OPINION: Like Donald Trump, Tennessee GOP voters are delusional

Tribune Publishing

Jun. 12—Tennessee used to be a state with a centrist temperament, a state where in election after election voters cast ballots for moderate politicians of both political stripes — Howard Baker, Fred Thompson, Zach Wamp, Ned McWherter, Bill Frist, Al Gore, Phil Bredesen, Lamar Alexander and Bill Haslam to name a few.

But that’s over. Tennessee Republicans are no longer centrists and moderates. They are now leaning hard, hard right — and straight over the edge of a flat earth.

Judging from a recent Vanderbilt University survey of 1,000 registered voters, it isn’t just former president Donald Trump who is delusional in insisting the election was stolen from him.

It’s also 71% of Tennessee’s Republican voters who last month told Vandy pollsters they agreed with the statement: “Joe Biden stole the 2020 presidential election.”

And why not? As disheartening as it is, it shouldn’t be completely surprising. Tennessee’s new hard-right politicians bang the drum daily on social media and Fox News, peppering Tennesseans with continued references to Trump and his ever-increasing false claims.

Never mind that the “big lie” of a rigged or stolen election was soundly rejected by state officials, the courts, the Electoral College, Trump’s own administration and eventually Congress — which acted to certify the results amid a Capitol breach by a violent mob of Trump supporters.

You already know how Republicans answered that question posed in the statewide survey by Vanderbilt’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Nashville. But among all of those 1,000 voters, only 40% agreed with the big lie; among independents, 30% agreed and among Democrats, only 5% agreed.

“This is a remarkable number — that the vast majority of a political party feels the other party is illegitimate, despite the lack of any evidence,” said Dr. Josh Clinton, a Vanderbilt political science professor and co-director of Vanderbilt’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions.

The partisan disconnect doesn’t stop there:

— 37% of Republicans and 30% of Independents said they do not plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine (60% of Republicans and 94% of Democrats said they already are or plan to be vaccinated).

— 90% of Democrats but only 29% of Republicans said they agree that the legacy of slavery affects the position of Black people in today’s America a great deal or a fair amount.

— 57% of Republicans and 8% of Democrats approve of making it legal for those 21 and over to carry a handgun without a permit. (Overall, only 39% of Tennesseans approve.)

Testing the partisan divide, the pollsters ran a small experiment, asking about voters’ support for infrastructure upgrades two different ways.

When respondents were asked if they approved of Biden’s American Jobs Plan that would use $2.3 trillion to upgrade the country’s infrastructure over the next 10 years, including improving roads and bridges, electric grids, drinking water and access to broadband internet, only 29% of Republicans approved while 96% of Democrats approved. But when the question was posed without naming the plan or President Biden, Republican approval for infrastructure doubled — to 59%, while the same 96% of Democrats approved.

It seems those anti-Biden, anti-Democrats Fox News talking points are getting through.

Professor Clinton was more tactful: “The fact that there is broad support for these economic issues when partisan indicators are omitted shows that political context can really affect people’s reactions to important policy issues, depending on how the issues are framed.”

Of course, the Vandy survey isn’t alone in noticing the hard right-wing slide in Tennessee. History is telling, too. Trump won the state in 2020 by 23 percentage points, and the Republican margin of victory has consistently widened in every presidential election since 1996 — the last time the state went to a Democrat.

Former Tennessee Gov. Haslam talked about that slide in a Q & A published last week in The Atlantic about his new book, “Faithful Presence.”

Haslam, a moderate and an evangelical Christian who says he loved being a mayor and loved being governor, faces a dilemma with Tennessee’s new right-wing lean. It’s a place where he’s having a hard time identifying with his own evangelical faith and with his party’s recent direction.

“One of the reasons I wrote the book is this conflation of folks’ personal views of Christianity with the personal political views. This to me is a sign of how far off track the Church has gone. There’s been damage to the Church by the identification with this political cause [Trumpism].”

Haslam told The Atlantic he hasn’t figured out whether he’s going to run for office again, and the magazine noted it’s also not clear that he could win in today’s political environment.

Talking of Tennessee voters, Haslam noted that unlike in Georgia where newcomers helped flip the Peach State blue in 2020, “the folks who are moving here are actually more conservative than the people who were here to begin with.”

Haslam added that Republicans did a good job in the last election of reaching out to more rural voters, even attracting a lot of people who haven’t been heavy voters in the past. But at the same time, the GOP lost a lot of the suburban voters — particularly women.

“As a party, we’re trading high-propensity voters for low-propensity voters,” he said. “That’s a concern for the Republican Party in Tennessee, and everywhere else for that matter.”

Perhaps therein lies another hint as to why 71% of Tennessee’s Republican voters believe the “big lie.”

Guns a danger to their owners most of all

Chicago Suntimes – Opinion

Guns a danger to their owners most of all

 

Gun sales leapt during the COVID lockdown, and a California judge just overturned that state’s ban on assault weapons. Here, a clerk shows a customer a TPM Arms LLC California-legal featureless AR-10 style .308 rifle an Orange County gun show.
Gun sales leapt during the COVID lockdown, and a California judge just overturned that state’s ban on assault weapons. Here, a clerk shows a customer a TPM Arms LLC California-legal featureless AR-10 style .308 rifle an Orange County gun show. PATRICK T. FALLON, Getty

 

There’s no hope for help from laws, but you can protect yourself from guns with common sense.

Or do — it’s your choice. I don’t want you to immediately clutch at yourself and collapse to the floor, writhing and moaning how wronged you are. I’m so tired of that. Grow up. My saying “Don’t buy a gun” isn’t a command from the ooo-scary, all-powerful media.

Rather, it’s just a suggestion. From me. A friendly suggestion. Please don’t buy a gun. Why? They’re dangerous, for starters. And apparently confusing, because the reasons that people typically offer for buying guns — to protect themselves and guard their families — are actually the top reasons not to buy a gun. Gun ownership imperils you and your family.

How? There’s suicide, for starters. Two-thirds of gun deaths are self-inflicted. I don’t want to start throwing numbers at you, since people are flummoxed already. Be assured the odds of killing yourself leap when you buy a gun.

Why isn’t this better known? Imagination trips people up. It’s far easier for men to imagine Freddy Krueger breaking through the door, while much harder to imagine themselves rashly deciding to end it all on some dark night of the soul.

Guess which happens more often? It isn’t that you can’t kill yourself without a gun. Just that guns are such efficient killing machines. Three percent of those who attempt suicide with drugs succeed; 85 percent of those using a gun do.

I know I’m applying rational thought to an area of emotion and frenzy. In the set piece fantasy of male power and safety, guns are a masturbatory aid. Why else would some guys get so worked up over them?

Guns are part of the whole Republican fear junkie scramble. Not only the fear of somebody coming through the door. But fear that guns might get taken away, a terror that gun companies profit by stoking. A reader sent me a laughable letter from the National Rifle Association with “NOTICE OF GUN CONFISCATION” in huge letters on the envelope.

I wish I could share the whole letter. It’s ridiculous. The first three sentences will have to serve: “Dear Friend of Freedom,” it begins. “Unless you fight back starting right now, you face the real threat of having your guns forcibly confiscated by the federal government after the next election. No, I’m not talking about run-of-the-mil gun control. I’m talking about armed government agents storming your house, taking your guns, and hauling you off to prison.”

What does it mean to “fight back ”— any guesses? Of course. Send $30 to the NRA.

If this prompts you to give even more money to the NRA, to spite me, no need to write your vindictive little note. Having rung the Pavlovian bell, I’ll also react here: “Curses, I am so shocked! Foiled again.” (Note to everybody else: ot-nay, eally-ray).

You don’t need a gun. Most police officers never use theirs, not once in their entire career. And in situations when you think you need a gun, you usually don’t. They’re worse than unnecessary; they’re problem multipliers. Guns take whatever situation you’re faced with and make it a thousand times worse.

