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Controlling our agenda.
February 3, 2023
I participated in a Zoom conference today with readers of this newsletter. As we waited for everyone to gather, the “early arrivers” began discussing the recent litany of outrageous actions by the GOP majority in the House. That conversation continued for about fifteen minutes until one reader interjected, saying, “While all of this is important, we must be intentional about focusing on positive steps we can take to help make things better.”
Indeed, it is good advice for this newsletter and everyone looking for a strategy to remain grounded, effective, and sane over the next two years. Of course, we can’t look away from the news (and won’t in this edition of the newsletter), but finding the right balance of information and action is key to our success.
Another reader made a point worth keeping top-of-mind as we review the news: The GOP’s goal is to provoke feelings of outrage, anger, and disgust—to drain our emotional energy and distract us from the important work we must do. We must be able to observe the news with an appropriate degree of “professional distance.” Not detached. Not emotionless. Aware. Cognizant of the fact that our emotions are the target of a party whose only agenda is to “own the libs.”
By exerting the will necessary to control our own agenda, we will be better able to distill and communicate the depravity and vacuity of the GOP’s culture war disguised as a political platform. More importantly, we will have the energy and focus to attend to daily actions necessary to maintain and expand control of Congress, the presidency, state legislature, school boards, city councils, election boards, and elected judges in state courts.
So, what do we do as we wait for the 2024 presidential primary? Plenty! Those of you who have been reading the Comments section know that other readers have been raising their hands for help in a Wisconsin election on April 4th that will determine control of that state’s supreme court. What’s at stake? As Jessica Craven puts it, flipping control of the Wisconsin supreme court can
Open the door for fair maps in Wisconsin, one of the most gerrymandered states in the country
Allow for ballot initiatives in the state providing a means for citizens to propose and vote for legislation that improves their lives
Result in a pro-choice majority on the court
Increase the potential for expanded voting rights and protect against harmful voter suppression laws in the state.
Prevent Trump (or his surrogate) from stealing the election via Wisconsin in 2024.
Here are two ways you can help:
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin (“WisDems”) is sponsoring a series of phone banking events to recruit poll observers for the April 4th election. The phone banking sessions will be held on Mondays through Thursdays and Saturdays from now through March 18th! Click on the links for details.
Or you can join Jessica Craven, Dahlia Lithwick, Angela Lang, and Kyle Johnson on February 7, 2023, at 7:30 PM Central for a short, fun, informative fundraiser. Register here for the fundraiser, or make a tax-deductible donation here.
So, having focused on our action steps for the day, let’s take a look—from a professional distance—at the litany of outrageous actions taken by the House GOP on Thursday.
The GOP’s first two weeks in control of the House invoked the “bread and circuses” strategy of the Romans.
Roman politicians used “bread and circuses” to mollify restive citizens and purchase their votes. The House GOP has crossed into the territory of bread and circuses. McCarthy ran for Speaker on a platform of removing three Democrats from their committee assignments. (Adam Schiff, Eric Swalwell, and Ilhan Omar). Today, House Republicans succeeded in removing Rep. Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Nine days ago, GOP Rep. Victoria Spartz warned McCarthy against removing Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee, saying from the floor:
I will not support this charade again. Speaker McCarthy needs to stop ‘bread and circuses’ in Congress and start governing for a change.
Despite the frank assessment from Spartz, McCarthy plowed ahead with his ill-advised series of retaliatory removals—despite the obvious differences between Omar, Schiff, and Swalwell on the one hand and Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene on the other.
But intellectual honesty and principled consistency have never been a strong suit of the Trump Republican party. For example, while a majority of the GOP House caucus voted to overturn the 2020 election after the violent assault on the Capitol—and thereby advanced the cause of the insurrectionists—GOP members of the Judiciary Committee voted to require the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance before each committee meeting.
The Pledge of Allegiance motion was made by Matt Gaetz and sparked heated debate among committee members—exactly the reaction that Gaetz was hoping for. After the debate, he tweeted video of outraged Democrats with the comment, “Why does patriotism make Democrats so heated?”
