The GOP has been taken over by its most radical elements which it fed for decades. And only sustained electoral losses may keep the country from descending into widespread political violence

For decades, Republican politicians have cynically campaigned using aggressive, identitarian language, stoking the fears and outrage of the dwindling core of the party fed lies by “right-wing” media grifters. And the continuous failure to live up to their harsh campaign rhetoric bore fruit in the Tea Party insurrection, which itself never delivered on its promises, further radicalizing the most insular, paranoid portion of the Republican base. So now we have Trump, the most corrupt of them all, who’s willing to pander to any fear, using extremely violent, dehumanizing language to describe mere political opponents, emboldening violent extremists.

We’re at a very dangerous point in American politics; a small but significant portion the Republican Party base has a near monopoly on political violence, while the Democratic Party still pretends that the GOP is a rational party that can be compromised with. And while the larger problem is the licentious profit-over-truth media industry (for which, what? maybe better-enforced and/or stricter libel laws may be necessary?), right now we need to use every political avenue we still have to forcefully but peacefully take power away from the growing violent “alt-right” movements which have taken over the Republican Party through Trump.

The Republican Party needs to reckon with the monster it’s created, and the least harmful way to do that will be at the polls. The Republican Party needs to suffer dramatic election losses this year and in 2020. So make sure you vote, at the very least. This is what we’re dealing with already:

2) 'You don't hand matches to an arsonist and you don't give power to an angry left-wing mob, and that's what they've become. Democrats have become too extreme and too dangerous to govern. Republicans believe in the rule of law, not the rule of the mob.'

3) This is a remarkable moment in American politics: The President of the United States just declared an entire political party fundamentally illegitimate. And the media are treating it as just another of Trump’s crazy things.

4) I’m almost surprised that, after the remark about the rule of the mob, Trump didn’t then lead the crowd in a chant of “Lock her up!” That’s how brazen they have become.

5) But this is the state we are at now. One side of the political aisle, and only one, appears intent on provoking a violent civil war in America. And it is the party currently in power.

6) Sure, they like to claim that the Left is planning to provoke a civil war. You can find all kinds of people saying that, including Tucker Carlson.

7) But no one on the left actually talks about it or, for that matter, really even thinks about it much. There are no left-wing pundits talking about civil war. But you can find dozens of right-wing pundits doing so. 

8) They pay lip service to denying that they hope for it, but their constant obsessing and chatter about it tells us otherwise. Especially when they fantasize about the better world that would emerge afterward.

9) Of course, the most prolific promoter of the “civil war” idea is Alex Jones and his Infowars operation:

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10) But it has spread everywhere on the right, including to Fox News (see Carlson above) and to Rush Limbaugh:

11) Mind you, this is nothing new for Limbaugh. He made nearly an identical claim back in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing occurred: 

12) Indeed, as I explain in some detail in _Alt-America_, the militia/Patriot movement is where the whole “modern civil war” idea originated, and it has remained largely alive in the same sector in the intervening years.

13) It gained real life in the Tea Party movement, which hosted organizations like the Oath Keepers that openly discussed preparations for a civil war. This is also where we saw it become common for people to talk among themselves about killing liberals.

14) Let’s also not forget radio host Michael Savage, an early and prominent Trump supporter. He published an entire book dedicated to essentially fomenting a civil war (under the guise of preventing one):

15) In the runup to the 2016 election, this kind of talk intensified. Militias especially were planning a violent resistance to a Clinton administration.

16) Recall especially the Kansas militia gang that planned a McVeigh-style truck bombing of a community of Somali Muslims in Garden City. Their plans called for the attack to take place the day after the election. 

17) This kind of talk became common among not just militia types, but spread to rank-and-file Trump supporters as well. 

18) After Trump won, it only took a week or two for them all to shift gears and begin preparing to act violently in Trump’s defense. They ginned up the whole "violent radical left" storyline in the runup to Trump's inauguration.

19) Now when you hear talk about a civil war, it is most common in the context of preventing his impeachment.

20) And now we have gangs of heavily armed right-wing thugs, largely outsiders from rural and exurban areas, invading liberal urban centers with the full intent of provoking violence so that they can portray the American left as innately violent.

21) I’ve covered about a dozen of these events. I hang out among the alt-righters and militiamen who populate that side and listen to them. They all are brimming with eagerness to beat the shit out of liberals, and they’re prepared to kill if they deem it necessary. 