Look at Deshon Mcadory. If the Lombard barber hadn’t been packing a gun, he’d be out the price of a trim after Christian McDougald supposedly refused to pay for a haircut at his Maywood shop. But Mcadory did — a legally purchased, legally carried gun — so now McDougald is dead, and Mcadory in jail, charged with first-degree murder. I don’t want to speak for Mcadory, but were it me, I’d rather simply be out the $20.

I’ll be honest, I don’t really care if you buy a gun. They’re like vaccines. I’ve got mine. I’m safe, relatively, if you don’t want your vaccine, well, it’s your funeral. I hope you’re OK, but if you’re not, the person to blame is as close as the nearest mirror.

With guns, I don’t have mine. I’m safer because of it. And, frankly, better. I manage to go to the hardware store to buy birdseed without arming or wetting myself; if you can’t do that, well, you have my sympathy. It must be awful to be that afraid without your comfort object, your lethal pacifier, your mechanical teddy bear that sometimes kills people.

Space dwindles, so let’s end as we began, with a sentiment you don’t read nearly enough:

Don’t buy a gun.

600,000 dead: With normal life in reach, covid’s late-stage victims lament what could have been

600,000 dead: With normal life in reach, covid’s late-stage victims lament what could have been

They came so close. Philip Sardelis already had his vaccine appointment in hand. Cinnamon Jamila Key had just received her first shot. Charles Pryor tried but couldn’t get the coronavirus vaccine in time. Alexey Aguilar had been reluctant to commit to such a new medicine but was coming around to the idea.

And then covid-19 took them. On top of the grief and sorrow, their families now also must deal with the unfairness, the eternal mystery of what might have been.

The Americans who have died of covid-19 in recent days and weeks – the people whose deaths have pushed the total U.S. loss from the pandemic to nearly 600,000 – passed away even as their families, friends and neighbors emerged from 15 months of isolation and fear. The juxtaposition is cruel: Here, masks off; workplaces, shops and schools reopening. There, people struggling to breathe, separated from loved ones, silenced by ventilators.

“The finish line is in sight and if you don’t make it now, it’s like the astronauts who make it all the way home and then their capsule splashes down and sinks,” said Peter Paganussi, an emergency room physician in Ranson, W.Va., who still sees new cases of covid, the illness caused by the coronavirus, every day.

Even as the number of Americans dying of covid has plummeted from thousands to hundreds each day, the death toll keeps climbing.

It has taken about as long to move from 500,000 U.S. deaths to 600,000 as it did to go from zero to the first dark marker of 100,000 – about four months. That’s a huge improvement over the harrowing one month it took for the death count to soar from 300,000 to 400,000 last winter.

Covid deaths are becoming relatively rare in some places, basically tracking the pace of vaccinations, which varies enormously state to state – 70% of Vermonters have received at least one dose, compared with only 34% of Mississippians.

But rosier statistics are small solace to families who now find themselves living in communities of reborn freedom and optimism, even as they stumble through a crushing grief, burdened by an overwhelming sense of almost having made it through.

Deaths that came so late, so close to the possibility of protection by a vaccine, “eat at people,” said Therese Rando, clinical director of the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Loss in Rhode Island. “It’s such a violation. They were so close, they weren’t doing anything wrong and for death to take them, it adds to our outrage. It’s very distressing because people were assumed to be right on the cusp of being safe.”

– – –

In the centuries-old tradition of the Ho-Chunk Nation, a relative dresses a deceased tribal member in a skirt, moccasins and a handmade top sewn from patterned fabric. But on the crisp, cool May afternoon in Trempealeau, Wis., when Michelle De Cora was buried, her sister was not permitted to follow the tradition. The funeral home’s coronavirus restrictions required that only its employees touch the body, so the staff took care of dressing her.

A hundred mourners came to pay their respects, but that evening, although her daughter Amanda had invited any and all to “bring a tent and stay the night,” no one did.

“She’d always said she wanted us to have a party when she died, but nobody was really feeling like that, because of covid,” Amanda said.

As May began, Amanda could feel the first wisps of normalcy. “I was finally getting a glimmer of hope,” she said.

Amanda was already fully vaccinated, as was her husband. Their 17-year-old had just received a second shot. Michelle, however, had not gotten around to it.

At 61, Michelle was an obvious candidate to get vaccinated. She had kidney problems. She was diabetic. Her family was nudging her to do it. The Ho-Chunk Nation, the Indian tribe that employed Michelle for many years, has suffered 17 covid deaths among its 8,000 members and made a big push to get shots in arms.

There were reasons Michelle didn’t get around to getting the shot. She’d stayed fairly isolated through the first months of the pandemic. She lived an hour away from the tribal clinic. She’d tested positive for the coronavirus back in December, and though she never had symptoms and her children suspected it’d been a false positive, she believed she had at least some protection from the virus.

“So she never went,” Amanda said.

Michelle entered the hospital in early May to deal with her long-standing kidney condition – she’d spent many months in the queue for a transplant. But then the coronavirus test that was routinely administered to new patients came back positive.

Amanda was immediately told she had to leave, and her mother was transferred to the covid ward.

“Within a couple of days, they went from saying, ‘She’ll be OK, she’ll be home in a few days’ to ‘We can’t do anything else for her,’ ” Amanda said. “We talked on the phone after that, but she was really out of breath, and then they put the [oxygen] mask on her and she couldn’t talk much.”

Early on in the pandemic, Michelle had mainly stayed home.

“My son would drop off groceries for her,” said Amanda, who spoke to her mother mostly by phone through those months.

Even at home, Michelle kept busy, right up to her last days, working on Ho-Chunk politics, seriously considering a run for the tribal legislature.

Last summer, she volunteered to be laid off so that another worker, who she believed needed the paycheck more keenly, could stay on the job – a selfless gesture her daughter didn’t learn about until after her mother died. (Amanda also found among her mother’s documents several denials of unemployment benefits – apparently things had gotten tight, but Michelle never told her kids about it.)

As the year of home isolation wore on, Michelle let her guard down. This spring, she started going out a bit more, even traveling with her brother and sister to Denver. Still, no one has figured out exactly how she caught the virus.

Amanda still wears a mask to most places, and it angers her to see so many people going barefaced, “fighting what the doctors said to do,” she said. “Everywhere I go now, I’m the only one in a mask. They don’t realize how fast it can take you.”

– – –

Cinnamon Jamila Key signed up for a vaccine as soon as Florida opened up eligibility to people 40 and over. She was 41, a mental health clinician and life coach who planned to go back to school and earn a doctorate in grief counseling with a Christian focus.

In early April, she got her first shot of the Moderna vaccine. But on April 8, she was diagnosed with covid. Whether she became infected before she got the dose or immediately after is not clear. Her mother remembers her complaining of a scratchy throat around when she got the shot.

Cinnamon had a long history of battling back from the edge. She had turned a crippling bout with depression – including two suicide attempts – into a career in mental wellness, focusing on Black and other underserved communities in her area of Miami-Dade County.

She was, her friends and family said, as warm and spicy as her name. She loved pencil skirts and six-inch heels and singing in the church choir at Second Baptist Church near her town of Homestead, south of Miami – leading the congregation in her trademark rendition of the stirring gospel song, “I’ve Got a Reason.”

Even after she fell ill, she took time early one morning – her voice weakened – to speak to her mother’s prayer chain about dealing with grief, said her mother, Betty Key.

“She wrote a book called ‘Crying is Allowed,’ so I think the first thing she would say is, ‘It’s OK . . . to feel what you feel when you feel it,’ ” Betty said.

Cinnamon’s resilience was evident from a young age. She had a business portfolio when she was 11, filling her grandfather’s old briefcase with her detailed drawings for a beauty emporium. After she flunked out of the University of South Florida, Cinnamon struggled through low-paying jobs and attempts to resume higher education.

In 2007, she was nearly done in by a mental health struggle.

“Imagine being diagnosed with clinical depression while you’re getting your degree in social work! Whew! And two failed suicide attempts. Yikes!” Cinnamon told a blogger last year. “It has been quite the journey. Not smooth, but I’m grateful for every inch of this road.”

