where we just pick a side and fight to the bitter end.”

“My problem is with the political right’s movement toward, well, authoritarianism, exemplified by its refusal to embrace facts that don’t conform to their alternative reality—and their unwavering support for a man rather than a set of ideas. It’s ironic that the man they’ve chosen to follow seems to embody moral characteristics they’ve long railed against, but go figure.

Even GOP leaders who know better and occasionally speak out against Trump’s disinformation—House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.)—always end up toeing the party line. They dare not defy Trump or his base voters.”

Biden races to hire senior staff at drained agencies

“The Biden administration is racing to rebuild senior agency roles depleted by the previous president, hiring at the fastest rate in decades, a POLITICO analysis found.

In the first three months of 2021, the Biden administration hired more than twice as many senior government executives than Donald Trump did in the same timeframe, a staffing spree aimed at rebuilding agencies rocked by turmoil during Trump’s war on the so-called “deep state.””

COVID-19 Was Always Going To Be A Struggle For The CDC. But Trump Sure Didn’t Help.

“And, to be sure, the Trump administration did things that not only were well outside established norms but also undermined the CDC and the entire field of public health. For example, on April 3, 2020, while announcing the agency’s recommendation to wear masks, the president repeatedly emphasized that no one had to wear masks and explicitly said that he personally wasn’t going to wear one.

The administration also pushed for edits to the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, long the primary means for communicating scientific data to other researchers and the broader medical community. These edits were political, designed to downplay the growing number of COVID-19 deaths and support decisions the administration had already made about issues like school reopenings. Emails revealed that members of the Trump administration were accusing the CDC of trying to make the administration look bad by releasing data disclosing the dire nature of the pandemic.

Those kinds of actions by a presidential administration were unprecedented. And they contributed to a loss of morale and a sense within the CDC that everyone just needed to keep their heads down and not make waves. But the political issues weren’t just about what the administration did — they were also about what it didn’t do.

By early March 2020, the CDC had all but disappeared from press briefings on the COVID-19 pandemic. No one in the Trump administration ever explicitly said that the agency wouldn’t be speaking to the public. But, quietly, that’s exactly what happened. By May 2020, the Union of Concerned Scientists could graph the disappearance of the CDC. And this was a completely different situation from what had happened in past pandemics, when presidents let the CDC take the lead.

At the same time, the Trump administration did not seem to facilitate communication between the CDC and outside experts — something the scientists I spoke to said had been the norm for past administrations faced with a public health crisis.”

A Trump judge ordered Biden to reinstate one of Trump’s cruelest immigration policies

“Almost immediately after President Joe Biden took office, his administration started to roll back his predecessor Donald Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, which required many asylum seekers who arrive at the United States’ southern border to stay in Mexico while they await a hearing on their asylum claim.”

” however, a Trump-appointed judge to a federal court in Texas effectively ordered the federal government to reinstate this Trump-era policy — which is officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) — permanently. Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s opinion in Texas v. Biden makes the implausible argument that a federal immigration law enacted by Congress in 1996 makes the Remain in Mexico policy mandatory, unless the federal government detains every asylum seeker who is not sent back to Mexico.

Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy was not implemented until early 2019. So the upshot of Kacsmaryk’s opinion is that the federal government was in violation of this 1996 statute for half of the Clinton administration, the entire George W. Bush administration, the entire Obama administration, and most of the Trump administration.

In reality, that 1996 federal law is part of a web of statutes and constitutional doctrines giving immigration officials multiple options when an asylum seeker arrives at the US-Mexico border. One provision of federal immigration law provides that most of these asylum seekers “shall be detained” while they await a hearing.”

“Kacsmaryk’s decision, moreover, is expected to be appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative courts in the country — and then potentially to a Supreme Court where Republican appointees have a 6-3 supermajority.

So, while Kacsmaryk’s opinion is wrong on the law, there is no guarantee that it will be reversed by a higher court.”

“Kacsmaryk is one of many Trump appointees to the federal bench who appears to have been chosen largely due to his unusually conservative political views. Prior to becoming a judge, Kacsmaryk was deputy general counsel for the First Liberty Institute, a firm that largely litigates on behalf of causes of the religious right. In his past writings, he labeled being transgender a “mental disorder” and claimed that gay people are “disordered.”
As recently as 2015, Kacsmaryk published an article denouncing a “Sexual Revolution” that “sought public affirmation of the lie that the human person is an autonomous blob of Silly Putty unconstrained by nature or biology, and that marriage, sexuality, gender identity, and even the unborn child must yield to the erotic desires of liberated adults.”

He’s also the third conservative federal judge in Texas to strike down an immigration policy supported by the Biden administration.”

“The Supreme Court’s decisions are supposed to give federal officials a great deal of discretion to shape immigration policy — and to afford mercy to individual immigrants. As the Court explained in Arizona v. United States (2012) “a principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials.”

But judges like Kacsmaryk, Tipton, and Hanen appear eager to strip the Biden administration of that discretion. With a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court overseeing the judiciary, these judges may very well get away with it.”