22) The Proud Boys are a classic proto-Brownshirt operation in the formative stages. Look at the shirts their members have been wearing to the “free speech” events they organize with the intent of provoking a violent response. 

23) What does that mean? Well, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet murdered thousands of his own citizens in the 1970s simply for opposing him politically. He had right-wing death squads do most of the dirty work:…

24) A number of these murders occurred when the death squads would drop political dissidents from great heights out of helicopters. Thus the back of the T-shirt. Which is now sold as official Proud Boys gear. 

25) Moreover, all these shirts are being printed with a logo calling them “Right Wing Death Squads.” There’s even a webpage devoted to their apparel. Google it. Here's their logo. 

26) So now the faction that has long fantasized about civil wars is openly fantasizing about murdering their fellow Americans by various means, most of them as cruel as a good psychopath can dream up. These folks are fanatical authoritarians.

27) And they are entirely right-wing. There is no counterpart to this on the left. Even the most rabid anarchist/communist/whatever group doesn’t direct this kind of rhetoric at its opponents. Moreover, the far left is a tiny and powerless faction. Unlike the alt-right.

28) Moreover, it is the far right that now controls all three houses of government in the United States. And the most powerful of all, the president, has a long habit of using eliminationist rhetoric to attack his opponents: “Lock Her Up!” was just one of many such.

29) Now he is describing half of America – the larger half that did not vote for him, and which now opposes his agenda at every turn – in such terms. Dismissing them as a “mob” and suggesting that they not only cannot govern but cannot BE governed is lethally dangerous.

30) Yet to hear the centrist media figures and their favorite subjects, centrist politicians, discuss all this ferment, you would think that both sides are engaging in this kind of prewar rhetoric. It’s absurd.

31) So, listen up, Chuck Todd, Evan McMullin, Susan Collins, and every other hand-wringing centrist wannabe: IT’S NOT BOTH SIDES. Only one side is trying to gin up a civil war in this country.

32) Only one side talks about it. Only one side buys caches of guns to prepare for it. Only one side is sending clusters of activists into politically opposing communities with the intent of stirring up violence. Only one side makes up memes celebrating the murder of the other.

33) So when we talk about the lack of civility in our common discourse, it’s important first to understand that that particular horse fled the burning barn many many moons ago. And again, it was not the left that lit the match.

34) More to the point, their concern presupposes that both sides remain interested in democracy and normative political discourse. That is only true of one side in all this. The right has made clear that it has no such interest.

35) It is their authoritarian way, or the highway. Or given enough time and enough destruction of democratic norms at their proto-fascist hands, it will be their way or the helicopter. 

All of this is being normalized by hand-wringing centrists and their "bothsiderism."

36) So it would be nice if centrists recognized that their ideology (built around a logical fallacy – the Fallacy of the Middle – in any event) has failed them. It would be nice if they awoke to the reality that the radical right intends to target them just like the left.

37) Or haven’t they yet noticed that simply disagreeing with the radical right gets you labeled a “leftist”? Centrists may not be first in line, but they too eventually will become targets of right-wing authoritarians, especially those in power.

38) Unless, of course, they all just bow their heads and fall in line. Which is what, eventually, they all seem to do anyway.

The politicization of the Supreme Court undermines the trust necessary for the rule of law to function

Nills Gilman, in The American Interest:

I went into this past Thursday’s hearing truly attempting an open mind. I expected Professor Blasey Ford to perform as she did—in a manner that induced empathy if not, of course, providing definitive proof of what may have occurred in that room in Maryland 36 summers ago. But what I had hoped Kavanaugh might have done would be to deliver opening remarks along these lines:

“Sexual assault is one of the worst crimes human beings can commit. It damages its victims and their families incalculably, sometimes for generations to come. I stand in solidarity with the #MeToo movement and its valiant effort to banish such behavior. What Ms. Blasey Ford says happened to her is horrifying, and whoever did this to her has no place on the federal bench, but more probably in jail. However, I truly believe this is a case of mistaken identity; not only do I have no recollection of such an event, but I find it inconceivable that I could have committed such an odious act.”

But this was not the speech we got. Instead we were greeted by a man barely able to contain his emotions, claiming partisan victimhood, and all but explicitly vowing revenge. This show may have appealed to the Audience of One, but it was simply an unacceptable moral posture for anyone seeking a Supreme Court appointment, regardless of the underlying truth of the charges leveled against him. What Kavanaugh’s speech indicated—what it in fact performed—was a traducing of the moral values we expect a Supreme Court justice to embody: solemnity, equanimity, maturity, forbearance, and yes, sobriety (in the moral sense). Even if he was a man wronged, Kavanaugh’s conduct was, to use a moral concept often deployed in the military, “unbecoming” of a Supreme Court Justice. So forget about what may have happened 36 years ago: No one who behaves the way Kavanaugh did on that Thursday belongs on the Supreme Court.