Eventually, Cinnamon sought help and went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees, spending 11 years as a social worker for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

She had so many projects outside of her day job – a self-esteem course for young women, a podcast called “Naturally Cinnamon,” and a “Forever” brunch to help mothers and their adult daughters stave off rocky times – that last December, she finally took her side business full time.

Then, covid. As her illness worsened, Cinnamon’s parents – Wallace Key, a retired insurance claims manager, and Betty, a retired Miami-Dade schools administrator, both long vaccinated – drove from their home in South Carolina to be with their daughter.

On April 13, Cinnamon was hospitalized with breathing issues.

“She just didn’t get better and didn’t get better,” her mother recalled.

Doctors wanted to put her on a ventilator, but Cinnamon resisted, said her mother, who could see her daughter only through a window because of anti-infection rules.

On April 15, “my time for visitation was up and I had to leave,” Betty recalled. Usually, the two would blow kisses. That evening, Cinnamon could only wave bye-bye.

Not long after, Betty got a call from the doctor. She thought it would be about the intubation.

“She was gone,” the mother said. Cinnamon died of complications from covid 15 days after receiving her first vaccine dose.

Natalie Rowe, a longtime friend from church and an administrator at the clinic where Cinnamon got her first shot, initially put off getting the vaccine. Its development, she said, “was really quick for me.” Now, she said she hopes Cinnamon’s death will inspire other people of color to overcome their fears.

Cinnamon “tried so hard to do the right thing,” her mother said. “She wasn’t going out, and she wore her mask, and she had her gloves, and she got the vaccine as soon as she could.”

Betty said it’s hard for her to hear even good news about vaccines, though she still believes everyone should get the shot. “If a story comes on the news about the vaccine, I walk away,” she said. “I don’t want to hear the success stories. I don’t. Because my daughter is not one of them.”

– – –

Claudia Nodal was going into ninth grade at Miami Carol City Senior High in Miami Gardens, Fla., when Alexey Aguilar asked her to marry him.

“I said yes, of course,” Claudia recalled.

They wed two months after she graduated, in 1999. Since then, they had raised three daughters, built careers – he as a corrections officer, she as a third-grade teacher – and now they were planning a retirement close to the beach.

Claudia loves the ocean. Alexey wasn’t crazy about the beach, but, for her, he would move there.

They and their girls – Monica, 20, who is in college; Angelica, 17, just finishing high school; and Viviana, 15 – were looking forward to getting back to Walt Disney World. They bought passes every year and, pre-pandemic, drove up to Orlando at least once a month.

They were concerned about covid, especially because Alexey’s job in the mental health treatment center at Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami put him among a vulnerable population.

“He would double mask, wear double gloves, he never even took off his jacket at work,” his wife said. “When he came home . . . nobody could talk to him or hug him until he took a shower.”

His yearly physical gave him a clean bill of health. But in March, Alexey – who emigrated from Honduras with his parents when he was 4 years old – caught the virus, probably at work, his wife said. He fell ill a month before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, made vaccine doses available to people over 40.

At that point, Claudia and Alexey weren’t entirely on board with the vaccine.

“We weren’t going out, we felt like we could keep it under control a little longer,” Claudia said. “It’s a very new medication, and you don’t really know the side effects. . . . We’re not anti-vaccine, we believe in that stuff. But we thought we could wait, let the other people who need it more get it, the older people. I thought I had time.”

Alexey’s cough “got progressively worse,” his wife said. “He had such a bad coughing fit, his back muscles spasmed and he couldn’t breathe.” They called fire rescue; his vitals were OK. But two days later, the cough became so bad that Claudia made him go to the hospital.

Alexey’s stay stretched to nearly a month. Claudia could see that “he knew he might not come home. I think he was very afraid.” They spoke every day until he went on a respirator.

Jessica Herrera, Alexey’s co-worker and close friend, said he told her: “I don’t think I’m gonna make it, I think death is really trying to get me on this one.”

She assured him: “We’re both gonna be here in 30 years, we’ve got to see your daughters give birth, see the grandkids. But he knew.”

Alexey died April 23. He was 42.

Claudia and all three daughters tested positive for the coronavirus while Alexey was hospitalized, but their cases were mild. They got vaccinated soon after Alexey died.

“And oh my God, I wish it would have been available sooner,” Claudia said.

Alexey’s funeral drew more than 100 people, many of whom couldn’t get inside because of distancing rules. The service was on Facebook Live, but, she said, “a lot of people got left out.”

Now, as life around them edges back toward normal, the grieving seems harder.

“People are acting like it’s over,” Claudia said, “but it’s still with us. We still wear masks and take precautions. Sometimes we feel like we’re the weird ones for wearing masks. Covid is still here. And people are still dying.”

– – –

Charles Pryor, 79, waited for the call from his doctor’s office that would be the ticket to his family reunion.

He had a vaccine appointment in late March, but then the site in Medford, Ore., ran out of shots. Charles got a promise he’d be notified when more vaccine arrived.

The call didn’t come on time. On April 13, Charles began to feel the telltale symptoms: fatigue, low appetite, persistent cough. His wife fell ill two days later.

The elderly couple had spent much of the lockdown year cooped up in their southern Oregon home. Charles, a retired area manager for Arco gas stations, occupied himself with yard work. He and his wife organized their belongings, hoping eventually to downsize and live closer to their daughters, who are four hours away.

Their daughter Lynette Anderson hoped to surprise her parents for a Mother’s Day visit. She and her 16-year-old son, Trevin, would show off how much he’d grown since they last got together two years ago.

But on April 22, Charles collapsed at home and was hospitalized. Four days later, unable to visit in person, Lynette called her father and told him she loved him. To her surprise, her normally reticent father started asking about vaccines.

“Did Jeff get it?” he asked, referring to Lynette’s husband.

“Yes,” his daughter replied.

“Did Trevin?”

“Yes, his first one.”

Her father paused.

“Oh man, I wish I would have gotten it,” he said.

The next day, Charles went on a ventilator. Pneumonia scarred his lungs. His kidneys started to fail. He died on Mother’s Day.

The family reunion went on without him later that week in Canby, Ore., home to his other daughter, Christine Denison. They marked Christine’s 47th birthday with a small chocolate mousse cake and angels gifted by Lynette – a celebration overshadowed by grief.

No stranger to the pandemic’s toll, Lynette has three friends who lost loved ones to the virus. She can’t help but dwell on how close her father came to immunization. photo

“If only he just got it,” she said.

Now, she encourages others to get the shot – but gently. Vaccine skepticism and mistrust of government mandates run deep in her wine country community, which leans conservative. Rather than telling people what to do, she shares her own positive experience with getting vaccinated. And she tells her father’s story.

“When you talk about somebody passing, it really changes the mind,” she said. “Once you have it in your family, you realize it’s real.”

Lynette has already swayed her best friend’s daughter and hopes to win over others.

The family planned to bury Charles, a Navy veteran, at Eagle Point National Cemetery, near Medford, on June 11, but postponed the services because his widow still feels weak from her covid-19 illness.

“We all wanted to get together and have a family gathering,” Lynette said. “We went all those months and nobody got sick, and now we are going to have a funeral.”

– – –

Philip Sardelis was ecstatic to travel to Greece again this summer, a chance to take his aging mother back to her home country and celebrate his wife’s 45th birthday.

The co-founder of Sardi’s Chicken, a District of Columbia-area Peruvian restaurant chain, spent hours on the phone trying to land vaccine appointments for his mother and mother-in-law. He beamed after driving his mom back from her first shot in February. His own appointment was just around the corner, on March 26.

Eighteen days before Philip could receive a jab of immunity, before his restaurants could fully reopen, before he could revive his Greek vacation tradition, he tested positive for the virus.

He was 48, without serious medical conditions, so he wasn’t too worried. His fever spiked to 103, but he seemed to be getting better.