Don’t buy Bill Barr’s attempt to rehab his image

“William Barr began his tenure as Donald Trump’s attorney general with extremely evasive testimony during his confirmation hearing. He may be best remembered for giving a highly misleading summary of the Mueller report, and he spent much of 2020 trying to substantiate Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election being rigged against him.

But now, more than six months following his departure from government, Barr is trying to do some image damage control.

In interviews with journalist Jonathan Karl for a book excerpted in the Atlantic, Barr details how his final break with Trump finally came after he went public with claims undermining Trump’s last-ditch effort to overturn his election loss to Joe Biden.

“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told an Associated Press reporter on December 1.

Barr told Karl that comment prompted an angry Trump to summon him into a meeting in which the president unloaded on him, saying things like “how the fuck could you do this to me?” and “you must hate Trump.”

Barr indicates that not only was he not intimidated by Trump’s outburst, but he fired back, comparing the Rudy Giuliani-led effort to overturn the results to a circus.

“You know, you only have five weeks, Mr. President, after an election to make legal challenges,” Barr told Trump, according to Karl. “This would have taken a crackerjack team with a really coherent and disciplined strategy. Instead, you have a clown show. No self-respecting lawyer is going anywhere near it. It’s just a joke. That’s why you are where you are.”

Barr ended up leaving the Department of Justice days before the January 6 insurrection. The new account of the weeks leading up to his resignation has led some to describe him as a “patriot.” But that’s going way too far even when Barr’s account is read in the most charitable light.”

“Barr spent the run-up to the 2020 election serving more as an arm of Trump’s campaign than he did as an independent arbiter of the rule of law. Barr was happy to amplify Trump’s lies about mail voting and voting fraud up to the point where it was clear to all but the most fanatical Trump supporters that he had lost the election.

Consider, for instance, the disastrous interview Barr did with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on September 2, when he couldn’t produce any evidence of mail voting fraud and resorted to saying its general existence is a “matter of logic.” Or his DOJ’s decision a few weeks later to issue a factually incorrect press release announcing an investigation into alleged mail voting irregularities in Pennsylvania — an announcement that violated DOJ’s policies. Or Barr’s move three days after the election to authorize investigations into “substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities,” even though there was no evidence of such irregularities.

In his interviews with Karl, Barr portrayed his decision to authorize fraud investigations despite a lack of evidence as a strategy he used to make sure he would be able to tell Trump that his conspiracy theories were baseless when the time came.”

“it’s not normal for the DOJ, which is ostensibly supposed to operate with a modicum of independence from the executive branch, to pursue investigations based on “bullshit” conspiracy theories favored by the president. But Barr spent years turning the DOJ into something akin to the president’s personal law firm.”

“It’s not even clear to what extent — if at all — Barr’s break with Trump was motivated by a desire to protect American democracy. Instead, Karl’s piece makes it seem as though Barr and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were primarily interested in helping Republicans win special elections in January for two US Senate seats.

Karl writes that McConnell had been urging Barr throughout November to speak out against Trump’s election fraud conspiracy theories, because those theories were complicating the argument Republicans wanted to make about how maintaining the Senate majority was important as a check on Biden’s power. But McConnell was reluctant to speak out himself for fear that if he did so, an embittered Trump would sabotage the Republican candidates”

“while it’s good that Barr ultimately stood up to Trump, it’s worth keeping in mind how abnormal it is for the US attorney general to be scheming with the Senate leader on ways to ensure their political party retains power.”

How Trump Has Redefined Conservatism

“In 2004, Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Toomey was the face of the conservative insurgency. An anti-taxes, anti-spending hawk, Toomey was one of many conservative upstarts who primaried a more moderate fellow Republican; in Toomey’s case, longtime Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter.

The Republican president at the time, George W. Bush, sided with Specter, who ultimately won by less than 2 percentage points. After Specter switched parties in 2009 when polls showed Toomey defeating him in a primary, Toomey won the seat in 2010.1

But despite the conservative bona fides that helped Toomey get elected, he experienced backlash from the GOP after becoming one of seven Senate Republicans to join Democrats in voting to convict former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial.

Toomey’s transition from conservative insurgent to a pariah among certain factions of his party is not unique, though.

Sen. Mitt Romney called himself “severely conservative” during his 2012 presidential bid and planned to repeal the Affordable Care Act. But when he became a senator years later, he often bucked Trump’s agenda and twice voted to convict Trump in his impeachment trials, facing a drumbeat of criticism from Republicans in response.

To be clear, Toomey, Romney and now-ousted GOP party leader Rep. Liz Cheney have not abandoned the policy views that a decade ago flagged them as conservatives. But in the interim, Trump and his presidency may have shifted the ideological ground beneath their feet.”

“looking just at our 2021 survey data, a politician’s support for Trump has come to define who party activists think of as conservative. Romney, Toomey and Sasse were all rated as fairly liberal Republicans despite their conservative voting records in Congress”

“Staunchly pro-Trump politicians (or Trump-adjacent politicians), like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, Sens. Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley and Lindsey Graham, and Trump were all clustered together on the more conservative end of the spectrum, even though there is quite a bit of difference, ideologically speaking, between these men.”