This underscores the final, deepest issue: Kavanaugh’s apparent inability to recognize that the institutional integrity of the Supreme Court is bigger than justice for him as an individual. At the end of the day, like his fellow Republican partisans, Kavanaugh seems unable to see that his assassinated character, whether just or not, has disqualified him from the job; and that failure of recognition is itself disqualifying. This may seem like a Catch-22 for Kavanaugh himself, and it is. But the Court is bigger than the man, and everyone involved, if they care about the Court, should recognize this.

Grassroot influence in our country has eroded for decades, and if we all don’t get more involved and demand aggressive reforms to the influence of money in politics (campaign finance, lobbying, corporate welfare, etc.), we may stop functioning as a democracy (or democratic republic, if you will) and effectively be an oligarchy. This Supreme Court spat shows how corrupt the GOP has become, damn the consequences to the country at large. The Republican Party has thoroughly politicized the Court, undermining any trust we might have had in its ability to rule fairly. Any contentious rulings can now be written off by a majority of the country as simple partisan bias, where at least before there was a veneer of neutrality we could build a foundation of trust on.

From Zack Beauchamp, in Vox, “The Supreme Court’s Legitimacy Crisis is here”:

The Supreme Court’s legitimacy depends on most Americans viewing it as above the partisan fray, an institution whose decisions are driven by legal reasoning, not by the justices’ partisan leanings. 

In confirming Kavanaugh, with a razor-thin partisan majority no less, the Republican Senate may well end up eroding that public faith. Kavanaugh’s fiery and nakedly partisan testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the September 27 hearing revealed a justice who was less an “impartial arbiter” of the law and more a partisan creature who would take his political grudges to the Supreme Court.

His performance was so alarming that the American Bar Association, which had given him its stamp of approval, on Friday announced that it was reopening its evaluation of Kavanaugh in light of his “temperament.” Retired Justice John Paul Stevens was also taken aback, saying Kavanaugh’s performance revealed a “potential bias” that could be a problem. And more than 2,400 law professors signed a letter expressing their view that Kavanaugh “did not display the impartiality and judicial temperament” to sit on the Court.

Kavanaugh's confirmation could have been worse: we might never have known his history, or the extent of current GOP extremism

Henry Farrell, in a thread on Twitter, makes the case that Kavanaugh’s confirmation could have been worse: he might never have been exposed as a radical partisan hack who abuses his power for sex. And now we’ve seen how extreme the Republican Party has become. They could have withdrawn his nomination after Kavanaugh demonstrably lied multiple times under oath, and refused to even answer whether he’d support an investigation; then they could have proffered someone more professional and experienced. Instead, they’ve shown they’ll put party before country, literally just to “own the libs.” We now know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the national-level Republican Party has lost control of itself, and for the sake of the country must also lose control of at least the House in November. If people really want to “drain the swamp,” we need to start with the GOP in Congress.


2. The background: Supreme Court judgments have been undermining democracy in stealth mode. A series of judgments have chipped away at the ability to regulate money in politics, while stripping unions of their ability to politically represent the interests of their members.

3. The result has been an increasingly unbalanced political system, in which economic inequality and political inequality reinforce each other, slowly strangling democracy. However, these judgments have not been nearly as controversial as they ought to be.

4. The survey evidence is clear - people on the left do not see the court as conservative (political scientists disagree over whether this is because they don't understand what the court is doing, or they focus on salient cases that have liberal outcomes - e.g. marriage equality)

5. Kennedy's retirement and replacement by a Trump nominee means that the median justice on the left-right spectrum is going to be Roberts - a very substantial shift to the right. But liberals and people on the left mostly haven't paid attention.

6. This is reinforced by patterns in the legal academy. The Federalist Society combines many functions. It depicts itself as a "society of ideas," but also serves as a hiring network for conservative clerks, cheering section for crazy ideas and vetter of judicial nominees.