“The doctors said I’ll be OK, it’s not that bad,” he texted his cousin and business partner, also named Philip Sardelis, on March 9.

Less than 24 hours later, he couldn’t eat, couldn’t get up. The fever wouldn’t break.

“Dude I hate this,” he texted his cousin, who had recovered from his own bout with the virus in January. “I will fight through.”

On March 11, his wife, Lissette, drove him to Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., after an oximeter showed his oxygen levels dipping.

“im being told im in bad shape,” Philip wrote on Facebook on March 13. “I am not ready to leave this world yet but i need the power of everyones prayers.”

Raised by Greek immigrants in Aspen Hill in Montgomery County, Md., Philip attended Wheaton High School and Montgomery College. He dabbled in computers and worked for a title company before following his father into the food industry. He joined forces with his cousin Philip – both named for their grandfather, a Greek tradition – to operate a catering business.

The rotisserie chicken they catered from a Peruvian restaurant was a big hit, and the cousins opened their own place to sell the dish. From one store in Beltsville, Md., in 2008, their chain has grown to more than a dozen outlets.

“There’s something about these two Greek cousins: They take risks, they never think that they are going to fail,” said Lissette, a native of El Salvador.

At the hospital, Philip struggled to breathe. Other symptoms waned, but he developed blood clots in his lungs. Still, he managed to text his wife to make sure their teenage son drove his grandmother to her second vaccine appointment.

A week into his stay, Philip texted his cousin a selfie showing tubes in his nose. He said he looked like he had “one foot in the casket.”

He was intubated and transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where he qualified for a last-resort treatment in which the patient’s blood is removed and run through an artificial lung to be enhanced with higher oxygen levels.

He couldn’t speak or move. He communicated by squeezing his wife’s hands. Lissette said doctors couldn’t say why he deteriorated so quickly. He was overweight but had no other common risk factors.

Deeply devoted to his four children, Philip now missed big achievements in their lives. His 12-year-old son, Georgie, won a wrestling tournament. Michael, 19, won admission to the University of Maryland.

On April 24, a doctor called Lissette and urged her to get to the hospital quickly. She hadn’t seen her husband in 10 days because of covid safety protocols. On her 45-minute drive, nurses called every 10 minutes.

By the time Lissette arrived with her sister and two oldest sons, doctors were performing CPR. Philip was already dead after a massive heart attack and kidney failure.

In the family’s close-knit Greek community, Philip’s funeral would have normally drawn a crowd of hundreds. His home would have teemed with visitors bringing food and condolences.

Big crowds were still out of the question, but Philip’s death came late enough in the pandemic that the Greek Orthodox Church allowed 100 people into the service, which was live-streamed on YouTube.

Lissette said she hopes her husband’s story pushes more people to get the shot. She can’t get over the feeling that his late death was so “unfair. But then again,” she said, “we are not special. Covid attacks anybody. It doesn’t matter who you are.”

She still hears people defend their decision not to get vaccinated by saying that they have more than a 90% chance of survival if infected.

“It doesn’t make me feel better that it’s only 2%, or 5%,” Lissette said. “The families like mine, we also matter. I can’t believe there are people that say that just because they don’t have anyone dead.”

The Washington Post’s Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Turkey hoovers up vast blooms of sea snot in biggest ever maritime cleanup

Turkey hoovers up vast blooms of sea snot in biggest ever maritime cleanup

eams continue cleaning process of mucilage
Teams continue cleaning process of mucilage.

 

Turkey launched the biggest maritime cleanup operation in its history this week to tackle an unprecedented bloom of marine mucilage in the Sea of Marmara that experts say is an unsightly symptom of a much larger environmental problem.

In recent weeks “sea snot” has blanketed much of the shoreline around Istanbul in the waterway between the Aegean and the Black Sea. Underneath the waves curtains of the sludge hang in sheets, with the blooms depleting oxygen levels in the ocean, choking aquatic life and threatening Turkey’s fishing industry.

Turkey's president has promised to rescue the Marmara Sea from an outbreak of "sea snot" that is alarming marine biologists and environmentalists
Turkey’s president has promised to rescue the Marmara Sea from an outbreak of “sea snot” that is alarming marine biologists and environmentalists.

 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to designate the Sea of Marmara a conservation area this week, vowing to save Istanbul’s shorelines from “the mucilage calamity.”

“We must act without delay,” he said, as officials dispatched a fleet of surface cleaning boats and an army of workers equipped with trucks with vacuum hoses to suck up the worst of the scum along the shoreline.

The algal bloom first appeared in Turkish waters in 2007 but this year’s outbreak is the worst on record, experts say.

The floating organic matter is secreted by a booming phytoplankton population, whose out-of-control growth has been fuelled by a nutrient-rich cocktail of raw sewage, agricultural runoff and other pollution, according to an academic committee formed by Turkey’s Higher Education Council.

Children swim in the Marmara sea covered by sea snot
Children swim in the Marmara sea covered by sea snot.

 

While overfishing, ocean acidification and the impact of invasive species are other interrelated factors, the experts believe that warmer waters associated with climate change are turbocharging the bloom.

“The impact of rising sea temperatures due to climate change also plays an important role,” said President Erdogan.

According to researchers at the Institute of Marine Sciences at Turkey’s Middle East Technical University, the temperature of the Sea of Marmara has increased by an average of 2-2.5 degrees over the past two decades.

Between the immediate cleanup efforts and the long-term effects of climate change, Turkey is looking at solutions to improve water water treatment and reduce pollution.

A view of the sea, on the Caddebostan shore, on the Asian side of Istanbul
A view of the sea, on the Caddebostan shore, on the Asian side of Istanbul.

 

Environmental protection has failed to keep pace as the population of Istanbul and its surroundings has increased massively in recent decades, with around 20 million people now living around the Sea of Marmara.

That is about to change, with Environment Minister Murat Kurum pledging to reduce nitrogen levels in the sea by 40 percent .

“We will take all the necessary steps within three years and realize the projects that will save not only the present but also the future together,” he said, speaking aboard a marine research vessel.

Meanwhile the mucilage has began to infiltrate portions of the adjoining Aegean and Black seas.

Here’s Why Schumer’s Mostly OK With Manchin Blocking His Agenda

Here’s Why Schumer’s Mostly OK With Manchin Blocking His Agenda

Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty

 

Washington’s most popular parlor game, after a round of Kamala Harris is wrong no matter what she does, is guessing What in the world is Joe Manchin up to?

Manchin is now the man of the moment, with the fate of the Democratic agenda in his hands in a 50-50 Senate. He’s going about it in his wide-eyed, can’t-we-all-get-along way that his colleagues might find grating if it weren’t so sincere. Senators in his party who agree with him from afar on delicate issues like the For the People Act and maintaining the filibuster call him a heat shield. He told a confidant that after the shock of the Jan. 6 insurrection, he feared a civil war could break out between and within the parties. He wanted to create a safe space for warring sides and factions to talk it out.

Call him what you want—and many use unprintable epithets—he looks like the Pied Piper as reporters and other senators follow in his wake as he goes to cast another vote that will enrage someone. Eight Democrats voted against raising the minimum wage but Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, a Green Party activist who’s tilted right since she ran for her seat in 2018, is generally inscrutable but something snapped in her that day. She flounced to the well in an exaggerated schoolgirl get up and what looked like a wig, gave a theatrical thumbs down, and flounced out seeming as happy to own the libs in that moment as Marjorie Taylor Greene is to taunt them every day.

The Democratic Senators Hiding Behind Joe Manchin

It’s messy up there. Manchin is generally at the center trying to calm things down but often stirs them up. He said it was the GOP’s duty to vote for a commission to find out what happened on Jan. 6, insisting “You have to have faith there’s ten good people.”

No, you don’t when those ten good people in the Republican Party don’t show up even though the commission in question had already been watered down to a thin gruel with equal power between the parties and a hard stop on Dec. 31, no matter what. Republicans who believe subpoenas are mere invitations to show up would only have to stonewall for a few months before claiming to have exonerated the ex-president who demands it. Delay is their friend. Former White House Don McGahn finally came to Congress last week to give limited testimony on his own terms behind closed doors, four years after being ordered to do so and long after Ship Mueller set sail.

