Saturday, April 17, 2021

Afghanistan and the Anglo-Saxons

 The two big stories on my mind that I haven’t yet discussed are the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the new Anglo-Saxon caucus in the Republican Party. As the famed blues singer Calhoun Tubbs said, “Want to hear about it? Here it goes!”

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that I would go almost a week without denouncing the proposed Afghanistan withdrawal, but President Biden’s announcement caught me in a busy work week followed by an anniversary trip. Don’t take my silence for consent, however. I’m one of the few Americans left who still believes that we have an important role to play in Afghanistan.

Afghan Army soldiers patrol near the village of Kusheh, Afghanistan, March 24, 2010. TU.S. Army photo by Spc. Spencer Case See more at www.army.mil (Public domain)

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How many Americans were even aware that we still had troops in Afghanistan? Most probably haven’t given it much thought in years. Why? Because death tolls aren’t front-page news anymore.

As of January, the US only had 2,500 troops left in-country. In 2020, the US only lost 11 soldiers in Afghanistan during the entire year. These deaths are still tragic, but at less than one per month, the effort is very sustainable.

Likewise, the financial cost of the war in Afghanistan was only $52 billion in 2019. Although this sounds like a lot, it represents only about 0.2 percent of the COVID relief bill, not to mention the full federal budget.

Still, why should we spend the money when we are deeply in debt? For the answer, let’s look back in history to the 1980s, a time when music was at its cultural peak, hair was big, legs were warmed by cloth accessories, I was in high school, and the Russians were in Afghanistan.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and fought a protracted guerilla war to prop up their puppet government in Kabul. Sound familiar? Thanks in part to US aid, mujaheddin fighters eventually persuaded the Soviets to leave in 1989. The war didn’t end at that point though.

Fighting continued, first against the communist government left by the Soviets, and then among the various Afghan factions. In 1996, as the US was celebrating the Olympic Games in Atlanta, the Taliban gained control over most of the country.

What followed was a humanitarian crisis as the radicals massacred opponents and dynamited historical sites. The situation developed into a security crisis when the Taliban gave refuge to Osama bin Ladin and al Qaeda.

And therein, lies one of the main reasons why we should stay. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does geopolitics. If the US doesn’t exercise control over Afghanistan, someone else will. That might be the Taliban or some other radical Islamic group or it might be Iran, the Russians, or the Chinese. Whoever it is, it won’t be as good for the US - or Afghanistan - as having Americans control the country.

I’m not deluded about the possibility of having Afghanistan become a functional democracy - that is likely decades away if it’s possible at all - but it is in our interest to project a stabilizing influence in the region, both to prevent the country from once again becoming a terrorist haven as well as to prevent another bloodbath of innocent civilians.

Additionally, giving up and going home reflects poorly on America as an ally. We now have a long history of abandoning our friends when the going gets tough. Recent examples include South Vietnam, the Kurds, the Iraqis, and now the Afghans. With friends like us, who needs enemies?

I’m also not under any illusions that those of us who favor staying in Afghanistan are anywhere near a majority. Both parties seem to have decided that the war is over, regardless of whether the enemy has been vanquished. President Trump had already set a May 1 deadline for withdrawal so Biden is leaving the troops in place longer than Trump would have. If Donald Trump was still president, I’d worry that we might continue the global retreat by leaving NATO and South Korea.

George Orwell once said, “The quickest way to end a war is to lose it,” but withdrawing Americans from Afghanistan won’t end that war, it will only move the conflict into a new and bloody phase, one that might require sending American soldiers back as we were forced to do in Iraq.

Both parties need to learn that deserting our allies is not the way to make America great or respected again.


Speaking of tribal conflicts, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Q-Ga.) seems to be the driving force behind a new America First Caucus. A platform document circulating on the internet that promotes the group says that the caucus will “follow in President Trump’s footsteps, and potentially step on some toes and sacrifice sacred cows for the good of the American nation.” You can read the full document, which appears to be genuine but may not have been intended for public release, on Punchbowl News.

The quotes that got the most attention from the media were where the platform advocated “uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions” and support for infrastructure “that reflects the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture.”

Image credit: punchbowl.news

If there is any doubt about the aims of the caucus, the platform calls for new limits on legal immigration, saying, “America’s legal immigration system should be curtailed to those that can contribute not only economically, but have demonstrated respect for this nation’s culture and rule of law.” This is a very subjective standard, especially since crossing the border illegally to ask for asylum is in fact a form of legal immigration. If that sounds self-contradictory then you understand why the US needs to reform its immigration laws.