7. The Federalist Society's Leonard Leo has played a crucial role in both Gorsuch's and Kavanaugh's nomination. While Federalists quietly fret at Trump's uncouthness, they're willing to hold their noses given the gains at stake. See Amanda Hollis-Brusky: Washington Post: Breaking News, World, US, DC News & Analysis Breaking news and analysis on politics, business, world national news, entertainment more. In-depth DC, Virginia, Maryland news coverage including traffic, weather, crime, education, restaurant revie…

8. That's the background. And that is why what seemed likely to happen a few weeks ago - the confirmation of soft spoken and charming-seeming basketball-coaching dad Brett Kavanaugh - would have been the worst outcome. His vile behavior towards women would have stayed invisible

9. And his jurisprudence - undercutting the rights of ordinary people, weaponizing the First Amendment, and further reducing American democracy into an effective oligarchy would have not seemed political, consisting instead of a series of technical-seeming decisions.

10. Now that's not going to happen. He is almost certainly guilty of two attempted sexual assaults. He has demonstrably perjured himself in testimony. He has revealed the true ugly face of American Republicanism. And he can be hung like a rotting albatross around his party's neck

11. His distorted, shouting face is the most concrete metaphor possible of what the Republican party has become. And it is something that people can - and will - organize around. The difference to Anita Hill is that there is _already_ a mobilized social movement around Trump's

12. wretched treatment of women. Now they have something concrete, specific and political - beyond Trump himself - to build against. In the language of social movements, Brett Kavanaugh is going to become a frame - an organizing symbol

13. depicting the angry white conservative elite that is trying to cripple American democracy because it knows that the democratic trends are not on its side. A quiet judicial revolution that was invisible to most people is now becoming visible in its harshest and ugliest form.

14. And this gives the movement a set of concrete problems that it can organize around apart from Trump. Movements in US politics are often the prisoners of electoral politics, and can fall asunder once a short term victory has been achieved.

15. Lindsay Graham and Donald Trump may inadvertently have crystallized a new Democratic party that is based far more than before in a mobilized and effective social movement with a long term vision and specific demands for reform.

14. The Federalist Society three-card monte, shuffling back and forth between the public story of intellectual inquiry and the private story of political machinery is highly vulnerable. If the Democrats take Congress, they need to investigate Leo's role in the nomination

15. With particular attention to the question of how or whether Leo provided a cutout between the political and nominally independent parts of the pro-Kavanaugh campaign, including the Whelan doppelganger propaganda.

16. The enormous movement of women which has coalesced across the country needs to keep pressure on elected Democrats on both judicial nominations and investigations, as well as continuing to nominate and elect its own people.

17. Pro-democracy groups need to plaster Kavanaugh's ugly, shouting face over every shitty and toxic decision made by what is now the Trump Supreme Court and the Republican Supreme Court, haranguing and hounding the politicians who got him through.

18. The Supreme Court is political. Everyone from the lightly-liberal center to the left needs to recognize this, and what it means for their own politics and activism.

19. Legal academics need to systematically dissociate themselves from the Kavanaughs of this world, and refuse to provide window dressing to Federalist Society events. There should be room for conservative scholars in the legal academy. But Kavanaugh

19. demonstrates how problematic the pseudo-meritocratic class solidarity of the legal academy has become. Again, the Supreme Court is a political body. One might reasonably prefer a world where it was genuinely deliberative but that is obviously not the world that we live in.

20. Professors may of course need to be strongly reminded of this by their students, as has been happening in Yale, since not only their values but their incentives point towards playing nice with conservative judges who can hire their students etc.

21. And scholars need to build a strongly pro-democratic jurisprudence of the kind that @JedediahSPurdy and @ksabeelrahman have been working on (which would ideally involve not just left-wing but also centrist and right leaning scholars, as Law and Economics did the other way)

22. All this - of course - is making lemonade from lemons. We shouldn't be in this situation to start with. There are many things that can and will go wrong. But the sheer grossness of what is happening makes the Kavanaugh nomination into an inadvertent organizing technology. End

The largest threat to free speech comes from the White House

"Everything I can remember."

One thing we all need to do more of is listen to the stories of people not like ourselves, whether that’s race, class, sexual orientation, etc., to understand each other, in order to solve big, complex problems in our society. One thing I know I don’t really understand, and that I’ll never fully grasp, is how typical abuse is for women (or people of color, or non-cis-gendered). But I ran across this essay of the (female) author’s long history of abuse she’s suffered, and I thought I’d pass it along to my fellow dudes who are also willing to learn. (And I’m very interested in hearing from anyone whether this tracks with your experience.)