After bipartisanship failed in such an easy instance, surely Manchin would have realized he’s naive to believe anyone’s going to buy his belief in bipartisanship. Not at all. Afterward, he said he’s not “willing to destroy our government” by ending the filibuster over it.

No one benefits from Manchin’s belief that there’s a pony in the manure McConnell is shoveling more than Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. As long as Manchin is so publicly standing in the way of so much, Schumer can go home, have AOC stand on the podium next to him, and not get hit too hard by progressives for what he’s not getting done. Schumer’s up in 2022. AOC hasn’t said she’s going to primary him but she also hasn’t said she won’t, so keeping her close is in order. Manchin taking the hits also protects Schumer’s other members running in 2022, like Arizona’s Mark Kelly, New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan, New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen.

Joe Manchin: Deeply Disappointed in GOP and Prepared to Do Absolutely Nothing

It’s unlikely any Democrat other than Manchin could win statewide in an increasingly Trumpian state. Trump won West Virginia by 39 points last year; as the Times noted; no other member of the House or Senate represents voters who favored the other party’s presidential candidate by more than 16 points. In 2018, two years after Trump won the state by 32 points, Manchin won a second term by just three points.

And for all his faith in Republicans now, it’s not true that the Democrat from West Virginia might as well be a Republican, as Joe Biden said this month when he said the reason he couldn’t get Democrats’ voting rights bill through was “two members of the Senate”—meaning Manchin and Sinema, “who vote more with my Republican friends.”

In fact, Manchin voted consistently against repeal of Obamacare and for Medicare for All, to preserve funding for Planned Parenthood, against Trump’s tax cuts (and for his impeachment), and periodically reintroduces a gun control bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Pat Toomey. He’s no longer high on S.1, the bloated For the People Act, but he wants to fatten and pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

Still, I threw up my hands and said that’s it when Manchin stuck with the filibuster after losing the Jan. 6 commission vote. Didn’t he hear Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell say he is “100 percent focused “on stopping President Joe Biden’s socialist administration? Imagine what he’d say about a Democratic president he hasn’t been friends with for decades. Then I read something Manchin wrote when he took a hard vote last year against the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett.

He warned that Republicans had chosen “a dangerous, partisan path” to cram Barrett onto the court an unprecedented eight days before an election. “The Senate is supposed to be the greatest deliberative body in the world… But each time a Senate majority–regardless of party–changes the rules, we reduce the incentive to work together across party lines” and “fan the flames of division.”

He’s applying that to his party now. And on Thursday it worked. The infrastructure bill that had appeared to be dead on Wednesday came back to life after hours and hours of Manchin talking it out in his safe place along with—you guessed it—a bipartisan group of 10 senators.

I still fear the country is paralyzed until the filibuster ends or McConnell’s obstruction does. Otherwise, an election has no consequences. But I no longer feel Manchin is wrong to play by the rules as they exist. He’s put his own seat on the line as collateral and so that others might survive. I’m sure he’s hoping for a pony to come out of it. I’m hoping too.

Don’t Cry for H.R. 1

Bulwark – Pro Democracy

Don’t Cry for H.R. 1

Amend the Electoral Count Act instead.
by Mona Charen                    June 10, 2021

 

Featured ImageRepublican members of Congress pray after US Vice President Mike Pence declared the final electoral vote counts making Joe Biden the next US President during a joint session of Congress to count the electoral votes for President, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 7, 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images).

When Sen. Joe Manchin announced that he would oppose the For the People Act, Steve Benen of MSNBC spoke for many Democrats when he declared that “Joe Manchin is prepared to be remembered by history as the senator who did little more than hope as his country’s democracy unraveled.”

One can share Democrats’ alarm about the state of our democracy without concluding that the For the People Act was the answer. In fact, none other than the New York Times editorial board argued that the bill is poorly tailored:

Democrats in Congress have crafted an election bill, H.R. 1, that is poorly matched to the moment. The legislation attempts to accomplish more than is currently feasible, while failing to address some of the clearest threats to democracy, especially the prospect that state officials will seek to overturn the will of voters.

H.R. 1 is a mashup of sound ideas (requiring a paper record of each vote) with outdated and arguably unconstitutional measures—banning so-called “dark money” at a time when small dollar donations are more important; and limiting speech, which the ACLU, among others, opposes.

Some are now saying the Democrats should turn to the John Lewis Act as a response to Republican efforts to curtail voting rights in the states. But the Lewis Act is off point too.

Look, Republican efforts to limit early and absentee voting are destructive because they ratify the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. Every law that limits voting access is a message to voters saying, “This is necessary because the Democrats cheated.” So these laws deserve the strongest condemnation, and Democrats would be justified in running ads reminding voters that Republicans were acting in bad faith.

But not all of the measures in these laws are objectionable. Requiring an ID strikes many people as simple common sense. An Economist/YouGov poll in April found that 64 percent of Americans agreed with the statement: “Photo ID should be required to vote in person.” Among African Americans, 60 percent agreed. Democrats should not die on this hill.

Moreover, the far more pressing emergency is the Republican party’s loosening attachment to democratic procedures and to truth itself. As we saw in the aftermath of 2020, 147 Republican office holders were willing to decertify the Electoral College count. A few brave local Republican officials resisted tremendous pressure to alter or misreport the results of elections in their states. They demonstrated integrity. For their trouble, instead of being lauded and celebrated as heroes of democracy, they have been censured by GOP committees across the country as the legend of the Big Lie has seized the minds of rank-and-file Republicans.

The Republican party is barreling toward disregarding the actual vote count in a presidential contest. The John Lewis Act does not address this. It would permit the Justice Department to police voting rules that disproportionately affect minority voters in some states, but it is miles away from dealing with a problem like refusing to certify the Electoral College results.

There is something Democrats can do at the federal level to respond to the threat: They can amend the Electoral Count Act of 1887. Republicans would be unlikely to filibuster this law, so Democrats can pass it with a simple majority vote. No need to tangle with Manchin and Sen. Krysten Sinema over the filibuster.

This law, blissfully ignored for most of its history with the exception of a couple of law review articles, was passed following the contentious Hayes/Tilden election in 1876—a contest that was so close it threatened to tear the country apart just 11 years after Appomattox. The law is, by many accounts, a “morass of ambiguity.” That’s too kind. Here is a sample of the brilliant draftsmanship:

If more than one return or paper purporting to be a return from a State shall have been received by the President of the Senate, those votes, and those only, shall be counted which shall have been regularly given by the electors who are shown by the determination mentioned in section 5 of this title to have been appointed, if the determination in said section provided for shall have been made, or by such successors or substitutes, in case of a vacancy in the board of electors so ascertained, as have been appointed to fill such vacancy in the mode provided by the laws of the State; but in case there shall arise the question which of two or more of such State authorities determining what electors have been appointed, as mentioned in section 5 of this title, is the lawful tribunal of such State, the votes regularly given of those electors, and those only, of such State shall be counted whose title as electors the two Houses, acting separately, shall concurrently decide is supported by the decision of such State so authorized by its law; [Hang in there, we’re almost done] and in such case of more than one return or paper purporting to be a return from a State, if there shall have been no such determination of the question in the State aforesaid, then those votes, and those only, shall be counted which the two Houses shall concurrently decide were cast by lawful electors appointed in accordance with the laws of the State, unless the two Houses, acting separately, shall concurrently decide such votes not to be the lawful votes of the legally appointed electors of such State.

Unless I missed a period somewhere, that is one sentence. Laws should not be written to obscure but to clarify.

The law directs governors to certify their states’ results and the slate of electors chosen by the voters. But it also specifies that in a case of a “failed election” (not defined), in which the voters have not made a choice, the state legislature can step in to appoint electors.