While the platform doesn’t go so far as to say that only “Anglo-Saxons” will be welcomed into either the caucus or the Republican Party, it is unquestionably a racial dog whistle. Actually, that’s not accurate. Dog whistles are veiled, suggestive statements while this one uses explicitly racial and ethnic terms.

And what is an “Anglo-Saxon” anyway? Britannica defines the group as “Germanic peoples who, from the 5th century CE to the time of the Norman Conquest (1066), inhabited and ruled territories that are today part of England and Wales.” In other words, “Anglo-Saxon” denotes a narrowly defined geographical ethnicity that represents about half of the United Kingdom. Apparently, Scots and Irish need not apply, much less Greeks, whose ancient philosophers and experiments in democracy inspired our own founders.

It’s pretty obvious that “Anglo-Saxon” and “European” as used here are code words for “white.” Even though the Spanish architecture of the forebears of our Latino countrymen may qualify under the “European architecture” clause, my guess is that “Anglo-Saxon” has a higher priority than “European.”

I’ve long said that the Republican Party cannot survive as a viable political entity as a primarily white party. CNN exit polls show that the white share of the electorate has declined from 77 percent in 2004 to 71 percent in 2016 and 67 percent in 2020. While the Republican share of the white vote has remained relatively constant at about 58 percent, this represents fewer and fewer voters as a share of the entire electorate.

Meanwhile, Democrats kept about 89 percent of the black vote and have seen their share of Latinos and Asians increase by about 10 percentage points over the same period. The Democrats are getting a larger share of a growing pie when it comes to minority voters.

Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012 prompted soul-searching and a post-mortem by Republicans. The report recommended increased outreach and sensitivity to minority groups, but Republican voters decided to take the opposite tack in 2016. The move worked against the worst mainstream party candidate in US presidential history but failed against a more traditional politician in 2020. The AFC platform doubles down on that wrong turn.

Make no mistake. The AFC platform is not a conservative document even if the racist parts are omitted (and they are racist by definition). Among the other planks are:

  • Voter suppression in the form of calling for “an end to mail-in voting”

  • Attacking the First Amendment and property rights of “Big Tech”

  • A promise to “direct as much money as possible to our domestic infrastructure needs”

  • Attacks on “hawkish neoconservative foreign policy” in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya that seem to wistfully recall the days when those countries were ruled by terrorist-supporting dictators

  • Isolation in the form of not continuing to be a “globalist watchdog”

  • Calling free trade “nefarious”

A good motto for the caucus might be, “Come for the white nationalism and isolationism, stay for the expansion of government!” While the platform doesn’t explicitly mention President Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, but the retreat is one area where the America Firsters presumably agree with the Democrats.

In addition to Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is already backpedaling from the platform, the caucus has drawn the support of the rapidly imploding Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) as well as Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.).

The America First Caucus serves to illustrate how divided the Republican Party continues to be. It also underscores how ethnocentric and anti-conservative one of those Republican factions is.

The America First wing of the GOP may be large enough to control the party, but, if so, it will be the big fish in a rapidly draining pond. Many Republicans have already been turned off by the party’s reaction to the 2020 election and the subsequent insurrection. If the party veers toward even more blatant white nationalism, it will no doubt scare off even more people. And it won’t be just minority voters who are part of the exodus from the GOP.

America has a policing problem

 With the latest video of a police shooting, this one of 13-year-old Adam Toledo of Chicago, America must face the reality that we have a policing problem. One or two unnecessary deaths could be passed off as tragic accidents, but we now have a years-long pattern of police killing people who didn’t have to die, sometimes the very people that they were sent to help.

I have watched the Adam Toledo video. It’s not easy to watch. If you haven’t seen it and want to, it’s available here on Vimeo. If you don’t want to watch it, I don’t blame you.

Photo credit: Vimeo screenshot

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The video shows the Chicago police officer running down an alley after a man wearing a white hat, dark hoodie, and light-colored pants. When the officer tells the man to stop, he begins to run away. The fugitive stops and turns around as the officer screams at him to “Show me your hands!” The suspect turns, the officer fires, and the man falls to the ground.

