Friday Reads: Many Americas, Two Realities

Picasso,  Jacqueline with flowers, 1954

Good Day Sky Dancers!

Have you seen a list of headlines in the news lately and realized there are not two Americas, there are really lots of Americas but there do seem to be two sets of realities?

You can read about the struggling economy and lackluster jobs reports, or how the Biden Administration pushed through a budget bill including a Covid-19 rescue plan with the deciding vote caste by Kamala Harris, and just anything that seems regular goings on in a developed nation.  That’s a total relief because if your an Indigenous American struggling to survive on a Reservation, or a Farmer in a hard hit middle of the country state, or any number of flavors of people struggling in big cities you can certainly breathe a sigh of relief to see things working in your direction.

You’re also seeing some clean up in aisle Congress and hoping some of this remaining Trump detritus goes away or at least has limited impact on those of us living in the reality of science and the warts of our democracy.  This is certainly good news: House votes to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from committee assignments.

1914 Man Balcony by Albert Gleizes

Or, you can continue down the rabbit hole and read what Trumpism has left us.  It’s not going away. It’s festering and leaving us a group of people with a severe disconnect from the rest of us.

Here’s an interview I read this morning in Politico with an ex Trump National Security person who is also an evangelical Christian on what she sees as the growing radicalization of White Nationalist Evangelical Extremists.  It’s a jolt to read this as you realize that the Q cult is spreading like wildfire in many churches. “It’s Time to Talk About Violent Christian Extremism. There’s a “strong authoritarian streak” that runs through parts of American evangelicalism, warns Elizabeth Neumann. What should be done about it? “

In March, even before the shutdowns, I had my staff look at the research we use for developing behavioral indicators of individuals who might mobilize to violence. If we go down this path of having to all stay home, does that increase stress factors? Does it increase risk factors known to be common in people who carry out attacks? The answer was yes.

You started hearing the anti-government conspiracies — which was totally predictable. Anybody who has spent any time in Republican or libertarian politics knows you’re going to have people unhappy about the government. That’s fine; you can predict that. The question then is that if you know that’s going to be a challenge, what can the government do to help individuals understand why it is issuing stay-at-home orders, why it’s necessary, why it’s legal and constitutional? If the government had done a better job at that, we would have seen slightly less anger, slightly less of that victim-persecution complex.

With the pandemic, you had what was perceived to be government overreach; you had social isolation, which is a known risk factor [for extremism]; you had some people with a lot more time on their hands because they were not commuting, not taking kids to ballgames and not going to happy hour after work; you had economic stress — another known risk factor — as people lost jobs or moved to part-time status; you had people who lost loved ones. There was this great sense that people had lost control; our lives as we knew them had been upended.

People who had a strong, healthy sense of self or community were able to mitigate their isolation. But for individuals already on the cusp, this made them vulnerable. We use that word, “vulnerable,” to describe people who are not necessarily radicalized yet, but have factors in their lives that make it easier for them to move on a pathway towards extreme radicalized thought — and then, for a smaller subset, mobilizes them to violence.

That’s what we saw in 2020. We saw any number of people spending more time online looking for answers. You had increases in militia movements. The Moonshot CVE Group, which studies radicalization, said that in states with stay-at-home orders that lasted 10 days or longer, [online] searches for white-supremacist content increased by 21 percent. In states where there either weren’t stay-at-home orders or they lasted nine days or fewer, that increase was only 1 percent. We weren’t sure how it was going to happen, but we predicted that we would see violence in some form or fashion. The militia that attempted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — that was horrible, but not really shocking. The violence at protests? Not surprising. And the fact that you had white-supremacist groups using the protests to commit accelerationist violence was also not surprising — even though the president thought it was Antifa. We knew we were going to see more radicalization and violence.

That’s a fairly scary number of people believing something totally off-the-wall and easily disprovable.   It seriously is improvisational reality building as labelled in this NPR interview with Travis View.

The evolving movement has embraced new conspiracies, including that Trump will be sworn into office for a second presidential term on March 4.

View has posted screenshots showing exchanges between QAnon supporters as they discuss their delusional beliefs.

“They come to their conclusion first,” View says. “They decide what makes them feel best and then they construct conspiracy theories that help them convince themselves why that’s true.”

“It’s really kind of like an improvisational reality building,” he continues. “They don’t look to the outside world to try and figure out what is true and what is not, and as a consequence, sometimes have to face harsh truths such as the electoral victory of Joe Biden.

Last year, QAnon spread into the mainstream. As president, Trump repeatedly retweeted accounts tied to QAnon. Newly elected Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have spoken openly in support of QAnon.

John D. Graham, “Head of a Woman,” 1926.

Meanwhile, Trump and his Death Cult are planning to punish any Republicans who dared to question the reality he’s built for himself.  Part of it’s playing out in Congress like this article describing the plans for Nebraska’s Senator: “Sen. Ben Sasse slams Nebraska GOP committee’s plans to censure him for criticizing Trump “.  This week, they failed to remove Liz Cheney from leadership in the House.  Her constituents are going to have the last say though.  Here’s a WAPO  headline “Rep. Liz Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump prompts a voter rebellion in her home state”.

A star of the Republican Party widely seen as a potential future House speaker, Cheney has suddenly emerged as a vivid example of something completely different — a traditional Republican who may no longer have a home in a party dominated by Trump and the far right.