As the votes were being counted in 2020, Republican influencers like radio host Mark Levin were suggesting that state legislatures had a “constitutional duty” to reverse the will of the voters and name their own slate of Trump electors. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urged Republicans in Pennsylvania and Michigan, both of which have majority Republican legislatures, to phone their representatives so that they could “provide remedies.” When Sen. Lindsey Graham was asked by Sean Hannity about possibly invalidating votes, he said, “Everything should be on the table.”

The Electoral Count Act decrees that if one representative and one senator object, in writing, to the counting of any state’s electoral votes, the bodies must adjourn to their chambers to debate the matter. Here is a video of Vice President Biden, sitting as president of the Senate, rejecting objections to the Electoral College count precisely because the House members did not have a Senate co-signer.

As Ed Kilgore has recommended, congress should amend the Electoral Count Act to clarify that only electoral votes certified by individual states will be counted and that the vice-president’s role is purely ceremonial. Further, the threshold for objections to state electoral vote counts should be much higher than two.

I would add that a supermajority should be required to decertify any state’s electoral votes, not just a simple majority as the law now permits. Additionally, the law should be amended to eliminate the “failed election” section that empowers legislatures to substitute their preference for that of the voters. There are armies of law professors who can provide relevant language and good ideas for other changes.

Forget H.R. 1. Forget campaign finance. Don’t perseverate on whether poll watchers can distribute water to voters waiting in line. It’s not the vote casting, but the vote counting that needs attention. Now.

Mona Charen is Policy Editor of The Bulwark, a nationally syndicated columnist, and host of The Bulwark’s Beg to Differ podcast. 

Either you believe in our right to vote, or you don’t, Sen. Manchin. Something tells me you don’t.

Either you believe in our right to vote, or you don’t, Sen. Manchin. Something tells me you don’t | Opinion

 

 

As Americans, we are pleased to call ourselves one of the world’s oldest democracies. We are actually one of the world’s newest. Democracy, after all, is government shaped by the will of the people. But until 1920, roughly half the people were not allowed to vote, disqualified by dint of gender. And until 1965 — 56 years ago — roughly 10 percent were restricted by color of skin.

So American democracy is not even as old as you are. Its newness — its recentness — is invoked here to help you understand the trepidation with which some of us regard the dozens of bills being pondered and passed in Republican-led statehouses across the country with the intention and certain effect of keeping us from voting. As part of a demographic whose access to that right has never been impeded, perhaps you find it difficult to appreciate the profound distress and sense of historical déjà vu some of us are now processing.

To say nothing of our equally profound disappointment in those who could defend us choosing instead to let us down, failing to meet the moment with the urgency it requires. Sadly, that’s a category into which you fall.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy,” you wrote in a Sunday op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail of West Virginia. You then spent a thousand words explaining why you will not protect this right by supporting the For The People Act, which would end partisan gerrymandering, punish those who try to intimidate voters and streamline voter registration, among other urgently needed reforms. Your argument boils down to: I won’t vote for the bill because it doesn’t have bipartisan support. You lodge no other complaint against it.

But your reasoning is nonsensical. Would you decline to support a For The Chickens Act solely because the foxes refused to sign on?

Yes, you did signal a willingness to vote for a companion bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would repair the Voting Rights Act that was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. But even here, your support is conditioned upon Republican buy-in; you have flatly ruled out ending — or even carving out a one-time exemption from — the filibuster, a parliamentary procedure that allows a minority party to block legislation the majority approves.

There has been much speculation on why you’re doing this. Some say you enjoy the attention. Some say you’re not very smart. But the scariest idea is that you are sincere, that you truly believe this radical (and unrequited) commitment to bipartisanship is what’s best. It’s entirely possible, however, to be sincere and yet, sincerely wrong.

And you are. In effect, you ask those of us who face the loss of our voting rights to trust you as you wager those rights on Republican integrity and good faith. But as recent years have proven ad nauseam, those are qualities your colleagues have in vanishingly short supply.

Moreover, if America is what America says, then my ballot is not yours to gamble with. Bipartisanship is very important, yes, but the right to vote is sacred — “fundamental,” to use your word. When you prioritize the former above the latter, you echo all the other times this country has made us the fulcrum of its moral compromises, deemed something else to be of more importance than our rights as human beings.

Sir, the error you are making is seismic and potentially tragic. Reconsider, please.

The fatal flaw(s) in Manchin’s case against the For the People Act

MSNBC – MaddowBlog

The fatal flaw(s) in Manchin’s case against the For the People Act

 

Joe Manchin is prepared to be remembered by history as the senator who did little more than hope as his country’s democracy unraveled.

About a week ago, more than 100 American scholars who specialize in democracy studies unveiled a joint public statement warning that the United States’ system of government is “now at risk.” As part of their efforts, the scholars, many of whom have devoted much of their lives to studying the breakdowns in democracies abroad, pleaded with lawmakers to act.

“We urge members of Congress to do whatever is necessary — including suspending the filibuster — in order to pass national voting and election administration standards,” the experts wrote, apparently referring to the standards Democrats hope to establish in the pending For the People Act legislation.

One of the signatories was Harvard’s Daniel Ziblatt, co-author of How Democracies Die, who told The New Yorker‘s Susan Glasser that threats against the U.S. democracy “are much worse than we expected” when he and Steven Levitsky first wrote the book in 2018. Ziblatt added that current conditions are “much more worrisome.”

It was against this backdrop that President Biden delivered Memorial Day remarks last week describing democracy as the “soul of America” that all of us must fight to protect. The president soon after called for June to be “a month of action on Capitol Hill,” specifically on the issue of voting rights. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told members that they should prepared to vote this month on the For the People Act, which he said is “essential to defending our democracy.”

Yesterday, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced that his party’s top legislative priority would die by his hand.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Sunday that he will not vote for S.1, known as the For The People Act, the massive elections and ethics reform package Democrats have proposed. The announcement immediately imperils the bill, which is universally opposed by Republicans and would require elimination of the Senate filibuster to be passed. The legislation was passed in the House this year.

 

In an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the conservative Democrat didn’t identify any substantive problems with the legislation, other than to denounce the bill as “partisan.”

The superficiality of the indictment was jarring: Manchin would have the public believe that any important proposal that Republicans don’t like is by definition “partisan,” which in turn renders the bill unacceptable, regardless of merit. It’s a governing model that says the majority party must give the minority party veto power over efforts to shield our system of government, even as that party takes a sledgehammer to democracy in states nationwide.

The West Virginian appeared on Fox News yesterday morning and added, in reference to his Senate Republican colleagues, “I’m just hoping they are able to rise to the occasion to defend our country and support our country and make sure that we have a democracy for this republic of all the people.” In the same interview, the conservative Democrat went on to say, “I’m going to continue to keep working with my bipartisan friends and hopefully we can get more of them.”

Note the repetitious use of the word “hope.” Manchin, after already having seen GOP senators discredit his preferred approach to legislating, is “just hoping” that the party actively opposed to voting rights changes its mind.

The plan is not to have the majority party govern to preserve democracy; rather, the plan is to hope that Republican opponents of democracy see the light before it’s too late. What could possibly go wrong?

In a word, everything.

The disconnect between the seriousness of the threat and Manchin’s aspirational longing is jarring because the scope and scale of the Republican Party’s campaign is so severe. As part of the most aggressive attacks against our democracy in generations, GOP officials are placing indefensible hurdles between Americans and ballot boxes through voter-suppression measures. At the same time, the party is hijacking election administration systems. And actively undermining public confidence in election results. And positioning far-right, anti-election ideologues to serve as Secretaries of State, whose offices oversee elections. And targeting poll workers. And exploring ways to make it more difficult for Americans to turn to the courts in the hopes of protecting voting rights. And intensifying voter-roll purges. And empowering heavy-handed poll watchers. And preparing to exploit gerrymandering to create voter-proof majorities.

And laying the groundwork to allow officials to overturn election results Republicans don’t like.

Is America heading to a place where it can no longer call itself a democracy?