We now know that the “man” in the video was Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy. The officer, Eric Stillman, immediately rendered first aid and called for an ambulance, but Toledo was pronounced dead at the scene. The entire encounter on March 29 took less than 30 seconds. Stillman left his car at 1:45 on the video and Toledo was shot at the 2:05 mark.

The officer reportedly found a gun near Toledo’s body and at 5:35 on the video, an officer shines a light on a gun lying by the fence several feet away from Toledo’s body. The Chicago PD says that the body camera video shows a gun in Toledo’s hand at the 2:04 mark. I watched this portion of the video second-by-second and it’s difficult to tell for sure, but what is indisputable is that he raised two empty hands as he turned to face the officer in the next second when the bullet was fired.

Another indisputable fact is that, per the Chicago Sun-Times, Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy told a judge last week that Toledo had a gun in his hand when he was shot. The newly released body camera video contradicts this statement to the court.

As with many of the recent police killings, there were mistakes on both sides. Toledo, a seventh-grader, should not have been walking the streets of Chicago at 2:30 a.m. My daughter is about the same age and I cannot imagine her being out in the middle of the night, especially on a school night, but she and Toledo lived very different lives.

Toledo should not have been with Ruben Roman, a 21-year-old with a criminal record. Roman should not have had a gun since he was on probation and he definitely should not have given it to Toledo. Likewise, Toledo should not have accepted the gun… if indeed he did. Toledo should not have run from the police.

But Officer Stillman should not have shot an unarmed man who was complying with his orders. Nothing that Toledo did makes it okay for Stillman to have shot him.

I hate to second-guess the officer, who was involved in a foot chase and undoubtedly surging with adrenaline, knowing that he was looking for an armed suspect. I hate to do it, but we have to because this sort of thing happens way too often.

We also have to second-guess the entire police department because, if not for the body camera, the official record would reflect that Toledo was holding a gun when he was shot by Stillman. When government lawyers tell lies that are contradicted by body camera footage, is it any wonder that people mistrust the police?

I am not anti-police by any means. My brother was a cop and I have other friends who have and still do serve. The harsh fact, however, is that American police are needlessly killing far too many people.

This is not a racial issue. Even though many of the most well-known victims are black, such as Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, many whites are needlessly killed by police as well.

One of the most disturbing body camera videos was the shooting of Daniel Shaver in 2016 by a Mesa, Arizona police officer. Shaver, who was white and unarmed, attempted to comply with difficult and contradictory instructions from the officer as he begged for his life. When Shaver, who had been drinking, tried to keep from falling, he was shot and killed by the officer. The officer was acquitted in the case and even rehired by the department so that he could qualify for a pension.

I am not advocating for defunding the police, but we do need police reform. There are a few ideas that seem like good places to start. The first is to better screen police applicants and weed out people who are too aggressive and combative. It takes a special temperament to be a cop and not everyone should do the job.

The AR-15 that Philip Brailsford, the officer who killed Daniel Shaver, used that night was etched with the words, “You’re f--ked.” This paints a picture of someone who may have a very different mindset than fulfilling the mission of protecting and serving.

Another important reform is better training. I think it’s true that officers need to be better trained in de-escalation. Too often, the reaction is to shoot first and ask questions later. Several veterans have made the point that American soldiers serving in combat zones have more strict rules of engagement than police officers patrolling American cities. This needs to change.

It is an obvious truth that police officers need to be able to protect themselves, but they also need to be accountable for protecting civilians, both innocent and otherwise. We need to find a balance between an officer’s fear for his life and wantonly shooting down unarmed Americans in the street. Or in their own homes.

As Steve wrote yesterday, we need to hold police who are bad apples or who make mistakes accountable. It erodes the public trust when cops like the ones who killed Breonna Taylor and Daniel Shaver get off scot-free and sometimes don’t even lose their jobs.

Qualified immunity also must go. This legal doctrine could be a post in itself, but essentially it makes it almost impossible for victims of government abuse, such as the families of those unnecessarily killed by police, to collect damages. The doctrine frequently puts police officers and other government officials who behave badly above the law.

What’s worse, qualified immunity is a creation of the Supreme Court, not a legislature. Colorado and New Mexico recently banned qualified immunity. More states and Congress should follow suit.

Many people will point to Adam Toledo’s mistakes on the night of March 29 to justify his death at the hands of Officer Stillman, but Toledo was not the only victim that night. Even if Stillman keeps his job and escapes legal liability for the killing, two lives were ruined when he pulled the trigger. It is likely that Stillman will be haunted for the rest of his life by the image of Adam Toledo with his hands raised.