“despite his ideological heterodoxies, Trump was rated as more conservative than all but 10 of the 114 politicians we asked about. Ideology, in other words, isn’t just about policies.5”

“I said you’re in f—ing charge!”: Trump and Gen. Milley’s Situation Room shouting match

“Seated in the Situation Room with [Attorney General Bill] Barr, Milley, and [Secretary of Defense Mark] Esper, Trump exaggerated claims about the violence and alarmed officials … by announcing he’d just put Milley “in charge.”

Privately, Milley confronted Trump about his role. He was an adviser, and not in command. But Trump had had enough.

“I said you’re in f—ing charge!” Trump shouted at him.

“Well, I’m not in charge!” Milley yelled back.

“You can’t f—ing talk to me like that!” Trump said. …

“Goddamnit,” Milley said to others. “There’s a room full of lawyers here. Will someone inform him of my legal responsibilities?”

“He’s right, Mr. President,” Barr said. “The general is right.”

Asked for a response, Trump told Jonathan Swan through an aide: “This is totally fake news, it never ever happened. I’m not a fan of Gen. Milley, but I never had an argument with him and the whole thing is false. He never talked back to me. Michael Bender never asked me about it and it’s totally fake news.”

Trump later added: “If Gen. Milley had yelled at me, I would have fired him.”

Bender then told Swan: “This exchange was confirmed by multiple senior administration officials during the course of hundreds of hours of interviews with dozens of top Trump World aides for this book.””

Barr describes his break with Trump and ‘bulls***’ claims of election fraud

” Former Attorney General William Barr bluntly dismissed some of former President Donald Trump’s election fraud allegations as “bulls***””

““My attitude was: It was put-up or shut-up time,” Barr recalled at one point. “If there was evidence of fraud, I had no motive to suppress it. But my suspicion all the way along was that there was nothing there. It was all bulls***.”
The comment was part of multiple interviews Barr did this spring with ABC News’ Jonathan Karl, who wrote the Atlantic article describing Barr’s break with Trump in the aftermath of the 2020 election.”

“In the Atlantic, Barr said then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had been encouraging him to speak out about the election. “Bill, I look around, and you are the only person who can do it,” McConnell reportedly told Barr.

Trump was apparently livid with Barr for his comments to the AP.

“How the f*** could you do this to me? Why did you say it?” Trump told Barr in a White House meeting, according to the Atlantic.

“Because it’s true,” Barr responded.

“You must hate Trump. You must hate Trump,” Trump continued.

In the tense White House meeting, Trump reportedly confronted Barr with a litany of complaints, ranging from falsehoods about the election results to how the Justice Department conducted itself during the campaign.

About two weeks later, Trump tweeted out Barr’s resignation letter, of which a substantial portion was dedicated to praising the president.

“Just had a very nice meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr at the White House. Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job!” Trump tweeted. “As per letter, Bill will be leaving just before Christmas to spend the holidays with his family.””

Call it authoritarianism

“Blocking an inquiry into the January 6 attack on the Capitol, embracing Trump’s “Big Lie” that the election was stolen, making it easier for partisans to tamper with the process of counting votes: These are not the actions of a party committed to the basic idea of open, representative government.

It’s common to call this GOP behavior “anti-democratic,” but the description can only go so far. It tells us what they’re moving America away from, but not where they want to take it. The term “minority rule” is closer, but euphemistic; it puts the Republican actions in the same category as a Supreme Court ruling, countermajoritarian moves inside a democratic framework rather than something fundamentally opposed to it.

It’s worth being clear about this: The GOP has become an authoritarian party pushing an authoritarian policy agenda.”

“When people think of authoritarian governments, they typically think of police states and 20th-century totalitarianism. But “authoritarianism” is actually a broad term, encompassing very different governments united mostly by the fact that they do not transfer power through free and fair elections.”

“competitive authoritarian systems survive in part by convincing citizens that they are living in a democracy. That’s how they maintain their legitimacy and prevent popular uprisings. As such, they do not conduct the kind of obvious sham elections held in places like Bashar al-Assad’s Syria (he won the 2021 contest with 95 percent of the “vote”).

In competitive authoritarianism, the opposition does have some ability to win a bit of power through, well, competition — even if the scope of their possible victories are limited.

It’s a tricky balance for the regime to pull off: rigging elections enough to maintain power indefinitely while still permitting enough democracy that citizens don’t rise up in outrage. Many competitive authoritarian regimes have collapsed under the stress, either transitioning to democracy (like Taiwan) or forcefully repressing the opposition and becoming a more traditional autocracy (like Belarus).”

“Happily, the United States still passes the most basic test of whether a system is democratic: whether the public can vote out its leaders. But it is hard to deny that the Republican Party has begun chipping away at that baseline principle, using the flaws in our political system to entrench their power.”