Is America heading to a place where it can no longer call itself a democracy?

<span>Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

 

If Donald Trump’s inaugural address can be summed up in two words – “American carnage” – Joe Biden’s might be remembered for three: “Democracy has prevailed.”

Related: Republican resistance: dissenting Texas leads the anti-Biden charge

The new president, speaking from the spot where just two weeks earlier a pro-Trump mob had stormed the US Capitol, promised that the worst was over in a battered, bruised yet resilient Washington.

But now, four and a half months later the alarm bells are sounding on American democracy again. Even as the coronavirus retreats, the pandemic of Trump’s “big lie” about a stolen election spreads, manifest in Republicans’ blocking of a commission to investigate the insurrection. And state after state is imposing new voting restrictions and Trump allies are now vying to run future election themselves.

With Republicans still in thrall to Trump and odds-on to win control of the House of Representatives next year, there are growing fears that his presidency was less a historical blip than a harbinger of systemic decline.

“There was a momentary sigh of relief but the level of anxiety is actually strangely higher now than in 2016 in the sense that it’s not just about one person but there are broader structural issues,” said Daniel Ziblatt, co-author of How Democracies Die. “The weird emails that I get are more ominous now than they were in 2016: there seems to be a much deeper level of misinformation and conspiracy theories.”

There seems to be a much deeper level of misinformation and conspiracy theories

Daniel Ziblatt

Just hours after the terror of 6 January, 147 Republicans in Congress voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election despite no evidence of irregularities. Trump was impeached for inciting the violence but Senate Republicans ensured his acquittal – a fork in the road where the party could have chosen another destiny.

As Trump continued to push his false claims of election fraud, rightwing media and Republican state parties fell into line. A farcical “audit” of votes is under way in Arizona with more states threatening to follow suit. Trump is reportedly so fixated on the audits that he has even suggested – wrongly – he could be reinstated as president later this year.

Perhaps more insidiously, Trump supporters who tried to overturn the 2020 election are maneuvering to serve as election officials in swing states such as Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Nevada. If they succeed in becoming secretaries of state, they would exercise huge influence over the conduct of future elections and certifying their results. Some moderate Republican secretaries of state were crucial bulwarks against Trump’s toxic conspiracy theories last year.

The offensive is coupled with a dramatic and sweeping assault on voting rights. Republican-controlled state legislatures have rammed through bills that make it harder to vote in states such as Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Montana. Their all-out effort in Texas was temporarily derailed when Democrats walked out of the chamber, denying them a quorum.

A person holds a sign reading &#x002018;Secure our democracy&#x002019; in San Diego, California, in April.
A person holds a sign reading ‘Secure our democracy’ in San Diego, California, in April. Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

 

Ziblatt, a political scientist at Harvard University, commented: “The most worrying threat is at the state level, the effort to change voting rules, which I think is prompted by the failed effort to alter the election outcome of 2020.

“The lesson Republicans have learnt from that is they don’t really suffer any electoral consequences from their base pursuing this kind of thing. In fact, they’re rewarded for it. That’s very ominous because that suggests they’ll continue to try to do this until they pay an electoral price for it, and so far they don’t sense they’re paying an electoral price for it.”

Where is this authoritarian ecosystem heading? For many, the nightmare scenario is that Trump will run again in 2024 and, with the benefit of voter suppression, sneak a win in the electoral college as he did in 2016. If that fails, plan B would be for a Republican-controlled House to refuse to certify a Democratic winner and overturn the result in Trump’s favor.

Disputed presidential elections have been thrown to the House before, Ziblatt noted. “It’s not unprecedented but in those earlier periods you had two parties that were constitutional, fully democratic parties. The thought of having a dispute like that when one of the parties is only questionably committed to democratic rules and norms is very frightening.”

People use elections to get into power and then, once in power, assault democratic institutions

Daniel Ziblatt

In How Democracies Die, Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky argue that democracies often come under threat not from invading armies or violent revolutions but at the ballot box: death by a thousand cuts. “People use elections to get into power and then, once in power, assault democratic institutions,” Ziblatt said.

“That’s Viktor Orbán [in Hungary], that’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan [in Turkey], that’s Hugo Chávez [in Venezuela] and what’s distinctive about that is that it often begins incrementally. So people continue to go about their lives, continue to vote, parliament continues to meet and so you think, ‘Is there really a threat?’ But the power concentrates so it becomes harder and harder to unseat an incumbent.”

He added: “We shouldn’t overlook that fact that we had a change in government in January. What that suggests is our electoral institutions do work better than they do in Hungary. The opposition in the United States is more well-organized and financed than the Hungarian opposition or the Turkish opposition, so we shouldn’t overstate that. But on the other hand, the tendencies are very similar.”

Republicans are also playing a very long game, rewiring democracy’s hard drive in an attempt to consolidate power. Trump is arguably both cause and effect of the lurch right, which takes place in the wider context of white Christians losing majority status in America’s changing demographics.

His grip on the party appears only to have tightened since his defeat, as evidenced by the ousting of Trump critic Liz Cheney from House leadership and their use of a procedural move known as the filibuster to block the 6 January commission. Critics say that, in an atmosphere of partisan tribalism, the party is now driven by a conviction that Democratic victories are by definition illegitimate.

Kurt Bardella, a former Republican congressional aide who is now a Democrat, said: “It’s very clear that the next time there is a violent effort to overthrow our government, Republicans in Congress will be knowing accomplices in that effort. They are the getaway driver for the democratic arsonists.”

Bardella, a political commentator, added: “It has become painfully transparent that the Republican party platform is 100% anti-democratic and it is their ambition to impose minority rule on the majority going forward, because they know that when the playing field is level, they can’t win and so they have instead decided to double down on supporting a wannabe autocrat, and are doing everything they can to destabilize the democratic safeguards that we’ve had in place since the founding of our country.

“We cannot underestimate the gravity of this moment in time because what happens over the next month or year could be the turning point in this battle to preserve our democracy.”

The threat poses a dilemma for Biden, who was elected on a promise of building bridges and seeking bipartisanship. He continues to do so while issuing increasingly stark calls to arms. Speaking in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this week, he repeated his “democracy prevailed” mantra but then warned of a “truly unprecedented assault on our democracy” and announced that the vice-president, Kamala Harris, would lead an effort to strengthen voting rights.

Joe Biden speaks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on 1 June.
Joe Biden speaks in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on 1 June. Photograph: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

 

Proposed national legislation to address the issue, however, depends on a Senate currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans (Harris has the tie-breaking vote). In order to pass it with a simple majority, Democrats would first have to abolish the filibuster but at least two senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have ruled out such a step.

Facing this stalemate, activists and civil society are trying to create a sense of urgency. More than a hundred scholars this week released a joint statement, posted by the New America think-tank, expressing “deep concern” at “radical changes to core electoral procedures” that jeopardize free and fair elections. “Our entire democracy is now at risk,” the scholars wrote.

Last year’s poll was dubbed “the election that could break America” and the nation was widely considered to have dodged a bullet; it may not be so fortunate in 2024. Yvette Simpson, chief executive of the progressive group Democracy for Action, added: “We’re getting to the place where we might not be able to call ourselves a democracy any more. That’s how dire it is.

“It is not just the fact that there is an orchestrated, concerted effort across our country to interfere with the most fundamental right of any democracy but that they’re doing it so blatantly, so out in the open and so unapologetically, and that there have been many attempts and there’s no easy way to stop it.”

Simpson compared Democrats’ victory over Trump to the film Avengers: Endgame and warned against complacency. “We just defeated Thanos and everybody was like, ‘OK, let’s take a break,’ and I’m like, ‘No, we cannot take a break because the GOP never take a break’. They know that we’re taking a break and that’s why they’re doing it now and so aggressively: ‘You think you won because Trump is out? Oh, we got you.’”

Ibram X Kendi,  a historian and author of How to Be an Antiracist, added: “At the end of the day, there is an all out war on American voters, particularly younger voters, particularly younger voters of color, and it’s happening from Texas to Florida and it’s really causing the American people to decide whether we want our democracy or not.”