I don’t believe that Officer Stillman set out that night to kill a child. I also don’t think that he shot Toledo, who was of Mexican heritage and not black, because he was a minority kid. But the fact remains that Stillman did kill an unarmed seventh-grader.

Reforming the police may save the lives of some kids like Adam Toledo, but it may also save the lives and mental health of police officers as well as helping to prevent riots and retaliatory violence. It is a tragedy for a 13-year-old to be killed by police but it is also tragic to have to live with pulling the trigger.

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I wrote the first part of this piece last night. As I was writing it, the rampage killing at the FedEx facility was unfolding, although I didn’t hear of this murder spree until this morning.

As we come out of the pandemic, the crazies seem to be out in full force. There have been numerous killing sprees over the past few weeks. If we are to be honest, we not only have a policing problem, but we have a gun problem and a crazy person problem as well.

I made a meme years ago that said, “I’m not for gun control, but I do support crazy person control.” I stand by that meme today, although as I wrote a few weeks ago after the Atlanta spa murders and the King Sooper’s murders, red flag laws are the one type of gun control law that might help to prevent some of these rampage killings. I caught some flak for that, but I believe it to be true.

Right now, I think that the most critical danger to the Second Amendment comes from the senseless spree killings and the fear of average Americans that they could be randomly targeted anytime and anywhere. If we want to preserve our Second Amendment rights then we must get the security situation under control. The surest way to feed the gun control frenzy is to have Americans continue to be gunned down by maniacs who go to their workplaces or random stores or schools.

Some segments of the country are afraid that they’ll be murdered by criminals or spree killers on one side or recklessly killed by police on the other. It’s an untenable situation that is similar in many ways to Afghanistan and Iraq where civilians are trapped between security forces and radical terrorists.

Americans want answers and they want action. Every senseless killing spree feeds the gun control movement, especially if an AR-15 is involved. And some of these people do want to ban and confiscate every gun they can.

If pro-gun people really want to protect Second Amendment rights, they need to get on board and help find solutions to the crisis that is the current epidemic of killing sprees. These solutions need to go beyond promoting carry laws to finding ways to keep guns out of the hands of crazy people and criminals while protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.

From the Racket

Friday, April 16, 2021

Court expansion is the secret Democrat plan to alienate moderates

 I’ve said for a while that both parties act like they want to be in the minority. Every time either party gains power, it bellies up to the trough of government power and gorges itself to the point where nonpartisan voters are sickened by the gluttony. At that point, unaffiliated voters in the center shift to the opposition party in order to rein in the power grab. It is only a question of how long the process takes.

We’ve seen the process play out several times in recent years. Democratic excesses under Barack Obama paved the way for Donald Trump. Trump, in turn, governed as if his base were the only voters who mattered.

Photo credit: Ian Hutchinson/unsplash.Com

It may turn out that it took the Democrats four months under the Biden Administration. Yesterday, Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill that would expand the Supreme Court to 13 justices from the current nine. Of course, the new four justices would be appointed by President Biden.

There are a couple of problems with this strategy. The fact that polling last fall showed overwhelming opposition to the plan to expand the Court is not the least of its flaws.

The biggest problems with the plan are Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Both the West Virginia and the Arizona Democrat are on record as opposing an expansion of the Court. Without these two votes, the expansion plan would be dead even if Democrats could get the bill past a Republican filibuster. Of course, the Democrats can’t get around the filibuster without the votes of… wait for it… Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

The two red-state (or at least purple on the part of Arizona) Democrats understand what many in the national party don’t. Namely, veering left to cater to the progressive base is the fastest way to lose both the Democratic majority and the seats of vulnerable senators -like Manchin and Sinema- who would be forced to vote on the unpopular bills.

Yet another problem is that, if Democrats are able to pull off a court expansion, we can be sure that it would not be the last time. This is especially true if the filibuster is a casualty of the rush to pack the Court. Without the filibuster, we can expect both parties to expand the Court every time they have a judicial minority and are in control of both Congress and the presidency. The result would be the politicization of the Supreme Court in a way that we have never seen.

Democratic claims that the Court should be expanded to 13 justices because there are 13 federal circuit courts are an after-the-fact rationalization. The reality is that there is no need to have one justice for every circuit and such a balance seems never to have been the case. It is true that a justice is assigned to each federal circuit court for emergency orders and that some justices do double duty, but both the number of circuits and justices have fluctuated independently throughout our history.

