Today's Edition (May 3, 2021)

Slouching towards authoritarianism.

         GOP-controlled state legislatures are on a binge of criminalizing conduct that offends their cultural and religious sensibilities. Before you roll your eyes and move on to the next item in your inbox, this is not (merely) a rant about the wave of craziness that is sweeping the GOP. Unless we act with urgency, the current trend toward authoritarian rule is a glimpse into our future. Here’s what has me worried: As discussed in more detail below, Republican candidates secured the top two spots in the Texas 6th Congressional District special election to replace Rep. Ron Wright—effectively locking out any Democratic hopes of flipping that seat from red to blue. The loss is a disappointment on its own. More disappointing is the anemic turnout among Democratic voters. My rough calculations (explained below), show that approximately 14% of Democrats showed up to vote in the open primary over the weekend. Republicans turned out at a 22% rate.

          Republican turnout was juiced by Trump’s last-minute endorsement of Republican Susan Wright (Ron Wright’s widow). But 14% turnout among Democrats? Really? Although there are historical reasons that could help rationalize the low turnout in a traditional Republican stronghold, the Democratic Party should be doing some soul-searching tonight. Perhaps the Democratic Party ignored the race because of a misplaced desire to avoid picking sides in a primary field that included at least three viable Democratic candidates. I understand that difficulty, but if we hope to stop Republican efforts to criminalize everything from social media to gender identity to freedom of assembly, the Democratic Party needs to take every election seriously. Our civil liberties depend on it. But, somehow, Democrats have failed to drive that message home to their voters.

          On Thursday of last week, the Florida legislature passed SB 7072, “Social Media Platforms,” which makes it a crime to “deplatform” a candidate for statewide office in Florida. See NBC, “In nod to Donald Trump, Florida set to ban Big Tech deplatforming.” The bill imposes a fine of $250,000 per day for banning a candidate and subjects the social media company to criminal proceedings under Florida Statute Ch. 106 Section 27. (Per SB 7072, the fines are “in addition to the remedies provided in [section] 106.27.”)  The bill is blatantly unconstitutional and invalid (it violates Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act), but social media platforms will be wary of testing the bill’s provisions under pain of criminal prosecution.

          Let’s consider a hypothetical to evaluate Florida’s law: Suppose a candidate sends a tweet calling for his supporters to attack the Capitol and hang the Vice-President of the United States who is presiding over the count of the Electoral College ballots. If Twitter “deplatforms” that candidate, under Florida’s new law, Twitter must evaluate its risk of criminal proceedings and a $250,000 per day fine before deplatforming that candidate. There are, or course, darker hypotheticals that involve neo-Nazi candidates in Florida, but we need not go there. Florida’s law cannot override the provisions and protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Why, then, did the Florida legislature pass a bill that it knows is invalid? Their actions amount to political thuggery—issuing a threat and daring social media companies to “knock the chip off our shoulder.”

          Similar efforts are underway (or have been completed) in other GOP-controlled legislatures. In Texas, the legislature is considering a bill that would subject parents to criminal liability for assisting their child or teen with gender transition. Let me repeat that statement: Texas is considering charging parents with a crime for making medical decisions they believe to be in the best interests of their children’s long-term mental health. See KSAT, “Texas bill looks to criminalize parents who support transgender medical procedures for minors.” (“Mother says she’s willing to become a criminal to save her son’s life.”) I have previously mentioned laws in Minnesota and Indiana that bar anyone convicted of “unlawful assembly” from holding public office or receiving public assistance, such as housing. Oklahoma and Florida have passed laws that grant criminal immunity to anyone who hits a protester with his car while “fleeing a riot.” See Today’s Edition, "Open Season" (April 21, 2021). [Correction: Florida’s law grants drivers civil immunity, not criminal immunity.]

          As I said, these bills emulate the thuggish tactics of authoritarians. Republicans “clutch their pearls” in feigned outrage when anyone suggests that they intend to apply these laws to anyone other than bona fide criminals. Oh, yeah?  The Arkansas legislature just held a hearing on its anti-transgender bill. A father of a transgender son spoke for 30 seconds over his allotted two minutes. See The Independent, “Father concerned at anti-trans law arrested at hearing for going 30 seconds over his speaking limit.” For that offense, he was arrested, led away in handcuffs, jailed for several hours, and charged with disorderly conduct. Meanwhile,

          those speaking in favor of the bill were allowed to speak for up 40 minutes. Only those against the bill were held to a two-minute time limit . . . while the Alliance Defending Freedom and Family Research Council, classified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, spoke for much longer.

          Got that? In Arkansas, if you exceed your allotted time by 30 seconds speaking in favor of a parent’s right to make medical decisions for their children, you are arrested. But if you speak in favor of criminalizing gender transition therapy, you can take all the time you want. And they expect us to believe they will fairly apply laws that seem to give permission to drivers to run over protesters?

          I hope these examples make your blood boil—because mine is. Republicans are deadly serious about codifying their cultural and religious biases in the criminal laws of the states in which they control the legislatures. Which brings me back to the Texas special election.