Analysis: How the Supreme Court has tilted election law to favor the Republican Party

Analysis: How the Supreme Court has tilted election law to favor the Republican Party

FILE - This Nov. 30, 2018, file photo shows Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts, as he sits with fellow Supreme Court justices for a group portrait at the Supreme Court Building in Washington. Roberts spent the night in the hospital in June 2020 after he fell and injured his forehead, a Supreme Court spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday, July 7. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the Supreme Court in 2013 threw out part of the Voting Rights Act requiring states with histories of discriminating against Black voters to clear election rule changes with the Justice Department. (Associated Press).

 

This year’s wave of new voting restrictions across the South may seem a response to the 2020 election, but its origins stem in no small part from the Supreme Court, which over the last decade has reshaped election law to elevate the power of state lawmakers over the rights of their voters.

The sum of the court’s rulings on elections could give the Republican Party a significant edge as it seeks to recapture control of Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024.

Under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the Supreme Court threw out the part of the Voting Rights Act requiring states with histories of discriminating against Black voters to clear election rule changes with the U.S. Justice Department. Writing for a 5-4 majority in 2013, Roberts called the section outdated and said it did not fit with “current conditions.”

The Constitution in the view of the Roberts court also allows lawmakers to draw gerrymandered districts to keep themselves in power, forbids limits on how much wealthy donors and incorporated groups can spend on campaigns and may even permit state lawmakers, not the voters, to decide who will be the president.

It’s a view that proved helpful to Republican-leaning states in skirmishes ahead of last year’s election and cleared the way for the recent showdown over the Texas GOP’s sweeping efforts to enact voting restrictions.

The court’s redistricting decisions alone could be enough to shift control in the U.S. House next year, according to Michael Li, a scholar at the Brennan Center. This will be the first cycle of redistricting in more than 50 years in which the Southern states may put their election maps into effect immediately.

“The Supreme Court has given a green light to aggressive partisan gerrymandering,” he said. “It is almost certainly enough seats in those states alone for Republicans to win back the House.”

Stanford Law professor Nathaniel Persily said he would be surprised if newly enacted voting restrictions are struck down. “The Supreme Court has not sent a signal they will protect the right to vote,” he said.

During the civil rights era of the 1960s and for some time beyond, the Supreme Court spoke of voting as a fundamental right, one judges had a duty to protect.

“The right to vote freely for the candidate of one’s choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government,” Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in 1964 in Reynolds vs. Sims.

But the notion of a constitutional right to vote has faded, replaced by the court’s conviction that the power of state legislators trumps the rights of the voters.

Harvard Law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos, who teaches election law, said he wouldn’t speculate about the intent of the justices. “But across the right to vote, redistricting, the Voting Rights Act and campaign finance, the court’s decisions have benefited Republicans,” he said. “And partisan advantage explains these decisions better than rival hypotheses like originalism, precedent, or judicial nonintervention.”

State lawmakers versus judges

Last fall, the court’s conservatives repeatedly chastised judges who in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic sought to protect voters, for example, by extending deadlines for mailed-in ballots. A judge in the crucial state of Wisconsin said ballots postmarked by election day should be counted even if they arrived a few days late. The Supreme Court disagreed, 5-3, in an October vote.

The Constitution gives state legislatures, not judges, the authority to set election rules, said Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh in Democratic National Committee vs. Wisconsin State Legislature. “Legislators can be held accountable by the people for the rules they write or fail to write,” they added.

Yet Wisconsin may not be the best example of legislators “held accountable by the people.” The state assembly districts were drawn to favor Republicans so much that the GOP held 63 of 99 seats after the 2018 election, even though Democrats won a statewide majority and ousted Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

Six months earlier, the Supreme Court had thrown out a lower court ruling striking down Wisconsin’s election districts as an extreme partisan gerrymander.

Republicans did not invent gerrymandering. Democrats led the way in the past. But when Republicans won big in the 2010 midterm election, they drew election districts to lock in their party’s control. When challenged in court, the Supreme Court sided with the states over their voters.

Roberts spoke for a 5-4 majority in 2019 to uphold North Carolina’s Republican legislators whose gerrymandered map all but assured Republicans would hold 10 of 13 seats in Congress, even if Democrats won more votes statewide. “To hold that legislators cannot take partisan interests into account when drawing district lines would essentially countermand the Framers’ decision to entrust districting to political entities,” he said in Rucho vs. Common Cause.

How far would the Supreme Court go to uphold the power of the states over the wishes of their voters? That question may be answered in 2024.

When it became clear President Trump had lost his reelection bid to Joe Biden, some conservative analysts and Republicans in Pennsylvania suggested the legislature could appoint its own slate of electors, defying the verdict of the voters.

They cited Bush vs. Gore, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling that ended a recount of paper card ballots in Florida, preserving George W. Bush’s narrow victory in 2000. “The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States unless and until the state legislature chooses a statewide election,” the court said, adding that even then, the state could still take back the power to appoint the electors who ultimately choose the president.

No state legislature chose last year to appoint its own slate to the electoral college, but if the presidential election is very close in 2024, there is a growing chance one or more will try.

Dispute over the Constitution

The legal divide over voting and elections begins with a basic dispute over how to read the Constitution and American history.

As written in 1787, it gave voters a very limited role. Members of the House were to be chosen “by the people,” but state legislatures would choose their U.S. senators, appoint the electors who chose the President and set rules for elections.

But the Constitution has been repeatedly amended to broaden and bolster voting rights, including protections against discrimination based on gender and race.

The Warren court saw this evolution as putting the voters in charge of America’s democracy, but today’s conservative justices espouse “originalism” and focus on the words of the 18th century Constitution.

“It’s a very different court now,” USC law professor Franita Tolson said, much more deferential to the states, but also, she added, “they are privileging the status quo of 1787 when the electorate was mostly white men and ignoring the more egalitarian Reconstruction Amendments.”

The major ruling weakening the Voting Rights Act highlights the difference. Congress passed that law under the 15th Amendment, enacted after the Civil War to protect Black Americans from having their votes denied or their voting power diluted.

In striking down a key part of the law, Roberts wrote that the framers of the Constitution intended the states to keep for themselves “the power to regulate elections.”

Civil rights lawyers may still file suits under the Voting Rights Act and seek to prove that new restrictions discriminate against Black or Latino voters. But these cases are hard to win and may take years of litigation.

Republican lawyers say the Democrats and their allies have been making exaggerated claims about “voter suppression.” They argue that elections require rules and enforcing those rules is not the same as denying anyone the right to vote.

The Supreme Court in March considered an Arizona rule that calls for tossing out ballots cast in the wrong precincts. “Arizona has not denied anyone any voting opportunity of any kind,” said Washington lawyer Michael Carvin, representing the Arizona Republican Party. Going to the right precinct is the “usual burden of voting,” not an unfair rule that targets minority voters, he said.

Free speech (and money) protections

This fall, Roberts will surpass the 16-year tenure of Earl Warren. While Warren championed equal rights and voting, the Roberts court has repeatedly invoked its duty to protect the 1st Amendment rights of the wealthy and corporate groups to spend money on election campaigns. It struck down laws going back to 1947 that restricted campaign spending on the grounds they violate the right to “political speech.”

“Political speech cannot be limited based on a speaker’s wealth,” the court said in the Citizens United decision in 2010, because “the 1st Amendment generally prohibits the suppression of political speech based on a speaker’s identity.” In that case, the “speakers” were corporations and incorporated groups. Unions won too because they had been restricted by the same laws.

“There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders,” Roberts wrote four years later in the opening line of McCutcheon vs. FEC. The 5-4 decision in favor of the National Republican Committee erased the limits on total contributions to candidates.

This time, though, Roberts seemed to take the opposite view about whether legislators could be held accountable by the people when overseeing election laws: “Those who govern should be the last people to help decide who should govern,” he wrote.