The Judiciary Act of 1789 which established the details of our judicial system both created three circuit courts and set the number of justices at six. Originally, Supreme Court justices “rode circuit” and held court in each circuit two times every year. Additional circuit courts were added sporadically as states joined the Union and (sometimes) separate acts of Congress both increased and decreased the size of the Court. The Court grew several times, eventually expanding to 10 justices in 1863 and then was reduced to nine by the Judiciary Act of 1869. We did not reach our current total of 13 circuit courts until 1982 with the passage of the Federal Circuit Act. There seems to have been no period when there was one justice per circuit and no real reason to adopt the model now.

Although I am not in favor of the Democratic plan to expand the Court, the Republicans are not innocent in all this. The Democratic push to pack the Court was easily predictable because many on the left were openly threatening to do so if the Republicans broke their own standard of confirming a justice in the middle of an election.

It was also Mitch McConnell who invoked the nuclear option and eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees in 2017. The move was a response to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s first use of the nuclear option to eliminate the filibuster for lower-court nominees and presidential appointments in 2013. If McConnell had preserved the filibuster for Supreme Court appointees, it might not be so tempting for Democrats to pack the Court today, in part because the makeup of the current Court would be different.

Nevertheless, the push to pack the Court is destined to blow up in the faces of the Democrats. Congressional math makes it a suicide mission and one that will be intensely unpopular with moderate voters. If such a radical course of action doesn’t push moderate voters back toward the GOP it will probably only be because Republicans worked harder to alienate the electorate than the Democrats did.

Both parties have the attitude that they could lose power at anytime while often simultaneously acting as though they will never again be a minority. The irony is that if leaders led their parties in a more moderate and measured agenda, they stay in power longer and make more permanent gains.


From the Racket

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Slaying the gerrymander

 There has been a lot of discussion over the past few months about the future of the filibuster. Much of the debate has centered on the rights of the minority and protecting Senate traditions, two topics that also relate to another controversial custom. The filibuster isn’t going anywhere at the moment, but it may be time to consider changing another old tradition. I’m speaking of the gerrymander.

March 1812 political cartoon that satirizes the bizarre shape of a Massachusetts district (Elkanah Tisdale/Wikimedia Commons)

Gerrymandering, of course, is the practice of drawing congressional districts in strange shapes to gain partisan advantage. In many states, gubernatorial and state legislative elections take on outsize importance in census years since the party in power gets to redraw congressional districts and often does so to maximum advantage. This sometimes yields results that are wildly different from the balance of voters.

For example, North Carolina and Maryland are considered to be two of the most heavily gerrymandered states in the Union. In North Carolina, a battleground state, Democrats won the congressional popular vote by about one percent in 2020 but Republicans still won two-thirds of congressional seats. In Maryland, Republicans got 35 percent of the vote but only hold one seat out of 10. As you can see, both parties stand to gain from drawing congressional districts more fairly.

As the cartoon above illustrates, gerrymandering has been around for a long time. The term originated in 1812 with the creation of a district in Massachusetts that was said to resemble a salamander. The result became known as the “gerrymander” after Eldridge Gerry, the governor of Massachusetts at the time. (Incidentally, the word is pronounced with a hard “g” as in “gruesome.”)

The basic procedure is that when a party controls the levers of redistricting in a state after the census, the district lines are redrawn to maximize the home team’s congressional majority. A few of the districts are drawn to isolate the minority party’s voters and dilute the opposition vote while most are designed to create safe seats for the majority. In some cases, districts are drawn to guarantee the election of minority politicians, which also has the effect of thinning the minority vote in neighboring districts.

Another effect of gerrymandering is to empower the fringes of both parties. When a district is safe for one party, the “real” election is the primary. The partisan voters who select their party’s nominee are, for all intents and purposes, electing the congressman since the general election is a formality in many cases. Safe partisan districts are how people like Alexandra Ocasio Cortez and Marjorie Taylor Greene get elected and often stay in office for decades. The Fulcrum has a graphic list of America’s worst examples of gerrymandering.

One of the answers to the problem of radicalism in both parties may be to make districts more competitive. If partisans can’t be anointed by primary voters and must compete for the votes of moderates and independents - and maybe even some voters from the opposite party - it should have a moderating influence on both parties as well as Congress. If the majority party in states like North Carolina and Maryland want to keep their majorities, they would need to do better at reaching out to other voters, not just playing to their base.