          The open primary in Texas was tough for Democrats because there were at least three serious Democratic contenders (all women): Jana Sanchez, Shawn Lassiter, and Lydia Bean. I understand that picking one of those contenders was difficult, especially given the diversity in that group. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (“DCCC”) sat on the sidelines, as did many of the major grass-roots organizations whose endorsements and money can make-or-break a candidate’s fortunes. When I promoted a campaign event by one of the candidates (Shawn Lassiter), I received pushback from readers who wanted to know why I was promoting one candidate over another. Here is what I wrote in response (on April 15, 2021):

We can’t sit on the sidelines in the fight for the House. After I mentioned Ms. Lassiter in the newsletter, several readers reached out to say that they were supporting another Democrat in the open primary, Jana Lynne Sanchez. Should you support Ms. Lassiter or Ms. Sanchez or another Democrat in the primary? Yes! The special election is only 21 days away and the two leading Republican candidates are running television ads. No Democrat is yet running television ads (because of funding constraints). In an open primary, it is possible for the two run-off candidates to be Republicans. We cannot let that happen! We cannot sit on the sidelines debating which Democratic candidate to support. If you can, get involved in helping to flip the only seat that can increase the Democratic majority in the House before 2022.

          I fear that the Democratic Party sat on the sidelines and allowed Trump to act as kingmaker in the Texas special election. The Democratic Party could have run “get out the vote” campaign ads or provided funding for texting and calls that urged Democrats to show up to vote. So far as I know (and I am fairly confident of my information), the DCCC did nothing to help drive Democratic turnout. (If someone out there knows differently, please write to me and I will update or correct my information.)

          Readers of this newsletter frequently assume that I have political connections. I do not. When readers tell me to “Tell Joe Biden xyz,” I respond that “The only thing Joe Biden knows about me is my credit card number.” But I believe that some readers of this newsletter have political connections and I hope that they are asking people they know how it is conceivably possible that Democratic turnout in an important election in Texas was 14%. And if the answer you get back is, “Turnout in special elections is always low,” your reply should be, “That’s not an acceptable answer.”

          If we accept “Because that’s the way it always is,” as an answer for low turnout, we can write off the 2022 midterms. I, for one, refuse to do so—and I believe that there are tens of millions of Democratic voters who feel the same way. Democratic faithful are ready, willing, and able to follow their party leaders into battle. But we need our leaders to show the flag if they expect us to follow.

          I will now step down from my soapbox. Thank you for listening.

Stop the Steal Candidates are Taking Over GOP State Parties

In another concerning trend, the “Stop the Steal” cultists are taking over GOP state parties. See Politico, ‘There’s a lot of crazy going on’: Pro-Trump lawyer blows up key GOP race.” As Politico notes, attorney Lin Wood is trying to unseat the current Chair of the South Carolina Republican Party. You may remember Wood as an erstwhile on-again-off-again member of the Trump campaign legal team whose conspiracy theories became too outlandish for Trump. See Forbes, “Trump’s Legal Allies Attack Each Other After Lin Wood Tweets Wild Conspiracies.” (In a now-suspended tweet, Woods wrote, “When arrests for treason begin, put Chief Justice John Roberts … and Mitch McConnell at the top of the list.”)  Per Politico, “the Georgia Bar is investigating his conduct and wants Wood to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.”

          Despite his controversial background, Lin Woods is now a serious contender to take over as Chair of the South Carolina Republican Party. And, in a twist dripping with irony, Woods’ supporters are preemptively “casting doubt on the integrity of the election process [accusing] the party establishment of “cheating” by rigging the delegate process.” That’s the problem with peddling baseless conspiracy theories about massive fraud: Once you start, there is no logical end.

          In a similar vein, the Utah Republican Party narrowly voted down a proposal to censure Senator Mitt Romney for voting to convict Trump of inciting insurrection. See CBS News, “Romney booed at Utah GOP convention but motion to censure him fails.” Here’s my point: In 2022 and 2024, the election will start with the presumption among many GOP state parties that the elections are “rigged.” The best way to fight such claims is to win by uncontestable margins—which requires Democrats to turn out to vote like their civil liberties depend on the outcome of the elections.

Concluding Thoughts.

The title for today’s newsletter is an allusion to The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats.

          Estimating Democratic turnout: It was challenging to find registration numbers by party for the 6th Congressional District in Texas, which apparently does not keep track of voters by party affiliations. But per the Texas Legislative Council, “Population and Voter Data Congressional Districts”, there were 407,455 registered voters in the 6th District eligible to vote in 2018. In 2020, Biden won 48% of the vote in the 6th Congressional District in Texas, and Trump won 52%. Using those numbers as rough proxies for party affiliation, there are approximately 195,000 Democrats in the 6th District. The Democratic candidates in the special election received a total of 28,015 votes, while the Republican candidates received a total of 46,330. I will let you check my math, but I calculate a 14% Democratic turnout.

          After I write a newsletter that contains sobering news, I sometimes receive emails from readers that say “I am discouraged after reading your newsletter.” That is not my intent. If we are going to take control of our destiny, we can’t deceive ourselves with rosy projections that are not grounded in reality. Even so, I refuse to accept the conventional wisdom that a president’s party usually loses seats during a midterm. The GOP is a hot mess if Lin Wood is a contender to take over the South Carolina Republican Party. Joe Biden is delivering on his promises and has convinced the majority of Americans that his policies are in their best interests. We are not prisoners of history. Although the poor turnout in the 6th District is disappointing, it happened early enough for the Democratic Party to examine what went wrong. Let’s hope they do. In fact, let’s make a point of reminding them to do so.

          Talk to you tomorrow!