We should add other GOP actions into the slop bucket of idiocy dumped into mediascape on Thursday, including: An effort to allow members of Congress to carry handguns to committee meetings in the Capitol, the several GOP members who wore “AR-15” lapel pins on the House floor, and Marjorie Taylor Greene’s claims that insurrectionist Ashli Babbit was “murdered” by Capitol Police and that $1.5 billion in Covid relief funds were used to fund the teaching of critical race theory.
As I wrote above, the GOP’s goal is to provoke feelings of outrage, anger, and disgust—to drain our emotional energy and distract us from the important work we must do. By exerting the will necessary to control our own agenda, we will be better able to distill and communicate the depravity and vacuity of the GOP’s culture war disguised as a political platform.
The Supreme Court’s holding in Bruen begins to work its way through lower courts.
The fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen is starting to work its way through the lower courts, and the result is not good. In Bruen, Justice Thomas wrote for the majority that modern gun regulations must be “consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” That test effectively limits the regulation of guns to laws in place in the 18th century.
Earlier this week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals relied on Bruen to invalidate a law that prohibited a defendant accused of domestic violence from possessing a firearm during the pendency of the court proceeding to determine their guilt, even if the court made a preliminary finding that the defendant presented a risk of harassment or violence directed to the plaintiff. See Vox, America’s Trumpiest court says domestic abusers have a right to own a gun, in United States v. Rahimi - Vox
The holdings in Bruen and Rahimi are antithetical to rights protected in the Second Amendment, but unless we enlarge the Court to overwhelm the reactionary majority, we should expect to see more decisions that will effectively return gun regulations in the US to the days of the Wild West.
The unfolding implications of the arrest of former FBI agent Charles McGonigal.
The indictments of former FBI counter-intelligence specialist Charles McGonigal raise deeply troubling questions about the role of the FBI in minimizing (or covering up) Trump’s connections to Russia in 2016, as well as the FBI’s role in unfairly leaking irrelevant information about the email investigation relating to Hillary Clinton.
As bad as the implications of the McGonigal story are, a secondary set of concerns must also be examined. There appears to be strong evidence that the FBI was able to manipulate journalists from the NYTimes to accept the FBI’s “spin” on stories that were contradicted by publicly available facts. Why did the NYTimes so willingly accept “just so” stories from the FBI when a little independent research would have proven the FBI leakers wrong?
I cannot do justice to the details of this story—but I hope that you will educate yourself about those details. I have a suggestion as to how you can do that. On Wednesday, two articles were published that will give you deep insight into what happened.
I suggest that you read this article on Friday: William Bunch, op-ed, Philadelphia Inquirer, The NYT should tell readers whether it helped crooked FBI agents get Trump elected in 2016,
And I suggest that you read this article on Saturday, Timothy Snyder, Thinking About, The Trauma of 2016 (spy scandal, part 2) (substack.com).
Bunch’s op-ed is solid journalism and provides a concise entry point into the story. Timothy Snyder’s essay is magnificent and deserves your time and attention. Grab a cup of coffee and commit 30-45 minutes to read Snyder’s detailed re-telling of how Russia helped Trump win in 2016—with an assist from a crooked FBI agent and a gullible New York Times.
The question that faces us as a nation is whether we have the attention span and desire to revisit the botched “Russia investigation.” Of course, it should be the job of the DOJ to undertake that task, but the indictments of McGonigal suggest a much narrower investigation by the DOJ. Perhaps Garland is attempting to flip McGonigal to get to bigger fish. Let’s hope so.
Finally, it is worth noting that the report from disgraced special counsel John Durham is due soon, which may provide another opportunity to determine whether members of the FBI manipulated the media in 2016 to conceal Trump’s Russia connections and manufacture unfounded hysteria over “Hillary’s emails.”
Life unfolds at its own pace, whether we are ready or not. My wife and I attended a baby naming ceremony this morning. The baby’s name honors the strength and courage of our recently deceased friend. We can take time to rest, pause, reflect, and renew. But sooner or later, we must return to the quotidian tasks that seem insignificant in insolation but combine to serve as the footings for all future accomplishments. Every step matters and every act has significance—whether we comprehend their deeper meaning or not.
I will send a short note Friday evening to open the Comments section. Talk to you tomorrow!