Under our current system, many congressmen are rewarded for extreme behavior that panders to the partisan base. And the problem applies to both sides. Republicans may love to hate and ridicule AOC for her gaffes and out-of-touch comments but North Carolina’s Madison Cawthorn, who admitted in an email, “I have built my staff around comms rather than legislation,” is an even less serious legislator than the New York Democrat.

Despite their flaws, both Cawthorn and AOC won their races by double-digit margins. Cawthorn won by 12 points and AOC by 44 points. For her part, QAnon adherent Marjorie Taylor Greene won her race in Georgia by a staggering 49 points. All of these people desperately need competitive challengers.

Gerrymandering is hurting the country, but it is not unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has upheld gerrymandering in numerous cases, but it has limited the practice. From time to time, state courts have gotten involved as well. In recent years, gerrymandered congressional districts have been thrown out by courts in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, nevertheless, it would be inappropriate for the Supreme Court to suddenly rule gerrymandering a constitutional violation and overturn 200 years of precedent.

A better solution is to pass laws that take redistricting out of the hands of the parties through legislation. A handful of states from both sides of the political spectrum have established nonpartisan commissions to draw district lines. Most redistricting is still controlled by state legislatures, however, because the parties don’t like to give up power.

Unlike congressional term limits, which would require an amendment to the Constitution, redistricting reform can be accomplished at the state level by legislators. Some states even provide for popular referendums that enable voters to propose the changes themselves.

Partisan redistricting may be constitutional, but I’m pretty sure that gerrymandering isn’t what the Framers had in mind, and sometimes courts agree, calling particularly one-sided maps a violation of equal protection. Gerrymandering may be an old American tradition, but it is one that needs to be retired.

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After this post, I’ll be taking a few days off. Along with being an election year and a pandemic year, 2020 was also my 20th wedding anniversary. My wife and I had planned a celebratory trip last April which, like everything else last April, got canceled. Our children treated us to an anniversary dinner at a “fancy restaurant” in our home instead. That made a great and special memory but, since we are both vaccinated, we wanted to take a second crack at an anniversary trip.

I’ll probably return to posting by the end of next week, but in the meantime enjoy what Steve, Jay, and possibly some guest contributors have to say.

From the Racket

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

More bad news for Republicans

 There are a lot of people who mistrust polls and for good reason. Many times polls are mischaracterized, taken out of context, or used incorrectly. They aren’t predictions of the future but imperfect snapshots of the present. They have their faults but they also provide invaluable insights into public opinion for those who understand their limitations. Even politicians who frequently attack polls pay close attention to them.

A new poll that Republicans should pay attention to is Gallup’s new party affiliation survey. The quarterly report showed that Republican identification had declined four points for the first quarter of 2021 to 40 percent, a number that includes independents who lean Republican. Conversely, support for Democrats surged to 49 percent including leaners, a level that has not been seen since Obama’s re-election in December 2012.

gray elephant near green leaf plant
Photo credit: Chris Christensen/unsplash.com

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The poll doesn’t delve into the reasons for the shift in party affiliation, but I think that the causes are both multiple and obvious. The most glaring is that the decline in Republican support follows Donald Trump’s post-election antics and the January 6 insurrection. Anecdotally, I know many Republican voters who were angry at both Trump and the party for their roles in the Big Lie about the election fraud and the insurrection.

On the other hand, I’ve also heard from rank-and-file Republican voters who are relatively happy with Joe Biden. While Biden has made several missteps, notably on his handling of the border surge and his misrepresentation of the Georgia election law, the new president does not dominate the news cycle like President Trump. Biden’s low profile helps him to avoid being the lightning rod that was Donald Trump.

In other words, Biden is far from conservative, but he is a normal politician. The fact that people don’t have to hear a steady stream of inane and often offensive comments both on television and Twitter seems to count for a lot. This isn’t to say that Biden never puts his foot into his mouth, but Trump raised the practice to an art form. Specifically, an ugly version of modern art that was loathsome and offensive yet people could not look away.

Another takeaway from the poll is that independents are a growing force as Americans reject both parties outright. Forty-four percent of Americans now identify as independents compared to 38 percent last quarter.

I’m sure many Republicans will ignore the warning sign that this poll presents, just as they ignored polling in the years leading up to 2020 that indicated a majority of Americans refused to consider voting for Donald Trump. These people will argue that the poll is inherently flawed because it doesn’t tell them what they believe.