No matter that she voted with Trump more than 90 percent of the time, or that she occupies the lone Wyoming congressional seat that her father, the former vice president, held for 10 years. Few voters care that as the third-ranking Republican in the House she is well positioned to bring home federal spending.

In this city in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, her reputation has boiled down to a simple question: whether she is for Trump or against Trump. And, as far as many people here are concerned, with her Jan. 13 impeachment vote, Cheney staked her claim.

What is even more frightening is this headline from The Business Insider: “Trump is plotting a campaign revenge tour targeting GOP defectors after Senate impeachment trial.” 

Donald Trump is plotting a comeback revenge tour targeting GOP defectors after his Senate impeachment trial. Trump is talking with aides about a road trip to campaign against Republicans who supported his removal.

We may only have to hear about these things but I truly fear that the targets will need lifelong secret service protection should the events happen.

This is from Raw Story. 

The former president is planning a nationwide speaking tour intended to target the 10 Republicans who backed his impeachment and any GOP senators who speak out against him at next week’s trial, reported Insider.

“I’m sure he wants to get out a roulette wheel with all their faces on it,” said one Republican who speaks to Trump.

However, the former president is waiting until the trial ends and seems to understand Americans needed a break from his antics.

“Even he recognizes that we have Trump fatigue,” said the Republican source. “Even he knows that you can get overexposed, and he wore the electorate out, and that was part of the problem. He clearly wore the country out with his behavior between the election and the inauguration.”

John D. Graham, “Head of a Woman,” 1944

Is that the understatement of the year or what?

This article from Salon shows that crazy comes in at all income levels.  “How one billionaire family bankrolled election lies, white nationalism — and the Capitol riot.  Rebekah Mercer is “one of the chief financiers of the fascist movement,” says longtime GOP insider Steve Schmidt ”  Igor Derysh is the author.

While Charles Koch and his late brother David have dominated Republican fundraising in recent decades, the Mercers’ recent strategic investments in far-right candidates bought them a disproportionate level of influence in the Republican Party before culminating in an effort to subvert the election that fueled the deadly Capitol siege.

“The Mercers laid the groundwork for the Trump revolution,” Bannon told The New Yorker in 2017. “Irrefutably, when you look at donors during the past four years, they have had the single biggest impact of anybody, including the Kochs.” Steve Schmidt, a former Republican strategist and co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, sees it differently. Rebekah Mercer, he said in an interview with Salon, is the “chief financier or one of the chief financiers of the fascist movement, and that’s what it is.”

Hours after the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, killing five people and injuring dozens of police officers in a futile bid to stop the counting of electoral votes, Hawley joined with top Mercer beneficiaries in objecting to the results to back Trump’s “big lie” that the election was somehow stolen. There was Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, whose super PAC got $13.5 million from the Mercers during the 2016 presidential campaign — before the family dropped another $15.5 million to back Trump. There was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., defending the majority of the GOP House caucus voting to overturn legal election results after his Congressional Leadership Fund received $1.5 million from the Mercers. And there was Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., who received $21,600 from the Mercers before speaking at the rally that preceded the riot and objecting to the results. Brooks was later named by “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander as having helped orchestrate the event, though his office said he has “no recollection communicating in any way with whoever Ali Alexander is.”

Alexander himself may have benefited from the Mercers’ millions while working for the Black Conservative Fund, a small and mysterious group that received $60,000 from Robert Mercer in 2016. Though the group did not raise any money in 2020, it promoted the White House rally to tens of thousands of followers, according to CNBC.

So, that should give the FBI something to chew on for awhile.

Interior artwork from DC Universe Halloween Special 2009 vol. 1, Oct 2009 Art by Ibraim Roberson, pencils and inks, and Giovani Kososki, color

Abraham Lincoln has a lot of quotable phrases but the one that always sticks with me.  The powerful warning was given in his House Divided speech and is a turn of phrase in several of the gospels.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”

The quote seems appropriate at this time but in a quite abstracted way.  The abhorrent institution of slavery and the so-called “southern way of life” stood as the rebel cause then.  It was not complete devoid of reality.  It was just completely devoid of morality even though it stood firmly on a Bible pointing out all the folks that had slaves back then.

This moment seems like a product of much of the same with the twist of there now being a lot more interactive visuals and playthings for Death Cults with apocalyptical visions.  How do you connect reality with bizzaro world?

So, anyway, we can at least breathe when we watch the regular news or catch a glimpse of the headlines for the most part.  We have a break.  But, we and the FBI and the National Security Department need to be vigilant because it seems we’re going to have an insurgency and eventually, it really will start getting very ugly on Main Streets everywhere.

And with that spirit I leave you with this WAPO Op Ed by Eugene Robinson.

At the state level, the Republican Party is, if anything, even less tethered to reality. The Arizona state GOP actually censured former senator Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, widow of the late senator John McCain, for failing to blindly support Trump. A few Republican governors, such as Jim Justice of West Virginia, are doing well in the vaccination phase of the pandemic. Others, such as Ron DeSantis of Florida, continue to put politics over public health.

Trump led the GOP’s base deep into the wilderness. Republican leadership in Washington lacks the skills and the guts to lead the party back to reality — and back to constructive participation in addressing the massive challenges we face. Don’t blame “both sides” for ruining the elegant, strategic, productive political competition we’d like to see. One party is trying to move the chess pieces. The other is trying to eat them.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?