Trump usually hires the worst people

Trump surrounds himself with people like himself—corrupt sociopaths, out for themselves more than anyone else; and often men who use and abuse their partners. We knew Trump was like this decades before the 2016 primaries. (And this is the future that the ”conservative” party chose? A deal with the devil; short-term gains at the expense of all moral credibility.)

"Due process" isn't relevant to a Supreme Court nomination

Several people (including Wittes) have made the point that Supreme Court confirmation hearings aren't criminal trials; they are job interviews. That's a good point.

But I think there's something else that is equally important. If this were the sort of situation where BK were entitled to due process or where those alleging wrongdoing bear the burden of proof, then we'd have a number of other, very serious problems.

For one thing, it would be outrageous to limit the hearing to testimony from the accused and the accuser. Any trial judge who tried to do such a thing would be reversed -- probably summarily -- on appeal.

But the other major problem with the idea that ordinary legal rules apply has to do with the decisionmakers in confirmation hearings--the Senators. 

So many of them have made clear that they are not neutral --they have already said that BK should or should not be confirmed

If this were a legal proceeding, many (if not all) of the members of the SJC would have to recuse themselves based on public statements that they've made either about this particular issue or the BK nomination more generally.

To be clear, I'm not trying to suggest that I know what procedures or burdens of proof the SJC should be using. That's not my area of expertise, and I'd defer to experts on that topic, like @AndyMcCanse

My point is simply to caution Erickson and others who are complaining that ordinary legal principles ought to apply. 

You can't just cherry pick the principles that you like.

We need to understand how sexual assault affects people in order to have a just society

I’m not an expert on this. I read a few articles several years ago, and I’ve listened to some academic lectures on the topic. But what I’ve read makes it clear that we need to take people seriously when they accuse others of sexual assault—accusations should be carefully and neutrally investigated, for both parties’ sake. After nearly a year of #MeToo, and all of these famous guys in positions of power who’ve turned out to be serial sexual harassers and/or rapists, accusers still aren’t taken seriously; public debate still heavily doubts accusations, “because politics.” When pushed on why, people often justify their doubts because of accusers’ “inconsistent” behavior. But certain kinds of inconsistency are common with trauma resulting from sexual assault, so that shouldn’t be the standard for dismissing people’s claims.

Sexual assault is traumatic. The trauma from sexual assault messes with the brain. Sexual violence is psychologically damaging in a way that “just” getting physically beaten up typically isn’t: many people can’t stop questioning “why” it happened to them, or if they “caused” it in some way, or if they could have done anything different to stop it. To address one myth, a lot of people have no chance to fight back; they go catatonic when it’s happening to them, because it’s so unexpected and their brain tries to shield them from the experience. And it breaks the simple, everyday trust they have in other people or in society.

This level of psychological damage causes all kinds of “inconsistent” behavior: in some, acute memory loss, or shifting memory of events; in others, large and rapid mood swings, etc. And it’s impossible to predict what mix of weird behavior someone will exhibit. So it’s no wonder that people who’ve been assaulted are rarely believed by strangers (and often not even by close family and friends), and therefore why so few come forward, or why it takes them years (or decades). But if we educate ourselves, we can change that.

There’s a lot of great writing about sexual assault’s effects. Here’s one I recommend, which covers a little of the science, and talks about how police who aren’t trained to recognize signs of trauma often disbelieve victims and use standard interrogation techniques which result in further disbelief: Why Don’t Cops Believe Rape Victims? Brain science helps explain the problem—and solve it.

Here’s a related article, a bit more in depth: Training aims to improve how military sexual assaults are investigated

And, if you can stomach it, I highly recommend reading this story, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape”, and this followup article, “When Sexual Assault Victims are Charged with Lying". They convinced me that we need to treat all accusations seriously, no matter the circumstances. The only caveat to immediately and unequivocally taking the accuser at their word that I know of, might be if that person has a clear history of outlandish fabrications, as per this summary of studies into the "types" of people who make the vast majority of false sexual assault accusations: What kind of person makes false rape accusations? But even then, we need to keep in mind that most sexual assaults are committed by serial assaulters, and they often target those they think are less likely to be believed. So, again, investigation should be the norm, and it should be done thoroughly and neutrally, by trained experts.

This would also go a long way toward undoing the paranoia around false rape accusations, and dealing (punitively or not) with fake accusations when they occur. The sooner we professionalize sexual assault investigation, the sooner people who’ve been assaulted will feel comfortable coming forward, justice will catch up to abusers, AND we’ll have the understanding and resources to deal with fake accusations.