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Where Are We?

It’s easy to lose focus.

There’s understandable anger over the Supreme Court’s recent decisions on weapons possession and reproductive rights. There’s also the drumbeat: a former President sought to invalidate the system that allowed voters to end his term.

Like all major historical eras in this country, it comes down to words, codified as law. Who gets to write those words? Who gets to interpret them? What power do those interpreters have to modify behavior as a result of their evaluations?

Even before its most recent rulings on guns and reproductive choice, the Supreme Court was fighting for last place in public approval, alongside. Congress and the Presidency. Political parties weren’t, and aren’t, determining such public attitudes. Democrats, Republicans, and no-party-preference people are all unhappy, though in varying ratios, depending on issues.

No one has a more accurate, if consistently confused understanding of the situation than former President Trump.

Even before the Supreme Court, with its religiosity drenched zealots ruling 6-3 to overthrow five decades of medical protection for half the human race, Trump confided to insiders that such a drastic ruling would hurt the Republican Party, Because Trump sees polls that say majorities of women, and close to a majority of men, want a choice option. Take it away from them and they’ll seek to take the power to decide such things away from you, he’s told unnamed “friends,” according to the New York Times (“Though Trump Paved Way, He Fears Effect on GOP” 6/25/2002)

Same story with guns. Overrule local control over who can carry what weapon where and you’ll be blamed when some deranged person kills a schoolroom full of kids. Common sense, reflected in public opinion, says that a deranged person shouldn’t be allowed to buy a weapon. And that such a person, whose attitudes and eccentricities were known, should have been on a ”red line” list, his weapons confiscated,, while he was provided mental health help. 

Something else Trump realizes is that the Republicans hopes to win Congress, state houses, and local offices just took a big hi from the Supreme Court. And will continue to receive further damage when the House Hearings into the January 6 riots resume in a few weeks. “The Hearings,” writes even a Republican acolyte like Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal “are telling a fascinating and devastating story. An American President tried to thwart the democracy that raised him high, and tried to steal an election he lost.” 

Noonan takes comfort in the fact that some of the witnesses who refused to be coopted and corrupted by Trump based their actions on religious faith. But those turning to born-again Christian zealots like Trump’s Vice-President, Mike Pence, as a Presidential alternative will quickly find him all over the media, bragging about how anti-choice and pro-fetus he’s been for decades. The third of the supposed anti-Trump Republicans, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, is similarly poorly positioned, measured against what public opinion polls indicate. He’s a long-time advocate for punitive measures against women who seek, or obtain, abortions. While at the same time supporting the supposedly constitutional “right to carry” no matter how mentally unstable the carrier may be. (For a good portrait of DeSantis see Dexter Filkins “Party Crasher” “The New Yorker,” 6/27/2022) 

A good summary of thoughts about the current Supreme Court comes from Axios blogger Ian Millman:

“The Supreme Court’s public approval ratings are in free fall. A Gallup poll taken in June before the Court’s decision about reproductive rights in Dobbs found that only 25 percent of respondents have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the Court, a historic low..

” The Dobbs decision is the culmination of a decades-long effort by Republicans to capture the Supreme Court and use it, not just to undercut abortion rights but also to implement an unpopular agenda they cannot implement through the electoral process.

And the Court’s Republican majority hasn’t simply handed the Republican Party substantive policy victories. It is systematically dismantling voting rights protections that make it possible for every voter to have an equal voice, and for every political party to compete fairly for control of the United States government. Alito, the author of the opinion overturning Roe, is also the author of two important decisions dismantling much of the Voting Rights Act.

This behavior is consistent with the history of an institution that once blessed slavery and described Black people as “beings of an inferior order.” It is consistent with the Court’s history of union busting, of supporting racial segregation and the use of concentration camps.

What are the electoral implications? It’s too soon to speculate about the relatively far away 2024.. But this year, in Georgia, for example, an important “swing” state, Governor Brian Kemp seemed like a shoo-in over challenger Stacey Abrams after Kemp and his co-Republican office holders were shown in the House January 6 Committee to have refused to tamper with Biden’s election win. But now Kemp will have to defend his virulently anti-choice position on reproductive rights. He’s also pro-gun. “Get it wherever you can pay for it and take it with you anywhere you like” seems to be his attitude. Kemp will have all the money for non-stop TV advertising and internet manipulation by born-again non-Trump Republicans like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Peter Thiel. 

His Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, is one of the country’s most skillful “ground game” practitioners (“She knows who every voter is, how they vote, and their grandparents, too” according to Atlanta’s leading newspaper politics reporter). Thousands, mostly volunteers, will be out walking precincts for her. Kemp’s field workers, if they bother with door to door, will find themselves having to explain that they’re not “Proud Boys” or “Q-Anon” election deniers. If they get taken for representatives of such fringe crowds they’ll find it impossible to change the subject to who to vote for. While Abrams people will spend the time they have talking about real issues, including pandemic mandates, gas prices, and climate fragility. 

There are similarities in many other “battleground” states. In Nevada, for example, Democrats are already breathing sighs of relief because they believe the Supreme Court has handed them an advantage. They can stress with that state’s abundant working class women that an option those women had taken for granted since most of them were born is almost gone. In California, instead of a projected loss of House seats, Democrats now see a path to a gain. Same in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. And even in Texas, hopes are up. Governor Greg Abbott has, predictably, failed to do anything meaningful about an issue he and fellow Republicans can no longer minimize, following the Uvalde school shootings.. 

When the House January 6 Hearings resume in a few weeks,, the focus will turn to an element in the sordid mess of electoral politics that has been minimized so far. Criminality., There will be abundant indications of it, whether or not those responsible may choose to testify on TV.. 

One expert in the field, Jonathan Winer of the “Keep Our Republic” think tank in Washington believes that at least two laws have been broken. They relate to conspiracies against voting rights and deprivation of voting rights. There is also the issue of money, of course. Trump has squeezed hundreds of millions from those convinced, against all evidence, that the last Presidential election was stolen. Where has that money gone? What nebulous entities handle it, and who do they share it with? Are required records kept? Taxes paid?

It’s legal, if abhorrent to scream “Hang Mike Pence!” at a demonstration. It’s legal, if abhorrent for people to declaim at school board meetings that “woke” teachers are indoctrinating kids about a supposed racist past and discriminatory present in the United States. It’s legal, if abhorrent, for over-caffeinated fringe figures like Steve Bannon to podcast nativism and foolishness (and fund raise) daily for hours from a basement studio in Washington. Lawyers will get very rich trying to defend him (see “American Rasputin” by Jennifer Senior in the August 2022 “Atlantic” for a full account of what Bannon says and does,).

It’s legal to go to a church and follow its preachings into voting decisions. But fewer and fewer people are doing so, (47% in 2020 versus 70% in 1999) and younger generations are increasingly not interested. 

This is a bad time. Perhaps these words have helped you focus on why you’re feeling negative emotions about it..

Think it over. Talk it over. 

Play with someone younger than five. If not available, watch others play with them.

Be with a non-human. Watch them watch, and communicate. If they’re not pets, find them in nature.. They’re everywhere (birds suggested.)

If you read something you like, and admire, write to the author. Addresses for journalists are easy to find. If you can’t find e-mails street addresses are good. 

Go hear live music. Thank the musicians afterwards.

Send money, even a very small amount, to organizations that are doing what you admire them for doing.

We can’t all be John Lewis, Cesar Chavez, or Ruth Bader Ginsberg. But we can do what we can. Which is not nothing.

(Larry Bensky can be reached at LBensky@igc.org.)

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