But for Republicans with open minds, the poll provides a chance to make a course correction to avoid yet another electoral disaster. It has been apparent for years now that Donald Trump has led the GOP into a situation reminiscent of the box canyon that figured into the origin story of the Lone Ranger. The party is like the column of Texas Rangers doggedly pursuing their foe while blissfully unaware that they are riding into an ambush by foes who hold the high ground and are in protected positions.

Many Republicans assume that the opposition party stands to benefit in midterm elections, but this doesn’t always hold true. For example, Republicans gained seats in both the House and Senate under George W. Bush in 2002. Republican pickups in 2022 are not assured and should not be taken for granted.

What could prevent an opposition party from gaining ground in midterm elections? Well, a popular president who is presiding over a post-pandemic economic boom for starters. Stir in an opposition party that is closely associated with conspiracy theories ranging from QAnon to stolen election claims as well as a brand that is increasingly associated with quasi-racist ethnic nationalism. Add the fact that Donald Trump is reviled by most Americans but deeply revered by most Republicans… and emulated by Republican candidates. Top it off with people like Matt Gaetz and those who defend him and you have the makings of an electoral rout.

2020 was relatively close in part because a lot of people bought the Republican line that Biden was a socialist and a doddering old fool who would be a puppet controlled by radical progressives. That is unlikely to work in 2022 and beyond as people get to know Biden and like his policies.

As my friend Steve Berman wrote yesterday, Republicans can’t just keep being the against-the-left party, they have to find things to be for. This would work better if the things Republicans decided to be for were popular and unifying things rather than divisive and controversial things like border walls, prohibiting people from giving water to voters, and limiting absentee voting.

The bad news is that the Republican Party is in deeper trouble now than before because it doubled down yet again on Donald Trump. The good news is that there is an opening. The data that shows more voters are independent is encouraging. This means that many of the alienated voters aren’t crazy about Democrats either and may be open to a repentant and contrite GOP.

I’m one of those voters. In 2016, I left the GOP and became an independent, but “independent” is not a synonym for “liberal” or “Democrat.” I oppose a lot of what Democrats want to do and in 2020 I not only voted Democrat, I also voted Libertarian and Republican. I am open to Republican candidates of the traditional conservative variety.

Republicans have a chance to reverse the exodus from their party, but that opening may not last long. If those newly independent voters like what they see from Joe Biden and start aligning with the Democrats, it may be very difficult to get them back.

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I’ve watched the first couple of episodes of HBO’s QAnon documentary, “Into the Storm,” and highly recommend it. I may do a more complete rundown on the series in the future, but for now, if you’re interested in the Q phenomenon and its background, then you’ll want to check out the documentary, which focuses heavily on Jim and Ron Watkins, the father and son team who operate the 8chan website where Q makes (made?) many of his posts. If you aren’t into the seamy world of unfettered social media, it can be eye-opening.

I won’t offer spoilers, but the series also looks at several possibilities as to the identity of Q. Some are ruled out. Others… Well, you be the judge.


Finally, I’d like to make a special request to our readers. Last month, I told you about my Facebook partial ban. Since then, in an effort to grow the Racket, I started using an “alt account,” a nom de Facebook, to make political posts and keep politics separate from my personal account.

Yesterday, I got a warning from Facebook that it was against community standards to pretend to be another person on Facebook. The platform threatened to cancel my account if I continued breaking the rules. Later on, I was posting some Racket articles to several political groups that I frequent when Facebook temporarily limited me from posting to groups, citing some indeterminate violation.

Obviously, I’m on Facebook’s watch list so my intention is to lay low. I use my personal account for a lot of family activities and don’t want to get canceled.

I’m not going to rail against Facebook because the company built the platform and owns it, not me. If we have different objectives and aims for how that platform is used, then they get the final say.

However, I would like to ask a favor of our readers. If you like the Racket and would like to help us grow, please do us a solid by helping to share our posts. We may not be able to share our articles in a plethora (anytime I can work the word “plethora” into a piece, I can’t pass it up) of groups anymore, but you guys would free to share us with one or two groups apiece and it would help us immensely.

Also, if you haven’t signed up for a free subscription, please do so today. Just because you see us on Facebook and Twitter today doesn’t mean we will be there tomorrow so put us in your inbox!

From the Racket